Mary E. Marcy

China and Standard Oil

(April 1914)

The International Socialist Review, Vol. 14. No. 10, April 1914, pp. 594–596.
Transcribed by Matthew Siegfried.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

A FEW years ago China was the most backward of all the great nations, not only from the viewpoint of economic development but from the viewpoint of politics, education and all other modern social forces. The former doubtless explains the latter.

But gradually, within the old form of the Chinese social system, in spite of the reactionary tendencies of the Manchus in office, the outlines of a vast economic development began to take form. These new interests fostered modern education, science and rebellion among the Chinese people whose aid the young industrial organizations needed, to throw off the old form of government and make way for one that would mean freedom for further development economically and industrially.

Germany had long been quietly working inside the Chinese Wall laying the foundations for a future hold on China; England and Japan had secured precarious economic holds in the various provinces. The Standard Oil Company had for years been sending experts to the empire to estimate the value of the oil fields and had devoted millions of dollars to making its products popular from one end of the country to the other.

So that when the Chinese people, weary of long oppression, scandalous grafting and extortionate taxation, stimulated by the spirit of modern industry, arose to throw off the ancient rule of the Manchus, socialists, like Dr. Sun Yat Sen, and reformers, who had done much to arouse this spirit, entertained great hopes of launching the new republic in a manner that would mean a safe and gradual growth toward the socialist ideal. They hoped to avoid the evils of capitalism as they had seen them in other lands; the vast wealth gathered in the hands of a few owners of the tools of production and distribution, and poverty and suffering for the workers who had produced all.

Dr. Sun and his confreres devoted their lives to educating the Chinese people. With marvelous foresight they sought to unite them into an intelligent organization that would be able to withstand any and all attempts to allow the natural resources of the empire to become the private property of any individual or group for the exploitation of the Chinese people.

But this task was beyond the power of any group of men. Love and confidence in Dr. Sun enabled the Chinese people for a time to successfully combat the schemes of grasping self-seekers. But they did not possess the long training in the modern factory, mill and workshop that develops in the wage working class a strong feeling of solidarity and enables them to accomplish so much. The Chinese were accustomed to fighting as individuals. The goal for which Dr. Sun strived is one that can only be reached by a class of wage workers who have been trained in the school of practice, to work, suffer, fight and conquer together, on the industrial field.

His plans were beyond their imagination. The Chinese people needed the standardization that the factory system produces in the working class, the unifying experience of modern production to weld them into a great fighting army of proletarians.

Education is a great and wonderful factor in the success of the working class. But the experience of having like aims, similar needs and desires and the class solidarity that comes from working and fighting together – are possible only in a society based upon modern machine production.

It is far easier for experienced capitalists, seeking private wealth, to organize society on a basis of modern machine production than to educate a people, accustomed to the most primitive methods, into a desire and an ability to develop the resources of their nation collectively for the benefit of everyone.

The aims of the capitalists in China were beautifully simple and direct. The half-awakened people of China possessed a thousand conflicting desires and aims. Dr. Sun, with his European education and his travels in America and Europe, was a century ahead of the Chinese people.

It was to be expected, under the circumstances, when the “foreign” capitalists began to supply Yuan with money for bribing the members of his new parliament into repudiating Dr. Sun’s program, that enough officials should succumb to give the reformers and socialists a crushing political set-back.

The money of these “foreign” capitalists continued to pour into the lap of President Yuan. He was able to provision and equip additional troops as well as to use the entire Chinese army in crushing his opponents. Hundreds of socialists were executed. The foreign armies joined the Chinese army in suppressing every reform newspaper and editor who dared so much as to lift his pen against the policies of Yuan.

These methods of suppression were after the methods of the ancient Manchus, who had always fought the press and kept the headsmen busy working overtime. Yuan had the full support of the “foreign” capitalists and he was able to substantially reward them with millions of dollars’ worth of China’s limitless natural resources.

China and Standard Oil

In the old times when a new ruler conquered his people he sometimes formed an alliance with a neighboring or friendly power. But in this respect President Yuan established a most remarkable precedent.

Diplomats from Germany, France, England and the United States were maintained in China to establish friendly relations for the capitalist class of their fatherlands. They asked many things of President Yuan and made vague and far-distant promises. They pledged a future paved with the friendships of their countries. But also there were on hand, with wide open purses, various “foreign” capitalists, helping to suppress Yuan’s rebellious subjects.

President Yuan followed the venerable Chinese custom. He took “the cash and let the credit go.” Evidently the Standard Oil Company was more to be trusted, more powerful, more certain than the United States government. And the Standard won out where America failed.

Hence comes the announcement that the Chinese government has chosen the Standard Oil Company as her ally. After all, the substance of a powerful economic interest is more reliable than the shadow of “popular” government, and those of us who know that economic control is the greatest of all social levers, cannot but agree that Yuan has chosen wisely from the viewpoint of his own personal interests. The Standard Oil Company can force the United States government to aid Yuan in China. The flag follows the Oil Can.

Lamps in China

Several years ago we published a story in the Review on how the Standard was pushing the sale of oil in China.

When the Standard Oil Company first went into China, it found that very few of the Chinese were using lamps of any kind. Nearly everybody went to bed when it grew too dark to work and they arose with the dawn. Later a few soon began to burn wicks stuck in old tin cans filled with oil, to secure a faint light.

A little red lamp was devised by the Standard Oil Company which sold in China at 7½ cents each. Thousands of these were given to the keepers of the temples, inns, etc., for the sake of the advertising that would accrue to the Standard. The first year 875,000 lamps were sold and 2,000,000 the year after, and oil sales went up by leaps and bounds. Lamps became the fashion.

Vice-President Bemis, of the Standard Oil Company, says:

“The lamp has promoted industry in China and been a great uplift to the nation. They couldn’t work on their silk after 4 o’clock in the day before they had it. Now they can work into the night.”

Mr. Bemis also reports:

“there was signed a few days ago what I believe to be the first PARTNERSHIP arrangement ever made between a GREAT NATION and a PRIVATE CORPORATION.”

Wall Street journals report that the Chinese government is “the junior partner” in this alliance.

The Sun, New York, says:

“The work of development is to proceed under the Chinese-American Company, in which the Standard Company holds a large majority control, with the Chinese government sharing the profits of development as its partner.”

The Standard gets the right of exploration and development in the two great northern provinces to begin with, besides other provinces. It has the vitally essential privilege of building railroads and pipelines, in addition to the sinking of oil wells, establishment of warehouses, storage tanks, and all that accompanies oil development.

One of the most far-reaching grants is the guaranty of the government that it will assume control of all lands needed for this development, and, in turn, will give these to the partnership company.

In a few weeks, we are informed, the American petroleum experts will be punching holes in the ground and watching the first Chinese oil spout forth.

It seems to us that China is about to jump to the front as a modern nation in a very short time. We are not going to have to wait two or three hundred years for China to develop scientific socialism as some of us had anticipated. We shall not need to help along a backward nation. The Standard Oil Company will do that.

China is going to leap over the competitive system through which America and European nations struggled for many years. She is beginning modern industry on the most modern scale in the world. She will start at the topmost point we have been able to achieve and government ownership will facilitate development in every conceivable way.

Nothing will be permitted to stand in the way. All things will be brushed aside for the advance of industry. And capitalism will stand out, in China, in all her ugliness, very nude indeed. The Chinese government itself will exploit the Chinese people as they have never before been exploited. An army of propertyless, rebellious wage slaves will arise here as in every other modern nation, who have nothing to lose but their chains.

The prospects for a mighty army of Socialism in China are growing better every day.

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Last updated on 31 May 2022