Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Way Backwards for the Antiwar Movement

Justin Raimondo (like Max Dunbar), is not worth my time. But I'm a grad student and it's summer, so time isn't exactly a scarce commodity at this point. Lowest hanging fruit is sometimes the tastiest and all that.

Raimondo, a writer for, recently posted an article arguing that the Leninist notion of imperialism is a primary factor in the confusion and disorientation of the Left today. He makes a number of claims about the Left's analysis which deserve rebutting.

The central pivot point of his article is the following paragraph:

"This idea that the captains of industry – Big Oil, in particular – represent "the ruling class" is a myth, and a curiously old-fashioned one at that. Private industry has long played a subordinate role in the American power structure: far more powerful is the administrative-managerial class, which has had a firm grip on the levers of power since the New Deal and has only strengthened its hand since. "
First of all, the notion that US ruling class strategy is dominated by the interests of Big Oil is, at best, crudely Marxist. It's not an analysis put forward by any of the most reputable venues of Marxist analysis. You won't find it in International Socialist Review, International Socialism, the World Socialist Website, or Historical Materialism. In fact, most of those have polemicized against the view that the war can be attributed to a certain sector of the ruling class. That said, Big Oil has, of course, benefitted greatly from the war.

Oil is crucial to understanding the war, but not simply in the vulgar sense that the US wants to steal Iraqi oil or make its own energy corporations super-profitable. Oil is, quite simply, the most important commodity in the world today, and whoever controls oil has a great deal of power. If the US ruling class does succeed in controlling Iraqi oil and projecting US force over the entire region, it will have gained tremendous power (a word Raimondo apparently thinks is forbidden in the Marxist lexicon, as the opposition between it and profits structures his argument).

Raimondo's argument about who constitutes the American ruling class is equally mistaken. At the most basic level, he ignores the vast revolving door between "the captains of industry"and the "administrative managerial class." Condoleezza Rice was head of Chevron's committe on public policy, as well as on the boards of Carnegie, Hewlett Packard, and others. Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton. Stephen Johnson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, was head of Covance, a billion dollar clinical testing company. George W. Bush himself was a senior partner or officer in a number of energy corporations before entering into public service. The Secretary of Commerce, Carl Miguel Gutierrez, is former chairman of the board and CEO of Kellogg's. Andrew Card, Bush's former chief of staff, was president and CEO of the American Automobile Manufacturer's Association. I realize this list is a bit gratuitous, but I think it's worth emphasizing the tremendous interpenetration of the state and the "captains of industry" that has always existed under capitalism.

Beyond this most surface level of influence, the state also has to respond to ruling class demands given the latter's control over the ideological means of production: the media. Newspaper owners are bona fide members of the ruling class, and they can control what news gets produced and who it favors. The press offensive against the Republicans in the fall of 2006 was no accident, but a calculated move to install a more competent party into power.

Finally, there's the historical role of the state, which has always been to organize violence on behalf of the ruling class.

Raimondo brings up a number of other points which are easily dispatched. He relies heavily on the hoary myth of the Israel lobby to explain why the US is in Iraq if the ruling class is so subordinate. Of the many demolitions of this myth out there, Allen Ruff and Sherry Wolf's are my favorites. He also insinuates that the Trotskyist youth of several prominent neocons is somehow relevant. Gary Leupp points out that Raimondo's own political history has some less savory characters.

Raimondo's whole polemic is directed against the idea that war with Iran is unlikely because it is against ruling class interests. Because ruling class interests don't dictate foreign policy ("power" does), you can't use them to predict foreign policy. QED. What Raimondo steadfastly ignores (besides, apparently, everything the left has ever written on imperialism), is how the entire US ruling class does want to tame Iran. Socialist Worker recently provided a good overview of the divisions between carrots and sticks in US-Iran policy. An abstract lust for power cannot explain what's going on in the world today.