WAR AND ITS ROOTS
by Stan Goff
[Copyright 2002, From The
Wilderness Publications, www.copvcia.com. All Rights Reserved.
May be copied, distributed, or posted on the Internet for
non-profit purposes only.]
Aug. 27, 2002, 12:00 PDT (FTW) -- Most of the polemical
resistance to the so-called "War on Terrorism"
has thus far been based on ethics and morality. And the
moral dimension of the war is important. But we must take
a more critical look at this war, at what is motivating
the war, and what are the likely outcomes. While we can
mount moral resistance to the war, if we fail to critically
engage the real causes of it, we cannot mount an effective
political resistance, which has to be an effective response
to the motive forces behind the war.
Here we will emphasize the dynamic between an American ruling
class and its governing junta -- which has seized power
and is in many ways out of control -- in an adverse historical
circumstance that is not likely correctable, and cannot,
therefore, guarantee the survival of U.S. imperialism. We
have to study this dynamic concretely to understand it.
It is important at the outset not to think of big business
(sometimes referred to as "capital") as broken
into discrete sectors, each sector with its own static base
and ideology. The concept of capital as broken into static
sectors, while it may be useful for a short time to conduct
a transient analysis, is fundamentally mechanical. Capital
is a dynamic and cyclical process of accumulation via valorization1
and systemic reproduction. It has to stabilize and reproduce
itself as a system, yet it also has to "grow."
This simultaneous need for equilibrium and disequilibrium
is one of the central paradoxes of imperialism. Total capital
at any moment is a set sum of money, for the sake of argument,
but it is in flux, changing forms throughout the production/reproduction
process, first productive capital, then goods and services,
then redistributed through interests and rents, then finance
Capital has a temporal nature. In this process, the system
bosses, CEOs, etc., are like an acting troupe, the members
of which keep changing roles. The notion that they are divided
into sectors, then, is illusory, because no fraction of
capital exists independently in any sector. A crisis of
accumulation2 is not a discrete crisis limited to one "sector"
of capital. It is general. And the higher the degree of
international integration and rationalization of the capitalist
class, especially in a technically complex interdependency,
the more generalized are the accumulation crises. Anything
affecting one "sector" necessarily affects all
We cannot know every aspect of this dialectic, but we can
focus on some key aspects of it, bearing in mind the limitations
of this focus, that I think will shed some light on our
situation. So I will focus on oil, on currency, and on the
evolving role and dilemma of the U.S. military. While we
can certainly acknowledge that currency and the military
are constants in the abstract and not a sector of capital,
oil at first blush appears to be a definite sector. But
this, too, is illusory. Oil is not a separate sector, first
for the reasons cited above, but also because oil is no
Oil is the form of a deeper cycle of material reality than
that on which radical theorists concentrated in the abstract
with relation to the commodity and the vast social architecture
they unfold from that enigma. It is the embodiment of inescapable
physical laws related to energy and matter, and those are
the laws, in conjunction with the laws of social motion,
that we are bumping up against, not just as a society but
as a species. Oil is a form of super-concentrated energy,
originating as solar energy that formed over hundreds of
millions of years in unique biological and geological conditions
that cannot be replicated. Our species has used over half
of the recoverable oil in approximately 100 years.
World oil production is probably peaking right now3, even
as population continues to increase and the demands of a
crumbling world economic infrastructure continue apace.
Two factors might provide a transient reprieve from this
event. First, technological advances like 3-D seismic enhanced
recovery, nuclear-magnetic resonance techniques, horizontal
drilling, and so forth, and second, a worldwide depression,
which would radically decrease demand.4 It is not difficult
to imagine some of the long-term consequences of the end
of cheap oil, even using the input-output models of the
neo-Malthusians.5 (Thomas Malthus [1766-1834] was an English
economist who became famous through his book, "Essay
on Population." He claimed that population increased
faster than the means of human subsistence. Facts contradict
this, and show that a niche must be opened in order to be
filled. The neo-Malthusians have altered Malthus'
concept somewhat, by claiming that population will "overshoot"
as means of subsistence, like arable land, water, and fossil
fuels, are depleted. There appears to be some validity to
this. But their model is based on simple input-output calculations
that assume a human population trajectory based on a static
list of variables, with no account for the characteristics
of social systems. It implies, therefore, a kind of genetic
determinism that can easily devolve into racism.)
But we must take into account the social relations of energy,
and value-theory.6 It is not the finite physical limit of
oil that matters right now. It matters what is finite in
the context of what is economically essential. Does oil
have any perfect substitutes? At this conjuncture, the answer
is an unequivocal "no." What is the value of
oil in terms of embodied socially-necessary labor-time?
In other words, can the value of oil rise fast enough for
the whole economy to be contained? The answer to that is
an unequivocal "yes."
Oil has no perfect substitute. Neither solar cell, nor coal,
nor plutonium can run trucks or airplanes. There are theoretical
substitutes, but not one shows any promise in the near term
of even being developed. It is the lifeblood of the entire
global capitalist system, and has been for 100 years. If
oil prices go beyond a very operational price of no return,
so to speak, the economy will most certainly be contained,
very likely to the point of collapse.7 Imagine the consequences
today, for example, if oil prices jumped a mere 50 percent.
But if best predictions are correct, and we are entering
the era of post-peak production, a steady and accelerating
increase in the price of oil is inevitable, and soon.
So capitalism itself, utterly dependent on this single finite
substance, is faced with a very real and very threatening
energy crisis. Progressive (as in gradual) change is now
producing an abrupt step-change. We may not perceive it
as such yet, because U.S. capitalists are very adept at
commodifying the mass-intellect, and making its assertions
appear both upright and noble, as we can see in the ubiquitous
display of American flags.
Every oil shock since 1973 has corresponded to or promptly
followed a war. To understand why, we have to account for
the concrete and current structure of the world capitalist
The U.S. is now unarguably hegemonic. U.S. armed forces
control every major sea lane, and it has ringed the world
with military bases8. U.S. forces are the international
police of the Gulf States, where, by the way, imperialist
oil corporations extract the oil and pay rents to client
Those rents have to be sufficient to keep domestic populations
from becoming restive, and to continually restore their
capital base. A barrel of oil costing between $25 and $30
is enough to keep the principal Organization of Petroleum
Exporting Countries (OPEC) states calm (as this is written,
however, there is a dollar devaluation in progress), even
as it strains those non-OPEC states whose recovery costs
are higher than, say, Saudi Arabia or pre-invasion Iraq.9
The U.S. pays below a market price for oil for at least
three reasons. One is that the U.S. has offered F-16 fighter
jets, Stinger missiles, and so on to those client regimes,
as well as capitalizing their oil extraction. Two is that
the U.S. has through a number of stratagems since the early-1970s
convinced those states to invest their profits in U.S. financial
instruments.10 If the Saudis attempted to take action against
the U.S. economy, for example, they would ruin themselves,
since they have invested the majority of their assets in
U.S. securities. Three is that the U.S. controls the air,
land, and sea lanes and is willing to deploy devastating
military power into the region. So the U.S. is having its
oil subsidized, in a sense, paying less than market value,
as a form of imperial tribute.
It is because oil is denominated in dollars -- which I can
now call "petrodollars" -- since the U.S. dropped
the gold standard and all its associated fixed currency
exchange rates in 1971,11 that the U.S. has been able to
dominate not only the developing world, but its key capitalist
competitors. Other nations must pay their energy bills in
(petro)dollars, at a higher rate than the U.S., and those
dollars come right back to the homeland (via Saudi Arabia,
et al) to invest in T-Bills and real estate.
In 1973 the Nixon Administration devalued the dollar, by
then firmly fixed as the currency of international trade
by virtue of being the petrodollar, and cleared its own
debts to its European and Asian capitalist competitors.
American petrodollars were then cycled through American
banks, which lent them to Latin Americans and Africans,
still reeling from the last oil shock, who then required
petrodollar loans to pay their own energy bills. Economic
growth has stagnated and fallen back in Africa and Latin
America ever since. This is the method by which the U.S.
was able to shift the burden of its own post-Vietnam accumulation
crisis onto others, and to shift the maintenance model of
its hegemony from semi-fascist client regimes to "structural
adjustment" debt peonage under nominally "democratic"
American imperialism is in the last instance petrodollar
imperialism. As Latin America, Africa, and now Asia, slide
over the abyss, Americans have doubled their car ownership.12
The rest of the world is, in this way, directly bearing
the burden of our high cost of living.
So if this system begins to unravel, as it has begun to,
and the American people see their standard of living take
a sudden downturn, the U.S. political regime will face a
far graver political crisis than the crisis of legitimacy
that was opportunistically transcended by spinning Sept.
Capital understands very clearly what is at stake, and it
must take great pains to ensure that we do not understand
But the ruling class fails to grasp the implications of
"value-theory," that is, the very laws that
give capitalism its character. The global monopolization
that is taking place right now is an attempt to escape from
those laws. The very fact of the current super-heated monopolization
is an indication that the competitive process is exhausted.
Recent revelations about the "creative accounting"
scandals of major transnationals are evidence of attempts
to escape those laws through massive bunko scams.
The strategic devaluation and inauguration of the neoliberal
regime in the early 1970s was already a response to a generalized
crisis of profits, a crisis related to the organic composition
of capital, and even the petrodollar was a retrenchment.
That retrenchment may now also be exhausted.
World oil consumption right now is about 75 million barrels
per day. By 2010, that is expected to increase to 100 million
barrels per day.13 This oil is produced by two major groups,
let's say, for the purpose of analysis -- OPEC and non-OPEC
(NOPEC). OPEC is largely concentrated in the Persian Gulf
region. NOPEC is the North Atlantic, North America, Mexico,
China, Nigeria, and so forth. That doesn't tell the whole
story, though. Gulf states' oil does not peak in production
until 2012, and half the world's remaining easily extractable
oil is there.14 World production is peaking right now. But
world production is an average. NOPEC peaked several years
ago, now being in permanent decline.
So, OPEC is getting stronger, and NOPEC is getting weaker.
Saudi Arabia, an OPEC nation, is the biggest pool, with
Iraq next and the Caspian Sea region a theoretical third
(but this is very much in doubt15). The U.S. has for years
been trying to ensure domination of OPEC, and they have
accomplished that to some degree by ensuring the corrupt
Saudis and others through those aforementioned investments.
Given that OPEC production is still rising and NOPEC is
in permanent irreversible decline, OPEC is regaining dominance
in the overall oil market. The point at which OPEC regains
definitive domination of world markets is called by some
the "crossover event."16
Best predictions are that the "crossover event"
will happen around 201117. This is certainly understood
by the current Bush Administration, which is heavily populated
by members of the petroleum oligarchy.
Should forces hostile to U.S. imperialism (for whatever
reason) gain control over the Gulf States and its oil, they
would effectively control the lifeblood of the entire global
economic system. U.S. hegemony would collapse in an historical
instant. Compared to this scenario, Sept. 11 was a walk
in the park. And the U.S. ruling class, especially the current
petroligarchy administration, knows this.
Since world oil production begins to decline on average
almost immediately, the U.S. as the biggest end user needs
to figure out how to compensate for the losses being sustained
in NOPEC production. Their solution, from what we can see
now, may be to open the Caspian and accelerate extraction
from the Gulf States, particularly Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
But the most optimistic scenarios are that all three regions
combined might put out an additional 15 million barrels
per day. Given that our extrapolated appetite will go up
25 million barrels per day within nine years, provided there
is no economic collapse that truncates demand, the U.S.
remains in a dilemma.
Compounding that dilemma is the fact that simply getting
that additional oil out of the ground and to market will
require an investment of an additional $1 trillion in the
region by someone.18
Who will bear the burden? Colonized peoples, of course,
outside and inside the U.S. via the domination of the petrodollar.
This is almost certainly the plan of the Bush junta. The
perennial problem, however, is the mass of people in those
nations, who are often militantly radicalized by arrogant
foreign plunderers. This puts the imperialists right back
on the horns of a dilemma.
The escalation of Palestinian resistance to Zionism19 and
the fascist-like response of the Israelis to that resistance,
constitutes a threat to the stability of the U.S. client
regimes in the region, as does the declining standard of
living for the masses in all the Gulf States. These regimes
are corrupt and autocratic, and themselves caught in this
web of dilemmas. And it is upon them that the U.S. dollar
depends, and upon the seignorage of the U.S. dollar that
U.S. hegemony depends.
This energy crisis, then, is now combined with a worldwide
overproduction crisis, felt even in the United States. And
the current administration is opting for war, a very expensive
war, for the purpose of extending and consolidating that
hegemony, which will further strain the U.S. domestic economy.
As this is written, 48 of the 50 states are experiencing
severe budget shortages, and the federal government is threatened
This is a desperate move by desperate people, and so it
is a dangerous period we are in.
It is no wonder the capitalists of other regions are raising
their eyebrows at the Bush Administration. They surely sense
the potential consequences of this administration's
wild hubris, its military adventurism, its arrogant abrogation
of international treaties, its refusal to submit to international
law, and its continued support for the Israeli occupation.
Some of these capitalists understand that what is taking
shape is the military occupation of the world's major
oil fields, in the face of fierce resistance from the masses
in those states, and they further understand that this is
the best way to ensure permanent loss of access to this
critical commodity for good.
The Europeans may be courting the Gulf States now, alarmed
and angered by the Bush overtures to Russia (which in turn
makes overtures to both the U.S. and European Union, like
a coy lover choosing between suitors), and the "Bushfeld"
junta's apparent attempt to restructure the geopolitical
architecture to the detriment of European capital.
The U.S. Government is certainly anticipating this contingency
with great anxiety. If the Saudis, for example, under the
threat of domestic destabilization from ever more angry
and militant masses and focused on the U.S.-Israeli nexus,
decided out of self-preservation to punish the U.S., they
might withdraw or liquidate all their U.S. dollar-denominated
assets from the U.S. and invest them in euro-denominated
assets. The only sticking point for them is the fact that
U.S. companies perform the lion's share of extraction
activities. Nonetheless, if they were to expel the U.S.
(a dangerous move, but these are desperate times) and contract
with other nations, it would be a devastating blow to the
U.S. and have the added incentive of restricting supply
and raising the price per barrel, raising domestic revenues
to quiet their own restless populations. This nightmare
scenario for the Bush de facto Administration is surely
fueling their sense of urgency to emplace more and permanent
military infrastructure in the region to prepare for this
As the U.S. commits diplomatic suicide in Palestine and
destabilizes Saudi Arabia, there is backroom talk within
the Bush Administration of military action against Saudi
Arab and Central Asian resistance will be Islamist. The
destruction of pan-Arab nationalism and Arab socialism by
imperialist forces, often with Islamists as the instrument
of that destruction, has left but this one force to give
voice to the misery and degradation of the masses. Our moral
(and even wishful) assessment of that does not change the
fact that this is true. At this point, whether the U.S.
supports or opposes the Islamists is irrelevant to Arab
and Muslim masses. The U.S. is still supporting Israel,
the source of their greatest degradation and humiliation.
The more general economic dislocations of the coming crisis,
along with the necessity (from capital's perspective) of
gaining control of the diminishing but vital resource, has
led to a radical rethinking of military doctrine.
When I was working in Special Forces, we were part of a
foreign policy doctrine called Internal Defense and Development
(IDAD). That was old school. As I prepared to leave the
Army, there was much emphasis, doctrinally and technologically,
on something called Operations Other Than War (OOTW). The
process of uneven development has begun to culminate in
the concentrated urbanization of much of the world's population.
In the past, capital had the capacity to "absorb"
these populations who came into the city based on loss of
land or the lure of jobs. There was a level of unemployment
and misery maintained to "keep them hungry" and
compliant, and to buffer against worker demands. But with
the rapid restructuring for today's "globalization,"
there is far less economic "expansion." Instead
of the "proletarianization" of the masses, we
are seeing in many cases their "lumpenization,"
as many people are integrated into various criminal enterprises.
With the new reality in the world's cities, and the domestic
development of various politics of resistance to "globalization,"
two military developments have emerged.
One is the ever-closer relationship and blurring of lines
between military and police. The other is the technological
development of sub-lethal weapons systems and highly sophisticated
population control measures for both police and military
-- globalized military policing.20 This is one key component
in the mad doctrine of "full spectrum dominance"
championed by the feverish Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
We need only look at the Robocops that are now deployed
in force for every demonstration and the reliance on tactical
units for more and more "drug" arrests. Attorney
General John Ashcroft is now preparing even further erosion
of Posse Comitatus, the law that forbids the military from
operating within the borders of the U.S. That erosion began
with the growth of numerous liaisons between military and
police. I myself participated in the army's training of
the original FBI Hostage Rescue Team who have since become
famous or infamous, as the case may be, and with both Los
Angeles and Houston SWAT. The erosion also began with operations
where the military actually augmented the Border Patrol
inside the U.S. These contacts began in the early-1980s
and have grown exponentially since.
The military doctrines being prepared for Pax Americana
include doctrines for global urban civil war.
This dialectical relation between energy, currency, and
the military is at least one key concrete condition for
us to understand if we are to see into the mind of capital
(big business and its political establishment) in this period
of imperialism in crisis.
It appears that the "democratic" form of imperialism
at this conjuncture is coming to a close, and the mailed
fist of yet another form of fascism is a real possibility
in the near term. There is no "democratic" way
out of this accumulation crisis, and as this crisis floods
back from the periphery to the core, capital's assault
on the U.S. working class will be sharpened, as we are seeing
with Bush's concerted attack against the debilitated
American trade union movement. As in Argentina, when the
inevitable tumble into severe economic polarization happens,
those who count themselves "middle class" will
be rapidly pauperized as the banking system closes its doors
to appropriate their savings.
It is this inevitable attack on the living standards of
average Americans that will either wake us to the folly
of this manufactured patriotism and push us into resistance
to this regime, or in the worst case, into atavistic racialism
and fascism. Which it will be depends in some part on how
effective some of us are at telling people in advance what
they can expect...and why.
[Stan Goff retired from the U.S. Army in 1996, his last
assignment being 3rd Special Forces Group. He entered military
service January 1970, and his first assignment was as an
infantryman with the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vietnam.
His service took him to seven more conflict areas after
Vietnam, including Guatemala, Grenada, El Salvador, Peru,
Colombia, Somalia, and Haiti. His assignments included 2nd
Ranger Battalion, 1st Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment,
1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, 7th Special
Forces, the Jungle Operations Training Center, and the U.S.
Military Academy at West Point.
He is the former Organizing Director for Democracy South
and is now the Director of the North Carolina Network for
Popular Democracy. He also works with the Southern Voting
Rights Project of the Institute for Southern Studies. He
authored a book about the 1994 U.S. military intervention
in Haiti, called "Hideous Dream: A Soldier's Memoir
of the U.S. Invasion of Haiti" (Soft Skull Press, 2000).]
1. Valorization: In this context, we are referring to the
process whereby the value added to a commodity in the production
process is partly appropriated by non-working owners as
2. Accumulation crisis: Systemic economic distress to capital
based on the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, overproduction,
currency collapse, etc. All recessions are actual accumulation
3. "An Analysis of U.S. and World Oil Production Patterns
Using Hubbert-Style Curves," Albert A. Bartlett Department
of Physics University of Colorado at Boulder, 80309-0390
Mathematical Geology, Vol. 32, No 1, 2000
4. "Distribution and evolution of ‘recovery
factor,'" "Oil Reserves Conference,"
Paris, Nov. 11, 1997, International Energy Agency, Jean
Laherrère, Associate consultant, Petroconsultants
5. "Energetic Limits to Growth," Jay Hanson,
ENERGY Magazine, spring 1999
6. Value theory: The interpretation of economic activity
based on the "labor theory of value" pioneered
by Marx and Engels, which states that the exchange value
of a commodity is fundamentally based on the abstract socially
necessary labor time required to produce it. The goal of
value-theory is to go beyond "supply and demand"
accounts of economic behavior to an examination of the actual
social relations between people that define a social system,
including political relations.
7. "The Peak of World Oil Production and the Road
to the Olduvai Gorge," Richard C. Duncan, Ph.D., Pardee
Keynote Symposia, Geological Society of America Summit 2000,
Reno, Nev., Nov. 13, 2000
8. "U.S. Military Bases and Empire," Monthly
Review, Editors, March 2002
9. "Analysis of the IEO2001 Non-OPEC Supply Projections,"
Robert D. Blanchard, Northern Kentucky University, April
10. "The Globalization Gamble: The Dollar-Wall Street
Regime and its Consequences," Peter Gowan, University
of North London, Presented to the International Working
Group on Value Theory 1999 mini-conference, March 12-14,
12. "Making Better Transportation Choices,"
Molly O'Meara Sheehan, State of the World 2000, The
Worldwatch Institute, 2000
13. Bartlett, op cit.
14. Duncan, op cit.
15. "Forget the Caspian Bonanza," Peter Beaumont
and John Hooper, July 26, 1998, Observer (London)
16. "The World Petroleum Life Cycle", Richard
C. Duncan and Walter Youngquist, Presented at the PTTC Workshop
"OPEC Oil Pricing and Independent Oil Producers",
Petroleum Technology Transfer Council, Petroleum Engineering
Program, University of Southern California, Los Angeles,
Oct. 22, 1998
18. Beaumont and Hooper, op cit.
19. Zionism: The movement founded by Theodore Herzl at the
turn of the last century in response to the worldwide experience
of anti-Semitism, based on the belief in a need for a Jewish
state, which the movement determined would be in Palestine.
Zionism is not synonymous with Judaism, and many Jews have
opposed and still oppose Zionism. It has been based since
early in its history on the explicit design to expropriate
the land of others for the express purpose of a state controlled
by a religiously-defined group, i.e., Jews. It is that design
to base a Jewish-dominated state on the expropriated land
of Palestinians that has led many to equate Zionism with
racism. Being anti-Zionist is not synonymous with being
20. "The Militarization of Police," Frank Morales,
Covert Action Quarterly, spring-summer 1999