Currently both the pro-Gaddafi forces and the anti-Gaddafi forces are both claiming to hold the Libyan city of Benghazi. This city is very important because it has a good chunk of Libya’s of oil fields. (Personally I believe the rebels do.) This poses serious questions for the continuation of oil production in the African country. These are serious questions that have an impact on not only the country, but the current oil market which is going through an artificial price hike, and the possibilities for the Libyan working class.
Previously oil workers in Libya have been on a general strike in support of the revolution. Now that government control may be over when it comes to the field specifically in Benghazi, (possibly in Brega too), there is a chance for them to seize oil production from Gaddafi. This has tremendous possibilities for revolutionary socialist production.
I think this boils down to 4 questions:
1. Will the people seize oil production, or leave it to the government?
2. What would be the immediate effects on the oil market if they do produce worker owned oil?
3. How will they organize oil production under community control?
4. What will be done with the profits from any such production?
(1) Will the people seize oil production, or leave it to the government?
The question on whether or not the people will seize oil production in Libya is a complicated issue. It is really hard to gauge exactly what level of social consciousness the working and poor class have right now. None of us are there right now and all we have is third hand information that have passed through those who have particular interests in favour of either or.
I think there is definitely a possibility of spontaneous proletarian consciousness, I hope there is, but I don’t know for sure. Certainly there has been a radicalization of the working and poor class in the country, but I don’t know if this has translated to spontaneous community organization as it has in Egypt.
It would be nothing but a benefit for the Libyan people if they were to take control of production. It certainly has much revolutionary potential. I see it as a 50/50 chance the masses will take the oil production.
(2) What would be the immediate effects on the oil market if they do produce worker owned oil?
The reactions by the bourgeois oil producers will be very hard to judge. It is a good possibility that there will be a few different reactions by different oil producers and financial institutions involved in oil production. I think immediately we can expect support for worker-controlled oil production by Hugo Chavez and Venezuela. Whether or not this will give anything more than moral support to the rebels, I don’t. It will at least be an encouraging development if it does.
When it comes to the actual oil market itself, I would tend to think that energy speculators would use this as an excuse to increase the price of oil. Of course this goes directly against the “law” of supply and demand, more oil produced will lead to a drop in prices as supply increases. But we know this “law” isn’t real followed in real life. The oil producers will certainly use this as an excuse to increase the price. Probably they will claim that the worker control is “distorting” the market. They would be using the phony perception that markets are like wild animals that just do whatever they want.
Most of the impact concerning the volatility of oil prices will be felt in Europe, particularly in Italy which is the largest customer of Libyan oil. So I think there would be strong pressure on Italian President Berlusconi to accept the oil in order to lessen social unrest that is rather high in the country now. If cuts to health services don’t get people angry, increasing the cost of gas does.
So, I think North American interests in oil will come up against European interests. 85% of European aviation fuel comes from Libya and it would be greatly to their benefit to it accept the oil as the price sky rockets. But North American interests will take the unrest as a chance to increase the price, as long as they can blame the Middle East for it.
I think generally there would be a great deal of resistance to worker owned oil production entering the world market. Allowing it would be a dangerous example for people around the world to follow. Especially considering that area of unrest is the Middle East, an area with high energy concentration.
(3) How will they organize oil production under community control?
Whether or not there has been the creation of community level organization is unknown at this point. If there is it would need to be sophisticated enough to be able to handle the operation of an oil refinery/production facility/pumping stations (whichever it might be). This is very technical operation that would require the skills of those who have previously performed these functions. Hopefully these people are still around and have not fled the country and are willing to give their skills.
A socialist form of production will be needed in order to get the oil flowing again. The bourgeoisie form will not be able to stand because its representatives have either fled the country or have hunkered down with Gaddafi away from the areas of liberation and fighting. The bourgeois control mechanisms are also gone with government authority having been removed form the city.
Its a tough question as to whether or not the Libyan workers will be able to get things together in order to organize production. It would be greatly in their interests if they do.
(4) What will be done with the profits from any such production?
Clearly if the mode of production under worker control is socialist, the distribution of that wealth would be socialist as well. It would most certainly be needed for reconstruction efforts, the purchase of food that is now lacking. Possibly this oil money could be used to help deal with the humanitarian effort. Of course this opens up all kinds of logistical and political problems. Certainly they would be of a social character at least.
These are questions that need further discussion, hopefully with some information from the situation on the ground giving us a better theoretical understanding of the situation the Libyan people face. I encourage everyone watching this video to add to this discussion by adding any facts I’ve not considered or any ideas you have in the comment section.