Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective
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Though infrequently viewed as an environmental thinker, Karl Marx insisted that production as a social and material process is shaped and constrained by both historically developed relations among producers and natural conditions. Paul Burkett shows that it is Marx's overriding concern with human emancipation that impels him to approach nature from the standpoint of materialist history, sociology, and critical political economy.
Paul Burkett, PhD , who earned his doctorate in economics from Syracuse University, is a professor of economics at Indiana State University, Terre Haute. His publications include Marxism and Ecological Economics and many articles in scholarly journals.
John Bellamy Foster is a professor of sociology at the University of Oregon and also editor of Monthly Review.
social relations structuring the productive nexus of labor and nature.12 This approach does not discount the environmental impacts of production. Quite the contrary: only by recognizing how a particular social form of production uncouples its necessary conditions of production from the extra-human evolution of nature can one investigate the material sustainability of this form. Consider the alternative assumption that nature can be identified with the natural conditions of a particular system of
which satisfies and brings forth a new need. . . . Hence exploration of all of nature in order to discover new, useful qualities in things; universal exchange of the products of all alien climates and lands; new (artificial) preparation of natural objects, by which they are given new use values. The exploration of the earth in all directions, to discover new things of use as well as new useful qualities of the old; such as new qualities of them as raw materials etc.; . . . This creation of new
particular natural conditions (see Chapter 5). Solow essentially defines the environmental problem as one of keeping the GNP numbers on the rise—much as the goal of monetary capital accumulation recognizes no quantitative limits. In sweeping the biospheric limits of capitalist production under the rug of rising productivity of particular natural resources, Solow’s argument ignores two problems. First, it is not obvious that rising natural resource prices even reduce the rate of exhaustion or
the subsequent resulting depreciation of raw materials obtained from organic nature” (121). This provides an incentive for capitalists to form cartels to stabilize materials prices, either at high levels (cartels of materials producers) or low levels (cartels of materials purchasers). Marx argues that such cartels are unlikely to achieve any longterm stabilization of materials prices: During the period in which raw materials become dear, industrial capitalists join hands and form associations to
disturbances to the natural circulation of matter and the tendency to overstretch (human and extrahuman) natural limits, which inevitably result from the conversion of labor and nature into conditions of competitive monetary accumulation (see Chapters 7, 9, and 10). Marx’s critical comments on capital’s mode of consumption—especially on its artificial creation of needs so that its “mass product” can be “absorbed into commerce” (1977, 953)—certainly bear additional insights into capitalism’s