by Brendan Cooney
John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark, The Robbery of Nature: Capitalism and the Ecological Rift, New York: Monthly Review Press, 2020.
Theory, Truth, and Method
One of the primary theoretical tasks for ecosocialists is to theorize the relation between capitalism and ecological crisis. Must we overthrow the capitalist mode of production in order to save the planet and civilization from catastrophic change?
This is not a question of which arguments will work best to make socialism look attractive to environmentalists. Rather, there is an urgent need for theoretical clarity on this issue. Overthrowing the capitalist mode of production is no small task. But if reform cannot save us from catastrophe, then revolution is the only choice.
The urgency of this theoretical task of clarifying the exact relation between capitalism and ecological crisis calls for a ruthlessly critical attitude to theory. It is not enough for proponents of an idea to call it ecosocialist or to assert the conclusion that capitalism and environmental destruction are necessarily intertwined. When it comes to theory, what matters is not the desirability of the conclusion or the political label applied to it. All that matters is truth. An argument with bad logic and the correct conclusion is a bad idea. A theory that is contradicted by counterfactual phenomena it cannot explain is a bad theory, even if we sympathize with its political slant. If ecosocialists do not hold their theory to high standards of truth and method, then they cannot expect to win the arguments they will need to win to save life on earth.
In this spirit of necessarily ruthless criticism, this review-essay engages critically with the ecosocialism of the Monthly Review school, most recently summarized in John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark’s The Robbery of Nature: Capitalism and the Ecological Rift. Foster & Clark seek to advance an ecosocialist theory of the relation between capitalism and environmental destruction, arguing that the two are inextricably linked. They also attempt to root their theory in Marx’s own writing, claiming that they are working in the tradition of what they call “Marx’s mature ecological critique.”
There are good reasons to conclude that capitalism cannot escape its drive to destroy the earth. But Foster & Clark’s arguments are not good. Their logic is vague and general; they don’t identify the mechanism that compels capitalism to destroy the earth; their theory faces counterfactual phenomena they cannot explain; they violate basic academic standards, misrepresenting Marx’s ideas; and their whole approach is founded on the pre-existing Monthly Review theory of economic stagnation caused by underconsumption, which itself is full of more holes that Swiss cheese at a shooting range.
They also fail to convincingly root their theory in Marx. This is because the Monthly Review school threw out Marx’s value theory a long time ago. Because of its stubborn refusal to respond to criticism, it has had to continually erect nonsense on top of pre-existing nonsense, to the point where we now get books like the one reviewed here: a pile of shabby arguments hidden behind a flood of description and historical trivia.
Because they can’t make recourse to Marx’s discussion of the competition between capitals to reduce socially necessary labor time, or his discussion of the rising organic composite of capital, or his discussion of the growth of production of means of production at the expense of production of means of consumption, Foster & Clark can’t identify the inner logic of capital’s movement and its inevitable relation to ecological crisis. Instead, they are committed to a theory of underconsumptionism and stagnation, so they have to somehow build a theory of capital and nature that is based on that theory. Then they have to comb through Marx, looking for something to attach their theory to, even if it is attached only in a vague, metaphorical sense. And then they have to call this new theory of theirs “Marx’s mature ecological critique” … and hope their readers don’t notice the shell game that has just been played.
The Foster & Clark Argument
Summarizing the environmental theory of Foster & Clark is difficult, because their writing––like so much of Foster’s writing––requires one to read between the lines to reconstruct the real meaning of the argument. Foster’s style is to bury the substantive theoretical argument beneath a flood of descriptive material. If you are looking for a clear statement of theoretical ideas, then you will inevitably end up feeling like you are watching a clever shell game being played out before your eyes. Just when it seems that we are going to get a clear theoretical statement, the text ducks and weaves through more historical asides, vaguely abstract formulations, and overly detailed description of peripheral matters. What follows is what I believe to be the real theoretical substance of what Foster & Clark are arguing. It necessarily requires reconstruction due to their oblique and disorganized writing. If readers think I have mischaracterized their positions, then I challenge anyone to offer a better interpretation.
Writing in the tradition of the Monthly Review intelligentsia, Foster & Clark believe that capitalism is in its “descending phase of monopoly capitalism,” a long historical period marked by chronic economic stagnation and an “overall thrust of the capital system shifted back toward profit upon expropriation.” “Expropriation” is defined as “appropriation without equivalent” (p. 42). This stagnation is due to a chronic state of underconsumption (p. 249), which means that profit increasingly must come from monopoly pricing or other means of appropriation without equivalent, since the process that Marx focused on––accumulation of capital through the extraction of surplus value from workers––is less and less relevant to accumulation. In fact, because we are in an age of monopoly where profits come from setting commodities’ prices above their values, the coercive force of the law of value exercised through competition between capitals (Marx’s primary theoretical concern in Capital) is no longer relevant … so the argument goes.
This focus on “profit upon expropriation” allows Foster & Clark to lump together a host of different phenomena whose only common characteristic is that they involve a violation of the exchange of equivalents: monopoly pricing, primitive accumulation, slavery, mercantilism, rent, usury, colonialism, imperialism, etc. Even capitalist exploitation itself defined as a “specific type” of this more general expropriation (p. 40).
What does any of this have to do with the environment? Foster & Clark tell us that the relation between humans and the environment under capitalism is also one of expropriation or “appropriation without reciprocity” (p. 46). This notion of the expropriation of nature, they say, is based on Marx’s writings about topsoil depletion. Obviously, humans don’t and can’t purchase natural resources from nature; so when they say “expropriation,” Foster & Clark are not talking about a violation of the exchange of value-equivalents. Instead they are referring to a violation of the conditions of “reciprocity” with nature.
In agriculture, nutrients that are taken from the topsoil must be replenished with compost, manure, etc. Humans take energy from the soil and must return this energy in a different form in order to continue production. In the capitalist agriculture which Marx wrote about, there was a strong tendency to deplete topsoil. The industry could not fertilize the topsoil fast enough to keep up with production. This crisis led to an international trade in fertilizer, raiding other parts of the globe of nutrients to send to England to fertilize its topsoil.
For Foster & Clark, this tendency to take from the earth without reciprocity is a type of expropriation broadly similar to all of the other types of expropriation. Taken together, they characterize the “overall thrust of the capital system,” which has “shifted back toward profit upon expropriation” (p. 37). This is the hallmark of the era of monopoly capital: “relations of expropriation have further asserted themselves, to the point that the system seems at times to have entered a period of forcible dissolution of everything in existence: an age of structural crisis and determinism, extended to the web of life itself” (p. 38).
This notion of ecological destruction as a form of expropriation is presented as Marx’s “mature ecological critique” and as a theoretical basis for explaining all environmental crises under capitalism. However, later in the book the authors make another argument about the importance of wasteful production to monopoly capital (p. 247).
The second argument does not rely on any notion of a violation of reciprocity. Foster & Clark instead argue that the ecological crisis is driven mainly by the increasingly wasteful nature of production, which is a hallmark of the monopoly phase of capitalism. In an argument taken directly from Paul A. Baran and Paul Sweezy’s 1966 book, Monopoly Capital, they contend that, because of the crisis of overproduction-underconsumption, capitalism has to spend more and more money to try to sell products. This means that marketing becomes an increasingly large part of the budget of firms, which leads to a great deal of waste. What Foster & Clark now add is the claim that this tendency toward wasteful production drives environmental crisis.
However, Foster and Clark do not explain how this second cause of environmental crisis relates to the notion of expropriation that is (supposedly) based in Marx’s writing about topsoil.
Problems that Plague Foster & Clark’s Argument
There are a number of issues with all of this.
If the Foster & Clark model is correct, then it should be able to explain what we see in the real world and to say something meaningful about it. For instance, economic stagnation should correspond to rising ecological crisis: economies with more stagnation should be more ecologically destructive than prosperous economies. If the opposite is the case, then we need a different theory to explain this.
Two contemporary counterexamples stand out:
The first is the economic downturn created by the global pandemic shutdowns in 2020. Global carbon emissions fell by 7% in 2020. The carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere fell by 2.4 billion metric tons. This was the direct consequence of Covid-19 related lockdowns and restrictions. Global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell by $3 trillion in 2020 and, as the gears of capitalist production slowed down, so did the release of planet-warming emissions.
The second example that should immediately come to mind is the performance of the Chinese economy over the past two decades. In 2000, China contributed 13% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. By 2020, it was producing 30% of global GHG. During that same time, China’s share of global GDP rose from 7% to 19%.
The fact that the world’s fastest growing––not stagnating––economy has contributed an increasing share of global GHG emissions seems to be a clear counterfactual example to the Foster & Clark thesis. The fact that the recent global economic downturn led to a decrease in GHG emissions, rather than an increase, also suggests that their attempt to couple stagnation and environmental crisis has problems. Historical data show that GDP growth and GHG emissions have been linked. This historic link has led most observers, representing many different schools of thought, to posit that ecological crisis and capitalist growth are intrinsically linked. This is the exact opposite of Foster & Clark’s presumed link between ecological crisis and stagnation.
One would think that the historical data, and the recent facts noted above, would lead rational observers to locate their theoretical focus on the forces that drive capital accumulation. One would think that they would focus on the realm of production, where most energy and materials are consumed, to theorize why capital accumulation is so closely linked with ecological destruction. One would think that they would consider such a focus more fruitful than trying to establish a link between stagnation and ecological destruction.
This is precisely the approach that Marxist-Humanist Initiative takes in our 2022 “Marxist-Humanist Perspective on Capitalism and the Ecological Crisis.” In this analysis, capitalism is understood as a system of production for production’s sake, whose unrelenting drive to accumulate value continually drives the expansion of material production solely for the purpose of accumulating value, without any consideration of ecological consequences, We identify the rising organic composition of capital, the expansion of production of means of production at the expense of production of consumption goods (i.e., expansion of Department I at the expense of Department II), and the concentration and centralization of capital all as different manifestations of this expansionary logic of accumulation. We also emphasize the role of competition between capitals as the primary mechanism for enforcing the laws of motion of capitalism. Furthermore, we identify these tendencies as the main drivers of carbon emissions and other ecological crises. “[T]he greenhouse gases created by capital formation are increasing much more rapidly than the greenhouse gases created by consumption,” and capital formation, not consumption, is the source of the majority of GHG emissions.
Why are Foster & Clark so off-base? It can’t be that they don’t know about these counterfactuals. The link between GDP and GHG is one of the most-discussed issues in modern environmental literature. It is rather that Foster & Clark have a problem. They are tasked with trying to salvage and make relevant the theoretical tradition of Monthly Review founders Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy, who argued that the monopoly phase of capitalism nullified many of the laws of motion that Marx had described.
Within Monthly Review’s “monopoly capital” framework, one cannot use Marx’s discussion of competition between capitals as a fundamental driving force of capital accumulation to explain the compulsion to expand the size of production no matter the ecological cost. A good Monthly Reviewer believes, to the contrary, that monopoly and stagnation have replaced competition and growth through reinvestment in expanding production. Nor can one appeal to Marx’s discussion of competition as the driver of the rising organic composition of capital because talking about the organic composition of capital is too evocative of Marx’s crisis theory, a theory they have been fighting to bury for decades. Instead, Foster & Clark must try to create a theory of environmental crisis that depicts the antagonism between capital and the environment as an “expropriation on the boundaries of the system” (p. 42). By this they mean that the focus is outside of the realm of production, and thus, outside of the law of value that dominates production.
Another issue is that Foster & Clark’s notion of reciprocity between humans and nature, and the lack of it under capitalism, does not do a great job of characterizing all types of ecological crisis. (I say “characterizing” rather than “explaining” because their theory doesn’t really explain anything.) It makes sense as a way of characterizing topsoil degradation, which results when humans fail to return to the soil all of the nutrients that they have removed from it. It makes sense as a way of characterizing overfishing. But the reciprocity framework has a hard time characterizing anything having to do with non-renewable resources. What does reciprocity mean in the context of coal extraction? Zinc mining? Silicon production? And how does this reciprocity/expropriation framework apply to, or say anything about, climate change, arguably the most pressing ecological crisis of our time? GHG emissions are just a byproduct of capitalist production. Firms don’t take oxygen out of the air and then fail to return it to the air in sustainable quantities. Pollution of a resource is not the same thing as degrading the resource by overusing it. Capitalist firms commonly pollute resources that they don’t use at all (e.g., oil spills). The notion of expropriation without reciprocity doesn’t adequately explain what is going on.
In addition, the issue of reciprocity is not the only aspect of agricultural crisis. There is also climate change, which may present more of a pressing threat to global food production than topsoil depletion does. The damage to food production from climate change is already underway, especially in Africa, where famine is spreading. So understanding the causes of GHG emissions, especially capitalist production, is more relevant to the agricultural crisis than mere characterization of the general nature of topsoil depletion is. (Though there have been headlines in recent years about impending topsoil crisis, it seems that there is reason to doubt some of these claims.)
Furthermore, why does capitalism deplete topsoil? Is it because of some piratical motive in which capitalist farmers seek recourse to expropriation outside of the sphere of production, to compensate for stagnating demand? Do farmers say, “there’s not enough demand for my apples, so I had better rob the soil of nutrients to keep my profits up”? This doesn’t make any sense. A better explanation for topsoil depletion would begin by focusing on the imperatives of capitalist production processes and the competition which drives farms to maximize yield at all costs.
Foster & Clark’s attempt to meld notions such as “accumulation by dispossession” with notions of capitalism’s relation to nature comes across as extremely far-fetched. In fact, their attempt to broadly paint so many different types of activity as all part of one and the same thing––instances of the general category of expropriation––achieves the intended effect only by operating at such a level of generality that they render the entire discussion meaningless. Foster & Clark tell us that merchant capital was based on unequal exchange; that primitive accumulation robbed people of common land and forced them into wage labor; and that capitalist agriculture depletes topsoil. These three phenomena do exist in capitalism, but the forces which give rise to them are not the same. Merchant capital arose because different regional levels of productivity created the potential to extract profit through unequal exchange. The enclosure acts of the period of primitive accumulation were a political process aimed at fulfilling the need for an industrial working class. Topsoil depletion is the result of fierce competition that compels farmers to pursue maximum productivity. Sure, one can find a way to characterize them all in terms that are general enough to make them seem to be types of the same category. But this is just a formal abstraction unless the generalization characterizes them in a meaningful way. If the phenomena operate under distinct logics, there is no meaningful basis for grouping them together.
This brings us to the issue of explanation vs. characterization. Labeling a phenomenon is not the same as theorizing its inner logic. Only the latter approach can make sense of something. Marx did not reduce Capital to labeling labor as “exploitation” and then listing all of the different examples of exploitation he could think of it. If he had done so, then Capital would have been largely a journalistic work similar to Engels’ The Condition of the Working Class in England. Instead, Marx devotes his time to uncovering the inner laws that govern capitalist value relations. This is a far different endeavor than the free-form labelling of the Foster & Clark camp, in which sloppy journalism masquerades as theory by creating an abstract label and then listing as many things as possible that fit that vague description.
Foster & Clark on Waste
But what about the other argument, which sits awkwardly beside Foster & Clark’s primary argument about reciprocity and metabolism: the argument that the increasingly wasteful nature of capitalist production is a direct result of the supposedly chronic crisis of underconsumption? This argument doesn’t seem to have any clear relation to their arguments about expropriation without reciprocity. It is instead an argument about why monopoly capitalism produces waste. It is striking that a book that claims to have identified a fundamental rupture between capital and nature, a theory which describes all of the contradictions between capital and nature, posits a second theory that has no relation to this grand theory.
Aside from this theoretical inconsistency, their discussion of the causes and effects of wasteful production has a number of problems. For one, Foster & Clark conflate two different notions of “waste.” The first is waste in the form of unproductive labor. They argue that chronic underconsumption requires firms to spend an increasing part of their budgets on the unproductive labor of marketing. This unproductive labor can be considered wasteful in that it is just an aspect of capitalism’s irrationality, not an expenditure of human activity devoted to actually fulfilling human needs.
But this is not the same as the “waste” we call trash, pollution, etc. For clarity’s sake, we will call the latter “ecological waste” here. Suppose we have two firms. Firm A spends 100% of its budget on the production of widgets. Firm B spends 50% of its budget on widget production and the other 50% on marketing. Which produces more ecological waste? We can’t know for sure. But given the fact that most capitalist production processes produce waste by using energy, raw materials, etc., it is hard not to imagine that Firm A would use more energy, resources, etc. than Firm B, where half the budget goes to graphic designers and copy-writers. Firm B wastes much more of society’s social labor (no offense intended to graphic designers and copywriters), but the greater ecological waste produced by Firm A is probably worse for the planet.
But there is more to Foster & Clark’s “waste” argument. They add in the issue of planned obsolescence and our disposable consumer culture: because of chronic underconsumption, capital must make products less durable, so that consumers have to regularly repurchase them, etc. But if products were more durable, would people buy fewer commodities? The overall volume of consumer spending is mostly determined by the level of people’s income, not by how fast their commodities expire. Whether people are buying a new refrigerator every five years, or whether they instead spend their money on some other commodities that they did not already own, the same amounts of production and consumption are taking place. If everyone had refrigerators that lasted forever, capital investment would just flow toward the creation of some other commodities, and people would buy them instead. The waste problem would persist.
Planned obsolescence may add to the amount of discarded commodities that make up the collective trash waste of society, but this is just one part of capitalism’s larger pollution problem. A great deal of pollution occurs at the point of production itself, not just in household consumption. For instance, . So identifying the causes of household waste is not the central problematic at stake in theorizing the relation between capitalism and ecological crisis. Planned obsolescence is of course ecologically wasteful, but to identify it as some kind of driving force of ecological destruction is to confuse a symptom with the disease. Production for production’s sake is the issue. Underconsumption, which is not a chronic problem in capitalist society anyway, doesn’t cause production for production’s sake.
Metabolic Rift with Marx
Foster & Clark refer to their theory as a theory of “metabolic rift.” They claim that it is also Marx’s theory, despite the fact that, as they admit, Marx never used the term. If this were the case then their citations should back up this claim. Let us turn to their footnotes to see then if Foster & Clark’s claim that their “metabolic rift” theory is one and the same as “Marx’s mature ecological critique.”
A great many of Foster & Clark’s citations of Marx seem to involve finding places where he used the term “metabolism” and then claiming that this supports their thesis. However, Marx used the word “metabolism” in many different ways to discuss widely divergent things. It should go without saying that merely finding the word “metabolism” in one of Marx’s texts doesn’t prove anything by itself. But a look at how Foster & Clark argue for their interpretation of Marx suggests that they have very little to support their case other than scattered and unrelated uses of the word “metabolism.”
John Bellamy Foster. Credit: Photo Solidaire, Evy Menschaert
For instance, after a long discussion of the agricultural economist Justus von Liebig, the authors tell us that, in the 1850s, “Marx took up the concept of metabolism, integrating it into his system” (p. 19). The citation is to a passage in the Grundrisse. This is what the passage actually says:
Relations of personal dependence (entirely spontaneous at the outset) are the first social forms, in which human productive capacity develops only to a slight extent and at isolated points. Personal independence founded on objective [sachlicher] dependence is the second great form, in which a system of general social metabolism, of universal relations, of all-round needs and universal capacities is formed for the first time.
In this passage, Marx is discussing the transition from feudalism to capitalism and the fact that this entails that human activity acquires a specific social form. People’s activity takes the form of “their subordination to relations which subsist independently of them and which rise out of collisions between mutually indifferent individuals.” It is hard to see from this passage that “metabolism” is anything more than a scientific metaphor to describe the division of labor in capitalism. There is no mention of nature or ecology.
However, Foster & Clark tell us that “Marx’s analysis of the social metabolism was thus never conceptually divorced from what he called ‘the universal metabolism of nature’––of which the human social metabolism was simply a part” (p. 19). The citation that accompanies this claim leads to two passages in the Grundrisse and one in Marx’s 1861–63 Economic Manuscript. Let’s look at them.
On p. 271 of the Grundrisse, Marx is discussing the fact that, if commodities lose their use-value, they therefore lose their value. They “lose their value as use values and are dissolved by the simple metabolism of nature if they are not actually used.” Here “metabolism” is used completely differently than in the earlier passage. It is not a scientific metaphor to describe the social division of labor. Instead it is a reference to the actual chemical process of decomposition: i.e., a piece of machinery sitting unused and turning to rust. Apart from having no relation to any notion of social metabolism, this citation doesn’t even have anything to do with ecological concerns. There is no reciprocity between humans and nature here. Nature is not even being degraded in this example of Marx’s. Rather, the products of labor are the ones being assaulted by nature!
Foster & Clark’s citation to Marx’s 1861–63 Economic Manuscript refers to an identical use of the term “metabolism.” Discussing a machine that is not employed in production, Marx wrote, “Apart from this it falls victim to consumption by elemental forces, to the universal metabolism [of nature]. Iron rusts, wood rots.” This likewise has nothing to do with ecological concerns.
The other Grundrisse citation may appear, at first glance, to be better suited to Foster & Clark’s purposes:
It is not the unity of living and active humanity with the natural, inorganic conditions of their metabolic exchange with nature, and hence their appropriation of nature, which requires explanation or is the result of a historic process, but rather the separation between these inorganic conditions of human existence and this active existence, a separation which is completely posited only in the relation of wage labour and capital.
But what is Marx writing about here? In this part of the Grundrisse, he is once again pummeling Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, this time for his obsessive focus on landed property while ignoring capitalist property. Proudhon claimed that landed property had “extra-economic origins” and was therefore illegitimate. Marx responds that capitalist property relations are not spontaneous but rather appear as the result of a historical process of separating the worker from his/her own means of production. The “inorganic condition of their metabolic exchange with nature” is a ponderous way of characterizing people’s relation to the “conditions” of their production––that is, their relation to the means of production. Throughout this part of the Grundrisse, Marx is characterizing different modes of production according to how labor confronts these conditions of production. But nowhere in this passage, or in the rest of this part of the Grundrisse, does the discussion of the relation between humans and their conditions of production veer into any ecological topic. There is no mention of reciprocity with nature or of the destructive nature of the relation between capital and nature.
On the next page, Foster & Clark tell us that “Marx’s critique of the capitalist political economy rested in large part on the contradiction between metabolic interchange and the economic value form of commodities” (p. 20). They then quote Marx thusly:
“The chemical process, regulated by labour,” Marx wrote, “has everywhere consisted of an exchange of (natural) equivalents,” whose violation meant the expropriation of nature, with disastrous consequences.
Note that Foster & Clark have finished Marx’s sentence for him. Let’s look at the actual passage in the Grundrisse to see what Marx actually said.
Labour is the living, form-giving fire; it is the transitoriness of things, their temporality, as their formation by living time. In the simple production process––leaving aside the realization process––the transitoriness of the forms of things is used to posit their usefulness. When cotton becomes yarn, yarn becomes fabric, fabric becomes printed etc. or dyed etc. fabric, and this becomes, say, a garment, then (1) the substance of cotton has preserved itself in all these forms. (The chemical process, regulated by labour, has everywhere consisted of an exchange of (natural) equivalents etc.); (2) in each of these subsequent processes, the material has obtained a more useful form, a form making it more appropriate to consumption ….
Note that Marx does not discuss “the expropriation of nature” or “disastrous consequences” here, contrary to what Foster & Clark assert. Also, note that the “exchange of (natural) equivalents” in question has nothing to do with a reciprocal interchange between humans and nature, such as in the example of topsoil replenishment. Rather, Marx is saying chemical processes are always analogous to the case in which cotton changes form––from raw cotton to yarn to fabric––without changing its substance. The “exchange of (natural) equivalents” is the exchange of equivalent forms of the same substance. There is no exchange between nature and humans discussed in this passage. And there is definitely no discussion of expropriating nature.
The preceding contrasts between Foster & Clark’s characterizations and what Marx actually wrote are just a small sample of the abysmally poor scholarship on display in Foster & Clark’s book. There is not space here for more; I hope to conduct a more thorough inspection in a future article. But one can clearly see, just on the basis of the few examples examined above, that Foster & Clark’s interpretation of Marx is largely fabricated. They do not adhere to basic standards of textual interpretation, but instead lift individual words and phrases out of context, re-form them into completely different arguments, and then claim that their ideas are the same ideas as Marx’s.
That a self-respecting publisher could allow this book to be printed, that a journal like Monthly Review could allow such charlatanism to come from the leading intellectuals associated with it, and that the loyal devotees of the Monthly Review school could let such egregious scholarship go unquestioned … these are the sort of unsettling issues that point to a wider critique of the practices, culture, and degeneration of much of the so-called “Marxist” left, a topic beyond the scope of this paper.
There has never been a more desperate need for humanity to confront the world with sober senses. Environmental chaos and destruction are already upon us. The left should be engaged in a sober and disciplined critique of the mode of production and the leading ideas that have led us to this precipice. The work of Foster & Clark is completely the opposite of what is needed today. It is dishonest, inconsistent, irrelevant, and embarrassing.
 John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark, The Robbery of Nature: Capitalism and the Ecological Rift, New York: Monthly Review Press, 2020, p. 37. Subsequent references to this book will be indicated in the text, by page numbers only.
 As I will discuss below, two different meanings of waste are conflated here.
 The last passage appears on p. 62 of Karl Marx, Marx-Engels Collected Works, vol. 30, New York: International Publishers, 1988.