The Guardian

The Guardian September 10, 2003

Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Nothing like a good quote

I am partial to quotations. I don't know about you, but I savour a good 

Take this piece of self-justifying claptrap from John D Rockefeller, the 
world's first billionnaire: "I believe the power to make money is a gift of 
God b& to be developed and used to the best of our ability for the good of 

"Having been endowed with the gift I possess, I believe it is my duty to 
make money and still more money and to use the money I make for the good of 
my fellow man according to the dictates of my conscience."

The sting of course was not just in those last seven words. Karl Marx knew 
it was in the very act of "making money and still more money".

In Capital Marx wrote: "Within the capitalist system all methods for 
raising the social productiveness of labour are brought about at the cost 
of the individual labourer; all means for the development of production 
transform themselves into means of domination over and exploitation of the 

I doubt that Rockefeller, even if he conceded the truth of Marx's analysis, 
would have cared much about the plight of the individual labourer. He 
happily destroyed his competitors without a qualm and rode roughshod over 
his numerous employees.

In fact, he shared with railroad magnate Jay Gould a contempt for those who 
had to toil for a living, exemplified in Gould's famous remark made in 
1886, "I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half."

Rockefeller and Gould, and others of their ilk, were notorious for hiring 
unemployed workers as well as thugs to act as their private armies to keep 
their ordinary employees in line.

And they hired politicians too. So much so that President Woodrow Wilson 
was moved to remark in exasperation that "the masters of government of the 
United States are the combined capitalists and manufacturers". (No wonder 
they declined to support his League of Nations when he returned from the 
Peace Conference in 1919!)

Today, as Bush and his cronies award government contracts to their friends 
and backers and change the laws to enable the Republican Party's main 
financial donors to make lots of money with no public scrutiny, one can see 
that A J McLaurin was a very astute man.

Almost a century ago, in 1906 in fact, McLaurin, himself a US politician, 
said that "There is always some basic principle that will ultimately get 
the Republican Party together.

"If my observations are worth anything, that basic principle is the 
cohesive power of public plunder."

Two decades later, Bertolt Brecht put it a little more succinctly, in The 
Threepenny Opera: "What is robbing a bank compared with founding a 

Brecht knew that at heart the industrialists, the railroad "czars", the 
media barons and all the rest of the corporate leaders of big business are 
gangsters. So did Marx: if the rate of profit is great enough, there is no 
crime they will not stoop to commit or pay to have someone commit for them.

They are the enemy in every field, including the environment. Listen to 
David Day, author of The Eco Wars and The Whale War on the 
struggle to conserve the world's wildlife (from his splendid 1987 book, The 
Whale War):

"The whale is at the heart of a guerilla war of resistance that has spread 
all over the world: it is the symbol of the ecology movement and emblematic 
of the fate of all species on the planet.

"The battle line has been drawn here. If this amazing animal, the largest 
ever to exist on the planet, cannot be saved from the ruthless exploitation 
of a handful of men, what chance of survival have other species?

"Around the banner of the movement to save the whale have gathered 
ecologists, scientists, educators, professional activists, entertainers, 
schoolchildren and people from every profession, political persuasion and 

"Against them stand the men who hunt the whale. They are few, but they are 
men of influence.

"Some are men like the late Aristotle Onassis who of his pursuit of a 
fortune in the whaling industry in the 1950s violated every conceivable 
regulation and international law relating to whales.

"He recognised no closed season, no national territorial waters, no 
protected species, no minimum length requirement and no ban on hunting 
nursing mothers or even suckling young.

"A man so ostentatious and proud of his destruction of the whale that the 
bar in his private yacht, the Christina, was fitted throughout with whale 
ivory and polished bone and  as a kind of visual joke in the most 
appalling taste  sported bar stools made from the penises of sperm 

But the really big money is to be made not from whaling or even 
transporting oil in Onassis' tankers. It's in the arms business.

For going to war is not something George Bush invented to please his 
backers. Dear me no. Indeed, the link between capitalism and war used to be 
commonly acknowledged by political leaders, before the First World War took 
the gloss off the military.

"Capitalism carries in itself war, like the clouds carry rain." (Jean 
Jaures, Prime Minister of France, 1902.)

One hundred years later it still does  and reaps huge profits in the 

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