How is it possible for a tiny (but filthy rich) ruling class – the capitalist class – to directly control the vast majority of political activity of the workers of the world? The answer in the 21st century is: by financing tens of thousands of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working on every political issue large and small throughout the world. In the past 6 years, we have found that almost every single NGO in existence – from BYP100 (ostensibly fighting for the rights of African-American workers in the USA) to Abahlali baseMjondolo (ostensibly fighting for housing rights for black South Africans) are (or in AbM’s case, were) actually controlled (perhaps without many of the activists in these NGOs even being aware of it) by wealthy white capitalists in the USA – and perhaps even the US government itself. It is remarkably easy to discover this by simply digging through the layers of propaganda offered on the websites of the various NGOs until you get to the (sometimes carefully-, sometimes poorly-hidden) financial information which reveals who is actually funding the NGO in question. Usually this can be done directly from the website of the NGO – but sometimes, as in the case of South Africa’s “Abahlali baseMjondolo” you have to peel back quite a few layers of deliberate obfuscation in order to get to the rotten capitalist core of the organization’s funding.
Today we discovered a “formerly” US-capitalist-financed housing rights organization that has come under attack from the South African government because of its ties to a US-backed NGO. The ANC suspected that since it was being funded by an ostensibly Indian (but actually a largely US and German capitalist-financed) NGO it was actually nothing but a Trojan Horse for a US-sponsored destabilization project attempting to discredit the African National Congress.
We ran across Abahlali baseMjondolo via the ” Enough Is Enough! ” WordPress site (which is, itself, completely organizationally opaque). We subscribed to their blog a while back because they publish often very interesting news about anarchist antifa activity around the world.
Today we saw that they’d had published a story which referenced the recent assassination of a South African organizer for “Abahali baseMjondolo” (the name of the group is Swahili for “those who live in shacks”). The organization is – ostensibly – fighting for housing rights for black homeless workers in South Africa. We had only vague information about this group and so we attempted to find out what we could about it – suspecting that it might well be another one of these US-Government-financed NGOs. What we found out wasn’t what we’d expected to find; instead we found out how difficult it is for an ostensibly “honest grassroots organization” to fend off the aggressive takeover attempts of US-backed NGOs seeking to operate in “Third World” countries. This is how we tried at first to determine who was funding AbM:
First we searched the “Enough Is Enough!” article for links to AbM’s website – but, strangely enough, there weren’t any. So, of course, we turned to our #1 go-to source for information on everything from the abacus to Led Zeppelin: Wikipedia. And, as usual, they did not disappoint us: they had an article on AbM which contained a link to the AbM website.
[N.B.: some clever people criticise us for utilizing Wikipedia for a reference. But the fact is that Wikipedia has longer, more informative articles on more subjects than the Encyclopedia Britannica website. If you don’t believe us, compare the two. We cancelled our subscription to EB for just this reason.]
OK; so far so good. We have made it to the AbM website:
Usually, either at the top of the homepage of every NGO you’ll find a link labeled “About” which will take you (if you’re lucky and if the organization is being open about itself) directly to their “Board of Directors” or their “Supporters” page, which often gives the game away. Here we get nothing at the bottom of the homepage; but there is a “Contact” link in the menu at the top of the page so let’s check it out:
First let’s look at AbM’s “Brief Guide to the History and Praxis of [AbM]”.
Here we see that they once were involved with an NGO called “Centre for Civil Society” and that, apparently, it was at least partly due to their early receipt of funds from this organization that AbM were denounced by the African National Congress (ANC): “Individuals in the ruling party, including the Durban City Manager Mike Sutcliffe and Mayor Obed Mlaba, Provincial MEC for Housing Mike Mabuyakulu and his spokesperson Lennox Mabaso and many others, have very often accused Abahlali of being manipulated by a ‘third force’ or a foreign intelligence agency ‘bent on destabilizing the country’. No empirical evidence has ever been adduced for these claims and they are patently ludicrous and paranoid but they have created a climate that justifies violent repression.”
In fact, the “Centre for Civil Society” (CCS) is an ostensibly “Indian” (as in “India”) NGO whose current Chairman – Luis Miranda – is “Senior Advisor, Morgan Stanley Infrastructure” and who obtained his MBA from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business!CCS has derived at least some of its funding from major US capitalist “philanthropic organizations” – like the “Templeton Fund” and the “Michael and Susan Dell Foundation”. Templeton is in turn part of huge American “philanthropic organizations” like the “Grantmakers for Thriving Youth” NGO-funding organization which is itself funded by such capitalist luminaries and lovers of the working class and homeless like Bill and Melinda Gates (Microsoft), Jeff Bezos Family Foundation (Amazon.com), the Walton Family Foundation (WalMart), S.D. Bechtel Foundation (US Defense Dept. construction firm Bechtel Corporation) and others too numerous and disgusting to mention. It is not at all surprising that the ANC government would be pissed off when these US capitalist criminals start funding “grassroots organizations” that are operating in the country.
In its defense AbM describes the aggressive ways in which these billionaire capitalist-backed “philanthropic foundation”-financed NGOs go about “recruiting” their agents around the world. Apparently it is a full-time job for any honest actual “grassroots activist” leading an honest NGO to fight off the constant attempts at undermining the honest NGO’s independence by bribing his or her colleagues being made by the US-backed NGOs:
“Abahlali welcomes support from independent activists and activists in churches, NGOs, universities, independent media projects and so on. But while the movement has often experienced deeply principled and invaluable solidarity that has enabled the development of popular democratic power in the settlements it has also had some very bad experiences with particular individuals and organisations which include a considerable degree of financial and political exploitation, as well as self promotion at the expense of the movement’s praxis and the simple disrespect of (often racialized and classed) assumptions of an automatic right to lead, decide and teach in the name of solidarity. At times there has been deliberate out and out misrepresentation and deliberate attempts at sabotage. There have also been consistent NGO attempts to bypass the movement’s democratic structures and to determine who can represent the movement at meetings, to the press etc from outside (this has often been accompanied by attempts to offer money to individuals who will be prepared to take instruction from the NGO – most often these are people who have never been active in the movement in the first place….) ”
Look at the detailed list of demands and requirements AbM has devised in order to fend off the continual attempts being made by “Western” NGOs to recruit AbM activists and use them to take over the organization:
“Abahlali welcomes support that is prepared to work within or in partnership with the movement’s democratic structures and to accept that this is where all the movement’s decision making should occur. It rejects ‘support’ that seeks act above the movement’s structures and assumes a right to take decisions for the movement outside of the movement’s structures. Abahlali asks that the following general requests be respected:
- All proposed solidarity initiatives (including invitations for members to speak, attend meetings, workshops and so on) should be bought as a proposal to one of the weekly Abahlali meetings well in advance of its anticipated start date and discussed there and agreed to there before they are begun. If you want the support of the movement for your projects you will have to negotiate this with the movement’s democratic structures – all of which are always open to all. The support of the movement for your project cannot, as the most notorious of the NGOs seems to assume, be bought by offering money to individuals.
- All conditions set for a project following the discussions at such a meeting must be adhered too. If for some reason this becomes impossible then this should be discussed with a sub-committee set up to work on the project or taken to a weekly meeting.
- Abahlali works very hard to ensure that the movement is as broad based, as democratic and as representative of the movement’s geographic diversity as possible and that at least 50% of all people elected to represent the movement are women. It also works very hard to ensure that as many people as possible get as much experience as possible. Therefore other organisations are asked to extend invitations to speak and attend meetings etc to the movement rather than to individuals of their choice so that the movement can elect a revolving set of representatives. Invitations to individuals will either not be accepted or the movement will, if it is decided to accept the invitation, ask to elect its own representatives. It is completely unacceptable for NGOs to decide who should represent Abahlali at their meetings.
- Any meeting or project that is serious about developing a politics of the poor must be serious about arranging for translation if the meeting is to be conducted in English. Similarly it should be held in a place that is easy for people to access.
- All media produced on the movement (articles, films, photographs etc) should be shared with the movement and, where possible, translated into Zulu or Xhosa.
- No one acting outside of the movement’s structures should speak for the movement, decide who should represent the movement or attend meetings or workshops or events on behalf of the movement, raise money for themselves or their organisation in the name movement, allocate money to people in the movement, make deals on behalf of the movement, or in anyway act for the movement.
- No one should claim to be working with the movement or to be part of the movement when they have never attended its weekly meetings and have not had their claims for involvement with the movement negotiated at these meetings. Furthermore NGO activists need to be aware that working with people who live in shacks is not the same thing as working with Abahlali and does not give them the right to make claims in this regard let alone to try and make decisions for the movement, raise money for themselves in the name of the movement, produce media for the movement etc. It is far from the case that all shack dwellers are Abahlali members or that all shack settlements are affiliated to Abahlali.
- After a number of bad experiences Abahlali took a decision in October 2006 to refuse to work, in any way, with the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal or with anyone at the Centre (including visitors, interns, film makers etc) and has stuck to this decision resolutely. Claims to the contrary have no validity. People wanting to develop solidarity with the movement are asked to respect this decision. Please also note that AbM is not the only grassroots organisation to have taken a decision to refuse any involvement with the Centre for Civil Society.”
This is all very fascinating; but does AbM expect the South African workers to believe that they were “hoodwinked” into accepting funding from an organization that openly trumpets its many connections to the top US government-connected banks like Morgan Stanley and the support it was given at its founding by infamous architects of International Monetary Fund-backed economic destabilizations like Milton Friedman?
The members of the AbM were placed in a very dangerous situation when their leaders accepted financing through the “Centre for Civil Society” which the ANC knew was a cutout for US-government-linked “philanthropic foundations” – organizations of the type which have been used historically as screens for CIA destabilization operations all over the world. This does not mean that the ANC government has the justification for what the AbM alleges are brutal attacks by the government’s police agencies, from having people thrown out of their jobs to slandering them as agents of foreign governments to murdering them. The ANC leadership and their government are thoroughly corrupt themselves, are stuffing their pockets with cash as pro-capitalist “partners” of the former racist Randlords of the apartheid state and are the mortal enemies of South African workers of all ethnicities. It is highly unlikely that the desperately poor and probably poorly-educated rank-and-file membership of the AbM has any idea what lies behind the seemingly pure ideals and generous gifts being offered to them by US Government-backed NGOs: protecting them from these criminals is precisely the job of the AbM leadership.
Is AbM an “honest grassroots organization” or is it a front for a destabilization programme being run by the USA in order to discredit the ANC government? We can’t be sure; and in some ways that is actually asking the wrong question. For revolutionary socialists, what determines the “honesty” of any ostensibly working-class organization is its degree of complete independence from any connection of any kind with the capitalist class and their government. The AbM leadership could have had all the “good intentions” in the world when they were organizing their group; but, as Trotsky once said: “the working class needs leaders not only with clean hearts but with clean hands as well.” If the political naiveté of the AbM leadership led them to foolishly, “accidentally” accept funding from a deeply politically-compromised NGO – that is a huge problem with the quality and the class-consciousness of their leadership. This is why it is important to have revolutionary socialist leadership that has fully incorporated Trotskyist class-consciousness into the fiber of every leader in that party. We won’t be so politically blind as to lead workers into obvious traps like this.
The AbM leadership was, at the very least, quite foolish to accept money from the “Center for Civil Society” without first investigating where they got their money. It took us less than an hour to find all the information we needed right on the website of the CCS itself. But if what AbM says is true, once a US-backed NGO has decided to work with you (translation: use you for its nefarious purposes) they will stop at nothing to either take over your organization – or, if you refuse, set you up for attack from the government. The question now is: has the AbM leadership truly “learned its lesson” as they claim they have? And it really does not appear to us that they have. Their hostility towards socialism – or their foolhardy attempt to create a “non-class” or “multiple-class” “politically neutral” organization can only result in their making the same mistake over and over again as they try to obtain political support and financial assistance from “anyone but the ANC” due to the ANC’s vicious attacks against them (“the enemy of my enemy is my friend”-syndrome). And it could even be that the AbM is saddled with at least some “anarchist” leaders who refuse to take a consistent side in the class struggle on the side of the workers by completely eschewing any kind of political party work at all: “The [AbM’s] Deputy President, Lindela Figlan has argued that ‘Voting someone into government just gives them power to oppress and exploit us.'” [Source: Wikipedia, “Abahlali baseMjondolo”] This “classless” “apolitical” stance can lead only to one unprincipled lash-up after another with pro- and anti- working class organizations. And this is just what the AbM leadership are doing! The very same Wikipedia article goes on to say that in 2014, the AbM leadership made yet another rotten bloc with the pro-capitalist opposition party “Democratic Alliance”:
“[A]t the Abahlali baseMjondolo ‘Unfreedom Day’ rally held in Kwa-Mashu on 27 April 2014, the movement’s President Sbu Zikode announced that they ‘would abandon’ their No Land, No House, No Vote campaign and cast a ‘strategic vote’ in the May 7 elections. A few days later Zikode signed a pact with the centrist Democratic Alliance (DA), stating that ‘We encourage our comrades and our membership to vote for the Democratic Alliance so that we can get rid of corruption.‘ Zikode clarified that ‘Abahlali are not joining DA or any political party. We will remain independent from all kinds of mainstream political parties. But this time around it’s a tactical partnership where the aim is to really get rid of the party that has become a threat to the society’.”
This kind of politically unprincipled “supra-class” orientation almost always results – as in this case – with that organization’s leadership jumping in bed with the capitalists via “temporary” support to one or another bourgeois political party. The AbM’s leadership has, by supporting the Democratic Alliance, taken sides with the bourgeoisie against the revolutionary working class – which is precisely the wrong side of the barricades to be on if they were truly seeking a comprehensive solution to the problem of homelessness.
Workers who want to really change the world need to build a revolutionary socialist workers party that has a revolutionary socialist political programme and a leadership of professional revolutionaries dedicated to carrying out that programme. Every single successful workers revolution in history was led by some variation of a revolutionary socialist Leninist vanguard party. From the Russian revolution to the Vietnamese revolution this has been the case. Every other kind of “revolutionary” political formation that has attempted to lead a workers revolution against capitalism has failed – especially anarchism! It is a waste of time for the working class to attempt to utilize “revolutionary tools” which have NEVER WORKED BEFORE. The Independent Workers Party seeks to build the Leninist/Trotskyist political party we need in order to lead workers to a successful overthrow of the decrepit capitalist system which has proven over and over to have absolutely no future to offer to the workers of the world other than environmental degradation, poverty, unemployment, homelessness, starvation and war.