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"Civil Society" in Venezuela
by Louis Proyect
12 April 2002 19:49 UTC
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Greg Wilpert:
>First of all, the military is saying that the main reason for the coup is
>what happened today, April 11. 'Civil society,' as the opposition here
>refers to itself, organized a massive demonstration of perhaps 100,000 to
>200,000 people to march to the headquarters of Venezuela's oil company,
>PDVSA, in defense of its fired management. 

A word or two has to be said about this phenomenon. This nebulous term
"civil society" has too often provided a fig-leaf for extremely reactionary

For example, pressure has been put on the Colombian guerrillas in the name
of "civil society" NGO's. One of the main battering rams in Yugoslavia was
"civil society" NGO's funded by George Soros. They all seem to be
well-versed in left-liberal and feminist discourse, but concealed within
that veneer is a middle-class hostility to any state that promotes the
interests of those at the bottom.

In May of 2000, "civil society" groups spearheaded a drive against Hugo
Chavez, who supposedly was rigging the elections. The Inter-American
Development Bank, which is a typical neoliberal funding institution, has a
designated liaison with "civil society" groups. The World Bank lists Latin
American and Caribbean "civil society" experts for nearly every country in
the region. Go to http://www.icaworld.org/ (Institute of Cultural Affairs)
or places like Johns Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies and
you will find extensive training programs for "civil society"
professionals. Upon their boards you will find World Bank officials and all
the usual suspects. Fidel Castro had the good sense to throw these kinds of
scoundrels out long ago, with their connections to US philanthropies and
Ivy League schools.


Znet, January 09, 2002 

All This "civil Society" Talk Takes Us Nowhere 

By Aziz Choudry 

If there's one phrase I could do with hearing less of during 2002, it's
"civil society". I'm not alone. Many of my friends, community activists and
organisers in a number of countries also cringe at the ritualized,
ubiquitous usage of the phrase. We shudder at the thought that we might be
mistaken for being part of it. John Grimond, in The Economist's "The World
In 2002" says of the phrase: "It is universally talked about in tones that
suggest it is a Great Good, but for some people it presents a problem: what
on earth is it? Unless you know, how can you tell if you would want to join
it?" I couldn't agree more. And if you found out, would you want to? I
still don't know what the hell "civil society" is supposed to mean, let
alone "international civil society". Is it the name given to a group of
representatives from various NGOs deliberating the latest sign-on statement
or declaration at a meeting? It certainly seems to have become a kind of
grandiose shorthand to describe groupings of NGOs which may or may not be
connected with communities and broader peoples' movements in the countries
in which they are based. Or is it something else? Who gets to be in civil
society and how? Are the people taking direct action on the streets against
the authorities and being teargassed, pepper-sprayed, beaten and arrested
part of civil society? Who gets to represent civil society and decide what,
for whom, and on whose behalf? There is no shortage of definitions of civil
society, Gramsci, de Tocqueville, Putnam, Hegel, Marx, and many others have
written volumes on the subject. But other than general agreement that it
spans all forms of organisations between the household and the state, the
notion seems to mean all things to all people. I cannot see how uncritical
adoption and use of this term advances peoples' struggles for basic rights,
for self-determination, liberation, and decolonisation, and against
imperialism and the neoliberal agenda in all their various guises. 

Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org

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