An interview of John Bellamy Foster
In the backdrop of the ravaging coronavirus pandemic, John Bellamy Foster, editor of Monthly Review, the famous socialist magazine, discusses the pandemic in relation to the present condition of capitalism and economic crisis in the following interview conducted by Farooque Chowdhury in late-March, 2020. Foster, professor of sociology at the University of Oregon, and author of numerous books on political, economic, and ecological issues, relates the pandemic to the capitalist economy, its crisis and climate change.
Farooque Chowdhury: You have long analyzed and elaborated Karl Marx’s concept of metabolic rift. Today, in view of this coronavirus pandemic, how do you find the situation in view of your analysis?
John Bellamy Foster: Obviously, the situation associated with the sudden appearance of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the COVID-19 pandemic is grim all over the world. Both the causes and the consequences are closely related to capitalist social relations. Marx’s theory of metabolic rift was a way of looking at ecological or metabolic relations, and particularly at the complex interdependent relations of nature and society, from a systemic approach long before the development of systems ecology, which in fact arose on similar bases. Marx, building on the work of the German chemist Justus von Liebig, focused on the rift in the soil metabolism. The shipment of food and fiber hundreds and even thousands of miles from the country to the city resulted in the loss of essential soil nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which were not returned to the soil but ended up polluting the cities. This, however, had a wider application in regard to how capitalist production with its linear accumulation generated rifts or ruptures in what Marx called “the universal metabolism of nature.”