Andreas Malm: 'Ecological' rhetoric in defence of the capitalist state

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Faced with the gravity of the climate crisis and its consequences, more and more voices are being raised to incriminate the capitalist system, a clear indication that the mystification according to which it is Man - the human species in general - that is at the origin of the crisis is no longer enough to counteract and sterilise the reflection underway within the proletariat on this issue. In the manufacture and permanent adaptation of bourgeois ideology, the nebulous academic-university catch-all term the Anthropocene is now succeeded by the fog of a new title – the Capitalocene. In particular, the theories of Andreas Malm[1] (a lecturer in human geography at the University of Lund in Sweden and a member of the Trotskyist organisation the Fourth International - Unified Secretariat) occupy a privileged place in it and are being promoted with great publicity and wide international repercussions.

In his book How to Blow Up a Pipeline: Learning to Fight in a World on Fire (2021, Verso Books), Andreas Malm notes that "no amount of rhetoric will ever move the ruling classes to action ". Andreas Malm calls on the [environmental]movement to move beyond pacifism and take violent action not against people but against the infrastructure of fossil fuel capitalism". His "key idea, summarised in L'Anthropocène contre l'histoire (2017): it is not humanity that has become a geological force - that is the meaning of the word 'anthropocene' coined by the Dutch Nobel Prize winner in chemistry Paul Crutzen in 2002 - but the economy and fossil capitalism that were born in England with James Watt's steam engine, hence Andreas Malm's preference for the word 'Capitalocene'. The Swede seeks to reconcile marxism and environmentalism. (...) he links ecology to marxism, often discredited in environmentalist circles for its productivism: he justifies the transition to violent action in a galaxy dominated by pacifism; and he does not deny the State as an ally in the ecological transition within a kind of war communism that he theorised in The Bat and Capital (2020)"[2].

Alternately denounced as "public enemy No. 1"[3] or praised as a "fundamental thinker" and "one of the most original on the subject of climate change", he is seen as the "new guru of radical ecologists". Bourgeois propaganda has not hesitated to declare him the "Lenin of ecology", no less!

Yet there is a striking contrast in the way in which the "Lenin of ecology" is treated by the ruling class: whereas Lenin - and with him the revolutionaries of the past - to whom Malm is compared or to whom he refers, have been vilified, slandered, censured, forced into exile, pursued by the police of all possible variants of the different political regimes of capitalism, bourgeois democracy first and foremost, Malm is well known. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages and are readily available to a wide readership. For those who don't read books, they have been relayed by a major Hollywood production (featuring a group of young people who decide to blow up an oil pipeline in Texas), How to blow up a pipeline, widely distributed worldwide. How can we explain this worldwide publicity offered by the ruling class to its supposed enemy, to anyone who claims to be fighting its system? What is the reason for this solicitude for Malm on the part of the ruling class?

The answers to these questions, and the secret of this bourgeois enthusiasm for Malm, can be found in Malm's own writings (from 2009 onwards in his book Fossil Capital), summarised and condensed in a few sentences that could almost pass unnoticed under the heap of his writings, but which reveal and unmask the quintessence of his approach: for him, climate change "tightens the screws on marxists like everyone else. Any argument along the lines of ‘one solution – revolution’ or, less succinctly, ‘socialist property relations are necessary to combat climate change’ is now indefensible. The experience of the last two centuries shows that socialism is an appallingly difficult condition to achieve; any proposal to build it on a global scale before 2020 and then start cutting emissions would be not only laughable, but irresponsible. (...) If the temporality of climate change obliges revolutionaries to a little pragmatism, it obliges others to start thinking about revolutionary measures"[4].

The fight for communism would therefore no longer be relevant, but outdated, rendered obsolete by the climate emergency. With this crude sleight of hand, Malm is simply defending and theorising the very vulgar "we're all in the same boat", dear to bourgeois ideology and at the heart of the mystification of national unity and peace between the classes! By denying the validity of the perspective of proletarian revolution and communism, which he regards as inappropriate and incapable of providing a solution to the problems facing humanity in the current historical situation (including the question of ecological devastation), Malm, on his knees, proclaims his allegiance to the ruling class.

His visceral and avowed anti-socialism is the measure of the validity of his 'marxism': detached from the fight for communism, references to Marx, Trotsky or Lenin are nothing more than a collection of empty formulas full of amalgams and falsifications! The bourgeoisie was quick to see the advantage it could draw from Malm's 'marxism', emasculated of its revolutionary purpose! This is what has earned him the recognition and solicitude of the ruling class, as well as the pride of place it reserves for him in its official campaigns!

A thoroughly bourgeois method
Faced with the threat of global warming, which he identifies as the No. 1 political priority for humanity, Malm claims, with the help of a whole theory (Fossil Capital) which has the colour and appearance of historical materialism and the pretence of updating and advancing marxism, to hold THE solution for tackling its 'motor', which can be reduced to the following simple assertion: to combat global warming we need to eliminate once and for all the greenhouse gas emissions that are responsible for it. This means taking the radical step of eradicating the fossil fuel sector from capitalist production and "shutting down this activity for good"[5]. And the problem will be solved!

This 'decarbonise everything' approach to saving the planet's ecology has been denounced by some ecologists and scientists (even though they themselves are unable to provide real alternatives) as an aberration, "an example of contemporary narrow-mindedness, which leads to the oft-repeated error (...) of systematically underestimating the multiplicity of interactions that characterise natural and social systems. "[6]. Malm's own position has been criticised: "We could dismantle all the oil pipelines, all the coal mines and all the SUVs" and discover that we are still doomed to extinction "because we would still have to tackle "soil degradation, freshwater depletion, ocean dysbiosis, habitat destruction, pesticides and other synthetic chemicals", each problem being ‘comparable in scale and severity to climate collapse’. We are not dealing here with fossil capital alone, but with 'all capital'"[7].

As a good bourgeois ideologue on ecology, Malm completely embodies the typically capitalist approach of tackling each problem arising in capitalist society separately from the others (by proposing a supposed 'solution' for each one) and treating them independently of what lies at their root: the capitalist system as a whole and its historical crisis. This approach and method are far removed from historical materialism and have nothing to do with Marxism.

At a time when humanity and the world proletariat are faced with the accelerating decomposition of the capitalist system, when the combined effects of the economic crisis, the ecological/climate crisis and imperialist war are adding up, interacting and multiplying in a devastating spiral, and when among these different factors, war (as a deliberate decision by the ruling class) forms the decisive accelerating element in the aggravation of chaos and economic crisis, all this is concealed by Malm[8]!

There is no trace in his writings of the economic crisis of capitalism, or of the catastrophic repercussions on society and the environment of the organisation of the whole of society with a view to the permanent preparation for war since the entry of the capitalist system into decadence. And yet the return of 'high-intensity' warfare between states is in itself (and there are many other fundamental reasons why Capital is unable to find a solution to the ecological crisis) a powerful reason for abandoning 'ecological transition' measures and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed: " No war without oil. Without oil, it is impossible to wage war (...) Giving up the possibility of obtaining supplies of abundant and inexpensive oil is quite simply tantamount to disarmament. Transport technologies [which do not require oil, hydrogen and electricity] are totally unsuited to armies. Battery-powered electric tanks pose so many technical and logistical problems that they have to be regarded as impossible, as does everything that runs on land (armoured vehicles, artillery, engineering vehicles, light all-terrain vehicles, trucks). The internal combustion engine and its fuel are so efficient and flexible that it would be suicidal to replace them. "[9]

Keen to convince us that there is a solution to the climate crisis within capitalism, Malm proposes a ten-point "ecological transition programme": "1°) impose a moratorium on all new coal, oil or natural gas extraction facilities 2°) close all power stations powered by these fuels 3°) produce 100% of electricity from non-fossil sources, mainly wind and solar power 4°) put an end to the development of air, sea and land transport; convert land and sea transport to electricity and wind power ; ration air transport to ensure fair distribution until it can be totally replaced by other means of transport 5°) develop public transport networks at all levels, from metros to intercontinental high-speed trains 6°) limit the transport of food by boat and plane and systematically promote local supplies 7°) put an end to the destruction of tropical forests and launch major reforestation programmes 8°)insulate old buildings and require new ones to produce their own energy without emitting carbon dioxide. 9°) dismantle the meat industry and direct human protein needs towards plant sources 10°) direct public investment towards the development of the most efficient renewable and sustainable energy technologies, and carbon dioxide elimination technologies." [10]

Everything that Malm has the nerve to present as the equivalent of Marx's Communist Manifesto, destined to take over from it and succeed it, is absolutely indistinguishable from what Western governments defend (in words) and claim to want to implement!

Malm is simply posing as a defender (but a 'critical' defender!) of the decarbonisation measures taken by Western governments. He is thus following in the footsteps of the IPCC, which a decade ago[11] ushered in a new phase in policies to combat global warming by presenting the use of geoengineering[12] as inevitable. For the IPCC, the bourgeois states and governments, it is now a matter of relying on high-tech 'innovation' to 'compensate' for the catastrophic effects on nature of capitalism and its contradictions[13]. “While Andreas Malm criticises geoengineering, he does not discredit it completely, believing that it will be difficult to do without certain tools capable of capturing carbon "[14] . These tools are often described as "negative emission technologies", i.e.  “the euphemism used to designate geoengineering techniques for eliminating carbon dioxide without frightening people")[15]. While "waiting for better" (and he may be waiting a long time), Malm, an emergency doctor, supports the "means at hand", the increasing recourse to the magic potions of the bourgeois state and its mad doctors to "cure the Planet", which only exponentially worsen the situation instead of alleviating it, and generate new calamities with increasingly unpredictable and destructive consequences for humankind, the working class and the natural environment on which society depends.

For Malm, the state of emergency justifies state capitalism.
According to Malm, given the urgency of the situation in terms of global warming, and the fact that we can no longer count on the proletariat's capacity to equip itself with revolutionary organs to challenge the capitalist order, we have to make do with what we have on hand to put out the fire. As a resolute opponent of communism, for him it is the capitalist state, state decisions and political action on the terrain of the state which form the alpha and omega of his political vision and limit his horizon. In his view, unless we are demonstrating “irresponsibility as delirious as it is criminal”, we must recognise the need to "abandon the classical programme of demolishing the state (...) - one aspect of Leninism among others which seem to merit an obituary”[16] and concentrate on the only tool left at our disposal, the bourgeois state[17]. The "Lenin of ecology" rejects and abandons one of Lenin's most important contributions to the revolutionary movement: the restoration and clarification of the marxist position on the state. This is as far as one can go in questioning and abandoning marxism!

While criticising this "very imperfect tool" and as "there is almost no chance of a capitalist state doing anything (...) on its own initiative. It would have to be forced to do so, using the whole panoply of means of popular pressure at our disposal, from electoral campaigns to mass sabotage”[18].  "For if a state could take control of trade flows, track down wildlife traffickers, nationalise fossil fuel companies, organise the capture [of CO2] from the air, plan the economy to reduce emissions by ten per cent a year or so, and do all the other things that need to be done, we would be well on the way out of the emergency."[19].

He calls for "popular pressure to be brought to bear on it, [changing] the balance of power that it condenses, forcing the apparatuses to break away from the hitch and start moving by employing all the methods already quickly mentioned"[20]. " Decisions and decrees from the State are needed - or in other words, the State must be wrested from the hands of all the Tillersons and Fridolins of this world so that a transition programme of the type sketched out above can be implemented. "[21] It is therefore a question of "[ jumping] at the slightest opportunity to move the State in this direction, to break with business-as-usual as clearly as necessary and to bring under public control the sectors of the economy that are working towards disaster"[22].

Malm disguises the impossibility and complete inability of the capitalist system as a whole to provide a solution to the ecological question, by passing off this impotence as a problem of state inertia, held hostage by the selfish interests of the barons of the fossil fuel sector.

What he proposes is to make full use of the mechanisms of the bourgeois-democratic state, backing them up with a healthy dose of 'civil disobedience' for a good cause: Malm is making his contribution to the attempts of all the Western states to get the increasingly abstentionist masses to return to the ballot box and the ballot paper. And in so doing, he maintains the illusions about bourgeois democracy by inviting all those who are concerned about the future of the planet to make it the framework for their actions!

At the same time, Malm argues that in order to deal with the causes of the chronic emergency, state coercion is "necessary and urgent" and requires "a new hierarchy of tasks for the repressive apparatuses of states throughout the world."[23] In order to justify and legitimise the need for more active state violence and repression at the ecological level, he takes as his model and source of inspiration the drastic measures of state control and militarisation of vast sectors of society taken by the Soviet state during War Communism in Russia of 1918-21 in the face of imperialist military intervention, civil war and famine. In the same vein, Malm recalls the enormous sacrifices made by Russian workers and peasants to justify, even today, the demand for "a form of necessary renunciation" and the impossibility "of evading the ban on the consumption of wild animals, the cessation of mass aviation, the gradual abandonment of meat and other things synonymous with the good life."[24] In the final analysis, this theme is in unison with the bourgeois campaigns advocating 'sobriety' on the pretext of defending the planet in order to impose attacks on the living conditions of the exploited class, made indispensable by the economic crisis.

In the name of defending the planet, the exploited must act as citizens, complying with the demands and submitting to the interests of the great orchestrator which, in Malm's mind, is the state in the fight against global warming.

With a suitcase full of state capitalist measures under his arm, Malm touts his turnkey programme for the bourgeois state. "The call for the nationalisation of fossil fuel companies and their transformation into direct air capture equipment should be the central demand for the transition in the coming years"[25]. "This begins with the nationalisation of all private companies that extract, transform and distribute fossil fuels. The rampaging pack that is ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, RWE, Lundin Energy and all the others will have to be brought under control, and the surest way to do that is to bring these companies back into the public fold, either by acquisition or by confiscation without compensation - which seems more defensible."[26].

"They need to be nationalised (...) not just to get rid of these companies (...) but to turn them into companies providing a carbon removal service. Turn them into a public service for restoring the climate"[27].

Malm is thus openly posing as a manager of the state and capital and would have us believe that the bourgeois state in the hands of determined political forces can force capitalism to implement the solution of abandoning fossil fuels!

To lend credence to his ‘solution', Malm develops a completely mystifying vision of the nature of the bourgeois state as being above classes, an arbiter of the general interest, able to act for the common good of society as a whole. This is an old refrain of bourgeois ideology that has been repeated for decades, particularly by the political forces of the capitalist left (beginning with the Social Democrats, then the Stalinists and, following them, the Trotskyists).

Contrary to what Malm implies, the state is not 'neutral', nor is it the place where the exploited class can exercise and enforce its will. On the contrary! As the expression of a society divided into antagonistic classes, the state is the exclusive instrument in the hands of the ruling class for maintaining its domination and guaranteeing its class interests; it is by definition the tool for defending its system and imposing its logic.

Nor is the state an organ of 'rationalisation' or 'regulation' of the contradictions of capitalism to which it could provide a 'solution'. The omnipresent and growing control of the state over the whole of social life for more than a century does not correspond to the implementation of viable solutions to the contradictions of the capitalist system (social, economic and imperialist), which have been increasingly exacerbated in the period of its decadence.

The tentacular development of the state is, on the contrary, the expression of these contradictions and of the inability of the bourgeois world to overcome them, of the historic impasse of this mode of production.

In the present historical situation, after more than a century of decadence, the accumulation of contradictions at the root of the capitalist system, and of their effects, is reflected in the growing tendency of the ruling class to lose control over its system, which is falling apart and rotting on its feet. Far from acting as a brake on this tendency, the state is itself more and more openly proving to be a vehicle for the destructive irrationality which characterises and dominates the capitalist system as a whole. The state and its actions are themselves becoming an increasingly obvious factor in aggravating the historical crisis of the capitalist system in the final phase of its existence, the phase of decomposition.

There is therefore nothing to be expected from action on the part of the state, and all illusions in this respect must be firmly rejected.

It is in this context that Malm invites us to distinguish between the different parts that make up the state apparatus, some of which are more recommendable than others, and which, in classical Trotskyist mode, he presents (critically!) as progressive allies[28]: "This does not mean that the social-democratic formations do not have a role to play. On the contrary, they are perhaps our best hope, as we have seen in recent years. Nothing would have been better for the planet than a victory for Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom in 2019 and Bernie Sanders in the United States in 2020. If they could have found themselves in charge of the two traditional bastions of capitalism, there would have been real opportunities to use the current crisis and those on the horizon to break with business-as-usual”.[29] No comment! This is yet another deception perpetrated by Malm to confuse working-class consciousness about the true nature of these bourgeois parties and to lure the population and workers back to the Socialist or Social Democratic parties (which have repeatedly proved their anti-working-class nature). This is yet another lie designed to conceal the fact that, in our time, all bourgeois parties are equally reactionary, and that there is no more to be expected from one than from the other!

On the questions of the state and its left forces, Malm at least has the merit of clarity. He reveals the basic logic common to the Trotskyist current as a whole: the defence of state capitalism!

Malm's political constructions are an integral part of the ideological campaigns of the ruling class in the direct service of its interests. Their aim is to provide them with the radical, supposedly anti-capitalist wrapping they need to sterilise the beginnings of reflection on capitalism's responsibility for the ecological disaster, and to divert it into the realm of the state and bourgeois democracy. Malm therefore deserves to be awarded the 'Order of Lenin' for Ecology, since:

- Malm's 'theories' prolong and continue the campaign against communism that has been underway since 1989, this time in the name of realism in the face of the climate crisis, which, because of its urgency, is changing the situation and rendering the fight for communism ineffective.
- By denying that the solution to the climate crisis requires the destruction of the bourgeois state and the capitalist social relations it guarantees, and the replacement of the capitalist system by a classless society, the word revolution, in Malm's mouth, changes meaning and now only means the development and management of the capitalist system.
- Whether it's a question of the means Malm advocates - encouraging civil disobedience and individual or mass sabotage against major greenhouse gas emitters (deflating the tyres of the richest people's SUVs, targeting a private jet airport or a cement factory, etc.), or their aim - putting pressure on the capitalist state to finally take the right decisions - they are really only intended to lock those who might be seduced by this rhetoric into the confines of the capitalist order. Leaving intact and preserving the exploitative social relations of the capitalist order, at the root of the ills that beset society, is all to the benefit of the ruling class: they are nothing but sterile dead-ends that guarantee the status quo and impotence.

In the next part of this article, we will look at why the social and ecological questions can only be resolved at the same time, and why only the proletariat has the solution.


[1] Since the 1990s, Andreas Malm has been "engaged in a sustained struggle against the colonisation of Palestine, against Islamophobia in Europe and against 'American imperialism'" (...) He wrote for the newspaper of a Swedish trade union, Arbetaren, from 2002 to 2009. From 2010, he writes for the newspaper Internationalen, the weekly of the Trotskyist party, the Swedish Socialist Party, which is part of the Fourth International - Unified Secretariat, and of which he is a member. He contributes to the American radical left-wing magazine Jacobin. He has been involved in the International Solidarity Movement in Sweden from the outset. He participates in civil disobedience groups against climate change." (Wikipedia)

[2] Le Monde, 21 April 2023

[3] Malm was cited as the main inspiration behind 'Soulèvements de la Terre', "advocating direct action and justifying extreme actions up to and including confrontation with the forces of law and order", in the decree issued by the French government in an attempt to dissolve the movement.
[4] Andreas Malm, Fossil Capital, The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming, Edition Verso, 2016, p. 383.
[5] Andreas Malm, La Chauve-souris et le Capital, Editions La Fabrique, 2020, p.158
[6] Hélène Torjman, La croissance verte contre la nature, Editions la Découverte, 2021, p247

[7] Socialalter no. 59 "Sabotage: on se soulève et on casse?" (August-September 2023) In this interview Malm discusses the criticisms levelled at him by Guardian journalist George Monbiot.
[8] Faced with the current imperialist war in the Middle East and on the key question of internationalism, Malm signs his allegiance to the camp of capitalism, by choosing the defence of one bourgeois camp (in favour of Palestinian imperialism) against another: "During a conference at Stockholm University in December 2023, Andreas Malm praised the massacres and atrocities committed by Hamas during the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October 2023". (Wikipedia) Malm "sees behind this attack ‘the Palestinian resistance’, even claims that it is ‘fundamentally an act of liberation’ (...) and has made it known that he is delighted with Hamas' retaliation.I consume these videos like a drug. I inject them into my veins. I share them with my closest comrades’, he said. (Journal du Dimanche, 10.04.2024) This abject support for the atrocities of Hamas shows the extent to which Malm’s politics are is not only alien to the interests of the proletariat but the enemy of the proletariat.
[9] Conflits n°42

[10] Andreas Malm, L'anthropocène contre l'histoire, Editions La Fabrique, 2017, p.203

[11] In its fifth report in 2014.

[12] Geoengineering is the set of techniques designed to manipulate and modify the Earth's climate and environment.

[13] The all-out use of new technologies is seen as a dangerous and worrying dead end by the most lucid scientists: "(...) This model stems from the same vision and the same socio-economic structures put in place at the end of the 18th century, those of an industrial capitalism dominated by a frenetic quest for resources and yield, where technical progress is the means to these ends. This mode of production has brought us to where we are today. It is therefore pointless to expect it to provide solutions to the ongoing destruction of nature. On the contrary (...) the instrumentalisation of life and living processes is only deepening, becoming more sophisticated and extending to new areas, helped by the power of scientific and technical tools in a perverse and counter-productive dynamic. Industrial agriculture is polluting the air, soil and water, destroying the peasantry and ecosystems, and its purpose is no longer to feed human beings but to manufacture petrol and chemicals. What are we doing about it? We're speeding things up, doing everything we can to further increase crop productivity and yields by genetically manipulating plants (...) The extraction and use of fossil fuels emit greenhouse gases: we're making agrofuels, which ultimately emit even more. (...) The climate is so urgent that we are dreaming up processes aimed at 'capturing and storing carbon': not only do these processes consume a lot of energy, and therefore emit a lot of CO2, but they also weaken the Earth's crust, which is a strange way of saving the planet. In short, the quest for efficiency is turning against itself". (Hélène Torjman, La croissance verte contre la nature, Editions la Découverte, 2021, pp.98-99)
[14] Le Monde, 21 April 2023

[15] Hélène Torjman, La croissance verte contre la nature, Editions la Découverte, 2021, p.97

[16] Andreas Malm, La Chauve-souris et le Capital, Editions La Fabrique, 2020, p.173

[17] "But which state? We have just stated that the capitalist state is incapable by nature of taking these measures. And yet there are no other forms of state available. No workers' state based on soviets will miraculously come into being overnight. No dual power of the democratic organs of the proletariat seems likely to materialise any time soon. Waiting for another form of state would be as delirious as it would be criminal, and so we will all have to make do with the dismal bourgeois state, harnessed as ever to the circuits of capital." ibid, p.173

[18] ibid, p.166
[19] Ibid, p.192

[20] Ibid, p.172

[21] Andreas Malm, L'anthropocène contre l'histoire, Editions La Fabrique, 2017, p. 210

[22] La Chauve-souris et le Capital, Editions La Fabrique, 2020, p.172

[23] Ibid, p.153-4

[24] Ibid, p.188

[25] Ibid, p.163

[26] Ibid, p.158

[27] Ibid, p.163

[28] Left-wing parties with which Malm collaborates directly, include the Institut La Boétie in France, the think tank of La France Insoumise. Further proof that he belongs to the bourgeois camp!
[29] Andreas Malm, La Chauve-souris et le Capital, Editions La Fabrique, 2020, p. 137


Marxism and Ecology