Ecology and Political Strategy, was Re: Forwarded from Hans Ehrbar

Carrol Cox cbcox at
Sun Jun 11 18:11:49 MDT 2000

Louis Proyect wrote:

> Sigh, you just don't get it. Everybody understands that the Seattle
> protests were signs of an incipient radicalization.

Everybody (including me) *hopes* that they were signs of incipient
radicalization. There are a number of ways that potential could be
blocked of course.

> What do you think got
> those young people in the streets? The most militant protestors were those
> who had been involved in defending old-growth forests in the Pacific
> northwest for most of the 1990s. What do you think gets people to chain
> themselves to a Redwood tree or to sit down in front of a bulldozer?

I'll take this question as a serious one, though I know its rhetorical.
gets people to chain themselves to redwoods? I'm fairly certain I do
what causes them to do so: they are quite properly pissed off at lumber
companies for destroying something very rare and very beautiful
and very linked to other parts of the environment and impossible
to replace. After they have acted from that very casual (though quite
legitimate) motive some not all of them do begin to realize, if only
vaguely, that defending the redwood trees doesn't, in fact, do much
to defend the redwood trees, and they began probing the world a bit.
>From there, almost anything or nothing can happen. But what leads you to
notion that they would read Bill McKibben's and *then* go chain
to a tree. Far more likely is that they will first chain themselves to
trees, *then* read someone to help them make sense of the activity they
find themselves involved in.

Nestor got the core of first steps in politics when he mentioned that
the crowds at a demonstration were anxious to take any leaflets that
anyone had to give them. First the demonstration out of a wild jumble
of contingent and unspecifiable reasons in each case, *then* the urge
to make sense of it. And gradually, at least for many of them, the
urge to *share* the sense they are beginning to have of their activity.
It is at *this* point, and only at this point, that we marxists have
much to say to them.

> Reading Althusser or Lukacs? No, most probably reading stuff like Bill
> McKibben's "The End of Nature", a passionate call to action against global
> warming, that like Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" appeared originally in
> the New Yorker magazine.

Nonsense, you seem to think the world is a classroom of some sort.
All the people I knew in the '60s or '70s that got involved in the
intellectualist way you describe have long sense dropped out of
political activity or turned sweet-hearted liberals.

> You and Hans and Jose have absolutely nothing to say to these activists.
> Your Marxism is totally unfeeling when it comes to these kinds of issues.
> It is a sign that books like John Bellamy Foster's "Marx's Ecology" and
> Paul Burkett's "Marx and Nature" are urgently needed. Unless the ecological
> dimension of Marx's thought is restored to its proper place, we will be
> seen as utterly irrelevant to this new generation. I have no intention of
> cutting myself off from them.

Lou, on this subject, though your content is different, the shape
and thrust of your thought is right out of Henwood. You have utterly
lost the key Leninist capacity to start from shared principles and
struggle for unity. Instead you have become a fucking Platonist who
can't see anything except the Blinding Theological Truth to which
all must bow. If you would come down from that empyrean and read
what Jose and I are saying you might realize that on every ecological
issue that makes the least difference in political practice *or*
political theory we share a profound level of agreement. The issues
you want to argue endlessly belong in graduate seminar in theology.

Hans of course agrees with you -- so I don't know how you include
his position with mine or Jose's.

> Rosa Luxemburg:
> What am I reading? For the most part, natural science: geography of plants
> and animals. Only yesterday I read why the warblers are disappearing from
> Germany. Increasingly systematic forestry, gardening and agriculture are,
> step by step destroying all natural nesting and breeding places: hollow
> trees, fallow land, thickets of shrubs, withered leaves on the garden
> grounds. It pained me so when I read that. Not because of the song they
> sing for people, but rather it was the picture of the silent, irresistible
> extinction of these defenseless little creatures which hurt me to the point
> that I had to cry. It reminded me of a Russian book which I read while
> still in Zurich, a book by Professor Sieber about the ravage of the
> redskins in North America. In exactly the same way, step by step, they have
> been pushed from their land by civilized men and abandoned to perish
> silently and cruelly.

Yup. I was saying things like that 35 years ago and have never stopped
saying them. I also took it for granted from the very beginning (and
said so on Earth Dayd 1970 to an audience of about 700) that the best
framework in which to organized resistance to the despoilation of the
environment was marxism, so while I will be reading Foster's book, I
don't quite know what he will have to say about Marx that I haven't
already taken for granted.


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