August 4, 2011

Capitalism as Disguised, Oil-Drenched Feudalism

Filed under: Corporatism, Freedom, Marx, Neo-feudalism, Peak Oil — Tags: — Russ @ 4:59 am


We often encounter those who argue that what we have now “isn’t capitalism”, isn’t a real free market, but that if we get rid of corporatism (which they often stupidly call “socialism”, even though by definition socialism means at least public ownership of the means of production, though unfortunately not necessarily worker self-management and control) and have “real” capitalism, then we’ll have utopia.
(This is absurd. What’s called capitalism has been in the full deployment stage long enough and universally enough and with the same result everywhere that we know for a fact that whatever it’s always been in practice, that’s what it will always be in practice. That’s the only thing it can be in practice. Pro-capitalists are always quick to accuse those who advocate alternatives of being utopian, but what could possibly be more of a fantasy than still believing in ivory tower textbook depictions of an Immaculate Capitalism?
Anarchism, by contrast, has often gotten off to promising starts but was always destroyed by violence before it had time to develop a long track record. So to believe that in the long run it would work well is far more legitimate than to believe that real textbook capitalism can ever exist.)
To put it in Marxian terms, these advocates argue that the bourgeois revolution stagnated and regressed in many feudal ways, and now needs to be completed. That’s the end goal for them.
But the fact is that the “bourgeois revolution” was always a misunderstanding (for example on Marx’s part) and often a scam.
In this two-part post I argue:
1. Economic elites never wanted to abolish feudalism, but rather wanted to modify it in order to partially rationalize the economy. This modification started in the 18th century.
2. They wanted to do this in order to maximize the energy returns on fossil fuel extraction, their extraction of the fossil fuel surplus, and their extraction of the surplus of the Industrial Revolution fossil fuels made possible.
3. Therefore we had the interim period, the Oil Age, the ahistorical energy surge which came from drawing down the fossil fuel principal. During this period, the global economy was a hybrid of feudalism (mostly in the form of corporatism) and textbook capitalism. The former was always maintained as much as possible, and always predominated.
4. Now that we’ve reached Peak Oil, and the return on investment of fossil fuels will inexorably decline, it’s time to fully restore feudalism. No admixture of “real” capitalism will increase extraction for the elites, and they also think they can dispense with it politically. On the political front, the neoliberal strategy will try to zombify representative pseudo-democracy for a while yet.
But economically, we’ll see nothing but an accelerating race to abolish all phenomena except rent extraction points and coerced debt indenture.
Therefore, to still dream of a restored capitalism (remembering it like it never was) is to dream foolishly, wastefully, self-destructively. Conservatives, liberals, “progressives”, all reformists go into this category. (The same goes for dreaming of renewed representative government, and “better elites” in general.)
In reality, we face a stark, simple choice – to submit to a reactionary feudal indenture (far worse than the medieval one, since it’ll be under totalitarian technology and organizational methods, and lack even the consolation of medieval Christianity), or to wage a revolutionary struggle against it. If we choose the latter, we can and will win through to a completely different future, that of positive democracy. At the very least, we must start with a vow never to submit, to choose death over submission. That’s the first step toward choosing to live.
So there’s Peak Oil’s strange attractor. Two possibilities. History will be fine with either. But the future of humanity, to triumph or perish, is what’s really at stake.


  1. Brilliant post!

    My rant:

    I’ve studied and researched the “common denominator of history’s tragedies” for over 60 years, not for publication, but for my own interest. It has always been the same: Empires grew by stealing resources and energy from others, until they went that fatal last step too far and self destructed, as our system is destroying us now.

    The world is urged to become “more competitive” but what the proponents of this crime wave never figured out is that competitive systems need constantly increasing energy demands to survive and stay on top, until they run out, burn out and collapse.

    This has been the story of all empires and it is happening now , as we can see, observe and record it.

    Now it is on a global scale, with a criminal element in control of the colonization of the world. In the past the rulers have done it with arms and religions, allegedly to “spread the faith”. Today it is with the perceived power of imaginary money, used as a pseudo religion, taught in our universities as the religion of “neoclassical market economics”, which is leading to the same destruction and ultimate collapse as happened in all ages of history. The problem of Friedman’s Chicago school of demand side economics is rooted in the Cornucopia model of unending wealth creation. This form of Voodoo economics, with all its pseudo scientific graphs and calculations, ignores supply of resources, especially energy use and externalized effects.

    But our “leaders” and so called “economists” can report constant “growth of the GDP”, with phony monetary figures, claiming that everything is A-OK.

    The world has always been ruled by idiots and crooks, albeit on relatively small scales, until they self destructed, taking millions of innocent lives with them to the grave, but now they can do it globally, to the whole world.


    Comment by xraymike79 — August 4, 2011 @ 2:27 pm

    • Hi Mike,

      Your rant is right on. Money sure is a phantasm turned into a fetish. History’s ultimate reification. (Even religion for a long time, prior to scientific explanations, provided a way to organize perceptions of nature and render them explicable. But money is a gratuitous swaddling shroud for the soul, simultaneously constricting our horizons and forcing us to act contrary to nature, in self-destructive defiance of it.)

      Did you read my posts earlier this week about seeking alternatives to command money?

      Given what you wrote about the limits and self-destruction of empires, you might be interested in this post.


      Comment by Russ — August 4, 2011 @ 3:25 pm

      • Next week I’ll have the time to go back and read more of your writings. I can see that your perceptions are dead-on-target and deserve a wider audience, or at least those who wish to see past all the bread and circus.

        Comment by xraymike79 — August 4, 2011 @ 3:31 pm

  2. Rant on. Makes me think of Thoreau, who hated the railroads everyone was raving about at the time… he wondered how many people and how much beauty would be run over by the railroad, and wondered what the point really is.
    From a higher perspective, one sometimes wonders what the point of all the greed, competition, and striving is. I think all good “salt of the earth” type people have a hard time understanding the motivations of the greedy corporate and bureaucratic elites, because they don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t be satisfied with a good home, family, friends, and modest resources. We peasants just have a hard time believing that the elites could really be so bloodthirsty and consumed by greed, so we impute better motives to them than they have.

    Comment by Publius — August 5, 2011 @ 10:16 am

  3. Russ, you’ve been on a writing spree lately. I’m glad you found some mojo.

    This post is interesting to me because it dovetails into a book I just started called The Shield of Achilles by Philip Bobbitt. The main thesis is that, what Bobbitt terms, the Long War encompassing WWI to the collapse of USSR and Treaty of Paris in 1990 was a struggle between parliamentary democracy, communism and fascism for institutional legitimacy.

    I’m only into the first 100 pages of 800, but I think you might find value in the premise that, having won the war, parliamentary democracy is consolidating it’s gains as the dominant Feudal overlord.

    In my view, communism, fascism and parliamentary democracy are merely there own perversions of State Feudalism, as ruthless and exploitative as any Imperial State that preceded them. The thing is, it is incredibly simple to identify the feudal markets in communist and fascist systems. On the other hand, our parliamentary democracy disguises it’s feudal ambitions as part and parcel of it’s strategy to dominant the acquisition of capital.

    Tl;dr I think you should check out The Shield of Achilles if you haven’t read it.

    Comment by Ross — August 5, 2011 @ 3:09 pm

    • Thanks Ross. I haven’t heard of that book before, but it sounds like its thesis is right on. (Another thing fascism, communism, and liberal pseudo-democracy have in common is that they all implicitly band together to suppress anarchism wherever it looks like it might triumph, as in the Spanish Revolution.)

      Is the title alluding to Auden’s harrowing poem of the same name?


      She looked over his shoulder
      For vines and olive trees,
      Marble well-governed cities
      And ships upon untamed seas,
      But there on the shining metal
      His hands had put instead
      An artificial wilderness
      And a sky like lead.

      A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
      No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
      Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down,
      Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
      An unintelligible multitude,
      A million eyes, a million boots in line,
      Without expression, waiting for a sign.

      Out of the air a voice without a face
      Proved by statistics that some cause was just
      In tones as dry and level as the place:
      No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;
      Column by column in a cloud of dust
      They marched away enduring a belief
      Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.

      She looked over his shoulder
      For ritual pieties,
      White flower-garlanded heifers,
      Libation and sacrifice,
      But there on the shining metal
      Where the altar should have been,
      She saw by his flickering forge-light
      Quite another scene.

      Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot
      Where bored officials lounged (one cracked a joke)
      And sentries sweated for the day was hot:
      A crowd of ordinary decent folk
      Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke
      As three pale figures were led forth and bound
      To three posts driven upright in the ground.

      The mass and majesty of this world, all
      That carries weight and always weighs the same
      Lay in the hands of others; they were small
      And could not hope for help and no help came:
      What their foes like to do was done, their shame
      Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride
      And died as men before their bodies died.

      She looked over his shoulder
      For athletes at their games,
      Men and women in a dance
      Moving their sweet limbs
      Quick, quick, to music,
      But there on the shining shield
      His hands had set no dancing-floor
      But a weed-choked field.

      A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
      Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
      Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
      That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
      Were axioms to him, who’d never heard
      Of any world where promises were kept,
      Or one could weep because another wept.

      The thin-lipped armorer,
      Hephaestos, hobbled away,
      Thetis of the shining breasts
      Cried out in dismay
      At what the god had wrought
      To please her son, the strong
      Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles
      Who would not live long.

      Comment by Russ — August 5, 2011 @ 3:41 pm

      • Exactly. The Auden’s poem is reprinted in the back and the book begins with Homer’s description of Achilles’ armor from the Iliad, which, I believe, is where Auden drew his inspiration.

        Comment by Ross — August 5, 2011 @ 4:05 pm

  4. You might look up a definition of what Fascism is. Face it, the USA is a Fascist country. Works marginally better than Communism in using market methods for pricing and resource distribution.

    Please note that Fascism was explicitly nationalistic, but not specifically racist. The Jews of Italy were fine until 1943, when Mussolini was overthrown.

    Comment by ElectricAngel — August 8, 2011 @ 12:33 am

  5. Amereicha is totally screwed…

    Comment by David Slater — August 18, 2011 @ 9:43 am

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