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book is based on Saito’s dissertation, originally in German, and incorporates the results of his study of as-yet unpublished manuscripts and excerpt notebooks compiled during the last fifteen years of Marx’s life.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 Saito’s research into Marx’s later writings, and, most especially, unpublished notebooks reveals the developing pattern of his reading of contemporary natural science, especially agronomy.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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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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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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Book Review: Ian Angus on Climate Change, Anthropocene and the Intersections of Science and Socialism

Book review of A REDDER SHADE OF GREEN. Intersections of Science and Socialism. Ian Angus, Monthly Review Press, New York, 2017 by Barry Sheppard.

This book follows the author’s Facing the Anthropocene, also published by Monthly Review Press, in 2016.

The Anthropocene refers to a new geological period, where the activities of human beings are having major effects on planet’s geology and biology, including for humanity. Angus, and increasingly geologists, are focusing on the period beginning around 1950, when humanity’s impact, which had been developing gradually, underwent a “great acceleration” – a dialectical transformation of quantity into quality.

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Extreme Cities

The stark inequality of “extreme cities” is going to be exacerbated and tested by the effects of climate change, explains Ashley Dawson.

How will climate change affect our lives? Where will its impacts be most deeply felt? Are we doing enough to protect ourselves from the coming chaos? In Extreme Cities, Ashley Dawson argues that cities are ground zero for climate change, contributing the lion’s share of carbon to the atmosphere, while also lying on the frontlines of rising sea levels. Today, the majority of the world’s megacities are located in coastal zones, yet few of them are adequately prepared for the floods that will increasingly menace their shores. Instead, most continue to develop luxury waterfront condos for the elite and industrial facilities for corporations. These not only intensify carbon emissions, but also place coastal residents at greater risk when water levels rise.

In Extreme Cities, Dawson offers an alarming portrait of the future of our cities as both the places where climate change will have its most devastating effects and as the necessary sites of crucial response. Extreme Cities is one of our core texts on our Environment and Ecology Student Reading ListIt was named one of the Top 10 Books of the Year by Publishers Weekly and Planetizen. 

Here we present the book’s introduction.

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