Saturday, July 29, 2017

Slick Operators (1983)

Book Review from the December 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Oil and World Power by Peter R. Odell (Penguin Books, 1983)

This book, now in its seventh edition, gives a very fair account of the history of the oil industry in the post-war period. Not surprisingly, the author provides us with abundant evidence of the validity of the materialist conception of history; indeed, it is scarcely possible nowadays to do otherwise and retain much semblance of credibility.

A basically orthodox viewpoint is presented, as the author does his best to be factual and not to show what he would no doubt consider to be "political bias". This means that it is assumed more or less automatically that capitalism will always exist, and that the developing alternatives to fossil fuels are scarcely mentioned; the book effectively disposes of the myth, which the oil interests themselves have at times encouraged, that there is a real oil shortage here and now. It is true that many oil-bearing sites are relatively difficult to work and therefore unprofitable but. as the author points out, we can expect these to be worked, and profitably, when the cheaper fields are exhausted.

Despite citing plenty of evidence that the oil industry in Russia operates under exactly the same profit motive as the American giants, the author states at the conclusion of a chapter headed "Soviet Oil Development" that Russia "has demonstrated that an oil industry working on other than capitalist lines can be successful". Old habits die hard indeed! Finally, he ends by suggesting that the world oil industry may be about to change its shape, with considerable reduction in trade involving the transport of oil over vast distances, and the emergence of oil regions aiming at some sort of self sufficiency across the capitalist states within them. National rivalries may hinder this but, contrary to what many believe, such developments would by no means imply a weakening of the capitalist system, merely a reaction by the capitalist concerned to the threat to their energy supplies, inherent in the present situation.

A valuable reference work in an easy-to-read style.
E. C. Edge

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