Monday, June 14, 2010

On BP aka British Petroleum aka the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company

by Norman Markowitz

What goes around comes around, sometimes in odd ways, British Petroleum, the former Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, a global transnational energy corporation, has created an environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico of unprecedented proportions. President Obama has blasted the company, called upon it to suspend dividends, while progressives in Congress are looking into actions to take against it. In Britain, leading conservatives, called Tories, have denounced the president and the U.S., some with no tso subtle suggestions that a man with a Kenyan father really couldn't appreciate what BE(the British Empire) did for the world, not to mention the wonderful achievements of BP, whose stock is widely held by British pension funds.
There are many issues here. The first should be the forgotten and sordid history of BP in what was the CIA's first "great coup" in Iran in 1953

As the Anglo Iranian Oil Company, BP controlled Iranian oil, paid the Iranian government pence on the pound for it, and restricted Iranians to manual labor jobs in their own oil industry After Mohammed Mossadegh, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran nationalized the oil, BP and the British government launched a virtual economic blockade against Iran. When Mossadegh turned to the U.S for help, President Eisenhower told him to do what BP and Britain wanted--that is, surrender and give them back the oil. He then turned for aid to the only country that would help, the Soviet Union, which did, in the hope that it could develop a friendly relationship with Iran similar to the one it had with non-aligned India and thus take Iran out of the cold war encirclement schemes advanced by the U.S. NAT0 bloc.

When Mossadegh did that, the CIA, with the support of British operatives in Iran, launched a coup which overthrew his government in 1953 and turned the Shah, previously a constitutional monarch, into a brutal tyrant. The oil was of course privatized, but the Anglo-Iranian Oil company had to give over forty percent to U.S. oil companies as part of the spoils.
Fast forward to 1978, the Iranian clerically led revolution, and all of the disasters which have followed in U.S. Iranian relations. The Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-1980 was one factor in bringing around Ronald Reagan's election in the U.S. The anti-regulation policies which Reagan launched and others extended in all areas of the U.S. economy made it possible for BP to do the deep drilling which has created this disaster(president Obama has criticized the deep drilling and progressives in Congress are calling for a regulatory overhaul).

The disaster is complicated because BP is a foreign based corporation. However, it shows the necessity of both a global and a public energy policy. Energy resources have been nationalized in many countries because it is widely understood that something so essential to the overall economy should not be in private hands. In the past, socialists and communists in many countries advocated international public ownership and control of energy resources with planning for both development and environmental protection through some United Nations based agency. Such a long term solution should be the prize that those of us who are for socialism keep our eyes on.

We should also make the point which the late Barry Commoner, pioneering ecologist and socialist made decades ago, that it is much easier to deal with environmental questions at the point of production(in this case excavation) then to engage in expensive cleanups after environmental disasters, regardless of who pays. President Obama's support for alternative energy development is a step in the right direction along with the development of "green" industrial processes which will not need cleanup.

The British public did not like George W. Bush much on a variety of issue, but British conservatives are angry that President Obama isn't talking and acting like him. We should praise the President for his statements, listen carefully to his national address on the topic, and call upon him to back up his words with actions.

P.S. One last example of the principle that what goes around comes around in odd ways. Those Brit Tories who are praising BP as a good pension investment might remember that the quasi-privatization of the British pension system was carried forward by Margaret Thatcher's government as part of her general policy of eliminating as much as she could of the British welfare state, making all British social services both less equal and based on regressive taxes.