You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘theory’ category.

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…


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.

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

since Murray Bookchin passed away Brian Tokar has become a prominent voice for the Institute for Social Ecology.  for the past several years, the organization has been in the middle of restructuring itself, and in the past year Tokar has provided a number of well written and historically rich essays on the ecology movement.

below is his latest on Earth Day posted on CounterPunch.  i think it’s useful as a rough historical sketch of the movement, but there’s an uneven tension between understanding the success and cooptation of Earth Day as a matter of corruption.  instead, i wonder how the piece could be re-written to describe this history as the dialectical tension of class struggle.

40 Years of Earth Days

by Brian Tokar

The 40th anniversary of the original Earth Day is upon us, and many seasoned environmentalists are nostalgic for the heady days of the 1970s, when 20 million people hit in the streets and eventually got Richard Nixon to sign a series of ambitious environmental laws. Those laws managed to clean up waterways that were turning into sewers, saved the bald eagle from the ravages of DDT, and began to clear the air, which in the early 1960s was so polluted that people were passing out all over our cities.

While environmental awareness has clearly seeped into mainstream consciousness in the US, today’s environmental movement is floundering, even though the stakes are higher than ever. While grassroots campaigners continue to fight for endangered forests, challenge polluting companies in their communities, and confront the coal industry’s assaults on the mountains of southern Appalachia, the best known national organizations can point to precious few substantive victories of late. Most appallingly, they have utterly failed to demonstrate meaningful leadership around what climatologist James Hansen calls the “predominant moral issue of this century,” the struggle to prevent the catastrophic and irreversible warming of the planet.

As British journalist Johann Hari reported in The Nation back in March, this is partly the result of a legacy of collaboration between increasingly corporate-styled environmental NGOs and the world’s most polluting corporations.

Read the rest of this entry »

there’s an important debate in the latest edition of turbulence over which demands should be put forward by the ecology movement:

Green New Deal: Dead end or pathway beyond capitalism?

turbulence co-editor Tadzio Mueller and former German Green Party European MP Frieder Otto Wolf dispute over whether there exists a progressive kernel within the proposal for a Green New Deal… whether it can be considered a transitional set of demands for the Left.

Tadzio begins by pointing out that endless growth, a defining characteristic of capitalism, is at the heart of the ecological crisis (what Tadzio calls the ‘biocrisis’).  the continuous need for profit by capital means that capital must seek out, develop and invest in new productive forces creating an increasing demand on natural resources at a growing rate.

the Green New Deal, Tadzio argues, in the middle of the current capitalist crisis, would only jump start capitalism with new, so-called ‘green’ technologies that don’t fundamentally change the aforementioned social and economic characteristics of capitalism.  any energy (capital) that is saved through these technologies would just be reinvested anyway.  the dominance of Clean Development Mechanisms as the ruling class method for addressing climate change is evidence of this.  under any Green New Deal the ecological contradiction of capitalism would go unaltered.

Frieder, on the other hand, responds that the current crisis presents the unique opportunity to inject ecological demands into capitalist recomposition that address both its social and economic dimensions.  short of world revolution, capitalism will, by the end of the crisis, reconstitute itself, so it is best to get what concessions the ecology movement can for the time being.  behind his approach is Frieder’s lamentation over the worldwide weakness of the Left.

Tadzio rejoins that Roosevelt’s New Deal was not a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ between politicians and economists.  it was a maneuver by the ruling class to coopt a powerful and vibrant working class movement centered around the CIO.  without such a movement, there are almost no possibilities of wresting any concessions from the rulers.

from The Simpsons episode entitled 'Bart the Mother'

what’s in a transitional method?

this is important, and worth exploring more.  the crisis of working class power, self-activity and organization cannot simply be lamented and left behind.  it needs to remain at the center of any discussion of transitional demands.

Trotsky’s Transitional Program is helpful for thinking through this.  written in 1938, this document takes up this issue of working class self-activity… well, sort of.  Trotsky and his comrades thought the problem was a crisis of the “right” type of vanguard leadership of the working class.  (it’s worth asking how much Trotskyist visions of socialism has historically differed from Stalinist rule-from-above, but not here.)  communists of all stripes were working through the contradiction between powerful working class movements, and the Stalinist parties and bureaucracies that coopted them.

Read the rest of this entry »

i’ve wanted to start reading the works of John Bellamy Foster for some time now, and one of the ‘rads got me his first book on ecology, The Vulnerable Planet, for Christmas.  Foster, along with Paul Burkett, have been credited with popularizing a Marxist approach towards ecology.

both Foster and Burkett have been important for Marxism because, for a time, Marx has been accused by elements within ecology movement as either having no position on the subject, being Promethean in his attitude to the natural world, or that Marx failed to recognize any natural limits to production.

i’ve just read Foster’s “Marx’s Theory of Metabolic Rift” (or, for the pdf) which provides a good introduction to Foster’s efforts, and takes up these criticisms.

metabolic rift and sustainability

“metabolism” is the term Marx uses to describe the relationship between human beings and the natural world.  not missing a beat, Marx understands this material exchange and transformation between humanity and the natural world through the aspects of materialist and dialectical philosophy that permeate his work.  he reasons that 1) human beings are constantly interacting with the physical/material/natural world, and 2) people are, themselves, physical/material/natural beings.  every time we change their environment, we change the conditions in which we live, and subsequently ourselves in the process.

if the natural world is one set of material conditions for our existence, then it follows that it poses its own set of limitations in the form of scientific natural law and resource scarcity, and society poses its own set of limitations in terms of both technological capability and social organization of production (production for profit or freedom?).  Marx understood the failure to recycle material back into production and the resulting environmental devastation to be the metabolic rift between humanity and the natural world (see “Utilization of the Refuse of Production” in Capital vol. 3).  Foster describes this as the estrangement of people from the natural conditions of their existence.

Read the rest of this entry »

the email hack at the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at East Anglia University has caused somewhat of a stir for the climate change movement, and its opponents.  these emails purportedly point to a conspiracy on the part of climate scientists who have put forward arguments, research and papers as proponents of the theory of global warming.  many of the scientists and researchers alluded to and involved in the hacked email exchanges have produced research that have been used as sources for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports on climate change.  these IPCC reports are cited by nearly all sectors of the climate movement.  in response, right wing pundits and climate change deniers have seized on these emails as evidence that climate change is a hoax.

the following video undercuts the claims by these skeptics, addressing some of the specific emails that are being used as ammunition by these climate change deniers.

in his weekly editorial in the Guardian, George Monbiot notes a couple other facets of the “scandal”. criticizing the questionable behavior of Phil Jones, the now former-head of the CRU at the center of this “scandal,” the crux of Monbiot’s piece is that scientists need to hold to the highest ethical standards in their research.  there are, however, a few other points, which Manbiot raises, that deserve extra emphasis.

Monbiot argues that this editorial policy of Jones et al. should be understood within the broader history of the climate movement.  climate scientists have been in a defensive posture for some 20 years now, as various sectors of capital — particularly the energy industry — have been funded campaigns and research with the sole purpose of either disproving or casting doubt onto the idea of global warming.

Read the rest of this entry »


the thoughts and work of Murray Bookchin have been of immeasurable importance to my understanding of the ecological crisis under capitalism.  i’ve read a number of his works before, but i am trying to go back through them in order to gain a deeper and more coherent grasp of his arguments and philosophy.  since one thing this blog is supposed to be is a journal i’ll try to provide my own summaries and takes on his works, and hopefully — with a little luck and a little extra time — i’ll get a chance to explore some of the thinkers and ideas that Bookchin drew from, including Kropotkin, Marx and Hegel.

i’m trying to use Bookchin as a launching point — thinking about how his contributions fit into the broader movement.  the way i’ve been thinking about it is that Bookchin represents the Marx of the ecology movement.  that is to say, like Marx, he theorized very well an historically cogent and holistic worldview to explain the ecological contradictions of our time.  this is important, but in keeping with the analogy of revolutionary working class struggle, the ecology movement has yet to see its Lenin.

what i mean by this is that as brilliant and as vital as Marx’s contributions were, it was Lenin who began to explore concretely questions of organization and subjectivity.  one question i’ve been kicking around in my head: every oppression dialectically entails the subjectivity that will overcome it – it’s own negation.  when considering patriarchy the subjectivity is women and at times youth; when fighting the bosses the subjectivity is the worker; and under white supremacy the subjectivity is people of color.  without getting into how all these oppressions reinforce each other and are part of the same system, namely capitalism, i’m asking myself, “what is the subjectivity for the ecology movement?”

Read the rest of this entry »