Cotton and Scarcity

Charles Jannuzi b_rieux at
Sun Jan 19 23:35:57 MST 2003

L Proyect writes:

>>But the problems that Liebig and Marx were
grappling with are the same we face today, namely
a rift in the metabolism of living creatures and
their food sources. If your observation above was
meant to suggest that we no longer have the same
sort of issues, let me lay out briefly what we
are up against<<

If I felt we didn't have the same sort of issues,
why would I have cited the activities of the
flock of sparrows that inhabit my neighborhood?
(tongue-in-cheek). Seriously, it is worth
watching the few species that do somehow manage
to co-exist with humans in our urban and
developed suburban and exurban settings, yet
isn't it amazing just what little they get by
with? Or, staying on this topic, those of you who
have backyards, have you ever noticed just how
much is possible to transform city environments
for wildlife simply by providing native species
plants for food and shelter? My brother's very
small backyard is an oasis for numerous species
of birds simply because he plants stuff that is
good for food and shelter and is native to his
part of Maryland.

I would say, if anything, the problems we are up
against now ARE WORSE, and we have no promise of
tapping into some new seemingly limitless supply
of energy, and even if we did, we have no promise
of doing so without destroying our own

>> I think it is possible to misuse the term
"Malthusian". Since Marx embraced Liebig's
analysis, this would imply that Marx was a
Malthusian himself. Liebig's importance to Marx
was less about the technical issues of guano
availability, etc than it was about the
city-countryside divide.<<

I think Marx might not have understood Liebig's
actual agenda--Liebig was a chemical fertilizer
salesman with an alarming message trying to get
the attention of a world already tuned into
Malthus as well as Social Darwinism (even if they
didn't always call it this--call it Spencerism if
you want). Even if Leibig was right about some
things (the humus theory of soil being wrong, the
limited supply of guano), I don't see how this
would mean negating Marx's analysis. Marx and
Engels offered what many felt and still feel to
be an effective antidote to both Malthus and

>>But only if the entire system of agricultural
production is revamped, which necessitates a
reorganization of society.<<

Yes, but we have to be careful here. We don't
want to be accused (wrongly but loudly of course)
of advocating something like the Khmer Rouge.
Also, reorganization of a society in which less
than 2% of its workforce works in agriculture is
a far different thing than one where 50% work is
in agriculture. I think for one thing countries
actually have to be prepared to spend a higher %
of GNP on their agricultural systems as part of
their environments, and we all know that the
WTO-sponsored trend is to get developed countries
to spend less so they will import from the
surplus countries.

>>A much better example for what we need is
contemporary Cuba:<<

I agree the article does show how governments
which address rationally but humanely the social
relations of production in agriculture can
actually increase food production. Unfortunately,
it is also an exigent response in an extremely
hostile world, so I'm sure so much more can still
be accomplished.

Charles J

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