Global Policy Forum

How Genuine Are NGOs?


By Joseph Mudingu

New Times
August 7, 2006

The term Non-Governmental Organisations is actually a misnomer. The NGOs are financed and directed by the various imperialist agencies, the imperialist governments and the comprador regimes. They act as the liaison between the people and the governments. They are the vehicles through which the exploiters seek to influence the opinions of 'civil society'.

They are the servants of imperialist capital. Almost all the NGOs are directed by the invisible hand of the imperialists who set them up or fund them in accordance with their strategic goals.

Huge funds are thus poured into the coffers of the NGOs in the name of development, social justice, human rights, grassroots democracy, etc. In the past decade the World Bank and other UN agencies have been insisting that funds should be utilised through the NGOs. So do the various governments. With such huge funds at their disposal the NGOs act as elitist organisations completely divorced from the masses. Yet they present themselves as benefactors for the people. It is estimated that hardly 10-15 percent of the allocated funds reach the needy people while most of it goes for the maintenance of the NGO establishments and the running expenditures of the so-called volunteer workers.

There are three categories of NGOs according to the type of functions they perform. The first category of NGOs are those that provide immediate relief to the victims of war, natural calamities, accidents, etc. These were the most prominent form of NGOs until the time of European reconstruction in the aftermath of the Second World War.

The second category of NGOs focus their concentration on long-term social and economic development. These came into prominence in Europe from the 1960s. In the Third World countries these NGOs are engaged in imparting technical training, in the construction of schools, hospitals, toilets, etc. They claim to promote self-reliance, development of local productive resources, development of rural markets, people's participation in development activities, etc. They encourage self-help groups, micro-credit societies, and so on.

The third category of NGOs concentrate on social action. They talk of strengthening people's capacities, releasing their inherent potentialities, enhancing the social awareness of the masses, overcoming the influence of pre-capitalist social systems, etc. These NGOs negotiate with the World Bank, IMF, WTO, and other UN agencies and suggest reforms, mobilise people peacefully and build pressure on these imperialist agencies and the governments to bring reforms and changes in policies.

The first category of NGOs comprise mainly of Christian religious institutions like the Churches, though these are also present in the second and third categories of NGOs. Broadly, we can characterise the first category of NGOs as charity organisations; the second category as developmental organisations; and the third as participatory and globalist organisations. The first category of NGOs characterise the period of direct colonial rule, the second dominated the period of the 'cold war', and the third are active in the period of globalisation. Though there is an overlapping of functions in the case of some NGOs, their categorisation is made based on the dominant activity.

It must be kept in mind that the functions of the NGOs in different periods are decided by, and accord with, the changing needs of the donors in different periods. NGOs came onto the scene mainly in the 20th century though a handful existed in the 19th century. There were 344 NGOs in the West at the time of the First World War. The main purpose for which NGOs were formed was for propagating and spreading the culture and values of the colonial powers in the colonies along with collecting the necessary information and indulging in espionage activities. Hence they received the support from the colonial governments. The Missionary institutions like the Church were the main form assumed by the NGOs at that time. (Do you remember the Church Missionary Society that sent Speke and Grant in East Africa? Or the White Fathers?) These extended all sorts of support to the colonial rulers.

In the next phase following the end of direct colonial rule, i.e., the phase of neo-colonialism, there was a spurt in the number of the NGOs throughout the world. The role of American NGOs surpassed that of the European ones during this period. Since America did not have colonies, and since there was generally hatred for the other colonial powers in their former colonies, America could easily penetrate into these countries after the end of direct colonial rule. The strength of the US vis-í -vis the other imperialist powers that got weakened during WWII was an advantageous factor for the American imperialists. Hence along with American capital the NGOs too entered almost every country of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The most important factor that had acted as a catalyst for the proliferation of the American NGOs was the need to contain the 'threat of communism' that seemed to loom large over several countries. The ideological, political and military leadership to counter the 'communist threat' was taken over by the US imperialists. It may surprise us to hear that America had sent its NGOs to the Soviet Union during the famine in 1921 supplying food, clothes, medicines, and other items worth over half-a-billion dollars. The American Relief Administration (ARA) was the NGO most actively involved in relief work in post-revolutionary Russia. This was done after all the efforts of the American imperialists to quell the Russian revolution by supporting the counter-revolutionaries failed miserably.

The American NGOs had also supplied food grains to Austria and Hungary after WWI to check the advance of revolutions in those countries and to wean them away from Bolshevism. The aim of the imperialist aid passed on through the NGOs in the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe was to strengthen the capitalist forces, push those economies toward liberal economic policies, and to create a good impression about US imperialism. There was, of course, the economic factor. For instance, the 540,000 tonnes of American food grains that were shipped to Russia by the ARA helped stabilise the prices of food grains in the American market while acquiring the label of philanthropy in exchange. The American NGOs also served as important vehicles for transferring the surplus food grains of the United States to the Third World countries through such schemes as 'Food for Work', 'Midday Meals', etc.

There was a proliferation of the second category of NGOs in the United States especially since the time of John F Kennedy. He declared that socio-economic development and political democracy were the two pillars of US foreign aid, as he considered these to be the real guarantee against communism in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Hence programmes of self-help, community development, technical training to the youth, literacy programmes, agricultural development schemes, etc were initiated. The success of the Cuban revolution in 1959 in the very backyard of American imperialism and its tremendous influence on the countries in Latin America gave a sense of urgency to this task. The then Pope too called upon the Church in Europe to send at least ten per cent of the missionaries to Latin America to 'help the people overcome poverty and misery' so as to counter the spectre of communism.

The way the NGOs operate in the countries invaded by, or attacked by the imperialist powers, that makes a mockery of the humanitarian aid, should open anyone's eyes. In Vietnam, for instance, even as the United States dropped bombs creating deaths and destruction on a massive scale, it deployed its NGOs such as CARE (Co-operative Assistance for Relief Everywhere), CRS (Catholic Relief Services), WV (World Vision), IVS (International Voluntary Services), American Red Cross, Vietnam Christian Service, and so on to provide relief and rehabilitation to the war victims in Vietnam. And in Afghanistan and Iraq we have seen how the most savage bombing by the US-led imperialists was accompanied by humanitarian aid. Bombs and bread were dropped simultaneously. As soon as a country is ravaged and people are killed, maimed and uprooted from their homes, the NGOs would step in giving the 'healing touch'.

What is more ironic, the US Congress had amended its Act concerning foreign assistance in 1975 stipulating that aid can be stopped in countries where human rights were being violated. It was a time when the most notorious dictators were being nurtured by the US imperialists in almost every continent-a Pinochet in Chile, a Marcos in the Philippines, a Suharto in Indonesia, a Mobutu in Zaire, an Amin in the neighbouring Uganda, to cite a few. And the US itself was guilty of the worst violations of human rights through acts of direct aggression. The direct offshoot of this new policy was the rise of human rights NGOs which talk of human rights even as their masters impose fascist dictatorships. The American NGOs act as sub-contractors for the government projects in the Third World. They serve as tools of American policy when compared to their European counterparts, the simple reason being the huge funding they obtain from the government, which has been more than 80 per cent of their total spending. They work to spread the American influence, the American world outlook and the Western ideology in the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America through education and training.

Charity is the smokescreen under which funds from the Fords, Rockfellers, Carnegie and other foundations flew to these regions.

Aren't NGOs a New Form of Colonialism?

In the phase of globalisation, particularly after the collapse of the regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the NGOs have taken up as their main task the neutralisation of the ill-effects of globalisation and liberalisation. They are not against globalisation but want it to be implemented by involving the people or 'participatory globalisation' as a UN official put it. They campaign for globalisation with a human face, sustainable development, and so on. They create the illusions among the people that it is possible to reform the imperialist agencies such as the World Bank, IMF, WTO, ADB and others. Thus they try to dilute the wrath of the masses against imperialism and veer them to reformist ideology.

These NGOs that we think to be friendly, channel the popular discontent along constitutional, peaceful and harmless ways by acting as 'safety valves'. They seek to divide the oppressed people into sections and identities thereby preventing the development of class unity of the oppressed classes. They further seek to obliterate and obfuscate the class divisions and distinctions within the social groups and sections by advocating the unity of the oppressors and the oppressed on the basis of identity alone such as gender/women, caste, ethnic and nationality.

Indeed, NGOs try to instill the false belief among the oppressed that there is no alternative to capitalism and that capitalism has finally triumphed. They proclaim that Marxism has become outdated and communism is dead, and hence one should strive to improve the contemporary world by democratising civil society and promote 'globalisation with a human face'. They take up an anti-state stand, which looks outwardly attractive to progressive circles too. However, they try to accomplish privatisation at the micro-level what their masters do at the macro level. That is, while international capital lashes out at the role of the state in regulating the economy and wants the market to operate freely without state intervention (how false this is in reality is a different thing), the NGOs talk of self-help, co-operation, community development, and so on. The state is thus absolved of all its social responsibilities towards the people in matters such as providing education, health care, clean drinking water, sanitation, irrigation, employment, etc that are placed in the hands of individuals and private groups.

Thus the NGOs make common cause with the imperialists with regard to privatisation. And they concentrate particularly among the poverty-stricken masses in the backward rural areas and urban slums. The backward areas are given priority for their so-called charitable work and development schemes. Through this they strive to neutralize the wrath of the deprived masses. They seek to depoliticise the masses by talking in terms of non-Party activism. They claim that they are apolitical and call upon the masses to stay away from all political parties; that they should solve their problems themselves through self-help, cooperation etc. Thus, by advocating such a seemingly apolitical strategy the NGOs actually work to preserve the status quo and to retain the influence of ruling class ideology and politics on the masses. They pose themselves as alternatives to the political parties and try to replace the revolutionary parties by projecting themselves as the champions of the poor.

They seek to demobilise the masses by diverting them from the path of struggle and coopting the best elements into the establishment and reformism. They have succeeded to a large extent in rallying the left intellectuals to the side of capital while maintaining a progressive and even radical posture. With huge funds at their disposal, the NGOs have been able to attract and coopt the left intellectuals by funding them for attending seminars, workshops, conferences and involving them in projects and Institutes for research and policy studies. Hundreds of projects and Institutes are set up by imperialist capital all over the world that manufacture these as per the requirements of the imperialists. By associating themselves with these projects intellectuals lend credibility to them and create illusions among the people.

NGOs serve as a medium to mould the opinions of the people, to create the ideology and illusions needed for the perpetuation of capitalist exploitation. They can influence the ideas of the people in a way that the state and the ruling class parties directly cannot. By trying to project themselves as selfless philanthropists and committed to people's welfare, they seek to win the sympathy of the people. Their radical, anti-imperialist rhetoric and talk of development, modernisation, and grassroots democracy, democratisation of the civil society, social justice, anti-statism, humanitarianism and human rights, empowerment and so on, can dupe the progressive and even some revolutionary sections. Thus they create ideological mystification among the masses and pave the way for the smooth plunder by imperialist capital.

Some people have urged that they act as tools of international capital for the colonisation of the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. They prepare the ground for the penetration of imperialist capital into these countries and create the conditions for the smooth operation of capital and extension of the market. By selecting the most backward areas for their work, the NGOs have succeeded in introducing market relations in these areas in the name of community development, promoting self-help groups, etc and actively promoting the imperialist-aided development schemes. They are actively involved in so-called development projects in almost all the countries of the world and particularly in backward tribal areas.

Post-modernists, who believe more in individual enterprise than the collective, talk in terms of identities such as gender, caste, ethnic and national entities and reject the very concept of class unity. The NGOs are apologists for imperialism who cloak themselves in attractive language. They trade in people's dire poverty and secure funds from imperialist donors or individuals abroad by showing the poverty-stricken masses from the Third World. Like parasites they live on funds acquired in the name of the impoverished women, children and disabled people; in the name of development; in the name of empowerment, and so on.

They serve as ideologues for imperialism by justifying the penetration of imperialist capital into the countries of the Third World, and promote the vice-like grip of the imperialists over the economies of these countries. That is why the imperialists, selfish blood-suckers as they are, pour in huge amounts to form and nurture these organisations. Ford Foundation, Rockfeller Foundation, Carnegie Foundation, Heinrich Boll Foundation, and a host of other imperialist institutions pump in millions of dollars every year to maintain these NGOs. They fund every type of project, institute, study etc. For instance, the Ford Foundation has granted funds to numerous organisations and projects in almost every country in the world that had reached an astronomical figure of $ 8 billion since its formation in 1936. It had commissioned research scholars and intellectuals to undertake studies on subjects that are of relevance for the imperialists.

Also known as Non-Profit Organisations, these NGOs actually work for increasing the imperialist profits. Without a consistent and relentless struggle against these disguised imperialist agents and apologists, revolutionaries cannot bring the masses out of reformist and constitutional illusions. Lack of vigilance will lead to the weakening of the revolutionary parties and movements as witnessed in several countries especially in Latin America.

More Information on NGOs
More Information on Funding for NGOs
More Information on Credibility and Legitimacy of NGOs
More Information on NGOs and States


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