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Product Details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Monthly Review Pr (March 1 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1583670122
  • ISBN-13: 978-1583670125
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.8 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #263,921 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

About the Author

John Bellamy Foster is editor of "Monthly Review". He is professor of sociology at the University of Oregon and author of "The Ecological Revolution", "The Great Financial Crisis" (with Fred Magdoff), "Critique of Intelligent Design" (with Brett Clark and Richard York), "Ecology Against Capitalism", "Marx s Ecology", and "The Vulnerable Planet".

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Format: Paperback
"Marx's Ecology" by John Bellamy Foster positively reasserts the long-neglected environmental aspects of Karl Marx's writing. Foster guides the reader through a fascinating look at Marx's personal intellectual development and the various thinkers who influenced him. The author reveals a Marx who was keenly aware of capital's strategy to alienate labor from nature. Foster also makes clear that Marx worked assiduously to develop a theory that might reconnect dehumanized labor with its degraded environment in hopes of creating a better, more sustainable world.
Indeed, Foster's book is an interesting study of intellectual history, with an emphasis on the debates that raged during Marx's lifespan in the 19th century. The ideas and discoveries of Darwin, Engels, Epicurus, Hegel, Malthus, Proudhon, and others are discussed at length. Foster presents a Marx who was clearly at the vanguard of progressive thought in his era and gives us considerable insight into how Marx created his materialist theory of history. We also understand why Marx privileged the environment but explicitly rejected the fashionable teleological and racist arguments of his time.
In particular, I found the discussion concerning Epicurus to be fascinating. Epicurus was an ancient Greek philosopher who had a profound influence on the Enlightenment and was the subject of Marx's doctoral dissertation. Foster tells us that Marx's unconventional interpretations have been confirmed by recent archaeological discoveries, although at the time Marx had been working from a small number of extant fragments of Epicurus' writings. In addition to explaining to the reader why Epicurus' ideas are important, Foster deepens our appreciation for Marx, whose intellectual capabilities were evident even at a fairly young age.
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Format: Paperback
In "Marx's Ecology," John Bellamy Foster defies conventional green thinking by raising the banner of materialism rather than spirituality in the fight to save the planet and humanity from ecological ruin. In addition to restoring materialism to its proper place, Foster also shows that ecological questions were central not only to Marx, but other Marxists such as Bebel and Bukharin. By restoring this lost tradition, Foster hopes to create a new basis for ecosocialism grounded in Marxist science rather than mysticism.
Although most students of Marx are aware of materialist thought in such early works as the 1845 "Theses on Feuerbach," Foster argues convincingly that materialism made its debut in Marx's doctoral dissertation on the "Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature," written four years earlier. According to Foster, the standard explanation for the dissertation is that Marx saw Epicurus as a kindred rebel spirit. This Epicurus sought to overthrow the totalizing philosophy of Aristotle, just as the post-Hegelians--including the young Marx--rose up against Hegel. What is missing here is the element of materialism, which drew Marx to Epicurus in the first place. Marx identified with the Enlightenment, for which Epicurus serves as a forerunner to the radical democrats of the 17th and 18th century. The materialism they all shared was crucial to an attack on the status quo, ancient or modern.
The Greek materialists, especially Epicurus, are important to Marx because they represent the first systematic opposition to idealist and essentialist thought. Just as importantly, Epicurus in particular anticipates the scientific revolution of the Enlightenment.
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Format: Paperback
This book is a hot knife through the rancid butter of existing views of the ties between science, ecology, and the politics of the human future.
Foster presents prodigious historical evidence for his thesis that, despite a century-and-a-half of obtuseness on both right and left, Karl Marx was one of the greatest and deepest inheritors and advancers of the best tradition of both "Enlightenment materialism-humanism" and ecological realism.
Foster shows that, contrary to traditional interpretations, Marx was neither an admirer of crude mechanistic science nor an airy Hegelian dreamer. If one actually bothers to read the earliest and the lesser-known Marx, it turns out that the bearded one was quite consciously an exponent of the supple, open-ended materialism embodied in the Epicurean tradition and in the best ideas of its Enlightenment elaborators, including giants of science like Bacon and Darwin.
This unappreciated fact, Foster also shows, meant that Marx was also a very profound ecologist. Up to speed on the most important ecological debates of his epoch, Marx's whole project, Foster convincingly demonstrates, rested on the kind of hard-headed, historically-sensitive, and politically clear-sighted concern for the world's ecological welfare that is so sorely lacking in today's sterile debates between status-quo ostriches and "radical" nature worshippers.
This book has opened my eyes and greatly deepened my appreciation of Marx, ecological thought, the history and future of science, and the best meaning of humanism. Anybody interested in these vital issues ought to get and digest this ground-breaking tour-de-force!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0xa36c2534) out of 5 stars 11 reviews
44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa31d8588) out of 5 stars Marx as ecologist June 24 2000
By Louis Proyect - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In "Marx's Ecology," John Bellamy Foster defies conventional green thinking by raising the banner of materialism rather than spirituality in the fight to save the planet and humanity from ecological ruin. In addition to restoring materialism to its proper place, Foster also shows that ecological questions were central not only to Marx, but other Marxists such as Bebel and Bukharin. By restoring this lost tradition, Foster hopes to create a new basis for ecosocialism grounded in Marxist science rather than mysticism.
Although most students of Marx are aware of materialist thought in such early works as the 1845 "Theses on Feuerbach," Foster argues convincingly that materialism made its debut in Marx's doctoral dissertation on the "Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature," written four years earlier. According to Foster, the standard explanation for the dissertation is that Marx saw Epicurus as a kindred rebel spirit. This Epicurus sought to overthrow the totalizing philosophy of Aristotle, just as the post-Hegelians--including the young Marx--rose up against Hegel. What is missing here is the element of materialism, which drew Marx to Epicurus in the first place. Marx identified with the Enlightenment, for which Epicurus serves as a forerunner to the radical democrats of the 17th and 18th century. The materialism they all shared was crucial to an attack on the status quo, ancient or modern.
The Greek materialists, especially Epicurus, are important to Marx because they represent the first systematic opposition to idealist and essentialist thought. Just as importantly, Epicurus in particular anticipates the scientific revolution of the Enlightenment. His dicta that "Nothing is ever created by divine power out of nothing" and "nature . . . never reduces anything to nothing" are in harmony with what we now know as "the principle of conservation." Foster also notes that Lucretius, another materialist of the classical era, "alluded to air pollution due to mining, to the lessening of harvests through the degradation of soil, and to the disappearance of the forests; as well as arguing that human beings were not radically different from animals."
In their early writings, Marx and Engels wed the materialism of the Enlightenment to a political critique of the capitalist system, particularly targeting ideologues such as Malthus. Taking aim at his false piety, the 1844 "Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy" challenges private property, especially in the land, asserting that:
"To make earth an object of huckstering--the earth which is our one and all, the first condition of our existence--was the last step in making oneself an object of huckstering. It was and is to this very day an immortality of self-alienation. And the original appropriation--the monopolization of the earth by a few, the exclusion of the rest from that which is the condition of their life--yields nothing in immorality to the subsequent huckstering of the earth."
By restoring Marx's materialism to its proper place, "Marx's Ecology" provides a theoretical foundation for further explorations in ecosocialism. Once we understand the proper connection between nature and society, we can begin to act to confront the major problems facing humanity, from global warming to diminishing fresh water supplies. In the final chapter, Foster cites a number of Marxist thinkers who belong to the materialist tradition. Their examples can help to inspire a new generation of ecologically minded socialists.
Foster presents an unfamiliar side of Bukharin. His "Philosophical Arabesques," only made available in 1992, reveals a sophisticated dialectical materialist who grounds his analysis of society in ecology. Bukharin writes of the "earth's atmosphere, full of infinitely varied life, from the smallest microorganisms in water, on land and in the air, to human beings. Many people do not imagine the vast richness of these forms, or their direct participation in the physical and chemical processes of nature."
As one of the founders of German Social Democracy, August Bebel not only spoke with some authority in the 1884 "Woman Under Socialism," he also seemed to be anticipating the dire consequences experienced today in the wake of clear-cutting:
"The mad sacrifice of the appreciable deterioration of climate and decline in the fertility of the soil in the provinces of Prussian and Pomerania, in Syria, Italy and France, and Spain. Frequent inundations are the consequence of stripping high ground of trees. The inundations of the Rhine and Vistula are chiefly attributed to the devastation of forest land in Switzerland and Poland."
Finally, in an instance that seems to address Joel Kovel's complaint about the lack of spirituality in Marxism and a possible alternative to Lewis Henry Morgan's obsession with "improvement,", we have the example of Rosa Luxemburg who wrote from prison in May, 1917:
"What am I reading? For the most part, natural science: geography of plants and animals. Only yesterday I read why the warblers are disappearing from Germany. Increasingly systematic forestry, gardening and agriculture are, step by step destroying all natural nesting and breeding places: hollow trees, fallow land, thickets of shrubs, withered leaves on the garden grounds. It pained me so when I read that. Not because of the song they sing for people, but rather it was the picture of the silent, irresistible extinction of these defenseless little creatures which hurt me to the point that I had to cry. It reminded me of a Russian book which I read while still in Zurich, a book by Professor Sieber about the ravage of the redskins in North America. In exactly the same way, step by step, they have been pushed from their land by civilized men and abandoned to perish silently and cruelly."
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa31d85dc) out of 5 stars A Revolutionary Debunking June 7 2000
By Michael Dawson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is a hot knife through the rancid butter of existing views of the ties between science, ecology, and the politics of the human future.
Foster presents prodigious historical evidence for his thesis that, despite a century-and-a-half of obtuseness on both right and left, Karl Marx was one of the greatest and deepest inheritors and advancers of the best tradition of both "Enlightenment materialism-humanism" and ecological realism.
Foster shows that, contrary to traditional interpretations, Marx was neither an admirer of crude mechanistic science nor an airy Hegelian dreamer. If one actually bothers to read the earliest and the lesser-known Marx, it turns out that the bearded one was quite consciously an exponent of the supple, open-ended materialism embodied in the Epicurean tradition and in the best ideas of its Enlightenment elaborators, including giants of science like Bacon and Darwin.
This unappreciated fact, Foster also shows, meant that Marx was also a very profound ecologist. Up to speed on the most important ecological debates of his epoch, Marx's whole project, Foster convincingly demonstrates, rested on the kind of hard-headed, historically-sensitive, and politically clear-sighted concern for the world's ecological welfare that is so sorely lacking in today's sterile debates between status-quo ostriches and "radical" nature worshippers.
This book has opened my eyes and greatly deepened my appreciation of Marx, ecological thought, the history and future of science, and the best meaning of humanism. Anybody interested in these vital issues ought to get and digest this ground-breaking tour-de-force!
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa31d8a14) out of 5 stars Original and Compelling March 22 2003
By Malvin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Marx's Ecology" by John Bellamy Foster positively reasserts the long-neglected environmental aspects of Karl Marx's writing. Foster guides the reader through a fascinating look at Marx's personal intellectual development and the various thinkers who influenced him. The author reveals a Marx who was keenly aware of capital's strategy to alienate labor from nature. Foster also makes clear that Marx worked assiduously to develop a theory that might reconnect dehumanized labor with its degraded environment in hopes of creating a better, more sustainable world.
Indeed, Foster's book is an interesting study of intellectual history, with an emphasis on the debates that raged during Marx's lifespan in the 19th century. The ideas and discoveries of Darwin, Engels, Epicurus, Hegel, Malthus, Proudhon, and others are discussed at length. Foster presents a Marx who was clearly at the vanguard of progressive thought in his era and gives us considerable insight into how Marx created his materialist theory of history. We also understand why Marx privileged the environment but explicitly rejected the fashionable teleological and racist arguments of his time.
In particular, I found the discussion concerning Epicurus to be fascinating. Epicurus was an ancient Greek philosopher who had a profound influence on the Enlightenment and was the subject of Marx's doctoral dissertation. Foster tells us that Marx's unconventional interpretations have been confirmed by recent archaeological discoveries, although at the time Marx had been working from a small number of extant fragments of Epicurus' writings. In addition to explaining to the reader why Epicurus' ideas are important, Foster deepens our appreciation for Marx, whose intellectual capabilities were evident even at a fairly young age.
In the Epilogue, Foster shows how Marx's ecology fell out of the loop, a victim to Soviet ideology, Stalinist purges and other historical forces. But he shows how snippets of Marx's environmental thought has influenced scholars and activists throughout the 20th century. In fact, Foster suggests that Marx has been vindicated by some within the contemporary environmental movement. For example, Rachel Carson's work connecting corporate power with environmental and social degradation recalls (unconsciously?) Marx's work regarding the dialectic of nature and science. But with this book, Foster has effectively redrawn the circle, solidly connecting Marxist theory with the environment. Foster helps us understand that social justice and ecological sustainability are core Marxist values that can guide and inspire activists who are looking for solutions to today's environmental crisis.

In short, I strongly recommend this book for readers who are interested in intellectual history and/or eco-socialist theory, and congratulate Foster for an outstanding piece of research.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa31d89fc) out of 5 stars Brilliant excavation of Marx's ecology Sept. 22 2009
By M. A. Krul - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
John Bellamy Foster has a justified reputation as a left-wing writer on ecological issues and the intersection between the Red and the Green. In this book he totally vindicates that reputation, because "Marx's Ecology" is an exceedingly well-written, occasionally brilliant book about the ecological thought of Marx and Engels and the philosophical background of the same. Marx and Engels both, it must be noted: Foster correctly rejects the fashionable tendency to leave Engels by the wayside as a mere epigone or someone who warped the True Faith of Marx. On the contrary, as the author shows: Engels was perhaps even the greater ecological thinker of the two, and this book also provides much of a defense and vindication of his much maligned philosophical texts on these topics, including but not limited to "The Dialectics of Nature" and the "Anti-Dühring".

Foster starts out by tracing the importance of Marx's studies of classical philosophy, in particular the Epicurean school, and locates the basis of his entire intellectual project in Epicurus' attempt to unite both the possibilities of freedom and of a consistent causal materialism. Until now, Marx's doctorate thesis on Democritus and Epicurus had often been seen as merely a convenient topic for him to work on, while he was really focused on Hegel - but Foster shows convincingly that in reality the Epicurean strand of thought in Marx is equal at least to the Hegelian, and of course Hegel himself was much influenced by that classical philosophy also.

The writer then in a very accessible manner traces the vagaries of attempts to develop a consistent materialism throughout the history of philosophy, focusing on Bacon, the early mechanistic materialists such as Hobbes, and the Enlightenment materialists like d'Holbach and La Mettrie. Foster shows how Marx and Engels were influenced both by particularly this aspect of Enlightenment thought, but were dissatisfied with the mechanistic aspects of it and its determinism, and wanted to reconcile it with the idea of freedom. This led eventually to the development of the 'dialectical' way of thinking, being-as-becoming, and after Marx and Engels undertook their studies of political economy this was worked out as their historical materialist theory.

Another major part of the book is tracing the influence of ecological and biological thought in their day and preceding it on Marx and Engels. Darwin, of course, is the main figure here, and Foster tells the reader all about the interactions the two had with Darwin and his supporters, about whom they were very enthousiastic. But also the developments in geology, with Lyell and the foundation of non-biblical earth sciences, receive due attention. In so doing, Foster attempts to explain what Marx could have meant when he remarked about the theory of evolution by means of natural selection that it was "the basis in natural history for our view".

This finally leads to a discussion of the fullest development of the thought of Marx and in particular Engels, and the aftermath. Here Foster tries to show that indeed the thought of both was not just thoroughly historical in nature, but also thoroughly embedded in natural history, and that their conception of man's "metabolism" with nature was fundamental to understanding their philosophy of history. He discusses somewhat the different degrees to which later authors have worked along the same lines or failed to perceive it. Interesting in particular is the mentioning of the line of Marxist or Marxist-inspired pathbreakers in biology, from J.B.S. Haldane to the Harvard school of Levins and Lewontin. It is telling that the latter two, in their famous work "The Dialectical Biologist" (The Dialectical Biologist), dedicated it to Friedrich Engels: "who got it right where it counted".
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa31d8dbc) out of 5 stars An Essential Ecological Interpretation April 4 2016
By Graham C Bracken - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I always thought Lucky in Waiting for Godot was about as comprehensible as your average Marxist, and that you could pry about as much insight from those feverish ramblings as from The Grundrisse – if you had the mind to try.

Turns out I was wrong, and following John Bellamy Foster through this broad, ecological interpretation of Marx’s ecological thought made that obvious. The sizable task of dispelling this ignorance was the first virtue of the book and most of my past prejudices were squarely challenged by the general overview of Marx’s thought. But more immediately, Foster’s ecological spin features a Marxism that’s useful for understanding present anxieties about capitalism on our fragile planet.

By now, such anxieties have become common fare with blockbusters like Klein’s This Changes Everything and its equally unbashful subtitle, Capitalism vs the Climate. The story is familiar: the profit-motive of capitalism transfigures our natural environment into a pile of commodities and abstract market values – all that is solid melting into the air – and exploits that very environment beyond the point at which it can recover. So we get outfits like The Nature Conservancy tapping oil wells and killing off the endangered Atwater chickens which they were tasked to protect, and we get the continued consumption of fossil fuels, killing everything else.

No doubt, Marx would agree with this fable as far as it goes. But the Marx which Foster presents would disagree with a standard assumption of this story: that there is an essential difference between humanity and nature; that one inevitably and unilaterally exploits the other. This perceptual shift is subtle, but it refocuses our imagined place in the environment and reprioritizes the kinds interventions we think are appropriate for managing it.

To make this shift more perceptible, Foster foregrounds the philosophies for two of Marx’s biggest inspirations: Epicurus and Darwin. Both of them emerge as uncompromising materialists, but it’s Darwin (along with a strongly modified Hegel) who more clearly explains why that material world has come to take the structure that it does. Crucially, these evolutionary explanations are anti-teleological – which means the refusal to believe there is any privileged final end towards which things are travelling; there is no plan. For these thinkers, the deepest truths about the world are the ones which happen to emerge historically, not ones dictated from above by natural laws or the will of God.

These various commitments stitch together: if you believe that everything that exists is made of the same stuff (materialism) and you believe there are no final ends or plans for that stuff (anti-teleology), and you think that the kinds of things which emerge have evolved historically and are continually evolving (anti-essentialism), then it will be very difficult to claim that there’s some special privilege which separates humans from the rest of the natural world. If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is still the consensus of the scientific worldview today; Marx was just on the leading edge of it.

But what do these commitments do for us, or for Marx? It’s complicated, but the most basic switch is that humans start looking like equal and active ecological participants, unified more deeply with the rest of the natural world. On this view, we are ‘associated producers’ who mix our labour with the labour of nature to produce a surplus by which we continue to grow.

(I’m sure the bells are going off in your head at seeing shibboleths like ‘labour’, ‘surplus’, and ‘producers’ but this is the virtue of Foster’s Marx – his canonical economic concerns and the ecological ones are unified in that familiar language. Marx’s capitalism exploits and alienates workers in the same ways as it does the soil.)

But keeping focus on the ecological side of the union, this associated production of both humans and the natural world results from what Marx calls a ‘metabolic exchange’. Think of this in terms of energy: the sun provides the most basic form but it is then exchanged and transformed in different ways: plants feed animals, animals fertilize plants, animals feed people (other animals), and those people transform that energy into labour to nurture plants. To appropriate Martin Luther King: “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men [beings] are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Marx’s metabolic exchange is this process whereby energy is constantly converted and passed back and forth among the different co-producers, making things grow.

It’s seeing this kind of association which allows Marx to point directly to cases where that exchange was broken – where a ‘rift’ was created. The central case here involves the deterioration of soil quality on agricultural land. At a time when economists thought that the fertility of certain soils (their ‘latent power’) was fixed by natural law, Marx saw the unsustainability of nutrients being taken from the countryside soil as crops, shipped into big cities like London, and then sloughed off through toilets into the Thames rather than being returned to the land as fertilizer. To him, this was a disruption in the natural metabolic exchange which involved people as active ecological participants or co-producers.

(Unsurprisingly, concern about this rift doesn’t only apply to the contradiction between town and country but more generally to the logic of capital and private ownership. The mid-19th century bore witness to dramatic failures of soil quality in certain parts of Europe, volatile markets for replacement fertilizers, and economic-imperial conquests for fertilizers abroad – all quite consistent with the more familiar stories of Marxist economics.)

Things get dicey, however, when Foster repeatedly refers to this rift as a form of alienation from nature. Now, my grasp on Marx is tenuous but I’m pretty sure this was a term he only used early on, abandoning it for most of his work. Whether the term is fair to Marx or not, it marks a snarl of problems. For starters, doesn’t ‘alienation’ suggest an estrangement from some kind of essential natural state? Doesn’t seeing an essentialized state of nature from which we are alienated also entail that humans are different kinds of beings entirely? But both this natural essentialism and the dichotomous opposition of nature and society are moves which Foster’s Marx elsewhere opposes, so it’s hard to see how this ‘alienation’ could ever be consistent.

Another possibility, however, is that the rift alienates us, not from some state of romanticized harmony with the outside natural world, but from our own nature as producers. This is an intriguing suggestion and it finds support in the ubiquitous Marxist reduction to ‘labour’ relations, but I suspect those who aren’t already dyed-in-the-wool Marxists will find this essentialism about ‘our own nature’ just as implausible as essentialized claims about an external nature. It is a metaphysical indulgence to say that – deep down – we are really just Homo faber (producers and tool-users) and that modern capitalism alienates us from that essence. Like any metaphysical foundation, this is beyond the realm of public criticism; it’s just a blunt and basic truth we are asked to accept so we can get on with the rest of the project. Foundations like this will obviously never be enough for people who don’t already agree – the claim needs to be argued or demonstrated.

Of course, this objection applies to a lot of projects, not just Marx’s. Classical and neoclassical economists who postulate that humans are really just homo economicus should be criticized for their metaphysical balloons just as much as their opponents who claim that we’re actually homo politicus. In contrast, the historical and evolutionary insight of Darwin – which Marx otherwise praises – leads us to a much more nuanced view of ourselves: that we have no essence. To be sure, we are dappled with parts of each – part economicus, part faber, part politicus – but the composition at any given time is a contingent historical matter and there’s no deep reason why we couldn’t become more economicus than the others. If anything, that is the apparent trajectory of history for the time being; as we market our ‘personal brands’ and make ‘educational investments in our human capital’, we become different kinds of people.

If Foster is so keen to present a Marx who was scientific in all the right ways – materialist, empiricist, anti-teleological, and anti-essentialist – then talk of ‘alienation’ along with its metaphysical baggage about our essential nature will have to go. Unfortunately, this demand would undercut many of the project’s practical ambitions since the desirable ‘productive forms of association’ lose their sheen if we doubt that humans are essentially producers. But if that’s the cost of eliminating specious essentialism, so be it. For any philosophy to be useful and publicly acceptable there can be no spooks, no unquestionable metaphysical foundations.

So it seems like there is still some serious work to be done to make this scientific, Darwinian, and anti-essentialist Marx consistent with his practical program, but Foster’s account takes laudable steps in that direction. If for no other reason, seeing the details of Marx’s philosophical background and his ecological concern shows that he has much to tell us about our current environmental crises. Foster deserves enthusiastic praise for bringing this to our attention.

Graham Bracken
gbracken.ca


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