Book Review: Under the Mask of Philanthropy

The following review, authored by Professor Joan Roelofs, was published in the November 2017 issue of the journal Socialism and Democracy (Volume 33, Issue 3, pp.160-4). I don’t agree with all of Professor Roelofs representations of my arguments, but I am still happy that my book has received a positive review.

Book review

Michael Barker’s Under the Mask of Philanthropy is one of the very rare extensive critiques of the “nonprofit sector” from a left perspective. Marx and Engels, in The Communist Manifesto, derided “bourgeois socialists”:

A part of the bourgeoisie is desirous of redressing social grievances in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society.

To this section belong economists, philanthropists, humanitarians, improvers of the condition of the working class, organisers of charity, members of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, temperance fanatics, hole-and-corner reformers of every imaginable kind.

How should we today characterize philanthropy’s relationship to socialism?

There is broad agreement that conservative philanthropists have conservative and often, reactionary aims. However, Barker argues that liberal philanthropy has mystified its role in co-opting those trying to promote anti-capitalist thought and action: “The overarching purpose of liberal philanthropists … is to sustain corporate profits and legitimise the capitalist status quo, not to promote global peace and human emancipation” (28).

Barker opted out of academia just before receiving his PhD and is now a socialist activist in his place of origin, England. His enormous book is a compilation of his recently published articles, 42 chapters of them. His footnotes and citations are extensive; unfortunately, an index is missing. The book is more like an encyclopedia than a monograph, yet it is useful, important, and often fascinating.

The pivot of his research is the work of the largest liberal foundations: Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Sage, Gates, Soros’ Open Society Institutes, and others. The evidence for his argument is their relationship with their grantees and advisees: progressive organizations (some created by the foundations), reform movements, policy institutes, university projects, and networks. The latter may be in the guise of councils, task forces, committees, or stakeholders. Mainstream social science often claims that networks are non-hierarchical structures appropriate to our current “egalitarian” [sic] world, but the outcomes of most deliberations attest to the power of elites. Some of the networks Barker examines are the General Education Board, the War-Peace Study Group of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Environmental Grantmakers Association, the Freeze Campaign, and the Social Science Research Council.

Barker reminds us that philanthropy critique has a history. The Walsh Commission (1915) was a Congressional investigation, primarily of the Rockefeller family, which was creating its philanthropic foundation at the time. Public opinion in that Progressive era generally assumed that the foundation’s main purpose was to improve the Rockefellers’ public relations in the wake of the Ludlow Massacre. Frank Walsh, a Progressive, led the inquiry and concluded that the Rockefeller family wanted to preserve its wealth and power by “subsidizing all agencies that make for social change and progress,” although it would be more philanthropic to treat their workers more fairly.

Horace Coon’s Money to Burn (1938) revealed that military contractors provided major support for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Robert Allen’s Black Awakening in Capitalist America (1990) reported the philanthropic co-optation of the civil rights movement, with the Ford Foundation in the lead. A major contribution to these critiques (now taboo for ad hominem reasons) was David Horowitz’s series in Ramparts, “Sinews of Empire” (1969). Barker also mentions the works of Robert Arnove, editor and contributor of Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism (1980), and Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (2003).

Other valuable histories in the book describe the role of foundations in creating the World Bank, Planned Parenthood, the Conservation Foundation, the eugenics movement, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Green Revolution. The liberal foundations, which didn’t consider US aggression and militarization as “problems” that need their fixing, shepherded major elements of the 1960s anti-war movement first into an “anti-nuke” and then into an “anti-testing” campaign. The foundation-funded SANE protest was muted when the focus shifted to fallout, because underground testing was then initiated. Nuclear weapons themselves receded as “targets.”

Radicals who regard the civil rights movement as a model for achieving social change despite entrenched attitudes might consider Barker’s evidence that the foundations channeled and co-opted the movement to remove its original challenge to business as usual. Barker describes the important role that business corporations also played in the civil rights struggle, and relevant to our present crises, among them the military contractors. For example, Lockheed was a sponsor of the United Negro College Fund and a major supporter of the NAACP. Military contractor philanthropy has been particularly generous to all minority organizations, providing not only donations but also joint programs with Native American, Black, Hispanic, and women’s organizations. In some cases, “grassroots” organizations were created by foundations, well funded in order to draw people away from financially struggling genuine grassroots movements.

Barker devotes several chapters to the role of foundations in South Africa; the African National Congress Freedom Charter’s commitment to socialism had to be suppressed (Barker claims it wasn’t socialist to begin with, but I disagree). The methods used repeated the co-optation of the US civil rights movement, with an emphasis on individual rights, black capitalism, and lavish rewards for cooperative leaders. Elements of this model have been employed in the “NGOization” of the world; Barker gives examples from Latin America, Indonesia, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere.

One reason why so much of this history is unknown is that “Given the massive power liberal foundations have welded [sic] over academia it is perhaps not too surprising that discussing their corrosive influence is a taboo subject within academia” (366). There is no career advantage in looking too closely at philanthropy.

Also contributing to obscuring history is foundation funding of alternative media, such as: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Center for Investigative Reporting, Center for Public Integrity, Democracy Now!, Media Channel, Free Press, Center for International Media Action, and the Independent Press Association (330). We rarely read or hear critical reports of liberal foundations and nonprofit organizations (from either the mainstream or alternative press) unless there has been a financial scandal, outrageous CEO pay, or a lawsuit. Investigating their barriers to badly needed social change or even democracy itself is not considered important news. Yet these institutions form an enormous part of our political, social, economic, and cultural life (and increasingly throughout the world), at the expense of traditional political parties and other popular forms of civil association.

So what is to be done? Barker argues that:

[W]orking within conventional universities only serves to legitimatize the status quo. … [Critical scholars] may need to move to these harsh edges and reject their comfortable lives within the neoliberal ideological factories that we presently call universities. (383)

This prompts the question: is there anywhere in academia where radical researchers can survive while making useful contributions to the cause? Furthermore, Barker maintains that progressive activists must “work to dissociate their progressive activism from liberal foundations … and create sustainable democratic revenue streams to enable their work to continue” (512).

His solution is not very practical. It is not so easy today to find adequate funds, as costly “professional” publication, facilitation, and communications are needed to legitimate organizations. At the same time, the tax code limits or discourages “funding the revolution.” Even when funds have been available from radical foundations seeking to promote anti-capitalist organizations, the results have not been promising. It is hard to find anti-capitalist organizations, and nonprofits cannot legally fund political parties (at least not in the US). Consequently, radical foundations, e.g., Haymarket Peoples Fund and Resist, support progressive groups and further “identity politics.” These initiatives have often increased the power, rights, and well-being of working class people and oppressed minorities. Yet beneficent reforms do not seem to lead to radical change. This is similar to the experience of the British Fabian socialists, who hoped that “gradualism” would lead to the abolition of capitalism, but that wasn’t in the stars.

Barker’s work prompts the vital question: how to bring about radical social change, which is desperately needed. Our capitalist nations are not only failing materially (supposedly their strong point) but they are breeding chaos, declining health, suicide, and addiction. They are also leading the world toward extinction from environmental or nuclear disaster.

The power of foundations to block major change arises not only from their elite networks holding top positions in politics, economy, cultural institutions, and progressive organizations, but also from their ability to shape the political ideologies of most citizens – the common wisdom – that Gramsci described as hegemony. What has been done, despite all this, may give us clues to what can be done.

For help in finding the way and avoiding the dead-ends, Under the Mask of Philanthropy is an important guide for activists and radical scholars. Barker’s research is ongoing and more may be found at


Trump’s Opportunist Non-Profit Tax Attacks

Donald Trump is no anomaly, he is a creature of our tumultuous times — a man on a dangerous mission who seeks to plunder the many to enrich the few. Trump’s new tax cuts in his own hollow words “will be the biggest in the history of our country!” neatly side-lining the small matter that around two-thirds of his £2.4 trillion of proposed cuts will line the pockets of the 1%.

The rift between the super-rich and working-class America is now colossal. And all the better to consolidate the gaping gap between the haves and have-nots. In a twisted response to soaring corporate profits, Republicans are now vying to slash corporation tax from 35% to 20%.

Ever the populist, Trump stands alongside the majority of Americans in opposing the extent of this corporate giveaway, but, as always, for all the wrong reasons. Trump in fact has high hopes that corporation tax can be reduced further still to just 15%!

trump tax

Thus now more than ever Americans will be required to redouble their already magnificent contributions towards fighting to either impeach Trump, or force him from office. Needless to say, this will require a renewed commitment to grassroots organizing that bypasses the misleadership of the Democratic Party and builds a mass movement on the streets that politicians of all stripes can no longer ignore.

Like every demagogue that has gone before him, Trump needs implacable allegedly all-powerful enemies that he can oppress on behalf of the people, and the non-profit sector serves exactly this purpose for Trump.

In fact Trump’s paranoid attacks on the philanthropic/non-profit sector are very much in keeping with Trump’s ultraconservative forerunners, and he openly draws political inspiration from the playbook of Robert Welch, the infamous founder of the John Birch Society. Professor Terry Lautz, author of John Birch: A Life (Oxford University Press, 2016) accurately puts it this way:

“Trump has tapped into alienation and anxiety about rapid social change. He uses conspiracy theories and bogus information to provoke and disrupt. His supporters, who harbor a distrust for government and fear of foreign entanglements, are willing to look beyond his inflammatory rhetoric. And like members of the Birch Society, they believe that their individual rights are threatened, the federal government needs to be curtailed, and international agreements cannot be trusted.”

Now in the latest Trumpian tax-related revelations, David Callahan, the author of numerous book-length apologies for elite philanthropy, highlights howRepublicans in Congress are advancing tax proposals that would lower charitable giving by billions of dollars and deal a major blow to the nonprofit sector.” (“Why is Donald Trump launching a withering attack on nonprofits?The Guardian, November 20, 2017.)

This move actually “isn’t so surprising,” Callahan says, as “Trumpist culture warriors have cast nonprofits and philanthropists as key villains in a narrative that pits coastal elites against the common (white) man.”

He goes on to add that Trump’s ire is particularly focused on perennial enemies of the far-right like the Clinton Foundation, which as Callahan points out, still “remains at the center of feverish conspiracy theories.” But the only genuine conspiracies that really matter in this regard revolve around how such liberal foundations have actively coopted working class struggles to maintain and deepen an international capitalist system favoring its interests; and how socialist alternatives to capitalism have been repressed and maligned throughout history by both the Democrat’s and the Birchite right.

Callahan, to be thankful for small mercies, does at least seem to be vaguely aware of the reasoning behind Trump’s populist attacks on the Democrat-dominated non-profit sector, as he admits that elite philanthropy “deserves new scrutiny.” “It’s an opaque sector that’s become more dominated by super-wealthy donors who do, in fact, largely live on both coasts and often hold different views from those of most Americans.”

All true. But rather than use his critical words to demand the overhaul of America’s economic system – a system that is so thoroughly bankrupt that the public is forced to rely upon charity and elite ‘hand-outs’ from paradise island tax dodgers to merely scrape by — Callahan simply pleads for “thoughtful reform” and “strong champions in both” of the parties that continue to represent the billionaire-class.

This worse than useless counsel however isn’t so surprising considering that Callahan himself plumped for Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders in the tragically (but unsurprisingly) rigged Democratic primary race.

Furthermore, in much the same way it shouldn’t be so surprising that after decades of misery and lies, that so many people would opt out of voting altogether when the ‘choice’ presented to them was Clinton or worse. Or that those who did partake in the presidential farce would prefer to try their luck with a new liar rather than one who had already been tried-tested-and failed.

American’s, like ordinary working-class people all over the world, are searching for new solutions to their old problems. Trump has already proved himself unwilling to side with the millions against the millionaires and we must collectively make sure that Trump and his ruling-class brethren are dumped at the earliest possible opportunity.

Robert Arnove and Under the Mask of Philanthropy

“Michael Barker’s Under the Mask of Philanthropy brilliantly illuminates how the various mechanisms of the ruling class have coopted working class struggles to maintain and deepen an international capitalist system favoring its interests. The book’s various chapters examine in detail specific policies, such as the eugenics movements and its various offshoots, locally and globally, while illustrating how powerful philanthropic foundations manufacture consent and quell dissent –thereby perpetuating various forms of imperialism. The overarching framework of Masking is conceptually rich and pragmatically realistic. A major lesson derived from Barker’ meticulous research is that if radical social change is to take place, it must necessarily be the result of the efforts of progressive grassroots movements, such as Black Lives Matter, joining forces transnationally. It is an honor for me to add my name to those endorsing this significant contribution to critical scholarship and activism.” — Professor Robert Arnove, author of Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism

robert arnove

The Fiction of Kurt Andersen’s Fantasyland

The following article was published by Counterpunch on October 20, 2017.

Kurt Andersen is the author of the “instant best-selling” book Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire—A 500-Year History (Random House, 2017) – a problematic volume which deserved the more suitable subtitle Why America’s Elites Can’t Think! This much is clear from reading Andersen’s 13,000 word essay (as adapted from Fantasyland) that was featured in the September issue of The Atlantic. Providing an intriguing overview of the leading proponents of magical-thinking (i.e., believing in UFOs, superstitions, miracles, etc) over the past half century, this subject matter, as interpreted through Andersen’s factually-troubled article, has been given its very own fantastic twist. Blame for widespread irrationality apparently rests with the delusions of the working-class majority, not with the powerful elites who have actively reaped the benefits from sowing seeds of confusion. As Andersen bluntly puts it, perhaps two thirds of Americans are now so hopelessly lost that “the solidly reality-based” citizens are now just a minority… “maybe a third of us…” This classic case of victim-blaming dovetails with Andersen’s electoral fantasies. Thus, in the recent faceoff between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, he arrived at the wrongheaded conclusion that the only realistic choice for the people of America was to plump for the Wall Street Democrat, Hillary, a serial liar and warmonger to boot!?


So when Andersen repeatedly refers to “we Americans,” I can only imagine that what he is really referring to are fellow liberal elites who, like their right-wing counterparts, have no faith in the working-class to make democratic decisions about America’s future. As he explains “we Americans have given ourselves over to all kinds of magical thinking, anything-goes relativism, and belief in fanciful explanation—small and large fantasies that console or thrill or terrify us.” Too right as far as the elites are concerned. And there is nothing more feared by libertarian or liberal elites than the prospect of the collective and democratic empowerment of ordinary people. This is precisely why this class-based aspect of history remains marginalized by Andersen and his undemocratic cohort of pessimists who peddle their toxic wares in the mainstream media.

Like the many conspiracy theorists that he so despises, Andersen is mostly wrong… and right only occasionally. For instance, he seems to stumble over the truth when he lays blame for the current state of affairs at the doorstep of mainstream institutions including the “media, academia, government, corporate America, professional associations, respectable opinion in the aggregate”. These institutions have, as he points out, “enabled and encouraged every species of fantasy over the past few decades.”[1] But rather than being a problem of recent pedigree, such institutional elite commitments to fantasy far predates the last few decades. It is a problem that is umbilically-connected to capitalism and its perpetual need to place profit before human need. Thus, contrary to Andersen’s rose-tinted view of history, capitalist institutions have never had any principled dedication to keeping the public well-informed about anything much except the righteousness of the political system.

The Descent to Fantasy

Somewhat arbitrarily the befuddled author in question, rather than focus his full rage against mainstream institutions, traces the “descent into full Fantasyland” to two “momentous changes.” One, he says, was the onset of the new era of information” that allowed ordinary people to have easy access to new narratives of social change that had previously been excluded from the liberal media. And secondly, that there was “a profound shift in thinking that swelled up in the ’60s” that led many people to start doing their own thing – his problem being that people started to explore political and social alternatives to the deadening confines of a consumer society. But here, should I be accused of wilfully misrepresenting Andersen’s deep-seated anxieties, he says that he has no regrets regarding “the ways the ’60s permanently reordered American society and culture”; “just that along with the familiar benefits,” there have also “been unreckoned costs.”

Attacking the publics’ ability to think comes easily to Andersen, but again, almost in passing he reiterates that fantasy-thinking has always found a welcome home within elite networks which have incubated all manner of idiocies before serving them up to the public. Andersen states that on the forefront of the evolution of such nonsense in the recent period was the Esalen Institute which had been formed in 1962 by a pair of wealthy Stanford graduates. Esalen as it turned out became something of “a pilgrimage center for hundreds and thousands of youth interested in some sense of transcendence, breakthrough consciousness, LSD, the sexual revolution, encounter, being sensitive, finding your body, [and] yoga”.

As Andersen surmises, this group’s impact on the spread of New Age modalities has been huge: “Esalen is a mother church of a new American religion for people who think they don’t like churches or religions but who still want to believe in the supernatural.” But while it is true that one should recognize the detrimental influence of Esalen on rational thinking, the individualist spiritual ideas peddled therein had been doing the rounds for decades – as exemplified by the popular spiritual cult that was theosophy. Nevertheless, all manner of supernatural and anti-socialist ideas were certainly thrown into the melting pot of ideas at this new institute, producing irrational fads which were soon consumed and popularized by middle-class drop-outs like for instance Harvard psychology lecturer Timothy Leary. Indeed, much like the utopian socialists of the nineteenth century, many of these well-funded social experimenters then set about the task of building small communities of resistance in the belly of an inhumane society. The limited ambitions of these budding utopians however stand in stark contrast to the determined social projects embarked upon by socialists like the Black Panthers who during the same period sought to build mass based movements for social change along class lines.

The Postmodern Fantasy Machine

Providing useful context for understanding the renewed interest in mysticism, Andersen is correct in stating that such developments were “understandable, given the times: colonialism ending, genocide of American Indians confessed, U.S. wars in the developing world.” Yet as he goes on to explain, in their keenness to reject all that capitalist society had bequeathed them, spiritual seekers at Esalen and elsewhere went awry when they combined their social experiments for change with frontal attacks on the legacy of the Enlightenment and the core tenets of the scientific process itself.

Thriving in this irrational milieu, anti-socialist intellectuals then took their cue from the mainstream to hype the emerging New Age. Andersen points towards influential books like professor Theodore Roszak’s The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition (1969), and Yale Law School professor Charles Reich’s The Greening of America (1970). Both books were well-publicized by elite media outlets and Reich’s bible soon “became The New York Times’ best-selling book (as well as a much-read 70-page New Yorker excerpt), and remained on the list for most of a year.”

Here Andersen once again emphasizes the backward role play by elite institutions, noting how in the 70s “mainstream publishers and media organizations were falling over themselves to promote and sell fantasies as nonfiction.” One good example is The Secret Life of Plants (1970) which wasa big best seller arguing that plants were sentient” which Andersen notes made the outlandish claim that this new truth about plants was being “suppressed by the FDA and agribusiness.” Other similarly ludicrous books mentioned by Andersen included Uri Geller’s 1975 autobiography, and Life After Life (1975) by Raymond Moody, the latter being “a philosophy Ph.D. who presented the anecdotes of several dozen people who’d nearly died as evidence of an afterlife” and whose “book sold many millions of copies”.

class struggle

In addition to these developing fads, Andersen observes how “During the ’60s, large swaths of academia made a turn away from reason and rationalism as they’d been understood.” This was most pronounced in that area of intellectual enquiry now commonly referred to as postmodernism. Early leading lights in this field, as highlighted by Andersen, included the French philosopher Michel Foucault — a man whose “suspicion of reason became deeply and widely embedded in American academia.” Andersen continues: “Ever since, the American right has insistently decried the spread of relativism, the idea that nothing is any more correct or true than anything else.” This may be true, but Andersen neglects to mention that the relativist proponents of post-modernism have always faced vocal opposition from socialists (and particularly Marxists), i.e., those people who are serious about organizing and not just theorizing about ending oppression.

By contrast, ever content to muddy the intellectual waters of history, conservatives continue to promote the lie that an authoritarian clique of cultural Marxists control and dominate America’s academic institutions with relativist mumbo jumbo. However, those on the Left continue to oppose both the conservatives and all irrational philosophical turns precisely because they recognise the threat posed by such intrigues to the future of democracy. Andersen partially comprehends this danger, writing that when this relativist groundswell eventually “flowed out across America” “it helped enable” the spread of “extreme Christianities and lunacies on the right—gun-rights hysteria, black-helicopter conspiracism, climate-change denial, and more.” More to the point he adds:

“The term useful idiot was originally deployed to accuse liberals of serving the interests of true believers further on the left. In this instance, however, postmodern intellectuals—post-positivists, poststructuralists, social constructivists, post-empiricists, epistemic relativists, cognitive relativists, descriptive relativists—turned out to be useful idiots most consequentially for the American right.”

Attacking the Left and Right

Keen to badmouth both socialists and conservatives, Andersen contrasts what he calls the “zealots on the left” with the moderate left. He was apparently particularly taken by the “sweet and reasonable” founding manifesto that was drafted in 1962 by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which Andersen holds in esteem because, he states, they declared themselves “in basic opposition to the communist system.” To be polite to Andersen, this is a fairly mechanistic appreciation of the founding of SDS, as a good case can be made that it was the powerful lobbying efforts undertaken by liberal civil rights activists like Bayard Rustin that were most responsible for convincing SDS to adopt his own fierce opposition to communism. In later years Rustin was not as successful in foisting his views upon other young activists, as he failed to get the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to moderate their constitution to include a formal commitment to anti-communism, while SDS themselves had no qualms about working alongside the far-left.[2]

Returning to Andersen’s left-wing zealots, it turns out that the group that he had to the fore of his mind when making this point was the terrorist group Weather Underground — the tiny successor organization to the SDS. Having set up his own crude caricature of what constituted left-wing politics, Andersen then adds that the right-wing had become “unhinged” as well. He explains how leading agencies of the State (including the police, the FBI and the CIA) began to “to spy on, infiltrate, and besmirch” organizations on the left which he said “thereby validated the preexisting paranoia on the new left and encouraged its wing nuts’ revolutionary delusions.” But on the issue of repression this is an understatement to say the least as State agencies went far beyond merely besmirching the left, they also helps others to firebomb their offices and murdered their leaders. A prominent example of the latter took place on December 4, 1969 when the police slaughtered two leaders of the Black Panther Party, a group which had been successfully working alongside many others on the left including the SDS. We should also recall just one of the many other reasons why the left might have been feeling paranoid in the 1960s. For instance, the US government gave vital aid to Indonesia’s Suharto dictatorship that upon assuming power in 1965 proceeded to murder hundreds of thousands of “left-wing zealots”!

Having ostensibly established the unhinged nature of left-wing politics, Andersen then draws attention to the far-right conspiracies of the John Birch Society — an organization that had been founded in 1958 and is truly deserving of the unhinged descriptor. Andersen, however, fails to see the connection between the exceptionally paranoid anti-communism of the Birchers and the ingrained anti-communism of liberals like himself, or of the Cold War liberals of the past. It was, after all, the fear of the influence of the Marxist left upon the working-class that had led liberals to lay the groundwork for the McCarthyite excesses that followed. Cold War liberals threw fuel on the fires on conspiracism that were raised to new levels by demagogic groups like the John Birch Society who went on to denounce both Republican and Democratic presidential Cabinets as including “conscious, deliberate, dedicated agent[s] of the Soviet conspiracy”.

Although Andersen states that “Delusional conspiracism wouldn’t spread quite as widely or as deeply on the left,” he remains astounded that “more and more people on both sides would come to believe that an extraordinarily powerful cabal—international organizations and think tanks and big businesses and politicians—secretly ran America.” But what Andersen is describing here is not really a conspiracy at all, it is capitalism at its most effective. An “extraordinarily powerful cabal” – that is, the ruling-class – do run America as best they can, but they definitely don’t do it secretly. Their profit-driven actions only appear to be hatched in secrecy because of the mainstream media’s ongoing failure to accurately report on the exploitation of the global working-class; and much like Andersen, the media continue to downplay or ignore any successful efforts to resist their misrule. Nevertheless, Andersen is correct that “real life made such stories plausible.” And although he primarily faults the far-right for this confusion, he feels compelled to reiterate his critique of the left by stating: “the belief that the federal government had secret plans to open detention camps for dissidents sprouted in the ’70s on the paranoid left before it became a fixture on the right.” Yet this troublesome concern should hardly be surprising, as in 1973 the US government openly backed the rise of the dictatorship in Chile where vast detention camps had been openly employed to devastating effects against democratic activists on the left. (Here a powerful early film that warned against the potential persecution of left-wing activists in America was the 1971 mockumentary Punishment Park.)

Ruling Class Delusions

Of course, in spite of his disdain with the so-called irrationality of the majority of citizens, who, as he puts it inhabit a “post-factual America,” Andersen repeats again (with little emphasis) that elite forces in society have nurtured America’s interest in conspiracies. Specifically, he draws attention to the international best-selling book Chariots of the Gods? which was written by the “convicted thief and embezzler” Erich Von Däniken – a book that describes how extraterrestrials apparently seeded life on Earth. Andersen then explains how the subsequent spin-off documentary “had a huge box-office take in 1970” and was only topped when NBC “aired an hour-long version of the documentary in prime time.” This was all part and parcel of the disempowering media milieu that titillated both the liberal left and the far-right but was categorically rebuked as a dangerous distraction by the socialist left. As always, the upper-class strata within society, whether they be in the corporate world or at the top of the CIA, were particularly enamoured by such irrationalities, and “In the ’70s, the CIA and Army intelligence set up their infamous Project Star Gate to see whether they could conduct espionage by means of ESP.”

The persistence of grand delusions and magical thinking within ruling elites is of course nothing new, and in many ways such fantasies have been a mainstay of American history. But amongst the broader public a good case can be made that the flight to fantasy tends to ebb and flow depending upon the tempo of working-class struggles. During times of vigorous and successful grassroots organizing one might expect to observe a decline in supernatural thinking, while during periods of intense repression and political defeat the intrigues boosted by the “fantasy-industrial complex” are able to rise to the fore. These problems are further exacerbated by a corporate media environment that serves to confuse and befuddle the public, all the better to allow corporate elites and their shareholders to profit from our hard labour. Thus, the same mainstream media that is so intent on ridiculing socialists, alternatively places the gurus of mumbo jumbo on a golden pedestal. From this position they are able to make immense profits, both for themselves and the mainstream press, and confuse the public to boot!

What is to be Done?

Moving to the present day, Andersen is again partially correct to say that Donald Trump rose to power because he was able “to exploit the skeptical disillusion with politics,” but he is wrong to suggest that Trump can be credited with any form of “genius.” The orange-tinted beast only did what any mildly intelligent demagogue does when their opponents are discredited: adopt populist rhetoric that appeals to a section of angry people — those who can still stomach voting — who have been worn down by the lies and poverty of the status quo. The key in the matter is that Trump’s Presidency represented change. Furthermore, we should never forget that Trump has only been given the opportunity to sell his populist right-wing lies to the public because his so-called progressive counterpart, Hillary Clinton, was so downright appalling. Only a genuine socialist representative of the 99% could have undermined the rising tide of division and hate that is personified in Trump. The Democrat’s have therefore proved once again — as they have throughout the past century — that the American public desperately needs a genuine working-class alternative to that raised time and time again by the tired old corporate shell that is the Democratic Party.


With Trump now in the White House, Andersen, having plumped for the fantasy candidature embodied by Hillary, is apoplectic with the majority of Americans who he blames for the rise of Trump. “I really can imagine, for the first time in my life, that America has permanently tipped into irreversible decline, heading deeper into Fantasyland.” But apparently because Andersen remains a fact-loving American, fortified by his faith in the shining power of truth, we can breathe a sigh of relief as he still remains “(barely) more of an optimist than a pessimist.” This is despite the fact that Andersen is adamant that America has entered a period of “foolishness and darkness” where “too many Americans are losing their grip on reason and reality”. If one truly believed Andersen’s ill-informed diagnosis then surely any level of optimism would seem unwarranted.

If anyone is living in Fantasyland it is Andersen himself, who concludes his shallow list of reasons for being (barely) hopeful by saying: “Since 1981, the percentage of people living in extreme poverty around the globe has plummeted from 44 percent to 10 percent.” This statement of apparently uncontroversial fact is emblematic of an individual who has retreated into the statistical depths of unreason. Andersen is wrong on so many fronts, not least the decline in poverty. But if he really wanted to understand the poverty of the world around him, but especially within America itself, he might look to books like The American Way of Poverty or more critical texts like They Rule: The 1% Vs. Democracy – the latter of which highlights the ritual complicity of the Democrat’s in the ongoing transfer of wealth and power to a tiny plutocratic elite.

When Andersen concludes his essay by asking “What is to be done?”, ironically echoing the title of a seminal text by one of history’s most renowned “left wing zealots”, his own fantastic and irrational response is to admit that he doesn’t actually “have an actionable agenda” for change; although almost as an afterthought he adds, we should do our best to “stop things from getting any worse.” To undertake this task he rallies his troops, pleading that “we in reality-based America” must now stand firm and commit to waging a “struggle” of fact against falsehoods. He sees no urgent need to fight for meaningful political change, or to even partake in collective democratic action. Instead he implores his reality-based readers to “Fight the good fight in your private life.” But remember, he warns “You needn’t get into an argument with the stranger” who persists in promoting magical thinking; save your energy for winning over only your acquaintances, friends and family members (particularly your “children or grandchildren” if you have any). On that note of fantasy, I will leave you (the reader) to decide whether you stand in solidarity with Andersen or with the ordinary Americans that the author of Fantasyland has so little respect for.


[1] The publisher of Fantasyland, Random House, is a good example of a mainstream media organization that derives immense profits from selling all manner of mumbo jumbo from Erich Von Daniken’s infamous books about ancient aliens, to an endless stream of books about anti-scientific health remedies written by the likes of Deepak Chopra and Andrew Weil.

[2] James Forman, The Making of Black Revolutionaries (Open Hand Publishing, 1985 [1972]), p.220.

Gambling With Our Planet

This peer-reviewed article was first published by the journal Theory In Action (Vol.7, No.1) in January 2014.

This essay presents an unfortunate story of conservatives and conservation. Unfortunate because it is highly problematic that so many of the reactionary ideas of conservative elites have entered the lexicon of the mainstream environmental movement: an age-old conundrum that can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century, but nevertheless needs to be scrutinized if meaningful and democratic solutions are going to be counterpoised to capitalism’s desire to destroy the planet. Previous studies have produced detailed examinations documenting the cynical way in which ruling class elites manipulate green concerns to legitimize class war.[1] This investigation differs from earlier studies, however, in that it traces the influence of three men of ruling class stock, whose thoroughbred lives have been as varied and colorful, as they have been intimately entwined by their obsession for all things wild. The names of these three men being: gambling legend cum zoo owner John Aspinall (1926-2000), billionaire financier Sir James Goldsmith (1933-1997) and his brother, the influential deep ecologist Edward “Teddy” Goldsmith (1928-2009). All were born to a life of plenty, coming together in Oxford in 1949 as friends through their shared addiction to gambling.

Aspinall’s Wild Side

The elder of the trio, and the man whose gambling clique brought the three together in the first place was John Aspinall. A man who was also the first of the three to seriously develop his preoccupation with the majesty of nature untamed. Born in Delhi in 1926, when just thirteen years old Aspinall was introduced to the novels of H. Rider Haggard, with his entry point into Haggard’s opus being Nada the Lily. Nada presented a tale of Zulu witchcraft, wilderness and adventure, which “opened Aspinall’s eyes to a world so different from the one he knew, so much more romantic and impressive, on a scale so super-human, that he was entranced.” From that time onwards Aspinall’s obsession with comprehending Zulu history was second only to his addiction to Haggard’s imperial tropes of spiritual fiction.[2] A lifelong commitment that culminated with him being rewarded with his dedication to their cause by being initiated into the Zulu ‘nation’ as a ‘white Zulu’ by King Goodwill Zwelithini.

John Aspinall

Living in central London during the 1950s, Aspinall used his backyard to bring a little wilderness into his life of pleasure-seeking and gambling, beginning his erstwhile zoo by purchasing a monkey, tiger cub, and two Himalayan brown bears. “In the presence of these proud, secretive, untameable creatures, he felt moved.” And soon after making these new ‘wild’ friends, he used the rich dividends from his gambling enterprises to purchase Howletts country house and estate in Kent, and in 1956 he set about creating a private zoo on his new premises. As his biographer added, Aspinall’s new found animal friends at Howlett’s “strengthen[ed] his belief in elitism and confirm[ed] his distaste for social egalitarianism”.[3] Such views were de rigueur among Aspinall’s ruling-class patrons.[4]

With his public wildlife profile growing rapidly during the 1960s, Aspinall was soon courted by the aristocrats of eco-imperialism, the World Wildlife Fund, and in his first television experience he was invited to discuss whether people or wildlife should be prioritized. Talking on behalf of animals with Aspinall was his good friend Teddy Goldsmith. “Goldsmith thundered about the redundant millions of humans in the world and disastrous progress of medical technique which eliminated many useful natural diseases.” Aspinall joined the anti-humanist debacle such that their opponents concluded “that he and Goldsmith were no better than fascists in their denial of democratic advance; [Aspinall and Goldsmith] were happy to agree”. Perhaps because of such elitist beliefs, in 1970 WWF asked him (for the second time) to become a member of their group of rapacious capitalist funders known as the ‘1001’ Club.[5] Being very much a lone misanthrope on wilderness matters Aspinall sent the requested money but refused to join the committee. Although he would later have quarrels with WWF for choosing leaders prone to big-game hunting, Aspinall “continued to support Friends of the Earth, the Fauna Preservation Society, and many like bodies, both financially and morally”.[6].

Teddy’s Primitive Past 

Although born to great wealth, Teddy Goldsmith initially made his private fortune in the 1950s by marketing, with his brothers aid, a miracle cream developed by a well-known quack that touted itself as a cure for rheumatism. Teddy however was not cut out for the cut-throat business world, and by the late 1960s he retired and purchased a 300-acre farm in Cornwall, UK, where he continued his private studies into the history of life on earth.[7] When his father passed away in 1967, Teddy inherited a handsome legacy, and soon decided to put his long-abiding interest in indigenous cultures into action. To do so he picked an issue that resonated with Aspinall’s longstanding interest in Zulu culture, and in 1969 they both served as founding members of the Primitive People’s Fund (now called Survival International) — group formed to protect the human rights of indigenous tribal peoples and uncontacted peoples. Yet despite the professed concern for primitive others, as expressed by Survival International’s bourgeois founders, “by rooting their concern — and persuading their clients — to preserve” indigenous culture in “false essentialist premises,” they arguably acted to “subvert efforts to address issues of… inequality and poverty in realistic political terms”.[8]

Teddy Goldsmith Worthyvale-Manor-Farm-Camelford-1970s

Now on a roll, the following year Teddy launched The Ecologist magazine, which adopted the sub-title, the Journal of the Post Industrial Age. The first issue, hot off the press in July 1970, led with an editorial on primitive peoples, and was succeeded with what would become a mainstay of Teddy’s writing, a declaration that overpopulation was the world’s number one problem. The solution?… enforced sterilisation to halve the world’s population! In subsequent years Teddy would rise to global fame when he published his neo-Malthusian tract Blueprint for Survival, which contained many proposals for action, one of which included the formation of an apocalyptic sounding Movement for Survival.

In the summer of 1972 a small group of well-to-do friends in Napton, Warwickshire, began to discuss their environmental concerns. These discussions led to the formation of a transient group known as the Thirteen Club. “In particular they were influenced by the Blueprint for Survival, the Report of the Club of Rome and other writings of Paul Ehrlich”. Four members of this group who were particularly intent on taking political action ended up splitting off from the Thirteen Club around Christmas time, and by February 1973 they had organized the first meeting of their new political party, which they named PEOPLE (this later became known as the Ecology party, and in turn the Green party). To their eternal benefit, Teddy was an “early member of the new party and contributed the mailing list of the Movement for Survival.”[9] Aspinall having earlier arranged for his gambling friends to raise funds for Friends of the Earth’s Director, Graham Searle, jumped at the chance to support Teddy’s short-lived electoral ambitions, and lent Teddy a camel to ride upon during his campaigning in February 1974 as a PEOPLE candidate.

Later in 1974 Teddy spent a few months at the Gandhi Peace Foundation in India (which was organized by his friend Satish Kumar), and followed his (mis)enlightenment in India by dedicating a special issue of The Ecologist to Gandhi and India. The following year Teddy then helped found Ecoropa (Ecological Action for Europe), serving as vice-president and president of the French branch; and in 1978 helped set up Green Alliance, a parliamentary lobbying group ostensibly concerned with the environment, even if sustaining capitalism would be a more appropriate descriptor of their work. Romanticizing feudalism, and maintaining false illusions about a wholesome (“organic”) history of the days of folklore in India or otherwise is hardly progressive.[10]

Sir James: Green Raider

Unlike his brother, Sir James Goldsmith remained in the business world throughout his life, and during the 1970s and 1980s he rose to global infamy for his predatory exploits as a corporate raider — activities that in common parlance became known as hostile takeovers. Like Teddy, Sir James continued to lend a hand to green exploits, making his own early contribution to conservative environmental efforts by purchasing a 400,000-acre ranch in the right-wing state of Paraguay. Politically-speaking his good friend Mr. Aspinall was of much the same mind as Sir James, and in a typically outrageous speech made to his colleagues in the business world, Aspinall “applauded the chimpanzee custom of dividing into rival armies which engaged in wholesome slaughter as a useful exercise in keeping down numbers.” This was something he referred to as “beneficial genocide”. In a similar way Sir James slaughtered any business competition on his rise to global power, and when he broke-up Cavenham Foods in July 1980 his own personal fiefdom had been “the third-largest retailer in the world after Safeway and Kroger.” James however still railed against the food industry, and was “proud of a speech he made at a conference in Woldson College, Cambridge, in 1976 on the subject of poison in food” which he saw as an explicit “attack on the food industry, in particular on intensive farming”. Here he was clearly picking up on the green zeitgeist of his day, which saw the controversial growth of all manner of highly profitable, albeit exploitative, natural enterprises.[11]

James Goldsmith

During the 1980s, amid his continuing financial escapades Sir James became obsessed with AIDS which — following his brothers nihilist cue — he thought would soon wipe out much of the human species. He read widely upon the subject that so obsessed him, and even funded his own dubious research on the matter — research that he was unable to persuade even his own newspaper L’Express to run with. “When the drug AZT came along, Goldsmith dismissed it as only adding to the problem — it simply meant a longer period for the disease to spread, and created a false impression that its development had slowed”. This of course is nonsense, but nonsense that would have fatal consequences for thousands of Africans in the coming years. In the light of Sir James’ attraction to anti-scientific ‘research,’ it is fitting that in 1997, after chemotherapy and surgery had proved unsuccessful in stopping the spread of Sir James’ diagnosed cancer, he chose to utilize the services of a famous practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine — the quack in question being Balendu Prakash, a man who had allegedly successfully treated brain cancer in one of Teddy’s friends.[12]

Inspired by his taming of the French left-wing newspaper L’Express (which he had purchased in March 1977), in January 1979 Sir James announced the creation of a new magazine Now! which was to be edited by the former political editor of the Daily Mail, Anthony Shrimsley. Upon its launch, one of their regular columnists was Brian Crozier, who “preached the dangers of left-wing infiltration even more fervently than Goldsmith”. Another Now! contributor of extreme far-right pedigree whose connections are worth drawing attention to is Michael Ledeen, whose articles in both Now! and L’Express, aimed to discredit Jimmy Carter’s 1980 presidential campaign, contributing to what became known as the ‘Billygate’ affair. Not to be outdone by such servility to great power, yet another master of disinformation who was more than capable of injecting “black propaganda” into Now! was Brian Crozier’s protege Robert Moss. Amalgamating all his and others paranoid anti-communist conspiracy theories in one place, in 1980 Moss published an international best-selling novel titled The Spike. His coauthor on this vicious propaganda tract was the Newsweek journalist, Arnaud de Borchgrave. Considering the mystical proclivities of the Goldsmith brothers, it is interesting to note that both of these writers somehow managed to take their obsessions with disinformation one step beyond. Moss has now reinvented himself as a shamanic counselor and dream teacher (an issue upon which he has written numerous books), and since 1985 de Borchgrave has spent all his time editing newspapers and magazines belonging to Sun Myung Moon’s cultish Unification Church.[13]

Not long after founding Now! Sir James was invited to join a host of right-wing elites to support “Project Democracy,” a covert propaganda effort dedicated to weakening democratic institutions abroad.[14] Sir James was thus just one of a gaggle of powerful businessmen who met President Reagan (in March 1983) to support his war on popular democracy; other members of the group included Rupert Murdoch and self-help guru W. Clement Stone.[15] Bolstering his efforts to bolster neoconservative networking across the Atlantic, Sir James was also counted as a member of the Committee for a Free World. A group which was founded in 1981 by Midge Decter, who is the spouse of another prime neoconservative mover, Norman Podhoretz. As late as 1989 the chairman of this group was Donald Rumsfeld, while other board members sitting alongside Sir James were the president of the misnamed National Endowment for Democracy, Carl Gerschman, and the author Jacqueline Wheldon, who headed the British branch of the Committee for a Free World.

No surprise then that in November 1990, Sir James was in attendance at a dinner hosted by his good buddy Aspinall whose guest of honour was the reactionary head of the Inkatha Freedom Party, Mangosuthu Buthelezi; with another notable diner being Marc Gordon, the Director of the London office of the International Freedom Foundation — a right-wing think-tank with close links to Inkatha.[16] This so-called International Freedom Foundation had been founded in 1985 by former Republican “superlobbyist”/convicted and sentenced felon, Jack Abramoff, growing out of an initial meeting Abramoff had organized (known as the Democratic International) which took place at the headquarters of Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi. The meeting was “attended by a who’s who of the extreme Right: members of the Oliver North group, Laotian guerrillas, Nicaraguan Contras, Afghan mujahideen and South African security police”. As it turned out, the International Freedom Foundation was a South African military intelligence front formed to campaign against the ANC, financed to the tune of up to $1.5 million a year by the apartheid regime; funding that was maintained until 1992. When the underhand activities of the Foundation were finally wound down in 1993 their activists went on to join other right-wing causes, with Marc Gordon moving smoothly on to serve as the field organiser for Sir James’ Referendum Party.[17]

As luck would have it, Sir James’ stellar contacts in the conservative media world provided exactly the type of propaganda that the Inkatha Freedom Party needed in the West. One of Sir James’ well-placed acquaintances being former Now! contributor, Frank Johnson, who acted as the editor of The Spectator between 1995 and 1999. Sir James and Aspinall’s good friend, Taki Theodoracopulos, then used his longstanding column in The Spectator to good effect, and along with Carla Powell (the wife of Mrs Thatcher’s former private secretary) the deadly duo “led the campaign in the British right-wing press to canonise Buthulezi”.[18] Here it is significant that Carla’s husband, Lord Powell, until recently worked under the supervision of Rothschild banker, Sir Henry Keswick, a powerful individual whom some years earlier had actually been the proprietor of The Spectator (1975-81). Natural history and elitist conservation measures having long provided useful sources of entertainment for the ruling class, with Sir Henry himself being a former president of the Royal Highland Agriculture Society, and current trustee of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. In addition, the CEO of Caterpillar (the world’s largest maker of earthmoving machinery) also resides on the board of the ‘big green’ wannabe, the World Resources Institute, which is significant because the aforementioned Lord Powell is one of Caterpillar’s current board members. Here one would do well to recognize that green connections among the earth excavation business are not exceptional, and billionaire industrialist and head of the JCB Group, Sir Anthony Bamford, is a patron of the eco-mystically inclined Resurgence magazine. In addition, Bamford is the proud owner of an organic farm, whose shop is patronized by David Cameron; and Bamford even counts organic anti-modernist, Prince Charles, among his green circle of friends. Prince Charles was of course also close to the Goldsmiths, and Sir James’ wife, Annabel, became a trusted confidante of the Princess of Wales in the early 1980s.[19]

Right-Wing Nationalism and Zulu Heritage

Organizing dinner parties and public relations for Buthelezi is just the tip of the iceberg as far as Aspinall and Sir James’ support for the Zulu cause is concerned — some funding from this dubious duo having been directed through the KwaZulu Conservation Trust (later the Wildlands Trust) and some to scholarship funds. According to one former Inkatha Freedom Party politician, “Aspinall and Goldsmith donated around R4,000,000 to the party before the 1994 elections. It was in these tense years that Aspinall publicly recommended the sabotage of Duban’s power lines and, at an IFP rally in Ulundi, urged Zulu nationalists to ‘sharpen their spears and fall on the Xhosas’”.[20]

Aspinall was a personal friend of both Buthelezi and the famous South African conservationist, Ian Player, and it is through his connection to the latter that he serves as a patron of the Magqubu Ntombela Foundation. Aspinall likewise penned the foreword to Player’s Zululand Wilderness: Shadow and Soul (David Philip, 1997), a passionate memoir documenting Ntombela’s defining influence on his life as his friend and spiritual guide.

It was Ntombela’s vision and Player’s global maneuvering that led to the first World Wilderness Congress in 1977. This was a crucial node for a network sharing Aspinall’s concerns, such as Laurens van der Post, who met Buthelezi and provided the chief with the ear of British politicians (most significantly Margaret Thatcher) and royalty (in the form of Prince Charles). Aspinall, introduced to van der Post by Player, was seen as a crucial contact for raising the capital to give effect to van der Post and Buthelezi’s dream of a Zulu renaissance. [21]

Such concerns for the wilderness are not merely green in value, and environmental protection is closely entwined with the capitalist politics of nationalism. For example, one might note that one of the “prime lobbying and facilitating organizations” for the creation of Trans-Frontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) “is the South African Peace Park Foundation (PPF), presided by Anton Rupert who started his career as a nationalist thinker in the Afrikaner Broederbond, which sought to empower Afrikaners in the business world.” In this way, a strong argument can be made that “through the TFCAs the PPF manages to foster cohesion between the old — mainly white — and new political and business elites in post-apartheid South Africa.” Bonding is thus achieved by manufacturing “a de-politicized, aesthetic Edenic landscape” built on primitivist discourses of Africa and Africans which have room aplenty for ‘noble savages.’ “The good native is given a place to stay in wildlife areas. The bad native is ‘naturally’ evicted.” Yet as many elitist conservation organisations have shown, despite the fact that they can be sometimes critical of so-called ‘enforced primitivism’; these problems may not always derive from conscious policy, but reoccur time and time again “through latent, but deeply held values”.[22]

Ian Player

So let’s now return to Ian Player, who by 1964 was the chief conservator of Zululand, and whose “name is closely associated with Operation Rhino at Umfolozi in the 1960s where he was officer-in-charge”. On top of helping save the white rhinoceros from extinction, Player fulfilled a crucial role in creating the first officially designated wilderness areas in South Africa as part of already existing Zululand game reserves. However, prior to enacting the requisite environmental legislation in the 1960s, Player founded the non-government Wilderness Leadership School in 1957 — with funding provided courtesy of his golf-star brother, Gary Player. Building upon these successes, in 1974 Player retired from his position as chief conservator of Natal and KwaZulu, and traveled to the United States as a guest of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to film To Catch a Rhino. But owing to his wilderness vocation, in the same year he formed the International Wilderness Leadership Foundation (WILD). Subsequently in 1976 he took over the reins of his Wilderness Leadership School and set about organising the first World Wilderness Congress in Johannesburg, in 1977. Two people who collaborated with Player in establishing the Congress were Ntombela and Laurens van der Post, who sharing his new-found obsession with Jungian metaphysics, worked with him to set up both the Wilderness Foundation and the Cape of Good Hope Center for Jungian studies. Unfortunately, given his company it is unsurprising that their strategy of wilderness preservation is “backward looking and conservative”.[23]

Player has begun to see environmental problems as wrapped up with problems of power but has difficulty articulating more than a mystical atavistic whim for a better planet. His journey into the wilderness within took him into New Age ideas which he embraces. He rejects unmitigated western Enlightenment science and identifies with post-modem social thought which features amongst the current reading in his personal library. In the end, however, Player owes to Jung and van der Post an essentialist view of culture. (p.814)

With such problematic ideological baggage, it is fitting that Player, like his friends, moved to embrace Zulu ethnic nationalism. One “close friend and associate,” Nick Steele (1933-1997), who perhaps more than anyone else helped move Player in this reactionary direction, and had also served as a cofounder of the Magqubu Ntombela Foundation. Steele had worked closely with Player since the 1950s at the National Parks Board, and in the year of his death had just been appointed as Chief Director of Environmental Affairs and Nature Conservation for KwaZulu-Natal. As Steele would go on to demonstrate in his controversial conservation work, he was an “unbending ‘securocrat’ from military tradition”. [24]

Green Traditionalism: The Answer?

As a pioneer of the new frontiers of capitalist conservation, Nick Steele’s “own idea and practical definition of wilderness was far less mystical than [Ian] Player’s”. The same of course largely applied to Sir James environmental approach which came into its own when he retired from his days as a corporate raider to join his brother as the new born-again saviour of the planet. Sir James however found gaining “entry into the environmental world far from easy.” For example, he thought a good campaign idea would be for various environmental groups to threaten to sue individual corporations and their directors for not taking action fast enough to reduce CFC emissions. “Teddy got the environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth, to form a rough alliance, and Goldsmith outlined his proposal for major legal actions around the world.” Some environmentalists were evidently suspicious of Sir James’ green credentials, which is unsurprising considering the fact that he was still a “major shareholder” in Newmont Mining. Thus despite his best efforts at white-washing his immensely destructive investment portfolio, the green groups in question refused — in this instance anyway — to allow Sir James to take an active role in their campaign. So in response Sir James withheld his promised investment of £250,000. Considering his growing influence in environmental circles this was no skin off the nose for Sir James, as at Teddy’s urging in 1990 Sir James had set up the Goldsmith Charitable Foundation, which provides tens of millions of pounds a year to environmental enterprises all over the world.[25]

In 1987 Teddy had retired as the editor of The Ecologist, and considering Sir James’ full-blown love affair with the reactionary traditions of the Zulu’s it might seem that their ideological obsessions about the failure of the modern world were drawing ever closer together. Teddy now took the time to document his personal desire to re-establish the values of small-scale pre-industrial traditional societies (via something called bioregionalism) in his book The Great U-Turn: Deindustrialising Society (Green Books, 1988): the content of which “go[es] beyond rational expression, being articulated in nature mysticism, creative art, folk legend and paganism”.  A commitment to such traditionalist ideas helps explain why around this time Sir James provided £80,000 to help finance a film, later shown on BBC, “about a tribe of Colombian Indians called the Kogi which had survived untouched and unscathed by the outside world, high in the mountains”.[26] The Kogi base their lifestyles on their belief in “The Great Mother,” their creator figure, whom they believe is the force behind nature, providing guidance.

A dedication to popularizing ancient traditions and primitive spiritual practices is for the ‘Goldsmith brothers grim’ (and for their friend Aspinall), therefore seen as the ideal way to reverse the secularizing and democratic trends of the Enlightenment. Speaking to these concerns, in 1989 Teddy argued (within the pages of the Financial Times) that as a traditionalist he sought to oppose “the holocaust of modernisation”. The reactionary and conservative nature of such a belief system is clear,[27] and in a later interview Teddy traced the intellectual origins of his traditionalism to his interest in the perennial philosophy, saying:

It this interest has basically been cultivated, and promoted, by a group of people, perhaps the most famous was Molander Gumalaswami, but there are others — Europeans, like René Guenon, and, Lord Northborne in this country — all sorts of people. And they are really interested in the wisdom which underlies all your traditional societies, and there is such a wisdom. They call it The Perennial Philosophy, and of course, it is based largely on tradition.[28]

The Traditionalist scholars mentioned here are critical to the Goldsmith story, as the right-wing Soil Association activist Lord Northbourne (1896-1982) had translated Rene Guenon’s The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times. Lord Northbourne who was one of the cofounders of the Soil Association was “a frequent contributor” to the British periodical Studies in Comparative Religion, which was a major source of Traditionalist scholarship and has been described by E.F. Schumacher “as one of the two most important journals to read”. Indeed, it was Traditionalism that actually served as “one of the main sources of Schumacher’s anti-modernism”; a philosophical trend which combined neatly with the leading role he assumed within the anthrosopically-inspired Soil Association, which happened to provide the initial staff for The Ecologist.[29]

One infamous writer situated with Traditionalism whose influence is relevant here is the prolific fascist writer and activist Julius Evola, whose vile work has been revived in the work of French Nouvelle Droite (New Right) ideologues like Alain de Benoist.  De Benoist is best-known for founding an ethnonationalist and neopagan think-tank known as the Groupement de recherche et d’études pour la civilisation européenne (“Research and Study Group for European Civilization” or GRECE). Formed in 1968, an early member of GRECE was Louis Pauwels, coauthor of the 1960 irrationalist, Romantic treatise, Les matin des magiciens, which was published in the United States as Morning of the Magicians in 1964, and has the dubious distinction of helping launch a revival of interest in the occult and Traditionalist ideas more generally. In recent years, the extreme-right-wing GRECE has sought out and made connections to green Traditionalists like Teddy Goldsmith, who in 1994 accepted their invitation to address its 25th Anniversary Meeting. Here one person who has been particularly forthright in his criticism of Teddy’s propensity to embrace such authoritarian forms of cultural essentialism has been Nicholas Hildyard, who had worked at The Ecologist from 1972-1997, and had assumed the journal’s editorship (with others) from 1990-97. Having spent much of the 1990s advising Sir James on environmental affairs, he recalls that “political differences” with Teddy “over ethnicity and gender issues” eventually led him and the rest of the editorial team to quit The Ecologist.[30]


Considering these fascist connections, it is intriguing to observe that when Sir James purchased the left-wing L’Express in 1977, which he identified as “the source of intellectual sickness of France”, he recalled that: “When I appointed Raymond Aron — he came from Figaro — I had a strike because I was imposing a fascist!” A strike, and accusation, that arose for good reasons because the prestigious French daily Le Figaro was at the time playing a key role in dispensing the ideas of the Nouvelle Droite, counting Louis Pauwels as one of their editors. Later Aron was remembers as being one of only a few scholars “willing to engage in dialogue” with the Nouvelle Droite.[31]

Unfortunately Teddy’s embrace of the French New Right as suitable allies in his bid to save the planet was not a passing fad, and was very much in keeping with his own, and his brothers, explicit conservatism and elitism. In subsequent years Teddy kept in contact with de Benoist and his GRECE comrades, and when challenged about the reactionary nature of their work he pleads that GRECE “have changed very much these last dozen years”. This is not the case, GRECE and their politics of green Traditionalism mesh perfectly with Teddy’s political orientation. Either way, in late 1997 Teddy was the main guest on the third TeKoS colloquium in Antwerp, Belgium: TeKoS being a sister organisation of GRECE. The following year Teddy then gave a lecture in Paris at the first colloquium of the New-Right ecology organisation Le recours aux forêts, which was headed by Laurent Ozon, the head of GRECE’s ecology branch. Other lecturers in attendance included Alain de Benoist and members of the French extreme-right party Mouvement Pour la France, which had been founded in 1994 by none other than Sir James Goldsmith. Working in collaboration with Ozon, Teddy then agreed to stand in the June 1999 elections for the right-wing ecological party Mouvement ecologiste independante (MEI). Teddy even convinced Ozon to allow his friend Antoine Waechter to head the party — Waechter having founded the French Green Party in 1973. But before Teddy’s electoral bid ever got off the ground he dropped the project when the French media decided to cause a ruckus about Waechter’s obviously extreme right-wing ideas.[32]

In addition to harboring right-wing views, Teddy’s interest in hidden (occult) knowledge is shared by many of his green-fingered bourgeois friends.[33] The third ever World Wilderness Congress was thus held at the anthrosophically-inspired Findhorn Community, in Scotland, in October 1983. In the same year the Foundation for GAIA was created in the UK “to do something for Gaia, the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth representing the living beings of this planet as embodied in all its life-forms and ecosystems.” Current trustees of the Foundation for GAIA include green capitalist entrepreneur Jonathan Porritt, and Italian conservationist Franco Zunino, who is an Associate Editor of the International Journal of Wilderness which is published by the WILD Foundation (US) — the WILD Foundation being headed by the former coordinator of environmental programs at Findhorn, Vance Martin. While another former Findhorn leader, Vita de Waal, is a trustee of the Foundation for GAIA, and is the vice president of the Institute for Planetary Synthesis, a group which dedicates itself to promotion of various variants of theosophy. When Teddy passed away in 2009, the Foundation for GAIA honored his longstanding service to their spiritual cause by thanking him for serving on their board for “over 20 years.” Occult connections are also derived through Foundation for GAIA trustee, Eileen Noakes, who in 1973 was a founding member of the misnamed Scientific and Medical Network, another theosophical project which counted Teddy as a former member.

Until his death Teddy bolstered such mystical ties through his service on the advisory board of the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC), which describes itself as “a non-profit organization dedicated to the revitalization of cultural and biological diversity, and the strengthening of local communities and economies worldwide.” Here he worked alongside the likes of eco-mystic guru Frijof Capra and famed eco-feminist Vandana Shiva, with ISEC itself having been founded in 1975 by Helena Norberg-Hodge. Norberg-Hodge is the author of many books including the primitivist hit, Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh (Sierra Club Books, 1991). Moreover the two current Associate Directors of ISEC are Tracy Worcester and Zac Goldsmith. Tracy, the Marchioness of Worcester, is a former patron of the Soil Association, former trustee of Friends of the Earth, and counts the thoroughly anti-modernist, Prince Charles — as her eco-hero (he also attended her wedding). [34] In her spare time Tracy promotes anthroposophy, has served on the advisory board of The Ecologist, and was a member of Sir James’ Referendum Party. Zac Goldsmith on the other hand is the son of Sir James, and after recently acting as the editor of The Ecologist he is now the Conservative MP for the constituency of Richmond Park and North Kingston.

Another well-known group that counted Teddy as an emeritus director is the International Forum on Globalization, an organization that was formed in 1994, and whose work has been heavily supported by Douglas Tompkins’ controversial eco-philanthropy. Tompkins is better known as the founder of the Foundation for Deep Ecology, although he is also a patron of Satish Kumar’s Resurgence magazine, which recently merged with The Ecologist. Former Foundation for Deep Ecology staffer, Victor Menotti, presently serves as the International Forum on Globalization’s executive director. However, the key person involved in establishing the International Forum on Globalization was Jerry Mander, a former president of a major San Francisco advertising company, and ‘Grateful Dead’ promoter, who decided to turn his talents at manipulating symbols and images to protecting the environment in the late 1960s (initially working with David Brower while he was based at the Sierra Club). In addition to Mander’s work at the International Forum on Globalization, he also found the time to briefly serve as a program director for the Foundation for Deep Ecology. Following Teddy’s example, the International Forum on Globalization has played a key role in bringing progressives into dangerous coalitions with the right-wing forces.[35]

Perhaps Mander’s most influential book, vis-à-vis the alter-globalization movement was his co-authorship with Teddy Goldsmith of the edited volume, The Case Against the Global Economy and For a Turn Toward the Local (Sierra Club Books, 1996) — some of the many contributors to this book included Maude Barlow, Richard Barnet, Wendell Berry, John Cavanagh, William Grieder, David Korten, Ralph Nader, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Jeremy Rifkin, Kirkpatrick Sale, and Vandana Shiva. Mander however has written numerous other books, some providing a romantic celebration of indigenous culture, and others providing naïve criticisms of industrial society. Thus much like Teddy and Vandana Shiva’s anti-modern turn, despite his good intentions –when he published his book In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations (Sierra Club Books, 1991)Mander has ended up reinforcing the very hegemony he purports to oppose.[36]

Finally, much like Teddy who is a Bija guru at Vandana Shiva’s Bija Vidyapeeth (Center for Learning) in India, Shiva’s politics are far from anti-capitalist and more closely approximate those of a nationalist. So it is appropriate that Shiva has worked closely with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (a Hindu paramilitary group formed in 1925) and other assorted Hindu nationalist groups in India. She has thus not only lent them her international prestige, but has also furnished the popular farmers’ movements with “the much-needed agrarian myth” that is so compatible with conservative ruralism. As Meera Nanda concludes: “The connecting thread [between the right and left] is the defence of the traditional way of life.”[37]

Reviving Nationalism?

With all this history born in mind, Sir James’ support of environmental causes is highly worrying given his consistent support of the radical Right; all the more so given his brothers anarcho-primitivism and his dalliances with the far-right; it is a deadly cocktail indeed. The danger presented by this ominous combination is illustrated by the way that Sir James was able to recruit his various green acquaintances into standing in the 1997 General Election for his Referendum Party — which was truly his own pet nationalist project, that he launched with no formal democratic structures or members, only “supporters”. Prominent examples of Sir James’ green electoral candidates include Tracy Worcester, David Bellamy, and Peter Etherden (a former contributing editor to the Fourth World Review, which is edited by Teddy’s friend John Papworth). Not to mention his buddy, John Aspinall, who in an interview conducted during the 1990s was “quoted as saying he would be happy to see large numbers of human exterminated, and that the death of 200 million in the event of nuclear war would not be enough.” He added: “Statistically, in terms of real population reduction, it would mean nothing more than a slight temporary dip in the world’s population. It wouldn’t solve the problem”.[38]

Another conservative green who represented the Referendum Party in the 1996 British elections was Robin Page, who was also a member of the Party’s council, and had been the founder of the Countryside Restoration Trust — a body whose founding patron was Prince Charles’ New Age mentor, Laurens van der Post. Fellow Referendum Party candidate David Bellamy is counted as one of the Countryside Restoration Trust’s current patrons, while Zac Goldsmith resides on their board of trustees.[39] Upon Sir James Goldsmith’s death in 1997, Robin Page had no qualms in joining the racist UK Independence Party, which to boot is staunchly skeptical of climate change; this is not surprising considering Sir James’ background and that of the individual he chose to act as the field organiser for the Referendum Party, Marc Gordon (the former director of the International Freedom Foundation, see earlier). Or to take another example one might look to Referendum Party electoral candidate John Gouriet, a man who during the 1970s worked with Robert Moss — as the administrative director of the National Association for Freedom. This later group is now known as the Freedom Association, a leading council member of which is the former leader of the UK Independence Party, Lord Pearson of Rannoch.

The roots of the UK Independence Party’s and the Referendum Party’s manifestation of eurosceptic post-imperial populism “are most usefully traced back to Margaret Thatcher’s 1988 Bruges speech,” which led to the formation of the Bruges Group under the leadership of University of Oxford undergraduate student Patrick Robertson. With financial backing provided courtesy of Sir James, prominent members of the Bruges Group included Alan Sked (who went on to found the UK Independence Party in September 1993) and their founding chairman, Lord Harris of High Cross (who was the former head of the Institute of Economic Affairs, 1957-1987; and board member of Rupert Murdoch’s Times Newspapers Holdings Ltd from 1988 until 2001). Robertson would go on to act as the head of the Referendum Party’s public relations operations (working with former Downing Street press officer Ian Beaumont), and is credited with being the individual who “flogged the idea of a full-blown referendum party” to Sir James in the early 1990s; an idea allegedly first conceived in the home of Christopher Monckton in 1989. This idea was spread wide and far with Sir James’ financial backing, but that was not all, as prior to getting the Referendum Party off the ground, Sir James had stumped up $3.5 million to create the French extreme-right party Mouvement Pour la France (MPF) headed by the aristocrat Philippe de Villiers.[40]

An Ecosocialist Response

From John Aspinall’s Zulu dreams, gambling fortunes and virulent anti-humanism, to the conspiratorially minded far-right pipe dreams of a corporate raider like Sir James Goldsmith, over the past several decades, advocates of green politics have had some distasteful and highly dangerous allies. And while Teddy Goldsmith is often held up as a grandfather of the modern environmental movement, his contributions to the ideological evolution of the green thinking are as reactionary as those of both Aspinall and Sir James; perhaps even more so give the insidious way that his eloquently articulated primitivist and traditionalist anti-modernist nonsense has rooted itself in so many of his readers minds.

That the work of three such prime examples of the ruling class should have been able to encourage the institutionalization of quite so much inegalitarianism within an ostensibly liberal environmental movement clearly demonstrates the pressing need for a Marxist alternative to managing our world for the benefit of all. The task that now lies at hand is difficult and involves building a mass movement of the working class to rid our world of a small subgroup of ruling class predators who, on the one hand, consume the planet to enrich themselves, and then offer us irrational anti-human solutions to enable them to continue to sustainably rape the planet. One step towards building such a democratic movement will involve disentangling self-serving bourgeois environmental theories from those that will strengthen eco-socialist concerns for the future. In this way, we can learn from previous mistakes, and continue to build movements capable of generating the type of popular momentum for social change that will eventually be capable of eradicating, and not just domesticating, capitalism.


[1] Gray Brechin, “Conserving the race: Natural aristocracies, eugenics, and the U.S. Conservation movement,” Antipode, 28 (3), 1996.

[2] Masters, The Passion of John Aspinall, p.29, p.30.

[3] Brian Masters, The Passion of John Aspinall (Coronet, 1989), p.84, p.131.

[4] Dorothy Roberts, Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics and Big Business Re-create Race in the 21st Century (New Press, 2012).

[5] Michael Barker, “The liberal foundations of environmentalism: Revisiting the Rockefeller-Ford connection,” Capitalism Nature Socialism, 19 (2), 2008, pp.15-42; Masters, The Passion of John Aspinall, p.139, p.140; Raymond Bonner, At the Hand of Man: Peril and Hope for Africa’s Wildlife (Vintage, 1993).

[6] Masters, The Passion of John Aspinall, p.169, p.245.

[7] Ian Fallon, Billionaire: The Life and Times of Sir James Goldsmith (Arrow, 1992), p.83, p.470.

[8] Edwin Wilmsen, “To see ourselves as we need to see us: Ethnography’s primitive turn in the Cold War years,” Critical African Studies, 1, 2009, p.38.

[9] Sara Parkin, Green Parties: An International Guide (Heretic Books, 1989), p.217, p.218.

[10] Richard Fox, Gandhian Utopia: Experiments with Culture (Beacon Press, 1989); Simon Matthews, “Pissing in or pissing out? The ‘big tent’ of Green Alliance,” Lobster: Journal of Parapolitics, No.42, 2001/2; Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (Chatto & Windus, 1973).

[11] Geoffrey Wansell, Sir James Goldsmith: The Man and the Myth (Fontana, 1982), pp.206-7; Masters, The Passion of John Aspinall, p.341; Fallon, Billionaire, p.356, p.471; William Friedland, Amy Barton, and Robert Thomas, Manufacturing Green Gold: Capital, Labor and Technology in the Lettuce Industry (Cambridge University Press, 1981); Julie Guthman, “Fast food/organic food: Reflexive tastes and the making of ‘yuppie chow’,” Social & Cultural Geography, 4 (1), 2003, pp.45-58.

[12] Fallon, Billionaire, p.433; Ben Goldacre, Bad Science (Forth Estate, 2009), pp.181-97; Chris Hutchins and Dominic Midgley, Goldsmith: Money, Women and Power (Mainstream Publishing, 1998), p.215.

[13] Fallon, Billionaire, p.348, p.388; Ann Louise Bardach, “Moonstruck: The Reverend and his newspaper,” In: David Wallis (ed.), Killed: Journalism Too Hot to Print (Nation Books, 2004).

[14] William I. Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US Intervention, and Hegemony (Cambridge University Press, 1996).

[15] Joel Brinkley, “Iran sales linked to wide program of covert policies,” New York Times, February 15, 1987.

[16] Mzala, Gatsha Buthelezi: Chief with a Double Agenda (Zed Books, 1988); Malcolm Draper and Gerhard Mare, “Going in: The garden of England’s gaming zookeeper and Zululand,” Journal of Southern African Studies, 29 (2), 2003, p.555.

[17] Philip Van Niekerk, “How apartheid conned the West,” The Observer, July 16, 1995; Dele Olojede and Tim Phelps, “Front for apartheid: Washington-based think tank said to be part of ruse to prolong power,” Newsday, July 16, 1995; Chris Blackhurst, “Goldsmith’s party ‘too old and too few to fight’,” Independent, September 16, 1996.

[18] George Monbiot, “Adventure playground,” Guardian, August 31, 2004.

[19] Hutchins and Midgley, Goldsmith, p.62.

[20] Draper and Mare, “Going in,” p.555.

[21] Draper and Mare, “Going in,” p.556.

[22] Malcolm Draper, Marja Spierenburg and Harry Wels, “African dreams of cohesion: Elite pacting and community development in Transfrontier Conservation Areas in Southern Africa,” Culture and Organization, 10 (4), 2004, p.342, p.347, p.350.

[23] Malcolm Draper, “Zen and the art of garden province maintenance: The soft intimacy of hard men in the wilderness of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, 1952-1997,” Journal of Southern African Studies, 24 (4), 1998, p.806, p.809, p.813.

[24] Draper, “Zen and the art of garden province maintenance,” p.816, p.819.

[25] Draper, “Zen and the art of garden province maintenance,” p.818; Sally Bedell Smith, “Billionaire with a cause,” Vanity Fair, May 1997.

[26] David Pepper, Eco-Socialism: From Deep Ecology to Social Justice (Routledge, 1993), p.17; Fallon, Billionaire, p.471.

[27] Edward Goldsmith, “A society that lost its way,” Financial Times, July 1, 1989; Murray Bookchin, Re-enchanting Humanity: A Defense of the Human Spirit Against Anti-humanism, Misanthropy, Mysticism and Primitivism (Cassell, 1995); Mark Sedgwick, Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the 20th Century (Oxford University Press, 2009).

[28] Edward Goldsmith, “New lamps for old (transcript),” Schumacher Series, January 1, 1991.

[29] Phillip Conford, The Origins of the Organic Movement (Floris Books, 2001); Sedgwick, Against the Modern World, p.212; Phillip Conford, The Development of the Organic Network: Linking People and Themes, 1945-95 (Floris Book, 2011).

[30] Nicholas Hildyard, “Blood and culture: Ethnic conflict and the authoritarian right,” Corner House Briefing No.11, January 29, 1999.

[31] Fallon, Billionaire, p.312; Tamir Bar-On, Where Have All The Fascists Gone? (Ashgate, 2007), p.9, p.11.

[32] Eric Krebbers, “Millionaire Goldsmith supports the left and the extreme right,” De Fabel van de illegal, September 1999.

[33] Michael Barker, “Findhorn’s angels,” Swans Commentary, November 5, 2012.

[34] Rod Dreher, “Philosopher Prince: The revolutionary anti-modernism of Britain’s heir apparent,” American Conservative, March 12, 2012.

[35] Michael Barker, “Saving trees and capitalism too,” State of Nature, November 17, 2009; Doug Henwood, “Antiglobalization,” Left Business Observer, No.71, January 1999; Eric Krebbers and Merijn Schoenmaker, “Seattle ’99: Marriage party of the left and the right?”, De Fabel van de illegaal, November 1999.

[36] Regina Cochrane, “Rural poverty and impoverished theory: Cultural populism, ecofeminism, and global justice,” The Journal of Peasant Studies, 34 (2), 2007, pp.167-206; Ward Churchill, From a Native Son: Selected essays in Indigenism, 1985-1995 (South End Press, 1996).

[37] Cochrane, “Rural poverty and impoverished theory,” p.188; Meera Nanda, Prophets Facing Backward: Postmodernism, Science, and Hindu Nationalism (Permanent Black, 2006), p.253, p.256.

[38] Neil Carter, Mark Evans, Keith Alderman and Simon Gorham, “Europe, Goldsmith and the Referendum Party,” Parliamentary Affairs, 51(3), 1998, p.473; Masters, The Passion of John Aspinall, p.324.

[39] The most recent addition to the board of trustees of the Countryside Restoration Trust  is the former campaign director of the Soil Association and former trustee of Population Matters (formerly Optimum Population Trust), Robin Maynard. Maynard is a vocal supporter of Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic farming. Robin Maynard,“Muck and magic,” The Ecologist, September 1, 2004.

[40] Simon Usherwood, “The UK Independence Party: The dilemmas of a single-issue party. Political Studies Association 57th Annual Conference, 11 to 13 April 2007, p.2; Paul Vallely, “A big little Englander,” Independent, April 26, 1996; Eric Krebbers, “Millionaire Goldsmith supports the left and the extreme right,” De Fabel van de illegal, September 1999.

The Magical Passage to Planetization

This article was first published by State of Nature on August 5, 2013.


Although New Age mumbo-jumbo maintains a special appeal for those seeking spiritual solace, especially for those worn down by the grueling monotony of working-life under capitalism, such nonsense has always boasted its most ardent supporters within the relatively well-to-do. In fact one could almost imagine that there is a direct correlation between financial wealth and an unhealthy addiction to philosophical garbage. Much to the chagrin of Conservative Christians this mental defect seems especially pronounced within elite policy wonks concerned with “world peace” and global governance (i.e. among World Federalists at the United Nations). Here one particularly prominent group that formerly advocated New Age doctrines within the upper echelons of polite society is the little-known Planetary Citizens. Formed in 1974 by Donald Keys, this organization identified itself as a catalyst for global peace, ostensibly through democratic elite planning, albeit mixed with an unhealthy dose of magical thinking.

Donald Keys had already made quite a political name for himself when he formed Planetary Citizens in the early 1970s,[1] as not only had he just finished serving as the executive director of the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) and been a speech writer for Secretary-General U Thant, but between 1969 and 1982 he had acted as the World Association of World Federalists’ representative to the United Nations. SANE’s founding co-chair had been Norman Cousins (who at the time was the honorary president of the United World Federalists), and not coincidentally Cousins went on to join Keys as the honorary chairman of Planetary Citizens. Thus paradoxically, like something akin to the magical transformation that affected comic-book superhero Spiderman (who mysteriously obtained supernatural powers from a radioactive spider) Keys and Cousins came to believe that through their limited “exposure” to radioactivity – through their anti-nuclear activism – that they too could utilize magical powers to save the world.[2]

So you might well ask: “what type of magic did Keys and Cousins hope to bring into the service of world peace?” Well as it turns out it was mostly delusions of a spiritual nature. And although there was no web-shooting or climbing walls, gigantic leaps of faith were in aplenty – supernatural leaps of faith that took Keys and his cohorts back into the not-so-ancient make-believe realms of Theosophy. For instance, one especially significant early board member of Planetary Citizens was the spiritual visionary and all round New Age guru, David Spangler, who had recently served as the co-director of the Scottish-based Findhorn Foundation, and had just formed the Lorian Association for Incarnational Spirituality (in the United States).

Of the fourteen board members of Planetary Citizens (as of October 1975) at least three of them were practitioners of Robert Assagioli’s Jungian-inspired Psychosynthesis: an unique form of mystical therapy that provides a direct link between Theosophy and the human potential movement. A connection arises because the creator of Psychosynthesis, Robert Assagioli, had been the Italian representative of Alice Bailey’s Arcane School, and had gone on to found the Meditation Group for the New Age, which has its headquarters at Meditation Mount in Ojai, California.[3]

Furthermore, another Planetary Citizens board member of note is George Christie, who in 1962, along with Keys and several others, helped cofound the International Center for Integrative Studies, an organization that “works to co-create a common consciousness as a seedbed for new visions of positive futures for humanity and the planet…” The past president and now board member of this Center, Laraine Mai, likewise served on the board of Planetary Citizens, and has since gone on to work for the New York Open Center (a “holistic consciousness” learning center), and currently serves on the board of the UN Committee on Spirituality, Values and Global Concerns in New York.

Despite what initial appearances may suggest, that Planetary Citizens was just a marginal home for deluded wackos, this is far from the case, and influential members of the global bourgeois lined up to endorse their goals. A few recognizable “early endorsers” who I have written about in previous articles include Maurice Strong, Aurelio Peccei, Peter Ustinov, Konrad Lorenz, Gunnar Myrdal, the Dalai Lama, and the former Ford Foundation president, Paul Hoffman. One should also observe that Planetary Citizens’ 53 person-strong advisory council was home to a veritable smörgåsbord of New Age hucksters and World Federalists. In the latter category we have secular types like Isaac Asimov (an early member of the American Movement for World Government), and Martin Ennals (the founder of Amnesty International); and in the nonsense category we have Peter Caddy (of Findhorn fame), spiritual guide Sri Chinmoy (who underwent his spiritual training at Sri Aurobindo’s Ashram in Pondicherry, now the home for the New Age Auroville Foundation), Edgar Mitchell (founder of the Institute of Noetic Sciences), William Irwin Thompson (founder of the Lindisfarne Association), and Ervin Laszlo (founder of the Club of Budapest). In 1981 Donald Keys would continue his work with Ervin Laszlo by coauthoring an UN report titled ‘Disarmament, the Human Factor’, but it is to Keys’ subsequent book, Earth at Omega: Passage to Planetization, that we now turn our attention.

In many ways this book could be seen as Planetary Citizens’ manifesto for change, or as the books back page blurb puts it “a tool for transition.” Within Earth at Omega’s pages magical thinking is seamlessly merged with demands for global governance. For instance, we are introduced to the wonders of Kirilian photography as a metaphorical means of describing how a new world order will be organized:[4] a fitting choice of New Age claptrap in which to frame Keys’ ideas. In Keys’ mystic future:

Neither capitalism, communism, socialism, democratic socialism, nor other partial ideologies as we have experienced them can possibly be adequate to a new global-level organism. The new world has its own needs, its own new requirements, which can be met only out of responses to that which the new world intrinsically is. Imposing something from the past cannot, will not meet these needs. The planetary design must and will be the collective emergence of something utterly new. It will be discovered – not theorized. It will be implemented not rationalized, as an intuitive recognition of an emerging necessity. (p.12)

Luckily for his eager devotees, some of the worthwhile values that need to be “translated to the global level” have, according to Keys, already been identified in the Club of Rome’s 1976 report, RIO – Reshaping the International Order. Likewise, he adds that scholars based at the Institute for World Order have already recommended the need to promote the necessary “values for global community”, as laid out by the chair of Planetary Citizens advisory council, Saul Mendlovitz, in his book On the Creation of a Just World Order (Free Press, 1975). In addition, work towards allowing the development of an “organismic humanity” is similarly growing in strength owing to the “scholarly and prophetic” activities of those applying General Systems Theory to everything and anything; theories “pioneered” by Ervin Laszlo in his book A Strategy for the Future: A Systems Approach to World Order (George Braziller, 1974). As Keys puts it: “New mythic awarenesses such as these anchor themselves in human consciousness through experiences which bring them home in demonstrable ways.”[5]

Of course the United Nations will, in Keys’ mind, play a key role in bringing about the necessary transition to planetatization, and he highlights three “unsung heroes” who “are unconsciously representing the energies of human unification.” The first is Dag Hammarskjold… although the “intensity of his inner life became apparent only after the publication of his spiritual diary, Markings, following his death in a plane crash in the Congo.” The “cosmic north wind” that was Hammarskjold, left his own mark at the UN by redesigning the Meditation Room – transforming it into an austere place of universal worship. The next spiritual guru cited by Keys is U Thant, who “writes as did Dag Hammarskjold that he was greatly influenced by the writings of Albert Schweitzer and his ethic of ‘reverence for life,’ and by the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.” (Chardin apparently “foresaw an organismic union of humankind based on the sharing of one consciousness.”) The final figure “who represents the subjective side of life in the UN” is Sri Chinmoy, who had “led twice-weekly meditations there for more than ten years…” An individual who “comes from the lineage of the saints and sages of the Hindu East, in the line of and in the tradition of Ramakrishna and Aurobindo.”[6]

Sri Chinmoy apparently holds a special place in Keys life as at the start of Earth at Omega he dedicates his book to his “mentors”: Max Heindel (who was the founder of the Rosicrucian Fellowship), Djwhal Khul (who was one of Madame Blavatsky’s invisible spiritual masters, and was the source of inspiration for much of Alice Bailey’s work with the Arcane School), Geshe Wangyal (a Buddhist guru closely associated with the Dalai Lama), Morya (another of Madame Blavatsky’s invisible friends), Erling (an individual who through her spiritual union with Archangel Mikael in later years formed the Angelic Temple of Illumined Faith and Protection), and last but not least, the celebrity-obsessed cult guru himself, Sri Chinmoy.[7]

Thankfully for Keys, cutting edge studies undertaken at SRI International (formerly the Stanford Research Institute) examining the specifics of human consciousness promoted by his New Age spiritual gurus (invisible or otherwise) will, according to him, soon allow such previously unquantifiable factors to be incorporated into Ervin Lazlo’s systems theories for global management. Here we are informed of Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff’s “stunning research” into “remote viewing” (formerly known as clairvoyance); of how astral projection has been revamped with a new scientifically validated title, “out-of-body experiences,” of which Robert Monroe is cited as being its “best-known practitioner”; while psychokinesis, “the capacity to move objects without touching them, retains it old name, and continues to fascinate.” “The existence of psi phenomena is not in question, only their mechanisms.” Keys continues: “These fledgling steps are regarded with some amusement, of course, by Asian practitioners of these arts, long versed in practicing the psi abilities mentioned above, and many more.”[8]

Keys is in joyous rapture about the rapid spread of intentional communities documented in Marilyn Ferguson’s The Aquarian Conspiracy (J.P. Tarcher, 1980), and by the countercultures adoption of what Mark Satin referred to as “a transmaterial world view.” Keys writes: “Planetary Citizens has found a strong response to its interne program from graduates of spiritual intentional communities, such as the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. These internes seek training for involvement in societal change without sacrificing their more profound values and their inner growth orientation.” On a further triumphant note he suggests that the “political impact of the new consciousness” will “ultimately spell the end of the materialistic, inadequate and dead-end interpretations which characterize latter-day marxism and neo-marxism.” An irrational intuitive future is apparently in good hands, with ruling class members of Planetary Citizens working in collaboration with intentional spiritual communities like “The Farm,” whom Planetary Citizens came to the aid of by helping them distribute their surplus soybeans “directly to the needy of the world.” This international soybean-aid-program (PLENTY International) was apparently “so successful that it has won the backing of both the World Bank and the Canadian aid organization.” How nice. On a more “political” note, Keys draws attention to the transformative work of Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, Jr., Governor of California, whose politics are “neither ‘right’ nor ‘left,’” and whose “administration is animated by a non-material, humane world view…”[9]

Here one might point out that former Apollo astronaut Russell Schweickart, who served as California Governor Jerry Brown’s assistant for science and technology, happened to reside on Planetary Citizens advisory council before going on to become a fellow of the Lindisfarne Association, and then a member of the New Age corporate offshoot project the Global Business Network (which had been set up in 1987). Notably, three of the five cofounders of the Global Business Network included New Age phenomena Stewart Brand (who has recently been rewarded for his longstanding spiritual commitment by the Joseph Campbell Foundation, who honored him with their Erdman-Campbell Award), and two former SRI International senior staffers, Peter Schwartz and Jay Ogilvy, who together with Findhorn-booster Paul Hawken wrote Seven Tomorrows: Toward a Voluntary History (Bantam, 1981). Presently a scholar at the Esalen Center, it is worth mentioning that in 1979 Ogilvy served alongside Donald Keys on the initial governing council of Mark Satin’s New World Alliance, which, much like Planetary Citizens, consisted of a mish-mash of theosophists, futurists, and a general assortment of do-gooders committed to “global peace” (whatever that means).[10]

Finally, I have no doubt that in order to smash capitalism, and to erect a new socialist world in its place, the working classes of the world will need to unite and work in global solidarity to oust the ruling class. But to undertake this monumental task there is no need for the working class to incorporate the metaphysics of bourgeoisie mystics into their organizing repertoires. Call me old-fashioned, but I have a hunch (although Keys might call it intuition) that rationality will win over in the end; and that at the end of the day, the oh-so-learned proponents of irrationalism – be it through their vehement belief on the magical dictates of the free-market, or in spirit voices from above – will succumb to the rational dictates of a united working class that demands a fair and equitable material world for all. Solidarity forever; irrational mumbo jumbo be vanquished!


[1] On the founding of Planetary Citizens, Donald Keys writes: “In 1970, an opportunity arose to create a new vehicle to activate these [humane and global] values. Norman Cousins and I had been conducting a roundtable of meetings among United Nations ambassadors, with Norman as host. These dinner evenings created an arena of ‘neutral turf’ where the diplomats could express themselves more freely and share some of their more human concerns, aspirations and hopes for the United Nations. On the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the United Nations, the ambassadors decided to hold at the UN a ‘Conference on Human Survival’ which would direct itself to questions and issues which they knew would be bypassed in the more routine congratulatory statements of governments in the General Assembly. The conference was arranged with the then Secretary-General, U Thant, as host, with Lester Pearson of Canada as chairman, and with financial help from the Kettering Foundation. The Quaker UN Program helped to organized the conference logistics. Robert Muller, then Director of the Office of the UN Secretary-General, and myself, provided background papers.
“More than twenty of the world’s most revered and thoughtful citizens attended this ‘Conference on Human Survival.’ During the proceedings, U Thant made a plea for a ‘second allegiance, to humanity as a whole, as represented in the world organization.’ U Thant rightly realized that all the efforts of governments and people for world peace and justice would come to naught unless there was a profound addition to our ‘pyramid of loyalties.’ That was it! This was the key. A new effort had to be made, along new lines, stressing a philosophical and attitudinal shift which alone could save Spaceship Earth from either a swift nuclear cataclysm or a slow ecological demise. Normal had penned the now famous ‘Human Manifesto.’ To this I tagged on a ‘Pledge of Planetary Citizenship.’ With U Thant and Normal Cousins as honorary chairmen, and with some funds left over from the Conference on Human Survival, we began Planetary Citizens.” Donald Keys, Earth at Omega: Passage to Planetization (Branden Books [in association with the Findhorn Foundation], 1982), pp.95-6.
For a critique of the peacekeeping credentials of Lester Pearson, see Yves Engler, Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: The Truth May Hurt (RED Publishing, 2012). For a study of Planetary Citizens’ history, see Paul Adler, ‘Planetary Citizens: US NGO’s and the Struggles Over Globalization, 1972-1989’, Ph.D. Thesis In Progress, Georgetown University (Thesis adviser: Michael Kazin).

[2] For an examination of the crossover between New Age ideas – particularly the evolutionary mysticism’s that have flowed through Esalen – and comic book superheroes, see Jeffrey Kripal, Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal (University of Chicago Press, 2011).

[3] Bruce Campbell, Ancient Wisdom Revived: A History of the Theosophical Movement (University of California Press, 1980), p.155. Notable examples of Psychosynthesis practitioners serving on Planetary Citizens board of directors included Betsie Carter-Haar, Mark Horowitz, and Fred Rosenzveig. Another person who was an early board member of Planetary Citizens was Martha Crampton, who during the 1970s was also the director of the Canadian Institute of Psychosynthesis. Crampton remains committed to New Age spirituality, and more recently has taught at the Omega Institute and the New York Open Center. At the latter Center she taught a course in Integrative Therapy, and one of her students was Ida Urso, who went on to serve as the director of World Goodwill (which was founded by Alice Bailey) and as the founder and president of the Aquarian Age Community. Another of Crampton’s students who has gone on to become extremely influential in both New Age and corporate management circles is Jack Canfield, the bestselling author and founder of the Californian-based Foundation for Self Esteem. Canfield counts Crampton as being one of the three biggest influences on his own work; the other two being, W. Clement Stone (who was the coauthor with Napoleon Hill of The Power of Positive Mental Attitude) and Gestalt therapist Robert Resnick. Canfield served on the advisory board of Renaissance Weekend (a very exclusive elite retreat founded by PR-guru Philip Lader), and on the welcoming committee of Barbara Marx Hubbard’s latest mystical consciousness-raising outfit, Birth2012.

[4] Keys, Earth at Omega, p.4.

[5] Keys, Earth at Omega, p.13, p.14, p.71.

[6] Keys, Earth at Omega, p.58, p.59, p.63, p.66, p.69, p.66, pp.66-7.

[7] For a critical review of Sri Chinmoy’s cultish ambitions, see Jayanti Tamm, Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult (Crown/Harmony, 2009). The former wife of Grammy-winning musician Carlos Santana writes of their collective experience of being amongst Sri Chinmoy’s most treasured disciples, noting that: “There was a gaping hole between what his books taught about enlightenment and the psychological and physical requirements of energy, money, loyalty, and selfless allegiance.” Deborah Santana, Space Between the Stars: My Journey to an Open Heart (Ballatine, 2005), pp.256-7. For a further recollection of a related cult set up by one of Sri Chinmoy’s former disciples, Frederick Lenz (“Rama”), see Mark Laxer’s Take Me for a Ride: Coming of Age in a Destructive Cult (Outer Rim Press, 1993).

[8] Keys, Earth at Omega, p.74. One collaborative project mentioned in the closing pages of Keys’ book that Planetary Citizens helped launch is ‘The Planetary Initiative for the World We Choose’. Keys writes: “The original inviters of the Planetary Initiative were the leaders of the Association for Humanistic Psychology, the Club of Rome, Global Education Associates, the United Nations Association of New South Wales, and of course, Planetary Citizens.” (p.103)
Although here is not the place to go into an analysis of this Initiative, it is fitting that Victor James Zammit (a former board member of the United Nations Association of New South Wales’ Human Rights Commission) now dedicates his life to proving the existence of magic, and is the author of A Lawyer Presents the Case For The Afterlife: Irrefutable Objective Evidence (Ganmell Pty, 2002). Zammit currently resides on the advisory board of the Association for Evaluation and Communication of Evidence for Survival, serving alongside leading members of the mumbo-jumbo community such as Rhine Center advisors (Vernon Neppe and Julie Beische), and Jane Katra, who has coauthored two books with aforementioned former SRI International “remote viewing” fanatic Russell Targ.
One should recall that at the very time that the Planetary Initiative was being supported by the United Nations Association of New South Wales, democracy as such barely existed in Australia. For example New South Wales’ neighbouring State, Queensland, was at the time being managed by the right-wing hippy-hating premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen (who held a firm dictatorial grip on Queensland from 1968 to 1987). For documentation of the rampant corruption that ran throughout the New South Wales political machinery during the 1970s, see Michael Barker, ‘The CIA, Drugs, and an Australian Killer Cop‘, Swans Commentary, October 5, 2009.

[9] Keys, Earth at Omega, p.84, p.88, p.89, p.91.

[10] Findhorn fellows and founders of the Center for Visionary Leadership, Gordon Davidson and his wife Corinne McLaughlin, served on the founding governing council of the New World Alliance: they are also the coauthors of Spiritual Politics: Changing the World from the Inside Out (Ballatine, 1994). Their book includes a foreword penned by the Dalai Lama, while Gordon and Corrinne dedicate the book to Djwhal Khul (who was one of Madame Blavatsky’s invisible spiritual masters, and was the source of inspiration for much of Alice Bailey’s work with the Arcane School) and Maitreya (who following the Buddhist tradition is considered to be the future Buddha, but following Theosophical clap trap is their future World Teacher).

Misreporting Ukraine: The Scourge of Conspiracies

Billions of people live on Earth, nearly all of whom are united in trying to make good of the utterly bankrupt political system that dominates their lives. So in a world where the economic demands of a tiny elite regularly trump the living needs of the majority, ordinary people will always yearn for ideas to help them make sense of daily injustices that take place: this much is obvious. Nevertheless, all too often people have become isolated from the type of mass-based political organizations that might act to promote democratic solutions to their serious concerns. Under such circumstances, it makes sense that some people will grasp at the ideological comfort provided by conspiracy theories to understand the world around them; with many individuals gravitating towards the type of explanatory frameworks that are able to point the finger at the evil plots hatched by “all-powerful” nefarious elites.

Conspiracies, as-a-rule of thumb, also tend to ignore or diminish the political significance of the millions of acts of collective resistance that have and continue to be made by ordinary people in the fight for a better world. This latter point is important in contributing towards the maintenance of an unjust status quo. Moreover such conspiratorial turns tend to be welcomed by ruling capitalist elites, who prefer a populous that is misinformed about (1) the overstated power of certain evil individuals to carry through their heinous deeds, and (2) the alleged powerlessness of ordinary people. By contrast, socialist ideas arguably provide the most suitable way of firstly comprehending why inequality and exploitation remain so rife, and secondly, figuring out how our class (the working-class) can collectively respond to the ruling-classes daily intrigues. This is why proponents of socialist ideas are so maligned by capitalist politicians and their willing cronies.

It is a rare day indeed that the daily positive outcomes of working-class struggle are portrayed favourably (if at all) by Hollywood or in the mainstream media. One powerful antidote to this systematic erasure of ordinary people from our own history is Scott Noble’s documentary series Plutocracy: Class War (2015-2017) – which can be viewed online. Another similar historical film that reveals the warts-and-all of our mis-rulers is Oliver Stone’s The Untold History of the United States (2012). Stone’s own well-funded and publicized efforts having likely reached a somewhat larger audience than Noble’s inspiring and largely underfunded work. The critical difference between these two documentaries projects however is that Noble worked on a shoestring budget to present history from the perspective of ordinary people (following in the tradition of historians like Howard Zinn), while Stone’s middle-class predilections led him to present a less empowering, but still informative, “big man” rendition of the dynamics of progressive social change.

Stone himself is of course is a longstanding critic of the machinations of America’s bloodthirsty elite, and his best-film to date in this regard was Salvador (1986) which depicted the grim realities of the murderous US-backed civil war that was then going on in El Savador.  Likewise his recent film, Snowden (2016) does a great service to society by exposing the undemocratic surveillance apparatus that over many years has been constructed by elites to service their own interests. But Stone is by no means perfect, and legitimate criticisms of his politics should be made, especially because of the way in which parts of his work has helped to legitimize a conspiratorial outlook in the broader public’s mind.

On this front I should make it clear from the start, that it is the secretive bent of the US government, combined with the mainstream media’s relentless promotion of conspiracies, which should ultimately be held to blame for the popularizing of all manner of conspiratorial disinformation. That said, Stone’s breath-taking blockbuster film JFK (1991) although certainly being very entertaining, gave a good helping hand to the evolution to what might be called a “deep state” worldview amongst his global audience. Stone’s intention may well have been to simply shine a critical light on an important historical controversy — which he achieved – but we should bear in mind that in doing so, other less progressive-minded individuals who were involved with the films production were also able to promote their own less democratic agendas. For example, one of the key advisors to the production of JFK was Fletcher Prouty (the model for the film’s character ‘Mr. X’) who then used the release of the film to promote his own right-wing conspiracies that sought to draw a clear line between “deep state” covert operations and his own virulent anti-Semitism.

In writing the script for JFK, Stone also openly drew inspiration from Jim Marrs popular book Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy (1989). This relationship is worth reflecting upon because after JFK was released Marrs devoted the rest of his life to an unhealthy obsession with popularizing all manner of whacky conspiracies — publishing a deluge of best-selling books with mainstream publishers on the existence of UFOs and aliens. Marrs last book, published shortly before his death in August this year, was titled The Illuminati: The Secret Society That Hijacked the World (2017). In this book, Marrs wrote that “the curtains of Illuminati secrecy parted somewhat in 2009, when TrineDay published a book… [that] presented what well may be the most thorough and authoritative overview of the Order yet produced.”

For those in the dark about the activities of TrineDay, it should be noted that this independent publisher was launched in 2002 to publish the back-catalogue of one of the godfathers of the right-wing conspiracy theory movement, Antony C. Sutton. Of more relevance to this essay though, TrineDay recently published a book written by Oliver Stone’s eldest son, Sean Stone, which, recycled various conspiracy theories from the likes of Sutton and Lyndon LaRouche, and was published in 2016 as New World Order: A Strategy of Imperialism. Marrs, like Sutton and Sean Stone, holds firmly to the reactionary belief that social change is so manipulated by ruling-class elites that even the Russian Revolution of 1917 was orchestrated by Wall Street financiers!

In stark contrast to his son and his conspiratorial friends, Oliver Stone has a basic understanding of history and the contributions made by ordinary people striving to create a better world. Thus in the first episode of his Untold History documentary, Stone lays out the non-conspiratorial reasons for the development of the Russian Revolution, and lays bare the furious and murderous response of international elites (including the US) to the revolution’s success. But while Oliver Stone’s understanding of how progressive social change happens is a million times better than his sons, Oliver has not been immune from promoting his own conspiratorial narratives about elite manipulation of revolutionary uprisings. And in this respect Oliver’s projection of the recent popular struggles in Ukraine as being made in the USA fall neatly into line with the misplaced views of many in the employ of Putin’s international media outlet Russia Today (RT) which includes his own conspiratorially-minded son, Sean, who happens to co-host his own RT show focused on criticizing US foreign policy.

Oliver Stone’s failed attempt to capture any semblance of truth within his latest documentary Ukraine on Fire (2016) seems to have been led astray by the problems of his own “big man” approach to history, which leads him to focus on the very real conspiracies of the super-rich and their intelligence agencies while overlooking the influence of the grassroots struggles of ordinary people. Hence in Stone’s view the Ukrainian people are unwitting stooges of a well-planned foreign intervention which was cunningly masterminded by American elites and carried through by violent gangs of Ukrainian fascists and neo-nazis.


Other similarly floored documentaries that have been criticized for their misrepresentation of the democratic opposition movement in the Ukraine as fascists include the French production Ukraine: the Masks of the Revolution (2016), and the earlier, more infamous, pro-Putin documentary (2007) which in a similar way vilified the democratic opposition movement that rose up in 2004 during Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. The latter film was produced by the vicious state propagandist Arkadii Mamontov and featured an interview with the conspiratorial western “journalist” F. William Engdahl – a man who seems to believe all democratic uprisings are fermented by all-powerful elites. While, Stone’s film featured its own western source, Robert Parry, who, in contrast to Engdahl, has well-established credentials in America as a progressive journalist. That said, in recent years, Parry, seems to have become overawed by the increasingly powerful propaganda function served by his own country’s media. This in turn has meant Parry has adopted a more conspiratorial view of his own government’s global meddling in the Ukraine, which sadly, has seen his analyses on this subject matter fall more into line with the likes of Engdahl than with legitimate historians.

Yes it is true that western governments, most prominently the United States, has a long history of manipulating the outcomes of revolutionary uprisings with some notable successes. But this is not to say that journalists should then besmirch such upheavals as being merely destabilization campaigns funded by foreign elites, or as being orchestrated by fascists in alliance with foreign intelligence agencies. This is a topic that I am very familiar with, as the best-part of my own doctoral studies were dedicated to documenting the anti-democratic manner in which US elites like CIA, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) have intervened abroad to promote their own capitalist interests.

The thrust of my writing on this subject however was not to suggest that elites can manufacture fake revolutions to serve American foreign policy objectives. Instead I merely illustrated how foreign donors (with vast resources to hand) can provide selective support to groups and individuals which can help to prevent popular uprisings from taking more radical political turns, like for example, away from capitalism itself. This is no shocking revelation in itself, as elites all over the world have always acted like this (the more intelligent ones anyway). This matter is taken up in my book Under the Mask of Philanthropy (2017) which examined how, over the past hundred years or so, such elite interventions have undermined progressive struggles for social change in America and abroad. Again such criticisms are really nothing new, but because these matters remain largely undiscussed on the liberal left, the political arena for ongoing conversations about this subject has been dominated by far right-wing forces within society – a history of reaction that is well-told in the timely book Right-Wing Critics of American Conservativism (2016).

Public discussion relating to the detrimental impact of the financial interventions of liberal elites has therefore become monopolized by right-wing conspiracy theorists like the John Birch Society, or more recently by popular “news” outlets, like Fox News, Breitbart and InfoWars. Hence when writers on the Left attempt to highlight the same concerns but from a socialist or progressive perspective it is an almost knee-jerk reaction of the liberal intelligentsia (and their fellow journalists) to act with revulsion at such allegedly conspiratorial revelations. In this way both left and right-wing critics of elite philanthropy are often roundly dismissed and lumped together as proponents of conspiracy theories (true in one case, not in the other). Certainly this is the negative reaction that I have come across at times. This is problematic because ironically it is this very act of exclusion that may sometimes encourage independent progressive-minded critics of Empire towards making unfortunate intellectual alliances with others on the Right of the political spectrum who are willing to engage with their arguments.

For the cardinal sin of publishing a series of articles that criticized the imperialist activities of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the groups that work uncritically alongside the Endowment, I have unfortunately been dismissed by some ostensibly progressive commentators as a conspiracy theorist. A relevant example here is provided by my articles exposing the NED’s anti-democratic modus operandi in the Ukraine. Here the first article I wrote that dealt with the Orange Revolution of 2004 was published on Znet in 2006 as “Regulating Revolutions in Eastern Europe” (which was part II of a four part series of articles based on a conference paper that I delivered at the Australasian Political Studies Association Conference).

Nowhere in my Znet article did I suggest that the Ukrainian uprising was simply orchestrated by the west, an argument that is regularly made by conservative conspiracy theorists. Instead I observed that the revolutionary anger that erupted in the Ukraine had its roots in a long history of electoral fraud and the extreme poverty that had come to define life in the country for ordinary people. However, I also drew attention to the millions of dollars of US aid that had been provided to opposition groups in the Ukraine in the run-up to the uprising, making the argument that this money had been distributed in an attempt to indirectly regulate the processes of social change to help ensure that a US-friendly elite would come to power in the event of any popular uprisings. Nevertheless despite my nuanced approach to this issue, in 2010 the editor of a popular liberal blog chose to write an article about the Ukrainian uprising citing my article as a prime example of the type of conspiracy theorizing that must be avoided (Eric Stoner, “The end of the Orange Revolution,” Waging Nonviolence, February 9, 2010).

Given time constraints, I only got around to writing a response to these unfounded accusations the following year, and in doing so I updated some of my criticisms about the nature of elite interventions in the Ukraine (this response was published online as “Capitalising on Nonviolence”). But sadly my rebuttal to my critics did not stem the continuing criticisms of my work. And in relation to my same initial Znet article, in late 2013 I was once again smeared as a conspiracy theorist: this time by the liberal anti-war activist Professor Stephen Zunes whose offending article had been republished on the web of the Real News Network. Fortunately the Real News Network let me publish my own online response to the professor, wherein I highlighted the imperialist intentions of Zunes’ own so-called peace associates (as I had already done on a number of previous occasions) and emphasized, once again, that I was not denying that the popular uprising was genuine. As I pointed out, all I was only trying to do was warn of the insidious way that well-funded elites try to intervene in revolutionary movements to undermine them. This led me to conclude with some exasperation:

“Sadly such reflections upon the troublesome relationship between imperialists and many well-meaning advocates of nonviolence has not been an issue that has been engaged with any vigour among many on the Liberal left — which is problematic to say the least. Nevertheless it is perfectly understandable why the ruling-class should seek to manipulate and intervene within progressive social movements, which makes it all the important that we discuss what actions we can take to protect our movements from such unwanted interventions.”

Of course reactionary conspiracy theories about social change are highly regressive, and certainly we do need to limit the spread of such confusing and disempowering ideas, especially when they are propagated through progressive media outlets. Here we might bear in mind the role played by the Real News Network themselves who unwittingly helped build up the credibility of leading “regime change” conspiracy theorist, F. William Engdahl, by publishing his articles on their web site over a four year period (between 2008 and 2012).

Similarly in the wake of the 2014 uprisings in the Ukraine, the Real News Network should also think carefully about why they chose to run an interview with Robert Parry with the conspiratorial title “Did the U.S. carry out a Ukrainian coup?” (March 4, 2014). Within this interview, Parry belittles the genuine democratic concerns of those involved in the mass uprising, saying that this latest revolutionary upsurge was in actual fact just a “coup d’état [sponsored by the US] that was spearheaded by neo-Nazi militias…” This troublesome and sickening misanalysis of Ukrainian events simply defies belief. No-one should doubt that US elites like the CIA and the NED intervened in the Ukraine (as they do all over the world), but the protests were genuine, not a creation of US elites and their funding agencies. So Parry was wrong yet again the following year when he asserted on his web site that the US “Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs ‘Toria’ Nuland was the ‘mastermind’ behind the Feb. 22, 2014 ‘regime change’ in Ukraine…”  The substitution of such conspiratorial nonsense as a progressive alternative to the even more nonsensical output of the mainstream media is inexcusable. Instead what is needed is a genuine class-based analysis of Ukrainian affairs, perhaps following the lead of the journalism produced by the revolutionary socialist organization of which I have been a member since 2011.

A “New Dawn” for Fascism: The Rise of the Capitalist Anti-Establishment

The following article was published first published on August 23, 2017 by Counterpunch with a few less footnotes.

New Dawn

The world rests on a precipice. On the one hand is institutionalized exploitation and imperialist violence. The well-being of humanity continues to be severely hampered by the priorities of a small unstable capitalist class, who would prefer that the rest of us – those who must engage in a daily struggle to purchase the essentials for living (like food and a roof over our heads) – remain unorganized as a cohesive class. And on the other hand, there are those who believe that the fundamental class division between the rulers and the workers is both intolerable and unsustainable, and so seek to participate in and organize mass movements for social change that will bring an end to the domination of one class of people over another.

In the face of the continued resistance of ordinary people, in recent decades global elites have unfortunately forced through a number of regressive counter-reforms upon society, which have served to undermine the ability of our class to collectively fight back. These losses have as much to do with the failures of leadership shown by organizations of the working-class as they do with any concerted planning on behalf of elites. Yet in lieu of the current existence of mass democratic working-class organizations in most of the world, problematic and conspiratorial, but ostensibly anti-establishment, ideas have been able to sometimes temporarily supplant class-based analyses about how and why social change happens. This essay therefore seeks to problematize some of these wrong-minded ideas with a special reference to revolutionary uprisings in Russia and the Ukraine.

To the eternal consternation of those elites who would prefer to deny us our basic class solidarity, and critically, knowledge of our class’ victories, revolutions are a mainstay of humanity’s emancipatory history.  Indeed, popular mass-based uprisings occur all the time, and can take place where they are least expected – as demonstrated by the two successful revolutions that took place one hundred years ago in the poor and materially deprived country that was Russia. But despite the unanticipated nature of the two Russian revolutions of 1917, the democratic and socialist advances made in Russia did much to boost working-class confidence worldwide; think for example of the momentous Seattle General Strike of 1919, or moreover, how close a mass working-class movement came to subsequently organising a successful revolution in Germany.

Nevertheless making a revolution is the not the solution for all ills, as one prominent historian of the Russian revolution put it: “To overthrow the old power is one thing; to take the power in one’s own bands is another.” And ultimately for revolutions to truly serve the needs of the working-class they must succeed in wresting power from the ruling class. Hence although it is true that over the past century many revolutions have taken place, the majority of these uprisings have only succeeded in transferring power from one segment of the ruling elite to another. The ruling-class “may win the power in a revolution not because it is revolutionary,” but because it “has in its possession property, education, the press, a network of strategic positions”. By way of contrast: “Deprived in the nature of things of all social advantages,” an insurrectionary movement of the working-class “can count only on its numbers, its solidarity,” and the degree to which it is organised and ready to assume power during a revolutionary struggle.

The fact that many previous revolutions have failed to deliver democratic control of our lives – with power all too often falling back into the hands of the super-rich – does not mean that such failures were somehow pre-ordained. And it certainly does not imply political collusion between revolutionary leaders and the forces of reaction. But this does not stop the sections of the ruling class from leaping on these failures in order to suit their own nefarious ends. Indeed, now that many people are looking for alternatives to the current corrupt political establishment, a resurgent coalition of neo-fascists and other assorted critics of Western imperialism are striving to take full advantage of the ongoing global economic crisis. They do this by identifying themselves as the genuine critics of the global ruling-class and by misidentifying socialists and revolutionaries as the real enemy of the working-class. In such opportunist and reactionary narratives of social change, genuine revolutionary leaders and popular uprisings are portrayed as unwitting tools of the ruling class elites. So now, as ever, we should be conscious of what are enemies are doing in plain sight, as the stakes have never been higher.

Working-Class Power in the Russian Revolution

When democratically organized bodies of the working-class are unable to provide a fighting leadership within any given popular uprising, leadership still exists, but it falls elsewhere, that is, outside of the democratic control of ordinary workers. This is precisely what happened during the initial February revolution in Russia 1917. This initial Revolution did act to oust the despotic Tsar, but only to allow another unrepresentative and undemocratic elite to take over the reins of the country. But with the new Provisional Government that came to power being unwilling to cede power to the majority of Russians, the subsequent October Revolution succeeded where the former failed in enabling a mass movement of the working-class to assume power. Revolutionary working-class leadership was provided by the democratic forces of the Bolshevik Party, a force which in later years was tragically misled and debased by Stalin and his admirers.

The ruling-class, wherever they may lie, have never been disinterested with the outcomes of revolutionary struggles. In February 1917, elites across the world welcomed the new trusted rulers of Russia. This can be contrasted with their subsequent dismay in October, when international elites felt compelled to mobilize their armies to back the displaced Russian ruling class in their long and bloody civil war against socialism. It was this protracted crisis and the failure of similar revolutions to spread elsewhere that helped pave the way for Stalin’s eventual seizure of power. Moreover, it was Stalin’s undemocratic reign as the leader of the Communist Party that served to mislead the global forces of the working-class and ultimately undermine people’s faith in the power of socialist ideas to change society for the better. This is not to say that socialists and workers did not continue to fight for a genuine workers democracy and the removal of Stalinist toxin that dominated communist politics. Here some of the most notable individuals in organising against the Stalinist counter-revolution were those forces organized around Leon Trotsky — one of the principal leaders of the October Revolution.

Although at present no large and influential revolutionary party is based in Russia, germinal forms of such organizations do exist and their members, like other independent trade unionists, continue to suffer repression at the hands of Putin’s capitalist state. Putin’s elite, just like other ruling cliques elsewhere, like to portray those seeking revolutionary change as dangerous enemies of the people, whose democratic activities must be ruthlessly crushed. Following the template of the 1917 Revolution elites and their supporters do their best to smear socialist activists as dupes or willing agents of foreign imperial powers. This was the strategy deployed against the members of the Bolshevik Party both prior to and after the October Revolution, and fittingly enough it is the same ridiculous lie that is told about the leaders of the revolution to this day.

Wall Street’s Bolshevik Conspiracy?

Today the main proponents of the fabrication that the Bolsheviks were merely tools of Western imperialists are right-wing conspiracy theorists, many of whom like to refer to themselves as either libertarians or apolitical. One of the most famous texts expounding this timeless deceit is Antony C. Sutton’s Wall Street and the Bolshevik Revolution (1974), a book whose “research” has now been given a new breath of life by Professor Richard Spence’s more sophisticated but equally conspiratorial book Wall Street and the Russian Revolution: 1905-1925 (2017). But despite being an apparent specialist in modern espionage and the occult, Spence, like many more run-of-the-mill conspiracy theorists, has an unhealthy propensity for treating declassified files released by ill-informed intelligence agencies at face-value. Spence however is no marginal scholar as in 2010 he worked as a research fellow at the neoconservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and has been interviewed the Russian television channel NTV as a so-called specialist on “Trotsky’s American Connections” for an upcoming documentary on the Russian Revolution. In addition he remains a regular contributor to the popular pro-Putin conspiracy magazine, New Dawn.

For those who simply don’t have the time to keep up with the latest extraterrestrial elite machinations and the New World Order’s genocidal plots, you should know that New Dawn is a big-hitter in the field, with bimonthly issues over-brimming with ‘adverts’ for alternative medicine boosted by all manner of quasi-fascist nonsense.[1] The latest issue of this bloated magazine leads with the article “Putin takes on the U.S. Deep State” (July/August), with the author of this piece being former InfoWars editor, Patrick Henningsen. Most notably the only politician listed on New Dawn’s roll-call of endorsers for their verbose tosh is the neo-fascist, Alexandre Dugin, who they correctly identify as the “leader of International Eurasian Movement.” As Dugin’s endorsement explains: “New Dawn magazine is one of the best sources of realistic information on the state of things in our world as it nears its inevitable and predicted end.”

Here the connection between the delusions promoted by New Dawn and the mystifying work of people like Professor Spence is the utility of their ideas to the powerful, more specifically in helping to undermine the legitimacy of revolutionary socialism. Certainly the liberal (globalist) elites that New Dawn and their writers obsess about do engage in anti-democratic activities. But New Dawn’s paranoid ramblings about the actions of these allegedly all-powerful elites is far removed from the sober Marxist class-analysis that is necessary to understand how such elites profit from capitalism (and sometimes from fascism). But what else would you expect from a magazine that includes well-known fascists like Dr Kerry Bolton upon its roster of regular writers. Focusing on Bolton for a moment, he cites as authorities for his own pro-Putin conspiracies the work of Antony C. Sutton and Richard Spence, and asserts that Stalin was correct in his belief that both Trotsky and his followers “were agents of foreign capital and foreign powers” seeking to promote capitalism!?

Bolton points to the fact that a handful of leading Trotskyist intellectuals went on to work hand-in-hand with the CIA as further proof that Marxists were always working for Wall Street. What Bolton fails to mention is that these intellectuals all renounced their belief in Marxism in order to become well paid and respected conservatives. Moreover in the early days of their new-found careers as turncoats these former Marxists simply joined forces with the longstanding conservative leadership of the AFL-CIO, who right from the early days of the Russian Revolution had been open in their opposition to Bolshevism and to union democracy more generally. Bolton is therefore only correct when he says that neoconservative activists eventually went on to help create the US Government’s interventionist and imperialist National Endowment for Democracy (NED), but only in the early 1980s. Bringing his conspiracy up-to-date, elsewhere Bolton draws a direct connect between “international capital” and individuals like George Soros and groups like the NED, with regards their continuing role in “fomenting revolutions”. As he goes on to explain for an article published with the neo-fascist/Traditionalist publisher Counter-Currents (an outlet which  popularizes the nazi mysticism of “Hitler’s PriestessSavitri Devi):

“The primary factor that was behind the bankers’ support for the Bolsheviks whether from London, New York, Stockholm, or Berlin, was to open up the underdeveloped resources of Russia to the world market, just as in our own day George Soros, the money speculator, funds the so-called ‘color revolutions’ to bring about ‘regime change’ that facilitates the opening up of resources to global exploitation. Hence there can no longer be any doubt that international capital a plays a major role in fomenting revolutions…”

Putin’s Ukraine

In the November 2014 issue of New Dawn the magazine featured another article authored by Bolton titled “The great conspiracy against Russia: what is really behind the campaign against Putin?” His purile rant began with considerable gusto:

“When the war-drums start beating in Washington against a state or statesman, one is entitled to wonder what transgression might have been made against the ‘New World Order’. Over the past few decades we have seen one nation after another succumb to either financial blandishments, or when those fail, long-planned, well-funded ‘spontaneous’ colour revolutions, and as a last resort bombs. The states of the ex-Soviet bloc largely succumbed to ‘colour revolutions’ orchestrated by the Soros network, aligned with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), USAID and a host of other funds and NGOs.”

Following close to Putin’s now-official propaganda line, Bolton fumes against the imperialist interventions of the NED undertaken in the Ukraine and their allegedly manufacturing of endless popular uprisings. But in reality it should be obvious that the sizable financial support provided to civil society groups by US elites does not allow them to manufacture revolutionary discontent out of thin air; it only allows them to promote their own capitalist interests in their ongoing attempts to forestall genuinely radical, dare I say, revolutionary socialist change. Yes, the US will do everything in their power to encourage new capitalist governments that are more likely to prioritize friendly relations with them, but so too would Russia.

Putin relaxing (as featured in New Dawn magazine)

So in the Ukraine, as elsewhere, Putin intervenes as an imperialist power-broker to promote his own countries’ capitalist foreign policy objectives, while the US does the same. Neither, however, have the best interest of the working-class at heart, and so both governments and their contributions to the “East-West tug-of-war” deserve our criticism. This is not, however, how other political commentators see matters, and perhaps in part because of the lack of an influential working class political alternative (which still needs working on), some misguided people end up following the crude logic that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Bolton breaks from such motivations only because he chooses to support Putin because it serves his own personal agenda – even though, it should be said, Putin himself is no fascist.

Regime Change Inc. and the New World Order

A further intriguing example of similar reactionary thinking vis-a-vis the dynamics of social change is provided in the work of F. William Engdahl, who in 2004 republished his 1992 book A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order with the left-wing publisher Pluto Press. Prior to Pluto’s not so inspired decision to publish this book, Engdahl had spent decades working as an editor for Lyndon LaRouche’s conspiracy network (at least until 1997), and his book merely recycled many LaRouchite narratives including that the 1960s counterculture New Age movement was a manufactured CIA-backed “project.” To be more specific, according to Engdahl the creation of the hippie movement had been overseen by the “Anglo-American liberal establishment” which was then used in conjunction with another “weapon” of the elite, the creation of a “manipulated ‘race war’”.  As part of this fictional elite-orchestrated process of social change Engdahl went on to add more details to his heady conspiracy, noting that: “The May 1968 student riots in France, were the result of the vested London and New York financial interests in the one G-10 nation which continued to defy their mandate.” In a brief comment he then explained his idiotic belief that…

“modern Anglo-American liberalism bore a curious similarity to the Leninist concept of a ‘vanguard party,’ which imposed a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ in the name of some future ideal of society. Both models were based on deception of the broader populace.”

Since publishing his first book Engdahl has continued his prolific publishing record by writing for New Age neo-fascist magazines like New Dawn. Building upon his credentials as an oil historian he now publicises his conversion to the latest right-wing conspiracy craze that asserts that oil is actually limitless and not actually a fossil fuel (in this Engdahl consciously drew upon Stalinist research carried out by Russian and Ukrainian scientists in the 1950s).[2] Engdahl’s ability to read conspiracies into any subject are truly second to none: a couple of years ago he chose to misinterpret medical research that actually highlighted progress in the struggle to fight cancer in order to write an article asserting that scientific evidence proved that chemotherapy, not cancer, is the real killer!

Engdahl it seems is a man with a special mission, and in recent years he has served on the advisory boards of two neo-fascist journals that were published in Italy (Geopolitica which was edited by a leading member of Dugin’s International Eurasian Movement, and Eurasia, Rivista di Studi Geopolitici which was published and edited by Italian Nazi-Maoist Claudio Mutti). Engdahl is also a regular contributor (like Dr Bolton) to the articles and videos produced by the neo-fascist Russian think tank Katehon – a group funded by billionaire philanthropist Konstantin Malofeev (see later) whose work is overseen by the close Dugin-ally and homegrown Ukrainan esoteric fascist, Leonid Savin. In line with this political orientation, Engdahl additionally writes and acts as an advisor for Veterans Today, an organization that, in the name of opposing warmongering, does yeoman’s service to popularizing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.[3]

Engdahl’s railing against the globalist conspiracy was fully evident in his 2009 book Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order. Herein Engdahl focuses on the historic activities of liberal philanthropy and the NED in creating what he calls synthetic movements for ‘non-violent change.’ This book was well-received in certain Russian military circles, and was cited approvingly by fellow Katehon contributor Andrew Korybko in his 2015 book Hybrid Wars: The Indirect Adaptive Approach To Regime Change which Korybko was able publish while he was a member of the expert council for the Institute of Strategic Studies and Predictions at the People’s Friendship University of Russia. Korybko is also privileged enough to be able to espouse his views to a global audience through his work as a journalist for Sputnik International. However, although people like Engdahl and Korybko do great work at popularizing disempowering theories, arguably the most effective proponent of the conspiracy surrounding the activities of the NED in Eurasia was undertaken by Putin’s former chief PR strategist, Gleb Pavlovsky.[4]

Gleb Pavlovsky’s unique role in helping develop a reactive strategy to foreign “democracy” promoters like the NED has been referred to as “Putin’s Preventive Counter-Revolution” by Robert Horvath. He argues that his strategy was born of the regimes anxiety in the wake of the 2003 ‘Rose Revolution’ in Georgia, which marked “the first of the new wave of democratic revolutions in the post-Soviet space”. Pavlovsky is subsequently credited with having been the “mastermind of the Putin regime’s response” to these NED/Soros-backed democratic interventions. Moreover, Horvath adds a personal aside to this tale, observing that because Pavlovsky had served as “an advisor to the [Viktor] Yanukovych camp in the Ukrainian presidential election [in 2004], he had experienced the ‘Orange Revolution’ as a personal defeat.” Hence Pavlovsky’s went on to play a critical role in encouraging Putin to respond with a more thoroughgoing embrace of a conspiratorial interpretation of social uprisings.[5]

No doubt taking hope from such conspiracies, Putin, during the 2007 Russian election, delivered his “most venomous tirade against the enemy within” for “counting ‘upon the support of foreign foundations and governments and not the support of their own people’. The following week these foreign enemies were then the focus of Arkadii Mamontov’s powerful conspiracy documentary (, which, as Horvath explained, “vilified leading opposition activists involved in the Other Russia coalition.” In this documentary F. William Engdahl found his voice yet again as the sole foreign expert to legitimate this open display of state propaganda. Echoing the aforementioned conspiracies surrounding the foreign funding of the Bolshevik Revolution, Mamontov maligned the anti-Putin political activism undertaken by the libertarian Russian-Croatian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, explaining to his viewers that Kasparov had “returned from America, like his colleague Trotsky once did”.

Bigotry in the Service of Tsardom

Perhaps styling himself after Fox News’ own once-powerful conspirator, Bill O’Reilly, Mamontov never misses a chance to launch vicious tirades against western liberalism. Mamontov thus puts his weekly sermons on the major national TV channel, Rossiya 1, to full use in the service of Putin’s anti-liberal brand of authoritarianism. In many ways the content of these Orwellian hate shows might be seen as an attempt to emulate Stalin’s famous show trials, allowing Mamontov and his conspirators to publicly try and convict all those guilty of tainting Russian patriotism. Just as Stalin persecuted Trotsky’s supporters as fascists (the enemy within), to Mamontov all critics of Putin (whether liberal or socialist) are fascist as far as he is concerned. That said, it is the alleged perversion and decadence of the West that features as Mamontov’s number one target, with one of his most vile contributions to date being his 2015 documentary Sodom, which is nothing other than a relentless attack on homosexuality. Keen to utilize ‘independent’ western critics to attack America’s latest so-called export, Sodom features the notorious anti-gay Christian activist Scott Lively, who in addition to being the author of bile-filled book The Pink Swastika, famously advised the Ugandan government on their notorious anti-homosexual legislation. Lively later went on to closely replicate Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill by working with Brian Brown to help the Russia state draft their own hateful Anti-Gay Laws. Notably, only last year Brian Brown went on to be elected president of the World Congress on Families – an international far-right coalition which has been correctly described as “one of the major driving forces behind the U.S. Religious Right’s global export of homophobia and sexism.” Joining arms with American funders, conservative Russian elites also played a central role in founding the World Congress on Families; and one billionaire who is to the fore of currently funding the Congresses activities is the loyal Putin-supporter, Konstantin Malofeev.

Much like the amazing Octopus-like reach of the Koch Brothers in America, Malofeev, as a devout extremist philanthropist, not only acts the president of his own neo-fascist think tank, Katehon, but has also founded his own his own Russian Orthodox TV channel with none other than Dugin sitting at its editorial helm.[6] Another of Malofeev’s explicitly elitist pet ambitions is to ensure that a new patriotic cadre is ready to rule Russia when (as he hopes) the Eurasian movement comes to complete domination of the state apparatus. To undertake this task Malofeev created St Basil the Great School, which as he explained “in an interview with the Guardian, is meant to function as ‘an Orthodox Eton’, which will prepare the new elite for a future Russian monarchy.”[7]

The fond memories that Russian oligarchs maintain for the alleged glory days of the pre-1917 reign of the Tsar are reactionary in the extreme, which, when combined with the mainstream media’s demonization of revolutionary social movements, has troubling consequences for the potential future growth of working-class struggle. Indeed the level of misunderstanding of Russia’s most significant political historical event is perplexing to anyone who has studied Russian history. One such liberal Bolshevik expert is Professor Alexander Rabinowitch, who, reflecting upon his recent visits to Russia explained how he

“…was struck by the absolutely crazy questions I was being asked: Was there a February Revolution? Is it true that everything was great in Russia in February, and it was the Generals or the Masons or the intelligentsia that caused the Revolution? And this to some extent is being encouraged, the idea that the Empire – that Imperial Russia was strong and that is where Russia’s future lies – I think that is being encouraged by the [Putin] regime, which really cannot just ignore the Revolution, and so it is helping fund serious scholarly conferences [which Rabinowitch attends], but at a popular level that’s not what is happening, and crazy things are being published and crazy things are being said, and these lead to crazy questions…. I certainly get that as I read about popular thought in newspapers.”

Again one popularizer of such nonsense is F. William Engdahl who wrote in 2015 in the journal of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences that:

“Contrary to the mythology that passes for history at western universities such as Cambridge, Oxford, Princeton or Harvard, Russia in the years leading to outbreak of World War I was on the path to become a towering prosperous economic nation, something especially not welcome in London.”

This gobbledygook leads Engdahl to his latest conspiratorial revelation: “Wall Street and the City of London financed Leon Trotsky, Lenin, and the Bolshevik Revolution essentially as they did Boris Yeltsin after 1990, to open up Russia for looting and balkanization by favored western companies.”

Propagating Conspiracies and New Eurasianism

Contemplating the nature of the Russian media’s relentless misrepresentation of the colored revolutions as simply “organized and paid for by the Americans,” one mainstream commentator writing for The Atlantic earlier this year observed: “Now, we see the same kinds of theories pop up in state media portrayals of the Revolutions of 1917.” But strictly speaking this is not really a new development as evidenced by the putrid outpouring of the likes of Engdahl and Spence. But such false flag right-wing propaganda is not limited to journalists and academics, as Putin’s former key advisor, Gleb Pavlovsky, as mentioned earlier, also played a critical role in spreading such misinformation within Russian society. Pavlovsky was aided in this task through his role as the host of a news show (between 2005 and 2008) that was aired on RTV  – a Russian television channel that has been owned by natural gas giant Gazprom since 2001.

Corporate networking events like the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum also play an important role in laundering the latest conspiracy theories amongst the Russian power elite. Last year, for example, Engdahl was featured on an all-star panel sponsored by energy giant Rusal that was titled “The Russian Economic Growth Agenda.” Speaking alongside Engdahl on this prestigious line-up was one of Putin’s primary economic advisors, Sergey Glaziev, who also sits on the advisory board of the right-wing think tank, Katehon. Glaziev likewise maintains his own close connections to Engdahl’s former boss, Lyndon LaRouche, whose shadowy conspiracy network published the English translation of Glaziev’s book in 1999 as Genocide: Russia and the New World Order.

These ominous links between LaRouche’s reactionary conspiracy network and Russian elites have been well-documented elsewhere, but needless to say LaRouchites often feature as “experts” on Russian television, particularly on Russia Today. LaRouche and his co-conspirators are even counted as close allies of one of Dugin’s key ideological supporters, Natalya Vitrenko, who is the leader of the misnamed Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine. Following in Stalin’s footsteps Vitrenko, with no hint of irony, regularly refers to her democratic opponents as fascists, just as LaRouche himself does. (Note: LaRouche has good form in supporting authoritarian leaders; a good example being the ideological aid his network bestowed upon the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines during the peoples revolution of 1986.)

But while LaRouche with his endless supply of “alternative facts” has certainly provided further fuel for the explosion of conspiracy theories in Russia, the proselytizing of other homegrown intellectuals should be considered more important. This is especially the case with the reactionary neo-Eurasian ideas that have taken root within Putin’s increasingly authoritarian regime; a dark influence that reared its head during Putin’s annual address to the federal assembly in December 2012 when the president reminded his disciples of the contemporary relevance of the ideas of the late Lev Gumilyov’s (1912-1992).[8] Gumilyov was a vehemently anti-Marxist theorist of the fledgling Eurasian movement who, amongst his other bizarre beliefs, was incensed that the Bolshevik Revolution had embodied “alien” western and Jewish values. It was Gumilyov’s intellectual legacy that has been rehashed and updated by both Dugin (who describes Gumilyov as his most important Russian mentor) and by a once-prominent professor at Moscow State University’s Faculty of Philosophy, Aleksandr Panarin (1940–2003).  Although Dugin is best-known as the intellectual guru for the Eurasian movement, Panarin’s primary contribution to this developing paradigm was to insert the esoteric and fascist ideas of the philosophical leader of the French New Right, Alain de Benoist.

Postmodern Confusion in France and Beyond

The French New Right as it turns out first began their rise to influence around the activism of Alain de Benoist in the wake of the revolutionary uprising of May 1968, with their new collective organizational form being the Research and Study Group for European Civilization (GRECE). Realizing that old-style fascism was discredited amongst the broader public, GRECE sought to promote themselves as anti-elitist but neither Left nor Right (neither socialism or capitalism), and they quickly went about popularizing their conspiratorial mishmash of fascist and occult ideas.

A useful book that provides details about the origins and influences exerted by GRECE and their global followers is Tamir Bar-On’s Where Have All The Fascists Gone? (2007), in which the author emphasizes that 1978 stood out as a “breakthrough year for GRECE in terms of receiving larger access to the mainstream public.” This was because a “number of important GRECE figures, including Alain de Benoist, began to write regular articles that year in the right-wing Le Figaro Magazine.” This however was no accidental flash-in-the-pan, as the editor of the popular Le Figaro Magazine, Louis Pauwels, had previously “written in the revolutionary right’s Cahiers universitaires in the 1960s.” Moreover, although overlooked by Bar-On, in 1960 Pauwels had coauthored the irrationalist, Romantic treatise known as Les matin des magiciens, which later made its 1964 debut in America as Morning of the Magicians. And given the long-standing cross-over between neo-fascist and occult/new age theories it is very pertinent that Pauwels book had been credited withthe distinction of launching a revival of interest in the occult in the 1960s and 1970s…” Clearly other objective historical conditions also played a major role in driving people away from class-based analyses of society, but the historical role played by ultra-right-wing occultists like Pauwels should not be overlooked. After all it is by examining the lives of people like Pauwels and his co-thinkers that we might begin to understand why both mystical and neo-fascist ideas have been able to make something of a resurgence among the public in recent decades.

Here the theories of the French New Right actually overlap somewhat with the debilitating postmodern ideas that were popularised by French intellectuals in the wake the 1968 revolution in France — not just their commitment to provide an alternative to Marxism. This worrying phenomenon was highlighted in the 2004 book New Culture, New Right: Anti-Liberalism in Postmodern Europe which was written by the right-wing postmodernist Michael O’Meara, an individual who presently works alongside fellow neo-fascists Kerry Bolton and Leonid Savin at the Athens-based Academy of Social and Political Research. Of relevance here, O’Meara’s personal biography sheds further light on the relationship on the intellectual upheavals in some parts of the so-called Left, as in 1999, writing under his former pen-name, Michael Torigian, O’Meara published a left-wing book titled Every Factory a Fortress: The French Labor Movement in the Age of Ford and Hitler. But then just a few months later O’Meara clarified his recent embrace of Alain de Benoist’s right-wing ideas in an article published in the controversial journal, Telos, which was titled “The philosophical foundations of the French New Right.”

Here it is important to acknowledge that the broader ideological slide from left-wing hostility to Marxism to right-wing hostility to Marxism was, in its own unique way, pioneered by Telos in the post 1968 period. Established in May 1968 by disillusioned left-wing academics, Telos set out on a search for an alternative to Marxism in order (ostensibly) to help emancipate the working-class. The new ideas Telos then unearthed arguably did a great service in enabling the development of post-Marxist ‘left-wing’ alternatives, most famously postmodernism. In the early 1990s Telos’ ever-expanding search for new theories eventually led their editors into an unfortunate embrace of the French New Right. As Boris Frankel’s observed in his prescient article “Confronting neo-liberal regimes: the post-Marxist embrace of populism and realpolitik” (New Left Review,  December 1997), it is vital that the “upsurge of right-wing populist movements in OECD countries” and “Telos’ theoretical cultivation of ‘postmodern populism’” should not be overlooked in coming to terms with history. On this I couldn’t agree more.[9]

Final Thoughts/Hopes

The hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution is now upon us, and one of the most remarkable events in human history should provide inspiration and hope to billions of people. At present the world and its inhabitants stand at a critical juncture. Capitalism is once again demonstrating its inability to provide for the needs of the majority of people, and as every day passes, our inhumane system is driving even more people into poverty. Socialist alternatives to capitalism are not only possible but they are now supremely attainable: technological advances must be harnessed, not to oppress and surveil us, but to free us all from the daily grind of working life.

The eventual deformation of the Russian Revolution should be considered one of history’s major tragedies, and the Revolution’s gross distortion under the anti-democratic influence of Stalin and his apparatchiks must never be repeated. This is why Leon Trotsky and his supporters dedicated their lives to exposing all the dangerous betrayals of the working-class that took place under the misleadership of the Stalinist Communist Party, while also committing themselves to the ongoing struggle for a socialist future where ordinary people have full democratic control over workplaces and their lives. For undertaking such a struggle for justice, socialists and particularly Trotskyists have been relentlessly demonized by all capitalist institutions, by Stalin’s heirs, and by conspiracy theorists and their neo-fascists friends.

The Russian Revolution was a genuine democratic uprising of the working-class against their rulers which is precisely why it has always been so maligned by its ideological enemies. The Revolution was most certainly not orchestrated by Wall Street elites – in the same way that other popular revolutions that continue to shake the world are not the pet projects of Wall Street. Nevertheless it is true that when revolutions are deprived of a democratic leadership that is willing and ready to overthrow capitalism and bring about a socialist transformation of society, such revolutions will most likely only succeed in exchanging one set of undemocratic elites with another. This may give some form of respite to ordinary people, especially when they manage to replace capitalist dictatorships with capitalist democracies, but at the end of the day under the continued domination of capitalist misrule profits will always trump human need.

Of course there are many real reasons why people become disillusioned with the tiring fight for a fairer society, and it doesn’t help when the working-class are repeatedly let down or betrayed by the promises of their so-called political leaders. And all the while we should be aware that all sorts of fascists and right-wing populists are presently ready and waiting to take advantage of popular discontent if we fail to organize our class effectively on a global scale. Learning from this, socialists must therefore continue to lead by example and fight for every reform we can possibly wring from the ruling-class, while simultaneously making the case for why it will be necessary to ditch capitalism once and for all if we are to secure any lasting gains for our class. A socialist revolution is possible, as the centenary of the events in 1917 should remind us, now we just need to organize to make it happen.


[1] For details on the connections between fascists and the new age movement see, Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity (2002), p.292. I have written about this in my series of articles that critically scrutinized the reactionary spiritual conspiracies woven by David Icke; see part III “Ruling-Class Aliens” (Swans Commentary, July 28, 2014) for Icke’s use of anti-Semite conspiracy theories about the origins of the Russian Revolution.

[2] In 2005 longstanding rightwing conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi coathored the book Black Gold Stranglehold: The Myth of Scarcity and the Politics of Oil, which promotes the alternative fact that oil is not a fossil fuel. Earlier this year Corsi became the Washington Bureau Chief for Alex Jones’ InfoWars.

[3] To read more about how LaRouche and Engdahl’s conspiracies have been popularized on mainstream TV, see Michael Wolraich’s Blowing Smoke: Why the Right Keeps Serving Up Whack-Job Fantasies about the Plot to Euthanize Grandma, Outlaw Christmas, and Turn Junior into a Raging Homosexual (2010). In recent years Engdahl’s books have been published by the so-called “Progress Press” which excitedly republished LaRouche’s “underground classic” Dope Inc.: Britain’s Opium War against the United States. Furthermore, Engdahl’s 2009 book Gods of Money: Wall Street and the Death of the American Century directly draws up the conspiracies of Antony C. Sutton, refers to the “remarkable work of the 19th and early 20th Century German writer, Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West” (a book popular in fascist circles), and uncritically cites the “research” of famed fascist anti-Semite Eustace Mullins. At present Engdahl is counted as a regular contributor to the online journal “New Eastern Outlook” which is published by the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Other well-known conspiracy theorists who write for this publication include Tony Cartalucci and Andre Vltchek.

[4] Another conspiratorial book that, in 1999, served to present the views of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation was Nikolai Bindyukov and Petr Lopata edited tome, The Special Third Force: A New Political Phenomenon. As one critical reviewer of this book observed:

“The volume is a combination of essays and documents. Its authors, Nikolai Bindyukov and Petr Lopata, are – unlike Panarin – political figures. Bindyukov was a member of the last Duma and Lopata was an ‘expert’ who worked for the Duma. The ‘New Third Force’ is described as a blending of political organization, secret society and a special type of fifth column within Russia… this work states that this fifth column is working for the West to bring about the complete defeat and total ruin of Russia. In their view, the election of Yeltsin in 1996 was the ‘July coup’, engineered by Anatoliy Chubays, financed by the banking oligarchs – the ‘sharks of young Russian capitalism’, supported by a traitorous mass media and aided by an ambitious General Lebed. All subsequent events are interpreted within this paradigm. ‘This [special third force] is the force, which the world political and financial oligarchy planted and grew in Russia, beginning with Allen Dulles and the Rockefellers and ending with Berezovsky, the International Monetary Fund, and Soros.’” Jacob W. Kipp, “Aleksandr Dugin and the ideology of national revival: Geopolitics, Eurasianism and the conservative revolution,” European Security, 11 (3), Autumn 2002), p.98, p.99.

[5] Horvath adds: “What is indisputable is that vast resources were expended in disseminating this conspiracy theory. It was even the subject of a high-budget action movie, Men’s Season: Velvet Revolution, which claimed in the end-titles to be ‘based upon real events’. Obviously funded by the security apparatus, the screenplay pitted two intrepid state security agents against a psychopathic billionaire named Sors—an allusion to George Soros—whose agents were preparing to foment a revolution in Russia to install a puppet government and extend his narcotics empire.” Robert Horvath, “Putin’s ‘preventive counter-revolution’: post-Soviet authoritarianism and the spectre of Velvet Revolution,” Europe-Asia Studies, 63 (1), 2011.

[6] Malofeev and Dugin’s TV channel is used as a platform for figures like American conspiracy theorist Alex Jones (of InfoWars infamy). The conspiratorial friendship between Dugin and Jones is mutual, serving both of their own conservative agendas. Thus the aforementioned Russian writer Andrew Korybko writes regularly for both Katehon and for the 21st Century Wire conspiracy outlet edited by Patrick Henningsen. Henningsen’s biography, as listed on the web site of the Guardian (after he published one libertarian article with them), notes that he is “an Associate Editor of alternative news site and regular geopolitical analyst for Russia Today.” In a recent interview Malofeev paid homage to the positive influence of Fox News, and boasted about how he had chosen to hire Jack Hanick, one of Fox News’s founding producers, to help launch his new television station.

[7] “Malofeev gained further notoriety during the Ukraine conflict in 2014, after he emerged as one of the key figures linking pro-Russia forces in east Ukraine with the Moscow political establishment. One of his former employees, Alexander Borodai, was at one point the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic prime minister; another, Igor Girkin, briefly served as the pro-Russian rebels’ chief military commander. The connections landed Malofeev under EU and US sanctions last year. Ukraine’s interior ministry has accused him of financing ‘illegal armed groups’ and branded him a ‘sponsor of terrorists’. Malofeev has denied the allegations, which have played well for him domestically. According to Sergei Markov, a well-connected pro-Kremlin analyst, the claims have actually boosted his standing as a successful lobbyist and ideologue…” Courtney Weaver, “God’s TV, Russian Style,” Financial Times, October 16, 2015.

[8] For more on this problematic history see Raphael Schlembach, “Alain de Benoists Anti-Political Philosophy beyond Left and Right: Non-Emancipatory Responses to Globalisation and Crisis,” Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice, University of Nottingham, Working Paper No. 22., 2013. Furthermore, as Mark Bassin explained in his article “Lev Gumilev and the European New Right” (Nationalities Papers, 46(6), 2015): “Indeed, the resonances between Russian and European radical conservatism are no longer limited to purely ideological cross-fertilization. One of the more fascinating side effects of Russia’s actions in Ukraine in 2014 has been to reveal the political connections that are developing between the Putin regime and radical-conservative tendencies in the West. The Russian government has recently underwritten the activities of the Front National in France in the non-trivial form of a nine million Euro loan, battalions of young New Right enthusiasts from France and elsewhere travel to eastern Ukraine to fight in the ranks of the Russian-supported separatist army, and Putin has given public indications of his solidarity with the extremist Jobbik party in Hungary and Ataka in Bulgaria. The leader of the UK Independence Party Nigel Farage praises the Russian leader’s “brilliant” political maneuvering, and no less a stalwart of America’s conservative establishment than Pat Buchanan has begun – sensationally – to wonder if Vladimir Putin might not actually be “one of us”; “UK far-right leader Farage calls for alliance with Russia” 2014).” (pp.840-1)

[9] In the American context, one author who has helped popularize the neo-fascist ideas now boiling up in Europe was Tomislav Sunic who is the author of Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right (1990). Other influential American’s who have kept fascist organizations and ideas going throughout the twentieth century include the former leader of the National Renaissance Party (NRP), James Madole (1927-1979) and former NRP activist Eustace Mullins.

Who Funds the Progressive Media?

The following article was first published online in 2008 and is based upon a peer-reviewed academic article titled “Social engineering, progressive media, and the Benton Foundation” that I presented in Wellington (July 9-11) at the annual Australian & New Zealand Communication Association Conference. Just prior to attending this conference I published a version of this article (on July 7) with the Centre for Research on Globalization (Global Research) – however, on the same day the Centre’s editors quickly deleted the article from their web site. But by the time of the deletion the article had already been reposted elsewhere. Later the article was linked to by the editor of Open Media Boston, and discussed in CorporateWatch article “Indymedia refuses to be co-opted by the Knight Foundation” (November 30, 2008). As this form of unexplained censorship had already happened to a previous article that I published with Global Research earlier in the year (which was also deleted), I finally took the decision to stop sending my articles to this web site. Since then, having paid closer attention to content of the other articles published by Global Research, I now realise that alongside the work of socialists like John Pilger this outlet also publishes the work of all manner of right-wing conspiracy theorists, which also includes the conspiracies of the web sites editor Professor Michel Chossudovsky. 

No alterations have been made to the following article which was first published in 2008.



Who Funds the Progressive Media?

Critiques of liberal philanthropy are nothing new: indeed such criticisms have regularly surfaced ever since liberal foundations were created in the early twentieth century. In the past few years, however, the number of critical scholars and activists writing about practices of liberal foundations has grown rapidly, and there is now a blossoming literature showing the funding strategies of these highly influential philanthropists are antidemocratic and manipulative. The antidemocratic nature of liberal foundations is epitomized by the long history of collaboration (that formerly existed) between the largest major liberal foundations (like the Ford Foundation) and the US Central Intelligence Agency. Moreover, recent research has demonstrated the key leadership role that liberal foundations played in developing the means by which powerful elites could manufacture public (and elite) consent.

By focusing on a variety of progressive media-related groups in North America (including most notably the Benton Foundation and the newly launched The Real News Network), this article will discuss the limits of current funding strategies, and reflect upon alternative, arguably more sustainable (and democratic) methods by which civil society media groups may be created and sustained. It will be argued that the integral hegemonic function of liberal philanthropy has already deradicalised all manner of progressive social movements, and that civil society media groups need to cut their institutional ties with such financing sources. Admittedly solutions cannot be implemented immediately, but considering the increasing ascendancy of neoliberal media regimes worldwide it is vital that progressive concerned citizens call attention to this significant issue.

Liberal philanthropy plays a critical role in promoting and sustaining progressive media outlets within civil society, which are also referred to as ‘alternative’ or ‘autonomous’ media. Historically, the ‘big three’ US-based liberal foundations – the Carnegie Corporation, the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation – have nurtured progressive causes on both the national and international scale, dealing with issues ranging from health care and civil rights to environmentalism. [1] In recent years increasing attention has been paid to the influence of conservative philanthropy, [2] however, the same has not been true for liberal philanthropy: two notable exceptions to this trend are Professor Joan Roelofs seminal book, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism, and INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence’s recent addition, The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. This omission is problematic on a number of levels. Despite being ostensibly progressive, the major liberal foundations have at one time or another vigorously promoted all manner of not so progressive issues like eugenics, elite planning, and free trade; while they also worked hand-in-hand with the US Government’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In this context, the big three liberal foundations have also funded the research of many of the ‘founding fathers’ of mass communications research, arguably helping them to develop the capabilities for ‘manufacturing consent’ for elite interests. [3]

Although the importance of money to progressive social movements and their associated media outlets is obvious to most people, surprisingly few academics have addressed this subject. It is widely acknowledged that conservative funding has, over the past few decades, driven the ideological orientation of mainstream media outlets rightwards. Research also suggests that liberal funders have had a detrimental and antidemocratic influence on processes of social change in general. [4] Such research also questions the role that ‘charitable’ donations arguably play in sustaining capitalist hegemony. However, what is the effect specifically on the development of progressive media? To date only Bob Feldman (2007) has provided a critical examination of the nexus between liberal philanthropy and alternative media operations. [5] The lack of critical enquiry into the influence of liberal philanthropy on the media of progressive social movements is problematic, as media are integral to the function of social movements. This article will try to address this blind spot.

Compared to today, in the late 1960s and 1970s critical awareness among media activists was relatively high, thanks in part to a series of articles in the influential Ramparts magazine which asked: [6]

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

More recently, building upon this commonsensical interpretation of the role of liberal philanthropy within capitalist societies, Andrea Smith points out that: “From their inception, [liberal] foundations focused on research and dissemination of information designed ostensibly to ameliorate social issues-in a manner, how­ever, that did not challenge capitalism”. [7] Using this interpretation of the role of liberal philanthropy as a starting point and drawing upon Antonio Gramsci’s theory of hegemony this article will expand upon Feldman’s ground-breaking study. It will document how liberal foundations have (and continue to) actively shape the evolution of progressive media groups in North America.

Initially, this article will introduce the work of the Benton Foundation, a liberal foundation that has played a pioneering and catalysing role in supporting progressive media ventures. It will then provide a detailed analysis of a globally significant media project, The Real News Network, which has been supported by liberal philanthropy. Drawing upon power structure research it will critically examine some of the key people and funders. [8] Finally, the article will discuss the limits of current funding strategies, and suggest an alternative, arguably more sustainable (and democratic) method by which civil society media groups may be created and sustained in the future.

Putting Progressive Communications on the Philanthropic Agenda

Upon the initiative of the late William Benton (1900-1973), the William Benton Foundation was incorporated as a 501©(3) private foundation in 1948, although in 1981 it was renamed the Benton Foundation. This foundation is now recognised as one of the leading sponsors of non-profit progressive media projects in the United States, alongside the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Its founder, William Benton is today credited as having “pushed the envelope… within the foundation world, urging them to take communications seriously and to use it to build democracy”. [9] However, like most of the big liberal foundations in the US, the Benton Foundation has elitist roots: William Benton had strong links to the Rockefellers’ and other assorted corporate and political elites. Given this history, we must ask: “What type of democracy was William Benton trying to build?” This question will be addressed in the following.

The Benton Foundation is currently chaired by William Benton’s son, Charles Benton, who like his father maintains close ties to a number of less than progressive individuals, not least through his position on the Board of Trustees of The American Assembly. [10] Furthermore, he is a member of the international founding committee of The Real News (discussed later), and a trustee of the Education Development Center. The latter is a non-profit that describes its work as being “dedicated to enhancing learning, promoting health, and fostering a deeper understanding of the world.” It was created in 1958, and from the beginning the Ford Foundation has been involved with its work. From 1958-68 the Ford Foundation helped the Center create a “complete high school physics curriculum” for US schools. [11] Another notable early supporter of the Education Development Center’s activities was the US Agency for International Development (AID), which between 1961 and 1976 funded their African Mathematics Programs. [12] Today the Center has a staff of over 500 people and a budget in excess of $90 million. Its funding comes from USAID and liberal philanthropic organizations such as the Ford Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and George Soros’ Open Society Institute. [13]

Sitting with Charles Benton on the Board of Trustees of the Education Development Center is Larry Irving, the former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Irving is “widely credited with coining the term ‘the digital divide’” and with being “a point person” in ensuring the successful passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Jim Kohlenberger, the Benton Foundation’s current senior fellow also “worked to help pass the Telecommunications Act of 1996”. [14] This Act was strongly opposed by all progressive media groups.

Nonewithstanding these links to people who worked against progressive media groups in the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the Benton Foundation has, and continues to be, an important supporter of progressive media initiatives within the United States. In a recent interview, Charles Benton explained that the Benton Foundation began funding of communication projects in the early 1980s, a time they were not on the agenda of other foundations. In 1981, the Benton Foundation “decided to work in support of philanthropy, and particularly the Council on Foundations, to try to beat the drum and raise the cry about the importance of communications to both foundations and their grantees”. Since these early days the Benton Foundation’s annual budget for media reform has increased considerably and they now give away around $1 million a year to help “educat[e] the media reform community – policymakers, funders, and activists—about the crucial debates that help shape our media future”. [15] The following section of this article will discuss the backgrounds of some key Foundation staff and directors.

The Benton Foundation: People and Projects

The president of the Benton Foundation from October 2001 to August 2004, Andrea L. Taylor, is a co-founder of Davis Creek Capital, LLC, a private equity fund created to invest in Internet and new media businesses led by women and people of color. Taylor was also involved in setting up the Media Fund at the Ford Foundation in the late 1980s, where she worked for nearly a decade to distribute some $50 million to independent media projects. Taylor presently serves as a trustee of the Ms. Foundation for Women, is a former director of the Cleveland Foundation, and the Council on Foundations: the latter group is an umbrella association of more than 2,100 grant making foundations and corporations that describes itself as “the voice of philanthropy”.

After her work at the Benton Foundation, Taylor became vice president of the aforementioned Education Development Center, where she helped create, and was the founding president of, their Center for Media and Community. The Benton Foundation supported the launch of this center with a three year $668,000 grant, which has been described as the “largest single commitment in the foundation’s history”. Other funders of the Center for Media and Community at the Education Development Center include the Annie E. Casey Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation. In June 2006, Taylor became Director for U.S. Community Affairs at Microsoft Corporation. Microsoft chief executive officer (CEO) Bill Gates is also the founder of the largest liberal foundation in the world, the Gates Foundation, a foundation that distributed some $2 billion of grants in 2007 alone. [16] Since 2002, the Gates Foundation has also worked closely with the Benton Foundation, for example on their WebJunction project – a project which aims to facilitate public access to computing facilities in public libraries within the United States.

The current president of the Benton Foundation (since 2006) is Gloria Tristani, the former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) member. Trisani presently also serves on the FCC’s Consumer Advisory Committee alongside Charles Benton, is a member of The Real News international founding committee, and sits on the Board of Directors of Children Now. Other Children Now directors with a media background include Geoffrey Cowan (former head of Voice of America, currently a director of the Public Diplomacy Council), Donald Kennedy (editor-in-chief of Science magazine, a trustee of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation), and Lenny Mendonca (a director of the New America Foundation).

The Benton Foundation’s administrative manager, Cecilia Garcia first joined the Foundation in 1997. She has also helped produce the CD-ROM version of “Chicano: History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement,” a major PBS documentary that was produced by the National Latino Communication Center with the help of a $0.7 million grant from the Ford Foundation. [17] Recently Garcia took some time out from her duties at the Benton Foundation to serve as the executive director of Connect for Kids – a childrens’ advocacy group that is managed by the Ford Foundation-funded non-profit, Forum for Youth Investment. Two of the five directors of Connect for Kids’ have links to the Benton Foundation: Joseph Getch, former Chief Financial Officer for the Benton Foundation and member of the Council on Foundations’ research committee, and Charles Benton’s wife, Marjorie Craig Benton, board chair of the Council on Foundations from 1994 to 1996. Marjorie Craig Benton also serves as a director of the Microsoft-linked non-profit group, Room to Read.

Like their staff, Benton Foundation board members are well linked to political elites and the broader world of liberal philanthropy. Alongside Charles Benton, the other eight directors are: Adrianne Benton Furniss, former president and CEO of the Chicago-based publisher/distributor Home Vision Entertainment (acquired by Image Entertainment in 2005); Michael Smith (Benton Foundation Treasurer), former Australian Chairman of public relations firm Weber Shandwick, and CEO of his own firm, Inside PR; Elizabeth Daley, Founding Executive Director of the University of Southern California Annenberg Center for Communication from 1994 to 2005; Terry Goddard, former Mayor of Phoenix, and trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation from 1992 to 2001; [18] Lee Lynch, former CEO of the Carmichael-Lynch Advertising Agency, and spouse of Terry Saario (a former director of the Benton Foundation and former program officer at the Ford Foundation); Henry Rivera, former FCC commissioner, and a partner of the law firm Wiley Rein and Fielding (controversial for defending the use of fake news); Leonard J. Schrager, former president of the Chicago Bar Foundation and the Chicago Bar Association; and Woodward Wickham, former vice president of the MacArthur Foundation, and a director of OneWorld United States.

Wickham’s links to the latter group are worth reviewing as OneWorld United States was created in 2000, as a joint project between the Benton Foundation and OneWorld International. OneWorld International is a Ford Foundation supported group that describes itself as the “world’s favourite and fastest-growing civil society network online, supporting people’s media to help build a more just global society”. OneWorld also has links to the Benton Foundation: Larry Kirkman, currently a director of OneWorld United States, and chair of OneWorld International was president of the Benton Foundation from 1989 to 2001.

Charles Benton’s media connections are also of relevance to the topic of this article: In addition to presiding over the day to day activities of the Benton Foundation, Charles Benton is also chairman of Public Media, Inc. (a film and video publisher and distributor) and served as a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Public Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters (known as ‘the Gore Commission’). Charles Benton is also a member of the international founding committee of the recently launched alternative media network The Real News. The final section of this article will examine the philanthropic background of The Real News in some detail.

The Real News Network

Founded in 2007, The Real News describes itself as a “non-profit news and documentary network focused on providing independent and uncompromising journalism”. The Real News website proudly claims that they are “member supported and do not accept advertising, government or corporate funding” (emphasis in the original). [19] The site adds, “the Real News will be financed by the economic power of thousands of viewers like you around the world. Just 250,000 people paying $10 a month will make it happen”, and claims there is “NO government funding; NO corporate funding; NO advertising; NO STRINGS”.

The Real News’ mission statement suggests that Real News promotes independent and investigative journalism and is a grassroots effort. It fails to mention, however, that the project was launched with millions of dollars provided by leading US American liberal foundations. There may well have been no strings attached to the seed money, but there is little doubt that the foundations chose to support their project – as opposed to any alternative ones – because the Real News formula suited the foundations’ own philanthropic interests. How much influence the liberal foundations had in determining the makeup of The Real News advisory boards and founding committees will remain unknown until the issue becomes the focus of an in-depth investigative report. An investigation that is unlikely to be forthcoming from The Real News itself.

That said, this article does not aim to cast doubt on the progressive nature of the journalistic output of The Real News. The quality of the content is indisputably high and offers a real alternative to mainstream media. This article does try to draw attention, however, to the fact that The Real News has relied heavily on liberal philanthropists. It also tries to raise the question as to what this reliance means for the future of genuine grassroots initiatives attempting to promote comparable progressive media projects. In order to open the discussion the following sections of this article will briefly chart the launch of The Real News network, and the backgrounds of the people who are associated with the project.

The Real News can be considered the flagship project of a non-profit group that is known as Independent World Television (IWT). From Toronto (Canada), and formed in 2003, IWT was co-founded by Paul Jay and Sharmini Peries. Paul Jay, who is presently the CEO and chair of The Real News is an award-winning documentary filmmaker who was formerly the creator and executive producer of Canadian Broadcasting Centre Newsworld’s debate program counterSpin. On the other hand, Sharmini Peries, who until recently served as the director of policy and development for IWT, is an executive director of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange and the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. These two groups are have close connections to the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for Democracy. [20] The National Endowment for Democracy plays a big role in promoting United States’ foreign interests – which most notably saw them support the 2002 coup that temporarily removed President Hugo Chavez from power. [21] Ironically, Peries presently serves as a foreign policy advisor to President Chavez.

In 2005, Independent World Television received a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to conduct a “feasibility and planning study on an innovative idea to create a news and current affairs TV network funded primarily by viewers”. Two other liberal foundations, the MacArthur Foundation and the Haas Foundation also contributed to this planning study. IWT set out to create what would become The Real News using the services of EchoDitto – a consulting group that has done much work on projects connected to the United States’ Democratic Party. A website was launched on June 15, 2005 ( to build an online community of supporters and donors. The goal of this first phase of IWT’s project was to raise a $7 million start-up budget from individual donors and foundations. By January 2007 IWT had “raised $5 million from several foundations, charitable trusts, individuals and unions, including the Canadian Auto Workers Union, the Ford Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation”. [22] Having achieved this level of philanthropic support, IWT was then able to create The Real News website, at first with a limited news service to help get the full journalism project off the ground.

In an interview in early 2007, IWT co-founder Paul Jay said that during their first year of operations The Real News only required a further $4 million in funding from the public, but thereafter, with a full service provided, estimates their annual budget will require around $30 million a year. Obtaining such high levels of funding from the public within such a short space of time will undoubtedly be difficult. Camilo Wilson, one of IWT’s Internet strategy consultants suggested that this goal is too optimistic, noting that IWT will probably have to depend on greater support from liberal foundations in order to reach its long-term goal. [23]

In the following, this article will introduce some of the individuals who have given their support to launching this new media network.

Founded in 2003, the founding committee of the Independent World Television/The Real News consisted of 84 individuals, including Paul Jay as chair. The committee includes well-known progressives such as British member of parliament Tony Benn (UK), host of the popular “Democracy Now!” program Amy Goodman (USA), media scholar Robert McChesney (USA), media critic Danny Schechter (USA), literary author Gore Vidal (USA), historian Howard Zinn (USA) and journalist/author Naomi Klein (Canada).

Incidentally, Klein has provided a rare critical overview of the Ford Foundations history. In her book, The Shock Doctrine, she observes that the Ford Foundation was the “leading source of funding for the dissemination of the Chicago School ideology throughout Latin America”. She adds,

“[Ford-funded institutions played a] …central role in the overthrow of Chile’s democracy, and its former students… appl[ied] their US education in a context of shocking brutality. Making matters more complicated for the foundation, this was the second time in just a few years that its protégés had chosen a violent route to power, the first case being the Berkeley Mafia’s meteoric rise to power in Indonesia after Suharto’s bloody [1965-66] coup.” [24]

The Benton Foundation is also well represented on the IWT founding committee, with Gloria Tristani, Charles Benton and Mark Lloyd (former general counsel to the Benton Foundation now a senior fellow at the George Soros-linked Center for American Progress).

However, the IWT’s founding committee also includes some people with less progressive backgrounds such as Salih Booker, current executive director of NED-funded group Global Rights, and former head of the Council on Foreign Relations Africa Studies Program, and former program officer for the Ford Foundation in Eastern and Southern Africa; Kenneth Roth, executive director of the NED-linked Human Rights Watch; Kim Spencer, President of Link TV, and co-founder of the NED-funded Internews; Shauna Sylvester, founder and executive director of the Institute for Media, Policy and Civil Society (IMPACS); and Jenny Toomey who until recently was the executive director of the Future of Music Coalition, and now serves as the program officer for Media and Cultural Policy at the Ford Foundation.

Indeed, even radical media critics, like Robert McChesney, work closely with these foundations, as his media reform group, Free Press, has also obtained Ford Foundation monies; while as early as March 1996, McChesney was a panel participant at the “Symposium of The Future of Public Service Media” – an event that was sponsored by both the Benton Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

Given that Ford and Benton Foundations have extensive funding and personal ties in so many projects of progressive social change it is hardly surprising that most of the representatives of IWT’s founding committee also work for non-profit groups and projects that are funded by the Ford Foundation. However, this almost ‘natural’ state of affairs should give us pause.


This article has focused on a small part of the philanthropic work undertaken by two foundations, the Ford Foundation and the Benton Foundation. Many other foundations are now engaged in ostensibly progressive media work: for example, in 2005 the Carnegie Corporation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation launched the Carnegie Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education. It is no exaggeration to say such foundations wield enormous influence over which organizations grow and flourish, and which do not.

Those of us who take it as granted that the United States is a plutocracy not a democracy, find in this state of affairs their belief confirmed that the richest have access to society’s financial and political resources, and that they can engage in large-scale social engineering to make sure civil society is shaped in a manner compatible with their own elite interests. However, even activists, researchers and theorists who believe the United States is (or at least should be) a country of pluralism and representative democracy should be concerned about the amount of money flowing from these liberal foundations and begin documenting its effects on the development of the American progressive mediascape.

The first step towards short-circuiting philanthropic colonization of independent media systems, and civil society more generally, is for progressive groups to collectively act to delegitimize ‘charitable’ manipulations. Yet if this process only occurs within the most radical parts of civil society – i.e. by groups that are already largely excluded from foundation funding – then overall very little will change. Even if some less radical groups presently supported by liberal foundations cut their ties to liberal foundation funding, the outcomes will be limited. Though this would swell the ranks of those operating outside of the liberal foundation-civil society nexus, other groups and individuals who are unaware (or unconcerned by) the problems associated with liberal philanthropy will quickly move into their place. A critical part of any campaign to encourage disassociation from elite funders needs to see the undertaking a large-scale education campaign directed towards the multitude of employees presently working within the non-profit industrial complex. [25]

Furthermore, a broad coalition of progressive groups need to work to problematize the current structure of civil society, and encourage the creation of civil society groups that embody and promote democratic principles rather than those that adopt corporate organizational structures designed to maximize revenue streams. Contrary to some progressive commentators’ advice it is important to remember that the non-profit sector does not have to be run like the business sector: [26] The public already gives a vast amount of money to charity each year. The problem is how this money is distributed, by whom and to whom. Currently, unaccountable and elite-run foundations distribute the public’s money to a select group of organizations who write proposals to fit the funder’s philosophy and who put their personnel on their boards. Diverting just a small proportion of this substantial and growing flow of financial resources toward truly progressive media projects – that is those that embody democratic structures that are founded without support of liberal philanthropists or foundations – will enable concerned citizens and media activists to move more confidently toward building a society with democratic structures.


[1] Brown, E. R. (1979), Rockefeller Medicine Men: Medicine and Capitalism in America. Berkeley: University of California Press; Gottlieb, R. (1993), Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement. Washington, D.C.: Island Press; Jenkins, C. J. & Eckert, C. M. (1986), ‘Channeling Black Insurgency: Elite Patronage and Professional Social Movement Organizations in the Development of the Black Movement,’ American Sociological Review, 51, pp. 812-829.

[2] Covington, S. (2005), ‘Moving Public Policy to the Right: The Strategic Philanthropy of Conservative Foundations,’ in D. Faber & D. McCarthy (Eds.), Foundations for Social Change: Critical Perspectives on Philanthropy and Popular Movements (pp. 89-114). Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

[3] Barker, M. J. (2008), ‘The Liberal Foundations of Media Reform? Creating Sustainable Funding Opportunities for Radical Media Reform,’ Global Media Journal, 1 (2), June 2, 2008.

[4] Arnove, R. F. (1980), Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad. Boston, Mass.: G.K. Hall; Barker, M. J. (2008) The Liberal Foundations of Environmentalism: Revisiting the Rockefeller-Ford Connection,’ Capitalism Nature Socialism, 19 (2), pp.15-42.; Lundberg, F. (1975), The Rockefeller Syndrome. Secaucus, N.J.: L. Stuart; Roelofs, J. (2003), Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism. Albany: State University of New York Press.

[5] Feldman, B. (2007), ‘Report from the Field: Left Media and Left Think Tanks – Foundation-Managed Protest?’ Critical Sociology, 33:3, pp. 427-446.

[6] Horowitz, D. (1969a), ‘ The Foundations: Charity Begins at Home,’ Ramparts, 7 (11), pp.38-48.; (1969b), ‘ Billion Dollar Brains: How Wealth Puts Knowledge in its Pocket ,’ Ramparts, 7 (12), pp.36-44.; (1969c), ‘ Sinews of Empire,’ Ramparts, 8 (4), pp.32-42.

[7] Smith, A. (2007), ‘Introduction: The Revolution Will Not Be Funded,’ in INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. (Eds.), The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (pp. 1-18). Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press, p.4.

[8] Domhoff, G. W. (1970), The Higher Circles: The Governing Class in America. New York: Random House; Mills, C. W. (1956), The Power Elite. New York: Oxford University Press.

[9] Benton Foundation (2008), ‘Frequently Asked Questions,’ Benton Foundation.

[10] Barker, M. J. (2008), ‘Social Engineering, Progressive Media, and the Benton Foundation,’ A refereed paper presented to the Australian & New Zealand Communication Association International Conference, 2008: Power and Place, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand, July 9-11, 2008.

[11] EDC (2008), ‘Flagship Projects in EDC’s History,’ Education Development Center.

[12] For a broad critique of USAID, see Weissman, S. (1974), The Trojan Horse: A Radical Look at Foreign Aid. San Francisco: Ramparts Press.

[13] Kelly, P. J. (2004), ‘A Conversation with Charles and Marjorie Benton,’ Foundation News and Commentary, March/April 2004.

[14] Benton Foundation (2008), ‘Who We Are,’ Benton Foundation.

[15] Benton Foundation (2005), ‘2005 Annual Report ,’ Benton Foundation. Available at Accessed on 28 April 2008.

[16] Barker, M. J. (2008), ‘Bill Gates as Social Engineer: Introducing the World’s Largest Liberal Philanthropist,’ A refereed paper presented to the Australasian Political Science Association conference, University of Queensland, July 6-9, 2008.

[17] For a critique see Barker, M. J. (2008) The Liberal Foundations of Media Reform?

[18] The National Trust for Historic Preservation is currently headed by Ford Foundation trustee, Richard Moe.

[19] Citations obtained from The Real News website in May 2008.

[20] Barker, M. J. (2008) ‘”Independent” Journalism Organizations and a Polyarchal Public Sphere,’ Center for Research on Globalization. ??

[21] Barker, M. J. (2006). ‘Taking the Risk out of Civil Society: HarnessingSocial Movements and Regulating Revolutions,’ Refereed paper presented tothe Australasian Political Studies Association Conference, University of Newcastle 25-27 September 2006.

[22] Dindar, S. (2007), ‘Heard the Independent News?’ Ryerson Review of Journalism.

[23] Dindar, S. (2007), ‘Heard the Independent News?’ Ryerson Review of Journalism.

[24] Klein, N. (2007), The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York: Random House, pp.145-6.

[25] INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. (2007), The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press.

[26] C.f. Shuman, M. H. & Fuller, M. (2005), ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Grant Funded,’ Shelterforce, The Journal of Affordable Housing and Community Building, Issue 143.

How Alternative Dispute Resolution Promotes Injustice

The following article was published by Counterpunch on June 30. An earlier version of this article was published as “Alternative Dispute Resolution or Revolution” by State of Nature in 2009.

class struggle

Alternative Dispute Resolution is a blanket term referring to non-litigious methods of resolving legal disputes. Mainstream media and legal commentary endorse these alternatives as providing win-win, power balancing situations for all parties involved, whether corporate citizens, or natural persons. Taking into account zealous adoption of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) by corporate and political elites it would be more appropriate to promote ADR as a method to attain corporate equity, rather than human equality.

This point is made by Ugo Mattei and Laura Nader in their book, Plunder: When the Rule of Law is Illegal (Blackwell Publishing, 2008). They note that Alternative Dispute Resolution practices are in fact harmony ideologies that “may be used to suppress people’s resistance, by socializing them toward conformity by means of consensus, cooperation, passivity, and docility, and by silencing people who speak out angrily”. Arguably such manipulative techniques do not resolve disputes but redirect them into channels that prevent their resolution. Nader’s critiques have existed for decades without heed and currently Alternative Dispute Resolution is regularly championed as a cheap, fast alternative for individual citizens experiencing injustice to offset elite power and patriarchy.

The Liberal Foundations of ADR

The use of alternative means of settling legal disputes has a long history: in her review of Jerold Auerbach’s book Justice Without Law? (Oxford University Press, 1983), Laura Nader recounts how Auerbach wrote that prior to the Civil War, “alternative dispute settlement had expressed an ideology of community justice. Thereafter,” Nader continues “according to Auerbach, it became an external instrument of social control and a way of increasing judicial efficiency.” Nader observes how a “similar use of alternative dispute settlement appears during the period of labor-management conflict at the end of the nineteenth century,” with the major stimulus mobilizing elite ADR proponents being the “railroad strikes and riots during the violent summer of 1877.” The resulting industrial arbitration tribunals were considered to be the answer to class conflict, a solution that Nader notes “was at first considered suspect by both workers and employers, but which was embraced by middle-class reformers.” She continues that “Auerbach contend[ed] that ‘[i]ndustrial arbitration remained a panacea offered by anxious middle-class professionals who felt dangerously squeezed between capital and labor.’ The solution was limited, however, because ‘[p]roponents of harmony through arbitration persistently evaded the basic issues of unequal wealth and power.’”

These capitalist solutions to enduring problems arose for the same reason that liberal philanthropy was institutionalized in the late nineteenth century. With workers presenting a direct threat to the economic interests to the monopolistic ruling class, the more enlightened state-protected capitalists (e.g. Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, Jr.) realized “that social reform was unavoidable,” and so they “promoted reformist solutions that did not threaten the capitalistic nature of the social order but constituted a ‘private alternative to socialism’”. Not surprisingly one of the leading institutions for securing the hegemony of corporate interests, the liberal philanthropic giant known as the Ford Foundation, had a hand in catalysing the rise of the recent ADR phenomena. Calvin Morrill writes:

“Community mediation took early shape in 1968 when the Ford Foundation began funding community programs to mediate racial conflicts. The Foundation funded the National Center for Dispute Settlement in 1968 (which later became the Community Dispute Service Center) with organizational support from the American Arbitration Association, and in 1970 funded the Institute for Mediation and Conflict Resolution. Both of these programs trained community “interveners” to mediate intergroup conflict. While the community interveners worked in the neighborhoods, the community mediation frame (also referred to as the “neighborhood justice model”) took shape in a series of articles by anthropologists and law professors.”

Thomas Main also points out how a Ford Foundation report published in 1977 notes that: “The Foundation plans to support investigations of new ways of settling disputes that may be more equitable, cheaper, and less divisive than the adversary process.”

Teresa Chase and Melissa Brewer, meanwhile, describe how,

“perhaps the most critical moment marking the contemporary growth of ADR can be traced to the 1976 Pound Conference. At this conference two powerful male legal authorities combined to begin the modern push for ADR in the United States of America. These two men were the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Warren Burger, and Harvard Law School Professor Frank E.A. Sander. It was suggested that the American courts were weighed down by litigation caused by the decline in morality and the controlling influences of religion and the nuclear family and that there was a need to find a way to reduce this pressure, allowing the courts to administer justice more efficiently. In fact the courts were not experiencing a surge of overtaxing litigation; rather they were experiencing a rise in the successful litigation of cases that involved gender, race and civil rights. In a bid to rid the courts of these ‘garbage‘ cases ADR was posited as the answer. This alternative system of conflict resolution arose in a time where the formal institutions of ideological control were being successfully challenged and where there was concern about the demise of informal institutions of control.”

As an aside, it should be recognized that the major liberal foundations that supported the rise of ADR were also responsible for the increase in the successful litigation of public cases that motivated the corporate uptake of ADR. A strong case can be made that liberal foundation support for litigation within the environmental movement facilitated the replacement of the New Left political discourse of the 1960s with a technical environmental discourse in the 1970s. The Ford Foundation catalysed this transition by helping to create three new environmental law firms in the late 1960s, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. These legal groups received the lion’s share of the Ford Foundation’s funding for environmental movements, and although the foundation did not directly control these organizations’ activities, it was, for instance, able to use its significant funding leverage to coerce the Natural Resources Defense Council into dropping its controversial strategy of suing corporations. Furthermore, to ensure that the Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council took on ”appropriate” projects, the Ford Foundation vetted their work by setting up an oversight board that was composed of five past-presidents of the American Bar Association. However, despite exercising a degree of control over the broad uptake of public litigation, liberal foundations could not prevent the ensuing corporate backlash in response to the legal empowerment of the citizenry.

Sharon Beder observes in her excellent book Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism (Scribe, 2000), how the increasing influence of the public on the government and the subsequent regulations meant that “businesses began to cooperate in a way that was unprecedented” – a process that “was facilitated by the introduction of legislation such as the Clean Air Act that affected large numbers of industries as opposed to just one industry at a time.” Joseph Peschek writes:

“While these programs were limited in many ways, they did provide the working class with benefits that attenuated the disciplinary effect of the labor market, while imposing new costs on capitalists, and thus they became the objects of intense contestation by business groups as the economic crisis deepened. Citizen rights secured through the liberal democratic state now loomed as barriers to the restoration of the conditions for capitalist accumulation. Neoconservative intellectuals began to bemoan the “excess” of democracy and the “overload” of government, calling for a reassertion of state authority and a reduction in social welfare expenditures and business regulations.”

Consequently, driven by conservative elites, this neoliberal/neoconservative backlash sought to quash the public’s democratic advances. The birth of this neoliberal assault on society has been traced by many researchers to the launch of the Business Roundtable in 1972.

Viewed in this light, the promotion of ADR at the 1976 Pound Conference should be interpreted as an enlightened “liberal” response to the less subtle power grab being promoted by the Business Roundtable and America’s leading conservative foundations. Unfortunately, the success of this co-optive liberal strategy has been so great that even progressive activists fighting corporate power unwittingly urge citizens to adopt ADR practices, promoting mediation rather than confrontation.

Alternative Dispute REVOLUTION

Laura Nader has referred to Alternative Dispute Resolution as a practice that promotes the “rhetoric of peace through consensus.” It is unlikely that such an objective will ever bring real peace to human existence. However, there is a real alternative for concerned citizens wishing to resolve oppressive social, political and economic conflicts; this under-utilized tool to resolve conflict is Alternative Dispute REVOLUTION. The key to this approach lies in recognizing that many problems cannot be resolved amicably for all parties concerned; this is especially true in cases involving an inequitable distribution of power between the disputants. In cases where the exploited wish to challenge the actions of a powerful oppressor, they would be wise to look to revolutionary tactics to address their problems. This would require the adoption of a radical mindset that seeks to search out the root cause of the dispute, so that they can effectively tackle the problem at its source. If uninhibited thinking is given free reign it is quite likely that people will recognize that to prevent the systematic exploitation of the bulk of humankind by an over-class of rapacious “capitalist” elites, they need to work towards catalysing a revolution in human affairs. One revolutionary option to minimise oppression is socialism, which could be promoted while simultaneously punishing oppressors by insisting on justice obtained through existing (and strengthened) legal structures. Institutionalized systems of domination, like hierarchy, must ultimately be dismantled.

Current legal systems must be revolutionized, because at present our legal institutions primarily protect property rights, not human liberty. As Ugo Mattei and Laura Nader write, contrary to mainstream media opinion, “Close examination of the use of law in colonial times shows that ‘empowerment’ is an unintended consequence of the formal rule of law.” As a result of this “empowerment potential of the law,” they add, “colonial rulers often entered into alliances with local patriarchal powers, limiting access to the modernized legal system and acknowledging ‘traditional’ power structures (often invented).” Thus, Mattei and Nader suggest that the rule of law is double-edged, as…

“it can favor oppression but it can also produce empowerment of the oppressed that leads to counter-hegemony. This is why powerful actors often attempt to tackle counter-hegemony by incorporating harmonious “soft” aspects aimed at disempowering potential resistance from the oppressed by limiting their use of adversary courts. Today, the worldwide alternative dispute resolution (ADR) movement functions as a strong disempowering device, that the dominant discourse makes attractive by the use of a variety of rhetorical practices, such as the need to remedy the “excesses” of litigation, or of promoting the desirability of a more “harmonious” society.”

Conflict is not the enemy, but instead is the means of promoting justice. Unresolved conflicts that are “resolved” without adequate justice (via ADR and the like) are ultimately the enemy of all humankind, as they help institutionalize inequality. Instead of promoting an unequal society that glosses over contradictions and achieves harmony through oppression, we need a society that can solve disputes in a manner that will promote a diversity of opinions not harmonious conformity. This will mean that we will need to dispel the myths surrounding dominant legal practices so we can create the true revolutionary alternatives that will work to sustain life not profits.