Victor Serge

The Nobel Case

(15 August 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 69, 15 August 1922, pp. 520–521.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Nobel case tried before the Revolutionary Tribunal in Moscow (24th of July) and which ended by several death sentences (the execution of which is being considered by the Presidium of the Executive of Pan-Russian Soviets and which is probably the prelude to a series of commutations) is of the greatest interest from the point of view of the revolutionary classes.

One often imagines that the counter-revolution is above all dangerous, politically and militarily: by its armies, its plots, its propaganda. We do not realize enough how dangerous it is in the economic field, more precisely, by its economic plots. We should study these in detail. We should study the role that it has played in the ruin of Red Russia, in the callous organization of famine, the roles which it will play in the future when the decisive battles of the class war will be fought.

The Nobel case can give us an idea. We must point out that it is not the only one of its kind, but it is typical. It is concerned with an industry of vital importance for Russia, – oil. In November 1918 just after the October Revolution and the nationalization of the Nobel Company’s property, Mr. Gustav Nobel, manager of the Nobel Company (Russian oil), called together his scientific and technical personnel. The principal director of the Nobel Company exhorted his personnel not to lose faith in the power of capital, which, sooner or later would be victorious and would know how to compensate those who had remained faithful to it in its hour of trial. The thing of greatest importance was not to leave under any pretext any of the expropriated property, even to remain there in the service of the Soviets, to prevent their working as long as possible and to control them as far as possible when they functioned, to keep an account and a permanent contact with the old owners who had taken refuge abroad, until the time when the Soviet regime would collapse – a collapse which would be considerably hastened by the lack of liquid fuel. Mr. Nobel and his associates did not find any difficulty in placing themselves at the head of their enterprises. An Industrial and Commercial Committee was established in Paris under the gracious patronage of General Wrangel. The task of this Committee was to direct and centralize all efforts of this nature made in Red Russia by the dispossessed capitalists, with the end in view of remaining in possession of their properties and to disrupt the economic life of the Workers’ Republic. The Committee established a branch in Finnland to deal especially with the question of oil. This was what we shall call the Nobel Organization, at the head of which was colonel Bunakoff and a certain Lebourdier. Established in 1919, this organization remained active until 1921, At this time, the revelation of the Tagantsev-Kurtz cadet plot in Petrogard enabled the Extraordinary Commission to lay its hands on Professor Tikhvinski, a collaborator of the Supreme Economic Council and oil specialist who, was Mr. Nobel’s principal representative in Petrograd. [1]

The engineers and the personnel of the old Nobel Company then working for the Soviet Administration received a regular sum of Duma roubles then in circulation, and Swedish crowns. Every month Mr. Nobel sent them about 200 million roubles, which, in 1919 when a Soviet functionary earned an average of 10–15,000 roubles a mouth, was a veritable fortune. Mr. Nobel received in return weekly detailed reports in which he had the satisfaction of learning the application of his instructions by his personnel, in his nationalized property. This enables us to understand a little better why the fuel crisis was so great in Russia during the years of the Revolution.

Nine functionaries of the oil commission, all of long service under the Soviets, all occupying responsible positions, all highly qualified specialists and cultivated intellectuals who professed their loyalty to the Revolution, appeared before the Revolutionary tribunal in Moscow. Among them figure the director of the Petrogard Oil Committee, Garmsen, the chemist Kasin; the former member of the Moscow Oil Council, Istomin, the president of the Petrograd Oil Committee, an inspector of this Committee, and the director of the statistical department and the personnel of the same administration.

This is not the first case of the kind in the oil industry. Last year a campaign was insidiously conducted in order to persuade the Soviet Government to give the principal oil properties in Baku to capitalist concessionaires, as the specialists, already a long time in the service of the Soviets, declared that they were about to fall in complete ruin and that it was impossible to save them with the means at the disposal of the Supreme, Economic Council. Shortly afterwards, it was left for a good militant Communist, not specialist at all, to go there and find out that this was not the case at all and that it was simply a question of an attempt to hand over Russian oil to foreign capital.

Thus in spite of the “Red Terror”, permanent economic plots were hatched during the years of revolution against the economic life of the Soviet Republic, and continued to retard the development of socialized industry; and it would be presumptuous to think that we have discovered all of them. Thus, the intellectuals, technicians and experts have often found more effective means to fight the Russian Revolution than sabotage. And this is one of the most striking aspects of the penetration of elements coming from the bourgeoisie into the Soviet Administration. We already know that this penetration was one of the most important causes of the formation of a corrupt bureaucracy.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the economic counter-revolution in the State puts before the proletarian dictatorship and before ail Communists and sincere revolutionaries a theoretical and practical problem which must be solved before the Russian Revolution can succeed.

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1. Tikhvinski was shot in 1921.

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