The Keystone XL pipeline
President Obama appears to be nearing a decision on approving what is called the Keystone XL pipeline. This proposal by the TransCanada Corporation calls for a pipeline to be built that will, if Obama gives the green light, transport “heavy oil” produced from tar sands in the Canadian province of Alberta to refineries in the U.S. Midwest and along the Gulf Coast.
The U.S. president had indicated that his approval would depend on a State Department report on the proposed pipeline’s effects on the Earth’s climate. Opponents of the pipeline pointed out that the refining of heavy oil releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the refining of “sweet oil” does.
In late January, the State Department released its report, which claimed that the pipeline would have little if any adverse effect on the climate. (1) The State Department reasoned that even if the pipeline was not built, the Alberta tar sands would be used for oil production anyway. The resulting heavy oil, according to the State Department, would in the absence of the XL pipeline be transported by rail. So, the State Department concluded, there would be little adverse effect from the proposed pipeline project. These conclusions put heavy pressure on Obama to approve the construction.
Arguments in favor
The proponents of the pipeline include virtually all Republicans as well as many Democrats who claim that going ahead with the pipeline will increase jobs in an economy facing a growing crisis of long-term mass unemployment. The U.S. trade-union movement, which forms an important part of the base of Obama’s Democratic Party, has generally supported the Keystone XL pipeline for exactly this reason.
As regular readers of this blog should know, when capitalists and capitalist politicians claim that some proposed project or policy will create jobs, this is always a code word for profits. Any jobs created are purely a side effect of the capitalists’ never-ending search for profits. The Keystone XL pipeline is no exception.
The leaders of the U.S. trade-union movement, though as a rule not well versed in Marxist economics, know full well that capitalists do not employ workers unless they can make profits. Therefore, if capitalists make profits off the Keystone XL pipeline, they argue, the workers will also gain, because building the pipeline will create additional jobs. And don’t U.S. workers need every job they can get?
Another argument in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline is that it increases the U.S.’s “energy independence.” “XL” stands for “eXport Limited,” indicating that the oil to be transported is not to be exported but should instead reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil. This is frankly a chauvinist argument. It trades on memories of the OPEC boycott of the U.S. in 1973, when OPEC briefly held back shipments of oil to the U.S. because of its support of Israel in the 1973 war between Egypt and Israel. (2)
Perhaps more important for OPEC members dominated by oil monarchies, which have demonstrated scarce concern over the plight of the Palestinian people dispossessed by the Zionist colonizers, was their concern over the dramatic devaluation of the U.S. dollar against gold then underway. The brief withholding of oil from the world market enabled them to achieve a considerable rise in the U.S. dollar-denominated price of oil, more or less compensating for the dollar’s sharp decline against gold.
Whatever the real motives of the oil monarchies dominating OPEC in 1973, the episode did illustrate the potential leverage suppliers of oil have over the U.S. What would happen if the U.S. were in the future dependent on oil from a democratic united Arab republic that would include the oil-bearing lands now under control of the oil monarchies? Or even worse from the point of view of the supporters of U.S. imperialism, a future socialist united Arab republic?
Pipeline supporters argue that the Arabs are unreliable—who knows how long the “pro-Western” Arab oil monarchies will last—and “anti-American,” as are other potential suppliers from the “global south,” such as Venezuela. If, however, the U.S. produces its own energy-containing raw materials, either within the U.S. itself or in neighboring friendly Canada, the effects of the 1973 oil boycott could never be repeated. As a result of this energy independence, the U.S. would be greatly strengthened in its struggle to dominate the rest of the world.
Opponents of the XL pipeline include the environmental movement. Environmentalists rarely vote Republican, since the Republicans don’t even pretend to be concerned about the environment, but often support “pro-environment” Democrats. The most eloquent spokesperson for the concerns of the environmental movement is the NASA climate scientist James Hansen, who has become famous for his warnings about climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
Hansen writes in an article in the April 4, 2013, edition of the Los Angeles Times: “Researchers now say that the Alberta tar sands contain 360 to 510 billion tons of carbon—more than double that of all oil burned in human history. While only a fraction is considered economically recoverable right now, we humans are genius at finding new and better ways to dig junk out of the ground. Digging begets more digging. Once the big spigot is open, TransCanada will have every incentive to milk the massive tar sands basin for all it is worth.” Indeed, the logic of capitalism indicates that that will be the case.
For some time now, there has been a growing awareness of the global warming that Hansen has done so much to call attention to. (3) Starting 2,588,000 years ago, the Earth entered an era geologists call the Pleistocene. Compared to most of Earth’s history, the Pleistocene featured relatively low temperatures and considerable glaciation in polar regions and on high mountains. However, during the Pleistocene, the degree of glaciation varied between eras of glacial advance—sometimes called “ice ages”—and interglacial epochs.
At times, glaciers at sea level advanced as far south as New York City. At the height of the last glacial advance, or “ice age,” the area that is now New York City was buried under a kilometer or so of ice. Visitors to Manhattan’s famous Central Park can still see scratches on rocks that were created by the retreating ice sheet.
The most recent interglacial era began around 11,000 years ago. Perhaps reflecting human arrogance, the current period has been given the status of a geological era of its own, called the Holocene. However, until recently the Holocene has not been very different as far as climate is concerned than the typical Pleistocene interglacial. The biggest difference between the current interglacial and its predecessors was the extinction of large mammals called mega-fauna that occurred in Europe, Asia and North America at the beginning of the current Holocene era.
During the Pleistocene, North America was home to mastodon, close relative to the elephant; elephants themselves we call mammoths; the giant ground sloth, related to the present-day South American tree sloth but as big as a bear; camels and horses; huge wild dogs we call dire wolves that were considerably bigger than the surviving gray wolf (4), the largest surviving wild dog species; lions, not to be confused with today’s smaller mountain lions, which belong to another wing of the cat family; and saber-tooth tigers and hyenas. The cause of the dying off of the large mammals of Europe, Asia and North America at the beginning of the Holocene, and the possible role that humans may have played in these extinctions, are still debated by scientists.
The Holocene, though a wink of an eye in geological time, has been characterized by an unusually stable climate. Climate has fluctuated somewhat—for example, there was the medieval warm period that affected Europe and Greenland followed by a “little ice age” of cooler temperatures that lasted into the 19th century—but these were relatively minor fluctuations, though enough to cause considerable upheaval and extinctions among certain human communities.
For example, European settlements in Greenland during the medieval warm period disappeared when this era gave way to the “little ice age.” The entire period of human civilization has occurred within the current (relatively) stable climate of the Holocene era. In addition, the entire history of the human genus Homo (5)–humans broadly defined—fits inside the Pleistocene and its Holocene extension.
Scientists have discovered that the cold and warm eras in Earth history tend to coincide with the concentrations of “greenhouse” gases—especially carbon dioxide—in the atmosphere. Cool periods in Earth history, like the Pleistocene era, especially the eras of glacial advance within it, coincided with low levels of carbon dioxide, while warmer eras saw much higher concentrations.
Since the industrial revolution, which was powered by fossil fuel, began in the late 18th century, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been rising. According to Wikipedia, the present level of carbon dioxide “appears to be the highest in the past 800,000 years and likely the highest in the past 20 million years.” The implication is obvious. The Pleistocene-Holocene era is ending and will soon give way to a very different and much warmer global climate, the exact nature of which is unknown at this time. The climate is already noticeably changing and becoming less stable, with more droughts, flooding events, heat waves, and intense tropical cyclones, but this is only the beginning.
Polar ice around the North and South Poles and on mountains is already melting, and the sea level is rising. Africa’s highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro, is expected to lose its ice and snow cap within a few decades. Recent events like Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans, and Hurricane Sandy, which devastated large areas of New Jersey and New York City, foreshadow the coming flooding of low-lying coastal areas around the world.
The longer the world’s industries are powered by fossil fuel the more the emerging climate will deviate from that of the Pleistocene-Holocene era that we humans—defined broadly as all species of the genus Homo—have been accustomed to throughout our 2 million year history.
In time, if global warming continues, the U.S. state of Florida will disappear beneath the Atlantic Ocean. Climate zones will change radically as sub-tropical and tropical plants advance toward the polar regions, while temperate plants move still farther north or south towards the poles or higher up mountains—or face extinction. Arctic plants and animals like the polar bear will likely face extinction, since they will have nowhere to retreat to.
Inevitably, the already beginning upheaval in the plant world will mean an upheaval in the animal world—and humans are a type of animal, after all. Mass extinctions of both plants and animals seem likely. As a result, agriculture will face massive disruption, at least until (if and when) the climate again stabilizes. Capitalist anarchy is giving birth to a new terrifying phenomena, climatic anarchy.
What does all this have to do with the U.S. empire and the current dollar-centered international monetary system? Quite a lot, as we shall discover. To see why this is true, let’s first review basic facts in the rise of the U.S. empire that we have explored in detail elsewhere in this blog.
The U.S. world empire and fossil fuel
The U.S. world empire that resulted from World War II was based on the vast superiority of U.S. industry, established between the end of the U.S. Civil War and the beginning of World War I 100 years ago this year (2014). This global empire was greatly strengthened by the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union that began with the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev to power in the Soviet Union in 1985 and was completed by Boris Yeltsin in December 1991.
The U.S. industrial monopoly and the vast military power that it made possible enabled the U.S. to dictate the outcome of the international monetary conference held in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, in 1944. This conference laid the foundations of what was to become today’s U.S. dollar-dominated international monetary system. It was this conference that formally established the U.S. dollar’s role as the main reserve currency.
Keynes’s alternative proposal, which was rejected, called for a world central bank—on whose board of directors Britain would be represented—that would issue a global currency that Keynes proposed be called the bancor.
Instead, the world central bank that emerged out of Bretton Woods was the U.S. Federal Reserve System, and the currency it issues is called the U.S. dollar. In the early 1970s, this central banking system won the right to issue dollars as a purely token currency. (See here for a discussion of the difference between token and credit money.) This was accomplished with the assistance of the Arab oil monarchies that agreed to continue to quote the price of oil in dollars even after what was left of the U.S. dollar’s convertibility into gold was ended.
Since World War II, the law of uneven development of capitalism, which previously worked in favor of U.S. industry, has worked against it. After their economies recovered from the disaster of World War II, first Western European and then Japanese industry developed much faster than U.S. industry during the post-Depression, post-World War II “long boom.” However, the inherent danger to the U.S. empire from this development was held in check by the fact that Western Europe and Japan were, and remain, under effective U.S. military control.
In the case of Western Europe—and now Eastern Europe as well—this control is exercised through the NATO “alliance.” In the case of Japan, military control is exercised through a special “security treaty” that is, in effect, an extension of NATO. Europe is also greatly weakened by the lack of a unified central government—despite its common currency.
Europe is further weakened by its historical division into many, often mutually hostile, nations. If Europe were united, it would be a formidable rival to the U.S. empire. But today’s Europe, though a powerful economic competitor, is in military-political terms rendered impotent by its lack of unity and the presence of the U.S.-controlled NATO, which exercises a normally veiled, but very real, military dictatorship over it.
However, the rise of Chinese industry has created for the first time since the rise of the U.S. world empire a powerful center of industrial production that lies outside of the effective control of the U.S. military, even though China cannot escape the financial dictatorship of the U.S. dollar-dominated international monetary system.
Chinese independence from U.S. military control is a big problem for the U.S. empire. Not only is China independent from NATO and its Asian extension, but it would be virtually impossible for the U.S. to occupy that vast and populous country militarily, as the Japanese found out the hard way in the 1930s and 1940s when they tried to conquer an infinitely weaker pre-1949 China.
Every empire in history has experienced a relative—and often absolute—decline in its productive forces that preceded its eventual downfall. The most recent example was the industrial decay of Great Britain, already evident before the turn of the 20th century.
Today’s “de-industrialization” shows that the U.S. has not escaped the fate that has been the undoing of every “great” empire before it. Not only is de-industrialization undermining the basis for the virtual military dictatorship that the U.S. exercises over much of the world—ultimately military power is a function of the development of the productive forces, both absolutely and relative to potential victims and rivals—but it undermines the financial dictatorship the U.S. exercises through the dollar system as well.
U.S. policymakers are well aware of these dangers and are looking for ways to stave them off. For example, they are doing all they can to save the U.S. automobile industry. General Motors was virtually nationalized, if only temporarily, during the last economic crisis (2007-09). The U.S. is encouraging foreign automobile makers to build plants mostly in the non-union South.
The defeat of the United Automobile Workers’ effort to unionize a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee is part of the attempt to reverse, or at least halt, the de-industrialization of the U.S. by taking advantage of the non-union South. (6) And the recent passing of a “right-to-work” law in Michigan—home of the UAW, once the flagship union of the CIO—is part of a union-busting drive by the bosses to extend the union-free South throughout the United States.
However, in spite of these union-busting attempts at “re-industrialization,” the recovery of U.S. industry from the “Great Recession” has been very slow, and the manufacturing sector has yet to regain the level it reached on the eve of that crisis in 2007. Therefore, the leaders of U.S. imperialism are looking for other ways to stave off the threats to the U.S. global empire and its internal political stability caused by industrial decline.
An extremely dangerous development
One “solution” the U.S. rulers have found is extremely dangerous to every living thing on the planet. This is their attempt to make the U.S. the world’s leading carbon-based energy producer through the development of North America’s vast reserves of fossil fuel. In effect, the old U.S. industrial monopoly would be replaced by a new energy monopoly based on carbon-based fuel. This development further increases the already out-sized political power the U.S. fossil fuel industry has long exercised within the U.S. government.
This means that the U.S. empire’s material—profit–interests are more and more opposed to any shift away from dependency on carbon-based fossil fuels, whether toward nuclear power, on one side, or renewable energy sources, on the other, anywhere in the world. Combine this with the developing climate crisis that I examined above, and we all have a very, very big problem.
North American fossil fuel resources and the power of U.S. imperialism
Today, Washington is counting on the vast fossil fuel reserves of North America to counteract the still very large—if somewhat reduced—deficit since the Great Recession in the U.S. balance of trade and payments. In this way, U.S. policymakers hope to prop up the dollar-centered international monetary system. If the U.S. and its Canadian satellite become the chief suppliers of fossil fuel—oil, coal and natural gas—it becomes possible to support the living standard of a still relatively large middle class, which U.S. finance capital needs to maintain political stability at home.
This includes, among other things, preserving the Democratic-Republican two-party system. Essentially, the U.S. (and Canada) would be exchanging fossil fuel for consumer commodities that are produced by industrial capitalists who carry on their production elsewhere, increasingly in the “global south.”
To fully convey the implications of the attempt of U.S. imperialism to establish a new world monopoly of carbon-based fossil fuel production, we need to briefly examine the nature of three quite different countries—present-day Russia, the chief competitor of the U.S. when it comes to fossil fuel; Ukraine, where U.S. imperialism is trying to consolidate a coup government made up of neo-liberals and outright neo-nazis; and the U.S.’s North American neighbor, Canada, a key supplier to the U.S. of fossil fuel raw materials.
Oil, natural gas, and the nature of present-day Russia
Russia has emerged as the chief supplier of fossil fuel, largely in the form of natural gas, to the countries of Western Europe. As such, Russia is a major obstacle to the drive to establish a North American carbon-based energy monopoly.
The current crisis over Ukraine has raised the question of relations between Russia and the U.S. world empire to a level of acuteness that has not been seen since the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union began a quarter of a century ago. To understand this relationship, it is necessary to understand the nature of the present-day Russian Republic. This is a vast topic, so I will only say what is essential here.
The left is divided over the question of present-day Russia. As a rule, those on the left who consider the pre-Gorbachev Soviet Union as imperialist—essentially the supporters of the theory that the USSR was “state capitalist”–assume that today’s Russia is also imperialist. At most, the supporters of the theory of state capitalism see a shift from state capitalism before 1985 to a more traditional monopoly capitalism emerging from the Gorbachev-Yeltsin “reforms.”
The state-capitalist view of the Soviet Union is shared by two different traditions within the present-day left. One tradition descends from a section of the old “Trotskyist” movement associated with the late British Trotskyist Tony Cliff (1917-2000). Cliff developed the view that the Soviet Union took the road of state capitalism when the Stalin leadership launched the first five-year plan starting in 1928. This was despite the fact that Trotsky himself gave critical support to the left turn of the Stalin group in 1928—and even gave the Stalin group critical support in its struggle at that time against the right opposition led by Nikolai Bukharin.
The second state-capitalist tradition is associated with the followers of Mao Tse-tung (1893-1976) and Albania’s Enver Hoxha (1908-1985). Hoxha and his international supporters broke with Mao after Mao moved to establish friendly relations with the U.S. government and met with U.S. President Richard Nixon in Beijing in 1972. Despite their other differences, the “Maoists” and “Hoxhaists” agree that capitalism was restored in the Soviet Union in the form of state capitalism beginning with the 20th Party Congress, held in February 1956.
In the view of the Maoists and Hoxhaists, the adoption by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of a revisionist program at that party congress, combined with Nikita Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin at the same congress, kicked off a transition from socialism to state capitalism in the USSR. The state-capitalist USSR was, according to both the Maoists and Hoxhaists, a full-scale imperialist country.
I reject both these theories of state capitalism. While in my view there was a certain amount of capitalism—not state capitalism but de facto private capitalism—in the Soviet Union in the form of the growing “second economy” before 1985, it was limited by, among other things, the right of workers in the Soviet Union to a job. While the capitalism of the second economy formed an important part of the
base of the “reform current” that came to be represented by the middle 1980s by Mikhail Gorbachev within the CPSU, the restoration of capitalism on a large scale began in earnest in 1989.
Starting in 1989, the Gorbachev leadership began to dismantle the state monopoly of foreign trade and central planning, and started to tolerate “a little unemployment”–the separation of the working class from the means of production. This capitalist counterrevolution in what had been the USSR was completed by Boris Yeltsin—and by Yeltsin’s counterparts in the non-Russian former Soviet republics—with the massive privatization or shutting down of state-owned industries during the 1990s.
Those sectors of the left that support the state-capitalist theory—whether they date the establishment of state capitalism to 1928 under Stalin or to Khrushchev in 1956—tend to see present-day Russia as imperialist. After all, according to the state-capitalist view, the Soviet Union was imperialist under state capitalism and therefore Russia as the most powerful successor state of the USSR remains imperialist today under private monopoly capitalism.
Those on the left who reject the view that the pre-1985 USSR was not a workers’ or socialist state of any kind but state capitalist are more likely to see today’s Russia as a non-imperialist capitalist country, and—considering the designs of the U.S. world empire against it—as potentially an oppressed country. Present-day Russia, as is typical of colonial, semi-colonial or neo-colonial countries, is highly dependent on the exchange of its natural resources—most importantly fossil fuels, both oil and natural gas—for the consumer commodities enjoyed by capitalist Russia’s “more fortunate” citizens.
What is left of the conquests of the Russian Revolution?
As far as the socialist revolution is concerned what remains of the Russian Revolution are the memories of the accomplishments of the Soviet power. The capitalist media often complain about growing nostalgia for Soviet times.
But often overlooked is the fact that the October Revolution in addition to having been the first socialist revolution was also a great democratic revolution. Czarism and its feudal relations were completely uprooted, even more thoroughly than was the case with the Great French revolution of the 18th century.
It is the remaining democratic conquests of the Russian revolution that U.S. imperialism is determined to crush. Not to restore czarism or feudalism—that is impossible—but to completely crush the Russian nation and the other former Soviet nations, including Ukraine, and convert them into neo-colonies. (7)
A note on Ukraine
Ukraine is historically a separate nation from Russia. For most of its history, most but not all of Ukraine was ruled by the Czarist Empire. After the Russian Revolution, a civil war between “Reds” and “Whites” ended with a victory of the Reds and Ukraine joined the new Soviet federation that became the USSR. Western Ukraine, however, was ruled by Poland. Polish rule, which was carried out largely in the interest of Polish landowners who exploited Ukrainian peasants, was much resented by the local Ukrainian inhabitants.
In the early 1930s, the crisis over the collectivization of agriculture, itself rooted in the need of the Soviet Union to rapidly industrialize, was particularly severe in the Ukraine, because the Ukraine was the “black soil” or breadbasket of the USSR.
These events have been largely misrepresented by bourgeois historians and right-wing Ukrainian politicians, who claim that the collectivization campaign represented a virtual genocide of the Ukrainian people by the Soviet government.
What really happened was that a virtual civil war occurred throughout the USSR between rich peasants—who controlled the grain surplus that was necessary to finance the industrialization of the Soviet Union under the very difficult conditions of the capitalist super-crisis of 1929-33—and their supporters, on one side, and the workers and poor peasants, on the other. The capitalist super-crisis had caused the price of grain, the USSR’s main export, to drop dramatically against the price of industrial machinery that the USSR needed to import for its industrialization.
The Soviet Union’s ability to industrialize rapidly when the capitalist world was in a tailspin—made possible by the workers’ previous conquest of political power—showed the power of socialist planning and its superiority to capitalist anarchy.
However, there was a price to pay for this remarkable industrial progress that the Soviet Union was able to realize during the greatest global capitalist economic crisis in world history. That price fell disproportionately on the people of Ukraine through a severe famine that occurred in 1932-33 and caused many lives to be lost, the exact number of which is disputed. (8)
Ukraine acquired its current borders in 1939 as a result of the pact between Germany and the Soviet Union. Bourgeois historians speak about the partition of Poland between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. However, the parts of Poland that were annexed by the Soviet Union were not part of ethnic Poland but were inhabited largely by Ukrainians and to some extent Belorussians. This is why Ukrainian fascists attack in addition to Jews, the traditional scapegoat of European reaction, Poles as well.
Needless to say, this past misrule by Poland in the western areas of Ukraine in no way justifies the anti-Polish hatred being spread by Ukrainian fascists today. We must just as strongly condemn the anti-Polish agitation as we condemn the anti-semitic agitation of Ukrainian fascists.
In 1954, the Crimea, which includes the extremely strategic Russian naval base at Sevastopol, was transferred by the Soviet government from the federated Soviet Russian republic to the Soviet republic of Ukraine. Then, as a result of the right-wing coup that recently brought to power a coalition government of neo-liberals and neo-nazis in Kiev, the people of Crimea voted to secede from Ukraine and join the present-day Russian Federated Republic.
If the coup government in Kiev were to get control of the Russian naval base at Sevastopol, there is no doubt given this government’s utter dependence on Western imperialism that it would hand it over to NATO—in fact if not in name. This would deprive Russia of its only warm water port and access to the Mediterranean Sea. It would complete the process of making the Mediterranean a giant lake of the U.S. world empire, which includes Israel.
This would shift the balance of power not only against an already besieged Syria but also against the dispersed Palestinian people and against any Middle East country or people that might dare defy the U.S. world empire. This would be a blow not only against the oppressed countries and peoples of the Middle East but also against the world working class, since it would strengthen the hand of the U.S. world empire, the main enemy of the working class and oppressed peoples everywhere.
Today, both Russia and Ukraine are ruled by capitalist governments. Perhaps no former Soviet republic was harder hit than Ukraine by the restoration of capitalism in what had been the Soviet Union.
Many people on the left are concerned about the self-determination of the Ukrainian people. And well they should be. However, in my mind many are misinformed about where the real threat to Ukrainian self-determination is coming from. They seem to see that threat as coming from Russia when the real threat to Ukraine’s independence comes from Western imperialism organized by the U.S. world empire.
It was not the Russian Federated Republic that supported a coup that overthrew the elected Ukrainian government—corrupt though it was, just like all the other capitalist governments that rule in the former socialist countries are—but the imperialist West. This is admitted in its own way when the capitalist media refer to the new “pro-Western” government—that is, the puppet government of neo-liberals and neo-nazis.
The demonstrators in the Maidan (Independence Square) in Kiev never amounted to more than a few hundred thousand, at most, in a nation of 46 million people. Many who were shipped in from western Ukraine were right wing, and in many cases pro-fascist, a sentiment that for historical reasons is much stronger in that part of the country than is typical of Ukraine as a whole.
These “Ukrainian nationalists” have nothing whatsoever to do with the real revolutionary national liberation traditions of the Ukrainian people. As they themselves make no attempt to hide, they instead represent the traditions of those who out of their bourgeois class interests collaborated with Nazi Germany in its imperialist war of conquest that it waged against the Ukrainian people.
When a small number of Ukrainian leftists—inspired by the “far left” of Western Europe—tried to join these demonstrations, wrongly in my opinion, to express their solidarity and attempt to influence them, they were beaten up by the neo-nazis of the “Right Sector,” with at least the passive approval of the demonstrators as a whole. It is a great slander on the Ukrainian people to present this right-wing crowd as representative of the Ukrainian people as a whole.
Instead of supporting the “pro-Western” government of neo-liberals and neo-fascists in Kiev, we should in my opinion be supporting the industrial workers of the Ukraine—the real flower of the Ukraine people—who are organizing militia’s to fight against the attempt of the coup government in Kiev to extend its authority to the heavily industrialized and unionized areas of eastern Ukraine, the center of the Ukrainian workers’ movement.
If this struggle is victorious, it will hopefully lead to a rapid collapse of the coup government in Kiev as well—which could be the first step toward establishing a new workers’ government in Ukraine.
It is nowhere written that a “soviet” Ukraine—in the sense of a workers’ or workers’ and peasants’ government based on elected councils, like the original soviets of the Russian revolution, won’t be established in the Ukraine before the bourgeois tricolor that now flies over the Kremlin is replaced once again by the red flag of the working class.
Ukraine and fossil fuel
It is often said that when the U.S. government expresses great concern for “democracy” in a country–which in the case of Ukraine’s post-coup government happens to be a coalition of neo-liberals and neo-fascists—it usually turns out that the country is sitting on top of considerable amounts of oil or natural gas. But that can’t be the case with Ukraine can it? It isn’t located in Middle East, after all. Think again.
According to Lawrence Lewitinn, writing in the March 6 edition of the online publication Yahoo Finance, “Once known as the ‘Breadbasket of Russia,’ Ukraine is now also Russia’s fuel tank.” “Ukraine,” Lewitinn informs us, “sits on 39 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves. That’s about one-quarter the world’s entire proven reserves.”
The pipelines that supply Western Europe with natural gas run through Ukraine. Assuming that the control of the U.S. empire over Ukraine is consolidated—hopefully this will not happen—the U.S. through its puppets in Kiev could in the future cut off the flow of natural gas to Western Europe forcing Europe to depend on either oil or U.S.-produced natural gas transported in liquid form by ship to Europe.
The leverage that both Russia and Ukraine have in Western Europe would then be ended, and Western Europe’s subordination to the U.S. through NATO on one side and the dollar-centered international monetary system on the other would be greatly reinforced.
The nature of present-day Canada and its relationship with U.S. imperialism
Canada, like Russia, is a complex country, though it has a very different history. In my opinion, Canada, unlike Russia, is an imperialist country in its own right. The English-speaking Canadians oppress the French-speaking Quebecois. In addition, white Canadians in general oppress the native peoples, which include the Inuits and other native American peoples—the so-called Indians.
Equally important, the white English-speaking Canadians enjoy on average a standard of living comparable to that of the people of the U.S. and Western Europe, which is far higher than other subjects of capital enjoy in the rest of the world, including the working class and even the middle class of present-day Russia. In regard to its standard of living, today’s Russia, despite its geographical location, is more comparable to some of the countries of the “global south” than those of the real imperialist countries.
Originally, Canada was a “white colony” of Britain—like the U.S. itself was before the more southerly located English colonies decided to take the road of independence and became the United States—and some quaint legal vestiges of this relationship still exist. Canada still has a governor-general appointed from London, and Queen Elizabeth II is the official Canadian head of state. The image of the British monarch still appears on the Canadian currency.
However, as the U.S. emerged as the main center of world industrial production and replaced Britain as the world’s leading imperialist power, Canada inevitably slipped from the British orbit into the U.S. orbit. In the 1920s and 30s, the U.S. had contingency plans to invade and occupy Canada in the event of war with Great Britain, which was not considered unthinkable at the time. Today, the imbalance between Canada’s military power and the military power of the U.S. makes it virtually impossible for Canada to defy the U.S. on any vital issue.
For example, Canada is not allowed under international non-proliferation agreements to have nuclear weapons. In the unlikely event that Canada defied the power of the U.S. on what U.S. leaders considered a vital issue, the Pentagon could dust off its old contingency plans to militarily seize Canada.
Canada, which is also a member of NATO, is even more tightly bound to the U.S. than Europe, Japan or the Middle Eastern oil monarchies are. In the unlikely event of a war between the U.S. and Canada, the U.S. supply lines would be much shorter than would be the case in the event of a war between the U.S. and all or some of its present European “allies,” Japan, or the countries of the Middle East.
U.S. and Canada as high-cost fossil fuel producers
After 1970, the U.S. fossil fuel industry—coal, natural gas and oil—began a long decline. The development of Middle Eastern oil reserves combined with the growing importance of the USSR as an oil producer increasingly pushed U.S. fossil fuel out of the world market, including the U.S. domestic market. This is not because the U.S. and Canada were not known even then to have vast reserves of fossil fuel. But these energy-producing raw materials were more expensive to extract and refine than those of the Middle East. Ultimately, this meant that it took a greater amount of human labor to produce a given amount of energy-containing raw material than was the case with oil produced in the Middle Eastern countries.
But in recent years, the price of oil has been stubbornly high. Recently, “sweet” crude oil has been selling at around $100 per barrel. These high fuel prices may reflect the weakness of the dollar and more recently the chaos in Libya that has greatly reduced exports from that oil-rich country. Interestingly enough, last year’s sharp fall in the dollar price of gold failed to lower the dollar price of oil. In terms of gold, the price of sweet oil rose substantially last year. The growing depletion of cheap sweet oil—but not more costly forms of dirty, even more carbon dioxide-rich, heavy oil—is the background factor that is driving up oil prices over the long run.
This doesn’t mean that low-cost sources of oil located in the Middle East are already depleted. This will eventually happen, though we aren’t there yet. But the low-cost oil from the Middle East is increasingly insufficient to meet the world’s growing demand for energy. In terms of value and rent theory, it is the highest-cost producers, able to sell their total output at its individual price of production, and not the lower-cost producers, able to sell their total output at prices above their individual prices of production, that determine the market price. (9)
It was exactly this point that correspondents Dmitry Zhannikov and Christopher Johnson made in a May 14, 2013, Reuters article. They explain that the International Energy Agency believes, “Rising U.S. shale oil production will help meet most of the world’s new oil demand in the next five years, even if [they should have said, “especially if”—SW] the global economy picks up steam.” That is, they write, assuming the current high price for fossil fuel continues and global demand were “to rise 8 percent on aggregate between 2012 and 2018 to reach 96.7 million barrels per day (bpd) based on a fairly optimistic assumption by the International Monetary Fund of 3 to 4.5 percent global economic growth a year during the period.”
Of course, the IMF growth projections are probably too optimistic—they almost always are—since 2017 will be the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the last crisis, and assuming a 10-year industrial cycle, a new global recession will be “due” around 2017-2018. However, these facts do not negate their basic argument.
The oil monarchies of the Middle East will, perhaps outside periods of violent crisis or deep depression, be increasingly unable to fully meet the world’s growing demand for energy at their individual prices of production. This enables the high-cost carbon-based fossil fuel producers of North America to once again compete on a profitable basis in the world market. The individual prices of production of U.S. and Canadian carbon-based energy capitalists will increasingly determine the market price of carbon fuels.
Fracking and natural gas
In recent years, as energy prices have remained high, the U.S. natural gas industry has found a way of producing cheap natural gas by “hydraulic fracking.” Water mixed with other chemicals is injected into the ground under high pressure, which helps release natural gas—methane—that is intercepted and later burned as a fuel. Fracking, however, threatens to pollute reservoirs, and especially when carried out by private for-profit companies, it involves the danger of ground water pollution. Natural gas is mostly made up of methane. Burning methane does have the advantage that it releases less carbon dioxide than burning other fossil fuels. So in that sense, it is a relatively clean fuel.
If, however, there is any accidental release of natural gas (methane)–and accidents do happen—into the atmosphere, global warming will be accelerated. Methane is a far stronger “greenhouse gas” than carbon dioxide is. Indeed, some scientists believe that a massive release of methane some 250 million years ago from the Earth’s crust into the atmosphere caused the greatest known extinction event in the history of life on Earth.
According to Wikipedia: That event was “Earth’s most severe known extinction event, with up to 96% of all marine species and 70% of terrestrial vertebrate species becoming extinct. It is the only known mass extinction of insects. Some 57% of all families and 83% of all genera became extinct. Because so much biodiversity was lost, the recovery of life on Earth took significantly longer than after any other extinction event, possibly up to 10 million years.”
This extinction event dwarfs the more well-known extinction of non-avian (10) dinosaurs and many other animals and plants, which is believed to have been caused by an asteroid that crashed into the Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago. In other words, natural gas is a very dangerous thing to allow profit-driven capitalists to fool around with.
U.S.-Canada, Russia and Saudi Arabia
In an article entitled “U.S. Is Overtaking Russia as Largest Oil-and-Gas Producer,” which appeared in the October 3, 2013, edition of the Wall Street Journal, Russell Gold and Daniel Gilbert write: “U.S. energy output has been surging in recent years, a comeback fueled by shale-rock formations of oil and natural gas that was unimaginable a decade ago. A Wall Street Journal analysis of global data shows that the U.S. is on track to pass Russia as the world’s largest producer of oil and gas combined this year—if it hasn’t already.”
“U.S. imports of natural gas and crude oil,” Gold and Gilbert write, “have fallen 32% and 15%, respectively, in the past five years, narrowing the U.S. trade deficit.” This narrowing of the trade deficit strengthens the U.S. dollar, as we noted above, and props up the dollar system.
As far as natural gas alone is concerned, the U.S. and Russia, not Saudi Arabia, are the dominant producers. If we are to believe Gold and Gilbert, the U.S. pumped more natural gas in 2012 than Russia did for the first time since 1982. When it comes to crude oil proper, Saudi Arabia still leads the pack, with Russia second and the U.S. third.
Gold and Gilbert continue: “Saudi Arabia remains the world’s largest supplier of crude oil and related liquids. As of July, Saudi Arabia was pumping 11.7 million barrels a day, according to the IEA. Russia was second, at 10.8 million barrels, while the U.S. was third, at 10.3 million.” If Russia emerges weakened from the current crisis in Ukraine, it could lose further ground to the U.S. in the production of both crude oil and natural gas.
Russia has its own shale oil deposits that would enable it to give the U.S. a run for its money when it comes to the production of natural gas, but again, any weakening of Russia economically and financially as a result of the Ukrainian crisis would help cement U.S. domination of the world natural gas market.
Only world socialism can solve the energy/climate-change crisis. More precisely, only a worldwide planned economy of the associated producers, allied with the full powers of natural science and engineering, will make a solution possible. If this crisis is not solved, modern society is doomed. The best we could look forward to then would be a new Dark Age. The worst would be the extinction of our species, along with many other life forms.
First, therefore, we have to defend the right of oppressed countries like Iran to develop its own nuclear power as part of the struggle against the U.S. world empire—which includes all the imperialists—our main enemy.
Nuclear power based on nuclear fission contains its own dangers as the events Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima show all too well. But I suspect that when the U.S. attempts to deny Iran’s right to develop its nuclear energy on the pretext of preventing it from acquiring its own nuclear deterrent—which, considering what happened to Iran’s neighbor, has that right—that is not the whole story. Just as important is the growing interest of the U.S. world empire in keeping Iran and the world as a whole dependent on carbon-based fossil fuel as its prime energy source.
As the U.S. and Canada develop their increasingly profitable fossil fuel industry, whether natural gas or shale oil, and as a consequence the U.S. balance of payments becomes increasingly dependent on selling carbon-based energy products, the stronger becomes the interest of the U.S. world empire in keeping the world dependent on carbon-based energy.
This makes all the more critical efforts to re-invigorate the struggle for global socialism, which has been largely side-tracked over the last quarter of a century by the counterrevolutions in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The crisis in Ukraine and the growing threat of war between the U.S. world empire and Russia that it involves is the strongest demonstration so far of the utter bankruptcy of the Gorbachev-Yeltsin “Great Leap Backwards.” (11) If this re-invigoration is not achieved, the energy/climate crisis cannot be solved, and it is only a matter of time before modern society falls—either because of a new world war that escalates into a nuclear war or by unchecked global warming.
The rising fascist threat
A terrifying aspect of the current Ukrainian crisis is the role of out-and-out fascist elements. The neo-liberals have little support even among the reactionary supporters of the “Euro-Maidan” movement. That is why the imperialists need the aid of the fascists in Ukraine at this time.
A general pattern is becoming visible. At least in the formal sense, bourgeois democracy replaced Soviet power in the Ukraine starting in 1991. Much of the “middle class” had disliked Soviet rule and yearned for a political and economic system like the one they imagined existed in the West. They expected that once the Communists were overthrown, their economic position would greatly improve under “Western-style democracy.” They expected that as citizens of a Ukrainian “white civilized European country” they would now enjoy “the good life” they imagined their Western counterparts enjoyed.
Fascism is always a movement of young people. A section of the middle-class youth, especially since the crisis of 2008, which hit Ukraine hard, unable in a period of intense world reaction to break with their parents’ reactionary values, has radicalized and turned against democracy, which to them has only meant corruption, rule by “oligarchs”—capitalists to give them their true name—and the destruction of opportunities that would have existed for them if Soviet power had not been overthrown. Their radicalization, then, is not to the left but to the right—a rejection of “Western style” bourgeois democracy in favor of fascism.
The situation is most extreme and dangerous in Ukraine at the moment, where fascists are reaching out for state power. But the trend is visible in all European countries, including the countries of Western Europe—and in the United States as well.
We have here an echo of what happened in Europe in the 1930s, when a terrible economic crisis gave rise to the Nazi movement led by Adolf Hitler—a movement after coming to power in Germany that was encouraged by the “democratic imperialists” through their “appeasement” policies to smash the workers’ movement and weaken the Soviet Union. The aim of the Western imperialists is now to complete the counter-revolution of a quarter century ago.
If a fascist dictatorship is consolidated in Ukraine, it will be a terrible thing. But in and of itself it won’t produce a full-scale Hitler. Ukraine is not an imperialist country and does not provide the economic base for a real Hitler. To embark on a campaign of conquest in the modern world, you need an imperialist economy.
But a fascist victory in Ukraine would embolden the Golden Dawn party in Greece, and, perhaps in the wake of an even more severe version of the “Great Recession,” the fascists of Germany, France and the United States—that is, in the imperialist countries that do have the economic potential to support a new Hitler.
As a step toward reviving the workers’ movement and fighting the new wave of fascism born of the secular stagnation arising out of the crisis of 2007-09, a revival of the anti-war movement is urgent. We in the West should say no to the current anti-Russia hysteria.
No war with Russia that could lead to a new nuclear world war! No war for oil and natural gas, not in the Middle East nor in Ukraine! No to the Keystone XL pipeline! Solidarity with the Ukrainian workers who are fighting the coup government and the fascists in Kiev! U.S. hands off Ukraine! The main enemy is at home!
Published March 23, 2014
1 Why the U.S. State Department, which functions as the U.S. ministry of foreign affairs and employs diplomats and spies, is given responsibility for determining how the proposed pipeline will affect the climate rather than an agency like NASA, which employs many knowledgeable scientists, is itself an interesting question. (back)
2 In 1973, Egyptian President Anwar El-Sadat planned to break off the friendly relations his popular predecessor, Gamal Abdel Nasser, had established with the Soviet Union and other socialist countries and ally himself with the West. Sadat knew, however, that this would be a highly unpopular move among the Egyptian people. The ruler of the West, the U.S., had after World War II encouraged the Zionist settlers in Palestine to drive out the indigenous Arab population and declare their “independence.” In addition, the West in the form of the British Empire had brutally oppressed Egypt itself.
In order to accumulate political capital that he would spend carrying out his planned realignment, Sadat in 1973 ordered an attack on Israeli positions on the east bank of the Suez Canal. The Egyptian forces scored some initial victories before the overwhelming technological superiority of the Israeli “white colony,” armed to the teeth by the United States, turned the tide of battle.
This attack is called in the West the “Yom Kippur war,” because Sadat to gain an element of surprise took advantage of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. This is the only case in all the wars between Israel and its Arab neighbors where the Israelis didn’t fire the first shot. However, since Israel was occupying Egyptian land and is nothing but a “white” colonial outpost of imperialism based on the dispossession of the native Palestinian Arab population, the Egyptians were well within their rights to act as they did. They were in no sense aggressors.
In response, the Arab nations, including the oil monarchies, declared a boycott of the U.S., though it ended after only a few months. The result was a short-lived shortage of gasoline in the U.S. with long lines at the pumps, followed by a sharp rise in the price of oil and gasoline in U.S. dollar terms, which more or less made up for the dramatic devaluation of the U.S. dollar against gold then underway.
However, the willingness of the Arab oil monarchies to continue to quote oil in terms of U.S. dollars rather than in gold, which would have been more logical once the U.S. dollar was converted into purely paper—token—money as opposed to credit money, played a key role in making possible the conversion of the Bretton Woods gold-dollar exchange standard into the dollar standard that forms the present-day financial underpinning of the U.S. world empire.
Sadat then used the popularity he gained among the Egyptian people from his apparent defiance of Israel to align himself with the United States in exchange for Israel returning the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. As part of this agreement, he recognized Israel and ended up one of most hated men in Egyptian history—though he was widely lauded in the West as “the man who negotiated peace with Israel.” (back)
3 The extremely cold weather that has affected the eastern and mid-western part of the U.S. this winter in no way contradicts the fact of global warming, despite claims by right-wing politicians to the contrary. Since last fall, a deep trough of low pressure has persisted in the eastern U.S., matched by an even more stubborn ridge of high pressure in the western U.S. The result has been, except for a brief period in early December, an almost complete absence of the normal winter cold in the western United States, accompanied by extreme drought, especially in California, which experienced its warmest winter since records have been kept. This is exactly the kind of extreme weather event that climate experts expect as global warming begins to take us out of the Holocene geological era.
Taking the global average—between areas experiencing below-normal temperatures and areas having above-normal levels—the global weather this Northern Hemisphere winter was definitely warmer than the winters of the 20th century. (back)
4 The domestic dog is a descendant of grey wolves—Canis Lupus—which learned to co-exist with humans thousands of years ago. (back)
5 Scientists don’t agree on how many species of Homo—humans—have existed over the last 2 million years. Early humans who lived from a million years ago to almost 2 million years are generally grouped into the species Homo erectus (erect human)—though some scientists split off Homo erectus into the African Homo egaster (working human) and use Homo erectus as the species name only for the earliest east Asian humans.
Beyond that, there is virtually no agreement on how many human species have existed over the last 2 million years. For example, some scientists treat the Neanderthals, who lived in Europe and southwestern Asia between 200,000 to about 40,000 years ago, as a separate human species, while others see the Neanderthals as simply a sub-species of our own Homo sapien species.
However, all scientists group all living people without exception in the same species sapians and into the same sub-species, also called sapians. If, however, we don’t solve the problem of global warming, our self-designated species and sub-species name sapians, which means “wise,” will be ironic indeed. (back)
6 Much of the bosses’ media claimed that the German Volkswagen company was really on the side of the union. Under the German “co-determination” system, unions are represented on corporate boards. So, the argument goes, Volkswagen is a nice social-democratic kind of company that unlike U.S. companies really likes unions.
Anyone who understands Marx’s concept of surplus value, however, should be skeptical about such claims. The fact is that the bosses can squeeze the most surplus value—unpaid labor time—out of the workers when the workers are unorganized. More surplus value means higher profits. Volkswagen as a capitalist company is no exception to this basic law of economics.
The claim that Volkswagen is a nice “social-democratic” company is all the more ironic because Volkswagen began as a project of the Hitler government. German workers paid into a fund that was supposed to enable them to obtain the “Peoples car”–Volkswagen in German. In the Third Reich, no real unions—only the Nazi party-controlled “German Labor Front”–were allowed to exist. The money collected for the “Peoples car” was then used to finance the German war machine in World War II.
The “People’s car,” though designed in the Third Reich—the famous “Volkswagen bug”—only appeared after Germany’s defeat in World War II. Eventually, these “People’s cars” became popular worldwide, including in the U.S., and Volkswagen became a highly profitable private German auto company. To be just to Hitler, a strong case can be made that “Volkswagen” should be renamed “Hitlerwagen” in honor of the man who inspired it, but then again that would be rather bad for sales considering the Fuhrer’s present-day reputation. (back)
7 It can be argued that virtually all the “major” countries that were oppressed by the old czarist empire—for example, Finland and Poland—have now won complete independence from Russia—though not independence from the U.S. world empire. But Russia oppresses many smaller peoples, especially in the transcaucasian region. No doubt the national question in present-day Russia is a complex one.
In reality, national oppression, just like other forms of oppression, is often hierarchical. For example, nobody doubts that Nicaragua is a poor and oppressed non-imperialist capitalist country. However, there was friction between the Nicaraguans proper and the Miskito Indians, the indigenous people of that country. Imperialism and the “contras” took full advantage of this situation during their war against the democratic Sandinista revolution of the 1980s in order to undermine Nicaragua’s struggle to establish its democratic independence—and not without a certain success.
Similarly, we have the relationships between Syria and Iran, two obvious non-imperialist capitalist countries, and the Kurdish population. The U.S. imperialists have also taken full advantage of the problems between Syrians, Iranians and the Kurds in order to undermine these two oppressed non-imperialist countries—also not without some success.
We could also mention the complex relations between the Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo, though neither Serbia or Albania is a remotely “imperialist” country. (back)
8 Many on the left assume that the extreme right anti-communist sentiment that exists among a section of the Ukraine population today stems from a reaction to the Stalin-led forced—meaning that the principle that collectivization of agriculture should be voluntary, a principle that was often violated in the 1929-33 collectivization drive, especially in Ukraine—collectivization campaign.
While this sounds plausible at first glance, it does not explain why the center of extreme right-wing sentiments in Ukraine is in the western province of Galicia, which was not affected by the excesses of the Stalin-led collectivization drive. Galicia was not ruled by the Soviet Union but by Poland and was therefore not directly affected by the 1929-33 collectivization.
The origins of the strong extreme-right sentiments held by many people—not all, of course—in this region has to lie elsewhere, perhaps in the fact that this province was ruled by Austria, as opposed to czarist Russia, before World War I. If a reader with real knowledge of Ukrainian, Russian or Austrian history has some ideas about this, a comment would be most appreciated. (back)
9 For readers interested in this question, I recommend reading the section on ground rent found in Volume III of Marx’s “Capital,” though Marx dealt with ground rent mostly in agriculture. Marx, while generally using agricultural examples, shed much light on the situation that prevails in the production of energy-containing raw materials—fossil fuels—as well. (back)
10 In recent decades, scientists have come to realize that birds are biologically a type of dinosaur. So strictly speaking, dinosaurs are not extinct, only those that do not belong to the bird family are—which include the famous gigantic species and the huge predators that fed on them such a T. Rex that so fascinate children—and some of us grownups as well. (back)
11 I remember that ex-Soviet Russian supporters of Gorbachev’s “perestroika” and Yeltsin’s “post-perestroika” policies explained that the Gorbachev-Yeltsin policy of surrender to U.S. imperialism was necessary because this was the only way to prevent a nuclear war. After all, didn’t all people regardless of class share a universal interest in avoiding a nuclear war?
But since the present-day bourgeois Russian republic is far weaker than the Soviet Union was, the only result was to make the U.S. world empire even more aggressive, including against Russia itself. Could the current crisis in Ukraine and Crimea have occurred when the USSR still existed? In reality, the danger of a shooting war between Russia and the U.S. world empire—which includes the danger of such a shooting war turning into a nuclear war—is far greater than a war between the USSR and the U.S. world empire ever was. (back)