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Planning and the Ecosocialist Mode of Cooperation

Construction workers complete electrical connections on phase 2 of a solar microgrid project at Fort Hunter Liggett, CA (March 12, 2013)

Construction workers complete electrical connections on phase 2 of a solar microgrid project at Fort Hunter Liggett, CA (March 12, 2013). Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District - Flickr, Public Domain, Link.

Nicolas Graham is currently a postdoctoral fellow at York University in the Department of Sociology at Glendon College.

Economic planning, which is premised on control and public ownership of enterprises and means of production, enables the rational determination of the very goals of production. It facilitates a conscious allocation of societal resources and capacities toward socially defined needs and objectives and the coordination of action across the labor process. While planning can be hierarchical and “top-down,” democratic economic planning empowers workers and the whole of society to determine which production lines are to be privileged and how resources are to be invested.1 Democratic planning, which per Michael Löwy is “nothing other than the radical democratization of the economy,” is vitally needed today to enhance substantive equality and to resolve deepening ecological and climate crises.2

In this article, I revisit Karl Marx’s remarks on economic planning in Capital, and develop their ecological implications. Although Marx’s statements on planning are sparse, of interest and focus here is the way he approaches planning as a universal characteristic of human labor, as the capacity for deliberation and foresight; one that is potentiated, but also fettered by, capital. Indeed, in his analysis of the socialization of production, Marx gleans a new productive power—the collective power of associated labor—and an emergent capacity, namely the ability to consciously plan and coordinate such associations. These powers and capacities are at once potentiated and partly enacted, but also distorted, hindered, and turned into something negative. This hindrance concerns the inability within capitalism to meaningfully extend planning beyond individual corporations. It also concerns the surrender of the workers’ own planning potentials, including through workplace hierarchies. Planning is therefore approached by Marx as a “slumbering power”—a societal capability that is yet to be realized.

At the same time, I suggest that there is a tension between Marx’s account of the forms of productive cooperation potentiated by capitalism and his analysis of a metabolic rift. While Marx is enthusiastic about the potential surrounding the transformation of production into a social process based on increasing interchange (the socialization of production), he recognizes that existing forms of interconnection, including territorial and spatial divisions of labor, are entangled in capitalism’s ecological contradictions and materialize unequal exchange. Therefore, while Marx is sometimes seen to present a so-called neutral understanding of the productive forces, his analysis points to the need not only to activate the rational use of existing technological mixes and organizational forms of production by socializing them, but to transform them structurally.3

To develop these points, I begin by first revisiting Marx’s remarks on economic planning in the first volume of Capital, considering the way he approaches planning as part of what David Harvey calls a “species potential,” the realization of which is blocked and constrained.4 I develop the ecological implications of this analysis, pointing to the urgent need, in the context of the present climate emergency, to subordinate markets to planning to reorient production systems toward meeting needs sustainably.

Along with other ecosocialist literature, I consider sectors and forces of production that need to degrow and others that need to grow, and outline features of democratic socialist planning this requires. This extends to conscious transformations in territorial and spatial divisions of labor. Reflections on reorganizing the latter are arguably underdeveloped in ecosocialist literature and I highlight the tensions, challenges, and trade-offs accompanying them. I suggest the need for a process of partial deglobalization, accompanied by significant (re)localization of production, beginning with the agriculture and energy sectors, and the scaling back of associated long-distance trade and commodity chains. However, such transformations are not conceived as a retreat into the local, or as a process of simply exiting the global economy, as implied in some green left approaches.5 Instead, I point to the need to establish new forms of economic and ecological cooperation across locales and regions via the sharing of ecological knowledge, skills, and information between communities, regions, and states.

Marx, Planning, and the Mode of Cooperation

Marx’s reflections on planning in Capital are mostly contained in three successive chapters (chapters 15–17) titled “Co-operation,” “Divisions of Labour and Manufacture,” and “Machinery and Large-Scale Industry.” These chapters follow his analysis of the shift from absolute to relative surplus value, the latter being the result of competitive struggle to increase labor productivity, which reduces the worktime necessary to produce commodities. Marx analyzes the way in which capitalists obtain relative surplus value by revolutionizing productive forces, including the “hardware” of production (machines and technology), knowledge and skills, and the cooperation and divisions of labor.

In the chapter on “Co-operation,” Marx is concerned with how capital seeks to increase productivity by bringing handicraft labor into a structure of cooperation in a workshop. He then defines cooperation in terms of productive association, while tying it together with the idea of a “plan”: “when numerous workers work together side by side in accordance with a plan, whether in the same process, or in different but connected processes, this form of labour is called co-operation.”6 This is a transhistorical definition; forms of cooperative production are found throughout history, independent of any mode of production. In providing such a definition, Marx reflects on the broad use value aspect of cooperation, asserting “not only have we an increase in the productive power of an individual, by means of co-operation, but the creation of a new productive power, which is an intrinsically collective one.”7 Likewise, in one of his few references to “species being” in Capital he remarks: “When the worker co-operates in a planned way with others, he strips off the fetters of his individuality, and develops the capabilities of his species.”8

While Marx initially defines cooperation in a transhistorical way, he is concerned with its transformation under historically specific social relations, and thereby examines how capital’s reorganization of the labor process reshapes it for its own purposes. This reorganization involves the “real subsumption” of labor to capital as capitalists direct and supervise the activities of workers and intensify production by reducing the socially necessary labor time that goes into each unit of a product. Cooperation is present under previous modes of production, but it is more systematically developed within capitalism, based on the availability of “free” wage-laborers who can be amassed in large numbers. Such cooperation increases labor productivity: “a dozen people working together will produce far more, in their collective working day of 144 hours than twelve isolated men each working for 12 hours.”9 Enhanced productivity is part of the use value of cooperation and given the historical context in which he was writing, Marx approaches growing productive output as a socialist goal.

Yet, more fundamentally, Marx stresses the potential nobility of cooperation (as a human capacity that adds to and augments our collective powers) in contrast to its alienated form under capitalism.10 Indeed, what drives Marx’s analysis is his insistence that the productive force of cooperation is a common property belonging to the associated producers and that capital is merely appropriating it, distorting it, and using it to its own advantage. He maintains that “the special productive power of the combined working day is, under all circumstances, the social productive power of labour, or the productive power of social labour. This power arises from co-operation itself.”11 It is, however, seized upon by capital through real subsumption and developed for its capacity to augment the productivity of labor in search of (relative) surplus value. He writes: “Because this power costs capital nothing, while on the other hand it is not developed by the worker until his labour belongs to capital, it appears as a power which capital possessed by its nature—a power inherent in capital.”12 Capital appropriates, mystifies and turns into a private power the fruits of an increasingly vast and collaborative process of socialized labor.

Elsewhere in Capital, Marx makes a similar point regarding knowledge and science, which he understands as collective powers, the accumulated effect of networks of association and cooperation.13 Science is appropriated by capital as a “free gift” and, in its productive application, Marx suggests its collective nature is often mystified: “The accumulation of knowledge and of skill, the general productive forces of the social brain, is thus absorbed into capital, as opposed to labour, and hence appears as an attribute of capital.”14 This is an important insight, as even where types of intellectual property are produced in capitalist conditions for profit (rather than being appropriated as a “free gift”), scientific knowledge is never totally subsumed under the commodity form, but is rather a collectively generated resource and good that depends on a far wider intellectual commons. Like cooperation itself, it is as an intrinsically collective power.

In the chapter that follows, on “Divisions of Labour and Manufacture,” Marx concentrates on the further reorganization of production into what he calls the “manufacturing system.” This system, which is based on the growing concentration of means of production, accelerates the process by which workers belonging to various handicraft trades are brought together under one workshop. Combining and organizing the activity of many specialized workers means that what is produced is the product of what Marx calls a “collective worker.”15

As the chapter title suggests, he is also concerned with the divisions of labor that are brought about and transformed by this reorganization. Divisions of labor are not seen by Marx as inherently negative; indeed, well-organized divisions of labor, which facilitate cooperation both in a single workplace and across space, are approached by him as human capacities that can add to collective powers. He examines two different types of division. The first concerns divisions of labor between workers within the enterprise or workplace under the planned design of the capitalist and his supervisory attendants, what we could call the division of labor in the enterprise. The second type concerns the social division of labor, which concerns all the different forms of labor that are carried out independently and the exchanges between different communities and regions and between competing capitals (in the case of capitalism).

The division of labor is a broad concept and both in the workplace and across societies, and there are numerous social and cultural distinctions that shape its formation, including the organization of productive and social reproductive labor through gendered and racial hierarchies.16 However, at this point, Marx is focused on divisions between firms and economic sectors and more broadly with territorial divisions of labor. As with cooperation, he suggests (cursorily) that a social division of labor of some form exists in all types of societies, and in relation to territory, this includes exchange relations that arise between different communities with different assets, resources, and products. He asserts that “the foundation of every division of labor which has obtained a certain degree of development and has been brought about by the exchange of commodities, is the separation of town from country.”17 While territorial divisions of labor exist in precapitalist societies, the division of labor in the manufacturing system provides a “fresh stimulus” to the “territorial division of labour, which confines special branches of production to specific districts of a country” and “exploits all natural peculiarities.” This extends yet more broadly to the “colonial system and world market.”18

While they reinforce each other, Marx makes an important distinction between the division of labor in the enterprise and in society, which he suggests, differ not only in degree but kind. One key difference is that with the social division of labor, the means of production are not strictly concentrated, but rather distributed among independent producers, and the connections between them are formed through the purchase and sale of commodities. The way the social division of labor is organized is also quite different. Marx points out that its organization is not based on conscious control but rather “the play of chance and caprice,” which “results in a motley pattern of distribution of the producers and their means of production among the various branches of social labour.”19 While the division of labor in production is extensively planned, regulated, and supervised—and is thus enforced a priori by capital—the division of labor in society, Marx writes, is enforced a posteriori, via market-price fluctuation and competition.

As a result, capitalism is characterized by “anarchy in the social division of labour and despotism in the manufacturing division of labour.”20 While capitalists eagerly plan the organization of production in the factory, they continually resist attempts to control and plan the social division of labor. This resistance, as Marx presciently observes, is enforced by bourgeois ideology which “celebrates the division of labour in the workshop” but “denounces with equal vigour every conscious attempt to control and regulate the process of production socially.”21

There is a deep contradiction, in Marx’s view, between socialized production and private appropriation, leading him to suggest that under socialism, society-wide planning would eliminate capitalist “anarchy of production,” ensuring a more rational allocation of economic resources and productive capacities, while eliminating economic crises. This is expressed succinctly in Marx’s reflections in the Civil War in France, where he writes: “If co-operative production is not to remain a sham and a snare; if it is to supersede the Capitalist system; if united co-operative societies are to regulate national production upon a common plan, thus taking it under their own control, and putting an end to the constant anarchy and periodical convulsions which are the fatality of Capitalist production—what else, gentlemen, would it be but Communism, ‘possible’ Communism?”22

In the chapter on divisions of labor, Marx points not only to the irrationality of market coordination, but also to the despotism and coercion this market system produces in the workplace. “Manufacture proper not only subjects the previously independent worker to the discipline and command of capital, but creates an additional hierarchical structure among the workers themselves.”23 The result is an “impoverishment of the worker in individual productive power,” such that “the possibility of an intelligent direction in production expands in one direction, because it vanishes in many others.”24 Workers’ own capacities to administer production are thwarted.

Marx suggests that the reorganization of the division of labor in the firm and society is the hallmark of the manufacturing period, but, as we see in the chapter on “Machinery and Large-Scale Industry,” the emergence of large-scale industry in the nineteenth century, or the Industrial Revolution, also profoundly transforms such divisions.

As literature on “fossil capitalism” suggests, the Industrial Revolution involved an energy transition in a double sense, from production carried out by muscle power, then water power, to one powered by fossil fueled machinery.25 As Marx explains, individual firms are engaged in an unrelenting search to replace living (manual) with dead (machine) labor, as the latter is a key source of relative surplus value. This extends to the competitive dynamics of an advanced market economy: under the “whip of competition,” the firm that innovates gains an extra measure of profit over its competitors (better sales or lower unit costs), and one that fails to adopt newer and better methods will be driven out of business over time. The accelerated speed and expanded scale of production that results from this drive leads to increases (at a system level) in the quantity of matter and energy throughput, as well as waste output. Insofar as the process is based on fossilized energy stock, this includes the progressive accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, disrupting the carbon cycle, causing global climate change.26

The technological revolution simultaneously propels an increase in the concentration of capital and leads to the formation of a yet more complex division of labor in the enterprise, as skilled labor was expressed in machines and workplace design for maximum efficiency, and manual labor was charged with machine-minding. It also produces a shift in territorial and spatial divisions of labor. Indeed, Marx points out that firms aim to not only increase the physical output of goods, but must also realize the value of what is produced. In this effort, they encounter barriers to both sustained output and realization, specifically surrounding “the availability of raw materials and the extent of sales outlets.”27 Marx’s answer to how such barriers are temporarily overcome is that capital engages in further geographical expansions and imperialist practices. Giving the example of India, he points out that capital expansion ruins handicraft production and turns domestic populations into markets, while converting “them into fields for…growing raw materials for the mother country.”28 The problem, as Rosa Luxemburg later suggested, is alleviated through the continuation of primitive accumulation through imperialist impositions into societies not fully absorbed into the capitalist mode of production.29 The consequence is increasing interdependence within larger and larger geographical areas and the growth of an international division of labor: “a new and international division of labour springs up, one suited to the requirements of the main industrial countries, and converts one part of the globe into a chiefly agricultural field of production for supplying the other part, which remains a chiefly industrial field.”30

Marx had only glimpsed the beginning of an interconnected capitalist world market and international division of labor, which have undergone profound mutations since the nineteenth century. Some of the most significant set of changes took place through neoliberal globalization beginning in the 1970s, which diffused strategies of export-led development and trade liberalization. Subsequently, market-based exchange increasingly functions in a cross-border environment based on multinational corporations, and is accompanied by the further growth of long-distance trade and global commodity chains. International divisions of labor have also been transformed via the rise of the so-called new division of labor, which saw some parts of the Global South become centers of industrial value production while economies of the Global North became increasingly focused on rent extraction through finance, real estate and insurance, and regimes of intellectual property rights.31 Yet, as Marx had glimpsed, wealthy countries continue to exploit low-income economies as sources of both cheap labor and raw materials, such that systems of international economic exchange are highly asymmetrical and based on “ecologically unequal exchange.”32

The Snare of Cooperation Based on Capital

Marx’s reflections on the forms of cooperation and divisions of labor created by capital are complex. In general, he is laudatory of the potential inherent in expansive networks of human production and interchange. He points to how socially combined production brings together and augments previously scattered productive skills, techniques, and forms of knowledge. In the process, wealth-creating powers of fragmented workers and producers can be developed as collective social powers and controlled socially in a way that is not possible with production organized around personal, family, or solely local ties. By extending across wider and wider geographical areas, Marx saw capitalism enabling and potentiating ever-larger, more varied, and more cosmopolitan communities of cooperation.

At the same time, we observe a tension in his analysis, as he recognizes that the forms of cooperation and divisions of labor brought about by capital are bound up with degraded work, as well as unequal exchange and ecological degradation. Indeed, in the last section of the chapter on machinery and large-scale industry, we find Marx’s sharpest analysis in Capital of how industrial capitalism creates a metabolic rift, focusing on the sphere of agriculture.

Marx writes that industrialized capitalist agriculture “disrupts the metabolic interaction between man and the earth, i.e.…it hinders the operation of the eternal natural condition for the lasting fertility of the soil.”33 As Foster, Clark, and York argue, Marx’s theory of rift was not an incidental observation or limited to the sphere of agriculture, but rather a logical extension of his analysis of the outward expansion of capitalist industry up to that point.34 It was used to analyze the problems in capitalist production of accelerated tempo, scale, and spatial antagonism. Regarding the spatial contradictions of production, Marx analyzes how the propensity of capitalist agriculture to ruin soil fertility is exacerbated and becomes “irreparable” due to an antagonistic separation of town and country and long-distance trade that is oriented to profit and based on market competition. He analyzes how in the process of urbanization, minerals and nutrients in food, fibers, and agroindustrial raw material were transported long distances to cities, while the waste resources and animal waste were not returned to the soil.35 Further, in a manuscript prepared for the third volume of Capital, he analyzes how capital’s disturbance of this metabolism is extended globally through international trade: “Large-scale ownership, on the other hand, reduces the agricultural population to a constantly decreasing minimum and confronts it with a constantly growing industrial population conglomerated together in large towns; in this way it produces conditions that provoke an irreparable rift in the interdependent process between social metabolism and natural metabolism prescribed by the natural laws of the soil. The result is a squandering of the soil and trade carries this devastation far beyond the bounds of a single country (Liebig).”36

Ecological problems, including the desertification of soils, manifest (often most sharply) at the periphery of capitalism, which is transformed into a source of ever-growing exports of agriculture and raw materials to the capitalist center. In the first volume of Capital, Marx also remarked of this process on ecological imperialism in relation to Ireland, writing that “It must not be forgotten that for a century and a half England has indirectly exported the soil of Ireland, without even allowing its cultivators the means for replacing the constituents of the exhausted soil.”37

On this basis, Marx concludes that “Capitalist production, therefore, only develops the techniques and the degree of combination of the social process of production by simultaneously undermining the sources of all wealth—the soil and the worker.”38 The techniques of production (including workplace organization) are bound up with social domination, while environmental degradation is woven together with the forms of socialization (including spatial and territorial divisions of labor) brought about by capital. This understanding undergirds the need for the associated producers to “govern the human metabolism with nature in a rational way, bringing it under their collective control, instead of being dominated by it as a blind power; accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate for their human nature.”39

Notes Toward an Ecosocialist Mode of Cooperation

Under distinct historical circumstances, earlier forms of socialism (especially twentieth-century Soviet socialism) produced models of economic planning that largely mimicked capitalism in terms of its productivism and work organization. By contrast, ecosocialism builds on Marx’s ecological analysis to rethink socialism as the rational regulation of human-nature relations by the associated producers and the whole of society.40 This would, as Michael J. Albert writes, “subordinate markets to democratic planning to reorient production systems and enterprises away from profit maximization toward sustainably meeting basic needs.”41 Recently, ecosocialists have pointed to key first measures of such a reorientation of production systems, suggesting a dialectical process of growth and degrowth in key sectors and productive forces based on democratic planning and public ownership. I outline some of these before considering more closely transformations surrounding territorial and spatial divisions of labor suggested by Marx.

Planned Growth and Degrowth

In the context of the deepening climate emergency, rapid and comprehensive decarbonization and energy transition is an urgent priory. While energy transition is vital, as Löwy, Bengi Akbulut, Sabrina Fernandes, and Giorgos Kallis suggest, other forms of production, such as private cars, fertilizers, cattle raising, and the arms industry need to be substantially reduced, while capacities and resources are shifted to different lines of development, such as public transportation, agroecological farming, and care sectors.42

Given different capacities and historical responsibility for emissions, countries in the Global North must do the heavy lifting in terms of decarbonization and reductions in material-energy throughput. Such reductions secure development space for populations in the Global South, pointing to a process of “contraction and convergence.”43 Recent outsourcing trends accompanying the “new division of labour” add complexity to this process. Nevertheless, as this outsourcing remains heavily focused on Global North, and particularly elite consumption, we can acknowledge the need to reduce the material-energy throughputs (and associated productive forces) that service the North.

To realize these shifts, planning is needed. Indeed, a basic contradiction is observed today between the use value and exchange value of renewable energy: renewables possess tremendous metabolic worth, but struggle to attract sustained capital investment, as they are less profitable than fossil fuels.44 Moreover, as Richard York and Julius Alexander McGee find, nonfossil fuel sources are being added to the global “energy mix” incrementally and on top of a net expansion in the consumption of fossil fuels.45 Subsequently, implementing supply-side regulations and planning measures, including moratoria on new projects or expansions and a managed wind-down of fossil fuels, while expanding renewables, is an urgent necessity.

There are various planning measures that can be enacted by governments and states that increase public control over production, such as moratoria, mandates, and caps, alongside subsidies and taxes. Yet effective control ultimately requires social ownership of key enterprises. This can take different forms—through the state, worker-led operations, community-based organizations, and cooperatives—which in different ways challenge the drive toward growth and private profit. In terms of state ownership, much is wrong with traditional public-sector corporations, which often function much like private corporations.46 It is therefore crucial to provide such institutions with robust social and ecological mandates, while also democratizing their governance.47 In the case of publicly owned renewable energy firms, for example, a public interest mandate would induce consumers to buy less, reducing energy demand and promoting conservation, while curtailing expanding production. Such strategies are incompatible with the private sector’s growth and profit imperative, and substitute it with social and ecological value seeking.

While democratizing the governance of publicly owned firms can enhance worker control, worker-led operations and worker collectives are key to the aim of progressively rolling back capitalist discipline, developing and liberating workers’ own planning, and other capacities. This includes introducing education into the workplace, giving time to participate regularly during worktime in planning production and resolving problems.48

While public ownership is a necessary condition for achieving social control over economic activity, it is not a sufficient condition. As Marx suggested, overcoming the anarchy of capitalist production and atomistic decision-making means that publicly owned and democratically run enterprises need to be accompanied (and possibly superseded) by coordination and planning of production across firms, and yet more broadly across the interrelated divisions of labor in society. Here, the precise relationship between market and plan is a matter of intense debate and numerous models have been developed, which often blend planning and markets (allowing space for some markets or market exchanges), while placing constraints on the latter’s corrosive tendencies.49 The blending of market and planning extends to issues of scale: planning would focus on larger-scale economic decisions and larger productive enterprises, not the small-scale ones that provide local services.

Sometimes democratization is counterposed with “centralization.” However, it is quite difficult to imagine effective planning, especially within the timeframe required to act with respect to climate change, without some coordinating authority and external arbiter. Consequently, it is perhaps best to consider possibilities for democratically controlled central planning. Such a model, as proposed by Sam Gindin, would retain a key role for a central planning board and mechanism, while overall priorities would be established through democratic processes and institutional countermeasures would be introduced to curb the concentrated power of central planning bodies and central planners.50

As Marx encourages us to think of it, planning coordinates and augments the collective powers of the associated producers, and this includes the active sharing of knowledge, information, and innovation. Consequently, in a system of democratic economic planning, the sharing of information would be institutionalized within firms and across workplaces and sectors to meet needs and advance a common objective (such as comprehensive expansion of renewable energy). This contrasts with a system of private property and profit maximization where, as Gindin observes, “information is a competitive asset that is hidden from others.”51

Such transformations could begin at the national level, through the construction of national plans. It is clear, however, that there is no possibility of resolving climate change and interlinked ecological crises within one country (or a limited set of countries), meaning that enhanced international or multilateral coordination and cooperation is needed. Ecosocialists therefore point to the need for meaningful, global-scale planning that would govern such a process of productive conversion and downscaling—including by transforming multilateral institutions and architecture—while facilitating redistribution, aid, and technology transfer to the Global South.52

Spatial Divisions of Labor and Global Cooperation

Alongside the question of what (and how much) should be produced and tied to a focus on international and global coordination, Marx’s analysis points to the need consciously to transform territorial and spatial divisions of labor. An ecosocialist perspective on such transformation, I suggest, is again likely to encourage a process of growth and degrowth, with some forms of productive association and interchange diminishing moderately, while others expand.

While Marx often shows enthusiasm for the potentiality of enhanced forms of human cooperation enabled by globalizing production, already in the nineteenth century, he observed an antagonistic separation of town and country and suggested that production chains were overstretched and wasting resources. Today, lessening the spatial disjuncture between production and consumption must be an explicit feature and aim of sustainable and just transition and, in this context, calls on the left for partial deglobalization, including the shortening of commodity chains, have merit and are quite consistent with Marx’s analysis.53 In a process of partial deglobalization, production for local and domestic needs—rather than production for export—would again become the center of gravity of the economy. A move away from the export orientation of domestic corporations and a process of renationalization could also allow enterprises to begin to develop their own strategies, moving away from the whims of the global market and choices taken by corporate controllers.54

Such transformation could enable spaces for independent development in the Global South. To do so, they could focus on shifting agrarian systems, orienting their production away from agro-export (which is a source of tremendous ecological irrationality and unequal exchange) toward food sovereignty.55 Such shifts would need to be accompanied by simultaneous, coordinated shifts toward enhanced local and domestic food production in Global North, alongside a move from high-input agriculture to agroecology, and, in settler colonial contexts, enhanced Indigenous sovereignty.56 Within domestic spaces or regions, efforts must simultaneously be made to mend a rift between the city and the country. For a model of the environmentalist city, one could look to Havana for inspiration. During Cuba’s Special Period in the 1990s, organic, low-input agriculture was developed both in the countryside, as well as in the island’s capital through urban farms. Urban agriculture is here not niche or small-scale—it covers large expanses within and at the outskirts of the city, where rich land is located.57 In the transition to renewables, energy production should also be localized as much as possible. This is a potentiality inherent in renewable energy “flow,” in contrast to concentrated energy “stock,” or fossil fuels.

While lessening the spatial disjuncture between production and consumption is part of developing ecologically rational production, this aim should be recognized to be in some tension with economic planning (at least in the longer term), insofar as expansive planning is potentiated by the socialization of production. Thus, calls for localization of production imply a diminishment in productive association across firms and regions and the potential to plan such interconnections.

Practically, it is important to recognize that such a process confronts material interdependencies, as existing productive networks and infrastructural configurations support and sustain huge swaths of human life. Different regions and cities also have different specializations and different ecological capacities. In an existing world of evolved economic interdependencies, the reproductive needs of various communities require continued global resource flows. Climate change also creates severe survival and livelihood challenges on a highly uneven basis, and global trade and divisions of labor can act as safeguards against issues such as pandemics related to water-supply failures and reduced agricultural yields. More broadly, we should carefully consider Marx’s suggestion that well-organized territorial divisions of labor are collective powers and can be a part of collaboration in human affairs. This extends to territorial specialization, which, consciously organized, could involve a collaborative partitioning of resources and capacities.58

A re-centering of activity upon the local and domestic economy would therefore need to proceed through an association of connected locales and be supported by new forms of international coordination and cooperation. Conceived in this way, deglobalization, per Walden Bello, means the planned transformation of a global economy from one integrated around the needs of multinational corporations to one integrated around the needs of peoples, nations, and communities.59

New forms of international cooperation and new (empowered and transformed) institutions for coordinating and planning those associations are needed not only to advance substantive equality and human development, but also for the regulation, management, and mitigation of global ecometabolic problems. Proponents of climate capitalism now envision decarbonization as a race between different states and corporations for advantageous positioning vis-à-vis the changing landscape of clean technology and the global energy market.60 Such a process fetters much needed coordination and cooperation, including the diffusion of knowledge, information, and technology critical to drive a green transformation. Maximum mutual sharing of knowledge, unhindered by the profit motive, is vital for the resolution of ecometabolic problems (and other global-scale problems, including health pandemics.)61

The right to the benefits of the “social brain and the social hand” can be seen in technology and knowledge transfer movements. This includes a focus upon renewable energy technologies. As Kolya Abramsky notes, technology transfer has echoes of modernization ideology, yet it takes on a very different meaning and dynamic when it is based on a noncommercial process.62 Such a global movement is part of defending control and common ownership of knowledge and devoting it to common use.

The need to “transfer” technology and knowledge from North to South proceeds from the concentration of research and development capacities and the property rights regimes that accompany current international divisions of labor. But the sharing of knowledge, techniques, and ecological rationality must also be South-North, South-South, and from the “fourth world” into the “first,” as the practices and techniques of subsistence farmers in the Global South and Indigenous stewards throughout the world are, as Ariel Salleh suggests, “rift-healing” and possess “metabolic-value,” with an important role to play in sustaining ecological integrity.63

Despite bourgeois and neoliberal ideology, planning is both an urgent necessity and a liberatory potentiality. It actualizes and enables the collective capacities and powers of the associated producers and the whole of society to regulate human-nature relations in line with their needs and those of future generations.


  1. Michael Löwy, “Eco-Socialism and Democratic Planning,” in Coming to Terms with Nature: Socialist Register 2007, eds. Leo Panitch and Colin Leys (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2007), 294–309.
  2. Löwy, “Ecosocialism and Democratic Planning,” 298.
  3. See also Nicolas Graham, Forces of Production: Climate Change and Canadian Fossil Capitalism, New Scholarship in Political Economy (Leiden: Brill, 2021).
  4. David Harvey, “On Architects, Bees, and ‘Species Being,’” in Spaces of Hope (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 199–212.
  5. See Greg Albo, “The Limits of Eco-Localism,” in Coming to Terms with Nature, eds. Panitch and Leys, 337–63, for a trenchant critique of bioregional and anarchist social ecology approaches that advocate enhanced localization of production, but largely separate this process from transforming relations of production. A similar tendency is found in recent degrowth scholarship that opposes technology at scale; see Paul Robbins, “Is Less More…or Is More Less? Scaling the Political Ecologies of the Future,” Political Geography 76 (January 2020). The subsequent advocacy of small-scale initiatives and self-reliant communities practically precludes economic planning (at least in the longer term), insofar as expansive planning is potentiated by the socialization of production.
  6. Karl Marx, Capital, vol.1 (New York: Vintage, 1976), 443.
  7. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 443, emphasis added.
  8. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 447.
  9. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 444.
  10. See also David Harvey, A Companion to Marx’s Capital (London: Verso, 2010), 171–76.
  11. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 447.
  12. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 451, emphasis added.
  13. For an exemplary account, see Paul Burkett, Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective (Haymarket, 2014), 70–78.
  14. Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 3 (New York: Penguin, 1993), 694, emphasis added.
  15. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 468.
  16. Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser, Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto (London: Verso, 2019); Michael C. Dawson, “Hidden in Plain Sight: A Note on Legitimation Crises and the Racial Order,” Critical Historical Studies 3, no. 1 (March 2016): 143–61.
  17. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 472.
  18. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 474, 50.
  19. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 476.
  20. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 477.
  21. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 477.
  22. Karl Marx, Collected Works of Marx and Engels, 22 (New York: International Publishers, 1975), 22.
  23. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 481.
  24. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 482.
  25. Matthew Huber, “Energizing Historical Materialism: Fossil Fuels, Space and the Capitalist Mode of Production,” Geoforum 40, no. 1 (January 2009): 105–15; Andreas Malm, Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming (London: Verso, 2016), 37–47.
  26. Brett Clark and Richard York, “Carbon Metabolism: Global Capitalism, Climate Change, and the Biospheric Rift,” Theory and Society 34, no. 4 (August 2005): 391–428.
  27. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 579.
  28. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 579.
  29. Rosa Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital, (Mansfield Center, Connecticut: Martino Fine Books, 2015).
  30. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 579–80.
  31. David Harvey, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).
  32. Alf Hornborg, “Uneven Development as a Result of the Unequal Exchange of Time and Space: Some Conceptual Issues,” Journal Für Entwicklungspolitik 26, no. 4 (January 2010): 36–52.
  33. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 637.
  34. John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York, The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010).
  35. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 637.
  36. Quoted in Kohei Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism: Capital, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2017), 205–6.
  37. John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark, “Ecological Imperialism: The Curse of Capitalism” in The New Imperial Challenge: Socialist Register 2004, eds. Leo Panitch and Colin Leys (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2004), 186–201; Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 860.
  38. Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 638, emphasis added.
  39. Marx, Capital, vol. 3, 958–59.
  40. Foster, Clark, and York, The Ecological Rift, 401–22.
  41. Michael J. Albert, “Capitalism and Earth System Governance: An Ecological Marxist Approach,” Global Environmental Politics 20, no. 2 (2020): 47.
  42. Michael Löwy, Bengi Akbulut, Sabrina Fernandes, and Giorgos Kallis, “For an Ecosocialist Degrowth,” Monthly Review 73, no. 11 (April 2022): 56–58.
  43. Daniel Tanuro, Green Capitalism: Why It Can’t Work (Halifax: Fernwood, 2014).
  44. Malm, Fossil Capital, 367–73; Brett Christophers, “Fossilised Capital: Price and Profit in the Energy Transition,” New Political Economy 27, no.1 (2022), 146–59.
  45. Richard York and Julius Alexander McGee, “Does Renewable Energy Development Decouple Economic Growth from CO2 Emissions?,” Socius 3 (January 2017).
  46. William K. Carroll and J. P. Sapinski, Organizing the 1%: How Corporate Power Works (Halifax: Fernwood, 2018).
  47. Carroll and Sapinski, Organizing the 1%.
  48. See Michael Lebowitz, Build It Now: Socialism for the Twenty-First Century (New York: New York University Press, 2006); Sam Gindin, “Socialism for Realists,” Catalyst 2, no. 3 (2018).
  49. Pat Devine, “Democratic Socialist Planning,” in The Oxford Handbook of Karl Marx, eds. Matt Vidal et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 773–92; Gindin, “Socialism for Realists.”
  50. Gindin, “Socialism for Realists.”
  51. Gindin, “Socialism for Realists.”
  52. Albert, “Capitalism and Earth System Governance”; Ian Angus, Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2016).
  53. Walden Bello, Capitalism’s Last Stand?: Deglobalization in the Age of Austerity (London: Zed Books, 2013); Mario Candeias, “Green Transformation: Competing Strategic Projects,” Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, 2013, 1–26; Tanuro, Green Capitalism.
  54. Candeias, “Green Transformation: Competing Strategic Projects.”
  55. Max Ajl, “A People’s Green New Deal: Obstacles and Prospects,” Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy 10, no. 2 (August 2021): 371–90.
  56. Annette Aurélie Desmarais and Hannah Wittman, “Farmers, Foodies and First Nations: Getting to Food Sovereignty in Canada,” Journal of Peasant Studies 41, no. 6 (November 2014): 1153–73.
  57. Sinan Koont, “The Urban Agriculture of Havana,” Monthly Review 60, no. 8 (January 2009): 44–63.
  58. See also Harvey, “On Architects, Bees, and ‘Species Being.’”
  59. Bello, Capitalism’s Last Stand?.
  60. Nicolas Graham and William K. Carroll, “Climate Breakdown: From Fossil Capitalism to Climate Capitalism (And Beyond?),” in Capital and Politics: Socialist Register 2023, eds. Greg Albo, Nicole Aschoff, and Alfredo Saad-Filho (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2022), 25–46.
  61. For an analysis of the “vaccine apartheid” that followed the refusal to waive Big Pharma’s intellectual property over COVID-19 vaccines and thereby consider vitally needed medicines as global public goods, see Patrick Bond, “Multilateralism at a Crossroads: Vaccine Apartheid, Climate Wars, Geopolitical Turmoil,” in Capital and Politics, 64–89.
  62. Kolya Abramsky, “Sparking an Energy Revolution: Building New Relations of Production, Exchange and Livelihood,” in Sparking a Worldwide Energy Revolution: Social Struggles in the Transition to a Post-Petrol World, ed. Kolya Abramsky (Oakland, California: AK Press, 2010), 609–28.
  63. Ariel Salleh, “From Metabolic Rift to ‘Metabolic Value’: Reflections on Environmental Sociology and the Alternative Globalization Movement,” Organization & Environment 23, no. 2 (June 2010): 205–19.
2023, Volume 75, Number 03 (July-August 2023)
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