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Albert Gates

Stalin’s Hand of Empire Reaching
Into Iran Oil Fields

(November 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 47, 20 November 1944, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The political situation in Iran is reaching a climax; with the reported resignation of the government of Premier Said. Not all the facts are at hand since the first attacks against Iran. These were made in the Russian press when the Said government decided that it would postpone, the whole question of oil concessions (to any country) until after the war. But certain developments are unquestionably clear.

1. The Russian demand for concessions in northern Iranian oil fields were made in the same imperialist fashion, that Great Britain and the United States had earlier made proposals for concessions in the oil fields on the Afghanistan and Baluchistan borders.

2. Premier Said’s government had previously rejected the British and American proposals under pressure from nationalist elements. The latter demanded that the oil resources of the country be exploited by native. forces and that profits from these developments be retained in the country.

3. When faced with the Russian demands for similar concessions in the northern fields, Premier Said obviously had no other alternative than to reject the requests for concessions until after the war. If he had done otherwise, Great. Britain and the United States would have regarded the action as discriminatory and compelled similar concessions in other parts of the country.

Russia Organizes Actions

3. As soon as the government of Premier Said rejected the Russian proposal with the counter-action of postponement, the Russian press opened up a vicious campaign against it, reminiscent of the propaganda methods of all imperialists. The Russians proceeded to attack the Premier himself, charging him and his cabinet with being pro-fascist, anti-Russian, anti-Allies. (Said was formerly Iranian Ambassador to Russia and was regarded as friendly to Stalin’s government.) GPU-inspired demonstrations broke out in the country, especially in those cities situated in the norhtern oil fields. The Red Army blockaded the city of Tabriz.

Newspapers, fearful of Russian occupation of the whole country (she now occupies part of the north), attacked Said. If not directly bribed, some of these papers were, undoubtedly, succumbing to the pressure of a powerful “neighbor.”

4. Izvestia, official Russian newspaper, accused Iran of favoring Great Britain and America over Russia in the oil dispute, citing the fact that America has troops in the country, even though it has no treaty with it.

5. More recently, the Russians inspired a demonstration in Teheran, the capital of Iran, to demand the Premier’s resignation.

6. While Stalin’s regime has not made official its attitude, and no editorial opinions were expressed, the Russian press did feature a statement by Sergei I. Kavtardzes, Vice-Commissar of Foreign Affairs, the gist of which was that the Russian government could no longer cooperate with Mr. Said’s government.

All the Trappings of Imperialism

Isn’t the whole imperialist pattern clear? Russia makes a demand on Iran. Iran postpones action until after the war. Stalin’s agents foment anti-governmental actions. Other elements in the country, fearful of complete occupation, denounce the government for “worsening” relations with a giant neighbor. Internal “disorder” is created by the mere insinuation of threats by a powerful neighbor. Throughout it all, the demands of the powerful aggressor are labeled as aid to the weaker and defenseless country. No, Russia is not to blame for “worsening” relations with Iran by her demands – Iran is blamed for “worsening” relations with Russia because she rejected the latter’s proposals!

Then what happens? The government of Premier Said is forced to resign. A new government will take its place but it will be one friendly to Stalin – that is, it will accede to Russian demands. Suppose the government was not changed? Suppose it had remained adamant in its refusal to grant oil concessions? In that event, it is clear, Russia would have TAKEN the oil deposits. That was already established in the Red Army blockade of Tabriz.

How does this differ from the imperialism of the capitalist powers? In no single important way. That is the way England, Germany, the United States, France, Italy and all the other nations, which seized territories and resources of other countries, did it. One does not need a long memory to recall the South American revolutions fomented by American imperialist interests to realize the real significance of the Russian action in Iran.

It is characteristic of imperialism when it does commit an act of aggrandizement to declare that it is doing it in order to aid the country being raped; it is civilizing it, industrializing it, preventing internal strife, raising the standard of living of the backward country. The mere declaration of these intentions serves to emphasize the lies.

Let us see how the Daily Worker, Stalin’s voice in this country, describes the “new” imperialism of Stalin. It takes to task those who criticize Russia’s conduct toward Iran as imperialist. All the critics are, according to the new foreign expert, Joseph Starobin, anti-Russian. Listen to this apologist for Stalinist imperialism and see if you can detect a single important difference between his literary tripe and those of all other imperialist apologists: Writing in the Daily Worker of November 11, he says:

Daily Worker Speww Its Views

“;... The main criticism has run along the lines of charging the USSR with imperialism because it desires to develop the valuable oil deposits of neighboring Iran ... The Soviet Union is the last country open to charges of imperialism in Persia. It was the Soviet government that denounced Czarist extraterritoriality privileges in Iran, and turned back to its people all Czarist concessions. No individual, and no company in the Soviet Union can possibly profit from the Iran concessions. Bear that in mind.

“In other words, the Soviet desire to develop Iranian oil fields is on a completely different level from the ordinary, garden-variety of oil company operations in foreign lands ...

“My own judgment is, without a detailed study of the matter, that the USSR would like very much to see the northern part of Iran developed into a modern industrial area.

“It would mean a progressive trend in that country, a certain security for the Soviet flank on the Caspian, and of course redound to the benefit of the people of Iran, since the concessions would be generously paid for.”

Comparison to the workers’ government of Lenin and Trotsky cannot hold water. The workers’ state of Russia, before Stalin came to power, did, it is true, renounce all concessions which the Czarist government had forced from weaker countries. But what has happened is that Stalin is re-employing the methods of Czarism. He has already incorporated into the Russian state Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and parts of Finland, countries which were granted their independence under Lenin. He is angling for other parts of Europe with the aim of incorporating them inside of Russian frontiers. And now, in Iran, he is attempting to obtain concessions in oil which the Czar once forced from Persia and which were surrendered after the workers took power!

Who Will Profit from the Oil?

Who will profit from these concessions? Starobin says no individuals and no companies. No, that, is not true. Russia is no longer a workers’ state. It is a bureaucratic collectivist state in which the bureaucrats, numbering many millions, who own the state and through the state the nationalized industries and collectivized agriculture, will and do profit from such ventures as Iran.

The bureaucracy is a specially privileged class whose standard, of living and share of the wealth of Russia is ten, twenty, a hundred times greater than that of the workers and peasants. No private companies will gain from the Iran adventure but the above class will.

From the point of view of Iran and the Iranian people, it makes no difference who profits from the exploitation of its resources, whether it be American capitalist enterprises or Russian state enterprises and a bureaucratic class. The Iranians will lose – not the Iranian ruling class, who will get benefits – but the people as a whole. And Starobin is a liar when he says. that the people itself will profit from whatever payments Russia makes to Iran for these concessions.

Whenever imperialists get ready to steal the resources of a country they make sure to emphasize that the people, whose resources they rob, will get the benefit of it. And now Russia, which has not succeeded in fully industrializing itself and which has a colossal task of rebuilding almost the whole of its European area, is going to industrialize Iran! The joke is a grim one.

And, “it would mean a progressive trend in the country, a certain security for the Soviet flank n the Caspian.” Now we get it. Russia, you see, is threatened from the Caspian Sea, an inland body of water thousands of miles removed from any great power which possibly could, if it would, attack her! Or maybe Russia is afraid of an attack from Iran? Or Afghanistan, or Egypt?

Imperialists are always seizing territories, occupying others, obtaining spheres of influence in still others in order to ... protect themselves from some small, ineffectual nation that could not muster a regiment fully armed and trained to fight.

The whole game is given away by the Daily Worker. Russia is pursuing an imperialist policy in Iran. Taking advantage of its military power, of its rivals’ preoccupation with the war, she is pushing her demands to the full. She will undoubtedly be completely successful, unless American-British intervention forces some compromise. But that event would not change a thing about Russia’s role in the Iranian affair.

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