Youth School 2005


Marxism and the 'ecological question'


Alain 27/08/05



1. The appointment we missed


- The 'ecological question': a totality of objective facts concerning ecology as a science and a series of subjective phenomena on the level of society (consciousness of limits, quality, respect for living beings)

- Marxists have missed an appointment on two levels: knowledge of the facts, integration of ecological consciousness

- The field is left open to the Greens. Consequences.


2. Marxism as perceived by the Greens, or the six environmental sins of historical materialism


- The 'glorification of work': a gross misunderstanding

- To Have and to Be: What 'abundance', what 'needs'? Overproduction and over-consumption

- the 'liberation of the forces of production': was Marx a productivist? The concept of 'forces'. The concept of 'development'. Quantity and quality. Necessity and freedom.

- 'Domination' and 'control' of Nature. Nature as 'a useful thing for Man'. The concept of 'social metabolism' humanity-nature. No 'epistemological break'

- 'Unlimited' development of the forces of production? Three remarks on the question of limits:

   * materialist conception of the world and limits;

   * beyond the particular examples of land and forests, key role of the concept of limit in the theory of rent;

   * absolute limits, relative limits.

- Marx, Engels and 'faith in progress': the 'grand civilising action' of capital. Dialectic of progress. Progress and technology. The example of Darwin.

- Intermediate conclusion: 'Marx's ecology'(J.B. FOSTER). The only two sources of all wealth. Large-scale industry and large-scale industrial agriculture.


3. Marxists confronted by Marx's ecology: an exaggeratedly negative balance sheet, a potential that is under-utilised

- Deforestation, manure, urban pollution; the specific contributions of Marx and Engels are underestimated

- Scientific pertinence and actuality of the concept of 'social metabolism'

- Strong programmatic conclusions:

   * ownership of land/ownership of resources;

   * abolition of the separation between town and country

- 'Exploitation of the Earth' and 'exploitation of human beings': more than a parallel, a fundamental identity. The force of human labour as a natural resource.


4. The appointment that was missed: why? Some hypotheses with comments

- 'Marx the green angel', 'Marx the productivist demon'(BENSAÏD)? Asking the right question

-  Stalinism and social democracy do not hide the responsibility of revolutionary Marxists

-  J.B. FOSTER: the rupture between Marxism and the natural sciences

-  T. BENTON: the deficiency of the Marxist concept of labour

-   J.O'CONNOR: the thesis of the 'second contradiction'

-   Some other themes to think about:

     * the 'coming revolution' and the strategic priorities;

      * the dialectic of the formation of proletarian class consciousness. The weight of trade unionism;

      * the conditionings of the energy system;

      * the spectre of green austerity;

      * the traps of totality.


5. 'Ecologise' our Marxism

- 'Marxise ecology'or 'ecologise Marxism'?

-  We have only missed an appointment! The failure of the Greens. The dead-end of lobbying.

-   Build a strategy around our strong points:

      * The 'ecological crisis' is a crisis of society. The law of value, durability and the principle of caution. Crisis of accumulation and generalised crisis of bourgeois relations of production (MANDEL). Need for a global alternative: satisfaction of democratically determined needs.

      * The solution of this crisis does not lie in the valorisation of resources (interiorisation of costs) but on the contrary in the 'de-commodification'of them. Land, water, energy, biodiversity/genetic resources, human genome.

      * The mainspring of the capitalist destruction of the environment is inherent in the very mechanism of production. Struggle against the pillage of resources and struggle against the exploitation/exhaustion of the labour force are inseparable and mutually condition each other.

      * In the last resort every economy comes down to an economy of time. Reduction in working hours and respect for ecological time. Ecology of work, health and security. Ecological responsibility of the workers' movement. New themes for workers' control, 'school of self-management '.


Some challenges to be taken up:


      * Develop our scientific knowledge. Biology, chemistry, physics, medicine. Establish links with scientists.

      * In particular, develop our mastery of the energy question. Energy and development. Energy and social, spatial organisation. Energy and capitalist waste ( military spending, transport, advertising, etc.).

      * Develop our knowledge of the policies that are implemented (Kyoto, Montréal, CITES, Earth Summit, etc.) and integrate it into our criticism of bourgeois policies, of inter-imperialist rivalry, North-South relations, etc. 

      * Develop precise political lines and demands on concrete questions. Intervene politically/practically around campaigns. Establish links with specific associations and movements.

      *  Be alert and attentive to the development of capital in the key sectors from the point of view of the exploitation of nature: forestry, mines, agriculture, genetic patrimony (and not only its development in the sectors that are key from the point of view of the exploitation of labour). Establish the link with other questions (for example, the rights of indigenous peoples).

      *   Organise a division of labour within our organisations to take up these challenges.

- Proposition: form a network on the level of the F.I. Contribute to proposing a 'transitional programme towards a sustainable society' to intervene in the central question: energy, climatic change and development.