Marx’s ecology: recovered legacy

by Michael Löwy
May 05, 2018

While mainstream ecological theory has been dismissive of Karl Marx, serious research in recent decades has recovered some of his very important insights on ecological issues. The pioneers have been James O’Connor and the journal Capitalism, Nature and Socialism—a tradition continued by Joel Kovel—but the most systematic and thorough investigations on Marx’s ecological views are those of John Bellamy Foster and his friends from Monthly Review.

Many ecologists accuse Marx of “productivism.” Is this accusation justified? No, insofar as nobody denounced as much as Marx the capitalist logic of production for production: the accumulation of capital, wealth and commodities as an aim in itself.

The fundamental idea of a socialist economy—contrary to its miserable bureaucratic caricatures—is one of producing use-values, goods which are necessary for the satisfaction of human needs. Moreover, the main importance of technical progress for Marx was not the infinite growth of goods (“having”) but the reduction of the labour journey and the increase of free time (“being”).