The Origins of American Empire – What They Didn’t Teach You in School

Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States – Prequel A

Directed by Oliver Stone (2014)

Film Review

Owing to the series’ great success, Oliver Stone has produced two prequels to his  Untold History of the United States. The first traces the origins of America’s present empire-building spree at the end of the 19th Century.

Stone credits Lincoln’s Secretary of State William Seward (1861-69) for the launch of America’s imperialist ambitions. Following the US conquest of half of Mexico in 1848, Seward sought to expand US empire even further by conquering Alaska, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Canada, Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii and Midway.The US would eventually succeed in annexing all of these territories, except for Canada, Haiti and the Dominican Republic – although they only formally possessed the northern section of Columbia, which they renamed Panama.

Then, as now, the US undertook these military adventures at the behest of Rockefeller, JP Morgan, William Randolph Hearst and other Wall Street robber barons. After the severe depression of 1893 (which caused 20% unemployment), they were convinced the only way to prevent further economic instability was to conquer foreign countries for their resources, cheap labor and markets for surplus US products.

During this period, US troops also invaded Cuba, the Philippines, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and China for the benefit of Standard Oil, United Fruit and other US corporations. Stone quotes extensively from General Smedley Butler’s War is a Racket. Butler participated in nearly all of these invasions.

Stone goes on to trace the British, French, US and czarist designs on Middle Eastern oil that were the true basis for World War I and the invasion of Russia by British, French, US and Japanese troops following the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. I was unaware the US refused to recognize the Soviet Union until 1933, when Roosevelt took office.

My favorite parts of this film concern the brave rebels who opposed this US imperialist aggression despite a brutal federal crackdown on all protest activity: Mark Twain and other in the Anti-Imperialist League, Eugene Debs, Bill Haywood and International Workers of the World, Emma Goldman and Mother Jones (Mary Harris Jones).

The Hidden History of Big Oil

How Big Oil Conquered the World

Corbett Report (2016)

Film Review

This is an extremely gripping documentary about the hidden history of John D Rockefeller and the global oil cartel. Much of this history, including Rockefeller’s early background, the role of the “oilagarchy” in instigating World War I, Prohibition and their total domination of education, medicine, agriculture and finance has been systematically erased from US history books.

I found the beginning of the film, in which James Corbett talks about JD’s father William Avery Rockefeller, most revealing. Rockefeller senior was a notorious snake oil salesman (and cunning sociopath) who changed his name to Dr Bill Livingston to escape the clutches of the law for fraud, bigamy, rape and various other crimes.

The film traces Rockefeller junior’s entry into the oil drilling business in the 1850s with the formation of the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company. From the very beginning of his career, JD demonstrated the same knack for treachery, deceit and fraud as his father – in dealings with both business partners and competitors.*

The invention of the internal combustion engine in the 1870s put Rockefeller in direct competition with the electric vehicle industry. Even the first electric cars (built in 1884) had a number of advantages over gas-powered cars. In 1900, they made up 28% of the US market. Thanks to the discovery of plentiful oil in Texas, Rockefeller easily flooded the market with cheap gasoline and put electric car makers out of business.

After World War I, he faced similar competition from ethanol-fueled cars (Henry Ford designed the Model T to run on either gasoline or alcohol produced from agricultural waste). Here Rockefeller and his corporate allies demolished their competition by conspiring to instigate a national anti-alcohol movement. The latter resulted in the enactment of Prohibition in 1919 and a total ban on alcohol. In a similar vein, after World War II the “oilagarchy” conspired with General Motors to acquire and shut down electrified public transport systems in at least a dozen cities.

Rockefeller’s transformation of medicine (by funding and acquiring control of medical schools) into a field dominated by synthetic petroleum-based pharmaceuticals is fairly well known. There is less public awareness that he played a similar role in shaping public education (especially the teaching of history) and the replacement of organic-based farming with industrial agriculture reliant on petrochemicals. Rockefeller played a similar role in secret meetings that resulted in the creation of the Federal Reserve, as did Rockefeller’s Chase Manhattan Bank in the creation of the World Bank and IMF.

Corbett also traces the creation of parallel oil monopolies in Europe by the Rothchilds, the Nobel family and the British and Dutch royal families. Germany posed a major threat to this global oil cartel with a treaty they signed with the Ottoman Empire to acquire a controlling interest in Iraqi oil development. The threatened competition with established European oil interests set wheels in motion for a British-led war against Germany (ie World War I).


* JD’s favorite motto: “Competition is a sin.”

 

Reclaiming Our History

plutocracy

Plutocracy: Political Repression in the United States

Scott Noble (2015)

Film Review

As German philosopher Walter Benjamin famously stated, “History is written by the victors.” In the US, most history books are written by and for the corporate oligarchs who run our government. Plutocracy is the first documentary to comprehensively examine early American history from the perspective of the working class. Part II (Solidarity Forever) will cover the late 19th Century to the early twenties. The filmmaker is currently seeking donations to complete the project. If you’d like to help, you can donate to their Patreon account.

The film can’t be embedded but can be viewed free at Plutocracy

Plutocracy starts with Shay’s Rebellion in 1786, the insurrection of Massachusetts farmers against the courts and banks that were fleecing them of their meager wealth and property. Similar rebellions in Rhode Island and Virginia would cause leading US bankers, merchants and plantation owners to organize a secret convention to create a central government and standing army. Each of the 13 original states, which in 1787 were still independent and sovereign, sent delegates to Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation.

Instead of revising the Articles, as authorized by their state legislatures, the delegates closed the meeting to the public and voted to replace them with a federal constitution. The latter substantially limited the freedom and power of state legislatures and ordinary Americans.

Plutocracy moves on to cover the massive Irish immigration of the mid-nineteenth century and the appalling squalor so-called “white Negroes” lived in. During the 19th century, 80% of babies born to Irish immigrants died in infancy.

The film touches only briefly on the Civil War, describing laws that enabled robber barons like John Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie and Cornelius Vanderbilt to evade the Civil War draft by paying a poor person $300 to replace them.

It offers a detailed depiction of post-Civil War Reconstruction, which coincided with the 1871 Paris commune and saw blacks collaborating with poor whites to establish the South’s first public schools and hospitals. This was in addition to the election of numerous former slaves to judgeships and legislative positions.

Their eagerness to return Negroes to productive status on plantations led northern industrialists to pressure Congress to end Reconstruction by removing the federal troops protecting the rights of former slaves. It also led to their passive acceptance of unconstitutional Jim Crow laws and Ku Klux Klan terrorism. The chief aim of both was to prevent poor backs and whites from associating with one another.

The federal troops withdrawn from the South were redeployed in genocidal campaigns against Native Americans and Mexicans. By the end of the 19th century, not only had Mexico ceded half their territory to the US (including California, Texas, Utah, Nevada and parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Montana – in the 1984 Treaty of Guadalupe), but US corporations enjoyed de facto control of all land remaining under sovereign Mexican control.

Stripping the Native Americans and Mexicans of their land in the West, readied the US for the rise of the robber barons of industry (Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie and Vanderbilt) and a corrupt system of federal and local government run entirely by bribery and patronage.

The corruption and squalid living conditions of the late 19th century would give rise to militant trade unionism, socialism, anarchism and populism. Plutocracy depicts the Pullman and similar strikes in which strikers were brutally beaten and killed by Pinkerton’s Detectives and other goons hired by industrial bosses, as well as national guardsmen and, on several occasions, federal troops.

The film opens with a poignant depiction of the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest labor uprising in US history. It’s the largest armed uprising since the Civil War, involving 10,000 coal miners. Denise Giardini memorializes the Battle of Blair Mountain in her 1987 novel Storming Heaven.


*Rockefeller and Morgan had a relative monopoly on the banks, Carnegie on steel and Vanderbilt on the railroads.

 

The Robber Barons Behind Neoclassical Economics

rockefeller

John D Rockefeller

Classical Economics as a Stratagem Against Henry George (free link)

By Mason Gaffney (2007)

Book Review-Part II

(In Part I, I discuss how Henry George’s work inspired the Populist and Progressive movements of the early 1900s and how the corporate elite struck back by inventing a new type of economics for the rich, called neoclassical economics.)

Who Paid for Neoclassical Economics to Take Over American Universities?

Gaffney’s book traces the phenomenal public support Georgism enjoyed before the tenets of neoclassical economics took hold in American universities. In addition to inspiring the Populist and Progressive movements, an LVT to fund irrigation projects in California’s Central Valley made California the top producing farm state. In 1916 the first federal income tax law was introduced by Georgist members of Congress (Henry George Jr and Warren Bailey) and included virtually no tax on wages. In 1934 Georgist Upton Sinclair was almost elected governor of California.

Gaffney also identifies the robber barons whose fortunes financed the economics departments of the major universities who went on to substitute neooclassical economics for classical economic theory. At the top of this list were

  • Ezra Cornell (owner of both Western Union and Associated Press) – founder of Cornell University
  • John D Rockefeller – helped found the University of Chicago and installed his cronies in its economics department.
  • J. P Morgan – investment banker and early funder of Columbia University
  • B&O Railroad – John Hopkins University
  • Southern Pacific Railroad – Stanford University

The final section of Gaffney’s book lays out the tragic economic, political, and social consequences of allowing the Red Scare and neoclassical economics to stifle America’s movement for a single Land Value Tax:

Economic Consequences

  1. The corporate elite has privatized, or is privatizing, most of the public domain (including fisheries, the public airwaves, water, offshore oil and gas, and the right to clean air) without compensation to the public.
  2. The rate of saving and capital formation continues to fall rapidly. This is the main reason there is no recovery. Although profits soar, corporations have no incentive to invest in expansion and jobs. Instead they invest their profits in real estate, derivatives, and commodities speculation.
  3. American capital is decayed and obsolete. The US has lost much of its steel and auto industries. Power plants and oil refineries are ancient and polluting. Most public capital (infrastructure) is old and crumbling.
  4. The number of American farms has fallen from 6 million in 1920 to 1 million in 2007.
  5. The USA, once so self-sufficient, has grown dangerously dependent on importing raw materials and foreign manufacturers.
  6. The US financial system is a shambles, supported only by loading trillions of dollars of bad debts onto the taxpayers.
  7. Real wage rates have continued to fall since 1975,
  8. Unemployment has risen to chronically high levels.
  9. Inequality in wealth and income continues to increase rapidly.

Political Consequences

  1. The corporate elite has nullified all the Progressive Era electoral reforms by pouring money into politics and “deep lobbying,” at all levels of government, including our institutions of higher learning and our public schools.
  2. The corporate elite continue to pour ever more of our tax money into prisons.

Social Consequences

  1. Homelessness has risen to new heights, in spite of decades of subsidies to home-building and, favorable tax treatment of owner-occupied homes
  2. Hunger is rampant.
  3. Street begging, once rare, is everywhere
  4. Americans have experienced a sharp loss of community, honor, duty, loyalty and patriotism.
  5. In the shadow world between crime and business there is now the vast, gray underground economy that includes tax evasion, tax avoidance, and drug-dealing.
  6. The US which once led the world in nearly every endeavor, has fallen far behind in infant survival, in longevity, in literacy, in numeracy, in mental health.
  7. American education no longer leads the world. Privatized education in the form of commercial TV has largely superseded public education.

photo credit: cliff1066™ via photopin cc