Class and History, 9: Convergence and Conjunction: Closing Out, Opening Up by S. Artesian
January 30 2005
Inherent to capital is an extended moment when the reproduction of capital interrupts itself; when it starts, stumbles, restarts, re-falters, and defaults to the expropriation of surplus value in absolute terms. Then reproduction is more rather than less repetition compulsion. Reproduction, the expansion of capital, appears on a diminished basis, sustained in the present by the props of the past. Continued reproduction becomes both diminished expansion and expanded diminishment. General immiseration is the measure of private wealth. Private property in city and countryside sustains itself by chain, whip, and gun. We call that moment overproduction.
In the 1990s, while the Venezuelan economy contracted, the banking system collapsed, while the population suffered declines in living standards, exploration, development and investment in oil production repeated itself, compulsively, but on a diminished basis.
North of the Orinoco River, the heavy oil belt, “Faja Petrolifera el Orinoco,” contains petroleum deposits estimated at 1.3 trillion b.o.e (barrels of oil equivalent), with an estimated 267 billion b.o.e recoverable. The size of the deposit and the recoverable amounts match and probably exceed those of Saudi Arabia.
The difference between the Saudi and Venezuelan reserves is not location, not exactly geology per se, but costs of production, geology as an economic category. Capital does not exactly produce objects; it expropriates objects as values. The determinants of production are not geological, not scarcity or abundance, but geology rendered as a value, scarcity or abundance as historical, social categories. Everything exists in its moment of value, in its reproduction as a value, and the limitations then are in the determinants of reproduction.
Following the banking collapse of 1994, Venezuela introduced the “Apertura,” allowing foreign oil companies to participate in the investment and development of these fields with the state oil company, PDVSA. This participation continued and continues through the Chavez government.
The heavy oil belt is divided into four distinct zones, Machete, Zuata, Hamaca, and Cerro Negro. By 2002, $12 billion had been invested by the oil majors in four “strategic associations” with PDVSA for production in these zones. Current output is figured to increase to a peak of 660,000 b.o.e. daily by the end of the decade, with the life span of the projects estimated at 35 years. At the end of that period, less than 3 percent of the recoverable reserves will have been extracted.
Costs of production per b.o.e are estimated between $7 and $14, and refining the product is equally expensive. The 1998 oil price collapse to $10 per barrel would have effectively devalued the investment to zero, had OPEC not intervened.
That these reserves exists cannot be denied. That access is a function of cost, price and profit proves that the “peak” in peak oil theories is in the reproduction of capital and nowhere else.
In November 2001, Venezuela enacted the Law on Land and Agricultural Development, placing a cap on the size of private land holdings; taxing unproductive lands; and redistributing land to landless rural workers. The response of the bourgeoisie and its supporters was immediate and sustained. In December a national “work stoppage,” really a lockout, was organized by business leaders and trade union bureaucracies.
Unimpressed, in January 2002, the Chavez government organized the Instituto Nacional de Tierras, INTI, to develop and execute plans for the reform of agricultural production, including material and financial aid to the reconfigured production units. The counter-response this time was the attempted coup against the government and the kidnapping of Chavez, events programmed and applauded by priests, police, media owners, latifundistas, and businessmen. The real unity of private property, the linkage between city and countryside under capitalism, is always forged and re-forged in counter-revolution.
After the failed coup, Chavez launched the Plan Zamora which contained provisions for the expropriation, rather than taxation, of unused lands. The great PDVSA lockout followed and it too failed.
To the bourgeoisie, to private property, title to the land is everything. And while title to land may be the secret dream of the rural landless, there is no meaning to title outside the expropriation of value. Analysis of rural production relations, of the condition of the peasantry in Venezuela makes one thing immediately clear: no peasantry exists. Rural laborers exist, tied to individual plots only to make their labor accessible if and when required.
Analysis of the production relations of capitalism internationally makes it clear that the viability of small, individual agricultural producers is not possible. Indeed, viability of any agricultural production separate and apart from industrial support, subsidization, is impossible. All agricultural production is subsidized in some form by urban centers. Nothing defines more clearly the overgrowth of the means of production, its expansion beyond the boundaries of private property, than the self unsustainability of capitalist agriculture.
This much is recognized in the Chavez plans. Individual ownership of the land is not the focus of reform. Collective operation and organization of agricultural production, for use, is. Expropriation, not parcellization, is the critical component for rural transformation.
Nevertheless, the institutional programs of the Chavez government in the countryside are not the vehicles for completing this agricultural reorganization. The landowners are always and ever willing to employ private forces in defense of private property, hiring gunmen to assassinate those challenging the status quo. Since 2001, 150 rural leaders have been killed in Venezuela.
As always and forever, capital finds in its backwardness the key to a secure future. Yearning for the return of the caudillo, the Venezuelan bourgeois turn instinctively to Tachira, where the state cattleraisers’ association, Asociacon de Ganaderos del Estado Tachira, and the Tachira branch of the employer’s association, Fedecamaras, have joined together against the rural workers.
The successful response to the armed violence of the landowners and employers is to be found only in the self-organization of the rural poor both for expropriation of the land and the defense of that expropriation.
The historical inadequacy of the Venezuelan bourgeois to reproduce in detail and scope the developed capitalism of US and European economies, does not make Venezuela any less capitalist, its bourgeoisie any less bourgeois, its struggle any less than a class struggle of workers against capitalism.
The inadequacy of the Venezuelan bourgeoisie to, on its own, in its own name, revolutionize relations between city and countryside, is the measure of capitalism’s success in protecting private property. It is a success reproduced globally, for what has appeared worldwide as the globalization of capitalism is, more realistically, concession capitalism, enclave industrialization, disrupting to be sure, the prior relations of agriculture production, and just as surely incapable of transforming those relations.
In Venezuela, the struggle is clearly a struggle for the abolition of private property, against the operation of production for the expropriation of value, for the emancipation of labor from wage-labor in both city and countryside, by that class of workers demanding power in its own name; by that class of workers organizing and executing the expropriation of the means of production. Those organizations can be called Bolivarian, but the demands of the struggle are beyond anything Bolivar might have envisioned, or brought to fruition. Those organizations might be called anything. But to succeed, their content must become communist.
To reproduce, in this workers’ struggle, the historical failure of the bourgeoisie to speak in its own name for all of society, will provide that failed class its greatest success.
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