Environmentalism and the American Socialist

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Sun May 7 10:45:16 MDT 2000

[To a very large extent, the work of John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett
has been dedicated to re-establishing the ties between Marxism and ecology,
which had existed during Marx's own career as demonstrated by his concern
with the problem of soil fertility. So when Marxists of earlier generations
display concerns like Marx's, they should be singled out and integrated
into this intellectual tradition.

John's research into Soviet ecological thought, most notably not excluding
the Stalin era, goes a step in this direction. In a recent article, he took
note of scientist V.L. Komarov who wrote in 1935 that, "The private owner
or employer, however necessary it may be to make the changing of the world
comply with the laws of Nature, cannot do so since he aims at profit and
only profit. By creating crisis upon crisis in industry he lays waste
natural wealth in agriculture, leaving behind a barren soil and in the
mountain districts bare rocks and stony slopes."

In 1957, the United States was not the obvious place to search for
environmental initiatives. One year later, Rachel Carson would begin the
research that led to the publication of "Silent Spring", but in previous
years, one can perceive a general complacency around such questions related
to a large extent to the general sense of technological and industrial
optimism brought on by postwar prosperity and the euphoria surrounding the
"promise" of nuclear power.

In these circumstances, the article by Reuben W. Borough titled "The
Religion of Conservation" appearing in the September 1957 American
Socialist appears like a lightning bolt in a blue sky. I want to preface
the excerpt from the article below with a few words about Borough, who is
described by the editors as: "editor of Upton Sinclair’s EPIC News in the
thirties, and a California leader of the [Henry] Wallace movement in the

EPIC stood for End Poverty in California, the party which supported Upton
Sinclair's run for governor of California in 1934. In Greg Mitchell's "The
Campaign of the Century," a prize-winning book on the campaign, we learn
that Sinclair tapped into powerful anticapitalist feelings in the state,
that encompassed lowly farmworkers as well as Hollywood stars, including
Charlie Chaplin. The studio heads, fearing a threat to their open shops,
and agribusiness, combined to redbait and sabotage Sinclair's campaign.

Also noteworthy was the Communist Party's sectarian opposition to Sinclair,
who was not ready to function under their discipline. Sinclair, who was a
long-time socialist in the Debs tradition and muckraking novelist,
supported the Russian Revolution but, like the editors of American
Socialist, believed that American needed its own revolutionary traditions
and program.

Borough, just like Upton Sinclair, was a living symbol of those traditions.
He is described by Mitchell in the following terms:

>>The newspaper’s editor, Rube Borough, was an excitable fellow with bushy
hair described by a former colleague as "a wild man from the Borneo of
newspaperdom." As a Socialist reporter in the Midwest, he had been close to
Carl Sandburg (whom he knew as "Sandy")—until he panned the poet’s Good
Morning, America. Rube came to Los Angeles and started working for the
pro-worker daily the Record in 1917.

Borough was a natural choice to edit the EPIC News, operating out of state
EPIC headquarters in L.A., but lately he had started to look ahead. EPIC
had become so much more than Sinclair, and yet the EPIC News was little
more than Uppie’s campaign sheet. Borough wanted it to promote the entire
progressive movement, from co-ops to technocracy. He loved Sinclair, but
recognized that he was only the catalyst of the insurrection, not its
cause. Win or lose in November, EPIC’s priorities (with no election to
mobilize around) would change. Borough’s goal was to make the EPIC News a
daily newspaper, and go toe-to-toe with the Los Angeles Times. It would be
the People versus the Interests, seven mornings a week. <<


The Religion of Conservation by Reuben W. Borough

F OR many months now I have been verbally exploding at the breakfast table
over the steady stream of tragedies headlined in the Los Angeles Times. I
have been repeating over and over again an old colloquialism from boyhood
days: "We’re too big for our pants!" I repeat it here with two recent
examples of the current scientific and industrial anarchy of the
profit-takers fresh in mind:

1) The aircraft collision a short while back in the San Fernando Valley
that took the lives of five airmen and two high school students and injured
more than 70 other persons—an impossible occurrence in any socially
responsible economy.

2) The spectacular automation triumph at the Holmes Foundry, Sarnia,
Ontario, which manufactures engine blocks for the Ford Motor Company. This
plant, which before mechanization in 1954 employed 475 men, reduced its
working force after mechanization by 100 men, dropped one working day from
the week, and still shot its output up so successfully that it met its
entire year’s production quota in six months! The plant is now closed: What
greater proof could you have of the intellectual acumen of modem science
and modern industry?

We are indeed "too big for our pants!" We know how to produce but we will
not produce without criminal waste and destruction, in contempt of the
Psalmist’s reminder that not only the Earth but "they that dwell therein"
are the Lord’s.

The subject of this article is: The Religion of Conservation. By "religion"
I mean an over-all faith and conviction that bind man in reason and logic
to a consistent attitude toward the universe and, more directly, toward the
Earth Planet, the natural scene of his activities. By "conservation" I mean
the preservation of this scene, the safeguarding of nature’s resources,
their expansion wherever and whenever necessary and possible, and the
abstention from action, individual or social, that impairs or destroy them.

What should this consistent attitude of man toward universe be? My answer
is that he should accept it, not rail against it; and that if he is in good
health, individually, socially and politically, he will accept it. Moreover
should accept it, not in any semi-neutral manner but frank friendliness and
love and, even at times, with passionate exultation. This moving scene
around him is his home. He is inextricably part of it—body, mind, so all of
him—and he can never be banished from it. He wrapped in it, cradled in it,
sustained by it every hour of day and night, and at the end he will lie
down in it a be at rest in it.

SUPPOSING, then, that man does bring himself en rapport with life, what
will be the result? Obviously, this present society, he will act. He will
not merely remain an ecstatic poet, commendable as that role may be. will
take the oath of allegiance to the Earth Planet and universe. He will join
the army of the Militant Conservationists—he will go to war against the
enemies of Mother Nature.

So now he finds himself committed to causes, ennobling causes that deal
with his day and reach beyond his day it the distant future. These causes
are varied but they are concerned with the defense of the natural
environment against defilement by profiteering special interests ~ the
wastage of the natural resources by these same forces

The purity and integrity of air, water, soil, are vital to him. Thus he is
engaged in continuous battle with established and familiar forms of
industry and transport that spout poisonous fumes and waste from smoke
stacks and exhaust pipes. Thus he must expose and excoriate barbarian
cities that pollute streams, lakes, sea, with their floods of raw sewage.
Thus he must bring every social, political and educational pressure against
such earth-husbandry abuses as over-grazing of the range and repetitive and
similar unscientific crop practices. Thus he fight destruction of the
forests and resist over-concentration of population in vast industrial

But these engagements, in the long range of time, are, all, mere
skirmishes. For a new terror now infects the against which he must rally
his full faculties—the of atomic energy. Little need be said here as to the
effects of nuclear explosions. My readers know the meaning of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki. But they are not sufficiently acquainted, I am sure, with the
menace to life of a peace-time nuclear reactor plant in industrial
operation at its current stage of development. All of us should have such
acquaintance. Certainly our citizen of the Earth Planet, committed to love
for and reverence for life should have acquaintance. . .

WHERE then will this Earth-and universe-conscious citizen turn? If he has
mastery of society, he will turn to the great non-depletables, the sun, the
moon, and the winds, and he will command the shift. Proudly he will point
to publicly owned hydro as proof of the wisdom of his decision. Here is a
power resource, linked to the drifting mists and rains of the ageless
hydrologic cycle, which, if its potential were fully realized, could meet
the what economy’s present needs. It is true that with the rapidly
expanding power requirements of the nation it would be inadequate in the
not-distant future, but it is a fixed supply—it does not decrease from year
to year as does the energy from coal, oil, gas, and the uranium atom.
Moreover, it is a clean power, polluting neither sky, earth or sea. And
instead of impairing the earth’s resources, it expands them. Its
multiple-purpose dams provide not only all power and light but flood
control, irrigation, stream regulation and navigation, recreation and a new
and revolutionary regional frontier.

The inexhaustibility, from the view-point of man, of three the power
resources of sun, moon, and wind is obviously indisputable.

For more than two billion years the sun has been crashing the earth’s
surface with its nuclear energy, delivering enough power to run all the
industries of the United States from collector-mirrors on 100-mile square
of desert.

The power of the moon—the tide-creating pull on the reads earth’s
oceans—has long fascinated the scientific and engineering mind. In the
1930’s, Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the harnessing of the massive ebb
and flow of the waters of Maine’s Passamaquoddy Bay as a Works Progress
Administration project. His board of three eminent engineers contended that
the planned dams and high-tide basins could furnish electricity at
economical rates. But the reactionaries in Congress entered boisterous
denials and buried the scheme under an avalanche of anti-"socialist" and
anti-"boondoggling" allegations.

That the uses of the winds, with the exciting historic mark, background of
their great mills against the sky, could be fully considerably extended
under scientific direction is conceded by high authority. Present
mechanisms convert the wind’s energy into low-load electric power which
definitely pays off in areas remote from water power. But whether these
mechanisms could ever be made competitive to present-day power supplies is
a matter of conjecture.

The problem of the conversion of power from these various non-depletable
sources has never been under sustained and organized inquiry in the United
States. This is a job beyond the immediate capacities of the isolated
laboratories of the private enterprisers—they cannot solve the problem in
time. Public enterprise can and must solve it. The loyal citizen of the
Earth Planet must marshal the political forces necessary to that end. The
long and ruthless raid of Greed upon the basic wealth of Nature must be
stopped. Loving care must take the place of the befoulment and destruction
of man's environment. This is the inescapable task and responsibility of
the religion of conservation.

Louis Proyect
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