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NGOs Are Cages


We really need to understand the methods used by NGOs* to undermine radical political organizing efforts and divert us into political dead ends. The People’s Climate March is a good case study because it’s so blatant.

In South Florida, we saw the exact same process after the BP oil spill. Once the NGOs came in to the organizing meetings and were given the floor, all potential resistance was blocked, strangled, and left for dead. NGOs will descend on any organizing effort and try to take it over, dilute it, and bring it eventually to the Democratic Party. We can also see an identical set-up with the established labor unions and many other organizations.

If organizers are being paid, usually they are trapped in this dynamic, whether or not they want to be. While combining a job with organizing to challenge the system sounds very tempting and full of potential, it’s overwhelmingly not possible. They are two fundamentally incompatible aims, and those funding the job definitely do not have the aim of allowing its employees to undermine the system — the very system that allows the funders to exist, that they feed off of. Capitalists aren’t stupid, and they know how to keep their employees chained to a post, even if the leash feels long. With NGOs, capitalism has set up a great mechanism for itself both to generate revenue, and to pacify people who might otherwise be fighting to break the framework. “The unity of the chicken and the roach happens in the belly of the chicken.”


Another problem is that the rest of us attending an activity or a demonstration have to wonder: when organizers are being paid to say whatever it is they’re saying, how do we know whether or not they believe it? They follow a script, and can’t reveal their true feelings. They attempt to promote their cause in a convincing way, but if their funding was cut off, would they still be involved? Would their orientation still be the same? It’s hard to believe anything said by a paid spokespuppet – it’s like interacting with an embodied list of talking points. There can be no real trust, that the person could be relied upon when the money is no longer there.

Of course people need jobs, and NGOs provide them. I’m not blaming those who work for NGOs any more than who work for any other capitalist institution. We’re all trapped in the enemy’s economy. Instead, what I’m arguing for is to be aware of the nature of it, its severe limitations, and to do real political work outside the framework provided by the job.

We should attend demonstrations like the climate march, because a lot of sincere people will be there who want to make a difference. But we should remain autonomous within them, bringing our own message targeting capitalism as the root of the problem, exposing the uselessness of working within the political frameworks it sets up for us, and building our own organizations with the people we meet.

To challenge, weaken and ultimately destroy capitalism, we need to build a strong, organized, broad, combative mass movement outside the influence of capitalist interests.

Stephanie McMillan is a cartoonist and the author of seven books, most recently the “Resistance to Ecocide” (graphic novel) and “Capitalism Must Die!” (cartoons plus theoretical text). Please visit

* (NGO: Non-Governmental Organizations, or “non-profits,” usually in fact funded by governments and/or corporate foundations).


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