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Hey Nicholas, This is a very

Hey Nicholas,

This is a very profound and long needed intervention. Thanks for writing this.

I think you're right: most of the Left in it's attempt to understand the ecological dimensions of communism have only a quantitative understanding of the development of the productive forces; that is to say, they only understand the development of the productive forces to mean the ability to produce more stuff.

The problem, however, is that this isn't what Marx meant at all. Sure Marx discusses "abundance" as a precondition for a communist society, but this is only a PRECONDITION. When Marx discusses the productive forces characteristic of a communist society, he means not the number of things we can consume, but the richness and complexities of our capabilities, passions, and needs. Marx's philosophy of human emancipation is, at its core, humanist, and about the development of better people unfettered by the "domination of dead labor over living labor." Communism is a society in which we can do and be whatever we want. In ecological terms, the communist development of the productive forces includes not just the development of sustainable energy, but also the desire and unfettered means to do so.

This method is central to Marx's critique of capitalist society. In volume 1 of Capital, Marx traces the development of the commodity form into the value form, into the money form, and finally into the capital form, during which he very clearly describes how all of these different forms of capital involve stripping the textured qualities from labor, and turning them into abstract quantities.

When parts of the Left adopt an ecological perspective based on the quantitative limits of nature, they trap themselves in bourgeois -- and in this case specifically Malthusian -- conceptions, and end up developing bourgeois strategies.

I've found Loren Goldner's essay "Social Reproduction for Beginners" to do a pretty good job of unpacking some of these aspects of Marx's thought ( Communists need to defend the development of the productive forces, but as a radical break with capitalist society, as quality against quantity.

This relates to another key aspect of your argument, and that is the need for labor to seize the means of production because it's labor's divorce from the means of production that is a precondition for value production, and consequently capital's endless drive to produce more and more stuff. This is the only way human society can cease to be based on endless production, and instead become a society based on production for need, ecological and otherwise. The ecological crisis is social, and not merely technical.

One question I have for you is, how does this different conception from liberal environmentalism lead to different strategies and tactics today considering seizing the means of production does not seem to be around the corner?


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