The Economics and Politics of the World Social Forum: Lessons for the Struggle against ‘Globalisation’

Soon it was adopted by the Indian government, with far-reaching effects. Agricultural production of rice and wheat in the selected pockets grew immediately. Talk of land reform, tenancy reform, abolition of usury, and so on were more or less dropped from official agenda (never to return). But the initial spectacular growth rates eventually slowed. On the average agricultural production all-India has grown more slowly after the Green Revolution than before, and in much of the country per capita agricultural output has stagnated or fallen. Today even the Green Revolution pockets are facing stagnation in yields.

However, the Green Revolution was successful in another sense: it yielded a large market for foreign firms selling either inputs or the technology to manufacture those inputs.

Shift to funding NGO ‘activism’

Since 1972 there has been a shift in FF’s activities in India. Earlier FF had a large staff, focussing on agriculture and rural development, providing technical assistance in these fields and directly implementing its projects. Now FF’s developmental activities continue under the heading “asset-building and community development” (Ford claims that it is responsible for introducing the concept of “micro-lending” in India, now eagerly embraced by the Reserve Bank), but it has added two other heads: “peace and social justice” and “education, media, arts and culture”. This is in line with changes in foundation/funding agency policy worldwide, whereby, since the late 1970s, a new breed of ‘activist’ NGOs, engaging in social and political activity, have been systematically promoted. Among Ford’s “peace and social justice” goals are the promotion of human rights, especially those of women; ensuring open and accountable government institutions; strengthening “civil society through the broad participation of individuals and civic organisations in charting the future”, and supporting regional and international cooperation.12

Over the period 1952-2002, FF New Delhi office, the first and oldest of FF’s 13 overseas offices, has distributed $450 million in grants.13 At a press conference to mark the fiftieth anniversary of FF in India, the foundation’s India representative said that it was launching a new Rs 220 crore ($45 million) funding programme — twice the usual annual allocation — and committing substantial funds to disadvantaged groups such as adivasis, dalits and women. “Asked if the shift in focus [from FF’s traditional activities in rural development] was prompted by the inequalities caused by the Indian government’s economic policies of globalisation and liberalisation, he said there was no question of getting away from globalisation but it had brought some concern also. The projects would, therefore, act as a corrective measure to offset the adverse impact of uncontrolled market forces.”14

This is precisely the language of the World Bank and IMF: their answer to “uncontrolled market forces” is not to control them, but to set up tiny well-publicised safety nets to catch a handful from among the masses of people thrown out by market forces.

Further, FF would specifically ensure that people’s struggles against the government do not take the course of confrontation: “While admitting that several of the voluntary organisations benefitting from the funding programme could be in confrontation with the government when they were working on issues such as welfare of Adivasis, he said the Foundation did not believe in conflict with the government. The attempt was to complement and cooperate with the efforts of the government.”15

Ford has chosen to focus on three particularly oppressed sections of Indian society — adivasis, dalits, and women. All three are potentially important components of a movement for basic change in Indian society; indeed, some of the most militant struggles in recent years have been waged by these sections. However, FF takes care to treat the problems of each of these sections as a separate question, to be solved by special “promotion of rights and opportunities”. Since FF’s funds are negligible in relation to the size of the social problems themselves, the benefits of its projects flow to a small vocal layer among these sections. These are persons who might otherwise have led their fellow adivasis, dalits and women on the path of “confrontation with the government” in order to bring about basic change, change for all. Instead special chairs in dalit studies will be funded at various institutions; women will be encouraged to focus solely on issues such as domestic violence rather than ruling class/State violence; adivasis will be encouraged to explore their identity at seminars; and things will remain as they are.

Notes: – note1#note11. Petras, “The Ford Foundation and the CIA: A documented case of philanthropic collaboration with the secret police”, December 2001, (back)

2. The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters, 2000, p. 139, quoted in Petras, “The Ford Foundation…” (back)

3. Petras, ibid. (back)

4. Petras, citing Saunders, p. 140. (back)

5. Bowles, Ambassador’s Report, 1954, p.79. (back)

6. George Rosen, Western Economists and Eastern Societies: Agents of Change in South Asia 1950-70, 1985, cited in P.J. James, Voluntary Agencies: The True Mission, 1993, pp. 65-67. (back)

7. Rosen, cited in S.K. Ghosh, Development Planning in India: Lumpendevelopment and Imperialism, 2002, p. 23. (back)

8. Bowles, op cit, p. 220. (back)

9. Quotations from Ghosh, Development Planning; see pp. 23-34 for a detailed account. (back)

10.James, p. 69, citing Rosen, p. 56. (back)

11. S.K. Ghosh, Imperialism’s Tightening Grip on Indian Agriculture, 1998, p. 24. (back)

12. We have not in this article discussed the last topic, namely FF support of “regional and international cooperation”. This is an important area of FF activity in India: the sponsorship of institutes, organisations, seminars, foreign trips, studies, and so on regarding India’s relations with other countries, other issues of strategic affairs, and matters of internal security. Through such grants, the US government helps shape Indian foreign policy formulation, and helps integrate Indian internal security institutions with US ones. For example, the New Delhi-based “Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies” is carrying on an FF-funded “three-year project to study different aspects of security in India… a) non-military challenges to security, b) challenges to national integration, c) India’s security problematique and d) governance and security. Another recipient of FF funds at the same institute is “a two-year project to explore alternative paradigms of national security in South Asia.” (back)

13. (back)

14. Emphasis added. (back)

15. Hindu, 6/3/02; emphasis added. (back)

Next: Appendix II – Funds for the World Social Forum


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