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Marx and Alienated Speciesism

A child ploughing the land with a water buffalo in Don Det, Si Pan Don, Laos

A child ploughing the land with a water buffalo in Don Det, Si Pan Don, Laos. Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

John Bellamy Foster is editor of Monthly Review and a professor of sociology at the University of Oregon. Brett Clark is associate editor of Monthly Review and an associate professor of sociology at the University of Utah. The authors would like to thank Joseph Fracchia for helpful discussions on the concept of species being (Gattungswesen) in Marx’s philosophy.

Few contemporary scholarly controversies on the left are more charged than those surrounding Karl Marx’s view of the status of animals in human society. Numerous left animal-rights scholars, including some ecosocialists, allege that Marx was speciesist in his early writings. Moreover, it is contended that, despite their later adherence to Darwinian views, Marx and Frederick Engels never fully transcended this deeply embedded speciesist outlook, which therefore infected historical materialism as a whole. These critics concentrate their objections primarily on the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, claiming that Marx presented an anthropocentric and dualist perspective of a chasm, rather than a continuity, between nonhuman and human animals, thereby ontologically justifying an exploitative and instrumentalist approach to human-animal relations that ignored or denied animal suffering and was blind to the basic conditions of animal existence.

Pioneering ecosocialist Ted Benton offers the classic criticism of Marx in this respect. Benton argues that Marx’s dominant approach to the human-animal relation, particularly in his early writings, was not only “speciesist,” but, by virtue of its anthropocentric humanism, was also an example of “a quite fantastic species-narcissism.” Marx’s views, he adds, were rooted in Cartesian dualism, which radically separated the human being (mind) from the animal (machine). Benton maintains that Marx saw animals as permanently “fixed” in their capacities. Further, in describing how the alienation of labor reduced human beings to an animal-like condition, Marx is said to have downgraded animal life.1

Other animal-rights critics of Marx have followed suit. Renzo Llorente claims that a “certain speciesism [was] constitutive of Marx’s…thinking,” and that his whole theory of alienated labor was “predicated on a division between human and nonhuman animals.”2 John Sanbonmatsu alleges that Marx advanced the “extermination in the realm of thought of the sensuous existence, and experiences, of billions of other suffering beings-in-the-world on earth.”3 Katherine Perlo insists that Marx committed “ideological violence” against animals, while David Sztybel contends that he considered animals “merely instrumentally valuable,” like any machine.4

The term speciesism was coined by Richard Ryder in 1970, and is defined in the 1985 Oxford English Dictionary as “discrimination against or exploitation of certain animal species, based on an assumption of mankind’s superiority.”5 But while speciesism is formally defined as differentiation between humans and animals leading to discrimination against and exploitation of other species, there has been a tendency for animal-rights scholars to expand the concept to apply to any differentiation between the human species and other animal species, whether or not this is actually used to justify discrimination or abuse.6

Thus, Benton declares that Marx draws a sharp “contrast between the human and the animal [that] cuts away the ontological basis for…a critical analysis of forms of suffering shared by both animals and humans.”7 Here the charge is not that Marx ever directly sought to justify the suffering of animals, for which there is no evidence, but simply that his humanist ontology undermines the whole ontological basis for the recognition of animal suffering. Hence, Benton declares that “humanism equals speciesism,” in direct opposition to Marx’s notion that a “fully developed humanism equals naturalism.”8

What is most remarkable about these criticisms of Marx as a speciesist thinker is that they typically rely on taking a handful of sentences from one or two texts out of context, while ignoring Marx’s wider arguments and his intellectual corpus as a whole. Coupled with this is the neglect of the larger historical conditions, intellectual influences, and debates out of which Marx’s treatment of the human-animal dialectic arose—even though this is crucial to any meaningful understanding of his thought in this area. This includes: (1) his studies of Epicurus and Lucretius; (2) his knowledge of the German debate on animal drives and animal psychology, most notably the work of Hermann Samuel Reimarus; (3) his critique of René Descartes on animals and mechanism; (4) his use of Ludwig Feuerbach’s notion of species being; (5) his incorporation of Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory; and (6) his development of the concept of socioecological metabolism based on Justus von Liebig and others. Claims that classical historical materialism was speciesist also necessarily downplay Engels’s explorations of animal-human ecology.

It is important to recognize that Marx’s discussions of animals were primarily historical, materialist, and natural-scientific in orientation. Marx and Engels’s examinations of the position of animals in society were therefore not directed at issues of moral philosophy, as is the case for most of their critics. By the same token, the value of classical historical materialism in this area is what it teaches us concretely with regard to the changing relations between human beings and other animals, particularly with respect to evolving ecological conditions, including what Marx called the “degradation” of animal life under capitalism.9

Although it was obviously not the major focus of his work, which was devoted to developing a critique of the capitalist mode of production, concern for and affinity with animals is not absent from Marx’s analysis.10 Overall, his consideration of the human-animal dialectic was affected by a conception of the historical specificity of human-animal relations, associated with different productive modes. This gave rise to Marx’s critique of what political scientist Bradley J. Macdonald has called the “alienated speciesism” arising from the capitalist alienation of nature.11

Epicurus and the Human-Animal Dialectic

Marx’s historical-materialist thinking was deeply affected by his explorations of Epicurean materialism—the subject of his doctoral thesis.12 Central to Epicureanism is a protoevolutionary perspective and an emphasis on the close material relationship of humans and other animals, as all life emerges from the earth. Animals, like humans, are viewed as sentient beings that experience pain and pleasure.13 Epicureanism addresses environmental destruction, including the death of species.14 As Marx put it, for Epicurus, “the world is my friend.”15

Ironically, given the emphasis of Epicurean materialism on a strong human-animal connection and the influence of this on Marx, both Benton and Sztybel in their criticisms chose to quote, out of context, a statement from Marx’s Epicurean notebooks, in which he declares: “If a philosopher does not find it outrageous to consider man as an animal, he cannot be made to understand anything.”16 For Benton, this is clear and compelling evidence of an “extreme and unequivocal human/animal dualism” on Marx’s part.17 Similarly, for Sztybel, it is an indication that Marx at this early stage lacks a naturalist perspective and takes an overall instrumentalist approach to animals.18 Neither critic, however, examines the actual context in which this sentence appeared—that is, Marx’s critique of Plutarch’s attack on Epicurean materialism for rejecting a religion based on fear. Thus, in the immediately preceding sentence, which neither Benton nor Sztybel quote, Marx conveys what he takes to be Plutarch’s view: “For in fear, and indeed an inner, inextinguishable fear, man is determined as animal [that is devoid of reason and freedom], and it is absolutely indifferent to the animal how it is kept in check.”19 In this passage, Marx is objecting to Plutarch’s anti-Epicurean polemics in That Epicurus Actually Makes a Pleasant Life Impossible and Against Colotes.20 In these works, and particularly the former, Plutarch, following Plato, claimed that the religion of the masses should be based on fear, including the fear of the afterlife (“The Hell of the Populace”).21

Marx’s fierce conflict with Plutarch, in the context of the latter’s attack on the Epicurean critique of religion and immortality, is the basis of an appendix to his dissertation (entitled “Critique of Plutarch’s Polemic Against the Theology of Epicurus”—only a fragment of which survives), where the same critical observations on Plutarch are put forth. Marx’s argument is that reason allows human beings to transcend what Plutarch sees as animals’ “inner fear that cannot be extinguished.”22 Here, Marx, following Epicurus, acknowledges the kinship between animal suffering and human suffering. He also highlights, in opposition to Plutarch, the “corporeal” basis of human beings, linking them to other animals—since humans have immortal souls no more than animals do—while stressing the potential of humanity to raise itself by practical reason, i.e., self-conscious material existence.23

Lack of knowledge of Epicurean materialism by animal-rights critics affects the criticisms of Marx in other ways as well. In an attempt to demonstrate that Marx sees animals purely instrumentally, Sztybel quotes Marx’s statement in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts that “nature too, taken abstractly, for itself, and rigidly separated from man, is nothing for man.” Unaware that this is an allusion to one of Epicurus’s principal doctrines, Sztybel concludes that Marx means that nature, including animal life, is “at best of instrumental value.”24 Yet, no classically educated individual in Marx’s own day could have failed to recognize in Marx’s statement Epicurus’s famous declaration (which Marx quoted throughout his life): “Death is nothing to us. For what has been dissolved has no sense-experience, and what has no sense-experience is nothing to us.”25

Hence, in writing that nature separated from humanity, i.e., outside sensuous, material interaction, was nothing to humanity, Marx was highlighting the fact that human beings were objective, corporeal, sensual beings—the very point of his critique of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in this part of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. Removed from sensual connections to the earth, which define human beings—just as they define all corporeal beings—as living, suffering beings, it was obvious that nature in Marx’s (as in Epicurus’s) terms was “nothing for man.” Divorced from nature, human beings, like nonhuman animals, have no existence at all. Far from promoting an instrumentalist approach to animals, what Marx is emphasizing here is the material relation that governs the existence of humans and all species. Rather than representing a separation of humans from other animals or a moral justification for the utilitarian use of the latter, this statement was an expression of their shared existence as physical beings. As Joseph Fracchia argues, for Marx, it was “human corporeal organization” that both identified human beings as animals and served to distinguish them from all other animals.26

Indeed, rather than denying the connection between human beings and other animals, Marx wrote in On the Jewish Question in 1843, prior to his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, that, “[t]he view of nature which has grown up under the regime of private property and of money is an actual contempt for and practical degradation of nature.… In this sense Thomas Müntzer declares it intolerable that ‘all creatures have been made into property, the fish in the water, the birds in the air, the plants on the earth—all living things must also become free.'”27

The Critique of Cartesian Animal Machines

Seeking a broad philosophical foundation for what he sees as Marx’s dualistic view of humans and animals, Benton repeatedly suggests that Marx’s so-called speciesist approach to the human-animal relation is trapped in the “paradigm[atic] dualist philosophy of Descartes.”28 In his 1637 Discourse on Method, Descartes associated human beings with the mind, while animals were relegated to the status of machines or natural automota—a view that was to have an enormous impact on the development of Enlightenment thought.29 However, missing from Benton’s description of Marx’s alleged Cartesian dualism is any recognition of the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century critique of the Cartesian animal-machine notion within German philosophy and psychology, of which Marx was the heir. German Romantic, idealist, and materialist thinkers alike challenged the Cartesian animal-machine hypothesis and, in the process, generated a new revolutionary understanding of animal (and human) psychology.30 Marx was to base his own criticisms of Descartes’s animal-machine notion on this long-standing anti-Cartesian tradition within German philosophy.

The central figure in the German philosophical revolt against the Cartesian notion of the animal machine was the deist (and virulently anti-Epicurean) philosopher Reimarus, whose discoveries in animal psychology (and animal ethology) in the mid–eighteenth century influenced thinkers such as Immanuel Kant, Johann Gottfried Herder, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Hegel, and Feuerbach.31 Reimarus adamantly rejected the Cartesian reduction of animals to machines. He also objected to the French philosopher and psychologist Étienne Bonnot de Condillac’s notion that nonhuman animals had a consciousness and an ability to learn from the environment, essentially identical to human beings. In response to such conceptions, Reimarus in his Drives of Animals (1760) introduced the concept of Trieb or drive (generally translated until the twentieth century as impulse or instinct since there was no clear English equivalent). In what was gradually to emerge as the basic explanatory category in psychology, Reimarus argued that there were innate drives in animals (including human beings) that interacted with sensations.32 Drive (Trieb) for Reimarus thus stood for the capacity of the animal to pursue a beneficial end “without any individual reflection, experience, and practice, without any training, example, or model, from birth onward, with an artfulness ready from birth that was masterful in achieving its end.”33

Reimarus developed a taxonomy of ten classes and fifty-seven subclasses of drives, of which the most important were skillful drives (Kunsttriebe)—more specifically, artifice or skillful activity in the form of innate rule-governed capacities for certain actions—which he used to describe the surprising productive proficiency of bees, spiders, and other animals. His notion of skillful drive was that of an innate drive that was also agential, that is, an “elective drive,” incorporating an element of choice.34 It was this analysis that strongly influenced Marx, who was fascinated with Reimarus’s notion of skillful drives.35

For Reimarus, nonhuman animals lacked access to the more abstract, generic (related to genus) conceptions of things, and therefore to the higher levels of reasoning, such as conceptual relation (metacognition), inference, reflection, and language.36 Nevertheless, animals had, to a degree, consciousness and imagination responding to sense stimuli, which interacted with their basic drives. In his philosophy of history, Kant argued on this basis that the human species was defined by its freedom to transcend innate drives and to develop conscious ends based on the perception of general human psychological and ethical needs.37 Herder added that the broader, more generic concepts that characterized human consciousness, in comparison to nonhuman animals, were a product of a much wider, more universal set of experiences reflecting relatively undetermined human interactions with the environment, allowing them to rise above some of their stronger animal drives.38

In An Advanced Guide to Psychological Thinking, Robert Ausch indicates that following the publication of Reimarus’s Drives of Animals, the concept of drive (Trieb) was incorporated into the analysis of animal psychology and “students of animal behavior were forced to work within Reimarus’s frame.”39 Animals of various kinds were seen as exhibiting complex, innate drives that were unlearned, uniform, and too intelligent to be reduced to Cartesian mechanical terms. If the human species was distinct, in Reimarus’s theory, it was due to its capacity to work with generic concepts, while the Cartesian relegation of animals to the status of machines was considered philosophically and psychologically bankrupt.

Marx’s attempt to develop a social ontology of labor arose on this basis, relying on the most advanced animal (and human) psychology of his day. He was very impressed by Reimarus’s conception of animals’ skillful drives and evoked it throughout his work, for example, when comparing the production of nests and dwellings on the part of “the bee, the beaver, the ant, etc.” to the more conscious production exercised by human labor. “A spider,” Marx wrote in Capital, in accordance with Reimarus’s notion of skillful drives, “conducts operations which resemble those of the weaver, and a bee would put many a human architect to shame by the construction of its honeycomb cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is that the architect builds the cell in his mind before he constructs it in wax.”40 Like other animals, Marx stated in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, the human being “is on the one hand,”

equipped with natural powers, with vital powers, he is an active natural being; these powers exist in him as dispositions and capacities, as drives [Triebe]. On the other hand, as a natural, corporeal, sensuous, objective being he is a suffering, conditioned and limited being, like animals and plants. That is to say, the objects of his drives exist outside him as objects independent of him; but these objects are objects of his need, essential objects, indispensable to the exercise and confirmation of his essential powers. To say that man is a corporeal, living real, sensuous, objective being with natural powers means that he has real, sensuous objects as the object of his being.41

What stands out here is the strong materialism and naturalism of Marx’s analysis, which unites human beings with nonhuman animals through the concept of drive related to various dispositions and faculties.42 If the human species has more developed social drives, needs, and capacities compared to other animals, as reflected in human production and social labor, these arise through a corporeal organization that unites humanity with the rest of life. It follows that even though nonhuman animal species lack the self-conscious social drives characteristic of human beings as homo faber, they nonetheless remain objective, sensuous beings, with their own distinct forms of species life, which reflect their own corporeal organization, drives, needs, and capacities.

Benton and others have strongly criticized Marx’s concept of “species being,” which he took from Hegel and Feuerbach, for setting humanity an order above nonhuman animals, thus exhibiting speciesism. Here too, however, misunderstandings abound. Species being (Gattungswesen), sometimes translated as generic being, stood, in Marx’s analysis, for distinctively human-species drives and capacities leading to a higher level of consciousness or self-consciousness, connected to generic consciousness (objectification) and the “universal” character of human production.43

Feuerbach, building on Reimarus, Kant, Herder, and Fichte, had argued that it was the self-consciousness of human beings that allowed them to see themselves as part of a generic or species being, i.e., as social beings, and that constituted the “essential difference” between them and other animals. “Strictly speaking,” he wrote, “consciousness is given only in the case of a being to whom his species, his mode of being, is an object of thought. Although the animal experiences itself as an individual—this is what is meant by saying that it has a feeling of itself—it does not do so as a species.… The inner life of man is constituted by the fact that man relates himself to his species [generically], to his mode of being.”44

Marx took over some aspects of Feuerbach’s conception of species being, particularly the notion that distinctively human consciousness was a generic consciousness or developed species consciousness.45 Marx, however, connected this both to the postulate of animal drives underlying nonhuman and human psychology, and to the notion of human beings as laboring beings (homo faber).46 In Marx’s materialist conception, human beings actively and self-consciously transform their relation to nature and thus their own needs and potentials through their production. Hence, if, in his theory of alienation, Marx saw this capacity for self-conscious development as characterizing human rather than nonhuman animals, this was not conceived as an invidious distinction aimed at justifying the domination of the latter, but merely a recognition of human needs, powers, and capacities for active self-development in history, exercised through the labor and production process.

Benton, Llorente, and Sanbonmatsu all censure Marx for contending that human beings, when alienated from their labor, are reduced to those dispositions they have in common with nonhuman animals—eating, drinking, procreating, and, at most, fashioning their dwellings and dressing up—while being estranged from their specifically human species being as creative, laboring producers.47 In this, Marx is supposed to have advanced a speciesist ontology. However, Marx’s classical historical-materialist analysis does not deny that human beings share a close kinship with other animals biologically and psychologically, including numerous common drives. Rather, he suggests that the human species is distinctive in its capacity to produce more “universally” and self-consciously, and thus is less one-sidedly limited by specific drives than other animals. Humanity is therefore able to transform nature in a seemingly endless number of ways, constantly creating new human needs, capacities, and powers.48

This character of human beings as self-conscious species beings also generates the capacity of self-alienation through the development of the division of labor, private property, class, commodity production, etc. Alienation is seen by Marx as a uniquely self-imposed human problem, not to be confused with animal suffering (in which human beings also partake), which is not the product of such self-alienation. This self-alienation of humans, the product of human history, is also an estrangement from nature and other natural beings, resulting in an alienated speciesism in capitalist society, as in the Cartesian designation of animals as machines.49

Marx was acutely aware of the ecological conditions of animals and of the destruction and pollution wrought on them by capitalism. Hence, in the German Ideology, Marx and Engels famously commented: “The ‘essence’ of the fish is its ‘being,’ water.… The ‘essence’ of the freshwater fish is the water of a river. But the latter ceases to be the ‘essence’ of the fish and is no longer a suitable medium of existence as soon as the river is made to serve industry, as soon as it is polluted by dyes and other waste products and navigated by steamboats, or as soon as the water is diverted into canals where simple drainage can deprive the fish of its medium of existence.”50

Marx was himself a strong critic of Cartesian metaphysics, for its removal of the mind/soul from the realm of the animal and the reduction of the latter to mere mechanical motions.51 In Marx’s words, “Descartes in defining animals as mere machines, saw with the eyes of the period of manufacture. The medieval view, on the other hand, was that animals were assistants to man.”52

Marx, Darwin, and Evolution

Benton compares the early Marx unfavorably to the early Darwin, who indicated in 1839 in his notebooks that humans had similar facial expressions to that of the orangutan in the zoo, thereby indicating the relatedness of humans and animals.53 However, Marx, nine years Darwin’s junior (and who may not have seen an orangutan), argued only a few years later, in 1843, that the commodification of animals was an example of the “degradation” of nature by human society—a point that Darwin himself hardly grasped at this or any other stage.54 A year later, in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, Marx explicitly noted the close relationship between human beings and other animals as objective natural beings.55

Such an emphasis on strong human-nonhuman animal connections were hardly the dominant view of the time. Charles Lyell, in his pathbreaking Principles of Geology (1830–33), with which Marx, as well as Darwin, was familiar, devoted four chapters to the extinction of species, much of which justified the killing off of animal species by humans. “If we wield the sword of extermination” against animals, “as we advance,” Lyell wrote,

we have not reason to repine at the havoc committed, nor to fancy, with the Scotch poet [Robert Burns], that “we violate the social union of nature”; or complain, with the melancholy Jacques [Shakespeare, As You Like It], that we

Are mere usurpers, tyrants, and, what’s worse,

To fright the animals, and to kill them up

In their assign’d and native dwelling-place.

We have only to reflect, that in thus obtaining possession of the earth by conquest, and defending our acquisitions by force, we exercise no exclusive prerogative. Every species which has spread itself from a small point over a wide area, must, in like manner, have marked its progress by the diminution, or the entire extirpation, of some other.56

Marx and especially Engels took careful note of the human destruction of local ecologies and species through the worldwide expansion of capitalism. Yet, in contrast to Lyell, there is no moral justification of these actions and consequences to be found in their analysis. Instead, there is a critique of how the system of capital generated an alienated speciesism. For example, Engels made references to the effects wrought by invasive species (goats) introduced by European colonists onto the island of Saint Helena. Here, one sees a concern over the resulting destruction of indigenous ecology.57

Evolutionary ideas in a general sense had long preceded the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859 and its theory of natural selection.58 Therefore, it should not surprise us that, as a consistent materialist, Marx incorporated evolutionary ideas into his perspective from the beginning, insisting, against the religious view, as early as 1844, on the spontaneous generation of species sometime in the distant geological past. He saw nonhuman and human animal species as sharing an evolutionary and morphological kinship.59 If Marx metaphorically said in 1857 that “human anatomy contains a key to the anatomy of the ape,” the metaphor was nonetheless rooted in a genuine morphological kinship between humans and the higher primates.60

Marx would have been well aware of Linnaeus’s classification of Homo sapiens as among the primates in close proximity to the ape.61 He had studied in the gymnasium in Trier under the famous German geologist Johann Steininger. Later, at the University of Berlin, Marx attended lectures in anthropology given by Heinrich Steffens, a natural philosopher as well as an important geologist and mineralogist. Marx was familiar with George Curvier’s Discourse on the Revolutionary Upheavals on the Surface of the Globe.62 His interest in geology was to continue for the remainder of his life. As late as 1878, he was copying into his notebooks excerpts from the prominent English geologist Joseph Beete Jukes’s the Student’s Manual of Geology, paying careful attention to geological extinction of species resulting from shifting isotherms (climate zones) due to paleoclimatic change.63

In July 1858, just two weeks after the famous presentation of papers by Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace, establishing them as codiscoverers of natural selection as a basis for evolution, Engels wrote to Marx that “comparative physiology gives one a withering contempt for the idealistic exaltation of man over the other animals. At every step one bumps up against the most complete uniformity of structure with the rest of the mammals, and in its main features this uniformity extends to all vertebrates and even—less clearly—to insects, crustaceans, earthworms, etc.”64 Marx and Engels both strongly admired Darwin’s Origin of Species, referring to it as “the book which, in the field of natural history, provides the basis for our views.”65 And no wonder, because, as Fracchia indicates, “Marx’s positing [in The German Ideology] of human corporeal organization as the first fact of human history amounts to a Copernican upheaval—precisely because…it is the human complement to Darwin’s approach to animal organisms in general.”66

In response to the new knowledge that was developing in the natural sciences, Marx and Engels went even further in their critique of the Cartesian notion of animal machines. Thus, Engels provided in “The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man” what Stephen Jay Gould called “the best nineteenth-century case for gene-culture coevolution” (the form that all theories of human evolution, accounting for the development of the human brain and language, must take).67 In that same work, Engels dealt with the complex evolution of animals in relation to their environments, not simply by adapting to their environments but as dialectical subjects-objects of evolution.68 “It goes without saying,” he wrote, “that it would not occur to us to dispute the ability of animals to act in a planned, premeditated fashion.”69 In notes to the Dialectics of Nature that he obviously intended to develop further, he wrote:

We have in common with animals all activity of the understanding: induction, deduction, and hence also abstraction (Dido’s [Engels’s dog’s] generic concepts: quadrupeds and biped), analysis of unknown objects (even the cracking of a nut is the beginning of analysis), synthesis (in animal tricks), and, as the union of both, experiment (in the case of new obstacles and unfamiliar situations). In their nature all these modes of procedure—hence all means of scientific investigation that ordinary logic recognises—are absolutely the same in men and the higher animals. They differ only in degree (of development of the method in each case).… On the other hand, dialectical thought—precisely because it presupposes investigation of the nature of concepts themselves—is only possible for man, and for him at a comparatively high stage of development.70

Likewise, Marx suggested in his Notes on Adolph Wagner that animals were capable of distinguishing “theoretically” everything that pertained to their needs. In the paragraph immediately following, he noted grimly that “it would scarcely appear to a sheep as one of its ‘useful’ properties that it is edible by man,” drawing broad parallels between the expropriation (and suffering) of animals and the exploitation of workers. Marx believed his three small dogs displayed an intelligence akin to humans.71 Marx and Engels thus adopted a view identical with Darwin in the Descent of Man—that “the difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, is certainly one of degree and not of kind.” Indeed, like Darwin, they can be said to have subscribed, in general, to the view that the “immense superiority” of human beings when compared to even the higher animals can be attributed to human “intellectual faculties,” “social habits,” and “corporeal structure.”72

Alienated Speciesism and the Metabolic Rift

Given his historical-materialist approach, which actively incorporated evolutionary and scientific insights, Marx was able to assess how the development of capitalism transformed animal relationships, created an alienated speciesism, and fostered widespread animal suffering. Along these lines, John Berger, in his essay “Why Look at Animals?,” warns that viewing nonhuman animals as simply the source of meat, leather, or milk is ahistorical and involves imposing a nineteenth-century conception “backwards across the millennia.”73 He indicates that there is both corporeal continuity and distinction between humans and other animals, as they are “both like and unlike.” Stressing that the specific relationships between them have historically been altered due to changes in socioeconomic and cultural conditions, he points out that

the 19th century, in western Europe and North America, saw the beginning of a process, today being completed by 20th century corporate capitalism, by which every tradition which has previously mediated between man and nature was broken. Before this rupture, animals constituted the first circle of what surrounded man. Perhaps that already suggests too great a distance. They were with man at the centre of his world. Such centrality was of course economic and productive. Whatever the changes in productive means and social organisation, men depended upon animals for food, work, transport, and clothing.74

Marx’s analysis of the historical development of capitalism highlighted this transition in animal relations. For him, Descartes’s depiction of animals as machines represented the status that animals were accorded in capitalist commodity production. Marx took note of the ongoing changes, such as the reduction of nonhuman animals to a source of power and the altering of their corporeal organization and very existence, imposed in order to further the accumulation of capital.

In Capital, Marx presented the dynamic relationship between humans and farm animals, illuminating their close proximity and interdependence. “In the earliest period of human history,” he indicated, “domesticated animals, i.e. animals that have undergone modification by means of labour, that have been bred specially, play the chief part as instruments of labour along with stones, wood, bones and shells, which have also had work done to them.”75 At the same time, he specifically focused on how the historical development of capitalism, including the division of town and country that accompanied it, shaped these conditions, reducing animals simply to instruments and raw materials, as reflected in the general logic of the system. “Animals and plants which we are accustomed to consider as products of nature,” Marx explained,

may be, in their present form, not only products of, say, last year’s labour, but the result of a gradual transformation continued through many generations under human control, and through the agency of human labour. As regards the instrument of labour in particular, they show traces of the labour of past ages, even to the most superficial observer, in the great majority of cases.… A particular product may be used as both instrument of labour and raw material in the same process. Take, for instance, the fattening of cattle, where the animal is the raw material, and at the same time an instrument for the production of manure [used to fertilize agricultural fields].76

Within this system of generalized commodity production, nonhuman animals often have varying relationships to capital. In the second volume of Capital, Marx described how capitalists assessed the lives of cows in relation to production: “Cattle as draught animals are fixed capital; when being fattened for slaughter they are raw material that eventually passes into circulation as a product, and so not fixed but circulating capital.”77 The corporeality of nonhuman animals raised, for capital, the issue of the costs (including those associated with turnover time) determined by the ecoregulatory aspects of natural reproduction. “In the case of living means of labour,” explained Marx, “such as horses…the reproduction time is prescribed by nature itself. Their average life as means of labour is determined by natural laws. Once this period has elapsed, the wornout items must be replaced by new ones. A horse cannot be replaced bit by bit, but only by another horse.”78 While distinct in form, horses, for capital, were simply interchangeable Cartesian machines.

The mid–nineteenth century, when Marx was writing, was a time of major transformation in human-nonhuman animal relations. Although animal power had long been in use, such as in plowing fields and transporting goods, the mechanization associated with capitalist development was radically altering animal relations. Capitalists carefully calculated whether human, nonhuman animal, or machine power could best enhance profits. In some cases in England, the costs associated with raising and caring for horses to pull barges along rivers and canals exceeded that of hiring women to carry out the same task, due to their extraordinarily low wages (and the fact that the costs of social reproduction in the household were not included in their wages), resulting in women often replacing horses as barge pullers.79

Capital invariably seeks to employ science and technology to speed up production in order to shorten the time associated with natural, ecoregulatory processes, such as the growth of animals, with the object of reducing turnover time and speeding up the realization of profits.80 As Marx explained, in the context of sheep husbandry,

it is impossible, of course, to deliver a five-year-old animal before the end of five years. But what is possible within certain limits is to prepare animals for their fate more quickly by new modes of treatment. This was precisely what [Robert] Bakewell managed to do. Previously, British sheep, just like French sheep as late as 1855, were not ready for slaughter before the fourth or fifth year. In Bakewell’s system, one-year-old sheep can already be fattened, and in any case they are fully grown before the second year has elapsed. By selective breeding, Bakewell…reduced the bone structure of his sheep to the minimum necessary for their existence. These sheep are called the New Leicesters.81

Here, Marx quoted French agriculturalist Léonce de Lavergne, author of The Rural Economy of England, Scotland, and Ireland, who advocated further expanding meat and dairy production: “The breeder can now send three to market in the same space of time that it formerly took him to prepare one; and if they are not taller, they are broader, rounder, and have a greater development in those parts which give most flesh. Of bone, they have absolutely no greater amount than is necessary to support them, and almost all their weight is pure meat.”82

In his critical notes on Lavergne, Marx objected to these new methods of animal production for meat and dairy, as the pursuit of endless profits led to a broad range of animal suffering and corporeal abuse—inherent in a mode of alienated speciesism in which animals were not viewed as living beings but as machines to be manipulated as such. Sheep that were bred so as to decrease bone structure—in Marx’s words, “aborting bones in order to transform them to mere meat and a bulk of fat”—had a hard time supporting their own weight and standing due to their much larger, heavier bodies and weaker skeletal frames. To increase milk production for the market, calves were weaned earlier. Cattle were increasingly confined to stalls and were fed oil cakes and other high-energy-input concoctions designed to accelerate the rate of growth.83

Under previous agricultural practices, Marx observed, “animals remained active by staying under free air.” Confined to stalls with the attendant box feeding meant that “in these prisons animals are born and remain there until they are killed off.” This resulted “in serious deterioration of life force” and growth deformities in their bodies, which were regarded as mere parts, grist for the mill of capital. For Marx, all of this was “Disgusting!” It amounted to a “system of prison cells for the animals.”84

Today, such capitalist methods for speeding up and commodifying natural reproduction also include the use of growth hormones, massive concentrated animal-feeding operations, and extensive use of antibiotics to treat ailments that arise from the conditions under which animals are raised. These approaches have only become more intensive and widespread throughout animal production for meat and dairy, as in the case of chickens, pigs, cows, sheep, and fish.85 As environmental sociologist Ryan Gunderson stresses, the vast expansion of animals confined to industrialized production is directly linked to the ceaseless pursuit of capital accumulation.86

Through this analysis, Marx detailed how capitalist development created an alienated mediation between human beings and nature, in this case, nonhuman animal species. This alienated speciesism reduces animals to machines within factory farms, and animals throughout the world confront extermination due to destruction of habitat, climate change, and ocean acidification—all associated with the general workings of capitalism in the contemporary period. This rupture takes on an ironic character, Macdonald points out, as “the more their dismembered bodies intersect with ours” via commodity circulation as meat, leather, glue, etc., “the more they ultimately disappear from human life.”87 This finding, associated with alienated speciesism under capitalism, is similar to the dynamics that accompany the alienation of nature in general. As Raymond Williams indicated, the deeper the alienation from nature, the more intensive “the real interaction” with the biophysical world in regard to the resources used in commodity production and the generation of waste that pollutes ecosystems.88

These broad concerns regarding the operations of the capitalist system, ecological conditions, and alienated speciesism are intertwined in Marx’s consideration of the metabolism of nature and society. In the 1850s and ’60s, Liebig, the leading German chemist, explained that British high-farming techniques were violating the “law of compensation” due to the shipment of crops to distant locations, resulting in failure to return to the soil the nutrients that had been removed. This robbery system led to the despoliation of agricultural lands. Marx took up Liebig’s analysis, including the conception of metabolic relations. He developed an even richer socioecological metabolic approach focusing on the metabolic rift, whereby an alienated social metabolism, in contradiction to the universal metabolism of nature, disrupts or ruptures natural cycles, systems, and flows.89

With the repeal of the Corn laws in 1846, which ushered in free trade, Marx identified several trends within what he called the “new regime” of capitalist food production. This included a further deepening of the metabolic rift in the soil nutrient cycle, increasing the scale of the mechanized expropriation of animals, themselves treated as mere machines (or machine parts).90 There was a drive to shift Britain toward greater meat and dairy production as part of the Norfolk rotation system (and other similar rotations), which primarily served the wealthier population. As a result, more land was converted to pasturage and for growing forage crops, such as legumes, rather than cereal and grains, while expanding the impacts of animal grazing. With more farm animals on the land, less workers were needed. Under this new food regime, wheat production in Britain plummeted, leading to massive imports of grain in order to feed the general population.91 Irish lands were converted to pastures to raise pigs, cattle, and sheep, displacing much of the rural population.92 New Leicesters were imported to Ireland to breed with native sheep to develop a variety that provided greater profits for capital, without any regard for the health of the animals.93 Intensive agricultural practices expropriated the nutrients from the soil in Britain and abroad, giving rise to the increasing reliance on importing both agricultural inputs and grains. Here, the metabolic rift was expanded, robbing the nutrients of distant lands, whether it was in the form of cereal and grains for human consumption, guano to repair the degraded land, or rapeseed in the production of oil cake to feed farm animals to enrich their manure.94

While Lavergne celebrated the imposition of industrialized agricultural operations, intensifying animal production for meat and dairy, Marx suggested that a grain-based system of agriculture was a more efficient system for providing food for the population as a whole and ensuring the long-term vitality of the land.95

Marx’s critique of alienated speciesism, associated with the degradation of humans and nonhuman animals, can be considered part of his wider ecological critique, linked to the metabolic rift.96 The metabolic rift is not limited to external nature, but also encompasses the expropriation of corporeal beings, where nonhuman animals are reduced to machines in a system predicated on constant expansion, which ignores and increases their suffering. Indeed, when the question of animals arose, his analysis transcended the merely ecological framework, displaying an affinity with nonhuman animals, which, for Marx, are limited, objective, “suffering beings” like humans themselves.97

Marx never lost his close connection to Epicurean materialism. The Epicureans taught that animal suffering and human suffering are alike for they both pertain to natural beings. In books I and II of De rerum natura, the great Roman poet Lucretius presented five attacks on sacrificial practices, beginning with his description of Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia to the altar of the gods, and ending, as if to emphasize human affinity with animals, with a bereaved cow:

For oft in front of noble shrines of gods

A calf falls slain beside the incensed altars,

A stream of hot blood gushing from its breast.

The mother wandering through the leafy glens

Bereaved seeks on the ground the cloven footprints.

With questing eyes she seeks if anywhere

Her lost child may be seen; she stands, and fills with moaning

The woodland glades; she comes back to the byre

Time and again in yearning for her calf.98

No one could fail to recognize from such a passage that human suffering and animal suffering, as Marx himself noted, are akin. Revolutionary struggle is necessary to transcend the alienation of nature associated with capitalism. Marx clearly recognized that the uprooting of alienated speciesism is part of this fight. If “fully developed humanism” is to become “naturalism,” it is necessary to forge a new human-animal dialectic, one grounded in the Epicurean principle that “the world is my friend.” Echoing Müntzer, Marx declared, “all living things must also become free.”99


  1. Ted Benton, “Humanism = Speciesism: Marx on Humans and Animals,” Radical Philosophy 50 (1988): 4, 6, 8, 11–12; Ted Benton, Natural Relations: Ecology, Animal Rights and Social Justice (London/New York: Verso, 1993), 32–35.
  2. Renzo Llorente, “Reflections on the Prospects for a Non-Speciesist Marxism,” in Critical Theory and Animal Liberation, ed. John Sanbonmatsu (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2011), 126–27. Llorente, while arguing that Marx himself was speciesist, denies that speciesism is inherent to Marxism.
  3. John Sanbonmatsu, The Postmodern Prince (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2004), 215–18; Sanbonmatsu, introduction to Critical Theory and Animal Liberation, 17–19.
  4. Katherine Perlo, “Marxism and the Underdog,” Society and Animals 10, no. 3 (2002): 304; David Sztybel, “Marxism and Animal Rights,” Environmental Ethics 2, no. 2 (1997): 170–71.
  5. Richard D. Ryder, “Speciesism,” in Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare, ed. Marc Bekoff (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1998), 320.
  6. For a criticism of this, see Bradley J. Macdonald, “Marx and the Human/Animal Dialectic,” in Political Theory and the Animal/Human Relationship, eds. Judith Grant and Vincent G. Jungkuz (New York: State University of New York Press, 2011), 36.
  7. Benton, Natural Relations, 42.
  8. Benton, “Humanism = Speciesism,” 1; Karl Marx, Early Writings (London: Penguin, 1970), 348.
  9. Marx, Early Writings, 239.
  10. Some critics do highlight, out of context, Marx and Engels’s criticisms of the Society for the Preservation of Animals as evidence of their lack of sympathy for animals. For a powerful rejoinder, see Ryan Gunderson, “Marx’s Comments on Animal Welfare,” Rethinking Marxism 23, no. 4 (2011): 543–48.
  11. Macdonald, “Marx and the Human/Animal Dialectic,” 41–42. Macdonald distinguishes between what he calls the “dialectical dualism”—reflecting processes of “objectification” or “externalization”—inherent to the human relation to nature, and the “alienated speciesism” characteristic of capitalism. Alienated speciesism, in these terms, is just the other side of alienated species being. On the concepts of objectification and externalization (and the distinction between these and Marx’s alienation), see Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness (London: Merlin Press, 1971), xxxvi, and The Young Hegel (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1975), 537–67.
  12. See Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 1 (New York: International Publishers, 1975), 25–107, 403–509; Epicurus, The Epicurus Reader (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1994); Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997). On Marx and Epicurus, see John Bellamy Foster, Marx’s Ecology (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000), 21–65.
  13. On Lucretius and the human-animal relation, see Alma Massaro, “The Living in Lucretius’ De rerum natura: Animals’ ataraxia and Humans’ Distress,” Relations 2, no. 2 (2014), On Epicurus’s protoevolutionary views, see John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York, Critique of Intelligent Design (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2008), 49–64.
  14. For Lucretius on environmental destruction, see Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe, bk. VI, 179–217; Jack Lindsay, Blast Power and Ballistics: Concepts of Force and Energy in the Ancient World (London: Frederick Muller, 1974), 379–81; H. S. Commager, Jr., “Lucretius’s Interpretation of the Plague,” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 62 (1957): 105–18.
  15. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, vol. 5 (New York: International Publishers, 1975), 141.
  16. Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 1, 453.
  17. Benton, Natural Relations, 35.
  18. Sztybel, “Marxism and Animal Rights,” 171.
  19. Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 1, 75, 448, 452–53.
  20. Plutarch, Moralia, vol. 14, Loeb Cla ssical Library (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1967), 129–47, (pp. 1104–1106).
  21. Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 1, 74. On the Epicurean attack on religion and his opposition to Plato, see Benjamin Farrington, The Faith of Epicurus (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1967).
  22. Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 1, 74–76.
  23. Marx, Early Writings, 389–90.
  24. Sztybel, “Marxism and Animal Rights,” 173–74.
  25. Epicurus, The Epicurus Reader, 32; Frederick Engels to Friedrich Adolph Sorge, March 15, 1883, in Karl Marx Remembered, ed. Philip S. Foner (San Francisco: Synthesis Publications, 1983), 28. See also Foster, Marx’s Ecology, 77–78.
  26. Joseph Fracchia, “Organisms and Objectifications: A Historical-Materialist Inquiry into the ‘Human and Animal,’” Monthly Review 68, no. 10 (March 2017): 1–3.
  27. Marx, Early Writings, 239; Thomas Müntzer, Collected Works (Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1988), 335.
  28. Benton, “Humanism = Speciesism,” 8, 12; Natural Relations, 33, 37.
  29. René Descartes, Discourse on Method (Chicago: Open Court, 1899), 59–63.
  30. Alice Kuzniar, “A Higher Language: Novalis on Communion with Animals,” German Quarterly 76, no. 4 (2003):426–42; Robert Ausch, An Advanced Guide to Psychological Thinking (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2015), 90.
  31. Julian Jaynes and William Woodward, “In the Shadow of Enlightenment, II: Reimarus and his Theory of Drives,” Journal of the History of Behavioral Sciences 10, no. 2 (1974): 144–59; John H. Zammito, The Gestation of German Biology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018), 134–49, “Herder Between Reimarus and Tetens: The Problem of an Animal-Human Boundary,” in Herder: Philosophy and Anthropology, eds. Anik Waldow and Nigel DeSouza (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 127–46; Günter Zöller, Fichte’s Transcendental Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 63; James Muldoon, Hegel’s Philosophy of Drives (Aurora, California: Noesis Press, 2014); G. W. F. Hegel, The Philosophy of Nature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 406–9.
  32. Dorothea E. von Mücke, The Practices of the Enlightenment (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), 33–38; Zammito, The Gestation of German Biology, 138–39; Kurt Danziger, “The Unknown Wundt: Drive, Apperception, and Volition,” in Wilhelm Wundt in History, eds. Robert W. Rieber and David K. Robinson (New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2001), 101–2; Muldoon, Hegel’s Philosophy of Drives, 107–11.
  33. Reimarus quoted in Zammito, The Gestation of German Biology, 139.
  34. Zammito, The Gestation of German Biology, 139–40.
  35. Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 1, 19.
  36. Zammito, The Gestation of German Biology, 141–42; Mücke, The Practices of the Enlightenment, 35.
  37. Immanuel Kant, On History (New York: Bobbs-Merrill), 55–56; Mücke, The Practices of the Enlightenment, 36–38.
  38. Johann Gottfried von Herder, Philosophical Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 56, 78–80; Zammito, “Herder Between Reimarus and Tetens.”
  39. Ausch, An Advanced Guide to Psychological Thinking, 91.
  40. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1 (London: Penguin, 1976), 284. In addition to Reimarus, Marx may have been influenced in the writing of this passage by Darwin’s section on the “Cell-Making Instinct of the Hive-Bee” in the Origin of Species, a work he had studied closely. See Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1964; facsimile of the first edition), 224–35.
  41. Marx, Early Writings, 389-90; Christopher Dowrick, “The Roots of Consciousness,” History of Political Thought 5, no. 3 (Winter 1984): 472, 476.
  42. See Arend Th. Van Leeuwen, Critique of Earth (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1974), 53–54; Giorgio Agamben, The Man without Content (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), 84. Erich Fromm argued that Marx’s entire critical analysis rested on a perspective in which “the realm of human drives is a natural force, which like other natural forces (soil fertility, natural irrigation, etc.), is an immediate part of the substructure of the social process. Knowledge of this force, then, is necessary for a complete understanding of the social process.” Erich Fromm, The Crisis of Psychoanalysis (Greenwich, Connecticut: Fawcett, 1970), 65–66, 157.
  43. Gattungswesen is variously translated as “generic essence,” “species being,” and “generic being.” In developing his concept of species (or generic) being (Gattungswesen), Marx was drawing not only on Feuerbach but on Hegel’s earlier notion of the “generic essence” (Gattungswesen) of humanity, associated with the universal consciousness promoted by the state. In Marx’s own analysis, this “universal generic essence” constituted the higher-order consciousness or self-consciousness distinguishing human species being. As self-conscious actors, human beings transformed nature and the world through their labor, and hence their own social relations and themselves. See G. W. F. Hegel, The Philosophy of Right (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952), 200–201, 372; Karl Marx, Early Writings, 192, 328–29; Charles Taylor, Hegel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), 549, Hegel and Modern Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 143; George Márkus, Marxism and Anthropology (Assen, the Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1978), 3–15; Paul Heyer, Nature, Human Nature, and Society (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1982), 13, 73–96; István Mészáros, Marx’s Theory of Alienation (London: Pluto Press, 1972), 14.
  44. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Fiery Brook (New York: Anchor Books, 1972), 97–99; Zöller, Fichte’s Transcendental Philosophy, 63; Marx W. Wartofsky, Feuerbach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 5–6, 206–8.
  45. Márkus, Marxism and Anthropology, 4-5.
  46. Shlomo Avineri, The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), 65-95.
  47. Marx, Early Writings, 327; Benton, “Humanism = Speciesism,” 5–9; Llorente, “Reflections on the Prospects for a Non-Speciesist Marxism,” 126–27; Sanbonmatsu, introduction to Critical Theory and Animal Liberation, 17–19.
  48. Mészáros, Marx’s Theory of Alienation, 173–80; Fromm, The Critique of Psychoanalysis, 68.
  49. Macdonald, “Marx and the Human/Animal Dialectic,” 41.
  50. Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 5, 58–59. The critical line of argument based on the essence of the fish was first introduced by Engels in his notes on “Feuerbach” in preparation for the writing of the German Ideology. Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 5, 13.
  51. Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 4, 125–26. Marx preferred Bacon’s physics to that of Descartes, seeing matter in motion in the former’s conceptualization as taking the form of a drive (Trieb) rather than a mere mechanism as in the latter’s. See van Leeuwen, Critique of Earth, 15–20; Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 4, 127–30.
  52. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 512. Descartes had himself explicitly referred to the automata or moving parts as these were employed in human industry in the “manufacturing” (handicraft) period, which he then applied to the description of animals. See Descartes, Discourse on Method, 59–60. In capitalist valuation, as Marx remarks, animals are treated as machines—a fact that he saw as reflecting the contradiction between nature and commodity value. See James D. White, “Nicholas Sieber and Karl Marx,” Research in Political Economy 19 (2000): 6.
  53. Benton, “Humanism = Speciesism,“ 16.
  54. Marx, Early Writings, 239.
  55. Marx, Early Writings, 327.
  56. Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology (London: Penguin, 1997), 276–77.
  57. Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 25, 459.
  58. See Foster, Marx’s Ecology, 120, 180-82, and Foster, Clark, and York, Critique of Intelligent Design.
  59. Marx, Early Writings, 356.
  60. Karl Marx, Grundrisse (London: Penguin, 1973), 105.
  61. Gunnar Broberg, “Homo sapiens: Linnaeus’s Classification of Man,” in Linnaeus: The Man and His Work, eds. Sten Lindroth, Gunnar Eriksson, and Gunnar Broberg (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 156–79.
  62. Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 42, 322.
  63. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe IV, 26 (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2011), 214–19; Joseph Beete Jukes, The Student’s Manual of Geology (Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1872).
  64. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), 102; Foster, Marx’s Ecology, 166.
  65. Marx and Engels, Collected Works, 41, 232.
  66. Fracchia, “Organisms and Objectifications,” 3.
  67. Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 25, 452–59; Stephen Jay Gould, An Urchin in the Storm (New York: W. W. Norton, 1987), 111.
  68. For contemporary discussions of the complex evolutionary dynamics between gene, organism, and environment, see Richard Lewontin, The Triple Helix (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2000); Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin, The Dialectical Biologist (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1985); and Richard Lewontin and Richard Levins, Biology Under the Influence (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2007).
  69. Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 25, 460.
  70. Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 25, 503.
  71. Karl Marx, Texts on Method (Oxford: Blackwell, 1975), 190–91; Marian Comyn, “My Recollections of Karl Marx,” The Nineteenth Century and After, vol. 91, available at
  72. Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (1871; repr. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), 105, 136–37. Darwin’s reference to “social habits” here referred specifically to inheritance of acquired characteristics—an idea usually associated with Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, but which Darwin had, by this time, introduced as a supplementary principle to natural selection—as in the form of certain habitual social behaviors. Darwin suggested, as a possible example of this, that children of laborers were said to inherit larger hands than the children of gentry due to the passing on of acquired characteristics resulting from “social habits” of use and disuse. See Darwin, The Descent of Man, 117–18, 157, 160–61; Helen P. Liepman, “The Six Editions of the ‘Origin of Species,’” Acta Biotheoretica 30 (1981): 199–214. Engels was influenced by Darwin’s views in this regard and, in a similar way, referred to the inheritance of acquired characteristics in relation to hands. See Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 25, 453–54. Nevertheless, one could also read Darwin’s reference to the social here—though this was clearly not his primary meaning—as standing for the more general notion of human beings as social animals, emphasized by Marx and Engels, resulting in cumulative social development and the enhancement of practical intelligence, passed on through education, and reflected in the cultural capacity to manipulate the world through exosomatic instruments. From the start, Homo sapiens, as Engels above all understood in the nineteenth century, were products of a complex process of what is now called gene-culture coevolution, which explains the origin of human corporeal organization, particularly the development of the human brain. See Gould, An Urchin in the Storm, 111. The whole issue of the inheritance of acquired characteristics, it should be added, is attracting renewed interest in biology due to the development of epigenetics. See Peter Ward, Lamarck’s Revenge (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018); Eva Jablonka and Mario J. Lamb, Epigenetic Inheritance and Evolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).
  73. John Berger, About Looking (London: Vintage International, 1991), 4.
  74. Berger, About Looking, 3–4.
  75. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 285–86.
  76. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 287–88.
  77. Marx, Capital, vol. 2 (London: Penguin, 1978), 241.
  78. Marx, Capital, vol. 2, 250; Paul Burkett, Marx and Nature (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014), 43–47; Daniel Auerbach and Brett Clark, “Metabolic Rifts, Temporal Imperatives, and Geographical Shifts: Logging in the Adirondack Forest in the 1800s,” International Critical Thought 8, no. 3 (2018): 468–86.
  79. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 517.
  80. Burkett, Marx and Nature, 41–47.
  81. Marx, Capital, vol. 2, 314–315.
  82. Marx, Capital, vol. 2, 315; Léonce de Lavergne, The Rural Economy of England, Scotland, and Ireland (London: Blackwell, 1855), 13–25, 34–51, 184–87, 196.
  83. Karl Marx, Marx-Engels Archives, International Institute of Social History, Sign. B., 106, 336, quoted in Kohei Saito, “Why Ecosocialism Needs Marx,” Monthly Review 68, no. 6 (November 2016): 62; John Bellamy Foster, “Marx as a Food Theorist,” Monthly Review 68, no. 7 (December 2016): 14–16.
  84. Marx, Marx-Engels Archives, International Institute of Social History, Sign. B., 106, 336, quoted in Saito, “Why Ecosocialism Needs Marx,” 511 (translation altered slightly); Foster, “Marx as a Food Theorist,” 15–16.
  85. For useful discussions of these issues, see William D. Heffernan, “Concentration of Ownership and Control in Agriculture,” in Hungry for Profit, eds. Fred Magdoff, John Bellamy Foster, and Frederick H. Buttel (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000), 61–75; Tony Weis, The Global Food Economy (New York: Zed Books, 2007); Tony Weis, The Ecological Hoofprint (New York: Zed Books, 2013); Stefano B. Long, Rebecca Clausen, and Brett Clark, The Tragedy of the Commodity (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2015); Stefano B. Longo, Rebecca Clausen, and Brett Clark, “Capitalism and the Commodification of Salmon: From Wild Fish to a Genetically Modified Species,” Monthly Review 66, no. 7 (2014): 35–55.
  86. Ryan Gunderson, “From Cattle to Capital: Exchange Value, Animal Commodification and Barbarism,” Critical Sociology 39, no. 2 (2011): 259–275; see also David Naguib Pellow, Total Liberation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014).
  87. Macdonald, “Marx and the Human/Animal Dialectic,” 41.
  88. Raymond Williams, Problems in Materialism and Culture (London: Verso, 1980), 83.
  89. John Bellamy Foster, “Marx and the Rift in the Universal Metabolism of Nature,” Monthly Review 65, no. 7 (2013): 1–19; John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark, “The Robbery of Nature,” Monthly Review 70, no. 3 (2018): 1–20.
  90. Foster, “Marx as a Food Theorist,” 12–13; John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett, Marx and the Earth (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 29–31.
  91. Mette Erjnaes, Karl Gunnar Persson, and Søren Rich, “Feeding the British,” Economic History Review 61, no. 1 (2008): 147.
  92. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Ireland and the Irish Question (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1971), 121–22.
  93. Kohei Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2017), 209.
  94. Foster, “Marx as a Food Theorist.”
  95. Foster, “Marx as a Food Theorist”; Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 637–38; Marx, Capital, vol. 2, 313–15; Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 3 (London: Penguin, 1981), 916, 949–50.
  96. Macdonald, “Marx and the Human/Animal Dialectic,” 42; John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York, The Ecological Rift (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010).
  97. Marx, Early Writings, 389–90.
  98. Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 46 (II, 350–65). Compare Lucretius’s description of the sacrifice of Iphigenia by Agamemnon on the altar of the gods—Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe, 5–6 (80–101). See Massaro, “The Living in Lucretius’ De rerum natura,” 45–58.
  99. Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 5, 141; Early Writings, 239, 348.
2018, Volume 70, Issue 07 (December 2018)
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