Abstract: Critically discussing Malm’s (2018) The Progress of this Storm, this review article directly relates to a recent discussion in Historical Materialism concerning a major epistemic rift in the eco-Marxist debate (Cox vs Hornborg). The article provides an overview of Malm’s argument to subsequently refute his definition of historical materialism in terms of an abstract ‘substance monist property dualism’ as a relapse into a traditional materialism, the critique of which defines historical materialism since the Feuerbach Theses. This relapse is expressed in a false equation of nature and environment, a ‘fossil fixation’ of sorts that is criticised on the basis of Negative Dialectics (Adorno 2004) uncovering, furthermore, an authoritarian streak that leads to problematic political consequences. Malm’s book does not have it all wrong, however; its insistence on urgency as well as on the difference of nature and society are also valid. Even its misunderstandings correctly, if unintendedly, call for more prudence and precision in using terms like nature, construction or dialectics. Further on, collaboration of leftist theory-activists is favoured over their division into opposing intellectual camps – a division that is potentially deepened by the imbalance in the book between strong rhetoric and comparably weak content.
Keywords: climate change, critical theory, historical materialism, metabolic rift, negative dialectics, world-ecology
Author: Dr. Michael Kleinod
Affiliation: Department of Southeast Asian Studies, Institute for Oriental and Asian Studies, University of Bonn
Research interests: critical theory, Marxist sociology, postcapitalist transformation, praxeology, societal nature relations
It is eminently possible to be Marxist and mistaken. (A. Malm)
Only the will’s a priori ontical nature, which is extant like a quality, permits us, without being absurd, to make the judgment that the will creates its objects, the actions. It belongs to the world it works in. (T.W. Adorno)
Impending climate collapse testifies to capitalism’s metabolic rift, and it produces a rift in current eco-Marxist thinking. Definite identifications with either the one or the other side of this latter rift obstruct the view on a meaningful overcoming of the former. This review essay concerns one recent and rather extreme case of such dogmatic partisanship, Andreas Malm’s The Progress of this Storm (2018; henceforth Storm), which has received praise1 as well as criticism,2 and both for good reason. For its explicit and (supposedly) radical style of distinction, this book expresses certain fallacies of current eco-Marxism in a paradigmatic fashion. I will elaborate on some of the criticisms, namely, the shaky intellectual ground3 and the problematic politics that tend to come with it.
In a first step, the general argument of the book is presented, followed by a brief dissection of some of its central claims in order to subsequently delve into central epistemological flaws and resulting political conclusions. Some of the book’s positive teachings are appreciated further on in order to conclude on a less divisive style of eco-Marxist debate-in-action.
As the climate heats up and thoughts turn feverish, Malm rolls up his sleeves to declutter the fundaments of social theory. The overall argument is as straight as it is principal: ‘[…] any theory for the warming condition should have the struggle to stabilise climate – with the demolition of the fossil economy the necessary first step – as its practical, if only ideal, point of reference. It should clear up space for action and resistance’ (p. 18). Theory has a role either in prolonging and deepening or in overcoming ‘the warming condition’, and Storm is to set our heads straight. As climate change proves that nature and society are ‘colliding forces’ (p. 16), any claims which blur the distinction, such as on the social constructedness of nature, are blatantly false. Rather, ‘the more problems of environmental degradation we confront, the more imperative to pick the unities apart in their poles’ (p. 61; emphasis original) in order to inform ‘revolutionary ecological practice’ (p. 174). Siding with the metabolic rift camp against Bruno Latour, Jason W. Moore and others, the theoretical stance most conducive to the central target of ‘taking down the fossil fuel economy’ (p. 175) is climate realism based on a ‘substance monist property dualism’ (p. 59). Malm is consequently credited by metabolic rift proponents as saviour of ‘historical materialism as the only credible alternative’ from ‘those fashionable ecological philosophies clouding our understanding’.4 At least Malm has found an intellectual home, good for him. But whether the book’s argument is able to live up to its rhetorical force and fervour is indeed rather questionable.
(i) Empty abstractions
Contrary to what one would expect from an update of historical materialism, and for an acknowledged historian of capitalism5 rather surprising, Malm bases his argument and analysis on abstract philosophical speculations, rather than on established notions of capitalist value, relations of production, or materialist history. Numerous mentions of the word notwithstanding, history comes in substantially only as the idea that ‘[…] the storm of climate change draws its force from countless acts of combustion over, to be exact, the past two centuries’ (p. 5). Overall, however, historical materialism is redefined metaphysically as ‘substance monist property dualism’ for which nature and society are not different substances but different properties of the same substance. Along the lines of substance-property and monism-dualism, Malm positions himself by declaring ontological dogmas like ‘nature and society are material substances tout court, but the one cannot be equated with the other’ (p. 57). Nature-society dialectics are philosophised (rather than historicised) in abstract naturalist images, such as,
Nature is a soil for society, the fold out of which it grew and the envelope it can never break out of, but just as a tree can be told from its soil, society can be differentiated from nature, because it has shot up from the ground and branched off in untold directions over the course of what we refer to as history. (p. 58, emphasis original)
This quote goes along with the dialectical idea that humans are nature and, as far as creating society is in their nature, society is natural too. But this very general and abstract dialectic should not be the point where the undermining of the ‘envelope’ by a specific social formation is concerned. This kind of materialism conceals rather than clarifies the role of history in separating nature and society. In fact, this quote frustrates its own intention to establish society as qualitatively different from and antagonistic to nature: it grows like a tree, naturally it seems, out of nature (or is it ‘material substance’…?). So where is the problem, then? A tree certainly does not undermine the soil like capitalism does (or feudalism, for that matter). The argument thus produces judgements like:
Exactly as material, the tree and the chainsaw inhabit the same forest: that is why one can fell the other. But they also follow different laws of motion. That is also why one can fell the other. (p. 59)
This is as far as a ‘substance monist property dualism’ gets us: it explains neither the presence of the chainsaw in particular, nor the use it is put to, nor the difference between this chainsaw and, for example, Amerindian hunters or post-religious tree-huggers. It inadequately frames the historical separation between man and nature in terms of an abstract ahistorical unity.
But wait! The concept of emergence shall explain how society springs from the same substance as nature: ‘[…] an emergent property is a property of the system resulting from the organisation of its parts’ (p. 67). Out of combinations, that is, new properties arise. Alas, as foundational as this idea is to a sociological understanding of society (see for example Durkheim’s faits sociaux), it emphatically does not explain how, why or when ‘emergence’ actually happens, it only registers. Furthermore, it can only account for the coming about of different properties – but, again, not of utterly antagonistic ones, which seems necessary however to account for capitalist society’s ‘singular ability to affect aspects of nature so as to touch off a crisis’ (p. 70, emphasis added). Malm is consequently unable to convincingly rebut criticisms of this stance, such as that a property dualism merely shifts the problem of dualistic thinking, and we are left with mere assertions that there is ‘reason to believe’ that ‘some sort of solution must exist’ (p. 64).
The poverty of such a notion of historical materialism is compounded by the scarcity of references to anything specifically social, be it norms, roles, institutions, social structure, division of labour, domination, class, habitus, etc. In the same vein, although reference is of course made to capital or capitalism, specification is also sorely missed in this regard (see below). Instead, Storm leaves us with empty abstractions and a declarative, apodictic style of argument.
(ii) False equation
Storm maintains that nature and society can be told apart. The analyst needs to ‘sift out’ (p. 60) in particular cases to see ‘what we can change, in relation to what must be taken as given’ (p. 173). This should be a procedure ‘easy to conduct’ by ‘a crude test: have humans constructed the component, or have they not’ (p. 60)? Against the argument of Latour, Malm’s favourite punching ball, that there may be no case where the nature/society distinction is analytically applicable or useful, the example of the ozone layer (exactly a ‘favourite case of Latour’s’) is to make a point to the contrary: to Malm, ‘the manufacturing of chlorofluorocarbons’ is ‘[o]ne obviously social component’, while ‘the way the chlorine atoms of those substances react with ozone molecules’ should be a ‘no less obvious natural component’ (p. 60). Yet, in addition to problems such as whether atoms, apart from being first of all social concepts (below), are not concepts about ‘nature’; whether ozone is not also produced by ‘society’; or why we have a problem if the reaction between both is purely ‘natural’ – the most important question here is: How does the nature/society distinction really help in this case? In fact, it appears superfluous – if not utterly mistaken on this level of analysis. For if, following Marx’s central definition of labour in general,6 the metabolism between man and nature is between forces of nature; and if human appropriation necessarily plays along with a material’s specific properties (which is also why it is appropriated in the first place), the neat distinction on the plane of appearances is passé. Any observable thing is already an inextricable mediation of material and labour; it is ‘irreducibly socio-ecological’.7 Suggesting, in contrast, that nature and society exist in ‘combinations’ (e.g. pp. 60, 65, 168, and 173) on the plane of observation implies an equation of nature with the material, nonhuman environment (as if humans weren’t nature, too) and an a priori fixation on environmental problems as theoretical and political core issues (below) – a ‘resource fixation’ that is symptomatic also for Malm’s fellow combatants from the rift camp.8 Interestingly, that nature and society can be told apart is argued with reference to Marx (p. 159):
If we subtract the total amount of useful labour of different kinds which is contained in the coat, the linen, etc., a material substratum is always left. This substratum is furnished by nature without human intervention. When man engages in production, he can only proceed as nature does herself; i.e. he can only change the form of the materials.9
Storm emphasises the second sentence as this seems to drive home Malm’s point of Marx’s supposed insistence on ‘a sharp line between nature and society’ (p. 160). This is questionable because although a difference between nature and society is indicated here, it is also made clear that it is one in abstraction, not in the empirical world: the ‘subtracting’ of labour can only be hypothetical, and the ‘material substratum’ is thus, rather than an empirical datum, ‘the utmost abstraction’ (see below). But if the social metabolism and its crisis are concerned we can, by definition, not abstract from labour. It is therefore inconclusive to argue that if we ‘[…] “can dispense with the notion that something like climate change can be analyzed in its quasi-independent social and natural dimensions” […] we can dispense with the notion of analysing it all’ (p. 181, quoting Moore). Indeed, why should abstract categories like nature and society be more fruitful in analysing certain observations than elaborate concepts of, say, use-value and exchange-value; labour and capital; or chemical formulas?
Storm is therefore correct in claiming that ‘nature is real’ (p. 156) but wrong in suggesting it as empirically discernible. Its fixation on fossil fuels and climate, and their mostly implicit, yet false, equation with nature per se are based on a flawed epistemology that is bound to make for problematic politics.
Eye of the Storm
(i) Epistemological relapse
The relation of materialism and constructionism can be seen as the book’s main concern. And this relation is framed, according to the central claim of a nature/society (‘property’) dualism, in terms of an undialectical either/or: a good materialism is non-constructionist. This is bought with an unfortunate relapse into the traditional materialism prior to Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach. The underlying epistemology is well captured in the following statement:
The fact that all sorts of ideas about nature whirl in and around human minds does not justify the conclusion that these cannot be distinguished from that which they are about: […] conceptions of nature are culturally determined, but the referent is not thereby similarly constituted. […] We believe that the mountain […] has certain features […] that exist in themselves regardless of how the hikers have perceived them. (pp. 26—27; emphasis original)
According to the false equation just mentioned, nature is equated here with mountains while hikers represent society, or culture – whereas the positionality of the thinking subject, the author himself and his own cultural determination, i.e. his ‘belief’ in independent ‘features […] in themselves’ etc., fall out of the picture. The subject appears as being of a different ontological order, somehow external to the nature/culture distinction and with some direct wire to the object. Like the subject’s own cultural mediation, the historicity of the object is not reflected and turns into a sheer given. This speaks of an intellectual attitude of contemplation that is outdated at least since the Feuerbach Theses.10 Consequently, a concise critique of Storm’s epistemology is anticipated (by almost half a century) by a position that sought to stay true to the Theses: Adorno’s Negative Dialectics.11 In Adorno’s words, the above quote does not acknowledge the ‘purely privative and epistemological fact’ that it is impossible ‘to define “something” without mediation, […] the tautology that to think something is to think’.12 There is no way around cultural determination, including for the thinker. In turn, as much as concepts are necessarily concepts of something, they are also concepts of something; things are essential for concepts to exist; ‘[…] the thing itself is by no means a thought product. It is nonidentity through identity’.13 Combined with the opening quote of Adorno this can be read as thought creating or ‘constructing’ its object to the degree that it is part of some material practice that socially shapes nature. We do not get, this is Adorno’s point, to this referent of our concepts (of ‘nature’ or mountains) except through these concepts – and, importantly, through our critical reflection of their principal inadequacy of doing justice to the particular things they refer to. Theory – that is, the theorist – needs to reflect on his or her own entanglement with the objects of study.14
Consequently, any thing grasped as ‘nature’ is never immediately given but rather ‘the utmost abstraction of the subject-matter that is not identical with thinking.15 Not even the eloquent wording in Storm gets to directly ‘paste the particulars into the text’.16 Thus, neither ‘the mountain’ nor its supposedly independent ‘features’ nor Malm’s ‘belief’ in them as existing ‘in themselves’ can be considered in any sense as somehow non-conceptual, i.e. non-social. Yet, that thing referred to as mountain is certainly not fully culturally constructed, either; it is out there even if no human had any concepts or practices related to it. Alas, in turn, this particular thing, as well as ‘nature’ more generally, ‘taken abstractly, for itself—nature fixed in isolation from man—is nothing for man’.17
In other words, the claims of constructionism against traditional materialism need to be taken seriously without doing away with materialism. Even though there is no getting around the fact that nature is always given only as mediated by culture, or society: that which thought or categories refer to is never, and can never be, socially produced in its entirety. Bluntly, materialism must be thought through constructionism – not: either/or, but: as-well-as. Therefore, Malm is again right that a difference must be maintained between thought and thing, society and nature; but ‘[b]ecause entity is not immediate, because it is only through the concept, we should begin with the concept, not with the mere datum’.18 One of Malm’s cardboard dummies, Jason W. Moore, is thus utterly correct in asking: ‘If endless accumulation is the strategic mediating relation of humans and the rest of nature in the modern world, how do we know the crisis of the earth except through this relation?’19 In contrast, therefore, to Malm’s doctrine of a ‘combination’ of nature and society, ‘[n]othing in the world is composed— added up, so to speak—of factuality and concept’.20 Adorno once more: ‘Nothing but an indefatigably reified consciousness will believe, or will persuade others to believe, that it possesses photographs of objectivity. The illusions of such a consciousness turn into dogmatic immediacies’.21 Such epistemological dogmatism of a hard-headed empiricist nature/society opposition comes with an apodictic style of argument, and a not-so-implicit authoritarian streak also in its political conclusions.
(ii) Authoritarian streak
Malm’s theory and politics of “the warming condition” are expressly rooted in extreme states of affection that call for haste and hurry in the face of imminent ecocide. We are advised to ‘dare to feel the panic’ (p. 224), and ‘ecological class hatred’ is suggested as ‘perhaps the emotion most dearly needed’ (p. 195); it appears that we should quit ‘extraordinary lengths of sophistry’ (p. 36) and ‘swing into action’ (p. 76). This affective base plus a fossil fixation that includes empty abstractions in place of sociological specification translates into a blurry and problematic political outlook. Storm talks, of course, about ‘revolutionary ecological practice’ aiming at ‘the total expropriation of the top one to ten percent’ (p. 190), and it calls for a ‘militantly and efficiently anti-fascist’ attitude (p. 140). However, it does not seem to follow from anywhere in the overall argument that or why such political practice needs to be anti-fascist or democratic since, ‘[t]he first precondition […] is the destruction of business as usual – a matter of political content, which might very well require a certain democratic form but cannot be reduced to it’ (p. 152, emphasis original). How is this to be understood exactly? In fact, given the urgency and hugeness of the task, combined with the lack of any elaborate notion of class and capital, it is difficult to see why democracy should be truly necessary. In this situation some kind of ‘ecocracy’ might be more efficient. Nothing in Storm – least of all the refashioning of historical materialism as emergent ‘property dualism’ – appears to prevent such a conclusion. The a priori fixation on environmental impact mentioned earlier side-lines the actual nub of the matter – class – and remains spellbound by the central political aporia of our times, class vs. environment.22 Relatedly, fossil fixation suggests that capitalism is a problem only to the degree that it relies on fossil fuels, which constitute the independent variable, as it were. However, the historical relation of fossil and capital may be conceptually accidental, capitalism is principally imaginable without fossil fuels.23 In short, the ecological question is a social question, after all: ‘Shut down a coal plant, and you can slow global warming for a day; shut down the relations that made the coal plant, and you can stop it for good’.24
As problematic perhaps as such systematic blindness regarding the social core of ecological relations is, the axiomatic, declarative, and dogmatic style of argument does not tolerate much reasoning or consideration where it would be most necessary, such as in: ‘The subalterns of the world are the bearers of truth: such is the springboard for scientific socialism’ (p. 136); or, ‘Today, “science is not the enemy; suppression of science […] is the enemy” […]. Surviving the warming condition requires full alignment with cutting-edge science’ (p. 132). Such dogmas, as seen here, often come in a military lingo (‘victory’, ‘outpost’ etc.) as part of a radical pose rather than of a truly radical argument (i.e. one that gets at the roots).
A related problematic aspect also in terms of politics is an ostensible identification with one camp of the intellectual rift, and its complacent stylisation as the only haven of true radicalism. The manly gesture of ditching the ‘other’ effortlessly further deepens the rift among an intellectual group that should rather be united; even more so where the axiomatic declaration of inconsistent half-truths fails to live up to strong rhetoric. Instead of offering a convincing take on how exactly capital is involved in the warming condition, Storm engages in just the kind of ‘arid semantic quibble’ (p. 181) criticised in authors such as Jason W. Moore, who appear, however, more serious (and more successful, in my opinion) in pursuing a proper conceptualisation of the global predicament. Malm’s style of examining such arguments, as in world-ecology, is that of denouncing his own simplistic misconceptions for the sake of some ‘rhetorical point-scoring’.25 Such style of argument is detrimental to a consistent conceptualisation of the ecological crisis that would provide for a solid emancipatory perspective. Because of its theoretical weakness, the effect of the misplaced self-assured tone in Storm, entertaining as it otherwise would be, further corrodes the direly needed unity among progressives. In the mismatch between strong rhetoric and rather disappointing content, and in its virile posture, Storm is more part of the capitalist business as usual than its author would be ready to admit.
Above critique notwithstanding, Malm is still correct about many things. First of all, alarmism is certainly not misplaced, problematic as it surely is. Second, Malm is right to stress that eradicating the category of nature from theory eradicates any chance of explaining and criticising capitalist ecology and its attendant crisis. One can thus partly agree on his criticism of ANT’s collapsing of distinctions between who is able and responsible to politically act, and thus to make a meaningful change in the crisis-ridden social metabolism.26
Even major fallacies as well as Malm’s own ‘semantic quibble’ over concepts like construction or agency lead, at the very least, to a legitimate call for more care in our choice of words. To suggest that certain aspects of nature, like fossil fuels, mountains or the cosmos, are ‘literally’ and entirely constructed or socially produced certainly invite avoidable misunderstandings. Aspects of what nature may refer to are certainly socially produced to a higher degree (such as forests, animals etc.) than are others (such as the planet, fossils, the cosmos etc.). It should be made clear how such terms are applied and on what level of analysis and abstraction. In Storm, nature tends to refer to the environment or elements thereof – as if humans weren’t nature, and climate activism was not a way in which ‘nature defends itself’.27 At some levels of analysis, nature vs society might not be of much use at all. The same goes for the term dialectic: like nature, it carries a multiplicity of meanings so we could go on arguing endlessly about different understandings of the same term – for example, dialectics as ‘contradiction’ vs as ‘flow’ in the recent eco-Marxist ‘(non-) debate’ between the metabolic rift school of thought and the world-ecological conversation (see Cox in this journal). Actual dialectics get lost between the various dugouts on the discursive battlefield of progressive thought. The discussion should be less about dialectics per se but rather on how to consistently construct the current crisis in a way that can guide its practical and fundamental overcoming. Such discussion will automatically be dialectical.
As much as the current situation calls for immediate action, alarmism and panic as bases of theory results in short circuits, as paradigmatically documented in Storm. A major task for left intellectuals is thus indeed to ‘dare to feel the panic’ but not get panicky. This means staying true to historical materialism’s ‘password’ (Bloch), the eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach. As Bloch cautions, philosophy in service of revolutionary praxis emphatically does not mean to cut back on theory in order to immediately ‘swing into action’. But as much as only a good theory can make for good praxis, theory is itself practice to begin with, and a social one at that: theory as part of good revolutionary action therefore requires that progressives be in productive and open conversation. In contrast, however, ‘the’ left consists, more than in anything else, in an endless internal trench war about who is more correct. The combination in Storm of a polemic and flaws, as well as an all-too-decided siding with one specific ‘trench’, only prolongs and deepens this unproductive way of intellectual dispute. And it brings this book much too close to capitalist narcissistic puffery that hardly ever quite believes itself. By taking climate chaos as its central conceptual and political pivot, it remains fully within the scope of nature domination and its false alternative, promoting the ‘subjugation to nature’ instead of a subjugation of nature,28 maintaining the general mindset ‘which underwrote the destruction of nature.29 Overall, therefore, Storm demonstrates how, in fearful anticipation of collapse, consciousness turns to hard-headed dualisms and succumbs to the dictates of what it regards as nature.
Adorno, Theodor W. 2004, Negative Dialectics, London: Routledge.
Angus, Ian 2018, ‘Book Review The Progress of this Storm: Nature and Society in a Warming World’, Climate & Capitalism. URL: https://climateandcapitalism.com/2018/02/19/the-progress-of-this-storm/
Barca, Stefania 2017, ‘The Labor(s) of Degrowth’, Capitalism Nature Socialism, 30, 2: 207—216.
Bloch, Ernst 1996, The Principle of Hope Volume 1, Cambridge: MIT Press.
Callon, Michel 1986, ‘Some Elements of a Sociology of Translation: Domestication of the Scallops and the Fishermen of St Brieuc Bay’, in Power, Action and Belief: A New Sociology of Knowledge?, edited by John Law, London: Routledge.
Bourdieu, Pierre 1998, Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action, Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Douglas, Richard 2018, ‘Forging Connections: Review of The Progress of this Storm and General Ecology’, Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity. URL: https://www.cusp.ac.uk/themes/m/forging-connections/)
Foster, John Bellamy 1999, ‘Marx’s Theory of Metabolic Rift: Classical Foundations for Environmental Sociology’, American Journal of Sociology, 105, 2: 366—405.
Foster, John Bellamy and Brett Clark 2016, ‘Marx’s Ecology and the Left’, Monthly Review, 68, 2: 1—25.
Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno 2002, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Malm, Andreas 2018, The Progress of this Storm: Nature and Society in a Warming World, London: Verso.
Malm, Andreas 2016, Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming. London: Verso.
Martindale, Dayton 2018, ‘Nature Defends Itself’, Boston Review. A Political and Literary Forum. URL: http://bostonreview.net/science-nature/dayton-martindale-nature-defends-itself
Marx, Karl 1982, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy Volume 1, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
Marx, Karl 2010, ‘Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844’, in Collected Works of Marx and Engels Volume 3, Lawrence & Wishart with Electric Book.
Moore, Jason W. 2016, ‘The Rise of Cheap Nature’, in Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History and the Crisis of Capital, edited by Jason W. Moore. Oakland: PM Press.
Moore, Jason W. 2015, Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital, London: Verso.
Moore, Jason W. 2011a, ‘Ecology, Capital, and the Nature of Our Times: Accumulation & Crisis in the Capitalist World-Ecology’, Journal of World-Systems Research, 17, 1: 107—146. https://doi.org/10.5195/jwsr.2011.432
Moore, Jason W. 2011b, ‘Transcending the Metabolic Rift: A Theory of Crises in the Capitalist World-Ecology’, Journal of Peasant Studies, 38, 1: 1—46.
Morris, Hannah E 2019, ‘Book Review: The Progress of this Storm: Nature and Society in a Warming World’, Communication and the Public, 4, 1: 82—86.
Oppermann, Serpil 2018, ‘Book Review of The Progress of this Storm: Nature and Society in a Warming World’, Ecozon@: European Journal of Literature, Culture and Environment, 9, 1: 146—150.
Patel, Raj and Jason W. Moore 2018, A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things. A Guide to Capitalism, Nature, and the Future of the Planet. London: Verso.
Robbins, Michael 2018, ‘Unnatural History: How Capitalism Causes Global Warming’, Bookforum. URL: https://www.bookforum.com/print/2405/-19151
Sheehan, Helena 2018, ‘Between Nature and Society’, Monthly Review, 69, 10.
Wilén, Carl 2018, ‘Book Review: The Progress of this Storm: Nature and Society in a Warming World’, Acta Sociologica, 61, 4: 460—463.
- 1. E.g. Wilén 2018, Robbins 2018, Angus 2018, Sheehan 2018.
- 2. E.g. Douglas 2018, Morris 2019, Martindale 2018, Oppermann 2018.
- 3. Morris 2019, p. 83.
- 4. See Ian Angus’ and John Bellamy Foster’s respective cover praises.
- 5. See Malm 2016.
- 6. Marx 1982, p. 283.
- 7. Moore 2011a, p. 109.
- 8. E.g. Foster 1999.
- 9. Marx 1982, p. 133.
- 10. In his seminal interpretation of Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach Bloch (an author Malm references favourably) argues that, following Marx, materialist theory cannot be merely ‘contemplative’ (as if the theorist could take a position outside the practice relation) but must be developed from the standpoint of praxis and activity: ‘[…] previous materialism lacks the constantly oscillating subject-object relation called work” (Bloch 1996, p. 257; emphasis original). For Marx, according to Bloch, ‘activity-shy perception […] sees the “circumstances” merely as that which is standing around men. […] so-called givenness [is] a particularly object-based, i.e. apparently materialistically related concept. However, apart from the fact that it is, semantically, a changeable concept that would not be valid if there were no subject to which alone something is given or can be given, there is in the world which constitutes the human environment hardly anything given which is not equally something worked on [climate included; MK]. Hence Marx speaks of the “material” which natural science only receives through trade and industry. In reality, only surface contemplation shows the given; after a little probing, however, every Object of our normal environment reveals itself to be by no means sheer datum’ (ibid, 259; emphases original).
- 11. See Adorno 2004. Referring to Adorno’s Negative Dialectics does not imply overlooking the criticism and shortcomings of this perspective (e.g. Vogel 1996; Foster and Clark 2016, but also Adorno’s own account). Obviously, space prohibits engaging in a full-fledged discussion of this stance. It does seem however that such a perspective is not too far away from Malm’s own inclination as he refers to Critical Theory protagonists like Adorno, Bloch, Marcuse favourably, and he explicitly argues that critical theory, i.e. ‘[n]egativity is our only chance now’ (p. 223). The book’s title, furthermore, draws from Walter Benjamin.
- 12. Adorno 2004, p. 171.
- 13. Adorno 2004, p. 189. In this sense, nature might not even be considered a proper theoretical concept (in contrast perhaps to society) but rather a name for the nonidentical moment in our concepts (Adorno 2004, 178).
- 14. This point is also continuously stressed in the writings of another adherent to the Feuerbach Theses, Pierre Bourdieu, and his methodological claim of the observer’s need to ‘objectify objectification’ (Bourdieu 1998).
- 15. Adorno 2004, p. 135; emphasis added.
- 16. Adorno 2004, p. 11.
- 17. Marx 2010, p. 345, emphasis original. Malm’s claim that, ‘the oceans are not polluting themselves; humans are doing it’ (p. 178) might be true to an extent; but taken further this turns into a circular argument as pollution is a priori defined as unnatural, necessarily done by human society in this scope. And even if some kind of pollution without humans was imaginable (to humans, that is), say, in the form of a toxic meteorite: there would not be anyone for whom that would be a problem – in this sense, there wouldn’t even be an “ocean”.
- 18. Adorno 2004, p. 153.
- 19. Moore 2011b, p. 12; emphasis original.
- 20. Adorno 2004, p. 188.
- 21. Adorno 2004, p. 205; emphasis added.
- 22. Where climate activism stands against industrial workers, this is often due to a fixation of political action on climate and energy, and revolutionary theory and practice would have to address this problem (Barca 2017).
- 23. See Patel and Moore 2018, p. 172.
- 24. See Moore 2016, p. 94.
- 25. Oppermann 2018, p. 148.
- 26. Classic ANT examples of rather unhelpful subject-object blurring include statements like, ‘scallops become dissidents’ – despite the fact that in order to become such political actors they need ‘a crowd of other actors’ to ‘carry them away’ (Callon 1986).
- 27. Martindale 2018.
- 28. See Horkheimer & Adorno 2002, p. 25.
- 29. Oppermann 2018, p. 148.