Dora B. Montefiore 1920

British Imperialism and Persia

Source: The Call, 27 May 1920, p. 7 (1,249 words)
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). 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.

I was much interested in reading K. Malik’s short but pithy article on recent British diplomacy in Persia; and as this same diplomacy is closing in every year on strangled Persia, and is further spreading its tentacles into Mesopotamia, it is well for the workers of Britain (in whose name these evil deeds are, done, so long as they submit to the dictatorship of the middle-classes) to have under their eyes chapter and verse of the tortuous and lying diplomacy of Imperialist capitalism. As K. Malik points out, once Tsarist Russia developed into Soviet Russia, all Russian claims on Persia were withdrawn; the Dictatorship of the People has no Imperialist aims; it has no desire to grab the oil-fields of another country in order to procure an inexhaustible supply of fuel for an Imperial Navy, though it would be perfectly willing, if it needed oil, to trade with that other country, exchanging its own superfluous products for the oil it might require for industrial or other purposes.

The Anglo-Persian Oil Company is in effect nothing else than the British Government itself; it holds a majority of, the shares, and on its Council sits a delegate from the British Treasury and Admiralty, which delegate possesses the right of veto. So long as Russia remained Tsarist and imperialist, so long was there constant friction in Persia between the two imperialist grabbing governments, and in January, 1914, the Indian Government, in a confidential letter to the Marquis of Crewe, remarked: “It is becoming increasingly evident, especially in view of the activity that Russia is now showing in regard to the construction of railway lines from the north, that the only really effective means of safeguarding and promoting British trades in Persia is the simultaneous construction of railway lines into Persia from the south coast.” I hope the workers will here note what Imperialism costs them. Here is the picture of two rival imperial countries, whose workers in 1914 were badly housed, badly paid, indifferently educated, and who submitted to this state of things, because they were constantly being told there was no money available to provide them and their families with a better life. Yet, at the same time, railways were being constructed in far distant lands by these rival imperialist governments—railways whose construction could never benefit either Russian or British workers, but only Russian or British rival traders! Again, not content with exploiting and harassing Persia, the British Government undertook in 1915 (when it already had a world-war on its hands) the Irak expedition, and in December, 1915, “The Economist,” an English paper for investors, writes: “The unfortunate campaign into Mesopotamia was undertaken with the essential object of securing interests in the important oil fields which the Admiralty had acquired.”

Just after the outbreak of the world-war Sir Walter Townley, the British Representative in Persia, in his circular report of August 22nd, 1914, states: “The financial situation remains critical. The Treasury is absolutely empty, and it is difficult to imagine where money can be got judging from the actual state of things in Europe ... The activity of the administration finance’s is interrupted by the action of the Russian Consuls in the Russian zone. The taxes due by Russians and protégés of Russians on land hired by these persons or farmed by them, are collected by the Russian Consuls and paid into the Bank of Russia to the account of the Persian Government, which, however, has heard nothing more about them since they were collected.” Unluckily, Persia, which was being “peacefully penetrated” on the North, by Russia and on the South by Great Britain, which could only obtain loans from these two countries in return for concessions for the making of railways, which was the recipient of outrageous ultimatums, insisting that the Persian Government should raise and pay a body of police in order to protect the commercial routes of Bouchir-Chiraz-Ispahan, which routes the merchants of Manchester declared were insecure for the prosecution of their trade; was further made to feel in every way that she was a bankrupt State, with her two principal creditors clutching at her throat, and each demanding with knife in hand their millions of tons of oil.

But, as has been pointed out, since 1917 Soviet Russia has been content to develop her own oilfields in Baku and has withdrawn all imperialistic projects for the “peaceful penetration” of her neighbor, Persia. Enzeli, one of Persia’s northern ports on the Caspian Sea, formed part of the territory of Russia’s former “sphere of influence” under the Convention of 1907 between the governments of the United Kingdom and of Russia, and we may well ask in 1920, in view of the fact that British troops were garrisoning Enzeli when the Soviet fleet attacked that port and forced the British garrison to retreat, what our troops were doing in Enzeli, which is one of the furthest points in Persia from the Afghanistan and Baluchistan frontiers, the guarding of these frontiers being our excuse for occupying Southern Persia?

That Soviet Russia’s coup de main at Enzeli is the wise and statesmanlike reply to the nefarious Allied support of Poland’s coup de botte on the Ukrainian frontier, we have only to read our capitalist papers, crying out in their agony of fear for the fate of their oil shares. Says the “Observer,” of May 23rd: “Everyone sees that Bolshevist penetration into Persia—if there is to be neither full war nor full peace—would endanger us in Mesopotamia, with its oil-areas at Mosul and elsewhere. At the least more expense for occupation and precaution; more delay in developing the oil and less security for enjoying the use of after we have spent millions on millions to get it and guard it, ... On oil depends more and more the new mechanism of Empire—transport and traffic by land, sea and air.” The writer of the article then admits that the British Empire “enlarged by the war” has “a quarter of the globe in its hands,”, and being thus in the position of a thief, bulging with plunder, it naturally wishes to settle down and enjoy the fruits of its criminal gains. It even, according to the “Observer”, is prepared to believe that possible anarchy in Russia might be worse than Bolshevism. It only shows how very persuasive fear of a total loss of plunder may be! And it makes us Communists in England murmur piously: “All power to the Soviet Fleet in the Caspian!” But more is to follow: “Full peace between Russia and Britain is absolutely among the two or three main interests and necessities of the world.” And again: “Unless we have firm, good relations with the Russian people, whatever their regime, there never can be an atom of security for any settlement in the East, notably none for our Mesopotamian enterprises and their oil yield.” So you see, friends and comrades, that it is not going to be Christianity or Humanity or Pentecost that is to stop the blockade and the wars on the Russian frontiers and clear up the other little dirty jobs of the Allied governments, but sheer, hard, knock down economic facts; which facts the Communists of other countries, if they keep their eyes open, can multiply until the will of the people prevails everywhere and the Dictatorship of the People is an accomplished stage in the great adventure of revolution.


Another Lie Nailed


20 Benbow Road,
Hammersmith, W.
May 21, 1920.

To the Editor of “The Call.”


Dear Comrade,—The Capitalist Press is attempting to prove that the Soviet action in Persia is a breach of that country’s neutrality, and a blow to the British Empire. I beg to inform your readers that from a Persian point of view it is neither. The British Army had a long time ago broken Persian neutrality, and the Soviet Government had a long time ago renounced her rights in Persia, and it has the support of every Persian in objecting to British invasion and annexation.

To-day’s “Times” admits as much by saying “Only the ministers and the propertied classes wish the British troops to remain.”

Persia is or is not independent. If she is her invasion is not a “blow to the British Empire.” If she is not independent how did she lose it—being a neutral. The fact is that the capitalists want to have it both ways. I hope that British Labour will see to it that they do not,—Yours truly,

Hon. Sec. Persia Association.