Monday, September 24, 2007

Carl Lesnor: Greenspan and Lenin on "War for Oil"

by Carl Lesnor
September 2007

Even Alan Greenspan admits it, so it must be true! This is the definitive
proof that the Iraq war was really "about " oil. What about oil? Well, according
to Greenspan, Saddam H was thinking of blockading the Straits of Hormuz, so we
had to take him out. The Straits in question just happen to be at the other
end of the Persian Gulf and Iraq didn't have much of a navy and if it did, the
Persians wouldn't have been too happy about it, and besides, the US navy and
air force wouldn't have appreciated the idea very much either, and it's not
clear just what Saddam H was trying to accomplish, but never mind, Alan knew he
was thinking dangerous thoughts and therefore had to be eliminated.

Although this explanation make absolutely no sense, it has been seized upon
like manna from heaven by all the Leninists who have always known that the war
was 'about' oil. Don't think that Leninists are restricted to the fringes of
political discourse, they are all over the mainstream as well as the
opposition. Environmentalists tell us to give up our SUVs, even our cars, so we won't be
forced to fight these unpleasant wars abroad. The Left keeps denouncing the
government for maintaining its domination of mid-east oil supplies -- in other
words for exactly what the government claims to be doing: protecting America's
"vital interests" or "vital national security interests". (The meaningless of
these phrases is a great advantage to those who enjoy throwing them around.)

It's not enough to appeal to the American people's desire to make
sacrifices in order to bring democracy and freedom to unfortunate foreigners who
haven't enjoyed them. They must be told that there's something in it for them.
That we're going to make a lot of money out of this. That the money will insure
our prosperity, and that if we don't take decisive action, we would have to
give up all those creature comforts that make the American Way of Life so
attractive. The warmongers aren't in the least embarrassed by the revelation of the
selfishness lurking beneath their fine words; they are Leninists too. It's
practically unanimous, Vladimir Illyich's statues might have been pulled down,
but his doctrine has conquered the world.

A good example of his enduring influence is to be found on today's WSWS, a
Marxist-Leninist website that is often well informed, well written, and where
their sermon is usually limited to the final paragraph.
http://www.wsws.org/articles/2007/sep2007/unsw-s21.shtml (They have an
excellent article on the firing of Dan Rather, which I would highly recommend. (
http://www.wsws.org/articles/2007/sep2007/rath-s21.shtml ) It's because of
their site's general seriousness and high quality that it's worth analyzing what
they say about Greenspan.

At an educational meeting in Australia, Nick Breams, one of the Socialist leaders, discussing the 'underlying war-aims of the United States' referred to Greenspan's book in which the former Fed chief wrote: '“I’m saddened that it is politically
inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”
Expanding on this 'admission', Nick Beams,went on to say:

'The tensions and conflicts between the capitalist great powers were
developing along the lines of those that produced two world wars in the first half of
the twentieth century. Imagine for a moment a meeting such as this one, 100
years ago, in 1907. Political discussion would centre on the Moroccan
question, the Balkans question, the Bosnian question, the Eastern question... These
were various parts of the world, some of them somewhat remote, in which the
interests of the great powers and empires clashed—the interests of the British,
Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, Russia, France, and the rising power
Germany.


“The colliding interests of the capitalist Great Powers led eventually to the eruption of world war in 1914. We have now entered into a new pre-war period. That is the meaning of the Iraq war and the threats against Iran.”

And what were the interests of the Great Powers that led to the eruption of
1914? The Eastern Question? The one that Bismarck had said wasn't worth the
bones of a Pomeranian grenadier? (He was referring to Bosnia-Herzegovina) The
Moroccan question, whose trivial economic importance paled in comparison to
questions of national prestige?

Rather than analyzing how these fights about political power and prestige
could be traced back to their origins in the problems of the expanded
reproduction of capital, Beams proudly asserts that the socialist movement 'stands on
the shoulders of giants.'

The giant he has in mind is Trotsky, who, he says, 'explained that the war
arose out of a contradictory process at the very heart of the capitalist
economy. On the one hand the vast developments of technology meant that the
productive forces had now expanded on a global scale. The world, he wrote, had become
one economic workshop, the different parts of which are inseparably connected
with each other. At the same time, however, the world was divided by the
capitalist great powers each of which sought to establish its predominance over the
others, leading to a collision.'

Now Trotsky was indeed a very intelligent man, but this is simply a re-hash
of Marxism 101. It doesn't explain anything about the origin of World War I.
Neither the assassination of Francis Ferdinand by a Serb terrorist who had the
support of the Russian secret services, nor Austria's desire to put an end to
what it saw as a threat to the integrity of its multi-national empire, nor
Russia's desire to escape its domestic political crises by assuming the role of
leader of the Slavs, had anything to do with any vast development of technology.
(The only thing the vast development of technology contributed was
industrialized slaughter, thanks to artillery, machine guns, and poison gas.)
The other giant Beam quotes is the great man himself, Lenin, who 'explained
that with the eruption of war, capitalism had entered a new historical era of
imperialist wars from which there was no way out, other than the overthrow of
the profit system itself.' This dogmatic assertion naturally appeals to those
who have other reasons for wanting to overthrow the profit system -- the
desire for greater equality or the claimed advantages of rational planning, for
example -- and uncritically welcome any argument they can use against the hated
system.

Alas, this so-called scientific analysis is also a counsel of despair. Those
standing on the shoulders of giants might have illustrious forebears, but seem
bereft of followers and few prospects of attracting many. They are no doubt
sustained by a faith that the masses will one day come to see the truth of
their analysis. The problem isn't their faith in human reason; that seems
admirable; it is their allegiance to a doctrine that makes war -- and indeed all
politics -- the automatic consequence of contradictions in the mode of production.
Theirs is a politics in which politics doesn't matter. Is it any wonder that
Marxists -- even genuine ones -- have become an endangered species?

The End

3 comments:

Alex A said...

Review of Carl Lesnor's article: On Greenspan and Oil

IN RONALD BLEIER'S BLOG

by Alex A.


Normally, I wouldn't respond to screeds such as Lesnors.
But since it deals with many misconceptions about Marxism and Leninism, I believe
its an opportunity to set the record straight.

First let me speak to the issue of Greenspan's remarks.
The recent candid comments by Alan Greenspan on the role of oil in the Iraq war, bring to mind comments by another famous and important capitalist in world history

His name was Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902). Rhodes was summed up in a volume written by Lenin in this way.

"an English reactionary statesman and political leader, who actively pursued British colonial policy and preached

imperialist expansion. Organizer of the seizure of huge territories in South Africa by the English. This territory was later

named Rhodesia after him." VI Lenin..Selected Works, Progress Publishers 1971)



This comes from a footnote on Lenin's famous work: Imperialism The highest Stage Of Capitalism 1916.......www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/imp-hsc/ch07.htm


Lenin quotes Rhodes as a way of demonstrating how the political and the economic causes of Imperialism are connected.

"...I was in the East End of London {a working-class quarter} yesterday and attended a meeting of the unemployed.

I listened to the wild speeches, which were just a cry for 'bead! bread! and on my way home i pondered over the scene and I became

more than ever convinced of the importance of imperialism....My cherished idea is a solution for the social problem, i.e., in order

to save the 40,000,000 inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war, we colonial statesmen must acquire new lands to settle the surplus

population, to provide new markets for the good produced in the factories and mines. the Empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter question. if you want to avoid civil war, you must become imperialists."

Lenin cites Rhodes, not as his main argument for his theory of Imperialism, but as an anecdote to tie together his rather extensive statistical research and logical argument.
One thing that can't be said of Lenin, is that he was sloppy in his theoretical work.
Maybe current day "Leftists" are vague in their analysis, but not Lenin.

.Lenin's analysis in Imperialism gives an abundance of evidence showing how monopolies with global banking connections divided the world markets for lucrative loans, raw materials,and the production of critical materials and services of all kinds by means of international cartels and syndicates.

At the particular time in history when Lenin and Bukharin(http://www.marxists.org/archive/bukharin/works/1917/imperial/index.htm) were writing about Imperialism these same finance capitalist groups of monopolists were organized tightly around nation states in the form of state-capital trusts. Fierce tariff wars reflected the competition between these monopoly groups.

Obviously things have changed.Soviet Russia is gone. "Communist" China has become a state capitalist power. And although groups of dominant capital still use nation states to compete among themselves for raw material and capital markets. Marxists believe the war in Iraq is an expression of this tendency.




Now back to Greenspan.
Can think of Greenspan's comment as a present day variation on Rhodes's theme?

We have to fight in the Mideast because shortages of oil could create

extreme hardships for the people and someday an uprising.?
Maybe. Today SUVs are becoming more expensive to run, and tomorrow's gas rising prices could make it impossible to drive to work in any kind of vehicle.

On the other hand maybe the fear of dwindling oil supplies is an exaggeration and the fight in Iraq ,and possibly Iran ,is economically really about the current great powers, (America,England,France,Russia and China) each seeking to maintain or achieve a bigger share of oil supplies and distribution markets.


In other words : A fight to redivide the world's oil monopoly markets.; groups of dominant capital use the state structures of each of these competing nations to pursue their own profit agendas.
To quote Lenin: "The capital-exporting countries have divided the world among themselves in the figurative sense of the term. But finance capital has led to the actual division of the world"

In my view this theory applies today. And many of the "oil Marxists " that Lesnor refers to believe it too. Many however fail to understand the role of hegemony in

this struggle. (Namely it doesn't matter if the US gets much Iraqi oil now, As long as their presence as an occupying power keeps their rivals from getting it.

This makes them vulnerable to the criticism that the war wasn't about oil cause relative little oil is being processed.

Back to Lenin. What ever today's "Leninists" may say, he never advocated Utopian solutions as a final solution for imperialism. Maybe because he saw imperialism as a stage that developed out of the economics of capitalism. If he were alive today, I can't imagine him arguing for tactics like :"ride bikes not SUVs."
Yes revolutionaries should work within the peace movement, but they should

never deceive the people into believing that lasting peace was possible without civil war against the governments and the bourgeoisie…





Now we know that the revolutions never happened in Europe and America, where Lenin thought it was key, but this was not due to Lenin but rather the practice of the working class parties of his time. They were unable to cope with the bribery of sections of the workers by the ruling classes.

This intentional corruption of the working class leadership,was noted by Lenin as far back as 1916., (See Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism)



Yet despite these developments, Lesnor tells us
: "..Vladimir Illyich's statues might

have been pulled down, but his doctrine has conquered the world."

This amounts to turning history on its head!

And he is confused on other points.
He blames the Marxists and Leninists for not understanding the role of politics in social change.
"theirs (Marxists) is a politics in which politics doesn't matter"

,Lesnor seems to be saying that Marxists are wrong to make economics the decisive cause of the political situation (in this case wars) This correct in one sense. Engels

argued for this in his classic refutation of During. (1877:anti-Duhring)
www.Marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1877/anti-duhring/index.htm - 10k . It is worth reading what Engels says.But the analysis is too long to quote here.Suffice it to say Engels gives plenty of historical evidence that it is true.

On the other hand Lesnor may be saying that Marxists are just plain fatalists. Again these blasts from the past are arguments that have been refuted long ago.

Consider what the Marxist Icon Bukharin had to say on the matter.(see Imperialism and World Economy;chapter 12)

He notes: "We have all heard the widely circulated sophism that Marxists predicting the inevitable coming of the post capitalist order are like a party struggling for the coming of a lunar eclipse." For Bukharin this is absurd. He says: To understand an historic event means to represent it as the consequence of a definite historic cause or historic causes...to deduce political fatalism form this doctrine is absurd , for the simple reason that historic events are taking place not outside of but through the class

struggle if we deal with a class society. the will of the classes is in every instance determined by given circumstances; in this respect it is not at all "free". However,

that will becomes in turn a conditioning factor of the historic process. If we eliminate the actions of the people, the struggle of classes,etc., we eliminate the entire historic process."

It is clear then, that theoretically Marxists do not believe in the inevitability of events,including war.

And practically,we should recall, the mass world-wide demonstrations (often organized by Marxists) 4yrs ago. What were these but politics in action?

Lenin also put economic factors first but saw them dialectically connected with social and political forces.
In Imperialism Lenin is giving us his view of the primary causes of the war.

Lesnor however prefers the theory that it was the secondary causes, like the assassination Ferdinand,etc. that are responsible for the war.

He tries hard to discredit Trotsky's economic explanation. But when he cries: (The only thing the vast development of technology contributed to was industrialized slaughter, thanks to artillery, machine guns, and poison gas.) he actually is making the Marxist argument for another economic factor,(technology) that made the war more possible. Just because a product is destructive doesn't mean its not an economic factor.

Lesnor visits WSWS article on Oil and Greenspan and asks Nick Beam rhetorically : "And what were the interests of the Great Powers that led to the eruption of 1914?" Beam doesn't give much of an answer.

In this case Lesnor is right in pointing out the failure of a Marxist to elaborate on what "national interests are..

But Lenin certainly was not confused on this point. He made a dialectical connection between national and class aspects but also saw them as distinct. For example he argues: "The capital-exporting countries have divided the world among themselves in the figurative sense of the term. But finance capital has led to the actual division of the world"


.Lenin's analysis in Imperialism gives an abundance of evidence showing how monopolies with global banking connections divided the world markets for lucrative loans, raw materials,and the production of critical materials and services of all kinds by means of international cartels and syndicates.

At the particular time in history when Lenin and Bukharin were writing about Imperialism these same finance capitalist groups of monopolists were organized tightly around nation states in the form of state-capital trusts. Fierce tariff wars reflected the competition between these monopoly groups.

Obviously things have changed.Soviet Russia is gone. "Communist" China has become a state capitalist power. And although groups of dominant capital still use nation states to compete among themselves for raw material and capital markets. Marxists believe the war in Iraq and the coming one with Iran is an expression of this tendency.

Current Marxists are lacking however, in their failure to see how Israel, a settler colony transplanted in Palestine, has used its connections to Christian zionists, wealthy Jewish capitalists and the Jewish Diaspora, to become an important if not critical player in the formation of US policy in the Mideast.
They simply can't see the dialectics of the reciprocal relation between Israel and the US.
. They are in simple denial of how the Israeli Lobby has helped Israel define what the interests of the American bourgeois and worker are: namely that they identical with Israel's (See Walt and Mearschimer's Book on the Lobby)

So in conclusion, I hope I have brought some light to the question of "Leninist"s and how if Lenin were around today he might approach the world situation.

I welcome any comments to this review...

Alex A.

Carl said...

I am pleased that Alex A found my 'screed' worth replying to, if only to 'set the record straight.'
I wouldn't call it a screed since it was quite short and focused on a single phenomenon: the absurdity of Greenspan's comments (about Iraq, oil, and the Straits of Hormuz) and the alacrity with which many believers in the 'its all about oil' church (even serious Marxists) fell upon it as representing an admission by the perpetrators of the dirty secret they had been hiding.
1) He begins by quoting Lenin quoting Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) saying that if it were to avoid civil war, Britain would have to acquire new lands to settle its surplus population and provide new markets for the goods produced in its factories and mines .
Since then Britain has lost almost all of its colonies, closed down most of its mines and a great number of its factories, yet doesn't seem to be facing any sort of bloody civil war, I fail to see how this anecdote supports the 'Leninist' theory of imperialism.

2) After quoting Rhodes, he then goes 'back to Greenspan'. and asks: 'Can (we) think of Greenspan's comment as a present day variation on Rhodes's theme? We have to fight in the Mideast because shortages of oil could create extreme hardships for the people and someday an uprising.? ' To which he gives two answers: 'maybe', and on the other hand, 'maybe not'. 'Maybe' rests on an oil shortage, and 'maybe not' is based on no shortage, but rather 'A fight to redivide the world's oil monopoly markets.; groups of dominant capital use the state structures of each of these competing nations to pursue their own profit agendas.'
In other words he doesn't know.
The problem with the oil shortage explanation is that the invasion of Iraq has done nothing to make more oil available; instead it has reduced supplies.
The problem with the explanation of the US occupation of Iraq as a way of preventing its rivals from getting it is obvious: even if the US could prevent Iraqi oil reaching a country the US disapproved of, it could easily be obtained elsewhere.
3) Then it's 'back to Lenin'. Although I never reproached Lenin for the failure of revolutions in Europe and America, Alex A feels he must defend him by arguing that this: 'was not due to Lenin but rather the practice of the working class parties of his time. They were unable to cope with the bribery of sections of the workers by the ruling classes.' But since he mentions it, I don't think this is quite right. The revolution that Lenin was hoping for and counting on the most was the German revolution, which was put down right after the war. Nobody could point to the bribery of the German working class in 1919-1920! They were more likely to be starving than living off the profits from the superexploitaition of the colonies.
4) Alex then puts in a defence against the charge that, as determinists, Marxists ought to sit back and watch the inevitable historical processes work themselves out. Since I never raised this criticism, there's not much to say.
5) Alex agrees that Beams doesn't give much of an answer to my straightforward question "And what were the interests of the Great Powers that led to the eruption of 1914?" He thinks Lenin did better, recognizing as he did, 'a dialectical connection between national and class aspects.'
Perhaps we can illustrate one aspect of this dialectic: After the conclusion of the Franco-Russian alliance, French capitalists had been encouraged by their bourgeois government to invest in Czarist government railroad bonds. The anomaly of republican France bailing out Czarist autocracy was not lost on the opposition in Russia. So much so that Russian (bourgeois) liberals issued a declaration that when the autocracy was overthrown, they would not recognize this debt. Was the bourgeois French government acting on behalf of the economic interests of their investors? It seems rather that their interests were subordinated to the desire to build up the Russian war machine, known as the 'Russian steamroller', and the railroads were built to deliver millions of muzhiks to the front as a way of putting Germany in a vise. (see Georges Michon: The Franco-Russian Alliance.)
6) Alex concludes by criticizing 'current Marxists' for underestimating the "Israel Lobby". I agree.
7) As a matter of fact, Alex's statement that 'Marxists' believe the war in Iraq is an expression of the tendency (of 'groups of dominant capital ' to 'use nation states to compete among themselves for raw material and capital markets'.) is not true. There are quite intelligent Marxists who don't see it that way. see http://critiquejournal.net/hhtwar.pdf

8) I should point out that 'Marxists' are by no means unique in relying on 'deep underlying structures' to explain events such as wars. Once these deeper reasons are assumed, wars can be seen as inevitable, thus rendering empirical narratives unnecessary and superficial. Since all of our wars were bound to happen anyway, why bother to enquire into the actions of politicians? According to these theories, they are constrained by forces beyond their control: Thus World War I was bound to happen either a) because of great power rivalries that led statesmen into a war that none of them actually wanted, b) because of the contradictions in the development of the capitalist mode of production, or c) because of the wickedness of our enemies.
All these 'deep' explanations reject Ranke's view of history as 'what actually happened' as superficial empiricism, but in so doing they condemn us to impotence. Impotence to explain history and impotence to change its course. As Marx and Engels wrote in 'The Holy Family', 'History does nothing. It "possesses no enormous wealth, fights no battles. It is rather people, real, living people, who do everything, who possess and fight. It is not History, as if she were a person apart, who uses men as a means to work out her purposes - history itself is nothing but the activity of people pursuing their purposes.'

Alex said...

Alex responds:

Karl plays the innocent.
He claims his first article (Sept 2007), was short and focused on “a single phenomenon: the absurdity of Greenspan’s comments (about Iraq, oil, and the Straits of Hormuz) and the alacrity with which many believers in the ‘its all about oil’ church (even serious Marxists) fell upon upon it as representing an admission by the perpetrators of the dirty secret they had been hiding.”
. Maybe what he is trying to say is: The lines of the Bourgeoisie and the Marxists are similar, they are reinforcing one another.

For Karl, this is despicable. The government and the opposition are saying the same lie.

And of course he’s right,there are many democrats who say they believe what Greenspan is saying about oil is true. (as an aside, it provides ample cover for the real reason they voted for the war, pressure from the Israeli Lobby).


If he had left it at that, I never would have responded with a defense of Lenin.
But if you go back and reread his article you’ll see how freely he directs innuendo towards the Left and the “Leninists”. For example: “The warmongers aren’t in the least embarrassed by the revelation of the selfishness lurking beneath their fine words: they are Leninists too. It’s practically unanimous, Vladimir Illyich’s statues might have been pulled down, but his doctrine has conquered the world.”

All this does is muddy the waters.


There’s just seems to be no pleasing Karl. He sees Lenin,as too dogmatic, (too certain) and me as too eclectic( uncertain)- (“maybe”)


I’m certain the capitalists are struggling to redivide the oil monopoly market. But what about the peak oil factor? Does it have to do with scarce resources? I have my opinion but frankly I haven’t done enough research to make the call. But I see no problem in saying that. .That’s my attempt at intellectual honesty. Is it possible to write about a subject, not be sure of the truth of your hypothesis, and the writing still be important? I think so. That’s what the term heuristic means.


Back to his critique.
Karl thinks it an anomaly that the French govt would encourage its bourgeois to invest in Czarist
Russia even though the Russian bourgeois said they wouldn't ’recognize the loan. Seems like risky business. Karl asks:”was the bourgeois govt acting on behalf of the economic interest of their investors.” ? He concludes they were placing the goal of building up the Russian war machine first.
But this isn’t necessarily so. The French govt acted on behalf of its capitalists as a whole...and yes .the partial interests of the creditors in question were temporarily subordinated. ( wars are not permanent, and no one even Karl can say for sure that the French govt didn’t promise these investors a piece of the reconstruction action? ) i.e. :(do we know the conditions agreed to by the Russian debtors)?
The problem is that a war is a very complex social,political,and economic phenomena. Out of the plethora of facts reported on WW1, if viewed in isolation we can prove any proposition about the war.A serious analyst has to study such a problem from many angels. Lenin’s compilation of statistics from different class perspectives in his analysis of imperialism is an example. Before people make up their mind on what imperialism really means I suggest they carefully read Lenin's work: http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/imp-hsc/

Maybe I’m wrong but I get the feeling Karl really doesn’t like focusing on the class character of the war. But by doing this isn’t he providing a cover for the capitalists. If its true that the Iraq war was perpetrated by people with overlapping agendas, (oil and Israel), why confuse folks by downplaying either of these causes??

What if both sides of the debate between Marxists and non Marxists on the Israeli Lobby are wrong. 1) For the Marxists they fail to understand how in certain important ways that the Jewish community and their leaders were complicit in the Iraqi war. 2)But on the other hand, What if we took the Jewish elite along with their Zionist ideology and their wealthy patrons out of the equation- how do we know that another group wouldn’t take their place to pursue the same function of guiding imperial policy?


An understanding of the structural causes of imperialism and war would certainly be of relevance in dealing with this issue.


Finally, Karl is wrong when he implies that we have to choose between studying the underlying structures of Imperialism or War (theory), and observing the activities of real people”(diplomatic history,etc)

If our purpose is to develop a strategy for meaningful social change,

we must do both in a dialectic and dynamic way.

alex