The Philanthropies of American Imperialism
Foundations and American Power
Zbigniew Brzezinski in The Grand Chessboard (1997) noted that “Cultural domination has been an underappreciated facet of American global power.” United States philanthropic foundations skillfully applied this weapon during the Cold War. If we define this war as a conflict between two ways of organizing societies, capitalist and socialist, we can see how broad were the fronts and diverse the weapons. We may also conclude that the Cold War is not over; targets such as Cuba, India, and Nepal are still under attack, and the small news we receive from Eastern Europe suggests considerable activity in the trenches.
Knowledge networks created in the service of American global hegemony are the main subject of Inderjeet Parmar’s book Foundations of the American Century: The Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller Foundations in the Rise of American Power (Columbia University Press, 2012). These, he argues persuasively, promote technocratic capitalist economics while failing to eradicate poverty. His focus is on the “big three” foundations: Ford, Carnegie and Rockefeller, traditionally the ones most active in foreign policy. Even given this limitation, the title and introduction are somewhat misleading, as only a slice of their activity promoting U.S. power in the world is discussed.
Nevertheless, the sponsorship of university programs and institutes, think tanks, and government policy agencies (and promoting links among them) worldwide has had dramatic results, as “intellectuals” are crucial to the support or overthrow of regimes (note Crane Brinton and Antonio Gramsci). Networks funded by foundations can offer status, wealth, travel, an exciting collegial atmosphere, or simply provide a living wage to those who wish to become or remain intellectuals. Failing to obtain this recognition may doom one to obscurity and/or poverty. “Intellectual” in the broadest sense includes teachers, professors, administrators, public policy specialists, activists, non-governmental organization staff, as well as artists, writers, philosophers and other cultural workers.
From the other side, journalists and politicians gain credibility by relying on the supposed “impartial, nonpartisan, scientific” publications and spokespeople of think-tanks—often the only source of policy ideas.
Parmar documents his theme in great detail:
The modern foundation mediated between the modern university and the state and between universities and big business. The foundation organized crucial state agencies, international corporations, and the universities behind a hegemonic project of domestic federal-state building and U.S. global expansion: Progressivism and imperialism went hand in hand (p. 66)
In addition to the incorporation of elites, mass public opinion and propaganda were not neglected by the foundations. Before and during World War II, The Rockefeller Foundation funded Princeton’s Office of Public Opinion Research led by Hadley Cantril, to enhance the “case for belligerence and to crush the case for isolation and neutrality.” “The U.S. Army. . . even went so far as to open an office at Princeton. . . a ‘Psychological Warfare Research Bureau.’” (p. 81)
The Foreign Policy Association, a project of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (see Horace Coon, Money to Burn, on CEIP), aimed for the second rank of intellectuals—League of Women Voters, other local political discussion groups, organized labor et al. It was as well an advisor to the State Department. FPA sold or distributed thousands of books—the Headline Series—to high school international relations clubs.
During the same period, FPA produced and distributed maps, study guides, and bibliographies for students, teachers, and club leaders and organized teacher-student seminars and a college students’ conference. . . . [W]ritten . .in a style “readily understood by young people.” (p. 84)
This is the way to go. I have without any evidence of success implored my radical colleagues to produce children’s books, computer games, textbooks comprehensible to high school and actual college students, videos, TV cable channels—whatever format is “in,” yet so much energy is expended in dialectical discourses that even we learned professors find repetitive and tedious, and not always comprehensible.
Parmar also describes how the foundations worked abroad to fight anti-Americanism. He mentions the Congress for Cultural Freedom and the excellent study by Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War. The foundation-funded Salzburg Seminar in American Studies was “targeted at European men and women at the cusp of leadership positions in their own society. . . a ‘Marshall Plan of the Mind.’” (p. 108) The CCF enhanced the right wing of British Labour Party at the expense of those in the party protesting nuclear weapons and persisting in socialist schemes.
Bilderberg is briefly mentioned, but more description is needed. Many don’t know what this is and others are afraid to find out, as the very inquiry is tarred with conspiracy theory. How will we ever know if it is a conspiracy or reject that description if we don’t know what it is?
Parmer concludes that foundations were successful in their goals; so far, this assessment is justified. It can help to explain, for example, the “normalization” of NATO, even among social democratic and green parties and regimes, and the “partnership” status in NATO of “neutral” countries—Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Austria, Switzerland.
The second half of Parmar’s book consists primarily of three case studies, covering some of the ground earlier reported in Edward Berman’s The Influence of the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller Foundations on American Foreign Policy: The Ideology of Philanthropy.
In Indonesia the Ford Foundation-sponsored knowledge networks worked to undermine the neutralist Sukarno government that challenged U.S. hegemony. At the same time, Ford trained economists (both at University of Indonesia and in U.S. universities) for a future regime supportive of capitalist imperialism.
This was a useful tactic; those on the left or right seeking to overthrow a government had better have people who know how to manage the new dispensation. Thus, the Fabian socialists created the London School of Economics to train administrators of a future socialist society, although this was considered elitist by socialists of other varieties. However, the LSE soon strayed from its original mission, and enjoyed Rockefeller enhancements during the early 20th century.
Parmar’s labors in the Ford archives netted him clear evidence that Ford worked closely with the CIA in planning for the Indonesian massacre and transition to the U.S. friendly Suharto government.
In Nigeria, the big three foundations created institutes, networks and university departments, providing resources that were otherwise very scarce, and thus incorporating even progressive Nigerians into the pro-Western, pro-capitalist camp.
Parmar provides details about the transformation of economics departments at Chilean universities (well before the military coup of 1973) under the aegis of Ford, Rockefeller and the Chicago Boys. Gradually radicals and Marxists were excluded and choices of different capitalist strategies were the only ones permitted.
When the Pinochet government took over, leftists in government departments as well as university posts were dismissed; the resourceful Ford Foundation created non-governmental organizations and research institutes to harbor them. Ford was very successful in this cooptation strategy, because by the time the military government ended and “normalcy” returned to Chile, those harbored had become convinced of the technocratic rationality of the Washington consensus and globalization.
Discussing current operations, Parmar identifies a new rationale for US power: promoting democracy on the premise of “democratic peace theory.” This argues that democracies, interpreted as nations with “market” systems open to the globalized economy, are inherently peaceful. Now “regime change” through subversion or violent invasion becomes the road to peace—in our Orwellian vocabulary. Parmar does not mention the Carnegie Endowment doctrine of “humanitarian intervention,” proffered just in time for Clinton’s destruction of Yugoslavia.
In the service of U.S. hegemony, our wars work together with the “soft power” of foundations. They have created huge international philanthropy networks, and sponsor and fund the World Social Forum, where critiques of the market system may be aired. Parmar mentions that at the 2004 WSF in Mumbai, India, Ford money for the conference was rejected, because of the Foundation’s role in India’s Green Revolution. It would have been good if Parmar had included more discussion of the Ford, Rockefeller, and now Gates Foundations’ projects for remaking the agriculture of the world with the promise that they will end hunger. This premise of the Green Revolution is now questioned even by the very establishments nurtured by foundations, the United Nations agencies. In 2008, the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) “report concluded that modern biotechnology would have very limited contribution to the feeding of the world in the foreseeable future. The conclusion was that a viable food future lies in the creative support of ecological agriculture in which small-scale farmers will continue to play a major role.”
The evidence in Parmer’s book adequately supports his conclusion: “The foundations remain primordially attached to the American state, a broadly neoliberal order with a safety net, and a global rules-based system as the basis of continued American global hegemony.” (p. 265)
However, there is much more to the story of the foundations and U.S. global power. Its scope includes the creation of the Council on Foreign Relations, the United Nations, and the European Union. There were vast interventions beyond universities and think tanks into cultural and grassroots organizations throughout the world. Parmar mentions briefly the Ford/CIA effort to counter “anti-Americanism” in postwar Europe via the Congress for Cultural Freedom. This was only one prong of an intricate undertaking, as detailed in Stonor’s Cultural Cold War, and Phil Agee’s Dirty Work.
There was much regime change work to subvert Eastern European political systems, including Helsinki Watch (now Human Rights Watch) and subsidies to dissenters and overthrow groups via the East European Cultural Foundation and other “ pass-throughs.” In South Africa, the “big three” foundations played a role in the transition from capitalism with apartheid to capitalism without apartheid, despite the African National Congress commitment to socialism (see Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy). Throughout Latin America, radical protest was shepherded into NGOs fragmented by identity politics; this is well described in the work of James Petras. Traditional religion was employed against godless Marxism when Ford funded rupee editions of religious tracts in India, while a Bible translation project in South America was used by Rockefeller to co-opt indigenous people (see G. Colby and C. Dennett’s Thy Will Be Done). The Philippine Educational Theater Association (street theater inspired by Brecht) was formed to question imperialism and exploitation; after Ford funding it gradually became a theater of “empowerment,” presenting plays about domestic violence and reproductive health.
The full story may be too large for one book and one researcher, yet it is important to include a sketch of the larger picture for the guidance of future investigators. Even in the university-think tank area, there are mysteries requiring further sleuthing: Ford funding of economics education in China prior to its embarkation on the capitalist road, and funding of economics institutes affiliated with the Communist Party of India.
Many U.S. and foreign foundations are partners in global knowledge networks. However, one of those younger than the big three is so significant that a fuller discussion would be appropriate in the context of Parmar’s book: Soros’ Open Society Institutes, which reconstructed Eastern European universities and had a large role in creating the FIDESZ party in Hungary, along with a host of worldwide interventions.
As the foundations date only from the second decade of the 20th century, a more complete historical context could easily have been provided. Parmar says that in the early 20th century the United States was a society relatively content to expand within continental limits. Although there was an anti-imperialist movement, and there were proponents of international law, even outlawing war, most of the elite was not on that train. Progressives, including the foundations, were enthusiasts of “cultural imperialism” (see Robert Arnove’s anthology, Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism). Public-private partnerships, which have diluted democracy for the sake of efficiency, were advocated in Recent Social Trends (1933), itself a collection created by a Rockefeller Foundation-President Hoover partnership.
Nevertheless, Parmar’s book is a valuable contribution to the tiny field of critical foundation studies. He notes that foundations are rarely discussed by political scientists. One reason may be the enormous support they provide to individuals and institutions in that field, including the International Political Science Association.
The work is based on hours spent in foundation archives, where unpublicized gleanings often make intentions clear. He reports on a few rejected grant proposals. A comprehensive study of the rejectees might help us to understand what happened to all that idealism that shone throughout the world in 1945–social democracy, human rights, equality of persons and nations, international law, and an end to imperialism and war.
Joan Roelofs is Professor Emerita of Political Science, Keene State College, New Hampshire. She is the translator of Victor Considerant’s Principles of Socialism (Maisonneuve Press, 2006), and author of Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (SUNY Press, 2003) and Greening Cities (Rowman and Littlefield, 1996). Web site: www.joanroelofs.wordpress.com Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org