I can’t make out what you’re trying to say on account of the corpse in your mouth.

There’s an Australian state socialist magazine called Links, which, for reasons that remain completely opaque to me, seems to believe that the old Movement of the Libertarian Left listserv wants and needs to be buried under reams of its promotional materials. Here’s a choice passage from an interview they ran, which they recently promoted on the list:

Peter Boyle: You’re criticising Labor for not seriously tackling global warming but what do socialists say should be done to address the crisis?

Dave Holmes: What is needed to cope with the crisis is a sharp change of direction. We need an emergency mobilisation of society, a five- or 10-year plan to achieve a drastic reorientation of our economy and use of energy. Anything else is simply not serious.

— Links (2008-04-03): A revolutionary response to the climate change crisis

Everything old is new again.

My own views about global warming, as a phenomenon, are perhaps shockingly ordinary. From what I’ve read I see no reason to doubt that it’s real, and caused largely by human activity, and an increasingly serious concern for many people all over the world. I think that each of us individually, and together with our neighbors, ought to be giving serious thought to the problem, and especially to how hypercentralized, state-supported and state-insulated corporate capitalism (especially the state-regimented, state-subsidized, and state-cartelized fossil fuel industry) structures the problem, and what we can each of us do about both the situation as it affects us, and also about the root causes that drive it.

But when you have a problem created, in large part, by a system of massive government regimentation, privilege, and technocratic planning, in an industry whose exploration and extraction are founded in colonialism and government land-grabs, whose distribution is heavily regulated, concentrated, and promoted by government, and whose protection flows from the barrel of Coalition tanks, I am not entirely convinced that this is a good reason to call for more government regimentation, privilege, and technocratic planning, or for concluding that We need less of [the so-called free market], not more.

I am convinced that people who talk about revolution without understanding the possibility of free action outside the realm of state coercion, who never see any way to approach a pressing social problem except emergency mobilization through lock-step central plans fraudulently passed off as a big society-wide discussion, but in fact handed down in the form of government marching orders—such people are talking with a corpse in their mouths.

Further reading:

10 replies to I can’t make out what you’re trying to say on account of the corpse in your mouth. Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. David Houser

    To be fair, a lot of them just can’t make the connections necessary to realize that corpse is in their mouth. I’m reminded of all of my “concerned” progressive liberal friends who, ten years ago, were clamoring for the government to set the price of gas at 8 or even 10 dollars a gallon to discourage so much driving, and now are crying like babies over $3+ a gallon and are clamoring for the government to do something to make it cheaper. I get just about the same looks now as I did then when I point out that I choose not to have a car even though I live in the most unfriendly-to-pedestrian city I can imagine, and that maybe they could actually walk the fifteen minutes to the grocery store rather than drive. I think it’s going to get easier to make those connections clear to some people as things get worse, but after a conversation with a friend a few days ago along just these lines, I had to really put my foot down in refusing a ride home - literally less than five minutes away - when she went to pick up her daughter from school which is about two minutes away on foot.

  2. bunty

    To also be fair, there is a reasonable amount in that article that could form a basis for discussion. The means may differ, but the ends aren’t so essentially different [creating a more sustainable society].

    It could be noted that even a government run economy is a market as well. There is no such thing as a ‘free’ market, it’s essentially a glittering contradiction in terms. A market (beyond the physical reality) is in essence a set of rules, both internalised and externally imposed (and no, ‘free’ wouldn’t mean one without the external aspect, even if such a thing were doable [voluntary boycotting an unfair trader, for e.g. would also be a form of external rule ‘punishment’] :P).

    Even just the most basic: that it is a basis for the exchange of goods (ideally of similar value), rather than, say, the exchange of goods for a kick in the nuts (not that there isn’t a market for that as well).

    That the capitalist market has a systemic ruleset that implicitely leads to a hierarchical structure where capital (and the concommitant power that goes with it) is accumulated by a minority at the expense of everyone else, in no way means that it isn’t possible for a market to exist with a different ruleset and ethos.

    For instance (with particular relevence to the topic at hand) one which inherently realises that externalities are a part of production and need to be treated as such, especially those that impact the environment of more than just those who manufacture or purchase.

    Always worth chucking in the words participatory and egalitarian as well, to make clear that it is a market used by people, not (as currently) the reverse.

    It’s possibly ironic or something, but the state-socialist approach seems to me to be based on exactly the same framing of human nature as the capitalist one. That people need to be controlled in order to do the right thing. When it tends to be rather more the case that control-heirarchies lead to a greater degree of self-interested behaviour (because the innately more self-interested are the ones who climb the ladders of power, and create the social design-patterns as a reflection of their personal conception of the world) rather than strong-reciprocating.

    Keyboard run out of hyphens, so I’ll stop now.

  3. Sergio Méndez


    When you speak of “state-regimented, state-subsidized, and state-cartelized fossil fuel industry”, what exactly you are speaking about? Can you go into the specifics? Can you give me any reference on the topic? Not that I doubt it, just that I want to get into the specifics.


  4. Anon72

    state-regimented, state-subsidized, and state-cartelized fossil fuel industry

    If it was kevin carson speaking then it would probably be a reference to the Industrial Revolution itself. :)

  5. Rad Geek


    Unfortunately I don’t have a handy reference to give a good overview of the whole field.

    However, as far as the details go, here’s what I’d say.

    You should start with where the fossil fuels come out of the ground. Almost every oil- and natural-gas producing country in the world asserts effective control over much or all of the oil and natural gas in their land and territorial waters. The fossil fuels themselves are extracted either directly by state-owned monopolies (Pemex, Saudi Aramco, PDVSA) or else by means of bogus concessions and leases to private or quasi-private companies (as with Gazprom, ExxonMobil, Shell, Standard Oil and other contractors in Mexico prior to the Cardenás expropriation, etc.) which are granted a monopoly in exploration and extraction within large swaths of territory (protected by tax-funded police and military) much of which they might never have been able acquire, if they had had to compete, on their own dime, with other would-be homesteaders of that land, or to negotiate with private land owners at market rates. In the U.S. there is somewhat more of a history of free-market fossil fuel exploration, but today large amounts of oil and natural gas exploration go on under bogus leases from the U.S. Department of the Interior, for exploration and extraction in U.S. territorial waters and in federally-owned parks. Refineries are generally owned by the same State companies or handful of transnational corporations, and are very heavily regulated by government.

    Nearly all political debates over nationalization versus so-called privatization (in reality, privateering) in the fossil fuel industry boil down to a debate over whether large-scale centralized fossil fuel exploration and extraction should be controlled directly by a State monopoly or by a handful of behemoth transnational corporations who pay the State for a government-granted monopoly or participation in a government-backed cartel. Of course neither represents a free market in fossil fuel extraction or exploration.

    The next thing to look at is the demand-side of the equation. Because the electric industry, airline industry, space industry, mechanized military, etc. are, again, either heavily regimented or wholly controlled by the State in the vast majority of both the developed and the developing world, with the State or State-privileged monopolists buying a tremendous proportion of the fuel for their state-owned or monopolist-owned power plants, airlines, rockets, military-industrial complexes, and strategic petroleum reserves. The State-monopolized sector of the fossil fuel industry is, besides being very tightly controlled by the government in terms of the business models they can adopt and the services they can offer, are also all substantially subsidized, or completely funded, by tax money which is extracted from taxpayers whether or not they want the services thus subsidized, and by monopoly profits which the barriers to entry guarantee.

    There are also indirect forms of state subsidy and redirection, which have ripple effects. Notably State subsidies and State control over highway building, including the use of eminent domain to seize land, as well as the endless series of military interventions that the imperial powers have carried out to secure control of oil for their own clients over the past century.

    Each of these aspects have some good references I could pull, if you’re interested; I just haven’t yet encountered anything that gives a good overview of the whole. I could start pulling some specific references, if you want, on these various different aspects of State regimentation in the various different fossil fuel industries. But before I start, does that at least help point toward what you’re looking for?

  6. Anon72

    It’s almost kind of depressing when you talk about the State’s hand in creating basically everything about modern industry; it’s tempting to conclude that we wouldn’t have toasters or cars or electronics without The State(tm). Of course maybe these are just statist cultural assumptions. :)

  7. Rad Geek


    I agree with you that a lot of it is a process of education that’s actively harmful to critical thought, or simply ordinary human blockheadedness. Most people who say these kind of things have not yet gotten as far as analysis which recognizes the fact that the State exists.

    On the other hand, I think there is a special kind of blockheadedness involved, above and beyond the usual, when a self-proclaimed state socialist partisan goes around calling for an emergency mobilisation of society, a [five-year] plan to achieve a drastic reorientation of our economy without just choking on his own words, and somebody else reprints it—indeed makes this quote the tagline for the article—without even the least hint of irony or embarrassment.

  8. Rad Geek


    I agree that the article raises interesting and important questions. My problem with it is that it sets about trying to answer those questions in terms that systematically frustrate any hope of a humane or intelligible discussion.

    I don’t agree that the existence of rule-governed behavior is, as such, a refutation of the notion of a free market. The ideal of a free(d) market is not a market in which there are no systematic or pervasive rules, but rather one in which all participants enjoy equal freedom to negotiate the rules they will follow, without fear of violent reprisal. That’s perfectly consistent with the use of boycotts, spontaneous orders of exchange, etc.; just not with regimentation by violent thugs (whether government-employed or freelance).

    I do very strongly agree with you that it’s possible for market systems other than the prevailing hypercentralized corporate capitalist market to prevail. In fact, I think that in a truly free(d) market, with the abolition government regimentation and theft against small players as well as large, full freedom of movement and trade for the poor as well as the rich, an end to incumbent-captured agencies and politically-driven development schemes, the final abolition of international apartheid and government warfare, and an end to the monopolies in land, money, ideas, and manufacturing, something radically different from plutocratic capitalism—so different that it’s hard even to predict today except in hopeful outlines—would steadily emerge from a combination of conscious, coordinated worker activism; the massive increase, preservation and global diffusion of leisure and material wealth (which is currently frustrated, expropriated, or destroyed by the State); and the spontaneous churning and higgling of the newly-freed markets in labor, land, capital, ideas, etc.

  9. Rad Geek


    Well, there are ways to produce and distribute electricity other than by ripping fossil fuels out of the ground and sending them to massive centralized power plants which then provide a one-size-fits-all power grid to megalopolises of millions. If it were not for the massive amounts of money, land, and capital that the State has stolen and shoved into the over-inflated fossil fuel industry, no doubt we would be getting a lot of our electricity from other sources, and inventors would have had a lot more money and interest to devote to technological improvements to the efficiency of decentralized solar, wind, small-scale water, geothermal, biomass, and other forms of localized energy generation, as well as energy efficiency and economizing on consumption.

    I also don’t think that there would be no fossil fuel-based energy without State intervention and subsidy. There is a history of free market oil extraction (as, for example, with the selling of oil rights by individual farmers during the Texas oil boom). But presumably without the neo-colonialist system established by the collusion of transnational corporations and land-grabbing third world governments, the level of oil extraction, the size and number of companies doing it, and thus the patterns of distribution and allocation to particular uses, would be very different from what you see today.

    Of course, the details here are necessarily sketchy, because I’m trying to speculate on a social and technological path with about 100 years or so of radical political and economic divergence from the actual world. Much of this is and must remain What Is Not Seen, unless and until we actually get the free(d) markets that we hope for. But I think we can figure some of it out by looking at partial or frustrated trends, the situation in places where central government is nonfunctional or nonexistent (as in pre-Ethiopian-invasion Somalia, where electricity was mainly handled, without a grid, by a decentralized network of home generators), and by trying to think through a reversal of the directions in which government coercion pushes the energy industry.

  10. Bunty


    My tendency to find fault with the free part of free market isn’t a disagreement per-se. It’s that it lacks specificity, and hence tends to get used to mean free from whatever it is the person speaking has a personal disagreement with :D that or as ideological ‘happy talk’ [by the neoliberalists primarily, but as they are the ones framing the term in popular perception].

    If it is defined as free from (artificial) privilege and coercion then that I can support at least 98.75%. If it is defined also as freeing (allowing people to develop more their real potentials), then can add a good 5% to that.

    It does make one wonder to think what could be (and sadly could have been) possible. The current system is often credited with having created massive progress, but when you factor in the huge waste of resources (many now depleted beyond return) and talent (the genocide of human creativity needed to manufacture manufacturers) that comes from both a society dedicated to the production of mere differential profit (for the profiteers) rather than mutual/social benefit and progress. When you factor in the potential wasted on war (the vulgar concept that progress is driven by conflict and fetishised competition shows amazing contempt and lack of understanding of the human spirit and imagination[*]). Yeah, what could have been.

    The hope for a humane and intelligible discussion (we are, after all, as radical enemies of the corporate aristocratic state presuming to face off against the greatest and most controlling power structure in human history :D ) is really where I tend to feel a strict definition of what is meant and implied by free(d) market organisation of society is helpful, especially how it can address rather than thwart the legitimate considerations of the traditionalist left [they can have their cake and socialise it!]. Of course, the author of the original piece might be beyond economic repair as he does seem to be more interested in playing politics with party-aggrandising polemics, never know though.

    * The idea that we are innately selfish beings and hence society is naturally derived from this basis is a conveniently conscience salving conceit, but not one born out by the evidence. c.f. for e.g. [1]

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