Standing Rock (North Dakota, USA):
Ecology against class struggle
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 14; Autumn - Winter 2017)
At the end of December 2016, environmentalists and a large part of the «far» left celebrated the «victory» of the Sioux of North Dakota which prevented the futher construction of an oil pipeline – thanks to a mobilization of several months and despite a brutal repression – the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) – which demanded to cross their lands.
This «victory» was of very short duration. Donald Trump had promised to reverse Obama’s decision to oppose the construction of this pipeline in the last days of his administration: something done in the first days of the new president’s term. Not surprisingly, Trump owns shares in Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the company that is building the oil pipeline, and one of his nearest allies is a shale oil magnate.
In a matter of days, the federal government and the State of Dakota mobilized all possible repressive arsenal – cops, military and judges – to expulse the Sioux militants and ecologists who occupied the site. On 23 February, the last ones remaining evacuated the area, setting fire to their encampment.
For American Indian populations, this struggle went beyond the perils of being exposed to the risks inherent in the project and was also a form of resistance to the brutal racist oppression that Native Americans have experienced for centuries. These populations are hard hit by unemployment, poverty and all the evils that accompany them. For example, in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, 80-90% of the population is unemployed, and life expectancy is around 50 years – or less than in most African countries!
The construction of the DAPL is a consequence of the «oil boom» that North Dakota is experiencing with the exploitation of shale oil. A decade ago, this state, with a population of only 750,000 (compared with 39 million for California and 27 million for Texas), was dominated by agricultural activity (production of durum wheat, beans, flax, sugar…). Its industry was weak with only a few developed sectors such as hydropower generation, agro-food and lignite mines .
Today, North Dakota has become the second-largest oil-producing state after Texas. The main producing region, the Bakken basin, saw its production increase fivefold between 2010 and 2016. This has led to very strong demographic and economic growth. Its annual economic growth is above 15% and unemployment is the lowest in the United States (1%). «Per capita income» – which measures the degree of capitalist development and not the wealth of the inhabitants – has increased by 20%: from 39th (out of 51 states) in 2000 to 5th in 2012. Areas where the hydrocarbons are exploited have seen their population grow by more than 25%.
Petroleum resources have been exploited in a totally anarchic way and without concern for the health and safety of proletarians and populations. Nothing surprising, this is inherent to capitalism!
70 million liters of oil, gas or other chemicals poured out in North Dakota between 2006 and 2014, following 8700 accidents. These thousands of spills have had enormous impacts by contaminating air, soil and groundwater. In addition, there is the risk that chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing will gradually migrate into the water network, but also the hazard of pollution associated with the underground «re-injection» of waste water from hydraulic fracturing (most often in poor areas populated by African-Americans). This kind of event shocks and rightfully disgusts ecologists or «ecosocialists» of all kinds.
But they are less indignant at the ordeals of the proletarians exploited by the petroleum industry. Occupational accidents in North Dakota are enormous: 104 per 100,000 workers in oil extraction (the national average is 16) and 97 per 100,000 in construction (9 nationally). Fatal accidents – a mild euphemism for capitalist murders – are also five times more numerous than the national average, and have risen sharply since 2007 (from 7 per 100,000 to 18, ie from 25 to 65 deaths per year ).
They are also less revolted by the enormous risks of oil trains often over a mile long that cut through working-class neighborhoods. Large American cities, such as Buffalo or Minneapolis, are traversed by these real trains of death, as the «accident» at Lac-Mégantic showed in 2013, during which the explosion of multiple oil carrying tanker cars Killed 47 people. This train was manned by a crew of one (a locomotive engineer and so far the lone scapegoat for the conflagration) and had already passed through Canada’s two largest cities... Transportation of hazardous materials on rail or road is a much greater risk source than oil and gas pipelines. The US authorities are silent on the issue but their Canadian counterparts have acknowledged that oil trains trigger a fire every three days on average in Ontario.
In addition, the roads and highways in North Dakota have become the most dangerous in the country: they are criss-crossed by trucks loaded with materials, sand or water for hydraulic fracturing.
The ecologist or «ecosocialist» groups that fought the pipeline project have a bourgeois point of view; they want to reform capitalism by making it «greener», to «inform» it, and thus make it more «human» and «sustainable». They completely deny that the problem is not the use of fossil fuels nor hydraulic fracturing nor pipeline transport, but capitalism itself and its insane race for profit.
Unlike the communists, many environmentalists – often with the support of their far left followers like Socialist Alternative or ISO (International Socialists) who campaigned for the Green Party candidate in the presidential election – have nothing to propose other that a utopian and reactionary return to a period before industrialization, with the objective of orienting capitalism, not towards the satisfaction of markets but towards the satisfaction of human needs.
All this is a complete utopia. Capitalism is founded on the exploitation of proletarians to produce profit, it cannot function differently; «And to expect any other division of the products from the capitalist mode of production is the same as expecting the electrodes of a battery not to decompose acidulated water, not to liberate oxygen at the positive, hydrogen at the negative pole, so long as they are connected with the battery» Writes Engels in Anti-Duhring. (MIA)
The road to the social and thus economic transformation of bourgeois society can only pass through the revolutionary struggle against capitalism; this revolutionary struggle can only be waged by those who have no interest in the survival of capitalism: the proletarians. This struggle against the ruling class to destroy its political domination – which serves it to preserve the capitalist mode of production – must lead to the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is essential to break the resistance of the bourgeoisie and to uproot capitalism
The only non-illusory alternative is the preparation of the proletarian revolution under the leadership of the world communist party.
Unlike «ecosocialists» who demand «Leave the fossil fuels buried underground! For 100% renewable fuels now!» the Communists proclaim:
Bury Capitalism! 100% for a classless society that puts an ends to the yoke of wage slavery! 100% for communism, a new world that satisfies the needs of all Humanity!
International Communist Party