Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism: Capital, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy

REVIEWS, 21 Jan 2019

Monthly Review – TRANSCEND Media Service

Winner of the Deutscher Memorial Prize 2018

Karl Marx, author of what is perhaps the world’s most resounding and significant critique of bourgeois political economy, has frequently been described as a “Promethean.” According to critics, Marx held an inherent belief in the necessity of humans to dominate the natural world, in order to end material want and create a new world of fulfillment and abundance—a world where nature is mastered, not by anarchic capitalism, but by a planned socialist economy. Understandably, this perspective has come under sharp attack, not only from mainstream environmentalists but also from ecosocialists, many of whom reject Marx outright.

Kohei Saito’s Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism lays waste to accusations of Marx’s ecological shortcomings. Delving into Karl Marx’s central works, as well as his natural scientific notebooks—published only recently and still being translated—Saito also builds on the works of scholars such as John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett, to argue that Karl Marx actually saw the environmental crisis embedded in capitalism. “It is not possible to comprehend the full scope of [Marx’s] critique of political economy,” Saito writes, “if one ignores its ecological dimension.”

Saito’s book is crucial today, as we face unprecedented ecological catastrophes—crises that cannot be adequately addressed without a sound theoretical framework. Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism shows us that Marx has given us more than we once thought, that we can now come closer to finishing Marx’s critique, and to building a sustainable ecosocialist world.

“Saito’s book is marked by a deep knowledge of Marxist theory, especially the debate over Marxism and ecology. Saito brings a major new source into the debate: Marx’s forthcoming notebooks on ecology. This results in a new interpretation of Marx, one that is timely, given the economic and ecological crises of contemporary capitalism.”
—Kevin B. Anderson, author, Marx at the Margins

“There are already important studies about ecological aspects in Marx’s theory, but Kohei Saito is the first to go deeply into Marx’s notebooks, discussing Marx’s research process. Saito has not only an excellent knowledge of Marx’s oeuvre, he is also occupied with Marx’s sources. He provides an exciting journey, showing how deeply ecological questions are connected to Marx’s unfinished project of a ‘Critique of Political Economy’.”
—Michael Heinrich, author, An Introduction to the Three Volumes of Karl Marx’s Capital

“In this philologically sophisticated, forensically relentless, and theoretically nuanced analysis, Kohei Saito skillfully and persuasively traces both the continuities in Marx’s critical engagement with nature-human interactions and the successive discontinuities introduced by his break with his erstwhile philosophical consciousness, his turn from a utopian view of technological progress, and his growing recognition of the ecological limits to capital accumulation. Illustrating Marx’s enduring commitment to a unified historical science linking the transformation of nature and social practices, Saito draws creatively on Marx’s excerpt books, personal notebooks, correspondence, draft manuscripts, and published work to show the profoundly ecological nature of his transhistorical account of nature-human interaction and his pointed critique of the ecological harm produced by capital accumulation. This magnificent book shows the heuristic potential of exploring Marx’s intellectual experiments in his theoretical laboratory, expands our understanding of his work over four decades well beyond its ecological aspects, and offers finely-judged comments on other ecosocialist readings of Marx. Like Marx’s Capital, this is a book to study and not just to read.”
—Bob Jessop, Lancaster University, UK; author, The State: Past, Present, Future


Kohei Saito received his Ph.D. from Humboldt University in Berlin. He is currently associate professor of political economy at Osaka City University. He has published articles and reviews on Marx’s ecology, including “The Emergence of Marx’s Critique of Modern Agriculture,” and “Marx’s Ecological Notebooks,” both in Monthly Review. He is working on editing the complete works of Marx and Engels, Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA) Volume IV/18, which includes a number of Marx’s natural scientific notebooks.

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