History repeating itself: Imperialism, War and the Protection of Oil and Strategic Interests:

History as tragedy

At the turn of the 19th century the Imperialist push into Africa, the Far East and China met with increasing nationalist resistance. From 1904 to 1907, for example the Nama, a Khoiko people (derogatorily known by the Africana name, “Hottentot”), rebelled against the Germans but were ruthlessly crushed and destroyed. Over 10,000 were killed which represented more than half of the total Nama population a point alluded to by Rosa Luxemburg in her “THE JUNIUS PAMPHLET” of April 1915 when she commented on the fall of Belgium to the German army:

The present world war is a turning point. For the first time, the destructive beasts set loose upon all quarters of the globe by capitalist Europe have broken into Europe itself…This same “civilised world” looked on passively as the same imperialism ordained the cruel destruction of ten thousand Herero tribesman and filled the sands of the Kalahari with the mad shrieks and death rattles of men dying of thirst (quoted in Not our war: writings against the First World War ed. AW Zurbrugg p. 108 2014).

In 1899 the anti-Western uprising took place in Northern China. The rebellion led by I Ho Ch’uan is popularly known as the Boxer Uprising. European forces (including Britain, Germany and France), along with the US, intervened and defeated the rebellion which led to the looting of Beijing and the summary execution of those suspected of being Boxers. The Chinese government was also ordered to pair reparations to the eight nations involved for the next 39 years.

Rosa Luxemburg recalled the imperialist adventurism in China in a speech she gave of May 27, 1913; “The World Political Situation”. She recalled the words of Kaiser Wilhelm II to the departing troops of the China expedition:

Then came the Hunn Campaign in China, to which Wilhelm II sent the soldiers with the slogan: “Quarter will not be given, prisoners will not be taken”. The soldiers were to wreak havoc like the Hunns so that for a thousand years no Chinese would dare cast squinting, envious eyes on a German (Gesmmelte Werke, Vol. 3 p.214 quoted from Rosa Luxemburg THEORY AND PRACTICE trans. D. Wolff 1980 p.22)

The irony of the Boxer Rebellion was that just over a decade later the alliance of Western powers formed up against the Boxers were fighting each in a World War. And the final reparation date with the Chinese Government was forgotten as the same Western Powers, now joined by Russia and Japan, fought each other in another World War which caused greater death and destruction than the first.

Capitalism has always been a social system at war with itself as capitalist countries fight each other over raw resources, trade routes and spheres of strategic influence. And no more so than in the case of oil reserves found in the Middle East and required to power Western industry.

In a useful article on the History of oil in Iraq Dr. Ferruh Demirmen (Global Policy Forum April 25, 2003) wrote:

For a good part of the last century, interests of national governments were closely linked with the interests of oil companies, so much so that oil companies were de facto extensions of foreign-office establishments of the governments. The latter actively lobbied on behalf of the oil companies owned by their respective nationals. The oil companies, in return, would guarantee oil supply to respective governments – preferably at a substantial discount.

This symbiotic relationship manifested itself superbly when Turkish Petroleum Company (TPC), founded in 1911 and named as such in 1912 to exploit Mosul oil, was reorganized in March 1914 at a meeting held in Foreign Office in London where British and German diplomats sat next to executives of British and German banks and British and Dutch oil companies. Notwithstanding its name, TPC did not have Turkish participation. At that time World War I had not broken out yet, and Germans were welcome at TPC.

The British and Dutch were attracted to German participation because German banks had obtained a concession from the Ottomans in 1904 – a concession that in fact had been allowed to lapse. Calouste Gulbenkian, the consummate deal-maker of Armenian origin that helped found TPC, was not present at the meeting, but his interests were well looked after. He ended up with 5 percent share in TPC, though with no voting rights.

Among the foreign powers the British, seeing Iraq as a gateway to their Indian colony and oil as lifeblood for their Imperial Navy, were most aggressive in their pursuits in Mesopotamia, aspiring to gain physical control of the oil region. Winston Churchill, soon after he became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, declared oil to be of paramount importance for the supremacy of the Imperial Navy. Churchill was educated about the virtues of oil by none other than Marcus Samuel, the founder of Shell

Lord Curzon, the British Foreign Secretary, denied that oil interests influenced policy in Iraq, but historians have shown that this was clearly the reason why the British government rushed troops to Mosul in 1918 to gain control of the northern oil fields (A HREF="http://www.casahistoria.net/iraq.htm#UK mandate" TARGET="BLANK">http://www.casahistoria.net/iraq.htm#UK mandate).

History as Farce

Just under a century later it is US war jets which fire missiles into Mosul. The US and the Iraqi government who “invited” them into the country are not interested in the population of Mosul (made up largely of Sunnis whom the Shia ruling class who hold power in Baghdad loathe and despise), but the oil fields.

And use by the British government of the air force against Isis in Iraq is not new either. After World War One, the British used punitive expeditions against villages and planes to bomb Iraqi positions. The air force even contemplated using mustard gas on the insurgents below but did not have sufficient supplies (Niall Ferguson, THE WAR OF THE WORLD, 2006).

Britain and France fought tooth and nail at the Versailles Conference for the oil fields of Iraq, a conflict British capitalism finally won. The Iraq Petroleum Company, in which the US and French firms held minority positions, acted as a cartel for the interest of US and British companies. The company kept a monopoly of Iraq's oil sector until nationalization in 1972.

And so on to the grand alliance today who are currently fighting Isis. It is the same old story. Yes; it is all about oil and spheres of strategic interest not religion and mad terrorists. If the region controlled by Isis was growing carrots instead of producing oil would the Alliance now be firing guided rockets at about $100,000 a time from jet planes for the next three to five years?

What of the alliance? Will it hold? Already Turkey is wobbling, fearing the Kurds more than Isis. Little was said by Western governments of the death of Kurdish demonstrators around the country or the Turkish police force armed with batons and tear gas charging unarmed demonstrators while chanting “Isis, Isis, Isis” INDEPENDENT October 9th 2014). On October 14th Turkish jets, rather than attacking Isis as the Alliance thought they would, bombed Kurdish PKK rebels (supported by sections of the capitalist Left) near Iraq and told the Us that it could not use its military airfields. Will Turkey’s continued support for the Alliance be bought with no formal censure of the Ottoman Empire’s murder of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 from Western politicians; an act of genocide which has its centenary next year and is missing from the pages of Turkish school history text books?

As for Isis: it might have a feudal mentality expressed in their Islamic fundamentalism but it is dripping with capitalist technology and financial know how. If Isis survives the military onslaught it would become just another capitalist state in the region. The government would employ workers to drill and sell the oil. It would encourage commodity production and exchange for profit- for tit is indeed a wealthy organisation in their own right underpinned as they are by plunder on the one hand and rich donors from Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the other. The leaders would live well. Western governments would send ambassadors, trade delegations and even supply weapons.

And if Isis survives it would also find support in the West as well as elsewhere in the world no matter the current moralising from President Obama and his alliance made up of the willing and not so willing. In fact it would become another Soviet Union and become no different from any other capitalist country. Western Politicians and capitalists are quite adept at shaking hands of former enemies dripping with blood. After all, they have been doing it to each other for centuries.

As the Socialist Party of Great Britain forcibly pointed out in September 1914:

…declaring that no interests are at stake justifying the shedding of a single drop of working-class blood, enters its emphatic protest against the brutal and bloody butchery of our brothers in this and other lands…Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our good will and socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism (The war and the Socialist position”, SOCIALIST STANDARD).

A position Socialists hold today as world capitalism unleashes conflict and war across the globe.

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Object and Declaration of Principles


The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Declaration of Principles


1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.

2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.

3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.

4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.

5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.

6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.

7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.

8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.