Ecosocialist Notebook
Ecosocialist Bookshelf

Essential Books on Marxism and Ecology

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.

  1. Michael Löwy. Ecosocialism: A Radical Alternative to Capitalist Catastrophe (Haymarket Books, 2015)
  2. Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster. What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know about Capitalism (Monthly Review Press, 2011)
  3. Chris Williams, Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis (Haymarket Books, 2010)
  4. 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.

  1. Paul Burkett. Marx and Nature: A Red and Green Perspective (Haymarket Books, 2014)
  2. 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.

  1. Mike Davis. Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World (Verso, 2002)
  2. Martin Empson. Land & Labour: Marxism, Ecology and Human History (Bookmarks, 2014)
  3. Peter Linebaugh. The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All (University of California Press, 2008)
  4. Andreas Malm. Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming (Verso, 2016

General

These books address specific issues and topics from an ecological Marxist perspective.

  1. Ian Angus. Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System (Monthly Review Press 2016)
  2. Ian Angus and Simon Butler. Too Many People? Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis. (Haymarket Books, 2011)
  3. Mike Davis. Planet of Slums (Verso, 2006)
  4. Ashley Dawson. Extinction: A Radical History (OR Books, 2016)
  5. John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark, and Richard York. The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth (Monthly Review Press, 2010)
  6. Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin. The Dialectical Biologist (Harvard University Press, 1987)
  7. Fred Magdoff and Chris Williams. Creating an Ecological Society: Toward a Revolutionary Transformation (Monthly Review Press. 2017)
  8. Daniel Tanuro. Green Capitalism: Why It Can’t Work (Merlin Press, 2013)
  9. 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.


 

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Posted in Books & Reports, Ecosoc Notebook, Ecosocialism, Marxist Ecology

3 Responses to Essential Books on Marxism and Ecology

  1. David Klein November 12, 2017 at 9:13 am #

    Hi Ian,

    In the category of “Ecosocialist Starter Kit” I’d like to suggest my book with Stephanie McMillan:

    Capitalism and Climate Change: The Science and Politics of Global Warming

    It can be downloaded for free from here:

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/313842338_Capitalism_and_Climate_Change_The_Science_and_Politics_of_Global_Warming

    best regards,
    David

  2. jose p s,india,kerala. November 20, 2017 at 2:18 am #

    marx and the earth ;an anti crtitigue [john bellamy foster and paul burkett]

  3. Justin O'Hagan December 2, 2017 at 5:05 pm #

    I would recommend two books by US-based Chinese Marxist systems analyst and economist, Li Minqi. As a non-specialist, I find that although Li’s work is empirically dense and theoretically informed, it is not overly technical.

    In Chapter 6 of The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World Economy (2008). He argues that “[s]ustainable capitalism is not only technically infeasible but also impossible due to the institutional structure of the capitalist world- economy. Environmental problems represent social costs that are not taken into account by capitalists’ private calculations.” He also shows that technical fixes of various kinds are limited in fundamental material ways and if carried out within the capitalist system will inevitable run up against the expansionary drive of endless accumulation.

    Similarly, in Chapter Six of his 2015 book, China and the 21st Century crisis, Li deals with peak oil, gas and coal and with the practical limitations to the reduction of CO2 emissions within the present system. He provides an accounting of the world’s remaining oil, gas and coal resources and argues that, “If all of the above oil and natural gas resources are exploited over the rest of the twenty-first century, the cumulative carbon dioxide emissions between now and the end of the century will amount to 5.5 trillion tonnes. … Towards the end of the twenty-first century, major climate catastrophes will begin to destroy the material foundation of human civilization.”

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