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Re: <nettime> Return to feudalism
Brian Holmes on Tue, 19 Sep 2017 20:47:58 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> Return to feudalism


On 09/19/2017 01:05 PM, franz schaefer wrote:
so if labour is no longer a relevant measure of value - as it is no longer
needed, then indeed the only thing that is relevant for the value is the
soil. marx most of the time neglects this as soil, back his days was
abundant. the value of things harvested of nature was mostly determined by
the labour it took to havest it and not su much by the value of the soil.

All your points are totally well-taken, but still it's possible to get more precise about it:

- When discussing the plantation economy and the colonial exploitation of the kinds of wealth that are now called "natural resources," like precious metals and so on, Marx tended to use the term "primitive accumulation," meaning the stuff was ripped off by force, including the force of enslavement, rather than being produced by free labor. A few years ago David Harvey began translating primitive accumulation into "accumulation by dispossession," both in order to accentuate the "ripped off by force" aspect, and to stress that this kind of accumulation has hardly disappeared, it is still ongoing. Now we talk about the "extractive economy" to indicate both this violence and its products, especially coal, oil, gas, rare earths and so on.

- When describing soil properly speaking, and the relationship between the hungry laboring city and the crops that grow from the fertility of the soil in the countryside, Marx used the term "metabolic relation," which is rather different from primitive accumulation. In Marx's day the city/country relation was a huge issue, because soil fertility tended to decline while population tended to rise. The young Marx was deeply involved in peasant revolts (that's how he got kicked out of Germany), so he explored all the questions of soil fertility and throughout his life he continued to recognize both the agency of the natural world, and the way that agency evolved in the metabolic relation between city and country, or if you prefer, between humanity and nature. In the year 2000 John Bellamy Foster transformed the contemporary understanding of Marx in a book called Marx's Ecology where he recovered this aspect of Marx's thought, which was basically ignored due to the incredible transformations brought by industry - notably the invention of synthetic nitrogen, which overcame the declining soil fertility that had obsessed nineteenth-century demographers.

Of course we have a new obsession in the twenty-first century: climate change. The products of the extractive economy produce CO2 and so does industrial ag, in a big way. Plenty of violence and ripoffs attend both processes. But now it looks as though the environmental consequences are about to dwarf those concerning wealth and redistribution. The metabolic relation between industrial society and the biogeochemical cycles of the earth is what any good Marxist should be thinking about and intervening in right now, imho.

best, Brian
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