[News] Rockefeller Family Fables

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 8 11:10:45 EDT 2008

May 8, 2008

The Self-Righteous Rich

Rockefeller Family Fables


On April 30th, reporters flocked to the penthouse 
suite of a Midtown Manhattan hotel where fifteen 
representatives of the Rockefeller dynasty were 
holding court. There, the Rockefellers chastised 
oil giant Exxon-Mobil for failing to invest in 
“alternative energy” sources, invoking their own 
moral authority as Exxon-Mobil’s longest standing shareholders.

Family spokesperson Neva Rockefeller Goodwin 
sanctimoniously recalled the memory of her 
great-grandfather, John D. Rockefeller, founder 
of Standard Oil and originator of the family 
fortune. “Kerosene was the alternative energy of 
its day when he realized it could replace whale 
oil,” she argued. “Part of John D. Rockefeller’s 
genius was in recognizing early the need and 
opportunity for a transition to a better, cheaper and cleaner fuel.”

But the indignation of today’s generation of 
Rockefellers­who inherited their own exorbitant 
wealth from Standard Oil, Exxon-Mobil’s parent 
corporation­is aimed more at ensuring the 
continued financial health of the family’s trust 
funds than concern for the future of the world’s 
population. As Peter O'Neill, 
great-great-grandson of John D. Rockefeller, 
commented at the press conference, “I have a 
world of respect for what the company has done 
well. In fact, if the next 20 years of the energy 
business were just going to be about oil and gas, 
we probably wouldn't be here today.”

Nevertheless, the corporate media obediently 
described the Rockefellers as concerned 
environmentalists. The New York Times ran the 
headline, “Can Rockefeller Heirs Turn Exxon 
Greener?” News outlets quoted freely from the 
Rockefellers’ press release, which described John 
D. Rockefeller as “one of the first major 
philanthropists in the U.S. and the World” and 
the family’s Rockefeller Foundation’s mission as 
"promot[ing] the well-being of mankind throughout the world.”

The family fable concocted above warrants a 
rebuttal. Standard Oil was the world’s first oil 
monopoly, and Rockefeller’s greed was insatiable. 
Indeed, the Rockefeller family legacy is deeply 
entangled with the U.S.’ current reliance on 
oil­and automobiles. Moreover, the family’s 
“philanthropic” pursuits include a peculiar 
preoccupation with lowering the birth rates of 
the world’s black and brown populations 
throughout the twentieth century­highlighting the 
absurdity of their claim to be promoting the well 
being of humankind. Mainstream journalists could 
easily uncover these unsavory aspects of the 
family history but instead report the 
Rockefellers’ self-sanitized version, with all its glaring omissions.

* * *

Indeed, the family’s selective memory of its 
patriarch, John D. Rockefeller, as a saintly 
philanthropist stands in sharp contrast to his 
role as a nineteenth-century robber baron. 
gave me my money,” he said. “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.”

Rockefeller’s conscience apparently did not 
dictate paying his employees more than a 
starvation wage. His admirers praise him for 
making gasoline affordable to average Americans, 
and he did indeed aim to produce large amounts of 
"cheap and good" gasoline for mass consumption, 
successfully lowering the price of gas from 58 
cents to 8 cents a gallon. But he achieved this 
goal through ruthless union busting, hiring his 
own private militias to crush workers who dared 
to go on strike to demand higher wages.

The private armies of the Rockefeller-owned 
Colorado Fuel & Iron Rockefeller was a cutthroat 
capitalist who built his oil monopoly in the 
decades after the Civil War using methods more in 
keeping with the bribery, blackmail and back 
stabbing of a mafia family than an honest 
entrepreneur. As he once proclaimed, "I would 
rather earn 1 percent off a [sic] 100 people's 
efforts than 100 percent of my own efforts.” This 
credo made him the richest man in the world.

As he quietly bought up his smaller oil 
competitors with these methods, Rockefeller 
entered into secret­and illegal­agreements with 
railroad magnates that gave discounts as off-the 
books rebates to his growing oil monopoly, easily 
driving smaller refiners out of business. By 
1879, Standard Oil controlled 90 percent of the 
oil refining business in the U.S.  When the 
Supreme Court finally forced Rockefeller to 
formally disband Standard Oil as a monopoly trust 
in 1911, the damage was done. Indeed, the breakup 
doubled the value of his stock and gave birth to 
oil conglomerates Esso and Mobil (now 
Exxon-Mobil), Arco and Amoco (now BP), Pennzoil 
(now Shell), Chevron and Conoco. Rockefeller 
spent his remaining decades playing golf.
* * *

John D. Rockefeller’s descendents have happily 
carried on in the robber baron’s tradition, 
alongside a public relations machine that 
routinely airbrushes the family history.  These 
heirs have never needed to work a day in their 
lives to afford the best of everything money 
could buy. The Rockefeller name ensures each 
generation a ten-figure trust fund and a 
guaranteed spot at an elite university, enabled 
by the Rockefeller family’s generous donations. 
The many chapels, libraries, museums and other 
buildings bearing the Rockefeller name on private 
campuses across the U.S. bear testament to the 
family’s self-serving approach to gift giving. 
Most recently, David M. Rockefeller, Sr., former 
chairman, president and CEO of Chase Manhattan 
Bank, and former chairman of the board of the 
Rockefeller Group, donated a record $100 million 
to Harvard University, citing his fond memories as part of the class of ’36.

By design, the Rockefellers have received no 
blame for their pivotal role in destroying the 
vast trolley car system that dominated U.S. 
cities before the 1940s, thereby increasing city 
dwellers’ dependency on automobiles and 
gas-fueled bus lines. Yet the Rockefellers’ 
Oil of California joined 
Oil of California and 
Petroleum to form the 
City Lines 
company, which bought out and dismantled more 
than 100 trolley systems in 45 cities (including 
New York, Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia, St. 
Louis, Salt Lake City, Tulsa, Minneapolis and Los 
Angeles) between 1936 and 1950.

In 1949, these corporate defendants were 
acquitted of conspiring to monopolize 
transportation services. Indeed, the corporations 
behind National City Lines were each fined just 
$5,000­while each of their directors paid a mere 
$1 fine­a small price to pay for the windfall in 
profits they all enjoyed in the decades that 
followed. Congress offered up tax dollars to 
build the enormous highway infrastructure that 
encouraged automobile travel in the 1950s, while 
federal investment in mass transit and train 
systems languished.  As Noam Chomsky noted, “By 
the mid-1960s, one out of six business 
enterprises was directly dependent on the motor vehicle industry.”

* * *

No Rockefeller family history would be complete 
without highlighting their central role in 
shaping twentieth century population control 
policy, aimed explicitly at curbing birth rates 
among the non-Caucasian poor. Beginning in 1910, 
Rockefeller money flowed into organizations such 
as the Race Betterment Foundation and the 
Eugenics Section of the American Breeders 
Association, which spearheaded the eugenics 
movement­the “science” of “improving heredity.” 
These organizations, also funded by the 
upstanding Carnegie, Harriman and Kellogg 
families, sponsored academics claiming that those 
at the top of the social ladder had proven their 
racial superiority, while those at the bottom 
were biologically incapable of success. The 
eugenics movement encouraged the “superior” races 
to marry each other and have lots of children, 
while promoting forced sterilization, racial 
segregation and deportation of immigrants of 
those deemed “unfit” to reproduce.

The “superior” races so admired by the eugenics 
movement were “Nordic,” with blond hair and blue 
eyes, and the movement soon gained an admirer in 
Adolph Hitler. In 1924’s "Mein Kampf," Hitler 
noted, "There is today one state in which at 
least weak beginnings toward a better conception 
(of immigration) are noticeable. Of course, it is 
not our model German Republic, but the United 
States." By the 1920s, the Rockefeller Foundation 
was already providing hundreds of thousands of 
dollars to fund eugenics research in Germany; in 
1929 alone, $317,000 of Rockefeller money went to 
the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research, 
according to Edwin Black, writing in the San 
Francisco Chronicle in 2003. Although the 
Rockefellers had withdrawn all funding to German 
research by the onset of the Second World War in 
1939, Black argued,  “[B]y that time, the die had 
been cast. The talented men Rockefeller and 
Carnegie financed, the great institutions they 
helped found, and the science they helped create 
took on a scientific momentum of their own.”

By the 1930s, the wheels for forced sterilization 
were also in motion inside the U.S. Laws were 
enacted in 27 states in 1932, calling for 
compulsory sterilization of the “feeble-minded, 
insane, criminal, and physically defective.” In 
1939, the Birth Control Federation of America, as 
historian Dorothy E. Roberts described, “planned 
a ‘Negro Project’ designed to limit reproduction 
by blacks ‘who still breed carelessly and 
disastrously, with the result that the increase 
among Negroes, even more than among whites, is 
from that portion of the population least 
intelligent and fit, and least able to rear 
children properly.’”  In 1974, an Alabama court 
found that between 100,000 and 150,000 poor black 
teenagers had been sterilized in that state alone.

After World War Two, population control agencies 
set their sights overseas. In the 1960s, the 
International Planned Parenthood Foundation, 
heavily funded by the Rockefellers alongside the 
U.S. government, played a key role in a coercive 
sterilization programs targeting Third World 
populations. By 1968, one-third of women of 
childbearing age in Puerto Rico­still a U.S. 
colony­had been permanently sterilized, often 
without their knowledge or consent. 
Rockefeller-funded programs sterilized 40,000 
women in Colombia between 1963 and 1965, 
according to feminist author Bonnie Mass. These 
are just two examples among many.

The self-righteous claims of the current 
generation of Rockefellers must be viewed in this 
context. They have kept silent since the 1989 
Exxon-Valdez Alaskan oil spill, even as 
Exxon-Mobil has refused to pay court-ordered 
compensation to the nearly 33,000 Alaskans who 
won a lawsuit against Exxon in 1994 for the 
company’s “reckless” behavior. Nor have they 
uttered a word of protest following news that 
growing numbers of employed workers across the 
U.S. are lining up at food pantries due to the 
skyrocketing price of food and gasoline. As Bill 
Bolling, founder of the Atlanta Community Food 
Bank, told CNN, "People are giving up buying 
groceries so that they can pay rent and put gas in the car."

Today’s Rockefellers praise Exxon-Mobil for its 
current status as the most profitable corporation 
in U.S. history, having raked in a record $40.6 
billion in profits in 2007.  They are merely 
watching out for their own parasitical futures.

Sharon Smith is the author of 
and Socialism and 
Fire: a History of Working-Class Radicalism in 
the United States. She can be reached at: 
<mailto:sharon at internationalsocialist.org>sharon at internationalsocialist.org

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