Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism by Kohei Saito — A Critique

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  • The central theme of the book relates to Saito’s view that the crisis of capitalism arises primarily out of the contradiction between capitalism as a mode of production and Nature – and that the ecological crisis is the fundamental contradiction of capitalism. Taking a charitable view, one may be open to the possibility that Saito seeks to establish that Marx’s views are not at odds with his (Saito’s) interpretation of capitalism’s ecological crisis, based on substantial textual evidence that was perhaps overlooked earlier. However, Saito himself has a much more radical objective. He is arguing that Marx was indeed significantly shifting his position on the crisis of capitalism, from what we have understood it to be so far, as known through the three volumes of Capital, and the Grundrisse, where it arises from the internal contradiction of capitalism between the means of production and the relations of production. And that this shift had in fact been presaged even in Marx’s earlier writings, making itself ever more evident in fact after Volume I of Capital was done.
  • It is somewhat odd that this reinterpretation of Marx is not driven by any internal contradiction within the standard interpretation of Marx’s political economy. The contradiction that necessitates Saito’s re-interpretation is external, in that the standard interpretation is claimed to be unable to adequately comprehend the ecological crisis and hence we must go back to see what we have missed in Marx’s work. The debate on the theory of crises in capitalism, for instance, has also revolved around the question whether rival interpretations are theoretically and conceptually consistent, and not merely on questions of empirical adequacy. There does not appear any such “internal” contradiction that drives Saito’s argument.
  • Saito’s work has two parts. In Part I, Saito argues that there is an essential continuity between Marx’s view of ecology and Marx’s view of the political economy of capitalism, both being “metabolic” in character. In Part II, Saito argues that Marx consciously parted ways with any form of Prometheanism and “came to regard ecological crises as the fundamental contradiction of capitalism.” Most of the remarks below refer to Part I. Part II, in my view, is a misplaced attempt to construct an entirely new edifice of Marxist theory on the political economy of capitalism, beginning with a lengthy description of the contents of some of the texts that Marx studied, particularly on natural science, biology and agriculture, an attempt based almost wholly on margin notes and scattered quotations from Marx on these texts and with a generous dose of speculation regarding Marx’s thought based solely on Marx’s choice of texts and the subject matter therein that appears to have interested him.

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Overcoming “Subjectivism”: The Twin Dangers of Empiricism and Dogmatism

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For Left movements and Communist Parties, whose goal is revolutionary transformation through radical political action, based on a Marxist-Leninist understanding of society, the danger of “subjectivism” is an ever-present one as the history of such movements and parties demonstrates. The issue has come to the fore in the Indian context over the question of the tactics of the Left movement during the last two decades. Subjectivism is contrasted to the correct understanding that is drawn from the “ground realities” or the “concrete analysis of concrete conditions.” The error of subjectivism is held to be characterised by one-sidedness in any assessment, attempting to understand reality based on some pre-conceived notions, or picking and choosing facts selectively to establish the validity of some pre-conceived notions.

The authority of Lenin and Mao is typically invoked on the question of subjectivism. But before we turn to their views, let us begin talking of it in our own simple language, with an elementary illustration. Continue reading

Q&A with Times of India on IPCC Special Report on Global Warming at 1.5 deg C

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(The version appearing in print in the Times of India of 22nd Oct., 2018 is an edited down version of this full text from the interview by Sugandha Indulkar of TOI).

What, for you, were the most significant changes between the latest IPCC report on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade, and the earlier reports?

The IPCC Special Report on Global Warming at 1.5 degrees, to give it its official title, is particularly noteworthy because it was in response to a specific request from the Parties to the Paris agreement. For the first time in the Paris agreement the limit of 1.5 degrees centigrade of global warming above pre-industrial levels was mentioned as a goal that countries should strive to achieve. Hence a special report from the IPCC was called for.  Subsequently, in designing the outline of the report, it was agreed that it would look at the methods of achieving these goals; involving, mitigation options and consequences of adaptation even to 1.5 degrees of warming. It would also examine the differences between mitigation and adaptation for a 1.5 deg and 2 deg target for limiting global temperature rise, while keeping up the goal of sustainable development. So in this respect, the report was significantly different.

With respect to specific details,  the report makes it very clear that the difficulty of reaching the 2 deg target  was less steep compared to achieving the 1.5 deg  target. At the current rate of emissions, of about 42 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, the cumulative emissions permitted for the 1.5 deg target would be reached very quickly — between 10 to 30 years from now on. For the first time, the report introduces a widespread role for negative emissions arising especially through methods of removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Some of these methods have been field tested on a limited scale, but by and large the scale on which they are required for a 1.5 deg limit are significantly very difficult, some would say impossible, to achieve.

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Facing up to Hindutva — Can a Left-Congress Alliance be the Key?

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Many commentators, in the mainstream and social media, have been urging the Left to indicate clearly its willingness to align with the Congress in the parliamentary elections due next year. . Several of them, who have harping on the theme for some months now, turned harshly critical when the CPI(M), following its central committee meeting, announced on January 21, 2018 that it was against electoral tie-ups in any form with the Congress. A substantial part of such commentary emerges from sections who believe that the defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2019 is of such over-riding importance that all other political considerations should be put aside. Alongside such a view, many of them also drive the critique of BJP to ever shriller heights with increasingly extreme characterisations. Any attempt to inject some sobriety or realism into such assessments is met with the charge that the depth of the danger is being downplayed, suggesting panic rather than a serious assessment of a way forward.

Any serious assessment must obviously begin from the acknowledgement of the basic and obvious point that the CPI(M) has always made – that the roots of the rise of Hindutva in its current form lay in substantial measure in the nature of Congress rule and in particular the UPA governments of 2004 to 2014. And, as the CPI(M) further argues, given the hold that Hindutva has obtained on Indian society as a whole, across various spheres of national life, mere electoral defeat, is hardly the key to halting its advance. Without mass mobilisation on issues that affect the people and without convincing a substantial section of the inability of Hindutva to meet their aspirations, without a mass movement for secular and democratic advance, banking on electoral arithmetic alone is likely to be of little use and indeeed diversionary. It is also clear that such mobilisation cannot have unity with the Congress party as its basis, when the alienation of the people at large from it has formed the very basis of the rise of Hindutva.

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Climate Action and the North–South Divide: An Assessment of COP23

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Abstract:

At COP23 in Bonn, notwithstanding the United States’ announcement of its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the developed countries remained united in diluting or reneging on their commitments to developing countries, particularly on the issues of finance, and loss and damage. In a concerted pushback, the latter obtained a few important procedural gains, including bringing back to the negotiations the issue of equityin the implementation ofthe agreement.

Published in Economic and Political Weekly, 23rd Dec., 2017, vol. 52, Issue no. 51.

 

Following the general celebration that attended the signing of the Paris Agreement, the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at Marrakech in November 2016 was already something of a let-down, coinciding with the election of Donald Trump, the arch proponent of climate inaction, to the presidency ofthe United States (US). A year later, with the expected announcement of the US’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement having come true, COP23 (Bonn, Germany, 6–17 November 2017) began with two interrelated issues being of keen interest. One was what the attitude of the US would be in the negotiations, since, by the terms of the Paris Agreement, it would be three years before their withdrawal would take effect. The second was the progress that would be made towards the implementation of the Paris Agreement under the circumstances and who would be, as the global media would have it, the “climate leader” in the event of the withdrawal of the US.

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Remembering Vijayalakshmi

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A heroic struggle of a scientist with cancer: B Vijayalakshmi
(by T R Govindarajan). From, “Daughters of Lilavati”, Rohini Godbole and Ram Ramaswamy (ed.), Indian Academy of Sciences, 2008.

Viji joined the Department of Theoretical Physics in 1974
after obtaining her Masters from Seethalakshmi Ramaswami
College, Tiruchirapalli. Hers was a conservative background,
and it was remarkable that she could overcome conventional
gender restrictions and consider research an option.
Our advisor was Professor P. M. Mathews, who was the
head of department at that time. Always smiling and friendly, Viji
discussed the graduate courses with me like any other student.
Once, while we were discussing our work, she expressed some discomfort
and I enquired about it. Looking straight at me as if to
gauge my reaction, she replied that she had been diagnosed with
widespread cancer of the stomach and the abdominal region. I
was shocked and speechless for a few moments. Later she told me
that her major aim was to make some substantial research contribution
and be recognised as a physicist and that her immediate
goal was to finish her research degree before anything happened to
her.

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Environmentalism: Utopian and Scientific

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While many nineteenth century thinkers, revolutionary leaders and working class movements had a vision of a just society, Karl Marx and his comrade, Friedrich Engels, writing more than a hundred and fifty years ago, underlined how the ideal of socialism could be realised only through a scientific study of the current economic order of society, namely capitalism, and its contradictions. And precisely in the study of these contradictions would the “necessity” of socialism, and the means of its realisation, be established (as surely as the contradictions of the pre-capitalist era had marked the “necessity” of the rise of capitalism), taking it beyond the mere utopian desires or dreams that had until then marked the vision of a society free from exploitation.

A great majority of working people across the world today recognize that any view of a better, more just and equitable society, must also include the vision of an environmentally viable and sustainable one. And more particularly, for the politically conscious working class, the contemporary view of a socialist future most definitely includes a balanced, non-exploitative relationship between human society and Nature. A hundred and fifty years on from the appearance in print of Marx’s Capital, his path-breaking study of capitalism and its contradictions, there can be no other way that humanity can face its environmental crisis, except by tracing the same kind of scientific path that led to a scientific view of socialism. And such a scientific view cannot but begin with the insights of Marx himself.

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The crisis of the Dravidian movement and its ideology — Part II

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Introduction

This is the second of the two-part note on the crisis of the Dravidian movement and its ideology. The view that we set out to elaborate was that the  ideology of the Dravidian movement, which has exercised its hegemony over Tamil society for the last half a century, severely restricts the scope for transformation of the social, political and cultural sphere, especially as its positive elements have receded in significance, and its backward-looking, unscientific or irrational and conservative elements gained the upper hand.  Without confronting Dravidian ideology, in theory and social and political practice, the Left cannot gain a more considerable following in Tamil Nadu persuading working people  to take a radical, transformatory agenda more seriously.

The recent demise of the leader of the AIADMK, Jayalalitha, has been the occassion for the unedifying spectacle of mind-numbing praise of the departed leader, followed by a scramble for power, that had little pretense of being based on political ideals, policies or values. The two  coteries that vied for power, one led by Jayalalithaa’s confidante and back-room fixer, Sasikala, and the other by the ever-obsequious-worm-that-turned O. Panneerselvam, matched each other in their absurd  behaviour, with secrecy and lack of transparency on the one side and wild conspiracy theories emanating from the other. The reality that Jayalalithaa was an accused in a high-profile corruption scandal, with the Supreme Court set to pronounce a verdict shortly, was soft-pedalled in much of the media commentary that followed. And convicted she was, inevitably, a few weeks later, along with Sasikala and some of her relatives, just as the latter was going all-out to ensure her elevation, from the post of the general secretary (sic!) of the party to Chief Minister.

One would have thought that the spectacle of the publicly conducted struggle for power within the AIADMK, the indictment for corruption of its leader, and the absurd behaviour of the DMK during the vote-of-confidence for the government of Palanisamy, the new Chief Minister, would have led to some serious stocktaking of what has become of the Dravidian movement today — a century or so after it began to play an increasingly prominent role in Tamil society and close to a half century of being in political power in the State. Unfortunately there is little sign of such a serious stocktaking and a consequent political churn any time soon.

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Can Myths/Mythology Illuminate Science? – A non-mythological encounter at a TISS Literary Festival event

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I would not have got around to posting on this — after all one cant go after every question that can be reasonably posed — but for the fact that I had to sit through a very irritating discussion at the TISS Literary Festival (edition 2017 – in case this post is discovered by cyber-archaeology 1000 years from now!)  on the subject. Apart from Tarun Menon, who made the right noises, the other two speakers sorely tested one’s patience. The self-appointed anchor for the discussion clearly had an agenda, which was to argue  that myths and science were on par and kept steering the discussion towards that the conclusion. When in the end it did not quite emerge from the discussants the way he wanted it, he stated that as the conclusion anyway !!

For a litfest discussion, this was one that was remarkably careless with words and their meaning. For one, mythology can mean both a collection of myths and the study of myths. The second is of obvious interest to the social sciences, and the study of myths is certainly an integral part of anthropology or a number of other disciplines in both humanities and the social science. But even the panelists  did not quite make the distinction (we shall henceforth excise the role of the anchor in our comments), even though they kind of acknowledged that science did mean both natural and social science.

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