The Soviet Government and the Combines

The Daily Mail has for months been conducting a campaign against the sale in this country of Russian petrol on the ground that the oil wells were stolen without compensation from the former British owners. Various oil companies have taken up the cry and we are asked to believe that British capitalists are prepared to forego profits in order to keep their consciences clear. Thus Lord Bearstead, Chairman of the Shell Transport Co. (Sunday Worker, June 26th) and the Chairman of the Blue Bird Oil Importers (Observer, July 3rd, 1927) have given an assurance that their companies will have nothing to do with “stolen goods.” The Chairman of the Blue Bird Oil Importers, Mr. Francis Lorang, told his shareholders : —”I should also like to emphasise strongly that your company is not importing or marketing Russian or the so-called Soviet oils, and has no intention of departing from this policy.” It is therefore amusing to notice that the Shell Company have since 1921 retailed 500,000 tons of Rssian oil in this country Sunday Worker, June 26th) and that the Blue Bird Motor Company, of which Mr. Francis Lorang is also Secretary and Director, imported 3,794,000 gallons in nine months of 1925 (Petroleum Times, October 24th, 1925). Apparently their consciences have only recently been stirred to life, or else Mr. Lorang has two consciences, one for each of the Blue Bird Companies; and even if the companies mentioned are not at the moment handling Russian oils, it is evident that some other companies must be doing so, since the import of oils and oil products from Russia for the period October, 1926, to June 1st, 1927, was 245,928 tons, an increase of 184,561 tons over -the imports during the corresponding period in the preceding years (Daily Mail, July 2nd).

The probable real reason for the change of attitude simply is that the Russian organisation in this country, Russian Oil Products, has itself been retailing oil as well as selling it wholesale, and at prices below those of the other companies. Their hostility, in fact, is dictated not by “honesty,” but by commercial rivalry and the desire to compel a competing company outside the ring to toe the line.

It is more than probable that the British wholesale oil firms and the Daily Mail would drop their campaign if the Russians would agree, as they have elsewhere, not to undersell in the British market. They are reported (Daily Telegraph, July 5th) to have made such an arrangement with Standard Oil, and at the World Wheat Pool, which held its conference in Kansas City on May 5th, 1927, representatives of the Russian wheat growers “pledged themselves to the aim of international co-operation in the production and marketing of wheat,” and Saul G. Bron, head of the Russian delegation, gave an assurance that it was not the intention of the Russians to “injure prices.” “Russia will sell at the world price and take her chances with the others” (Corn Trade News, May 19th, quoting from New York Times). That assurance having been given, no one at Kansas City was spurred on to object to having relations with Russian growers on the ground that the peasants stole the land from the landowners : and the profit-seeking Americans in the Standard Oil group have been able to swallow their distaste for “stolen” oil.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, August 1927)

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