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Footnotes for “Curating George Soros”

The following are the footnotes for the essay “Curating George Soros or Exhibiting the Occult?”

[1] Michael Barker, “Why we all suffer from George Soros’ bets on liberal democracy,” Thoughts of a Leicester Socialist, July 22, 2018. A useful critical overview of Soros’s philanthropy is provided in Nicolas Guilhot’s article “Reforming the world: George Soros, global capitalism and the philanthropic management of the social sciences,” Critical Sociology, 33(3), 2007, pp.447-77. In introducing his essay Guilhot explains: “In many respects, the Central European University (CEU) founded by the United States financier George Soros appears as the last chapter of this philanthropic history of promoting the social sciences as a tool for democratic social reform – not least because it has built upon previous experiences and tapped existing networks of academic intermediaries and activists involved in the “cultural cold wars.” Th e idea of an East-West academic center was not novel. In the 1950s, the Ford Foundation was already contemplating the creation of a regional university center that would bring Eastern and Western intellectual elites closer together with a shared conception of social modernization under social scientific guidance. The Eastern European policy of the foundation was to take advantage of the détente “to institute research, exchange and educational efforts important for democratic objectives” and to target intellectual and academic elites through fellowships to foster the emergence of “scholarly critiques of Communist declarations and policies”. The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences that the Ford Foundation helped to establish in Vienna in 1962 (also nicknamed “the Ford Institute”) was also supposed to be an intellectual bridge between the East and the West. More directly related to the immediate origins of the CEU, the Fondation pour une Entraide Intellectuelle Européenne (Foundation for European Intellectual Solidarity, FEIE) acted for twenty five years as an informal channel of communication between Western and Eastern academic and intellectual circles.

“The FEIE was created in 1966 as an off-shoot of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, the organization led by American and European intellectuals belonging to the non-communist left, first backed by the CIA and, later, by the Ford Foundation. Until 1990, when it was literally merged into Soros’ network of foundations as its last director, Annette Laborey, went to head the Paris office of the Open Society Institute, the FEIE used to send books and publications to Eastern Europe and to invite intellectuals, academics or dissidents to conferences and meetings organized in Western Europe. In fact, many of the intellectual designers and contributors to the foundation of the CEU would come out of these informal networks woven throughout the 1970s and 1980s.” (pp.455-6)

[2] Robert Brustein actually first published his philanthropic analysis in a New York Times opinion piece in 1994 titled “Culture by Coercion,” an essay that expressed concern for the way in which philanthropic grants for the arts (in the US context) were increasingly being used to fund groups to service a multicultural agenda to help make up for basic political shortcomings like providing “arts education in the schools, an area that has been unconscionably neglected.” He concluded his essay by noting:

“Given such pressing needs at home, it is understandable why philanthropy should rush to the aid of minority groups clamoring for recognition through creative expression. But to ask the impoverished agencies of culture to compensate for the failures of society is to divert attention from the systemic inertia and mismanaged social programs of our legislators.

“By forcing artistic expression to become a conduit for social justice and equal opportunity instead of achieving these goals through basic humane legislation, we are distracting our artists and absolving our politicians.”

[3] One video that was being shown by Moulton in the exhibit was “Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars” which appears to be a spin-off from an alleged secret document known  as “Quiet warfare with silent weapons.” Another piece replays, as Moulton observes, “…a propaganda video from the Iranian Intelligence Ministry’s Public Service Broadcast. It shows a secret meeting [made with digital cartoons] somewhere inside the White House. Sitting around a table are purported puppetmasters introduced by a sinister voice: John McCain, who creates conspiracies against Iran; the Architect of Color Revolutions Gene Sharp, and George Soros, “a Jewish tycoon and mastermind of ultra-modern colonialism. He uses his wealth and slogans like liberty, democracy and human rights to bring the supporters of America to power.”” (p.196)

Yet another piece of art then promotes the right-wing conspiracies of S.U.S. (Shifting Uncertain Situations). Moulton writes: “Can avant-gardes be scripted? The group known as S.U.S. (Shifting Uncertain Situations) gives thought and form to an idea that would previously only ever be labeled as conspiracy theory. From floor to ceiling, a large mindmap infects half of the gallery providing a tour through the manufacturing of dissent for the movement of controlled political activism known as ‘astroturfing’. In a world where the notion of crisis actors is continually ‘debunked’ by the media as an exclusively Right Wing fantasy, one can here connect very logical dots between an agent provocateur, crowds on demand and the creation of spectacle for political influence. This is a dangerous artwork because it gives holistic agency to taboo thinking and demands the question of who is determining our taboos and why is it taboo if it is also an historic cultural practice to manipulate crowds and free will.”

[4] The points made in Davis’ book were first discussed in his excellent two-part essay “How art history can help explain the stunning rise of conspiracy theories that is defining our time,” artnews, May 20, 2020.

[5] Later during this 2019 lecture that was paid for by the US Department of State, Moulton stated: “We live in a very confusing time, obviously. The bureaucracy of reality has become exhausting in terms of how you are allowed to believe what is real and what is not. I think something really incredible happened the moment that we started calling things fake news because it meant all bets are off, or, maybe, all bets are on. All realities are now potentially real, as soon as you are saying ‘that reality is not real, but this one is’? It comes back to this entropy of this idea of the absolute notion of truth, and more to an open place of accepting a plurality of truth.” 

In terms of a brief overview of Moulton’s occultist history, it is reported that he “didn’t begin to explore the connection between art and religion in earnest until he moved to Salt Lake City, where he was senior curator at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art from 2012 to 2013. There he began to work with Jason Metcalf, an artist and former Mormon whose practice is informed by, according to Moulton, “a perfect cocktail of religion, spirituality, folklore, superstition, anthropology and contemporary art.”… “With CLEAR, his first Gagosian Beverly Hills show in 2014, Moulton took the revered Light and Space movement as a starting point, exploring potential aesthetic links to Scientology and astral projection… And per Moulton, the show’s Easter egg was a vividly colorful painting by Ingo Swann, who, in addition to being an artist, was also a psychic who developed the practice of remote viewing, and worked with the CIA on several secret surveillance projects.”

For the past decade Moulton has continued to work closely with Jason Metcalf, who since then changed his artist’s name to Lazslo and then simply L. In his biography for the A.S.T.R.A.L.O.R.A.C.L.E.S exhibit that was funded by the US Embassy in Bulgaria, L described himself as “a starseed, alchemist, and healer with training and experience in numerous magical traditions and energy modalities.”

[6] Another occult artist whose bust of George Soros features in The Influencing Machine exhibit is Mi Kafchin, whose 2019 ‘Chemtrails’ exhibition was curated by Moulton – an earlier show that happened to be heavily influenced by the conspiracies of David Icke, who bust featured prominently in the Nicodem Gallery.

[7] The overlap between the wellness industry and far-right health conspiracies goes back decades; and for an article that discusses this problem in relation to David Icke’s conspiracy mongering, see Matthew Kalman and John Murray, “From green messiah to new age nazi,” Left Green Perspectives, 1996. This troubling history however eludes the corporate media, who in an otherwise useful article argue that this damaging trend is just a recent one, see Sophie Aubrey, “‘Playing with fire’: The curious marriage of QAnon and wellness,” Sydney Morning Herald, September 27, 2020.

In recent years the newly coined term “conspirituality” has gained in popularity with the mainstream media as an attempt to understand the cojoining of conspiracy theorists and New Age spirituality. Yet contrary to the surprise expressed by the initial academic proponents of conspirituality (Charlotte Ward and David Voas), whose work focused on the rise of conspirituality through the likes of charismatic gurus like David Icke, conservative conspiracies have always flowed through occult and New Age circles. This point is well made in Egil Asprem and Asbjørn Dyrendal’s 2015 article “Conspirituality reconsidered: how surprising and how new is the confluence of spirituality and conspiracy theory?” To take just one example, the responding authors explain: “Transnational occult networks have also been important for the dissemination of central conspiratorial motifs across Europe. The basic text of what was later to become the Protocols of the Elders of Zion appears to have been brought from France to Russia by Yuliana Glinka, who, besides being an unsuccessful agent of the Russian secret police, was also a Theosophist with connections to Blavatsky’s circle.” (p.376)

Despite his willingness to embrace right-wing conspiracists whose work helps popularize conspiracies linked to the Protocols, Aaron Moulton, in his own 2022 book, does provide a fairly useful overview of the way in which the Protocols were manufactured as a piece of “black propaganda” and he even includes a mention of the link to Glinka. (p.89)

[8] Hind, The Threat to Reason, p.152.

Footnotes for “Occult Knowledge in Russia”

These are the footnotes for an excerpt from two chapters of The Occult Elite: Anti-Communist Paranoia and Other Ruling-Class Delusions (2022).


[1] Paul Hanebrink, A Specter Haunting Europe: The Myth of Judeo-Bolshevism (Belknap Press, 2018).

[2] “Already after the collapse of the Soviet Union yet another, probably more important work of [Vladimir] Shmakov that had survived in Samizdat was published: The Law of Synarchy and the Teaching about the Dual Hierarchy of Monads and Multitudes (Zakon sinarkhii i uchenie o dvoistvennoi iearkhii monad i mnozhestv, Kiev: Sofiia, 1994).” The New Age of Russia, p.67. Anthroposophists who worked alongside Shmakov in the early 1920s included M.I. Sizov.

One might add that in the period between 1905 and 1917, the famous Symbolist anthroposophist Andrei Bely wrote many novels that reflected his own occult-induced paranoia. Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal observes how: “His understanding of Anthroposophy led Bely to believe that the Bolshevik Revolution was a negative apocalypse and that a positive apocalypse, a ‘revolution of the spirit,’ would follow and complete the political and social revolution.” Rosenthal, “Political implications of the early twentieth century occult revival,” in: Rosenthal (ed.), The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Cornell University Press, 1997), p.392. Bely’s decadent literature was subject to withering scorn in Leon Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution (1924), Chapter 1.

[3] Walter Laqueur, Black Hundred: The Rise of the Extreme Right in Russia (HarperCollins, 1993), pp.16-7. For an overview of Russian émigré collaboration with the evolution of right-wing politics in Germany, see Michael Kellogg, The Russian Roots of Nazism: White Russians and the Making of National Socialism, 1917-1945 (Cambridge University Press, 2005). (A critical review of this book, undertaken by Annemarie Sammartino, points out some of the limitations of Kellogg’s sometimes overdetermined analysis.) For early examinations of the cooperation between the Russian émigré community and Nazis in Germany, see Robert Williams, Culture in Exile: Russian Emigres in Germany, 1881-1941 (Cornell University Press, 1972), and for a similar study based upon the actions of Russian émigrés in France, see Robert Johnston, New Mecca, New Babylon: Paris and the Russian Exiles, 1920-1945 (McGill-Queen’s Press, 1988).

[4] Michael Kellogg, The Russian Roots of Nazism, p.143. During the Russian civil war, interventionist armies led by Nikolai Markov were influenced his pro-French proclivities which put fuelled internecine struggles with Germanic-influenced white emigres.

[5] Laqueur, Black Hundred, p.17. Dmitry Shlapentokh, “Implementation of an ideological paradigm: early Duginian Eurasianism and Russia’s post-Crimean discourse,” Contemporary Security Policy, 35 (3), 2014. The most significant group on the extreme right arising during the 1990s was Alexander Barkashov’s Russian National Unity. This neo-Nazi paramilitary group was formed by Barkashov in 1990 as a split from the far-right anti-Semitic nationalist movement Pamyat (the National-Patriotic Front ‘Memory’). Pamyat was the first political movement that Alexander Dugin joined (in 1987) although he was viewed as an ideological competitor by a faction led by Barkashov who succeeded in having Dugin expelled from Pamyat. For further details, see Anton Shekhovtsov, Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango Noir (Routledge, 2018). Despite Pamyat’s rising political influence from 1987 onwards, it is noteworthy that the “attitude of the [Communist] party’s central organs during this period was ambiguous.” This is probably because “Pamyat was regarded as an important (if somewhat misguided) counterweight to the liberals, and above all to the radical dissidents, whose activities became more bothersome at precisely this time.” Laqueur, Black Hundred, p.207.

[6] Alexander Dugin, “Dugin’s guideline – The birthday of Baron Ungern-Sternberg,” The Forth Revolutionary War, January 9, 2017.

[7] In working to popularize Baron Ungern’s mysticism, Anton Ferdynand Ossendowski falsely presented Ungern as a mystic whose vision was not clouded by anti-Semitism. James Webb makes this point in The Occult Establishment (Open Court, 1976). Webb notes that Ossendowski “doubtless mythical account of Ingern takes pains to make the point that the baron, after all, had ‘many Jewish agents’ — in other words, that the accusations against him are not true. Yet Ossendowski undoubtedly believed in the myth that there was a conspiracy against right order; and it is quite probable that he agreed with the baron’s definition of who was responsible.” (p.203)

[8] “Ideas of Shambhala were common among the Russian occultist intelligentsia. Theosophy drew heavily from second- or third-hand notions of Tibetan theology, especially the mystical Kalachakra scriptures, so the Shambhala legend featured heavily in Blavatsky’s writings as one of the Hidden Masters’ bases of operation. Importantly, Shambhala was traditionally associated with the north, and so with Russia. The Russians were aware of this, and in the 1900s the Russian secret agent Agvan Dorjiev, a Buriat monk with strong political links to Tibet, attempted to spread the belief among Tibetans and Mongols that the Romanovs were the descendants of the rulers of Shambhala. Dorjiev claimed that the ‘White Tsar’ Nicolas II was a reincarnation of Tsongkapa, the founder of the dominant Tibetan Gelugpa tradition, pointing to the tsarist patronage of Buddhism among the Buriats and Kalmyks as evidence. He managed to get a Kalachakra temple opened in St Petersburg in 1913, which was inaugurated with a celebration of the Romanovs’ 300th anniversary.” Palmer, The Bloody White Baron, p.65.

[9] Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity (New York University Press, 2001), p.57. Fascist theorist Julius Evola “felt a deep affinity with Guénon’s esoteric pessimism. Here, in sparse outline, he found all the reasons for the decay of a primordial heroic world based on sacred authority and metaphysical absolutes. He applauded Guénon’s scathing attack on the vacuous relativism and chaotic liberalism of the modern world. Forthwith he began work on his own anti-modernist text, Rivolta contro il mondo moderno [Revolt against the Modern World] (1934), which remains his best-known and most important book.” (p.57)

[10] Vladimir Bekhterev “was one of the leading figures in the Russian human, medical, and behavioral sciences at the turn of the twentieth century”; who “was not only an authoritative and innovative neurologist and psychiatrist, but also a charismatic public figure, tireless organizer, and successful fundraiser, both before and after 1917.” But despite his commitment to objectivity, Bekhterev, in his diverse research efforts – which ranged over many research institutions and fields of enquiry – also developed what he thought was a scientific basis for comprehending telepathy. He was in fact the “most prominent scientist to investigate occult aspects of mental activity,” although this paranormal research was subsequently banned after 1930. Andy Byford, “V. M. Bekhterev in Russian child science, 1900s-1920s: ‘objective psychology’ / ‘refexology’ as a scientific movement,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 52(2), 2016, p.99. As Byford explains, for most of the twentieth century Bekhterev’s scientific contributions were overshadowed by his “arch rival” Ivan Pavlov, whose theories were apparently considered more useful in maintaining Stalin’s undemocratic regime. For more on this, see Daniel Todes, Ivan Pavlov: A Russian Life in Science (Oxford University Press, 2014), pp.319-36. And for a useful introduction to the advance of science after 1917, at least until Stalin’s reign of terror was consolidated, see James Andrews, Science for the Masses: The Bolshevik State, Public Science, and the Popular Imagination in Soviet Russia, 1917-1934 (Texas A&M University Press, 2003).

[11] Oleg Shishkin, “The occultist Aleksandr Barchenko and the Soviet secret police (1923-1938),” in: Menzel et al. (eds.), The New Age of Russia, p.89, p.95, p.96. For a contextual overview of Barchenko’s interests in Shamanism and its relevance to antimodern sentiments that rose to a fore after the 1960s, see Andrei Znamenski, The Beauty of the Primitive: Shamanism and Western Imagination (Oxford University Press, 2007), pp.329-61.

Also of note, in the “early 1930s, Bekhterev’s disciple Leonid Vasil’ev (1891–1966) founded a five-person commission for the ‘Study of secret phenomena of the human psyche’ by order of Leningrad party officials”. Leonid Vasil’ev evidently pursued such esoteric interests as a devout spiritual seeker — much like “some of the authors and editors” contributing to the journal Nauka i Religia (Science and Religion) were able to do in the 1970s. Menzel, “Occult and esoteric movements in Russia from the 1960s to the 1980s,” p.170. (Not everyone on the five-person commission wished to promote occult interests, with one significant example being provided by Mikhail Shakhnovich (1911–1992).)

[12] When the theosophically-inclined Maxim Gorky returned from exile in 1932 he ensured that Bekhterev’s occult contributions played “an integral role in the creation of the theory of Socialist Realism,” which was then utilised by Stalin to force artists and writers into a cultural straitjacket. Birgit Menzel, “Occult and esoteric movements in Russia from the 1960s to the 1980s,” in: Menzel et al. (eds.), The New Age of Russia, p.169. For more details, see Mihhail Agursky, “The occult source of socialist realism: Gorky and early twentieth-century theories of thought transference,” in: Bernice Rosenthal (ed.), The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Cornell University Press, 1997), pp.247-72. In sharp contrast to revolutionary socialists who believe that a truly democratic society is premised upon the self-activity and action of the working class: “As one of the major formulators of Socialist Realism, Gorky taught that writers and artists must cultivate optimism among the people, who he thought had a natural inclination to passivity. He believed that optimism (and pessimism) can be transmitted not only on the cogitative level but also, and more important, unconsciously, through its direct influence on the human mind and with no involvement of will on the part of the recipient.” In summary: “Gorky’s version of Socialist Realism can be considered a quasi-occult and politicized application of ideas of thought transference and hypnotic suggestion pioneered by Bekhterev and other early twentieth-century Russian scientists.” Agursky, “The occult source of socialist realism,” pp.249-50, p.263.

[13] Edgard Sissons arrived in Russia on the day of the October Revolution as a part of his duties for the US government’s main wartime propaganda agency, the Committee on Public Information.

[14] For instance, when Russian historian George F. Kennan presented a thorough case against Anton Ferdynand Ossendowski and his falsification of the Sisson documents in the Journal of Modern History in 1956 he concluded: “It is doubtful whether the history of journalism could produce another instance of such a violent and prolonged personal vendetta” than that campaign that Ossendowski had waged against the owners of the company, Kunst & Albers. Ossendowski’s lies were unmasked at the time in a variety of publications (including Sven Hedin’s 1925 book Ossendowski and the Truth) but such writings seem to have had little effect upon belief in his scurrilous attacks upon his class enemies; and in 1931 Dutton published Ossendowski’s last book which was titled Lenin: God of the Godless. Lothar Deeg, Kunst and Albers Vladivostok: The History of a German Trading Company in the Russian Far-East, 1864-1925 (Druck and Verlag, 2013), p.333. In 1925 Ossendowski was accompanied on an expedition to West Africa by Count Jerzy Skarbek (the secretary of the Polish Legation in Washington) who during his colourful younger years had been a chauffeur for John D. Rockefeller, and whose daughter became one of Britain’s most famous spies.

[15] Konstantin Sheiko and Stephen Brown, History as Therapy: Alternative History and Nationalist Imaginings in Russia, 1991-2014 (ibidem-Verlag, 2014), p.83.

[16] Sheiko and Brown, History as Therapy, p.84. Also see Marlene Laruelle, “Conspiracy and alternate history in Russia: a nationalist equation for success?,” Russian Review, 71(4), 2012. Notably one of the most pervasive alternative historians in Russia, Anatolii Fomenko, “received a massive boost in the late 1990s” from Garry Kasparov, who apparently now distances himself from Fomenko’s popular nonsense. Sheiko and Brown, History as Therapy, pp.23-4.

[17] Alexander Kurenkov was a committed monarchist (promoted to the rank of major general by Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich in 1937) who obtained a ‘doctorate’ from an Indianapolis-based “New Thought” correspondence school known as the College of Divine Metaphysics – an organization which still exists today.

[18] Laruelle, The Rodnoverie Movement, p.294.

[19] Victor Shnirelman, “Russian response: archaeology, Russian nationalism, and the ‘Arctic homeland’,” in: Philip Kohl, Mara Kozelsky, Nachman Ben-Yehuda (eds.), Selective Remembrances: Archaeology in the Construction, Commemoration, and Consecration of Distant Pasts (University of Chicago Press, 2007), p.36. For another important contribution to this field of study, see Philip Kohl and Clare Fawcett (eds.), Nationalism, Politics, and the Practice of Archaeology (Cambridge University Press, 1995).

[20] Laqueur, Black Hundred, p.114.

[21] Vladimir Chivilikhin did much to promote ecological concerns within nationalist circles with his 1963 essay “The bright eye of Siberia.” Skurlatov’s ideas were also taken up with “some success among writers of science fiction”. Laqueur, Black Hundred, p.114. Skurlatov’s toxic background is discussed in Boris Kagarlitsky’s Farewell Perestroika: A Soviet Chronicle (Verso, 1990), p.102; while another notable pagan proponent of eco-fascism was Aleksei Dobroslav (1938-2013), see Kaarina Aitamurto, Paganism, Traditionalism, Nationalism: Narratives of Russian Rodnoverie (Routledge, 2016), p.35. For a related discussion, see Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier, Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience (AK Press 1995); and Murray Bookchin, Re-Enchanting Humanity: A Defense of the Human Spirit Against Antihumanism, Misanthropy, Mysticism and Primitivism (Cassell, 1995).

[22] Laruelle, The Rodnoverie Movement, p.308.

[23] Kaarina Aitamurto, “More Russian than orthodox Christianity: Russian paganism as nationalist politics,” in: Nations under God: The Geopolitics of Faith in the Twenty-First Century (E-international relations, 2015), pp.126-32. Religious scholar Mircea Eliade also played a critical role in developing the relationship between paganism and radical nationalism.

[24] With reference to political direction of Desionizatsiya (1979): “Building on the earlier sub-genre of racist and anti-Semitic literature, Emelyanov constructed a theory of a plot of Jews and Freemasons, covering in its extent the entire world and ranging back to the times of King Solomon, the initiator of the conspiracy.” Kaarina Aitamurto, Paganism, Traditionalism, Nationalism, p.28. Valerii Emelyanov is credited as being the author of a 1973 article published in the patriotic newspaper Veche that served as a manifesto for Russian neo-paganism.

[25] Kaarina Aitamurto, “Modern pagan warriors: violence and justice in the Rodnoverie,” in: James Lewis (ed.), Violence and New Religious Movements (Oxford University Press, 2011), p.233. Aitamurto writes that Valerii Emelyanov sent copies of Desionizatsiya (1979) “to all of the members of the central committee of the Soviet Communist Party. There is even some evidence that the KGB engineered or at least supported Paganism as a plot to break up the Orthodox nationalistic opposition. Emelyanov apparently also enjoyed some protection.” (p.245) Here the author cites Laqueur, Black Hundred, pp.112-6, pp.210-11. For a discussion of the ultra-nationalist pagan legacy of émigré Volodymyr Shaian (1908–1974) – the father of Rodnovery in Ukraine — see Mariya Lesiv, The Return of Ancestral Gods: Modern Ukrainian Paganism as an Alternative for a Nation (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2013).

[26] Shnirelman, “Russian response,” p.38, p.55. For the geopolitical implications of the mythical ‘Arctic homeland’ see Marlene Laruelle, Russia’s Arctic Strategies and the Future of the Far North (Routledge, 2015). A discussion of how far-right iterations of cosmism went on to impregnate the Russian security apparatus, is provided in Juliette Faure’s Russian Cosmism: a national mythology against transhumanism,” The Conversation, January 11, 2021. A useful introduction to the reactionary ideas of Traditionalism is provided in Mark Sedgwick’s Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press, 2004).

[27] Sheiko and Brown, History as Therapy, p.80.

[28] Shnirelman, “Russian response,” p.56. To make this point the author draws attention to a 1999 article published within the elite magazine President Parliament Government by the influential founder of “Aryan astrology” Pavel Globa. In 1991, leading Russian film-maker Nikita Mikhalkov (a former friend of Lev Gumilyov and now a devout supporter of Putin) released the critically acclaimed film Urga (released in North America as Close to Eden) which drew heavily on Eurasianist themes.

During the 1920s neo-pagan religion known as Tassi “fused supposedly ancient beliefs with a nationalist, right-wing agenda. Tassi never attracted more than a few thousand believers and was crushed as counter-revolutionary in Soviet times, but it is, nevertheless, a fine example of the way nationalism and esoteric beliefs sometimes crossed.” Palmer, The Bloody White Baron, p.14.

[29] Trotsky, My Life (1930). This focus for this historical text was however not of his own choosing and his study was largely inspired by the limited nature of the prison library, which Trotsky recalled “was made up mostly of conservative historical and religious magazines”. Moreover, in later years right-wing conspiracy theorists would attempt to turn history upon its head by propagating the lie that Trotsky and his revolutionary comrades were part of a Jewish cabal of freemasons, see Hanebrink, A Specter Haunting Europe.

[30] For example, Annie Besant, once a leading member of the British Social Democratic Federation, after losing faith in democratic processes became the president of the Theosophical Society. In Russia it is notable that Maxim Gorky was deeply influenced by Theosophy, see Mikhail Agursky, “Maksim Gorky and the decline of Bolshevik Theomachy,” in: Nicolai Petro (ed.), Christianity and Russian Culture in Soviet Society (Westview Press, 1990), pp.69-101; also of relevance is Julian Strube’s essay “Occultist identity formations between theosophy and socialism in fin-de-siècle France,” Numen, 64(5-6), 2017.

[31] George Orwell, “W. B. Yeats,” Horizon, January 1943; Roy Foster, W.B. Yeats: A Life. Vol. I: The Apprentice Mage (Oxford University Press, 1997).

[32] With the collapse of the Soviet Union, science –which was closely associated with Marxism — entered something of a crisis of legitimacy. As Loren Graham and Irina Dezhina explain in Science in the New Russia: Crisis, Aid, Reform (Indiana University Press, 2008): “Following the disintegration of the USSR, a rapid decrease in the status of science and the prestige of research work occurred, both among policy- makers and among the general public. The effects of this decrease on the scientific establishment were profound and widespread.” (p.18) Western philanthropic foundations then intervened to restructure the scientific establishment. This represented an openly imperialist intervention that was then demonized in later years by the Putin regime.

[33] Between 1993 and 2006 the president of the US branch of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences was an influential climate change sceptic named George Chilingarian, who holds similar views to Michael Economides who has received numerous awards from RAEN and is the coauthor of Energy and Climate Wars: How Naive Politicians, Green Ideologues, and Media Elites are Undermining the Truth About Energy and Climate (Bloomsbury Continuum, 2010). The preface for Economides’s book was written by the Italian libertarian, Carlo Stagnaro, who himself is the author of the 2001 book Waco: strage di stato americana (Waco: A State Massacre in the US).

[34] Evgueny Faydysh, author of The Mystic Cosmos (2000), is a longstanding RAEN member, and he is the current president of the Russian Foundation of Transpersonal Psychology where he works alongside Ubiquity University’s Vladimir Maykov (see earlier).

[35] John Erickson, “‘We have plenty to defend ourselves with…’: Russian, rhetoric, Russia Realism,” in Stephen Cimbala (ed.), The Russian Military into the 21st Century (Routledge, 2013), p.25.

[36] Stefan Forss, Lauri Kiianlinna, Pertti Inkinen, and Heikki Hult, The Development of Russian Military Policy and Finland (Helsinki, Finland: National Defense University, Department of Strategic and Defence Studies, 2013), p.73. The early work of Alexander Dugin’s close political ally, Sergey Glaziev, meant that in 1995 he received the Gold Kondratieff Medal from RAEN and the International N. D. Kondratieff Foundation.

[37] During the early 1990s Lt. General Alexey Yu. Savin had established a working relationship with American remote viewers like Edwin May, who would later write about their friendship in his co-authored book ESP Wars: East and West — An Account of the Military Use of Psychic Espionage as Narrated by the Key Russian and American Players (Laboratories for Fundamental Research, 2014). Edwin May’s first trip to Moscow took place in 1992 and his host was the parapsychologist Edward Naumov, who in early 1988 (after recently making contact with Edgar Mitchell) was courting public fame on Soviet television while lecturing “to an audience of 1,000 on bioenergy fields, unconventional medicine, reading auras and moving matter by mind power.” Gerald Nadler, “Soviet parapyschology guru is back under glasnost,” UPI, April 17, 1988.

As in America, ESP obsessions run high in Russia, and Major General Nikolai Sham, who was appointed to the position of deputy director of the KGB in September 1991, played a key role in supporting such attempts at directing spiritual warfare (he also wrote the foreword to ESP Wars). Another individual who features heavily within ESP Wars was Alexander Korzhakov, a former KGB general who served as head of the presidential security service from 1993 to 1996, who had a deputy named Georgy Rogozin who claimed to have “raised the souls of the dead, penetrated people’s subconscious through photographs and made up horoscopes for Boris Yeltsin.” Oleg Kashin, “How the hallucinations of an eccentric KGB psychic influence Russia today,” The Guardian, July 15, 2015.

[38] Serghei Golunov and Vera Smirnova, “Proliferation of conspiracy narratives in Post-Soviet Russia: the “Dulles’ Plan” in social and political discourses,”  Acta Slavica Iaponica, 37, 2016, p.39. For their useful discussions of conspiracies in Russia, see Peter Deutschmann, Jens Herlth and Alois Woldan (eds.), “Truth” and Fiction Conspiracy Theories in Eastern European Culture and Literature (Verlag, 2020), and Eliot Borenstein, Plots Against Russia: Conspiracy And Fantasy After Socialism (Cornell University Press, 2019). Also of interest is Ilya Yablokov’s Building Fortress Russia: Conspiracy Theories in the Post-Soviet World (Polity Press, 2018) and Edmund Griffiths, Aleksandr Prokhanov and Post-Soviet Esotericism (ibidem Press, 2021).

[39] The Russian state continues to play a critical role in promoting conspiracies to prop up Putin’s authoritarian regime. Nevertheless, under extreme circumstances even Putin is forced to act to reign in some conspiracists, thus in December 2020, Father Sergii, who remains just one of Russia’s many ultraconservative religious leaders was arrested because he had begun to extend the focus of his conspiracies to attack Putin instead of using them to defend him, see Eugene Clay, “Folklore and conspiracy theories of a COVID dissenter: the life and sermons of Father Sergii (Romanov),” Folklorica, 24, 2020.

[40] Marlene Laruelle, “Conspiracy and alternate history in Russia: a nationalist equation for success?,” The Russian Review, 71, 2012, p.577. For a discussion of Fomenko’s import to the West, see Jason Colavito, “A debunking of Fomenko’s theories: who Lost the Middle Ages?,” Skeptic, 11(2), 2004.

[41] Greg Melleuish, Konstantin Sheiko and Stephen Brown, “Pseudo history/weird history: nationalism and the internet,” History Compass, 7(6), 2009, p.1488. Two influential individuals who have popularized Anatolii Fomenko’s conspiracies have been the libertarian chess grandmaster, GarryKasparov, and the exiled dissident Alexander Zinoviev. This important subject matter is discussed in James Billington’s Russia in Search of Itself (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).

Demonstrating the elitist nature of patronage politics, the L.N.Gumilyov Eurasian National University has bestowed the title of honorary professor upon not only their neo-fascist darling, Alexander Dugin (in 2004), but has given the same honour to RAEN’s president Oleg Kuznetsov (in 2005), and to Hillary Clinton (in 2010).

[42] Russia’s most famous UFOlogist, Vladimir Azhazhi, is a member of RAEN; and demonstrating the bizarre cross-over between science and anti-scientific theories it is significant that RAEN was able to recruit Sergei Kapitsa (1928-2012) to serve as one of their vice presidents. This is important as Kapitsa was a scientist of international repute who regularly took to the media to debunk the rise of conspiracy theories (for example. see his article “Science and pseudoscience in Russia,” Skeptical Inquirer, January/February 1999). Even major historians of Russian science became RAEN members, like for instance the Harvard academic Loren Graham, who had been a former trustee of George Soros’s International Science Foundation (which supported Russian scientists after the collapse of the Soviet Union).

Edward Kruglyakov in his report “Pseudoscience: how does it threaten science and the public?” (Report at a RAN Presidium meeting of 27 May 2003) draws attention to the way that legitimate scientists are used to help bolster the mystical research being promoted by RAEN. The critic points out: “The Russian Academy of Sciences publishes several popular science journals. There are many outstanding scientists on the editorial councils and editorial boards. However an impression is being formed that they are being used as famous names and do not set the journals’ policy in any manner. How can it be explained otherwise that from time to time in these journals there appear articles extolling blatant pseudoscience?” In addition to right-wing ideologues like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (who in 1983 received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion), the then current secretary-general of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, was accepted as an honorary RAEN member (April 1994); while even George Soros (who boasts of doing so much to promote genuine science in Russia) apparently allowed his name to be used to promote RAEN’s work. For a longer discussion of the political reasons why RAEN came into existence, see Mikhail Akhmanov, “Tempting title,” Saint Petersburg Branch of the Russian Humanist Society, Undated.

[43] Concerns regarding the support that RAEN’s intellectuals lend to xenophobia were raised by Valentin Vydrin, see Maria Akhmetova et al., “Forum 8: Nationalism and xenophobia as research topics,” Forum for Anthropology and Culture, 5, 2009, pp.142-4.

[44] Isabel Gorst, “Mystic’s art collection at front line of Russian culture wars,” The Irish Times, March 8, 2017.

[45] Mikhail Gorbachev “wished to use the ‘Roerich idea’ to revitalize a Soviet ideology” and “appears to have calculated that Roerichite thinking, properly packaged, would infuse the Soviet worldview with a potent combination of aesthetically-appealing and exotic imagery; a pride in Russia that was neither chauvinistic nor at odds with the multiethnic nature of the Soviet state; an associative link between the USSR and respect for the ideals of peace, culture, and beauty; and the possibility of spiritual enrichment without the need for conventional religious faith.” John McCannon, “Competing legacies, competing visions of Russia: the Roerich movement(s) in post-Soviet Russia,” in The New Age of Russia, p.350, p.351. “On a related note, neo-Eurasianists such as Alexander Dugin have encouraged a free-floating association between Roerichite thought and their own quasi-millenarian vision of a Russia rising to glory over the ‘Atlantic’ West, although this is not an association sought by the MTsR or Agni Yogists in general.” (p.366)

Another individual who famously promoted the esoteric ideas of Theosophy from within Bulgaria’s Stalinist regime in the 1970s was Lyudmila Zhivkova (1942-1981): a leader whose political/spiritual work contained “a problematic universalism and a commitment to national and patriotic ideals that bear an uneasy relationship to the ethno-nationalist politics of the period.” Zhivka Valiavicharska, “Post-Stalinism’s uncanny symbioses: ethno-nationalism and the global orientations of Bulgarian socialism during the 1960s and 1970s,” special issue,  dVersia, 2019, p.92.

[46] Anita Stasulane, “The Theosophy of the Roerichs: Agni Yoga or living ethics,” in Olav Hammer and Mikael Rothstein (eds.), Handbook of the Theosophical Current (Brill, 2013), p.211. Stasulane points out that: “The most active Russian physicists participating in the Roerich movement are (or were) those investigating so-called ‘torsion fields,’ Anatoliy Akimov (1938-2007) and Genadiy Shipov b. 1938, who in the 1990s made lecture tours in the collapsing USSR. To oppose their theory, the ‘Commission for Combating Pseudoscience and the Falsification of Scientific Research’ (Komissiia po bor’be s lzhenaukoi i fal’sifkatsiei nauchnykh issledovanii) was founded by the Russian Academy of Science in 1998, headed by the Nobel Prize winner in physics, Vitaliy Ginzburg.” Stasulane explains how during the Soviet era the Roerichs’ teachings “grew more and more popular in the USSR where their doctrine of Theosophy functioned as a spiritual alternative to the dialectical materialism imposed by the Communist regime.” (p.207) She adds:

“In the 1980s, the Roerichs’ youngest son Svyatoslav (1904-1993) played a decisive role in the development of the movement. In 1987 he met with the General Secretary of the Communist Party, Michail Gorvachev and his wife Raisa, who took part in the Moscow group of the Roerichs’ followers, a visit repeated in 1989 after Gorbachev had taken office. The collapse of the Soviet ideological system opened up much wider opportunities for the spread of Living Ethics, and a number of Roerich societies were formed in the territories of the former USSR. The Moscow group was the most successful; among other things it founded the Roerich Museum in Moscow and the Soviet Foundation of the Roerichs (1989), later renamed the International Center of the Roerichs (ICR) (1991).” (p.207)

[47] Anatoliy Akimov’s work is cited in Ervin Lazlo’s book The Whispering Pond: A Personal Guide to the Emerging Vision of Science (Element Books, 1999), p.196, p.238.

[48] Boris Kagarlitsky, The Disintegration of Monolith (Verso, 1992), p.37, p.38, p.101. For a more recent insider account of the continuing deprivations of Russia’s media and cultural elite, see Michael Idov, Dressed Up for a Riot: Misadventures in Putin’s Moscow (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018).

[49] David Speedie, “Interview with Gavriil Popov, first democratically elected mayor of Moscow,” Carnegie Council, February 11, 2011; and for a less evasive interview covering much the same questions, see Speedie, “Arkady Murashev on the fall of the USSR,” Carnegie Council, February 8, 2011.

[50] Patrick Simpson, “The GOP’s favorite Russian professor spent decades building conservative ties to Moscow,” The Stern Facts, May 26, 2017.

[51] Robert Krieble was a founding board member of the Heritage Foundation, and in 1989, working under the remit of the Free Congress Foundation (a conservative think tank founded by Paul Weyrich and the Colorado beer magnate Joseph Coors) he had formed the Krieble Institute to promote ‘democracy’ and economic freedom in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

[52] Sarah Booth Conroy, “Russia House, trading in its name,” The Washington Post, October 27, 1991. Conroy adds that after the opening of Russia House: “That night in the gold-and-white pilastered reception room of the Soviet Embassy, Ambassador Viktor Komplektov entertained a remarkably diverse group: American businessmen hoping to prospect for gold in Russia; Sens. Claiborne Pell and Richard Lugar; a few ambassadors from neighboring countries, including Norway’s Kjeld Vibe; Allen Weinstein, president of the Center for Democracy; and of course Popov and the Lozanskys.”

Another leading officer of Russia House’s board was Paul Craig Roberts of the Center for Strategic and International Studies – a former treasury assistant secretary for President Reagan who is now a conspiracy theorist.

Footnotes for “Philanthropic violence in Nigeria”

These are the footnotes for an excerpt from the second-half of chapter 10 of The Givers That Take (2021).


[1] Dave Prentis soon received a knighthood from the government for his role in selling out workers and enjoyed serving on the board of directors of the Bank of England between 2012 and 2019, and until his recent replacement Prentis remained in charge of Unison despite the best organizing efforts of rank-and-file trade unionists. Likewise, Prentis’ retrograde politics were tragically exported globally when he was elected as the President of Public Services International in 2010, and he served in this position for the next ten years.

[2] Frances Perraudin and Daniel Boffey, “Unison head faces leadership challenge from the left,” The Guardian, December 16, 2015; Tom Barker, “Another round of suspensions in Labour: we need a party of the working class to take on the Tories,” Socialist Alternative, December 21, 2020.

[3] In mid-2002 the Democratic Socialist Movement observed: “Nothing functions or is functioning as it is supposed to, despite Nigeria’s super-abundant natural and human resources. At the same time, you have opposition parties that are completely indistinguishable in all essential features from the PDP, which they all, individually and collectively, wish to remove from power. And most unfortunately, you have a labour movement led, at best, by elements who generally make a correct analysis/critique about the inherent failure of the capitalist system, but permanently shy away from adopting the necessary political and economic strategy that can bring an end to the system which has turned life into a permanent nightmare for most ordinary people.” DSM, Nigeria: Civil Rule in Danger (DSM, August 2002).

In spite of the many barriers including vote rigging, Lanre Arogundada, the Marxist senatorial candidate for the NCP in Lagos West, still managed to get a commendable 77,000 or 9.4% of the votes counted during the April 2003 elections. A DSM member who did well in these elections was Ayodele Akele who stood in the Agege constituency gaining 15% of the votes.

[4] Gani Fawehinmi, “The role of the election tribunals,” The Guardian (Nigeria), May 2, 2007. On July 24, 2006, Segun Sango, Lagos Chair of the NCP and General Secretary of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) received an expulsion letter issued “by the Dr. Osagie Obayuwana led national leadership of the NCP.” The takeover of the NCP leadership by right-wing careerists “was based upon the legal requirement for any party wishing to stand in Nigerian elections to have offices in two-thirds of the country’s 36 states and its national headquarters in the federal capital, Abuja. As all these state units had to have representation on a party’s National Executive it meant, in the NCP’s case, that Lagos, the largest and most active state party, was nationally outvoted by people who in reality represented no-one but themselves.” DSM and the Struggle for a Working Peoples’ Political Alternative, p.23.

[5] The Lagos State chapter of the NCP fought back against the undemocratic manoeuvrings of the right-wing leaders, who had also undemocratically imposed a candidate upon their region. The chapter did this by announcing (on March 27, 2007) that they were collectively refusing to participate in the forthcoming general election. With the battle for democracy within the NCP lost, later that year the NCP chapter then decided the time was right to quit the party in order to work towards building a “genuine pan-Nigeria working masses’ political party, committed to the struggle for the betterment of the poor in or out of political power.” After attempts to launch a mass party, in 2012 members of the Democratic Socialist Movement launched the Socialist Party of Nigeria.

[6] Omolade Adunbi, “Embodying the modern: neoliberalism, NGOs, and the culture of human rights practices in Nigeria,” Anthropological Quarterly, 89(2), 2016, p.432.

[7] For a detailed critique of Transparency International, see Julie Bajolle, “The origins and motivations of the current emphasis on corruption: the case of Transparency International,” presented at the International Anti-Corruption Movement’s European Consortium for Political Research Joint Sessions of Workshops, April 25–30, 2006.

[8] General Obasanjo had been imprisoned in 1995 using “concocted evidence heard at a secret trial alleging an offence being committed in Nigeria at a time when he was shown to be in New York attending a board meeting of the trustees of the Ford Foundation” (as Transparency International put it at the time). In later years Transparency International would obtain most of their funding from development agencies, USAID, corrupt corporations like Shell, and billionaires like George Soros.

[9] With the 1999 transition to civilian rule, President Obasanjo’s new regime famously served the needs of international financial institutions like the World Bank: “Hence the dominance of anti-people reform policies that formed the bed rock of [his] administration from 1999 to 2007.” Nigerians were thus compelled to organize their first general strike within a year of Obasanjo’s assumption of power — a militant response by workers which had the desired effect of forcing his government to backtrack on their initial neoliberal ‘reforms’. But with powerful capitalist allies salivating at Nigeria’s plentiful oil reserves — Tony Blair and Bill Clinton being two notable examples – Obasanjo’s administration is best remembered for its unswerving dedication to deregulation, privatization and cronyism. Nkolika Obianyo, “Globalization and democracy in Africa – the Nigerian experience 1999-2007,” Nnamdi Azikiwe Journal of Political Science (NAJOPS), 3(1) August 2012, p.3.

Lucy Baker, “Facilitating whose power? WB and IMF policy influence in Nigeria’s energy sector,” Bretton Woods Project, April 2, 2008. “Deregulation of the downstream petroleum market (refining, supply and distribution) has been a key ingredient of World Bank and IMF policy advice since 1999. The most contentious of the IMF’s structural benchmarks was the sale of the Kaduna and Port Harcourt oil refineries. The process turned into a mockery. The sale was first put on hold due to the difficulty in attracting high quality international investors. Then having been valued at $800 billion, the refineries were sold off during Obasanjo’s last days in office in May 2007 for a paltry $500 million to a consortium close to the president called Bluestar Oil Service Limited. The ensuing protests which contributed to a June national strike saw Bluestar withdraw from the deal and its money refunded.” Although not mentioned in this article one of the key members of this controversial consortium was Dangote Industries.

[10] Omolade Adunbi, “Extractive practices, oil corporations and contested spaces in Nigeria,” The Extractive Industries and Society, 7(3), 2020, p.6. Former Shell vice president Alan Detheridge is presently a board member of Publish What You Pay – a global organization that has includes more than 700 member groups.

[11] Demba Moussa Dembele, “Toronto, Naples, Lyon, Cologne and London: G7 leaders and the debt trip to nowhere,” Pambazuka News, March 10, 2005.

[12] Damien Millet and Eric Toussaint, Who Owes Who: 50 Questions about World Debt (Zed Books, 2013 [2004), p.96

[13] Mike Hall, “The international debt crisis: recent developments,” Capital and Class, 35, 1988, pp.14-5. Although not acted up at the time, the early proposals made in April 1987 by Nigel Lawson, the Tory British Chancellor were, “to a great extent, an acceptance of the inevitable. As Lawson himself recognised `there is no realistic prospect of actually securing anything like full repayment if rates are not reduced’ (The Financial Times, 23rd July 1987).” “While the Lawson plan affects official debt only, it is not, on this count, without potential benefit to Africa’s private creditors. In reducing the burden of servicing the continent’s $200bn. of external debt, the majority of which is official, the plan makes default and interest payment moratoriums less likely on the minority private component of that debt.” (p.14)

[14] Shola Omotola and Hassan Saliu, “Foreign aid, debt relief and Africa’s development: problems and prospects,” South African Journal of International Affairs, 16(1), 2009, p.92. “Available statistics indicate that between 1970 and 2002, Africa received a total of $540 billion in loans and paid back $550 billion — $10 billion more than the original loans — over the same period. Yet, Africa owed $293 billion at the end of 2002.” (p.87)

[15] Iraq was the other country that like Nigeria received huge levels of debt assistance, obtaining an “80% reduction of the Paris Club debt” which had reached a massive $42.5 billion. Victor Okafor, “The Paris Club deal: reason to celebrate?,” Africa Update, XIII (1), Spring 2006.

[16] Aliko Dangote made the bulk of his fortune through Dangote Cement and the active financial aid he received from President Olusegun’s Backward Integration Policy (BIP) in Nigeria which led to the “transformation of Dangote Cement from a trading entity to the dominant cement manufacturing company in Nigeria.” Akinyinka Akinyoade and Chibuike Uche, “Dangote Cement: an African success story?”, African Studies Centre Leiden, ASC Working Paper No.131, 2016, p.6. Other multinational cement manufacturers like Lafarge were able to profit from Nigeria’s privatization of state-run cement industries deregulatory but owing to their foreign ownership were more sensitive to public outrage than Dangote when it came to engaging in corrupt activities in Nigeria. All the same Dangote and Lafarge continue to work closely together. For example, Gbenga Oyebode, who previously served as in-house counsel at Gulf Oil, joined Lafarge Africa’s boardroom last year, and is currently a trustee of the New York based Africa Center that was established as a project between Halima Aliko Dangote (Aliko’s daughter) and Chelsea Clinton (Bill’s daughter). (Since 2019 Oyebode has also served on the board of trustees of the Ford Foundation.)

[17] Omolade Adunbi, “(Re)inventing development: China, infrastructure, sustainability and special economic zones in Nigeria,” Africa, 89(4), 2019, p.666. The Lekki Free Zone is majority owned by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (which owns 60%) of the Lekki Free Zone Development Corporation. The famous human rights lawyer Felix Morka played an important role in overcoming public resistance to the creation of the Lekki Free Zone, and subsequently Morka “joined the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC)–the party in power in Lagos.” (p.669) For more background, see Jeremiah Ikongio,” The cultural protocols of free trade,” e-flux Architecture, “New Silk Roads,” February 2020. A report from August 2019 noted: “Chinese investment in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry has reached $16 billion, according to Nigeria’s state-run oil company.” This investment came via the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC). Note that the former CEO of CNOOC from 2003 to 2011 was Fu Chengyu, who then went on to become the chair of Sinopec (from 2011 to 2015) and is presently a board member of a global investment company headquartered in Singapore known as Temasek where he serves alongside the former CEO of Shell (Peter Voser) and the former president of the World Bank, 2007 to 2012 (Robert Zoellick).

[18] “Addax’s man in Nigeria until 2000, Richard Granier-Deferre,” was “fined approximately $200,000 in 2007 by a Paris court as an accessory to Mr. [Dan] Etete’s money laundering.” Eric Reguly, “Off the map in Africa,” The Globe and Mail, January 11, 2008; Will Fitzgibbon, “Secret documents expose Nigerian oil mogul’s offshore hideaways,” Premium Times, July 25, 2016.

Another notable individual who served alongside Oladele on Addax Petroleum’s board room was Brian Anderson, who had been the head of Shell’s Nigeria operations between 1994 and 1997. Anderson is presently the chairman and Managing Director of Anderson Energy (Hong Kong) Limited, a consulting firm for the energy sector, mostly in Africa and China; and he is a board member of Kaisun Holdings Limited.

[19]In the first three days of 2021, China launched its first free trade agreement (FTA) with an African nation,” that country being Mauritius. Wang Cong and Xie Jun, “With first FTA, diplomatic trip, China to boost cooperation with Africa in 2021,” Global Times, January 3, 2021.

[20] Oil companies spent decades opposing the science of climate change and are still acting to slow action to this day. For example, between 1979 and 1998 Shell “supported a campaign to sabotage climate policy” by funding the research of Professor Frits Böttcher who “was a high ranking Dutch scientist, co-founder of the Club of Rome and member of the Scientific Council for Government Policy.” “Smoking gun found hidden in an archive,” Code Rood, February 20, 2020.

[21] Prior to become the new CEO of SEforALL at the start of 2020, Nigerian national Damilola Ogunbiyi obtained $350 million from the World Bank to help launch the Nigerian Electrification Project, an initiative promoting the construction of solar mini-grids and the deployment of solar home systems to meet the needs of Nigeria’s energy deprived.

In 2019 the Rockefeller Foundation launched the Global Commission to End Energy Poverty to contribute towards capitalism new humanitarian mission. Tony Blair joins Damilola Ogunbiyi among the group’s many commissioners, as does Akin Adesina, a central Nigerian intellectual who previously helped push forward an earlier philanthropic ‘aid’ project known as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. For detailed criticisms of this Alliance, see Timothy Wise, “False Promises: the ‘Green Revolution in Africa’ is failing on its own terms,” Climate and Capitalism, July 14, 2020; also see Wise’s useful book Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness. Family Farmers and the Battle for the Future of Food (New Press, 2019) which showshow in country after country agribusiness and its well-heeled philanthropic promoters have hijacked food policies to feed corporate interests.”

[22] Overseeing Shell’s contribution to helping the poor access green energy is Nigerian management guru Dr. Wiebe Boer, who in 2010 became the inaugural CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation (established by the Nigerian banking giant of the same name) after serving his philanthropic apprenticeship as an Associate Director for the Rockefeller Foundation in Kenya. More generally in recent years oil companies like Shell have begun investing more of their profits in purchasing renewable energy companies, but this still remains a small overall investment. For example, “Shell’s investment target for green energy projects was set between $4bn and $6bn for the period from 2016 until the end of 2020 – but with less than a year to go, The Guardian says the sum is “well below” those figures.” James Murray, “How the six major oil companies have invested in renewable energy projects,” NS Energy, January 16, 2020. During those same four years Shell “more than $120bn developing fossil fuel projects and set out plans to increase its total spending to $30bn a year in the early 2020s.” The lack of urgency in moving away from fossil fuels recently led to the resignations of a number of Shell’s senior executives whose jobs entailed promoting renewables. (Note: in 2019 one of the most ambitious schemes that has backed by the Shell Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation is the CrossBoundary Energy Access, “Africa’s first project financing facility for mini-grids,” which aims to “unlock” more than US$11 billion for mini-grids.)

[23] Lumos Global has been a key partner of international finance institutions keen to invest in the solar field; indeed two years prior to receiving support from “All On” Lumos had obtained a $50 million investment from the US government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation. Since early 2020 Adepeju Adebajo has been employed as the CEO for Lumos Nigeria. She had previously served as the Commissioner of Agriculture in Ogun State and as the CEO-Cement for Lafarge in Nigeria.

Lumos’ cheapest product, Lumos ECO, comes with a 80 watt solar panel and a 200Wh battery set, they offer full ownership “after 48 continuous monthly instalments”. The initial down payment is N22,000 (£42), and 48 months of hiring costs N178,500 (£340). In Nigeria a worker earning minimum wage takes home around N30,000 a month (£57) which is not actually not even paid by most states and private sector employers. In the UK a worker earning minimum wage earns approximately £1,500 a month, and (on average) the cost of providing for an entire household’s gas and electric for a year is around £800 (for a small house/flat that uses 11,000kWh).  Contrast this to Nigeria where to get a tiny fraction of the energy (perhaps around 200kWh) workers must pay N50,000 a year, which is the equivalent of nearly two months pay (on minimum wage).

[24] Ethan Chorin, “Electron rush: why U.S. renewable energy is converging on Africa,” Forbes, May 1, 2017. One UK-based company to benefit from All On’s investments is iKabin, whose Managing Director is a senior executive at PwC UK. However, it is true that homegrown companies have also benefited from Shell’s All On funding, with another up-and-coming outfit being Arnergy Solar, which recently raised $9 million in a round of funding led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures (a funded with more than $1 billion in green investments which is chaired by Bill Gates). Launched in 2014, Arnergy’s current COO (and early advisor) is Stephen Ozoigbo, the founder of African Technology Foundation (a corporation based in Silicon Valley). For some years he has been overseeing the management of the US State Department’s Lions@frica program which had been launched at the 2012 World Economic Forum on Africa. In 2015 Arnergy received earlier backing from the Bank of Industry and the United Nations Development Programme.

[25] Nigeria’s power companies generate only about 4,000MW daily. This means that “Power sector specialists are placing their hopes in mini-grids, independent solar panel systems of up to 1MW capacity — the threshold at which a developer must apply for a full-scale power generation licence — that can power up to a few thousand households.” Emily Feng, “Off-the-grid thinking to end Nigeria’s blackouts,” Financial Times, November 21, 2018.

[26] Julius Alexander McGee and Patrick Trent Greiner, “Renewable energy injustice: The socio-environmental implications of renewable energy consumption,” Energy Research & Social Science, 56, October 2019, p.8.

[27] Hilman Fathonia, Abidah Setyowati, James Prest, “Is community renewable energy always just? Examining energy injustices and inequalities in rural Indonesia,” Energy Research & Social Science, 71, January 2020; Festus Boamah and Eberhard Rothfuß, “From technical innovations towards social practices and socio-technical transition? Re-thinking the transition to decentralised solar PV electrification in Africa,” Energy Research & Social Science, 42, August 2018. In South Africa for instance: “Many poor Africans who were off the grid now have access to electricity, but do not have the money to pay for its use.” Akhil Gupta, “An anthropology of electricity from the Global South,” Cultural Anthropology, 30(4), 2015; C.G. Monyei, A.O. Adewumi & K.E.H. Jenkins, “Energy (in)justice in off-grid rural electrification policy: South Africa in focus,” Energy Research & Social Science, 44, 2018.

One early investigation into emerging energy transitions to cater to the needs of the energy poor in sub-Saharan Africa demonstrated how investment across the whole of Africa “had grown six-fold between 2003 and 2013, respectively from USD$750 million to over USD $4.7 billion.” Most of this investment (around 79%) had been focused on sub-Saharan Africa, “but even that figure was well below the estimated USD $55 billion annual spend required to meet the target of universal access by 2030.” Yet as “most initiatives focus on how to facilitate the creation of energy markets and attract private sector investment” little is being done to address the deeper capitalist explanations of why such systemic poverty and exploitation continue to exist. This led the authors of this study to state that “the number of people without access [to energy] seems to be rising–not decreasing–due to a combination of natural population growth, increase in energy exports, as well as an intensification in demand through urbanization.” Idalina Baptista, “Space and energy transitions in sub-Saharan Africa: understated historical connections,” Energy Research & Social Science, 36, February 2018.

[28] The research found that “51 per cent of Lumos customers live below the World Bank international poverty line of $3.20 per person per day (2011 PPP). In relation to the national rate – 73 per cent of the population of Nigeria live below the $3.20 poverty line – Lumos is reaching a slightly wealthier group. Twelve per cent of Lumos customers are estimated to live below the extreme poverty line of $1.90 per person per day compared to 43 per cent of the Nigerian population…They are generally well educated, with 85 per cent of customers having someone in the household who had attained tertiary level education (polytechnic or university), consistent with the earlier finding that Lumos customers tend to be better off than average.” Insight, “What is the impact of solar home systems in Nigeria?,” CDC Investment Works, March 25, 2020.

[29]Power Africa: A U.S. government-led partnership,” Updated November 30, 2020. For a discussion of the problems inherent in neoliberal approaches to large-scale solar production, see Hamza Hamouchene, “The Ouarzazate solar plant in Morocco: triumphal ‘green’ capitalism and the privatization of nature,” Jadaliyya, May 23, 2016; and Julius Alexander McGee and Patrick Trent Greiner, “How long can neoliberalism withstand climate crisis?,” Monthly Review, April 1, 2020. For a critical review of the privatization of Nigeria’s energy sector, see Sandra van Niekerk, Yuliya Yurchenko and Jane Lethbridge, “Nigeria energy sector transformation, DFID, USAID, and the World Bank,” Public Services International Research Unit (PSIRU), 2016. The report notes that the only part of energy provision that remains is public hands are the transmission networks, which are of course in the process of creeping privatization.

[30] Steffen Haag, “Finance for renewable energy in Africa follows colonial roots,” OpenDemocracy, February 10, 2020.

[31] Alagoa Morris en Akpotu Ziworitin and Hilde Brontsema, “Traces of Shell in Nigeria’s oil spills,” Friends of the Earth Netherlands and Environmental Rights Activists, Amsterdam, December 2020, p.7. “Those who perpetrate the spills (often young people) first inform their Shell Nigeria contact by telephone that they are interested in sabotaging some pipelines. They are then given the green light or are requested to wait until a later time. Once the sabotage has been completed, the same Shell Nigeria employees will call these same Ikarama youths and clean-up contractors to arrange a meeting in a Yenagoa hotel.” (p.13)

[32] Neil Munshi, “Why Nigeria struggles to win its security battle,” Financial Times, October 27, 2020. “Extortion is a potent symbol for a state whose modus operandi is the extraction of oil revenue from central coffers to pay for a bloated, ruinously inefficient, political elite. Security is not the only area where the state is failing. Nigeria has more poor people, defined as those living on less than $1.90 a day, than any other country, including India.”

[33] For recent background on the struggles against corporate looters in the energy sector, see Wole Olubanji, “Kick out the profiteers… for a socialist alternative!,” Movement for a Socialist Alternative,  September 21, 2020. On December 8, the same national trade union leaders agreed to a tiny reduction in fuel prices which still put pump prices above before they called off the General Strike. Important to note is that in early September the “cost of fuel at the pump has risen by around 15% in recent days, hitting a record high of 162 naira per litre”. Then after the strike was called off the government further increased the pump price to 168 naira per litre, which then led to a meeting with the union leaders who walked out the meeting happy that the government would reduce the price to 162.44 naira. In the run-up to the December 8 meeting it was reported that “The Nigeria Labour Congress has asked the Nigerian government to revert to the old pump price of N158 petrol or face indefinite strike from workers.” The prices never came down, and yet the NLC failed to initiative any form of stike action.

[34] Dagga Tolar, “Workers must reject the endorsement of deregulation and fuel price hike by Labour’s official leadership: for a 48hrs general strike now!”, Movement for a Socialist Alternative, October 5, 2020. The Labour leaders who called off the general strike were led by Ayuba Wabba (who has been President of the NLC since 2015) and Olaleye Quadri (who has been the President of the TUC since 2017). Notably, for the past two years Wabba has also served as the President of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), a successor organization to the imperialist International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).

[35] Frankmoore Ike and Ronke Idowu, “Edo organised labour rejects strike suspension by national labour leadership,” ChannelsTV, September 28, 2020.

[36]Unions not consulted on Chevron Nigeria plans to lay-off 1,000 workers,” IndustriALL Global Union, October 15, 2020; “Shell workers determined to overcome Covid-19 challenges,” IndustriALL Global Union, November 6, 2020. Issa Aremu is the vice president of IndustriALL, and he is a member of the executive council of the Nigerian Labour Congress and served as the vice president of the congress during the tenure of Adams Oshiomole. On November 30 Aremu was a member of a IndustriALL delegation (including representatives from NUPENG and PENGASSAN) that visited the site of the new Dangote Refinery to “deepen harmonious industrial relations” with the billionaire. “President of NUPENG, Comrade Williams Akporeha whose Union is seen as a critical stakeholder in the downstream sector of the Petroleum industry on his part extolled the virtues of the President of Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote… He added that the company should have it behind their back that they have a Labour movement that is ready to collaborate with them to achieve greater and fruitful results in the industry.” Emmanuel Ajibulu, “IndustriALL Global Union pays courtesy visit to Dangote refinery,” NUPENG, November 30, 2020. In keeping with the pro-capitalist orientation of such right-wing trade union leaders it is worth recalling that Mele Kolo Kyari, the current head of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation once served as the NNPC Group Chairman of PENGASSAN from 1997 to 1999.

[37] In other related strike news, in December the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria “declared an indefinite strike over the sacking of 500 workers” by INTELS and one of their subcontractors with the state then intervening to outlaw the strike. INTELS provides logistics services for the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry, and until recently was most famous for counting the former Vice President of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar, among its major shareholders. INTELS most famous owner is the billionaire profiteer Gabriele Volpi, who until recently served on the advisory board of Dangote’s Gateway Partners.

[38] Neil Munshi, “Nigeria’s Buhari overhauls military as security crisis worsens,” Financial Times, January 26, 2021; Editorial Board, “Nigeria is at risk of becoming a failed state,” Financial Times, December 22, 2020.

Footnotes for “Waging War on Medicine”

These are the footnotes for an excerpt from the second-half of chapter 6 of The Occult Elite: Anti-Communist Paranoia and Other Ruling-Class Delusions (2022).


[1] Curtis MacDougall, Superstition and the Press (Prometheus Books, 1983). On the issue of media misreporting, one scientific study examined 2,337 terminal cancer patients in palliative care and determined that, while most died after 5 months, one percent survived beyond five years. But somehow the Independent newspaper reported in January 2006, in an article titled “’Miracle’ cures shown to work”, that the reason for survival owed to alternative medicine, when nothing of the sort was shown. Instead, the scientists had merely shown that a small number of people recover for no known reason even without any additional form of medical intervention. By way of a contrast, when a 2007 article from the British Medical Journal showed that a cheap practical parenting program could significantly improve children’s behaviour, the story was “unanimously ignored” by the British news media. The article in question is titled “Parenting in Sure Start services for children at risk of developing conduct disorder: pragmatic randomised trial.” Goldacre, Bad Science.

[2] In China acupuncture dropped in popularity at the onset of the First and Second Opium Wars, and its use was only revived in 1949, precisely because it served as a cheap alternative to mainstream medicine in a poverty-stricken country. In line with this practical reasoning, Chairman Mao’s personal physician confirms that Mao did not personally believe in the use of Chinese medicine, but Mao thought it useful as it allowed him to appear to be caring for his populous by creating an extensive network of traditional healers (‘barefoot doctors’). For further details about the invention of “Traditional Chinese Medicine,” see Kim Taylor, Chinese Medicine in Early Communist China, 1945–1963: A Medicine of Revolution (Routledge Curzon, 2005).

[3] Singh and Ernst, Trick or Treatment?, p.144, p.145. When homeopathy was first introduced to India in 1829, the primary reason for its quick uptake owed much to the fact that it was “perceived as being in opposition to the imperialist medicine practised by the British invaders.” (p.144)

In June 1988, homeopathy received a welcome boost from the scientific community when the prestigious scientific journal Nature published an article by a French scientist named Jacques Benveniste that supported homeopathic claims about the efficacy of their regime of water dilutions. Yet given the magical claims being made in the article, John Maddox, the editor of Nature, added a disclaimer saying that Nature was rerunning the experiment to confirm its legitimacy. The only other time that Maddox had made such a statement was when Nature had published a paper (in 1974) by Uri Geller about his mystical spoon-bending powers. When Benveniste’s experiment was eventually repeated with external supervision by a team from Nature, they determined that the results of the study showed no evidence to support homoeopathy.

[4] For a useful critical overview of the development of health clinics, see the January 1972 issue of Science for the People (pp.22-6). Indeed, Neighborhood Health Centers (NHCs) “were not without their critics. Some black rural and urban physicians worried that the NHCs would compete for Medicaid patients. A 1971 exchange between Dr. Jack Geiger and Dr. Howard Levy of the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR) and Health-PAC, a New York–based New Left think tank devoted to medical issues, also revealed a negative view of NHCs from a progressive point of view. This exchange revealed that not all members of the movement to transform health care in the United States were happy with the NHCs. Levy critically assessed the NHCs as tools of a medical establishment bent on collecting Office of Economic Opportunity federal dollars without delivering any real transformation of health care or empowerment of the poor.” Nelson, More Than Medicine, p.87.

[5] Joel Schwartz, “Cancer: we cause it, we cure it!,” Science for the People, July 1971, p.12. Writers affiliated to Science for the People who travelled to China, were, like their counterparts in the American mainstream, unfortunately overwhelmed by the alleged curative powers of acupuncture. In fact, the first article that Science for the People carried on this issue was written by the same American biologists who had been featured in a New York Times article earlier in the year that had emphasized the wonders of China’s alternative treatments. Ethan Signer, “Biological science in China,” Science for the People, September 1971, p.5; Seymour Topping, “U.S. biologists in China tell of scientific gains,” New York Times, May 24, 1971.

[6] Jon Feltheimer, “The U.S. ethical drug industry,” Science for the People, July 1972, p.12. Feltheimer correctly explained that the “Food and Drug Administration has caused further deterioration to an already sick situation, by making the public believe that the drug industry is heavily and scientifically regulated.” (p.32) In another excellent article contained within the same issue titled “What do health maintenance organizations maintain?” Britta Fischer highlights two particularly important critical texts: the first was the Medical Committee for Human Rights’ booklet Politics of Health Care (1972) which was edited by Ken Rosenberg and Gordon Schiff; and the second was Barbara and John Ehrenreich’s The American Health Empire: Power, Profits and Politics (Vintage Books, 1971) which they say “is the best radical analysis available.” (p.25)

[7] Joshua Dressier, “Free to choose your own destruction: laetrile, helmets and libertarians,” In These Times, October 5, 1977; Ron Rosenbaum, “Tales from the cancer cure underground,” Harper’s, November 1980. Right-wing health freedom activists had first formed the International Association of Cancer Victims and Friends in 1963, while in 1973 another group that was spun off from this association was the related Cancer Control Society. The latter group counted Lorraine Rosenthal among their cofounders, the individual who was responsible for the production of the National Health Federation documentary, Action for Survival, that had starred Ralph Nader and Adelle Davis. Another significant Laetrile lobby group was Dr. Robert W. Bradford’s Committee for Freedom of Choice in Cancer Therapy (later known as the Committee for Freedom of Choice in Medicine). This group had been formed in 1972 around a nucleus of diehard members of the ultraconservative John Birch Society.

[8] An informative review of this aspect of the Laetrile wars is provided in Mary Ziegler’s book Beyond Abortion: Roe v. Wade and the Battle for Privacy (Harvard University Press, 2018), pp.121-62. “Arguments based on the right to choose allowed the Laetrile movement to convince politicians who agreed on little else, from feminists and populist Democrats to small-government conservatives. While the medical establishment convincingly insisted that Laetrile had never helped anyone, almost half the states in the nation embraced what many saw as a patient’s right to choose.” (p.143)

[9] James Patterson, The Dread Disease: Cancer and Modern American Culture (Harvard University Press, 1987), p.273.

[10] The John Birch Society’s toxic legacy lives on through the activities of an influential group called the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, see Olga Khazan, “The opposite of socialized medicine,” The Atlantic, February 25, 2020. Furthermore, to this day Laetrile quack treatments continue to be administered in Tijuana; and until his death in 2004, National Health Federation activist Michael Culbert, the author of the early conservative classic Vitamin B-17–Forbidden Weapon Against Cancer: The Fight for Laetrile (Arlington Press, 1974), had served as the information officer for the Tijuana-based Bio-Medical Center. Although Culbert earned a BA from the University of Wichita, his medical degree was obtained from the Sri-Lankan based Medicina Alternativa – the very same institute which, in 1984, delivered a “doctor of biochemistry degree” to Robert W. Bradford (another leading Laetrile activist).

[11] Ralph Moss still promotes Laetrile and starred in the conspiracy documentary Second Opinion: Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering (2014) which was directed by Eric Merola – a director who has produced a number of documentaries promoting the related quackery of Stanislaw Burzynski, the most recent one being Burzynski: The Cancer Cure Cover-Up (2016). In the film Second Opinion Moss recalled how he had initially tried to promote his advocacy of Laetrile within the New York Chapter of Science for the People. However, Moss noted that most members were not interested in a cancer treatment so closely associated with the John Birch Society so Moss and a few others “broke away” to form their own group called “Second Opinion” which printed the first leaflet/publication December 1976 (discussed in documentary from 39 min). Moss’ employer, New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, was featured in the September/October 1976 issue of Science for the People, but it is important to highlight that at no time in the magazine’s history did Science for the People cover the issue of Laetrile.

[12] Gary Null rose to health fame after publishing a series of articles in Penthouse magazine in 1979. “The great cancer fraud,” was the title of the first explosive piece in Null’s series exposing the alleged “suppression of independent thought,” an article which named-check many of America’s most notorious cancer fraudsters, including Harry Hoxsey, William Koch, Max Gerson, Linus Pauling, and Ralph Moss and other boosters for Laetrile which Null states had by then “become the central target of American Cancer Society door-slamming.” Null’s series of articles somehow manages to contain no mention of the central importance of right-wing politics to the health freedom movement.

The first article in the Penthouse series was published in September 1979. The second Null article was then published the following month as “The suppression of cancer cures” (which focused on the work of Stanislaw Burzynski); and the final part, which was co-authored with Anne Pitrone in November, was titled “Alternative cancer therapies.” In this final instalment Null introduced his readers to the controversial views of Dr. Dean Burk. After retiring in 1974 from a senior position at the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Burk had promoted Laetrile and led campaigns against water fluoridation (which he referred to as “a form of public mass murder”). Finally, it is relevant that in later years that Null, who in his earlier years had been highly influenced by the magical beliefs of Rudolf Steiner, went on to promote dangerous conspiracies about AIDS and became a leading opponent of vaccinations. For a useful examination of the anti-vax movement, see Jennifer Reich, Calling the Shots: Why Parents Reject Vaccines (New York University Press 2016); and for a discussion of the many problems caused by Null’s popular legacy, see Andrew Leslie Phillips, “Alarming Pacifica developments“, The Unrepentant Marxist, January 14, 2014.

It is perhaps fitting that the founder of Penthouse, Bob Guccione, himself played a critical role in promoting paranormal beliefs which were an integral feature of his other publishing outlet, Omni magazine. (Omni was cofounded in 1978 by Bob Guccione’s long-serving business partner and later wife, Kathy Keeton, who also maintained a lifelong commitment to alternative healing modalities. In 1989 Keeton also founded to her founded Longevity magazine which has counted leading health conspiracy-theorist Patrick Holford among their regular columnists.)

[13] In the late 1970s Peter Barry Chowka published a number of articles about fictitious cancer treatments for the East West Journal (which was the official organ of the macrobiotic community). Within the pages of this, and other New Age publications, Chowka revived the mythology of Hoxsey and other persecuted treatments like Laetrile. Chowka currently acts as a regular commentator and host on far-right talk shows like the Hagmann Report which is a close ally in the war on truth with Alex Jones’ more famous InfoWars.

[14] Samuel Epstein, Cancer-gate: How to Win the Losing Cancer War (Routledge, 2005), p.7. Epstein’s pioneering cancer research featured prominently in the pages of Science for the People during the 1970s, although their magazines writers remained critical of the liberal orientation of his work. In Science for the People’s 1980 review of Epstein’s classic The Politics of Cancer (Anchor Press, 1979) Bob Ginsburg points out how “Epstein evidently denies that the basic problem is the nature and priorities of capitalism.” (Ginsburg, “Why there is no cancer prevention,” Science for the People, May-June 1980, p.20.)

Other noteworthy books/articles that successfully draw attention to how a focus on prevention and capitalist exploitation would best address the environmental causes of cancer include Robert Van den Bosch, The Pesticide Conspiracy (University of California Press, 1978); Jack McCulloch, Asbestos Blues: Labour, Capital, Physicians and the State in South Africa (James Currey, 2002); Dan Fagin, Toxic Deception: How the Chemical Industry Manipulates Science, Bends the Law and Endangers Your Health (Common Courage Press, 2002); Shannon Brownlee, Overtreated:  Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer (Bloomsbury, 2008); John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark, “Rachel Carson’s ecological critique,” Monthly Review, February 1, 2008; Alexey Yablokov et al. (eds.), Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010); Mahiben Maruthappu et al.Economic downturns, universal health coverage, and cancer mortality in high- income and middle- income countries, 1990– 2010: A longitudinal analysis,” Lancet, 388(10045), 2016; and Vinayak Prasad, Malignant: How Bad Policy and Bad Evidence Harm People with Cancer (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2020). As Mike Marqusee concludes in The Price of Experience: Writings on Living with Cancer (OR Books, 2014), “What we need is not a ‘war on cancer’ but a recognition that cancer is a social and environmental issue, and can only be fully addressed through far-reaching economic and political change.” (p.35)

[15] One famous right-wing powerbroker who cut his legislative teeth in the Laetrile wars was Dan Burton, who served as the Republican Congressman for Indiana from 1983 until 2013 and thereafter became a lobbyist for the Church of Scientology. In 1977 while serving as a state representative in Indiana, Burton had led a successful fight to approve the use of Laetrile, although during his later years in Congress he was more famous for the support he led to the misconception that vaccines cause autism. On a related matter Burton’s first wife died from cancer in 2002 and in 2006 he married Dr. Samia Tawil, the women who had helped care for his dying wife. Dr. Samia Burton is currently a board member of the Wongu University of Oriental Medicine, an institution which was founded in 2012 (in Nevada) by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Considering the leading role that Dan Burton played in building the anti-vaccine movement it is significant that right-wing health freedom advocates (whose ideas were popularized by the mainstream media) were at the forefront of undermining public trust in vaccine safety.

Here the one documentary that arguably did most to promote vaccine distrust was DTP: Vaccine Roulette (WRY-TV, 1982) which prominently featured the fearmongering of the then president of the National Health Federation, Dr. Robert Mendelsohn (this controversial affiliation however was not mentioned in the documentary). In the wake of the release of this documentary, worried parents came together to form a group “called Dissatisfied Parents Together (DPT), and this group would eventually go on to become the National Vaccine Information Center, which is now the largest organization in America that is committed to eliminating vaccine mandates.” Today this group attempts to maintain a nonpartisan approach to politics – eliciting sizable support from both liberals and the far-right – with major funders of their work including the Albert and Claire Dwoskin Family Foundation (the Dwoskins’ being major Democratic Party donors) and leading Republican Party donors, particularly individuals who are “supporters of libertarian candidate Ron Paul.”

“As befits a movement leader trying to gather together a big tent of supporters, [Barbara Loe Fisher] invokes lefty-sounding environmental terms alongside right-wing libertarian values.” Thus, the single most famous right-wing multimillionaire who continues to donate the most money to Fisher’s National Vaccine Information Centre is the osteopathic physician/vitamin supplement salesmen’ and Covid-19 conspiracist, Joseph Mercola. Another important libertarian funder of the anti-vaccine movement is the hedge fund manager and New York-based philanthropist Bernard Selz, whose wife, Lisa, happens to be the president of a vaccine misinformation group known as the Informed Consent Action Network. This latter group was founded by Del Bigtree, a vocal libertarian who now promotes countless conspiracies through his own widely watched internet talk show, but who first courted fame when, with the assistance of Andrew Wakefield, he produced the controversial documentary Vaxxed: From Cover-Up To Catastrophe (2016).

Emily Willingham, “Former U.S. Rep. Dan Burton, vaccine foe, now lobbying for Scientology outfit,” Forbes, October 21, 2015; Reich, Calling the Shots, p.59;Anna Kirkland, “The legitimacy of vaccine critics: what is left after the autism hypothesis?,” Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, 37(1), 2011, p.80; Kirkland, Vaccine Court: The Law and Politics of Injury (NYU Press, 2016); Neena Satija and  Lena SunA major funder of the anti-vaccine movement has made millions selling natural health products,” Washington Post, December 20, 2019; Bryan Smith, “Dr. Mercola: visionary or quack?,” Chicago magazine, January 31, 2012; for a useful debunking Andrew Wakefield’s anti-vaccine propaganda, including a critical review of Vaxxed, see Jonathan Berman, Anti-vaxxers: How to Challenge a Misinformed Movement (MIT Press, 2020), pp.69-96; and Brian Deer, The Doctor Who Fooled the World: Andrew Wakefield’s War on Vaccines (Scribe, 2020).

Another highly influential individual who continues to spread anti-vax propaganda across the world is Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. whose most recent toxic addition to the world has been his release of the documentary Medical Racism: The New Apartheid (2021) which “mixes real examples of racism in healthcare and vaccine misinformation to push an anti-vaccine agenda on marginalized communities of colour.” Jonathan Jarry, “The anti-vaccine propaganda of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.,” McGill Office for Science and Society, April 16, 2021. Tragically Kennedy tricked progressive and even socialist activists (including a leading member of the Black Lives Matter movement) into participating in this film without letting them know the true purpose of the documentary (an issue which is discussed in Will Stone’s article “An anti-vaccine film targeted to black Americans spreads false information,” NPR, June 8, 2021).

For a progressive alternative to Kennedy’s manipulations, in 2022 PBS will be airing Stanley Nelson’s documentary, Medical Racism, “will take a hard look at the evidence for medical racism in America, connecting today’s stories to a long and reprehensible history that includes the Tuskegee syphilis study, the eugenics movement and slavery in the Americas.”

[16] Barrie Cassileth, “After Laetrile, what?,” New England Journal of Medicine, 306, 1982, p.1482, p.1483. In response to Cassileth’s article, James Harvey Young comments within his book The Medical Messiahs: A Social History of Health Quackery in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton University Press, 1992): “The new mode owed much to New Age philosophies and religions from the Far East, as well as to earlier unorthodox traditions that once had great vogue in an earlier America: homeopathic and naturopathic concepts, and the belief that intestinal putrefaction lay at the root of disease.” (p.460)

A well-publicized example of the growing promotion of such mind-cures in the mainstream media came about when Norman Cousins published his autobiographical book Anatomy of an Illness (W. W. Norton & Company, 1979), which was made into a television movie in 1984. For criticisms of this influential book, see Florence Ruderman, “A placebo for the doctor,” Commentary, May 1980; and Sidney Kahn, “The anatomy of Norman Cousins’ illness,” The Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine, 48, 1981.

[17] For a review of similar occult literature, see E. Patrick Curry, “Carl Jung, Stanislav Grof, and new age medical mysticism,” SRAM, 6(2), March 2002.

[18] In 1953 Giovanni “Gianni” Agnelli (who was introduced earlier in this book) married Marella, whose father, at the time, was working as secretary-general to the Council of Europe.” (The Times obituary, February 26, 2019)The obituary notes: “For the second half of the 20th century Marella and Gianni Agnelli were, in effect, Italy’s royal family. At their peak, his businesses, which encompassed hundreds of companies including FIAT, Juventus football club and the newspaper La Stampa, constituted a quarter of the value of the country’s stock market.” David Rockefeller appointed Angelli to the international advisory committee of Chase Manhattan Bank. For two detailed examinations of Giovanni Agnelli’s reactionary politics, see Alan Friedman, Agnelli and the Network of Italian Power (Mandarin, 1989); and Jennifer Clark, Mondo Agnelli: Fiat, Chrysler, and the Power of a Dynasty (Wiley, 2011).

[19] Dr. John Richardson and Patricia Griffin (the wife of G. Edward Griffin), Laetrile Case Histories: The Richardson Cancer Clinic Experience (Bantam Books, 1977); Gerald Markle, James Petersen, and Morton Wagenfeld,  “Notes from the cancer  underground: participation in the Laetrile movement,” Social Science and Medicine, 12,  January 1978.

[20] In the early 1970s Dr. Norm Shealy cofounded the Science of Mind Church of Chicago, an institution which eventually evolved to become Holos University. Notably Dr. Shealy trained the “medical intuitive” Caroline Myss. Myss has co-authored many books with Shealy and maintains her own Russian connections through the leading role she played at the helm of Mikhail Gorbachev’s State of the World Forum and in leading the work of the Wisdom University (now Ubiquity University, whose founding was discussed earlier).

[21] Dr. Norm Shealy, “Who runs the world?,” Shealy-Sorin Wellness Center, August 13, 2013. In the same article Dr. Shealy expresses his debt of faith to the work of conspiracy theorist David Icke; while in a later blog post he writes that he had first been inspired by the John Birch Society classic None Dare Call It Conspiracy when he had first read it in the 1970s (see “The perception deception,” Shealy-Sorin Wellness Center, July 30, 2014).

[22] Orrin Hatch’s political orientation is closely connected to the activism of Utah-based health freedom warrior Clinton Miller whose experience of the FDA in the 1950s led him to equate their surveillance of supplement manufacturers as being akin to Hitler’s regime of terror. He therefore soon joined the National Health Federation and played a leading role in opposing the fluoridation of water in Utah. Although in later years Miller played a part in supporting DSHEA, throughout the sixties and seventies he excelled himself as one of the NHF’s most effective spokespersons and lobbyists in helping push through the Proxmire Vitamin Bill. Riding the revivalist tide of right-wing politics, in 1976 Miller then sought the Republican nomination to stand in Utah, and amongst the four other prospective candidates was Orrin Hatch, whose lack of prior involvement in politics allowed Hatch to stand as the “nonpolitician.” To improve his chances of victory, Hatch “ran to the right of his four competitors, seeking the support of the most conservative factions in the state” with one of his “most prominent backers” being Cleon Skousen – the bestselling Mormon writer for the John Birch Society, who helpfully provided finances and volunteers for Hatch’s successful campaign. Matt Canham, “The political birth of Orrin Hatch,” The Salt Lake Tribune, January 31, 2012; for more general context, see Matthew Harris (ed.), Thunder from the Right: Ezra Taft Benson in Mormonism and Politics (University of Illinois Press, 2019); Jay Logan Rogers, Utah’s right turn: Republican ascendancy and the 1976 U.S. Senate race, M.A. Thesis, University of Utah, 2008; and Michael Tomasky, “The sad trajectory of Orrin Hatch,” New York Times, January 3, 2018.

Once elected in 1977, Senator Hatch embarked upon a long political exploration in conspiratorialism that only ended in 2019, making him the longest serving Republican Senator in history. Hatch thus played a critical role in pressing forward a coalition between the Old Right and the emerging New Right, a coalition that echoed Skousen’s own positive reception among the Reagan administration and the ultraconservative evangelical community centered around Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. Critically, the Christian Right “formalized its acceptance of the Mormon Church in 1982 by appointing Skousen to the board of the Council for National Policy.” Skousen’s Freeman Institute (which had been formed in 1971) was subsequently renamed the National Center for Constitutional Studies upon Reagan’s election, and Skousen’s reactionary ideas were now” being taken up by Idaho-based militias and white supremacist groups”; while Reagan remained a fan and praised Skousen’s Center as “doing fine public service in educating Americans.” Alexander Zaitchik, Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance (John Wiley & Sons, 2010), p.226, p.229.

“Crucial to the growth of his [Freeman] institute was Skousen’s unlikely friendship with the Korean mogul and self-declared prophet Sun Myung Moon. When Skousen arrived in D.C. at the dawn of the Reagan era, Moon was energetically showering the nascent Christian Right with cash. Skousen made sure that the Freemen Institute benefited from Moon’s largesse, and before long the humble Mormon had established a close working friendship with the billionaire cult leader and tax felon, whose claims of a direct line to God mirrored those of Mormon founding prophet Joseph Smith.” Zaitchik continues: “This odd couple became an even more bizarre trio with the addition of former Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, who was baptized a Mormon in 1983 and soon became friendly with both Skousen and Moon. Cleaver, one of Mormonism’s most famous midlife converts prior to Glenn Beck, gave lectures under the Freemen Institute banner until 1986.” Zaitchik, Common Nonsense, p.271.

[23] One commentator concluded that: “In their own way, vitamins are at the centre of a cult that is as powerful as any religious movement that has swept across the nation.” Fried, Vitamin Politics, p.28, p.45. “Incredibly, no government agency is presently responsible for testing dietary supplements to assure their purity and potency. One hundred years after Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, supplement manufacturers continue to enjoy a free pass to operate outside the bedrock principle that all drugs should be, at the very least, pure and of reliable potency.” Dan Hurley, Natural Causes, p.159.

[24] Frank Mintz, The Liberty Lobby and the American Right: Race, Conspiracy, and Culture (Greenwood Press, 1985). In the following presidential election, the Populist Party’s presidential candidate was the white supremacist David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. While by the late eighties Maureen Salaman was playing host to her own popular television show “Accent on Health,” which was broadcast on a new right-wing evangelical network called Family Christian Broadcasting Network. Sara Diamond, Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right (Black Rose Books, 1990), p.27.

[25] Robert Pear, “Health frauds said to prey on elderly,” New York Times, May 31, 1984.

[26] Eric Boyle, Quack Medicine: A History of Combating Health Fraud in Twentieth-Century America (Praeger, 2013), p.158.

[27] Nestle, Food Politics, p.241.

[28] “It is a tribute to the effectiveness of supplement industry lobbying efforts that suggestions made by its leaders in 1985 and again in 1987 were eventually incorporated as elements of the 1994 DSHEA. In 1987, however, the CRN [Council for Responsible Nutrition] proposals merely encouraged the White House to continue to delay publication of regulations until the FDA could guarantee that they ‘would not be too restrictive on industry.’” Nestle, Food Politics, p.244.

[29] Nestle, Food Politics, p.255.

[30] Shortly after the raid, Dr. Jonathan Wright temporarily replaced Maureen Salaman as the president of the National Health Federation.

[31] Hurley, Natural Causes, pp.84-6, p.94. Other celebrities who supported the public service announcements promoted by the supplement industries newly form Health Freedom Task Force included Whoopi Goldberg and Randy Travis; while Victoria Principal starred in her own advert that was produced by the Nutritional Health Alliance.

[32] Reflecting upon his own spiritual awakening, William Gazecki, talking on a conspiracy channel on YouTube (in 2016), explained that: “Complete, open and free knowledge of divinity, the sharing of mind, knowledge and experience, coexistence, you know the Essene lifestyle in its day was quite evolved and unique considering its surrounding cultures. My involvement with the Essenes began when I was quite young, I was in my twenties, and I was introduced to an Essene – it was a woman, I will call her a master, an Essene master, she was a clairvoyant. She developed a system of healing using color, meditation and projection, and reflection of color. It was a very sophisticated system, it was her life’s work, and she taught it. Apparently, she was also involved with esoteric translation of ancient texts, though she was schooled in Sanskrit and perhaps other ancient languages. A very interesting person. I only met her physically once although I was around her work, her students, quite a bit.  One of her students was my mother-in-law. I married her daughter, and it was a very, very profound environment to be around, especially at my young age.” (from 50min onwards) “The Knightly News: William Gazecki” (hosted by Michael Henry Dunn), Project Camelot TV YouTube Channel, streamed live on March 31, 2016. (The current leader of the Modern Essenes is holistic health practitioner, Rabbi Gabriel Cousens.)

[33] At the time Steven Fowkes was the president of Direct Action for Treatment Access, a San Francisco based advocacy group which campaigned for rapid drug approvals for treatments relating to diseases like AIDS. For a useful discussion of how drug companies were able to use such campaign groups to push forward their own deregulatory agendas, see Courtney Davis and John Abraham, “Desperately seeking cancer drugs: explaining the emergence and outcomes of accelerated pharmaceutical regulation,” Sociology of Health & Illness, 33(5), 2011.

[34] The main medical advocate promoting “alternative medicine” in the PBS documentary was Dr. Russell Jaffe, a person who, in 1990, had established the Health Studies Collegium, which he did after converting to the cause of alternative medicine following a long career as a science-driven medical practitioner. Other recent integrative researchers based at Dr. Jaffe’s institute included Artemis Simopoulos and Michael Lerner (a cofounder of Ken Wilber’s Integral Institute).

[35] Dan Hurley, Natural Causes, pp.226-7. Michael Barkun argues that “No work on the Illuminati published in recent decades – whether secular or religious – has matched the influence of Pat Robertson’s The New World Order, which first appeared in 1991.” Barkun adds: “Oddly enough, Robertson’s views passed nearly unnoticed by the mainstream press for four years, until they became the subject of two lengthy and critical articles in The New York Review of Books in 1995. The articles’ authors, Michael Lind and Jacob Heilbrun, pointed out that Robertson had drawn heavily on the work of both” Nesta Webster and Eustace Mullins “and that in fact he was recycling their anti-Semitic theory of history.” Barkun, A Culture of Conspiracy, p.53.

[36] In Susan Stafford’s autobiography, Stop the Wheel, I Want to Get Off! (Xlibris, 2010) she recalls how privileged she felt to be on the advisory council of Tony Nassif’s Cedars Cultural and Educational Foundation –a group which Stafford points out focused on the problem of keeping the traditional family intact to protect against sex trafficking. (p.18) Later Stafford adds to her story the bizarre claim that “Nearly 800,000 children a year are reported missing in America.” (p.17) For a useful review of the far-rights obsessions with satanic panics and more recently with QAnon, see Ryan Milner, You Are Here: A Field Guide for Navigating Polarized Speech, Conspiracy Theories, and Our Polluted Media Landscape (MIT Press, 2021).

[37] Nestle, Food Politics, p.259. Another ‘health freedom’ program that attacked the FDA was Kevin Miller’s 1994 documentary “Let Truth Be the Bias” a film which was narrated by Earl Ray Jones. Following on from this documentary Miller had gone on to make a series of health-related films that bolstered similar far-right conspiracies, which includes the 2005 documentary “We Become Silent: The Last Days of Health Freedom” which was narrated by another celebrity, Dame Judi Dench. This latter documentary features all manner of conservative authors like Carolyn Dean (author of Death By Medicine) who apparently believes that 784,000 American die prematurely every year “due to modern medicine intervention”; with Dean following this statement by adding that she had “also found studies that said we are only capturing 5 to 20 percent of the actual deaths.” (4.22min onwards). Another talking head of note who features in “We Become Silent” is John Hammell, who is a member of Freedom Force International – a group that describes itself as “a network of men and women from all parts of the world who are concerned over loss of personal liberty and expansion of government power.” The founder of Freedom Force is the influential member of the John Birch Society, G. Edward Griffin (see Sean Easter, “Who is G. Edward Griffin, Beck’s expert on the Federal Reserve?,” Media Matters, March 26, 2011).

[38] Nestle, Food Politics, p.273; Jonathan Berman, Anti-vaxxers: How to Challenge a Misinformed Movement (MIT Press, 2020), p.169. Latest estimates suggest that globally the supplement sector could be worth around $278 billion a year by 2024.

[39] Hurley, Natural Causes, pp.102-3. The romanticization of natural ways of living extends far beyond medicinal remedies, and particularly since the early 1990s we can see a similar trend with conservative Christian activists like Dr. Sears sermonizing about the need for mothers to return to natural (and allegedly healthier) methods of childbirth and care provision. For more on this see Ornella Moscucci, “Holistic obstetrics: the origins of ‘natural childbirth’ in Britain,” BMJ Postgraduate Medical Journal, 79, 2003; Chris Bobel, The Paradox of Natural Mothering (Temple University Press, 2001); Emily Matchar, Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity (Simon & Schuster, 2013); and Alison Phipps, The Politics of the Body: Gender in a Neoliberal and Neoconservative Age (Wiley, 2014).

Oftentimes opposition to the medical establishment is linked to a rejection of mainstream education, both being topics that were popularized in the 1970s by the anti-establishment writings of Ivan Illich, author of Deschooling Society (1971) and Medical Nemesis (1975). Yet Illich’s radical critiques can just as easily serve the needs of the capitalist free-market as can be seen in the following socialist critiques of his work: Herbert Gintis, “Towards a political economy of education: A radical critique of Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society,” Harvard Educational Review, 42(1), 1972; and Vicente Navarro, “The industrialization of fetishism or the fetishism of industrialization: A critique of Ivan Illich,” Social Science & Medicine, 9(7), 1975. For a related discussion of the politics of homeschooling, see Heath Brown, “Steve Bannon hopes homeschooling moms will be his new shock troops,” The Daily Beast, September 14, 2021; and Brown’s book Homeschooling the Right: How Conservative Education Activism Erodes the State (Columbia University Press, 2021).

[40] James Harvey Young, “The development of the Office of Alternative Medicine in the National Institutes of Health, 1991-1996,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 72 (2), 1998, p.280. “Growing up poor in rural Iowa during the 1940s, Tom Harkin, a coal miner’s son, found little reason to put much faith in mainstream medicine. His mother, a Slovenian immigrant, died when Harkin was ten. His brother Frank became deaf at the age of nine. During the 1970s, while Harkin was serving as proudly liberal Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, two of his sisters died from breast cancer. So, in 1991, during his second term in the Senate, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone that when he was offered an unconventional treatment for his hay fever allergies, Harkin was willing to give it a try.” Hurley, Natural Causes, p.241.

Initial members of the Office of Alternative Medicine’s advisory panel included best-selling New Age authors Deepak Chopra and Bernie Siegel (who in 1986 was the author of the HarperCollins’ bestseller Love, Medicine & Miracles), not to mention Bedell and Wiewel. Harkin’s key lobbying role paid off when he was able to appoint four of the initial 18 members of the board overseeing the Office of Alternative Medicine, these being Berkley Bendell, Frank Wiewel (“the leader of a group called People Against Cancer, which arranged trips outside the United States for people seeking remedies, such a laetrile”), Ralph Moss (“who published People Against Cancer’s newsletter”), and Gar Hildenbrand (the executive director of the Gerson Institute, “which recommended, among other things, coffee enemas as a way to prevent and treat cancer”). Hurley, Natural Causes, p.243.

Max Gerson (1881-1959) was a Jewish, German-born American physician who developed the Gerson Therapy, a dietary-based alternative cancer treatment that he claimed could cure cancer and most chronic, degenerative diseases. As the fifth edition of the Gerson Therapy Handbook (Gerson Institute, 2013) noted, Max “considered that degenerative diseases were brought on by toxic, degraded food, water and air.” In the same paragraph the book makes the ridiculous statement that it “is rare to find cancer, arthritis, or other degenerative diseases in cultures considered ‘primitive’ by Western civilization.” (p.11)

Gerson therapy has received much positive publicity in recent years as a result of the film-making efforts of Steve Kroschel who has produced and directed four films about the treatment. These four documentaries are The Gerson Miracle (2004), Dying to have Known (2006), The Beautiful Truth (2008), and Heal for Free (2014), with the latter featuring all manner of other proponents of alternative medicine including Edgar Mitchell and Dr. Joseph Mercola. Another right-wing proponent of Gerson therapy is South African right-wing Christian evangelist, Peet Louw, who in 2004 established Christian Resource Network, a one-stop Christian DVD resource distribution and marketing company. Louw in addition to providing “godly”, “anti-Darwinian” onboard entertainment to the passengers of the long-haul bus operator Intercape, is the head of the South African branch of the National Health Federation. Craig McKune, “Bus company offers only ‘godly’ shows,” IOL News, July 24, 2009.

[41] A founding member of the advisory panel of the Office of Alternative Medicine, Barrie Cassileth, has since been highly critical of the Office, saying: “The degree to which nonsense has trickled down to every aspect of this office is astonishing… It’s the only place where opinions are counted as equal to data.” Young, “The development of the Office of Alternative Medicine in the National Institutes of Health, 1991-1996,” p.282. Eugenie Mielczarek and Brian Engler, “Measuring mythology: startling concepts in NCCAM grants,” Skeptical Inquirer, 36(1), January/February 2012; for an abridged version of this study see “Culling non-science from scarce medical resources.”

[42] George Zabrecky and Daniel Monti, “Thomas Jefferson University adds Department of Integrative Medicine and Nutritional Sciences,” Foundation for Alternative and Integrative Medicine, 2017. In the same year Bernie Marcus distributed a gift of $38 million (over five years) to the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora to enable them to establish an Institute for Brain Health that will integrate alternative medical approaches with genuine medical treatments.

[43] For a useful critique of Andrew Weil, see Hans A. Baer, “The work of Andrew Weil and Deepak Chopra – two holistic health/New Age Gurus: a critique of the holistic health/New Age movements,” Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 17(2), June 2003. Baer writes: “Like the larger holistic health movement, both Weil and Chopra engage in a rather limited holism in that they both focus largely on the individual rather than society and its institutions. Rather than encouraging people to become part of social movements that attempt to either reform or revolutionize society, they take the larger society as a given to which one must adjust “ (p.240) For other criticisms of Weil, see Arnold Relman, “A trip to Stonesville: Some notes on Andrew Weil,” The New Republic, December 14, 1998. It is noteworthy that his Weil Foundation, which was set up in 2005 to promote “integrative medicine,” includes on their board of trustees liberal members of the ruling-class like Adele Smith Simmons, the former president of the MacArthur Foundation. For another interesting discussion about philanthropy, see Orac, “Andrew Weil, the Coors Foundation, and Americans for Prosperity, or: “integrative medicine” isn’t just for hippy dippy lefties anymore,” Respectful Insolence blog, November 13, 2015.

[44] Other whacky funders of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine include Lynda Resnick, a lucrative purveyor of pomegranate juice (which she says cures cancer), and manufacturer of the less tasty pomegranate supplement pills. Until recently Resnick sat alongside David Koch on the board of directors of the Prostate Cancer Foundation, which had founded by the famous corporate criminal Michael Milken who, since his release from prison, has gone on to be the co-author of The Taste for Living Cookbook: Mike Milken’s Favorite Recipes for Fighting Cancer (1998). For more on Resnick and Milken’s anti-cancer activism, see Michael Barker, “Juicy cancer revelations: the POM queen’s secrets,” Swans Commentary, October 7, 2013.

[45] In 2017 Henry and Susan Samueli pledged a further $200 million to allow the construction of a new College of Health Sciences focused on the delivery of “interdisciplinary integrative health.”

[46] Dr. Dean Ornish has been celebrated by Forbes magazine as being “one of the seven most powerful teachers in the world,” and has been a physician consultant to Bill Clinton since 1993, serving alongside the former President on the advisory board of the exclusive elite retreat known as Renaissance Weekend. Dr. Ornish, who is the medical editor at the Huffington Post, which is an online outlet run by Arianna Huffington (a close friend of Lynda Resnick), whose content provides its very own microcosm of a snake oil salesman’s carnival wagon, a haven of quackery no less. Just a handful of the many well-known purveyors of nonsense (other than Dr. Ornish) whose new age wonders work grace Huffington Post’s digital netherworld include Ervin Laszlo (discussed earlier), Sandra Ingerman (author of such gems as Shamanic Journeying: A Beginner’s Guide), Dana Ullman (who is one of America’s leading advocates for homeopathy), and last but not least Deepak Chopra.

[47]Greedy Tea Party millionaire owns company that turns away cancer patients,” Teamster Nation Blog, March 6, 2013. In recent years Richard Stephenson divorced his longstanding wife and married a chiropractor (Dr. Stacie Stephenson).

[48] Steven Salzberg, “Making a profit from offering ineffective therapies to cancer patients,” Forbes, December 31, 2012. For a scathing criticism of Richard Stephenson’s business practices from one of his former employees, see “CTCA: The Cancer Treatment Charade of America? Profiting on alternative medicine,” Naturopathic Diaries, July 21, 2015.

[49] Amy Gardner, “FreedomWorks tea party group nearly falls apart in fight between old and new guard,” Washington Post, December 25, 2012.

[50] Bastyr University alumni Dr. Lise Alschuler actually served as the department head of naturopathic medicine at Midwestern Regional Medical Center – Cancer Treatment Centers of America; although she is presently employed at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. It is significant that the far-right spiritual movement headed by Rev. Sun Myung Moon also played an important role in building legitimacy for naturopathy. After bailing out the nearly bankrupt University of Bridgeport in 1992, Moon built upon Bridgeport’s already stellar commitment to pseudo-medicine, which in 1991 meant they had become the first US university to officially create a College of Chiropractic, by ensuring that his university established its very own school of Naturopathy (which was opened in 1996). Perry DeAngelis, “The cultiversity of Bridgeport,” The New England Skeptical Society, January 1997.

The comfortable alliance between right-wing activism and alternative medicine has historically speaking always been bolstered when mainstream medical organizations have been overzealous in their attacks on alternative practitioners. A suitable illustration here is provided in the instance of chiropractors, who received welcome publicity during the 1970s and 1980s when the juicy details of the American Medical Association’s (AMA) campaign against them were exposed in the media. This case arose when leaked internal documents from the AMA encouraged chiropractor Chester Wilk to file an anti-trust lawsuit against the AMA as early as 1976. Unfortunately, the lawsuit was only resolved in 1987 when the presiding judge ruled in Wilk’s favour, giving further fuel to the alternative medicine movements nearly completely fictitious claims to be oppressed by the establishment. Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst, Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial (Corgi, 2009), p.202, p.206. Singh and Ernst provide a critical overview of the mystical origins of chiropractic therapy, but conclude that the scientific evidence suggests that chiropractors are only worth seeing if you have a back problem: even then they offer sage advice on how to consult with a chiropractor, the most important advice being to make sure you are not treated by a fundamentalist chiropractor, that is those who believe every word of the mystical founder of chiropractic therapy, B.J. Palmer.

In Holly Folk’s book, The Religion of Chiropractic: Populist Healing from the American Heartland (University of North Carolina Press, 2017), the author provides a short but succinct overview of the politics of chiropractic practitioners. She surmises that: “The participation of chiropractors in radical groups seems to outstrip their natural distribution in the population. Chiropractors form a sizeable contingent of the Tea Party, and also of the Sovereignty and Tax Protest movements. And while the vast majority of chiropractors are not racists, a number of leaders of racist movements have been members of the profession. By far, the best-known chiropractor in the hate movement is Edward Reed Fields, co-founder and past president of the National States Rights Party, who studied at Palmer in the early 1950s. It is not clear whether Fields earned his diploma, unlike James Malcolm Edwards, who graduated from Palmer in 1951. In 1966 Edwards was named Grand Dragon of the United Klans of America for the State of Louisiana. Beyond the KKK, chiropractors have led other controversial movements. The notorious public-access television show Race and Reason was hosted by Florida chiropractor Herbert W. Poinsett. In the 1990s, Scott Anthony Stedeford studied chiropractic as he rose in the ranks of the Aryan Republican Army. More recently, South Carolina-based chiropractor William Carter, an associate of David Duke, has been a leader in the Populist Party and the Council of Concerned Citizens, and was one of the founders of the America First Party.” (p.263)

[51] Like other pharmaceutical companies, Metagenics doesn’t leave their financial fate to vagaries of the magical free-market, and they boost their bulging profits by employing skilled lobbyists to peddle their placebo treatments. One such lobbying outfit fronting for companies like Metagenics and Bristol-Myers Squibb is Walker Martin & Hatch, whose most significant founder and political operative is Scott Hatch, the son of Senator Orrin Hatch. Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, “Swallowing anything: The hype behind alternative remedies,” PR Watch, 4(3), 1997. For a useful overview of the longstanding relationship between profiteering and science, see Clifford Conner, The Tragedy of American Science: From Truman to Trump (Haymarket Books, 2020).

[52] Ben Goldacre, Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks (Faber and Faber,2010), pp.108-9.

[53] Goldacre, Bad Science, p.109.

[54] Michael Hiltzik, “Orrin Hatch is leaving the Senate, but his deadliest law will live on,” Los Angeles Times, January 5, 2018. Jerry Rubin (1938-1994), the counterculture icon who helped lead the Yippies, ended-up ditching his radical ambitions and spent his final years working as a supplement distributor for a pyramid scheme known as Omnitrition, which itself was founded by three former Herbalife distributors, see Daniel Akst, “Freedom is still Rubin’s motto,” Los Angeles Times, January 21, 1992.

[55] Hurley, Natural Causes, pp.210-1. Amway, the firm which pioneered Herbalife’s marketing strategy, maintains close links to the supplement industry as Michelle Stout, who serves as Amway’s current regulatory policy director (with a strong focus on the dietary/food supplement sector) is presently the chair of the International Alliance of Dietary Supplement Food Associations.

[56] Young, Medical Messiahs, p.340. For a useful review of Nutrilite’s exploits, see Swann, “The history of efforts to regulate dietary supplements in the USA.”

[57] In 1960, a thirty-nine-year-old activist for the National Health Federation named Charles Crecelius joined Amway and quickly rose through their ranks to serve on the company’s prestigious National Distributors Association Board. By 1965, Crecelius had then become the president of the National Health Federation and remained in leadership roles within the Federation well into the 1980s. Nevertheless, the relationship between Amway and the NHF were mutually reinforcing and when Crecelius was set the task of instigating a mass letter writing campaign to lobby the FDA, it was critical that he could draw upon the hundreds of thousands of struggling “distributors” involved in the type of multilevel supplement marketing schemes that were overseen by Amway. This point is well made in Charles Marshall’s, Vitamins and Minerals: Help or Harm? (George F. Stickley Company, 1983), p.17. Also see, Katherine Carroll, “Leadership lessons from a freedom pioneer,” National Health Federation, September 2015.

[58] Stephen Butterfield, Amway: The Cult of Free Enterprise (South End Press, 1985), p.2; also see Kathryn Jones, Amway Forever: The Amazing Story of a Global Business Phenomenon (John Wiley & Sons, 2011); and Kerry Lauerman and Rachel Burstein, “She did it Amway,” Mother Jones, September/October 1996.

[59] Butterfield, Amway, p.13.

[60] Davor Mondom, “Compassionate capitalism: Amway and the role of small-business conservatives in the New Right,” Modern American History, 1(3), 2018.

[61] Kshama Sawant, “‘The wealthy took their best shot at us, and we beat them. Again,’” Socialist Alternative, December 10, 2021.

Footnotes for “Conspiracies, Enemies, and Friends”

[1] David Miller is a regular contributor to Chris Williamson’s current affairs show, Palestine Declassified, a program that is hosted by Press TV – which is a conspiratorial propaganda outlet run by the Iranian regime. On October 9 Miller was one of two Al Mayadeen writers featured on Williamson’s show discussing the uprising in Iran (see “Israel and Mahsa Amini deception”). Another commentator who has recently starred on Press TV to discuss the CIA’s role in Iran is the senior editor of the right-wing anti-semitic media outlet Veterans Today (see clips here: “Riots in Iran: Another CIA coup attempt?” as featured on Press TV’s Spotlight show on October 3).

[2] Jeremy Kuzmarov is the author of four books that scrutinize various aspects of US power. In the acknowledgements section of his most recent book, Obama’s Unending Wars: Fronting the Foreign Policy of the Permanent Warfare State (Clarity Press, 2019), Kuzmarov thanks “Peter Dale Scott, the guru of deep politics who advised a young graduate student to ‘read everything’ with a critical but open mind no matter what the background or viewpoint of the author.” This is fine advice, but it appears that in contrast to the good analysis presented in his first two books, Kuzmarov is not just reading everything, but is also incorporating knowledge gained from extremely unreliable sources which he does when he accuses the NED of funding Uyghur terrorist groups in China. Authors he quotes to back up this claim include a book written by the far-right conspiracist Webster Griffin Tarpley titled Obama: The Post-Modern Coup (Progressive Press, 2008), and conspiratorial articles authored by Tony Cartalucci and Wayne Madsen. Another right-wing NED-obsessive who Kuzmarov cites regularly throughout his Obama book is F. William Engdahl and his deeply paranoid book Target China: How Washington and Wall Street Plan to Cage the Asian Dragon (Progressive Press, 2014). Among the bizarre accusations made in Target China are that AIDS is not real and that Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution was “planned in Washington” by the likes of the NED — apparently in the same way that the CIA orchestrated the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

Here it is important to highlight that in Kuzmarov’s generally well-received third book, Russians Are Coming, Again: The First Cold War as Tragedy, the Second as Farce (Monthly Review Press, 2018) while the book does provide much useful analysis it has major shortcomings. Thus, in the opening chapter, Kuzmarov promotes the overstated regime change arguments held by the once well-respected journalist Robert Parry. Thus, Kuzmarov writes: “Robert Parry of Consortium News suggests that the broad demonization of Putin has set the groundwork for a potential ‘regime change’ and program of isolation designed to punish Putin for blocking American machinations in Syria and Iran and to ensure control over the Eurasian heartland. The first phase of this plan was the [2014] Ukraine coup where Victoria Nuland ‘was caught on an unsecure phone line telling U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt’ how they ‘would “midwife” a change in government that would put Nuland’s choice . . . in power.’” (pp.30-1) In an earlier dissection of such confusing NED-related narratives (see “Misreporting Ukraine: The scourge of conspiracies) I explained how, “The substitution of such conspiratorial nonsense as a progressive alternative to the even more nonsensical output of the mainstream media is inexcusable.”

[3] Abrahamian concludes his book, The Coup: 1953, the CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations (New Press, 2013) by suggesting: “The paranoid style [of the Iranian regime] reached a new peak in 2009. When more than two million took to the streets to protest the rigging of the presidential elections, the regime’s automatic reaction was to hold show trials and accuse opposition leaders of plotting a ‘velvet revolution’ in the style of the ‘colored’ ones that had recently swept through Eastern Europe. They were accused of working in cahoots not only with the CIA and MI6 but also with an elaborate international web, including the BBC, the Voice of America, Columbia University, Harvard University, the Hoover Institution, the Ford Foundation, PEN, Freedom House, Chatham House, the Council on Foreign Relations, and, of course, the omnipresent and ominous Soros Foundation.”

[4] Abrahamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions, p.322. Following the Tudeh’s Second Party Congress (which was held in April 1948), it is worth noting that despite the communists’ huge successes in building upon growing working-class militancy the Tudeh now “worked to form a broad alliance of antiroyalist forces and to regain the freedom to create mass organizations, especially trade unions. Thus they espoused support for liberal democracy in general and for the Iranian constitution in particular. They stressed that the CCFTU [Central Council of United Trade Unions] was a nonpolitical organization separate from the Tudeh. And they shunned street demonstrations, industrial strikes, and other direct confrontations with the state.” (Abrahamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions, p.315)

The following year the Tudeh Party then moved to embrace their ultra-left policies which put them in opposition to Mosaddegh’s efforts to nationalize their country’s oil industry. Reflecting upon this political failure some years later, a leading communist who was active during this time (Iraj Iskandari) explained how: “During the struggle for the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry we did not support Mossadeq, who undoubtedly represented the interests of the national bourgeoisie. We thought along these lines: Mossadeq is fighting for the nationalization of Iranian oil, but the American imperialists are backing his movement, which means that they are guiding it. And so we drew the incorrect conclusion that the communists should not support the nationalist movement.” Iraj Iskandari, “What do we mean by the national bourgeoisie?”, World Marxist Review, September 1959, quoted in Abrahamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions, p.323.

[5] In the dark years between 1953 and 1979, the shah was backed to the hilt by his ruling-class admirers in the West, while the Tudeh Party, informed by dictates from their ultimate political masters in the Soviet Union, dropped any ambitions of overthrowing the shah. It is important to note that the shah’s regime had “systematically destroyed all secular opposition parties. Whereas the clergy were permitted to go to the poor, the opposition parties were constantly prevented from establishing any form of labor unions, local clubs, or neighborhood organizations. Twenty-five years of repression placed a heavy handicap on the secular opposition.” Abrahamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions, p.536.

[6] Abrahamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions, p.505, p.508, p.523. It was only at this late stage of the revolutionary struggle that Western intelligence agencies were belatedly reporting to Washington that the shah’s days were now coming to an end. As Abrahamian wrote:foreign intelligence agencies now explained that “the shah could not possibly survive, and that the West could work with Khomeini, since the latter was deeply anticommunist in general and anti-Russian in particular. For his part, Khomeini began a propaganda campaign against the left. He claimed that the Tudeh was cooperating with the shah, accused Marxists of wanting to stab Muslims in the back, and denounced Russia as a greedy superpower. He also declared that once the shah was overthrown Iran would become a reliable oil supplier to the West, would not ally with the East, and would be willing to have friendly relations with the United States.” (p.524)

[7] Abrahamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions, pp.531-2. “On January 27-28 [1979], twenty-eight people were killed in Tehran protesting the closure of the airport to prevent Khomeini’s return. And on February 1, some three million turned out into the streets of Tehran to hail Khomeini’s triumphant return. Khomeini, the prophet and strategist of the revolution, had come home to take personal command of his revolution.” (p.526)

[8] Abrahamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions, p.532. In another telling twist, the Tudeh party, “which for thirty-eight years had opposed armed adventures, changed policy in mid-January 1979.” (p.528)

[9] Tariq Ali, The Clash of Fundamentalisms (Verso, 2002), p.130. Ali had been active in the Fourth International between 1968 and 1981. For internal criticism of the leadership of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International in Iran, see Saber Nikbeen’s 1983 document “Revolution and counter-revolution in Iran: A Marxist view.”

“[A]mong the foreign Left scholars who sympathized not just with the Iranian Revolution but with Islamic discourse and the anti-imperialist, anti-systemic or post-modernist character of the new regime were Michel Foucault, Ernest Mandel, Immanuel Wallerstein, Nikki Keddie, Eqbal Ahmad, and Anouar Abdel-Malek.” Val Moghadam, “Socialism or anti-imperialism? The Left and Revolution in Iran,” New Left Review, November/December 1987. For a more detailed discussion of the Left’s shortcoming, see Azar Tabari and Nahid Yeganeh’s In the Shadow of Islam: The Women’s Movement in Iran (Zed Press, 1982); and also see Peyman Vahabzadeh’s review of Ali Rahnema’s book, Call to Arms: Iran’s Marxist Revolutionaries (OneWorld, 2021); and my chapter “Black power philanthropy” in The Givers That Take (2021).

[10] In another article published by the Militant in July 1979, Bob Labi added: “Not one of the main ‘left’ organisations were prepared or able to give a socialist lead [to the revolutionary uprising]. The Tudeh (‘Communist’) party trailed behind Khomeini, urging him to join with them in a ’United Popular Front‘. The ’Marxist’ guerrilla group, the Fedayeen-e-Khalq, while putting forward general ‘leftist’ slogans did not advance any rounded out socialist programme and petitioned Bazargan for a place in his capitalist government! The Islamic based Mojaheddin guerrilla leader Massoud Rajavi went further when he said that ‘ownership by industrialists faithful to the nation was in no danger’. In reality, the policies of all these groups have trailed behind the masses demands, which have forced Khomeini to go further than any of these tendencies called for after the old regime’s collapse.” Bob Labi, “Iran: New stage in the Revolution,” Militant International Review, July 1979.

Written in the heat of the struggle, Ted Grant’s February 1979 article still maintained a hope that any Islamic government that came to power would be short-lived, a point made when he wrote: “Support for Khomeini will melt away after he forms a government.” But this proved to be false, and shortly after assuming power Iran was dragged into the devastating Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) that the new Islamic regime was able to use to consolidate its grip on state power. On the roots of this new war, Tariq Ali explained: “The West had not favoured a direct military intervention, but it was irritated by the destabilising effects of the Tehran regime. It turned to an unfriendly neighbour. Saddam Hussein was regarded as a semi-reliable relay in a volatile region. Internally he had helped to wipe out the Iraqi Communist Party and marginalised the more radical elements in the Ba’ath. He was happy to talk business with the United States and Britain. Since the fall of the shah, he had begun to receive most-favoured-nation treatment from Washington and London.” The Clash of Fundamentalisms, p.138.

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

Introduction

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,” Venezuelanalysis.com, 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.