Taimur Rahman Political Archive

Long Live Marxism-Leninism!

Ford Foundation, Cold War, and WSF

Posted by Taimur Rahman on June 20, 2006

Published in The Post 20/05/2006

Taimur Rahman

Most people are of the opinion that the World Social Forum held in Karachi March 2006 was a one-off event. Like most events in the political life of Pakistan, our public has come to expect that two months down the line no one will even care to remember what the fuss was all about. Aside from the fact that such thinking becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, such selective historical and political amnesia is obviously also unfavourable to the development of an intellectual tradition built on a degree of continuity. The fact that the organizers of the World Social Forum (WSF) in Karachi are keen to see their efforts continue, itself calls for still greater debate on the issue not merely of the WSF but of ‘civil society’ and NGOs as well.

Even before the World Social Forum came to the backwaters of Pakistan, one had often heard in passing, mostly in an accusatory tone, that the entire process was funded by organizations such as the Ford Foundation. Not prone to believing gossip, especially political gossip, I decided see for myself the veracity of these claims.

On the website of the Ford Foundation (http://www.fordfound.org) one can find information about some of the major grants made by the foundation to various organizations around the world and a quick search with respect to the ‘World Social Forum’ revealed the following results. The Ford Foundation gave a grant of $ 500,000 to the Brazilian Association of NGOs “for the 2003 World Social Forum, where civil society organizations develop social and economic alternatives to current patterns of globalization, based on human rights and sustainable development.” In the same year the Foundation gave a grant of $ 153,000 to Canadian based Internews Interactive, Inc. in order to “bridge Initiative on Globalization”, that is the provision of a satellite means of communication between participants at the WSF and the World Economic Forum. The following year the Foundation gave a grant of $ 600,000 once again to the Brazilian Association of NGOs “for the International Council of the World Social Forum to develop and implement a learning agenda and evaluation process”. And in order to strengthen “…participation of marginalized communities in the World Social Forum process” in 2004, the Ford Foundation gave $ 92,850 to a Thailand-based organization Focus on the Global South. Further, to provide “general support to plan and market the first World Social Forum, create an online virtual forum and develop its institutional infrastructure”, the Foundation gave the World Culture Forum Corporation based in New York a grant of $ 700,000 in 2004. And last, to publish “a collection of essays discussing the eleven thematic terrains of the World Social Forum”, the Foundation gave a grant of $ 60,000 in 2005 to the Alliance of Independent Publishers based in France. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), one of the largest participants in the World Social Forum held in India, ensured that the Ford Foundation would stay out of the process of the Mumbai World Social Forum. Although the expenditures on the polycentric World Social Forum (one of which was held in Karachi) are yet to be published on the foundation’s website, given the fact that there is no equivalent organization in Pakistan with the manpower to substitute the funding provided by the Ford Foundation, it is fair to assume that the Forum held in Karachi also received assistance from the Ford Foundation.

This incomplete total, which does not include either the expenditures on the last forum nor the vast amount of funds provided by the Ford Foundation to NGOs around the world on a regular basis, alone brings the official total up to $ 2,105,850. Why would the Ford Foundation be interested in spending two million dollars on developing alternatives to capitalist globalization and building “another world”? The answer is provided by intellectuals such as James Petras and Joan Roelofs.

Petras alleges that, “The CIA uses philanthropic foundations as the most effective conduit to channel large sums of money to Agency projects without alerting the recipients to their source” (http://www.ratical.org/ratville/CAH/FordFandCIA.html). He contends that a 1976 US Congressional investigation showed that “nearly 50 percent of the 700 grants in the field of international activities by the principal foundations were funded by the CIA” (Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War, Frances Stonor Saunders, Granta Books, 1999, pp. 134-135). Richard Bissell, who became President of the Ford Foundation in 1952, had an extremely intimate relationship with the head of the CIA, Allen Dulles. Bissell and Dulles shared the vision of global US hegemony that could only be established in the context of a victory over communist, socialist, and national liberation movements. In fact, in 1954 when Bissell left Ford Foundation, he became a ‘special assistant’ to Allen Dulles.

But Bissell’s departure did not mean a severing of ties with the CIA. The next president of Ford Foundation, Mr. John McCloy, was just as much a man of the US establishment. Before joining the Ford Foundation, McCloy had been Assistant Secretary of War, president of the World Bank, High Commissioner of occupied Germany, chairman of Rockefeller’s Chase Manhattan Bank, Wall Street attorney for the big seven oil companies and director of numerous corporations. In fact, McCloy institutionalized the relationship between the Ford Foundation and the CIA by creating an ‘administrative unit’ within the Foundation specifically to deal with the CIA and personally headed a three person consultation committee with the CIA. Whatever the original intentions of the creators of the Ford Foundation, the Cold War had transformed this once purely charitable organization into an organization of the Cold War with the objective of countering the ideological influence of revolutionary movements.

Similarly Joan Roelofs in her book Foundations and Public Policy charges the Ford Foundation with having financed the counter-insurgency operation in several countries, most notably in Indonesia, which resulted in arguably the worst massacre since Hitler. In a much publicised and ground breaking article “The NED, NGOs and the Imperial Uses of Philanthropy” (http://www.counterpunch.org/roelofs05132006.html) she contends that civil society’s ‘democratization’ always includes “…an open door to foreign capital, labour contracts, resource extraction, and military training.” Directly attacking the World Social Forum, which she considers to be “the peak of international NGOs”, she concludes that global philanthropy is part of the system of ideological hegemony and therefore that the ideals of democracy, justice, or equality are not attainable by such means or through such organizations.

Given that the Ford Foundation has an investment portfolio of some $ 10.5 billion annually, about half of which is given out in grants, and given also the history and deep connections of this organization in Cold War politics, unless the process of the World Social Forum can extricate itself from the enormous network of Western ‘philanthropy’, its activity is destined merely to reproduce the world that already exists: A world in which three billion people live below the international poverty line.


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