Gulbenkian philanthropy and imperialism

Louis Proyect wrote:

I am also very interested in the whys and wherefores of Gulbenkian funding of the Fernand Braudel Center at the Binghamton campus of New York State University. The Gulbenkians, superrich Portugese oilmen, have been accused by people in Macao of stealing their wealth and giving it away to high-minded projects in the West for public relations purposes.

Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian (1869-1955) was not Portuguese. He was a big oil tycoon from Armenian origins. He was born in Istambul into a family that owned the exclusive of Baku oil sells to Turkey. He studied in London and actually became a British citizen. He founded the Irak Petroleum Company in 1920. The man was absolutely L-O-A-D-E-D. And he loved the arts.

He came to Portugal during WWII and stayed here until he passed away. At the urgings of his Portuguese lawyer Azeredo Perdigao, he instituted the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisboa. The foundation has a huge patrimony (museums, libraries, theaters, etc.). It also has some secure revenue in oil transactions. It grants scholarships and finances a vast array of cultural events. For Portuguese standards it's a very big institution, almost a state within the state. A nephew of the old tycoon still sits at the board of directors but the institution is dominated by Portuguese professors and other art loving gentlemen. It's general political orientation can be considered "liberal" in the American sense.

I had no idea that Gulbenkian was funding the Fernand Braudel Center. I have recently translated Wallerstein's 'Historical Capitalism' and 'Capitalist Civilization' into Portuguese (I did it for the money), and that has put me in brief contact, by letter and e-mail, with the Professor in Binghamton.

I don't like his present outlook (Jim Heartfield must positively hate it). He says capitalism has brought nothing good to humanity. We were much, much better in the Ancient Regime. He dismisses the role of the working class as an agent of change and puts his hope on a complex gathering of "anti-systemic" movements. He is a multi-culturalist. He says we have a chance of overcoming capitalism and making the transition to a more "egalitarian" society. For that, he uses some pedantic analogies with "hard" science models that should secure him a place in Alan Sokal's black list.

However, the man clearly has had a fairly decent political history (mainly regarding the African nationalist movement in the 60's and 70's) and must be considered a progressive scholar and "compagnon de route". Let him go to Cuba. After all, hasn't pope Woytila been there also (and now he is condemning the NATO strikes in Yugoslavia).

This system is producing enemies and discontents of many origins. We, Marxists, should be able to lead a movement composed of a vast and variegated gathering of them. Some, of course, will never join us in our efforts. Nonetheless, they too are weakening the system's resistance in some way, at some point.

It's a work of wrath and patience.

Joćo Paulo Monteiro