Re: NGOs are the source of all evil in the world
Source Nathan Newman
Date 99/10/05/20:56

> There is a big big diffrence between charity,
> philanthropy and NGOs (the latter term is used mainly outside the US and
> often as an oppostion to philanthropic charity), nonprofit organizations,
> and social movement organizations. In fact, philanthropic funding is a
> minor source of revenues of nonprofit revenues. Moreover, most nonprofits
> (a concept different from NGO) provide specific services to local
> communities (like health, social work, job training or economic
> development) that have nothing to do with politics. Most of their revenues
> come from fees they charge for their services and government subsidies on
> behalf of individual recipients of those service (especially high in
> Europe). NGOs, especially in Latin America and Eastern Europe can be
best described
> as social movement organizations, as they grew out of social movements.
> While it is true that some NGOs receive Soros money, most foreign suport
> for such entities come from European Community government
> programs, such as PHARE.

I think the debate was really over NGOs with political ambitions.
Nonprofits that are just privatized government functions in a nonprofit form
are interesting for analysis of alternative forms of social service delivery
(and may be what you study, which makes ranting about it in the political
context a little silly), but the reality of philanthropic effects on social
movements, whether coming from the Ford Foundation or Western government
funds, is very real. Just the fact that there is a source of revenue from
outside forces decisively shifts power from those able to mobilize mass
movements to support the organization towards those who are expert at
romancing international organizations for funds.

I have great sympathy for the argument that philanthropic and other elite
forms of funding for NGOs both in the US and around the world have a
profoundly conservative and anti-grassroots effects. It tends to buck up
"acceptable" organizations as representatives of various groups at the
expense of more radical organizations. Now, it is also true that in some
particularly undemocratic countries where indigenous fundraising is nearly
impossible, not just due to poverty but do to government repression, outside
funding may be the only channel for any voice. But that funding will
inevitably shape those emerging movements in more moderate and pro-elite

The reason I am an old-fashioned pro-union leftist is not retrograde class
analysis (since I think working class politics permeate a whole range of
movements), but profoundly that unions are still the only organizations that
are largely self-funded by the working class. Ignoring the "control over
the means of production" argument, the workplace happens to be the arena of
struggle where self-generating revenue for organizing is most easily
mobilized. This gives unions a degree of independence that few other
vehicles for class empowerment have been able to develop. Community-based
and issue-based working class organizations have tried but have largely
failed to be self-supporting financially-- this is an empirical failure
that, despite my own history as part of a range of such groups, has over
time more and more convinced me that unions have to be the core of any
socialist and liberation politics.

As I argued, there are wonderful people in many NGOs, often more wonderful
than many of the union bureaucrats who frustrate and piss off anyone with
progressive views. But the difference is that the funding constituences for
most political NGOs exert profoundly conservative limits on those wonderful
NGOs, while the working class member-funders of unions ultimately exert
radicalizing and anti-elite pressure on those union bureaucrats. And it's
by socialism from below inclination that leads me to bet on the union
bureaucrats with the right poltical pressures over the nice NGO leaders
accountable to profoundly conservative forces.

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