Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 22, 2014

Gunning for Vandana Shiva

Filed under: Ecology,farming,science — louisproyect @ 1:20 pm
The New Yorker, GMOs and Chemical Farming

Gunning for Vandana Shiva


Perhaps nothing symbolizes the decline of the New Yorker magazine more than the hatchet job on Vandana Shiva that appears in the latest issue. Written by Michael Specter, the author of “Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress”, the article is a meretricious defense of genetically modified organisms (GMO) relying on one dodgy source after another. This is the same magazine whose reputation was at its apex when Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking articles on DDT appeared in 1962. If DDT was once a symbol of the destructive power of chemicals on the environment, GMO amounts to one of the biggest threats to food production today. It threatens to enrich powerful multinational corporations while turning farmers into indentured servants through the use of patented seeds. Furthermore, it threatens to unleash potentially calamitous results in farmlands through unintended mutations.

Specter represents himself as a defender of science against irrational thinking. Since many activists regard Vandana Shiva as grounded in science, it is essential that he discredit her. For example, he mentions a book jacket that refers to her as “one of India’s leading physicists”. But when he asked her if she ever worked as a physicist, she invited him to “search for the answer on Google”. He asserts that he found nothing and furthermore that no such position was listed in her biography. Not that I would ever take an inflated publicity blurb that seriously to begin with (having read one too many of those for Slavoj Žižek), I wondered what being a physicist would have to do with GMO in the first place. Is a degree in particle physics necessary for understanding the transformation of vast portions of the Gulf of Mexico into a dead zone because of fertilizer-enriched algae?

read full article


Wouldn’t you just know it? Bard College hired GMO hustler Michael Specter as a Visiting Professor of Environmental and Urban Studies.

I suppose that makes sense given that Stewart Resnick is on the board of trustees, the agribusiness billionaire who has diverted water from the commoners in Fiji and California to improve his bottom line and buy more politicians. When a college hires a big-time promoter of GMO to lecture on the environment, you just chalk that up to Leon Botstein’s Wizard of Oz con artistry.


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  1. Superb article!

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 22, 2014 @ 2:02 pm

  2. Interesting to reference DDT. Like GMOs that tool was eliminated by hysteria in opposition to reasoned scientific thought.

    The results of eliminating DDT were the loss of a major weapon against malaria in Africa and a resurgence of DDT worldwide.

    GMO technology is now in danger of being disappeared by middle class liberals based on hysteria. It has the potential to feed billions cheaply and easily.

    Any Marxist would know the problem is not the technology but the class that owns it. GMOs in the hands of a socialist government would be a major boon. Just as nuclear power would be a major help to any socialist government, even though it’s dangerous when left in the hands of greedy capitalists as we saw in Japan.

    Technologies on their own aren’t “bad” or “good”. It’s ridiculous to give them such characteristics.

    Comment by pram — August 23, 2014 @ 5:04 am

  3. Should be “a resurgence of bedbugs worldwide.”

    Comment by pram — August 23, 2014 @ 5:04 am

  4. One more. “That’s the first time I ever heard ‘agrarian’ used as a swear word….”

    Read the Manifesto comrade?

    “The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life.”

    Ask the children of any subsistence farmer, if you can find them before they flee for the culture, society and humanity of urban centers.

    Comment by pram — August 23, 2014 @ 5:11 am

  5. You are such an anti-science fool! The result is an apology for archaic methods of farming that would result in a huge famine. Stupid Left!

    Comment by Velha Toupeira — August 23, 2014 @ 10:58 am

  6. By Aaron Swartz, the young man who killed himself after threats to imprison him for “stealing” JSTOR documents broke him psychologically:


    Rachel Carson, Mass Murderer?
    The creation of an anti-environmental myth

    By Aaron Swartz

    Sometimes you find mass murderers in the most unlikely places. Take Rachel Carson. She was, by all accounts, a mild-mannered writer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—hardly a sociopath’s breeding ground. And yet, according to many in the media, Carson has more blood on her hands than Hitler.
    The problems started in the 1940s, when Carson left the Service to begin writing full-time. In 1962, she published a series of articles in the New Yorker, resulting in the book Silent Spring—widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement. The book discussed how pesticides and pollutants moved up the food chain, threatening the ecosystems for many animals, especially birds. Without them, it warned, we might face the title’s silent spring.
    Farmers used vast quantities of DDT to protect their crops against insects—80 million pounds were sprayed in 1959 alone—but from there it quickly climbed up the food chain. Bald eagles, eating fish that had concentrated DDT in their tissues, headed toward extinction. Humans, likewise accumulating DDT in our systems, appeared to get cancer as a result. Mothers passed the chemical on to their children through breast milk. Silent Spring drew attention to these concerns and, in 1972, the resulting movement succeeded in getting DDT banned in the U.S.—a ban that later spread to other nations.


    Comment by louisproyect — August 23, 2014 @ 11:57 am

  7. DDT may have inadvertently harmed some humans down the line. Malaria directly kills millions of children every year. Hmmm, bald eagles or babies? I wonder why environmentalists are widely despised.

    Comment by pram — August 23, 2014 @ 2:05 pm

  8. Pram, didn’t you read the fucking article? Carsons opposed spraying DDT on crops, but was not opposed to killing household mosquitos with it. If you continue to waste bandwidth here, I will ban you.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 23, 2014 @ 2:19 pm

  9. Pram. Being at the bottom of the food chain means virtually all animal life depends on the mosquito. Under socialism we’d stop millions of babies dying not by spraying poisons that soften the shells of bird eggs but through vaccines, drugs and contraception. Birth into capitalist poverty is what kills the 30,000 kids per day.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 23, 2014 @ 2:26 pm

  10. “Carsons opposed spraying DDT on crops, but was not opposed to killing household mosquitos with it. ”

    Who cares about this individual? Certainly not me.

    A group of middle class Americans went into hysterics thinking of nothing but their own self interest and got DDT banned in their country. Because America is the center of the capitalist world this basically many the total end of DDT production. Other sycophantic states banned it but later wanted it again and simply couldn’t find it since it’s no longer made.

    American environmentalists are directly responsible for millions of preventable deaths in Africa. When someone has a disease and we have a way to prevent it we don’t say “sorry you can’t have this, wait for socialism which Karl Friedrich promises will help you in a better way.” Or do we?

    The Marxist position is that we manage the environment in the interests of humanity, not birds or fucking mosquitoes.

    Comment by pram — August 23, 2014 @ 4:38 pm

  11. “GMO technology is now in danger of being disappeared by middle class liberals based on hysteria.”

    One crucial aspect of science is thorough testing, retesting and testing again. Then peer reviewing. I suspect pram thinks we should dispense with the scientific method and just introduce whatever the corporations develop! The dairy and meat industries are trying to claim that saturated fat is not bad for you, this is being countered by the ‘official science’. The problem with GMO technology is that much more testing is required. Testing should be a process that takes decades but commercial pressures reduce this to years. pram wants to prioritise commerce over science.

    But then pram says,

    “Any Marxist would know the problem is not the technology but the class that owns it. GMOs in the hands of a socialist government would be a major boon.”

    Ignoring the sheer idiocy of this comment, we don’t have a Marxist government, we have a capitalist system where profit is the main driving force. Why does pram even make the point about the class that own technology, when he simply wants to bow to the class who own GMO. Answers on a postcard please.

    Comment by Concerned Worker — August 23, 2014 @ 4:39 pm

  12. “The Marxist position is that we manage the environment in the interests of humanity, not birds or fucking mosquitoes”

    Your penchant for sheer idiocy is impressive..

    Comment by Concerned Worker — August 23, 2014 @ 4:41 pm

  13. The Marxist position is that we manage the environment in the interests of humanity, not birds or fucking mosquitoes.


    Frederick Engels, “The Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man”:

    Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those countries. When the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests on the southern slopes, so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were cutting at the roots of the dairy industry in their region; they had still less inkling that they were thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, and making it possible for them to pour still more furious torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons. Those who spread the potato in Europe were not aware that with these farinaceous tubers they were at the same time spreading scrofula. Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature — but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 23, 2014 @ 9:51 pm

  14. Think you missed the last part in your hurry to quote mine: “we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.”

    We are the only force that can manage the environment at all. Other creatures can act only on their own immediate interests. Human beings must first preserve ourselves to preserve the environment, and without humans the environment and everything in it is without value anyway.

    You won’t find anything in Marx about limiting life saving technologies because they might harm birds.

    Comment by pram — August 24, 2014 @ 4:12 am

  15. “Ignoring the sheer idiocy of this comment, we don’t have a Marxist government, we have a capitalist system where profit is the main driving force. Why does pram even make the point about the class that own technology, when he simply wants to bow to the class who own GMO. Answers on a postcard please.”

    Precisely the point. It’s a capitalist government which does things for capitalist reasons, and that is the problem. Marxists don’t advise capitalist governments on how to best administer their system, and we certainly don’t join with certain capitalist groups to ban technology that would serve us under a Marxist government in the future, you know when the workers seize control (and if you think that won’t happen why not kill yourself now).

    We don’t fight technologies. We’re not luddites. We don’t march against nuclear power with funding from oil and “green energy” corporations. We fight against the profit system.

    Only workers rule can work out which tech we need and don’t need. In the meantime I’d rather not ban life saving weapons against malaria because some barn swallows might get sick.

    Comment by pram — August 24, 2014 @ 4:17 am

  16. Actual fact versus environmentalist ideology, from wikipedia:

    “South Africa is one country that continues to use DDT under WHO guidelines. In 1996, the country switched to alternative insecticides and malaria incidence increased dramatically. Returning to DDT and introducing new drugs brought malaria back under control.[101] According to DDT advocate Donald Roberts, malaria cases increased in South America after countries in that continent stopped using DDT. Research data shows a significantly strong negative relationship between DDT residual house sprayings and malaria rates. In a research from 1993 to 1995, Ecuador increased its use of DDT and resulted in a 61% reduction in malaria rates, while each of the other countries that gradually decreased its DDT use had large increase in malaria rates.”

    Comment by pram — August 24, 2014 @ 6:38 am

  17. While the New Yorker article may be rubbish, there are certainly many valid reasons to consider Shiva to be problematic. Useful criticisms of Shiva can be found here http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Vandana_Shiva#Criticism_of_Her_Work

    Comment by michaeljamesbarker — August 24, 2014 @ 11:23 am

  18. NY Times, August 12 2014
    Invader Batters Rural America, Shrugging Off Herbicides

    WHEATFIELD, Ind. — The Terminator — that relentless, seemingly indestructible villain of the 1980s action movie — is back. And he is living amid the soybeans at Harper Brothers Farms.

    About 100 miles northwest of Indianapolis, amid 8,000 lush acres farmed by Dave Harper, his brother Mike and their sons, the Arnold Schwarzenegger of weeds refuses to die. Three growing seasons after surfacing in a single field, it is a daily presence in a quarter of the Harper spread and has a foothold in a third more. Its oval leaves and spindly seed heads blanket roadsides and jut above orderly soybean rows like skyscrapers poking through cloud banks. It shrugs off extreme drought and heat. At up to six inches in diameter, its stalk is thick enough to damage farm equipment.

    “You swear that you killed it,” said Scott Harper, Dave Harper’s son and the farm’s 28-year-old resident weed expert. “And then it gets a little green on it, and it comes right back.”

    Botanists call the weed palmer amaranth. But perhaps the most fitting, if less known, name is carelessweed. In barely a decade, it has devastated Southern cotton farms and is poised to wreak havoc in the Midwest — all because farmers got careless.

    Palmer, as farmers nicknamed it, is the most notorious of a growing number of weeds that are immune to the gold standard of herbicides, glyphosate. Cheap, comparatively safe and deadly to many weeds, glyphosate has been a favorite ever since the Monsanto Company introduced it under the name Roundup in the mid-1970s.

    After Monsanto began selling crops genetically engineered to resist glyphosate in the 1990s, the herbicide’s use soared. Farmers who once juggled an array of herbicides — what killed weeds in a cotton field might kill cornstalks in a cornfield — suddenly had a single herbicide that could be applied to almost all major crops without harming them.

    There were even environmental benefits: Farmers relied less on other, more dangerous weed killers. And they abandoned techniques like tilling that discouraged weed growth, but hastened erosion and moisture loss.

    But constantly dousing crops in glyphosate exacted a price. Weeds with glyphosate-resisting genetic mutations appeared faster and more often — 16 types of weed so far in the United States. A 2012 survey concluded that glyphosate-resistant weeds had infested enough acreage of American farmland to cover a plot nearly as big as Oregon, and that the total infestation had grown 51 percent in one year. Glyphosate-resistant palmers first surfaced in 2005, in a field in Macon County, Ga. Nine years later, they are in at least 24 states.

    “There’s no substantive argument about whether the problem’s gotten far worse in this era of genetically resistant crops,” said Charles Benbrook, a professor and pesticide expert at Washington State University. “The advent of herbicide-tolerant crops made it possible for farmers to load up so much herbicide on one crop that it was inevitable that it would develop resistance.”

    Now farmers are going back to older techniques to control weeds, using more varieties of herbicides, resuming tilling — and worse.

    Palmer amaranth is the prime example. Consider the cotton fields that blanket many Southern farms: Without glyphosate, almost no herbicides can kill the weed without also damaging cotton plants. Some farmers have mowed their crops to keep palmer seeds from maturing. In 2009, Georgia spent $11 million to send laborers into a million acres of cotton fields to pull palmers out by hand.

    For many farmers, including the Harpers, manual labor has become a last resort in the battle against carelessweed.

    “I consider myself a Roundup baby, and it was great,” Scott Harper said. “You didn’t have to think about anything. And now we get this weed that flips everything on its head.”

    The Harpers’ 2,500-acre soybean crop is an object lesson in palmer’s adaptability and how far farmers must go just to keep it in check.

    Palmer amaranths seem as if they were designed by nature to outwit herbicides and farmers. Unlike many weeds, it has male and female versions, increasing genetic diversity — and the chances of a herbicide-resistant mutation — in each new seed. And each plant is astonishingly prolific, producing up to 200,000 seeds in an average field, said Dave Mortensen, a professor of weed and plant ecology at Pennsylvania State University.

    “If one out of millions or billions of seeds contains a unique trait that confers resistance to herbicide,” he said, “it doesn’t take long when a plant is that fecund for it to become the dominant gene.”

    William G. Johnson, a Purdue University professor of botany and plant pathology, said the weed probably arrived at the Harpers’ farm in typical fashion: in manure, purchased as fertilizer, from cows that ate cottonseed — and, inadvertently, palmer seeds.

    The Harpers initially mistook the weed for waterhemp, a close relative. Before they learned otherwise, combines had already harvested fields containing mature palmer seed pods and had spread the seed far and wide.

    A glyphosate-resistant palmer is a mighty beast indeed. Its seeds can germinate any time during the growing season, so herbicide sprayed in April is useless against a palmer that appears in July. Once sprouted, palmer amaranth can grow more than two inches a day. Once it exceeds four inches, even herbicides for which it lacks resistance begin to lose their effectiveness.

    The Harpers have kept palmers at bay in their 5,500 acres of corn by spraying dicamba, a weed killer that is benign to corn. Soybeans are a different matter.

    Last year, the Harpers sprayed palmer-infested fields several times with glyphosate and two other herbicides, pushing herbicide costs to $80 an acre from $15. About eight in 10 palmers died. The rest wilted for a couple of weeks, then resumed growing.

    This year, they are trying a different chemical cocktail that raises herbicide costs only to $45 an acre. Their big gun, a herbicide that blocks palmers from synthesizing amino acids, was sprayed on July 3, the first of two applications allowed each summer.

    “I came back from the Fourth of July weekend, and they looked dead,” Mr. Harper said. “I said, ‘I think we smoked ’em.’ My dad says, ‘Awesome.’ ” He paused. “Ten days later, there’s green coming all over them again.”

    Should the second herbicide application fail, Mr. Harper said, he is unsure what to do next.

    More broadly, experts in glyphosate’s travails — farmers, scientists, regulators, the herbicide industry, environmentalists — feel much the same way.

    The industry has readied a new barrage of genetically engineered crops that tolerate other weed killers. The Environmental Protection Agency is set to approve plans by Dow AgroSciences to sell soybean seeds that tolerate not only glyphosate, but a much older herbicide, 2,4-D, and a third widely used herbicide, glufosinate. Monsanto hopes to market soybeans and cotton next year that resist dicamba.

    Dr. Mortensen and others say the companies are simply repeating the history that made palmers resistant to glyphosate. He says natural solutions, like planting what are known as cover crops that keep light from reaching germinating palmers, may cost more but are also effective.

    Mr. Harper said he believes Dr. Mortensen is right. He also said he cannot wait for Monsanto and Dow to begin hawking their new soybeans anyway.

    “I’m not stupid. I know you can only ride a pony so far,” he said. “It’ll probably take another 10 years before palmer becomes a real big problem again. But that just brought me 10 years I didn’t have.”

    Comment by louisproyect — August 24, 2014 @ 1:06 pm

  19. @ #15: “… technology that would serve us under a Marxist government in the future, you know when the workers seize control (and if you think that won’t happen why not kill yourself now).”

    Perhaps the greatest socialist optimist was Trotsky. But with the pace of the rise of fascism in Europe toward the end of his life he conceded that a victorious world revolution was not a forgone conclusion. Jack London predicted the Socialist future in “The Iron Heel”. As the workers’ movement gained strength, fascism arose to thwart it. The socialist workers finally prevailed — AFTER 500 YEARS of class struggle.

    Can human life on Earth can be sustained under the profit system for 5 more centuries?

    @#13. “The Marxist position is that we manage the environment in the interests of humanity, not birds or fucking mosquitoes.”

    That’s a pretty antiquated homocentric Marxist worldview. The general consensus today amongst revolutionists is that what’s really in the “interests of humanity” is preserving biodiversity, for any one of the thousands of acres of rainforest wiped out today may well have the undiscovered plant whose chemical compounds may hold the simple cure for Malaria.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 24, 2014 @ 2:51 pm

  20. Pram, Unlike Marx, you separate humanity from nature, from life, and so I am looking forward to your separation from Unrepentant Marxist. You have nothing to offer but blaring ignorance..

    Marx: “Man is part of nature.” My red-green worst to you and your inflamed trolling.

    Comment by Joe Barnwell — August 24, 2014 @ 3:35 pm

  21. One reason America has had the most pathetic “left” for decades and is totally irrelevant to workers is that it’s invested with petty bourgeois dilettantes who harp on every middle class distraction from environmentalism to identity politics and every other cause of the week in between.

    Meanwhile millions starve due to outdated agriculture methods and malarial mosquitoes. At least you can all sleep well at night knowing you saved the endangered gutter snipe or helped a college professor or had some black skinned cops hired or whatever it is that gets you off.

    I guess when you have absolute food security due to industrial farming and a complete absence of malaria and yellow fever thanks to chemicals you have time to dwell on these kinds of things.

    Comment by pram — August 24, 2014 @ 4:35 pm

  22. Great article. It’s shocking that the New Yorker would print such rubbish.

    Comment by Brooks Anderson — August 27, 2014 @ 4:31 am

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