Home » Resistance/Revolution

Category Archives: Resistance/Revolution

World of Resistance Report: IMF, World Bank, Giant Consultants Admit The Storm Is Coming

World of Resistance Report: IMF, World Bank, Giant Consultants Admit The Storm Is Coming

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

21 July 2014

Originally posted at Occupy.com

poverty_by_go1985a

Following Parts 123 and 4 of the World of Resistance Report, in this fifth installment I examine the warnings of social unrest and revolution emanating from the world’s major international financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank, as well as the world’s major consulting firms that provide strategic and investment advice to corporations, banks and investors around the world.

These two groups – financial institutions and the consultants that advise them – play key roles in the spread of institutionalized corporate and financial power, and as such, warnings from these groups about the threat posed by “social unrest” carry particular weight as they are geared toward a particular audience: the global oligarchy itself.

Organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank were responsible for forcing neoliberal economic “restructuring” on much of the developing world from the 1980s onwards, as the IMF and E.U. are currently imposing on Greece and large parts of Europe. The results have been and continue to be devastating for populations, while corporations and banks accumulate unprecedented wealth and power.

As IMF austerity programs spread across the globe, poverty followed, and so too did protests and rebellion. Between 1976 and 1992, there were 146 protests against IMF-sponsored programs in 39 different countries around the world, often resulting in violent state repression of the domestic populations (cited explicitly by Firoze Manji and Carl O’Coill in “The Missionary Position: NGOs and Development in Africa,” International Affairs, Vol. 78, No. 3, 2002).

These same programs by the IMF and World Bank facilitated the massive growth of slums, as the policies demanded by the organizations forced countries to undertake massive layoffs, privatization, deregulation, austerity and the liberalization of markets – amounting, ultimately, to a new system of social genocide. The new poor and displaced rural communities flocked to cities in search of work and hope for a better future, only to be herded into massive urban shantytowns and slums. Today roughly one in seven people on Earth, or over 1 billion, live in slums. (An excellent source on this is Mike Davis’s “Planet of Slums”.)

How the Big Institutions Have Operated

Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning former chief economist at the World Bank, blew the whistle on the World Bank’s and IMF’s policies in countries around the world – an act for which he was ultimately fired. In an interview with Greg Palast for the Guardian in 2001, Stiglitz explained that the same four steps of market liberalization are applied to every country.

The first includes privatization of state-owned industries and assets. The second step is capital market liberalization, which “allows investment capital to flow in and out,” though as he put it, “the money often simply flows out.” As Stiglitz explained, speculative cash flows into countries, and when there are signs of trouble it flows out dramatically in a matter of days, at which point the IMF demands the countries raise interest rates as high as 30% to 80%, further wrecking the economy.

At this point comes step three, called “market-based pricing,” in which prices get raised on food, water and cooking gas, leading to what Stiglitz calls “Step-Three-and-a-Half: the IMF riot.” When a nation is “down and out, [the IMF] squeezes the last drop of blood out of them. They turn up the heat until, finally, the whole cauldron blows up.” This process is always anticipated by the IMF and World Bank, which have even noted in various internal documents that their programs for countries could be expected to spark “social unrest.”

And finally comes step four, “free trade,” meaning that highly protectionist trade rules go into effect under supervision of the World Bank and World Trade Organization.

imf-protest

Expecting Riots

The term “IMF riots” was applied to dozens of nations around the world that experienced waves of protests in response to the IMF/World Bank programs of the 1980s and 1990s, which plunged them into crisis through austerity measures, privatization and deregulation all enforced under so-called “structural adjustment programs.”

As the Guardian noted in September of 2012, “the European governments are out-IMF-ing the IMF in its austerity drive so much that now the fund itself frequently issues the warning that Europe is going too far, too fast.” Thus, we saw “IMF riots” – protests against austerity and structural adjustment measures – erupting over the past three years in Greece, Spain, Portugal and elsewhere in the E.U.

An academic study published in August of 2011 by Jacopo Ponticelli and Hans-Joachim Voth examined the link between austerity and social unrest, analyzing 28 European countries between 1919 and 2009, and 11 Latin American countries since 1937. The researchers measured levels of social unrest looking at five major indicators: riots, anti-government protests, general strikes, political assassinations and attempted revolutions.

The verdict: The researchers found there was “a clear and positive statistical association between expenditure cuts and the level of unrest.” In other words, the more that austerity was imposed, the more unrest resulted. Spending cuts, they wrote, “create the risk of major social and political instability.”

The Eurozone has been referred to by some as “an unemployment torture chamber” due to the structural reforms to the labor market – enforced through bailout conditions – which were purportedly designed to make it easier for employers to hire and fire but, instead, “firing has utterly dominated the employers’ agendas,” according to the Globe and Mail. This has created a “lost generation” in which unemployment in the E.U. for youths between 16 and 24 amounts to roughly 25% – while in Italy it’s roughly 40% and for Greece and Spain it’s as high as 60%. Tom Rogers, an adviser to Ernst & Young, noted, “Youth joblessness at these levels risks permanently entrenched unemployment, lowering the rate of sustainable growth in the future.”

The head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, warned in 2008 that “social unrest may happen in many places, including advanced economies.” The head of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, warned in 2009 that “If we do not take measures, there is a risk of a serious human and social crisis with very serious political implications.”

Additionally, in November of 2009, the IMF chief warned the premier British corporate lobbying group, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), that if a second major bailout of the banks were to occur, democracy itself would be jeopardized. The “man on the street” would not accept further bailouts, Strauss-Kahn said, and “the political reaction will be very strong, putting some democracies at risk.”

Consulting in the Midst of a Crisis

Global consulting firms play a peculiar role in the global economic order. The consulting, or “strategy,” firms became commonplace in the 1960s onward, and were frequently seen as “home to some great minds in the corporate world,” hired by corporate, financial and other institutional clients to advise management on strategy and investments. The Financial Times referred to the industry as “a global behemoth, employing an estimated 3 million people and generating revenues of $300 billion a year,” with the industry’s “product” being “the knowledge vested in its people.”

According to an Oxford team of researchers, in 2011 consulting firms advised on more than $13 trillion of U.S. institutional money. Worldwide, consultants advised roughly $25 trillion worth of assets. Consulting advice was seen to be “highly influential” in the United States; yet despite the enormous power wielded by consultancy firms, the Oxford study found that the funds recommended to investors by consultants did not in the end perform better than other funds.

Still, the influence of giant consulting firms remains, although their reputations have taken some hits along the way. The world’s largest consulting firms at the end of 2013 were McKinsey & Company, Bain & Company, Boston Consulting Group, Booz & Company, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Oliver Wyman, Deloitte Consulting, The Parthenon Group, A.T. Kearney and Accenture. With these large firms advising even larger clients on strategy and investments, it’s worth examining some of the advice and perspectives published by these agencies.

For example, McKinsey & Company, the world’s largest global management consulting firm, published a report in 2012 (Dominic Barton, “Capitalism for the Long Term,” Autumn 2012) noting that in the previous few years the world had been witnessing “a dramatic acceleration in the shifting balance of power between the developed West and the emerging East, a rise in populist politics and social stresses in a number of countries, and significant strains on global governance systems.”

For corporate executives, “the most consequential outcome of the [economic] crisis is the challenge to capitalism itself.” And while “trust in business hit historically low levels more than a decade ago,” McKinsey warned, “the crisis and the surge in public antagonism it unleashed have exacerbated the friction between business and society,” adding to anxiety over rising income inequality and other factors.

Having interviewed over 400 business and government leaders around the world, the McKinsey report noted that “despite a certain amount of frustration on each side, the two groups share the belief that capitalism has been and can continue to be the greatest engine of prosperity ever devised.” However, the report warned, “there is growing concern that if the fundamental issues revealed in the crisis remain unaddressed and the system fails again, the social contract between the capitalist system and the citizenry may truly rupture, with unpredictable but severely damaging results.” McKinsey & Company thus called for “nothing less than a shift from… quarterly capitalism to what might be referred to as long-term capitalism.”

In another instance, KPMG, one of the world’s leading accountancy firms and professional service providers, published a report in 2013 examining a list of “megatrends” in the world leading up to the year 2030 (“Future State 2030: The Global Megatrends Shaping Governments,” KPMG International, 2013). One of the major trends it referred to was “the rise of the individual,” in which technological and educational advancements “have helped empower individuals like never before, leading to increased demands for transparency and participation in government and public decision-making.”

This process is “ushering in a new era in human history,” KPMG went on. With major social issues left unresolved such as growing inequality and access to education, services, employment and healthcare, “growing individual empowerment will present numerous challenges to government structures and processes, but if harnessed, could unleash significant economic development and social advancement.”

The report further warned that there were other major consequences with the “rise of the individual,” including “rising expectations” and increased “income inequality within countries leading to potential for greater social unrest.” The fact that populations are “increasingly connected” and “faster dissemination of information through social media accelerates action” posed other concerns. John Herhalt, a former partner at KPMG, was quoted in the report as saying, “Citizens are not just demanding technologically advanced interactions with government, but also asking for a new voice.”

Further, a 2013 survey of 1,300 CEOs from 68 countries by PricewaterhouseCoopers, another of the world’s largest consulting firms, reported general views shared by CEOs around the world (“Dealing With Disruption: Adapting to Survive and Thrive,” 16th Annual Global CEO Survey). When asked about the ability of firms to deal with the potential impact of disruptive scenarios, the vast majority (75%) of CEOs responded that their companies “would be negatively affected, with major social unrest being cause for the greatest concern.” This was perceived as a greater threat than an economic slowdown in China.

CEOs, noted the report, “know they’ll have to repair the bridges of trust between business and society,” as the global financial crisis and its aftermath “have badly damaged faith in institutions of every kind.” Due to the revolution in social media, it concluded, many new “stakeholders… have an unprecedented amount of clout.”

After in-depth analyses of documents, speeches and reports from the world’s major economic institutions – from international organizations like the World Bank and IMF to global consultancy firms like McKinsey & Company and PricewaterhouseCoopers; and from big banks like HSBC, JPMorgan Chase and UBS to oligarchic platforms like the World Economic Forum – three issues are prevalent in terms of assessing the fears and threats facing the global elite: 1) growing inequality, 2) decline of public trust in institutions of all kinds, and 3) the resulting social unrest.

It should be clear by now that as global inequality continues to rise, trust in institutions will continue to fall, and social unrest will explode in new and more dramatic ways than we have witnessed thus far. We truly are entering a World of Resistance.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is project manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the geopolitics division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and World of Resistance (WoR) Report, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

About these ads

World of Resistance Report: Financial Institutions Fear Global Revolution

World of Resistance Report: Financial Institutions Fear Global Revolution

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

11 July 2014

Originally posted at Occupy.com

o-bankers-underpaid-facebook

In Part 1 of the WoR Report, I examined Zbigniew Brzezinski’s warnings to elites around the world of the “global political awakening” of humanity. In Part 2, I looked at the relationship between inequality and social instability, and in Part 3 I examined the World Economic Forum’s warnings of growing inequality and the “lost generation” of youth who pose the greatest threat to oligarchic interests around the world. In this fourth installment in the series, we turn to reports from top banks and financial institutions warning about the growing threats to their interests posed by an increasingly disenfranchised and impoverished population – manifested in protests, strikes and social unrest.

In November of 2011, Bob Diamond, the CEO of one of the world’s largest banks, Barclays, stated in a speech: “We’ve seen violent protests in Greece, public sector strikes across Europe, [and] anti-capitalist demonstrations that started on Wall Street have spread to other places around the world.” Diamond added: “Young people have been especially hit hard by high levels of unemployment. The threat of further social unrest remains if we don’t work together to generate stronger economic growth and more jobs.”

A March 2013 report by senior economic adviser George Magnus of UBS Investment Research, entitled “Social Unrest and Economic Stress: Europe’s Angst, and China’s Fear,” noted that “the wave of social unrest that rumbled across Europe between 2008 and 2011 has become less intense… [and] has come as a cause for relief in financial markets.” Yet, he wrote, the occasional upsurge in large-scale national and European-wide anti-austerity protests and strikes “signifies the deep malaise in the complex and fragile trust relationship between European citizens and their governments and institutions.” Since 2010, approximately 13 out of 19 E.U. governments had been voted out of office or had collapsed, indicating that “public anger… is far from dormant, and its expression is mostly unpredictable.”

Social unrest, added the UBS report, “is a systemic phenomenon” that is “highly uncertain, complex and ambiguous,” and which can lead “to the toppling of governments, or even political systems.” Social unrest across the E.U. “has been notable more for the public expression of lack of trust in the institutions of government, including in Brussels,” the headquarters of the European Union.

This “lull” in social unrest, warned Magnus, “is most likely deceptive.” The present problem in Europe “is the same” as the main problems in Europe of the 1930s – when mass poverty, unemployment and social unrest led to the rise of fascism. The underlying problem in both eras was “the inadequacy of mainstream, political channels to address rising public concern about the loss of economic security, social stability and, yes, cultural identity.”

Citing an OECD study, the bank report noted that “austerity has gone hand-in-hand with a variety of forms of social and political instability, and politically-motivated violence.” There have been “heightened levels of social unrest and shocks to the political system in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy… sometimes requiring the force of the state to suppress it.” These are especially important matters for banks to pay attention to, since the European debt crisis was caused primarily by the big banks – and the austerity and “structural reform” policies (along with the bailouts that accompanied them) were designed for the benefit of those banks as well. Thus, resistance to austerity and “reform” is, in effect, resistance to the bailouts for the big banks.

In May of 2013, JPMorgan Chase released a report, “The Euro Area Adjustment: About Halfway There,” which assessed “progress” in the European Union on the issue of austerity and structural reform. The “adjustment” of European society, claimed the report, was “about halfway done on average,” noting that the process would continue for much of the rest of the decade although it faced major challenges, including the development of “new institutions” in the E.U. and what the bank called “national legacy problems.” This vague term referred to “the constitutions and political settlements in the southern periphery [of the E.U.], put in place in the aftermath of the fall of fascism, [which] have a number of features which appear to be unsuited to further integration in the region.”

Just what does this mean? The bank explained that “fiscal austerity” was likely to be a major feature in the E.U. “for a very extended period.” However, if the European Monetary Union is to survive the coming decade, “deep seated political problems in the periphery… need to change.” But what precisely are these “deep seated problems”? The bank elaborated that many of the southern periphery states’ constitutions “tend to show a strong socialist influence,” referring to the fact that many constitutions guaranteed various social rights for populations, including labor, healthcare and educational and civil rights.

Further, the bank reported that many of these nations suffer from the following features: “Weak executives; weak central states relative to regions; constitutional protection of labor rights; consensus building systems… and the right to protest if unwelcome changes are made to the political status quo.” The translation: democracy itself is the problem. As such, JPMorgan noted, “the process of political reform has barely begun.” In other words, out with democracy and in with financial and corporate oligarchy.

The bank’s report also noted that there were a number of potential threats as the process of “political reform” advanced, including “the collapse of several reform minded governments in the European south,” a “collapse in support for the Euro or the E.U.,” the possibility of “an outright electoral victory for radical anti-European parties,” or perhaps even “the effective ungovernability of some Member States once social costs (particularly unemployment) pass a particular level.” JPMorgan Chase warned that while there wasn’t a current situation of “ungovernability” in E.U. states, the longer-term prospects were “hard to predict, and a more pronounced backlash to the current approach to crisis management cannot be excluded.”

shutterstock_147965891

AXA, one of the world’s largest financial institutions and insurance companies, published a report in July of 2013 written by Manolis Davradakis, entitled “Emerging Unrest: Looking for a Pattern,” which expressed particular concerns and perspectives on the issue of social unrest. The report noted that emerging market economies “are currently experiencing a surge in political risk due to social unrest that is being fueled by reasons that differ from those that resulted in the Arab Spring.”

The “main cause” of unrest in emerging market nations was “the rise of the middle class,” as this portion of the population “realize that they continue to experience the same everyday problems as poorer population strata, namely a high crime rate, poor public services, and corruption.” The report cited examples of social unrest in Turkey and Brazil, warning that these countries could see their credit ratings cut if the social upheaval is “lasting.”

The AXA report referred to the multiple episodes of unrest across emerging market nations in the summer of 2013 as “riots,” stating that they had several points in common, namely that “they were sparked by a government decision affecting daily life” and that the protesters were “not affiliated with political parties or movements” but instead were “well educated members of the middle class.” These factors were reminiscent of the massive unrest that took place in the advanced economies during the 19th century when emerging middle classes were struggling “for better living standards and more representation in political governance.”

Beyond a certain point, warned AXA, “repressing mass demands for a more open society becomes costly and economically ineffective.” A government’s inability or lack of will “to acknowledge the people’s right to freedom of expression and a voice in decision-making is a source of social unrest.”

AXA devised a Poor Governance Index (PGI), analyzing seven key indicators that could lead to social unrest, and concluded that the potential for instability in the BRIC nations – Brazil, Russia, India and China – was quite high. It also cited increased potential for unrest in Egypt, Ukraine, Indonesia, South Africa, Tunisia and Turkey, warning that such unrest “may have implications for emerging market [credit] ratings.” It noted that several credit ratings agencies had already warned about the effects that “prolonged social unrest” could have on the ratings for Turkey and Brazil.

Going further, in July of 2013, Stephen D. King, chief economist of HSBC bank, warned that growing wealth gaps and increasing divisions between generations could result in youth uprisings similar to the Peasants Revolt of the Middle Ages. King commented: “I am intrigued at the moment that the youth are quite peaceful, and I wonder whether that might change. It is very difficult to predict but youth movements might become more focused on their own rights rather than the economy.”

In October of 2013, King wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which he warned that as bad as things already were, “they are going to get much worse, for the United States and other advanced economies, in the years ahead,” writing that both sides of the North Atlantic region had “already succumbed to a Japan-style ‘lost decade’” in which “promises can no longer be met, mistrust spreads and markets malfunction.” King wrote that “facing the pain will not be easy,” especially as policy makers continue to “opt for the illusion” and “pray for a strong recovery… because the reality is too bleak to bear.”

The “bleak” reality is that these and other big banks and financial institutions have repeatedly collapsed the global economy and profited along the way, punishing entire societies and populations into poverty through a process of plundering and exploitation as governments feared the wrath of “financial markets.” The banks that are now bigger, more dangerous and more powerful than ever fear the growing discontent, unrest and resistance of populations – especially the youth. The world’s major financial institutions fear that the global economic system which they helped to create, and over which they rule, will ultimately come back to haunt them in the form of mass social unrest, potentially undermining their power and the system as a whole.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is project manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the geopolitics division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and World of Resistance Report, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

World of Resistance Report: Davos Class Jittery Amid Growing Warnings of Global Unrest

 World of Resistance Report: Davos Class Jittery Amid Growing Warnings of Global Unrest

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally posted on 4 July 2014 at Occupy.com

henrykissinger-worldeconomicforum-davos-20080124

In Part 1 of the WoR Report, I examined the “global political awakening” as articulated by arch-imperial strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski. In Part 2 published last week I took a more detailed look at the ways global inequality and injustice relate to the coming era of instability and social unrest. Here, in Part 3, I explore the warnings on inequality and revolt now coming from one of the premier institutions of the global oligarchy: the World Economic Forum.

As an annual gathering of thousands of leading financial, corporate, political and social oligarchs in Davos, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has taken a keen interest in recent years discussing the potential for social upheaval as a result of mass inequality and poverty. A WEF report released in November of 2013 warned that a “lost generation” of unemployed youth in Europe could potentially pull the Eurozone apart. One of the report’s authors, the CEO of Infosys, commented that “unless we address chronic joblessness we will see an escalation in social unrest,” noting that youth especially “need to be productively employed, or we will witness rising crime rates, stagnating economies and the deterioration of our social fabric.” The report added: “A generation that starts its career in complete hopelessness will be more prone to populist politics and will lack the fundamental skills that one develops early on in their career.”

In short, if the global ruling class – known affectionately as the Davos Class – doesn’t quickly find ways to accommodate the continent’s increasingly unemployed and “lost” youth, those people will potentially turn to “populist politics” of resistance that directly challenge the global political and economic order. For the individuals and interests represented at the World Social Forum, this poses a monumental and, increasingly, an existential threat.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report for 2013-2014, entitled “Assessing the Sustainable Competitiveness of Nations,” noted that the global financial crisis and its aftermath “brought social tensions to light” as economic growth was not translated into positive benefits for much or most of the planet’s population. Citing the Arab Spring, growing unemployment in Western economies and increasing income inequality, there was growing recognition that dangerous upheaval could be on the way. The report noted: “Diminishing economic prospects, sometimes combined with demand for more political participation, have also sparked protests in several countries including, for example, the recent events in Brazil and Turkey.”

The WEF report wrote that “if economic benefits are perceived to be unevenly redistributed within a society,” this could frequently result in “riots or social discontent” such as the Arab Spring revolts, protests in Brazil, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and other recent examples. The report concluded that numerous nations were at especially high risk of social unrest, including China, Indonesia, Turkey, South Africa, Brazil, India, Peru and Russia, among others.

Phila Unemployment Project

In early 2014, the World Economic Forum released the 9th edition of its Global Risks report, published to inform the debate, discussion and planning of attendees and guests at the annual WEF meeting in Davos. The report was produced with the active cooperation of major universities and financial corporations, including Marsh & McLennan Companies, Swiss Re, Zurich Insurance Group, National University of Singapore, University of Oxford, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center. It included a large survey conducted in an effort to assess the major perceived risks to the global order atop which the Davos Class sits.

The report noted that the “most interconnected” risks were fiscal crises, structural unemployment and underemployment, all of which link to “rising income inequality and political and social instability.” The young generation now coming of age globally, noted the WEF, “faces high unemployment and precarious job situations, hampering their efforts to build a future and raising the risk of social unrest.” This “lost generation” faces not only high unemployment and underemployment, but also major educational challenges since “traditional higher education is ever more expensive and its payoff more doubtful.”

Perceiving the innovations and skills of today’s generation which are enabling the growing foment, the Forum noted:

“In general, the mentality of this generation is realistic, adaptive and versatile. Smart technology and social media provide new ways to quickly connect, build communities, voice opinion and exert political pressure… [youth are] full of ambition to make the world a better place, yet feel disconnected from traditional politics and government – a combination which presents both a challenge and an opportunity in addressing global risks.”

The Global Risks 2014 report cited a global opinion survey on the “awareness, priorities and values of global youth,” which the authors refer to as “generation lost.” This generation, noted the survey, “think independently of this basic fallback system of the older generation – governments providing a safety net,” which “points to a wider distrust of authorities and institutions.” The “mindset” of today’s youth has been additionally shaped by the repercussions and apparent failures to deal with the global financial crisis, as well as increasing revelations about U.S. intelligence agencies engaging in massive digital spying. For a generation largely mobilized through social media, online spying has held particular relevance, as “the digital revolution gave them unprecedented access to knowledge and information worldwide.”

Protests and anti-austerity movements were able to “give voice to an increasing distrust in current socio-economic and political systems,” with youth making up significant portions of “the general disappointment felt in many nations with regional and global governance bodies such as the EU and the International Monetary Fund.” The youth “place less importance on traditionally organized political parties and leadership,” which creates a major “challenge for those in positions of authority in existing institutions” as they try “to find ways to engage the young generation,” adds the report.

According to the World Bank, more than 25% of the world’s youth, or some 300 million people, “have no productive work.” On top of this, “an unprecedented demographic ‘youth bulge’ is bringing more than 120 million new young people on to the job market each year, mostly in the developing world.” This fact “threatens to halt economic progress, creating a vicious cycle of less economic activity and more unemployment,” which “raises the risk of social unrest by creating a disaffected ‘lost generation’ who are vulnerable to being sucked into criminal or extremist movements.”

Noting that more than 1 billion people currently live in slums – a number that has been steadily increasing as income inequality rises – the report stated that “this growing population of urban poor is vulnerable to rising food prices and economic crises, posing significant risks of chronic social instability.” Growing income inequality is now being termed a “systemic risk,” according to the WEF. And in a stark admission from that institution representing the world’s major profiteers of global capitalism, the report acknowledged that globalization “has been associated with rising inequality between and within countries” and that “these factors render poor people and poor countries vulnerable to systemic risks.”

The four major “emerging market” BRIC nations of Brazil, Russia, India and China “now rank among the 10 largest economies worldwide.” But slow political reforms within these countries, coupled with external economic shocks (like financial crises caused by Western nations and their corporate institutions) could aggravate the “existing undertones of social unrest.” Within the BRIC nations and other emerging market economies, “popular discontent with the status quo is already apparent among rising middle classes, digitally connected youths and marginalized groups,” the report went on. Collectively, these groups “want better services (such as healthcare), infrastructure, employment and working conditions,” as well as “greater accountability of public officials, better protected civil liberties and more equitable judicial systems.” Further, a “greater public awareness of widespread corruption have sharpened popular complaints.”

Both Brazil and Turkey have made universal healthcare systems a constitutional obligation, which was a stated ambition of other emerging market nations such as India, Indonesia and South Africa. The failure to create these healthcare systems “may arouse social unrest,” warned the WEF. The World Economic Forum’s chief economist, Jennifer Blanke, stated: “The message from the Arab Spring, and from countries such as Brazil and South Africa is that people are not going to stand for it any more.” David Cole, the group chief risk officer of Swiss Re (one of the contributing companies to the WEF report) commented: “The members of generation lost are not lost because they have tuned out. They are highly tuned in. They are lost because they are being left out or they are deciding to leave.” http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/jan/16/income-gap-biggest-risk-global-community-world-economic-forum

The World Economic Forum’s Risk report for 2014 was primarily concerned with “the breakdown of social structures” and “the decline of trust in institutions.” It warned of risks of “ideological polarization, extremism – in particular those of a religious or political nature – and intra-state conflicts such as civil wars.” All of these issues relate directly “to the future of the youth.”

It’s an interesting paradox for an organization to see the greatest threat to its ideological and social power being “the future of the youth” when it has already written off the present generation as “lost.” However, this is a view shared not only by the World Economic Forum but, increasingly, by other powerful institutions creating something of an echo chamber through the mainstream media. The head of the IMF has warned that youth unemployment in poor nations was “a kind of time bomb,” and the head of the International Labor Organization (ILO) warned in 2011 that the “world economy” was unable “to secure a future for all youth,” thus undermining “families, social cohesion and the credibility of policies.” While there was “already revolution in the air in some countries,” as reported in the Globe and Mail, the dual crises of unemployment and poverty were “fuel for the fire.”

In April of 2014, the World Economic Forum on Latin America reported that the primary challenge for the region was “to reduce inequality,” noting that between 70 and 90 million people in Latin America had entered what were referred to as the “consuming classes,” or “middle classes,” over the previous decade. However, Marcelo Cortes Neri, Brazil’s Minister of Strategic Affairs, explained, “When we talk about middle class we think of the U.S. middle class, with two cars and two dogs and a swimming pool. That is not Latin American middle class or the world middle class.”

He added that the emerging so-called “middle class” in Latin America and elsewhere “could become a problem for governance,” commenting: “They are the ones that put pressure for better levels of education and healthcare; they are the ones that go to the streets to demand rights.” Neri then posed the question: “How prepared is Latin America to have a robust middle class?” In particular, youth between the ages of 15 and 29 raised specific concerns for Latin America’s elite, with Neri warning: “This is the group I am most worried about. They have very high expectations and so the probability they will get frustrated is enormous.”

When one of the world’s most influential organizations representing the collective interests of the global oligarchy openly acknowledges that globalization has increased inequality, and in turn, that inequality is fueling social unrest around the world manifesting the greatest potential threat to those oligarchic interests, we can safely say we’re entering a new era of global instability and resistance.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is project manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the geopolitics division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and World of Resistance Report, and host of a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

World of Resistance Report: Inequality, Injustice and the Coming Unrest

World of Resistance Report: Inequality, Injustice and the Coming Unrest

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally posted at Occupy.com

26 June 2014

income-inequality-slide

In Part 1 of the World of Resistance (WoR) Report, I examined today’s global order – or disorder – through the eyes of Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former U.S. National Security Adviser and long-time influential figure in foreign policy circles. Brzezinski articulated what he refers to as humanity’s “global political awakening,” spurred by access to education, technology and communications among much of the world’s population.

Brzezinski has written and spoken extensively to elites at American and Western think tanks and journals, warning that this awakening poses the “central challenge” for the U.S. and other powerful countries, explaining that “most people know what is generally going on… in the world, and are consciously aware of global iniquities, inequalities, lack of respect, exploitation.” Mankind, Brzezinski said in a 2010 speech, “is now politically awakened and stirring.”

But Brzezinski is hardly the only figure warning elites and elite institutions about the characteristics and challenges of an awakened humanity. The subject of inequality – raised to the central stage by the Occupy movement – has become a fundamental feature in the global social, political and economic discussion, as people become increasingly aware of the facts underlying the stark division between the haves and have nots. While inequality is both a source and a result of the concentration of power in the hands of a few, it also represents the greatest threat to those very same power structures and interests.

As many if not most of us are by now aware, the global state-capitalist system is run by a relatively small handful of powerful institutions, groups and individuals who collectively control the vast majority of planetary wealth and resources. Banks, corporations, family dynasties and international financiers like the IMF and World Bank form a highly interconnected, interdependent network we now think of as the global oligarchy.

US-land-wealth-2d1299e2acd1f2bf4348199044175877_0

Thomas Pogge explained in the Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law that in the 20 years following the end of the Cold War, there were roughly 360 million preventable poverty-related deaths – more than all of the deaths in all of the wars of the 20th century combined. By 2004, over 1 billion people remained “chronically undernourished” and nearly a billion lacked access to clean drinking water and shelter. Roughly 1.6 billion lacked access to electricity while 218 million children were working as cheap labour.

Pogge noted that almost half of humanity – roughly 3.5 billion people – lived on less than $2.50 a day, and that all of these people could be lifted out of poverty with an expenditure $500 billion, which is roughly two-thirds of the annual U.S. Pentagon budget.

Preceding the statistics that would get popularized with the Occupy movement, Pogge asserted that the top 1% owned approximately 40% of global wealth while the bottom 60% of humanity owned less than 2%. “We are now at the point where the world is easily rich enough in aggregate to abolish all poverty,” Pogge wrote. “We are simply choosing to prioritize other ends instead.”

Still today, every year, approximately 18 million people – half of whom are children under the age of five – die from poverty-related causes, all of which are preventable. Seen through this lens, poverty, and by definition, inequality, has become the greatest purveyor of violence, death and injustice on Earth.

Meanwhile, the international charity Oxfam noted that the 100 richest people in the world made a combined 2012 fortune of $240 billion – enough to lift the world’s poorest out of poverty four times over. In the previous 20 years, the world’s richest 1% increased their income by 60%, perpetuating a system of extreme wealth which is, according to an Oxfam executive, “economically inefficient, politically corrosive, socially divisive and environmentally destructive.”

Not only that, a former chief economist for McKinsey & Company published data in 2012 for the Tax Justice Network that reported the world’s super rich had hidden between $21 and $32 trillion in offshore tax havens – a trend that has been increasing in the past three decades to reveal that inequality is “much, much worse than official statistics show.”.

In early 2014, Oxfam released a report revealing that the world’s 85 richest individuals had a combined wealth equal to the collective wealth of the world’s poorest 3.5 billion people – approximately $1.7 trillion. Meanwhile, the world’s top 1% own roughly half the world’s wealth, at $110 trillion. Oxfam noted: “This massive concentration of economic resources in the hands of fewer people presents a significant threat to inclusive political and economic systems… inevitably heightening social tensions and increasing the risk of societal breakdown.”

20140128_313167.xml-Wealth+Gap+101_Quin1_0

What Does All the Inequality Mean in Terms of Instability?

Where there is great inequality, there is great injustice and where there is great injustice, there is the inevitability of instability. This relationship, between inequality and instability, has not gone unnoticed by the world’s oligarchs and plutocratic institutions. The potential for “social unrest” has gotten especially high since the onset of the global financial and economic crisis that began in 2007 and 2008.

The head of the OECD warned in 2009 that the world’s leading economies would have to take quick action to resolve the global crisis or face a “fully blown social crisis with scarring effects on the vulnerable workers and low-income households.”

The major credit ratings agency Moody’s warned back in 2009 that the growing debts among nations would “test social cohesiveness” as investors demanded countries impose still more painful austerity measures, leading to growing “political and social tension” and “social unrest.” In February of that same year, the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) warned that following the economic crisis, many nations were “going to be confronted by unrest and inter-religious and inter-ethnic conflicts.”

Brzezinski himself said:, “There’s going to be growing conflict between the classes and if people are unemployed and really hurting, hell, there could even be riots.” And meanwhile, the top-ranking U.S. military official and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, commented that the global financial crisis was a greater security concern to the U.S. than either of the massive ground wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. “It’s a global crisis,” he said, and “as that impacts security issues, or feeds greater instability, I think it will impact our national security in ways that we quite haven’t figured out yet.”

Mullen’s point was reiterated by U.S. intelligence director Dennis Blair, who warned Congress that the global crisis was “the primary near-term security concern” for the U.S., adding that “the longer it takes for the recovery to begin, the greater the likelihood of serious damage to U.S. strategic interests.” Blair noted that as a result of the crisis, roughly 25% of the world’s nations had already experienced “low-level instability such as government changes.” If the crisis persisted beyond two years, Blair noted, there was a potential for “regime-threatening instability.” U.S. intelligence analysts were also fearful of a “backlash against U.S. efforts to promote free markets because the crisis was triggered by the United States.”

In November of 2008, the U.S. Army War College produced a document warning that the U.S. military must be prepared for the possibility of a “violent strategic dislocation inside the United States,” possibly caused by an “unforeseen economic collapse” and/or a “purposeful domestic resistance” and the “loss of functioning of political and legal order.” Under “extreme circumstances,” the document warned, “this might include the use of military force against hostile groups inside the United States.”

In 2009, the British spy agency MI5, along with the British Ministry of Defence, were preparing for the potential of civil unrest to explode in Britain’s streets as a result of the economic crisis, [noting](http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/86981/MI5-alert-on-bank-riot> that there was a possibility the state would deploy British troops in major cities.

A December 2009 article in The Economist warned that increased unemployment and poverty along with “exaggerated income inequalities” following the global economic crisis made for a “brew that foments unrest.” In October of 2011, the International Labour Organizationwarned in a major report that the jobs crisis resulting from the global economic crisis “threatens a wave of widespread social unrest engulfing both rich and poor countries,” and pointed out that 45 of the 118 countries studied already saw rising risks of unrest, notably in the E.U., Arab world and Asia.

In June of 2013, the same ILO warned that the risks of social unrest including “strikes, work stoppages, street protests and demonstrations,” had increased in most countries around the world since the economic crisis began in 2008. The risk was “highest among the E.U.-27 countries,” it noted, with an increase from 34% in 2006-2007 to 46% in 2011-2012. The most vulnerable nations in the E.U. were listed as Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain, a fact “likely due to the policy responses to the ongoing sovereign debt crisis and their impact on people’s lives and perceptions of well-being.”

The E.U.’s “bleak economic scenario has created a fragile social environment as fewer people see opportunities for obtaining a good job and improving their standard of living,” warned the ILO, and advanced economies were “going to suffer a lost decade of jobs growth.”

An October 2013 report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warned that the long-term consequences of austerity policies imposed by E.U. governments “will be felt for decades even if the economy turns for the better in the near future.” The report noted: “We see quiet desperation spreading among Europeans, resulting in depression, resignation and loss of hope… Many from the middle class have spiraled down to poverty.”

The study further reported “that the rate at which unemployment figures have risen in the past 24 months alone is an indication that the crisis is deepening, with severe personal costs as a consequence, and possible unrest and extremism as a risk. Combined with increasing living costs, this is a dangerous combination.”

In November 2013, The Economist reported: “From anti-austerity movements to middle-class revolts, in rich countries and in poor, social unrest has been on the rise around the world.” While there are various triggers – from economic distress (Greece and Spain) to revolts against dictatorships (the Arab Spring) to the growing aspirations of middle class populations (Turkey and Brazil), “they share some underlying features,” the magazine reported. The common feature, it noted, “is the 2008-09 financial crisis and its aftermath,” and an especially important factor sparking unrest in recent years was “an erosion of trust in governments and institutions: a crisis of democracy.”

A sister company of The Economist, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), measured the risk of social unrest in 150 countries around the world, with an emphasis on countries with institutional and political weaknesses. The EIU noted that “recent developments have indeed revealed a deep sense of popular dissatisfaction with political elites and institutions in many emerging markets.” Indeed, the decline in trust has been accelerating across the developed world since the 1970s. The fall of Communist East European regimes in 1989 eroded that trust further, and the process sped up once again with the onset of the global financial crisis.

According to EIU estimates, roughly 43% (or 65) of the countries studied were considered to be at “high” or “very high” risk of social unrest in 2014. A further 54 countries were considered to be at “medium risk” and the remaining 31 were considered “low” or “very low.” Comparing the results to a similar study published five years previously, an additional 19 countries have been added to the “high risk” category.

Among the countries considered a “very high risk” for social unrest in 2014 were Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Egypt, Greece, Lebanon, Nigeria, Syria, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen and Zimbabwe. Among the countries in the “high risk” category were Algeria, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Iran, Jordan, Laos, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Turkey and Ukraine.

It doesn’t take demonstrators filling the streets to tell us that inequality breeds instability. While many factors combine under different circumstances to lead to “social unrest,” inequality is almost always a common feature. Injustice, poor governance, corruption, poverty, exploitation, repression and corrosive power structures all support and are supported by underlying conditions of inequality. And as inequality is no longer a local, national or regional phenomenon but a global one, so too is the “threat” of instability that the world’s elite financial, media and think-tank institutions are now so busy warning about. So long as inequality increases, so will instability. Resistance, and even revolution, are the new global reality.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is project manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the geopolitics division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and the World of Resistance (WoR) Report, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

 

Voice of Access: The People’s Foundation

Voice of Access: The People’s Foundation

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally published in: The Spanda Journal, Vol. 5, No. 1, Innovation & Human Development, 2014, pages 69-80

spanda4

The Voice of Access: The People’s Foundation is a new initiative to establish a counter-hegemonic foundation – built upon an understanding of the hegemonic foundations that have been so pivotal in the construction and maintenance of the present social order – to effectively challenge and help to make obsolete the existing social order. Through the formation of new educational, research and media initiatives and organizations, the construction and dissemination of knowledge, connecting people and ideas from activists, intellectuals and groups around the world, The People’s Foundation hopes to aid in the multi-generational struggle of constructing a new – and fair – world order, to help lay the foundation for a future worth striving towards.

‘Voice of Access: The People’s Foundation’ is an initiative of myself and three other friends and associates, forming it as a non-governmental organization to act as a facilitator – and, when possible – a patron of organizations, activists, knowledge and social movements that seek to challenge and change the world order under which humanity now lives and struggles. From our backgrounds in research, writing, publishing, media, computer science and technology, and our experience with non-governmental organization and think tanks, we are seeking to channel our efforts into the operations of an organization dedicated to facilitating and supporting the efforts of others around the world. While we hold opposing views and philosophies to those that pervade the hegemonic foundations, our understanding of them and their successes in shaping the present global order helps us focus on methods with which we can challenge and seek to change that order.

In discussing the ways in which ‘The People’s Foundation’ would seek to operate and work toward achieving its objectives, it would first be useful to briefly outline some of the ways in which the major dominant foundations have operated in working toward their own objectives. As a case in point, I will focus on the Rockefeller Foundation, founded in 1913 by John D. Rockefeller “to promote the well-being of mankind,” as its original mission statement postulated.

The Rockefeller Foundation: Social Engineering for Social Control

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States – and much of the industrializing world – was in the midst of profound transformation and turmoil. Successive economic crises created growing uncertainty among an increasingly distrustful middle class, as the rich ‘Robber Baron’ industrialists (Rockefeller chief among them) grew ever more rich and powerful. Social unrest by the poor, workers, immigrants and others was threatening the prevailing social order. Those who sat atop the social hierarchy – notably, the ‘Robber Barons’ themselves – grew increasingly nervous at the prospect of the threat of revolution from below, as well as the growing restlessness of the middle classes. Actions and initiatives needed to be taken to safeguard powerful financial, economic, political and social interests.

It was a time not only of economic and social crises, of growing unrest, revolutionary fervor and industrial and financial consolidation into huge concentrations of economic power, but, simultaneously, was also a period of increasingly expansionist and imperialistic foreign policies. These were most notably on the part of the United States, which was extending its hegemony throughout the Caribbean and Central America, and reaching across the Pacific, with the most noteworthy example being in the Philippines, and with growing interests in China and Japan.

Changes in technology and communication were facilitating the spread of more information to more people than ever before, and the concept of ‘the public’ – and specifically, how to manipulate the public – moved to the forefront of elite intellectual discussion. It was an era that gave birth to the modern university, the advertising and public relations industries, the consumer society, and the modern philanthropic foundations.

The foundation functioned – and continues to function – as an institution dedicated to the process of social engineering with the objective of social control. In short, the foundation’s purpose was to identify major issues and areas of contention in the existing social order, and to subsequently find methods of promoting ‘reform’ and changes so as to manage the process of adaptation, undermine radical efforts at transformation and promote more moderate forces, integrating them within the existing social hierarchy and order. The goal, ultimately, was to maintain the social hierarchy itself.

Foundations would achieve these objectives by acting as major patrons of universities and the social sciences, to seek to find ‘scientific’ solutions to social problems, which were seen as technical – not structural; channeling intellectual efforts into finding ways to reform and adapt the social order instead of opposing or challenging it; sponsoring research organizations and think tanks, which bring together prominent individuals from academia, politics, finance, industry and the media in an effort to promote consensus between society’s dominant institutions and those who run them; and providing funding to social movements and initiatives so as to gain significant financial leverage over the direction of social movements, increasing support for reform-oriented and legalistic approaches to resolving social issues, and thus undermining and ostracizing more radical alternatives.

Foundations sought to manufacture ideology and consensus between elites, to institutionalize these ideologies within the existing and evolving dominant social structures, and to ‘engineer the consent’ of the governed. Over the course of the 20th century, major foundations – with the Rockefeller Foundation being perhaps the most prominent – exerted an immense, if not largely unknown, influence on the development and evolution of the United States. By virtue of the United States being an outwardly expansive and imperialistic society, that influence extended to much of the world.

Early on in their development, the U.S. Congress investigated the major foundations with a wariness of the intentions and functions they established under their extremely powerful and wealthy ‘Robber Baron’ patrons. In 1914, the Walsh Commission was formed, noting that the establishment of the Rockefeller Foundation – among others – “was the beginning of an effort to perpetuate the present position of predatory wealth through the corruption of sources of public information” and that if these foundations were left unchecked, they would “be used as instruments to change the form of government of the U.S. at a future date, and there is even a hint that there is a fear of monarchy,” noting that many of the foundations represented the interests of powerful industrial and financial dynasties. In the final report of the Walsh Commission in 1916, it was concluded that foundations represented so “grave a menace” to society that “it would be desirable to recommend their abolition.” Obviously, this did not take place.

As anthropologist David Nugent documented, the development of the modern social sciences by Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations (and later, with other foundations joining) was directly linked to the expanding global interests of the United States in becoming an imperial power and in managing domestic unrest at home. Foundation boards consisted not only of the dominant industrial and financial interests, but also of prominent intellectuals and foreign policy figures, all of whom together were well aware of the effects that industrialization and imperialism were having on people at home and abroad, and sought to find new ‘scientific’ ways of managing these changes without undermining their own social positions. This required a very careful, incremental and adaptive approach to social engineering. As a top Rockefeller philanthropy official, Wicliffe Rose, wrote in 1923, “All important fields of activity… from the breeding of bees to the administration of an empire, call for an understanding of the spirit and technique of modern science,” which “determined the mental attitude of a people, affects the entire system of education, and carried with it the shaping of civilization.”

The Rockefeller Foundation sought to establish “institutional centers of social research” in key nations around the world, facilitating exchange and collaboration between these various institutions which would ultimately “serve as a model for the development of the social sciences generally.” The initial focus was in the United States and Europe, aiming – in the 1920s – to establish roughly 12-15 major centers of social science research, one of the most important of which was the London School of Economics. Through fellowship programs sponsored by foundations, students from around the world would be taken to schools in the United States where the foundation influence over the development of the social sciences had already become significant.

Edmund Day, who ran the Rockefeller Foundation’s Social Sciences Division, wrote in 1930 that the social sciences were to engage in “human engineering” and that, “the validation of the findings of social science must be through effective social control.” Over the following years, the Foundation increasingly looked to establish within the social sciences a greater emphasis on ‘International Relations’ as well as – in the wake of the stock market crash and the start of the Great Depression – a greater emphasis on “the planning and control of economic structures and economic process.”

Max Mason, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, wrote in 1933 that the policies of the Foundation “were directed to the general problem of human behavior, with the aim of control through understanding,” noting specifically that the “social sciences, for example, will concern themselves with the rationalization of social control,” whereas the natural and medical sciences would be concerned with “personal understanding and personal control.” Control, it seemed, was always the ultimate objective.

Concurrent with the development of the social sciences and major universities in the United States and Europe, Rockefeller and Carnegie philanthropies, among others, sought to construct an ‘educational’ system for black Americans in the South, which was deemed so successful that it was exported to several British colonies as a means of exerting colonial domination over subject populations. Beginning with a series of conferences between Wall Street bankers and northern industrialists in the late 19th century, an educational system for southern black Americans was sought in such a way as to ensure that the hierarchy which slavery had established between races would remain relatively unchanged. As one conference participant put it at the time, “the white people are to be the leaders, to take the initiative, to have direct control in all matters pertaining to civilization and the highest interest of our beloved land.” Conference participants agreed, on the other hand, that “the negro” was “best fitted to perform the heavy labor in the Southern states,” as, it was suggested, “he will willingly fill the more menial positions, and do the heavy work, at less wages.”

These conferences concluded with the establishment of what was known as the ‘Tuskegee educational philosophy,’ agreed upon in 1901, where attendees agreed on the need to “train a Negro leadership cadre” as “a strong professional class,” requiring a strengthening of certain ‘Negro colleges’, while the majority of education for black Americans was to remain “vocational and agricultural in focus… to be directed toward increasing the labor value of his race.” In time, the major foundations became involved in this endeavor, and the Phelps-Stokes Fund in particular took up this objective with a great deal of fervor, establishing schools dedicated to training black men in vocational and agricultural trades and black women in “home economics.”

In 1917, the Phelps-Stokes Fund published a two-volume survey on Southern Negro education, in which they maintained that academic and literary education was “dysfunctional for the black man” because it would create unrealistic expectations for black Americans in a segregated society. It claimed furthermore that would not provide the skills deemed necessary to become a “productive” worker, and, ultimately, it would undermine white dominance of society itself.

British colonialists took note of the success of the Tuskegee educational philosophy, and missionary educators from British colonies in Africa began cooperating with the American foundations and schools in replicating the Tuskegee educational system in several British colonies, including in Kenya and even South Africa, where it helped in the construction of the apartheid system. The education of black South Africans, in the words of a prominent Phelps-Stokes Fund official, was to keep the blacks as “junior partners in the firm.”

Not unrelated, in the early 20th century, the major American foundations – and the vast fortunes of ‘Robber Barons’ – contributed to the acceptance, institutionalization, and exportation of the eugenics movement (sometimes referred to as ‘scientific racism’). Eugenics was an extremely dangerous and destructive pseudo-science (or, rather, in truth, a religious orthodoxy in search of legitimacy) which was focused on the objective of refining the social engineering of the species, itself, to take ‘evolution’ into their own hands. This philosophy suggested that concepts such as poverty, crime, race, disabilities, mental suffering and lack of intelligence were products not of social conditions – or the social order and its devastating effects – but rather, they were inherent, genetic ‘defects’ experienced by the ‘unfit’. As a corollary, those who had risen to the top of the social hierarchy, the rich, white men of property and privilege, were considered to be the most intelligent, the racially superior, the “fit.” Thus, it was not avarice, crime, manipulation, expropriation, enslavement, theft and domination that made them their riches; it was their ‘genetic superiority’. This – conveniently – was an ideology which justified the enormous wealth and power held by a small minority, presenting it with scientific language that aimed to ground the social order as being one constructed through “natural selection” and evolution. As such, it was considered ideal for the “fit” to breed with each other (and thus, in theory, create a type of super-species), while the “unfit” were to be encouraged to stop breeding altogether.

When the eugenics movement reached the United States from Britain in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it garnered the attention of elites in America. And very quickly, the vast fortunes of the Harrimans, Carnegies and Rockefellers – among many others – were mobilized to support the movement. As the foundations were established, eugenics became a major area of interest for their operations. The eugenics movement was arguably more successful in the United States than any other nation in the early 20th century, and in fact, it was from the United States that it was exported around much of the industrialized, western world. Eugenics affected the development and evolution of major institutions and ideologies of the era, such as the educational system, mental health, hygiene, medicine, psychology and psychiatry, migration, the criminal justice system, biology and the natural sciences. Between 1907 and 1927, twenty-three U.S. states enacted eugenic sterilization laws for the “genetically unfit,” ultimately leading to the forced sterilization of tens of thousands of people.

In fact, with the help of the Rockefeller Foundation, eugenics was exported to Weimar Germany, pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into institutions dedicated to studying “race biology” and psychiatry. The German eugenics movement proved to be very successful, and when the Nazis came to power in 1933, eugenicists found a political movement espousing and embracing their ideas of racial inferiority and superiority. The Rockefeller Foundation continued its funding for Nazi ‘race science’ and psychiatry until the outbreak of World War II in 1939, by which time the impact had been profound. In fact, one of the most notorious Nazi war criminals, the “Angel of Death” – Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp doctor – had previously done research which was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, whose money supported experimentation done at various concentration camps.

Of course, following World War II, the eugenics movement had been largely discredited after the world witnessed the repercussions of such institutionalized and ideological hatred and racism, as revealed by the extent of atrocities in the Holocaust – as well as those committed by the Japanese in the Pacific. Thereafter, the major proponents and patrons of the eugenics movement sought to rebrand themselves in various forms. In fact, a 1943 edition of Eugenical News – the most widely-read publication of the eugenics movement – published an article by one of the ‘fathers’ of the eugenics movement, Charles Davenport, who advocated a vision of “a new mankind of biological castes with master races in control and slave races serving them.” A 1946 edition of Eugenical News stated that following the War, “population, genetics, [and] psychology, are the three sciences to which the eugenicist must look for the factual material on which to build an acceptable philosophy of eugenics and to develop and defend practical eugenics proposals.”

One of the more prominent efforts at rebranding eugenics emerged as the ‘population control’ movement. Largely an initiative of the Rockefellers, John D. Rockefeller III established the Population Council in 1954, designed to “provide solid science to guide governments and individuals in addressing population questions.” Six of the ten founding members of the Population Council were well-known eugenicists. Matthew Connelly has written the most definitive account of the origins and evolution of the population control movement, based largely upon the internal records of the various international and private organizations involved in promoting population control, including the Rockefeller Foundation and Population Council. The primary fear of the elites behind the population control movement was the great mass of civilization that fell outside the western world: the largely non-white, poor populations of the world, seeking to toss off the chains of colonialism and chart their own way in the world.

The population control movement – with the Population Council as its “nexus” – relied on extensive funding from the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, and became quickly institutionalized in United Nations organizations, as well as in the ideology of ‘development’ for the ‘Third World’. The result was measures designed to encourage population control becoming embedded within ‘aid’ agencies and development agencies. During the Eisenhower presidency, the issue of population had become “a national security issue” in the mind of the foreign policy establishment. The Population Council, Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, and UN agencies began working with USAID, the World Bank and other organizations in placing population control as a central element of U.S. and Western foreign policy concerns and actions, especially in countries like India, with large and largely poor populations.

As the population control movement was exported around the world, it resulted in a great deal of tragedy and repressive actions by governments, such as in India and China, where forced abortions and forced sterilizations had become rampant at various times. The movement had, however, garnered significant opposition from many countries and regions around the world, and its institutional and ideological structure experienced major setbacks going into the 1990s. However, it has never wandered far from the minds of the super-rich oligarchs and patrons of major foundations.

In 2009, a secret meeting was organized among some of the world’s richest billionaires, organized by David Rockefeller, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Invited guests included billionaires such as Ted Turner, George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, and even Oprah Winfrey. The meeting was designed to discuss the future of philanthropy, “what motivated their giving, the areas of focus, lessons learned and thoughts on how they might increase giving going forward.” Each guest was given 15 minutes to discuss and promote their personal favourite ‘cause,’ but after a great deal of discussion, they sought to establish an “umbrella cause” which could “harness their interests.” Apparently with Bill Gates leading the call, the billionaires agreed that “overpopulation was a priority… in which population growth would be tackled as a potentially disastrous environmental, social and industrial threat.”

Out of this meeting, a new effort was begun – largely driven by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet – to encourage billionaires and the super-rich around the world to join in giving their enormous ill-gotten wealth to ‘philanthropy’, in what is referred to as ‘The Giving Pledge’, to try to get the rich to pledge 50% of their net worth to charity during their lifetimes or after death.

At the end of World War II, the United States emerged as the dominant global power, and its institutions became oriented toward finding ways to use, maintain and extend that power. Foundations played a key role in the development of think tanks and the educational system, with a focus on creating consensus among elites on the need for empire and in training future managers of the imperial system.

The Rockefeller Foundation played a key role in transforming the United States into a global empire. One of the most influential think tanks in the United States is the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), founded in 1921. Early on, the CFR relied upon Rockefeller Foundation funding for a great deal of its operations. Between 1927 and 1945, the Rockefeller Foundation provided the Council on Foreign Relations with more than $443,000 in funding for “study group” research, which would subsequently be implemented in official policy of the U.S. government. The Council has extensive ties to the foreign policy establishment of the United States, most notably with the U.S. State Department. In fact, during the early years of World War II, the CFR established a “strictly confidential” project in cooperation with the U.S. State Department to plan for U.S. entry into the war as well as to outline a post-war blueprint for a U.S.-dominated world. The project was entirely funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

The results of the project outlined the areas of the world which the United States would need to control in order to maintain and expand its global power, referred to as the ‘Grand Areas’, which included, “Latin America, Europe, the colonies of the British Empire, and all of Southeast Asia.” The world was divided into four main blocs: the U.S.-dominated Western hemisphere, the British Empire and its colonies, a German-dominated continental Europe, and a Japanese-dominated East and Southeast Asia. As the war went on, slowly the ‘Grand Area’ plans changed to the point where U.S. planners decided that America ultimately had to dominate all of these regions, noting that, “as a minimum, American ‘national interests’ involved free access to markets and raw materials in the British Empire, the Far East, and the entire Western hemisphere.”

The Rockefeller Foundation took it upon itself to develop educational systems at elite universities which would be dedicated to the study of ‘International Relations’ and ‘Area Studies’ programs. Along with the Carnegie Corporation and the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation helped to establish Soviet Studies and Area Studies programs at multiple universities around the country, focusing on providing an education which could inform the application of policy. The Ford Foundation – with considerable financial resources – moved to the forefront of this endeavor. In 1967, a survey by the U.S. State Department noted that out of 191 university centers of foreign affairs research in the United States, 107 depended primarily upon funding from the Ford Foundation. Between 1950 and 1973, the Ford Foundation contributed roughly $278 million to the development of ‘area studies’ programs at major American universities. While ‘International Relations’ was designed to focus on the study of a “realistic” approach and understanding of power (and how to apply it), ‘area studies’ programs focused on the study of the non-Western world.

The large foundations also provided financing and networking connections to aid in the establishment of other large international think tanks, such as the Bilderberg Group – which was founded in 1954 as a forum for Western European and North American elites to meet privately on an annual basis – as well as the Trilateral Commission in 1973, to bring the Japanese elite into the fold of the Western European and North American hegemonic class.

So while the major foundations were shaping the education of elites, socializing them in think tanks where they sought to establish consensus with domestic and international elites in other powerful nations and to manufacture and institutionalize dominant, imperial ideologies, they also worked to try to manage the ‘unwashed masses’ of the world. Just as these foundations had constructed an education to keep black Americans and Africans as “junior partners in the firm” in the early 20th century, in the latter half of the 20th century they sought to export the Western-style educational system – and notably the foundation-influenced social sciences – to other regions and nations around the world in order to help develop domestic elites within those societies that would ultimately serve the interests of Western hegemony and empire.

Foundation officials were extremely concerned about changes taking place across the developing world, where revolutionary and radical movements were attempting to rid their societies of European colonial domination. Foundation officials worked with members of the business and financial elite, alongside the foreign policy establishment, to attempt to manage the process and objectives of change in the ‘third world’. While acknowledging that the era of formal colonialism was at an end, these individuals were not eager to see people and nations chart their own individual paths to independence and freedom. Instead, formal colonial structures needed to be replaced with informal imperial structures. A consensus was formed between the foreign policy-makers, business class and foundation-academic officials that changes in places like Africa “must be evolutionary rather than revolutionary.” As a top Carnegie Corporation official noted: “American industry could ill-afford the loss of cheap sources of raw materials which could only be secured in the nations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America.”

With this in mind, the Rockefeller, Carnegie and Ford Foundations undertook ambitious programs in Africa, Asia and Latin America which sought to create prominent universities and programs of social science research “in areas considered of geo-strategic and/or economic importance to the United States.” These would include the training of public administrators, teachers, the development of curriculums, and exchange programs that would have young academics in these nations come to the United States to receive training and education at prominent U.S. schools like Harvard or Yale. The objective was to channel the intellectual talents of these nations away from support for radical ideologies and revolutionary movements, and push them instead into the social sciences and the construction of domestic, technocratic elites that would see social problems as ‘technical’ issues requiring reforms and slow, evolutionary change. As noted in the book Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism:

The power of the foundation is not that of dictating what will be studied. Its power consists in defining professional and intellectual parameters, in determining who will receive support to study what subjects in what settings. And the foundation’s power resides in suggesting certain types of activities it favors and is willing to support. As [political theorist and economist Harold] Laski noted, “the foundations do not control, simply because, in the direct and simple sense of the word, there is no need for them to do so. They have only to indicate the immediate direction of their minds for the whole university world to discover that it always meant to gravitate to that angle of the intellectual compass.”

As political scientist Joan Roelofs wrote, foundations exert their influence in multiple ways:

[By] creating ideology and the common wisdom; providing positions and status for intellectuals; controlling access to resources for universities, social services, and arts organizations; compensating for market failures; steering protest movements into safe channels; and supporting those institutions by which policies are initiated and implemented… [F]oundations 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.

Further, foundations play a role in providing extensive funding for social movements and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Their funding for such social movement organizations typically follows years of organic and slow development of social movements from the ground up. Foundations typically move in to provide funding when a social movement is seen as a potential threat to the prevailing social order. Their funding subsequently focuses on supporting the more reform-oriented, legalistic and ‘evolutionary’ (as opposed to revolutionary) organizations, with an objective of helping them to become the dominant organizations in the movement and steer social movements in directions safe for those who own and operate the foundations themselves (representing the political, industrial and financial elites).

With this in mind, it is noteworthy that the Ford, Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations all provided extensive funding to many civil rights organizations in the 1960s and 1970s, “as a response to the threat posed by the generation of a mass-based social movement.” These foundations channeled their funding into support of “moderate civil rights organizations.” Foundation funding for civil rights groups did not become common until the early 1960s, some five years after the Birmingham bus boycott, and the peak of foundation support was in the early 1970s, roughly five years following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. As more militant movements emerged in the later 1960s, such as the Black Power movement and the Black Panther Party, among many others, the foundations increased their support for more moderate organizations like the NAACP and the National Urban League.

This strategy of co-optation also explains the heavy funding and support by major foundations for the environmental and conservation movements, which originally – and still in their more radical arms – represent very direct, fundamental threats to the existing social order. Thus, today the environmental movement is dominated by large institutions like the World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, Resources for the Future, World Resources Institute, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), and the Nature Conservancy, among others. Most of these institutions at some point depended upon financial support from major foundations, and today their boards are largely dominated by representatives from the corporate and financial world. Most of their funding comes from corporations, with whom they engage in “strategic relationships.”

Such has also been the relationship between major foundations and the so-called ‘anti-globalization’ movement. As globalization became the dominant force of the world from the 1990s onward, new movements began to spring up all around the world, opposing various policies, programs, institutions and ideologies embedded within the process of globalization. Major targets for anti-globalization activists and organizations had been the World Trade Organization, the G7/G8 meetings, the World Bank and IMF, among others. Major protests at the annual gathering of these institutions – notably at the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle – began to strike fear into the minds of the global elite. As The Economist noted in 2000, despite the differing views and backgrounds of activists and protesters in Seattle, what they “have in common is a loathing of the established economic order, and of the institutions – the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO – which they regard as either running it or serving it.” This ‘new kind’ of protest, noted the magazine, “is more than a nuisance: it is getting in the way.”

A reaction to this development was seen in the formation of the World Social Forum, an annual meeting of NGOs and various civil society organizations acting as an alternative to more radical, protest-oriented and revolutionary movements and advocacy, and instead promoting the discussion of “reforms” to globalization. Funding for the World Social Forum has been provided by many governments and political parties, and, notably, the Ford Foundation. As Lisa Jordan of the Ford Foundation explained: “Government, business and civil society cannot solve problems separately. There must be dialogue between and amongst these three groupings. The WSF is an attempt to support a vast and complex array of public space for an integrating world.” Again, the objective is to ‘integrate’ the opposition to the existing social order within the social order, to give the ‘rebels’ a seat at the table, and thus, undermine the rebellion itself.

While reforms and evolutionary change can produce good and real results, they do not keep pace with the ever-expanding militarism, war, environmental degradation, economic and financial destruction, corporate colonization, manipulation and devastation of biodiversity, impoverishment and exploitation of the world’s masses, and the ever-growing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of very few institutions and individuals at the global level. The human species – and the planet itself – do not have the time to await the slow changes begrudgingly afforded by the institutions of empire, exploitation and domination. Reform has its place, but radical – transformative – change is of the utmost necessity in order to not only challenge the existing order, but to create alternatives to it – and to help make the existing order obsolete, so that humanity may chart a path that does not lead to eventual extinction, as our current trajectory indicates.

This is where ‘Voice of Access: The People’s Foundation’ – and organizations like it – can play a much-needed role.

A ‘Voice’ for the People, a ‘Foundation’ for Change

The establishment of ‘Voice of Access: The People’s Foundation’ represents an attempt to create a counter-hegemonic foundation, to follow familiar patterns of facilitation, patronage, exchange and interaction, the formation of new organizations, the construction of knowledge, support for social movements, connecting intellectuals, activists and communities. The objective and methods of these efforts will counter those of the dominant hegemonic foundations, however, in a few pivotal ways.

First, the People’s Foundation does not have a substantial financial base upon which to leverage projects and steer the focus of other organizations. In fact – at present – the financial standing of the People’s Foundation is non-existent. Currently, it is still in the starting stages of constructing a legal entity, and those of us who are working to create the foundation are attempting to look into various methods of financing, including approaching the traditional grant procedures, as well as exploring alternatives for specific project financing via crowd-funding measures through social media, and also encouraging donations from supporters around the world. Financial considerations – at present – aside, The People’s Foundation does not expect to ever match the financial resources of the large foundations created and operated by the world’s financial oligarchs. As such, our focus is to be more on facilitation as opposed to funding, though we do hope to increase the amounts of money we can put into projects over time.

What is the role of a facilitator foundation?

To describe the role envisioned for the foundation, it would be best to give some examples of projects that are being planned over the coming years. One key project with which there is a great interest and necessity is in building connections around the world between activists and organizations seeking to promote transformative changes in the social order, whether domestically or internationally. An example of this type of engagement is a project to work with the Mpambo Afrikan Multiversity based out of Uganda.

The founding president of Mpambo Afrikan Multiversity is Paulo Wangoola, an indigenous scholar and intellectual in East Africa. As Wangoola wrote, “The Multiversity is a post-colonial concept of higher learning of the oppressed, by the oppressed and for the oppressed, in pursuit of their community cognitive autonomy and security,” further noting that, “when Europeans colonized the world, they also colonized other people’s knowledge,” which continues under the concept of the modern university (which, I might add, was exported to Uganda and East Africa through efforts by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations). In contrast, the ‘university’ has extended from the West into Africa “as a colonial/neocolonial design” which has advanced Western hierarchical knowledge structures at the expense of “the total eclipse of Afrikan indigenous thought, scientific knowledge, philosophy, spirituality, wisdom and epistemology; that is, the knowledge base developed over millennia, by the Afrikan Black Nation, as a self-determined people.”

The concept of the ‘Multiversity’ – on the other hand – “is based on the proposition that the people of the world and their knowledges, cultures, language and epistemologies are horizontally ordered, such that each of the knowledges is valid in itself.” This understanding of people and knowledge “is derived from Afrikan spirituality, worldview, scientific thought and ontology; by which all being and phenomena, spiritual and material, natural and supernatural, manifests itself complementally in sets of twos, female and male… balance, harmony and reciprocity.” Thus, wrote Wangoola, “each one of the world’s knowledges deserves some ample and adequate space, and resources to be advanced to its farthest frontiers, as well as to be enriched by, as it itself enriches, other knowledges, through cross-fertilization.” The Multiversity is focused on “creating some democratic intellectual space and elbow room for oppressed peoples to make and demonstrate a case for a MULTIplicity of epistemologies, thought and knowledge to blossom, as a necessity to vitalize each of the world’s knowledges, as well as the totality of human knowledge as a whole.”

Mpambo Afrikan Multiversity, more specifically, “is a community-based institution of mother tongue higher learning, centered around persons who are considered by their peers and community to be compelling experts: wise men and wise women, philosophers, sages, scientists, scholars, innovators and the highly talented. They may be primarily indigenously trained or primarily Western-trained, but both are embedded in their community, have emerged out of their people’s struggles to be free… organic intellectuals, scholars and scientists.” The word Mpambo – in the Lusoga dialect spoken by the Basoga people at the Source of the Nile in Uganda – means ‘the best seed, the most potent seed selected at the time of harvest for safe custody, for propagation in subsequent good seasons’. Mpambo Afrikan Multiversity aims “to help raise and nurture a critical mass of a world class of itself of intellectuals and scholars to three principal goals: to create capacity for a people’s socially necessary knowledge to be created close to that people and amidst themselves; to help render people to be both creators and consumers of knowledge; and to build effective capacity for Afrikan peoples to learn from themselves, and on that basis to learn intellectually, philosophically, scientifically and technically from and with the other world’s spiritual, philosophical, scientific and academic traditions and practices.”

I was fortunate enough to have spent a little time in Uganda with Mpambo Afrikan Multiversity roughly seven years ago, when I was given the responsibility by Paulo Wangoola of recruiting some young Westerners to return to Uganda in order to study and work with Mpambo, and to build up connections between the young, emergent leadership of Mpambo, so that these connections may last for generations to come. This is where there is great potential for The People’s Foundation to engage in facilitation and the construction of new knowledge networks, to provide a forum and means of exchange. Our initial project is to go to Uganda and spend roughly two months learning from the organization, documenting and discussing the activities, objectives, and establishing a means for advancing future cooperation and interaction between Mpambo and The People’s Foundation.

Unlike hegemonic foundations, which approach social movement organizations and centers of knowledge with an objective to steer such organizations in a specific direction, to act as patron and paterfamilias, the People’s Foundation approaches Mpambo Afrikan Multiversity with an objective to learn, to receive guidance, to listen, and to mutually discuss and agree upon methods and purposes of future cooperation and support. This represents a horizontal approach to facilitation and support, as opposed to the vertical (and hierarchical) approach undertaken by hegemonic foundations. We will of course be approaching Mpambo with ideas of potential cooperation – including the possibility of facilitating exchanges between African and Western intellectuals and other Indigenous peoples and communities from around the world. Ultimately, this is the type of role as facilitator that the Foundation envisions for itself among many different organizations and communities.

Hegemonic foundations have achieved immense success in providing forums for the establishment of consensus between elites, both nationally and globally, so as to effect a more precise, permanent and stable system of domination and control. The counter-hegemonic People’s Foundation aims – in the long-term – to help facilitate interaction, communication, cooperation and coordination between groups of activists, intellectuals and other counter-hegemonic groups around the world.

The world is in the midst of powerful transformations and changes. Power is globalizing like never before, with more wealth than ever previously existed being concentrated in fewer hands than ever before, with structures and ideologies of dominance and governance being institutionalized not only at national, but also regional and global levels. A corollary of this process is that of the ‘globalization of resistance and revolt.’ From Tunisia to Egypt, Israel to Turkey, Greece to Spain, Indonesia to China, South Africa to Brazil, Chile and the Canadian province of Quebec, to the Indigenous movements across North and South America, Africa and Asia, to peasant and labour resistance and militancy, the world is in the early stages of forming a truly global resistance to the processes, institutions and ideologies of domination (which have, in no small part, been constructed and institutionalized through the efforts of hegemonic foundations).

While these protests, movements and methods of resistance around the world appear disparate and often disconnected, there is enormous potential for mutual understanding, cooperation, coordination and support. The People’s Foundation hopes to play a role in attempting to connect and facilitate interactions, exchanges, conferences, and creating supporting organizations to help turn the concept of ‘solidarity’ into a solid practice. For example, imagine the possibilities of holding an international conference of activists, intellectuals and organizations involved in resistance movements to meet, discuss their respective struggles and objectives, and to find meaningful possibilities of collaboration and coordination, to establish new organizations – think tanks, media centers, educational organizations, etc. – which would represent the combined interests and activities of these seemingly-disparate groups.

The other major aspect of the People’s Foundation – the Voice of Access – reflects a priority in making information readily available to the broadest possible audience, through collaboration and publication of texts in multiple languages, offering reduced rates to schools, community groups, low-income organizations and researchers and finding ways of distributing the information – particularly through digital formats – as well as in print. The ‘Voice of Access’ moniker and meaning reflects a focus on expanding and facilitating access to information, communication and interaction. This will necessitate an increasing focus on access to and utilization of technology itself. While we take for granted our information and communications technology in the West, much of the world continues to lack access to these materials. Voice of Access would seek to find ways of helping to improve and facilitate increased access to such forms of technology, let alone the information and communication they help facilitate.

Student activism and militancy has been on the rise across much of the world, including notable examples in recent years from Greece to the United Kingdom, Chile and Quebec. In each case, students have been mobilized in opposition to the ever-expanding process of the neoliberal restructuring of the educational system: increased privatization, corporatization, leading to increased tuition and debt for prospective students, which has the dual effect of making education harder to attain, and for those who do pursue education, the effect is to shackle them through debt servitude to the social order itself; focusing their energies – upon graduation – to getting jobs so that they can pay off their debt, instead of channeling their intellectual capacities and energies into finding alternatives to the existing system.

One long-term objective of The People’s Foundation would be to help facilitate the development of connections and coordination between student movements and struggles around the world. A good starting place would be to invite not simply leadership but also participants and supporters of various student movements to participate in a conference where they could discuss their respective experiences, successes and failures, prospects and potential. Through such interaction and the development of interpersonal relationships, new ground could be broken on building support between student movements around the world, new organizations could be established to promote the sharing and development of knowledge between students and youth movements, with cooperative thinks tanks, media centers and similar organizations with a focus on advancing understanding, public awareness, and coordination about and between youth/student movements.

The People’s Foundation would have an equal interest in promoting, supporting and encouraging similar processes for activists and movements around the world. Our objective is not to be at the center of these processes, nor to become a ‘hegemonic’ institution in its own right, but rather, to attempt these initiatives and projects – and to learn from their various successes and failures – in the hope that others may build upon this and attempt similar, parallel and mutually-supportive projects. In short, it would be far more effective and beneficial to all if there were a multiplicity of similar organizations to the Voice of Access pursuing similar and parallel objectives, as opposed to simply one. These are ultimately long-term objectives, and the reality of current non-existent funds means that our initial steps will have to be small and slow. Thus, our primary aims in this area will be toward establishing channels of communication and informal relationships with activists, intellectuals and social movements locally, nationally, regionally and globally, slowly and steadily.

The People’s Foundation will look to the world with a focus on attempting to understand and share knowledge regarding the true nature and structure of our global socio-political and economic order: the institutions and ideologies of power and domination, as well as the methods and movements of resistance. We will look to this situation with a focus on examining what appears to be missing, what appears to be needed, and to try to provide what we can to address these concerns. As such, the educational and media endeavours of the People’s Foundation are essential.

In this regard, there are two organizations that the People’s Foundation has an interest in helping to establish. One – tentatively named the General Research Association for the Study of Power (or GRASP) – would be focused on bringing together young scholars and intellectuals into a cooperative organization functioning like a think tank, which would be dedicated to the study of institutions and ideologies of power and domination: the State, corporations, banks, investment facilities, international organizations/bodies, hegemonic think tanks and foundations, universities/schools, the media, military, public relations/advertising industry, etc. GRASP would aim to undertake extensive and rigorous research and study of these and other institutions and the ideologies that pervade them, historically, presently, and with a focus on trends and transformations in their future development. We are, ultimately, a society dominated not by a single institution but by many, each with their own hierarchies, structures, histories, evolution and ideologies. Yet the institutions which dominate society as whole do so on a largely cooperative basis.

For example, the educational system supports the development of intellectuals who are channeled into think tanks and foundations, where they engage in the construction of knowledge, development of strategies, social engineering, and the formation of foreign policy; from there they are channeled into the state apparatus to enact policies. Corporations and financial institutions, in turn, dominate the governance structures of universities, think tanks and foundations, and participate in the development of strategies, policies and ideology. Thus, while theoretically these are separate institutions, functionally they are interconnected and interdependent. The purpose of GRASP and its research would be to study the historical evolution of these various institutions, and their interconnections and interdependencies with other institutions, including by mapping out their shared leadership with other institutions. The objective is to establish a think tank which may ultimately provide a source of knowledge-generation promoting a more comprehensive and coordinated understanding of our present global order.

The People’s Foundation would simultaneously seek to support the dissemination of knowledge produced by GRASP, through building connections with alternative media sources, as well as pushing the knowledge into the mainstream, or, if necessary, helping to establish new media organizations or groups dedicated to the dissemination of this knowledge. GRASP would be an incredibly useful resource for scholars, researchers, journalists and interested individuals and groups around the world. Its focus would primarily be on studying and understanding the principal Western institutions of domination, and thus provide a valuable source of knowledge for others to consult.

A parallel organization to this would be a similar think tank/research organization, which would be dedicated to the study and discussion of social movements and methods of resistance around the world, historically and presently. The aim, once again, would be to connect young scholars and intellectuals in a cooperative organization, which would initially establish a regional focus-approach to the study of social movements. For example, it would be the job of one (or a few) of the scholars to focus exclusively on analyzing the present social movements, rebellions, revolutions, riots and methods of resistance across sub-Saharan Africa; others would be focused on North Africa and the Middle East, Continental Europe, East and Southeast Asia, North and South America, etc. Monthly reports could be prepared by the young scholars, examining the current state of a ‘world of unrest.’ Such an organization could become an immensely useful resource for researchers, intellectuals, journalists and interested individuals, seeking to provide a single source whose primary focus is on studying the various social/resistance movements around the world.

This is a needed resource in the world today. There are several media and research groups that focus exclusively on studying social/resistance movements, but the focus is often inconsistent, and the sheer scope of global unrest and resistance is monumental. However, an organization with a focus on studying not simply what protests are ‘popular’ and in the press more frequently than others, but rather, on examining the multiplicity of resistance movements around the world, is a needed resource to both expand understanding of the current state of global unrest, as well as supporting those social and resistance movements. How can the people of the world – especially those actively engaged in resistance – support each other if they don’t even know about each other’s respective struggles? This organization would be dedicated to the construction and dissemination of knowledge regarding the methods and movements of resistance taking place around the world, presently and historically. Here, the Voice of Access could play a part in helping to provide a voice for those who frequently go unheard in the Western world.

Such an organization would greatly help our understanding of resistance and revolution itself. With such a large focus and source of knowledge, we would be able to see larger patterns and processes, gain a better understanding of the conditions and ‘sparks’ that lead to differing social movements; to better understand the successes and failures of resistance movements; and through the raising of public awareness – to encourage active and future support for resistance movements.

For both GRASP and the as-yet unnamed research organization focused on studying global resistance, the objective for the People’s Foundation would be to bring different scholars, activists and related organizations together, in a cooperative and horizontal (i.e. non-hierarchical) structure, with a focus on undertaking extensive and rigorous research (held to academic standards), to produce research reports, articles for dissemination, books, host meetings/conferences, media consultations, educational seminars and gatherings, providing a source of important and needed knowledge to be shared as widely as possible, to undertake the dual task of advancing human understanding of the social order which dominates our world, and of the people around the world who are resisting that order’s various manifestations.

For ‘Voice of Access: The People’s Foundation’, the methods would be geared towards reaching out to young scholars and interested individuals and organizations, to begin a process of communication and consultation on the formation of these two organizations, to connect these individuals and organizations and hopefully – if possible – to provide the initial funding needed to establish the organizations.

Problems and Prospects

There are, of course, many present barriers to all the current objectives – short and long-term – of Voice of Access: The People’s Foundation. The most obvious is the financial impediment. While the People’s Foundation ultimately seeks to function as a counter-hegemonic presence with an aim towards building alternatives to the existing global social order (making present power structures obsolete), the Foundation must still operate within the existing social order. That means that, internally and legally, it must establish itself as a non-governmental organization (NGO), with its own internal hierarchy and legal structure, and, more problematic, it must seek to accumulate funds to support projects, as well as to build up a financial base capable of supporting the Foundation’s staff itself, so that we may dedicate our time and resources to the activities of the Foundation. These are obstacles which we have yet to overcome in any meaningful sense, but, through the articulation of some of our short and long-term goals and objectives, we hope to encourage support – both material/financial and otherwise – to helping Voice of Access: The People’s Foundation establish itself and begin its important work in the world.

The major hegemonic foundations have been essential and effective institutions in the process of shaping education, constructing knowledge, disseminating information, creating institutions, establishing consensus between elites – nationally and globally – and institutionalizing ideology for the benefit of the hegemonic financial and corporate interests of the world. They have operated through long-term social engineering projects to try to establish social control: to connect elites, to co-opt and deflect resistance, to promote reform and slow adaptation, so as to ultimately secure the stability of the existing social order, and the hierarchies of inequality and oppression which dominate it.

The counter-hegemonic People’s Foundation hopes to become an effective organization for the purpose of finding new means and processes of education, the construction and dissemination of new forms of much-needed knowledge, to connect people and communities – activists, intellectuals, individuals and groups – not elites, to support the growth and interconnections (and radicalization) of social movements – not to co-opt, but to cooperate – with the ultimate objectives of challenging the prevailing social order, and sowing the seeds for future generations to construct a new order, making the existing one obsolete. These are large objectives, but as with any goal, it all begins with small and slow steps in the right direction.

With an understanding of the role that has been played by hegemonic foundations in the preservation and propagation of the existing social order, it seems that there is a needed place for counter-hegemonic foundations seeking to challenge and make obsolete that same social order, until such a point where the Foundation itself may be made obsolete. Revolution is a process, not an event, and it requires one to operate within an existing social system while simultaneously challenging that social system. This is a multi-generational process, and we must begin thinking and acting with a focus on the short- and long-term.

Voice of Access: The People’s Foundation hopes to take such a short and long-term focus on encouraging and supporting social transformation for the benefit of humanity and the world as a whole, not simply the powerful few who rule over it. This requires building connections and facilitating support with groups and people around the world, to advance access to technology, communication and interaction, to be a ‘voice’ for those who go unheard, a foundation for people, a foundation for change.

To read the full report with citations and footnotes, please download the original from the Spanda Journal here.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based out of Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, Chair of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, Research Director of Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and the World of Resistance Report, hosts a weekly podcast at BoilingFrogsPost.com, and is a co-founder and Vice President of Voice of Access: The People’s Foundation.

World of Resistance [WoR] Report, Part 1: The Global Awakening

World of Resistance [WoR] Report, Part 1: The Global Awakening

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally posted at Occupy.com

wor-slider

The world today is in the midst of the most monumental social, political and economic upheavals in human history – a state of continual protests, uprisings and what may be considered inevitable revolution on a global scale. Power that had been centralized for roughly 500 years among the Atlantic powers of Western Europe and North America is rapidly shifting to include the rise of the East, as China, India and others operating within established, institutional frameworks of power get wooed by the former Western imperial managers to become colluders in empire, instead of competition.

To add to this, global wealth and power is being centralized among a highly interconnected and transnational ruling class: a small global elite who own and operate the major banks, corporations, foundations, think tanks, universities and international organizations. It is this numerically minute group of plutocrats whom empire serves. Long established among the Western elites, this group of plutocrats is attempting to bring the oligarchies of other powerful and rising states firmly within its organizational and ideological structure.

Think of it as an established Mafia that helped build up a few other crime families in order to extend its influence – and which now has to contend with the increasing autonomy and competition that these strengthened crime families pose, as it attempts to bring them closer within the established ‘Family’ instead of risking an all-out Mafia war in which all parties would surely lose. The changing structures of global power, along with the ever-increasing unrest of populations around the world, has created perhaps the most challenging situation for any empire in human history.

Zbigniew Brzezinski has written and spoken for years on the issue, publishing in establishment journals and speaking at elite think tanks about what he calls the “Global Political Awakening.” Brzezinski is not a casual observer nor a resigned academic; he sits within the heart of the intellectual and institutional foundations of the American empire alongside other notable figures such as Henry Kissinger and Joseph Nye. Brzezinski was even recruited as a foreign policy adviser to the 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama, who referred to Brzezinski as “one of our most outstanding thinkers.”

Brzezinski wrote in 2005 that the United States needed to face “a centrally important new global reality: that the world’s population is experiencing a political awakening unprecedented in scope and intensity, with the result that the politics of populism are transforming the politics of power.” Thus, the “central challenge” for the U.S., noted Brzezinski, “is posed not by global terrorism, but rather by the intensifying turbulence caused by the phenomenon of global political awakening. That awakening is socially massive and politically radicalizing.”

In a 2004 speech to the elite-populated Carnegie Council, Brzezinski explained that the global awakening was partly “spurred by America’s impact on the world,” by virtue of the fact that America is able “to project itself outward” and “transform the world,” creating an “unsettling impact, because we are economically intrusive, [and] culturally seductive.” In other words, American imperialism is – by its very nature – creating its antithesis: the global awakening.

The awakening “is also fueled by globalization,” Brzezinski further explained, “which the United States propounds, favors and projects by virtue of being a globally outward-thrusting society.” The process of globalization, however, “also contributes to instability, and is beginning to create something altogether new: namely, some new ideological or doctrinal challenge which might fill the void created by the disappearance of communism.”

In other words, since the end of the Cold War, when Marxism and Communism represented the largest and most organized global ideological challenge to Western state-capitalist democracy, Brzezinski maintains there has been an ideological vacuum in terms of ideas opposing the present global order. The global awakening, however, is changing the circumstances. As he stated: “I see the beginnings, in writings and stirrings, of the making of a doctrine which combines anti-Americanism with anti-globalization, and the two could become a powerful force in a world that is very unequal and turbulent.”

68794

Brzezinski noted in 2005 that, “the population of much of the developing world is politically stirring and in many places seething with unrest,” having become “acutely conscious of social injustice to an unprecedented degree, and often resentful of its perceived lack of political dignity.” A “community of shared perceptions” was being created by the spread of radio, television and Internet access, creating the potential for energies to be galvanized which “transcend sovereign borders and pose a challenge both to existing states as well as to the existing global hierarchy, on top of which America still perches.”

The youth of the Third World represent “a demographic revolution,” and being “particularly restless and resentful,” they also represent “a political time-bomb… creating a huge mass of impatient young people.” The “potential revolutionary spearhead” of the Third World youth was, in Brzezinski’s view, “likely to emerge from among the scores of millions of students” concentrated in the educational institutions of the developing world. Having largely originated from “the socially insecure lower middle class and inflamed by a sense of social outrage, these millions of students are revolutionaries-in-waiting… connected by the Internet… Their physical energy and emotional frustration is just waiting to be triggered by a cause, or a faith, or a hatred.”

In 2008, Brzezinski wrote in the New York Times that “global activism is generating a surge in the quest for cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world scarred by memories of colonial or imperial domination.” In his view, the necessary course of action “is to regain U.S. global legitimacy by spearheading a collective effort for a more inclusive system of global management.” Brzezinski noted, in a speech he gave that same year to Chatham House, that “in the current post-colonial era, it is too costly to undertake colonial wars” which is why the U.S. should attempt to avoid getting further “bogged down” in the Middle East and Central Asia, where America would be “engaged in a protracted post-imperial war in the post-colonial age, a war not easy to win against aroused populations.”

Later, in a 2010 speech to the Canadian International Council (CIC), an elite think tank based in Canada, Brzezinski explained the “total new reality” of the awakening of mankind, explaining that “most people know what is generally going on… in the world, and are consciously aware of global iniquities, inequalities, lack of respect, exploitation. Mankind is now politically awakened and stirring.”

In a 2012 speech at the European Forum for New Ideas (EFNI), Brzezinski stated that 20 years following the end of the Cold War, “a truly comprehensive American global domination is no longer possible [because] in recent decades, worldwide social change has experienced unprecedented historical acceleration, particularly because instant mass communications… cumulatively have been stimulating a universal awakening of mass political consciousness.”

“The resulting widespread rise in worldwide populist activism is proving inimical to external domination of the kind that prevailed in the age of colonialism and imperialism,” he continued. “Persistent and highly motivated populist resistance of politically awakened and historically resentful peoples to external control has proven to be increasingly difficult to suppress, as protracted guerrilla warfare in Vietnam, Algeria, or Afghanistan have amply demonstrated; and as the rising turmoil in both the Middle East and Southwest Asia are foreshadowing.” (“The Role of the West in the Complex Post-Hegemonic World,” Speech at the European Forum for New Ideas, 26 September 2012)

As Brzezinski explained to his fellow elites and imperialists in the United States and other powerful Western societies: “The worldwide yearning for human dignity is the central challenge inherent in the phenomenon of global political awakening.” As he stated at Chatham House in 2008, the world’s major powers, “new and old, also face a novel reality: while the lethality of their military might is greater than ever, their capacity to impose control over the politically awakened masses of the world is at a historic low. To put it bluntly: in earlier times, it was easier to control one million people than to physically kill one million people; today, it is infinitely easier to kill one million people than to control one million people.”

Institutional and imperial power structures have never been more globalized or concentrated in human history; yet, simultaneously, never have they been under more threat from an awakened humanity. We have unprecedented access to information and communication; never have we had a greater opportunity to transform the world for the better and to challenge – or make obsolete – the prevailing global power structures.

Yet, simultaneously, never has humanity – collectively – faced such a monumental challenge: a combination of a massive global economic crisis, growing levels of poverty and hunger, tens of millions dying from poverty-related causes every year, massive global land grabs, high-tech police states and surveillance societies, murder by remote control drone terror campaigns, a more distanced decision-making apparatus than perhaps ever before, and an ecological crisis of such proportions that it threatens the very survival of the human species, let alone all other life forms on Earth.

The World of Resistance (WOR) Report is a new Occupy.com series that aims to provide greater context and understanding about the causes, and the consequences, of social unrest, protests, riots, resistance, uprisings, rebellions and revolutions spreading across the globe. What form is the “global political awakening” taking in different regions, under different conditions, and with what differing degrees of success and failure?

This series aims to explore the evolution of the long road to world revolution so that we may better understand, and support, the causes of human and biological survival to ensure that people’s “central challenge” to elites – that is, the quest for “human dignity” – is made all the more impossible for 1% institutions and ideologies to undermine or repress.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is project manager of the People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

A Teaser to ‘The Empire of Poverty’: The First Volume of The People’s Book Project

A Teaser to ‘The Empire of Poverty’: The First Volume of The People’s Book Project

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

slum

The following is a little teaser to some of the ideas, approach and perspective being pursued through the research and writing of the first volume of The People’s Book Project, ‘The Empire of Poverty.’ Please consider donating to the Project to help these efforts come to fruition.

It’s important to try to understand the global economic and financial system – the banks, corporations, central banks, economic policies (and effects) of governments, trade agreements, the creation and value of currencies, the function of the oft-heard ‘markets’ – as daunting as the task may seem. One might think that they need a degree in Economics in order to understand the complexities of the global economy, to comprehend the correct choices and policies which achieve the desired results. One might think that this is true, but it isn’t. The truth is that if most economists understood the global economy, and knew the ‘correct’ choices to make, we wouldn’t be where we currently are.

Economics – both theory and practice – is an illusion. There are no concrete rules on which to base economic thought; there is no ‘gravity’ to its physics. Economics is not science, it’s sophistry; the sleight of hand, the quick and slick tongue, the wave of the wand, the theatrics of the stage set for all to see, and the effects – as destructive as they may be to the real world and all life within it – are largely hidden from view; the illusion keeps the population enraptured in awe, aspiration, and fear.

This is not to say that there cannot be anything real produced or given growth by what we call ‘economics’: there are of course exchanges made, resources used, products created, lives benefitted, and entire societies and peoples changed. The effects are very real. However, they have a disproportionately destructive, oppressive, and dehumanizing effect upon the vast majority of humanity: they bestow upon a tiny fraction unparalleled power, and thus, dehumanization in another form; while creating a comparably minimal buffer of generally satiated and malleable middle classes, educated well-enough to work and survive the horror show that is the global economic order, but consumed by a culture lacking in substance and meaning, and thus, left morally, psychologically, and intellectually lobotomized, physically paralyzed, and thus, once again, dehumanized.

So our global economic order has the effect of generally dehumanizing all who are subject to its whims and whammies; which is to say, almost everyone, everywhere. Those peoples and societies that are not integrated into the global economy tend to be bombed, invaded, overthrown or droned. Those who remain are doomed to slow death: one in seven people on earth live in urban slums[1] – more than the combined populations of Canada, the United States, and the European Union – while the majority of humanity lives in deep poverty, in hunger, and malnutrition; with 18 million people being killed from poverty-related causes every year, including over 9 million children.[2] Every year.

During the Holocaust, approximately six million Jews were killed. Take that number, add 50% to make 9 million, and just think: this is how many children die every year from poverty. Every year a new Holocaust.

These deaths are preventable. Truly. It has been estimated that less than the yearly Pentagon budget would lift the poorest 3 billion people of the world out of extreme poverty. In fact, in the twenty years following the end of the Cold War in 1991, there were roughly 360 million preventable deaths caused by poverty-related issues, more than the combined deaths of all of the wars of the 20th century.[3]

But this is not our priority. Our priority is that banks and corporations make as much profits as possible, because this – by some unknown and unseen magic – will (it is said) benefit everyone else. It is propagated and believed that this system, as it exists, or even with the proper tinkering and toiling, can represent the totality of life and being on this world; to be humanizing, and to represent ‘human nature’ at its best. But if this system were ‘human nature,’ why would it be so dehumanizing? How many organisms grow by destroying that which their existence depends upon? Parasites, cancers and various diseases can kill the host before transferring to another.

We have no other host to go to. Those who sit atop the global structure know this, which is why they express such an interest in finding new planets to escape to (and presumably, plunder and destroy). The billionaires have given up pretending to care for the world’s billions of people suffering, which is why they are looking to space travel, mining asteroids, and searching for hospitable environments elsewhere.[4] Their long-term ‘exit strategy’ is to abandon ship, not to change the direction we currently traverse.

Are we – as a species – a cancer upon the earth? Looking at the big picture, it may often seem that way. But it is in the small moments, the single acts, exchanged emotions, interacting individuals, in the every day life – those moments of joy, love, wonder – in which we find our own personal meaning, in which we discover that humanity – and human nature – can be so much more than destructive, petty, and pestilent behaviour. We are told we are a society of ‘individuals’ – that we are free, democratic and equal. If that were the case: why are we so isolated? We are individuals, yes, in the physical sense: but we are disconnected from the collective, separated from the species as a whole.

We think and act individually, but do so ignorantly, and arrogantly. Our thoughts and feelings are collected and collated by our commanding culture of irrelevance. The immense gift of a human mind – with all of its possibilities and capabilities, both known and unknown – is largely squandered on pop culture, sports, celebrities, consumer items and entertainment. So long as we remain distracted by the ‘celebration of irrelevance’, we are lobotomized of our meaning.

Is this how you see yourself as an individual? As the world you live in? It’s not an appealing thought. So why, then, do we live in a world in which as individuals we may act morally, purposefully, passionately, and proudly; though as a collective species, we are petty, parasitic, power-mad, pathological, and pretty much evil?

Is it ‘human nature’ that our personal values and priorities are not reflected in the collective – institutionalized – expression of humanity? Or, is it that the way in which our society is constructed, the institutions and ideologies, the policies, programs, priorities and effects of the way in which our world is ordered and altered, is inherently counter to ‘human nature’? In other words: is human nature inherently self-destructive; or, is our constructed human ‘society’ (our global social, political and economic order) inherently destructive to human nature? Does human nature pervert the effects we have upon the world, or do the structures of world order – and power – pervert human nature?

It is this vast disconnect between our personal values and the form they take at the global – collective – level of the species, which is ultimately so dehumanizing. Because power is centralized at the top, and for such a tiny fraction of the species – so much so that there has never been a more unequal and vast ‘Empire of Poverty’ in all of human history, the ‘great inequality’ is not of wealth, but of power.

Wealth is an illusion: a manufactured means to power, a collective delusion. Power is central to human nature. Every person needs power: they need autonomy over their own lives, thoughts, feelings, and decisions. It is central to maturity, it is central to leaving adolescence and becoming an adult, and it is central to finding a sense of self-worth. Understanding oneself is to empower oneself. Power is about possibility, personal fulfillment, passion and purpose. It has individual and social representations. It can be seen – or not – in your own life, but also in the world around us.

A pre-requisite for power is freedom. The process of achieving freedom is, itself, empowering. Once (and if) achieved, it is of immense responsibility to use your new power of freedom wisely, for the effects that it may have upon others and the rest of the world are endless. Power is freedom, quite simply, because slavery is the opposite of both freedom and power: it is the most un-free and the most disempowering personal position to be in.

Freedom is power; power is freedom. If we were actually free, we would have significantly more power. But we don’t. We barely have any control over our own individual lives, let alone the world around us. We leave all that to the others, to those with the proper degrees, the ‘expertise,’ the politicians, the pundits, the ‘right’ people… because they’ve obviously done such a great job of it so far. We remain – as a species, and very often as individuals – neutered from the necessities of individual empowerment, subjected instead to the very-often-arbitrary abuses of power over others.

So if we are not free, what are we? Certainly, we are not slaves, for we have no shackles, bear the brunt of no whips, serve no visible masters. We are, perhaps, slaves of another kind. We are financially, reflexively, intellectually, emotionally and hopelessly and very often spiritually enslaved to the system, as it exists. We are slaves to money. We serve the masters of money, with our time, with our labour and efforts, with our interactions, exchanges, interests, intelligence and aspirations. We are slaves to money.

Our society is built and sustained upon it; and our species is being driven to extinction because of it. The cause and effect of money – or more aptly, debt – slavery, is the distribution of power among the species: too few have too much, and too many have too little. This imbalance of power within the species is leading to our self-destruction, our inevitable extinction if we continue along this path.

Money is both the means and very often – the reason – for continuing down this path, for maintaining this imbalance. While very few have all the money, everyone – and everywhere else – has all the debt. This is not the wondrous ‘free market’ capitalist utopia which is incessantly babbled about, but the very real global feudal dystopia, both cause and effect of the power imbalance and money-system. In feudalism, there is no freedom, only serfdom.

Welcome to our global economic order, serf!

Welcome to the Empire of Poverty.

But it’s not hopeless. The truth is both painful, but also full of possibilities. The truth is that we do have the ability to understand the world we live in, to comprehend our global economic order. We don’t need a degree; we just need honesty.

The illusion that is our economic system is built not upon technical knowledge, but rather, technical language, a highly political language, “designed to make lies sound truthful, murder respectable, and to give a feeling of solidity to pure wind,” as George Orwell defined the term. Our inability to communicate honesty, and thus effectively, about our economic – and indeed, political and social – system is an essential mechanism in maintaining that system.

To speak and ‘understand’ this language, at least at a superficial level, usually does require some ‘education’: economists must be trained, so too must political and other social scientists. The artificial separations in their knowledge – (as in, the notion that the economic world exists separate from the political and social world, and thus, must be studied separately) ensures that none who receive a ‘proper education’ achieve a profound understanding of the world. Some may, but they are few and far between, and usually weeded out or co-opted.

Such a ‘proper education’ will allow one to gain enough basic knowledge related to the sector of society in which they aim to explore and advance, and they are given just enough knowledge to do so, but not enough to honestly look at – let alone have the capacity to communicate – the reality of how our global political, social and economic order functions and evolves. They may see problems, make recommendations, propose policies, and they may even do some good, but ultimately – as we still remain on the path toward extinction – they have not, and cannot – do enough.

Few possibilities – few ‘solutions’ – or opportunities, are communicated to the populations that are effected under and by these societies, and by the decisions the few at the top make. People are generally given a small set of options from which to choose, like guessing what’s behind door number one or two, when both are ultimately terrible, and ineffectual (in a positive sense). We put ‘faith’ – however empty – into the hands of politicians, we consume the crap spewed in the media, or we lose ourselves in the vast vacancy that is the ‘substance’ of our culture; a culture of mythology, lies, fantasy, persuasion, punishment, entertainment and manipulation.

Our hope is first in honesty. We can – and must – look honestly at the world for what it is, not what we want or imagine it to be, but what it is. Then, we can – and must – communicate this message, and to do so honestly and directly. This is a human reality, and it must become a part of a collective human knowledge, a shift in understanding, and thus, a change in direction; away from the current-inevitably of extinction, and toward survival. What comes after is for future generations to determine. For now, we must aim to simply survive.

Our goal must first be to begin charting a new path toward survival; this must be the duty of our present living and younger generations, as challenging, demanding and terrifying a responsibility that may be, it is either that, or extinction. And this is not a matter of hundreds or thousands of years away; it could be as soon as decades. If you – like me – are between 18 and 45 – the coming few decades of the world in which you currently live and hope to survive will become increasingly dreadful, destructive, oppressive, and disempowering. We cannot afford to continue kicking the can down the road, delaying – and exacerbating – the inevitable.

There is always hope, not in myths and fantasy, but hidden in reality. In our actions, ideas, in us – as individuals – connecting, interacting, sharing, working and creating together, as collectives, as part of a larger human organism; beginning to act as if we don’t want to self-destruct as a species, creating a new society – a new order – to make the current one obsolete. This is our great challenge. How do we navigate through living within the present existing order, while simultaneously seeking to create a new and alternative order? Moreover, how do we achieve this if it takes nearly all our effort, time and energy to simply survive the present order? To put it as crudely (and honestly) as possible: how the fuck are we supposed to change the world?!

I don’t know the answers. But I think that the best way to get them is to ask honest questions, seek an honest understanding, and to communicate honestly – about ourselves and the world – personally, and globally. This book is my attempt to understand and speak honestly about the world, not to speak in a language that only economists and political scientists or other so-called ‘experts’ can understand, but to speak plainly and directly. This will require me to dedicate some focus in attempting to translate political language into English. I don’t have a degree, and you won’t need one to read this, or to understand it.

The hope, then, that I hold for this book – and the wider book project of which it is apart – is that it presents an accessible and usable collection of knowledge. It is not the book that asks every question, or has ever answer (no books do!), but it is an attempt at taking a different approach to asking and seeking answers to some rather important questions about our world: what is the true nature of our society? How did we get here? Where are we going? Why? And, what can we do to change it?

This is but an introduction to our world, by no means comprehensive or conclusive, simply accessible, honest, and (hopefully) useful.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and the World of Resistance (WoR) Report, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

Notes

[1]       Mike Davis, Planet of Slums (Verso: London, 2007), pages 151-173.

[2]       Thomas Pogge, “Keynote Address: Poverty, Climate Change, and Overpopulation,” Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law (Vol. 38, 2010), pages 526-534.

[3]       Ibid.

[4]       Dan Vergano, “Billionaires back ambitious space projects,” USA Today, 13 May 2012:

http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/science/space/story/2012-04-25/space-exploration-billionaires/54866272/1

Counterinsurgency, Death Squads, and the Population as the Target: Empire Under Obama, Part 4

Counterinsurgency, Death Squads, and the Population as the Target: Empire Under Obama, Part 4

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally posted at The Hampton Institute

obamafour

Part 1: Political Language and the ‘Mafia Principles’ of International Relations

Part 2: Barack Obama’s Global Terror Campaign

Part 3: America’s “Secret Wars” in Over 100 Countries Around the World

While the American Empire – and much of the policies being pursued – did not begin under President Obama, the focus of “Empire Under Obama” is to bring awareness about the nature of empire to those who may have – or continue – to support Barack Obama and who may believe in the empty promises of “hope” and “change.” Empire is institutional, not individual. My focus on the imperial structure during the Obama administration is not to suggest that it does not predate Obama, but rather, that Obama represents ‘continuity’ in imperialism, not “change.” This part examines the concept of ‘counterinsurgency’ as a war against the populations of Iraq, Afghanistan and spreading into Pakistan.

Continuity in the imperialistic policies of the United States is especially evident when it comes to the strategy of ‘counterinsurgency,’ notably in Afghanistan. As examined in Part 1 of this series, language plays a powerful role in the extension and justification of empire. George Orwell noted that political language was “largely the defense of the indefensible,” where horrific acts and policies – such as maintaining colonial domination, dropping atomic bombs on cities – can only be defended “by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face.” Thus, political language is employed, consisting “largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.” One specific example was provided by Orwell in his essay – Politics and the English Language - which holds particular relevance for the present essay: “Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.” Virtually the same process or strategy is today employed using words like counterinsurgency or counterterrorism. These military strategies are frequently employed, and the words are carelessly thrown around by military officials, politicians, intellectuals and media talking heads, yet little – if any – discussion is given to what they actually mean.

Near the end of the Bush administration in 2008, General David Petraeus was appointed as the Commander of CENTCOM (Central Command), the Pentagon’s military command structure over the Middle East and Central Asia, overseeing the two major ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010, Obama had appointed Petraeus as commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan, and in 2011, he was appointed as CIA Director. Petraeus is a good starting point for the discussion on counterinsurgency.

Petraeus was previously commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, having quickly risen through the ranks to lead Bush’s “surge” in 2007. Prior to the surge, Petraeus was initially sent to Iraq in 2004 given the responsibility of training “a new Iraqi police force with an emphasis on counterinsurgency.” While in Iraq, Petraeus worked with a retired Colonel named Jim Steele, who was sent to Iraq as a personal envoy of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Steele acquired a name for himself in ‘counterinsurgency’ circles having led the U.S. Special Forces training of paramilitary units in El Salvador in the 1980s, where he turned them into efficient and highly effective death squads waging a massive terror war against the leftist insurgency and the population which supported them, resulting in the deaths of roughly 70,000 people.[1]

Jim Steele had to leave a promising military career after his involvement with the Iran-Contra scandal – trading arms to the Iranians for their war against Iraq to finance the death squads in Central America – and so he naturally turned to the private sector. But he had so impressed a Congressman named Dick Cheney, that when Cheney was Vice President, he and Rumsfeld maintained a cozy relationship with Steele who was then sent to Iraq in 2003 to help train the Iraqi paramilitary forces. Steele, working with David Petraeus and others, helped establish “a fearsome paramilitary force” which was designed to counter the Sunni insurgency which had developed in reaction to the U.S. invasion and occupation, running ruthless death squads which helped plunge the country into a deep civil war. Petraeus’ role in helping to create some of Iraq’s most feared death squads was revealed in a 2013 Guardian investigation.[2]

However, in 2005, the Pentagon had openly acknowledged that it was considering employing “the Salvador option” in Iraq in order “to take the offensive against the insurgents.” John Negroponte, who had been the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras when the U.S. was running death squads out of Honduras in Central America was, in 2005, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. The Pentagon and the CIA were considering what roles they could play, possibly using U.S. Special Forces, to help train Iraqi “death squads” to hunt down and kill “insurgents.”[3]

Within the first three years of the Iraq war and occupation, the British medical journal, The Lancet, published research indicating that between 2003 and 2006, an estimated 650,000 – 940,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the war.[4] A survey from 2008 indicated that there had been more than one million deaths in Iraq caused by the war.[5]

This is referred to as a “counterinsurgency” strategy. In 2006, General Petraeus wrote the foreward to the Department of the Army’s Field Manual on Counterinsurgency, in which he noted that, “all insurgencies, even today’s highly adaptable strains, remain wars amongst the people.”[6] A 1962 U.S. counterinsurgency guide for the U.S. war in Vietnam said it even more bluntly when it noted that, “The ultimate and decisive target is the people… Society itself is at war and the resources, motives, and targets of the struggle are found almost wholly within the local population.”[7]

At the risk of being redundant, let me put it even more simply: counterinsurgency implies a war against the population. An insurgency is an armed rebellion by a significant portion – or sector – of a population against an institutional authority or power structure (usually a state or imperial power). Thus, for the American Empire – adhering to its rigid ‘Mafia Principles’ of international relations – an ‘insurgency’ is always a threat to imperial domination: if people are able to resist domestic power structures (say, a specific U.S. ally/client state), then other people around the world may try the same. The United States will seek to counter insurgencies for several reasons: to maintain the stability of their ally, to maintain the confidence of other allies, to maintain its reputation as the global hegemon, and to counter more direct threats to U.S./Western interests, such as the loss of access to resources or key strategic points, or in the case of U.S. military occupations, to crush any and all resistance.

In Part 1 of this series, I briefly summarized some major strategic reports written by key U.S. imperial planners, such as Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Brent Scowcroft. A 1988 National Security Council-Defense Department Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy was co-chaired by Kissinger and Brzezinski, and directly acknowledged that most conflicts across the world were “insurgencies, organized terrorism, [and] paramilitary crime,” including “guerilla forces” and “armed subversives.” The report stated that the U.S. would have to intervene in these “low intensity conflicts” in which the “enemy” was “omnipresent” (or, in other words, in which the target was the population), because if the U.S. did not wage war against armed rebellions or uprisings around the world, “we will surely lose the support of many Third World countries that want to believe the United States can protect its friends, not to mention its own interests.”

This is a key example of ‘Mafia Principles.’ The Mafia is able to expand its influence not simply through coercion, but through offering ‘protection.’ Thus, businessmen, politicians or other individuals who pay dues to the Mafia are in turn given protection by the Mafia. If they are confronted with a problem – competition, threats to their position, etc. – the Mafia will use threats or force in order to protect their patrons.

Take, for example, a corrupt politician (I know, how redundant!) who is in the pocket of the Mafia. A mob boss may ask for a favour – to pass (or block) a particular law – and in turn, the politician gets protection from the mob. Suddenly, an up-and-coming young politician gains in popularity in opposition to the corrupted political figure. The politician asks the mob for some help (after all, the mob doesn’t want to lose the person in their pocket for the one who appears to be a wild card), and so the mob attempts to bribe or makes some threats to the aspiring political figure. If the bribes and/or threats don’t work, then force may be used. Suddenly, the aspiring political figure was found washed ashore along the city’s riverbanks.

This has served several purposes: the politician is kept in the pocket of the Mafia (always easier than trying to find a new point man), the mob maintains its reputation as an organization not to be challenged or disobeyed (fear plays a essential part in maintaining power), and the politician is more indebted than ever to the mob. Interests are secured, reputations are maintained, and power is strengthened.

An ‘insurgency’ in a client state or against a Western occupation poses such a threat to the local and international power structures of imperialism. Thus, the Empire must counter the insurgency in order to undermine the immediate threat to its forces (or those of its allies/clients), to maintain its reputation as what Obama recently referred to as “the anchor of global security,”[8] and thus, to maintain the confidence of other allies around the world, and to pose a powerful threatening force to other populations which may attempt resistance. Interests are secured, reputations are maintained, and power is strengthened.

The notion that a counterinsurgency campaign is targeting a population resisting some form of authority – whether justified or not – and that such a strategy leads to enormous human tragedy, civilian casualties, suffering, chaos, destruction and human social devastation simply is of little significance to those who advocate for such doctrines. If the interest is in maintaining ‘power,’ the suffering of people is irrelevant. For the Empire, power and profit are what matters, people are incidental, and most often, in the way.

In the midst of the massive civil war in Iraq that Petraeus helped to bring about (with his ‘counterinsurgency’ operations of building death squads), Bush appointed Petraeus to head the planned “surge” of 20,000 U.S. troops into the country in 2007, which was hailed in the media and by the political class and their intellectual sycophants as a profound success.

By 2008, violence in Iraq was down, and this was of course interpreted as a success of the counterinsurgency/surge strategy. The reality was, as several commentators and analysts have pointed out, that the violence decreased because most of the ethnic cleansing in Iraq had taken place by then, and the Shia had won.[9] One academic study noted that just prior to the surge, there was a massive ethnic cleansing that took place within Iraq, and so by the time the surge began, noted one researcher, “many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country,” and that, “violence has declined in Baghdad because of inter-communal violence that reached a climax as the surge was beginning.” The effect of the surge was not to reduce violence, but rather, noted the report: “it has helped to provide a seal of approval for a process of ethno-sectarian neighborhood homogenization that is now largely achieved.”[10]

Even General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Commander of NATO who led the NATO war against Yugoslavia in the 1990s, wrote in 2007 that as the surge was taking place, “vicious ethnic cleansing is under way right under the noses of our troops.”[11] Upon the disgraced resignation of Petraeus from the position of CIA Director (due to some insignificant political sex scandal) in 2012, the Washington Post reflected on the “surge” strategy back in 2007 which propelled Petraeus “to the top,” writing that the surge strategy was “about helping Iraqis.”[12] Naturally, such a notion – in the Western media – is a given ‘fact’ without the need for qualification: we did it, therefore it is ‘good’; we did it in Iraq, therefore it was for the benefit of Iraq; we did it to Iraqis, therefore it was for Iraqis.

Counterinsurgency strategy – or ‘COIN’ as it is referred to in military parlance – shares a great deal with terrorist strategy, namely that, “the target is the people.” The difference, however, is that one is employed by a massive state-military power structure while the other is used by small networks of individuals (often) operating outside of state structures. Both, however, are typically driven by relatively small groups of violent extremists.

Obama briefly appointed General Stanley McChrystal – former commander of the JSOC forces running secret wars around the world – as the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2009, who was a strong advocate of “counterinsurgency tactics.”[13] In March of 2009, Obama announced his strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan as a dual ‘AfPak’ strategy, expanding the Afghan war theatre directly into Pakistan, a nation of some 180 million people and armed with nuclear weapons.[14]

The strategy in Afghanistan was expected to drive militants into neighboring Pakistan, likely destabilizing the country.[15] As the Obama administration began its “surge” into Afghanistan in March of 2009, under the leadership of General McChrystal, who formerly ran Cheney’s “executive assassination ring,” an additional 21,000 troops were sent to the country. The Pakistani military warned the Americans that they were worried that U.S. actions in Afghanistan would not only send an increased level of militants, including the Taliban, into Pakistan’s lawless areas, but that it could also “prompt an exodus of refugees from southern Afghanistan.” In May of 2009, under U.S. pressure, the Pakistani military launched an offensive against the stateless North West Frontier Province (NWFP), displacing over 2 million people.[16]

This offensive was urged by State Department official Richard Holbrooke, as well as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and General David Petraeus.[17] The Independent referred to the displacement which resulted as “an exodus that is beyond biblical,” creating roughly 2.4 million internal refugees within the span of a month. Across the world, only Sudan, Iraq and Colombia had larger internal refugee populations. The speed of the “displacement” reached up to 85,000 per day, matched only by the Rwandan genocide in 1994.[18] The refugee crisis had subsequently “inflamed murderous ethnic rivalries” across Pakistan, noted the Wall Street Journal.[19] However, by late August, Pakistan had returned roughly 1.3 million of the refugees to the areas from which they were displaced.[20]

In October, Obama sent an addition 13,000 troops to Afghanistan.[21] The Pakistani Prime Minister warned that this would “destabilize his country.”[22] In December, Obama announced an intention to send an additional 30,000 U.S. forces to Afghanistan, bringing the total number of U.S. troops in the country to roughly 100,000.[23]

In a 2009 State Department cable from Pakistan, Anne Patterson reported that U.S. policy and actions in Pakistan “risks destabilizing the Pakistani state, alienating both the civilian government and military leadership, and provoking a broader governance crisis in Pakistan without finally achieving the goal.” However, Patterson, seemingly without paradox, wrote that the U.S. strategy was “an important component of dealing with the overall threat” of terrorism.[24]

Further, noted Patterson, the U.S. strategy in relation to Afghanistan, which included supporting an increased role for India, Pakistan’s long-standing state-enemy, was pushing the Pakistanis “to embrace Taliban groups all the more closely,” and that U.S. arms deals with India “feeds Pakistani establishment paranoia and pushes them close to both Afghan and Kashmir-focused terrorist groups while reinforcing doubts about U.S. intentions.”[25]

Another 2009 diplomatic cable from Patterson in Pakistan noted that nuclear proliferations was “a bigger threat than terrorism,” while Pakistan had been building nuclear weapons “at a faster rate than any other country in the world,” according to a U.S. national intelligence official in 2008. U.S. support for India’s nuclear program (which is not a signatory to the NPT), has continued to cause Pakistan to refuse to sign the NPT, and had encouraged Pakistan to instead develop more nuclear weapons. Patterson described the relationship between Pakistan and the U.S. as one of “mutual distrust,” explaining that, “the relationship is one of co-dependency we grudgingly admit – Pakistan knows the US cannot afford to walk away; the US knows Pakistan cannot survive without our support.”[26]

Patterson noted in a 2009 cable that most Pakistanis view America with “suspicion,” and that the Pakistani government was worried about the influx of militants and refugees from the U.S.-NATO war in Afghanistan, and that they would prefer to implement a strategy of “dialogue, deterrence and development” (instead of military operations) in regards to the country’s own troubled regions which were becoming hot-beds for the growth of extremist groups. Patterson recommended that the U.S. government instruct the Pakistanis that, “it will be difficult for international donors to support a government that is not prepared to go all-out to defend its own territory.” In other words: if Pakistan wants military and economic aid and IMF ‘assistance,’ it will have to continue military operations.[27]

Fred Branfman, who examined in detail Wikileaks cables related to Pakistan, summarized their findings as thus: “A disastrously bungled U.S. policy toward Pakistan has led a majority of the Pakistani people to see the U.S. as their ‘enemy’ and strengthened jihadi forces in both the northwest territories and Punjab heartland and thus made it more likely that anti-American forces could obtain Pakistani nuclear materials.” As America continues its war in Afghanistan, it will “continue to destabilize the Pakistani state,” not to mention, so too will undertaking a ‘secret war’ inside Pakistan itself.[28]

Since General Petraeus had so much “success” with creating death squads in Iraq, plunging the country into a deeper civil war, supporting the massive ethnic cleansing and undertaking a war against the population (“counterinsurgency” campaign), he was naturally the right choice for Obama to appoint in 2010 when it came to leading the “counterinsurgency” and “surge” into Afghanistan, replacing General McChrystal.

As revealed by Bob Woodward in 2010, under the Obama administration, the CIA was “running and paying for a secret 3,000-strong army of Afghan paramilitaries whose main aim is assassinating Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives not just in Afghanistan but across the border in neighboring Pakistan’s tribal areas,” likely working “in close tandem” with U.S. Special Forces undertaking “kill-or-capture” missions, all of which is approved by the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus.[29]

The Afghan “surge” of the Obama administration was a profound failure. Following the first year of the surge, 2010 was recorded as the “deadliest year” for Afghan civilians since the war and occupation began in 2001, with over 2,700 civilians killed, up 15% from the previous year, according to the UN.[30] In 2011, the death toll reached another record high, with more than 3,000 civilians killed, according to the UN, an 8% increase from the previous year, and the number of deaths caused by suicide bombings increased by 80% from the previous year.[31]

The U.S. troops presence was to be reduced significantly following the formal “withdrawal” in 2014, after which time Obama pledged to keep a “small troops presence” in the country.[32] The remaining force would largely be geared toward “counterterrorism” operations in the country.[33] In June of 2013, the “formal” handing over of security operations from U.S.-NATO forces to Afghan forces was initiated, with a 350,000-strong military and police force trained by NATO and the US to manage internal ‘security’ against the continued ‘insurgency’ in the country.[34]

In other words, nearly thirteen years after a U.S.-NATO war and occupation began in Afghanistan, the war will continue indefinitely, and the “target” will remain as the population. In our media, we hear about deaths of “militants” or “Taliban” as if these are easily confirmed card-carrying or uniform-wearing groups and individuals (just as we report in regards to Obama’s global drone bombing terror campaign). Yet, these reports often go unquestioned, much like during the massive counterinsurgency war the U.S. waged in Vietnam, where the majority of the population was largely opposed to the imperial presence of the United States, and where those whom the U.S. killed were given the all-encompassing label of ‘Viet Cong’ – the “enemy.” So long as those who we murder in our foreign occupations are given the correct ‘label’ (whether Viet Cong, Taliban, al-Qaeda, or the ever-bland ‘militants’ and ‘terrorists’), our continued slaughtering is continuously justified.

Few comments are made about the notion of the right of populations to resist foreign military occupations. Regardless as to whether or not we – as individuals – approve of particular militant groups in places like Afghanistan or Pakistan, we do not have the ‘right’ to dictate who rules those nations. And, in fact, our presence strengthens the more extremist, militant, violent and deplorable groups precisely because they are those which are best equipped to resist another – far more – violent, extremist, militant and deplorable group: namely, Western military occupation forces.

Here is a hypothetical: imagine you live in the United States, and the government collapses amid disarray and disagreement (I know, I’m being redundant again!), but then, China suddenly decides to send in its army of 2.2 million forces to occupy the United States in order to act as an “anchor of security” for the world. Imagine Chinese forces installed a puppet government, maintained an occupation for over a decade, and ultimately ruled the country by force. Surely, in the United States, armed resistance would emerge. Yet, who – in the U.S. – are those most likely to resort to armed resistance?

Chances are, such groups would emerge among the militant right-wing Christian groups spread out across much of the country, holding extremist ideologies which much of the population finds deplorable, but also being among the best armed members of the domestic American population. Other gangs and criminal groups would likely flourish, war lords and drug lords would rise to high places (as they have in Afghanistan, Mexico, and Colombia), and then the Chinese would resort to a ‘counterinsurgency’ strategy, in which the whole population is punished. This would ultimately increase support for the domestic militants, despite their deplorable ideologies, and a subsequent cycle of violence and destruction would likely ensue.

Surely, such a scenario is not desired – at least not by the many Americans I know and consider friends and family – but such is the scenario we impose upon countries and people all across the planet. This insanity must stop. There must be – in the West and most especially within the United States itself – the development of an anti-imperial/anti-empire social movement. It is not only a requirement out of some uncomfortable argument about the ‘economic costs’ of extending an empire around the world, but it is a moral necessity. As Obama himself stated in September of 2013, “for nearly seven decades the United States has been the anchor of global security.”[35] That is seven decades of American imperialism on a truly global scale, for which the populations of the West must now make amends, and that can only be done by ending the empire. Nothing less than the absolute abolishment of imperialism – in all its modern forms – is of the utmost human necessity.

We can have destruction, or we can have dignity. We can have hypocrisy, or we can have honesty. We can have fascism, or we can have a future. We can have hatred, or we can have humility. We can have repression, or we can have possibility. We can have war, or we can have no more. We can have Empire, or we can have Humanity. We cannot have both. Clearly, those in power are not equipped with the principles or possible threat of having a ‘moral moment’ in order to make such decisions: Barack Obama is no exception. Obama is merely the latest political personification of imperial phlegm spewed forth from the charred chest of the American oligarchy as their chief representative, diligently applying Mafia principles to international relations.

The future of humanity – and the ending of empire – can only exist in hands of humanity itself, not a single human being with concentrated power, but rather, with the actualization – the decentralization – of power among the population.

When Hitler’s second in command – Hermann Goering – was asked at the Nuremberg trials about Nazi Germany plunging the world into war, he replied: “Why, of course, the people don’t want war… Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship… voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”[36]

It would seem, then, that the only ones qualified to determine foreign policy are those it affects the most – those who are sent off to kill, and those who are targeted to be killed – in short: the population. Peace is possible, if people are empowered. Otherwise, imperialism is inevitable, and extinction is nearly ensured. There is a choice: we can passively accept imperialism and internalize a sense of insignificance and apathy; or, we can acknowledge that the whole global imperial system and structures of domination were established and are maintained precisely because those few in power – the tiny minority of global oligarchs – who rule the world are very well aware that when people work together, locally and globally, change is inevitable. If people were so easily controllable, so automatically apathetic, or inherently insignificant, why are there so many institutions, ideologies, techniques, structures and systems designed to keep people that way?

We can have Empire, or we can have Humanity. The choice is yours.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

Notes

[1] Mona Mahmood, et. al., “From El Salvador to Iraq: Washington’s man behind brutal police squads,” The Guardian, 6 March 2013:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/mar/06/el-salvador-iraq-police-squads-washington

[2] Ibid.

[3] John Barry, “‘The Salvador Option’,” Newsweek – The Daily Beast, 7 January 2005:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2005/01/07/the-salvador-option.html

[4] “The Iraq deaths study was valid and correct,” The Age, 21 October 2006:

http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/the-iraq-deaths-study-was-valid-and-correct/2006/10/20/1160851135985.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1

[5] Luke Baker, “Iraq conflict has killed a million Iraqis: survey,” Reuters, 30 January 2008:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/01/30/us-iraq-deaths-survey-idUSL3048857920080130

[6] Thomas A. Bass, “Counterinsurgency and Torture,” American Quarterly (Vol. 60, No. 2, June 2008), page 233.

[7] Nick Cullather, “‘The Target is the People’: Representations of the Village in Modernization and U.S. National Security Doctrine,” Cultural Politics (Vol. 2, No. 1, 2006), page 41.

[8] Barack Obama, “Transcript: President Obama’s Address To The Nation On Syria,” NPR, 10 September 2013:

http://www.npr.org/2013/09/10/221186456/transcript-president-obamas-address-to-the-nation-on-syria

[9] Patrick Cockburn, “Iraq: Violence is down – but not because of America’s ‘surge’,” The Independent, 14 September 2008:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/iraq-violence-is-down-ndash-but-not-because-of-americas-surge-929896.html

[10] Maggie Fox, “Satellite images show ethnic cleanout in Iraq,” Reuters, 19 September 2008:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/09/19/us-iraq-lights-idUSN1953066020080919

[11] Wesley Clark, “Bush’s ‘surge’ will backfire,” The Independent, 7 January 2007:

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/wesley-clark-bushs-surge-will-backfire-431053.html

[12] Max Fisher, “The Iraq success story that propelled David Petraeus to the top,” The Washington Post, 9 November 2012:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2012/11/09/the-iraq-success-story-that-propelled-david-petraeus-to-the-top/

[13] Ann Scott Tyson, Top U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Is Fired. The Washington Post: May 12, 2009: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/11/AR2009051101864.html

[14] George Packer, The Last Mission. The New Yorker: September 28, 2009: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/28/090928fa_fact_packer

[15] Andrew Gray, US Afghan surge could push militants into Pakistan. Reuters: May 21, 2009: http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N21412211.htm

[16] AP, Afghanistan surge tied to Pakistan stability. MSNBC: May 21, 2009: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30871807/ns/world_news-south_and_central_asia/

[17] George Packer, The Last Mission. The New Yorker: September 28, 2009: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/28/090928fa_fact_packer

[18] Andrew Buncombe, In Pakistan, an exodus that is beyond biblical. The Independent: May 31, 2009: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/in-pakistan-an-exodus-that-is-beyond-biblical-1693513.html

[19] YAROSLAV TROFIMOV, Refugee Crisis Inflames Ethnic Strife in Pakistan. The Wall Street Journal: May 30, 2009: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124363974401367773.html

[20] Nita Bhalla, Some Pakistan war displaced must winter in camps: U.N. Reuters: August 20, 2009: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE57J2N020090820

[21] Ann Scott Tyson, Support Troops Swelling U.S. Force in Afghanistan. The Washington Post: October 13, 2009: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/12/AR2009101203142.html?hpid=topnews

[22] US surge in Afghanistan ‘may destablize Pakistan’. Press TV: November 30, 2009: http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=112484&sectionid=351020401

[23] Scott Wilson, Obama: U.S. security is still at stake. The Washington Post: December 2, 2009: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/01/AR2009120101231.html

[24] US Embassy Cables, “US embassy cables: ‘Reviewing our Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy’,” The Guardian, 30 November 2010:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/us-embassy-cables-documents/226531

[25] Ibid.

[26] Fred Branfman, “WikiLeaks Revelation: How US Policy in Pakistan Heightens the Risk of Nuclear Attack,” AlterNet, 16 January 2011:

http://www.alternet.org/story/149547/wikileaks_revelation%3A_how_us_policy_in_pakistan_heightens_the_risk_of_nuclear_attack?paging=off

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Julius Cavendish, “How the CIA ran a secret army of 3,000 assassins,” The Independent, 23 September 2010:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/how-the-cia-ran-a-secret-army-of-3000-assassins-2087039.html

[30] Laura King, “U.N.: 2010 deadliest year for Afghan civilians,” Los Angeles Times, 10 March 2011:

http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/10/world/la-fg-afghan-civilian-deaths-20110310

[31] Damien Pearse, “Afghan civilian death toll reaches record high,” The Guardian, 4 February 2012:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/feb/04/afghan-civilian-death-toll-record

[32] Scott Wilson and David Nakamura, “Obama announces reduced U.S. role in Afghanistan starting this spring,” The Washington Post, 11 January 2013:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/karzai-meets-obama-to-discuss-us-drawdown-in-afghanistan/2013/01/11/b50c72ec-5c03-11e2-9fa9-5fbdc9530eb9_story.html?hpid=z1

[33] Michael R. Gordon, “Time Slipping, U.S. Ponders Afghan Role After 2014,” The New York Times, 25 November 2012:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/26/world/asia/us-planning-a-force-to-stay-in-afghanistan.html?pagewanted=all

[34] Nathan Hodge, “Blast Mars Day of Security Handover in Kabul,” The Wall Street Journal, 18 June 2013:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323566804578552593026745674.html

[35] Barack Obama, “Transcript: President Obama’s Address To The Nation On Syria,” NPR, 10 September 2013:

http://www.npr.org/2013/09/10/221186456/transcript-president-obamas-address-to-the-nation-on-syria

[36] G.M. Gilbert, Nuremberg Diary (New York: Signet, 1961), pages 255-256.

Egypt Under Empire, Part 4: Dancing Between Dictatorship and Democracy

Egypt Under Empire, Part 4: Dancing Between Dictatorship and Democracy

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally published at The Hampton Institute

US President Barack Obama (L) shakes han

Part 1: Working Class Resistance and European Imperial Ambitions

Part 2: The “Threat” Of Arab Nationalism

Part 3: From Nasser to Mubarak

America’s Mambo with Mubarak

America’s ruling elites – and those of the Western world more generally – are comfortable dealing with ruthless tyrants and dictators all over the world, partly because they’ve just had more practice with it than dealing with ‘democratic’ governments in so-called ‘Third World’ nations. This is especially true when it comes to the Arab world, where the West has only ever dealt with dictatorships, and often by arming them and supporting them to repress their own populations, and in return, they support US and Western geopolitical, strategic and economic interests in the region. America’s relationship with Egypt – and most notably with Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt from 1981 to 2011 – has been especially revealing of this imperial-proxy relationship between so-called ‘democracies’ and dictatorships.

Maintaining cozy relationships with ruthless tyrants is something US presidents and their administrations have done for a very long time, but in recent decades and years, it has become more challenging. The United States champions its domestic propaganda outwardly, presenting itself as a beacon of democratic hope, a light of liberty in a dark world, espousing highfalutin rhetoric as the expression of an adamantine code of values – beliefs in ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ as untouchable and non-negotiable – all the while arming despots, tyrants, and ruthless repressors to protect themselves against their own populations and to stem the inevitable tide of human history.

Simply by virtue of the fact that people are more connected than ever before, that more information is available now than ever before, and with more people rising up and demanding change in disparate regions all over the world, it has become more challenging for the United States and its imperial partners to maintain their domination over the world, and to maintain their propagandized fantasies in the face of glaring hypocrisies. In short, it’s harder for the world to take America seriously about democracy when it so consistently arms and works with dictatorships. And so, for those who justify such injustice, they must dance between rhetoric and reality, attempting to find some thin line of reasoning between both to present some pretense of rationality; all the while, attempting to undermine any attempts to understand America as an empire. This dance is difficult, often very spastic and erratic, but America is a championship dancer with dictatorships. America’s ‘Mambo with Mubarak’, however, revealed the challenges of being the ultimate global hypocrite in a world of mass awakening and popular uprisings.

Shortly after becoming president, in June 2009, Barack Obama was asked by a BBC reporter, “Do you regard President Mubarak as an authoritarian ruler?” to which Obama replied, “No, I tend not to use labels for folks. I haven’t met him. I’ve spoken to him on the phone.” Obama continued, calling Mubarak a “stalwart ally” to the United States, who has “sustained peace with Israel” and “has been a force for stability.”[1] A few months earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave an interview with an Arab television network in Egypt in which she said, “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family,” and added, “I hope to see him often.”[2]

In May of 2009, U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey wrote in a diplomatic cable that Mubarak would more likely die than ever step down as president, noting, “The next presidential elections are scheduled for 2011 and if Mubarak is still alive it is likely he will run again and, inevitably, win.” The “most likely” successor to Mubarak, noted Scobey, was his son Gamal, adding, “some suggest that intelligence chief Omar Soliman [sic] might seek the office; or dark horse Arab League secretary general Amre Moussa.” Ultimately, Scobey noted, in terms of choosing a successor, Mubarak “seems to be trusting to God and the ubiquitous military and civilian security services to ensure an orderly transition.”[3]

Before Mubarak was to visit Washington in August of 2009, Scobey wrote to the State Department that Mubarak was “a tried and true realist” with “little time for idealistic goals.” Further, Scobey noted, Mubarak’s “world view” is most revealed by his reaction to U.S. pressure to “open Egypt” to political participation and relax the police state dictatorship, of which he had only “strengthened his determination not to accommodate our views.” Scobey further reported that Egypt’s defense minister Tantawi “keeps the armed forces appearing reasonably sharp,” while Omar Suleiman and the interior minister, al-Adly, “keep the domestic beasts at bay, and Mubarak is not one to lose sleep over their tactics,” which is to say, torture and human rights abuses. Further, Scobey warned, “Mubarak will likely resist further economic reform,” which is to say, to enhance and deepen neoliberal measures which facilitate impoverishment, plundering and exploitation by a small domestic and international oligarchy at the expense of the domestic population at large, noting that Mubarak might view further reforms “as potentially harmful to public order and stability.”[4]

Another cable from 2009 reported how, “Mubarak and [Egyptian] military leaders view our military assistance program as the cornerstone of our mil-mil [military to military] relationship and consider the $1.3b in annual [military aid] as ‘untouchable compensation’ for making and maintaining peace with Israel,” as well as ensuring that “the US military enjoys priority access to the Suez canal and Egyptian airspace.”[5]

A 2009 cable prepared for the Pentagon’s CENTOM (Central Command) chief, General David Patraeus, in the lead-up to a visit to Egypt, noted that the United States has avoided “the public confrontations that had become routine over the past several years,” with the Bush administration. Ambassador Scobey had pressured Egypt’s interior minister to release three bloggers, a Coptic priest, and grant three U.S.-based “pro-democracy” groups to operate in the country (the latter of which was denied). In anticipation of Hillary Clinton’s visit to Mubarak in 2009, Scobey recommended that Clinton not thank Mubarak for releasing a political opponent, Ayman Nour, whose imprisonment in 2005 was condemned around the world, including by the Bush administration.[6]

Scobey noted in another 2009 cable that Mubarak took the issue of Ayman Nour “personally, and it makes him seethe when we raise it, particularly in public.” Referring to Egypt as a “very stubborn and recalcitrant ally,” Scobey explained: “The Egyptians have long felt that, at best, we take them for granted; and at worst, we deliberately ignore their advice while trying to force our point of view on them.”[7]

When Mubarak visited the White House in August of 2009, in a joint press conference following their meeting, Obama referred to Mubarak as “a leader and a counselor and a friend to the United States,” and went on to thank Egypt for its support to Iraq in its “transition to a more stable democracy.” Mubarak explained that it was the third time in three months he had met with Obama, describing relations between the US and Egypt as “very good” and “strategic.”[8]

Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations explained that the Obama administration did not want to view its relationship with Egypt through the issue of ‘democracy,’ noting: “I think there is an effort to see the relationship in broader terms, because the experience of looking at it through the straw hole of democracy and democracy promotion and reform proved damaging to the relationship.” Cook added, “Let’s be realistic – Hosni Mubarak and the people in the regime don’t really have an interest in reform.” At the White House, Mubarak went on to meet with Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton, after all, as Hillary previously noted, they were “family friends.”[9]

On his trip, Mubarak was also accompanied by his Foreign Minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, and the intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman. The dictator also met with Vice President Joseph Biden. The purpose of the meeting, noted the New York Times, was to signal “an effort to re-establish Egypt as the United States’ chief strategic Arab ally.” Former Egyptian ambassador to the United States, Abdel Raouf al-Reedy, commented, “The United States has to have a regional power to coordinate its policies with and Egypt cannot be a regional power without the United States… So there is some kind of a complementary relationship.”[10]

To Tango with Tyranny

This “complementary relationship” between regional dictatorships and imperial powers is not confined to Egypt (or America), nor are its various rationales. The Arab Spring sparked in Tunisia in December of 2010 and led to the overthrow of its long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on 14 January 2011. Tunisia was, in the words of international law professor and former United Nations Special Rapporteur Richard A. Falk, a “model U.S. client.”[11] Between 1987 – when Ben Ali came to power – and 2009, the United States provided Tunisia with $349 million in military aid,[12] and in 2010 alone, the U.S. provided Ben Ali’s dictatorship with $13.7 million in military aid.[13]

Tunisia, which was a former French colony, also had strong relations with France. During the outbreak of the crisis in December of 2010, the French suggested they would help Ben Ali by sending security forces to Tunisia to “resolve the situation” in a show of “friendship” to the regime.[14] The French foreign minister suggested that France could provide better training to Tunisian police to restore order since the French were adept in “security situations of this type.” Jacques Lanxade, a retired French admiral, former military chief of staff and former French ambassador to Tunis noted that the French had “continued public support of this regime because of economic interests,” and added: “We didn’t take account of Tunisian public opinion and thought Ben Ali would re-establish his position.”[15] In other words: we support dictators, and don’t care about human populations as a whole. So surprised were the French at the thought of a popular uprising overthrowing their stalwart ally in Tunisia, that Sarkozy later – after the fall of Ben Ali – stated that the French had “underestimated” the “despair… suffering,” and “sense of suffocation” among Tunisians.[16] Perhaps a delicate way of suggesting that the French government does not care about the despair, suffering or suffocation of people until the people overthrow the French-subsidized dictators, forcing the imperial power to do a little dance with democratic rhetoric until it can find a replacement to support, and return to its habitual ‘underestimations’ of entire populations.

This imperial logic has been given terms and justifications from establishment intellectuals and academics in the United States and other Western powers. Academics with the Brookings Institution, an influential U.S. think tank, suggested in 2009 that this was the logic of “authoritarian bargains,” in which dictatorships in the region were able to maintain power through a type of “bargain,” where “citizens relinquish political influence in exchange for public spending,” suggesting that: “non-democratic rulers secure regime support through the allocation of two substitutable ‘goods’ to the public: economic transfers and the ability to influence policy making.”[17]

Of course, these ‘intellectuals’ failed to acknowledge the fact that in the previous three decades, the “bargain” part of the “authoritarian bargain” was dismantled under neoliberal reforms. But facts are trifling obstructions to justifications for injustice, and such ‘intellectuals’ – who serve power structures – will wind their way with words through any and all frustrating truths, so long as the end result is to continue in their support for power. Such a “bargain” could have been argued under the likes of Nasser, but Mubarak was another creature altogether, and the intellectual discourse built around support for dictatorships had not evolved over the course of several decades, save for the words used to describe it.

In 2011, those same academics wrote an article for the Brookings Institution in which they noted that as economic conditions deteriorated and unemployment rose, with neoliberal reforms failing to provide economic opportunities for the majority of the populations, the “Arab authoritarian bargain” – or “contract” – between dictators and the populations was “now collapsing,” adding that, “the strategies used by Arab leaders to maintain power may have run their course.” They added: “Partial political liberalization may not be enough at this point to make up for the current inability to deliver economic security and prosperity, spelling the final demise of Arab authoritarian bargain.”[18]

F. Gregory Gause III, writing in Foreign Affairs, the establishment journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, the most prominent foreign policy think tank in the United States, referred to this concept as “authoritarian stability” theory. Following the initial Arab Spring uprisings, he wrote about the “myth” of authoritarian stability, noting that many academics had focused on trying to understand “the persistence of undemocratic rulers” in the region, though implicitly without questioning the imperial relations between the local governments and the dominant Western powers. Gause himself acknowledged that he had written an article for Foreign Affairs in 2005 in which he argued that, “the United States should not encourage democracy in the Arab world because Washington’s authoritarian Arab allies represented stable bets for the future,” and that, “democratic Arab governments would prove much less likely to cooperate with U.S. foreign policy goals in the region.” Gause then reflected in 2011 that, “I was spectacularly wrong.”[19]

Marwan Muasher is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment, a prominent American think tank, and was previously foreign minister and deputy prime minister in the Jordanian dictatorship. Following events in Tunisia, Muasher wrote an article for the Carnegie Endowment in which he explained why the events were not foreseen, noting that: “The traditional argument put forward in and out of the Arab world is that there is nothing wrong, everything is under control.” Thus, wrote Muasher, “entrenched forces argue that opponents and outsiders calling for reform are exaggerating the conditions on the ground,” an argument which he noted, “has been fundamentally undermined by the unfolding events in Tunisia.” Because Tunisia had comparably low economic problems, a small opposition, and a “strong security establishment,” it was thought that “the risk of revolt was considered low.” Muasher wrote: “It wasn’t supposed to happen in Tunisia and the fact that it did proves that fundamental political reforms – widening the decision-making process and combating corruption – are needed around the entire Arab world.”[20]

This concept of “there is nothing wrong, everything is under control,” has been referred to by Noam Chomsky as the “Muasher doctrine,” noting that this has been consistent U.S. policy in the region since at least 1958, when Eisenhower’s National Security Council acknowledged that the US supported dictators and opposed democracy, and that this was a rational policy to serve American interests in the region.[21]

There are, however, factions within the American elite that understand that the ‘Muasher Doctrine’ is unsustainable and that they must push for ‘reform’ within the Arab world over the short-term in order to ultimately maintain ‘order’ and ‘stability’ over the long term. This is where ‘democracy promotion’ comes into play.

U.S. Democracy Promotion in Egypt: A Hidden Plot or Hedging Bets?

Following the Arab Spring’s toppling of Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt, some commentators in the West have critically noted the U.S. and Western support for pro-democracy groups within the Arab world – likening them to the Western-funded ‘colour revolutions’ that swept several former Soviet bloc countries – and concluded that the Arab Spring was a U.S.-supported attempt at ‘regime change.’

Indeed, the United States and its Western allies provided extensive funding and organizational support to civil society groups, media organizations, activists and political parties in several countries where – through contested elections – they helped to overthrow entrenched political leaders, replacing them with more favourable leaders (in the eyes of the West). In Serbia, U.S. non-governmental and even governmental organizations poured funding into the organization Otpor which helped engineer the ousting of Milosevic, providing hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars in support through organizations like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), International Republican Institute (IRI), National Democratic Institute (NDI), among other agencies.[22]

As several former Soviet republics slowly ‘opened’ their societies, Western-funded NGOs and civil society organizations flooded in, with powerful financial backers. Over the course of years, funding, training, organizational support, technical and material support was provided for a number of organizations and political groups that helped overthrow regimes in Georgia (2003), the Ukraine (2004), and Kyrgyzstan (2005). Not only were there government funded NGOs involved, but also private foundations, such as billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Institute.[23]

These Western-backed ‘color revolutions’ included major organizational support from the local American embassies in whichever country they were seeking a change of government. The activists who made up Serbia’s Otpor organization aided in the training of other groups in countries like Ukraine. In Serbia, the U.S. government officially spent $41 million “organizing and funding” the operation to remove Milosevic. A primary strategy in funding these ‘colour revolutions’ was to organize the opposition within a country “behind a single candidate.”[24] Such Western organizations also provided extensive funding for so-called “independent” media networks to promote their particular agenda in the country, following a pattern set by the CIA some decades earlier in terms of covertly funding opposition groups and media outlets.[25]

In Ukraine, the Bush administration spent some $65 million over two years to aid in the ‘colour revolution’ which took place in 2004, and several other Western countries contributed to the process and funding as well, including Great Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, Norway, Sweden and Denmark.[26] Such immense funding programs trained hundreds of thousands of activists, and when elections and protests took place, tents, cameras, television screens, food and other equipment were provided en masse, and the events were met with an immediately favourable reception in the Western media.[27]

When it comes to Egypt and the Arab Spring, the United States did attempt to provide some funding and organizational support to various pro-democracy groups. The April 6 movement in Egypt, which was pivotal in organizing the January 25 protest in Cairo that led to the overthrow of Mubarak on February 11, was one group that received some U.S. support. Other groups in Bahrain and Yemen also received U.S. support. Egyptian youth leaders attended a ‘technology meeting’ in New York sponsored by the State Department, Facebook, Google, MTV and Colombia Law School, where they received training “to use social networking and mobile technologies to promote democracy.”[28]

One Egyptian youth leader commented upon the meeting and U.S. support, stating, “We learned how to organize and build coalitions… This certainly helped during the revolution.” Another Egyptian activist noted the hypocrisy of the U.S., which, while funding some pro-democracy groups, was providing billions in financial support to the military dictatorship the activists had to struggle under, stating, “While we appreciated the training we received through the NGOs sponsored by the U.S. government, and it did help us in our struggles, we are also aware that the same government also trained the state security investigative service, which was responsible for the harassment and jailing of many of us.”[29]

As several Wikileaks cables showed, however, the Western-backed Arab dictatorships were extremely suspicious of U.S.-supported democracy groups and activists. This was especially true in Egypt, where one cable from 2007 reported that Mubarak was “deeply skeptical of the U.S. role in democracy promotion.” The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs complained to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo in 2006 about the “arrogant tactics in promoting reform in Egypt.” Mubarak’s son, Gamal, was described in one 2008 cable as being “irritable about direct U.S. democracy and governance funding of Egyptian NGOs.” Ultimately, the local dictatorships would increasingly clamp down on such organizations, attempting to prevent their functioning or interaction with Americans institutions.[30]

A December 2008 cable from the U.S. Ambassador Margaret Scobey in Cairo noted that one activist from the April 6 movement had met with U.S. government officials in the United States as well as with various think tanks. The activist (presumably Maher) reported to Scobey that the Egyptian government “will never undertake significant reform, and therefore, Egyptians need to replace the current regime with a parliamentary democracy,” noting that the activist further “alleged that several opposition parties and movements have accepted an unwritten plan for democratic transition by 2011.” However, Scobey added, “we are doubtful of this claim.” After noting that several April 6 activists had been arrested and harassed by the Egyptian dictatorship, Scobey continued: “April 6′s stated goal of replacing the current regime with a parliamentary democracy prior to the 2011 presidential elections is highly unrealistic, and is not supported by the mainstream opposition.”[31]

Scobey further reported that the April 6 activist told her that “Mubarak derives his legitimacy from U.S. support,” and thus, that the U.S. was “responsible” for Mubarak’s “crimes,” and the activist suggested that those NGOs which sought to promote “political and economic reform” were living in a “fantasy world.” Finally, Scobey noted, the activist “offered no roadmap of concrete steps toward April 6′s highly unrealistic goal of replacing the current regime with a parliamentary democracy prior to the 2011 presidential elections.” She then noted that most of the “opposition parties and independent NGOs work toward achieving tangible, incremental reform within the current political context,” and that the activists “wholesale rejection of such an approach places him outside this mainstream of opposition politicians and activists.”[32]

The U.S. government also provided assistance to many activists in the Arab world – including Egypt – in gaining access to technology which allows dissidents “to get online without being tracked or to visit news or social media sites that governments have blocked.” Many of the tech firms and non-profits that received funding saw huge increases in the use of their technology across the Arab world during the start of the Arab Spring, much to their surprise. As one tech firm executive stated, “We didn’t start this company to go against any government… and here we are impacting millions of people in the Middle East and helping revolutions in Tunisia and Libya. We didn’t set out to do this, but we really think it’s cool we’re doing this.”[33]

Such funding and organizational initiatives from the U.S. government and related institutions for pro-democracy groups in the Arab world, and notably Egypt, has led some commentators to suggest that the Arab Spring is simply the Middle Eastern version of the U.S.-sponsored ‘colour revolutions’ over the previous decade, even writing that such U.S.-supported activist groups “indelibly serve US interests” in terms of “controlling the political opposition,” to “ensure that the US funded civil society opposition will not direct their energies against the puppet masters behind the Mubarak regime, namely the US government.”[34]

There are some fundamental problems with this position. A 2011 article in EurasiaNet noted that while there were “some similarities” between the Arab Spring and the Color Revolutions the previous decade, “there are key differences as well,” primary among them being that the Arab dictatorships “were far more authoritarian and brutal than their counterparts in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine,” which meant that the Color Revolutions “occurred in more semi-democratic contexts, in which the regimes… allowed for more media and political freedom, and were generally less repressive.” Further, the Color Revolutions based their model for ‘regime change’ exclusively upon “an electoral breakthrough in which ballot fraud became the focal point around which the civic and political opposition could rally.” Such was not the case in Tunisia or Egypt, where the sparks for revolution were unforeseen and rapid, “suggesting that the electoral breakthrough model is only possible in countries where there is some degree of political pluralism,” noted Lincoln Mitchell, an Associate Research Scholar at Columbia University.[35]

Further, the Color Revolutions had a “geopolitical element” in which they were incorporated into the “freedom agenda” of the Bush administration, and “occurred in countries that had been the beneficiaries of ample US democracy assistance.” While the U.S. was credited – or accused (depending upon who was speaking) – of having “an almost magical role in organizing the opposition, spreading democracy, funding various organizations and the like,” in the context of the Arab Spring, “social networking technology has displaced the United States as the apparent catalyst for protest,” with Twitter and Facebook being “perceived as the magic explanatory variable.”[36]

Indeed, while the U.S. provided funding for several dissident groups in the Arab world, it was not comparable in to the previous ‘Color Revolutions’ in terms of dollars, training, equipment or technical assistance in any capacity. The dissidents were not organized around a single leader or singular oppositional group, and while the U.S. Embassies were establishing contacts with dissidents, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest they were heavily involved or ‘directing’ them. The fact that much of the assistance for dissidents was in the form of training and gaining access to technologies is also noteworthy. Technology – in and of itself – is neutral: it can be used for good or not. It is entirely dependent upon how the person(s) using it choose to wield it. The United States sought to help activists gain access to technologies to work around the authoritarian regimes (which the US was supporting with billions in military and economic aid), and to slowly push for ‘reforms.’ The U.S. can help activists with getting training and access to technologies, but it has no control over how those activists ultimately utilize these technologies.

Further, as was revealed by the 2008 diplomatic cable from the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, while the Embassy and U.S. government had established contact with the April 6 Movement, Scobey portrayed their objectives as “highly unrealistic,” and the unnamed activist in the cable even stressed that the U.S. was “responsible” for the “crimes” of Mubarak. The cable stressed that the U.S. was in contact with mainstream opposition forces in Egypt, none of which were determining factors in the revolution, whereas the April 6 Movement, as Scobey noted, was “outside this mainstream of opposition and activists,” proposing the “unrealistic goal of replacing the current regime.”[37]

The U.S. interest in doing this was not altruistic, of course, but was ultimately aimed at ‘hedging their bets.’ Certainly, the U.S. government would be seeking to use activists and dissident groups for its own purposes, but one must also acknowledge that activists and dissident groups use the U.S. government (and its funding) for their own purposes. The State Department and USAID (which provide the majority of funding for pro-democracy groups and activists from the U.S. government) know what they are told by those groups, what the groups write in reports and grant applications. In a country like Egypt, which was ruled by a repressive military dictator for three decades, sources of funding for democracy projects and activism is not easy to come by. As an activist, you would likely take whatever sources of funding and support you could get, so long as you can use the access and support for your own objectives, which is exactly what the April 6 Movement did.

Indeed, in the Arab world, the United States and its Western allies have not been interested in promoting revolution, but rather an incremental process of reform. Top US policy planners at the Council on Foreign Relations produced a report – and strategic blueprint – for the United States to follow in 2005, entitled, In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How, co-chaired by former Clinton-era Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who sits on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Aspen Institute, and is chair of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, one of the major pro-democracy funding groups based out of the US.

The other co-chair of the Task Force report was Vin Weber, former Congressman and member of the board of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the primary ‘democracy promotion’ organization funded by the U.S. government. Other members of the Task Force which produced the report held previous or present affiliations with First National Bank of Chicago, Occidental Petroleum, the Carnegie Endowment, the World Bank, Brookings Institution, Hoover Institution, the U.S. State Department, National Security Council, National Intelligence Council, the American Enterprise Institute, the IMF, AOL-Time Warner, and Goldman Sachs.[38] In other words, the strategic blueprint for promoting ‘democracy’ in the Arab world was developed by major U.S. strategic and corporate elites, including those who literally run the major democracy promotion organizations (including those that funded such groups in Egypt and elsewhere).

So what did the report have to say about the American Empire’s strategy for promoting democracy in the Arab world? Firstly, the report noted that, while “democracy entails certain inherent risks, the denial of freedom carries much more significant long-term dangers. If Arab citizens are able to express grievances freely and peacefully, they will be less likely to turn to more extreme measures.” Thus, the report noted, “the United States should promote the development of democratic institutions and practices over the long term, mindful that democracy cannot be imposed from the outside and that sudden, traumatic change is neither necessary nor desirable.” Most importantly, however, the report noted: “America’s goal in the Middle East should be to encourage democratic evolution, not revolution.”[39]

So how can we interpret this? Democracy, as the United States defines it, is more “secure” precisely because it provides an institutional framework in which control may still be exercised, but where there are various degrees of freedom, enough to allow social pressures to be released, dissent to exist, and thus, contribute to the overall stability of a society through building consent to the power structures which rule it. Dictatorships are supported by coercion, not consent.

As America’s most influential political commentator of his time, Walter Lippmann, articulated in the 1920s, that modern democracies required the “manufacture of consent” of the public by the powerful, because “the public must be put in its place… so that each of us [elites] may live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd.” Manufacturing the consent of the public to the social order – and its prevailing power structures and hierarchies – would allow for “the least possible interference from ignorant and meddlesome outsiders.” A system in which the public’s consent was manufactured, noted Lippmann, “would provide the modern state with a foundation upon which a new stability might be realized.”[40]

That “stability” has been understood by U.S. elites for nearly a century, and it is known to be built upon the “manufacture of consent.” This is why the Task Force report on promoting Arab democracy noted that, “the denial of freedom carries much more significant long-term dangers.” The Arab Spring revolutions did not follow the criteria established by the U.S. strategy, which specifically said that, “sudden, traumatic change is neither necessary nor desirable,” though it is exactly what took place, and of course, that democracy should be promoted through “evolution, not revolution.” As the Task Force report further noted, there was a risk that, “if Washington pushes Arab leaders too hard on reform, contributing to the collapse of friendly Arab governments, this would likely have a deleterious effect on regional stability, peace, and counterterrorism operations.” While instability may arise “in the short term” from promoting democracy, the report suggested, “a policy geared toward maintaining the authoritarian status quo in the Middle East poses greater risks to U.S. interests and foreign policy goals.”[41]

For the United States and its Western allies, “democracy” is not the goal, but rather a means to a goal. The goal is, always has been, and always will be, “stability and prosperity;” control and profit. When the dictatorships fail to bring about stability and prosperity, “democracy” – so long as it is constructed along Western liberal state-capitalist lines – will be the preferred option. The European Union, when reporting on its own efforts to promote democracy in the Mediterranean region, noted that, “we believe that democracy, good governance, rule of law, and gender equality are essential for stability and prosperity.” In other words, democracy is not the goal: control and profit are the goals. The means are merely incidental, whether they be through dictatorships, or top-down democratic structures.[42]

The problem in the Arab world is deepened for the United States when one looks at public opinion polls from the region. Just prior to the outbreak of protests in Tunisia, a major Western poll on Arab public opinion was conducted by the University of Maryland and Zogby International, published in the summer of 2010. The results were very interesting, noting that only 5% and 6% of respondents in 2010 believed that “promoting democracy” and “spreading human rights” were the two factors (respectively) which were most important in America’s foreign policy in the region. At the top of the list of priorities, with 49% and 45% respectively, were “protecting Israel” and “controlling oil,” followed by 33% each for “weakening the Muslim world” and “preserving regional and global dominance.”[43]

Further, 92% of respondents felt that Iran has a right to its nuclear program if it is peaceful, and 70% feel that right remains even if Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. Roughly 57% of respondents felt that if Iran acquired nuclear weapons, things would be “more positive” for the region, compared to 21% who thought it would be “more negative.” The poll asked which two countries posed the largest threat to the region, with Israel at 88% and the United States at 77%, while Iran was viewed as one of the two major threats to the region by only 10% of respondents, just above China and equal to Algeria.[44]

In other words, if truly representative – or genuine – democracies emerged in the region, they would be completely counter to U.S. strategic interests in the region, and thus, real democracy in the Arab world is not in the American interest. Top-down democracy, however, largely influenced by Western ideas and institutions, in which people are able to select between a couple parties which articulate social differences but implement largely identical economic and strategic policies, is an ideal circumstance for imperial powers.

Interestingly, Barack Obama’s 2010 budget sought to cut funding for democracy and governance aid to both Egypt and Jordan by roughly 40%, and for Egypt specifically, “funding has been cut by nearly 75 per cent for pro-democracy NGOs of which the Egyptian government does not approve.” These are hardly the actions of an American government seeking to implement ‘regime change’ through funding pro-democracy groups. Michele Dunne, a senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment, a major U.S. based think tank, noted that the cuts to funding pro-democracy groups in Egypt (and elsewhere) show that, “the Obama administration has decided on a more conciliatory approach toward the autocratic regimes, such as Egypt’s, that dominate Middle Eastern politics.”[45]

While funding for democracy groups in Egypt was cut by 75% for 2010, U.S. aid to the Egyptian government would amount to $1.55 billion for 2010, of which $1.3 billion was in the form of military aid. Michele Dunne noted, “My conversations with members of the [Obama] administration have made it clear that they did not want economic assistance to irritate the Egyptian government,” whereas the Bush administration’s funding for civil society groups in Egypt had caused a great deal of frustration from Mubarak and his regime. Under Bush, such funding had “doubled and tripled.” Under Obama, much of this was undone. Safwat Girgis, who runs two Egyptian-based NGOs, said that Obama’s “decision is in the best interest of the Egyptian government, not the people nor the civil society organizations… In my opinion, this is just an exchange of interests between Egypt and the United States.”[46]

The ‘Liberal Opposition’ in Egypt

When powerful Western states seek to influence or manage ‘transitions to democracy,’ they generally support whatever elite most closely resembles themselves, usually a variation of liberal democratic state-capitalist groups. But whatever dominant institutions pre-exist in that society have to be integrated with the new ‘method’ of governance (political parties, elections, etc.), though the pre-existing oligarchy generally remains in charge. Transitions to ‘democracy’ are promoted by the American Empire as if the United States had some sort of ‘God complex,’ seeking to remake the world in its own image… or delusion, rather.

Political parties need to be organized. Those which are more ‘Western’ are deemed more acceptable to Western elites, usually the ‘liberal democrats,’ or some variation thereof. In Egypt, there was not such an organized opposition in time for the revolution. There were attempts within Egypt to develop a liberal opposition, but the dictatorship kept a firm fist over political life. One such liberal opposition figure was Mohamed ElBaradei, an international diplomat who had, for decades, lived in the West.

In 2009, the former head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, announced that he would consider running for president of Egypt in the planned 2011 elections, commenting, “I have been listening tentatively, and deeply appreciate the calls for my candidacy for president.” He explained that he would “only consider it if there is a free and fair election, and that is a question mark still in Egypt.” ElBaradei received support in running for president from the liberal Wafd party, as well as from groups within the Kefaya (“Enough”) movement.[47]

As ElBaradei arrived in Egypt in February of 2010, he was greeted by hundreds of Egyptians welcoming him, hopeful for his potential presidential bid. The first multiparty elections in Egypt were held in 2005, though the entire process was “marred by fraud,” unsurprisingly. While 2011 was set to have a follow-up election, most assumed that Hosni Mubarak would attempt to hand power over to his son, Gamal.[48] That same month, ElBaradei announced that he was going to form “a national association for change” in Egypt, opening the invite for “anyone who wanted a change to the ruling party” to join the association, following talks with several opposition figures and civil society leaders, including a representative of the Muslim brotherhood.[49] The National Association for Change would have as its “main target” to “be pushing for constitutional reforms and social justice,” explained ElBaradei.[50]

In June of 2010, the Muslim Brotherhood officially endorsed the ‘reform campaign’ of ElBaradei, following a meeting between ElBaradei and Said al Katani, the leader of the Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc. Both the Brotherhood and ElBaradei’s National Association for Change announced that they would plan to co-ordinate and work together in the future on promoting reform in Egypt.[51]

The National Association for Change (NAC) created a petition which called for constitutional amendments allowing independent political candidates to run in the upcoming election, as well as providing independent supervision of the elections. Only 70,000 signatures were attached to the petition within a few months, though ElBaradei had been anticipating millions. ElBaradei had been hoping for mass protests and a boycott against the upcoming legislative elections planned for the fall of 2010, commenting that, “anyone who will participate in this charade will be giving legitimacy or pseudo-legitimacy to a regime desperate to get legitimacy.” ElBaradei also extended his criticisms to the Egyptian population, suggesting that there was “a high level of apathy and despair that anything is going to change,” and that “people need to mature… I can be a leader if I have the people behind me. I can’t bring about change single-handed.”[52]

The following month of July 2010, Mohamed ElBaradei was appointed to the board of trustees of the International Crisis Group (ICG). The ICG describes its goals as being to work “through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict,” producing “regular analytical reports containing practical recommendations targeted at key international decision-takers.”

The board of trustees was made up of a number of prominent Western elites from the state, military, think tanks, corporations and international organizations, including: Thomas Pickering, former US Ambassador; George Soros, billionaire investor and chair of the Open Society Institute; Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General (now on the international advisory board of JPMorgan Chase); Samuel Berger, former U.S. National Security Adviser and chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group; Wesley Clark, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander; Carla A. Hills, former U.S. trade representative and member of numerous corporate boards; Jessica Tuchman Matthews, the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Javier Solana, former NATO Secretary-General, among many others.[53]

Senior advisers to the International Crisis Group also include Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former Saudi Ambassador to the United States; former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico, among many other former top government officials and current corporate and think tank leaders.[54]

Further revealing how entrenched the ICG is within the Western imperial establishment, roughly 49% of its funding comes from governments, including the foreign affairs departments and aid agencies of the governments of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the European Union, Finland, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. Roughly 20% of the ICG’s funding comes from private foundations, such as the Carnegie Corporation, Elders Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Henry Luce Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Open Society Foundations (run by the Soros family), the Radcliffe Foundation, Stanley Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Private sector support for the ICG accounts for 31% of its funding, from individuals and institutions such as: Dow Chemical, McKinsey & Company, Anglo American PLC, BG Group, BP, Chevron, Shell, Statoil, the Clinton Family Foundation, ENI, and many others.[55]

Western elites were obviously taking note of potential changes in Egypt, and certain groups within elite circles seek to get ahead of change and try to steer ‘reforms’ into safe areas (for entrenched power structures). They were aiming to encourage ‘reform’ in Egypt, not revolution. The International Crisis Group (ICG) is a good example of this, an organization with a focus on monitoring and providing ‘advice’ to states and other powerful institutions on preventing and managing crises, bringing together corporate, financial, ‘philanthropic,’ strategic and intellectual power players into a single institution. Inviting Mohamed ElBaradei into the group was an opening to attempt to bring Egypt’s potential future leadership more closely aligned with the interests and ideas of the Western elite. When ElBaradei returned to Egypt once again – though days after the uprising began – he suspended his membership with the International Crisis Group.[56]

Mohamed ElBaradei, after forming the National Association for Change in Egypt, spent most of his summer in 2010 abroad, though he returned in September to meet with opposition groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, at the Brotherhood’s annual Ramadan iftar banquet, where one leader from the Kefaya movement lambasted the Brotherhood for not taking an official stance in announcing it would boycott the coming legislative elections. Since the Brotherhood was the only large organized opposition within Egypt, the more liberal-leaning opposition groups formed a tenuous alliance with the organization.[57]

As a leader in the National Association for Change – Cairo University political scientist Hassan Nafaa – said: “We are forced to come together.” A spokesperson for the Brotherhood commented, “There are now only two possibilities: the regime or the Muslim Brotherhood.” Still, the Brotherhood, which held the largest opposition seats in the Parliament (with 20% of the total), “has been careful not to criticize Mubarak directly and insists it would never nominate its own candidate for the presidency.” The official stance of the Brotherhood has, however, “alienated many of its most active young members,” many of whom resigned in protest. Mohamed Salmawy, the president of the Egyptian Writers’ Union, referred to the Brotherhood, saying, “They can never come up with a real platform… If they did, it would give them away. They would be found out as people who do not believe in democracy.”[58]

That same month, ElBaradei went on to call for a national boycott of the elections and told several activists that, “regime change was possible in the coming year.” The National Association for Change had compiled nearly one million signatures demanding constitutional change, and ElBaradei commented, “If the whole people boycott the elections it will be, in my view, the end of the regime.”[59]

Intelligent Imperialism: The Working Group on Egypt

The Working Group on Egypt was formed in April of 2010 as a co-operative effort by officials from multiple prominent U.S. think tanks to encourage a change in policy toward Egypt, and more specifically, to encourage ‘democratic reforms.’ The Working Group consisted of nine different individuals: Elliott Abrams, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, former State Department official who also served on the National Security Council in both the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations; Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, former senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, former member of the State Department in the Reagan administration, and he also currently sits on the Secretary of State’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board; Scott Carpenter of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, previously served as a Deputy Secretary of State in the Bush administration, and served as an adviser in managing the Iraqi occupation, previously having worked with the International Republican Institute (IRI); Ambassador Edward Walker of the Middle East Institute, a former Assistant Secretary of State and ambassador to Israel, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates.

Other members of the Working Group included: Tom Malinowski, a director of Human Rights Watch, and former member of the National Security Council in the Clinton administration and former speechwriter for Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright; Ellen Bork of the Foreign Policy Initiative, former director at Freedom House, former deputy director of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), former State Department official and member of the Council on Foreign Relations; Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, recognized as a ‘foremost’ authority on democracy-assistance programs, he served in the State Department working with USAID on ‘democracy assistance’ to Latin America during the Reagan administration; Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment, a former member of the National Security Council staff and the State Department’s Policy Planning staff, she also served as a diplomat in Israel and Egypt, and currently is a vice president at the Atlantic Council and is on the board of directors of the National Endowment for Democracy; and Daniel Calingaert, vice president of Freedom House, formerly with the International Republican Institute (IRI), and was a researcher at RAND Corporation.

Of the nine officials that make up the Working Group on Egypt, Calingaert was the only one who did not previously serve on the National Security Council or State Department. Moreover, several of the most influential U.S.-based ‘democracy promotion’ organizations were heavily represented in the Group, such as the National Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican Institute, and Freedom House.

Thomas Carothers, a member of the Working Group, is considered by the major think tanks and establishment journals to be “one of the world’s foremost experts on democracy building.”[60] In 1997, he wrote an article explaining the general strategy of “democracy assistance” by the United States, primarily focused on supporting ‘institutions’ that the state views as “constituent elements of democracy.” This is broken down into three areas, providing support to “the electoral arena, governmental institutions, and civil society.” In the electoral arena, the focus is on providing for “free and fair elections.” They also “aid” in the development of political parties, “primarily through technical assistance and training on campaign methods and institutional development,” with the ultimate aim of creating a “party system” in which there are several different parties which differ only in “mild ideological shadings.”[61]

In terms of providing assistance to ‘governmental institutions,’ Carothers noted the U.S. democracy aid “seeks to help build democracy from the top down,” as opposed to allowing for democracy to generate from the bottom up (aka: genuine democracy). One of the primary facets of this program is for the U.S. to “aid” in the writing of a new constitution, “to help steer the country toward adopting a constitution that guarantees democratic government and a full range of political and civil rights,” of course including private property rights for corporations and specific privileges for elites.[62]

The U.S. also offers “assistance” in helping to form parliamentary bodies and undertake “judicial reform… to increase the efficiency and independence of judicial systems.” In terms of support to ‘civil society,’ U.S. assistance tends to pour into NGOs, the media, and unions. The key determinant of support for NGOs is if they “seek to influence governmental policy on some specific set of issues.” Support for media aims to make it an “independent, professionalized media,” which is to say, corporate controlled; and support for unions, Carothers explained, was an older ‘assistance’ program by the U.S. government aimed at building up unions “not affiliated with leftist political parties or movements.” Again, for the United States, “democracy” is all about “top down,” which is to say, democracy engineered by (and for) elites.[63]

In their first statement, issued to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in April of 2010, the Working Group urged Clinton “to promote democratic reform in Egypt in advance of the upcoming elections,” warning that, “rather than progressing gradually on a path of desirable reform, Egypt is instead sliding backwards into increased authoritarianism.” Noting that, “Egypt is at a critical turning point,” the Working Group recommended that the Egyptian government should respond “to demands for responsible political change… [and] face the future as a more democratic nation with greater domestic and international support,” which is to say, ‘order and stability.’[64]

If this is not done, they warned, “prospects for stability and prosperity in Egypt will be in doubt,” which would “have serious consequences for the United States, Egypt’s neighbors, the U.S.-Egyptian relationship, and regional stability.” The United States, they wrote, “has a stake in the path Egypt takes.” Noting that Egypt had a massive population of unemployed youth, the statement declared: “To fulfill expectations and to prevent the onset of frustration and radicalism, Egypt must expand citizens’ say in how they are governed,” explaining that there was “now an opportunity to support gradual, responsible democratic reform,” noting that the longer the U.S. waits, “the harder it will be to reverse a dangerous trend.”[65]

The Working Group sent a follow-up letter to Clinton the next month, upon Mubarak’s decision to extend the “state of emergency” (which he initially passed when he came to power in 1981) for another two years, noting that the situation “heightens our concern that the administration’s practice of quiet diplomacy is not bearing fruit,” and that, “we are more convinced than ever of the importance of U.S. engagement… the United States is uniquely positioned to engage the Egyptian government and civil society and encourage them along a path toward reform. The time to use that leverage is now.”[66]

Noting that when rebels ousted the corrupt Kyrgyzstan government in April of 2010, the population complained of the U.S.’s silence in the face of rigged elections and human rights abuses, “placing a clear priority on strategic cooperation with the government.” Watch out, Kagan and Dunne warned: “If the Obama administration does not figure out how to make clear that it supports the political and human rights of Egyptian citizens, while cooperating with the Egyptian government on diplomatic and security affairs, people will be saying that about the United States in Cairo one of these days – and maybe sooner than we expect.”[67]

In November of 2010, members of the Working Group on Egypt held a meeting with members of the Obama administration’s National Security Council staff, including Dennis Ross, Samantha Power, Pradeep Ramamurthy, Dan Shapiro, and Gayle Smith. The meeting was “to discuss Egypt’s upcoming elections, prospects for political reform, and the implications for U.S. policy.”[68]

The Working Group on Egypt was made up of a group of strategists from the dominant think tanks and ‘democracy’ promotion organizations embedded within the U.S. elite establishment, organized in an effort to promote a strategy which would secure long-term Western interests in the Arab world and Egypt in particular, pushing for ‘democratic’ reforms in order to placate the inevitable tide of history from tossing the United States out of Egypt in a revolutionary fervor. When the uprising began, and thereafter, those involved with the Working Group on Egypt became increasingly influential within U.S. policy circles, most notably at the National Security Council (NSC).

The Secret Report

In August of 2010, Obama issued a Presidential Study Directive to be undertaken by some of his advisers “to produce a secret report on unrest in the Arab world.” The 18-page report was produced by Dennis Ross, the senior adviser on the Middle East, and senior director of the National Security Council Samantha Power, along with another NSC staffer, Gayle Smith. Weekly meetings were held between these officials and representatives from the State Department, CIA, and other agencies. The conclusions of the report were – as the New York Times reported – “without sweeping political changes, countries from Bahrain to Yemen were ripe for popular revolt,” with particular ‘flashpoints’ being identified, including Egypt.[69]

The report suggested that proposals be put forward on how to pressure Arab regimes to implement reforms before such circumstances arose. A senior official who helped draft the report later commented, “There’s no question Egypt was very much on the mind of the president… You had all the unknowns created by Egypt’s succession picture – and Egypt is the anchor of the region.”[70]

Yemen, long ruled by Ali Abdullah Saleh, was another nation that figured prominently in the report. Another administration official acknowledged that with rising youth populations, increasingly educated, yet with few economic opportunities and access to social media and the Internet, there was a “real prescription for trouble… whether it was Yemen or other countries in the region, you saw a set of trends.” Obama also pressed his advisers to look at the popular uprisings in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia to draw parallels and assess successes and failures. The report laid out a basis upon which the U.S. attempted to navigate its initial strategy during the uprisings of the Arab Spring.[71]

Imperial Dilemma: Choosing Dictatorship or Democracy?

The stage was set, change was inevitable, strategy was lagging – though developing – and the empire was thrown into a crisis when Egypt’s 18-day revolt took the world by shock. When one of the most important strategic ‘allies’ (aka: proxies) of the United States was thrown into a crisis in the form of a popular domestic uprising against the U.S.-subsidized dictatorship, the American Empire attempted to dance its way between the rhetoric – and strategic interest – of ‘democracy’ and the known stability and comfort of dictatorship. This dance over the 18-day uprising will be the focus of the next part in this series.

This report described some of the key ideas and characters that would become intimately involved in attempting to manage the situation within Egypt during the 18-day revolt and in the years since the uprising overthrew Mubarak. From the dictatorship, to democracy-promotion, and Egypt’s ‘liberal opposition,’ the Obama administration – and most especially the Pentagon, State Department, and National Security Council (often working closely with the Working Group on Egypt) sought to manage the dance between dictatorship and democracy for the Arab world’s most populous country in the midst of a popular uprising.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a 26-year old researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

 

Notes

[1] Justin Webb, “Obama interview: the transcript,” BBC, 2 June 2009:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/news/2009/06/090602_obama_transcript.shtml

[2] Political Punch, “Secretary Clinton in 2009: “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family”,” ABC News, 31 January 2011:

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/01/secretary-clinton-in-2009-i-really-consider-president-and-mrs-mubarak-to-be-friends-of-my-family/

[3] Simon Tisdall, “WikiLeaks cables cast Hosni Mubarak as Egypt’s ruler for life,” The Guardian, 9 December 2011:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/09/wikileaks-cables-hosni-mubarak-succession

[4] Ibid.

[5] Luke Harding, “WikiLeaks cables show close US relationship with Egyptian president,” The Guardian, 28 January 2011:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/28/wikileaks-cairo-cables-egypt-president

[6] Mark Landler and Andrew W. Lehren, “Cables Show Delicate U.S. Dealings With Egypt’s Leaders,” The New York Times, 27 January 2011:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/28/world/middleeast/28diplo.html?pagewanted=all

[7] Jeffrey Fleishman, “WikiLeaks: Diplomatic cables show Egyptian leader’s acrimony with Iran,” The Los Angeles Times, 29 November 2010:

http://articles.latimes.com/2010/nov/29/world/la-fg-wikileaks-arabs-20101130

[8] Press Release, “Remarks by President Obama and President Mubarak of Egypt During Press Availability,” The White House, 18 August 2009:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-President-Obama-and-President-Mubarak-of-Egypt-during-press-availability

[9] Anne E. Kornblut and Mary Beth Sheridan, “Obama Optimistic About Mideast Peace,” The Washington Post, 19 August 2009:

http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2009-08-19/world/36857472_1_egyptian-president-hosni-mubarak-president-obama-egypt-and-jordan

[10] Michael Slackman, “Mubarak to Tell U.S. Israel Must Make Overture,” The New York Times, 16 August 2009:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/17/world/middleeast/17mubarak.html

[11] Richard Falk, “Ben Ali Tunisia was model US client,” Al-Jazeera, 25 January 2011:

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/01/201112314530411972.html

[12] Daya Gamage, “Massive U.S. Military Aid to Tunisia despite human rights abuses,” Asian Tribune, 18 January 2011:

http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2011/01/18/massive-us-military-aid-tunisia-despite-human-rights-abuses

[13] NYT, “Challenges Facing Countries Across North Africa and the Middle East,” The New York Times, 17 February 2011:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/02/17/world/middleeast/0217-mideast-region-graphic.html

[14] Samer al-Atrush, “Tunisia: Why the Jasmine Revolution won’t bloom,” The Telegraph, 16 January 2011:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/tunisia/8261961/Tunisia-Why-the-Jasmine-Revolution-wont-bloom.html

[15] Steven Erlanger, “France Seen Wary of Interfering in Tunisia Crisis,” The New York Times, 16 January 2011:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/17/world/africa/17france.html

[16] Angelique Chrisafis, “Sarkozy admits France made mistakes over Tunisia,” The Guardian, 24 January 2011:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/jan/24/nicolas-sarkozy-tunisia-protests

[17] Raj M. Desai, Anders Olofsgard, and Tarik M. Yousef, “The Logic of Authoritarian Bargains,” Economics & Politics (Vol. 21, No. 1, March 2009), pages 93-94.

[18] Raj M. Desai, Anders Olofsgard and Tarik Yousef, “Is the Arab Authoritarian Bargain Collapsing?,” The Brookings Institution, 9 February 2011:

http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2011/02/09-arab-economies-desai-yousef

[19] F. Gregory Gause III, “Why Middle East Studies Missed the Arab Spring: The Myth of Authoritarian Stability,” Foreign Affairs (Vol. 90, No. 4, July/August 2011), pages 81-82.

[20] Marwan Muasher, “Tunisia’s Crisis and the Arab World,” the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 24 January 2011:

http://carnegieendowment.org/2011/01/24/tunisia-s-crisis-and-arab-world/1n0e

[21] Noam Chomsky, “Is the world too big to fail?,” Al-Jazeera, 29 September 2011:

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/09/201192514364490977.html

[22] Roger Cohen, “Who Really Brought Down Milosevic?” The New York Times, 26 November 2000:

http://www.nytimes.com/2000/11/26/magazine/who-really-brought-down-milosevic.html

[23] Philip Shishkin, “In Putin’s Backyard, Democracy Stirs — With U.S. Help,” The Wall Street Journal, 25 February 2005:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB110929289650463886.html

[24] Ian Traynor, “US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev,” The Guardian, 26 November 2004:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/nov/26/ukraine.usa

[25] Mark Almond, “The price of People Power,” The Guardian, 7 December 2004:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/dec/07/ukraine.comment

[26] Matt Kelley, “U.S. money has helped opposition in Ukraine,” Associated Press, 11 December 2004:

http://www.utsandiego.com/uniontrib/20041211/news_1n11usaid.html

[27] Daniel Wolf, “A 21st century revolt,” The Guardian, 13 May 2005:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/may/13/ukraine.features11 ;

Craig S. Smith, “U.S. Helped to Prepare the Way for Kyrgyzstan’s Uprising,” The New York Times, 30 March 2005:

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9806E4D9123FF933A05750C0A9639C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all ;

John Laughland, “The mythology of people power,” The Guardian, 1 April 2005:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/apr/01/usa.russia ;

Jonathan Steele, “Ukraine’s postmodern coup d’etat,” The Guardian, 26 November 2004:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/nov/26/ukraine.comment

[28] Ron Nixon, “U.S. Groups Helped Nurture Arab Uprisings,” The New York Times, 14 April 2011:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/15/world/15aid.html?pagewanted=all

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] “Egypt protests: secret US document discloses support for protesters,” The Telegraph, 28 January 2011:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/egypt/8289698/Egypt-protests-secret-US-document-discloses-support-for-protesters.html

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ian Shapira, “U.S. funding tech firms that help Mideast dissidents evade government censors,” The Washington Post, 10 March 2011:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/03/09/AR2011030905716.html

[34] Michel Chossudovsky, “The Protest Movement in Egypt: “Dictators” do not Dictate, They Obey Orders,” Global Research, 29 January 2011:

http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-protest-movement-in-egypt-dictators-do-not-dictate-they-obey-orders/22993

[35] Lincoln Mitchell, “North Africa through the Lens of the Color Revolutions,” EurasiaNet, 4 February 2011:

http://www.eurasianet.org/node/62832

[36] Ibid.

[37] “Egypt protests: secret US document discloses support for protesters,” The Telegraph, 28 January 2011:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/egypt/8289698/Egypt-protests-secret-US-document-discloses-support-for-protesters.html

[38] Madeleine Albright and Vin Weber, In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How (Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report, 2005), pages 49-54.

[39] Ibid, pages 3-4.

[40] Andrew Gavin Marshall, “‘A Lot of People Believe This Stuff’: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Politics of Public Relations,” Andrewgavinmarshall.com, 7 September 2012:

http://andrewgavinmarshall.com/2012/09/07/a-lot-of-people-believe-this-stuff-bill-clinton-barack-obama-and-the-politics-of-public-relations/

[41] Madeleine Albright and Vin Weber, In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How (Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report, 2005), pages 12-13.

[42] Michelle Pace, “Paradoxes and contradictions in EU democracy promotion in the Mediterranean: the limits of EU normative power,” Democratization (Vol. 16, No. 1, February 2009), page 42.

[43] Report, “2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll: Results of Arab Opinion Survey Conducted June 29-July 20, 2010,” The Brookings Institution, 5 August 2010:

http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2010/08/05-arab-opinion-poll-telhami

[44] Ibid.

[45] Matt Bradley, “Egypt’s democracy groups fear shift in US policy will harm their work,” The National, 29 January 2010:

http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/africa/egypts-democracy-groups-fear-shift-in-us-policy-will-harm-their-work

[46] Ibid.

[47] Opposition hopeful for an ElBaradei presidential run,” The National, 6 December 2009:

http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/opposition-hopeful-for-an-elbaradei-presidential-run

[48] Abigail Hauslohner, “Will ElBaradei Run for President of Egypt?” Time Magazine, 20 February 2010:

http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1966922,00.html

[49] “ElBaradei to form ‘national association for change’,” BBC News, 24 February 2010:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8534365.stm

[50] Amro Hassan and Jeffrey Fleishman, “Egypt’s Mohamed ElBaradei creates National Front for Change,” The Los Angeles Times, 24 February 2010:

http://articles.latimes.com/2010/feb/24/world/la-fg-egypt-elbaradei25-2010feb25

[51] Matt Bradley, “Brotherhood sides with ElBaradei,” The National, 6 June 2010:

http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/brotherhood-sides-with-elbaradei

[52] Nadia Abou el Magd, “Mohammed ElBaradei, Egypt’s wake-up caller,” The National, 26 June 2010:

http://www.thenational.ae/news/mohammed-elbaradei-egypts-wake-up-caller#full

[53] Brussels, “Crisis Group Announces New Board Members,” International Crisis Group, 1 July 2010:

http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/publication-type/media-releases/2010/crisis-group-announces-new-board-members.aspx

[54] ICG, “Crisis Group Senior Advisers,” International Crisis Group:

http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/about/~/link.aspx?_id=AFAAD992BC154C93B71B1E76D6151F3F&_z=z

[55] ICG, “Who Supports Crisis Group?” The International Crisis Group, funding for the year ending 30 June 2012:

http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/support/who-supports-crisisgroup.aspx

[56] International Crisis Group, “Popular Protest in North Africa and the Middle East (I): Egypt Victorious?” Middle East/North Africa Report, (No. 101, 24 February 2011), page 4 (footnote #33).

[57] Thanassis Cambanis, “Thin Line for Group of Muslims in Egypt,” The New York Times, 5 September 2010:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/06/world/middleeast/06egypt.html?pagewanted=all

[58] Ibid.

[59] Jack Shenker, “Egyptian dissident Mohamed ElBaradei urges election boycott,” The Guardian, 7 September 2010:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/sep/07/egypt-mohamed-elbaradei

[60] Thomas Carothers, “Think Again: Arab Democracy,” Foreign Policy, 10 March 2011:

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/03/10/think_again_arab_democracy

[61] Thomas Carothers, “Democracy Assistance: The Question of Strategy,” Democratization (Vol. 4, No. 3, Autumn 1997), pages 112-113.

[62] Ibid, page 113.

[63] Ibid, pages 113-114.

[64] Working Group on Egypt, “A Letter to Secretary Clinton From the Working Group on Egypt,” Carnegie Middle East Center, 7 April 2010:

http://carnegie-mec.org/2010/04/07/letter-to-secretary-clinton-from-working-group-on-egypt/b983

[65] Ibid.

[66] The Working Group on Egypt, “A Second Letter to Clinton from the Working Group on Egypt,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 12 May 2010:

http://carnegieendowment.org/2010/05/12/second-letter-to-clinton-from-working-group-on-egypt/9je

[67] Michele Dunne and Robert Kagan, “Obama needs to support Egyptians as well as Mubarak,” The Washington Post, 4 June 2010:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/03/AR2010060303935.html

[68] Press Release, “Working Group on Egypt meets with NSC staff,” The Carnegie Endowment for International peace, 2 November 2010:

http://carnegieendowment.org/2010/11/02/working-group-on-egypt-meets-with-nsc-staff/q0c

[69] Mark Landler, “Secret Report Ordered by Obama Identified Potential Uprisings,” The New York Times, 16 February 2011:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/17/world/middleeast/17diplomacy.html

[70] Ibid.

[71] Ibid.

Egypt Under Empire, Part 3: From Nasser to Mubarak

Egypt Under Empire, Part 3: From Nasser to Mubarak

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally published at The Hampton Institute

Egyptians Prepare In Tahrir Square For The First Anniverary Of The Revolution

Part 1: Working Class Resistance and European Imperial Ambitions

Part 2: The “Threat” Of Arab Nationalism

Between 1952 and 2011, Egypt was ruled by three military dictators: Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak. Nasser placated labour unrest and imposed many social programs that benefited the population. Sadat subsequently began to break down the ‘social contract’ with Egyptian society, and when Mubarak came to power in 1981, the following three decades witnessed the imposition of a neoliberal order, complete with crony-capitalists, corrupted bureaucracies and a repressive police force. Three decades of increased poverty, polarized wealth and power, and increased labour unrest all laid the groundwork for the 2011 popular uprising.

As Nasser came to power in Egypt in 1952, he successfully crushed labour militancy in the country, and even executed two labour leaders as a symbol of the new regime’s lack of tolerance for radical labour actions. Nasser engaged in a power struggle for a brief period, before assuming complete power in 1954, at which point independent political organizations were banned and he “ushered in a populist-corporatist pact between labour and the state,” in which “the state controls the bulk of the economic, political, and social domains, leaving little space for society to develop itself and for interest groups to surface, compete, and act autonomously.”[1]

Labour groups were organized “into a limited number of singular, compulsory, non-competitive, hierarchically ordered and functionally differentiated categories.” In 1957, the government created the General Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions (GFETU), monopolizing labour unions under the government, purging the radical leaders and co-opting the moderates. Since this period, “trade unions have functioned as an arm of the state rather than as democratic representatives of workers.” Thus, labour activism and actions largely subsided throughout the 1950s and 60s.[2]

Despite violent repression of independent political organizations, communists and militant labour groups, Nasser became incredibly popular both within Egypt and across the wider Arab world. He established a one-party state and a large security apparatus “to crush any and all dissent.” However, his articulation and actions related to Arab nationalism and Arab socialism – the twin pillars of his ‘revolution’ – sought to free Egypt and the Arab world from imperial domination, and to undertake a social revolution domestically as “part of an informal social contract where the population accepted constraints on its political freedom in exchange for the promise of higher living standards and a stronger nation.”[3]

A large network of social services was established, which “provided employment, education and healthcare, as well as subsidized transportation and food.” This program also entailed “spending large sums of money on the military, which was seen as the protector of the nation from external enemies.” These social programs helped to “create a modern middle class” in Egypt.[4] The allegiance of the middle class to the authoritarianism of the regime was secured by the government guaranteeing state employment to all university graduates.[5]

Nasser also implemented major agrarian reforms, which between 1952 and 1961, “redistributed about one seventh of the country’s cultivable land from large landowners… passed on to the landless and near landless fellahin rather than kept for direct use by the state.” This led to an “improvement of rural incomes and agricultural production,” and attempted to undermine the influence of the large landowning class of Egyptians.[6]

With the defeat of Egypt in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Nasser’s government suffered a humiliating defeat, and Nasser’s death in 1970 led to the emergence of a new dictator, Anwar Sadat, also emerging from the military, who ruled the country from 1970 until 1981. Undertaking a policy of ‘de-nasserisation,’ Sadat sought to undo many of Nasser’s more progressive policies, earning him the favour of the West. Among such policies were to return the “confiscated” land to the large landowners within Egypt by employing an ‘open door’ market-oriented program called infitah. The intifah helped to create the conditions for a real estate and credit boom, ultimately adding to Egypt’s foreign debt as the country became increasingly dependent upon foreign financing and ‘investment.’[7]

The infitah – or “opening” – wrote Hibbard and Layton, “offered an alternative vision of economic development to that of Arab socialism;” beginning a process of liberalization and an influx of Western capital, “to integrate Egypt into the Western capitalist system.” Sadat’s policies also oversaw the gradual elimination of Nasser’s social programs and “the abandonment of Nasser’s anti-imperialism.” The country quickly became more trade dependent, having to import staple foods, and foreign financing was limited to non-productive sectors of the economy. Egypt increasingly exported its labour to the Persian Gulf, which helped to reduce the problems of unemployment at home, and increased the country’s reliance upon remittances from its foreign workers sending their wages back home. In 1974, labour remittances, oil exports, tourism, foreign aid and the Suez Canal accounted for nearly a third of Egypt’s foreign income, a number that exploded to 75% in 1980. A new commercial elite developed with extensive ties to the state, while economic inequality between the rich and the rest of society accelerated.[8]

Such policies did not occur without resistance, however, with opposition emanating from academics, state bureaucrats and workers, with strikes and “popular unrest” occurring throughout the mid-1970s, with a major transport worker strike in 1976 and large bread riots in 1977. Sadat responded to the labour unrest and food riots by sending in the military to crush the protests. Sadat oversaw the construction of an alliance between the large landowning class, the business class, and the conservative religious elite, and even sought to build ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. Further, Sadat rebuilt ties with the United States, and even established an alliance and peace treaty with Israel, negotiated by the Carter administration in the U.S. as the 1979 Camp David Peace Accords. With that, Sadat lost a great deal of popular support, and Egypt’s Islamists rejected him. Sadat was ultimately assassinated by an Islamist group in 1981.[9]

In 1981, Hosni Mubarak then took control of Egypt, also emerging from within the military and continuing the trend of maintaining the military dictatorship established since 1952, and deepening the economic ‘reforms’ begun under Sadat. Under Mubarak, the military and economic elites became more closely integrated, and with the imposition on the Emergency Law following Sadat’s assassination, Mubarak wielded more authoritarian power, suspending the constitution and dismantling the rights of citizens, also allowing for “detention without charge, press censorship and other restrictions on civil liberties.” A new – parallel – legal system was constructed, relying upon military courts, purportedly for use against ‘terrorists’ but used to persecute any and all forms of political opponents.[10]

Mubarak oversaw – during the 1980s and 1990s – a massively expanded entrenchment of neoliberal economic and social reforms in Egypt. Mubarak also pursued a major campaign against Islamists, who were making political gains with segments of the population by capitalizing on the poverty and popular anger toward the government, largely brought on as a result of the economic reforms. Mubarak’s Egypt thus became a major human rights violator, all the while receiving immense financial and military aid from Western governments, namely, the United States. The role of the security services – in particular the police forces under the control of the Interior Ministry – became more predominant throughout Mubarak’s rule, with torture and other abuses widespread.[11]

The military plays a very large role in the economy as well, and under Mubarak, military officials were appointed as regional governors, village chiefs and put in charge of state-run companies. The military itself has undertaken large land expropriations, runs companies and factories, giving it a major role to play in manufacturing, agriculture, construction, gas and consumer industries. The military, however, keeps most of its economic activities secret, and does not pay taxes while often using “conscripted labourers” for its workforce.[12]

Mubarak began to implement further ‘reforms’ to the agrarian sector along neoliberal lines during the 1980s. The Agriculture Minister Yusuf Wali began implementing agriculture sector liberalization policies in 1986, working “hand in hand with USAID and the World Bank.” The U.S. stressed “market-oriented” reforms and promoted export-led growth, as USAID invested $1.26 billion in the agricultural reforms. These reforms continued over the 1990s, and resulted in widespread dispossession of small farmers and a further alliance between economic and military-political elites.[13]

The major neoliberal reforms in Egypt arrived under Mubarak with the signing of a 1991 Economic Restructuring and Adjustment Program with the IMF, demanding liberalization of trade and prices, privatization, and labour ‘flexibility,’ as well as the removal of several social safety net measures.[14]

The ‘new economic elite’ that emerged in Egypt as a result of the IMF’s programs of the 1990s were closely tied to the ruling party, the National Democratic Party (NDP), and Mubarak’s son, Gamal, who headed the NDP. Prominent businessmen became more influential in policy-making circles and “the number of businessmen elected to Egypt’s parliament increased from 8 in 1995 to 150 by 2005.”[15] Public spending on social services was dramatically cut, state-owned industries were privatized and employees fired, resulting in “staggering hardships for the majority.”[16]

As labour was under sustained attack, they fought back, with twice as many labour protests in the 1990s than took place during the 1980s. With the 1991 IMF program, Egypt was firmly entrenched in a neoliberal ‘order,’ which would accelerate over the following two decades. Fifteen years following the IMF program’s beginning – by 2006 – Egyptian workers had been subjected to continuous hardships and exponentially increased their resistance to it.[17]

The privatization program led to the unprecedented plundering of the Egyptian economy into the hands of relatively few economic elites. Out of 314 state-run companies, 209 were privatized by 2005, “leading to a massive displacement of public sector workers, and with it a further weakening of the struggling labour movement.” The number of workers employed by public sector companies was cut in half between 1994 and 2001. The IMF praised the privatization program in 2006 for having “surpassed expectations.” Wealth and power was concentrated “in the hands of a tiny layer of the country’s elite,” and a few large conglomerates dominated the major sectors of the economy. As Henry Veltmeyer wrote, “Mubarak – and the Egyptian state as a whole – represented an entire capitalist class.”[18]

Neoliberal reforms were further implemented under Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif (2005-2011), which saw businessmen take a more direct role in managing the state, with six major government ministries being run by six major businessmen in the areas of trade and industry, housing, transportation, health, agriculture and social welfare. Taxes were dramatically cut for corporations and elites and dramatically increased for the rest of the population. Corruption and embezzlement of public funds was rampant as the privatization programs effectively subsidized “the private sector at the expense of the nation as a whole.”[19]

The costs of food, fuel and transportation skyrocketed, while Prime Minister Nazif instructed protesting Egyptians to “grow up.” Thus, in 2006, Egypt witnessed a new wave of labour unrest.[20] Independent forms of worker organization re-emerged and in 2006 alone, “there were 220 major strikes involving tens of thousands of workers in the largest strike wave that Egypt had seen in decades,” and which were increasingly linking up with peasant movements protesting against the large landowners.[21]

In 2006, a three-day strike of workers at a weaving and spinning factory in El-Mahalla was “a major turning point in the history of the Egyptian workers’ movement,” marking a total work-stoppage and for a much longer duration than strike action prior and helped in the formation of new workers associations with more democratic accountability, directly challenging the state monopoly over unions.[22]

The strike was “the largest and most politically significant industrial strike since a dispute in the same workplace in 1947,” having roughly 24,000 workers participating, with over 10,000 occupying the factory for three days and nights, and on the fourth day the government granted a concession by offering a 45-day bonus. This set off a wave of worker protests and strikes across the country over the following years. Between 2006 and 2009, an estimated 1.7 million workers participated in protest actions, including private and public industrial workers, postal workers, educational administrators, workers in transportation, tax collection, healthcare, and other sectors. The recent years of labour unrest has been referred to as “the largest social movement in over half a century” taking place within Egypt.[23]

Between 2006 and 2008, Egypt recorded annual growth rates of 7%, and in 2009 – while much of the world was experiencing negative growth – Egypt recorded a 4.6% growth rate. However, between 2008 and 2009, poverty in Egypt increased from 20% to 23.4%, while roughly 40% of Egyptians live on less than $2 per day, one-third of the population is illiterate, and youth make up roughly 90% of the unemployed. Thus, while the neoliberal reforms of the previous three decades produced high growth rates, “it has [also] led to worsening living standards for the majority of the population and the increased concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny minority.”[24] Between 1998 and 2010, there were between 2 and 4 million workers who took part in between 3,400 and 4,000 strikes and other labour actions.[25] There were 266 strikes and labour actions in 2006, 614 in 2007, and they reached roughly 1,900 in 2009.[26]

As strikes escalated, the demands for higher wages and more democratic union representation evolved into demands for the end of the Mubarak regime (and the neoliberal reign of Prime Minister Nazif). One strike organizer in 2007 told a radio program, “We are challenging the regime.” At strikes, workers were chanting, “We will not be ruled by the World Bank! We will not be ruled by colonialism!” Images of signs at protests circulated, reading, “Down with the Government. We want a Free Government.” One strike leader who was arrested in 2007, said upon his release: “We want a change in the structure and hierarchy of the union system in this country… The way unions in this country are organized is completely wrong, from top to bottom. It is organized to make it look like our representatives have been elected, when really they are appointed by the government.”[27]

The second Palestinian Intifada in 2000 helped spawn new social movements within Egypt. The Cairo Conference was held in 2002 in an attempt to organize disparate social groups around two main shared positions: anti-neoliberalism and anti-war. In 2004, this led to the formation of the Kefaya (“Enough”), the Egyptian Movement for Change.[28] This was aided along by a major demographic change within the country, where by 2011, roughly 52% of Egypt’s population was under the age of 25, and it was this group which disproportionately lacked employment, with roughly 95% of post-secondary educated youth being unemployed or working in fields unrelated to their education with very low pay. It was this demographic which became increasingly mobilized around non-ideological movements such as Kefaya, organizing a series of anti-Mubarak protests between 2004 and 2005, demanding democracy and accountability. The younger members of this group then established the April 6 Movement, “an organization that emerged in support of the 2008 strike by textile workers in Mohalla al-Kubra.”[29]

A number of other social groups and protests organizations emerged from 2004 onwards, including Students for Change, Youth for Change, University Professors for Change, Workers for Change, Artists for Change, and the People’s Campaign for Change, among many others. In 2005, as Kefaya organized a massive anti-Mubarak protest, an organization of Egyptian intellectuals was formed as the National Assembly for Democratic Transition. Lawyers, journalists and other professions increasingly took part in protests.[30]

The April 6 Youth Movement began to support the Mahalla workers’ strike in 2008, with founder Ahmed Maher having started a Facebook page that quickly reached over 70,000 members. As support grew, the government crack down ensued, with roughly 500 activists arrested over the following two months, including Maher (who was also tortured).[31]

Since the Mubarak government made it illegal to hold meetings of more than five people, with a heavy-handed approach to information control and news censorship, Facebook and other Internet-based social media platforms quickly became very popular among young Egyptians. Roughly one in nine people in Egypt have Internet access, and 9% of those who have access used Facebook, making it the most visited website in the country, following Google and Yahoo. The Facebook page for the April 6 movement, reported the New York Times in 2009, was the page “with the most dynamic debates” among young Egyptians, “most of whom had never been involved with politics before joining the group.” The Facebook page provided a venue for young Egyptians “to assemble virtually and communicate freely about their grievances.”[32]

The United States has been a major sponsor of the Egyptian dictatorship, giving it extensive leverage with the regime. Between 1948 and 2011, the U.S. provided Egypt with a total of $71.6 billion in bilateral foreign aid (most of which consisted of an annual aid package of $1.3 billion in military aid from 1987 to present), and since the peace treaty with Israel was signed in 1979, Egypt has been the second-largest recipient of U.S. ‘aid’ in the world (after Israel).[33]

Another large international sponsor of the Egyptian dictatorship was the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which also heaped praise upon the Tunisian dictatorship of Ben Ali prior to its overthrow. In a 2010 report on Egypt, the IMF noted that the country had been following the Fund’s advice on economic reforms, though continued to recommend “phasing out energy subsidies” and increasing privatizations. The IMF further noted that, “the relationship between Egypt and the World Bank Group has been transformed and markedly improved over the last few years as a result of the progress Egypt has made in implementing reforms.”[34]

In 2010, labour unrest continued throughout the country, with one strike organizer telling the press in May of 2010, “The government represents the marriage between authority and money – and this marriage needs to be broken up… We call for the resignation of Ahmad Nazif’s government because it works only for businessmen and ignores social justice.”[35]

Egypt was clearly on the edge of an uprising, all that was required was a ‘spark’ – which came in the form of the Tunisian uprising in December of 2010 and January of 2011. With the overthrow of the long-time dictator, Ben Ali, in Tunisia, Egyptians were motivated to mobilize against Mubarak.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, head of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, Research Director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and hosts a weekly podcast show at BoilingFrogsPost.

Notes

[1] Rabab El-Mahdi, “Labour protests in Egypt: causes and meanings,” Review of African Political Economy (Vol. 38, No. 129, September 2011), page 390.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, “The origins and future of Egypt’s revolt,” Journal of Islamic Law and Culture (Vol. 12, No. 3, October 2010), pages 198-199.

[4] Ibid, page 199.

[5] Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., page 390.

[6] Ray Bush, “Coalitions for Dispossession and Networks of Resistance? Land, Politics and Agrarian Reform in Egypt,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (Vol. 38, No. 3, December 2011), page 395.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, “The origins and future of Egypt’s revolt,” Journal of Islamic Law and Culture (Vol. 12, No. 3, October 2010), page 200.

[9] Ibid, pages 200-201.

[10] Ibid, pages 201-202.

[11] Ibid, pages 202-203.

[12] Angela Joya, “The Egyptian revolution: crisis of neoliberalism and the potential for democratic politics,” Review of African Political Economy (Vol. 38, No. 129, September 2011), page 372.

[13] Ray Bush, op. cit., pages 396-397.

[14] Angela Joya, op. cit., page 370.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, op. cit., page 202.

[17] Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., page 395.

[18] Henry Veltmeyer, “Unrest and Change: Dispatches from the Frontline of a Class War in Egypt,” Globalizations (Vol. 8, No. 5, October 2011), page 612.

[19] Angela Joya, op. cit., pages 370-371.

[20] Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., page 395.

[21] Henry Veltmeyer, op. cit., page 612.

[22] Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., pages 397-399.

[23] Ibid, pages 387-388.

[24] Henry Veltmeyer, op. cit., page 611.

[25] Joel Beinin, “Egyptian Workers and January 25th: A Social Movement in Historical Context,” Social Research (Vol. 79, No. 2, Summer 2012), page 326.

[26] Ibrahim Awad, “Breaking Out of Authoritarianism: 18 Months of Political Transition in Egypt,” Constellations (Vol. 20, No. 2, 2013), page 278.

[27] Joel Beinin, op. cit., page 331.

[28] Angela Joya, op. cit., pages 368-369.

[29] Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, “The origins and future of Egypt’s revolt,” Journal of Islamic Law and Culture (Vol. 12, No. 3, October 2010), pages 206-207.

[30] Angela Joya, op. cit., page 369.

[31] Ellen Knickmeyer, “Fledgling Rebellion on Facebook Is Struck Down by Force in Egypt,” The New York Times, 18 May 2008:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/05/17/ST2008051702711.html

[32] Samantha M. Shapiro, “Revolution, Facebook-Style,” The New York Times, 22 January 2009:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/magazine/25bloggers-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

[33] Jeremy M. Sharp, “Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations,” Congressional Research Service, 27 June 2013: page 9.

[34] Patrick Bond, “Neoliberal threats to North Africa,” Review of African Political Economy (Vol. 38, No. 129, September 2011), pages 483-484.

[35] Joel Beinin, “Egyptian Workers and January 25th: A Social Movement in Historical Context,” Social Research (Vol. 79, No. 2, Summer 2012), page 339.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,274 other followers