From such a reading, it is not hard to see why James O'Connor might characterise historical materialism as neither sufficiently historical nor material.14 To overcome this lack, two moves are required. First, environmental history must be grasped as the culmination of historical inquiry: the history of nature is now to be included alongside the history of humanity. Second, ecology (not restricted to the discipline of the life sciences) must be understood as the telos of materialism in which the relation between the materialities of human ecology and nature's economy is theorised. How, then, is historical materialism to be rethought to incorporate
11. Ibid., p. 33. 12. Ibid., pp. 41-2. 13. Ibid., p. 36.
14. O'Connor, Natural Causes, pp. 48-70.
such a double amendment.? Here I survey briefly the workof O'Connor and Ted Benton.
O'Connor and Benton respond in similar fashion to the demand for the ecological reconstruction of Marxism by attending to the way in which Marxism theorises the production of nature. According to standard interpretations of Marx, an important distinction is drawn between the forces and relations of production. Productive forces refer, broadly, to the resources used in production - people, plant, sometimes land -understood as a mode of cooperation. Relations refer to the social/ economic relations in which these productive forces are operated: capitalist relations of production are always class relations. This is the classical first contradiction of capitalism identified by Marx: the social nature of the productive processes ofcapitalist accumulation is disclosed as capital goes through crises of overproduction, produces enormous wealth and yet leaves some in poverty.
Yet O'Connor notes, with some caveats, that Marx offers the beginnings of an account of a second contradiction: here the tension resides not between the forces and relations of production but instead between the forces and relations of production on the one side and conditions of production on the other. What are these conditions of production? According to O'Connor, Marx proposed three conditions of capitalist production: physical conditions; personal conditions of labour power; communal or general conditions of social production. Hidden behind this technical armature are, O'Connor suggests, three basic ecological conditions of capitalist production which may be described as follows:
Today, 'external physical conditions' are discussed in terms of the viability of ecosystems; the adequacy of atmospheric ozone levels; the stability of coast-lines and watersheds; soil, air, and water quality; and the like. 'Laborpower' is discussed in terms of the physical and mental well-being of workers; the kind and degree of worker socialisation; toxicity of work relations and the workers' ability to cope; and human beings as social productive forces and biological organisms generally. 'Communal conditions' are discussed in terms of'social capital,' 'infrastructure,' and so on.15
In such fashion, O'Connor retheorises Marx to offer an account of the basic environmental conditions of the interaction of human economy and nature's economy. Against the overly abstract commitments of the second
platform of deep ecology, presented here are not only the crucial ecological conditions of life but also reference to the conditions of the individual worker (the theme of much trade union negotiation) and that which develops and sustains the capacity of labour to labour: education, the urban transport system, the family. The metabolism of the relations between humanity and non-human nature thus has three modalities: physical conditions, environment ofthe worker and social infrastructure.
O'Connor identifies the tension between the natural conditions of production, and capitalist forces and relations of production, as a second contradiction of capitalism. In the increasing struggle over use of nonrenewable resources, the toxicity of workers' environments and the increasing traffic congestion in cities (with the attendant health risks) - to give a few examples - the nature of the social arrangements that structure these problems becomes more apparent. Green movements, trade unions and urban justice groups emerge in response to the greater awareness of the social origin and cause of environmental problems. In the same way that the first contradiction ofcapitalism generated the labour movement, so the second contradiction generates an environmental, if heterogeneous, movement.
Is this merely anthropocentric? Let us note, first, that this question may not be the best one to ask: we saw in chapter 3 that the determined attempt to overcome anthropocentrism in favour ofbiocentrism generates a series of theoretical difficulties, including the affirmation of a self and the steady retreat of nature. However, O'Connor notes that Marx generally failed to interpret the mode of production with sufficient radicality to grasp that labour has the form of cooperation between nature and culture.16 Nature is, properly, to be understood as 'an autonomous partner'.17 Elsewhere, O'Connor indicates the importance of acknowledging, theoretically and practically, that non-human nature has its own dynamics and tendencies:
Nature's economy, however, is organized (or organizes itself) on very different principles [to that of capital]. As biological and physical systems, hydraulic cycles, heat/energy systems, soil cycles, ecosystem diversity, and so on, at some point on the production curve, nature's productivity is self-limiting - a 'barrier to be overcome' by capital.18
O' Connor also introduces the concept of a logic of reciprocity. Such a reciprocating logic complements an understanding ofthe mode ofproduction as a mode ofcooperation. To this theme we shall return.
16. Ibid., p. 39. 17. Ibid., p. 45. 18. O'Connor, Natural Causes,p. 181.
Whereas O'Connor appears to regard Marx's work as normative yet underdeveloped, Ted Benton's view is more sceptical. However, Benton also begins his analysis from the conceptual apparatus of historical materialism: the productivity of the labour process. Benton argues that the way in which Marx conceptualises the labour process fails adequately to give an account ofthe natural conditions ofhuman life and features only one intentional structure (the transformative). According to Marx, in Benton's interpretation, there are three aspects of the labour process: the worker, that which is worked on and the instruments of labour. Furthermore, the instruments of labour refer both to the 'natural' condition of land and the 'produced' condition of social infrastructure.
Two important criticisms of this schema are made by Benton. First, the intentional structure ofthe labour process is depicted as one oftrans-formation. While the privileging of this account is readily understandable given the context in which Marx and Engels were writing, Benton concedes, yet such a model seems appropriate only for the production of certain types of commodity. The eco-regulatory practices of agriculture which do not transform but instead establish and maintain the conditions for crop growth are not properly described in the model. A second example, which has yet a different structure, is that of mining: here the basic material - coal, for example - is not transformed but rather appropriated or extracted.
What are the consequences of such a valorisation of one model of production, that is, the transformative.? These are many: the claim that raw materials and the instruments of production are limited in quantity is occluded; lost to sight is the important point that all raw materials have their origins in collection from nature; the reproduction oflabour power -reproduction itself, the home - is undertheorised; the contours of contextual conditions - natural and produced - need greater definition; unforeseen consequences of labour processes are not attended to.19 The larger conclusion to be drawn here is that Marx persistently overinter-prets the transformative capacity ofhis own productivist - that is, already narrow - account of the labour process. Benton concludes that certain contextual conditions ofproduction need to be theorised separately from instruments of production; how the sustainability of contextual conditions is to be secured needs theoretical articulation; and theoretical
19. Ted Benton, 'Marxism and Natural Limits: an Ecological Critique and Reconstruction', in T. Benton (ed.), The Greening of Marxism, pp. 157-83 (pp. 165-6).
purchase is required to explain unintended consequences of labour processes (e.g. pollution).
These commitments apply a fortiori to the type of intentional structure - eco-regulative - which governs the labour process in agriculture. Here the language of transformation is unhelpful, Benton contends. Agricultural labour is not transformative but is instead directed to the maintenance of the natural conditions as good for growth; such a context of natural conditions also suggests a certain rhythm in which crops are grown; nor do humans have complete control over these conditions (for example, climate and weather).20
What is the significance for a political theology of nature of such ecological reconstructions of Marxism? First, we must note that we are presented with interpretations ofthe range ofways in which human ecology relates to nature's economy. We shall have reason to test their strengths and weaknesses shortly, but we can already see an important emphasis which is new to the present study. Whereas deep ecology, for example, tends to focus on the general 'fact' of the placing of humanity in nature in a biocentric account, here the emphasis is on the discernment of relations between humanity and nature. A detailed account ofthe ways in which humanity produces nature - earlier identified as a lacuna in Bookchin's work - is presented. And, furthermore, whereas deep ecology tends to concentrate on people and their capacities for identification with nature, here the matter is social and economic practices in their contextual conditions. We are presented with a tendency towards concretion: the attempt to explore how non-human nature acquires the characteristics of use-value under a determinate set ofconditions. This matter ofconcretion is vital, as we shall see when it is raised in materially theological terms, in chapter 7, under the rubric of Christology. In addition, the ecological reconstruction of Marxism raises interesting questions for a political theology of nature about the meaning of the mastery of nature, natural limits and the relation of scarcity and abundance. To these issues, I now turn.
Was this article helpful?
Download this Guide and Discover How To Find And Monetize on Your Expertise And Strengths. Inside this special report, you'll discover: How positive thinking is one of the key factors in a successful life. Five ways and tools to help you stay positive. Use these to help you keep on track. Case studies that'll inspire you to stick to your dreams. Plus much, much more.