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Marxist Ecology

Terrace field in Yunnan China

Ecology and Revolution

A Letter to Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, July 31, 1974

This article will be made available online on February 28th.

In the early 1970s, MR editors Harry Magdoff and Paul Sweezy increasingly introduced ecological themes into the magazine, and began to question the viability of unlimited, exponential economic growth in a limited biosphere. Sweezy, in particular, was deeply interested in ecological problems, a topic he began to write on in this period, in essays such as “Cars and Cities”…, and to which he returned on various occasions until the end of his life.… [In this 1974 letter to the influential ecological economist, Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, Sweezy outlined] the revolutionary implications of ecology, and the break that these necessitated with pure “economism”—a rupture that only a truly revolutionary socialism could bring about.
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Creating an Ecological Society: Toward a Revolutionary Transformation

Creating an Ecological Society: Toward a Revolutionary Transformation

Forthcoming in May 2017

Sickened by the contamination of their water, their air, of the Earth itself, more and more people are coming to realize that it is capitalism that is, quite literally, killing them. It is now clearer than ever that capitalism is also degrading the Earth’s ability to support other forms of life. Capitalism’s imperative—to make profit at all costs and expand without end—is destabilizing Earth’s climate, while increasing human misery and inequality on a planetary scale. Already, hundreds of millions of people are facing poverty in the midst of untold wealth, perpetual war, growing racism, and gender oppression. The need to organize for social and environmental reforms has never been greater. But crucial as reforms are, they cannot solve our intertwined ecological and social crises. Creating an Ecological Society reveals an overwhelmingly simple truth: Fighting for reforms is vital, but revolution is essential.… | more…

A Redder Shade of Green : Intersections of Science and Socialism

A Redder Shade of Green: Intersections of Science and Socialism

Forthcoming in June 2017

As the Anthropocene advances, people across the red-green political spectrum seek to understand and halt our deepening ecological crisis. Environmentalists, scientists, and ecosocialists share concerns about the misuse and overuse of natural resources, but often differ on explanations and solutions. Some blame environmental disasters on overpopulation. Others wonder if Darwin’s evolutionary theories disprove Marx’s revolutionary views, or if capitalist history contradicts Anthropocene science. Some ask if all this worry about climate change and the ecosystem might lead to a “catastrophism” that weakens efforts to heal the planet.… | more…

Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism: Capital, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy

Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism: Capital, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy

Forthcoming in August 2017

Karl Marx, author of what is perhaps the world’s most resounding and significant critique of bourgeois political economy, has frequently been described as a “Promethean.” According to critics, Marx held an inherent belief in the necessity of humans to dominate the natural world, in order to end material want and create a new world of fulfillment and abundance—a world where nature is mastered, not by anarchic capitalism, but by a planned socialist economy. Understandably, this perspective has come under sharp attack, not only from mainstream environmentalists but also from ecosocialists, many of whom reject Marx outright.… | more…


Marx as a Food Theorist

Food has become a core contradiction of contemporary capitalism. Discussions of the economics and sociology of food and food regimes seem to be everywhere today, with some of the most important contributions made by Marxian theorists. Amid plentiful food production, hunger remains a chronic problem, and food security is now a pressing concern for many of the world’s people.… Despite the severity of these problems and their integral relation to the capitalist commodity system, it is generally believed that Karl Marx himself contributed little to our understanding of food…. [Yet] food for Marx was far more than a “passing interest”: in his work one finds analyses of the development of agriculture in different modes of production; climate and food cultivation; the chemistry of the soil; industrial agriculture; livestock conditions; new technologies in food production and preparation; toxic additives in food products; food security; and much more. Moreover, these issues are not peripheral, but organically connected to Marx’s larger critique of capitalism.… | more…

Marx and the Earth: An Anti-Critique

Why Ecosocialism Needs Marx

In his recent foreword to the second edition of Paul Burkett’s Marx and Nature, John Bellamy Foster reflected on a significant change in left attitudes toward Marx’s ecology: “Today Marx’s understanding of the ecological problem is being studied in universities worldwide and is inspiring ecological actions around the globe.” This worldwide recognition of Marx’s ecological critique of capitalism without doubt owes much to Burkett’s Marx and Nature (1999) and Foster’s Marx’s Ecology (2000). Yet the new interest in ecological Marxism did not originate solely with these books. Rather, as their new co-authored book Marx and the Earth documents, over the last fifteen years Burkett and Foster have meticulously refuted the many criticisms of Marx from so-called “first-stage ecosocialists”…. It should be noted that, whatever their disagreements with Marx, the first-stage ecosocialists were also deeply critical of capitalism. So why are Foster and Burkett arguing with their potential comrades? Furthermore, some of the issues taken up in Marx and the Earth might appear abstruse at first glance—why bother debating them at such length?… [A] patient reader will soon recognize the book’s importance and the significance of the issues at stake.… | 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…

Marx at the Margins

Learning from Late Marx

Kevin B. Anderson, Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity and Non-Western Societies, expanded edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016), 344 pages, $25, paperback.

Recent years have seen the development of a fresh area of research into Marx’s critique of political economy, based on his previously unpublished economic manuscripts and notebooks, which have been made newly available in the updated edition of the complete works of Marx and Engels, the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA). Lucia Pradella published the first detailed analysis in English of Marx’s London Notebooks, and Brill’s Historical Materialism book series recently celebrated its hundredth volume with a translation of Marx’s original manuscript for volume 3 of Capital, based on the new MEGA edition. The same series also published Heather Brown’s Marx on Gender, which drew extensively on his late notebooks. And earlier this year, the second, expanded edition of Kevin Anderson’s Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity and Non-Western Societies appeared. The first edition of Anderson’s book, published in 2010, inaugurated this new trend in Marxist studies, and it remains among the most important achievements in the field.… | 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…


“Nature,” wrote Raymond Williams in Keywords, “is perhaps the most complex word in the language.” It is derived from the Latin natura, as exemplified by Lucretius’s great didactic poem De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) from the first century BCE. The word “nature” has three primary, interrelated meanings: (1) the intrinsic properties or essence of things or processes; (2) an inherent force that directs or determines the world; and (3) the material world or universe, the object of our sense perceptions—both in its entirety and variously understood as including or excluding God, spirit, mind, human beings, society, history, culture, etc.… | more…

Marx’s Ecological Notebooks

Karl Marx has long been criticized for his so-called ecological “Prometheanism”—an extreme commitment to industrialism, irrespective of natural limits. This view, supported even by a number of Marxists, such as Ted Benton and Michael Löwy, has become increasingly hard to accept after a series of careful and stimulating analyses of the ecological dimensions of Marx’s thought, elaborated in Monthly Review and elsewhere. The Prometheanism debate is not a mere philological issue, but a highly practical one, as capitalism faces environmental crises on a global scale, without any concrete solutions. Any such solutions will likely come from the various ecological movements emerging worldwide, some of which explicitly question the capitalist mode of production. Now more than ever, therefore, the rediscovery of a Marxian ecology is of great importance to the development of new forms of left strategy and struggle against global capitalism.… Yet there is hardly unambiguous agreement among leftists about the extent to which Marx’s critique can provide a theoretical basis for these new ecological struggles.… This article… [takes] a different approach… [investigating] Marx’s natural-scientific notebooks, especially those of 1868, which will be published for the first time in volume four, section eighteen of the new Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe(MEGA).… | more…

Marxism and Ecology

Common Fonts of a Great Transition

To link Marxism and ecological transition may seem at first like trying to bridge two entirely different movements and discourses, each with its own history and logic: one having mainly to do with class relations, the other with the relation between humans and the environment. However, historically socialism has influenced the development of ecological thought and practice, while ecology has informed socialist thought and practice. Since the nineteenth century, the relationship between the two has been complex, interdependent, and dialectical.… This essay unearths the deep ecological roots of Marx’s thought, showing how he brought an environmental perspective to bear on the overarching question of social transformation. From there it traces the evolution of Marxian ecology, illuminating its profound, formative link to modern ecological economics and systems ecology. It concludes with the wider project of building the broad and deep social movement required to halt and reverse ecological and social destruction.… | more…