[OPE-L:6066] Re: Against Economic Determinism -- replies to Fred and Rakesh

From: howard engelskirchen (lhengels@igc.org)
Date: Sun Oct 14 2001 - 12:22:51 EDT

Jerry --

There's a theoretical issue that runs through discussions of this sort that
Marx signaled in the 1857 Preface.  There's no doubt that those who act are
motivated by all manner of things, not exclusively economic, especially
religious, etc.  But it is another thing to argue that events can explained
by immediate motivations.  I just read a brief review of the Peasant Wars
in Germany in the 16th century.  If you looked to the statements made by
the parties involved you would explain what occurred in relgious terms
above all.  But that would not constitute a reliable explanation of the
momentous social and class forces in play.  Apropos maybe of nothing here
is a quote from Luther, whose motivations would certainly have to be taken
to be religious, speaking of Thomas Munzer and the peasant rebellion: "They
should be knocked to pieces, strangled and stabbed, secretly and openly, by
everybody who can do it, just as one must kill a mad dog! . . . Therefore,
dear gentlemen, hearken here, save there, stab, knock, strangle them at
will, and if thou diest, thou art blessed; no better death canst thou ever
attain."  Unfortunately my little book doesn't have a cite to source so I
have to take this on faith.

There is a last superpower and that reality is still new enough to take
realignment.  Unocal emphasizes the significance of Afghanistan to the
rapidly increasing demand for oil in the Asian Pacific region (in contrast
to other potential markets for central Asian and Caspian reserves).
Relentless pressure for social change is blocked by superpower and other
alliance with narrow elites, secured not exclusively, but importantly by
oil.  In other words, in working with oil, religion and other issues, we
want to sort out not only the immediate motivations in terms of which
people act, but also the underlying structural forces that drive events and
motivations; we have to distinguish the forms and substance of struggle.


At 09:43 AM 10/14/01 -0400, you wrote:
>For some time I've been bothered by suggestions that the current
>events in the Middle East can be understood only in terms of
>I. US Middle East Policy
>   ===============
>The crude version of economic determinism (sorry, Fred,
>but that's the way I see it) was perhaps best expressed by
>Fred recently in his suggestion that US policy on the Middle
>East is "ALL" about oil.
>Yet, US policies in the region have NOT been "all" about
>While *much* of US foreign policy in the
>Middle East can be explained with reference to oil,
>there have been important other criteria guiding US policy
>-- anti-communism and the suppression of revolutionary
>    movements:  E.g. when in 1956 the US cut off promised
>    funding for the Aswan Dam after Egypt received Eastern
>    Bloc arms,  US policy was not "all" about oil; when in 1963
>    the US gave the Iraqi Ba'ath party the names of communists
>    to murder, the US action was not "all" about oil; when in 1958
>    the US landed troops in Lebanon to preserve 'stability' (sic),
>    US policy was not "all" about oil.
>-- support for Israel: can not be reduced to oil. This is, after all,
>    a major part of US foreign policy in the Middle East, is it not?
>    It is noteworthy, for instance, that for many years Israel has been
>    the leading or second-leading recipient of US economic aid (indeed,
>    it is questionable whether the Israeli economy could have survived
>    without this aid), has received massive amounts of US weapons,
>    and has benefited from US vetoes in the  UN Security Council.
>    The continued survival of Israel is more than about the narrow
>    question of oil from the perspective of the US government. There
>    is a strong pro-Zionist lobby in the US that has had a major impact
>    on US foreign policy (just as the anti-Cuba - e.g. gusano -- lobby
>     has had a major impact on US policy towards Cuba), right?
>     This suggests that there are some *domestic* reasons for US
>     policy.
>-- not everything economic in the region is about oil: e.g. the Suez
>    Canal and nearby sea lanes are important for the US not only as
>    a means to ship oil (and for the transit of military vessels), but also
>    for other economic reasons.  Thus, if these sea lanes were closed, it
>    would divert shipping around the Cape of Storms and lead to
>    significant increases in transport costs (similarly, the US has a major
>    economic interest in keeping the Panama Canal open as it is
>    important to avoid having to divert shipping around Cape Horn or
>    through the Straights of Magellan).
>-- military objectives: e.g. the creation of military bases that can be used
>    to deploy US troops and launch military assaults not only in the
>    Middle East but in other areas in Africa and Asia. Similarly, the
>    desire by the US government to not allow additional countries to
>    develop nuclear weapons (and thereby challenge US military
>    hegemony) is an important aspect of US foreign policy that has not
>    'all' been about oil (e.g. consider the sanctions against Pakistan --
>    only lifted last week).
>Etc. Etc.
>II.  The goals and beliefs of bin Laden and al-Queda
>      ================================
>Previously I wrote:
>>  What is not speculative, however (since bin Laden has
>> explicitly stated this) is that he has not forgiven the US for using
>> military bases in Saudi Arabia, which are not far from Islamic holy sites,
>> to attack Iraq in the Gulf War.
>To which Rakesh replied in [6027]:
>> bin laden has also unequivocally railed against the robbery of oil wealth.
>I also wrote (and here I was warning against economic determinism):
>> " It would be most unwise, imo, to
>> underestimate
>> the force of religious convictions in motivating bin Laden. He may be a
>> capitalist
>> (heir to an enormous oil fortune) but he is motivated more than by the
>> capitalist
>> credo to accumulate."
>To which Rakesh replied:
>> i do doubt that in the absence of the precipituous decline in Saudi
>> incomes in
>> the last twenty years that Osama bin Laden would be able to recruit so
>> successfully against the US occupation of holy sites.  many saudis seem
>> convinced that since the americans are not needed for protection after the
>> decimation of saddam, they are only there to ensure that saudi oil wealth
>> essentially controlled and invested by American interests and that Saudi
>> is invested in the US and Europe. It is in this context (as well as the
>loss of
>> Arab land to invaders) that the american occupation of holy sites is
>> experienced as so humiliating, imo.
>Much of what Rakesh writes above is accurate, but by emphasizing economic
>grievances, I believe that he underestimates the role that religious
>conviction can motivate people. This is, of course, not to suggest that
>as a religion supports terrorist action. But, it does suggest that the
>actions of
>extremist religious movements (whether they claim to be based on
>Christianity, Judaism, or Islamic teaching) can be motivated independently
>by their
>religious convictions.  Thus, *even if* oil and US imperialism were not
>issues for bin Laden, the US military presence in areas nearby Islamic holy
>sights *would* be experienced as 'so humiliating'.
>In noting the role of oil and US imperialism, Rakesh did not note other
>(primarily) non-economic factors that concern 'cultural imperialism' by
>the 'West' and the changing role of women in the Middle East which has
>come under attack from an Islamic fundamentalist perspective. It was
>thus no accident that women were some of the first victims of the
>particular kind of Islamic fundamentalism represented by Khomeni in
>the early 1980's in Iran.
>Indeed, much of al-Queda's policies are totally incomprehensible if we
>don't consider the force of religious conviction. E.g. why did bin Laden
>seek to have the Quaddafi government in Libya overthrown? What
>has been al-Queda's position on the Syrian governmenment?
>One can *not* infer, therefore, that al-Queda and bin Laden are *primarily*
>motivated by economic grievances.  Relatedly, they do not claim to be
>(nor are they) anti-imperialist.
>What do others think?
>In solidarity, Jerry

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