[Marxism] Does Peak Oil Theory Help the Bourgeoisie?

bauerly at yorku.ca bauerly at yorku.ca
Wed Jun 11 07:42:28 MDT 2008

John Flanders-"So what is the root of the problem, if it is not the reality of a
finite energy source?"

The finitude of oil is obvious, to proclaim this as the problem only begs the
question of what caused us to get here (if here is where we are, but even peak
oil theorists claim only half of the 'cheap' oil gone).  Why is the social
metabolism with nature so far out of balance?  What is the role of profit
seeking over human social needs?

JF- "What would a socialist response be to peak oil? How would you bring the
price down and restart our automotive paradise here in the USA?"

A socialist would not hold to peak oil theory.  A Marxist analysis would be
incompatible with the theory because it posits exchange value as determining
both the finitude of 'cheap' oil and the human productive relationship with
nature.  To accept peak oil is to conform human value production to exchange
value, the contradiction of which is the general recurrent crises of capitalist
history. Worse still is the way in which such theorizations obfuscate the class
dimension behind 'supply and demand' and mass consumption.  The problem is mass
profit seeking, not mass individual consumption (or rather the two are not
separate but internally related).

Why would we won't to bring the price down?  The only reason would be to stop
the starvation of millions due to the inflation of food prices.  Why restart
the automotive paradise?

Louis Proyect-"Is there something in Marxism that forces us to view the
attention paid to the extinction of species such as the blue-fin tuna as some
kind of capitalist plot to drive up the price of sushi?"

Is there something that requires us to view this development as due to supply
and demand imbalances?  It is a liberal notion to view individual desire to eat
sushi as leading to over fishing.  It is due to profit seeking and economic
competition that fishing has increased its technological capacity to such a
level as to be able to feed a mass consumer market for sushi and over fish the
seas.  Marxism is not based on capitalist plots but the class relationship and
profit seeking by the bourgeoisie that continually reshapes society to its

Lois Proyect- "It seems to me that our emphasis should be on calling attention
to the entire nexus of environmentally unsustainable practices that
involves automobiles, over-fishing, industrial farming, building
cities like Phoenix, etc. All this is related to the capitalist
system and the production of commodities. If that is not sufficiently
grounded in Marx's writings, then there's something I am missing."

I agree that the nexus of environmentally unsustainable practices are a huge
problem. Who here would claim otherwise? The production of commodities holds no
inherent evil though.  It is the production of commodities for profit and the
impact this has on shaping social behavior that is the problem.  To simply
claim that there are ecological limits and that capitalism can't overcome them
misses the whole point of Marxism, IMHO.  To focus on the over consumption of
commodities, the wastefulness of SUV's, or the finite supply of oil as the
problem is to veil the true source.  To vulgurize Marx into simply saying
things are bad, is to fall into the liberal neoclassical trap of the individual
nature of society.


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