As the great American labor organizer and socialist Mary Harris ‘Mother’ Jones said: “Sit down and read. Educate yourself for the coming conflicts.”
by Ian Angus
Twenty years ago, a list of books about Marxism and ecology would have been very short indeed — and most of them would have been hostile to Marxism. Even the friendly books argued that Marxism needed a major overhaul before it could be considered relevant to environmental concerns.
That’s changed. Two books published at the turn of the century, Paul Burkett’s Marx and Nature, and John Bellamy Foster’s Marx’s Ecology, initiated a new wave of work by scholar-activists who, as Burkett wrote, “consider people-nature relations from the standpoint of class relations and the requirements of human emancipation.”
The following list does not pretend to be complete. I could easily double or triple the number of titles without covering the field, but I’ve tried to keep it to a manageable length. That forced me to drop some very good books that don’t quite qualify as “essential.”
With one exception, all were published in the past 20 years. All are still in print, so far as I know.
My principal criteria were subjective: these are books that I have found particularly valuable, that I refer to frequently, and that I often recommend to others. I make no apology for including two of my own books — if I didn’t think people ought to read them, I wouldn’t have written them.
An Ecosocialist Starter Kit
Each person approaches ecosocialism with a different background and different interests. A basic book for one might be too difficult for another. With that caveat in mind, these are books I often recommend to people who want an introduction.
- Michael Löwy. Ecosocialism: A Radical Alternative to Capitalist Catastrophe (Haymarket Books, 2015)
- Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster. What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know about Capitalism (Monthly Review Press, 2011)
- Chris Williams, Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis (Haymarket Books, 2010)
- Brian Tokar. Toward Climate Justice: Perspectives on the Climate Crisis and Social Change (New Compass Press, 2014)
Marxist theory and ecology
These are essential books but they are not easy reading. They require careful attention and study. Each investigates Marx’s views on the relationship between society and nature from a different angle —and as Marx said somewhere, there is no easy road to knowledge.
- Paul Burkett. Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective (Haymarket Books, 2014)
- John Bellamy Foster. Marx’s Ecology: Materialism and Nature (Monthly Review Press, 2000)
Environment and history
The central premise of historical materialism is that the state of the world can only be understood as a product of historical change. These books both illustrate the historical materialist approach to the global environment, and illuminate developments in our past that still shape our world.
- Mike Davis. Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World (Verso, 2002)
- Martin Empson. Land & Labour: Marxism, Ecology and Human History (Bookmarks, 2014)
- Peter Linebaugh. The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All (University of California Press, 2008)
- Andreas Malm. Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming (Verso, 2016
These books address specific issues and topics from an ecological Marxist perspective.
- Ian Angus. Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System (Monthly Review Press 2016)
- Ian Angus and Simon Butler. Too Many People? Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis. (Haymarket Books, 2011)
- Mike Davis. Planet of Slums (Verso, 2006)
- Ashley Dawson. Extinction: A Radical History (OR Books, 2016)
- John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York. The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth (Monthly Review Press, 2010)
- Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin. The Dialectical Biologist (Harvard University Press, 1987)
- Fred Magdoff and Chris Williams. Creating an Ecological Society: Toward a Revolutionary Transformation (Monthly Review Press. 2017)
- Daniel Tanuro. Green Capitalism: Why It Can’t Work (Merlin Press, 2013)
- Del Weston. The Political Economy of Global Warming: The Terminal Crisis (Routledge, 2014)
If you think I’ve missed something essential, a book that should be on every ecosocialist’s bookshelf, please mention it in the Comments section below with a sentence or two explaining why you think it should be in C&C’s next reading list.