Stuff the NGOs

by | Sep 12, 2011

I have an article up on Spiked today…

The growth of environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) over the past 50 years has been extraordinary. Starting from humble beginnings and means, organisations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, which are both celebrating their fortieth anniversaries this year, and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), which opened its first office 50 years ago, now command budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars. But while the organic champagne may be flowing in the green camp, what does the rest of the world have to celebrate about the rise and rise of the Big Green NGO?

Read more…


  1. Donna Laframboise

    Ben, this is a great piece, as usual. This point is particularly distressing to me:

    Greenpeace, which claims to have 2.9 million supporters around the world, has had an indubitable influence over the remaining 99.96 per cent of the world’s population. The Greenpeace website boasts about victories over plans to build airports, dams, mines, oil wells, factories and power stations, and in securing national and international regulation or bans on chemicals and industrial processes, fishing, the disposal of toxic substances, the exploitation of natural wilderness, genetically modified crop production and experimentation, and so on.

    The fact that no one voted for these people and yet their agenda has been so successful should give us all pause.

    I haven’t had a chance to read Patrick Moore’s book yet, but in my view there may be more to his pro-Soviet analysis than is normally recognized. I was active in the Toronto peace movement of the early 1980s. We’d galvanized around the testing of American cruise missiles in parts of the Canadian north.

    I was in my early 20s and might have a different analysis of that matter now, but that’s not important to this discussion. The point is that the Toronto left at the time was riddled with pro-Soviet groups. Not just the USSR-funded Communist Party of Canada and its separate youth organization, but as many as a dozen front groups of various ethnic and neighbourhood flavours.

    These people were a HUGE problem, because even though they did little day-to-day work, they stacked meetings and voted as a bloc. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that little happened in the left that these pro-Soviet Communists did not at least tacitly approve of. (The Toronto women’s movement being an exception, for a time at least.)

    The result was a split in the Toronto peace movement between those of us who saw Communist Party behaviour as undemocratic and those who were prepared to overlook even physical intimidation in the interests of just getting along.

    The majority of lefties simply weren’t prepared to criticize Communists even when Communist thugs had misbehaved outrageously at our own events. After the split, I sided with those who insisted the Soviets were equally responsible for bringing us to the brink of nuclear annihilation. Our (much smaller) collection of groups henceforth made a point of linking ourselves to (and supporting the work of) Soviet dissidents.

    To criticize Communists was to make oneself a pariah in the leftist community at that time. For one thing, you were no longer considered sufficiently Anti-American. My practical experience of the left is that this is what it often boils down to.

    I think many of these same patterns are still playing out today. A left that had truly confronted the horrors of the Soviet Union would not have been so welcoming of pro-Soviet communists in the 1980s peace movement.

    A left that had confronted such horrors would not be nearly so naive about the likely outcome of many of the green policies currently being pursued today.

    We see a great deal of knee-jerk anti-Americanism amongst greens. To me this is indistinguishable from what I encountered 30 years ago.

  2. Donna Laframboise

    Quick addendum: my guess is that the Toronto women’s movement was able to keep itself separate from the influence of the Communist Party because it embraced lesbians. Prior-to-the-fall-of-the-Berlin-Wall-Communists were actually conservative about many things – sexuality being a big one.

  3. Richard Telofski

    Ben – I enjoyed your article “Wishing Greenpeace an Unhappy Birthday” on today’s

    My research lately uncovered information which is in support of your central point of a lack of NGO accountability and democracy. For example, Greenpeace US’s governance is controlled by less than 100 members who vote for the GPUS board of directors. “Conveniently” those voting members are appointed by the board of directors. For citations, see Greenpeace Voting Incestuous. Similar voting procedures are in effect at other Greenpeace divisions around the globe.

    It is both remarkable and sad how an infinitesimal minority can turn that “naive sympathy and emotional self-indulgence” you mentioned into almost unquestioned political power hidden behind a moral shield.

  4. Ben Pile

    Donna. I don’t know a great deal about Canadian Radical politics in the 1980s. However, I think Moore’s comment at best lacks precision. It is probably fair to call the Communist Party of the time ‘pro-soviet’, but is a mistake to imagine that anyone identifying as ‘communist’ as ‘pro-soviet’. There is an important distinction, because most of the radical left departed from orthodox communism post 1956 – 68. This era is known as the ‘new left’, in which its adherents emphasised other communist thinkers, such as Trotsky, or even newer interpretations of Marx. (Some of which were just as horrible, mind).

    The Wikipedia page on the Communist Party of Canada is useful here (which is not something I often say:

    Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 Secret Speech exposing the crimes of Joseph Stalin and the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary shook the faith of many Communists around the world. As well, the party was riven by a crisis following the return of prominent party member J.B. Salsberg from a trip to the Soviet Union where he found rampant party-sponsored antisemitism. Salsberg reported his findings but they were rejected by the party, which initially suspended him from its leading bodies. Ultimately, the crisis resulted in the departure of the United Jewish Peoples’ Order, Salsberg, Robert Laxer and most of the party’s Jewish members in 1956.


    Many, perhaps most, members of the Canadian party left, including a number of prominent party members. In the mid 1960s the United States Department of State estimated the party membership to be approximately 3500.[2] The Soviet Union’s 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia caused more people to leave the Canadian Communist Party.

    The results of general elections bear this point out. In 1953, the CPC fielded 100 candidates, and won 59,622 votes, or 1.06% of the votes cast. In the next election, however, the CPC entered just 10 candidates, and won 7,760 votes, or 0.12%. Although these figures are in the same proportions, they speak to the disarray in the movement, and the beginning of a death spiral for the party. In the 1980 election, 52 candidates won just 6,022 votes, or 0.06%.

    This is what I mean by there being so few willing to identify as ‘pro-soviet’ in the era. I take your point, however, that many on the radical left were nonetheless, somewhat resistant to criticise the USSR, emphasising criticism on the USA — which is still the bogeyman of the green-left, of course.

    But this is only part of the story, though. And as I try to emphasise in the article, the ground for the rise of the NGOs is being developed through the UN, far away from the reaches of what remained of the minute Canadian Communist Party. The important dynamic is not what propelled the NGO — whether or not it was populated by pro-soviet Stalinists — but what dragged the likes of Greenpeace up onto the world stage. And as we can see, it is much more courted by the UK Conservative Party than it ever was by the radical left.

    And this is what I think is missing from Moore’s analysis — though I will investigate it further. He, and many others, seem to take a strictly ideo-centric approach, whereas I don’t think the realm of ideas sheds sufficient light on the rise-and-rise of NGOs… The fundamental seems to me to be a dearth of ideas at all, but the need to sustain political institutions.

  5. Foxgoose

    An excellent summary of the threat to democracies posed by NGO’s.

    Even in a mature, long-established and well regulated democracy like the UK, Bishop Hill recently revealed that the daily diary of the Environment Minister set aside time for regular meetings with representatives of environmental NGO’s.

    Even more alarming – NGO’s are happy to join forces with business lobbyists when perceived “green” objectives, such as massive alternative energy subsidies, can be achieved – to the massive financial detriment of ordinary taxpaying voters.

    At least business lobbyists are transparently self-interested – “Big Green” NGO corporates represent themselves as the proxy conscience of millions of voters who haven’t even heard of them.

  6. geoffchambers

    Donna’s story is interesting precisely because it is not particular to Canadian politics. Her experience resembles that of Arthur Koestler in the German Communist Party, despite the rather obvious differences between Toronto in the eighties and Berlin in the thirties. The interesting question is whether the behaviour patterns she reports are particular to pro-soviet communist parties, or common to all sectarian ideologies.
    Greenpeace can be seen as one of the first pressure groups to understand Dubord’s “Society of the Spectacle”. Boarding a ship or climbing a building is just so much more interesting visually on the TV News, and the viewer is likely to warm more to a brave alpinist or pirate than to an anonymous mass marching behind banners.
    By the way, Richard Telofski’s site is well worth exploring. Grenpeace’s voting system seems to be based on the Vatican’s system for electing the Pope.

  7. Fay Kelly-Tuncay

    Donna, I am unconvinced that the Greens are the old reds.

    I can remember attending the Greenham Common demo in 1982 and the woman there were very similar to the greens today. Conservative, reactionary, slightly paranoid and well-to-do.

    The greens of today are exactly the same. I met some of them on the recent TUC demo. Well meaning do gooders – yes! But, certainly not reds. In the same way that Prince Charles is not a red, but he is an anti-capitalist.

    I think the point is not all anti-capitalists are marxists, because there are conservative anti-capitalists who dominate the NGOs and may I add the Anglican church which is an institution of the monarchy.

  8. George Carty

    Donna, if many anti-nuclear-weapon organizations were front groups run by remote control from the Kremlin, it would go a long way to explaining why they so easily segued into opposing nuclear energy, even though nuclear weapons and nuclear energy have about as much in common as napalm and petrol, or lead bullets and lead batteries.

    Lysenko’s madness had wrecked Soviet agriculture and forced the country to become a food importer. How were they to pay for this food? Because Soviet industry was so specialized for war, its consumer products were mostly worthless junk, and the only products (other than weapons) that the Soviets were actually able to sell on world markets were fossil fuels.

    Every gigawatt of extra nuclear power that was built in Western Europe was one gigawatt less that could be generated by gas-fired power stations that provided Russia (via gas sales) with vitally needed hard currency.

  9. stefanthedenier

    Dana, what happened to the western communist after the fall of Berlin Wall? I think that they just put a green top-coat on, and are continuing with same agenda. More storm-water saved on land = more moisture / less dry heat in the air = better / milder climate + more raw material for renewal of polar ice.

    Cannot increase evaporation in the sea, but extra water available on land; especially in dry countries as Australia = better climate. Green senator Brown, leader of Australian greens, made himself a name, by preventing hydro dam to be built.That dam would have produced more electricity, than all the solar panels on the planet. WHOEVER IS FOR SAVING MORE STORM-WATER ON LAND IS FRIEND OF THE EARTH; NOT THE GREEN TOP-COATED APPARATCHIKS FOR TAX-FREE MILLIONS OF $$$.

    I had to grow up east of the iron curtain; can see better where they are navigating the democratic west. I have all the scientific proofs: that is no such a thing as GLOBAL warming; water changes the climate – climate can change for better also. Is not a perfect climate now, we need climate change for better! B] oxygen + nitrogen are 998999ppm they are regulating the temperature, not CO2: please all of you, visit my website

  10. George Carty

    Looks like we have another “watermelon” theorist on our hands.

    If environmentalism was just Communism reborn, why didn’t the millions of Communists in France and Italy (the two Western countries where Communism’s appeal was greatest) turn into eco-fanatics? On the contrary, it seems like environmentalism has its greatest appeal in the Anglosphere and in other countries speaking Germanic languages.

    And here’s a quote from Leon Trotsky’s 1938 work Their Morals and Ours (the boldface is my emphasis):

    A means can be justified only by its end. But the end in its turn needs to be justified. From the Marxist point of view, which expresses the historical interests of the proletariat, the end is justified if it leads to increasing the power of man over nature and to the abolition of the power of man over man.

    Doesn’t look very Green now does it?



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