No blood for oil?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Feb 20 07:32:23 MST 2003

(This just appeared on Jerry Levy's OPE-List. Caffentzis is associated
with The Commoner at, which can be described
as a somewhat autonomist-leaning journal as far as I can tell. I have to
add that he and his associate Silvia Federici disavowed any autonomist
ties when I raised that question at a Brecht Forum talk they gave on the
Zapatistas a couple of years ago. Although I am not sure it was intended
as such, it appears to be a useful rejoinder to a Cyrus Bina piece that
also appeared on Levy's list at: Bina
argues that "The US war posture cannot be attributed to oil." Since
Caffentzis's article is too long to post to the list, I am including the
first few paragraphs and encourage you to read the whole thing at:

Not Just Blood for Oil: The Political Economy of the War on Iraq

a talk given by George Caffentzis at ABC No Rio (NYC) on February 18, 2003

Send comments/criticisms to caffentz at

After Saturday's gigantic world-wide show of popular will, the anti-war
movement can claim to have put a new player in the field beside the
miserable protagonists of the Iraq/US war: Bush and Hussein. This figure
is the refuser of a war with a banner on which a shibboleth is written:
"No Blood for Oil." Who is this person? What does the banner mean? What
will we do on the basis of it?

In this discussion I want to make some elementary reflections on this
shibboleth and see what future the protester is pointing to. I will do
this by reading the slogan on four different levels, each more general
than the previous one.

Level 1. No Blood for Oil, literally

We should not be reductive nor jump to conclusions, but there is plenty
of evidence to show that the Bush Administration is planning war as a
way to plunder the oil fields of Iraq.

It is widely known that Iraq's presently known oil reserve of more than
a 100 billion barrels is the second largest on the planet and that "the
undiscovered oil in the Middle East [including Iraq] is very likely the
largest untapped supply in the world." As a retired petroleum geologist
unequivocally answered when asked about whether Iraq or Iran had more
untapped oil: "[I]t's Iraq. We plugged and abandoned any well that
wouldn't make 5.000 barrels a day. Threw'em back in the water." Iraq's
oil reserve is worth potentially more than three trillion dollars at
current prices. Moreover, Iraqi oil is very inexpensive to produce and
is one of the world's "sweetest," i.e., it produces fewer pollutants on

At the moment however, even though the US government and corporations
import 2.3% of their total oil from Iraq (US News and World Report,
February 17, 2003: 36), US based oil companies cannot directly profit
from oil production there. In fact, the Saddam Hussein regime has made a
number of important agreements with French, Russian and Chinese oil
firms assuring them of very attractive deals in oil production once the
sanctions are ended. The British and US firms, however, have been given
clear notice that they will not be welcome in a post-sanctions era, if
Saddam Hussein and/or the Ba'ath Party remains in power.

Therefore, the only way for the US (and British) oil companies to gain
profitable direct access to Iraqi oil is through a war that would
violently and irrevocably end the Hussein/Ba'ath Party rule and bring in
a new government that could cancel the deals with the French, Russian
and Chinese companies. That is why the first objective of the US
military is to secure the oil fields in an invasion of Iraq. Further,
the US government assumes that its troops will occupy the country for
many years and will have a general as a military governor, in the style
of Douglas MacArthur in post-WWII Japan. This governor will be paying
for the occupation with the sales of Iraqi oil.

Anyone familiar with the oil industry-connected backgrounds of key
figures in the Bush Administration, starting with George Bush himself,
should not be surprised by this plan of plunder that the "No War for
Oil" slogan reveals and protests. The US oil corporations (including
Haliburton, VP Chaney's former company) would definitely find the
opportunities of "rebuilding" the Iraqi oil industry destroyed by US
bombs and/or Hussein's "scorched oil" tactics a bonanza.

Such a blatant plan of theft and plunder can only be accomplished by
military means. The consequences for the Iraqi people will be
devastating, even if the invasion is relatively swift. For the
subsequent struggles among Iraqis and against the US occupiers will be
bloody indeed.

The slogan "No Blood for Oil" on this level rejects the obvious gangster
behavior the Bush Administration (and the Blair echo) with brevity and
justice. S/he who affirms it wants to stop this act of brigandage pure
and simple and treats Bush's and Blair's "high-minded" (and poorly
crafted) rationalizations for invasion as crude, shameful parodies of
justice. Surely, s/he will brand any oil company that profits from such
an adventure a criminal and boycott its tainted products.

Level 2: No Blood for Privatization of Oil Resources

Though plunder is definitely part of the Bush Administration's plan
there are other more global issues suggested by the slogan. For the US
has been the leader in imposing neoliberal/globalization policies around
the planet. Thousands of nationalized companies and agencies have been
privatized due to structural adjustment programs imposed by the World
Bank and IMF while many forms of "restraints to trade" (including "price
fixing" cartels) have been abolished by the international trade
agreements now coordinated by the WTO. The US government, not
surprisingly, is the dominant partner in the World Bank, the IMF and the

One commodity after another has been "neoliberalized," but oil has
escaped this fate. Most of the nationalizations of oil companies took
place between 1969 and 1973, but it has been almost impossible for these
companies to be privatized, even though the national telecoms and
airlines were put on the auction block in many of these same countries
(e.g., Nigeria).

Similarly, though there has been an attempt to destroy international
price fixing cartels in most commodities via treaties like the one that
created the WTO, oil and OPEC has been exempted from the rules of the
neoliberal global regime. This is unusual since oil is the commodity
that is both most basic (i.e., being involved in the production of most
other commodities) and the most traded (i.e., the highest value of
international sales) while OPEC is the most blatant price fixing cartel
in the world.

This exemption of oil and OPEC from neoliberal standards has been at the
heart of the Republican Party critique of the Clinton's energy policies.
Thus in the waning days of the Clinton era, there was a Congressional
Hearing on "OPEC's Policies: A Threat to the U.S. Economy" chaired by
Benjamin Gilman (R-NY) who charged that Clinton remained "remarkably
passive in the face of OPEC's continued assault on our free market
system and our antitrust norms."

With the Bush Administration's rise to power, OPEC is increasingly seen
as a hostile entity--especially after 9/11--which must be subverted and
either replaced or abolished.

This hostility is intensified by realizing who are the main political
figures in OPEC now (aside from Iraq's Ba'ath regime): in Iran there are
the desperate Islamic clerics, in Saudi Arabia there is a ruling class
that is divided between globalization and Islamic fundamentalism, in
Venezuela there is the populist government of Chavez, in Ecuador there
is a government that was nearly seized in a rebellion by the indigenous,
in Libya there is Ghaddafi (need more be said?), in Algeria there is a
government that just narrowly repressed (and collaborated with) an
Islamist revolutionary movement, in Nigeria and Indonesia there are
"democratic" governments with questionable legitimacy that could
collapse at any moment. There is simply too much class struggle in an
area of high tech production (oil production) that these leaders and
governments were not able to control.

This list of OPEC leaders constitutes a "rouges" gallery from the point
of view of the thousands of capitalists who send a tremendous portion of
"their" surplus to OPEC governments via their purchases of oil and gas.
With such a composition, OPEC is hardly an institution to energize a
neoliberal world.

Of course, OPEC was not always a political or economic problem. In the
1960s and in the early 1970s OPEC was a relatively pliable organization
while nationalization and monopolistic pricing were still acceptable
elements of the Keynesian political economy of the day. Iran was under
the Shah, the Ba'athists had just lost their Nasserite zeal, Ghaddafi's
fate was still undeveloped, Venezuela was a tame neo-colony, Indonesia
was under the communist-killer Suharto, Nigeria was under the control of
General Gowan, and the Saudi Arabian monarchy's Islamic fundamentalism
was considered a quaint facade under which the movement of billions of
"petro-dollars" could be recycled back into the U.S.-European economies.

But that was then and this is now. From the Bush Administration's
viewpoint OPEC needs to be either destroyed or transformed in order to
lay the foundation of a neoliberal world that would be able to truly
control of energy resources of the planet. The Bush administration is
putting as much pressure as possible on OPEC's members. In April of 2002
there was a U.S.-supported coup d'etat in Venezuela against the Chavez
government, the leading price hawk in OPEC. It failed. In August 2002 it
was Saudi Arabia's turn. The RAND corporation issued a report claiming
that the Saudi Arabian monarchy was the "real enemy" in the Middle East
and should be threatened with invasion if it did not stop supporting
anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli groups. But that verbal threat was nullified
by the Bush Administration in the controversy that followed.

All in all, the Iraqi government is clearly the weak link in OPEC. It
lost two wars it instigated. It is legally in thrall to a harsh
reparations regime, it cannot control its own air space, and it cannot
even import freely but must have UN accountants approve of every item it
wants to buy on the open market. Ideologically and economically it is

But a US-sponsored Iraqi government committed to neoliberal policies
would definitely be in a position to undermine OPEC from within or, if
it departs, from without.

Such a transformation would make it possible to begin a massive
investment in the energy industry that might be an alternative to the
spectacular failure of the high-tech sector that has dissolved hundreds
of billions of dollars


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