Arquivo da tag: Marxismo

Is human behavior controlled by our genes? Richard Levins reviews ‘The Social Conquest of Earth’ (Climate & Capitalism)

“Failing to take class division into account is not simply a political bias. It also distorts how we look at human evolution as intrinsically bio-social and human biology as socialized biology.”


August 1, 2012

Edward O. Wilson. The Social Conquest of Earth. Liverwright Publishing, New York, 2012

reviewed by Richard Levins

In the 1970s, Edward O. Wilson, Richard Lewontin, Stephen Jay Gould and I were colleagues in Harvard’s new department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. In spite of our later divergences, I retain grateful memories of working in the field with Ed, turning over rocks, sharing beer, breaking open twigs, putting out bait (canned tuna fish) to attract the ants we were studying..

We were part of a group that hoped to jointly write and publish articles offering a common view of evolutionary science, but that collaboration was brief, largely because Lewontin and I strongly disagreed with Wilson’s Sociobiology.

Reductionism and Sociobiology

Although Wilson fought hard against the reduction of biology to the study of molecules, his holism stopped there. He came to promote the reduction of social and behavioral science to biology. In his view:

“Our lives are restrained by two laws of biology: all of life’s entities and processes are obedient to the laws of physics and chemistry; and all of life’s entities and processes have arisen through evolution and natural selection.” [Social Conquest, p. 287]

This is true as far as it goes but fails in two important ways.

First, it ignores the reciprocal feedback between levels. The biological creates the ensemble of molecules in the cell; the social alters the spectrum of molecules in the biosphere; biological activity creates the biosphere itself and the conditions for the maintenance of life.

Second, it doesn’t consider how the social level alters the biological: our biology is a socialized biology.

Higher (more inclusive) levels are indeed constrained by the laws at lower levels of organization, but they also have their own laws that emerge from the lower level yet are distinct and that also determine which chemical and physical entities are present in the organisms. In new contexts they operate differently.

Thus for example we, like a few other animals including bears, are omnivores. For some purposes such as comparing digestive systems that’s an adequate label. But we are omnivores of a special kind: we not only acquire food by predation, but we also producefood, turning the inedible into edible, the transitory into stored food. This has had such a profound effect on our lives that it is also legitimate to refer to us as something new, productivores.

The productivore mode of sustenance opens a whole new domain: the mode of production. Human societies have experienced different modes of production and ways to organize reproduction, each with its own dynamics, relations with the rest of nature, division into classes, and processes which restore or change it when it is disturbed.

The division of society into classes changes how natural selection works, who is exposed to what diseases, who eats and who doesn’t eat, who does the dishes, who must do physical work, how long we can expect to live. It is no longer possible to prescribe the direction of natural selection for the whole species.

So failing to take class division into account is not simply a political bias. It also distorts how we look at human evolution as intrinsically bio-social and human biology as socialized biology.

The opposite of the genetic determinism of sociobiology is not “the blank slate” view that claims that our biological natures were irrelevant to behavior and society. The question is, what about our animal heritage was relevant?

We all agree that we are animals; that as animals we need food; that we are terrestrial rather than aquatic animals; that we are mammals and therefore need a lot of food to support our high metabolic rates that maintain body temperature; that for part of our history we lived in trees and acquired characteristics adapted to that habitat, but came down from the trees with a dependence on vision, hands with padded fingers, and so on. We have big brains, with regions that have different major functions such as emotions, color vision, and language.

But beyond these general capacities, there is widespread disagreement about which behaviors or attitudes are expressions of brain structure. The amygdala is a locus of emotion, but does it tell us what to be angry or rejoice about? It is an ancient part of our brains, but has it not evolved in response to what the rest of the brain is doing? There is higher intellectual function in the cortex, but does it tell us what to think about?

Every part of an organism is the environment for the rest of the organism, setting the context for natural selection. In contrast to this fluid viewpoint, phrases such as “hard-wired” have become part of the pop vocabulary, applied promiscuously to all sorts of behaviors.

In a deeper sense, asking if something is heritable is a nonsense question. Heritability is always a comparison: how much of the difference between humans and chimps is heritable? What about the differences between ourselves and Neanderthals? Between nomads and farmers?

Social Conquest of Earth

The Social Conquest of Earth, Ed Wilson’s latest book, continues his interest in the “eusocial” animals – ants, bees and others that live in groups with overlapping generations and a division of labor that includes altruistic behavior. As the title shows. he also continues to use the terminology of conquest and domination, so that social animals “conquer” the earth, their abundance makes them “dominate.”

The problem that Wilson poses in this book is first, why did eusociality arise at all, and second, why is it so rare?

Wilson is at his best when discussing the more remote past, the origins of social behavior 220 million years ago for termites, 150 million years for ants, 70-80 million years for humble bees and honey bees.

But as he gets closer to humanity the reductionist biases that informed Sociobiology reassert themselves. Once again Wilson argues that brain architecture determines what people do socially – that war, aggression, morality, honor and hierarchy are part of “human nature.”

Rejecting kin selection

A major change, and one of the most satisfying parts of the book, is his rejection of kin selection as a motive force of social evolution, a theory he once defended strongly.

Kin selection assumed that natural selection acts on genes. A gene will be favored if it results in enhancing its own survival and reproduction, but it is not enough to look at the survival of the individual. If my brother and I each have 2 offspring, a shared gene would be doubled in the next generation. But if my brother sacrifices himself so that I might leave 5 offspring while he leaves none, our shared gene will increase 250%.

Therefore, argued the promoters of this theory, the fitness that natural selection increases has to be calculated over a whole set of kin, weighted by the closeness of their relationship. Mathematical formulations were developed to support this theory. Wilson found it attractive because it appeared to support sociobiology.

However, plausible inference is not enough to prove a theory. Empirical studies comparing different species or traits did not confirm the kin selection hypothesis, and a reexamination of its mathematical structure (such as the fuzziness of defining relatedness) showed that it could not account for the observed natural world. Wilson devotes a lot of space to refuting kin selection because of his previous support of it: it is a great example of scientific self-correction.

Does group selection explain social behaviour?

Wilson has now adopted another model in which the evolution of sociality is the result of opposing processes of ordinary individual selection acting within populations, and group selection acting between populations. He invokes this model account to for religion, morality, honor and other human behaviors.

He argues that individual selection promotes “selfishness” (that is, behavior that enhances individual survival) while group selection favors cooperative and “altruistic” behavior. The two forms of selection oppose each other, and that results in our mixed behaviors.

“We are an evolutionary chimera living on intelligence steered by the demands of animal instinct. This is the reason we are mindlessly dismantling the biosphere and with it, our own prospects for permanent existence.” [p.13]

But this simplistic reduction of environmental destruction to biology will not stand. Contrary to Wilson, the destruction of the biosphere is not “mindless.” It is the outcome of interactions in the noxious triad of greed, poverty, and ignorance, all produced by a socio-economic system that must expand to survive.

For Wilson, as for many environmentalists, the driver of ecological destruction is some generic “we,” who are all in the same boat. But since the emergence of classes after the adoption of agriculture some 8-10,000 years ago it is no longer appropriate to talk of a collective “we.”

The owners of the economy are willing to use up resources, pollute the environment, debase the quality of products, and undermine the health of the producers out of a kind of perverse economic rationality. They support their policies with theories such as climate change denial or doubting the toxicity of pesticides, and buttress it with legislation and court decisions.

Evolution and religion

The beginning and end of the book, a spirited critique of religion as possibly explaining human nature, is more straightforwardly materialist than the view supported by Stephen J. Gould, who argued that religion and science are separate magisteria that play equal roles in human wellbeing.

But Wilson’s use of evidence is selective.

For example, he argues that religion demands absolute belief from its followers – but this is true only of Christianity and Islam. Judaism lets you think what you want as long as you practice the prescribed rituals, Buddhism doesn’t care about deities or the afterlife.

Similarly he argues that creation myths are a product of evolution:

“Since paleolithic times … each tribe invented its own creation myths… No tribe could long survive without a creation myth… The creation myth is a Darwinian device for survival.” [p. 8]

But the ancient Israelites did not have an origin myth when they emerged as a people in the hills of Judea around 1250 B.C.E. Although it appears at the beginning of the Bible, the Israelites did not adapt the Book of Genesis from Babylonian mythology until four centuries after Deuteronomy was written, after they had survived 200 years as a tribal confederation, two kingdoms and the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests— by then the writing of scripture was a political act, not a “Darwinian device for survival.”

Biologizing war

In support of his biologizing of “traits,” Wilson reviews recent research that appears to a show a biological basis for the way people see and interpret color, for the incest taboo, and for the startle response – and then asserts that inherited traits include war, hierarchy, honor and such. Ignoring the role of social class, he views these as universal traits of human nature.

Consider war. Wilson claims that war reflects genes for group selection. “A soldier going into battle will benefit his country but he runs a higher risk of death than one who does not.” [p. 165]

But soldiers don’t initiate conflict. We know in our own times that those who decide to make war are not those who fight the wars – but, perhaps unfortunately, sterilizing the general staff of the Pentagon and of the CIA would not produce a more peaceful America.

The evidence against war as a biological imperative is strong. Willingness to fight is situational.

Group selection can’t explain why soldiers have to be coerced into fighting, why desertion is a major problem for generals and is severely punished, or why resistance to recruitment is a major problem of armies. In the present militarist USA, soldiers are driven to join up through unemployment and the promises of benefits such as learning skills and getting an education and self-improvement. No recruitment posters offer the opportunity to kill people as an inducement for signing up.

The high rates of surrender and desertion of Italian soldiers in World War II did not reflect any innate cowardice among Italians but a lack of fascist conviction. The very rarity of surrender by Japanese soldiers in the same war was not a testimony to greater bravery on the part of the Japanese but of the inculcated combination of nationalism and religion.

As the American people turned against the Vietnam war, increased desertions and the killing of officers by the soldiers reflected their rejection of the war.

The terrifying assaults of the Vikings during the middle ages bear no resemblance to the mellow Scandinavian culture of today, too short a time for natural selection to transform national character.

The attempt to make war an inherited trait favored by natural selection reflects the sexism that has been endemic in sociobiology. It assumes that local groups differed in their propensity for aggression and prowess in war. The victorious men carry off the women of the conquered settlements and incorporate them into their own communities. Therefore the new generation has been selected for greater military success among the men. But the women, coming from a defeated, weaker group, would bring with them their genes for lack of prowess, a selection for military weakness! Such a selection process would be self-negating.


Wilson also considers ethnocentrism to be an inherited trait: group selection leads people to favor members of their own group and reject outsiders.

The problem is that the lines between groups vary under different circumstances. For example, in Spanish America, laws governing marriage included a large number of graded racial categories, while in North America there were usually just two. What’s more, the category definitions are far from permanent: at one time, the Irish were regarded as Black, and the whiteness of Jews was questioned.

Adoption, immigration, mergers of clans also confound any possible genetic basis for exclusion.


Wilson draws on the work of Herbert Simon to argue that hierarchy is a result of human nature: there will always be rulers and ruled. His argument fails to distinguish between hierarchy and leadership.

There are other forms of organization possible besides hierarchy and chaos, including democratic control by the workers who elect the operational leadership. In some labor unions, leaders’ salaries are pegged to the median wage of the members. In University departments the chairmanship is often a rotating task that nobody really wants. When Argentine factory owners closed their plants during the recession, workers in fact seized control and ran them profitably despite police sieges.

Darwinian behavior?

Wilson argues that “social traits” evolved through Darwinian natural selection. Genes that promoted behaviors that helped the individual or group to survive were passed on; genes that weakened the individual or group were not. The tension between individual and group selection decided which traits would be part of our human nature.

But a plausible claim that a trait might be good for people is not enough to explain its origin and survival. A gene may become fixed in a population even if it is harmful, just by the random genetic changes that we know occur. Or a gene may be harmful but be dragged along by an advantageous gene close to it on the same chromosome.

Selection may act in different directions in different subpopulations, or in different habitats, or in differing environmental. Or the adaptive value of a gene may change with its prevalence or the distribution of ages in the population, itself a consequence of the environment and population heterogeneity.

For instance, Afro-Americans have a higher death rate from cancer than Euro-Americans. In part this reflects the carcinogenic environments they have been subjected to, but there is also a genetic factor. It is the combination of living conditions and genetics that causes higher mortality rates.

* * *

Obviously I am not arguing that evolution doesn’t happen. The point is that we need a much better argument than just a claim that some genotype might be beneficial. And we need a much more rigorous understanding of the differences and linkages between the biological and social components of humanity’s nature. Just calling some social behavior a “trait” does not make it heritable.

In a book that attempts such a wide-ranging panorama of human evolution, there are bound to be errors. But the errors in The Social Conquest of Earth form a pattern: they reduce social issues to biology, and they insist on our evolutionary continuity with other animals while ignoring the radical discontinuity that made us productivores and divided us into classes.


The Anthropocene as Fetishism (Mediations)

Daniel Cunha

“A society that is always sicker, but always stronger, has everywhere concretely re-created the world as the environment and decor of its illness, a sick planet.”1

The “Anthropocene” has become a fashionable concept in the natural and social sciences.2 It is defined as the “human-dominated geologic epoch,” because in this period of natural history it is Man who is in control of the biogeochemical cycles of the planet.3The result, though, is catastrophic: the disruption of the carbon cycle, for example, leads to a global warming that approaches tipping points that might be irreversible.4 The exponential growth of our freedom and power, that is, of our ability to transform nature, is now translated into a limitation to our freedom, including the destabilization of the very framework of life. It reaches its highest degree with the problem of global warming.5 In this context, it becomes clear that the Anthropocene is a contradictory concept. If the “human-dominated geologic epoch” is leading to a situation in which the existence of humans might be at stake, there is something very problematic with this sort of domination of Nature that reduces it to a “substrate of domination” that should be investigated.6 Its very basic premise, that it is human-dominated, should be challenged — after all there should be something inhuman or objectified in a sort of domination whose outcome might be human extinction.

What is claimed here is that, exactly as for freedom, the Anthropocene is an unfulfilled promise. The same way that freedom in capitalism is constrained by fetishism and class relations — capitalist dynamics are law-bound and beyond the control of individuals; the workers are “free” in the sense that they are not “owned” as slaves, but also in the sense that they are “free” from the means of production, they are deprived of their conditions of existence; the capitalists are “free” insofar as they follow the objectified rules of capital accumulation, otherwise they go bankrupt — so is the social metabolism with Nature. Therefore, I claim that the Anthropocene is the fetishized form of interchange between Man and Nature historically specific to capitalism, the same way as the “invisible hand” is the fetishized form of “freedom” of interchange between men.

Since primitive accumulation, capital caused a metabolic rift between Man and Nature. It was empirically observable at least since the impoverishment of soils caused by the separation between city and countryside in nineteenth-century Great Britain.7 In the twenty-first century, though, this rift is globalized, including critical disruptions of the carbon cycle (global warming), the nitrogen cycle, and the rate of biodiversity loss that implies that humanity is already outside of a “safe operating space” of global environmental conditions.8 The Anthropocene, appears, then, as the globalized disruption of global natural cycles — and, most importantly, not as a (for whatever reason) planned, intentional, and controlled disruption, but as an unintended side effect of social metabolism with Nature that seems to be progressively out of control. It can easily be illustrated with examples. In the case of the carbon cycle, the burning of fossil fuels is carried out as an energy source for industrial and transport systems. Massive coal extraction began in England during the Industrial Revolution so that, with this new mobile energy source, industries could move from near dams to the cities where cheap labor was.9

There was no intention to manipulate the carbon cycle or to cause global warming, or any consciousness of it. The result, though, is that, in the twenty-first century, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is already beyond the safe boundary of 350 ppm for long-term human development. As for the nitrogen cycle, it was disrupted by the industrialization of agriculture and fertilizer production, including the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen with the Haber-Bosch process. Again, there was no intention or plan to control the nitrogen cycle, to cause eutrophication of lakes, or to induce the collapse of ecosystems. Once again, the boundary of sixty-two million tons of nitrogen removed from the atmosphere per year is by far already surpassed, with 150 million tons in 2014.10 A similar story could be told about the rate of biodiversity loss, and the phosphorous cycle and ocean acidification are following the same pattern. The “human-dominated” geologic epoch, in this regard, seems much more a product of chance and unconsciousness than of a proper control of the global material cycles, in spite of Crutzen’s reference to Vernadsky’s and Chardin’s “increasing consciousness and thought” and “world of thought” (noösphere). “They do not know it, but they do it” — this is what Marx said about the fetishized social activity mediated by commodities, and this is the key to a critical understanding of the Anthropocene.11

In fact, Crutzen locates the beginning of the Anthropocene in the design of the steam engine during the Industrial Revolution.12 However, instead of seeing it as a mere empirical observation, the determinants of the “human-dominated” geologic epoch should be conceptually investigated in the capitalist form of social relations. With his analysis of fetishism, Marx showed that capitalism is a social formation in which there is a prevalence of “material relations between persons and social relations between things,” in which “the circulation of money as capital is an end in itself.”13 Capital is the inversion where exchange value directs use, abstract labor directs concrete labor: a social formation in which the process of production has mastery over man, instead of the opposite,” and its circulation as money and commodities for the sake of accumulation constitutes the “automatic subject,” “self-valorizing value.”14 Locating the Anthropocene in capitalism, therefore, implies an investigation into the relation between the Anthropocene and alienation, or, as further developed by the late Marx, fetishism.15 This is the core of the contradictions of the “human-dominated” geologic epoch. According to Marx, the labor-mediated form of social relations of capitalism acquires a life of its own, independent of the individuals that participate in its constitution, developing into a sort of objective system over and against individuals, and increasingly determines the goals and means of human activity. Alienated labor constitutes a social structure of abstract domination that alienates social ties, in which “starting out as the condottiere of use value, exchange value ended up waging a war that was entirely its own.”16 This structure, though, does not appear to be socially constituted, but natural.17 Value, whose phenomenic form of appearance is money, becomes in itself a form of social organization, a perverted community. This is the opposite of what could be called “social control.”18 A system that becomes quasi-automatic, beyond the conscious control of those involved, and is driven by the compulsion of limitless accumulation as an end-in-itself, necessarily has as a consequence the disruption of the material cycles of the Earth. Calling this “Anthropocene,” though, is clearly imprecise, on one hand, because it is the outcome of a historically specific form of metabolism with Nature, and not of a generic ontological being (antropo), and, on the other hand, because capitalism constitutes a “domination without subject,” that is, in which the subject is not Man (not even a ruling class), but capital.19

It is important to note that fetishism is not a mere illusion that should be deciphered, so that the “real” class and environmental exploitation could be grasped. As Marx himself pointed out, “to the producers…the social relations between their private labors appear as what they are, i.e., as material relations between persons and social relations between things”; “commodity fetishism…is not located in our minds, in the way we (mis)perceive reality, but in our social reality itself.”20 That is why not even all scientific evidence of the ecological disruption, always collected post festum, is able to stop the destructive dynamic of capital, showing to a caricatural degree the uselessness of knowledge without use.21The fact that now “they know very well what they are doing, yet they are doing it” does not refute, but rather confirms that the form of social relations is beyond social control, and merely changing the name of the “Anthropocene” (to “Capitolocene” or whatever) would not solve the underlying social and material contradictions.22 Value-directed social production, that is, production determined by the minimization of socially necessary labor time, results in an objectified mode of material production and social life that can be described by “objective” laws. Time, space, and technology are objectified by the law of value. Of course the agents of the “valorization of value” are human beings, but they perform their social activity as “character [masks],” “personifications of economic relations”: the capitalist is personified capital and the worker is personified labor.23 The fetishistic, self-referential valorization of value through the exploitation of labor (M-C-M’) with its characteristics of limitless expansion and abstraction of material content implies the ecologically disruptive character of capitalism, that is, that in capitalism “the development of productive forces is simultaneously the development of destructive forces.”24 Self-expanding value creates an “industrial snowball system” that is not consciously controlled, “a force independent of any human volition.”25 In this context, it is not a surprise that the disruption of global ecological cycles is presented as the “Anthropocene,” that is, as a concept allusive to a natural process. That Man is presented as a blind geologic force, such as volcanic eruptions or variations in solar radiation, is an expression of the naturalized or fetishized form of social relations that is prevalent in capitalism.

Therefore, the technical structures with which Man carries out its metabolism with Nature is logically marked by fetishism. As Marx noted, “technology reveals the active relation of man to nature, the direct process of the production of his life, and thereby it also lays bare the process of the production of the social relations of his life, and of the mental conceptions that flow from those relations.”29 In capitalism, production processes are not designed according to the desires and needs of the producers, ecological or social considerations, but according to the law of value. Taking as an example the world energy systems, it has been demonstrated that there is no technical constraint to a complete solar transition in two or three decades if we consider the use-value of fossil and renewable energies (their energy return and material requirements), that is, it is technically feasible to use fossil energy to build a solar infrastructure to provide world energy in a quantity and quality sufficient for human development.27 This transition, which from the point of view of use-value or material wealth is desirable, necessary, and urgent (due to global warming) is not being carried out, though, because fossil energy is still more prone to capital accumulation, to the valorization of value: capital went to China to exploit cheap labor and cheap coal, causing a strong spike in carbon emissions on the eve of a climate emergency, in a clear display of fetishistic irrationality.28 More generally, the American ecologist Barry Commoner showed that in the twentieth century many synthetic products were developed (such as plastics and fertilizers) that took the place of natural and biodegradable products. However, the new products were not better than the old ones; the transition was only carried out because it was more lucrative to produce them, although they were much more polluting and environmentally harmful — in fact it is shown that these new technologies were the main factor for the increase of pollution in the United States, more than the increase in population or consumption.26

Of course the law of value does not determine only the final products, but also the production processes, which must be constantly intensified both in terms of rhythms and material efficiency, if not in terms of the extension of the working day. Already, in his day, Marx highlighted the “fanaticism that the capitalist shows for economizing on means of production” as they seek the “refuse of production” for reuse and recycling.30 However, under the capitalist form of social production, productivity gains result in a smaller amount of value created per material unit, so that it fosters enlarged material consumption.31 This general tendency is empirically observable in the so-called Jevons Paradox, when efficiency gains eventually result in a rebound effect, increased material production.32 It was first shown by William Stanley Jevons, who presented data that demonstrate that the economy of coal in steam engines during the Industrial Revolution resulted in increased coal consumption.33 What in a conscious social production would be ecologically beneficial (increased efficiency in resource use), in capitalism increases relative surplus-value, and therefore reinforces the destructive limitless accumulation of capital and a technological system that is inappropriate in the first place. It is astonishing that many environmentalists still preach efficiency as an ecological fix, without noticing that the capitalist social form of wealth (value) turns productivity into a destructive force.

Even the way capitalism deals with the problem of pollution is configured by alienation: everything can be discussed, but the mode of production based on commodification and maximization of profits. As production is carried out in competing isolated private production units, socio-technical control is limited to external control, through state regulations that enforce end-of-pipe technologies and market mechanisms. The Kyoto Protocol is the best example of market mechanism. It represents the commodification of the carbon cycle, establishing the equivalence principle, the very form of commodity fetishism, in a sort of stock exchange of carbon. Therefore, it implies a whole process of abstraction of ecological, social, and material qualities to make possible the equivalence of carbon emissions, offsets, and carbon sinks located in very different ecological and social contexts. The abstraction process includes the equalization of emission reductions in different social and ecological contexts, of emissions reductions carried out with different technologies, of carbon of fossil origin and biotic origin, the equalization of different molecules through the concept of “carbon equivalent” and a definition of “forest” that does not include any requirement of biodiversity.34

However, as with any commodity in capitalism, use-value (carbon emissions reductions) is governed by exchange-value. The fetishistic inversion of use-value and exchange-value that characterizes capitalism implies that the effective goal of the whole process of emissions trading comes to be money, not emissions reduction. Empirical examples abound. The trading scheme does not present any incentive for long-term technology transition, but only for short-term financial earnings (time is money). Offsets in practice allow polluters to postpone a technological transition, while the corresponding Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project probably generates a rebound effect that will foster fossil fuel deployment in developing countries.35 Easy technological reductions, such as burning methane in landfills, allow the continuation of carbon emissions by big corporations. Some industries earned more profits mitigating emissions of HFC-23 than with the commodities they produced, while generating huge amounts of offsets that again allow polluters to keep up with their emissions.36 And the comparison of projects with baseline “would be” scenarios even tragically allows the direct increase of emissions, for example, by financing coal mines that mitigate methane emissions. And more examples could be cited. The fact that global warming is determined by cumulative emissions in any meaningful human time-scale reveals the perverse effects of this exchange-value−driven scheme: delays in emissions reductions today constrain the possibilities of the future.37Again, as could be grasped beforehand with a simple theoretical Marxian critique, exchange-value becomes dominant over use-value, as the allocation of carbon emissions is determined not by socio-ecological criteria, but according to the valorization requirements or by “the optimized allocation of resources” — when the global carbon market hit the record market value of 176 billion dollars in 2011, the World Bank said that “a considerable portion of the trades is primarily motivated by hedging, portfolio adjustments, profit taking, and arbitrage,” typical jargon of financial speculators.38 Kyoto, with its quantitative approach, does not address, and hampers, the qualitative transition that is necessary to avoid a catastrophic climate change, that is, the solar transition. Even though substantial amounts of capital are mobilized with the trading schemes, global carbon emissions continue to increase.

In this scenario, it is increasingly likely that the application of an end-of-pipe technology might be necessary. With the rise of the Welfare State and ecological regulation, a myriad of such technologies were used to mitigate industrial emissions to water, air, and soil — air filters, wastewater treatment plants, etc. The problem is that these technologies can only be applied in particular corporate units if it is feasible in the context of value-driven production, that is, only if it does not jeopardize the profitability of corporations. It happens, though, that carbon capture and storage (CCS) is still too expensive to be used in production units or transport systems. Therefore, what comes to the fore is geoengineering, the ultimate end-of-pipe technology, the technological mitigation of the effects of carbon emissions on a planetary scale, the direct manipulation of world climate itself — with the use of processes such as the emission of aerosols to the stratosphere to reflect solar radiation, or the fertilization of oceans with iron to induce the growth of carbon-sequestering algae.39 Its origins can be traced back to the Vietnam War and Stalinist projects, and one of its first proponents was Edward Teller, the father of the atomic bomb.40 There are huge risks involved in this approach, as the climate system and its subsystems are not fully understood and are subject to non-linearities, tipping points, sudden transitions, and chaos. Besides, climate system inertia implies that global warming is irreversible in the time scale of a millennium, so that such geoengineering techniques would have to be applied for an equal amount of time, what would be a burden for dozens of future generations.41 In case of technological failure of the application of geoengineering, the outcome could be catastrophic, with a sudden climate change.42

Considering its relatively low cost, though, it is likely that capitalism assumes the risk of business as usual in order to preserve its fetishistic quest for profits, keeping geoengineering as a sort of silver bullet of global warming.43 Of course there is the frightening possibility of combining geoengineering and trading schemes, so that geoengineering projects could generate carbon credits in a competitive market. That was the idea of Planktos Inc. in a controversial experiment of ocean fertilization, that alludes to a dystopian future in which world climate is manipulated according to the interests of corporate profits.44 It is clear that capitalist control of pollution, either through market mechanisms or state regulations, resembles the Hegelian Minerva’s Owl: it only (re)acts after the alienated process of production and the general process of social alienation. However, if the core of destructiveness is the fetishistic process itself that is reproduced by trading schemes, and end-of-pipe technologies are subject to failure and complex dynamics that are not rationally accessible to the time scales of human institutions (at least in their current forms), both market and state mechanisms might fail in avoiding a catastrophic climate change.

Future projections of global warming by neoclassical economists reveal the alienated core of the Anthropocene in its very essence. In integrated climate-economic models such as the ones developed by William Nordhaus and Nicholas Stern, the interest rate ultimately determines what is acceptable in terms of atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases and its related impacts (coastal inundations, biodiversity loss, agricultural disruption, epidemic outbreaks, etc.), as “cost-benefit analyses” discount future impacts and compound present earnings.45 But as shown by Marx, the interest is the part of the profit that the industrial capitalist pays to the financial capitalist that lent him money-capital in the first place, after the successful valorization process.46 Interest-bearing capital is value that possesses the use-value of creating surplus-value or profit. Therefore, “in interest-bearing capital the capital relationship reaches its most superficial and fetishized form,” “money that produces money,” “self-valorizing value.”47 Interest-bearing capital is the perfect fetishistic representation of capital, as the automatic geometric progression of surplus-value production, a “pure automaton.”48Correspondingly, the determination of future social metabolism with Nature by the interest rate is the ultimate expression of the fetishistic character of this historical form of social metabolism with Nature, that is, of the fetishistic core of the so-called Anthropocene, no matter the magnitude of the interest rate. In capitalism the interest rate is determinant of investments and allocation of resources, and overcoming this is not a matter of moralistically (and irrealistically) using a lower magnitude for the interest rate as Stern does, but of overcoming the capitalist mode of production itself.49

Future scenarios determined by the interest rate ultimately negate history, since only in capitalism the interest rate is socially determining, as it is capital in its purest form. While in capitalism interest-bearing capital becomes totally adapted to the conditions of capitalist production, and fosters it with the development of the credit system, in pre-capitalist social formations, “usury impoverishes the mode of production, cripples the productive forces.”50This is so because in capitalism credit is given in the expectation that it will function as capital, that the borrowed capital will be used to valorize value, to appropriate unpaid “free” labor, while in the Middle Ages the usurer exploited petty producers and peasants working for themselves.51 The determination of future social metabolic relation with Nature by the interest rate is thus an extrapolation of the capitalist mode of production and all of its categories (value, surplus-value, abstract labor, etc.) into the future, the fetishization of history — again, this is in line with the term Anthropocene, that makes reference to an ahistorical Man.

Besides, the sort of cost-benefit analysis that Nordhaus and Stern carry out tends to negate not only history, but matter itself, as the trade-off of the degradation of material resources with the abstract growth implies the absolute exchangeability between different material resources, and hence between abstract wealth (capital) and material wealth, which in practice is a false assumption. For example, the most basic natural synthetic process necessary for life as we know on Earth, photosynthesis, is not technologically substitutable, that is, no amount of exchange-value could replace it.52 Besides, synthesizing the complex interactions and material and energy fluxes that constitute ecosystems of different characteristics and scales, with their own path-dependent natural histories, is not at all a trivial task — material interactions and specificity are exactly what exchange-value abstracts from. What this sort of analysis takes for granted is commodity-form itself, with its common substance (value) that allows the exchange between different material resources in definite amounts, detached from their material and ecological contexts. But it is this very detachment or abstraction that leads to destructiveness. “The dream implied by the capital form is one of utter boundlessness, a fantasy of freedom as the complete liberation from matter, from nature. This ‘dream of capital’ is becoming the nightmare of that from which it strives to free itself — the planet and its inhabitants.”53

Last but not least, capital is also trying to increase its profits exploiting the very anxiety caused by the prospect of the ecological catastrophe, as an extension of the production of subjectivity by the culture industry.54 For example, Starbucks cafés offer their customers a coffee that is a bit more expensive, but claim that part of the money goes to the forest of Congo, poor children in Guatemala, etc. This way, political consciousness is depoliticized in what is called the “Starbucks effect.”55 It can also be seen in commercial advertisements. In one of them, after scenes depicting some kind of undefined natural catastrophe intercalated with scenes of a carpenter building an undefined wooden structure and women in what seems to be a fashion show, the real context is revealed: the models are going to a sort of Noah’s Arc built by the carpenter, so that they can survive the ecological catastrophe. The purpose of the advertisement is finally disclosed: to sell deodorant — “the final fragrance.” The slogan — “Happy end of the world!” — explicitly exploits the ecological collapse to sell commodities.56 Opposition and political will themselves are being seduced to fit into the commodity form, even pervading climate science itself. Some scientists seem to notice this pervasive pressure of economic fetishism over science when they state: “liberate the science from the economics, finance, and astrology, stand by the conclusions however uncomfortable” or “geoengineering is like a heroin addict finding a new way of cheating his children out of money.”57Decarbonization is always challenged to be “economically feasible.” What is necessary, though, is that a more radical critique come to the fore in the public debate, an explicitly anticapitalist stance that refuses the requirements of capital accumulation in the definition of socio-environmental policies — not the least because it seems it is already impossible to reconcile the limitation of global warming to two degrees Celsius and simultaneously keep “economic growth.”58

It must be highlighted that the fetishization here described and its ecological destructiveness are a historical development, specific to capitalism, and that is why it can be overcome: the social metabolism with nature is not necessarily destructive. Commodity fetishism and labor as the social-mediating category (abstract labor) are historically specific to capitalism, and began with primitive accumulation.59 The Anthropocene as the globalized disruption of Nature is the externalization of alienated labor, its logical material conclusion.60 Overcoming it requires the reappropriation of what has been constituted in alienated form, that is, the decommodification of human social activity or the overcoming of capitalism.61 Technology so reconfigured and socialized would no longer be determined by profitability, but would be the technical translation of new values, and would tend to become art.62 Instead of being determined by the unidimensional valorization of value, social production would be the outcome of a multiplicity of commonly discussed criteria, ranging from social, ecological, aesthetic, and ethical considerations, and beyond — in other words, material wealth should be freed from the value-form. Technologies such as solar energy, microelectronics, and agroecology, for example, could be used to shape a world of abundant material wealth and a conscious social metabolism with Nature — a world with abundant clean renewable energy, abundant free social time due to the highly automated productive forces, and abundant food ecologically produced, under social control.63

Then and only then Man could be in conscious control of planetary material cycles and could use this control for human ends (even if deciding to keep them in their “natural” state). In fact, this means taking the promise of the Anthropocene very seriously, that is, Man should take conscious control of planetary material cycles, extend the terrain of the political hitherto left to the blind mechanics of nature and, in capitalism, to commodity fetishism.64 And this not only because the productive forces developed by capitalism allow it — although up to now we do it without conscious social control — but also because it might be necessary. Civilization is adapted to the Holocenic conditions that prevailed in the last ten thousand years, and we should be prepared to act to preserve these conditions that allow human development, or mitigate sudden changes, because they could be challenged not only by human (fetishized) activity, but also by natural causes, what already occurred many times in natural history (such as in the case of glacial-interglacial cycles triggered by perturbations in Earth’s orbit, or the catastrophic extinction of dinosaurs due to a meteor impact).65 The (fetishized) “invisible hand” and the (fetishized) “Anthropocene” are two faces of the same coin, of the same unconscious socialization, and should both be overcome with the communalization of social activity, that is, the real control of planetary material cycles depends on conscious social control of world production.

It should be emphasized that what is here criticized as “fetishism” is not merely the imprecise naming of the “Anthropocene,” but the form of material interchange itself. And yet what emerges here is a truly utopian perspective, the promise of the realization of the Anthropocene, not as an anthropological constant or a “natural” force, but as a fully historical species-being that consciously controls and gives form to the material conditions of the planet. If, as put by the young Marx, alienated labor alienates Man’s species-being, the liberatory reorganization of social-material interchange would unleash the species potential that is embedded, though socially negated, in the “Anthropocene.”66Geoengineering and advanced technology in general freed from value-form and instrumental reason could be used not only to solve the climate problem, but also, as Adorno wrote, to “help nature to open its eyes,” to help it “on the poor earth to become what perhaps it would like to be.”67 Advanced forces of production imply that Fourier’s poetic utopian vision recalled by Walter Benjamin could be materialized:

cooperative labor would increase efficiency to such an extent that four moons would illuminate the sky at night, the polar ice caps would recede, seawater would no longer taste salty, and beasts of prey would do man’s bidding. All this illustrates a kind of labor which, far from exploiting nature, would help her give birth to the creations that lie dormant in her womb.68

Even the elimination of brutality in nature (predation) and the abolition of slaughterhouses through the production of synthetic meat nowadays seem within theoretical reach with “genetic reprogramming” and stem-cell technology. That goes beyond the wildest Marcusean utopian dreams.69 Of course, this requires a social struggle that subverts the production determined by the valorization of value and frees, first of all, human potential. On the other hand, with business as usual, we are likely to see our material future on Earth being determined by the interest rate, emergency geoengineering, and chance.

  1. Guy Debord, The Sick Planet, trans. Not Bored (2006 [1971])
  2. I would like to thank Cláudio R. Duarte, Raphael F. Alvarenga, Salvatore Engel-Di Mauro, and the anonymous reviewers for the valuable suggestions.BACK
  3. Paul Crutzen, “Geology of Mankind,” Nature 415 (2002) 23.BACK
  4. David Archer, The Global Carbon Cycle (Princeton: Princeton UP, 2010), and James Hansen, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity (New York: Bloomsbury, 2009). BACK
  5. Slavoj Žižek, Living in the End Times (New York: Verso, 2010) 333.BACK
  6. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment: PhilosophicalFragments. Trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2002 [1947]) 6.BACK
  7. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume III, trans. David Fernbach (London: Penguin, 1991 [1894]) 949, and John Bellamy-Foster, Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature (New York: Monthly Review, 2000). BACK
  8. Johan Rockström et al., “A Safe Operating Space for Humanity,” Nature 461 (2009): 472-75, and Will Steffen et al. (2015), “Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet,” Science 347: 6223 (13 February 2015).BACK
  9. Andreas Malm, “The Origins of Fossil Capital: From Water to Steam in the British Cotton Industry,” Historical Materialism 21:1 (2013): 15-68. BACK
  10. Steffen et al., “Planetary Boundaries.”BACK
  11. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, as per first German edition, trans. Albert Dragstedt (n. d. [1867]).BACK
  12. Crutzen, “Geology.” BACK
  13. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume I. Trans. Ben Fowkes. (London: Penguin, 1990 [1867]) 166, 253. BACK
  14. Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, 175, 255.BACK
  15. For a discussion of the continuity between the Marxian concepts of alienation and fetishism, see Lucio Colletti’s introduction in Karl Marx, Marx’s Early Writings, trans. Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton (London: Penguin, 1992 [1844]).BACK
  16. Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, trans. D. Nicholson-Smith (New York: Zone, 1994 [1967]) 46. See also Moishe Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993), and Anselm Jappe, Les aventures de la marchandise: Pour une nouvelle critique de la valeur (Paris: Denoël, 2003): 25-86.BACK
  17. Postone, Time 158-60. BACK
  18. Jappe, Les aventures 25-86. BACK
  19. Robert Kurz, Subjektlose Herrschaft: zur Aufhebung einer verkürzten Gesellschaftskritik, EXIT! (1993).BACK
  20. Capital, Volume I 166 (emphasis added), and Žižek, End Times 190. BACK
  21. Debord, Sick PlanetBACK
  22. Slavoj Žižek, Mapping Ideology (New York: Verso, 1994) 8.BACK
  23. Capital, Volume I 179, 989. BACK
  24. Paul Burkett, Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective (New York: St. Martin’s, 1999) 79-98, and Robert Kurz, Schwarzbuch Kapitalismus (Frankfurt am Main: Eichborn, 2009 [1999]) 10. BACK
  25. Kurz, Schwarzbuch 218, and John Holloway, Crack Capitalism (New York: Pluto, 2010) 146.BACK
  26. Capital, Volume I 493n4. BACK
  27. Peter D. Schwartzman and David W. Schwartzman, A Solar Transition Is Possible(London: IPRD, 2011), and Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi, “A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030,” Scientific American (Nov. 2009): 58-65BACK
  28. Andreas Malm, “China as Chimney of the World: The Fossil Capital Hypothesis,” Organization and Environment 25:2 (2012): 146-77, and Daniel Cunha, “A todo vapor rumo à catástrofe?” Sinal de Menos 9 (2013): 109-33. BACK
  29. Barry Commoner, “Chapter 8: Population and Affluence” and “Chapter 9: The Technological Flaw,” The Closing Circle: Nature, Man, and Technology (New York: Knopf, 1971).  BACK
  30. Capital, Volume III 176.BACK
  31. Claus Peter Ortlieb, “A Contradiction between Matter and Form,” Marxism and the Critique of Value, ed. Neil Larsen, Mathias Nilges, Josh Robinson, and Nicholas Brown (Chicago: MCM’, 2014 [2008]) 77-121.BACK
  32. John Bellamy-Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York, The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth (New York: Monthly Review, 2010): 169-182. BACK
  33. William Stanley Jevons, The Coal Question: An Inquiry Concerning the Progress of the Nation, and the Probable Exhaustion of Our Coal Mines (n. d. [1865])
  34. Larry Lohmann, “The Endless Algebra of Climate Markets,” Capitalism Nature Socialism22:4 (2011): 93-116, and Maria Gutiérrez, “Making Markets Out of Thin Air: A Case of Capital Involution,” Antipode 43:3 (2011): 639-61.BACK
  35. Kevin Anderson, “The Inconvenient Truth of Carbon Offsets,” Nature 484 (2012) 7. BACK
  36. Lohmann, “Endless Algebra.”BACK
  37. Damon Matthews, Nathan Gillet, Peter Stott, and Kirsten Zickfeld, “The Proportionality of Global Warming to Cumulative Carbon Emissions,” Nature 459 (2009): 829-33.BACK
  38. Jeff Coelho, “Global Carbon Market Value Hits Record $176 Billion,” Reuters (30 May 2012).BACK
  39. ETC Group, Geopiracy: The Case Against Geoengineering (Manila: ETC Group, 2010).BACK
  40. Eli Kintisch, Hack the Planet: Science’s Best Hope—or Worst Nightmare—for Averting Climate Catastrophe (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2010): 77-102. BACK
  41. Susan Solomon, Gian-Kasper Plattner, Reto Knutti, and Pierre Friedglinstein, “Irreversible Climate Change Due to Carbon Dioxide Emissions,” PNAS 106:6 (2009): 1704-9. BACK
  42. Victor Brovkin, Vladimir Petoukhov, Martin Claussen, Eva Bauer, David Archer, and Carlo Jaeger, “Geoengineering Climate by Stratospheric Sulfur Injections: Earth System Vulnerability to Technological Failure,” Climatic Change 92 (2009): 243-59. BACK
  43. Scott Barrett, “The Incredible Economics of Geoengineering,” Environmental and Resource Economics 39:1 (2007): 45-54.BACK
  44. Martin Lukacs, “World’s Biggest Geoengineering Experiment ‘Violates’ UN Rules,” The Guardian (15 October 2012).BACK
  45. William Nordhaus, A Question of Balance: Weighing the Options on Global Warming Policies (New Haven: Yale UP, 2008), and Nicholas Stern, The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review (London: HM Treasury, 2007). BACK
  46. Capital, Volume III 459-524. BACK
  47. Capital, Volume III 515. BACK
  48. Capital, Volume III 523. BACK
  49. Stern, Economics.BACK
  50. Capital, Volume III 731-32.BACK
  51. Capital, Volume III 736.BACK
  52. Robert Ayres, “On the Practical Limits to Substitution,” Ecological Economics 61 (2007): 115-28.BACK
  53. Postone, Time 383. BACK
  54. Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic. BACK
  55. Slavoj Žižek, Catastrophic But Not Serious. Lecture video (2011).BACK
  56. Axe, “Happy End of the World!” Advertisement video (2012).BACK
  57. Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows, “A New Paradigm for Climate Change: How Climate Change Science Is Conducted, Communicated and Translated into Policy Must Be Radically Transformed If ‘Dangerous’ Climate Change Is to Be Averted,” Nature Climate Change 2 (Sept. 2012): 639-40, and Kintisch, Hack 57. BACK
  58. Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows, “Beyond ‘Dangerous’ Climate Change: Emission Scenarios for a New World,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 369 (2011): 20-44.BACK
  59. Postone, Time; Holloway, Crack Capitalism; Krisis Group, Manifesto Against Labour(1999).BACK
  60. Sick Planet.BACK
  61. Time.BACK
  62. Commoner, Closing Circle; Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (Boston: Beacon, 1964); Herbert Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation (Boston: Beacon, 1969). BACK
  63. Robert Kurz, Antiökonomie und Antipolitik. Zur Reformulierung der sozialen Emanzipation nach dem Ende des “Marxismus” (1997); Schwartzman and Schartzman, Solar Transition;Miguel Altieri, Agroecology: The Science of Sustainable Agriculture (Boulder: Westview, 1995).BACK
  64. Eric Swyngedouw, “Apocalypse now! Fear and Doomsday Pleasures,” Capitalism NatureSocialism 24:1 (2013): 9-17. BACK
  65. Hansen, Storms, and Rockström et al., “Safe Operating Space.”BACK
  66. Marx, Marx’s Early Writings. BACK
  67. Cited in Herbert Marcuse, Counterrevolution and Revolt (Boston: Beacon, 1972) 66.BACK
  68. Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History” in Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Volume 4, 1938-1940, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Belknap, 2003) 394.BACK
  69. See David Pierce, Reprogramming Predators (2009), and BBC, World’s First Lab-Grown Burger Is Eaten in London (5 Aug. 2013). Marcuse’s skepticism about the “pacification of nature” is expressed in Counterrevolution and Revolt 68.BACK

The Anthropocene Myth (Jacobin)


Blaming all of humanity for climate change lets capitalism off the hook.

by Andreas Malm

A coal-cleaning plant near Pittsburgh. John Collier / Library of Congress

A coal-cleaning plant near Pittsburgh. John Collier / Library of Congress

Last year was the hottest year ever recorded. And yet, the latest figures show that in 2013 the source that provided the most new energy to the world economy wasn’t solar, wind power, or even natural gas or oil, but coal.

The growth in global emissions — from 1 percent a year in the 1990s to 3 percent so far this millennium — is striking. It’s an increase that’s paralleled our growing knowledge of the terrible consequences of fossil fuel usage.

Who’s driving us toward disaster? A radical answer would be the reliance of capitalists on the extraction and use of fossil energy. Some, however, would rather identify other culprits.

The earth has now, we are told, entered “the Anthropocene”: the epoch of humanity. Enormously popular — and accepted even by many Marxist scholars — the Anthropocene concept suggests that humankind is the new geological force transforming the planet beyond recognition, chiefly by burning prodigious amounts of coal, oil, and natural gas.

According to these scholars, such degradation is the result of humans acting out their innate predispositions, the inescapable fate for a planet subjected to humanity’s “business-as-usual.” Indeed, the proponents cannot argue otherwise, for if the dynamics were of a more contingent character, the narrative of an entire species ascending to biospheric supremacy would be difficult to defend.

Their story centers on a classic element: fire. The human species alone can manipulate fire, and therefore it is the one that destroys the climate; when our ancestors learned how to set things ablaze, they lit the fuse of business-as-usual. Here, write prominent climate scientists Michael Raupach and Josep Canadell, was “the essential evolutionary trigger for the Anthropocene,” taking humanity straight to “the discovery that energy could be derived not only from detrital biotic carbon but also from detrital fossil carbon, at first from coal.”

The “primary reason” for current combustion of fossil fuels is that “long before the industrial era, a particular primate species learned how to tap the energy reserves stored in detrital carbon.” My learning to walk at the age of one is the reason for me dancing salsa today; when humanity ignited its first dead tree, it could only lead, one million years later, to burning a barrel of oil.

Or, in the words of Will Steffen, Paul J. Crutzen, and John R. McNeill: “The mastery of fire by our ancestors provided humankind with a powerful monopolistic tool unavailable to other species, that put us firmly on the long path towards the Anthropocene.” In this narrative, the fossil economy is the creation precisely of humankind, or “the fire-ape, Homo pyrophilus,” as in Mark Lynas’s popularization of Anthropocene thinking, aptly titled The God Species.

Now, the ability to manipulate fire was surely a necessary condition for the commencement of large-scale fossil fuel combustion in Britain in the early nineteenth century. Was it also the cause of it?

The important thing to note here is the logical structure of the Anthropocene narrative: some universal trait of the species must be driving the geological epoch that is its own, or else it would be a matter of some subset of the species. But the story of human nature can come in many forms, both in the Anthropocene genre and in other parts of climate change discourse.

In an essay in the anthology Engaging with Climate Change, psychoanalyst John Keene offers an original explanation for why humans pollute the planet and refuse to stop. In infancy, the human being discharges waste matter without limits and learns that the caring mother will take away the poo and the wee and clean up the crotch.

As a result, human beings are accustomed to the practice of spoiling their surroundings: “I believe that these repeated encounters contribute to the complementary belief that the planet is an unlimited ‘toilet-mother’, capable of absorbing our toxic products to infinity.”

But where is the evidence for any sort of causal connection between fossil fuel combustion and infant defecation? What about all those generations of people who, up to the nineteenth century, mastered both arts but never voided the carbon deposits of the earth and dumped them into the atmosphere: were they shitters and burners just waiting to realize their full potentials?

It’s easy to poke fun at certain forms of psychoanalysis, but attempts to attribute business-as-usual to the properties of the human species are doomed to vacuity. That which exists always and everywhere cannot explain why a society diverges from all others and develop something new – such as the fossil economy that only emerged some two centuries ago but now has become so entrenched that we recognize it as the only ways human can produce.

As it happens, however, mainstream climate discourse is positively drenched in references to humanity as such, human nature, the human enterprise, humankind as one big villain driving the train. In The God Species, we read: “God’s power is now increasingly being exercised by us. We are the creators of life, but we are also its destroyers.” This is one of the most common tropes in the discourse: we, all of us, you and I, have created this mess together and make it worse each day.

Enter Naomi Klein, who in This Changes Everything expertly lays bare the myriad ways in which capital accumulation, in general, and its neoliberal variant, in particular, pour fuel on the fire now consuming the earth system. Giving short shrift to all the talk of a universal human evildoer, she writes, “We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe — and would benefit the vast majority — are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets.”

So how do the critics respond? “Klein describes the climate crisis as a confrontation between capitalism and the planet,” philosopher John Gray counters in the Guardian. “It would be be more accurate to describe the crisis as a clash between the expanding demands of humankind and a finite world.”

Gray isn’t alone. This schism is emerging as the great ideological divide in the climate debate, and proponents of the mainstream consensus are fighting back.

In the London Review of Books, Paul Kingsnorth, a British writer who has long argued that the environmental movement should disband and accept total collapse as our destiny, retorts: “Climate change isn’t something that a small group of baddies has foisted on us”; “in the end, we are all implicated.” This, Kingsnorth argues, “is a less palatable message than one which sees a brutal 1 per cent screwing the planet and a noble 99 per cent opposing them, but it is closer to reality.”

Is it closer to reality? Six simple facts demonstrate the opposite.

First, the steam engine is widely, and correctly, seen as the original locomotive of business-as-usual, by which the combustion of coal was first linked to the ever-expanding spiral of capitalist commodity production.

While it is admittedly banal to point out, steam engines were not adopted by some natural-born deputies of the human species. The choice of a prime mover in commodity production could not possibly have been the prerogative of that species, since it presupposed, for a start, the institution of wage labor. It was the owners of the means of production who installed the novel prime mover. A tiny minority even in Britain — all-male, all-white — this class of people comprised an infinitesimal fraction of humanity in the early nineteenth century.

Second, when British imperialists penetrated into northern India around the same time, they stumbled on coal seams that were, to their great amazement, already known to the natives — indeed, the Indians had the basic knowledge of how to dig, burn, and generate heat from coal. And yet they cared nothing for the fuel.

The British, on the other hand, desperately wanted the coal out of the ground — to propel the steamboats by which they transported the treasure and raw materials extracted from the Indian peasants towards the metropolis, and their own surplus of cotton goods towards the inland markets. The problem was, no workers volunteered to step into the mines. Hence the British had to organize a system of indentured labor, forcing farmers into the pits so as to acquire the fuel for the exploitation of India.

Third, most of the twenty-first century emissions explosion originates from the People’s Republic of China. The driver of that explosion is apparent: it is not the growth of the Chinese population, nor its household consumption, nor its public expenditures, but the tremendous expansion of manufacturing industry, implanted in China by foreign capital to extract surplus value out of local labor, perceived around the turn of the millennium as extraordinarily cheap and disciplined.

That shift was part of a global assault on wages and working conditions — workers all over the world being weighed down by the threat of capital’s relocation to their Chinese substitutes, who could only be exploited by means of fossil energy as a necessary material substratum. The ensuing emissions explosion is the atmospheric legacy of class warfare.

Fourth, there is probably no other industry that encounters so much popular opposition wherever it wants to set up shop as the oil and gas industry. As Klein chronicles so well, local communities are in revolt against fracking and pipelines and exploration from Alaska to the Niger Delta, from Greece to Ecuador. But against them stands an interest recently expressed with exemplary clarity by Rex Tillerson, president and CEO of ExxonMobil: “My philosophy is to make money. If I can drill and make money, then that’s what I want to do.” This is the spirit of fossil capital incarnate.

Fifth, advanced capitalist states continue relentlessly to enlarge and deepen their fossil infrastructures — building new highways, new airports, new coal-fired power-plants — always attuned to the interests of capital, hardly ever consulting their people on these matters. Only the truly blind intellectual, of the Paul Kingsnorth-type, can believe that “we are all implicated” in such policies.

How many Americans are involved in the decisions to give coal a larger share in the electric power sector, so that the carbon intensity of the US economy rose in 2013? How many Swedes should be blamed for the ramming through of a new highway around Stockholm — the greatest infrastructure project in modern Swedish history — or their government’s assistance to coal power plants in South Africa?

The most extreme illusions about the perfect democracy of the market are required to maintain the notion of “us all” driving the train.

Sixth, and perhaps most obvious: few resources are so unequally consumed as energy. The 19 million inhabitants of New York State alone consume more energy than the 900 million inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa. The difference in energy consumption between a subsistence pastoralist in the Sahel and an average Canadian may easily be larger than 1,000-fold — and that is an average Canadian, not the owner of five houses, three SUVs, and a private airplane.

A single average US citizen emits more than 500 citizens of Ethiopia, Chad, Afghanistan, Mali, or Burundi; how much an average US millionaire emits — and how much more than an average US or Cambodian worker — remains to be counted. But a person’s imprint on the atmosphere varies tremendously depending on where she is born. Humanity, as a result, is far too slender an abstraction to carry the burden of culpability.

Ours is the geological epoch not of humanity, but of capital. Of course, a fossil economy does not necessarily have to be capitalist: the Soviet Union and its satellite states had their own growth mechanisms connected to coal, oil, and gas. They were no less dirty, sooty, or emissions-intensive — perhaps rather more — than their Cold War adversaries. So why focus on capital? What reason is there to delve into the destructiveness of capital, when the Communist states performed at least as abysmally?

In medicine, a similar question would perhaps be, why concentrate research efforts on cancer rather than smallpox? Both can be fatal! But only one still exists. History has closed the parenthesis around the Soviet system, and so we are back at the beginning, where the fossil economy is coextensive with the capitalist mode of production — only now on a global scale.

The Stalinist version deserves its own investigations, and on its own terms (the mechanisms of growth being of their own kind). But we do not live in the Vorkuta coal-mining gulag of the 1930s. Our ecological reality, encompassing us all, is the world founded by steam-powered capital, and there are alternative courses that an environmentally responsible socialism could take. Hence capital, not humanity as such.

Naomi Klein’s success and recent street mobilizations notwithstanding, this remains a fringe view. Climate science, politics, and discourse are constantly couched in the Anthropocene narrative: species-thinking, humanity-bashing, undifferentiated collective self-flagellation, appeal to the general population of consumers to mend their ways and other ideological pirouettes that only serve to conceal the driver.

To portray certain social relations as the natural properties of the species is nothing new. Dehistoricizing, universalizing, eternalizing, and naturalizing a mode of production specific to a certain time and place — these are the classic strategies of ideological legitimation.

They block off any prospect for change. If business-as-usual is the outcome of human nature, how can we even imagine something different? It is perfectly logical that advocates of the Anthropocene and associated ways of thinking either champion false solutions that steer clear of challenging fossil capital — such as geoengineering in the case of Mark Lynas and Paul Crutzen, the inventor of the Anthropocene concept — or preach defeat and despair, as in the case of Kingsnorth.

According to the latter, “it is now clear that stopping climate change is impossible” — and, by the way, building a wind farm is just as bad as opening another coal mine, for both desecrate the landscape.

Without antagonism, there can never be any change in human societies. Species-thinking on climate change only induces paralysis. If everyone is to blame, then no one is.

David Harvey: “As contradições do capitalismo” (Rede Castor Photo)

11/4/2014, [*] David Harvey entrevistado por Jonathan Derbyshire, Prospect Magazine, UK

The contradictions of capitalism: an interview with David Harvey

Traduzido pelo pessoal da Vila Vudu

David Harvey é professor de antropologia e geografia do Centro de Graduação da City University of New York (CUNY). Dá aulas sobre “O Capital” de Karl Marx há mais de 40 anos e é autor de um “guia de leitura”, em dois volumes, para ler a grande obra de Marx. Essa leitura microscópica de “O Capital” é fruto de uma série de 13 conferências, cujos vídeos Harvey distribuiu online.

Seu livro mais recente é 17 Contradições e o Fim do Capitalismo. O livro começa com uminsight de Marx – que crises periódicas são endêmicas nas economias capitalistas – e oferece uma análise da atual conjuntura histórica. Conversei com o professor Harvey em Londres, semana passada.

Prospect Magazine: No início do livro, o senhor observa, como outros também observaram, que há algo de diferente na mais recente crise do capitalismo, a crise financeira global de 2008:

Seria de esperar que todos – o senhor escreveu lá – tivessem diagnósticos concorrentes a oferecer sobre o que está errado, e que houvesse uma proliferação de propostas de o que fazer para corrigir tudo. O que mais surpreende hoje é a miséria de pensamento novo e de novas políticas.

Por que não há nem diagnósticos nem propostas nem ideias novas?

David Harvey: Uma hipótese é que a concentração de poder de classe que se vê hoje é de tal modo gigantesca, que não há por que a classe capitalista precise ou queira ver qualquer tipo de pensamento novo. A situação, por mais que seja disruptiva para a economia, não é necessariamente disruptiva para a capacidade de os ricos acumularem mais riqueza e mais poder. Assim sendo, há bem claro interesse em manter as coisas como estão. O que é curioso é que havia também, é claro, muito interesse em manter as coisas como estavam nos anos 1930s, mas aquele interesse foi atropelado por Roosevelt, pelo pensamento Keynesiano etc..

O problema da demanda agregada, que era o centro do pensamento nos anos 1930s, é problema de realização, em termos marxistas. As pessoas respondiam a pergunta e, na sequência, entraram num problema de produção, que foi respondido pelo monetarismo e pela economia de oferta. E exatamente hoje, o mundo está dividido entre os que se põem do lado da oferta e querem mais austeridade, e outros – China, Turquia e quase todas as economias em desenvolvimento – que assumem a linha keynesiana.

Mas parece que só há duas respostas – não há “terceira via”. No âmbito do capitalismo, as possibilidades são limitadas. O único modo pelo qual você pode encontrar outra resposta é pôr-se fora do capitalismo, mas ninguém quer nem ouvir falar disso!

Prospect MagazineIsso posto, o senhor aceita, no livro, que há elementos na classe capitalista, na classe intelectual, que reconhecem a ameaça que o senhor identifica e chama de “contradições” do capitalismo. Exemplo notável aí é a discussão do problema da desigualdade.

David Harvey: Credito ao movimento Occupy ter lançado e posto em circulação essa nova conversa. O fato de que temos em New York um prefeito completamente diferente do que havia antes e que disse que vai fazer tudo que puder para reduzir a desigualdade, toda a possibilidade dessa discussão é coisa que brotou diretamente do movimento Occupy. É interessante que todos sabem do que você está falando, sempre que se fala do “1%”. A questão do 1% foi afinal posta na agenda e se tornou objeto de estudos em profundidade, como, por exemplo, o livro de Thomas Piketty, O Capital no século 21 (fr. [1]). Joseph Stiglitz também tem um livro sobre desigualdade e vários outros economistas estão falando do assunto. Até o FMI já está dizendo que há um perigo específico que surge quando a desigualdade alcança determinado nível.

Prospect Magazine: Até Obama já anda dizendo isso!

David Harvey: Mas Obama nada diria sobre isso se o movimento Occupy não tivesse aberto a trilha. Mas quem está fazendo alguma coisa sobre o problema e de que modo alguma coisa estaria sendo realmente mudada? Se se consideram as políticas reais, vê-se que as desigualdades continuam a aprofundar-se. Há reconhecimento apenas retórico do problema, mas não há reconhecimento político, em termos de políticas ativas e redistribuição ativa.

Prospect MagazineO senhor falou de Occupy. No livro, o senhor critica muito duramente o que o senhor chama de “restos da esquerda radical” – a qual hoje, para o senhor, é predominantemente liberal, libertarista e anti-estado.

David Harvey: Tenho uma regra que por definição nunca falha: o modo de produção dominante, seja qual for, e sua articulação política, criam a forma de oposição contra eles. Assim, as grandes fábricas e grandes corporações – General Motors, Ford etc. – criaram uma oposição baseada no movimento trabalhista e nos partidos da social-democracia; o rompimento dessa ordem – e vivemos hoje precisamente o momento desse rompimento – criou esse tipo de oposição dispersa e dispersiva que só sabe usar algumas específicas linguagens para suas reivindicações.

A esquerda não dá sinais de estar percebendo que muito do que diz é consistente com a ética neoliberal, em vez de lhe fazer oposição… Parte do anti-estatismo que se encontra hoje na esquerda casa-se perfeitamente com o anti-estatismo do capital empresarial corporativista.

Preocupa-me muito que não se ouça pensamento da esquerda que diga “Vamos nos afastar dessas conversas e observar o quadro completo”. Espero que meu livro contribua para que tenhamos essa nova conversa.

Prospect MagazineO livro conclui num lugar interessante – com algo como um programa, 17 “ideias para a prática política”. Mas não aparece a pergunta, embora, sim, possa estar implícita no que o senhor acabou de dizer, sobre qual é o veículo apropriado para realizar aquele programa. Não se sabe onde encontrá-lo. Não é óbvio que o encontraremos.

David Harvey: Uma das coisas que temos de aceitar é que está emergindo um  novo modo de fazer política. No presente, ainda é muito espontaneísta, efêmero, voluntarista, com alguma relutância a deixar-se institucionalizar. Como poderá ser institucionalizado é, creio eu, questão aberta. E não tenho resposta para isso. Mas é claro que, de algum modo, terá de institucionalizar-se ou ser institucionalizado. Há novos partidos começando a emergir – o Syrizana Grécia, por exemplo. O que me preocupa é o que comento no livro como um estado de alienação em massa, que está sendo capitalizado amplamente pela direita. Há portanto, sim, alguma urgência em a esquerda tratar da questão de como nós nos institucionalizaremos como força política, para resistir contra uma virada de direita e capturar parte significativa do descontentamento que está nas ruas e empurrá-lo numa direção progressista, não em direção neofascista.

Prospect MagazineO senhor descreve seu livro como tentativa para expor as contradições, não do “capitalismo”, mas do “capital”. O senhor pode explicar essa diferença?

David Harvey: Essa diferença vem de minha leitura de Marx. Pensa-se quase sempre que Marx teria criado alguma espécie de compreensão totalista do capitalismo, mas Marx não fez nada disso. Marx não arredou pé da economia política e manteve seus argumentos sempre na linha de como opera o motor econômico de uma economia capitalista. Se você isola o motor econômico, você consegue ver quais serão os problemas daquela economia.

Não implica dizer que não haverá outros tipos de problemas numa sociedade capitalista – é claro que há racismo, discriminação por gênero, problemas geopolíticos. Mas a questão que me preocupava ao escrever esse livro era outra, mais limitada: como funciona o motor da acumulação de capital?

Já estava bem claro desde o estouro de 2007/8 que havia alguma coisa errada com o próprio motor. E dissecar o que esteja errado com o motor já será um passo na direção de política mais ampla. Esse motor econômico é muito complicado. E Marx criou um meio para compreender o motor econômico, servindo-se de ideias como “contradição” e “formação-de-crises”.

Prospect MagazineMais uma questão de definição: o que é capital?

David Harvey: Capital é o processo pelo qual o dinheiro é posto em ação para que se obtenha mais dinheiro. Mas é preciso muito cuidado, se só se fala de dinheiro, porque em Marx há uma relação muito complexa, como aponto no livro, entre “valor” e “dinheiro”. O processo é de busca de valor para criar e apropriar-se de mais valor. Mas esse processo assume diferentes formas – a forma dinheiro, de bens e mercadorias, processos de produção, terra… Ele tem manifestações físicas, forma-de-coisa, mas, no fundamento, não é coisa: é um processo.

Prospect MagazineVoltemos à noção de “contradição”, que é a categoria analítica central no livro. O senhor fez uma distinção entre os choques externos pelos quais pode passar uma economia capitalista (guerras, por exemplo) e contradições, no seu sentido da palavra. Assim, por definição, contradições são internas ao sistema capitalista?

David Harvey: Sim. Se você quiser redesenhar o modo de produção, é preciso, então, responder as questões postas pelas contradições internas.

Prospect MagazineO senhor identifica três classes de contradições, que o senhor chama de “fundacionais”, as “mutantes” e as “perigosas”. Comecemos pela primeira categoria: o que faz as contradições fundacionais serem fundacionais?

David Harvey: Não importa onde esteja o capitalismo e o modo de produção capitalista, você sempre encontrará essas contradições em operação. Em qualquer economia – seja a China contemporânea, o Chile ou os EUA – a questão do valor de uso e do valor de troca, por exemplo, lá estará, sempre. Há algumas contradições que são traços permanentes de como o motor econômico está montado. E há outras que mudam constantemente ao longo do tempo. Então, eu quis distinguir as que são relativamente permanentes e as outras, que são muito mais dinâmicas.

Prospect MagazineAlgumas contradições fundacionais são mais fundacionais que outras? Um dos traços que mais chamam a atenção no livro é que tudo, no seu modelo analítico, parece derivar, no fundo, da diferença entre valor de troca e valor de uso.

David Harvey: Ora… esse é o ponto inicial da análise. Sempre me chamou a atenção que Marx dedicou muito tempo para demarcar o ponto no qual sua análise começaria; e decidiu começar por aí, porque é o ponto de partida mais universal. Mas o que mais me impressiona – e trabalho com Marx há muito, muito tempo – é o quanto as suas contradições são intimamente interligadas. Você percebe que essa distinção entre valor de uso e valor de troca pressupõe alguma coisa sobre propriedade privada e o Estado, por exemplo.

Prospect MagazineOutra das suas contradições fundacionais é entre “propriedade privada e o Estado capitalista”. Quer dizer: a tensão ou a contradição entre os direitos individuais de propriedade e o poder coercivo do Estado. Agora, imaginemos alguém como Robert Nozick, criado na tradição liberal, Lockeana, que chega e diz que não há aí qualquer contradição. Ao contrário: o papel do estado “mínimo” é proteger a propriedade privada.

David Harvey: Uma das coisas que digo sobre contradições é que elas estão sempre latentes. Por isso, a existência de uma contradição não gera, necessariamente, uma crise. Gerará, sob algumas dadas circunstâncias. Portanto, é possível construir teoricamente a ideia de que tudo que um estado “guarda-noturno” faz é proteger a propriedade privada. Mas nos sabemos que esse estado “guarda-noturno” tem muito mais a fazer, além disso. Há externalidades no mercado que têm de ser controladas; já bens públicos que têm de ser fornecidos – e assim, muito rapidamente, o estado acaba por se envolver em todos os tipos de atividades, muito além de apenas cuidar do quadro legal dos contratos e dos direitos à propriedade privada.

Prospect MagazineO senhor nega que haja qualquer conexão necessária entre capitalismo e democracia. Pode explicar por quê?

David Harvey: A questão da democracia depende muito de definições. Supostamente haveria democracia nos EUA, mas é claro que não há, é uma espécie de farsa, de engodo – é a democracia do poder do dinheiro, não do poder do povo. E minha avaliação, desde os anos 1970s, a Suprema Corte legalizou o processo pelo qual o poder do dinheiro corrompe o processo político.

Prospect MagazineHá um aspecto do poder do estado que avançou para o centro do palco na crise recente e imediatamente depois, sobretudo durante a crise da dívida na Eurozona: falo do poder dos bancos centrais. O senhor acha que a função dos bancos centrais mudou de modo significativo durante a era dos “resgates”?

David Harvey: Evidentemente mudou. A história dos bancos centrais é, ela própria, terrivelmente interessante. Não tenho certeza de que o que o Federal Reserve fez durante a crise tenha tido qualquer base legal. O Banco Central Europeu, por sua vez, é caso clássico do que Marx disse, quando comentou a Lei dos Bancos de 1844, a qual, para ele, teve o efeito de estender e aprofundar a crise de 1847-8 na Grã-Bretanha. Mas nos dois casos, do Fed e do Banco Central Europeu, o que vimos é uma espécie de ajuste no traseiro – como alfaiates fazem com calças apertadas – de grandes instituições e a emergência de políticas que só seriam justificáveis depois do fato. Quero dizer: não há dúvida alguma de que, sim, houve mudanças no front do banco central.

Prospect MagazineHá um conceito ao qual o senhor volta várias vezes no livro: o conceito de “conversão em mercadoria” [também “mercadorização”, ing. commodification (NTs)].

David Harvey: O capital trata, sempre, da produção de mercadorias. Se há terreno não-mercadorizado, ali o capital não entra nem circula. Um dos meios mais fáceis para o capital conseguir penetrar aquele espaço é o estado impor ali um sistema de privatização – ainda que privatize algo que é só ficcional. Os créditos de carbono, por exemplo – trocar direitos de poluir é excelente exemplo de mercadoria criada por processo ficcional, que tem efeitos muito reais sobre o volume de dióxido de carbono na atmosfera, e assim por diante. Criar mercados onde antes não havia mercados é um dos meios pelos quais, historicamente, o capital expandiu-se.

Prospect MagazineO senhor foi pesadamente influenciado pelo trabalho de Karl Polanyi nessa área, não? Especificamente a obra prima dele, A Grande Transformação.

David Harvey: Polanyi não era marxista, mas compreendia, como Marx também compreendeu, que as ideias de terra, trabalho e capital não são mercadorias no sentido ordinário, mas que assumem uma forma de mercadoria.

Prospect Magazine: Um dos aspectos mais impressionantes do livro, pode-se dizer, mesmo, mobilizadores, emocionantes, é o relato que o senhor faz dos custos humanos da conversão em mercadoria – especificamente a conversão em mercadoria daquelas áreas da experiência humana que antes não eram parte do “nexo dinheiro”[orig. cash nexus, exp. de Marx]. Há aí uma conexão com o que o senhor chama de “alienação universal”. O que é isso?

David Harvey: Vivemos há tempos num mundo no qual o capital lutou sem parar para diminuir o trabalho, o poder do trabalho, aumentando a produtividade, removendo o aspecto mental dos serviços e empregos. Quando você vive em sociedade desse tipo, surge a questão de como alguém pode encontrar algum significado na própria vida, dado o que se faz como trabalho, no local de trabalho. Por exemplo, 70% da população dos EUA ou odeia trabalhar ou é totalmente indiferente ao trabalho que faz. Em mundo desse tipo, as pessoas têm de encontrar alguma identidade para elas mesmas que não seja baseada na experiência do trabalho.

Sendo assim, surge a questão do tipo de identidade que as pessoas podem assumir. Uma das respostas é o consumo. E temos um tipo de consumismo irrefletido que tenta compensar a falta de significação de um mundo no qual há bem poucos trabalhos com algum significado. Irrita-me muito ouvir políticos dizer que “vamos criar mais empregos”… Mas que tipo de empregos?

A alienação brota, entendo eu, de um sentimento de que temos capacidade e poder para ser alguém muito diferente do que é definido por nossas possibilidades. Daí surge a questão de até que ponto o poder político é sensível à criação de outras possibilidades? As pessoas olham os partidos políticos e dizem “Aqui, não há nada que preste”. Há, pois, a alienação para longe do processo político, que se manifesta em comparecimento declinante nas eleições; há a alienação para longe da cultura da mercadoria, também, que cria uma carência e o correspondente desejo por um outro tipo de liberdade. As irrupções periódicas que foram vistas pelo mundo – Parque Gezi em Istambul, “manifestações” no Brasil, quebra-quebra em Londres em 2011 – obrigam a perguntar se a alienação pode vir a ser uma força política positiva. E a resposta é sim, pode, mas não se vê nada parecido nos partidos ou movimentos políticos. Viram-se alguns elementos disso no modo como o movimento Occupy ou os Indignados na Espanha tentaram mobilizar pessoas, mas foi coisa efêmera e não amadureceu em ação mais substancial. Mesmo assim, há muito fermento nos campos da dissidência cultural; há algo em movimento, e é fonte de alguma esperança.

Prospect MagazineQuando o senhor discute as contradições “perigosas”, o senhor oferece o que me parece ser uma versão do materialismo histórico de Marx. Quero dizer: o senhor pensa, como Marx, que o presente está grávido de futuro, embora o senhor não pense de modo inevitabilista… Acho também que o senhor não vê nada de inevitabilismo, tampouco, no próprio Marx. Estou certo?

David Harvey: Não vejo, não, nada de inevitabilismo em Marx. Há quem diga que Marx teria dito que o capital desabará sob o peso de suas próprias contradições, e que Marx teria uma teoria mecanicista das crises das crises capitalistas. Mas jamais encontrei uma linha em que Marx tenha escrito coisa semelhante! O que Marx, sim, disse é que as contradições estão no coração das crises e que crises são momentos de oportunidade.

Marx também disse que os seres humanos podem criar a própria história, mas que não escolhem as condições sob as quais criarão a própria história. Para mim, portanto, há um Marx que, se não é libertarista, diz que os seres humanos são capazes de decidir coletivamente, de empurrar as coisas mais para uma direção, que para outra. Marx criticou o socialismo utópico, porque entendia que o socialismo utópico não lidava com o onde estamos. Marx disse que é preciso analisar onde se está, ver o que é viável para nós e, na sequência, tentar construir algo radicalmente diferente.


Nota dos tradutores

[1] “A Editora Intrínseca comprou os direitos de tradução para o português do Brasil de O Capital no Século XXI, do francês Thomas Piketty. Está em tradução, esperado nas livrarias no segundo semestre de 2014” (deve ser tudo mentira, mas é o que escreveu o Lauro Jardim).


[*] David Harvey (Gillingham, Kent, 7 de dezembro de 1935) é um geógrafo britânico, formado na Universidade de Cambridge. É professor daCity University of New York e trabalha com diversas questões ligadas à geografia urbana. Seu primeiro livro, Explanation in Geography, publicado em 1969, versa sobre a epistemologia da geografia, ainda no paradigma da chamada geografia quantitativa. Posteriormente, Harvey muda o foco de sua atenção para a problemática urbana, a partir de uma perspectiva materialista-dialética. Publica então Social Justice and the City no início da década de 1970, onde confronta o paradigma liberal e o paradigma marxista na análise dos problemas urbanos.