FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Review of Joel Kovel’s The Enemy of Nature

by TED DACE

 

The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World?
by Joel Kovel
Zed Books

For Joel Kovel the revolution is only a matter of time. Marx was right: Capitalism cannot help but prepare the stew in which it will roast. But the old man got one thing wrong. The ultimate antagonist of capital is not labor but nature. If Marx made a fetish of capital’s propensity to generate too much wealth to be profitably re-invested, Kovel does the same in regard to planetary ecosystem crackup. Instead of periodic economic downturn catapulting the proletariat into History, it’s the shattering of life-essential natural processes that’s destined to set off socialist (make that ecosocialist) revolution.

Professor Kovel, who ran to the left of Ralph Nader for the Green Party nod in 2000, wastes no time making the case that capitalism, by its very nature, cannot help but destroy the integrity and well-being of what we call “nature.” No need for yet another inventory of disturbances in the environment, our bodies, and our psychic balance. The enemy of nature is not oil or pesticides or factories or bulldozers but capital, “that ubiquitous, all-powerful and greatly misunderstood dynamo that drives our society.”

While traditionally the marketplace is a means of exchanging goods for money so as to purchase other goods, under capitalism it becomes a way of accumulating money. Reversing the natural order, the merchant starts off with money and buys the product of someone else’s labor, then turns around and sells it at a markup. As long as the laborer is poor and the buyer rich, the trader makes a profit.

What gives a commodity value is not what we do with it, like using bricks to build houses or shoes to walk home in, but the price it commands in trade. In contrast to “use value,” a quality that belongs to any given item intrinsically, “exchange value” is an abstraction that must be expressed quantitatively. When you buy a pair of shoes–or better yet, a thousand pairs–only to sell them for profit, their entire value is a number.

As the basis of economics becomes the trade itself and not the tangible thing exchanged, money is transformed into an all-consuming monster. No longer bound up with the limitations of actual land, people, and resources, it springs to life, an abstraction with a will of its own. “Pure quantity,” says Kovel, “can swell infinitely without reference to the external world.”

There lies the source of our ecological crisis.

Despite its reputation as the very acme of rational economic exchange, capitalism follows its own imperatives, quite apart from the needs of humans and ecosystems. In its compulsion to grow and multiply, capital “constantly tries to violate” whatever limit is set before it. Success means only one thing: surpassing yesterday’s mark. No matter how big the beast gets, to cease growing further is to die. Yet the one thing we know for sure is that it can’t grow forever. Sooner or later abstraction runs up against reality.

So, is capitalism setting the stage for ecosocialist uprising? “If the argument that capital is incorrigibly ecodestructive and expansive proves to be true, then it is only a question of time before the issues raised here achieve explosive urgency.” True enough, but that doesn’t mean the Revolution is just over the horizon. What Kovel overlooks is the likelihood that worsening environmental conditions will exacerbate the scarcity that already pits us against each other. While the rich compete to survive as rich people, the poor compete to survive, period. If it’s the money-driven struggle of all-against-all that’s pushing us, inexorably, to the edge of the cliff, shouldn’t we expect rising insecurity and the resulting intensification of this struggle to push us right over the edge? Precisely when, between now and doomsday, do the masses finally revolt?

As Kovel himself points out, capitalists are perfectly willing to perpetuate eco-destabilization as long as they successfully insulate themselves and perhaps even profit from the meltdown all around them. He cites an article in London’s Guardian Weekly purporting to show a shift in elite opinion since the early 70s, when the Club of Rome called for “limits to growth.” These days, digging our own grave is the ultimate business opportunity.

Taking Kovel to task in the September, 2002 issue of Monthly Review, John Bellamy Foster noted, “We should not underestimate capitalism’s capacity to accumulate in the midst of the most blatant ecological destruction, to profit from environmental degradation… and to continue to destroy the earth to the point of no return–both for human society and for most of the world’s living species.”

Times are tough? How about a liquidation sale? Like Marx before him, Kovel finds a silver lining where none exists. There’s just no pulling the socialist rabbit out of the capitalist hat.

TED DACE has written for Skeptic, Z Magazine, Make Room for Dada, and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. He can be reached at: edace@earthlink.net

Ted Dace is an independent scholar. His critique of capitalism and science, Escape from Quantopia, was published by Iff Books. “Special Relativity in a Universe of Flowing Time” is available here. He can be reached at dace@muchomail.com.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Phillip Kim et al.
Open Letter to Bernie Sanders from Former Campaign Staffers
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Convention Con
Lewis Evans
Executing Children Won’t Save the Tiger or the Rhino
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
David Rovics
The Republicans and Democrats Have Now Switched Places
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Artistic Representation of War and Peace, Politics and the Global Crisis
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Kathleen Wallace
Feel the About Turn
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
Charles R. Larson
Review: B. George’s “The Death of Rex Ndongo”
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail