Lithium, Geopolitics and The Laws of the Dialectic


The first article I confronted when I opened my email this morning was F. William Enghdahl’s short but extremely informative piece in “Global Research” titled “China, USA and the Geopolitics of Lithium”.  In it he elaborates in far greater detail the point also brought out by Vijay Prashad in his article, “After Evo, the Lithium Question Looms Large in Bolivia” ( and which I later took up in my article, “Evo Morales: Victim of the Longing for Lithium and Yes, the Chinese American Trade War” published in “Countercurrents” just this week.  Our articles, following as they do one after the other, can be treated as three steps each leading to a deeper more comprehensive understanding of the great confrontation between great capitalist forces that lie at the heart of the overthrow of Bolivia’s elected leader, Evo Morales.  Prashad took the first step in illuminating the why of Morales forced separation  from his people – Lithium.  I went on to note the fact that it was China which had been chosen by Morales to extract the lithium from Bolivia’s vast resources of the mineral, and to place that fact in the framework of the current economic tensions between America and China.  Enghdahl takes it a step further, and in greater detail, explores the geopolitical implications that have been provoked by the longing for lithium.  I think it is imperative for anyone who wants to understand the changing nature of geopolitical forces to read Enghdahl’s article, not only for his detailed explanation of the struggle of the economic powerhouses of the world to secure adequate supplies of lithium for the future, but also because he points out that their hunger for lithium reflects a revolution in the international forces and relations of capitalist production that are underway today – a revolution every bit as important as the information technology revolution.  Enghdahl states:  “For several years since the global push to develop mass-scale Electric Vehicles, the element Lithium has come into focus as a strategic metal. Demand is enormous in China, in the EU and in the USA at present, and securing control over lithium supplies is already developing its own geopolitics not unlike that for the control of oil.”   It is only by viewing his insightful statement from a dialectical perspective that we can fully understand all that it implies.

For those who understanding nothing of the dialectical method I would like to begin by saying that it is a way of looking at the world which, more than any other method of inquiry, such as statistical analysis, mathematical modelling, or even systems analysis, of which it might be considered a type, provides us with an accurate understanding of our selected objects of inquiry, whether they be natural or social.  This method had its origins in the ancient philosophy/logic of the Pre-Socratic philosopher, Heraclitus.  It was elucidated in all its detail by the German philosopher Hegel in the 18th Century, and first put into practice by Karl Marx who first employed it as a method of social and economic analysis.  It differs from other “philosophies” in that it is considered by its practitioners to be a “science” which reflects the basic structure of material reality itself and so can be proven by science and social science.  To think dialectically is to follow the most basic laws underlying creation; laws present at the moment of creation (the big bang) which have guided creation.  They are manifestations of the structure of reality itself  first of the the four dimensions of space, which as a result of minute fluctuations in the essential smoothness of the newborn universe, gave rise to time, as time is contingent on differences and the measuring and counting of difference.  These same fluctuations are the source of gravity and so begin to “clump” the three essential components of the early universe: helium, hydrogen, and yes, lithium.  We thus find arising the unity of the polar opposites time/space which Einstein noted.  From its inception the universe was defined as well by the unity of the polar opposites energy and matter, which are the essence of the universe and unlike time/space present from the very beginning.  In turn, as the unity of opposites, they are the source and essential nature of all changes.  We may say that energy and matter, existing in the dimension of time/space and moving at the maximum speed which is the speed of light, define reality, and that things like speed, momentum, direction, distance, location, etc. are their derivatives.  Thus, it is the structure and nature of reality which shapes our perceptions and any true understanding of that realty must proceed accordingly. 

 The laws of the dialectic, which are also the laws of creation, in their most simplified form, thus state that the essence of the world, deriving from the fact that all has a common point of origin, is internally related unity.  Moreover, the unity of energy and matter demonstrates that the essence at the core of that unity is the unity of polar opposites.  These opposites also manifest themselves as the unity of differences as for example, matter transforms into various forms of energy, and energy expresses itself in various forms of matter.  There is also one more “law” which bears mentioning in relation to our current analysis of the revolution in global politics vis a vis lithium, and that is the law often referred to as the “transformation of quantity into quality.”  At a give point in time, an increase (or decrease) in quantity produces a “phase transition” which gives rise to a change in quality.  We can consider this to be a revolutionary transformation as opposed to an evolutionary one.

Thus, when we examine the increasingly important role of lithium in world geopolitics we can conclude the following: that from approximately the turn of the 20th C, we witness the world mode of production undergoing a phase transition from the use of human/animal energy to that dependent upon machines which in turn, are powered by energy in the form of electricity and ever increasingly, carbon fuels.  The use of these carbon fuels in turn, produced forms of matter (pollutants, most significantly  CO2), which having grown quantitatively produced qualitative changes in the earth’s environment and affected its forms of life.  This phase transition became so challenging to human life, that human beings began to revolt against the companies that produced those things that produced the pollution.  We can say, that revolutionary energy manifested as the demand for a phase transition in the means and forces of production, and anger (which is itself both a manifestation and source of energy) at those who controlled them, arose.  It was this revolutionary energy, itself a manifestation of the instinctual drive to exist and replicate the first purpose of all creation, or “beingness” which exists as becoming, which was the final impetus for the phase transition in energy to occur.   Thus, the need arose for a new source of energy to drive the forces and means of production that was not fossil fueled based.  So, the hunger lithium came into being, and with it a shifting in the global power structure.  Sooner or later, all those nations whose influence in the world has derived from little more than their possession of oil and their military power-the destructive energy-which they have been able to purchase as a result of their oil, will find their powers and influence greatly diminished.  In turn, those countries that today possess the new form and source of energy that will move the future of the world, most specifically lithium, but also China, Australia, and of course, Bolivia, will find themselves playing an increasingly powerful role in the world.  And yes, Enghdahl is so right, the wars that were once waged for oil, will be waged for lithium.  Perhaps the first of these is being waged in Bolivia, where people’s lives have already been sacrificed for that precious commodity. 

Mary Metzger is a 74 year old semi retired teacher. She did her undergraduate work at S.U.N.Y. Old Westbury and her graduate work In Dialectics under Bertell Ollman at New York University. She has taught numerous subjects, from Public Sector Labor Relations to Philosophy of Science, to many different levels of students from the very young to Ph.D. candidates, in many different institutions and countries from Afghanistan to Russia. She has been living in Russia for the past 12 years where she focuses on research in the Philosophy of Science and History of the Dialectic, and writes primarily for Countercurrents. She is the mother of three, the grandmother of five, and the great grandmother of two.




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