Each time an NGO is doing some activity aimed at social change – whether it is some demand to the government, or some criticism for government policies, or anything else – that activity is almost exclusively within the institutional frames. Institutional frames are those set by the State in accordance with the official laws that impose the need for every political demand to pass through the institutions of the State in a firmly specified bureaucratized manner so that they could reach the “authorities”, who will then decide whether they will do anything about the issue. The State ‘provides’ its citizens with a few bureaucratized, confusing, hardly accessible and completely useless legal instruments to defend their rights: complaints, petitions, citizens’ initiatives etc.
Whether we say that the ruling elites created the NGO sector, or the NGOs appeared from below to answer the needs of the “citizens”, the epilogue is the same: the government is pleased with the NGOs because in their “struggle” they never step outside of those permitted institutional frames, which makes them no threat to the ruling class.
The NGO struggle is never on the streets, it’s never violent and it never aims at core issues in society. In other words, they’re not a threat to any government, but they manage to recruit all those unpleased and angry: those who might throw Molotov cocktails on the parliament building tomorrow, were already recruited by the NGOs, dressed in a suit, awarded with a wage and tied to a desk to conduct surveys and write reports, legal documents and smart articles for the “progressive” newspapers.
Even if it was created with such intentions, the NGO can never go radical; it’s simply too occupied with filing financial reports to its funder and chasing for new funds for next year’s projects. A radical NGO cannot simply last, because it wouldn’t be able to find any funds to rely upon. An NGO can exist as long as there is someone to finance it, and no foundation, corporation or government would ever support radical progressive organizations.
It is in this way that each NGO is being conditioned that its work will be supported only if it doesn’t exceed the legal frames, and so its field of struggle remains very limited. That permitted field of struggle is one that cannot lead to any victory, since no real struggle is involved, but merely dialogue, cooperation and compromise with the authorities. The NGO is thus allowed to oppose certain aspects of the government (a certain law, decision, some specific injustice, a particular institution etc), but it will never struggle against authority in general. (The legal system has a way of preventing the existence of radical NGOs, by imposing that each formal organization must acquire a permit by the state before it’s founded. The law, naturally, forbids any type of organizations whose goal is a total liberation of the people or, as the law would put it “a violent destruction of the system”.) Not only do the NGOs not contribute to any essential change, but by complying with the legal system and by not resisting against authority, they effectively support the ruling of the political and economic elites, as they allow the government to rule in peace.
The system is simply created in such a way to be able to stay intact by any attack that might come from within; that is why no change can be reached by institutional means and that is why this oppressive system cannot be brought down by joining the parliament. What can be achieved are some small reforms, a comforting compromise and the deception of the individual that he/she’s done as much as he/she could. That same person would maybe think of different approaches to the problem, alternative methods of pressuring the authorities to fulfill his/her demands; he/she would maybe use far more effective means that would bring him/her closer to his/her goal. But that is where the NGO sector comes in to pull his/her chains, to remind him/her that we must follow the law, remain non-violent at any cause and avoid provoking the (otherwise benevolent) cops who are only doing their job.