“Trotsky’s Theory of Art” (from the Platypus Review #37)

Kazimir Malevich's "Suprematism with Eight Rectangles" (1915)

by Bret Schneider

Platypus Review 37 | July 2011


At its Third Annual Convention, held at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago between April 29-May 1, Platypus hosted a conversation on “Art, Culture, and Politics: Marxist Approaches.” Platypus members Omair Hussain, Lucy Parker, Pac Pobric, and Bret Schneider sought to address “What might the problems of aesthetics and culture have to do with the political project of the self-education of the Left?” What follows are Bret Schneider’s opening remarks.

THIS ESSAY IS SIMPLY TITLED “Trotsky’s Theory of Art.” The title may sound banal, but it is actually quite bizarre. For it is not self-evident why Trotsky would devote such time in 1924, in the midst of social revolution, to the history and prospects of Russian literature. Problematizing the unproblematized expanse of contemporary art production through Leon Trotsky’s writings on art may initially appear counterintuitive as well. Though he is well-known for his journalistic exploits, as an integral leader of the Bolshevik revolution, as a ceaseless proponent of Marxism and Leninism, and as the “last man standing” from the Second International, an art critic Trotsky was not, and so his central book, Literature and Revolution, appears as an odd duck (or a platypus, perhaps!). Nevertheless, Literature and Revolution scintillates with original artistic revelations and even a new theory of art, and one gets the impression that such unprecedented clarity, and even an unrivaled comprehensive perspective on the diverse art of his moment, is the artifact of, and only of, the ebullience of a new world in the making that now appears petrified. That is, the way art was framed was revolutionized—or in the state of revolutionizing itself—in various ways through Literature and Revolution. If, as Gregg Horowitz said in a recent discussion on contemporary critical theory, we are standing in the way of history, if we are blocking the passage of a new world articulated long ago, then it might behoove us to investigate the original stakes of this historical venture and use it as a foil for the confounded present. These stakes included a new culture and a new art as only one of its elements, but such a new culture was clearly an integral concern for Leon Trotsky.

Literature and Revolution is a theory of history parallel to Trotsky’s 1906 Results and Prospects. In Results and Prospects, Trotsky assesses the 19th century bourgeois revolutions, and what unfulfilled latencies seemed to lead to their redemption by a socialist revolution (in 1905, but foreshadowing 1917). Trotsky’s examination was not merely a “cause and effect” study, but a living theory of how the revolution also changed the meaning of history and in what ways. I will not get into Results and Prospects here, but Literature and Revolution is a similar exegesis of bourgeois art, what its implications were for the self-determining constitution of a new culture, and how the new demands of revolution changed the way traditional art forms are and might come to be perceived. In this sense,Literature and Revolution is an artifact of a political becoming, the postulating of a new culture beyond class, as acategory, not a reality attained by Bolshevik revolution, or to be identified with itA decade earlier, Georg Lukács wrote a Hegelian study on the novel, articulating the novel as distinct from pre-modern literature by way of its being a form in flux, a self-constituting form in the process of its own transformation; in other words the novel is the paramount modern literary form specifically because it is a social problem, not a social solution, in a similar sense to how reification is a new problem to be resolved, and with something new to be gained by resolving it. This means framing political and artistic forms as problems, though: problems of tradition, how to depart from it, of the newfound contradictions between the individual and society, the new as the old in distress, as only some examples.Form in flux, open to new possibilities, co-developed with the new subject or the new human, as Trotsky framed it, is also why Benjamin later opened his “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire” essay with a new theory of the receiver: “Baudelaire envisaged readers to whom the reading of lyric poetry would present difficulties.” By the time Trotsky wrote Literature and Revolution, the modern becoming—a departure away from everything about the old world, but one that redeems it through abstract relationships with it—which Lukács articulated in the novel form had become such an inescapable problem that new, dynamic forms, unseen and unprecedented, were unanimously called for by social revolution, which sought to problematize this autonomy of art to pursue new, self-determining courses. Thus, Trotsky’s letter to Partisan Review in 1938 concerns overcoming the old world’s ideology of too easilyrectifying art and politics, instead of understanding the newfound open possibility of each as a problem:

Art, like science, not only does not seek orders, but by its very essence, cannot tolerate them. Artistic creation has its laws—even when it consciously serves a social movement. Truly intellectual creation is incompatible with lies, hypocrisy and the spirit of conformity. Art can become a strong ally of revolution only in so far as it remains faithful to itself.

Trotsky echoes—or prefigures, or both—Walter Benjamin’s idea that art can only have the correct political “tendency” if it has aesthetic “quality,” an idea that would later influence Theodor Adorno’s aesthetic theory, in the sense that what Adorno later identified as the incomprehensibility of art is the precondition for greater reflection and a more adequate social reality (I will get into this a bit later). Every moment of Trotsky’s theory argues the autonomy of art, recently freed, and not constricted by political “reality.” In a sense, Trotsky is the first non-philistine, because he is arguing against a newfound possibility of philistinism, depending on which way international politics will go. In other words, there is an analogy to be drawn between Rosa Luxemburg’s “socialism or barbarism?” insofar as Trotsky seems to be asking, “aesthetics or philistinism?” But what does this mean?

First, this can be illustrated by the very attentive historical and formal criticism of “pre-revolutionary” bourgeois literature: a newly constructed tradition that can be constructively negated (foreshadowing Greenberg’s description of art as its “further entrenchment in the area of its competence,” as well as Adorno’s exhaustive ideas of “tradition”). This is where Trotsky contributes something absolutely new to the theory of art, and here does the previously unthinkable for Marxists: He promotes (and does not condemn) the art of the peasantry. This is not to say that he promotes the politics of the peasantry, but makes a significant distinction between art and the political sentiments contained in it. In other words, he defends the art over the artist. An idea emerges here of “the fellow traveler” of the proletarian socialist revolution, not equivalent to it, but parallel with it. Politics and art grasp each other indirectly for perhaps the first time, and the sheer inescapability of the revolution allows room for autonomous expressions of them that provide multiple, new, and dynamic perspectives that allow them to be seen more holistically, unobstructed by ideology. Regarding young peasant poets, Trotsky says,

It is as if they feel for the first time that art has its own rights….Why do we relegate them to being “fellow-travellers” of ours? Because they are bound up with the Revolution, because this tie is still very unformed, because they are so very young, and because nothing definite can be said about their tomorrow….As if an artist ever could be “without a tendency,” without a definite relation to social life, even though unformulated or unexpressed in political terms.

Trotsky reconstructs Kliuev’s literary peasant world in order to illuminate, from an alternate angle of different subjectivity, the dynamism of the revolution. The way Trotsky speaks of Kliuev’s world is as a “tinsel fairyland,” and that a modern person cannot live in such an environment.” Kliuev’s world is a mesmerizing individual dreamworld, a bucolic, slowly rotating mobile of glistening objects. Kliuev’s peasant world is portrayed as somewhat womb-like, a narcotic experience whose apparent individual peace is also a foreboding of social awakening.

Through delimiting the autonomous formalism of art Trotsky is able to construct an adequate image of cultural and political prospects previously unseen. Would Trotsky have been able to glean, concretely even, that the peasant world was in the process of withering away without literary investigation? Almost certainly. This raises the question of why it is necessary to retain multiple perspectives. Simply put, the achievement of multiple perspectives is an index of the crawling out of instrumental analyses. The exhaustive portrait of the individual peasant dreamworld throws into relief the radically different set of objects and subjects emerging in modern experience—the telephone, the train, the bustling development of metropolises, and the subjective openness of possibility, for example—in order to understand the world in flux more consciously. Similarly to the way Lukacs thought that the short story would take grip of the transient world—or rather the way that he took seriously the novel’s “half art” as a real expression of transforming social conditions—Trotsky perceived that social conditions exerted an influence on the form of Russian literature, demanding études, or sketches. It is easy to see how new cultural forms and mediums like radio, television and so forth would soon come to pass, as continual transformations required to meet the needs of a “modern person”, or a “new human” that needs art less and less, in accord with a society whose emancipated subjects are no longer bound to the continued suffering that is art’s raison d’être.

What Trotsky sees in the literary works of the “fellow travelers” is an openness of perspective that they participate in, but are not the wholly constituting expression of, because their seemingly complete and self-subsistent worlds, what Adorno would later call their hermetically sealed quality, are open to a new form of criticism that sees them as “dissonant” with society but not outside of it. Art has a newfound ability to be dissonant with and therefore critical of the social totality. It is nowhere implied that even the most reviling or “anti-Marxist” principles should be foreclosed by Marxist critique, but rather diagnosed to provide a portrait of social conditions at their most dynamic and heterogeneous. Even Kliuev’s occasional anti-Leninism is a welcome critique for Trotsky. Art is not only not exempt from this, but is exemplary in its problematic symptomology. Regarding another young writer’s confrontation with a new openness, Trotsky said, “One can take man, not only social, but even psycho-physical man and approach him from different angles—from above, from below, from the side, or walk all around him.” That he pathetically “steals up to him from below,” evident through the literary form, shows that the old world fosters inadequate cliche assumptions of a “human nature” that need not exist. The autonomy to perceive humans from different angles artistically—which means a “formalist” problem—is a freedom opened up by political conditions, and one that implies the “new humans” Trotsky called for without even needing to enforce explicit ideology upon the art:

Our Marxist conception of the objective social dependence and social utility of art, when translated into the language of politics, does not at all mean a desire to dominate art by means of decrees and orders. It is not true that we regard only that art as new and revolutionary which speaks of the worker, and it is nonsense to say that we demand that the poets should describe inevitably a factory chimney, or the uprising against capital! Of course the new art cannot but place the struggle of the proletariat in the center of its attention. But the plough of the new art is not limited to numbered strips. On the contrary, it must plough the entire field in all directions. Personal lyrics of the very smallest scope have an absolute right to exist within the new art. Moreover, the new man cannot be formed without a new lyric poetry. But to create it, the poet himself must feel the world in a new way.

“Feeling the world in a new way” has resonance with us today as an intellectual idea specifically because it seems stifled. But the new feelings are, again, tied to the radically incomplete world in flux.

Pilnyak has no theme because of his fear of being episodic….Pilnyak wants to show present-day life in its relations and in its movement and he grasps at it in this way and in that, making parallel and perpendicular cross-cuts in different places, because it is nowhere the same as it was. The themes, more truly the themepossibilities, which cross his stories, are only samples of life taken at random, and life, let us note, is now much fuller of subject matter than ever before.

Life in Revolution is camp life. Personal life, institutions, methods, ideas, sentiments, everything is unusual, temporary, transitional, recognizing its temporariness and expressing this everywhere, even in names. Hence the difficulty of an artistic approach. The transitory and the episodic have in them an element of the accidental and the accidental bears the stamp of insignificance. The Revolution, taken episodically, appears quite insignificant. Where Is the Revolution, then? Here lies the difficulty. Only he will overcome it who fully understands and feels the inner meaning of this episodic character and who will reveal the historic axis of crystallization that lies behind it.

Art played a role in determining social totality by articulating the incompleteness of it. In Theory of the Novel, Lukacs describes art as always saying, “‘And yet!’ to life. The creation of forms is the most profound confirmation of a dissonance.” Such a framework—endemic to Lukacs’ theory of the novel and Trotsky’s theory of the fellow traveler, notwithstanding Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory—brings up a vast number of questions for the contemporary, and also forces some all too easy associations. Contemporary artworks are often framed not as the problem, but the solution—or at least there is not a clearly defined dissonance between an artwork and the society it expresses.

This is enough to warrant the question of whether or not what passes itself off as art today could even be called so, but I will leave that to the side. In contemporary artworks we are faced with similar formal problems to those that Trotsky faced. For instance, if Trotsky was critical of the many nefarious endeavors to create a permanent proletarian culture (e.g., artists enlisting in the Proletkult) because the proletariat was a transitional phase to a much broader human freedom yet to be determined, but certainly one beyond the primitive class divisions of “proletariat” and “bourgeois,” what then can be said about the “radical” art activism of today that seeks to ally itself with a vague “working class” that is increasingly depoliticized? Is this alliance doomed to an eternal struggle? Moreover, Trotsky noticed that such political “commitments” were not without their compromising effects on the aesthetic experience and consequently the transformation of subjectivity. In order to “be pals with socialism and with the Revolution,” Mayakovsky had to rely on antiquated cliché truisms that were backwards of modern life and articulated retrogression from Mayakovsky’s earlier, more progressive imagery (using skulls as ashtrays is an amusing example of retrogressive imagery). Trotsky also saw this wanting to be “pals” with the people, or a “mass base” without distinction, as a return to the bourgeois intelligentsia in the 19th century, who,

deprived of a cultural environment, sought support in the lower strata of society and tried to prove to the “people” that it was thinking only of them, living only for them and that it loved them “terribly.” And just as the populists who went to the people were ready to do without clean linen and without a comb and without a toothbrush, so the intelligentsia was ready to sacrifice the “subtleties” of form in its art, in order to give the most direct and spontaneous expression to the sufferings and hopes of the oppressed.

That is, such an appeal to the “people” disregards the “splintering” or dissonant pluralism that Trotsky saw as endemic to the most significant successes of the Left over the course of its history.

As another example, in much new “experimental” music we hear the sounds of Kliuev’s “tinsel fairyland,” the subtle droning of vintage synth gear, a nostalgia for a private world. The “music” is like a narcotic, a therapeutic substance applied to the subject to cure what ails it. Electronic music might have once been counted amongst those modern things, an artifact of a dynamic mutability, but one that is stillborn in a state of endless, almost unsustainable decay. One is reminded again of Trotsky’s description of Kliuev, when we look at much recent album artwork. For example:

A wheat and honey paradise: a singing bird on the carved wing of the house and a sun shining in jasper and diamonds. Not without hesitation does Kliuev admit into his peasant paradise the radio and magnetism and electricity.

In new experimental music a social torpor is embellished and sublimated into an ornate sort of poverty. What does it mean that the bourgeois individual experience of art is still naturally occurring today, without its being formulated as the progressive crisis of its own withering away?

One could go on with new art forms hearkening back to the past, re-digesting those bourgeois, bohemian tropes that fail to die, in the futuristic aspects of new net art for example (Trotsky considered Futurism to be retrograde bohemianism), or the return to painting, and so on. But what does this all amount to? Art wants to pass, it wants to finally die—it is not mere eccentricity that great artists once believed they were making the last artwork. If art finally died, this would signal that the “untransfigured suffering of man” over the ages would finally be transfigured into something else. Simply pronouncing art dead, or irrelevant to the everyday is not enough to warrant its demise, as if it were so simple to eradicate the suffering of man. The culture industry—with its ceaseless thrusting of art in our faces—is the penance for failing to achieve socialism, but also the petrified reminder of its possibility. In this sense, art and culture are not the solution to, but rather the problem of, our own suffering, and the crystallization of this problem also implies redemption. Does it not seem that, contrary to this, we want to preserve art, to restore the world through art, and wasn’t this specifically a crucial element of fascism, or less dramatically, conservatism? In an era of where there are no historical tasks or clearly defined problems, any proposed solution is a false reconciliation. In Adorno’s words, “that the world which, as Baudelaire wrote, has lost its fragrance and then since its color, could have them restored by art strikes only the artless as possible.”

We might today treat Trotsky with the critical method which Trotsky treated bourgeois art, except that this task seems impossible. The salience of Trotsky’s critique today—that we can so easily view the same problems as he did in apparently “new” art—is not the solution, but the problem. The continual indigestion of culture is a problem that needs to be problematized—no simple solutions can present themselves today without also seeing history as a problem. In other words, without historical consciousness that articulates the social situation of art, we are all relegated to philistinism, nostalgic for a moment where all possibilities didn’t seem foreclosed, or predetermined the way they do today. Perhaps now more than ever, art works yearn to be recognized as distinct from the political or social ideas that underlie them—that is, we should not condemn the nostalgia of new age experimental music for example, or the vulgar politics of social art, but formulate them as incomprehensible aesthetic problems that constantly reintroduce social redemption without exactly fulfilling it.

Contemporary art’s biggest and perhaps only problem is that it doesn’t formulate itself as a problem, but instead endeavors to devise quick-fix solutions. This is evident in everything from Fried and Greenberg’s criticism of “literal” art, to relational aesthetics, to the social turn that endeavors to make ‘concrete‘ interventions in the world, as if even the most rhetorical things are without effect. Ultimately this implies a distance so alienated that there seems no connection to the world we live in whatsoever. This is counterposed to a would-be “revolutionary art,” insofar as Trotsky (as quoted above) saw it as impossible for any form of art, no matter how depoliticized, to be somehow illuminative of a seemingly inevitable political becoming. Trotsky understood the forms of both peasant literature and futurism as illuminated by a concept of history that was no longer intact, but fragmentary. As mentioned earlier, Trotsky thought the idea that a work of art could ever be without a political or social tendency—or that some were more “social” than others—was absurd. It is no longer self-evident, as it once was, that all objects, art or otherwise, are shaped by social conditions in such a way that they imply society’s (as we understand it) exhaustion and deserve critical attention. Bourgeois art was withering away and seemed to be yielding to something else.

But without a concept of history—that is, the construction of historical problems—viewers are reduced to philistines, and artists are reduced to dilettantes, grappling for whatever is available, and this is not limited to art, but every other cultural object in the world (I think that Shana Moulton’s videos of subjective interactions with the abstract, everyday objects not limited to art, but nonetheless arty, captures this reified desperation quite well). In this light it is easy to frame the return to the avant-garde art styles—e.g. geometric abstraction, Ab-Ex, or Dada—as something almost wholly inartistic, and reducible to other kitschy objects utilized for the decoration of one’s apparent individuality. It is possibility that is longed for in ever more quixotic ways, and “avant-garde” style is the compromise when it can’t be grasped as a historical problem. This, of course, is kitsch.

In the contemporary state of affairs, where life is a series of arbitrary events without meaning or problematic substance, “fellow travelers” are perhaps reduced to particles in the arbitrariness of natural law. One can’t simply propose that “contemporary art is about this” notion, or is “embodied by that” reality, nor can one find revolutionary qualities in a certain style over another, as we are left without models or a concept of history to shape experience. For example, on the one hand, “art” and “politics” do not only fail to travel side by side, urging each other forward, but we can’t even find an apt metaphor for such traveling in Cormac Mccarthy’s The Road, whose characters aimlessly wander the scorched earth, carrying some vague human torch for future generations that may not exist, going “further along a dreary road,” occasionally bumping paths and sharing what precious scraps of humanity remain, as if it ever did. Rather, both contemporary “art” and “politics” might each be akin to the nameless, free-floating subject in Samuel Beckett’s novel The Unnameable, who resembles a lawn ornament more than a human with anything that might be called agency: it is able to freely reminisce about past events that may, or may not have happened—no one really knows for certain—but is ultimately static, congealed into an object, ashen with the soot of forgetfulness and plagued by its never-has-been-ness, trying to reminisce, “but images of this kind the will cannot revive without doing them violence.” One can say that there are no fellow travelers, not even travelers: “art” and “politics” today are lawn ornaments, helpless, kitschy novelties that are permitted continued existence only because they provide a source of petty entertainment to some alien and unknowable authority who finds them amusing in their harmlessness. Sharing a lawn, the contemporary Left and contemporary art believe they have finally found common ground. For instance, at two recent panel discussions hosted by the Platypus Affiliated Society on the theme of art and activism, many panelists unanimously agreed that the propagandistic poster is a paradigm of art. With this idea they browbeat the audience into believing that this is the highest achievement of artistic form. Whether or not one agrees or disagrees with them is hardly the point. The problem is the regulation of aesthetic forms, naturalized without the criticism that Trotsky perceived as constitutive of the new world. Trotsky—like Benjamin, Adorno, and Greenberg—never foreclosed the endlessly open possibilities of any aesthetic form. As Adorno would later argue in “Commitment,” there are no rules, no formulae for artistic experimentation; certain artworks may be “exemplary, but not a model.” Although Trotsky had deep and well-justified political qualms with the peasantry as much as with Futurism, he was constantly open, and even endeavored to further open the possible directions that their art might take. He criticized at length, taking the work more seriously than the artists often took their own work, and he ends many sections of Literature and Revolution with, “we must wish them luck” even when he disagreed. Trotsky thought, and hoped, that art would “plough the field in all directions.” We have to wonder what the prospects for this are like today. In some ways, there is no “ploughing in all directions,” but rather ploughing in a provincial expanse that rarely leaves the circumference of one’s own arm-length, constrainedinstead of liberated by a politics filled with “reality principles,” and “lived-world” abstractions that Adorno once criticized. Indeed, it is specifically “directionality” that is lacking, and so, helplessly, art contemplatively turns its critical shafts inwards—the confusion of autonomous art for a depoliticized “art for art’s sake” illustrates this. Ultimately, in the meandering reminiscences of one’s own inner fantasia, one must occasionally pass into the recognition of this contemplation—the question is whether or not this recognition can then be constructed, or if the possibility of life will pass us by.

Or, perhaps, on the other hand, it may be the case that contemporary art production ploughs too much, works overzealously, ploughing aimlessly, taking the new and autonomous freedom of art as natural law. It may be that political ideology and social criticism cannot penetrate art as the constrained suffering of humans’ failure to move forward, consequently becoming more mute. | P

. J.M. Bernstein, Lydia Goehr, Gregg Horowitz, and Chris Cutrone, “The Relevance of Critical Theory to Art Today,”Platypus Review 31 (January 2011), available online at <http://platypus1917.org/2011/01/01/the-relevance-of-critical-theory-to-art-today/>.

. Walter Benjamin, “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire,” in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Shocken Books, 1968), 155.

. Leon Trotsky, “Art and politics in our epoch,” Partisan Review 1938. Available online at <http://marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/06/artpol.htm>.

. Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution, trans. Rose Strunsky (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2005 [1924]), 70–71. Available online at <http://marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1924/lit_revo/index.htm>.

. Ibid., 68.

. Ibid., 74.

. Ibid., 143–144.

. Ibid., 77–78. Italics added.

. Ibid., 76.

. Georg Lukács, Theory of the Novel, trans. Anna Bostock (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1971 [1920]), 72.

. Trotsky, Literature and Revolution, 133.

. Ibid., 143.

. Ibid., 67.

. Theodor Adorno, Philosophy of Modern Music, trans. Anne G. Mitchell and Wesley V. Blomster (New York: Continuum, 2004 [1958]), 41–42.

. Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor (New York: Continuum 2004), 50.

. Samuel Beckett, Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnameable (New York: Grove Press, 2009), 109.

. Walter Benjamin, “The Image of Proust,” in Selected Writings, Howard W. Jennings et al., vol. 2, 1927-1930, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press), 237.

Thinking Nature, a Speculative Realist Journal, Volume 1 Released

Thomas Cole's "A Tornado in the Wilderness" (1835)

Volume 1 of the Speculative Realist journal Thinking Nature is finally out.  Though I do not consider myself part of the Speculative Realist movement and have on several occasions been extremely critical of it, the content of my article was deemed relevant enough that it warranted inclusion in the journal.  My essay, “Man and Nature,” posted on this blog already, is written from a thoroughly Marxist perspective.  In any case, the other accepted submissions are listed below:

Volume 1


/1/ – What did the Early Heidegger Think about Nature? – Paul Ennis

PDF version

/2/ – Being and Counting: Speculative Materialism and the Threshold of the Given – David Lindsay

PDF version

/3/ – Unthinking Nature: Transcendental Realism, Neo-Vitalism and the Metaphysical Unconscious in Outline – Michael Austin

PDF version

/4/ – Philosophies of Nature in the Differentials of Iain Hamilton Grant and Ray Brassier – Himanshu Damle

PDF version

/5/ – Ecological Necessity – Tom Sparrow

PDF version

/6/ – Six Myths of Interdisciplinarity – Ted Toadvine

PDF version

/7/ – Some Notes Towards a Philosophy of Non-Life – Timothy Morton

PDF version

/8/ – Towards a Philosophy of (Dejected) Nature – Ben Woodard

PDF version

/9/ – Man and Nature – Ross Wolfe

PDF version

Leon Trotsky’s “Attention to theory: Letter to the editor of Under the Banner of Marxism”

Screenshot from Tarkovsky's Solaris (1971)


Having just noticed this from The Platypus Review #34, I would here like to reprint the excellent translation it rendered of Leon Trotsky’s “Attention to theory: Letter to the editor of Under the Banner of Marxism.”  Their publication of an English version was the first time this letter was made available outside of the Russian language. The original posting of this article can be found here.

by Leon Trotsky

On the occasion of the launch of a new theoretical journal in 1922, Under the Banner of Marxism (Pod Znamenem Marksizma), Lenin singled out the open letter that Trotsky had written to the editors in the first issue, while expressing the hope that the venture would take the shape of a “society of materialist friends of Hegelian dialectics.”Trotsky himself underscored the importance of the letter in The Stalin School of Falsification (1937), which, in pointing to the difference between the changed conditions of education of the younger members of the party from that of their older comradesoutlined the necessity of a new theoretical approach in order to safeguard the theoretical and political experience accumulated within the partyDespite the importance attributed to the letter by Lenin and Trotsky, Leszek Kolakowski, in his Main Currents of Marxism, considered the letter unexceptional.

As the first in an experimental new series of original translations, the Platypus Review is delighted to be publishing the first English translation of this important letter by Trotsky.

Dear comrades!

The idea of publishing a magazine that would introduce advanced proletarian youth into the circle of materialist ideology seems to me highly valuable and fruitful.

The older generation of worker-communists that is now playing a leading role in the party and the country, awoke to conscious political life 10, 15, 20, or more years ago. That generation’s thought began its critical work with the policeman, the timekeeper, and the foreman, then rose to tsarism and capitalism, and then, most often in prison and exile, proceeded onto questions of the philosophy of history and scientific understanding of the world. Therefore, before the revolutionary proletarian reached the critical questions of the materialist explanation of historical development, it managed to accumulate a certain amount of ever-widening generalizations, from the particular to the general, based on its own life’s combat experience. The current young worker wakes up in the atmosphere of the soviet state, which itself is a living critique of the old world. Those general conclusions, that the older generation of workers acquired in battle and were fixed in consciousness by strong nails of personal experience, are now received by the younger generation of workers in finished form, directly from the state in which they live and from the party that governs that state. This means, of course, a giant step forward in terms of creating conditions for further political and theoretical education of the workers. But at the same time that this incomparably higher historical level is achieved by the work of older generations, new problems and challenges appear for young generations.

The soviet state is a living negation of the old world, its social order, personal relationships, views, and beliefs. But, at the same time, the soviet state itself is still full of contradictions, holes, inconsistencies, vague fermentation—in short, the phenomena in which the legacy of the past intertwines with the germs of the future. In such a deeply fractured, critical, and unstable era as ours, education of the proletarian vanguard requires serious and reliable theoretical foundations. It is necessary to arm a young worker’s thought and will with the method of the materialist worldview so that the greatest events, the powerful tides, rapidly changing tasks, and methods of the party and state do not disorganize his consciousness and do not break down his will before the threshold of his independent responsible work. Continue reading

Man and nature


Nature! We are encircled and enclasped by her — powerless to depart from her, and powerless to find our way more deeply into her being. Without invitation and without warning she involves us in the orbit of her dance, and drives us onward until we are exhausted and fall from her arm.


We live in the midst of her, and yet to her we are alien. She parleys incessantly with us, and to us she does not disclose her secret. We influence her perpetually, and yet we have no power over her.

— Goethe, Ode “To Nature”[1]

With recent events in Japan and images of Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami still fresh in our minds, it seems appropriate to revisit the old issue of humanity’s relationship to nature. The proper exposition of the problem requires a great deal of space; therefore, I propose to divide my treatment of the issue into four separate sections, each of which builds on the results of those that precede it.

After all, the problem of man’s relation to nature has been conceived in a number of distinct ways over the ages, many of which survive into the present day, in various mutations. So perhaps it might be useful to begin with an overview, a genealogy of sorts, so that these different conceptions and their relation to one another can be clarified. The presentation will be dialectical, but not out of any obligation to some artificially preconfigured format. It will be dialectical because the subject at hand is itself really dialectical,[2] as the various conceptions of nature interweave and overlap in their progress through history. For man’s orientation to nature has by no means been the same over time; and by that same token there are no later conceptions of nature that do not bear the traces of those that came before it. Continue reading

Man and Nature, Parts I-IV (Complete)

For those who would like to read my series of articles on Man and Nature, here they are, presented as a continuous text.  Also, for a detailed response to the fourth installment of my series on Man and Nature, please visit the Oroborous Self-Sufficient Community.  Its founder, the scientist Allister Cucksey, is a Robert Owens of sorts, and his counter-critique is welcome.

Continue reading

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.”  http://www.peacecouncil.net/pnl/03/718/718CorporateTakeover.htm.  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. http://eater.com/archives/2010/10/15/mcdonalds-goes-green-inside-and-out.php.  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. http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/ch01.htm

[27] Engels, Friedrich.  Socialism, Utopian and Scientific. http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1880/soc-utop/ch03.htm

[28] Trotskii, Lev.  Literature and Revolution. http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1924/lit_revo/ch08.htm

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

Theo van Doesburg’s “Architecture and Revolution — Revolutionary Architecture? Utopian Designs by Tatlin, Lissitzky, and Others” (1928)

Theo van Doesburg’s surprisingly critical, if somewhat superficial, article on Soviet avant-garde architecture from Het Bouwbedrijf, September 1928 (vol. 5, no. 20):

‘I have the courage to be barbaric.  I cannot follow the works of the expressionists, futurists, and cubists, nor all the other “isms” in which artistic genius awakens.  I do not understand anything about it, it leaves me cold.’

— Lenin

‘I can not keep abreast; we are too obsolescent.’

— Kerenskii

1. Introduction.  The double function which every innovation, be it in the sciences, culture, the arts or architecture, has to fulfill, consists on the one hand of building up piece by piece a new image of the world, while on the other hand an old world image is being broken down piece by piece.  The former is usually the result of the latter.  People do not realize at all how far-reaching the effect of a new concept actually is.  Just reading the writings of the adversaries of new forms of architecture or art makes one realize to what enormous extent jealousy and vexation have grown in the past twenty years.  Do read, for fun, for instance the pamphlet by the pompiériste Camille Mauclair, La folie picturale, to come to a slow realization how terrifying the effect of genius is on yonder side of the new art creation, presently already accepted once and for all.  I do not want to discuss art here any further than is necessary to explain our contemporary architecture, and I do not know whether this kind of pamphlet has also been aired against the international innovation in architecture.  They certainly were not lethal, and although on this side nobody takes the trouble to refute them (for nothing refutes them better and more strongly than The Work), they are not only a national disgrace, but also the mark of an imbalance in the development of spiritual and social progress.  This imbalance is characteristic for Russia.  The new endeavors in the fields of art and architecture (the latter date only from 1923) were certainly not less under attack in Russia than in other countries, and under the Soviet regime there must have been quite a confrontation.  Or do you imagine, you Soviets, in your blind veneration of everything originating there, that the Russian revolution a priori guaranteed free development of the modern creative genius? Do you imagine that, with one blow, the working class broke the bonds which had linked it very closely and very deeply with the bourgeois culture? Do you imagine that the leaders of this class, the Lenins, the Trotskiis, the Lunacharskiis, the Radeks, do have just an inkling of an idea of what was growing and flourishing, beyond class and time, beyond nation and community, in the mind of genius, already severed from the bourgeois long ago? If this were not so, why then did all the ‘revolutionary,’ creative people leave their beloved Russia? In order to import the new from Russia into foreign countries? No…In order to learn what is new there, and to import it…into Russia.  Would they make us believe that Russia has completely autonomously (for instance like ‘little’ Holland) produced a new architecture from the highly praised ‘proletarian culture,’ an architecture in keeping with the demands and needs of the working class? Out of the question.

The fact that a few Polish-Russian artists, chased by the Soviet regime, fled across the borders, each of them carrying an enormous portfolio, filled [186-187] with utopian, fantastic plans for a kind of dirigible-architecture, wanting to push these even as the new communist architecture, does not mean that in Russia itself even one modern, waterproof barrack has been built.  For indeed, when around 1920 all who had creative minds set forth from Russia, armed with abstraction and with the red quadrangle pinned on their sleeves (as the regalia of our formless time), not even a single chair had been built in Russia.  They had only words and promises, good as well as vague nebulous notions, sky high fantasies and intentions for eternity, but in reality nothing had been built as yet.  There was neither a basis, nor money available for that.

This situation was extraordinarily fortuitous for snobbism, and, as a reaction to the fact that central Europe (in which I include Holland here) was farther ahead, and, what is more important, more positive and realistic than yonder, and could give evidence of this with facts, people tried to simply antedate their works and thus transfer their creative activity to an earlier period.  Russia, which, according to the Russians, wanted to be an example to the whole of Europe with respect to social reform, could not fail to be the first and a signpost.  Moscow, actually the only cultural center in the immeasurably vast Russia, was already before the war in direct contact (via Poland) with European art life.  The turn in the field of aesthetics and architecture took place under direct influence of innovations which had occurred much earlier in the cultural centers of Milan, Paris, Berlin, etc., Holland included.

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