[Marxism] Class Struggle, Fossil Fuels,and Environmental

ehrbar ehrbar at lists.econ.utah.edu
Thu Jun 19 15:20:56 MDT 2008

Brad wrote, citing from http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/ehrbar180608.html

> --"Although the limits of fossil-fuel based growth are apparent now, and it is
> clear that both numbers and per capita consumption of the human population will
> decline.."---
> You really should be careful with statements such as this.  Do we really know
> the limits of fossil-fuel based growth?  Do you mean under capitalism or in
> general?  Do you mean with a very large percentage of the industrialized
> populations consuming massive amounts of meat and driving SUV's to the mall or
> in general?  Do you mean with a throw away consumer society?
> How do we know that numbers of people will now decline?  Is there no alternative
> way in which the number of people could actually increase?  What if we got rid
> of SUV's and increased the MPG to a minimum of 45 and people cut their meat
> consumption in half.  The earth would then be able to hold many more people.
> What do you mean by 'per capita consumption', consumption of what?  Food, fuel,
> water, air, or Britney Spears CDs?  I know of no way to measure per capita
> consumption in general.

The environmental catastrophe is much more serious than you think.  Al
Gore's movie had some good facts and explanations, but the tepid
actions proposed at the end are an entirely insufficient remedy.  A
good source about the scientific consensus regarding what is in store
is the book Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas,
National Geographic, 2008, amazon http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/142620213X

> ---"Instead of an ever tightening immiseration of the working class and
> overthrow of the capitalist system, as expected by Marx, the one-time gift of
> fossil fuels led to a standoff between classes, in which rising profits were
> accompanied by a population explosion and rising living standards for important
> parts of the working class."---
> Is this how it happened?  Was there no immiseration and a correlated increase in
> class struggle?  What period are you referring to?  Marx was talking about the
> second half of the 19th Century, surely there was no buying off of labor
> through fossil fuels then.  How did this original- 1860's-1900 class struggle
> play out?  How were they bought off if not by oil?

Marx's logic was impeccable: capital is so voracious that it will make
the working class poorer and poorer, and the working class will rise
up and defeat capitalism.  Why didn't it happen this way?

It is my hypothesis that one should look at fossil fuels as
explanation.  Energy is one of the prime productive forces every
society needs.  A good book about the transhistorical role of the cost
of energy is "The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the
Renewal of Civilization" by Thomas Homer-Dixon, Island Press 2006,
home page http://www.theupsideofdown.com/

> A one time gift? Do you mean the post war boom era? If so, your thesis would
> imply that during energy shortages- the 1970's- the class struggle would
> increase in intensity.  Is there any evidence of this?  Could there be other
> means to buying off the working class and dampening the class struggle?
> I am also not convinced that we are witnessing the end of oil, but that is
> another conversation.  To play it out though, what if oil prices relax in the
> near future?  What does that do for all of the desires to shift to a non-oil
> based society if their 'peak oil' theory is proven wrong or premature?

Our planet receives energy through solar radiation, and until very
recently humans received it indirectly from solar radiation through
agriculture and biomass fuels.  But suddenly, with coal, oil, and
natural gas, energy which took millions of years of natural sun
radiation and photosynthesis etc. became cheaply available to humans.
This is the one-time bonanza.  It is one-time not only because those
fuels are a finite exhaustible resource, but also because they cause
global warming.  Global warming is the binding constraint, not peak

This allowed the population to grow, often under miserable conditions,
but they did not die but survived and multiplied until we have now too
many people than the earth can sustain with the given technology.

> Also, I would not call it a standoff between classes.  The bourgeoisie's has
> clearly been advancing since the 1970's, or the 1930's depending on your take
> of the New Deal.  Your model seems to imply a state of equilibrium in the class
> struggle that looks dangerously agent less. It also seems to be mono-causal,
> which is not really the way complex social systems usally work.  What about
> gender, race, nationality, religion, imperialism....

Granted, my hypothesis is a very broad framework through which I try
to understand the large historical lines.  I have great respect for
the late Mark Jones, but I was always suspicious about his theory
which gave one use-value an overriding role in capitalism, which
produces value, not use-value.  Perhaps the fossil-fuel bonanza
hypothesis is a better way to make sense of this.  The magic of
capitalism, often attritubed to technology, which transfixed the
working class, is really the squanderous exploitation of the fossil
fuel bonanza.

> ---"while the capitalists do not have an effective global institution of
> governance in place -- and if nations try to act individually, their hands are
> tied by capitalist competition."
> So there is no way that capitalist competition could solve ecological problems? 
> Think about this before we keep screaming that the sky is falling.  It is my
> belief that the ecological crisis could potentially be a huge boom for
> capitalism and usher in a very large expansion into green tech and consumption.
> There would of course be contradictions tied up in it, but with out resistance
> it is hard to see these contradictions as limits.

I didn't mean to imply that the capitalists will never get it together.  Right
now they don't have it together, and the lack of an effective global governance
structure is one of the openings which can give a popular movement an advantage.

> ---"In recent years we have been witnessing the powerful upsurge of an enduring
> popular environmental movement."
> Where?  I see the end of environmentalism and the emergence of capitalist green
> washing.  All of the environmental movements have turned into NGO's and sold
> out to corporate sponsors.  Where is this upsurge?  I do see a changing enviro
> consciousness, but it may be more a product of green wash advertisements and
> MSM adver-news than a movement.

I think we are only seeing the beginnings of a movement which will not cease,
because the evidence and damage of climate change will inexorably accumulate.
Every week there is News about one major environmental disaster.
Right now you can get more people out on the streets in the USA for anti-war
demonstrations than for global warming; and if you want to demonstrate for
universal health care, forget it, people have given up on that.  In the next
few years I think the environmental movement will bring millions out on the
streets, and they will be the catalyst which will enable the social justice
reforms to become reality as well.

> I will stop there, other than to say you appear to be operating under a nature-
> human duelism.  Humans as a problem for nature, rather than humans as part of
> nature.  A dialectical approach would produce much better results with out the
> humans v. nature dichotomy that simply does not hold. (check out Murry Bookchin
> for a dialectical analysis of human- nature interrelationships.  Although an
> anarchist (sometimes) he is still very insightful and was righting about this
> stuff 40 years ago!)
> Brad

If I'm wrong in so many ways, of course my methodology must be
suspect.  But thank you for your feedback.  Have to run, will be back
tonight or tomorrow morning.


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