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Marx’s Universal Metabolism of Nature and the Frankfurt School: Dialecticsal Contradictions and Critical Syntheses

Marx’s Universal Metabolism of Nature and the Frankfurt School: Dialectical Contradictions and Critical Syntheses,” in James S. Ormrod, ed., Changing Our Environment, Changing Ourselves (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), p. 101-35.

Substantially revised version published as ‘Marx’s Ecology and the Left,” Monthly Review Issue 86, no. 2 (June 2016), p. 1-25.

The Frankfurt School, as represented especially by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno’s 1944, Dialectic of Enlightenment, was noted for developing a philosophical critique of the domination of nature. Critical theorists associated with the Institute for Social Research at Frankfurt were heavily influenced by the writings of the early Karl Marx. Yet, their critique of the Enlightenment domination of nature was eventually extended to a critique of Marx himself as an Enlightenment figure, especially in relation to his mature work in Capital. This position was expressed most notably in the work of Horkheimer and Adorno’s student, Alfred Schmidt, author of The Concept of Nature in Marx (1970). Due largely to Schmidt’s book, the notion of Marx’s anti-ecological perspective came to be deeply rooted in Western Marxism. Moreover, such criticisms of Marx were closely related to questions raised regarding Fredrick Engels’s Dialectics of Nature, which was frequently said to have extended dialectical analysis improperly beyond the human-social realm. First generation ecosocialists, such as Ted Benton and Andre Gorz, furthered these criticisms, arguing that Marx and Engels had gone overboard in their alleged rejection of Malthusian natural limits.

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