Date: Tue, 27 Oct 98 21:56:22 CST
Oil monopolies redivide region: Caspian peoples have a revolutionary past
By Brian Becker, Workers World, 29 October 1998
[With a potential $4 trillion in oil reserves at stake, a meeting of an oil mono poly consortium is set to decide on Oct. 29 which route an oil pipeline should follow from the Caspian Sea to the world capitalist market. On the eve of this decision, the following article puts the Caspian Sea area--formerly part of the Soviet Union--into historical context.]
Eighty years ago, the revolution of workers and peasants that swept through old Russia reached far south and east into the areas inhabited by the peoples of Trans- caucasia and Central Asia. Suffering the worst forms of racism and national oppression, the peoples of this region were the most oppressed of the Czarist Empire.
In early 1918, the Bolsheviks running the new revolutionary Soviet government organized an historic conference in Baku, a Caspian Sea port city in Azerbaijan. With its famous oil rigs, Baku was by far the most important proletarian center in this otherwise peasant-dominated region. It was natural that Baku would be the site for the historic Conference of the Toiling Peoples of the East.
The conference announced that the Russian revolutionaries had a burning desire "to aid the oppressed peoples of the world to bring them independence." Its statement continued:
"Muslims in Russia, Tartars of the Volga and the Crimea, Kirgiz, Kazakhs, and Sarts of Siberia and Turkestan, Turks and Tartars of Transcaucasia, Chechens and Mountaineers of the Caucasus, and all you whose mosques and oratories have been destroyed, whose beliefs and customs have been trampled under foot by the Czars and the oppressors of Russia: Your beliefs and customs, your national and cultural institutions are henceforth free and inviolable. Organize your life in complete freedom. You have the right. Know that your rights, like all the peoples of Russia, are under the powerful safeguard of the revolution and of its organs, the Soviet of workers, soldiers, and peasants. Lend your support to this revolution and to its government."
Until that moment all governments represented only the oppression of the masses. Rule by the foreign Russian Czar had added insult to the injury of this oppression. But now the excitement generated by this proclamation shook the masses from centuries of political slumber.
1918 BAKU MEETING SPARKED REVOLUTIONS
The revolutionary fervor of people newly awakened to political life swept the region. They proclaimed socialist republics from Azerbaijan to Tashkent in Turkestan, located thousands of miles to the east in Central Asia.
But these first attempts at freedom could not withstand imperialist attack. British imperialism invaded Azerbaijan in the summer of 1918. Germany and Turkey divided up Georgia and Armenia. In each case the local landowning aristocracy and capitalists aided the imperialist invasion.
In 1918-1919 the Red Army could not defend these fledgling republics. It had its hands full fighting off an invasion by 14 imperialist countries that were aiding the ousted capitalist and landlord classes in Russia.
These newly liberated areas were resubjugated. In each case the foreign imperialists put the old ruling classes back into power and carried out a reign of terror against the pro-communist workers and peasants.
In Azerbaijan, for example, the entire socialist government was captured and all 26 of its leaders were summarily executed in September 1918.
Controlled by a new foreign domination, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia--the three countries that make up the region known as Transcaucasia--declared independence from Soviet Russia. Puppet governments were set up that were entirely dominated by British and German imperialism and Turkey.
It was only the victory of the Russian Red Army in the civil war that led the British, U.S. and other invading imperialist armies to withdraw by 1920. The workers' and peasants' organizations in Azerbaijan came back to power at that time. So too did socialist governments in Georgia, Armenia and the vast lands of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tadzhikistan and the rest of central Asia.
When the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan came back into existence in 1920, it signed a treaty with the Russian revolutionary government that provided for close military and economic union. The treaty recognized that the so-called independence these countries had proclaimed in the 1918-20 period was only a "deceptive appearance masking the complete dependence of these states on this or that group of imperialists."
Azerbaijan is only slightly bigger than Maine, and has a population of 8 million people. Yet it was accorded the status of a full republic, with the same legal status as Russia, when these new governments formally created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922.
What was it like for the people of Azerbaijan before the creation of the Soviet Union?
Because of its oil production--Azerbaijan accounted for nearly 50 percent of the world's oil output at the turn of the 20th century--the country had attracted the attention of the Rockefeller and Nobel families and the ultra-rich of that period. But the people suffered great poverty and hunger. At the time of the 1917 revolution the literacy rate for this predominantly Muslim country was just over 2 percent.
Azerbaijan not only received formal equality with Russia inside the USSR in 1922. In fact, every Soviet leader, starting in Lenin's time, pursued a mammoth affirmative action program in Azerbaijan. The country implemented a diversified industrial development plan. Although it still lagged far behind Russia, it built steel, iron ore, cement, chemical, petrochemical and textile industries.
Before counterrevolution dismantled the USSR in 1991, fully 97 percent of Azerbaijan's people were literate. Women had achieved full legal and civil rights and enormous social gains.
The situation today has an eerie similarity to the 1918-20 period--but with some noteworthy differences. Imperialist armies directly occupied Azerbaijan at that time. Today, it is armies of oil company executives--aided by U.S. and British government officials--who have seized control.
OIL MONOPOLIES IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT
Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have become "independent." They all border on different segments of the Caspian Sea. The new governments are not only pro-capitalist but are the virtual playthings of Amoco, Exxon, Mobil, Texaco and British Petroleum.
These governments have provided huge concessions--that is, property rights--to the biggest imperialist oil monopolies. In Soviet times this oil would have been used to meet the energy needs of the peoples of the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union is gone and the central government in Russia has spent the last seven years trying to impose capitalism on its population. Industrial production in Russia has dropped by 80 percent since 1991. In Azerbaijan it has dropped by more than 50 percent.
The people are getting poorer, much poorer, quickly. But not all the people. A very narrow layer of bourgeois elements have sold their country's vast resources to foreign imperialists who promise prosperity but have succeeded only in looting the natural resources and treasuries that were built up during 80 years of Soviet rule.
Now as these same oil companies--based in various capitalist countries--learn that oil deposits located under the Caspian Sea may amount to as much as 200 billion barrels worth $4 trillion, they are embarking on a new era of dangerous competition and piracy.
Capitalist competition over a prize this big has historically led to fierce rivalry and even war. This pattern took an enormous toll on the peoples of the region prior to 1917. Only the socialist revolution and Soviet power allowed them to develop their economies and cultures free from foreign capitalist domination.
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