American Economic Association
Because of the appropriation of land through its enclosure and conversion to private property, most humans no longer have a direct relationship to the means of subsistence, with the result that we experience a four-fold alienation: 1 we are alienated from the products of our labor—that is, they do not contribute directly to the satisfaction of our needs; 2 we are alienated from the labor process itself, and since labor is one of the things that makes us distinctly human, we are thus alienated from ourselves, what Marx called our human species-being; 3 we are alienated from each other, because rather than engaging in a communal project to satisfy our needs as human beings, we are forced into competition with each other to secure access to the means of production from capitalists and labor for their profit, and because we are by nature social, we are thus once again alienated from ourselves; and 4 we are alienated from nature—our inorganic body.
Under feudalism in Europe, agricultural production was carried out by peasants in the service of feudal lords, who owned the bulk of the land. Over time, feudal fealty was replaced with a system of rents, and common lands were increasingly enclosed, leading to the eventual ending of a direct relationship with the land for the majority of people.
You can see this in Europe by looking at legal records. An intellectual turning point for Marx was when he discovered that five-sixths of prosecutions in Prussia in the early s concerned wood—the taking of wood for personal use from forests that recently had been privatized. In the run-up to capitalism, although most land was owned by feudal lords and worked by peasants for their own subsistence and tributes, pasture lands and forests were open to common use; peasants could graze their cattle or gather wood or hunt for rabbits or do whatever else they needed to do to supplement their farming.
With the rise of capitalism, this changed. Even the gathering of cranberries, a traditional activity of children, was made illegal. In the village of Buckden. This alienation of people from the land led many to be concentrated in towns, while those who stayed in the countryside became workers in a system of commercial agriculture. In both the towns and the countryside, workers were alienated in the four ways mentioned. For agricultural workers, this freedom meant that they were socially and intellectually deprived.
As Marx put it, in such large towns,. Even the need for fresh air ceases to be a need for the worker. Man reverts once more to living in a cave, but the cave is now polluted by the mephitic and pestilential breath of civilization. Moreover, the worker has no more than a precarious right to live in it, for it is for him an alien power that can be daily withdrawn and from which, should he fail to pay, he can be evicted at any time.
Light, air, etc. Dirt —this pollution and putrefaction of man, the sewage this word is to be understood in its literal sense of civilization—becomes an element of life for him. Universal unnatural neglect, putrefied nature, becomes an element of life for him. The divide between town and country, another aspect of the metabolic rift, is a major issue for both Marx and Engels. In previous social organizations, nutrients taken from the soil were directly replaced either by animal manure or human waste.
This kept the soil fertile and gave the waste a good place to go.
The separation of town and country interrupted this phase of the metabolism of humans and nature. Rather than returning it to the soil as a nutrient, the waste generated in the cities was either left to pollute the living areas of working-class people while the ruling class occupied carefully manicured parks at a certain remove or dumped on some other element of nature. As Marx put it:. Natural human waste products.
The latter are of the greatest importance for agriculture. But there is a colossal wastage in the capitalist economy in proportion to their actual use. In London, for example, they can do nothing better with the excrement produced by four and a half million people than pollute the Thames with it, at monstrous expense. Meanwhile, the monstrously expensive process that polluted the Thames was also responsible for soil depletion.
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All progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time is progress towards ruining the more long-lasting sources of that fertility. Capitalist production, therefore, only develops the technique and the degree of combination of the social process of production by simultaneously undermining the original sources of all wealth—the soil and the worker.
This particular aspect of the metabolic rift, the separation of town and country and the interruption of the replenishment of the soil, was to generate many consequences—consequences that Marx understood due to his fascination with the work of German agricultural chemist Justus von Liebig. The next step in this process of destruction was the discovery of the role that nitrates and phosphates play in restoring depleted soil, as well as the discovery of guano as a plentiful source for them. These discoveries helped to create yet another rift, between imperialist and colonized countries——the global expression of the town and country divide.
Guano, or seabird excrement, was available in enormous quantities, built up over centuries on some islands off the coast of Peru. European capitalists soon realized that they could use guano instead of freely available human waste to restore the fertility of the depleted soil and turn it into a profit-producing industry. Chinese workers, deprived and made desperate by the Opium Wars, were transported, enslaved, and worked to death gathering guano. The natural resources of multiple South American countries were devastated and their economies brought into ruinous relationships with European states, millions of seabirds were killed, and proxy wars were fought, all in the service of restoring the productivity of European farmland through the fertilizer industry.
After all this destruction, further scientific progress led to the artificial production of nitrates, putting the guano extractors out of business. It also increased the possibility of further unforeseen consequences. The advent of industrially-produced chemical fertilizers generated nitrogen and phosphorous runoff, leading to the contamination of ground water and lakes with excessive nutrients creating algae blooms and hypoxic dead zones. Let us not.
For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. When the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests on the southern slopes, so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were cutting at the roots of the dairy industry in their region; they had still less inkling that they were thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, and making it possible for them to pour still more furious torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons.
Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature—but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly. As Paul Burkett convincingly explains, 26 it is not Marx but capitalism that downgrades and excludes the contribution of nature to production.
Marx wrote:. The use values. If we take away the useful labor expended upon them, a material substratum is always left, which is furnished by Nature without the help of man. We see, then, that labor is not the only source of material wealth, of use values produced by labor.
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However, in his labor theory of value Marx is not laying out the way he thinks the world should be or what he thinks is valuable in terms of human need. He is describing economic behavior as it is under capitalism. It is not Marx, but capitalism, that equates only abstract socially necessary labor time with value—that is, value under capitalism is determined by exploited labor labor expended over and above its own cost because exploited labor is the source of profit.
Because no exploited labor goes into the production of, say, a naturally occurring forest, when a capitalist monopolizes that forest and charges rent for its use, there is no increase in capital to the system as a whole. That is, no labor has gone into producing the forest, so no surplus value can be extracted from it. Nor has it taken up any investment of capital. The fact that value under capitalism is inextricably tied to exploitation is one obstacle to capitalism having a nonexploitative relationship with nature.
Another is the competitive drive for accumulation. Just as its dynamics are independent of the needs of the workers, they are also independent of the needs of the capitalists. Capitalism has its own needs. Because production is organized on the basis of competition, investment of capital by one firm must be matched by competing firms making the same product or they risk going bankrupt.
This system of competitive investment, the constant drive to accumulate wealth or value, is central to capitalism. It is because of this dynamic that capitalism relates to nature completely differently to previous human societies. For not only does the scientific knowledge exist to use something other than human waste or animal manure to fertilize fields, but an industry can be made out of it—two industries, in fact: the waste disposal industry and the chemical fertilizer industry, and one provides, at least initially, for the possibility of international expansion.
Both of these industries allow plenty of room to exploit labor—much more than letting your cows wander around in the fields for a few days or letting a well-planned and controlled fire redistribute some carbon. The upshot is that capitalist competitive accumulation is an engine for endless expansion and it necessarily comes into conflict with nature, which has limits.
fibawiwyteqi.ml It also leads to the short-termism noted above—that is, the making of decisions about how to allocate resources and interact with nature based on the ability to secure profits rather than on the safeguarding of human lives, the environment, or the coevolution of both. It is not the case that capitalists cannot plan ahead. They are not incapable of setting up future profits. But planning to protect the environment or the people who must live in it is not at the top of their agenda.