Civic society strategies

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Three general types of attitudes that civic society organisations assume toward governmental and private players are opposition, co-operation, and co-option.

Opposition is a clear ‘no’; absence of trust in the possibility to work together to remedy the existing state under existing conditions. At the global level, for instance, activists have fought over their position on the existence and the future of the Bretton Woods institutions (the World Bank and International Monetary Fund) and the World Trade Organisation. The one side consists of a number of respected activists predominantly of the Global South (including such personalities as Walden Bello of Focus on the Global South, and Anuradha Mittal of Oakland Institute of California), who doubt the possibility to reform these institutions and propose to dissolve them. In their opinion, the institutions not only fail to perform their functions in securing financial stability, development and trade, but are in fact directly responsible for global economic crises, indebtedness of poor countries, and inequitable rules of global trade (e.g., Bello, 2001; Cavanagh et al., 2002).

Other organisations dealing with international financial architecture, such as Jubilee 2000 and OXFAM, are willing to co-operate with these institutions and with governments on reforms. In their views, their abolition is not a solution and would thrust the society in a chaos of unregulated expansion of capital. There is a broad ideological gap between the two schools, and even though they often concur in the nature of the problems, they differ radically in their diagnostics and proposed solutions (e.g., Bello, 2002a; 2002b.)

The threshold between co-operation and co-option is very often unclear, so it depends on the frame of reference or the political objective that the selected frame serves. A brief look at the already mentioned Make Poverty History campaign helps explain the situation. The pragmatism of organisations like OXFAM may yield results, but at the same time there is a realistic risk that the campaign will be abused for political purposes of the British political elites.

Thus, the capacity of British NGOs to penetrate the centre of both British and global politics and negotiate a document of historic importance for dozens of developing countries, mainly in Africa, is the one side of the coin. The campaign organisers even managed to pull Prime Minister Tony Blair and the number-two man in British politics, Gordon Brown, on their side and make them support their proposals. On the other hand, however, a number of organisations are afraid that OXFAM is becoming the speaker of the entire movement for global justice, while its position on development issues has yielded below the permissible limit. Another hot topic is the crisis of legitimacy of the Blair Government in relation to the occupation of Iraq: many opine that the point of the campaign should not be to fix his bruised reputation, or the erection of Blair’s statue as the saviour of Africa. Many activists are frightened by the topics of the movement becoming the new agenda of the crisis-stricken Labour Party (for a discussion of this dilemma, see e.g. Quarmby, 2005).

There are many similar discussions and they appear often when the private sector or a political representation such as the UN, WB, IMF and others try to start a dialogue with their opponents.