[OPE-L:3979] Re: Critiquing exploitation and nature

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Tue, 14 Jan 1997 10:07:48 -0800 (PST)

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Ian wrote in [OPE-L:3976]:

> In the sense Marx intends, exploitation is the socially produced and
> maintained compulsion of a labouring class to work for the benefit of a
> propertied class in addition to any work done directly or indirectly for
> its own benefit. Obviously, nature cannot be exploited in this way.

Yes, I agree. This, however, does not mean that nature can't be
"exploited" in _another_ way.

Nature is a source of wealth for capital (as it is for all social
formations). Yet, the appropriation and use of this raw material of wealth
varies with different modes of production. Since individual capitalists
exist in a competitive environment and are motivated by profit
maximization, their (over) use of nature has consequences not only for
their individual profit but also imposes social costs which are ultimately
born by either the state or workers (and the public in general). Yet,
because the state is not some class-neutral agent and because it is also
frequently the site of intra-capitalist class rivalry, there is no reason
to suppose that the state will necessarily act in defense of the "public
interest." Moreover, there is not one capitalist state, but rather many --
separated geographically and culturally as nation-states. Thus, what one
state may identify as being in the collective interest of capital may not
be similarly identified by other capitalist states. Thus, in the real
world, some nations have stringent environmental regulations and others
have next to none. There is, furthermore, no effective international
agency that can impose and enforce environmental regulations on
sovereign nation-states. Also, capitalists frequently have very loose
"loyalty" to an individual nation and can relocate to other geographic
areas where there are less regulations on the "exploitation" of nature (of
course, there are many other reasons as well for industrial relocation).
There is also the touchy question of how needs for workers are altered
historically and culturally. It is certainly the case that (influenced by
marketing and advertising) workers' patterns of wants and needs for
consumer goods have been changed by the mass production and marketing of
consumer goods. Yet, what are the effects then on the environment of these
demands? Consider [non-biodegradable] plastic products. Or, to give a
more concrete instance [that may come close to home for many listmembers]:
consider plastic diapers. What happens to these diapers after they are
used? They end up in landfills or the sea. In either case, they represent
a hazard for the environment. What will the state do, if anything, about
this? Or -- more to the point -- what will workers demand be done? Will
they shift their demand to [old-fashioned] cloth diapers or will they
resist that change? I suspect the latter. What will this then mean for
the world's environmental quality for your children's children? How can
these needs and wants -- in large part created by capital -- have to
change? It is not to hard to envision a situation where the wants and
needs of workers in one nation can come into conflict with the wants and
needs of workers in other nations. Other than simply asserting that this
will all be sorted out once there is socialism, what can be done?

In solidarity, Jerry