Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 16, 2020

China’s Engine of Environmental Collapse.

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology — louisproyect @ 3:52 pm


On August 19, 2019, I unfurled my degrowth banner in a CounterPunch article titled “Ecological Limits and the Working Class” and followed it up with a review of leading degrowth theorist Giorgos Kallis’s “Limits: Why Malthus Was Wrong and Why Environmentalists Should Care” just six months later. Having read dozens of articles on degrowth over the past two years, I have concluded that the most persuasive argument on its behalf is Richard Smith’s China’s Engine of Environmental Collapse. Although there are only a few pages that reference the term specifically, the entire 286 pages will leave you convinced that unless China (and the rest of the world) begin to respect ecological limits, civilization will succumb to a new Dark Ages.

The references to growth and degrowth occur in chapter seven, cryptically titled “Grabbing the Emergency Brake,” a reference to the epigraph to chapter six. The words are from Walter Benjamin’s unfinished Arcades Project: “Marx says that revolutions are the locomotives of world history. But the situation may be quite different. Perhaps revolutions are not the train ride, but the human race grabbing for the emergency brake.” With the title of Smith’s book referring to China’s “engine,” one might say that the emergency brake and degrowth are practically synonymous.

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1 Comment »

  1. The author seriously needs to update his understanding of China and Marxism. Like all advanced economies, China has had its share of environmental problems AND like all other advanced economies, China has been addressing these environmental problems. Mr. Proyect should share with his readers, for example, the long term ban on fishing along the Yangtze and the clean-up of industrial discharges that have been identified by authorities, including the important contribution of Mr. Ma Jun in these efforts. Many sources of PM2.5 precursors have been shuttered near cities and as a result significant improvement in air quality has occurred. Just recently, President Xi announced to the world that China will reach carbon neutrality by 2065, with their carbon emissions reaching its peak by 2030, WHICH MEANS that China is increasing its commitment to reduced carbon emissions, even more than its current pledges to COP15 goals. As for understanding Marx, I suggest that Mr. Proyect read Capital Volumes 1 to 4 and get a really correct understanding of Karl Marx’s dialectical materialism ideas. Of course I don’t suggest such an undertaking that I haven’t done myself. As an anti-dote to Mr. Proyect’s China bashing, let me quote KM (Capital.Vol. 3,p 368): “The development of the productive forces of social labor is capital’s historic mission and justification. For that very reason it unwittingly creates the material conditions for a higher form of production.” (Also, it would help you Mr. Proyect to read the books by Ann Lee and Yukon Huang, two Chinese-American academics, which have quite up-to-date information about China). Thanks for reading.

    Comment by Alvin Valeriano — October 17, 2020 @ 7:23 am

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