Ruling-Class Peace?

April 7, 2014

by Michael Barker


Systemic violence is a uniquely defining characteristic of capitalism: a soul-destroying system that places profit before human need. By way of a contrast, nonviolent activism offers a potent force for helping foment a socialist alternative that favours the needs of the many against the misrule of the few. Far-sighted members of the ruling class, however, take great pride in (vainly) trying to stay one step ahead of those they wish to dominate, and it is with such thoughts in mind that the highly problematic International Center on Nonviolent Conflict was formed in 2002 (for an overview of my criticisms of this group see “Capitalising On Nonviolence“). Yet despite this Center being a creature of imperial discomfort born from within the heart of the US ruling class, they still receive vital ideological support from a handful of progressives and anarchists.

One such liberal intellectual who has done yeoman’s services to publicly defending the reputation of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict is Professor Stephen Zunes, who is the longstanding chair (now co-chair) of the Center’s advisory board. Therefore, in an attempt to undermine the logic of Zunes’s many distortions, this article sets out to do just one thing; that is, to demonstrate how Peter Ackerman — the founding chairman and primary financial beneficiary of this Center — is without a doubt an enemy of all workers and individuals interested in promoting progressive social change.

A good starting place for examining Ackerman’s problematic influence over ostensibly progressive politics is the succinct summary kindly provided by William I. Robinson, professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “That Ackerman is a part of the U.S. foreign policy elite,” Robinson pointed out, “and integral to the new modalities of intervention under the rubric of ‘democracy promotion,’ etc., is beyond question.” Fleshing out some of Ackerman’s noxious ruling-class background, John Bellamy Foster, the editor of Monthly Review and professor of sociology at the University of Oregon, surmized in 2008:

Ackerman is not only a founding director of the [International Center on Nonviolent Conflict] and sits on the Freedom House board, but is also a director, along with the likes of Colin Powell, of the ‘imperial brain trust,’ the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR — where [James] Woolsey is also a prominent member). Ackerman sits on the key advisory committee of the CFR’s Center for Preventive Action, devoted to overthrowing governments opposed by Washington by political means (or where this is not practicable, using political low intensity warfare to soften them up for military intervention). The CPA is headed by Reagan’s former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John W. Vessey, who oversaw the invasion of Grenada. The members of the advisory committee of the CPA, including Ackerman himself, have all been heavily involved in helping to fulfill U.S. war aims in Yugoslavia, and the Center has recently focused on overturning Chavez’s government in Venezuela (see John Bellamy Foster, “The Latin American Revolt,” Monthly Review, July August 2007). On top of all of this Ackerman is a director of the right-wing U.S. Institute of Peace, which is connected directly through its chair J. Robinson West to the National Petroleum Council, which includes CEOs of all the major U.S. energy corporations. On the domestic front, Ackerman has been working with the Cato Institute to privatize Social Security.


The political clout of the military-peace nonprofit complex is growing apace, and too many people at home and abroad are in danger of being lulled and then crushed by an oligarchy capable of wearing both the iron heel and the velvet slipper. Such anti-democratic developments hold no surprises to opponents of the oligarchy, but apologists for the velvet slipper who seek to teach anti-democratic intelligence agencies about the power of nonviolent activism must be identified and excluded from further involvement with progressive social movements.

The history of the elite manipulation of social change has been well documented by popular writers like Howard Zinn, amongst many others, and to some extent even Jack London in his classic The Iron Heel (1907) gave a warning of how elites may act to defuse large-scale revolutionary movements. Indeed, in his fictitious autobiographical account of a revolutionary, London described how when his revolutionary movement was on the brink of launching “a sudden colossal, stunning blow” to the entire North American oligarchy, their forthcoming revolution was postponed when the oligarchy caught wind of what they planned and pre-empted them. The oligarchy did this by “deliberately manufactur[ing]” the social conditions that would precipitate an isolated and containable revolutionary uprising that could be destroyed. Back in the real world it is perfectly understandable why elites should seek to manipulate progressive social movements. Now we just need to decide what actions we can take to protect our movements from such unwanted interventions.

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