Unidentified Flying Nazis

The following is an excerpt (without footnotes) from Michael Barker’s just-published book The Occult Elite: Anti-Communist Paranoia and Other Ruling-Class Delusions (2022) which is available to purchase for just $10.

It was published by CounterPunch here

The Givers That Take

Advance Praise

“If only everyone were as deeply concerned with the power and greed of philanthro-capitalists as is trade unionist, socialist, and author Michael Barker. This damning and eye-opening volume provides a wide-ranging synthetic analysis of what’s wrong with billionaire philanthropy, how it perpetuates poverty, inequality, and resource and power asymmetries, and how it jeopardizes people’s health and well-being, from coopting labor activism to ensuring Big Pharma profits during the Covid-19 pandemic.” — Anne-Emanuelle Birn, Professor of Global Development Studies, University of Toronto. Her books include Marriage of Convenience: Rockefeller International Health and Revolutionary Mexico and Oxford’s Textbook of Global Health

“In this important book Barker explains how radical reformers have compromised their missions by accepting foundation funding and/or elite understandings of social problems. It includes a timely section in which he argues that Bill Gates, the World Health Organization, and pharmaceutical corporations have steered the COVID response in ways that do not promote the best interests of humanity.” — Joan Roelofs, Professor Emerita of Political Science, author of Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (SUNY Press, 2003).

“Scholar and labor organizer Michael Barker is one of the leading authorities worldwide on so-called philanthro-capitalism. His new book builds on his earlier magisterial study, Under the Mask of Philanthropy. It examines a wide range of instances around the world in which the ruling classes have operated through philanthropic foundations to cement their rule by co-opting into the capitalist fold radical movements for social and political change. This is a must read for all those who wish to understand how global capitalism constructs its hegemony. Brilliantly researched, written with great clarity and urgency, this book is an essential tool in the struggle for social justice around the world.” — William I. Robinson, Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Global and International Studies, author of The Global Police State (Pluto Press, 2020).

“In this sequel to his Under the Mask of Philanthropy (2017), union and socialist activist Michael Barker provides a hard hitting and well researched critique of how foundations, such as that of the Gates family, continue to set a policy agenda that maintains the world capitalist system with all its inequitable outcomes for the most disadvantaged. The book has the attractive feature of being very current in examining how powerful philanthropic actors have shaped responses to COVID-19 that benefit Big Pharma rather than the global many. Other chapters document the ‘cooling-out’ function that older foundations (Rockefeller and Ford) played in moderating the radicalism of the United Farm Workers and black power movements in the United States, as well as that of German philanthropies (e.g., the German Social Democrats Friedrich Ebert Foundation) in mitigating the radicalism of trade unions opposing the plundering of the mineral resources of Nigeria. Barker, throughout the book, poses collective social action inspired by ‘Alternate Socialism’ as the principal counterweight to the ravages of capitalism and as the path forward to more just and democratic societies.” — Robert F. Arnove, is Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus of Education, editor of Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad (GK Hall, 1980).

“Barker presents a thorough unmasking of the ideological pretensions of philanthropic foundations and a masterful exposition of their role in reproducing capitalist hegemony.” — Peter Seybold, Associate Professor of Sociology, contributor to Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad.

The Givers That Take represents a highly informative, wide-ranging, and highly critical assessment of US philanthropic foundations. This important book should be widely read.” — Professor Inderjeet Parmar


Marxists have a realistic view of humanity. We believe that history is replete with examples demonstrating that our species strongest instinctual urges move us in the direction of cooperation not violence. To put it simply, humans are more prone to give than to take. At the same time, Marxists understand that a small clique of self-centred individuals, the ruling-class, use their power to undermine our ability to work together and help one another. Hence socialists continue to organize collectively to fight for improvements in our classes daily living conditions with the aim of running society in a way that embraces the positive not the negative aspects of human nature.

With the advent of technologically advanced societies that by their nature are highly interdependent on one another, capitalisms survival, now more than ever, relies upon our division: hence the need for ruling-class propagandists to relentlessly emphasize our brutal natures to the exclusion of our caring habits. Elites repeat ad Infinium that there is no alternative to their preferred capitalist system – a bankrupt political and economic system that asserts the dominion of profit making over all other human priorities. Thus, to justify this nonsense they repeatedly assert that their preferred capitalist system is well adapted to harnessing humanities true biological inclinations which they characterize as being dominated by aggression and competition.

Yet it is the cooperative actions of mutual aid that remain the habits that best define the day-to-day lives of ordinary people, and it for this reason that the ruling-class are forced to work so hard to suppress such emancipatory instincts. This everpresent fear of our collective power remains the primary reason why a certain section of the ruling-class feels compelled to cloak their exploitative ways under the mythology of their own altruistic beneficence.

As Frederick Engels put it simply in 1845: the super-rich “is charitable out of self-interest; it gives nothing outright, but regards its gifts as a business matter…” Or as William Morris wrote in 1884:

We many of us have experienced the bitter hostility of these philanthropists to Socialism, which in point of fact they realise as the foe doomed if successful to make are end of their occupation; a foe which would quite change that class on which they try their benevolent experiments, and which they look upon meantime as a necessary appendage of capital, would convert it into an all-powerful organisation that would at last absorb all society, and become nothing less than the State.

And yet, though these well intentioned people look upon us as their enemies, I don’t think we need accept the position; we must at least take what we can get from them; take for instance as an instalment of a decent London – the parks and gardens which their efforts have done much to get for us. What we would press upon them is that they should set a higher ideal before them than turning the life of the workers into that of a well conducted reformatory or benevolent prison; and that they should understand that when things are done not for the workers but by them, an ideal will present itself with great distinctness to the workers themselves, which will not mean living on as little as you can, so as not to disturb the course of profit-grinding, but rather living a plentiful, generous, un-anxious life, the first quite necessary step to higher ideals yet.

Under capitalist relations, profit-grinding always trumps human life. Deaths continue to multiple as the billionaire-class engorges itself at our expense, as can be seen by the perpetuality of famines amidst a world of plenty. Hence as long as profitability acts as the guiding principle determining the production and distribution of food millions will continue to needlessly starve. The scale of this exploitation of course varies immensely across the world, but even in Leicester, the UK city where I live, the percentrage of children living in households mired in poverty has increased from 30% to 39.9% over the past five years alone. And we should be clear that charitable works designed to feed the needy are simply not up to the task of eradicating such inequality, which is why socialists struggle to overturn the economic and political system that, by its design, withholds food from the poor.

Over a hundred years ago, the revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin along with the Russian working-class responded to the task at hand – and their collective actions brought about the Russian Revolution of October 1917. In the decades running up to this successful revolution Lenin had understood the urgent need for the working-class to come together in an organized fashion to overthrow the political system that starves the poor, but he also acknowledged the positive (albeit temporary) role that could be played by charitable efforts if they were coordinated by the working-classes and their democratic organizations. This type of aid was far-removed from the type of disempowering charity that has always been inflicted upon the needy by the ruling-class. In 1912, with the plight of starvation again facing millions of peasants, Lenin had explained:

The peasants can find a way out of their condition only by abolishing the landed estates. Only the overthrow of the tsarist monarchy, that bulwark of the landlords, can lead to a life more or less worthy of human beings, to deliverance from starvation and hopeless poverty.

It is the duty of every class-conscious worker and every class-conscious peasant to make this clear. This is our main task in connection with the famine. The organisation, wherever possible, of collections among the workers for the starving peasants and the forwarding of such funds through the Social-Democratic members of the Duma—that, of course, is also one of the necessary jobs.

Needless to say, while socialists across the world have been busy organizing against their oppressors, capitalist elites have always emphasized their own lofty ambition to make the world a better place for all. But other than by throwing crumbs at the poor, the ruling-class have no real interest in disrupting the capitalist system that they sit atop of. They merely throw scraps from their bountiful feasts to the workers beneath them – to the workers whose labour creates all the world’s food in the first place. Contrast this miserly charity with the more significant way in which the ruling-class have shown us how they really feel about our welfare, which has seen these same elites involved in ethnic cleansing, promoting the eugenic sterilization of the poor, instigating international wars in their perpetual struggles for wealth and global domination, and doing everything in their power to neuter the working-classes ongoing efforts to fight for a socialist future. And always present at the forefront of this violent battle for the future have been the philanthropic funds/foundations of the ruling-class.

We know that for most of the twentieth century the primary philanthropic foundations that helped the American ruling-class prop up their bankrupt system were the Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation, and the Ford Foundation. These big three foundations still exist today, but they are now joined by tens of thousands of other foundations. However, the most significant philanthropic body to build upon the anti-democratic legacy of the big three is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – a philanthropy which currently has over $51 billion in assets. The activities of the Gates Foundation therefore feature quite heavily in the following pages.

The Givers That Take presents few novel arguments, but what it does do is document the manifold ways in which the charity of the American ruling-class has been utilized to consolidate the rule of capital. Again, this is a story that has been told many times before, but it is still a story that many people are not fully aware of, and so for this reason this book aims to progress earlier analyses by bringing many different streams of philanthropic criticism together in one place.

The first essay featured in this book introduces some of the problems to do with elite philanthropy by providing a critical engagement with the writings of David Callahan, who is the founder and editor of Inside Philanthropy – a web site that says it was created with one “simple goal” in mind: “To pull back the curtain on one of the most powerful and dynamic forces shaping society.” As a firm supporter of the Democratic Party establishment, an investigation into Callahan’s views on the elite’s charitable impulses provides a useful means of dismantling such self-serving philanthropic propaganda. This chapter is then followed by a debunking of the Malthusian narrative featured in the popular 2019 documentary Planet of the Humans. Such population-obssessed solutions have long been promoted by the major foundations, but this review of the film also investigates the strange overlaps that exist between liberal causes and those of the notorious Koch brothers.

For most of its history the US government’s Central Intelligence Agency has worked in coordination with the major philanthropists. So, Chapter 3 interrogates a 2017 essay (that was published in the Los Angeles Review of Books) which focused on why the ruling-class became interested in the evolution of French political theory.

Thereafter the analysis turns to the concrete organizing efforts of the United Farm Workers union to understand how the union’s militant orientation was undermined by elite forces that were external to the union and their membership. This historic examination of trade union activism, and it’s eventual undoing, then segues to a discussion of the Ford Foundation’s troubling interventions in the black power movement of that era (the 1960s and 70s). Part of this chapter explores the significant linkages that came to exist between black nationalism, Pan-Africanism, and the “community development” policies that were favoured by philanthropic elites to undercut the popular allure of socialist politics.

The book then moves on to an examination of the politics of charity and famine relief, looking at the world-famous “Band Aid” phenomenon. This humanitarian case study is used to demonstrate how genuine public concern with inequality can be unwittingly harnessed to imperialist policy agendas. After this a critical review of Yasha Levine’s 2018 book, Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet, then explores the various related surveillance projects that were incubated by the US government with the aid of philanthropic elites.

The middle section of the book is composed of three chapters which shed further light on the anti-democratic machinations of the big foundations. The slippery connections between philanthropy and fascism are initially discussed in the Greek context, with Chapter 8 providing an overview of how US foreign aid was instrumentalized in an ongoing attempt to obliterate class struggle. A longer essay then examines how global public health interventions have been used by philanthropic elites to promote their own favoured technocratic disease fixes at the expense of both democracy and life. The concluding chapter in this section then uses the long line of “humanitarian” interventions in Nigerian affairs to demonstrate how ostensibly charitable initiatives have been used to prop up a despotic status quo which allows immense profiteering to coexist alongside extreme poverty.

Drawing the book to an end, the final section is composed of four inter-linked essays which are concerned with responses to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic that continues to ravage the world. The first two essays examine the history of Big Pharma’s profiteering from managing public health, and discusses the toxic role played by Bill Gates’ and his foundation in facilitating this dire situation over recent decades. These two essays were first published online in April and May of 2020 by CounterPunch as a means of rebutting the fawning coverage given by the corporate media to Gates’ philanthropic initiatives. Following on from these chapters is another shorter essay bringing such pandemic related criticisms up to date, with a particular focus on the central role that has been played by Gates in defending corporate patent rights pertaining to the production of much-need vaccines. And the closing chapter of the book, while not specifically focusing on philanthropic intrigues, reviews Debora MacKenzie’s important 2020 book The Pandemic that Never Should Have Happened and How to Stop the Next One.  As this review shows, despite her pro-capitalist inclinations MacKenzie does at least understand that changes are needed if we are to right our sinking ship. As she states:

Covid-19 has been, by anyone’s reckoning, a crisis—and it’s just getting started. Things are going to happen or change now, whether people take control of them in the broad interests of humanity or not.

Workers across the world are of course already fighting for control of their lives and the future. So, the modest aim of The Givers Who Take is to contribute towards developing a critical story about past philanthropic interventions so the working-class can more effectively anticipate future attempts by the ruling-class to undermine each and every mass struggle that lies ahead.

How to Start a Revolution… Or Not

Capitalists always seek to undermine the organizing efforts of the working-class. Thus, in the wake of World War II the US government increasingly relied upon the class fighters of their newly launched Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to crush the democratic aspirations of ordinary people. Part of this secretive work involved the manipulation of electoral processes, with vast sums of money being channelled by the CIA to pro-capitalist political leaders and their parties to help them beat their socialist adversaries. Another component of this dirty political warfare directed millions of dollars towards the task of sabotaging the trade union movement. None of this is too surprising. Nevertheless, we need to be conscious of such anti-democratic interventions if we are to eventually beat our adversaries and ensure the socialist transformation of society. 

Part of this toxic history of the CIA’s ‘democratic’ manoeuvrings are recounted in Ruaridh Arrow’s book Gene Sharp: How to Start a Revolution (2020) – a hagiography of the late Gene Sharp (1928-2018), a man who is now remembered as one of America’s most influential theorists of nonviolence despite his umbilical connection to state department elites. This essay therefore aims to review Arrow’s book as a means of exploring how the ruling-class has co-opted the tools of civil disobedience to serve their own nefarious political ends.

To start with it is critical to highlight that Arrow, the ever-doting biographer, is adamant that despite Sharp’s friendly relations with America’s leading elites there is “no basis” for any accusation that the theorists work was in any way entangled with that of the imperial machinations of the US government or the CIA. With this proviso in mind Arrow launches into his book by accurately recalling how the CIA’s first “involvement in election manipulation… began with a growing horror that the communists were likely to win the Italian election due to be held in 1948.”

Arrow explains how the US intelligence agency then replicated similar anti-democratic interventions all over the world until their covert activities were finally exposed by ‘The Church Committee’ — a government body that “was set up in 1975 to publicly investigate the role of the agency in overseas elections.” But the lasting damage to global democracy causes was already done; and here Arrow provides a chilling illustrative example of the CIA’s democratic subversions by looking at the case of Chile.

“In an operation that was virtually a clone of the Italian plan,” he writes, the CIA interfered in the 1964 elections to stop Salvador Allende winning, with the agency spending “nearly four million dollars supporting political parties, publishing and broadcasting propaganda and radicalising slum dwellers.” These covert attacks on democracy then intensified when Allende became Chile’s president in 1970 and came to a violent head in 1973 when the CIA “backed a military coup which brought to power General Augusto Pinochet, [a leader] who went on to perpetrate some of the worst human rights abuses ever recorded.”

Such anti-democratic intrigues continue through to this day; indeed, they are a vital part of capitalist statecraft. But partly as a response to the American public’s revulsion to the Church Committee’s sordid findings, the US government decided that the best cover for continuing such anti-democratic work would be to carry it out under the cover of democracy. As Arrow notes, under President Reagan’s supervision the CIA’s “political warfare campaign” now evolved, “Instead of continuing these programs in secret under the CIA, [Reagan] opted to take democracy promotion out of the shadows. In effect, he privatised it.”[1]

In 1983 the President marked this foreign policy shift by launching a new organization called the National Endowment for Democracy. This groups four affiliate institutions — the AFL-CIO’s American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), the International Republican Institute, and the National Democratic Institute – then received Congressional funding to enable the US government to overtly intervene in other countries political affairs. Arrow explains:

“The US press were sceptical and pointed out, correctly, that this was work previously conducted by the CIA, now being repackaged and brought out into the open. The Wall Street Journal quoted one official as saying, ‘we used to do some of this covertly… but when we stopped being able to keep our secrets in these matters, people became unwilling to accept out money’.” (p.83)

This backstory is apparently recounted in Arrow’s book because of its relevance to understanding Gene Sharp’s role in promoting nonviolent means of overthrowing foreign governments. This being done to debunk the accusations that Sharp’s revolutionary work has any relationship with the type of activities historically undertaken by the CIA. You might now begin to understand why Arrow’s book is so confusing.

To be clear, no physical evidence has been unearthed to prove that Sharp worked with the CIA: but it remains the case that the primary reason why Sharp’s critics have raised concerns about his work is because the theorist’s writings were closely aligned with the political interventions undertaken by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). And while it is true that Sharp’s nonviolent activism has received direct funding from the NED, Arrow remains perplexed why anyone would be bothered by this relationship. Arrow simply repeats: “I could find absolutely no evidence that he worked for or with the CIA or in pursuit of its objectives.”

Still, Arrow at least acknowledges that “a convincing case can be made that [Sharp’s] body of work, always in the public domain, was effectively co-opted by the US political warfare project with little consultation from the man who developed it.” And while this could be true, there remain many, many good reasons why Sharp has attracted so many detractors. Some of these reasons are provided within Arrow’s own text. For example, from early on in his long career Sharp had consciously set himself the unusual task of trying to convert the war-mongering members of the ruling-class to adopt the principles of nonviolent struggle, not a normal working-class pursuit by any means. Thus, from as early as 1960, Arrow writes, Sharp “had already decided that co-opting the system was the only way that change could be made.” [2] 

The violent side of nonviolence

Sharp, however, was not the first academic to demand that his government integrate nonviolent resistance into its repertoire of power. And in many ways his career echoed that of retired naval commander Sir Stephen King-Hall: a military man whose 1958 book DefenseintheNuclear Age had first “brought the notion of non-violent defense into the realm of strategic debate by urging it upon the UK, NATO, and the US, in lieu of nuclear weapons.”[3] King-Hall, as we know now, failed to popularize this novel idea, and it was only Sharp’s unrelenting persistence that led to his contemporary notoriety for pushing this elite-centred approach to social change.

In the mid-1960s Sharp made especially good headway into infiltrating elite circles after getting headhunted by one of America’s leading war strategists, Thomas Schelling, to join the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. The Center representing “a think tank for the up and coming US foreign policy elite,” as Arrow puts it.[4] Now based in the same department as Henry Kissinger — the powerbroker who famously went on to oversee the US-backed coup against Allende — you can begin to understand why some people became suspicious about Sharp’s allegedly objective approach to civil disobedience. As Howard Zinn famously said, “you can’t be neutral on a moving train.”[5] Arrow continues Sharp’s story noting how once in America:

“Schelling began looking for funding for Gene’s work from the Ford Foundation, set up by Henry Ford’s family to spread democratic values, but it was the US Department for Defense ‘Advanced Research Projects Agency’ (ARPA) which would stump up the first serious cash. Although he was not aware of it at the time, the ARPA money was a component of a classified US government effort to develop weapons and strategies for fighting counter-insurgences and curtail communist advances in remote parts of the world.” (p.74)

Considering the sinister nature of such research it is not wholly unsurprising that just a few years later the Center for International Affairs would become a focus for angry student protests.[6] And as a point of record, the Ford Foundation (like the Rockefeller Foundation and Carnegie Foundation) were, at that very time, working hand-in-glove with the CIA (that is, throughout the 1950s and 1960s) although Sharp would not have necessarily known it at the time. (An early and well-read article highlighting the connections between liberal foundations, the CIA, and the warmongers at Harvard was published by Ramparts magazine in October 1969 as “Sinews of empire.”) Still, while Sharp may have been unaware of such connections, Arrow should have been better informed — especially considering the subject matter covered in his own book — than to naively describe the Ford Foundation as a conduit for “spread[ing] democratic values”. This really is quite inexcusable given its past history.

Now, to return to Sharp’s personal views on obtaining military funding for peace research, Arrow says that:

“When challenged on this later by members of pacifist organisations, Gene was unapologetic about receiving the Department of Defense money. He’d been arguing since his time at Oxford that governments should finance research into nonviolent resistance as a substitute for war and that this should be fully integrated into national defense strategy.” (p.74)

Sharp however evidently drew a line in the sand when it came to the CIA. And Arrow goes on to explain how:

“In 1975, Gene was searching for another two-year funding grant and Schelling recommended him back to the Department of Defense. It was clear Schelling had potential funding contacts in the CIA, but Gene was adamant that he would refuse to take their money.” (p.76)

This subject had come up for discussion after Sharp had submitted a “funding proposal to Schelling’s Department of Defense contact – the head of the newly created office of ‘Net Assessment’ – a discreet unit of Pentagon futurologists whose job was to plan for strategic problems 30 years ahead.”[7] As part of his two-year funding bid for a colossal $452,000 grant, Sharp had sold his research plan to his potential funders like this:

“Basic and problem-orientated research, coupled with deliberate efforts at refinement and development, would very likely increase significantly the effectiveness of this nonviolent combat technique, as has been done with the technique of war. In addition to research, other means may help improve effectiveness, including contingency planning, training, and specific preparation to make the technique operational in conflicts in which war or other violence would otherwise be used. Such deliberate development of the effectiveness of this technique may extend the types of situations in which it is a viable option, even against extremely powerful and ruthless regimes.”

In this instance the head of Net Assessment had decided that the proposal was not appropriate for his department, so evidently, he had passed the grant application on to the CIA appending a note saying: “I thought the CIA might be interested in this work.” Sharp, as Arrow points out, was not keen to apply for CIA funds as he “feared from the stories in the press that the intelligence agency had gone rogue and would hijack the work for what he described as ‘bad dealings’.”

Sharp’s funding worries would however soon be permanently resolved as the following year one of his students, a young millionaire named Peter Ackerman, completed his own Ph.D. at Tufts University before going on to become Sharp’s generous benefactor. In the 1970s Ackerman had “earn[ed] millions of dollars” as a Wall Street banker specialising in ‘junk bonds’, and in 1982 he then took the decision to secure Sharp’s research future by funding the creation of two new groups: the first organization was ‘The Program on Nonviolent Sanctions’ which was based at Harvard, and the second was the privately based Albert Einstein Institution.[8]

A nonviolent banker

In the coming decades, most of the funding for Sharp’s two research/training groups were derived from Ackerman’s millions, but a quick perusal of the annual reports that were filed online by the Albert Einstein Institution lends credence to the logic that Sharp’s work continued to be highly entwined with imperialist foreign policy making elites. For example in May 1987 the Institution received a $50,000 grant from the US Institute for Peace, a group which at the time maintained close links to the intelligence community and is considered to be a sister organisation to the NED. By way of a contrast to the intelligence-linked USIP, Arrow explained that when the NED was created their founding board of directors “voted to forbid any employment of CIA personnel or allow the CIA to influence its programs.” [9] The same cautious approach did not hold true for the USIP, and an early critical article that was published in Z Magazine highlighted how:

“The idea of a national peace institute was long in the making and approved by a wide spectrum of peace advocates. But by the time the USIP was formally established in 1984, its board looked like a ‘who’s who’ of right-wing ideologues from academia and the Pentagon. By law, the USIP is an arm of the U.S. intelligence apparatus. The legislation that established the USIP specifies that ‘the director of Central Intelligence may assign officers and employees’ of the CIA to the USIP, and the Institute is authorized to use and disseminate ‘classified materials from the intelligence community.’

“In practice, the USIP intersects heavily with the intelligence establishment. Nearly half its board members played some role in the Iran-contra operations, and an analysis of the USIP’s grantmaking priorities since 1986 reveals substantial funding for ‘scholars’ already on the take from other military and intelligence agencies.”[10]

In the second decade of its existence, a summary of the varied work undertaken by the Albert Einstein Institution between the years 1993 and 1999 provides further details of their bad dealing supporters. Over this period stand-out financiers (which are listed on the first page of their report) included the National Endowment for Democracy, the USIP, the International Republican Institute, and the German-based Friedrich Naumann Stiftung. In addition, the Albert Einstein Institution received aid from two of America’s most influential liberal philanthropic organizations, the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Institute. “The origin of Gene’s work in the belly of an establishment” Arrow writes…

“…which was deploying political warfare would later lead to the often repeated theory that [Sharp] was a CIA asset and the Albert Einstein Institution a front for the destabilisation of governments not aligned with US political and economic interests.

“Those who believe this version of events can easily be forgiven because the weight of circumstantial evidence is convincing. The type of activities pioneered in Italy in the late 1940s would be easily recognisable in the funding priorities of the National Endowment for Democracy 50 years later. There is no doubt that the US, first under the CIA and later through the arms of the NED sought to influence and build democracies favourable to US policy interests.” (pp.88-9)

This is all very interesting, and Arrow explains that Sharp had received his first NED grant in the early 1990s which was used to enable his Institution to train Burmese democracy activists.[11] This delicate educational work was delivered by a new recruit to the Albert Einstein Institution named Colonel Bob Helvey who was fresh from serving as was the Dean of the United States Defense Intelligence School. With all the CIA-linked accusations flying around Arrow assures his readers that Sharp took every precaution in choosing to employ Helvey.

“Gene asked him frankly whether he had ever worked for the CIA. Bob understood the concern and assured Gene that as a brigade intelligence officer in Vietnam his duties had been exclusively tactical military intelligence, not political intelligence. As defense attache in Rangoon, his role had also been exclusively military intelligence and he had not been involved in political intelligence or what he termed ‘manipulations’ on behalf of the CIA. Bob also assured Gene that his work with Tin Maung Win and Ye Kyaw Thu and the democratic opposition in Burma had been strictly personal and not part of any military assignment or responsibility.” (pp.152-3)[12]

Weaponising nonviolence, and the case of Venezuela

For reasons that will perhaps remain unknown, during the 1990s Ackerman took the decision to focus less on banking and more on his academic – and inaccurate – studies of the history of nonviolence. In 1999 he therefore helped raise $3 million to fund the 1999 Emmy-nominated film A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, whose creation also received additional financial support from the USIP. Then in 2002 Ackerman co-authored a book with the same name — a text that has gone on to become something of keystone book amongst nonviolent activists, despite all its serious shortcomings. The release of this publication also coincided with the launch of Ackerman’s new pet project which was christened as the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC).

According to Arrow, in November 2003 Bob Helvey had become upset with the lack of funding that Sharp was getting and so he informed Ackerman that the Albert Einstein Institution “needed to embark on a major fundraising effort to fulfil the mission properly.” But “Ackerman disagreed strongly – he felt he had donated enough to perform the basic tasks and didn’t want any of Gene’s time wasted on fundraising.” Ackerman was already providing Sharp “with an annuity that would provide a salary for the rest of his life” and now he had his own new Center to manage. This argument apparently brought Sharp and Helvey into a serious disagreement “with their major donor” Peter Ackerman. Nevertheless, the pair “decided to press ahead” in open defiance of their multi-millionaire benefactor which resulted in Ackerman “threaten[ing] to remove all of his funding.” Arrow recounts how “In a phone call, Ackerman repeated the ultimatum, to comply with his request or he would cease further funding of the institution.” But Sharp was adamant that he was not beholden to his powerful financier, which led to Ackerman cutting him free. As Arrow observes: “The money had been stopped and there was barely enough left to meet existing staff costs.”[13]

“Peter Ackerman now turned his attention soley to his own organisation, the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC). He began a more active promotion of nonviolent resistance training, funding Bob Helvey and the Serbs from CANVAS to carry out consultations with democracy groups around the world.

“The activities of the ICNC now meant that Gene’s work was turning up in places that Gene and Jamila [Raqib the Institutions executive director] had had no direct contact with. When a training camp carried out by Bob Helvey for Venezuelan activists was discovered by the government, the first thing Gene and Jamila hear about it was Hugo Chavez personally denouncing Gene on Venezuelan national television.” (p.219)

This is a nice story but is not completely true. Chavez did, it is true, attack Sharp’s activism in June 2007 during a short segment of his regular TV show, Alo Presidente, but it is wrong to suggest that Sharp knew nothing about this training camp. This is because in the Spring 2006 edition of the Albert Einstein Institution’s newsletter they reported that in May 2005 the Institution had “hosted a strategy workshop for Venezuelan nonviolent activists” that took place in Boston with funding provided by the ICNC.[14] Earlier still, in 2004, another report (which is reproduced on the Albert Einstein Institution’s web site) discusses President Chavez’s “increasingly authoritarian” “regime”. The report goes on to state that since December 2001 “Chávez’s popularity began to wane” and, as the Institution asserts, to retain power his “government responded with violent repression against… protesters”. Sharp himself, along with other staff from his Institution, then met with citizens opposed to Chavez’s presidency to “talk about the deteriorating political situation in their country”, which, in April 2003, led to the Institution organizing a nine-day in-country consultation to “develop a nonviolent strategy to restore democracy to Venezuela.”[15] Although it is not clear which groups Sharp consulted with during this period, we do know that at the same time the NED was playing an important role in providing aid to the very same opposition groups that had coordinated an unsuccessful coup attempt against President Chavez in 2002.[16]

The CIA connection

Another group worth discussing whose ‘democratic’ mission is directly related to the US government’s broader democracy promoting establishment is Freedom House – an organization upon whose research Sharp relied heavily upon in determining which countries needed his aid. In 1988 Noam Chomsky gave a succinct summary of this group’s activities when he wrote:

“Freedom House, which dates back to the early 1940s, has had interlocks with… the World Anticommunist League, Resistance International, and U.S. government bodies such as Radio Free Europe and the CIA, and has long served as a virtual propaganda arm of the government and international right wing.”

Even Arrow, in his muddled history of US democracy promoting activities singles this group out for special attention noting that it had “carried out training for activists and civil society organisations” throughout the Cold War and should be considered an “outlier” owing to its links to the CIA. And although it is not accurate to say it is an outlier in any meaningful sense, Arrow is right to note that: “Freedom House was not made subject to any of the controls on former intelligence personnel which bound the NED organisations”. Arrow continues “in fact, former CIA director, James Woolsey, would later become chairman of the Freedom House board of trustees.”[17]

What remains unexplored by Sharp’s naïve biographer is that Woolsey served as Freedom House’s chair between 2003 and 2005 before handing on this honour to Peter Ackerman. Such elite connections were normal for Ackerman, who is a longstanding member of the “imperial brain trust” known as the Council on Foreign Relations (joining their board of directors in July 2005). As socialist commentator John Bellamy Foster observed in 2008: 

“Ackerman [also] sits on the key advisory committee of the CFR’s Center for Preventive Action, devoted to overthrowing governments opposed by Washington by political means (or where this is not practicable, using political low intensity warfare to soften them up for military intervention). The CPA is headed by Reagan’s former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General John W. Vessey, who oversaw the invasion of Grenada. The members of the advisory committee of the CPA, including Ackerman himself, have all been heavily involved in helping to fulfill U.S. war aims in Yugoslavia, and the Center has recently focused on overturning Chavez’s government in Venezuela (see John Bellamy Foster, ‘The Latin American Revolt,’ Monthly Review, July August 2007). On top of all of this Ackerman is a director of the right-wing U.S. Institute of Peace, which is connected directly through its chair J. Robinson West to the National Petroleum Council, which includes CEOs of all the major U.S. energy corporations.  On the domestic front, Ackerman has been working with the Cato Institute to privatize Social Security.”

The irony is that the very person who funded nearly all of Sharp’s work throughout the 1980s and 1990s specializes in working in cooperation with members of the intelligence community. While another researcher of nonviolence who upholds such a dubious legacy is Professor Erica Chenoweth; an individual who first worked as a consultant for the ICNC in 2006 and later served as the co-chair of their advisory board before co-authoring the much-quoted book Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (2011). Arrow introduces her work in his own biography and goes so far as to celebrate her book saying this was the first study that “proved” with “evidence that nonviolent campaigns could be more successful than violent campaigns”.[18] Again this is not entirely true. And we also know that this type of research remains of huge interest to both the military and to the intelligence community, and while Chenoweth was serving as the ICNC’s co-chair she was simultaneously a member of the CIA’s “Political Instability Task Force” and rather unsurprisingly her research has been showered with millions of dollars from her military paymasters.[19]

Bringing ‘democracy’ to Venezuela

Finally, it is appropriate to observe that following in the ‘democratic’ footsteps of her nonviolent mentors, Professor Chenoweth would keep alive a strong hatred of Hugo Chavez’s Venezuelan “regime” and its authoritarian legacy. This was made clear in Chenoweth’s latest book Civil Resistance: What Everyone Needs to Know which was published last month by Oxford University Press. Herein she discusses how “authoritarian” regimes like to countermobilize their supporters “by paying loyalists to hold patriotic parades, setting up encampments, or turning out in pro-government marches”. She uses three examples to make this point: the first two are the unquestionably authoritarian regimes of Bashar al- Assad in Syrian and Putin in Russia, but her third example is that of Hugo Chávez, who she says went on to establish his “so-called Bolivarian Circles, or pro-government grassroots neighborhood organizations, in the slums of Venezuela”.

In relation to Chavez’s recent political successor Nicolás Maduro, Chenoweth applauds the “millions of people joined marches and demonstrations against President Nicolás Maduro in 2017 and 2019.”[20] She then moaned that…

“…Maduro’s government in Venezuela responded to protests in 2019 by expelling American diplomats, citing evidence that the US government had conspired to support a coup against his government.” (pp.234-5)

Of course, Maduro’s reaction was far from controversial, as earlier in her own book Chenoweth herself acknowledged that Maduro had good reasons for being suspicious of the US government. But it seems that the peace-loving professor is primarily concerned about Venezuelan government conspiracies because she had idolized the right-wing opposition movement. Ironically, it seems that Chenoweth is not generally supportive of US interventions in other countries as, she says, such foreign support “may actually undermine a civil resistance campaign’s critical source of strength: mass participation.” Chenoweth continues:

“This is arguably part of what happened to the pro-democracy movement in Venezuela in 2019 and 2020. A diverse, inclusive movement to challenge the power of Nicolás Maduro began to shrink in size and diversity once the United States began to double down on economic sanctions against Maduro and his close associates, actively support opposition leader Juan Guaidó, and threaten armed intervention to install him.” (p.138)

It is important to note here that the “pro-democracy” protest that Chenoweth refers to was in reality a US-backed coup that was led by right-wing politicians and fascists. The events surrounding these right-wing attacks on Maduro also featured in an online magazine that includes Chenoweth as one of its founders.[21] On February 1, 2019 the magazine thus discussed in frank terms how it was routine for American presidents to engage in “foreign-imposed regime change”. The following day the magazine then ran an article by a longstanding ICNC contributor (who is a current USIP senior scholar) which described Maduro’s government as a fully-fledged dictatorship which had needed removing. And while socialists have criticisms of the capitalist governments of both Maduro and his popular predecessor (Hugo Chavez), we by no means follow the imperialist line which sees the likes of Chenoweth and her magazine providing uncritical support to Guaidó’s fascist-leaning reactionaries.

Writing at the time of the coup in January 2019, Socialist Alternative thus explained that ordinary people “cannot have the slightest confidence in the Maduro government, the bureaucracy or the senior army officers if we want to prevent the victory of the reaction.” Instead:

“The first task of the working class and the politically conscious and combative people of Venezuela is to organize resistance against the coup. We must begin by denouncing the true objectives of Guaidó, the right wing and imperialism. We have to organize assemblies in each company and place of work to discuss what our needs and demands are and how the economic plans and policies of the right mean a mortal danger. It is urgent to create action committees in defense of the rights of workers and the people in each work center and each neighborhood, defending a genuinely socialist class program, which proposes the expropriation of the big private monopolies and banking to end the hyperinflation and corruption, the abolition of the privileges of the bureaucracy and that strives to transfer real power to the hands of the working class and the oppressed. We must organize massive mobilizations and the legitimate self-defense of the people against the violence of the right.”[22]

These democratic solutions are a million miles away from the type of sanitized capitalist-friendly resistance that is promoted by the likes of Chenoweth, Ackerman and Sharp.

But it is not true, as Chenoweth asserts in her book, that Marxists are “skeptical of the idea that nonviolent struggle could overcome entrenched economic inequality and bring about true economic justice.” This is because Marxists believe that it is precisely through the building of huge mass political movements and the organization of powerful general strikes across the world that the working-class can lay the groundwork for the final overthrow of the capitalist status quo. Of course, in the process of organizing nonviolent mass movements globally there is no question that capitalist elites will at some point attempt to drown such resistance in blood. This is why Marxists believe it is common sense that people have the right to defend themselves from capitalist violence.

And if you wanted a good example of how far the ruling-class will go to prevent the socialist transformation of society we need only reflect upon Chenoweth’s own examples where, in passing, she states that the US government have “fomented unrest and backed right- wing movements and insurgencies in many… countries, from the Contras in Nicaragua to armed militias associated with the Indonesian military during anti- communist mass killings of 1965– 1966.”[23] In the latter instance the CIA intervened directly with logistical assistance to help organize the slaughter of up to one million socialists and trade unionists. So, once you get you head around the utter depravity of the powers that be one can better understand why democratic movements of workers must always be able to defend themselves. History would seem to show that nonviolent resistance alone might not be enough to protect genuinely revolutionary movements of the working-class.

[1] Arrow, Gene Sharp, p.vii, p.76, p.80, p.82.

[2] Arrow, Gene Sharp, p.89, p.48. In an 1987 article, anarchist researcher Brian Martin discussed some of the major problems associated with such a pro-military approach to nonviolence which I previously discussed here, “From Sharp to Lovins: elite reform as progressive social change,” Swans Commentary, July 26, 2010.

[3] Gene Keyes, “Strategic non-violent defense: the construct of an option,” Journal of Strategic Studies, 4(2), June 1981, p.126.

[4] Arrow, Gene Sharp, p.72. In 1965 Sharp departed from his prestigious intellectual base at Oxford University — where he had carried out his Ph.D. — to settle in America.

[5] In March 2006 Howard Zinn served on the founding board of directors of a group called the International Endowment for Democracy which was formed to challenge the anti-democratic work of the National Endowment for Democracy. Perhaps unaware of the problems associated with the work of the Albert Einstein Institution, Zinn’s name would later appear in the Spring 2006 issue of the Albert Einstein Institutions newsletter where he lent his support to the Institution’s ongoing funding appeal. Likewise, in 2010 Zinn controversially signed an open letter that defended Sharp and the ICNC from legitimate criticisms that stemmed from the problematic relationships they maintained with the NED.

[6] Between “1968-72, the Center was so beset by student protests and upheaval that it could barely get its work accomplished.” Howard Wiarda, Harvard and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (WCFIA): Foreign Policy Research Center and Incubator of Presidential Advisors (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2010), p.41. Wiarda makes the point that it was quite likely that the Center was funded by the CIA as “Robert Bowie, CFIA’s first director, had an extensive CIA background and could have been a channel for CIA funding, and we do know that CFIA’s sister institution down Massachusetts Avenue, the Center for International Studies (CIS) at MIT, did receive extensive CIA funding during this same period.” (p.43) Bowie also served as CIA chief National Intelligence Officer from 1977-1979.

[7] Arrow, Gene Sharp, p.80.

[8] Arrow, Gene Sharp, p.81, p.85.

[9] Arrow, Gene Sharp, p.83.

[10] Sarah Diamond and Richard Hatch, “Operation peace institute,” Z Magazine, July/August 1990. The authors observe that one of top three “organizations receiving the largest number of grants” is the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis at Tufts University (where Ackerman obtained his Ph.D.). They note “About $90,000 has gone to the Albert Einstein Institution in Cambridge, where liberal peace researcher Gene Sharp studies the political impact of nonviolent sanctions… But a careful analysis of the USIP’s annotated list of 238 grant projects through early 1990 reveals undeniable favoritism toward researchers committed to Cold War paradigms. No recognized left scholars—let alone anyone with the Rainbow Coalition or European Green movements—has been funded to date.”

[11] Arrow, Gene Sharp, p.157. Arrow notes that later in 1995 “the National Endowment for Democracy granted the Albert Einstein Institution an additional $45,000 to continue providing training in political defiance alongside consultation visits.” Bob Helvey was “accompanied” on these training missions by a project officer from the IRI. (p.170)

[12] Tin Maung Win and Ye Kyaw Thu were cofounders of the Committee for the Restoration of Democracy in Burma (CRDB) which was founded in America in September 1986. “The CRDB’s parent organization, the Foundation for Democracy in Burma, was formed in conjunction with CRDB, as was its political party, the New Republic Party of Burma. Of the founding Burmese members, Tin Maung Win (vice chairman and general secretary) and Ye Kyaw Thu (executive director) seem to have played the most direct roles in organizing and directing the CRDB’s activities. Both Win and Thu had ‘long been in the national and revolutionary politics’ of Burma and ‘had participated in leadership in the armed struggle’ before migrating to the US in the 1970s, after which they kept the line of communication with the revolutionary leaders ‘active and healthy’.” Brian Denny, “The warden’s dilemma as nested game: political self-sacrifice, instrumental rationality, and third parties,” Government and Opposition, 56(1), April 2019, p.11 This article also discussed the nature of the training provided in Burma by Helvey which was supported by the NED.

[13] Arrow, Gene Sharp, p.216, p.216.

[14] The Albert Einstein Institution Newsletter, Spring 2006, p.10.

[15]Report on activities, 2000-2004,” The Albert Einstein Institution, 2004, pp.20-1. “The nine-day consultation was held by consultants Robert Helvey and Chris Miller in Caracas for members of the Venezuelan democratic opposition.” (p.21) The relevance of this report is discussed here: George Ciccariello-Maher and Eva Golinger, “Making excuses for empire: reply to defenders of the AEI,”, August 4, 2008.

[16] Kim Scipes, “AFL-CIO in Venezuela: déjà vu all over again,” Labor-Notes, April 1, 2004.

[17] Arrow, Gene Sharp, p.84. Later he writes: “The Egyptian offices of American democracy promotion agencies, like IRI and Freedom House were being provided with so much money by the US government in 2006 that they couldn’t work out how to spend it. That year Freedom House received a grant of $900,000 for development of Egyptian civil society advocacy and reform, but spent less than half of the money – mainly due to restrictions the Egyptian government placed on funding of groups they deemed too threatening.” (p.245)

[18] Arrow, Gene Sharp, p.64.

[19] I discussed these murky CIA connections in more depth here, “Why civil resistance works and why the billionaire-class cares,” CounterPunch, May 3, 2017.

[20] Chenoweth, Civil Resistance, p.235, p.230.

[21] The magazine in question, Political Violence @ A Glance, is supported by a university think tank that is funded by the military, and by philanthropies that include the Carnegie Corporation and the Charles Koch Foundation.

[22] George Martin Fell Brown, “Venezuela: for mass mobilization of workers to build real socialism and put an end to corrupt bureaucracy!”, Socialist Alternative, January 24, 2019.

[23] Chenoweth, Civil Resistance, p.136.

The COVAX Smokescreen: Charity in The Service of Pandemic Profiteering

The rich get vaccines, and the poor get empty promises. The world thus remains divided between the greed of a handful of billionaires and the urgent health needs of the billions: all the while a self-obsessed ruling-class engorge themselves at the expense of our futures. Ordinary people in their billions, are thereby forced to endure poverty and degradation, while philanthropists like Bill Gates shout out from the rooftops about their humanity while propping up a failing economic system that thrives upon inequality.

In the midst of this deadly pandemic, pharmaceutical corporations happily join with Gates in celebrating his tech-savvy saintliness, but for the majority of the world’s poor Gates (the mortal) is seen in a less flattering light. He is correctly seen as the embodiment of everything that is wrong with the world. He is the gentler side of capitalism personified. Gates doesn’t just take… he gives back too; if only to ensure that the global capitalist machine that he worships can keep ploughing our bodies into the earth to yield profits for the few.

Over recent decades Bill Gates has moved frictionlessly from the world of computers to that of global public health, and in doing so has reinvented himself as the architect of health interventions that, most of all, benefit the powerful. This, of course, is not how Gates likes to present his almsgiving to the public. But he, more than any other individual, has succeeded in bringing the principles of privatisation into the heart of global health systems; working to synchronise the goals of multi-lateral organisation like the World Health Organization with the needs of Big Pharma.

Now it is common-sense that with effective vaccines in existence, these should be made available to the entire world, not just to those people residing in the richest countries. But this solution remains but a utopian dream. This distribution problem therefore represents a serious concern for ordinary people, and it is one that Bill Gates is fully aware of; in fact, it is an issue that Gates himself never stops warming the world about. For instance, on March 31, 2021, he blogged that:

The more the virus that causes COVID-19 is out there in the world, the more opportunities it has to evolve—and to develop new ways of fighting our defenses against it. If we don’t get the vaccine out to every corner of the planet, we’ll have to live with the possibility that a much worse strain of the virus will emerge.”

He then referred his readers to his own preferred COVAX initiative which he boasted had “recently announced that it’ll be able to deliver 300 million doses by mid-2021” – doses that will go to some of the poorest countries in the world. But this effort, as nice sounding as it is, represents far too little far too late; and even the philanthropic king himself admitted that “the world is going to need a lot more if we’re going to truly stamp out the threat of COVID-19.” Moreover, considering that his COVAX facility still represents the main means of getting vaccines out to every corner of the planet, it is more than a little concerning that COVAX is totally incapable to doing its stated job. We should also remember that COVAX’s existence would not even be necessary if it were not for Bill Gates’ own early and ongoing efforts to oppose the waiving of patent rights on vaccines: an inhumane action which helps ensure that vaccines remain largely inaccessible and unaffordable to the world’s poor.

The roots of COVAX

Launched in June 2020, COVAX is the vaccine pillar of the “Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator” (ACT-Accelerator) which had been set up in April by Gates and his lackeys as a means of counteracting popular demands that any forthcoming vaccine roll-out should prioritise global public health instead of protecting patents and corporate profits. The launching of this initiative therefore quickly marginalised the World Health Organization’s own COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), a project which took a more progressive approach to the pandemic by calling for “the global community to voluntarily share knowledge, intellectual property and data necessary for COVID-19.”

As the influence of Gates’ billionaire lobbying had been central to the emergence of COVAX it is unsurprising that its day-to-day operations are currently being led by GaVi, the Vaccine Alliance, a well-known pro-corporate health initiative that was established by the Gates Foundation in 2000. The prioritising of markets and corporate profits (through the use of public-private partnerships) has always been central to Gates’ personal modus operandi, although you would be forgiven for missing this aspect of his so-called humanitarian work if you have ever read any of the propaganda about his do-gooding that saturates the mainstream media. Nevertheless, although studiously side-lined by Gates’ many powerful corporate-backed sycophants, the philanthropist’s many critics have always made their numerous and well-informed concerns with Gates’ charitable work crystal clear to all who were willing to listen. Writing just over a decade ago two such public health authors observed:

At the first GaVi-partners meeting, the head of SmithKline Biologicals outlined the conditions for industry participation. These included ‘a guarantee for ‘reasonable prices’, support for a credible and sustainable market, respect for international property rights, a tiered pricing system including safeguards against re-export of products back from developing countries to high-priced markets, and a prohibition on compulsory licensing.’ Each of these conditions prioritizes profits over children’s lives. Moreover, industry representatives opposed technology transfer arrangements, claiming that vaccines were too complex for public research institutes and local production in developing countries.”

These are very much the same priorities that have been enshrined within COVAX’s operations. Indeed, one of the novel financing method utilised for securing COVAX’s ambitions is based upon the International Finance Facility for Immunisation (IFFIm), a facility that was founded in 2006 to better inoculate GaVi’s global health decision-making from democratic oversight. As described on their web site:

“IFFIm receives long term, legally binding pledges from donor countries and, with the World Bank acting as Treasury Manager, turns these pledges into bonds. The money raised via Vaccine Bonds provides immediate funding for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.”

Critics of Gavi’s “vaccine bonds” however have demonstrated how the use of such bonds means that the setting of public health care priorities can now effectively “bypass national governmental control in recipient countries while simultaneously providing an ethical cover for business as usual by pharmaceutical companies”. And it this model of financing – overseen by GaVi — that was meant to help undergird COVAX’s so-called Advance Market Commitment (AMC), which as of April 7 had raised the hardly awe-inspiring sum of US$6.3 billion. (Presently the UK government remains one of the few countries making heavy use of COVAX’s IFFIm option and has made a US$675 million commitment for the period covering 2021 to 2025 but has only offered a direct payment to COVAX of US$61 million. Other large direct payments have come from the Gates Foundation which has chipped in US$156 million, with the biggest contributor being the United States, who had made a direct payment worth US$2.5 billion.)

In addition to utilising IFFIm, the COVAX AMC – as their own report (dated April 15) notes – “builds on the experience of the US $1.5 billion Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV) AMC launched in 2009” by Gavi. This earlier “model” AMC is not however without its own significant problems and last June the campaigning group Doctors Without Borders criticised the PCV’s supposedly successful use of AMC funding. They pointed out that:

While the funding was intended to help encourage competition to reduce the overall price of PCV, in reality the bulk of the money essentially served as a subsidy for Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which until December 2019 were the only two manufacturers of PCV. Of the $1.5 billion, $1.238 billion (82%) was disbursed to Pfizer and GSK.”

Their report concluded that while the vaccination effort had some successes, often partial,…

“…the AMC mechanism in effect increased profits of multinational pharmaceutical corporations at rates higher than necessary to incentivize their involvement to achieve vaccine access in developing countries, while doing nothing meaningful to stimulate competition from developing-country vaccine manufacturers.”

COVAX inequality

On April 15, 2021, COVAX optimistically boasted that “around 1.8 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been reserved, but not yet locked in, through the COVAX AMC from a range of manufacturers.” But these doses are for potential use into 2022, which means that even if all these doses do arrive at their planned destinations, then COVAX is still absolutely failing in its efforts to vaccinate the world. But of course, COVAX’s aims were far more limited in the short-term, as they are only attempting to vaccinate 2.5% of people in the poorest 92 AMC-eligible countries by the end of May – countries which have a combined population of nearly 4 billion people.

Of course, COVAX does plan to provide more than 2.5% coverage in later months and years, and pledge to vaccinate 20% of any given country’s population, but these conservative ambitions are nowhere near good enough to prevent the global spread of the pandemic in the here and now! Afterall what is the point of a handful of rich countries being able to vaccinate most of their own populations while the pandemic continues to ravage human life in the rest of world while undergoing dangerous potentially vaccine-resistant mutations?

Making matters worse, many of the COVAX vaccines that were planned to be distributed all over the world over the past few months were to be produced and shipped from India, but owing to the devastating nature of the pandemic surge in India, their government — which is COVAX’s main supplier – has taken the decision to block most vaccine exports. This means that COVAX is now only able to potentially “deliver 145 million doses instead of about 240 million” by the end of May (enough to vaccinate less than 2% of the populations of the poorest 92 countries). Furthermore, contrast the woefully insufficient 1.8 billion doses that COVAX has so far managed to reserve (but has not locked in) with the more than 500 million doses that were ordered by the UK government alone. Or consider the fact that richer countries are still able to purchase vaccines directly from COVAX stocks: the most recent example being the Venezuelan government which purchased around 11 million doses from COVAX for an initial outlay of US$64 million (with another US$60 million to be paid later).

Finally, it is important to contextualize the relatively small sums of money being ‘donated’ to COVAX and other critical global health initiatives by the most powerful countries in the world. For example, total annual funding for the World Health Organization runs at just over US$2 billion — representing “less than the budget of many major hospitals in the United States”. And while COVAX has received just over US$6 billion — with the largest chunk of funding coming from the US government (with another US$2 billion pledged) — it is informative to compare the scale of this funding to the recent increase in US military funding. Thus just before the pandemic broke President Trump announced a record-breaking annual request of US$740.5 billion for national security, which President Biden evidently deems insufficient as last month he requested a life-sapping US$753 billion (a 1.7% increase) to be spent on warmongering, and this is their military budget for just one year!

Releasing the patents

Socialists and critical public health experts have always opposed the use of market-based solutions to resolve pressing public health problems that are inflicted upon the world by the likes of Bill Gates and his friends in high places at the World Bank. But in mid-February even the president of the World Bank went on the record to express his concerns with COVAX’s severe limitations, stating the obvious fact that “manufacturers are reluctant to commit the doses to developing countries while they have the chance to sell it, or provide it, at a higher price to the advanced economies”. As if all this were not bad enough, around the same time Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the WHO, noted that their ACT-Accelerator (of which COVAX was just one part) was “still $19 billion short of the funds it needs to expand access not just to vaccines but also to diagnostics and treatments like oxygen.” Little wonder that the Lancet medical journal concluded that “COVAX is wholly unequipped to resolve many of the most pressing threats to its mission.” (Lancet editorial, March 13, 2021)

A rising tide of public anger at the major shortcomings of the global response to the pandemic, however, is now serving to push more critical arguments in the mainstream press. For example, last month Dr. Tedros finally felt pressurised to raise more far-reaching criticisms about COVAX in an opinion piece he wrote for the New York Times (April 22). First off, he pointed out the increasing disparity of health outcomes between rich and poorer nations highlighting how:

[O]f the more than 890 million vaccine doses that have been administered globally, more than 81 percent have been given in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Low-income countries have received just 0.3 percent.”

The WHO head had seemingly reached the end of his tether and he emphasized that COVAX had so far proved “totally insufficient” having only “distributed 43 million doses of vaccine to 119 countries — covering just 0.5 percent of their combined population of more than four billion.” Dr. Tedros went on to point out how “many of the world’s biggest economies” currently funding the COVAX initiative had simultaneously “undermined it” with “a handful of rich countries gobbling up the anticipated supply as manufacturers sell to the highest bidder”. Likewise, he added, “vaccine diplomacy has undermined Covax as countries with vaccines make bilateral donations for reasons that have more to do with geopolitical goals than public health.” It is for such reasons that Dr. Tedros asked medical companies if they could now step up and support the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool — the WHO’s more progressive alternative to Gates’ ACT-Accelerator. Yet perhaps the most significant solution proposed by Dr. Tedros to redress the ongoing problems caused by COVID-profiteering was “to waive intellectual property rights on Covid-19 products” – something that was argued for last October at the World Trade Organization (WTO) by the governments of South Africa and India amongst others.

Similar demands for opening access to vaccine patents have been repeatedly made by health experts throughout the pandemic. A recent article published by four influencial health commentators made the obvious point that for “low-income countries, COVAX is a vaccine lifeline when the prices of bilateral agreements become too high.” They then went on to highlight how the limited resources devoted to COVAX by high-income countries means that vaccine hoarding countries can falsely emphasize to the world how caring they are while still relying on COVAX supplies as “an insurance mechanism should their bilaterally-agreed supplies fall short.” Little wonder that the writers concluded that “COVAX is serving as a smokescreen to cover up vaccine nationalism.” They continued:

“The cost of medicines is seen as the root problem of access to vaccines and technology. Hence the campaign for a temporary suspension (waiver) of intellectual property rights protected under the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) agreement of the WTO for all medical products required to fight the pandemic.

“South Africa and India put forward a proposal for a vaccine waiver supported by developing countries and civil society campaigns. However this was blocked by the EU, US, UK, and Switzerland among other high-income states.”

This deadly blockage on the production of the necessary vaccines — which can help alleviate the spread of the pandemic — serves to endanger us all, but particularly those in the world’s poorest countries. This is why it is necessary for trade unions and community groups in high-income states to demand that their governments place the need of humanity before protecting the needs of corporate profiteers. An example of such effective organising can be seen though the recent activism of Socialist Alternative councilmember Kshama Sawant. By working alongside various trade unionists and civic groups Sawant managed to force Seattle City Council to pass a resolution (on April 26) calling on President Biden to end his government’s opposition to the international campaign for an Intellectual Property Rights waiver from the WTO for COVID-19 vaccines. On the day this resolution was passed, Councilmember Sawant said:

I congratulate our movement on winning today’s City Council resolution, urging the Biden administration to put human lives before billionaire profit, and remove the WTO patent restrictions to allow all billions of people to have access to the life-saving vaccine. This resolution demonstrates our movement’s rejection of the status quo of profit-driven vaccine apartheid and vaccine nationalism, and our fight for vaccine internationalism, for a People’s Vaccine!…

“Billionaires are lying when they claim that these profits are necessary to develop future vaccines and treatments, because clinical innovations have been possible only thanks to overwhelming amounts of public funding, and the hard work of many publicly-funded salaried researchers, not by billionaires.”

But passing resolutions is not enough to force the hands of the billionaire-class, which is why Sawant continues to organise on the streets to build the type of socialist mass movement that can wrest a People’s Vaccine from the capitalist class. On May Day this saw Sawant and her supporters take their protest to the offices of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle where they demanded that Biden and Gates immediately act to remove patent restrictions to allow the production of generic versions of all lifesaving COVID-19 devices.

Bill Gates and the question of public funding

The focus on Bill Gates’ unique role in blocking solutions to the COVID nightmare enveloping the planet is worth reflecting upon here for two reasons: firstly because of his widely publicised defence of the indefensible, that is the protection of patents for COVID vaccines; but also because of his role in ensuring that one of the first vaccines that made it to market remained accessible only to those with the requisite buying power. The vaccine in question is now widely referred to as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, but we should recall that when it first successfully developed by researchers at Oxford University in April 2020, the researchers involved in its discovery had promised that the rights for producing their vaccine would be made freely available to all drug manufacturers. This after all was a vaccine that was developed, like most vaccines, as a direct result of public sector funding – with less than 2% of the identified funding for the development of the Oxford vaccine derived from private industry. But Gates knew better than to allow a vaccine to be used to help the world, and with a little persuading a “few weeks later, Oxford—urged on by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—reversed course. It signed an exclusive vaccine deal with AstraZeneca that gave the pharmaceutical giant sole rights and no guarantee of low prices”.

AstraZeneca subsequently arrived at a rare compromise with the rest of the world when they promised that, in the short-term, the corporation would not turn a profit from its COVID-19 vaccine. But it turns out that there remains an important clause in this agreement, which determined that as soon as the corporation believes the pandemic is over, then their profiteering can begin. Other problems similarly reside in the small print, as prices paid for the Oxford- AstraZeneca vaccine vary considerably. Such discriminatory variations, as one might expect, caused some controversy in South Africa – one of the countries where the Oxford-AstraZeneca was trialled on humans – who found out that they were sold the vaccine at nearly 2.5 times the cost it was sold to the European Union (with the EU paying less for the vaccine that the UK government – costs per dose were US$2.15 for the EU, US$3 for the UK, and US$5.25 for South Africa).

Global solidarity?

As this pandemic has starkly illustrated, we are struck in the tragic position where the most powerful countries in the world are refusing to take the necessary actions to help prevent the spread of the pandemic. It seems that the only time that such capitalist powerbrokers ever act with any urgency is when they feel they can turn a profit, either for their country or for their billionaire friends.

So, with good knowledge of the funding problems that laid ahead, in March 2020 the World Health Organization created the first means by which members of the global public could contribute towards their COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. Yet as is so often the case, in reality it seems that the main target donors for this so-called solidarity fund were members of the billionaire-class seeking to garner some cheap publicity. I say this because by the end of last year the WHO had observed that “more than 650,000 leading companies, organizations and individuals [had] committed over US$239.2 million” to the Fund – which works out to be an average rate of funding of US$370 per donor… hardly much of a sacrifice for the world’s leading companies. Individual donors are not listed on the Fund’s web site, but corporate donors who are prominently advertised include the likes of Facebook, Google, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Morgan Stanley, and Walmart. However, as if this poor show of international solidarity were not bad enough it seems that the rate of support for this Fund had slowed considerably, and a further 19,000 donations had only garnered another U$8 million from the global ruling-class. Compare this paltry sum to the trillions of dollars that the super-rich have amassed in savings during this pandemic. Or contrast this lacklustre display of corporate aid with the generosity of ordinary members of the public: where, in the UK alone, the public donated £5.4 billion to charitable causes between January and June 2020 (equivalent to just short of US$7.5 billion).

Perhaps partly born out of frustration with the dangerously slow pace of global vaccinations, in February 2021 the “co-creator of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca jab” Professor Sarah Gilbert lent her name to support a new funding initiative called “Arm in arm” which sought to collect donations from the public to help pay for the costs of vaccinating the rest of the world. Although the money generated through this program is again being channelled to the WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, the difference between this initiative and the official WHO fundraising project is that the Arm in arm project has used their social media channel to raise important criticisms of the pro-corporate narrative being pushed by the likes of Bill Gates. Thus one of Arm in arm’s first tweets highlighted the results of a public survey that highlighted how the majority of British people believed “the UK government should press pharmaceutical companies to share their Covid vaccine formula to allow doses to be rolled out faster.” More recently still, on May 1, Arm in arm tweeted an article that outlined the devastating impact that Tory cuts to foreign aid budgets would have for an ongoing academic study being undertaken in collaboration with the University of Oxford that was concerned with developing “vital coronavirus research, including a project tracking variants in India”. On the same day the fund-raising initiative also retweeted a post calling for Big Pharma to waive vaccine patents – providing a link to an article that lambasted Bill Gates for promoting the lie that it would be impossible to scale up vaccine production if patents on vaccines were ever relaxed.

In contrast to adopting such a critical position on the issue of drug patents, the same questioning attitude is never likely to be vocalised by the WHO Foundation, a new philanthropic body that was formed in May 2020. The creation of this foundation is not a good omen, and in many ways only serves to reflect the increasing influence that the Gates Foundation has exerted over the recent evolution of the WHO and the corporatisation of global health care provision. In explaining why this new philanthropy was established the WHO Foundation pointed out that its formation owed much to the fact that the WHO itself “is not set up to approach individual or corporate donors.” As they went on to note:

“For example, High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs) look for a personalized process in which they can invest and engage, and the WHO Foundation can provide that. Furthermore, the WHO Foundation, as an independent entity, can offer tax incentives to donors.”

In December the WHO Foundation subsequently announced that their inaugural CEO would be Anil Soni, an elite powerbroker who was recruited directly from the ranks of Big Pharma – with Soni having the added ‘benefit’ of being a former senior advisor to the Gates Foundation. And while High Net Worth Individuals seem to remain the WHO Foundation’s primary target audience, last week (on April 28) the WHO Foundation launched a new project called “Go Give One” to fund the work of COVAX. In many ways this new initiative duplicates the work being undertaken by Arm in arm, however, the primary difference between the two fund-raising initiatives is that the WHO Foundation’s messaging is unlikely to stray from neoliberal narratives that promote only personalised cross-class solutions to the deep-rooted problems that are caused by capitalist greed.

Real solutions

In February 2021, the South African delegation to the World Trade Organisation reaffirmed what most ordinary people of the world already know, that the pandemic represented a huge threat to us all and that COVAX was not a solution that was able to remedy this global problem. The South African representative observed that “the model of donation and philanthropic expediency cannot solve the fundamental disconnect between the monopolistic model it underwrites and the very real desire of developing and least developed countries to produce for themselves.” Simply put, they said, the “problem with philanthropy is that it cannot buy equality.” That is right, but to get to the real root of the issue we really need to see the underlying problem as capitalism itself. Philanthropy is after all just one tool among many that the billionaire-class relies upon to prop up a political and economic system that is premised upon inequality. This is why nice-sounding platitudes about Bill Gates (and other capitalists) wanting to help the poor need to be perpetually rammed down our throats by the mainstream media. But in peering beneath all the billionaire-classes harmonious mantras, philanthropic investments are continuing to play a critical role in sustaining a crumbling status quo that is premised upon exploitation. In this way we can see how…

COVAX presents a high-stakes demonstration of Gates’s deepest ideological commitments, not just to intellectual property rights but also to the conflation of these rights with an imaginary free market in pharmaceuticals—an industry dominated by companies whose power derives from politically constructed and politically imposed monopolies. Gates has been tacitly and explicitly defending the legitimacy of knowledge monopolies since his first Gerald Ford–era missives against open-source software hobbyists. He was on the side of these monopolies during the miserable depths of the 1990s African AIDS crisis. He’s still there today, defending the status quo and running effective interference for those profiting by the billions from their control of Covid-19 vaccines.”

Owing to Gates’ ongoing ability to reap immense profits from the current system – with his personal wealth actually increasing during the pandemic – his ability to interfere in global politics knows few boundaries and is certainly not limited to facilitating private profiteering from public health. Thus, Gates is also at the forefront of pushing false solutions to the ongoing climate disaster facing our planet, and earlier this year he even found the time to publish a book titled How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need. Herein Gates makes a number of “depressingly familiar” proposals for how to prevent the unfolding climate disaster, none of which include the urgent need to transition away from capitalism towards a socialist alternative. His rhetoric, even if it is not intended to, does however give some indications of the direction of travel that is necessary to embark upon if we are to generate real solutions to both the climate and COVID crises.

Gates is right that “Every country will need to change its ways.” And it is true, as he asserts in his book, that “It would be immoral and impractical to try to stop people who are lower down on the economic ladder from climbing up.” This is precisely why socialists continue to campaign for the ending of a global economic system that prioritizes profit before human life – a system that deliberately divides the world between the haves and the have-nots, and between two classes, the ruling-class and the working-classes. And in terms of the serious environmental problems facing our planet, Gates is correct in stating:

“[T]his isn’t primarily a technological problem. It’s a political and economic problem. People cut down trees not because people are evil; they do it when the incentives to cut down trees are stronger than the incentives to leave them alone.”

Such incentives are of course driven by capitalisms life-degrading priorities. And, yes, there is a very urgent need for ordinary people to deal with the very real political and economic problem that enables the ruling-class to direct and profit from the daily grind and impoverishment of the rest of us.

Finally, Gates is right that the primary answer to the ongoing oppression of our class and the destruction of our planet revolves around ordinary people taking “concerted political action”. As he puts it:

“It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of a problem as big as climate change. But you’re not powerless. And you don’t have to be a politician or a philanthropist to make a difference. You have influence…”

But while Gates emphasizes the role of individuals as political actors who content themselves with working strictly within the strict limits of a capitalist system, increasing numbers of people are coming to the important realisation that the working-class will always feel powerless so long as capitalism exists.

So, if we are serious about creating the type of democratic and socialist society that works to benefit the many not just the few, billions of people will need to take “concerted political action” — whether this be through protests on the streets or by linking up to organize powerful general strikes. Only then, when we take such powerful militant actions, will we be able to begin the process of transforming society so that human priorities are able to inform our politics and economics. As ultimately it will be through this process of struggle, a fight that needs to be waged worldwide in a climate of genuine solidarity, that the working-class will be able to prevent the impending climate catastrophe and safeguard our collective futures against this pandemic and any other future health disasters.

Michael Barker is the author of the 2017 book Under the Mask of Philanthropy.

A Mistaken Take on Revolutionary Strategy, the Case of 1905

Capitalism is drenched from head to foot in the blood of the working class. This is one reason why socialists believe that if we are to rid ourselves of this murderous system then we must mobilise the full weight of our class against all our oppressors: mass revolutionary struggle is the order of the day. At the same time, we must acknowledge that the capitalist class will use always use violence to defend their pernicious system from democratic accountability. So, if we are serious about cleansing our world of a political system that looks more favourably upon fascism than socialism, workers must be able to defend themselves while struggling for this change.

To date the most important revolutionary movement that wrested power from the powerful and placed it firmly in the hands of organised workers was the Russian Revolution of October 1917. As such critical lessons can be learned from this historic event. First off, we should note that the transfer of power to the Russian masses is commonly disparaged by its ideological opponents as representing a coup d’état that was carried through by a small band of revolutionaries. This is a lie: because the October Revolution’s success was built upon the power of a genuine mass movement of millions. Secondly, the Revolution is presented by its critics as an act of violent bloodletting when it was nothing of the sort. The real violence came through the capitalist counterrevolution. Rather than let Russia’s democratic workers’ state remain intact, more than twenty foreign states unleashed a vicious civil war on the Russian people.

Violence on trial

In recent years one of the most influential books to create a false equivalence between state violence and the determined resistance of armed workers is Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall’s A Force More Powerful: A Century of Non-violent Conflict (St Martin’s Press, 2015). Written by two State Department theoreticians, this mammoth tome celebrates a hundred years of mass struggles for justice – which, as the authors admit, have taken place against a backdrop of “wars, genocide, carpet bombing, and terror”. Their book’s primary objective, however, is highly problematic, as the authors seek to convince their readers that capitalist democracy is the only remedy for oppression, and that non-violent tactics alone are the most effective method for ensuring such change.

Perhaps of most interest to socialists, the first (and longest) chapter of A Force More Powerful deals with the Russian Revolution of 1905. Lenin famously referred to this titanic year of struggle like this: “Without the ‘dress rehearsal’ of 1905, the victory of the October Revolution in 1917 would have been impossible.” Ackerman and DuVall beg to differ and summarise this mass uprising like this:

“When Lenin wrote from Geneva before the march [led by Father Gapon] on the Winter Palace [in January 1905] that the people had to be armed to secure their liberty, he would soon be disproved, as strikes and nonviolent resistance frustrated the regime at almost every turn and opened the way for constitutional change. But he and his party went right on believing it.

“The Marxists were wrong, of course. The sponsors of violence in 1905 derailed the Russian people’s first genuine assertion of democratic power in their history. Moreover, violence in 1905 sowed the seeds for violence in 1917, creating then a new regime dedicated even more systematically than the Tsar’s to violence as the basis for state power.”

But it is Ackerman and DuVall who are wrong, of course. The sponsors of the violence in 1917 were the capitalists. In the five years succeeding the revolution the armies of more than twenty foreign nations waged a bloody civil war that decimated the fledging workers’ state, liquidating millions of lives and depleting the revolutionary state of most of their leading activists. It was this ultra-violence that helped lay the groundwork for Stalin’s eventual seizure of power and the flourishing of Stalin’s anti-democratic regime. With Stalin’s betrayal of socialist ideals being encouraged by capitalist elites but bravely resisted by real revolutionaries like Leon Trotsky and thousands of others who made up the Left Opposition. Yet genuine Marxists, following in the tradition of Trotsky, have always been clear that there can be no political short-cuts on the path to socialism. The only way for the working-class to assume power is when they themselves rise-up in their millions to smash our chains of capitalist exploitation.

The authors of A Force More Powerful as forthright defenders of capitalisms global beneficence have set themselves the unenviable task of falsifying history by proving that nonviolence is the only force capable of extracting meaningful reforms from violent elites. “Tyrants were toppled, governments were overthrown, occupying armies were impeded, and political systems that withheld human rights were shattered,” all successes that were apparently obtained through nonviolent collection action alone. Furthermore, what Ackerman and DuVall refuse to mention is that most of the case studies provided in their book demonstrate how the working-class have been forced to topple violent capitalist-backed dictatorships.

Of police unions and nonviolence

In setting out their pacifying history of social change, A Force More Powerful begins with a forensic, if deeply flawed, interpretation of the 1905 revolution — a historic event which in the hands of Ackerman and DuVall places overwhelming emphasis on the role of a single act of mass nonviolence that kicked off an epic year of struggle. They surmise: “In 1905 an Orthodox priest, Georgii Gapon, persuaded 150,000 workers to walk the icy streets of Russia’s ancient capital in the century’s first public challenge to autocratic power. He ignited mass action nationwide that led to the country’s first popularly elected national parliament.” But herein lies the first example of the authors nonviolent distortions: first off, this was not the centuries first public action challenging the Tsar’s despotism, the entire country of 150 million people had been in turmoil for decades. And second, while it is true that this mass act of civil disobedience did ignite a revolutionary upsurge, the result of that year of bloody struggle was the creation of a toothless parliament with the Tsar still safely ensconced at its helm. The other major response of the Russian state to the 1905 uprising was to release a new wave of terror upon the masses, cojoined by a new wave of anti-Jewish pogroms. That is why the real victory for workers came not after this first struggle for emancipation, but after the subsequent waves of mass resistance that finally allowed workers to take power in October 1917.

Nevertheless, after getting off to an inaccurate start, the opening chapter of the book does go some way towards correcting itself. It beginsby foregrounding the immense violence of the Tsar’s Christian fiefdom, noting how governors of the state “could order anyone detained without trial, and associations or clubs of the most innocent kind could be forbidden. Autocracy, in short, meant that there were no rights.” Yes, in the preceding decades ordinary people had attempted “to liberate the country from absolutism” but to no avail. Some of these underground groups in desperation therefore turned to acts of individual terror, with a focus on assassinating political opponents. And as Ackerman and DuVall observe, “a new terrorist group, the ‘Battle Organization’ of the Socialist Revolutionary (SR) Party, had become active after the turn of the century.” In their next sentence however, the authors correctly acknowledge that genuine Marxists – like those in the tradition of the leaders of the October 1917 revolution — rejected such terroristic tactics. They write: “Other radicals rejected terrorism and tried instead to organize peasants or workers for popular uprisings. Marxist ideas tempted many young people, and socialists had agitated among workers in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and elsewhere since the 1890s.”

Father Gapon

With the Tsar inhabiting an alternative universe imbued with the tradition of plebian bloodletting, it is understandable why the head of the Russian Empire felt his authoritarian rule would remain immune from the organising efforts of the masses. But other members of the ruling-class were more cognisant of the growing threat posed by ordinary people and “feared that the state would lose ground to revolutionaries in the battle for workers’ allegiance.” “Strikes in St. Petersburg, and the involvement of Marxist activists in organizing them,” thus had a clarifying effect upon the minds of those few ruler’s conscious of this growing democratic threat. This led Sergei Zubatov, who was the head of the political police in Moscow, to set out to undermine the Marxists’ in a novel way by creating “state-sponsored mutual aid societies” which were run “under the supervision of police agents.”

By 1902 Zubatov had been transferred to St. Petersburg which soon brought him into a working relationship with the now famous Father Gapon. The priest was not altogether stupid and saw the limitations of Zubatov’s police-centred approach — which for obvious reasons did not engender the trust of most workers — and subsequently he created a more sophisticated version of such police unions. In late 1903 Gapon thus chose to launch his Assembly of Russian Factory and Mill Workers having “convinced officials…to keep the police out of day-to-day operations of the Assembly.” In contrast to genuine democratic organs of the working-class, however, it is critical to note that this new Assembly was under the total and conspiratorial control of just one person, Father Gapon.

Igniting a revolution: the nonviolence of Bloody Sunday

With the working-class striving for their collective freedom from despotism, the priest’s efforts to provide a pro-Tsarist alternative to democratically-run trade unions were never going to be easy for one person to control, and soon Gapon’s work to misdirect the working-class became overwhelmed by the democratic impulses of his deeply frustrated members. “In early December four Assembly members who worked at the giant Putilov metal factory, the largest industrial plant in Russia, were fired or threatened with firing.” This attack had the effect of forcing Gapon’s hand, because if he couldn’t convince the employer to reinstate his members, he would lose the trust of the thousands of the members of his now powerful Assembly. The bullying factory bosses were evidently not as politically sophisticated as the priest and so refused to reinstate the four workers. And although under Gapon’s pacifying leadership the Assembly had made a principle out of opposing all strikes, events soon overtook the priest, such that the “only thing left was the sanction of last resort: a strike.” Now the workers added more demands, demands that Gapon’s Assembly had adopted as a direct result of the influence of former Marxist organisers who had helped popularise the work of the Assembly. Aleksei Karelin, for instance, succeeded in pushing forward socialist demands within the Assembly, having already helped fill-out the ranks of the Assembly because of the “’unshakeable authority’ [he maintained] among the city’s factory workers”.

“On Sunday, January 2, 6,000 Putilov workers met at the Assembly’s Narva branch and voted to strike the next day to protest the firings. By Tuesday they had closed down the plant and idled over 12,000 workers. Their demands: rehiring the fired workers, a board of workers’ representatives to oversee pay rates, an eight-hour day, the end of overtime work, and free medical care. Putilov strikers began to make the rounds of other factories, and by the end of the week, over 110,000 workers at more than 400 factories in St. Petersburg had joined the strike.”

Still, with no sign of the bosses backing down, and with the credibility of his Assembly at stake, Gapon, under the pressure of events beyond his control now felt compelled to declare that he would lead a peaceful march on the Winter Palace. And it was on this march that he planned to present a petition to the Tsar that demanded justice for all workers. Gapon it seems believed that the Tsar would have to listen — after all he wasn’t demanding a revolution, quite the contrary, his Assembly had always actively supported the Tsar’s rule. But the 150,000 strong protest, as we now know – which took place on Sunday, January 9 — and was tragically drowned in the blood of workers… hence its name, Bloody Sunday.

Wojciech Kossak: Petersburg KoneserKrakow

In the events leading up to this historic protest Marxists had warned their fellow workers that the peaceful march would be repressed, so they had urged attendees that they should be prepared to defend themselves if necessary. But with Gapon’s influence in ascendence among the masses, revolutionaries lost this important argument, and with much trepidation these same Marxists joined the march that was headed towards inevitable state violence. The result: by the end of the day, hundreds, if not thousands, lay slaughtered in the streets, but a revolution had been ignited.

“Making hollow the Tsar’s claim that he adored his people, the regime’s violence on Bloody Sunday accomplished what revolutionary agitation could not. The hope of St. Petersburg’s workers that their ruler heard their cries for justice or would act on their behalf was ravaged. No one voiced his outrage more plainly than Father Gapon.”

At an emergency meeting held on the night of the massacre, Gapon, now disguised to present his arrest “shouted out, ‘Peaceful means have failed! … Now we must go over to other means!’” However, when the violent-minded priest (now shorn of his familiar beard) “was recognized, the meeting flew into an uproar, and he fled through the back door—and then into foreign exile, no longer part of the movement he had helped create.”

Valentin Serov: Where is your glory, soldiers? – Bloody Sunday

When a priest allies with terrorists

Although not discussed by the authors of A Force More Powerful, Gapon would now join the ranks of the leading (non-Marxist) group utilising terrorism, the Socialist-Revolutionaries. And when he finally returned to Russia in late 1905 – at the height of the revolutionary movement – Gapon soon dropped his SR friends to intervene in the revolution on behalf of the Tsar. This neglected part of Gapon’s career is discussed in the book that Ackerman and DuVall relied heavily upon in writing their own chapter, this being Abraham Ascher’s The Revolution of 1905: Russia in Disarray (Stanford University Press, 1988). Within this text we find further highly significant details about Gapon’s anti-democratic intrigues.

It is apparent that despite Gapon’s best intentions to help his royal friends, the Tsar’s governors had insisted that Gapon would serve a more useful role for them back in Western Europe. Thus after his return to Russia Gapon was dispatched back to Europe where he…

“…assumed the role of a leader of a resurgent loyal workers’ movement. He attracted maximum publicity in the press by appealing to workers to avoid violence and by assailing the extremism of the revolutionary parties. He even spoke favorably of [the authoritarian government minister Sergei] Witte as the only man capable of saving Russia from the abyss.” (Ascher, The Revolution of 1905, p.99)

It was only in late December that Gapon was allowed to return to Russia, where he re-established connections with both the police and with the prominent SR leader Petr Rutenberg. Gapon of course hadn’t changed, and he now tried to persuade Rutenberg to enter into a bizarre conspiracy that would enable the SRs to get 100,000 rubles from the police. Rutenberg then “talked to E.F. Azef, the then head of the [SR] party’s ‘Combat Organization’ and later exposed as a police agent, who insisted Gapon must be killed.”[i] This intrigue soon led to Gapon’s execution. And the Russian people, who had initially been part of the priest’s covert power play, now had to wait until 1917 for an end to the Tsar’s despotic rule.

In the intervening years it is worth highlighting that it was Marxists who had argued most vigorously against the SRs advocacy of terrorism. And when Azef’s true identity as a police spy was finally revealed in 1909 it was Leon Trotsky who, in his popular article “The bankruptcy of terrorism,” reiterated how it is always those with “a lack of confidence in the revolutionary masses” that drift towards using such defeatist and counter-revolutionary violence as individual terrorism.

Self-defence within a revolutionary explosion

Returning now to the events of Bloody Sunday: no-one was prepared for the explosion of working-class anger that led to and followed on from the peaceful march on the Winter Palace. Nevertheless, general strikes now spread across the entire nation, injecting new life into the class struggle — actions which vindicated all those Marxist organisers who had spent years popularising such militant forms of industrial action. Indeed as Trotsky correctly observed: “Gapon did not create the revolutionary energy of the workers of St. Petersburg; he merely released it, to his own surprise.”[ii]

Gapon had unwittingly set-in chain a series of events that shook the world — demonstrating once and for all where the real power lies in society, with the people. Yet not everyone agreed with such analyses, not least Russia’s liberal intellectuals who most of all feared the consequences of unleashing the democratic power and aspirations of the working-class. Commenting on the nonsense of these intellectuals’ concerns, Trotsky pointed out how:

“The liberals persisted for a long time in the belief that the entire secret of the events of January 9 lay in Gapon’s personality. It contrasted him with the [Marxist] Social Democrats as though he were a political leader who knew the secret of controlling the masses and they a doctrinaire sect. In doing so they forgot that January 9 would not have taken place if Gapon had not encountered several thousand politically conscious workers who had been through the school of socialism. These men immediately formed an iron ring around him, a ring from which he could not have broken loose even if he had wanted to. But he made no attempt to break loose. Hypnotized by his own success, he let himself be carried by the waves.”

With Gapon fleeing to exile and with strikes and peasant uprisings convulsing the nation, Marxists continued to argue for a more democratic means of coordinating this almighty display of popular resistance. State violence was of course a norm that workers knew that they had to put up with (for the time being anyway). So, workers armed themselves in self-defence, not because Marxists forced or tricked them into adopting violent countermeasures, but because they were left with no option if they wanted to survive.[iii]

Demonstrating the serious threat posted to life by the Tsar’s militarism, the authors of A Force More Powerful explainhowon February 17 the government of St. Petersburg “declared martial law in Georgia and sent in 10,000 soldiers” to crush the “self-governing peasant republic” of Guriia. Such a full-frontal attack was deemed necessary because the peasants there had been in democratic control of their own affairs for the past few years. Panicking at the peasants spreading influence, the government now sought to extinguish their rebellion where “all power… was in the hands of the Guriian Social Democratic Committee, which held weekly public meetings featuring unrestrained debate.”

In recounting this story about an inspiring democratic movement that was led by Marxists, Ackerman and DuVall however twist it to serve the opposite purpose, with the rebellion apparently proving Leo Tolstoy’s pacificist maxims. “Rather than looking to the government to help them, Tolstoy said, or attacking the authorities, they [the peasants of Guriia] were simply making themselves independent of their rulers.” A Force More Powerful’s ‘historians’ ignore the fact that the Marxist-led peasant republic was more than capable of using violence to defend itself, just as they had done in early 1906 when the Tsar finally succeeded in crushing this insurrection. It is also worth pointing out that when the Tsar had sent in the 10,000 troops in February 1905 to behead the uprising the military had proved powerless in the face of a determined mass movement that was prepared to defend itself. Indeed, if we refer to the source that Ackerman and DuVall draw upon in making their lopsided argument, we learn that the troops…

“…spent four months in the region without launching an attack. Not only did the rebellious peasants enjoy enormous support, but [General] Alikhanov-Avarskii feared that his troops would fraternize with them. In July he withdrew his forces completely, only to return in October to assault the insurgents in earnest. But it was not until January 1906, when the government was reasserting its authority throughout the Empire, that the insurrection in Georgia was fully crushed, and then only after much blood had been shed.” (Ascher, The Revolution of 1905, pp.154-5)[iv]

In yet another example of workers organising militant industrial action A Force More Powerful goes on to highlight a dispute which marked the formation of what is widely hailed as the first forerunner of the peoples’ Soviets.

“In Ivanovo-Voznesensk, a major textile center, more than 30,000 workers went out on strike on May 12. Workers from each factory elected representatives to an Assembly of Delegates, which conducted negotiations for the strikers. It drew up a list of demands, including an eight-hour day, higher wages, maternity leave, and freedom of speech and assembly, and it formed a militia to prevent violence. Only after troops attacked workers at a meeting in late May, whipping many and killing a few, did the strike turn violent: For eight days workers rioted, looted, and scuffled in the streets with police and soldiers. The strike dragged on until the end of June, when employers, under pressure from authorities, offered a few minor concessions and exhausted strikers returned to their jobs.”[v]

Although these workers failed to win most of their stated goals, this heroic struggle inspired workers far and wide particularly because of the successful formation of their democratic assembly of Deputies. Moreover, “Outside the Kingdom of Poland, it was the longest and most disciplined strike between January and October.” And most significantly, the request by the Assembly of Delegates to form an armed workers militia was prohibited by the Tsar because it effectively represented a demand “for police powers, which was even more threatening to the authorities than the demands for freedom of speech and assembly.” (Ascher, The Revolution of 1905, p.150.) So, considering the murderous response of government officials throughout 1905 and beyond it is entirely understandable why workers demanded that they had a democratic right to defend themselves.

Tsardom on the brink of collapse

Strikes and protests now continued to develop across the nation (albeit sporadically), and by August the Tsar, forced by mass pressure, very reluctantly approved the formation of a consultative assembly, or Duma. This was too little too late, and the limited suffrage on offer meant “that in St. Petersburg, a city of over a million people, only about 7,000 would be eligible to vote.” Little wonder the workers were not overly impressed. When a printer’s strike then broke out in Moscow in mid-September it didn’t take long for the dispute to spread, and Ackerman and DuVall observe that soon workers “elected deputies to a council, called a ‘soviet,’ to coordinate the strike” – a strike that had spread to St. Petersburg by the beginning of October. At the same time a rail strike took the entire country by storm and “acted as a catalyst for a general strike that suspended urban life in much of the Russian empire.” Now with the collective experience gained since Bloody Sunday, workers were embarking on a political strike of historic proportions. On this development Ackerman and DuVall point out that:

“Even as they were acting together with other citizens in the general strike, the workers of St. Petersburg were setting themselves apart, as a force to defy the regime. The Menshevik faction of the Social Democrats [which included Trotsky] had been pressing workers since the summer to form grass-roots organizations. Instead of waiting for the state to grant reforms, the Mensheviks wanted workers to take the initiative and develop their own institutions, as popular movements would do in nonviolent conflicts later in the century. On October 10 they called on workers in the capital to elect deputies to form the Petersburg General Workers’ Committee. Three days later 40 deputies went to the Committee’s first meeting; by the third meeting two days later, there were 266 deputies from almost 100 factories as well as a number of unions. On October 17 the Committee voted to rename itself the St. Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies.”

Now “the [revolutionary] socialists found themselves in the forefront of a people’s movement”; and “None of them had a higher profile than Leon Trotsky… [who] became a leader among the city’s revolutionaries and a key strategist in the Soviet.” Yet despite these kind words for Trotsky’s leadership skills, the authors of A Force More Power are intent on blaming Trotsky and other Marxists for imposing violence upon what they believe was an otherwise organically nonviolent mass movement. Ackerman and DuVall therefore berate the leaders of the Soviet – most of whom, we should remember, were not Marxists like Trotsky – for forgetting “that the strike had spread easily because it was nonviolent”. Of course, strikes were usually nonviolent, so long as they were not being attacked by the state; but when threatened we should be clear that most workers were prepared to defend themselves, and so it is entirely disingenuous to pretend that it was just the revolutionaries who argued that workers should be armed.

It is also critical to emphasize that the actions taken by the Soviet were done so in the most democratic fashion in contrast to Father Gapon’s Tsarist escapades. Ackerman and DuVall admit as much: “While the Assembly had been run from the top by Father Gapon and his circle, the Soviet’s members were enamored of doing things democratically.” Moreover, while the two authors, as determined advocates of nonviolence, believe that violence should play no role in mass movements, they argue that “the Soviet helped make the October general strike into a vibrant nonviolent campaign, the century’s first.” This is true, but at the same time Marxists always argued that peaceful strikes alone would never be enough to bring an end to the oppression faced by the working-class. 

Resistance amidst pogroms

State violence never relented in its attempts to obliterate the workers’ movement throughout 1905, and on October 12 the Tsar demanded that the governor-general put up signs in the streets saying “I have ordered the troops and police to suppress any such attempt [to create disorders] immediately and in the most decisive manner [and] upon a show of resistance to this on the part of the crowd—not to fire blank volleys and not to spare cartridges.” “The public were not intimidated,” as Ackerman and DuVall recognised, and the people responded by taking control of the streets. This meant that on the day the Tsar’s message was put out in St. Petersburg “40,000 people demonstrated in the streets”. As if were not bad enough for the Tsar, as the days went on it became apparent that the ruling-class was increasingly losing control over his own repressive state apparatus. This became clear when the Tsar “opted for a crackdown [on October 17] and asked the Grand Duke Nikolai to assume the responsibilities of military dictator.” But the Duke refused, and with the Tsar’s authority visibly collapsing the despot was forced by the pressure of the masses on the streets to finally offer them his “October Manifesto” for reform (also on October 17).

Revolutionaries recognised this about face for the weakness that it was, and urged Russian workers onwards, to demand more, and to organise so they could oust the Tsar and seize the reins of power for themselves. Contrast this reaction with the liberal trend of analysis presented in A Force More Powerful which predictably sides with the Tsar, not the masses. Hence the two authors blithely assert that the mass revolutionary movement should have immediately dissolved itself, resting happy that the people had won something positive from the despot. And at this stage, in order to denigrate the revolutionary’s insistence that workers press on and fight for the end of absolutism, Ackerman and DuVall refer to the short shrift Trotsky gave to the Tsar’s Manifesto.

“From a university balcony, Leon Trotsky insisted to a horde of workers and students flying red banners that the struggle was not over. ‘Citizens! Now that we have got the ruling clique with its back against the wall, they promise us freedom,’ Trotsky bellowed. ‘Is the promise of liberty the same as liberty itself? … With sword in hand we must stand guard over our freedom. As for the Tsar’s manifesto, look, it’s only a scrap of paper. Here it is before you—here it is crumpled in my fist. Today they have issued it, tomorrow they will take it away and tear it into pieces, just as I am now tearing up this paper freedom before your eyes!’”

Not wanting to knit-pick, but Ackerman and DuVall’s decision to use a derogatory word like horde is noteworthy, as in this instance Trotsky was speaking to a 100,000 strong crowd of citizens who were fighting for their futures against a regime that had showed time and time again that it had no respect for human life. Moreover, the working-class had good reasons for not trusting the Tsar at his word. This is because at exactly the same time that the Tsar’s Manifesto was released (on October 17) the Tsar had imposed “a torrent of violence” upon the people. “The police tolerated and, in some cases, encouraged” this mayhem, the authors of A Force More Powerful remind us. “Right-wing crowds called ‘Black Hundreds’ roved Moscow and St. Petersburg for days,” Ackerman and DuVall continue, “smashing shop windows, and beating and sometimes killing students, workers, and others suspected of revolutionary activity.”

Thus, “precisely at the moment when the autocracy was at its weakest, when it had been compelled to grant it first major concession, the defenders of the old order unleashed their most intense and ferocious attack on the advocates of change.” (Ascher, The Revolution of 1905, p.253) The depth of this violence knew few ends, and just months later (in February 1906) it was publicly revealed by the Director of Police in the Ministry of Internal Affairs “that in October and November 1905 a secret press in the police headquarters in the capital [St. Petersburg] had printed ‘thousands of proclamations’ urging ‘all true Russians to ruse and exterminate all foreigners, Jews, Armenians, etc. and all those who were advocates of reform and talked of restricting the autocratic power of the Sovereign.’ It also emerged that General Trepov had personally made corrections on the proofs of some of the proclamations.” (Ascher, The Revolution of 1905, p.259)

An insurrectionary moment

A state-sanctioned rage that was propelled forward by the Tsar and his noblemen now ravaged the entire country from October onwards. The monarch was not known for being either rational or reasonable, and Ackerman and DuVall spotlight his reactionary nature when they write:

“The Tsar took heart from right-wing appeals. The ‘whole mass of loyal people,’ he wrote to his mother on October 27, were lashing out against the small number of ‘bad people’ who had led them astray, including ‘the kikes’ but also Russian intellectuals and agitators.”

If not clear to the above authors, it was abundantly apparent to millions of oppressed Russians that democracy could only be won by ending the Tsar’s oppressive regime; indeed, Ackerman and DuVall were right when they said: “if they stopped fighting as the Tsar was on the ropes, they could forfeit the chance for an even larger victory.” Such a victory however was never going to be inaugurated by simply striking or pleading peacefully outside of the Tsar’s Palace. Vivid memories of what had happened when 150,000 people had marched to the Winter Palace were already etched into the working-classes memories, as were a hundred other acts of brutality. It was widely understood that the Tsar was not going to hand over power without a fight, and so it was logical that socialists would argue that his regime could only be ousted by a democratic and armed uprising of the masses: a strategic decision that was democratically affirmed by the St. Petersburg Soviet the day after the October Manifesto had been announced.[vi]

It is worth dwelling on the point that violence harnessed to a democratic movement is an entirely different phenomena to the violence welded by an autocratic regime or to the violence used by individual terrorists. Revolutionaries start from the premise that it is legitimate and necessary for workers to defend themselves. This is important as the masses need to able to organise the type of nonviolent protests/strikes that can allow the working-class to assert their authority over their oppressors.

But when Marxists talk about the need for armed workers and for an armed insurrection, they are not fetishizing violence. They are merely accepting what is objectively necessary to pass from capitalist brutality to a socialist democracy. Marxists are categorical that only when the majority of people want to oust their rulers — or are at least sympathetic to such action – can a minority-led insurrection ever be instigated. This is no coup. It is at that decisive moment that power can and must be wrested from the oppressors to allow workers to control their futures. But even then, the success of any revolution remains dependent on winning the backing of the military, persuading them, by dint of the widespread support on the streets and by the masses unswerving will to win, that they should transfer their allegiance to the insurrection. It is by following such a revolutionary strategy, that, with next to no blood being spilt, the Bolshevik’s were able to seize power in October 1917.

Nevertheless, Ackerman and DuVall assert that because revolutionaries like Trotsky had insisted that the Tsar would not hand over power to the majority without a fight, it was the formers advocacy of violent means that meant they were to blame for the violence that continued to befall the people. Yet at the risk of sounding repetitive, the nonviolent provocateurs are wrong in demanding that workers who are engaged in a mass struggle for democracy must be entirely peaceful. Ackerman and DuVall might as well demand that the Tsar renounce his life’s work and become a pacifist instead! But we know the real reason why the same two authors would never place such a ridiculous demand upon the Tsar; it is because they know that the Tsar would never give-up his ability to crush his mortal enemies — the masses who were the true harbingers of a new democratic order.

In 1905 a revolutionary situation did exist, and everything was to play for, and workers had no choice but to redouble their fight to win their struggle against despotism. As Trotsky put it:

“What was there left for the Soviet to do? Pretend that it did not see the conflict as inevitable? Make believe that it was organizing the masses for the future joys of a constitutional regime? Who would have believed it? Certainly not absolutism, and certainly not the working class.

“The example of the two Dumas was to show us later how useless outwardly correct conduct – empty forms of loyalty – are in the struggle against absolutism. In order to anticipate the tactics of ‘constitutional’ hypocrisy in an autocratic country, the Soviet would have had to be made of different stuff. But where would that have led? To the same end as that of the two Dumas: to bankruptcy.

“There was nothing left for the Soviet to do but recognize that a clash in the immediate future was inevitable; it could choose no other tactics but those of preparing for insurrection.”

We should also be mindful that a violent insurrection in 1905, if it had been successful, would have caused far less violence than the continuation of the Tsar’s regime. If successful, a mass insurrection would have succeeded in winning the military to its side just as the peoples’ movement did in October 1917. The workers had to move forward. Thus, to return to Trotsky’s analysis of 1905.

“[I]in a developing revolutionary situation a planned retreat is, from the start, unthinkable. A party may have the masses behind it while it is attacking, but that does not mean that it will be able to lead them away at will in the midst of the attack. It is not only the party that leads the masses: the masses, in turn, sweep the party forward. And this will happen in any revolution, however powerful its organization. Given such conditions, to retreat without battle may mean the party abandoning the masses under enemy fire.”

Although it may have been true that the objective conditions in 1905 were not conducive to a successful revolution, what we do know is that military revolts and mutinies had been a persistent feature of this joyous year of mass struggle. Moreover, a revolutionary movement does not have the luxury of waiting until the military has been completely won over before striking their collective blow for freedom. Again, as Trotsky reminds us:

“The army’s political mood, that great unknown of every revolution, can be determined only in the process of a clash between the soldiers and the people. The army’s crossing over to the camp of the revolution is a moral process; but it cannot be brought about by moral means alone. Different motives and attitudes combine and intersect within the army; only a minority is consciously revolutionary, while the majority hesitates and awaits an impulse from outside. This majority is capable of laying down its arms or, eventually, of pointing its bayonets at the reaction only if it begins to believe in the possibility of a people’s victory. Such a belief is not created by political agitation alone. Only when the soldiers become convinced that the people have come out into the streets for a life-and-death struggle – not to demonstrate against the government but to overthrow it – does it become psychologically possible for them to ‘cross over to the side of the people.’”

Blame cannot lie with the participants of the St. Petersburg Soviet who democratically debated their options and determined that an armed insurrection was necessary, and that they must establish an armed militia — a force of ordinary workers who, in this case, exerted significant positive influence over the Tsar’s police.[vii] Yes, with the benefit of experience the struggle might have been waged more effectively. But Ackerman and DuVall always know better, and despite acknowledging that “In the six weeks following October 17, there were well over a hundred military mutinies”,[viii] they insist on lecturing the leaders of the revolution by saying: “If soldiers and sailors had been recruited methodically to join the opposition in 1905, the government’s means of coercion might have been less reliable when it chose to crack down”.

Petrograd Soviet Assembly meeting in 1917

Why not settle for reforms?

Of course we should not really expect any political insight into matters of revolutionary struggle from Ackerman and DuVall. This is because both authors are diehard defenders of capitalism and remain doggedly opposed to the socialist transformation of society. This defence of the indefensible helps explain why they write: “If the movement against the Tsar had capitalized on certain key opportunities, Nicholas [the despotic Tsar] might have been pressed to enlarge the scope of reform, averting the sequence of events that led to the Bolshevik revolution twelve years later.” Always prioritising reform over revolution, the capitalist-loving authors likewise blame the 1905 opponents of the Tsar’s anti-democratic regime for not “embrac[ing] the October Manifesto as the breakthrough it was—an admission that the people possessed power and inherent rights—rather than as a set of half measures to be disdained…”

Ilya Repin: Funeral of the Revolutionaries, 1905-1906

Ackerman and DuVall are now on a roll. If the mass movements, and the revolutionaries among them, had simply called off the struggle and accepted the Tsar’s pledge to reform his despotism then “the friends of reform inside the palace might have persuaded the Tsar that repression was unneeded.” Hence by not accepting the word of the Tsar at face value the two gurus of nonviolence are confident that the real people at fault in misleading the revolution were the hot-headed radicals; “violence from the right and overconfidence on the left sabotaged this opening.” An opening to what? Do the authors really believe that if revolutionaries had simply given up then the Tsar would have inflicted less violence upon them. Maybe the hate-filled Tsar might have even called off the pogroms.

But if we are to defend the actions of the revolutionaries in their decision to refuse to cooperate with the Tsar we can simply turn to one of the main books that Ackerman and DuVall repeatedly leant on in writing A Force More Powerful. This book is Abraham Ascher’s The Revolution of 1905, a book which makes it clear that it was not just hot-headed radicals who rejected the October Manifesto as a farce.

“Far from pacifying the population, the October Manifesto triggered disorders more violent and widespread than any that had occurred since the beginning of the revolution. Witte’s attempts to detach the moderate liberals from the opposition movement ended in failure.” (Ascher, The Revolution of 1905, p.273)

In fact, “During the Days of Liberty, stretching from October 18 until early December… the left in fact did succeed in greatly strengthening its forces…” Trotsky’s militant writings were particularly popular amongst the residents of St. Petersburg, and Russkaia gazeta, the newspaper he coedited, “appeared in print runs of over 100,000 copies.” (Ascher, The Revolution of 1905, p.275, p.276)

Ilya Repin: Demonstration on the Seventeenth of October 1905

Revolutionary lessons

What we do know is that socialists of all hues were able to grasp many vital lessons from the unexpected revolutionary upsurge of 1905, hard-won lessons that were gained through collective action and that proved essential in enabling the successful revolution of 1917. But again, we need to correct the deliberate historical distortions that have been repeated ad infinitum over the past century by commentators who insist the revolution was violence personified; no matter that the death toll of the revolution was minuscule. Furthermore, in the short-term the success of October 1917 helped bring an end to orgy of violence that was World War One, a needless bloodbath whose foremost critics had been radical revolutionaries (see for example Trotsky’s best-selling 1914 pamphlet “The War and the International”). The structural violence of capitalism was further demonstrated in the wake of the 1917 revolution, which saw twenty-one capitalist states support the White Armies counterrevolutionary forces. Although this civil war was eventually defeated, the violence inflicted upon the people’s democratic and socialist state stole the lives of around seven million people.

Marxists not pacifists are the foremost proponents of “drawing on the power of the people” (Ackerman and DuVall’s words) to build mass movements for socialist change. Marxists however do not accept that capitalists will give up their control of our class-riven society without a fight. We want to act to ensure the socialist transformation of political relations worldwide. And socialists believe that workers will need to be able to defend themselves. It would be nice if this were not necessary, but history has shown that capitalists are quite effective at crushing workers movements through force; and flowers and nice words are never enough to see off an enemy whose entire economic and political system rests upon a bedrock of violence. At the same time socialists remain determined fighters for reforms within capitalism; but we always make it clear that such reforms will always be taken away from workers as long as the ruling-class directs society. That is why alongside fighting for reforms we argue for the need for democratic workers’ control of the state. But when the workers’ movement is strong enough, there can be no avoiding it — our class will need to seize power to rid ourselves of capitalism’s toxic priorities for ever more.

[i] The full story of Gapon’s anti-democratic intrigue involving Rutenberg are recounted in Walter Sablinsky’s The Road To Bloody Sunday: Father Gapon And The St. Petersburg Massacre of 1905 (Princeton University Press, 1976), pp.305-22. This book is also used as a source in Ackerman and DuVall’s own text.

[ii] Leon Trotsky, 1905 (first published in German in 1909). This book is also used as a source in Ackerman and DuVall’s own text if only to attack Trotsky and mispresent socialist ideas.

[iii] Writing in January 1905 in an article responding to Bloody Sunday Lenin explained: “The government deliberately drove the proletariat to revolt, provoked it, by the massacre of unarmed people, to erect barricades, in order to drown the uprising in a sea of blood. The proletariat will learn from these military lessons afforded by the government. For one thing, it will learn the art of civil war, now that it has started the revolution. Revolution is war. Of all the wars known in history it is the only lawful, rightful, just, and truly great war. This war is not waged in the selfish interests of a handful of rulers and exploiters, like any and all other wars, but in the interests of the masses of the people against the tyrants, in the interests of the toiling and exploited millions upon millions against despotism and violence.” Lenin, “The plan of the St. Petersburg battle,” Vperyod, January 31, 1905.

[iv] Contrast this summary of events with that served up by Ackerman and DuVall, who stated in full: “On February 18 the government declared martial law in Georgia and sent in 10,000 soldiers. Since 1903 peasants in the remote Guriia region had not been heeding any government authority. They refused to pay taxes and burned portraits of the Tsar; they also killed a few officials (whom the gravediggers would not bury, as part of the boycott). All power in Guriia was in the hands of the Guriian Social Democratic Committee, which held weekly public meetings featuring unrestrained debate. In effect, Guriia had become a self-governing peasant republic. The great novelist Leo Tolstoy, who had long preached noncooperation with state power, wrote to a Georgian follower, telling him that the Guriians were doing exactly what he had been writing and thinking about for over twenty years. Rather than looking to the government to help them, Tolstoy said, or attacking the authorities, they were simply making themselves independent of their rulers.”

[v] Ackerman and DuValll’s sole historical source for this section of their analysis is Ascher, The Revolution of 1905, pp.146-9.

[vi] “After the October Manifesto, revolutionaries took their bid for an armed uprising to the Soviet. The very next day, Nosar’ read deputies an executive committee resolution proposing that they arm themselves ‘for the final struggle,’ and Trotsky alerted them to prepare for ‘an even grander and more impressive attack on the staggering monarchy, which can be conclusively swept away only by a victorious popular uprising.’ The Soviet endorsed both the Nosar’ and Trotsky statements, but asking for the Tsar’s downfall inevitably separated the revolutionaries from their erstwhile allies the liberals, who disavowed any desire to overthrow the government.” (A Force More Powerful)

[vii] “The boldest undertaking of the Soviet was the establishment of its own militia, whose members, identified by special armbands, ‘interfered in the affairs of the police, gave… [them] orders and made demands of them.’” (Ascher, The Revolution of 1905, p.277)

[viii] “All told, 211 separate mutinies were recorded in the Russian army alone between late October and mid-December 1905… The elite corps, the Cavalry and Cossacks, were virtually untouched by mutiny, but one-third of all infantry units experienced some form of disturbance, and the navy was so riddled with disorders that the government feared that it could no longer be relied upon to carry out its mission.” (Ascher, The Revolution of 1905, p.272) Ascher goes on to note that the crushing of the revolution in mid-December changed the “psychology of the soldier and sailors… as suddenly and drastically as it had in mid-October. with the restoration of authority in the civilian sector, the men in uniform again submitted to the orders of their superiors.”  (p.273)

Why Kindness is Not Enough — The Limits of Humankind: A Hopeful History

Marxists have a realistic view of humanity. We believe that history is replete with examples demonstrating that our species strongest instinctual urges move us in the direction of cooperation not violence. At the same time, we understand that a small clique of self-centred individuals, the ruling-class, use their power to undermine our ability to work together. Hence socialists continue to organise collectively to fight for improvements in our classes daily living conditions with the aim of running society in a way that embraces the positive not the negative aspects of human nature.

With the advent of technologically advanced societies that by their nature are highly interdependent on one another, capitalisms survival, now more than ever, relies upon our division: hence the need for ruling-class propagandists to relentlessly emphasise our brutal natures to the exclusion of our caring habits. Elites repeat ad Infinium that there is no alternative to their preferred capitalist system – a bankrupt political and economic system that asserts the dominion of profit making over all other human priorities. And to justify this nonsense they need to assert that their preferred system is well adapted to harnessing humanities true biological inclinations which they characterise as being dominated by aggression and competition.

This is by no means a new debate and remains a perennial topic for discussion by those seeking to promote socialist change. Therefore, the publication of Rutger Bregman’s 2020 book Humankind: A Hopeful History provides us with a welcome opportunity to take a fresh look at ways of overcoming the daily violence that we all face because of capitalisms deeply pessimistic and ill-informed view of human nature.

Bregman, it turns out, largely agrees with the Marxist view of social murder as was outlined by Frederick Engels in 1845. He states that the “threat of very real violence” remains “pervasive” in democratic societies and it is this ever-present threat of violence that enables a small elite to police their capitalist free market. This is true, and as Bregman goes on to point out, to help legitimise this state violence a lot of effort is expended by the ruling-class to bolster the misconception that it is humans who are inherently violent not the state.

Flowing from these distortions, humanity must ostensibly be saved from our own darker natures. The radical and simple alternative to this lie is however “legitimised by virtually every branch of science” and represents “an idea that might just start a revolution” – this alternative, states Bregman, is “That most people, deep down, are pretty decent.” Hence the belief in the cooperative nature of humanity has been “denied by religions and ideologies, ignored by the news media and erased from the annals of world history.” Bregman concludes:

“For the powerful, a hopeful view of human nature is downright threatening. Subversive. Seditious. It implies that we’re not selfish beasts that need to be reined in, restrained and regulated. It implies that we need a different kind of leadership. A company with intrinsically motivated employees has no need of managers; a democracy with engaged citizens has no need of career politicians.”

Reclaiming hope from hate

In contrast to socialist ideas capitalism positively rewards violent behaviour, which explains why “egomaniacs and opportunists, narcissists and sociopaths,” as Bregman puts it, are the type of “utterly shameless” individuals who rule and dominate the world. So, understanding how these rulers justify their existence is a vital part of exposing the precarious nature of their power. Debunking the ideas that are marshalled by elites in their desperate attempts to cast the working-class in their own sociopathic image is therefore represents the most useful and hopeful part of Bregman’s book. Hence the first half of Humankind takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of how the ruling-class and their agents have had to distort the findings of scientific research (especially in human psychology) to serve their own interests.

Bregman begins with the ramblings of Gustave Le Bon and his famous book The Psychology of the Masses which was written as a response to the aristocratic classes fear of socialism and revolution. This well-known text essentially equated the collective actions of the working-class with mob-rule and the violent end of civilisation. The man in a crowd, as Le Bon put it, is but “a barbarian”, an “automaton who has ceased to be guided by his will.” Le Bon’s book thus provided an anti-democratic guide to many of the ruling-class politicians of the day. Bregman notes: “Hitler read the book cover to cover. So did Mussolini, Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt.” But such retrogressive views have not diminished among our rulers today. And while Bregman overstates the influence of such negative views upon ordinary people there is some truth in his analysis when he states:

“Today, this is still the prevailing view of crowd behaviour among politicians, commentators and the public at large. Most of us are convinced that crowds inhabit a psychological shadowland of primordial instincts and unrestraint, where individuals are stripped of their identity and led unthinking to violent and irrational acts.”

Yes, this may be the prevailing view amongst the ruling-class and their representatives, but we should emphasise that it is precisely through the organisation of collective action that the working-class in our crowds have wrought democratic reforms from the ruling-class, whether that be the right to vote, or the right to be a member of a trade union. This is a fight that continues today.

The denigration and dismissal of our class and of our methods of organising has always been critical to the maintenance of capitalist inequality. Even positive public responses to disasters are inverted to be used as a weapon against our better nature. One particularly disturbing example of this phenomena played out in the media reporting on the allegedly violent and criminal behaviours of the people of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina tore through their communities and lives. Nothing however could be further from the truth as behind the lies of the capitalist press thousands of ordinary people collaborated to coordinate their survival efforts. For a counternarrative to the mainstream medias dark twisting of displays of human solidarity Bregman refers to Rebecca Solnit’s excellent book A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster (2009). In doing so he highlights her accurate conclusion “that elite panic [concerning the actions of ordinary people] comes from powerful people who see all humanity in their own image.”

Although many writers have previously debunked the lies that undergird elite panics about human society, Bregman brings fresh insights to many enduring myths. Take the example of William Golding’s post-war novel Lord of the Flies – a story of original sin that has become deeply etched into public consciousness: a story in which, we are told, we must fear the enemy that lurks within ourselves as opposed to the misanthropy that resides within our rulers. Yet the one true example that saw a group of children stranded alone on a desert island illustrated completely contrary lessons to those told in the novel. In the real-life Lord of the Flies it “turns out, [is] a heart-warming story – the stuff of bestselling novels, Broadway plays and blockbuster movies.” Yet as Bregman adds “It’s also a story that nobody knows.” Moreover, when the children in this tale were discovered living peacefully on a desert island on Sunday 11 September 1966 the first reaction of the authorities was to imprison the children for stealing the boat on which they launched their ill-fated expedition (see “The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months”).

Bregman makes a good point when he observes that “you could look at the entire evolution of civilisation as a history of rulers who continually devised new justifications for their privileges.” And one individual who has made his career by promoting serviceable fictions for the establishment is the celebrity historian Jared Diamond, whose writings have popularised many capitalist myths include the tale about the fate of the people of Easter Island. In Diamond’s historic narrative the fate of the Islanders represents a classic Malthusian story of human greed – which allegedly demonstrates how communities devoid of strong capitalist leaders simply self-destruct. Diamond’s elite-friendly story is however completely wrong. The people of Easter Island were destroyed by outside forces of a very human nature. Ruling-class sailors first brought rats to the Island in 1722 – which helped undermine the Islanders’ ability to live sustainably. In later years Peruvian slave traders (who first arrived in 1862) then kidnapped their people, and when “international pressure” meant the Peruvian government was forced to return the few remaining living slaves back home, they returned them along with smallpox which “spread among the rest of the population, sowing death and destruction.” As this tragic tale of inversion were not bad enough these were “the very same slave traders who kidnapped the inhabitants of Ata (the island where the real-life Lord of the Flies would unfold a hundred years later).”

Bregman also turns his enlightening gaze to the toxic legacy of a variety of social psychologists (discussed in more depth a little later in this review). He illustrates how some of the most famous experiments that sought to provide explanatory frameworks for understanding human nature ended up reproducing the Hobbesian fictions of the past. He writes:

“In the years that Lord of the Flies topped the bestseller lists, a young researcher named Stanley Milgram demonstrated how obediently people follow the orders even of dubious authority figures (Chapter 8), while the murder of a young woman [Kitty Genovese] in New York City laid the basis for hundreds of studies on apathy in the modern age (Chapter 9). And then there were the experiments by psychology professors Muzafer Sherif and Philip Zimbardo (Chapter 7), who demonstrated that good little boys can turn into camp tyrants at the drop of a hat.”

Humankind consequently provides a service to humanity by delving into the recent academic literature scrutinizing these famous cases and demonstrates that despite their continued influence these experiments can also be interpreted differently to show that humans are no way near as violent as we have been led to believe.

The limits of kindness

To be clear, there are many reasons to take hope from Bregman’s book; but at the same time although the author delivers a positive life-affirming version of history he still gets an awful lot wrong. This is primarily because he takes human kindness too far. Thus, after winning his readers over with his refreshing and inspiring book about humanity, Bregman fails to learn the correct lessons from this history. Instead, he plumps for a utopian socialist vision of promoting a pacificist world whose boundaries are strictly defined by the limits of capitalism. Emblematic of such confusion is his retelling the role that a far-right warmonger, General Constand Viljoen, and his pacifist (identical twin) brother apparently had in preventing a civil war in South Africa. Bregman credits the secret talks that took place after the collapse of the apartheid regime between Mandela and the fascistic General Viljoen as representing a “pivotal moment” in South African history where the former head of the South African Defence Force “was convinced to lay down his weapons and join the elections with his party.” Yet what this extreme case study really proves is that when a racist leader from the ruling-class makes unsubstantiated threats about launching a civil war on all black people such an individual should not be trusted. Any political leader worth their salt should have refused to compromise with such a fascist leader; but this is exactly what Mandela and the ANC did when they entered into negotiations with the far-right and for the sake of stability compromised on the ability of the new peoples’ government to redistribute wealth to people who needed it most.

Bregman begins the recounting of his peaceable tall story from the day that General Viljoen had addressed a crowd of 15,000 white Afrikaners seething with anger (on 7 May 1993). Speaking as the newly anointed leader new of a white “army” calling itself the Afrikaner Volksfront, Viljoen roared into the microphone: “The Afrikaner people must prepare to defend themselves… A bloody conflict which requires sacrifices is inevitable, but we will gladly sacrifice because our cause is just!” In the subsequent months, his pacifist brother then helped arrange a series of secret talks between General Viljoen and Mandela – with the first taking place on 12 August 1993. Thereon proceeded four months of secret talks at the end of which Bregman says “the former general was convinced to lay down his weapons and join the elections with his party.” But this is not all that happened. As some months after finishing these talks General Viljoen had gone on to lead a military assault to help put down a mass insurrection of the people of Bophuthatswana who were revolting against the deeply unpopular right-wing leader of their bantustan, Lucas Mangope. An uprising that stemmed from the fact that because Mangope was refusing to allow Bophuthatswana to participate in the national elections.[1]

In the aftermath of General Viljoen’s military incursion, which, most significantly, was quashed by the militant actions of thousands of ordinary people, his threat of civil war was rendered laughable. The following month he thus retreated from his warmongering and formed the Freedom Front so he could stand in the elections as their leader. The General was not the enlightened hero as Bregman might have us believe, quite the opposite, it was the ordinary people who served to prevent civil war by standing together in defence of their community. The General had no abiding interest in peace at all, and it seems that the only critical issue that brought the twins together, other than their love of farming, was their fear of communism.[2] This is a fear that, as it turns out, is shared by the author of Humankind who maintains a rather blunt understanding of communism. Thus, he writes “sharing everything equally may be a fine idea, [but] in practice it degenerates into chaos, poverty, or worse – a bloodbath. Look at Russia under Lenin and Stalin.” Bregman taking his cue from anarchist thinkers ignores the most democratic revolution of the twentieth century, the Russian Revolution of October 1917 and neglects to mention that the primary reason why it turned into a bloodbath was because capitalist elites saw fit to drown it in blood with a lengthy civil war. Nevertheless at least he recognises that revolutions in and of themselves are not bad. In fact, he writes positively that one “obvious method” by which people around the world have acted to “tame their leaders” is via organising “a revolution” whereby “The masses try to overthrow a tyrant.” But this is where Bregman’s own liberal pessimism in such democratic actions sets in, as he continues:   

“Most revolutions ultimately fail, though. No sooner is one despot brought down than a new leader stands up and develops an insatiable lust for power. After the French Revolution it was Napoleon. After the Russian Revolution it was Lenin and Stalin. Egypt, too, has reverted to yet another dictator. Sociologists call this the ‘iron law of oligarchy’: even socialists and communists, for all their vaunted ideals of liberty and equality, are far from immune to the corrupting influence of too much power.”

The solution he proposes to address this dilemma is democracy, although he realises that in our current democratic system the “shameless” and the already powerful still have a massive advantage over ordinary people. “Even now, though any citizen can run for public office,” Bregman writes, “it’s tough to win an election without access to an aristocratic network of donors and lobbyists.” This is all true. And this is why the Bolshevik’s who helped lead the Russian Revolution made the pursuit of workers’ democracy a central part of their revolutionary struggle. For instance, a key demand that still has relevance today was that all elected officials be paid a workers’ wage and should be held accountable through the right of recall. This basic commitment to democracy was of course immediately erased under Stalin’s anti-democratic regime. (For a useful introduction to the 1917 Revolution, see the October 1987 issue of Inqaba Ya Basebenzi — the Journal of the Marxist Workers’ Tendency of the African National Congress.)

Revisiting Bregman’s history of the psychology of human nature

As should be obvious by now Humankind represents a mixed bag as far as far as its quality of analysis is concerned. Being hopeful is of course not good enough when writing a book about such important historical issues. What the working-class needs to be able to arm itself for successful political struggle, is accuracy, combined with a genuinely scientific approach to understanding class relations. What we do not need is a pick-and-mix assortment of hopeful sounding anecdotes; after all we are not going to hope our way to a socialist future. Instead, we are going to need to organise ourselves in democratic groups with accountable leaders to rid ourselves of our shameless capitalist oppressors. So, in the next section of this book review I will focus on Bregman’s early chapters that deal with several famous psychological experiments and attempt to situate them within a more realistic Marxist framework in contrast to Humankind’s favoured ideology of kindness.

Let’s start with the Robbers Cave Experiment, a famous study that was undertaken in 1954 by Professor Muzafer Sherif, who is widely considered to be one of the founding fathers of social psychology. By way of an introduction Bregman writes:

“The Robbers Cave Experiment is a story about well-behaved little boys – ‘the cream of the crop,’ as Sherif later described them – who in the space of a few days degenerate into ‘wicked, disturbed, and vicious bunches of youngsters’. Sherif’s camp took place in the same year that William Golding published his Lord of the Flies, but while Golding thought kids are bad by nature, Sherif believed everything hinges on context.”

In summary Sherif demonstrated that even violent conflicts between groups – in this case children – could be overcome if a sensible approach were adopted. He believed that children were not aggressive or greedy by nature but could be encouraged to behave like this under certain circumstances. But most importantly his experiment successfully demonstrated that conflicts between two rival groups could quickly be overcome if the two groups had to work together to solve a common problem that they both had an interest in resolving. Of course, the main element of this study that capitalist commentators seized upon is the way that otherwise nice children can turn into competitive riven monsters even in the idyllic setting of a summer camp in the woods. This deliberate misinterpretation however misses the entire point of the experiment, as the artificially generated conflict was only manufactured to prove how it could be resolved. Either way in writing up the experiment for public consumption Sherif neglected to mention that the conflict was far from organic, and that it had to be actively engineered by the secretive actions of manipulative adult supervisors. Hence this meant that the selective manner in which he wrote up his study could easily be co-opted to misrepresent the darker side of human nature. This is unfortunate to say the least.

In exposing this story Bregman interviews Gina Perry, the author of The Lost Boys: Inside Muzafer Sherif’s Robbers Cave Experiment (Scribe, 2018). It is within this text that we discover some relevant background that was excised from Bregman’s retelling of this story. First, and perhaps most importantly Muzafer Sherif was a one-time leading member of the Communist Party in Turkey who was forced (in 1945) to flee from his fascist government to live in exile in America. This fact goes a long way towards explaining why Sherif sought to understand how human conflicts might be resolved. Perry, in her own book, actually states that “Sherif set out to disprove theories that prejudice and conflict sprang from human nature”. None of this is discussed by Bregman.

Perry also shed light on Sherif’s other experiments that help us to better decipher the Robbers Cave Experiment.Thus, Sherif’s first experiment on group social dynamics took place in 1949 and involved examining children in the context of a summer holiday camp on a farm. “After a few days where the boys mixed and played, he divided the friends into two groups and organised a three-day contest of games.” The last day of these competitions was marked by violence and Sherif was happy to have “proved his theory that friends will become enemies when they are forced to compete”. Yet not long after this moment the experiment had to be called off when the adult staff found that they were unable to undo the competitive violence that they had unleashed. Here it is critical to observe that in the first unpublished draft of the academic report on this experiment Sherif’s class analysis shone through. But in the context of the Cold War, and in the interests of receiving further funding, Sherif was encouraged to rewrite his report on the experiment so that it was expunged of his own radical ambitions.[3] On this transformation Perry writes:

“In his first draft, Sherif concluded that in this study, the boys’ behaviour reflected the dynamics of a competitive society that divided people into the ‘haves and have-nots’, stoked rivalry and resentment, and fostered prejudices and, eventually, violence.

“… In the new draft, a kind of paralysis overtakes his writing. Gone are references to class, how the experiment reflected the dynamics of a capitalist society, or the alienation the system breeds between workers who regard one another as rivals in an economic competition. Any inference that a capitalist system sets up inequality between groups in society by granting unequal access to money, power, or resources, and so breeds social discord, was gone. Sherif’s language in the final draft was sanitised, cleansed — and deadly dull. There was no reference to real-world politics. There was no longer anything revolutionary lurking in those pages.”

Amazingly, an experiment that sought to illustrate the failings of capitalism had now become so vacuous in critical content that even the military became interested in funding his research to help them manage (racial) conflict within their own forces. And later the Rockefeller Foundation also stepped forward with a huge $38,000 grant which enabled Sherif to proceed with his Robbers Cave Experiment. Elite interest in such psychological research now became something of a growth industry which was related to the funding of the behavioural sciences which was now growing at a phenomenal rate with philanthropic foundations like Rockefeller and Ford working closely to promote these new research agendas in close cooperation with the CIA.[4] None of this background was apparently of interest to Bregman, who simply chose to zero in on the “fraud” of Sherif’s work, with a particular focus on an abandoned version of the famous 1954 experiment that was cancelled and never formally written-up. Yet it seems that the reason why this preliminary experiment was not written about by Sherif was simple, if not altogether agreeable. Sherif and his supervisors had succeeded in stoking division and conflict between two groups of children, but the children had quickly worked out they were being manipulated so had joined together to turn against the scientists. As far as Sherif was concerned this represented a failed experiment, which it was as the experimental protocol had been derailed. It is of course understandable why Bregman would latch on this lesser-known part of the experiment as a demonstration that human nature is not bad, which is true, but in focusing on this so-called “fraud” he ends up distracting his readers from the positive and progressive results of the Robbers Cave Experiment.

Lessons in obedience: the cases of Milgram, the illusive bystanders, and Zimbardo

Irrespective of Humankind’s shortcomings, what remains true is that ruling-class institutions were happy to fund and propagate the findings of psychological research that helped to legitimate war and social inequality. Thus, even critically minded researchers like Sherif ended up unwittingly contributing to the CIA’s mind-control research (if only later in his career).[5] So it is hardly surprising that one critic of such sinister research argues that “circumstantial” evidence seems to suggest that Stanley Milgram’s research on obedience and aggression can be seen “as a by-product of the larger CIA mind-control project.”[6] In fact, although the available evidence indicates that Milgram’s research was not funded by the military, it is true that Milgram did put in an initial research proposal for funding to the Office of Naval Research whereupon he made clear the benefits of his work to the military. Milgram wrote in this early proposal: “Given that a person is confronted with a particular set of commands… we may ask which conditions increase his compliance, and which make him less likely to comply.”[7]

Despite the many problems relating to Milgram’s famous obedience experiments, what we do know is this: that first and foremost his work demonstrated that people who volunteered to participate in an experiment — which they believed was being undertaken to advance the science of education — may, with a lot of persuasion, be encouraged to commit violent actions against other humans. This does not really tell us anything significant about human nature. Furthermore, Milgram, in contrast to Sherif, did not make the focus of his research an effort to understand the circumstances under which people might resist coercive pressure. Although it should be noted that some variations of Milgram’s experiment demonstrated that people found it easier to resist the authoritative and bullying scientist leading the experiment when they were not alone, or when the scientist who coerced them was some distance away (communicating via a telephone).

Again, largely relying upon another investigative book written by Gina Perry (Behind the Shock Machine. The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments), Bregman highlights the fact that “only 56 per cent of his subjects believed they were actually inflicting pain on the learner.” This much was revealed in Milgram’s own book, although not emphasised. More importantly Bregman adds that Perry’s research had unearthed something more significant, and this was “A never-published analysis by one of Milgram’s assistants [that] reveals that the majority of people called it quits if they did believe the shocks were real.” Rather than demonstrate that people are born sinners, ready to become violent robots with just a little encouragement, Bregman concludes that Milgram’s research actually determined that…

“… if you push people hard enough, if you poke and prod, bait and manipulate, many of us are indeed capable of doing evil. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. But evil doesn’t live just beneath the surface; it takes immense effort to draw it out. And most importantly, evil has to be disguised as doing good.”

In the early 1960s, now that Milgram had made his global reputation through his obedience experiments, it is fitting that in June 1964 – while employed at the City University of New York – that he would write an article that supported the growing mythology of another famous incident that allegedly demonstrated the darker side of humanity. He did this when he co-authored an article on the murder of Kitty Genovese.[8] The circumstances surrounding this murder played a critical part in Bregman’s book, as this event is used to prove how little compassion ordinary people have for people they don’t know. The conventional telling of the story is used to illustrate the so-called “bystander effect” which showed how 38 isolated individuals living in Kew Gardens (a wealthy suburb of New York) had all witnessed Kitty’s brutal murder in the early hours of March 13, 1964 but had all done nothing to intervene. Yet nothing of sort happened, it was a story that was literally co-invented by the head of the New York police force and by the metropolitan editor of the New York Times, Abe Rosenthal – whose newspaper, two weeks after the incident, ran with the frontpage headline “37 who saw murder didn’t call the police” (later changed to 38).

As Bregman points out, in spite of this murder appearing to be a terrifying story about public apathy it turns out that one witness did quickly alert the police to this incidence, but when this initial call was made the police failed to respond, probably because they “assumed” it “was a marital spat.” Bregman adds: “Bear in mind these were the days when people didn’t pay much attention to a husband beating his wife, the days when spousal rape wasn’t even a criminal offence.” And although The Times was quick to report the story as a cut-and-dry story about a predatory black man (Winston Moseley) killing a white woman, the story ignored the fact that Kitty was a lesbian and that the second key witness was a gay man who was so scared about contacting the police that he had to get a friend to call for him. Bregman correctly explains: “Homosexuality was strictly illegal in those days, and [Karl] Ross was terrified both of the police and of papers like the New York Times, which stigmatized homosexuality as a dangerous disease.”

Now the true story gets really interesting, as five days after Kitty’s murder the quick actions of two bystanders led to the arrest of a robber who subsequently confessed to the murder of Kitty. The media of course ignored the details of the story which contradicted the so-called “bystander effect”. And Bregman goes further and illustrates that we now know that the “bystander effect” is yet another capitalist myth. He does this by drawing upon the important research being undertaken by Danish psychologist Marie Lindegaard, whose work shows that in most cases (using examples from all over the world) when people witness bad behaviour, they intervene to stop it.

But if we dig further into the case surrounding Kitty’s murder it seems that Bregman omitted a very relevant piece of information from his retelling of this story (which can be found in a research article that Bregman cites in his book). This is because in another follow-up article published in the New York Times by Abe Rosenthal we find out that Winston Moseley, the murderer, had also “confessed to killing two other women, for one of whose murders police say they have a confession from another man.”[9] Rosenthal however doesn’t dwell on this critical point, and as history would soon show the police had already forced a false confession from someone else. Making matters worse an innocent man was ultimately found guilty even though Moseley had given evidence in his trial and had “provided a step-by-step account” of how he had slaughtered Kitty. Police corruption thus resulted in an innocent man serving 12 years in prison. And in another disturbing twist to the scandal swirling around Kitty’s murder, two years later her brother “volunteered for the Marines, a decision he attributes to his disgust with public apathy.”[10]

In the 1960s, we should remember, popular opposition to the Vietnam War was now growing amidst the insurrectionary atmosphere generated around the civil rights movement, and the type of deliberate media distortions that surrounded Kitty’s murder were regularly replicated to impugn the motives of ordinary people struggling for a fairer world. The state’s aggressive efforts to undermine working-class movements were undeterred by matters of common decency, and the corporate media were happy to denigrate democratic movements to better promote capitalist stability. Scientists too continued to play an important role in shoring up the power of the ruling-class, and the example of Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment represents just another piece of this authoritarian puzzle.

Zimbardo’s experiment is arguably the most significant study discussed so far, especially when considered in terms of its utility to the powers that be in helping them propagate the lie that “nice people can spontaneously turn evil”. “Zimbardo’s study wasn’t just dubious,” Bregman summarizes, “It was a hoax.” The entire experiment was pre-conceived in such a way as to make it next to impossible that the prison guards would not abuse their wards. Zimbardo literally manufactured an abusive prison environment designed to create tough prison guards who would torture their prisoners. But unfortunately, this is not how this memorable experiment is remembered in popular culture.

The Stanford Prison Experiment’s depressing results allegedly confirmed that ordinary people “can be led to perpetrate atrocities not because they blindly follow orders, but because they conform blindly to what is expected of them as a group member.” Yet, in the first complete retesting of the original prison experiment, which Bregman refers to in Humankind, two less violence-prone psychologists, Stephen Reicher and Alexander Haslam, came to quite different conclusions, and argued that “it is not valid to conclude that people mindlessly and helplessly succumb to brutality.” Instead, they observed that the available evidence “suggest[s] that brutality occurs when people identify strongly with groups that have a brutal ideology.” This is quite different from the arguments that were forcefully made by Zimbardo about the dark truths of conformity and human nature. Yes, people do great wrong, but they do so because they truly believe that such actions are warranted, “because they actively identify with groups whose ideology justifies and condones the oppression and destruction of others.”[11]

Although overlooked by Bregman, Zimbardo has acknowledged that his experiment was “supported by a government grant from the Office of Naval Research to study antisocial behavior” but says that this had little effect on his research goals. And while further research shows that the title for Zimbardo’s grant under which his prison research was subsumed was, “Individual and Group Variables Influencing Emotional Arousal, Violence, and Behavior,” the military was apparently focused on other matters. Hence the US Department for Defence’s title for Zimbardo’s project was “Personnel Technology Factors Influencing Disruptive Behavior Among Military Trainees.”[12] The difference between the two titles is striking to say the least; so, it is worth reprinting what the military thought the primary purpose of Zimbardo’s research was.

“U.S. military forces have recently experienced an apparent upsurge of problems involving negative reactions to authority, insufficient loyalty to the organization, failure to maintain (and even sabotage of) valuable government property, and racial conflict. This research aims at the production of a set of behavioral principles which could reduce the incidence of such undesireable [sic] behavior in the Navy and Marine Corps.”

Turning the tables on kindness

As pointed out earlier, there are serious limits to the analyses presented in Bregman’s book, which party owe to his simplistic rendering of complex historical processes to support his deeply felt views on human kindness. This shortcoming, as we saw with his mistaken interpretation of events in South Africa, creates serious problems that become particularly apparent in his discussion of Zimbardo’s prison research and its impact on the evolution of America’s incarceration state. Hence Bregman credits the 1973 publication of Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment as dealing a death blow to a (new) progressive approach to imprisoning people that had apparently started to flourish in the late 1960s.

In leading-up to his mistaken argument about Zimbardo’s effect on the evolution of the US prison system Humankind also makes another error relating to Bregman’s focus on kindness. Thus, while he correctly presents the 1960s as being a “turbulent” period, in Bregman’s desire to side-line the perfectly understandable everyday violence or ordinary people he only emphasizes the nonviolent parts of the mass movements on the streets (which of course were regularly attacked with great violence by the police). Erased from Bregman’s narrative is any mention of the widespread use of violence for self-defence, or of the huge race riots that were a response to deepening inequality and ongoing class oppression. This mistaken historically narrative encourages Bregman to overstate the progressive nature played by the government which leads him to praise the creation of the President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice (which was initiated in July 1965 and made its final recommendations in 1967). Bregman writes that the “most radical recommendations” made by the criminologists involved in this Commission “concerned the future of US prisons” with serious suggestions put forward arguing that a “model institution” would do away with bars and prison cells and “would resemble as much as possible a normal residential setting”. This is all true, and certainly some limited moves were made to trial different, more humane ways, of punishing criminals. But Bregman is way off track when he goes on to assert that one of the main reasons why these prison trials failed was because of Zimbardo’s hoax prison experiment.[13] Bregman thus observes:

“In hindsight, it’s shocking how fast the tide turned – and what caused it. It started with Philip Zimbardo, who in February 1973 published the first academic article on his Stanford Prison Experiment.”

This is simply not true. Much bigger economic factors drove a stake through the heart of the Crime Commission’s unusual proposals. These had a lot to do with President Johnson’s Democratic Party being an undemocratic capitalist organization that certainly did not want to tackle the root causes of inequality via prison reform, especially if it meant alienating their corporate backers. This factor combined with President’s Johnson’s prioritization of war over welfare indicates that the blame for the undermining of radical prison reforms should not be laid at Zimbardo’s doorstep.[14]

Of course right-wing intellectuals were quick to undermine the Crime Commission’s far-reaching conclusions as soon as they were published in 1967, and at the forefront of such early attacks was the up-and-coming neoconservative academic James Q. Wilson. Wilson being the very same individual who, as Bregman points out, later appropriated another Zimbardo experiment to popularise another regressive form of policing that became known as the so-called broken windows theory – a theory of policing that “works to criminalize communities of color and expand mass incarceration without making people safer.”[15] Either way, Bregman incorrectly gives full credit to the Stanford Prison Experiment for inspiring opposition to prison reform. He then goes on to add that the conservative idea that prisons were unreformable…

“…gained popularity when the infamous Martinson Report appeared one year later. The man behind this report, Robert Martinson, was a sociologist at NYU with a reputation as a brilliant if slightly maniacal personality. He was also a man with a mission. In his younger years, Martinson had been a civil rights activist and landed in jail for thirty-nine days (including three in solitary confinement). This awful experience convinced him that all prisons are barbaric places.”

Although you would not know it from Bregman’s book, Martinson was not just an ordinary civil rights activist who went to prison, but had been a leading member of Max Shachtman’s Trotskyist group. This was a one-time Marxist organization that had been moving in a rightward direction from the late 1950s onwards; with the group soon playing an important role in supporting the Vietnam War in the mid-1960s and in coddling up to all manner of reactionary trade unionists. It thus seems likely that following in Shachtman’s footsteps Martinson had transitioned from being a radical socialist to something wholly different; in Martinson’s case, becoming transformed from an activist into a self-centred academic with a carefree approach to the truth. In fact, the article that Martinson authored (based on the Martinson Report) that popularised the conservative arguments regarding prison reform was actually printed in the same neoconservative magazine that had published Wilson’s critique of the Crime Commission (that magazine being The Public Interest). This however is not how Bregman tells the story. Instead, he writes:

“Martinson… published a short summary of their findings in a popular magazine. Title: ‘What Works?’ Conclusion: nothing works. ‘With few and isolated exceptions,’ Martinson wrote, ‘the rehabilitative efforts that have been reported so far have had no appreciable effect on recidivism.’ The progressive social scientist hoped – much like Philip Zimbardo – that everyone would realise prisons were pointless places and should all be shut down.”

But Martinson was far from progressive by this point in his career. Need I say it, but Marxists do not usually publish arguments devoid of socialist content in “popular” neoconservative publications. Hence the corporate media now made sure Martinson became a national celebrity allowing him to promote his distorted conclusions despite the fact that the major academic study upon which he drew his conclusions had actually provided compelling evidence that prison rehabilitation does work, but less so when seriously underfunded. Nevertheless, undeterred by such matters in August 1975 Martinson secured a slot on CBS’s influential current affairs program 60 Minutes where he repeated his lie that treatment programs “have no fundamental effect” on offenders.[16] This interview was run the month after the law-and-order guru of the neoconservative movement, James Q. Wilson, had published his own book Thinking About Crime, which had called for an end to rehabilitation and promoted a get-tough approach to crime. Wilson believed this was the only way for the justice system to reconcile itself to the dark truths about human nature; serviceable findings that were of course lapped-up by the corporate media. The New York Times ran a slavering review that called Wilson’s book “one of the most insightful books on the topics of crime and punishment” adding: “Here is wisdom, clarity of language, thoughtful alternatives for public policy and broad erudition.”

In conclusion: read a paper, turn your cheek?

Humankind serves yet another reminder that the ruling-class will stop at nothing to maintain the hoax that human nature is a match made in heaven with capitalist greed. And it as Bregman acknowledges, the news as presented in the corporate media has always played a critical role in sustaining this ideological offensive against the better side of human nature. Bregman goes so far to say that following the news is “a mental health hazard.” Here the main researcher he uses to emphasise this important point is the late George Gerbner (1919–2005) who from the 1950s onwards undertook extensive studies which showed the detrimental impact that repetitive negative and violent media stories can have on those who consume it. Gerbner, as Bregman notes “also coined a term to describe the phenomenon he found: mean world syndrome, whose clinical symptoms are cynicism, misanthropy and pessimism.” But the shallowness of Bregman’s research reveals itself yet again in his reference to Gerbner’s work which he credits as being the “first” to “open up this field of research, back in the 1990s,” when in reality Gerbner opened-up this field of research thirty years earlier in the 1960s.

In fact, around the time that the US government’s Crime Commission released their final report, they launched their National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, onto which Gerbner was recruited to undertake research on television violence.[17] Released in December 1969 the latter Commission incorporated Gerbner’s media work and concluded that:

Each year advertisers spend $2.5 billion in the belief that television can influence human behaviour. The television industry enthusiastically agrees with them, but nonetheless contends that its programs of violence do not have any such influence. The preponderance of the available research evidence strongly suggests, however, that violence in television programs can and does have adverse effects upon audiences – particularly child audiences.” (p.195)

The Commission report summarised that…

“…television portrays a world in which ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ alike use violence to solve problems and achieve goals. Violence is rarely presented as illegal or socially unacceptable. Indeed, as often as not, it is portrayed as a legitimate means for attaining desired ends. Moreover, the painful consequences of violence are underplayed and de-emphasized by the ‘sanitized’ way in which much of it is presented.” (pp.194-5)

Of particular interest to Bregman’s story, one television network even responded to the impending release of the full report by starting to fund its own research initiative that sought to swiftly undermine the Commission’s findings. Stanley Milgram thus stepped forward in early 1969 to assist the purveyors of televisual violence, and he obtained a massive $260,000 grant from CBS which he used to demonstrate (with a highly questionable study) that the media does not play a significant role in promoting violence.[18] This was exactly the type of system-supporting research that Gerbner had challenged so successfully throughout his career. It is also perhaps worth emphasizing that throughout this period, CBS, like many other major newspapers (including the New York Times), maintained a cosy relationship with the CIA. In fact, as Carl Bernstein later reported in 1977, “CBS was unquestionably the CIAs most valuable broadcasting asset.”[19] These were the same media outlets that, at the same time as giving support the violent and anti-democratic actions of the CIA, relentlessly demonised the democratic movements of the global working-class.

Bearing all this in mind one can sympathise with Bregman’s advice to his readers to “avoid the news,” especially “television news” and “push notifications” on social media. He however counsels his readers to say that they should still take time to “read a more nuanced Sunday paper and in-depth feature writing, whether online or off.” This is a strange solution to countering media lies, and in the American context amounts to recommending that people read the New York Times! Bregman in his further suggestions goes on to add that people should “Disengage from your screen and meet real people in the flesh.” But again, this is by no means a solution to the systemic problems outlined in Humankind, and neither are his other suggested “ten rules to live by”. For example, his advice that “When in doubt, assume the best” or to just “Think in win-win scenarios” or to refrain from punching Nazis are insufficient if we are serious about moving beyond capitalism. Granted his advice is aimed at overcoming society-wide misperceptions about human nature, but the tried and tested way of overcoming such ideological hurdles is not by changing the individual actions that we take but by engaging in collective action. This is how revolutions in social relations are made. Socialist change comes through hard and determined organising not, as Bregman argues, by “turning the other cheek”. This is a counsel for real despair. Positive change will not just magically arrive when “we revise our view of human nature,” but when we overthrow our capitalist oppressors to inaugurate a new socialist world.


[1] “The Mangope regime commanded considerable resources. Of all the homelands, it was the most economically viable, and the Bophuthatswana Defence Force, 4000 strong and com-manded by ex-SADF officers, was well equipped. But the regime was deeply unpopular and a sequence of events including a civil service strike, mass protests and looting, the defection of sections of the security forces, an attempted intervention by the AWB in support of Mangope and the intercession of the SADF resulted in the bantustan being brought under central government control shortly before the elections.” Gavin Cawthra, Securing South Africa’s Democracy: Defence, Development and Security in Transition (Palgrave Macmillan, 1997), p.79. For a detailed overview of the “Battle for Bop,” see Allister Sparks, Tomorrow Is Another Country: The Inside Story of South Africa’s Road to Change (University of Chicago Press, 1996).

[2] As one reporter noted in October 1993: “They also share a concern that the ideology of communism, though outmoded and disgraced in much of the world, will gain a foothold here.” John Battersby, “Abraham Viljoen: Longtime campaigner for black-white solidarity in South Africa,” Christian Science Monitor, October 28, 1993. Although the New York Times’ article “Apartheid goes ‘Bop’” (March 16, 1994) downplayed the role of ordinary people in the insurrection, it’s still provides useful context to understanding the democratic significance of the “clash”. Their report concluded that “the most striking result was the humiliation of the white separatists, who fell out among themselves as the less extreme faction, headed by retired Gen. Constandt Viljoen, decided to join the election campaign.” One wonders what would have happened in the “Battle of Bop” if the black population had followed Bregman’s advice not to use violence to defend themselves form the armed fascists. As he puts it “punching Nazis only reinforces extremists. It validates them in their worldview and makes it that much easier to attract new recruits.”

[3] Sherif had first travelled to America to study at Harvard University in 1929 where he had befriended the likes of Hadley Cantril. It was only later on his second visit to America in 1934 – this time based at Columbia University — that while living in Harlem in had become converted to the ideas of communism. He returned to Turkey in 1937 but was forced to flee from Turkey’s fascist regime in late 1945 whereupon he returned to America. Upon his return Sherif had co-authored a psychology book with Cantril – in which he had not shied away from promoting his Marxist analyses. But by the 1950s the political situation in America had become extremely hostile to such radical ideas and careerists like Cantril chose to renounce their past radicalism to parlay his careers as a fervent Cold Warrior. As Gina Perry explains, in 1952 “Cantril told the FBI he believed that Sherif ‘would have no hesitation in providing all the information he might possess to the Russians’.” This posed severe problems for Sherif (who was an illegal alien) who was extreme risk of being deported back to Turkey because of his Marxist beliefs. In 1951 while based at the University of Oklahoma Sherif had already had to ward-off the anti-communist witch-hunt and take an oath of allegiance that he was not a communist, however, the FBI continued to investigate him until at least 1953. This background is provided in Perry’s book The Lost Boys; however, further useful information about Sherif’s politics can be found in Sertan Batur’s article “The unknown Muzafer Sherif,” The Psychologist, 27(11), November 2014. 

[4] At first much psychological research was funded directly by the US Department of Defence, and it was only by 1961 that total funding provided by the US Department for Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) to “psychological sciences surpassed total DOD funding. HEW spent $20.4 million during that year, fully half of the federal government’s total for such research. The DOD, in comparison, spent only $15.7 million.” Ellen Herman, The Romance of American Psychology: Political Culture in the Age of Experts (University of California Press, 1995), p.347.

[5] Gina Perry writes: “In 1977, the CIA released thousands of documents, after a freedom of information lawsuit, about its funding of research into mind control and interrogation techniques that could be used against enemies. … Muzafer had unwittingly accepted funding from the CIA for small-group research he conducted [in the mid-1960s]. Sherif had conducted a covert observational study on groups of adolescent gangs. It was part of a program of top-secret experiments called MKUltra. But while Sherif was studying urban gang members, the CIA applied the same research to techniques for renegade members of the KGB: ‘Now, getting a juvenile delinquent defector was motivationally not all that much different from getting a Soviet one.’” (The Lost Boys)

[6] Alfred McCoy, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror (St. Martins Press, 2007), p.49; also see McCoy, “Science in Dachau’s shadow: Hebb, Beecher, and the development of CIA psychological torture and modern medical ethics,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 43(4), Fall 2007.

[7] Thomas Blass, The Man Who Shocked the World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram (Basic Books, 2009), p.66. “The replies Milgram received from all three agencies [including the military] indicated that each of them was receptive to considering the kind of research he had in mind. But the prospects at the National Science Foundation seemed most promising. So on January 27, 1961, he sent the NSF a formal application, ‘Dynamics of Obedience: Experiments in Social Psychology,’ requesting $30,348 for a two-year period from June 1, 1961, to May 31, 1963.” (Blass, p.69) For a useful anarchist critique of Milgram, see Mat Little, The Disobedient Society (New Compass Press, 2019).

[8] With no irony Milgram explained in his article in The Nation (published on June 15, 1964) how the murder was “rapidly being assimilated to the uses and ideologies of the day” without realising he had been hoodwinked by the lies told by the police and the corporate media. The co-author of this piece, Paul Hollander, remained one of Milgram’s closest friends throughout the rest of his life. Hollander gaining much notoriety for his right-wing views and emergence as a leading neoconservative who went on to specialise in the demonisation of Marxists. (see “Paralyzed witnesses: the murder they heard,” The Nation.)

[9] Abe Rosenthal, “Study of the sickness called apathy,” New York Times, May 3, 1964. Bregman does cite this article but evidently overlooked its contents which is unfortunate as he also cites an important academic study which detailed how the police had set-up an innocent man, see Saul Kassin, “The killing of Kitty Genovese: what else does this case tell us?,” Perspectives on Psychological Science, 12(3), 2017; for a useful summary of this article see “A new look at the killing of Kitty Genovese: the science of false confessions,” Association for Psychological Science, June 30, 2017.

[10] Jim Rasenberger, “Kitty, 40 years later,” New York Times, February 8, 2004.

[11] Stephen Reicher and Alexander Haslam, “Questioning the banality of evil,” Psychologist, 21 (1), 2008, p.17, p.18, p.19.

[12] Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil (Rider Books, 2007), p.30; Stanton Glantz et al., Department of Defense Sponsored Research at Stanford — Volume 1, Two Perceptions: The Investigator’s and the Sponsor’s (SWOPSI, 1971), p.285. For a detailed examination of how Zimbardo’s research was used to both misrepresent fundamental issues of human nature and help shield the U.S. administration from accusations that they deliberately promote torture, see my earlier article “Challenging the Stanford Prison Experiment: military connections (Part III of III),” Swans Commentary, August 1, 2011.

[13] In making this argument Bregman counterposes the American prison system with the more liberal “dynamic security” model of prisons that are utilised in Norway. He cites the following New York Times article “The radical humaneness of Norway’s Halden prison” (March 26, 2015) which also happens to make the same mistaken argument that Bregman uses to demonstrate why the Crime Commission’s progressive findings were not realised. The Times article however does not mention Zimbardo at all and merely focuses on regressive role played by Robert Martinson.

[14] For an incisive analysis that debunks many liberal arguments concerning trends in American incarceration, see John Clegg and Adaner Usmani, “The economic origins of mass incarceration,” Catalyst, 3(3), Fall 2019.

[15] Here it is worth noting that Wilson had been a founding board member of the Ford Foundation’s “Police Foundation” — a huge project that was initiated in 1970 to supposedly enact some of the recommendations of the Crime Commission’s final report. It was from research undertaken through the Police Foundation that Wilson arrived at his broken windows theory. Sam Collings-Wells, “From Black Power to broken windows: liberal philanthropy and the carceral state,” Journal of Urban History, September 2020. For an excellent discussion of the evolution of Wilson’s conservative views on policing, see Bench Ansfield, “The broken windows of the Bronx: putting the theory in its place,” American Quarterly, 72(1), 2020.

[16] Martinson’s background and his influence on prison reform is discussed in Timothy Crimmins’ article “Incarceration as incapacitation: an intellectual history,” American Affairs, 2(3), Fall 2018. Although Crimmins acknowledges that Martinson’s 1974 article was published in a neoconservative magazine he still inaccurately presents him as a Leftist. That said, Crimmins does point out that other genuine writers on the liberal left did also oppose rehabilitation but for very different reasons, providing the example of the Jessica Mitford’s important book Kind and Usual Punishment: The Prison Business (Knopf, 1973). Mitford however was opposed to both the brutality of prisons and the idea of rehabilitation. For a feminist critique of the concept of capitalist rehabilitation, see Pat Carlen’s speech “Against rehabilitation: for reparative justice,” Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, November 6, 2012. Also of interest is Rick Sarre’s article “Beyond ‘what works?’: a 25-year Jubilee retrospective of Robert Martinson’s famous article,” The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 34(1), 2001.

[17] To Establish Justice, to Insure Domestic Tranquillity: Final Report of the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, December 10, 1969. Also see Robert K. Baker and Sandra J. Ball, Mass Media and Violence: A Staff Report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, November 1969.

[18] Blass, The Man Who Shocked the World, p.192-3. Blass notes how Joseph Klapper oversaw CBS’s working relationship with Milgram. For a useful discussion of how the ruling-class has promoted the misnomer that the corporate media has “limited effects” on society — as popularised by the work of CBS’ director of research Joseph Klapper and his influential 1960 book was The Effects of Mass Communication — see Robert Babe, Cultural Studies and Political Economy: Toward a New Integration (Lexington Books, 2009), p.122. Babe also notes how “Gerbner was particularly successful in challenging the law of minimal effects”. (p.123)

[19] Carl Bernstein, “The CIA and the media,” Rolling Stone magazine, October 20, 1977. When the CIA’s role in secretly funding foundations and organisations was first exposed by the New Left activists working for Ramparts magazine (in March 1967), the mainstream media were forced to quickly respond and CBS famously produced a hour long documentary on March 13, 1967 titled “In the Pay of the CIA: An American Dilemma.” Of course, no mention was made of the close collaboration between CBS head William S. Paley, his Paley Foundation, and the CIA (as outlined by Bernstein); instead, the documentary focuses on ostensibly progressive groups linked to the CIA, like right-leaning trade unions (which relates to Norman Thomas’ Institute of International Labor Research) and liberal student groups.

Bill Gates, Philanthropy, and Social Engineering?

I first published the following article “Bill Gates, Philanthropy, & Social Engineering?” in the Summer 2009 issue of Variant magazine (Issue 35).

Like many of the world’s richest businessmen, Bill Gates believes in a special form of democracy, otherwise known as plutocracy. That is, socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. Following in the footsteps of John D. Rockefeller’s and Andrew Carnegie’s charitable foundations, Gates, like most capitalists, relies upon the government to protect his business interests from competition, but is less keen on the idea of a government that acts to redistribute wealth to the wider populous. For powerful capitalists such as Gates, the State is merely a tool to be harnessed for profit maximization, and they themselves, having acquired their wealth by exploiting and manipulating the economic system, then take it upon their own shoulders to help relieve global inequality and escalating poverty. As one might expect, their definitions of the appropriate solutions to inequality neglect to seriously challenge the primary driver of global poverty, capitalism. For the most part, the incompatibility of democracy and capitalism remains anathema. Instead, those capitalist philanthropists fund all manner of ‘solutions’ that help provide a much needed safety valve for rising resistance and dissent, while still enabling business-as-usual, albeit with a band-aid stuck over some of the more glaring inequities.

With huge government-aided financial empires resting in the hands of a small power elite, the ability of the richest individual philanthropists to shape global society is increasing all the time, while the power of society to influence governments is being continuously undermined by many of these powerful philanthropists. This situation is problematic on a number of levels. Democratic governments rely on taxes to stabilise existing structures of governance. Yet, profiting from specifically designed legislation, billionaire capitalists are able to create massive tax-free endowments to satisfy their own particular interests. This process in effect means that vast amounts of money are regularly ‘stolen’ from the democratic citizenry, whereupon they are redistributed by unaccountable elites, who then cynically use this display of generosity to win over more supporters to the free-market principles that they themselves do their utmost to protect themselves from. Bill Gates’ Microsoft Corporation and his associated liberal foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (the largest of its kind in the world), is only one of the more visible displays of capitalism’s hypocrisy.

I – Capitalists cum Philanthropists: the roots of Gates’ philanthropy

At this present historical juncture, neoclassical free-market economic doctrines are the favored means of promoting capitalism by business and political elites. In many respects this neoliberal dogma has been adopted by a sizable proportion of the citizenry of the world’s most powerful countries, arguably against the citizenry’s own best interests. This widespread internalisation, but not necessarily acceptance, by the broader populous of the economic theories that consolidate capitalist hegemony over the global market did not happen naturally, but actually required a massive ongoing propaganda campaign to embed itself in the minds of the masses. The contours of this propaganda offensive have been well described by Alex Carey who fittingly observed that: “The twentieth century has been characterised by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.”

There are many reasons why corporate giants engage in liberal philanthropic endeavors: one is to have a direct influence on political decisions through what has been termed political philanthropy, but another important reason is that such charitable efforts help cultivate a positive image in the public’s mind that serves to deflect criticism while also helping expand their market share. However, although liberal foundations like the Gates Foundation may engage in ostensibly ‘progressive’ activities, this does not mean that the capitalist enterprises from which their endowments arise (e.g. Microsoft) refrain from engaging in common antidemocratic business practices. So while the Gates Foundation directs some of its resources to progressive grassroots initiatives, its corporate benefactor actually works to create fake grassroots organisations (otherwise known as astroturf groups) to actively lobby through covert means to protect corporate power.

For instance, in 1999 Microsoft helped found a group called Americans for Technology Leadership – a group which describes its role as being “dedicated to limiting government regulation of technology and fostering competitive market solutions to public policy issues affecting the technology industry.” In 2001, Joseph Menn and Edmund Sanders alleged that Americans for Technology Leadership orchestrated a “nationwide campaign to create the impression of a surging grass-roots movement” to help defend Microsoft from monopoly charges. The founder of this front group, Jonathan Zuck, also created another libertarian group in 1998 called the Association for Competitive Technology, a group which was part sponsored by Microsoft to fight against the anti-trust actions being pursued against Microsoft in the United States. Such antidemocratic campaigns waged via front groups and astroturf organisations, however, were just one part of Microsoft’s democratic manipulations. This is because, as Greg Miller and Leslie Helm demonstrated (in 1998), this was just one part of a programmme that Microsoft and PR giant Edelman had been planning as part of a “massive media campaign designed to influence state investigators by creating the appearance of a groundswell of public support for the company.” None of this should be surprising as in 1995 it was also revealed how Microsoft were using “consultants to generate computer analyses of reporters’ articles, enlist industry sources to critique writers they know and – less frequently – provide investigative peeks into journalists private lives.” In the rare spate of critical articles surfacing in the late 1990s, it was also shown that Microsoft had made a $380,000 contribution to the conservative corporate-funded astroturf group Citizens for a Sound Economy (now known as FreedomWorks).[1] Unfortunately, these examples only represent the tip of the iceberg of Microsoft’s democracy manipulating activities.

II – The Gates Foundation: Microsoft’s ‘Charity’

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has its roots in two of Gates’ earlier philanthropic projects: the William H. Gates Foundation and the Gates Library Foundation. Understanding the complete backgrounds of the Gates Foundations’ is critical to comprehending the political nature of their work.

Formed in 1994 by Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda Gates, the William H. Gates Foundation was managed by Bill Gates’ father, William H. Gates Sr.[2]Presently acting as the co-chairman of the Gates Foundation, Gates Sr. has had a successful career establishing one of Seattle’s leading law firms, Preston Gates and Ellis (which in 2007 became K&L Gates), whose work is closely tied to Bill Gates’ corporate/philanthropic network. Gates Sr. is also a director of the food giant Costco where he sits on their board of directors alongside Charles Munger, the former vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. In 2003, Gates Sr. co-founded the Initiative for Global Development, which is a national network of business leaders that ostensibly champion “effective solutions to global poverty.” The dubious level of commitment this group has to truly solving global poverty can perhaps be best ascertained by the fact that the two co-chairs of the Initiative’s leadership council are the two former Secretaries of State, Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell. Albright, Powell, and Gates Sr. also serve as honorary chairs of another arguably misnamed ‘democracy’-promoting project called the World Justice Project which happens to obtain financial backing from two key weapons manufacturers, Boeing and General Electric. This project also receives support from Microsoft and the Gates Foundation, amongst others.

In 1995, Gates Sr. invited the longstanding birth control/population activist Suzanne Cluett to help him distribute his foundation’s resources. She then remained with the Gates’ philanthropies as associate director of global health strategies until her death in 2006. Prior to joining the Gates’ philanthropies, Cluett had obtained much experience in population control related programming as she had spent 16 years as administrative vice president for the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH). The Gates Foundation’s focus here places it in a direct line with that of the Ford and Rockefeller foundations’, which have a long history of promoting population control research around the world in line with U.S. imperial interests.

Describing itself as an “international, nonprofit organization that creates sustainable, culturally relevant solutions, enabling communities worldwide to break longstanding cycles of poor health”, PATH had, in 2006, a total income of just over $130 million, of which 65% was derived from foundations – most of which it obtained from its major funding partner, the Gates Foundation. In 1995, PATH’s president, Gordon Perkin, was first approached by Gates Sr. for his advice on family planning issues. This relationship then blossomed over the years and eventually, in late 1999, Perkin’s stepped down as PATH’s president and became the head of the Gates Foundation’s new Global Health Program. This was not the first time that Perkins had directly worked on population control issues for liberal foundations, as in 1964 he joined the Planned Parenthood Federation of America as an associate medical director – a group that was well supported by Ford and Rockefeller monies – and just two years later he moved to the Ford Foundation to work on population issues in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Mexico and Brazil, where he stayed until he created PATH in 1977.

Given that the two key policy advisors recruited by the William H. Gates Foundation first worked with the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), it is interesting to note that another PATH board member, Steve Davis, who formerly practised law with Preston Gates and Ellis, presently serves as a director of Global Partnerships. Global Partnerships is yet another group that says it is dedicated to “fight[ing] against global poverty,” in this case through microfinance schemes, and has recently begun working closely with the Grameen Foundation, another microfinance group that receives major funding from the Gates Foundation.

The second of Gate’s initial two foundations was founded in 1997 as the Gates Library Foundation, in the foundations own words, to “bring computers and Internet access to public libraries in low-income communities in the United States and Canada.” In 1999, the foundation then changed its name to the Gates Learning Foundation. Prior to the merger into the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Gates Learning Foundation was headed by Patricia Stonesifer, who is presently the CEO of the Gates Foundation; Stonesifer previously worked for Microsoft Corporation (1988-97), and also ran her own management consulting firm.

Board members of the Gates Learning Foundation also included Gilbert Anderson, who at the time served as a trustee of the Seattle Public Library; Vartan Gregorian, who was, and still is, the president of the Carnegie Corporation; and William H. Gray III, who was the president of the United Negro College Fund from 1991 until 2004, and presently sits on the public advisory committee of the Population Institute, and has been a director of the Rockefellers’ JPMorgan Chase since 1992. Considering the extensive links that exist between Gray’s United Negro College Fund and various liberal philanthropists, it is important to briefly consider the history of the Fund’s work:

Founded in 1944, with critical aid provided by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the United Negro College Fund describes itself as the “largest and most successful minority higher education assistance organization” in the U.S., having distributed over $2.5 billion of grants since its creation. Crucially, the Fund has obtained massive support from liberal foundations and in 1999 alone they received over $1 billion from the Gates Foundation. In 2000, UNCF received $1 million from the world’s leading military contractor, Lockheed Martin Corporation. The recently retired chairman of Lockheed Martin, Vance D. Coffman has also served on the board of directors of the Fund.[3]

Returning to the Gates Learning Foundation, their former director of strategy and operations, Christopher Hedrick, formerly managed the national philanthropic programs for Microsoft, and was “responsible for developing the growth of the company’s partnership with the United Negro College Fund”, and also happens to be a former treasurer of the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health. In 1999, Hedrick founded the consulting firm, Intrepid Learning Solutions. Nelson A. Rockefeller Jr. acts as their executive vice president, while their board of directors includes amongst their members Steve Davis, who, as outlined in relation to the population control focus of the William H. Gates Foundation, is also on the board of PATH and a director of Global Partnerships. Finally, in late 1998, the director of finance and administration of the Gates Learning Foundation was Terry Meersman who, amongst his many jobs in philanthropy, formerly served as the Venture Fund Program Officer for the Pew Charitable Trusts – a major funder of environmental projects which has been heavily critiqued by progressive commentators.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

In 2000, Bill and Melinda Gates established the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which is based on the stated belief that “every life has equal value,” to “help reduce inequities in the United States and around the world.” The Gates Foundation points out that its 15 guiding principles “reflect the Gates family’s beliefs about the role of philanthropy and the impact they want this foundation to have.” Thus it is important to briefly examine these principles to get an idea of the type of work that the foundation believes it is engaged in.

Many of those guiding principles suggest that the foundation respects the role of the community in dealing with social problems, thus they observe that: “We treat our grantees as valued partners, and we treat the ultimate beneficiaries of our work with respect”; “We treat each other as valued colleagues”; “We must be humble and mindful in our actions and words”; and crucially they note that, “Philanthropy plays an important but limited role.” Yet, as one might expect of the world’s largest foundation, there are limits on the respect they have for the beneficiaries of their work, as although they suggest that philanthropy should play a “limited role” this is not borne out by the fact that in 2007 alone the Gates Foundation distributed over $2 billion. Indeed, other principles that guide the foundation’s work which suggest their acknowledgement of a social engineering role for the foundation include: the foundation will be “driven by the interests and passions of the Gates family”; “We are funders and shapers”; “Our focus is clear”; “We advocate – vigorously but responsibly – in our areas of focus”; and “Meeting our mission… requires great stewardship of the money we have available.” Thus, given the huge amounts of money involved, it is hard to reconcile the foundation’s vision of itself as “funders and shapers” with their final guiding principle, which is: “We leave room for growth and change.” Clearly the Gates Foundation is a powerful force for change, and, judging by the previous historical achievements of the major liberal foundations, it is likely to be a rather antidemocratic and elitist force for change.

People and Projects

Since the formal consolidation of the Gates philanthropies in late 1999, the most significant change at the Gates Foundation has been the massive influx of capital that they received from Warren Buffett. Warren Buffett is the CEO of the investment company Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (a position he has held since 1970) and presently serves alongside Melinda Gates on the board of directors of the Washington Post Company.[4]This Gates/Hathaway/media connection is further bolstered by the presence of Thomas Murphy and Donald Keough on Berkshire Hathaway’s board, as until he retired in 1996 Murphy was the CEO of Capital Cities/ABC (which was bought by Disney that year), while Keough presently serves as a director of IAC/InterActiveCorp. Bill Gates also joined the Berkshire Hathaway board of directors in 2004, while former Microsoft employee Charlotte Guyman presently serves on Hathaway’s board as well. Finally, Charles Munger, who has been the vice chair of Berkshire Hathaway since 1978, currently sits alongside William H. Gates Sr. on Costco’s board of directors.

In part, the close working relationship that exists between the Gates family and Warren Buffett helps explain why in 2006 Buffett announced that he was going to leave most of his substantial personal earnings from Berkshire Hathaway – that is, $31 billion – to the Gates Foundation. To put this donation in perspective, at the time of the announcement the Gates Foundation, which was already the largest liberal foundation in the world, had an endowment that was worth just under $30 billion. Thus, as one might expect, Buffett now plays an important role in helping direct the work of the Gates Foundation.

III – Bill Gates Engineers Another Green Revolution

In late 2003, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was strongly criticised by international charities, farmers’ groups, and academics as a result of a $25 million grant it had given to “GM [genetically modified] research to develop vitamin and protein-enriched seeds for the world’s poor.” This money supported research by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, and the International Food Policy Research Institute, two groups which played an integral role in the first Ford and Rockefeller Foundation-funded (so-called) Green Revolution. Both of these organisations are also part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a group of global public institutes that is “widely accused of being a creature of its two major funders – the US and the World Bank.” However, although linked to the World Bank, CGIAR was formed as a result of a “series of private conferences held at the Rockefeller Foundation’s conference center in Bellagio, Italy”, and its work has been strongly supported by all manner of liberal foundations. As John Vidal points out, there are also “reasons to believe that the Gates food agenda is now being shaped by US corporate and government interests.” This is because in regard to their support for CGIAR the Gates Foundation chose to partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and USAID; “two of the most active pro-GM organisations in the world.”

Given this corporate influence it is poignant to reflect on the large number of ties that the Gates Foundation’s current leadership has to various biotechnology ventures: Melinda Gates has served on the board of directors of; the president of the Gates Foundations global health programs, Tachi Yamada, formerly acted as the chairman of research and development at the global drug company, GlaxoSmithKline (2001-06); the president of the Gates Foundations global development program, Sylvia Burwell, is a director of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa; their chief financial officer, Alexander Friedman, was the founder and president of Accelerated Clinical, a biotechnology services company; the Gates Foundation’s managing director of public policy, Geoffrey Lamb, formerly held several senior development positions at the World Bank and is the chair of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative; while Jack Faris, who formerly served as the Gates Foundation’s director of community strategies, has since February 2005 been the president of the corporate lobby group the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association.

In addition, given the key role played by liberal philanthropy (most notably the Rockefeller Foundation) in promoting the initial Green Revolution, it is noteworthy that many important people at the Gates Foundation are directly connected to the Rockefeller philanthropies: Tachi Yamada is also a former trustee of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; the two chairs for the Gates Foundations advisory panels for their U.S. Program and their Global Development Program, Ann Fudge and Rajat Gupta, respectively, both serve as Rockefeller Foundation trustees; while Henry Cisneros, a former Rockefeller Foundation trustee, sits on the Gates Foundations U.S. Program’s advisory panel. Those connections to both the Rockefeller philanthropies and to the biotechnology industry cast an ominous shadow over the Gates Foundation’s activities in this area.

Former Rockefeller Foundation president, George Harrar, has been credited as being the “architect of the Foundation’s agricultural programs, beginning in Mexico during the 1940s, and was in large part responsible for the so-called Green Revolution”. Harrar also played a key role in the founding of the aforementioned Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. Summing up the problematic ideology of the Green Revolution and Harrar’s position, Eric Ross wrote in 1996 that:

“The threat of Malthusian crisis [that population tends to increase faster than food supply] justified the central premise of the Green Revolution, that, if there was not enough land to go around, peasant agriculture could not yield sufficient increases in food. In the process, it side-stepped the important question of whether land was truly scarce or just unequally distributed. It also concealed another agenda. J. George Harrar… observed in 1975 that ‘agriculture is… a business and, to be successful, must be managed in a businesslike fashion.’ Thus he was acknowledging that the Green Revolution was not just about producing more food, but helping to create a new global food system committed to the costly industrialization of agricultural production. Throughout much of the world, Malthusian logic, hand in hand with the new technologies of the Green Revolution, helped to put land reform on hold.”20

Indeed, the whole idea of the Green Revolution is problematic because although the “chief public rationale” for it was supposedly humanitarianism, a good case can be made that the logic undergirding this revolution was Malthusian not humanitarianism. As critical scholars like Eric Ross have pointed out, the Green Revolution should be considered to be an “integral part of the constellation of strategies including limited and carefully managed land reform, counterinsurgency, CIA-backed coups, and international birth control programs that aimed to ensure the security of U.S. interests.” This little-heard of critique of the Green Revolution is supported by the work of other writers (e.g. Susan George and Vandana Shiva) who have demonstrated that the so-called revolutionary changes promoted by the Green Revolution actually increased inequality, and in some cases even hunger itself. Ross concludes that support for the ‘new’ Green Revolution only serves to “accelerate the emergence of a globalized food system” which will ultimately “only enhance a world economy in which the rural poor already have too little voice or power.”

Bearing this history in mind, it is consistent, but alarming nevertheless, that the president of the Gates Foundation’s global development program, Sylvia Burwell, is a director of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa – an Alliance that was founded in 2006 by the Rockefeller and Gates Foundations. The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa describes itself as a “dynamic, African-led partnership working across the African continent to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families lift themselves out of poverty and hunger.” Yet in a manner eerily reminiscent of critiques of the initial Green Revolution, in 2006 Food First observed that: “Because this new philanthropic effort ignores, misinterprets, and misrepresents the harsh lessons of the first Green Revolution’s multiple failures, it will likely worsen the problem” it is supposedly trying to address.

It is critical to acknowledge that, in large part, the modern day environmental movement grew out of the population control movement in the late 1960s and so environmental organisations are also well enmeshed in this web of philanthropic causes and democracy manipulators. These links are best represented through the person of Walter Falcon. From 1979 until 1983 Falcon chaired the board of trustees of the Agricultural Development Council – a group that was established in 1953 by the influential population control activist John D. Rockefeller 3rd. When this group merged with two other Rockefeller-related agricultural Programs to form what is now known as Winrock International, Falcon continued to serve on their board of trustees.[5] The Falcon-environmental connection, however, comes through his presence on the board of trustees (from 2001 until 2007) of the Centre for International Forestry (CIFOR), a CGIAR member organisation whose mission suggests that they are “committed to conserving forests and improving the livelihoods of people in the tropics.” In 2006, this group had a budget of just over $14 million, of which just over 9% came from the World Bank (their largest single donor), while in the same year the Ford Foundation provided them with just under $0.4 million in restricted funds.

Since 2006, CIFOR’s director general has been Frances Seymour, who is a member of the elite planning group the Council on Foreign Relations, and prior to heading CIFOR had been responsible for providing leadership for the World Resources Institute’s engagement with international financial institutions (like the World Bank).[6] Earlier still, Frances had spent five years working in Indonesia with the Ford Foundation, and had also worked on USAID-funded agroforestry projects in the Philippines. Another notable trustee of CIFOR is Eugene Terry, who was formerly the director general of the West Africa Rice Development Association before going on to work at the World Bank. Terry is also chair of another CGIAR member organisation called the World Agroforestry Centre that was founded in 1978 and obtains funding from the World Bank/Ford/Rockefeller/USAID/World Resources Institute funding consortium. Moreover, Terry is now the implementing director of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), a Nairobi-based group that was formed in 2002 with Rockefeller and USAID funding to lobby for greater uptake of GM crops in Africa. Although not advertised on their website, the Foundation receives support from four of the world’s largest agricultural companies: Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences, and DuPont.

Other than via Eugene Terry, the Centre for International Forestry can be connected to agribusiness giant Syngenta through CIFOR trustee Andrew Bennett who is the former executive director (now just board member) of the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture. Terry joins Bennett on the Syngenta Foundation board of directors. Another notable director of the Syngenta Foundation is the president and CEO of the Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development, Klaus Leisinger. The Novartis Foundation joins the Gates Foundation and World Bank/Ford/USAID types in funding the work of a key population control group, the Population Reference Bureau. This US-based group was founded in 1929, a period in history that fully embraced the necessity of eugenics, and is now headed by William Butz, who had previously served as a senior economist at the imperial think tank, the RAND Corporation.

Last but not least, Syngenta and their Syngenta Foundation, along with USAID, Dupont, and the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations, support a global project called the Global Crop Diversity Trust which aims to “ensure the conservation and availability of crop diversity for food security worldwide.” The aims of this project are somewhat contradictory, because the attempts of the aforementioned groups to foist a GM monoculture upon the world are already working to endanger the regular supply of adequate food resources into the future, and are threatening the livelihoods of the majority world’s farming communities. Thus it is clear that the main reason why this project aims to safeguard genetic diversity – by safeguarding seeds in an underground vault buried beneath a mountain on the island of Svalbard (Norway) – is first and foremost to protect the profits of the agribusinesses that are forcing GM crops upon the world.

The person who currently chairs the Global Crop Diversity Trust’s board of directors is none other than the former president of the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations’ Population Council, Margaret Catley-Carlson; other directors include Lewis Coleman, who since 2001 has been a director of one of the world’s largest military contractors, Northrop Grumman, and is vice-chair of the controversial GM-linked environmental group Conservation International; Ambassador Jorio Dauster, who is the board chairman of Brasil Ecodiesel; Adel El-Beltagy, who serves on the executive council of CGIAR; and Mangala Rai, who is a trustee of the International Rice Research Institute, a former member of CGIAR’s executive council, and a former trustee of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center; while the Global Crop Diversity Trusts’ executive director, Cary Fowler, is also a former board member of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center is yet another key group that pushed along the last Green Revolution as it was established in the 1940s in co-operation with the Mexican government by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations. One of the main proponents of the Green Revolution, Norman Borlaug, was director of this Center’s International Wheat Improvement Program, and, in reward for his ‘revolutionary’ work, Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.[7] Borlaug has also long been connected to the population lobby, as from 1971 onwards he served as the Director of the U.S.’s Population Crisis Committee (now known as Population Action International),[8] and he presently serves on the international advisory committee of the Population Institute.


Social engineering by elite philanthropists of any hue is not a phenomenon that is compatible with democracy. In fact, the ongoing, and escalating, philanthropic colonisation of civil society by philanthropists poses a clear and present danger to the sustainability of democratic forms of governance. The Gates Foundation only represents the tip of the iceberg of the world of liberal philanthropy, and thousands of other foundations pursue similar agendas across the globe, albeit on a smaller scale. For example in 2006, in the U.S. alone, there were over 71,000 grant making foundations which together distributed just under $41 billion. This massive figure also represents the greatest amount of money ever distributed by foundations, a figure that has been rising steadily over the years, and had just ten year earlier only amounted to some $14 billion.

Consequently, given the longstanding influence that all manner of philanthropic foundations have had on global politics, it is concerning that most political scientists have downplayed their importance in shaping the global polity, while others sometimes admit to the power they exert but simply consider it to be a good thing. By examining the backgrounds of many of the people involved with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and by demonstrating the Foundation’s involvement in promoting the new Green Revolution, the world’s most powerful liberal foundation, while professing to promote solutions to global poverty, can be seen to pursue an agenda that will aggravate such systemic problems.

These ‘solutions’, however, do exist, and the social engineering of elites is not always all pervasive. Indeed, one important way in which concerned citizens may begin to counter the insidious influence of liberal elites over civil society is to work to dissociate their progressive activism from liberal foundations. At the same time it is critical that they also work to create sustainable democratic revenue streams to enable their work to continue. This of course will be the hardest part for progressive activists who have long relied upon the largess of liberal philanthropists, but it is a necessary step if they are to contribute towards an emancipatory project that is separated from, and opposed to, the corrosive social engineering of liberal elites.

Michael Barker is an independent researcher who currently resides in Australia. His other work can be found at:

The original version of this article was presented as a refereed paper at the 2008 Australasian Political Science Association conference, and, with much greater detail on the connections and roles of individuals, corporations and philanthropic organisations, can be accessed in full on Zmag:

[1] Microsoft representative, Thomas Hartocollis, serves on the board of directors of the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship – a group that is funded by various conservative foundations and to teach children about the benefits of capitalism.

[2] In 1999, the William H. Gates Foundation was renamed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the foundation moved from offices located in Bill Gates Sr.’s basement to a site in Seattle (Washington).

[3] The late Christopher F. Edley Sr., who served as the president of the United Negro College Fund from 1973 to 1990 had prior to this appointment acted as a Ford Foundation program officer.

[4] Ronald Olson also serves on the boards of both the Washington Post Company and Berkshire Hathaway.

[5] From 1991 until 1998, Falcon directed Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, and although he only presently serves on their executive committee, the Institute’s current deputy director, Michael McFaul, is presently involved with two well known democracy manipulating organizations, Freedom House (where he is a trustee), and the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies (where is a board member).

[6] The World Resources Institute is a corporate-styled environmental group, whose founders included Jessica Tuchman Mathews who served as their vice president from 1982 through to 1993, and is now the president of the misnamed Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and is a member of both the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. Jessica also served on the editorial board of The Washington Post in the early 1980s.

[7] Norman Borlaug is connected to various other groups including the International Food Policy Research Institute (where he served as a trustee between 1976 and 1982), Winrock International (where he as a trustee between 1982 and 1990), and Population Communications International (where is he was the director between 1984 and 1994).

[8] Norman Borlaug presently serves on the Population Action International’s council alongside Robert McNamara, an individual who in 1968, while serving as a Ford Foundation trustee Robert S. McNamara ‘‘emphasized the central importance of curbing population growth’’ in his inaugural speech as the World Bank’s new president.

Foundation Interviews

An Abrupt Interview with Mark Dowie, Swans Commentary, June 14, 2010.

Interview with Jerry Gershenhorn, Swans Commentary, June 28, 2010.

Interviews with contributors to the book Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism, Swans Commentary, July 12, 2010.

Foundations and Social Change: An Interview with Diana Johnstone, CounterPunch, July 16-18, 2010.

Foundations and the Environmental Movement: An Interview with Daniel Faber, CounterPunch, September 13, 2010.

Not-For-Profit Corporate Power: An Interview with Darwin Bond-Graham, State of Nature, Autumn 2010.

Foundations and Social Change: An Interview with Adrienne Pine, CounterPunch, July 5, 2011.

Questioning Foundations: An Interview with Denis Rancourt, Dissident Voice, July 17, 2010.

Foundations for Empire: An Interview with Inderjeet Parmar, Swans Commentary, May 21, 2012.

Foundations for Social Change: An Interview with Harry Browne, Ceasefire Magazine, June 20, 2012.

Foundations of Social Change: An Interview with Kees Van Der Pijl, New Left Project, October 2, 2012.

On Environmental Foundations: An Interview with Cory Morningstar, Ceasefire Magazine, December 18, 2012.

Capital-Driven Civil Society

I first published the following essay (“Capital-driven civil society“) in the Spring 2008 issue of State of Nature – a journal whose web site is no longer online.

According to, the once progressive, now neo-conservative commentator, David Horowitz, Professor Stephen Zunes is a member of a select group of leftist activists that he refers to as The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America (2006). Horowitz is infamous for co-founding the Center for the Study of Popular Culture –- which has been ominously renamed as the David Horowitz Freedom Center. More recently though, in 2005, this Center launched DiscoverTheNetworks, an online project that has been accurately referred to as “Horowitz’s Smear Portal”. The relevance of this background is found in the fact that I have also assessed Zunes’ connections to the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict (where he chairs the board of academic advisors). While both I and Horowitz have criticised Zunes’ background and affiliations, needless to say Horowitz’s “Smear Portal” attacks Zunes for very different reasons than my own. [1] Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that DiscoverTheNetworks approach to investigating Zunes is very similar to my own, as it identifies the “individuals and organizations that make up the left and also the institutions that fund and sustain it”. The crucial difference, between these two parallel analyses, however, is that I criticise the Left in an attempt to strengthen it by causing it to reflect on the elite manipulation and co-option of civil society, while DiscoverTheNetworks simply aims to undermine the Left. [2]

Unfortunately, my attempts to produce reflection did not bear fruit from Professor Zunes who, rather than addressing the substance of my criticisms, ‘responded’ with accusations of “absurd leaps of logic”, concluding that he “wonder[ed] whose side Barker is really on”. This was disappointing as the criticisms of Zunes’ connections with the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict had been explicit and my intention had been to promote this vital critical reflection amongst the Left, especially with regards to their reliance upon funding from The Power Elite. [3] Such funding questions are especially relevant with regards to the work of the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, as their work is funded by Peter Ackerman and his wife Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, whose work has anti-democratic aspirations.

In summary these aspirations become evident when considering the intimate involvement either one or both have with the following democracy manipulating organizations: the Albert Einstein Institution, Freedom House, the International Center for Journalists, the International Crisis Group, and the US Institute of Peace. [4] Moreover, as John Bellamy Foster pointed out in his rebuttal to Zunes’ ‘defence’ of the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, Peter Ackerman is also a director for the “imperial brain trust,” that is the Council on Foreign Relations. Further, Peter Ackerman maintains even more ties to ‘democratic’ elites that have not been mentioned in previous articles. Most notably Ackerman serves on the advisory board of the Council on Foreign Relations misnamed Center for Preventive Action: a group that should be referred to as the Center for Preventing Democratic Action. [5]

A fortunate point of agreement with Zunes, is the view of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) as one of the “real manifestations of U.S. imperialism”. However a point that cannot be agreed upon is Zunes’ view that the work of such democracy manipulating groups is to “primarily assist pro-Western elites develop sophisticated political campaigns centered on seizing power”. This disagreement highlights our more fundamental differences of opinion regarding his involvement with the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict. [6] In contrast to Zunes’ representations of the NED, only part of their work is geared towards supporting openly pro-Western elites (i.e. conservatives and neo-conservatives), which is most evident through the funding practices of two of the NED’s four core grantees, the International Republican Institute and the Center for International Private Enterprise. The rest of the NED’s work, however, involves manipulating civil society through the provision of strategic support to liberals, and ‘moderate’ – that is, not Marxist or anarchist inspired – labor groups: funding that is often directed via the NED’s two other core grantees the National Democratic Institute and the AFL-CIO (via their Solidarity Center). NED funding is supplemented by various philanthropic foundations (both liberal and conservative), which, in turn, is topped up by better funded ‘aid’ agencies, like the recently formed multilateral democracy manipulator, the United Nations Democracy Fund. However, the argument put forward here is that it is the more subtle support that democracy manipulators provide to progressive activist organizations that are the most important yet least understood part of their activities.

Overemphasis in Leftist literature on aggressive aspects of imperialism (waged through both overt and covert military, economic, and diplomatic domination) has unfortunately meant that little attention has been paid to the equally important ‘friendly face’ of imperialism. Thus, when combined with the near total media blackout of critical analyses of elite funding of progressive groups, it is little wonder that there is minimal discussion of this phenomenon. [7] This is not to say that there have not been a number of excellent critiques of the hijacking/colonisation of civil society by liberal elites (although they tend to be ignored): indeed, some notable book length treatments of the subject include:

In more recent years James Petras’ (1999) landmark article NGOs: In the Service of Imperialism, has inspired much critical reflection among the Left – for example, see the work of Aziz Choudry (2002), Arundhati Roy (2004), Patrick Bond (2005), Yves Engler (2007), and Shahrzad Mojab (2007) – but ironically enough David Horowitz provided the Left with one of the most timely and (potentially) inspirational series of articles regarding the dangers of liberal philanthropy. Thus in 1969, during the radical leftist part of his career, Horowitz published a series of three articles in Ramparts magazine which were titled:

  • The Foundations: Charity Begins at Home (April 1969)
  • Billion Dollar Brains: How Wealth Puts Knowledge in its Pocket (May 1969)
  • Sinews of Empire (October 1969)

Horowitz’s trilogy, although ultimately unsuccessful in breaking the firm hold of liberal foundations over progressive social movements, still provides a valuable summary of the antidemocratic mechanizations of liberal philanthropists, and so I will briefly recount some of the most relevant aspects of his arguments here.

Firstly, Horowitz recognized the immense power that large amounts of money could wield over the processes of social change, writing that “The income of the 596 largest tax-exempt foundations is more than twice the net earnings of the nation’s 50 largest commercial banks.” He observed that the massive wealth generated from these liberal endowments ($876 million in the case of the Rockefeller Foundation) allows foundations to “sustain the complex nerve centers and guidance mechanisms for a whole system of institutional power”. [9] (Of course, he notes, the power to ‘influence’ was (and is) not limited to foundations, and in the Rockefeller’s case they also dominated the “world’s second largest commercial bank, the Chase Manhattan”, and “the second and third largest insurance companies, Metropolitan and Equitable”, amongst many others.)

Horowitz then traces the trajectory of liberal philanthropy from 1877 onwards, observing how “Booker T. Washington ascended to national prominence with his white-sponsored philosophy of self-help and political quietism” (which led him to create the National Negro Business League, with the aid of Andrew Carnegie). Then “[a]t the outset of the 1960s, [“financed by white wealth”] the NAACP and the Urban League were on the right wing of the civil rights movement”. Foundations were not the only significant influence, and as he points out, as social movements became more militant the “first-line response… was of course the big stick of Law and Order”. However, “[a]long with the frame-ups and police terror, a highly sophisticated program was being launched by forces of the status quo”. He continues:

In 1966, McGeorge Bundy left his White House position as the top security manager for the American empire… to become president of the [$3 billion] Ford Foundation. Bundy was an exponent of the sophisticated approach to the preservation of the international status quo. Rejecting what he called ‘either or’ politics, he advocated ‘counterinsurgency and the Peace Corps… an Alliance for Progress and unremitting opposition to Castro; in sum, the olive branch and the arrows.’ The arrows of course would be taken care of by the authorities, from the CIA and the American military to Major Daley, while the foundations were free to pursue the olive branch side. Since they were ‘private’ and non-governmental they could leave the task of repression to their friends in other agencies while they pursued a benevolent, enlightened course without apparent hypocrisy.

The Ford Foundation then proceeded to line the coffers of Kenneth Clark’s Metropolitan Applied Research Center ($0.5 million), and even formerly militant groups like the Congress on Racial Equality (which obtained $175,000 for Cleveland organizing). [10] Then in 1967 the Urban Coalition was formed, headed by none other than the former president of the Carnegie Corporation, John Gardner, with funding “provided by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund Inc., the Carnegie Foundation and the Ford Foundation”. Support for moderate progressives however does not prevent liberal foundations from supporting elite planning groups like the Council on Foreign Relations, and as Horowitz observed the “majority of the trustees of the foundations” – i.e. the “big three”, Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller – are members of the Council.

Horowitz makes a call to students, as relevant now as it was then, to reconsider their activism in the light of the influence of foundations on higher education:

Today’s generation of students, who at this very moment are being suspended, beaten bloody and jailed for their efforts to end the subservience of intellect to power, loosen up entrance requirements, create new departments and colleges and attempt to make the university more relevant to their needs, might be interested in knowing how the system got set up in the first place. It did not, as it might seem, spring fall-blown from the head of the absent-minded professor. The development of the modern American university was not left to the natural bent of those within its ivory towers; it was shaped by the ubiquitous charity of the foundations and the guiding mastery of wealth.

Horowitz highlights that “[d]uring the radical upsurge of the [18]80s and ‘90s, a series of exemplary firings of liberal scholars took place, usually as a result of the professors having linked some of their abstract ideas with the issues of the hour”. He goes on to add that: “The professors were dismissed, the colleges said, not because of their views, but because of their lack of professionalism, their partisanship (justification of the status quo was of course considered in keeping with scholarly neutrality and objectivity).” While this example will be familiar to activists aware of Norman Finkelstein’s tenure battle, Horowitz accurately observes that although the strategic use of such dismissals is no doubt useful in some instances “the carrot is always more efficacious and gentlemanly than the stick”. Yet although it is a taboo subject within academia, the power of foundations to shape academic life has been massive. However, this corrosive influence has evaded critical commentary because it simply relied upon the fact that if: “Looked at formally, the foundations were imposing nothing.” Indeed this “very subtlety was its strength”, and as Horowitz adds: “In the realm of the mind, the illusion of freedom may be more real than freedom itself.” Thus “lavish support and recognition” is provided:

…for the kind of investigations and techniques that are ideologically and pragmatically useful to the system which it dominates, and by withholding support on any substantial scale from empirical research projects and theoretical frameworks that would threaten to undermine the status quo. (Exceptional and isolated support for individual radicals may be useful, however, in establishing the openness of the system at minimum risk.) [13]

Unsurprisingly, university research that serves elite interests is promoted first and foremost: thus behavioralism and pluralism dominated the field of political science, and, as Horowitz notes, such studies “soon were in high demand, from government to business directorates, from the military to the CIA”. [12] On this point he suggests that “[o]ne of the more important promoters of the behavioral mode with the American Political Science Association has been Evron Kirkpatrick” (who was the executive director of the Association from 1954 to 1981). Horowitz then outlines Kirkpatrick’s prior links to the intelligence community, which in 1952 eventually saw him become the chief of psychological intelligence for the State Department. However, in pointing out that no academics appear to have been interested in this background:

…until February 1967, when someone had the temerity to point out that Kirkpatrick was also president of a CIA-funded research organization called Operations and Policy Research Incorporated. (The treasurer of the American Political Science Association, Max Kampelman, turned out to be the vice president of Operations and Policy Research.)

Thereafter there were calls for Kirkpatrick and Kampelman’s resignations, but the Associations president, Robert Dahl, subsequently carried out a ‘thorough’ investigation (along with four other ex-presidents), and determined that nothing was amiss. Moving to the present, it is fitting that William I. Robinson would make use of Dahl’s classic book, Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition, to describe the type of low-intensity democracy (that is, polyarchy) being promoted by democracy manipulating groups like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Likewise, it is consistent with his background that Kirkpatrick went on to become a director of the NED’s sister organization, the US Institute of Peace, and was married to well-known neoconservative and ‘democracy’ specialist, the late Jeane J. Kirkpatrick. It is also noteworthy that Kampelman went on to serve as vice chairman of the US Institute of Peace (by Presidential appointment) from 1992 to 2001. (For details of his other numerous ‘democratic’ connections, click here.)

So as Horowitz concludes:

Can anyone honestly believe that the foundations, which are based on the great American fortunes and administered by the present-day captains of American industry and finance, will systematically underwrite research which tends to undermine the pillars of the status quo, in particular the illusion that the corporate rich who benefit most from the system do not run it – at whatever cost to society – precisely to ensure their continued blessings?

Irrespective of whether one believes the argument proposed by Horowitz and myself, it is imperative that progressives deal with the issue of the problems associated with liberal philanthropy vocally, and in the public arena. Indeed, while some progressives may be worried about the “can of worms” that may be opened by discussing the fact that liberal foundations bankroll much of their work (or at least the work of influential mainstream non-governmental organizations), they need not worry about this because the can has been open for years. In fact, critiquing the Left’s reliance on antidemocratic liberal philanthropists has been a mainstay of conservatives for decades. For example, in 1958 the anti-communist John Birch Society was founded by Robert Welch (who was previously a director of the National Association of Manufacturers), and with significant support from the corporate world they promoted many widely read books, the most famous of which is probably Gary Allen’s (1971) None Dare Call it Conspiracy (which reportedly sold over six million copies and has been published in eight languages). [13]

Furthermore, although there is a mainstream media blackout within the ‘liberal’ media wih respect to criticism of the social engineering of liberal foundations, this topic is regularly covered in leading (and very influential) media outlets like Fox News (also see note 13), where it is alleged that elitist liberal philanthropists – in recent years, most notably George Soros – are undermining democracy worldwide. As with any influential story, there is an element of truth in such ideas, as liberal philanthropists are elitist, and likewise, it is true that they are undermining democracy. Although on the latter point I disagree with the conservatives, as while they imply that liberal elites are facilitating a socialist revolution to oust capitalism, I think it is more likely that they are simply trying to sustain neo-liberal capitalism and ‘representative’ democracy (plutocracy) – albeit a less harsh version than that promoted by neo-conservatives – while simultaneously undermining citizen-led attempts to create more participatory forms of democracy. Either way, the focus of the corporate media on the ‘extreme’ Leftist credentials of major liberal funders serves two useful purposes to the power elite, (1) it further moderates the activities of liberal philanthropists, and (2) it distracts progressive citizens from considering the vital social engineering role that liberal foundations fulfil to help sustain capitalism.

Bearing all this in mind, it is vital that progressives’ make amends, and begin to seriously tackle the vexing questions surrounding the (for the most part) unmentioned power of liberal philanthropy. As I noted before, the can of worms is already well and truly open: we need to stop pretending that it is sealed and deal with the daunting fact that the worms have been making compost out of democracy’s popular consciousness for decades. Thankfully in the past few years this dialogue concerning liberal philanthropy has gained much needed support from the publication of two books, Joan Roelofs’ Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (2003), and INCITE!’s The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (2007). However, the most important work still needs to be done: together we need to launch a massive popular debate about the corrosive influence of liberal foundations on progressive social change, and then begin to propose and support alternative (sustainable) solutions to funding progressive groups all over the world.

Notes –

[1] DiscoverTheNetworks notes on their “Stephen Zunes” profile, that Zunes’ “numerous writings exhibit a deep obsession with and disdain for American support of Israel”. Here it is interesting to observe that while Zunes is often critiqued from the Right for supporting the Palestinian’s plight, he has also come under criticism from the Left, most notably in Edward S. Herman’s (2002) A Reply to Stephen Zune’s on the Jews and Cynthia McKinney’s Defeat.

[2] DiscoverTheNetworks note on their website, they aim to do this by “map[ping] the paths through which the left exerts its influence on the larger body politic” and by “defin[ing] the left’s (often hidden) programmatic agendas” to provide an “understanding of its history and ideas”.

Zunes has also come under attack from another arch neoconservative (and right-wing Zionist), Daniel Pipes, who is the founder and Director of the Middle East Forum, a group that runs the web-based project, Campus Watch, that was founded in 2002 and provided much inspiration for the establishment of DiscoverTheNetworks. It is noteworthy that the “Campus Watch in the Media” section of Pipes website also has a link to an article written by DiscoverTheNetworks contributor, Lee Kaplan, that describes Zunes as “a virulently anti-American and anti-Israel professor” (see note 1). Kaplan also writes for Horowitz’s Front Page Magazine, and his articles (along with Pipes’ work) have been regularly published in the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies magazine The Maccabean Online. This link is interesting owing my concern with democracy manipulating organizations, because the Freeman Center’s academic advisor, Louis Rene Beres, formerly served on the advisory board of the American Center for Democracy alongside the likes of James Woolsey (the former Director of the CIA, and former chair of Freedom House). Finally it is important to note that in 2004 Daniel Pipes was temporarily appointed by George W. Bush to the board of directors of the key democracy manipulating organisation the U.S. Institute of Peace.

[3] C. Wright Mills’ brilliant book The Power Elite (1956) “provided a whole generation with a basis for understanding the society around them, while bringing him ostracism and harassment from the academic establishment and a cold shoulder from the patrons of research. (Thus, while [Robert] Dahl received $70,000 in grants from the Rockefeller Foundation in the wake of his pluralist study of New Haven, after writing The Power Elite Mills was abruptly cut off from foundation financing for his ambitious sociological projects.)” See David Horowitz, Billion Dollar Brains: How Wealth Puts Knowledge in its Pocket (Ramparts, May 1969), p.43.

[4] I briefly introduced why I consider the work of the Ackerman’s to be antidemocratic in my most recent Green Left Weekly article.

[5] Peter Ackerman was also a founding trustee of the Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity (from 2000 to 2004, where he served alongside fellow founding trustee Allen Weinstein – the former president of both the National Endowment for Democracy, and the Center for Democracy). In addition, Ackerman is a director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (US); other ‘democratic’ directors of this Institute include Richard Burt (who serves as a senior adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies), Thomas R. Pickering (who is a director of the Council on Foreign Relations, is a trustee of both the Carnegie Corporation and the Eurasia Foundation, and is a former director of the Center for Democracy), and the Institute’s chair Michael Rich (who is also the executive vice president of the RAND Corporation). Ackerman has also served as a former director of both the ‘humanitarian’ CARE USA and of the libertarian think-tank the Cato Institute (which obtains funding from liberal funders like the Ford Foundation, and conservative groups like the Atlas Economic Research Foundation); while he is able to maintain plenty of elite associations through his presence on the business advisory council of United States Olympic Committee, a group that counts the likes of Henry Kissinger among its “public sector” members. Last but not least, Peter’s wife Joanne is a director of Human Rights Watch – an organization whose advisory boards provide plenty of links to the international democracy manipulating community. Incidentally, many key Human Rights Watch members sit alongside Peter Ackerman on the advisory board of the Orwellian Center for Preventive Action.

For critical information on Peter Ackerman’s past as a venture capitalist, see James B. Stewart, Den of Thieves (Simon & Schuster, 1991); and George Anders, The Merchants of Debt: KKR and the Mortgaging of American Business (Basic Books, 1993)

[6] In response to criticisms levelled at Professor Stephen Zunes from Stephen Gowans, Zunes provided a “13-point refutation” of Gowans critique. However, as I demonstrated in a recent article, which dealt with each of Zunes’ 13 points in turn, there was next to no substance to Zunes ‘rebuttal’.

[7] Ironically, the support that liberal foundations provide to progressive groups is regularly covered in neoconservative leaning media outlets (e.g. Fox News).

[8] Online information about the groundbreaking book Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundation at Home and Abroad is nonexistent, so here I provide a list of the books contributors and chapter titles:

  1. Robert F. Arnove, ‘Introduction’.
  2. Barbara Howe, ‘The Emergence of Scientific Philanthropy’.
  3. Sheila Slaughter and Edward T. Silva, ‘Looking Backwards: How Foundations Formulated Ideology in the Progressive Period’.
  4. Russell Marks, ‘Legitimating Industrial Capitalism: Philanthropy and Individual Differences’.
  5. E. Richard Brown, ‘Rockefeller Medicine in China: Professionalism and Imperialism’.
  6. James D. Anderson, ‘Philanthropic Control over Private Black Higher Education’.
  7. Edward H. Berman, ‘Educational Colonialism in Africa: The Role of American Foundations at Home and Abroad, 1910-1945?.
  8. Edward H. Berman, ‘The Foundations Role in American Foreign Policy: The Case of Africa, post 1945?.
  9. Donald Fisher, ‘American Philanthropy and the Social Sciences: The Reproduction of a Consecutive Ideology’.
  10. Peter J. Seybold, ‘The Ford Foundation and the Triumph of Behavioralism in American Political Science’.
  11. Robert F. Arnove, ‘Foundation and the Transfer of Knowledge’.
  12. Dennis C. Buss, ‘The Ford Foundation in Public Education: Emergent Patterns’.
  13. David E. Weischadle, ‘The Carnegie Corporation and the Shaping of American Educational Policy’.
  14. Frank A. Darknell, ‘The Carnegie Philanthropy and Private Corporate Influence on Higher Education’.
  15. Mary A. C. Colwell, ‘The Foundation Connection: Links among Foundations and Recipient Organization’

[9] “[T]he foundation millions really represent taxable surplus that ought to be in the hands of the community”, not distributed by “charitable trusts in the form of ‘gifts’”. (Horowitz, 1969)

[10] Karen Ferguson (2007) argues that both the Ford Foundation and CORE “sought to ‘organize the ghetto’ by making working-class blacks a decipherable and controllable constituency through schematized top-down expert intervention and the development of indigenous leaders/brokers amenable to both groups’ respective visions for the black community.” See Karen Ferguson, “Organizing the Ghetto: The Ford Foundation, CORE, and White Power in the Black Power Era, 1967-1969”, Journal of Urban History, 34, 1, (2007), p.69.

[11] In the final part of this series Horowitz restates this point noting: “In the control of scholarship by wealth, it is neither necessary nor desirable that professors hold a certain orientation because they receive a grant. The important thing is that they receive the grant because they hold the orientation.” Thus here it is interesting to juxtapose this statement with one from Stephen Zunes, who writes: “Unlike the NED and similar groups, ICNC [International Center for Nonviolent Conflict] does not seek out particular individuals or groups with which to provide its educational materials but waits for people to come to them.”

[12] For further details on the foundation-supported rise of behavioralism, see Peter J. Seybold, ‘The Ford Foundation and the triumph of behavioralism in American political science’, in Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad, pp. 269-303.

[13] Johnson (1986) notes that during the 1960s, Nelson Bunker Hunt was a “financial and vocal supporter of the John Birch Society,” and in the late 1970s he became a council member of the Society. This is significant because Bunker was a billionaire owing to his inheritance of the “oil dynasty’ that was established by his late father, Haroldson Lafayette (H.L.) Hunt Jr.”. More recently Bunker has rejoined the John Birch Society as a council member. Bunker (along with his brother) perhaps attained most fame when “he bought up half the world’s deliverable supply of silver in 1980 – forcing the price from $5 per ounce to $49.40 in the space of a year.” As The Sunday Independent (Ireland – May 7, 2006) noted: “Regulators responded, the corner failed, the price plummeted and Bunker went spectacularly bankrupt.”

Bunker has been a major funder of the Right and has been closely associated with the secretive Council for National Policy, a former haunt of the infamous televangelist Reverend Pat Robertson. Furthermore, according to Right Web, Bunker was an important financial funder of Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, and he even played a significant role (in the mid-1980s) in supporting a campaign to help Pat Robertson become the President of the United States. This is all significant because in 1991 Robertson published his conservative bestseller New World Order, which is similar in tone to Allen’s blockbuster None Dare Call it Conspiracy.

See Annon, “Gary Allen Dies Saturday of a Liver Ailment at 50”, The Associated Press, November 29, 1986; Arthur Johnson, “The Rise and Fall of the Hunt Brothers”, The Globe and Mail, September 13, 1986.