Interpret Crosby's thesis of ecological imperialism in light of Marx's critique of capitalism

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did not only change the political and social structures of colonies but also affected their ecological systems as rest of the world was colonized. These colonies served as main hub of crop exports for Europe and Crosby calls them Neo-Europes. These regions suffered immensely as imperialist rulers gradually destroyed their environment advertently or inadvertently. This resulted in many environmental issues such as Eastern Canada experienced a serious decline in its water tables. Crosby makes a very strong case against imperialism while highlighting its  a biological, an ecological component , saying that  ecological imperialism was used as just another means of stamping authority on colonies. This was as critical to the success of European rulers as any political tool. This could allow them a feeling of  superiority in arms, organization, and fanaticism (Crosby: 7).

While Crosby did not bring in the capitalist view and neither did he try to connect the biological side with the political, the fact remains that ecological imperialism worked in the same way as capitalism did. According to Marx s argument against capitalism, it was a force that treated laborers as machines and did not give them the value they deserved. This degradation of work leads to degradation of environment and ecology. A very good example of this would be the massive physical changes we have witnessed in earth s surface over the years. The ozone layer depletion is the case in point. It is not due to increased population or any other factor but mainly due to capitalism that ecology has suffered seriously. It is not only the large number of workers alone but their concentration in small areas which is the real cause of environmental damage. Marx thus argued,  But with the development of industry the proletariat not only increases in number; it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength more (Manifesto, 480).

Capitalism has always taken great pride in the fact that it allows greater mobility of labor and other resources. However what it fails to understand is that robbing one nation of its resources with this mobility leads to serious ecological damage to that country. When labor and resources move from East to West, does it not affect the Eastern countries in any manner? Of course it does. Their resources are depleting rapidly, brain drain is a serious problem and their concentration in particular areas in foreign countries is also resulting in serious issues. Marx furiously discussed this in his work Capital when he talked about colonization and the resulting plunder:

 The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the indigenous population of that continent, the beginnings of the conquest and plunder of India, and the conversion of Africa into a preserve for the commercial hunting of blackskins, are all things which characterize the dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation. (Capital, p. 915)

Ecological damage is grounded in resource depletion and density of population. You can have 10,000 over a 1000 acre land and this might not hurt the ecological balance but when you have the same number of people on 10 acre land, the balance is seriously disturbed as water, minerals, and other resources of a very small area are constantly being used up. This is what happened during the colonization process. Only some nations were constantly being robbed of their natural resources while nothing was coming from European countries. It must always be a two-way flow of resources because when its one-way, it leads to multifarious environmental and ecological problems. It is for this reason that Accion Ecologica argues  it s time to shut off the tap to stem the  unjust flow of energy, natural resources, food, cheap labour and financial resources from the South to the North. (No More Plunder, 1999)

Marx has serious reservations about capitalism. He did not believe in one country specialization in one thing and mastering it while others did something different. He felt that all countries could start producing whatever they wished to and whatever could be more productive and profitable. He felt that capitalist powers were deliberately trying to keep other countries down by making them focus on agriculture and such other non productive fields while they themselves were specializing in industry based manufacturing. In his 1848 speech on free trade, Marx highlighted this practice clearly:  You believe perhaps, gentlemen, that the production of coffee and sugar is the natural destiny of the West Indies. Two centuries ago, nature, which does not trouble herself about commerce, had planted neither sugar-cane nor coffee trees there. (Poverty, 223) He also knew that the main strategy of capitalist countries was to rob other nations of their natural resources and this was closely tied to the imperialist times when British, French and Dutch powers engaged in massive loot and plunder and completely robbed indigenous nations of their wealth. Marx made a point in this connection when he said,  The treasures captured outside Europe by undisguised looting, enslavement and murder flowed back to the mother-country and were turned into capital there& for example in India the monopolies of salt, opium, betel and other commodities were inexhaustible mines of wealth. (914-930)

We have now seen how political imperialism and capitalist forces are closely connected with ecological imperialism. The concentration of people, the continuous loot, the depletion of resources from one particular part and by establishing only a one-way flow of wealth, capitalist countries and imperialist powers created a serious ecological situation for indigenous people. This has always been their way of keeping certain nations down. It was only when some nations were able to identify this brutal strategy that they managed to stand against imperialist powers. But unfortunately most of these nations are the ones who were either never colonized or colonized for a small period. All other nations such as West Indies and India have suffered seriously in the aftermath of colonization and are still experiencing the after-shocks.


Karl Marx, Capital, volume 1 (New York: Vintage, 1976), p. 896; Malthus to Ricardo, August 17, 1817, in David Ricardo, Works and Correspondence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952), vol. 7

Alfred W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy (New York: International Publishers, 1963)

Acci?n Ecol?gica,  No More Plunder, They Owe Us the Ecological Debt! (Retrieved October 10, 2007 from, 1999)[continue]

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