Sunday, May 24, 2015

Syncrisic Geopolitics 2: Transmountain & Turkish Stream

In a previous essay, on the recent electoral fates of Alberta and Scotland, these respective subaggregates were analytically isolated within and across their respective superstate aggregates, but precisely in the moments, or sequences, immediately following the oil price crash of late 2014. This was called 'syncrisic' [σύγκρισικ] analysis, or parallel scrutiny, insofar as its objects were two situations whose commonality lay in their transmutation under irregular conditions of global liquidity, their ossified or obdurate asset based political arrangements and the breakdown of these arrangements in similar ways upon the collapse of the asset class due to global overproduction. The consequences of the oil crash were, considered abstractly, the end of the forty-four year long dynasty of the Progressive Conservatives falling to Rachel Notley's New Democratic Party in the case of Canada, and the end of Labour's dominance in Scotland at the hands of Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish National Party in the case of the UK, as well as an exacerbation of the semi-peripheral characteristics of both, but why did this happen? And why did it happen to both when it did? It was contended, briefly, that no methodology of comparative political science is sufficiently capable of grasping the geometries of these situations and sequences – qua situations and sequences, i.e. scenes - across regional subaggregates functioning separately, nor are they capable of capturing how these geometries give rise to an 'open situation,' i.e. a situation in which there is substantively more opportunity for political transformation than there otherwise had been beforehand, precisely when it did. Thus it was both said that “national aggregates are porous to the tempo of political transformation within their greater superstate aggregations and across them,” and that “social fibrillation by financial capital exacerbates semi-peripherality, the relation of local cores to local peripheries, not necessarily according to distributions of national sovereignty, but according to logistics chains and regional systems.”

Indeed, very much the same could be said of the situations of, on the one hand, British Columbia with respect to several proposed infrastructural projects, notably the Transmountain pipeline, and, on the other, several States, including Turkey, Greece, and Macedonia, arrayed around the Black Sea with respect to the proposed Turkish Stream pipeline. The syncrisic comparison of the social fibrillations of Alberta and Scotland looked at sequences pertaining to political transformation in the aftermath of asset class failure due to a latency between the asset classes as a veil for, or manifestation of, global liquidity, on the one hand, and its actual overaccumulation as global stock, on the other, precisely at the geographic sites of that asset's accumulation, and precisely at the moments of this latency's collapse (the oil crash, the 'death of OPEC,' etc.), whereas the syncrisic comparison of British Columbia and those States arrayed around the Black Sea concerns, rather, a parallel scrutiny of architectures of transit: the striation of space in between the nodal sites of energy's origin and the site of its ultimate consumption. That is, it concerns extractively liminal space, space that is primarily relevant geopolitically insofar as it is traversed, striated by the logistical dictates of its most proximate superstate aggregate.

At the height of oil prices, strategic infrastructural development could proceed under a veil of autonomous economic development, as thin in the case of the 'blue-eyed sheiks' of Alberta as Putin's oligarchs, but nonetheless enough so as to act as a catchment for excess liquidity that facilitated the strategic infrastructural ambitions of certain States. In the aftermath of the oil crash, however, these infrastructures and logistical chains have been robbed only of their immediate claim to economic legitimacy, revealing that certain elements of these assemblages are, and always were, politically determined, irrespective of their economic legitimation. In spite of the recent election of the NDP in Alberta, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is still, with respect to Kinder Morgan President Ian Anderson, and the proposed construction of the Transmountain pipeline, as Vladimir Putin is to Gazprom Chairman Alexey Miller and the proposed Turkish Stream pipeline, in that they both want to ensure access to markets for their supplicant, irrespective of the current price of energy. Harper had hoped to secure a deal which would have seen Athabasca tar-sands oil sent south for refinement through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, thus far stymied State-side, as Putin would ultimately prefer to have simply utilized the older Soviet pipeline infrastructure through Ukraine, no longer politically certain, thus Transmountain represents the same kind of bypass to Ottawa as Turkish Stream represents to Moscow. For Harper, Albertan bitumen heads west through a Chinese currency hub, thereby eliding the U.S. itself, and for Putin gas heads south, eliding the U.S.'s endeavours in Ukraine.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, moreover, is syncrisically akin to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in their having both positioned sovereignty over their subaggregate as the substance of such bypasses. As Bulent Aliriza noted at a recent panel on the Turkish Stream pipeline, proposed after the cancellation of the South Stream pipeline in 2014, Turkey is acting “in the firm belief that in addition to its commercial benefits, of involvement in the transportation of energy to market, the multiplicity of pipelines traversing its territory would enhance Turkey's importance in international relations, and Turkish stream fits naturally into that narrative whether it comes into being or not.”1 Turkey is, in other words, as Aliriza points out, positioning itself as a mediator and interlocutor between Washington, Moscow, and Berlin. By playing the divergent interests of these forces off one another and, by turns, allowing its territory to function as a site of strategic transit by one or another, Turkey seeks to leverage its geographic monopoly. In like manner, Christy Clark has positioned herself between Ottawa and Calgary, on the one hand, and Bejing and Kuala Lumpur, on the other. As Deleuze & Guattari write, “the State itself needs a hydraulic science. . . [but] the State needs to subordinate hydraulic force to conduits, pipes, embankments, which prevent turbulence, which constrain movement to go from one point to another, and space itself to be striated and measured, which makes the fluid depend on the solid, and flows proceed by parallel, laminar layers.”2 As Maristella Svampa writes, “the return of the state as regulator installs itself within a space of variable geometry, which means within a multi-actor scheme (marked by a complexification of civil society through social movements, NGOs and other actors), but at the same time in tight association with multinational private capitals, whose weight in national economies is growing more and more.”3

In many respects, also, the ethnic divide between the Orthodox Christian Slavs and the Muslim Albanians, in those states arrayed around the Black Sea, is exacerbated by such infrastructural ambitions, and mirrors the divide between coastal First Nations and the Canadian government, in that such developmental aims on the part of governments, like those of Macedonia's Nikola Gruevski or Canada's Stephen Harper, are deeply implicated in a rectilinear proliferation of norms, and indeed both Gruevski and Harper have played upon sectarian tensions and paranoia and fostered security-state apparati for political advantage in advancing their State infrastructural ambitions. As Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson write “territory is not necessarily or not only associated with the sovereign space of the state. . . rather, it is seen as a political technology for organizing social and economic relations that has both spatial and non-spatial elements.”4 Indeed, as the recent political crises in Macedonia and the open confrontation between Burnaby RCMP and protesters over Kinder Morgan's text drilling for Transmountain last fall demonstrate, as Deleuze & Guattari write, “the State itself has always been in a relation with an outside and is inconceivable independent of that relationship,”5 that is, they continue, “the outside of States cannot be reduced to 'foreign policy,' that is, to a set of relations among States.”6 Thus, as Mezzadraand Neilson argue, “mapping the global landscape of extraction confronts us with a wide array of peculiarities and changing economic as well as political circumstances.”7 The State less and less appears as a transcendent hegemon and more and more as simply an superempowered node in its own right, whose armatures extend outwards towards other superempowered nodes and through nodes like Vancouver, Ankara, or Skopje, who become geopolitically important purely in virtue of the complicity and collaboration of their ruling classes with the logistical imperatives of the imperial nodes they are suspended between and their logistical constellations. As Mezzadra and Neilson write:

“The legal unity of territory is challenged and exploded by not only the multiplication of resource extraction ‘enclaves’ but also the proliferation of partial legal regimes, technical standards, ‘best practices’ and sectorally limited normative arrangements. In the mining industry, the relations of transnational companies with indigenous and other local populations are altered by protocols of corporate responsibility that stipulate the parameters within which the place-bound business of mineral extraction can deal with environmental, cultural and even religious contestations. This is often not sufficient to eliminate the production of violent struggles on the ground, but it means that corporate entities have to enter into unstable alliances and often negotiations with public institutions and other actors to adapt to contingencies to enable the resource extraction to go ahead. Power is not merely chanelled in to territory from above but assembled in haphazard and often enduring ways.”8

Western Canada and the states arrayed around the Black sea are centres of socio-political transformation right now, intense sites in which the most profound urban transmutations cross with the most weighty of geopolitical energy concerns, and are hence analytically important insofar as they demonstrate how the logistical chains of late capital are not diffuse but nodal, and that these transmutations and concerns assume the form of “schizoid situation[s],”9 or schizoid-sequences, in which those transmutations and concerns play out, and in which those transmutations and concerns may be contested. In each case political contestation over the node is inextricably also a contestation of the social and material organization of, first, the node itself, the forms of life and labour that are sanctioned therein, and then, as well, the manner by which such a node articulates to others within broader logistical constellations. The former, that is, the forms of life sanctioned or disavowed in the proximate terrain of one or another node, within the constellations of contemporary capitalism, is in part determined by the latter, the manner in which those with political control over the node cause it to act with respect to other nodes within the same logistical sphere, i.e. certain comportments on the part of the ruling class of one or another node toward the organization of social and economic life facilitate participation in the broader imperial logistical chains, certain victories on the part of social forces foreclose such participation and open onto other lines of flight.


1 Bulent Aliriza at “After South Stream: Turkish Stream?” Center for Strategic & International Studies, February 2, 2015.
2 Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, Capitalism & Schizophrenia: A Thousand Plateaus (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 363.
3 Maristella Svampa in Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson, "Extraction, Logistics, Finance" Radical Philosophy, 178, 2013, 12.
4 Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson, “Extraction, Logistics, Finance” Radical Philosophy, 178, 2013, 9.
5 Deleuze & Guattari, Capitalism & Schizophrenia: A Thousand Plateaus (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 360.
6 Ibid, 360.
7 Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson, “Extraction, Logistics, Finance” Radical Philosophy, 178, 2013, 11.
8 Mezzadra and Neilson, “Extraction, Logistics, Finance,” 9.
9 Tiqqun, Introduction to Civil War tr. Alexander Galloway & Jason Smith (Los Angeles: Semiotext[e], 2010), 34.

No comments:

Post a Comment