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Tag: nature

Crowned Plague

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by Phil Neel (Brooklyn Rail, Field Notes, July 2020)

(see also: Prelude to a Hot American Summer, Normality is Death)

The Saint of Crowns

In spring the winter weight of snow trickles off the stone steps of the basilica in small, shimmering rivulets, a microcosm of the many streams glittering through the foothills of the unyielding Dolomites, or maybe more a mirror of the intricate alpine network of alte vie and vie ferrate, narrow, high walking and climbing paths hewn into the mountains during the first world war when other routes were made impassable by mines. The winter rarely clears quickly through these foothills where Fèltre and its basilica lie, the town’s most famous rendition given by a few lines from an anonymous Roman author: “Feltria, condemned to the rigor of eternal snows / from me too, who henceforth will scarcely approach you, farewell!”1 The words are often attributed to Caesar himself, though of course this might be apocryphal. But the apocryphal is also somehow natural to this place: the basilica which contains the relics of Saint Corona, whose historical reality is itself an open question.2

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Value Isn’t Everything (2018)

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by John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett (Monthly Review) 2018

The rapid advances in Marxian ecology in the last two decades have given rise to extensive debates within the left, reflecting competing conceptions of theory and practice in an age of planetary ecological and social crisis. One key area of dispute is associated with the attempt by a growing number of radical environmental thinkers to deconstruct the labor theory of value in order to bring everything in existence within a single commodity logic, replicating in many ways the attempts of liberal environmentalists to promote the notion of “natural capital,” and to impute commodity prices to “ecosystem services.”1 For many in Green circles, Karl Marx and a long tradition of Marxian theorists are to be faulted for not directly incorporating the expenditure of physical work/energy by extra-human nature into the theory of value.

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Who Will Build The Ark? (Davis, 2010)

Noah's Ark

by Mike Davis (PDF)

New Left Review 61, January-February 2010

What follows is rather like the famous courtroom scene in Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai (1947). [1] In that noir allegory of proletarian virtue in the embrace of ruling-class decadence, Welles plays a leftwing sailor named Michael O’Hara who rolls in the hay with femme fatale Rita Hayworth, and then gets framed for murder. Her husband, Arthur Bannister, the most celebrated criminal lawyer in America, played by Everett Sloane, convinces O’Hara to appoint him as his defence, all the better to ensure his rival’s conviction and execution. At the turning point in the trial, decried by the prosecution as ‘yet another of the great Bannister’s famous tricks’, Bannister the attorney calls Bannister the aggrieved husband to the witness stand and interrogates himself in rapid schizoid volleys, to the mirth of the jury. In the spirit of Lady from Shanghai, this essay is organized as a debate with myself, a mental tournament between analytic despair and utopian possibility that is personally, and probably objectively, irresolvable.

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Ecology and the Critique of Modern Society (Marcuse, 1979)

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Ecology and the Critique of Modern Society, a talk delivered shortly before Herbert Marcuse’s death in 1979, published in Capitalism Nature Socialism, 3(3) 1992

Thank you for the warm welcome. I am glad to be able to address the wilderness class. Actually, I’m not sure what to say because I don’t see any more problems. As you know, President Carter has turned over some thirty-six million acres of wilderness land to commercial development. There isn’t much wilderness left to preserve. But we still will try, nonetheless.

What I propose to do is to discuss the destruction of nature in the context of the general destructiveness which characterizes our society. I will then trace the roots of this destructiveness in individuals themselves; that is, I will examine psychological destructiveness within individuals.

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History, Civilization, and Progress (Bookchin, 1994)

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History, Civilization, and Progress: Outline for a Criticism of Modern Relativism

by Murray Bookchin

Rarely have the concepts that literally define the best of Western culture–its notions of a meaningful History, a universal Civilization, and the possibility of Progress–been called so radically into question as they are today. In recent decades, both in the United States and abroad, the academy and a subculture of self-styled postmodernist intellectuals have nourished an entirely new ensemble of cultural conventions that stem from a corrosive social, political, and moral relativism. This ensemble encompasses a crude nominalism, pluralism, and skepticism, an extreme subjectivism, and even outright nihilism and antihumanism in various combinations and permutations, sometimes of a thoroughly misanthropic nature. This relativistic ensemble is pitted against coherent thought as such and against the “principle of hope” (to use Ernst Bloch’s expression) that marked radical theory of the recent past. Such notions percolate from so-called radical academics into the general public, where they take the form of personalism, amoralism, and “neoprimitivism.”

Too often in this prevailing “paradigm,” as it is often called, eclecticism replaces the search for historical meaning; a self-indulgent despair replaces hope; dystopia replaces the promise of a rational society; and in the more sophisticated forms of this ensemble a vaguely defined “intersubjectivity”–or in its cruder forms, a primitivistic mythopoesis–replaces all forms of reason, particularly dialectical reason. In fact, the very concept of reason itself has been challenged by a willful antirationalism. By stripping the great traditions of Western thought of their contours, nuances, and gradations, these relativistic “post-historicists,” “postmodernists,” and (to coin a new word) “post-humanists” of our day are, at best, condemning contemporary thought to a dark pessimism or, at worst, subverting it of all its meaning.

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On the ecology of capitalism

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by Antithesis (pdf)

The growth of production has been entirely verified until now as the realization of political economy: the growth of poverty, which has invaded and laid waste to the very fabric of life... In the society of the over-developed economy, everything has entered the sphere of economic goods, even spring water and the air of towns, that is to say, everything has become the economic ill, that “complete denial of man”…

Guy Debord, The sick planet

The process of the expansion of the capitalist mode of production on a world scale in the previous century was at the same time a process of transformation of the biosphere as a whole. This process resulted in the disturbance of the ecological balance of the planet, a balance which lasted for the past 10.000 years, which is known as the Holocene geological period. According to recent scientific studies the main aspects of this planetary ecological transformation are the following:[1]

  • Increase of the average temperature of the planet due to the increase of the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and of other greenhouse gases. This increase is caused both by the burning of fossil fuels for supplying energy to capitalist production and reproduction and by the emissions originating in the capitalist mode of agricultural production.[2]
  • Great loss of biodiversity mainly due to the conversion of forest ecosystems into zones of agricultural production or into parts of the urban fabric. It is predicted that within the 21st century up to 30% of all mammal, bird and amphibian species will be threatened with extinction.
  • Perturbation of the cycles of nitrogen and phosphorus which are transferred with increasing rates from the atmosphere to the oceans and the lake systems of the planet due to the use of huge quantities of fertilizers in capitalist agriculture. The pollution of oceans has even led to local anoxic events (e.g. in the Baltic sea) during which the oxygen levels in the sea were significantly reduced.
  • In addition to the phenomena described above, the depletion of atmospheric ozone and the level of ocean acidification have reached a critical point.

All these environmental changes are consequently manifested on a more local geographic scale in various ways: great increase in hurricane frequency, desertification of large areas in various parts of the world, deforestation, increase in the frequency of extreme weather phenomena such as floods and long droughts, emergence of new diseases transmitted in an unpredictable manner and so on. At the same time, the productivity of agriculture has been significantly slowed down due to soil exhaustion. Further, new biotechnological methods of cultivation based on genetically modified plants failed to reverse this slowdown due to the rise of the so-called superweeds. Between 1980 and 2008 the global production of wheat and maize had been reduced by 5.5% and 3.8% respectively compared to a counterfactual without climate trends.[3] These phenomena have negative effects on the living conditions of the global proletariat. The weaker and most poor parts of the proletariat are affected in a more extreme way by having to face even shortages in food and drinking water.

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Mediations Vol. 30, No 2: Post-Humanisms Reconsidered

POST-HUMANISMS RECONSIDERED

Volume 30, No 2 Summer 2017 / Contributors

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Human nature

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Out of the Woods

 A review of Jason W Moore’s book on world-ecology, Capitalism in the Web of Life.

Since its rise in the 1970s, mainstream environmentalism has been viewed by many as a “new social movement.” As with the liberal and radical civil rights, feminist, queer, and decolonial movements, environmentalists have been accused by many radicals of fracturing left unity and promoting “interest group” politics over those of class or revolution. Indeed, while mainstream environmentalism implicitly (if sometimes explicitly) included a critique of capitalist accumulation’s excesses and its degradation of nature, these were generally seen to be aspects of historic capitalism that could be patched over in order to make our lives in it livable. And so throughout the 1990s, many environmentalist groups courted the corporate world through green consulting and rhetorics of “sustainable capitalism.” But the use of symbolic tactics by many of these groups failed to make a substantial impact on public opinion or state action. They may have kept “the environment” alive as an issue in public debate, but neither determined its political content or catalyzed widespread political action, despite its adding to the proliferation of “green” consumerism. All the while, the accumulation they critiqued continued at an ever-faster clip.

Although not a book on political movements, the philosopher Jason W. Moore’s Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital seeks to analyze the root cause of this impasse for environmentalism: the widely-shared view that “the environment” is a separate and unique part of existence outside of capitalism that capitalism devalues. Instead of examining the degradation of nature as an aspect of accumulation, Moore proposes that nature is instead always in capital, and likewise, capitalism is always in historical natures. Nature conditions capitalist accumulation and is produced historically by capitalist relations. His argument allows us to see how dependent accumulation and the exploitation of labor are on the appropriation and reproduction of “cheap natures” (food, energy, raw materials, and labour-power — defined as “cheap” in the sense of “the periodic, and radical, reduction in the socially necessary labor-time of these Big Four inputs”). In Moore’s clearest formulation: “Capitalism is not an economic system; it is not a social system; it is a way of organizing nature.”

This latest book is Moore’s monumental attempt to follow the consequences of this view, and it deserves praise for its meticulous arguments, many of which we agree with wholeheartedly. But while we appreciate Moore’s synthetic world-ecology approach, he fails to explain why the nature/society split continues to obtain, and how it might be effectively dismantled. Answering these questions, we believe, is the key to unlocking an epochal crisis in capitalism. The crisis won’t come from nature alone; capitalism won’t end without us.

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Capitalism in the Web of Life: an Interview with Jason W. Moore

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viewpointmag

Partway through Capitalism in the Web of Life, Jason W. Moore provides the imperative for a complete theoretical reworking and synthesis of Marxist, environmental, and feminist thought by asserting: “I think many of us understand intuitively – even if our analytical frames lag behind – that capitalism is more than an “economic” system, and even more than a social system. Capitalism is a way of organizing nature.”

Kamil Ahsan spoke with Moore about his book Capitalism in the Web of Life (Verso), released last month, to grapple with his new challenges to old assumptions.

Kamil Ahsan: What was the impetus for Capitalism in the Web of Life?

Jason W. Moore: I wanted to come up with a framework that would allow us to understand the history of the last five centuries in a way that was adequate to the crisis we face today. For the past four decades, we’ve had a “Green Arithmetic” approach to crisis. When we’ve had an economic or social crisis or any other kind of crisis, they all go into one box. Then we have an ecological crises – water or energy or the climate – that go into another box.

So for roughly the past four decades, environmentalists and other radicals have been raising the alarm about these crises but never really figured out how to put them together. Environmental thinkers have been saying one thing and then doing another – they claimed that humans are a part of nature and that everything in the modern world is about our relationship with the biosphere, but then when they got around to organizing or analyzing, it came down to “Society plus Nature,” as if the relationship was not as intimate and direct and immediate as it is.

KA: The premise of this book is that we need to break down the “Nature/Society” dualism that has prevailed in so much of Red and Green thought. Where did this idea come from, and why is it so thoroughly artificial?

JWM: The idea that humans are outside of nature has a long history. It’s a creation of the modern world. Many civilizations before capitalism had a sense that humans were distinct. But in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, this very powerful idea emerged – that is embedded in imperialist violence and dispossession of peasants and a whole series of recompositions of what it meant to be a human, particularly divisions around race and gender—that there was something, in Adam Smith’s words, called “civilized society,” which included some humans.

But most humans were still put into this category of “Nature,” which was regarded as something to be controlled and dominated and put to work – and civilized. It sounds very abstract, but the modern world was really based on this idea that some group of humans were called “Society” but most humans go into this other box called “Nature” with a capital N. That’s very powerful. That didn’t come about just because there were scientists, cartographers or colonial rulers who decided it was a good idea, but because of a far-flung process that put together markets and industry, empire and new ways of seeing the world that go along with a broad conception of the Scientific Revolution.

This idea of Nature and Society is very deeply rooted in other dualisms of the modern world: the capitalist and the worker, the West and the rest, men and women, white and black, civilization and barbarism. All of these other dualisms really find their taproots in the Nature/Society dualism.

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