What is an NGO?

The ruling classes would describe the NGOs (short for “non-governmental organization) as voluntary, non-profit private organizations whose diverse activity aims towards change, support or promotion of different social issues. The NGO sector is considered to be the third sector (the first two being the government and the business sector) or the third factor to form the public sector and to impact the political and social policies. We, anarchists, rather think of it as an instrument of government and the capital.

Due to their diversity, NGOs are hard to define. Their only feature that clearly comes out of their name is that they are independent from the government, which is inconsistent with the fact that the majority of NGOs use government funds for at least some of their projects. In the efforts to classify NGOs, different types are specified: charitable organizations, service orientation NGOs, participatory NGOs, empowering NGOs, local, national and international NGOs etc. The foundations that exist to finance NGOs are a type of NGO as well.

USAID describes NGOs as private voluntary organizations, which is a problematic definition, since most NGOs are financed by governments and corporations, but also because it’s hard to say that an organization with professional paid personnel, from managers to field workers, can be called voluntary.

The term NGO first appeared in 1945 with the foundation of the UN, when the UN allowed for certain specialized international non-state agencies to obtain an observer status at its meetings. The oldest organization considered to be an NGO dates long before the NGOs took over both the developed and the developing world, when the international Red Cross was founded in the middle of the 19 century

Researchers of the NGO sector differ operational from campaigning NGOs – just another of the many classifications, but relevant for this study. Operational NGOs are those who tend to reach short-term goals by various small projects, they waste great amount of energy chasing for grants, donations and other sources to finance each upcoming project, and their activities center around making a project in order to get some cash, rather than the other way around.

The other type, campaigning NGOs, usually emerge around a certain cause for whose promotion they organize various public events and demonstrations. This type of NGOs magically appear every time an organized form of public discontent emerges around certain problem of society, with the NGO (regardless of whether it existed before or was created because of this public discontent) adopting the cause of the discontent masses, and then trying to redirect the anger towards institutional activities, while standing as a mediator between the government and people’s demands, as a replacement for direct and spontaneous action. When all hope directs towards the NGO methods, the NGO will approach the usual institutional and exclusively legal methods of “struggle” (such as petitions, lobbying, seeking support from opposition parties, begging for help from international committees etc), and the moment the struggle moves from the streets into the institutions of the system, the cause may be considered as lost, and all the unprivileged can count on is crumbs or miserable compromise. No one can win on government ground except for the government, which is exactly the role of these NGOs: to calm the masses by taking over the cause and to make each demonstration of discontent harmless and with no chance of making any change.

Regardless of the great amount of categorization of the non-governmental organizations, in this text we will mainly focus on the largest part of the NGO sector: those NGOs who “fight” for change and have social and political goals.