. Foundations for Empire: corporate philanthropy and US foreign policy | Ceasefire Magazine

Foundations for Empire: corporate philanthropy and US foreign policy On Corporate Power

In his latest column, Michael Barker argues that, far from eradicating poverty and aiding economic development, major US philanthropic foundations have played a key role in undermining efforts to promote a meaningful democratic alternative to capitalism, both at home and abroad.

New in Ceasefire, On Corporate Power - Posted on Sunday, May 20, 2012 0:00 - 2 Comments


John F. Kennedy and McGeorge Bundy outside the White House, June 13, 1962 (Source: nybooks.com)

Professor Inderjeet Parmar, chairman of the prestigious British International Studies Association, has written an interesting book: Foundations of the American Century: The Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller Foundations in the Rise of American Power (Columbia University Press, 2012) in which he argues that philanthropic foundations have provided “a key means of building the ‘American century,’ or an American Imperium, a hegemony constructed in significant part via cultural and intellectual penetration.”

In making the case for this uncontroversial conclusion, he acknowledges that his work builds upon Edward Berman’s “excellent monograph” The Influence of the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller Foundations on American Foreign Policy: The Ideology of Philanthropy (State University of New York Press, 1983). Yet despite these kind words, rather than extending and deepening Berman’s seminal study, Parmar seems to have only revisited it to provide a less radical alternative (albeit Gramscian).

With his sights firmly set on documenting the role of foundations in constructing “global knowledge networks”, Parmar mistakenly concludes that the creation of such networks “appears to be their principal long-term achievement.” However, on a more accurate note, he subsequently adds that “despite their oft-stated aims of eradicating poverty, uplifting the poor, improving living standards, aiding economic development, and so on, even the U.S. foundations’ own assessments of their impact show that they largely have failed in these efforts.”

But while the Big Three foundations may well have created strong global knowledge networks, their principal long-term achievement has simply been to undermine efforts to promote a meaningful democratic alternative to capitalism, both at home and abroad. With foundation knowledge networks being just one instrument among many that have been used to consolidate capitalism.

Other significant tools to enforce American global hegemony include the military, and a commitment to shaping public opinion through propaganda (which is based on the foundations’ “belief in the pervasiveness of popular ignorance and the consequent need for elites to ‘educate’ the people in ‘right thinking’”).[1]

Providing evidence of the central role of foundations in manufacturing consent (both of the masses and of elites), Parmar investigates the work of Hadley Cantril’s Office of Public Opinion Research, a body formed at Princeton University in 1940, with a $90,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Using archival records, Parmar illustrates that Cantril worked with military intelligence agencies during the war, and undertook studies of public attitudes towards Latin America; adding that by 1943 Cantril had received a further $50,000 from the government that did not include “unspecified amounts from the coordinator of inter-American affairs.”

Parmar also points out that the U.S. Army opened a Psychological Warfare Research Bureau within Cantril’s Princeton office. However, despite undertaking archival research into such matters Parmar apparently forgot to conduct a literature review on this subject,[2] only citing one other writer (Christopher Simpson, Science of Coercion), whose valid criticisms of foundations he then chose to ignore.

Parmar makes no mention of Cantril’s central role in the Rockefeller Foundation-funded Communications Seminar (1939-40), which had already acknowledged the need to develop ways to manufacture public consent for desired policy changes. He ignores Cantril’s official invitation to study public opinion in Latin America by the US government’s Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, Nelson Rockefeller (in 1940) – an opportunity that Cantril accepted.

Similarly, Parmar fails to inform his readers that, in 1942, Cantril had set up Research Council Inc. with his associate Lloyd Free, then secretary of the Rockefeller Communications Seminar. This is significant because Research Council Inc. then received “almost limitless” funds from the government, mostly in the form of covert funding channelled to them from the CIA.

Christopher Simpson highlights, notably in his book Science of Coercion, that Nelson Rockefeller was “among the most prominent promoters of psychological operations, serving as Eisenhower’s principal advisor and strategist on the subject during 1954-55”; adding that during the 1950s the Rockefeller Foundation was “used as a public front to conceal the source of at least $1 million in CIA funds for Hadley Cantril’s Institute for International Social Research.”

Indeed, Simpson suggests that these CIA funds were used to “gather intelligence on popular attitudes in countries of interest to the agency” and that Cantril’s studies “could serve as a checklist of CIA interventions of the period: Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Poland, and others.”

As such, in this context alone, it is clear that the Rockefeller Foundations’ successes extended far beyond the creation of elite “knowledge networks”, and actually enabled the efficient slaughter and propagandising of civilians all over the world.

Parmar goes on to document the role that the Big Three foundations played in facilitating imperial bloodbaths, but again tends to emphasise the longevity and significance of political networks, not those of murdered political dissidents. He argues that one of the Ford Foundation’s “most controversial” projects took place in Indonesia during the 1950s and 60s. An in-humanitarian intervention that was first criticised in David Ransom’s ground-breaking article “The Berkeley Mafia and the Indonesian Massacre.”

Published “in the left-wing magazine Ramparts, in 1970,” Parmar noted how Ransom “claimed that Ford, along with the Rockefeller Foundation and the American state, had consciously used its Indonesia programs to train anti-Sukarno economists and social scientists, cadres of leaders who would run Indonesia once Sukharno ‘got out.’”

Although, Parmar highlights Ransom’s apparently unnecessary “journalistic hyperbole”, ultimately he chooses to side with Ransom’s critical account against Ford’s nonsensical pluralistic defence.

It should be recognised that in 1965, when General Suharto was brought to power — with a helping hand from his Western friends — the Ford Foundation quickly moved to establish a new assistance program for his bloodthirsty dictatorship. And as Parmar observes, the “massacre of hundreds of thousands of ‘communists’ did not warrant even a footnote” in Ford’s internal reports.[3]

A letter sent to New York from Indonesia on April 10, 1966, from an influential member of the liberal elite (Francis P. Miller) which was passed on to the Ford Foundation’s president, McGeorge Bundy, noted…

…that “Indonesia is vastly different”; the people “now feel that they are masters of their own souls … the country is … violently anti-communistic.  … There is an atmosphere of sustained holiday-spirit and exhilaration over the change; and a virtual worship of the young people who have been forcing all elements against the Sukarno clique and regime.” Miller was “struck. … [by] the virtual hilarity over the liquidation of several hundred thousand fellow-countrymen (the estimate given me by more than one credible Indonesian was 400,000).” Indonesians, in Miller’s experience, had never before known “as much freedom in critical judgments of Sukarno and his policies.” Suharto, conversely, was enjoying “extraordinarily solid and enthusiastic popular support.” (p.145)

Thus, in addition to developing their requisite elite networks in the region, the Ford Foundation was evidently happy to work closely with the CIA to ensure that Indonesia and their natural resources were won for the West; even if it meant the CIA-aided massacre of approximately one million civilians.[4]

In Chile, however, where the U.S. government already exerted considerable influence over their countries internal politics, foundations approached the issue of regime change in a slightly less brutal fashion. In this instance, the foundations not only supported the Milton Friedman(ite) economists, known as the Chicago boys, who “ended up advising Pinochet’s military regime” but also provided ongoing aid to the left-leaning (but far from radical) economists based at the the University of Chile — the dependistas.

Here, as Parmar acknowledges, the fact that many of the dependistas successfully entered the Frei administration — prior to Allende’s election (in 1970) — provides “direct evidence that there was no fundamental ideological divide between the two schools of economic thought.”

Seen in this light it thus becomes clearer why the Ford Foundation, initially at least, did not feel that a military dictatorship would be necessary for Chile. But upon Allende’s rise to power this optimism faded and funding for the dependistas at the University of Chile was abruptly cut off, while in stark opposition the Catholic University’s Chicago boys continued to be well remunerated, even continuing to “receive funding [for the] four years after the military coup, for which they had actively prepared in advance.”[5]

Consequently, that a military coup would ultimately be seen by the CIA and the U.S. government as a necessary safeguard for their corporate interests, should not have surprised anyone in the the foundation world.

The ensuing Pinochet dictatorship was not all good news for capitalist power brokers in the region as the foundations were loathe to see all their hard efforts at cultivating a “pluralistic” technocratic elite (not just grassroots opposition) washed away in a bloodbath. On this score, Parmar writes:

An internal report by Ford shows that after the military coup, foundation officials chose to focus on “preserving” the “valuable human resources” of which their knowledge networks were constructed. Naturally, Ford wanted, during the brutal coup and its repressive aftermath, in which thousands were arrested (approximately 13,000) or killed (approximately 2,700), to focus on the academic community it had helped build and thereby preserve “valuable skills.” But, according to [Jeffrey] Puryear, Ford excluded assistance to “confirmed political militants.” At the University of Chile alone, at least two thousand academic staff (22 percent of the total) were dismissed. Ford chose to grant $500,000 to several of its previously funded organisations to help “rescue” scholars it had funded or who worked in “program-related fields.” The aim was to ensure internal and external refugee scholars’ “productive employment” through travel grants, fellowships, or salary-support supplements. The foundation was in “network-preservation” mode. (p.212)

As Parmar, and Edward Berman before him, have amply illustrated there is no doubt that foundation-supported elite networks have fulfilled a vital service to the longevity of capitalism in the twentieth century and beyond. However, for obvious reasons it is critical that these soft forms of power be considered alongside their natural corollary, that is, the hard and ultra-violent expressions of raw military power.

[1] Parmar, Foundations of the American Century, p.2, p.3, p.11, p.32.
[2] Parmar, Foundations of the American Century, p.79, p.81. The following section draws upon my own summary of this literature, documented in full in Michael Barker, “The Liberal Foundations of Media Reform? Creating Sustainable Funding Opportunities for Radical Media Reform,” Global Media Journal, 2 (1), 2008.
[3] Parmar, Foundations of the American Century, p.135, p.142, p.145.
[4] Parmar writes: “According to Peter Dale Scott, some of the long-term recipients of Ford Foundation funding — including student groups — were deeply involved with the Indonesian military, whose self-image had increasingly developed to encompass a leading political role in national affairs.In particular, groups that had played a role in the failed CIA-sponsored rebellion of 1958 were mobilized, in the 1960s, by the Army’s ‘civic action’ programs. The right-wing Islamic Masjumi party and its allied Socialist Party of Indonesia, led by [Djojohadiksumo] Sumitro, were also backed by the CIA, to the tune of several million dollars. Some SPI intellectuals and their associates in the army were also in close contact with Guy Pauker, an academic at Berkeley and RAND consultant: Pauker was openly advocating that the army take ‘full responsibility’ for Indonesia’s future, take on the PKI, and ‘strike, sweep their house clean.’ Pauker, a vehement anticommunist, was among the scholars who taught army officers at Seskoad counterinsurgency, economics, and administration.” (pp.143-4) Parmar, Foundations of the American Century, pp.143-4. Note that the research activities of the RAND Corporation were intimately entwined with those of the Ford Foundation.[5] Parmar, Foundations of the American Century, p.192, p.198, p.219.

Michael Barker is a researcher and activist. His ‘On Corporate Power’ column appears monthly in Ceasefire. He tweets at @mbarker_mike


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