Tagged ‘Michael Barker‘

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]

Taking Strong Action For Capitalist-Led Environmental Destruction

by Michael Barker

July 28th, 2010

Capital is more than happy to enlist the mainstream [environmental] movement as a partner in the management of nature. Big environmental groups offer capital a threefold convenience: as legitimation, reminding the world that the system works; as control over popular dissent, a kind of sponge that sucks up and constrains the ecological anxiety in the general population; and as rationalization, a useful governor to introduce some control and protect the system from its own worst tendencies, while ensuring the orderly flow of profits.

– Joel Kovel, 20021

Global capitalist elites have long been masters of the exploitation of labour to manage sustained destruction of life. With utmost concern for shareholders, the principles of scientific management have been used to shackle workers to corporate priorities to efficiently harvest planet earth. In this way, humane citizens are socialized to accept absurd capitalist growth imperatives as natural, which enables the wealth of human energy to be channelled into the eradication of nature. Moreover, in this world of inverted realities, radical alternatives to this toxic state of affairs are regularly considered to contradict true human nature; so we are told it is natural to submit to arbitrary authority and let a tiny elite profit from the corporate management of life. This, however, does not prevent ordinary people from resisting such brutality. Indeed, throughout history ruling elites have been kept busy devising more effective ways of containing such dissent, and so this article will review some of the most significant elite-driven environmental initiatives that have served such purposes (from the 1960s onwards).

By highlighting the way by which elites, working hand in glove with the United Nations, have sought to manage the environmental terrain to disable radical movements seeking to eradicate capitalism, it is hoped that individual readers will recognize the futility of putting their hope in the hands of such illegitimate environmental managers. Only then, when such false illusions have been shattered, will mass movements driven by radical analyses be able to begin to work to sustain life in a just and equitable fashion.

Ending the Nuclear Threat? And the Birth of a Movement

Environmental historian John McCormick suggests that it “is credible” that the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (1963) was the first global environmental agreement.2 Yet paradoxically, as peace historians Frances McCrea and Gerald Markle observe, this important agreement marked the point at which “the tide of peace activism began to ebb,” such that “nuclear testing, [now] widely perceived as an environmental and health issue rather than one of disarmament, was now a non-issue.” In fact, the sad reality is that once this pioneering global environmental agreement had been signed “American nuclear testing — conducted underground where the U.S. enjoyed a technological advantage — greatly accelerated.”3 The conservation movement thus ironically celebrates the advent of an environmental agreement that coincided with the weakening of the global peace movement; that is, the single strongest movement that challenging the legitimacy of the largest source of pollution, war.

Following the signing of the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, McCormick writes that the “idea of universal threats to the environment” was then “further reinforced” with the publication of Rachel Carson’s classic book Silent Spring (Hamilton, 1963). Here, to his credit, McCormick points out that Murray Bookchin had published his groundbreaking book Our Synthetic Environment six months earlier (to “relative failure”), observing that the key difference between the two books was that Carson’s “concentrated on a single issue” (pesticide overuse), while Bookchin’s “examined a broad range of the incidental effects of modern technology, from air pollution to contaminated milk.”4 Understandably, simple uni-focal environmental issues that failed to implicate all aspects of capitalism’s destruction of the world’s flora and fauna were clearly easier for capitalists to integrate and co-opt than systemic critiques such as those offered by more radical analysts like Bookchin.

With imperial wars ensuring total devastation of land and millions of people, concern for the environment gathered momentum throughout the 1960s, especially within liberal political elite circles. For example, in July 1965…

… Adlai Stevenson (then US ambassador to the United Nations) gave a speech before the UN Economic and Social Council in Geneva on the problems of urbanisation throughout the world. In the speech (originally drafted by Barbara Ward), he used the metaphor of the earth as a spaceship on which humanity travelled dependent on its vulnerable supplies of air and soil. (p.80)

Here it is critical to observe that Barbara Ward went on to play a key role in driving the corporate environmental agenda, and before her death in 1981, Ward had served as a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation-backed Conservation Foundation.

Blame the People!

Something had to be done to save the environment, and as Katherine Barkley and Steve Weissman point out in their classic 1970 article “The Eco- Establishment,” the “elite resource planners took as their model for action the vintage 1910 American conservation movement, especially its emphasis on big business cooperation with big government.” The Conservation Foundation was a leading member of the eco-establishment and helped (amongst various other propaganda duties) to prepare the congressional background paper for the 1968 hearings on National Policy on Environmental Quality, a paper that explicitly laid out how elites planned “to pick the pocket of the consumer to pay for the additional costs they will be faced with” as a result of capitalism’s inherent destructiveness. Elite conservation groups and the mass media quickly ensured that population growth, not capitalism, was portrayed as the major threat to life, and in 1968 the Sierra Club (under the guidance of David Brower) published the work of the “unashamed neo-Malthusian” Paul Ehrlich as The Population Bomb, which “became one of the best-selling environmental books of all time.”5

Later, elite environmentalists adopted a faux-holistic approach to aid them in their efforts to manage the environment, which resulted in another widely celebrated neo-Malthusian book, The Limits to Growth (Club of Rome, 1972). McCormick writes how the roots of this book “went back to the late 1940s, when Jay Forrester, a professor of management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), pioneered the application of the digital computer, tactical military decision making, and information-feedback systems to studies of the interacting forces of social systems.” These ideas were then picked up by Aurelio Peccei, an Italian management consultant and president of Olivetti, who in 1968 “convened a meeting in Rome of a group of 30 economists, scientists, educationalists, and industrialists,” which subsequently became known as the Club of Rome. Under the remit of this elite “Club” Forrester recruited Dennis Meadows who authored The Limits to Growth.6 Club of Rome critics, Robert Golub and Joe Townsend, write:

The arguments of Limits imply the need for an international body to regulate the global economy, but the need for such a body grew out of the intrinsic instability of the world’s economy — as was recognized earlier by many students of the multinational corporation. The growth and spread of multinational corporations in the sixties outstripped the abilities of national governments to regulate and control the global economic system. Given enough foresight one might even have expected that the inability of governments to regulate the world economy in the face of the increasing economic power of the multinational corporations would be most evident in those countries (such as Italy) whose governments, because of their weakness, had the most difficulty in protecting their native capital.7

Priming the Environmental Movement

In 1971 two meetings were held in preparation for the forthcoming United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (otherwise known as the Stockholm Conference), the first in Founex, Switzerland, and the second in Canberra, Australia. The Founex meeting was convened by Maurice Strong, then director-general of the Canadian External Aid Office, who was subsequently “appointed secretary-general of the Stockholm conference, and headed a 27-nation Preparatory Committee set up to make plans for Stockholm and to draw up an agenda.”8 Significantly, in the preparatory meetings “Strong had constantly emphasised the compatibility of development and environmental quality in his preparatory talks with LDC [Less-Developed Counties] governments.” These consensus-making talks ensured that any controversies were aired prior to the main event so that the actual conference could be managed more efficiently: “Differences of opinion remained, but they did not polarise the conference irretrievably.”

Another important tool that helped solidify a political consensus at Stockholm was an “unofficial report that would provide Stockholm delegates with the intellectual and philosophical foundation for their deliberations” that was commissioned by Strong and co-authored by Barbara Ward and Rene Dubos (and then reviewed by a committee of 152 consultants).9 Funding for this report was provided by the Albert Schweitzer Chair at Columbia University, the World Bank, and the Ford Foundation.10 This report was later published as Only One Earth (Norton & Company, 1972) “by a new research institute, the International Institute for Environmental Affairs (IIEA), set up in 1972 under the sponsorship of the Aspen Institute.”11 The IIEA had already played an important role in the pre-conference preparations, and so it is significant that the “philosophical foundations of IIEA lay in the results of a four-month feasibility study conducted in February-May 1970 by the Anderson Foundation.”

IIEA’s cochairman, Robert O. Anderson (chairman of Atlantic Richfield and the seed funder of the Institute), believed that the institute should “steer a steady mid-course between doom and gloom alarmists and those who resist acknowledging the clear danger to which the human environment is being subjected.”12

Anderson was, and still is, a powerful oil executive, with excellent contacts in the broader corporate world, having formerly served as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas (1961-4) and on the board of directors of other well-known corporate giants like Chase Manhattan Bank, the Columbia Broadcasting System, and Weyerhaeuser Company. In 1974 Anderson was chair of the Rockefeller’s Resources for the Future, sitting alongside fellow board member and fellow oil profiteer Maurice Strong, who served as a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation from 1971 until 1977.13

The United Capitalists’ Environment Programme

After Stockholm Maurice Strong went on to found and head the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and in 1973 “he appointed senior staff from the areas he knew best: business, politics and international public service.” Strong remained as UNEP’s head for nearly three years, after which he was appointed president, chairman, and CEO of Canada’s national oil company, Petro-Canada.14 However, despite UNEP’s corporate approach to organizing, funding “has been a continuing problem,” and during its first eight years the United States was the single largest supporter of their work, contributing some 36 percent of the operating costs.15 Thus one can understand why UNEP, working in coordination with groups like the IUCN (now known as the World Conservation Union), adopted a highly conservative approach to environmental management. Of course funding obtained from liberal foundations helped ensure that already conservative organizations did not stray far from elite agendas. Raymond Dasmann…

… recalls that, at the time he joined IUCN in 1970 as a senior staff ecologist, there had been three changes in the Union: it had new leadership, a new organisational structure, and had been given a major grant from the Ford Foundation. Ford had suggested the need for more centralised control by IUCN headquarters over its activities. … A more significant development noted by Dasmann was the shift in emphasis at IUCN towards a concern for economic development; for example, conservation and development was the theme of the 1972 IUCN General Assembly in Banff, Canada. (p.196)

Three years after UNEP was established, “UNEP asked IUCN to prepare a wildlife conservation strategy,” and Dasmann and Duncan Poore spent the next few years working on drafts of this critical policy document. Lee Talbot, who went on to head the IUCN, “recall[ed] that ‘the first draft was essentially a wildlife textbook’, but that each subsequent draft brought the previously opposing views of developers and conservationists closer together, and that the final draft was a consensus between the two points of view.”16 Then in 1977, with UNEP funding, the IUCN set about preparing a World Conservation Strategy report.17

Published in March 1980 under the principal authorship of Robert Prescott-Allen, the IUCN’s World Conservation Strategy was by the admission of its authors, a compromise which attempted to establish an “accommodation between conservation and development.” On the one hand the authors of the report…

… recognized that conservation and development should be promoted as compatible objectives. On the other, by limiting itself to the conservation of nature and natural resources, the Strategy paid little heed to the fact that the problems faced by the natural environment are part of the broader issues related to the human environment.18

McCormick correctly points out that “The two cannot be divorced.” Yet they were, thus providing a solid ideological base for subsequent pro-capitalist means of managing the environment, which were quickly realised through the work budding “conservation” biologists and by the World Commission on Environment and Development (otherwise known as the Brundtland Commission).

Sustainable Development for Ecological Imperialism

Convened by the United Nations in 1983, and chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland, the Brundtland Commission held its first meeting in 1984, with funding provided by various foreign governments and liberal foundations, including not least the Ford Foundation.19 The secretary-general of the Brundtland Commission (1983-7) and lead author of the Commission’s most famous report, Our Common Future, Jim MacNeill, happened to be the former chair of the International Institute for Sustainable Development — a group whose current president, David Runnallis, had in the 1970s, worked with Barbara Ward to found the International Institute for Environment and Development. Thus it is wholly fitting that Maurice Strong was counted on as an important member of the Brundtland Commission.20

The Brundtland Commission’s report Our Common Future (Oxford University Press, 1987) is perhaps most famous for popularizing the misnomer of sustainable development. On this rhetorical success, Brian Tokar observes:

Merging the language of long-term sustainability from the environmental movement with the “development” discourse of neo-colonialism, sustainable development became a rationale for advocating the continued expansion of capitalist market economies in the global South, while paying lip service to the needs of the environment and the poor.21

Consequently, it should come as little surprise that the Brundtland Commission’s report failed to incorporate an “analysis of the military-industrial complex and its role in industrial development.” Moreover, as Pratap Chatterjee and Matthias Finger point out, the chapter of the Brundtland report on peace and security “leads the Brundtland Commission to propose a military kind of international management of environmental problems and resources, the so-called commons.”22 This militaristic logic was extended in 1989 by then World Resources Institute vice president, Jessica Matthews, whose Malthusian article “Redefining Security” played an important role in “set[ting] the stage for the linking of environment and security.” Incidentally, the elite stronghold, that is the World Resources Institute, also happened to have been commissioned by UNDP (in 1987) to make policy recommendations based on the Brundtland Commission’s conclusions. This advice in turn eventually led to the creation of the World Bank-initiated Global Environmental Facility (GEF), which was initially chaired and then headed by one of World Resources Institute’s senior vice presidents, Mohamed El-Ashry.23 The GEF was of course an integral part of the eco-establishment, and as Zoe Young points out, it has succeeded “divid[ing] activists willing to play along with the US and [World] Bank’s strategic agenda from those who will not; the latter can be dismissed as extreme and unconstructive, while the former’s skills and passion can be channelled through GEF processes to extend the reach of corporate capital and culture.”24 Given such outcomes it should come as no surprise that in 1990 the World Resources Institute “issued a study purporting to show that underdeveloped nations of the global South — especially China, India, and Brazil-pumped as much carbon dioxide into the biosphere as the developed countries of the North.” The evident absurdity of such conclusions was highlighted by Mark Dowie, but despite the reports illogic, Dowie correctly noted how: “As a justification for environmental imperialism, it will surely be used to formulate aid and multinational lending policies for years to come.”25

A Corporate Earth Summit

Such elitist precedents demonstrate the success the eco-establishment has had in effectively seizing control of the mainstream environmental agenda. So, as Chatterjee and Finger suggest, while “[o]verall, the Stockholm Conference was characterized by heavy confrontation between activists of all sorts and governments” (which is itself debatable) this phenomenon was certainly not to be repeated at the Rio Earth Summit (otherwise known as the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, or UNCED). Indeed, they continue that at Rio “the overall climate was one of consensus and cooperation”;26 a result that should hardly be considered surprising given that the secretary-general of the Summit was Maurice Strong. (Strong’s senior advisor at the Earth Summit was former congresswoman and Women’s Environment and Development Organization co-founder Bella Abzug.) Chatterjee and Finger conclude:

Rather than developing a new vision in line with the challenges of global ecology, UNCED… rehabilitated technological progress and other cults of efficiency. Rather than coming up with creative views on global governance, UNCED has rehabilitated the development institutions and organizations as legitimate agents to deal with new global challenges. These include the Bretton Woods institutions and the UN, as well as the national governments and the multinational corporations. And, finally, rather than making the various stakeholders collaborate and collectively learn our way out of the global crisis, UNCED has coopted some, divided and destroyed others, and promoted the ones who had the money to take advantage of this combined public relations and lobbying exercise. (p.173)

Likewise, Michael Goldman writes that:

If we are to learn anything from the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio… it is that the objective of the Summit’s major power brokers was not to constrain or restructure capitalist economies and practices to help save the rapidly deteriorating ecological commons, but rather to restructure the commons (e.g. privatize, “develop,” “make more efficient,” valorize, “get the price right”) to accommodate crisis-ridden capitalisms. The effect has not been to stop destructive practices but to normalize and further institutionalize them.27

The business co-option of the Earth Summit had of course been a long time coming. Indeed, the “sustainable” business community had begun organizing in earnest in 1984 following the first World Industry Conference on Environmental Management: a forum that eventually led to the creation of a Business Council for Sustainable Development on the eve of the Earth Summit. Timothy Doyle observes how:

As the 1980s wore on environmental antagonists looked to other less conflictual means of securing their future power. No longer did many business interests across the globe deny the existence of environmental damage caused, in part, to their own malpractices. Their ploy changed: to beat the environmentalists at their own game (but on newly defined terms and agendas); to subvert them, to divide them, to supplant them, to appear to be greener than the green.28

The formation of the Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD) is particularly interesting as the organizations two cofounders were Maurice Strong and the Swiss billionaire industrialist, Stephan Schmidheiny29 — a friend of Strong’s from his days at the Davos World Economic Forum (which Strong had chaired). According to critics, this group was part of “a strategy to dislodge the United Nations Center on Transnational Corporations as it moved towards enforceable rules governing the operations of multinational corporations.” Indeed, as Joshua Karliner observed, one particularly significant outcome from the Earth Summit was the “agile and successful endeavor to virtually silence all discussion among governments about the need for international regulation and control of global corporations in the name of sustainable development.” In this regard, Karliner writes that one “of the first obstacles that the corporate diplomats from the [International Chamber of Commerce] and the BCSD had to overcome was a branch of the United Nations itself — the United Nations Centre on Transnational Corporations (UNCTC).” Problematically it seems, the United Nations Economic and Social Council had asked the Centre to “prepare a set of recommendations on transnationals and other large industrial enterprises that governments might use when drafting the Earth Summit’s central document,” Agenda 21, which were to be submitted in March 1992. Yet the month before this date, the then UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros Ghali (1992-7)…

… announced that the UNCTC would be eliminated as an independent entity. This move in effect gutted the agency of what little power it might have had. But it still had the report commissioned by ECOSOC to deliver to Maurice Strong and his UNCED Secretariat. Try as it might, however, the UNCTC couldn’t get the Secretariat to accept its report. Meanwhile, Strong had appointed Stephan Schmidheiny as his senior industry advisor. Schmidheiny proceeded to form the BCSD and prepare Changing Course as an official industry submission to UNCED.30

But his was not the only way in which the United Nations had actively served elite interests at the Earth Summit, as they simultaneously acted to subtly co-opt the very nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that provided radical criticisms of the entire event. Thus according to Chatterjee and Finger, UNDP spent US$475,000 on sponsoring NGOs in 1990 and 1991, and “then US$206,000 in the final six months up to and including Rio.” And from these funding initiatives “sprang two major drives among the Southern country NGOS,” the Third World Network, and Maximo Kalaw’s Green Forum of the Philippines. Subsequently while the Third World Network “directed [most of their criticisms] against the World Bank, the IMF, GATT, and of course the USA” they “were silent about UNDP.” This was a critical omission on their part given the integral role that the United Nations has played, and continues to fulfil, in legitimizing and promoting neoliberalism. Indeed, the extent of cooperation between UNDP and the Third World Network meant that the latter was even privately briefed “on the key issues that the World Bank could be swayed on.”31

Given the Third World Network’s uncritical stance towards the United Nations, it is fitting that Martin Khor, who formerly led this Network since its inception in 1984, is now a member of the United Nations Committee on Development Policy. Moreover as of March 2009, Khor has been the executive director of the South Center — a group whose board of directors was chaired by the former UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros Ghali from 2003 until 2006. (Khor had previously served on the South Center’s board of directors from 1996 until 2002.) Incidentally, the current chair of the South Center is the former President of Tanzania, Benjamin Mkapa, who is presently also a trustee of the democracy-manipulating African Wildlife Foundation; while prior to Boutros Boutros Ghali’s chairmanship of the board, Gamani Corea served in this position, which is interesting given that he chaired Maurice Strong’s Founex Panel of experts in 1971 in preparation for the 1972 Stockholm Conference. Returning to Khor’s background, it is also worth adding that he is also a board member of the International Forum on Globalization, a group that has been heavily supported by Ted Turner and Douglas Tompkins’ controversial eco-philanthropy.

From Earth Summit to Earth Mining

When Maurice Strong’s tenure as secretary-general of the Earth Summit ended (in 1992) “he became the chairman of the organizing committee for the Earth Council.” The Council’s mission was to “support and empower people in building a more secure, equitable and sustainable future” and at the invitation of the Costa Rican government their Secretariat was established in San José, Costa Rica, in September 1992. Amongst others sitting alongside Strong on the initial organizing committee for this group was Stephan Schmidheiny.32 Now known as the Earth Council Alliance, their chair is Tommy Short (who is also a council member of Earth Charter International);33 ) while their president, former Imperial Chemical Industries executive, Marcelo Carvalho de Andrade, is the founder and chairperson of Pro-Natura, which “was started in Brazil in 1985 and by 1992 had become one of the very first ‘Southern’ NGOs to be internationalised following the Rio Conference.” Marcelo de Andrade additionally serves as a board member of the controversial group Counterpart International, and on the board of Earth Restoration Corps (which is headed by Maurice Strong’s wife Hanne Strong).

To this day, Strong’s dedication to corporate liberalism remains strong, and in the wake of the Earth Summit he took up the chairmanship of both the World Resources Institute and the Stockholm Environment Institute. Then in 1999, Strong, the former CEO of Petro-Canada, felt it was time to retire from the board of directors of the oil and gas company Cordex Petroleums — a company that had been managed by his son, Fred Strong. That said, despite maintaining his commitment to managing the environment, Strong continues to enjoy harvesting the planet, as he is a board member of Wealth Minerals Ltd — an organization that describes itself as “a well financed and managed leader in uranium exploration focused on identifying world-class discoveries in Argentina.”34


While this article has clearly demonstrated that the global “environmental” management championed by Maurice Strong poses a significant threat to life on planet earth, Strong is by no means the main problem. Instead, Strong is merely a brilliant example of the breed of two-faced technocrats that have arisen to sustain capitalism and protect wildlife (but only where it is deemed profitable). However, by tracking Strong’s stewardship of capitalist interests historically — as this article has done — it is possible to demystify the grotesque global circus that has grown over the years to ostensibly save the environment. Elite institutions like the United Nations must be superseded: something that is unlikely to happen until we collectively start channelling mental resources to describing suitable alternatives: Communism anyone?

  1. Joel Kovel, The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World (Zed, 2002), p.154. Kovel continues: “Foundations tend to be created by rich people to soften the contradictions of that which enabled the rich to become so in the first place, and are basically no further from capital than the state. Like the state, the foundation is relatively free to express a more universal interest — and some of them are, like religion in Marx’s view, the ‘heart of a heartless world’, and able to support marginal or even radical projects. However, taken all in all, the foundation’s basic function is to rationalize the given society and not to overturn it.” (p.154) [?]
  2. John McCormick, The Global Environmental Movement (Wiley, 1995), p.64. [?]
  3. Frances McCrea and Gerald Markle, Minutes to Midnight: Nuclear Weapons Protest in America (Sage, 1989), p.81-2. [?]
  4. McCormick, p.65, p.67. [?]
  5. McCormick, p.84. As an aside McCormick adds: “Curiously, a remarkably similar book published three years before — The Silent Explosion by Philip Appleman, a professor of English at Indiana University — sold well, but achieved nothing like the impact. Ehrlich made no reference to Appleman’s work.” [?]
  6. McCormick, p.90. Another book, A Blueprint for Survival, which was published in The Ecologist in early 1972, concerned itself with similar themes and was influenced by The Limits to Growth. [?]
  7. Robert Golub and Joe Townsend, “Malthus, multinationals and the Club of Rome,” Social Studies of Science, 7, (1977), p.202. “Our argument is that, during the decade of the sixties, the international economic (and many national financial) systems became increasingly unstable and the systems by which the advanced countries control and dominate the underdeveloped countries were growing more fragile…, at the same time as (and in some cases as a result of) the multinational firms were becoming more significant in the international and national economies. These increasing instabilities and uncertainties made the economic environment more threatening to the multinational firms themselves, and this situation was initially and most strongly perceived by those ’second rank’ multinationals whose governments were too weak to adequately provide the ‘public functions’ listed by Murray. As a result of this, the Forrester and Meadows ’scientific’ studies were commissioned as ‘tools of communication and control’ to operate the ‘transmission pulley’ of public opinion in order to force the governments of the industrialized societies to institute a ‘new world moderator’ (with ’stern rules about voting’) which would have sufficient power to stabilize the international economic situation and ensure a constant supply of raw materials.” (p.216) [?]
  8. McCormick, p.113. [?]
  9. McCormick, p.116-7. [?]
  10. Barbara Ward and Rene Dubos, Only One Earth (Norton & Company, 1972), p.ix.

Ward and Dubos write: “Ambassador Adlai Stevenson clearly had in mind the overpowering influence of man’s role in determining the quality of the environment and therefore of human life when, in his last speech before the Economic and Social Council in Geneva on July 9, 1965, he referred to the earth as a little spaceship on which we travel together, ‘dependent on its vulnerable supplies of earth and soil.’” (p.xvii-iii) Barbara Ward neglects to mention that she drafted the content of this speech. [?]

  1. In 1973, Barbara Ward then became president of the Institute, which was renamed as the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). [?]
  2. McCormick, p.118. [?]
  3. In 1978 Anderson received the inaugural Lindbergh Award, an honor that has since then been graced on most of the world’s leading corporate environmentalists. For instance, in 1979 the award was given to Aurelio Peccei, and then to Maurice Strong in 1981. Eco-baron Ted Turner received the award in 2008, and in 2009 he was followed by Lester Brown. [?]
  4. Maurice Strong served as a vice president of conservative WWF International (1978-81), and a member of the executive council until December 1986, and as a chairman of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, IUCN (now known as the World Conservation Union). [?]
  5. McCormick, p.137, p.136. [?]
  6. McCormick, p.196-7. [?]
  7. “The final drafting was guided by Robert Allen (one of the authors of the Blueprint for Survival, and then IUCN head of publications) and David Munro IUCN’s director-general.” McCormick, p.197. It is worth citing the comments of influential environmental manager and former president of both the Club of Rome and of the IUCN, Ashok Khosla. He notes:

“In the late 1970s, I was one of the contributing authors of the World Conservation Strategy, which made extensive use of the word Sustainable Development for, I believe, the first time. It was produced by the World Conservation Union in collaboration with the United Nation Environment Programme and WWF. WCS was liberally sprinkled throughout with the concept of sustainable development. It was launched “simultaneously” in major cities of the world as the sun came up to 10.00 am at each of them, starting with New Delhi on 5 March 1980.

“Later I worked with Brundtland Commission. It adopted this phrase as the central message of its report, and helped to make it globally accepted. From there it became the theme of the 1992 Johannesburg Summit.” [?]

  1. John McCormick, “The origins of the World Conservation Strategy,” Environmental Review: ER, 10 (3), Autumn 1986, p.186. [?]
  2. In 1988 Gro Harlem Brundtland received the annual Third World Prize of $100,000 from the Third World Foundation. Here it is interesting to note that the Third World Foundation was set up by Altaf Gauhar, along with the academic journal, Third World Quarterly, with funding provided by the CIA-connected Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI).

For a recent critique of the BCCI, see Lucy Komisar, “BCCI’s Double Game: Banking on America, Banking on Jihad,” In: Steven Hiatt (ed), A Game As Old As Empire: The Secret World of Economic Hit Men and the Web of Global Corruption (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2007). [?]

  1. During the 1980s both Brundtland and Strong had been board members of Ted Turner’s Better World Society: another influential trustee of this Society was Monkombu Swaminathan, the former IUCN president and World Resources Institute trustee — who served as the chair of the Brundtland Commission’s Advisory Panel of Food Security in spite or perhaps because of his reputation as the “Father of the Green Revolution in India” — who has been described by UNEP as “the Father of Economic Ecology.”

Other notable members of the Brundtland Commission who had already, or went on to represent, corporate conservation outfits include: Istvan Lang (who is now an honorary board member of Green Cross International), and finally the Brazilian ecologist Paulo Nogueira-Neto (who is an emeritus director of Conservation International, and a former executive board member of the IUCN), Saburo Okita (who at the time served on the executive committee of the Club of Rome, and was chairman of World Wildlife Fund Japan), Shridath Ramphal (who is the former co-chair of the Commission on Global Governance, former president of the IUCN, 1990-3, and former chair of the international steering committee of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Leadership in Environmental and Development), former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator William Ruckelshaus (who is the former chair of the World Resources Institute), Mohamed Sahnoun (who is a board member of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, a council member of Earth Charter International, and is co-chair of the international advisory board of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect), and Janez Stanovnik (who is a former board member of Resources for the Future). The chair of the Commission’s Advisory Panel on Energy was Enrique Iglesias, who went on to serve as the president of the Inter-American Development Bank, and as an honorary member of the Club of Rome. [?]

  1. Brian Tokar, “The World Bank: Biotechnology and the ‘Next Green Revolution’,” In: Brian Tokar (ed), Gene Traders: Biotechnology, World Trade, and the Globalization of Hunger (Toward Freedom, 2004), p.51. [?]
  2. Pratap Chatterjee and Matthias Finger, The Earth Brokers: Power, Politics and World Development (Routledge, 1994), p.25. [?]
  3. Pratap Chatterjee and Matthias Finger, p.152. [?]
  4. Zoe Young, “The Politics of GEF,” (pdf) ECO: The Voice of the NGO Community in the International Environmental Conventions, 15 (7), March 2006. [?]
  5. Mark Dowie, Losing Ground: American Environmentalism at the Close of the Twentieth Century (MIT Press, 1995), p.119. [?]
  6. Pratap Chatterjee and Matthias Finger, p.101. They write: “With the exception of one demonstration in Rio de Janeiro which brought together 50,000 people in downtown streets, most protests drew a few dozen people.” (p.101) [?]
  7. Michael Goldman, “Inventing the Commons: Theories and Practices of the Commons’ Professional,” In: Michael Goldman (ed), Privatizing Nature: Political Struggles for the Global Commons (Pluto Press, 1998), p.23.

In their scathing article published in The Ecologist magazine titled “The Earth Summit Debacle,” they noted how the “best that can be said for the Earth Summit is that is made visible the vested interests standing in the way” of meaningful grassroots action. The Ecologist wrote, that for such grassroots groups “the question is not how the environment should be managed — they have the experience of the past as their guide — but who will manage it and in whose interest. They reject UNCED’s rhetoric of a world where all humanity is united by a common interest in survival, and in which conflicts of race, class, gender and culture are characterised as of secondary importance to humanity’s supposedly common goal.”

Caroline Thomas agrees and in 1993 she noted how: “At the most fundamental level, the causes of environmental degradation have not been addressed, and without this, efforts to tackle the crisis are bound to fail. The crisis is rooted in the process of globalisation under way. Powerful entrenched interests impede progress in understanding the crisis and in addressing it. They marginalise rival interpretations of its origins and thereby block the discovery of possible ways forward … The result is that the crisis is to be tackled by a continuation of the very policies that have largely caused it in the first place.” Cited in David Pepper, Modern Environmentalism: An Introduction (Routledge, 1996), p.105. [?]

  1. Timothy Doyle, “Sustainable development and Agenda 21: the secular bible of global free markets and pluralist democracy,” Third World Quarterly, 19 (4), 1998, p.772. Doyle concludes that: “The only force which currently seems capable of moving beyond the boundaries of nation-states in hot pursuit of transnational corporations are social movements and NGOs, also acting through transnational conduits.” (p.785) Doyle evidently is unaware of the extent to which corporate interests have already subverted civil society to serve their antidemocratic neoliberal interests. Here the work of Ellen Meiksins Wood is worth citing at length. She writes:

“The moral force of these movements [organizing against the threat of ‘nuclear
annihilation and ecological disaster’] is unquestionable; but in a sense, the very qualities that give them their particular strength make them resistant to transformation into agents of a fundamental social change, the transition from capitalism to socialism. These movements do not reflect, and are not intended to create, a new collective identity, a new social agency, motivated by a new anti-capitalist interest which dissolves differences of class interest. They are not constituted on the basis of the connections that exist between the capitalist order and the threats to peace and survival. On the contrary, their unity and popular appeal depend upon abstracting the issues of peace or ecology from the prevailing social order and the conflicting social interests that comprise it. The general interests that human beings share simply because they are human must be seen, not as requiring the transformation of the existing social order and class relations, but rather as something detached from the various particular interests in which human beings partake by virtue of belonging to that social order and its system of classes. In other words, such movements have tended to rely on the extent to which they can avoid specifically implicating the capitalist order and its class system.” Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Retreat From Class: A New ‘True’ Socialism (Verso, 1986), p.176. [?]

  1. Stephan Schmidheiny is a former board member of the World Resources Institute, and presently serves as a member of board of overseers of the International Center for Economic Growth — a group whose funders include the likes of the Ford Foundation and the Center for International Private Enterprise. Another notable person who sits on this group’s board of overseers is the former Director of the UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who was also the former initial chairperson of George Soros’s democracy-manipulating venture, the Open Society Initiative for West Africa. [?]
  2. Joshua Karliner, The Corporate Planet: Ecology and Politics in the Age of Globalization (Sierra Club Books, 1997), p.53. [?]
  3. Pratap Chatterjee and Matthias Finger, p.102. [?]
  4. Pratap Chatterjee and Matthias Finger, p.161. [?]
  5. Earth Charter International’s council has three co-chairs: Steven Rockefeller (United States), Razeena Wagiet (South Africa), and Brendan Mackey (Australia). The son of the former vice president of the United States, Nelson Rockefeller, Steven Rockefeller is professor emeritus of religion at Middlebury College, and has served as a trustee of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund for twenty-five years (chairing the Fund’s board of trustees from 1998 to 2006). Steven is also a member of the World Commission on Global Consciousness and Spirituality’s Global Council on Planetary Ethics and Values, which is home to notables like Ervin Laszlo and Vaclav Havel. The other two co-chairs of the Earth Charter council, like Steven, have similarly elitist backgrounds, as Wagiet has previously worked for WWF South Africa, and thereafter was “appointed as environmental adviser to the previous National Minister of Education, Professor Kader Asmal for four years (1999-2003)”; while Mackey co-chairs the World Conservation Union Ethics Specialist Group. [?]
  6. According to his official biography, Wealth Minerals Ltd board member, Paul Matysek, “is the former President and CEO and a co-founder of Energy Metals Corporation. Under Mr. Matysek’s stewardship, Energy Metals Corporation, a pure uranium mining and development company, was recently acquired by Uranium One Inc. in a deal valued at over one billion dollars.” His biography adds that Matysek has formerly served in a senior management at the mining and metals company, First Quantum Minerals Ltd. One notable current board member of First Quantum Minerals is Rupert L. Pennant-Rea, who is a former member of the Group of 30, an international body of leading financiers and academics that was founded in 1978 by the Rockefeller Foundation. [?]