Palm Oil

The Grease of Empire

by Max Haiven

Out now, from Pluto Press

Art by Amanda Priebe

Description

It’s in our food, our cosmetics, our fuel and our bodies. Palm oil, found in half of supermarket products, has shaped our world. Max Haiven uncovers how the gears of capitalism are literally and metaphorically lubricated by this ubiquitous elixir.

From its origins in West Africa to today’s Southeast Asian palm oil superpowers, Haiven’s sweeping, experimental narrative takes us on a global journey that includes looted treasures, the American system of mass incarceration, the history of modern art and the industrialisation of war. Beyond simply calling for more consumer boycotts, he argues for recognising in palm oil humanity’s profound potential to shape our world beyond racial capitalism and neo-colonial dispossession.

One part history, one part dream, one part theory, one part montage, this kaleidoscopic and urgent book asks us to recognise the past in the present and to seize the power to make a better world.

Endorsements

Whether you're reading this on a screen or a printed page, you're implicated in the global palm oil trade. In this lovely book, Max Haiven takes us on a whirlwind tour of how that came to be, guiding us through the workings of the global engines that have long been lubricated by the grease of empire.
Raj Patel
Author of Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System and co-author of Inflamed: Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injustice and A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things
Powerfully demonstrates how, by following the history of a key commodity, we can reconstruct the logic of imperial capitalism: its destruction of land and bodies, its drive to constantly reduce the means of our reproduction, its relentless production of oppressive regimes. The story it narrates is crucial for our understanding of the terrains of struggle and the material conditions of solidarity between different social justice movements.
Silvia Federici
Author of Caliban and the Witch and Revolution at Point Zero
Powerfully demonstrates how, by following the history of a key commodity, we can reconstruct the logic of imperial capitalism: its destruction of land and bodies, its drive to constantly reduce the means of our reproduction, its relentless production of oppressive regimes. The story it narrates is crucial for our understanding of the terrains of struggle and the material conditions of solidarity between different social justice movements.
Andrew Ross
Professor, NYU and author of Stone Men: The Palestinians Who Built Israel and Sunbelt Blues: The Failure of American Housing

Interviews, Excerpts & Articles​

The Sacrificial Altar of Extractive Capitalism: Notes on Abolition and Transition (Mediapart/Berliner Gazette)
02 May 2022
Far from Ukraine, Putin’s War Worsens Palm Oil Crisis (Boston Review)
27 April 2022
Palm Oil: The Grease of Empire (excerpt)
01 April 2022

Reviews

[Haiven's] Palm Oil is a compelling and illuminating call to action by an author at the top of his game.
Packed with searing data points, rich case studies, and emotive prose, Haiven’s Palm Oil offers an accessible, almost bite-sized, if mind-bending in scope, introduction to the ways that transnational capital shapes our world. Tentatively, too, it charts a path forward, with our foodways and their workers at its center.
Haiven’s book is woven through with threads of resistance, tracing the victories of trade unionists, Indigenous protesters, and others who have dared to imagine an alternative to environmental vandalism, suffering, and death... His message is clear: our species built this network of human sacrifice, and we have a responsibility to face its full implications. If, through collective effort, we can bring it about, we also have the power to end it.

Events

8
May
Berlin book launches: Half Earth Socialism & Palm Oil: The Grease of Empire (15h)
Moosdorfstr. 7-9, Berlin (12435)
FB event

Free and open to the public.

A double book launch event for:

Half Earth Socialism: A Plan to Save the Future from Extinction, Climate Change and Pandemics
by Drew Pendergrass and Troy Vettese

and

Palm Oil: The Grease of Empire
by Max Haiven

Moderated by Cassie Thornton

Max Haiven will be joined by economic anthropologist and activist Julio Linares and researcher and critical practitioner Sina Ribak.

Troy Vetesse and Drew Pendergrass will be joined by Francis Tseng, designed of the half.earth simulation.

The event takes place in the hall of the Moos community at 7-9 Moosdorfstr. There will be snacks and drinks for sale.

Organized by RiVAL: The ReImagining Value Action Lab. Hosted by the moos residency program.

Supported by Pluto Press and Verso Books.

In cooperation with Berliner Gazette’s “After Extractivism” project.

With beer sales from FemAle.

 

Access and hygiene

  • The moos hall and its toilets are accessible to those using wheelchairs, though not certified as such.
  • Please avoid wearing strong scents.
  • The event will be in English.
  • Masks are recommended, though the space is well-ventilated.
  • Attendees are kindly asked to test for Corona before arriving (there is a test centre next to the Treptower Park station, on the river)

Schedule

  • 15h – doors open
  • 15h30 – panel: Palm Oil
  • 16h15 – intermission
  • 16h30 – panel: Half Earth Socialism
  • 17h15 – party in the hoff