Failure of the Western ‘left’ to understand the cause of environmental crisis

Readers of China Environment News will be aware that we have always tried to make a clear distinction between Western ‘liberal’ environmentalism and anti-imperialist ecological socialism, as exemplified by China’s integration of ecological civilization in to its approach to socialism.

The failure of the Western “left” to break from supporting the anti-China agenda pursued by the US and a relatively small number of subsidiary, rich Western countries, is a topic we have often discussed in China Environment News.

This problem can be traced back to so-called Western Marxism’s rejection of the dialectics of nature, as conceived especially in the later work of Frederick Engels, and indeed to back to Marx’s Economic & Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.

American Ecological Marxist, John Bellamy Foster, has written widely on the fact that:

“Although the Western Marxist tradition advanced dialectical thinking in numerous ways, the unfortunate consequence of its categorical rejection of the dialectics of nature was that the left generally came to be alienated from natural science and materialism itself, hindering its critique of capitalism’s war on the earth.”

Foster questions:

“Why are these issues so poorly understood on the left a century and a half later? And how should we respond? The truth is that Marx and Engels’s approach to historical-materialist Wissenschaft (system of knowledge, science) did not sever the historical-material world from the natural-material world. Quite the contrary, they saw them as interconnected. In an age of planetary ecological crisis, giving rise to the necessity of an ecological and social revolution, it is essential that this complex dialectical totality be once again approached in a unified way. Marxism needs to recover its classical synthesis, long torn apart, in order to develop a meaningful praxis for the twenty-first century.”

The rejection of the dialectics of nature, and ignoring of the objective role of nature in historical materialism, helps explain why much of the Western left has been so susceptible to actively aligning itself against the Global South, against China, and in favour of imperialism.

For readers who are interested in exploring the questions raised by Professor Foster, below is a link to a long (1hr 10m) but very worthwhile video presentation by him, which was delivered as the 2020 Deutscher Prize Lecture by John Bellamy Foster,

2020 Deutscher Prize Lecture by Professor John Bellamy Foster

Listen to  “The Return of the Dialectics of Nature: Marxian Ecology and the Struggle for Freedom as Necessity.”

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