[OPE-L:1240] Re: value, use value, & ecology

glevy@acnet.pratt.edu (glevy@acnet.pratt.edu)
Tue, 27 Feb 1996 10:57:17 -0800

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A response to Makoto's [OPE-L:1236]:

I very much appreciate Makoto's response especially as it relates to
discussions by Japanese Marxists on ecology. In Makoto's books (and in
some other sources in English), there is frequently reference to some of
the huge amount of books and articles published in Japan which have not
been translated into other languages [I read his books with envy as I
wish I could read Japanese for myself to be able to gain a better
understanding of this rich heritage in political economy]. It is one of
the great advantages of this list, IMO, that we are able to exchange
perspectives and sources from many different theoretical and political
perspectives internationally.

> 1. The ecological problem is related to the ways of utilize great nature
> and technologies, and not so much with the use-value in general. As you may
> know, we read, in the Section 10 'Large-Scale Industry and Agriculture' in
> Chapter 15 of Capital vol.1, how Marx was concerned about the devastating
> results of modern capitalist development, destroying fertility of nature.
> This corresponds with his understanding of labour process as a metabolism
> between human being and nature in chapter 7.

I think I'll let Paul B. talk more about the relevance of use-value for
understanding matters related to ecology in Marx's works. Certainly Chs.
7 & 15 of VI are relevant, as Makoto suggests. What about the relevance
of Marx's analysis of constant fixed capital and constant circulating
capital in V2? It seems to me that there are implications concerning
those topics that should be further addressed. Also, there is the whole
question of how this topic should be addressed when one analyses the
subject of "many capitals", rather than capital in general. Furthermore,
questions such as rent and landed property, foreign trade, the state, and
the world market and crises seem to me to be areas where the connection
to ecology can and should be made.

Also, the advance in technology and in our understanding of scientific
processes related to the environment is greater than it was during Marx's
time. I believe we need to look at those "new" understandings as well.
For instance, there is the whole question of the implications of laws of
thermodynamics for the environment. I will admit that this subject is not
something I feel confident in discussing at length and would appreciate
attempts by others on the list to make these connections (as Elmar
Altvater did in the sources that I cited in [1217]). In other words, I
believe that this is a subject for which we not only have to look at
Marx, but also "beyond Marx."

> interested in the ecological issue. Our common concern was not from red to
> green but to combine red and green.

That's a concern of other Marxists who are interested in the environment
as well. We have to address a political question that I alluded to
before: many activists internationally are becoming Green *rather than*
Red or Red/Green. Alain Lipietz is an example of someone who has now,
alas, rejected Red for Green. In order to be able to win these activists
to Marxism, we have to address more convincingly some of their critiques of

> As a step toward that direction, it
> became more and more common recognition among us that technological
> 'progress' should not be regarded as something neutral and independent from
> the social formations.

Agreed. I think that this is increasingly understood by Marxists since
Harry Braverman's 1974 book _Labor and Monopoly Capital_.

> 3. In your fromulation of 3 positions, I feel that this aspect of problem
> is either absent or weak. As a result the conclusion may become too
> pesimistic. New types of technologies such as soft energy path, or safe
> human biochemicals may be much more easy to develope if we can transform
> the current dominant forms of capitalist production. Think of huge amount
> of R&D research funds to guide and build up the current industrial and
> consumption style.

Here's where we might have a difference in understanding. The three
"answers" which I claimed to be unsatisfactory concerned the global
economy. Are the implications necessarily pessimistic? I don't think so.
In any event, two questions that come to mind now are:

1) whether most Marxists have accepted implicitly and/or explicitly a belief
that the future will take care of itself and that the socialization of
production and workers' control will resolve issues stemming from the
plunder of the environment under capitalism and the unequal standards of
wealth internationally? At best, I consider such a perspective to be
problematic. For many Marxists there seems to be a over-confidence --
optimism -- related to progress which in some cases involves teleological
assumptions which I believe are unwarranted.

2) While it is true that there are developments in alternative
technologies (such as the ones you list), I wonder: even assuming further
advances in technology, can we say with confidence that the problems that
I posed in terms of the global economy will be able to be resolved? I
don't know. I do know that: a) if there is socialism, workers will
inherit a world in which the forces of production have not only grown,
but the (in many cases, non-renewable) resources of the world have been
plundered, and; b) workers are demanding to know answers *now* before they
become part of the process of social transformation. In part, this is
related to the legacy of "really existing socialism." Workers, IMHO, want
something different and expect something more. Consequently, coming up
with better Marxist understandings of the environment has an important
political dimension.

4. In our joint book in Japanese, N.Okishio argued that the logical
> necessity for capitalist economy to terminate is shown by its inability to
> control exessively grown power of prodution and its devastating effect of
> ecological natural conditions. I thought that his argument states at most
> the necessity or need for socialism, not the logical inevitability for
> socialism.

Yes, I agree that an argument which says that capitalism is destroying
the environment and imperilling all life on this planet is different from
an argument that demonstrates the "logical inevitability of
socialism." Unfortunately, I don't believe that socialism is "inevitable."

> One of
> difficulty in the ecological issues would be how to encourage social
> consciousness in various social movemnt beyond narrow short-sighted
> targets. But this may be common with the difficulty in keeping socialism in
> general.

Another *big* question. No doubt, social movements can transform social
consciousness. However, it can not be safely assumed that workers
internationally will sacrifice a standard of living that they have either
grown accostomed to or expect out of concern for the environment. Perhaps
this suggests a "vulnerability and weakness" of socialism as well as
capitalism. The experience with "moral incentives" in many "socialist"
countries has hardly been very encouraging. Of course, one could argue
that with workers' democracy, things would be different. Still, workers
will not only be "products" of socialism but of capitalism as well.
Popular understandings related to the accumulation of consumption goods
will not easily be answered, I fear.

> Are these points of some help, Jerry?

Yes, thanks again. Is there anyone else who would like to take a bite?

In OPE-L Solidarity,