When we think of Karl Marx, we think of socialism, communism, revolution, and all things anathema to capitalism. Marxism is discredited and Marx can't solve the problems of the postmodern world, but perhaps reacquainting ourselves with his ideas can help us understand how we got into this dire predicament -- and how to dig ourselves out.
Marx famously wrote, "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles." We seldom if ever connect Marx with the problems of overpopulation or pollution or a presentiment of something even more insidious than class struggles -- namely, global warming.
History has conspired to marginalize Marx precisely when we need him most. Why?
First, his ideas were appropriated by Lenin and Stalin to justify the totalitarian system they created. Second, "Communism", reif ied as the Soviet Union and its Stalinist clones, failed spectacularly, while market-based economies -- "capitalism" -- prospered and eventually won the Cold War.
Third, to the victors go the spoils. The prime movers of corporate capitalism -- robber barons that go by such high-sounding names as venture capitalists, media moguls, investment bankers, fund managers -- turned the anti-Communist hysteria of the Cold War into a crusade against "socialism" and "big government", promote a greed-is-good ideology, and label everything that they don't like as "class warfare".
Surprisingly, Marx came close to anticipating industrial capitalism's Achilles' heel -- namely environmental depredation, carbon emissions, and global warming:
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
Fast forward to the present. On this day, a New York Times headline screams "Japan Backs Off From Emissions Targets, Citing Fukushima Disaster." Another paper runs an op-ed piece proclaiming "Iran Afflicted with Dust Storms, Growing Deserts". The author is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Joel Brinkley. The premise: "Iran is, quite literally, blowing away."
It turns out, Iran's aquifers are drying up, desertification is spreading across the land, only 16 percent of what remains is arable, "massive dust storms" afflict 23 of Iran's 31 provinces. Astonishingly, "at least 80,000 people die from strangling dust and other pollutants annually," according to Iran's own Ministry of Health.
Nor is this the first time it's been reported. In August, 2013, Barb ara Slavin, Washington correspondent for Al Monitor, filed this story :
TEHRAN, Iran -- As temperatures soared above 105 degrees Fahrenheit during one of the hottest summers here in recent memory, no snow was visible atop the mountains ringing Tehran and no water flowed down the narrow channels along main streets (known as jubes in Farsi) that a year ago were still full of fresh mountain runoff. A furry brown haze obscured the skyline, irritating eyes and tickling throats.
While most press attention has focused on the inauguration of a new Iranian president, the nuclear crisis and the impact of Western economic sanctions, global warming and a deteriorating environment loom as large if not larger as a threat to the well-being of Iran's 75 million people.
We seldom read about this Iran crisis. For obvious reasons the corporate-owned mass media in this country chose to downplay or totally igno re it. It's always about the threat Iran's nuclear program ostensibly poses. Nor is Iran the only symptom of what's happening. Typhoon Haiyan, the second-deadliest typhoon ever to hit the Philippines, dwarfed Hurricane Katrina in size.
And then there is the ecological calamity called China. Photojournalist Sean Gallagher has documented the alarming environmental changes occurring in a country that's home to 1.3 billion people in a new e-book. Temperatures on the Tibetan plateau are rising faster than anywhere else on earth. India is facing a similar environmental catastrophe, as is much of Africa, while Iran is by no means the only desiccated country in the Middle East.