Colour Revolutions & the NGO Complex

“Liberalism disembodies the friend-enemy distinction”[1]. The expansionary nature of liberal ideology and its infrastructural power is sublimating. Space is to be extended through, with obstacles removed or absorbed. “Despite its relative physical durability—infrastructure space is often only regarded as a byproduct of more volatile markets and political games”[2]. Space is a liminal element that is mouldable to market dynamics. It is to be homogeneous and parameterised so as to extend ideological contiguity.

As a mode of governance, infrastructural power entails a fragmented but delimited set of protocols. “Far removed from familiar legislative processes, dynamic systems of space, information, and power generate de facto forms of polity faster than even quasi-official forms of governance can legislate them”[3]. What Easterling calls extrastatecraft is a depoliticised politics, one that has no official public as its reference or legitimator. It is also de-spatialised as a force, instead working through global flows of wealth that provide its constituent members (trusts, sponsored organisations, international networks) a degree of power removed from any sovereign district. Volatile markets and political games are bywords for global flows of money, information and trade which increasingly organise and structure the political field.

This paradox of space defines liberalism and its governing protocols. It must be spatial in that the basis of liberal legitimation is the consent of a people to be governed, but its economic and social imperatives make spatial legitimation increasingly irrelevant. The public being answered to is now one filtered through communication strategies and civil society organisations, with politics being removed from the common itself as political action is defined by the negotiation strategies of these middleman organisations within the charity sector and amongst non-governmental organisations.

Constructing this governing apparatus warps the incentives of these organisations and ultimately changes the nature of liberalism itself. An abstracted public begets a new bureaucratic layer to interpret public concerns and to filter them into appropriate avenues. This then entails a form of infrastructural power related to the spatiality of politics. Its space is now the homogeneous boardroom and its international adjuncts. Its purpose is the flow of wealth to particular causes and issues which are themselves removed from the direct gaze of the public eye. It is a middle ground between lobbying and activism, and it is a response to the internationalisation of flows and the formative structures of a global political infrastructure which increase the extent and complexity of knowledge. This governing apparatus increasingly has its own languages and technical codes that are impenetrable to all but its members and affiliates. Their output is staggering and impossible to keep up with.

Power is the central aim though. The power to shape agendas, to promote specific causes and the capacity to fragment and limit the extent of public demands. The social demand is the building block of a popular politics according to Laclau. From the articulation of a dichotomy and the inscription of a negative on the political field, a popular urgency emerges that concatenates other demands within an equivalential chain that leads to the development of a unifying (yet differential) front with a group identity. This process of simplification and expression is “politics tout court”[4].

If equivalential chains of demands as popular presence represent politics tout court, this governing apparatus represents the fractionation of the chain back into technocratic politicking. It is the insidious subversion of popular demand through the production of an abstracted people represented through a stream of charities, think tanks and well-funded lobbying organisations who present a face of popular concern but attain power for particular actors. Fundamentally, it feeds itself through the acquisition of funding and the integration of speculative agendas, for the maintenance of wealth flows and the reproduction and evolution of liberal and quasi-liberal ideas that constrains the political field and defines the perimeters of the Overton Window.

Various descriptions exist for this extra-governmental power: NGOcracy, the nonprofit-industrial complex, technocracy, comitology. The best term that encapsulates its dynamic is the blob. “The Blob is hard to put anyone’s finger on. It is a mixture of state institutions, state-funded institutions, and private trusts and charities. It is a groupthink bubble. It is a network, an ecosystem, in which everyone operates with a set of similar superficial assumptions about the legitimate domain of state action derived from similar assumptions about human nature”[5]. The term captures the extra-political, flexibly-ideological nature of the complex. A series of interconnected networks of activists, corporate trusts, civil servants and politicians extending the scope of governance over heterogeneous fields of political action. “Foundations have proved that they can with impunity be used as tools for bending out of shape or frustrating laws and court orders”[6], as well being vehicles for tax avoidance and the maintenance of pools of elite wealth. They expand the homogeneous stricture of depoliticised liberal governance whose main constituency becomes self-referential.

Spreading homogeneity consists of strictly constituting the realm of political debate such that certain voices or opinions are acceptable and others are deemed dangerous, subversive or traitorous. The term blob thus captures this expansive capacity, as everything is absorbed by it and what is outside it is crushed underneath or against its vast bulk, becoming a detritus which is then absorbable. The demand is then refracted back into the NGO complex that can delineate and sublimate it as part of the acceptable terms of political debate.

Domestically it can be seen in the actions of various corporate trusts promoting so-called egalitarian causes in the fields of education, human relations and urban renewal. Vague requirements around diversity, inclusion and justice inform the funding criteria for a variety of projects, from the Gates Foundation’s investment in privatised medical infrastructure and the monopolisation of American farmland to the Ford Foundation’s funding of “social justice”[7]. However, they never truly define the causes of or solutions to poverty or social justice. Various policy ideas come and go amongst a vast database of reports and information that is overwhelmingly large, inevitably forming an archive that is never read. Where such solutions are enacted, they are short-term and experimental, very rarely extending beyond a small subset of communities. The ideological prism is what is important, not the actual outcomes of policy. The various trusts (Runnymede, the Equality Trust, the Ford Foundation), political commissions (Britain’s APPGs) and NGOs never meaningfully resolve anything. Real wages are stagnant, inequality has been increasing for 40 years, regional stagnation affects nearly all major developed economies and trust in political institutions is historically low, yet these same foundations and trusts continue to be vehicles for wealth accumulation and the siphoning of tax funds.

It can be seen in climate change politics as NGOs and charities use celebrity endorsements and brand promotion through figures like Greta Thunberg to produce a particular narrative concerning solutions to climate change that are conducive to the needs of capital and that don’t require revolutionary changes to existing ways of life (particularly in the West). They support ameliorative actions like the Paris Climate Accords and leave unquestioned the very infrastructures (transport logistics, international trade, intensive agriculture) that contribute most to climate change.

“These agreements and policies include carbon capture and storage (CCS), enhanced oil recovery (EOR), bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), rapid total decarbonisation, payments for ecosystem services (referred to as “natural capital”), nuclear energy and fission, and a host of other “solutions” that are hostile to an already devastated planet. What is going on – is a rebooting of a stagnant capitalist economy, that needs new markets – new growth – in order to save itself. What is being created is a mechanism to unlock approximately 90 trillion dollars for new investments and infrastructure. What is going on is the creation of, and investment in, perhaps the biggest behavioural change experiment yet attempted, global in scale”[8]. The parameters of a Green New Deal or a climate accord are funded and promoted through trusts and funds that represent a transnational capitalist elite. The change they are looking to promote will not be discordant with their interests and thus will not radically alter the socio-economic structure of global trade or wealth flows.

Groups like the Institute for Statecraft and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue similarly curtail and set the limits of political debate. Their counter-terrorism and counter-propaganda strategies have gained increased focus as anti-Russia hysteria grips Western governments and fuels new funding strategies for the military-industrial complex. Anyone outside their carefully constructed Overton window isn’t just deemed a crank, but vilified as a danger to democracy that requires state action to limit their influence. Toward this aim, the Institute for Statecraft developed clusters of friendly journalists, activists and politicians who could spread their scripted messages[9]. The aims of these think tanks (“to advance education in the fields of governance and statecraft, and to advance human rights”[10]) in countering misinformation raises the same issue of ambiguity that their cousins in anti-poverty and social justice have, that of vague terminology and ambiguous missions that increasingly encompass a mechanism of governance rather than just the provision of charitable services. Definitions of propaganda and misinformation encompass a bias toward liberal imperatives and governmental operations, as do the terms democracy and human rights. Western governments, no matter how oligarchical, are democratic, as are the governments backed by America or Britain.

In the geopolitical arena, this can be seen with programmes like the National Endowment for Democracy. The aims of the NED form a strong component of the liberal empire, encouraging NGOcracy and the undermining of governments by unelected apparatchiks and “activists”, all in the name of “opposition building and encouraging pluralism”[11]. What this really means is encouraging the strengthening of elite fragments and their support bases who will accept US military dominance and maintain trade corridors and strategic assets on the US’s behalf. “The NED and its partner organizations have weaponized civil society and media against governments that stand in the way of right-wing, free market parties and corporate interests”[12]. The after effects of the shock doctrine in Eastern Europe are indicative here, with governments that attempted to reverse marketisation or forge an independent sovereignty censured and isolated (as with Belarus and Hungary). The NGO complexes that have formed within post-Soviet countries have been partisan[13] and skew public opinion within acceptable boundaries. The desire for economic sovereignty and/or nationalism are curtailed and denigrated.

The history of colour revolutions has been indicative of this expanding liberal imperialism, pushed strongly by Bush and Obama as a form of military-industrial trade liberalisation and reflective of the end of history narrative. Now, there is nothing more than liberal democracy, with any resistance a simple-minded holdout that should be isolated and/or crushed (as in Iran, Libya and Syria). “Liberal Democracy, in its current post-modern manifestation, is expansionist and aggressive”, seeking to “‘free’ targeted states from perceived anti-Liberal Democratic (non-Western) governments”[14]. Colour revolutions as a method of warping popular will achieve this “freedom” through the manipulation of press organs and political parties that skew toward liberalism. This could be seen in the Maidan uprising in Ukraine or the Rose Revolution in Georgia where pro-American candidates were strongly backed (Poroshenko and Saakashvili respectively). It replaced Russian influence with liberal imperialism. A social infrastructure is built through the intermediaries of NGOs and media organisations that provides funding, training, forms a core elite and support base, provides propaganda materials and infiltrates institutions.

A colour revolution is neither revolutionary nor popular. It uses elite fragments to co-opt government and private organs and uses the intelligence services’ apparatus to develop an elite bulwark within governmental institutions. These have even been implemented domestically against American citizens in the case of anti-Trump protests and the organisation of legislative opposition through Norm Eisen[15] as well as the co-optation of pro-Trump rallyists in the Capitol Riot, with the FBI emplacing a number of informants among the Trump supporters in Washington who encouraged storming the Capitol[16]. The scope of the NGO complex shows a governmentality completely unaccountable. How can a trust, an intelligence agency or a think tank be held to account? More pertinently, would accountability even make a difference considering the operations they engage work through the manipulation of popular will. Transparency is itself a vehicle for these blob organisations to gain legitimacy.

The non-profit industrial complex or the blob itself raises more profound questions of politics as a domain – is there a true capacity for popular will? Imperial expansion shows an incapability to limit itself despite its self-destructive tendencies. The nature of liberal imperialism is in constant sublimation of praxis to praxeology, of multiplicity or multipolarity to theoretical determination and by extension the limitation of choice or autonomy to an architecture of parameters and perimeters. Everything is dissectible but never dissoluble – there is only one solution with elements conjoined to be diluted. Popular will here though isn’t fictive as if some mass false consciousness that destroys the act of willing to merely voting or inert behaviour. Rather popular will is a tension itself between mass and organisation, between people and leader. There is no will without exegesis or vulgation. It is both discoverable but out of reach, reacting as a common point amongst demands but also a concatenating function that can ossify and ostracise.

Will-as-tension and the popular demand then cut to very heart of liberal governmentality as it must always envelop these various demands and tensions yet in doing so increases the necessary complexity of governance. Thus the growth of intermediary organisations within the blob and the development of political tactics (elite co-optation, colour revolutions) that maintain legible political boundaries and sublimate demands. “When one contemplates the non-profit industrial complex, it must be considered the most powerful army in the world. Employing billions of staff, all inter-connected, today’s campaigns, financed by our ruling oligarchs can become viral in a matter of hours just by the interlocking directorate working together in unity toward a common goal to instil uniform thoughts and opinions, which gradually create a desired ideology”[17].

Complexity also entails an overwhelming force of will though. The very fact governments and think tanks are producing increasingly convoluted definitions and mechanisms around disinformation and counter-propaganda suggest there is a problem they are struggling to quell. The NGO complex is not an ultimate governmentality which will always absorb its opposition, but a representative of an increasingly shaky political edifice.


[2] Keller Easterling, Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space

[3] Keller Easterling, Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space

[4] Ernesto Laclau, On Populist Reason


[6] Select Committee on Small Business of the House of Representatives, Tax-Exempt Foundations and Charitable Trusts: Their Impact on Our Economy





[11] William Blum, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower







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