Glotzer Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Albert Gates

What They’re Fighting For:

The Big 3 and Iranian Oil

(November 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 46, 13 November 1944, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In a previous article we pointed out that the Russian demands on the Iranian government for concessions of their Kevir and Khurian oil deposits in the northern part of the country, paralleled the imperialist method of expansion by the capitalist powers. These concessions were refused by the government of Premier Said, who declared that it was his cabinet’s policy to postpone the question of such contracts until after the war when the situation in the world would become mare clearly settled.

Having been refused these concessions, Stalin has organized a series of actions against Said’s government which will, in one way or another, result in obtaining these coveted oil areas. The government of Said was denounced as a pro-fascist regime and an enemy of the United Nations. This government, said the Russian paper, Trud, was incapable of keeping order in the country. Russian interests were not properly defended and her supply trains were regularly attacked. The aim of Stalin is to create such a disturbance inside Iran as to prepare a coup and seizure of the oil areas he desires. All of this is quite characteristic of the Russian regime, and the methods used are not unlike those employed by the imperialists of the world against weak and defenseless countries. They are of a pattern with those methods employed by Stalin when he seized the Baltic states and akin to those which are now in preparation for a division of Poland. This will be amply borne out in the facts which follow.

Race for Oil

Behind the Russian demands for these oil concessions is an inter-Allied conflict over this black gold, .New facts disclosed since the first public denunciations of the Iranians show that Russia was not the only nation to ask for oil concessions. The British and Americans also asked for concessions in the southeastern part of the country. The course of action obviously dictated to the Iranians, and no doubt suggested by the United States, in view of the differences existing between the three big powers and their separate demands for the same natural resources, was to postpone the whole question until after the war.

About a year ago two, American companies, Socony-Standard and Vacuum, and the British Shell company tried to obtain concessions in the section of Iran along the Afghanistan and Baluchistan borders. They were interested in the same concessions. The Iranian cabinet refused these concessions, especially in view of the pressure of nationalist elements who demanded that the oil deposits of the country be exploited by natives and all profits retained in the country. The Premier, however, was favorable to the idea of granting rights to either the Americans or the British. But when the Russians requested the northern fields, the Cabinet decided against all concessions and for a postponement of the whole question until after the war.

According to PM, this decision was well received in the country and Parliament passed the military budget by an overwhelming vote as an expression of solidarity with the action of the government. While the United States and Great Britain were agreeable to a postponement (the reasons are clear: they both have more than enough oil for the time being), the Russians decided to pressure the Iranians into a surrender of the northern fields. Washington is frankly disturbed by the Russian action because it regards any concessions which the Russians “squeeze” out of Iran as discriminatory unless negotiations with the United States are reopened simultaneously.

Another aspect of the situation which disturbs Washington is that the Russians may take such steps as would, in effect, end Iranian “sovereignty.” This latter is, of course, ludicrous, since Iran does not enjoy genuine sovereignty now. The country is occupied by British, American and Russian troops. Its economy has been subjected to the war needs of the Allies. Its stability is dependent in these circumstances on agreement among the Big Three. What Washington fears is not the loss of Iran’s nominal sovereignty but Russian control over the country and seizure of all the resources at the expense of any and all other powers.

Staking a Claim

This is not mere supposition. As justification for Russian demands, Stalin’s mouthpiece, War and the Working Class, prints figures on the world distribution of oil which show America controlling fifty-seven per cent of the world’s oil resources, Great Britain twenty-seven per cent, Russia only seven per cent. The conclusion to be drawn from these figures is that Russia is really entitled to such concessions in Iran in order to equalize the respective oil shares of the big powers.

Russia approaches Iran with a “mutually satisfactory” deal. It is of a piece with all deals which powerful nations try to make with weaker ones when ready to gobble them up, seize their resources and exploit them for profit. In this case Iran apparently should have had nothing to say about it, except in the most formal sense. But, in this case, Iran did say something; it rejected the Russian proposal for a concession. No doubt the Iranians felt strong because they knew of the differences which existed between the three imperialists. No doubt the Premier felt he could get some support from Great Britain and the United States. Thus, standing on the right of Iran to determine what shall be done with oil deposits on its soil, Said rejected the Russian proposal.

What has happened in the past weeks is the swift development of a frame-up against the country to prepare some form of seizure, or to overthrow the government through native figureheads pushed to the forefront by Russian experts and occupation forces.

Washington reports that Russian troops have already blockaded the Iran garrison at Tabriz. The Russian press, while omitting any reference to such a blockade, charges that Iranian soldiers opened fire on a peaceful pro-Russian demonstration – that is, a demonstration protesting the government’s postponement of action on the Russian oil-concession proposal. And, according to the same Stalinist press, the action of the Iranian soldiers “aroused general indignation in Tabriz.”

Note, of course, that there was no “general indignation” by the Iranians against a foreign aggressor, against a power which now helps to occupy the country and threatens it further. No, the “general indignation” is against the government which attempted in its feeble way to defend the independence and the right of Iranians to determine their own affairs.

As part of the general frame-up, the Russian press continues to write threateningly about Iran. It reports mass protest demonstrations in various parts of the country, naming Meshed-i-Sar, Sultanabad, Ispahan and other cities. We have no doubt that these demonstrations were inspired and organized by the Russians. According to Tass, official Russian news agency, ail these demonstrations adopted resolutions demanding the resignation of Premier Said and the establishment of a new government friendly to Russia. Iranian newspapers are also reported to have demanded acceptance of the Russian demand.

If you look at a map you will see that the cities in which these demonstrations took place are all located in the areas containing the oil deposits demanded by Russia, If the government is unable to keep order in these areas in which Russia has interests; then a new government must be chosen. This is the demand made by Stalin. If a new government is not forthcoming, then the country faces a total occupation and control of the disputed territory by the so-called Red Army.

What kind of a new government is Russia demanding? Obviously a government that will be completely subservient to it, a government that will yield to all its demands!

Stalinist Imperialism

Wherein does this policy embraced by Stalin’s Russia differ from the traditional policies of imperialism? In no essential way. A demand is made on a small nation, a backward one at that, with little power and no possibility of lasting resistance. If the demand is rejected, then the nation is threatened; internal dissension is stirred up; national elements are organized through bribery; demonstrations are directed by the big power. All this is designed to lead to the breakdown of the government and replacement by one subservient to Russia, or the seizure of the whole country, or at least of the oil-bearing sector.

This is typical imperialist policy by a Russian state which has long since ceased to be a workers’ state and which has nothing in common with socialism or a socialist policy. The policy of Russia reflects the tremendous changes that have taken place since the workers’ revolution of 1917, since the time that Lenin and Trotsky were at the helm. Only one fact need be cited to prove this:

Before the Russian Revolution, when the Czar ruled, Russia had oil concessions in Northern Iran. But when Russia became a Soviet nation, it abandoned these concessions on the theory that it was against working class principle for a powerful nation to exploit another nation, especially a weaker and defenseless country.

Stalin today is using the same measures – imperialism, robbery, exploitation of other peoples – that Lenin and Trotsky rejected when they were used by the Czar for the benefit of Russian capitalists.

Stalin is plundering for Russia’s new ruling class, the bureaucracy, which owns the state and controls the wealth of the country and which reaps all its benefits. The Iran “incident” is only another example of how Stalin is trying to increase “the power, prestige and revenues” of their new ruling class.

Top of page

Labor Action 1944 Index | Writers’ Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 18 February 2016