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Last updated: 27 June 2022. sky thinking for an open and diverse left

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Charlie Hebdo and the tendency for the rate of profit to fall


Bruce Wallace


In the wake of the massacre of Charlie Hebdo (CH) cartoonists and the four French Jewish hostages on 7th January some elements of the left displayed their complete capitulation before the black reaction of fundamentalist Islam.

Incredibly, before the victims were even in their graves, a cacophony arose from so called socialists and revolutionaries that placed the blame squarely on the dead. The blogosphere and social media have been besieged by left wing keyboard warriors denouncing the racism, sexism, homophobia and islamophobia of Charlie Hebdo.

One, not that prominent, example is Socialist Fight who, with the minimum of research but the maximum of hyperbole, produced this under the title LCFI statement on Charlie Hebdo: Islamophobia is the racism de jour and waded in against the dead journalists and cartoonists, one aged 70 and the other 80, after a cherry picked display of one of CH's front page cartoon covers:

"We defy anyone to say this is not a vile racist, Islamophobic, sexist piece of French imperialist propaganda. It has a double meaning which suggests that the young women are 'finally' angry because of their benefits being removed and did not mind being kidnapped and repeatedly raped."

The real perpetrators behind the atrocity can be then identified. And the perpetrator is, of course, imperialism. Imperialism has inflicted far worse atrocities in the Middle East and Africa which is, as we know, a banal truism.

"The LCFI asserts that the roots cause of the deaths at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris on 7 January is imperialism's wars on Muslim lands, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Syria, etc. Marxists never equate the violence of the oppressor with that of the oppressed, we make no moral judgements on the people who have carried out these attacks and recognise the deaths caused by imperialism in these lands run into the hundreds of thousands, if not the low millions."

The elderly staff of CH obviously provoked this attack and brought the wrath of the oppressed down upon their heads. Being ingrained racists, the septuagenarian and octogenarian victims at the CH offices, were obviously intimately implicated in the imperialist bloodbaths and so deserved to die. Such is the implicit drift of the statement .


This grouplet have been joined by ex-SWP member Richard Seymour, who also peddles the racist slur:

"Now, I think there's a critical difference between solidarity with the journalists who were attacked, refusing to concede anything to the idea that journalists are somehow "legitimate targets," and solidarity with what is frankly a racist publication.

I will not waste time arguing over this point here: I simply take it as read that — irrespective of whatever else it does, and whatever valid comment it makes — the way in which that publication represents Islam is racist. If you need to be convinced of this, then I suggest you do your research, beginning with reading Edward Said's Orientalism, as well as some basic introductory texts on Islamophobia, and then come back to the conversation."

Ever the pedant is Seymour, but then I've read Orientalism too and, sure, Charlie Hebdo did indulge in portraying Muslim figures in stereotypical Orientalist fashion, but then again they were cartoons! All the figures in Charlie Hebdo's cartoons were characterisations of one sort or another, including that of the French President Hollande with his penis exposed. This is because that is what cartoons are and what particularly satirical ones do. They aren't supposed to be real depictions of the modern average French Muslim or anybody else for that matter.

CH are not alone in depicting Islamic fundamentalists as stereotyped cartoon figures of fun. Those in the Middle East fighting these killers use exactly the same technique and even Iran is about to produce this piss take:

Anyway enough of this straw man nonsense that amounts to a self-imposed fatwa on the critical faculties of some on the left.

What about the economics? This gets rid of all the claptrap about the meaning of satire or free speech that has been blogged to death.

Cockshott's sober analysis


I'm indebted to Paul Cockshott who has shared a draft of an excellent short paper on the economic and geo-political background behind the rise of Islamic fundamentalism Equivocation in the face of black reaction . Noting that great religions arise as ideological machines of empire and that, if we are to understand them, we must see how they are bound up with the rise and fall of states, he delves into the economic driver for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

Modern Islamic states were born out of World War I and the revolutions that followed the disintegrating Ottoman Empire when mainly British and French imperialism divided the Middle East between them creating a patchwork of artificial states.

The region has been the cockpit for geopolitical rivalry ever since.

Imperialism has indeed ravaged the region, but who have been the winners and losers? After the war on terror and the US invasion of Iraq with the disruption of its oil industry, followed by the isolation of Iran and sanctions against it came a boom in the global demand for oil particularly from China and India. This has overwhelmingly favoured the Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The oil monarchies are now richer per head than many European countries and far ahead of most of Asia.

Qatar for example has a GDP per head of $93,714 while France it is $42,500. Saudi Arabia is $25,962 while China is $6,807.

How does this work? This was explained many years ago by Karl Marx through the workings of the mechanism of differential rent.

The oil monarchies are wealthy because their oil always sells above its value. The value of a commodity, as Marx proved, is determined by the social average amount of labour time that is required to produce it but oil doesn't sell at its value but at its marginal cost of production which is much higher than its average cost.

Oil practically bubbles out of the ground in the Persian Gulf and production costs are very low. The price of a barrel of oil is $60. In Saudi Arabia it costs $5 to extract and transport it giving the Saudi's $55 profit. Meanwhile for the North Sea oil of the UK and Norway it costs $52 to extract and transport it with only $8 of profit. The drop in the price of oil as world industrial growth slows now makes US shale oil deposits completely unprofitable and amounts to a loss of minus $25 a barrel!

Since 2001 the revenues of OPEC have risen inexorably. The idea that imperialism is plundering the resources of the Middle East, as the Islamic fundamentalists argue, is clearly nonsense because the revenues of the oil monarchies have grown 4 times since 2001. The flow of oil from, and capital to, the Middle East inextricably links the advanced capitalist powers to the retrograde reactionary regimes of the oil monarchies who act as their proxies in the region.


Where do all the oil profits of OPEC come from? It isn't from the exploitation of oil workers in the Middle East because this is a miniscule portion of the profit. No, through differential rent there is a redistribution of surplus value, extracted through the exploitation of workers in America, Europe and Asia, which is transferred to the OPEC countries. As Cockshott puts it "labour produces the value that turns out as ground oil revenue in Arabia".

It is no coincidence that the extreme reactionary movements of ISIS and Al-Qaeda trace their origins to Saudi Arabia. The main threat to the oil monarchies, with their obscene wealth and despotic regimes, comes from secular democratic or working class movements in the region and challenges from other secular Arab states. Thus the reactionary oil regimes fund and foment movements based on a conservative brand of Sunni Islam that militates against basic democratic rights or political freedom and can wage war within secular Syria, Libya or Iraq on behalf of the Sunni kingdoms.

The imperialist powers have a vested interest in maintaining the grip of the oil monarchies (as a counterweight to less pliable secular and radical regimes) and this is the main reason that US imperialism aimed its aggression against the most developed secular Arab state of Iraq. The Sunni monarchy of Saudi Arabia and their US allies backed the early development of Al-Qaeda. There is also evidence that the US secretly supported ISIS against Assad's Syrian secular regime. Turkey is also known to secretly back ISIS but surely this is a contradiction because Turkey isn't an oil producer?

Cockshot explains this apparent contradiction. Turkey is the rump left after the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and is an established capitalist state that has pretensions to join the EU which has been repeatedly rebuffed. Now the capitalist class of Turkey have the government of Erdogan in power that is re-establishing Islam back into political life. As Turkey is a capitalist state it is subject to the laws of capital and its rate of profit has fallen.

Turkey's falling rate of profit

Cockshott explains:

"The situation of Turkey is different. The ruling classes of Turkey cannot rely on ground rents. Instead they rely on exploiting their own working classes. As such they are affected by the general law of development of mature capitalist countries, the rate of profit falls as the capital to labour ratio rises."

The falling rate of profit is what drives competition between different capitals and rivalries between imperialist states to pursue expansionary policies to extend exploitation and enhance the market for their commodities thus acting as a counter-tendency to the falling rate of profit. The falling rate of profit in Turkey has propelled the capitalist class to consider an expansionary policy in the region.

As Cockshott puts it so clearly:

"This process gives rise to new ideologies on the part of the bourgeois state. It is no longer content with the secular modernism established by Attaturk, an ideology that was appropriate for a capitalist state that was in its early developmental stage. Once the stage of mature capitalism arrives, the ruling class rummages through the ideological toolbox of reaction to come up with an ideology that can justify expansion."

Turkey, a close ally of the US, secretly backs ISIS because it eyes the possibility of expansion southwards into Iraq. For that it needs to put on the veil of Islam and begins to abandon its secular past in order for its proxy force of ISIS to do its bidding in northern Iraq.

The atrocity at Charlie Hebdo certainly took place against a backdrop of imperialist devastation of Iraq, growing right wing and racist movements in Europe, but Marxists don't just look at the surface appearances of the dynamics of geopolitical developments. We delve deeper to explain the laws that that drive a diseased capitalism to war, reaction and atrocity.

Like any good detective we "follow the money".

External links:

Bella Caledonia

Bright Green

George Monbiot

Green Left


The Jimmy Reid Foundation

Richard Dawkins

Scottish Left Review

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