The Kaleidoscope of Catastrophe - On the Clarities and Blind Spots of Andreas Malm


  • The Kaleidoscope of Catastrophe - On the Clarities and Blind Spots of Andreas Malm

    La critique marxiste du capitalisme extractiviste est-elle possible ?

    14.4.2021 by Bue Rübner Hansen
    The choices that structure The Progress of this Storm root Malm’s focus on agency and action in the philosophy of science. Malm valuably steers us away from the mystifications of theories of climate change and ecological degradation that neglect capital and towards the need for urgent, intentional action. Yet his polemical stress on the catastrophe, nature/society dualism, and agency-as-will pulls us into a timeline and temporality which mirrors capitalism’s accelerating drive towards ecological destruction. This is a contest between two uprooted subjects: fossil capital and humanity. We are in a race with two finishing lines: “no extractions and no emissions” (The Progress, 227).

    On the face of it, Malm’s sharp focus on fossil fuels is salutary, as it trains our sights upon the single greatest threat to the habitability of the planet. However, fossil fuels play such a fundamental role in social reproduction today that it is doubtful they can be replaced by renewables fast enough to avoid a simultaneous and fundamental reorganisation of the reproduction and metabolism of human societies. Most obviously, fossil fuels will have to be cut so fast that a significant energy shortfall is increasingly unavoidable. In other words, constructing the problem of climate change as a problem of agency in relation to fossil capital is not wrong, but one-sided. To approach the problem of the fossil economy as a problem of action is very different from constructing it as a problem of (natural) history, ecology, or care.

    In the first preface to Capital, Marx invites us to conceive of the history of the economic formation of society as “a process of natural history”. In this process, Marx writes, individuals are bearers of class relations and interests, and the creatures rather than creators of economic processes.19 Posing the problem this way shifts attention from agency and will to more structural questions of how the reproduction of human societies can be disentangled from the reproduction of capital. Such a transformation cannot simply be willed, and natural history cannot simply be disrupted, only rearticulated. How was social reproduction disentangled from non-human life – and how may it be re-entangled? Or rather, how was the entanglement of social with natural ecologies pushed to the edges of social ecologies, so that a core was insulated from damage and afforded carelessness? Such problems will not be resolved by arriving at what Malm calls “a planful mode of production” (Corona 153), which is more likely to maintain an environmental imaginary than replace it with ecological thought, attention, and practice. To do that, we need to pay heed to and reweave networks of interdependence, beyond any clear boundaries between social and natural ecologies. Such matters raise questions of entanglement and hybridity, and the corresponding agency is more a matter of care than of will.

    Instead, Malm is focused on whatever agency is responsible for global warming and whatever agency may disrupt the production of fossil fuel. Malm’s focus on agency in terms of culpability and intentionality is filtered through his vision of history. As world history is subsumed by a unified vision of capitalist history, it becomes necessary and possible to imagine a unified concept of humanity in two senses: humanity as the unified substance of capitalist history (understood in terms of the unique human “capacity for abstraction” which Malms sees as a trait of true intentionality and a “prerequisite for capitalist property relations”; The Progress, 167), and humanity as the unified subject necessary to end fossil capital. This provides a way to imagine climate change as an epic battle between fossil capital and humanity, considered in the future tense as “a self-conscious global subject” (Corona, 174), which mirrors the global quasi-subject of capital. Malm intuits the difficulty of navigating this hall of mirrors: But “[w]here is that global subject? Who is it? Merely asking such questions is to weigh up the void in which we fumble” (Corona, 174).

    Despite such admitted ignorance, Malm treats humanity as the answer rather than the question. Or, put differently, he takes humanity for granted, and ignores the problem of anthropogenesis. That problem concerns the question of how humanity emerged as an infinitely variable species (think of the multitude of social, climatic, and ecological adaptations and inventions), and the more narrow question of how the idea of humanity as separate from nature arose. Had Malm posed the question of anthropogenesis, he would have been more hesitant to affirm the idea of humanity as separate from nature. He would, importantly, have been more sensitive to the blindspots of the idea of humanity-as-separate: what fails to be counted in this notion is those modes of cognition and activity, often cast as “indigenous” or “female”, which refuse to see themselves or act as separate from what, in a gesture of grand abstraction, is called “nature”. Put crudely, the definition of humanity as opposed to Nature, while loosely rooted in monoteistic cosmology, has only become established through the material and ideological separations produced by capitalism and colonialism


    #capitalisme #extractivisme #écologisme #révolution #réformisme #anthropocène #capitalicène #rechauffement_climatique #énergie #humanité