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Some of Karl Marx’s Ideas can be linked to to the idea of Sustainability and Sustainable Development. The World Environment Day was observed recently. A young JNU student Banojyotsna Lahiri who recently passed out from JNU and is teaching in Ambedkar University posted a wonderful para on Marx’s ideas on environment.

I think in India sufficient attention has not been given to the environmental ideas of Karl Marx whose worldview is often understood from the perspective of mode of production, relations of production and the advancement of society and economy based on the changes in the productive forces and the consciousness to bring out such changes. It is in this context that Marx’s ideas on environment assumes critical significance for twenty first century world tragically confronting rising levels of inequality and gathering crises of environmental degradation, the worst manifestations of which, of course, are global warming and climate change.

In Communist Manisfesto, Karl Marx and Engels realized the impact of subjugating nature

In the Communist Manifesto released in 1848, Marx and Engels could understand with a great deal of sensitivity the subjection of nature’s forces to man and machinery. Such articulations made in 1848 underline their depth of understanding and the future humanity would face because of the subjection of nature to men and machinery. In fact it is because of the dangerous levels of subjection of nature to men and machinery we are confronting the environmental disaster of apocalyptic proportions. That is why people now talk of eco-industrial revolution and not just industrial revolution.

It is indeed illuminating to note that that Marx in 1776 in his classic work “Capital: A Critique of Political Economy” Volume III made some observations in the chapter 46 ” Building Site Rent. Rent in Mining. Price of Land ” and those observations constitute the ideas on sustainability and sustainable development. He wrote, “Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations.” He made those profound observations while indicting the private ownership of property, means of production and the rent associated with the economic system which the capitalism has produced.

The wordings he used that “Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not owners of the earth” underline the point that the planet earth is inherited by all its inhabitants and it is common to all and it would be arrogant assumption to treat planet earth as property of some private people or corporations. The wordings of the other part of the sentence that ” They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations” make it an obligation for the said inhabitants to give the planet earth to the future generations in an improved state.

The usage the words that the present generation should give the planet earth to the future generation “in an improved state” constitute a better definition of sustainable development currently used to convey the idea that the present generation while using the energy and resources of the planet should be mindful of the requirements of the future generations. The definition of sustainable development currently used is bereft of the idea of “improved state” which Karl Marx flagged in 1776. Remarkable indeed.

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Satya Narayana Sahu

About Satya Narayana Sahu

Greenubuntu Evangelist and Consulting Editor Satya Narayana Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure as Director in Prime Minister's Office. He also has a record of serving Parliament of India in various capacities including Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. He is an avid student of Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, writings of Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.
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