Monday, June 14, 2010

The Hills are Alive with the Sounds of ... Profit

Personally, I don't like to reflect much on political personalities and the changes in bureaucratic cogs. Rearranging the deck chairs (or changing the mast head) may have an impact on how people percieve what's occuring, but it doesn't change the underlying reality of capitalism, consumerism, and the fundamental character of the state. My comrade Nullstellensatz wrote recently in his own blog, "Liberals believe that fundamental change can be secured by replacing a few politicians." I would say that description applies to conservatives as well, only on the opposite side of the spectrum. Even the tea baggers are taking a conservative, rather than a radical-right, stance when they call for ousting incumbent officials.

Policies and personalities shape each other, but for all intents and purposes (or at least my own at this stage), I am not interested.

I am interested, however, in the study released last week concerning "mineral riches" lying under Afghanistan.

States the NYT: "The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe. "

This is, in my humble opinion, the best political news of the year so far. My only criticism is the timing of this report. I imagine these particular causes for enthusiasm and concern are not obvious, so let's look at it in more detail.

Why Afghanistan Needs Capitalism

This central Asian, civil-war-torn nation is fucked. Caught between insurgents and imperialists, the every-day people can't get by, industry can't grow, government can't provide services, and the overall quality of life remains as landlocked as the geography. Agriculture remains the central feature of the economy - and opium remains the central feature of agriculture. No matter how much opium occupying forces light on fire, the economic incentive to grow drugs remains. Proving, yet again, that the characteristics of an economy play a decisive role in determining the characteristics of a society.

The presence of valuable minerals is a game-changer. But only, of course, for the long-term prospects. Local industry is hideously under-developed. Even hiring a bunch of people to go dig up some gold is pragmatically implausible. Who has the money to spare for shovels or gold pans, not to mention labor? And you probably aren't going to mine any friggin minerals at all without the use of hydraulics. And then you have to refine the mined product. It's the same way for each mineral, and it requires some serious capital investment. Not to mention supply lines for exports or distribution lines for commercial retail. And the presence of commercial retail in the first goddamn place.

So we can see the opportunities for domestic investment and development of a mining industry in Afghanistan is pretty goddamn microscopic.

That means foreign investment, foreign capital, which is a form of imperialism (which is an advanced stage of capitalism, not to be confused with colonialism, a cruder stage of capitalism). And in this case, foreign business is a little reluctant to put down roots. And will probably be especially hesitant to invest in such a labor-intensive industry. No matter how much investors may foam with lust for the Islamic Republic's rich lithium veins, the present situation just isn't safe enough to support their desires.

It is inevitable that foreign capitalism will attempt to make Afghanistan "safe." (Incidentally, "safe for democracy" is really just a code for "safe for our investments," they don't give a rat's ass if they need a dictator to do it. A sham democracy just looks nice. Foreign policy/public relations brownie points!) And there will be those investors who want to challenge the situation, "get the jump" ... and inevitably get creamed. (The poor sods they get to work for them are the "contractors" you hear about, getting kidnapped or beheaded. Workers get screwed every which way.) But it will take a while. It will take paying off the insurgents like they did in Iraq, and the blood of many more Afghans. Men, women, children. More US and coalition soldiers, too. Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, flag-draped caskets you won't see on the news. But we'll squeeze that precious dust from the rocks, by God.

Karzai, inevitably, will also have to go. More warlords and ter'rists too. Allies will become enemies and enemies allies. Eventually, either American imperialism will breed Afghani puppet-capitalists, or the United States will be forced to pull out in a humiliating defeat, and a breed of capitalists more acceptable to the Afghani ruling class (and more marketable to the Afghan people) will assume the role. The top three candidates for the position, in order of least likely to most likely, are Russia, China, and Iran. (I won't get into why right now; perhaps you can muse it over yourself and let me know what you think.)

"But Drez," you poor beleaguered souls may be saying, "I thought you stand opposed to all capitalism, foreign and domestic."

Too true, comrades! I don't trust capitalism as far as I can throw it, and as a vast and complicated political system I can't even hoist the goddamn thing. But history has shown (at least so far) that you can't "skip over" the "phases of development." Afghanistan needs some degree of capital investment to make a transition into a more sustainably democratic society. The Afghani working class will only have something to seize and be thus equipped to revolutionize their society - if there is an introduction of capital.

Or should I say ... a re-introduction of capital.

Why This Report is Suspect

(I mean, besides the fact that it's been released by the US government.)

This poor country gets a lot of flak. I mean, people talk about it like it's been the backwaters of the planet for its entire history. And that's just not true; back in the day, Afghanistan was a pretty swingin' place - well, if you were a rich Afghan or a rich Brit, at least. And you have to hand it to the European colonialists: they were interested in "civilizing the savages." Often that meant shooting the crap out of anyone who resisted their rule, but in this case it also meant helping draft a constitution, build up infrastructure, and introduce compulsory education. All very capitalist developments.

Eventually Afghanistan got some indepenence from the Brits, and then - as was fashionable in poor countries in the latter half of the century - went on a Marxist kick. At one point the standard of living began to have similarities to industrialized nations. The US backed the anti-Soviet forces in the country, the corrupt USSR invaded in retaliation, the Taliban took over, and the rest is history. (Or current events, if you will.) Booting out the Marxists in favor of the USSR and then the ultra-right wackos tore the country to bits.

Yay Umerika!

So in reality, the complete disarray of this country isn't an unbroken thread of barbarism, but a dialectic of development and the strategic intervention of international powers and the internal competition for the country's soul, so to speak (will it be a country ruled by might, or will it transcend nationhood and build itself on reason?).

And furthermore, there have been sophisticated studies on the valuable mineral deposits in this region at least since the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in the 1970s, though I don't doubt that the anal-retentive British colonialists also scoured the soil meticulously. The gold, at least, should have been common knowledge in geological (and, presumably, military intelligence; those guys are pretty damn comprehensive in their analyses) circles. The lithium has probably been known since pretty early in the invasion.

Now obviously, the US didn't declare war on Afghanistan just because there are gold deposits under Takhar. We aren't talking about oil, the great consumer-capitalist lubricant. Gold is a capitalist bauble in comparison.

It is the timing of this report that is suspect. At a time when the popularity of "the good war" is steadily sinking, and disillusionment in Obama is building, I think the administration is looking for some way to rebuild the confidence of its own investors. There have been almost 10 years of conflict and there can easily be another 10 and you have to reassure the corporate world that you can, and will, and should slug it out. It isn't a revelation; it's a reminder.

And it should remind us, too. It should remind us that war is a racket. Fought by we the workers, lost by we the workers, and won - win lose or draw for us - by the rich.

There has Gotta be a Better Way

It's not looking too positive now. In another five years the world may start shooing away the gluttonous supply of Afghanistan opium. That's good. Any number of people out of that particular drug trade is positive. Constructive jobs for the Afghan people? Also positive. Without a doubt some citizens remember, or have at least have knowledge of, a better period for their people. Keeping that hope alive can always infuse their struggle with purpose and vigor and throw off the oppossed oppressions of the US and the Taliban.

There is always a possibility, albeit small at this stage, of a third route that circumvents US capitalism and other forms of foreign oppression: a planned economy. Democratic control of the workplace by the workers and nationalization of industries and the co-struggle of workers and farmers - therein lies the key to this route. Such dramatic participation of the people in the economy and government could so radicalize Afghanistan that industrialization could occur in a matter of years and make it a major regional, even world, power. That was the effect on Russia in 1917 when it transitioned to vast Tsarist hinterland to a republic of worker's councils.

But that republic in Russia was quickly lost - an unindustrialized country simply does not have the economic basis to maintain this advanced form of organization for long. It would need to link up to working-class movements in more developed countries, such as Greece, Ireland, or Spain, where those movements are challenging capitalism's global oligarchy. It's a tall task. But otherwise, the people of Afghanistan will end up living in mining towns that resemble work camps, and their harsh but beautiful countryside will be subjected to the worst practices capitalism has to offer. The profit system leaves undeveloped nations few alternatives to exploitation, and so the working class there needs to seize foreign capital with zeal and vigor and just not let go.

1 comment:

comrade x said...

Long before the minerals, long before 9/11, there was the pipeline. The idea of a pipline bringing natural gas from the then- allies of the U.S. in central Asia to the shores of the Indian Ocean, via Afghanistan and Pakistan, was first pitched to Pres. Clinton by Conoco ( he wisely rejected the idea as unfeasable), then to pres. Bush 2 who invited a Taliban delegation to Washington to discuss the idea. Something bigger than killin' terr'ists was on the administartion's collective mind when they launched the invasion in Nov. 2001.