Colonial Latin America (Louis & Mark)

Julio Huato juliohuato at
Wed Jun 13 07:47:01 MDT 2001

In a previous posting, I criticized the claim that modern capitalism is
necessarily driven to imperialism because of the need to secure natural
resources abroad.  There are many reasons why this view is flawed.  It
assumes that capitalism cannot handle its demand for natural resources
mainly by means of 'regular' trade.  That if it were to abandon threats and
force to secure them, it would collapse.  This view also exaggerates the
role foreign natural resources play in the dynamics of rich economies.  This
way of reasoning turns the availability of foreign natural resources into
the main concern of capitalist production in rich countries.  Etc.

I decided to show the flaw of this argument by resorting to a mental
experiment.  Imagine, I said, that the 'Third World' oil supply ceases.
Rich countries are left to their own means as far as oil is concerned.  What
will happen then?  Will capitalism collapse in the rich countries?

My mental experiment disturbed a couple of readers who, seemingly, can't
stand any sort of speculative exercise.  I guess that conspires against the
supposedly practical, revolutionary approach they are trying to enforce in
the list.  Yet it is important to discuss logical approaches as they apply
to understanding relevant social issues.  I knew that by defending my
infamous 'mental experiment' I'd be sidetracked.  Still, I claim that my
speculative exercise is not absurd.

The fact is that, due to environmental concerns or oil finitude or both, the
issue has some likelihood of becoming a problem in the rich countries and in
the whole world.  Whatever the reasons, there have been recent increases in
oil prices.  So, thinking about this scenario can't be so idle.  I cannot
claim expertise in energy matters, but flaws in a reasoning can be spotted
with a bit of logic.

Consider the following remarks by Mark:

>Julio, this has been so widely debated that I can't believe anyone wants to
>hear it again here.

He can't believe he's dealing with people who haven't read all he has read.
Well, it'd be nice if he could just get off the horse and share his wisdom.

>(a) There are no substitutes for fossil fuels which
>allow business to go on as usual. Renewables are not substitutes.

Renewables are not substitutes.  What are they then?  Complements?  Neither
nor?  IMO, if there are two different methods of producing similar
electricity, they are substitutes for each other.  Renewables are also
sources of power.  Therefore, they are substitutes.

But ignore that.  Say Mark is right: renewables are not substitutes.  Go
back to the first sentence.  There is a key phrase there: 'business as
usual'.  What does Mark mean?  Obviously, current production and consumption
technology is geared towards the use of massive amounts of fossil fuels.
Switching to other sources of energy entails a dramatic technical change.
The issue is whether, conceivably, capitalism can accommodate such large
technical re-conversion without sacrifice of its fundamental economic

IMO, capitalism can accommodate virtually any technical challenge.  There
was already an oil crisis in the 1970's.  What's the historical experience?
Does that give us a clue as to how capitalist production and consumption
adjusts when the price of a widely used material increases substantially?  I
think it does.

IMO, the only and ultimate challenge that capitalism cannot accommodate is
social -- it is the organized, conscious struggle of direct producers
against it.  Malthusian and Ricardian limits to growth are not sufficient to
abolish capitalism.  While we have to be very cautious about the mounting
evidence regarding environmental dangers, the historical resilience of
capitalist production has been so amply demonstrated to underestimate it.

>(b) oil
>and natural gas are in shorter supply than is generally realised.

Say it is so.  That's my point.  If oil and natural gas are limited,
switching to other sources of energy is called for.  Are you saying that
capitalism in the rich countries cannot survive these shortages?

>(c) This
>is a serious problem for capitalism and also for the rest of us. Do a
>search. Start with Colin Campbell. Go on from there (there will be a lot to

Actually I did read some of Campbell's writings, particularly the 1997
article in Scientific American.  His claim is that oil will be in short
supply, production costs will increase substantially, and an oil crisis will
hit us early this century.  (Is this it?)  As Mark says, the issue is
debated.  But if Campbell and others who share his views are right, their
suggestion is to reconvert.  If I remember correctly, there's nothing in
Campbell's views that imply that capitalism in the rich countries is unable
to cope with the crisis.  He just implies that it will be painful.  He
doesn't claim that re-conversion is impossible.

>A more clever attitude than this fatalism would be to take the problem
>seriously now and prioritise it while there is still time. But that would
>require a different kind of politics from yours, which are about 80 years
>out of date and are based on a social democratic meliorism which didn't
>even in well-endowed imperialist metropoles like Britain. Far from realism,
>what you show is defeatism in practice. You are a lamb trying to have a
>rational discussion with wolves about such things as 'decency' and 'our
>common concerns'.

IMO, this is THE interesting discussion.  What's the kind of politics
required in our times?  I'm not fatalistic.  On the contrary, as I said, I'm
a historical optimist.  I've been trying to persuade readers in this list
that we need to open our minds to 'new' strategies for the communist
movement.  I've been striving to show that keeping anti-imperialism as the
core of the communist strategy is likely to continue downgrading the
movement.  Mark is sure that my proposals are 80-years out of date.  So I
hope he helps us figure things out.  If he limits his patronizing remarks,
we may all benefit more from the discussion.
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