Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism: Capital, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy

Submitted by goodmanenaya on October 1, 2019

Karl Marx, author of what is perhaps the world’s most resounding and significant critique of bourgeois political economy, has frequently been described as a “Promethean.” According to critics, Marx held an inherent belief in the necessity of humans to dominate the natural world, in order to end material want and create a new world of fulfillment and abundance—a world where nature is mastered, not by anarchic capitalism, but by a planned socialist economy. Understandably, this perspective has come under sharp attack, not only from mainstream environmentalists but also from ecosocialists, many of whom reject Marx outright.

Kohei Saito’s Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism lays waste to accusations of Marx’s ecological shortcomings. Delving into Karl Marx’s central works, as well as his natural scientific notebooks—published only recently and still being translated—Saito also builds on the works of scholars such as John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett, to argue that Karl Marx actually saw the environmental crisis embedded in capitalism. “It is not possible to comprehend the full scope of [Marx’s] critique of political economy,” Saito writes, “if one ignores its ecological dimension.”

Saito’s book is crucial today, as we face unprecedented ecological catastrophes—crises that cannot be adequately addressed without a sound theoretical framework. Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism shows us that Marx has given us more than we once thought, that we can now come closer to finishing Marx’s critique, and to building a sustainable ecosocialist world. -MR



4 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Khawaga on October 1, 2019

Thanks for uploading, I had for some reason not even heard of this book. It looks really interesting (and hopefully it is better than Foster's work, which, while good, doesn't really dig that much into Marx as I'd like).


4 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Spikymike on February 16, 2020

Not such an easy read to get stuck into - took a wee break in between finishing Part One and reading Part Two but well worth it especially in the shorter concluding chapters, touching as it does on such relevant modern issues as deforestation and climate change. Makes out a good case against the popular stereotyping of Marx's 'Prometheanism' arising out of his earlier works as represented for instance in the Communist Manifesto and subsequently promoted by many Marxists (up to and including the 'Accelerationists'). An existing knowledge of the history of the natural scientists of Marx's day would help readers get through it but that isn't essential. Together both parts provide a good insight into the influences on and evolution of Marx's materialism and it's continuing relevance to understanding the inevitable impossibility of capitalism to adequately solve the continuing ecological crisis. Kohei Saito has carried out a forensic study of the available relevant texts in Marx's notebooks and other materials but there is maybe more to come as other texts become available. Certainly the titles reference to '...the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy' is relevant here but Saito has provided a valuable contribution to developing that critique further.
PS: I note that the book gets a recommendation from Michael Heinrich but I think the author would share some others criticism of Heinrich's approach.
I would be interested in others views on this book.


4 years 4 months ago

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Submitted by alb on February 20, 2020

I haven’t read this book yet (but will do) but I did read this article of his:


In it he explains how in these notes Marx showed a concern for the “metabolic rift” that capitalist production brought about, ie didn’t return to nature what it took from it, so upsetting what today would be called the ecological balance. All production does this but this is not a real problem as long as a new balance is established. Capitalism doesn’t do this. Saito shows that this concerned Marx and let him to read up on the problem.

This shows that Marx was not the unreconstructed “productivist” that he has sometimes been portrayed as. This misunderstanding arose partly out of Marx’s view that communism only became possible once capitalism had provided the material basis for it by developing the productive forces to the point where they could provide enough for all, complemented by his view that in his day (mid 19th century) capitalism had yet to do this. Hence his support for political and economic developments that in his opinion would hasten the development of capitalism and the forces of production, the more rapidly the better. A position continued after his death by “Marxists”.

But what they and the critics ignored was that Marx’s support for “productivism” was temporary and would come to an end at the point that capitalism had built up the material basis for communism. There can be arguments as to when this happened (I would say it already has) but once it has then socialist support for further capitalist development is unnecessary and counterproductive from an ecological point of view. What is on the agenda then is a world communist society that can reorient production away from capital accumulation to meeting people’s needs and rectifying the “metabolic rift”, even reaching a “steady state” and certainly a slower growth of the forces and level of production.


4 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Spikymike on March 3, 2020

Arguments against Marx's 'Labour Theory of Value' are still ongoing from some environmentalists, even some claiming to be socialists, who fail to fully grasp the significance of the Marxist category of 'abstract labour' . There is a pretty good attempt to explain this in an easily understood short article here:
Also has a nice reproduction of an illustrative H.S.Mark's painting.


4 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by BigFluffyTail on March 6, 2020

Arguments against Marx's 'Labour Theory of Value' are still ongoing from some environmentalists

No kidding. Once had an environmentalist / "sustainable development student" argue to me in a condescending tone that "Marx was wrong and land is exploited, not workers".

Good article by Rob Cox.