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i know it’s been a while since i’ve posted anything and it’s going to be a while longer, but in the mean time here are incomplete notes on the BP oil spill through the lens of the essay on Estranged Labor by Marx in his 1844 manuscripts.  hopefully one day i’ll get around to finishing these.

“…the Gulf appears to be bleeding,”

so i’ve been wondering what to make of the BP oil catastrophe in the Gulf.

i’ve also been engaged in my own “return to Marx” (for lack of a better phrase) that – alongside social ecology – has helped me understand, in part, the capitalist dynamics behind the spill.

much of the coverage thus far has demonstrated how the subjective decisions of BP and the other capitalist firms have contributed to the disaster.  there is, no doubt, truth to this.

but taken too far this could infer that an ecological capitalism that is benevolent towards the working class is possible.  there are similar debates being had in the European Left’s regroupment projects over whether the task is to fight capitalism, or merely its current form, viz. neoliberalism.

the task of revolutionaries will be to explain the oil spill as it relates to the broader dynamics of capitalism.  the concept of generalized commodity production – the motor behind endless production – should be explained in real social and political manifestations.

the following are notes towards that effort.

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major props to the World Socialist Web Site for all the great coverage of this disaster.

Louisiana residents and fishermen denounce oil spill response

The World Socialist Web Site spoke to fishermen in southern Louisiana who will be devastated by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which threatens to shut down fishing, shrimping, and oyster farming for years. BP has hired only a minority of fishermen in the cleanup effort, while the others struggle to pay their bills with the paltry $5,000 compensation payment.

reposted from Race Wire

BP Oil Spill Hurts Already Besieged Communities of Color

Julianne Hing

It’s only been two weeks since the April 20 explosion on the BP drilling rig killed 11 workers fifty miles off the coast of Louisiana and triggered an oil spill, but already local environmental justice advocates are saying the impact on communities of color could do more to wipe out the local economy than Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the recession combined.

The oil spill, which BP has taken responsibility for but been unable to bring under control, threatens to cut off local communities from their primary source of food and livelihood “indefinitely,” said Monique Harden, the co-director of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, a New Orleans-based environmental justice group.

And now, many fishermen, already out of work since the federal government issued a ten-day ban on commercial and recreational fishing starting last Friday, are signing up for paid volunteer work to help BP with its cleanup efforts. Fishermen with boats are being paid nominal fees to ferry materials to and from shore and load the gigantic plastic containment booms that are supposed to keep oil from spreading further inland.

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one of the ‘rads shared her thoughts with me concerning the collapse of the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico:

not sure what to say about it yet, other than how fucked up and fuck these oil companies; but at the same time you see how the feds are trying to shift the blame onto the oil companies, as if the feds weren’t the ones who agreed to open up these waters to this very risk (with Obama agreeing in the last couple weeks to open new areas to more offshore drilling).

Looks like the fishing industry and the ports are gonna be dealt a serious blow if/when the oil reaches shore — both of which are vital to the economy of Louisiana. While federal law requires BP to pay for the damages & clean up, what that means in reality is that the insurance policies BP has on that rig will pay out and gas prices are gonna go up (and will probably be pushed up in part by speculators who recognize that the loss of oil production means “decreased” supply and thus increased prices).

i’m a little perplexed about what to think about this.  the anti-civilizational tendency in the ecology movement could easily use this as ammunition to attack “industrial society” as opposed to capitalist society.

there are a few points worth noting, though:

1.  BP has refused to install acoustic triggers, which could have prevented this tragedy because they cost half a million dollars to install on one oil rigg;  this is the subjective decision of capitalist firms, such as BP to sacrifice the world for profits, but it goes beyond individual “greed”

2.  for the moment capitalists have refused to shift towards a sustainable energy economy;  this is tied to the need for profits by the oil industry that operates on an infrastructure worth billions of dollars;  to sacrifice this capital would be catastrophic for the working class because so many of us would lose our jobs.  the transportation infrastructure that almost every company in the world relies upon is also implicated in this transition;  under capitalism, if a company is not profitable than the workers will be the first to suffer;  our ability to live is tied to the ability of capital to successfully compete in the market;  the question is:  can the transition to cleaner energy production under capitalism cannot occur without massive devastation for the working class?  i don’t think so.

these two article provide good coverage of the disaster:

from the World Socialist Web Site
Gulf oil spill threatens economic, environmental catastrophe

from the New York Times
BP is Criticized over Oil Spill, but US Missed Chances to Act

Obama is providing loans to build the first nuclear power plant in 30 years.  this is a definite defeat for the anti-nuke movement.

the only thing i would emphasize is that it’s being touted as a (clean) jobs initiative, and that it’s taking place in the South, which is basically a safe haven for capitalist development… free from the rights of organized labor.

reposted from Socialist Worker

Obama’s nuclear power play

Elizabeth Schulte tells what the Obama White House isn’t saying about nuclear power.
February 23, 2010

PRESIDENT BARACK Obama announced on February 17 that his Energy Department had approved an $8.3 billion loan for the construction of two nuclear reactors in Georgia, opening the way for the first nuclear power plants to be built in the U.S. in three decades.

Obama couched the announcement in environmental rhetoric, counting nukes on a list of “clean” energy sources, alongside solar and wind power.

Maybe he should ask the Pennsylvania residents who lived near the Three Mile Island plant 31 years ago if they think nuclear power is “clean.” In 1979, an accident at the Three Mile Island reactor nearly ended in a catastrophic meltdown. Or he could talk to the 6 million Ukrainians–those who are still alive–who were exposed to contamination in 1986 when the Chernobyl rector released a radioactive cloud to drift over parts of Europe.

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keeping with the questions of possibilies (see the previous post), George Caffentiz pubished the following essay in turbulence on the implications of shifting towards a ‘green energy’ economy.

he notes that the last time there was a major shift in energy production in the US it was during Roosevelt’s presidency, but it was neither simple nor benign.  the shift towards natural gas and oil was a move to break the minor’s union, a powerful force in the CIO.  this was a defeat of working class power, and marked the accelerated development of state capitalism.

in my head the ability to shift away from an oil energy economy will depend broadly on two interrelated things: 1) conflicts over the control of oil resources between the US, Latin America (with Venezuela in the lead), and Iran along with the rest of the Middle East; and 2) the current crisis of capitalism in general, and neoliberalism in particular.  the latter is important because it governs in part the interstate and inter-imperial rivalries listed in point number one.

how will the political and economic relationship change?  what obstacles will come up preventing any smooth transition between ruling classes?  if disciplining the minors’ union in the 1930s & 40s is any indication of what is to come, what does this mean for the shifting power relationship between the rulers on the one hand, and the working class and other forces from below on the other?

but i’ll stop here and let Caffentiz take it away…

‘Everything Must Change So That Everything Can Remain the Same’: Notes on Obama’s Energy Plan

The Bush administration’s energy policy, with its evasions and invasions, has led to poverty, war and environmental destruction. But will Obama’s policy really be substantially different? Will this be change we can believe in? Turbulence asked George Caffentiz, a seasoned analyst of energy politics, to investigate.

Is President Obama’s oil/energy policy going to be different from the Bush Administration’s? My immediate answer to this question will be a firm No, followed by a more hesitant Yes. The reason for this ambivalence is simple: the failure of the Bush Administration to radically change the oil industry in its neoliberal image has made a transition from an oil-based energy regime inevitable, and the Obama Administration is responding to this inevitability. We are, consequently, in the midst of an epochal shift and so must revise our assessments of the political forces and debates of the past with some circumspection.

Before I examine both sides of this answer, we should be clear as to the two sets of oil/energy policies being discussed.

The Bush policy paradigm’s premise is all too familiar: the ‘real’ energy crisis has nothing to do with the natural limits on energy resources, but it is due to the constraints on energy production imposed by government regulation and the OPEC cartel. First, energy production must be liberalised and the corrupt, dictatorial and terrorist-friendly OPEC cartel dissolved by US-backed coups (Venezuela) and invasions (Iraq and Iran). Then, according to the Bush folk, the free market can finally impose realistic prices on the energy commodities (which ought to be about half of the present ones). This in turn will stimulate the production of adequate supplies and a new round of spectacular growth of profits and wages.

Obama’s oil/energy policy, during the campaign and after his election, has an equally familiar premise. As he presented on January 27, 2009, ‘I will reverse our dependence on foreign oil while building a new energy economy that will create millions of jobs… America’s dependence on oil is one of the most serious threats that our nation has faced. It bankrolls dictators, pays for nuclear proliferation and funds both sides of our struggle against terrorism.’ In the long-term, this policy includes: a ‘clean tech’ Venture Capital Plan; Cap and Trade; Clean Coal Technology development; stricter automobile gas-mileage standards; and cautious support for nuclear power electricity generation.

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