Some Stretching Exercises

by Larry Lohmann

first published 30 June 2019

This presentation at a recent conference at the University of Jena takes the view that contending with bioenergy development effectively will require social movements to respect – but also to update carefully – Marxian accounts of capital accumulation that tie together the labour theory of value, surplus accumulation, the “contradictory unity” of living and dead labour, mechanization, “vampirism,” class struggle, and the tendency toward falling profit rates.

Two ways of “stretching” Marx for this purpose are briefly explored. One is to include the creation of thermodynamic energy more explicitly among capital's methods for organizing surplus extraction. Although thermodynamics was essentially a 19th-century move, bioenergy only strengthens the links between labour exploitation and fossil fuel extraction that it expresses.

The other suggestion for “stretching” is to try to resuscitate, extend and elaborate the concept of living and dead labour in ways that can help anticipate coming patterns of struggle against the bioenergy economy and the inequalities it creates and perpetuates. This is likely to involve the enlistment of disciplines that lie far outside traditional Marxism.

For a companion piece to this presentation, see "Bioenergy, Thermodynamics and Inequalities" at