Political Ecology

Rosser Jr, John Barkley rosserjb at jmu.edu
Thu Dec 10 12:27:25 PST 1998


This is my third post of the day, so...

I am all for ecologically sound farming practices. But, we are still talking about farming in a non-urban zone. We are not talking about taking the population of Havana and distributing them across the Cuban landscape, which would immediately entail enormously increased transportation costs which given our current technology would imply enormously increased emissions of greenhouse gases.

And I don't think you are advocating the kind of deurbanization strategy that was tried in Cambodia...

I would note that in the older historical experience of the actually existing socialisms this rhetoric about eliminating the distinction between the city and the countryside was followed through in three ways. One was to "urbanize the countryside" in the form of providing urban amenities on collective and state farms. Much of this was worthwhile and one of the woeful aspects of some of the current decollectivizations in some of the countries has been the dismantling of these social safety nets and urban amenities that were previously socially provided, along with in many cases a destruction of collective capital stock, including livestock, that curiously reminisces of the similar destruction that occurred with some, but not all, of the original collectivizations. Such developments on these collectives may have been worthwhile, but a) they did not necessarily lead to ecologically correct farming practices, and b) nobody on these collectives were under any illusions that they were in urban or even sub-urban zones.

Another was to try to develop greenbelts around existing cities, something that has been tried with varying degrees of success in a number of countries. A major push for this, directly drawing on the CM, was made in the 1950s under Khrushchev around Moscow. Later industrialization efforts in Moscow degraded that greenbelt with only a remnant of it still in place. Of course this did not entail eliminating either cities or the countryside, or the distinction between them.

Finally we had the Maoist policy of sending people to live and work in the countryside, often as punishment. This certainly did not eliminate the distinction between the countryside and the city. A minor variation on this are the old Soviet "subotniks," which my wife rather nostalgically remembers, where people sent out from the cities to help harvest potatoes, etc., or to harvest sugar cane in Cuba, etc. This is pretty harmless, but hardly eliminates the distinction either. The Subotniki would go back home to their cities after their weekend in the countryside.

In short, give us even one meaningful historical example of what you're (and M & E) are talking about, because ecologically correct farming is not it.

Still rank utopianism. Barkley Rosser On Thu, 10 Dec 1998 14:32:40 -0500 Louis Proyect <lnp3 at panix.com> wrote:

> At 02:19 PM 12/10/98 -0500, you wrote:
> > Personally I have always considered that particular
> >"plank" in the Communist Manifesto platform to constitute
> >the rankest form of utopian socialism on the parts of Marx
> >and Engels. If what is needed for the bioshpere to
> >function and survive is some large areas with little human
> >"footprint", as the ecologists put it, then we are a lot
> >better off having people concentrated in certain locations,
> >such as Manhatten Island where you choose to hang out,
> >Louis, :-).
> >Barkley Rosser
> What would be utopian is if I recommended a blueprint for resolving the
> town-countryside dilemma in Hahnel-Albert fashion. Instead I urge people to
> study new ecological approaches to farming in Cuba, something that started
> out as a necessary evil after trade with the USSR ended, but is evolving in
> a more positive direction overall. The Global Exchange webpage has an
> interesting report:
> http://www.globalexchange.org/education/publications/newsltr3.97p3.html#cuba
> patchgreen
> Leaving aside whether or not Cuba will be successful or not, and it looks
> just a bit better than 50/50 now, there are disturbing signs that the
> problems that confronted Marx and Von Liebeg will only get worse.
> The Worldwatch Institute just came out with the 1998 edition of the "State
> of the World: a Report on Progress Toward a Sustainable Society." The
> Institute is a mainstream environmentalist organization that gets funding
> from the Rockefeller Foundation and Pew Charitable Trust. The executive
> director is Lester R. Brown, who has held posts at the UN and the
> Department of Agriculture.
> The best way to describe the report is as an expert, high-level briefing on
> capitalism's ecological contradictions. It proposes solutions that fall
> squarely within the capitalist system. For those of us who believe that
> these contradictions can only be resolved through a socialist
> transformation, the information is particularly valuable. Proof that the
> ruling class wanted the straight poop from the Worldwatch Institute
> researchers can be found in the radical credentials of a few of them,
> including Michael Klare, a frequent contributor to the Nation magazine and
> Phyllis Bennis, Pacifica's UN reporter and an ex-leader of a defunct Maoist
> group called Line of March.
> I found two items of particular interest. One deals with declining fish
> stocks. The other deals with water pollution produced by the modern
> capital-intensive livestock industry. Although the report does not come out
> and say it, the only conclusion one can draw is that these problems are
> rooted in the anarchy of the capitalist mode of production itself.
> The report states that according to the Food and Agriculture Administration
> (FAO), a US agency, the present capacity of the world's fishing fleets is
> 200% of the world's available fisheries. Over the past 50 years,
> technological breakthroughs in the fishing industry have far exceeded
> nature's ability to reproduce itself. The biggest change has been the
> introduction of sonar, a wartime innovation. Many of the first new fishing
> trawlers were actually converted WWII submarine hunters.
> In the early 1950s, new ships were built from the ground up that could
> catch 500 tons of fish a day. Huge trawl nets brought the catch on the deck
> and dumped it into onboard processing and freezing facilities. In the past,
> ships had to return to port quickly before the fish spoiled. Now equipped
> with freezers they could spend months at sea, sweeping up vast quantities
> of fish. They roamed the planet in search of profits. In 1970 the tonnage
> of all fishing boats was 13,616. In 1992 it was 25,994, a 91% increase.
> Capital simply flowed to the profitable fishing industry with little regard
> to the long-term consequences.
> One of the consequences of the industrial trawling model is that
> large-scale production techniques generate huge amounts of waste. The nets
> draw unwanted species that are simply discarded. The FAO estimates that
> discarded fish total 27 million tons each year, about 1/3 of the total
> catch. This includes sea mammals, seabirds and turtles. While Greenpeace
> activists fight for the life of the unfortunate porpoise, many other
> species are disappearing without fanfare. The loss is serious since all of
> these species interact with each other in the marine ecosystem and make
> natural reproduction possible.
> A similar sort of contradiction occurs in the livestock industry where
> technological breakthroughs accelerate production but at huge and possibly
> fatal costs to the environment. The Worldwatch Institute identifies
> fertilizer and cheap transportation as the main culprits.
> Cheap transportation makes it possible to separate the ranch and the feed
> supply from each other across huge distances, even overseas. This means
> that while it can be profitable to locate a cattle ranch, poultry or hog
> farm near large metropolitan markets, the organic waste the animals produce
> is not easily recyclable. Most of these animals are not raised on the open
> range, but in huge buildings where excreta flows from the pens into drains
> that lead to rivers or underground water supplies.
> In Europe, for example, the livestock industry purchases feed from Brazil,
> Thailand or the USA. But the industry has outgrown the capacity of nearby
> lands to absorb the manure. The Netherlands was home to a 40 million ton
> mountain of cowshit earlier in the decade. Coupled with heavy fertilizer
> use, the end result has been a serious pollution problem.
> The same problem exists in the US, especially in North Carolina. Farmers in
> the Corn Belt produce grain for chickens and hogs in the eastern seaboard
> state, but the waste product is not recycled. It is dumped in the state's
> rivers and lakes. The EPA estimates that 25% of all water pollution in the
> USA comes from such sources. In North Carolina, over 6 major spills from
> farms into public waters were reported in 1995. In one case, 95,000 cubic
> meters of waste was involved, enough to fill more than 60 Olympic sized
> swimming pools.
> To keep up with the demand for livestock feed, single-crop farmers in the
> Midwest turn to intensive, industrial farming that makes heavy use of
> inorganic fertilizers. These substances leak into rivers, lakes and bays
> with disastrous results to fish and other wildlife. The report states that
> "So extensive is the agricultural pollution of the Mississippi River--the
> main drainage conduit for the US Corn Belt--that a 'dead zone' the size of
> New Jersey forms each year in the Gulf of Mexico, the river's terminus."
> The increased vegetation that the fertilizer produces has killed vast
> stocks of shrimp and other valuable fish.
> Can the capitalist system resolve these problems? This is a theoretical
> question that has challenged a wide variety of thinkers. David Harvey's new
> book "Justice, Nature, and the Geography of Difference" argues that it can.
> He scolds Michael Perelman, John Bellamy Foster and other ecosocialists for
> having a naïve belief that we are headed for catastrophe. Capitalism, he
> told a NY audience that I was part of, is extraordinarily "resilient." In
> the 19th century, there were also great fears that the planet was doomed
> because of resource depletion. We must be Marxists, not Malthusians, said
> David Harvey.
> The only problem with this sort of remonstrance is that leaves the
> Marx-Malthus debate on the same terms that existed one hundred years ago.
> Is it Malthusian to be concerned about the 200% ratio between industrial
> capacity and available fish stocks? Also, the answer to Malthus, as most of
> us know, has been greater agricultural productivity. But at a certain
> point, the traditional methods of guaranteeing such productivity entail
> steep environmental costs.
> Is it doom-mongering to speak in terms of "The End of Nature," as Bill
> McKibben does? Should Marxism prevent itself from thinking in apocalyptic
> terms? In the Junius Pamphlet, Rosa Luxemburg wrote:
> "Shamed, dishonored, wading in blood and dripping with filth, thus
> capitalist society stands. Not as we usually see it, playing the roles of
> peace and righteousness, of order, of philosophy, of ethics--as a roaring
> beast, as an orgy of anarchy, as a pestilential breath, devastating culture
> and humanity--so it appears in all its hideous nakedness."
> A couple of months ago, I posted a 3-part NY Times article that reported
> that more Asians die each year from air pollution than died during the
> Vietnam war. It's odd how inured we are to these kinds of reports, but how
> ready we are to march against war in Iraq. Is this because we have some
> sort of deeply ingrained belief that industrial society entails these sorts
> of assaults on life and health? Is breast cancer the price that women in
> Long Island have to pay for a life of suburban ease?
> Louis Proyect
> (http://www.panix.com/~lnp3/marxism.html)

-- Rosser Jr, John Barkley rosserjb at jmu.edu

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