[Marxism] Marx was not a Greeny
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.
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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
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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