Green Marxism and Greenies in the Noosphere

David McInerney davidmci at
Mon Nov 27 23:46:32 MST 1995

On Monday, 27 November, "snooty" Barkley Rosser wrote:

>     Following up on the various discussions of Lenin's
>_Materialism and Empirio-Criticism_ I would note that one
>of his bugaboos in there is Aleksandr Bogdanov.  Let me
>suggest that Bogdanov provides a possible starting point for
>a "Green Marxist" position.  The particularly interesting
>work (post-MAEC) is _Tektology: The Universal Science of
>Organization_, 1925-28, Moscow.  This led directly to the
>development of the "noosphere" concept by Vladimir Vernadsky,
>"The Biosphere and the Noosphere," _American Science_, 1945,
>vol. 33, pp. 1-12.  A godd discussion of all this can be found
>in Kenneth M. Stokes, _Man and the Biosphere_, 1992, M.E. Sharpe.

Hmmm.  Almost as to prove my point that Ralph would find much in the pages
of Althusser's later work to use in his arguments against Barkley Rosser,
here I find Rosser talking about the biosphere/noosphere distinction, the
subject of Althusser's critique of French biologist Jacques Monod.  Here's
a quote:

"Theoretically speaking, Monod's *mechanism* resides in the following
tendency: the mechanical application of the concepts and the laws of what
he calls the bioshpere to what he calls the 'noosphere', the application of
the content of materialism appropriate to the biological species to another
real object: human societies.  This is an idealist use of the materialist
content of a determinate science (here, modern biology) in its extension to
the object of another science.  This idealist use of the materialist
content of a determinate science consists of arbitrarily *imposing* upon
another science - which possesses a real object, different from that of the
first - the materialist content of the first science.  Monod declares that
the physical support of the biosphere is DNA.  I"n the present state of
biological science, this materialist thesis is unassailable.  But when he
believes himself to be a materialist, by giving as the biophysiological
basis of what he calls the 'noosphere' - that is to say, the social and
historical existence of the human species - the emergence of the
*neurobiological support of language*, he is not a materialist but, as we
have already said, a 'mechanistic materialist' and in terms of a theory of
human history, that now means that he is an *idealist*.  For the
mechanistic materialism that was materialism's historical representative in
the eighteenth century is today no more than one of the representatives of
the *idealist* tendency in history.

In so far as Monod is a *mechanist*, he is necessarily also a
*spiritualist*.  His theory that language created mankind might find a
sympathetic audience among certain philosophers of anthropology, of
literature and, indeed, of psychoanalysis.  But we should be suspicious of
sympathetic audiences: it is in their interest deliberately to
misunderstand what is *said* to them in order to hear what they want to
hear.  They may be correct in what they want to hear, but they are wrong in
hearing it in what is said top them.  The theory that language created
humanity is, *in Monod's lecture*, a spiritualist theory which ignores the
specificity of the materiality of the object in question.  To say that
language created man is to say that it is not *the materiality of social
conditions of existence*, but what Monod himself calls 'the
*immateriality*' of the noosphere, 'this realm of ideas and knowledge',
which constitutes the real base, and thus the principle, of the scientific
intelligibility of human history.  No essential difference separates these
theses, which Monod believes to be scientific but are in reality merely
ideological, from the most classical theses of conventional spiritualism.
Indeed, when one has given as the sole material base of the noosphere the
biophysical support of the central nervous system, one has to fill the void
of the 'noosphere' with the help of the Spirit, because there is no other
recourse - and certainly no scientific recourse."  (Louis Althusser,
_Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientist and Other
Essays_, Verso, London, 1990, pp. 151-152)

Unless we are to fall into a spiritualism of the "deep green" variety, and
assuming that Althusser's critique of Monod can be applied to the work that
Barkley Rosser cites, then we must avoid Bogdanov and Vernadsky like the
proverbial plague, if we are looking for a 'possible starting point for a
"Green Marxist" position'.

Mr. David McInerney,
Political Science Program, Research School of Social Sciences,
The Australian National University, Canberra, A.C.T., AUSTRALIA  0200.
e-mail: davidmci at; ph: (06) 249 2134; fax: (06) 249 3051

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