The Secret History of the 20th Century (Part 3)
The Industrial Age and the Politics of Energy
15. Slavery: Ancient and Modern
One of the central themes of this book has been to track humanity’s long-term evolution from a monarchial pattern of government to a democratic one. In between, as an imperfect intermediate step, oligarchy has emerged.
With oligarchy, society is no longer governed with absolute control by one individual: the monarch. But the egalitarian ethos of democracy has not yet fully emerged, either. Instead, with oligarchy, an elite network of individuals comes together to take over the social, political, and economic governance of society.
From the standpoint of society’s long-term motion toward pluralism, where rule by one gives way to rule by the many, one might argue that oligarchy is a step forward, moving things in the right direction.
The problem is, when oligarchy emerges, it does in a hostile way. Initially, it had to be aggressive: it had to achieve its victory over the monarchs in order to solidify its rulership.
Once enthroned, the oligarchy, comprised largely of a “military-banking-industrial” complex, exists as a consortium of private interests who see themselves as somewhat separate and autonomous from society as a whole, with a competitive spirit being fostered between themselves and other segments of society.
Typically, the individuals and family dynasties that come together to comprise this elite oligarchical ruling class seek to amass power and wealth for themselves at the expense of the whole. And because no single individual has authority to make decisions on behalf of the collective, as was once the case in monarchy, once oligarchy is established, there is no one to take control and reign things back in.
Ethically and morally, a “race to the bottom” generally ensues, as the oligarchs work in an unrestrained fashion to vacuum the wealth and power of society all to themselves, each competing against its counterparts to win the game of “Monopoly”.
As a consequence of all this, the overall social organism begins to die, withering away from lack of sustenance and torn apart by the hostile attitudes of its ruling elite. Inevitably, what ends up happening is a Rome-like social collapse, as society fractures from internal and external pressures resulting from the oligarchy’s greedy, self-serving, and short-termist behaviors.
Originally emerging and rising to dominance during the Axial Age, the pagan era’s model of oligarchy underwent a brief period of dormancy after the fall of Rome. In time, however, it would resurface, eventually spreading back around the continent to take control over and steer the fate of European affairs once again.
From Europe, oligarchy eventually moved over to America, where, after its successful democratic revolution, it latched itself onto the young nation, taking incremental control over its political, economic, and social systems over the course of a 150+ year period.
In the US, this pattern of oligarchy formally took control in the first two decades of the 20th century, after a conspiracy of bankers and industrialists came together to found the Federal Reserve, America’s private central banking institution.
This central bank was soon used to finance the build-up of America’s military-industrial complex. This system came into its own during WWI, as it became the primary financier and arms supplier to the Allied war effort, with incredible profits being raked in by the private banks who were funding, supplying, and organizing the war.
The oligarchs who took control of America during the late 1800s and early 1900s were a new breed: they were by and large comprised of home-grown American capitalists, whose wealth and power was tied to the newly emerging Industrial Age.
By contrast, their older European oligarchical counterparts had initially built their fortunes and power during the pre-industrial agrarian age.
The European approach to oligarchical rulership was consequently rooted in the dynamics of an increasingly outdated economic age. The American oligarchs soon outmaneuvered them, replacing them as the dominate power players in global geopolitics.
But while certain key differences existed between the dominant oligarchies of Europe and America, they shared one thing in common: a penchant for rationalizing and justifying the perpetuation of a social order in which a small elite (themselves) held near absolute power over the economic and political fates of the masses.
Psychologically, the oligarchs embody to an extreme degree humanity’s penchant for ego-centrist, greedy, secular, materialistic thinking.
They personify the psychology of differentiation, seeing themselves as fundamentally separate from and superior to the populace at large. By implication, they see the outer population as being at some fundamental level lesser or inferior creations.
In order to justify themselves as the absolute rulers over society, the oligarchs adopt a self-serving, Darwinistic worldview, one which seeks to justify their asymmetric hold on power and wealth as being due to their superior genetic or racial fitness.
This mode of psychology, which values competition and separation over cooperation and integration, goes back a long way and is indeed the basis of “slavery”, one of mankind’s oldest institutions. It is also the basis of “racism”, “classism”, and, as we will see, our modern system of wage labor.
To give an example of this elitist mode of oligarchical psychology at work, consider certain statements made by Cecil Rhodes, the British imperialist first introduced in the previous article of this series, who was a main player in the South African war to take for British control the country’s lucrative gold mines, enslaving its native populations in the process.
Rhodes stated that “Africa is still lying ready for us and it is our duty to take it. It is our duty to seize every opportunity of acquiring more territory and we should keep this one idea steadily before our eyes: that more territory simply means more of the Anglo-Saxon race; more of the best, the most human, most honorable race the world possesses.”
“I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race. Just fancy those parts that are at present inhabited by the most despicable specimens of human beings what an alteration there would be if they were brought under Anglo-Saxon influence. … If there be a God, I think that what he would like me to do is paint as much of the map of Africa British Red as possible.”
Economic historian David Graeber teaches that this type of elitist thinking, one that sees the world as a competitive arena, where the goal of life becomes to amass as much power, wealth, and control over others as possible, is characteristic not only of the imperialist colonizers of yesteryear, but also, in a slightly altered form, in the modern corporation, which views its mission of “profit maximization” as the only necessity in life.
In the corporation, “ownership”, “management”, and “labor” are all compartmentalized into separate, competing camps, each vying for their own share of the economic pie, with “labor” often coming up with the short end of the stick. Meanwhile, the corporation shows no loyalty to anyone outside its inner network, with society as a whole being viewed as a resource to mine and profit off of.
Zooming out, Graeber writes that, despite the belief of modern economists, “it is the secret scandal of capitalism that at no point has it been organized primarily around free labor,” with debt peonage and wage labor being two of the primary mechanisms through which a state of permanent psychological division and physical subjugation is maintained within the social order.
Graeber further explains that it was the capitalist oligarchy of Europe, motivated by these types of considerations, who were first responsible for “the conquest of the Americas, which began with the mass enslavement (of the native Amerindian populations). (They) then gradually settled into various forms of debt peonage, African slavery, and ‘indentured service’ - that is, the use of contract labor: workers who had received cash in advance and were thus bound for five-, seven-, or ten-year terms to pay it back.”
This is actually how modern corporate capitalism begins, with a close relationship being evidenced between the old institution of “slavery” and the new institutions of “debt peonage” and “contract labor”.
Graeber points out that the indentured servants brought to America “were recruited largely from among people who were already debtors.” In fact, in the 1600s, there were at times almost as many white debtors as African slaves working in southern plantations, and legally they were at first in almost the exact same situation.”
Later, ”when African slaves were freed, they were replaced, on plantations from Barbados to Mauritius, with contract laborers again: though now ones recruited mainly from India or China: Chinese contract laborers built the North American railroad system, and Indian ‘coolies’ built the South African mines.”
Meanwhile, "colonial regimes in Africa and Southeast Asia regularly demanded forced labor from their conquered subjects, or, alternately, created tax systems designed to force the population into the labor market through debt.” For example, “British overlords in India, starting with the East India Company but continuing under Her Majesty’s government, institutionalized debt peonage as their primary means of (coercing the native population to create) products for sale abroad.”
As the central thesis of his book “Debt: the First 5,000 Years”, David Graeber points out that the psychology of debt is deeply woven into the perpetuation of slavery, both ancient (chattel slavery) and modern (debt peonage; contract labor).
Graeber writes that, in its modern form, “what makes debt (peonage) different (from traditional slavery) is that it is premised on an assumption of equality. In the case of debt, we are dealing with two individuals who begin as equal parties to a contract. Legally, at least as far as the contract is concerned, they are the same.”
But once the contract is forged, the creditor now occupies a superior legal position in relation to the debtor: the debtor is now in a state of dependency upon their counterpart. A process of psychological “othering” has taken place in other words, and the initial position of equality between the two has been violated.
From this perspective one might argue that chattel slavery is merely an extreme version of this dynamic.
“To be a slave, or lower caste, is to be intrinsically inferior. (Here,) we are dealing with relations of unadulterated hierarchy.” But, as Graeber argues in his book, to be a debtor is also to be intrinsically inferior.
Through the corruption of debt relations, oligarchs have been enabled to “maintain the institution of slavery long after it was officially abolished, with the new, modernized form of slavery re-emerging under the name ‘debt peonage’.”
Later, this legacy institution would be rebranded and modified once again, it now becoming the basis of “wage labor”.
As the elite capitalist oligarchs who were behind the spread of these institutions moved into the modern, industrial age, they began to see chattel slavery as being increasingly unviable from an economic standpoint.
Carroll Quigley points out that “no slave system has ever been able to continue to function on the slaves provided by its own biological reproduction because the rate of human reproduction is too slow and the expense from infant mortality and years of unproductive upkeep of the young make this prohibitively expensive.”
For this reason, the capitalist oligarchs of the industrial age preferred to see an updated version of the slave system take root, this coming first through the use of debt peonage (such as that implemented upon the Chinese laborers who built the American railroad system) and later through the system of wage labor that arose during the onset of the Industrial Revolution.
F. William Engdahl provides a tangible case study of the type of elitist thinking that was used to justify the West’s transition into this new form of economic slavery. This quote makes clear the link between the old system of chattel slavery and the new system of wage labor:
Engdahl writes that, “in 1862, in the early months of the American Civil War, a memo was discreetly circulated among England’s wealthy aristocrats and bankers. It stated the cold assessment of the banking powers of the City of London regarding events (taking place) in the United States.”
The memo states in clear terms: “Slavery is likely to be abolished by the war and all chattel slavery abolished. This I and my European friends are in favor of, for slavery is but the owning of labor and carries with it the care of the laborers, while the European plan, led on by England, is that capital shall control labor by controlling wages.”
For this reason, as David Graeber explains, “there is, and has always been, a curious affinity between wage labor and slavery, as both the relation between master and slave, and between employer and employee, are in principle impersonal.”
Because this idea of “impersonality” exists at the root of each institution, we find at each’s core a dehumanizing and “othering” pattern of psychology. This is clear with chattel slavery, but as Graeber points out, these themes are also prevalent within our modern system of wage labor.
He writes that “whether you’ve been sold or you’ve simply rented yourself out, the moment money changes hands, who you are is supposed to be unimportant; all that’s important is that you are capable of understanding orders and doing what you’re told.”
“This is a scandal … because it plays havoc with our most cherished assumptions about what capitalism really is - particularly that, in its basic nature, capitalism has something to do with freedom.”
“Our dominant image of the origins of capitalism continues to be the English workingman toiling in the factories of the industrial revolution, and this image can be traced forward to Silicon Valley, with a straight line in between. All those millions of slaves and serfs and coolies and debt peons disappear, or if we must speak of them, we write them off as temporary bumps along the road. Like sweatshops, this is assumed to be a stage that industrializing nations had to pass through.”
In sum, today, in the modern world order built by the oligarchies of the West, we no longer have the old institution of “master and slave”. Instead we have its descendants: “creditor and debtor” and “capital and labor”, with the creditor and debtor and “the boss and the employee being now fundamentally different sorts of people.”
I want to emphasize that the root of the problem is not that hierarchy is wrong or unnatural; in every form of human society that has ever existed, as in the natural world all around us, a pattern of social hierarchy can always be found.
Rather, our problem is that, with the rise of oligarchy as the dominant mode of human social governance, an unnatural form of social hierarchy is being maintained through the perpetuation of a false, yet deeply rooted, psychology of separation and division: of “othering” human beings, so that one group becomes seen as fundamentally separate from, and inferior to, another group.
Philosophy teaches us that this not the truth: that, at root, humans are not separate and different from one another. And therefore, while hierarchy may be a natural aspect of human life, it should never be enforced in an unnatural, dehumanizing, coercive way.
Along the evolutionary pathway that will in the end bring mankind toward its final destiny of universal enlightenment, human souls incarnate into the world at different stages of progression, both in terms of maturity and in terms what life experiences and soul powers they need to develop within a particular lifetime.
This situation naturally suggests a need for specialization and hierarchy to exist, as different human souls require different types of activities and experiences in order to fulfill their individual karma.
From the practical standpoint of social governance, there is a further need for specialization and hierarchy to exist: both are necessary to organize large groups into patterns of functional integration, where shared goals and projects can be collectively pursued between groups and persons performing different specialized roles.
But, in the process of forming large-scale collective enterprises, we must always remember that we are only separated and different from each other on a relative scale; no human being is innately better than or different from another, for the reason that the same spark of the divine Spirit that is in one person is actually within all persons.
The great challenge for us today is to establish a non-exploitive and non-competitive system of specialization and hierarchy, one that will allow us to form large, collective systems of social organization, where individuals can work together in specialized roles to accomplish large-scale social initiatives, while at the same time eliminating once and for all the psychology of division, separation, racism, and classism that has traditionally characterized our social orders.
There is only one way we will ever be able to accomplish this: through Philosophy. Philosophy teaches us to how to be both an individual and a citizen: a constructive participant in society.
Once again, Philosophy is the great need of our age. We need the Philosophic Empire. It is, as Manly Hall once put it, the only way we will be able to bring about a “golden age” from this “age of gold”.
16. Oil: a New Factor in Oligarchy’s Pursuit of Empire
The first century of the Industrial Revolution was fueled predominately by the energy provided by coal.
As Timothy Mitchell further explains in his book “Carbon Democracy,“ the rise of coal, made possible by the use of steam power to access seams of carbon deep underground, allowed for the development of large-scale manufacturing and the modern city. And out of that, mines, factories, and modern human life.”
Delving deeper into the background of this critical resource, Mitchell explains that “humans had exploited coal since ancient times, but only on a limited scale. The limit was set by the energy required to produce the fuel. … In Britain, where the shortage of timber increased the value of coal and a dense network of waterways was developed to lower the cost of its transportation, Newcomen's atmospheric-pressure steam engine overcame this limit.”
Steam engine technology was first developed in a crude form in 1712, with more efficient updates coming in 1775 and 1800. As a consequence of these innovations, a new, post-agrarian industrial age was made possible, with “steam power rising to replace animal and water power for both manufacturing and transportation.”
Soon, “these new pressure engines were combined with iron and coal to build steam railways, whose initial function was the carrying of coal. Abundant supplies of energy could now be moved in bulk from the coal pit to the nearest waterway or industrial plant, facilitating the switch from water-driven to steam-powered manufacturing.”
During the first century of the Industrial Age, coal was dominant, with petroleum initially playing a comparatively small part in the development of the emerging industrial economies of the West.
Mitchell explains that “before the twentieth century, the main use for petroleum was to provide artificial lighting, in the form of kerosene for oil lamps, and to supply lubricants for machinery. It was widely distributed, mostly in small amounts, and supplied in reusable metal cans to individual consumers.”
But then, around the dawn of the 20th century, “as the spread of electric lighting began to limit the growth in demand for kerosene in industrialized countries, oil companies were forced to look for new uses for their product. The solution was to convert oil from a means of illumination into a source of mechanical power.”
In the last decade of the 19th century, the oil industry found its big breakthrough: the development of the internal combustion engine, which “gave oil a use for which it had no readily available substitute.”
In his book “Myths, Lies, and Oil Wars”, geopolitical historian F. William Engdahl informs us that, during the 1890s, “a German engineer named Adolf Diesel transformed world politics and the world economy by inventing an (oil-fueled) internal combustion engine that was up to 500% more efficient than traditional coal-powered steam engines used in naval ships.”
Within two decades of this achievement, “the petroleum-fueled motorization of the world’s major navies and armies had begun”. As a consequence of this shift, “the most profound transformation of world power since the invention of the steam engine two centuries earlier” took place. A new mode of warfare had emerged, and in this new age petroleum was to play a key role.
In the future, entire wars would be fought over access to and control over this now-precious commodity. Without it, the machinery of modern war could not operate. Therefore, if you wanted to be major player in world geopolitics, as the British, Germans, and Americans were all vying to be, then you had to be major player in the burgeoning oil industry.
In short, “motorized transport began to dramatically change the nature of war, and petroleum was the fuel that drove the revolution in modern warfare.”
Engdahl demonstrates how the First World War made this point clear. He notes that “when Britain entered the war, it had only about 800 motor vehicles, most of which had been requisitioned from private citizens. (But) by the end of the war, Britain had 56,000 trucks and 36,000 cars. France had 70,000 trucks and 12,000 airplanes. In addition, the United States shipped over 50,000 motorized vehicles to Europe and, within a year and a half, built some 15,000 airplanes.”
In this way, it “became clear to leading political and military circles in London and Washington that control of major oil resources was the key to a power’s future military success. Conversely, denial of control over oil resources could defeat a potential enemy even more effectively than guns.”
Given the critical importance of oil to the war-making capacity of empires in the Industrial Age, gaining monopolistic control over this burgeoning industry came to be seen as a vital strategic necessity for national security.
Consequently, the foreign policy elite in England, America, and Germany, the three aspirants to world hegemony, worked closely with their oil corporations in the effort of winning centralized monopolistic control over all aspects of the oil business: from production, to transportation, to end-use consumption.
This new national security strategy was a boon to the financial interests of the oil corporations, who, as is typical in any industry, “always sought to avoid competition” by gaining monopolistic control over the market, for the simple reason that “competing with rival firms over prices or market share destroyed profits and threatened a company with ruin.”
Given certain innate differences between coal and oil in terms of their end-to-end supply chains, coal was relatively easy for the western oligarchs to gain monopolistic control over, while oil presented a variety of new challenges that had to be overcome.
As Timothy Mitchell explains, “in the case of coal, the high cost of transporting supplies across oceans ensured that producers faced competition only within their own region. They avoided competition either by forming cartels, as in France, Germany, and the United States, or by creating organizations to regulate prices and production, such as the postwar European and Steel Community.”
But “oil companies faced a much larger difficulty in avoiding competition. With the advent of the bulk oil tanker in the 1890s, it was no longer enough to control production and distribution in only one region. Since oil could travel easily between continents, petroleum companies were always vulnerable to the arrival of cheaper oil from elsewhere.”
Therefore, in order to monopolize access to oil - now, a key resource for war-making - the major imperial nations of the day, working in association with their oil corporations, “sought to restrict supply, limit the flow of energy, and enhance control.”
The imperial powers of the day understood that, by establishing a cartelized monopoly on the oil industry, they could control the oil supply, picking where and in what quantities it was to flow. In the process, great profits could be attained by the oil corporations, while the war-making capacity of the nations behind these corporations would be ensured, something that was good for national security.
In this way, the oil trade came to be seen as a vital issue for the imperially-minded oligarchs running the show in Britain, America, and Germany. Consequently, in the eyes of the American foreign policy establishment, “what was good for Standard Oil was good for America”.
It is no mystery, then, why, during this period, we see the rise of the Rockefellers as major players in US foreign policy. The rise of Standard Oil and the emergence of America as a global imperial power during the early decades of the twentieth century are two events which align exactly: they go hand in hand.
The grand strategy of the Rockefellers, working in cahoots with the American national security establishment, was based around a three-point strategy for ensuring their joint monopoly over the global oil trade:
a) “Place themselves in control of the conduits, processing points, and bottlenecks through which oil had to flow”;
b) “Restrict the development of rival channels, beginning with oil wells themselves”; and
c) “To use their command of obligatory passage points to convert the flow of oil into profits.” (Mitchell)
Additionally, Standard Oil and their allies in the American Deep State sought to further institutionalize this new oil paradigm, solidifying it into permanent existence, by subsidizing and building out a domestic oil-based transportation economy, tearing out the old coal-driven network of trains and street car lines and replacing them with an oil-dependent system of roads, interstates, and automobiles.
Meanwhile, American oil corporations, along with their British and German counterparts, each working in conjunction with the militaries of their respective countries, became deeply involved in the politics of the Middle East, where massive oil reserves had been found.
For the oil cartels to ensure their monopolistic control over the industry, the sovereignty of Middle Eastern nations had to be subjugated and their peoples brought under the political and economic rulership of the western oligarchs.
If the magnificent oil reserves of the Middle East were allowed to be developed openly and freely by the native peoples and nations of the region, it would collapse the economics of the monopoly the oil cartels and their imperial Deep State backers were trying to establish.
Therefore, western oil corporations, supported covertly with military assistance, sought to, in the Middle East, “take advantage of the distance that separated these places from those countries where most of the oil was consumed.” This they did by developing the ability “to act at both ends of that separation, maintain or block the conduits that connected the two ends, and do all this with the help of narrowly focused political and military support.” (Mitchell)
One of the main tactics that the oil cartels used to maintain control over the oil resources of foreign regions was the classic strategy of “divine and conquer”.
As Timothy Mitchell further explains, “the use of ethnic divisions to organize oil production became common”: with extremist cults on either side of an ethnic division receiving illicit funding and arms supplies from the Deep State. Warring against each other, these ethnic divisions served to politically neutralize the population, while also killing off any organized populist motion that may arise to unite the people in the effort of nationalizing and socializing the oil wealth of their countries.
In the end, through the Middle East, US, British, and German-backed monarchs and tyrants would be promoted and put into power. These puppet regimes, dependent on outside military support to maintain their position of power, would agree to sell off their oil rights to imperial institutions like Standard Oil, who could then, with their monopoly power preserved, increase or decrease production as they saw fit.
In this manner, as F. William Engdahl writes, the oil cartels, which in time came increasingly to be dominated by American corporations like Standard Oil, who worked in close association with the financial interests and military powers behind the American Deep State, had developed a “mechanism for controlling the price of the world’s most valuable commodity at key periods without regard to the traditional laws of supply and demand. That opened huge new potentials to use oil as a weapon of economic warfare.”
This dynamic helps explain the underlying causes behind the First World War: in many ways, it can be viewed as the first in a series of “oil wars” which would take place throughout the 20th century.
Engdahl explains that, in its bid to maintain its global maritime empire, by 1905 “the British Royal Navy was on the verge of converting its entire fleet from coal to the more efficient oil-fired engines.” As a consequence of this transition, for the British oligarchy “securing strategic oil resources had become a matter of the highest national security. ”
For this reason, the Brits viewed it as an great existential threat that, six years earlier, their European rival, Germany, guided by its scion of industrial capitalism, Georg von Sieman, had signed an agreement with Ottoman Turkey for “for the construction of a railroad linking Berlin to the far reaches of the Ottoman Empire in Mesopotamia — what is today Iraq.”
As Engdahl further elaborates, “the German-Ottoman agreement assured final construction of the Berlin-Baghdad Railway and with it, exclusive rights to mineral resources along the railway extending for twenty kilometers on both sides — thus shattering England’s plan to bring Mesopotamia, with its strategic location and its oil, under exclusive British influence.”
Engdahl points to this German initiative as the true catalyst for World War I, writing that “the German-Ottoman strategic linkup, more than any other factor, threatened essential British strategic interests on the eve of the Great War. ”
British actions after the war confirm this to be the case: under the final Versailles peace settlement, forged in 1919, the defeated Germany was forced to give up the rights they had previously negotiated for development of the Baghdad Railway and the oil and mineral rights in the regions surrounding it. After the war, these vital strategic assets were instead designated to a hybrid British-French-Italian company: the three allied nations who had together, with American help, won the war.
As a result of this course of events, during the interwar period, England rose to become, for a time, the lead controller over the world’s most promising petroleum deposits, with front corporations like BP holding rights to develop oil in Persia, Kuwait, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. As Engdahl further explains, “throughout the Middle East following the Great War, the key strategic player was British Petroleum (BP), then called Anglo-Persian. In 1914 the British Government took a controlling 51% ownership of the company as a strategic asset, to secure oil for its Navy and its military forces.”
Altogether, this situation has lead Engdahl and others to conclude that “the Great War had, in significant respects, been the first war over control of oil.”
17. Democratic Politics in the Industrial Age
Before the Industrial Age became dominant during the 19th century, already a great contest between democracy and oligarchy was taking place within Western civilization.
The 18th century’s Age of Revolutions, carried out during the last vestiges of the agrarian age, had fought against the two dominant power structures of the Middle Ages - the Church and its monarchies - and won. But almost as soon as their victory was claimed, a third Adversary came in to exert its power and influence: oligarchy.
By means of its favored system of “financial capitalism”, this oligarchy swept in and took control of the newly established nation states of the West, hollowing out their democratic institutions in favor of rulership by an elite network of capitalist oligarchs, who, by controlling monetary wealth, controlled the fate of nations and peoples.
This contest between oligarchy and democracy began taking place during the agrarian era, before the rise of the Industrial Age and the transformation of the West’s energy, manufacturing, and urban economies that it entailed.
When the new urbanized, industrial economic order was established, it changed the dynamic of democratic politics in the imperial nations who were responsible for implementing it.
In some ways, the Industrial Revolution provided the western oligarchies with new methods for suppressing and controlling populist opposition to their policies. But in other ways, the opposite was true: the energy supply chains that supported the new urbanized industrial age made the capitalist oligarchs who ruled it more vulnerable to the rising influence of populist labor movements. Through the coordination of labor strikes and industrial sabotage, populist leaders could now exert a devastating and potentially crippling impact on the “new world order” being established by western imperialists.
In “Carbon Democracy”, Timothy Mitchell explains that “like energy from fossil fuels, democratic politics is a recent phenomenon. The development of the two kinds of power has been interwoven from the start,” for the reason that “it was the movement of concentrated stores of carbon energy that provided the means for assembling effective democratic claims.”
In his book, Mitchell explains how the energy economy of the Industrial Age transformed the public’s capacity to fight against the oligarchy that had parasitically invaded their democratic societies.
He writes how the initial rise of coal (and later, that of oil) made possible “the development of large-scale manufacturing and the modern city,” and from this new institutional order “emerged the forces that struggled for democracy.”
Therefore, in the industrial age, a new form of ”modern mass politics was made possible by the development of ways of living that used energy on a new scale.”
As Mitchell further explains, “the constantly accelerating supply of energy altered human relationships in space and time in ways that were to enable new forms of mass politics.”
In this new era, “people forged successful political demands by acquiring a power of action from within the new energy system (itself). They assembled themselves into a political machine using its processes of operation.”
In his writing, Mitchell points out that the new energy technologies of the industrial era, while powerful, would only become actually impactful if new types of activities could be developed that could put this power to use.
He explains that “coal made available thermal and mechanical energy in unprecedented quantity and concentration, but this energy was of no benefit unless there were ways to put it to work.”
As we previously explored, the new energy economy was becoming vitally important to military operations, so this was one way it could be “put to work”. But what about in peacetime?
To solidify and institutionalize the new energy era into place, the oligarchs needed to re-engineer the domestic industries and economies of the nations they controlled so as to make them dependent on the new energy paradigm that they held monopolistic control over.
In the case of oil, by transforming their domestic economies to become reliant on it in transportation, manufacturing, and other ways, economies of scale were enabled to develop in the oil industry. This made utilizing oil for warfare purposes more economic.
In the age of “great power politics”, making such a transition rendered a competitive military advantage to those nations best able to accomplish it.
Hence, we find the industrial age develop most rapidly within those nations where imperial ambitions had taken root most deeply.
Overall, for the oligarchy, there were many benefits to be gained in making the transition into the new industrial age But at the same time, this transition also opened them up to certain new vulnerabilities.
Mitchell points out that the energy-dependent industrial economies of the West became particularly vulnerable to uprising and strikes lead by democratic populists. “In protest against the exclusion of the majority from public life and against the great inequalities in well-being that industrialization had brought,” these populists worked to engineer mass political movements, ones backed by the threat of mass labor strikes.
For this reason, “the period of transformation that followed, from the 1870s to the First World War, has been called both the age of democratization and the age of empire.” The mobilization of the types of populist and labor-oriented political movements that characterized this era depended both upon the concentration of population in cities and in industries like manufacturing, and also on the ability of labor leaders to target key vulnerabilities in the energy supply chains fueling the industrial development of western nations.
It was during the early, coal-based days of the Industrial Revolution, before oil came into prominence, that the initial era of populist labor uprisings first emerged. And during this early era, the democratic movements began claiming important victories, winning important rights for the labor classes involved with running and operating the new industrial economy.
Mitchell explains that, with the coming of the industrial era, “a much smaller part of the population now handled the production and distribution of energy, and they handled it in huge quantities” in a relative few number of key sites. This situation gave worker groups a certain amount of power: they had the ability to band together to exert a powerful political pressure upon the capitalist oligarchs running the system.
“The concentration of energy supplies in large amounts at specific sites (such as in central and northern England; in Europe along the belt running from northern France through Belgium and into Prussia; and in the Appalachian coal belt in North America) led to the creation of an apparatus (around) which the democratic politics of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries would be built.”
With the rise of the new industrial economy in these regions, we find “great volumes of energy now flowing along narrow, purpose-built channels. Specialized bodies of workers were concentrated at the end-points and main junctions of these conduits. … Their position and concentration gave them opportunities, at certain moments, to forge new kinds of political power.”
In these regions, the laborers who carried out the “water and rail networks that moved concentrated carbon stores from underground coal mines to the surface, to railways, to ports, to cities, and to sites of manufacturing and electric power generation” doubled as the champions of democracy and workers rights for the people.
The power that the populist labor movements rising in these regions leveraged to win concessions were “derived not just from the organizations they formed, the ideas they began to share, or the political alliances they built, but … by employing the ability to slow, disrupt or cut off (the energy) supply.”
As Mitchell further explains, “the rise of large industry had exposed populations to extraordinary forms of social insecurity, physical risk, overwork, and destitution. But the concentration and movement of coal required to drive those industrial processes had created a vulnerability.” In these areas, “workers were gradually connected together not so much by the weak ties of a class culture, collective ideology, or political organization, but by the increasing and highly concentrated quantities of carbon energy they mined, loaded, carried, stoked, and put to work.”
As a consequence of this dynamic, “coordinated acts of interrupting, slowing down, or diverting its movement created a decisive political machinery, a new form of collective capability built out of coal mines, railways, power stations, and their operators. More than a mere social movement, this socio-technical agency was put to work for a series of democratic claims whose gradual implementation radically reduced the precariousness of life in industrial societies.”
18. Strategic Factors in the Global Energy Trade
During the onset of the industrial era, in the decades preceding the onset of World War I, labor politics became one of the key factors confronting British, American, and German imperialists.
To give an example of the way America’s oligarchical elite thought about this issue, if we reference back to the 1902 speech of Brooks Adams, a key American imperialist of the era (who we first mentioned in a previous article), he indicates clearly that the labor politics underlying the country’s emerging industrial economy was a major threat to the American oligarchy’s ambitions for world empire.
As we quoted in that earlier article, Adams stated in his speech that “the United States now occupies a position of extraordinary strength. Favored alike by geographical position, by deposits of minerals, by climate, and by the character of her people…” But what I left out in that original quote was his concluding statement: that American corporations were well positioned to dominate the new world order, with one caveat: “provided the friction created by the movement of the masses with which she has to deal does not neutralize her energy.”
Adams then follows this statement up by emphasizing the type of “social Darwinistic” attitude that has become characteristic of modern oligarchy: that America’s “corporations and the men who rise to the control of these corporations rise because they are the fittest. The process is natural selection.”
Challenging this elitist viewpoint was the populist uprisings of the labor unions and upstart democratic movements.
As Thomas Mitchell further explains, over the course of the industrial age, coal miners had “played a leading role in contesting work regimes and the private powers of employers”, which they accomplished through labor activism and political mobilization.
“The militancy that formed in these workplaces was typically an effort to defend (worker) autonomy against the threats of mechanization, or against the pressure to accept more dangerous work practices, longer working hours, or lower rates of pay.”
And it was “the flow and concentration of energy (that) made it possible to connect the demands of miners to those of other (like-minded groups), giving their arguments a technical force that could not easily be ignored.”
In his 1902 speech, Brooks Adams was therefore right to worry about “the movement of the masses”, for the reason that, at that period, “the power of miner-led strikes appeared unprecedented … (It formed a powerful) means of fighting for the right to unionize and for improvements in working conditions.” (Mitchell)
The most common pattern for populist claims to be made was “for strikes to spread through the interconnected industries of coal mining, railways, docking, and shipping.”
One example of this came in Britain, where “the miners, railwaymen, and transport workers organized three great national strikes in 1911-12, formalizing their relationship in the Triple Alliance created on the eve of the First World War.”
Overall, Mitchell informs us that “between the 1880s and the interwar decades, workers in the industrialized countries of Europe and North America used their new powers over energy flows to acquire or extend the right to vote and, more importantly, the right to form labor unions, to create political organizations, and to take collective action including strikes.”
Through these means, “workers acquired the right to an eight-hour day and to social insurance programs, including provisions against industrial accidents, sickness and unemployment, as well as to public pensions in retirement.”
In some cases, these labor-driven campaigns enabled populist-oriented political parties to win power for the first time.
It also allowed for other social movements to piggyback off their success, including those associated with oppressed racial minorities and gender groups. For example, “the emergent women's movements fought against the exclusion of women from public political life, sometimes with the support of socialist parties, and gradually forced the granting of voting rights to women.”
The debilitating threat of a general workers strike put large industrial employers - and the banking oligarchs and military agencies behind them - on the defensive.
During the War period, Mitchell explains that “the number of (total) strikes was reduced, but the critical role of these energy networks became more visible. … From the West Virginia coal strikes of 1919 to the German general strike of 1920 and the British general strike of 1926, the coordination of industrial action by mine workers, dockers, and railwaymen reaffirmed their new power to shut down energy nodes.”
Meanwhile, “the War undermined political orders everywhere, in many cases bringing new populist forces to power. In central and eastern Europe these forces overthrew the old order.” But in western Europe and the US, the decision was made to accommodate labor, at least in a limited way.
Mitchell points out that the Rockefellers and their imperial allies in the US national security state together formulated a plan for strategically accommodating the populist forces that rose to challenge their hegemony, one that would be widely copied in the interwar period.
The basis of this plan was to allow for the creation of formally recognized company unions, which “allowed workers to negotiate over pay and working conditions, while preventing them from joining independent unions.”
The “large American firms portrayed the new company unions and other forms of worker representation as 'industrial democracy’.” But in reality, their promotion of corporate benevolence and welfare was used as a method of systematically weakening union power and organized labor. Often, “labor movements in the US and other countries fought against the paternalism” of this oligarchy-controlled industrial welfare system.
Mitchell points out how certain differences in the industrial supply chain of oil, when compared to that of coal, gave Rockefeller’s Standard Oil and its peers an increased amount of protection from and leverage over the political contestations of labor.
This leverage was the basis by which they were able to implement their top-down industrial welfare scheme, allowing them the opportunity to institute a watered down model of “corporate welfare”, while in the process neutralizing the threat of any deeper and more fundamental change to the structure of the industry, which many populist leaders had been demanding.
Regarding oil’s supply chain, Mitchell explains that, in comparison with coal, “oil was produced using distinctive methods” and it was “transported over longer and often more flexible routes.” Furthermore, “its production required a smaller workforce than coal in relation to the quantity of energy produced. And workers remained above ground, closer to the supervision of managers.”
In addition, because its fuel occurs in liquid form, pumping stations and pipelines could replace railways and, overall, the work of transporting it could be done with less human labor. And while oil pipelines were still vulnerable to sabotage, they could be patched up relatively quickly, unlike the rail networks that coal transport relied on.
Mitchell also notes that the “fluidity and relative lightness of oil made it feasible to ship it in large quantities across oceans.” This provided the oil supply chain increased insulation from potential sabotage schemes of the labor advocates.
As Mitchell points out, “compared to carrying coal by rail, moving oil by sea eliminated the labor of coal heavers and stokers, and thus the power of organized workers to withdraw their labor from a critical point in the energy system. “ This had the effect of “weakening the powers of local forces that tried to control sites of energy production.”
Furthermore, because of the oil supply chain’s flexibility, “if a labor strike, for example, or the nationalization of an industry affected one production site, oil tankers could be quickly rerouted to supply oil from alternative sites.” In the case of coal, this could not so easily be done.
Delving further into the differences in supply chain processes between coal and oil, Mitchell writes that “whereas the movement of coal tended to follow dendritic networks, with branches at each end but a single main channel, creating potential choke points at several junctures, oil flowed along networks that often had the properties of a grid, like an electricity network, where there is more than one possible path and the flow of energy can switch to avoid blockages or overcome breakdowns.”
“These changes in the way energy was extracted, transported, and used made (oil) networks less vulnerable to the political claims of those whose labor kept them running.”
Therefore, "unlike the movement of coal, the flow of oil could not readily be assembled into a machine that enabled large numbers of people to exercise novel forms of political power.”
As a yet additional factor that oil brought to the “grand chessboard” of competitive geopolitics, Mitchell points out that “transoceanic shipping operated beyond the territorial spaces governed by the labor regulations and other democratic rights won in the era of widespread coal and railway strikes.”
Through this mechanism of transnational shipping, oil companies could play states and nations against each other, giving their business to whatever government was most willing to clamp down on its domestic labor movements.
In this way, the western oligarchs found an effective mechanism of economic warfare to use against the labor class, exerting through business means a concentrated form of political pressure that, in previous eras, would have required soldiers and the threat of physical violence to achieve.
Now, through economic warfare and other “soft power” tactics, nations and peoples could be coerced into accepting the dictates of imperial oligarchs, who decided where, when, and how the oil was to flow.
19. The Rise of the Rockefellers within the American Deep State
Given the vital role that the oil industry came to play in the “great power politics” of the early-to-mid 20th century, it is perhaps unsurprising that the Rockefeller family, owner of the giant Standard Oil cartel and its subsidiary bank, Chase Bank of New York, would, over the course of this period, come to assume a position of rising importance and influence within America’s imperial Deep State establishment.
F. William Engdahl explains that “by the end of the 1890’s, Morgan and Rockefeller had become the giants of an increasingly powerful Money Trust controlling American industry and government policy, … accumulating and consolidating vast fortunes largely through fraud, bribery of public officials and Congress, corruption, forced bankruptcies, and other ‘noble’ practices.”
Delving deeper into the background of the Rockefeller dynasty in particular, Timothy Mitchell explains that his Standard Oil empire, using the types of corrupt tactics Engdahl referenced above, “built its domination of the American oil market by first monopolizing the refining industry, then controlling pipelines and shipping routes, and finally taking charge of distribution, replacing independent importers and wholesalers with Standard's own worldwide networks of storage tanks, horse drawn carriages, and reusable tin cans.”
As end-to-end monopolist of the global oil trade, a factor of critical importance to the imperial ambitions of the American nation, it is little wonder that Rockefeller became one of the central players in the rise of a 20th century Pax Americana.
In his book “Seeds of Destruction”, F. William Engdahl offers further elaboration on the spectacular rise of Rockefeller and his peer JP Morgan, America’s two foremost oligarchs and imperialists.
He writes that, “in their rise to unprecedented heights of power, the Morgan and Rockefeller interests deployed fraud, deceit, violence, and bribery.”
They also conspired together to engineer financial panics, which they “brought about through their calculated control of financial markets and banking credit, allowing them and their closest allies to consolidate ever more power into fewer and fewer hands. It was this concentration of financial power within an elite few wealthy families that created an American plutocracy or, more accurately, an American oligarchy.”
Elaborating on the meaning of the term “oligarchy”, Engdahl informs us that Aristotle had originally coined the term “to describe rule by the wealthiest families, where voting power in the state was related to the size of a family’s fortune.”
Applying this concept to America, Engdahl writes that “whether it was called an oligarchy or a plutocracy — government by a wealthy class — the real power in the spectacular rise of the American Century at the end of the 1890s did not rest democratically in the hands of the majority of citizens. … (Instead), power, together with control over the nation’s economy, was being ruthlessly centralized in the hands of the wealthy few, every bit as much as it had been in the days of Imperial Rome.”
The American oligarchy, centered in the rise of powerful industrial and banking corporations linked closely to America’s national security establishment, “used its immense economic power, often secretly and in coordinated fashion, to orchestrate events that generated waves of bankruptcies and severe economic depressions, even panics. (It) cynically corrupted and co-opted state legislatures, governors, US Congressmen, judges, newspaper editors, and even Presidents to serve their private interests. Those interests were served by wars their captive press helped trigger, wars from which that oligarchy profited while thousands (and even millions) of young Americans perished for causes they knew nothing about.”
This oligarchy, run primarily by a cartel of banking and corporate interests surrounding the Morgan and Rockefeller camps, fused with certain elements of the American national security establishment, becoming the basis of what some geopolitical analysts today term the “Deep State”.
In his book “American War Machine”, Peter Dale Scott, one of the pioneers of this concept, writes that “the potentially larger condition of a shadow government, or a state within a state, is what we may call the deep state phenomenon.”
In explaining the idea, he cites Father Javier Giraldo, who described how such a “deep state” functioned within the context of Columbian politics: “The Colombian state is contradictory. It tries to fulfill two functions. On the one hand it’s a violent, discriminatory institution that must favor a small wealthy minority. Even basic necessities are denied to the great majority of its people. By its very nature, at its core, it is not democratic. On the other hand, in public discourse it presents itself as a state based on law, one that respects and implements justice, human rights norms, democratic laws.”
Geraldo then asks “how do government functionaries manage this contradiction? They maintain a duality: the parastate, a structure that is illegal and clandestine, increasingly takes over the dirty work, the repression. It doesn’t appear to be part of the state. For many years now Colombia’s government has been creating and maintaining these structures, (with) the legal, constitutional structure existing parallel to structures of a parastate and paramilitary” - i.e. a “deep state”.
Let’s pause here for a moment and think back to our previous discussion of the psychology of the “Shadow”. Is this not a perfect description of its manifestation in a real world context?
Offering further elaboration on this “deep state” concept, Peter Dale Scott references the idea of “deep politics”, which is “the constant, everyday interaction between the constitutionally elected government and subterranean forces of violence — forces of crime — that appear to be the enemies of that government.”
As an example, he cites the CIA, which, “for most of its existence, operated under a secret exemption from legal review of its actions.” Often, legal exemptions also applied to the corporate fronts that CIA agents and assets worked through. Through vehicles such as these, “one can say that … the public state had been encroached on and eventually weakened by a deeper force.”
To give an example of this pattern of relationship at work, Scott asks us to consider “the American company Aramco, representing a consortium of the oil majors Esso, Mobil, Socal, and Texaco.” This cartel “conducted its own foreign policy in Arabia, with private connections to the CIA and FBI.” Later, in coordination with the CIA, Aramco funded, as a means to consolidate US control of the Middle East oil trade, “not only the Saudi monarchy but also its creation the World Muslim League, which in turn fostered Wahhabism, Islamism, and the forces of al-Qaeda through the world.”
Turning our attention back to the rise of the Rockefellers as key players within the American Deep State, we note that the rapid ascendancy of Standard Oil, the centerpiece of the Rockefellers wealth, coincides exactly with the invention of the combustion engine and the realization by the imperial geostrategists of Britain, America, and Germany that control over the oil industry was going to become a dominant aspect of military warfare in future wars.
Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, linked with the Federal Reserve and imperial “deep state” institutions like the CIA, congealed together to form a potent artillery of economic warfare weaponry, one that would become the centerpiece of the American oligarchy’s plans for world empire.
As a consequence of this situation, Morgan and Rockefeller became not only the wealthiest individuals in the world, but also the most powerful driving forces behind the formulation of American Empire.
It was Morgan, Rockefeller, and their fellow Wall Street banking oligarchs who together set forth the foundations of America’s imperial grand strategy, founding critical Deep State policy-making institutions like the Council on Foreign Relations as part of this process.
Delving further into the background of the CFR, Engdahl informs us that it “had been established in May 1919, in the days of the Versailles Peace conference, in an exclusive meeting at the Paris Hotel Majestic by leading representatives of the J.P. Morgan bank, including Thomas Lamont, together with representatives of the Rockefellers' Standard Oil group, and other select persons including Woodrow Wilson's adviser, Col. Edward House. They met together with equally select British friends, mostly members of Cecil Rhodes' secretive Round Table group, to discuss establishing a private network of institutes to advise their respective governments on foreign affairs.”
The House of Morgan, as America’s lead international financier of the day and as the monopolist owner of the US’s strategically important steel and railroad industries, appears to have been the initial scion of the American oligarchy and its plan for world empire.
But in time, as the 20th century progressed into its third decade, this situation would gradually change, with the Rockefellers rising to replace Morgan as the American oligarchy’s key power player.
Due to the vital strategic role that the oil industry would come to play in America’s great geopolitical battle against Britain and Germany, Rockefeller and his descendants would, over the course of the 20s and 30s, would eventually come to displace Morgan as the most influential players in American geopolitics.
The rise in influence of the Rockefeller Dynasty within America’s foreign policy establishment is an event that would, over the course of the 20th century, come to have an incredibly large influence on the trajectory of modern civilization’s development.
Actually, the importance of this turn of events cannot be understated. Over the course of the next several articles in this series, we will be exploring in detail why this is the case, while also looping back around to investigate a largely overlooked component of JP Morgan’s legacy that may have secretly been imparted into the American Deep State right at the outset of its first beginnings.
Stay tuned for the rest of the articles in this series, where I will be laying out the components of this story in detail. This is a retelling of modern history you won’t want to miss.
Thanks for reading The Wisdom Tradition! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.