Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 12 09:29:44 MDT 2003

Paolo Chiocchetti wrote:
> Observing from an historical and dialectical point of view, it's probable
> that the same will happen with oil, which will be substituted as the main
> fuel by the atomic, solar, eolic, hydro or other kind of energy, whose cost
> of production and efficiency will improve as long as they get a mass market
> and increasing investments.

It would be a mistake to assume that any of us, including the late Mark
Jones, believed that capitalism could not find "fixes" for all sorts of
ecological problems, especially those involving resources such as oil,
water, soil, etc.--in other words the basics.

There *is* a Marxist, well quasi-Marxist anyhow, who does believe that
capitalism will collapse because of what he calls the "second
contradiction of capitalism", namely those involving energy depletion,
sewage disposal, water access, etc. I refer to James O'Connor.

There's a good critique of O'Connor on the Monthly Review website by
Paul Burkett, who has tended to line up with John Bellamy Foster and me
on these questions. He writes:

As for the "second contradiction," it is by no means clear that rising
"external costs" from capital's use of natural and social conditions
need translate into profitability problems for capital as a whole. All
capital accumulation requires is exploitable labor power and material
conditions conducive to extraction of surplus labor and its
objectification in marketable use values. The qualitative nature of the
production conditions, labor power, and produced use values is
historically contingent. Pollution control and waste disposal, prisons
(with exploitation of imprisoned labor power), and police and security
services, are all quite profitable sectors, even though they represent
private costs and/or tax bills from the standpoint of many individual

full: http://www.monthlyreview.org/299burk.htm

Mark's position (and mine) is that capitalism will try to solve these
contradictions through the hides of the working class, as it always has.
It will launch wars, cut wages, starve people, make them sick if
necessary in order to protect the bottom line of corporations.

Mark was mainly interested in attacking the kind of techno-optimism you
find in Frank Furedi's various and sundry projects, Doug Henwood, Brad
DeLong and so on. All these characters explicity (or implicitly in
Henwood's case) assume that capitalism is a dynamic system that can meet
the needs of a growing population. Any challenge to this proposition is
viewed as "Malthusian". Well, I don't know if it is Malthusian to say
that the Southwest is running out of water, or that Bluefin Tuna are
disappearing. But it is the truth.


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