Footnotes for “Conspiracies, Enemies, and Friends”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Givers That Take

Advance Praise

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Gates, Philanthropy, and Social Engineering?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

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

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

People and Projects

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

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

III – Bill Gates Engineers Another Green Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foundation Interviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capital-Driven Civil Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So as Horowitz concludes:

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

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

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

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

Notes –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the CIA Make Liars Out of Union Leaders (1967)

The following essay by Paul Jacobs, “How the CIA makes liars out of union leaders,” was published by Ramparts magazine in April 1967.

cia ram

GEORGE MEANY, PRESIDENT of the AFL-CIO, is either a liar or a fool. He is a liar if his disclaimer of knowledge about the CIA subsidizing American unions is false; he is a fool if his disclaimer is true, for then he is revealed as ignorant of what has been common corridor talk for a long time.

In fact, the secret relationship between the CIA and American union leaders is only one aspect of a larger problem; the American government has contracted out both its open and secret foreign relations with workers and trade unions in other countries to President Meany and his secretary of state, Jay Lovestone. Under the direction of Lovestone, an unprincipled political manipulator who headed the American Communist Party until he was deposed in 1929, the AFL-CIO has pursued a policy of fanatical, sometimes even demented anti-communism which occasionally has been in direct opposition to the stated foreign policy of the U.S. government. And under the direction of Lovestone’s long-time followers, Irving Brown and Serafino Romualdi, the legitimate functions of America’s unions have been corrupted and perverted.

In all of these operations the CIA, with its unlimited fronts and staff, has played a major role in recent years. CIA agents have been placed in unions and CIA funds have financed a major part of their overseas operations. In addition, the activities of some organizations peripheral to the trade unions have also been financed, in part or whole, by the CIA and used as a cover for CIA agents. Thus, a man ostensibly on the payroll of an American union, but who is listed in its report as either an “office employee” or without any identification, made three trips in 1963 to British Guiana for the purpose, according to a secret British police report, of helping to finance the overthrow of the Cheddi Jagan government.

Also, every month for many years, checks from CIA conduit agencies were made out to D.A. Knight, president of the Oil Workers International Union, who in turn endorsed the checks over to the International Federation of Petroleum and Chemical Workers, to finance its ten offices in all parts of the world. Many American unions established such international operations after World War II; they served to bring together workers of common industries but different countries. And in order to cover up the true sources of its funds, Americans who controlled the IFPCW had to lie to the foreign unions affiliated to it. Foreign unions were told that the budget of the organization, which was over $350,000 a year, was mostly based on the contributions and per capita taxes of the parent Oil Workers Union—although the American union did not report such contributions to its own members. To make certain that no one discovered the CIA contributions, the financial report of the Federation was audited and pronounced accurate by Samuel Butler, an accountant who himself headed The League for International Social and Cooperative Development, which was one of the several mysterious “foundations” which helped finance the operation of the IFPCW.

So also did the State Dept. finance the initial operation of a school for foreign workers, sponsored by the Communication Workers of America. At this school, communication workers from all over the world received training in such trade union practices as organizing, grievance procedures and labor history. In addition, they were shown the political advantages of the American trade union model over that advocated by the communists and neutralists. The CIA supported the international program of the American Newspaper Guild and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Workers. The CIA has been involved in the work of the American Institute for Free Labor Development, allegedly a private organization of union leaders and businessmen, operating extensively throughout Latin America. The board of directors of the AIFLD includes George Meany and J. Peter Grace, head of the Grace shipping interests, who is associated with Human Events, one of the right wing’s voices in America. The close relationship between the AIFLD and the American government is attested to by the fact that, on occasion, the organization has used State Department diplomatic pouches to communicate with its own personnel in the field.

The executive director of the AIFLD was Lovestone’s follower, Serafino Romualdi, who also served on the board of directors of a mysterious organization, the Center for Labor and Social Studies, with ostensible headquarters in Rome. The Center carries on extensive operations throughout Africa, Asia and the Far East, although at least two of its European board members do not know exactly what it does. The Center was organized by Sol Levitas, then editor of the New Leader, who claimed it was supported by private funds. The Americans on its board of directors, in addition to Romualdi, are Ben Josephson, who refused to discuss the Center’s finances, and who is the director of the Tamiment Institute, part of the old social-democratic movement in New York; and David Dubinsky, who gave Lovestone his first real base in the American unions.

Indeed, without the help of Dubinsky, Lovestone would never have achieved the key position he now holds, where vast resources, political and financial, are available to him and his followers.

TODAY, LOVESTONE, WITH THE HELP of such government agencies as the CIA, is eminently more successful in his pursuit of power than he was as a leader of the American Communist Party during the ’20s. Lovestone was expelled from the party in 1929, although he tried desperately to remain inside it. After his expulsion, he organized his own communist group and continued to seek readmittance to the official communist organization. During this period, he was busily engaged in setting up dual unions to compete with those in the AFL, including one in the needle trades, and later in attempting to take over the United Automobile Workers. He almost succeeded in that enterprise, for he exerted considerable influence over the union’s president. Homer M. Martin—especially since Martin’s assistant was Irving Brown. And, during that period, Lovestone’s followers flocked to Detroit to get on the UAW payroll, where they remained until Martin was dumped from the union presidency. Finally, in 1939, Lovestone gave up his efforts to get back into the Communist Party and shifted his allegiance to Dubinsky and the U.S. government. But if Lovestone failed to take over the UAW, he has more than made up for it by the way in which he has slowly, over the years, taken control of foreign policy in the AFL-CIO. That takeover effort began when Lovestone, operating under the aegis of Dubinsky’s union (the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union) organized the Free Trade Union Committee, whose initial work was the rescuing of European unionists and socialists from Nazi prison camps. As World War II came to a close and the communists replaced the Nazis as the American enemy, the focus of Lovestone’s efforts shifted too. His Free Trade Union Committee began to rescue trade unionists and socialists from communist prison camps. Under Lovestone’s direction, and with the active support of Dubinsky, the Free Trade Union Committee began to play a very active part in the Cold War, staking out for its battlefield the struggle against the communist-controlled unions, or those non-communist unions which did not accept the manipulations of Lovestone and Brown. Initially, Lovestone acted only as the ILGWU’s secretary of state, but shortly after the Cold War replaced World War II, he moved up from the narrow confines of the ILGWU to take over the direction of foreign policy for the AFL and later for the AFL-CIO. He succeeded in organizing the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions as a rival to the World Federation of Trade Unions, organized during World War II to include communist unions. Vested by George Meany with almost complete authority, Lovestone played a dominant role in a world-wide operation which has used the financial resources of the U.S. government. But because anti-communism was the only glue holding this structure together, the AFL-CIO is in the position of having its foreign relations director and members of his staff linked with some of the most right wing organizations in the United States. Dubinsky, the one-time socialist who became a New Dealer, now seems to accept without a public demurrer the spectacle of Lovestone serving on the board of directors of the American Security Council, a super-patriotic group with strong right wing ties.

Irving Brown, Lovestone’s lieutenant in the UAW, became the AFL representative in Europe where he traveled with what seemed to be unlimited funds at his disposal — funds which enabled him to put his people into office or depose those European union leaders who were either pro-communist, or at least not vehemently anti-communist enough to satisfy the political demands of Brown and Lovestone. Brown’s chief activities were breaking up a strike of French dock workers directed against Marshall Plan shipments and the splitting of the French and Italian labor movements in efforts to prevent the communists from taking over. Brown always had direct access to U.S. officials in Europe, especially to those officials of the Marshall Plan who, like himself, were former members of Lovestone’s 1930’s revolutionary organization. They too, like Lovestone, had moved from revolutionary socialism to the service of American foreign policy. Some of them remained in government service as labor attaches, always serving the man who got them their jobs.

It was during this period, too, that Brown advocated the rehabilitation of all French trade unionists who had supported the Vichy government, because, according to Brown, some of them were later blacklisted at communist instigation. At the same time. Brown proposed that any communist trade unionists who had supported the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 themselves be blacklisted. He called for outlawing the communist trade unions in a speech in 1951 in which he also advocated using repressive police measures and adopting methods of operation “in the shadows” against the communists. His audience at the American Club in Brussels was a group of American businessmen, journalists and foreign service people.

IN THE EARLY 50’s THE AFL, and later the AFL-CIO, was being prepared for its use by the CIA, and anti-communism was still the basic criterion by which union leaders were being judged at home and abroad. The CIO had expelled its own communist dominated unions and it thus seemed perfectly natural for the CIO Oil Workers to become engaged, with CIA help, in learning “how to operate in the shadows.” It began to create an anti-communist union structure which would bring together petroleum workers from all over the world. The union’s president, D. A. Knight, had himself been in a few fights with the communists, who were trying to take control of his union. Knight had served as chairman of the CIO committee which tried and expelled the longshoremen’s union. But Knight’s relatively small union was not able to finance an international operation on its own. So from the start the CIA provided the funds which paid the salaries and expenses of the IFPCW’s American staff, which worked out of the Federation’s headquarters in Denver.

The Federation flourished under the prodding of Knight and the direction of Lloyd Haskins (executive secretary), and carried out open trade union activities in other countries. It helped foreign oil workers organize, published a monthly newspaper, convened leadership training conferences, and opened more and more offices throughout the world. All of its public trade union activities were directed toward building foreign unions which would be sympathetic to American foreign policy and hostile to any alleged or real communist influence. The foreign unions which the Federation helped to create were built on the American model, even if that model had no real use in other countries, especially underdeveloped ones.

The Federation also arranged overseas junkets for American union officials and provided a kind of patronage station in its international offices abroad—without any cost to the union. Then, in 1965, an internal union conflict brought the CIA operations out from behind the closed doors of the union’s office in Denver and into the corridors, lobbies and rooms in Miami where the union was holding its annual convention.

For some years prior to the convention, a few of Knight’s political opponents in the union had been aware that all was not what it was said to be in the IFPCW operation, but, like most Americans, they could not conceive of CIA involvement in their union; instead, they assumed the IFPCW to be financed by the State Department. It was not until 1964 when, during hearings conducted by Congressman Wright Patman he revealed the existence of CIA conduit foundations, that they realized the IFPCW was being supported by the CIA. These men didn’t like their union being secretly used as a tool of American Cold War policy. In 1965 Knight’s opponents got their chance; Knight decided not to run for re-election and his opposition put up A. L. Grospiron, a member of the union’s rank and file executive committee, as their candidate.

The possibility of Grospiron’s election was a real threat to the CIA. Only a few months earlier a bitter election fight had taken place in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, another union in which the CIA had a strong interest and a heavy financial investment. In the AFSCME the new president had quietly cut off the CIA operation within a few weeks after taking office. And so, with that history before them, the geographically dispersed staff of the Federation flew to Miami and campaigned actively on behalf of Grospiron’s opponent. Many of their travel fares were probably picked up by our “secret government.”

Nevertheless, Grospiron won the election—although by a very narrow margin—and, as the CIA feared, he too quietly cut off CIA ties as soon as he took office, resisting all the pressures applied to him to keep them intact.

UNFORTUNATELY, NOT MANY union presidents have been so anxious to cut their organization’s CIA ties; some waited until adverse publicity revealed the relationship, and not many union leaders have considered how far they have moved along the road of participating in the subordination of the real interests of workers in other countries to American foreign policy. This is what American policy has become under the CIA and Jay Lovestone, who are not accountable to the American public.

And the real interests of American workers could just as easily be sacrificed, for in a world where the CIA finances union activities, the lines between unions and employers are blurred. So, too, Jay Lovestone and his lieutenants. Brown and Romualdi, have made common cause with some of the most notorious anti-union employers and strident right wing groups in America. A typical example of this relationship is Lovestone’s membership on the “strategy staff” of the American Security Council, whose function is the screening of alleged subversives on behalf of business firms, most of them anti-union.

Typically, Romualdi also has been associated with such groups as the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade, the AU-American Conference to Combat Communism, and the Cuban Freedom Committee, but he is not alone in making such associations. Brown and George Meany also serve on the boards of some right wing groups, for they are as ardent in their anti-communism as is Lovestone. Indeed, these men are so hardline that they refused to see some Japanese trade unionists visiting the U.S. on an official visit, sponsored by the State Department: they felt the Japanese union leaders were too far left in their thinking. It is reported that the AFL-CIO was able to prevent American unions from having displays at trade fairs in Communist block countries, and to stop a visit to the United States by a group of Algerian trade unionists because, once again, Meany and Lovestone disapproved of their political views.

In a speech George Meany made to the “Businessmen’s Committee for Latin America,” he said, “We believe in the capitalist system and we are members of the capitalist society. We are dedicated to the preservation of this system which rewards the worker, which is one in which management also has such a great stake. The investors of risk capital also must be rewarded. . .. We are not satisfied, no, but we are not about to trade in our system for any other.”

It is no wonder, then, that the CIA saw the American unions as a perfect group to manipulate.

Surely one of the most tragic aspects of the relationship between the CIA and the unions can be found in the quality of the people involved in them. The union leaders who allowed their organizations to be used as cover were people who were once among the very best of American liberals: Arnold Zander of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers could be found supporting liberal causes and actively working to change the nature of American life. His role vis-a-vis the CIA tells more about the failure of American liberalism than it does about the CIA.

So, too, the acceptance by the trade union leaders of an anti-communism which no longer has any relevance to the realities of world politics and national life is a clear sign that the internal life of American unions is in drastic need of revitalization. Even more, it means that union leaders must stop treating their members as if they cannot be told about the real world. Perhaps then the members might decide to follow the same course, but they should be given the opportunity to make that decision.

Once upon a time, many years ago, I was a representative of the Oil Workers International Union. In many ways, I was a stranger in the union, an outsider, an oddball in an organization of people whose values I didn’t understand and who knew nothing of mine. But the union members I met in the local hall in Long Beach, the union members I drank with in the American Legion Hall in Maricopa, the union members I walked with on the picket line in Richmond, all of them were entitled to know what was being done in their names. And this tale is how they, the people of the union, the riggers out in the field, the operators inside the refinery, the instrument man fixing the gauge on pipelines, were cheated. They thought their union was doing one thing, when in fact it was doing something else.

This is the corrupting effect of the CIA in American life. It has made union leaders into liars. It has made union members mistrust what their elected officials tell them. Indeed, if Jay Lovestone were still a top official of the Communist Party, he could not have done a more effective job of destroying the belief of American workers that their unions exist to defend their interests and not the interests of other parties.

Misreporting Ukraine: The Scourge of Conspiracies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Michael Barker’s historically grounded critique of those most pernicious of political forces, the philanthropic foundations, is superb and unsurpassed. Everyone who is serious about a rebuilt Left that can win should read this book. As Barker shows masterfully the foundations exist to confuse, deflect, and channel away the wrath of the people. By muddying the intellectual waters foundations have been as damaging as police spies and company thugs. They operate by the logic Machiavelli explained, ‘you may hold the fortresses, yet they will not save you if the people hate you…’ Thus the foundations defend capitalism by placating, ameliorating, confusing, and fomenting division.”

—Christian Parenti, author of Lockdown America:  Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis

“In Under the Mask of Philanthropy, Michael Barker has produced one of the most comprehensive and important books on the politics of capitalist philanthropy. This is a must read for anyone engaged in social movements, academia, and/or the foundation world.”

—Daniel Faber, author of Capitalizing on Environmental Justice: The Polluter-Industrial Complex in the Age of Globalization

“One of the most impressive and thought-provoking books I’ve read in a long time. Under the Mask of Philanthropy addresses an important but often neglected topic — how the ruling class coopts working class struggles for justice and equality in ways that perpetuate the concentration of power and privilege. Barker’s magisterial command of historical and contemporary sources, coupled with his brilliant analysis, have resulted in a truly fascinating book in which even the most informed readers will find much to learn. At a time when so many are yearning for social change, this book is urgently recommended.”

—Gregory Elich, author of Strange Liberators: Militarism, Mayhem, and the Pursuit of Profit

Under the Mask of Philanthropy is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand how power functions in the modern world. Michael Barker is an activist-scholar who practises what he preaches. In this ground-breaking book, he illustrates the way in which the rich and powerful — and crucially, the system itself — systematically co-opt progressive movements and set the parameters of discourse. In essence, anything that seriously begins to threaten global capitalism is either marginalised or else co-opted and ‘decaffeinated’ by philanthropy. One surely would expect no less. Many people in what used to be known as, ‘The Third World’ have known this for many decades. But Barker presents meticulously researched evidence to prove it. This book will not be required reading for the often well-intentioned, yet sadly deluded, recipients of funding from the liberal foundations it critiques, but on their, and our, road to Hell, it damn well should be. A Chaucer for the political pilgrim.”

—Suhayl Saadi, author of Psychoraag

“This highly readable and fascinating book recounts in painstaking detail how elite charity has been used for more than a century as both material and ideological means of maintaining the hegemony of capitalism. Happily, though, he reminds us that philanthropy is also a mark of popular resistance: the rich make a show of giving away some of their enormous wealth precisely to prevent us from deciding to seize all of it. As the capitalist system stumbles from crisis to crisis and its political legitimacy visibly wanes, Under the Mask of Philanthropy is a timely demolition of one of its most important remaining sources of credibility: the idea that Gates, Buffett, Soros and the rest of the rich can be counted upon to help find sensible, technocratic solutions to the problems they have created themselves. In reality, Barker argues persuasively, real change requires that grassroots activists and radical intellectuals should steadfastly refuse to be co-opted by even the most apparently liberal foundations.”

—Harry Browne, author of The Frontman: Bono (In the Name of Power)

“The dominant view of charity is that it is an expression of human compassion, if not a solution for poverty. Socialists tend to view the practice with a more skeptical eye: when undertaken by rich people, it is at best a salve to a guilty conscience and at worst a means of replacing justice with noblesse oblige. In the 20th century and beyond, charitable institutions have become powerful tools of social control in their own right. Whether funding the eugenics movement, promoting research to undermine radical labor unions, or working with the CIA to control and brutalize foreign populations, philanthropy has taken on a role that is anything but benevolent. In his vital new work Under the Mask of Philanthropy, Michael Barker charts these machinations in detail. A clear pattern emerges of philanthropic foundations attempting to undermine, co-opt and destroy movements for positive social and political change. A must-read book.”

—Scott Noble, filmmaker, Psywar: The Real Battlefield is the Mind

“Barker provides a sweeping, well-documented, excellent read. Anyone who wants to understand why progressive social movements have been so ineffective and often crushed, failing to win the fundamental radical reforms needed, will learn from it. In short, Barker’s research and writing is essential to effective, radical economic and environmental change in the 21st century.”

—John Stauber, author of Toxic Sludge Is Good for You! Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry

 “Michael Barker’s book is an historical treatment of and significant contribution to the understanding of the increasingly central role of ideology and state legitimation in a world dominated by the US empire. The ongoing brutal accumulation of wealth and dispossession of billions of people, by a transnational class of American and allied plutocrats, is masked by false representations of ‘philanthropy’ that disguise the super-exploitation of workers for the status, power, and prestige of the billionaire class.”

—Gerald Sussman, author of Branding Democracy: U.S. Regime Change in Post-Soviet Eastern Europe

Under the Mask of Philanthropy is a far reaching and precise class critique of liberal cultural imperialist and capitalist rule. Barker’s historical analysis synthesizes the best of the contemporary literature and proceeds to applying rigorous class analysis to the existing world. A book which is must reading for students, and workers.”

—James Petras, author of Social Movements and State Power: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador

Under the Mask of Philanthropy is a searing critique of the policies, practices, and ideologies of philanthropic foundations. Barker’s masterful work will serve as a model for radical scholarship in this field.”

—Peter Seybold, contributor to Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad

“At a time when philanthropy is being upheld as a panacea for inequality, Barker’s erudite and compelling book offers a vital corrective to the belief that voluntary gifts from the mega-rich can resolve the very global inequities which their business practices often perpetuate.”

—Linsey McGoey, author of No Such Thing As a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy