In his letter (May 18) Jack Conrad continues to use the law of supply and demand to try and negate the concept of peak oil: “Ted Hankin seems to imagine that capitalism and the oil industry are synonymous.”
Well, actually they more or less are. Oil is not just any other commodity that can be replaced, but is a primary commodity, on which many other products rely. Apart from the obvious case of transportation, oil is essential to the manufacture of plastics, cosmetics, chemicals, agriculture and many other industrial sectors too numerous to mention here.
“He [Ted Hankin] implies that capitalism will run into the sands some time in the 2050s because supposedly there will be less and less easily accessible, cheap oil,” writes Conrad. This is a simple lie. I was simply stating that the texts on peak oil which I have so far read roughly argue that peak oil has already begun. What the consequences of peak oil will be are another matter. Some argue that very little effect will be seen, as capitalism will be able to replace conventional oil with ‘unconventional oil’ rapidly - although most acknowledge with extra costs, both financial and environmental. On the other end of the spectrum, a concept such as peak oil is bound to attract catastrophe theorists, who view the end of cheap oil as the inevitable decline of industrial capitalism. (Marxism itself has attracted such people: Posadas and Gerry Healy, to name only two well-known ones.)
Conrad says: “He writes that ‘capitalism was built’ and ‘depends’ on cheap, easily accessible oil. Would that include North Sea oil? Alaskan oil? Or only Saudi oil? And capitalism ‘built’ on cheap oil? When does Ted Hankin think that capitalism began? In the 19th century? No, what capitalism was built upon, and what it depends on, is not this or that particular raw material. It is generalised wage-labour that is crucial.”
This is a typical Conrad attempt at obfuscation, where he conflates a mass of banal ideas in the hope that they will appear profound. Conrad will be aware that “easily accessible oil” is becoming increasingly difficult to find. Nobody knows how much there really is, simply due to oil-producing countries overestimating their reserves for political reasons. Because oil is a primary commodity, on which many other industrial sectors depend, any rise in price will concatenate through the economy. Indeed, we have had empirical experience of this before with the initiation of Opec, when the price rises were obviously due to the creation of an artificial scarcity by a cartel.
Conrad asks: “When does Ted Hankin think that capitalism began? In the 19th century?” I might wish to argue that capitalism began to go global with the invention of the Newcomen engine, precisely because it promoted “generalised wage labour”, although that is problematic, but in fact it is a completely irrelevant question as far as peak oil is concerned and can only have been asked as a point of obfuscation. The point is we are dealing with capitalism as it is now with its reliance on oil and all the rhetoric about peak coal, etc, has nothing relevant to illustrate.
In order to illuminate his prejudice that peak oil employs some kind of Malthusian methodology, Conrad supplies us with a quote from the ever-reliable Wikipedia. There are many texts on peak oil and I am sure that from the corpus of these one could find some employing a ‘Malthusian method’, but most do not and the only ones arguing that supply and demand will overcome peak oil are from oil company executives and the like.
Conrad’s dismissal of peak oil as a theory which we should not even bother considering is symptomatic of the ‘left’ attitude to many of the ‘big’ questions, such as population growth, environmental degradation, animal rights, artificial intelligence, immigration movements ad infinitum. Conrad is absolutely right to assert that strategic thinking is required, but if that is simply denouncing everything that is not included in classical Marxism, it really reduces - and I use that word purposefully - the doctrine to a dogma based on the past.
By way of absolute proof that a picture can speak louder than a thousand words, this past week presented us with the following gut-wrenching (as well as downright soul-churning) juxtaposition of imagery.
Within the pages and websites of our mass media, we saw a close-up photo of pop star Ariana Grande making a hospital bedside visit to a female child victim of the Manchester Arena bombing. There was also an identically framed photo of a female Afghani healthworker tending to a bomb-blasted victim in a Kabul hospital (someone who’d either been caught up in the green zone attack, which killed nearly 100 and injured a thousand, or otherwise in the ‘security forces’ shooting of anti-government protestors at a subsequent funeral).
And if any final proof of that well-worn adage was still needed, we had photos of the glistening Shard towering over the streets where young people had just died in the latest ‘car-ramming and stabbing’ attack at London Bridge. Of course, the Shard is owned by Qatar ‘sovereign fund’ investors amongst very similar others, with both its commercial and residential accommodation occupied by the ultra-super-rich of our planet.
Surely no voter in the UK general election will have needed any more encouragement before rejecting Theresa May’s rabid capitalism, alongside its inherent imperialist attitudes. Surely Corbyn’s Labour Party will have become finitely more attractive? Certainly, no communist can draw anything other than the obvious conclusion from these various photos. Namely, that state-organised terror, including via ‘interventionist’ war - running hand in hand with all other systematic subjugation of populations around the world - almost inevitably produces equivalent terror in response.
Even if not a whole or complete explanation, then at least those facts and factors have a core and fundamental role in the entire and massively horrible ‘merry-go-round’!
On June 8 people in England and Wales should go out and vote against the Tories in every constituency and against the unionists in Northern Ireland. People should vote for Corbyn’s Labour in England and Wales, although I would not vote for rightwing Blairite Labour MPs who actively sabotaged Corbyn - for example, Neil Coyle in Bermondsey.
In Scotland we should support anti-unionist candidates, as long as they support the democratic right of the Scottish people to have a self-determination referendum. No support should be given to Kezia Dugdale and her Scottish Labour Party candidates.
The Tories have been doing their desperate ‘Campaign Fear’ trick. England is a frightened country and ratcheting up the fear factor should help put May (the weakest and most wobbly leader we have seen) back in Downing Street. We’ve heard stories about Diane Abbott, Nicola Sturgeon, the IRA and Hamas to gather up the votes of all the misogynists, racists and chauvinists.
Flip Flop May has tried to show how tough she is by promising to take away our human rights and civil liberties. Corbyn has run an excellent campaign and confounded all his enemies, but I don’t think he will win. I think the die was cast after the European Union referendum. Divided parties don’t win. I hope I am wrong and Corbyn is the next PM. But the Tories will be set back if they don’t take many more seats than the current majority of 12.
The bigger picture, whoever wins the election, is the urgent necessity for the UK to undergo a democratic revolution. The country needs a new democracy and a new constitution and this requires people to organise themselves into a democratic movement. Ireland and Scotland, and to a lesser extent Wales, are in the front line of the battle. England has to wake up and catch up.
Democracy provides the way out of the hole that neoliberals have dug us into. Corbyn’s socialism is an alternative to democratic revolution. Labour has a programme to restore or revive the UK’s ‘social monarchy’ as represented by the ‘spirit of 45’. It is a project which is well past its ‘sell by’ date, not because of ideas about public ownership, but because Westminster ‘democracy’ is a busted flush.
Democracy must have a republican programme if it is to take itself seriously. In this ‘British exit’ election it would be a good idea to start with: 1. Democratic Exit from the EU. 2. Repeal the 1707 Act of Union. 3. For a parliament for England. 4. For local people’s assemblies. 5. For an ‘Agreement of the People’ or written constitution. 6. For a commonwealth of England.
The best way to prove our case is to have Jeremy Corbyn standing outside Downing Street, smiling and waving to the cameras, with Sinn Féin and the Scottish National Party having done well in Northern Ireland and Scotland. In the post-EU world get ready for a rough ride. It will be exciting.
Left Unity and Rise
Lars T Lih continues his project of falsifying the history of the Russian Revolution (‘All power to the soviets!’ , April 20 and May 4).
Karl Kautsky was a Darwinian, mechanical evolutionist and no revolutionist, who illegitimately took Engels’ work, The dialects of nature, developed a one-sided understanding of the law-driven process that is the class struggle, stripped these laws of motion of the class struggle of the dialectical interaction between the subject, (revolutionary leadership) and object (the necessity for the socialist revolution) and presented it as an inevitable development. This is the most important, the most fought over and most decisive ideological question for Marxism and he got it wrong.
In this way Kautsky became the chief author of the mechanical materialism of the Second International. He opposed both the earlier dialectical materialism of Marx and Engels and that of Lenin and Trotsky when he confronted those. And, whilst Lenin and Trotsky might have appeared soft on Kautsky in 1905, Rosa Luxemburg had identified the problem of reformist objectivism in his politics from the turn of the century. John Rees, in the chapter, ‘The first crisis of Marxism’, in his The algebra of revolution, explains the problem with Kautsky well by this quote from his works:
“The future is certain and inevitable in the sense that it is inevitable that inventors improve technique, that capitalists in their greed revolutionise the economic life … that it is inevitable that wage-earners aspire to shorter working hours and higher rages, that they organise themselves and struggle against the class of capitalists and the power of the state ... That it is inevitable that they aspire to political power and the abolition of the capitalist domination. Socialism is inevitable because the class struggle and the victory of the proletariat are so too” (quoted in J Larrain A reconstruction of historical materialism London 1986, p53).
Rees comments: “There is clearly an intellectual continuity between this kind of general formulation and the passive reformism, the rejection of revolution, that became the hallmark of the leaders of the Second International. If socialism is inevitable, after all, why endanger its progress by revolutionary adventures? Why not wait for its inevitable progress to register in a parliamentary majority for the SPD?”
It is true that when Trotsky wrote the foreword to The permanent revolution and results and prospects in 1929, he went back over the three revolutions - 1905, February and October 1917 - to explain where everyone stood and he does not explicitly refer to Kautsky and his claimed coming together with Lenin’s democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry and Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. The differences did not appear great then because their resolution was never posed - the 1905 revolution did not advance to the degree where the question, ‘Which class ruled in what kind of revolution?’, posed the life or death of the revolution. And Lenin and Trotsky were sensible enough to understand that their schemas were algebraic and why fight to the last over a problem not yet sharply posed?
Trotsky, who chaired the Petersburg soviet in 1905, explains: “I formulated the tasks of the successive stages of the revolution in exactly the same manner as Lenin; he [Radek] would have learned that the fundamental appeals to the peasants that were issued by the central press of the Bolsheviks in 1905 were written by me; that the Novaya Zhizn [New Life], edited by Lenin, in an editorial note, resolutely defended my article on the permanent revolution, which appeared in Nachalo [The Beginning]; that Lenin’s Novaya Zhizn, and on occasion Lenin personally, supported and defended invariably those political decisions of the soviets of deputies which were written by me and on which I acted as reporter nine times out of 10; that, after the December defeat, I wrote while in prison a pamphlet on tactics, in which I pointed out that the combination of the proletarian offensive with the agrarian revolution of the peasants was the central strategical problem; that Lenin had this pamphlet published by the Bolshevik publishing house, Novaya Volna [New Wave], and informed me through [Bogdan] Knunyants of his hearty approval; that Lenin spoke at the London Congress in 1907 of my ‘solidarity’ with Bolshevism in my views on the peasantry and the liberal bourgeoisie. None of this exists for Radek; evidently he did not have this ‘at hand’ either.”
When these questions were posed point-blank for immediate resolution after February 1917, they had to be resolved, and were resolved, by the April theses, as we have explained in earlier letters. The worst falsification is the attempt to wipe from the historical record the struggle within the Bolsheviks. The minutes of the March 1917 party conference, on the attitude to the provisional government, were resurrected by Trotsky after there was a determined effort to bury them. Here is the report by comrade Stalin:
“In so far as the provisional government fortifies the steps of the revolution, to that extent we must support it; but in so far as it is counterrevolutionary, support to the provisional government is not permissible … We must bide our time until the provisional government exhausts itself, until the time when in the process of fulfilling the revolutionary programme it discredits itself … We, on the other hand, must bide our time [again - GD] until the moment when the events will reveal the hollowness of the provisional government; we must be prepared, when the time comes, when the events have matured, and until then we must organise the centre - the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies - and strengthen it. Therein lies the task of the moment.”
This was precisely the conciliationist attitude Lenin came back to combat. “In so far as the provisional government fortifies the steps of the revolution, to that extent we must support it” and “We must bide our time until the provisional government exhausts itself, until the time when in the process of fulfilling the revolutionary programme it discredits itself” is directly counterposed to Lenin’s April thesis, No3: “No support for the provisional government; the utter falsity of all its promises should be made clear, particularly of those relating to the renunciation of annexations. Exposure in place of the impermissible, illusion-breeding ‘demand’ that this government, a government of capitalists, should cease to be an imperialist government.”
What we need
When I was a kid, people struggled for a better world; now similar such people fight for a stronger position in the competitive world we have. Che Guevara and Angela Davis have been replaced by kick-ass and martyrdom. What we need is a movement for a better society, not a mightier ‘identity’.