Review: Midnight Oil

In asserting the centrality of class struggle Midnight Oil is an important attempt to go beyond Lenin's theory of imperialism as a means of understanding the Gulf War. Unfortunately the inadequacy of their understanding of capitalism leads them on some bizarre theoretical wanderings in their search for an alternative.

(Work, Energy, War, 1973-92). Midnight Notes. Autonomedia. Brooklyn 1992. £9.95. ISBN 0-936756-96-9.

Libcom note: A member of Midnight Notes responded to this review here.

Submitted by libcom on July 24, 2005


Midnight Oil is a collection of articles produced by the Zerowork (1974-79) and Midnight Notes (1979-) collectives, having as its focus a thorough analysis of the recent Gulf war. There are a number of reasons why the publication of this book should be welcomed. For a start the making available of texts from the autonomist tradition, which have previously been available to few people, can only have a positive impact on revolutionaries in this country who, with notable exceptions, have tended either to regurgitate orthodoxy or dismiss theory as academic contemplation. It is also reassuring to find that despite the setbacks experienced by the US working class over the last couple of decades some US theorists are still capable of attempting to analyse contemporary events - not everyone has responded to these defeats by seeking to conjure the future out of some mythical past like Zerzan or Perlman.

Coming after the Gulf-War Midnight Oil provides a pertinent counter-point to the orthodox Marxist theories which reduced the war to merely an inter-imperialist conflict. However, whilst we are sympathetic to aspects of Midnight Notes'/autonomist analysis, and appreciate it as a weapon against orthodox Leninist conceptions, we can not remain entirely uncritical. Indeed, while at first sight the broad sweep of analysis in Midnight Oil is impressive, on closer inspection we find that it has fundamental weaknesses. A hint of such problems become apparent if we remember Midnight Notes's predictions before the Gulf War in the pamphlet When Crusaders and Assassins Unite. This pamphlet, published in November 1990, in an attempt to provide a class analysis for the US anti-war movement, argued that there would be no war as there were no fundamental disagreements between US and Iraqi capital as both wanted higher oil prices :

These differences over oil pricing control and debt policy can be mediated, though this mediation process might very well include the use of marginal military force. However, U.S. Crusaders are not in the Arabian Peninsula to fight a large-scale, conventional shooting war with the Iraqi Assassins, as frequently envisioned. For U.S. troops are not in the Arabian Peninsula to fight the soldiers of a government that plays the game of collective capital. A game that the Saddam Hussein regime has shown itself perfectly willing and able to play. The U.S. invasion of the Persian Gulf, therefore, is not like the war in Vietnam where the U.S. military was sent to crush a directly anti-capitalist, revolutionary armed movement. It is more like the post-W.W.II U.S. occupation of Western Europe, whose main function was not to fight a Soviet invasion, but rather to repress the rise of any revolutionary forces within Western Europe itself.

Midnight Notes, and No War But The Class War (NWBTCW) in Britain, attempted to move beyond Leninist analyses of the war to emphasise the class war, but we have to recognise their limitations if we are to move beyond them. Perhaps unsurprisingly 'When Crusaders and Assassins Unite' and its predictions go unmentioned in Midnight Oil. However what is important for us is not so much that Midnight Notes got it wrong but why they got it wrong. When we test their analysis against the litmus of the Gulf War the loose ends of their theory rapidly unravel. It is not merely that Midnight Oil is inconsistent, as is only to be expected from a collective project developing over 20 years, rather it is that we find its underlying theory incoherent.

To understand the significance of Midnight Oil we have to put it into the context of its opposition to the dominant Marxist explanations for the Gulf War. In Britain the anti-war movement was dominated by the left-liberal pacifism of CND which advocated sanctions to starve the Iraqi's into submission instead of bombing them into the middle ages. The immediate response of the 'revolutionary left' was simply to 'trot out' the old anti-imperialism position of 'supporting the weaker country against imperialist aggression' which refuses any real class analysis of the war. However, in the case of Iraq the sheer absurdity of this position became apparent. How could so called revolutionaries back a fascist dictatorship with a proven record of butchering its own working class? In the case of the SWP their knee jerk reaction of backing Iraq was soon dropped as opportunism led them to change their line and tail-end the peace movement in the hope of picking up new recruits whilst the RCP maintained an unrelenting support for the Iraqi state. In both cases a rigid adherence to the discredited Leninist theory of imperialism led these groups to fail to grasp the initiative from left-liberalism/pacifism in the anti-war movement.

Lenin's Theory of imperialism

The Leninist theory of imperialism owes its origins to Lenin's Imperialism. Lenin's Imperialism was based on Bukharin's work which in turn had developed out of the orthodox theory of the Second International, as exemplified by Hilferding's Finance Capital. It argued that since the 1870's the world had seen the concentration and centralization of production into huge monopolies and cartels that dominated national markets. This had brought about a new era of monopoly capitalism which, for Lenin at least, was the last stage of capitalism. In monopoly capitalism the huge monopolies tended to merge with banking capital and because of the national importance of these huge capitals they became increasingly regulated and protected by the state. Since these huge capitals, organised in cartels, dominated the market they could plan production and set prices. No longer was there an anarchy of the market. The preconditions for a centralized and planned socialist economy were all but there. All that was needed was for the working class to take power and nationalize the big monopolies and banks!!

But to make monopoly profits the big monopolies restricted domestic production to push domestic prices up. Restricted production limited investment which meant that there was both a tendency for surplus-production and surplus-capital to be invested abroad. This meant a drive for foreign markets and imperialism under the protection of the state, but this brought each imperialist power into conflict with others as its rivals. The orthodox/centrist Kautsky thought that this imperialist conflict would ultimately be resolved peacefully through ultra-imperialism. Lenin said it could only be resolved through war and revolution. A point he thought vindicated by World War One.

Problems of Lenin's theory

Firstly his analysis is out of date when applied to the current situation. Hilferding's work, which Lenin's analysis is largely based on and relates to the era of monopoly capitalism at the turn of the century, particularly to the situation in Germany. But with the development and establishment of Fordism the division of the world is no longer based on super-exploited colonies, rather the Third World appears as marginalized economies within the world market that capital is unable to fully exploit.

Perhaps more importantly Lenin's theory of imperialism is crippled by its assumption of working class passivity. The working class is the least developed aspect of Lenin's Imperialism as the dynamic to war and the possibility of planning are derived entirely from the relations between capitals. Thus the working class is seen as passive, needing the objective conditions to mature before being forced to take decisive action. This is particularly clear in Lenin's conception of the labour aristocracy in terms of workers being 'bought off' rather than in terms of them winning concessions that force the monopolies to push prices higher. Therefore the result of Lenin's Imperialism, with its assumption of working class passivity, is to locate the movement towards communism in the contradictions of capital as an objective economic system rather than in the revolutionary self-activity of the working class.

Autonomism against Leninist theories of Imperialism

If the inadequacy of Lenin's Imperialism, as applied to the Gulf-War, is its focus on the 'objective', i.e. capital, can we combat this by using Midnight Notes' autonomist analysis to bring in the 'subjective', i.e. class struggle? The great strength of Midnight Notes and other autonomist-Marxists is their focus on the centrality of class struggle. Through their focus on working class composition, especially the notion of the mass worker, Midnight Notes' and other autonomists grasp the need to go beyond the era of monopoly capitalism described by Hilferding. By focusing on the working class as an autonomous power within and against capital the autonomists were able to account for Fordism and the resistance to it. Therefore both technology and working class organization reflect a particular division of power produced as an outcome of past struggles. This makes trade unions, social democratic, and Leninist parties historically specific organizational forms.

Midnight Oil's great strength is its focus on class struggle whether it be of migrant oil workers, Iraqi deserters, striking autoworkers, wildcat coal miners, or Italian rent strikers. But whilst this focus on working class self-activity is Midnight Oil's greatest strength it is also its greatest weakness. The problem with Midnight Notes however, is not simply that they overemphasize class struggle, rather it is their inadequate understanding of modern capitalism. By concentrating so much on struggles they tend to reduce the workings of the world market to merely a question of power, one where capital collectively manipulates prices in order to attack the working class.

Value and the Apocalypse

For Marx capitalism is not the latest incarnation of the omniscient megamachine that comes to dominate humanity, nor is it a simple means through which the capitalist class consciously conspires to exploit us. Rather capital is a social relation through which human activity returns as an alien and objective force which subsumes human will and purposes to its own ceaseless drive towards its own quantitative expansion. As such, for Marx, capitalism is very far from being a consciously regulated system. As a totality capital is a process that must continually reconstitute itself out of the conflicting actions and purposes both between disassociated individuals and antagonistic classes. Of course this is not to say that there are not conscious attempts to plan nor of some forms of social co-operation, e.g. the state, but that these are only moments subsumed within capital as an unconscious subject and only arise from given conditions of conflict and competition between individuals and classes.

Despite different political perspectives, both Midnight Notes and the orthodox Marxism of Lenin and Kautsky see a fundamental change in capitalism from that described by Marx in Capital - modern capitalism is seen as moving towards a consciously regulated system. This is linked with the notion of us entering the transitional stage to socialism/communism. For orthodox Marxism this is seen primarily in terms of inter-capitalist relations in the form of growing state intervention and the growth of monopolies, both of which lead to the planning of production and exchange rather than regulation through the anarchy of the market, i.e. the supersession of the law of value. For Midnight Notes/autonomism the supersession of the law of value is seen more in terms of the separation of labour from capital with the automation of production.

The fragments on machines

The theoretical basis for Midnight Notes' argument that the law of value has been superseded is the now famous passage from the Grundrisse that has become known as the fragments on machines. In these passages Marx vividly describes how capital in its drive to increase the social productivity of labour through the mechanisation and eventual automation of production makes production increasingly disproportionate to the labour employed. But since capital is nothing but the expansion of alienated labour, this tendency drives capital beyond its own foundation. Hence crisis and apocalypse. As Marx notes:

As soon as labor in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labor time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be a measure] of use value. ...Capital itself is the moving contradiction , [in] that it presses to reduce labor time to a minimum, while it posits labor time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth...On the one side, then, it calls to life all the powers of science and of nature, as of social combination and of social intercourse, in order to make the creation of wealth independent (relatively) of the labor time employed in it. On the other side, it wants to use labor time as the measuring rod for the giant social forces thereby created, and to confine them within the limits required to maintain the already created value as value.

The notion that there is a tendency for the law of value to be superseded is central to Midnight Notes' analysis of oil pricing. It allows them to argue that, since value is no longer a necessary measure/regulator of capital work has become merely a form of social discipline. Hence the refusal of work is no longer a utopian demand. Also, to the extent that labour is separated from capital and no longer mediated by value we have only two antagonistic classes each with its own distinct strategy. Therefore the collective capitalist seeks to preserve its power through the imposition of work and the collective worker seeks to resist and refuse this work.

In Midnight Oil, Midnight Notes seek to unilaterally apply this tendency as if it was a long term historical tendency that is now at the point of realisation. But in doing so they run into severe problems. If this tendency has been realised then capital steps beyond its own substance. If capital is not the self expansion of value what is it? Capital disappears! Unedited by objective categories of value and capital we are left with two antagonistic subjects, the 'capitalist' class and the 'working' class locked in an apocalyptic life and death struggle. Have we reached such an era? Is the continuing existence of capitalist competition and markets merely an illusion left over from the past? Midnight Notes staring into the abyss see the consequences of such a conclusion and recoil from them:

If capital can, at will, change and manipulate energy and industrial prices on the basis of multinational corporate power , i.e., independent of the amount of work that goes into the production of commodities, then we must abandon work and surplus value (exploitation) as our basic analytical categories. Marx would be an honored but dead dog. We would have to accept the position of Sweezy and Marcuse that monopoly organization and technological development have made capital independent of the 'law of value,' (viz., that prices, profits, costs and the other numerology of accounting are rooted in (and explained by) the work-time gone into the production of the commodities and reproduction of the relevant worker). Capital it would seem can break its own rules, the class struggle is now to be played on a pure level of power, 'will to domination,' force against force and prices become part of the equation of violence, arbitrarily decided like the pulling of a trigger.

Instead they try and get around the problems that flow from abandoning the law of value by arguing that only certain sectors have escaped labour, but these sectors - oil and food - are basic commodities whose price determines all other prices and thus can be used as a weapon through which capitalism as a global system can be organised against the working class. In several articles, most notably the Notes on the International Crisis, they take political control of oil as self evident, but in The Work/Energy Crisis and the Apocalypse they try and explain it in terms of differing organic compositions of capital.

Using Marx, The Work/Energy crisis and the Apocalypse argues that the equalisation of the rate of profit means that prices must diverge from labour-values due to differences in the ratio of living to dead labour across various branches of industry. Since surplus-value can only be expropriated from living labour, those industries employing a large amount of labour relative to their employment of means of production (i.e. those with a low organic composition of capital (OCC)) will be able to produce relatively more surplus-value than those capitals invested in industries that are highly mechanised (i.e. those that have a high OCC). An equalisation of the rate of profit arises through the transfer surplus-value from those capitals invested in industries with a low OCC to those with high OCC. For this to occur prices must be higher than values in industries with a high organic composition of capital (OCC) and lower than values in those with a low OCC.

From this Midnight Notes then attempt to invert Marx by asserting that this proves that prices can be disconnected from values in high OCC industries like food or energy. Yet Marx was attempting to show the very opposite, i.e. how despite variations in prices and values, values still regulate production and exchange. It is through this very analysis of the formation of a general rate of profit, and the formation of production prices that systematically diverge from values, that Marx shows how, through the competition between individual capitals, the 'law of value' ensures that each individual capital is obliged to act as if it simply a particular part of capital-in-general, despite any conscious intentions on the part of the capitalist themselves.

So even if we accepted that energy and food were necessarily high OCC industries, which we do not, The Work/Energy crisis and the Apocalypse fails to provide an adequate theoretical grounding. Indeed Midnight Notes even admit this themselves when they concede that capitalists only have 'apparent freedom' when it comes to setting oil prices independent of the labour that goes into the production of oil. However it is only through considering Midnight Notes' view of history that the importance of these theoretical inadequacies becomes apparent.

Oil as history

Is it true, as Midnight Notes contend, that the history of post-war capitalism is the history of oil price changes?

As is well known, by the late 1960s working class struggles broke the wage-productivity deal of Keynesianism. Workers demanded 'more money - less work' resulting in a steep decline in profits. Midnight Notes argue that in response to this offensive 'capital' (in the guise of the USA) engineered the 'energy crisis' by forcing up oil prices, which resulted in a restructuring of capital and cuts in real wages. Thus the quadrupling of the oil price in 1973-74 resulted in huge profits for the energy companies and oil producing countries which were then recycled as petrodollars, allowing massive investment in the automation of factories and a shift of production to the 'Newly Industrialising Countries' where labour was cheaper.

After capital has jacked the price of oil right up, Midnight Notes then argue that it has to bring it back down again; because by the mid 1970s oil producing states in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Caribbean had succumbed to popular demands and 'squandered' the increased oil revenues on higher wages and social spending. Not only did this rise in oil prices lead to the oil proletariat demanding higher wages but, in countries like Iran, it also encouraged them to overthrow their rulers in an attempt to gain control of the wealth they produced.

Therefore Midnight Notes argue that, in the 1980s capital abandons its high energy price strategy and imposes austerity. This necessarily involves cutting the price of oil in order to attack the oil proletariat. Thus the US Federal Reserve Bank engineers a global slowdown by constricting the money supply, which results in a steep climb in interest rates, and when combined with a loss of export revenues triggers off the debt crisis. As chief enforcer for capital the IMF prescribes austerity for debtor nations, i.e. a more favourable investment climate and production for export. However Midnight Notes argue that working class resistance to austerity leads to a threatened default on Third World debts which forces the US to devalue the dollar by half, thus halving the debt (which it is calculated in US dollars) in order to save the global banking system.

As expected this extension of austerity was met with fierce working class resistance, which leads Midnight Notes to argue that by the late 1980s capital had decided that its austerity program had failed, and that it was planning a massive expansion with huge new areas like Russia and China to be opened up. The idea being that the cheap labour and raw materials of the socialist bloc could be used to undermine the wages of western workers. But, given the world wide recession, investment was in short supply, thus oil prices were to be used as the motor to create surplus funds for a general restructuring of global accumulation. This restructuring was to centre on the reorganization of the oil industry, particularly in those areas where it had been nationalised. International capital was hoping to force open these areas as a result of falling oil prices, but when the IMF tried to force oil states like Nigeria, Venezuela, Algeria and Morocco to cut welfare and wages there were mass uprisings. Therefore Midnight Notes argue that if oil prices were to be raised there would have to be a massive increase in repression to prevent the proles appropriating a slice of the planned oil revenue as had happened throughout the 70s and 80s.

Thus Midnight Notes argue that the Gulf War emerged out of the process of recolonization in the late 1980s following the collapse of the socialist bloc. If the oil fields in the Eastern bloc, Mexico, and Nigeria were to be opened up there would need to be a whole new wave of investment to make them profitable. But the regimes might be forced to give some of the increased revenues to the proles. For Midnight Notes the Gulf war was needed as an example to terrorize the proles into accepting a life of extreme poverty amid vast accumulations of wealth. Therefore;

the re-organization of workers in the planet's most important oil-producing region was not an accidental by-product of the war, but rather a central objective, and one shared, despite some disputes, by the Iraqi, Kuwaiti, Saudi, European and US ruling classes. As the oil industry in the Mideast (and internationally) was preparing for its largest expansion in fifteen years, it needed both to recompose and terrorize an increasingly rebellious oil-producing proletariat. In the environment of an 'international intifada' against IMF austerity plans, any new attempt to vastly debase workers' lives amidst new accumulations of wealth based on oil price increase was going to require a leap in the level of militarization.

Down the slippery slope to conspiracy

The central problem of Midnight Oil is that their attempt to reduce the history of capitalism to the history of oil price fluctuations tends to lead to a conspiratorial analysis where a unified capital manipulates energy prices in order to attack the working class. No one denies the impact of oil prices, nor their role in the restructuring of capital after the working class offensive of the 1960/70s, but Midnight Notes' analysis completely ignores the importance of the development of global finance capital. Because it is beyond the control of any government, global finance capital completely undermines Midnight Notes' notion of a unified capital exercising conscious control.

Also Midnight Notes' fail to show anywhere in Midnight Oil how and by whom oil prices are manipulated. Who decides 'capital's strategy'? Furthermore the 'documentation' they cite showing the USA conspired with OPEC to triple oil prices does not support their case. It merely shows that, with the tripling of oil production and exploration costs in the USA, the American oil industry was able to influence the US government not to intervene when first Libya and then the other states took the opportunity of the crisis in the oil industry to push prices up to levels determined by the marginal producers in the USA. The oil crises of 1973,1979 and 1986 could be better explained as critical conjunctures in the development of the oil industry away from the conscious and planned regulation of production and exchange by the big seven oil companies, backed by the US and British governments, to a unified global oil market which to a large extent escapes conscious control of governments and monopolies.

The limitations of Midnight Notes' method and analysis are starkly exposed in the articles Oil, Guns and Money and Rambo on the Barbary Shore. Although Rambo on the Barbary Shore appears ostensibly to concern Saudi Arabia's doubling of oil production in 1985-86 and its relation to the US bombing of Libya, it in fact encapsulates Midnight Notes' conception of how capital manipulates the market. The argument is summarised in Oil, Guns and Money where, referring to the devaluation of the US dollar by one half in 1985, they argue that:

This manoeuvre, in one stroke, lowered the value of debt held by countries from Mexico to Poland by one half. But this was no charity. If the lowering of interest rates in 1983 had been prompted by Mexico's moratorium, the dollar devaluation was prompted by South Africa's moratorium on payments to foreign banks in August 1985. The potential of South African capital to succumb to black workers struggles within the country and to provoke other governments around the world to similarly halt loan payments was enough to force western capital to change the terms of global debt. In this manipulation of monetary values we see capitalist planning at its most abstract and reified levels, where decisions seemingly removed from the labors on the shop floor or in the kitchen ultimately entail the most profound effects. One of the most important consequences of the dollar's devaluation, for example, was the simultaneous devaluation of oil. As the dollar was taking a free fall in the market, Saudi Arabia doubled its production within nine months and thereby halved the price of oil. The US government arranged this oil devaluation to keep the US import bill from skyrocketing. With a dollar half of what it was worth before, imports, particularly oil, would have doubled in cost. The US was already becoming the largest debtor nation in the world and there was the fear that the dollar devaluation, if taken alone, would have thrown the US over the edge of solvency. These twin manoeuvres of 1985-86 - the dollar and oil devaluations - exhibit how the international market is consciously structured by capital.

This whole analysis is riddled with errors which are symptomatic of Midnight Notes' theoretical inadequacies. Firstly the US dollar was not devalued unilaterally at a stroke. The devaluation of the dollar that followed the Plaza Accord took nearly two years and required concerted intervention of the central banksof the major industrial powers armed with reserve funds that were only a fraction of the huge flows of capital surging around the international money markets. Secondly the devaluation does not necessarily halve the debt, particularly if the debt is denominated in US dollars and the exporter, e.g. Mexico, is trading mainly with the US. It is true that resistance to debt forced rescheduling under the Baker plan and simultaneously limited the US government's strategy of using interest rates to indefinitely defend an overvalued dollar, forcing them towards international co-operation to devalue the dollar in 1985. But we can not simply explain fluctuations in the US dollar in terms of oil pricing as Midnight Notes are prone to do. Halving the dollar does not mean that oil prices have to be halved to prevent the US' import bill doubling since oil is denominated in dollars. Consequently the twin manoeuvres of 1985-86 do not show how the international market is structured by capital, on the contrary they show how attempts to consciously regulate international markets are highly circumscribed!

Conspiracy at Midnight?

Overall Midnight Oil is an important work because its unrelenting focus on working class struggles provides an important corrective to the objectivism of Lenin's Imperialism and its defenders. However Midnight Oil is fatally undermined by Midnight Notes' tendency to ascribe outcomes to the conscious strategy of a unified capital. Throughout Midnight Oil Midnight Notes fail to show how capital constitutes itself. They imply that the US state formulates capital's strategy, but then fail to explain how US policy is formulated. The problem is that Midnight Notes conception of a unified capital results in them conflating capitalism with the actions of individual capitalists. Capitalism does not have a strategy, although capitalists pursue different strategies. Capitalism as a totality is mediated by the world market and emerges from the conflict between and within different capitals and the working class.

Even if capital has a strategy, which it does not, Midnight Notes fail to show how it is organized and by whom. Given that Midnight Notes see capital as an undifferentiated unity imposing an agreed strategy on the working class, we would expect to find them focusing on organizations like the UN, the IMF, G7 etc. However there is little analysis of those organizations which could be seen as arenas for hammering out 'capital's strategy'. Such an omission can not simply be a mistake by Midnight Notes, rather it is a consequence of their method which does not look at capitalist divisions because their theory has assumed these divisions away.

When their conception of a unified capital is applied to concrete events its inadequacies are glaring. For example Midnight Notes saw the Gulf War as a collective capital imposing an agreed strategy of increasing oil prices. Initially this caused them to take the position, in 'When Crusaders and Assassins Unite', that there would be no war, or at most token skirmishing. After all, why should there be a war if there are no fundamental disagreements between Iraq and the US? However, when they are forced by events to admit there was a war then they merely reduce it to collective capital militarizing oil production. This results in them tending to argue that Iraq and the US colluded in the invasion of Kuwait, via April Glaspie, as part of a co-ordinated strategy of increasing oil prices. Whilst the invasion of Kuwait was a consequence of the Ba'athists inability to impose austerity on their own working class, it is not the case that it was part of a co-ordinated global plan for militarizing the world's oil industry, as the disarray of the US government's response clearly illustrates.

By imposing a pre-defined conception of a unified capital onto events Midnight Notes are able to change their position on the Gulf War from seeing it as a 'phoney war' to seeing it as a method for the Iraqi regime to impose austerity. This culminatesin them arguing that the Iraqi state did not believe the US would intervene and even if it did that it would be in the Ba'athists interests. It is true that the main targets of the UN bombing were civilians, infrastructure, and retreating troops who were the main force of revolt within Iraq, but from this Midnight Notes argue that the war was in the Ba'athist's interests because it finally enabled them to impose austerity on the Iraqi working class.

However, the triumph of the Ba'athist state over the working class uprisings was by no means guaranteed. Also it is not the case that the Iraqi state sought saturation bombing, resulting in massive destruction of productive capital, and the risk of overthrow, because it thought it might possibly improve its ability to impose austerity. Excepting the decimated oil industries of Iraq and Kuwait, Midnight Notes fail to show that oil production is more militarized after the Gulf War than it was before. Even with civil war raging in Yemen oil prices are only $16 a barrel, the level they were prior to the Gulf War. This is hardly the mass increase in oil prices that Midnight Notes expected as the result of collective capital militarizing oil production through the Gulf War. With oil prices predicted to settle down to $13-14 a barrel for the forseeable future we can conclude that either capital does not have a high oil price strategy atall, or that it has been incapable of imposing one. It is clear that oil prices are not operating as the motor for a new phase of accumulation to pull the world out of recession.

Finally when we apply Midnight Notes' theory to other conflicts like Somalia and Yugoslavia we find that their method breaks down. The war in the former Yugoslavia provides a perfect example of the disunity and divisions among the various capitals. Whilst the Leninists see the conflict as an imperialist war fought out by proxies, autonomist analyses tend to see it as a conspiracy by a unified capital using nationalism and war to divide and subjugate a combative working class. These two positions represent the opposing flipsides of the same undialectical coin. Theorising conflicts such as these is only possible if we can understand how the class struggle is mediated by competition, and vice versa. The autonomists' antipathy to dialectical thinking means that whilst they can provide a corrective to the diatribes of the anti-imperialists they cannot supersede them.