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BOOKS Foreboding thoughts on the looming collapse of the ecosystem

The Tragedy of the Worker is a crucial account of how the the natural world is being destroyed by the death cult of capitalism, says ANDY HEDGECOCK

The Tragedy of the Worker
by The Salvage Collective
(Verso, £8.99)

THIS ambitious and pessimistic book is the work of The Salvage Collective — Jamie Allinson, China Mieville, Richard Seymour and Rosie Warren — and the strength of their analysis is evident in the opening chapter, which illuminates the creative-destructive logic of capitalism in terms of its history and the ecological damage it has wrought.

The underpinning data is relevant, compelling and often surprising. You may be astonished to learn that humanity wastes 29 per cent of 15.5 trillion watts of energy generated each year.

Subsequent chapters stress a timeline of disaster: many of us are oblivious to ecological degradation and many more believe it can be averted through a technological workaround. The delusions fostered by sustainability scams, such as the carbon-trading windfall for polluters, are shattered by a Cook’s tour of the physics underpinning the crisis.

A modest 1.5 per cent increase in global temperature would result in lethal heat waves, high winds, burning woodlands, the flooding of 60 per cent of the Earth’s surface and the loss of 20-30 per cent of animal and plant species.

Ludicrously, many of us would rather risk running out of food than forego economic growth and the freedom to burn diesel.

The book includes detailed accounts of the damage done to wildlife in the polar regions, the worsening employment conditions risked by balancing profit against preservation and it uncovers the fascistic aspects of “greenwashed” capitalism. The closing chapter suggests that “salvage communism,” as opposed to Aaron Bastani’s “luxury” communism, will be the best and only hope for humanity.

It’s a book that ought to be essential reading for all but there is a problem. In an afterword, the authors set out their values — “emancipatory” Marxism, critical curiosity, ruthless scepticism, openness to cutting-edge radical thought and stylistically ambitious forms of expression.

All very laudable: rich and imaginative prose shows respect for the audience and adds to the challenge and pleasure of reading. Flinging down a stylistic gauntlet creates a sense of erudition and elegance but there are risks. Consider this pile-up of French borrowings: “Capitalism produces mauvais-esperer, cognate of mauvais-foi, as rapidly as it does carbon emissions.”

Many of us use Google Translate but why impede our understanding of the complex ideas under discussion in this way?

And the frustrating nature of the book’s convoluted style is encapsulated in a double-negative in the authors’ explanation of their approach: “We do not believe, put simply, that radical writing should not also strive for beauty.”

In consequence, the fatal flaw of The Tragedy of the Worker is that its detailed, convincing and critically important message may be inaccessible to some of its potential audience.


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