Capitalism, Nature, Socialism

A Theoretical Introduction*

By James O'Connor

 

 

 

"Those who insist that [environmental destruction] has

nothing to do with Marxism merely ensure that what they

choose to call Marxism will have nothing to do with what

happens

in the world."-- Aiden Foster-Carter

Summary

This article expounds the traditional Marxist theory of the

contradiction between forces and relations of production, over-

production of capital and economic crisis, and the process of

crisis-induced restructuring of productive forces and production

relations into more transparently social, hence potentially

socialist, forms. This exposition provides a point of departure

for an "ecological Marxist" theory of the contradiction between

capitalist production relations and forces and the conditions of

production, under-production of capital and economic crisis, and

the process of crisis-induced restructuring of production

conditions and the social relations thereof also into more

transparently social, hence potentially socialist, forms. In

short, there may be not one but two paths to socialism in

late capitalist society.

While the two processes of capital over-production

and under-production are by no means mutually exclusive,

they may offset or compensate for one another in ways which

create the appearance of relatively stable processes of

capitalist development. Study of the combination of the two

processes in the contemporary world may throw light on the

decline of traditional labor and socialist movements and the rise

of "new social movements" as agencies of social

transformation. In similar ways that traditional Marxism

illuminates the practises of traditional labor movements, it may be that "ecological

Marxism" throws light on the practices of new social movements.

Although ecology and nature; the politics of the body,

feminism, and the family; and urban movements and related

topics are usually discussed in post-Marxist terms, the rhetoric

deployed in this article is self-consciously Marxist and

designed to appeal to Marxist theorists and fellow travelers

whose work remains within a "scientific" discourse

hence those who are least likely to be convinced by post-Marxist discussions of the problem of

_________________________

*I am grateful to Carlo Carboni, John Ely, Danny Faber, Bob

Marotto, and David Peerla for their encouragement and helpful

criticisms and comments.

 

 

 

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capital's use and abuse of nature (including human nature) in the

modern world. However, the emphasis in this article on a

political economic "scientific" discourse is tactical, not

strategic. In reality, more or less autonomous social

relationships, often non-capitalist or anti-capitalist,

constitute "civil society," which needs to be addressed on its

own practical and theoretical terms. In other words, social and

collective action is not meant to be construed merely as

derivative of systemic forces, as the last section of the article

hopefully will make clear.

1. Introduction

In 1944, Karl Polanyi published his masterpiece, The Great

Transformation, which discussed the ways in which the growth of

the capitalist market impaired or destroyed its own social and

environmental conditions.[1] Despite the fact that this book is

alive with insights into the problem of economic development and

the social and natural environment, it was widely forgotten. The

subject of the ecological limits to economic growth and the

interrelationships between development and environment was

reintroduced into Western bourgeois thought in the late 1960s and

early 1970s. The results have been mixed and highly dubious.

Polanyi's work remains a shining light in a heaven filled with

dying stars and black holes of bourgeois naturalism, neo-

Malthusianism, Club of Rome technocratism, romantic deep

ecologyism, and United Nations one-worldism.[2] Class

exploitation, capitalist crisis, uneven and combined capitalist

development, national independence struggles, and so on are

missing from these kinds of accounts. The results of these and

most other modern efforts to discuss the problem of capitalism,

nature, and socialism wither on the vine because they fail to

focus on the nature of specifically capitalist scarcity, that is,

the process whereby capital is its own barrier or limit because

of its self-destructive forms of proletarianization of human

nature and appropriation of labor and capitalization of external

nature.[3] The usual approaches to the problem -- the

identification of "limits to growth" in terms of "resource

scarcity," "ecological fragility," "harmful industrial

technology," "destructive cultural values," "tragedy of the

_________________________

[1] Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, Boston, 1967.

Polanyi's focus was altogether on capitalist markets, not exploi-

tation of labor.

[2] World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common

Future, New York, 1987.

[3] The closest anyone has come to a "Marxist" account of the

problem is: Alan Schnaiberg, The Environment: From Surplus to

Scarcity, New York, 1980. This is a path-breaking and useful

work.

The relation between the capitalization of nature and political

conflict between states is another, albeit closely related, ques-

tion (Lloyd Timberlake and Jon Tinker, "The Environmental Origin

of Political Conflict," Socialist Review, 84 (15, 6) November-

December, 1985).

 

 

 

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commons," "over-population," "wasteful consumption," "production

treadmill," etc., either ignore or mangle Marx's theories of

historically produced forms of nature and capitalist accumulation

and development.

This should not be surprising since Marx wrote little

pertaining to the ways that capital limits itself by impairing

its own social and environmental conditions hence increasing the

costs and expenses of capital, thereby threatening capitals'

ability to produce profits, i.e., threatening economic crisis.

More, he wrote little or nothing about the effects of social

struggles organized around the provision of the conditions of

production on the costs and expenses and variability of capital.

Nor did he theorize the relationship between social and material

dimensions of production conditions, excepting his extended

discussion of ground rent (i.e., social relation between landed

and industrial capital and material and economic relation between

raw materials and industrial production). Marx was, however,

convinced of at least three things. The first was that

deficiencies of production conditions or "natural conditions"

("bad harvests") may take the form of economic crisis.[4] Second,

he was convinced of the more general proposition that some

barriers to production are truly external to the mode of

production ("the productiveness of labour is fettered by physical

conditions")[5] but that in capitalism these barriers assume the

form of economic crisis.[6] Put another way, some barriers are

_________________________

[4] In the case of bad harvests, "the value of the raw material

... rises; its volume decreases....More must be expended on raw

material, less remains for labour, and it is not possible to ab-

sorb the same quantity of labour as before. Firstly, this is

physically impossible . . . .Secondly, it is impossible because a

greater portion of the value of the product has to be converted

into raw material.... Reproduction cannot be repeated on the same

scale. A part of fixed capital stands idle and a part of the

workers is thrown out into the streets. The rate of profit falls

because the value of constant capital has risen as against that

of variable capital. . . . The fixed charges -- interest, rent --

which were based on the anticipation of a constant rate of profit

and exploitation of labour, remain the same and in part cannot be

paid. Hence crisis . . . .More, although the rate of profit is

decreasing, there is a rise in the price of the product. If this

product enters into the other spheres of reproduction as a means

of production, the rise in its price will result in the same dis-

turbance in reproduction in these spheres" (Karl Marx, Theories

of Surplus Value, Part Two, Moscow, 1968, 515-516).

[5] "Apart from the degree of development, greater or less, in

the form of social production, the productiveness of labour is

fettered by physical conditions" (Capital I). In Theories of

Surplus Value (Part Three, 449), Marx states that the precondi-

tion for the existence of absolute surplus value is the "natural

fertility of the land."

[6] Michael Lebowitz, "The General and the Specific in Marx's

Theory of Crisis,", Studies in Political Economy, 7, Winter,

1982. Lebowitz includes as "general" barriers the supply of la-

bor and the availability of land and natural resources. However,

he does not distinguish between the supply of labor per se and

 

 

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"general" not "specific" to capitalism. What is specific is the

way these barriers assume the form of crisis. Third, Marx

believed that capitalist agriculture and silviculture are

harmful to nature, as well as that capitalist exploitation is

harmful to human laborpower.

In sum, Marx believed that capitalist farming (for example)

ruined soil quality. He was also clear that bad harvests take

the form of economic crisis. However, (although he did state

that a rational agriculture is incompatible with capitalism)[7]

he never considered the possibility that ecologically destructive

methods of agriculture might raise the costs of the elements of

capital, which, in turn, might threaten economic crisis of a

particular type, namely, underproduction of capital.[8] Put

another way, Marx never put two and two together to argue that

"natural barriers" may be capitalistically produced barriers,

i.e., a "second" capitalized nature.[9] In other words, there may

exist a contradiction of capitalism which leads to an

"ecological" theory of crisis and social transformation.

2. Two Kinds of Crisis Theory

The point of departure of the traditional Marxist theory of

economic crisis and the transition to socialism is the

contradiction between capitalist productive forces and production

relations.[10] The specific form of this contradiction is between

_________________________

the supply of disciplined wage labor. As for natural resources,

he does not distinguish between "natural" shortages and shortages

capital creates for itself in the process of capitalizing nature

nor those created politically by ecology movements.

[7] Capital III, Chapter 6, 215.

[8] We can therefore distinguish two kinds of scarcity: first,

scarcity arising from economic crisis based on traditional capi-

tal overproduction, i.e., a purely social scarcity; second, scar-

city arising from economic crisis based on capitalistically pro-

duced scarcity of nature or production conditions generally.

Both types of scarcity are ultimately attributable to capitalist

production relations. The second type, however, is not due to

"bad harvests," for example, but to capitalistically produced

"bad harvests" as a result of mining, not farming, land; pollut-

ing water tables; etc.

[9] There are two reasons why Marx ran from any theory of capi-

talism and socialism which privileged any aspect of social repro-

duction besides the contradiction between production and circula-

tion of capital. One is his opposition to any theory which might

"naturalize" hence reify the economic contradictions of capital.

His polemics against Malthus and especially his rejection of any

and all naturalistic explanations of social phenomena led him

away from "putting two and two together." Second, it would have

been difficult in the third quarter of the 19th century to argue

plausibly that the impairment of the conditions of production and

social struggles therein are self-imposed barriers of capital be-

cause historical nature was not capitalized to the degree that it

is today, i.e., the historical conditions of the reproduction of

the conditions of production today make an "ecological Marxism"

possible.

[10] State of the art accounts of the problematic categories of

 

 

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the production and realization of value and surplus value, or

between the production and circulation of capital. The agency of

socialist revolution is the working class. Capitalist production

relations constitute the immediate object of social

transformation. The site of transformation is politics and the

state and the process of production and exchange.

By contrast, the point of departure of an "ecological

Marxist"[11] theory of economic crisis and transition to

socialism is the contradiction between capitalist production

relations (and productive forces) and the conditions of

capitalist production, or "capitalist relations and forces of

social reproduction."[12]

Marx defined three kinds of production conditions. The

first is "external physical conditions"[13] or the natural

elements entering into constant and variable capital. Second,

the "laborpower" of workers was defined as the "personal

conditions of production." Third, Marx referred to "the communal,

general conditions of social production, e.g., "means of

communication."[14]

_________________________

productive forces and production relations are: Derek Sayer, The

Violence of Abstraction: The Analytical Foundations of Histori-

cal Materialism (Oxford, 1987) and Robert Marotto, "Forces and

Relations of Production," Ph.D dissertation, University of Cali-

fornia, Santa Cruz, 1984.

[11] Murray Bookchin deserves most credit for developing the

theory of "social ecology" in the USA. The basic impulse of his

method and theory is libertarian not Marxist, "social ecology"

not "socialist ecology."

To my knowledge, "ecological Marxism" was coined by Ben

Agger (Western Marxism: An Introduction: Classical and Contem-

porary Sources, Santa Monica (Cal.), 1987, 316-339). Agger's

focus is "consumption" not "production." His thesis is that

ever-expanding consumption required to maintain economic and so-

cial stability impairs the environment, and that ecological

crisis has replaced economic crisis as the main problem of capi-

talism. This article may be regarded as, among other things, a

critique of Agger's often insightful views.

[12] According to Carlo Carboni, who also uses the expression

"social reproductive conditions." I use "conditions of produc-

tion" because I want to reconstruct the problem using Marx's own

terminology and also because I want to limit my discussion mainly

to crisis tendencies in the process of the production and circu-

lation of capital, rather than to the process of social reproduc-

tion, i.e., reproduction of the social formation as a whole.

This means that I will follow Marx's lead and interpret "produc-

tion conditions" in "objective" terms, excepting in the last sec-

tion which suggests that these conditions are increasingly

grasped as "subjective" today.

[13] External physical conditions include "natural wealth in

means of subsistence" and "natural wealth in the instruments of

labour" (Capital I, Modern Library Edition, 562).

[14] Marx and Engels Selected Works in Two Volumes, Volume II,

Moscow, 1962, 25; Grundrisse, Harmondsworth, 1973, 533. See

also, Marino Folin, "Public Enterprise, Public Works, Social

Fixed Capital: Capitalist Production of the `Communal, General

 

 

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Today "external physical conditions" are discussed in terms

of the viability of eco-systems, the adequacy of atmospheric

ozone levels, the stability of coastlines and watersheds; soil,

air and water quality; and so on. "Laborpower" is discussed in

terms of the physical and mental well-being of workers; the kind

and degree of socialization; toxicity of work relations and the

workers' ability to cope; and human beings as social productive

forces and biological organisms generally. "Communal conditions"

are discussed in terms of "social capital," "infrastructure," and

so on. Implied in the concepts of "external physical

conditions," "laborpower," and "communal conditions" are the

concepts of space and "social environment." We include as a

production condition, therefore, "urban space" ("urban

capitalized nature") and other forms of space which structures

and is structured by the relationship between people and

"environment,"[15] which in turn helps to produce social

environments. In short, production conditions include

commodified or capitalized materiality and sociality excluding

commodity production, distribution, and exchange themselves.

The specific form of the contradiction between capitalist

production relations (and forces) and production conditions is

also between the production and realization of value and surplus

value. The agency of social transformation is "new social

movements" or new social struggles including struggles within

production over workplace health and safety, toxic waste

production and disposal, and so on. The social relationships of

reproduction of the conditions of production (e.g., state and

family as structures of social relations and also the relations

of production themselves in so far as "new struggles" occur

within capitalist production) constitute the immediate object of

social transformation. The immediate site of transformation is

the material process of reproduction of production conditions

(e.g., division of labor within the family, land use patterns,

education, etc.) and the production process itself, again in so

far as new struggles occur within the capitalist workplace.

In traditional Marxist theory, the contradiction between

production and realization of value and economic crisis takes the

form of a "realization crisis," or over-production of capital.

In ecological Marxist theory, economic crisis assumes the form of

a "liquidity crisis," or under-production of capital. In

traditional theory, economic crisis is the cauldron in which

capital restructures productive forces and production relations

in ways which make both more transparently social in form and

content, e.g., indicative planning, nationalization, profit-

sharing, etc. In ecological Marxism, economic crisis is the

cauldron in which capital restructures the conditions of

production also in ways which make them more transparently social

_________________________

Conditions of Social Production'" International Journal of Urban

and Regional Research, 3,3, September, 1979.

[15] In a conversation with David Harvey, who pioneered the

theory of the spatial configurations and barriers to capital

(Limits to Capital, Basil Blackwell, 1982), tentative "permis-

sion" was granted the author to interpret urban and other forms

of space as a "production condition."

 

 

 

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in form and content, e.g., permanent yield forests, land

reclamation, regional land use and/or resource planning,

population policy, health policy, labor market regulation, toxic

waste disposal planning, etc.

In traditional theory, the development of more social forms

of productive forces and production relations is regarded as a

necessary but not sufficient condition for the transition to

socialism. In ecological Marxism, the development of more social

forms of the provision of the conditions of production also may

be regarded as a necessary but not sufficient condition for

socialism. It should be quickly added that an "ecological

socialism" would be different than that imagined by traditional

Marxism, first, because from the perspective of the "conditions

of production" most struggles have strong, particularistic

"romantic anti-capitalist" dimensions, i.e., are "defensive"

rather than "offensive," and, second, because it has become

obvious that much capitalist technology, forms of work, etc.,

including the ideology of material progress, have become part of

the problem not the solution. In sum, there may be not one but

two paths to socialism, or, to be more accurate, two tendencies

which together lead to increased (albeit historically reversible)

socialization of productive forces, production relations,

conditions of production and social relations of reproduction of

these conditions.

3. The Traditional Marxist Account

of Capitalism as a Crisis-Ridden System

In traditional Marxism, the contradiction between the

production and circulation of capital is "internal" to capitalism

because capitalist production is not only commodity production

but also production of surplus value (i.e., exploitation of

labor). It is a valorization process in which capitalists

extract not only socially necessary labor (labor required to

reproduce constant and variable capital) but also surplus labor

from the working class. Everything else being the same,[16] any

given amount of surplus value produced and/or any given rate of

exploitation will have the effect of creating a particular

shortfall of commodity demand at market prices. Or, put the

opposite way, any particular shortage of commodity demand

_________________________

[16] The following is a deliberate "Smithian" simplification of

the traditionally defined economic contradiction of capitalism

which altogether neglects Marx's critique of Smith, namely, that

it is the rising organic composition of capital, not a falling

rate of exploitation, which causes the profit rate to fall, even

though capitalism "presents itself" otherwise. To be absolutely

clear, the following account is not meant to review Marx's cri-

tique of capital fetishism or Adam Smith, et. al. I put the con-

tradiction of capitalism in its simplest terms with the two-fold

aim of (a) preparing a discussion of crisis-induced restructuring

of the productive forces and production relations and (b) setting

up a standard by which we can compare the "traditional" with the

"non-traditional" or "second" contradiction of capitalism based

on the process of capitalist-created scarcities of external and

human nature.

 

 

 

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presupposes a given amount of surplus value produced and/or a

given rate of exploitation. Further, the greater the amount of

surplus value produced and/or the higher the rate of

exploitation, the greater the difficulty of realizing value and

surplus value in the market. Thus, the basic problem of

capitalism is, where does the extra commodity demand which is

required to buy the product of surplus labor originate? Time

honored answers include capitalist class consumption; capital

investment which is made independently of changes in wage

advances and consumer demand; markets created by these new

investments; new investment, consumption, or government spending

financed by expanded business, consumer or government credit; the

theft of markets of other capitals and/or capitals in other

countries; and so on. However, these "solutions" to the problem

of value realization (that of maintaining a level of aggregate

demand for commodities which is sufficient to maintain a given

rate of profit without threatening economic crisis and the

devaluation of fixed capital) turn into other kinds of potential

"problems" of capitalism. Capitalist consumption constitutes an

unproductive use of surplus value, as does the utilization of

capital in the sphere of circulation with the aim of selling

commodities faster. New capital investment may expand faster

than, or independently of, new consumer demand with the result of

increasing chances of a more severe realization crisis in the

future. While a well-developed credit system can provide the

wherewithal to expand commodity demand independent of increases

in wages and salaries, the expansion of consumer demand based on

increases in consumer or mortgage credit greater than increases

in wages and salaries threatens to transform a potential crisis

of capital over-production into a crisis of capital under-

production. Moreover, any expansion of credit creates debt (as

well as assets) and financial speculation, instabilities in

financial structures, thus threatens a crisis in the financial

system. The theft of markets from other capitals implies the

concentration and/or centralization of capital hence a worsening

of the problem of realization of value in the future and/or

social unrest arising from the destruction of weaker capitals,

political instability, bitter international rivalries,

protectionism, even war. And so on. In sum, economic crisis can

assume varied forms besides the traditional "realization crisis,"

including liquidity crisis, financial crisis or collapse, fiscal

crisis of the state, and social and political crisis tendencies.

However, whatever the specific forms of historical crises (the

list above is meant to be suggestive not exhaustive), and

whatever the specific course of their development and resolution,

most if not all Marxists accept the premise based on the real

conditions of capitalist exploitation that capitalism is a

crisis-ridden system.

4. The Traditional Marxist Account of Capitalism as a

Crisis-Dependent System and the Transition to Socialism

In traditional Marxism, capitalism is not only crisis-ridden

but also crisis-dependent. Capital accumulates through crisis,

which functions as an economic disciplinary mechanism. Crisis is

the occasion which capital seizes to restructure and rationalize

itself in order to restore its capacity to exploit labor and

 

 

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accumulate. There are two general, interdependent ways in which

capital changes itself to weather the crisis and resolve it in

capital's own favor. One is changes in the productive forces, the

second is changes in the production relations. Changes in either

typically presuppose or require new forms of direct and indirect

cooperation within and between individual capitals and/or within

the state and/or between capital and the state. More cooperation

or planning has the effect of making production more

transparently social, meanwhile subverting commodity and capital

fetishism, or the apparent "naturalness" of capitalist economy.

The telos of crisis is thus to create the possibility of

imagining a transition to socialism.

Crisis-induced changes in productive forces by capitals

seeking to defend or restore profits (and exemplified by

technological changes which lower unit costs, increase

flexibility in production, and so on) have the systematic effect

of lowering the costs of reproducing the work force; making raw

materials available more cheaply or their utilization more

efficient; reducing the period of production and/or circulation,

etc. Whatever the immediate sources of the crisis, restructuring

productive forces with the aim of raising profits is a foregone

conclusion. More, crisis-induced changes in productive forces

imply or presuppose more social forms of production

relationships, e.g., more direct forms of cooperation within

production.[17] Examples of changes in productive forces today,

and associated changes in production relationships, include

computerized, flexible manufacturing systems and robotics, which

are associated with the development of "creative team play" and

other forms of cooperation in the work place, profit sharing,

etc. And, of course, the greatest productive force is human

cooperation, and science or the social production of practical

knowledge has become an almost completely cooperative

enterprise[18] partly as a result of cumulative historical

economic, social and political crises.

The second way that capital restructures itself is crisis-

induced changes in production relations within and between

capital, within the state, and/or between the state and capital

which are introduced with the aim of exercising more control of

production, markets, and so on, i.e., more planning.

Historically, planning has taken many forms, e.g.,

nationalization, fiscal policy, indicative planning, etc.,

including, at the political level, fascism, new dealism, and

social democracy. Whatever the immediate sources of crisis, the

restructuring of production relations with the aim of developing

more control of labor, raw material supplies, etc. is a foregone

conclusion. More, crisis-induced changes in production relations

imply or presuppose more social forms of productive forces, e.g.,

more direct forms of cooperation. Examples of changes in

production relations today are "strategic agreements" between

high tech capitals; massive state intervention in financial

_________________________

[17] "Cooperation" (e.g., "work relations") is both a produc-

tive force and production relationships, i.e., ambiguously deter-

mined by both "technological necessity" and "power."

[18] David Knight, The Age of Science, Oxford, 1987.

 

 

 

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markets; and centralization of capital via take-overs and

mergers. These changes imply sharing or socialization of high

tech secrets and technical personnel; new forms of financial

controls; and restructuring of management and production systems,

respectively.

To sum up, crisis forcibly causes capital to lower costs and

increase flexibility and to exercise more control or planning

over production and circulation. Crisis causes new forms of

flexible planning and planned flexibility (even at the level of

state-organized production), which increases the tensions between

a more flexible capitalism (usually market-created) and a more

planned capitalism (usually state-created). Crisis forcibly

makes capital confront its own basic contradiction which is

subsequently displaced to the spheres of the state, corporate

management, etc. when there is introduced more social forms of

productive forces and production relations, which imply or

presuppose one another meanwhile developing independently of one

another. In this way, capital itself creates some of the

technical and social preconditions for the transition to

socialism. However, whether we start from the productive force or

production relation side, it is clear that technology and power

embody one another hence that new forms of cooperation hold out

only tenuous and ambiguous promises for the possibilities of

socialism. For example, state capitalism, political capitalism,

and so on contain within them socialist forms, but highly

distorted ones, which in the course of the class struggle may be

politically appropriated to develop less distorted social forms

of material and social life. But this is a highly charged

political and ideological question. Only in a limited sense can

it be said that socialism is imminent in crisis-induced changes

in productive forces and production relations. Whether or not

these new social forms are imminently socialist forms depends on

the ideological and political terrain, degree of popular

mobilization and organization, national traditions, etc.,

including and especially the particular world conjuncture. The

same cautionary warning applies to the specific forms of

cooperation in the workplace which emerge from the crisis, which

may or may not preclude other forms which would lend themselves

better to socialist practice, which cannot be regarded as some

fixed trajectory but itself an object of struggle, and defined

only through struggle.

Nothing can be said a priori about "socialist imminence"

except at the highest levels of abstraction. The key point is

that capitalism tends to self-destruct or subvert itself when it

switches to more social forms of production relations and forces.

The premise of this argument is that any given set of capitalist

technologies, work relations, etc. is consistent with more than

one set of production relations and that any given set of

production relations is consistent with more than one set of

technologies, etc. The "fit" between relations and forces is

thus assumed to be quite loose and flexible. In the crisis,

there is a kind of two-sided struggle to fit new productive

forces into new production relations and vice versa in more

social forms without, however, any "natural" tendency for

capitalism to transform itself to socialism. Nationalization of

industry, for example, may or may not be a step toward socialism.

 

 

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It is certainly a step toward more social forms of production and

a more specifically political form of appropriation and

utilization of surplus value. On the other side, quality

circles, work teams, technology sharing, etc. may or may not be a

step toward socialism. They are certainly steps toward more

social forms of productive forces.

5. Toward an Ecological Marxist Account

of Capitalism as a Crisis-Ridden System

The point of departure of "ecological Marxism" is the

contradiction between capitalist production relations and

productive forces and conditions of production. Neither human

laborpower nor external nature nor infrastructures including

their space/time dimensions are produced capitalistically,

although capital treats these conditions of production as if they

are commodities or commodity capital. Precisely because they are

not produced and reproduced capitalistically, yet are bought and

sold and utilized as if they were commodities, the conditions of

supply (quantity and quality, place and time) must be regulated

by the state or capitals acting as if they are the state.

Although the capitalization of nature implies the increased

penetration of capital into the conditions of production (e.g.,

trees produced on plantations, genetically altered species,

private postal services, voucher education, etc.), the state

places itself between capital and nature, or mediates capital and

nature, with the immediate result that the conditions of

capitalist production are politicized. This means that whether or

not raw materials and labor force and useful spatial and

infrastructural configurations are available to capital in

requisite quantities and qualities and at the right time and

place depends on the political power of capital, the power of

social movements which challenge particular capitalist forms of

production conditions (e.g., struggles over land as means of

production versus means of consumption), state structures which

mediate or screen struggles over the definition and use of

production conditions (e.g., zoning boards), and so on.[19]

Excepting the branches of the state regulating money and certain

aspects of foreign relations (those which do not have any obvious

relation to accessing foreign sources of raw materials,

laborpower, etc.), every state agency and political party agenda

may be regarded as a kind of interface between capital and nature

(including human beings and space). In sum, whether or not

capital faces "external barriers" to accumulation, including

external barriers in the form of new social struggles over the

definition and use of production conditions (i.e., "social

barriers" which mediate between internal or specific and external

or general barriers);[20] whether or not these "external

_________________________

[19] This kind of formulation of the problem avoids the func-

tionalism of the "state derivation school" of Marxism as well as

political sociological or Weberian theories of the state which

are not grounded in material existence.

[20] So-called external barriers may be interpreted as internal

barriers, in fact, if we assume that (a) external nature being

considered is commodified or capitalized nature and (b) new so-

cial struggles organized under the sign of "ecology" or "environ-

 

 

11

 

 

 

 

 

barriers" take the form of economic crisis; and whether or not

economic crisis is resolved in favor of or against capital are

political and ideological questions first and foremost, economic

questions only secondarily. This is so because production

conditions are by definition politicized (unlike production

itself) and also because the whole corpus of Marx's work

privileges laborpower as a production condition; access to nature

is mediated by struggles while external nature has no

subjectivity of its own.[21] Laborpower alone struggles around

the conditions of its own well-being and social environment

broadly defined.

An ecological Marxist account of capitalism as a crisis-

ridden system focuses on the way that the combined power of

capitalist production relations and productive forces self-

destruct by impairing or destroying rather than reproducing their

own conditions ("conditions" defined in terms of both their

social and material dimensions). Such an account stresses the

process of exploitation of labor and self-expanding capital;

state regulation of the provision of production conditions; and

social struggles organized around capital's use and abuse of

these conditions. The main question -- does capital create its

own barriers or limits by destroying its own production

conditions? -- needs to be asked in terms of specific use values,

as well as exchange value. This is so because conditions of

production are not produced as commodities, hence problems

pertaining to them are "site specific," including the individual

body as a unique "site." The question -- why does capital impair

its own conditions? -- needs to be asked in terms of the theory

of self-expanding capital, its universalizing tendencies which

tend to negate principles of site specificity, its lack of

ownership of laborpower, external nature, and space, hence

(without state or monopolistic capitalist planning) capital's

inability to prevent itself from impairing its own conditions.

The question -- why do social struggles against the destruction

of production conditions (which resist the capitalization of

nature, for example, environmental, public health, occupational

health and safety, urban, and other movements) potentially impair

capital flexibility and variability? -- needs to be asked in

terms of conflicts over conditions defined both as use values and

exchange values.

Examples of capitalist accumulation impairing or destroying

_________________________

mentalism" have their roots in the class structure and relations

of modern capitalism, e.g., the rise of the new middle class or

salariat, which is the backbone of environmentalism in the USA.

[21] "External and universal nature can be considered to be

differences within a unity from the standpoint of capital accumu-

lation and state actions necessary to assure that capital can ac-

cumulate. Yet the difference is no less significant than the un-

ity from the standpoint of social and ecological action and pol-

itical conflict. The reason is that laborpower is a subject

which struggles over health and the (natural) conditions of so-

cial health broadly defined, whereas the `natural elements enter-

ing into constant and variable capital' are objects of struggle"

(Robert Marotto, Correspondence).

 

 

 

12

 

 

 

 

 

capital's own conditions hence threatening its own profits and

capacity to produce and accumulate more capital are well-known.

The warming of the atmosphere will inevitably destroy people,

places, and profits, not to speak of other species life. Acid

rain destroys forests and lakes and buildings and profits alike.

Salinization of water tables, toxic wastes, soil erosion, etc.

impair nature and profitability. The pesticide treadmill

destroys profits as well as nature. Urban capital running on an

"urban renewal treadmill" impairs its own conditions hence

profits, e.g., congestion costs, high rents, etc.[22] The

decrepit state of the physical infrastructure in this country may

be mentioned in this connection. There is also an "education

treadmill," "welfare treadmill," "technological fix treadmill"

"health care treadmill," etc.[23] This line of thinking also

applies to the "personal conditions of production . . .

laborpower" in connection with capital's destruction of

traditionalist family life as well as the introduction of work

relations which impair coping skills, and the presently toxic

social environment generally. In these ways, we can safely

introduce "scarcity" into the theory of economic crisis in a

Marxist, not neo-Malthusian, way. We can also introduce the

possibility of capital underproduction once we add up the rising

costs of reproducing the conditions of production. Examples

include the health bill necessitated by capitalist work and

family relations; the drug and drug rehabilitation bill; the vast

sums expended as a result of the deterioration of the social

environment (e.g., police and divorce bill); the enormous

revenues expended to prevent further environmental destruction

and clean-up or repair the legacy of ecological destruction from

the past; monies required to invent and develop and produce

synthetics and "natural" substitutes as means and objects of

production and consumption; the huge sums required to pay off oil

sheiks and energy companies, e.g., ground rent, monopoly profit,

etc.; the garbage disposal bill; the extra costs of congested

urban space; the costs falling on governments and peasants and

workers in the Third World as a result of the twin crises of

_________________________

[22] "Economists and business leaders say that urban areas in

California are facing such serious traffic congestion that the

state's economic vitality is in jeopardy" (The New York Times,

April 5, 1988).

[23] "If schools cannot figure out how to do a better job of

educating these growing populations and turn them into productive

workers and citizens, then the stability of the economy could be

threatened" (Edward B. Fiske, "US Business Turns Attention to

Workers of the Future," International Herald Tribune, February

20-21, 1988). Fisk is referring to minorities which today make

up 17 percent of the population, a figure expected to jump to

one-third by 2020.

In the USA, health care costs as a percentage of GNP were about

six percent in 1965; in 2000 they are expected to be 15 percent.

"Health care has become an economic cancer in this country,"

screams a San Francisco Chronicle headline writer (March 14,

1988).

 

 

 

13

 

 

 

 

 

ecology and development. And so on. No one has estimated the

total revenues required to compensate for impaired or lost

production conditions and/or to restore these conditions and

develop substitutes. It is conceivable that total revenues

allocated to protecting or restoring production conditions may

amount to one-half or more of the total social product -- all

unproductive expenses from the standpoint of self-expanding

capital. Is it possible to link these unproductive expenditures

(and those anticipated in the future) to the vast credit and debt

system in the world today? To the growth of fictitious capital?

To the fiscal crisis of the state? To the internationalization

of production? The traditional Marxist theory of crisis

interprets credit/debt structures as the result of capital

overproduction. Ecological Marxism would interpret the same

phenomena as the result of capital underproduction and

unproductive use of capital produced. Do these tendencies

reinforce or offset one another? Without prejudging the answer,

the question clearly needs to be on the agenda of Marxist theory.

6. Towards an Ecological Marxist Account of Capitalism as

a Crisis-Ridden System and the Transition to Socialism

Neither Marx nor any Marxists have developed a theory of the

relationship between crisis-induced changes in the conditions of

production and the establishment of the conditions of socialism.

In traditional Marxism, crisis-induced changes in productive

forces and relations are determined by the need to cut costs,

restructure capital, etc. Forces and relations are transformed

into more transparently social forms. In ecological Marxism,

like traditional Marxism, capitalism is also not only crisis-

ridden but also crisis-dependent. Crisis-induced changes in

production conditions (whether crisis itself originates in

capital overproduction or underproduction) are also determined by

the need to cut costs, reduce ground rent, increase flexibility,

etc. and to restructure conditions themselves, e.g., expand

preventive health, reforestation, reorganization of urban space,

etc.

There are two general, interdependent ways in which capital

(helped by the state) changes its own conditions to weather the

crisis and to resolve it in capital's favor. One is changes in

conditions defined as productive forces. The other is changes in

the social relations of reproduction of conditions. Changes in

either typically presuppose or require new forms of cooperation

between and within capitals and/or between capital and the state

and/or within the state, or more social forms of the "regulation

of the metabolism between humankind and nature" as well as the

"metabolism" between the individual and the physical and social

environment. More cooperation has the effect of making

production conditions (already politicized) more transparently

political, thereby subverting further the apparent "naturalness"

of capital existence. The telos of crisis is thus to create the

possibility of imagining more clearly a transition to socialism.

Crisis-induced changes in conditions as productive forces

with the purpose of defending or restoring profit (exemplified by

technological changes which lower congestion costs, increase

flexibility in the utilization of raw materials, etc.) have the

systemic effect of lowering the costs of reproducing the work

 

 

14

 

 

 

 

 

force; making raw materials available more cheaply, etc.

Whatever the immediate sources of the crisis, restructuring

production conditions with the aim of raising profits is a

foregone conclusion. More, crisis-induced changes in production

conditions imply or presuppose more social forms of the social

relations of reproduction of production conditions, e.g., more

direct forms of cooperation within the sphere of production

conditions. An example of a change in production conditions

today, and the associated change in the social relations of

reproduction of production conditions, is integrated pest

management which presupposes not only more coordination of

farmers' efforts but also more coordination of training and

education programs.[24] Another example is preventative health

technology in relation to AIDS and associated changes in

community relations in a more cooperative direction.

The second form of restructuring is crisis-induced changes

in the social relations of reproduction of production conditions

introduced with the aim of exercising more control of production

conditions, i.e., more planning. Historically, planning has taken

many forms, e.g., urban and regional transportation and health

planning, natural resource planning, etc.[25] Whatever the

immediate sources of crisis, the restructuring of these social

relations with the aim of developing more control of production

conditions is also a foregone conclusion. More, crisis-induced

changes in the social relations of reproduction of production

condition imply or presuppose more social forms of production

conditions defined as productive forces. An example of such a

change today is "planning" to deal with urban smog which

presupposes coalitions of associations and groups, i.e.,

political cooperation, to legitimate tough yet cooperative smog-

reduction measures.[26] Another example is the proposed

restructuring of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation which new

technical changes in water policy presuppose.[27]

_________________________

[24] The well-known IPM program in Indonesia reportedly in-

creases profits by reducing costs and also increasing yields. It

depends on new training and education programs, coordination of

farm planning, etc. (Sandra Postel, "Indonesia Steps Off the

Pesticide Treadmill," World Watch, January-February, 1988, 4).

[25] For example, West German organized industry and industry-

state coordination successfully internalizes many externalities

or social costs. This occurs without serious harm to profits be-

cause the FRG produces such high quality and desirable goods for

the world market that costs of protecting or restoring production

conditions can be absorbed while industry remains competitive

(Conversation, Claus Offe).

[26] Christopher J. Daggett, "Smog, More Smog, and Still More

Smog," The New York Times, January 23, 1988.

[27] The idea that crisis induced by inadequate conditions of

production results in more social forms of production and produc-

tion relations is not new in non-Marxist circles. Schnaiberg

linked rapid economic expansion to increased exploitation of

resources and growing environmental problems, which in turn posed

restrictions on economic growth, hence making some kind of plan-

ning of resource use, pollution levels, etc. essential. He in-

terpreted environmental legislation and control policies of the

 

 

15

 

 

 

 

 

To sum up, crisis forcibly causes capital and state to

exercise more control or planning over production conditions (as

well as over production and circulation of capital itself).

Crisis brings into being new forms of flexible planning and

planned flexibility, which increases tensions between a more

flexible capitalism and a more planned capitalism -- more so than

in the traditional Marxist account of the restructuring of

production and circulation because of the key role of the state

bureaucracy in the provision of production conditions. Crisis

forcibly makes capital and state confront their own basic

contradictions which are subsequently displaced to the political

and ideological spheres (twice removed from direct production and

circulation) where there is introduced more social forms of

production conditions defined both materially and socially, e.g.,

the dominance of political bipartisanship in relation to urban

redevelopment, educational reform, environmental planning, and

other forms of provision of production conditions which exemplify

new and significant forms of class compromise. However, it is

clear that technology and power embody one another at the level

of conditions as well as production itself hence that new forms

of political cooperation hold out only tenuous promises of

socialism. Again, nothing can be said a priori about "socialist

imminence" excepting at a high level of abstraction. The key

point is that capitalism tends to self-destruct or subvert itself

when it switches to more social forms of the provision of

production conditions via politics and ideology. The premise of

this argument (like the argument of the present interpretation of

traditional Marxism) is that any given set of production

condition technologies, work relations, etc. is consistent with

more than one set of social relations of reproduction of these

conditions and that any given set of these social relations is

consistent with more than one set of production condition

technologies, work relations, etc. The "fit" between social

relations and forces of reproduction of production conditions is

thus assumed to be quite loose and flexible. In the crisis (in

which the future is unknowable), there is a kind of two-sided

struggle to fit new production conditions defined as forces into

_________________________

1970's as the start of environmental planning (The Environment,

op. cit.).

More, the idea that crisis induced by unfavorable production

conditions results in more social productive forces, as well as

production relationships (which is also Schnaiberg's thesis,

since planning is a form of cooperation, hence both a force and

relation of production), can be found in embryonic form in works

such as: R.G. Wilkinson, Poverty and Progress: An Ecological

Perspective on Economic Development (New York, 1973) which argues

that epoch-making technological changes have often resulted from

ecological scarcities; O. Sunkel and J. Leal, "Economics and En-

vironment in a Developmental Perspective" (International Social

Science Journal, 109, 1986, 413) which argues that depletion of

resources and scarcity increases the costs of economic growth be-

cause of declines in natural productivity of resources hence that

new energy resources and technological subsidies (implying more

planning) are needed.

 

 

 

16

 

 

 

 

 

new production conditions defined as relations, and vice versa,

into more social forms without, however, any "natural" tendency

for capitalism to transform itself into socialism. Urban and

regional planning mechanisms, for example, may or may not be a

step toward socialism. They are certainly a step toward more

social forms of the provision of production conditions hence

making socialism at least more imaginable. On the other side,

regional transportation networks and health care services and

bioregional water distribution (for example) may or may not be a

step towards socialism. They are certainly a step toward more

social forms of the provision of production conditions.

In the modern world, the list of new social and political

forms of reproduction of production conditions is endless. It

seems highly significant, and also theoretically understated

within Marxism, that the world crisis today appears to result in

more, and require many additional, social forms not only of

productive forces and relations but also production conditions,

although the institutional and ideological aspects of these forms

are confusing and often contradictory, and although these forms

should not be regarded as irreversible (e.g., reprivatization,

deregulation, etc.). Yet it is conceivable that we are engaging

in a long process in which there occurs different yet parallel

paths to socialism, hence that Marx was not so much wrong as he

was half-right. It may be that the traditional process of

"socialist construction" is giving way to a new process of

"socialist reconstruction," or the reconstruction of the

relationship between human beings and production conditions

including the social environment. It is at least plausible that

in the "first world" socialist reconstruction will be seen as,

first, desirable, and second, necessary; in the "second world" as

equally desirable and necessary; and in the "third world" as,

first, necessary, and second, desirable. It is more plausible

that atmospheric warming, acid rain, and pollution of the seas

will make highly social forms of reconstruction of material and

social life absolutely indispensable.

To elaborate somewhat, we know that the labor movement

"pushed" capitalism into more social forms of productive forces

and relations, e.g., collective bargaining. Perhaps we can

surmise that feminism, environmental movements, etc. are

"pushing" capital and state into more social forms of the

reproduction of production conditions. As labor exploitation

(the basis of Marxist crisis theory, traditionally defined)

engendered a labor movement which during particular times and

places turned itself into a "social barrier" to capital, nature

exploitation (including exploitation of human biology) engenders

an environmental movement (e.g., environmentalism, public health

movement, occupational health and safety movements, women's

movement organized around the politics of the body, etc.) which

may also constitute a "social barrier" to capital. In a country

such as Nicaragua, the combination of economic and ecological

crisis and political dictatorship in the old regime has

engendered a national liberation movement and eco-development

planning.

Concrete analysis of concrete situations is required before

anything sensible can be said about environmentalism defined in

the broadest sense and capital's short- and long-term prospects.

 

 

17

 

 

 

 

 

For example, acid rain causes ecological and economic damage.

The environmental movement demands clean-up and restoration of

environment and protection of nature. This may restore profits

in the long run or reduce government clean-up expenses, which may

or may not be congruent with short- and middle-term needs of

capital. Implied in a systematic program of politically

regulated social environment are kinds of planning which protect

capital against its worst excesses, yet which may or may not be

congruent with capital's needs in particular conjunctures. One

scenario is that "the destruction of the environment can lead to

vast new industries designed to restore it. Imagine, lake

dredging equipment, forest cleaning machines, land revitalizers,

air restorers, acid rain combatants."[28] These kinds of super-

tech solutions would be a huge drain on surplus value, unless

they lowered the reproduction cost of laborpower, yet at the same

time help to "solve" any realization problems arising from

traditional capital over-production. Vast sums of credit money

would be required to restore or rebuild the social environment,

however, which would displace the contradiction into the

financial and fiscal spheres in more or less the same ways that

the traditional contradiction between production and circulation

of capital is displaced into the financial and fiscal spheres

today.

This kind of technology-led restructuring of production

conditions (including technique-led restructuring of the

conditions of supply of laborpower) may or may not be functional

for capital as a whole, individual capitals, in the short-or-

long-run. The results would depend on other crisis prevention

and resolution measures, their exact conjuncture, and the way in

which they articulate with the crisis of nature broadly defined.

In the last analysis, the results would depend on the degree of

unity and diversity in labor movements, environmental movements,

solidarity movements, etc. And this is a political, ideological,

and organizational question.

In any event, crisis-induced changes in production

conditions necessarily lead to more state controls, more planning

within the bloc of large-scale capital, a more socially and

politically administered or regulated capitalism, hence a less

nature-like capitalism, one in which changes in production

conditions would need to be legitimated because they would be

more politicized, and one in which capitalist reification would

be less opaque. The combination of crisis-stricken capitals

externalizing more costs, the reckless use of technology and

nature for value realization in the sphere of circulation, and

the like, must sooner or later lead to a "rebellion of nature,"

i.e., powerful social movements demanding an end to ecological

exploitation. Especially in today's crisis, whatever its source,

capital attempts to reduce production and circulation time, which

typically has the effect of making environmental practices,

health and safety practices, etc. worse. Hence capital

restructuring may deepen not resolve ecological problems. Just

as capital ruins its own markets, i.e., realized profits, the

greater is the production of surplus value, so does capital ruin

_________________________

[28] Correspondence, Saul Landau.

 

 

 

18

 

 

 

 

 

its own produced profits, i.e., raise costs and reduce capital

flexibility, the greater is the production of surplus value based

on the destructive appropriation of nature broadly defined. And

just as over-production crises imply a restructuring of both

productive forces and relations, so do under-production crises

imply a restructuring of production conditions. And just as

restructuring of productive forces imply more social forms of

production relations and vice versa, so does restructuring of

production conditions imply a twofold effect -- more social forms

of production conditions defined as productive forces and more

social forms of the social relationships in which production

conditions are reproduced. In sum, more social forms of

production relations, productive forces, and conditions of

production together contain with them possibilities of socialist

forms. These are, in effect, crisis-induced not only by the

traditional contradiction between forces and relations, but also

by the contradiction between forces/relations and their

conditions. Two, not one, crises are thus inherent in

capitalism; two, not one, sets of crisis-induced reorganizations

and restructurings in the direction of more social forms are also

inherent in capitalism.

7. Conclusion

Some reference needs to be made to post-Marxist thought and

its objects of study, "post-industrial society," "alternative

movements" or "new social movements," and "radical

democracy."[29] This is so because post-Marxism has practically

monopolized discussions of what Marx called "conditions of

production." No longer is the working class seen as the

privileged agent of historical transformation nor is the struggle

for socialism first on the historical agenda. Instead, there is

the fight for "radical democracy" by "new social movements" in a

"post-industrial society."

These basic post-Marxist postulates deserve close scrutiny,

especially given post-Marxist readings of Marx and Marxism, and

the political implications therein.[30] So does the declaration

by radical bourgeois feminists, eco-feminists, deep ecologists,

libertarian ecologists, communitarians, etc. that Marxism is

dead. In the present discussion, however, it is possible only to

point out that in ecological Marxist theory, the struggle over

production conditions has redefined and broadened the class

struggle beyond any self-recognition as such, at least until now.

This means that capitalist threats to the reproduction of

production conditions are not only threats to profits and

accumulation, but also to the viability of the social and

"natural" environment as a means of life. The struggle between

capital and "new social movements" in which the most basic

_________________________

[29] The most sophisticated post-Marxist text is: Ernesto La-

clau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards

a Radical Democratic Politics, London, 1985. A home-grown ver-

sion is Michael Albert, et. al., Liberating Theory, Boston, 1986.

[30] For example, Laclau and Mouffe's discussion of what they

call Marxist "essentialism" violates both the spirit and sub-

stance of Marx's theory of capital.

 

 

 

19

 

 

 

 

 

concepts of "cost" and "efficiency" are contended, has two basic

"moments." The first is the popular and nearly universal

struggle to protect the conditions of production, or means of

life, from further destruction resulting from capital's own

inherent recklessness and excesses. This includes needs and

demands for the reduction of risks in all forms. This struggle

pertains to the form in which "nature" is appropriated, as means

of reproduction of capital versus means of reproduction of civil

and human society. The second is the struggle over the programs

and policies of capital and state to restructure the production

conditions, i.e., struggles over the forms and contents of

changes in conditions. Put another way, new social struggles are

confronted with both the impairment and also crisis-induced

restructuring of production conditions at the same time. Both

"moments" of struggle occur both outside the state and also

within and against the state, i.e., they pertain to "public

administration" (in Carlo Carboni's words). Seen this way, the

demand for radical democracy is the demand to democratize the

provision and reconstruction of production conditions, which in

the last analysis is the demand to democratize the state, i.e.,

the administration of the division of social labor.[31] In truth,

in the absence of struggles to democratize the state, it is

difficult to take the demand for "radical democracy" seriously.

In post-Marxist thought, great stress is placed on "site

specificity" and the "integrity" of the individual's body, a

particular meadow or species life, a specific urban place,

etc.[32] The word "difference" has become post-Marxism's mantra,

which, it is thought, expels the word "unity," which in the

post-Marxist mind is often another way to spell "totalitarian."

In the well thought out versions of post-Marxist thought, the

"site specificity" which new social movements base themselves on

are considered to make any universal demands impossible,[33] at

_________________________

[31] James O'Connor, "The Democratic Movement in the United

States," Kapitalistate, 7, 1978. It should be noted that in the

entire post-Marxist literature it is impossible for me to find

any reference to the division of social labor, so obsessed are

the "theorists" with the division of industrial labor, division

of labor within the family, etc. This absence or silence permits

us to grasp post-Marxism as recycled anarchism, populist-

anarchism, communitarianism, libertarianism, etc.

[32] Accordingly to Carboni, "the challenge of specificity is

propelled by all new social actors in advanced capitalist

societies. It is an outcome of the complex network of policies,

planning, and so on which are implemented by both capital and the

state in order to integrate people while changing production

conditions. On the one hand, this specificity (difference)

represents the breakage of collective and class solidarity. On

the other hand, it reveals both new micro-webs of social

solidarity and the universalistic network of solidarity based on

social citizenship." (Communication with the author).

[33] This and the following point were made by Claus Offe in

conversation with the author, who is grateful for the chance to

discuss these issues with someone who gracefully and in a spirit

of scientific collaboration presents a post-Marxist point of

view.

 

 

20

 

 

 

 

 

least any universal demand beyond the demand for the universal

demand beyond the demand for the universal recognition of site

specificity. This is contrasted with the bourgeois revolution

which universalized the demand for rights against privilege and

the old working-class struggle which universalized the demand for

public property in the means of production against capitalist

property. However, our discussion of production conditions and

the contradictions therein reveals clearly that there is a

universal demand implicit or latent in new social struggles,

namely, the demand to democratize the state (which regulates the

provision of production conditions), as well as the family, local

community, etc. In fact, no way exists for diverse social

struggles defending the integrity of particular sites to

universalize themselves, hence win, and, at the same time, retain

their diversity excepting through struggles for the democratic

state and also by uniting with the labor movement, recognizing

what we have in common, cooperative labor, thereby theorizing the

unity of social labor.[34]

Moreover, post-Marxism, influenced by the "free rider

problem" and problems of "rational choice" and "social choice"

(all problems which presuppose bourgeois individualism), states

or implies that struggles over production conditions are

different than traditional wage, hours, and working conditions

struggles because conditions of production are to a large degree

"commons," clean air being an obvious example, urban space and

educational facilities being somewhat less obvious ones. The

argument is that struggles against air pollution (or capitalist

_________________________

[34] "The issue in dispute is the post-Marxist claim that we

have multiple social identities against the present claim that

there exists a theoretical unity in these identities in the unity

of the conditions of production and capital production and

realization. On the level of appearances, it is true that we

have multiple identities, but in essence the unity of our

identity stems from capitalism as a mode of production. The

trick is to make the theoretical unity a reality. An

environmental struggle may be an unintentional barrier to capital

in the realm of accumulation while not being ideologically anti-

capitalist. The question is how to make environmentalists

conscious of the fact that they are making the reproduction of

the conditions of production more social. The post-Marxists do

not want to find a unity in the fragmented social identities we

have. But even to build alliances between social movements some

unity must be constructed. In the absence of an agreed upon

telos of struggle, or any common definitions, dialogue cannot

take place. If we are unable to agree on any terms and objects

of struggle in what sense can we say new social movements are

over what socialism means but in some sense we are required to

struggle for a common language which will necessarily obscure

particular differences. As capitalism abstracts out the social

nature of labor in the exchange of commodities, it obscures what

we have in common, cooperative labor, thereby fragmenting our

identity. What is disturbing is the lack of any move on the part

of the post-Marxists to theorize the unity of social labor."

Communication, David Peerla.

 

 

 

21

 

 

 

 

 

urban renewal or racist tracking in the schools) do not have an

immediate "pay off" for the individual involved; hence (in Offe's

account) the phenomenon of cycles of social passivity and outrage

owing to the impossibility of combining individual and collective

action around goals which "pay off" for both the individual and

group. Again, this is not the place for a developed critique of

this view, one which would begin with an account of how the

process of social struggle itself changes self-definitions of

"individuality." It needs to be said, however, that labor

unions, if they are anything, are disciplinary mechanisms against

"free riders" (e.g., individual workers who try to offer their

laborpower at less than the union wage are the object of

discipline and punishment by the union). Further, it should be

said that the "free rider" problem exists in struggles to protect

the "commons" only in so far as these struggles are only ends in

and of themselves, not also means to the specifically political

hence universal end of establishing a democratic state.

Also in relation to the problem of the "commons," and beyond

the problem of the relation between the individual and the group,

there is the problem of the relationship between groups and

classes. Specifically, the struggles of "new social movements"

over conditions of production are generally regarded in the

self-defined post-Marxist universe as non-class issues or multi-

class issues. "Transformative processes that no doubt go on in

our societies are very likely not class conflicts ... but non-

class issues."[35] Especially in struggles over production

conditions (compared with production itself), it is

understandable that these appear as non-class issues, and that

agents define themselves as non-class actors. This is to not

only because the issues cut across class lines (e.g., urban

renewal, clean air, etc.), but also because of the site

specificity and "people" specificity of the struggles, i.e.,

because the fight is to determine what kind of use values

production conditions will in fact be. But, of course, there is

a class dimension to all struggles over conditions, e.g.,

tracking in the schools, urban renewal as "people removal," toxic

waste dumps in low income or poor districts and communities, the

worker as the "canary" in the workplace, the inability of most

unemployed and many workers to access "wilderness areas," etc.

Most problems of the natural and social environments are bigger

problems from the standpoint of the poor, including the working

poor, than for the salariat and the well-to-do. In other words,

issues pertaining to production conditions are class issues, even

though they are also more than class issues, which becomes

immediately obvious when we ask who opposes popular struggles

around conditions? The answer is, typically, capital, which

fights against massive public health programs, emancipatory

education, controls on investments to protect nature, even

adequate expenditures on child care, certainly demands for

autonomy or substantive participation in the planning and

organization of social life. What "new social movements" and

their demands does capital support? Few, if any. What "new

_________________________

[35] Claus Offe, "Panel Discussion," Scandanavian Political

Studies, 10, 3, 1987, p. 234.

 

 

 

22

 

 

 

 

 

social movements" does labor oppose? Certainly, those which

threaten ideologies of male supremacy and/or white race

supremacy, in may instances, as well as those which threaten

wages and jobs, even some which benefit labor, e.g., clean air.

Hence, the struggle over conditions is not only a class struggle,

but a struggle against such ideologies and their practices. This

is why it can be said that struggles over conditions are not less

but more than class issues. And that to the degree that this is

true, the struggle for "radical democracy" is that much more a

struggle to democratize the state, a struggle for democracy

within state agencies charged with regulating the provision of

production conditions. In the absence of the perspective and

vision, "new social movements" will remain at the level of

anarcho-communalist and related struggles which are bound to

self-destruct themselves in the course of their attempts to

"deconstruct" Marxism.