Climate And Class Struggle.

Started by K-Dog, Aug 26, 2023, 02:48 AM

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Wanted -- Another Heat Wave

This was written a hundred and twelve years ago. In the intervening century, the endless search for profit at all cost has changed the climate. A century ago only the rich could buy a cool wind, and soon that will be true again. Making this lost text more relevant now than the day it was published.

Blisteringly it swept over the country, leaving a trail of cracked heads and parched throats in its progress. Torturing, invaliding, and killing it kept its course, and when its tail had been chased out of sight by the first rain cloud we, the people of the United States, rejoiced and brought ice cream soda and promptly turned to think of something else.

Yet in New York City alone over one hundred and fifty people died of this hot wave; and the death of thousands more in hospitals and on the street was hastened by the devilling of the sun and the black sleepless nights. And almost without exception, every man, woman, and child that paid the upmost penalty belonged to the working class. Newport and Bar Harbor have no death roll. Those who died were the men and women who bore the burden of the day along the sweltering pavements or who fretted in cramped chocking tenements.

Truly, a philosopher would say, either the rich are better able to stand hot weather than the poor or else the rich are able to purchase cool winds. Both statement are true. The rich are better able to stand hot weather than the poor: baths and good food and a decent quantity of rest have preserved their bodies. They can cope with the extremes of sunshine. But finer than that---they don't have to. They can choose. Climate is at that man's disposal who has the price of the proper railway ticket.

Thus, it is that the rich save them-selves and the poor perish. And it is so quite reasonable that this should be so, because the poor accept it all complacently. If they do not object, who should.

For the most part, the rich are the idlers and the poor are the workers of the world.

The idlers go to the seashore on swift trains: the workers build the trains and stoke them and provide the iron rails on which they run; and then the workers go back to the city of rabbit hutches.

The idlers have learned that it is possible to be comfortable and healthy in summer: the workers have learned that it is God's will for a certain number of their fellows to be stricken down with the heat.

The workers print the ballots of the world. The workers vote the ballots of the world. And they vote the idlers again and again into power.

The idlers give nothing and expect all.

The workers give all and expect nothing.

How beautiful is the self-sacrifice of the workers. Who says there are no saints today? The workers are saints, lacking only halo and wings.

God bless the patient workers who bend their backs so meekly in this age of self-seeking. But would it not be refreshing to see and feel a new kind of heat wave sweep the country? A mental heat wave kindling a blaze of revolt, burning the workers white-hot to resent the cruelty of our outgrown system of society.

* From 'The Masses' A monthly magazine devoted to the interests of the working people. August 1911





I am on a roll.  On my own I put the ideas of Marxism and what is needed to save as many as we can together.

Now to my delight, with my new perspective.  I find I am not alone.

Capitalism ignores the physical limits of the Earth.  Marxism does not.  Marxism is a way to understand the contradictions of our social and economic systems.  If you live in North America nobody ever told you that.

The language of the metabolic rift may be unfamiliar to you.  That is Ok.  Your culture prevented you from learning and using certain words and concepts.  You can fix yourself.

* There is an earlier video from the same people that has less 'mass appeal" that documents the evolution of ecological Marxism.  It is of great interest to me, but that is only because it appears I have successfully taught myself the basics of Marxist theory and can follow what they are saying.  I will publish that video in time, but I will write about it first.  Of the two, the newer video is more appropriate to watch for people new to all this.  Many critics of Marx do not understand Marxism and their criticisms of him become laughable because they are not consistent with Marxist theory.  Since these critics do not understand they do not know they make fools of themselves.  The earlier video gets into this.  Without calling anyone a fool.


This is a short study aid to complement our latest Approaching Marxism episode, which considers debates between the first and second wave of modern, western ecosocialism over Marx's view of nature. This is a crucial debate within the development of Marxist approaches to the environment which informs debates to this day. The study aid includes all the materials needed to host a study session for mixed groups on the subjects covered in the episode, broken down into an annotated reading list, and a short lesson plan. The materials here may also be used for more advanced study.

Reading list

Required] and [Optional] are used to indicate necessary reading for participants in the lesson plan included in this pack. Those leading these sessions should have read all the materials in this list.

Rather than trying to pack all of these texts into one discussion, we recommend reserving intermediate and advanced reading for more focused, follow-up reading groups.


John Bellamy-Foster, "Paul Burkett's Marx and Nature Fifteen Years After" [Required]

This short text, written as an article then used as an introduction to reprints of Burkett's Marx and Nature, recapitulates the core debates between the first and second waves of ecosocialism fifteen years after the majority of the debates had been settled. It is a useful text in getting a grasp of the fundamentals of the contest. Bellamy-Foster's certainty on the victory of the second-wave, both here and elsewhere, is - however - ill-founded. More recent interventions (Neale is one clear example; the ecomodernism tendency another) have rather emphatically rolled back the clock on this certainty.

Andreas Malm, "Ecology and Marxism" [Optional]

A short reading list with commentary on various different tendencies within ecosocialism. Includes critical comments on both the first and second waves of ecosocialism, as well as subsequent developments. Useful for gaining a broad overview of literature on Marxism and nature from a beginner's perspective.

Jonathan Neale, "The 'eco' in ecosocialism must mean climate, or we are lost" [Optional]

Neale's article is critiqued within the video's conclusion quite roundly. It represents a deeply reductionist treatment of the environmental crisis, rejecting Marx's view of nature as irrelevant and reducing the questions facing humanity to a fetish of the climate and technology. Whilst there are many grounds upon which to disagree with this - for example, it is plainly impossible to address the climate crisis without addressing the "general crisis of nature" Neale frames so disparagingly; there is an explicit retreat to Kovel's Marxism - the core of what we want to critique here is one common to many, albeit less crudely. Bluntly, Neale treats technology as the core solution to the climate crisis, and human organisation merely as its mode of realisation. This stands the relation upon its head, and restricts the strategic terrain to demands which Neale himself admits have no social basis. If the "eco" in ecosocialism is to mean anything whatsoever, the socialism - that is, the strategic and social basis of the project - must come first.


Paul Burkett, Marx and Nature [Optional, purchase only]

Burkett's Marx and Nature remains the most comprehensive treatment of Marx's view of nature published in the anglophone world to this day, and the best refutation of the first-wave's view of Marx. It covers all of Marx's writing on nature - as well as a great deal of Engels' - systematically, with the locations of each of the texts referenced in their corpus clearly indicated. Though rather dryly written and not without its difficulties (our upcoming film, For Land, will discuss Burkett's dismissal of Marxist breakdown theory at length in its second part), this is unambiguously the best book on Marx and nature, whether for beginners of more advanced comrades.

John Bellamy-Foster, Marx's Ecology [Optional, purchase only]

Bellamy-Foster's Marx's Ecology is another seminal text of the second-wave. The volume looks at the development of natural science through Darwin and others in historical context, then situates this within Marx's thought. It does so by looking at Marx's materialism and its basis in Epicurus, his and Engels' view of Darwin's theory of evolution and other developments in natural science, and, finally, by recovering his theory of the metabolic rift. This last point will be discussed in our next Approaching Marxism episode.

Joel Kovel, The Enemy of Nature [Optional, purchase only]

Kovel's book is a mature work of the first-wave of ecosocialism. Whilst he does accept that Marx is not a "Promethean", Kovel argues here that Marx viewed natures as a static phenomena, save for where humanity interacts with it. The conclusion of this argument, though not as damning as those who believe Marx to view industry as the primary vector of progress, is that Marx's communism has no ecological content. It may not be an enemy of nature to Kovel, but it is by no means necessarily a friend.

Michael Lӧwy, "For a Critical Marxism" [Optional]

Lӧwy's article provides the clearest articulation of Marx as a "Promethean", arguing that he views technological development as the primary vector of progress in human society. As utterly baffling as this argument must be to anyone familiar with Marx's writing on machinery in Capital, let alone elsewhere, Lӧwy's writing is cogent and worth reading, touching on broader questions of method and status in relation to Marx.


John Bellamy-Foster, "Marxism in the Anthropocene" [Optional]

A more recent article. Here, Bellamy-Foster charts the development of more contemporary debates within ecosocialism around conceptions of a dialectics of nature from the encounter between first and second wave of ecosocialism. This sets out a considerable number of questions, but the main contest in this text is a confrontation between social monism, Cartesian dualism and dialectics over approaches to natural phenomena. For more advanced readers, who already have a grasp of the content covered here.

We recently released a podcast which considers this article in depth, available here.

John Bellamy-Foster and Paul Burkett, Marx and the Earth [Optional, purchase only]

In this volume, Burkett and Bellamy-Foster offer responses to ecosocialist critiques of Marx offered following the publication of Marx and Nature and Marx's Ecology. As Andreas Malm has written, this book represents "perhaps the highest stage of eco-marxology", both to its credit and its detriment. Whilst the discussion offered here goes into extraordinary detail on Marx's environmental thought, it also dips into deification. Worth reading, but keep in mind that the answers to contemporary problems are not to be found, like scripture, in the Grundrisse as you read.

Lesson plan

Prolekult will be running these lesson plans as sessions for patrons on our Discord in the future. Sign up at $1 a month or more to join these sessions and others - for example, our regular Capital reading group.

This lesson plan is for mixed groups, and provides space for beginners and more experienced comrades to explore and develop the ideas expressed  in the video and reading list. It is broken down into agenda items,  with suggestions for focusing discussion in each section. If run to  time, the meeting here should run to an hour and a half, with a ten minute break in the middle. This is timed for a group of up to six comrades. Feel free to edit this lesson plan to your own convenience.

Item one: watch the video (20 minutes)

Watch the video together. If the discussion is being held remotely, then provide comrades with a space to have a text chat as the video is playing. Those running the session should note these questions down. If the discussion is being held in person, then make sure comrades know to keep a note of their questions, or any points they want to raise.

Item two: Marx as "Promethean" (25 minutes)

First, use this time to discuss the first-wave's view that Marx was a "Promethean" thinker and the second-wave's response to this. Whilst the answer to this, in general, is quite clear in light of Marx's view that machines act as weapons against strikes and seal capitalist domination over production, the nuances around it are rather complex. Try to draw out these more complex questions - for example, what implications do the second-wave's positions have for popular views of Marxist communism as an industrial project - but do not take them in detail. Offer to run a second session around this if there is interest in these thornier elements.

Break (10 minutes)

Item three: Marx, labour and nature (25 minutes)

Use this time to discuss the first-wave's criticisms of Marx's labour theory of value in relation to non-human nature, and the defence of Marx offered by the second-wave. Again, though the answers to the first-wave are quite simple really, they throw up harder questions. It would also be useful to consider how these views of Marx's theory, by advocates who claim to understand him, is anti-thetical to Marx's writing.

Item four: The political conjecture (10 minutes)

Finish with a discussion of Neale's retreat from Marx's position and the political consequences of this (technical fetishism) in his article. From this, consider the utility of returning to Marx's view in contemporary conditions. Make sure to stress that whilst Marx does not have all the answers, the concreteness of both his social approach and the ecological approach which corresponds to it illustrates a methodological position which can never be divorced from strategy, which is what we need.