NGO analysis by Salvadoran and James Petras (fwd)

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Wed Apr 14 09:56:25 PDT 1999

Wojtek Sokolowski wrote:

>1. The social fragmentation NGO critics talk about is caused by modern
>capitalist development, not by NGOs. NGOs are but an expression of that
>2. The mass "Left" movements in the 19th and early 20th centuries grew out
>of social solidarity that had its roots in a peasant society. That society
>was all but destryed by capitalism, and the type of solidarity it created
>is for the most part gone. That means that those who are waiting for a
>mass popular movement reminiscent of the struggles in late 19th and early
>20th centuries are waiting for Godot, indeed. Today, such movements belong
>to the "Left-files." They ain't gonna happen, because their
>social-economic basis does not exist anymore.
>3. Given that NGOs are an expresion of social changes brought about by
>capitalist development, they are the most promising platform for Left
>organizing. Unfortunately, that field has been hopelessly dominated by
>foundation liberals with Left almost totally absent. Thus, the left is
>missing its best opportunity, IMHO.
>4. In that light, the Left should stop dreaming about "organizing the
>masses" and instead devlop "middle-range" strategies for using NGOs (also
>called "civil society") as an organizing platform.

There are NGOs and there are NGOs. Some are principled and militant and with a real social base, and some are conservatizing creatures of the Ford Foundation. But the general proliferation of NGOs is a part of the depoliticization of society, which emerges from the guts of capitalism, but which is promoted by (mainstream) NGOs - part of the privatization of social welfare and economic development. While I appreciate point (1), I don't see how embracing part of the process does anything to reverse it. Your point (3) does concede an important point, but foundation liberals won't give the "Left" the time of day, much less a seat on the board. Witness what's going on at Pacifica, right now, for one.


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