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Sunday, June 25, 2017

US Imperialism: Changing Direction?

Developments over the last few weeks further remove the fog obscuring the foreign policy objectives of the US ruling class. A series of seemingly unrelated events casts light on the goals of US policy makers in an era of intensifying international rivalries. Further, it is becoming clear that President Trump is now largely deferring to the ruling-class consensus on foreign affairs; his straying from the fold has been substantially checked.
In February, I wrote of the implications of the widely ignored shift in the status of the United States from an energy-seeking, petroleum-importing country to a net exporter, a trader in all energy resources.
The US still has a significant but shrinking position in the international export of coal. Of course, coal use is both third in importance among hydrocarbons and shrinking in use (coal production internationally fell by the largest percentage on record in 2016). But petroleum imports became essential to fuel the critical transportation needs of the US as well as the massive military machine in the mid-twentieth century. 

After the oil crisis of the 1970s, dependence on petroleum imports became even more acute and an even more vital factor in setting US foreign policy. Often, and for good reason, the left was quick to associate the thirst for energy resources with war-mongering and neo-colonial intrigue.
But matters are changing rapidly, even if many seek to obscure or ignore the new reality. As I argued in February:
Matters began to change in the last decade, with US domestic oil production nearly doubling between 2010 and 2014. In the last few years, US oil production has reached levels in line with the world’s largest producers, Saudi Arabia and Russia. For the first time in decades, the US is again exporting extracted energy products. In fact, many experts expect the US to become a net energy exporter in the next decade.
The evidence has only mounted since the February posting. Despite low prices of oil, US drillers are producing like there is no tomorrow. From its low in mid-year 2016, the rig count has nearly doubled in North Dakota. As the Wall Street Journal reported on June 19, the big companies, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, and Exxon Mobil are investing tens of billions in the Permian region of the Southwestern US. The giant multinational, monopoly-capital producers are stepping in where smaller producers have failed because of costs and limited capital. They are projecting Permian production at 4 million barrels a day within a decade, about the production of modern-day Iraq. Chevron, alone, anticipates a four-fold increase of Permian production within a decade. Exxon is projected to spend half or more of its massive investments in the next three years on North American oil production.
Where will this oil go?
In a June 8 article, Wall Street Journal writer Lynn Cook stated bluntly: “American [US] oil exports are emerging as a disruptive new force in global markets.” From January to April, US suppliers shipped 110 million barrels to foreign destinations, chiefly India, Hong Kong, and Denmark. Asian buyers account for 39% of purchases, with China showing, by far, the greatest growth. With massive production increases coming online, is there any doubt that US producers will be competing furiously with OPEC and other traditional exporters for existing and new markets? Should we not expect the foreign policy and the covert and overt military strategies to reflect this intensifying competition?
Similarly, the US is becoming an increasingly important exporter of natural gas. As new technologies of liquefying and shipping natural gas are implemented, the competition for markets is becoming ever more ruthless. Seaborne liquid natural gas accounts for 40% of the market today. As the world leader in natural gas production, along with Russia, the US has a strong interest in exporting natural gas and acquiring new markets. Among the exporters of liquid natural gas (LNG), Qatar is the world leader, with every intention of maintaining its position, recently opening its North field, believed to be the largest gas reservoir in the world.
Geopolitical Implications
The long fostered model that views US imperial interests as served by the US securing and protecting its access to energy sources, by guaranteeing energy for its Cold War allies, is in need of a new look. Today, US interests lie in acquiring markets within the global economy, competing with other energy suppliers, and creating political and economic conditions favorable to US suppliers. Oil, gas, and energy remain central to the imperialist enterprise, but the roles are shifting in important ways, with important implications.
I sought to define that role more clearly in February, when I wrote:
It should be clear, then, that the approaching oil independence of the US, the changing role of the US from consumer to producer, and the attention to markets-for-oil over sources-for-oil profoundly influences US strategic policies, including the weakening or souring relations with other major oil-producing nations like Saudi Arabia and Russia.
Events have only strengthened that observation. The rabid, crude intensification of hostility toward Russia, the renewed demonization of Iran, the sudden and bizarre isolation of Qatar, and the heightened aggression in the numerous destabilizing wars throughout the Middle East underline the evolution of an emerging foreign policy consistent with securing new energy markets.
The introduction and expansion of US military forces to hot spots like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan promise little resolution of the conflicts, but guarantee further instability of energy sources and the flow of hydrocarbons. The sale of a vast cache of military weaponry assures the deepening and lengthening of the Saudi incursion into Yemen.
The unexpected hostility toward Qatar shown by the other Gulf States in the wake of Trump’s recent vulgar performance in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is likely directed against Qatari global leadership in the exporting of Liquid Natural Gas, the market that the US hopes to further penetrate. It is no accident that the Qatari gas fields are jointly owned with Iran and both countries have cooperated in the exploitation of the fields and the production of LNG. At the same time, the Saudis have surrendered in the price war with US shale drillers. With sovereign wealth shrinking from a costly war and low oil prices, the Saudis are more interested in finding the best moment to take ARAMCO public, to sell off portions of the national oil company and refresh the kingdom’s coffers. The king and his retinue are content to loyally serve the US in its global mission to command energy markets. Saudi leadership of OPEC in its fight for market share with US petroleum producers proved disastrous. The Saudi/OPEC output cut “has been deemed an OPEC failure and a US production win,” according to Tony Hendrick of CHS Hedging, as quoted in the WSJ (6-21-17).
The latest US anti-Russia (6-15-17) sanctions are clearly directed at markets for Russian natural gas. The Senate voted 98-2 to “broaden sanctions on Russia’s energy sector,” as reported by The Wall Street journal. While the message might have been lost on the mainstream media, wallowing in neo-McCarthyism, and while it might have been missed by a distracted left, it was not lost on Europeans. They immediately saw it as an attack on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project that would bring Russian gas to Germany, Austria and other European countries. And they saw it for what it was; Germany and Austria immediately lashed out with a joint statement: “We cannot accept a threat of extraterritorial sanctions, illegal under international law, against European companies that participate in developing European energy supplies.”
They added sharply: “Europe’s energy supply is Europe’s business, not that of the United States of America.” and “The actual goal [of such sanctions] is to provide jobs for the US gas and oil industry...
And there it is-- naked recognition that US anti-Russian acts are thinly concealed covers for US imperial goals. The US wants the European gas business currently done with Russia.
Lest anyone pretend that US imperialism-with-a-new-twist is strictly a product of Trump, it should be noted that the 98-2 Senate vote was no aberration. Writing in the Washington Post (6-8-17), David Gordon and Michael O’Hanlon-- two solidly connected Washington insiders-- pointed to “several hopeful signs” with Trump’s foreign policy. They lauded the President’s national security team and his stance in the Middle East. They were especially enthusiastic about his continued belligerence toward Russia.
The reckless foreign policy of the Trump administration still deviates occasionally from the ruling class consensus expressed in the editorial pages of The New York Times or The Washington Post. But more and more it is reckless because it conforms to that consensus. The endless wars and the escalation of those endless wars are not met with ruling class impatience, but appear to be more the new global norm.
The destabilization of countries and the promotion of sectarianism appear less as unintended consequences and more as those resulting from the deliberate, calculated tactics of an imperialist power benefiting from chaos.
As in the classic pre-World War I era of reckless imperialist competition, US imperialism is aggressively advancing its economic agenda against rivals, including recent “allies.” The dangers posed by these intensifying rivalries threaten to spark even more devastating clashes and widening wars.

Zoltan Zigedy

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Toward a Socialist Ireland

Irish history shows one what a misfortune it is for a nation to have subjugated another nation. All the abominations of the English have their origin in the Irish Pale. F. Engels to Marx, 10-24-1869
If Britain was the template for colonial imperialism, then Ireland was, along with aboriginal inhabitants of the New World, its first victims and, assuredly, its longest suffering. When British elites once proudly proclaimed that the sun never set on the British Empire, they neglected to mention that it first cast the ugly shadow of colonial oppression over Ireland.

But there, once things are in the hands of the Irish people itself, once it is made its own legislator and ruler, once it becomes autonomous, the abolition of the landed aristocracy… will be infinitely easier… It is not only a simple economic question, but at the same time a national question, since the landlords there... [are]... the mortally hated oppressors of the nation… K. Marx to L. Kugelmann 11-29-1869

Thanks to an invitation to participate in the annual James Connolly Festival (May 8-14) in Dublin, Ireland, my MLT colleague Joe Jamison and I had the pleasure of the better part of a week of education and comradeship with a number of friends of Marxism-Leninism Today. The annual festival is seven days of music, art, film, theater, poetry, and politics, concluding with a ceremonial wreath-laying at the Arbour Hill Cemetery in honor of James Connolly and the other martyrs of the 1916 Easter Uprising. Organized by the Communist Party of Ireland and its friends, the annual festival welds culture with politics in a way that is both entertaining and educational.

The festival stresses the long history of Irish struggle against imperialism, a struggle that continues today against British colonial influence over the northern six counties, against the supranational reign of the European Union, and against the economic exploitation of US multinational corporations that, for example, use Ireland as a tax haven.

Understandably, James Connolly occupies a central place of honor and inspiration for Irish Communists and their allies. Connolly’s grasp of the dialectics of national liberation and socialism was unparalleled for his time. As few others did, he saw the struggle for an independent Irish state as organically linked to the emancipation of Irish workers. As he wrote with great eloquence in 1897:
If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organization of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.

The clarity of Connolly’s understanding of imperialism and his prescient grasp of neo-colonialism anticipates Lenin and the Bolsheviks in many respects.

Our comrades and friends advised us of the Communist and left support for the demands of the Right2water campaign for free and clear public ownership and use of Ireland’s water resources by all of its citizens, a campaign that included a national demonstration in Dublin in April.

We learned of the role of Irish Communist leaders and allied militants in support of striking employees of the national bus service, Bus √Čireann. Irish Communists are militantly active in the country’s trade union movement.

We met comrades who physically shut down Shannon International Airport in order to deter US imperialism’s affront to Irish sovereignty. When US planes land with troops, supplies or captives, to deliver torture, death, and destruction to other parts of the world, these dedicated militants attempt to block runways and accept arrest as a result.

On the ideological front, the Communist Party offers a fine monthly paper-- Socialist Voice, maintains an excellent bookstore in the heart of Dublin-- Connolly Books, publishes numerous books and pamphlets, and operates a multimedia operation, Connolly Media Group.

The bookstore regularly hosts a series of public discussions and debates on questions relevant to socialism and the working-class movement, a series dubbed Connolly Conversations.

In addition, the Communist Party has sparked a fruitful conversation with the left wing of the Irish Republican movement, a conversation that seeks to restore socialism to its place in the tradition of radical Republican thought. Organized as the Peadar O’Donnell Socialist Republican Forum, it pays tribute to a man who was a socialist, union organizer, IRA leader, editor, author, and internationalist-- once described as “the greatest agitator of his generation.” Forums are held throughout Ireland.

One of the leaders of the Forum, Tommy McKearney, spoke passionately on May 14 at the solemn ceremony held in the courtyard of Kilmainham Gaol where James Connolly was executed on May 12, 1916. The event was sponsored by the Dublin Council of Trade Unions. In his address, McKearney stressed the unity of Republicanism and socialism. Having spent 16 years in prison as a leader of the struggle against British imperialism and participating in the 1980 prison hunger strike, he is a most suitable spokesperson for the Republican cause. McKearney is one of Ireland’s leading Marxists as well. His book, The Provisional IRA: From Insurrection to Parliament is an indispensable analysis of the dynamics of the late-twentieth-century struggles against injustice in the six counties.

We concluded our visit that afternoon by participating in the Communist Party’s commemoration of James Connolly’s execution at Arbour Hill Cemetery, where the martyrs of the 1916 rebellion are buried. Jimmy Doran, Dublin District Chairperson of the Communist Party, gave an inspirational oration:
Lots of political parties and groups claim James Connolly as their inspiration. James Connolly was a socialist—a Marxist, an anti-imperialist, an internationalist, and a trade union organiser. James Connolly would have had no hand, act or part in the 1990 Industrial Relations Act, or “social partnership.” He certainly would have nothing to do with the prosecution of children for peaceful protest. Connolly was always on the side of the oppressed, not the oppressor.
He would be down on the runway in Shannon with the anti-war movement, defending our neutrality and stopping the American war machine turning Shannon into an aircraft carrier for their genocidal wars.
He would have no truck with the imperialism of the European Union, and he would laugh at the deluded suggestion of using Brexit and membership of the European Union as a means of uniting the country by surrendering our national sovereignty and democracy to the imperialism of the European Union.
James Connolly fought and died for a socialist republic, not for the gombeen [a gombeen is a small-time wheeler dealer, a con man] partitioned country with a divided people that the counter-revolution installed.

Doran concluded:
What would James Connolly say? James Connolly would say that if humanity is to survive in Ireland and the world, there is no alternative to the common good. There is no alternative to public housing. There is no alternative to public health care. There is no alternative to peace. There is no alternative to ending world poverty. There is no alternative to this environment. There is no alternative to decency and dignity for our people.
Comrades, there is no alternative.
It’s socialism or barbarism.
We only want the earth!

We thank Eugene McCartan, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland, for inviting us to share the warm, generous hospitality of the Irish comrades.
Greg Godels (Zoltan Zigedy)