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Sunday, August 18, 2013

Karl Marx - A Nineteenth Century Life - Review by Eric Aarons


above: A photograph of a young Karl Marx

In this article former National Secretary of the Communist Party of Australia Eric Aarons reviews a new book on the life and work of Karl Marx.  Eric explores this new title in light of his vast experience as a socialist activist.  Amongst the themes Aarons explores are: Marxism determinism,  the Hegelian connection, the historical context of Marx's work, and the question of class as the central category for socialism.
by Eric Aarons;  August 2013

The publication of Jonathon Sperber’s new book Karl Marx: A Nineteenth Century Life is a notable and welcome event.  It is very well written, and uses the new MEGA (Marx and Engels’ Collected Works) which corrects and replaces, on the basis of meticulous research, older translations, and even whole books such as The German Ideology, never published by Marx or Engels.   It is not suggested that such errors were deliberate, but correcting them provides a more reliable basis for scholarship.  

Another feature, which the author himself supplies, is a relatively short and, in my view, correct account of the thoughts and theories of writers who influenced Marx, for instance Georg Hegel.   Hegel is often hard to interpret because his reasoning, especially concerning the journeys of ‘the world spirit’, is difficult for most of us to penetrate or accept.   And, though Marx may have been somewhat influenced by the positivism of his day, he was far from embracing it.  Re Marx’s article On the Jewish Question, often held to contain anti-Semitism, I concur with Sperber’s view that this is erroneous and misses the point.

I don’t think anyone will be able to fault the author on matters of fact; but there will always be issues of judgment, priorities, omissions and the like, some instances of which I will raise.

I had read a number of books about Marx’s early life, but was particularly taken with his essay on the high-school one: ‘Observation of a Young Man on the Choice of Profession’.  Marx wrote: ‘… it did not suffice to follow an occupation for which one had both the inclination and ability. Rather, the chosen occupation should be one that “grants us the highest dignity, that is founded on ideas, about whose truth we are convinced, that offers the greatest field in which to act for humanity, and even to approach the universal goal, completeness and perfection. Every occupation is just a means to that goal”’. Marx suggested that such completeness and perfection occurs at the intersection of the fulfillment                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   of individual inclinations and abilities, and the improvement of the human condition (page 31). Most of the many communists I have known have been motivated by that social value. 

Sperber generously evaluates the Manifesto of the Communist Party as ‘a literary masterpiece: compact, pithy, elegant, powerful and sarcastically amusing all at once, and was a deeply personal expression of Marx’s own experiences and intellectual development.’      (p. 203). But he did not comment on the fact that it included the words: ‘if selling and buying disappears, free selling and buying disappears also’, which was clearly what Marx had in mind for a socialist society, and came to be a major negative factor in the Soviet and later Maoist economies.

Radical Democracy
In chapter 3, Sperber presents an interesting account of Marx’s deepest view of democracy, which is centered on his long-term view of a degree of unity between private and public property. In his Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law, (written in France) Marx went further than he had before about a new arrangement of state and society. This he described (after reading Rousseau) as ‘a union of the private interests in which the particular private  concerns with the general would simultaneously articulate the universal common good, since both would be manifestations of the people, the basis of democracy’. Marx emphasized his view that ‘the universal common good would no longer be the exclusive property of the state standing against and opposed to society. Instead there would be a regime in which the particular private concerns of civil society would simultaneously articulate the universal common good since both would be manifestations of the people, the basis of democracy’ (page 115)

It was in France also that Marx entered his first real relationships with the actual working class, when consciousness of its own suffering, aspirations and ideas were just emerging, but nevertheless then saw in it the class force that could carry through his revolutionary hopes.

There, too, Marx wrote his article on liberation of the Jews: ‘having identified Jews with capitalism, he conversely identified capitalism with the Jews. If egoism and practical need were principles of Judaism, they were also principles of civil society. These principles were articulated as money “which is the essence of man’s labour and his being that has been alienated from him. That alienated being dominates him and he worships it.” (p. 131)

Neo-liberal doctrine holds, on the contrary, that ‘most people are still reluctant to accept the fact that it should be the disdained ‘cash-nexus’ which holds the Great Society together, that the great ideal of the unity of mankind should in the last resort depend on the relations between the parts being governed by the striving for the better satisfaction of their material needs’. * (Law Legislation and LIiberty ,vol, 2, page 112).

Where I come in

My interest in Sperber’s book did not stem from a desire to try to protect Marx from criticism. Though my father and his parents were members of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), I personally had little interest in politics, though I had experienced, through observation, some of the human wreckage among those who had survived the Great War, then lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s.

But in 1938, at age 19, when I entered university and a new world war loomed, I joined the CPA, avidly studied Marx, and engaged in university politics. At war’s end, I became a Party Functionary (apparatchik) specializing in party education, then in general party work. In 1951, at Chinese invitation, I lead a group of young members to a school on ‘Marxism and the Thought of Mao Zedong.’ It lasted 3years.

The high expectations of rapid ‘left’ progress following the crucial role of Soviet forces in ‘tearing the guts out of the Germany Army’, as Churchill put it, then the victory of the Chinese Revolution and the demise of colonialism, nevertheless did not materialize. More truths about socialist economic and democratic failures emerged, China and the Soviet Union fell out and Communist Parties split.

To cap it all, Soviet and satellite forces in 1968 invaded a Czechoslovakia that had developed a program to create ‘socialism with a human face’. I did not and do not believe that Marxism, as such, had anything to do with those reprehensible events, but I felt deeply an obligation, to myself and those I had taught, to re-examine the founding beliefs, ideas and theories of the movement that had set out to replace the very flawed capitalist system that is now spawning ever more dangers to the planet itself, and to its dependent inhabitants, human and otherwise.



Though this concept became one of the greatest and oft repeated faults in the theoretical system that Marx built, Professor Sperber does not deal with it. In Marx’s Preface to the first edition of Capital, he wrote: ‘… even when a society has got upon the right track for the discovery of the natural laws of its movement – and it is the ultimate aim of this work, to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society – it can neither clear by bold leaps, nor remove by legal enactments, the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its natural. development. But it can shorten and lessen the birth pangs’. (emphasis added)          t

He made another, even stronger, appeal to the ‘inevitability’ of human advance to socialism, and to the dialectical method, in his enthusiastic welcome to the review of Capital in the St.Petersburg European Messenger (May, 1872). This said:

The one thing which is of moment to Marx is to find the law of the phenomena with whose investigation he is concerned; and not only is that law of motion of moment to him, which governs these phenomena … Of still greater moment to him is the law of their variation, of their development, i.e., of their transition from one form into another, from one series of connections into a different one … and this all the same, whether men believe or do not believe it, whether they are conscious or unconscious of it. Marx treats the social movement as a process of natural history governed by laws not only independent of human will, consciousness and intelligence, but rather, on the contrary, determining that will, consciousness and intelligence. (emphasis added)

Marx comments: ‘Whilst the writer pictures what he takes to be actually my method, in this striking and [as far as concerns my own application of it] generous way, what else is he picturing but the dialectical method?’

How to study human society?

Long ago, as the humans originating in Africa migrated around the world, establishing along the way some settlements that became permanently different types of society, the issue arose of how to study those differences in a systematic way. There may be others, including some of the Greek and Roman thinkers, but one set of outstanding precursors of Marx in this area were the Scottish Historians, the most famous of whom is Adam Smith.  Another member of that group was William Robertson, who summed up their orientation: ‘In every inquiry covering the operations of men when united in society, the first object of attention should be their mode of subsistence. Accordingly as that varies, their laws and policy must be different.’ (Collected Works, 1812, vol. 5, p.111; quoted by Andrew Skinner in his Introduction to the Penguin edition of The Wealth of Nations Books 1- 3).

{Smith devised a four-stage set of social developments, using what became (perhaps from the above source) Marx’s ‘mode of production’ concept  to establish guiding lines between them, together with a corresponding degree of development of property relations. The first featured hunting and gathering, as with the native tribes of North America, where private property was negligible.

The next stage, pasture, featured a nomadic existence and a distinctive form of private property – cattle – along with the beginnings of class divisions between rich and poor, and the origins of civil government to ‘establish peace’ between them.

The third stage, in Smith’s scheme, is the agrarian one, following the decline of Rome, where ownership of great landed estates was for the rich, and tillage activities for the poor – that is, the feudal system. This existed also in South America and the Meso-American area that connected it with the North.

The last stage was the commercial one, in which private property in the rapidly developing means of production was the primary feature, and capitalists made commodities to sell them at a profit.  Concerning this, another of the Scottish Historians, David Hume, wrote that: ‘Unlike other passions, which are quite inconstant, material interests are constant and difficult to restrain: this avidity alone, of acquiring goods and possessions for ourselves and our nearest friends, is insatiable, perpetual, universal and directly destructive of society.’ (Stephen Buckle, Natural Law and the Theory of Property: Grotius to Hume, 1991 page 294)

A little History

It is difficult to write about a history book, without writing about history. Yet I have no historical knowledge of the period under review that could add to what Professor Sperber has so thoroughly researched. But I point out for the reader some of the facts he unearthed that particularly impressed me.

For instance: ‘the extent of the newspaper articles written by Marx between 1853 and 1862 was greater than everything else he published during his lifetime put together.’ (page 296)

‘Three major topics dominated his writing: the Crimean War of 1853-56, and its implications for the foreign policies of the great powers and the domestic politics of Great Britain; the conditions and conflicts  of the British Empire in Asia, including the Second Opium War with China in 1856-60, along with the massive Indian uprising against British imperial rule in 1857, and the implications of these conflicts for global capitalism; and the causes and consequences of the worldwide recession of 1857, including what Marx hoped would be a new wave of revolutions in Europe’. (page 302)

A few years ahead, we find Marx active in the affairs of the International Working Men’s Association. Known as The First International, this was ‘a loose federation of affiliated  workers’ societies. Twenty three English trade unions with upward of 25,000 members, were the backbone of the group.’ They were particularly involved in solidarity movements, for instance convincing German artisans not to be recruited as strikebreakers during the London tailors’ strike of 1866 (page 358), and indirectly playing a significant role in the Paris Commune of 1871.

Marx also helped to wind the organization up in 1864.This centred on the fact that the anarchist Russian, Bakunin, and others of like mind favored above all the setting up of ‘secret societies’ which Marx rightly opposed, because politics,  even then, had come to require open public views, as with the Manifesto which proclaimed ‘The communists disdain to conceal their views and aims.’ To fail to do so and to rely on ‘secret societies’ and conspiratorial groups is, in effect, to accept defeat in advance, because radical new ideas have to ‘win the battle of democracy’ by winning over a large body of the active citizens.

Is there an alternative to confiscating all private means of production

Marx said in the Manifesto: ‘In all these movements against the existing social and political order of things [the communists] bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time.’  And, achieving power in 1917 in the midst of the ‘Great’ First World War, the communists built and operated, for seven decades, a society based on state-ownership of all the main means of production, along with suppression of small businesses. But they never succeeded in creating, on that basis, a permanently viable economy or a democratic polity.

There were three main reasons for this failure: First, that the concentration of ownership (actually ‘control’, because the means of production couldn’t be sold) of all the means of production by the government gave the leaders virtually uncontestable power, which both Stalin and Mao took for themselves.  Others following them, particularly Mikhail Gorbachev, tried hard to radically amend the system, but were unable to curb the power of the overblown government apparatus that had developed, or reverse the resentment, inertia and ‘look after yourself’ attitudes of the workforce. Second, there was no way open in which individuals could better themselves and have an opportunity to wield a modicum of influence on economic and/or political power.  Third, the ideology (as it had now become, see below) buttressing that state of affairs, claiming to be Marxist or ‘Marxist-Leninist’, was rigidly enforced, leaving no opportunity for alternative views and practices to develop, or theoretical advances and corrections to be made.

Human will, consciousness and intelligence

These precious characteristics are indeed inborn (genetic) aspects of the human species, but as we all know, they are modified (increased, diminished, fixated, in particular directions …)  by our associations: family, occupation, experiences in life, education, and media impacting our eyes, ears, tastes and other senses…

Consciousness and self-consciousness, though found in embryonic forms in other species, is particularly significant; it developed in the human species, and is exhibited in sociability, cooperation, empathy, morality, social values, inventiveness, science, the arts and sport …

Reason suggests that in the limitless universe in which we exist, there must be other species with similar characteristics with whom we could connect and learn from.   But, despite many years of search by various means, no such beings have yet been found. It’s early days; but at the same time, increasingly worrying signs appear of possible human self-destruction through global warming and the stress on the resource-providing base of the planet we now impose, is now being escalated by the melting of billions of tons of now frozen methane, which is a stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

 The Labour Theory of Value

Many economic theories developed quite early as capitalism gained the ascendancy.  Among them was the question of the worth, or value of any particular commodity among a host of others. The first and most extensively held view was that the value of any commodity depended on the quantity of socially necessary labour expended in producing it.  This view had connections with the earlier feudal system where artisan guilds controlled production, then executed with small manual tools. There seemed to be no other common feature invested in commodities other than labour and the time it spent in producing them.  The early economists, Adam Smith and David Ricardo, held to that view, as did Marx and many others. Capital, Vol.1, Chapter 1, featured it in a big way, often cracking the heads of those reading it.

But the issue became serious as the Industrial Revolution got under way at the beginning of the 19th century, when large quantities of capital had to be laid out on machines, buildings and ancillaries.  This capital produced no extra profit, it was held, though a portion of its own value was passed on in the product (depreciation).  The rub was that the ‘rate of profit’ – profit divided by total capital – must fall.  Many pamphlets at that time lamented that fall while Marx regarded it as another addition to the inevitability of capitalism’s demise.

I won’t go into the details of other views finding fault with this theory, but Marx himself developed a telling one, not noted by our author. It occurs in the Grundrisse:

… to the degree that large industry develops, the creation of real wealth comes to depend less on labour time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of the agencies set in motion during labour time, whose ‘powerful effectiveness’ is itself in turn out of all proportion to the direct labour time spent on their production, but depends rather on the general state of science and on the progress of technology, or the application of this science to production.   (The development of this science, especially natural science, and all others with the latter, is itself in turn related to the development of material production.)   … Real wealth manifests itself,  rather – and large industry reveals this – in the monstrous disproportion between the labour time applied, and its product, as well as in the qualitative imbalance between labour, reduced to a pure abstraction, and the power of the production process it superintends. Labour no longer appears so much to be included within the production process; rather, the human being comes to relate more as a watchman and regulator to the production process itself… As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure.

Marx then returns to a renewed emphasis on his guiding values and the ultimate aim of his theoretical and political activity:  ‘real wealth is the developed productive power of all individuals. The measure of wealth is then no longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time’ ((p. 708) in which all humans can develop to a fuller extent their individual capacities.

Today, unemployment in many countries is nearly as high (in some places even higher) than it was in the 1930s, and looks likely to be so for longer. Socialism ‘as it existed’ clearly is no longer conceivable.  The challenge is to find new ways in which to change capitalism in the social direction suggested above by Marx.

The Hegelian Connection

Though Marx always remained respectful of Hegel’s erudition, he fairly early in his career came to reject the idealist philosophy involved, and adopted a materialist outlook. He  rejected the idea that changes in the history of human societies emanated from the journeys of the  world spirit which nevertheless occurred ‘dialectically’, as both Marx and Engel averred. It may be the case that ideas and concepts do develop in that way, with each connected to all others, causes change places with effects, quantitative changes causing qualitative ones, and negations being in turn themselves negated…

I give an example of my doubts from Chapter 32 of Capital 1, titled Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation.  Its theme or proposition is that, if the current form of accumulation continues, a (probably revolutionary) change will occur. No substantiation is given, only the following assertion:

The capitalist mode of appropriation, the result of the capitalist mode of production, produces capitalist private property.  This is the first negation of individual private property as founded on the labour of the proprietor.  But capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a Law of Nature, its own negation.  It is the negation of the negation. This does not re-establish private property for the producer, but gives him individual property based on the acquisitions of the capitalist era, i.e., on co-operation and the possession in common of the land and of the means of production.(emphasis added)

‘Dialectics’ can prove nothing by itself.  There must be a concrete analysis of any particular transition in nature or society; after that, the adjective ‘dialectical’ can be added, if applicable.


Part 3 of Sperber’s book deals with Marx’s legacy, beginning with his theoretical work, and it was rather surprising to learn (through the new MEGA) that the three volumes of Das Kapital had been destined to appear together .  The contents of volume 3 and 2 had been largely completed first, while volume 1 was excerpted from the whole for first publication. We all know that volumes 2 and 3 were not published while Marx was alive, but were later put together and edited by Engels.  This provides more than enough evidence for Sperber’s observation that Marx had difficulty (undoubtedly with reasons) in completing his projects.  It also feeds the prevalent eclecticism, whereby support (or condemnation) for almost any political-theoretical proposition of Marx’s can be drawn.

The property question

Marx always put this in the first place, as in the Manifesto: ‘ in all [mass movements] against the existing order of social and political things, communists bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time.’ And still to this day public ownership of all the main means of production, distribution and exchange is the core of what socialism means to most people, so far as they consider it at all.

But this ignores another fruitful insight of Marx – the concept of base and superstructure –  articulated at some length in his Preface to ‘A contribution to the Critique of Political Ecconomy.(1859). Here Marx wrote:

At a certain stage of development the material forces of production in society come into conflict with the  existing relations of production, or with the relations of property, (the latter being just a legal expression of the former) … from being forms of development of the forces of production, these relations are transformed into their shackles. An era of social revolution begins … one must always differentiate between the material upheaval in the economic determinants of production, which can be observed exactly by means of the natural sciences, and the juridical, political, religious, artistic or philosophical, in short, ideological forms in which they fight it out. . .  (page 400)

This brings in a welcome variation to the earlier assertions that social change is driven by natural laws* (pp. 3-4 above  ) and that will and consciousness are but expressions of the social facts outside them. It gives us a much more realistic Marx, and a more effective basis for conducting socialist politics, raising again the property question.

Confiscation of all significant private property in means of production became the base from which developed a dictatorial, socially repulsive and economically ineffective superstructure, which few would now accept. Yet it is big, even monstrously large, private property that now has the (money) power to dominate much of political decision on what is to be produced, *(coal is the awful example today, see: BIG COAL: Ausralia’s Dirtiest Habit, by Pearce, McKnight and Burton) Note also the unprecedented gap between the top few per cent and all the rest:  The top I per cent now get 24 per cent of total wealth compared with 9 per in 1970; BHP-Billiton’s top executives now get 200 times the average worker’s wage, compared with 6-7 times 20 years ago.

The top few welcome and seek to build on the already outrageous gaps between themselves  and the declining middle and, (with a few exceptions) take no action to deal with the key issues of climate change and the growing threat to the capacity of the planet to provide indefinitely the quantities and quality of resources required to meet the needs of human and other living species.

A possible alternative to confiscation?

In view of the fact that a system with this economic base failed, and that large numbers of working people now possess some important property, it is difficult to see a way in which majority support for confiscation could now be built. But consider instead the possibilities of custodiandship.  This was an early view in human history, namely that people were not owners, but custodians, of the land they occupied, used and lived from. Owners of big property could retain possession, but with legal responsibilities for the preservation of its riches. (Mining would be a particular problem, but offsets could be found).

Marx’s view of human nature

Marx should be included among the humanitarians, but he had a rather strange view of human nature.  He avowed that ‘nothing human is alien to me’, and his relationships to his own and other children were often quite touching.  But he wrote that ‘the human essence … is the ensemble of the social relations.’ *(6th of his Theses on Feurerbach). He also said, regarding trade, that ‘men making exchanges do not relate to one another as men’  *(Excerpt Notes of1844), though he said also that this connection was better than none at all.) More important still, was the fact that feelings, emotions and the moral sense, which feature in human values, and are a crucial part of life in general, not excluding political life, were neglected, as Antonio Gramsci so emphatically emphasized. Perhaps they were not ‘material’ enough for Marx? Humans are multi-facetted creatures and cannot be simplified to suit classifiers, organizers or manipulators.

People who participate in social movements, and particularly those leading them, need to study (difficult as it may be) what is going on in people’s heads, and avoid assuming that a worker, (a proletarian if you like) is, by that classification, already at least half-way to being a militant rebel.  One of the main things I learned from my time in China is the attention they gave to this aspect of ‘knowledge’ (not always for good purposes, be it said).  But much of the left in the West seems to pay far more attention to the externals than to the internals, as a recent book by Jonathan Haidt has emphasized * (,.).though the efforts of the right-wing media and their successes in this field should be accepted by the left as a constant caution. }


This term is often used by Marx, and Sperber gives a fair definition of how Marx saw and used it: ‘that social conditions shaped individuals’ ideas so as to further the interest of the social group to which they belonged.’ (p. 103)  Existing in most social professions, ideology is particularly prevalent in economics.  Marx was rather more forthright regarding the sequel to the first major capitalist economic crisis ca1830 (after the death of Ricardo) when it ‘was no longer a question of whether this theorem or that was true, but whether it was useful to capital or harmful, expedient or inexpedient, politically dangerous or not.   In place of disinterested inquirers, there were hired prize-fighters … * (Preface to 2nd German edition)

This is not all in the past, and Rose Friedman (an economist and partner of Milton Friedman)      recalls that she had ‘always been impressed by her ability to predict an economist’s  positive views from my knowledge of his political orientation, and have never been able to persuade myself that the political orientation was the consequence of the positive views.’  Later, Mllton moved in her direction . * (Hayek’s Challenge by Bruce Caldwell, page 380)

Sperber’s sub-title: A Nineteenth Century Life

We could cut things short by saying ‘of course Marx was a nineteenth century man’.  I am old enough to remember the now antique tiny ‘cat’s whiskers’ radios early in the 20th century, followed by large valve ones, and the Ford and Buick automobiles. There followed a virtually endless variety of great inventions, ranging from miniturization with transistors, television, the personal computer and the internet, communication satellites circling round the globe, the beginnings of space travel… The slums I saw in the cities of Melbourne and Sydney have disappeared, and bedbugs are now a dying species, while a relative material abundance for the majority of people in the economically developed countries is developing.

There have also been some cultural advances, notably in the ‘gay’ area, but not many others, while the would-be scientific area of economics has again revealed its damning and destructive potential.  Virtually none of the economists who followed the current economic doctrine predicted the crash that was impending, though they had adopted some new doctrines with impressive names, such as DSGE – Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium.  (In plainer English it means ‘Ever-changing Conjectural General Equilibrium’ , a condition  that capitalism has been unable to reliably provide.)

It has brought us to the point where producing energy by burning fossil fuels is warming the atmosphere of the whole planet to a dangerous extent, causing extreme weather events, and, as we saw earlier, now beginning, as predicted, to melt the methane hydrate or clathyrate lyng  at the bottom of cold arctic seas and threatening to melt the frozen soils of the tundra, releasing huge quantities of the now inert greenhouse gas methane, which, science tells us, could cause untold – and expensive (in the trillions) – catastrophes.

Natural laws, as discussed earlier in this piece, are about inevitabilities; and I suggested that we cannot accept the view that any existing set of human relationships, including the current tones, are destined to remain dominant. A new alternative cannot be plucked out of the air, but must be built by sustained human effort.

Not a ‘class’, but a ‘peoples’ movement

It is not the purpose of this piece to discuss at any length what could replace capitalism. But change will only come about through the ideas, thoughts, motivations and actions of large numbers of people who, like the young Marx, wanted to act for the benefit of humanity; and we should think more about custodianship. It cannot succeed as a ‘class’, but can do so as a ‘peoples’ movement’ of the kind shown in the last quarter or one third of the 20th  and the beginnings of this century.

The hardest part of all is to change habits of thought and behavior, which have formerly been achieved only in circumstances where the ‘mode of production’, and thus of thinking and acting, has begun to spread widely in all sections of society. Unfortunately, because the ‘socialist’ alternative failed so badly, and with no other in sight, we have to try to politically defeat or neutralize the worst of the inveterate contributors to the now deadly – both naturally and financially – new, virulent, stage of the global warming saga humanity has been, far too comfortably, living with for well over a quarter of a century.

It has brought us to the point where producing energy by burning fossil fuels is warming the atmosphere of the whole planet to a dangerous extent, causing extreme weather events and beginning to melt the frozen ice cages at the bottom of cold northern oceans and frozen soils of the tundra which contain huge quantities of the presently inert greenhouse gas methane.

Geology Professor, Mike Sandiford, of Melbourne University recently revealed yet another indication of the (too often misplaced) power of human effort:

Rivers and glaciers have moved about 10 billion tons of sediment from mountain to sea each year on average over geological time. Each year humans mine about 7 billion tons of coal and 2.3 billion tons of iron ore. We shift about the same amount again of overburden to access these resources, along with construction aggregate and other excavations. In short we are now one of the main agents shaping the earth’s surface.(Sydney Morning Herald, May 23, 2011)

And the sea, with the looming destruction of the world’s largest living entity – The Great Barrier Reef, and general over-fishing.

Natural laws, as discussed at the beginning of this piece, are about inevitablities; and I suggested that we cannot accept the view that any set of human relationships, including the current ones, are destined to remain dominant. A new alternative cannot be plucked out of the air, but can be built by human effort.

It is not the purpose of this piece to discuss at any length what could replace it. But change will only come about through the ideas, thoughts, motivations and actions of large numbers of people who, like the young Marx, wanted to act for the benefit of humanity.

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