working class civil society (against CoNGOs)

Patrick Bond pbond at
Sat Nov 13 22:05:36 PST 1999

On 12 Nov 99, at 14:57, Mr P.A. Van Heusden wrote:

> ... NGOs have played a powerful
> role in precisely capturing the 'pressure from below' you talk about in
> your book, and restricting its effects to a 'politics of engagements'. I
> am inclined to agree - particularly when the space defined by NGOs is
> often physically, and 'discursively' (i.e. in how people talk) seperated
> from day to day of the very people it is 'meant to help'.

Why is it, Peter, that at least two of the best Western Cape left fractions--Neville Alexander's Wosa and Carl Brecker's AIDC (with which I loosely affiliate by the way--see have built an NGO/think-tank base? (Another one or two have taken over other similar organisations.)

Surely when we see NGOs fomenting neoliberal-populism--the turn to "self-help" (not self-activity-of-the-class) and an accomodation to state-shrinkage so they can pick up a few crumbs, as you eloquently point out--we should get right to the heart of the problem: reject the content (rather than the form or the fact that the proponents are petit-bourgeois).

I have found quite some few arenas where pressure is forcing a separation of the conservative, co-opted NGOs (CoNGOs) from the mass-based social movements--India and Brazil are amongst the main sites of this healthy split, I gather, but it is also happening in SA and internationally. People's networks and radical think-tanks are more and more discerning about the kind of alliances they form with Northern AND local NGOs; the J2000 debates (heavy criticisms of Northern J2000 chapters by the South groups meeting in Midrand this coming week, for example) are emblematic...

But the anti-neolib phraseology occurs not because people in these movements are unaware that neoliberalism is merely the latest mask of capitalism (capitalism in crisis for that matter), but because the efforts to link militant particularisms require a language that doesn't frighten off potential left-leaning allies. This is purely tactical. Where we can, many of use classical marxism to make the point that the struggle is not merely against the neolib symptoms, but the underlying laws of motion of K. (I can send you some examples off-list of this if you like.)

Yours, Patrick

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