Two Reviews of “The Revolution Will Not be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex”

Two Reviews of
“The Revolution Will Not be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex”

These are two interesting essays on how non-profits with progressive agendas have become enmashed in the very system that victimizes and exploits the people they seek to serve.

The first piece is older, but valuable in trying to explain how this situation has come about.

“The Non-Profit & The Autonomous Grassroots”
Eric Tang,
Left Turn, October 24 2005

Once upon a time, being labeled an affiliate of the state was a nasty indictment in radical movements. Today some of the movement’s best and brightest openly and proudly claim membership in organizations whose link to the state—either through direct public funding or mere tax-reporting—are unambiguous and well-documented. I am speaking of the impressive number of radical-minded grassroots groups that, while continuing to sincerely abide by the ethos of “our movement,” have assumed the form of a Non-Profit (NP) entity.

Non-profits, also known as non-governmental organizations (NGO), are often stripped down to their barest and most essential nature as an IRS tax category: the 501(c)3. This official registration with the government grants the accreditation needed to receive government funding and funds through private philanthropic foundations. In exchange, the grassroots non-profit must adopt legally binding by-laws, elect a board of directors modeled after corporations, and open board minutes and fiscal accounting to the public. Previously considered anathema to the grassroots Left, these practices are accepted governing principles of many community organizations. While we have yet to precisely assess the effects of incorporating an autonomous movement, experience suggests the non-profit poses as many challenges to organizing as it solves.

Fractured Left

“We, the Left, have been described as being, weak, fractured, disorganized. I attribute that to three things—COINTELPRO. 501(c)3. Capitalism,” deadpans Suzanne Pharr at a conference, entitled “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex” in May 2004. Few grassroots organizers can claim a tour of duty more impressive than Suzanne Pharr, whose work traverses the past thirty years. She is an author, founding member and director of the Arkansas Women’s Project for nineteen years, and former director of the Highlander Research and Education Center. During her days in Arkansas she participated in the internal struggles that eventually led her anti-domestic violence organization to adopt the non-profit model.

After years of effectively organizing a grassroots core, Pharr had reached an impasse. She struggled with the need to have a greater impact in the movement to end violence against women, which required working with the array of political forces outside the grassroots. Becoming a non-profit represented one major step in that direction, facilitating the political goals of “credibility…the approval of churches, clubs, and even law enforcement.” Yet, she debated if registering as a non-profit would deliver these goals or take them away. Time would tell. “I’ve seen the loss of political force and movement building,” says Pharr, reflecting on the over-saturation of non-profit models within today’s New Left struggles. The most troubling aspect of these losses, she says, is that they were not so much based on sharp difference on key political issues, but rather “the dreadful competition among organizations for little pots of money.”

Years ago the Left made a decision to go down a certain road towards non-profit incorporation. There were some victories but also a good number of political casualties, according to those who took part in that turn. Yet open dialogue on the complex challenges posed by the non-profit has often taken a back seat to the immediate need of getting important work done. Resultantly, a new generation of leaders inherit the unresolved dilemmas.

Heavy legacies

New activists in community, labor, and justice struggles are soon made aware that they bear heavy burdens. They must carry forth movements that ended Jim Crow, created environmental justice, and inspired mass anti-war protests. The young organizer can take a course that covers Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and the United Farm Workers and learn that all union members, even the lowest paid, contributed regular membership dues. Chavez insisted, “this is the only way the workers will ‘own’ the organization.” Young activists will inevitably take a hard look at grassroots organizing that lives on foundation grants, hires a development director to raise funds to free others to do the real work, and adopts management systems which are foreign, if not alienating, to the values and skills-set of the grassroots base. Contradictions will be analyzed:

Why do we apply for a police permit to protest the police?
…Because if we break the law, our board is liable.

Why can’t we lobby?
…Because that would violate our 501(c)3 status and the conditions of our grant.

Why not just take the streets?
…Because insurance doesn’t cover it.

The non-profit is cast as the straw man against a multitude of political frustrations. With the severe limitations (shackles) placed on the Left today, defense against right-wing attack must be accompanied by the exorcising of ‘untidy’ internal contradictions.

Nonprofit blues

Indeed, the majority of organizational leaders I’ve sat down with over the past year and a half—whose work ranges from defeating the onset of neoliberal policies in public schools, to the ongoing struggle against police violence, to defending the rights of immigrant communities—have experienced, to varying degrees, an onset of the NP blues. They are concerned about the ways in which the priorities of philanthropy tamper with the organizing work, or how NP governance makes impossible the principle of unity which calls for youth and working class people at the center. Worse still is how hiring and promotion policies have led to competition and individualism among the ranks.

Still, despite the seeming ubiquity of the dilemma, a broad and consistent public discussion is absent. Each finds his or her own way to manage the contradictions. In my conversations with participants who attended the “Revolution Will Not Be Funded,” many lefties talked of participating in the NP as a tactic on the “down low,” a temporary ride toward a more radical end. Yet candid discussions on just how long we ride this Trojan horse, or how far we’ve actually traveled, are few and far between. For those who have steadfastly refused to go NP, they too maintain silence—for the most part.

Perhaps it would be beneficial to return to the historical moment in question. The origin point can be found at the dawn of the Reagan era, somewhere in the early to mid 1980s. This was the juncture at which significant strands of the New Left decided to turn down the NP road. What were the internal conditions that led to that turn? There are three interrelated factors that standout— the deconsolidation of the party-builders and the proliferation of New Social Movements, Baby-boomers with loot, and the question of legitimacy. What ensues is a very rough sketch of each.

New movements

Throughout much of the 1970s, there was a strong current within the New Left that sought to harness and consolidate the political energies of the late 1960s into the revolutionary party. The years 1965-1969 were those mercurial years, which saw the rise of numerous liberation struggles led by groups such as the Black Panther Party (and the ensuing “Panther effect:” Young Lords, I Wor Kuen, Brown Berets), the Women’s Liberation Movements (some led by white women, others by Third World sistas), Lesbian and Gay Liberation struggles and the meteoric rise of the anti-war movement. Max Elbaum describes the period as “Revolution in Air”—it was a feeling, a texture, of multiple resistances, each with its own brilliance and complexity.

By the 1970s many of the self-identified revolutionary forces within this New Left turned their attention to party building efforts aimed at consolidating the many movements in an effort to strike a unified revolutionary blow against the establishment. But for some, party-building came at the cost of extracting valuable time and attention from community-based struggles. For others, it meant erasing or subordinating the particular character of race, gender, sexual, and class oppression for the sake of a “higher degree” of unity. And for others still, party building would mark the beginning of deep sectarian fighting between different cadres, not to mention the abuses of power within parties and revolutionary organizations.

The troubled efforts of the party-builders paralleled the rise and proliferation of “New Social Movements” (NSMs)—led by those who had either departed from, resisted, or simply ignored the push to consolidate the revolutionary party. By the early 80s, with many party building efforts in decline, the NSMs continued to grow and proliferate, codifying their struggles under semi-new banners such as: Environmental Justice, Racial Justice, No Nukes, Housing Organizing, Youth Development, Community Development and Anti-poverty. These would provide for the new social justice categories that would eventually be adapted by the philanthropic foundations.

Baby boomers

Yet who are the people behind these mysterious foundations who donate a portion of their excesses to the grassroots? And since when do the wealthy give generously to progressive, even radical, causes? The New Left described above was one part of a broader countercultural movement whose core consisted largely of middle-class youth with an occasional sprinkling of the children of the wealthy. By the 80s, many of the baby boomers born to wealth were inheriting portions of their families’ estate. And those still partially faithful to movement values became reliable individual donors to NSM struggles close to their hearts.

Yet those with serious loot established “family foundations”—non profit institutions that do the work of finding and funding worthy projects. The vast majority of these foundations can only give grants to groups with NP status. Between 1975 and 1988, the total number of philanthropic foundations jumped from 21,887 to 30,338. By 2000, that number would reach 56,582. Many of these were small family foundations, signaling a new, albeit small and selective, funding source for the grassroots. This was much needed respite for community based struggles weathering the cutbacks to federally funded anti poverty programs that were originally designed under the Kennedy-Johnson “Great Society” era and narrowly resuscitated under Carter, before being cut down by Reagan.

Institutional power

During this same period, it got in the heads of some on the left that in order to have impact, the movement needed to take on the sharper image. It needed to get with the times (or the Times) and make an impression on institutional power as opposed to being its incessant pain in the ass. Instead of “mau-mauing” the suits for big promises that amounted mere bread crumbs, it was suggested that the left try donning a suit and grabbing a seat at the table to win big.

The penultimate examples of this are the former new lefties who ran for political office during the 80s and 90s, deciding to work with instead of against the Democratic Party. For those with slightly smaller egos but no less ambition, the mission became to start influential non-profit organizations that could press for the incremental gains that would perhaps lead, finally, to those Marxian qualitative leaps.

Of course, there were those who pleaded in vein with their erstwhile comrades to not go the route of legitimacy—to hold out just a little longer. For many of them the story abruptly ends here. Their generation simply “sold out,” as the crabby expression goes, forever abandoning the good idea of revolution. But sell out talk—which is absolutist in both its form and intent—does little to guide us through our present-day dilemmas.

Alternative Spaces

The “whole sell out theory crowds out the discussion of burn-out,” remarks Makani Themba-Nixon, director of the Washington D.C.-based Praxis Project, referring to those who were exhausted by the internal political processes and abuses of institutional authority in various revolutionary parties and collectives. Many people sought alternative spaces to carry out their work. According to Themba-Nixon, “women in particular needed a way to get away from the sexism, the exploitation, the rough stuff” found within revolutionary organizations. Internal problems were “more the issue behind people leaving than the external politics,” she says. The emergence of the non-profit, Pharr explains, provided the opportunity to continue to “do smart work, practical work, in a way that allowed you to survive. This was especially important after witnessing those who did not survive.”

Themba-Nixon’s observations would caution against sweeping calls for the New Left’s full retreat from non-profits. Autonomous movements are not inoculated from sharp power imbalances (typified by middle-class leadership), competitiveness, and internal exploitation. In fact, the New Left’s failure to implement and sustain anti-hierarchal principles, to care for the long-term development of all members, and to promote a diverse movement culture of participation led many to create non-profits as alternative spaces for effective organizing.

Civil society

These days, there’s a small movement storm brewing in Atlanta, Georgia. In the summer of 2006, the city will play host to the first United States Social Forum (USSF), a gathering projected at 20,000 participants from a wide cross section of the grassroots including labor, environmental justice, immigrant rights, racial justice, anti-war, youth and student, women, LGBT, international solidarity. Although the USSF will not take up resolving the NP dilemma as a stated objective or “thematic area” it may provide a space to shed some much-needed light on the matter.

The USSF is an official regional forum of the World Social Forum (WSF) which, for the past six years, has coalesced social movements from around the world to discuss an array of locally derived “global strategies” to defeat the agendas of world trade, war, and the new imperialism. The groups that comprise this new global movement are not political parties or government representatives of left leaning nation states. Rather they consider themselves part of a new “civil society”—an array of locally based struggles and supporting NGOs.

On January 1, 1994, the world caught a glimpse of this new civil society in action, as a relatively small band of indigenous Mayan freedom fighters from the Southwest state of Chiapas known as the Zapatistas led the once improbable people’s uprising against globalization. The Zapatistas would advance the idea that those who were to defend the people in this “Fourth World War” were not the national liberation armies of old but rather a new Mexican civil society comprised of indigenous social movements completely independent of the public and private sectors.

This concept of civil society included non-indigenous Mexican civilian groups who saw their own futures inextricably linked to that of the indigenous struggle against neoliberalism including NGOs. Under the auspices of Mexican civil society, the autonomous social movement and the institutionalized NGO strive for balance—each understands the specific and complementary role it plays in articulating the new social formation.

Complementary role

The NGO is not the subject of the social movement, but rather the political and technical support for the struggle. The NGO leverages funds to the autonomous grassroots groups, helps the movement build connection to those beyond the borders of the nation-state, provides training, education, and infrastructural support (the development of health clinics, schools, alternative media centers, etc.), and serves as a liaison between government officials and autonomous movements.

Yet, before we take heart that the new paradigm of civil society and its WSF provide a solution for our generation, it is worth noting that, here too, contradictions abound. The WSF has been criticized for its heavy presence of NGOs—most of whom can afford to send large delegations by plane—while the members of their nation’s autonomous movements have less access, often arriving to the forum after weeks of traveling over rough terrain.

There are indeed NGOs throughout Latin America, Asia, and Africa that have come under fire for at times tipping the balance, eclipsing the autonomous movements. Writer/activist Arundhati Roy, for example, has been a particularly harsh critic of NGOs operating in India, noting the ways is which they can often serve the neoliberal “developing nation” agenda.

US context

But for the US left, the concept of civil society may still prove valuable to those attempting to navigate their way through today’s NP dilemmas.

“We never had it from the beginning,” says Jerome Scott of his organization’s 501c3 status, as he reflects on its twenty year history. The organization is Project South based in Atlanta, and it will play the role of an anchor organization for the USSF. An autoworker and shop floor organizer from Detroit, Scott once participated in the famous “wild cat” strikes of 1973, led in part by the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. In the late-1970s, he relocated to the Southeast, where things were a bit “more raw.”

By the early 80s, the Southeast was experiencing major political backlash against the gains of the Civil Rights movement. Scott along with several comrades from Detroit, who had also surreptitiously made their way down South, began organizing campaigns to bring attention to the profound poverty, unemployment, and racism that characterized the post-Civil Rights era. The founding of Project South can be viewed as the continuation on the part of Scott and his comrades to build the independent movements that characterized their days back in Detroit.

During the first ten years of its existence, Project South was not a NP, nor did it receive significant grants from foundations or individual donors. The work was carried-out through a collective of volunteer activists, organizers, and visionaries. It was only in 1995, long after the organization had been on the radar of many progressive philanthropy eager to fund it, that Project South decided to incorporate as an NP.

Today, with approximately a half dozen staff members, a large office within a community-space, and the support of several foundations, Project South continues to be guided by the principles upon which it was founded. From salary parity, to an uncompromising people-centered mission, to engaging in a range of tactics (including lobbying), to anchoring the USSF conference, Project South is a successful example of an autonomous movement’s successful transition to non-profit status.

Perhaps some activists who, unlike Project South, consciously and deliberately founded NPs two decades ago, did so with the confidence that other forms of autonomous struggle would continue to grow and push forward. The role of their NP institutions would therefore be only complementary, supplemental, or supportive to it—one of many means of tilting the broader political spectrum toward liberation politics.

Today however, US based non-profits find themselves awkwardly at the movement’s center. We must address the imbalance between autonomous movements and non-profits. This is an ontological question: can a non-profit give life to that which is a precondition of its own existence? The non-profit can clear the path for revolution by dismantling its own policies and practices that prevent grassroots movements from truly impacting political institutions—from the electoral college, to the denial of proportional representation, to the collapse of the social welfare state, to the roll-back on civil rights.

No, the revolution will not be funded. We would need to find it first.

[Born, raised, and living in New York City, Eric Tang is a community organizer, teacher, and occasional scribe. Working in the Southeast Asian neighborhoods of the Bronx, he helped to found the first Asian-community-based youth organizing project in the New York City. He currently provides training and capacity building support to grassroots youth groups across the country.]

The second essay appears in the May-June 2007 issue of the Organizer newspaper.

Will the Revolution be Funded?
Resisting the Non-Profit Industrial Complex



Many well-intentioned youth and activists are joining non-profit organizations today because they want to fight poverty, global warming, or racism.

Today in the United States, there are nearly 2 million non-profits — not including religious charity organizations — which possess over $1.59 trillion in assets, a growth of over 400% since 1981.

At home and abroad, social services such as healthcare and education — which in the past were provided primarily by the State — are now more and more in the hands of non-profits. Parallel to this, popular movements of the oppressed are increasingly shaped by their influence.

But is it possible for an organization to effectively fight for social justice if it is funded by the institutions of the ruling rich?

This is the question posed — and answered — by “The Revolution Will Not be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex” (South End Press 2007), a biting anthology of essays edited by “INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence” — a national activist organization of radical feminists of color — examining the roots and consequences of the explosive spread of non-profits.

The idea for this book sprang from the editors’ first-hand experience with the Ford Foundation, which cancelled funding for two of INCITE!’s projects due to the organization’s support for the Palestinian liberation movement.

The publication of “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded” is particularly timely because in late June, Atlanta will host the U.S. Social Forum — which, if it is anything like its international predecessors, will be dominated by non-profits and their policies.

History of Capitalist “Charity”

Ruling-class philanthropy is as old as capitalism itself, but the first big surge in “charities” arose in the early 20th century, when the robber capitalists such as John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie sought “tax shelters” — places to guard their wealth without having to pay taxes.

One revealing example of the political role of such “charity” was the Rockefeller Foundation’s reaction to the infamous 1913 coal miners’ strike in Colorado (against a business that was 40% owned by Rockefeller), which led, on April 20, 1914, to the state militia killing 17 strikers in what came to be known as the Ludlow Massacre. The editors note:

“Jerome Greene, the Rockefeller Foundation secretary, identified research and information to quiet social and political unrest. The rationale behind this strategy was that while individual workers deserved social relief, organized workers in the form of unions were a threat to society. So the Rockefeller Foundation heavily advertised its relief work for individual workers while at the same time promoting a pro-Rockefeller spin to the massacre. For instance, it sponsored speakers to claim that no massacre had happened and tried to block the publication of reports that were critical of Rockefeller.” (All quotes and statistics in this article come directly from the anthology.)

What is the Non-Profit Industrial Complex?

Non-profits — which are legally defined as “religious, charitable, scientific or educational” organizations whose receipts are tax-exempt and whose contributions are tax-exempt for the donors — are bound by their IRS tax category, 501(c)(3), which enables them to receive foundation funds, but which bans them from direct “political advocacy” — that is, making demands on the government.

This funding mechanism is at the heart of what differentiates non-profits — which are known internationally as Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) — from “traditional” forms of popular organization, such as political parties, trade unions, and community organizations.

This new web of private or State-funded institutions — accountable only to their funders — constitutes the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, which professor Dylan Rodriguez argues is “the natural corollary to the Prison-Industrial Complex.”

Sometimes non-profits are financed by the State, but in general they receive the bulk of their funds from foundations (who give out about $33.6 billion annually). For example, a contemporary survey of 20 youth organizing groups revealed that 92% were funded primarily by foundations.

These foundations, in turn, are funded primarily by huge corporations and individual capitalists. The editors describe the hypocritical role of these institutions:

“When wealthy people create foundations, they’re exempt from paying taxes on their wealth. Thus foundations essentially rob the public of monies that should be owed to them and give back very little of what is taken in lost taxes. In addition, their funds are derived from profits resulting from the exploitation of labor. That is, corporations become rich by exploiting their workers. Corporate profits are then put into foundations in order to provide ‘relief’ to workers that are the result of corporate practices in the first place.”

Our current tax law requires that 50% of the wealth of a deceased individual who possessed over $2 million dollars must go to the State. Thus, it is estimated that at least 45 percent of $500 billion controlled by foundations belongs to the American people.

And who are the people who control these massive funds? We certainly did not choose them — and they are certainly not accountable in any way to us. Author Christine Ahn studied the heads of foundations and concluded:

“The board and staff of today’s foundations are predominantly white, middle-aged, and upper class. With few exceptions, foundation trustees are extensions of America’s banks, brokerage houses, law firms, universities and businesses — hardly a broad representation of the American population.  It is ironic that the burden of our nation’s social problems increasingly falls into the laps of foundations, the most elitist institutions in our country, whose boards are almost entirely composed of wealthy people and highly paid professionals, and who — as study after study shows — benefit personally and ideologically from the current social and economic order.”

The Rise of the NPIC

Capitalist “charity” is old — but the importance of non-profits is a relatively new phenomenon.

Since the collapse of the post-war economic boom in the early 1970s, the deepening crisis of the capitalist system has created a situation where profit-making is more and more dependent on the destruction — “privatization” — of all public services.

Various authors in the anthology correctly note that rise of the “non-profit industrial complex” is linked to this vicious political/economic offensive waged throughout the world since the late 1970s by the capitalists — in the name of “free trade”– against the welfare state, public education, social security, public healthcare and other gains from past struggles — an offensive commonly referred to as “neo-liberalism” or “globalization.”

Ruth Wilson Gilmore, a professor at USC, notes in her contribution “In the Shadow of the Shadow-State”:

“Jennifer Wolch developed the term ‘shadow State’ to describe the contemporary rise of the voluntary sector that is involved in direct social services previously provided by wholly public New Deal/Great Society agencies.  [The new importance of the shadow state] is the resolution of two historical waves: the unprecedented expansion of government agencies and services (1933-1973), followed by an equally wide-scale attempt to undo many of those programs at all levels — federal, state, county, local. Anti-State state actors welcomed non-profits under the rhetoric of efficiency (read: meager budgets) and accountability (read: contracts could be pulled if anybody stepped out of line). The shadow State, then, is real, but without significant political clout, forbidden by law to advocate for systemic change.”

In the eyes of the ruling class, a central role of non-profits is to be a first step — a bridge — toward the complete privatization of social services. Gilmore explains that, “[a principal factor contributing to the rise of the NPIC] is the fear that a sudden and complete suspension of certain kinds of social goods will provoke uprisings and other responses that, while ultimately controllable, come at a political cost. Here’s where the non-profits enter the current political economy.”

How to Co-opt Dissent

Non-profits also function as crucial instruments to co-opt and demobilize the inevitable protests that have exploded in the past decades and years in response to the capitalists’ brutal political and economic offensive.

George Soros — one of the most famous spokespeople for NGOs and their plans to “humanize” capitalism” — explains:

“When I had made more money than I needed, I decided to set up a foundation.  I called the foundation the Open Society Fund.  The Open Society merely provides a framework within which different views about social and political issues can be reconciled; it does not offer firm views on social goals.”

In other words, the goal of his foundation is to “reconcile” opposing “viewpoints” — within, of course, the framework and acceptance of the “free (open) market” and its institutions.

Every contributor to the anthology notes the powerful role of non-profits as instruments for co-optation. Dylan Rodriguez, a professor at the University of California at Riverside, writes in his article, “The Political Logic of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex”:

“The form of the U.S. Left is inseparable from its political content. The most obvious element of this kinder, gentler, industrialized repression is its bureaucratic incorporation of social-change organizations in a ‘tangle of incentives’ — such as postal privileged, tax-exempt status, and quick access to philanthropic funding apparatuses — made possible by State bestowal of ‘not-for-profit’ status. Increasingly, avowedly progressive, radical, leftist and even some self-declared ‘revolutionary’ groups have found assimilation into this State-sanctioned organizational paradigm a practical route to institutionalization.”

Various authors explain how the ruling-class successfully co-opted and demobilized most of the mass movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Adjoa Florencia Jones de Almeida writes: “What has happened to the great civil rights and Black power movement of the 1960s and 70s? Where are the mass movements of today within this country? The short answer — they got funded.” For his part, Robert Allen shows in his “Black Awakening in Capitalist America” how the Ford Foundation funded conservative groupings like CORE to undermine revolutionary Black organizations.

But what about taking funds from “non-corporate” sources? Isn’t this a fundamentally different strategy than that of “mainstream” non-profits?

The editors respond: “Even self-described ‘alternatives’ to foundation funding (such as individual giving through major donors) are still based on the same logic — that wealthy people should be the donors, and thus, inevitably, the controllers. Thus, regardless of the intentions of particular foundations, the framework of funding, in which organization expect to be funded by benefactors rather than by their constituents, negatively impacts social movements.”

Examples of Co-optation

Ana Durazo gives various personal examples of the negative impact of the non-profit model in her experience in the anti-violence movement. In 1995, she was prevented from publishing an op-ed on an immigrant Latina who was beaten by “La Migra” — because her non-profit was legally prohibited from participating in “politics.” And in 2005, her organization lost all its funding from the city of San Francisco due primarily to its position against “the Israeli-imposed colonial violence and sexual violence against Palestinian women.”

Madonna Thunder Hawk, a veteran of the Native American rights movement of the 1960s and ’70s, explains the negative impact of non-profits as follows:

“When we first heard about non-profits in the late 1970s and early ’80s, it seemed like a good idea.  But over the years, it has changed the scope of activism so that non-profits are just part of the system. The focus turned to raising money to keep the organization going, while the actual work of activism became secondary and watered down.

“And when the money disappeared, the work did too.  In Native communities, the economy is so bad that people just need jobs.  Of course, not everyone in a non-profit is like that– many people in non-profits really try to do good work. But the point is, when you start paying people to do activism, you can start to attract people to the work who are not primarily motivated by or dedicated to the struggle.

“As a result, organizing is not as effective. Many people will get involved for an event, but avoid rocking the boat on an ongoing basis because if they do, they might lose their funding. For instance, if the government is funding [a pamphlet on diabetes], then an organization is not going to address the impact of U.S. colonialism on Native diets because they don’t want to lose funding.  Activism is tough; it is not for people interested in building a career.”

Activist Jones de Almeida writes of the difficulty of trying to remain politically independent while being funded by foundations. Her Brooklyn-based organization of young working-class women of color, Sista II Sista, attempted to “take their money while still holding on to our autonomy. However, after years of doing the 501(c)(3) thing, we began to feel trapped and tried to figure out ways of going back to being an all-volunteer organization.”

As an alternative to the non-profit model, Eric Tang suggests a return to independent organizations financed completely through the dues of their members. He quotes the famous union leader Cesar Chavez who insisted that even the lowest paid-workers pay regular dues to the United Farm Workers organization, because “This is the only way the workers will ‘own’ the organization.”


Hopefully “The Revolution Will Not be Funded” will spark a thorough debate among all fighters for social justice. For this discussion to advance, it is also necessary to deal with several related questions not explicitly raised by the anthology, namely:

— The importance of resisting the drive to turn the trade-union movement into a non-profit — particularly after the founding congress of the International Trade Union Confederation in Vienna (November 2006), which was declared by one of its leaders to be “the biggest NGO in the world”;

— The role of non-profits in imperialism’s plan for “new world governance,” a corporatist, anti-democratic, neo-totalitarian project linked to the “reform” of the United Nations and the International Labor Organization; and

— The actuality of the class struggle, class independence, and the fight to put an end to capitalism, an irrational system that can only provide humanity with more chaos, hunger, and war.


1 Response to “Two Reviews of “The Revolution Will Not be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex””

  1. 1 Ian Leaf Trackback on March 15, 2015 at 8:13 am

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