Peter Grimes interview on Indymedia

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Nov 4 07:53:24 MST 2003

DMS wrote:
>And if it's energy, presented as an ahistorical category, as simply ENERGY,
>then we are obligated to point out that Marx missed the boat, because as an
>ahistorical category, the analysis based on energy had to be accessible at
>every stage of development.  Marx should have known.  It's energy,
>nature--not the appropriation of nature by human, collective, labor.

I think that we have established that Grimes attacks the environmental 
crisis from a perspective outside of Marxism. But you have to recognize 
that both Marx and Engels were strict materialists and viewed humanity as 
an integral part of the natural world. That is why Engels wrote:

"The whole of nature accessible to us forms a system, an interconnected 
totality of bodies, and by bodies we understand here all material existence 
extending from stars to atoms, indeed right to ether particles, in so far 
as one grants the existence of the last named. In the fact that these 
bodies are interconnected is already included that they react on one 
another, and it is precisely this mutual reaction that constitutes motion. 
It already becomes evident here that matter is unthinkable without 
motion... Descartes' principle, that the amount of motion present in the 
universe is always the same, has only the formal defect of applying a 
finite expression to an infinite magnitude. On the other hand, two 
expressions of the same law are at present current in natural science: 
Helmholtz's law of the conservation of force, and the newer, more precise, 
one of the conservation of energy. Of these, the one, as we shall see, says 
the exact opposite of the other, and moreover each of them expresses only 
one side of the relation."

If Engels can cite Helmholtz, then it is clear that we have an obligation 
to stay current with contemporary science on matters such as the 
conservation of energy, entropy, etc. For that matter, the Bolsheviks 
fostered environmental studies in the early 1920s that were clearly in the 
tradition of Engels's work. Even after the rise of Stalinism, thinkers 
within the Soviet orbit continued to produce original and important work, 
such as JBS Haldane.

Their work dovetails with more recent investigations into the relationship 
between society, energy and the environmental crisis.

As capitalism grows old as a system and as resources become more scarce, 
the level of energy expenditures tends to rise. For example, half a century 
ago, over 10 times more oil was discovered per meter than today; the cost 
of an exploration well of 30,000 feet is 120 times higher than that of a 
well of 5,000 feet. The nuclear industry represents the most extreme sorts 
of costs, measured in this fashion. The costs, however, are not encountered 
when uranium is extracted from the earth, but when after the ore has been 
transformed into energy. The radioactive wastes require an inordinately 
expensive treatment, since the half-life of plutonium 239, for example, is 
24,600 years. That is why the nuclear industry is so dangerous. The 
capitalist class does not want to invest in the storage capabilities to 
protect us from such wastes. They would prefer to send it off to places 
like Mali to poison poor people of color.

Agriculture is the most highly visible aspect of the capitalist economy's 
tendency to attempt to pay for these hidden costs in a destructive manner. 
Massive use of fertilizer and conditioning of the soil requires significant 
energy resources, mostly derived from petroleum and byproducts. In Britain, 
6.5 calories of fossil fuel produced 1 calorie of food; the ratios were 
6.1/1 in France in 1973 and 9.6/1 in the USA in 1970. 16.7% of energy 
consumed in the USA in the early 80s, according to some scientists, went 
into agriculture and food-production. The problem with all this, just as it 
was in the wasteful agriculture in the Alps described by Engels, is that it 
has environmental consequences.
Agricultural waste is one the biggest problems today that capitalism has no 
capacity to resolve. It is a daily feature on the news programs, as we 
discover that pesticides or fertilizers are producing mutant frogs in 
Minnesota or killing entire species of fishes in Montana, which all points 
ultimately in the direction of human birth defects. Deléage states:

"Most problems accumulate in the final phase of the productive process, in 
the form of waste. This applies, for example, to fertilizer, particularly 
to nitrates no longer held down by the colloids of the vegetal soil, but 
instead carried away by running water. This irrationality has already led 
to genuine ecological catastrophes in certain regions of Europe where 
intensive agriculture is practiced. Thus, in late May 1988 the North Sea, 
from the southern shores of Norway and Sweden to the northern shores of 
Denmark, was invaded across some 7.5 million hectares by a sudden 
proliferation of the seaweed Chrysochromulina polylepis, which destroyed 
all other forms of life to a depth of 10 meters below the surface of the 
ocean. The cause of this ecological catastrophe was the saturation of the 
seawater with nutrients, particularly nitrates used by farmers of the 
regions adjoining the North Sea, 50% of which are carried to the sea by 
rain and rivers. One must add multiple accidents of various kinds 
registered downstream of the estuaries of rivers flowing through regions of 
intensive agriculture. Such accidents occur every year in France along the 
shores of Brittainy. Across the Atlantic, in the estuary of the Saint 
Lawrence River, a proliferation of diatoms led to three deaths and hundreds 
of cases of food poisoning in 1987."

Deléage sees the second law of thermodynamics as key to understanding these 
problems and resolving them within a socialist framework: economic 
activity, intended to satisfy human needs, runs against the general 
tendency of the universe to move toward a state of greater disorder, of 
higher entropy. By definition, the overall increase of entropy associated 
with the productive process is always greater than the local decrease of 
entropy corresponding to this process. In other words, for example, the 
amount of energy that goes into industrial farming is much higher than the 
human energy associated with subsistence farming. When we drive a car, a 
gallon of gasoline that is burned in the process increases the entropy in 
the environment. When we produce a sheet of copper, the disorder entropy of 
the ore is decreased, but only at the expense of increased entropy in the 
rest of the universe.

Human beings are not immune from this process, which takes place at the 
level of matter itself. That is why the project that Engels began with 
Dialectics of Nature is worth understanding and building upon. We are not 
apart from the natural world, since we are composed of matter ourselves and 
the energy we expend in transforming matter into commodities transforms the 
natural world and society itself ultimately. All of the processes are 
dialectically interwoven.


>Then Grimes is on to climate change, microbe invasion, and... shortages.
>For example Grimes describes the pricing of water as a result of these
>climate shifts leading to a shortage of water rather than an action of
>capitalists to extract more profit.  There is no shortage of water.

Of course, there is a shortage of water. The American southwest is running 
short of water. Isn't that obvious? A socialist America will have to take a 
very hard look at air-conditioned Phoenix, etc. There is nothing in the 
Grundrisse that can generate a new Oglalla aquifer.

>It's the difference between a class content to history and the revenge of
>nature.  The gravediggers, for Grimes, are not the workers but the viruses.
>The methodology is at core, anti-Marxist.  Revolution may be a moral
>imperative, but is never a historical necessity based on the organization of

Socialism cannot transcend nature, however.

Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list:

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