September’s Monthly Review features an article by Ian Angus on the Anthropocene, a proposed new geological epoch defined by the human influence on the Earth. Some Marxists have flatly rejected the notion of the Anthropocene (see Andreas Malm, “The Anthropocene Myth”, Jacobin, March 2015). Angus, however, clearly finds it a useful concept. He surveys the debate among scientists as to when the Anthropocene began, adopting the approach of Will Steffen, an Earth system scientist who argues that there was a dramatic qualitative change in human impact or “great acceleration” beginning after the Second World War.
Angus concludes by calling for a new synthesis combining Marxist analysis of the changes in the capitalist system since the mid-20th century with scientific understandings of the planetary environmental crisis. Struggles against capitalism and for the environment are inextricably linked: “understanding and responding to the Anthropocene must be at the top of the socialist agenda”.
The latest issue of New Left Review (II/94) has a nice short piece by Marco D’Eramo puncturing all the fuss earlier this year about the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo. He argues that its main significance was to reinforce the reactionary Holy Alliance—denounced by Marx and Engels at the start of the Communist Manifesto—of Austria, Prussia and Russia. D’Eramo argues that “the Holy Alliance invented the concept of ‘humanitarian intervention’ and ‘brotherly intervention’ so popular in subsequent centuries”.
Napoleon’s fall left Tsarist Russia, as Perry Anderson points out in the long article that dominates the issue, “the leading power in continental Europe”. Those days seem a long way off. Anderson sums up contemporary Russia’s awkward geopolitical position pithily: “Too small to qualify as a Great Power on a level footing with America or China, or in a foreseeable future with India; too big to fit into Europe, or find its place among other denizens of the ‘international community’.”
Anderson argues that the Ukraine crisis has exposed the fundamental contradiction in Vladimir Putin’s strategy of embracing neoliberalism but remaining geopolitically independent:
“Putin’s belief that he could build a Russian capitalism structurally interconnected with that of the West, but operationally independent of it—a predator among predators, yet a predator capable of defying them—was always an ingenuous delusion. By throwing Russia open to Western capital markets, as his neoliberal economic team wished, in the hope of benefiting from and ultimately competing with them, he could not escape making it a prisoner of a system vastly more powerful than his own, at whose mercy it would be if it ever came to a conflict”.*
Anderson’s certainly right that Russia’s integration in the global capitalist system means that the sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union in response to Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine have hit hard, particularly since they were reinforced by the sharp fall in the oil price last winter. But Putin is currently seeking to exploit Russian influence over the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria to strengthen his bargaining hand. As is common in his writing, for all the insights it offers, Anderson may be overestimating US power.
The South Korean journal Marxism 21 publishes articles mainly on Marxist political economy in Korean and English. The latest issue (12:3) has a timely section of articles in English by Japanese and American Marxists, including Makoto Itoh and Fred Moseley, devoted to a critical examination of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. The journal doesn’t seem to be available online, but you can find out how to get hold of it at http://marxism21.gnu.ac.kr.
AC & CR
* Two long recent pieces by Anderson in London Review of Books on the Russian scholar Dmitri Furman seem to be at least in part spin-offs from this article: www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n15/perry-anderson/one-exceptional-figure-stood-out and www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n16/perry-anderson/imitation-democracy