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Salute to a Great Freedom Fighter: The Indomitable Spirit of Fidel Castro will Live Forever

Libya 360° Internationalist News Agency

By Gerald A. Perreira

On behalf of Organization for the Victory of the People, Guyana, South America

 

 

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Fidel with Salvador Allende in Chile, 1971 

“I am Fidel Castro and we have come to liberate Cuba.”

 

Fidel Castro can never die. Today he departed the physical plane but he will live on forever. His intellectual prowess and wisdom were extraordinary among mortals. His legacy and influence is global and monumental. This humble man, from a small Caribbean country, can truly be said to have changed the world. One of his greatest contributions to humanity is the example of his unwavering revolutionary determination and courage, in the face of enormous obstacles placed in his path. He became an inspiration to all who fight for true independence from the Empire and its trail of poverty, racism, death and destruction. Here in the Caribbean he stood, and will stand forever, as one who refused to believe that our fate is sealed by the absurd concept of ‘geographical and historical determinism’. So many Caribbean misleaders, cowards and satraps of the Empire, have accepted this fate, that our future and destiny is shaped by the fact that we reside in the US’s so-called backyard. However, in the words of the late revolutionary leader of Grenada, Maurice Bishop, “We are in nobody’s backyard”. The same Maurice Bishop, inspired and assisted by Fidel, aptly described him as “incomparable”. Every revolutionary initiative in the Americas and the Caribbean, and for that matter worldwide, since 1959, owes a debt of gratitude to Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution.

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Fidel Castro And Malcolm X At The Hotel Theresa, Harlem NY 1960

Fidel taught us that our destiny is determined by faith and an enduring belief in our principles and in our ability to empower ourselves and the masses of our people. He showed us true empowerment by virtue of the fact that one man and a nation of just over 11 million people could play such a decisive and significant role in the liberation of people all over the world. We will never forget Cuba’s military response to the forces of Apartheid at the historic and decisive battle of Cuito Cuanavale, when Cuban troops defeated the racist forces of South Africa’s regime, and in so doing, forced the Boers to the negotiating table. While others condemned apartheid with words, it was Fidel who sent troops across the world to do what had to be done. He would later admit that this battle exerted such a strain on Cuba’s military resources that it put Cuba’s own national security at risk. However, as Fidel explained, “We have a commitment to Africa, for African blood flows freely through the veins of every Cuban”. The airlifting of Cuban fighters to Angola was codenamed “Operation Carlota” after an African woman, enslaved in Cuba, who led an insurrection against her Spanish slave-masters. This is why the great African freedom fighter, Kwame Ture, could have called Fidel Castro “the blackest man in the Americas”, and why Nelson Mandela said, ”The Cuban people hold a special place in the hearts of the people of Africa. The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom and justice, unparalleled for its principled and selfless character.”
Fidel Castro turned Cuba into a powerhouse of health, education and solidarity. He sent doctors and teachers to every part of the globe to assist countries ravaged by decades of the neo-liberal capitalist project. Cuba is always the first on the ground when it comes to responding to natural disasters in the region and afar, from Haiti to Pakistan. Despite being a relatively poor nation with few natural resources, Cuba’s literacy rates, infant mortality rates, life expectancy rates and other indicators rival that of any nation on earth, including the wealthiest nations of the world. Surely, this is the true measure of democracy.

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Of course, the need for change and adjustments to any political and economic system put in place in 1959 is inevitable. What must be remembered, and something which may not be well understood by this generation, who are too young to have experienced the world as it existed in 1959, is that Cuba’s alignment with the then Soviet Union was inevitable in a world characterized by two superpowers engaged in a ‘Cold War’. The Cuban conceptualization of a socialism shaped by Soviet Marxism which saw private property and small, privately owned business as synonymous with capitalism was erroneous, and now needs rectification. Following the Cuban revolution, other nationalist revolutions with socialist objectives, have learnt from this mistake. Carlos Tablada and many other Cuban theoreticians and economists, with full support of the revolution, have themselves addressed these issues and proposed measures to resolve these problematics. All political and social systems must evolve and change or otherwise become stagnant and perish. However, this in no way deflects from the outstanding achievements of Fidel Castro and Cuba in their historic fight for human advancement and dignity. The changes and transformations that Cuba is currently pursuing are not about taking Cuba in the direction of capitalist restoration, but rather about finding ways to make the socialist project more viable and sustainable. This has been one of the Cuban revolution’s most enduring legacy; to teach us how to remain steadfast, courageous and relevant in an ever-changing world, ravaged by neo-liberal capitalism and the flawed liberal-democratic notion of what constitutes democracy, that is, where 1% own and control everything, and where the resources and wealth of a nation do not benefit all the people. The Cuban revolution’s ability to survive all these years in the face of the contradictions, double-standards, hypocrisy and the bullyism of global capitalism and the Empire is a testimony to the leadership of Fidel Castro.

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Celia Sanchez became the de-facto second in command after Fidel Castro in Cuba. Celia Sanchez was considered to be one of the fiercest guerrilla fighters as well as one of the most intelligent and level headed decision makers within the Cuban revolutionary forces. [Source]

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“A brigade of Cuba’s Territorial Troops Militia (MTT),  in a 1990 photo. The MTT is a volunteer military force which continues the fighting tradition of those who fought at Playa Giron and against banditry, the latest incarnation of the citizens’ active participation in the defence of the nation. In the MTT, as in all of Cuba’s armed forces, women play an important role.” [Source]

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Children from Chernobyl, Ukraine, visit Cuba  in 1989 (left). Since the 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, some 13,600 children and 2,500 adults affected by the intense radiation have received treatment in Cuba. This major act of  international solidarity with the victims of Chernobyl began at the height of the Special Period in Cuba.” [Source]

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Former South African President Nelson Mandela and Cuban leader Fidel Castro embrace during a visit by Castro on Sept. 2, 2001 in Johannesburg, South Africa | Nelson Mandela, 1991: “From its earliest days, the Cuban revolution has been a source of inspiration for all those who value freedom. We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of the vicious imperialist and orchestrated campaign to destroy the awesome force of the Cuban revolution. Long live the Cuban Revolution! Long live comrade Fidel Castro!”

After 57 years, despite the arduous struggle involved when a small nation stands up to the might and brutality of Empire, despite the sacrifices that had to be made by the Cuban people, there is an outpouring of grief and sadness on the streets of Cuba today. Cubans, both young and old, have expressed not only their grief at the loss of a man who is seen as the father of this nation, but also their determination to honour the life of their heroic leader by continuing the struggle for Cuba’s right to self-determination and true independence. This is surely the litmus test of any revolution. Thanks to Fidel Castro and this remarkable revolution, the people of Cuba are highly educated and politically conscientized. The revolution has given them the education and knowledge to advance their struggle and to avoid the pitfalls of what we refer to as conceptual and intellectual incarceration. Cuba’s revolution has truly removed not only the physical and material shackles that enslave us, but most importantly, the shackles on the minds of the people. In this sense, the Cuban people can be said to be truly free, unlike so many of their counterparts throughout the region, where the Empire still calls the shots, and so many people continue to be manipulated by the Empire’s propaganda machinery.

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13 August 2006: Hugo Chavez at Castro’s bedside in Havana. “Fidel, for me, is a grand master. A wise man should never die; a man like Fidel will never die because he will always be part of the people.” – Hugo Chavez, 2007

In the Caribbean, we lovingly call him Uncle Fidel. Regardless of the absurd and nonsensical rantings of the 1%, and their servants in academia, the corporate media and neo-colonial regimes, Uncle Fidel will forever live on in the hearts and minds of the millions of oppressed and dispossessed people worldwide. He will eternally remain an inspiration for all those who struggle for our inalienable right to self-determination, justice and human dignity. He will be loved and revered by those who know the truth: that he is a hero and undefeated freedom fighter. Farewell Commandante – in truth, words are indeed inadequate to express our gratitude to you. Like all great revolutionaries, you had no rest in this life, instead you made the ultimate sacrifice, dedicating your life to benefit humanity. May you now rest in peace and power. We know that the best way to live up to your legacy is to renew our pledge, on this day, to continue the struggle for all that you stood for.

 

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Fidel Castro with Che Guevara in 1959, the year Mr. Castro took power after leading a communist revolution in Cuba and toppling the American-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.

“On December 18, 1956, Fidel and I were in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra, in a place called Cinco Palmas. After our first hug his first question was: ‘How many rifles do you have?’ I answered five. And he said, ‘I have two. That makes seven. Now we can win the war.” Raul Castro (“This is Fidel” by Luis Baez)

The Strategy of Malcolm X

Tactical Diversity

June 1, 2015

by Lorenzo Raymond

 

Malcolm X in Smethwick

 

Last month many of us celebrated the 90th birthday of the one of America’s greatest revolutionaries, El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, also known as Malcolm X.  That his birthday follows his assassination date (February 21) on the calendar seems appropriate this year, as Malcolm could be said to be resurrected these days:  from condemnations of US racism at the United Nations, to self-defense against cops in NYC, to Black rifle clubs in Texas, to mass rebellion in Baltimore, to a growing disillusionment with the two-party system and doctrinaire nonviolence in America, he has seldom seemed more relevant.

This is all the more remarkable given that the representation of Malcolm in popular media is more distorted than ever.  2015 opened with the Martin Luther King biopic Selma giving us the most forgettable (perhaps the only forgettable) portrayal of Malcolm X in cinema history.  In some ways, the muting of Malcolm was inevitable; an accurate depiction of the Muslim leader presented a danger of upstaging King in the movie the same way that he often upstaged King in real life.  But that isn’t any excuse for the distortion of Malcolm X’s politics and the role he played in the Black freedom struggle.

In the short scene in which he appears, Malcolm comes literally hat in hand to Coretta Scott King begging to address the protesters and be a part of the movement.  He appears to have arrived uninvited, crashing a party he has no real place in.  As he offers to scare the segregationists with an “alternative” to MLK’s nonviolence, he hints that this is actually just a bluff because his “eyes see in a new way.”  Everything about this scene is fundamentally wrong: Malcolm explained himself to Mrs. King after, not before, he gave his speech—a speech which he was invited to give by the director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s Selma Project.1  And when Malcolm spoke of offering an alternative to King’s pacifism, it was anything but a bluff.

Black Revolution, Whitewashed

The lodestar for recent portrayals of Malcolm is Manning Marable’s book Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.  While universally lauded by mainstream white critics, most responses from the Black Left were derisive.  This must be the only historical book of recent years to inspire not one, but two entire anthologies of hostile rebuttal: A Lie of Reinvention, edited by Jared Ball, and By Any Means Necessary, edited by a collective headed by Herb Boyd .  Some academic assessments were skeptical as well.  Joe Street observed in The Journal of American Studies that Marable’s version of Malcolm was “a more centrist, liberal figure” than had ever been depicted before, acting out the “palliative theme” of a Black nationalist who moved “beyond race,” and also beyond militancy.  Street noted that Marable was oddly “content to position Malcolm X as a far less revolutionary figure than his reputation might suggest.” 2

Ever since his death, liberals have attempted portray Malcolm as an ineffectual figure in the Black Freedom Movement.  In his 1965 review of The Autobiography of Malcom X, Bayard Rustin (once a radical, but by that time a Democratic Party operative), wrote that Malcolm was of primary interest as a “tragic victim of the ghetto,” who made for an inspiring study in self-improvement, yet  “had no program for attacking” racism.3  More recently this line manifests with Reverend James Cone who says that while “[Dr.] King was a political revolutionary…Malcolm was a cultural revolutionary. He did not change the social or political structures, but he changed how black people thought about themselves.” 4

As Angela Davis has noted, the ruling class could never hope to completely suppress Black nationalism in America, so it has settled for accepting cultural consciousness while burying revolutionary nationalism.   By the same token, accomodationists will celebrate Shabazz as a purely cultural figure, while marginalizing him as a political one.  In reality, Malcolm X was one of the most influential and effective political activists in US history.  The strategy of “by any means necessary” transcended the crude categories of nonviolence and violence, integration and separatism, pragmatism and revolution.  Considering that this paradigm was subsequently applied by the American Indian Movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, and the early LGBT movement, it should be acknowledged that Malcolm X popularized the strategy by which most American liberation struggles of the 1960s and 1970s advanced themselves.

Grassroots to the Messenger

One of the most bizarre charges leveled against Malcolm–repeated yet again in the Selma film–is that he never organized anything.  The Nation of Islam has many faults, but being disorganized isn’t one of them.  Even Marable’s biography of Malcolm acknowledges that he was largely responsible for the unprecedented (“more than tenfold”) growth of the NOI in the 1950s.  Marable also acknowledges that “Malcolm’s career as a national civil rights leader began late on the afternoon of April 26, 1957” when he led thousands of Harlemites to the 28th police precinct house to obtain medical treatment for a member of the NOI who’d been clubbed unconscious by officers.  It had been years since any black organization had the audacity to lead major protests against police brutality, and the Muslim leader immediately captured the imagination of African-Americans throughout the country.  5 He swiftly paid a personal price: less than a year later, while Malcolm was out of town, the NYPD attempted to invade his Queens residence under dubious pretenses.  One of the building’s occupants (it isn’t known who) injured a detective with a thrown bottle, and Betty Shabazz, along with several others, was charged with assaulting an officer.  Malcolm proceeded to coordinate a defiant and publicity-savvy legal defense that lead to the longest trial in Queens history, and saw his wife and neighbors exonerated.  Moments after the acquittal he stood on the courthouse steps and told his followers that “Any policeman who abuses you belongs in the cemetery.” 6

Before the 1960s had even arrived, Malcolm X’s militant stance was beginning to have a profound impact on the civil rights movement.  “King’s philosophy of non-violence in the cause of a largely undefined integrated society was being seriously challenged,” recalled one of MLK’s own advisors, Vincent Harding.  “In the north the deepest, broadest questions seemed to be coming from…the growing Nation of Islam and in its increasingly popular national representative, Malcolm X.  In the south, the message of non-violent resistance was challenged by the action of Robert F. Williams and his armed self-defense group in Monroe, North Carolina in 1959.” 7

In the wake of Selma there’s been a popular trend of praising King as a strategist, a characterization that calls for serious qualification; King consolidated the efforts of a network of activists that ranged from bold direct actionists such as James Bevel, Diane Nash and John Lewis (all recruited from the pacifist wing of SNCC), to cool-headed managers like Bayard Rustin; it was these people who drafted and initiated what is now marketed as Kingian strategy.  Likewise, Malcolm X’s political significance was to consolidate another spectrum of more militant grassroots organizers burning across the country in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  These included Mae Mallory, Robert F. Williams, Albert Cleage, Ethel Azalea Johnson, and a nationwide network of students known as the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM).

Even as Marable belittled Malcolm’s strategic contributions in his book, he acknowledged that “[Robert F.] Williams and other militants pushed organizations like the NAACP toward greater activism, pressuring both major political parties to adopt new legislation.”  Marable doesn’t tell us what Rob Williams’ biographer, Timothy Tyson does: Williams was dependent on support provided by Black radicals centered in Harlem, and “the most notable of Williams’ contacts among the Harlem nationalists was Malcolm X.” Malcolm featured the visiting Monroe leader regularly at his mosque, telling his congregation that “our brother here…is the only fighting man that we got and we have to help him.” This wasn’t just moral support:  Malcolm raised “money to buy military carbines, machine guns, and dynamite for the Monroe NAACP.”  8

Another organizer who inspired and collaborated in Malcolm’s strategy was Mae Mallory, a single mother who protested the de facto segregation of New York City public schools.  In 1958, she led Harlemites in a 162-day school boycott involving 10,000 parents, and won an open transfer program. An avowed revolutionary, Mallory visited Monroe to assist Rob Williams in defending a SNCC freedom ride, and wound up involved in an armed conflict with the Ku Klux Klan and local police. Framed on kidnapping charges after this incident, Mallory was in prison during 1964, when another school boycott took place in New York City; Malcolm took up her mantle by acting as a spokesperson for the walk-out (Mallory was later exonerated of the kidnapping). 9

 

Malcolm at NYC school boycott, 1964 

The first major Black Christian leader to partner with Malcolm X was the Congregationalist Reverend Albert Cleage. In the aftermath of the Birmingham campaign, Cleage helped organize Detroit’s Great Walk to Freedom—the largest civil rights demonstration prior to the March on Washington. But as historian Thomas Sugrue notes, after the spectacle of such marches was shattered by the massacring of four Black girls in Birmingham in September 1963, “Cleage came out forcefully against what he considered the polite and ultimately ineffective nonviolent tactics of civil rights protest.”  At an October 1963 meeting he denounced moral suasion and called for a “strategy of chaos” which would include acts of retaliation if necessary.  Soon Cleage organized pickets demanding inclusion of Blacks in apprentice training programs, where protesters carried signs reading “SCHOOL FOR ALL OR SCHOOL FOR NONE” and “EQUALITY OR CHAOS.” Cleage also planned a national conference of Black militants for that November and invited Malcolm to give the keynote address—the speech now known as “Message to the Grassroots.” 10

Cleage’s “strategy of chaos” (“We’ll get what we’re after or we’ll tear it up!”) was partly inspired by the escalation of the Birmingham campaign, which in turn was partly inspired by Malcolm X. MLK confidant Vincent Harding recalled that the lifeblood of the spring campaign was

young men and women who had heard the powerful voice and seen the piercing eyes of Malcolm X on their television screens…[Dr. King] realized that now they were at least potentially the children of Malcolm as well…they taunted the police, they broke out of the marching lines when faced with barricades of police and firemen; they did their own speedy end runs downtown…

By mid-May, white repression had “goaded an enraged group of blacks into a burning, car-smashing, police-battling response. In a sense,” Harding tells us, “this was the first of the period’s urban rebellions.” Rather than this deviation from nonviolence being a setback to the movement, it was the greatest breakthrough since the Montgomery Bus Boycott seven years earlier.

Young activists weren’t just listening to Malcolm X in the early sixties; some were also coordinating with him. Max Stanford, a student militant associated with SNCC and SDS, met with Malcolm in 1962 and asked him if he should join the NOI.  The Muslim leader was already privately frustrated with the conservatism of the sect and told Stanford he could do more for Black nationalism by organizing outside the Nation. Stanford joined with fellow students Wanda Marshall and Donald Freeman, as well as veteran organizer Ethel Azalea Johnson (a close comrade of Robert F. Williams) to form the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM).  While the group involved itself in reform movements, Stanford states that “RAM as an organization advocated guerilla warfare, mass rebellion and national black strikes…to create an independent black republic through socialist revolution.”  By the time of the Birmingham breakthrough, RAM had developed a partnership with maverick NAACP leader Cecil Moore and helped organize protests in North Philadelphia for African-American job opportunities. “RAM members circulated throughout the community with leaflets and bull horns, going door to door, talking to street gangs,” Stanford recalled. At a May 1963 protest against racial discrimination in the building trade sponsored by the Philadelphia NAACP, Stanford and RAM leader Stan Daniels organized militant pickets, which

blocked the workers, all whites, from entering the construction site. Within minutes the Philadelphia police formed a flying wedge and attacked the picket line. Singling out Daniels and Stanford, twenty police jumped them and they fought back until [beaten] unconscious.

Arrested for incitement to riot, Stanford called Malcolm for help.  The Muslim leader immediately began mobilizing people down the entire Northeast to support the Philadelphia movement “Within a week, 50,000 to 100,000 people participated in demonstrations that often turned into violent clashes between the masses and the police,” recalled Stanford. 11  On June 22, President Kennedy signed Executive Order 11114 mandating affirmative action in federally-funded construction projects.  White House sources admitted to the press that the president’s initiative was “partly in response to violence in Philadelphia.” Kennedy’s order was the prototype of the “Philadelphia Plan” which in turn became the foundation of all federal affirmative action on employment. 12

Free At Last

In March of 1964, Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam and publicly expressed his solidarity with the general goals of the civil rights movement.  This was a pivotal moment in his life, and arguably, a pivotal moment in the history of the United States.  Discussing this “reinvention,” Manning Marable focuses on Malcolm’s desperation to obtain allies to protect himself from Elijah Muhammed, as well as Malcolm’s yearning to participate in a movement which he was supposedly estranged from. But Marable fails to acknowledge the yearnings which the movement felt for Malcolm X, as well as its increasing disillusionment—even in 1963—with Kingian nonviolence and liberalism.  In July of that year, Martin Luther King was bombarded with eggs in Harlem; King blamed the attack on Malcolm, but it was later revealed to have been organized by Black Christians outraged by King’s sacrifice of children’s safety in Birmingham.13  In November 1963, the rank-and-file of SNCC voted down a proposal to hold a memorial vigil for the assassinated President Kennedy, noting that JFK was not a genuine friend to the movement—a position echoing Malcolm’s argument that Kennedy’s neglect of human rights in the US contributed to an atmosphere of terror that led to his own death.  14  Perhaps most significantly, in February of 1964, Medgar Evers’ brother, Charles, took over the slain leader’s position as field secretary of the Mississippi NAACP, and made some of the most inflammatory declarations ever heard from a mainstream Black leader.  In a speech before an NAACP Freedom Fund banquet in Nashville, Evers went beyond self-defense to retaliatory violence:

I have the greatest respect for Martin Luther King, but non-violence won’t work in Mississippi…we made up our minds…that if a white man shoots at a Negro in Mississippi, we will shoot back…If they bomb a Negro church and kill our children, then we are going to bomb a white church and kill some of their children.  We have served notice in Mississippi…that before we’ll be slaves anymore we’ll die and go to our graves. 15

Journalist Charles Silberman wrote at the time: “the widespread admiration for Dr. King is mixed…with a good deal of resentment.  Lower-class Negroes do not want to be represented to the whites as nonviolent.”  Silberman also noted that Malcolm X’s popularity was growing, yet was ultimately “limited by the cultish restraints of the Black Muslim religion: Many Negroes who agreed with Malcolm’s attacks on whites were unwilling to join the Muslims.”  16 Malik el-Shabazz made his move toward the civil rights mainstream not out of crude desperation, but because he knew that Black America was ready for him. (There is evidence that much of the white Left was ready for him too: In December 1963, Bob Dylan publicly praised the militant wing of SNCC, contrasting them with the “respectable Negroes” who dominated the March on Washington.  Dylan then said—in his own version of Malcolm’s “chickens coming home to roost” remarks—that he could understand why a leftist would want to shoot President Kennedy. 17  Immediately after Malcolm’s death in 1965, another white protest singer, Phil Ochs, wrote the satire “Love Me, I’m a Liberal” where he chided moderates for not recognizing Malcolm’s heroism).  Two weeks after his transition out of the NOI, Malcolm staged his famous handshake with Martin Luther King.  This photo is sometimes presented as evidence of Malcolm capitulating to King’s nonviolent and (at the time) assimilationist path; in reality, it showed King, who had previously spurned the Muslim minister, being forced to accept Malcolm’s growing stature in the movement.

“Strategy of Chaos”

There is, needless to say, much that could be said about Malcolm X’s strategy in the final year of his life—his efforts toward a pan-African network, his proposals for the UN, his embrace of anti-capitalism, his dialogue with white radicals—but here we will focus on the three most misunderstood aspects: his attitude towards electoral politics, his attitude towards collective self-defense (“violence”), and his strategy towards other leaders in the freedom movement.

Marable’s book repeatedly claimed that “Malcolm came to believe that blacks could work within the system to improve their lives” He based this argument upon the way in which the older Malcolm would closely observe government events, as well as the support he lent to the struggle for the vote in the South.  But the younger Malcolm, who edited the NOI’s newspaper, had also closely observed American political events for years, and had been friendly with select Black politicians—even as he was advocating that Blacks permanently separate from the United States.  On the matter of voting rights, Malcolm made clear that this was a strategy of involving himself in reform only in order to raise Black people’s awareness of the system’s failures—not because he thought the system was particularly redeemable.  Indeed, Malcolm stated in March 1964 that he only supported reform because “every campaign for specific objectives can only heighten the political consciousness of the Negroes and intensify their identification against white society.” [emphasis added]  18  Supporting people’s right to vote is similar to supporting people’s right to eat greasy lunch counter food—it doesn’t mean you think it’s a good idea, much less the path to liberation.   Just as Ella Baker noted that her support of luncheonette sit-ins was about “more than a hamburger,” Malcolm’s support of ballot access was about much more than elections.  “Your dumb vote, your ignorant vote, your wasted vote,” Malcolm seethed in “The Ballot or the Bullet,” (the very speech Marable and co. claim shows el-Shabazz as an electioneer) –

Don’t be throwing out any ballots…keep your ballot in your pocket…always remember, if it doesn’t take senators and congressmen and presidential proclamations to give freedom to the white man, it is not necessary for legislation or proclamation or Supreme Court decisions to give freedom to the Black man.

Malcolm’s heart never changed on that issue; he wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that two years after his death, his one friend in the federal system, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., would be unconstitutionally stripped of his Congressional seat just at the point when he was in a position to initiate radical reform.  And though LBJ helped push the Civil Rights Act through three months after “The Ballot or the Bullet,” Malcolm still declined to encourage Blacks to vote in 1964 because he didn’t see any consistent enforcement of the new law. 19 While Malcolm saw symbolic and contingent value in the franchise, he had no illusions that there was anything worth voting for.  Indeed, this is the major point about the ballot made in the speech—which left the bullet, by default, as the primary tactic.  (Harold Cruse, writing in The New York Review of Books in 1969, noted that the true heir to Malcolm’s finalized strategy was Eldridge Cleaver, who was then openly supporting armed insurrection yet also keeping one foot in independent electoral politics, running as a protest candidate with the Peace and Freedom Party). 20

 

Malcolm’s agenda for 1964

Similar games are played when Marable and other liberals talk of Malcolm’s changing attitude toward armed resistance.  Once again, a selective reading of “The Ballot and the Bullet” is used, noting that Shabazz backs away from earlier remarks which seemed to imply that Blacks should form rifle clubs to seek retaliation against random whites.  But in the same speech, Malcolm also gives Blacks “a little briefing on guerrilla warfare because, before you know it” that strategy may have to be exercised against the government.  Malcolm believed the Black rebellions of 1964 might foreshadow such a war:

There’s new strategy coming in. It’ll be Molotov cocktails this month, hand grenades next month, and something else next month. It’ll be ballots, or it’ll be bullets. It’ll be liberty, or it will be death.

This wasn’t mere sound and fury, it was conscious political pressure.  In this passage, Malcolm is referring specifically to a Black riot in Jacksonville, Florida which erupted out of the violent white repression of a sit-in campaign in March 1964.  That uprising, where the freedom movement did indeed first use Molotov cocktails, is known to have captured the White House’s attention at a time when the civil rights bill was facing the largest filibuster in US history.  Malcolm concludes the speech with an armed demand for reform:

You talk about a march on Washington in 1963, you haven’t seen anything. There’s some more going down in ’64. And this time they’re not going like they went last year…They’re not going with round-trip tickets. They’re going with one way tickets. And if they don’t want that non-nonviolent army going down there, tell them to bring the filibuster to a halt.

Tellingly, Martin Luther King began to faintly echo Malcolm’s rhetoric that spring.  Visions of violence now arose whenever King spoke of failure to enact the civil rights bill; If the legislation did not pass, King said in a Detroit speech, “I’m afraid our many pleas of nonviolence in fighting segregation will fall on deaf ears.”  Speaking during the filibuster, King warned that should the bill die, America would see a “dark night of social disruption.”  21

Mainstream scholars often try to paint Malcolm as a paper tiger in regards to the guerilla warfare proposal—a general without an army.  But in 1964 Malcolm quietly accepted the position of International Spokesperson in the Revolutionary Action Movement.  Robin DG Kelly notes that in this same year RAM established its definitive militant program:

The twelve-point program created by RAM called for the development of freedom schools…rifle clubs, black farmer cooperatives (not just for economic development but to keep “community and guerrilla forces going for a while”), and a liberation guerrilla army made up of youth and the unemployed. 22

RAM began implementing its program by actively promoting armed resistance within the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  As Malcolm was delivering “The Ballot or the Bullet,” in Northern cities, Max Stanford and others in RAM headed to Greenwood, Mississippi to join the preparations for Freedom Summer.  RAM members taught African history in freedom schools and helped organize voter registration, but their main goal was, in the words of Georgia State University historian Akinyele Umoja, “to wage ideological struggle within the ranks of the SNCC field staff.”  In this mission, they were essentially coming to support working-class Southern Blacks of SNCC’s rank-and-file who were already beginning to organize an armed self-defense system for the Freedom Houses.  As Mississippi-born SNCC activist MacArthur Cotton recalled, ‘‘the majority of the local SNCC people didn’t have a problem with RAM,” adding that most of them believed ‘‘that other philosophy [nonviolence] was foreign.’’

Pacifists in SNCC eventually succeeded in purging the Malcolmites from the Mississippi project before the summer began, but the damage was done: the seeds of revolutionary armed defense and Black nationalism were planted in the organization.  In the face of right-wing terror and liberal inaction, the pragmatism of Malcolm and RAM’s strategy grew increasingly clear and kept many armed activists alive during Freedom Summer (in contrast to the murdered pacifists James Chaney, Andrew Goodwin, Michael Schwermer). 23 When the campaign ended and the Democratic National Convention continued to appease the Jim Crow delegation from Mississippi, making a mockery of the progressive SNCC delegates, few field workers saw any value in nonviolent martyrdom and liberal compromise at all.  By the fall, SNCC leaders were collaborating with Malcolm X on fundraising events, and cheering as he called for an American equivalent to the fearsome “Mau Mau” guerilla fighters of Kenya.24

 

Malcolm X addressing SNCC and the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party- December 24, 1964

Meanwhile, RAM continued to quietly work with street gangs across the country.  Years before the Black Panther Party emerged, RAM promoted the idea of Black youth as the “potential warriors of Black America.”  Working from a detailed strategy by Robert F. Williams, RAM considered the cities “ripe for sabotage.”  Max Stanford (known today as Muhammed Ahmed) recounted:

While Malcolm was in Africa, Harlem exploded. The para-military in Malcolm’s organization decided to join the rebellion and participated in armed self-defense actions against racist oppressive forces.  Masses of our people exploded in Rochester, New York.  The revolutionary Muslims (Malcolmites) engaged in armed struggle against the repressive forces there. Brooklyn CORE held a demonstration to protest police brutality. The demonstration precipitated a mass rebellion.  The Brooklyn RAM cadre went into revolutionary action.

Stanford wrote that by the time of the Watts Rebellion, “the theory of Robert F. Williams and Malcolm X had become materialist reality.” Malcolm was the spokesperson for a very real force of insurrection, not a paper tiger.  Indeed, its momentum was so unstoppable that even his assassination couldn’t slow it down. 25

No Sell Out

Finally, the relationships Malcolm sought with moderate civil rights organizations at the end of his life need to be clarified.  While Malcolm backed away from his previous habit of naming King and other mainstream leaders personally as Uncle Toms, tempering his critique with diplomacy, he still drew sharp lines between them and himself.  “[Martin Luther King, Jr.] is the foremost exponent of love who gets his head bashed in while he is preaching brotherhood,” he said in his last speech, “I go for that retaliation type of brotherhood.” 26  Sometimes if pushed a bit he would lose his decorum:  heckled by a pacifist in 1965, Malcolm at first said, “I’m not criticizing you or condemning you, but I’m questioning your tactics.”  But as the heckler turned nasty, Malcolm said what he really thought: “I think people who tell our people to be nonviolent are almost agents of the Ku Klux Klan.” 27 

Whenever Malcolm engaged with moderates, he let it be understood that his militancy was non-negotiable.  Contrary to Manning Marable’s characterization, Malcolm did not praise nonviolence in his speech at Selma, but instead ridiculed passive “house negroes” who were bought off by white favors.  In a contemporaneous interview, the Muslim leader elaborated “I don’t go for any organization — be it civil-rights or any other kind — that has to compromise with the power structure and has to rely on certain elements within the power structure for their financing, which puts them in a position to be influenced and controlled all over again by the power structure itself.”  28 This seemed to be a stab at, among others, Dr. King’s organizations, which were financed by foundations overseen by the Rockefeller, Ford, and RJ Reynolds families.   29

 

Malcolm in Selma, Feb 4, 1964

Malcolm’s call for a “Black united front” was a call for militants to unite together on militant terms, not to compromise unconditionally with moderates.  It was also an effort to establish a permanent peace among armed Black groups, and thereby prevent the kind of fratricidal warfare which, with the help of the FBI, contributed to his assassination (as well as to the ultimate dissolution of the Black Power movement in the early 1970s).  Manning Marable’s book wove a bizarre and Orientalist theory that Malcolm told his guards to stand down on the day of his murder because he had a death wish inspired by the martyrdom of the Shi’ite imam, Husayn ibn Ali, in 680. 30 But Malcolm’s aide Earl Grant spelled out years ago that the minister disarmed his bodyguards because he did not want “Black people killing Black people.”  31 Black people criticizing certain Black people, however, along with anyone else who held them back, was always a key part of Malcolm X’s strategy.

 

Malcolm X, c. 1964 “Anyone who stands in the way of your freedom is your enemy”

 

Notes:

  1. Taylor Branch, Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-1965, p. 578-579
  2. “Roundtable: Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” Journal of American Studies / Volume 47 / Issue 01 / February 2013, pp 23-47 (Cambridge University Press 2013) – http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0021875812002605
  3. George Breitman, The Last Year of Malcolm X, p. 83-91
  4. Chris Hedges “Turning King’s Dream Into a Nightmare” – http://www.truthdig.com/report/page2/turning_kings_dream_into_a_nightmare_20100117
  5. Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, p. 123-128
  6. Marable, A Life of Reinvention, p. 150-153
  7. Vincent Harding, “So Much History, So Much Future: Martin Luther King and the Second Coming of America” – https://is.cuni.cz/studium/predmety/index.php?do=download&did=77732&kod=JMM606
  8. Timothy Tyson, Radio Free Dixie, p. 145 – https://books.google.com/books?id=kg_DEcj04ycC&q=malcolm+x#v=snippet&q=malcolm%20x&f=false
  9. Melissa F. Weiner, Power, Protest, and the Public Schools: Jewish and African American Struggles in New York City (Rutgers University Press, 2010) p. 51-66
  10. Thomas Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty: The Civil Rights Movement in the North, p. 299-302
  11. Maxell C. Stanford, “Revolutionary Action Movement: A Case Study of an Urban Revolutionary Movement in Western Capitalist Society” (A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of Atlanta University, May, 1986) – http://www.ulib.csuohio.edu/research/portals/blackpower/stanford.pdf
  12. Thomas J. Sugrue “Affirmative Action from Below: Civil Rights, the Building Trades, and the Politics of Inequality in the Urban North 1945-1969” Journal of American History, Vol. 91, No. 1, Jun., 2004 – http://africanamericanhistorysp2014.voices.wooster.edu/files/2014/03/Thomas_Sugrue_Affirmative_Action_from_Below.pdf
  13. Taylor Branch, Pillar of Fire, p. 115
  14. Taylor Branch, Pillar of Fire, p. 179
  15. Akinyele Umoja, We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement (NYU Press, 2013), 126
  16. Charles E. Silberman, Crisis in Black and White (Random House, 1964), p. 160
  17. http://folkmusic.about.com/od/bobdylan/a/Bob-Dylan-Quits-Politics.htm
  18. William W. Sale, From Civil Rights to Black Liberation (South End Press, 1994), p. 81
  19. http://www.edchange.org/multicultural/speeches/malcolm_x_ballot.html
  20. Harold Cruse, “The Fire This Time?” NYRB, May 8, 1969
  21. Nick Kotz, Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., And the Laws That Changed America (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006), 126-130
  22. Robin DG Kelly and Betsy Esche, “Black Like Mao: Red China and Black Revolution” Souls Vol. 1 #4 – http://www.columbia.edu/cu/ccbh/souls/vol1no4/vol1num4art1.pdf
  23. Akinyele Umoja, “From One Generation to the Next: Armed Self-Defense, Revolutionary Nationalism, and the Southern Black Freedom Struggle” Souls, Volume 15, Issue 3, 2013 – http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10999949.2013.838857#.VVtNZvlViko
  24. George Breitman, ed., Malcolm X Speaks; Selected Speeches and Statements, p. 107.
  25. Maxwell C. Stanford, “Revolutionary Action Movement: A Case Study of an Urban Revolutionary Movement in Western Capitalist Society” (A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of Atlanta University, May, 1986) – http://www.ulib.csuohio.edu/research/portals/blackpower/stanford.pdf
  26. Barnard Bulletin, Feb 25, 1965 – https://digitalcollections.barnard.edu/object/bulletin-19650225/barnard-bulletin-february-25-1965
  27. George Breitman, ed., Malcolm X Speaks; Selected Speeches and Statements, p. 209
  28. Breitman, Malcolm X Speaks, p. 222
  29.  MLK was friends not only with Rockefeller, but with Libby Holman, heiress to the RJ Reynolds fortune.  Holman financed King’s first trip to India to study nonviolence in 1959 – https://swap.stanford.edu/20141218225538/http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/primarydocuments/Vol5/10Mar1959_JamesE.BristolToCorinneB.Johnson.pdf
  30. “Roundtable: Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” Journal of American Studies / Volume 47 / Issue 01 / February 2013, pp 23-47 (Cambridge University Press 2013) – http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0021875812002605
  31. “The Covert War on Malcolm X” An episode of Like It Is with Gil Noble – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExQjM82uMiU

The Sprawling Dictates of a Maniac Gone Sane

reality-check

Debt Revolution

Counterpunch

October 8, 2013

by Gregory Vickrey

Who would have thought that the United States government could be lead grassroots organizer in a campaign for sanity and economic collapse? While thousands of us dream of having the guts to pull up to the White House in a standard automobile or the rites of self-immolation in order to start the breakdown for rise-up, John Boehner may be the bold actor we seek for temporary guidance over the most-appropriate precipice of all: “saving the planet.”

Imagine, if you will, reality. Ecological collapse remains imminent without economic collapse; Sarah Palin controlled a relevant climate-political agenda 8 long years ago; Ke$ha sings a song more prescient than any 350.org message; and so many us think concepts of inception that will put us in control, rather than in jail.

That is reality.

Do Capitalists Fund Revolutions?

Readings for the Social Forum: The Counter-Insurgent Function of Non-Profits

By Michael Barker

To date capitalists have financially supported two types of revolution: they have funded the neoliberal revolution to “take the risk out of democracy”,[1] 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).[2] 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.[3] 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 US interventionism, the new intervention focuses much more intensely on civil society itself, in contrast to formal government structures, in intervened countries. The purpose of ‘democracy promotion’ is not to suppress but to penetrate and conquer civil society in intervened countries, that is, the complex of ‘private’ organizations such as political parties, trade unions, the media, and so forth, and from therein, integrate subordinate classes and national groups into a hegemonic transnational social order… This function of civil society as an arena for exercising domination runs counter to conventional (particularly pluralist) thinking on the matter, which holds that civil society is a buffer between state domination and groups in society, and that class and group domination is diluted as civil society develops.”[4]

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.[5] 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.”[6]

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.[7] 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 Americas most successful capitalists)?

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.[8] 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.”[9]

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 do capitalists fund progressive activism?

Why Progressive Social Change?

With the growth of popular progressive social movements during the 1960s in the US (and elsewhere), the global populace became increasingly aware of the criminal nature of many of their government’s activities (both at home and abroad) which fueled increasing popular resistance to US imperialism. This in turn led influential scholars, working under the remit of the Trilateral Commission (a group founded by liberal philanthropists, see note [50]), to controversially conclude (in 1975) that the increasing radicalism of the world’s citizens stemmed from an “excess of democracy” which could only be quelled “by a greater degree of moderation in democracy”.[10] This elitist diagnosis makes sense when one considers Carole Pateman’s (1989) observation that the dominant political and economic elites in the US posited that true democracy rested “not on the participation of the people, but on their nonparticipation.”[11] However, contrary to the Trilateral Commission’s desire to promote low-intensity democracy on a global scale, Gills, Rocamora, and Wilson (1993) suggest that:

“Democracy requires more than mere maintenance of formal ‘liberties’. [In
fact, they argue that t]he only way to advance democracy in the Third World, or anywhere else, is to increase the democratic content of formal democratic institutions through profound social reform. Without substantial social reform and redistribution of economic assets, representative institutions – no matter how ‘democratic’ in form – will simply mirror the undemocratic power relations of society. Democracy requires a change in the balance of forces in society. Concentration of economic power in the hands of a small elite is a structural obstacle to democracy. It must be displaced if democracy is to emerge.”[12]

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 Americas Branch and their Links to the ‘Democracy’ Establishment.

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.”[13]

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.”[14]

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’”[15]

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, how¬ever, that did not challenge capitalism. For instance, in 1913, Colorado miners went on strike against Colorado Fuel and Iron, an enterprise of which 40 percent was owned by Rockefeller. Eventually, this strike erupted into open warfare, with the Colorado militia murdering several strikers during the Ludlow Massacre of April 20, 1914. During that same time, Jerome Greene, the Rockefeller Foundation secretary, identified research and information to quiet social and political unrest as a founda¬tion priority. The rationale behind this strategy was that while individual workers deserved social relief, organized workers in the form of unions were a threat to soci¬ety. So the Rockefeller Foundation heavily advertised its relief work for individual workers while at the same time promoting a pro-Rockefeller spin to the massacre.”[16]

Writing in 1966, Carroll Quigley – who happened to be one of Bill Clinton’s mentors – [17] 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 United States. This was relatively easy to do, since these groups were starved for funds and eager for a voice to reach the people. Wall Street supplied both. The purpose was not to destroy, dominate, or take over but was really threefold: (1) to keep informed about the thinking of Left-wing or liberal groups; (2) to provide them with a mouthpiece so that they could ‘blow off steam,’ and (3) to have a final veto on their publicity and possibly on their actions, if they ever went ‘radical.’ There was nothing really new about this decision, since other financiers had talked about it and even attempted it earlier. What made it decisively important this time was the combination of its adoption by the dominant Wall Street financier, at a time when tax policy was driving all financiers to seek tax-exempt refuges for their fortunes, and at a time when the ultimate in Left-wing radicalism was about to appear under the banner of the Third International.”[18]

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 Third World peoples.”[19]

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”.[20] 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 US government committed vast resources to a secret programme of cultural propaganda in western Europe. A central feature of this pro¬gramme was to advance the claim that it did not exist. It was managed, in great secrecy, by America’s espionage arm, the Central Intelligence Agency. The centrepiece of this covert cam¬paign was the Congress for Cultural Freedom [which received massive support from the Ford Foundation and was] run by CIA agent Michael Josselson from 1950 till 1967. Its achieve¬ments – not least its duration – were considerable. At its peak, the Congress for Cultural Freedom had offices in thirty-five countries, employed dozens of personnel, published over twenty prestige magazines, held art exhibitions, owned a news and features service, organized high-profile international con¬ferences, and rewarded musicians and artists with prizes and public performances. Its mission was to nudge the intelligentsia of western Europe away from its lingering fascination with Marxism and Communism towards a view more accommo¬dating of ‘the American way’.”[21]

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.”[22] 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.”[23]

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 [24] or co-option.[25]

“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.”[26]

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. 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.”[27]

SNCC training Freedom School leaders for Mississippi Freedom Summer

Defanging the Threat of Civil Rights

The 1960s civil rights movement was the first documented social movement that received substantial financial backing from philanthropic foundations.[28] As might be expected, liberal foundation support went almost entirely to moderate professional movement organizations like, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and their Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Urban League, and foundations also helped launch President Kennedy’s Voter Education Project.[29] In the last case, foundation support for the Voter Education Project was arranged by the Kennedy administration, who wanted to dissipate black support of sit-in protests while simultaneously obtaining the votes of more African-Americans, a constituency that helped Kennedy win the 1960 election.[30]

One example of the type of indirect pressure facing social movements reliant on foundation support can be seen by examining Martin Luther King, Jr.’s activities as his campaigning became more controversial in the years just prior to his assassination. On 18 February 1967, King held a strategy meeting where he said he wanted to take a more active stance in opposing the Vietnam War: noting that he was willing to break with the Johnson administration even if the Southern Christian Leadership Conference lost some financial support (despite it already being in a weak financial position, with contributions some 40 percent less than the previous year). In this case, it seems, King was referring to the potential loss of foundation support as, after his first speech against the war a week later (on 25 February), he again voiced his concerns that his new position would jeopardize an important Ford Foundation grant.[31]

Thus, by providing selective support of activist groups during the 1960s, liberal foundations promoted such groups’ independence from their unpaid constituents working in the grassroots, facilitating movement professionalization and institutionalization. This allowed foundations “to direct dissent into legitimate channels and limit goals to ameliorative rather than radical change”[32] , in the process promoting a “narrowing and taming of the potential for broad dissent”.[33] Herbert Haines (1988) supports this point and argues that the increasing militancy of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Congress for Racial Equality meant most foundation funding was directed to groups who expressed themselves through more moderate actions.[34] He referred to this as the “radical flank effect” – a process which described the way in which funding increased for nonmilitant or moderate groups (reliant on institutional tactics) as confrontational direct action protests increased.[35] As Jack Walker (1983) concludes, in his study of the influence of foundations on interest groups, the reasoning behind such an interventionist strategy is simple. He argues that “[f]oundation officials believed that the long run stability of the representative policy making system could be assured only if legitimate organizational channels could be provided for the frustration and anger being expressed in protests and outbreaks of political violence.”[36]

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