by Ron Spriestersbach
A non-governmental organization (NGO) is an organization that is neither a part of a
government nor a conventional for-profit business. NGOs may be funded by governments,
foundations, businesses, or private persons. This discussion will consider especially
articles in two recent editions of Monthly Review, “The Nonprofit Corporate Complex”
by Efe Can Gurcan in March 2015 and “Bangladesh—A Model of Neoliberalism: The
Case of Microfinance and NGOs” by Amu Muhammad in April 2015.
Efe Can Gurcan posits the following triangular structure of the imperialist system of the
Keynesian era: state-financed military production by ‘defense’ contractors (often called
the “military-industrial complex”), media propaganda (media-corporate complex), and a
putative full-employment, welfare- oriented superstructure (Keynesianism) underpinned
by the war machine. In contemporary imperialism, the third pillar has been replaced with
a neoliberal globalization project consisting of NGOs. The compassionate component is
abandoned in favor of austerity.
After World War II, there were two key turning points: The first was the transfer of
economic hegemony from Great Britain to the US at the time of the establishment of the
General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the International Monetary Fund (IMF),
and the World Bank. The second turning point was the financialization and liberalization
of the world economy. “Financialization, the speculative expansion of debt in relation to
the economy as a whole, was increasingly institutionalized as a way of amassing wealth
and indirectly spurring capital accumulation.” All this occurred during a period of growth
in military expenditures by the US. The financial sector used debt to keep the consumer
These techniques were brilliantly used in Bangladesh as described by Amu
Mohammad. They were considered so successful that the project was given a Nobel
Prize. But subsequent studies revealed that: “microfinance credit could not improve the
conditions of the poor who do not have other sources of income. On the contrary, a
recent study shows how vulnerability increases after getting into a never-ending cycle of
indebtedness. In an attempt to escape this cycle, borrowers are even forced to sell their
organs, facing preventable suffering if not premature death.” NGOs have also been used
alongside the military for imperial penetration of other economies.
Examples of NGO Initiatives
According to Efe Can Cur, the NGO approach was used to destabilize Yugoslavia after
the fall of the Soviet Union, when the Serbs were put down by Clinton and NATO.
Mobilization of “color revolutions” in countries such as Venezuela, Egypt and Georgia.
George Soros’s foundation and the National Endowment for Democracy aided Polish
Solidarity. The George Soros Foundation gave millions of dollars to publish non-Marxist
When Russia withdrew from Eastern Europe after 1990, the George H. W. Bush
administration promised not to move NATO boundaries toward post-Soviet Russia.
That promise was broken repeatedly, followed by U.S.-funded NGO projects in the
Ukraine. These NGOs were “openly discussed by prominent neocons, including National
Endowment for Democracy president Carl Gershman,” who gets $100 million a year
from Congress to finance such NGOs, according to Robert Parry.
The large number of NGOs in many countries is amazing. For example: Canada 500;
Kenya 2,500; Tanzania 10,000; and Haiti, “the NGO republic,” 10,000.
In the US, we are ruled by our government and by a “Shadow State” (as Efe Can
Gurcan terms it) of NGOs. The latter control much of our legislation and make sweeping
decisions in many other areas. ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) is a
nonprofit organization of state legislators and corporate representatives that drafts and
shares model laws which are then enacted by states. Another example is the redefinition of
public education — students are graded by tests sold to districts by private companies, and
a large percentage of public schools are privatized as “charters.” Chicago Mayor Rahm
Emanuel, for example, almost lost his bid for re-election after he closed 50 neighborhood
schools in his pro-1% rulings. Many LA politicians have created their own non-profits to
solicit private funds for formerly public parks and other facilities. NGOs and non-profits
have often promoted “movement” careerism, separating activists from a radical base.
Many environmental NGOs have “greenwashed” polluting extractive industries.
Many but not all NGOs, behind a façade of compassion, have done serious harm to the
hopes for a future state of peace in the world, or for the wellbeing for the world’s people.
Ron Spriestersbach is a former JPL scientist and UCLA senior scholar and on the KPFK LSB