Marx on capitalist agriculture

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at columbia.edu
Mon Apr 29 18:07:14 MDT 1996


Siddharth Chaterjee's quotation from Engels on the despoliation of the Alps
reminds us that Marx and Engels were a lot more ecologically
minded than today's reactionary "green-greens" give them credit for.
The green-greens accuse socialism of being interested in nothing but
economic development at the expense of nature. Capitalism and
socialism in their view must be rejected in favor of some kind of
simple life style like the Amish's.

Marx mostly wrote about the exploitation of labor, but there was no
question about his sensitivity to the destructive effects of capitalism on
nature. The basic problem with the capitalist system is that it separates
town and country and injects into the countryside the same industrial
techniques that were reaping havoc in the towns. He is especially
critical of capitalist agriculture. He says in volume one of Capital:

"All progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only
of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil; all progress in
increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time is progress towards
ruining the long-lasting sources of that fertility. The more a country
proceeds from large-scale industry as the background of its
development, as in the case of the United States, the more rapid is the
process of destruction. Capitalist production, therefore, only develops
the techniques and the degree of combination of the social process of
production by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all
wealth--the soil and the worker."

Louis Proyect


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