Session 1: Marx before metabolism
The ecological Marx
The key concept in this context is “metabolism” (Stoffwechsel), which leads us to a systematic interpretation of Marx’s ecology.
Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism 2017: 13
In this book I will demonstrate that Marx’s ecological critique possesses a systematic character and constitutes an essential moment within the totality of his project of Capital. Ecology does not simply exist in Marx’s thought—my thesis is a stronger one. I maintain that it not possible to comprehend the full scope of his critique of political economy if one ignores its ecological dimension.
Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism 2017: 13-14
In chapter 1, I show that Marx in 1844 is already dealing with the relationship between humanity and nature as the central theme of his famous theory of alienation.
Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism 2017: 14
In chapter 2, I trace the formation of the concept of metabolism in Marx’s theory. Marx used it for the first time in his neglected London Notebooks and elaborated on it even more in the Grundrisse and Capital.
Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism 2017: 15
I provide in chapter 3 a systematic reconstruction of Marx’s ecology through his theory of “reification” as developed in Capital. I focus on the “material” (stofflich) dimensions of the world as essential components of his critique of political economy, which is often underestimated in earlier discussions on Capital… Thus I argue that “material” (Stoff) is a central category in Marx’s critical project.
Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism 2017: 15-16
Part II I offer a more complete examination of Marx’s ecology than the earlier literature, scrutinizing his natural science notebooks that will be published for the first time in the new Marx-Engels- Gesamtausgabe, known as MEGA2.
Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism 2017: 12
Interestingly, during the last fifteen years of his life Marx produced one-third of his notebooks. Moreover, half of these deal with natural sciences, such as biology, chemistry, botany, geology, and mineralogy, whose scope is astonishingly wide.
Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism 2017: 17
Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (1844)
First published by the Institute of Marxism-Leninism in Moscow MEGA1, 1932.
In English by the Foreign Languages Publishing House (now Progress Publishers), Moscow, 1959
Jürgen Rojahn’s careful philological examination showed in a convincing manner that the bundle of texts called The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts do not constitute an independent work; that is, they are not a coherent and systematic treatise.
Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism 2017: 27
Private property is thus the product, the result, the necessary consequence, of alienated labor, of the external relation of the worker to nature and to himself. Private property thus results by analysis from the concept of alienated labor, i.e., of alienated man, of estranged labor, of estranged life, of estranged man. True, it is as a result of the movement of private property that we have obtained the concept of alienated labor (of alienated life) in political economy. But analysis of this concept shows that though private property appears to be the reason, the cause of alienated labor, it is rather its consequence, just as the gods are originally not the cause but the effect of man’s intellectual confusion. Later this relationship becomes reciprocal.
Marx (1844) Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts. MECW 3: 279-80 Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism 2017: 34
In the same way association also re-establishes, now on a rational basis, no longer mediated by serfdom, overlordship and the silly mysticism of property, the intimate ties of man with the earth, since the earth ceases to be an object of huckstering, and through free labour and free enjoyment becomes once more, a true personal property of man.
Marx (1844) Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts. MECW 3: 268 Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism 2017: 35
We will not join in the sentimental tears wept over this by romanticism. Romanticism always confuses the shamefulness of huckstering the land with the perfectly rational consequence, inevitable and desirable within the realm of private property, of the huckstering of private property in land. In the first place, feudal landed property is already by its very nature huckstered land—the earth which is estranged from man and hence confronts him in the shape of a few great lords. Marx (1844) Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts. MECW 3: 268
Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism 2017: 36
The domination of the land as an alien power over men is already inherent in feudal landed property. The serf is the adjunct of the land. Likewise, the lord of an entailed estate, the first-born son, belongs to the land. It inherits him. Indeed, the dominion of private property begins with property in land—that is its basis. But in feudal landed property the lord at least appears as the king of the estate. Similarly, there still exists the semblance of a more intimate connection between the proprietor and the land than that of mere material wealth. The estate is individualized with its lord: it has his rank, is baronial or ducal with him, has his privileges, his jurisdiction, his political position, etc. It appears as the inorganic body of its lord.
Marx (1844) Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts. MECW 3: 266
Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism 2017: 37
Association, applied to land, shares the economic advantage of large-scale landed property, and first brings to realization the original tendency inherent in [land] division, namely, equality. In the same way association also reestablishes, now on a rational basis, no longer mediated by serfdom, overlordship and the silly mysticism of property, the intimate [gemüthliche] ties of man with the earth, since the earth ceases to be an object of huckstering, and through free labor and free enjoyment becomes, once more, a true personal property of man.
Marx (1844) Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts. MECW 3: 268
Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism 2017: 43
Communism as the positive transcendence of private property as human self-estrangement, and therefore as the real appropriation of the human essence by and for man; communism therefore as the complete return of man to himself as a social (i.e., human) being—a return accomplished consciously and embracing the entire wealth of previous development. This communism, as fully developed naturalism equals humanism, and as fully developed humanism equals naturalism; it is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature and between man and man—the true resolution of the strife between existence and essence, between objectification and self- confirmation, between freedom and necessity, between the individual and the species.
Marx (1844) Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts. MECW 3: 296 Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism 2017: 43-44
The universality of man manifests itself in practice in that universality which makes the whole of nature as his inorganic body, (1) as a direct means of life and (2) as the matter, the object and tool of his activity. Nature is man’s inorganic body, that is to say, nature in so far as it is not the human body. Man lives from nature, i.e. nature is his body, and he must maintain a continuing dialogue with it if he is not to die. To say that man’s physical and mental life is linked to nature simply means that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature.
Marx (1844) Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts. MECW 3: 275-76
Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism 2017: 44, 65
In contrast to Althusser’s interpretation that simply dismisses Marx’s texts before 1845, one finds important insights in his Paris Notebooks of 1844 that fundamentally characterize Marx’s lifelong project of critique of political economy. His formulation is, however, not at all the final one, but a personal sketch without an intent to publish it. Thus the humanist interpretation of The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts turns out to be one-sided, because though Marx preserved a certain economic insight attained in 1844, he also quickly gave up his philosophical conception of alienation, which he borrowed from Feuerbach and Moses Hess. The fact that Marx abandoned Feuerbach’s anthropological philosophy was of significance with regard to his ecology as well because his new critique of philosophy in Theses on Feuerbach and The German Ideology prepared the theoretical basis for a more adequate understanding of the historical modifications of the relationship between humanity and nature.
Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism 2017: 50-51
The German Ideology
The German Ideology was first published in Marx/Engels Gesamtausgabe, Erste Abteilung, 5. Band, in 1932 by the Institute of Marxism-Leninism of the Central Committee of the C.P.S.U.
The first English translation of the whole work, was issued by Progress Publishers, Moscow, in 1964. MECW 5: 587-88
A new English translation of the original Feuerbach manuscript, produced by Terrell Carver and Daniel Blank (2014), along with a separate commentary (2016), explains how the ‘German Ideology’ book myth was created. Far from elaborating a philosophy of historical materialism, Marx and Engels were mostly settling accounts with some of their previously close contemporaries.
For that matter, nature, the nature that preceded human history, is not by any means the nature in which Feuerbach lives, it is nature which today no longer exists anywhere (except perhaps on a few Australian coral islands of recent origin) and which, therefore, does not exist for Feuerbach either. Marx and Engels (1845-46) The German Ideology. MECW 5: 40
Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism 2017: 59
Moreover this nature, which precedes human history, is really not the nature in which Feuerbach lives, not the nature that no longer exists anywhere today except perhaps on isolated Australian coral islands of recent origin, hence does not exist for Feuerbach either.
Carver and Blank, Marx and Engels’ ‘German Ideology’ Manuscripts. 2014: 57
The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals. Thus the first fact to be established is the physical organization of these individuals and their consequent relation to the rest of nature. Of course, we cannot here go either into the actual physical nature of man or into the natural conditions in which man finds himself—geological, oro-hydrographical, climatic and so on. All historical writing must set out from these natural bases and their modification in the course of history through the action of men.
Marx and Engels (1845-46) The German Ideology. MECW 5: 31 Saito, Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism 2017: 60-61
We have to make a start… By setting forth the first premise of all human existence, and therefore of all history, namely the premise that men have to be in a position to live in order to be able to ‘make history’. [Geological, hydrological etc relations] But living requires above all else eating and drinking, shelter, clothing and yet other things. The first historical act is therefore the production of the means to satisfy these needs, the production of material life itself and indeed this is a historical act, a founding condition of all history, which must be fulfilled today, on a daily and hourly basis, just as it was thousands of years ago, simply for man to stay alive.
Carver and Blank, Marx and Engels’ ‘German Ideology’ Manuscripts. 2014: 63
Comments and critics
Marx’s statement in Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts 1844: “Nature is man’s inorganic body”:
“the product of Marx’s well-known transposition of God’s features and role in the Hegelian system of thought onto man… Thus Marx’s theory represents an extreme form of the placing of man in the role previously attributed to God, a transposition so characteristic of Enlightenment thought… “[Marx’s claim that nature is man’s body] seems to carry also the unattractive implication that nature is man’s property – one’s body is, after all, one’s own, and usually considered to be entirely at one’s disposal, subject to only very minor qualifications. The analogy thus reinforces damaging ‘human property’ views of the natural world.”
Val Routley (1981) ‘On Karl Marx as an Environmental Hero’, Environmental Ethics, 3: 239-40, 243
“A dualistic view of humanity and nature and an instrumentalist view of the latter… Marx distinguishes between nature as ‘organic body’, that is, as human body, and nature as ‘inorganic body’, that is, the rest of nature. While a mere distinction between two such realms within material nature is not, obviously, in itself an ontological false step, the valuation underlying the distinction is another question. The ‘inorganic’ quality of ‘external’ nature signifies its instrumental character in relation to an abstracted humanity, which is taken to be the source of all value.”
John Clark (1989) ‘Marx’s Inorganic Body’, Environmental Ethics, 11: 243, 251
“In the so-called Paris Manuscripts, Marx referred to the labour process as effecting the progressive ‘humanization’ of nature and ‘naturalization’ of humanity. Nature was described as ‘the inorganic body’ of humanity that had been increasingly assimilated, through work, into an ‘organic’ part of humanity… Marx’s treatment of humans as homo faber is a central feature of the antagonistic dialectic between humanity and nature set out in these early writings … Although more and more areas of nature would come under human control through technological development, the antagonistic dialectic between humanity and nature would never be entirely resolved.”
Robyn Eckersley (1992) Environmentalism and Political Theory: 78-9
“Nothing in the science of ecology entails that there is no significant division between an individual organism and its environment… It entails no radically holistic ontology. Hence it does not entail that ‘I and nature are one’ or that the ‘the world is my body’.”
John O’Neill (1994) ‘Humanism and Nature’, Radical Philosophy, 66: 26
“In ancient Greek usage, the word organ (organon) also meant tool, and organs were initially viewed as ‘grown-on tools’ of animals – whereas tools were regarded as the artificial organs of human beings… Marx had taken notes on the section of Hegel’s Encyclopedia dealing with the philosophy of nature in 1839… Marx employed the organic/inorganic distinction in three different but related senses, which can be designated as (a) scientific, (b) dialectical, and (c) materialist. First, he referred to nature (other than the human body) as the inorganic body of humanity in conformity with the scientific vocabulary of his day, wherein organic referred to bodily organs, whereas inorganic meant unrelated to bodily organs… Marx’s reference to nature as the inorganic body of man was meant, then, to convey that human beings and nature were connected to each other bodily (i.e. in the most intimate way possible), but that human beings through tool-making were able to extend their material capacities beyond their own bodily organs (i.e. ‘inorganically’ in this sense)… It is the separation of human beings from the soil (and hence from the organic products of the soil) and their agglomeration into huge cities that constitutes, for Marx, the differentia specifica of capitalism.” John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett (2017) Marx and the Earth, 65, 66, 70, 77
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