By Paddy Dollard
John D. Rockefeller was the richest man in the world at the beginning of the 20th century. He ran Standard Oil, which had cornered control of almost the entire American oil industry.
At one point he controlled over 90% of the industry!
Born in 1839, John D. was one of the great “robber barons” who raped and pillaged the whole North American continent during the last third of the l9th century. Oil— which then meant paraffin for lamps, and would later mean fuel for internal combustion engines— was first drilled out of the ground on the eve of the US Civil War. As the industry grew, there were at first large numbers of small oil producers, and numerous oil refineries. But not for long.
John D. was a righteous man, all his life an active Baptist Christian and all his life a philanthropist— on a giant scale towards the end.
He saw in the early oil industry exactly what socialists saw in it— chaos and waste and irrationality. He set out to rationalise and organise it—not as social but private property, his private property.
He ate up the small companies, and combined the production, refining, marketing and transportation of oil in one huge cost-saving’ planned operation.
He fought with the ruthlessness of a general in battle to ruin his prey, forcing them to choose between economic ruin and joining his snowballing “operation”: they could have stock m return for surrender. Amongst those who were ruined in one of his victorious economic wars was John D’s own brother.
He reached one goal common to socialists and robber baron alike —the organisation and integration of an industry. But under his ownership, not that of the workers, and only in one industry, not in the economy as a whole.
Others did the same thing in other industries in the same way. But the overall economy remained chaotic, and the American and other economic giants operated in a world of increasingly fierce competition and international rivalries that would soon lead to World War I. How did John D. Rockefeller, whose name was the popular byword for riches, appear to his fellow citizens? He seemed to his fellow Americans of that age to be a freak and a villain. He was the most hated man in America, the personification of greed, and of all the other plundering robber barons.
In those days, there was a strong plebeian populism in the USA. The super rich were a new phenomenon. They had not yet learned to sell themselves “like soap powder” to the masses they plundered, short-changed, exploited and murdered.
It was only towards the end of his life that John D. Rockefeller discovered the uses of “Public Relations” specialists. The PR boys had him photographed singing hymns and playing golf and convinced a lot of people in his old age that John D. was not such a bad old bastard after all.
Rockerfeller’s near-monopoly of oil was broken by the opening of new oil fields in places like Texas that he fai1ed to control—and by US government action. On the eve of World War 11, the Republican Teddy Roosevelt administration, responding to populist pressure, took action, and the Supreme Court compelled Standard Oil to break itself into pieces.
This is effective political action against monopoly capitalism, crowed the populists. Those anti-monopolists who rejected the socialist contention that you cannot roll the film of capitalist development backwards. to an earlier pre-monopoly capitalism and that, therefore, the answer to monopoly is pubic ownership. But it wasn’t effective political action!
Within a decade, the fragments into which Standard Oil was divided had each grown to be giant semi-monopolies in their own right! That’s where Esso (Standard Oil of New Jersey), Mobil and Socal among other economic giants of today, came from. You cannot beat monopoly in the monopoly-capitalist stage by breaking it up! John D., who had shares in all the segments, saw his wealth continue to grow by leaps and bounds.
He lived to be 97, until 1937, inordinately well favoured even in years.
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