Reply to Zunes on 10 Rules for Understanding Civil Society Imperialism

Stephen Zunes has written a brief reply to my last article, 10 Rules for Understanding Civil Society Imperialism, which you can read here. The following is my response.


Let me address your points one by one.

1.You say: “I do not and have never singled out leftist governments for criticism.”

I guess that depends on what you consider a leftist government to be. I would surmise that your definition is different from mine. If I said, “You criticized government x,” you would reply, “But government x isn’t leftist.” You’re using a difference of opinion about what a leftist government is, to construct a straw man.

2. You say: “I have supported anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist movements around the world.”

I’m sure you have supported some anti-imperialist and some anti-capitalist movements around the world, but who says you haven’t? My comments concerned anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist governments, not movements. I suspect you haven’t supported anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist movements that take up arms, but that’s another matter.

3. You say: “I have opposed the agenda of ‘wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments’”.

I’ve never said you haven’t, but some would say you certainly haven’t opposed the agenda of Peter Ackerman as it relates to the ICNC and you certainly didn’t oppose USIP when you accepted a USIP research fellowship (i). These are good points, but they’re not my points and they’re hardly necessary points. Churchill opposed the agenda of the Soviet Union, but that didn’t stop him from working with it.

The issues, here, are: (1) Are you willing to take money from one or more of: wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments? And (2): Are wealthy individuals, corporations, capitalist foundations and imperialist governments willing to give you money to oppose their interests? The answer to the first question, judging by your comments on an earlier article of mine, is yes (ii); the second question can only be answered in the affirmative by the deluded or naïve.

4.You say: “I have never implied that (wealthy individuals, corporations…) were in any way a “wellspring of hope.”

Who said you had? The “wellsprings of hope” reference was to civil society (and Patrick Bond’s and Grace Kwinjeh’s description of it), not to the funders of civil society.

5. You say: “I have never ‘followed State Department’ narratives.”

I guess it depends on what you mean by “followed.” Maybe we should call it a case of simultaneous multiple invention. You can be Wallace to the State Department’s Darwin. The State Department talks about “democracy” and “freedom” in the abstract. You talk about “democracy” and “freedom” in the abstract. The State Department talks about Belarus as a dictatorship. You talk about Belarus as a dictatorship. The State Department talks about Zimbabwe as a dictatorship. You talk about Zimbabwe as a dictatorship. And so on. (iii)

But maybe I’m being too charitable. I’ve assumed you’ve aped the State Department narrative on places like Zimbabwe, Belarus and Iran because it’s easy to do. Perhaps I should be complaining about your false allegations and total fabrications about these governments.

6. You say: “I have never defended the practices of the NED, the USAID or other government agencies.”

Who says you have? Patrick Bond is wont to celebrate groups that receive NED funding as an “independent” left. I’m not sure whether that counts as defending the practices of the NED, but I have no information on your attitude toward these organizations. Accordingly, I have nothing to say about it. Claiming I have is (to use your language) a total fabrication.

7. You say: “I only wish I could be criticized about the things I’ve really said.”

If I said all the things you say I’ve said about you, I too would say they were total fabrications. But alas I haven’t said these things. You’re either misreading what I’ve written or you’re raising the straw man to an art form.

Stephen Gowans

(i) See point 11of your “A Reply to Stephen Gowans’ False Allegations Against Stephen Zunes” .

(ii) Ibid. You write: “The unfortunate reality in capitalist societies is that most non-profit organizations — from universities to social justice organizations to art galleries to peace groups (and ICNC as well) — depend at least in part on donations from wealthy individuals and from foundations which get their money from wealthy individuals.”

(iii) You write, “The best hope for advancing freedom and democracy in the world’s remaining autocratic states comes from civil society” and “Similar claims heard today that the United States is somehow a major force behind contemporary popular movements against dictatorships in Burma, Iran, Zimbabwe, and Belarus or that the United States was somehow responsible for the successes of previous movements in Serbia, Georgia or Ukraine are equally ludicrous.” “Nonviolent action and pro-democracy struggles,” .

One thought on “Reply to Zunes on 10 Rules for Understanding Civil Society Imperialism

  1. The issue of Civil Society Imperialism is a very important one.

    It’s a problem that many “Progressives” minimize, turn a blind eye towards, or even tacitly support.

    One of the reasons for this is that the so-called Left is often institutionally based in the Civil Society/NGO world–and thus will be loathe to criticize their own gravy train.

    And when you get down to brass tacks, who exactly are these supposed Progressives and Professional Activists anyway?

    They are mostly Middle-Class (White) elites.

    In terms of background, worldview, and values, they ain’t that much different from the political establishment they ostensibly oppose.

    Compared to the massive poverty found in the Developing World, these people benefit from Capitalism, and they know damn well that their continued privilege, power, and way of life are dependent upon maintaining their global imperialist system.

    Joan Roelofs has written on the critical role played by the NGO/Civil Society Industry in helping to contain dissent to capitalism and to penetrate targeted nations for “democratization” throughout the globe.

    Joan Roelofs
    (State University of New York Press, 2003)

    Why They Hate Our Kind Hearts, Too

    In fact, some Progressives uncritically cheered on the Colored (Counter-)Revolutions that the USA and its allies staged against Ukraine, Belarus, Lebanon, Yugoslavia, Georgia, Zimbabwe, and countless other nations all in the past few years.

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