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Planet on Fire

Imperialism in the Anthropocene

Today there can be no doubt about the main force behind our ongoing planetary emergency: the exponential growth of the capitalist world economy, particularly in the decades since the mid–twentieth century. The mere critique of capitalism as an abstract economic system, however, is insufficient in addressing today’s environmental problems. Rather, it is necessary also to examine the structure of accumulation on a world scale, coupled with the division of the world into competing nation-states. Our planetary problems cannot realistically be addressed without tackling the imperialist world system, or globalized capitalism, organized on the basis of classes and nation-states, and divided into center and periphery. Today, this necessarily raises the question of imperialism in the Anthropocene. | more…

The Robbery of Nature: Capitalism and the Ecological Rift

Forthcoming in February 2020

In the nineteenth century, Karl Marx, inspired by the German chemist Justus von Liebig, argued that capitalism’s relation to its natural environment was that of a robbery system, leading to an irreparable rift in the metabolism between humanity and nature. In the twenty-first century, these classical insights into capitalism’s degradation of the earth have become the basis of extraordinary advances in critical theory and practice associated with contemporary ecosocialism. In The Robbery of Nature, John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark, working within this historical tradition, examine capitalism’s plundering of nature via commodity production, and how it has led to the current anthropogenic rift in the Earth System. | more…

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

Marx and Alienated Speciesism

In many animal-rights circles, Karl Marx and a long tradition of Marxian theorists are to be faulted for their speciesist treatment of nonhuman animals and the human-nonhuman animal relationship. These criticisms typically neglect 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. In response, this article assesses the historical-intellectual background behind Marx’s arguments on humans and animals, placing it in the context of the influence exercised on his thought by Epicurus, Hermann Samuel Reimarus, Ludwig Feuerbach, Charles Darwin, and others. In the process, they explain how Marx’s view of animals in the world came to be integrated with his theory of metabolic rift and his critique of capitalism. | more…

A 19th-century illustration depicts a scene off the coast of Peru, where bird poop, or guano, was harvested

The Robbery of Nature

Capitalism and the Metabolic Rift

Marx’s notion of “the robbery of the soil” is intrinsically connected to the rift in the metabolism between human beings and the earth. To get at the complexities of his metabolic rift theory, it is useful to look separately at the issues of the robbery and the rift, seen as separate moments in a single development. | more…

Nutrient pollution caused by Surface runoff of soil and fertilizer during a rain storm (1999)

Land–Sea Ecological Rifts

A Metabolic Analysis of Nutrient Loading

Increasing rates of nitrogen and phosphorus application have caused severe damage to aquatic systems, as rivers, streams, lakes, bays, and ocean systems have been inundated with nutrient runoff. Only by addressing the metabolic rupture in the soil nutrient cycle and the contradictions of capital can we begin to mend these land–sea rifts. | more…

The Ten Hours Act of 1847 - Child Labor in England During the Industrial Revolution

Women, Nature, and Capital in the Industrial Revolution

Examining the historical specificity of women’s lives and labor in England during the Industrial Revolution allows us to better analyze the assumptions regarding gender, family, and work that informed the writings of Marx and Engels—and ultimately to understand how capital as a system threatens the social and ecological bases of human life. | more…

Marxism and the Dialectics of Ecology

The recovery of the ecological-materialist foundations of Karl Marx’s thought, as embodied in his theory of metabolic rift, is redefining both Marxism and ecology in our time, reintegrating the critique of capital with critical natural science. This may seem astonishing to those who were reared on the view that Marx’s ideas were simply a synthesis of German idealism, French utopian socialism, and British political economy.… The rediscovery of Marx’s metabolism and ecological value-form theories, and of their role in the analysis of ecological crises, has generated sharply discordant trends. Despite their importance in the development of both Marxism and ecology, neither idea is without its critics. One manifestation of the divergence on the left in this respect has been an attempt to appropriate aspects of Marx’s social-metabolism analysis in order to promote a crude social “monist” view based on such notions as the social “production of nature” and capitalism’s “singular metabolism.” Such perspectives, though influenced by Marxism, rely on idealist, postmodernist, and hyper-social-constructivist conceptions, which go against any meaningful historical-materialist ecology and tend to downplay (or to dismiss as apocalyptic or catastrophist) all ecological crises—insofar as they are not reducible to the narrow law of value of the system. | more…

Digital Disconnect

The Internet and Monopoly Capitalism

Robert W. McChesney, Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning the Internet against Democracy (New York: New Press, 2013), 299 pages, $27.95, hardcover.

Without question, the Internet has had a profound influence on the world. As with most technologies, debates rage over whether this development has been positive or negative. Celebrants proclaim with utopian fervor that a new age of democracy has arrived, allowing for decentralized communication, challenges to corporate control, and mass public participation in the most important decisions confronting humanity. Skeptics point to the ways the Internet has spread ignorance and misinformation instead of knowledge, undermined the ability of artists to earn a living, and exacerbated isolation, unhappiness, and alienation. While these arguments illuminate the potential benefits and drawbacks of the Internet, they tend to ignore or disregard the larger political economy within which the Internet exists. In Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning the Internet against Democracy, Robert W. McChesney transcends these one-sided engagements, offering a nuanced analysis of the development of the Internet within the context of monopoly capitalism, revealing both the limitations of this technology in its current state and its massive potential. | more…

Marx’s Ecology and the Left

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