Ecology and Marx’s Vision of Communism

Among the factors fomenting tensions between ecology and Marxism, perhaps the most important is the widespread view that Marx’s vision of post-capitalist society not only treats natural conditions as effectively limitless but also embraces an anti-ecological ethic of technological optimism and human domination over nature. This interpretation is not just a product of facile identifications of Marx’s projection with the historical experience of environmental havoc in the U.S.S.R. and other state-run “socialist” societies. The ecological incorrectness of Marx’s communism is often asserted with reference to Marx’s own writings.

In Alec Nove’s reading, for example, Marx thought that “the problem of production had been ‘solved'” by capitalism, so that communism would “not require to take seriously the problem of the allocation of scarce resources.” Marx’s communism thus presumes that “natural resources [are] inexhaustible,” and that there is no need for “an environment-preserving, ecologically conscious, employment-sharing socialism” (Nove, 1990, pp. 230, 237). Evidently, Marx projected post-capitalist society as one of “abundance”-defined as “a sufficiency to meet requirements at zero price” (or what amounts to the same thing in Nove’s view, production of goods and services at close to zero resource cost). This projection forced Marx into the absurd presumption that “scarce resources (oil, fish, iron ore, stockings, or whatever)… would not be scarce” under communism (Nove, 1983, pp. 15-6). Similarly, Andrew McLaughlin asserts that Marx “envisions a general material abundance” and provides “no basis for recognizing any interest in the liberation of nature from human domination” (1990, p. 95). Geoffrey Carpenter also refers to Marx’s apparently unqualified “faith in the ability of an improved mode of production to eradicate scarcity indefinitely ” (1997, p. 140). Lewis Feuer even claims that “Marx and Engels… placed so much faith in the creative dialectic” of economic history “that they could not seriously entertain the hypothesis that modern technology interacting with the earth’s physical environment might imbalance the whole basis of modern industrial civilization” (1989, p. xii).1

In responding to these charges, the present article investigates the extent to which Marx’s vision of communism adheres to seven specific criteria for ecological soundness of economic systems: (1) the explicit recognition of society’s managerial responsibility toward nature and its human appropriation; (2) systemic increases in ecological knowledge and its social diffusion among producers and communities; (3) ecological risk aversion based on a recognition of the limits to both human knowledge of and control over natural processes; (4) social cooperation to effectively regulate human ecological impacts from the global level on down; (5) respect for and encouragement of variety and diversity in human ways of life; (6) an ecological ethics involving a shared sense of membership in a human community enmeshed with natural conditions; and (7) new, proecological definitions of wealth explicitly recognizing the contribution of extra-human nature to human production and the limited character of natural conditions of any given quality.

To avoid misunderstanding, three things should be noted about this ecological evaluation of Marx’s communism. First, my purpose is not to prove the technical and/or social feasibility of communist or “associated” production as projected by Marx but to consider whether there is anything fundamentally anti-ecological about its basic principles. Second, even though my main concern is with ecological correctness rather than overall feasibility, the inner consistency of Marx’s communism is still important for my argument. Associated production must constitute an ecologically coherent vision-one meshing in a reasonable way with the free human development projected by Marx. Otherwise, Marx’s communism would be a bootless vision, both ecologically and politically.2

Third, in proposing seven ecological criteria to be applied to Marx’s vision of communism, no claim is being made that the criteria are comprehensive. Others may wish to apply their own criteria which may overlap with mine in greater or lesser degrees. Nonetheless, the following criteria seem to encompass the major ecological concerns that have been expressed by critics of Marx’s communism.

A healthy and sustainable co-evolution of humanity and nature requires a socio-economic system with a built-in recognition of humanity’s responsibility to manage its appropriation of nature, both qualitatively and quantitatively. For this purpose, the quality of natural conditions must be seen as encompassing aesthetic use values, not just nature’s usefulness as a condition of industrial labor.

As four eminent ecologists point out, “humanity’s dominance of earth means that we cannot escape responsibility for managing the planet”; even “maintaining the diversity of ‘wild’ species and the functioning of ‘wild’ ecosystems will require increasing human involvement” (Vitousek et al., 1997, p. 499). Given the biospheric impacts of human production, the question is no longer whether nature will be largely humanized but whether this humanization will be pro- or anti-ecological. Although a pro-ecological human production will not try to brutally force nature into desired shapes and forms, it will still need to gently and cautiously guide natural conditions in carefully chosen directions (Carson, 1962, pp. 275, 296). Socially developed human production cannot be purely natural in the same sense as the reproduction of other species sans human intervention. It follows that “the integration between humanity and nature” must be “consciously considered” in terms of “the mutual well-being of both” (Morrison, 1995, p. 182). The management of natural conditions in line with any given quality of human and natural life requires the explicit formulation and pursuit of social and ecological goals on local, national, and global levels-otherwise, “by default the options will close” (Dasmann, 1972, p. 221).

Marx clearly envisions post-capitalist society as recognizing its responsibility to manage its use of natural conditions. This responsibility manifests itself in the eclipse of capitalist notions of land ownership by communal user rights:

From the standpoint of a higher economic form of society, private ownership of the globe by single individuals will appear quite as absurd as private ownership of one man by another. Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its usufructuaries, and, like boni patres familias, they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition. (1967, III, p. 776)

The ecological significance of Marx’s conception of communal property is further discussed below; the point worth emphasizing here is that Marx does not see this property as conferring a right to overexploit land and other natural conditions in order to serve the production and consumption needs of the associated producers. Instead, the association treats “the soil” and other natural conditions “as eternal communal property, an inalienable condition for the existence and reproduction of a chain of successive generations of the human race” (1967, III, p. 812; emphases added). This built-in limitation of communal property rights to ensure long-run sustainability is strikingly similar to the position held by many indigenous American peoples, who believe that “the notion that any human, or group thereof, has sovereignty over any part of Mother Earth is a myth based upon the white man’s Origin Story” (Hillerman, 1997, p. A23).3

Marx’s insistence on the future society’s responsibility toward the land follows from his projection of the unity of humanity and nature being realized in a higher form under communism. For Marx and Engels, people and nature are not “two separate ‘things'”; hence they speak of people having “an historical nature and a natural history” (1976, p. 45; emphasis added). They observe how extra-human nature has been greatly altered by human production and development, so that “the nature that preceded human history…today no longer exists”; but they also recognize the ongoing importance of “natural instruments of production” in the use of which “individuals are subservient to nature” (pp. 46, 71). Communism, far from rupturing or trying to overcome the necessary unity of people and nature, makes this unity more transparent and places it at the service of a sustainable development of people as natural and social beings. Engels thus envisions the future society as one in which people will “not only feel but also know their oneness with nature” (1964, p. 183). The young Marx goes so far as to define communism as “the unity of being of man with nature” (1964, p. 137). In a more practical vein, Marx refers to the ongoing necessity for communist society to “wrestle with Nature to satisfy [its] wants, to maintain and reproduce life.” This involves “the associated producers rationally regulating their interchange with nature, bringing it under their common control” (1967, III, p. 820). Such a rational regulation or “real conscious mastery of Nature” presumes, of course, that the producers have “become masters of their own social organisation” (Engels, 1939, p. 309).

Communism’s acceptance of humanity’s managerial responsibility toward nature is reflected in its “abolition of the contradiction between town and country,” with its disruptive circulation of matter, as “one of the first conditions of communal life” (Marx & Engels, 1976, p. 72). As Engels puts it, the abolition of the antithesis between town and country is not merely possible. It has become a direct necessity of industrial production itself, just as it has become a necessity of agricultural production and, moreover, of public health. The present poisoning of the air, water and land can only be put an end to by the fusion of town and country… Only a society which makes possible the harmonious co-operation of its productive forces on the basis of one single vast plan can allow industry to settle in whatever form of distribution over the whole country is best adapted to its own development and the maintenance of development of the other elements of production. (1939, p. 323)4

In Capital, Marx foresees communism being built on a “higher synthesis” of “the old bond of union which held together agriculture and manufacture in their infancy.” This new union is to work toward a “restoration” of “the naturally grown conditions for the maintenance of that circulation of matter” but “as a system, as a regulating law of social production, and under a form appropriate to the full development of the human race” (1967, I, pp. 505-6).5

Society’s responsibility to manage natural conditions leads to a second criterion: the encouragement of “efforts to understand Earth’s ecosystems and how they interact with the numerous components of human-caused global change” (Vitousek et al., 1997, p. 499). For this ecological knowledge to be applied throughout society’s system of production and consumption, it will have to be thoroughly diffused among and grasped by producers and communities-and as such it will have to combine insights from both natural and social sciences. Ecological knowledge will often involve ways and means of limiting and channeling society’s productive capabilities so as to maintain and improve the quality of natural conditions (Mumford, 1954, p. 113). It could mean, for example, “a system of alternatives assessment in which facilities regularly evaluate the availability of alternatives” to toxic forms of production and consumption, “coordinated with active attempts to develop and make available nontoxic alternatives for currently toxic processes and with systems of support for those making the transition” (Steingraber, 1997, p. 271). In this connection, one must recognize the possibility of an ecologically sound system making use of technologies developed prior to capitalism. Based on their survey of the soil damage associated with contemporary agriculture, for example, Matson et al. argue for “the development of more ecologically designed agricultural systems that reintegrate features of traditional agricultural knowledge and add new ecological knowledge” (1997, p. 508).6

Marx’s communism contains several features that could greatly enhance the level and diffusion of the knowledge needed for sound ecological management of production. Marx envisions an expansion of “technical schools (theoretical and practical) in combination with the elementary school” (1966, p. 20).7

The “theoretical and practical” learning taking place in these schools will evidently represent new combinations of natural and social science. In the Paris Manuscripts, Marx projects that natural science… will become the basis of human science, as it has already become the basis of actual human life, albeit in an estranged form. One basis for life and another basis for science is a priori a lie… Natural science will in time incorporate into itself the science of man, just as the science of man will incorporate into itself natural science: there will be one science. (1964, p. 143; emphases in original)

The unification of natural and social science follows from communism’s social union of the producers with the conditions of production. Capitalism, in Marx’s view, alienates science (and other production conditions) vis-à-vis the producers (Burkett, 1999b, pp. 158-63). By placing scientific knowledge at the service of an exploitative division of labor, capital pushes the artificial division of natural and social science to an historical extreme. Communism’s de-alienation of the conditions of production converts these conditions into means of the natural and social development of human beings, thereby negating the basis for false divisions between natural and social science.8

Marx also suggests that the younger members of communist society will experience “an early combination of productive labour with education”-presuming, of course, “a strict regulation of the working time according to the different age groups and other safety measures for the protection of children” (1966, p. 22).9 Indeed, Marx foresees a positive interchange between the intellectual development of all the producers during work-time and (expanded) free time, respectively. The point is developed in the Grundrisse:

Free time-which is both idle time and time for higher activity-has naturally transformed its possessor into a different subject, and he then enters into the direct production process as this different subject. This process is then both discipline, as regards the human being in the process of becoming; and, at the same time, practice, experimental science, materially creative and objectifying science, as regards the human being who has become, in whose head exists the accumulated knowledge of society. (Marx, 1973, p. 712)

Thus for Marx, communism’s expanded free time is not filled by orgies of consumption for consumption’s sake but is rather a necessary condition for the development of social individuals who can master and redevelop the productive forces of nature, science, and social labor in environmentally and humanly rational fashion. True, the “shortening of the working-day” does enable individuals to enjoy the “material and intellectual advantages… of social development” (Marx, 1967, III, pp. 819-20). But this “increase of free time” also appears as “time for the full development of the individual” capable of “the grasping of his own history as a process, and the recognition of nature (equally present as practical power over nature) as his real body” (Marx, 1973, p. 542; emphasis in original). The intellectual development of workers during free time and work-time is clearly central to the process by which communist labor’s “social character is posited…in the production process not in a merely natural, spontaneous form, but as an activity regulating all the forces of nature” (p. 612). Marx’s conception of free time as “time… for the free development, intellectual and social, of the individual” helps explain his projection that with communism “the measure of wealth is…not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time” (1967, I, p. 530; 1973, p. 708).

As to the possible utilization of pre-capitalist ecological practices in post-capitalist society, I have already noted the similarity between Marx’s conception of communist user rights and certain pre-capitalist traditions rejecting social or private sovereignty over the land. This similarity helps explain Marx’s otherwise startling projection, near the end of his life, that the Russian commune could “become the direct starting point for the economic system towards which modern society tends” (1989b, p. 368; emphasis in original). In Marx’s view, this “still archaic” village-level system of “communal ownership of the land” could “form the natural basis of collective production and appropriation,” provided the villages could be organized into a planne system of “cooperative labour… on a vast, nationwide scale” (pp. 356, 368). True, Russia could only convert its communes into a “fulcrum of social regeneration” by adapting the “positive results” of capitalism to her specific natural and social conditions; it would especially have to apply “the tools, the manure, the agronomic methods, etc.,” that is, “all the means that are indispensable to collective labour” in agriculture (pp. 356, 362, 371). But there is no evidence of any innate aversion on Marx’s part to the potential use of more traditional commune productive practices as appropriate. Indeed, Marx argues that the extant commune organization could “ease the transition from parcel labour to collective labour, which [the Russian peasant] already practises to a certain extent in the undivided grasslands, in land drainage and other undertakings of general interest” (p. 356; cf. Foster, 1997, p. 288).

Even with all efforts to increase, disseminate, and apply knowledge about the environmental impacts of human production, a pro-ecological society will recognize that human knowledge regarding nature and the effects of human interventions therein can never be complete. Society must have an acute awareness of the limits to effective and safe human control over natural processes. This awareness must be codified in regulatory measures that restrict any uses of natural conditions having uncertain ecological impacts. Various forms of this environmental risk aversion criterion have been proposed. “Many indigenous peoples,” for example, “take the position that all social policies should be entered into only after consideration of their likely implications, both environmentally and culturally, for descendants seven generations in the future. Consequently a number of seemingly good ideas for solving short run problems are never entered into because no one can reasonably predict their longer term effects” (Churchill, 1993, p. 451). In a similar vein, ecologist Sandra Steingraber suggests three basic principles for dealing with uncertain toxic effects of human production: the precautionary principle, which “dictates that indication of harm, rather than proof of harm, should be the trigger for action” limiting the source of toxic effects; the principle of reverse onus , under which “it is safety, rather than harm, that should necessitate demonstration,” thus effectively “shifting the burden of proof off the shoulders of the public and onto those who produce, import, or use the [potentially toxic] substance in question”; the principle of the least toxic alternative, which “presumes that [potentially] toxic substances will not be used as long as there is another way of accomplishing the task” (Steingraber, 1997, pp. 270-1).

Environmental risk aversion also motivates Vitousek et al.’s suggestion that society should “work to reduce the rate at which we alter the Earth system,” because “ecosystems and the species they support may cope more effectively with the changes we impose, if these changes are slow” (1997, p. 499). The risk aversion criterion draws further support from “the need to keep a range of resource use options available to future generations” when, for example, “making a decision to develop hitherto untouched land” (Dasmann et al., 1973, p. 24). In the same spirit, Dasmann (1975) suggests that “preindustrial land-use systems…with a long history of successful adaptation to their environments and continuing productivity… should, if possible, be left alone,” and that “all proposed changes in existing forms of land use, where the existing forms are successful, or show evidence of continuing success, must be subjected to careful ecological and sociological evaluation” (pp. 124-5). Here, the risk aversion criterion is quite consistent with and even complemented by the ecological knowledge criterion.

Marx and Engels do not refer directly to the shaping of communist production decisions by ecological risk aversion. But in pointing out the need to use a portion of the surplus product as a “reserve or insurance fund to provide against mis-adventures, disturbances through natural events, etc.,” Marx does indicate that uncertain natural conditions and incomplete human control over natural processes continue to play a role even with communally planned production, especially in agriculture (1966, p. 7). These uncertainties are to be dealt with through “a continuous relative over-production” based partly on a “calculation of probabilities” (1967, II, p. 469; 1966, p. 7). “There must be on the one hand a certain quantity of fixed capital produced in excess of that which is directly required; on the other hand, and particularly, there must be a supply of raw materials, etc., in excess of the direct annual requirements (this applies especially to means of subsistence)” (1967, II, p. 469).10 Marx stresses the need for such an insurance fund due to unpredictable and uncontrollable natural conditions:

Entirely different from the replacement of wear and tear and from the work of maintenance and repair is insurance, which relates to destruction caused by extraordinary phenomena of nature, fire, flood, etc….Considered from the point of view of society as a whole, there must be continuous over-production, that is, production on a larger scale than is necessary for the simple replacement and reproduction of the existing wealth…so as to be in possession of the means of production required to compensate for the extraordinary destruction caused by accidents and natural forces. (1967, II, p. 177; emphasis in original)

Far from connoting any complete human control or overcoming of natural limits, “this sort of over-production is tantamount to control by society over the material means of its own reproduction” in the limited sense of a more rational social regulation of the productive interchange between the producers and uncontrollable natural conditions (Marx, 1967, II, p. 469). Hence, in his marginal notes on Adolph Wagner’s Lehrbuch der Politischen Oekonomie, Marx projects that the associated producers “will direct production from the outset so that the yearly grain supply depends only to the very minimum on the variations in the weather; the sphere of productionthe supplyand the useaspects thereofis rationally regulated” (1975, p. 188; emphasis added). It makes perfectly good sense for “the producers themselves…to spend a part of their labour, or of the products of their labour to insure their products, their wealth, or the elements of their wealth, against accidents, etc.” (Marx, 1971, pp. 357-8). “Within capitalist society,” by contrast, uncontrollable natural conditions impart a needless “element of anarchy” to social production (1967, II, p. 469).11

As noted above, Marx and Engels do envision a great expansion and broader social application of natural scientific knowledge under communism. But they see this knowledge as enhancing “real human freedom,” not through a one-sided human domination of nature but rather through “an existence in harmony with the established laws of nature” (Engels, 1939, p. 126). This is very much in line with the heightened social consciousness of the unity of humanity and nature referred to earlier:

Freedom does not consist in the dream of independence of natural laws, but in the knowledge of these laws, and in the possibility this gives of systematically making them work towards definite ends. This holds good in relation both to the laws of external nature and to those which govern the bodily and mental existence of men themselves-two classes of laws which we can separate from each other at most only in thought but not in reality….Freedom therefore consists in the control over ourselves and over external nature which is founded on natural necessity. (Engels, 1939, p. 125)

This conception of freedom does not deny the existence of definite limits to human knowledge and control over nature. The “established laws of nature” may, for example, encapsulate randomness and chaotic behavior in natural processes, thereby demarcating limits to the purposeful human manipulation of natural conditions. Presumably, in order to effectively “control” production “in harmony with” nature’s laws, the associated producers must take such limits into account.12In this sense, at least, the Marx/Engels vision of communal production control is quite consistent with the principle of ecological risk aversion.

Many ecological thinkers would add cooperation to the list of core prerequisites for effective social management of natural conditions. Referring to the ecological threat posed by nuclear technology and inadequately regulated “technics” in general, Lewis Mumford goes so far as to assert: “If man fails to take the path toward world co-operation, on every level from government upward, there is no alternative that will not prove monstrous… Unconditional cooperation on a world scale is, therefore, the only alternative” (1954, pp. 32-3). Building an ecologically sound system of production is by nature a cooperative endeavor, because it involves not just resource management but also a reconstruction of the social institutions regulating the use of natural conditions. In such a process, both nature and society “evolve as part of the living world: their relationship and network are dynamic, not hierarchical” (Morrison, 1995, p. 181). Although many economists support the market as an efficient substitute for explicit cooperation, even they must admit that the pricing of natural conditions is-apart from other shortcomings- only an instrument for achieving predetermined goals. Insofar as these goals are not determined in cooperative-democratic fashion, the true use value of nature in all its ecological and social variety is unlikely to be represented (Burkett, 1999b, Chapters 7 and 13).

Marx’s projection of communal property in the means of production arguably embodies the kinds of cooperative principles needed for an ecologically sound management of production. The most basic feature of Marx’s communism is its overcoming of capitalism’s social separation of the producers from necessary conditions of production-including natural conditions. This new union of labor and production conditions entails a complete decommodification of labor power and a new set of communal property rights in which individual workers enjoy shares in the total product (after deductions for social investment and social consumption) as well as a co-equal say in the administration of production itself. Associated production is production planned and carried out by the producers and communities themselves, without the class-based intermediaries of wage-labor, market, and state. Marx thus projects a system of “cooperative labor… developed to national dimensions”-and he insists that this “system starts with the self-government of the communities” (1974a, p. 80; 1989a, p. 519).13 As noted earlier, Marx and Engels insist on the extension of this communal oversight to land and other “sources of life” (Marx, 1966, p. 5).14 The “Association, applied to land” not only “brings to realization the original tendency inherent in land division, namely, equality” but “also reestablishes, now on a rational basis, no longer mediated by serfdom, overlordship and the silly mysticism of property, the intimate ties of man with the earth, since the earth ceases to be an object of huckstering” (Marx, 1964, p. 103).

The potential for ecological management of production through a communalization of natural conditions is clear from Elinor Ostrom’s survey of communal property systems in common pool resources (CPRs) (Ostrom, 1990), and from Peter Usher’s analysis of “aboriginal property systems in land and resources” in Canada (Usher, 1993). Both argue that communal management is a credible alternative to either private property with markets or centralized government control. Experience shows, however, that communal systems are most effective when they are run through associations set up and governed by resource users themselves, where “user” is defined in the broad sense of anyone whose well-being is significantly dependent on the CPRs in question. These associations ensure “the formal recognition of a non-moneyed property interest… a property right that arises from use” (Usher, 1993, p. 102). This basically corresponds to Marx’s conception of “self-government of the producers” based on communal appropriation of the conditions of production (Marx, 1985, p. 72).

In aboriginal-Canadian systems, for example, there was “universal involvement and consensus in management,” so that “management and production were not separate functions.” As a result, “management ‘data’ included accumulated historical experience” directly grasped by resource users themselves (Usher, 1993, p. 96). Similarly, Ostrom’s broader survey of communal systems suggests that in the most successful ones, all (or at least most) of the “individuals affected by the operational rules” for appropriating CPRs “can participate in modifying” these rules (1990, p. 93). Normally, “the rights of appropriators to devise their own institutions are not challenged by external government authorities” (p. 101). At the same time, the monitoring of compliance with appropriation rules (including audits of CPR conditions), and the imposition of sanctions against rules violators, are under the control of the appropriators themselves, either directly or via directly accountable agents (p. 94). Successful systems also often feature “rapid access to low-cost local arenas to resolve conflicts among appropriators” (p. 100).

In short, the successful communal CPR system is typically, just as in Marx’s projection, “a working, not a parliamentary, body, executive and legislative at the same time”-with producers and communities wielding the knowledge needed to self-manage their system of appropriation from nature (Marx, 1985, p. 71). In addition, both Marx’s projection and extant communal CPR systems contain “rights and obligations that defy a simple ‘public or private’ categorization.” They both feature universal access rights and limitations on individual use (communal regulation of appropriation); hence both “resemble neither individualized private property systems nor common property (open access, state management) systems” (Usher, 1993, pp. 93, 95). Both reject the notion that “land or wildlife” should be “considered a commodity that could be alienated to exclusive private possession”; both protect “the right to obtain sustenance” from nature; and they both insist on “obligations that go with the right”-above all the obligation to keep appropriation from nature within sustainable bounds (pp. 95-6). For both, in short, communal property is “in effect a right to both individual livelihood and collective identity and existence,” one in which “people do not think of themselves as ‘owning’ land or wildlife in any private sense” (p. 98).

Marxists looking to extend Marx’s vision of communism in ecological directions can learn much from contemporary research on communal CPR management. Ostrom, for example, emphasizes that in the most effective and sustainable systems, user rights are “well-tailored” to the CPRs being appropriated and to the broader system of social production within which such appropriation occurs. Not only do “appropriation rules…reflect the specific attributes of the particular resource,” but they also “are related to local conditions and to provision rules requiring labor, materials, and/or money” (1990, p. 92). Penalties for violations of appropriation rules are likewise tailored to the severity of the infractions in both ecological and social terms, that is, in line with the losses of present and future use values (or risks thereof) that they generate (p. 94). In addition, the “individuals or households who have rights to withdraw resource units from the CPR must be clearly defined, as must the boundaries of the CPR itself” (p. 91). Here, Usher notes that aboriginal-Canadian systems often “combined principles of universal access and benefit within the group,” with “territorial boundaries that were permeable according to social rules” (1993, p. 95). This is consistent with Ostrom’s observations of communal property in larger-scale CPRs (e.g., regional and national water resources used for irrigation), which indicate the necessity of “multiple layers” of “nested” associations of users to regulate “appropriation, provision, monitoring, enforcement, conflict resolution, and governance activities” (1990, p. 101). Such research findings can lend some ecological concreteness to Marx’s projection of the association as one in which “not only municipal administration, but the whole initiative hitherto exercised by the State [is] laid into the hands of the Commune” (1985, p. 72).

At the same time, contemporary researchers can learn from Marx about the prerequisites of communal CPR management. Along with Marx’s acute awareness of the importance of combining natural and social scientific insights, modern researchers could benefit from Marx’s analysis of capitalism’s social separation of the producers from necessary conditions of production-a separation that stands directly in the way of an ecologically sound and communally beneficial management of these conditions. Any extension of communal CPR management to the entire system of human production hinges on a broad diffusion of decision-making powers and scientific knowledge among producers and communities. It also hinges, as Marx emphasizes, on large reductions in individual work-times so that the producers will have sufficient free time to engage in communal management and to develop their managerial capabilities.15 These changes are inconsistent with wage-labor and other key institutions of the capitalist economy (e.g., financial capital and market rents) that separate producers and communities from effective control over the conditions of production. The extension of communal CPR management is thus a direct infringement of the power of capital and its state functionaries. Without a frontal challenge to capitalist relations in favor of communal relations, extant pockets of communal CPR management will be isolated and marginalized by capital’s ecologically unsound production on a global scale.

The diversity of natural conditions means that any systemic eco-rationality must encourage the maintenance and development of diverse ways of life. An ecologically sound system will thus “reserve certain areas of our planet, land and water” for “the preservation of older and simpler ways of living,” while supporting efforts by modern-day “communitarians” to “develop viable communities that [are] increasingly independent of inputs from technological society” (Dasmann, 1972, p. 212; 1975, pp. 136-7). The preservation of such alternative paths of living will itself require cooperation at all levels, based on a widely diffused knowledge of the ecological practices involved and the potential losses to society should they be “swamped out” by the dominant, more industrial forms of production (Dasmann, 1972, pp. 212-3).

The variety and diversity criterion is not based simply on the need for humanity to adapt its development to a variegated environment. It is a positive social value insofar as it signifies a rich plurality of paths for human fulfillment and for developing people’s natural and social capabilities. An ecologically sound system must be cooperatively managed by producers and communities willing and able to make prudent, ecologically informed decisions on a day- to-day basis. Such a society will have to provide a variety of channels for individual fulfillment, based on “an extraordinary diversity of community lifeways” (Morrison, 1995, p. 181; cf. Dasmann, 1975, p. 159). Respect for variety and diversity can also help society avoid the misuse of ecological thinking as a rationale for a new tyranny of the collective over the individual (Pepper, 1993, p. 125). An ecologically sound system “must take into account varying needs and desires based on age, background, and personal preference”; otherwise, “there will be very little support” for such a system (Wright, 1983, p. 84). Without individual freedom and choice, the system cannot be an effective “vehicle for debate and experimentation that helps test what works best for different circumstances and objectives” (Brecher & Costello, 1994, p. 172; cf. Harvey, 1993, pp. 44-5).

Is Marx’s communist vision open to diverse forms of human production and community, as required for society to healthily enmesh itself with the variegated and evolving world of extra- human nature? The answer does not hinge directly on The German Ideology’s projection of infinitely increased variety in individual human activity once the association dispenses with all specialization of individuals’ tasks within its division of labor.16 Even if this forecast is relevant only for a distant future, Marx’s adherence to the variety/diversity criterion is arguably ensured by the potential for free human development that he sees created by capitalism and realized under communism.

Marx argues that capitalism is historically progressive not just because it increases the productivity of social labor (thereby increasing the potential free time of the producers), but because in doing so it broadens and diversifies the natural and social conditions of human production, thereby making possible a richer development of individuals (Burkett, 1999a). Capitalism’s development of social production opens up individual development to the universal scope and variety of human and extra-human nature. At the same time, however, capitalism restricts and degrades people and nature in line with its requirements of exploitable labor power and conditions amenable to its exploitation. Capital not only usurps workers’ potential free time, but also artificially simplifies, divides, and overextends the wealth-creating powers of labor and nature, partly by alienating scientific knowledge from producers and communities (Burkett, 1999b, Chapters 7 and 11). As a result, the human development potentiated by capitalism can only be realized through an explicit communalization of the conditions of production and their conversion from means of capital accumulation into means of developing human beings. Given capital’s socialization of production, free individual development and diversity in human ways of life require a communal regulation of production.

In short, Marx envisions communist production not just as a cooperative planning project but, more important, as a condition and result of free human development or “the all-round realisation of the individual”-“the development of the richness of human nature as an end in itself” (Marx & Engels, 1976, p. 309; Marx, 1968, pp. 117-8, emphasis in original). This conception of human development conforms to the variety and diversity criterion insofar as it foresees individuals for “whom the different social functions… are but so many modes of giving free scope to [their] own natural and acquired powers” (Marx, 1967, I, p. 488). Communism’s “full development of [human] capacities” means, according to Engels, that “all members of society [can] develop, maintain and exert their capacities in all possible directions” (1939, pp. 167, 221; emphasis in original). Practically speaking, of course, such pursuit of diverse ways of life hinges on society’s provision to all individuals of “the means of cultivating [their] gifts in all directions.” In this sense, “personal freedom becomes possible only within the community” (Marx & Engels, 1976, p. 86).

Despite this emphasis on free, multi-directional human development, Marx and Engels do not directly address the diversification of communist production relations under the influence of variegated natural conditions. Nonetheless, Marx’s analyses of production in general and capitalist production in particular show an acute awareness of how natural conditions help shape the organization of human production-and this awareness is often expressed in terms suggesting an ongoing mutual constitution of natural conditions and social production relations under communism (Burkett, 1999b, Chapters 2-6). In Theories of Surplus Value, for example, Marx points to “the fact that, in order to be exploited really in accordance with its nature, land requires different social relations” (1971, p. 301). In Volumes II and III of Capital, Marx analyzes how the circulation of capital and rents are each shaped (albeit anarchically, due to capitalism’s exploitative and competitive relations) by the natural conditions specific to different kinds of agricultural and non-agricultural industry (see Burkett, 1998, and 1999b, Chapter 7, for details). These analyses demonstrate the need for an ecologically planned diversification of communism’s productive and community organization.

An ecologically sound management of human production presumes that people share a fundamental ecological ethic, however diverse its forms. Ray Dasmann provides a wide-ranging consideration of this ethical criterion. He points out that because “environmental conservation represents a goal toward which we must work [together],” it is “not something that can be achieved tomorrow by appeal to [individual] self-interest”; it will thus “require a basic change of attitude on the part of many people” (Dasmann, 1968, p. 95). There must be “an extension of ethics from people to the land, and with this the development of an ecological conscience” in which people “feel a deep sense of personal responsibility toward the land” (p. 95; emphases in original). Given the cooperative requirements of ecological management, people will need to “regain a sense of community,” and this “recovery of self-identity and awareness” as a social and natural species “can come only through education”:

Not conservation education in the old sense, which too often has emphasized only the economically profitable aspects of resource management, but a new type of education based firmly upon a knowledge of human needs and land ecology. A knowledge of psychology and the social sciences, physical science and engineering, and biology are all an integral part of the requisite educational pattern. The education must reach not just the experts and specialists in conservation but must filter through to everyone who is responsible for the land. (Dasmann, 1975, pp. 158-9; 1968, p. 96).

Ethical considerations clearly reinforce the important role of widely diffused combinations of natural and social scientific knowledge in an ecologically sound system.

In sum, ecological values are at least as diverse as human ways of life; but to effectively resonate through the system of human appropriation from nature, these values must together constitute a shared sense of unity with and responsibility toward the land and other natural conditions as shared conditions of human life. In this sense, an ecological ethics is by definition a communal ethics. Marx’s projection of the associated producers’ shared sense of responsibility toward the land, based on a new system of communal property rights and the planned allocation of social labor enmeshed with natural conditions, has already been noted. Marx sees this communal responsibility as being reinforced by a broad diffusion of scientific knowledge and a correspondingly heightened consciousness of the land as a source of the “permanent necessities of life required by the chain of successive generations” (1967, III, p. 617).

As a framework for ecological ethics, the communal setting envisioned by Marx is arguably far superior to capitalist private property and markets. Consider, for example, the market-based approach to greenhouse gas emissions, as championed by the U.S. government and corporate capital. This approach commodifies pollution (or clean air, depending on one’s point of view) by “creating an international market in emission credits.” As Michael J. Sandel points out, this could “undermine the ethic we should be trying to foster on the environment,” because “turning pollution into a commodity to be bought and sold removes the moral stigma that is properly associated with it” (Sandel, 1997, p. A19). More specifically, “such trading would enable rich countries to buy their way out of commitments to reduce greenhouse gases,” thus “mak[ing] pollution just another cost of doing business”- and this “may undermine the sense of shared responsibility that increased global cooperation requires” (Ibid.). By comparison, communal property in the conditions of production and the “consciously regulated” utilization of these conditions “in accordance with a settled plan,” appears much more congenial to the needed sense of shared responsibility (Marx, 1967, I, p. 80). Marx’s communism, which rejects both authoritarian state controls and market prices and profits as resource-allocation devices, potentially provides a framework within which alternative ecological values can be openly and fairly articulated, juxtaposed, and reconciled or chosen from.17

Ecologically informed ethics cannot thrive unless they are routinely validated, both materially and socially, by the system of production, distribution, and consumption. The system must define “wealth” in human and ecological terms, thereby promoting “a consistent change in the habits of production” (Bahro, 1978, p. 428). As Mumford puts it: “We need more wealth, but a wealth measured in terms of life rather than profit and prestige” (1954, p. 113). This ecological wealth criterion means giving “primacy” to “simple reproduction with the employment of existing energies and resources,” while generally promoting “improvement in quality as against the mere number of finished products” (Bahro, 1978, pp. 429-30). Ecological soundness requires that we no longer “gratuitously assume, as we constantly do, that the mere existence of a mechanism for manifolding or mass production carries with it an obligation to use it to the fullest capacity” (Mumford, 1954, p. 51). The system must have a built-in recognition that due to the “dangers to the earth’s non-renewable resources, and to the natural environment of human civilization and human life…consumption of material goods and services cannot grow in an unlimited way” (Mandel, 1992, p. 207).

Some would argue that while Marx’s communism may foster a shared sense of responsibility toward nature, this responsibility remains wedded to a Promethean conception of nature as primarily an instrument or subject of productive human labor. Alfred Schmidt, for example, suggests that even “when Marx and Engels complain about the unholy plundering of nature, they are not concerned with nature itself but with considerations of economic utility” (1971, p. 155). However, Marx’s conception of wealth in general and natural wealth in particular encompasses the full gamut of human needs, including aesthetic use values not reducible to the industrial processing of natural conditions (Burkett, 1999b, Chapter 2). As David Pepper observes: “Marx did see nature’s role as ‘instrumental’ to humans, but to him instrumental value did not mean merely economic or material. It included nature as a source of aesthetic, scientific and moral value” (1993, p. 64). Insofar as Marx’s communism places use value in command of production, its wealth-creating priorities and activities would encompass the maintenance and improvement of natural wealth in all its aesthetic and material forms.18

Nonetheless, many have suggested that Marx’s vision of communist wealth is anti-ecological because it features continued absolute growth of material production. Marx and Engels do, in fact, make many references to ongoing and even accelerated growth in the production of use values in the future association. However, before rushing to the conclusion that Marx’s communism violates the ecological wealth criterion, two things should be noted about these growth projections. First, they are always made in close connection with Marx’s vision of free and well-rounded human development, not with growth of material production and consumption for their own sake. Second, and of co-equal importance, they always refer to growth of wealth in a general sense not limited to the kinds of wealth involving industrial appropriation and processing of natural conditions.

In discussing the “higher phase of communist society,” for example, Marx sets the “to each according to his needs” criterion in a broad human-developmental context, referring to a situation after the enslaving sub-ordination of individuals under division of labour, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labour, has vanished; after labour, from a mere means of life, has itself become the prime necessity of life; after the productive forces have also increased with the allround development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly. (1966, p. 10; emphases added)

Whether the above projection is anti-ecological depends on the nature of co-operative wealth-especially the amount of material and energy throughput and the disruption of ecological interconnections that it entails. Communism’s abundance of wealth and its all-round human development are ecologically sound insofar as they encompass nature’s aesthetic and material use values in the context of a shared social responsibility to maintain and improve the quality of land and other natural conditions. The same goes for Engels’ projection, in AntiDühring, of a “more rapidly progressing development of the productive forces, and therewith of a practically limitless growth of production itself” (1939, p. 308). The ecological connotations of this development and growth clearly hinge on the meaning of “practical” in this context-one closely connected, in Engels’ view, with the communist priority “of securing for every member of society, through social production, an existence which is not only fully sufficient from a material standpoint… but also guarantees to them the completely unrestricted development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties” (p. 309). Engels’ projection is thus ecologically sound insofar as his conception of “unrestricted” individual development itself involves a healthy and sustainable interaction with the natural and social environment.

Similar considerations apply to Marx’s projections of growth in communist wealth as formulated in Volume III of Capital. Hence, when Marx indicates that the associated producers will “constantly expand reproduction to the extent dictated by social needs,” the ecological connotations of such expanded reproduction clearly hinge on the nature of the needs to be satisfied (1967, III, p. 876). For Marx, communism’s “progressive expansion of the process of reproduction” encompasses the entire “living process of the society of producers” (pp. 819, 250; emphasis in original). And as discussed earlier, Marx specifies the “material and intellectual advantages” of this “social development” in terms of the less restricted development of people as natural and social beings, both at work and in free time (p. 819). Hence, when Marx and Engels envision communism as “an organisation of production and intercourse which will make possible the normal satisfaction of needs, i.e., a satisfaction which is limited only by the needs themselves,” they do not mean a complete satiation of limitlessly expanding needs of all kinds, including the type of anti-ecological mass consumption characteristic of capitalism (1976, p. 273). They mean a satisfaction of the needs associated with a less restricted, all-round development of producers and communities. Although communism entails a freer development and satisfaction of some needs, it also involves important changes in the way needs are satisfied and even outright reductions in certain needs generated by capitalism’s class-exploitative relations:

Communist organisation has a twofold effect on the desires produced in the individual by present-day relations; some of these desires-namely desires which exist under all relations, and only change their form and direction under different social relations- are merely altered by the communist social system, for they are given the opportunity to develop normally; but others-namely those originating solely in a particular society, under particular conditions of production and intercourse-are totally deprived of their conditions of existence. Which will be merely changed and which eliminated in a communist society can only be determined in a practical way. (Marx & Engels, 1976, p. 273)

As Ernest Mandel points out, this social-relational and human- developmental approach to need satisfaction is quite different from the “absurd notion” of unqualified “abundance” often ascribed to Marx, that is, “a regime of unlimited access to a boundless supply of all goods and services” (1992, p. 205). In addition to being “a nightmare” both ecologically and socially, the latter notion directly contradicts Marx’s historical projection of communist abundance:

A moment of reflection will lead one to realize that to assume the “limitless” expansion of “needs” and individual consumption is actually to deny the feasibility of communism. Material abundance would be impossible, and the mercantile categories, which in fact correspond to a state of semi-scarcity of goods and economic resources, would survive. (Mandel, 1973, p. 71)

Although Marx’s vision of communist need satisfaction is consistent with a “definition of abundance [as] saturation of demand,” this has to be set in the context of a division of needs into a “hierarchy” of “basic needs, secondary needs that become indispensable with the growth of civilization, and luxury, inessential or even harmful needs” (Mandel, 1992, pp. 206-7, emphasis in original; see also Mandel, 1986, pp. 14-8). Marx’s conception of communist abundance foresees a satiation of basic needs and a gradual extension of this satiation to secondary needs as they develop socially in the context of expanded free time and cooperative worker-community control over social production-not a full satiation of all conceivable needs (cf. Sherman, 1970). In Marx’s projection, the producers will tend to use their newfound material security and increased free time to engage in a variety of intellectual and aesthetic forms of self-realization and self-development. This development of secondary needs is to be enhanced by the greater opportunities that real worker-community control provides for people to become informed participants in economic, political, and cultural life (as opposed to their current status mainly as hierarchically directed laborers and passive consumers).

It is in this last context that the full ecological significance of free time as a measure of communist wealth becomes clear. For insofar as the secondary needs developed and satisfied during free time are less material and energy intensive, their increasing weight in total needs reduces the pressure of communist reproduction on natural conditions, ceteris paribus. Besides, reductions in work-time directly lessen productive material and energy throughput, ceteris paribus. In particular, increases in the productivity of social labor do not entail rising material and energy throughput insofar as they are compensated by reductions in work-time (Gorz, 1994; pp. 27-37).

Of course, since labor (like nature) is still a fundamental “substance of wealth,” labor time is an important “measure of the cost of production… even if exchange-value is eliminated” (Marx, 1971, p. 257; emphasis in original). As Marx puts it in Capital: “In all states of society, the labour-time that it costs to produce the means of subsistence, must necessarily be an object of interest to mankind” (1967, I, p. 71). Social reproduction requires an allocation of labor among need-satisfying activities; hence “no form of society can prevent the working time at the disposal of society from regulating production one way or another” (Marx to Engels, January 8, 1868, in Marx & Engels, 1975, p. 187; emphasis in original). As a result:

On the basis of communal production, the determination of time remains, of course, essential. The less time the society requires to produce wheat, cattle etc., the more time it wins for other production, material or mental. Just as in the case of an individual, the multiplicity of its development, its enjoyment and its activity depends on economization of time. Economy of time, to this all economy ultimately reduces itself. Society likewise has to distribute its time in a purposeful way, in order to achieve a production adequate to its overall needs; just as the individual has to distribute his time correctly in order to achieve knowledge in proper proportions or in order to satisfy the various demands on his activity. Thus, economy of time, along with the planned distribution of labour time among the various branches of production, remains the first economic law on the basis of communal production. It becomes law, there, to an even higher degree. (Marx, 1973, pp. 172-3)

Marx immediately adds, however, that communism’s economy of time “is essentially different from a measurement of exchange values (labour or products) by labour time” (1973, p. 173). His reasoning here is straightforward: communism’s economy of time serves use value (human development), whereas capitalism’s economy of time reduces use values (including useful labor and natural conditions) to vehicles of value and capital accumulation. Specifically, the communist economy of labor time supports reductions of work-time (increases in human wealth as measured by free time), but capital’s economy of time is oriented toward increasing the surplus labor time expended by the producers (increases in capitalist wealth as measured by surplus value).19 This divergence between the two economies of time is ecologically significant, given the positive ecological potential of increased free time and the anti-ecological character of surplus-value accumulation (Burkett, 1999b, Chapter 7).

In any case, Marx and Engels never project labor cost as the sole guide for resource-allocation decisions under communism: they only indicate that it is to be one important measure of the social cost associated with different use values. This use of labor time as a measure of cost “is accomplished… by the direct and conscious control of society over its working time-which is possible only with common ownership,” unlike the situation under capitalism, where the “regulation” of social labor time is only accomplished indirectly, “by the movement of commodity prices” (Marx to Engels, January 8, 1868, in Marx & Engels, 1975, p. 187). According to Marx: “It is only where production is under the actual, predetermining control of society that the latter establishes a relation between the volume of social labour-time applied in producing definite articles, and the volume of the social want to be satisfied by these articles” (1967, III, p. 187). Obviously, the establishment of a relation between labor cost and social want need not imply that labor time is the sole cost taken into account. Alternatively, communist planning could include the maintenance and improvement of natural conditions (along with increases in free time) under the category of “the social wants to be satisfied” by the system of production and consumption.

Whether environmental goals are included under social costs or social benefits is less important than the overriding priority of use value in Marx’s projection. Given Marx’s insistence on nature’s contribution to use value (Burkett, 1999b, p. 26), there is nothing inherently anti-ecological about the continued use of labor time as an important measure of cost in the future association. Marx’s communism would, for one thing, dispense with the waste of nature and labor associated with capitalism’s “anarchical system of competition” and “vast number of employments… in themselves superfluous” (1967, I, p. 530). Many anti-ecological use values could be eliminated or greatly reduced under a planned system of labor allocation and land-use, among them the excessive processing and packaging of food and other goods, advertising, the automobile/real estate/petroleum complex, and the planned obsolescence of products. All these destructive use values are “indispensable” for capitalism; from the standpoint of an ecologically sound system, however, they represent “the most outrageous squandering of labour-power and of the social means of production” (Marx, 1967, I, p. 530; cf. Bahro, 1978, pp. 428-30; Gorz, 1994, pp. 31-4).

To repeat: Marx and Engels do not envision communism as prioritizing minimum labor cost over all ecological and other social goals. Not only is economy of labor time treated as a means to the higher end of use value, including expanded free time, but there is also strong evidence that the founders of Marxism would gladly accept increases in necessary labor time in return for a more ecologically sound production. Hence Engels, after describing the “abolition of the antithesis between town and country” as “a direct necessity of…production and, moreover, of public health,” goes on to ridicule Dühring’s projection “that the union between agriculture and industry will nevertheless be carried through even against economic considerations, as if this would be some economic sacrifice!” (1939, pp. 323-4; emphasis in original). Clearly, what bothers Engels is not just Dühring’s inadequate appreciation of nature as a necessary condition of production, but also Dühring’s failure to see that if communism is at all distinct from capitalism it is because the former’s production is dictated by use value, and that this involves a more human, social, and ecological definition of economic necessity. This is precisely how the ecological wealth criterion is fulfilled by Marx’s vision of communism.

The foregoing analysis supports the consistency of Marx’s vision of communism with an ecologically sound human production. Associated production, with increases in free time and material security for the producers, represents a potentially congenial human and social context for healthy and sustainable people-nature relations. The realization of this potential hinges on a new social union of producers and communities with the conditions of production, that is, a collective appropriation, utilization, and development of these conditions that replaces exchange value with use value as the overriding mode of economic regulation. Marx envisions this union taking the form of communal property in the conditions of production, where “property” connotes user rights and responsibilities rather than the rights of “owners” (either individuals or society as a whole) to unrestricted use based on “possession.” This communal property is designed to promote the free development of human beings (compared to class societies) while protecting the interests of future generations in a sustainable appropriation from nature-one that maintains and even improves the quality of natural wealth. In Marx’s vision, the de-alienation of the conditions of production includes a broad diffusion of the scientific knowledge required for effective communal management of natural conditions and their appropriation in the social labor process.

The present study must, however, be qualified in three ways. First, Marx’s vision of communism remains on the level of basic organizing principles; it does not provide a blueprint or detailed model demonstrating socially and technologically advanced production without market or authoritarian state forms of economic regulation. The feasibility of the kind of communally regulated production foreseen by Marx can only be established historically, as an outgrowth of worker- community struggles to reunite with and gain control over their conditions of production. Second, there is much room for disagreement over the specific criteria that should be used to ecologically evaluate socio-economic systems. It is conceivable that alternative criteria could yield different results from those obtained here. Third, the present article does not address the yawning gap between the pro-ecological content of Marx’s communism and the largely anti-ecological history of the U.S.S.R. and other nations professing allegiance to Marxism.20 This disjuncture is an important research project in its own right, even though a necessary ingredient in its fruition is an adequate ecological assessment of Marx’s own vision.


1. See Burkett (1999a, pp. 7-9; 1999b, pp. 147-8) and Foster (1995, pp. 108-9) for additional references to such ecological criticisms of Marx’s communism.

2. For broader discussions of the basic organizing principles of Marx’s communism, see Ollman (1979), Chattopadhyay (1992), and Burkett (1999b, pp. 230-9).

3. Consider also the similarity between Marx’s projection and Ray Dasmann’s call for “a change in attitude toward land. So long as it is regarded as a mere commodity whose value is to be judged only in the market place, we will continue to destroy the earth on which we depend. When land is regarded as the home for people and other living things, as the sole base for humanity’s future-then there will be hope” (1975, p. 126).

4. Similarly, in The Housing Question, Engels suggests that “the abolition of the antithesis between town and country is no more and no less utopian than the abolition of the antithesis between capitalists and wage-workers. From day to day it is becoming more and more a practical demand of both industrial and agricultural production” (1979, p. 92). For details on the key role of the town/country division in Marx’s analysis of capitalist environmental crisis, see Burkett (1999b, Chapter 9) and Foster (2000, Chapter 5).

5. Foster (1997) and Foster & Magdoff (1998) argue the contemporary relevance of Marx’s vision of a sustainable agricultural-industrial system.

6. See Wallis (1993, pp. 147-8) on the issues involved in such an integrative approach.

7. In Capital, Marx again projects “that when the working-class comes into power, as inevitably it must, technical instruction, both theoretical and practical, will take its proper place in the working-class schools” (1967, I, p. 488).

8. The present interpretation follows Bertell Ollman, who speaks of people “becoming conscious of the internal relations between what are today called ‘natural’ and ‘social’ worlds, and treating the hitherto separate halves as a single totality. In learning about either society or nature, the individual will recognize that he is learning about both” (1979, p. 76). This intrinsic unity of social and natural science is a logical corollary of the unity of humanity and nature, in Marx’s view. As stated in The German Ideology: “We know only a single science, the science of history. One can look at history from two sides and divide it into the history of nature and the history of men. The two sides are, however, inseparable; the history of nature and the history of men are dependent on each other so long as men exist” (Marx & Engels, 1976, p. 34).

9. Marx argues that “the fact of the collective working group being composed of individuals of both sexes and all ages, must necessarily, under suitable conditions, become a source of humane development” (1967, I, p. 490).

10. Marx’s projection of planned relative overproduction follows the work of Thomas More, whose Utopians do not consider themselves to have a “sufficient store of provision… until they have provided for the two years following, because of the uncertainty of the next year’s crop” (More, 1947, p. 100).

11. The fact that Marx’s conception of a rationally planned agriculture does not involve complete human control over the vagaries of nature is clear from his response to Lewis Henry Morgan’s claim, in his book Ancient Society, that “mankind are the only beings who may be said to have gained an absolute control over the production of food.” Recording this statement in his ethnological notebooks, Marx stressed the words “have gained an absolute control,” appending to them only the parenthetical comment: “?!” (Marx, 1974b, p. 99).

12. A similar interpretation is offered by Ollman, who suggests that “when communist people fully comprehend nature they will not desire anything which stands outside their effective reach” (1979, p. 75).

13. With “the means of production in common,… the labour-power of all the different individuals is consciously applied as the combined labour-power of the community… in accordance with a definite social plan [which] maintains the proper proportion between the different kinds of work to be done and the various wants of the community” (Marx, 1967, I, pp. 78-9).

14. Marx criticizes the Gotha Programme for not making it “sufficiently clear that land is included in the instruments of labour” in this connection (1966, p. 6). As with other conditions of production, this “common property” in land “does not mean the restoration of the old original common ownership, but the institution of a far higher and more developed form of possession in common” (Engels, 1939, p. 151).

15. Ernest Mandel suggests that “the half-workday of four hours, or the half workweek of twenty hours, would provide the ideal conditions for self-administration on a mass scale” (1992, p. 202).

16. Marx and Engels foresee a situation, “in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes,” so that each person can “do one thing today and another tomorrow” (1976, p. 53).

17. Marx’s rejection of private property and prices places him squarely in the camp of the growing number of social ecologists and activists questioning the ability of monetary and market-based calculations to adequately represent the natural conditions of human production and development. See, for example, Stirling (1993), Booth (1994), Adams (1996), O’Neill (1997), and Nelson (2001).

18. This concern with nature’s aesthetic use value extended to Marx and Engels personally. When convalescing in Monte Carlo near the end of his life, Marx penned a letter to Engels, observing: “You will know everything about the charm exerted by the beauties of nature here…. Many of its features vividly recall those of Africa” (Marx to Engels, May 8, 1882, in Marx & Engels, 1992, p. 253). “A really beautiful situation,” is how he described it to his daughter in a letter written the same day (Marx to Longuet, May 8, 1882, in Marx & Engels, 1992, p. 255). Engels’ instrumental conception of nature did not prevent his study of “comparative physiology” from instilling in him “a withering contempt for the idealistic exaltation of man over the other animals” (Engels to Marx, July 14, 1858, in Marx & Engels, 1975, p. 102). For further discussion of Marx and Engels’ personal love of nature, see Parsons (1977, pp. 41, 46).

19. “The limit of capitalist production is the excess time of the labourers. The absolute spare time gained by society does not concern it. The development of productivity concerns it only in so far as it increases the surplus labour-time of the working-class, not because it decreases the labour-time for material production in general. It moves thus in a contradiction” (Marx, 1967, III, p. 264).

20. The environmental shortcomings of U.S.S.R.-type “socialism” are well known. See the useful discussions in Foster (1994, pp. 96-101), Mirovitskaya & Soroos (1995), and O’Connor (1998, pp. 256-65).


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