Colonial Latin America (Louis)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Jun 12 07:59:51 MDT 2001

Julio Huato:
>Let me suggest the following mental experiment.  If 'Third World' oil
>production disappeared tomorrow, that would cause a big, lasting mess in the
>rich countries.  But, eventually, these countries would adapt, substituting
>for oil with alternative technologies, reconverting their industries.  Stuff
>is stuff.  It's human labor (which, in our times, means mainly and
>increasingly human knowledge) which turns raw stuff into useful stuff.
>That's the ABC of political economy.  Productivity and not natural resources
>is the key.

I have gotten used to Julio's basic approach by now, but every so often he
writes something that really makes me sit up and take notice. In the above
paragraph, the problem is framed in terms of the adjustments that
imperialist countries make. If oil disappears, they will use other forms of
energy. Leaving aside the question of whether this is actually feasible
(and of course Mark Jones will have his own thoughts on this matter), it
begs the question of resource depletion in the neocolonies. Not only did I
post an article on Ecuador that explains how oil drilling has brought no
benefits to the country and will leave the country worse off than when it
began, I also posted another article from the BBC that makes the case that
resource depletion has to be factored into any discussion of capitalist
'progress' in the 3rd world. By stating that "stuff is stuff," not only
does Julio ignore the question of ecological imperialism, it also does not
do justice to Marx's own interest in nature and non-renewable resources.


P. Keleman cites the difference between descriptions of the Tigre province
in Ethiopia in 1901 and 1985 as recounted by two travelers. In 1901, the
first observes "The environs of Adowa are most fertile, and in the heights
of its commercial prosperity the whole of the valleys and the lower slopes
of the mountains were one vast grain field, and not only Adowa, but the
surrounding villages carried a very large, contented and prosperous
population. The neighboring mountains are still well wooded. The numerous
springs, brooks, and small rivers give an ample support of good water for
domestic and irrigation purposes, and the water meadows always produce an
inexhaustible supply of good grass the whole year round."

Then, in 1985, another traveler says "Shortly before I left Ethiopia I flew
over large tracts of the desiccated provinces of Tigre and Wollo. For hours
the picture below was unchanging: plains which formerly were described as
the breadbasket of the north were covered in rolling mist of what was once
fertile top soil; eddies of spiraling dust rose in the whirlwinds hundreds
of feet into the air, stony river beds at the bottom of gorges a thousand
feet deep showed not a sigh of water or new vegetation; and the grazing
land at the top of the plateaux which the dried-out rivers dissected were
as bald and brown as old felt."

What changed in Ethiopia? Did the people stop worshipping Gaia?

No, Ethiopia was brought into the colonial orbit. Land began to be used for
the export of cash crops. The peasantry was driven off the land and
communal property relations were abolished. Instead of being in trust for
future generations, the land was viewed as just one more resource to be

Louis Proyect
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