The Robbery of Nature: Capitalism and the Ecological Rift
In the nineteenth century, Karl Marx, inspired by the German chemist Justus von Liebig, argued that capitalism’s relation to its natural environment was that of a robbery system, leading to an irreparable rift in the metabolism between humanity and nature. In the twenty-first century, these classical insights into capitalism’s degradation of the earth have become the basis of extraordinary advances in critical theory and practice associated with contemporary ecosocialism. In The Robbery of Nature, John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark, working within this historical tradition, examine capitalism’s plundering of nature via commodity production, and how it has led to the current anthropogenic rift in the Earth System.
Departing from much previous scholarship, Foster and Clark adopt a materialist and dialectical approach, bridging the gap between social and environmental critiques of capitalism. The ecological crisis, they explain, extends beyond questions of traditional class struggle to a corporeal rift in the physical organization of living beings themselves, raising critical issues of social reproduction, racial capitalism, alienated speciesism, and ecological imperialism.
The classes of capitalism
Capitalist society is divided into different classes, and the relationships between those classes shape the production of wealth, the dissemination of ideas and the nature of politics.
In 1848, Marx and Engels wrote that “society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: bourgeoisie and proletariat”. By bourgeoisie they meant the capitalist class, those who made their living by owning capital, which means both factories and other equipment used in the production process, and the money used to invest in production. By proletariat they meant the modern working class—wage-earners who don’t own land or equipment, and who have to make money by selling their time to capitalists.
Between Capitalism and Community
In this book, Michael Lebowitz deepens the arguments he made in his award-winning Beyond Capital. Karl Marx, in Capital, focused on capital and the capitalist class that is its embodiment. It is the endless accumulation of capital, its causes and consequences, that are central to Marx’s analysis. In taking this approach, Marx tended to obscure not only the centrality of capital’s “immanent drive” and “constant tendency” to divide the working class but also the political economy of the working class (“social production controlled by social foresight”). In Between Capitalism and Community, Lebowitz demonstrates that capitalism contains within itself elements of a different society, one of community.