Marx' value form analysis in Capital and the exploitation of nature in capitalism

Christian Stache


Throughout history social labour has comprised the relation between humans and between humans and nature, i.e. the social relations and the metabolism between society and nature. However, it is necessary to analyse the historic specific form in which social labour is organized in order to understand the contemporary degradation and destruction of nature in all its forms.
This paper shows that Marx in Capital does not only unfold the capitalist social relations form the contradiction between (exchange) value and use-value up to the capital relation, i.e. the contradiction between capital and the proletariat. Following Marx through Capital also allows us to derive the basic relations between capitalist society and nature.
Capitalist societies deal with nature mainly in the production sphere (not in circulation, i.e. on the market). In one single historical and material production process the original sources of wealth—nature and workers—are both exploited by the capitalist class (and not by society as a whole or “humans”) that appropriates and destroys nature systematically in order to produce value and gain profit. Thus, Capitalists do not only form a “veritable freemason society vis-a-vis the whole working-class” (Marx, Cap. Vol. III, p. 140) but also vis-a-vis nature.
However, since the lacking class struggle in defence of nature, it is subordinated and exploited in a particular manner. Capital refrains from taking into account nature's own qualities, its relative autonomy and inherent laws, the consequences of capitalist production, circulation, individual, and productive consumption for nature, and Capital abstracts from the necessities of natural reproduction.
Additionally, following Marx' value form analysis we can avoid ideological flaws committed by ecological approaches and green movement politics (e.g. foci on individual consumption/way of life, anti-extractivist and Promethean ideologies), and by mainstream proposals to social ecological problems (in particular market and technological solutions to the destruction of nature). Finally, Max' communist solution still is the most reasonable one: “The associated producers” have to regulate “their interchange with Nature” (Cap. Vol. III, p. 571) rationally.

Capitalism - Communism - nature - value form analysis - class struggle