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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
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.