The robbery of nature:
Capitalism and the Ecological Divide
John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark
386 pages, 978-1-58367-839-8, $ 28
Reviewed by Elaine Graham-Leigh to the Counterfire
As Marx said in Capital, capitalism is based on the expropriation of the earth. Every advance in capitalist agriculture is “an advance in the art of not only robbing the worker but also the soil” (p.12). In Marx’s ecology, John Bellamy Foster established the central importance of the theory of the metabolic gap created by capitalist production for Marx’s critique of capitalism. Similarly, the essays revolve around the dispossession of both nature and human labor by capitalism.
That capitalism is based on the expropriation of both nature and human physical existence, what Bellamy Foster and Clark call “the physical rift” (p.23), is worth pointing out again, as is the point that this is an inherent part of capitalism working. The capitalist system cannot be reformed from this tendency towards expropriation and ecological destruction. As Murray Bookchin put it, “capitalism … can no more be” persuaded “to limit growth than a person can be” persuaded “to stop breathing” (p.248).
Realizing this reality gives us two options. The first is the desperate position that Bellamy Foster and Clark imply, which is held by most of the mainstream green thinkers:
“The implication is that modern green thinkers, by definition, view ecological devastation as” unconditional “and therefore completely insurmountable and are inherently pessimistic and apocalyptic and see no way for humanity – at least when it requires a break with the existing social one. ” Assignment. This is undoubtedly an accurate description of the views of most mainstream environmentalists today, who categorically refuse to contemplate a solution that involves transgressing the capitalist relations of production â(p.34).
The second, of course, is to accept the need to overthrow the capitalist system. However, that is not the end of the debate. Some of the harshest essays here actually take up other revolutionary currents. We may agree on the need to replace capitalism, but what the ecological post-capitalist society could or should look like and how we can get there is still a matter of debate.
Techno-optimism versus green austerity
A particularly interesting example of this debate is the essay on Jacobin The 2017 edition of the magazine “Earth, Wind and Fire”, which dealt with the climate crisis. According to Bellamy Foster and Clark, it did so by means of it[espousing] a techno-optimism in which ecological crises can be solved by a combination of carbon-free energy (including nuclear power), geoengineering and the construction of a global energy infrastructure with negative emissions â(p.273); the idea that a commodity society could survive only with seemingly socialist planning and redistribution.
What the authors in Jacobin The Good Anthropocene is the Good Anthropocene: The idea that we can accept that human society will continue to shape the natural world, but that we can do so in a positive way. For Bellamy Foster and Clark, however, the acceptance of the good Anthropocene is simply a failure to see the depth of the social change required. While they position themselves as revolutionary, from their point of view this is the Jacobin The topic did not fail to recognize that “revolutionary changes in the existing relations of production are inevitable” (p.286). In their opinion, these revolutionary changes will be the âlong ecological revolutionâ triggered by ecological and economic crises and primarily fought by the youth in the Global Southâ¦.
You can read the full review over at Counterfire