[Marxism] What does the oil price slump show us about the Russian economy?

Roger Annis rogerannis at hotmail.com
Fri Dec 19 12:57:40 MST 2014

​By Roger Annis, Dec 19, 2014

http://rogerannis.com/what-does-the-oil-price-slump-show-us-about-the-russian-economy/(Slightly revised by me since a posting to the Socialist Project listserve earlier today.)

The dramatic drop in the value of
the Russia's currency prompted by the falling world price of oil and aggravated
by economic sanctions against the country is an occasion to revisit the issue
of what, exactly, is the character of the Russian economy and social formation.

It is broadly stated in much left
discourse that Russia is an ‘imperialist’ country, even if there is little
published study to back the claim. If it is the case, we should expect to find
comparable economic difficulties to that of Russia occurring in the ‘other’
imperialist petro-states such as Canada, Australia and the United States as a
result of the drop in oil prices. But nothing comparable is taking place in the
latter group. The consequences to industry and government of declines in fossil
fuel revenues and the decline in industry investment that is underway are by
and large offset in the imperialist countries by boosts to manufacturing,
transportation and agriculture afforded by lower energy input costs.

Ok, you say, but Russia’s
capitalist economy and government are much more dependent on oil and other
natural resource revenue. True enough, but that only begs the question of why
that is the case. Is Russia a ‘special’ imperialist case, inevitably and
unavoidably dependent on natural resource revuene? Or could it be that the
characteristics of a country that is not (or not yet) imperialist is precisely
that its industry, agriculture and public sector is relatively underdeveloped?
Indeed, it could. That’s one of a half dozen or so measures I used in my June
2014 article of what does and does not describe a country and social
formation deemed to be imperialist.

I hope the oil price shock will occasion more debate over the character 
of Russia. Too much of the current discourse is based on dogma or rote 
repetition of phrases. There is a lack of serious research and 
publication which could stimulate deeper debate. Hopefully, we may see 
some uptake. Surely the contrasting economic dislocation in Russia 
compared to what is (not) happening in the ‘rest’ of the imperialist 
world must give pause for thought.

While we’re on the subject of
Russia, what to make of the complete absence of a Russian-led ‘NATO’-type
military alliance that would stand up to the real-live NATO political and
military offensive in Ukraine and eastern Europe? This is another of the key
measures of imperialism that I made in my article is the essential and
overwhelming role of military alliances in maintaining the imperialist order.

As a footnote, the following
weblink contains statistics on the largest fossil fuel producing countries in
the world by volume of production and by volume per capita. It turns out that
while Russia is in the big leagues of production overall, its per capita
production places it in a secondary rank, behind Canada, even. All the more
noteworthy, then, the excessive dependence and vulnerability of Russia’s
capitalist economy and government revenue on fossil fuels.


* * * 

Appendum to this e-mail note:

Several days ago, I published
a comment on an article by James Petras on Ukraine that appeared in
November. I appreciated Petras’s starting point of identifying an aggressive
U.S./EU and  NATO as primarily responsible
for the crisis in Ukraine. But I wrote about two disagreements I have with
Petras’ analysis—one, his use of the term ‘junta’ to describe the government in
Kyiv, and two, his uncritical assessment of Russia’s role in events. Here is
what I wrote on the latter point:

Another critique I have of Petras’
article is that it is uncritical of Russia's role in events. A more critical
analysis is required in such an article seeking to provide broad overview and
context. Yes, Russia has acted moderately and conservatively in response to
events. It did not want a war in eastern Ukraine, it did not provoke one, and
it is not responsible for its continuation. The war is the fault of the
intransigence of Kyiv and NATO. Thankfully, Russia is compelled by domestic
political opinion as well as national security interests to provide vital
support to the struggle in eastern Ukraine, primarily with humanitarian
assistance and by not stopping the movement of supporters of the self-defense
forces across the Russia-Ukraine border.

But Russia’s conservatism cuts two
ways. Its harmful consequences are felt in the pro-autonomy political struggle.
Russia has placed limits on the capacity of self defense forces to militarily
resist Kyiv's army and right-wing militias. For example, the ceasefire of Sept.
5 created a very unsatisfactory situation for the autonomy movement. And Russia
is exercising strong influence over the political leadership in the peoples’
republics in Donetsk and Luhansk in order to block a political and social
radicalization in the Donbas region, not least because of its fear of a
spillover effect into Russia itself. Boris
Kagarlitsky's article in Links on Nov. 10 describes this well.

All this, too, presents exceptional
challenges for the political left in Ukraine. 


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