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 Post subject: Marxism and Ecology
PostPosted: Mon May 15, 2017 7:51 am 
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It's been a while since I read John Bellamy Foster's 'Marx's Ecology', I don't remember anything much anymore about the general content, but I do remember the emphasis on a specific passage from Marx about the labour process:

Marx, Capital Vol 1 wrote:
Labour is, first of all, a process between man and nature, a process by which man, through his own actions, mediates, regulates and controls the metabolism between himself and nature.


That labour functions as the means of mediation between humans and their environment is the crucial idea around which we can hang, in the first place, a criticism of the role of capitalism in the destruction of the environment, and in the second, a critique of the Green movement which sees itself as fighting a war of ideas.

Under capitalist relations of production, labour takes on a twofold nature. On the one hand it is the production of a certain use-value, an instance of the general interaction between man and nature to meet a given need, but on the other hand it is also a valorisation process, the driving force of which is the production of a greater surplus-value. Value is something into which, not one drop of the physical nature of the commodity enters into, it is entirely divorced from this natural existence, it's substance is solely abstract human labour.

For the commodity to develop as the cellular element of the social organism, which enforces the transformation of the labour process into the process of valorisation, there must be a social division of labour. The first social division of labour involves the rending of mankind away from it's immediate connection and dependence on nature in agricultural communities.

Marx, ibid wrote:
The foundation of every division of labour which has attained a certain degree of development, and has been brought about by the exchange of commodities, is the separation of town from country. One might say that the whole economic history of society is summed up in the movement of this antithesis.


Contemporary to the development of capitalism was the development of the philosophical system of Descartes, who conceived of nature as essentially something dead, animated only by the supernatural force of the mind, which was substantially something quite different and separate from nature. This worldview was the inevitable product of the world-historical period which saw the rapid expansion of the exploitation of nature and natural resources by capitalist industry, and the sundering of greater and greater portions of mankind from a mode of existence dependent immediately on nature. As the capitalist sees in the products of nature only a dead mass of material which serves to embody his real interest - Value - the worldview of idealism reflected back a view of nature as a dead mass animated by God.

The reaction to this was the development of naturalism and materialism. The obstacles to the philosophical triumph of materialism were overcome by Darwinism, which showed that nature, in and of itself, is sufficient. The human hand, and the human brain, are products of the long evolution of species. But naturalism goes too far in the other direction, it makes a mysticism of nature, and in the process makes of humanity, either another species of animal, or in some cases, a parasite to be destroyed (An acquaintance of mine actually believes that humanity is a parasite which 'mother nature' is soon to rid itself of).

Marx, 1844 Manuscripts wrote:
Man is directly a natural being. As a natural being and as a living natural being he is on the one hand endowed with natural powers, vital powers – he is an active natural being.


Insofar as naturalism or materialism asserts that mankind is a product of nature, not of God, it asserts correctly. But it ers, because mankind is both of, and not of, nature.

Marx, ibid wrote:
But man is not merely a natural being: he is a human natural being. That is to say, he is a being for himself. Therefore he is a species-being, and has to confirm and manifest himself as such both in his being and in his knowing. Therefore, human objects are not natural objects as they immediately present themselves, and neither is human sense as it immediately is – as it is objectively – human sensibility, human objectivity.


Humanity finds itself originally in a state of total dependence on nature. But through labour we transform both nature and our relation to nature, at first through sundering our dependence on nature for providing the means of subsistence, and gradually by extirpating every facet of life from it's immediate natural relations through the development of industry. Religion reflects this development in thought. Primitive societies present us with numerous examples of nature worship, various rituals to ensure a good Harvest etc. In the Greek religion we find Hercules taming the monstrous natural forces of the pre-Heroic age. The Abrahamic religions sunder God from all natural and sensuous existence, turning him (it is no accident that God is known as Him, Lord, instead of Her, Lady, the connection in ancient thought between nature and femininity is well known) into a thing entirely outside of nature. Protestantism and Deism were the forms of religion adequate to the development of large scale industry.

This process has destructive consequences. We are fast approaching a point at which the long term destruction of the planet is at stake. The leaders of capitalist nations meet to try and discuss the issues with little effect, and the capitalists themselves bristle at having their relentless thirst for profit checked. The Trump administration's environmental policies are not a simple aberration, but merely a reflection of the true interests of capital.

It should be clear that, fundamentally, if the basis of man's relations with nature is the mode of production, then only a radical change in this mode of production and it's social relations will be adequate to effect a radical change in the relationship between humanity and nature. Insofar as the Green movement criticises government for surrendering to the interests of big business, it gains a radical edge, but insofar as it defends small independent business, and analyses the problem as one of moral values, of a general disregard in thought for nature, and criticises humanity as a whole, rather than identifying capitalist relations of production as the source of the current crisis, it forms a reactionary element.

The further development of Marxist ecology therefore has the following lines of inquiry to pursue:

1) A development of the idea that the relationship between man and nature is a practical one, mediated by human labour, and hence dependent on the existing mode of production and it's attendant social relations. Examination of how the existing relations of production contribute to the current ecological crisis, global warming, deforestation, pollution etc.

2) A thorough critique of all elements of the contemporary Green movement which see hope for salvation in a friendly, local, ecologically conscious etc form of capitalism. This point is merely a subsidiary of the first point.

3) Again with regards the first point, insistence that only radical change in the relations of production can effect a radical change in mans relation to nature. Advocacy of proletarian revolution as the only means by which the planet can be saved.

_________________
"The death of the poor man is the worst eventuality for the creditor. It is the death of his capital together with the interest."
- Marx, Comments on James Mill -

"Citizen Weston illustrated his theory by telling you that a bowl contains a certain quantity of soup, to be eaten by a certain number of persons, an increase in the broadness of the spoons would produce no increase in the amount of soup. He must allow me to find this illustration rather spoony."
- Marx, Value, Price and profit -


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