Ecosocialism: Capital, Nature and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy

Ted Benton reviews  Kohei Saito Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism: Capital, Nature and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy. 2017. New York: Monthly Review.

This exceptionally clear and well-researched book is based on Saito’s dissertation, originally in German, and incorporates the results of his study of as-yet unpublished manuscripts and excerpt notebooks compiled during the last fifteen years of Marx’s life. Saito’s approach is closely aligned with that of Paul Burkett, John Bellamy Foster and their associates (Burkett 1988, Foster et al. 2010), well-known advocates of a view of Marx as an ecological thinker, who developed the concept of ‘metabolic rift’ to explain the contradictions between capitalism and external nature.

Saito uses the results of his own research to strengthen and extend the claims made by those writers. His key argument is that his predecessors in the ‘metabolic rift’ school of thought were able to demonstrate Marx’s ecological critique only through occasional passages of text. Saito’s research into Marx’s later writings, and, most especially, unpublished notebooks reveals the developing pattern of his reading of contemporary natural science, especially agronomy. Ecology was always central to Marx’s thinking, Saito argues, it was integral to his critique of political economy, and was understood by Marx as ‘the’ contradiction of the capitalist mode of production.

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From Marx to Ecosocialism

Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism. Capitalism, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy
By: Kohei Saito
New York, Monthly Review Press, 2017
Red-Green Revolution: The Politics and Technology of Ecosocialism
By: Victor Wallis
Toronto, Political Animal Press, 2018
Reviewed by Michael Lowy

There is a growing body of ecomarxist and ecosocialist literature in the English-speaking world, which signals the beginning of a significant turn in radical thinking. Some Marxist journals, such as Capitalism, Nature and Socialism, Monthly Review and Socialism and Democracy have been playing an important role in this process, which is becoming increasingly influential. The two books discussed here—very different in style content and purpose—are part of this “Red and Green” upsurge.

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The climate is changing – why aren’t we

I’m in my mid-sixties and have been politically active since my late teens, writes Terry Conway. This week I have had one of the most positive political experiences of my life, supporting young people organizing against climate change. Their energy, their political sophistication and their sense of humour is infectious.

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Climate, class, and revolting children

Radical action on climate change should be the many versus the few, not the young versus the old, writes Chris Saltmarsh.

The global wave of student strikes for climate action has come to the UK. We should unequivocally support these young people to have their voices heard, especially as the clock ticks in the 12-year countdown to implement measures to avoid runaway climate breakdown.

Holly Gillibrand, 13, has already instigated protests in Scotland and there are plans for a nationwide day of action on 15 February 2019. These actions come as tens of thousands of students have held similar strikes in countries across the world.

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Farming, food and nature

Alan Thornett reviews Farming, Food and Nature: Respecting Animals, People and the Environment, edited by Joyce D’Silva and Carol McKenna (Routledge 2018)

This book brings together 35 individual contributions that were made, or planned, at a conference entitled Extinction and Livestock organised by Compassion in World Farming (CWF) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in London in 2017 in order to discuss farming and food production and its impact on the biodiversity on the planet.

It is a book that should be strongly welcomed. It looks not just at the problem of feeding the planet’s current 7.5 billion people but on the disastrous impact this is having on the biodiversity of the planet. It reflects an emerging wider debate on how to feed the population of the planet without destroying its biosphere in the process

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Derek Wall: internationalist ecosocialism of word and deed

Terry Conway for RedGreen Labour interviewed ecosocialist activist, internationalist and writer Derek Wall.

RGL: You have been involved in environmental politics in one form of another for a long time. What was the original trigger that got you involved?

DW: I first became interested in green politics in 1980, at the tender age of 14.  The wave of environmental concern in the 1970s saw the creation of green parties and new environmental movements. This was often framed around arguments about economic growth. The Limits to Growth report and Blueprint for Survival were published, arguing that economic growth was ecologically unsustainable.  This feed into popular culture, I think I picked up some of this from television, I was an avid watcher as a child and teenager. Animal rights campaign also influenced, me, for example, the emotive campaigns against whaling, the Orkney seal cull and the Japanese dolphin hunts.

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Trade Unions and Climate Change: An Interview with Clara Paillard

Stephanie McDonagh and Anthony Killick from Critical Perspective interviewed Clara  about the role of trade unions in fighting climate change on video and also wrote these notes

Trade unions are an important (if not the most important) instrument of power for working people. As such, they have, since their inception, posed a threat to capital because when people organise collectively they have the power to negotiate working terms: better conditions, better pay, the weekend and holidays. Without union organisation we would have none of these things.

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Are energy trade unions ‘playing fast and loose’ with climate change?

On 15th January the Scottish Parliament debated a motion from Roseanna Cunningham SNP MSP, on securing a just transition to a carbon-neutral economy, writes Sam Mason. Remarkable in this is the seeming level of consensus in the Scottish Parliament to give meaning to the words of the Paris climate agreement.

Taking into account the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities through the establishment of a Just Transition Commission – a demand of the STUC. It’s not perfect but with Labour MSP Claudia Beamish getting an amendment in this debate to establish the Commission on a statutory basis it’s something the UK Labour Party should be looking to emulate.

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Doughnut Economics

Like so many others who suffered the dispiriting experience of studying economics at  A Level (or even worse, at university), I had to plough through reams of economic diagrams in the standard textbooks like Samuelson’s dreary tome, writes Sean Thompson. The central image in mainstream economics is the circular flow diagram. It depicts a closed flow of income cycling between households, businesses, banks, government and trade, operating in a social and ecological vacuum. There is, according to received neo-classical wisdom, no reason for that closed system not to go on and on in endless equilibrium.

 

According to Kate Raworth, in her book Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think like a 21st Century Economist, there’s only one problem with the circular flow diagram: it’s wrong. Energy, materials, the natural world, human society, power, the wealth we hold in common, all are missing from the model. The unpaid work of carers – principally women – is ignored, though no economy could function without them. Like rational economic man, this representation of economic activity bears little relationship to reality.

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Why Ecosocialism: For a Red-Green Future

The capitalist system, driven at its core by the maximization of profit, regardless of social and ecological costs, is incompatible with a just and sustainable future, writes Michael Löwy. Ecosocialism offers a radical alternative that puts social and ecological well-being first. Attuned to the links between the exploitation of labor and the exploitation of the environment, ecosocialism stands against both reformist “market ecology” and “productivist socialism.”

By embracing a new model of robustly democratic planning, society can take control of the means of production and its own destiny. Shorter work hours and a focus on authentic needs over consumerism can facilitate the elevation of “being” over “having,” and the achievement of a deeper sense of freedom for all. To realize this vision, however, environmentalists and socialists will need to recognize their common struggle and how that connects with the broader “movement of movements” seeking a Great Transition.

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