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Friday, January 10, 2020

How Could This Happen?

Imagine a prominent public figure-- a general or a political leader-- flying into a commercial, public airport of another country to attend a funeral, perhaps negotiate a peace initiative. After being greeted by a top leader of that country’s militia, national guard, or military reserve, the two proceed to leave the airport in a motorcade, taking no particularly remarkable security arrangements. 

A drone from a third country intercepts the motorcade, firing missiles and killing everyone involved.

Understandably, such an event would provoke world outrage and calls for bringing the perpetrator to justice. If the visiting public figure were a NATO general visiting Greece, a cabinet member landing in Colombia, or an ambassadorial assignee in Japan, denouncements would ensue, moral indignation would explode, and legal consequences would follow. An angry UN would respond to calls for sanctions. Terrorism alerts would reach a high level. 

Of course the ‘imaginary’ scenario described above is not imaginary, but real, chronicling the US assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Force. And instead of moral indignation and legal recourse, US political and media elites and their Western allies vacillate between fear and threats. 

Former CIA director Porter Goss believes that Soleimani belatedly got what was coming to him. His counterpart in the Obama administration, Leon Panetta, bizarrely states that Soleimani was never on the CIA assassination list since the agency could not decide between several evil Iranian generals. NPR summarizes Democratic Party leadership thinking (expressed clearly by Pelosi and Schumer):  indignation, not over the morality or legality of the assassination, but over the fact that Congress was not consulted (would they have turned Trump down?)! 

To their credit, Bernie Sanders and some young Democratic progressives-- at least—characterized the killing as an assassination, most others did not. Some might be surprised that Joe Biden spoke of the assassination as “a stick of dynamite.” But that was completely consistent with his performance in the Obama administration, where he was a pragmatic counterforce in opposition to the administration’s war hawks-- Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power, and Ben Rhodes. As attested in Jeffrey Goldberg’s informative exit interview in The Atlantic, Obama regretted listening to the hawks and, therefore, found the spine to defy them on intervention in Syria. Yet it is important to recognize that he did it for practical reasons and not for moral considerations-- military action at that time was perceived as counter-productive.

How is it that US officials, the media, and the think tanks can be so morally deaf to Soleimani’s assassination?

The reason is simple: they all fail to recognize Iran’s and Iraq’s sovereignty. They believe that the US has freedom of action in both countries since they both are or have been “illegitimate.” That thinking is the basis for the reigning doctrine of regime change, wholly embraced since the demise of the Soviet Union and its place as a counterforce to US imperialist intervention around the world. 

In the case of Iraq, the US treats the country as a colony, a neo-colony. The brilliant exponent of Pan-African unity and African socialism, Kwame  Nkrumah, created the theory of formal independence and actual neo-colonial dependence to describe how today’s imperialists wrap their tentacles around the countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. And there is no better example of that neo-colonialism than contemporary Iraq.

From the illegal no-fly zones maintained from 1991 until 2003, the US and its allies exercised de facto control over Iraq. Before the actual invasion, the bombing campaign to enforce the No-Fly Zone costs as many as 1400 civilian lives.

The concomitant sanctions regimen-- a new US model for warfare: minimizing aggressor casualties and maximizing victim casualties-- may have cost as many as half a million Iraqi children. While the numbers are disputed, what is not disputed is that the Iraqi population’s median age went from 16.8 in 1990 to 18.7 in 2005 and 20 today, a radical shift away from youth to elderly in a short time. The deniers must offer a theory of what happened to the young people who are today missing from Iraq’s population. It seems likely that they were, in one way or another, the victims of imperial violence.

Of course untold numbers of young people died in the US invasion and occupation beginning in 2003-- a slaughter too frequently shown on the cable military channels in gory detail. Cities were bombed, Fallujah totally destroyed. Iraqi infrastructure-- roads, buildings, water supplies, electrical generation, etc.-- was destroyed or diminished. The dominant political party was outlawed, existing politicians were bribed and exiles were established as puppets. Iraq was not a neo-colony then, but a classic colony.

Today, with 20 years of US occupation or dominance and with a median age of 20, most Iraqis have no conscious experience of authentic national independence. Consequently, young people rebelled in 2019 against corruption, inferior services, degraded living standards, and poverty. The assassination of Soleimani is perceived as a brazen affront to national sovereignty and dignity, possibly a last straw in US-Iraqi relations.

Obviously, Trump and his minions pulled the trigger-- made the final decision to assassinate the Iranian general. But it was the decades of neo-colonial arrogance, of patronizing “humanitarian” interventionism, of oil politics, of political scapegoating that made the West see the assassination as morally “justifiable,” though, perhaps, unwise. It is important to recall that the rabid anti-Trump opposition mostly objected to the fact that they were not consulted, that Trump stepped out of line, rather than that they deplored the act of murder. 

So why did Trump pull the trigger?

No doubt his advisors did not hesitate to tell him that wars are the great distraction, especially in election years. Certainly, elements in the military and CIA have long sought regime change in Iran. And Trump’s bluster and self-centeredness provides a handy excuse for them, should matters go awry (The Department of Defense was quick to point out that the assassination was Trump’s decision!). A war would draw attention away from the seriously bleak economic signs that are emerging and could affect Trump’s election prospects: the worst manufacturing data since 2009, falling automobile sales in 2019, the profit retreat of the US energy sector, etc. And, of course, there is the impeachment fiasco. 

Israel’s internal politics play a large role in Trump’s decisions. No one has been more of a friend to beleaguered Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, than Donald Trump. Unable to form a government and caught in a web of corruption charges, Netanyahu needs a distraction even more than Trump. Jefferson Morley documents how Israel has lusted after Soleimani’s assassination for some time. Threats, tensions, conflict in the Middle East would likely rally Israeli support behind the über-belligerent war hawk, Netanyahu, at a moment of his greatest need.

Oil politics likely also factor in Trump’s decisions, though not in the way that most commentators present it. With the US now more than capable of self-sufficiency in oil and gas, the US industry is actively competing for markets. Crippling or blockading rivals is becoming US policy. Rather than snatching foreign sources, the Trump administration shows more interest in disrupting, foiling, and threatening energy suppliers. This is a particularly difficult moment for US energy suppliers with natural gas overproduction generating extremely low prices and Wall Street investors calling in massive loans on frackers. Financial pundits are warning of serious losses, well closings, and bankruptcies. US producers benefit from chaos among their competitors, chaos that seems to be more and more the goal of US foreign policy. With Iran (and Qatar) owning the world’s largest gas field, US suppliers would be grateful for disruption of its exploitation, allowing for greater exportation of US Liquified Natural Gas. Oil prices rose 4% on the announcement of Soleimani’s assassination.

With joint naval exercises between Iran, Russia, and PRC wound up on December 31, 2019, the US military and security agencies no doubt want the assassination of Soleimani to be seen as a not-too-subtle message that they will not tolerate further unity.

While the threat to world peace has risen dramatically, the assassination is yet another sign of the weakness and desperation of US imperialism. The 80,000 US troops scattered throughout the Middle East have no discernable justification-- they have lost in Syria, are unwanted in Iraq, have failed to bolster Saudi Arabia. Even the returned and returning military personnel cannot explain why they have served. 

The deliberate stirring of ethnic and religious differences by the US is proving less effective than anticipated. And the long-suppressed economic and political grievances of the people of the Middle East are bubbling to the surface, threatening some of the region’s corrupt, US-supported client governments. A better world is in sight.

However, a wounded, weakened US empire is proving even more dangerous in its desperation.

 Greg Godels

Friday, January 3, 2020

A Shameless Patron of the Ruling Class

After the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the European socialist countries, the US government and its Cold War allies were in a celebratory mood. The most militant foes of the capitalist order were now absent from the playing field. Was this a temporary setback? Would socialism relaunch? Would the People’s Republic of China continue its flirtation with capitalist economic relations? Does the setback to socialism bespeak some deeper meaning for the course of history?

A year after the dissolution of the Soviet Union (1992), a relatively unheralded PhD working for the RAND Corporation authored a book that marked the “victory” of capitalism and Western-styled democracy over socialism as the “End of History,” humanity’s arrival at its political and economic destiny. Intellectual life in the US had largely scorned such grand narratives, but Francis Fukuyama boldly stated that history had settled the great ideological disputes of the twentieth century and decided in favor of capitalism and its version of democracy. The End of History and the Last Man, though hardly a huge best seller, impressed the ruling class and its courtiers with its pretentious Hegelian framework-- interpreted via the work of the decidedly non-radical Alexandre Kojève. They found his conclusions to their liking. Through Fukuyama, the capitalist celebrants gained intellectual gravitas, though undoubtedly few grasped the argument’s bastardization of Marxism. 

As a reward for his service to capitalism, Fukuyama received plum professorships at George Mason, Johns Hopkins, and Stanford universities. Moreover, he shrewdly, opportunistically shifted his politics with the currents of the day: first supporting Bush’s wars, then turning against them, and spinning again to support Barack Obama. Where ruling-class sentiment goes, so goes Francis Fukuyama.

So it should come as no surprise that Professor Fukuyama has pressed himself again into the services of the ruling class. 

His latest foray into the politics of the moment requires no challenging study of Hegel; it is simply a naked defense of the ruling class’s mechanism for imposing consent and control over the lives of its subjects. American Liberty Depends on the ‘Deep State’ is an unabashed advocacy for the unelected operatives who conduct the daily business of steering the capitalist ship of state. It is dismissive of the idea that these operatives might work for anything other than the people’s interests. At the same time, it scoffs at the notion that oversight and vigilance-- democratic control-- is appropriate for those filling the bureaus, agencies, and enforcement bodies.

For Fukuyama, the now popular term, “the Deep State” is broadly defined as the unelected employees of the Federal government who are “professional, expert, and non-partisan…” and “...whose primary loyalty is not to the political boss who appointed them but to the Constitution and to a higher sense of the public interest.”

 Fukuyama asks us to “think of NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.…” Alongside these innocuous,  arguably non-political institutions, he adds-- almost as an afterthought-- “the uniformed military… the Federal Reserve… the State Department,” institutions which have both a political role to play, a political character, and a history of political intervention. He might have added the CIA, NSA, and the FBI, except for the fact that they would have so obviously undermined any credibility for his thesis of non-partisanship.  

If Fukuyama were correct in his adulation of the capitalist states’ servants, of his vouching for their integrity, he would have to explain, for example, the long, pernicious career of the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover and his employees, notorious abusers of civil and political rights. He would need to account for centuries of judicial and enforcement malfeasance, officialdom’s history of blindness to racism, sexism, homophobia, and class inequalities, government institutional evils like segregation, mass incarceration, surveillance, and a host of other violations of the public interest.

Of course, endless wars and countless victims are also the unquestioning work of government agencies or, at least, require their acquiescence. Surely, the civil servants who ran the Nazi death camps were also “professional, expert, and non-partisan” in their dedication, though their behavior was hardly in the interests of the people. 

It is sheer political romanticism to portray the politically appointed ambassadors and their CIA-infected embassy staffs, the careerist congressional staffers, the obscenely lobbied agency leaders, the cabal of compromised advisory boards, the political party functionaries, the profit-driven government consultants and contractors, and the rest of the Federal bureaucracy as non-political and imbued with dedication to lofty values. 

Professor Fukuyama, the enthusiastic defender of the capitalist lords and their court, shows his disdain for democracy. Indeed, his defense is intimately linked with distrust of popular rule:

During the 1820s, the franchise was broadened from white males with property to all white males, bringing millions of new voters into the political system. But how to mobilize these masses? [Andrew] Jackson pulls it off by bribing them with bottles of bourbon, Christmas turkeys and (most important) government jobs… President Jackson declared that he got to decide who served in the bureaucracy and that government work was something that any ordinary American could do.

How shocking to suggest that every man and woman could participate in government work! While Jackson was a populist charlatan like our present-day Trump, he was exploiting the fact that US citizens were disgusted with governance by elites. Like Trump, he opportunistically traded on the growing dissatisfaction with self-serving rule by wealth and power, rule by the appropriately called “swamp.”

The fact that millions gained the right to vote distressed and frightened the US ruling class in Jackson’s time and, consequently, the lapdog media heaped scorn on his administration. Like racist Trump, the mass murderer of Native Americans, Jackson, proved to be a cynical user of mass sentiment, leaving the popular desire for democratic, egalitarian governance unfulfilled. 

Fukuyama fears the popular rule falsely promised by Jackson: “...modern government was highly complex and required officials with education, expertise and a dedication to public service.” He is crudely, unsubtly suggesting that such qualities are not commonly found among the masses. Better, the rulers and their minions should have a proper elite education, they should possess the skills taught in the elite school, and a noble dedication to serve… the calling of the elites! 

“Public service,” like so many high-sounding, but empty phrases beloved by politicians, cries out for clarity: public service for whom? Fukuyama never considers that question. He assumes that what is perceived as good by those at the top is good for all. Noblesse oblige!

Fukuyama continues to serve the ruling class well. And it is a ruling class and not some “deep state” that determines the course of the US state. Living in a time where brands, slogans, and memes are the fashion, attention to words and to meanings is crucial. Through policy shifts and changing circumstances, the US ruling class remains. Its constituents and complexion may change, but it persists as the protector of private property, profits, and the privileged until it is overthrown.

To pretend that the state has a malignancy, a deeply embedded and independent body wresting control implies that the “deep state” may be temporary, removable, or overcome and that the state can be returned to its “normal” democratic nature. That is simply liberal or social democratic nonsense. 

There are ‘deeper’ elements of the state just as there are deeper objectives or ‘darker’ operations of the ruling class. But there is one state owned by one ruling class.

Yes, the ruling class can be conflicted, even split, but it continues to cling to the state in order to protect and promote capital. To acknowledge a vague, mysterious, conspiratorial “deep state” is to blur our understanding of the ruling class and its relation to the capitalist state. 

The CIA, the FBI, the NSA, the DoD, etc. are institutions of the capitalist state serving the ruling class and are not a bunch of “deep state” renegades. 

In his consistent service to the ruling class, Fukuyama is not lured into fearing the “deep state,” he knows who he must defend.

Greg Godels

Monday, December 23, 2019

The New Conservatives and their False Promises

Marx famously wrote that history repeats itself “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” But sometimes, even an encore leaves many people dumbstruck.

Most commentators who fill up the opinion pages of the national media of record are touting the failure of the UK Labour Party in the recent elections as a portent of the “disaster” that would await the Democrats should they nominate Bernie Sanders or Sanders-lite to run against President Trump. That, they believe, would be the farce that Corbyn’s loss portends.

But there are a few thoughtful heads, wiser thinkers, in the media who better understand history’s often more subtle messages. For Gerald Seib, the executive Washington editor of The Wall Street Journal, and his colleague, Stephen Fidler, a UK veteran of the Financial Times and Reuters, the victory of Boris Johnson recalls another parallel: the electoral victory of Donald Trump. And they find many signs that the parallels are overflowing with meaning and that they count as more than just interesting coincidences.

Seib and Fidler’s article, U.K. Vote Shows Remake of Conservatism (WSJ 12/14-15/2019), argues that we have entered a new era, engaging new constituencies, realignments, philosophies, and policies:

Boris Johnson’s big election victory this week drove another nail into the coffin of the brand of conservative politics Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher first rode to power four decades ago…[The] movement in the West now has become markedly more populist and nationalist, and appeals to a distinctly more working-class constituency. Fiscal restraint, once a cardinal tenet of conservatism, matters less; rewriting the rules that have governed the global economy matters more.

The article portrays a right-anchored movement in the process of shifting towards a narrow, more insular, protectionist nationalism, spurning globalism, unrestrained by fiscal austerity and market dogma, and courting the working class with promises of change and contempt for liberal elites. Like Thatcher and Reagan in the past, Trump and Johnson are now prominent figureheads of this New Conservatism, but rising stars are in, or share, power in Hungary, Italy, and Poland. Even outside Europe, India’s Modi, Japan’s Abe, Brazil’s Bolsonaro, and Chile’s Piñera embrace many features of the New Conservatism.

Seib and Fidler are perceptive in seeing Trump and Johnson as more than an aberration, a fleeting mutation of corporate Republicanism and market-crazed Conservatism. They point to their opportunistic playing to a base of petty-bourgeois and working-class voters who have been bled by the ruling class’s global restructuring and crushed by its finale, the collapse of 2007-2009:

Both capitalized on blue-collar and middle-class resentment of the financial and political elites, who, in such voters’ views, were oblivious to the way global economic trends were cutting against workers in the heartland. Brexit was the symbol of those grievances in Britain; in the U.S., trade relations with China and Mexico were the symbols Mr. Trump used. 

Seib and Fidler note that Trump and Johnson “juiced their policy offers with promises of freer public spending to address middle- and working-class voters’ anger over the sacrifices they had been forced to make since the financial crash…” Johnson, they contend, “was stealing the traditional clothes of the left-wing Labour Party,” promising “spending on the nation’s public-health services, schools, policing and infrastructure.” Trump, defying a pillar of twentieth century Conservatism, “has overseen a rise of the U.S. federal budget deficit to roughly a trillion dollars annually, but can do so because low interest rates make such borrowing less painful. Mr. Johnson has relaxed the purse strings with a similar advantage.”

The Seib-Fidler thesis is that, since the collapse of 2007-2009, some on the right have drawn lessons and constructed a new political approach, turning away from internationalism, globalism, austerity, and unfettered markets. They are shrewdly and opportunistically marketing this turn as relief for a damaged, dissatisfied, and angry working class and petty bourgeoisie. Of course, there remain conservatives still wedded to the market fundamentalist, globalist approach of Reagan/Thatcher-- what many have called, for better or worse, “globalization” and “neo-liberalism”-- but the New Conservatism is clearly on the rise. 

Liberals will cry that Seib and Fidler have downplayed the role of xenophobia in the appeal of the New Conservatives and the Johnson vote. No doubt racism and anti-immigrant sentiment play a role. But the Ipsos Mori polls show that while around 40% of voters thought that immigration was the most important issue facing voters during the 2016 Brexit referendum, that number was down to around 10% before the recent election.

Ironically, while the Reagan/Thatcher consensus swept over the political world in the last thirty or more years, it has now nested firmly in social democracy and political liberalism; the victory over Keynesian fiscal interventionism by the “Third Way” converts and the “New Democrats” makes them, now, the most committed defenders of free markets, international institutions, balanced budgets, austerity, and unprotected, decentered labor markets. Because the center-left parties of the advanced capitalist countries so readily accepted and embraced the market-fetishist ideology of the late-twentieth century, they are now boxed into a corner rigidly defending the very philosophy that brought great harm to working people, a philosophy now increasingly in the rear-view mirror of the New Conservatives.

Where the New Conservatives revamped their views in the wake of the 2007-2009 crisis, most liberals and social democrats stood pat, keeping the same cards they were dealt by the Reagan/Thatcher “revolution.”

As voters turn against the old consensus that brought economic chaos unseen since the Great Depression, they seek change wherever they can find it. In the US, they thought they could find it by electing Barack Obama. That choice proved to be ill-founded, further entrenching elite rule and austerity (sequestration!). Consequently, Trump got a chance.

Establishment Democrats (Corporate Democrats) believe that Trump, too, will fail. Of course they are right-- there are only empty promises and fake solutions in the New Conservatism. But the Democratic Party leaders are foolish, if they think that Trump’s failure will bring an exodus back to a Democratic Party serving up Reagan/Thatcher-lite, a party chained to corporate-first, trickle-down economics, to fiscal austerity, to a desiccated welfare state, to making the market the final arbiter of all economic decisions.

Clearly, the Democratic Party leadership prefers to attack Trump for his lack of fidelity to Presidential mythology or through contrived fables like RussiaGate, while avoiding real policy changes that would win over an electorate thirsting for change. The results will likely be disastrous for those in need of urgent solutions. But Party bosses would rather see Trump win than surrender their staunch defense of capital über alles.

Similarly, the legacy of Margaret Thatcher, conveyed through the past leadership of Tony Blair, is so firmly rooted in the Labour Party that many of its leading figures would rather have seen insurgent Corbyn lose than surrender that legacy.

Progressives should seriously weigh whether center-left parties, even rebranded social democratic parties, offer or will convincingly press a program that addresses the carnage inflicted by an increasingly dysfunctional capitalism and that could draw working people from the false hope offered by the New Conservatism. When the old politics is thoroughly discredited, a new politics is in order. The new politics should be constructed around the path to socialism, the only road that takes working people away from betrayal and demagoguery.

Greg Godels

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

A Decade Ends: Does It Leave a Legacy?

Will we remember the victory in Syria as a long overdue turning point in the struggle against imperialism and, perhaps, capitalism? Does the defeat of US and NATO machinations and their surrogate combatants in Syria inspire the people of the Middle East to transcend the divisive limits of sectarian grievances and cultural manipulation? Are we seeing the decline of artificially stoked and cruelly fueled national and religious divisiveness and a turn toward economic justice?

Certainly some respected, insightful commentators believe that the Middle East is experiencing unexpected, major realignments (Hallinan) and a decline in sectarian conflict (P. Cockburn).

Patrick Cockburn suggests that the decline of sectarianism is accompanied by “uprisings against corruption,” though he says far too little about the connection.

In fact, the US and Israel have used sectarian divides to combat progressive, nationalist, secular, and even socialist-oriented governments in the Middle East since the 1950s. Secular Arab nationalism, Nasserism, Ba’ath socialism, Palestinian liberation all posed a threat to Israeli apartheid and expansionism and US and European oil imperialism. By stirring the pot of tribal, religious sectarian, and national differences, they were largely successful in reducing the Middle East to a cauldron of disunity, endless conflict, and social backwardness. For most of the latter part of the twentieth century social questions of economic well-being and class justice were deflected. Instead of addressing the basic needs of the people, Middle Eastern rulers were drawn into tragic conflicts over religious, tribal, and national identity. Exploiting these conflicts were the foreign imperialist powers.

But matters may be differently now. 

With the Saudis-- the well-heeled missionaries of religious, social, and political backwardness-- smarting from energy rivalry with their US sponsor and bloodied by a losing war in Yemen, their influence in the neighborhood is reduced. Israel, likewise, is mired in a political crisis and now facing a nearly unified Syria with a powerful ally in Russia, an ally seemingly committed to being a counter to US dominance of the region. And Turkey is racked with its own political instability and increasingly tenuous membership in NATO.

These factors, along with US and NATO imperialism’s defeat in Syria, disrupt decades of senseless, internecine conflict and are allowing neglected questions of the people’s well-being and living standards to rise to the forefront. 

The recent and current anti-government risings in Sudan, Algeria, Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq are a response to the long-ignored class and democracy issues that have been overshadowed by sectarianism. Sparked by aloof policies and fueled by both government indifference and massive poverty and want, millions are fighting to depose those who hold power. 

While Patrick Cockburn writes of corruption, it is more than simply bad government that stokes these rebellions. People are opposed to rulers selected by systems designed by the Great powers to legitimize a sectarian balance or to install rule by those trusted by outside forces. They are tired of the concentration of wealth in the hands of elites or the raging torrent of wealth channeled to Western corporations. They are weary of food and power shortages, underemployment and unemployment, sectarian patronage, and poor infrastructure and housing. They are reacting to the widening class divide in these societies. These insurgencies are all suggestive of an emerging class consciousness, a growing anger at those hoarding the wealth and monopolizing undeserved political power. 

As welcome as these developments are, they bring many potential problems. No popular and clear-sighted leadership has emerged. The demands that spring forth are often simple and negative: “Down with the existing government!” There is no overarching ideological outlook, little programmatic development, and too few acknowledged leaders. The success of the movement in Sudan shows the importance of a Communist Party broadly and deeply embedded in the popular movements. Communists are engaged in all of the other risings as well. There is a basis for hope that these movements will evolve in an anti-capitalist direction.

Objections have been raised that the anti-government risings may weaken the anti-imperialist movement, particularly where existing governments take anti-imperialist positions against the US and Israel or include anti-imperialist forces within a government coalition. These concerns are especially apt when the long history of US manipulation of movements (like Ukraine yesterday, Hong Kong today) is recognized. 

However, solidarity with the people, confidence in the masses, and critical vigilance should be the stance of the revolutionary. All significant change is fraught with risks, laden with uncertainty. Revolutionaries unwilling to venture on an uncharted course are hardly worthy of the name.

While there have been recent setbacks to social democratic and anti-imperialist projects in Central and South America (and staunch resistance in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela), impressive people’s risings in Haiti, Colombia, Chile, and Ecuador have shaken governments and ruling elites. Like their counterparts in the Middle East, they often lack a clear and decisive leadership, but they, nonetheless, reflect deep-seated and profound class antagonisms and a yearning for real democracy. 

A bitter distrust of the largely corrupt parliamentary systems peddled as “liberal democracy” also spurs the upsurge in direct and militant mass action. Interestingly, this distrust is shared with millions of working people in the advanced capitalist countries who have, out of desperation, cast votes for demagogic “populist” politicians opportunistically herding dissatisfaction away from bankrupt mainstream parties. Though they both spring from similar causes, the “populist” answer will prove as futile as continued support for the traditional parties that chain the people’s fate to capitalist accumulation.

By any measure, there is mass dissatisfaction throughout the world. In some places, it is transforming into direct, physical confrontation with the state and its organs. The frequency and militancy of these actions is striking. Today, it is the remarkable national strikes to deny Macron’s destruction of pensions in France.

In other places, the fight is less developed; people are struggling to identify the enemy; their efforts are confined to narrow electoral space or misdirected toward “fake” solutions. 

Nonetheless, capitalism is presented with an impressive wave of resistance as we enter the next decade. If that wave is to swell, it must be driven by a deeper understanding of the way forward. Old, difficult debates over how national independence, secular unity, and class struggle intertwine are now, again, relevant, urgent and central. It is vital that militants see the fight against imperialism and for a better, more anti-capitalist and democratic life as one and the same. 

In addition, lessons must be drawn from the recent treacherous coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia, lessons that raise the enduring questions of the nature of the state, reform, and revolution. In our time, reform and socialism-oriented movements have proven fragile, especially while facing the determined hostility of the powerful US and its allies. As the Guaidó debacle in Venezuela shows, the US will go to any lengths to create and support anti-reform, anti-socialist elements. For over a hundred years, Marxist-Leninist theory has been the anchor of debates over the path to revolutionary change and for its defense. It would be a good place to begin in order to refresh today’s debates.

All signs point to 2020 becoming an interesting, even promising year for revolutionaries! 

Greg Godels

Monday, November 25, 2019

Is It All about the Oil?

“It’s all about the oil” has been a persistent refrain in response to US Middle East policy for as long as one can remember. Certainly there is much truth in this statement. Since the energy transition from coal to oil and its derivatives, leading imperialist powers have sought to dominate or control global oil resources. And the center of global oil extraction, especially for the US and other powerful capitalist countries, has remained in the Middle East and its periphery. 

When the navy of the then-dominant British Empire shifted from coal-fired, steam-driven warships to dependence on oil, the Middle East became the strategic service station for imperial reach. Accordingly, the status and fate of people, nations, and states in the Middle East became inextricably bound to the interests and the will of the greatest imperial powers. 

After World War I, the British and French hacked and hewed the Middle East into “protectorates” beneficial to their own economic interests. The US, self-sufficient in oil resources, was pushed to the margin-- left to explore the vast underpopulated deserts of the Arabian peninsula. 
Of course the vast expanses of the Arabian peninsula turned out to be the source of vast and cheap oil and natural gas. The Arabian-American Oil Company (ARAMCO) proved providential when US domestic energy reserves began to decline.

As the dominant imperialist power after World War II, the constabulary for the capitalist world, the US took on the task of guaranteeing that oil would be safe and within reach throughout the capitalist world and outside the reach of its Cold War foes and their allies. This necessitated a powerful and agile military. Since oil and gas are transported by sea and pipeline, the US military was ensconced in bases globally, and the US enlisted heavily armed deputies at key positions in the midst of energy-rich areas (pre-revolutionary Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, etc.). 

The US (and its closest, most trusted NATO allies) did not serve as a global gendarmerie for free; rather, they extracted a tribute from the oil-producing countries and their peoples. With colonial fetters rapidly breaking after World War II, imperialism established new modes of dominance over the world’s raw materials, including energy resources. Neo-colonial relations replaced total dominance with economic dominance. Despite nominal political self-rule, resource-rich “independent” countries were still the captive of US corporations and their European counterparts. US and European corporations “participated” in the development and ownership of gas and oil resources.  

Because oil and gas are so central to modern economies, imperialist powers display a keen interest in ensuring low, stable prices. Thus, the US and other imperialist countries have invested heavily in oil and gas extraction throughout the world, while installing, when necessary, friendly governments in resource-rich countries. 

Of course even the most empire-friendly governments have sought more of the fruits of resource extraction from their lands. Saudi potentates, among others, have restructured deals, formed production alliances (e.g., OPEC), and exerted their power over global supplies for political purposes. Notably, OPEC producers punished Western countries for their support of Israel with an oil embargo in 1973. 

The 1973 oil embargo proved to be a turning point for imperialism’s relations with the oil-producing states of the Middle East. Differences within imperialism restrained the considered US use of military power to “...forcibly seize Middle Eastern oilfields in late 1973.” Taking advantage of these differences, the Saudis and other countries were emboldened to nationalize their industries and command a measure of independence from Western imperialism. In some cases, the dramatic increase in oil dollars flowing into the oil-producing states’ coffers led to equally dramatic improvements in the lives of citizens (Libya, for example). In other cases, oil dollars only enriched the elites. And, in the case of the Saudis, the enormous bounty of oil-revenue went to promote Wahhabism and an ultra-conservative sectarianism against progressive and radical secular movements in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The US and Israel were successful in channeling Saudi money and resources in support of their own foreign policy objectives, notably by marginalizing, even combatting non-sectarian Arab nationalism, socialism, and anti-imperialism in Palestine, Afghanistan, and many other states. From the rise of Nasserism until today, imperialism and the most reactionary Islamic conservatism have used sectarianism to counter, even destroy, progressive movements. Oil money has subsidized that effort. 

Since the victory over imperialism and sectarianism in Syria, we are beginning to see the encouraging rise of class-oriented, non-sectarian struggles in other countries like Sudan, Lebanon, and Iraq. The setbacks to Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies in Yemen have also paved the way for a higher, more advanced level of struggle with less of the pernicious confusion of tribal and sectarian division. While there is always a danger of imperialism using the new militancy for its own purposes, it is operating from a weakened position.

US Oil Imperialism Today

“I always said, if you are going in, keep the oil.” -- Donald Trump

Commentators were abashed by Trump’s audacity when he linked involvement in Syria with expropriating Syrian oil. Most were embarrassed that Trump publicly exposed that oil thievery so easily ties in with US foreign policy goals. They preferred to mask US objectives behind an almost comical alarm that ISIS would rise again without US presence. This thin excuse stood in sharp contrast to the fact that the entire US military engagement combating ISIS was through air power.

So, is the US meddling in Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Libya, and other countries to steal, secure, or expropriate energy sources? Are these instances of the century-old imperialist plunder of global energy sources?

Certainly US imperialism and its allies continue to serve monopoly capitalist concerns in their quest to exploit global resources. But that is not the entire story today. 

Thanks to the fracking, shale oil revolution, the US is also an intense competitor with global energy producers. This is a new twist that is now shaping US imperialist policy, moving it in other directions. With the US today exceeding the oil and gas production of all other countries, it is less committed to securing, commandeering, protecting, or exploiting global energy resources and more directed toward garnering a greater market share of worldwide sales. 

The war-- and it is war-- for more markets for US energy supplies favors the US when other suppliers are threatened, made less reliable, or more costly by wars, political upheavals, or other causes of chaos. Where US post-war, Cold War oil politics were directed toward stability, low, constant prices, and secure transit, the US benefits today from global instability, volatile prices, dangerous sea routes, and thwarting pipeline infrastructure.

The endless US wars, the stirring of big-power hostility, saber-rattling in sea lanes, blatant military action against stable energy-producing states, and inflated threats of terrorism and banditry all contribute to favoring energy supplies from a politically and economically stable state with the most powerful and far-reaching military in history-- the US.

It is important to place US-induced chaos in the perspective of no real, existing imminent threat from any major power or from so-called “terrorism.” Nearly all of the global chaos is simply manufactured and sustained by imperialism.

US determination to reign over energy markets was decisive in warding off the Saudi price attack of 2014. With production costs half or less of those for US shale, the Saudis, through both calculated collective inaction and overproduction, drove the price of oil down from historic highs, hoping to cripple the vastly expanding US shale market. Saddled with debt piled up from exploration and the high initial costs of rigs, the emerging US shale industry struggled in the face of collapsing prices. But Wall Street came smartly and decisively to the rescue; the loans are only beginning to be called in today. 

With oil-producing Libya a failed state, with oil-producing Iran expelled from commerce, with the Persian Gulf becoming a war zone, with oil-producing Venezuela sanctioned from markets, with Boko Haram disrupting Nigerian oil production, with giant oil-producing Russia forced into a new Cold War, with the Saudis about to sell chunks of ARAMCO to US and other capitalist investors, and now with Donald Trump keeping Syrian oil out of global markets, the US is busy hustling its oil as the most reliable and readily available. 

The same could be said for the US efforts to expand its markets for liquified natural gas. The manic desire to depict Russia as an existential threat looming on the borders of Eastern and Central Europe is meant to stigmatize Russia as a dangerous partner and undermine its standing as the chief supplier of inexpensive, pipeline-supplied natural gas to Europe. Accordingly, the US hopes to kick open the door to that market by establishing LNG terminals in the most anti-Russian states. Similarly, the chaos in the Straits of Hormuz and Iran-bashing have cast a shadow over the reliability of the US’s biggest LNG competitors: the vast Iranian and Qatar gas fields.

In this competition for global energy markets, the US relies upon economic sanctions as its weapon of choice, especially shutting down trade activity of its energy rivals.

Where imposing stability on a capitalist world dependent upon energy imports was the former goal of US imperialism, overproduction of energy from revolutionary technologies has set new goals. Because the US lusts after the traditional markets for oil and natural gas, US imperialism is content to live with, to even foster global instability. It is no accident that endless destructive wars, global hotspots, threats, and hostilities are features of the twenty-first century. 

Bolstering energy exports and arms sales makes the US the biggest troublemaker in a volatile, ultra-competitive capitalist world. 

US energy imperialism makes an already unstable world even more dangerous.

Greg Godels