Karl Radek

The Dardanelles Question
in Terms of Naphtha

(24 October 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 91, 24 October 1922, pp. 687–688.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2020). 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.

The London Nation, the leading organ of English liberalism, lights up in the clearest possible manner the idea of the fight for the Straits, when it writes that the meaning of the fetish of the opening of the Straits, which threatened the life and peace of millions, was nothing else than the right to be able to send warships, and in the first place English warships, to the Black Sea, and that there were only two motives for this demand: first the fear of a war with Soviet Russia, and secondly, the anxiety on account of naphtha.

With regard to the first of these motives we need not waste many words. The English government knows that Soviet Russia does not desire any war with England, that on the contrary, she is striving for peace and the strengthening of economic relations with England who is economically the strongest European power. If England therefore regards it as necessary to keep the Straits under her control (under the flag of the League of Nations), it means that the English government has not decided to live in peace with Soviet Russia and that she wishes to reserve to herself the possibility of despatching her warships to the Black Sea in the event of war? With regard to the second motive, the anxiety on account of naphtha, – this side of the question is no less important, and perhaps plays at the present moment a much more important role than the possibility of a war with Soviet Russia. Notwithstanding, very little attention has been devoted to this question. Naphtha shuns the light of open discussion.

Kemal Pasha was the first to touch this question in his interview with the correspondent of the Chicago Tribune.

This correspondent said to His Excellency, that every one who knew the part that naphtha played in international politics must understand that Great Britain must secure to herself the entrance to the great naphtha wells, for otherwise she would cease to exist as Great Britain. He then suggested that the question in the naphtha wells in Mesopotamia had a much greater importance than that of Constantinople, perhaps even a much greater importance than the question of the Straits. He therefore asked Kemal’s opinion upon the attitude of the Turkish national government towards the endeavours of the British to secure the approach to the Mesopotamian naphtha wells. Journalists are often in the habit of asking questions upon which the person interviewed desires to speak, and Kemal Pasha therefore replied that the district in question was in the province of Mozul, which lies within the territory mentioned in the national pact, (that is to say, that the Angora government does not recognize the English mandate in Mozul, but regards Mozul as Turkish territory); that the majority of the population of this district consists of Turks; that he did not think the occupation of this district was necessary to the exploitation of the naphtha wells. Nobody had anything against the exploitation of Turkish naphtha by America, who has no political aims in Turkey, If England were to adopt the same standpoint, it would, in his view, be much more reasonable.

In reply to the correspondent’s question whether if Great Britain were to decide on the evacuation of Turkish territory in Mesopotamia it could still have the possibility of exploiting the naphtha wells there, Kemal Pasha replied that it would have the same rights there as other people.

General Morris, the Constantinople correspondent of the Daily News points out in regard to this, what Kemal Pasha was silent over. He reports that in the treaty concluded with the Angora government, by Franklin-Bouillon in the name of the French government, Turkey promised France naphtha concessions in return for her support against England in Mozul, and that the negotiations were under way. The American newspapers report that the American Chester Corporation which, already before the war, had endeavoured to develop its economic activities in Turkey, was now negotiating with Angora with regard to naphtha.

Naptha is now beginning to light up the Dardanelles question, and much that was hitherto concealed from the public eye now comes to the surface. It is quite probable that the naphtha lamp revealed its full light to the pacifist Lloyd George when he rattled his sabre on the 16th of September.


The question of the naphtha wells of Mozul have a very long history; we can here refer only to the most important facts which are necessary for an understanding of the further development of the Near Eastern question.

In 1916, England concluded a treaty with France, which secured the predominating influence of France in Mozul. And after the conclusion of the armstice, Mr. Detering, the head of the Royal Dutch Shell which stands in close relationship with the English government, turned to Clemenceau with the declaration, that he was ready to offer assistance to the French government in the naphtha undertakings which the peace treaty alloted to France. These negotiations lasted very long, until finally, on April 15th, 1920, France concluded the San Remo agreement with England which defined the naphtha relations of both countries in the British colonies of North Africa, in Roumania and Mesopotamia.

In this treaty the British government pledges itself to make good to France 25% of the English exploitation of naphtha in Mesopotamia on the basis of the current prices. If, however, a private company should undertake the exploitation of the Mesopotamian naphtha industry, the British government is pledged to grant the French government 25% of the shares of this company. The price of these shares must not be reckoned higher than the price paid by other shareholders in the company. Such a Company shall be under constant British management The English government upholds the agreement on the basis of which the French government is to receive from the Anglo-Persian company 25 per cent of the naphtha conveyed from, Persia by means of the naptha pipes to the Black Sea. These pipes can be laid in any district over which France has a mandate. France will render assistance in the construction of naphtha pipes. A special treaty will be concluded between the French government and the Anglo-Persian Company regarding the price of naphtha.

In consideration of which, the French government permits, so far as it appears desirable, the erection of two special naphtha pipes and railways which are necessary for the working of the wells and for the transportation of naphtha from Mesopotamia and Persia through the French spheres of influence to the harbor or harbors of the Mediterranean Sea. The harbor or harbors shall be determined by the agreement between the two governments.

If such a naphtha pipe or railway should pass through French spheres of influence, France agrees to impose no customs or imposts upon the naphtha conveyed over her territory. Only the ground owners shall be compensated.

On the other hand, France agrees to make possible the procuring of the site at the end harbor, necessary for the erection of magazines, railways, etc. The naphtha conveyed in this manner is free from all export and transit customs. The materials for the setting up of the naphtha wells shall likewise be subject to no import duties.

If the naphtha company referred to wishes to lay a naphtha pipe and railway to the Persian Gulf, the English government offers its services in order to procure similar conditions to those above mentioned.

How did it come about that France renounced her rights in Mozul and only receives 25% of the proceeds, not in kind, but only on the basis of the market price? The English government based its claim upon the fact that in 1914, before the war, it concluded an agreement with German capitalists and with the Turkish government on the basis of which England was to obtain 50%, the Turkish Government 25% and the German capitalists 25% of the naphtha exploitation. As England now has the Mesopotamia mandate, she possesses besides the 50% of the old Engish share, the right to the Turkish share, and allows France the 25% of the German share.

“The treaty is sacred”. Why the treaty of 1914 is to be sacred and not that of 1916, is not mentioned in the official documents, but this follows from the events that occurred after the conclusion of the treaty. In the first case, the English governor in Syria, Emir Fayzal, caused the French great difficulties. England gave up the Fayzal policy, and promised France her support in the reparations question. France therefore made concessions in the naphtha question. How French public opinion behaved towards this treaty we are informed in that excellent book of Delaisy as well as in the book by Peter Lespagnole, World Struggle for Naphtha. We only quote here the heart-outpourings of a French politician in the August number of Revue de Paris:

“French public opinion is thoroughly aware that the treaty of Sèvres was only concluded in order to introduce British control over Turkish naphtha, which formerly belonged to Germany and then passed into the possession of France. French public opinion is aware that the French government, when it signed the secret and wonderful treaty of San Remo, thereby resigned its political independence and conceded to England not only all the wells of Mesopotamia, but also all those which we could have acquired in the colonies and in other countries ... Up to the time of the war France consumed yearly 400,000 tons of naphtha which were supplied by the Standard Oil Company. Today France needs a million tons. We waste two billion francs annually through the importation of dear oil, the demand for which is continually increasing due to the development of aviation and motoring and of civil and military automobile transport

... If we assert the point of view that political independence is the result of free access to naphtha, we come involuntarily to the conclusion that the treaty of San Remo is for France precisely similar to the treaty of Metuen. (The treaty of Metuen in reality converted Portugal into an English colony.) Let us assume that in the future France is compelled against her will to conduct a war independently against those great powers that have control of naphtha. Of what use will her mighty army be to her, richly equipped with aeroplanes, tanks and armored trains? A silent naphtha blockade will suffice in a week or even less to cripple the aeroplanes and the tanks and to bring to a halt the infantry which will be without means of transport.”

“Can this lamentable and faulty past not be corrected”, asks the French politician.

In August the French patriot bemoaned the lack of Naphtha; today France is attempting to correct the past with the bayonets and lives of the Turkish people’s army.


The question is whether France does this in agreement with the American Standard Oil Trust or at least, if the question can be so put, what attitude will Standard Oil take to the French attempt at solving the Mozul question.

The treaty of San Remo was concluded at the time when, after Wilson’s downfall, America withdrew from European politics. As soon as the treaty of San Remo became known to the American government it immediately began to fight it.

On the 17th of May, three weeks after the signing of the treaty of San Remo, the State Department sent a communication to the American Senate in which the sharpest protest is raised against the policy of England and against the mandate of the League of Nations. It demands the policy of the “open door” in all countries possessing naphtha.

There began a diplomatic exchange of notes between the English arid American governments, of which only an unimportant portion was made public.

England appealed to the sacredness of the treaty of 1914 and pointed out that the Americans had concluded a similar treaty which confers on them the right to exploit naphtha in Palestine and that England does not contest this treaty. America answered with the 21 demands one of which is, that America should be permitted to exploit half the amount which the holders of mandates have in any country, but in no case less than that which “third parties” obtain. Translated into Mesopotamian speech this means that America proposes the following division of the naphtha of Mesopotamia: 50% to England, 25% to America, and 25% to France.

At the time of the conferences of Washington, Genoa and the Hague, uninterrupted negotiations were conducted over this question between the Standard Oil Company on the one side and the Royal Dutch Shell on the other, as well as between the governments which were pulled by the wires of the naphtha trusts. England made concessions. John Cadman, the representative of England in the international naphtha council, wrote in his article in the 4th number of Keynes’ Reconstruction of Europe with the air of an innocent young lamb, to the effect that he told the Americans that the treaty of San Remo was concluded for the purpose of avoiding possible conflicts with France by reason of the naphtha interests of Germany and Roumania, and for the purpose of facilitating the cooperation of French and English naphtha groups in Russia and Mesopotamia and in the English colonies; that this treaty was not directed against America, Italy or any other country, and interfered with neither the actual or potential rights of America. He further added that if the Americans did not receive any concessions in Mesopotamia it was because no one else received such concessions, as it was decided to retain all of the naphtha enterprises, regardless of their ownership, until the Arabian State is set up and until the development of the resources of the country are firmly established

John Cadman sings like a nightingale, but the wolf of the Standard Oil Trust probably asks him: Why then have you divided up the Mesopotamia naphtha? Since that time constant negotiations were in progress. During the negotiations at the Hague, the French, together with the Belgians, created a special naphtha trust in order to be able to turn the balance between the Standard Oil and the Royal Dutch.

Kemal Pasha now throws his sword into the scale. That, of course, throws the scales out of balance, and behind the curtain of the naphtha trusts there is in all probability a new conflict smouldering. Every one will grab as much as he can. The question remains,—what connection has all this with the fight for the Straits.


In the same number of Reconstruction an anonymous author in his article. On the political aspect of the naphtha question, after relating the history of the attempt of the English and American naphtha trusts to come to an agreement, writes to the effect that the naphtha peace is concluded and that the San Remo treaty is buried, but that unfortunately, this non-official treaty had not received the form of an official treaty between America and the Allies, but that it was possible to effect such a treaty; that France and Great Britain must perceive the fallacy of the doctrine that commercial supremacy over naphtha constituted the deciding factor in preparedness for war; France would reap no advantages even from the possession of the Roumanian naphtha wells, for in the event of war she would not have the necessary naval and military control over Roumania and the Bosphorus. England could also draw no advantages from the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, if she did not retain the Persian Gulf in her possession. It was not naphtha that assured military and naval supremacy but the reverse.

This is a paradox, for military and naval domination require naphtha for the engines of the fleet, for the automobiles and for the aeroplanes. This paradox however, contains the profound truth, that after the seizure of the Roumanian and Mesopotamian naphtha wells, England and France need possession of the Straits. With regard to Roumanian naphtha it is obvious that this will be conveyed through the Straits. And as regards the naphtha in Mesopotamia, the pipes will have to be laid through Syria.

In this way the control of the Straits is of constant interest to English and French imperialism, and if England will appease the Americans, America will also support the demand that the Straits shall be in the hands of the Allies. This answers the question why England, immediately after the sharpening of the Near Eastern conflict, turned to the United States, and why Mi Hughes declared after his conversation with the English ambassador, that the control over the Straits must be a real control.

If France and America wish to steal the English naphtha wells, the occupation of Mozul by Turkish troops and the prolongation of the crisis of the Straits which keeps England in danger of war is advantageous to them. If they come to an understanding however, they will then turn the whole front against Turkey.

Turkey acts rightly when she takes advantage of the conflicts among the naphtha trusts, but she must not forget that the sole guarantee that she will not be sacrificed to the oil kings, lies in her own strength and in the strength of the peoples who constitute the bone of contention of the naphtha magnates. The naphtha of the Caucasus plays an important part in the struggle of the Allies with the Soviet Power. The naphtha front of international capital must be opposed with the united front of those peoples for whom naphtha is the only means of defence against the international capitalist yoke.

Last updated on 3 December 2020