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New Left Review 2, March-April 2000


Non-governmental organizations have taken over from social movements as candidates for progressive activism. Tessa Morris-Suzuki looks at the theory behind them, and the practice of their roles in Asia and Australia, with a view to a critical politics of the ‘lived world’.

TESSA MORRIS-SUZUKI

FOR AND AGAINST NGOs

The Politics of the Lived World

In 1998 the Rand Arroyo centre, a research group affiliated to the US army, published a remarkable report entitled The Zapatista ‘Social Netwar’ in Mexico. Sponsored by the US Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, the document analyses the success of the Zapatistas in developing a new form of social mobilization labeled ‘netwar’: ‘an emerging mode of conflict (and crime)’ which relies on ‘network forms of organization, doctrine, strategy, and technology attuned to the information age’. We learn that ‘netwar’ is characterized not just by the use of new communications media like the Internet, but also by the mobilization of horizontal networks of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), which replace the hierarchical structures of older revolutionary movements. Quoting a Colonel Richard Szafranski, the study observes that the challenge from such networks is often ‘epistemological’: ‘a netwar actor may aim to confound people’s fundamental beliefs about the nature of their culture, society and government, partly to foment fear but perhaps mainly to disorient people and unhinge their perceptions.’ [1] David Ronfeldt et al., The Zapatista Social Netwar in Mexico, Rand Arroyo Center, Strategy and Doctrine Program, 1998 (published on the Internet at http://www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR994/MR994.pdf), quotations from pp. 9–10 and 16. I am indebted to Dr Chris Ballard for drawing my attention to this document.

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