In this wide-ranging interview with Lukas Slothuus and Ashok Kumar from Historical materialism podcast, John Bellamy Foster discusses, among other things, the influence of mechanistic worldviews on the field of 20th century ecology and socialist thought, fundamental assumptions by many Western Marxists regarding the non-existence of a ‘dialectic of nature’, as well as misunderstandings about Marx’s and Lukács’ understanding of the dialectic of nature and society (and how it mediates between the two), etc., and continue from there.
Foster begins by referring to the fact that the 19th century Newtonian view of nature and the mechanistic, positivist approach to science originally permeated socialist thought. However, since dialectics is about contingency, change, evolution, dynamics, etc., it is very different, says Foster, from a mechanistic perspective. In fact, the work of Marx and Engels in particular was not inherently imbued with a mechanistic approach to nature. The reassessment of Marx’s ideas about nature in recent years has opened up space for a rediscovery of Marxian ecological thought.
Moreover, explains Foster, science has since moved away from the mechanistic view of the world, towards a more dialectical approach. Of course, we now understand that nature is not a mechanical force that goes back and forth – rather its dynamics are imbued with cyclical tendencies of reciprocity, repulsion, interpenetration, etc. Nor is it a force that human beings watch over, dominate and advance – rather, human beings are part of nature, an emergent part of it, in fact, and “emergence” is a important part of “the dialectic of nature”. ”