Mark's environmentsal panic attack

Carrol Cox cbcox at
Tue Jun 6 11:07:42 MDT 2000

Louis Proyect wrote:

> [snip] Scientists at prestigious institutions
> like Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Laboratory, MIT, Harvard, etc. are united in
> their understanding of the seriousness of the problem.[snip].
> I think our differences over these questions are not over the quality of
> the hard evidence, but rather the role of ecology in socialist thought. I
> strongly recommend that you take a look at some of the literature in the
> field, like John Bellamy Foster's "The Vulnerable Planet". It is one thing
> to discuss SWP history based on one's experience, but questions of this
> sort require a certain amount of familiarity with the literature.

In periods when the level of popular struggle there exist tremendous pressures
on socialist intellectuals to switch the focus of their thought from problems
of mobilization and action to issues of Truth. There unvoiced slogan becomes
"The Truth Shall Make You Free." Lou and Mark have been bombarding us
with this truth for years now, and the argument has always had about the
same proportions: A piling up of analytical and empirical arguments as to
future dangers with no more than parenthetical attempts to answer the
*political* question those arguments raise. In this post that parenthetical
reference comes in a single astounding sentence of blank affirmation without
any effort to support it: "Our goal is to explain the root cause of the problem
and win scientists to socialism, in the same way that a generation of
engineers and biologists were won to the Russian revolution."

"Our goal" is to build a mass movement in opposition to capitalism. What
capitalism is doing to the earth is relevant in two ways.

First, the arguments advanced by Lou, Mark and other Green marxists
have been of immense importance in the struggle *within* Marxism to
free it from notions of  bourgeois Progress and Technological Determinism
(the assumption that progress comes from a necessary contradiction
between relations and forces of production, with the latter outgrowing
the former). This was well developed in the debates some years ago
that Mark and Lou carried on with Jim Heartfield. It was radically
necessary to complicate notions of what was and what was not
progressive, to see that the same technical change could be progressive
in one context, negative in another -- that there were no magic roads
to the future.

But even in this context one can see the limits of what I like to think of
as The Politics of Truth -- Mark's response to Nestor on the question
of nuclear energy plants. Now there is not, I believe, any real question
here of what The Truth is. Nuclear plants are a disaster. Nuclear energy
can have no role in the long term (and we hope even short term) future
of humanity. But (on most topics) Mark and Lou and Nestor are in
total agreement as to *the* main contradiction in the world today:
between U.S. imperialism and the peoples of the world. And there
can be no doubt of the political truth in respect to Argentina: if
it becomes necessary for the people of Argentina, in the struggle
with U.S. imperialism, to resort to Nuclear energy, then they must
resort to nuclear energy. In fact, the goal of eliminating recourse to
nuclear energy would, in the specific context named, require recourse
to nuclear energy. We do know, do we not, that capitalism cannot
be destroyed without (first or in the process) defeating U.S.
imperialism, and that the use of nuclear energy cannot be suppressed
except in the context of the defeat of capitalism.

Secondly. Working people as well as Harvard intellectuals are concerned
about the future of the earth and the well-being of their descendants. Hence
green issues can be one of a number of core agitation and organization.
But it is not at all clear *how* relatively important the issue is. My own
view is that, by itself, it is of relatively little importance but of great
importance in a context of more directly crucial issues. And that is the
context which adherents of The Politics of Truth seem reluctant to make
the center of their analysis.

How many chapters of Foster's work are devoted to problems of
mass organization around green issues and how many devoted to
establishing The Scientific Truth? In other words, how man chapters
are devoted to live issues, how many to beating a dead horse?


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