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Albert Gates

Stalinist Imperialism at Work:

Russia and Iranian Oil

(October 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 44, 30 October 1944, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

There is no better testimony of Russia’s imperialist role in this war than the recent diplomatic exchanges between Stalin’s regime and the Iranian government of Premier and Foreign Minister Mohammed Said Maraghei, for ten years Ambassador of his country to the Kremlin. The dispute, like so many others between imperialist powers and colonial countries, is over oil. The Russian government proposed that Iran grant it the concession “for the exploitation of Kevir and Khurian oil deposits in the northern part of Iran.” Premier Said’s government rejected the proposal, declaring that nothing would be done about new concessions until after the war.

It would seem that this exchange between two sovereign nations would end the discussion for the time being. But this is not the way of big powers when dealing with more or less defenseless countries. Stalin’s Russia is proceeding in the time-honored imperialist manner to force these concessions from a reluctant regime. How? By preparing a series of attacks upon the Iranian government which will either bring about its downfall or force it to yield to the superior forces of its giant neighbor.

The history of imperialism reveals that this is the general pattern by which the powers obtain their loot from weak and defenseless countries which have an abundance of raw materials to be exploited for profit. The British Empire was a past master of this art. It would undermine a government which did not meet its demands. It would organize a campaign of propaganda beginning in London and seeping down to the press of the very country which it wanted to exploit or turn into a colonial possession. Bribery, coercion and the direct use of force were the several means employed.

The Way of Imperialists

But the British Empire was not alone in these methods. All the imperialists operated in the same way. Germany France, Holland, the United States, Italy, have at one time or another employed the same or similar weapons to achieve their aims of obtaining land, raw materials, cheap labor or markets which would profit their respective capitalist classes. That is how all these countries obtained their possessions, their colonies, their spheres of influence, their export .of goods, their profits., This is how India, China, the whole Middle East, Africa, Latin and South America, the Pacific islands of great wealth, came under the possession and control of the big powers. The hundreds of millions of peoples which populate these lands have been and continue to be cruelly exploited in the profit interests of the ruling classes of these countries.

The methods of the imperialist powers have long been under the sharpest criticism of revolutionary socialists, of many liberals and anti-imperialists in general. They have pointed out that imperialism means exploitation of backward, and colonial countries for the special interest of the capitalist classes of the “advanced” countries. That imperialist policy meant taking the rights of these peoples, the rights to their own land, their own governments, their very lives. Great Britain, Germany, France and the others were rightly condemned for their barbarous and coercive treatment of these peoples. In the United States, too, the sharpest criticisms have been voiced against its imperialist policies and interference in the affairs of the small neighbors to the south.

In the present case of Iran, Russian policy is identical to that pursued by the other powers. Examine briefly what has actually happened. There is some history to it, too. Iran was the object of imperialist exploitation for many, many decades. Czarist Russia, England and Germany fought over this lucrative prize for tens of years. The elimination of Germany as a competitor left Russia and England alone to dispute over the highly desired booty of Iranian oil.

Policy of Workers Russia

But, when the Russian Revolution of 1917 occurred, when the workers took power and set up their own government under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, a new foreign policy was developed by Workers’ Russia. The Bolsheviks renounced all concessions which capitalist Russia had obtained from Iran. The Iranian people were told quite frankly that Russia no longer had any profit interests in the country; that the Russian workers did not want to exploit the Iranian peoples, but wished to have the friendliest relations with them, to exchange goods to the mutual benefit of both countries, to establish peaceful relations for all time.

This policy was actually carried out and for many years the relations between the two countries were excellent. The action of the Soviet Union, for then it was truly a Soviet Union, had an additional effect. By renouncing the imperialist policies of Czarism, it militated against the imperialist rape of the country by Great Britain. For the British Empire was always confronted by the reality of a new Russian foreign policy which many in Iran understood, and the country was better able, although not wholly successful, to resist the increasing appetite of British imperialism for oil.

How do Stalin’s policies square with the policies of Lenin and Trotsky? They are exactly opposite. Whereas Lenin renounced imperialism, and defended the colonial countries, Stalin adopts the old imperialism. Stalin not only does not renounce those sharp practices for which imperialism is noted, but employs them himself.

Here is how Russia proceeds in the present case of Iran. Since the Iranian government rejected its proposal, she opens up a propaganda campaign against the actions of the government; charges it with all kinds of crimes; creates opposition within the country and in general creates a state of chaos and opposition in order to undermine the existing government and either force it to change its policies, or bring about its downfall.

In case either of these measures proves ineffectual, Russia lays the basis for the direct use of force and winning her objectives in that way.

Thus the Russian newspaper, Trud, began a public campaign against the Iranian government. Among the charges made against it are that the government had left unpunished “harmful actions of certain evil-intentioned elements” who interfere with the supply of goods which are sent by lend-lease through Iran. Secondly, the government had not opposed the present “intensification of subversive work by pro-fascist elements in Iran.” The Iranian government did not prosecute “criminals” who attack Russian supply trains, but did persecute “Iranian officials who are striving loyally to carry out their obligations under the treaty alliance between Iran, the USSR and Britain.”

What else? In its article, The Words and Deeds of Mr. Said, Trud goes on to say that the Premier’s policies have made for “strained and tense” relations with the Allies. Furthermore, “reactionaries have set Premier Said to the task of smashing workers’ organizations and democratic organizations and for this purpose have introduced a bill for the militarization of industry.”

This is indeed interesting. We don’t know what is meant by workers’ organizations in this predominantly agricultural country with few workers, or democratic organizations in this backward colonial nation dominated for many years by imperialism. The purpose of the writing, however, is very clear.

Russia is preparing to depose Said if he does not grant them the oil concession. If he had, none of these things which are cited against him would ever have been written. Would this mean that they would still have existed and it would have been all right so long as Russia got its oil? Or is it that all these things are untrue and that it is merely part of an imperialist plot against the Iranian government? We incline to believe the latter.

In any case, these are not the important criteria. The fact is that Russia, to prepare its case against the Iranian government, must show first that it violates a “good neighbor” relationship, does not represent its own people, cannot rule its country (remember the point about Russian supply trains), prosecutes the friends of Russia and permits her enemies to go about freely, and as a clincher, harms the interests not only of Russia but of the United Nations, too.

Now, if no change is forthcoming from this government, the basis is laid for its overthrow, or its submission, either by “convincing arguments” backed up by the show of force of the Russian army or by the direct use of this army.

Oil Imperialism

In this little affair is not only mirrored the “new” imperialism of Stalinist Russia but also the sharp struggles and enormous intrigues which exist within the ranks of the United Nations. The war is by no means over when these Allies are already beginning to split the booty. The Russian magazine, War and the Working Class, prints statistics to show the world distribution of oil, statistics which disclose that the United States controls fifty-seven per cent of the world’s oil resources, the British twenty-seven per cent, and Russia eleven per cent. Is this important? For Stalin, yes. Because now he has established the basis for his claim for oil concessions in Iran in order to equalize the possessions of his Allies, who have more oil than he.

The struggle for oil is almost as old as capitalism. It was one of the causes of the outbreak of Imperialist World War No. 1. It was behind the outbreak of Imperialist World War No. 2. At the time of the Russian Revolution, that country dropped out of the oil war because Workers’ Russia renounced imperialist policy. Under Stalin, Russia rejoins the imperialist race for oil. Thus, the colonial peoples of the world have another power to fear, another army which may sweep over their borders, another corps of national economic experts who will seek to decide the fate of their existence. The other imperialists act in the interests of their capitalist ruling classes. The Russians act in the interest of their bureaucratic ruling class.

The case of Iran is a living proof of how far removed is Stalin’s Russia from the Russia of Lenin, from Workers’ Russia which renounced all imperialist policy, all territorial and trade concessions which the Czarist imperialist regime had obtained, it shows how far removed is Stalin’s army of seizures and occupations from the socialist Red Army of, Trotsky. Now would be a good time for the leading writers of the newspaper, The Militant, to explain in what way Stalin’s policy in Iran, and the conduct of the army stationed there, carries on in the interests of world freedom, world socialism!

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