A Great Loss for Ecosocialism


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In memory of Paul Burkett, Marxist scholar and jazz musician, 1956-2024

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by Ian Angus

“I would never see Marxism as an alternative to environmentalism, but as a particular kind of environmentalism, one that considers people-nature relations from the standpoint of class relations and the requirements of human emancipation.”  –Paul Burkett

The death of Paul Burkett, on Sunday January 7, deprives ecosocialism of a brilliant scholar and writer. For more than thirty years, he made extraordinary contributions to our ideas and movement.

His 1999 book, Marx and Nature: A Red-Green Perspective, was a groundbreaking study that conclusively demonstrated that “Marx’s treatment of natural conditions possesses an inner logic, coherence, and analytical power that … [had] not yet been recognized even in the ecological Marxist (or ‘eco-Marxist’) literature.” It is one of a handful of books that qualify as truly essential reading on Marxism and ecology — not an easy read, but one that deserves serious study.

An economist by profession — he was a professor of economics at Indiana State University for many years — he was uniquely qualified to write Marxism and Ecological Economics: Toward a Red and Green Political Economy, a masterful book that, in John Bellamy Foster’s words, developed “a Marxian critique of existing ecological economics, with the goal of developing a distinctly Marxian ecological economics more equipped to address the environmental contradictions of our time.”

These online articles, among many others, provide excellent starting points for understanding his approach to Marxist theory and ecology:

Beyond politics, Paul was a talented musician, performing solo and with others on saxophone and keyboards as PapaPatty. When he retired from academia he was excited to have more time for music, and frequently took his free jazz improvisations to the sidewalks of downtown Terre Haute.

I was never able to meet Paul in person, but we were good online friends and colleagues. We frequently  exchanged ideas by email, commented on each other’s work, and enjoyed private jokes about the foolishness that often passes for profound leftwing thought on the net.

In the past year we became much closer and communicated more often, sharing our experiences with cancer, chemotherapy and the health care system. His situation was much worse than mine — he had Acute Myeloid Leukemia and did not qualify for a bone marrow transplant — but he was unfailingly supportive, helping to keep my spirits up.

He wanted no more hospital time, and he died quietly at home, held by his wife Zann Carter, the companion he always referred to as his “dear one.”

He is sorely missed by his comrades around the world.

For anyone wanting to make a donation in his name, he specified Doctors Without Borders. Dr.Paul Burkett (aka PapaPatty) 

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