Talk Left, Funded Right

By Stephen Gowans

In their zeal to demonize Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF government it sometimes seems that members of the “independent left” are working for the US government. The reason why is that many are.

At the same time, Trotskyites peddling bizarre theories that say the country’s president Robert Mugabe is in league with the same governments that are trying to overthrow him, might as well be.

An April 5th US State Department report [1] confirms what has been revealed in scattered press reports for years: that civil society groups and media some left scholars misrepresent as “the independent left” are actually puppets of the US governments.

That’s not to say these groups don’t believe they’re independent, or that all of their members know that the funding for their expensive websites, magazines, newspapers and radio programs are financed by Uncle Sam. However, knowingly or not, they’re doing Washington’s work.

Only the wilfully blind or naïve would believe the US government lavishes money on groups that aren’t going to be of some service in promoting its agenda. And only the wilfully blind or naïve believe that Uncle Sam’s agenda has anything to do with promoting democracy, freedom of expression and good governance.

Patrick Bond, director of the right-wing funded Center for Civil Society at the University of Natal — whose case against Mugabe is formulated in the same language of hunger for power leading to betrayal and corruption that characterized Trotsky’s case against Stalin — points to such US-funded groups as Sokawanele as the “independent left” in Zimbabwe [2]. Is he wilfully blind, naïve or is he grinding the usual Trotskyite axe against really-existing socialist governments and national liberation movements?

The US and EU use civil society to effect color revolutions – to do overtly what the CIA used to do covertly. An integral part of any color revolution is to demonize target governments to facilitate their replacement by local politicians prepared to open or re-open their country to imperialist penetration [3]. Bond is thoroughly integrated into the civil society apparatus. His Center for Civil Society (whose web site links to Zimbabwe’s US- and EU-funded MDC opposition party) is connected to the ruling class Kellogg and Ford foundations, the South African NGO coalition, the South African bank, ABSA and the South African Chamber of Commerce [4]. It could be said of Bond that he talks left and is funded right.

Last year, according to the US State Department, Washington was busily interfering in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs, funding the opposition, backing civil society groups, showering money on “alternative” media, and seeing to it that Bond’s “independent left” was well greased with lucre [5].

“The U.S. Government continued to support the efforts of the political opposition, the media, and civil society.” (That the efforts pertained to replacing the Zanu-PF government with one that would effectively shelf land reform, lift tariffs, abolish performance requirements on foreign investment, and privatize state-owned enterprises, should be spelled out. That these policies would benefit the corporations, investors and banks connected to Bond’s Center for Civil Society should also be spelled out.)

“The United States sponsored public events that presented economic and social analyses discrediting the government’s excuses for its failed policies, (which is to say, absolving US and EU sanctions of undermining the country’s economy.)

“The U.S. Government sponsored … and supported … several township newspapers” and worked to expand the “listener base” of “Voice of America’s Studio 7 radio station” (by distributing short-wave radios to expose the population to anti-Zanu-PF propaganda.)

“U.S. programs provided funding to NGOs that collected and circulated information on civil society, human rights, and government actions,” (groups like Sokwanele.)

The US “supported workshops to develop youth leadership skills necessary to confront social injustice through nonviolent strategies,” a reference to the “grassroots” “pro-democracy” activist groups the US has previously trained and funded in Yugoslavia (Otpor), Belarus (Zubr) and Ukraine (Khmara), to carry out color revolutions with the intention of installing local politicians that favor pro-US trade and investment policies. The Zimbabwean equivalents are Bond’s favored Sokwanele, and its counterpart Zvakwana.

The State Department also “sponsored an … exchange program to learn about activism by civil society groups in the United States,” groups that one might infer are as deeply embedded in Uncle Sam’s pocket as their counterparts in Zimbabwe are.

Any doubt that these civil society regime change operations are motivated by purely economic considerations should be laid to rest by the State Department’s observation that “A growing number of like-minded donors now agree that fundamental political and economic changes are a prerequisite to reengagement by the international community with the government.” In other words, once Zimbabwe shelves its land reform program, opens its doors to unfettered US investment and exports, and stops interfering in US imperial designs in Africa, funding to civil society and Bond’s “independent left” will dry up.

The actions of some Trotskyite groups and Trotskyite-inspired scholars serve the same ends.

Australia’s Green Left Weekly, and the Zimbabwe International Socialist Organization, have both backed the opposition MDC from the start (in fact, the ISO is a founding member) [6]. The problem with the MDC is that it’s the US and EU vehicle for strengthening a neo-colonial domination of Zimbabwe and of white farmers for stopping land reform.

The ISO and Bond use language to rail against Mugabe that seems to be drawn from the same bag of clichés. Bond’s “Mugabe talks radical — especially nationalist and anti-imperialist–but acts reactionary” [7] is almost a word for word recycling of the ISO’s “Mugabe is compromising with the bosses at the expense of the workers – not only the local capitalists, but with foreign investors,” and “he speaks left but his policy is pro-capitalist” [8].

If Mugabe is as useful to imperialism as his Trotskyite detractors say he is, (Bond says “The Zim counter-example, frankly, is a useful one for imperialism to keep alive” [9]) why are imperialists in Washington and London lavishing money and support on the political opposition, “independent” media and “independent left” to overthrow him?

The anti-Mugabe screed is a replay of the Trotskyite narrative about pure revolutionaries opposing a revolution that has been hijacked and betrayed by an unworthy power-mad monster (Stalin being the Trotskyites’ archetype.) In this view, all revolutions are corrupt and must be overthrown – that is, all but the one that will never happen.

Trotskyites have always been useful to Washington and London: many are reliably against the same revolutions (though for different reasons), and therefore serve the useful function of whittling away at left support.

To discourage left support for Third World anti-imperialist movements, many Trotskyites invoke the argument that those who support Zanu-PF, the DPRK and sometimes even Cuba, are reflexively placing a plus sign beside the enemy of my enemy and that they ought to be more selective in who they support. Since many Trotskyites often have trouble with really-existing socialist governments and national liberation movements, this amounts to a prohibition against putting a plus sign beside any such movement.

The truth of the matter, however, is that anti-imperialists support national liberation movements, not because Washington or London dislike them, but because national liberation movements are anti-imperialist, period.

By comparison, misnamed independent left groups that depend for their existence or funding on the US, the EU and Western ruling class foundations, and those Trotskyites who can be reliably counted upon to oppose all revolutions except those they lead or influence, do what they accuse Zanu-PF of doing: talking left, and walking right.

1. US Department of State, “The U.S. Record, 2006,”
2. Bond, Patrick (a), “Mugabe: Talks Radical, Acts Lie a Reactionary: Zimbabwe’s Descent,”, March 27, 2007,
3. Gowans, Stephen, “Zimbabwe’s Lonely Fight for Justice,” March 30, 2007,
4. Center for Civil Society at the University of Natal,
5. US Department of State
6. Gowland, Rob, “Zimbabwe: The struggle for land, the struggle for independence,”
7. Bond (a)
8. Gowland
9. Bond, Patrick (b), Reply to “Gowans, Stephen, “Grassroots Lieutenants of Imperialism, April 2, 2007, ,

7 thoughts on “Talk Left, Funded Right

  1. In Bond’s April 8th, 8:52 am comment , he writes: “There is no such thing as the “SA Chamber of Commerce”, and CCS has no ties to any business lobbies of any sort (except making regular critiques).”

    He is right. There is no SA chamber of Commerce. But there is a South African Chamber of Business, which is represented on the advisory panel of his “independent” center. The South African Chamber of Business is a business lobby. The claim, then, that “CCS has no ties to any business lobbies of any sort” is wrong.

    Is this a deliberate deception, or does Bond not know who is on the advisory panel of his own center? Either way, Bond is not a very reliable source of information on this (nor, as he has shown, on the matter of whether groups like Sokwanele, which are funded by the US government, are truly independent.)

    One could make the case that Bond is being deliberately deceptive. By pointing out there is no Chamber of Commerce he is able to avoid addressing the fact that a member of the Chamber of Business (not Commerce) is on the advisory panel of his center (a ruse similar to Clinton’s “I never had sex with that woman.”)

    Bond’s dishonesty is evident at another level. His arguments are typically personal attacks, the copious use of the word “nonsense” and appeals to authority based on his mailing address – whatever it takes to win a shouting match, and not much more.

  2. E-mails received in connection with article:

    For a laugh, check out some of the organizations listed on the CCS’ website as “Other Research Institutes Working on Civil Society”,14

    Presumably they are recommended:

    Ford Foundation
    Friedrich-Ebert Stitfung
    Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
    and so on.

    Somehow I can’t picture these sites ending up as links on “What’s Left.”

    And Friedrich-Ebert Stitfung links the Centre for Civil Society……

    Check this out:,12,35,4,0

    I wonder what integration they are talking about – into the Western economic model?

    Civil Society and Development [ Civil Society]

    Brief Description: This research is the product of the Ford Foundation funded Civil Society and African Integration (CSAI) programme, a joint initiative of the School of Development Studies and the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The overarching aim of the programme is to build a consortium of universities and private research centres across the continent that will work collaboratively to develop a research and training programme on Civil Society and African Integration. Through its outputs – the development of a critical mass of institutions and researchers; continental and international visibility; a set of publications – the programme has already created a solid foundation upon which to develop into a useful and permanent feature on Africa’s intellectual landscape that makes important contributions to the objectives of African integration.
    Additional Participants: Professor Adam Habib; Dr Mammo Muchie
    Professor Vishnu Padayachee
    Professor Patrick Bond

  3. Steve, congratulations for having the courage to help expose the neoliberal left — and trotskyism in particular which has historically served as a petty-bourgeois imperialist-zionist conveyor belt in Marxist-Leninist revolutionary drag –from its anti-leninist/Bolshevik days until today’s ‘neocon’ ‘ex-trotskyites’.
    [Helpful analysis by Mavrakis in ‘On Trotskyism’ and ‘Trotskyism: Counter-Revolution in Disguise’ by M.J.Oljin]
    M-L’s revolutionary ‘soul’ was revived and advanced theoretically and practically by Mao despite the ongoing U.S./left liberal slander.

  4. Hmmm. I seem to have struck a nerve. I don’t recall saying that the Center for Civil Society received USAID funding, but it’s nice of Bond to mention that it did. Nor did I say that Bond’s Civil Society Center is funded by Ford, Kellogg, ABSA, etc. I said they were connected. Representatives of these organizations sit on the advisory and directory board of Bond’s Civil Society Center. Bond, and others like him, want us to believe that civil society is self-funding, that groups like Sokwanele, Radio SF Africa and even Bond’s Center, get their money from bake sales and selling raffle tickets.

    The US is using civil society to carry out color revolutions. Bond is the director of a center for civil society. His center’s website links to the MDC, the principal formal opposition group the US is using to bring about a color revolution in Zimbabwe. Bond celebrates a US-funded group Sokwanele, which would be one of the principal vanguard movements in a Zimbabwean color revolution. And yet Bond insists he, and the center, are completely independent of the aims of the US government.

    Bond presents himself as a serious scholar, and yet his arguments against the Zanu-PF government draw, almost word for word, from the same bag of cliches the Zimbabwe ISO group used. One can hardly take seriously anyone who asserts, with no sense of shame or embarrassment, that “The Zim counter-example, frankly, is a useful one for imperialism to keep alive,” or that “imperialism doesn’t need regime change in Zimbabwe.” Patrick, wake up, and look across the Limpopo river.

    Bond’s protests remind me of the fiercely anti-communist social democrats who were generously funded by the CIA during the Cold War, and knew it, but vehemently insisted they were independent of Washington’s aims all the same. Movements, political parties and media have knowingly accepted funding from Western governments, their agencies and pro-imperialist foundations, while proclaiming their complete independence. Members of these groups may genuinely believe they remain aloof from their backer’s aims (and in the West it is often the very groups that claim not to take sides that are the favored recipients of this lucre), but self-deception is an insidious thing – and the promise of oodles of cash is hard to resist.

  5. Gowans accuses the Centre for Civil Society – which I joined in October 2004 – of being ‘connected to’ Kellogg and Ford, SA NGO Coalition, ABSA Bank and the SA Chamber of Commerce. As his source we get our CCS website, that’s all: (Reflecting his research skills, Gowans thinks we are based at the University of Natal, the old apartheid-era name.)

    The most serious insult Gowans might fling were he to do some actual research, is that at one point CCS was funded by US AID on a research capacity-building project with 33 community activists in 2003. However, US AID soon withdrew the funding – and even demanded back money already deposited in the UKZN bank account – after my predecessor Adam Habib began outspoken criticism of the Iraq invasion. Late last year Adam – now one of the SA government’s top research officers – was prohibited entry to the US, spending a day in custody at JFK:

    Some debunking:
    * As far as I know, CCS has no formal links to Kellogg and never has.
    * CCS once received Ford funding but not since 2004; one result of the funding was this book:
    * The SA NGO Coalition has no formal connection to CCS, and in any case it is laughable to put Sangoco in the category of the ruling class (as even a glance here will show: – just look at the lead cartoon) .
    * There is no such thing as the “SA Chamber of Commerce”, and CCS has no ties to any business lobbies of any sort (except making regular critiques).
    * As for ABSA banking group, not only is there no connection, I challenge Gowans to identify anyone who has written as many critiques of ABSA and SA banking more generally than myself. One of the things I’ve criticised ABSA for is their connections to the Mugabe regime via Jewel Bank, a point I made last week here – – which apparently Gowans didn’t read, judging by his backfire allegation. No doubt Gowans will pull out p.42 of this document – – and find a CCS ‘advisory board member’ from ABSA Foundation. So for the record, during my time at CCS, he has never come to a single meeting or event and I’ve never met, spoken or communicated to him. So ‘no connection’ is still accurate

    On the matter of MDC economic policy-making and imperialist interests, I challenge Gowans to find anyone who subjects the party to such detailed critique as myself and coauthor Simba Manyanya, in Zimbabwe’s Plunge:

    On how “these policies would benefit the corporations, investors and banks connected to Bond’s Center for Civil Society”, I challenge Gowans to find any academic centre in SA working as hard against neoliberalism and imperialism.

    Gowans is not only politically ridiculous, he is incompetent, and I won’t take him seriously any more. Ironically Gowans relied on one of my articles for 1/3 of his citations in his critique of the ANC: – but from here on out, I hope he steers clear, given what a wreckless driver he is on the info highway.

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