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Capitalism’s Environmental Crisis—Is Technology the Answer?

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

Marx’s Ecological Value Analysis

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

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

Marx and Internationalism

It is not uncommon within social science today to acknowledge that Karl Marx was one of the first analysts of globalization. But what is usually forgotten, even by those who make this acknowledgment, is that Marx was also one of the first strategists of working-class internationalism, designed to respond to capitalist globalization. The two major elements governing such internationalism, in his analysis, were the critique of international exploitation and the development of a working-class movement that was both national and international in its organization. A scrutiny of Marx’s views at the time of the First International offers useful insights into the struggle to forge a new internationalism in our own day. | more…

Monopoly Capital at the Turn of the Millennium

Economic analysts, as everyone knows, have widely differing views on the way the economy works. The single most important division lies between right and left—a division that has its roots in class. But even among those on the left there are areas of sharp disagreement. One of these is over the centrality of the Keynesian revolution to the development of economics. Did the revolution in economic thought, associated with thinkers such as Keynes and Kalecki, teach things that Marxist political economists should view as essential? Another disagreement is over the role of monopoly and competition. How central is the concentration and centralization of capital to our understanding of the workings of capitalism today—a full century after Marxists and other radicals first raised the question of monopoly capitalism? Whatever one’s abstract theory is—and all theories by definition rely on a degree of abstraction—its usefulness lies in its capacity to make sense of everyday reality, while providing the strategic analysis necessary for practical revolutionary solutions. | more…

Is Overcompetition the Problem?

Robert Brenner, The Economics of Global Turbulence: A Special Report on the World Economy, 1950-98 (Special issue of New Left Review, no. 229, May/June 1998), 262 pp.

It is tempting perhaps to attribute all the problems of capitalism to excessive competition. After all, capitalism is generally presented within contemporary ideology as a system which is nothing more than a set of competitive relations governed by the market. Is it not possible then that the economic contradictions of capitalism, and indeed the present world crisis, can be explained in terms of the globalization of competition which now knows no bounds, and is undermining all fixed positions, resulting in a kind of free fall? This seems to be the view of the distinguished Marxist historian and social theorist Robert Brenner in his ambitious attempt to account for the present global economic turbulence  | more…

Imperialism Without Colonies

Imperialism Without Colonies

In the decades after 1945, as colonial possessions became independent states, it was widely-believed that imperialism as a historical phenomenon was coming to an end. The six essays collected in this volume demonstrate that a new form of imperialism was, in fact, taking shape—an imperialism defined not by colonial rule but by the global capitalist market. From the outset, the dominant power in this imperialism without colonies was the United States. | more…

Malthus’ Essay on Population at Age 200

A Marxian View

Since it was first published 200 years ago in 1798, no other single work has constituted such a bastion of bourgeois thought as Thomas Malthus’ Essay on the Principle of Population. No other work was more hated by the English working class, nor so strongly criticized by Marx and Engels. Although the Malthusian principle of population in its classical form was largely vanquished intellectually by the mid-nineteenth century, it continued to reemerge in new forms. In the late nineteenth century it took on new life as a result of the Darwinian revolution and the rise of social Darwinism. And in the late twentieth century Malthusianism reemerged once again in the form of neo-Malthusian ecology. | more…

Science in a Skeptical Age

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

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

The Scale of Our Ecological Crisis

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