Commentary: recycling is not garbage: a response to Alexander Cockburn.

Author:Seldman, Neil

Alexander Cockburn is a long-time firebrand in The Nation magazine, and before that the Village Voice. Lately he's bent so far left he's joined the right. In recent months, his column and online writing have attracted a great deal of controversy based on his assertions that the science of global warming is off base. Now he's taking on recycling ("The Dialectics of Revolution ... Uh, Recycling," The Nation, December 17, 2007), quoting with approval from a panel discussion entitled "Recycling is a Waste of Time." According to author Thomas Deichmann in Cockburn's piece, "We should be thinking of more interesting things." Cockburn also quotes distinguished Marx scholar and economist James O'Connor, "If you set up a recycling project where your outfit helps create the conditions to organize social relations of production that makes sense, that have to do with fraternity, equality, liberty, justice, etc., etc., then I'll recycle my newspapers. Come and tell me when you have done that."


As Marx famously quipped, the educators need educating.

Engels, perhaps the world's first industrial ecologist, recognized the need for using the by-product of one factory as the feedstock for another. He argued that the sensible application of sewage on the land was necessary for a safe industrial life and a healthy, secure agricultural sector.

A key part of the Marxist strategy to decentralize production and integrate rural and manageable urban areas was the efficient use of discarded raw materials for productive use in agriculture and industry. Engels studied the great soil scientists of his day, for example, and informed Marx's thought on the issues of scale and ownership and the social, economic and agricultural benefits of small farms (not the least of which is stable and viable soil).

One look at today's enemies of recycling reveals the radical nature of citizen-controlled recycling:

* Virgin material oligopolies who fear the competition from thousands of cities and towns competing with them as suppliers of virgin-quality recycled and processed raw materials;

* Wall Street bond firms that hate recycling because it eliminates the need for massive incineration plants that require billions in bond issues;

* Oligopolistic garbage hauling firms--who make 10 times as much landfilling and incinerating than recycling;

* Right-wing pundits who fear that an organized citizenry can learn at the local level that they can change the rules to...

To continue reading