National Sections of the L5I:

Can Marxist theory and class struggle avert environmental catastrophe?

Printer-friendly versionPDF version

Must human progress lead to environmental degradation? The writings of classical Marxism have often been accused of identifying progress with the ceaseless march of industry and production, regardless of its environmental consequences. As Luke Cooper shows, this common misconception could not be more wrong. Marxism not only explains the causes of the current ecological crisis, but also shows how working class struggle can overcome it. A harmonious relation with our natural environment and the development we need to fight global poverty is perfectly possible and necessary. But it means overthrowing global capitalism

In the autumn of 2006 The Independent splashed the headline “Earth’s ecological debt crisis” across its front page. Journalist Martin Hickman reported research that showed the rate of human over-consumption of farming land, forests, fish, air and energy resources had reached some 23 per cent. Like an individual living beyond their means and running up credit card debts the aggregated total level of “debt” humanity “owed” to the natural world, meant the damage done to the environment was more that even the most stringent measures could offset.1

The damage caused to the eco-system as a result of the burning of fossil fuels, highlighted by so many reports is the most pressing environmental concern. Its effects include melting ice caps, threatening regions below sea level; expanding desertification and the thawing of permafrost in the Arctic tundra; the poisoning of water supplies; plus an increasing number of extreme weather conditions, threatens the lives and homes of millions of people.2

Climate change is by no means the only threat to the environment caused by the activity of humans. Some thirteen million hectares of forest are lost every year, particularly tropical rainforests, home to the world’s widest range of species. The degradation of marine ecosystems and over-fishing are leading to a collapse in fish stocks.3

When they met in Washington in February 2007, they simply agreed not to let the level of CO2 in the atmosphere rise beyond between 450 and 550 parts per million. In 2005, CO2 levels stood at just 379 parts per million – thus world leaders left room for an astonishing forty five per cent increase!4 More recently, at the two-week long UN sponsored conference on climate change in Bali, no agreement on binding targets for emissions cuts was reached. Despite this, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had the audacity to describe the agreement – which was little more than a promise to keep talking on the issue for a further two years – as “historic”.5 These laughable exaggerations aside, the Bali conference provides a very clear illustration of how contradictory environmental degradation has become as a political issue. There is an unprecedented recognition – even in the political establishment and the upper echelons of bourgeois high society – that action needs to be taken immediately on climate change if the projected catastrophic outcomes are to be averted. But rather than take sufficient measures, corporations and governments alike carry on pursuing the same policies as before, only now attached to a misleading pseudo-ecological discourse.

There has never been a more important time, then, to ask what causes modern environmental degradation? A tacit assumption in the ecological discourse now employed by Gordon Brown et al is that certain technical fixes and limited state regulation of the market economy will be sufficient to tackle the problem; in short, they maintain that there is nothing ecologically destructive about the market economy per se. This should come as no surprise, given that neoliberal ideology goes as far as claiming that the market is a “natural” phenomenon – with the assumption that society cannot be organised any other way. In doing so, classical liberal theory not only makes the claim that human social relations are inevitably market relations, but also that the market is the only means to manage human interchange with nature. If these assumptions of the profiteers are to be countered, then clearly one has to come to a fundamentally different understanding of the human relation to nature. Against theories of “natural” laws, one should maintain that the relationship between the human species and nature has changed and developed over time. It is only once we understand how this change and development has occurred, and analyse modern capitalism and its anti-ecological imperatives within this context, that we will be able to develop a theory of modern environmental degradation, i.e. one that elucidates the causes of it, can make predictions (and warnings) for future developments, and points to the political strategy needed to tackle the crisis.

Contrary to widespread critics (see box on opposite), a theory of modern environmental degradation can be developed on the basis of the method and approach to ecology taken by Marx and Engels – which has been elucidated and developed recently by the Marxist scholars, Paul Burkett and John Bellamy Foster. It is important to first summarise this methodology and approach, which has several, inter-connected elements:
• It must be consistently social and materialist
• It must be founded upon a conception that the totality of human-nature interrelations is more than the sum of its parts, i.e it must be holistic.
• It must recognise the central role of labour in human interchange with nature
• It must be a dialectical, interpenetrated approach to natural and social history
• It must recognise historic social specifications to the humanity-nature interchange
• It must recognise the role of nature in the production of wealth.

This will allow us to see capitalism in a broader historical perspective of the contradictory and antagonistic development of the human species over time, while also providing an epistemological foundation and method of analysis for the specific study of capitalism and nature, which is then undertaken.

We will argue, that Marx provides not only a social critique of capitalism, but also the basis of an ecological one. At the most abstract, general level, he shows that production for profit, which relies on the exploitation of wage labour, alienates humanity from the natural world. At the same time Marx’s analysis of capital accumulation reveals that the capitalist engages in a permanent drive to reduce the turnover and circulation time of capital. As we shall see, this concept explains the destructive affects of capital on the organisation of the urban environment, energy production, transportation systems and a great deal more besides. Marx’s theory shows that capital strives in the course of its developement to smash the laws of space and time themselves. The frenzied pursuit of this impossible goal can have only ruinous consequences for humanity and its natural environment.

Nature and historical materialism
In understanding the relationship between humanity and nature our starting point should be materialism: the simple proposition that the world is explained according to physical matter and its movements. Marx became a materialist in the 1840s as a student and wrote his doctoral thesis on the classical Greek materialist, Epicurus (341-270 BCE). The materialist premise that Marx shared with Epicurus and also the eighteenth century French materialists was that science and politics should dispense with God and all otherworldly forces as a means to explain the workings of objective reality. As Marx put it, in contrast to idealist philosophy, “which descends from heaven to earth”, we must make the “ascent from earth to heaven”. Clarifying this, he said, “we do not set out from what men say, imagine, conceive… we set out from real, active men, and on the basis of their real life-process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of the life-process.”8

Hence, for Marx, a radical, materialist and investigatory theory could be used as a weapon to dispel the prevalent myths and assumptions of dominant ideology – the “ideological reflexes and echoes” of the class structure of society. For Marx, it is only with reference to the actual material conditions of life that natural and social science can come to true, verifiable conclusions about reality. Hence, all propositions regarding the world must be tested against the actual, practical experience of human life. This method not only resisted religious claims to truth, but also the development of logically perfect systems of explanation, which did not make reference to the actual, empirically observable world. This, he argued, had to be a starting point for all social science. In the opening pages of The German Ideology he summarises this as follows:

“The first premise of human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals. Thus, the first fact to be established is the physical organisation of these individuals and their consequent relations to the rest of nature… The writing of history must always set out from these natural bases and their modification in the course of history through the action of men.”9

Marx’s starting point is, therefore, the physical organisation of individuals and their relationship to the natural environment. The concept of “physical organisation” is instructive, as it includes both the social relations internal to the human societies, and the space, i.e. natural environment, in which these social interchanges take place. For Marx, hence, the social and the material had to be combined within a single, holistic approach. For this reason, Marx criticised those who spoke of “the antitheses in nature and history”… as though these were two separate “things” and “man did not always have before him an historical nature and a natural history.”11 This antithesis, argued Marx, excluded the relation of man to nature from history.12

In making these propositions Marx suggests a methodological approach, that includes both a material and social specification of the human-nature relationship. Human production necessitates interchange with nature and always has a definite social character, i.e. it is undertaken within the context of certain social relationships. At a certain point in human history, as a result of the development, of a certain social division of labour, these become class relationships, i.e based on the exploitation of the direct producers by a minority of exploiters. This however allowed the development of a greater understanding of nature and the natural forces. But, by allowing society to grow, it created the social forces for the development of new means of production, and therefore a new social division of labour. In short, we cannot understand the changing human-nature relation as it has developed over time, without a consideration of the social, class structures of human society and how their changes have affected human interchange with nature.13 As Paul Burkett explains, social-ecological analysis must be “consistently social and materialist”; that is, it must treat the “people-nature relation as socially mediated in historically specific ways”, while also analysing the “material content of these forms as constrained by the natural conditions of human production and evolution”.14 In this way, Burkett argues, we can avoid the twin errors of social constructivism, whereby the material content of social relations is discarded, and a crude mechanical materialism that sees social reality as naturally predetermined.15

The latter point was of particular importance to Marx. As is fairly well known, he criticised classical materialism for not integrating a conception of human agency – the “subjective component” – into the materialist system and he acknowledged that Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), the great German idealist philosopher, chiefly developed this in his dialectics.16 This is where the importance of the influence of the anti-deterministic Epicurus on Marx comes in. Epicurus had made the prescient observation that reality consisted of an infinite number of unchanging atoms, with the quality of motion that could combine to form objects.17 He differed from other classical Greek atomists by arguing that these movements were random and contingent. In making this insight, Epicurus provided a materialist foundation for the view that change, movement and contingency are inherent in the very nature of matter.

In this respect, the Epicurean system conceived of itself as non-reductionist, because, as John Bellamy Foster explains, for Epicurus there can be “no determinism or essentialism… because such events belonged to the realm of accident (contingency)”.18 This led Epicurus to a non-deterministic appreciation of the role of the subject, which makes his approach quite different from other mechanistic materialisms, such as, for example, those based on Newtonian science. Furthermore, Epicurus combined a strong emphasis on the sense perceived, empirical world, with recognition of the role of reason in its interpretation.19

Despite these merits, Marx argued that the problem with the Epicurean system was that the concept of the atom was turned into an abstract, one-sided and ultimately distorting absolute.20 By seeing reality as simply atomised in this manner, Marx agreed with Hegel that Epicurus had erroneously negated the inter-connected aspect of reality, with its unity and universality.21 Epicurus was correct only insofar as he argued that matter can, of itself, contain motion and engender change, while also allowing for its evolutionary development. However, the problem remained that it did not admit of consciousness in matter, and therefore it could not explain subjective, willed action. Ultimately, for Marx, Epicurus never resolved the contradiction between the subjective, sensuous aspect of his philosophy, and the atom, which, despite its contingency, was elevated to such a principle that it led Epicurus full circle back to a form of reductionism.22

The development of the human species through time and (natural) space

Marx’s doctoral thesis were written in 1841 and allows us to say with confidence that, from his earliest works, he possesed a keen sense of the need to reciprocally connect the objective world with the practical, sensuous activity of agent. This included a concept of natural space and the constraints it placed on human action which has particular importance with regard to political and social change. Materialist thinking about space and time also tended to develop a form of evolutionary theory (something that was also present in the Epicurean outlook23) because it challenged explicitly the idea of an original divine intervention. For this reason, it should come as no surprise that there was a powerful symmetry between Marx and Engels’ historical materialist method and the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection developed by Charles Darwin.14 The basic thesis of Darwin’s theory was that a struggle for survival took place within and between species. Individual animals, with certain characteristics, which were best adapted to their environment, would increase in number over the course of millions of years this process led to the development of sub-species, new species and extinction. In 1860, a year after Darwin published The Origins of Species Marx commented in a letter to Engels, “Darwin’s book on Natural Selection… is the book which contains the basis in natural history for our view.”25

Marx and Engels not only welcomed Darwin’s theory for its atheistic implications, but also because they shared, in their own work, a similar dynamic concept of the development of material space through the course of time – in fact they had been developing these ideas for some twenty years prior to the publication of Origin of Species. In Dialectics of Nature, Engels summarised their historical materialist approach to natural history. He noted that natural science that still “found its ultimate resort in an impulse from outside that was not to be explained from nature itself” held to a conception of the natural world as “immutable” and “ossified”: not something “that had emerged from chaos, something that had developed, that had come into being”.26 He praised the German idealist philospher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) for arguing, “If the earth were something that had come into being, then its present geological, geographical, and climatic state, and its plants and animals likewise, must be something that had come into being; it must have had a history not only of co-existence in space but also of succession in time.’27 (emphasis added)

In his criticism of those natural scientists, who see the natural world as “immutable” and “ossified”, Engels suggests a notion of material unity between the practical activity of human beings and the natural space, in which the activity takes place: a relationship that, as he notes, develops through a succession in time. For Marx and Engels, hence, nature (or space) is seen, in a literal sense, to be an environment for human activity. Humans are not mysterious or divinely created beings, but a species which is the product of millions of years of evolution – implying a constant relationship to nature that is one of interpenetration and reciprocity. They are formed by this envirnment and in turn transform it. Importantly, present in early works, such as Marx’s doctoral thesis, there is a desire to integrate, dialectically and reciprocally, a notion of agency with the objective, material constraints of external space. Therefore, the inter-change between humans and natural space could, for Marx and Engels, only be understood through an analysis of human nature, labour and production.

The metabolic interchange between the human species and nature
In the materialist concept of space and time established above, the human species is the product of evolution, and, therefore, part of and continuous with the natural world. However, through this natural historical process, the human species qualitatively distinguishes itself from other animals. As Paul Burkett explains, a social ecological approach to human-nature relations must recognise that:

“Human consciousness and purpose developed in and through society introduce a type of complexity that is not found in the rest of nature. In particular, it must recognise that all ecological values are human and social values, and avoid ascribing a quasi-human subjectivity or purposefulness to nature that it simply does not possess.”28

For Marx and Engels, in consonance with this, explaining human distinctiveness meant making reference to the historical development of the human species and our essence or being. In The German Ideology, written in 1845 but not published in their lifetimes, they argue that human beings “can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organisation.”29

Marx and Engels are dismissive of attempts to make reference to the divine or immutable status of human species. Of course, they argue, human sensuousness and consciousness, indeed, all aspects of human civilisation qualitatively distinguish humanity, but these simply express developments and changes in human society over time. That is, they are symptomatic of the difference, rather than constituting its essence, which is the human capacity to develop production through labour.

This approach is founded upon an evolutionary biology because the “physical organisation” of the human species, rather than any divine impulse, conditions the step at which it begins to produce its means of subsistence. In Dialectics of Nature, Engels drew on the work of Darwin to argue that labour must have been a precondition to the development of the human species, insofar as the evolutionary development of the dexterity and flexibility of the hand was a precondition for tool-making and, therefore, the production of the means of subsistence.30 In short, whereas other organisms gained an evolutionary advantage from a better shape of beak or some such, early hominids gained the advantage of tool making from the mutations that increased manual dexterity.

At the same time, it was necessary to delineate evolutionary biology, as a process spanning millions of years, with the tiny proportion of this time in which human, social history has developed. Engels31 and Karl Kautsky,32 for example, were very critical of those thinkers, who vulgarised Darwin’s concepts, to deduce from gradual evolution a justification for reformism or using natural selection to justify racism. In countering this thinking, Engels argued that, with the development of the human species, history took on a new, conscious form – indeed, he said, “we enter history” – and this contrasts to natural evolution which is a process of “derivation and gradual evolution” that occurs without the “knowledge or desire” of animals.33 Concretely, we can point to the accumulation and passing on of knowledge over time as expressing this consciousness in human history, to which Engels referred.

This analysis of the role of labour in the evolutionary development of the human species allowed Marx and Engels to establish a materialist conception of the essence or nature of the human species. In Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844), Marx differentiates the human species from nature by developing a concept of human nature that is based upon labour.

Marx distinguishes between “organic nature”, i.e. living human nature, and the “inorganic nature”, i.e. the natural world.34 He uses the term “species being” of humanity to describe its essence, ontology or intrinsic nature, and argues that this lies in the transformative capacity of humans to restructure external nature through its activity. Whereas, the “animal is immediately identical with its life activity… man makes his life activity the object of his will and of his consciousness”.35 This means, unlike any other animal, humanity creates an “objective world by his practical activity”36 and “because of production nature appears as his [i.e. the human species’] work and reality”. The object of labour, therefore, is the objectification of man’s species life.”37 Animal life, in contrast, was partial, focused on certain ecosystems and habitats, while human life was increasingly “universal” as all nature became an object of human activity.38

The human species, therefore, can only be understood in relation to its external nature or environment, while nature only has consciousness, insofar as this is human consciousness and humans are part of nature. Marx is not making the idealist argument that the objective world only exists insofar as conscious humans observe it. Rather, he is arguing human activity has a conscious, transformative capacity to shape external nature and create what one might call a human environment. The transformative activity of labour and the development of the productive forces over time must therefore have a natural basis:

“The worker can create nothing without nature, without the sensuous external world. It is the material on which his labour is manifested, in which it is active, from which and by means of which it produces.”39

Marx continued by arguing that the universality of human activity made nature its “inorganic body”.40 This is to say that, while nature is not living and organic, like the human species, it is nevertheless “the direct means of human life” and the “material, the object and the instrument of life activity.”41 While this may seem a curious argument, given that it is obvious that nature includes living and organic things, the point was important for Marx, because he was arguing against romantic notions of nature as a single living entity.42

This inter-connectedness between humanity as a natural, biological species and nature had, for Marx, profound ecological implications. He stated: “Man lives on nature – means that nature is his body, with which he must remain in a continuous intercourse if he is not to die.” Here, Marx’s use of the evocative “body” metaphor spells out the degree to which he believes humans are dependent on the natural world for survival. It is often held that Marx abandoned this humanist approach to human-nature interchange, based upon the transformative capacity or species-being of man, in his later work,43 but, contrary to this, essentially the same method and analysis can be found in Capital. When Marx defines the labour process at the general level, i.e. as opposed to its historically specific forms, it is irrevocably linked to human interchange with nature:

“Labour is first of all a process between man and nature, a process by which man, through his own actions, mediates, regulates and controls the metabolism between himself and nature. He confronts the materials of nature as a force of nature. He sets in motion the natural forces which belong to his own body, his arms, legs, heads and hands, in order to appropriate the materials of nature in a form adapted to his own needs. Through this movement he acts upon external nature and changes it, and in this way he simultaneously changes his own nature. It is the universal condition for the metabolic interaction between man and nature, the everlasting nature-imposed condition of human existence.”44

Whereas in the Manuscripts, Marx uses the body metaphor to describe the complex, interdependent, process linking human beings to nature through labour, here he uses the term, “metabolism”. This term had been developed in 19th century agricultural chemistry to describe the interchange between organisms and their environment.45 As John Bellamy Foster explains, in applying the term, Marx gave a more “solid, scientific expression” to his earlier analysis and depicted:

“… the complex, dynamic interchange between human beings and nature resulting from human labour. The concept of metabolism, with its attendant notions of material exchanges and regulatory action, allowed him to express the human relation to nature as one that encompassed both ‘nature imposed conditions’ and the capacity of human beings to affect this process.”46

The concept of metabolism has assumed an importance in contemporary ecological discourse, and Marx’s transplantation of it from debates in chemical science therefore seems prescient. It is unfortunate, then, that in the Lawrence and Wishart English translation of Capital the term does not actually feature, and is replaced by the entirely misleading term, “social interchange”.

Nature and wealth production
A common criticism of Marx is that he did not recognise the contribution nature made to the generation of value in the production process by “constructing a labour theory of value that saw all value derived from labour, and by referring to nature as a ‘free gift’ to capital”47. But, as John Bellamy Foster argues, this view is based upon a “fundamental misunderstanding of Marx’s economics”48. Foster notes, that the idea of nature as a free gift to capital was a common theme in classical liberal economics, because nature has no production cost and is, in that sense, a free and non-reproducible gift to the capitalist production process. However, Marx never took up this view uncritically, and to say that he did confuses Marx’s recognition that “under the law of value of capitalism nature was accorded no value”, with the proposition that Marx accorded no value to nature per se in the production process.49 I will return to the question of the law of value in capitalism below. For now, let us first focus on the concept of nature in the labour process as Marx outlined it in general terms, i.e. not specific to capitalism.

In contrast to classical economics, which, as noted earlier, erroneously sees market relations as non-historically specific, i.e. ever present, human relations, in Marx’s view the essence of the production process, could be considered in abstraction from the historically specific social relations of the capitalist economy. The form, i.e. the social relations of production, may vary, but all societies are concerned with the production of wealth. Marx did not mean wealth in the sense of the obscene wealth of ruling classes, but defined it simply as “use values, that is anything that (directly in consumption or indirectly as means of production) satisfies human needs”.50 For Marx, land and labour were preconditions for the production of wealth across all modes of production, as he explains:

“The land on the one hand and labour on the other, [are the] two elements of the real labour-process, which… are common to all modes of production, which are the material elements of every process of production and have nothing to do with the social form.”51

Nevertheless, this being the case, critics have still argued that Marx “defined nature as possessing use-value only as its utility was realised through the transformative power of labour”,52 i.e. as possessing no use value that existed independently of human labour – and therefore as not adding any value, as such, to the production process. However, as Paul Burkett argues, for Marx the labour process was mutually constituted by nature and labour, i.e. “a process in which both man and nature participate”53 and he sees it as having the following elements that each rebuts the critics.54

First, one can reiterate that there is nothing unnatural regarding the labour process, or what one might call human nature. Marxists conceive of labour as, in and of itself, a natural phenomenon, but one whose form has changed socially across thousands of centuries.55 As Marx puts it, “man opposes himself to nature as one of her own forces, setting in motion arms and legs, heads and hands, the natural forces of his body”.56 In this sense, Marx goes further than simply not identifying the labour process with historically defined forms of production, but sees the labour process as “a natural condition of human existence, a condition of material interchange between man and nature”.57

This essentially develops further the arguments, made above, on human-nature interchange as it has developed across time. But to these propositions one can also add the independent factors that nature brings to the labour process. Indeed, Marx is explicit in Capital that “a thing can be a use-value, without having value”, i.e. exchange value, and he gives the example of “air, virgin soil and natural meadows”.58 In short, Nature has use-values produced spontaneously without human assistance and, indeed, appropriating these naturally accumulated use values is intrinsic to the labour process.59 For example, fish stocks have developed through the course of natural history, and they have an obvious use value as food. Hence, when the fisherman goes out to sea to catch fish (i.e. labours) he is appropriating nature’s products “in a form adapted to his own wants”60.

Logically then, it must follow that un-appropriated naturally developed things have a use-value prior to their entry into the labour process; why should the fact that labour is central to use-value production “preclude a counting of currently unappropriated use-values as part of [society’s aggregate] wealth”?61 To use another example, our society makes a woefully insufficient use of the sun as a source of energy production, due to inadequate investment in solar power. However, it would be absurd to conclude from this that, because this energy is not fully appropriated, it is not a component of society’s total material wealth, or that one should only measure its existing contribution in agriculture, for example.

Marx also adopted a conception of the “instruments of labour” that was broad and included the naturally developed conditions of the labour process. By the term, “instrument of labour”, Marx referred to a “thing or complex of things, which the labourer interposes between himself and the subject of his labour, and which serves as the conductor of his activity.”62 “The first thing the labourer possesses himself”, says Marx, “is not the subject of labour but its instrument” and this, he argued, includes all conditions necessary for the carrying out of the labour process, whether or not they enter directly into the production process, such as, for example, the air we breathe. Thus, he concludes:

“Nature becomes one of the organs of his activity… As the earth is his original larder, so too it is his original tool house. It supplies him, for instance, with stones for throwing, pressing, cutting, etc.”’63

As this demonstrates, nature’s contribution to use-value production is not at all downgraded in Marx’s economics, but is seen as providing use-values independent of, but appropriated by, human labour and the labour process. Explored further below is the distinction between exchange value and use-value, as this provides the basis, not only for a social critique of capitalism, but also an ecological one. For now, it is sufficient to note the breadth of the category use value; by pointing to all those things that contribute to the generation of wealth and the satisfaction of human needs, it may include not only basic requirements of production, but also naturally generated wealth, and, for that matter, the satisfaction of cultural and aesthetic needs.64

Up until now, the holistic, totalising aspect of the Marxist approach to the people-nature relation has been stressed, while also outlining the importance of agency and the social relations, in order to avoid the errors of determinism; the metabolic interpenetration of nature and society, through labour, as an essential analytical foundation, has also been pointed to. If, through this process, use values were generated throughout history in a manner that was socially equitable and ecologically sound, there would be no need for this article at all. Of course, this is not the case; in fact, the development of the people-nature relation over time is contradictory, and involves a violent movement through different systems of antagonistic class relations between people.

Relational holism: differentiation and contradiction
In consonance with the analysis made above, Paul Burkett argues that “holism is needed to conceptualise the natural conditions and limits of a total system of material production”.65 Having said this, it is worth noting that in social science a holistic – or holist – approach is often used as a term of abuse: derided for positing a totalising structure existing autonomously of individual agents, and absolutely determining their actions.66 Leaving aside the questionable claims of those that tend to make this accusation,67 it is nevertheless important to see structure and agency as reciprocally connected and, moreover, to see the holistic totality as internally differentiated. In short, the totality of nature-society relations creates a contradictory unity of material and social, objective and subjective, and exploiting and exploited elements.68 As Lucio Colletti points out, for Marx, none of these elements are identified or reduced to the other, but exist as a unity of heterogeneous parts.69

For this reason, Burkett insists that “differentiation is necessary to capture the dynamics (over space and time) of the interchange between society and nature”70. He continues:

“These dynamics are shaped by the evolving variegation of (human and extra-human) nature in conjunction with different groups’ particular relations to natural conditions, based on their particular locations in a socially organised system of production. In short, differentiated people-nature relations – and any attendant conflicts among social groups – involve different social and material positions within the structure of human production and are not simply determined by the material variety of nature itself.’71

While this argumentation is admittedly dense, Burkett is making the important point that individuals occupy different positions within the class structure of society, and different geographical, spatial locations, that both affect their experience of, and the extent to which they are able to control, interchange with nature. For example, the specific spatial location of Bangladeshi fishermen, coupled with their material impoverishment, makes them particularly vulnerable to the potentially catastrophic affects of climate change. At the other extreme, major shareholders and directors in the big oil multinationals occupy a position that sees them control a significant proportion of society’s surplus, and have such material affluence as to shield themselves in large measure from the worst effects of environmental crises, and control natural sources of wealth that are harnessed in an ecologically destructive manner – of course, to the detriment of the less fortunate like Bangladeshi fishermen. For Marx, these disharmonies and inequalities expressed a fundamentally antagonistic contradiction within class societies between the labouring, surplus generating, classes and the surplus appropriating classes.

As we saw Burkett note above, differentiation in the human relation to nature is not only a social and spatial question, but also a temporal one; that is, the relationship between the human species and nature changes radically at different stages of development in human society, which are organised on the basis of different class relations. Marx saw class conflicts as developing once societies develop a surplus in production that goes beyond what is sufficient to satisfy the simple subsistence of labourers. Importantly, class conflict does not simply rise from inequitable social relations, but, rather, these are inevitable consequences, for Marx and Engels, of the material scarcity that exists at a primitive stage of development of the productive forces. This scarcity leads the human species to become enslaved to necessity, i.e. the satisfaction of immediate wants and needs. At the same time, the class struggle over the surplus at each historical stage pointed to its potential transformation. As Paresh Chattopadhyay puts it, “The development of antagonisms within a social form of production is the only historical (real) way towards its dissolution and metamorphosis.”72

We can say, then, that the social division in human society allows for the accumulation of knowledge of nature. This gradually allows human production to become more “masterful” of it, insofar as more advanced forms of production reduce absolute material scarcity by raising human appropriation from nature. Nevertheless, with Chattopadhyay on this question, one should insist, against liberals, that this process is crisis ridden at two levels; firstly, it is the subject of class struggle within antagonistic modes of production, while, secondly, human societies remain at risk of quick and devastating changes in their natural environment.

Development of the productive forces
This view of history – as “a history of class struggle”74 – cuts against the classical assumptions of liberalism. For liberals, progress tends to be seen as a “cumulative and continuing improvement in the situation of human beings due notably to the continuing advances in science and technology”.75 While, in contrast, Marx and Engels argued that the development of the productive forces – labour, industry and scientific technique – is a process driven by class conflict. Hence, while they rejected liberal assumptions, they nevertheless had a theory of progress, but one based on the material and social development of the human species over time. As one might suspect, this has important implications for the development of the human relation to nature over the course of time, and through different forms of production.

Marx spoke, analogously and in general terms, of three stages of historical development of human society: the savage, the civilised and the socialised.76 With these terms, Marx distinguished respectively between primitive societies, where no social surplus had yet been produced; class societies, where a minority class appropriated the surplus; and a socialised society, where production was collectively controlled and the surplus equitably shared. Marx argues that, at each of these stages, “man… wrestled with nature to satisfy his wants, to maintain and reproduce life”.77 In making this statement, Marx very explicitly rejects romantic notions of history, and, rather, recognises it as a struggle, and the natural environment in which it takes place as one fraught with dangers: from disease and famine, crop failures, attacks by predatory wild animals, and so on.

The development of the productive forces over time, particularly science and technology, Marx argued, allows humanity to move towards a situation in which interchange with nature could be regulated rationally. For Marx, capitalism played a historically progressive role in this development by massively expanding society’s productive forces. He argued, “it is part of the civilising aspects of capital that it enforces the production of society’s surplus in a manner and under conditions which are most advantageous to the development of the productive forces”.58 This development, he argued, is:

“… a practical precondition of human emancipation because without it only the penury and the necessity will be generalised and, with the need, shall also start the struggle for necessity.”79

This counterposition of freedom and necessity was a key component of his materialist view of history. For Marx, necessity meant the compulsion to labour in order to satisfy one’s immediate wants and needs, while freedom meant the liberation from this compulsion. The historic progressiveness of capitalism lay in its creating the material conditions for massively increasing the productivity of labour with technology and mechanisation.80 However, because within capitalism the pursuit of profit was primary, innovations in technology were used to reduce the workforce, not the working day. In contrast, Marx argued, under socialism the working day would gradually be reduced, to the point where technological developments would be such that work could be abolished, replaced by the free activity of the human species (the stage of communism, or realm of freedom).81 A look at modern corporations provides a powerful vindication of Marx’s analysis, because they have achieved tremendous levels of productivity: using technological developments to drive down labour costs, while maintaining high production outputs. For instance, the top 200 global corporations in 2000 accounted for an astonishing 27.5 per cent of world economic activity, while employing just 0.78 per cent of the world’s workforce.82

As this suggests, for Marx, the historical progressiveness of capitalism was not a simple question of an expansion in human consumption levels. Nor was it, because Marx viewed expansion in the productive forces as intrinsically good, but rather it was because as Paul Burkett argues.

“(1) In… [expanding the productive forces] it negates any material scarcity rationale for class monopolies over the disposition of society’s surplus labour time and production, hence over opportunities for human development insofar as such opportunities are a function of the distribution of free time and the level and security of material living standards; (2) it does so by developing the cooperative and social form of labour and production, thereby enabling humanity to overcome the socially and naturally restricted forms of development characterising pre-capitalist societies.”83

Indeed, Marx was very careful not to argue that an unending rise in human consumption levels was a goal of communist development. He rather saw the ecologically unsustainable aspect of capitalism’s ceaseless development of new wants and needs. In the same chapter of Capital as that quoted above, Marx recognised the problem capitalism generated by expanding the realm of necessity to encompass new wants, which in turn required further industrial expansion:

“With… [civilised man’s] development this realm of physical necessity expands as a result of his wants; but, at the same time, the forces of production to satisfy these wants also increase.”84

Marx suggests that, with the development of commodity production, capitalism created new wants and needs, e.g. new goods, services, and so on, while the forces of production to satisfy these wants also increases. This process is, of course, driven by the quest for profit, which drives forward (up to a certain point) scientific and technical progress, creating the means by which humanity could achieve its emancipation, but it does so within a social division of labour, the class system, that prevents such an achievement. In short, the fact that this expansion of production is undertaken on the basis of the pursuit of profit creates inherent unevenness. On the one hand, capitalism cannot satisfy the wants and needs it creates, because it distributes the total value of surplus product – including wages, rents, as well as, profits – highly unevenly, while at the same time the forces of production become highly concentrated in those states and regions that offer the best profits. Far from being unaware of this crisis of sustainability, Marx argues that only “socialised man” will be able to regulate a sustainable interchange between humans and nature, whereby human needs can be managed:

“Freedom in this field can only consist in socialised man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of nature, and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favourable to, and worthy of, their human nature.”85

The above analysis establishes the formative elements of a material, social and historical methodology of the human-nature relation, while situating capitalism in a longer historical perspective of human development. Now, we can move the analysis on to a consideration of capitalism and how it structures human relationships to nature. Marx was, of course, a life-long critic of capitalism, and, in one of his earliest works, the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, he developed the foundational elements of his ecological critique of capitalism, and he did so on the basis of a materialist understanding of the capitalist labour process.

Marx’s theory of human alienation from nature
In the 1844 Manuscripts one of the main critical concepts Marx develops is his theory of alienation. As Ben Fine and Alfredo Saad-Filho put it, this related to “the individual’s relationship to physical and mental activity, fellow beings and the consciousness of these processes”.86 At the most abstract, general level, alienation refers to the regressive separation of what could (or rather should) exist in harmony. Marx takes the term from Ludwig Feuerbach, who argued that religion acted to distort human nature, as it invested human characteristics, like love, in an other-worldly being who stood over and above humanity.87 For Feuerbach, alienation is humanity’s separation from its own emotions and values, which appear as belonging to an external power.88 Marx develops the concept by applying it to his criticism of capitalist production. Just as religion separates the “spontaneous activity of the imagination, of the human heart” from the individual, the labour undertaken by the worker “belongs to another”, as it creates profit for private capital.89

Marx argues in the Manuscripts that the worker suffers estrangement in the capitalist production process from the object of his/her labour: from the act of the labour process; from the creative, transformative capacity of human beings; and, finally, from each other.90 He argues that the worker becomes alienated from the goods of his/her production because s/he lacks the means to consume them – as capitalist production forces him/her into debilitating poverty and despair. The capitalist labour process exploits and cajoles the worker but, for the worker, this appears as if his/her own labour, i.e. his/her own physical and mental energy, creates despairing surroundings. In turn, this leads the worker to become estranged from his/her self and other workers.91 These components of the theory of alienation are relatively well known, but what is less so is how Marx related his theory of alienation to his understanding of the human-nature relation.

Marx argues that capitalism alienates humanity from its very “species-being”. This term is not a familiar and everyday one, but all Marx means is the essence of the human species or our human nature. As outlined above, Marx and Engels both had a materialist conception of human nature, which was rooted in the transformative capacity of human labour to restructure external nature through its activity. In the Manuscripts Marx argues that, whereas the “animal is immediately identical with its life activity… man makes his life activity the object of his will and of his consciousness.”92 This means, unlike any other animals, the human species creates an “objective world by his practical activity”93 and ‘because of production nature appears as his [i.e. humanity’s] work and reality. The object of labour therefore is the objectification of man’s species life.’94 Whereas animal life was partial, focused on certain ecosystems and habitats, human life was increasingly “universal”95 as all nature became an object of human activity.

The role of nature as the “direct means of life” and the “object of life activity” of the labouring human led Marx to draw a provocative conclusion. The alienation of labour by the social relations of capitalist production led to the estrangement of its “active role in the transformation of nature”.96 The latter was the essence of human nature and so, Marx argued , capitalism undermined the very “species-being” of man – as the transformation of nature took place within a system of social relations, which were fundamentally exploitative and alienating. In this critique Marx points towards a society of free producers, i.e. of free human activity in which the very boundaries between work and pleasure are dissolved: communism. By liberating human activity from alienating capitalist production, communism establishes a society, which is a true expression of humanity’s essential being.

In turn, this meant the social relations of capitalist production were alienating, i.e. estranging and breaking up, humanity from nature. For example, just as religion deprived humans of their own sensuous feelings, workers in the polluted urban centres of industrial capitalism had “reached the point where light, air, cleanliness, were no longer part of their existence, but rather darkness, polluted air, and raw, untreated sewage constituted their material environment”.97 Meanwhile, in the countryside, the feudal lord or capitalist was the representative and the owner of the land, and thus, for the estranged labourer, it appeared to them that their immiseration was caused by the land, when in truth its cause was the control of the land by a few.98 For Marx, the latter point underscored his non-romantic approach to history; in the Manuscripts he makes the point that alienation arises from private ownership of the means of production per se, rather than being specific to industrial capitalism – albeit, with the onset of the latter, it had taken on a radically new form.99

The term, alienation, is not Marx’s property and was a popular theme of romantic thought, which spoke of the alienating consequences of modernisation on the individual psyche. While this use of the term in and of itself is allusive, Marx’s development of it gave it a specific materialist content. It allows us to develop a materialist understanding of the estrangement of human beings – with the attendant subjective feelings of misery and despair – from one another, and from the natural world. In Marx’s concept of the alienation of man from nature, he suggests a relationship that is systematically distorted by capitalist property relations, and his argument has a powerful normative content insofar as it points towards the possibility of a harmonious future in a communist society. This analysis in the 1844 Manuscripts foreshadows, as John Bellamy Foster observes, his later use of the concept of metabolism. While he commonly used it to refer to the metabolic interaction of nature and society, Marx also in the Grundrisse, spoke of a “general social metabolism”, by which he suggests a “wider meaning” of the universal pattern of “needs and capacities” formed under capitalist production.100 The latter described the “complex, dynamic, interdependent set of needs and relations brought into being and constantly reproduced in alienated form under capitalism”.101 Again, as in the 1844 Manuscripts, this raises the question of human freedom, as irrevocably linked to the organisation of human labour in relation to nature.

In his later work, Marx also made this more concrete in his theory of the alienation of the human species from nature. He did so, by analysing the separation of town and country and the corrosiveness of capitalist agricultural production; in doing so, he raised broader issues of wastefulness and sustainability. As I will now show, in introducing the concept of “metabolic rift” in the human relation to nature, he “captured the very essence of the present-day notion of sustainable development”.102

The “metabolic rift” in human-nature relations created by capitalism
Marx’s materialist approach recognises that nature imposes certain conditions of sustainability that, once violated, undermine the very conditions of human reproduction. Reflecting his position on the valorisation of nature in the production process, Marx is very clear that the natural world, specifically the viability of agricultural production, is an essential basis of human production and reproduction, or, to put it another way, human life itself. Without the development of a surplus in agriculture, Marx insists, all higher forms of production are impossible, because otherwise human development would remain at the stage of subsistence farming and “one could not speak at all either of surplus-product or surplus value”.103

This perspective led Marx to become deeply concerned with the effects modern industrial agricultural methods were having on the long-term fertility of the soil. In the 1860s, when writing Capital, Marx had become influenced by the work of the German agricultural chemist Justus von Liebig, who had undertaken scientific studies on soil degradation.104 At this time, there was widespread concern regarding the regressive effects on soil fertility of the long-term use of chemical fertilisers; at first they appeared to increase soil fertility exponentially, but over time their overuse exhausted the soil, leaving it unproductive. For Marx this expressed the callousness of capitalism, which was undermining agriculture in the long term, only to make more profit in the short term. Analysing this process, led him to the following view:

‘All progress in capitalist agriculture is 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 toward ruining the more long-lasting sources of that fertility.’105

Here, the “robbing” of the soil – what Marx even referred to elsewhere as “exploitation” – means simply the failure to maintain it as a means of human reproduction. He concluded that capitalism:

“… only develops the technique and the degrees of combination of the social process of production by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth – the soil and the worker”.106

For Marx, the effects of industrialisation and urbanisation further accelerated the basic ecological destructiveness of capitalist agriculture – and with it the natural basis of production. He argued, that, while the two sectors may appear as originally distinguished by one ruining “labour power and thus the natural powers of man, whereas” the other “does the same to the natural powers of the soil”, they combine “in the later course of development”.107 “The industrial system, when applied to agriculture”, Marx argues, “enervates the workers there, while industry and trade for their part provide agriculture with the means of exhausting the soil.”108 For Marx and Engels, this was not simply a question of agricultural production methods109 but related to the much more fundamental question of capitalism’s separation of town and country. Marx and Engels both noted that, by raising the productivity of the land through mechanisation and chemical fertilisers, the agricultural population was increasingly reduced to a bare minimum, while being confronted with the need to sustain bourgeoning industrial populations concentrated in large towns.110

Marx argued that in their totality these processes expressed the deep “metabolic rift” that capitalism opened up in the relation of humans to nature, creating an:

“irreparable rift in the interdependent process of social metabolism, a metabolism prescribed by the natural laws of life itself.”111

Again, we see Marx suggest that nature imposes conditions of sustainability, which are systematically violated by capitalism, and, what is more, he suggests that this “metabolic rift” was a general feature of its development. The crux of the problem was that capitalism was interested not in human needs, or the ecological sustainability inseparably related to this, but in the maximisation of profits from investments in the shortest possible time. In the following quite remarkable extract from Capital, Marx speaks of capitalism destroying the material basis of human life for future generations:

“The way that cultivations of particular crops depends on fluctuations in market prices and the constant changes in cultivation with these price fluctuations – the entire spirit of capitalist production, which is orientated towards the most immediate monetary profits – stands in contradiction to agriculture, which has to concern itself with the whole gamut of permanent conditions of life required by the chain of human generations.”112

As John Bellamy Foster observes, in making this comment, Marx succeeded in appreciating – long before it became a popular concept - the central importance of a sustainable programme of production, which ensured the material, natural basis for human life, the earth, was not destroyed by wanton industrial expansion.113 For Marx and Engels, the lack of sustainability of capitalist agriculture was one expression of the development irrationality of capitalism per se, which they saw chiefly as arising from the town and country separation. Marx and Engels both saw how capitalism had led to rapid urbanisation, fuelled by industrialisation in both town and country, which increasingly undermined the old feudal system. As David Harvey notes, this tendency to urbanisation arises, as capitalism becomes more and more concentrated in these geographical regions, which are most profitable:

“Transport and investments get drawn towards major centres of production, finance and commerce because that is where they are likely to be profitable. A powerful centripetal force is felt as uneven geographical investments in transport feed further uneven geographical developments.”114

Engels observed how the huge stultifying urban centres meant cramped and inhospitable living conditions. At the same time, not only did these urban centres require an enormous amount of energy to maintain basic infrastructure, they were also extremely wasteful. While mistaken in the science on which his claims were based, Engels nevertheless was right to criticise the London sewage system for pouring human excrement into the Thames, which caused terrible pollution, when this waste could, he thought, be recycled as manure in agricultural production.115 Marx and Engels were, of course, well aware of the need to recycle the waste of industrial production and consumption. In Capital Marx even went as far as describing how waste needed to be returned to the soil, as part of a complete “metabolic cycle”.116

Town and country separation – “metabolic rift” – today
The fact that Marx and Engels could not have foreseen the scale of industrial urbanisation in the 20th and 21st centuries, makes their concerns for its ecological impact all the more far-sighted. Indeed, on each count, Marx and Engels’ analysis of capitalist developmental trends, and their ecological ramifications have been verified by the course of events in the last 150 years. Since the 19th century, the separation of town and country, i.e. rapid urbanisation, has grown exponentially, outstripping the overall demographic growth rate – and reaching proportions Marx and Engels would have struggled to imagine. As the United Nations World Urbanisation Prospects reported in 2005:

“The global proportion of urban population increased from a mere 13 per cent in 1900 to 29 per cent in 1950, and… reached 49 per cent in 2005. Since the world is projected to continue to urbanise, 60 per cent of the global population is expected to live in cities by 2030. The rising numbers of urban dwellers give the best indication of the scale of these unprecedented trends; the urban population increased from 220 million in 1900 to 732 million in 1950 and is estimated to have reached 3.5 billion in 2005.”117

This has created enormous burdens on agriculture, which must meet growing consumer demand, while at the same time maintaining profitability against other sectors of the capitalist economy. The trend Marx cited to constantly raise the level of productivity of agricultural labour with new technology and machinery has continued apace. For example, in 1994 the United States agricultural sector reached such levels of productivity that the amount of corn produced per hour of labour was 350 times higher than that produced by the native American Cherokees with their traditional methods.118 But this level of output would not have been possible, were it not for the agricultural sector harnessing enormous amounts of fossil fuel produced energy to drive machinery. As the same study notes, “the energy input in modern US agriculture is 50 times higher” than in subsistence farming.119 In the long term, the danger of soil erosion Marx highlighted remains, but, in addition, the new chemical fertilisers and pesticides that partially offset the agricultural crisis Marx observed in the 19th century have contaminated the environment, and reduced biodiversity.

The course of historical development also provides vindication for a further aspect of Marx’s analysis, that is, the international dimension of the metabolic rift. As Bellamy Foster observes, Marx perceived the metabolic rift at the social level to be evident not only in the antagonism between town and country, but also, referring to Marx’s writings on the exploitation of Irish land by English colonisers, on “a more global level” as “colonies saw their land, resources, and soil robbed to support the industrialisation of colonising countries”120. From our contemporary standpoint we continue to see social injustices and inequalities in agriculture, deepening the “metabolic rift” internationally, at both a social and natural level. But this has taken a different form to the process Marx pointed to in Ireland.

The uneven and combined development of world capitalism has led to backward forms of peasant agricultural production existing alongside more advanced forms in an increasingly integrated international trading system. While, on the one hand the high-productivity agriculture in the west undermines long-term ecological sustainability, on the other hand, it creates a highly competitive environment for smaller producers. As Samir Amin notes, western agriculture produces as much as 1-2 million kilograms annually of cereals per farm, while amongst the world’s three billion peasants this figure can vary from 10,000 to 50,000 kilograms (for those with access to pesticides, limited machinery and so on) right down to subsistence levels.121 Amin points to the danger that, as the West opens up southern markets for its agricultural exports, then the livelihoods of three billion peasants could be seriously undermined, forcing them deeper into poverty, if not out right destitution.122

No doubt, I could find a bumptious neoliberal who would ask: “what’s the problem?” After all, they would argue, rapid global demographic growth means an increase in demand for agricultural products, supply will therefore need to rise to meet this demand, and hence, it is wrong to talk, as Amin does, of peasants being “under threat” by free trade in agricultural products. While, this argument may appear convincing at first, it is deliberately misleading and superficial. Accelerating urbanisation and the attendant need for a proliferation of high-productivity agricultural methods, will lead to environmental degradation in the short to medium term, ignores the fact that production for distant markets is subject to the interruption of crises, and may find even cheaper suppliers, destroys agricultural and diversity in the rural and urban environment, making populations dependent on imported foodstuffs whose prices may suddenly rise or whose supply may be interupted. In short couching the question in terms of “supply” and “demand” ignores the fact that we are dealing with real people, that is, the real social classes, who meet supply and create demand. Rapid capitalist urbanisation is not a crisis free, rationally managed process, but is anarchic and crisis ridden, and arises in particular when, as Amin suggests, peasants are systematically undermined or outright appropriated. In China, for example, part of the reason urbanisation has been achieved so rapidly in the last twenty years is the systematic and deliberate expropriation of peasant farmers.

As this shows, the question of agricultural production and its ecological sustainability remains as central a question today as it was in the 19th century – albeit a problem that, thanks to the enormous expansion in world trade, has today far more of an international, global scope. Today’s environmental crises nearly always have a certain global dimension. For instance, the famine in Niger (2005), may appear to express a local breakdown in agricultural production, that is, the environmental requirements of human social development. But in fact, it expressed structural factors operating at a global level; there was plenty of food in the markets, but the poor could not afford to buy it thanks to IMF imposed taxes on food. At a more general level, this shows, as Paul Burkett argues, that all concepts of environmental crisis refer to human development through nature and society, and the crisis occurs when human development is subject to “above normal” restrictions.123 In short, environmental degradation leads to social crises, while social crises create environmental degradation.

The above analysis demonstrates that there is clearly enough empirical and descriptive evidence to show that capitalism’s drive to profit fundamentally unbalances human relations with nature, while capitalist exploitation leaves the labourer alienated from his/her natural as well as social condition. Now, let us move the analysis to a deeper interrogation of the tendential laws of capital accumulation, and the ecological destructiveness that is their inevitable result.

The ecological destructiveness of capital accumulation
As Marx argued at the beginning of Capital (vol I) the “wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails presents itself as ‘an immense accumulation of commodities.’”124 A previously unimaginable number and range of goods and services became available – and this, he argued, was part of the “civilising mission” of capitalism. Methodologically, Marx took this view partly because he recognised that the commodity could not be viewed in abstraction from the labour it embodied, and its utility or use-value.125 As noted above, capitalism’s historic role consisted of developing the technical and social form of labour and production, and, in doing so, offering the material basis for shortening the working day and securing living standards. But Marx equally recognised that the very process of capitalist accumulation actually worked to negate these advances.

This could be clearly perceived with respect to its ecological destructiveness; this was a product, for Marx, not of modern production techniques per se but the fact that they take place according to the lawful tendencies of capitalist accumulation. Like previous class societies, capitalism was divided between appropriating and appropriated classes, but it distinguished itself by the new, dominating roles played by capital, the market and commodity production. Indeed, Marx summarised capitalism as a system of generalised commodity production, in which the labour of toiling workers – in privately owned and controlled production – produces goods and services for sale on the market. This requires that capitalism fundamentally separates the spheres of production and consumption, and a third sphere, based on market exchanges, mediates these. None of this could ever occur were it not for capital’s drive to accumulate, i.e. to expand and create more capital, in the form of money (profit) that is then re-invested in search for more. As argued above, capitalism’s tendential environmental destructiveness lies ultimately in the pursuit of profit; this can be explained scientifically by Marx’s labour theory of value – once applied to environmental destruction, Paul Burkett, has called this a “value form approach” to nature-capital relations. The term is appropriate, because the theory is hinged upon an understanding of the different form that value becomes expressed in under capitalism. At the most abstract level, capital is self-expanding value, and, as far as we are concerned, this takes two main forms: commodities and money.

In pre-capitalist societies, money and commodity relations were limited, restricted to certain functions that occupied an ultimately peripheral role in social reproduction as a whole. With capitalism, conversely, market regulation of goods through exchange values becomes the form in which the value of the production process (i.e. socially necessary labour time) becomes expressed. Indeed, Marx says exchange value is the only form in which value can be expressed under capitalism.126 Hence, value becomes homogenously expressed in the products that are exchanged in the market place, that is, commodities and money. But the source of this value lies not in exchange, but in production because, as we have seen, labour’s interchange with nature is the source of all value production. The capitalist must pay for these production costs through purchasing labour power or investing in machines (that embody labour from their own production). Hence, with respect to nature and labour, there lies a critical difference, because nature requires no costs of reproduction, like workers do (i.e. they need a wage to buy food, clothes, shelter, and so on). It is a ‘free gift’ to capital accumulation – treated, erroneously, as a seemingly infinitely and freely exploitable source of use-value.

Nature does, however, become valued, but only indirectly in relation to labour costs, or, more specifically, the cost of reproduction of socially necessary labour time in given natural conditions. For example, particularly fertile or easily worked land commands higher rent, because it would require less labour to farm, and thereby lower the capitalists’ labour costs. In general, this is a feature of the subordination of both exchange value and use-value to self-expanding value, i.e. capital itself, and, critically, this leads to “the increasing domination of profitable sale… over production for use”.127

Capitalism and the contemporary ecological crisis
A number of the features of contemporary environmental degradation can be understood as arising from the primacy of profitable sale over productive use. For example, David Held, Anthony McGrew et al outline the social good and need provided naturally by forests:

“Forests are an immense economic and ecological resource, above all for wood. Wood is a vital component of many industrial products and processes, as a source of fuel, paper and pulp based products, and is a resource of joinery, shuttering and furniture. Ecologically, forests provide an enormous repository of genetic biodiversity and are an essential component in the global atmospheric and climate system.”28

Capitalism does not, however, treat these use-values equitably, as deforestation is driven by demand for timber, which has accelerated throughout the post war period (see Figure 1). The aesthetic and cultural benefits of tropical forests, for example, are fraught with difficulties for capital as a source of profitable accumulation. And ultimately, these could never return profits that could compete with the continuous export of timber products, which, with minimal start up costs, are a “free gift” of nature. Even where conservation areas are developed through state initiative, they are under constant harassment from the market. This may take a legal form of private sector lobbying of political institutions, or they may be undermined by illegal logging or poaching, while the state is underfunded, and lacks the means to enforce its own regulations. In either case, capital encroaches on these areas, and demands they be opened up to the capital accumulation process.

The addiction to fossil fuels as the primary source of energy in modern society also illustrates how capitalist social relations lead to deep developmental irrationalities. Leaving aside their different ecological impact for a moment, one can still say that renewable energy sources and fossil fuels operate according to quite fundamentally different spatial-temporal dynamics – making fossils fuels far more suited to a system of generalised commodity production. In temporal terms, renewables are effectively unlimited in the long-term duration of their exploitation, but can only be exploited at a limited rate. Whereas fossil fuels are a “stock-type” resource that, while having only a limited stock (and therefore temporally limited), can nevertheless be exploited at a high speed, or rather, they are only limited by the spatial constraints affecting how quickly the reserves can be located and extracted.

Moreover, the process of exploration, production and sale of fossil fuel energy makes it an ideal investment, in a manner that renewable energy production is simply not suited. The fundamental difference is that fossil fuels, as a source of energy, can themselves be made into commodities, whereas, with renewables, such as wind, solar and tide, it is not the energy source, as such, but the means of harnessing it in the form of windmills, solar panels and tidal barrages, that can take the form of commodities and, therefore, capital. Indeed, for solar power to be taken up at extensively, it would require a shift to a different sector of capital, i.e. manufacturing and infrastructure, with high overheads and questions hanging over its “commercial viability” (i.e. profitability). While, similar high costs are increasingly associated with fossil fuel extraction, currently they are offset by rising oil prices, which are partially a consequence of material scarcity. Moreover, there is a social-historical dimension, in that a sector of the ruling class in the fossil fuel industry has accumulated significant social power that can obstruct research and innovation, with respect to renewables, and thereby devalue them as a potential investment.

Both modern capitalism and the environmental degradation, to which it gives rise, are international in their scope and scale. In the current world order, levels of internationalisation are not simply a question of trade, but involve elaborate networks of globalised production. But these are dominated by huge concentrations of corporate capital. For example, in 2000 a comparison of corporate sales to GDP size shows that, of the 100 largest “economies” in the world, 51 were corporations and only 49 were countries.129

As David Harvey puts it:
“Immense concentrations of corporate power [now exist] in energy, the media, pharmaceuticals, transportation, and even retailing (for example WalMart).”130

Capital, hence, introduces unbridled internationalisation, but only on the basis of the dominance of large monopolies, thereby systematically reproducing uneven development, with attendant inequalities. In environmental terms, this leads to gross inequalities in levels of resource consumption and, clearly related to this, environmental degradation. As figure 2 shows, a World Resources Institute report in 1995 highlighted the dramatic gap between consumption of fossil fuels in industrialised states and developing countries.

Not withstanding this, it is in the very nature of capitalism that its centralising and monopolising features exist reciprocally alongside counter-tendencies. In recent years, much has been said, with good reason, about the dramatic rise of China as a world industrial power. Its cheap labour force and integration into the global trading system have played a key role in stabilising the US economy in particular.131 Its rise has gone alongside a dramatic increase in environmental degradation. As David Harvey notes:

“The two main culprits in the growth of carbon dioxide emissions these last few years have been the powerhouses of the global economy, the US and China (which increased its emissions by 45 per cent over the past decade)… In the case of China, the rapidity of industrialisation and of the growth of car ownership doubles the pressure on energy consumption. China has moved from self-sufficiency in oil production to being the second largest importer after the US.”132

These simple facts illustrate the scale of capitalism’s consumption problem; to rise as a world power, in a highly competitive global market, it is natural and inevitable that a state like China – that has clear imperial ambitions if not imperial status – will seek to match the form and methods of production of the world’s foremost power. Such states will have an inevitable tendency to use existing technologies on an increased scale, to raise industrial output, while avoiding high cost research, development and innovation. The fact that all this is driven by the chaos of market competition underlines the point we saw Marx make, that socialism is the only relief from this process, as it allows humanity to begin the long task of rationally regulating its interchange with nature in a manner that is ecologically sustainable. Clearly, today, there exists a fundamental problem of wasteful production, and, in some states, outright prodigality with regards to consumption. Moreover, this remains fuelled by carbon emitting fossil fuel production.

Capital accumulation and sustainability
The “value form approach” to capital-nature relations, can be used as a foundation from which to explore further ecological irrationalities of capital. Pace this critique of capitalism, which within its negation of production for use or need, in favour of profitability, it is important to note that capitalism creates its own functional needs, and that, therefore, things come to have a use-value within its economic process of capital accumulation. As Michael Lebowitz puts it:

“The conception of use-value thus shifts from something embedded in ‘any system whatever human needs’ to a more specific understanding of how social wants and needs are shaped under the capitalist mode of production.”133

With this in mind, let us consider the role of fossil fuels within the capitalist accumulation process. As I noted above, one feature of the deeply ecologically unsustainable character of modern industrial agriculture is its dependency on fossil fuels to power machinery. Hence, for the process of capital accumulation within the agricultural sector, fossil fuels play a crucial role in powering the “dead labour” (i.e. machines) that are able to massively increase productivity levels. When fossil fuels are used in global freight transportation, they play a functional role for capital, in that they lower turnover time, and thereby, all things being equal, increase profitability.

This latter point is extremely important, regarding the ecological irrationalities of capital accumulation, when considered in the context of the uneven and combined development of modern capitalism. The point can be demonstrated by drawing on Marx’s analysis of the circuits of capital in the Grundrisse. Marx saw that, in the production process, capital moves in a circular dynamic through different forms; the finished product (commodity) is sold and transformed into money, which is then retransformed into the conditions of production (raw material, instrument, wages).134 He wanted to know how this movement affected the self-realisation of capital, i.e. the accumulation of profit. In doing so, Marx illustrated how capitalism created a certain spatial-temporal geography, i.e. required a certain structuring of space and time, which was deeply anti-ecological.

The sections of circulation, argues Marx, took specific amounts of time, and these affected how profitable the enterprise was. The faster the circuit of capital could be completed, the more commodities could be created by labour in any specific amount of time; and, similarly, the faster these could be sold and recouped as profit, the greater the total mass of profit returned to the capitalist. In short, spatial distance appeared to reduce itself to time. This meant the speed of circulation appeared as a natural barrier to the realisation of labour time, because the longer the circulation process lasted – in time – the greater amount of labour power would be needed to realise the same amount of profit.135 Marx came to the conclusion that capitalism:

“… must on the one hand strive[to break down] down every spatial barrier to intercourse, i.e. to exchange, and conquer the whole earth for its market; it strives on the other side to annihilate this space with time, i.e. to reduce to a minimum the time spent in motion from one place to another. The more developed the capital, therefore, the more extensive the market over which it circulates, which forms the spatial orbit of its circulation, the more it strive simultaneously for an ever greater extension of the market and for greater annihilation of space by time.”136

Running through this analysis is an evocative conception of the speed of capitalist transformation. It reminds us of Marx and Engels’ contention in the Communist Manifesto that, with capitalism, “all that is solid melts into air”, as society is dramatically transformed. The concept of capitalism “conquering the Earth” also appears to suggest that this “annihilation of space by time” creates powerful imperatives with respect to nature. Marx’s assertion that capital intrinsically seeks to abolish circulation time – to secure circulation without circulation time – is strikingly suggestive, implying as it does that capitalism strives for something that is physically impossible. It invokes an image of capitalism struggling to rupture the laws of space and time – the ultimate “metabolic rift”. Concretely too, the drive to expand capitalism spatially (“conquer the Earth”), while at the same time reducing to a minimum the time spent in motion (“annihilate space by time”) drives certain patterns of development. For instance, if investments do not offer an adequate rate of return in a sufficient amount of time for the capitalist, then they become unattractive, and this creates a motivation for a whole number of socially and ecologically unsound “short cuts” in the production process. Furthermore, in more general terms, the need for quick returns must negate all attempts at long term and sustainable planning.

To this can be added the geographical and infrastructural imperatives, created by these patterns of capital circulation. The latter demands a certain geography, and therefore creates tendential developmental patterns. For example, look at the transport and communications systems. As David Harvey notes:

“Spatially fixed and immobile physical infrastructures of transport and communications systems (ports, airports, transport systems) are required in order to liberate other forms of capital and labour for easy spatial movement.”137

In the last fifteen to twenty years, reductions in the cost of freight transport, and the development of communication technology have formed one feature of the establishment of global networks of production in goods and services. The international trading system, for example, is able to plan the movement of clothes made in Chinese sweatshops to consumers in the west. Indeed, globalisation created real deflationary pressures in goods, by drawing on these cheap labour sources, which made it financially viable to ship commodities across the globe.

The highly combined, integrated character of global capitalism – despite all its unevenness and disequilibrium – also has a contradictory social and political impact on the lives of all the exploited and oppressed classes. The development of global production and technology has a powerful unifying effect on both workers, poor peasants and the urban poor; as the scale of communication increases and the time it takes decreases, it becomes easier (albeit not easy) to organise the resistance. At the same time, capitalism more and more comes to dominate the time of the oppressed class, demanding, as it does, greater intensities of exploitation, while also destroying the spatial, i.e. natural environment, in which humanity lives and works. In this way, capitalism creates the conditions for its own negation – but such are its destructive tendencies, that Marx and Engels’ warning that history will end “either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes” appears more apt than ever.

While one should be always be careful of apocalyptic predictions, nevertheless, what is remarkable of the period we are living in, is the degree of consensus amongst those who by rights should know, the scientific community, that it is difficult to over-estimate the scale of the ecological crisis. As 1,575 of the world’s distinguished scientists put it in 1992:

“Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at risk the future we wish for human society and the planet and animal kingdom, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our course will bring.”138

On the basis of the known facts, surely all right-minded people ought to concur with this analysis. Yet, of course, they do not. The rich and the powerful either still deny the undeniab or insist that whilst some measures are needed to prevent the worst disasters their profits must be sacrosanct. The question – “what lies at the root of the problem” – is hence of enormous importance, not for intellectual reasons but political ones. Capitalism may have created a social division of labour that has provided the technical, scientific and material basis for real equality between people, for a society based on free, unalienated human beings; but that very social division has come to be an obstacle to liberation, and must be overthrown. The socialist organisation of production can re-integrate humanity with nature, i.e. end its alienation, on the basis of a growing knowledge of our surroundings and a sustainable, ecologically sound development programme.

One common argument that is often rehearsed in the ecological movement is that the need for action is “too urgent” to start speaking of a revolution, or socialism as the necessary solution to climate change – even if capitalism is ultimately to blame. At one level this argument lacks basic intellectual coherence; capitalism is the cause, but we don’t have time to get rid of capitalism. This is surely equivalent to having a mouse infestation in your home, but insisting you don’t have time to lay a mousetrap because it is “too urgent”. At the same time, if we just ran around, arguing we needed to get rid of capitalism, we would not get very far.

We need to link the social and economic struggles of the subaltern classes with the need to defend the natural environment, as the basis for human life. Indeed, a key axis of socialist intervention into the environment movement is, on the one hand, the big question of capitalism, but also, on the other, the need to take up the social and economic demands of the oppressed classes, that is, the working class, peasantry, the poor, the indigenous and dispossessed. Likewise, the masses must be won not only to a struggle for the protection of their own immediate, particular environments, but also the fight against fossil fuel production, and for a planned shift to renewables.

Whereas in the past, Communists linked the struggle over, say, jobs or wages to the struggle for power, so today we need to link the struggle over, for example, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, last summer’s north European floods, or the central African drought to the struggle against capitalism and for working class power. In the 21st century we can expect the development of social revolutionary crises, as institutions in states and whole regions become fatally undermined by ecological disaster. The transitional method, developed by the young Communist International in the early 1920s, and codified by Leon Trotsky in the 1930s, must be creatively re-elaborated to take account of humanity’s crisis. Necessarily, on this question more than any other, no one can seriously suggest that the answer can be national in form. To tackle an environmental crisis of global proportions a new global political force is needed, a new, Fifth International, founded on a revolutionary socialist programme.

1 Hickman, 2006, ‘The Earth’s Ecological Debt Crisis’, The Independent, 9th October 2006,
2 ibid
3 ibid
4 See Brahic, C., ‘Leading Nations find agreement on Climate Change’, New Scientist, 16th February 2007,
5 See Macready, J., ‘Bali: a roadmap to climate catastrophe’,
6 Schmidt, A., 1971, p. 155, The Concept of Nature in Marx, Bristol,
7 Benton, T., 1989, ‘Marxism and Natural Limits: An ecological critique and re-construction’, New Left Review, no. 178, Nov-Dec, pp. 51 - 86
8 Marx, K., Engels, F., 1975, p. 36The German Ideology, in Marx and Engels Collected Works (vol. 5), Lawrence and Wishart: London
9 Marx, K., p.20, ‘Feuerbach. Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlook’, 1976 Marx and Engels Collected Works Volume 5 1845 – 1847, Lawrence and Wishart London
10 The right Hegelian Bruno Bauer is the subject of the criticism in The German Ideology
11 Marx, K., and Engels, F., p. 28, ibid
12 Marx, K., and, Engels, F., p. 55, 1975, Collected Works, volume 5, International Publishers: New York
13 It is no coincidence that in developing this outlook Schmidt, quoted above, abandons Marx’s historical materialism, by arguing that there are two entirely separate realms, human society and physical nature. In essence Schmidt adopts a form of classical materialism similar to that which Marx explicitly criticised in The German Ideology, for seeing reality as an object divorced from human practice and activity, i.e. agency.
14 Burkett, P., 1999, Marx and Nature; A Red and Green Perspective, p. 17, St Martin’s Press: New York
15 ibid, p. 17
16 ‘The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of Feuerbach included – is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence, in contradistinction to materialism, the active side was developed abstractly by idealism.... Feuerbach… does not conceive human activity itself as objective activity… Hence he does not grasp the significance of “revolutionary”, of “practical-critical”, activity.’ Marx. K., and Engels., F., ‘These on Feuerbach’, 1976, p. 6, Marx and Engels Collected Works Volume 5 1845 – 1847, Lawrence and Wishart: London
17 Foster, B., J., 2000, Marx’s Ecology; materialism and nature, pp. 34 - 35, Monthly Review Press: New York
18 Foster, B., J., 2000, Marx’s Ecology; materialism and nature, p. 35, Monthly Review Press: New York
19 ibid, p. 59
20 ibid, p. 58
21 ibid, p. 59
22 ibid. p. 59
23 ibid, pp. 34 - 39
24 ibid, pp. 178 – 225,
25 K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Correspondence 1846-1895, trans. Dona Torr (New York: International Publishers, 1942), p. 126.
26 Engels, Dialectics of Nature,
27 ibid
28 Burkett, P., 1999, Marx and Nature; A Red and Green Perspective, p. 16, St Martin’s Press: New York
29 Marx, K., p. 20, ibid
30 Engels, F., Dialectics of Nature, ‘Part played by labour in the transition from ape to man’,
31 In the Dialectics of Nature, Engels said: ‘Darwin did not know what a bitter satire he wrote on mankind, and especially on his countrymen, when he showed that free competition, the struggle for existence, which the economists celebrate as the highest historical achievement, is the normal state of the animal kingdom.’
32 Or, as Kautsky argues in The Social Revolution: “The analogy between natural and social laws is by no means perfect… [It] is better to restrain rather than favor this transference of laws from one sphere to another… [It] must be noted the fundamental distinction between animate and inanimate nature. [An error is committed] when natural laws are applied directly to society, as for example when competition is justified as a natural necessity because of the law of the struggle for survival, or when the laws of natural evolution are invoked to show the impossibility of social revolution.”
33 Engels, F., The Dialectics of Nature,
34 Marx, K., 1988 The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and the Communist Manifesto, p. 76, Prometheus: New York
35 ibid
36 ibid
37 ibid, p. 77
38 ibid, p.75
39 ibid, p. 72
40 ibid, p. 76
41 ibid
42 Incidentally, such romantic views are also reproduced in the modern day ‘Gaia Principle’, as developed by James Lovelock. See Lovelock, J., E., 1972, ‘Gaia as seen through the atmosphere’, Atmospheric Environment, vol. 6, no. 8, pp. 579-580
43 For the anti-ecological case, see Schmidt, A., The Concept of Nature in Marx, Bristol, 1971, while for the ecological case see Lee, D., ‘On the Marxian View of the Relationship Between Man and Nature’, Environmental Ethics, vol 2, pp. 3 – 16, University of New Mexico, Spring 1980
44 Marx, K., Capital, vol, 1, p. 283
45 ibid, p. 159
46 ibid, p. 158
47 ibid, p. 167
48 ibid
49 ibid
50 Burkett, P., 1999, ibid, p. 25
51 Marx, K., Capital; a critique of political economy (vol. III), p. 816, ed. Engels, F., Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1971
52 Carpenter, 1997, p. 148 (quoted in Burkett
53 Marx, K., 1970, Capital; a critique of political economy, (vol. 1), p. 173, Lawrence and Wishart, London
54 Burkett, P., 1999, pp. 26 - 27
55 ibid p. 34
56 Marx, K., ibid
57 Marx, K., 1970, A contribution to a critique of political economy, p. 36
58 Marx, Capital (vol I), p. 48, 1970
59 ibid
60 Marx, K., ibid
61 Burkett, P., ibid, p. 27
62 Marx, K., 1970, Capital; a critique of political economy, (vol. 1), p. 174, Lawrence and Wishart, London
63 Marx, K., ibid, p. 175
64 Burkett, P., ibid, p. 25
65 Burkett, P. ibid, p. 19
66 For example, Christopher Lloyd says: ‘A holist ontology emphasises autonomous structural existence and evolution. Society, in this account, is supposed to be a supra-individual and organic entity or organisation of rules, relations, and/or meanings, the sum total of which has properties and powers greater than its parts, particularly the powers to maintain and reproduce itself through dominating choices and actions of individual people within it.’ Lloyd, C., 1993, The Structures of History, p. 42, Blackwell: Oxford
67 Those that make this accusation are usually guilty of totalising the individual agent and reducing all structures to individual actions (e.g. rational choice theory). Or they collapse a concept of structure and agency into “discourse” or, in the case of Giddens and Lloyd, an equally nebulous category called “structuration”. In effect, the latter leads to the meaning of both categories – agency and structure – becoming completely lost and the causes of social change remaining decidedly unclear.
68 Burkett, P., ibid, p. 21
69 Colletti, L., 1972, From Rousseau to Lenin: Studies in Ideology and Society, pp. 13 – 14, New Left Review Books: London
70 Burkett, P., ibid, p. 19
71 ibid, p. 19
72 Chattopadhyay, P., p. 48, ‘Passage to Socialism; The Dialectic of Progress in Marx’, Historical Materialism, Volume 14, No. 3, 2006, Brill, Leiden
73 Marx, K., Engels, F., Communist Manifesto,
74 Marx and Engels, ibid
75 ibid
76 Marx, K., 1971, Capital; a critique of political economy, vol. 3, pp. 819 – 820, Lawrence and Wishart: London
77 ibid, p. 820
78 ibid, p. 819
79 Marx, K., cited in, Chattopadhhyay, ibid, p. 47
80 Marx, K., 1971, Capital; a critique of political economy, vol. 3, pp. 819, Lawrence and Wishart: London
81 Marx, K., ibid, pp. 819 - 820
82 Anderson, S., Cavanagh, J., Top 200; the Rise of Corporate Global Power, Institute of Policy Studies, December 2000
83 Burkett, P., 1999, p. 152
84 Marx, K., ibid
85 ibid
86 Fine, B., Saad-Filho, A., Marx’s Capital, Fourth Edition, 2004, Pluto Press
87 Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity
88 ibid
89 Marx, K., ‘Estranged Labour’, p. 74, The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and the Communist Manifesto, 1988, Prometheus, New York
90 Foster, J., B., Marx’s Ecology; materialism and nature, p. 72, 2000, Monthly Review Press
91 Marx, K., ibid, p. 75
92 Marx, K., ibid, p. 76
93 Marx, K., ibid
94 Marx, K., ibid, p. 77
95 Marx, K., ibid, p.75
96 Foster, J., B., Marx’s Ecology; materialism and nature, p. 72, Monthly Review Press, 2000
97 ibid, p. 75
98 ibid, p. 74
99 ‘We will not join in the sentimental tears wept over this by romanticism… In the first place, feudal landed property is already by its very nature huckstered land – the earth which is estranged from man and hence, confronts him in the shape of a few great lords. The domination of the land as an alien power over men is already inherent in feudal landed property.’ Marx, K., 1988, p. 63, The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, Prometheus Books: New York
100 Foster, B., J., 2000, p.158
101 ibid
102 ibid p.164
103 Marx, K., Capital, (vol III), 1971, p. 785 – 786, Lawrence and Wishart: London
104 Foster makes an extensive analysis of Marx’s writings on soil fertility and the influence of Liebig. See Foster, B., J., 2000, p. 152 – 164, Marx’s Ecology, Monthly Review Press: New York
105 Marx, K., Capital, (vol III), cited in Foster, J., B., 2000, p. 156
106 Marx, K., Capital, (vol III), cited in Foster, J., B., 2000, p. 156
107 Marx, K., Capital (vol III), cited in Foster, J., B., 2000, p. 155
108 Marx, K., ibid
109 Benton, T., 1989, ‘Marxism and Natural Limits: An ecological critique and re-construction’, New Left Review, no. 178, Nov-Dec, pp. 51 - 86
110 Marx, K., Capital (vol III), cited in Foster, J., B., 2000, p. 155
111 ibid
112 Marx, K., Capital (vol III), cited in Foster, J., B., 2000, p. 164
113 p. 164
114 Harvey, D., ibid
115 Engels, F., The Housing Question, cited in Foster, J., B., 2000, p. 163
116 Marx, K., Capital (vol III), cited in Foster, J., B., 2000
117 United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs (Population Division), World Urbanization Prospects 2005,
118 Giampietro, M., and, Pimentel, D., 1994, ‘The Tightening Conflict: Population, Energy Use, and the Ecology of Agriculture’, available on various sources on the web, including
119 ibid
120 Foster, J., B., 2000, p. 164
121 Amin, S., ‘The conditions for an alternative global system based on social and international justice’, document fro the Mumbai WSF 2004
122 ibid
123 Burkett, P., 1999, p. 107
124 Marx, K., 1970, Capital (vol I), p. 43
125 Marx, K., Capital (vol I),1970, p. 44
126 Burkett, P., 1999, p. 80
127 ibid p. 81
128 Held, D., McGrew, A., et al, 1999, Global Transformations; Politics, Economics, Culture, Polity: Cambridge
129 Anderson, S., and Cavanagh, J., Top 200, Institute for Policy Studies, December 2000
130 Harvey, D., A Brief History of Neoliberalism,
131 Main, P., 'From Mao to the Market', Fifth International, 2007, vol. 2, no. 4, League for the Fifth International: London
132 Harvey, D., ibid, p. 173
133 Lebowitz, cited in Harvey, 2006, Limits to Capital, pp. 8 - 9, Verso: London
134 Marx, K., pp. 537 - 538, 'The Chapter on Capital', Grundrisse, 1973, Penguin: Hardmondsworth
135 ibid, pp. 538 - 539
136 Marx, K., 'The Chapter on Capital', Grundrisse, pp. 539, 1973, Penguin: Harmondsworth
137 Harvey, D., p. 101, Spaces of Global Capitalism; Towards a Theory of Uneven Geographical Development, Verso, 2006, London: New York
138 'World Scientists Warning to Humanity', Union of Concerned Scientists, 1992, cited in Foster, J., B., p. 73, 'The Scale of the Ecological Crisis', Ecology Against Capitalism, 2002, Monthly Review Press: New Yor139: