Karl Marx, radical environmentalist

Phil Gasper

International Socialist Review columnist Phil Gasper challenges the myth that Marxism has nothing useful to say about the environment–with help from the old man himself.

At the demonstration in Washington, D.C., in February to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, which is being built to transport tar sands oil from Western Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, members of the Ecosocialist Contingent carried signs reading “System Change, Not Climate Change!”

The slogan was well received, as growing numbers of environmental activists recognize that only fundamental social and economic changes can solve the deepening global ecological crisis.

But what kinds of changes are needed and what strategies can win them? There are serious debates within the movement. What I want to argue here is that activists have much to gain by engaging with the ecological critique of capitalism first developed by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in the 19th century.

Until quite recently, there was a common myth that Marx and Engels had nothing useful to say about the environment. But over the past 10 to 15 years, this myth has been refuted by writers like the sociologist John Bellamy Foster and the environmental economist Paul Burkett.

In his book Marx’s Ecology, published in 2000, Foster shows that ecological ideas were central to Marx and Engels’ materialist outlook from the early 1840s. For example, in his 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, Marx wrote:

Man lives on nature–means that nature is his body, with which he must remain in continuous interchange if he is not to die. That man’s physical and spiritual life is linked to nature means simply that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature.

Both Marx and Engels point out in their later writings that capitalism disrupts the link between humans and the rest of the natural world, to the detriment of both. Marx sometimes calls this the “metabolic rift”–“an irreparable break in the coherence of social interchange prescribed by the natural laws of life.”

In his notebooks for Capital written in the 1850s, later published as the Grundrisse, Marx notes:

It is not the unity of living and active humanity with the natural, inorganic conditions of their metabolic exchange with nature, and hence their appropriation of nature, which requires explanation or is the result of a historic process, but rather the separation between these inorganic conditions of human existence and this active existence, a separation which is completely posited only in the relation of wage labor and capital.

IN CAPITALIST economies, a small minority, driven by competition and the search for ever-greater profits, controls the means of production. The system imposes a drive to accumulate on individual capitalists, and this results in a focus on short-term gains that ignore the long-term effects of production, including its consequences for the natural environment.

According to Engels:

As individual capitalists are engaged in production and exchange for the sake of the immediate profit, only the nearest, most immediate results must first be taken into account. As long as the individual manufacturer or merchant sells a manufactured or purchased commodity with the usual coveted profit, he is satisfied and does not concern himself with what afterwards becomes of the commodity and its purchasers.

Engels points out the way in which this drive for profit can lead to ecological catastrophe:

The same thing applies to the natural effects of the same actions. What cared the Spanish planters in Cuba, who burned down forests on the slopes of the mountains and obtained from the ashes sufficient fertilizer for one generation of very highly profitable coffee trees–what cared they that the heavy tropical rainfall afterwards washed away the unprotected upper stratum of the soil, leaving behind only bare rock!

Engels concludes: “In relation to nature, as to society, the present mode of production is predominantly concerned only about the immediate, the most tangible result; and then surprise is expressed that the more remote effects of actions directed to this end turn out to be quite different, are mostly quite the opposite in character.”

In Capital, drawing on the pioneering research of the German chemist Justus von Liebig, Marx discusses the process by which capitalism tends to deplete soil fertility:

Capitalist production, by collecting the population in great centers, and causing an ever-increasing preponderance of town population, on the one hand concentrates the historical motive power of society; on the other hand, it disturbs the circulation of matter between man and the soil, i.e., prevents the return to the soil of its elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing; it therefore violates the conditions necessary to lasting fertility of the soil.

Most obviously, human waste that in the past would have been used as fertilizer now has to be disposed of in other ways. “Excretions of consumption are of the greatest importance for agriculture,” Marx points out. “So far as their utilization is concerned, there is an enormous waste of them in the capitalist economy. In London, for instance, they find no better use for the excretion of four and a half million human beings than to contaminate the Thames with it at heavy expense.”

Meanwhile, the problem of soil depletion in 19th century Britain was dealt with first by importing large quantities of bones from Europe and guano from South America, and later with the use of artificial fertilizers, which in turn created their own problems of runoff and ground water contamination. According to Marx:

[A]ll progress in capitalistic agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the laborer, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time, is a progress towards ruining the lasting sources of that fertility…Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth–the soil and the laborer.

IN MARX and Engels’ day, the environmental damage caused by capitalism was localized to particular regions or countries. Today, the threat of climate change is global in scope, with the production of greenhouse gases by the most developed capitalist economies threatening ecosystems across the planet.

But while the scale and scope of the environmental crisis today is much bigger and the danger correspondingly greater, the underlying causes–the capitalist imperative to accumulate and grow, and the resulting “metabolic rift” between humans and the rest of the natural world–remain the same.

Because of this, there can be no technological fix for problems like global warming. Of course, new technologies–particularly renewable energy sources based on the sun, wind and tides–are needed. But they will not be sufficient unless they are integrated into an economic system that is not driven by the need to continually expand and that is democratically planned to ensure long-term sustainability.

For Marx, this meant “the associated producers…rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature; and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favorable to, and worthy of, their human nature.”

As Engels pointed out, however, such rational regulation would have to be undertaken with the greatest care:

Let us not…flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places, it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first…

Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature–but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.

Marx and Engels both argued that an environmentally sustainable society would require the “abolition of the antithesis between town and country.” Engels spelled out that this meant “as uniform a distribution as possible of the population over the whole country” and “an integral connection between industrial and agricultural production.”

If this analysis is correct, then environmentalists must set their sights not just on changes within the capitalist system, but ultimately on the abolition of capitalism itself. To avoid ecological catastrophe, we need to create a society based not on competition and perpetual growth, but on cooperation, economic democracy and long-term sustainability.

Marx offers the vision of such a society in the final pages of Capital, Volume 3:

From the standpoint of a higher socio-economic formation, the private property of particular individuals in the earth will appear just as absurd as the private property of one man in other men.

Even an entire society, a nation or all simultaneously existing societies taken together are not owners of the earth, they are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations, as boni patres familias [good heads of households].

We hope to put a stop to immediate threats like the Keystone XL pipeline with our activism. But ultimately, the hope of avoiding an environmental Armageddon requires us to take seriously the idea of fighting for the kind of system change that Marx described.

First published by Socialist Worker, June 4, 2013.



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Oct 1, 2019 12:25 AM

“Man is a part OF Nature, not apart FROM Nature” is how I put it several years ago in personal repudiation of the Genesis ideology of male dominance over the Earth.

Interesting how close it is to “That man’s physical and spiritual life is linked to nature means simply that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature.”

SAD! that, had Marx been central to the secondary and collegiate school curricula rather than censored and excluded from it, I might have been pondering some other great thing rather than reinventing the wheel nearly two centuries later.

The species has to get out of this repeating merry-go-round cycle of reinventing the wheel and, while respecting and honoring natural cycles, nevertheless finally make some linear progress in aggregating knowledge and then making sure it gets to every nook and cranny of human society.

I fear that the species, aside from the psychopaths, can not learn in a collective sense let alone learn from mistakes and learn the right lessons from mistakes.

For instance, the US military seems to NOT have learned its lesson from intervening in the civil war of Vietnam, which SHOULD have been do NOT intervene in civil wars. Now, instead, it STARTS civil wars as a pretext for, of course, then intervening in multiple regime change ops and civil wars worldwide, in collaboration with Israel, the Anglosphere and Nato.

As another example, the military seemed to learn the wrong lesson about the press in Vietnam. Instead of letting reporters wander around and file stories on what was TRULY going on, the US military used this processes called “EMBEDDING” — placing reporters with military units in Iraq, making them part of the unit “team” and in a larger sense a part of the military action “team” thereby making it impossible for the reporters to ask awkward uncomfortable questions, find what is truly going on or do anything except cheerlead.

We must consolidate our knowledges quickly and stop rediscovering the wheel and speak of values rather than boring data before we can stop human and general species extinctions from human, psychopath-led for-profit capitalist global heating causing the climate crisis.

Sep 29, 2019 3:26 PM

A Climate Modeller Spills the Beans ( 23rd September 2019 ): https://quadrant.org.au/opinion/doomed-planet/2019/09/a-climate-modeller-spills-the-beans/

A doubling in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), predicted to take place in the next 50 to 100 years, is expected to change the radiation balance at the surface by only about 2 percent. Yet according to current climate models, such a small change could raise global mean surface temperatures by between 2-5°C (4-9°F), with potentially dramatic consequences. If a 2 percent change is that important, then a climate model to be useful must be accurate to something like 0.25%. Thus today’s models must be improved by about a hundredfold in accuracy, a very challenging task. https://isccp.giss.nasa.gov/role.html

Fair dinkum
Fair dinkum
Sep 29, 2019 8:41 AM

The only social system that is truly Green is Anarchism.
Kropotkin recognised it over one hundred years ago through his observations of cooperation (mutual aid) in nature.
Permaculture operates successfully around the world using the same principles.

Sep 29, 2019 4:37 AM

A Marxist perspective is exactly what is missing from the “Greta shaming” of the consumers we all are – driving the planet to hell’s inferno.

It is this that makes me think that her management group really are targeting the 99% not the 1% who control the levers of the capitalist system. Greta’s green movement is not meant to break the system, but to change the type of production and consumption models which through current mass consumption models ultimately threaten the life styles of the 1%.

Stop climate change for the 1% by continued austerity policing of the 99%

So if you look you see there is no question [or mention] of the exploitation of people through the constant pressure to drive down wages. There is no talk of an even playing field [economically] for all to share. Instead it’s a further prolongation of the austerity model of economics. In other words, what you will do without – in order to keep the boat afloat. Or to mix metaphors even more, a continuation of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic…while the 1% continue to party.

Sep 29, 2019 5:20 AM
Reply to  Tutisicecream

Notice how the timed release of Climate Change Pseudoscience coincides with Quantitative Easing 4 that Davos is also concerned about along with Wall Street, The City, & Rothschild Bank?

One cannot float boats on pseudoscience or fairy tales of infinite growth in a finite world.

Climate Change is just another austerity model of macroeconomics & Keynesian deficit spending for government. Climate Change validates government deficit spending in a climate of sovereign debt-to-gdp that is near a Six Sigma Event crash due to deflation.

Climate Change dollar investments will provide synthetic growth for the asset stripping class of wealth extractors & their progeny.


Sep 29, 2019 11:29 AM
Reply to  Tutisicecream

Too true, TTIC. But what everyone is missing is that Greta’s message is profoundly anti-capitalist. And that realisation is slowly dawning on people.

Take her recent “How dare you” speech. If we can dispassionately deconstruct it – by way of a phenomenological reduction. By which I mean suspending judgment (epoche); and ‘bracketing out’ the context (putting to oneside the ‘known-knowns’ of climate capitalist manipulation; location (the UN); ubiquitous media coverage; am-dram histrionic presentation: etc). Then we can perhaps hear that the core message is true. How dare we exploit and pollute the environment then leave it to future generations to regenerate a hugely depleted world – with ‘Negative Emissions Technologies’ and other technologies – that do not exist. And may never exist due to depletion. How dare we?

[Unless I am very much mistaken; Professor Kevin Anderson had an input into that speech. I could be wrong: but that is very close to his core message. And he is one of the good guys.]

I’m sure others will differ: but in suspending judgment – I could not agree with the message more. And it is profoundly anti-capitalist if we are at all ecologically minded. There are no ‘Business As Usual’ solutions. The only solution is anti-capitalist.

So in manipulating Greta as a focal figurehead – the climate capitalists are playing with fire. Remember Prometheus? He got burned (and eternally tortured). The base assumption that is being made is the investment in our ecological naivety. But not all people are ecologically naive. I’m not. And I can see the massive logical fallacy inherent in the climate capitalists agenda. We can get ecologically educated and become ecologically literate enough to expose the flaw in their plan. And turn it against them.

Capitalism and capitalist relations of production caused the permanent everything crises we are mired in. The ‘ecological metabolic rift’ as a failure is the failure of capitalism itself. Capitalism is anti-nature and anti-human. The capitalist ‘natural order’ of inter-competitive class taxonomies competing for scarce resources is an abstracted reification of invented capitalist values (axiologies of false-worth – monetarily mediated and substantiated) – which has become a coercive unnatural order. Capitalism is predicated on an invented nature. Capitalism reproduces itself through – and only through – the vector of the ecological naivety and ignorance of its involuntary subjects.

In other words: capitalism can be seen not to be working – even by climate capitalists. Their only solution is to re-invent ‘green capitalism’ and recuperate the movement to initiate it – the current climate movement. Which is wholly predicated on the movements ecological naivety; its vested interest of key players (the start-ups invented to capitalise on green bonds and the natural capital coalition) …but moreover on the disengaged distracted naivety of the population at large.

They have made their move. The agenda is set for generations. This will not go away by ignoring it. By dint of which ignorance is a tacit compliance and consent. The only way I can see to re-recuperate the current illegitimated climate movement – toward humanist ends – is by legitimating it by mass mobilisation and ecological literacy. By which a recuperated capitalist movement becomes anti-capitalist.

The agenda is set. The house is on fire. The pseudo-solution – of evermore causal capitalism – is the only proposed solution. That solution is playing with fire. Someone is going to get burned. Them or us: we decide by tacit consent or informed ecological literacy. Like it or not: we all get burned if we do nothing.

Sep 29, 2019 12:42 PM
Reply to  BigB

“Greta’s message is profoundly anti-capitalist.”
The whole solar, wind, battery hype is also capitalist. So will this so called Carbon free economy be: even the old East and West India Companies were capitalist using sail ships and horse power.
The present 99% XR’s can walk or cycle, heat with fire wood in 15 years.

Greta’s message is spread with the power, backing and reach of a true MNC.
The 1% will continue to use as much fossil fuels as they want.

Sep 30, 2019 1:45 PM
Reply to  Antonym

You’re not wrong: but also – you’re not right.

Just for the record: I was among the first to begin to use Cory’s expose – back in February. Back in May (Mayday; Mayday – climate emergency!) I began exposing the Labour party and the CCC report (Committee on Climate Change) – it was literally written by Drax; amongst other vested interest inputs (Gummer the ecowarrior!).

There is literally nothing you can tell me I haven’t already exposed. If not here, somewhere else.

It is a faint murmuring indeed: but people are starting to realise that capitalism and environmentalism do not mix. Not least because capitalism caused humanities crisis. Indeed, capitalism is humanities crisis. That there is no external economic system is too abstruse to most. But that is part of the illusion – that capitalism and the capitalist subject are constituted from different cloth. They are not. And that will suffice for now.

Guess where I found some like minds? In XR. I was surprised too. You do not even have to take my word: but not everyone is an inculcated corporate shill.

I do not comment here to support XR. But I will at least forward the case that the binary narrative that Greta and XR are… …Well, just read Mark’s comment below.

The world IS on fire: and that fire will burn for as long as there is material fuel for it to burn. On that, I think everyone can agree. But what makes it burn is not just materialism: it is dualistic idealism as well (Weberian Ideal-Types among them). All binaries are false binaries. All boundaries are false boundaries. We share each others fate. I cannot put it more simply than that.

The link between self and state; material and ideal; subject and object; has never been established and is missing from the debate. As soon as you put the object “over there” it is beyond the reach of consciousness: from which capitalism arises. Which we cannot see because we inherit a culture of separationism and (spatio-temporal) displacement. Which has brought us here. Time is and only ever be contemporaneous with time. Subject is object. It is in the phenonomenology of this object relation ontology liberation arises. No external cathex or stimulus object: no materialism or idealism; no capitalism. It is that simple. There is no them and us: just a self-constitutional psychological state – the Empire State of Mind as I call it.

It might not make sense in words: but it is a better appraisal than the ‘word salad’ ontology of separate Cartesian subjects and mind-independent eternal object collections floating around outside us. With floating meanings and floating subjectivity – somewhere. Somewhere not in reality. The Cartesian authoritarian subject does not bear scrutiny. Nor does the self-constitutional statist antisymmetry of them and us. No Self: no them …only us.

Can anyone prove duality? Or is it just the imposition of authoritarian dominion overpower to which we are too long accustomed?

Ecology and biology are the route out of this. A true ecological community can only be made by whole beings who eschew Cartesian capitalist subjective dependency. Will XR get us there? Never: not on its own. It is incumbent on the Oppressed to relieve the Oppressor of their burden of responsibility – by taking that responsibility upon ourselves. Quasi-self responsible movements are thin on the ground. By the time the perfect vehicle arises; likely, we’ll all be dead. The perfect vehicle is you and I; and we are frail and human. But beyond the political construct of Self: together we are strong.

The corporate capitalists are as afraid of us as we are of them. That is because fear-first ‘them-and-us’ tribal psychology was a beneficial evolutionarily trait. To evolve beyond ritualised tribal fear: we have to feel the fear of ecofascism and rise against it anyway. The only thing we really fear is our freedom. The alternative to ecofascism is ecofascism. If enough of us can see that eyes wide open: then there is a chink of light beyond certain fascism.

Sep 29, 2019 3:28 PM
Reply to  BigB

Just a sanctimonious, self righteous, nauseating, hysterical little synthetic brat created by Soros and her globalist handlers to serve their interests.

Ben Trovata
Ben Trovata
Sep 30, 2019 5:00 AM
Reply to  BigB

“Their only solution is to”… re-invent themselves!Yes,we’ve seen this movie before,but this re-iteration has been promised to be a blockbuster.

Sep 29, 2019 4:10 AM

Billionaire Micheal Bloomberg defends CPC’s pollution approach: must be making good money from US-China deals!! Xi is not a dictator according to him.


Stephen Morrell
Stephen Morrell
Sep 29, 2019 3:40 AM

Sorry if this is a bit long.

Environmentalist ideology and Marxism are actually incompatible and counterposed, despite Marx and Engels’ frequent and incidental pointing out the myriad environmental degradations and the rifts between humankind and nature wrought by capitalism. And to argue that since such degradations are now ‘global’ and no longer ‘local’ as in Marx and Engels’ time cannot justify so-called ‘Marxists’ opportunistically kowtowing to the reactionary ideology of environmentalism.

First, this article neglects to quote any of Marx and Engels’ enthusiastic support of capitalism’s huge leaps and bounds in developing productive forces and human productivity over its backward predecessors (feudalism, slave societies of antiquity, etc). They were enthusiastic because capitalism for the first time opened up the possibility of a future society of abundance for all, laying the material rather than moral basis for socialism and the abolition of scarcity. Like Foster, the author tries to turn Marx into a Green.

The key underlying tenet of environmentalism of reducing production and consumption is in direct conflict with Marxism, which is all about a future socialist society of plenty which means a levelling up, not down. Not as that party of small-time capitalism, the Green Party and others, or as Rousseau the most prominent originator and exponent of levelling down, would have us all endure. Rousseau’s followers are plentiful today, among them Foster and his International Socialist hangers-on.

And Marxism doesn’t stop at levelling up either. A future socialist society is premised on far higher levels of productive forces and productivity than in even the most advanced capitalist country today. As Marx wrote in Critique of the Gotha Programme:

“In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour, and thereby also the antithesis between mental and physical labour, has vanished; after labour has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of common wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs!”

Environmentalist ideology also coincides neatly with austerity, belt tightening and all those ‘protestant’, ‘thrifty’ parts of capitalist ideology directed at the working class and poor. Logically, according to this ideology, environmentalists should celebrate economic recessions and depressions, since production and consumption are reduced, and to hell with the consequent human suffering. Yet ‘progressive’ environmentalists would never, ever come out in public and say such things. Mental gymnastics are needed instead, especially if you’re trying to avoid telling the poor to live with even less than they already are forced to do.

Environmentalism’s highest, most ‘progressive’, ‘modern’ political expression is based on the primitive egalitarianism espoused by the Maoist, New Leftist Monthly Review crowd around Paul Sweezy et al. in the 1960s and 1970s who were all gung-ho for the ‘Cultural’ Revolution of Mao Tse Tung.

The so-called Great Cultural Revolution was in fact Mao’s cynical contrivance to regain power after he was deposed following the monumental failure of his ‘Great Leap Forward’ of backyard iron foundries and other retrogressions to small-scale production. The ‘socialist’ ascetism of the Cultural Revolutions was nothing but an ideology of material scarcity under Stalinist autarky (ie, socialism in one country) with an overlay of Maoist compulsory voluntarism. And ‘socialist’ environmentalists, and perhaps the left wing of the capitalist Greens, would have us all endure something similar today.

Monthly Review ‘pivoted’ toward environmentalism, also a New Left concern, after China lost its cache with leftist youth in the mid-late 1970s, and Foster is the product, expression and figurehead of that pivot. Foster’s advocacy of a ‘steady-state’ economy plus egalitarianism can mean only a levelling down and condemning those already in poverty to an eternity of it. That isn’t a prospect to which working people or the poor would aspire, nor should it ever be. A barracks socialism that more evenly spreads poverty isn’t socialism. It’s a dystopia.

For good reason recent appeals to organised labour to get on board with the ‘green’ agenda haven’t really cut it with ordinary workers. If all that’s proposed is that major corporations, ‘green’ investment banksters and the government be in the mix, then most know that nothing will change. Workers realise these entities are the enemy, responsible for their current plight, and quite rightly distance themselves from the greenwashing efforts to paint business-as-usual capitalism with a green face.

Marx and Engels may have frequently decried capitalism’s degradation of the environment, but such commentary was incidental to their main purpose. In all their voluminous writings they never devoted a single piece just to the environment. Central to Marx and Engels’ outlook was the revolutionary overthrow of an irrational economic and social order that opened up the possibility of material, social and individual advancement for all, but which actively denied that possibility. The environmental movement is doing its bit also to actively deny that possibility.

Opportunists in thrall to the environmental movement, like religious fanatics rummaging around in their bibles, will dig up all manner of quotes from Marx and Engels to suit their their purpose, just as the International Socialists have done here in this panegyric to Foster et al. All it does is aid and abet the greenwashing of capitalism whose ‘best’ current expression is the Green New Deal.

In short, Marx was no ‘radical environmentalist’ as claimed here.

Sep 29, 2019 4:41 AM

Good points that I agree with, Stephen. Marx wanted critical assessment & critical critique not the claptrap that the author of the OFF-G article wrote which is merely assemblage of loose ideas lacking a coherent framework. The environmental movement is just pure bunk scientifically if we look deep at the crap everyone is putting out in droves of late.

The brainwashing cycle of the MSM is on full throttle these days. It is a broken bandwagon of dogma and not science or empiricism proper. I was formally trained in the Scientific Method so that I could render assholes in pseudoscience to the garbage bin of history.

Climate Science is filled with pseudoscientific claptrap bunk not worth the pixel points that make them up.

I should launch a class action lawsuit against the false claims of pseudoscience so that I don’t have to read it as junk mail and delete it anymore. If I wanted to look at pseudoscience and read this kind of tripe I would read the National Enquirer. I did not get a university education and study science to fight pseudoscience or believers in pseudoscience.

Screw pseudoscience & the people that use it or write it.

Cheers, MOU

Stephen Morrell
Stephen Morrell
Sep 29, 2019 5:23 AM

I don’t deny the veracity of the climate science. It’s conclusive that human economic activity is responsible for global warming. While CO2 levels are at their highest in 800,000 years (~400ppm), and that these grew exponentially in the wake of the industrial revolution, they were of the order of 2,000ppm during the age of the dinosaurs. And other indicators of ecoside are all round as well, for example mass species die offs and so on. Not only will the melting of the permafrost release huge amounts of methane (28 times more effective than CO2 as a greenhouse gas) but it’s been claimed that it will also release huge amounts of mercury. While the levels of CO2 aren’t unprecedented, the rate of their rise probably is.

Anyway, the main point is that the anarchy of capitalist production, whether adorned with green foliage or not, can’t deal with the ‘externalities’ of production nor its deliberately unforeseen environmental consequences. Only when the economic resources are ripped out of the hands of the capitalist class and subject to rational planning can humanity have any hope of dealing with environmental consequences of its economic activity. Otherwise, and unlike environmentalists, Marxists don’t advise the capitalist class on how to best produce their energy or their goods.

Humanity may be a part of nature but it definitely is not a slave to it, nor can it be. It really left its mark on nature from the neolithic revolution onward. Only under socialism can it have any hope of not just knowing but dealing adequately with environmental consequences of production. At present we’re subject to throws of the capitalist dice, whether green in colour or not, and all the environmentalists can advocate is belt-tightening, divestment, individual lifestyle change or some other useless strategy that doesn’t address the elephant in the room: the urgent need to replace capitalist anarchy with a socialised planned economy. Nothing less will do.

Sep 29, 2019 1:00 PM

Stephen, I don’t know about you: but I am always being told by fellow Marxist/Socialists what a wonderful planned economy China has? ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’ I’m told. Others call it a ‘capitalist command economy’. It’s neoliberal really: but let’s not get mired in the nomenclature.

As we watch it collapse in coming years: perhaps we can plan what is the successor to capitalism and socialist planned economies?

5-Year progress plans require a level of materialism we no longer have. We’ll be ploughing in the morning; resting in the afternoon; and partying in the evening. Which, unless I just mis-remembered was an alternative Marxist vision (from his German Notebooks perhaps?)

Nonetheless, the analogy is clear. Post-capitalism is also post-work and definitely post-industrial. The way we are approaching the end of capitalism – that is by pretending it is indeed eternal; even when we know it is not – is cutting down our options daily. It is not implausible – thought neither is it certainly assured – that we will all be returning to farming soon. If that seems melodramatic now: can anyone absolutely determine that it could not happen …and offer a guarantee?

We are wholly unprepared for any other future that capitalist eternalism. That eternalism looks to me to be a very weak proposition at the moment. Very weak. A more adequate and resilient future projection is required: one that a planned economy could perhaps transition us to. Or we could wait for the inevitable collapse – that is already well underway – and pick up what unbroken pieces there may be. That seems like a wholly unsatisfactory way to approach the future to me. As I am well aware: the majoritarian view is that we muddle on with some sort of eternalist projectionism.

I just read this in trying to affirm my poor memory from above. Perhaps was more the ecologist I had allowed for. Lord knows what he would have written if he brought all he was researching to bear in Capital 2 and 3? We are all Marx now if we want an ecological future. Or a future at all.


Stephen Morrell
Stephen Morrell
Sep 30, 2019 2:33 AM
Reply to  BigB

The working class in particular, who have the real social power to effect change, needs to become ‘Marxist’. Without that happening capitalism will indeed take humanity to its doom.

As for China, etc, these countries, in the face of incredible backwardness and imperialist encirclement and threats, have achieved remarkable advances, despite the bureaucratic parasitism that holds back their collectivised economies. These advances alone should make people look more carefully beyond the bourgeois propaganda of TINA (or the empty petty bourgeois propaganda of ‘state capitalism’ propounded by anti-communist ‘third campists’ and the like), and examine the potentiality of collectivised economic planning.

Vassily Leontieff in his Input Output Economics laid out the basic approach to dynamic modelling of economic inputs and outputs in a planned economic environment. And others have expounded extensively on the potential for automating whole economies. The technology is there already, material development is there already, the resources are there already. They need to be liberated from the capitalist class and put to the use of all.

Sep 30, 2019 10:51 AM

“…the elephant in the room: the urgent need to replace capitalist anarchy with a socialised planned economy. Nothing less will do.”

Who plans the planners?

Stephen Morrell
Stephen Morrell
Sep 30, 2019 12:46 PM
Reply to  Robbobbobin

That’s a very big question, and in assuming it isn’t facetious, I’ll try and respond (not very adequately). The essentials of it are that political decisions are made as to what the priorities for production and the economy are to be, over a reasonable time. In the USSR five years was decided upon, while longer periods were seen as having too many uncertainties and unknowns to plan for seriously.

Based on decisions at the highest political levels as to the overall priorities and direction of the economy should be (eg, how much resources should be used for capital equipment vs. consumption goods, etc), the technicians (the economists, engineers, accountants and so on) are then assigned to assemble a plan, based on what the different branches of the economy and industry can contribute (resources available, both capital and manpower, what can be produced and so on).

Then follows a to-and-fro process between the political and technical arms where the plan gets modified according to any new information that comes to hand, etc. Of course, the further down into the economy the economists and accountants can dive, the more fine-tuned the plan. And they have ways of building exigencies/resilience into the plan (eg, crop failure, etc).

In the USSR, where serious economic planning occurred for the first time, for a long time economic planning was in name only and it took a lot of experimentation and resolving of conflicts and turf wars between different departments and ministries before economic planning could be said to be actually occurring and working. Complicating this picture of course was the rising Stalinist bureaucracy which prioritised things according to its own interests, and eventually the whole planning machinery became corrupted and built on a foundation of lies. For example enterprise managers would set falsely low quotas, so that they wouldn’t be sent to the gulag for not fulfilling their quota.

Maurice Dobb’s Soviet Economic Development Since 1917 is probably still the best single volume account of the drawn-out process of the development of the planning machinery in the USSR.

In short, it’s elected political representatives (in soviets or workers councils at all levels with their collegiate structure) who ‘plan the planners’ at corresponding levels.

Sep 30, 2019 9:17 PM

“That’s a very big question, and in assuming it isn’t facetious, I’ll try and respond…”

Not facetious.

Your response? Well: we’ve been there, done that, didn’t work. And there’s no time left for another false start (if–and it’s by no means certain–there’s any time left at all).

Didn’t work in One Country, and won’t infect the world with its Permanent Revolution alternative, the only serious “theoretical” alternative based on the USSR experiment so far. But there are some subsequent developments wrought by persistent capitalism in the intervening period that are still worth a look.

Have a few personal things requiring immediate attention over the next few days; will get back to you here–in the Off-Guardian, under the rubric of the ecological Marx–sometime next week (if expanding on them–one poster has already begun to–still seems relevant then).

Stephen Morrell
Stephen Morrell
Sep 30, 2019 10:22 PM
Reply to  Robbobbobin

Think of it like this, and the situation indeed is becoming urgent. If we had the resources to colonise Mars, how many businessmen, real estate agents, stockbrokers, lawyers, cops, etc, would we take? None. We’d take all those needed to establish and maintain a society in a hostile environment: engineers, scientists, doctors, nurses, allied health, tradesmen, agronomists, farmers, teachers, accountants (yes), artists (maybe in the second wave), and all the other useful occupations. We would never allow ‘free’ markets, private property or capitalism (‘eternal’, ‘persistent’ or otherwise) to compromise our existence in such an environment. We would carefully plan our every move.

Apply that thinking to our current situation on earth. We have an environment, despite what some environmentalists like to say, that is hostile (not as hostile as Mars of course). But we also have a lot of historical baggage to rid ourselves of before we can deal with prolonging our existence in a rational manner. We need to ‘re-colonise’ earth rationally, in a planned manner. Capitalism, regulated or ‘self-regulated’ cannot achieve that.

Lessons from past serious attempts at planning, as in the USSR, need to be learnt, not thrown into the famous ‘dustbin of history’. Some resuscitated form of capitalism will never be humanity’s saviour.

Tim Jenkins
Tim Jenkins
Oct 2, 2019 8:23 AM

One could think, or at least be excused for thinking, that all the worthy & needed competence you list in the professions above, would be able to see the wood for the trees, by now …


Fancy a dose of radiation or better still I’ll tender & tingle yer’ dentistry, with some soundly targeted RF amplification & vibes, if you want ? 🙂 Sorry to HAARP on, but I’m firmly of the belief, we may as well focus on the reality of what we have done, first: seriously, past tense and I still don’t get what scientists, especially Physicists, don’t get … The Military is not only the number one polluter, (doing the math on everyday manoeuvres), but they can easily Geo-engineer the weather, they admitted publicly back in 1997, to own & control the weather by 2025 …
They do, already. Bernard Eastlund/ARCoOil&Gas/D.o.D & B.P.
I was there. The hostile environment is military fixation on managed dissent, breeding fear, in people’s minds, whilst exploding nuclear weapons, even in the upper atmosphere, coz’ that’s just plain smart, innit ?
Excuse my cynicism, CND / GND, no damn difference, lunatics in charge of managed dissent, controlled opposition, gatekeepers &&& call it what you want, but I kinda’ like the expression ‘Gaslighting’ 🙂

Stephen Morrell
Stephen Morrell
Oct 2, 2019 10:01 AM
Reply to  Tim Jenkins

In the thought experiment of colonising Mars, the ‘worthy’ occupations, etc, will have a rather acute awareness of their extremely hostile environment as the smallest mistake with it will be fatal.

Most physicists, chemists, biologists, geologists, etc, acknowledge the reality of global warming. Disputation occurs as to its extent and the extent that human activity has caused it. Most hard scientists acknowledge that human activity is primarily responsible for global warming.

As for the military geo-engineering the weather, this kind of thing has been experimented on for decades with mixed results. And if the US military had any significant control over it, they would have minimised the effects of Hurricane Katrina, Sandy, etc. That they didn’t is pretty good proof that they can’t control the weather that well, despite years of trying all manner of approaches.

There are plenty of natural weather cycles occurring whose effects are only partly understood by climatologists, and we’ve been in a longterm warming one for a long while. Changing climate, if it could be done by the military, would short-term only and doesn’t seem to have that same instant effect that bombs and other more conventional weapons do.

A few nuclear weapons or a small ‘regional’ nuclear war would reverse global warming pretty quickly, probably by ~2 degC for about 2-3 years causing widespread droughts with temperatures would still ~1 degC cooler after 10 years (according to NASA modelling of the effects of 100 Hiroshima-sized weapons).

The US military may be the single biggest polluter but around 45 corporations account for ~75% of global warming gases, mainly CO2. It’s these corporate entities that are getting behind and otherwise co-opting the impotent climate change protests.

The military won’t be defeated except when its rank and file mutiny and come over to the side of a revolutionary uprising and form the nucleus of a red army.

In short, there’s no hope of attacking global warming and all the other ecocidal madness of capitalism this side of a socialist revolution.

Oct 2, 2019 11:59 AM

“Think of it like this, and the situation indeed is becoming urgent. […] We would never allow ‘free’ markets, private property or capitalism (‘eternal’, ‘persistent’ or otherwise) to compromise our existence in such an environment […] Lessons from past serious attempts at planning, as in the USSR, need to be learnt, not thrown into the famous ‘dustbin of history’. Some resuscitated form of capitalism will never be humanity’s saviour.”

Think of my response like this:

(1) Would you agree that Marx saw capitalism as an essential precursor of the transition from capitalism to socialism (arc of history and all) in that capitalism created the necessary conditions, social and material, for socialism (or, more exactly, communism–he never claimed to know with any precision what a fully developed socialist state would look like–to take root). To the extent that there was considerable doubt that socialism could arise out of a purely peasant economy, and much discussion thereof? That he saw, in a manner of speaking but also in a real sense, some fair part of the spoils of capitalism transformed, through the political action of the workers, into the fruits of socialism?

2) Nevertheless, that since he wrote and since the original actors sought to put communism into action through the prosecution of the Russian revolution and the formation of the USSR, capitalism has has done a pretty good job of persisting the commie onslaught, even–by its own lights–so far prevailing?

3) Are you not aware that, in general but also particularly in the field of pure and applied knowledge–mathemetics and statistics, medicine, engineering techniques, “management theory” (e.g. “operational research”, “management-cybernetics”, “input-output analysis”, materials science and so on–that “persitent” capitalism has yielded in the period since Marx wrote and the USSR rose and fell, a treasure trove of spoils that, in many ways are exponentially more insightful than earlier technologies yet, given their underlying apolitical conceptualization, incidentally mostly capable of being scaled back for implementation in far less complex environments than those in which they are currently deployed by capitalism, could be well transformed by the next wave of revolution into fruits for the benefit of socialism?

(4) In what way does my sentence (emphasis added) “But there are some subsequent developments wrought by persistent capitalism in the intervening period that are still worth a look” suggest that I was proposing to drag the capitalist system in itself–an utter political and economic scourge on the face of the earth–rather than any and all productive developments wrought by itthat could be of fruitful benefit also to the construction of a (maybe) socialist future?

“…will get back to you here–-in the Off-Guardian, under the rubric of the ecological Marx–sometime next week (if expanding on them–-one poster has already begun to–-still seems relevant then).”

It doesn’t. It seems like it will be just another round of pointless hard work leading to the mire 0f yestercenturies’ mindsets, with my question still unexplored.

Stephen Morrell
Stephen Morrell
Oct 3, 2019 12:15 PM
Reply to  Robbobbobin

Think of my response like this:

1.While Marx rightly posited that capitalism was the essential precursor to socialism, there has never been any doubt among Marxists that socialism cannot be built from a pure peasant-based economy. Lenin (and Trotsky) when they made the Russian revolution were under no illusions that socialism could be built in the USSR without input from a socialist revolution occurring in an advanced country. They saw the Russian revolution was a holding operation and as a beacon for workers revolutions internationally, especially in the imperialist centres.

Today, as then, because of imperialist domination many countries will never achieve fully developed bourgeois economies and societies. Their bourgeoisies are too weak to do so. And because they’re weak, it’s also easier to make a revolution in these countries, but impossible for them to progress to socialism without major technical input from revolutions occurring in the advanced capitalist countries.

The only advocates of the notion that ‘socialism’ can emerge from peasant economies (and except for Russia, all post-capitalist societies emerged — and not inevitably — from peasant-based revolutions) are these self-same governments, and their western followers (eg, Maoists, etc). These post-capitalist societies modelled themselves on the Stalinist bureaucracy of the USSR (ie, socialised property relations, bureaucratically administered economic planning and political repression), and their ‘socialism’ is the ‘barracks socialism’ of ‘socialism in one country’, their own country with limited resources. They haven’t achieved socialism by any stretch, even though they’ve overthrown capitalism and therefore should be defended from imperialist attack or internal counterrevolution.

A major plank in Stalinist ideology, which is essentially a Menshevik one, has been the two-stage theory of revolution for backward countries: first the anti-imperialist revolution to establish capitalism proper, then in the bye and bye it can have a socialist revolution. This outlook is a reactionary utopia because it refuses to acknowledge that no backward country has a bourgeoisie strong enough to implement a capitalist economy in the first place, its own right, in its own interests. And they quote Marx endlessly to justify such an outlook.

Backward countries are under the thumb of imperialism that prevents the development of an indigenous bourgeoisie, so the tasks of a bourgeois revolution can’t be carried out by them. Consequently, when there is a war waged to throw off the imperialist overlords, if the victorious nationalists, for example, don’t do something to shore up their support, they’re swept away. The USSR used to provide such support in a limited way. Sometimes the nationalists also were forced to expropriate their weak capitalist class along with the imperialists’ holdings. Mao Tse Tung made overtures to the US after taking power in 1949 and when that failed he was finally forced in 1953 to expropriate the Chinese capitalists property (after most of them swum to Taiwan) and whatever imperialist holdings remained in China. Fidel Castro had no intentions initially of expropriated United Fruit Company and the mafia-owned casinos and night clubs but when the Cuban bourgeoisie swum to Florida he was left with no choice. Nicaragua could have gone the way of Cuba but it didn’t and capitalism remained.

2. Capitalism has survived, ‘persisted’, mostly because of its longterm helpmates in the labour movement, the labour lieutenants of capital (in De Leon’s words), and of course their political expression, reformist social democratic workers parties and the mass Stalinist (‘communist’) parties. The massive ideological apparatus of capitalism wouldn’t be nearly as effective if it weren’t for the social-democratic and Stalinist misleaders of the working class. Few people want to acknowledge it, but most of the militant labour struggles in the US in the 1930s that led to the formation of CIO and which forced Roosevelt to resort to the New Deal were led by reds, including Trotskyists. After the war, the US ruling class was able to re-establish its hegemony with the help of the anti-communist labour bureaucracy who purged US unions of their reds. To this day, the US is one of the few, if not the only, advanced capitalist country without even a mass reformist workers party. Instead the US labour movement is hogtied to the capitalist Democratic Party which never has been and never will be a workers party.

Capitalism has persisted due to herculean efforts to preserve itself. From the bailouts of the GFC to its more permanent features including its monstrous ideological apparatus constantly pushing its ‘values’ and strangling dissent through its education system, its corporate media and its increasing enmeshing with the state, organised religion and the nuclear family; through its all-encompassing system of domestic repression, from the CIA, FBI, MI5, MI6, NSA, GCHQ, etc, and its militarised police forces; and of course its grotesque military spending and war readiness to stop any country from choosing a different social and economic path whose example is really what undermines ‘national security’. It’s not for nothing that the CIA is called ‘Capitalism’s Invisible Army’.

3. I’m well aware of input-output economics and operational research methods. Capitalism’s ‘treasure troves’, and technology in general, lay the technical basis for capitalism’s replacement. What’s missing is the political basis, and that’s the main problem facing humanity. However, most of these technical management tools aren’t used beyond the individual corporation, because while there’s planning and optimisation to the nth degree inside corporations, its anathema to take this beyond the individual corporation. What capitalists can’t endure is that their different competing corporations, with different owners, etc, be co-ordinated in such a fashion that their ‘sacred’ individual rights to use ‘their’ capital as they see fit are infringed upon. Such a thing happens only under exceptional and temporary circumstances (eg, world war).

4. There are many, many technical developments, not necessarily ‘wrought by persistent capitalism’ per se, that of course occur under capitalism. For example, most of the advances in pharmaceuticals have come from publicly funded research, which typically is appropriated by the pharmaceutical companies. Much of capitalism’s ‘wroughting’ is really ‘rorting’.

No technical developments should be discounted in order to advance humanity, especially on the basis of their provenance. And they need to be considered not from the narrow limits of a corporate balance sheet but from the point of view of society overall, which of course capitalism is incapable of doing in any meaningful or ‘persistent’ way. And there are many examples of technical developments suppressed under capitalism, ‘wrought by persistent capitalism’ in order for outmoded capitalists to ‘persist’, to preserve their investments and profit flows, to survive a technological tsunami for as long as possible. This puts the lie to those who claim that technological advance cannot occur without the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ of the capitalist class. It has and it will.

However, I’m still not sure what point you’re actually trying to make in all of this. Are you saying that capitalism has ‘persisted’ and therefore we must modify it by using management tools, etc, that corporations use for their own advancement to somehow make their system overall (!) more amenable to human needs? But otherwise learn to live with it because it has ‘persisted’? Are you saying that backward countries shouldn’t aspire to leap over the capitalist stage of development because technologically they could if they had external aid? Are you saying that we must all wait until capitalism gives us permission, via a suitable quote form Marx of course, to replace it?

George Mc
George Mc
Sep 29, 2019 10:03 AM

But surely in Marx’s day the environment issue was nowhere near as pressing as it is now? EP Thompson once said something like, “We should always bear in mind that Marx is on our side. We are not on the side of Marx.” i.e. we should see “the Marxist approach” not as a dogma but as an ongoing investigation which, given the dynamic nature of capitalism, has to be constantly updated.

Stephen Morrell
Stephen Morrell
Sep 30, 2019 1:59 AM
Reply to  George Mc

The Marxist approach is a guide to action, and certainly not a dogma. The levels of air and water pollution in their time certainly make today’s air and water look pristine. As for capitalism’s dynamism, Marx sought to discover its roots and he did. Those roots and underlying drives haven’t changed, despite the capitalism’s changing appearance, its products, corporate structures, and so on. The relentless drive for profit and to maintain the rate of profit are still fundamental to capitalism.

Marx may have perceived only the beginnings of imperialism (ie, the export of capital and the dominance of stock companies and finance capital) but Marxism itself was updated with a more developed understanding of imperialism (by Lenin, for example); and how imperialism so limits ‘developing’ countries in their becoming bourgeois democracies, so much so that they must in carry out a proletarian revolution in order to accomplish even those elementary changes that a bourgeois revolution normally would (Trotsky & permanent revolution).

As for Marx being on our side, and we not being on the side of Marx, this is because the last thing the ruling class wants is for the working class to be on the side of Marx, to have a consciousness of its historic role that Marx envisaged. The rulers thus make every effort to make sure that doesn’t happen, and so far it hasn’t happened…yet.

Stephen Morrell
Stephen Morrell
Sep 30, 2019 8:00 AM

I should have added that Marxism has also been extended when coming to a materialist understanding of what happened to the Russian revolution with the rise of Stalin and the bureaucracy (Trotsky); and this understanding has been extended with respect to postwar peasant-based guerrilla warfare overthrows of capitalism and the workers states that resulted from these (China, Vietnam, Cuba, etc).

George Mc
George Mc
Sep 30, 2019 9:12 AM

Re: “the side of Marx”, I think the point that EP Thompson was making is that we shouldn’t see “Marxism” as a movement based around a single person cf. Marx (referring to himself and Engels):

“Neither of us cares a straw for popularity. Let me cite one proof of this: such was my aversion to the personality cult that at the time of the International, when plagued by numerous moves – originating from various countries – to accord me public honour, I never allowed one of these to enter the domain of publicity, nor did I ever reply to them, save with an occasional snub. When Engels and I first joined the secret communist society, we did so only on condition that anything conducive to a superstitious belief in authority be eliminated from the Rules.”

On the “green” issue, I think it is always, to say the least, suspicious when an issue suddenly starts to dominate the mainstream media – especially when the issue is supposedly one that world leaders and corporate bosses don’t want to hear about (considering that it is world leaders and corporate bosses who control the media!)

Stephen Morrell
Stephen Morrell
Sep 30, 2019 12:58 PM
Reply to  George Mc

Yes, I was more thinking of it as it appeared, where there’s an obvious asymmetry between Marx being for the workers and the oppressed and the latter wanting no truck with Marxism.

There’s a lot of greenwashing going on and I mean to look at Cory Morningstar’s work to get a better idea of its extent and how it sits within the ‘non-profit industrial complex’.

George Mc
George Mc
Sep 29, 2019 10:18 AM

I’m sorry if my response seems fragmented but your post certainly gave me much to think about – so much so that I haven’t digested it all and so I’m just offering some thoughts – like this one:

Is there not a case to be made for “lowering” productivity in the sense that, under capitalism, the most advanced countries have created false wants i.e. to hook their productivity around the most ludicrous short term fashions and crazes for all sorts of gimmicks and gadgets? It isn’t a question of lowering some and raising others but of managing production in a more reasonable way which, to the advertising manipulated affluent ones, will seem like an attack on their “wealth”?

Stephen Morrell
Stephen Morrell
Sep 30, 2019 2:16 AM
Reply to  George Mc

There’s no case for lowering productivity when 4 billion or more people live in abject poverty. Productivity must be raised to bring them from that plight. It also can be argued that the planet’s carrying capacity for humans is around 10 billion, which likely will be reached by 2035 or so. So there’s an argument for eventually reducing the population to something like 3 or 4 billion, which can be achieved only by rational economic and social planning where everyone has ‘skin in the game’.

As for fashion, etc, sure there’s a lot of waste and frivolous products made under capitalism that nevertheless satisfy some want, that have some use value that’s not rational. Such ‘use value’ may be based on ‘lizard brain’ needs or wants like status, etc. But initially at least, the democratic process of allocating resources to satisfy rational human needs will very likely prioritise those resources to those most in need. The teenage daughter who wants her iPhone 11 (or 12 under the Apple co-operative/soviet, say) may have to wait a little while longer so that someone without a phone at all can get the latest iPhone first. However, let’s never exclude the possibility of satisfying irrational human needs either.

What we all know now is that the spoils go to the richest and not the neediest, and this state of affairs needs to be stopped.

George Mc
George Mc
Sep 30, 2019 9:15 AM

A far more important problem with productivity is not so much the fashion angle – but that so much of it (and indeed vast amounts) are being spent on the military. To divert from that area alone would surely provide a massive increase in items that people actually need.

Stephen Morrell
Stephen Morrell
Sep 30, 2019 9:43 AM
Reply to  George Mc

Can only agree with that. Every aspiring ‘left’ politician who wants a vote should be asked: where do you stand regarding ‘not one penny, not one man for the imperialist military’?

Sep 29, 2019 12:16 PM


I concur. I waded through some of Foster’s opus some years back – and remained unconvinced – not least by the mind-numbing boringness of their dry academic presentation. Rightly or wrongly, I remember forming the opinion that Engels was a bit of an environmentalist: Marx …maybe not so much?

The only solution to the permanent everything crises of contemporaneous capitalism – slowly collapsing into the repo market blackhole of illidiquity we are crossing the event horizon of – is a novel one. Novelty born of creativity – informed but not limited to or by – past historical solutions. An emergent solutionism. How can we reasonably expect Marx and Engels to have the ready-made solution for novel problems they never encountered? It’s a bit like taking a quantum supercomputer to run MS-DOS on, I feel.

Capitalism – broadly and generally – proved Marx right. But the successor state will not be a fully automated luxury communism. The successor state will be impoverished and sub-optimal. Sub-optimal to those inculcated with unreasonable capitalist expectations of imaginary growth. But perhaps we can focus on humanistic – and not materialistic – values. With a new humanist value set (the life-coherent onto-axiology of McMurtry) sub-optimal is a relative term. Optimisation of capitalist values entails annihilationism. Of which the economy is already failing. In truth, capitalism ended in 2007. An economic zombie version may continue a while longer: but it is the Walking Afterdead fate of humanity that walks with it.

The ecological and humanist alternative to which seems to be the order of the day. It will not come from any current political manifestation. It does not exist: until we fashion its existence from the forge of our live experience. That is the experiential capitalism slowly crushes. Or collapes around. No one can tell which. But do not imagine that all capitalistic dreaming of eternal progress and material prosperity cannot come crashing down any moment. A Plan B cannot hurt: but it might well save. Capitalism can’t offer anything remotely that secure.

Stephen Morrell
Stephen Morrell
Sep 30, 2019 2:45 AM
Reply to  BigB

The successor state will be impoverished if the existing order isn’t overthrown the world over probably within about the next two to three decades, and the key imperial centres well before then.

‘Humanistic values’ orginate from more base, material interests. Playing the ‘values’ game simply gives those with the dominant ‘values’ an equal standing. But it’s not about values per se, it’s about changing consciousness to bring about the very real, concrete and material changes needed to stop this self-inflicted extinction of humanity.

Whatever ‘humanistic values’ that emerge from class society will be shaped and warped by that society, for better or ill. Whatever humanistic values that may emerge from a future classless society can’t really be known in advance, but some of them likely will carry their seed from those which overthrew the old class-based society.

For a fully automated luxury communism!

Sep 30, 2019 2:18 PM

Class structure and a valorisable value-set are consciousness: re the famous “”It is not consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness” end. They are the imposed ideal-types Weber talked of. But Marx missed his own dialectic: that state and subject constitute each other in consciousness. The only reason for our ‘stuckness’ – and no one likes the term ‘false consciousness’ – is that we separate Self and State when the two are co-constitutional.

As are Oppressor and Oppressed. Which is as distant from the whole authoritarian discourse as it has ever been. Sometimes I feel Marx and post-Marxism never existed – so good has been the propagandic hatchet job on them. The whole of the Franfurt School was founded on the psychological aspect of Weber’s Ideal-Types – among other things. Mention Critical Theory around here to see what I mean.

One thing Marxists; post-Marxists; eco-Marxists (if there is such a thing) all seem to miss. It’s 150 years on and the materials have all but gone. Industrialisation has to be Second Law compliant to entropy. Which means that there can be no industrialisation. It is not the quantity issue so much as the quality issue. Most all materials are of lower grade than 150 years ago: this stands to reason. We cannot reverse time or entropy: it is a one way Arrow.

So solutions have to be 21st century and account for entropy. I admit: i have no idea what they might be. Which is because capitalism is still extant – if moribund – and we do not have an inventory of what we can use trans-temporally (leaving enough for the future). I am surmising: not very much …not if we want a future. And it would not be Humanism if we consumed the future.

Which leaves us with the perrenial aporia: if social being determines consciousness …how do we evolve a classless post-capitalist consciousness? Capitalism is an Eternal Return of consciousness – social being becoming social being – until we look beyond the industrial landscape. That landscape has past, my friend, and with it planned economies. Entropy says that we cannot afford the superstructure of a planned economy. The base has to be transversal in order to survive. And that is a classless society based on SOHO – self-organised holarchic open societies. Just the way nature planned it. Nature is a communist. Only don’t say it too loud. The crypto-capitalists will react with fear.

Sep 30, 2019 2:19 PM
Reply to  BigB

There is a bit of that missing again. Hopefully, it still makes sense!

Stephen Morrell
Stephen Morrell
Sep 30, 2019 9:57 PM
Reply to  BigB

False consciousness exists, and it’s being manufactured, manipulated, etc, all the time to suit the latest propaganda needs of the rulers. And of course those who deny that false consciousness exists are simply propagating it. When people believe in their own oppression, in their ‘rightful place’ with a doffing of the cap sire, when they vote against their own interests that’s false consciousness.

The latest exposes of the 77th brigade show yet another aspect of this, where there’s a direct, institutionalised and ongoing connection between key members of the ruling class and their state. We now know of one of the key mechanisms for Twitter accounts being taken down at crucial times and one of those responsible, since a Twitter executive (Gordon MacMillan) is in the 77th brigade.

Humans and living things in general are anti-entropy machines: we lower entropy to maintain our existence but the net effect always is to increase entropy in the universe. This has always been the case, from the first life forms or other self-organising material to now.

Of course we can plan our economic and social activities within the second law of thermodynamics. We always have, and now we have the technology and productive forces to have qualitatively higher and better economic planning. The second law has no regard to how entropy increases or at what rate.

I don’t understand a lot of what you’re saying, but Marx didn’t really miss the dialectic you refer to. He understood very well that people internalise their surroundings and situations, and he documented well how the state is conscious of what people were thinking and doing, and how it fashions its responses accordingly. We see the latest example of an aspect of that today in the heroic 77th brigade.

Sep 28, 2019 7:57 PM

I grew up on Oil, Mines, & Resource Taxation. My Chartered Accountant father spent decades in National Revenue CANADA Oil, Mines, & Resource Taxation Senior Rulings. I support the Keystone Pipeline implementation & Government of CANADA long term planning for Alberta Oil Sands development. I fully support National Revenue Canada planning & exploration for national revenue & resource based taxation.

As a Grump Marxist that was raised on Federal Government of CANADA oil resource taxation I, for one, know that Professor Emeritus Karl Mark would agree with my perspective on Alberta Oil Sands development and oil sales for Revenue CANADA. Marx & Engels were not stupid when it came to advanced Capitalism & Neocapitalism.

Karl Marx would fully understand thermodynamic efficiency as a model for Alberta Oil Sands sales in Canada. He would see it as a good business model if the taxation was equitably distributed to First Nations land owners, and they had a full partnership with the big oil cartels.

Using Marxian doctrine to snipe at the Keystone Pipeline architecture & build is just too silly to even entertain as Marx would never apply agrarian principles of business & commerce to a neocapitalist & transnationalist business enterprise.

Socialists cheery pick historiography just like Neocapitalists & Transnationalists do. I am a real Grumpy Marxist, so the author of the article can just bight me.

Alberta Oil Sands is best off with a new in situ thermodynamically efficient refinery that could refine the raw materials into refined gas without going through transportation and resultant costs associated with that.

Listening to the Eco-Fascists like Greta T. is just an exercise in listening to a Davos commercial for growth in an economy that has no growth that is exponential. The Davos billionaires & trillionaires only want the margin profit out of Greta T. and her ignorant generation of know nothings & environmental hysterics/histrionics.

Don’t join the new Hitler Youth wing of Climate Change like Greta T. was paid to by her betters in Davos Switzerland. Greta T. sold out to the man, man.

Greta T. is an Eco-Fascist.

Buy Alberta Oil Sands!

It will put taxation on your plate & kids into schools!


Sep 28, 2019 5:37 PM

Finally we found a good Jew – Karl Marx, plus a good industrialist’s son – Friedrich Engels.

George Mc
George Mc
Sep 28, 2019 7:15 PM
Reply to  Antonym

You just can’t stop yourself, can you?

George Cornell
George Cornell
Sep 29, 2019 1:01 PM
Reply to  Antonym

Corn futures were down yesterday in Chicago. Is that good for you Ant?

Sep 28, 2019 4:20 PM

You say:

Today, the threat of climate change is global in scope, with the production of greenhouse gases by the most developed capitalist economies threatening ecosystems across the planet.

But surely, it’s not only greenhouse gases (of which CO2 is but one) that threaten ecosystems but by capitalist production (and consumption) that is the major threat to all life on the planet. That’s the central thrust of Marx/Engels throughout all the quotes from their writings.

And surely this is the problem with Greta’s posse, Extinction/Rebellion (XR) et al. Laying a guilt trip (or trying to) on the 1% and its servants does nothing to change anything. Here in the UK, we’re about to experience the next round of XR’s actions and frankly, I can only view it (along with Greta’s theatrics) as a gigantic diversion from reality. There’s more than a whiff of ‘touchy-feely’ about the entire thing and with enormous energies being expended by a lot of very committed people.

I came across this piece today: https://landdestroyer.blogspot.com/2019/09/greta-thunberg-and-big-biz-climate.html

One of the ‘ngos’ involved with Greta and ‘Freaky Friday’ is called 350.org; http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/category/non-profit-industrial-complex-organizations/organizations/350-org-1sky/

What is apparent is that these ‘ngos’ are global in scope and embedded in transnational capitalism, hence no mention of capitalism or economics. As far as I can see, the ‘movement’ is pinning its hopes on ‘net-zero’ carbon ergo, carbon trading plus renewables and carbon sequestration technologies (that don’t currently exist). But it doesn’t concern itself with the forces of capitalism and its destruction of nature in pursuit of profit.

George Cornell
George Cornell
Sep 28, 2019 4:33 PM
Reply to  Barovsky

Don’t you think they are just too strong to take on full force right now? Fights you can win leave you intact for the next one. But there will be a tipping point for the anger and frustration? There is a promising groundswell very obvious in the young which is gathering momentum, as they realize they have more to lose than old guys like me, and the loss is less and less theoretical.

I was pleased to learn of this side of Marx and Engels. Not a complete surprise.

johny conspiranoid
johny conspiranoid
Sep 28, 2019 5:41 PM
Reply to  Barovsky

And what is XR’s position on GMOs?

Sep 29, 2019 1:42 AM
Reply to  Barovsky

Our Environment Minister McKenna said that Mark Carny told her that Climate Change was a $23 trillion dollar USD business worldwide. Without any discernible organic growth in the Western empire of Fractional Reserve Banking & Securitization the entire system worldwide will deflate to a point of systemic disequilibrium & decoupling of markets worldwide. Davos cooked up the Climate Change fascist movement for exponential growth on the order that gave the wealth extracting class of asset strippers enough leeway to build Finance architecture off of the Green New Deal of Climate Change Fascism which the Davos billionaires expect to generate returns on earning on the order of 10% growth YoY as all the Green Bonds & Debentures are sold at auction in the unregulated dark pool derivatives universe for even more betting dollars on CMBS, RMBS, CDOs, CDO2, et cetera.

The poker players of Davos need to generate high returns with massive system wide quantitative stimulus which Carny predicts is $23 trillion just to start. Of course, none of that macro-investment money will trickledown to you or I. The Climate Change Fascist Movement is primarily for the Davos billionaires like George Soros & the Koch industries.

When the money & cash trickles down into my pockets I’ll believe in Ronald Reagan’s Trickledown Economics. Heck, if money actually trickled down into my pockets I would probably believe in Professor Emeritus Maynard Keynes too.

Like Richard Prior said in Blue Collar 1978…”If I had the ARMY & Navy behind me I would be a motherfucker too”.