The future-blind v. the realists

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Jun 20 07:53:14 MDT 2000

>Neither you nor Lou has made the tiniest gesture towards working out
>how this makes the least practical difference in the work of the socialist
>movement. You simply keep repeating that things are horrible, with
>which I am in complete agreement. Over on pen-l Lou is making a lot
>of fuss about how Marx wasn't merely a theorist but that everything
>he wrote was directly linked to the exigencies of building a socialist
>movement. But when I say that should be of concern to marxist
>ecologists today, Lou has recourse to the academic marxist's position
>that curiosity about the truth is a good thing.

Evidently you weren't paying close attention to what I was saying. I stated
that after the completion of Capital, Marx turned his attention to
immediate problems in the class struggle. He was absorbed with
party-building problems, how to interpret phenomena like Bonapartism,
Russian populism and chattel slavery, etc. But Volume 3 of Capital
addressed important theoretical issues involving the use of land, which was
related to the most pressing ecological crisis of the 19th century: soil
fertility. Even after this theoretical analysis was completed, Marx never
proposed that the revolutionary movement campaign around the question of
restoring soil fertility by eliminating the breach between town and
country. This remained a "maximal" demand of the Communist Manifesto. His
main intention was to state that only communism could resolve this crisis.
On the level of day-to-day struggles, Marx was much more concerned with
issues such as how to overthrow the landed gentry, establish the right to
vote for the working class so it could advance its own interests, etc. The
fact that he was preoccupied with the latter does not mean that he
neglected the former issues.

The problem today is that we have not carried out the kind of work that
Marx did in V. 3 for the ecological crisis of today. Within Marxism, there
are four schools of thought that are contending with each other:

1. James O'Connor's "second contradiction" thesis: This maintains that the
capital accumulation process will continue to undermine its ability to
sustain itself. Breakdowns in the environmental infrastructure (water,
sanitation, food) will eventually undermine capitalism's ability to create
commodities at the point of production, which is the realm of the "primary
contradiction" between wage-labor and capital.

2. David Harvey's "brown Marxism": This has been defended here by Jose and
those comrades who have been influenced by Frank Furedi. With Harvey, you
get a "workerist" attack on issues such as deforestation, etc. He argues
that the disappearance of the rainforest doesn't matter much to people
living in the ghetto, so the left should focus on things like exposure to
pesticides by farmworkers, etc.

3. Frankfurt School: This includes a number of thinkers who argue that Marx
never really considered ecological questions and that this is the cause of
environmental ruin in the former Soviet Union. They stress the need for a
return to "spiritual" values and share many of the beliefs of the deep
ecologists. Ted Benton, editor of "The Greening of Marxism", is the most
prominent spokesman for this current. He felt the need particularly to
attack the "Promethean" aspect of Marxism on these questions.

4. Classical Marxism: This is a fairly recent trend and owes much to Paul
Burkett, author of "Marx and Nature" and John Bellamy Foster whose "Marx's
Ecology" attempts to restore the materialist component of Marx's thought.
Mark and I are obviously part of this trend, but have our own particular
areas of interest. Mark has been concentrating on the energy and global
warming questions, while my attention has been focused on ecology and
indigenous peoples.

In any case, until Marxism has debated out and resolved these questions, it
will not be able to maximize its influence on the intelligentsia. I want to
stress the importance, by the way, of who our target audience is. It is not
the working-class at this point. It is a rather broad milieu of scientists
and students in various fields who are deeply distressed by the state of
the world. We are trying to win them to Marxism. Unless they understand
that the ecological crisis is rooted in the capitalist system, they will
continue to encounter frustration.

It is unfortunate that you lack the intellectual curiosity to delve into
these issues, but are not shy about intervening in the discussions. For
somebody who is a retired academic, you have the time and the training to
improve your mind. Writing garbage on the Marxism list is a good way to
kill time, but not to develop theory.

Louis Proyect

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