NGOs: In the Service of Imperialism

by James Petras

Throughout history ruling classes, representing small minorities, have
always depended on the coercive state apparatus and social institutions to
defend their power, profits and privileges. In the past, particularly in the
Third World, imperial ruling classes financed and supported overseas and
domestic religious institutions to control exploited people and deflect
their discontent into religious and communal rivalries and conflicts.

While these practices continue today, in more recent decades a new social
institution emerged that provides the same function of control and
ideological mystification - the self-described non-governmental
organizations (NGOs). Today there are at least 50,000 NGOs in the Third
World receiving over $10 billion in funding from international financial
institutions, Euro-US-Japanese governmental agencies and local governments.
The managers of the biggest NGOs manage million dollar budgets with salaries
and perks that are comparable to CEOs. They jet to international
conferences, confer with top corporate and financial directors and make
policy decisions that affect - in the great majority of cases adversely -
millions of people ... especially the poor, women and informal sector
working people.

The NGOs are significant world-wide political and social actors operating in
rural and urban sites of Asia, Latin America and Africa and frequently
linked in dependent roles with their principle donors in Europe, the US and
Japan. It is symptomatic of the pervasiveness of the NGOs and their economic
and political power over the so-called "progressive world" that there have
been few systematic Left critiques of the negative impact of NGOs. In a
large part this failure is due to the success of the NGOs is displacing and
destroying the organized Leftist movements and co-opting their intellectual
strategists and organizational leaders.

Today most left movement and popular spokespeople focus their criticism on
the IMF, World Bank, multi-national corporations, private banks, etc. who
fix the macroeconomic agenda for the pillage of the Third World. This is an
important task. However, the assault on the industrial base, independence
and living standards of the Third World takes place on both the
macro-economic and the micro-socio-political level. The egregious effects of
structural adjustment policies on wages and salaried workers, peasants and
small national businesspeople generates potential nationalpopular
discontent. And that is where the NGOs come into the picture to mystify and
deflect that discontent away from direct attacks on the corporate/banking
power structure and profits toward local micro-projects and apolitical
"grass roots" self-exploitation and "popular education" that avoids class
analysis of imperialism and capitalist exploitation.

The NGOs world-wide have become the latest vehicle for upward mobility for
the ambitious educated classes: academics, journalists, and professionals
have abandoned earlier excursions in the poorly rewarded leftists movements
for a lucrative career managing an NGO, bringing with them their
organizational and rhetorical skills as well as a certain populist
vocabulary. Today, there are thousands of NGO directors who drive $40,000
four wheel drive sports vehicles from their fashionable suburban home or
apartment to their well-furnished office or building complex, leaving the
children and domestic chores in the hands of servants, their yards tended by
gardeners. They are more familiar and spend more time at the overseas sites
of their international conferences on poverty (Washington, Bangkok, Tokyo,
Brussels, Rome, etc.) then at the muddy villages of their own country. They
are more adept at writing up new proposals to bring in hard currency for
"deserving professionals" than risking a rap on the head from the police
attacking a demonstration of underpaid rural school teachers.
The NGO leaders are a new class not based on property ownership or
government resources but derived from imperial funding and their capacity to
control significant popular groups. The NGO leaders can be conceived of as a
kind of neo-compradore group that doesn't produce any useful commodity but
does function to produce services for the donor countries - mainly trading
in domestic poverty for individual perks.

The formal claims used by NGO directors to justify their position - that
they fight poverty, inequality, etc. are self-serving and specious. There is
a direct relation between the growth of NGOs and the decline of living
standards: the proliferation of NGOs has not reduced structural
unemployment, massive displacements of peasants, nor provided liveable wage
levels for the growing army of informal workers. What NGOs have done, is
provided a thin stratum of professionals with income in hard currency to
escape the ravages of the neo-liberal economy that affects their country,
people and to climb in the existing social class structure.

This reality contrasts with the self-image that NGO functionaries have of
themselves. According to their press releases and public discourses, they
represent a Third Way between "authoritarian statism" and "savage market
capitalism": they describe themselves as the vanguard of "civil society"
operating in the interstices of the "global economy." The common purpose
that most resounds at NGO conferences is "alternative development."

The phrase-mongering about "civil society" is an exercise in vacuity.
"Civil society" is not a unitary virtuous entity - it is made of classes
probably more profoundly divided as ever in this century. Most of the
greatest injustices against workers are committed by the wealthy bankers in
civil society who squeeze out exorbitant interest payments on internal debt;
landlords who throw peasants off the land and industrial capitalists who
exhaust workers at starvation wages in sweatshops. By talking about "civil
society" NGOers obscure the profound class divisions, class exploitation and
class struggle that polarizes contemporary "civil society." While
analytically useless and obfuscating, the concept, "civil society"
facilitates NGO collaboration with capitalist interests that finance their
institutes and allows them to orient their projects and followers into
subordinate relations with the big business interests that direct the
neoliberal economies. In addition, not infrequently the NGOers'
civil society rhetoric is a ploy to attack comprehensive public programs and
state institutions delivering social services. The NGOers side with big
business' "anti-statist" rhetoric (one in the name of "civil society"
the other in the name of the "market") to reallocate state resources. The
capitalists' "anti-Statism" is used to increase public funds to subsidize
exports and financial bailouts, the NGOers try to grab a junior share via
"subcontracts" to deliver inferior services to fewer recipients.

Contrary to the NGOers' self-image who see themselves as innovative grass
roots leaders, they are in reality the grass root reactionaries who
complement the work of the IMF by pushing privatization "from below" and
demobilizing popular movements, thus undermining resistence.

The ubiquitous NGOs thus present the Left with a serious challenge that
requires a critical political analysis of their origins, structure and

Origin Structure and Ideology of the NGOs

NGOs appear to have a contradictory role in politics. On the one hand they
criticize dictatorships and human rights violations. On the other hand they
compete with radical socio-political movements, attempting to channel
popular movements into collaborative relations with dominant neo-liberal
elites. In reality, these political orientations are not so contradictory as
they appear.

Surveying the growth and proliferation of NGOs over the past quarter of a
century we find that NGOs emerged in three sets of circumstances. First of
all, as a safe haven for dissident intellectuals during dictatorships where
they could pursue the issue of human rights violations and organize
"survival strategies" for victims of harsh austerity programs. These
humanitarian NGOs however, were careful not to denounce the role of US and
European complicity with the local perpetrators of human rights violations
nor did they questions the emerging "free market" policies that impoverished
the masses. Thus the NGOers were strategically placed as "democrats" who
would be available as political replacements for local ruling classes and
imperial policy makers when repressive rulers began to be seriously
challenged by popular mass movements. Western funding of the NGOs as critics
was a kind of buying insurance in case the incumbent reactionaries faltered.
This was the case with the "critical" NGOs that appeared during the Marcos
regime in the Philippines, the Pinochet regime in Chile, the Park
dictatorship in Korea, etc.

The real boost in NGO mushrooming however, occurs in time of rising mass
movements that challenge imperial hegemony. The growth of radical
socio-political movements and struggles provided a lucrative commodity which
ex-radical and pseudo popular intellectuals could sell to interested,
concerned and well-financed private and public foundations closely tied with
European and US multi-nationals and governments. The funders were interested
in information - social science intelligence - like the "propensity for
violence in urban slum areas" (an NGO project in Chile during the mass
uprisings of 1983-86), the capacity of NGOers to raid popular communities
and direct energy toward self-help projects instead of social
transformations and the introduction of a class collaborationist rhetoric
packaged as "new identity discourses" that would discredit and isolate
revolutionary activists.

Popular revolts loosened the purse strings of overseas agencies and millions
poured into Indonesia, Thailand and Peru in the seventies; Nicaragua, Chile,
Philippines in the 80s; El Salvador, Guatemala, Korea in the 90s. The NGOers
were essentially there to "put out the fires." Under the guise of
constructive projects they argued against engaging in ideological movements
thus effectively using foreign funds to recruit local leaders, send them to
overseas conferences to give testimonials, while effectively encouraging
local groups to adapt to the reality of neo-liberalism.

As outside money became available, NGOs proliferated, dividing communities
into warring fiefdoms fighting to get a piece of the action. Each "grass
roots activist" cornered a new segment of the poor (women, young people from
minorities, etc.) to set up a new NGO and take the pilgrimage to Amsterdam,
Stockholm, etc. to "market" their project, activity, constituency and
finance their center - and their careers.

The third circumstance in which NGOs multiplied was during the frequent and
deepening economic crises provoked by free market capitalism.
Intellectuals, academics and professionals saw jobs disappear or salaries
decline as budget cuts took hold: a second job became in necessity. NGOs
became a job placement agency and consultantships became a safety net for
potentially downwardly mobile intellectuals willing to spout the civil
society-free market-alternative development line and carry on the
collaborative policies with neo-liberal regimes and international financial
institutions. When millions are losing their jobs and poverty spreads to
important swaths of the population NGOs engage in preventative
action: they focus on "survival strategies" not general strikes; they
organize soup kitchens not mass demonstrations against food hoarders,
neo-liberal regimes or US imperialism.

While NGOs may have initially had a vaguely "progressive" tincture during
so-called "democratic transitions" when the old order was crumbling, and
corrupt rulers were losing control and popular struggles were advancing.
The NGOs become the vehicle for transactions between old regimes and
conservative electoral politicians. The NGOs used their grass roots
rhetoric, organizational resources and their status as "democratic" human
rights advocates to channel popular support behind politicians and parties
which confined the transition to legal-political reforms not socio-economic
changes. NGOs demobilized the populace and fragmented the movements. In
every country that experienced an "electoral transaction,"
in the 1980s and 90s, from Chile to the Philippines to South Korea and
beyond, the NGOs have played an important role in rounding up votes for
regimes which continued or even deepened the socio-economic status quo. In
exchange, many ex-NGOers ended up running government agencies or even
becoming Ministers with popular sounding titles (women rights, citizen
participation, popular power, etc.).

The reactionary political role of NGOs was built into the very structures
upon which they were (and are) organized.


NGO Structure: Internally Elitist, Externally Servile

In reality NGOs are not "non-governmental" organizations. They receive funds
from overseas governments, work as private sub-contractors of local
governments and/or are subsidized by corporate funded private foundations
with close working relations with the state. Frequently they openly
collaborate with governmental agencies at home or overseas. Their programs
are not accountable to local people but to overseas donors who "review"
and "oversee" the performance of the NGOs according to their criteria and
interests. The NGO officials are self-appointed and one of their key tasks
is designing proposals that will secure funding. In many cases this requires
that NGO leaders find out the issues that most interest the Western funding
elites, and shaping proposals accordingly. Thus in the 1980s NGO funds were
available to study and provide political proposals on "governability" and
"democratic transitions" reflecting the concerns of the imperialist powers
that the fall of dictatorships would not lead to "ungovernability" - namely
mass movements deepening the struggle and transforming the social system.
The NGOs, despite their democratic, grassroots rhetoric are hierarchical -
with the director in total control of projects, hiring and firing, as well
as deciding who gets their way paid to international conferences. The
"grassroots" are essentially the objects of this hierarch; rarely do they
see the money that "their" NGO shovels in; nor do they get to travel abroad;
nor do they draw the salaries or perks of their "grassroots" leaders. More
important none of these decisions are ever voted on. At best after the deals
have been cooked by the Director and the overseas funders, the NGO staff
will call a meeting of "grassroots activists" of the poor to approve the
project. In most cases the NGOs are not even membership organizations but a
self-appointed elite which, under the pretense of being "resource people"
for popular movements, in fact, competes with and undermines them. In this
sense NGOs undermine democracy by taking social programs and public debate
out of the hands of the local people and their elected natural leaders and
creating dependence on nonelected, overseas officials and their anointed
local officials.

NGOs foster a new type of cultural and economic colonialism - under the
guise of a new internationalism. Hundreds of individuals sit in front of
high powered PCs exchanging manifestos, proposals and invitations to
international conferences with each other. They then meet in well furnished
conference halls to discuss the latest struggles and offerings with their
"social base" - the paid staff- who then pass on the proposals to the
"masses" through flyers and "bulletins." When overseas funders show up, they
are taken on "exposure tours" to showcase projects where the poor are
helping themselves and to talk with successful micro-entrepreneurs (omitting
the majority who fail the first year).

The way this new colonialism works is not difficult to decipher. Projects
are designed based on guidelines and priorities of the imperial centers and
their institutions. They are then "sold" to the communities.
Evaluations are done by and for the imperial institutions. Shifts of funding
priorities or bad evaluations result in the dumping of groups, communities,
farmers and cooperatives. Everybody is increasingly disciplined to comply
with the donor's demands and their project evaluators. The NGO directors, as
the new viceroys, supervise and ensure conformity with the goals, values and
ideology of the donors as well as the proper use of funds.

Ideology of NGOs Versus Radical Socio-political Movements

NGOs emphasize projects not movements; they "mobilize" people to produce at
the margins not to struggle to control the basic means of production and
wealth; they focus on the technical financial assistance aspects of projects
not on structural conditions that shape the everyday lives of people. The
NGOs co-opt the language of the Left: "popular power," "
empowerment," "gender equality," "sustainable development," "bottom up
leadership," etc. The problem is that this language is linked to a framework
of collaboration with donors and government agencies that subordinate
activity to non-confrontational politics. The local nature of NGO activity
means "empowerment" never goes beyond influencing small areas of social life
with limited resources within the conditions permitted by the neo-liberal
state and macro-economy.

The NGOs and their professional staff directly compete with the
socio-political movements for influence among the poor, women, racially
excluded, etc. Their ideology and practice diverts attention from the
sources and solutions of poverty (looking downward and inward instead of
upward and outward). To speak of micro-enterprises instead of the
exploitation by the overseas banks, as solutions to poverty is based on the
false notion that the problem is one of individual initiative rather than
the transference of income overseas. The NGOs "aid" affects small sectors of
the population, setting up competition between communities for scarce
resources and generating insidious distinction and inter and intra community
rivalries thus undermining class solidarity. The same is true among the
professionals: each sets up their NGO to solicit overseas funds.
They compete by presenting proposals closer to the liking of the overseas
donors for lower prices, while claiming to speak for more followers. The net
effect is a proliferation of NGOs that fragment poor communities into
sectoral and sub-sectoral groupings unable to see the larger social picture
that afflicts them and even less able to unite in struggle against the

Recent experience also demonstrates that foreign donors finance projects
during "crises" - political and social challenges to the status quo. Once
the movements have ebbed, they shift funding to NGO - regime
"collaboration," fitting the NGO projects into the neo-liberal agenda.
Economic development compatible with the "free market" rather than social
organization for social change becomes the dominant item on the funding

The structure and nature of NGOs with their "apolitical" posture and their
focus on self-help depoliticizes and demobilizes the poor. They reinforce
the electoral processes encouraged by the neo-liberal parties and mass
media. Political education about the nature of imperialism, the class basis
of neo-liberalism, the class struggle between exporters and temporary
workers are avoided. Instead the NGOs discuss "the excluded,"
the "powerless," "extreme poverty," "gender or racial discrimination,"
without moving beyond the superficial symptom, to engage the social system
that produces these conditions. Incorporating the poor into the neo-liberal
economy through purely "private voluntary action" the NGOs create a
political world where the appearance of solidarity and social action cloaks
a conservative conformity with the international and national structure of

It is no coincidence that as NGOs have become dominant in certain regions,
independent class political action has declined, and neo-liberalism goes
uncontested. The bottom line is that the growth of NGOs coincides with
increased funding from neo-liberalism and the deepening of poverty
everywhere. Despite its claims of many local successes, the overall power of
neo-liberalism stands unchallenged and the NGOs increasingly search for
niches in the interstices of power.

The problem of formulating alternatives has been hindered in another way.
Many of the former leaders of guerrilla and social movements, trade union
and popular women's organizations have been co-opted by the NGOs. The offer
is tempting: higher pay (occasionally in hard currency), prestige and
recognition by overseas donors, overseas conferences and networks, office
staff and relative security from repression. In contrast, the
socio-political movements offer few material benefits but greater respect
and independence and more importantly the freedom to challenge the political
and economic system. The NGOs and their overseas banking supporters
(Inter-American Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the World
Bank) publish newsletters featuring success stories of micro-enterprises and
other self-help projects-without mentioning the high rates of failure as
popular consumption declines, low price imports flood the market and as
interest rates spiral - as is the case in Brazil and Indonesia today.

Even the "successes" affect only a small fraction of the total poor and
succeed only to the degree that others cannot enter into the same market.
The propaganda value of individual micro-enterprise success, however is
important in fostering the illusion that neo-liberalism is a popular
phenomenon. The frequent violent mass outbursts that take place in regions
of micro-enterprise promotion suggests that the ideology is not hegemonic
and the NGOs have not yet displaced independent class movements.

NGO ideology depends heavily on essentialist identity politics, engaging in
a rather dishonest polemic with radical movements based on class analysis.
They start from the false assumption that class analysis is "reductionist"
overlooking the extensive debates and discussions within Marxism on issues
of race, ethnicity and gender equality and avoiding the more serious
criticism that identities themselves are clearly and profoundly divided by
class differences. Take for example, the Chilean or Indian feminist living
in a plush suburb drawing a salary 15-20 times that of her domestic servant
who works 6 1/2 days a week. Class differences within gender determine
housing, living standards, health, educational opportunities and who
appropriates who's surplus value. Yet the great majority of NGOs operate on
the basis of identity politics and argue that this is the basic point of
departure for the new (post-modern politics).
Identity politics does not challenge the male dominated elite world of IMF
privatizations, multi-national corporations and local landlords. Rather, it
focuses on "patriarchy" in the household, family violence, divorce, family
planning, etc. In other words, it fights for gender equality within the
micro-world of exploited peoples in which the exploited and impoverished
male worker/peasant emerges as the main villain. While no one should support
gender exploitation or discrimination at any level, the feminist NGOs do a
gross disservice to working women by subordinating them to the greater
exploitation of sweatshops which benefit upper class men and women, rent
collecting male and female landlords and CEOs of both sexes. The reason the
feminist NGOs ignore the "Big Picture" and focus on local issues and
personal politics is because billions of dollars flow annually in that
direction. If feminist NGOs began to engage in land occupations with men and
women landless workers in Brazil or Indonesia or Thailand or the
Philippines, if they joined in general strikes of mainly female low-paid
rural school teachers against structural adjustment policies, the NGO spigot
would get turned off- by their imperial donors.
Better to beat up on the local patriarch scratching out an existence in an
isolated village in Luzon.

Class Solidarity and NGO Solidarity with Foreign Donors

The word "solidarity" has been abused to the point that in many contexts it
has lost meaning. The term "solidarity" for the NGOers includes foreign aid
channeled to any designated "impoverished" group. "Research" or "popular
education" of the poor by professionals is designated as "solidarity." In
many ways the hierarchical structures and the forms of transmission of "aid"
and "training" resemble nineteenth century charity and the promoters are not
very different from Christian missionaries.

The NGOers emphasize "self-help" in attacking the "paternalism and
dependence" of the state. In this competition among NGOs to capture the
victims of neoliberals, the NGOs receive important subsidies from their
counterparts in Europe and the US. The self help ideology emphasizes the
replacement of public employees for volunteers and upwardly mobile
professionals contracted on a temporary basis. The basic philosophy of the
NGO view is to transform "solidarity" into collaboration and subordination
to the macro-economy of neo-liberalism by focusing attention away from state
resources of the wealthy classes toward self-exploitation of the poor. The
poor do not need to be made virtuous by the NGO for what the state obligates
them to do.

The Marxist concept of solidarity in contrast emphasizes class solidarity
within the class, solidarity of oppressed groups (women and people of
color) against their foreign and domestic exploiters. The major focus is not
on the donations that divide classes and pacify small groups for a limited
time period. The focus of Marxist concept of solidarity is on the common
action of the same members of the class sharing their common economic
predicament struggling for collective improvement.

It involves intellectuals who write and speak for the social movements in
struggle, committed to sharing the same political consequences. The concept
of solidarity is linked to "organic" intellectuals who are basically part of
the movement - the resource people providing analysis and education for
class struggle and taking the same political risks in direct action. In
contrast, the NGOers are embedded in the world of institutions, academic
seminars, foreign foundations, international conferences speaking a language
understood only by those "initiated" into the subjectivist cult of
essentialist identities. The Marxists view solidarity as sharing the risks
of the movements, not being outside commentators who raise questions and
defend nothing. For the NGOers the main object is "getting" the foreign
funding for the "project." The main issue, for the Marxist is the process of
political struggle and education in securing social transformation. The
movement was everything the objective was important in raising consciousness
for societal change:
constructing political power to transform the general condition of the great
majority. "Solidarity" for the NGOers is divorced from the general object of
liberation; it is merely a way of bringing people together to attend a job
retraining seminar, to build a latrine. For the Marxists the solidarity of a
collective struggle contains the seeds of the future democratic collectivist
society. The larger vision or its absence is what gives the different
conceptions of solidarity their distinct meaning.

Class Struggle and Co-operation

The NGOers frequently write of "co-operation" of everyone, near and far,
without delving too profoundly on the price and conditions for securing the
co-operation of neo-liberal regimes and overseas funding agencies.
Class struggle is viewed as an atavism to a past that no longer exists.
Today we are told "the poor" are intent on building a new life. They are fed
up with traditional politics, ideologies and politicians. So far, so good.
The problem is that the NGOers are not so forthcoming in describing their
role as mediators and brokers, hustling funds overseas. The concentration of
income and the growth of inequalities are greater than ever, after a decade
of preaching co-operation and micro-enterprises, and self-help. Today the
banks like the World Bank fund the export agro-businesses that exploit and
poison millions of farm laborers while providing funds to finance small
micro-projects. The role of the NGOs in the micro projects is to neutralize
political opposition at the bottom while neo-liberalism is promoted at the
top. The ideology of "co-operation" links the poor through the NGOs to
neo-liberals at the top.

Intellectually the NGOs are the intellectual policemen who define acceptable
research, distribute research funds and filter out topics and perspectives
that project class analysis and struggle perspective.
Marxists are excluded from the conferences and stigmatized as "ideologues"
while NGOs present themselves as "social scientists." The control of
intellectual fashion, publications, conferences, research fund provide the
post-Marxists with an important power base - but on ultimately dependent on
avoiding conflict with their external funding patrons.

Critical Marxist intellectuals have their strength in the fact that their
ideas resonate with the evolving social realities. The polarization of
classes and the violent confrontations are growing, as their theories would
predict. It is from this perspective that the Marxists are tactically weak
and strategically strong vis-a-vis the NGOs.

Alternative NGOs

One could argue that there are a great many different type of NGOs and that
many do criticize and organize against adjustment policies, the IMF, debt
payments, etc. and that its unfair to lump them all in the same bag.

There is a grain of truth in this but this position belies a more
fundamental issue. Most peasant leaders from Asia and Latin America that I
have spoken to complain bitterly of the divisive and elitist role that even
the "progressive" NGOs play: they, the NGOs want to subordinate the peasant
leaders to their organizations, they want to lead and speak "for"
the poor. They do not accept subordinate roles. Progressive NGOs use
peasants and the poor for their research projects, they benefit from the
publication - nothing comes back to the movements not even copies of the
studies done in their name! Moreover, the peasant leaders ask why the NGOs
never risk their neck after their educational seminars? Why do they not
study the rich and powerful why us?

Even conceding that within the "progressive NGOs" there are minorities that
function as "resource" people to radical socio-political movements, the fact
is that the people receive a tiny fraction of the funds that go to the NGO.
Furthermore, the great mass of NGOs fit the description outlined above and
it is up to the few exceptions to prove otherwise: a major step forward for
the "progressive NGOs" is to systematically criticize and critique the ties
of their NGO colleagues with imperialism and its local clients, their
ideology of adaptation to neo-liberalism and their authoritarian and elitist
structures. Then it would be useful for them to tell their western
counterpart NGOs to get out of the foundation - government networks and go
back to organizing and educating their own people in Europe and North
America to form social-political movements that can challenge the dominant
regimes and parties that serve the banks and multi-nationals.

In other words, the NGOs should stop being NGOs and convert themselves into
members of socio-political movements. That is the best way to avoid being
lumped with the tens of thousands of NGOs feeding at the donor's trough.

Conclusion: Notes on a Theory of NGOs

In social structural terms the proliferalism and expansion of NGOs reflects
the emergence of a new petit bourgeois distinct from the "old"
shopkeepers, free professionals as well as the "new" public employee groups.
This subcontracted sector is closer to the earlier "compradore"
bourgeoisie insofar as it produces no tangible commodities, but serves to
link imperial enterprises with local petty commodity producers engaged in
micro-enterprises. This new petty-bourgeois at least its "middle age
variants" is marked by the fact that many are ex-Leftists and bring to bear
a "popular rhetoric" and in some cases an elitist "vanguardist"
conception to their organizations. Situated without property or a fixed
position in the state apparatus it depends heavily on external funding
agencies to reproduce themselves. Given its popular constituency however, it
has to combine an anti-Marxist, anti-statist appeal with populist rhetoric,
hence the concoction of the Third Way and civil society notions which are
sufficiently ambiguous to cover both bases. This new petty bourgeois thrives
on international gatherings as a main prop of its existence, lacking solid
organic support within the country. The "globalist" rhetoric provides a
cover for a kind of ersatz "internationalism" devoid of anti-imperialist
commitments. In a word, this new petit bourgeois forms the "radical wing"
... of the neo-liberal establishment.

Politically the NGOs fit into the new thinking of imperialist strategists.
While the IMF - World Bank and MNCs work the domestic elites at the top to
pillage the economy, the NGOs engage in complementary activity at the bottom
neutralizing and fragmenting the burgeoning discontent resulting from the
savaging of the economy. Just as imperialism engages in a two pronged
macro-micro strategy of exploitation and containment, radical movements must
develop a two prong anti-imperialist strategy.

The mass of NGOs have co-opted most of what used to be the "free floating"
public intellectuals who would abandon their class origins and join the
popular movements. The result is a temporary gap between the profound crises
of capitalism (depressions in Asia and Latin America - collapse in the
ex-USSR) and the absence of significant organized revolutionary movements
(with the exception of Brazil, Colombia and perhaps South Korea). The
fundamental question is whether a new generation of organic intellectuals
can emerge from the burgeoning radical social movements which can avoid the
NGO temptation and become integral members of the next revolutionary wave.

James Petras, Dept. of Sociology, Binghamton University, NY

Publication Information: Article Title: NGOs: In the Service of Imperialism.
Contributors: James Petras - author. Journal Title: Journal of Contemporary
Asia. Volume: 29. Issue: 4. Publication Year: 1999. Page
Number: 429.