To date capitalists have financially supported two types of revolution: they have funded the neoliberal revolution to “take the risk out of democracy”, and they have supported/hijacked popular revolutions (or in some cases manufactured ‘revolutions’) in countries of geostrategic importance (i.e. in counties where regime change is beneficial to transnational capitalism). The former neoliberal revolution has, of course, been funded by a hoard of right wing philanthropists intent on neutralising progressive forces within society, while the latter ‘democratic revolutions’ are funded by an assortment of ‘bipartisan’ quasi-nongovernmental organizations, like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and private institutions like George Soros’ Open Society Institute.
The underlying mechanisms by which capitalists hijack popular revolutions has been outlined in William I. Robinson’s seminal book, Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US Intervention, and Hegemony (1996), which examines elite interventions in four countries – Chile, Nicaragua, the Philippines, and Haiti. Robinson hypothesized that as a result of the public backlash (in the 1970s) against the US government’s repressive and covert foreign policies, foreign policy making elites elected to put a greater emphasis on overt means of overthrowing ‘problematic’ governments through the strategic manipulation of civil society. In 1984, this ‘democratic’ thinking was institutionalised with the creation of the National Endowment for Democracy, an organisation that acts as the coordinating body for better funded ‘democracy promoting’ organisations like US Agency for International Development and the Central Intelligence Agency. Robinson observes that:
“…the understanding on the part of US policymakers that power ultimately rests in civil society, and that state power is intimately linked to a given correlation of forces in civil society, has helped shape the contours of the new political intervention. Unlike earlier
Thus it is not too surprising that Robinson should conclude that the primary goal of ‘democracy promoting’ groups, like the NED, is the promotion of polyarchy or low-intensity democracy over more substantive forms of democratic governance. Here it is useful to turn to Barry Gills, Joen Rocamora, and Richard Wilson’s (1993) work which provides a useful description of low-intensity democracy, they observe that:
“Low Intensity Democracy is designed to promote stability. However, it is usually accompanied by neoliberal economic policies to restore economic growth. This usually accentuates economic hardship for the less privileged and deepens the short-term structural effects of economic crisis as the economy opens further to the competitive winds of the world market and global capital. The pains of economic adjustment are supposed to be temporary, preparing the society to proceed to a higher stage of development. The temporary economic suffering of the majority is further supposed to be balanced by the benefits of a freer democratic political culture. But unfortunately for them, the poor and dispossessed cannot eat votes! In such circumstances, Low Intensity Democracy may ‘work’ in the short term, primarily as a strategy to reduce political tension, but is fragile in the long term, due to its inability to redress fundamental political and economic problems.”
So while capitalists appear happy to fund the neoliberal ‘revolution’, or geostrategic revolutions that promote low-intensity democracy, the one revolution that capitalists will not bankroll will be the revolution at home, that is, here in our Western (low-intensity) democracies: a point that is forcefully argued in INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence’s (2007) book The Revolution Will Not Be Funded. Of course, liberal-minded capitalists do support efforts to ‘depose’ radical neoconservatives, as demonstrated by liberal attempts to oust Bush’s regime by the Soros-backed Americans Coming Together coalition. But as in NED-backed strategic ‘revolutions,’ the results of such campaigns are only ever likely to promote low-intensity democracy, thereby ensuring the replacement of one (business-led) elite with another one (in the US’s case with the Democrats).
So the question remains: can progressive activists work towards creating a more equitable (and participatory) world using funding derived from those very groups within society that stand to lose most from such revolutionary changes? The obvious answer to this question is no. Yet, if this is the case, why are so many progressive (sometimes even radical) groups accepting funding from major liberal foundations (which, after all, were created by some of
Several reasons may help explain this contradictory situation. Firstly, it is well known that progressive groups are often underfunded, and their staff overworked, thus there is every likelihood that many groups and activists that receive support from liberal foundations have never even considered the problems associated with such funding. If this is the case then hopefully their exposure to the arguments presented in this article will help more activists begin to rethink their unhealthy relations with their funders’.
On the other hand, it seems likely that many progressive groups understand that the broader goals and aspirations of liberal foundations are incompatible with their own more radical visions for the future; yet, despite recognizing this dissonance between their ambitions, it would seem that many progressive organizations believe that they can beat the foundations at their own game and trick them into funding projects that will promote a truly progressive social change. Here it is interesting to note that paradoxically some radical groups do in fact receive funding from liberal foundations. And like those progressive groups that attempt to trick the foundations, many of these groups argue that will take money from anyone willing to give it so long as it comes with no strings attached. These final two positions are held by numerous activist organizations, and are also highly problematic. This is case because if we can agree that it is unlikely that liberal foundations will fund the much needed societal changes that will bring about their own demise, why do they continue funding such progressive activists?
Despite the monumental importance of this question to progressive activists worldwide, judging by the number of articles dealing with it in the alternative media very little importance appears to have been attached to discussing this question and investigating means of cultivating funding sources that are geared towards the promotion of radical social change. Fortunately though, in addition to INCITE!’s aforementioned book, which has helped break the unstated taboo surrounding the discussion of activist funding, another critical exception was provided in the June 2007 edition of the academic journal Critical Sociology. The editors of this path breaking issue of Critical Sociology don’t beat around that bush and point out that:
“The critical study of foundations is not a subfield in any academic discipline; it is not even an organized interdisciplinary grouping. This, along with concerns about personal defunding, limits its output, especially as compared to that of the many well-endowed centers for the uncritical study of foundations.”
Despite the dearth of critical inquiry into the historical influence of liberal foundations on the evolution of democracy, in the past few years a handful of books have endeavoured to provide a critical overview of the insidious anti-radicalising activities of liberal philanthropists. Thus the rest of this article will provide a brief review of some of this important work, however, before doing this I will briefly outline what I mean by progressive social change (that is, the type of social change that liberal foundations are loathe to fund).
Why Progressive Social Change?
With the growth of popular progressive social movements during the 1960s in the
“Democracy requires more than mere maintenance of formal ‘liberties’. [In fact, they argue that t]he only way to advance democracy in the
In essence, one of the most important steps activists can take to help bring about truly progressive social change is to encourage the development of a politically active citizenry – that is, a public that participates in democratic processes, but not necessarily those promoted by the government. Furthermore, it is also vitally important that groups promoting more participatory forms of democracy do so in a manner consistent with the participatory principles they believe in. (For a major critique of ‘progressive’ activism in the US see Dana Fisher’s (2006) Activism, Inc.: How the Outsourcing of Grassroots Campaigns Is Strangling Progressive Politics in America. Similarly, also see my recent article Hijacking Human Rights: A Critical Examination of Human Rights Watch’s
Michael Albert is an influential theorist of progressive politics, and he has written at (inspiring) length about transitionary strategies for promoting participatory democracy in both his classic book Parecon: Life After Capitalism (2003), and more recently in Realizing Hope: Life Beyond Capitalism (2006). Simply put, Albert (2006) observes that: “A truly democratic community insures that the general public has the opportunity for meaningful and constructive participation in the formation of social policy.” However, there is no single answer to determining the best way of creating a participatory society, and so he rightly notes that Parecon (which is short for participatory economics) “doesn’t itself answer visionary questions bearing on race, gender, polity, and other social concerns, [but] it is at least compatible with and even, in some cases, perhaps necessary for, doing so.”
Finally, I would argue that in order to move towards a new participatory world order it is vitally important that progressive activists engage in radical critiques of society. Undertaking such radical actions may be problematic for some activists, because unfortunately the word radical is often used by the corporate media as a derogatory term for all manner of activists (whether they are radical or not). Yet this hijacking of the term perhaps makes it an even more crucial take that progressives work to reclaim this word as their own, so they can inject it back into their own work and analyses. Indeed, Robert Jensen’s (2004) excellent book Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream reminds us that:
“…the origins of the word – radical, [comes] from the Latin radicalis, meaning ‘root.’ Radical analysis goes to the root of an issue or problem. Typically that means that while challenging the specific manifestations of a problem, radicals also analyse the ideological and institutional components as well as challenge the unstated assumptions and conventional wisdom that obscure the deeper roots. Often it means realizing that what is taken as an aberration or deviation from a system is actually the predictable and/or intended result of a system.”
The Liberal Foundations of Social Change
Now that I have briefly outlined why progressive social change is so important, it is useful to examine why liberal philanthropy – which has been institutionalised within liberal foundations – arose in the first place. Here it is useful to quote Nicolas Guilhot (2007) who neatly outlines the ideological reasons lying behind liberal philanthropy. He observes that in the face of the violent labor wars of the late 19th century that “directly threatened the economic interests of the philanthropists”, liberal philanthropists realized:
“… that social reform was unavoidable, [and instead] chose to invest in the definition and scientific treatment of the ‘social questions’ of their time: urbanization, education, housing, public hygiene, the “Negro problem,” etc. Far from being resistant to social change, the philanthropists promoted reformist solutions that did not threaten the capitalistic nature of the social order but constituted a ‘private alternative to socialism’”
Andrea Smith (2007) notes that:
“From their inception, [liberal] foundations focused on research and dissemination of information designed ostensibly to ameliorate social issues-in a manner, however, that did not challenge capitalism. For instance, in 1913,
Writing in 1966, Carroll Quigley – who happened to be one of Bill Clinton’s mentors –  elaborates on the motivations driving the philanthropic colonisation of progressive social change:
“More than fifty years ago [circa 1914] the Morgan firm decided to infiltrate the Left-wing political movements in the
One of the most important books exploring the detrimental influence of liberal foundations on social change was Robert Arnove’s Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism (1980). In the introduction to this edited collection Arnove notes that:
“A central thesis [of this book] is that foundations like Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Ford have a corrosive influence on a democratic society; they represent relatively unregulated and unaccountable concentrations of power and wealth which buy talent, promote causes, and, in effect, establish an agenda of what merits society’s attention. They serve as ‘cooling-out’ agencies, delaying and preventing more radical, structural change. They help maintain an economic and political order, international in scope, which benefits the ruling-class interests of philanthropists and philanthropoids – a system which, as the various chapters document, has worked against the interests of minorities, the working class, and
With the aid of Nadine Pinede, Arnove (2007) recently updated this critique noting that, while the Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Ford foundations’ “are considered to be among the most progressive in the sense of being forward looking and reform-minded”, they are also “among the most controversial and influential of all the foundations”. Indeed, as Edward H. Berman demonstrated in his book The Influence of the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller Foundations on American Foreign Policy: The Ideology of Philanthropy (1983), the activities of all three of these foundations are closely entwined with those of US foreign policy elites. This subject has also been covered in some depth in Frances Stonor Saunders (1999) book Who Paid the Piper?: CIA and the Cultural Cold War. She notes that:
“During the height of the Cold War, the
So given the elitist history of liberal foundations it is not surprising that Arnove and Pinede (2007) note that although the Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Ford foundations’ “claim to attack the root causes of the ills of humanity, they essentially engage in ameliorative practices to maintain social and economic systems that generate the very inequalities and injustices they wish to correct.” Indeed they conclude that although the past few decades these foundations have adopted a “more progressive, if not radical, rhetoric and approaches to community building” that gives a “voice to those who have been disadvantaged by the workings of an increasingly global capitalist economy, they remain ultimately elitist and technocratic institutions.”
Based on the knowledge of these critiques, it is then supremely ironic that progressive activists tend to underestimate the influence of liberal philanthropists, while simultaneously acknowledging the fundamental role played by conservative philanthropists in promoting neoliberal policies. Indeed, contrary to popular beliefs amongst progressives, much evidence supports the contention that liberal philanthropists and their foundations have been very influential in shaping the contours of American (and global) civil society, actively influencing social change through a process alternatively referred to as either channelling  or co-option.
“Co-optation [being] a process through which the policy orientations of leaders are influenced and their organizational activities channeled. It blends the leader’s interests with those of an external organization. In the process, ethnic leaders and their organizations become active in the state-run interorganizational system; they become participants in the decision-making process as advisors or committee members. By becoming somewhat of an insider the co-opted leader is likely to identify with the organization and its objectives. The leader’s point of view is shaped through the personal ties formed with authorities and functionaries of the external organization.”
The critical issue of the cooption of progressive groups by liberal foundations has also been examined in Joan Roelofs seminal book Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (extracts of this book can be found online, click here). In summary, Roelofs (2007) argues that:
“…the pluralist model of civil society obscures the extensive collaboration among the resource-providing elites and the dependent state of most grassroots organizations. While the latter may negotiate with foundations over details, and even win some concessions, capitalist hegemony (including its imperial perquisites) cannot be questioned without severe organizational penalties. By and large, it is the funders who are calling the tune. This would be more obvious if there were sufficient publicized investigations of this vast and important domain. That the subject is ‘off-limits’ for both academics and journalists is compelling evidence of enormous power.” (To listen to Roelofs’ recent talk ‘The Invisible Hand of Corporate Capitalism’, which summarises the arguments presented in her book, click here. )
To be continued…
The concluding part of this article will examine how liberal foundations coopted the civil rights movement, promoted “identity politics” and “multiculturalism”, and influenced the development of the World Social Forum. Finally it will conclude by offering suggestions for how activists might begin to move beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex.
Michael Barker is a doctoral candidate at
 Damien C. Cahill, The Radical Neo-liberal Movement as a Hegemonic Force in Australia, 1976-1996 (Unpublished PhD Thesis: University of Wollongong, 2004); Alex Carey, Taking the Risk out of Democracy: Propaganda in the US and Australia (Sydney, N.S.W.: University of New South Wales Press, 1995); Sally Covington, Moving a Public Policy Agenda: The Strategic Philanthropy of Conservative Foundations (Washington, DC: National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, 1997).
 Michael Barker, ‘Taking the Risk Out of Civil Society: Harnessing Social Movements and Regulating Revolutions‘, Refereed paper presented to the Australasian Political Studies Association Conference,
 Here it is important to note that in all four countries that Robinson examined, the ‘democratic transitions’ “were touted by policymakers, and praised by journalists, supportive scholars, and public commentators, as ‘success stories’ in which the United States broke sharply with earlier support for authoritarianism and dictatorship and contributed in a positive way to ‘democracy,’ and therefore as ‘models’ for future US interventions of this type.” William I. Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US Intervention, and Hegemony (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996),, p.114.
 Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy, pp.28-9. For related online resources see, William I. Robinson, A Faustian Bargain:
 However, he does specify that it is important to note that the US “is not acting on behalf of a ‘US’ elite, but [instead is] playing a leadership role on behalf of an emergent transnational elite”; and that the “impulse to ‘promote democracy’” essentially arises from the need “to secure the underlying objective of maintaining essentially undemocratic societies inserted into an unjust international system.”Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy, p.20, 6.
Robinson also adds that: “A caveat must be stressed.
 Barry Gills, Joen Rocamora, and Richard Wilson, Low Intensity Democracy: Political Power in the
 Leslie Wayne, ‘And for His Next Feat, a Billionaire Sets Sights on Bush’, New York Times, May 31, 2004.
 Indeed as INCITE! note in their book The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: “We took a stand against state funding since we perceived that antiviolence organizations who had state funding had been co-opted. It never occurred to us to look at foundation funding in the same way. However, in a trip to
 Annon, ‘Note on this Special Issue of Critical Sociology’, Critical Sociology, 33 (2007), p.387.
 Crozier, M., S. P. Huntington and J. Watanuki, The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission (New York: New York University Press, 1975), p.134.
 Carole Pateman, ‘The Civic Culture: A Philosophical Critique’, In: G. A. Almond and
 Gills, Rocamora, and
 Michael Albert, Realizing Hope: Life Beyond Capitalism (
 Robert Jensen, Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (
 Nicolas Guilhot, ‘Reforming the World: George Soros, Global Capitalism and the Philanthropic Management of the Social Sciences’, Critical Sociology, Volume 33, Number 3, 2007, pp.451-2.
 Andrea Smith, ‘Introduction: The Revolution Will Not Be Funded’, p.4.
 Daniel Brandt, ‘
, Quigley, and Conspiracy: What’s going on here?‘ NameBase NewsLine, No. 1, April-June 1993. Clinton
 Carroll Quigley, Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in Our Time (New York: Macmillan, 1966), p.938.
 Robert F. Arnove, ‘Introduction’, In: Robert F. Arnove, (ed.), Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad (Boston, Mass.: G.K. Hall, 1980), p.1.
 Robert Arnove and Nadine Pinede, ‘Revisiting the “Big Three” Foundations’, Critical Sociology, Volume 33, Number 3, 2007, p.391.
 Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?: CIA and the Cultural Cold War (Granta Books, 1999), p.1.
For a useful review of Saunders’ book see, James Petras, ‘The CIA and the Cultural Cold War Revisited‘, Monthly Review, November 1999.
Also see Hugh Wilford, The CIA, the British Left, and the Cold War: Calling the Tune? (
 Robert Arnove and Nadine Pinede, ‘Revisiting the “Big Three” Foundations’, p.393.
 Robert Arnove and Nadine Pinede, ‘Revisiting the “Big Three” Foundations’, p.422.
 Craig J. Jenkins, ‘Channeling Social Protest: Foundation Patronage of Contemporary Social Movements’, In: W. W. Powell and E. S. Clemens, (eds.), Private Action and the Public Good (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), pp. 206-216.
 Robert F. Arnove (ed.), Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism; Donald Fisher, ‘The Role of Philanthropic Foundations in the Reproduction and Production of Hegemony: Rockefeller Foundations and the Social Sciences’, Sociology, 17, 2, 1983, pp. 206-233; Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003).; John Wilson, ‘Corporatism and the Professionalization of Reform’, Journal of Political and Military Sociology, 11, 1983, pp. 52-68.
Few researchers would argue that all foundations actively attempt to deliberately co-opt all social movements, although the larger ones like the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations have certainly successfully done this in the past. Craig Jenkins (1998, p.212) proposes his channeling thesis is more appropriate than the cooption model because it: (1) considers “that foundation goals are complex, ranging from genuine support of movement goals to social control” (a point the co-option thesis also acknowledges), (2) identifies the trend towards professionalization (a process also identified by the co-option thesis) and (3) this professionalization has led to greater mobilizations and successes than would have occurred otherwise. This last point is certainly debatable, as the history of social change seems to suggest that mass grassroots campaigns have far more progressive influence on political institutions than professional advocacy groups.
Deborah McCarthy (2004, p.254) suggests that the “social relations” approach to grantee/funder relations “presents a dialectical model in which both grantees and funders influence each other” as opposed to “the channeling and co-optation theories [which she argues] present a one-way model in which foundations influence grantees but not the other way around.” In response, I would argue that it is clear that foundation funding is dialectical, and it is important not to write off the work of those she presents as “one-way models” because clearly each funding relationship will vary from another, and the latter models benefit by incorporating the unequal power evident between funders’ and grantees. McCarthy (2004: 258) notes that activist/funders often have to trick their foundations to support environmental justice projects by using “terminology with issues that their foundation’s boards and donors already fund.” McCarthy discusses some ways in which activists and funders’ may begin to work around three major problems associated with foundation funding of the environmental justice movement which are: “programmatic emphases on project-specific grants, outcome-specific evaluation criteria, and short-term grants” (2004, p.263). See Deborah McCarthy, ‘Environmental Justice Grantmaking: Elites and Activists Collaborate to Transform Philanthropy‘, Sociological Inquiry, Vol. 74, No. 2, 2004, pp.250–270.
 Raymond Breton, The Governance of Ethnic Communities: Political Structures and Processes in
 Joan Roelofs, ‘Foundations and Collaboration’, Critical Sociology, Volume 33, Number 3, 2007, p.502.
 Two of the most influential liberal foundations, the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, created and continue to provide substantial financial aid to elite planning groups like the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. For example, the Ford Foundation’s 2006 Annual Report (p.62) notes that they gave the Council on Foreign Relations a $200,000 grant “For research, seminars and publications on the role of women in conflict prevention, post-conflict reconstruction and state building.” Furthermore, as Roelofs (2003, p.98-9) notes:
“During the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) debate, the EPI [Economic Policy Institute] (funded by Ford and others) made technical objections to the models supporting the trade agreement. At the same time, a much greater effect was produced by Ford funding to the other side, which included grants to the Institute for International Economics, a think tank that emphasizes the benefits of NAFTA. In addition, ‘the Ford Foundation also awarded grants to environmental groups and the Southwest Voters Research Institute to convene forums on NAFTA. These resulted in an alliance of 100 Latino organizations and elected officials, called the Latino Consensus on NAFTA, which provided conditional support for the agreement.’”
Also see Laurence H. Shoup, and William Minter, Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and United States Foreign Policy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977); Holly Sklar, Trilateralism: The Trilateral Commission and Elite Planning For World Management (Boston: South End Press, 1980).