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The Challenge before us: Achieving an Ecological Civilization

Through prodigious intellectual work during the height of the industrial revolution in England, building on prior and concurrent achievements by humanity in science and philosophy, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels gave humanity the intellectual scaffolding for understanding and ultimately overcoming the death spiral that accompanies capitalism. That scaffolding includes dialectical and historical materialist theory and…

Written by

Charles Posa McFadden


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Through prodigious intellectual work during the height of the industrial revolution in England, building on prior and concurrent achievements by humanity in science and philosophy, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels gave humanity the intellectual scaffolding for understanding and ultimately overcoming the death spiral that accompanies capitalism. That scaffolding includes dialectical and historical materialist theory and the identification of the three laws that govern the behavior of the capitalist class.

It was that intellectual scaffolding that enabled Lenin and his comrades to respond to the conjuncture of capitalism’s first world war by leading the Russian working class and its allies to create the world’s first country-wide socialist society. That achievement in turn created the material foundation for a second wave of global revolutionary advance in the wake of capitalism’s second world war, notably including the success of the revolutionary worker-peasant alliance in China, which continues as a globally influential model today.

In the three-quarters of a century since the first global defeat of the fascist alliance, capitalism took the opportunity to complete its historical mission by extending socialized production to every corner of the Earth, but within the shell of private appropriation of the surpluses human creativity has produced. This contradiction between social production and private appropriation has reached its ultimate spatial limits, creating an existential crisis for humanity in both social and ecological dimensions.

During this post World War II era, the most economically and politically powerful representatives of the capitalist class have utilized the remaining time given them to support the continuity, expansion, and development of a global fascist alliance as its ultimate defense. The intellectual foundation for fascism includes the negation of (1) science and its foundation in dialectical and historical materialism, and (2) the socialist project, and its foundation in communal morality (human rights). It follows that the struggle for a future for humanity requires the intellectual struggle for science, including its dialectical and historical materialist foundation, and the organizational struggle for institutionalizing communal morality (human rights). In what follows, we briefly argue for key aspects of the struggle for empirically validated science and its methodology.

The ecological crisis facing humanity can best be understood through application of the relevant scientific laws, natural and social scientific. Scientific analysis of the ecological crisis begins with recognition that the Earth’s biosphere is the region where two natural systems intersect, namely the solar system and the ecological system (Ecology Definition & Meaning – Merriam-Webster).

Most influential on the dynamics of the biosphere today are the natural laws of motion of the globally dominant capitalist economic and political system, those identified by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, and addressed in their collaborative work, primarily Capital, Volumes 1-3, and identified briefly below taken together with the thermodynamic laws applicable to the biosphere.

Contrary to the dominant capitalist ruling class perspective, the biosphere is not a thermodynamically closed system. It is not threatened primarily by laws that act outside and independent of human agency. The biosphere’s role as a necessary supporting system for human existence is threatened primarily by the behavior of the globally governing capitalist ruling class, acting in conformity with the requirements of the capitalist economic and political system.

The biosphere receives energy from the Sun, which among other things drives the process of photosynthesis, creating higher order in the form of life from relative disorder in the form of non-living matter. Managed sustainably, there is no natural scientific law that precludes many future generations of human life on Earth, generations who have a qualitatively improved social system and relationship with nature to look forward to. Our Sun is expected to be around for at least another four or five billion years.

The biosphere also receives energy from the decay within the Earth of radioactive elements. This geothermal energy is the driving force behind tectonic activity and together with solar energy represents a vast potential source of energy for supporting a much higher quality of life than most of humanity experiences today and for a greatly extended history on Earth, providing, of course, that humanity follows the path of conservative use of energy and natural resources.

The biosphere is therefore clearly not a system that can be exclusively addressed through application of the concept of entropy (the second law of thermodynamics). Life on Earth is itself the proof that entropic processes (disorder) are countered, at least in part, by negative entropy, or more specifically Gibbs Free Energy (Entropy and life – Wikipedia).

Those prominent in the development of this scientific conceptualization were guided by dialectical materialist conceptions, including:

(1) every system needs to be studied in its relationship to those other systems that have a significant effect on its behavior, and

(2) all objects of human contemplation and analysis need to be viewed in relation to their opposites.

Hence, (1) the study of the biosphere needs to include the influence on it of both the Earth and the Sun, and (2) the consideration of decay (entropy) within the biosphere should be undertaken together with consideration of its opposite (negentropy). This is the essential journey needed to achieve a sustainable relationship between humanity and a human life sustaining biosphere. This consideration needs to be central to the socialist project.

Capitalism, by its nature, has both created the existential crisis humanity now faces and is the principal barrier to achieving an ecologically sustainable future. This is a consequence of the three laws that govern the behavior of the capitalist class, laws which act outside the volition of individual capitalists and their supporters.

The first law of capitalism is the exploitation of labor by capital, a consequence of social production for private profit.

The second law of capitalism is competition between the private owners of capital to expand their ownership at the expense of labor and each other, making increasing private accumulation of capital, with all its associated inequities and cultural and environmental consequences, a defining characteristic of capitalism.

The third law of capitalism is the tendency of the rate of private profit to fall as the productivity of labor increases, resulting in non-equilibrium (that is, chaotic) behavior, including the short term boom-bust business cycle (averaging a decade approximately) and in the longer term cycle of global depressions, the first in the last quarter of the 19th century, the second in the second quarter of the 20th century, and the current one, in this quarter of the 21st century, each followed by partial resolution in the form of increasingly violent global dislocations (the first and second world wars, followed by the first and now second “cold” wars.)

In contrast to the many shortcuts attempted by petit bourgeois theorists (who thereby, perhaps unwittingly, serve to extend the life of capitalism), all three of these laws need to be considered together if the exploitative heart of capitalism is to be recognized and the capitalist system overcome.

Characteristic of revolutionary Marxism, therefore, is the recognition that freedom begins with the recognition of empirically validated (scientific) laws. Characteristic of fascism, on the other hand, is the rejection of any scientific law that would constrain human behavior.

Given the global extension and connectivity of capitalism and the global dimension of the biosphere which supports humanity, the resolution of the current crisis (with its profound concomitant economic and ecological dimensions) is the challenge now facing humanity. A favorable resolution depends on the emergence of increasing cooperation and collaboration among the progressive social forces world-wide, sufficient to turn the tide in favor of the working and oppressed classes, based on scientific socialism, as defined by the examples above.

The struggle for a multipolar world, including common prosperity and qualitative development, is likely the path to the necessary unification of the progressive forces into a decisive political force, one capable of placing capitalism in the dustbin of history and achieving a global ecological civilization, undoubtedly a long-term project that should keep problem-solving humanity constructively busy for many generations ahead.

Those interested in related articles from Charles Posa McFadden and Karen Howell McFadden can find them on our website:

Charles Posa McFadden (M.Sc. 1966, Ph.D. 1969, in Geophysics) has studied and worked as a mathematical physicist and geophysicist (1960-1972), and science educator (1965-2009), combining teaching, developmental projects, and published research in these and related fields. From 2010 to the present, he has worked in collaboration with Karen Howell McFadden (M.A.,1966 and Ph.D., 1976 in English Literature) in addressing questions related to the challenge of the conjuncture between ecological and socio-economic crises, creating an existential crisis for humanity. Their published work includes an 11- chapter argument for Achieving an Ecological Civilization, available on their website and, also, published as 11 articles by Green Social Thought, Charles and Karen have been active in the student, peace, labor, environmental, and social justice movements throughout their adult lifetimes, including associated published research linking theory and practice. Throughout they have been guided by dialectical and historical materialist theory (sometimes referred to as “scientific socialism”).