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.

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.

Why the CIA Care About Marxism: May 1968 and the Cultural Cold War in France

The following article was published by Counterpunch on June 15.


In a widely read essay for the Los Angeles Review of Books entitled “The CIA reads French theory: on the intellectual labor of dismantling the cultural left” (February 27, 2017), Gabriel Rockhill spins an intriguing yarn about the CIA and their interest in keeping abreast of French political theory throughout the Cold War. “According to the spy agency itself,” Rockhill observed, “post-Marxist French theory directly contributed to the CIA’s cultural program of coaxing the left toward the right, while discrediting anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism…” Here the professor was making particular reference to a recently declassified CIA report, authored in 1985, that focuses on the intellectual milieu around Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jacques Lacan.

Abundant evidence of course exists of the CIA’s complex cultural interventions into French intellectual affairs — but it is critical to recognise that it was the political shortcomings of communist organizations themselves (i.e., Stalinists) that had the determinant impact on the obscurantist trajectory of left-wing academic ideas. The CIA’s own determined cold warriors were well aware of these problems on the Left, and hence these are exactly the arguments they put forth in 1985 within their then internal document “France: Defection of the Leftist Intellectuals.” This “research report” — referred to within Gabriel Rockhill’s essay — is clear, the CIA sought to examine the changing attitudes of French intellectuals so as to “gauge the probable political impact on the political environment in which policy is made.” So considering the intriguing theoretical focus of this report it is worth dwelling upon some of the arguments presented therein, if only as a starting point for exploring the failures of the most influential parts of the French Left in the aftermath of World War II.

France 1968

Certainly bearing in mind the ferocity with which the CIA waged the intellectual war against the Left — with the aid of assorted liberal elites (Foundations of the American Century: The Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller Foundations in the Rise of American Power) — it is notable that the imperialist logistics of this battle remain largely overlooked within the CIA’s own report. Leaving aside this significant oversight, the anonymous CIA author does at least emphasize that it was the repeated disillusionment of the working-class with the French Communist Party (PCF) that undermined the popularity of Communist and socialist ideologies. Indeed, time and time again the French working-class sought out political ideas on the Left to help them in the critical task of democratizing society, but all too often they were betrayed by Communist intellectuals who ultimately had no faith in the working-class to change society for themselves.

The CIA report thus touches briefly upon the betrayal of the socialist Mitterrand government in the 1980s, and Mitterrand’s backtracking from his party’s progressive economic policies and “adopt[ion of] austerity measures that drew embarrassing criticism from both the left and the right…” The intelligence author writes: “the dose of austerity that these policies eventually forced rang the death knell of leftist ideology for many informed observers.” This fatal reversal served to compound the destructive and more “traumatic events of May 1968” which were characterised by the PCF’s betrayal of a genuinely revolution movement of working-class solidarity (yet again). Thus the CIA report accurately surmised:

“In May-June 1968, after months of intensifying protests, students threw up barricades in the university section of Paris and initiated a period of guerrilla warfare in the streets of the Latin Quarter. The protest spread to other university cities; students were joined by 7 million striking workers (who occupied the factories); transportation and public services ground to a halt; and the 10-year-old government of General de Gaulle tottered. Marxist students looked to the Communist Party for leadership and declaration of a provisional government, but PCF leaders were already trying to restrain worker revolt and denounced the student radicals as woolly-minded anarchists. Many students concluded that the PCF had made a deal with de Gaulle, who eventually put down the riots.”

In the wake of the PCF’s abandonment of the revolutionary uprising of May 1968, and the failure to overthrow capitalism, it is rather unsurprising that conservative forces of reaction would seize this opportunity to intensify their challenge to Marxism. On this score, the CIA report refers to the success of the “New Philosophers,” whose anti-Stalinist and anti-Marxist ideas were widely championed in the mainstream media (throughout the 1970s) with the aid of Bernard-Henri Levy’s highly influential Grasset publishing house.[1] The CIA author then describes how these New Philosophers had become disillusioned with the Left, observing how “the traditional leftist parties’ pusillanimity during the student revolt of 1968 tore the scales from their eyes, causing them to reject their allegiance to the Communist Party, French socialism, and even the essential tenets of Marxism.”

The report’s author goes on to explain how “Raymond Aron, the revered dean of contemporary conservative thought in France,” had worked long years in his efforts to discredit “the intellectual edifice of French Marxism.” But importantly the report acknowledges: “Even more effective in undermining Marxism, however, were those intellectuals who set out as true believers to apply Marxist theory in the social sciences but ended up rethinking and rejecting the entire tradition.”[2] On this score, the CIA analyst suggests:

“Among postwar French historians, the influential school of thought associated with Marc Bloch, Lucien Febvre, and Fernand Braudel has overwhelmed the traditional Marxist historians. The Annales school, as it is known from its principal journal, turned French historical scholarship on its head in the 1950s and 1960s, primarily by challenging and later rejecting the hitherto dominant Marxist theories of historical progress. Although many of its exponents maintain that they are ‘in the Marxist tradition,’ they mean only that they use Marxism as a critical point of departure for trying to discover the actual patterns of social history. For the most part, they have concluded that Marxist notions of the structure of the past – of social relationships, of patterns of events, and of their influence in the long term – are simplistic and invalid.

“In the field of anthropology, the influential structuralist school associated with Claude Levi-Strauss, Foucault, and others performed virtually the same mission. Although both structuralism and Annales methodology have fallen on hard times (critics accuse them of being too difficult for the uninitiated to follow), we believe their critical demolition of Marxist influence in the social sciences is likely to endure as a profound contribution to modern scholarship both in France and elsewhere in Western Europe.”

What the CIA author leaves unmentioned in this concise historical statement is the role that US elites played in nurturing the theorists of the Annales school as a central facet of the cultural Cold War Thankfully this important moment in history is reviewed in Kristin Ross’s book Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture (1996).

“The French social sciences we are familiar with now were thus a postwar invention, and in all aspects of French modernization after the war their ascendency bore some relation to U.S. economic intervention. To a certain extent the turn to this kind of study was funded and facilitated by the United States in a kind of Marshall Plan for intellectuals. A review of the literature makes a convincing case that the foremost American export of the period was not Coca-Cola or movies but the supremacy of the social sciences. In October 1946, the director of the social science division of the Rockefeller Foundation proclaimed, ‘A New France, a new society is rising up from the ruins of the Occupation; the best of its efforts is magnificent, but the problems are staggering. In France, the issue of the conflict or the adaptation between communism and western democracy appears in its most acute form. France is its battlefield or laboratory.’ By expanding the social sciences in Europe, American sought to contain the progress of Marxism in the world.” (p.186)

Ross writes that the “main tactic” employed the Western-backed intellectuals at the Annales school “was that of cannibalism: encompass and absorb the enemies as a means of controlling them.” She refers to this approach as a “Science of empirical and quantitative sociology – the study of repetition – was erected against the science of history, the study of event.”

“In the 1950s and 1960s Braudel, Le Roy Laduirie, and others, ensconced after 1962 in the Maison des sciences de l’homme, produced what Braudel called ‘a history whose passage is almost imperceptible … a history in which all change is slow, a history of constant repetition, ever recurring cycles.’ Their most formidable enemies within the field of history lived across the street: the long lineage of Marxist historians of the French revolution – Georges Lefebvre, Albert Soboul, and the like – housed at the Sorbonne. For what is at stake in the erasure of the study of social movement in favour of that of structures is the possibility of abrupt change or mutation in history: the idea of Revolution itself. The old-fashioned historians of the event par excellence of French history, each in turn occupying the chaired professorship for the study of the French Revolution institute by the Sorbonne after 1891, looked askance at their thoroughly modernized, well-funded, and well-equipped (with photocopiers and computers) colleagues across the way.” (p.189)[3]

With specific relevance to the CIA’s comments on the rise and rise of French structuralism, it is useful to reflect upon Ross’s analysis of this field of study. As she states:

“[T]he rise of structuralism in the 1950s and 1960s was above all a frontal attack on historical thought in general and Marxist dialectical analysis in particular; its appeal to many leftist French intellectuals after 1956 was overdetermined by the crisis within the French Communist Party and Marxism following the revelations of Stalin’s crimes and the Soviet invasion of Hungary at the end of that year. After such messy historical events, the clean, scientific precision of structuralism offered a kind of respite.” (p.180)[4]

Other than Febvre and Braudel, at this stage it is worth briefly reflecting upon the career of another famous proponent of French structuralism, Claude Lévi-Strauss. This is because in 1941, while living in exile in America, Lévi-Strauss had been offered a job at the New School for Social Research in New York City, where with the aid of the Rockefeller Foundation he helped found the École Libre des Hautes Études with an official charter from de Gaulle’s government in exile.[5] After the war Lévi-Strauss then went on to work as cultural attaché to the French embassy in Washington, before returning to France in 1948 whereupon he became the director of studies in anthropology (1950-74) at the École Pratique des Hautes Études’ newly established VI section. As Kristen Ross writes:

“A grant from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1947 helped finance the founding of the VI section of the Ecole pratique des hautes etudes under the directorship of historian Lucien Febvre, who had seized the initiative from a rival group of sociologists headed by Georges Gurvitch. Home to Fransois Furet in the early 1960s, this institution would be central to the future of the social sciences in France: in 1962, when Febve’s successor Fernand Braudel gathered all the various research laboratories scattered around the Latin Quarter and housed them in a single building on the Boulevard Raspaid, the Maison des sciences de l‘homme, the Ford Foundation helped finance the operation. In 1975 the VI section would in turn emancipate itself from the Ecole pratique and become the Ecole de hautes etudes en sciences sociales, with university status and the authorization to grant degrees.” (p.187)

The Ford Foundation’s decision, in 1959, to finance of the Maison des sciences de l‘homme proved to be a critical moment for the evolution of French social sciences as Ford’s $1 million grant certainly brought them great influence. Moreover shortly after this grant was dispensed, Ford also helped Raymond Aron to launch his Institute of European Sociology in Paris. Certainly it is not coincidental that Aron was already playing a prominent role in the undertakings of the CIA-backed Congress for Cultural Freedom – a famous anti-communist enterprise that had been set up in Paris in 1950 with the full support of America’s most influential liberal foundations.[6]

Such assorted philanthropic interventions into French affairs “were complemented by support for the building of transnational institutions at the level of the European Community and for the fostering of transatlantic ties.” A key intellectual broker in this regard was French economist Jean Monnet, who, while working hand-in-hand with American philanthropists, had been one of the founding fathers of both NATO and the European Union. Monnet enjoyed his own liaisons with economic and political elites at the Bilderberg Club, and in the 1950s formed his own Action Committee for a United States of Europe. Furthermore, on top of such transatlantic efforts to consolidate capitalist interests, the “Ford Foundation invested in American-style management education all over Western Europe, and by 1960 the European Association of Management Training, with Pierre Tabatoni as its president, acted as a roof organization for these schools…”

Philanthropic projects seeking to guide European academic enquiries away from Marxism were of course not limited to the social sciences — a matter of influence that is expanded upon in John Krige’s book American Hegemony and the Postwar Reconstruction of Science in Europe (2008). In reference to the development of French science most particularly, Krige points out how Warren Weaver, who was the director the Division of the Natural Sciences at the Rockefeller Foundation (1932–55)…

“and the foundation were not simply interested in supporting good science and new directions in France. They wanted to use their financial leverage to steer French scientists along quite definite lines. Weaver in particular believed that the French were parochial and inward-looking. He wanted to transform them into outward-looking, “international” researchers, using techniques and tackling questions that were current above all in the United States. It was a vision inspired by the conviction that, without a radical remodeling of the French scientific community on American lines and the determined marginalization of Communist scientists in the field of biology, the country could never hope to play again a major role in the advancement of science.” (p.81)

Another integral part of the ongoing post World War II battle for French minds was more fundamentally concerned with defanging the mass organisations of the working-class themselves — trade unions. This battle was eagerly taken up by the AFL’s Free Trade Union Committee, with many American trade union officials proving themselves more than ready to take up the war against Communism (and union democracy) by covertly intervening in the day-to-day affairs of foreign trade unions. In their developing connections with the Free Trade Union Committee the CIA was in luck and “found a dedicated and experienced ally, with extensive networks and years of experience in the covert manipulation of international labor movements.”[7] The underhand nature of this long and undemocratic relationship is well summed up by “a government memo, unsigned but attached to a November 1948 letter from David Bruce, the Chief of the Special Mission to France addressed to Paul Hoffman, the Administrator of the Economic Cooperation Administration”:

“[…] it will not be enough to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into food, machinery, coal, and raw materials. We must find a means of not only aiding industry, of directly aiding the direct representatives of the workers. This is very difficult. The unions will not accept any aid from a foreign government. (If such aid does become available, it must be disguised and under no circumstances can the people here know anything about it. The whole matter therefore requires the utmost of discretion.) They will accept only trade union aid.”[8]

After administering the Marshall Plan for imperial interests, Paul Hoffman then moved on from his role as head of the Economic Cooperation Administration to become the president of the Ford Foundation (1950-3) in America. The interrelated and sophisticated nature of such sophisticated interventions into France’s political affairs are usefully laid bare in Giles Scott-Smith’s incisive study Networks of Empire: The US State Department’s Foreign Leader Program in the Netherlands, France, and Britain, 1950-70 (2011). Scott-Smith surmises:

“The ability of the US to interfere in French affairs was unparalleled during that first decade [after the end of World War II], yet the governments in Paris were still able maintain an independent outlook and steer their own course, benefitting from their special place within US strategy towards Western Europe. The European Cooperation Administration, with its headquarters in Paris, exerted a tremendous influence on the French socioeconomic scene, yet it implemented it via its own version, the Monnet Plan. US financial and military aid was recycled to enable long-running colonial wars to be fought in Indochina and North Africa. French reluctance to support an economic revival of Germany soon became sublimated into structural plans for European integration, with Paris leading the way. While the CIA supported the Force Ouvrière trade union and a host of other anti-communist outlets like the Congress for Cultural Freedom in Paris, French political elites willingly adopted their own strategies to undermine communist influence. US influence was therefore constrained by French political and social imperatives.” (p.327)

Returning to the analysis presented in the CIA’s now declassified report, it is noteworthy that the report’s authors downplay the fascist/traditionalist orientation of the New Right forces that rose to prominence in the wake of 1968. In fact, the CIA initially simply refer to these forces in their report as the “new liberals.” Later on the CIA analyst states:

“Encouraged by writers and publishers who are associated in some way with right-wing press baron Robert Hersant, the New Right in France has taken up the ideas of reviving classic European liberalism as the elixir that France needs to recover from Socialist ‘mismanagement’.”

In a more revealing appendix to their report, entitled “Cultural aspects of New Right thought,” the CIA however go on to point out how:

“Conservative writers, many of them associated with the group for Research and Study of European Civilization (GRECE) and the Clock Club (Club de l’Horloge)… have found an outlet for their arguments in Hersant publications, notably Figaro Magazine, which is edited by GRECE kindred spirit Louis Pauwels.”[9]

Here the CIA also draw attention to “the anti-egalitarian and even anti-Christian elements of GRECE/Horloge thinking”, but only to observe, how in recent years, this element of their thinking had apparently been toned down to better spread their toxic ideas. That said, the CIA report at least admits that GRECE were not really “new liberals,” as they point out that even: “Raymond Aron, the revered dean of contemporary conservative thought in France, detested the New Right intellectuals, often equating their elitist anti-egalitarianism with the worse antidemocratic strains in French conservativism.”

Nevertheless in the wake of 1968 it is clear that the capitalist establishment in both America and France sought to do everything in their power to undermine the national and international unity of working-class struggle. Expressed in a blunt form this led a renewed focus on excluding certain left-wing voices from the mainstream media. Here a good example of such practices is provided by the activism of right-wing financier Sir James Goldsmith who in 1977 purchased the left-wing L’Express, a popular newspaper which the new owner had previously identified as “the source of intellectual sickness of France”. Sir James’ first move upon acquiring this newspaper was to impose Raymond Aron upon the papers staff.[10] On a more mundane academic level, elite funding agencies also continued to support scholarly efforts to learn more about the threat posed by an increasingly militant trade union movement across Western Europe.[11]

Ultimately, however, despite many notable gains and inspiring victories, left-wing forces were tragically beaten back by a resurgent and coordinated neoliberal assault upon democracy worldwide. As in France, this process of neoliberal transformation was made easier by the willing collaboration of the Communist Party with members of the ruling-class, and by the stark betrayals of the working-class by left reformists like Mitterrand. It was in these unfavourable conditions that the intellectually debilitating but well-funded postmodern theories of French post-structuralists subsequently gained an unwelcome foothold within both academia and to some extent the mainstream media. As the Marxist literary theorist Terry Eagleton argues:

“Post-structuralism was a product of that blend of euphoria and disillusionment, liberation and dissipation, carnival and catastrophe, which was 1968. Unable to break the structures of state power, post-structuralism found it possible instead to subvert the structures of language. Nobody, at least, was likely to beat you over the head for doing so. The student movement was flushed off the streets and driven underground into discourse. Its enemies… became coherent belief-systems of any kind – in particular all forms of political theory and organization which sought to analyse, and act upon, the structures of society as a whole.”[12]

Of course these dead-end and intellectually incoherent currents of ‘leftist’ retreat did not remain confined to France — as exemplified by the Ford Foundation’s support of a two-year program of seminars in the mid-1960s which gave a boost to French structuralism on American shores.[13] Yet in spite of such academic set-backs for those on the Left, the possibility of emancipatory working-class struggles developing are once again visible on capitalism’s inhumane horizon. Early signs of this revival can be seen by the resurgent popularity garnered for socialist political candidates like Bernie Sanders (in America), Jean-Luc Mélenchon (in France), and Jeremy Corbyn (in Britain).

No doubt, the ruling-class and their intelligence agencies will, at this very moment, be frantically drafting up new “research reports” so that they may orientate their political activities in a vain attempt to neutralise this growing mood of resistance. So this time around we have to ensure that we have learned the appropriate lessons from history. First and foremost we must refuse to allow any new socialist leaders to mislead us in our bid for freedom. And so we must be clear that if our leaders are not up to the task of helping us build a democratic and socialist alternative to the bankrupt status quo then we must be ready to replace them, and ultimately be willing to seize power for ourselves.



[1] For an enlightening exposition on how anti-Marxist scholars (in the tradition of both liberalism and postmodernism) successfully capitalised on the major betrayals of the PCF, see Michael Scott Christofferson, French Intellectuals Against the Left: The Antitotalitarian Moment of the 1970s (2004). “Originating less in profound reflection on supposedly totalitarian regimes than in domestic political disputes, the critique of totalitarianism proceeded along lines that were largely determined by domestic politics and for that reason did little or nothing to advance understanding of regimes or politics consider to be ‘totalitarian.’ Further, it did much to confuse the issues by identifying French revolutionary political culture with totalitarianism and by failing to consider that ‘totalitarianism’ might have roots outside of revolutionary ideology and the revolutionary project. The price of this confusion would become evident by the late 1980s when, for example, [Francois] Furet, confronted with reactionary appropriations of his work, would be forced to admit that his formulations of the 1970s were too strong and [Paul] Thibaud would find himself criticizing the ‘antitotalitarian vulgate’ of the 1970s.” (p.274)

[2] In Prelude to Revolution: France in May 1968 (1970), Daniel Singer accurately characterises Professor Raymond Aron as “France’s most subtle and sophisticated defender of the western establishment” (p.19). Later Singer observes how “the student demonstrations in Paris occurred just at the time when the one-hundred-fiftieth anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx was being celebrated. In the elegant, modern building of UNESCO, nearly next-door to the provisional headquarters where the North Vietnamese delegates were giving their press conferences, distinguished academicians from all over the world had gathered for the occasion.” (p.30) Famed Communist Party historian Eric Hobsbawn was one of the many attendees at this moribund conference. Also of interest, see Gerd-Rainer Horn, Spirit of ’68: Rebellion in Western Europe and North America, 1956-1976 (2007).

[3]  For more on Braudel’s close work with American philanthropic elites, see Giuliana Gemelli, Fernand Braudel (Paris, 1995); Brigette Mazon, Aux origines de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales. Le rôle du mécénat américain (1920-1960) (Paris, 1988); and Ioana Popa, “International construction of area studies in France during the Cold War: Insights from the École Pratique des Hautes Études 6th Section,” History of the Human Sciences, 29(4-5), 2016. American sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld, who was a consultant for the Ford Foundation, cooperated with Braudel in developing the research programs of the VI Section of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes. Also see Giuliana Gemelli and Roy Macleod (eds.) American Foundations in Europe: Grant-Giving Policies, Cultural Diplomacy and Trans-Atlantic Relations, 1920-1980 (2003). “In retrospect, it seems clear that the [Rockefeller] Foundation’s grants to France, whilst small, were the most important made to the social sciences anywhere in the world in the late 1940s and early 1950s.” Darwin Stapleton, “Joseph Willits and the Rockefeller’s European Programme in the Socialist Sciences,” Minerva, 41, 2003, p.109.

[4] In addition to the Soviet Union’s crushing of the Hungarian Revolution, the failure of the PCF to resist either the Algerian War or the coming of the Fifth Republic also served to undermine popular support for communist ideas. For more on this history, see Irwin Wall, French Communism in the Era of Stalin: The Quest for Unity and Integration, 1945-1962 (1983); and Martin Evans, The Memory of Resistance: French Opposition to the Algerian War, 1954-1962 (1997).

[5] Another notable refugee scholar temporarily based in New York at the École Libre des Hautes Études was the political thinker Henri Bonnet, the father of the European Economic Community.

[6] Another French sociologist who with the support of the Ford Foundation worked closely with Raymond Aron during the 1960s was Michel Crozier. In the 1970s Crozier would go on to co-author the European section of a controversial report published by the Trilateral Commission called The Crisis of Democracy: On the Governability of Democracies (1975); for a useful discussion of Crozier’s contribution to this report see, Alan Wolfe, “Capitalism shows its face: giving up on democracy,” In: Holly Skar (ed.), Trilateralism: The Trilateral Commission and Elite Planning for World Management (1980).

[7] Quenby Olmsted Hughes, ‘In the Interest of Democracy: The Rise and Fall of the Early Cold War Alliance Between the American Federation of Labor and the Central Intelligence Agency (2011), p.64. CIA funding of students organizations was also considered to be a key part of the war against communism, a story recounted in Karen Paget’s Patriotic Betrayal: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Secret Campaign to Enroll American Students in the Crusade against Communism (2016).

[8] Hughes, ‘In the Interest of Democracy‘, p.65.

[9] GRECE leading light, Louis Pauwels, had, in earlier years, been the coauthor of the 1960 irrationalist, Romantic treatise, Les matin des magiciens. This book was subsequently published in the United States as Morning of the Magicians in 1964, and had the dubious distinction of helping launch a revival of interest in the occult and Traditionalist ideas more generally. In 1977 Pauwels was selected to become the founding director of Figaro Magazine, a project formed as a side-project of the conservative daily newspaper Le Figaro (a newspaper that had been purchased by Robert Hersant two years earlier). At this newly launched magazine Pauwels used his authority to bring leading GRECE members like Alain de Benoist onto the magazines payroll — a popular magazine that was soon reaching half a million readers.

[10] Ivan Fallon, Billionaire: The life and times of Sir James Goldsmith (1992), p.312.

[11] A good example is provided by the Ford Foundation funded study that resulted in the publication of Colin Crouch and Alessandro Pizzorno’s (eds.) two volume series, The Resurgence of Class Conflict in Western Europe since 1968, ii. Comparative Analyses (Macmillan, 1978).

[12] Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction (1983), p.142.

[13] Among the many intellectuals flown across the Atlantic as part of this process were Roland Barthes, Paul de Man, Lucien Goldman, Jean Hyppolite, Jacques Lacan, and Jacques Derrida; and the main event in this groundbreaking Ford-backed initiative was a conference titled “The Language of Criticism and the Sciences of Man” held at Johns Hopkins University in October 1966. For an uncritical discussion of the germination of this transatlantic relationship, see Francois Cusset’s text French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, and Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States (2008). Cusset highlights the impact of post-structuralist and postmodern French authors on the arguably problematic resurgence of interest in identity politics and cultural studies in America during the 1990s.

Why Civil Resistance Works and Why the Billionaire-Class Cares

To live for 101 glorious years like the recently departed David Rockefeller (1915–2017) is a pleasantry that most of us will never enjoy. Every year untold millions of lives are unnecessarily cut short because of poverty and war; all because a ruling, billionaire class, feels obliged to inflict violence upon the rest of us to enhance their own profit margins. Mr Rockefeller was fairly typical in this regard, and his callous disregard for humanity was best expressed in his devoted support of murderous dictators and despots whenever democratic imperatives threatened to impinge upon his class’s wealth.

The troubling legacy of the billionaire class’ murderous and uncivil politics recently gave the American electorate a nasty choice between two Wall Street politicians (Trump and Clinton), both of whom had dedicated their lives to serving the needs of the super-rich. The result of such a monumental failure of the democratic process was never going to be good for the 99%.

Just one of the late David Rockefeller’s continuing billionaire-club projects is something known as the Council on Foreign Relations – an organization which Laurence Shoup correctly referred to Wall Street’s Think Tank in his recent book on the Council. In a review of this important study, Noam Chomsky concludes how the elites running the Council on Foreign Relations “have set the contours for much of recent history, not least the neoliberal assault that has had a generally destructive impact on populations while serving as an effective instrument of class war.”

cia civil resistance

In the ongoing and intensifying class war that is being waged upon us, there is nothing that elites fear more than genuine democracy and the potential it has to unite the working-class against the violent edifice of capitalism. This is why elites based at think tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations continue to worry about where the next potential threat to their oppressive system may come from.

One such member of this poisonous sect, who has gained notoriety for his unwelcome historical tales of how mass organizations succeed in overthrowing governments, is Peter Ackerman, a former financier, who until recently served as a board member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the coauthor of A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict (St. Martin’s Press, 2001), and is the founding chair of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC). Ackerman and his Centre’s work are misleading to say the least, that is, if you are concerned with truly understanding the relationship between mass movements and the government’s they have overthrown.

Another member of the Council on Foreign Relations elite creed who, so to say, has picked up on Ackerman’s profound interest in civilian resistance is Professor Erica Chenoweth; an individual who in addition to serving as the co-chair of the ICNC’s advisory board, is the co-author of Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (Columbia University Press, 2011). Chenoweth prefers not to concern herself with the finer details of U.S. foreign policy, which have seen her pals in high government install and sustain dictatorial regimes across the world, while simultaneously acting to overthrow democratically elected government deemed too democratic for billionaires. (Chenoweth’s detailed, albeit problematic, engagement with the dynamics of the people-power movement in the Philippine’s — that ousted their dictator in 1986 — capably illustrates her own class orientation and the limitations of her analyses of popular struggles.)

This article is continued here…

Civil resistance works

Of Union Dreams and Nightmares: Cesar Chavez and Why Funding Matters

Once upon a time, in the most hostile of organizing environments, Cesar Chavez and his farm workers movement successfully mobilized workers and their communities against a powerful array of unaccountable corporate forces in a historic fight for social justice. Chavez initially succeeded where others failed and forced the most powerful industry in California to negotiate with the state’s poorest workers. His life’s work in building the United Farm Workers union is now memorialized in American history. President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan was inspired by Chavez’s rallying cries in the fields, while as President, Obama went on to proclaim March 31 as the national Cesar Chavez Day. Nevertheless, fame and dedication to a good cause are not enough to invoke immunity from criticism, so it is important to scrutinize Chavez’s serious shortcomings, as part of a broader attempt to understand why his decades of organising in the fields ultimately floundered.

Frank Bardacke’s book, Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers (2011), provides an insightful reckoning of the conflicting pressures that eventually undermined Chavez’s union. One of the many external forces that simultaneously facilitated both union successes (in the short-term) and failures (in the long-term) was the ever-present pressures generated by the need for funding. Many financial lessons for how activists can sustain powerful movements for social change can be gleaned from the example of the United Farm Workers, but the significant interventions of elite philanthropists into Chavez’s organizing — alongside the cynical manipulations of conservative trade union bureaucrats — must be factored in to any such observations. This is why Erica Kohl-Arenas’ important contribution to this field of research, The Self-Help Myth: How Philanthropy Fails to Alleviate Poverty (2015) should be considered a must-read for all trade unionists and social justice activists. Drawing primarily upon these two books, along with the biographical interrogations carried out by Miriam Pawel, this essay seeks to draw attention to the enduring problems of financing democratic movements for progressive change.

Drilling to the root of the divisions caused by elite financing of working-class activism, it is important to reflect upon the organizations and people which provided guidance to Chavez’s initial community organizing work. The key individual to be considered in this regard is Fred Ross, a founder of the Community Service Organization (CSO) – a project which had been set-up by Saul Alinksy’s Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) in 1947. Ross was the first person to recognise Chávez’s potential as a fellow-organizer when their paths crossed in 1952, and Ross quickly recruited him to paid employment with his CSO — a position that Chávez maintained for the next decade. These formative years are integral to understanding Chavez’s later developments: Not everything that Alinksy and Ross taught Chavez in the years between his twenty-fifth and thirty-fifth birthday stuck, but understanding Alinskyism is one way of making sense of Cesar Chavez and the foundational architecture of the United Farm Workers.” (Trampling Out the Vintage, p.69) For a little informative background on the funding of this early activism, Kohl-Arenas’ writes:

“By the 1950s, Alinsky had become one of the premier thinkers and practitioners of neighborhood-based community organizing. Despite Alinsky’s popularity in the 1950s, he was refused funding by both the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations based on the “political nature” of his approach to building power among local residents to confront unequal opportunity structures. However, through Alinsky’s connections at the University of Chicago, the Emil Schwarzhaupt Foundation generously funded him and the CSO.”

During this period the Schwarzhaupt Foundation also provided much-needed funding to the Highlander Folk School, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Migrant Ministry, but the “main recipient [of their largesse] was Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation.”

“Starting in April 1953, the IAF received a direct grant of $150,000, which in the next ten years expanded to $608,486. More money went to other organizations and groups that had ties to Alinsky but were not directly funded by the IAF. Add it all up, and over a twelve-year period of intense giving nearly $3 million of Schwarzhaupt’s fortune went to fund Alinskyism.” (Trampling Out the Vintage, p.69)

Social movement philanthropy was certainly not commonplace in the early fifties (as it would become increasingly so following in the wake of sixties radicalism), as “liberal, corporate foundation money primarily went to institutional intellectuals or charity operations.” There was however a good reason why foundation money flowed to Alinsky and his numerous community-based projects, and this was because his work was seen as an alternative means of organizing for social justice in ways that bypassed the explicitly political class-based approaches to social change. The usefulness of such activism as a counter to socialist organizing is provided in Alinksy’s famous book Reveille for Radicals (1946) where his counsel for activists seeking to tackle the increasingly right-wing turn of trade unions leaders was simply to organise outside of them: “Another obvious alternative – for workers to fight within their unions for democratic unionism – is not even mentioned.” Thus, “Despite Alinksky’s rhetorical accent on democracy, this approach left Cesar Chavez ill-equipped to think about the actual dynamics of union democracy.” (Trampling Out the Vintage, p.72, p.73)[1]


Gabriel Thompson’s historical overview of Alinsky-styled activism, America’s Social Arsonist: Fred Ross and Grassroots Organizing in the Twentieth Century (2016), actually puts concerns over both outside funding and the related middle-class orientation of the CSO as one of the key factors that led to Chavez’s resignation from Ross’s CSO in 1962. “It didn’t matter that, earlier in the day, the CSO had approved a plan to form a ‘Farm Labor Committee’ or that a wealthy private citizen, sympathetic to farmworkers, had agreed to donate fifty thousand dollars for the cause. Chavez wanted freedom. Money would come, if it came, later.” (p.144) Thompson then concludes that “the need to not be constrained by funders” as demonstrated by this split provides the clearest example of Alinsky’s influence upon Chavez. But this analysis is not really accurate, as Alinsky and Ross’s own activism was always constrained, despite their best efforts, by their funders. In fact in 1962, Ross’s own CSO work was hanging in the balance on the basis of continued funding from the Schwarzhaupt Foundation.

Of course this fundamental problem is not entirely sidestepped by Thompson who later drew attention to the perennial “problem of money. The CSO, like nearly every organizing group save labor unions,” Thompson wrote, “could never find a way to pay for itself.” Moreover, besides the CSO’s “money woes” Thompson highlights “a bigger issue, which is that by the early 1960s the CSO lacked an overarching mission – and it was this vacuum that the middle-class moderates filled.” (p.149) These problems, linked to outside funding, are precisely the reasons why socialists (like myself) maintain that it is critical that social change should be funded by concerned activists (be they trade unionists or otherwise) not philanthropic elites. Either way although Ross remained in the employ of Alinsky’s broad network for the next few years he attempted to get some cash diverted in Chavez’s direction, but Alinsky “didn’t believe farmworkers could be organized, and he rejected the request”. (p.145) Despite this opposition Ross would still attend the founding convention of Chavez’s Farm Worker Association (on September 30, 1962), and later in the sixties would become a key aide within Chavez’s movement.

Money was clearly always at the centre of debates with the farm workers movement, but contrary to Chavez’s ongoing claims about financial independence, during its early years vital support for his Farm Worker Association (FWA) was derived from the Californian Migrant Ministry (CMM), which itself was supported by the Schwarzhaupt Foundation.

“The support started slowly. In the early 1960s, the CMM had a budget of about $100,000 a year. It bought the FWA its first mimeograph machine and Cesar some meals and gas. When Migrant Minister were assigned to be trained by Chavez, they worked as his assistants. Although Chavez pointedly never took money from the CMM for his own salary, the Migrant Ministry would sometimes pay the salary of other FWA organizers. This began in late 1964…  At one time in the mid-sixties there were twenty-six of these worker priests, most of them with little religious background at all, working under the UFW’s directions.” (Trampling Out the Vintage, p.123)

To reiterate the developing contradictions within the farm workers movement: the early stated ethos of Chavez’s organizing ventures was clear:

“Having studied the failures of past attempts to organize migrant farm labor, Chavez believed that organizing workers in a traditional union would never work. Instead, in keeping with his CSO training and his Catholic upbringing, and inspired by his contemporaries Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, Chavez sought to organize farmworkers as a cultural and religious people, situated in their geographic communities, into a social movement. Central to the early philosophy of the movement was the spirit of volunteerism, community service, and collective ownership. According to Dolores Huerta, the main organizing principle emphasized the importance of an all-volunteer, dues-paying membership: ‘There was a strong belief in not taking money from the outside and in insisting that farmworkers pay and volunteer for the movement…’ ” (The SelfHelp Myth)

Through sheer hard work and persistence during their first two years Chavez, Huerta, and a small group of volunteer organizers travelled door to door, organizing endless house meetings, and in doing so were able to recruit membership-paying field workers. Early Farm Worker Association advocate Don Villarejo, recalled that the movement “would not take a dime of money from outside their own pockets—if there was any money or meaning in the movement it had to be based in workers.” (The SelfHelp Myth) Yet even at this early stage Chavez recognized the “benefits” that could be accrued to his organizing efforts if they accepted external funding. Thus, in late 1964:

“Chavez, the pragmatist, was willing to jettison one of his cardinal rules: don’t take outside money. The application submitted to OEO [Office of Economic Opportunity] asked for more than $200,000 to create seventy jobs, sixty-three for farmworkers who would work in the credit union, start a cooperative, and run a gas station. Chavez, as director, would receive a salary of $15,000.” — Miriam Pawel, The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography (2014), p.97.[2]

During its initial years the Farm Worker Association attempted to build from the tradition of mutualistas, a community self-help model popular in the 1920s and 1930s in Mexico. This desire for self-help meshed well with Chavez’s desire to work outside of traditional methods of union organizing; but soon his Association had to evolve to keep up with other developments in the fields. In this manner the union model of organizing was “quickly thrust” on the Association in 1965…

“…when the mostly Filipino-American members of the AFL-CIO– supported Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), led by Larry Itliong, walked out on strike against grape growers in the Delano area. Under pressure from AWOC and their own members, Chavez’s mostly Latino NFWA decided to join AWOC and was unexpectedly thrown into a five-year grape strike. In the course of only a few months, the dogged door-to-door community organizing and mutual aid approach quickly transformed into the largest union movement of its time.” (The SelfHelp Myth)

External union cash soon came flowing in from Walter Reuther, the president of the United Auto Workers (UAW), which then progressed to direct support from the AFL-CIO: that is, after Chavez’s Association’s merger with AWOC led to the formation of the newly named United Farm Workers of America (which later changed name to become the United Farm Workers, UFW, in 1972). The money that now became available for grassroots organizing was growing by the day and far outstripped union dues. So considering the founding ideals of this still developing farmworkers movement, it is not surprising that some of their “key leaders” were wary of the political implications of external funding, especially that from outside the trade union movement. Illustrating the paradoxical nature of the centrality of financial issues, it is significant that this problem was also raised by groups that were wholly reliant on philanthropic benefactors themselves.

“Despite its own funding from the National Council of Churches and the Max L. Rosenberg Foundation, Migrant Ministry argued that publicly and privately funded self-help housing and infrastructure programs risked co-opting the advocacy and organizing potential of the movement. Regardless of the moral and political stance against outside funds, movement leaders changed their minds when they found out that multiple farmworker-serving organizations were receiving large grants from the OEO’s War on Poverty. According to lead organizer Gilbert Padilla in an interview with Marshall Ganz, Chavez feared that if ‘the NFWA did not get the OEO funds, others would who might not share the NFWA’s organizing agenda… and by reversing itself on rejection of outside money, the NFWA tried to preempt claims of others who might use funds in less productive ways.’ ”

“In 1965, only a year after claiming that public funds would corrupt a volunteer led farmworker movement, the NFWA applied for an OEO grant of $500,000. The NFWA was forced to return these funds amid protest among growers and mainstream stakeholders who were upset that the OEO was supporting strikes and unionization. However, by 1966, the movement was seeking support from private funders, resulting in a heated debate on the limits to farmworker self-help and the incorporation of the private, nonprofit movement institutions to which Chavez eventually retreated.” (The SelfHelp Myth)

The Ford Foundation-backed initiatives in California, of which the most visible was their “War on Poverty” Community Action Projects (CAPs), were at the time dominated by affiliates of the American Friends Service Committee.[3] Millions of dollars flooded into these CAPs from the government, while simultaneously the government’s ODO funders “began to reign in CAP staff eager to join the strikes and vetoed poverty funding that had anything to do with organizing farmworkers.” (The SelfHelp Myth) These efforts to control their activist staff did not always play out as planned, and the ODO-initiated California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) – whose employees included Jerry Cohen, who went on to become the farmworkers primary lawyer — maintained close working relationships with Chavez’s movement despite the best-efforts of their government paymasters. (This intimate link is not unsurprising as Chavez himself was included upon California Rural Legal Assistance’s board of directors when they had been set-up in 1966.)

With the increasing pressures of so many conflicting forces bearing down upon union organizing efforts, “Chavez and a small group of preacher activists from Migrant Ministry redirected decision-making away from workers toward a centralized leadership after the strike went public.” With the flow of money drying up for the more radical CAPs, new streams of funding would soon bolster farm worker activism from groups like the Citizens’ Crusade Against Poverty (CCAP). This CCAP had been initiated in late 1964 by soon-to-be allies of the farm workers which included Walter Reuther, Senator Robert Kennedy, and the former OEO director Richard Boone. The Ford Foundation had provided the grant to launch CCAP and movement leaders including Huerta, Martin Luther King Jr., and Bayard Rustin were quickly drawn in to reside on the organizations board of directors. With a $4 million four-year commitment from Ford, money now began to cascade more freely:

“A CCAP grant to the UFW in 1967 introduced the farmworker movement to program staff at both the Ford Foundation and the Field Foundation, both major funders from 1967 through the early 1970s. Headed up by Reuther, CCAP granted the UFW $200,000 to train emerging farmworker leaders in the Central Valley through the UFW’s then unincorporated National Farm Worker Service Center (NFWSC). The UFW hired Fred Ross (CSO founder and longtime ally) to develop and implement a training program in which farmworker leaders would learn how to organize and represent farmworkers to local agencies. Ross was also charged with establishing the NFWSC as a viable institution to serve the needs of local farmworkers. After only one year of the UFW/NFWSC/Fred Ross training program, the CCAP informed the UFW that the Ford Foundation was ending funding to CCAP. With additional funds from the Ford Foundation, a new organization called the Center for Community Change (CCC) was founded to absorb OEO- and CCAP-related projects.” (The SelfHelp Myth)

As part of ongoing efforts to channel external funds into the movement, in 1966 Chavez’s union set-up the National Farm Worker Service Center which received its “first large grant… through the Ford Foundation for the CCAP organizer-training program.” In 1969, the Centre was subsequently able to be directly funded by philanthropic foundations (like Ford) when it was formally incorporated as a nonprofit organization, but this change led to unforeseen problems that “limit[ed] the kind of farmworker self-help that was possible.” Hence, “Strict lines were quickly drawn between the social service work and economic justice organizing.” Here it should be noted, that the unions increasingly problematic “relationship with private funders, particularly the Field Foundation, paved the way for the retreat from organizing to a nonprofit institutional model—a space that became all too comfortable when crisis intensified within movement leadership and in the fields.” (The SelfHelp Myth)[4]

“After the 1969 incorporation as a 501(c)(3) organization, several private foundations, including the Ford Foundation, granted support to the service center for more farmworker service programming (for example, the creation of a community school and a clinic) and general administrative support. All of these programs fell within the acceptable logic of philanthropic self-help. Unlike the early mutual aid and cooperative associations, which were owned and led by farmworkers and poor migrant families, these programs depended on resources from outside stakeholders. They also focused primarily on how farmworkers could help themselves improve their own behaviors and conditions, without challenging individual growers or the structure of the agricultural industry. The revolutionary interpretation of mutual aid to foster self-determination and ownership, and the subsequent union approach, were both replaced by a more traditional charitable model.” (The SelfHelp Myth)

That the need to attract funding affected the political priorities of the union is obvious, which is why, over the years, members continually opposed Chavez and his Executive on such matters. In regular, democratic unions the majority, if not all, of the organizations funding is reliant upon membership dues, but prior to 1969, “dues were no more than 16 percent” of union income. (Trampling Out the Vintage, p.550) In particular, this delinking of the union leadership from its membership base meant that it was foundation money not the workers themselves who would play an important role in building farmworker leadership and institutions. But while Chavez had “initially assumed that private funding could also be used to support strikes, boycott, and union organizing,” it soon became clear that this was not the case. “Through highly charged debates documented in print mail correspondence, foundation program officers convinced Chavez that foundation grants to the movement could not include union organizing or confrontation with the agricultural industry.”[5] As a result of these barriers to action, Chavez channelled such external funds to less confrontational service work; changes which wrought a large effect on the political priorities of the union.

Foundation grants kept flowing during the 1970s for the National Farm Worker Service Center along with the seven additional nonprofit organizations that were eventually founded by the union leadership; and it is true that managing this money presented different challenges in the form of “bureaucratic inundation” for Chavez and his largely uncritical cadre of union activists. “Consumed with developing his new organizations, Chavez ultimately accepted a foundation-approved translation of farmworker self-help that featured poor field hands in need of philanthropic charity—but not a movement in struggle for self-determination, labor rights, and collective ownership among workers.”[6] Arguably it was exactly these additional unforeseen problems that “eventually distracted movement leadership from union organizing when the movement faced its most severe challenges.”

What makes these problems all the more vexing is that during his lifetime Chavez was never held accountable for his many mistakes. This was in large part because the entire farm workers’ movement rested upon Chavez’s own mythmaking. We should of course be realistic about the weighty political pressures that were brought to bear upon Chavez as his organization gradually became more dependent on external benefactors with ulterior motives. The remedy for such perennial problems, which face all organizations (big or small), would have been the promotion of internal democracy within his union. But we should recognize that from the start Chavez never really had much time for internal democracy.

Ongoing state surveillance from the FBI no doubt increased Chavez’s paranoia in the context of his long internal fight against union members of his union harbouring democratic inclinations; and on this score it is notable that the FBI never unearthed any evidence of Communist infiltration into the union. The lack of such a so-called Communist threat however did not quiet Chavez’s own desire to revive the worst elements of McCarthyism. “For Chavez, red-baiting became a convenient excuse to get rid of people who asked too many questions, grumbled about the drudgery of picket work, objected to the AFL-CIO alliance, broke up marriages, exhibited too much independence, or drew too much attention to themselves.” “As Fred Hirsch had pointed out as early as 1968, Chavez viewed almost everyone as expendable.” (The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, p.150, p.341) When Fred reluctantly parted company with the union in the wake of raising his democratic concerns, he left his teenage daughter, Liza, living with Chavez and his family. Liza then stuck it out with Chavez (her mentor) until 1978 when she was unceremoniously ejected from the union after attempting to stick up for a fellow activist whom Chavez had arranged to be arrested by the local police: “Chavez denounced Liza as a Communist and ordered her thrown out.” (The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, p.346)[7] This was just the latest in a long string of expulsions and resignations, and Chavez’s unaccountability continued to have a toxic effect as far as far as the future of the union was concerned.

In addition to his daily obsession with communist troublemakers, Chavez’s destabilizing paranoia asserted itself it other ways too, like when he accused the flood of undocumented workers from Mexico into the Californian fields as being part of a devious “CIA operation.” At this historical juncture of CIA ranting, in 1974, Chavez evidently had faith in Liza Hirsch’s obedience to his rule, and he set her the task of coordinating the unions controversial “Illegals Campaign,” which sought to report illegal immigrants to the authorities. Here it is interesting that in that same year, Fred Hirsch had published a short book entitled “The Foreign Policy of the AFL-CIO in Latin America: or Under the Covers with the C.IA. The release of this ground-breaking text is relevant here because it illustrated how, from 1962 onwards, the right-wing leadership of the AFL-CIO had colluded with the U.S. government and the CIA to create the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD): the goal of this Institute was to promote business unionism in opposition to radical democratic alternatives across the world. Fred’s volume focused particularly on “the part AIFLD took in the bloody termination of the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende in Chile.”

In 2011, Fred wrote a thoughtful essay reflecting upon this real-life conspiracy titled “Did Ties to CIA-Labor Penetration Abroad Blowback at Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union?” As he points out:

“One strong factor for the decline of the United Farm Workers Union may have derived from its celebrity among good liberals, the awesome allegiance of genuinely humane church people and its early-on dependence on the financial support and “guidance” of George Meany’s AFL-CIO. Chavez came to be dependent upon outside financing for the work of the Union. Without the generosity of progressive and religious groups, and regular checks from the AFL-CIO, the growth and power of the UFW would have had to depend upon the farm workers themselves in a democratic, self-sustaining, dues paying union.”

Although he didn’t realize its significance at the time, Fred recalled how during his time in the fields with the United Farm Workers a delegation of foreign trade unionists from the Vietnamese Confederation of Labor paid them a fleeting visit: “It was the official labor organization that operated at the pleasure of the CIA and in service to Presidents Ngo Dinh Diem and Nguyen Cao Ky.” Although Fred is unclear of the exact date, in either 1974 or 1976, he subsequently met with Chavez to warn him of the vile practices that taken place in Chile, and were still being undertaken elsewhere, by the CIA and AFL-CIO leadership (without the knowledge of the AFLO-CIO’s membership).

“Cesar did not say whether or not he cooperated with such AIFLD visits. He was, however, uncharacteristically fidgety and stone-faced. He made no commitment to act on the information.  We would not expect so intelligent a leader, a man so publicly committed to non-violence, to allow his organization to be tied to the corporate friendly schemes of the Nixon administration through AIFLD. More than three thousand men and women many selected from an AIFLD list of “subversives.” Many or most of those who were killed following the overthrow of democracy in Chile by Pinochet were progressive trade unionists like many of us. They were made martyrs for their names being put on a list.”

Chavez took no heed of Fred’s warnings, and worse still, in 1977, Chavez visited the Philippines to endorse the right-wing dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his associated CIA-backed Trade Union Congress of the Philippines.[8] This disastrous trip was undertaken not without substantial opposition from other leaders and members of his union, all of whose warning were vehemently denied by Chavez. (The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, pp.367-9) The serious nature of the problems raised by Chavez’s dalliance with a bloody dictator are also briefly touched upon in Trampling Out the Vintage, where particular attention is focused on some of the many reasons why the AFL-CIO benefited from diverting so much funding and energy towards Chavez’s ever-popular union of dreams.

“Chavez provided [George] Meany with progressive cover for his steadfast opposition to most rank-and-file organizing and his long-term betrayal of American liberals. Chavez came relatively cheap when compared with all that had to be ignored or forgotten: Meany’s failure to support an organizing drive in the South following the civil rights movement; his opposition to affirmative action in his federated unions; his support for the war in Vietnam; and his tacit support of Nixon against McGovern. Chavez’s need was more direct. Having lost about 80 percent of his membership to the Teamsters, he needed political and financial support to rebuild, and he had to win that help from a man who disagreed with the way Chavez did business. They negotiated intermittently. Chavez’s need was more profound, so Meany could extract favors: La Paz would be on the itinerary of various Latin American labor leaders who were being wooed by the AFL-CIO’s CIA-aided operation, the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD); Chavez would refrain from criticizing Meany to West Coast reporters; the UFW would contribute to the AFL-CIO fund for Israel and issue a statement of support for Israel in the aftermath of the 1973 war.” (Trampling Out the Vintage, pp.460-1)[9]

Such untoward manoeuvrings on the part of conservative misleaders of the American trade union movement were also played out in the longstanding relationship between the United Farm Workers and the United Automobile Workers (UAW) (which “still had pretences as the standard bearer of ‘social unionism,’ as opposed to Meany’s ‘business unionism’”) – first under the influence of Walter Reuther and then by his successor Leonard Woodcock. Yet at the end of the day:

“The UAW’s reasons for supporting the UFW were not too different from those of its old rival, Meany. In a series of Detroit wildcat strikes in 1973, UAW officials had led the opposition to the strikers, hoping to secure their own position as junior partners of the Big Three auto manufacturers. In the last wildcat strike at Chrysler, endorsed by leaders of the UAW local at the struck plant, more than 1,000 UAW officials, many wielding baseball bats, attacked the picket line and broke up the strike. That finished off the rebellion within the UAW, and brought a symbolic end to the short era of U.S. rank-and-file militancy. At a UAW conventions nine months later, however, in an attempt to assure others (and themselves) that they were still progressive unionists, many of these same bat-swinging officials endorsed Woodcock’s decision to fund the UFW and gave their guest speaker, Chavez, a series of standing ovations.” (Trampling Out the Vintage, pp.461-2)

The democratic trade union myth that is Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers persists to this day, and that is all well and good if it can persuade more people to fight for a better world with the aid of the trade union movement. But what is clear is that the membership of Chavez’s union lies in tatters in no small part because of his failure to allow democracy to flourish,[10] and by his inability to resist being used as a tool by elite forces external to his union, whether they be the right-wing bureaucracy of the AFL-CIO or that of the liberal philanthropic community.

Michael Barker is the author of Under the Mask of Philanthropy (2017).


[1] For further criticism of Saul Alinksy, see Robert Fisher, Let the People Decide: Neighborhood Organizing in America (1984); Fisher, ‘‘Community Organizing in the Conservative ’80s and Beyond,’’ Social Policy, September 22, 1994; John McKnight and John Kretzmann, ‘‘Community Organizing in the 80’s: Toward a Post-Alinsky Agenda,’’ Social Policy, 1984; and for a detailed critique of Alinksy’s most famous organization, see John Hall Fish, Black Power/White Control: The Struggle of the Woodlawn Association in Chicago (1973).

[2] In 1966: “Almost all of the inner circle [of the union] were paid basic wages from the Migrant Ministry, the non-profit Service Center, or foundations. Supporters seeking to make tax-exempt donations were directed to foundations that funnelled the money to help the strike. [Chris] Hartmire chaired a non-profit called the Center for Change and Community Development (CCCD), one of several ways government and foundation grants were quietly directed to the union cause. A grant from the federal Office of Economic Opportunity supported a program run by the CCCD called the Self-Help Service Corps Project, chaired by Richard Chavez. The project trained volunteers to organize and essentially provided staff for the strike, until Governor Ronald Reagan vetoed the funding. At one point, Fred Ross was on the payroll at $1,250 a month and Manuel Chavez at $500 a month.” (The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, p.148)

[3] Erica Kohl-Arenas points out how numerous poverty scholars “have argued that the War on Poverty, like the Ford Foundation projects, sidetracked movements for justice by curtailing and defunding activities of CAPs when their definition of self-help was deemed too confrontational.” Here she lists three examples: such as Alyosha Goldstein, Poverty in Common: The Politics of Community Action during the American Century (Duke University Press, 2012); Michael Katz, The Undeserving Poor: America’s Enduring Confrontation with Poverty (Oxford University Press, 2013); and Alice O’Connor, “Swimming Against the Tide: A Brief History of Federal Policy in Poor Communities,” In: Ronald Ferguson and William Dickens (eds.), Urban Problems and Community Development (Brookings Institution, 1999). Kohl-Arenas, “The Self-Help Myth: Towards a Theory of Philanthropy as Consensus Broker,” The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, September 2015, 74(4), p.805.

[4] “Between 1967 and 1969 the Field Foundation granted the [union service center] $85,000, and between 1972 and 1976, over $200,000—a great deal for a movement organization at this time.” (The SelfHelp Myth)

[5] Erica Kohl-Arenas, “The Presentation of Self in Philanthropic Life: The Political Negotiations of the Foundation Program Officer: The Presentation of Self in Philanthropic Life,” Antipode, 2017, pp.6-7.

[6] Kohl-Arenas, “The Self-Help Myth,” p.808. Later in the 70s, “As Chavez retreated further, suggesting that the future of the movement might be found in creating a model community at La Paz funded by grants, the sale of candles, and an organic garden, the farmworkers’ plight was promoted as a charitable cause but not as a movement based on the collective power of workers.” (The SelfHelp Myth)

[7] Before Fred and his wife Virginia left the farmworkers movement in 1968, Fred “wrote a ‘for your eyes only’ memo that he sent to every member of the Executive Board and to LeRoy Chatfield. The long rambling complaint made four main points, mincing no words: (1) [Chavez’s] fast had been a hypocritical misuse of religious symbolism; (2) white outsiders had been brought into the union and placed at key positions of power where they stood in the way of farm worker advancement inside UFWOC; (3) the organization was autocratic, as Chavez and his white advisers made all the important decisions; (4) inside UFWOC there was contempt for people’s labor, as volunteers were given make-work and moved from job to job willy-nilly.” (Trampling Out the Vintage)

Drawing upon official tape recording of a union meeting in mid-1977 Pawel provides a good illustration of how Chavez used his power illegitimately: “’If I stay [in the union],’ Chavez continued, ‘I have to stay on my own terms and I have to fuck the organization to the extent that I become a real dictator, if I’m not one right now. That’s just natural.’ He would only stay, he repeated, on one condition: ‘I got to be the fucking king, or I leave.’” (The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, p.378)

[8] For more details of the role of U.S. support for anti-democratic trade unions in the Philippines see Kim Scipes, KMU: Building Genuine Trade Unionism in the Philippines, 1980-1994 (1996), and my own article “A Warning for Egyptian Revolutionaries: Courtesy of People-Power in the Philippines” (February 15, 2011).

[9] For more details on the misleadership of the AFL-CIO, Trampling Out the Vintage cites Paul Buhle,’s excellent book Taking Care of Business: Samuel Gompers, George Meany, Lane Kirkland, and the Tragedy of American Labor (1999).

[10] “By the early 2000s, UFW membership had shrunk to under 5,000, yet movement organizations were collectively receiving more than $1 million a year for service and educational programs, from funders including the California Endowment, the Packard Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Unfortunately, from the late 1970s to the present day, scandals of fraud, nepotism, and mismanagement have plagued the movement institutions.” (The SelfHelp Myth)


The Givers Who Take: David Callahan’s Delusions of a Liberal Utopia

Every day that passes us by the wealth and power of the billionaire-class is further consolidated. The gap between rich and poor grows, a process that is umbilically-linked to the immense profits that continue to be amassed by a greedy handful at the expense of the rest of us. Under capitalism the only true givers are the working-class. But as the rich know all too well, this anti-democratic method of misrule is inherently unstable, hence the capitalist takers are compelled to give us back a little. This institutionalized system of take and give is the subject of David Callahan’s just-released book The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age (Knopf, 2017).

Callahan sets himself a big task, which it seems he is not really up to. He notes how critical “scholars like C. Wright Mills worked to gain an understanding of a new ecosystem of power that included major corporations, government, and the military.” Thus Callahan sees his task as being to “reckon with the rise of big philanhtropy – and the givers behind it.” Loosely inspired by The Power Elite (1956), Mills’ classic exposition on the mechanics of class rule, The Givers set out to describe the activities of this “new philanthropic power elite.” The major difference is that while funding from the philanthropic community for studies on what Mills’ referred to as “The Cultural Apparatus” were blocked, Callahan’s own ahistorical boosterism has been well-received.

The Givers Callahan

Hardly a philanthropic outsider, Callahan had — prior to setting up the website Inside Philanthropy — cofounded a think tank called Demos in the late 1990s which received generous funding from the historic big three philanthropic foundation giants, Ford, Rockefeller and Carnegie. He waxes lyrical about his hopes for a future overseen by loving givers only because he closes his eyes to any alternative more egalitarian future, and to the seriously problematic history of liberal philanthropy itself. “Even if you worry about inequality, it’s hard not to feel hope as super-empowered, high-minded givers looks to solve problems” – problems that are at root caused by the actions of his billionaire takers.

Over a century ago, Callahan reminds his readers, “John D. Rockefeller’s proposed foundation had been denounced by the U.S. attorney general as ‘an indefinite scheme for perpetuating vast wealth’ that was ‘entirely inconsistent with the public interest.’” At the time, the then germinal Rockefeller Foundation was correctly referred to as a “Trojan horse” in a devious plot by one of America’s most infamous robber barons to undo democracy. Nevertheless, Callahan confidently asserts, “these early criticisms of mega-givers” have now “faded.” “As distrust of robber barons and their monopolies became a distant memory, so too did fears that philanthropy was yet another tool of oligarchical control…”