Chemical Monopolies

Chemical Monopolies


a group of Western European, US, and Japanese companies that dominate the chemical industry in the capitalist countries. In 1974, 15 of the group were among the 100 largest capitalist monopolies, each registering sales in excess of $3 billion.

Chemical monopolies have characteristically dynamic growth rates: between 1960 and 1974, the sales volume of the 15 largest chemical monopolies increased by a factor of 7, a growth rate second only to that of the petroleum monopolies and exceeding those of the automobile, metallurgical, food-processing, and electrical engineering monopolies. Three chemical monopolies registered sales in excess of $1 billion in 1960, 20 in 1970, and 30 in 1974. The sales of the 15 largest chemical monopolies in 1974 exceeded the total value of the industrial production of such industrially developed countries as France and Italy.

The appearance of the first chemical monopolies was associated with the commercial use of discoveries made by European chemists in the 19th century in the fields of dyes, soda, and explosives. The large investments made by chemical monopolies in research and development under conditions of the scientific and technological revolution facilitated discoveries that affected the entire world economy, particularly the discovery of methods for the production of plastics, synthetic rubber, and synthetic fibers from petroleum and natural gas.

High scientific and technological potential is one of the most characteristic features of chemical monopolies (see Table 1). The principal methods used by chemical monopolies to control the world market include investment in research and development, which averages 4–5 percent of the total annual sales and may reach 8–15 percent, and the concentration of patents and licenses. The monopolies’ product offerings include thousands of items and usually cover the broadest range imaginable. The systematic introduction of new products (there is a 5 percent average annual turnover in the product range) makes chemical monopolies highly competitive in the struggle for markets. Two or three groups of principal chemicals, each with its own production technology, serve as the primary source of superprofits; it is these chemicals that determine the profile of a given chemical monopoly and usually account for up to 50 percent of the total production volume.

Petrochemical combines suitable for the large-scale refining of crude oil are the major element in the production base of chemical monopolies. This is related to the drive for maximum profits under conditions in which the conversion of petroleum and natural gas into the major types of chemical raw materials has led to a sharp rise in the minimum capacities of production installations.

Intensive territorial concentration is characteristic of chemical monopolies. For example, in 1970 approximately 350 petrochemical and petroleum refining enterprises in the USA, Great Britain, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands were concentrated in the vicinity of the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp.

In the first half of the 1970’s, foreign sales accounted for 10–30 percent of the total sales of chemical monopolies in the USA and 60–90 percent in Western Europe. The sales volume of foreign branches of most chemical monopolies exceeds exports from the territories of national markets.

Since World War II, the major expansion of chemical monopolies has occurred in the industrialized countries. Chemical products resulting from a high degree of processing predominate among exports.

A significant portion of the output of chemical monopolies is manufactured on order from the military establishment. In most countries in Western Europe and the USA, the leading chemical monopolies mine uranium ore and produce nuclear materials.

The German firm I. G. Farbenindustrie was the largest chemical monopoly in the world prior to World War II. In the postwar period, leadership in the world market of chemical products passed to US chemical monopolies, led by E. I. Du Pont de Nemours and Company, which surpassed the chemical monopolies of Western Europe in production volume, level of technology, and volume and rate of capital accumulation. However, by 1973, Du Pont had slipped from first to fourth place, losing its position to the West German chemical monopolies BASF and Hoechst and the British firm Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd. The number of US chemical monopolies listed among the world’s ten largest dropped from six to three, and their places were taken by French and Dutch firms. Japanese chemical monopolies have nearly reached the size of the largest monopolies.

The West German firms Hoechst AG, Bayer AG, and BASF AG, current leaders in the world chemical market, began in the 1860’s as small dye companies; by the turn of the 20th century they numbered among the largest firms in the world. In 1925 they combined their assets to form I. G. Farbenindustrie AG. After the firm was dismantled in an effort to eliminate cartels, the companies functioned independently as Farbwerke Hoechst, Farbenfabriken Bayer, and Badische Anilin- und Sodafabrik AG. They later changed their names to Hoechst AG, Bayer AG, and

Table 1. Indicators of the financial and economic strength of the leading chemical monopolies (1974, in millions of dollars)
 SalesAssetsCorporate capitalResearch expendituresNet profitEmployees (thousands)
BASF (Federal Republic of Germany) ...............8,4976,0751,897232201111
Hoechst (Federal Republic of Germany) ...............7,8217,7951,680308205179
ICI (Great Britain) ...............6,9127,4283,144204568201
Du Pont (USA) ...............6,9105,9803,753344404137
Bayer (Federal Republic of Germany) ...............6,3016,8011,415310189135
Montedison (Italy) ...............6,1906,86577887174153
Union Carbide (USA) ...............5,3204,8832,50594530110
Dow Chemical (USA) ...............4,9385,1141,97314955853
Rhône-Poulenc (France) ...............4,2345,4871,869163180119
AKZO (Netherlands) ...............4,0103,8981,296134142105
Mitsubishi Chemical Industries (Japan) ...............3,5633,6381,75532253
Monsanto (USA) ...............3,4982,9381,76712632361

BASF, respectively, and each exceeded its prewar counterpart in production volume and other indexes. These monopolies together account for more than 40 percent of the chemical production of the Federal Republic of Germany and more than one-half of the country’s chemical exports. Their product ranges include approximately 20,000 items, from basic chemical products to very complex products of modern organic chemical synthesis. They own more than 160 large-scale production plants, including 84 plants in foreign countries.

BASF, Hoechst, and Bayer are the world’s largest suppliers of chemical warfare agents and are an important element in the military-industrial complex of the Federal Republic of Germany. In addition to chemical reagents for conventional military uses, they participate through their foreign branches in the production of nuclear materials.

Their discoveries have included low-pressure polyethylene, superhard plastics, and polyester fibers. In 1975 they employed a total of 31,000 workers in their scientific research organizations. BASF, Hoechst, and Bayer are engaged in rapid expansion abroad. In 1975 export sales accounted for 68 percent of the total production for Bayer, 67 percent for Hoechst, and 50 percent for BASF.

The ratio of exports from the Federal Republic of Germany to sales by the firms’ foreign production plants is decreasing; the 1975 figures were 66 percent (Bayer), 50 percent (Hoechst) and 44 percent (BASF). Most exports were to the industrialized countries of Western Europe, the USA, and Canada. In 1975, these countries received 69 percent of BASF exports, 50 percent of Hoechst exports, and 74 percent of Bayer exports. The firms’ daughter companies and branches are located in 60 countries. BASF, Hoechst, and Bayer have close ties with the largest banks of the Federal Republic of Germany: Deutsche Bank AG, Dresdner Bank AG, and Commerzbank Aktiengesellschaft.

Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd. (ICI) is the largest chemical monopoly in Great Britain and the third largest in the world (1974). Founded in 1926, it is currently one of the world’s largest suppliers of plastics, synthetic fibers, fertilizers, dyes, and medicines. Its product range includes approximately 12,000 items, including explosives, nuclear materials, and other products for military use. Its production base encompasses 100 plants in Great Britain and approximately 80 plants abroad. The staff of ICI’s scientific research organizations totals 11,000. Among the firm’s scientific achievements are the world’s first high-pressure polyethylene, Procion dyes, the low-pressure synthesis of methanol, and a number of medicines. In 1974 approximately 60 percent of ICI’s production was sold outside of Great Britain. Two-thirds of this production was accounted for by sales from foreign plants located in almost 50 countries. The industrially developed countries of Western Europe and the USA accounted for more than one-half of ICI’s total foreign sales. ICI is closely tied to the largest banks of Great Britain: National Westminster Bank Ltd. and Midland Bank Ltd.

Du Pont is the largest chemical monopoly in the USA and the fourth largest in the world (1974). Founded in 1802, it now occupies first place in the world production of synthetic fibers. It is a major producer of plastics, basic chemicals, dyes, pigments, and photographic supplies. Du Pont accounts for more than one-half of the production of nylon, acrylic fibers, trichloroethylene, and fluorine-containing hydrocarbons in the USA. It is one of the major suppliers of nuclear materials to the US Department of Energy and controls the production of heavy water. Du Pont shares with the General Electric Company (an American electrical engineering monopoly) the production of plutonium in the USA. It operates more than 100 plants in the USA and about the same number in other countries. Approximately 5,000 specialists with college degrees are employed in the firm’s scientific research facilities. The world’s first synthetic fiber, nylon, was discovered by Du Pont. The company’s foreign expansion is accelerating. Du Pont’s first daughter company was established in Great Britain in 1956.

In 1974, there were 100 branches and daughter companies manufacturing Du Pont products in 44 foreign, primarily industrially developed countries. In 1975, 27 percent of the firm’s total production was sold on foreign markets, of which approximately 60 percent was supplied by Du Pont’s foreign daughter companies. E. I. Du Pont de Nemours and Company is a component of the Du Pont group financial oligarchy.

Union Carbide Corporation occupied second place in production volume in the USA and seventh place in the world in 1974. Founded in 1898, it is now one of the world’s largest suppliers of plastics and ferroalloys. It is the leading US supplier of raw materials for the nuclear power industry, lasers, electronic components, and other military products, which together account for 20 percent of the company’s total sales. The firm’s product range includes more than 2,000 items, including 1,000 different plastics. Union Carbide also plays an important role in the production of film materials, calcium carbide, inert gases, motor vehicle trim, and household chemical products. Approximately 10 percent of the capitalist world’s production of polyethylene, including one-third of the polyethylene produced in the USA, is manufactured by a method developed by Union Carbide. The firm registers an average of approximately 300 patents annually. Its production base consists of about 250 plants, mines, and scientific research centers in the USA and about the same number in 42 other countries. Union Carbide leases government nuclear reactors and has 15,800 employees for reactor servicing. More than 30 percent of its production is sold outside the USA, of which 75 percent is produced by the company’s foreign branches. Union Carbide is in the sphere of influence of one of the largest banks in the USA, Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company.

Dow Chemical Company was the third largest chemical monopoly in the USA with respect to production volume and eighth largest in the world in 1974. Founded in 1897, today it produces more than 1,000 chemical items. It is one of the world’s largest producers of polystyrene and also manufactures other polymers and basic and household chemical products. Military products account for a significant share of its output, including plutonium for nuclear warheads and other nuclear materials. Dow Chemical has 47 plants in the USA and 83 plants in 29 other countries. Approximately one-half of its production (47.3 percent in 1974) is sold in foreign markets. Dow Chemical is within the sphere of influence of the Morgan financial group.

The Montedison Group was the largest chemical monopoly in Italy and the sixth largest in the world in 1974. It accounts for one-half of the production of the Italian chemical industry (including approximately 70 percent of the country’s plastics production) and about 10 percent of the chemical production of the European Economic Community (EEC), including 11 percent of the EEC’s production of synthetic fibers. The firm was founded in 1966, when two Italian chemical monopolies, Montecatini (founded 1888) and Edison (founded 1884), combined their assets, with the participation of state monopolistic circles. The new firm’s name was Montecatini-Edison until 1971, when the current name was adopted. Montedison’s product list includes virtually all the major types of modern chemical products. In addition to chemicals, which accounted for about 80 percent of total sales in 1974, the company manufactures chemical and electronic equipment and textiles; it also handles retail sales. Its production base encompasses 151 plants in Italy, including the petrochemical installations at Brindisi and Porto Marghera, which process more than 4 billion tons of crude oil annually, and 27 plants with 15,000 employees in other countries. The firm’s scientific research staff numbers 7,000. Montedison’s scientific achievements include invention of a method for the production of fixed nitrogen and the world’s first production of polypropylene. The export of goods and licenses predominates in the company’s foreign expansion; the export of capital is insignificant. In 1974, sales outside Italy accounted for 32 percent of the firm’s total sales, including sales by foreign branches. Montedison is linked to the largest Italian banks—Banca Commerciale Italiana, Crédito Italiano, and Banco di Roma—and a number of Western European banks. The Italian government owns controlling interest in Montedison.

Rhône-Poulenc was the largest chemical monopoly in France in production volume and the ninth largest in the world in 1974. It accounts for approximately 80 percent of the French production of synthetic fibers, 33 percent of the EEC production, and 10 percent of the total capitalist production. It manufactures 26 percent of the chemicals produced in France, including 50 percent of the sulfuric and nitric acids produced, 40 percent of the fertilizers, 45 percent of the polyvinyl chloride, 30 percent of the polystyrene, and 15 percent of the medicines. Rhône-Poulenc was established as a joint-stock company in 1895; it received its current name in 1961, when it was reorganized as a holding company. It controls approximately 200 companies, including 92 foreign companies. The nucleus of the monopoly consists of two industrial firms, Rhône-Poulenc Industries and Rhône-Poulenc Textile. Its product offerings total more than 3,000 items, including synthetic fibers, plastics, film materials, olefins and intermediates, medicines, and fertilizers, as well as rare-earth metals, isotopes, and nuclear materials.

Rhône-Poulenc owns 69 plants in France and 30 plants in other countries. Its scientific research staff numbers 6,000, not including employees in applied research. More than 10 percent of the polyvinyl chloride produced in the capitalist countries is made by a process developed by Rhône-Poulenc. In 1974, more than one-half of the firm’s total production was sold abroad, with a large share of the foreign sales accounted for by foreign branches. The major areas of foreign expansion are in Western Europe (57 percent of total exports) and the USA (7 percent). Rhône-Poulenc is within the sphere of influence of the Gillet financial group.

The AKZO group is the leading chemical monopoly in the Netherlands and the tenth largest in the world (1974). It is one of the world’s major suppliers of synthetic fibers and accounts for 40 percent of the world production of hormone preparations and other medicines. AKZO grew from a small synthetic silk plant with the abbreviated name ENKA, which was established in 1911; it was renamed AKU in 1929 and has its current name since 1969 after its merger with another Dutch firm, Koninklijke-Zout-Organon (KZO). In the 1970’s, AKZO expanded its range of polymer products and began production of basic chemicals, medicines, industrial fabrics, cosmetics, and other commonly used items. Most of its products are manufactured by methods developed by the company, which has a scientific research staff of 6,000. About 90 percent of production is sold in foreign markets; approximately 70 percent of this amount is supplied by the group’s foreign branches. AKZO is a holding company controlling 220 firms. The nucleus of the group is the production division Enka-Glanzstoff, which is directed by Enka-Glanzstoff B V in the Netherlands and Enka-Glanzstoff AG in the Federal Republic of Germany. AKZO is in the sphere of influence of the Vlissingen Dutch financial group.