Sunday April 19th, 2015, 3:10 pm (EDT)


Stephen Jay Gould—What Does It Mean To Be a Radical?

What Does it Mean to Be a Radical?

Early this year, Stephen Gould developed lung cancer, which spread so quickly that there was no hope of survival. He died on May 20, 2002, at the age of sixty. Twenty years ago, he had escaped death from mesothelioma, induced, we all supposed, by some exposure to asbestos. Although his cure was complete, he never lost the consciousness of his mortality and gave the impression, at least to his friends, of an almost cheerful acceptance of the inevitable. Having survived one cancer that was probably the consequence of an environmental poison, he succumbed to another… | more |

Killing Me Softly

Killing Me Softly

Toxic Waste, Corporate Profit, and the Struggle for Environmental Justice

The political economy of toxic waste was summed up by Lawrence Summers—then chief economist at the World Bank, later U.S. Treasury Secretary—in his notorious claim that poor people live in environments that are, from an economic point of view, not sufficiently polluted. In its ceaseless search for profit, the toxic waste industry now routinely endangers the health of people around the worlds and the planet itself.… | more |

I. Capitalism’s Twin Crises: Economic and Environmental

Economic & Environmental

History has provided us with numerous examples of economic stagnation and breakdown, as well as environmental degradation caused by human activity, even before capitalism existed. But capitalism’s central characteristic—the incessant drive to invest and accumulate wealth—gives birth to never-ending economic and environmental crises… | more |

II. Capitalism and Ecology

The Nature of the Contradiction

The social relation of capital, as we all know, is a contradictory one. These contradictions, though stemming from capitalism’s internal laws of motion, extend out to phenomena that are usually conceived as external to the system, threatening the integrity of the entire biosphere and everything within it as a result of capital’s relentless expansion. How to understand capitalism’s ecological contradictions has therefore become a subject of heated debate among socialists. Two crucial issues in this debate are: (1) must ecological crisis lead to economic crisis under capitalism?, and (2) to what extent is there an ecological contradiction at the heart of capitalist society? … | more |

Ecology Against Capitalism

Ecology Against Capitalism

In recent years John Bellamy Foster has emerged as a leading theorist of the Marxist perspective on ecology. His seminal book Marx’s Ecology (Monthly Review Press, 2000) discusses the place of ecological issues within the intellectual history of Marxism and on the philosophical foundations of a Marxist ecology, and has become a major point of reference in ecological debates. This historical and philosophical focus is now supplemented by more direct political engagement in his new book, Ecology Against Capitalism. In a broad-ranging treatment of contemporary ecological politics, Foster deals with such issues as pollution, sustainable development, technological responses to environmental crisis, population growth, soil fertility, the preservation of ancient forests, and the “new economy” of the Internet age.… | more |

The Challenge of Sustainable Development and the Culture of Substantive Equality

Two closely connected propositions are at the center of this intervention: If development in the future is not sustainable development, there will be no significant development at all, no matter how badly needed; only frustrated attempts to square the circle, as in the last few decades, marked by ever more elusive “modernizing” theories and practices, condescendingly prescribed for the so-called Third World by the spokesmen of former colonial powers. The corollary to this is that the pursuit of sustainable development is inseparable from the progressive realization of substantive equality. It must also be stressed in this context that the obstacles to be overcome could hardly be greater. For up to our own days the culture of substantive inequality remains dominant, despite the usually half-hearted efforts to counter the damaging impact of social inequality by instituting some mechanism of strictly formal equality in the political sphere… | more |

Ecology Against Capitalism

In a 1963 talk on “The Pollution of Our Environment” Rachel Carson drew a close comparison between the reluctance of society in the late twentieth century to embrace the full implications of ecological theory and the resistance in the Victorian era to Darwin’s theory of evolution:… | more |

Does Ecology Need Marx?

Does ecology need Marx? I wonder, at this point, what ecology is, for it seems to be an umbrella term, like sexism or racism, which covers a variety of macrolevel and microlevel phenomena produced by different causes and lends itself to the development of a wide variety of conflicting ideologies and theoretical frameworks. I would prefer to change the question to the following: Are Marx and Marxism contingent or essential in the struggles against environmental degradation and all forms of exploitation and oppression? … | more |

Capitalism’s Environmental Crisis—Is Technology the Answer?

The standard solution offered to the environmental problem in advanced capitalist economies is to shift technology in a more benign direction: more energy-efficient production, cars that get better mileage, replacement of fossil fuels with solar power, and recycling of resources. Other environmental reforms, such as reductions in population growth and even cuts in consumption, are often advocated as well. The magic bullet of technology, however, is by far the favorite, seeming to hold out the possibility of environmental improvement with the least effect on the smooth working of the capitalist machine. The 1997 International Kyoto Protocol on global warming, designed to limit the greenhouse-gas emissions of nations, has only reinforced this attitude, encouraging many environmental advocates in the United States (including Al Gore in his presidential campaign) to advocate technological improvement in energy efficiency as the main escape from the environmental mess … | more |

Ecological Roots

Which Go Deepest?

Foster, John Bellamy, Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000), 300pp., $18, paperback

“Oh no, not another great, thick, fat book on Marx!” thought Richard Lewontin when he saw this new book by John Bellamy Foster. I have to confess (despite the fact that I, too, have written a big book on Marxism) to a similar reaction. However, as he goes on to say in the book’s blurb, “as soon as I started to read, I found it hard to put down.” With this, too, I concur … | more |

Marx’s Ecological Value Analysis

Paul Burkett, Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999), 312 pp., $45, hardcover.

If there is a single charge that has served to unify all criticism of Marx in recent decades, it is the charge of “Prometheanism.” Although Marx’s admiration for Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound and his attraction to Prometheus as a revolutionary figure of Greek mythology has long been known, the accusation that Marx’s work contained at its heart a “Promethean motif,” and that this constituted the principal weakness of his entire analysis, seems to have derived its contemporary influence mainly from Leszek Kolakowski’s Main Currents of Marxism. The first volume of this work was drafted in Polish in 1968 and appeared in English in 1978. For Kolakowski: … | more |

Hungry for Profit

Hungry for Profit

The Agribusiness Threat to Farmers, Food, and the Environment

The agribusiness/food sector is the second most profitable industry in the United States — following pharmaceuticals — with annual sales over $400 billion. Contributing to its profitability are the breathtaking strides in biotechnology coupled with the growing concentration of ownership and control by food’s largest corporations. Everything, from decisions on which foods are produced, to how they are processed, distributed, and marketed is, remarkably, dictated by a select few giants wielding enormous power. More and more farmers are forced to adopt new technologies and strategies with consequences potentially harmful to the environment, our health, and the quality of our lives. The role played by trade institutions like the World Trade Organization, serves only to make matters worse. … | more |

Seeing the Forest and the Trees: The Politics of Rachel Carson

Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson, edited and with an introduction by Linda Lear (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999), 288 pp., $16, paperback.

Lost Woods brings Rachel Carson back into the public realm. This collection of her writings, selected by her biographer, Linda Lear, reminds us yet again of the extraordinary range of her talents and the equally extraordinary use to which she put them. The book offers, in one modest volume, a taste of all the pleasures to be found in Carson’s longer works. Through a careful choice of speeches, articles, field notes, and letters, presented in chronological order, Lear allows us to witness, in Carson’s own words, her transformation from a natural scientist to a political advocate for the environment … | more |

Restoring Memory

Eileen Welsome, The Plutonium Files (New York: Dial Press, 1999), 564 pp., $26.95.

It is fitting that the “Atomic Century” draw to a close with the publication of The Plutonium Files. A decade in the making, Eileen Welsome’s book explores the secret human radiation experiments that grew out of the U. S. atom bomb program. Carried out under the auspices of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), the Department of Energy’s predecessor, the experiments were designed to help determine atom bomb plant safety standards and to replicate nuclear battlefield conditions. As a result, thousands of hospital patients and servicemen were unknowingly exposed to dangerous levels of radiation … | more |

Marx’s Ecology

Marx’s Ecology

Materialism and Nature

Marx, it is often assumed, cared only about industrial growth and the development of economic forces. John Bellamy Foster examines Marx’s neglected writings on capitalist agriculture and soil ecology, philosophical naturalism, and evolutionary theory. He shows that Marx, known as a powerful critic of capitalist society, was also deeply concerned with the changing human relationship to nature.… | more |

December 1999 (Volume 51, Number 7)

December 1999 (Volume 51, Number 7)

Recently, we were talking about the environment to a well-known sociologist and got into a fairly heated debate about the ecological effects of capitalism. He insisted that capitalism has nothing to do with it. All human practices, he said, inevitably affect the natural environment and have done so since the dawn of history. This seemed to us a pretty simplistic and ahistorical argument … | more |

Fusing Red and Green

James O’Connor, Natural Causes: Essays in Ecological Marxism (New York: Guilford, 1998), 350 pp., $19.95, paper.

One of the foremost Marxist social scientists in the United States, James O’Connor has produced many original insights into the political economy of the United States, and global capitalism. His Fiscal Crisis of the State (1973) revealed the structural roots of government deficit problems, and his subsequent work has focused on the development of a general theory of capitalist crisis. In Accumulation Crisis (1984) and The Meaning of Crisis (1987), he surveyed and synthesized alternative viewpoints on the economic, political, cultural and psychological crisis tendencies of late-twentieth century capitalism. Since 1988, when he co-founded the innovative “eco-Marxist” quarterly Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, O’Connor has expanded his vision of capitalist crisis and socialist movements to incorporate natural conditions more fully. Natural Causes gathers together O’Connor’s major writings over this last period, providing an excellent opportunity to assess his considerable contribution to eco-Marxist theory and practice … | more |

Introduction to Hungry for Profit

The conventional view that agriculture was displaced by industry in two stages—by the industrial revolution in the late nineteenth century, and as a result of the rise of the agribusiness system in the mid-twentieth century—has left many observers of the contemporary political economy with the impression that to deal with agriculture is essentially to focus on political-economic history rather than contemporary political economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. The purpose of this special issue of MR is to help compensate for the neglect that agriculture has often suffered in political-economic literature of the late twentieth century. In so doing we will continue with a line of argument that was introduced in MR more than a decade ago in the July-August 1986 special issue Science, Technology, and Capitalism, edited by Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, which included landmark essays on U.S. agriculture and agricultural research by Richard Lewontin and Jean-Pierre Berlan … | more |

Science in a Skeptical Age

John Gillot and Manjit Kumar, Science and the Retreat from Reason (Monthly Review Press, 1997), 288 pp., $18.

We live in a skeptical age. All of the basic concepts of the Enlightenment, including progress, science and reason are now under attack. At the center of this skepticism lie persistent doubts about science itself, emanating both from within and from without the scientific community. Recent titles by scientists give an idea of the extent of the crisis in confidence within science: Science: The End of the Frontier? (1991) by Nobel prize winner Leon Lederman; The End of Certainty (1996) by Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine; and The End of Science (1996) by Scientific American writer John Horgan … | more |

The Scale of Our Ecological Crisis

One of the problems that has most troubled analysts of global ecological crisis is the question of scale. How momentous is the ecological crisis? Is the survival of the human species in question? What about life in general? Are the basic biogeochemical cycles of the planet vulnerable? Although few now deny that there is such a thing as an environmental crisis, or that it is in some sense global in character, some rational scientists insist that it is wrong to say that life itself, much less the planet, is seriously threatened. Even the mass extinction of species, it is pointed out, has previously occurred in evolutionary history. Critics of environmentalism (often themselves claiming to be environmentalists) have frequently used these rational reservations on the part of scientists to brand the environmental movement as “apocalyptic.” … | more |