Oil and overproduction

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Jan 21 10:46:19 MST 2003

David Schanoes wrote:
> Others equally versed in the ABCs have entered the discussion with
> assertions that oil is the ultimate capitalist commodity given its essential
> role in all other commodity production.  However, somehow this ultimate
> commodity doesn't conform to the analysis Marx developed of commodity
> production.  The categories of "Value, Price, and Profit" can't be applied
> I'm told.  (Aside to LP, if VP&P can't be applied to oil or to private
> agriculture in Cuba, just where do they apply?).

David, there is little question that all commodities are subject to the
labor theory of value, the tendency for the rate of profit to decline,
periodic gluts and shortages due to the anarchy of capitalist
production, etc. However, we are operating within different time-frames
in this discussion. If, for example, there was a glut of blue-fin tuna
on the world market--and concomitantly reduced prices--because of
advances in sonar technology in the mid 1960s, that is of little
interest to us in light of the fact that this species is being fished
into extinction. Extinction of living species and exhaustion of natural
resources is the problem that we are grappling with right now, not ups
and downs in the business cycle or a product line within the business cycle.

While labor is the source of all wealth, it has to operate on nature in
order to produce value. If a natural resource disappears, then it has
nothing to operate on. Isn't that obvious?

As was pointed out in the NY Times article on fishbase.org, unless
drastic action is taken, we will only be able to eat planton a few
decades from now. So it really doesn't matter if the price of swordfish
steaks goes up or down in the next few months, based on supply and
demand, etc. The same thing is obviously true for oil. We are not
tracking the marketplace here, but trying to save the planet.

We are trying to map out an ecosocialism based on historical materialism
and hard physical science. All around us the evidence is mounting that
the current relationship between man and nature is *not sustainable*.
This will be true under a socialism that ignores issues of
sustainability as well, demonstrated amply by the demise of the Aral Sea
in the former Soviet Union.

It is frustrating to have to point these things out to you over and over
again. I wish that you would try to get up to speed on some of the
literature on the topic, including items I've written at:


Finally, I'd remind you that these problems were uppermost in Engels's
mind when he wrote this passage in the "Dialectics of Nature":

"Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human
victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on
us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the
results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite
different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first. The
people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor and elsewhere, destroyed
the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that by removing
along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture
they were laying the basis for the present forlorn state of those
countries. When the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests on the
southern slopes, so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had
no inkling that by doing so they were cutting at the roots of the dairy
industry in their region; they had still less inkling that they were
thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part
of the year, and making it possible for them to pour still more furious
torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons. Those who spread the
potato in Europe were not aware that with these farinaceous tubers they
were at the same time spreading scrofula. Thus at every step we are
reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a
foreign people, like someone standing outside nature -- but that we,
with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst,
and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the
advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and
apply them correctly."


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