out of the shell of the old…

in the Preface, Marx wrote

Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production. No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society.  Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation.

i’ve wondered to what extent the emergence of the ecology movement can be understood through this excerpt as the new superior relations of production, and thus the struggle is the task that arises only when the material conditions for its solutions are already present or at least in the course of formation.

this, of course, implies that both particular social problems and crises, and their solutions emerge and develop historically over a certain period of time, in a specific way.  the nuts and bolts of this historical emergence are that the working class and oppressed — the agents of change — subjects of the historical act of liberation — play active roles in both the development of capital, and simultaneously in the development of their own potentiality to liberate themselves.

an important focus of this passage is the development of consciousness.  in what ways is ecological consciousness a form of class consciousness, just like race consciousness or gender consciousness?  but, again, as Marx says, “this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life,”  a demand is being made to explain how the ecology movement has emerged from “the contradictions of material life,”

Marx describes this process in a number of ways.  in the German Ideology, for instance, he says

But life involves before everything else eating and drinking, housing, clothing and various other things.  The first historical act is thus the production of the means to satisfy these needs, the production of material life itself.  And this is an historical act […]  The second point is that the satisfaction of the first need, the action of satisfying and the instrument of satisfaction which has been acquired, leads to new needs.

and on the first page of Capital volume 1:

Every useful thing, […] maybe looked at from the two points of view of quality and quantity.  Every useful thing is a whole composed of many properties; it can therefore be useful in various ways.  The discovery of these ways and hence of the manifold uses of things is the work of history.

these two passages are important because they describe the expansion of the experiences of human life and human creative powers as a process unfolding over a definite period of time.  the satisfaction of our needs in any given moment and the means to do so produces new needs and material qualities.

what is striking is that this historical process is rooted in the ‘natural’ conditions of being human;  that is to say it is rooted in the biological/physical necessities of sustaining life.  this life-sustaining process is the motor for the expanding powers, desires and needs of human life.  but with the expansion of desires and needs, comes the material to do so, and the process by which it is done.

taken together, these ideas raise a question of how both the ecological crisis, and its resolution/transcendence has emerged historically;  in what ways has the solution to the ecological crisis emerged, but due to the alienation of these new needs and powers of the oppressed been the motor behind the crisis?

consciousness can be understood in one way as a real, practical question.  if the relations of production are a fetter on the productive forces, how then is consciousness as the self-expression and movement of the ecological movement a real, practical question and expression of the contradiction in material society?

i’m getting lost in these abstractions…

a comrade in NYC took this photo.  i really like it.

you know, i’ve been thinking a lot lately about humanity’s alienation from first nature as it relates to the dynamics and contradictions of consciousness.  i wrote about this a little bit in a previous post.

a new friend has pointed me towards the French ultra-Left and the theories of Communization.  i’ve only read the post on Bedtime Theory but, to say the least, the questions that are being asked are a very important challenge to both the state-capitalist tendencies on the Left and the failures of Left libertarians to engage in mass organizing.

at the same time, i share many of the same questions from the “What in the hell…” blog in response to the aforementioned post.  i’m sure i’m misunderstanding some things, and i will need to keep reading.

but my first question is how do these theories of Communization compare to the Johnson-Forest Tendency’s theory of the Invading Socialist Society?  i ask this because, broadly, both assert that the new society emerges out of the old through the transformation of social relations, although, working only from Todd’s post, there might not be agreement how that transformation takes place.

JFT focuses on the experience of alienation as both a material and “supernatural” process.  for JFT, seizing control of production materially transforms the economy from production for profit to production for use, simultaneously ending the abstraction and quantification of labor, and thus ending the creation of value as well.

i’ve been thinking about the concept of alienation and the moving & dynamic desire to be self-governing as it relates to the relationship between humanity and nature.  is there a similar experience that occurs between everyday peoples and nature, that occurs between working class and the means of re/production?

i’ve been wanting to check out Chaia Heller’s “Ecology of Everyday Life: Rethinking the Desire for Nature”

i’ve been wondering if Heller’s book would be helpful for understanding whether “buying green” is a contradictory form of consciousness that expresses the desire to overcome ecological alienation.

i think it’s also worth asking how/if this desire emerged historically.  is this ecological alienation a relatively recent historical phenomenon that emerged with a certain level (?) of environmental degradation that was reached in the 1970s manifesting in the birth of the environmentalist movement?

if the birth of this movement is the dialectical opposite of a certain level of world wide ecological catastrophe, can it be understood as the process by which capital expands use-values while at the same time expanding the potential power of the working class resulting in the creation of new subjectivities (in this case the different aspects of the eco-movement)?

i think these questions are important because, working from Marx’s idea that the contradiction between the forces of production on the one hand, and the social relations of production on the other are THE contradiction of capital that can only be transcended through the abolishment of capitalism, it’s important to accurately identify the forces of production as it relates to the impending ecological catastrophe.

it seems that under the current arrangement of capital, the immense capital investment in fossil fuel production — in addition to the major role oil plays in other parts of the production process beyond energy — and the lead in clean energy production by China, Germany and Japan necessitate the opposition of U.S. imperialism to any shift towards clean energy.

i formerly thought that these forms of clean energy production were the forces of production Marx was referring to in his formulation, but you can have wind and solar energy industries involved in value production.  the above mentioned contradiction — that between clean energy production and U.S. imperialism — is only one current, historical contradiction.

capitalist clean energy will not stop the need of capital to expand.  if value creation is behind this unending need to expand by capital, then the question of alienation needs to be brought back to the center of the discussion.

sorry for the rambling thoughts, but this is where my mind has been lately.

LBoogie brought these to my attention — fall out from BP’s Deepwater Horizon

i know it’s been a while since i’ve posted anything and it’s going to be a while longer, but in the mean time here are incomplete notes on the BP oil spill through the lens of the essay on Estranged Labor by Marx in his 1844 manuscripts.  hopefully one day i’ll get around to finishing these.

“…the Gulf appears to be bleeding,”

so i’ve been wondering what to make of the BP oil catastrophe in the Gulf.

i’ve also been engaged in my own “return to Marx” (for lack of a better phrase) that – alongside social ecology – has helped me understand, in part, the capitalist dynamics behind the spill.

much of the coverage thus far has demonstrated how the subjective decisions of BP and the other capitalist firms have contributed to the disaster.  there is, no doubt, truth to this.

but taken too far this could infer that an ecological capitalism that is benevolent towards the working class is possible.  there are similar debates being had in the European Left’s regroupment projects over whether the task is to fight capitalism, or merely its current form, viz. neoliberalism.

the task of revolutionaries will be to explain the oil spill as it relates to the broader dynamics of capitalism.  the concept of generalized commodity production – the motor behind endless production – should be explained in real social and political manifestations.

the following are notes towards that effort.

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this was highlighted on Democracy NOW!

major props to the World Socialist Web Site for all the great coverage of this disaster.

Louisiana residents and fishermen denounce oil spill response

The World Socialist Web Site spoke to fishermen in southern Louisiana who will be devastated by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which threatens to shut down fishing, shrimping, and oyster farming for years. BP has hired only a minority of fishermen in the cleanup effort, while the others struggle to pay their bills with the paltry $5,000 compensation payment.

reposted from Race Wire

BP Oil Spill Hurts Already Besieged Communities of Color

Julianne Hing

It’s only been two weeks since the April 20 explosion on the BP drilling rig killed 11 workers fifty miles off the coast of Louisiana and triggered an oil spill, but already local environmental justice advocates are saying the impact on communities of color could do more to wipe out the local economy than Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the recession combined.

The oil spill, which BP has taken responsibility for but been unable to bring under control, threatens to cut off local communities from their primary source of food and livelihood “indefinitely,” said Monique Harden, the co-director of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, a New Orleans-based environmental justice group.

And now, many fishermen, already out of work since the federal government issued a ten-day ban on commercial and recreational fishing starting last Friday, are signing up for paid volunteer work to help BP with its cleanup efforts. Fishermen with boats are being paid nominal fees to ferry materials to and from shore and load the gigantic plastic containment booms that are supposed to keep oil from spreading further inland.

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