[Marxism] Marx was not a Greeny

David McMullen dfmcmullen at gmail.com
Thu Apr 20 20:53:57 MDT 2017

Marx was not a Greeny

The attempt by John Bellamy Foster of Monthly Review to show that Marx 
was a greeny requires some rather weird interpretations of Marx's writings.

Duration 5:27

All videos, audios and transcripts

The Communist Manifesto Project Website


Marx was not a Greeny

There is a prevailing view that being left-wing means being green. We 
are all meant to be watermelons - green on the outside and red on the 
inside. This is a view that I totally reject and I have covered the 
issue to some extent in the recent video on economic growth.
Staking a claim to be the biggest watermelons are people who call 
themselves "ecological Marxists". They claim that if Marx were around 
today he too would be a greeny. In their view he would be like them and 
support organic agriculture and a steady state economy based on 
renewable resources that would provide everyone with so-called 
"sufficiency". In such a world, the economies of the poor countries 
would increase a bit while those of the rich countries would shrink a 
lot. The most notable exponent of this view is John Bellamy Foster, the 
editor of The Monthly Review. He goes through the writings of Marx and 
tortures them until they deliver what he wants.

Foster draws our attention to a number of Marx's views that you could 
use to start building a case that he was a Greeny. Marx was concerned 
about the destruction of natural stocks of fertile soil, forests and 
fish that were needed by future generations. He also commented on how 
consumption often included frivolities that reflected people's 
alienation rather than real needs and that human thriving requires more 
than increased consumption. Foster also correctly points out that when 
Marx talked about mastering nature he did not mean destroying it but 
mastering its laws and harnessing it accordingly. However, from here on 
the argument begins to get really weird.

Foster tries to extract greenness from the fact that Marx was a 
materialist who believed we lived in a material world where we depended 
on plants and animals for food, water to drink and air to breath. This 
is a rather silly argument given that you would be hard to find someone 
who disagrees with this view.

Foster also misconstrues Marx's constant reference to the fact that 
capitalists are compelled by the forces of competition to accumulate 
capital in order to survive. He tries to make out that Marx actually 
disapproved of this phenomenon. In fact, Marx’s view was that this is 
what made capitalism superior to previous class societies where the 
ruling class wasted all the surplus value on conspicuous consumption. 
Instead of being compelled to accumulate these societies were compelled 
to stagnate. By reinvesting most of the surplus value, capitalism 
delivers economic and social progress.

Foster also picks up on Marx's analysis of the contradiction between 
town and country. In the separation of town and country, Marx was 
concerned about two things. Firstly it stunted the brains of those in 
the country and ruined the physical health of those in the city.
Secondly it meant a break in the nutrient cycle as human waste and food 
scraps were not returned to the farm but instead dumped in rivers and 
oceans. This transfer of people from the land to cities was an 
inevitable part of capitalist development. Capitalist farming needed 
less workers and the cost to the soil and to workers of concentrating 
the latter in the cities was of no concern to industrial capitalists.

However, these contradictions are being resolved without having to 
spread the population evenly over the landscape. High density living in 
large cities can now be quite healthy and comfortable. Living in the 
countryside no longer means being cut off from the world, given modern 
modes of transport and communications. This modern transport can also 
truck in fertilizer, be it human waste, animal manure or the synthetic 
kind that is now produced in abundance. Indeed, the present concern is 
excessive nutrients and resulting emissions into ground water or the 
atmosphere. The best hope for dealing with this under present capitalist 
conditions is through increased regulation and better management 
including greater adoption of precision farming.

The greening of Marx of course requires Foster to explain away how Marx 
and Engels talked about communism unleashing the productive forces. He 
claims this thoroughly un-green viewpoint was confined to their youthful 
less mature writings. This is simply not true. Marx in Critique of the 
Gotha Programme of 1875 and Engels in Anti-Duhring of 1877 both express 
pro-growth views. I have provided the relevant quotes in the comment 
section below.

In the video on economic growth, I argue firstly that far greater levels 
of material output are needed for communism because it has to be based 
on shared prosperity rather than shared poverty and secondly that there 
are no environmental or resources constraints that prevent us from 
achieving high and increasing levels of global prosperity.  I have 
provided a link to that video below. See you next time.

Referred to in the video

In part I of Marx's Critique of the Gotha Programme of 1875 we read:

"Let us take, first of all, the words "proceeds of labor" in the sense 
of the product of labor; then the co-operative proceeds of labor are the 
total social product.

"From this must now be deducted: First, cover for replacement of the 
means of production used up. Second, additional portion for expansion of 
production. Third, reserve or insurance funds to provide against 
accidents, dislocations caused by natural calamities, etc."

And further down in Part I we read:

"In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving 
subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith 
also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; 
after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; 
after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around 
development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative 
wealth flow more abundantly -- only then then can the narrow horizon of 
bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its 
banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his 

Then in Engels' Anti-Duhring of 1977 we read: .

"The expansive force of the means of production bursts the bonds that 
the capitalist mode of production had imposed upon them. Their 
deliverance from these bonds is the one precondition for an unbroken, 
constantly accelerated development of the productive forces, and 
therewith for a practically unlimited increase of production itself. Nor 
is this all. The socialised appropriation of the means of production 
does away, not only with the present artificial restrictions upon 
production, but also with the positive waste and devastation of 
productive forces and products that are at the present time the 
inevitable concomitants of production, and that reach their height in 
the crises. Further, it sets free for the community at large a mass of 
means of production and of products, by doing away with the senseless 
extravagance of the ruling classes of today and their political 
representatives. The possibility of securing for every member of 
society, by means of socialised production, an existence not only fully 
sufficient materially, and becoming day by day more full, but an 
existence guaranteeing to all the free development and exercise of their 
physical and mental faculties — this possibility is now for the first 
time here, but it is here."

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