Month: April 2019

Making the Green New Deal Real

The Green New Deal resolution introduced into Congress by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey is a manifesto that has changed the terms of the debate over the country’s future, writes Dianne Feeley. Cutting through the Trump administration’s denials about who is responsible for the extreme weather we already face, it unites the issues of climate change with that of eroding workers’ rights, racism and growing inequality. (At the end of March, the Senate voted against the GND in what has been called a ceremonial stunt.)

The resolution affirms the overwhelming scientific consensus that these are human caused. Further, since the United States is responsible for a disproportionate amount of greenhouse gas emissions, it demands that this society must take the lead in “reducing emissions through economic transformation.”

Noting that climate crisis is just one of many crises we face, it points to declining living standards, wage stagnation, a large racial divide and gender gap. It states that we now have the greatest income inequality since a century ago. It then proposes a 10-year national mobilization to tackle these issues comprehensively. But in offering a way forward, the details are nonetheless vague.

Corporate politicians ranging from centrist Democrats to the Republican establishment have commented that the proposal is too broad, too expensive, too utopian. Trump labelled it socialist and therefore “un-American.”

A video posted by Sunrise, the group pushing for passage of the Green New Deal resolution, shows an exchange between Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and a group of 14-17 year olds.

When told that scientists have given us a decade to drastically cut carbon emissions, she replied “Well, it’s not going to get turned around in ten years.”

Feinstein then lectured them about the art of the possible. They responded by pointing out they would be living with the consequences of a devastated planet. The video of their encounter was viewed 1.4 million times within its first few hours online. Most viewers saw a seasoned politician challenged by young people who know only a bold plan has a chance of averting disaster.

It’s clear that a broad political debate has opened. In fact, it is clear that politicians running for office in 2019 and 2020 will be forced to discuss what must be done to drastically reduce fossil fuels and at the same time reduce inequality.

This is a sea change from the 2016 election when Bernie Sanders raised climate change as the most important issue facing the country, the only “major party” candidate to do so.

A People’s GND

Since the introduction of the GND resolution, other manifestos and statements have emerged. The recently revived activist scientists’ network, Science for the People, calls for a “People’s Green New Deal” campaign, issuing a short statement of support but warning that there will be pressure to water down the heart of the resolution. It proposes five points in order to maintain and strengthen such a mobilization:

• “We promote solutions and struggles that educate, organize, mobilize and directly empower working class people, Indigenous Peoples, historically oppressed communities, and migrants displaced by climate disaster, in their everyday lives.

• “We aim to collaborate with all of those who have developed the core ideas of the Green New Deal over the years and decades, particularly to ensure we understand the role of militarism in the climate crisis, and to fight for globally just solutions.

• “We stand with frontline communities demanding equitable solutions to the climate crisis, so that no member of our society will be forgotten or unjustly bear the costs of climate change.

• “We stand with trade unions demanding a Just Transition and the creation of millions of green jobs, so that all people may be able to support their families with dignity.

• “We call for a transformation of the economy which redistributes resources from those who led us into this crisis in the first place.” (See https://scienceforthepeople.org/peoples-green-new-deal/)

This statement introduces into the discussion several important issues. First, it emphasizes that change will come through working people and their communities rather than from on high. In fact, it is the corporate elite and their buddies in Congress who have caused this crisis. It is highly unlikely, in the words of the resolution, that businesses will be “working on the Green New Deal Mobilization.”

Second, there is necessary humility about where the core ideas come from — they were not invented by politicians, but come from an environmental justice movement that drew the connections among environmental degradation, the workers who suffer severe health conditions as a result of their unsafe jobs and the communities in which these mines, factories and agricultural industries exist. (See https://www.ejnet.org/ej/principles.html)

Third, the statement calls for deepening the GND resolution’s commitment to frontline communities and workers by calling for a serious discussion about the role of the military. It underscores the resolution’s introduction of the idea that there must be a “just transition” for workers and their communities. The economic transition cannot demand sacrifice from workers and communities.

The articulation of these principles broaden the GND resolution and point a way forward by emphasizing the need to deepen the political discussion. It takes us beyond the “art of the possible” to the values of solidarity, equality, justice and democracy. Although the “People’s Green New Deal” doesn’t raise specific demands around immigration or U.S. responsibility to the Global South, the ideas it raises challenge us to do so.

Likewise, it doesn’t specifically call for a drastic reduction or abolishing of the military budget and the militarization of neighborhoods and schools, but calls for a discussion. Many Americans believe the military is necessary, although they are not aware that it consumes the lion’s share of the discretionary federal budget, supports authoritarian rule around the globe and prevents the possibility of social programs.

This can’t afford to be a leisurely discussion because without dismantling the 700 U.S. bases around the world, along with junking nuclear weapons and the military machine, there is no possibility for a transformation. Just eliminating U.S. military production would reduce CO2 by 70-80 million tons a year.

Not only does the military budget hamper our ability to take on a Green New Deal campaign, but military production is where we can begin to whack carbon emissions.

The People’s Green New Deal Campaign notes the danger of watering down the resolution. Rather than pledging to “keep the coal in the hole and the oil in the soil,” the resolution fails to define specific energy sources. It refers merely to “clean, renewable and zero-emission” energy and seemingly suggests that efficiency by itself will bring us close to our goal. Further, the resolution qualifies the goal by stating “as much as is technologically feasible” four separate times.

Making It Real

In contrast, the Green Party’s plan, first developed nearly a decade ago, calls for 100% renewable energy by 2030, with renewables defined as wind, solar, tidal and geothermal, not gas, biomass or nuclear power. Given the United States’ responsibility as a leading industrialized society, eliminating greenhouse gas emission has to be a serious priority. It also means giving preference to the public sector.

Many cities and towns own their own water and lighting systems; these are the basis for moving to 100% renewable energy. In order to accomplish this task, profit-making utilities will have to be quickly phased out. Again, the Green Party plan is specific: a Renewable Energy Administration would treat energy not as a commodity to be purchased but as a public good. (See https://www.gp.org/green_new_deal)

Since the Congressional GND resolution is simply a statement, not a bill, watering down can occur by proposing technical fixes, whether through carbon fees or employing carbon-capture technology to solve the problem. But there is no quick fix to greenhouse gases and the broader issue of pollution.

As the Climate Justice Alliance points out, “to truly address the interlinked crises of a faltering democracy, growing wealth disparity and community devastation caused by climate change and industrial pollution, we must reduce emissions at their source.

“Allowing for neoliberal constructs such as Net Zero emissions, which equate carbon emission offsets and technology investments with real emissions reductions at source, would only exacerbate existing pollution burdens on frontline communities.

“Such loopholes for carbon markets and unproven techno-fixes only serve to line the coffers of the polluting corporations, while increasing (not reducing) harm to our communities. Our communities can no longer be used as sacrifice zones.” (See https://climatejusticealliance.org/gnd/)

This means saying “No” to the construction of new fossil fuel systems — pipelines, coal ports, etc. It means moving quickly to build public mass transit and ending production of gas guzzlers. It means prioritizing community and worker participation in redesigning and repurposing our manufacturing capacity.

Such a drastic reorganization of the economy requires a full-throttled campaign. It may involve not only retraining workers to new jobs, but the reduction of the work week to 30 hours for 40 hours pay.

AFL-CIO Labor Councils in Alameda, San Diego and Imperial Counties in California have called for support to the GND along with a few local unions. However, most unions are terrified that that in the transition, workers and their families will get the short end of the straw.

That’s how every other restructuring in U.S. history has occurred. There must be a commitment to compensate for job losses and to extensive retraining. “Just transition” must be a guarantee.

Another issue that is rarely discussed in U.S.-based statements is the reality that we must reject the mantra of “growth.” We do not need more things every year!

Hopefully, through this mobilization of our energy we discover happiness is in having control over our lives. This means not only democratic planning and a guarantee against displacement, but having quality public services — housing, health, transportation and education for starters — available to all.

The Democratic Socialists of America’s ecosocialist statement of guiding principles notes, “The future is a public good, not a private luxury.” (See https://ecosocialists.dsausa.org/2019/02/28/gnd-principles/)

Some of these statements and manifestos raise the issue of a radical redistribution of the economy, but while this is certainly true, in fact we must go even further. Capitalism is built on profit, exploitation and growth for its own sake. To change this dynamic, it will be necessary to develop an economy based on new, fundamental ecosocialist principles.

“The capitalist destruction of the environment and the ecosocialist alternative,” a Fourth International statement which Solidarity members participated in writing, was adopted in April 2018. It is a wide-ranging summary of the issues we face: http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article5452. It ends by noting:

“These urgent ecological demands can favor a process of radicalization under the condition that we refuse to limit their objectives by obeying the capitalist market or accepting the ‘competitiveness’ argument.

“Each small victory, each partial advance can immediately bring us to a higher and more radical demand. These struggles on concrete problems are important, not only because partial victories in themselves are welcome, but also because they contribute to the growth of an ecological and socialist consciousness, and promote autonomy and self-organization from below.

This autonomy and this self-organization are the necessary and decisive preconditions for a radical transformation of the world. This means a revolutionary transformation is only possible through the self-emancipation of the oppressed and the exploited: workers and peasants, women, indigenous communities, and all stigmatized because of their race, religion or nationality.

“The leading elites of the system, retrenched behind their barricades, are incredibly powerful while the forces of radical opposition are small. Their development into a mass movement of unprecedented size, is the only hope to stop the catastrophic course of capitalist growth.

This will allow us to invent a desirable form of life, more rich in human qualities, a new society based on the values of human dignity, solidarity, freedom and respect for Mother Nature.”

April 23 2019

Against the Current

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.

It started a week ago when I looked up youthstrike4climate on facebook. I messaged the address to see if there were any flyers for the protest today. I got a reply within a couple of hours and discovered the person answering lived near me and could provide me with leaflets.

I’m involved in Islington Labour Environment Forum and organized with other activists from there and our recently set up Islington Young Labour to leaflet outside our local university. We went in the early morning so also caught a load of young people on their way to school. The response we received was hugely positive and posters we stuck up were largely there 4 days later.

The day before the strike I came out of my flat and discovered a poster tied to a nearby lamp post telling me there was a gathering of local children and parents supporting the action in a park 5 minutes away. I went there on the way to Parliament Square and tapped into a network of people with children at my local primary school and playgroup. There were around 40 of us in that small area. Inspiring.
Together with a local Labour councillor who had also come to the park I made my way to Parliament Square. We changed tubes at Victoria – and it was already clear we were in for a treat. There was a group of maybe 8 young men, probably aged around 16, on the platform with hand-made posters from a school in Notting Hill. They reckoned about 1000 pupils from their school had taken action.

Leaving the tube, it was as if the demonstration was all around us and when we emerged the scene was remarkable. The traffic had been stopped in several directions and dozens of youth had taken over an open-topped tourist bus and were chanting and waving signs from the top as the throng around them cheered and sang in response.

/caption]Almost everyone had their own home-made sign. Some were hastily put together, others had been more carefully crafted. Slogans focused not only directly on climate itself but on other issues – particularly the biodiversity crisis. The wit and imagination behind them was as palpable as the energy of the activists. There were some newspaper sellers and their placards but they were massively outnumbered.

/caption]

The slogans on the banners and on people’s lips were fascinating. What do we want? Change. When do we want it now was probably the dominant chant – and had many reflections on cardboard. Later I saw a 17 year-old interviewed for the Manchester Evening News telling the journalist that extreme storms were being caused by the climate crisis. Another young man spoke about Trump’s climate denial, that the movement was international and that there would be a world day of action on March 15. Well informed, confident and politically coherent.

Most people were in the road – some sitting down, others milling around. The police were hardly to be seen at that point – just a few blocking us getting nearer to the entrance to Parliament. People climbed onto lamp posts and some onto the tops of buses -with a confidence I wouldn’t have had at their age. Every so often the police moved a group off one bit of road to let a couple of cars through but a new blockade surged behind them blocking the other side of a road.

Some of the police spoke down to the young people who they were trying to persuade to move – telling them they were stupid to climb up for example. When I responded saying it was much more stupid to ignore the threat of climate change I got a big cheer from those around me.
Later I managed to meet up with a couple of people from Islington Young Labour. I heard that people had earlier blocked the bridge and that a couple of people had apparently been arrested. I reckon if most of those present had been older the tally would have been a lot higher.

Eventually I decided to leave and made my way to the tube. But my political discussions weren’t finished. There was a group of half a dozen young women with placards getting on alongside me. They told me they were from a school in West London and that half their sixth form were out. They were being the change we need to see.

And of course it didn’t end even when I got home because I have been reading dozens of messages from across Britain – and some from other parts of the world, about what has been happening elsewhere. They include information from people who stayed in central London longer than I did telling that the police became more aggressive later and did use horses to clear the roads. I am pretty sure this will further strengthen the determination of those involved to be back on the streets very soon.

And as for the Tories condemning pupils being away from school because it creates more work for teachers this will just multiply the number of workers supporting the students – including those planning to demonstrate the same outside the Department of Education next week.

And we all need to work out how to spread the word even further for the next strike on March 15.

Was Marx an ecologist?

KARL MARX, FRIEDRICH ENGELS, EXZERPTE UND NOTIZEN, MARX-ENGELS-GESAMTAUSGABE, IV, 18, DEGRUYTER, 2019, 1294pp reviewed by Gus Fagan

Was Marx an ecologist and does Marx’s theory offer a coherent theoretical and practical approach for ecologists in the 21st century? The publication, in the original language (mostly German), of Marx’s excerpts and notes on ecology from the mid-1860s may help to answer that question.

Ecologists have sometimes accused Marx and Marxists of an uncritical attitude towards industrial society and the damage it does to the environment. Marxists need to “break radically”, according to the French-Brazilian socialist, Michel Löwy, “ with the ideology of linear progress and with the technological and economic paradigm of modern industrial civilisation” (Löwy, 2005, 16). Although there are some on the Marxist left who would still agree with Löwy, it would seem that the belief that Marx offered a powerful and coherent approach to ecology has been gaining ground in recent decades. John Bellamy Foster, a prominent defender of a Marxist inspired ecology, claims that: “Few involved in ecosocialist discussions today doubt the importance of Marx’s foundational contribution to the ecological critique of capitalism” (Foster, 2016).

The question as to why this aspect of Marx’s historical materialism was either not known or forgotten for so long has a number of answers. The development of Marx’s thinking on ecology occurred in the last two decades of his life and many of his writings and notes from that time are still not published. The industrial orthodoxy of Second International Marxism as well as the technological optimism of the early Russian revolution and the dogmatism and industrial strategy of the later Soviet Union were also a factor. The Frankfurt School and other Western Marxist writers, very influential after the Second World War, were mainly interested in culture and aesthetics and rejected the idea that the Marxist dialectic could be applied to nature.

Although there were socialist ecologists in the 1960s and 1970s, well documented in Alan Thornett’s recent book, Facing the Apocalypse: Arguments for Ecosocialism (2019), it wasn’t until the 1980s, with the work of Marxists such as Ted Benton and Elmar Altvater, and the foundation of the journal Capitalism Nature Socialism, that the idea of a Marxist ecology began to take shape. The charge of “productivism” against Marx was challenged with greater theoretical rigour by John Bellamy Foster’s Marx’s Ecology (2000) and Paul Burkett’s Marx and Nature (1999). Both argued, in these and many publications since, that Marx’s analysis of capitalism was an ecological one. In Marx’s theory, the drive for profit and the accumulation of capital was based on an unlimited appropriation of natural resources which have a natural limit.

More recently, Kohei Saito’s Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism sets out to demonstrate “the immanent systemic character of Marx’s ecology, that there is a clear continuity with his critique of political economy” (Saito, 2017, 12). What gives added interest to Saito’s claims is his use of what then were the still unpublished ecological notebooks of Marx from 1865 to 1868.

We’re familiar with the image of Marx sitting in the library of the British Museum making notes about what he had read and copying text by hand into his notebooks. Most of these notebooks consist almost completely of direct quotes from the books, articles, and newspapers that he was reading. They therefore didn’t attract much interest from Marx researchers. The gradual publication of these notebooks in the critical edition of Marx’s works, Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA) throws light on how Marx worked, his sources of inspiration, and new ideas that he was developing.

In the mid-1860s, around the time of the publication of vol. 1 of Capital, Marx began to devote himself to an intense study of natural science, especially in the area of what we now describe as ecology. These ecological notebooks from 1864 to 1872 have now been published in Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe, IV 18 (de Gruyter, 2019). This volume contains 820 pages of notes and excerpts, with an accompanying (separately bound) 470 pages of information and critical comment. Four notebooks, one from 1865/1866 and three from 1868, deal with agricultural chemistry, soil erosion, deforestation, botany, land rent, capitalist agriculture, climate, social relations in the countryside, as well as agrarian relations in pre-capitalist societies and colonialism.

There was intense interest, in the 19th century, in Europe and North America, in the problem of soil erosion and deforestation that was emerging with the advent of large-scale capitalist agriculture. At the same time, there were big advances being made in agricultural chemistry. Before the 1860s, Marx has assumed that modern agricultural science would resolve the problem of soil replenishment. In The Poverty of Philosophy, written in 1846, he wrote that at “every moment the application of chemistry is changing the nature of the soil and geological knowledge is just now, in our days, beginning to revolutionize all the old estimates of relative fertility” (Marx, 1973, 162). These advances in the knowledge of soil chemistry coming from the natural scientists, as well as the increased use of fertilizer, promised big improvements in agricultural production and soil replenishment. But this optimism didn’t last.

A major influence on Marx’s more radical ecological views in the 1860s was Justus von Liebig (1803-1873). Liebig was a professor at the University of Giessen (the university is now named after him) and he is often described as the father of modern agricultural chemistry. Liebig made important breakthroughs in organic chemistry and in 1840 published his Die organische Chemie in ihrer Anwendung auf Agricultur und Physiologie (Organic Chemistry and its Application to Agriculture and Physiology).

The ecology notebook from 1865/1866, 220 pages in the present text, was finished before the publication of the first volume of Capital in 1867. As a result of Marx’s reading of Liebig, he added some strong statements on capitalist agriculture. He wrote, for instance, that the “union of agriculture and industry” under capitalism led to greater urbanisation which concentrated “the historical motive power of society” but, at the same time, “disturbs the metabolic interaction between man and the earth. … Capitalist production therefore only develops the techniques and the degree of combination of the social process of production by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth – the soil and the worker” (Marx, 1976, 637-638). In a footnote in Capital vol 1, Marx wrote that one of Liebig’s “immortal merits” was to have developed “the destructive side of modern agriculture” (Marx,1976, 638). The extracts in Marx’s notebook are mainly from the 6th edition of Liebig’s book from 1862 where he described the destructive aspects of modern agriculture as “robbery cultivation” (Raubbau). And nowhere was this “robbery economy” (Raubwirtschaft) more developed than in North America (141).

Marx’s response to Liebig’s critique of capitalist agriculture was to throw himself into the study of everything that was being written by the natural scientists of that time on agriculture and the environment. He wrote to Engels on 13 February 1866: “I have been going to the Museum [British Library] in the day-time and writing at night. I had to plough through the new agricultural chemistry in Germany, in particularly Liebig and Schönbein, which is more important than all the economists put together” (Marx and Engels, 1988, 227).

The Swedish Marxist, Sven-Eric Liedman, whose biography of Marx appeared in English in 2018, comments on Marx’s “endless reading and composition of excerpts”. […] above all, no gaps in knowledge could be left open” (Liedman, 2018, 475). In 1866, when Marx was reading Liebig and others on agriculture, his notes which Engels would later assemble to form volume 3 of Capital, were already on his desk.

One of the unanswered questions about Marx has been why he published so little in the 1870s after the publication of vol. 1 of Capital. The notebooks, many of which are still to be published, will probably help to answer that question. Marx, according to Liedman, “continued reading and taking notes as if he himself were immortal” (Liedman, 2018, 475). The German socialist and friend of Marx, Wilhelm Liebknecht, wrote about Marx’s interests in this period: “Especially on the field of natural science, including physics and chemistry, and of history, Marx closely followed every new appearance, verified every progress; and Moleschott, Liebig, Huxley – whose popular lectures we attended conscientiously – were names mentioned in our circle as often as Ricardo, Adam Smith, McCulloch and the Scottish and Irish economists.” (Liebknecht, 1965, 81)

If there was any doubt previously about whether this ecological aspect was in any way central to Marx’s thinking, the now published notebooks, from 1865/66 but especially from 1868, show clearly how important this was for Marx, more important than “all the economists”. And there are still many unpublished notebooks from the 1870s. The ecological problems that concerned Marx were different from but not unrelated to the problems of today. The notebooks suggest that the idea of ecological crisis would have played a more central role in Marx’s theory had he been able to finish publication of the final two volumes of Capital which were edited and published by Engels after his death.

In the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Marx wrote that the “universality of man [Menschen, gender neutral but traditionally translated into English as “man”] manifests itself in practice in the universality which makes the whole of nature his inorganic body” (Marx, 1975, 328). This relation between humans as a species and the rest of nature was a key part of Marx’s thinking from the beginning. He later used the concept of metabolism (Stoffwechsel) in his analysis of labour. Labour is a process by which humans ‘regulate and controls the metabolism between themselves and nature’ (Marx, 1976, 283). Even exchange is seen as a process of “social metabolism”.

The concept of metabolism (Stoffwechsel) was used by Liebig and the natural scientists in the 19th century in the context of physiology and biochemistry and it described biochemical processes of exchange within organisms, for instance the conversion, within the body, of organic matter into energy or the chemical interactions between plants and the soil. All living things are part of this metabolism and sometimes this can break down, for instance, when more is taken out of the soil than is returned, or when plants and trees can’t absorb the amount of carbon dioxide that’s being produced. We then have a ‘metabolic rift’. Marx used the concept of social metabolism in the 1860s in dealing with the ecological crisis created by what some describe as the “second agricultural revolution” of the 19th century.

For Marx, human metabolism with nature was mediated by labour and was therefore linked to the particular mode of production prevalent at the time. He therefore saw Liebig’s “metabolic rift” as a specifically capitalist contradiction. In volume 3 of Capital he states this explicitly: “the moral of the tale…is that the capitalist system runs counter to a rational agriculture, or that a rational agriculture is incompatible with the capitalist system” (Marx, 1991, 216).

Another scientist that interested Marx, especially in 1868, was Karl Nikolaus Fraas. What was interesting in Fraas’s approach to agriculture was his strong emphasis on the effect of agriculture and deforestation on climate and climate change. Marx read and copied from Fraas’s 1847 publication, Klima und Pflanzenwelt in der Zeit (Climate and Plant World Over Time) and his 1852 Geschichte der Landwirtschaft (History of Agriculture). Between 1837 and 1842, Fraas had been director of the Royal Gardens in Athens and until 1847 professor of botany at the university in Athens. Having returned to Germany in 1847 he taught agricultural chemistry at the university in Munich.

What Fraas attempted to demonstrate was that the environment and the natural conditions of production were undermined by human civilization and especially by agriculture. He condemned deforestation because “in a region which possesses a very acid and sandy soil, or furthermore even calcareous soil, deforestation counts as the most powerful cause of creating heat” (622). He researched plant growth in ancient Greece and Rome and concluded that climate change was linked to cultivation and deforestation and that the latter have led historically to the creation of deserts and collapses of civilizations. Fraas wrote in Klima und Pflanzenwelt that “humans change the world of nature, on which they depend, in so many ways and to a much greater extent than is commonly realized. In fact, humans are able to change nature to such an extent that it is later completely unable to provide what is needed … There is no hope of changing this.” (Fraas, 1842, 59)

Marx was very impressed by Fraas and wrote to Engels on 25 March 1868 that Fraas’s book was “very interesting, especially as proving that climate and flora have changed in historic times. […] The whole conclusion is that cultivation when it progresses in a primitive way and is not consciously controlled (as a bourgeois of course he does not arrive at this), leaves deserts behind it… ” (Marx and Engels, 1988, 558).

Marx’s solution, of course, was neither reliance on scientific solutions nor pessimism about the future but rather an end to the capitalist system and a socialist society in which “ the associated producers govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way, bringing it under their collective control…accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate for their human nature” (Marx, 1991, 959).

Directly after Fraas, and probably because Fraas had praised him, Marx read Georg Ludwig von Maurer, a jurist and legal historian who taught German and French historical jurisprudence at the University of Munich. Between 1856 and 1871 he wrote an 11-volume legal history of property rights among the early German people. Marx made extensive notes from Maurer’s 1854 book, Einleitung zur Geschichte der Mark- Hof- Dorf- und Stadt-verfassung und der offentlichen Gewalt (Introduction to the History of the Constitution of the Mark, Farm, Village and Town and its Public Authority). Maurer defended the theory that among the early German people there existed a social order in which collective working and collective ownership of the land predominated. The administration of affairs was carried out by communal (mark) organisations. This social system maintained a sustainable agriculture.

In 1876 Marx was still studying Maurer (three notebooks from that year with excerpts) as well as in 1882, the year before his death. Stimulated by Maurer’s work, he wanted to examine the metabolism between humans and nature in pre-capitalist and non-Western societies. Hence his interest in the Russian village commune. In 1870-71, Marx taught himself Russian so he could engage directly in the debates and the research being carried out in Russia. As Marx’s wife, Jenny, wrote to Engels in January 1870: “He has begun to study Russian as if it were a matter of life and death.” A decade later, in 1881, he corresponded with Vera Zasulich on this issue. He wrote to Zasulich that societies in Western Europe and North America were “in conflict with the working masses, with science, and with the very productive forces which it generates, – in short, a crisis that will end with its own elimination, through the return of modern societies to a higher form of the “archaic” type of collective ownership and production” (Shanin, 2018, 1193). Marx, by now, was long convinced that ecological crisis could not be fixed by science or modern chemistry but by fundamental changes in the forces and relations of production.

These are just some of the natural scientists and historians that Marx was studying in the year after the publication of Capital vol. 1 and which are documented in MEGA IV vol 18. Some others were the English agriculturalist John Lockhart Morton, the German economist and philosopher Eugen Dühring, the French economist and agricultural historian, Leonce de Lavergne, the American economist Henry Charles Carey, and many others.

The publication of Marx’s ecological notebooks will be of great interest to scholars researching this area of Marx’s theory and will certainly demonstrate that Marx himself had more than a passing interest in ecology, that he was, in fact, seriously involved in understanding and responding to this “metabolic rift” which he came to see as one of the contradictions of the capitalist system. But how exactly Marx’s concept of social metabolism, his ecological critique of capitalism, fits into his account of labour and his theory of value is still a matter of debate among Marxist ecologists.

References

Burkett, Paul. 1999. Marx and Nature, a Red and Green Perspective, New York: St Martin’s Press.

Foster John Bellamy. 2000. Marx’s Ecology. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Fraas, Karl. 1847. Klima und Pflanzenwelt in der Zeit. https://archive.org/details/klimaundpflanze00fraagoog/page/n7.

Liebknecht, W. 1965. “Karl Marx zum Gedächtnis”, in Mohr und General. Erinnerungen an Marx und Engels. Berlin: Dietz.

Liedman, Sven-Eric. 2018. A World to Win: The Life and Works of Karl Marx. London: Verso.

Löwy, Michel. 2005. What is Ecosocialism? Capitalism Nature Socialism (16, 2).

Marx, Karl. 1976. Capital Vol 1. London: Penguin Books.

Marx, Karl. 1991. Capital Vol 3. London: Penguin Books.

Marx, Karl. 1973. The Poverty of Philosophy. New York: International Publishers.

Marx Karl. 1975. Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844), Early Writings. London: Penguin Books.

Marx and Engels. 1988. Collected Works, vol. 42. London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Marx and Engels. 1989. Collected Works, vol. 24. London: Lawrence and Wishart.

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

Shanin, Teodor. 2018. 1881 Letters of Vera Zasulich and Karl Marx, The Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol. 45, No. 7.

Thornett, Alan. 2019. Facing the Apocalypse: Arguments for Ecosocialism. London: Resistance Books.

2 August 2019

International Viewpoint