RE: [OPE] Anitra Nelson, "Fictitious Capital and Real Compacts"

From: Paul Cockshott <>
Date: Sat Oct 18 2008 - 18:03:42 EDT

Those links look interesting, particularly the Smil one.

On the concrete issue of damage under Mao and Stalin, you dont give
any concrete instances. I am of course not denying that ecological damage
will have occured under the governments they headed, but I suspect
that giving their names is part of a lazy shorthand depiction of
the Mao and Stalin periods that owes as much to the bourgeois ideological
depiction of history as to reality.

In your examples and those in Irvines article, the key examples are
from the USSR in the late 50s and the 1960s.

Irvines article is so wide ranging in its condemnations, that almost
all human societies post the paleolithic are condemned for their ecological
destruction, so that Russia in the 1930s just fits into a general picture of
human ecological depravity.

Paul Cockshott
Dept of Computing Science
University of Glasgow
+44 141 330 1629

-----Original Message-----
From: on behalf of Jurriaan Bendien
Sent: Sat 10/18/2008 11:22 AM
Subject: [OPE] Anitra Nelson, "Fictitious Capital and Real Compacts"

I studied this issue in the late 1970s and early 1980s from the literature I had available in New Zealand, as I was concerned with the shape of the future as conveyed by the leading thinkers, but I am not conversant with the latest scientific literature because I haven't had time to study it. Back then you had people like Harry Rothman, Ernest Mandel, Boris Komarov, Barry Commoner and Andre Gorz who wrote on eco-politics from a leftwing perspective. They were about twenty, thirty years ahead of their time. To my knowledge, Mandel was actually the first Marxist to make a critique of the Report of the Club of Rome (originally in Dutch), that would have been 1971 or 1972. It was republished in German in Mandel's book of essays "Karl Marx, Die Aktualitšt seines Werkes" (ISP Verlag). I published a modest piece myself on "Marxism on Green Terrain" roundabout 1988 which was translated in edited form (without my foreknowledge) in the French Inprecor ("Marxisme et Ecologie"). If interested, you could consult sources on the USSR mentioned here: . I was also influenced at the time by the scholar Vaclav Smil, who has published extensively across many years on ecological issues, among others in China, he published books on it

The original Bolshevik government had declared all forests, waters, and minerals would henceforth be the property of the state, and so available for use and development (a use-value), but in fact, forests were already at that time consciously divided into exploitable sectors and protected ones to some extent. Around 1920-1921, nature reserves, or "zapovedniki", were already being established where large tracts of land were set aside for ecological study, while industrial development, including in some cases tourism, was simply banned. But as Stalin's modernization and industrialization project got underway, valid ecological concerns were frequently swept aside as an irrelevant "pettybourgeois deviation" that got in the way of progress. The ideology was, that nature would simply be reshaped to fit human requirements, and that ecological problems simply did not exist, or that they were of negligible importance. The CPSU leaders would simply decide to build a plant or a farm here, or a road there, but there was little understanding of what the overall environmental or human effect would be; because you had such a gigantic area of land available, compared to population, it seemed that there would not be much of a problem, and if there was a problem, well then you could just shift activities to some other land.

A notorious case was Khrushchev's Virgin Lands Campaign from 1954 onwards, aiming to cultivate the steppes of Western Siberia (Altai region) and Northern Kazakhstan (initially about 19 million hectares, or 47 million acres; an additional 14 million hectares were plowed in 1955). At first, the wheat harvest soared and the project was hailed a tremendous success - at the peak of the campaign in 1956, the newly cultivated lands were producing something like half of the national grain output - but subsequently monoculture led to massive soil erosion, turning much of the land into enormous, unusable dust bowls - a lot of the topsoil simply blew away. In order to do all this, more than 300,000 workers, mainly men from Ukraine and the RSFSR, were recruited by the Komsomol. You also had a whole mix of Kazakhs,Chechens, Ingush, Kalmyks, Crimean Tatars, Volga Germans, and other deportees working on the project, and this in fact caused considerable ethnic tensions and a few progroms.

Is this ecological devastation greater or lesser than the post-Stalin post-Mao periods? I don't know it it is a meaningful question, since big ecological disasters have an effect for fifty or a hundred years or more and there exists no single index which can meaningfully measure total ecological devastation (see however e.g. where Kazakhstan still ranks lowest). But it is certainly true that after the abandonment of Marxist-Leninist dogma there is now much more awareness of ecological problems, and much more effort to avoid or overcome them practically; they are much better recognised juridically.

I do not concern myself with this topic more than I need to these days partly because it is prone to hysteria, sexual gibberish, political subterfuge and the wildest unscientific extrapolations. The rich jetsetting environmentalists with their SUVs and designer kitchens are often more interested in blocking development for others, than in developmental alternatives. Originally environmentalist politics as I knew it was a radical one, with a critique of how business and bureaucrats ran roughshod over habitats, but nowadays it is often more a conservative or politically ambivalent, trendy bourgeois movement playing on guilty consciences, religious imagery and popular anxieties. Real science and serious thinking is often drowned out by rhetoric and advertising.


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