Paul Sweezy and the ecological crisis

About a month ago I went down to Monthly Review for a brown bag and the
discussion revolved around the financial crisis in Japan. Paul Sweezy and
Harry Magdoff sat at the head of the table as they usually do. Harry had
plenty to say on the subject. For his part, Paul was as silent as usual. He
slouched back in his chair, eating his Ensure. Occasionally he would gaze
at a speaker with penetrating blue eyes and then return to his high-protein
lunch. As the discussion was winding down, Harry turned to him and said,
"Paul, don't you have something to say about this. The world economy is
your specialty." He replied, "Oh, I'm just listening and trying to learn

This is the understatement of the century. Paul Sweezy turned 85 last year
and the latest Monthly Review is evidence that he is as sharp as ever. I
recommend this issue for his short but very profound commentary on the
Communist Manifesto. Also valuable are Harry's and Ellen Meiksins Woods'
comments. The three pieces were presentations made originally at the latest
Socialist Scholars Conference.

On the occasion of Sweezy's most recent reading of the CM, he was struck by
the following famous paragraph:

"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class
struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf,
guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in
constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now
hidden, now open fight, that each time ended, either in a revolutionary
reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending

What could Marx be referring to when he speaks of the "common ruin of the
contending classes?" In Sweezy's view, this eventuality could be the
ecological ruin of the world if capitalism is not overthrown. Such a
catastrophic ending--with the looming threat of global warming, species
extinction, etc.--would not only make life unlivable for the workers, but
the rulers as well. His proposal is that the Marxist movement orient toward
the scientific community in order to join forces against this danger. This
sage's call for a red-green synthesis should be heeded by all of us who are
committed to Marxism:

"Already, a very large section of the world’s scientific community is fully
aware of the seriousness of the ecological threat facing the planet, but
what is not widely recognized is that the cause of the threat is capitalism
itself. Bourgeois economics seeks to hide or deny this fact. No wonder. If
it were generally understood, capitalism would soon be identified for what
it is, the mortal enemy of human kind and many other forms of life on the
planet. In these circumstances, our responsibility is not only to help the
ecologists to get their message across, important as it is, but to convince
the ecologists themselves as well as the public at large of the truth about
capitalism, that it must be replaced by a social system that puts the life
giving capacity of the earth as its first and highest priority. As the
unfolding of capitalism's deadly consequences proceeds, more and more
people, including 'bourgeois ideologists who have raised themselves to the
level of understanding the historical movement as a whole,' will come to
see what has to be done if our species is to have any future at all. Our
job is to help bring this about in the shortest possible time."

Louis Proyect