To avoid disaster: defending ‘living labour’ and the Commons. Critical resources and theoretical perspectives

(published in french in Les Mondes du travail n°29, pp.187-210)

Stephen Bouquin (Professor in sociology, Paris-Saclay

“Marx said that revolutions are the engine of history. Perhaps things are different. It may be that revolutions are the act by which humanity travelling in the train pulls the emergency brakes” (Walter Benjamin, Thesis XVIII on the Concept of History, quoted by Michael Löwy (2016)[1] .

“Even an entire society, a nation, or all existing societies simultaneously taken together, are not owners of the land. They are merely beneficiaries of it, and must bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations as boni patres familias [good fathers of families]” (Capital, vol. 1 ([1867]; London, 1976), p. 637.


Year after year, the ecological question is growing in importance until it invades all other issues, whether it be the mode of governance, the pandemic, social inequalities or simply the economy. But the theoretical understanding of this surge is not always there, far from it. Our article aims to contribute to a clarification that is as urgent from a scientific as from a practical point of view.

What does the ‘ecological crisis’ tell us about itself? This will be our first introductory point. How should we think about what we mean by ‘nature’ and what relationship should be established between nature and society? If dualistic approaches can be criticized because they have been used to justify the domination of nature, should we favour a ‘monistic’ approach that merges nature and society? We do not think so, and in this second point we will stress the importance of an epistemological orientation based on a critical naturalism that is both materialist and dialectical. In a third point, we will present a series of analyses that recognize the primary role of the ‘capitalocene’ in the ecological crisis. But this critique of the ‘Capitalocene’ gains from integrating that of patriarchy, which will be done in a fourth point that presents materialist ecofeminist approaches. In a fifth point, we will return to the category of ‘living labour’ as a ‘corpo-real’ entity, both natural and social, which will at the same time make it possible to articulate the labour and social question with the ecological question and will orient both the view and the action towards an economy of the common good. In conclusion, we will return briefly to the urgency of the ecological crisis to emphasize the importance of a systemic shift and the construction of a common horizon.


1 – What the ‘ecological crisis’ tells us about itself

One of the main difficulties in understanding the ecological crisis lies in the polysemy of the concepts mentioned. Indeed, the notion of ecology – etymologically oikos (habitat or house) and logos (science/discourse), i.e. the science of habitat – can mean many different and even opposing things. It was invented in the 19th century by the German biologist Ernst Haeckel, who gave the following definition in his book Die Generale Morphologie der Organismen (1866): ‘By ‘ecology’ we mean the science of the relationship of organisms with the external world, in which we can recognize in a broader sense the conditions of existence which may be favorable or unfavorable’ (quoted by Deléage, 2007: 63)[2] . However, this definition, rather innocent at first glance, was entirely compatible with Haeckel’s reactionary views, which favored the cleansing of humanity in the name of the pseudo-scientific theory of the survival of the fittest[3] . Logically, Haeckel advocated eugenics with the mass killing of the disabled, lepers and people declared insane in psychiatric institutions. He also openly advocated the purification of society by the infliction of a quick-acting, painless poison. Indeed no surprise Haeckel but was very popular among the Nazi intelligentsia.

The American zoologist and anthropologist Madison Grant (1865-1937) is another figure whose ecological thinking was resolutely reactionary. Grant was inventor and promoter of National Parks in the United States and believed that confiscating land from Native Americans and denying Afro-Americans any access to property was absolutely essential to the ‘preservation of the wild beauty of nature’…

These few anecdotal facts remind us that ecology is not spontaneously progressive (nor reactionary) but that it can be expressed in the manner of eco-fascism, eco-liberalism or eco-socialism…[4] Of course, this ideological heterogeneity in no way prevents the ecological crisis from manifesting itself in an increasingly noisy manner. Thanks to the work of many scientists (climatologists, glaciologists, wildlife biologists), the very existence of a ‘crisis’ is now widely acknowledged[5] . At the beginning of the 1970s, recognition of this crisis focused primarily on pollution and overpopulation of the earth (Meadows, 1972), which shifted the analysis towards a neo-malthusianism – a feature that has far from disappeared, incidentally. It was not until the early 1990s, when the effects of climate change became tangible, that carbon dioxide emissions became the target of environmentalist criticism.

The succession of heat waves, multi-year droughts, wildfires that are hitting entire regions at an accelerated pace (California, Australia, Greece, Portugal, etc.), while other regions are facing torrential rains, causing large-scale floods that sweep away entire villages in torrents of mud[6] . This crisis has now reached such a scale that it triggers collateral effects that have their own dynamics. Examples include the slowing down of ocean currents, which is disrupting the climate in Europe and North America, the ‘albedo’ effect of the melting ice cap, which reduces the reflection of sunlight and increases warming, the acidification of the oceans and the mortification of terrestrial ecosystems (flora and fauna), which is causing the sixth mass extinction[7] .

Let us remind that the pandemic and the climate crisis are not separate, parallel phenomena, but an aggregate with different internal temporalities. Coronaviruses cannot directly affect the climate, but pathogens can develop in connection with climate change… For example, it is known that drought and deforestation have caused wildlife to migrate across continents – not only insects (mosquitoes, grasshoppers) but also bats, whose primary food source are made of insects. Bat species from Indonesia have been found in northern Thailand and then in China while bats from North Africa now populate certain regions of Germany and Poland… In addition to this, the circuits of globalisation are both vectors of market unification and vectors of pathogen diffusion. Critical microbiologist Rob Wallace demonstrated how industrial livestock farms increase the frequency of mutations, zoonoses and large-scale infections. Every year, bird flu and swine flu wreak havoc on thousands of factory farms with millions of animals eradicated. The massive use of antibiotics in animal husbandry has led to increasing resistance in bacterial pathogens, heralding the advent of new infectious diseases that can infect populations on a massive scale.

To the question of what the ecological crisis tells us about itself, we can answer that it puts the human causes (the Anthropocene) in front of us, that it invites us to consider the global and systemic dynamics, and to recognize that the path upon which we are will surely lead to disaster, if nothing is done while there is still time.


2 – Nature and society: the dual limits of dualism and monism

Should we talk about nature, the natural environment or ecospheres? Or simply the Earth as a planet that is home to all kind of life? These are recurring questions that also require answers.

For post-structuralists, who recognize above all the performative character of discourse and representations, nature is nothing more than a symbolic construction, a view of the mind, and we are its bearers. For others, there will always be an ontological difference between physical environments, the organisms that may inhabit them, and conscious and reflexive human activity. According to this dualistic conception, which separates nature and culture, human activity is thought of as external to nature, which then becomes a ‘natural environment’ that can be mastered or domesticated, thereby authorizing an indifference to the consequences of human action on it. Such a dualistic conception can be found in writings of René Descartes, for whom the universe would be made up of physical substances, while the human being is first of all constituted from a spiritual and immaterial reality. Sociology has followed that path with someone like Emile Durkheim claiming that nature and culture are distinct, including among human beings. Indeed, following Durkheim, women would be a ‘natural being’ somewhat removed from reason, while the man (in the masculine) would be a product of culture. According to his logic, women are responsible for reproduction and the preservation of the home, while men are responsible for creation and production. While some recent authors (Lallemant, 2022) see reasons to relativize the naturalization of women attributed to Durkheim, others (Gardey and Löwy, 2002; Gardey, 2005) support a critical examination of a sexist naturalism within the social sciences [8] .

More generally, it should be remembered that the dualistic conception of the human/nature relationship has been and remains the subject of recurrent criticism by the ecologist movement. However, this criticism is very often based on a ‘monistic’ conception, which tends to erase any interrelationship between humans and nature, which could also have the consequence of relativizing human responsibility in the preservation of the natural environment or worse, considering that nature is taking revenge upon its main destroying factor (Larrère, 2011). Indeed, monistic conceptions absorbs all distinctions between nature and culture, between environment and society, and simply proclaims that we must naturalise ourselves again…

While eco-fascism claims to have a monistic conception in which humans are entirely naturalized as being in harmony with nature, in reality it seeks to take the subjugation of nature and humans by other humans to a level never before achieved (Dubeau, 2022, François, 2022). But we should avoid show trials and refuse to think that any monistic vision of the human/nature relationship is necessarily reactionary. This is, in any case, what anthropological studies of Amerindian, Oceania and southern African living communities demonstrate (Sahlins, 1962; 2008; Graeber and Wengrow, 2021).

In these communities, where egalitarian relations prevail at a distance from patriarchy, social relations are organized in close symbiosis with the natural environment. The accumulation of a surplus is actively thwarted (cf. the potlach, nomadic agriculture, the refusal to accumulate and hoard, etc.) and religious spiritualities, whether shamanic or animistic, reflect this integration into an environment with which life is organized in close interdependence. This also explains why, both materially and symbolically, these communities tend to preserve a balance between the social activity of humans and what is referred to as the ‘natural environment’. The monistic naturalist position is also found in the radical environmentalist movement, which identifies itself with deep ecology, which presents certain alternative experiences and mobilisations as an expression of nature itself (‘we are not defending nature, but we are nature defending itself’ as the motto of the Extinction Rebellion action network).

Sometimes this monism translates itself in an open refusal to even speak about nature. According to this perspective, which can be found in particular in the work of the anthropologist Philippe Descola, nature does not exist ‘in itself’ and is nothing more than a metaphysical device that European civilisations have invented in order to emphasize a separation between human activity and the world around it; a world that has become a reservoir of resources, a domain to be exploited, a space for predation [9]. Since human activity is an integral part of the Earth’s vast ecosystem, Descola believes that the urgent task is to bring about other ways of ‘inhabiting’ the world that are no longer destructive of the ecosystem. However, in addressing the issue of change, monistic readings of the relationship between society and nature also reveal that they have not fully resolved the issue on a theoretical level. The different ways of inhabiting the earthly world are certainly based on social customs and norms, but also on a mode of social organisation and, incidentally, a mode of production. Both intellectually and practically, we are faced with the existence of a social world that is organized according to a systemic logic, which brings us back not to nature but to society and to the relations between these two inseparable and interdependent dimensions.

Bruno Latour is undoubtedly the intellectual who has expressed an ongoing ambition to rethink the world and the relationship that humans have with their environment, whether it is made of artefacts or more broadly encompassing the whole of the earth’s ecosystem. For Latour, nature is not a victim to be protected, but ‘that which possesses us’ (Latour and Schultz, 2022, p. 43). It is therefore necessary to refuse to think that humans can act from the outside on a nature from which they would be separated. It is in Politiques de la nature (1999) that Latour clarifies his position, close to certain developments in post-structural anthropology, and in particular that of Philippe Descola. His main proposal is to install nature as the primary subject of politics, to make it a leading political actor and to definitively remove it from its status as an object. He thus extends his earlier work (Vie de Laboratoire, Nous n’avons jamais été modernes) in which he placed human action in a network and the action of objects on the same level. Men and environment are one and human beings must adapt as much as their environment changes, while having a direct and indirect action on the human.

While Latour may seem convincing in his more general formulations such as the rejection of the nature/culture division, the critique of the main analytical categories of modernity or the recognition of what technology does to us rather than what we do with it, his approach is far from indisputable[10] . It attracts several fundamental criticisms. For example, Latour sees the asymmetry of human/non-human relations as a kind of primary misunderstanding of reality. However, the opposite is true since this asymmetry is very real and highly problematic in the way it is applied. By considering all aspects of life as a collection of interacting objects, his theorization has become a kind of handbook of commodification; an analysis that commodifies nature and ultimately offers nothing but empty materialism (Lohsin, 2021).

In the twilight of his life, perhaps recognizing the limits of his earlier positions, Latour eventually pulled the ‘new geo-social class struggle’ out of his hat (Latour 2021, Latour and Schultz, 2022). At stake is a struggle of ideas based on a ‘class’ sharing the will to advance the ‘cause of habitability’ of the earth [11] . In his latest interventions, Latour evoked the urgency of a ‘new climate regime’ in which the conditions of habitability would be primary in relation to all others. Getting to the root of the problem? But for Latour, the question is not posed in these terms, since anti-capitalism would be nothing more than a watchword that prevents us from thinking about complexity, whereas the objective ‘is not to replace the capitalist system but to recover the Earth’ [12] . In reality, Latour has constantly neglected critique of capital and capitalism, and even when he mentions it, mainly in interviews, it is precisely a notion that designates finance and the ‘world of money’.

Some may regret this silence, but it is necessary to understand the reason for it. If capital has remained stuck in an analytical blind spot, it is not only for ideological reasons but above all for analytical and conceptual reasons. Since Latour understand reality as a collection of objects or, he simply has not grasped the reality of capital, since the latter is not a n object but a social relation or, to put it another way, a real social abstraction [13].

The pandemic has revealed in its own way the interplay between nature and society. Andreas Malm makes this point very clear: ‘Is the Covid 19 pandemic nature’s ‘revenge’? Latourians, posthumanists and other hybridists can be counted on to give the corona an anointing of agency. But the ontological difference between humans and non-humans remains: bats were not tired of the forest, pangolins did not go on sale, and the SARS-CoV-2 micro-organism did not develop a plan to infiltrate ventilation systems or aircraft. Only humans think: there is oil in this swampy subsoil and if I raise more cattle, I can sell more…’ (Malm, 2020: 173)

These somewhat abrupt formulations are based on the assertion that nature and society must be thought of as interacting with each other, as a unity composed of both relatively distinct and interdependent realities. For the sociologist Jean-Marie Brohm, who has devoted a book to an in-depth examination of the principles of dialectics (Brohm, 2003), historical materialism is both a critical naturalism and a social constructivism: ‘[it is] a unitary science insofar as it studies, not society and nature in their respective autonomy, in their ontological separation, but in their reciprocal interaction (…) For Marx and Engels, there is only one science, the one that studies the movement of society in its contradictory relations with nature – which both carries it along by offering it resources but also destroys it by overwhelming it with various catastrophes.’ (2003 : 140).

Nevertheless, according to Jean-Marie Brohm, it is necessary to recognize that this dialectical unity between nature and society is in the process of shattering: ‘(because) it is becoming a double destruction: the destruction of nature – of the environment, of the fauna and flora in their biodiversity – under the devastating expansionist effects of the capitalist mode of production, and the gradual destruction of society as a result of the relentless exploitation of natural resources and the massive pollution that ensues’ (Brohm, 2003: 141). Thus, for society, there is no other solution than to protect the earth, for itself and for future generations, which Marx summed up very well when he wrote: ‘From the point of view of a higher organisation of society, the right of ownership of certain individuals over parts of the globe will appear as absurd as the right of ownership of an individual over his neighbour’ (Marx, 1974: 159).


3 – From the fertility of a Marxian approach to the critique of the ‘Capitalocene’

For a long time, Marx and Engels were seen as thinkers who favored the unparalleled growth of the productive forces with the fullness of abundance as the main means to achieve communism. It is not difficult to find in their writing arguments in favor of this, especially in the text that ends Book III of Capital. This perception of Marx is also nourished by the harmful experience of a bureaucratic Soviet-Union, which was entirely oriented towards productivism and was almost as deaf towards social needs and use value as is capitalist society (which only recognize exchange value and profit). At the same time, one should not forget that Marx also defends the assertion that labour is not the only source of all wealth since nature is that too, as can be read in his Critique of the Gotha Programme. However, recognizing the contribution of nature into the making of wealth does not directly imply making careful use of it, which justifies, according to eco-socialist thinkers such as Daniel Tanuro and Michael Löwy, a critical assessment of the many silences of Marx and Engels on this question[14].

Other authors are less circumspect in their recognition of an ‘ecological Marx’. The most well-known of them is of course John Bellamy Foster, professor of sociology at the University of Oregon, who challenges in his book Marx the Ecologist (2011: 84) a number of blind spots attributed to Marx in relation to ecology, such as his failure to recognize the exploitation of nature, the role of nature in the creation of wealth, the existence of natural limits, or the variable character of nature. Foster has also initiated a re-reading of Marx’s work that has identified some key concepts to understand better the problematic interrelationship between nature and society that is specific to the capitalist mode of production.

Before coming to this conclusion, Marx relied on the analysis made by German chemist Justus von Liebig about the second agricultural revolution. Scandalized by the intensive use of chemical fertilizers, von Liebig was convinced that it would deplete soil fertility, which would later require the massive use of additional fertilizers such as guano and bones from the battlefields of Europe. Liebig extended the concept of metabolism (Stoffwechsel) – previously limited to intra-corporeal biological processes – to all kind of natural systems. As an avid reader of scientific literature, Marx realized that soil fertility is not a natural phenomenon but socially produced under changing conditions, since natural realities (soil composition, rainfall, erosion, etc.) constantly interact with social conditions such as agricultural techniques. This is why Marx took up the concept of metabolism and extended it to social processes, while relating the latter to their natural environment.

Foster argues that Marx laid out the lineaments of an understanding that allows for the identification of the ecological crisis inherent in the capitalist regime, which he refers to as the Metabolic Rift taking place in the interdependent process of social metabolism and a metabolism prescribed by the natural laws of life itself. Following J.B. Foster, the concepts of ‘universal metabolism of nature’, ‘social metabolism’ and ‘metabolic breakdown’ are of crucial importance in modeling the complex relationship between socio-productive systems, particularly that of capitalism, and the wider natural/ecological systems in which they are embedded: ‘This approach to the human-social relationship to nature, deeply interwoven with Marx’s critique of capitalist class society, provides historical materialism with a unique perspective on the contemporary ecological crisis and the challenge of transition.’ (Foster, Clark and York 2010: 207.)

While Foster was the first to put forward such re-reading of a fully ecological Marx in an article published almost a quarter of a century ago in the American Sociological Review (1999), other authors, such as Jason W. Moore (2000, 2011), were quick to follow him, but differed on important points. For Jason W. Moore, the ‘metabolic break’ did not take place at the beginning of the 19th century but during the 16th century, when the crisis of serfdom in England freed a component of the peasantry from the obligation to pay tribute or to perform work tasks for their lords. This was coupled with the beginning of privatisation of the commons (via enclosures) and the use of arable land as pasture for massive wool production that England exported in late Middle-Age. The colonisation of the New World and the development of sugar cane plantations provided a caloric-rich resource that covered the lack of food caused by the expansion of pastures; a ‘remedy’ that in turn created a need for living labour in those colonies and promoted the development of the slave system [15] . This is why, according to Jason W. Moore, the ‘metabolic rift’ is also at least at the origin of the imperialism of the British crown, of colonisation and, more broadly, of the slave trade.

Geographer and economist David Harvey has not been silent on the ecological question (Harvey, 2015: 222-263). Harvey proposes to understand capitalism as an ecosystem in itself, involving both capital and nature that are produced and reproduced through these systemic dynamics. Capital, as a specific (historical) form of human activity has not only exhausted nature but also (re)metabolizes it, with the logic of profit as the only organizing principle. Nature is thus not only exploited and exhausted but is also internalized in the circuit of accumulation (Harvey, 2015: 246.). Both seeds and plants are genetically modified and the grain trade is integrated into the circuits of valorization. Capitalism ‘metabolizes’ nature and becomes itself a reality that is metabolized by nature, but in a contradictory way [16] . On a strictly economic level, Harvey has linked massive financialization to the extractivist and predatory pressure of neoliberal capitalism, which he summarizes as ‘accumulation by dispossession’, analogous to the primitive accumulation of capital based on coercion and predation. Both the growth of speculative bubbles and the spiral of debt lead capital accumulation into a headlong rush to find new and more sources of profit, no matter if this means the frenetic and predatory acquisition of arable land, minerals and rare metals and, more broadly, of the natural wealth buried in the subsoil and at the bottom of the oceans.

The destructive impact of fossil fuels has become such that it forces us to refine the critique of the Capitalocene. Swedish professor Andreas Malm of Lund University is a strong advocate of the concept of ‘fossil capitalism’. In Fossil Capital. Global Warming in the Age of Capital (2016), Malm presents a socio-economic analysis of the factors that led to the intensive and extensive use of fossil fuels. To him, the concept of the Anthropocene, while it has the merit of naming the problem, is entangled in a millennia-old narrative of humanity that is basically a mad pyromaniac arsonist. But if we want to understand global warming, it is not the archives of the human species that we need to investigate, but those of the British Empire, says Malm. He demonstrates that the steam engine was, in the second half of the 18th century, an essential tool for disciplining workers. Indeed, in the English textile industry, the machine developed by James Watt quickly supplanted the abundant and cheaper hydraulic power. Malm explains that in order to understand this paradoxical fact, one has to integrate the agency (the capacity to act) of ‘living labour’. With hydraulic power available in many places but of variable quantity, the location of the textile industry was necessarily decentralized and moderate in size, forcing entrepreneurs to bring to these rural areas cohorts of labour that were often recalcitrant in their commitment to work and demanding in terms of pay. The steam engine made it possible to expand textile factories and locate them in urban agglomerations, exactly where thousands of impoverished workers tried to make a living and a reserve army was ready to replace those that were reluctant. For Malm, ‘fossil capital’ allowed the limits of surplus extraction and profit to be pushed further, both on the side of living labour as on that of natural ecosystems (predation, coal mining). These insights have led him to elaborate a revised version of Marx’s cycle of capital accumulation, which he represented schematically as follows (see Figure 1).

After coal, it was the turn of oil and its by-products, extracted on an unprecedented scale and propelling hundreds of millions of thermal engines and mass consumption goods with programmed obsolescence – cars, household appliances – which have led us on the track of a global ecological disaster.

In Corona, Climate and chronic emergency (2020) Andreas Malm revisited the links between the ecological crisis and the systemic logic of the Capitalocene. Malm explains that capital has no intention of destroying the complex cellular structures of wild nature and that it has no intentionality in its efforts to generate profits. No, capital ‘acts’ in this way because it simply has no other way to reproduce itself:

‘Fixation and absorption are in the DNA of capital. The moment these cease to accompany the process of accumulation, the reproduction of capital ceases to exist. Unlike other parasites, capital cannot simply vegetate in the fur or veins of other species for millions of years of co-evolutionary equilibrium. It can only subsist by expanding and, in this sense, it exhibits a kind of permanent pandemicity. Once capital escaped from its reservoir host, the British Isles, it began the enormous historical process of subsuming the wilderness of this planet, whether in the form of a palm oil plantation, a bauxite mine, a wet market or a chicken farm. All these entities and countless others represent the wilderness drawn into value chains. (Malm, 2020: 76)

Like a virus that multiplies and circulates, capital is a kind of meta-virus – ‘the godfather of all parasites’. Following David Harvey’s interpretation, Malm reminds us that the accumulation of capital is based on the permanent appropriation of space-time, which proceeds by a double compression, that of space and that of time. Capital constantly seeks to shorten the rotation cycle of its accumulation: the faster commodities will be sold, the faster an investment can be paid back and ultimately the greater the profits. Capital seeks to cancel out space (distance) by linking territories and populations through trade, migration flows or technical devices. But that’s not all, the capitalist industrial wage system also requires the reproduction of labour power, and this remains an activity carried out over almost exclusively and in an unpaid way by women, which is why we examine the question of patriarchy and the sexual division of labour in the following section.


4 – Domestication of nature and patriarchal domination: the Capitalocene through the prism of the ‘Patriarcocene’

Friedrich Engels, in his work on The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, succeeded in elaborating the lineaments of a theorization of the female condition as ‘the first oppressed class’. While the second feminist wave of the 1960s-1970s produced much more systematic elaborations, the term ecofeminism was first enunciated by Françoise d’Eaubonne in Le Féminisme ou la Mort (1974) to signify that the domination of nature and women are historically linked[17]. In the Anglo-Saxon world, thanks in particular to Carolyn Merchant, author of The Death of Nature (1980, 2021), ecofeminism developed rapidly in social sciences. Merchant considers that women’s identification to nature dates back well before the Neolithic revolution and was based on fertility imagery associating the earth with a beneficent and nurturing mother[18] . The colonisation of the New World and the slave trade represented a qualitative change in the sense that the domination of nature invoked science as the legitimate reason.

Ecofeminist thought shows us how the ideology of the forces of production originated in a hetero-patriarchal, racialist and speciesist model of rationality. Following Valerie Plumwood (2012), an Australian philosopher influenced by Critical Theory[19], human existence has been associated in Western culture with productive labour, sociability and culture while separating them from forms of labour considered as secondary or inferior (reproduction and care) and from forms of collective property such as the commons. Thus, (neo-)classical political economy defines reproductive labour as non-labour, i.e. as value-free activity even if it respond to social need and commons as resources of value not yet realized (see also Barca 2010).

Maria Mies is a central intellectual figure in late 20th century ecofeminism. In Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale (1986), Mies argues that feminism must go beyond the critique of the sexual division of labour, incorporating into the framework of analysis the conditions of women’s existence on the peripheries of the capitalist world system in order to identify ‘the contradictory policies concerning women that have been, and still are, promoted by the brotherhood of militarists, capitalists, policy-makers, and scientists in their effort to maintain a model of growth’ (Mies, 1986: 3). Where classical political economy had conceptualized labour in opposition to nature and women, i.e. as a productive activity actively shaping the world by giving it value, Mies considers as labour any activity that participates in the production of life and which ‘must be called productive in the broad sense, the production of use values for the satisfaction of human needs’ (Mies, 1986: 47). Mies’ argument being that life production, or subsistence production, carried out mainly in unpaid ways by women, if not by slaves, peasants and colonized subjects, ‘constitutes the perennial basis on which capitalist productive labour can be built and exploited’ (Mies, 1986: 48). Since it was not remunerated, its capitalist appropriation could only be achieved in the last instance through violence or the intervention of coercive institutions. The sexual division of labour was based neither on biological nor economic determinants, but on the male monopoly of (armed) violence which ‘constitutes the political power necessary for the establishment of lasting relations of exploitation between men and women, as well as between different classes and wage earners’ (ibid.: 4).

The foundations of capital accumulation in Europe were laid on a parallel process of conquest and exploitation of the colonies, slavery and the exploitation of women’s bodies and productive capacities. At the same time, European women of different social classes – including those involved in settlement colonialism – were subjected to a process of housewifization, limiting their existence to the function of a housewife. As a result, women were progressively excluded from political economy, which was linked to public space, and enclosed in “the ideal of the domesticated and privatized woman, preoccupied with love and consumption, dependent on a man who had become the ‘male breadwinner’ ” (Mies, 1986: 103). (Mies, 1986: 103). However, this housewifization does not mean that women represent the vast majority of the world’s reproductive and caring class. Although the status of women is obviously divided by cleavages of class and racialization, a descriptive analysis allows us to consider women as part of the global proletariat whose bodies and productive capacities have been appropriated by capital and the institutions that serve it.

The combination of ecofeminism with historical materialism makes it possible to articulate reproductive labour and any labour activity that consists of supporting life in its material and immaterial needs with the critique of the Capitalocene. The recognition of the nodal character of reproductive labour is in this sense opposed to everything that objectifies and instrumentalizes life for ends other than life itself, whether it be the preservation of power relations or the imperative valorisation of capital. Today, we can see that reproductive labour is increasingly dragged into commodification and objectification, both processes by which it is incorporated into the circuit of capital accumulation. Capitalism thus mutilates the potential for improving life by transforming reproductive labour and care into instruments of accumulation and a source of profit. These processes exhaust both workers and the environment, extracting ever more surplus labour and energy and leaving workers exhausted in terms of their physical and mental resources. As Tithi Batthacharya (2019) aptly summarizes: ‘The pursuit of profit is increasingly in conflict with the imperatives of life creation’.


5 – From the critique of work to the defence of ‘living labour’

Following Roy Bashkar’s ‘critical realism’[20], we will take as our starting point for our reflection the labour and work as really exists and not as we would like it to be, as a ‘fetish’ or as an anthropological reality understood in a transhistorical way. Moreover, privileging an analysis of work based on a generic or ideal-typical form, whether it be artisanal or creative work, is not very fruitful from a heuristic point of view. Certainly, some forms of work can give rise to self-realization, but in reality these situations remain marginal or suffer social degradation (socio-economic uncertainty, debt bondage, dependence towards the market). Public service work is not immune to these regressive trends; consider for example the effects of New Public Management, digitalisation or austerity policies. Moreover, basing the analysis on work and labour as it objectively exists, and not as these social activities ideally should be, allows us to revisit the issue from a conceptual point of view, which will then help us to clarify what a ‘greening’ of work might mean on a practical level.

It should be recalled that an impressive number of factual analyses very close to ‘critical realism’ can be found in the writings of Engels and Marx. Friedrich Engels, in his Letters from Wuppertal (1839), gives an extensive account of the living and working conditions of the textile workers in Barmen, a small town in Rhineland-Westphalia which was also his birthplace:

‘Labour is carried out in low rooms where one breathes more coal fumes and dust than oxygen and it starts in most cases at the age of six, which can only deprive children of all strength and joy of life. (…) The weavers, who have their own loom in their house, work from dusk till dawn or even into the night, straining their backs and drying out their spinal cords in front of a hot stove. (…) If one can find robust people among the craftsmen, like the leather workers born in the region, three years of this life are enough to ruin them physically and mentally and three out of five died from alcohol abuse. All this would not have assumed such horrible proportions if the factories were not exploited so recklessly by the owners (…). Terrible poverty prevails among the lower classes, especially among the workers in Wuppertal; syphilis and lung diseases are present in almost every family. In Elberfeld alone, out of 2,500 children of school age, 1,200 are deprived of education and grow up in the factories – simply so that the manufacturer does not have to pay adult workers, whose place they take, which would double the wages that are paid to a child.’

A few years later, Engels systematized his exercise in sociological investigation before publishing The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845). Numerous detailed descriptions – based in particular on medical reports – mention the excess infant mortality, diseases and deformities linked to exposure to chlorine, arsenic or lead. Karl Marx, greatly impressed by the investigation of his companion Engels, adopted a similar approach, which explains why to many detailed descriptions of working and living conditions can be found in Capital:

‘All the sensory organs are injured by artificially high temperatures, by the dust-laden atmosphere, by the deafening noise, not to mention the dangers to life and limb posed by closely aligned machines; dangers which, with the regularity of the seasons, produce their list of dead and wounded on the battlefield of industry. The economic use of the means of production, ripened and forced as in a greenhouse by the factory system, is transformed in the hands of capital into a systematic robbery of what is necessary for the life of the worker while at work, that is, of space, light, air, and protection from the dangerous or unhealthy concomitants of the production process; not to speak of the robbery of resources indispensable to life itself’ (Capital, Vol 1, op cit., pp. 552-553).

Marx also discusses in detail food issues by considering that capitalist entrepreneurs systematically imposed undernourishment on workers. The few concessions made to the subsistence needs of the workers had no moral basis but were solely motivated by the need to obtain a higher productivity and because the situation of the labour market pushed the entrepreneurs to do so…

Today, more than 170 years after Engels’ and Marx’s workers’ inquiries, living and working conditions are sometimes strikingly similar. Whether in Latin America, Asia or Africa, hundreds of millions of people live in shanty towns without access to drinking water or public facilities. Labouring in the Maquilladoras, in the Foxconn factories in China or the cobalt mines in Africa, also bears a resemblance to the condition of the working class in 19th century England. Today, nearly 150 million children constrained to work, a number that has been steadily increasing over the past twenty years[21]. The pandemic has only made the situation worse, adding 10 to 15 million children to the cohorts already mobilized for picking, hawking, rare metal extraction or waste sorting. Bond labour is also expanding. According to very minimalist estimates, more than 70 million people are engaged in forced labour in agriculture, industry and construction, not including forced marriages [22] . Finally, it should be noted that bond labour is by no means limited to the Global South but is also developing in OECD countries, particularly in the tourism, catering and agricultural sectors, and even in the garment sweatshops that can be found in Northern Italy or around Leicester in the UK [23] .

In the industrialized countries of the North, people maybe not die because of a mine shaft that collapse, but rather from a stroke or a heart attack… Death from overwork, known as Karoshi, is a phenomenon that is growing alarmingly, and not only in Japan. According to the WHO and ILO (Pega and others, 2018), overwork is estimated to cause 745,000 deaths per year globally, an increase of 20-25% from estimations made in 2005. The 6,800 deaths related to appalling working conditions on construction sites for the World Cup in Qatar demonstrate that these estimates are far from being unreal.

Real existing labour is actually getting worse, according to a large survey in 41 countries [24] . Intensive, deadline-driven or fast-paced work affects 30% of workers in the EU and almost 50% in the US, Turkey or Latin America [25] . The emotional burden is increasing, as 35-40% of respondents say, and flexibility remains a non-negotiable constraint for 40-55%. Long working weeks of 48 hours or more are imposed on 20% of workers in the European Union; 25% in the United States, and vary between 50 and 65% in countries like Turkey and South Korea. This is no surprise, but it remains a major injustice, as much as the fact that women earn significantly less than men (25 to 30% less depending on the country) while working more hours overall, which is also a consequence of the precariousness and informality that affects women more (35 to 45% on average in the 41 countries studied). Overall, 30 to 50% of jobs are of ‘low’ or ‘very low quality’[26] .

Exposure to physical risks is also very common. More than half of workers in many regions and countries covered by the survey are exposed to repetitive hand and arm movements, which is the most reported physical hazard. One-fifth of workers are frequently exposed to high temperatures in the workplace.

The survey also highlights the importance of unpaid reproductive work for the vast majority of women, including in Europe, where it demands a considerable amount of time, which can vary from 20 to 40 hours per week when children are young or pre-adolescent. For men, on the other hand, reproductive work varies between 9 and 15 hours per week, depending on age and the number of children (Eurofound, 1999: 41).

The methodology of these international surveys is not always very stable depending one country to another, but this does not detract from the fact that real existing work corresponds to a degraded social condition that very often rhymes with drudgery and suffering… It is exactly for this reason that we wrote in 2005 in the editorial project of the French journal Les Mondes du Travail  ( ) that ‘the centrality of work remains both indisputable and highly problematic.

What is empirically true also requires theoretical and conceptual clearness. In his early writings, such as the Manuscripts of 1844, Marx focuses on Homo Faber: the human being transforms nature and the world through manufacture and transforms himself in the process. However, in his later writings, such as the Grundrisse and especially in Capital, Marx clarifies his critical analysis of labour. A first clarification was to distinguish between abstract and concrete labour. In its concrete form, labour refers to the production of goods (and services) understood from the point of view of their use value, whereas in its abstract form, this same labour produces exchange values by submitting to the logic of quantification and to the injunction of performance or output. The main problem is therefore the ‘domination of abstract labour over concrete labour’ (Vincent, 1986; Bouquin, 2006; Postone 2011). This domination of abstract labour over concrete labour is in fact the invariant of wage labour, even if its intensity can vary and even if there are particularly unbearable situations and others that can be accommodated to.

By mobilizing the concept of labour-power as specific value-form of labour that is sold to the capitalist, Marx recognizes the asymmetrical and antagonistic nature of the wage relation between the worker who possesses only his/her labour-power to obtain and income and the employer as the holder of the means of production who organises and controls the provision of labour. This asymmetrical relationship is the basis for surplus value extraction, i.e. the private appropriation by the owners of the means of production of a fraction of the wealth created by living labour[27] . This ‘economic’ relationship of exploitation also implies ‘subsumption’ and is at the origin of alienation, the loss of control over one’s life, and not only in the workplace. These aspects, which have been extensively studied by André Gorz and other critical thinkers, have become visible again, whether through the extent of the burn-out phenomena or the return of a social critique of work, which is reflected in the ‘Great resignation’, quiet quitting and the search after autonomous activities outside the sphere of heteronomous wage labour.

The distinction between ‘living labour’ and ‘dead labour’ also helps us to understand what an ‘ecologization of labour’ might mean.  For Marx, ‘living labour’ is an analytical category that refers to workers, both in their labouring activity and as living beings. Living labour is thus an individual and collective ‘corpo-real’ reality. In the capitalist system, this ‘corpus-real’ dimension is expressed primarily in a negative way: through unhealthy housing, the imperative constraint of mobility or the mutilation of daily life, not to mention the tendency towards unhealthy food that occurs more at the bottom of the social ladder and the overexposure of certain occupations to various forms of toxicity and pollution. Certainly, in the metropolitan areas of capitalism, and certainly in countries with a welfare state, strong trade unions and public services have made it possible to mitigate the most deleterious effects of capitalism on living conditions. The concept of ‘living labour’ therefore refers not only to the living character of labour power but also to the ‘social fabric’ that makes workers capable of labouring because they have been able to reproduce their capacity to some extent.

While the concept of ‘living work’ seems to be gaining some ground in France (Cukier, 2017; Harribey, 2020), in other countries such as Germany, it is mobilized since quite a long time within the framework of an explicit ecological analysis. This is illustrated in particular by Oskar Negt’s work on working time and the social organisation of time as an ecological issue in itself. Indeed, for Oskar Negt, heteronomous working time is seen as antagonistic to life[28] . Defending ‘living work’ means taking up the cause of time of life and acting towards a drastic reduction in working time; in other words, acting in favour of an extension of control over time both on individual and collective level. Logically, the compulsion to work longer and harder is inherently mortifying, whereas the will to free oneself from the obligation to work is driven by the vital impulse of living labour. Following this perspective, we can also say that the massive and obstinate mobilisations against the extension of the retirement age are driven by an ecological aspiration of living labour.

Collective mobilisations and workers resistance, and even manifestations of misbehaviour (Ackroyd and Thompson, 2022), demonstrate that this living labour is always endowed with agency. In other words, living labour is anything but an inert mass that can be manipulated at will, but represents an active and subjective reality, that will never be completely repressed and subsumed (Barrington Moore, 1986; Ackroyd and Thompson, 2022; Bouquin, 2007). This also makes it possible to understand why living labour will sooner or later disobey or become reluctant, why social conflict sometimes make an unexpected comeback and why there remains a latent (and structural) potential for collective action which remains, let us not forget, is the lever for social transformation.

This agency is not only the expression of tensions between abstract and concrete labour, but is fed by a contradiction between life and capital, embodied by the logic of valorisation that is imposed upon living labour. The Covid pandemic was a moment when this contradiction became very explicit: either life had to be privileged by bringing the economy to a halt, or profits had to be privileged by continuing the activity of labour at the expense of a much higher death toll. The pandemic was also a moment of existential catharsis on a mass scale, which had the effect of nourishing critical reflexivity that questions the idea of pursuing a working life that doesn’t make much sense except the fact one can lose life in order to gain the income to live it. It also explains why we have seen since 2021 a disruptive return of social conflicts and critique of work and labour.

To a large extend, we can say that defending living labour and decent living conditions constitutes an ecological struggle ‘in itself’[29]. Of course, it would be futile to think that greening living labour is enough to solve the ecological crisis. Indeed, everyone can easily imagine ‘ecological labour’, i.e. with high job quality and healthy working conditions, that nevertheless corresponds to an activity that is harmful to the environment. Symmetrically, one can also find an ecological activity (waste sorting or recycling) with non-ecological working conditions for the workers involved in it. By extending the equation, we may also identify configurations where both labour and the productive activity would be ecological, was well as the opposite, where neither labour nor the productive activity would be ecological.

To solve this equation in an ecological way so that it is not destructive for the environment, it is imperative to look beyond ‘living labour’ and to integrate into the analysis the ‘dead labour’ that Marx evoked to designate capital, since this this leads us directly to questioning production and the purposes that govern it. This is precisely one of Franck Fischbach’s central propositions in Après la production. Travail, nature et capital (2019): ‘What capital manages to make productive is always the result of a certain form of ‘labour’ (travail), bringing into play natural forces that go far beyond the mere human force of labour (travail)’. Indeed, labour refers not only to human involvement in the production of goods or services but also to the ‘labour of capital’, which relies on the ‘labour of nature’. As Fischbach reminds us, ‘the first characteristic of capital is its capacity to make productive for itself the widest possible range of natural forces, whether human or non-human.’ (Fischbach, 2019: 33). The second characteristic is that it cannot do so without destroying these same natural forces because ‘it cannot make natural forces productive for it without turning production into destruction and it cannot make human labour power or the naturally fertile and fruitful force of a soil productive without exhausting them. (…)’ (ibidem). The reason for this is not only located on the side of the immanent pursuit of an accumulation without limits but also in the fact that ‘the capitalist process of production, as a process of valorisation of capital, is always actualised as a process of consumption: it makes natural and social forces productive only by appropriating them, and appropriates them only by consuming and destroying them in the more or less long term.’ (ibid.).

Therefore, defending unconditionally living labour leads to the necessary overcoming of an economy under the control of dead labour and ‘the advent of an economy of living labour and a reasonable and democratic organisation of the common good’ (Negt, 2007: 190).

This notion of the common good represents, in my opinion, a sufficiently open and precise intellectual and programmatic resource that allows reflection and action to be steered towards the the right direction. For Jean-Marie Harribey (2020): ‘Put simply, the common is what humans do together, the commons is what they have together’ (p. 262). This proposal is based on a materialist vision according to which the decision to make a ‘common good’, whether material or immaterial, is a matter of choice. The status of ‘commons’ links the object (the real substrate) to the human being who share its use and towards the institutions that manage and preserve it. That is why commons should be kept aside of the market and the rights to access them must be guaranteed (Harribey, 2020 : 11). The resources that Harribey proposes to communize and to pool are at first water, energy, education, health and housing. But the ecological crisis demands commons to be extended to include nature and the whole earth. In order for these commons to be truly accessible to all on an equal basis, they must be excluded from private ownership and marketized exchange. Kohei Saito’s argument for a degrowth communism (Saito, 2020 and 2023) goes in the same direction by considering the commons as the basis for the idea of a ‘commonisation’ of social organisation: ‘My definition of communism is therefore very simple: communism is a society based on the commons. Capitalism has destroyed the commons with primitive accumulation, the commodification of land, water and everything else. It is a system dominated by the logic of commodification. My vision of communism is the negation of the negation of the commons: we can de-commodify public transport services, public housing, whatever you want, but we can also run them in a more democratic way – not in the way of a few bureaucrats regulating and controlling everything.’[30]


6 – Concluding remarks

Faced with approaching disasters, the temptation to formulate ideological responses is great. But discussions on how to name an overall systemic alternative are inexhaustible. Moreover, they can only be concluded in a practical way, when mobilisations and struggles develop on a wider level and when the urgent measures to be taken begin to take shape. Pending such developments, we will limit our remarks here to recall the main elements already stated in the course of what has preceded:

(1). The ecological crisis is man-made, global and systemic and could reach a limit beyond which our planet will become uninhabitable for vast sections of humanity. According to the latest modelling, the time remaining to avoid a global disaster varies between 15 and 25 years at the most;

(2). Nature does exist in a contradictory interdependent relationship with society. The same applies to society in relation to the ‘natural environment’. Moreover, we can observe a combined movement of humanisation of nature and naturalisation of humans as living beings dependent on this natural environment (biosphere, ecosphere and ecosystems);

(3). The disasters that lie ahead are rooted in fossil capitalism and the systemic imperative of profitability, which are at the root of a destructive and regressive combined re-metabolization of nature and society.

(4) The extension of the logic of valorisation upon life and reproductive labour leads to its integration into the field of social activities dominated by the market and abstract labour.

(5) Even if living labour is dominated by dead labour, capital remains dependent on the disposability of living labour in order to continue to extract surplus value and to pursue the process of valorisation and accumulation. The defending ‘living labour’ is therefore an ecological struggle in itself. By reasoning this way, we not only articulate social and ecological struggles, but also integrate production and its purposes into reflection and action. The production of goods and services and its related consumption are a matter of choice: either everything is done to support and enhance the cycle of accumulation and profitability or priority is given to the satisfaction of social needs and the preservation of a common good that is a habitable and liveable earth for all.

6). To avoid disaster, it is absolutely necessary to move into the direction of an ‘emergency exit’, a post-capitalist systemic bifurcation. To reach such a goal, we must not only identify urgent measures to be taken, but also draw up a critical assessment of certain remedies that are either illusory (carbon capture and storage), too limited or fragmented (the carbon market), or very difficult to generalise at the present stage (prefigurative experiments) or, last but not least simply dysfunctional (so called ‘sustainable consumerism’ and greenwashing).

The threat of irreparable disaster and the risk of a loss of capacity for action are real, which also raises the question of the time left. The fatalism of the ‘collapsologists’ [31] is not only dangerous – because it feeds nihilistic or reactionary reflexes of the survivalist kind – but it ignores the fact that time can accelerate under the impetus of a massive and global civic and social ecological mobilisation, which also explains why what takes years to happen sometimes happens in a few weeks or even days. Of course, in order to set such an acceleration in motion, humanity must also manifest itself as a collective subject (actor), fighting for its life, as a subject that defends the perpetuation of its natural conditions of existence by transforming society and its relationship with nature as much as preserving the natural conditions of life.

As Theodor W. Adorno wrote a few decades ago: ‘[It remains to be seen] whether humanity is capable of preventing catastrophe. The forms of global societal constitutions of humanity threaten its own survival, if a self-conscious global subject does not develop and intervene. The possibility of progress, of avoiding the most extreme and total disaster, has migrated to this one global subject. Everything that implies progress must crystallize around it.’ (Adorno, 2005 : 144).



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[1]. Michael Löwy, « Walter Benjamin, précurseur de l’éco-socialisme », Cahiers d’histoire. Revue d’histoire critique, 130 | 2016, 33-39.

[2]. Haeckel goes on to explain that existence is determined by the inorganic nature to which each organism must submit, i.e. the physical and chemical characteristics of the habitat, the climate, the biochemical characteristics, the quality of the water, the nature of the soil, etc. Under the name of conditions of existence, we understand the whole of the relations of organisms with each other, either favourable or unfavourable.

[3]. The survival of the fittest as a biological principle applied to humans comes from Hubert Spencer, who extended Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution to the societal scale. Pierre Kropotkin strongly relativised the relevance of Darwin’s theory of evolution applied to humans and defended an approach of humans as social and collective beings whose survival depends on mutual help, which marked their evolution by favouring the development of communication and language.

[4]. See Antoine Dubiau (2022)

[5]. One can doubt the relevance of the notion of ‘crisis’ when it becomes structural, but it keeps all its meaning according to a pragmatic definition (‘sudden event or long evolution which reveals structural weaknesses, inherent to a system’) which is less the case according to a lexical definition (‘set of pathological phenomena manifesting themselves in a sudden and intense way during a limited period)

[6]. As a reminder, the massive disruptive rains of the summer of 2022 caused landslides and mud torrents in Pakistan, destroying the homes of 7 million people and killing over 50,000.

[7]. For a general summary, see Nadia Drake, La sixième extinction massive a déjà commencé,

[8]. The racialization of humanity refers to a biological division of human beings. Based on scientific claims, it considered certain human populations as inferior or incapable of accessing civilization. The essential thing is, of course, to continue to recognize that gender, race and class are above all social and political constructions.

[9]. See the interview with Philippe Descola,  From his in-depth study of the Jivaros of Amazonia, Descola deduces that there are several ways of inhabiting the earth and relating to the so-called natural environment. When the Jivaro Indians anthropize the Amazonian rain forest on a symbolic as well as a practical level, they do so by seeking to preserve a homeostatic balance (biodiversity, variety of fauna and flora) (Descola, 1986).

[10]. For a critique of Bruno Latour, see in particular R.H. Lohsin (2020).

[11]. Latour believes that it has become imperative to oppose the economization of the world and that it is necessary to draw on the experiences of the radical ecologist occupations like Notre Dame des Landes against a new airport or the way of life of the inhabitants of the Rain forest, which, far from being archaic, represent the only way to avoid disasters in the decades to come. Interview in French with Bruno Latour “Everyone feels betrayed, we understand that this model is no longer possible”.

[12]. See interview with Bruno Latour.

[13]. Capital is a monetary wealth that manifests itself in a specific way historically. It is a wealth that grows through the process of exchange and circulation, giving rise to a mark-up. The exchange process Commodity – Money – Commodity has been transformed into Money – Commodity – Money+ (marked up). Capital is therefore not a thing but a social relation, allowing its growth through the labour process and the realization of profits through the sale of commodities. Capital changes its appearance throughout the cycle of accumulation but the measure of its value remains monetary.

[14]. In Green Capitalism. Why it can’t work (2010 french edition, english 2014) Tanuro argues, for example, that Marx did not fully appreciate the importance of ‘the passage of a stock fuel like coal, a product of the fossilization of the solar flux and therefore exhaustible on a time scale’ (Tanuro, 2010: 272).

[15]. The triangular trade developed from the 17th century onwards around sugar from the sugar cane plantations in Brazil and the Caribbean. In the British colonies of the northern United States, it was mainly tobacco that was the starting point for a plantation economy using forced labour. See James Walvin on the history of sugar (2019).

[16]. Not only should we evoke, as Marx did, the double movement of the humanisation of nature and the naturalisation of man, but we should also take into consideration an analogous process encompassing both capital and its relation to its environment. The Capitalocene transforms the environment into a big business (greenwashing is an active business, a source of profit) and ‘captures’ the dialectic of change (‘one only transforms the world by transforming oneself, and vice versa’) in order to use it for its own purposes. Green capitalism does exist and it is perfectly possible for capital to continue to circulate, making profits in the midst of catastrophes and disasters. To absorb these shocks (which are both endogenous and exogenous), capital accelerates its cycle of accumulation, and adopts strategies that will end up being problematic for capital itself (debt, inflation).

[17]. Françoise D’Eaubonne Le féminisme ou la mort, Paris, 1974, (p. 221). For a presentation of Françoise d’Eaubonne, in French see

[18]. This symbolism could also function as a binding ethical norm since personifying nature also limited its exploitation. But with the emergence of a class-divided society and the state, it becomes increasingly difficult to ethically limit the process of patriarchal colonization of women while religious monotheisms support socio-state systems based on patriarchy, slavery and tribute.

[19]. For a short présentation in French, see Pierre Ansay, “Valerie Plumwood, le crocodile, l’éco-féminisme et le care” in Politique, la revue

[20]. The elaborations of the philosopher of science Roy Bashkar in defence of critical realism invite us to rethink scientific reasoning without falling into positivism (science produces absolute truths) or post-modern relativism (where reality is primarily discursive and all discourses can claim to be true). Following Roy Bashkar and the theory of critical realism (CRT), it is imperative to distinguish between the ‘real’ world and the ‘observable’ world. The ‘real’ cannot be fully observed and exists independently of perceptions and discourses. At the same time, the world as we know and understand it is constructed from our perspectives and experiences, through what is ‘observable’ or experienced. But according to the theory of critical realism, unobservable but no less real processes causing observable events. The social world can therefore only be understood by recognizing the existence of structures, logics and interactions that generate these events. See Regis Meissonier (2022)

[21]. See joint report of ILO Unicef Global on Child Labour – 2020 Report (—ed_norm/—ipec/documents/publication/wcms_800278.pdf Child labour is much more than a source of supplementary income. In Bangladesh, children as young as 6 years old work 60 to 100 hours a week in textile workshops.

[22]. See “Estimations mondiales de l’esclavage moderne : travail forcé et mariage forcé – Résumé analytique”, BIT Genève–fr/index.htm

[23]. On forced labour in textile sector in Leicester, see

[24]. The “Working conditions in global perspective” survey was conducted in 2017-2019 in 41 countries representing 1.2 billion people. The countries covered are the European Union (EU28), China and South Korea, Turkey, the United States, and a number of Latin American countries. See

[25]. The proportion of employees with two or more distinct workload or work pace constraints increases from 57% for those working 20-29 hours to 59% for those working 30-35 hours, then 67% (35-40 hours) to 76% for those working 45-50 hours.

[26]. The seven determinants of “job quality” are 1) the physical environment (noise, posture, temperatures, vibrations); 2). The social environment (management style, union presence, peer support); 3). Work intensity (quantitative demands, pace determinants and interdependence); 4). Skills and discretion (decision latitude, organizational participation, training); 5). Working time (duration; atypical working hours, working time arrangements, undergone versus chosen flexibility); 6). Future prospects (career and promotion, socio-professional security, occurrence of downsizing or dismissals); 7). The amount of salary and remuneration.

[27]. Marx K., Capital – Book One. The development of capitalist production. Section III: The production of absolute surplus-value. Chapter X: The working day.

[28]. See Alexander Neumann in French (2015 and 2020) as well as in German (2010).

[29]. This was also the meaning of my article about death toll and Karoshi and the fact that defending decent working conditions is an ecological struggle in itself (Bouquin, 2019)

[30]. See interview with Kohei Saito published on website Terrestres

[31]. For a critique of collapsologists, see Daniel Tanuro (2020) and Jérémie Cravatte (2019), L’effondrement, parlons-en. Les limites de la collapsologie, 2019, 48p. Miméo.