Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dan Sharbar: Marxism’s environmental legacy

Dan Sharber looks at the deep connections between Marxist thought and environmentalism.

Socialist Worker, October 6, 2011

Karl Marx
Karl Marx

ALTHOUGH NOT as popular a charge as it once was, Marxists are sometimes accused of being concerned with economics to the exclusion of environmental concerns. According to some environmentalists and leftists, Marxists praise the domination of nature by man, while leaving environmental problems to be sorted out by some future technological innovation.

Reading Marx, however, tells a different story. In his 1844 political manuscripts, Marx wrote about the link between humans and the natural world:
Physically, man lives only on these products of nature, whether they appear in the form of food, heating, clothes, a dwelling, etc. The universality of man appears in practice precisely in the universality which makes all nature his inorganic body–both inasmuch as nature is (1) his direct means of life, and (2) the material, the object, and the instrument of his life activity. Nature is man’s inorganic body–nature, that is, insofar as it is not itself human body. Man lives on nature–means that nature is his body, with which he must remain in continuous interchange if he is not to die. That man’s physical and spiritual life is linked to nature means simply that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature.
While this may seem esoteric, it is pretty straightforward. Marx simply reasserts what many had known before him, dating back to the writings of Greek philosophers who Marx was familiar with and wrote his doctoral dissertation about: mainly, that we are nature as much as a tree is nature, and that destruction of nature is suicide since it is self-destruction.

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