Man and Nature, Part IV: A Marxist Critique of the “Green” Environmental Movement

Communist Party International Emblem, 1919

“Go Green” Emblem, 2010

A part of the bourgeoisie wants to redress social grievances in order to assure the maintenance of bourgeois society.

Included in it are economists, philanthropists, humanitarians, do-gooders for the working classes, charity organisers, animal welfare enthusiasts, temperance union workers, two-a-penny reformers of multifarious kinds.

— Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party

Surveying the various constituencies that make up the present-day Green movement, a number of distinct tendencies can be observed.  These each have their own peculiarities and distinguishing features, and are sometimes even at odds with one another.  But there do exist overarching themes that hold this jumbled mass of ideological fragments together.  One trend held in common by most of them, for example, is a shared opposition to “big business” and “corporate greed.”  It is on this basis that many of them fancy themselves to hold a generally anti-capitalist worldview.

1. The Ideology of “Local” and “Organic”: Locavores and Urban-Agriculturalism

But on closer inspection, it can be seen in most cases that these activists don’t really want to overturn capitalism.  They merely want to turn back the clock to what they perceive as a kinder, gentler capitalism, in which the “little guy” wasn’t stomped on so severely by all the corporate giants.  They want the family-run local shops down the block where everybody knows each other’s first name.  They miss the nearby farms that were owned by honest, hardworking families who brought their fresh produce into market every day.  They want to get rid of all the corporate suits who come into town and vampirically leach off the hard labor of others and put these local stores and farms out of business by importing cheap goods made by foreign labor and selling produce enhanced by synthetic additives.  (The völkisch and vaguely crypto-fascist/anti-Semitic overtones of this perspective should be obvious).  Instead, these activists advocate to “buy local” and “go organic,” since they imagine that a world built on these principles is more “natural” than the one in which we live today.  The pro-organic and “locavore” movements are based on precisely this belief, which they consider to be more “eco-friendly.”

This world is, of course, a fiction.  But that doesn’t stop activists from calling for a return to this paradise that Marx and Engels called “the idiocy of rural life.”  Indeed, many leftish urbanites and self-proclaimed radical students have developed a bad conscience out of their sense of distance from the more natural and “authentic” world of organic farming.  In fact, this has driven many such ecophiles out of their urban lofts or student housing in some vain hope of achieving a “return to the land.”  “There is…wisdom and contentment in the unhurried rhythm of country life, which is mistaken by the smart townsman for slowness in the uptake,” wrote Lord Northbourne,[1] the traditionalist philosopher and progenitor of the term “organic farming.”  This promise of living the “simple life” out on the countryside seems to many students and city-dwellers to provide an escape from the stale atmosphere of the academy and the hustle-and-bustle of the urban scene.  So they buy some land out on the outskirts and set up farms where they can grow their own food.  This gives them an overweening sense of self-satisfaction; they experience the thrill of producing their own homemade, holistic goods, which they can then consume or perhaps even sell at the local co-op back in town.

So what sets organic farming apart from the non-organic? To begin with, organic farming promotes “bio-diversity,” which contrasts sharply with the perceived over-specialization and monocropping practices of big agrobusiness.  “Mixed farming is real farming,” declared Northbourne, continuing his anti-modern diatribe against the industrialization of agriculture.  “Unduly specialized ‘farming’ is something else; it must depend on imported fertility, it cannot be a self-sufficient nor an organic whole.”[2]  This bleak outlook regarding the mechanization and rationalization of the agricultural process, uprooting and replacing more traditional modes of farming, was shared by Sir Albert Howard, the so-called “father of organic farming.”  “The hunger of the urban populations and the hunger of the machines has become inordinate,” he lamented.  “The land has been overworked to satisfy all these demands which steadily increase as the years pass.”[3] And indeed, the trend over the course of the last century has been toward large-scale industrialized farming — with its reliance on heavy machinery, pesticides, chemical additives, and the bio-engineering of plants.  And despite the recent resurgence of the ideology of agricultural organicism in popular culture, its actual output (in terms of its percentage of the market) remains fairly marginal.  Even though it is one of the only growing sectors of the agriculture industry, this is true only insofar as the imperative to “go organic” has been embraced by mainstream capitalism.  It’s the reason why one sees “organic food” aisles in major supermarket chains, with organic fruits and vegetables produced by subsidiaries of huge agro-giants rather than by their smaller, independent competitors.[4]

But let us return to those dedicated students and urbanites who have fled from their cities and universities to pursue the vocation of local organic farming.  And let us further assume that these industrious, small-scale farmers band together to create agglomerations of “community-supported agriculture” (or CSA, for short).  Sticking to their “buy fresh, buy local” principles, moreover, we will grant that these farmers restrict the sale of their goods to local co-ops and farmers’ markets.  For none of these changes in the sphere of circulation alters the fact that the production process necessitates charging higher prices to break even, or even turn a profit.  Since organic foods are typically much more labor-intensive to produce and difficult to preserve, the price for an organic item at a store is usually much steeper than its mass-produced equivalent.  The maintenance of such small-scale organic farms would thus seem to be a luxury available only to those who are wealthy enough to afford selling their produce at a loss, or those who find clientele wealthy enough to afford paying much higher prices for locally-grown organic products.  It is thus an elitist phenomenon not only in the smug sense of ethical virtue that comes with buying organic or local, but also in a very real, economic sense.

There are those, however, who have not even had to look beyond the city limits for a place to reunite with nature.  Though parks and public gardens have been a feature of most major urban centers since the nineteenth century, the movement toward urban-agriculturalism is a relatively recent phenomenon, and is associated with the whole ideology of Green.  Many urban-agriculturalists are simply private individuals buy their own plots at outrageous prices inside the greater urban municipality, where the retail-value for the same acreage bought on the countryside would be dwarfed.  So it goes without saying that those who can stand to keep up such an expensive hobby must be extraordinarily rich.  But what they’re buying is almost certainly not the crops they will grow on it, or the relaxation brought from the hobby, but rather the knowledge that they, city-dweller though they may be, are eco-friendlier than thou.

That this fetishization of small local farms originally stems from a romantic anti-capitalist ideology should be obvious.  However, the deeply conservative and reactionary character of this tendency remains hidden to its adherents.  They imagine a past where everything was done at the local level, with “organic” social relationships and good family values.  They remember the honest farmer, with his pitchfork in hand and his wife by his side.  What they forget is the revolting reality and chronic backwardness of the old, small family farm, most famously condemned by the journalist H.L. Mencken, whose vitriol must here be quoted at length:

…Let the farmer, so far as I am concerned, be damned forevermore.  To Hell with him, and bad luck to him.  He is a tedious fraud and ignoramus, a cheap rogue and hypocrite, the eternal Jack of the human pack.  He deserves all that he ever suffers under our economic system, and more.  Any city man, not insane, who sheds tears for him is shedding tears of the crocodile.

No more grasping, selfish and dishonest mammal, indeed, is known to students of the Anthropoidea.  When the going is good for him he robs the rest of us up to the extreme limit of our endurance; when the going is bad be comes bawling for help out of the public till.  Has anyone ever heard of a farmer making any sacrifice of his own interests, however slight, to the common good? Has anyone ever heard of a farmer practising or advocating any political idea that was not absolutely self-seeking — that was not, in fact, deliberately designed to loot the rest of us to his gain? Greenbackism, free silver, the government guarantee of prices, bonuses, all the complex fiscal imbecilities of the cow State John Baptists — these are the contributions of the virtuous husbandmen to American political theory.  There has never been a time, in good seasons or bad, when his hands were not itching for more; there has never been a time when he was not ready to support any charlatan, however grotesque, who promised to get it for him.  Only one issue ever fetches him, and that is the issue of his own profit.  He must be promised something definite and valuable, to be paid to him alone, or he is off after some other mountebank.  He simply cannot imagine himself as a citizen of a commonwealth, in duty bound to give as well as take; he can imagine himself only as getting all and giving nothing.

Yet we are asked to venerate this prehensile moron as the Ur-burgher, the citizen par excellence, the foundation-stone of the state! And why? Because he produces something that all of us must have — that we must get somehow on penalty of death.  And how do we get it from him? By submitting helplessly to his unconscionable blackmailing by paying him, not under any rule of reason, but in proportion to his roguery and incompetence, and hence to the direness of our need.  I doubt that the human race, as a whole, would submit to that sort of high-jacking, year in and year out, from any other necessary class of men.  But the farmers carry it on incessantly, without challenge or reprisal, and the only thing that keeps them from reducing us, at intervals, to actual famine is their own imbecile knavery.  They are all willing and eager to pillage us by starving us, but they can’t do it because they can’t resist attempts to swindle each other.  Recall, for example, the case of the cotton-growers in the South.  Back in the 1920’s they agreed among themselves to cut down the cotton acreage in order to inflate the price — and instantly every party to the agreement began planting more cotton in order to profit by the abstinence of his neighbors.  That abstinence being wholly imaginary, the price of cotton fell instead of going up — and then the entire pack of scoundrels began demanding assistance from the national treasury — in brief, began demanding that the rest of us indemnify them for the failure of their plot to blackmail us.[5]

Not only is the historical memory of the locavores fantastic and imaginary, however, but their vision for the future is equally unthinkable and alarming.  To generalize the practice of local farming and small shops would mean a regression to a quasi-feudal state of existence, with massive urban depopulation and the death of probably 95% of the Earth’s people.  For many Green activists, however, such a development might not be so unwelcome.  Unwittingly echoing the arch-conservative Malthus, they insist that the current growth of population is unsustainable and will inevitably exhaust the world’s resources.  They fail to recognize: 1. that it is classist (since the lower classes have more children); 2. that it is racist (since non-whites have more children); 3. and that it is sexist (because women are supposed to be the “gatekeepers” of reproduction).  Yet the activists who still hold fast to the fear of overpopulation continue to reinforce their claims with apocalyptic rhetoric and eco-scaremongering, evoking images of global environmental collapse.  The Malthusian theory of a limit-point to the growth of population was materially disproven by the industrial revolution taking place before his very eyes.  And while many may fear the influence that chemical additives might have on their food, the kind peddled by vast multinational corporations like Monsanto, there’s a good reason that population growth has accelerated at such a rapid pace since the end of the eighteenth century: capitalism, and its concomitant industrialization of the agricultural process.

Indeed, there was a time when the Left advocated the industrialization of agriculture, calling for the mass-production and distribution of foodstuffs throughout the world.  They welcomed mechanization insofar as it rendered the labor-heavy mode of traditional farming superfluous and produced more goods for consumption.  And this is very much what has happened over the course of the last century.  The elimination of small family farms and the mechanization of crop production has taken place on its own in the West and throughout the modern world, without the brutal programs of forced collectivization and “tractorization” implemented by Stalin.  And while famines still take place in some of the poorer countries, it is only in recent times that all famines could actually be prevented — that for the first time we produce enough food to potentially feed the entire world.[6]  So it is a bitter irony of history that many on the Left today seek to return to more primitive modes of local production, rather than to take control of the massive forces of agricultural production that capitalism has unleashed — and end starvation forever.  But instead, the Green ideologues exalt and glamorize the small family farmer, and demonize and vilify big agrobusiness.  Huge agricultural corporations may be ruthless and unmerciful when it comes to the way they operate and do business, but only a fool would want to return to the world of petty small-time farmers that Mencken described.

2. The Neo-Romantic Reification of Nature: Deep Ecology and Permaculturalism

But the proponents of local and organic produce are hardly the only ones to have resurrected ghosts of the Romantic ideological past.  The twin movements of deep ecology and permaculturalism seem to have resuscitated the old notion of Nature as some sort of self-harmonious organic whole, an equilibrium hanging delicately in the balance.  In this view of the world, the careless intrusions of mankind into the environment threaten to upset the natural order of things, disturbing the fragile ecosystems they touch.  Humanity is therefore to take existing nature as it is, and live in such a manner that impacts it the least.  The thought that humanity can reshape nature according to its wants and needs is therefore seen as hopelessly hubristic, the vanity of unnatural anthropic exceptionalism.  Instead, human society is to adapt itself so as to leave nature intact, allowing its natural cycles and processes to play out without human interference.

According to the tenets of deep ecology, nature should be thought as a value unto itself, wholly separate from questions of the how it might be potentially useful or harmful to mankind.  Arne Næss, the Norwegian philosopher and founder of the deep ecology movement, found it peculiar that “[o]ne of the most striking features of political arguments used to decide for or against intervention in free natural processes is that respect for nature in itself is not mentioned.”[7]  For Næss, it is not only important that different “forms of life” be respected as inherently valuable, but also certain landforms and geological formations.[8]  Now, of course, it is obvious that humanity cannot continue to exist in the complete absence of the instrumentalization of nature at some level, however modest.  In light of this reality, Næss sketched out his positive vision of what would be “characteristic of a green society”:

It should be decentralized and should be a grassroots democracy.  There should be social responsibility, mutual aid [a reference to the anarchist Petr Kropotkin], and a reign of nonviolence.  People should live in voluntary simplicity, with a high degree of self-reliance and with moderate mobility.  Different generations should be able to live together and work together.  There should be a feeling of community; technology should be appropriate; industrial and agricultural units should be small.  Home and place of work should be near each other and transportation mainly public.  There should be an absence of social hierarchy and an absence of male domination.


Then there are concepts of another type, namely, respect for nature, reverence for life, ecological agriculture, absence of monoculture forests, absence of animal factories, free access to nature, and so on.[9]

Nowhere in Næss’ populist, nature-revering speculative utopia does he reflect on the various reifications that underpin his positive prescriptions for society.  Of course, it contains many inoffensive and uncontroversial points about gender equality and the elimination of social hierarchies, but beyond this, his entire vision of the ideal society is built upon a house of cards.  For just as Lukács illustrated the false reification of the present state of society as a sort of “second nature,” obeying eternal, ahistorical laws that cannot be transformed, it can be readily seen that Næss is guilty of an inverse reification.  While he is certainly innocent of viewing society’s current state as unalterable state of affairs, he hypostatizes nature in its present state as something to be preserved, rather than transformed.

Næss seems to be oblivious to the fact that to preserve nature in its present state, even fixing it as a limited set of natural cycles and processes, would be a wholly unnatural act.  Humanity’s proclivity to save certain species from extinction is likewise in many cases an extremely unnatural intervention; we often forget that the extinction of species has been a fairly common feature of natural history.  Nature in itself is not some peaceful, harmonious state of existence, unsullied by human intrusions.  It is an often brutal world that exists in a state of perpetual flux, generating (and enduring) countless catastrophes and disruptions that radically reshape its own being.  The idea of Nature as some kind of sacred, inviolable entity worthy of our reverence is pure ideology.  Human society is totally dependent on the exploitation of nature in some form or another.  “[T]he existence of coats, of linen, of every element of material wealth not provided in advance by nature, had always to be mediated through…a productive activity that assimilated particular natural materials to particular human requirements,” explains Marx, in the first volume of Capital.  “Labor, then, as the creator of use-values, as useful labor, is a condition of human existence which is independent of all forms of society; it is an eternal natural necessity which mediates the metabolism between man and nature, and therefore human life itself.”[10]

Permaculturalism takes deep ecology’s notion of sustainability as one of its points of departure.  The word itself, a portmanteau of “permanent” and “agriculture,” advocates a sort of soft resilience to withstand the forces of nature, not of brick or reinforced concrete but assembled out of various objects, both natural and artificial, which are then integrated into a natural system.  But the “philosophy” that undergirds permaculturalism goes beyond deep ecology in taking inevitable Armageddon as likely, if not inevitable, outcome of humanity’s destruction of nature.  “The sad reality is that we are in danger of perishing from our own stupidity and lack of personal responsibility to life,” laments Bill Mollison, one of the co-founders of the permaculture movement.  “There is too much contemporary evidence of ecological disaster which appalls me, and it should frighten you, too.  Our consumptive lifestyle has led us to the very brink of annihilation.  We have expanded our right to live on the earth to an entitlement to conquer the earth, yet ‘conquerors’ of nature always lose.”[11]  In Mollison’s opinion, the only way to counter the damage that has already been done is to all-of-a-sudden renounce our exploitative ways, and cultivate a more permanent and sustainable way of living through his program of permaculturalism.

3. Lifestyle Politics: Vegans, Freegans, and Raw Foodists

To continue with the theme of worldwide ecological catastrophe, however — we needn’t fear, some Green activists will say.  “If we all chip in and do our part,” they continue, “together we can really make a difference!” This sort of puerile rhetoric brings us to the next subject of our investigation: lifestyle politics, or lifestylism, as it is sometimes called.  Its origins can be traced to Gandhi’s famous injunction to “be the change you want to see in the world.”  But lately it’s more the kind of message usually delivered by some well-known spokesman (or spokeswoman) — a famous athlete or movie star.  The celebrities, always insecure of their ethical status because of the fame and fortune they enjoy, are always ready to join in for a good cause.  And so they become the mouthpiece for this or that social message, usually inoffensive and uncontroversial.  “The change begins with YOU,” they will say.  And then they will parade around the fact that they’ve donated to many charities, rescued sick animals, or adopted a vegan diet.  In this way are they spared the guilty conscience of knowing that they have it better off than most people.  It’s why they’re so easily lampooned for their endless (and almost pornographic) pontificating.

But the lesser-known practitioners of lifestyle politics are hardly less smug, sanctimonious, and self-satisfied than their celebrity counterparts.  They are almost invariably ostentatious in the exhibition of their given way of life.  A vegan might take every opportunity to point out how the waiter must first check with the chef to make sure that no animal products are being used in the preparation of his meal, before he can order.  Oppositely, they’ll rarely miss a chance to sneer or take offense at something that falls outside their narrow, single-issue worldview.  A fur coat, an unrecycled recyclable, a “gas-guzzling” SUV — they’ll find almost any excuse to launch into one of their patented, pre-rehearsed tirades.  The words “speciesism” or “anthropocentrism” often enter the diatribe, but the arguments that follow revel in anthropomorphism, allowing for absurd casuistry and moral equivalencies.  The logic of meat-consumption apparently “parallels” that of the Holocaust or incidents of rape.  I had no idea.

The lifestylists thus usually find their way into a clique of like-minded ethicians, who share the same ideals and who can feel virtuous with one another.  As certain lifestyles become unfashionable, many tend to drift away from their chosen lifestyle or simply burn out — so there’s typically a high turnover rate.  A vegetarian diet, a vegan diet, a raw food diet, gluten-free diet, a freegan diet — it’s too tough keeping up with the latest trend.  But there are some diehards who still cling to their diet or other ethical habits of living (“dumpster diving,” buying “eco-friendly” products, reducing one’s “carbon footprint,” etc.).  One might even have counted the guru of deep ecology himself, Arne Naess, a lifestylist to the end, as he enumerated “anti-consumerism,” Third Worldism, and personal asceticism as standard points of the deep ecological code of conduct.  But perhaps wisely, in the end, Naess implored his followers to keep their self-selected lifestyles at a strictly ethical level, as he advised them in general “to find politics boring or distasteful.”[12]  (He would later contradict himself on this score, writing a piece on “The Politics of the Deep Ecology Movement,” complete with a partial apologium for Malthusian population-control).[13]

For it is only when lifestylists attempt to extrapolate a politics from their chosen ethos that they get lost, that they fall prey to a particularly pernicious eidolon.  That they tend to flaunt their given way of life may be obnoxious, of course, but in the end it’s fairly harmless, really.  Far more dangerous, politically speaking, is the delusion that the sum of their individual lifestyle choices will have a significant impact on society.  This is all the more true if they believe that they are somehow undermining capitalism through their actions.  Some vegan lifestylists, like Will Tuttle, have even advanced the hilarious notion that veganism is a more revolutionary position than Marxism.[14]  Quite the opposite is true.  If anything, these various lifestyles are so readily integrated into the edifice of capitalist society that they almost immediately lose any revolutionary force they might have had.  They are reduced to mere niche markets within the greater totality of capitalism.  This is why it should not come as such a surprise that one sees the opening of a “Green” McDonald’s in Riverside, Los Angeles.[15]  Lifestyle politics is remarkably assimilable to capitalism.  In this sense, political veganism, freeganism, and so on, are all worse than ineffectual; they appear to constitute a form of “resistance” to capital just as they are seamlessly sublated into its all-encompassing fold.  It was for this reason that Lenin as well as Marx argued against prefigurative utopianism: the idea that one must behave as if he already lived in a perfect society, a Kantian kingdom of ends.  Marx was a merciless critic of the utopian socialists of his day.  Lenin would later write off the ultraleftist utopianism (or “Left-Wing” Communism) that surrounded the Revolution as merely an “infantile disorder.”  One must accept the social reality that obtains at any given time, and not imagine himself to be ethically or superior to or more politically informed than the rest of humanity by virtue of some lifestyle change.  Such a conceit is all too easily repackaged — and thereby absorbed — by capitalist society.

Also, world hunger has nothing to do with scarcity. We continue to produce enough grain and other foodstuffs for human consumption to feed double the human population. Economists who speak of a “grain glut” mean that literally tons of grain is wasted and unused, not because people aren’t in need of it, but because they can’t afford it.  Second, it speaks to incredible naiveté to assume that world agribusiness would give away any excess grain left over if the meat industry suddenly collapsed. When I say political veganism doesn’t understand capitalism, this is what I mean.

While there’s nothing wrong with seeing it as simply a moral issue, there is something incredibly obnoxious and self-aggrandizing about puffing out your chest, believing your diet will change the world. While the number of vegetarians and vegans has grown into sizeable minority, you would think that meat consumption would’ve shown a slight decline.  But the opposite is true.  Total meat consumption has increased.  With food costs rising, meat has become more practical (in terms of calorie intake) and affordable.  There is absolutely no substance to the claim that going vegan saves any animals. Capitalism does not plan production based on a one to one correspondence of a supply demand. In fact, its key feature is overproduction.  A general lowering of demand will then likely mean two things: 1) animals not consumed will just be wasted 2) the price of meat becomes cheaper, increasing total consumption.

There is also no precedent for a boycott strategy that has shut down an entire industry the way it’s being described (and it would require a boycott of all supermarkets and restaurants). That’s because the consumer has very little power. One can “choose” to drive a fuel-efficient car, but can’t choose why cities lack efficient public transportation.  One can choose to buy energy efficient light bulbs, but has no say about planned product obsolescence.  No one can dispute that the factory farm model creates tremendous amounts of waste, contributing to environmental catastrophe.  It does so because capitalism forces every industry to accumulate and capture as much of the market as it can, in the most cost effective way. It functions to maximize profit, not to meet needs or work rationally.  So every industry is structured unsustainably.

4. Eco-Feminism

Closely related to, but distinct from, lifestyle politics is a “gendered” strain of eco-activism — eco-feminism.  They offer an environmentalist critique that is at once broader and more particular than that of the lifestylists.  For many eco-feminists, the whole problem of man’s domination over nature (and yes, specifically man’s) can be traced to a male way of viewing the world.  Men, they argue, seek to dominate and bend to their will everything that stands in their path.  They will stop at nothing to bring Nature, often culturally identified as female, under their dominion, and so they must beat it into submission.  And so patriarchal society has pursued throughout history a campaign against nature, as a test of manhood, an eternal struggle.  By contrast, a more feminine perspective on nature, the eco-feminists contend, would be more empathetic and understanding.  It would accept nature in all its abundance and fertility; it would show compassion where the men showed none.  The wanton destruction of natural ecosystems would thus appear to them as the result of a specifically androcentric (and not more generally anthropocentric) worldview.  The domination of nature, eco-feminists argue, mirrors the oppression of women and indigenous people by the Western patriarchal tradition.  “The reductionist mind,” states the Indian eco-feminist Vandana Shiva, “superimposes the roles and forms of power of western male-oriented concepts on women, all non-western peoples, and even on nature, rendering all three ‘deficient,’ and in need of ‘development.’”[16]  A predominantly gynocentric, indigenous perspective on society’s relationship to nature would be far less destructive, many eco-feminists claim.

Many eco-feminists draw inspiration from the mythological representation of nature as a woman — Gaia, Terra, Prakriti,[17] Mother Earth, and so on.  This often leads them to embrace numerous mystifications, many of them anagogic or primitivist in nature.[18]  These eco-feminists will then point to indigenous tribal myths that teach that nature should be revered and held sacred.  An eco-feminist spiritual worldview, its proponents insist, would lead to a more harmonious relationship with nature.

Of course, there are several problems with these arguments.  First of all, it essentializes (one could even say naturalizes) the difference between men and women.  “One of the reasons for ecofeminism’s association with an essentialist radical feminism,” Mary Mellor points out, “is its emergence alongside the cultural feminist radicalization of the feminist movement, particularly in the United States.”[19]  But this again hypostatizes the old patriarchal myth, so often repeated, that men are strong, bold, and decisive, while women are weak, caring, and empathetic.  This is a dichotomy that feminists have for decades been trying to disprove, and now many eco-feminists are looking to resurrect it to serve the purposes of their argument.  The old structuralist association man with culture and women with nature is one that modern feminism sought to overturn.[20]  Postmodern feminism, on the other hand, has been far more ambivalent.[21]

Secondly, the appeal to the mythological symbolism portraying Nature as female must be seen as inadmissible superstition.  The phantoms of religion and mythological deities cannot be used as evidence in any rational discussion, no matter how “authentic” or “sincere” some of these indigenous beliefs might seem.  Finally, even if one were to accept such dubious symbolic evidence, would it not stand to reason that men would refrain from acts of environmental destruction like deforestation? After all, the act of chopping down a tree (a longtime symbol of the phallus) could be easily interpreted as an act of castration, the worst fear of men, according to Freud.  If the eco-feminists were to trot out such symbolic interpretations in defense of their arguments, one could easily counter with symbolic interpretations of his (or her) own.

5. Radical Environmentalism: Green Anarchism, Animal Liberation, and Anarcho-Primitivism

There are those within the Green movement, however, for whom a superficial change in one’s way of life or a gender critique is not enough.  As self-styled radicals, they cannot be satisfied by such modest acts.  Nor can they be content with merely participating in theatrical demonstrations, marches, and protests against animal or environmental exploitation (though they continue to do these things as well).  These young firebrands feel they must do something more.  A truly radical activism, they contend, must seek to do away with the whole bloody system — dismantle it piece by piece.  So what you usually get is a bunch of angry young activists, often with some sort of anarchist orientation, who will sometimes whip themselves up and engage in isolated acts of corporate sabotage, office disruption, and animal “liberation.”  These acts are usually carried out by either single individuals or small groups coordinating their efforts according to some preconceived plan.  The most notorious organizations advocating such militancy are the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), with which it is closely associated.  But there are countless little coteries of activists strewn throughout the more developed world that operate by using such tactics.  In the age of the internet, they issue any number of online manifestos or proclamations of intent.

Much of this is just militant posturing, though occasionally some groups are able to muster the courage of conviction to actually pull off some of these stunts.  They are, however, often quickly arrested and given harsh sentences.  There have some been some journalists who believe the courts have been a bit heavy-handed in labeling these activists’ crimes as “terrorism.” They even believe these rulings to be the result of some conspiratorial plot cooked up by big business interests, who then pull some strings in Washington to specifically target eco-activists through their legislation.  Though there might be some small truth to this belief, the reality is that these isolated attacks on corporate property and sporadic acts of animal liberation barely dent the profit index of most of these major businesses.  Militant Green activism isn’t even half as disruptive or effective as its practitioners would like it to be.  It would be (and perhaps is) an extreme overreaction for business interests in government to insist that these young crusaders be classified as “terrorists.”  If anything, this only ennobles them by giving them the sense that they are martyrs of state oppression, when in fact they are little more than petty pranksters who got in over their heads.

We have already mentioned how many of these militant tactics owe their origin to the long tradition of political anarchism, which dates back to the first decades of the nineteenth century.  Many anarchist authors actually did call for individual acts of terrorism — one needs only read Mikhail Bakunin and Sergei Nechaev’s Catechism of a Revolutionist or look to the acts inspired by Georges Sorel’s book on revolutionary violence to witness this fact.  (Lenin would famously critique such Narodnik terrorism in his book, What is to be Done?). This does not, of course, imply that all forms of anarchism employ or even approve of terrorist tactics, as there have been almost innumerable anarchist tendencies over the past two hundred years — some violent, others not.  Indeed, most Green anarchists and “veganarchists” are so oblivious to the history of political anarchism that they might scarcely be aware that there were ever any major figures within the annals of anarchism who considered terrorism an acceptable revolutionary method.  Their association with anarchism is in most cases purely ahistorical.  It’s a sad truth that many activists who identify with anarchism do so out of temperament rather than a thorough course of study.  Nevertheless, we may close this critique of the contemporary Green movement with an examination of the peculiarities of the Green anarchist Weltanschauung, then moving on to its most troubling manifestation, anarcho-primitivism.

The anarchist elements within the greater ideology of Green manifest themselves mostly in their anti-hierarchical organizational structures and belief that individual actions can spark revolutionary change.  This is closely connected with the more general theme of lifestyle politics, to which almost all Green anarchists adhere.  In fact, lifestylism is so deeply engrained in the “eco-anarchist” and “veganarchist” traditions that Brian Dominick, the founder of the latter tendency and author of the seminal pamphlet Animal Liberation and Social Revolution, described the veganarchist revolution “wholly internal, wholly personal.”  “My revolution is not defined by objective changes in the world around me, such as the overthrow of the state or capitalism,” wrote Dominick.  “Those, to me, are merely symptoms.  The revolution itself cannot be found outside of us.  It is wholly internal, wholly personal.”[22]  Besides this nearly mandatory lifestylism, Green anarchists tend to associate themselves with an anti-globalization political stance, as well. Their critical perspective on what they call “mainstream” environmentalism also distinguishes them from other eco-activist groups.  Green anarchism understands itself to be part of a radical fringe, and often takes great pleasure in that occupying that status.

Indeed, for all too many Green activists, the anarchist affiliation is little more than a fashion accessory that they pin to their preexisting beliefs in ending climate change and animal cruelty.  They enjoy marching side by side with other self-declared anarchists, wearing black bandanas over their mouths and waving a large black flag.  They will usually hold up some placards covered with anarchist slogans and chant commonplaces like “this is what democracy looks like!” and “ain’t no power like the power of the people ’cause the power of the people don’t stop!” — mindless populist jargon.  While these are the kind of people who can sometimes get caught up in the Durkheimian swell of religious fervor and overturn a police car or break into a Starbuck’s, in their life outside of protest their anarchism is more like a hairstyle or tattoo.  They might go out of their way to get arrested (in order to wear that fact as a badge of honor), but for the most part their anarchism extends no further than that.

There are the true believers, though.  The most frightening among them identify with the anarcho-primitivist movement — a tendency founded under the ideology of John Zerzan, who has a number of followers who live up and down the west coast of the U.S., but also some residing in the northeast.  Considered fanatics even by many of the other Green anarchist currents, the anarcho-primitivists are actually pro-collapse.  Against Walter Benjamin and the Marxist theoreticians in the Frankfurt School, Zerzan maintains that modernity offers no redemptive possibilities:

There is no reconciliation, no happy ending within this totality, and it is transparently false to claim otherwise.  History seems to have liquidated the possibility of redemption; its very course undoes what has been passing as critical thought.  The lesson is to notice how much must change to establish a new and genuinely viable direction.  There never was a moment of choosing; the field or ground of life shifts imperceptibly in a multitude of ways, without drama, but to vast effect.  If the solution were sought in technology, that would of course only reinforce the rule of modern domination; this is a major part of the challenge that confronts us.[23]

In their interpretation of history, society has been built on slavery, injustice, and the ruthless exploitation of nature ever since the first agrarian communities were established.  Domestication, to them, is the root of all evil.  Even simple farming is too “unnatural” for their tastes;[24] they look to small bands of hunter-gatherer tribes as the only natural mode of human existence.  Everything else is “Civilization,” and must be destroyed as a whole.[25]  This is why they actually welcome climate change and the prospect of ecological catastrophe — because it would undo the accomplishments of human society and force mankind to “rewild,” to really finally return to nature.  Only this can end man’s alienation from nature, the anarcho-primitivists maintain.  And so some of them even prepare for this “endgame” scenario by going on barefoot runs through the wilderness at night or learning basic nature survival skills.  The lunacy of their ideology is so patent that it would almost honor it too much to offer a critique of it.  Needless to say, this is the outermost extreme of the present-day Green movement, but still can claim a number of adherents.

6. Results and Prospects

And so with that shall we close the critique of contemporary eco-activism we have pursued thus far.  It might be appropriate here to recapitulate some of its results.  In the final analysis, far from being a single, unitary ideology, the ideology of Green is rather just a hodgepodge of past ideological remnants — neo-Romanticism, vitalism, primitivism, Luddism, Eastern mysticism, and quasi-fascist Germanic naturalism. Though there is a small kernel of truth to its project insofar as it deals with sustainability (i.e., the ability to carry on the exploitation of natural resources without the threat of environmental catastrophe), more often than not there is an underlying notion amongst eco-activists that humanity should have some sort of “respect” for nature as an inviolable thing-in-itself.  The Green movement therefore views nearly every industrial-technical instrumentalization of nature, plant and animal alike, as invasive and chauvinist. Insofar as it preaches “eating local” and “going organic,” and then promotes the long-outdated ideal of self-sufficiency, it’s tacitly advocating a return a semi-feudal mode of production, which would necessarily involve massive famine and urban depopulation.

Humanity does, indeed, stand alienated from nature.  And yes, there is good scientific evidence that supports the theory of global warming, though the scientists are characteristically more cautious in their predictions.  Those on the Right who insistently deny the fact of climate change are just as delusional as the hysterical dispensationalists on the Left who declare the world is doomed.  But the present-day Green movement provides no real answers for reconciling man with nature, when posed as a social problem, outside of, perhaps, its notion of sustainable growth.  So what might a Marxist approach to the societal problem of man’s relation to nature look like?

To begin with, it must acknowledge that the answer can only lie in radical social transformation.  Since humanity’s alienation from nature began with the foundation of the first societies — i.e., the beginning of history as such — and since the precise form in which this alienation has manifested itself has varied throughout history, we are left two options.  Either we renounce society in its entirety, with all its freedoms and higher sensibilities, and retreat into the dark recesses of prehistory (as the anarcho-primitivists suggest), or we must progress into a new, as-yet-unseen social formation.  With the former option, nature would no longer present itself as a problem to humanity because there wouldn’t be a consciousness of anything different, and we would act on our every savage instinct.  Following the latter course of action, human society must gain a more self-conscious mastery over nature, such that it would become merely an extension of our will.  What we are faced with is thus clear: either we must accept the renaturalization of humanity, or, inversely, the humanization (or socialization) of nature.  Only by pursuing one or the other of these options can the contradiction be overcome — only then might humanity be disalienated from the natural world.

For the Marxist, the choice is simple.  Though regressions do occasionally take place throughout history, one cannot turn back the hands of time wholesale.  Thus is the dream of the anarcho-primitivists only a nightmarish fantasy, never to be realized.  One can only progress by moving forward.  The only answer the Marxist can accept is worldwide revolution — the fundamental transformation of existing social relations.  This revolution must honor neither regional convention nor national boundary, it must extend to encompass the globe.  And only by eliminating society’s foundation on that insatiable category called Capital, only then can society exist for itself, only then can men truly make his own history, rather than be made by history.  In the words of Marx, “[m]en make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”[26]  Engels expanded on this in later work, Socialism, Utopian and Scientific:

With the seizing of the means of production by society, production of commodities is done away with, and, simultaneously, the mastery of the product over the producer.  Anarchy in social production is replaced by systematic, definite organization.  The struggle for individual existence disappears. Then, for the first time, man, in a certain sense, is finally marked off from the rest of the animal kingdom, and emerges from mere animal conditions of existence into really human ones.  The whole sphere of the conditions of life which environ man, and which have hitherto ruled man, now comes under the dominion and control of man, who for the first time becomes the real, conscious lord of nature, because he has now become master of his own social organization.  The laws of his own social action, hitherto standing face-to-face with man as laws of Nature foreign to, and dominating him, will then be used with full understanding, and so mastered by him.  Man’s own social organization, hitherto confronting him as a necessity imposed by Nature and history, now becomes the result of his own free action. The extraneous objective forces that have, hitherto, governed history, pass under the control of man himself. Only from that time will man himself, more and more consciously, make his own history — only from that time will the social causes set in movement by him have, in the main and in a constantly growing measure, the results intended by him. It is the ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.[27] [my emphases]

How to achieve such a seizure of the means of production is a political question, one that has been dealt with historically by figures like Lenin and Trostkii.  And although it would be utopian to speculate exactly what such a realized society would look like, a few possibilities seem plausible.  First, such an emancipated society, freed from the rule of Capital and the forces of history, can now consciously direct its actions at a global level.  No longer would there be the haphazard, chaotic hyperexploitation of nature that one sees under capitalism, which so often gives rise to crises and acute shortages.  Secondly, humanity, liberated from its servitude to merely use technology as a tool to generate relative surplus-value, can now self-consciously harness the vast technological forces bestowed upon it by capitalist society.  No longer beholden to these machines, gadgets, and other devices, but their master, human society can use these technological instruments to radically reshape nature for the benefit of both society and nature.  Indeed, this would involve both the transformation of man and nature.  Or, as Trotskii put it in the conclusion of his book, Literature and Revolution, in a quote that might as well serve as an appendix to our whole discussion:

The Socialist man will rule all nature by the machine, with its grouse and its sturgeons.  He will point out places for mountains and for passes.  He will change the course of the rivers, and he will lay down rules for the oceans.  The idealist simpletons may say that this will be a bore, but that is why they are simpletons. Of course this does not mean that the entire globe will be marked off into boxes, that the forests will be turned into parks and gardens.  Most likely, thickets and forests and grouse and tigers will remain, but only where man commands them to remain.  And man will do it so well that the tiger won’t even notice the machine, or feel the change, but will live as he lived in primeval times.  The machine is not in opposition to the earth.[…]

[And thus, t]he wall will fall not only between art and industry, but simultaneously between art and nature also.  This is not meant in the sense of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, that art will come nearer to a state of nature, but that nature will become more “artificial.”  The present distribution of mountains and rivers, of fields, of meadows, of steppes, of forests, and of seashores, cannot be considered final.  Man has already made changes in the map of nature that are not few nor insignificant.  But they are mere pupils’ practice in comparison with what is coming.  Faith merely promises to move mountains; but technology, which takes nothing “on faith,” is actually able to cut down mountains and move them.  Up to now this was done for industrial purposes (mines) or for railways (tunnels); in the future this will be done on an immeasurably larger scale, according to a general industrial and artistic plan.  Man will occupy himself with re-registering mountains and rivers, and will earnestly and repeatedly make improvements in nature.  In the end, he will have rebuilt the earth, if not in his own image, at least according to his own taste.[28]

The Marxist vision of an emancipated society is one of abundance and plenitude, not of scarcity and shortage.  It is a vision of unlimited human freedom, not within the constraints of an ascetic lifestyle.  And these are precisely the terms that the Green movement have set up as unchallengeable, terms of shortage and “ecoscarcity.”  And “[t]he danger here is of accepting, often without knowing it, concepts that preclude radical critique,” writes the Marxist theorist and radical geographer David Harvey.  “Consider, for example, the way in which ‘ecoscarcity’ (and its cognate term of ‘overpopulation’) plays out in contemporary debate.”  With such terms as “ecoscarcity” and the supposed dearth of natural resources, contemporary eco-activism shortchanges the possibilities of human freedom.  Harvey continues, writing that the assumption of “ecoscarcity” by contemporary environmentalists implies “that we have not the will, wit or capacity to change our social goals, cultural modes, our technological mixes, or our form of economy and that we are powerless to modify ‘nature’ according to human requirements.”[29]  The history of capitalism supports none of these claims.  There may be limitations in terms of what we might accomplish in transforming nature at the present moment, but that is no reason set arbitrary limits on what might be accomplished in the future.  “Hitherto philosophers have only described the world; the point, however, is to change it,” reads Marx’s famous eleventh thesis on Feuerbach.  We might close by saying that not only can the social world be changed, but our physical world as well.


[1] Northbourne, Walter James.  Look to the Land.  (Sophia Perennis.  Hillsdale, NY: 2005).  Pg. 53.  Originally written in 1940.

[2] Ibid., pg. 56.

[3] Howard, Albert.  The Soil and Health: A Study of Organic Agriculture.  (University Press of Kentucky.  Lexington, KY: 2006).  Pg. 59.  Originally published in 1947.

[4] “A familiar brand name to organic shoppers is Hain.  This company now owns many other organic brands, which continue to appear to be independent. Some examples include: Bearitos (chips), Bread Shop (granola), Celestial Seasonings (tea), Garden of Eatin’, Health Valley, Imagine Foods (Rice Dream), Terra Chips, and Westbrae (canned vegetables, soy drinks, pastas, and more).  And who owns Hain? The prime investors in the Hain Food Group are mutual funds and holding companies.  Their principal stockholders are Phillip Morris (tobacco), Monsanto (genetically modified food), Citigroup (responsible for rainforest destruction), Exxon/Mobil, Wal-Mart, Entergy Nuclear, and Lockheed Martin (weapons manufacturer). In 9/99 the H.J. Heinz Co. acquired ownership of nearly 20% of Hain.  And, no surprises here, Heinz is principally owned by the same mutual funds and principal stockholders as is Hain.

Cascadian Farms (the brand offering much of the organic frozen food on the market) and Muir Glen (tomato products) are owned by Small Planet Foods, which is the organic marketing ‘niche’ owned by General Mills, the third biggest food conglomerate in North America.  Agribusiness is guilty enough for negative impacts on the global environment, local economies, and the nutritional quality of the food most of us have little choice but to consume.  But look who ‘owns’ General Mills.  Their principal investors are Philip Morris, Exxon/Mobil, General Electric, Chevron, Nike, McDonald’s, Target Stores, Starbucks, Monsanto, Dupont (weapons & pesticides), Dow Chemical (Agent Orange, breast implants, napalm), Pepsico, Alcoa Aluminium, Disney, and Texas Instruments (weapons producer and one of G.W. Bush’s top contributors).

Fresh Samantha, a popular organic juice brand regionally produced in Maine, merged with Odwalla in 5/00.  Little do health conscious consumers suspect that Odwalla Juice is owned by CocaCola, as part of their Minute Maid unit.  Boca Burgers is owned by Kraft Foods, which is owned by Philip Morris.  Stoned Wheat Thins is made with GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and is owned by Nabisco, which was acquired by Philip Morris in December, 2000.  Arrowhead Water and Poland Spring Water are owned by Nestle (which is being boycotted because its ‘breast milk substitute’ causes the deaths of millions of babies).  Silk Soy Drink is owned by White Wave, which is owned by Dean Foods, whose main shareholders are Microsoft, General Electric, Philip Morris, Citigroup, Pfizer, Exxon/Mobil, Coca Cola, WalMart, PepsiCo, and Home Depot.”

Resnick, Carole.  “What We Need to Know About the Corporate Takeover of the ‘Organic’ Food Market.”  Recovered 4/21/11.

[5] Mencken, H.L.  “The Farmer.”  From American Mercury, March, 1924. Pgs. 293-96.

[6] “[M]uch has changed since Marx’s day. But the essence of capitalism — the exploitation of the many by the few for profit — remains, and wreaks its damage on an ever-expanding scale.  The insane anarchy of a world market that can produce enough food to feed everyone, but fails to feed the 6 million children who die every year from malnutrition, remains with us.  The unplanned character of capitalist production, with its incessant drive for profit, has created an environmental crisis that threatens the earth’s inhabitants like a runaway train threatens its passengers.”  D’Amato, Paul.  The Meaning of Marxism.  (Haymarket Books.  Chicago, IL: 2006).  Pg. 10.

[7] Næss, Arne.  “Expert Views on the Inherent Value of Nature.” From Selected Works of Arne Næss, Volume 10: The Deep Ecology of Wisdom.  (Springer Press.  Dordrecht, the Netherlands: 2005).  Pg. 150.

[8] “However, the very broad sense of the expression ‘forms of life’ implies that a diversity of landscapes and, more generally, landforms is also included in its scope.  Environmental protection today includes such activities as the preservation of traces of old habitation and the human activities associated with them in former times.  This includes the protection of old landforms, such as the peculiar geological formations of the Quaternary period.”  Ibid., pg. 154.

[9] Næss, Arne.  “The Basics of Deep Ecology.” From Selected Works of Arne Næss, Volume 10: The Deep Ecology of Wisdom. (Springer Press.  Dordrecht, the Netherlands: 2005).  Pg. 14.

[10] Marx, Capital.  Pg. 133.

[11] Mollison, Bill.  Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual.  (Tagari Publications.  Tasmania, Australia: 1988).  Pg. 1.

[12] Næss, Arne.  “Deep Ecology and Lifestyle.”  From Selected Works of Arne Næss, Volume 10: The Deep Ecology of Wisdom. (Springer Press.  Dordrecht, the Netherlands: 2005).  Pgs. 105-106.

[13] Næss, Arne.  “The Politics of the Deep Ecology Movement.”  From Selected Works of Arne Næss, Volume 10: The Deep Ecology of Wisdom. (Springer Press.  Dordrecht, the Netherlands: 2005).  Pgs. 201-218.

[14] “The ramifications of veganism are enormously subversive to the status quo.  Even other subversive social theories that are rarely seen in schools of the media – such as Marxism – don’t begin to address the deeper issue we are discussing: the mentality of domination and exclusion that necessarily flows from commodifying animals and eating animal foods, and that gives rise to competition, repression of the feminine principle, and the exploitation of the lower classes by the wealthier cattle-(capital-)owning classes.  Marx’s ‘Workers of the world, unite!’ never questioned the underlying ethic of dominating animals and nature, and hence was not truly revolutionary.  It operated within the human supremacist framework and never challenged the mentality that sees living beings as commodities.  Veganism is a call for us to unite in seeing that as long as we oppress other living beings, we will inevitably create and live in a culture of oppression.  Class struggle is a result of the herding culture’s mentality of domination and exclusion, and is just part of the misery that is inevitably connected with eating animal foods.”  Tuttle, Will.  The World Peace Diet.  (Lantern Books.  New York, NY: 2005).  Pg. 200.

[15] “McDonald’s is jumping on the eco-conscious bandwagon: a location in Los Angeles reopened yesterday after an overhaul that rendered it more sustainable and energy efficient.”  Brion, Raphael.  “McDonald’s Goes Green, Inside and Out.”  Posted Friday, October 15th, 2010.  Recovered April 21st, 2011.

[16] Shiva, Vandana.  Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Survival in India.  (Zed Books Ltd.  London, England: 1988).  Pg. 4.

[17] “From the point of view of Indian cosmology, in both the exoteric and esoteric traditions, the world is produced and renewed by the dialectical play of creation and destruction, cohesion and disintegration. The tension between the opposites from which motion and movement arises is depicted as the first appearance of dynamic energy (Shakti). All existence arises from this primordial energy which is the substance of everything, pervading everything. The manifestation of this power, this energy, is called nature (Prakriti). Nature, both animate and inanimate, is thus an expression of Shakti, the feminine and creative principle of the cosmos; in conjunction with the masculine principle (Purusha), Prakriti creates the world.”  Ibid., pg. 37.

[18] Attempts to link a feminine principle to shamanism and other eco-friendly spiritualities can be readily found in Carol Adams’ collection on Ecofeminism and the Sacred.  (The Continuum Publishing Company.  New York, NY: 1993).

[19] Mellor, “Gender and the Environment.”  From Ecofeminism and Globalization: Exploring Culture, Context, and Religion.  (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.  London, England: 2003).  Pg. 18.

[20] MacCormack, Carolyn and Strathern, Marilyn.  “Nature, Culture, and Gender.”  From Nature, Culture, and Gender.  (Cambridge University Press.  New York, NY: 1980).  Pg. 43.

[21] “Modern feminism in both its liberal and socialist forms has sought to rescue women from their association with nature and the body, although more recently the postmodern feminist position is more ambivalent.”  Mellor, “Gender and the Environment.”  Pg. 13.

[22] Dominick, Brian A.  Animal Liberation and Social Revolution.  (Critical Mess Media.  Syracuse, NY: 1997).  Pg. 6.

[23] Zerzan, John.  “Seize the Day.” From Against Technology and Other Texts and Essays.  (The Anarchist Library.  2006).  Pg. 4.

[24] “Agriculture is the birth of production, complete with its essential features and deformation of life and consciousness. The land itself becomes an instrument of production and the planet’s species its objects. Wild or tame, weeds or crops speak of that duality that cripples the soul of our being, ushering in, relatively quickly, the despotism, war and impoverishment of high civilization over the great length of that earlier oneness with nature.”  Zerzan, John.  “Agriculture.”  From Against Technology and Other Texts and Essays.  (The Anarchist Library.  2006).  Pg. 2.

[25] “Civilization, technology, and a divided social order are the components of an indissoluble whole, a death-trip that is fundamentally hostile to qualitative difference. Our answer must be qualitative, not the quantitative, more-of-the-same palliatives that actually reinforce what we must end.”  Zerzan, John.  “We Have to Dismantle All This.”  From Running On Emptiness: The Pathology of Civilization.  (Feral House.  Los Angeles, CA: 2002).  Pg. 160.

[26] Marx, Karl.  The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon.

[27] Engels, Friedrich.  Socialism, Utopian and Scientific.

[28] Trotskii, Lev.  Literature and Revolution.

[29] Harvey, David.  “The Nature of Environment: The Dialectics of Social and Environmental Change.”  From The Socialist Register.  Volume 29, 1993.  Pg. 39.

137 thoughts on “Man and Nature, Part IV: A Marxist Critique of the “Green” Environmental Movement

  1. More hackneyed writing on the well-worm theme of “vegans are self-righteous/hypocrites/deluded/stupid”, based on generalisations and popular stereotypes. Neither original nor persuasive.

  2. It is much easier to appear to be doing something to create change then it is do actually change things. People rarely think it all the way through to the logical conclusion when choosing their form of protest. My college roommates used to buy one newspaper and then take all the rest out of the box, putting them on top so people could take them for free instead of paying for them. They really thought they were sticking it to the man. When I pointed out the only person they were sticking it to was the paperboy, who would have to pay out of his pocket for those papers, they were only mildly embarrassed. It was so cool to appear to be protesting something that the logic of it was really secondary. This is the case with a lot of things people do to help others. Often the help isn’t helpful at all, it just makes people helping feel better.

    It’s important for people to feel like they are doing something to change things. Maybe the things they are doing will help even though it doesn’t’ seem like it. They are living an example of ideals they believe in, and that does count for something. Years before things change there are people everyone thinks are nutty who are doing it already. In a few decades you’ll remember them and how forward thinking they were, and how you thought they were nuts. Happens all the time. Stay tuned…

    • Yeah, but there were also the temperance activists, who actually formed a movement vast enough to pass an amendment banning alcohol. But we all know how that turned out.

      • There are always cultural cul de sacs. The only way to know for sure what the future holds is to create it! It’s much easier to critique than to create a new path. The grand experiment continues, only time will tell what sticks.

  3. Yes, this article says nothing of veganism. It just mischaracterizes vegans as “sneering” or “single-minded” – an opinion piece with no basis for its statements. Vegans are humans and, hence, imperfect. I’ve met one vegan who is a complete jerk. However, that does not say anything about the reasons to be vegan.

    Most people will agree that it is wrong to cause unnecessary harm to animals (think about that for just a second to see if you agree as well). However, over 99.99% of our use of animals is obviously harmful and completely unnecessary. We don’t need to eat them, or wear them, or use them for any form of entertainment. The only way to align our actions with that core belief, is to become vegan. Fortunately, it’s incredibly easy (it was pretty easy when I did it 11 years ago).

  4. Most scientific opinion supports the idea of climate change, less severe than extreme environmentalists espouse, and also against the deniers.

    Veganism too me is a personal choice. Engels did point how, human brains developed because of mixed diet.

    • Yes, it is almost universally agreed among anthropologists and evolutionary biologists that the human brain developed with the switch to a more carnivorous diet.

      And yes, I think I should throw in a jab at the deniers on the Right, because their total denial of climate change is equally deluded.

      In terms of vegan diets, it doesn’t bother me if someone chooses to eat that way, especially if it’s for health reasons. That’s their freedom. But they should not trick themselves into thinking that they’re somehow cutting into the meat companies’ profits. Capitalism is endless production for the sake of production and circulation, not for the sake of consumption. So changing consumptive habits will barely make any difference in production, if any.

      • However, changing how and where goods are produced, locally for example does change production and can shift focus onto the local economy, he environment and social equity because the production process is visible or more visible to those who live nearby and intervention can have a direct impact on those processes used to produce the goods.

        Workers co-ops are one way to reorganize or organize local enterprises.

      • Yes, but this does not change the fact that home production (or even limited, localized spheres of commerce) became functionally obsolete centuries ago, and is now only being revivified by a nostalgic wish to return to the past.

  5. vegans are “smug, sanctimonious, and self-satisfied” kinda puts an end to discussion doesnt it, theres nothing a vegan could say after that

    • Actually, there’s a lot a vegan could say. For example – I might say that the most smug, sanctimonious and self-satisfied person is one who believes that all living beings exist solely for his own personal pleasure. There is nothing more arrogant, elitist or self-righteous than thinking certain animals should be enslaved, manipulated and slaughtered to satisfy your trivial desire…

  6. You raise some valid critiques – particularly about the “locavores” romanticized vision for the future. There is no “going back”… not with our population crisis. And I agree with you that proponents of “local, organic” are often not taking into consideration the elitism that is inherent in their arguments. The wealthy can afford to “feel good” about “happy chickens” raised on “family farms” while the poor are stuck with dollar menus featuring factory farmed horrors.

    Industrialized farming may be necessary to feed the world, however animal farming is not. And in fact, it is actually detrimental towards achieving that goal. See –

    The most egalitarian (and green) diet is, indeed, a vegan one. By contrast, eating animals products, is damaging to not only our earth and other people, but arrogantly assumes that other beings exist solely for our own personal pleasure.

    You mistakenly assume that being vegan is all about being “green.” While that is certainly one benefit, it is not the underlying rationale. Being vegan is about not harming others needlessly. It’s about recognizing that other animals are sentient subjects of their own lives; and our desire for their flesh and secretions does not trump their right to live free from human tyranny.

    “Might does not make right.”

    And finally, I find your accusation that veganism is all about “feeling virtuous” to be truly laughable. Do you “feel virtuous” every time you refrain from kicking a dog? From raping a woman? From stealing something that does not belong to you? Being vegan isn’t about being “virtuous” — it’s about a minimum standard of decency. It’s really the very LEAST we can do.

    • I am glad you agree with some of my critiques of the “locavore” movement, and your reply was thoughtful and well-reasoned.

      However, I must admit that I am philosophically a humanist, which you might say makes me a “speciesist.” But as a Marxist, my concern above all others is that of human freedom, and how that freedom might be achieved by overcoming capitalism. And with factory farming, you see, my concern would foremost be with the psychological trauma it inflicts on the poor workers who are forced into such degrading labor, not on the death of the animals.

      Our society involves the exploitation of animals, but it is not built on it. In other words, it is an accidental rather than an essential feature of capitalism. Our society is built on the exploitation of labor and the natural environment that is its object, providing raw materials and whatnot. Capital, as self-valorizing value, is the fundamental category of modernity, and it restricts human freedom as long as it remains the basis of our society.

      As an expression of human freedom I believe it is perfectly valid for you to choose a vegan diet. And I think that a post-capitalist society would necessarily involve much less brutality and suffering in general, and so the suffering of sentient animals would be drastically reduced. Certainly, needless cruelty would be abolished. But I do not think that would entail the abolition of all animal products in human society.

      Thank you for your comment.

      • It is folly to believe that we can separate human from nonhuman issues. They are, indeed, intricately intertwined. I would recommend viewing this brief presentation…

        …and reading the following works:

        The World Peace Diet – a study of the origins of capitalism, the herding-culture and how the oppression and domination of nonhuman animals manifests in human concerns and problems.

        Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust

        Also – you make the statement that you believe ideally, “needless cruelty [against animals] would be abolished.” When you do not need to eat animal foods to survive or thrive and you choose to do so only out of habit or pleasure, how is that anything but “needless”? We have the ability to stop “needless animal cruelty” at every meal simply by choosing a plant-based diet.

        Also, being vegan is not just a “personal choice” or an “expression of human freedom.” Just as rape or murder cannot be considered an expression of human freedom or personal choice. Our freedoms have limits. And when we’re talking about harming others for pleasure, that’s not just an innocent “choice” because there’s a victim involved.

      • Clearly the issues human and nonhuman animals are intertwined, just as human society and nature are intertwined. The category that is usually invoked by vegans as a criterion for why we should not exploit something is sentience, or a nervous system complex enough to sense pain. The argument usually is that any sentient being or pain-receptive being should not be infringed upon by human activity.

        As a Marxist, the fundamental category for me is human freedom. This must be distinguished from the animals’ “freedom” to act on their natural impulses. Blindly obeying their own instincts, they are “free” to frolick together, nuzzle each other, devour one another, or rape one another. However, we do not hold these animals accountable for rape, murder, or cannibalism. Why not? Because they are under the natural compulsion of instinct to behave in the way that they do. Is a mouse devoured by a cat a “victim”? If so, why does the cat not stand trial for his (or her) misdeeds?

        Human freedom is thus distinct from the kind of freedom talked about by animal liberationists. Human freedom is largely our ability to act free of external constraints, but also freedom from the compulsion of internal drives, vestiges of our animal nature which have been repressed by civilization (Freud). The fact that we are even able to carry on an ethical debate about the rightness or wrongness of eating meat is evidence of our difference from other animals. No other animal is capable of such discourse.

        So when I talk about the realization of freedom through history and the task of overcoming the totality of capitalism, I am talking about a kind of freedom that no other species can ever enjoy. (That is — unless evolution cooks up another being that can think systematically, use complex language, and understand the relationship of means to ends). It is a very specific kind of freedom, and the only constraint is that one cannot coerce anther person with such freedom into an action that they want no part of.

        Thus, as a Jew I find your equation of industrialized meat production with the Holocaust (or any other genocide for that matter), not only wrong, but morally perverse. I would imagine that most women would be just as appalled if you told them that eating meat was morally equivalent to rape.

        Obviously I find animal cruelty abhorrent, and am fully aware that the animals we choose to eat or keep as pets are determined by cultural convention, but prefigurative utopianism is pointless. I am an anti-capitalist, but I fully realize that I live in a capitalist society. So I have a bank account, and I’ve been a wage-slave in a number of different occupations. I accept reality while understanding the objective forces of history that might undo this reality. That is why I’m a Marxist.

      • Oh yes and, if you’d like to write a more thorough response to my critique of the Green movement, or of one aspect in particular, feel free to do so on your blog and I can link to it. Even-crosspost it if necessary.

        I’m actually curious as to what you think of the critique outside of the veganism bit. Your comments have been passionate but thoughtful so far.

      • I have to say that I’m disappointed in the unsophisticated arguments you make here — silly things like charging cats (who are obligate carnivores) with murder for killing mice. It seems irresponsible to go on such an all-out attack against veganism when you clearly don’t even begin to understand it. Please read The Case For Animal Rights by Tom Regan

        or An Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or Your Dog by Gary Francione

        Or, here’s a more basic FAQ that you might find helpful:

        If you are interested in “human freedom” as it relates to our “freedom from the compulsion of internal drives” then I would think an ethical position like veganism – which relies on the human ability to make moral decisions that are separate from biological instincts or cultural conditioning – would be very appealing to you.

        By the way, I am not comparing “industrialized meat production” to the Holocaust (or any other genocide), I am comparing the ideologies which allow a dominant group to feel superior to another group to such a degree that they feel entitled to enslave and kill them for their own selfish (and needless) desires. It’s more like comparing racism to speciesism. Please read the”About” section of my site if you are still confused.

        And again, I suggest reading Eternal Treblinka, or you can start with this essay by the same author:

        With regards to feminism, veganism is the highest form of it, in my view. Those who fight for women’s rights while participating in an egregious and unjust system that is built upon manipulating female animals and their reproductive systems are seriously misguided or ill-informed.

        Here are two interesting essays relating to animal rights and feminism:

        I’m glad, at least, that you find animal cruelty abhorrent. The point is, there is no way to raise and kill animals for human consumption without engaging in animal cruelty. And I’m not talking about instances of punching or kicking or setting animals on fire – although that happens, too. I’m talking about the routine and perfectly legal practices of grinding male chicks alive at birth, castrating and “de-horning” animals, separating (and often killing) babies from their mothers so that we might take their mother’s milk, boiling chickens alive, and so on and so on and son on….And of course, no matter how “well” an animal is treated, it is cruel to confine, use and kill another being just for pleasure — is it not?

        I’d be happy to continue a conversation with you…but please do take a little time to educate yourself more about animal rights and veganism first.

      • I’m pretty certain that I’m familiar with some vegan literature…mostly Peter Singer. And I dated a fairly informed vegan for about a year, so a lot of that whole ethos was passed onto me secondhand. Still, I guess I could do some brushing up on the subject, so I’ll follow your links down the rabbit-hole.

        By the way, what is your criterion for not harming another being? That the other being is quasi-sentient, or that it has a complex nervous system? Also, where do you come down on killing mosquitoes?

      • Ross, you mentioned that “the fundamental category for me is human freedom. This must be distinguished from the animals’ ‘freedom’ to act on their natural impulses.”

        What exactly is a human doing when they are consuming animal products? We don’t need them to survive. We are eating them because of an impulse.

        I also find your “carnivore on trial” example disappointing. The best response to it I’ve heard is from Niilo. Niilo said something like “If a person were on trial for rape/murder and this guilty person said, ‘But the animals do it!’ How would a judge/jury respond?”

        Also, why do I get the feeling you invited me here just to offend me? I refuse to let it work! I hope that you will read all of what has been suggested to you.

      • We are not eating them solely out of natural impulse, but more out of cultural convention passed down through history. Human evolutionary development only began in earnest with the switch to an omnivorous diet. This was passed on down through the history of civilization. So what I’m saying is that it’s more of a expression of cultural impulse than of natural impulse to eat meat.

        My point with the carnivore on trial was simply that we possess a kind of freedom that animals do not possess. We cannot pass judgment on an animal that killed or raped another one, because they lack free will. We CAN pass judgment on a man who would do either of those things, however, because he could have chosen not to.

        And I apologize if you were offended. My style of writing is kind of aggressive and provocative.

      • From those two paragraphs, I don’t get what you don’t get about veganism.

        I’m not offended. It seems like you want me to be. You wrote all of these cynical, bitter things about something I care very deeply about, and then searched for me, and invited me to read them. It’s adolescent. If I were someone fighting for women’s rights or civil rights, would you behave in the same way?

  7. Some typos but an overall great article, Ross.

    Read the article to yourself aloud, you’ll find the typos I’m referring to.

    The only one I copypasta’d was:

    “Many urban-agriculturalists are simply private individuals buy their own plots at outrageous prices inside the greater urban municipality, where it would dwarf the retail-value for the same acreage bought out on the countryside.”

    • Thanks. I’ll read over it again and try to smooth out the rough parts and clean up the mistakes.

      Also, if you’d like to recommend this article to any of your “Green” or vegan friends, I’d really appreciate it. I think it’s good food for thought to read a critique even if you don’t end up agreeing with it.

      • I agree, reading and even inviting critiques of your work is how the greatest works are made.

        Speaking to that, I will be writing a reply to this on my blog. Please feel free to comment.

      • Thank you for your input and I look forward to your response. As you say, I welcome criticism and dialogue. So I will even set up a link to your response on my own blog and look to comment on yours.

  8. I enjoyed this little piece. Yes, Bronwyn, others have tackled this theme; yet the problem persists. Does that mean we should all just stop talking about it? “You told me the house is on fire a few minutes ago. Stop repeating yourself.”

    The ultimate problem with the green movement is that until it goes fascist, it has zero (0) hope of achieving its aims. If it was as easy as everyone banding together to buy green hamburgers, it would have happened already.

    • Strangely, most of the Green movement doesn’t seem to be aware that their views on environmental sustainability, naturalism, and vegetarianism were largely inherited from Romantic nationalism from the 19th century, 20th-century mass movements like NSDAP and Romanian fascism, and turn-of-the-century vitalistic mysticism.

  9. After about the third generalization that I didn’t recognize in most of my friends and family, I decided that this was not worth my precious time. The only point you made that I read that I agreed with in my case is that there are many conservative ideals in the locavore movement – it is truly bipartisan.

    My mother’s family survived the Great Depression because they knew how to raise their own food. They didn’t have indoor plumbing or a telephone or electricity, but they ate well. I don’t really care if you think of me as an elitist. I’ll keep on doing what I do for my own reasons, and you go on criticizing people who are trying to make a difference in the world. We’ll never meet and we’ll both be fine with that.

  10. Interesting post, but I’m not too keen on humanity as a whole anyway. Humanity is a plague and has spread way too far. I’m against all of humanity as a whole and I don’t think anything we do is good for the whole unless it is directly supporting nature and nothing else. The Green movement is a hoax, because even though it does small things, it still wants to preserve the world the way it is now and not go back or forward to a world where we not only sustain nature, but enhance it.

    I don’t feel sorry for 95% of the world dying from anarcho-primitivism. To be honest, the Earth is far better off without us than with us, unless we learn to live in balance and reduce our population so far down that it would kill all but 500 million or less. The further we go out of balance, the harder it is to sustain. The system is going to crash eventually anyway, so there is no point in terrorism.

    The only answer I have for you is that to live like every other animal in the whole world is not crazy, but natural. I know that it seems like environmentalism or anarcho-primitivism won’t make much of a difference, but eventually it will because this society is going to collapse eventually and to deny or remain ignorant of that is to be ignorant of history. Every society collapses, and this one is going to be the biggest crash ever.

    Every belief system is like a lens you wear over your eyes. You can identify with one particular belief system, or you can identify with many. I prefer a multi-contextual approach myself, but I most closely identify with anarcho-primitivism and a few other belief systems because they make the most sense to me. BUt I’d rather not get caught up in labels, because that just implies, “Stop thinking.”

    I’m not going to try and convince you of anything, as that would be pointless. You have a right to think the way you do, but just think of all the exploitation in the world that you are contributing to by forcing your agenda. If you think slavery is okay, then there is something wrong with what you believe.

    • Thank you for your comment. I did not mean to offend any anarcho-primitivists in particular when I called their ideology “lunacy.” But as you will see, if you reread the last parts of my post, I’ve added several potential solutions from a Marxist perspective. They would be precisely what you suggested, “forward to a world where we not only sustain nature, but enhance it.”

  11. I actually ascribe to the “green” point of view out of a philosophy based on quality instead of quantity. Does this make me automatically elitist?
    And briefly, on the politics of population, as a woman I am hard-pressed to find other women who don’t appreciate the quality of life for both themselves and their children when birth control is an option.
    For women (especially MOTHERS) “green” is about a clean, healthy and toxin-free environment. “Green” politics for us would include access to clean drinking water, safe air and soil.
    Despite my general disagreement, I found your manifesto amusing and there’s always room on both ends of the spectrum for healthy debate on any topic, right? That said, I’m guessing your thoughts are the product of a liberal arts course of study at some private college. Hm.

    • Quantity is a minimal category. That is to say, it is the duty of society to produce a sufficient quantity of food to nourish everyone in the world. That is a minimum, and actually, production already exceeds that minimum. The present mode of social distribution is imbalanced, and so there are famines in some parts of the world, usually the poorer parts. Quality is a maximal category. Once the minimum quantity to feed everyone has been found, then the task of improving the quality of each product can begin. I believe this should be done at the highest industrial level, but not out of a drive to supervalue the produce as commodities, but to more efficiently enrich the lives of everyone through mass-production.

      Safe drinking water must thus be maximized, and the air and soil should be clean. But we should also seek to control the weather as best we can. I know it sounds insanely futuristic, but if someone was capable of inventing a weather machine capable of controlling the weather, why wouldn’t we use it? Periods of drought could be avoided, as well as flooding. Natural disasters could be averted, hurricanes destroyed in their infancy. So long as our manipulation of the weather wouldn’t unduly damage the conditions of organic life in any given region (and could perhaps even be used to help various species flourish), I would see no reason not to command natural forces as much as possible.

      My thoughts are the product not only of my official education, but actually are more inspired by a reading group and political organization that I joined.

      • A weather machine has already been invented. It’s called a tree. Clearing for broad acre small crop (grains, pulses) monocultures suitable for long term storage and transportation are therefore largely to blame for increased severity of many natural disasters, and also declines in water, air and soil quality.

        It’s also the very thing required to satisfy your low-labour industrialised production intended to feed the population. Not only is it ecologically disturbing, but productively inferior and unsustainable compared to diverse polycultures. They fail to utilise naturally evolved symbiotic and physical relationships. Look into the benefits of mycorrhizal fungi and bacteria, companion planting and avoiding light saturation, for example.

        These polycultures can be mechanised to an extent, but the most efficient models turn out to be small to medium in scale using more human labour, simpler technology, and catering to local markets. Not only because of reduced capital requirements, packaging and transport, but also because return of the minerals must occur in some way to maintain fertility. That is much more difficult to achieve if the food goes long distances to cities, and from there the minerals are flushed into the ocean.

        This approach addresses both the quantity and quality issues, and may cost less than the industrial equivalent product, laden with toxic residues and heavy metals. There are many operating and profitable examples of farms designed under these principles. They are not a step backward at all, and involve less tedious work and more enjoyable work because nature is doing much of it and waste is eliminated. They are also used to design for urban and suburban environments, there being much under-utilised space. Far from being an additional expense, even the poor use patches of wasted space to improve their lot. See Andrea Gaynor’s ‘Harvest of the Suburbs’ for a historical perspective. Indeed this type of local production was needed by Soviet citizens to produce some 90% of their needs, since the command and control systems failed to supply it.

        The incredibly inefficient and temporary Green Revolution that you rely on is based on limited natural resources shifted from one place to another, thereafter becoming a pollutant. It is facilitated by extraordinary amounts of concentrated energy, fossil fuels, which are also polluting and peaking in production. The soil is merely treated as a growing medium and degrades until it can no longer produce under that mode.

        I recommend you study permaculture and ideally take a permaculture design certificate. It will allow you to avoid these errors. Bill Mollison says “One of the great rules of design is do something basic right. Then everything gets much more right of itself. But if you do something basic wrong – if you make what I call a Type 1 Error – you can get nothing else right.”

      • Well, that trees are contributors to the global climate is an obvious and pedantic point. But I’m talking about a wholly artificial weather machine, where we can arbitrarily have it rain in places that need rain, give sunlight to places that need sunlight, etc. Also, if it were powerful enough, it could stop natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes and so on.

        For earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions, a weather machine would obviously have no influence, since these are seismic events, unrelated to the weather. What would be needed there is some sort of Jules Vernean clockwork, gigantic pins and gears mastering the shifting tectonic plates and harnessing their energy. Sounds like science fiction, and it is…but submarines were also science fiction when Verne wrote about them.

  12. Quite thought provoking and interesting and I appreciate your inviting me to read your blog. Would you expound more on what you mean by renaturalization of humanity, or, inversely, the humanization (or socialization) of nature beyond your blog please and thank you? I’d like to read more of where you are headed as you develop your thoughts also.

    • Thank you for your words of appreciation. I believe I can perhaps elaborate on it a bit, though as I will repeatedly insist, it cannot be anything more than utopian speculation at this point. That’s why I prefer to critique what exists, rather than speculate on exactly what the future state of things will look like. But I have some ideas.

  13. Parts of Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts from 1844 have bearing on environmental and ecological questions, e.g., “Rent of Land”
    I have found this worth reading over.

    A couple of things you did not mention that seem relevant to me in any Leftist critique of the Green movement.

    First, the Green movement in the U.S. has been dominated by the white middle class. In late capitalism in the U.S., racial divisions have often served to keep whites and people of color from forming political alliances that could result in real and radical political change. You can see the racial divide in environmentalism by looking at the concerns of white environmentalists vs. the environmental concerns of communities of color. Middle class white people think environmentalism involves organic food, installing solar panels on their suburban homes, etc. By contrast, communities of color are more likely to be active in movements like reducing environmental toxins and food security. You can find a similar split between middle-class whites, and working class or poor rural whites — while middle class whites try to promote wind turbines, poor whites are taking on hilltopping — middle class whites eat vegan, poor rural whites are fighting the pollution from CAFOs that are being located in their watersheds. In short, communities of color and poor and working class whites are more likely to take on environmental issues that directly challenge late capitalism.

    Second, some ecofeminists have mounted a serious critique of capitalism that should be taken seriously by all Leftists. These ecofeminists are challenging capitalism based on a critique of the way it exploits both humans and other organisms, and at their most radical are calling for completely replacing capitalism with a different economic order. Indeed, many ecofeminists would argue that a distinction between humanity and “nature” is a false distinction — this is a path that various Marxist thinkers have gone down over the years, and some Marxists would argue that this kind of thinking is especially evident in Marx’s early works, and remains present in everything he writes although it is obscured in the later works by his growing emphasis on the problems of industrial capitalism.

    Thus I am not willing to completely discard the entire Green movement. While it is easy to dismiss the concerns of white middle and upper-middle class white environmentalists, from a Leftist vantage point it seems unwise to dismiss the concerns of other communities that are mounting a direct challenge to late capitalism. I’m willing to ignore upper-middle class vegans, but I’m not going to ignore poor rural white folk who directly challenge agribusinesses that try to plunk CAFOs down in isolated communities where the businesses think they can operate with impunity.

    My $.02 worth.

    • Thank you for your comment and thoughtful observations. You definitely have a point about the environmental challenges faced by different classes and how this may account for the different priorities many in the Green movement. It is unfair to treat the Green movement as a homogeneous mass, and while I did try to differentiate between some of the different elements within it, clearly I left some important distinctions out.

      It’s unfair of me to expect you to have read the previous three parts of this series, and I feel a bit awkward referring you to my own previous work on the subject, but I did deal with the early Marx’s account of man’s alienation from nature in a previous post. Likewise, I dealt with the attempted deconstruction of the structuralist nature/culture and man/nature distinction in the post that succeeded the one I just linked above.

      I agree that there are some strains of the Green ideology that could be integrated into a greater Marxist movement, stressing the anti-capitalist elements of their thought and showing them how a proper reconciliation with nature is only achievable in a post-capitalist society.

  14. Your article shows that you do a lot of thinking about the issue, which is a lot more than many people. While I could go through it all and tell you what I agree and disagree with, instead I will just say this. I don’t like that these movements are developing labels that seem to put each other on sides. Be a vegan, a locavore, a marxist, whatever you want, but there has to be a central agreement that binds us together. Otherwise, we’ll be our own downfall. The way we approach each other is important. Name calling and using absolute terms to describe people is not helping the greater good. I am a vegetarian and soon to be vegan and I believe that is my personal choice. And I do not believe people should stop eating meat. I just think there is a proper way to do it. I think people should be conscious and know where our food comes from and how it gets to your table. Make informed decisions. It’s complacency that bothers me most. I hope a common ground for all people is humane and healthy food. That means a drastic reform of factory farms across the board! Plus, no one needs as much meat and food as we eat! We’re not bears!

    • No matter how “humanely” animal products are produced, all of the animals were exploited to create them. There is no humane way to enslave and kill someone. All animal products are unnecessary and therefore inhumane. Factory farms are the only way to produce as much animal food needed to feed everyone who wants animal products. This will only become more true as the population continues to grow. If everyone who was vegan focuses on creative, nonviolent vegan education, people could more quickly and clearly learn that animal products aren’t need to be alive and healthy. This knowledge would help people’s health, repair the planet, and save the animals.
      Anyone who has ever been to a “humane” farm of any kind says nothing other than how terrible these farms are. For just one such example, give this a read:

  15. This makes me wonder why we all can’t just get along. Thank you for sharing your viewpoint. Much of it makes sense to me as I am often found guilty as charged by the new *green* movement passing judgment on what I eat, buy or wear. They can be very pushy and are not often nice about it. And, like you, I have found that some of the self proclaimed Greenies are total frauds. So where does that leave us?


      Sorry, I just blurted that out. But no, thanks for your comment, by the way, and I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who was seeing these things.

  16. Hi Ross,
    Thanks for visiting my little blog. I did enjoy your response and I truly believe that opinions are like ass holes, everyone has one. Where would we be if our ideas and opinions weren’t tested? I can only answer for me. I do care where my food comes from, what it ingests, how it is kept. As an ICU nurse I see patients every day who spend way too many meals in Mc Donalds and are paying for it. I don’t intend to move to a commune. I care about what I eat. I am not a vegan. I like meat. I know what the good ole’ days were. Hard work,a short lifespan, poor with no way out. Thank God times have changed. For the better? I’m not quite sure. I don’t want to debate the rise of Monsanto. Genetically enginered products. I have raised 5 children, worked all of my life and now I want to live how I want. I still work so I can afford to pay that wonderful organic farmer to produce my vegetables so that I don’t have to. I hope you come by and visit again. I truly enjoy your intelligence and writing capabilities. You are a pleasure and I just bet you love the rise you get out of folks. More power to you. Have a great day and please stop by again. Take care.

  17. “fetishization of small local farms” Ha! Zing!

    As for population issues… If the population of any living thing on any piece of land is too high for that land to support, it’s not sustainable. That’s why cities have to conquer other lands, I think.

    “…end starvation forever.” For me, the question isn’t, Can we produce enough food to feed everyone in the world? but rather, What human population can the Earth support, while maintaining maximum biodiversity?

    Veganism: I’ve been vegan for over ten years, and I’ll probably keep at it until I am dead, but I sure as hell don’t trick myself into thinking that I’m doing some wonderful thing for the Earth by eating a certain way and not buying leather. Changing our little consumption habits (buying the “green” toilet paper, recycling my Dr. Pepper can), doesn’t help us move away from a culture of industrial growth… which is what is killing the Earth. Also, I don’t make a big deal out of my veganism. It sounds like you’ve met some vegan jerks!

    anagogic: I had to look this word up!

    You use the phrase “self-styled radicals” in your discussion of anarchists/primitivists. Why? If they sincerely hold the critique they espouse, I’d say they are just plain radical! Also, not all green anarchists and primitivists are young. And even if they ARE all young, who cares? That doesn’t make their critiques/actions any more or less valid/effective.

    Also, I wonder if green anarchism and/or primitivism can properly be lumped in with traditional anarchism. In my readings, anarchism has historically been a political and working-class movement. Green anarchy and primitivism seems to have more of an allegiance to the living Earth and indigenous struggles than it does to any class. It might be better to just lump it in as an anti-authoritarian movement… start using the phrase Green Resistance Movement (

    “They might go out of their way to get arrested (in order to wear that fact as a badge of honor), but their anarchism extends no further than that.” I don’t know dude… There are some militant fucking anarchists out there! And in jail!

    As for the collapse and Zerzan… I’m not sure we can just write it off like that… If a culture does not give back to the land as much as it takes out, how can it be sustainable? And if it’s not sustainable, how much more of the Earth do we need to let it destroy before we start working to bring about its collapse, so that there is more natural world left after the collapse? I’ve not read too much Zerzan (I think he romanticizes indigenous people a bit, and the way he writes reminds me too much of the stuff I read in grad school). Jensen, however, offers (what I consider) a very realistic and heart-opening radical critique of civilization. He avoids advocating a “return” to pre-civilization. In fact, I think he says somewhere that he doesn’t know WHAT society will look like after the collapse. It will probably be different all over the Earth.

    “…worldwide revolution — the fundamental transformation of existing social relations.” HELLS YEAH BRO! I would add that wilderness (plants, animals, soils, air, mountains, prairies, shorelines, insect, clouds, stars, pebbles, gorges, canyons, hills, caves, flowers) must be included in these social relations. Perhaps this is where deep ecology fits in?

    As for the “Literature and Revolution” quote… Uh… Rules for the oceans? Good luck with that, Mr. Trotskii. And I don’t think rebuilding the Earth according to the “tastes” of some state or revolution or whatever sounds like a very good idea. The Earth seems to be working very well with its mountains where they are. This does not sound like a vision for sustainability. And I find the faith in technology hubristic.

    Anyway, nice essay! You’re smarter than me!

    All the best,

    PS: I find the small grey text on a black background very difficult to read. My blog used to be like this, too, and when I changed it to its current format, the response was positive. Just a thought!

    • Thanks for your thoughtful insights and frankly hilarious side-commentary. You raise a lot of important points in your comment.

      I’m glad you aren’t as delusional as a lot of vegans are about their dietary ethic. It’s a lifestyle choice, but there’s nothing “political” about it. So props to you for being self-aware enough to recognize the limitations of your personal choices.

      Anyway, I think you’re right that I failed to distinguish enough between the “self-styled radicals” and the true believers. Nearly all anarcho-primitivists, I would say are true believers. To embrace an ideology like that requires so much nihilistic insanity that it’s almost pointless to argue with them.

      I’ve read a lot of Zerzan, and it’s always just a very opportunistic regurgitation of watered-down concepts from Hegel, Marx, Kropotkin, and the Frankfurt School. His writing is embarrassingly bad…at least to anyone who possesses any intelligence whatsoever. And I’d agree that he romanticizes the “indigenous.” I’m almost of a mind that “the indigenous” as such does not exist. The people who live in any given part of the world are probably the descendants of a group of people who geographically displaced other “indigenous” peoples. To fetishize the indigenous, as if they have some sort of earthy, homespun wisdom, or more organic relationship to nature with their dream-catchers and ritual dances — this is an insult to both the people labeled thus and the anthropologists who apply it to them.

      I would add that wilderness (plants, animals, soils, air, mountains, prairies, shorelines, insect, clouds, stars, pebbles, gorges, canyons, hills, caves, flowers) must be included in these social relations.

      I agree. Nature and human society must each be “sublated” — to use Hegel’s phrase. The rebuilding of the earth means the rebuilding of man. Both humanity and nature will be fundamentally transformed.

      I find the faith in technology [Trotskii’s] hubristic.

      Well, I’d agree that we’re a long way from being able to lay down rules for the ocean, but humanity has been able to shear off the side of mountains and create artificial lakes for a while now. The goal may be a long way down the road, but the humanity’s total command over nature should be ultimate aim.

      Yeah, and sorry about the colors of the text and background. I just think it looks good with the theme and pictures.

  18. Pingback: Man and Nature, Part IV: A Radical Critique of the “Green” Environmental Movement « Anti-National Translation

  19. The anti-Semitic/crypto-fascist overtones you seem to think are in the first paragraph of section one are not at all obvious to me, and everyone I know that supports organic or locally grown foods are not doing so out of nostalgia or to combat big business, but because it’s less harsh on the environment and reduces emissions, but of course that’s all bullshit and pointless isn’t it? Why do anything at all if you can’t fix everything at once and keep your old habits at the same time. Mate, I don’t think this comprises a decent argument at all, I think you’re a sophist who’s done a little bit of research, but not quite enough. It looks to me like you’re essentially attacking straw men. Also, I agree with the above sentiments – not all vegans are jerks and not all vegans think they’re saving the planet. Some of them aren’t even in it for environmental reasons.

  20. Any article on green politics that does not acknowledge ecosocialism is unlikely to be of interest to those of us who are red and green.

    Some fair points but fossil fuel based agriculture is looking increasingly unrealistic.

    You need also to engage with the splendid green strands in Marx and Engels and the ecosocialist sentiments of Latin American left leaders from Castro to Morales!

    • There is a basic contradiction between the vision of the future presented by Marxism and that of the Green movement. For Marx, a post-capitalist society would be one of material superabundance, and would be based upon society’s total mastery over nature. For the Green movement, society must built on the principle of material scarcity, and could be maintained only by abstentionism. The one and only concept that the Green movement has offered that is salvageable is the concept of sustainability, sustainable production, so that society’s exploitation of nature can be maintained without the fear of a acute environmental collapse. But for society’s sake, not for nature’s.

      Castro is no Marxist. He is the Bonapartist ruler of a backwater authoritarian hellhole.

  21. Greetings Ross –

    You have spent a lot of time on your critique. I applaud you for this treatise. Alas, I only had time and interest to scan a few of your points. I admit that my (eco) politics are a mixture of sustainability consultancy, a swim in pagan things, 30 years with (deep!) ecology, urban planning, online community building and the rest of it! Now, and I hear you cringe, a new alchemy / mythology for a sacred in permaculture has my heart. You can read this POV on and my extended network.

    I would challenge you in this way: what is sacred to you?

    Without a functioning passage and active sacred, all of the leftist – rightist – Marxist – Bushist – Greeny propagandizing can only lead to the extinction of humans. A dire lack of the sacred is the real crisis.

    Your thoughts?


    Willi Paul: Publisher, Consultant, Magazine &
    415-407-4688 | scompub at
    Posts Portfolio:
    @planetshifter @openmythsource

    • The problem, Willi Paul, is that you live in the modern era, where the disenchantment of nature has long since been achieved. Objects that were once shrouded in magic and mystery have been reduced to mere matter in motion. In modernity, “the sacred grove,” writes Hegel, “is reduced to timber.”

      The attempted re-enchantment of nature by appealing to dead religions, trying to conjure up the ghosts and phantoms of past paganisms, dates back to the 19th and early twentieth-century. Back then, however, this sort of revivalism was usually reserved to the wealthy elites — practiced by intellectuals and eccentrics. After the Second World War, these various spiritualist and esoteric currents congealed and were thus transformed into a popular commodity: New Age. In its vulgarized form, this desire to restore a sense of the sacred is as perverse as it is necrophiliac.

      Only abstract values can be held sacred today, not objects or totems or spirits. What is sacred to me, then? Uncompromising intellectual honesty. That means that nothing can be held sacred enough that it is above critique, as ineffable or unquestionable.

      My interests are in history, architecture, urban planning, and Marxism. I have hobbies, as well, but I do not delude myself into thinking they’re any more than that. I want to imagine a better society built out of the historical forces that presently obtain, and do my part to bring it into existence.

      What do you think? I will check out your websites.

      • Ross – I’ll go another round! Some darts for your board….

        Edit: I live in the modern era, where my disenchantment with materialism, greed, corporate war making and capitalism in general has long since been achieved.

        No. Nature has absolutely NOT been reduced to just deck chairs and home timbers.

        And nope. Magic and mystery remain as dynamic and positive a force for many moving forward.

        Wrong, Ross. My work is focused in permaculture and the sacred. Not in a past that many are using as an excuse to not reinvent the future.

        Nor aware of any New Age here, Ross. Except for some bad music in the 70’s?! Beware of label throwers.

        Sacred IS NOT an object. Please get me on this point… that’s just a doppy dodge.

        Agreed – the sacred must be “critiquable.”

        If you want to barter, as a fellow intellectual and eccentric!, then is here my offer:

        I will publish your complete article in magazine and my network in exchange for an interview driven by you and posted on your blog – then reposted on my media.

        What do you think?



  22. Your comment on Cuba again goes back to method.

    Castro is no Marxist. He is the Bonapartist ruler of a backwater authoritarian hellhole. Is that how you would talk to a Cuban leftist?

    There is no statement defending the nationalizations, or a statement against Florida gusanos.

    You need to defend the gains of the Cuban revolution.

    Cuba is a poor country. A tropical island will never be a socialist or a capitalist paradise.

    The fate of Cuba is tied to Venezuela. If Venezuela falls, Castro is done.

    You raise positive demands. No Chinese model. Get rid of the dual economy. Spread the revolution to other countries.

    The IMT’s supporters there, got some of Trotsky’s writings available there.

    I don’t really know what Green Socialism means.

    • You’re right that it would probably just insult and alienate a Cuban leftist. But I am uncompromisingly critical, and am hesitant to lend my support to any positive program unless I think that there is a truly revolutionary opportunity before us.

      I’m actually much more optimistic about the Arab Revolution taking place in the last couple months than I am about many of the Latin American movements which have been stagnating or degenerating for years.

      But I think our styles complement each other well, Ren. You are calm, succinct, and offer positive demands. I am polemical, a bit word-happy, and extremely critical. It works.

      I’m with you on ecosocialism, too. I have no idea what that means.

  23. Greetings Ross,

    you asked me to comment on this piece. First I suggest you read my post “the local movement compromised”

    Personally I don’t think the “green movement issue” is too important, because the individual is where “it’s” at… when we look at a “movements” we are generalizing, we are not seeing the individual and the hearts behind the individuals. More importantly we must focus our energy on informing ourselves of the roots and history of ecology and ethical economy which are inseparable. A book I would recommend is Hinduism and Ecology by Ranchor Prime – also I recommend learning Permaculture from an experienced teachers. We must tread carefully on how much energy we put into criticism, our energy is our power… How to invest it?? Peace to you, VT4Evolution

  24. Why did you leave this link on my blog post that has basically nothing to do with your blog? (Ironically, my other blog actually has posts that are relevant to this issue.) I’m marking your comment as spam.

    Just because my post mentions the word “vegan” or “freegan,” you shouldn’t spam it with your link–try reading the post/blog first to get a sense of the overall context.

    • Well, go ahead and mark it as spam if you’d like, but I’d still be interested in your opinion. Since you’ve blogged about things that are relevant to this issue, your input would be especially valuable. Plus, I think you might actually find it interesting.

  25. Because, greengeekgirl, he’s a “philosopher” who’s desparetely self-promoting. He also linked this long-winded manifesto on my blog, just because I mentioned a Permaculture class that was happening in Brooklyn. Only, instead of spamming him, I chose to leave it up and gave him a public spanking. It’s ridiculous to google keywords just so you can argue with people who have different opinions/lifestyles than your own. I have no problem with you starting a debate on your own turf, but trying to instigate people in their front yards just so you can get blog hits is pathetic.

    And also, just an FYI on what Permaculture actually is: It’s not an elitist, smug attempt to recreate the past…in fact the basic belief is Care of People, Care of Planet, Return of Surplus to Both. I don’t see anything elite, smug or outdated there at all. It’s bad enough that you think random people should care what you think, but don’t think the fact that your vocab is impressive will hide the fact that you didn’t actually research what you’re arguing against.

  26. I can tell that you feel a lot of passion in your critique and examination of the various movements and idealistic groups. That is why I must tell you the truth: Your posting on my blog post of a Zucchini Soup recipe smelled like SPAM. I saw you had simply copied and pasted a request for critic and feedback on my friend’s blog as well, that post being relevant to this one. So, while you did achieve another visitor reading your post, I must caution you to chose more wisely and thoughtfully when eliciting new readers. Again, I can see you have so much passion and desire to create a dialog, but want to encourage you to find it more thoughtfully.

    Best – a Mom simply trying to do the best she can with what she has.

  27. Pingback: What is the opposite of green? « The Slowvelder

  28. I haven’t read Marx or Engels in a very long time, so I don’t feel qualified to comment on the analytical structure you employ.

    A couple random comments.

    You’re picking some very easy targets here: locavores, greens, vegans. That said, I think your critique of them is accurate. The racist, classist, romantic underpinnings couldn’t be clearer. You’re good to bring them forward.

    For me, what’s happening in this historical moment is that capitalism as an ideology is finally going bankrupt, allowing us to see clearly what we’ve bought into. Bottom line is that as an economic model, it’s not sustainable, built as it is on the exploitation of the earth and of human beings. The earth’s resources are running low, and, at least in the US we are seeing the beginning of the end of capitalism’s socioeconomic effects: power and wealth wielded by the very few, with crumbs left for the vast majority.

    I’d love to see this lead to some sort of revolution, but I don’t see Americans’ eyes being opened any time soon. We’ve been narcotized by a consumption-based culture. There’s not much political will to get off our couches and rebel.

    The number one issue of our time is global warming and its effects on climate and societies. I’m one of those screamers who thinks climate change is already here and its disastrous consequences already locked in for the next fifty years. With exponentially worsening effects since we humans are doing precious little to change the trajectory.

    Locavorism, various flavors of green behavior, veganism and the like, are only relevant to the extent they are rooted in the much bigger context of reducing fossil fuel use. Without a clear-eyed understanding of that bigger picture, and what it will take to turn human behavior onto a more sustainable path, those little movements are just as smug and elitist as you paint them, without deeper meaning or effect.

    Sadly, I just don’t see any political will anywhere, let alone on the required massive scale, to make change. Capitalism and its exploitation may be wheezing, but it will take massive crisis and catastrophe before we become willing to consider a new economic basis. I have a sinking feeling that climate-related catastrophes will be what it takes, but by then it may be impossible to stop what we’ve put into motion.

  29. Pingback: Green Bubble | Free Farm Stand

  30. Politics. We think it is so important. Watch a beloved child die in front of you and then see where you at in your views of the world.

  31. Yeah, you commented my blog but I’m pretty sure I have better things to do than read you undermining my lifestyle word by word. In incredibly stereotypical terms…maybe I’ll get to it at some point but I don’t have the energy today, must be used for POSITIVE change not negative critiques. I’ve questioned my beliefs in and out and am quite happy with where I am today.

  32. I first want to say that spamming other bloggers to bring in readers is probably not the best way to snag followers. Especially when the blogs you are spamming are written by the “greenies” who you have so many problems with.

    Having said that, it did bring me to your blog and I did read what you had to say. Ultimately, I can say that I probably know people who fall into each of your generalizations but they tend to be a tiny minority. I think a lot of your critiques are well expressed but perhaps misdirected. Rather than use these assertions to attack the fundamental beliefs of a large, LARGE, group of people, why don’t you use them as a counterpoint to highlight the positives AND negatives of this (in fact any) movement?

    My greatest issue is naturally the one I felt was most directed at myself (not personally, of course, by at my lifestyle). You write about these do-gooder, back-to-the-land types who romanticize agrarianism and want to revert to a pre-WWII societal structure, all the while ignoring the vast repercussions that such a change would actually have on the world population. You label them elitist, racist, and, generally, naive of the world. You sneer at their hopes that the world might actually be remade into a gentler place.

    I won’t deny that there are those people. But if you base your critiques on those people, you only out YOURSELF as the truly naive one. Speaking for myself, my time as an “urbanite” was the part of my life that I had romanticized while growing up on a farm. Not because I hated my life on the farm, but because I dreamed of the cultural delights that could be found in a city: art, theater, book shops on every corner, restaurants that served food from all over the world. When I actually moved to the “big city” (several different ones, actually), I came to understand that the things I wanted weren’t as attractive as I had always hoped, mostly because it really did feel elitist and hollow. This “abundance” didn’t appeal to me anymore, it only left me missing the things I’d left behind.

    Running a farm and advocating for small farms and local food has brought back my true joy in life. I would much rather spend all day up to my knees in compost than return to the squeaky clean offices I inhabited in the city. And I’ll take a local community theater production over $100 nosebleed seats any day. I know that my personal actions aren’t changing the world. But I will never stop believing that I’m part of something larger than CAN change the world.

    To stray from my personal story, your critiques also rather bothered me as an Anthropologist (yes, some of us backward country-folk have advanced degrees in social sciences too). Other than my personal desire to live this life, my time spent as a research Anthropologist in various cultures has reenforced my beliefs. Culturally, as a small farmer, I have more varied social interaction than I EVER did living in the city. I come into contact with people of all races and classes. I have wealthy, white customers standing in line chatting with black and Latino customers who technically live under the poverty line. They are buying the same foods. Here’s a little secret: Most farmer’s markets accept food stamps. Most small farmers are also more than thrilled to find some way to help offset the cost of things to help struggling families. That might come in the form of trading a few hours of help in the garden for fresh produce to trading food for skills that a particular person has to donating unsold goods to local food banks. That was why bartering worked so well for so long: I might have skills that someone else doesn’t, but I can’t do everything.

    You also point to this issue of feeding the world and how we have actually grown more food than is necessary. This is an example of a misleading truth. We have grown enough CALORIES to maintain the world’s population. But calories certainly shouldn’t be the measure of success here. A) Anyone who suggests that it is enough to meet the caloric needs of the world’s poor- which almost always consists of a gruel made from corn or soy (used by aid workers in cases of famine for emergency treatment only)- should try living on that for an entire year and then see how they feel AND B) there can be NO ARGUMENT MADE that we are feeding the world’s poor through Big Ag when children are starving all over the world and corporations are still making AND SELLING Doritos. Calories have become a commodity rather than a necessary resource.

    Local food systems work to redress that problem. Nations that rely on other nations to provide their food, even through trade, are instantly enslaved to those nations. Being able to feed oneself and one’s community should be the most important thing. Goods that come from Western countries (most notably the USA) are so heavily subsidized that they destroy local economies when they are introduced. This doesn’t actually benefit anyone but those who control the companies that make and distribute those goods.

    I don’t argue this from some distant, elitist, anti-Capitalist point but from being in the very middle of it, from living it. I worked as a Social Sustainability aid with a farmer’s cooperative in Jamaica for a time. They were attempting to RECREATE the agricultural communities that had existed before the IMF forced Jamaica to open her borders to foreign imports in 1977. The imports that where coming into the country weren’t cheaper because growing things in Jamaica is expensive. They were cheaper because the United States provides so many subsidies to farmers so that big corporations can buy the raw materials cheaply enough to make mass produced goods seem so affordable. They then send these into Jamaica with no import tariffs because that was another condition of the IMF. This is not Capitalism working to encourage hard work and innovation, it’s imperialism in sheep’s clothing.

    I guess I share your tendency to be long-winded, a leftover aspect of scholarly writing I believe. What I really should say is that I encourage you to actually get into the middle of your subject if you wish to actually understand it from a practical and not purely theoretical perspective. I think you will find that people are much more genuine in what they are doing and striving for than you give them credit for. Regardless, nothing you can theorize will shake me in my contentment with the life I’m living.

    I know the people for whom I am making a difference. Can you say the same?

    • Thank you for your thoughtful and passionate response. I am sorry if I offended you, or if my criticisms hit a little too close to home.

      You write about these do-gooder, back-to-the-land types who romanticize agrarianism and want to revert to a pre-WWII societal structure, all the while ignoring the vast repercussions that such a change would actually have on the world population. You label them elitist, racist, and, generally, naive of the world. You sneer at their hopes that the world might actually be remade into a gentler place.

      I hope you think me not uncouth, but I sneer at their hopes because 1) you can’t turn back the clock like that, and 2) because even if you could, the quaint rustic farm communities they remember were never that great to begin with. H.L. Mencken’s extended quote about the farmers and their idiocies (written in the 1920s) should put to rest any romanticized notion of “the honest farmer.”

      The small farmer of today might still hold some charm for a few customers, and it might even in some cases be practical to buy their goods. But the small farm has increasingly been replaced by large-scale factory farming for a reason: it’s vastly more efficient in terms of its yield. Even many of the small farms that still appear to be family-owned are just subsidiaries of Monsanto et al. And no, it’s not just in the form of government subsidies to big agro-business. In fact, if you were arguing for that, you’d be arguing for a “more level playing field,” i.e. free-market capitalism, without state intervention.

      You misread my point about the fact that we produce enough food to feed the entire world. The punchline there is that we COULD, but we DON’T. Capitalism gave us the technologies and tools so that we COULD, but its logic does not include a just system of distribution. We need socialism (or some form of postcapitalist society) to finally DO what capitalism DIDN’T.

      I find the emphasis on practice over theory to be generally anti-intellectual. The message there is, “Don’t think, just do.” Or they’ll say, “I don’t want to get bogged down in the PARALYSIS OF ANALYSIS.” I mean, if you’re happy with your chosen lifestyle and the good conscience that you’ve been the benefactor of so many people, that’s fine. I just tend to find that way of thinking ethically narcissistic and politically useless, and thus ideological.

      • I don’t want to get into a long, drawn out back and forth since we probably are never going to see eye-to-eye on this, but I did want to address a few things.

        As for turning back the clock, you are right, it can’t be done. Luckily that isn’t what’s needed to actually affect change. I see absolutely no point in dashing all of modern technology and society against the rocks in some attempt to remake the world. We simple need to use the knowledge of the past that we’ve been ignoring to help us have a more critical eye on the present and future. I might personally want to live without many modern conveniences, but I don’t expect anyone else to if they don’t want to. And there are some things I could never give up- I can live without a cellphone but not without the internet. I can live without an SUV but not without a tractor. That’s just my life.

        I think you are most misinformed about farmers. Claiming “the quaint rustic farm communities they remember were never that great to begin with. H.L. Mencken’s extended quote about the farmers and their idiocies (written in the 1920s) should put to rest any romanticized notion of ‘the honest farmer.'” All that tells me is the Mencken had a negative view of farmers. Just because he was writing in the 1920s doesn’t make him the fount of all knowledge. Now who’s romanticizing the past? Farmers are people just like everyone else and are therefore prone to human foibles. I would never say that all farmers are perfect images of the upstanding citizen, but I certainly can’t agree with Mencken’s thoughts. But, perhaps most importantly, Mencken was writing about people who are dead and gone, not a single individual who is farming today. His words hold no bearing on today’s farming movement, if they ever held any at all.

        You really, really need to read up on your agricultural history and economics. The ONLY WAY that Big Ag works is by subsidies. I am not trying to mislead you here, I’m being perfectly honest. There isn’t a single farmer who grows corn or soy who can actually survive on the money from the sale of his crop. They rely 100% on government subsidies to get by. And the move to megafarms and Big Ag was not an organic one: it was a policy decision handed down by the Department of Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz in the 1970s. Perhaps Butz had the best of intentions, but what he created was an incredibly tenuous situation. Farmers who embrace multicropping are insulating themselves from bad seasons since the loss of one crop doesn’t mean financial ruin. But monocroppers, Big Ag in general, must rely on the subsidies because they can’t rely on any other crop to back them up.

        I do and will continue to argue for a level playing field, free market system. I operate my farm with no government subsidies or assistance, just like all other small farms. But to accomplish such a thing would in fact mean the end of Big Ag, simply because they cannot survive without the subsidies. It’s just a fact.

        Please don’t be pedantic and suggest that I was encouraging you “Don’t think, just do.” Theory is only worth so much if you never see it in practice. It becomes hollow and pointless when it is merely ideological. I learned that from reading socialist tracks, so I assumed you would identify with such a sentiment. Anyhow, I was simply encouraging you to get out and actually meet some farmers, of all kinds, and test your theories out against the flesh of the movement. I think you might be surprised to find a lot of fellow fans of Marx and Engels amongst them.

      • I am glad you acknowledge the benefits afforded to us by modern society and the technologies it’s produced. We cannot do without a knowledge of the past, too, I agree. The reason I place such faith in Mencken is that his judgments and criticisms were always so dead on. The role he played in the Scopes Monkey Trial was an heroic one.

        My support of megafarms has less to do with their ethics or even their ability to survive independently of government subsidies. It’s more that the massive industrialization of the agricultural process is necessary for the achievement of a post-capitalist society. Perhaps it could be maintained by a farmer’s cooperative of many farmers operating the industrial apparati that would be formed, but the small family farm is (and deserves to be) a thing of the past. Perhaps in underdeveloped countries, where the means of production have not sufficiently matured, it is still a viable mode of food production. But in the first world, the small farm is an historical anachronism, kept alive today only by nostalgia and ideology.

        As for the question of praxis, Marx’s 11th thesis on Feuerbach does indeed say that the point is not just to describe the world, but to change it. However, we do not live in a revolutionary moment, except on the peripheries of capitalism, which are slowly being drawn into its world system. Before the world can be changed, a strong international Left must be politically reconstituted, and a generally progressive anti-capitalist consciousness must grip the masses. All this in the most advanced capitalist countries, too. Marx preached revolution in the heart of capitalism, in the places where the social process had most matured. Not, as many Maoists and Third Worldists think, in the backwards and underdeveloped periphery.

        Anyway, I’m glad that you have found inspiration in the words of Marx and Engels, and that they have other fans amongst these farmers you mention. But I would think that they would want to heed the words of Marx and Engels and escape what they called “the idiocy of rural life” and the “outmoded system of home production.”

        Thank you again for your comment.

  33. you have a very good blog and you raise some important issues from a razor-sharp perspective. i am impressed with your work and i hope you continue to raise issues about social justice.

  34. For some reason I’m unable to reply to this directly, but here it is.

    Well, that trees are contributors to the global climate is an obvious and pedantic point. But I’m talking about a wholly artificial weather machine, where we can arbitrarily have it rain in places that need rain, give sunlight to places that need sunlight, etc. Also, if it were powerful enough, it could stop natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes and so on.

    Perhaps you think I meant trees affect climate by absorbing carbon dioxide. What I meant is: they can create rain, break damaging winds, moderate temperature, humidify air, catch snow, divert frost, filter, block or reflect sunlight, stop fires, and clean the air, soil and water. They can even dampen and prevent damage from tsunamis and provide shelter during cyclones.

    They don’t need to be directly controlled by humans to be effective. They are mostly self-propagating and self-maintaining. You can catch rain using earth works, let it passively irrigate and drought proof the land. All that’s needed is to stop clearing them and plant them where they can do their job.

  35. Superficial. Somewhat interesting. Suspect you could do better with less of your own posturing in the way. Mencken quote was too long, not sure why it was included at all?

    Re: “most of the Green movement doesn’t seem to be aware that their views on environmental sustainability, naturalism, and vegetarianism were largely inherited from Romantic nationalism from the 19th century, 20th-century mass movements like NSDAP and Romanian fascism, and turn-of-the-century vitalistic mysticism.”
    Would like you to expand (in detail, for the ahistoric among us) on this, also would be more persuasive than name calling, which really drags down your work and leaves a lasting impression (that you have weak arguments and possibly know it and don’t like it).

    Re: “If someone was capable of inventing a weather machine capable of controlling the weather, why wouldn’t we use it?”
    I believe that there are few around and in use!

    Re: Text/background colour.
    I agree it’s hard to read. The font inside the ‘Leave a Reply’ box is very attractive though. What is it?

    Re: “Humanity’s total command over nature”… “a post-capitalist society would be one of material superabundance, and would be based upon society’s total mastery over nature”.
    This is so far-out crazy it seems silly to negotiate with. I think of this like you think of ecofeminist-vegan-primitivist ideas! Hubris is an understatement. But also, interesting comparison about superabundance vs. scarcity. It’s a nice idea that we might wave wands around and rabbits will come out of the earth for ever and ever and ever and we can have as much as we want. Realistic? Seen anyone working on abundance lately? I would wager that the best shot at mastery over nature is all these Permaculture people you’ve been busy dismissing and insulting. As if you’re on a different team. You say ‘total mastery’ I say ‘nature selects’, let’s call the whole thing off.

    Re: Uncompromising intellectual honesty
    I hope you’re young because you’ve got a lot of fat to cut on that front.

    Re: “replaced by large-scale factory farming for a reason: it’s vastly more efficient in terms of its yield.”
    If you think you belong in a discussion about farming efficiency try reading about soil (loss of, need for). Shorter-still version: Efficient until you realise that you’ve reduced 100ft of food-growing soil to a dustbowl. You didn’t say the ‘S’ word, though, you only said ‘efficient’ so I guess you’re not really wrong, just perversely short sighted. Still, there’s a fair bit of the world left. Should be right until we get the specs on that wand, eh. Might be. Let’s not worry about it, anyway. Now back to the hyperabundance visions.

    Re: “the massive industrialization of the agricultural process is necessary for the achievement of a post-capitalist society. “ WTF? News to me.

    • The evidence for the crypto-fascist underpinnings of localist anti-capitalism is in the links I posted within the article.

      As far as achieving total mastery over nature, we already possess the means to drastically affect nature in its totality. Since we are not yet masters of our own social mode, we cannot direct this effectiveness toward consciously self-selected ends.

      As far as I know, America still produces an extreme overabundance of foodstuffs. Other nations that have similarly modernized their modes of agricultural production also produce staggering amounts of food. And I’m fairly sure that crop rotation helps ensure that there’s no permanent dustbowl effect.

  36. I’ll try keep this short and sweet.

    Obviously you feel very strongly here, but stating your views in a way that makes them come off as the only ones you’ll even consider is a great way to alienate your audience. It’s much more effective to show us both the believable and the far fetched of both sides and argue strongly, but not condescendingly.

    On the subject of scheming farmers… It seems to me that self interest is human nature. The farmers are not the only ones out to make a buck, if they were we probably wouldn’t have all of the technologies, medicines, movie stars, professional sports players (what is their function again?), and politicians of the present. Farmers are no exception, their just part of the system (By the way, if you ate today, thank a farmer, as I trust you didn’t hunt and gather to get your 3 squares). The thing is, everyone wants to improve their life, or else have some idea of what is “due,” and most of us are willing to step on others to get it.

  37. Apologies for the long-delayed response, and thank you for reading my blog entry and requesting my response.

    I think any perspective that claims that there is one solution to any issue, whether this be ‘eating local’ or ‘radical social transformation’ ignores the fact that all issues are complex, having multiple causes and conditions.

    Some of your critiques are valid precisely because of this fact. Yes, ‘eating local’ or being self-sufficient in themselves are not going to solve the current environmental problems. Nevertheless, they provide a useful way to engage with the issues themselves, and reveal their true complexity. I agree with you that radical social transformation is necessary in order to address the environment, but you seem to be implying a linear relationship (as many Marxists often do) between the environment and human society. This, as I’ve stated, is much more of a complex issue than you illustrate it to be.

    I personally also feel that criticizing those whose intention it might be to live a life that is much more simply and based on human labour is to try to forge stereotypes. What is the intention of people taking steps in such a direction? Certainly some of them may be doing so as activists, but ultimately many may also be doing it simply to do what they view as right. And who is anyone to tell them otherwise? What harm would such people do to anyone? If anything, I feel like this form of going against the grain is very helpful in illustrating alternate modes of living away from the purely materialistic despotism of both Capitalism and Marxism.

    I agree with some of the other comments which highlight that at times you seem to be making judgments about particular lifestyles based on little evidence, such as for vegans. Certainly this happens for most group categories (i.e. “Commie bastards”) but this does not make such comments helpful at all.

    Ultimately, from my perspective anybody who is trying to change the world and claims to have a silver bullet solution, whether it be permaculture, radical social change into a worker-dominated system or anything else is purely deluded. No such thing has ever happened, nor is it likely to ever happen. If you read my blog, you would have noted that it’s a Buddhist blog. From this perspective, wanting things to be other than how they are is often about evading looking at the source of our own perceptions.

    It feels like whether Marxists or radical Green or any of the endless categories that seem to exist in between (and above, and below, and 35 degrees to the north-east) of these, what many people seem to do is just look at the symptoms and ignore the cause. Ultimately, the cause is a radically misaligned perception on the part of human beings, and it’s my perspective and that of most other Buddhists that it’s this aspect of our mind that we should get to know to seek out the roots of our own misunderstandings, which of course have the potential – and often do – cause much suffering in the world and for ourselves as individuals.

    I hope my comments are helpful.

  38. Ross you asked me to read this post via my blog and proceeded to be rather disparaging in my response to your article (i thought you valued my feedback?), to the point where you seem to think that anyone actually farming is anti-intellectual. Right…

    Did you eat today, Ross? As Wendell Berry (another anti-intellectual in your eyes, i suppose) said: ‘if you eat, you’re involved in agriculture’.

    If you want some good resources and writings on regenerative agriculture and small-scale farming (no idealism, just farmers getting on with saving the planet and feeding folks like you in the process) i’d be happy to point you in the right direction.

    Otherwise, please hold the spam comments if you don’t infact want my informed opinion and are just flinging your posts about to get a rise.

  39. Well, mistah wolfe, since you asked….i think you’re very good at destroying your own straw men, but a little short on apprehending, comprehending, and dealing with reality. You are also amazingly verbose and certain of your own opinions, enough so that I am not at all interested in debating you over them. I’ll let reality take care of that. Good luck–you’re going to need it!

  40. Although I agree that those who would suggest placating the unionists, workers, poor, and disenfranchised as a temporary solution to societal instability are merely revisionists/counter-revolutionaries, who merely will hold back the inevitable change that is needed (ameliorating symptoms while the causes remain untreated), I suggest that you have only a very superficial outline of what is meant by the phrase, “ecological self”. You place nature and resources into a fragmented reified box, while ignoring its vital importance as well as the purpose of any functional economic system. In short, the reductionist context, which you project is too small and superficial.

    Practical and functional analysis requires that you know the causes and conditions from where you have come from, from where “natural resources” such as water, soil, air, energy, food, and medicine emanate within an integral context. Then you can arrange for its distribution in an intelligent manner that sustains the people. It is not a matter of “natural/organic versus artificial, but rather a healthy lifestyle based on reality, versus dysfunctional theories of a death culture.

    Your premise is at best a theocratic oversimplification, which conflates “indigenous grass roots ways of life” as “elitist”. But they are not the same. You merely demean the farmer and peasants by labeling their way of producing food and shelter as “the idiocy of rural life.” You sir, are the elitist. People who are healthy in the mind do not need to reunite with nature, because they already deeply know that they are part of nature. Here, I am not addressing the peasant identity within the European context of a colonized Roman Catholic imposition, but rather indigenous people who are strongly aligned with mother nature down to the integrity of their feet.

    Since it is obvious that you are missing the experience of integrity of being part of nature, you have wrongly concluded that it is mere ideology or conceptual like your own, rather than being the recognition of the law of evolution (how we live). Any “ism” not based on solid foundation – that is not rooted in evolution or life is doomed to destroy itself. Mankind has a choice, to evolve or perish. My suggestion is to do some critical thinking ASAP. I say that because at one time, I also was good at parroting ideology, cutting to shreds my perceived ideological opponents, and displaying my “superior” intellectual prowess. Definitely a waste of energy/time. BE WELL!

  41. I plan to read the entire entry but I did scroll down to Lifestyle Politics: Vegans, Freegans, and Raw Foodists and wanted to comment on that now. I don’t pretend to speak for all vegans nor do I claim to know all vegans, I can only speak on behalf of myself and my opinions. I don’t doubt that there are snobby, pretentious, stubborn or disillusioned vegans in the world because every lifestyle, religion, nation, etc has every range of personality accounted for. However, what you have displayed is just a stereotype of vegans and doesn’t necessarily represents vegans or veganism as a whole. On a personal level, I’ve been a vegan for 9 years and have never once said the word,”speciesism,” referred to factory farms as synonymous with the Holocaust or anything really along those lines that I can think of.

    I don’t want to spend a lot of time on the topic of celebrities mainly because I don’t really care about them but it’s seemed to me that the people who are the most obsessed with celebrity vegans are the ones who have made their decision to be vegan based on poor ideals and aren’t as serious or knowledgeable about the subject/lifestyle. They’re usually young people who are very much a product of a celebrity obsessed culture and are usually vegan because it is the current trend or as an act of rebellion. When it comes to celebrities themselves, it very much annoys me when a celebrity decides to become public speaker for all vegans and this is true for many reasons. Celebrities further stereotypes that veganism is expensive or that veganism is a current trend. Celebrities are humans just like everyone else but a difference here is that they are publicly watched at all times so if they decide to give up veganism or decide to go on a different diet or whatever, it’s all played out in the public and furthers even more strange stereotypes of vegans.

    I think you overgeneralize vegans. I am different in the sense that for the first 8 years of my veganism I never knew another vegan. I had occasionally talked to some online but ironically, I found many online vegans irritating (to be fair, I find many people irritating). Again however, there are many, many thinking vegans out there. They debate, they disagree, they have different perspectives and some even have different perspectives of what exactly veganism is. There are a lot of young vegans who have not experienced other types of vegans or other roads of thought so I can see where an overgeneralization can be made but just like with any type of person, the older you get the more aware of other schools of thought you are.

    In my opinion, there is nothing radical about being vegan. I know that my own personal lifestyle is not really making that much of a big difference. I’m not going to eat a burger but there are still cows being killed, I’m not going to be wearing fur but there are still fur farms and factories and my vegan lifestyle will not change that. For any sort of grand change to happen, we would need a monumental amount of change by a very large, substantial amount of people. Call me cynical but I don’t see that happening, especially not in any near future. I still remain vegan though. Just because I’m not making a huge change in the world doesn’t mean that I necessarily need to contribute to something that I don’t agree with.

    I’m also not sure how veganism would undermine capitalism. I’ve never heard that argument before so I can’t really speak on that subject. It doesn’t seem to make any sense though.

    • This point has been raised many times and I think you are right for making it. I do tend to overgeneralize some of the more unsavory behaviors of some vegans, and while it’s based largely on my own personal interactions with them, I like to think that I’m writing of them as a sort of Weberian “ideal type.”

      Thanks for your input.

  42. Well, I just grazed through some of the comments on this entry and I just wanted to state that it really doesn’t bother me that you “spammed” my blog. I could be wrong but it doesn’t seem like you were intending to just piss off a bunch of “greenies” but that you wanted to debate the subjects at hand. I have no problem with that, we’ll never get anywhere in life if we don’t listen to alternative perspectives and debate.

    I’ll step off my soapbox now.

  43. Hahaha, I could take your criticisms of the animal rights movement more seriously if you actually knew what the fuck you’re talking about.

    –A vegan socialist who’s written for Z Magazine, and the Industrial Worker, in addition to interviewing Noam Chomsky, Bernadine Dohrn, William Blum, Cindy Sheehan, and others.

    P.S. (scroll down to “A Critique of Left Speciesism”

  44. OK Mr Wolfe, I have read a little bit of your post and personally it reads a lot like propaganda to me. I started making notes about each point of contention but honestly I would be here for hours. Let me therefore summarise my comments with the following, which could be repeated with variations every few sentences based on what I am reading: You characterise the “various constituencies” that make up the green movement as “a jumbled mass of ideological fragments” . . .given that the same thing could be just as easily be referred to in the positive as a synergistic matrix of social forces . . .the author reveals himself to be antithetical to the diverse range of green groups.

    It is a salient fact that while solid support for the traditional Marxist position in the West has declined, despite the near catastrophic failure of Capitalism, it may just be that the rise of the jumbled mass of ideological fragments as you so indelicately put it, represents the emergence of the next great wave of transformation in society. Despite the positive good that Marxists might wish to claim for their doctrine the hard facts are that as a socio-political force it appears to be consistent with a Victorian era political philosophy . . . polarising rather than unifying, adversarial rather than engendering peace. Marxism now remains as a fragment of a once advanced political ideology, now a brutal relic in the hands of terrorists and extremists who hide behind the Marxist dogma to perpetrate a seemingly endless pornography of violence with no end in sight. I say long live the evolution. Time to let Karl marx rest in peace.

    • Well, if the shallow rhetoric of “We may have our differences, but we’re all in this together in the end, guys! So let’s suit up, and go make a positive difference in the world!” — if that’s the kind of politics you want, then you can count me out. Marxism is a critical theory of society, and it is unsparing in its search for the truth. So it will ruthlessly criticize anything that falls short of that ideal, and will not opportunistically compromise its principles just for some feel-good “why can’t we all get along” campaign.

      • Ross,

        I asked myself, why bother? The answer is that I see in you, myself 40 years ago (except of course you are so much more handsome, intelligent, and charming). Cutting to the chase, you stated:

        “Marxism is a critical theory of society, and it is unsparing in its search for the truth. So it will ruthlessly criticize anything that falls short of that ideal, and will not opportunistically compromise its principles….”

        The failure with that is that Marxism as a theory has failed to be self-critical, denying the reasons for failure and thus preventing its own evolutionary progress. If it is dedicated to the truth, then it would acknowledge the empirical facts/data and critically analyze it. Although truth and falsehood can be identified, claiming to possess the truth, while denying the facts is both delusional and elitist. Although you may hold on tight to your sacred books (Marxism) and defend it, it is my opinion that you and society would be better served by critically analyzing all the data, especially in the light of many failed experiments. In short, critical thought demands that one be able to think outside the box (and books).

      • Hmm, I find that strange because, while I know there certainly are a number of dogmatic Marxists out there, the best traditions of Marxism have been extremely self-critical. “Autocritique” has been a part of Marxism since at least the Second International. I certainly know that Marx was critical of some of his early writings, critical of the labor movement, unsparing in general. That’s how I try to be.

    • I would love to see you actually try to ground that in historical fact. Democratic centralism allowed for the possibility of a takeover of the kind that Stalin orchestrated, but this was by no means the intention of the principle nor was it the only possibility that could have emerged.

  45. Dear Ross,

    I’ll be honest. I think you’re an asshole, putting forth your best more-revolutionary-than-thou poster, while attempting to tear down people earnestly committed to social change that doesn’t fit within your narrow class framework. I’d love to live in a socialist society, and I think we will some day. But that’s not the only cause I think is worthy of merit. In fact, if it came down to it, I’d much prefer to live in a vegan society than a socialist one, because I think aggregate suffering, across species, would be infinitely more reduced in the former case. Thankfully we needn’t make that choice, as the issues are very much intertwined, something your brain, so deeply submerged in writings from the 19th century, seems unable to grasp.

    Anyway, here’s an honest question in response to your “anti-moralizing” criticism of “lifestyle politics.” What exactly constitutes lifestyle politics? If you tell me to go out and read “Das Kapital,” or not cross a picket line, aren’t you advocating a type of behavior, a type of lifestyle? How is this different from advocating veganism, except for the fact animal rights is obviously not a cause you’re sympathetic too?

    • Actually, for a Marxist, my analysis is not all that focused on questions of class struggle. While it no doubt exists, I take the critique of capital itself, and the system it produces, as my point of departure.

      The main point of most of my arguments in this article is that these elements of the Green environmental movement either don’t treat the underlying, systemic cause for society’s problematic relation to nature, or even further that they want to regress into previous, romanticized visions of society’s past relation to nature. Veganism as an ethical lifestyle and personal choice doesn’t both me; it’s just when it’s raised to the level of a political position that it becomes incoherent.

      I think that a postcapitalist society would be by necessity less brutal, and so there would be less suffering for animals. But the central category for a postcapitalist society (socialism) would be society, treated as a unitary, global concept. Nonhuman animals can be said to have their own mindless forms of society, but in no way can they be seen to actively participate in our society, since they lack free will. They might still form an integral part of society, insofar as society values them or needs them. But this is the only just measurement of their worth, not some inchoate value unto themselves.

      • Free will is depended on consciousness. Scientifically our consciousness has proved to be extremely small. It is merely an exaggerated tool to boost our ego, to make us feel unique for potential partners, hence increasing our possibilities to bring on our genes. Simply a trick of evolution. So if our free will is equal to our consciousness, and how could it not be, then our praised “free will” is almost non-existing.

  46. From the PPK:
    “Not only that, Wolfe seems to be completely oblivious to efforts of people like Steven Best who have attempted to start bridging the gap between socialist and animal rights politics. As Mr. Best pointed out, it took decades for the socialist movement to begin to incorporate gender and environmental issues into their politics. No doubt eventually animal issues will be better incorporated into socialist politics, but it will be a long time coming. As Best says, despite Marx’s devotion to Darwin, the “Old Moor,” and Darwin for that matter, completely missed the ethical import of the latter’s discovery. When it comes to animals, most socialists are stuck in a practically Cartesian world view.

    Basically, Wolfe comes from an intellectual tradition, secular humanism, that, while ostensibly atheist, clings to the religious exaltation of all humans over all other animals. Needless to say, it doesn’t have much reality basis.

    EDIT: I’d point Wolfe in the direction of this article:

  47. I guess, I think all of your arguments justifying the fundamental difference in consideration deserved humans and animals are pretty weak. While you insist you’ve read some Singer, who reflects merely one of many philosophical flavors within the animal protection movement, your defense of animal use shows zero engagement with him whatsoever. All of your rationales, such as the ability to discuss ethics, are absolutely worthless when confronted with the “argument from marginal cases.”

  48. Pingback: A Formal Challenge to Dr. Steven Best’s Theory of “Total Liberation” « The Charnel-House

  49. *YAWN* Booooooring.

    I responded in more depth on my blog where you passive-aggressively spammed a link to this post asking for my “valued” opinion.

  50. In accordance with the title and slogan of my academic blog, “Utopian Realism”, I pride myself of acknowledging the importance of being empirically informed about past and current ecological and social developments globally, and to the extent possible to have an informed view of possible future societies. I am generally aligned with deep ecology in Arne Næss’ sense, and further somewhat aligned with anarchism – and Gandhism. Plus I am a vegetarian with a preference for organic produce of milk and egg. So should I feel attacked? Yes and no. My response will predominantly have the form of reference to empirical reality. Ideology carried out in isolation from empirical reality is always irrelevant, if not outright dangerous.

    You write that small-scale organic farming is “an elitist phenomenon not only in the smug sense of ethical virtue that comes with buying organic or local, but also in a very real, economic sense”. There is something to your points as to pricing of products from organic farming. Yes, organic farming is labour-intensive rather than capital-intensive (relatively speaking). However, I do not regard that a weakness of organic farming. Industrialized agriculture is characterized in economic terms by being capital-intensive. Now, the price of labour varies significantly (extremely) globally, and this is particularly visible and manifest within global agriculture. The price of machinery and such, on the other hand, is in comparison approximately equal globally (though local varietions in labour costs and taxes etc. spill over to some extent on local costs of machinery as well). Does this make organic farming potentially more of a rich-country phenomenon? Not necessarily (that depends on your exact definition of organic farming). Fair trade initiatives at their best could in principle allow for more labour-intensive agriculture than what is the norm locally in poorer countries as well (note that the very poorest countries have much less machinery in use in their agriculture today, which in part explains their low productivity (yields) in mainstream terms). Use of more machinery is always presented as cost-effective and as increasing productivity. The ways in which labour is priced – valued, though, can change the whole picture.

    You diss the greens’ preference for family farming. This is not only an ‘organic’ longing, however, but quite widespread in many declining rural societies. As a matter of fact, of course, a major transition is going on globally from small-scale family farming to industrialized agriculture with little labour and high productivity bought by way of capital investment. Whereas many of these family farms were initially subsistence farms (in a society where most poeple were farmwers), we are now about to leave a transitional phase where there have been a lot of family farms operating on market terms in a society where they have been a declining minority. This declining trend reflects increases in productivity and capital-intensity. In Norway – to use an example I am well informed about – there are very few family farms left (only approximately one out of ten farms are run by husband and wife who have no other occupation), and the number is rapidly declining. Even more telling is the fact that a majority of Norwegian farmers have more income from other jobs or activities than they do from their farming activity. It is thus not only the traditional family farm that is threatened, but equally important the farming profession as a full-time occupation. Now we can always discuss whether or not this is a social problem. I’d argue that it is.

    And not only is it a social problem from a human point of view. It is further a social problem from the point of view of many farm animals. The declining number of farmers is not only mirrored in increased productivity and capital-intensity. These trends are both reflected in a steadily increasing ration of livestock per farmer. Engendering animal equivalents of mass societies, this is surely a social problem in its own right, and a characteristic feature of industrial agriculture. My claim is that we can legitimately talk about “ecological alienation” in many of these cases (think about chicken – some of which perversely advertised as ‘free-range’ – that share a floor with thousands of others and never see daylight).

    Yet another parallel to declinging farmer numbers, increasing productivity and increasing ratios livestock/farmer is the increasing ratio of land per farmer which we see occuring in Western farming (in other parts of the world, the situation is quite another – namely, societies under demographic pressure (with rapidly increasing populations) and in lack of arable land often have to deal with the problem of having smaller and smaller pieces of land for the poor rurals. Here, what used to be a somewhat sustainable model of ‘subsistence-farming’ is in danger of being transformed to a specifically modern kind of poverty and misery).

    You write: “To generalize the practice of local farming and small shops would mean a regression to a quasi-feudal state of existence, with massive urban depopulation and the death of probably 95% of the Earth’s people.” Not necessarily so. “Local farming” and “small shops” can come in so many variations, so we cannot generalize this way. A local society I happen to know which is full of small shops is that of Suruí in the municipality of Magé in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro. I much enjoyed getting to know where everything was to be found – an exercise which took months, since it implied getting to know the whole neigbourhood, where many had small shops and bars and workshops etc., some of which with regular opening hours, others open whenever a customer knocked. I cannot see how the West’s supermarket-model is necessarily representative of a higher level of civilization, nor how it should be taken to be superior in social terms. There is no de-urbanization involved, and much less any mass-death.

    You write: “The Malthusian theory of a limit-point to the growth of population was materially disproven by the industrial revolution taking place before his very eyes.” While there is something to that as to his concrete theory, the industrial revolution proved nothing at all with regard to how many people the Earth can sustain. In particular, it did not at all prove that there are no limits whatsoever to how many the Earth can sustain. This remains a question of in part empirical nature. It is both conceivable

    1) that the Earth can sustain a bigger human population that it does today, and
    2) that the Earth can in the long turn only sustain a somewhat smaller human population than today BUT AT THE COST OF ITS MEDIUM-TERM CARRYING CAPACITY.

    In other words, it is also conceivable that even maintaining today’s human population level will over time weaken the Earth’s carrying potential with regard to us. Besides, there are ethical issues concerning how big share of this planet’s land and resources we are to reserve for ourselves, and how much we let be available for other creatures (not counting our ‘affiliated species’ in agriculture, which are basically tools for our own ends).

    While your claim that making local farming the only norm would mean the death of 95% is wildly exaggerated and as such erronous, it is true that organic and non-intensive farming is as a rule more land- and labour-intensive alike. This must pose a paradox to any well-informed green. One implication is that if all of today’s agricultural produce was made organic, we would likely need to cultivate even more land (and one third of the Earth’s total land mass is already in use for human food production, pastures etc. included). In that sense there is even a potential conflict between organic farming and food security for a growing human population (which will grow at least for another 30-40 years).

    We must recall, however, that very much of today’s land use in agriculture is tied to meat consumption. So here vegetarianism and organic farming are allies: The more vegetarians there are (or, to modify, the lower the meat consumption), the more organic farming do we have room for. On a utopian planet where everyone were vegetarians, we would have room for global, fully organic farming, PLUS we would be able to leave more land for wildlife. This ultimate combination is indeed possible. A global organic diet with a high share of meat is much less realistic, and would be much less environmentally friendly.

    Let me also mention “The vegetarian’s (or vegan’s) paradox”, which I have described in

    “vegetarians, and especially radical ones, such as vegans, might face some paradoxes. For example: In a world of vegans — with no animal products consumed nor produced — what would be the fate of domesticated animals? … In a vegan world, we would be left with two alternatives: Either we could keep them in zoos or as a sort of pets, or we would have to let them go extinct. What the vegan should ask herself is: Is an animal that depends on human beings for its pure existence really better off not existing?”

    A vegetarian’s response to this paradix is telling of his or her values. It is fully possible to reply that domesticated animals are better off not existing, but if that is a vegetarian’s position, it reveals that his/her dietary preference is NOT put into effect for the sake of the animals the vegetarian does not eat. Perhaps for the sake of wildlife, or for a kind of ethical purity?

    I will not say much about Arne Næss and his view on population, but let me mention that I think his view on population control was not very fruitful (and I am saying this as a former student of demography). Nevertheless I share his vision of a human population that is in the long term substantially smaller than today’s population. By long term we are talking about a transitional phase with pretty even decline in world population lasting for 300-1000 years (anything quicker would be inhumane, if we are talking about a deline on the scale of minus 90%). Næss himself underlined the importance of thinking about this only in a long-term perspective. He claimed to be reformistic on the short term, but revolutionary in the long term, and in the case of his view on population I think that is quite accurate (he used to talk about 100 kids being born this year, 99 the next, 98 the third…). One could argue in favor of such a development even without bringing in the intrinsic value of nature and other creatures. A somewhat lower world population in the long term would arguably increase the chance that future societies will be able to offer their citizens lives in abundance rather than misery.

    As my idea about a transitional phase of 300-1000 years with regard to demography illustrates, I believe in developing and preparing something worthy of the name “a new civilization”. My ideology of utopian realism presupposes that we can talk about three historical phases in this context:

    1) Our age (the modern age, if you like)
    2) A transitional phase – era of adjustment
    3) A truly sustainable society

    Following the deep ecology of Arne Næss, I believe that this desired development would entail profound changes in philosophy, science, economy, and ideology. Though much change would occur in our generation, my perspective implies that the change that can occur in our lifetimes would only mark the beginning of this new path in the development of humanity. We could initiate revolutionary change, and prepare revolutionary change, but not complete it.

    You write: “What we are faced with is thus clear: either we must accept the renaturalization of humanity, or, inversely, the humanization (or socialization) of nature.” A dangerous and simplified choice, I think – though, if we take it seriously, you seem to be winning as we speak. This maxime further reminds me of Heidegger’s talk in “The fundamental concepts of metaphysics” about the human need for making itself at home in the world – by, I would argue, making the whole planet Earth its home, qua humanized. This is a valid perspective on human alienation. But it is a poor real-life solution of our existential problem (especially since we never will feel fully at home no matter how much we make the Earth “our own”).

    You write that your vision would entail “both the transformation of man and nature.” “The Marxist vision of an emancipated society is one of abundance and plenitude, not of scarcity and shortage.” Abundance of what? On a even further “humanized” planet, there would surely not be much abundance in wildlife. Is not that a kind of abundance that can enrich our lives as well? And as I have argued above, future economic abundance in future societies is more likely if we know to limit ourselves and to leave room for other creatures as well.

    “It is a vision of unlimited human freedom,” you write, “not within the constraints of an ascetic lifestyle.” Unlimited in what sense? On what planet? You seem in your concluding marxist vision to be neglecting empirical reality and our embeddedness in nature and on this concrete planet.

    Keynes wrote in the wake of the Great Depression about humankind’s age-old fight to overcome poverty – the problem of Man. His article was called ”Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren”. We can rightfully ask whether the “utopian” future society he sketched therein, a society where Man’s problem would have been solved, has to a large extent been achieved. There are still poor people on this planet (and addressing that remains a core political task), but today a vast majority globally do not live in material misery. The global growth of the last 80 years has surpassed Keynes expectations. At what point will we realize that past utopias of a “society of abundance” has largely been achieved?

    PS: For an evaluation of different scenarios about global economic growth up to the year of 2300, see my journal article “The future of growth”,

  51. quit all yr’ fuckin’ talking. stfu. ur opinions are shit and no one cares. i grow food i burn down kkkorpoorot shit. and i beat on nazis. i am almost 38 and i wont back down. go and do something. quit using all your energy trying to convince people u have some great way of thinking. u are shit, i am sure if i followed you around for two days i could pick u apart and write a blog about you. fuck u and your need to govern others. your time for these tricks is almost done. if i see your hipster ass when the shit is going down, i will kill your ass and compost you right next to the stock broker and the politician. fuck you you lazy fuck! i am glad you are so comfortable fighting your revolution at your pace. your revolution is your revolution. i as partial embodiment of this collective earth will shit on ypur dead ultra entitled face. fuck you sheeep sleep maggots. do something and quit your whining. next time i see some communist fucks i am going to smack them around just because of this article

    • Wow. What an insightful, meaningful response. I can only congratulate and marvel at the fact that you were able to successfully post this comment, you half-literate troglodyte.

  52. A few questions:
    1. Under Marxism, do I own myself, or does the collective?
    2. Why has some of the Marxist regimes failed; whatwent wrong?
    3. What’s to stop such a nation from degrading into Prwell’s 1984, THX 1138, etc?
    4. I derive benifit and pleasurefrom nature and gardening; I respect (organic) farmers. Would I be allowed to have a garden & be in Nature, and produce some food, or would that be subversive? Do I say what I do with the produce?
    5. With current weaponry, and techniques of coersive persuasion, how would you prevent the Military Industrial Complex from becoming/continuing to be a corporate-backed mercinary military. And, how would you deal with the various secret societies, and other power networks. I for one, don’t want CHEKA prowling around my life; have you ever read Animal Farm by Orwell?

  53. This is a solid five in my view because the author goes beyond weaving a story about green gone wrong in three main areas (food, shelter, transportation), providing what almost all other books miss: the systems of systems “its all connected” and “what’s good for one part of the system may be very bad for other parts,” both views developed by, among others, Buckminster Fuller, Robert Ackoff, and Herman Daly.

    As much as I read, I can say up front that I found no false notes or glibness in this book, and found many nuggets that were new to me. Among the concepts covered by the book that were new to me were “food miles” (a portion of “true cost”), Eathship, Passivhaus (Passive House), Baugruppe (families hiring community builders directly, cutting out the middlemen developers), Agro-Ecology, Socio-Ecology, and the Jevons Paradox (conservation savings get poured back into expansion, nullifying the savings).

    Two bottom lines up front:

    EDUCATION of both the public and the politicians, and of all those associated with creating anything, is the sucking chest wound in our society. Green to Gold, Cradle to Cradle, Sustainable Design, Ecological Economics, all of this is going nowhere unless we can ramp up the speed and depth of public education on these topics.

    GREEN TECHNOLOGY MAINTENANCE & REPAIR is the other sucking chest wound. The momentum is not there yet, meaning that well-intentioned groups can buy in to ecologically-sensible technology, but the company that installs it is generally not local, and there are no local green maintenance & repair skill sets on call. This struck me as a huge opportunity for community colleges.

    In discussing the need for Political Will the author is better than most in going back into history, to Science Magazine in 1913, to point out that the knowledge of need has always been with us, but it is the politicians and the complacent public that have refused to connect with the knowledge and take (or demand) action.


    Organic costs more because it integrates all of the true costs, whereas conventional farming externalizes true costs to the public and future generations

    US department of Agriculture is totally hosed–the regulations are written to favor the industrial-size “dirty” operations–and its definition of “organic” is so totally corrupt that the serious organic farmers have opted out of USDA certification. STATES NEED TO NULLIFY FEDERAL REGULATIONS for state-only organic farmers, butchers, and others. It’s time to take the federal government OUT of state enterprises and its time to eliminate a great deal of inter-state commerce along with absentee landlords, IMHO.

    Third party certifications of everything are totally hosed and generally corrupt. US economic and agricultural policy is not only not working, it is killing what DOES work.

    Big problem amenable to Internet/Information Communications Technology is the gap between many small farmers with small loads, and buyers that need multiple small loads to meet their aggregate larger need. We are still not doing enough in business-to-business matchmaking on the Internet.

    Ancient farming systems are now coming back into mode as people discover that they worked without all of the “modern” poisons that we seek to use to alter systems we do not understand for temporal profit.


    Using case studies, the author illuminates multiple really fascinating approaches to nested residence and working environments that are “passive” in taking in heat from the sun during the day and releasing it at night (or during the day for hot water), using wax filled-walls to melt heat in and then harden heat out, all very very interesting.

    This is where it becomes critical to plan for maintenance and repair.


    Bio-fuels are destroying hundreds of thousands of acres and ultimately cost more and emit more–one ton of palm oil, the author tells us, emits 33 tons of CO2, or ten times as much as petroleum.

    Indonesia, which is one of the eight major demographics of the future, is a case study in how decentralization of government power has given rise to massive corruption at the provincial and local levels, with huge plantations entering to destroy fragile agro-forestry systems that have been working for centuries.

    Plantations being in tons of fertilizers, insecticides, and herbicides.

    The author slams the World Banks International Finance Corporation (IFC) for doing loans that ignore its own internal studies on how bad those loans will be to the larger outcomes sought by the World Bank and others.

    The author fails the US auto industry on green vehicles, and I cannot help but contrast this with the hypocrisy of President Obama recently declaring them a success story.

    The author goes back in time to discuss how both the oil and automobile companies deliberately and with malice aforethought, bought up public transportation companies across America, and then put them out of business so as to promote automobiles and gasoline as the only options.

    I had heard of water as a source of hydrogen energy, but the author adds details unknown to me, including an overview of Stanford R. Ovshinksy, who uses solar power to achieve electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen.

    The author’s view on carbon trade as fraud coincides with mine–this is subprime mortages for the entire Earth. The author shows in detail a couple of examples in India in which fradulent claims are made all along the line in self-contained fraud systems.

    QUOTE (176): The carbon credit system–a series of convoluted financial instruments that serve Wall Street and the City by allowing them to use Earth’s atmosphere as a casino–is poised for mass adoption.

    QUOTE (186): When I went to the places where green products are made, I encountered industries with insatiable appetites for raw materials. I saw corporations collaborating with government officials who abused their power to facilitate unfettered resource extraction that also mauled indigenous and peasant communities. I witnessed the unremitting evisceration of native forestlands, and the broadsiding of successful solutions such as beyond-organic farming and low-emissions vehicles. While in developing countries, I glimpsed how plundering ecosystems continues to make perfect economic sense, even for businesses that are green. Environmental responsibility practiced this way looks more like camouflage to enable ongoing destructive practices rather than a break from the toxic past.

    The author ends with the observation that the market system got us into this mess, it cannot be relied upon to get us out. For that she recommends a combination of bottom-up local action (to which I would the immediate nullification across every state of federal regulations that impede small business success), and learned government mandates that set standards, such as 2000 watts a day per person.

    The author is weak in a number of areas such as those addressed by Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America and The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters but on balance this is a SOLID FIVE and makes me look forward to reading the author’s first book, next on my list, Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage.

    Rather than list a number of other books I want to point to my books lists at Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog, because from this one book any reader might want to go in a number of related directions including: Capitalism (Good & Bad); Corruption; Environmental Problems; Environmental Solutions; History (e.g. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus; Nature, Diet, & Design; Values; Voices Lost, etcetera. All my reviews there (at Phi Beta Iota) lead back to their Amazon page.

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  55. Overall well argued.

    I’m curious where the proof that a local/eco-society would require de-populaion. Or why those committed to such a philosophy couldn’t make pragmatic compromises. Further, I haven’t seen any marxist (although I’m not well read in that area) who advocates bureaucratic or large institutions. Localism seems almost as intrinsic to marxism as it does to environmentalism. Further, that economic throttle might be exactly what Marxists would be happy with in the short term by creating a crisis.

    Second, I find the “Lifestyle politics is remarkably assimilable to capitalism” to be a rather weak criticism of movements or behavior change. You shouldn’t do X because capitalism is going to attempt to meet your wants and perhaps your needs seems to not only be a dead end as a life philosophy. It seems later, that you are in a double-bind with respect to this–as you mentioned later capital doesn’t really make production shifts. I think an analysis at the empirical level is necessary here. For instance, a decent example might be the cutbacks of production of normal lightbulbs or the shift to lighter SUVs. Capitalism has creative destruction. I think you miss the point of the destruction—the older industries which are destroyed over time (or transformed perhaps in the case of car companies which re-purpose old factories to make hybrids and perhaps electric cars in the future). Further, much lifestyle philosophy (as well as the nature of personal capital resources and time) requires trade-offs and business strategy in companies also requires similar tradeoffs–so that older policies are less viable in a world in which a movement grows.

    It seems to me the best example of the problem you describe is greens who want to control pollution even at the cost of poverty and jobs in the developing world (the brown critique of environmentalism/greens) or when toxics get dumped in other areas due to restrictions at home or other manifestations of the eco-racism problem.

  56. Typical Borg-like, utopian mentality of the Communist … we must all think as one or perish. Yeah. Can you even get your next-door neighbor to think like you? It ain’t gonna happen. Far easier to criticize people who are trying to make a difference, even though it’s not your way.

  57. I really enjoyed this. It was wonderful to come across a readable, witty and well argued Marxist critique of ‘green politics’. Top work comrade!

  58. Hi, Ross

    Thanks for the quote from Lukacs. I wrote a book called “Second Nature: the man-made world of idealism, technology, and power” (2006), not knowing that he had used this term, ‘second nature’.

    I am one of those deluded back-to-the-landers you would not approve of. Although, I don’t farm, because it’s just too hard work! I do, however, enjoy the benefits of living in a rural small community.

    I notice you spend a lot of effort poo-pooing the misguided efforts of others to come to terms with the defects of the modern world. Since I agree with many of your criticisms, I was disappointed that you propose more or less traditional marxism as your solution. You never mention the obvious failures of the communist experiments actually tried, whose environmental record is even worse than that of capitalism. It seems clear to me that the problems run deeper than can be addressed by a state-run economy of any sort. Specifically, the vision you cite of collective will “moving mountains” is what we already have. I agree that a relationship that is sustainable both for humans and for ‘nature’ will lie somewhere between reversion to primitivism and total domination. That means between the two extreme choices you outline in your conclusion; it means a compromise on the part of nature and of the human position alike. Well, nature has already (been) compromised quite a bit. Maybe it’s our turn… In any case, we do seem slowly to be gaining the knowledge to be proper caretakers, alongside the knowledge to unilaterally exploit.

    For your amusement, here is a short piece I recently wrote for our local rag:

    A refrain of “occupation” campaigns around the world has been: “One percent of the people control 40 percent of the wealth.” Does this underestimate the concentration of power? Whatever the current figure, we can be sure it is worsening, because that is how the global economy works. Despite the rhetoric of “free markets”, it is designed at the top so that our money and power trickle up to the pockets of those with already far too much of both. The very nature of the system is that ever fewer winners get ever bigger winnings. Everyone who has a bank account, mutual fund, retirement plan, or investment portfolio is gambling in a virtual casino, where the odds are stacked in favor of the house. Anyone who has a loan, credit card balance, or mortgage adds to the debt crisis. I do or have done all of the above, so I claim no moral high ground. I do claim to see what is going on. Supporting money managers is handing over fuel with which to burn down the world!

    An investment economy is one side of the problem of corporate stranglehold. The other side is consumerism. Both come from a false sense of entitlement—false because the standard of living of middle classes has been going backwards since the 1970s, a turning point that coincides with peak oil. False also, because it reflects false values, both economic and moral. Easy credit and consumer convenience in the decades since have debilitated local and national economy, along with health and political will. Our job in this scheme of things is to be well-behaved consumers, narrowly focused on trivia while we are bled dry. In this late season, I cannot help recalling Nicolas Taleb’s fable about the fattening turkey lulled into confidence day after day on a luxurious diet, right up until the wringing of its neck.

    OK, if an elite already controls everything including media, what can one do to take back power? My answer is simple but unsavory. I lack the courage to embrace it myself, but I believe nothing short of it will work: DON’T HAND OVER YOUR MONEY FOR OTHERS TO USE, AND DON’T BUY ANYTHING PRODUCED OR SOLD BY A LARGE CORPORATION. Corporate power is generated through sales, and banking power is generated through speculation using our money. Refusing them the sources of their power unfortunately also denies ourselves the “good life” that is the dividend for supporting the system. For example: your car, your modern appliances and, yes, your cell phone and computer. To hurt corporate power involves shooting yourself in the foot. On the other hand, some desperate creatures are known to gnaw off an appendage to escape the trap set for them by predatory humans.

    Of course, those in the growing ranks of the already dispossessed have no money to spend or invest anyway, and little to lose. These may include young people with student loans as well as older folks already “marginalized.” Others hover on the threshold, who have no savings to cushion loss of employment, cover mortgage payments, pay taxes, or get out of debt. The system exploits us to exhaustion like other natural resources. At that point, what will we do? Well, perhaps what people always did before the invention of money: directly and fairly trade our skills and services.

    Money IS the root of evil, because it fosters the unfair concentration of wealth (which includes the concentration of arms). I don’t mean only currency, of course, but an evolving financial system of ever more abstract and illusory “instruments” of wealth: profit in manufacturing and speculation in investment. At one time usury was illegal, and against the moral codes of major religions. We may have left the real world behind, but it’s still there, waiting to re-inhabit after the bubble bursts.

    Best wishes,

  59. Its funny, if you took the anti-farmer quote by H.L. Mencken posted above and replaced the word ‘farmer’ with ‘banker’ it might actually ring true. Otherwise I think his view is rather misplaced.

    Again, the author says “to generalize the practice of local farming and small shops would mean a regression to a quasi-feudal state of existence, with massive urban depopulation and the death of probably 95% of the Earth’s people.” That must be a really bad joke.

    In actuality, our current modern-industrial agricultural machine rides on the back of a quasi-feudal state of existence, its just that this feudal-state unfolds in foreign lands, beyond the sight of our self-fashioned visionary author who’s vision doesn’t seem to extend beyond his own nose.

    Again, said author of above article says that, “despite the recent resurgence of the ideology of agricultural organicism in popular culture, its actual output (in terms of its percentage of the market) remains fairly marginal.” And that, “since organic foods are typically much more labor-intensive to produce and difficult to preserve, the price for an organic item at a store is usually much steeper than its mass-produced equivalent. The maintenance of such small-scale organic farms would thus seem to be a luxury available only to those who are wealthy enough to afford selling their produce at a loss, or those who find clientele wealthy enough to afford paying much higher prices for locally-grown organic products.”

    What he doesn’t mention is that the real luxury is to have a industrial agricultural machine that produces on average about one calorie of food to every 30 calories of oil used for its production. Of course, the billions of dollars of state subsidies (paid with our tax money) and several foreign wars aimed at securing oil reserves makes that luxury possible, but since these ‘externality costs’ don’t show up in the price tag they surely don’t exist.

    Further, the author says, “many urban-agriculturalists are simply private individuals buy their own plots at outrageous prices inside the greater urban municipality, where the retail-value for the same acreage bought on the countryside would be dwarfed. So it goes without saying that those who can stand to keep up such an expensive hobby must be extraordinarily rich.” This would suggest that the author is actually quite out of touch with the urban-agricultural movement. Tell me, kind sir, how many urban agriculturists ‘buy their own plots’, I don’t think many.

    In reality (because I think that is what we are trying to talk about here), most are extremely resourceful people who do their best to use the land and space they have to grow their own food. That is why you see a popular emergence of aquaponics and vertical growing practices- to use the little space available in the most effective way. Beyond that, you are far more likely to find an urban farmer who works a public pea patch (that right- reclaiming the commons!) or who are finding themselves connected with others with underutilzed land through ‘urban garden sharing’ (check it out: ).

    I’m sorry, I would stop there but there are so many holes in this article that I find it hard to keep silent.

    The author states that, “it is a bitter irony of history that many on the Left today seek to return to more primitive modes of local production, rather than to take control of the massive forces of agricultural production that capitalism has unleashed — and end starvation forever.” He approaches increased modern agricultural production as if it is a phenomena unfolding in a vacuum when in reality each year the Big Ag-machine rapes and pillages the earth of resources (water, oil, labor, ect.) each successive year it becomes harder to sustain increased production. Did I also mention that the whole thing operates on copious amount of oil that is also become harder to extract?

    If you take a monoculture and a permacultural polyculture of the same acerage and try to grow, lets say, apples, you are going to get more apples on your monoculture every time, hands down. BUT, you will always get a greater overall output from your polyculture. You have more resiliency and lets energy inputs in this system. It works with nature and not against her. Of course you would have to manage at looking at inputs and outputs in non-dollar values, which seems to be a challenge for said author… which is surprising, being that he/she seems to have some groundwork in leftist thought.

    Again, said author says, “we often forget that the extinction of species has been a fairly common feature of natural history.” This is a completely smug outlook on what many scientists are calling the third mass extinction on our planet. Never before have we seen such mass extinctions via polluted water, land, and air by the hand of one species and perpetrated on thousands of other species. There is nothing ‘common’ about that.

    One thing the author mentions which makes a bit of sense and is of paramount importance is that, “world hunger has nothing to do with scarcity. We continue to produce enough grain and other foodstuffs for human consumption to feed double the human population. Economists who speak of a “grain glut” mean that literally tons of grain is wasted and unused, not because people aren’t in need of it, but because they can’t afford it.” The author is quite correct in pointing out that the Malthusian emphasis on population is a distraction from the more pertinent issues of division of wealth imbalance and global consumption imbalances!

  60. “The idea of Nature as some kind of sacred, inviolable entity worthy of our reverence is pure ideology.”

    Hey, have you not read Christopher Alexander? At the video we uploaded for Permasulotions recently: one of the comments states:

    “in the future christopher alexander will be remembered in the same breath as galileo and descartes. he has provided scientific proof that all physical matter is holy and demonstrated an empirical connection between the built environment and the human soul”

    Some of his empiric findings you can read about here:

    I believe that fractal scaling is valid for any sustainable system, urban as rural:

    “Watersheds can be considered a type of real-world network that is characterized by self-repeating or fractal-like patterns. Fractals are geometric patterns that possess the same proportions on different scales. Rivers and glaciers cut through the planet’s surface, leaving behind landscapes that may appear random or haphazard, but are actually quite precise. Whereas such patterns have been frequently ignored in designing or altering man-made landscapes, there is now interest in emulating them to create more sustainable and eco-compatible designs.” – D.L. Marrin, Ph.D

    As the energy input for current agriculture is 7:1, it cannot survive the future energy decline. Anyway, permaculture is not traditional agriculture in any other sense than it’s fractal, it has a more scientific percpective than industrial agriculture, which is neglecting the soil biology and the loss of topsoil. The GMO-industry is doing the same thing as early modernists, destroying all the form-languages of the world, while Monsanto destroyes the genetical heritage of crop diversity (Just the Philippines had thousands of sorts of rice, now reduced to less than 10).

    So the only way to meet the future energy, topsoil and other recourse declines (like phosphorus) is to get a fractal scaling hierarcy for all our systems, in addition to maximize complexity. This is even the holy grail for a good life, as it’s inherent to human biophilia. It is also applying the technologies of life, in contradiction to the “technologies of death”, so a return to the human scale is in no way anti-technology:

    “How can people live in a way that is more fully human? Quality of human life comes in large part from contact with nature, and from processes that evolved from our intimate contact with nature. Industrialization and mass production have unfortunately led to dehumanization. Confusing humans with machines represents the negative side of the industrial worldview. In parallel with scientific and technological advances that raised the quality of life to unprecedented levels compared to what humankind had to accept before the industrial age, there followed a concomitant loss of human qualities. The predominant worldview in the developed countries now neglects effects on quality of life that come from non-quantifiable sources.

    The machine aesthetic is part and parcel of the machine society. A mechanistic worldview negates the complex mathematical properties of nature, and in so doing it reduces nature and detaches human beings from the biosphere. Increasing efficiency has to do with industrial production, but nothing to do with human wellbeing directly. Society by the 1950s had accepted the faulty equation linking the quality of life proportionally with energy expenditure. This relationship is false: it held true for a brief period in our history, but the effect is indirect and is misinterpreted. Governments the world over now promote social fulfillment through increasing energy use, which is catastrophic because it is unsustainable. Following Christopher Alexander (2001-2005) I will introduce different metrics to measure the quality of life through factors that do not destroy our natural environment.” – Life and the Geometry of the Environment, by Nikos A. Salingaros:

    By the way, I’m not a leftist, I’m more aligned with conservativism. But I hate capitalism (or today’s pseudo-culture of brainwashing-consumer-society)!

  61. hi there.. lots of interesting comments.
    Pity you still swallow the Monsanto propaganda about technology feeding the world, when only in a few overdeveloped countries is wasteful and destructive agribusiness the main producer. Add in the hidden costs in CO2 from nitrates, water depletion and soil destruction and smallscale, often ‘organic’ farming is infinitely more productive

    • So “technology” doesn’t feed the world? Last time I checked, agricultural practices of every stripe since the dawn of history have been technological. The plow? That’s a technology. The scythe? Technology. Crop rotation? Yes, that too (insofar as technology = the science of techniques). You catch my drift.

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  65. Permaculture has a legitimate contribution to make to the collective farms of the future, and pesticides are nerve poisons. Don’t be a lazy communist. Communism is a science that must update itself and ecology has genuine contributions to make.

  66. Dear Ross,

    Your main focus above was to criticise aspects of green utopianism. I wouldn’t waste much time on that. I think greens know their ideas are incoherent. Having said that, a few points interest me. How did such a set of incoherent, anti-human ideas, as found in greenery, become associated with something left, or that calls itself left. Following on: where does the impulse to greenery come from and what does it seek to achieve? What political function does it serve as an adjunct to capitalism? For example, elsewhere, in my blog in a reply to a question (below the line), I said: the Green movement is very helpful to old capitalist money:
    1) It confuses and divides the left & opposition to status quo.
    2) Distracts from real social problems. In terms of definition, causality and solutions.
    3) Proposes impossible, and actually unpopular solutions. So will never be anything but marginalized. e.g. In the 2015 election the English & Welsh Green Party proposed to: “build local economies” but also opposed national GDP growth!

  67. This article is an astonishing piece of reactionary nonsense. Far too many Marxists unfortunately suffer from a form of irrational conservatism not very different from that of nominal conservatives. Veganism and Marxism are natural allies, since they both oppose modern industrial capitalism. But the stupidity and hysteria of the author, and Marxists like him, who preach solidarity on the one hand while alienating natural allies on the other, is why Marxists remain a marginal class of losers.

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