Is Marxist theory relevant or conducive to environmental political thought? This article considers responses to this question and the debate regarding possibilities of a red/green coalition through examination of four green theorists who represent positions of theoretical and historical significance: first, the argument that an enlightened reinterpretation of Marx reveals him to be an inherently ecological thinker; second, the belief that Marxist thought holds significant value for environmental theory but that crucial weaknesses demand essential revision; third, the rejection of Marx and his political theory as antagonistic to environmental protection; and, finally, social ecology’s use of dialectical naturalism to transcend Marx’s failings. In their writings from the 1970s through the 1990s, these four theorists set the stage for continued, divisive, and valuable analyses of ecological and Marxist theory. Their disagreements, defenses, and arguments promoted a deeper and more critical understanding of Marxist theory, turning us toward a crucial avenue of interrogation of Marx’s understanding of humans, nature, and the environment. The debate remains both vigorous and contentious more than a decade later, as signaled by the longevity of the neo-Marxist journal Capitalism, Nature, and Socialism and demonstrated by the increasingly sophisticated analyses of Marxist theory within the interdisciplinary project of political ecology and the growing subfield of environmental political thought.
Read also: Capitalism, Nature, and Socialism