December 7, 2023

Absolute Alienation

Nathan Brown

Oil wells in the Permian Basin. Photo by Alan Levine.

We are on a mission: our calling is the cultivation of the earth.1

For this is my keenest hope, the belief that keeps me strong and active: our grandchildren will be better than we are, freedom will come one day, and virtue will thrive better in the holy warming light of freedom than in the icy zone of despotism. We live in a period when everything is working towards better times. These seeds of enlightenment, these quiet aspirations and efforts of individuals trying to shape the human race, will spread and gain strength and bear splendid fruit … Oh and if I find a soul who like me strives for that goal, there is nothing more sacred and dearer to me in the world. And that goal, Brother of mine, the shaping, the improvement of the human race, the goal that in our life here we will perhaps only attain imperfectly but which the better generations to come will attain the more easily the more we have helped prepare for it in our particular sphere of activity … that goal lives, I know, in your soul too.2
—Hölderlin, letter to Karl Gok, Tübingen, September 1793

Reflecting upon such statements from the 1790s, inspired by the French revolution and Kant’s epochal regrounding of philosophy, it would be impossible to express the depth of bitterness and despair occasioned by the outcome of modernity. Unfortunately, we are in a position to articulate this outcome with grueling certainty. On the one hand, the destruction of a habitable environment by global warming. On the other hand, the annihilation of attention, the hollowing out of the psyche, and the progressive displacement of thought by smartphones, social media, and artificial intelligence. The objective destitution of terrestrial nature, and the subjective destitution of the embodied soul: both of these are the outcome of the capitalist determination of technological development since the industrial revolution.

What we will find as these developments converge is, for the rich, the continuing marginalization of the embodied lifeworld by simulated environments designed by video game corporations; for the poor, the sequestering of desperate migrants in camps where they are not only stored in a kind of geopolitical and existential limbo but also starved, beaten, raped, and murdered. Two decades into the twenty-first century, it is necessary to revise F. H. Bradley’s dictum, cited by Adorno in Minima Moralia: “When everything is bad it must be good to know the worst.”3 No, in fact, it is also bad to know the worst. As my friend Alexi Kukuljevic might say, in the manner of Beckett: When everything is bad, it must be worse to know the worst.4 But rather than doubling down in this manner, we might simply acknowledge the present irrelevance of theoretical critique to the outcome of modernity—an irrelevance that has been rigorously and ironically demonstrated by the real movement of history.

The fact and the feeling of this irrelevance are what I call Absolute Alienation. At the end of the Phenomenology of Spirit traced by Hegel in the early nineteenth century, the interiorizing recollection of the movement of spirit’s moments came to fruition in Absolute Knowing, “the highest freedom and the highest assurance” of spirit’s knowing of itself.5 Two hundred years later, the result of recollecting Absolute Knowing itself from the perspective of spirit’s subsequent misadventures is Absolute Alienation. It is the certainty that the structural determinations of modernity have unfolded in a manner quite indifferent to whatever benefits the achievement of conceptually grasped history (begriffne Geschichte) was supposed to confer.6

In the work of Marx, the concept of alienation undergoes a major transformation that is crucial to understanding its modulations throughout the twentieth century. Here I agree with Althusser: there is an epistemological break in Marx’s oeuvre, after which the concept of alienation (Entäusserung) undergoes a tendential displacement. In the final chapter of my book Rationalist Empiricism, I argue that this displacement is effected by another concept, which plays a key structural role in volume 1 of Capital: the concept of Scheidung, or separation.7 The concept of alienation depends upon a logic of estrangement, exteriorization, or objectification, whereby the product of one’s labor, the contribution of one’s living activity to the human community, comes to confront one as an alien object, hostile and antithetical to one’s interests. One is alienated from an essence, activity, or form of existence that is properly one’s own. The concept of separation does not necessarily obey this logic of exteriorization or estrangement. Separation may occur between elements rather than from what is properly one’s own, and thus what Marx calls a “process of separation” (Scheidungsprozess) requires a structuralist rather than humanist approach. The concept of alienation remains active in Marx’s mature discourse, but the emphasis shifts to the process of separation, conceived as a structural-historical concept.

The operation of Scheidung as a technical term is somewhat recessed in Capital, and rarely recognized as a major concept in readings of Marx, yet it is central to his argument. Not only is the division of labor theorized as a Scheidungsprozess, but Marx also argues, in a striking declaration from chapter 3 of Capital, that “the division of labor converts the product of labor into a commodity, and thereby makes necessary its conversion into money.”8 This is the case because it is the division of labor, understood as a process of separation, that divides workers not only from the products of their labor but from the synthesis of skills required to produce those products, thus resulting in what Marx calls “a system of all-round social dependence.”9 Such a system is the condition of possibility for the conversion of the product of labor into a commodity, understood as a product who value is determined by socially necessary labor time, and as a product emerging from a process of production generating surplus value through surplus labor time. The division of labor makes necessary the conversion of the commodity into money insofar as the process of exchange, in capitalist societies, requires a level of abstraction adequate to the determination of value, which inheres not in any material trait of the object or in its use value, but rather in the average labor time required to produce it, considered within the capitalist system as a whole.

From this brief outline, we can see the total integration of Marx’s concept of Scheidungsprozess into the processual vocabulary of Capital. The division of labor consolidates the separation of labor from property that inaugurates capitalist social relations. Thus, the labor process (Arbeitsprozess) is both separated from and constitutive of the valorization process (Verwertungsprozess). This separation requires a process of exchange (Austauchprozess) enabled by the conversion of commodities into money. The realization of surplus value through the exchange process reenters the process of production (Produktionsprozess) as capital, and the expanding reproduction of this valorization of capital is a process of accumulation (Accumulationsprozess). The coordination of all these processes constitutes the “unity in separation” of capitalist social relations. Thus, the transformation of the concept of alienation into the distinctively structural concept of separation enables an enormous expansion of theoretical range and conceptual integration in Marx’s mature work.

Let’s now jump ahead one hundred years, to Guy Debord’s deployment of the terms “separation” and “alienation” in The Society of the Spectacle. Here both terms retain the basic sense Marx gave them while undergoing a contextual transformation stemming from twentieth-century modifications of the problem of organization—specifically, from the history of practical and theoretical disputes between Bolshevism and left communism. First, Debord situates the problem of separation within a historical frame, taking us back to our epigraphs from the 1790s and to the theoretical breakthrough of Hegel’s Phenomenology:

The class struggles of the long revolutionary period ushered in by the rise of the bourgeoisie have evolved in tandem with the “thought of history,” with the dialectic—with a truly historical thinking that is not content simply to seek the meaning of what is but aspires to understand the dissolution of everything that is—and in the process to dissolve all separations.10

We can see Debord’s absorption of the scope that the concept of separation attains in Marx’s mature theory: to think that communism, understood as the real movement of history, would “dissolve all separations” requires us to grasp the manifold sense in which not only the division of labor but the history of capitalism itself could be understood as a “process of separation.” Debord’s politics are exorbitantly utopian: communism would not merely involve ownership of the means of production by a free association of producers, circulating products of labor through free giving and receiving, from each according to their abilities and to each according to their needs. It would be the dissolution of all separations.

Debord’s reference to the dissolution of “all separations” implies not only a dissolution of the capitalist separations analyzed by Marx, but also the dissolution of their survival in the separations of state socialism, as well as in the organizational forms taken by anti-capitalist struggles. His critique of separation is a critique of both capitalist social relations and of democratic centralism and state socialism as the organizational form taken by Bolshevism: “The mirage of Leninism today,” he argues, “has no basis outside the various Trotskyist tendencies, where the conflation of the proletarian project with a hierarchical organization grounded in ideology has stolidly survived all the evidence of that conflation’s real consequences.”11 For Debord, the hierarchical separation of the proletariat from control over its own organizational forms is the source of an alienation internal to class struggle itself, and thereby only aids the reproduction of capitalist social relations:

But when the proletariat discovers that its own externalized power conspires in the continual reinforcement of capitalist society, no longer merely thanks to the alienation of its labor, but also thanks to the forms taken by unions, parties, and institutions of State power that it had established in pursuit of its own self-emancipation, then it must also discover through concrete historical experience that it is indeed that class which is totally opposed to all reified externalizations and all specializations of power. The proletariat is the bearer of a revolution that can leave no other sphere of society untransformed, that enforces the permanent domination of the past by the present and demands a universal critique of separation.12

Here we find a dense coordination of the terms alienation, externalization, and separation: the alienation of the proletariat through externalizations of its own organizational forms requires a “universal critique of separation” directed as much against reifications of communist praxis as the alienation of labor. The Society of the Spectacle is above all a councilist manifesto, arguing for worker’s councils as the only organizational form of proletarian struggle and productive association capable of overcoming the separations not only of capitalism, but of also of anti-capitalist struggle and state socialism. “The historic mission to establish truth in the world,” Debord writes, can only be carried out “by that class which is able to effect the dissolution of all classes, subjecting all power to the disalienating form of a realized democracy—to councils in which practical theory exercises control over itself and surveys its own action.”13 Councils are a disalienating form of proletarian organization, and this disalienation within the workers movement is required for the critique and the dissolution of all separation. We could say that Debord’s argument synthesizes Marx’s structural analysis of separation in Capital with his humanist critique of alienation in the 1844 manuscripts. The structure of historical-theoretical movement is Hegelian: the disalienating activity of workers councils overcomes the apparent opposition between forms of separation proper to both capitalism and proletarian struggle. Councils are the concrete form of the proletarian revolution knowing itself through its own activity; they are the internalizing recollection of the history of class struggle and its impasses, in and through its own immanent interrogation. For Debord, workers councils are the organs through which history comes to know itself as self-emancipating movement, “radically separated from the world of separation.”14

The Society of the Spectacle was published in 1967. Fifty-six years later, let’s consider how far we are from this prognosis, and in just what sense it seems so distant. In fact, debates concerning the problem of organization among communists are not particularly different. In the crucible of proletarian struggles, the problem of organizational form is central to the content of those movements themselves, at the crux of theory and praxis. On the sidelines or in the aftermath of those struggles, one still finds commentators crowing over their organizational failures or ridiculing the futility of the debates themselves, as if whatever they think the solution would have been was not already at issue within the struggle itself. Indeed, there is an objectivity to the problem of organization. The debate between Lenin and left communists, for example, was expressive of a real contradiction due to which both positions were both right and wrong. Lenin was likely right that concessions to parliamentarianism and centralization of the Party’s power were necessary for the revolution to survive; left communists were probably right that displacing the organizational primacy of the Soviets really did compromise the communist content of the revolution. There is a certain objective alienation involved in the conditions of possibility for communist movements or socialist states to survive in a capitalist world: as Paul Mattick has argued, organs of proletarian power are compelled to take on capitalist forms precisely by the exigencies of anti-capitalist struggle. In order to survive the world we actually live in, communist forms tend to become separated from communist content.15

But what has been irrevocably transformed, with respect to the moment of Debord’s treatise, is the viability of the historical teleology that it continued to transmit in the grand tradition of Hegel and Marx. This is emphatically not because of what was called “the end of master narratives” during the moment of so-called postmodernism, nor is it because of the supposed triumph of liberalism over actually existing socialism in the late eighties and early nineties. In fact, the pyrrhic victories of liberalism and epistemological relativism only served to prop up the embattled unity of communists and socialists by giving them a series of easy targets: as long as Western revisionists whined about totalitarianism while denying their own blood-drenched imperialism; as long as relativists declared the end of master narratives while thus propagating a new one; as long as liberals declared the end of history while failing to notice the structural impasses of their own politics—as long as all this constituted a political common sense regnant in the 1980s and ’90s, communist intellectuals could pat themselves on the back for their resolute commitment, for the maturity of their historical consciousness, and for their superior powers of structural analysis. That persistence was rewarded by the schadenfreude of the 2008 economic crisis and by the exhilarating wave of struggles that followed.

But over the past twenty years, perhaps even since the moment of Debord’s intervention in the late 1960s, perhaps even since Marx’s meditations on the ecological consequences of the mode of production, perhaps even since Romantic unease with industrialization and urbanization—perhaps since what Debord calls “the long revolutionary period ushered in by the rise of the bourgeoisie”—there has been a creeping realization that the history of capitalism portends quite another master narrative than 1) the triumph of liberal democratic equilibrium or 2) its communist overcoming through a disalienating fusion of theoretical knowledge and practical life, the dissolution of all separations. But no sooner was this realization given a name than its content was obscured: “the Anthropocene” is a terrible term for the epoch of global warming driven by fossil fuels extraction. But rather than promoting the clunky term “Capitalocene,” we might as well just call this epoch “modernity”: the name of the history of capitalism. Thus it should come as no surprise that the outcome of modernity is identical with what Marx already began to see would be the outcome of the capitalist mode of production, were it not sublated by worldwide communist revolution: the destruction of ecological conditions of possibility for equality and freedom. Of course, versions of this story have become one of the most tedious narratives one might relate: climate change as synecdoche for the dialectic of Enlightenment. That sense of narrative tedium is part of what I mean by Absolute Alienation.

But it does matter how one tells this story. Consider the version we find in Dipesh Chakrabarty’s book The Climate of History in a Planetary Age, expanding upon his influential 2009 article in Critical Inquiry.16 The main argument here is that “the Anthropocene” involves a collapse of the distinction between human history and natural history, the global and the planetary. The explanatory framework and the prescriptions are Latourian and new materialist: “If the climate crisis of human flourishing brings into view planetary processes that humans in the past simply ignored, bracketed, or took for granted, it is reasonable to ask for an ethic that allows humans to develop ‘everyday tactics for cultivating the ability to discern the vitality of matter’” (here quoting Jane Bennett). Chakrabarty acknowledges that “posthumanism by itself cannot address the political,” but what he suggests in addition is only more of the same:

Any theory of the planetary crisis humans face today would have to begin from the same old premise of securing human life but now ground itself in a new philosophical anthropology, that is, in a new understanding of the changing place of humans in the web of life and in the connected but different histories of the globe and the planet.17

In considering these “connected but different histories,” Chakrabarty grants that we must “put global histories of capital in conversation with the species history of humans,” and he notes that “the crosshatching of species history and the history of capital is a process of probing the limits of historical understanding.”18 But if Chakrabarty acknowledges that “there is no denying that climate change has profoundly to do with the history of capital,” he does so only to argue that focusing on capitalism is not sufficient for addressing the entanglement of the history of capitalism with the history of the species—an entanglement which will persist when and if capitalism ends.19 His handling of this question glosses over the causal point at issue: that the capitalist mode of production is the structural cause of climate change, and that the process of accumulation necessary to that mode of production is the primary impediment to ending global warming. While occasionally paying lip service to Marxist arguments, Chakrabarty pays no serious attention to the way in which formal and structural exigencies of value and accumulation shape and constrain the “nature of human agency as a geophysical force.”20 Thus he concludes with an appeal for an “anthropological clearing,” away from “the specialness of man” and toward an attitude of “wonder and reverence” that would be “planet-centric” rather than “human-centric.”21 He thus offers a humanist appeal to post-humanism, ironically recapitulating the form if not the content of a “human-centric” attitude in a textbook example of the dialectic of enlightenment. We ought to change our values (not necessarily our mode of production) and thereby cultivate the earth: this is the liberal theory of climate change, which devolves to the level of a global warming Hallmark Card.

On the other hand, in Fossil Capital Andreas Malm has given us a serious account of the historical relation between capitalism and fossil fuels extraction, and he has also given us, in The Progress of this Storm, a necessary critique of the epistemological and political obscurantism of actor network theory, new materialism, and post-humanism.22 Against the ethical liberalism of these discourses, Malm urges militant struggle, and he is surely right that revolutionary, anti-capitalist militancy is the only serious political response to the climate crisis, with two goals in view: no extraction, no emissions. But Malm does not seem interested in taking seriously the political impasses of his approach to Marxist politics. On the one hand, he calls for acts of voluntarist sabotage.23 Far be it from me to disparage, on normative grounds, such calls for direct action. But considering tactical limitations, one might ask: What actually happened when the Nordstream pipeline was blown up last year? When sources of fossil fuel are cut off in one place, they spring up in others in what amounts to a geopolitical shell game, and this usually results in more emissions, not less (e.g., renewed extraction of coal and oil rather than natural gas, or tapping previously protected reserves). On the other hand, Malm is a Leninist who offers no account of whether changes in the process of production and the global segmentation of the working class have altered the conditions of possibility for Leninist politics.

It is refreshing to hear Malm call for “less of Latour, more of Lenin.”24 But consider the passage he cites by Perry Anderson on the level of agency achieved by Bolsheviks:

There are those collective projects which have sought to render their initiators authors of their collective mode of existence as a whole, in a conscious programme aimed at creating or remodelling whole social structures … It is the modern labour movement that has really given birth to this quite new conception of historical change; and it is with the advent of what its founders called scientific socialism that, in effect, for the first time collective projects of social transformation were married to systematic efforts to understand the process of past and present, to produce a premeditated future. The Russian Revolution is in this respect the inaugural incarnation for a new kind of history, founded on an unprecedented form of agency.25

This is a stirring passage, but the collective mode of existence of the modern labor movement is not what it used to be. As Théorie Communiste has analyzed in detail, the global restructuring of capital since the 1970s has resulted in a tendential segmentation of labor as the very means of a unification of capital.26 The globalization of supply chains and logistical networks involves a geographical and political division of the means of production, a new process of separation which poses serious problems for the prospect of seizing the means of production in a manner coordinated by a conscious program that would remodel whole social structures. International supply chains, and not individual factories, are now the integral unit of the process of production, separated from the forms of unity enabling collective proletarian control over the process of production. The analysis of the decline of the worker’s movement by Théorie Communiste has often been mistaken for a normative argument, as if they wanted a programmatic worker’s politics to end, as if they think worker’s movements no longer exist, or that they have no traction anywhere. On the contrary, their analysis is a descriptive argument grounded in sober structural analysis of the relation between the composition of the process of production and the problem of organization on national and international levels.

More importantly for my purposes here, the problem is that climate change itself has altered the fundamental basis of the class relation as it will play out in the future of the twenty-first century: some areas of the globe will remain habitable and some will not. Proletarians in some parts of the world will have to work in impossible temperatures to reproduce their existence, and those in other parts of the world will not. This will be the fundamental political division of the second half of the twenty-first century. It is certainly a class division, but it is also a division determined by geography. Those proletarians and those surplus populations who will have to work and live in uninhabitable temperatures will have to migrate, or they will die. It seems probable that some five hundred million to one billion people will have to migrate in search of livable climates by 2075 or 2100. Notably, this geographical determination divides rather than unifies the proletariat as an international class: as we have seen, those proletarians who do not live in what will become uninhabitable regions will tend to resist the migration of those who do, making common cause with brutal border regimes and neofascist forms of populist politics.

This is a new form of what Marx called the “process of separation,” and it also constitutes a different form of the alienation of the proletariat from its own power than that analyzed by Debord. Such alienation is not due to the separations of hierarchical organizations from the immanent self-determination of workers’ councils. Rather, it is due to the effect of geographical contingency on a new form of the class relation. Meanwhile, over and over again, we see new evidence of the predictable inertia of fossil capital: even amid halting transitions to electric vehicles and renewable fuels, global carbon dioxide emissions are still rising. Geopolitical contingencies like the war in Ukraine are always lying in wait to reverse priorities. The EU is cracking down on Chinese electric vehicles in their markets precisely because Chinese state subsidies make them affordable. In regions with oil and gas resources, the capitalist bottom line is: if there is still money to be made from the extraction of fossil fuels, it will be made. Meanwhile, it seems to be far from the case that the proletariat will be unified by the convergence of human history and natural history portended by climate change; on the contrary, the uneven geographical distribution of climate risk constitutes the most brutal phase of the process of separation in the history of capitalism.

We might consider the historical position we are in, vis-à-vis the relation between knowledge and collective determination, through the recent work of Kohei Saito on Marx’s ecological thinking.27 Saito shows persuasively that Marx, particularly in his later notebooks and letters, arrives at a position on the relation between nature and the mode of production that might be described as degrowth communism. He argues that Marx goes beyond the attachment of historical materialism to the teleological view that expanding forces of production will lead to and support communist social relations, arriving instead at a view compatible with a more contingent understanding of historical “progress” and with communist forms of communal reproduction that would not rely upon increasing levels of industrial production. I am convinced by Saito’s reading of Marx and by his arguments not only for the necessity of degrowth, but also that communist social relations are necessary to bring about degrowth.

But what is painful about reading Saito is that his analysis of Marx points us precisely to the period in which such a perspective would have mattered: the second half of the nineteenth century. How does the history of the twentieth century appear, retrospectively, from the perspective of Marx’s ecological thinking? First of all, it’s important to note that dating “the Anthropocene” to 1945 obscures the grounding of what has been called “the great acceleration” of the postwar period in the longer history of the capitalist mode of production. Even if emissions rose precipitously after 1945, that is the structural effect of the history of capitalist modernity, and particularly since the first phase of what Marx calls “real subsumption” during the industrial revolution. If we thus adopt a Marxist and communist perspective on this structural logic, the question becomes: What would have been necessary to intervene in the history of capitalist modernity prior to the great acceleration? The answer is: 1) the successful internationalization of communist revolution; 2) the possibility thereby of developing social relations and relations of production in a manner not determined by competition with capitalist states; 3) in that context, the recognition that continuing to tie the development of productive forces to fossil fuels extraction would have catastrophic effects on the planetary environment; 4) the rational planning of degrowth communism in accordance with that recognition. Now, there was indeed a moment at which the internationalization of communist revolution seemed and perhaps was structurally possible: the moment from the Russian Revolution in 1917 to the defeat of the German Revolution in 1919. From this perspective, we might describe the postwar “great acceleration” as follows: global warming is the result of the defeat of communist internationalism following the Russian Revolution. Despite the fact that socialist states obviously continued to rely upon fossil fuels throughout the twentieth century, it is only the internationalization of communist social relations that could have altered this reliance by enabling forms of rational planning detached from interstate competition over the accumulation of capital.

My point is not that communists “failed” to internationalize the revolution. This is not a matter of mere errors, failures of will or strategy. There were real structural and historical determinations of the course of revolutionary history; it’s not as though things simply could have gone differently. What I’m saying is: understanding global warming not only as the consequence of capitalist modernity, but also as the consequence of the defeat of communist internationalism and the social and economic reforms it could have made possible offers not only a Marxist but also a communist approach to “the great acceleration.” In this view, the prescriptions of Saito and others for communist degrowth are both correct and belated. They require a context in which those prescriptions could be implemented, and in this sense Malm is more or less correct: something like the Russian Revolution, stemming into an internationalization of that revolution, would be the form of collective determination necessary to halt and reverse warming. What I call Absolute Alienation is the historical knowledge that the conditions of possibility for such a sequence have already passed us by, that global warming results from the defeat of what is nostalgically being called for.

To be clear, this has nothing to do with a general political pessimism. What I’m saying has very little relation to most levels of political determination: the local struggles and forms of social organizing that constitute the most important level of political activity. What it does have to do with is what Anderson calls “systematic efforts to understand the process of past and present, to produce a premeditated future.” On this level, the collective rationality of communist politics has no ground to stand on. The future of politics at an international level appears as a brutal confrontation of wealthy states and rootless populations, the former massively armed, determined to preserve their borders and to crush any internal resistance to that preservation; the latter’s strength resting only in sheer numbers, which is indeed a formidable power but ultimately unlikely to overcome the drone and robot armies of the present and future. What realistic “hope” looks like in this scenario is not the systematic production of a premeditated future, but the capacity of those reduced to bare life to eke out a meager existence through contingent forms of collective support and nomadic resilience. It is not impossible that a complete disorganization of the present global order of things may result in a new epoch of differently distributed collective life, genuinely subsequent to capitalist modernity. But what I am calling Absolute Alienation consists in knowing that the price will be too high, and that such a future therefore cannot be an object of affirmation. It consists in knowing that, on a global level, the outcome of modernity has already been separated from rational collective determination. It is this separation which inscribes alienation directly in our rational understanding of the history of modernity.

This text was delivered as a lecture at the conference “Alienation/s” in Ljubljana on September 27, 2023.


“Wir sind auf einer Mißion: Zur Bildung der Erde sind wir berufen.” Novalis, “Miscellaneous Remarks (Original Version of Pollen),” trans. Alexander Gelley, New Literary History 22, no. 2 (Spring 1991): 388. Translation modified.


Friedrich Hölderlin, Essays and Letters, ed. and trans. Jeremy Adler and Charlie Louth (Penguin, 2009), 17–18.


F. H. Bradley quoted in Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life, trans. E. F. N. Jephcott (Verso, 2005), 83.


Alexi Kukuljevic, “The Unimaginable: From Sade to Beckett,” lecture, Zagreb, “Untimely Imagination” conference, June 18, 2023 .


G. W. F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. Terry Pinkard (Cambridge University Press, 2018), 466.


Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 467.


Nathan Brown, Rationalist Empiricism: A Theory of Speculative Critique (Fordham University Press, 2021), 228–48.


Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (Penguin, 1976), 203.


Marx, Capital, vol. 1, 202–3.


Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (Zone Books, 1995), 48.


Debord, Society of the Spectacle, 80.


Debord, Society of the Spectacle, 85. Emphasis in original.


Debord, Society of the Spectacle, 154.


Debord, Society of the Spectacle, 88. Emphasis in original.


Paul Mattick, “Spontaneity and Organization,” in Anti-Bolshevik Communism (Merlin Press, 1949) ; P. Mattick, “The New Capitalism and the Old Class Struggle,” 1976 .


Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: 4 Theses,” Critical Inquiry 35, no. 2 (Winter 2009).


Dipesh Chakrabarty, The Climate of History in a Planetary Age (University of Chicago Press, 2021), 91.


Chakarabarty, Climate of History, 35, 43.


Chakarabarty, Climate of History, 35.


Chakrabarty, Climate of History, 44.


Chakrabarty, Climate of History, 196–204.


Andreas Malm, Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming (Verso, 2016); and The Progress of this Storm: Nature and Society in a Warming World (Verso, 2018).


Andreas Malm, How to Blow Up a Pipeline: Learning to Fight in a World on Fire (Verso, 2021).


Malm, Progress of this Storm, 118.


Malm, Progress of this Storm, 118. Original source: Perry Anderson, Arguments within English Marxism (Verso, 1980), 20. Emphasis added by Malm.


Roland Simon, “The Restructuring, as It Is in itself” and “The Present Moment,” in A Théorie Communiste Reader .


Kohei Saito, Capital, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy (Monthly Review Press, 2017); and Marx in the Anthropocene: Towards the Idea of Degrowth Communism (Cambridge University Press, 2022).

Capitalism, Marxism
Modernity, Climate change, Revolution

Nathan Brown is Professor of English and Canada Research Chair in Poetics at Concordia University, Montreal, where he directs the Centre for Expanded Poetics. He is the author of Rationalist Empiricism: A Theory of Speculative Critique (2021) and The Limits of Fabrication: Materials Science, Materialist Poetics (2017), as well as Baudelaire’s Shadow: An Essay on Poetic Determination (2021). His translation of The Flowers of Evil (MaMa 2021) will be published in a new edition by Verso in the fall of 2024.


e-flux announcements are emailed press releases for art exhibitions from all over the world.

Agenda delivers news from galleries, art spaces, and publications, while Criticism publishes reviews of exhibitions and books.

Architecture announcements cover current architecture and design projects, symposia, exhibitions, and publications from all over the world.

Film announcements are newsletters about screenings, film festivals, and exhibitions of moving image.

Education announces academic employment opportunities, calls for applications, symposia, publications, exhibitions, and educational programs.

Sign up to receive information about events organized by e-flux at e-flux Screening Room, Bar Laika, or elsewhere.

I have read e-flux’s privacy policy and agree that e-flux may send me announcements to the email address entered above and that my data will be processed for this purpose in accordance with e-flux’s privacy policy*

Thank you for your interest in e-flux. Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.