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Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature


Progress requires the conquest of nature. Or does it? This new account overturns conventional interpretations of Marx and in the process outlines a more rational approach to the current environmental crisis.

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

Marx’s Ecology covers many other thinkers, including Epicurus, Charles Darwin, Thomas Malthus, Ludwig Feuerbach, P. J. Proudhon, and William Paley.

By reconstructing a materialist conception of nature and society, Marx’s Ecology challenges the spiritualism prevalent in the modern Green movement, pointing toward a method that offers more lasting and sustainable solutions to the ecological crisis.

In the best tradition of Marxist scholarship, John Bellamy Foster uses the history of ideas not as a courtesy to the past but as an integral part of current issues. He demonstrates the centrality of ecology for a materialist conception of history, and of historical materialism for an ecological movement.

—RICHARD LEVINS, Harvard University

Marx’s Ecology is a bold,exciting interpretation of the historical background and context of Marx’s ecological thought and a fascinating exploration of environmental history. Should be of interest to all who care about the fate of our `vulnerable planet.’

—CAROLYN MERCHANT, University of California, Berkeley

When I first saw John Bellamy Foster’s new book I thought, `Oh no, not another great, thick, fat book on Marx!’ But as soon as I started to read, I found it hard to put down. It has given me a new understanding of the totality of Marx’s materialism and his development of the dialectic of human society and nature.

—R.C. LEWONTIN, Harvard University

In Marx’s Ecology, John Bellamy Foster brilliantly expands our understanding of Marx’s thought, proving that Marx understood alienation to encompass human estrangement from the natural world. Foster criticizes the current version of environmentalism that equates Marxism and modernity with the degradation of nature and points towards a sophisticated and less nostalgic environmentalism which sees capitalism, not modernity, as the essential problem to be addressed.

—BARBARA EPSTEIN, University of California, Santa Cruz

Highly sophisticated, stated in lavish detail that historians of thought will find to be vital to their trade. Yet those of us who are not historians of thought will still find Foster’s basic theses about Darwin and Marx and ecology to be fascinating and clearly stated. This is an important book.

—HOWARD J. SHERMAN, Journal of Economic Issues

Marx’s Ecology is a compelling, thought-provoking read that effectively and authoritatively pries open a space in the rather over-published realm of Marxist theory for a debate concerning the relationship between materialism and ecology. It should offer a catalyst to a serious reconsideration of the common assumption that Marx’s work has little to offer ecological discourse, beyond novel and sporadic secondary observations of the environmental effects of capitalist development.







The Crisis of Socio-Ecology

1. The Materialist Conception of Nature

  • Materialism and the Very Early Marx
  • Epicurus and the Revolution of Science and Reason

2. The Really Earthly Question

  • Feuerbach
  • The Alienation of Nature and Humanity
  • Association versus Political Economy

3. Parson Naturalists

  • Natural Theology
  • Natural Theology and Political Economy
  • The First Essay
  • The Second Essay
  • Thomas Chalmers and the Bridgewater Treatises

4. The Materialist Conception of History

  • The Critique of Malthus and the Origins of Historical Materialism
  • The New Materialism
  • Historical Geology and Historical Geography
  • Critique of the True Socialists
  • The Mechanistic “Prometheanism” of Proudhon
  • The View of the Communist Manifesto

5. The Metabolism of Nature and Society

  • Overpopulation and the Conditions of Reproduction of Human Beings
  • James Anderson and the Origins of Differential Fertility
  • Liebig, Marx, and the Second Agricultural Revolution

6. The Basis in Natural History for Our View

  • The Origin of Species
  • Darwin, Huxley, and the Defeat of Teleology
  • Marx and Engels: Labor and Human Evolution
  • The Plight of the Materialists
  • The Revolution in Ethnological Time: Morgan and Marx
  • A Young Darwinian and Karl Marx


  • Dialectical Naturalism
  • Marxism and Ecology after Engels
  • Caudwell’s Dialectics
  • The Dialectical Ecologist
  • The Principle of Conservation



John Bellamy Foster is associate professor of sociology at the University of Oregon. He is the author of The Vulnerable Planet and co-editor of Hungry for Profit (2000), Capitalism and the Information Age (1998), and In Defense of History (1996).

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SKU: mrp0122 Categories: , , Tag:

Publication Date: March 2000

Number of Pages: 200

Paperback ISBN: 9781583670125

eBook ISBN: 9781583673805