Dead and gone

Tony Clark’s response (Letters, January 10) to Jack Conrad’s excellent essay on the demise of ‘peak oil’ as a theory (‘Whatever happened to peak oil?’, December 6) is flawed. Tony is trying to revive something that has been really a dead discussion for a decade or longer.

The excellent blog, The Oil Drum (archives of which are still available online) was for me the best energy blog there ever was because of the sheer honesty of the analysts who wrote it. Everything was discussed, including Tony’s point about prices vs production - save for the political exercise of posing socialism and that the whole energy crisis is a function of capitalism. Speaking of being doctrinaire, The Oil Drum writers came to the same conclusion: the discussion is dead. And so they folded, as did all the other ‘peak oil’ discussions. Dead. Gone.

But Tony’s antiquated view of this comes out when he reproduces this old canard (usually in the defence of the nonsensical ‘Hubbert curve’): “All over the world leading oilfields are in production decline or finding it increasingly hard to maintain production at previous levels.”

Well, Tony, this has been repeated since the 1980s - where have you been? It’s also been disproved as a function overall of what oil ‘reserves’ there are, as well. When you write, “New oil coming online is not even close to making a dent in depletion!”, quoting a “serious commentator”, it seems you haven’t a clue about what this even means. Even British Petroleum used this prediction they made in 2014 that there were less than 58 years of proven reserves left based on current production. What they left out and was thus torn apart by all the other petroleum engineers was that ‘proven reserves’ is a totally static and ‘financial’ concept. It dismisses categories of oil deposits that include ‘economically recoverable resources’ (about 300% more than ‘proven reserves’), ‘technically recoverable resources’ (twice the quantity of the previous category) and lastly ‘remaining oil and gas in place’.

So why is ‘proven reserves vs depletion’ irrelevant? One oil analyst for a major investing firm in the US noted this:

“There are a many of ways to describe the amount of oil remaining, but the most common is known as proved reserves. When you divide proved reserves by total production, you get the reserves-to-production ratio. This is where the 53-year estimate (BP) comes from and where that 32-year estimate originated in 1981 (for all you peak oil nostalgia lovers). While the number is easy to understand, it’s a red herring, because it assumes production will remain constant forever and that the current proved reserves estimates represent all the oil left. As we all know, this simply isn’t the case.”

The problem with the term ‘proved reserves’ is that many assume it describes a physical limitation on oil (Tony certainly does), but it is actually a calculated economic limitation. Every country has a slightly different way of calculating the amount, but the basic gist is that proved reserve estimates are what companies assume they can extract from the earth using existing technology while still generating a profit, which is based on the price of oil or gas over the past year. You sort of go in this direction, but you don’t make ends meet: how much oil is in the ground and how much can be profitably recovered versus how much oil in the ground and how much oil can ever be recovered with expanded prospecting, technological advances and so on?

The reason Tony could be correct on any given day is that, with reserves so massive, letting those depletion rates increase relative to the ‘proven reserves’ is irrelevant. This happens all the time and is a function of any commodity production - even ones based on extractive industries of technically finite resources. We’ve heard about ‘peak gas’ and, even funnier, ‘peak uranium’. All are wrong, as is Tony’s 1990s-era world view on this.

Here is a prediction: if oil prices drop to, say, $30 per barrel, then most oil sands/tar sands projects will grind to a halt, save for those that inject steam to liquefy the sands. At that point ‘proven reserves’ will fall because the are not economically viable at all to process.

When to worry? When oil heads to $100 per barrel and the ‘proven reserves’ (remember, an economic, not a physical, category) remains the same.


David Walters
San Francisco


Last September the Labour Party national executive committee adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance pseudo-definition of ‘anti-Semitism’, whose purpose is to suppress criticism of Israel and meaningful solidarity with the Palestinians. Since then there has been an escalation of attacks on the democratic rights of the left by Zionists, Labour Party politicians and others.

What is worse is that some on the left are cooperating and joining in the Zionist witch-hunt against so-called ‘leftwing anti-Semites’.

In early October when attempting to restock our magazine in Housmans Bookshop in Kings Cross, we were informed that our publications would no longer be sold. We asked why, and were eventually told by the manager: “You know why”. The manager said that “people we trust” had told them that our magazine was ‘anti-Semitic’. We hear this is people from Prevent.

On December 14 we once again went to restock our magazines - this time in Bookmarks, the outlet of the Socialist Workers Party. Just as at Housmans, the staff told us that they could no longer stock our magazine. They said that they could not say why, but that we could email the SWP for a reason. We have since contacted the SWP leadership, including their leader, Alex Callinicos, but they failed to reply.

Socialist Fight supports work for political prisoners in Ireland and internationally. In this country we try to help Ben Stimson, a young Irishman of Jewish background in jail in Manchester. He was jailed on a phoney ‘terrorism’ charge for going to Ukraine and giving support to the resistance of the mainly Russian-speaking population and provincial governments of eastern Ukraine against the western-backed, Nazi-infested nationalist regime in Kiev. He has been told by the authorities that he is no longer allowed to receive our publications because it would harm his ‘rehabilitation’ under Prevent.

So what do we have here? We have an appalling, cowardly excuse for a left in this country! We have the right wing of the Labour Party, which promotes the Zionist agenda. We have ‘leftwing’ bureaucrats like McCluskey who help the right and the Zionists to impose it on the Labour Party, with only weak opposition from Jeremy Corbyn and a Labour ‘left’ led by Lansman, who is overtly pro-Zionist. We have other parts of the Labour left, such as the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, who have joined in witch-hunts against more leftwing figures, such as Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein, accused of ‘anti-Semitism’, and even those figures themselves have joined in witch-hunting Socialist Fight for our criticism of Jewish-Zionist bourgeois politics in the imperialist countries, which parallel views raised more recently by Norman Finkelstein - probably the world’s most prominent and outspoken anti-Zionist of Jewish origin.

And we have the SWP, which has a very chequered record, to say the least. Alex Callinicos was one of those who joined in the outcry against Norman Finkelstein’s work The holocaust industry around 2000. But then the SWP after Tony Cliff’s death underwent a more leftwing period during the Iraq war, and was known for its strong anti-Zionism (within its own limitations), its bloc with George Galloway in Respect, and in that period its hosting of Gilad Atzmon as part of its ‘cultures of resistance’ events.

The SWP was witch-hunted for some of those things, and eventually capitulated. A key event was its refusal to defend Julian Assange from the CIA frame-up after 2011. And now we have its apparent joining in a witch-hunt against anti-Zionists to its left, with both the witch-hunt in the Labour Party and the attacks of Prevent and the Zionists outside it. Refusing to sell the publications of a socialist trend active in Labour that is witch-hunted by the right really means joining in the witch-hunt.

We appeal to the SWP membership and cadre to fight against this latest scandalous capitulation. We appeal to all socialists and working class militants to demand of Housmans and Bookmarks that they cease their censorship of Socialist Fight and allow its sale in their bookshops.

Gerry Downing
Socialist Fight


Why is comrade Jack Conrad so obsessed with promoting his theory of continuity over Trotsky’s rearming the Bolshevik Party (‘Marxism versus holy script’, January 10)? In whose interests is Jack’s theory? In his dismissal of Trotsky’s position, he omits the latter’s first history of the Russian Revolution, which was published in 1918 (just after Brest-Litovsk). It is less polemical and free of virulent attacks on Kamenev and co for reasons which I shall explain below. But Jack’s detailed history of the period, before and after October, leaves this out. It is also just as polemical as Trotsky’s later History as well, written after his exile from the party.

So I submit an alternative - a dialectical history of the period, which takes into account the question of the relationship between organisational and political continuity within the revolutionary movement over time: concretely, the transition from the Second to the Third International, the fate of the Bolshevik Party, as it moved from the October revolution into an imperialist-imposed civil war; the counterrevolution from without, which took a tremendous toll in political and organisational terms, as well on as the beleaguered Soviet state itself. The dialectic of the organisational and political factors is, of course, inseparable. When external or objective pressures overwhelm the subjective (the revolutionary party in power), if this continues - ie, when the European revolution fails to materialise - then the degeneration of both the organisational and political aspects becomes inevitable.

But in 1917, the political degeneration of the party was averted, for the time being, because it was still able to operate under the norms of democratic centralism. Therefore, even though there was a deep political crisis within the party, as expressed in Lenin’s April theses and his letters to the party that followed, this could be overcome: the party could be rearmed without a factional split, so that it was able to go on and lead the October revolution.

Not so in 1924: as a result of the terrible impact of the civil war, which very nearly destroyed all the gains of October, the party degenerated into bureaucratic centralism. Therefore, when Trotsky and the Left Opposition tried to get the revolution back on track, based on the twin pillars of internationalism and democracy within the party and state, history had turned against them. They were defeated and suppressed by the Stalin faction and its allies. So we now enter the period of the counterrevolution from within, the imposition of ‘socialism in one country’ - a form of nationalism - with all its dreadful results.

To answer my own question, maybe Jack bangs on about his continuity thesis in order to highlight the political degeneration of post-war Trotskyism, up to and including today. This certainly marked a new stage of discontinuity within the history of the communist movement. But this applies to both Leninism and Trotskyism. Yet we must remember that this was the result of the pressure of Stalinism on the latter, which also gave reformism a new lease of life, at least for a time (which is now well and truly over). Therefore both Leninists and Pabloite Trotskyists were marginalised: a position which, sadly, we still find ourselves in today - even more so.

Rex Dunn


The prime minister warned that leaving the EU with no deal “would put the future of our union at risk”. Her deal would do the same. The writing is on the wall. It is just a matter of time before the end.

May is now heavily defeated by 432 to 202 votes. In the old-style politics, a significant defeat in parliament would have brought a general election. But, since May is carrying out the ‘will of the people’, she will surely carry on and keep trying. This unholy alliance between the crown and the ‘republic’ is surely doomed when this contradiction works itself out.

Labour’s demand for an immediate general election is thus ‘ultra-left’ by trying to take the second step before the first. It leads inevitably to the demand for a vote of no confidence, which Labour won’t win. May threw down the gauntlet, long egged on by the Liberal Democrats and the Labour right.

The Labour right are trying to split Corbyn from Labour members and voters. They have demanded a vote of no confidence in May to close the door on a general election and clear the way for a remain referendum. Another 50-50 Chukka-Blair ‘remain’ referendum is a danger of entrenching the divisions in a divided working class. Those who are serious about remaining in the EU should concentrate on supporting action in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Outside parliament I heard a moment of national unity, as rival protestors for ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ cheered in unison at the news of May’s defeat. A ratification referendum would allow them to keep cheering all the way into the polling booth.

Steve Freeman


I enjoyed reading Anne McShane’s article, ‘The will to liberate’ (January 10). It is well informed and thought-provoking. However, in her determination to foreground consciousness, especially in the case of communists in Russia, and the lack of it, when it came to the women’s question, she is in danger of arriving at idealist conclusions.

We are told that the “success or failure of the women’s movement in early Soviet society was not down to economic resources, but to politics.” The implication is that, armed with the correct politics, women’s oppression could have been ended.

Apply the idea to the working class. With the correct politics could the working class have been liberated? Surely not. Russia was an extraordinarily poor country made all the poorer by World War I and then civil war. Hunger and starvation were never far away. The populations of Petrograd and Moscow haemorrhaged by some 40%-50%. Factories barely functioned. On top of that, the imperialist powers - crucially Great Britain and France - imposed vicious economic sanctions and staged any number of provocations. Under such circumstances, it is quite possible to impose egalitarianism (and with War Communism that partially happened). But it is the egalitarianism of poverty.

For workers, male and female, to be liberated requires conditions of material abundance. That is why the Bolsheviks always stressed the limits of revolution within Russia. Without the European socialist revolution the working class in Russia could never be liberated.

Now we come to male chauvinism. Did it exist in the 1920s Soviet Union? Undoubtedly. Did it exist in the Communist Party? Again, undoubtedly. Should it have been fought? Of course. Did the Zhenotdel play a positive role in combating male chauvinism? Yes. Could male chauvinism have been uprooted in the 1920s Soviet Union? No, definitely not.

As Marx famously remarked, “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness” (1859). Male chauvinism rests on, justifies and is reproduced by the oppression of women, which itself is rooted in class society. Indeed peasant society - and Russia in the 1920s was overwhelmingly a peasant society - is based on a patriarch exploiting his wife, children and other family members.

Jack Conrad