Table of Contents

The International Handbook of Environmental Sociology, Second Edition

The International Handbook of Environmental Sociology, Second Edition

Elgar original reference

Edited by Michael R. Redclift and Graham Woodgate

This thoroughly revised Handbook provides an assessment of the scope and content of environmental sociology, and sets out the intellectual and practical challenges posed by the urgent need for policy and action to address accelerating environmental change.

Chapter 7: Marx’s Ecology and its Historical Significance

John Bellamy Foster

Subjects: environment, environmental geography, environmental politics and policy, environmental sociology, politics and public policy, environmental politics and policy, social policy and sociology, sociology and sociological theory


1 John Bellamy Foster Introduction For the early Marx the only nature relevant to the understanding of history is human nature . . . Marx wisely left nature (other than human nature) alone. Lichtheim (1961: 245) Although Lichtheim was not a Marxist, his view here did not differ from the general outlook of Western Marxism at the time he was writing. Yet this same outlook would be regarded by most informed observers on the Left today as laughable. After decades of explorations of Marx’s contributions to ecological discussions and publication of his scientific–technical notebooks, it is no longer a question of whether Marx addressed nature, and did so throughout his life, but whether he can be said to have developed an understanding of the nature–society dialectic that constitutes a crucial starting point for understanding the ecological crisis of capitalist society.2 Due to mounting evidence, Marx’s ecological contributions are increasingly acknowledged. Yet not everyone is convinced of their historical significance. A great many analysts, including some self-styled ecosocialists, persist in arguing that such insights were marginal to his work, that he never freed himself from ‘Prometheanism’ (a term usually meant to refer to an extreme commitment to industrialization at any cost), and that he did not leave a significant ecological legacy that carried forward into later socialist thought or that had any relation to the subsequent development of ecology. In a recent discussion in the journal Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, a number of authors argued that Marx could not have contributed anything of...

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