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Capitalism, Nature, Socialism - Introduction (Part 2)

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This kind of technology-led restructuring of production
conditions (including technique-led restructuring of the
conditions of supply of laborpower) may or may not be functional
for capital as a whole, individual capitals, in the short-or-
long-run. The results would depend on other crisis prevention
and resolution measures, their exact conjuncture, and the way in
which they articulate with the crisis of nature broadly defined.
In the last analysis, the results would depend on the degree of
unity and diversity in labor movements, environmental movements,
solidarity movements, etc. And this is a political, ideological,
and organizational question.

In any event, crisis-induced changes in production
conditions necessarily lead to more state controls, more planning
within the bloc of large-scale capital, a more socially and
politically administered or regulated capitalism, hence a less
nature-like capitalism, one in which changes in production
conditions would need to be legitimated because they would be
more politicized, and one in which capitalist reification would
be less opaque. The combination of crisis-stricken capitals
externalizing more costs, the reckless use of technology and
nature for value realization in the sphere of circulation, and
the like, must sooner or later lead to a "rebellion of nature,"
i.e., powerful social movements demanding an end to ecological
exploitation. Especially in today's crisis, whatever its source,
capital attempts to reduce production and circulation time, which
typically has the effect of making environmental practices,
health and safety practices, etc. worse. Hence capital
restructuring may deepen not resolve ecological problems. Just
as capital ruins its own markets, i.e., realized profits, the
greater is the production of surplus value, so does capital ruin
its own produced profits, i.e., raise costs and reduce capital
flexibility, the greater is the production of surplus value based
on the destructive appropriation of nature broadly defined. And
just as over-production crises imply a restructuring of both
productive forces and relations, so do under-production crises
imply a restructuring of production conditions. And just as
restructuring of productive forces imply more social forms of
production relations and vice versa, so does restructuring of
production conditions imply a twofold effect -- more social forms
of production conditions defined as productive forces and more
social forms of the social relationships in which production
conditions are reproduced. In sum, more social forms of
production relations, productive forces, and conditions of
production together contain with them possibilities of socialist
forms. These are, in effect, crisis-induced not only by the
traditional contradiction between forces and relations, but also
by the contradiction between forces/relations and their
conditions. Two, not one, crises are thus inherent in
capitalism; two, not one, sets of crisis-induced reorganizations
and restructurings in the direction of more social forms are also
inherent in capitalism.

7. Conclusion

Some reference needs to be made to post-Marxist thought and
its objects of study, "post-industrial society," "alternative
movements" or "new social movements," and "radical
democracy."[29] This is so because post-Marxism has practically
monopolized discussions of what Marx called "conditions of
production." No longer is the working class seen as the
privileged agent of historical transformation nor is the struggle
for socialism first on the historical agenda. Instead, there is
the fight for "radical democracy" by "new social movements" in a
"post-industrial society."

These basic post-Marxist postulates deserve close scrutiny,
especially given post-Marxist readings of Marx and Marxism, and
the political implications therein.[30] So does the declaration
by radical bourgeois feminists, eco-feminists, deep ecologists,
libertarian ecologists, communitarians, etc. that Marxism is
dead. In the present discussion, however, it is possible only to
point out that in ecological Marxist theory, the struggle over
production conditions has redefined and broadened the class
struggle beyond any self-recognition as such, at least until now.
This means that capitalist threats to the reproduction of
production conditions are not only threats to profits and
accumulation, but also to the viability of the social and
"natural" environment as a means of life. The struggle between
capital and "new social movements" in which the most basic
concepts of "cost" and "efficiency" are contended, has two basic
"moments." The first is the popular and nearly universal
struggle to protect the conditions of production, or means of
life, from further destruction resulting from capital's own
inherent recklessness and excesses. This includes needs and
demands for the reduction of risks in all forms. This struggle
pertains to the form in which "nature" is appropriated, as means
of reproduction of capital versus means of reproduction of civil
and human society. The second is the struggle over the programs
and policies of capital and state to restructure the production
conditions, i.e., struggles over the forms and contents of
changes in conditions. Put another way, new social struggles are
confronted with both the impairment and also crisis-induced
restructuring of production conditions at the same time. Both
"moments" of struggle occur both outside the state and also
within and against the state, i.e., they pertain to "public
administration" (in Carlo Carboni's words). Seen this way, the
demand for radical democracy is the demand to democratize the
provision and reconstruction of production conditions, which in
the last analysis is the demand to democratize the state, i.e.,
the administration of the division of social labor.[31] In truth,
in the absence of struggles to democratize the state, it is
difficult to take the demand for "radical democracy" seriously.
In post-Marxist thought, great stress is placed on "site
specificity" and the "integrity" of the individual's body, a
particular meadow or species life, a specific urban place,
etc.[32] The word "difference" has become post-Marxism's mantra,
which, it is thought, expels the word "unity," which in the
post-Marxist mind is often another way to spell "totalitarian."
In the well thought out versions of post-Marxist thought, the
"site specificity" which new social movements base themselves on
are considered to make any universal demands impossible,[33] at
least any universal demand beyond the demand for the universal
demand beyond the demand for the universal recognition of site
specificity. This is contrasted with the bourgeois revolution
which universalized the demand for rights against privilege and
the old working-class struggle which universalized the demand for
public property in the means of production against capitalist
property. However, our discussion of production conditions and
the contradictions therein reveals clearly that there is a
universal demand implicit or latent in new social struggles,
namely, the demand to democratize the state (which regulates the
provision of production conditions), as well as the family, local
community, etc. In fact, no way exists for diverse social
struggles defending the integrity of particular sites to
universalize themselves, hence win, and, at the same time, retain
their diversity excepting through struggles for the democratic
state and also by uniting with the labor movement, recognizing
what we have in common, cooperative labor, thereby theorizing the
unity of social labor.[34]

Moreover, post-Marxism, influenced by the "free rider
problem" and problems of "rational choice" and "social choice"
(all problems which presuppose bourgeois individualism), states
or implies that struggles over production conditions are
different than traditional wage, hours, and working conditions
struggles because conditions of production are to a large degree
"commons," clean air being an obvious example, urban space and
educational facilities being somewhat less obvious ones. The
argument is that struggles against air pollution (or capitalist
urban renewal or racist tracking in the schools) do not have an
immediate "pay off" for the individual involved; hence (in Offe's
account) the phenomenon of cycles of social passivity and outrage
owing to the impossibility of combining individual and collective
action around goals which "pay off" for both the individual and
group. Again, this is not the place for a developed critique of
this view, one which would begin with an account of how the
process of social struggle itself changes self-definitions of
"individuality." It needs to be said, however, that labor
unions, if they are anything, are disciplinary mechanisms against
"free riders" (e.g., individual workers who try to offer their
laborpower at less than the union wage are the object of
discipline and punishment by the union). Further, it should be
said that the "free rider" problem exists in struggles to protect
the "commons" only in so far as these struggles are only ends in
and of themselves, not also means to the specifically political
hence universal end of establishing a democratic state.
Also in relation to the problem of the "commons," and beyond
the problem of the relation between the individual and the group,
there is the problem of the relationship between groups and
classes. Specifically, the struggles of "new social movements"
over conditions of production are generally regarded in the
self-defined post-Marxist universe as non-class issues or multi-
class issues. "Transformative processes that no doubt go on in
our societies are very likely not class conflicts ... but non-
class issues."[35] Especially in struggles over production
conditions (compared with production itself), it is
understandable that these appear as non-class issues, and that
agents define themselves as non-class actors. This is to not
only because the issues cut across class lines (e.g., urban
renewal, clean air, etc.), but also because of the site
specificity and "people" specificity of the struggles, i.e.,
because the fight is to determine what kind of use values
production conditions will in fact be. But, of course, there is
a class dimension to all struggles over conditions, e.g.,
tracking in the schools, urban renewal as "people removal," toxic
waste dumps in low income or poor districts and communities, the
worker as the "canary" in the workplace, the inability of most
unemployed and many workers to access "wilderness areas," etc.
Most problems of the natural and social environments are bigger
problems from the standpoint of the poor, including the working
poor, than for the salariat and the well-to-do. In other words,
issues pertaining to production conditions are class issues, even
though they are also more than class issues, which becomes
immediately obvious when we ask who opposes popular struggles
around conditions? The answer is, typically, capital, which
fights against massive public health programs, emancipatory
education, controls on investments to protect nature, even
adequate expenditures on child care, certainly demands for
autonomy or substantive participation in the planning and
organization of social life. What "new social movements" and
their demands does capital support? Few, if any. What "new
social movements" does labor oppose? Certainly, those which
threaten ideologies of male supremacy and/or white race
supremacy, in may instances, as well as those which threaten
wages and jobs, even some which benefit labor, e.g., clean air.
Hence, the struggle over conditions is not only a class struggle,
but a struggle against such ideologies and their practices. This
is why it can be said that struggles over conditions are not less
but more than class issues. And that to the degree that this is
true, the struggle for "radical democracy" is that much more a
struggle to democratize the state, a struggle for democracy
within state agencies charged with regulating the provision of
production conditions. In the absence of the perspective and
vision, "new social movements" will remain at the level of
anarcho-communalist and related struggles which are bound to
self-destruct themselves in the course of their attempts to
"deconstruct" Marxism.


*I am grateful to Carlo Carboni, John Ely, Danny Faber, Bob
Marotto, and David Peerla for their encouragement and helpful
criticisms and comments.

[1] Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, Boston, 1967.
Polanyi's focus was altogether on capitalist markets, not exploi-
tation of labor.

[2] World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common
Future, New York, 1987.

[3] The closest anyone has come to a "Marxist" account of the
problem is: Alan Schnaiberg, The Environment: From Surplus to
Scarcity, New York, 1980. This is a path-breaking and useful

The relation between the capitalization of nature and political
conflict between states is another, albeit closely related, ques-
tion (Lloyd Timberlake and Jon Tinker, "The Environmental Origin
of Political Conflict," Socialist Review, 84 (15, 6) November-
December, 1985).

[4] In the case of bad harvests, "the value of the raw material
... rises; its volume decreases....More must be expended on raw
material, less remains for labour, and it is not possible to ab-
sorb the same quantity of labour as before. Firstly, this is
physically impossible . . . .Secondly, it is impossible because a
greater portion of the value of the product has to be converted
into raw material.... Reproduction cannot be repeated on the same
scale. A part of fixed capital stands idle and a part of the
workers is thrown out into the streets. The rate of profit falls
because the value of constant capital has risen as against that
of variable capital. . . . The fixed charges -- interest, rent --
which were based on the anticipation of a constant rate of profit
and exploitation of labour, remain the same and in part cannot be
paid. Hence crisis . . . .More, although the rate of profit is
decreasing, there is a rise in the price of the product. If this
product enters into the other spheres of reproduction as a means
of production, the rise in its price will result in the same dis-
turbance in reproduction in these spheres" (Karl Marx, Theories
of Surplus Value, Part Two, Moscow, 1968, 515-516).

[5] "Apart from the degree of development, greater or less, in
the form of social production, the productiveness of labour is
fettered by physical conditions" (Capital I). In Theories of
Surplus Value (Part Three, 449), Marx states that the precondi-
tion for the existence of absolute surplus value is the "natural
fertility of the land."

[6] Michael Lebowitz, "The General and the Specific in Marx's
Theory of Crisis,", Studies in Political Economy, 7, Winter,
1982. Lebowitz includes as "general" barriers the supply of la-
bor and the availability of land and natural resources. However,
he does not distinguish between the supply of labor per se and
the supply of disciplined wage labor. As for natural resources,
he does not distinguish between "natural" shortages and shortages
capital creates for itself in the process of capitalizing nature
nor those created politically by ecology movements.

[7] Capital III, Chapter 6, 215.

[8] We can therefore distinguish two kinds of scarcity: first,
scarcity arising from economic crisis based on traditional capi-
tal overproduction, i.e., a purely social scarcity; second, scar-
city arising from economic crisis based on capitalistically pro-
duced scarcity of nature or production conditions generally.
Both types of scarcity are ultimately attributable to capitalist
production relations. The second type, however, is not due to
"bad harvests," for example, but to capitalistically produced
"bad harvests" as a result of mining, not farming, land; pollut-
ing water tables; etc.

[9] There are two reasons why Marx ran from any theory of capi-
talism and socialism which privileged any aspect of social repro-
duction besides the contradiction between production and circula-
tion of capital. One is his opposition to any theory which might
"naturalize" hence reify the economic contradictions of capital.
His polemics against Malthus and especially his rejection of any
and all naturalistic explanations of social phenomena led him
away from "putting two and two together." Second, it would have
been difficult in the third quarter of the 19th century to argue
plausibly that the impairment of the conditions of production and
social struggles therein are self-imposed barriers of capital be-
cause historical nature was not capitalized to the degree that it
is today, i.e., the historical conditions of the reproduction of
the conditions of production today make an "ecological Marxism"

[10] State of the art accounts of the problematic categories of
productive forces and production relations are: Derek Sayer, The
Violence of Abstraction: The Analytical Foundations of Histori-
cal Materialism (Oxford, 1987) and Robert Marotto, "Forces and
Relations of Production," Ph.D dissertation, University of Cali-
fornia, Santa Cruz, 1984.

[11] Murray Bookchin deserves most credit for developing the
theory of "social ecology" in the USA. The basic impulse of his
method and theory is libertarian not Marxist, "social ecology"
not "socialist ecology."

To my knowledge, "ecological Marxism" was coined by Ben
Agger (Western Marxism: An Introduction: Classical and Contem-
porary Sources, Santa Monica (Cal.), 1987, 316-339). Agger's
focus is "consumption" not "production." His thesis is that
ever-expanding consumption required to maintain economic and so-
cial stability impairs the environment, and that ecological
crisis has replaced economic crisis as the main problem of capi-
talism. This article may be regarded as, among other things, a
critique of Agger's often insightful views.

[12] According to Carlo Carboni, who also uses the expression
"social reproductive conditions." I use "conditions of produc-
tion" because I want to reconstruct the problem using Marx's own
terminology and also because I want to limit my discussion mainly
to crisis tendencies in the process of the production and circu-
lation of capital, rather than to the process of social reproduc-
tion, i.e., reproduction of the social formation as a whole.
This means that I will follow Marx's lead and interpret "produc-
tion conditions" in "objective" terms, excepting in the last sec-
tion which suggests that these conditions are increasingly
grasped as "subjective" today.

[13] External physical conditions include "natural wealth in
means of subsistence" and "natural wealth in the instruments of
labour" (Capital I, Modern Library Edition, 562).

[14] Marx and Engels Selected Works in Two Volumes, Volume II,
Moscow, 1962, 25; Grundrisse, Harmondsworth, 1973, 533. See
also, Marino Folin, "Public Enterprise, Public Works, Social
Fixed Capital: Capitalist Production of the `Communal, General
Conditions of Social Production'" International Journal of Urban
and Regional Research, 3,3, September, 1979.

[15] In a conversation with David Harvey, who pioneered the
theory of the spatial configurations and barriers to capital
(Limits to Capital, Basil Blackwell, 1982), tentative "permis-
sion" was granted the author to interpret urban and other forms
of space as a "production condition."

[16] The following is a deliberate "Smithian" simplification of
the traditionally defined economic contradiction of capitalism
which altogether neglects Marx's critique of Smith, namely, that
it is the rising organic composition of capital, not a falling
rate of exploitation, which causes the profit rate to fall, even
though capitalism "presents itself" otherwise. To be absolutely
clear, the following account is not meant to review Marx's cri-
tique of capital fetishism or Adam Smith, et. al. I put the con-
tradiction of capitalism in its simplest terms with the two-fold
aim of
(a) preparing a discussion of crisis-induced restructuring
of the productive forces and production relations and
(b) setting
up a standard by which we can compare the "traditional" with the
"non-traditional" or "second" contradiction of capitalism based
on the process of capitalist-created scarcities of external and
human nature.

[17] "Cooperation" (e.g., "work relations") is both a produc-
tive force and production relationships, i.e., ambiguously deter-
mined by both "technological necessity" and "power."

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

[19] This kind of formulation of the problem avoids the func-
tionalism of the "state derivation school" of Marxism as well as
political sociological or Weberian theories of the state which
are not grounded in material existence.

[20] So-called external barriers may be interpreted as internal
barriers, in fact, if we assume that (a) external nature being
considered is commodified or capitalized nature and (b) new so-
cial struggles organized under the sign of "ecology" or "environ-
mentalism" have their roots in the class structure and relations
of modern capitalism, e.g., the rise of the new middle class or
salariat, which is the backbone of environmentalism in the USA.

[21] "External and universal nature can be considered to be
differences within a unity from the standpoint of capital accumu-
lation and state actions necessary to assure that capital can ac-
cumulate. Yet the difference is no less significant than the un-
ity from the standpoint of social and ecological action and pol-
itical conflict. The reason is that laborpower is a subject
which struggles over health and the (natural) conditions of so-
cial health broadly defined, whereas the `natural elements enter-
ing into constant and variable capital' are objects of struggle"
(Robert Marotto, Correspondence).

[22] "Economists and business leaders say that urban areas in
California are facing such serious traffic congestion that the
state's economic vitality is in jeopardy" (The New York Times,
April 5, 1988).

[23] "If schools cannot figure out how to do a better job of
educating these growing populations and turn them into productive
workers and citizens, then the stability of the economy could be
threatened" (Edward B. Fiske, "US Business Turns Attention to
Workers of the Future," International Herald Tribune, February
20-21, 1988). Fisk is referring to minorities which today make
up 17 percent of the population, a figure expected to jump to
one-third by 2020.

In the USA, health care costs as a percentage of GNP were about
six percent in 1965; in 2000 they are expected to be 15 percent.
"Health care has become an economic cancer in this country,"
screams a San Francisco Chronicle headline writer (March 14,

[24] The well-known IPM program in Indonesia reportedly in-
creases profits by reducing costs and also increasing yields. It
depends on new training and education programs, coordination of
farm planning, etc. (Sandra Postel, "Indonesia Steps Off the
Pesticide Treadmill," World Watch, January-February, 1988, 4).
[25] For example, West German organized industry and industry-
state coordination successfully internalizes many externalities
or social costs. This occurs without serious harm to profits be-
cause the FRG produces such high quality and desirable goods for
the world market that costs of protecting or restoring production
conditions can be absorbed while industry remains competitive
(Conversation, Claus Offe).

[26] Christopher J. Daggett, "Smog, More Smog, and Still More
Smog," The New York Times, January 23, 1988.

[27] The idea that crisis induced by inadequate conditions of
production results in more social forms of production and produc-
tion relations is not new in non-Marxist circles. Schnaiberg
linked rapid economic expansion to increased exploitation of
resources and growing environmental problems, which in turn posed
restrictions on economic growth, hence making some kind of plan-
ning of resource use, pollution levels, etc. essential. He in-
terpreted environmental legislation and control policies of the
1970's as the start of environmental planning (The Environment,
op. cit.).

More, the idea that crisis induced by unfavorable production
conditions results in more social productive forces, as well as
production relationships (which is also Schnaiberg's thesis,
since planning is a form of cooperation, hence both a force and
relation of production), can be found in embryonic form in works
such as: R.G. Wilkinson, Poverty and Progress: An Ecological
Perspective on Economic Development (New York, 1973) which argues
that epoch-making technological changes have often resulted from
ecological scarcities; O. Sunkel and J. Leal, "Economics and En-
vironment in a Developmental Perspective" (International Social
Science Journal, 109, 1986, 413) which argues that depletion of
resources and scarcity increases the costs of economic growth be-
cause of declines in natural productivity of resources hence that
new energy resources and technological subsidies (implying more
planning) are needed.

[28] Correspondence, Saul Landau.

[29] The most sophisticated post-Marxist text is: Ernesto La-
clau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards
a Radical Democratic Politics, London, 1985. A home-grown ver-
sion is Michael Albert, et. al., Liberating Theory, Boston, 1986.

[30] For example, Laclau and Mouffe's discussion of what they
call Marxist "essentialism" violates both the spirit and sub-
stance of Marx's theory of capital.

[31] James O'Connor, "The Democratic Movement in the United
States," Kapitalistate, 7, 1978. It should be noted that in the
entire post-Marxist literature it is impossible for me to find
any reference to the division of social labor, so obsessed are
the "theorists" with the division of industrial labor, division
of labor within the family, etc. This absence or silence permits
us to grasp post-Marxism as recycled anarchism, populist-
anarchism, communitarianism, libertarianism, etc.

[32] Accordingly to Carboni, "the challenge of specificity is
propelled by all new social actors in advanced capitalist
societies. It is an outcome of the complex network of policies,
planning, and so on which are implemented by both capital and the
state in order to integrate people while changing production
conditions. On the one hand, this specificity (difference)
represents the breakage of collective and class solidarity. On
the other hand, it reveals both new micro-webs of social
solidarity and the universalistic network of solidarity based on
social citizenship." (Communication with the author).

[33] This and the following point were made by Claus Offe in
conversation with the author, who is grateful for the chance to
discuss these issues with someone who gracefully and in a spirit
of scientific collaboration presents a post-Marxist point of

[34] "The issue in dispute is the post-Marxist claim that we
have multiple social identities against the present claim that
there exists a theoretical unity in these identities in the unity
of the conditions of production and capital production and
realization. On the level of appearances, it is true that we
have multiple identities, but in essence the unity of our
identity stems from capitalism as a mode of production. The
trick is to make the theoretical unity a reality. An
environmental struggle may be an unintentional barrier to capital
in the realm of accumulation while not being ideologically anti-
capitalist. The question is how to make environmentalists
conscious of the fact that they are making the reproduction of
the conditions of production more social. The post-Marxists do
not want to find a unity in the fragmented social identities we
have. But even to build alliances between social movements some
unity must be constructed. In the absence of an agreed upon
telos of struggle, or any common definitions, dialogue cannot
take place. If we are unable to agree on any terms and objects
of struggle in what sense can we say new social movements are
over what socialism means but in some sense we are required to
struggle for a common language which will necessarily obscure
particular differences. As capitalism abstracts out the social
nature of labor in the exchange of commodities, it obscures what
we have in common, cooperative labor, thereby fragmenting our
identity. What is disturbing is the lack of any move on the part
of the post-Marxists to theorize the unity of social labor."
Communication, David Peerla.

[35] Claus Offe, "Panel Discussion," Scandanavian Political
Studies, 10, 3, 1987, p. 234."