Marx (1959, 85) is persuaded that “a rational agriculture is incompatible with the capitalist system ... and needs either the hand of the small farmer living by his own labour or the control of associated producers.” There is a radical opposition between the immediatist logic of capital and the possibility of a “rational” agriculture, based on a much longer temporality and in a sustainable and intergenerational perspective, which respects the natural environment. Marx rejoices that even conservative chemists such as James Johnston recognize that private property is an “insurmountable barrier” for a really rational agriculture.
The same type of logic of continuity can be found in certain passages of Engels’ Anti-Dühring, where socialism is perceived as synonymous with the unlimited development of productive forces:
Freedom in this field can only consist in socialised man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature. (Marx 1959, 593)2
This proposition will be adopted, almost word by word, by Walter Benjamin, one of the first Marxists of the 20th century to raise this sort of questions. In 1928, in his book One Way Street, Benjamin denounced the idea of human domination of nature as “an imperialist doctrine,” and proposed instead a new conception of the technique as “domination of the relationship between humanity and nature” (1972, 147). It would not be difficult to find in Marx and Engels’ writings other examples of a real interest in the issue of the natural environment, even if they lacked a general and systematic reflection on it. In a recent and very interesting article, Saito argues that Marx’s scientific-natural notebooks following 1868 suggest that: