This essay was originally written for the Three-Way Fight anti-fascist blog (threewayfight.blogspot.com) in the late fall of 2005. I’m not sure if it ever appeared there or not, though it was serialed in three parts in the first three 2006 issues of Turning the Tide (available from email@example.com). The essay was a response to small section of an essay by Don Hammerquist. His essay was part of a larger exchange between him and Stan Goff about imperialism and fascism, which is linked to on the Three-Way Fight blog but can be accessed directly at www.agitatorindex.org/articles/Goff_Hammerquist_exchange.htm . Both Three-Way Fight and the exchange between Goff and Hammerquist are excellent resources for analysis on fascism and the current world order. I would also recommend the book My Enemy’s Enemy: Essay’s on globalization, fascism and the struggle against capitalism (also published as a large pamphlet) and the book Confronting Fascism: Discussion documents for a militant movement. Both of these are available, along with a plethora of other great resources, from www.kersplebedeb.com. The documentary The End of Suburbia is also a good resource on peak oil.
While I don’t agree with all the ideas expressed in the pieces above, they all raise points that too often seem to be left out of our dialogue. I think the central idea of this essay, that peak oil and its related crises pose an urgent threat and obstacle to liberatory movements, is especially important, and that it should be read, thought about, discussed, and should begin to inform our long term strategy.
Central Texas Anti-Racist Action
On peak oil, climate change, overpopulation, and fascism
by Gerry Bellow
For Goff, our tired first principles supplemented with a dose of apocalyptic fossil fuel determinism (something to be dealt with elsewhere) can explain what’s going on – both to ourselves and to a potential popular base. All we have to do is hold up the flag. I don’t think so. In fact, positions like this make me fear that it is our side that suffers from having no “there there”.” — Don Hammerquist
When first reading [the Three-Way Fight] blog in August I noticed the exchange between Hammerquest and Goff. I’m an avid reader of both authors and often find myself agreeing with them. However, the above quote sent me off on a critical tangent.
The part of the passage above that set me off was “a dose of apocalyptic fossil fuel determinism (something to be dealt with elsewhere)”. Fossil fuel determinism is the most real thing there is. It is not something to be dealt with later.
I’m part of the ARA chapter in my local community (Austin TX). Here our radical community is blessed with a number of resources that are absent in other locales. We have collectives that own land, a culture where speaking Spanish is a priority for quite a few, and an understanding of and community planning for PEAK OIL.
My local radical community takes peak oil seriously and it informs all of our long term work. We think about it in terms of our food planning, our struggles against gentrification in our neighborhoods, our anti-war work, our lifestyle choices, our personal spending habits etc. The summer gas price wave didn’t shock us, we had already been car pooling, converting to bio-diesel, and riding bikes (although bike-o-philia is not a shocker in the house that Lance built). Peak Oil is not always in the forefront of our thinking, but it informs us in a community where long-term planning is not only viable but actually happening.
It’s part of my long term thinking on the struggle against fascism. So the quote sat there and gnawed. Some months later I’m ready to add it to this ongoing discussion.
Peak Oil, and the global economy.
I’ll take a moment to catch up the unfamiliar on Peak Oil. Peak Oil doesn’t mean we will run out of oil. Peak Oil is an oil production concept. In its most basic terms it works like this. A new oil field is discovered and the first well is sunk into it. The results are dramatic. Billions of tons of rock and millions of years under pressure and the oil gushes to the top. One simply sinks a well and the oil pumps itself. The only energy and capital investments required are exploration and well-drilling. The oil that is simply pumping itself is available to its owner at a price per barrel far below market value. He’s rich overnight.
However this does not continue forever. In fact it doesn’t continue very long at all. The laws of physics tell us that the pressure will equalize itself as rapidly as possible. Soon new wells must be sunk into the oil field. And the oil field must be pressurized. Thus the capitalist must pump in something to create pressure to force the oil to the surface (water and natural gas are usually the ticket). That takes more resources (machinery, energy, labor) and thus the cost per barrel to the producer increases.
Over the productive life of an oil field a graph can be made of its productivity. Such a graph looks like a bell curve with a broad “peak” in the middle. When the peak happens, an oil field is getting maximum output. After the peak, it declines. No oil field ever falls back to zero productivity. However, they all eventually become unprofitable in terms of cost per barrel. This relative value of course can change in the future as costs rise per barrel in other places. Thus the capped and unproductive or marginally productive wells rusting in Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio could be reactivated once the price per barrel spikes again. That’s why the oil derricks are rusting and not sold for scrap.
Eventually an oil field becomes unprofitable in terms of energy. That means that it will take more energy to get the oil out of the ground then will be yielded by burning said oil. American oil production peaked in the 70s. Remember the gas lines? Ever since then it has been declining. Yes, there are reserves in Alaska. Yes, there is enough oil still underneath West Texas to run the economy (well… the military part of it anyway) for 50 years. Yes, we can crush Canadian shale profitably once the price is about $90 a barrel. Yes, we can dig up the whole Appalachian mountain range and turn that coal into some useful burnable liquid. But at what price per gallon?
We can import oil. We do it at a hideous rate. And it seems to involve a fair amount of warfare. And bad news lurks there too. Middle Eastern oil production will peak soon (Soon means 2 to 15 years depending on who you ask). Some analysts believe Saudi Arabia’s production is peaking now.
Further, those scientists that take peak oil seriously predict that the whole world’s oil production will peak in the next 5 years. After a world peak there will be a 10 to 30 year plateau and then a decline in overall production. Ah! Stability you say! Stability lasting a generation, plenty of time to get our solar-powered, eco-groovy, utopian alternatives into working order for the post-imperialist, granola-munching future. Wrong.
World demand for oil increases every year at a linear rate. China is industrializing. China wants oil. China’s rapidly growing economy wants more of it every day. Every country in the world that hopes to expand its economy will also need more oil. The whole world is hooked, blasting the tar into its veins like some crazy teen pop star. If we burned every goddess cursed SUV on this overfed continent this very instant, world demand for oil would still increase.
Basic capitalist rule #1 is supply and demand. If demand increases and supply remains the same then the price goes up. The other possible iterations of rule #1 are not relevant to this discussion. So when you go to the gas pump next look at the price and be thankful because it will NEVER be lower again.
After you fill your tank, have a trip to the grocery store. Every food item in it is oil dependent. The tractors that tilled the land and harvested it are run on oil. The pesticides and fertilizers that were dumped on it in mighty gouts are made of oil. The trucks that brought the food to you and brought the fertilizers and pesticides to it run on oil. The energy to refrigerate it comes from oil. You will buy it, put it in your trunk and burn oil getting it home and burn oil refrigerating it and burn oil (or natural gas) cooking it. Take a bite. Ten times as much energy was put into producing your next spoonful of rice than you will derive from eating it. That mode of food production that brings rice cheaply to your face is not sustainable and no amount of imperialist land grabbing can make it last forever.
It really doesn’t matter if you ride the bus, ride a bike, walk everywhere, eat out of dumpsters, and live in an un-powered shack like a deranged clone of the Unabomber. This still affects you.
The number of people on the planet also happens to be increasing. All of them need oil. It used to be that overpopulation was a myth. The last time I checked (1987), there was enough food produced on the planet to feed almost 7 billion people. What that means is that then (and currently) there is enough food to feed everybody but not enough political will to get the food to them. If you consider abandoning cash crops and turning some more productive land into something that produces food rather then luxury goods we are in pretty good shape, at least for the moment.
However, all this food production is still predicated on cheap and available oil.
We can’t produce food at the rate we are now without dumping oil by the barrel on our crops. The so-called “green revolution” that is feeding the world (or could be) is entirely dependent on cheap oil. When the cheap oil runs out so does the cheap food.
Who controls food production here? And I mean controls. Control does not mean you “own” the patent on the seeds or the fertilizer. It doesn’t mean you control the highways or the trucks that move the pesticides and crops. It doesn’t mean you own grain silos or trains. Somebody will move food to market if both the food and the market exist.
From the Lion in Winter:
King Charles of France “I want the Vexen back”
King Henry of England “You can’t have it back; it’s mine”
King Charles of France “It’s not yours”
King Henry of England “It’s got my troops all over it; that makes it
Whose troops exactly are all over the farm belt? Not mine. And not George Bush’s either. There are 100 tanks sitting in Kansas at Fort Riley along with about 7000 combat troops. The National Guard has similar although somewhat smaller assets scattered about the state. There are 105 Counties in Kansas. A pair of armored vehicles and 130 troops does not constitute control of more than 4 city blocks. And Kansas is the only state in the farm belt with regular army maneuver formations stationed in it! Who controls the food in Kansas?
The people who grow it do. Without out their consent you couldn’t plant grain. If they resist you couldn’t harvest or ship it. Not today. You certainly could not when oil costs 4 to 5 times as much. And definitely not when there is insufficient food to go around. If the government price controls or rations food out these people are not going to be priced out of the economy. They are not going to do business on unfavorable terms. And it’s a logistical impossibility to use force to make them. They also might not be interested in feeding the rest of us at any price. Did I mention that they are armed?
The farm belt has always been a vast angry well of white men for fascism to draw on. The government and global capital are no longer interested in subsidizing them. Yet they see themselves at the center of the mythic American dream. Combine their déclassé resentment with a new value on food and they WILL exert power to regain their (mythic and self-assumed) place at the idealized center of America. What is at stake is being dependent for survival on people who just democratically voted to teach intelligent design in school; a basic foundation of modern medical and biological science offends their understanding of the word of their God written 6000 years ago. Did I mention that they are armed?
So, how about the weather?
The last nasty side effect of oil technology is climate change. Burning all this carbon is changing the climate. I don’t care if the president doesn’t believe in global warming. Global warming believes in him (global warning might be the last thing that believes in him). Global climate change will affect the world’s ability to produce food.
People need food. And when they don’t have it they will do anything to get it. That’s the same from New York to New Guinea.
We have had the nastiest set of hurricanes in history this year. They completely destroyed a major metropolitan area and wiped out a number of smaller cities. Beaumont TX? Gone. Biloxi MS? Damaged. Lafayette LA? Hurt. They are still finding bodies in New Orleans 4 months later. Whole small communities and suburbs were literally wiped off the map. This year’s hurricane season caused more physical destruction to the territory of the United States than all wars save the civil war COMBINED. This is not just because there is more to destroy. And this season was not an aberration—it was the beginning of a trend.
Even before we find out if the ice cap melting caused by global warming really will flood the coasts of the world, every city from Boston to Brownsville could be subjected to Mother Natures 24 hour slum clearance plan. If a hurricane hit Manhattan next summer it would not be inconceivable for the New Jersey State Patrol to use automatic weapons to keep the population of Harlem from walking across the George Washington Bridge. Ask Assata Shakur if they have the stones.
So how does this all relate to Fascism?
Far from being a polemic in favor of alternative technology or against the current imperialist land grab in South Asia, this essay is actually about fascism. Fascism can and will have something to say about the coming oil-related crisis. We however won’t like what that something is.
We also had better be thinking about how to deal with the coming crisis. This crisis will cause us to reexamine how we confront social problems and the solutions that the left offers. For peak oil and its related problems might not be the death of capitalism, or the triumph of environmentalism. Peak oil might be the death of any hope of socialism (libertarian, social democratic, or otherwise). In a three way fight, peak oil tilts the slope against us in fundamental ways.
Traditional solutions from the left may no longer apply.
All socialist thought is predicated on a central idea and that is the idea of plenty. All socialists regardless of their stand on anything else have the central contention that industry has created the material conditions for all of humanities not only survival but prosperity. The very existence of any unfulfilled material need is not only unjustified but irrational. The end of history is then simply a matter of organizing to smash the oppressive ideas and structures that enforce a life of plenty and freedom for some and want and slavery for the rest.
Peak oil turns that concept on its’ head. When there actually isn’t enough to go around, what is a leftist to do? Think it over. We are about to be in the middle of the world’s biggest crisis and our usual arguments will not wash in the face of the facts on the ground.
Fascism’s arguments will. Remember that fascism, regardless of its’ variety and pedigree, has the baseline assumption that some people don’t have the right to exist. Fascism extends imperialist relations from the periphery to the metropole. Fascism doesn’t just exploit labor, it physically consumes it. Fascism alone offers capital solutions to the coming crisis. Capital can’t control it in this crisis of its own making. Capital needs ever expanding markets and capacity to function. In a situation where market expansion and productive capacity can not expand competition must expand.
This competition will sharpen both between imperialist nations and blocs and within the old capitalist national cores as well.
Blood could be the cheapest commodity on Earth. Why not use it to buy oil?
There is going to be a long round of imperialist war for oil. Empire is starting on that part now of the coming crisis now. In a sense it doesn’t matter and is perhaps better (for the capitalists) if the oil in Iraq isn’t flowing. That only means it will stay cheap and underground. It will still be easy to exploit while the rest of the oil in the world gets more expensive.
Whichever nation state gets the oil the cheapest will be the one best positioned to retool their economy to deal work on less and less oil. Every nation or bloc of nations knows it. Failed imperialist adventures abroad feed fascism at home. As the price at the pump goes up people will suffer. When people suffer, somebody will have to take the blame. This will feed all sorts of reactionary movements in the lower middle class. How will the abandoned soldiers of this war react to poverty at home? Will a movement appear to displace their resentment from the ruling class to other sectors of society? Will the left get blamed when this war fails? Bet your little red and black flag on it.
When this current war fails (don’t think 2006. Try 2016. And I don’t care what John Murtha thinks. Nobody else does either.) oil prices will skyrocket more than they already have. Try $7 a gallon at the pump (Or $5 or $10, you guess how many beans are in the jar). Life will become difficult for the middle class. They will feel a pinch on their lifestyles, which will change. They will become insecure and angry. And when a white settler class gets angry, it attacks.
This war only started and continues because deep down inside middle class white America knows it’s about oil. The racist heart of America wants to be lied to because they know they need that cheap oil and they feel goddamned entitled to it. They weren’t fooled by the Bush junta. They wanted—no, needed—to be fooled. If they have to pay 1000 American and 10,000 Iraqi lives a year for $2.50 a gallon gas, a neighborhood free of non-whites, their feckless Nintendo-brained spawn in college and a health plan to deal with their drive-up cheeseburger addiction they will.
During Vietnam, this country dealt with 10 times the casualty rate for us and 30 times the casualty rate for them before it wanted to cut and run. After that the war lasted merely another 5 years. This was without the black blood at the heart of our economy at stake. This time they don’t even have to risk their own children. The government won’t draft to save the army. We will increase the current trend of fighting this war with American airpower and Mexican Infantry. 4 years in Iraq for citizenship is a deal that 10,000 Mexican citizens (and 10,000 others) have taken so far. That should be sufficient to supplement those Americans still willing to risk their lives and comfort for the American dream.
If the President was to say tomorrow, “This war is about oil; they got it, we want it and the brown people who live in unpronounceable places had best give it up at a price we set,” the 35% of this country that still loves him would pull their knuckles off the floor and clap. They know what its’ about and all the lies help half of them sleep better at night. The other half would sleep if the trains to Auschwitz rolled past their bedrooms because they would be getting up to work there in the morning.
The whole American ruling class knows another war for oil is coming. They even know where. Wars are not fought entirely with guns.
Iran completes the puzzle. Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela (collect all five trading cards and you win the grand prize) are the worlds largest exporters of oil. All of them are at the center of the global crisis in its’ current phase. The United States has two, is in the middle of an attempt at a third, and is eyeing the other two with open malice.
Iran has the forces, capability and strategic reach to slow down an attempt at conquest. It has a large enough military to fight a regional war with the United States for some time. In the end however, American air power and space power would prove decisive. No conventional army on earth is capable of fighting against American airpower.
However, Iran could force the United States to attack early and desperately, with the hope of precluding the ability of the America Imperialist Bloc (The US, Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Israel) to sustain a long or medium length war. They could do so while wrecking the economy of the American Bloc.
Oil is the underpinning of the American economy in more ways than being the key fuel. It is also the key to the consumer economy in another way. In 1973 three critical things happened that changed the nature of the US economy. First we went off the gold standard. The dollar was no longer backed in gold but in some essential faith of the holder in the health of the American state. The second was the peak of American oil production. Remember the lines?
The third was the most critical. The dollar needed to be propped up by something more than faith in Nixon. A deal was brokered between the United States and OPEC that was to structure the future of the Middle East until now. The United States would guarantee the security of the Gulf Monarchies (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and the Shah’s Iran) in exchange for non-aggression against Israel and a very important economic concession. OPEC would only do business in dollars.
That’s been the key to American consumer society ever since. If you want to buy oil on the world market from anybody but England and Norway, you need to buy oil with dollars. Not Euro, not Pounds Sterling, not Yen, not Rubles or Rupees. That’s why it’s the almighty dollar. When China wants oil, it has to buy dollars. That’s why they export massive amounts of consumer goods to us at cut rate prices. They need dollars to remain the world’s second largest oil importer and thus continue to grow their economy rapidly. That’s why they are willing to pay for the war on Iraq. The war on Iraq is financed through debt. Which means the American government is being loaned money by somebody. That somebody is foreign central banks who need a supply of dollars to hedge their own currencies and to allow their economies to grow.
What if Iran chooses to accept something else? My example would be the Chinese Yuan (the Euro is more likely but the Yuan has certain strategic short term advantages for Iran). It might work in a way similar to this. Iran, alone or together with Venezuela, become tired of endless American provocations. They then decide that they would like new partners and a new world order. They accept the Yuan as payment for oil. This helps China and Iran. Iran’s central bank becomes awash in 2 hard currencies that can be used to buy things all over the world. China gets oil without the problem of buying dollars first and they build Iran’s purchasing power as a market for their export goods. Good old Uncle Sam gets a major problem.
Once you can buy oil in 2 currencies, why should a central bank hold reserves in only one? Thus they dump dollars and buy Yuan. The world becomes awash in dollars and the demand for dollars drastically decreases. The Law of Supply and Demand kicks in. If supply increases and demand decreases then the relative value of the commodity (the not so almighty any more dollar) drops. This means inflation. The value of American consumer purchasing power drops. Hitch that to a spike in oil price and you get major economic disruption. A war under such circumstance might not be able to be financed and such an economic situation would totally preclude an extended occupation of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Venezuela. A world-wide power realignment would begin.
For our immediate survival needs we might wish to examine how such an economic situation would change the behavior of the white settler class.
More Importantly the Oil related crises have domestic consequences that
can force the reordering of society.
The white settler class will need to do something to survive and maintain their lifestyle. That means leaving the suburbs and moving back to the urban core it abandoned in ever increasing rates since Black people were allowed to vote. They will displace the people (mostly of color) who are currently living there.
Not just gentrification. Gentrification on crack. In times of ecological crisis some parts of the American dream will have to be given up. The white middle class will, out of necessity, give up the suburban ideal. American cities will be re-ordered to look like cities do in the rest of the world. Don’t think Paris. Think Nairobi.
The displaced people will be forced to the urban periphery where we are dry-walling cheap condos built on speculative home loans like WWII just ended. Today’s American dream home is the dilapidated slum housing of the next generation. Only this time it will be with three families to a unit. Public transportation will cease to serve the urban periphery. Access to affordable food will scant. Access to health care will as well. Social services will be non-existent by the time we get done paying for this war.
Only it won’t look like a third world shantytown. There will be a color line as well as a class line making the separation. When the state can not in times of crisis enforce the color line, the white settler class has proven willing and able to do so on its’ own.
Consider the first oil and climate related societal restructuring:
Two names and one place: Katrina, Rita and New Orleans. You saw it on TV. There was an ecological crisis. The result: Malthusian Triage. Who got selected to die? I’ll take “People of Color” for a thousand Alex. The state actually fired on its own citizens to keep them from fleeing a disaster. Then it starved them. Then it suddenly “rescued” them – displacing them to all corners of the nation, disrupting and separating families. Once it “settled” them in new cities, it abruptly cut off the aid, displacing them into the segregated poverty of every southern American urban core.
Officials of the post-Katrina “reconstruction” effort openly admit that many (mostly black) poor residents will not EVER be able to return to NOLA. New Orleans will no longer be a majority non-white city. Yet the city will recover its’ original population in raw numbers. In America that’s what we call disaster relief. Everywhere else in the world that’s called genocide. Except where it goes by the more charitable name of “ethnic cleansing.”
Meanwhile right wing pundits continued to advance the idea that Katrina refuges don’t deserve “our” (meaning white America’s) help or relief. They rail against how a poor family may or may not spend $2000 of cash assistance (which white America doesn’t believe they deserve) because “those people” don’t contribute to the economy in a way that they find meaningful. “They never had it so good”. Which is to say the red-state, red-meat, ditto-head constituency believes that the urban non-white population of America passively receives its living from the good graces of the white fathers table. The assumption right beneath that is that non-white populations DON’T have a fundamental human right to live, and if they become disposable in times of crisis they will be disposed.
I’d have to look around real hard (under rocks and at the bottom of sewers) in order to find concepts as morally low in American public discourse. But the blathering of Rush is not far from that of the ex-cokehead presidents senile mother. It’s not that George Bush doesn’t like black people; his moral calculus is on their usefulness. Since slavery ended and population is surplus, that value in his mind is zero.
A World without Borders?
Currently the mainline American fascists would rather have the Army on the Rio Grande then the Euphrates. That’s a current fascist slogan. It sells it Texas. It sells in Vermont. When competition for everything increases, how far will the white settler class go to enforce and retain its’ privileges? All the way and we know it.
Already, White vigilantes patrol the borders and campaign to disrupt the casual labor market that is the survival strategy of so many undocumented here in Texas. Their planned campaigns in the cities aren’t the same as their bluster on the border. At the local level they seek to pass laws banning the solicitation of casual work on the street. And if these laws are not enforced they intend to enforce. That means gangs of white men roving the streets as private armed citizens checking the papers (‘let me see your papers” – sorry couldn’t resist) of any group of Latino males they see.
Their next organizing target is hospitals. Minutemen have stated (to my face) that nobody should be allowed into an emergency room without proof of the legal right to be in the country (after all, why should criminals get free health care?) and they are 2 blind pigs away from enforcing it at gunpoint in the ambulance.
Capital’s need for cheap, imported, insecure labor will dry up when rice is $30 a pound. You’ll pick oranges in the sun all day if it’s the only way you’ll eat. And if you try to eat them off the tree at work they’ll be expensive enough that somebody will feed you lead. Believe it.
The fact that the Minutemen also patrol in Vermont is irrelevant. They aren’t checking the papers of Swedes sneaking in through Windsor. And catching people at the border is the beginning of their social enterprise not the end. They complain about what they call “anchor babies”, children born to the undocumented migrants in America who gain citizenship and thus enable their families to legally migrate. Again, they aren’t concerned about the English college student who gives birth while on summer break. The next thing out of their mouth about allowing families of immigrants into the country is about how large Latino families are. You know what it’s about;,they know what its about and they don’t even need to sugar coat it. More white people would flock to them if they didn’t sugar coat it.
It’s not about checking illegal immigration.
It’s about removing citizenship rights from as many brown people as
possible. The common theme isn’t just advocacy of laws, but
selectively taking control of state function for enforcing those
specific (essentially race based) laws.
Already the white settler class is willing to take the law into its own hands. What will it be willing to do if food, heat, fuel, electricity and farmland are in short supply? They are willing to go into the streets (now, today) with guns to seize away from migrants construction jobs they don’t even want to work. What will they be willing to do under long term crisis conditions?
A rise in fuel costs will fuel de-globalization. Transnational capital moves its industrial plant around the world ever in search of cheaper labor. It relentlessly follows repression to any corner of the world where that repression is capable of lowering the cost of its most significant outlay – labor.
What, however, happens when the most significant outlay of money ceases to be labor? If there is a world food crisis, the cost of labor is reduced to the cost of keeping the proletariat physically existent. The most significant cost becomes transportation. Thus the means of production have to move again. Either they move closer to their source of raw materials, or they move closer to their end markets. Where these are one and the same is where the lowest cost is to be found.
The end logic of this oil-based economic determinism is a class of consumers and soldiers controlling the remaining natural resources in close proximity to a slave or semi-slave population that does the toiling. Everybody else just dies or is pushed into a super- competitive, separate survival economy dominated by banditry.
And for the right wing of the anti-globalization movement that’s fine. Their whole objection to the fact that my roommate’s bright pink boots cost $13 at Wall-Mart isn’t that the Chinese girl that made them makes less in a day then I spend on cigarettes.
They don’t care about that girl until four years from now when they can finally masturbate to her image on the internet.
Their objection is that they are not automatically entitled to do the same job for $15 (entry level) with full health care and enough vacation time to finally go to Thailand and meet the child prostitute of their dreams.
In such a desperate situation people will resist. And capital will need to resort to an appropriate level of repression to deal with that resistance. The white settler class will create the non-state structures it needs to enforce its (self-perceived) right to be fat, stupid and secure. It will enforce the borders, internal and external, official and not.
When resources become increasingly scarce, it will cheapen the value of life. As if the lives of the other meant anything to the fascists in “normal” times. What’s more important is that there is a significant part of the American population that wouldn’t bat an eyelash if there was an urban core die off, so long as a military they control confines the less tidy aspects of that to places where they don’t live. If they don’t control a military that will do it for them, they will form one.
Occupation doesn’t rely on heavy armor or airpower. These assets help, but in the end you need infantry for an occupation and infantry doesn’t need much support. There is one military grade assault rifle in private hands in America for every man, woman and child. Most of those are in the private hands of white men with a sense of entitlement, a right wing outlook and a less then charming set of ideas about how to solve society’s problems. Think about it.
Is there Hope?
After releasing a bunch of gloom into the blogsphere I have to at least posit some solutions to these impending problems. I remain a committed anti-fascist still, and I’m not going to allow a lack of hope to stop me.
The solution to my personal dilemma however, is to find hope and workable strategies now to deal with these escalating problems over the course of the next 20 years.
What can we do to avert or moderate the effects of the three-headed oil crisis? How can left politics continue in the face of extreme scarcity?
It’s clear that old left organizing models are not going to be workable as the future becomes more overcast. Conventional left ideas about fascism aren’t going to work if there is greater and greater risk of there being not enough to go around. We cant look at peak-oil fascism the way we look at fascism in other periods of capitalist historical development.
Already, within the theoretical framework of 3wayfight we are discarding the criminally stupid ideas that lost us the last struggle against fascism in the 30s. Let’s not compound our failures of yesteryear by attempting to adapt failure to a new situation.
We need to look to newer models of organizing to survive. We also need to not have anti-fascism be a side note to the rest of revolutionary struggle, something divorced from the struggle with the state and capital unless there is fascist motion on the ground. We need to look forward to the new fascist potentials. We need to build strength based on the idea that fascism, in the form of state power or not, will be the dominant set of oppositional ideas that we will face.
In Chiapas, they aren’t organizing for state power. They are organizing for survival. Conquest of the state is not the solution they seek. What they are doing is building autonomous power for survival. They are organizing from the point of view that changes in the way the state and capital function will make them irrelevant and consign them to oblivion.
And what do the Zapatista talk about? They talk about Life, Survival and most of all Dignity. Therein lies the key. Central to the Zapatista struggle are core concepts of human worth that will be directly challenged by fascism in the period of oil crisis.
The key to building an anti-fascist movement is therefore found in centralizing the absolute worth of individual human beings. In the face of lifeboat ethics and Malthusian Triage masquerading as politics we have to affirm something vastly different. You do have a right to live, and a right to dignity. By extension, the road to liberation lies through reorganizing society around survival for all in a time of scarcity.
That’s the new way of looking at things. Both the interconnectedness of all peoples’ struggles and local control of our own struggles are critical. The struggle is not to conquer power but to have the power to build our own destiny one community at a time.
Autonomy in struggle must be linking with self-sufficiency in survival. They are one in the same if an oil crisis ushers in a new age of fascist barbarism. Authoritarian left concepts of state power will just lead to the left managing Malthusian Triage (likely with about as much humanitarianism as the right).
What about right now?
Part of the solution will be continued resistance on a community basis to the worst effects of climate change. On a large scale, community based reconstruction of New Orleans (ala Common Ground) and national support for the unconditional right of return of Katrina survivors offer good tentative models of how things could begin to change.
Always putting forth that people most impacted by peak-oil crisis have an absolute right to survive and prosper and have self-determination in times of disaster and reconstruction is a start. However we need to have a foundation of dignity built up before the next calamity. Those who would be calling for the wholesale elimination of whole sectors of cities need to be on the defensive politically before the first raindrop hits shore.
Right now the mantra is that FEMA didn’t help people. People complain that the federal bureaucracy mismanaged this crisis. People outside the disaster zone wanted decisive action from our national leaders to control the crisis. But the crisis they were thinking of wasn’t the survival crisis of those on the streets. They are thinking of the law and order crisis on the streets. They want a firm hand to come in and take charge. In the minds of many it wasn’t food for the starving but troops for the elimination of the starving that they most desired to see.
We need to get inside this dialogue cycle and derail it. We need to build for ourselves community based disaster preparation. We can’t demand it; we must build it. It will help with a short term crisis. It will be essential to surviving the long term multifaceted crisis that is coming (likely sooner than later). If the lives of common people are a valueless commodity to those in power, they will do little to nothing to ensure our survival. The people must assure survival for themselves.
Are you ready?
Here in Austin, the radical community is taking its first steps. Our ideas and projects are based more and more around the concepts of sustainability. We try to work within our community on various projects and always look at how we can both contribute to the self-empowerment of the communities we live in and how our survival strategies involve both community empowerment and long term viability.
Ask yourself some questions about your own radical community. Do you see anti-imperialism and anti-gentrification work as essential to anti-fascism? How do you relate your anti-fascist work to other struggles? Do you explicitly relate how anti-fascist work is intertwined with other struggles to the larger radical community? Are you alert to fascist infiltration in your local anti-war movement? Does your critique of fascism center on the value and dignity of human life? How important is training yourself and your group for self and community defense? Do you discuss the importance of self and community defense with other radical groups? Do you train with them and communicate with them about common threats regularly?
Go beyond those questions to other questions. Is it geographically compact? Is it food sufficient? Could it be made food sufficient? Could it move beyond food sufficiency to food surplus? How many diesel engines does your community have access to? Do you have the physical and technical ability to convert those engines to run on bio-mass fuels? Do you have the physical and technical ability to make bio-mass fuels? Do you have the ability to generate power by wind, water or solar means? Can you quickly acquire that ability? Can you meet food, fuel and power needs beyond the edges of your activist community? What is your capacity for armed self defense? What is your political capacity to communicate both your needs and your abilities to the community immediately around you?
These are the some of the questions. Fascism can sweep suddenly in times of crisis and imperil whole community’s ability to survive. Some of the same features of a community that allow it to withstand attack from the state or transition to a dual power situation will be the same ones that will advantage it in the face of the peak oil fascist doom storm.
War at home… And abroad.
This oil war must be drawn to a close and the next prevented. Frustrating imperialism’s attempts to ride this crisis on its’ own terms should be a goal. Frustrated imperial adventures may feed fascism at home during the short term, but they will moderate oil related crisis and therefore end-game fascism in the long term.
A short term rise in oil price caused by failed oil wars could force oil consumption down. A radical reexamination of how we live our consumptive lives could be forced. With an emphasis on human worth and dignity such a discussion within society could play in our favor. And emphasis on economics would play to the other side’s favor.
We must also seek to internationally align ourselves with movements that have the most libratory politics possible. Just because a group or movement is anti-imperialist does not make it anti-fascist. The Taliban are anti-imperialist but you wouldn’t want to live under their rule. Always seek to make alliances with those groups that value human life and dignity in other nations. Here in the first world we can afford a small amount of monetary support for groups internationally. While the dollar is still worth anything abroad it can go a long way to help people’s struggles.
The Future is what we make it?
For nearly 90 years the left has been consistent. We have been consistent in underestimating and failing to fully understand fascism that is. Even now we struggle to do away with old sloppy thinking about the class character of the fascist movement and weather or not fascism can be anti-capitalist.
We are just coming to grips with the nature of how fascism functions. We are just beginning to understand the possibilities for emergent fascism in the third world and the potential of fascist movements to resist globalization. We need to play a huge game of theoretical catch up.
But to win human liberation we must do more than just catch up. This is not a race with a definite end that can be won in a tie. The race can be lost. Hell, the human race can be lost. As we better understand our opponents we must also better understand the perils on the road ahead.
Peak oil and the problems it poses for humanity are not something that will be overcome with engineering, mechanical, biological or otherwise. It is not necessarily in the interest of this or any other ruling class to solve these problems. These problems loom larger for us than for any other force on the battlefield of human events. We can not ignore them or brush them aside. They deserve our attention now.
Should the end of fascism, capital and the state by some miracle be affected before peak oil (I wont say “happen” because revolutions don’t “happen”, like bad haircuts the author’s had, although the morning after one you may wonder how it happened.) we as the people of the whole world will still inherit the problem of peak oil as a legacy of capitalism.
Problems don’t go away because we don’t wish to deal
with them or we think their implications are unpleasant. Problems
go away when they are solved.