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Marx’s Ecology and the Left

One of the lasting contributions of the Frankfurt School of social theorists, represented especially by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno’s 1944 Dialectic of Enlightenment, was the development of a philosophical critique of the domination of nature.… Yet their critique of the Enlightenment exploitation of nature was eventually extended to a critique of Marx himself as an Enlightenment figure, especially in relation to his mature work in Capital.… So all-encompassing was the critique of the “dialectic of the Enlightenment” within the main line of the Frankfurt School, and within what came to be known as “Western Marxism”…, that it led to the estrangement of thinkers in this tradition not only from the later Marx, but also from natural science—and hence nature itself. Consequently, when the ecological movement emerged in the 1960s and ’70s, Western Marxism, with its abstract, philosophical notion of the domination of nature, was ill-equipped to analyze the changing and increasingly perilous forms of material interaction between humanity and nature.… | more…

Obamacare

The Neoliberal Model Comes Home to Roost in the United States—If We Let It

As the Affordable Care Act (ACA, otherwise known as Obamacare) continues along a very bumpy road, it is worth asking where it came from and what comes next. Officially, Obamacare represents the latest in more than a century of efforts in the United States to achieve universal access to health care. In reality, Obamacare has strengthened the for-profit insurance industry by transferring public, tax-generated revenues to the private sector. It has done and will do little to improve the problem of uninsurance in the United States; in fact, it has already begun to worsen the problem of underinsurance. Obamacare is also financially unsustainable because it has no effective way to control costs. Meanwhile, despite benefits for some of the richest corporations and executives, and adverse or mixed effects for the non-rich, a remarkable manipulation of political symbolism has conveyed the notion that Obamacare is a creation of the left, warranting strenuous opposition from the right.… | more…

Marx’s Theory of Working-Class Precariousness

Its Relevance Today

As a concept, worker precariousness is far from new. It has a long history in socialist thought, where it was associated from the start with the concept of the reserve army of labor. Frederick Engels introduced the idea of precariousness in his treatment of the industrial reserve army in The Condition of the Working Class in England. Marx and Engels employed it in this same context in The Communist Manifesto, and it later became a key element in Marx’s analysis of the industrial reserve army in volume I of Capital.… In recent years, however, the notion of precariousness as a general condition of working-class life has been rediscovered. Yet the idea is commonly treated in the eclectic, reductionist, ahistorical fashion characteristic of today’s social sciences and humanities, disconnected from the larger theory of accumulation derived from Marx and the socialist tradition. The result is a set of scattered observations about what are seen as largely haphazard developments.… In the face of such a confusion of views—most of them merely ad hoc responses to what is presumed to be an isolated social problem—it is necessary to turn back to the classical Marxian tradition, where the issue of precariousness was first raised.… | more…

France: An Algorithmic Power

The Paris attacks of November 13, 2015, demonstrate, if such a demonstration is still necessary, that the aim of new French intelligence laws is not to anticipate or prevent terrorist attacks, but simply to eliminate the private lives of French citizens. President Hollande’s statements that delays in implementing the law were behind the “failure” of the intelligence services are a denial of the fact that this legislation only confirms existing practices. The Law on Intelligence, just like the law on military planning, is mainly an attack on private freedoms. The state of emergency will likewise eliminate public freedoms.… Following the November 13 massacres, the government is already considering changes to the Law on Intelligence, with the aim of “eas[ing] the procedures the intelligence services must follow when they would like to use means of surveillance.” Yet this law does not establish any controls over the activities of the secret services. It does set up a National Control Commission, but this body has no effective possibility of carrying out its mission, and can only offer recommendations. It is not a question, then, of eliminating a control that does not exist, but of signaling that the very idea of monitoring the executive branch should be abandoned—a clear signal that no limitation can or should be placed on its actions.… | more…

Capitalism and Its Current Crisis

The “thirty-year crisis” of capitalism, which encompassed two world wars and the Great Depression, was followed by a period that some economists call the Golden Age of capitalism. Today, however, capitalism is once again enmeshed in a crisis that portends far-reaching consequences. I am not referring here to the mere phenomenon of the generally slower average growth that has marked the system since the mid-1970s. Rather, I am talking specifically of the crisis that started with the collapse of the U.S. housing bubble in 2007-8 and which, far from abating, is only becoming more pronounced.… The Western media often give the impression that the capitalist world is slowly emerging from this crisis. Since the Eurozone continues to be mired in stagnation, this impression derives entirely from the experience of the United States, where there has been talk of raising the interest rate on the grounds that the crisis is over, and inflation is now the new threat.… To claim…that the United States is experiencing a full recovery is, in terms of working class well-being and economic security, wrong. And if we consider the rest of the world, especially recent developments in the “emerging economies,” the situation is much worse.… | more…

Marxism and Ecology

Common Fonts of a Great Transition

To link Marxism and ecological transition may seem at first like trying to bridge two entirely different movements and discourses, each with its own history and logic: one having mainly to do with class relations, the other with the relation between humans and the environment. However, historically socialism has influenced the development of ecological thought and practice, while ecology has informed socialist thought and practice. Since the nineteenth century, the relationship between the two has been complex, interdependent, and dialectical.… This essay unearths the deep ecological roots of Marx’s thought, showing how he brought an environmental perspective to bear on the overarching question of social transformation. From there it traces the evolution of Marxian ecology, illuminating its profound, formative link to modern ecological economics and systems ecology. It concludes with the wider project of building the broad and deep social movement required to halt and reverse ecological and social destruction.… | more…

The Great Capitalist Climacteric

Marxism and "System Change Not Climate Change"

Humanity today is confronted with what might be called the Great Capitalist Climacteric. In the standard definition, a climacteric (from the Greek klimaktēr or rung on the ladder) is a period of critical transition or a turning point in the life of an individual or a whole society. From a social standpoint, it raises issues of historical transformation in the face of changing conditions. In the 1980s environmental geographers Ian Burton and Robert Kates referred to “the Great Climacteric” to address what they saw as the developing global ecological problem of the limits to growth…. I will use the term the Great Capitalist Climacteric here to refer to the necessary epochal social transition associated with the current planetary emergency. It refers both to the objective necessity of a shift to a sustainable society and to the threat to the existence of Homo sapiens (as well as numerous other species) if the logic of capital accumulation is allowed to continue dictating to society as a whole. The current world of business as usual is marked by rapid climate change, but also by the crossing or impending crossing of numerous other planetary boundaries that define “a safe operating space for humanity.”… | more…

Method in Ecological Marxism

Science and the Struggle for Change

In the short time available to me in this talk it is impossible to go too far with a discussion of the state of ecological Marxism as I understand it. However, I plan to discuss briefly a significant feature of the program of ecological Marxist analysis and practice of which I consider myself a part. Specifically, I will discuss the methodological commitments responsible for much of the strength and insight of the ecological Marxism associated with what John Bellamy Foster has called the “third stage of ecosocialism research…in which the goal is to employ the ecological foundations of classical Marxian thought to confront present-day capitalism and the planetary ecological crisis that it has engendered—together with the ruling forms of ideology that block the development of a genuine alternative.” This, I believe, will interest scholars and activists working toward a deeper understanding of the world with the ultimate goal of changing it, and should interest those involved in debates regarding Marxian theory and praxis.… | more…

When Did the Anthropocene Begin…and Why Does It Matter?

The word Anthropocene, unknown twenty years ago, now appears in the titles of three academic journals, dozens of books, and hundreds of academic papers, not to mention innumerable articles in newspapers, magazines, websites, and blogs. There are exhibitions about art in the Anthropocene, conferences about the humanities in the Anthropocene, and novels about love in the Anthropocene. There is even a heavy metal album called The Anthropocene Extinction. Rarely has a scientific term moved so quickly into wide acceptance and general use.… Behind what might appear to be just a trendy buzzword are important scientific discussions that have radical implications for the future of life on Earth.… | more…

Late Soviet Ecology and the Planetary Crisis

Soviet ecology presents us with an extraordinary set of historical ironies. On the one hand, the USSR in the 1930s and ’40s violently purged many of its leading ecological thinkers and seriously degraded its environment in the quest for rapid industrial expansion. The end result has often been described as a kind of “ecocide,” symbolized by the Chernobyl nuclear accident, the assault on Lake Baikal, and the drying up of the Aral Sea, as well as extremely high levels of air and water pollution. On the other hand, the Soviet Union developed some of the world’s most dialectical contributions to ecology, revolutionizing science in fields such as climatology, while also introducing pioneering forms of conservation. Aside from its famous zapovedniki, or nature reserves for scientific research, it sought to preserve and even to expand its forests.… | more…

Chávez and the Communal State

On the Transition to Socialism in Venezuela

On October 20, 2012, less than two weeks after being reelected to his fourth term as Venezuelan president and only months before his death, Hugo Chávez delivered his crucial El Golpe de Timón (“Strike at the Helm”) speech to the first meeting of his ministers in the new revolutionary cycle. Chávez surprised even some of his strongest supporters by his insistence on the need for changes at the top in order to promote an immediate leap forward in the creation of what is referred to as “the communal state.” This was to accelerate the shift of power to the population that had begun with the formation of the communal councils (groupings of families involved in self-governance projects—in densely populated urban areas, 200–400 families; in rural areas, 50–100 families). The main aim in the new revolutionary cycle, he insisted, was to speed up the registration of communes, the key structure of the communal state.… | more…

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