Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Persian Crisis

The crux of the Persian crisis is the struggle over the division of the profit of its oil industry. Up to now, the overwhelming majority of these profits have gone, in one form or another, into British hands, as can be seen from the following figures:

Received by British Govt. in taxation * Royalties to Persian Govt. * Gross Profits
£Mn. * £Mn * £Mn
1947 15 * 7 * 34
1948 28 * 9 * 53
1949 23 * 13.5 * 41

That the financial arrangements were too much against the interests of Persia is clear from the fact that after the outbreak of the crisis, even the representatives of the AIOC did not dare to pretend that the royalties paid to the Persian Government were anywhere near sufficient. Accordingly they proposed temporarily to fix the sum of royalties, which had been £7 million in 1947, £9 million in 1948 and £13.5 million in 1949, at an interim payment of £10 million, plus £3 million monthly, ie, a total of £46 million a year.

The Persian government was not satisfied with these concessions and insisted on nationalisation of the oil industry, and so the strange situation has come about that a Persian Government of large absentee landlords is fighting for the nationalisation of industry, while a British government which claims to be Socialist is opposing this measure tooth and nail.

To add another paradox, the Persian ruling class, which for generations had been an absolutely loyal agent of British imperialism, which was a “quisling”, totally indifferent and even opposed to any national movement, is now raising high the banner of national independence. Besides this, they even come out with a so-called “socialism”: the fight against the poverty of the Persian masses has become the battle cry of Mossadiq and Co., for which the foreign imperialist company, AIOC, serves as the butt.

The Persian Government put the blame for all the social ills, for the terrible poverty of the mass of the people, on the British exploitation of the oil wealth of the country. And to drive the point home, when Mr. Jackson, the head of the AIOC delegates to Teheran, went to see Dr. Mossadiq, the Persian Premier insisted that he go and see the notorious slums of Teheran, which are “all the fault of the Oil Company”.

While British imperialism had found allies in the feudal landowners of Persia for its social policy of keeping the country backward and thus the wages paid low, now the same landowners try to put the blame for the backwardness and poverty solely on British imperialism.

This strange policy of Mossadiq and Co. reflects the deep social and national contradictions in which the country finds itself. Mossadiq tries to raise himself above the two contending basic forces, British imperialism on the one hand, and the exploited anti-imperialist masses on the other, with the threat of the British navy which keeps the masses “in their place”, and with the help of the masses which compels imperialism to retreat and leave the oil industry - the only important industry in the country - to the landowners’ government.

To add to the complications of this situation there is the intervention of Russia and of its agency, the Stalinist (Tudeh) Party.

For 150 years Persia was a field in which two Powers fought for influence: Britain and Russia. During the last forty years, since the beginning of the extraction of oil, the struggle for control over Persia has sharpened considerably. Since the Second World War the issues have become ven more vital, as Persia and the countries round it have come to be of paramount importance in the world production of oil, the life-blood of both peace and war industries and of transport. In 1950 Persia produced 32.3 million metric tons of oil, Saudi Arabia, 26.9; Kuwait, 17.3; Iraq, 6.5. Together they produced 82 million tons. As against this the target of the oil industry of USSR as a whole for 1950 was only 35.4 million tons. What is more natural than that the Stalinist bureaucracy should be attracted to the rich Middle Eastern oilfields, including Persia? That nevertheless the Tudeh Party is not reaping the fruits, is due first of all to the fact that Russia has exposed her imperialist greed for Persian oil and has thus taken the wind out of the sails of the “anti-imperialist” propaganda of the Tudeh Party. It was only five years ago that Russia demanded an oil concession in northern Persia similar to the present British one in the South. The people’s outcry against any oil concessions to a foreign country - whether Britain or Russia - was so great that when the Persian Government refused to grant the concession to Russia, the Tudeh Party not only was not able to raise opposition to the Government, but lost nearly all the mass influence it had formerly had.

The position of US imperialism in the Persian crisis is full of contradictions. On the one hand it is in competition with the British oil interests, hence its successful effort in monopolising the oil of Saudi Arabia, its success in getting control over 50 per cent of the Kuwait oil and 25 per cent of that of Iraq. Persian oil, closed to American companies, was always a tempting object. And it must be a great temptation for American companies to send their tankers to carry away the Persian oil and thus get a foothold in this field. On the other hand, their experience of the nationalisation of the oil industry is Mexico must make it clear to the American capitalists that the nationalisation of the oil industry of Persia could be the first step towards the eviction of al the foreign imperialist oil companies in the Middle East. Hence the “solidarity” of USA with Britain in the Persian crisis. This “solidarity” is enhanced by the needs of the American struggle against Russia over the division of the world.

The present policy of the British Government in Persia is blatantly anti-socialist. To oppose nationalisation of the oil industry, to insist on the “right” of Britain to draw profits from Persia by exploiting the Persian workers, is a capitalist-imperialist policy which can have one of the following results: (1) A continuation of the exploitation of the oil works of Iran by British capitalism, with a greater or lesser part of the profits going to the ruling class and Government of Persia which collaborates with British imperialism. (2) The Persian landlords and capitalists with their Government can make use of the hatred of the Persian workers for their imperialist exploiters in order to transfer the oil industry from the hands of imperialism to the hands of the Persian Government; thus changing the exploiters, but not the fate of the exploited. (3) Russia can use this hatred of British imperialism to gain mass influence in Persia and turn the country into another Russian gubernia, thus changing one exploiting imperialism for another. (4) The Persian workers can expropriate the British owners and establish workers’ control over the oil industry and workers power in Iran as a whole. The duty of British socialists is to help the Persian workers to achieve the last result.

A British Socialist Government should take the following steps in the Persian crisis : Renounce the property rights of Britain in Persia. Call on the Persian workers to take hold of the former AIOC. With the voluntary renunciation of ownership rights in Persia, such an appeal would have a tremendous echo among the Persian workers, making it practically impossible for Mossadiq and Co. to take hold of the oil industry. With the only significant industry of Persia under workers’ control the rule of the feudal landlords and capitalists over the country as a whole would become impossible. The oil workers would attract the rest of the Persian workers and peasants to them and a workers’ and farmers’ government would be established. Such a government would be a true and loyal friend of Socialist Britain, a reliable antagonist to both Russia and American imperialism.

With the hep of capital investments British imperialism held, exploited and oppressed hundreds of millions of people. With an active anti-imperialist policy of renouncing and fighting these capitalist imperialists, a Socialist Britain would be able to fid hundreds of millions of allies in the struggle for socialism, against the imperialist war for the division of the world, for peace.

Socialist Review

Vol. 1, No. 6, August-September 1951

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