V. I.   Lenin

The “Oil Hunger”[2]

Written: Written not earlier than March 26 (April 8), 1913
Published: First published in Pravda No. 21, January 21, 1940. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 33-36.
Translated: The Late George Hanna
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.README

The question of the “oil hunger”, the inordinate increase in the price of oil and the criminal conspiracy of the oil magnates for the purpose of fleecing the consumer, has aroused quite legitimate interest and quite understandable indignation in the Duma, and to a still greater degree out side the Duma.

The duel between the Minister of Commerce and Industry, who in a faintly disguised form defended the oil kings of the syndicate, and Mr. Markov the Second, who furiously and ardently expressed the hurt feelings of the noble feudal landowners—this duel (at the State Duma sitting on March 22) deserves the particular attention of the working class and all democrats. The duel throws a bright light on the relations as a whole that exist between the two “ruling” classes of Russia, the two so-called “higher” (but actually very low, despicable, plundering) classes, the class of feudal landowners and the class of financial tycoons.

It would seem at first glance that the question of the oil syndicate is an isolated one. But that is not so. Actually it is only a manifestation of the general and fundamental question of the government of Russia (or rather the plunder of Russia) by the two commanding classes. The speech by Markov the Second was a magnificent reply to the defender of the oil “kings” given from the standpoint of a diehard[3] who was cheated when the prey was divided. No wonder Mr. Markov the Second could not “behold himself”, could not look at himself (and his landowning friends) in the mirror at the time of his speech. I shall try to do Mr. Markov the Second a service—I will place a mirror in front of him. I will draw him a portrait of himself. I will show that the   “quarrel” between Markov the Second and Khvostov, on the one hand and the oil kings, the tycoons of the kerosene syndicate, the millionaires of Baku, on the other, is a domestic quarrel, a quarrel between two plunderers of the people’s property. “The falling-out of lovers is the renewing of love.” The Minister and Messrs. Nobel & Co., on the one hand, and Messrs. Khvostov, Markov and their friends in the Senate,[4] the Council of State, etc., on the other, are “lovers”. But the tens of millions of workers and ruined peasants of Russia get a rough deal from this sweet and loving lot!

What lies at the bottom of the oil question?

First of all it is the shameless inflation of oil prices by the oil kings accompanied by the artificial curtailment of oil-well and refinery productivity by these “knights” of capitalist profit.

The chief figures illustrating these points have been quoted in the Duma, but I must repeat them in brief to make my further exposition quite clear. The price of oil was six kopeks a pood[1] in 1902. By 1904 it had risen to fourteen kopeks. Then the price “race” became all the merrier and, after the Revolution of 1905, the price of a pood of oil rose to twenty-one kopeks in 1908-09 and to thirty-eight kopeks in 1912.

Thus the price has increased more than sixfold in ten years! In the same period the extraction of oil has decreased from 600-700 million poods in 1900-02 to 500-585 million poods in 1908-12.

These figures are worth remembering. They deserve some thought. A reduction of output in a decade of tremendous upward leaps in world production, accompanied by a more than sixfold price increase.

The Minister of Commerce and Industry put forward unbelievably weak arguments in defence of these merchants and industrialists who are acting in collusion.

There is an increased demand for fuel,” he said. “There is an increased demand for oil from the automobile and air craft industry.” And he comforted us and the Russian people by saying that it is a “world-wide” phenomenon.

What about America?” we ask. This is a question that arises naturally because everybody knows that America is Russia’s only serious competitor in oil production. In 1900 Russia and America together produced over nine-tenths of the world’s oil and in 1910 they produced over eight-tenths.

If it is a matter of a “world-wide” phenomenon, Mr. Minister, the same must also be true of America? In order to create an impression on inattentive listeners, the Minister, when defending the conspiring oil plunderers, quoted figures for America ... but only for two years! During the two past years the price of oil in America, and in Rumania, too, has doubled.

Very good, Mr. Minister! Why not make your comparison complete? If you want to draw comparisons do so properly. Don’t play with figures. You must take the figures for America for the same period as that for which the figures for Russia have been given. Surely it must be obvious that this is the most fundamental, the most elementary condition, the very ABC of every conscientious application of statistics!

In Russia in ten years prices have increased more than sixfold as compared with the lowest price, that of 1902, quoted by the Minister himself. And in America? Nothing like such a rise in prices has occurred. Between 1900 and 1910 the price in America was reduced. During recent years it has remained firm.

What, then, is the result? The price has been doubled in America and increased sixfold in Russia. In 1900 the output of oil in America was less than in Russia and in 1910 it was three times greater than in Russia!

This is something the Minister, in his clumsy defence of the oil millionaires’ conspiracy, did not want to say. The fact is there, however. Whatever figures you take, there can be no doubt that the rise in prices in America for the past ten years has been incomparably smaller than in Russia, while the output has increased tremendously at a time of disgraceful stagnation or even a step backward in Russia.

We see immediately how little truth and how much untruth there is in our Minister’s reference to the “world-wide” phenomenon of price increase. Yes, there are higher prices everywhere. Yes, there are the causes, common to all capitalism, that give rise to it.

The situation is intolerable in Russia, however, because in our country it is on oil that the price increase is immeasurably greater, and because in the oil industry we have stagnation instead of increased output. The situation is absolutely intolerable in Russia because we see, instead of a broad, free and rapid development of capitalism, stagnation and decay. High prices are therefore a hundred times more malignant in Russia.

Russia has a population of 170,000,000 and America 90,000,000, i.e., a little more than half. America now extracts three times more oil than we do and eighteen times more coal. Judging by the wages of the workers, living standards in America are four times higher than in Russia.

Is it not clear that the Minister’s statement to the effect that the evil is a world-wide phenomenon contains a glaring untruth? The evil hears four times, if not ten times, more heavily on Russia.


[1] Pood=36.11 lbs.—Ed.

[2] The MS. has no heading. This title was provided by the Institute of Marxism-Leninism of the Central Committee of the C.P.S.U.

[3] Diehard was the name given to the extreme Right wing of the reactionary landed proprietors.

[4] Senate—one of the highest government bodies in tsarist Russia. It was founded by Peter I in 1711 to replace the Boyars’ Council as the supreme administrative and executive body dealing with current governmental questions. The members of the Senate were appointed by the tsar from among the higher civil servants.

Council of State—one of the highest government bodies of tsarist Russia. It was founded in 1810 as a legislative advisory body whose members were appointed or approved by the tsar. The Council of State was a reactionary body that rejected even moderate bills passed by the State Duma.

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