This book attempts to defend some of the central theses of Marxism - those that make up the theory of historical materialism - against criticisms that have been levelled at it by environmentalists, and to show that historical materialism, suitably interpreted, can provide an explanatory and normative framework for thinking about and developing political responses to the environmental problems that afflict and threaten contemporary societies. The book may therefore be said to involve a confrontation between Marxism and environmentalism, but like any brief summary this formulation is in need of qualification.
To start with, it is an oversimplification to speak of Marxism as a single theory. It is hardly necessary to comment on the diverse range of interpretations that have been applied to the writings of Marx and his collaborator Engels. The nature of that collaboration has also been the source of much dispute, leading to denials of a unitary standpoint in their joint corpus. And within Marx's own works divisions have been discerned between his earlier and later works. The question therefore arises of which version of Marxism it is that is to be placed in confrontation with environmentalism, and consequently it will be one of the main tasks of this book to consider what interpretations are available and which emerge most favourably from that confrontation.
Similarly, it may be observed that environmentalism has many different strands. The terms 'deep' and 'shallow', deriving from Naess's 1973 article, are often used as a convenient way of drawing a distinction between more and less radical strands, but, as John Barry has recently argued, this dichotomy masks a more complex picture.1 The deep/shallow categorisation is most often defined in evaluative terms, the title of Deep Ecology being
claimed by those who ascribe intrinsic value to non-human nature, while those who ascribe to it only instrumental value are labelled - usually by others - shallow. But as we shall see, this terminology is also used in ways which owe more to metaphysical than to evaluative considerations; and, as Barry points out, strands of environmental thought may also be categorised according to their differing economic, institutional and political perspectives, which can cut across the deep/shallow divide. I am less concerned, however, about these differences within environmental thought than I am about the parallel differences within Marxism; my aim is not to choose between the various environmental theorists whose writings will be considered but to use their arguments as a way of raising and developing the challenges that environmental problems pose for Marxism.
The confrontation, then, is asymmetrical. My primary aim is to investigate what the existence of environmental problems means for Marxism and what, if anything, Marxism can contribute to the study and resolution of those problems, and I draw upon a range of environmental literature as a means to this end. Expressed in these terms, and in the face of the widely advertised 'death of Marxism', this project may appear perverse. 'Why Marxism?' it might well be asked. Why not 'Ecology and . . .' liberalism, or communitarianism, or post-modernism even? One answer might be: just because its death is so widely proclaimed. This would not be mere perversity; it is important that intellectual fashions be contested and not simply followed, and that ideas currently out of favour not be forgotten or ignored. Even if, as seems likely following the collapse of political systems and movements supposedly based on his theories, Marx is not in future read as religiously as he has been in the past, it remains important that his ideas not be dismissed but continue to be studied, in order that proper debate about their strengths and weaknesses and their place in the canon of political thought can take place.
This rationale is important but not sufficient, since what I am engaged in is not just a study in the history of ideas but an attempt to relate Marxism to a particular set of contemporary problems. Clearly I am assuming that there are at least prima facie grounds for regarding Marxism not only as worthy of study generally, but as a useful framework for the investigation of ecological problems. To see why, consider the fact that, like Marxism, environmentalism is said by some to have had its day. The scare stories of the 1970s and 80s have proved false, and whatever legitimate concerns the environmentalists had have been incorporated into the political mainstream. Or so it is said. But while it is true that expressions of concern about environmental problems have permeated mainstream politics, sapping support for green parties, and that the focus of environmental activism has shifted from political parties to pressure groups which are themselves seen as increasingly integrated into the establishment, there remains a widespread feeling that not enough is being done, and that environmental issues need to become more central to policy-making as the green parties have urged. The feeling that government and corporate expressions of environmental concern are, if not mere window-dressing, then at best peripheral tinkering, subordinated to established political or economic commitments, is evidenced by the willingness of many people to trust the scientific opinions of pressure groups rather than the experts employed by government or business, and by the emergence of new, more confrontational campaigning groups.
One reason, then, for investigating Marxism in relation to ecological problems, is that it may help us to diagnose the weaknesses of green politics and the inadequacy of mainstream responses to ecological problems. Marxists have, for example, criticised the attempts of many ecologists to transcend class divisions and to appeal equally to all humanity. Of course, the existence of ecological problems is potentially a threat to everybody, but not to the same extent or with the same degree of immediacy; money can, to a certain extent, buy protection or an escape route.2 Relatedly, much of green political discourse may, in standard Marxist parlance, be termed utopian for its promulgation of models of a better society constructed and promoted without sufficient attention to the mechanism and agency that are to bring it into existence. And, for Marxism, these same structures of interests that can explain the weakness of ecologism can also explain the inadequacy of the mainstream responses. So perhaps the critical perspective of Marxism can restore the radical edge of ecological politics. It will be argued, however, by environmentalists and others that Marxism is unsuited to this task. This is argued on empirical grounds, by reference to the environmental record of former socialist countries, and it is also argued on theoretical grounds. It is argued that whatever the strengths of a Marxist critique of ecological politics and of the treatment of ecological issues within mainstream politics, Marxist theory is poorly placed to offer an
2 See, for example, Hall 1972b. See also Marx's comment on Utopian Socialism quoted in chapter 1 below, text to note 26. Some greens (e.g. Porritt 1985, p. 116) do acknowledge the differential impact of environmental problems upon different classes, but typically these class differences are downplayed, and do not translate into thoughts about agency or strategy. As Marx writes of the Utopian Socialists: 'They are conscious of caring chiefly for the interests of the working class, as being the most suffering class. Only from the point of view of being the most suffering class does the proletariat exist for them.' (Manifesto of the Communist Party, p. 60.)
alternative, since the theory itself has implications - notably those arising from Marx's vision of an abundant future and his commitment to the development of the productive forces - which are in tension with environmentalist beliefs and values. A central task of this book, then, will be to examine such arguments and to suggest that in fact Marx's thinking in these and other areas can be interpreted in ways which are compatible with a recognition of environmental constraints and which offer promising insights into the dynamics of the interaction between humans and nature.
A further qualification of my original formulation should be noted at this point: the confrontation between Marxism and ecologism is not entirely a hostile one. There are, as we shall see, important aspects of Marx's theory - in particular his view of the way in which human societies are dependent upon and moulded by natural conditions, and his concern for a wider range of values than those expressed in the market values of commodities - which mirror the concerns of many green theorists, and this provides another reason why we may reasonably hope that an investigation of Marxism's ecological implications will be a fruitful exercise.
Of course, mine is not the only treatment of these issues. Many of the others are discussed in the following chapters, where the points of agreement and differences of interpretation will emerge. However, there is a variety of levels at which the confrontation (if that is the word) between Marxism and ecologism can be studied, and it is worth saying something further about the place occupied by this book. This study is located at the more theoretical end of the spectrum, addressing philosophical questions of value and forms of explanation, and the most general questions of human nature and of humans' relation to nature, which I take in some sense to be foundational for more concrete and applied forms of investigation, for example detailed investigations of particular economic and political arrangements, political movements and so on, such as those published in the journal Capitalism, Nature, Socialism. The focus on normative and explanatory issues in the interpretation of Marx raises the question of how the present account stands in relation to the Analytical Marxism of theorists such as G. A. Cohen, Jon Elster, John Roemer and Erik Olin Wright. If by 'Analytical Marxism' is meant a style of investigation which examines and seeks to clarify problematic concepts and claims in Marx and to interpret or reconstruct his theory in a way which is philosophically defensible, then this is something to which any theoretical defence of Marx must aspire. At a more substantive level the present work expresses some reservations about the methodological individualism (at least in the strong form supported by Elster) that is often said to characterise Analytical
Marxism. As we shall see, however, differences exist within Analytical Marxism itself (notably between Elster and Cohen) over the nature and significance of this doctrine. More generally, the present work owes much to the reconstructive efforts of Analytical Marxism, and in particular to Cohen, whose functional interpretation of historical materialism forms the starting-point for my own account.
The book is structured as follows. The first chapter lays the groundwork, or more precisely it determines the scope and approach of what is to follow, by considering how ecological or environmental problems should be conceived. I discuss the ways in which such problems may be distinguished from others faced by society, and I consider the normative criteria according to which they are judged to be problems, rejecting the 'ecocen-tric' perspective associated with Deep Ecology and arguing for a form of anthropocentrism, albeit a broader and more nuanced form than is often encountered in the literature.
In chapter 2 I examine one of the key concepts of green politics and environmental literature generally: the concept of natural limits, and, in particular, limits to population and economic growth. This concept is Malthusian in its origins, and it is sometimes argued that Marx and Engels's critique of Malthus constitutes a refusal to accept the existence of environmental limits. I argue against this view, however, and draw upon their critique to suggest the need for a more rounded approach; an approach which recognises that environmental limits are not purely natural, and acknowledges the role that social and technological factors play in their formation.
The task of the remaining chapters is to consider whether Marx's theory of historical materialism is consistent with the recognition of environmental limits, thus understood. Chapter 3 prepares for this by examining the methodological precepts which guide Marx in the construction of his theories, precepts which have been criticised as inadequate for the investigation of ecological phenomena but which in fact anticipate much that is contained in the environmentalists' own methodological speculations. Chapter 4 argues that a recognition of human dependence upon nature is central to Marx's historical materialism; thus he has every reason to accept the reality of environmental limits and to allow for them in his theory of social development. It is often said, however, that this is contradicted by Marx's commitment to the development of the productive forces. Chapter 5 - arguably the core chapter of the book - challenges this contention, offering an interpretation of the development of the productive forces, consistent with the role that it plays within Marx's theory, which - far from implying the transgression of environmental limits - allows that the avoidance or amelioration of ecological problems may serve as a criterion for that development. Since the factors that actually shape technological development may differ according to the intentional structures produced by prevailing relations of production it follows that this ideal of an ecologically benign development of the productive forces may serve as the basis for an ecological critique of existing society and a motivation for change. One of the reasons for Marx's commitment to the development of the productive forces is that such development is necessary in order to achieve the satisfaction of human needs that Marx sees as a condition for the establishment of a communist society, and in chapter 6 I continue and (I hope) conclude the argument by examining Marx's account of human needs, and its ecological implications.
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