Thursday, December 26, 2019

Marx and Engels - Eco-Activists

Marx and Engels were environmentalists. It is not a matter of cherry-picking a few isolated quotations. The unity of humanity and nature is at the essence of their world-view, from their earliest works to their last writings.

 For Marx and Engels, people and nature are not “two separate ‘things'” Marx goes so far as to define communism as “the unity of being of man with nature” Engels envisions the future society as one in which people will “not only feel but also know their oneness with nature” The rape of nature in the U.S.S.R. and other command-economy “socialist” societies in no way reflect the ideas of Marx or Engels.

Some have suggested that Marx’s vision of communist wealth is anti-ecological because it features continued absolute growth of material production. Marx and Engels do, in fact, make many references to ongoing and even accelerated growth in the production of use values in the future association. However, before rushing to the conclusion that Marx’s communism violates the ecological wealth criterion, two things should be noted about these growth projections. First, they are always made in close connection with Marx’s vision of free and well-rounded human development, not with growth of material production and consumption for their own sake. Second, and of co-equal importance, they always refer to growth of wealth in a general sense not limited to the kinds of wealth involving industrial appropriation and processing of natural conditions.

Marx sets the “to each according to his needs” criterion in a broad human-developmental context, referring to a situation after the enslaving sub-ordination of individuals under division of labour, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labour, has vanished; after labour, from a mere means of life, has itself become the prime necessity of life; after the productive forces have also increased with the allround development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly.

Whether the above projection is anti-ecological depends on the nature of co-operative wealth-especially the amount of material and energy throughput and the disruption of ecological interconnections that it entails. Communism’s abundance of wealth and its all-round human development are ecologically sound insofar as they encompass nature’s aesthetic and material use values in the context of a shared social responsibility to maintain and improve the quality of land and other natural conditions. The same goes for Engels’ projection, in AntiDühring, of a “more rapidly progressing development of the productive forces, and therewith of a practically limitless growth of production itself” . The ecological connotations of this development and growth clearly hinge on the meaning of “practical” in this context-one closely connected, in Engels’ view, with the communist priority “of securing for every member of society, through social production, an existence which is not only fully sufficient from a material standpoint… but also guarantees to them the completely unrestricted development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties” . Engels’ projection is thus ecologically sound insofar as his conception of “unrestricted” individual development itself involves a healthy and sustainable interaction with the natural and social environment.

In Volume III of Capital. Hence, when Marx indicates that the associated producers will “constantly expand reproduction to the extent dictated by social needs,” the ecological connotations of such expanded reproduction clearly hinge on the nature of the needs to be satisfied (1967, III, p. 876). For Marx, communism’s “progressive expansion of the process of reproduction” encompasses the entire “living process of the society of producers” (pp. 819, 250; emphasis in original). And as discussed earlier, Marx specifies the “material and intellectual advantages” of this “social development” in terms of the less restricted development of people as natural and social beings, both at work and in free time (p. 819). Hence, when Marx and Engels envision communism as “an organisation of production and intercourse which will make possible the normal satisfaction of needs, i.e., a satisfaction which is limited only by the needs themselves,” they do not mean a complete satiation of limitlessly expanding needs of all kinds, including the type of anti-ecological mass consumption characteristic of capitalism (1976, p. 273). They mean a satisfaction of the needs associated with a less restricted, all-round development of producers and communities. Although communism entails a freer development and satisfaction of some needs, it also involves important changes in the way needs are satisfied and even outright reductions in certain needs generated by capitalism’s class-exploitative relations:
Communist organisation has a twofold effect on the desires produced in the individual by present-day relations; some of these desires-namely desires which exist under all relations, and only change their form and direction under different social relations- are merely altered by the communist social system, for they are given the opportunity to develop normally; but others-namely those originating solely in a particular society, under particular conditions of production and intercourse-are totally deprived of their conditions of existence. Which will be merely changed and which eliminated in a communist society can only be determined in a practical way.
Marx’s vision of communism adheres to seven specific criteria for ecological soundness of economic systems:
(1) the explicit recognition of society’s managerial responsibility toward nature and its human appropriation;
(2)  systemic increases in ecological knowledge and its social diffusion among producers and communities;
(3)  ecological risk aversion based on a recognition of the limits to both human knowledge of and control over natural processes;
(4)  social cooperation to effectively regulate human ecological impacts from the global level on down;
(5) respect for and encouragement of variety and diversity in human ways of life;
(6)  an ecological ethics involving a shared sense of membership in a human community enmeshed with natural conditions; and
(7)  new, proecological definitions of wealth explicitly recognizing the contribution of extra-human nature to human production and the limited character of natural conditions of any given quality.

Marx clearly envisions post-capitalist society as recognizing its responsibility to manage its use of natural conditions. This responsibility manifests itself in the eclipse of capitalist notions of land ownership by communal user rights.

From the standpoint of a higher economic form of society, private ownership of the globe by single individuals will appear quite as absurd as private ownership of one man by another. Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its usufructuaries, and, like boni patres familias, they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition.

Marx’s conception of communal property does not see this property as conferring a right to overexploit land and other natural conditions in order to serve the production and consumption needs of the associated producers. Instead, the association treats “the soil” and other natural conditions “as eternal communal property, an inalienable condition for the existence and reproduction of a chain of successive generations of the human race”

Communism’s acceptance of humanity’s managerial responsibility toward nature is reflected in its “abolition of the contradiction between town and country,” with its disruptive circulation of matter, as “one of the first conditions of communal life”

As Engels puts it;
The present poisoning of the air, water and land can only be put an end to by the fusion of town and country… Only a society which makes possible the harmonious co-operation of its productive forces on the basis of one single vast plan can allow industry to settle in whatever form of distribution over the whole country is best adapted to its own development and the maintenance of development of the other elements of production.

Marx and Engels do envision a great expansion and broader social application of natural scientific knowledge under communism. But they see this knowledge as enhancing “real human freedom,” not through a one-sided human domination of nature but rather through “an existence in harmony with the established laws of nature”

Marx’s projection of communal property in the means of production arguably embodies the kinds of cooperative principles needed for an ecologically sound management of production. Associated production is production planned and carried out by the producers and communities themselves, without the class-based intermediaries of wage-labor, market, and state. Marx thus projects a system of “cooperative labor… developed to national dimensions”-and he insists that this “system starts with the self-government of the communities”  Marx and Engels insist on the extension of this communal oversight to land and other “sources of life”  The “Association, applied to land” not only “brings to realization the original tendency inherent in land division, namely, equality” but “also reestablishes, now on a rational basis, no longer mediated by serfdom, overlordship and the silly mysticism of property, the intimate ties of man with the earth, since the earth ceases to be an object of huckstering”

Marx envisions communist production not just as a cooperative planning project but, more important, as a condition and result of free human development or “the all-round realisation of the individual” - “the development of the richness of human nature as an end in itself

Marx’s projection of the associated producers’ shared sense of responsibility toward the land, based on a new system of communal property rights and the planned allocation of social labor enmeshed with natural conditions, has already been noted. Marx sees this communal responsibility as being reinforced by a broad diffusion of scientific knowledge and a correspondingly heightened consciousness of the land as a source of the “permanent necessities of life required by the chain of successive generations”

The communal setting envisioned by Marx is arguably far superior to capitalist private property and markets. Marx’s communism, which rejects both authoritarian state controls and market prices and profits as resource-allocation devices, potentially provides a framework within which alternative ecological values can be openly and fairly articulated, juxtaposed, and reconciled or chosen from.

Marx and Engels never project labor cost as the sole guide for resource-allocation decisions under communism. Whether environmental goals are included under social costs or social benefits is less important than the overriding priority of use value in Marx’s projection. Many anti-ecological use values could be eliminated or greatly reduced under a planned system of labor allocation and land-use, among them the excessive processing and packaging of food and other goods, advertising, the automobile/real estate/petroleum complex, and the planned obsolescence of products. All these destructive use values are “indispensable” for capitalism; from the standpoint of an ecologically sound system, however, they represent “the most outrageous squandering of labour-power and of the social means of production”

Marx and Engels do not envision communism as prioritizing minimum labor cost over all ecological and other social goals. Not only is economy of labor time treated as a means to the higher end of use value, including expanded free time, but there is also strong evidence that the founders of Marxism would gladly accept increases in necessary labor time in return for a more ecologically sound production.

Abridged and adapted from here

Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centers and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries. When the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests on the southern slopes, so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, making possible for them to pour still more furious torrents on the plains during the rainy season...Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside of nature—but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage of all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly...
“...As individual capitalists are engaged in production and exchange for the sake of the immediate profit, only the nearest, most immediate results must first be taken into account. As long as the individual manufacturer or merchant sells a manufactured or purchased commodity with the usual coveted profit, he is satisfied and does not concern himself with what afterwards becomes of the commodity and its purchasers. The same thing applies to the natural effects of the same actions. What cared the Spanish planters in Cuba, who burned down forests on the slopes of the mountains and obtained from the ashes sufficient fertilizer for one generation of very highly profitable coffee trees—what cared they that the heavy tropical rainfall afterwards washed away the unprotected upper stratum of the soil, leaving behind only bare rock! In relation to nature, as to society, the present mode of production is predominantly concerned only about the immediate, the most tangible result.

Engels - The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man 

Capitalism exploits the land and the people in the interests of acquiring profit and accumulating capital.

Marx in volume 1 of Capital writes
"Capitalist production...disturbs the metabolic interaction between man and the earth, i.e. prevents the return to the soil of its constituent elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing; it therefore violates the conditions necessary to lasting fertility of the soil.. .The social combination and organization of the labor processes is turned into an organized mode of crushing out the workman’s individual vitality, freedom and independence.…Moreover, all progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time is a progress towards ruining the more long-lasting sources of that fertility. The more a country starts its development on the foundation of modern industry, like the United States, for example, the more rapid is this process of destruction. Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology.. .only by sapping the original sources of all wealth—the soil and the worker.

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