Capital in the Anthropocene
A book cover written in Japanese text, with cover art of stylized graphic of the Earth and a headshot of author Kohei Saito, a young Japanese man wearing glasses and a sweatshirt.
1st edition Japanese cover
AuthorKohei Saito
Original title人新世の「資本論」
TranslatorCambridge University Press
Publication date
September 17, 2020
Media typePrint
AwardsBest Asian Books of the Year (2021)
LC ClassPT2428.M47 S35 2020

Capital in the Anthropocene (Japanese: 人新世の「資本論」, romanizedHitoshinsei no "Shihonron")[1] is a 2020 non-fiction book by Japanese academic Kohei Saito. Drawing from writings on ecology and natural science by Karl Marx, the book presents a Marxist argument for degrowth as a means of mitigating climate change. Capital in the Anthropocene was an unexpected commercial success in Japan, selling over half a million copies.


Kohei Saito is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Tokyo.[2] He writes on ecology and political economy from a Marxist perspective, attributing the financial crisis of 2007–2008, the climate crisis, and the Fukushima nuclear disaster as influencing his orientation towards a Marxist interpretation of politics. These events prompted him to consider why "in such an affluent society, there are so many people living in poverty, without access to medical care, and unable to make ends meet," and that despite living in an outwardly convenient and prosperous society, "many people feel that there are no good prospects for the future".[3]

Capital in the Anthropocene draws from Marx's unpublished notebooks on ecological research written late in his life, particularly his writing on natural science and the metabolic rift.[4][5] In these writings, Marx argued that capitalism had created an "irreparable rift in the interdependent process of social metabolism"[4] and examined self-governing agricultural communes that existed in pre-capitalist societies.[5] From this foundation, Saito mounts an argument for degrowth based on Marx's conclusions.[4]


Saito argues that while sustainable growth has become a central organizing principle in global responses to climate change, the expectation of perpetual growth has only exacerbated the climate crisis.[6][7] He is particularly critical of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), describing them as "the new opium of the masses" in regards to what he believes is the impossibility for the goals to be achieved under a capitalist system.[6][8] Instead, Saito advocates for degrowth, which he conceives as the slowing of economic activity through the democratic reform of labor and production.[4][7]

In practical terms, Saito's conception of degrowth involves the end of mass production and mass consumption, decarbonization through shorter working hours, and the prioritization of essential labor such as caregiving.[6] The author argues that capitalism creates artificial scarcity by pursuing profit based on commodity value rather than the usefulness of what is produced, citing the privatization of the commons for purposes of capital accumulation as an example. Saito argues that by returning the commons to a system of social ownership, it is possible to restore abundance and focus on economic activities that are essential for human life.[4]

Publication history

Capital in the Anthropocene was published by Shueisha on September 17, 2020.[9] In 2021, a Korean translation was published under the title 지속 불가능 자본주의 (lit. 'Unsustainable Capitalism').[10] Marx in the Anthropocene: Towards the Idea of Degrowth Communism, an English-language book that builds on the material published in Capital in the Anthropocene, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2023.[11]


Capital in the Anthropocene was awarded the 2021 New Book Award by Chuokoron-Shinsha,[12][13] and was selected as one of the "Best Asian Books of the Year" at the Asia Book Awards in 2021.[2]

The book was an unexpected mainstream commercial success in Japan,[5][6] selling over a quarter million copies by May 2021[12] and over a half million copies by September 2022.[6] Saito attributes the book's success to its popularity among young people and its coincidental release during the COVID-19 pandemic, stating the widening of the wealth gap that occurred as a result of the COVID-19 recession increased the visibility of social and economic inequality while revealing "how destructive a capitalist society based on excessive production and consumption can be."[3]

The success of Capital in the Anthropocene has been credited with provoking a renewed interest in Marxist thought in Japan, with bookstores reporting an increase in sales in books about Marxism[3][8] and Saito appearing on NHK's television series 100 Pun de Meicho to present a four-part introduction to Marx's Capital.[6][8]


  1. ^ 人新世の「資本論」 / Hitoshinsei no "Shihonron" WorldCat.
  2. ^ a b "Kohei Saito". United Agents. Retrieved September 15, 2022.
  3. ^ a b c Nakamura, Yasusaburo (August 2, 2021). "「人新世の『資本論』」なぜここまで売れるのか" [Why Has Capital in the Anthropocene Sold So Well?]. The Asahi Shinbun (in Japanese). Retrieved September 15, 2022.
  4. ^ a b c d e "人新世の「資本論」 斎藤幸平著" ["Capital in the Anthropocene" by Kohei Saito]. Yomiuri Shimbun (in Japanese). December 13, 2020. Retrieved September 15, 2022.
  5. ^ a b c Atsuko, Iwasaki (February 27, 2022). "Japanese scholar looks to Marx's theory to explain pandemic, climate change". NHK World-Japan. NHK. Retrieved September 15, 2022.
  6. ^ a b c d e f McCurry, Justin (September 9, 2022). "'A new way of life': the Marxist, post-capitalist, green manifesto captivating Japan". The Guardian. Retrieved September 15, 2022.
  7. ^ a b Morinaga, Takuro (October 11, 2020). "人新世(ひとしんせい)の「資本論」 斎藤幸平著" ["Capital in the Anthropocene" by Kohei Saito]. TokyoWeb (in Japanese). Chunichi Shimbun. Retrieved September 15, 2022.
  8. ^ a b c "More young Japanese look to Marx amid pandemic, climate crisis". Kyodo News. May 5, 2021. Retrieved September 15, 2022.
  9. ^ "人新世の「資本論」" [Capital in the Anthropocene]. Shueisha (in Japanese). Retrieved September 15, 2022.
  10. ^ Won-hyung, Choi (October 15, 2021). ""새로운 세대는 자본주의 멈출 '탈성장 코뮤니즘' 추구한다"". The Hankyoreh. Retrieved January 24, 2023.
  11. ^ Saito, Kohei (2023). Marx in the Anthropocene. Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781108933544. ISBN 9781108933544. S2CID 255899443. Retrieved January 23, 2023.
  12. ^ a b "Put Brake on Capitalism, Says Popular Marxist Book Author". May 11, 2021. Retrieved September 15, 2022.
  13. ^ Murao, Tetsu (2021-05-29). "IT giants' business more feudalism than capitalism, says bestselling Japanese critic". Mainichi Daily News. Retrieved 2022-10-20.

Further reading