Ecosocialism and the Revitalization of Marxist Theory

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In the Summer 2007 issue of From the Left, John Bellamy Foster argues that the 1990s, often viewed only as a time of decline and retreat for Marxism, were also the beginning of a new period of popular struggle against imperialism (especially in Latin America) and exciting new developments in Marxist theory.One key aspect of this change, he says, was the “ecological turn.”

“Perhaps the most ambitious recent development in Marxist theory, aside from reformulations of state-society relations in the transition to socialism, has been the ecological turn, which is broadening the notion of materialism (in line with Marx’s own analysis), from a primarily economic to a wider ecological form. This theoretical turn had its inception the late 1980s with the growing awareness of planetary ecological crisis associated with the destruction of the ozone layer, global warming, and the accelerated extinction of species.

“A key development was the creation in the late 1980s and 1990s of Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, with James O’Connor as founding editor. The debates that ensued led to a host of theoretical works, including Carolyn Merchant’s Radical Ecology (1992), O’Connor’s Is Capitalism Sustainable? (1994), Paul Burkett’s Marx and Nature (1999) and Marxism and Ecological Economics (2006), my own Marx’s Ecology (2000), Joel Kovel’s The End of Nature, and Peter Dickens’s Society and Nature (2004).

“In the last decade in sociology major Marxist or Marxist-inspired ecological analyses have appeared in the American Journal of Sociology, the American Sociological Review, Theory & Society, Sociological Quarterly, Organization & Environment, Monthly Review, the Socialist Register, and elsewhere …

“This work, though having its epicenter in the United States, has been most influential in the periphery of the capitalist world economy, where radical ecological struggles are occurring in Latin America, Asia and Africa. In its Special Period Cuba became a world leader in organic agriculture. And Fidel Castro, in 2007, emerged as a major commentator on world ecological problems.”

See the full text of Foster’s “Crisis and Revitalization in Marxist Theory,” in the Summer 2007 issue of From the Left, the newsletter of the Section on Marxist Sociology of the American Sociological Association.