July 11, 2009

“War Socialism”?

Filed under: Peak Oil — Tags: , , — Russell Bangs @ 5:54 am
In an earlier post I laid out the basics of “resource fascism”, the blueprint according to which the power elites of the First World will attempt to maintain their privilege and high-consumption lifestyles under conditions of increasing resource scarcity. I’m not the only one thinking along these lines. In this post I want to discuss two similar visions/nightmares.
 Alexis Zeigler describes the same prospect, with the same foreboding, with what he calls nationalistic environmentalism. Environmentalism here means not real solicitude for ecosystems, but the forced compliance with resource limits, which will then be dressed up as “green”. Zeigler rightly sees biofuels as “emblematic of the dark side of green capitalism”. Few things are so intrinsically or symbolically evil as taking food from the mouths of the global hungry so a fat Westerner can fill his gas tank to continue his frivolous enslavement to the car (a luxury by any real-world measure).
This predatory global stance will necessitate a “very aggressive foreign policy on the part of the industrial powers”. Everyone from hard-right neocons (who want to seize the oil) to mainstream environmental organizations (who want “greener” high-consumption, powered by aggrofuels and “clean coal”, but high-consumption nonetheless) will get on board. “We will see the rise of a passionate, chest-thumping environmentalism, built on the foundation of green capitalism, that dwarfs the current movement”. There are historical analogues for this, in Russia in the 1990s and in Britain right now with the BNP. So far we have more and more of the policies in place – biofuels, importing tar sands bitumen and syncrude, the SPP. We don’t quite have the “chest-thumping” yet, primarily because the Republicans have made environmentalism into a culture war issue, and it’ll take some time to reshape that political template.
“There is no way the US and the global consumer class can maintain its dominion without powerful military pressure, and that martial stance will favor authoritarian political development”. We are all too familiar with a political space defined by the Global War on Terror and the Patriot Act. But this will be and can be only for the benefit of the power elite. “The global elite have more in common with each other than with their fellow national citizens. Civil liberty has always been largely defined by class”. This class elite will try to establish a permanent two-tiered world, elite consumers riding the backs of a mass of slaves. “It is possible for a limited number of people to transition to a highly efficient consumer society, but only if a couple billion of our fellow humans suffer deprivation, or perhaps even outright destruction, along the way”.
One big gated community. That’ll be the fortress world.
This brings us to Jay Hanson’s war socialism.The terminological similarity to the Bolsheviks’ War Communism probably isn’t accidental. There’s an affinity between the two programs, for both involve a beleaguered elite attempting to maintain its power while at least claiming to seek the weal of all. Hanson doesn’t seem to regard war socialism as optimal, but rather as the best America can do if it insists on trying to prop up its high-impact energy-intensive hedonism.
America as it is today has no discernable end or goal or purpose at all other than feudal wealth accumulation. Therefore the existing system cannot solve any problems, since its inertia is completely along the status quo vector. So it will have to meet the Peak Oil challenge in the familiar way – the “green” scam, outsourcing and offsetting environmental destruction, economic colonization, generate energy at any cost however wasteful, boost luxury consumption at all costs. The main difference in Hanson’s vision is that unlike resource fascism (or environmental nationalism), which will seek to internally colonize and indenture every bit as much as it externally colonizes and indentures, war socialism would really seek to lift all (first world) boats.
So we have the war socialist platform:

“Once a new form of government is in place, the following nine strategies would provide a start towards mitigating the net energy shortfall:

1)       Increase our fraction of global net energy (divert energy from competitors) directly by military action.

2)       Increase our fraction of global net energy economically by increasing asset values (e.g., pumping-up the stock market and real estate prices).

3)       Reduce energy demand by eliminating unnecessary economic activity.

4)       Reduce energy demand by reducing human population levels (e.g., closing our borders, deporting as many as possible and discouraging births).

5)       Plant “Victory Gardens” throughout the country.

6)       Heavy funding for basic energy research.

7)       Pollution control rollback, streamline permitting (no EIS, etc.) for alternate energy. No more permits for fossil fuel power plants. No more funding for roads. No more building permits except in special cases.

8)       Full-on conservation, local energy production to minimize grid vulnerabilities, and a crash alternate energy production program. (Conservation will help under a government that limits economic activity).

9)       Free mass transit.”

This program would be “enlightened” for the predator society as a whole, however wicked from the point of view of the global South. It can never happen, since there is no such thing as “America” to be socialistic in such a way.

Rather, we shall have the continuation of planks (1) and (2), the core of the program. Meanwhile the austerity of (3) and (4) shall be increasingly imposed on the masses while the elite continues to party. None of the others has any attraction for the corporatist elite, therefore they shall not be enacted.

Rather, we can rewrite them as:

(5) Further concentration of industrial agriculture and CAFOs. Outlaw (i.e. render impossible through regulatory and economic barriers) small farms and even individual gardens. Various laws to this effect (for example here, here, and here) are already working their way through Congress.

(6) Funding for energy research, yes, but in order to prop up continued high consumption. Especially whatever will maximize fossil fuel extraction, without reference to economic cost-effectiveness.

(7) Remove all regulation for fossil fuel. For alternative energy as the elite deems desirable. Same for infrastructure work.

(8) and (9) will continue to be the subject of policy assault as they are today.

Resource fascism is a horrible prospect. But there seems to be little will to fight it. The great majority are still committed to the consumer growth economy and are desperate to believe any lie which can prop up their faith. This is what the oligarchs are counting on.

Can this be prevented? I don’t know, but I imagine it would require coordination among activists of all sorts to first put together the one big picture which brings it all together, to clearly see how all battlefields are part of one war. This would help us decide once and for all which are the extinct principles now become lies, which are the true principles now springing up, offering to replace them, what strategy and tactics stem from these, and how to live from there.

May 21, 2009


Lately it seems there’s a sense of unreality floating about. At least in the media mirror the crisis is being managed. The people have calmed down. This climate change, at any rate – spasmodic fear and anger, against a backdrop of growing anxiety and tension – seems to have been a false start. Now we hear of how we’ve turned the corner, indicators are up, and that although things will still get worse before they get better, they’re going to get better and soon. “2010” is the talisman. (Of course, in 2008 they said that about 2009, but this time they have real reasons and not just hype and dogma.)
This morning the NYT chirped about how the oil price heading back up means the economy is recovering, and how even with recovering oil prices America this summer is going to be recovering its gasoline consumption and miles driven. Everywhere we see attempts to find that housing starts are resuming. Prognosticators also look to the geographic markets which collapsed ahead of the curve, to try to locate the nascent curve of the next housing bubble. These are the good things, the “green shoots”. They don’t indicate that man is fey, insane, and utterly unable to learn lessons and solve problems short of permanent collapse. They signify the underlying permanency of the fossil fuel, exponential debt civilization.
Of course, the real economic indicators are horrible. After the brief respite of dampened food and fuel prices, these are now resuming their systematic upward march. Meanwhile the recession deepens, and every monthly labor report catalogues the accelerating jobs hemorrhage. “Green shoots”? Only in the pantomime stats. Only in the hall of mirrors. Bank profits were only the shadow cast by asset selloffs, accounting tricks and bailout money laundering. The market rally is built on sand. The stress tests are a charade, and their media reflection a lie.
What is really happening? After the convulsions of the first wave of economic destruction, we are entering the gruel and grind of stagflation. That’s what these food and fuel prices portend.
So far the disaster is not being confronted, and the practices which generated it are not being changed. Not only have the finance criminals not been brought to justice, but they have been rewarded and allowed to continue and intensify their crimes. They even feel emboldened to comport themselves with renewed aggression, arrogance, and contempt. They were allowed to negotiated the stress test results. They still ideologically own the administration. They still rule on Capitol hill. Calls for restored law and regulation have bogged down. The bailouts continue. The financial elite continue to prosper and prey, while their prey, the people and the earth, continue to suffer.
Fire, famine, pestilence, war….We have a world circumscribed by these, and they hem us in ever more tightly. America is now the de facto dictatorship of war. There is no aspect of large-scale policy (which is almost all policy nowadays) which is not conceived and executed so as to further the Bailout War and the Global War on Terror. Both of these in turn are simply wealth redistribution machines. Fire: as in burning the rain forests and peatlands to make way for agrofuel factories. Disease: the swine flu and its successor pandemics arising out of the germ war factories and launchpads known as “factory farms”. Famine: although most famines are man-made, none compare with the one we now face as agrofuels and industrial agriculture monopolize the land, while the biotech corporations achieve seed domination. We face the prospect of a cartel dictating ever higher food prices, while we (the people of the earth) become ever less capable of providing for our own food needs. This will happen even as fossil fuel agriculture becomes intrinsically more expensive. More pressure on food prices. Famine again. And the deforestation and burning of food for fuel shall drive the same climate change whose drought effects are also constraining global agriculture. Fire again. Famine again.
You would think we’d want to change this system; that at the very least we’d act in self-defense vs. this prospect of enslavement. Yet according to the mainstream media the flurry of populist outrage is spent, and serious reform is a dead duck. No one even talks about bank nationalization anymore, to give an example of something intrinsically stupid (the goal must be to permanently downsize and decentralize banks, not restore megabanks to “health”) but which nevertheless sounds like a plausible and constructive policy given the premises of the big structure/”growth” model.
According to the media, after a brief fling with the attitudinizing of revolt, the people have settled back down into their normal sheeple posture, passively waiting to be given the all clear. And the MSM is trying to comply, collaborating with the government’s green shoots PR campaign. That’s the image the media holds up to America as its mirror. 
But perhaps this mirror doesn’t faithfully reflect but actively distorts, trying to force reality into the unreal preferred form. Those who are educating themselves know that these are all lies. Growth is not coming back. Sure, we may have a few spikes of zombie growth in the form of new bubbles. But bubbles are all we’ve had for a long time now, and that’s all we can ever have again, so long as we keep trying to prop up a centralized, cartelized system predicated on infinite oil and infinite debt. We know that this is a lie.
The question is, has this sunk in at all among the populace as a whole? Were the flurries of populism just a frustrated lashing out, or did they indicate an intuition about the fundamental rot?
We’re now in a brief, becalmed interlude between the onset of turbulence and the full rage of the storm. The people will certainly have no choice but to become activized. The only question is whether their energies will be enlisted by increasingly authoritarian processes or even overt fascism, or whether they will become conscious of their real predicament and act to improve their situation rather than tear down the house on top of themselves.
There’s where I hope Peak Oil education can do some good. It’s true that cadres can only accomplish so much. Everything depends upon people’s capacity to become educated, which in the end always means educating yourself.
But where we don’t know what these capacities are, how these historical forces will play out, what is truly possible, the only way to learn anything is to attempt it. I can’t imagine a more fruitful, creative, and yes hopeful way of living in this pivotal and fraught moment of world history than to be aware of it and try in whatever modest way to spread this awareness.