The Fifth Power: arbitrariness

Radmir A. Gusev, School of Governance and Politics, MGIMO University


This article is devoted to such problem of civil society as compliance of non-profit organizations and civil movements with the goals related to the manifestation of civil activity and focus on achieving social, charitable goals, protecting the health of citizens, meeting their needs, as well as protecting the rights and legitimate interests of citizens and organizations. The article touches upon the problem of determining the powers of such organizations, as a result of which some movements become extremist/radical, and their members use illegal means to achieve their goals. Special attention is paid to the fact that in modern legal practice the state compulsory liquidation of associations in which illegal means of achieving goals are used is not applied. Thus, there is a need to define more detailed criteria, according to which it is possible to call society civil, because just the existence of self-governing groups could not be a sign of civil society today, due to the fact that under this definition may fall all extremist/radical groups operating outside the law.

Keywords: civil society, non-profit organizations, legality of actions, alternative power, self-governing structures, transparency principle, formal and informal features.

Main body

American political scientist O. G. Encarnación, a specialist on post-authoritarian transformations, argues that "civil society embraces a vast and diverse world of organizations created by private individuals to defend their interests and values. This world includes freely established grass-roots organizations of citizens, such as associations of people living in the neighbourhood, as well as hierarchically organized groups such as national unions and ethnic associations." (Encarnación, 2000) For these associations, state control should be minimal and even symbolic, since the phenomenon itself refers to the manifestation of a democratic regime (without which the full implementation of citizenship and the rule of law is impossible) and reflects the meaning of “people's government”.

However, it should be noted that the mere sign of of the state non-control and the alleged possibility of representing the interests of society and its interaction with the state is not a reason to consider the existence of self-governing groups as a sign of civil society.  Vityuk V. V. writes about it, explaining the difference between formal signs and the real orientation of the organizations: " It is impossible to judge about belonging of these or those organizations to civil society on one only formally-organizational signs. This affiliation is established by considering the specific social role and real functions... whether they are aimed at meeting public needs or have a Pro-state or, conversely, anti-social meaning." (Vityuk, 2000)

Moreover, it is precisely because of the lack of control that the crisis of non-governmental organizations and civil movements is observed in the modern world, as their real goal can change its course for a number of reasons. Let’s consider the examples of negative implications.

Firstly, many of the movement/party from the moment of creation can carry a biased character, although initially it is implied that parties exist for the exercise of political activism that is not the same as bias. If activism presupposes opposition of the authorities (in a moderate sense), then engagement means consent. The importance of such parties and their activities is being questioned. P. Bourdieu, the sociologist who first used the term "engagement," in his work "Male domination," notes that "good practical knowledge of the object and political engagement lead to weak results that reproduce politicized common sense." (Bourdieu, 2005)

Secondly, because of the reduction of control, the movement, due to "excessive" civil initiative, may lose such basic principles as legality, legitimacy and expediency. For example, the movement "Occupy-pedophile", founded by Maxim Martsinkevich and directed against violence of minors, turned into lynching, blackmail of potential pedophiles and illegal robbery. The movement was of an open radical in nature and often used illegal means to deal with potential criminals. According Anna Levchenko (presidential Commissioner for children’s rights), members "Occupy-pedophile" substituted the victims, "luring" on a meeting with minor citizens[1]. The head himself was serving a sentence in prison for inciting ethnic hatred, propagandized extremist views to his followers. Thus, the self-governing structures of the assistants of the government are trying to transform into an alternative power, committing arbitrariness, thereby leveling the main feature of civil society as a non-political character.

Thirdly, non-governmental organizations tend to pursue private interests because of their self-sufficiency, in addition, they can conduct their activities against the authorities, receiving funding from foreign sources. Soshestvensky V. Yu., candidate of pedagogical Sciences, expert-project Manager of a humanitarian Fund "Caucasus-new horizons", conducted a study of the destructive influence of non-governmental organizations, foreign agents. It is noted that in the North Caucasus there are NGOs funded by American forces, and "well-known in the US NGOs of democratic persuasion are used, as a rule, for the organization of conspirational and operational communication", such as "Freedom House" and "national Fund for democracy" (only part of about 100 Western NGOs)[2]. Soshestvensky determines that the main open point of view of Freedom House and the American Committee for peace in the Caucasus established by the Foundation is the American primacy in international relations. Therefore, being on the territory of the Russian Federation, "foreign agents" are not pro-government, but pursue lobbying interests.  Moreover, the organization uses the information received about the situation in the national republics for separatist purposes and to support the expression of disagreement with the government's policy. The Committee is trying to deprive the Russian Federation of the right to vote in this organization.

Fourth, today a special problem is non-compliance with the principle of transparency of NGOs. Especially when it comes to charities and voluntary associations. Even if such organizations have Internet platforms and websites, it is almost impossible to find one in which online accounting will be conducted with an open display of the organization's budget and its expenses for citizens who have donated their funds, so that particularly large donations citizens prefer to make targeted for confidence in their receipt by the recipient.

However, today most sources use the fact of existence of non-political, independent organizations as the basis of the concept [of civil society]. This applies, first, to printed publications used in educational institutions. For example, in the textbook for law schools "Theory of law and state" edited by Professor Alekseev S. S. stated: "individuals, uniting in various organizations (...) provide a harmonious, purposeful development of society without the intervention of the state as a political power", which is not true in every case according to the study. Secondly, the same applies more to electronic resources. In particular, the textbook on social studies of the leading electronic educational platform "Foxford" noted the following: "civil society is the sphere of self-manifestation of free citizens and voluntary associations and organizations, protected by relevant laws from direct interference and arbitrary regulation by the government[3]."


Despite the fact that today there is no clear definition of civil society, the concepts of the existence of NGOs and civil society have been developed, which were highlighted by David Lewis, a teacher in the Department of social policy of the London school of Economics and Naznin kanji, Director of the research program on "quality of life", in the book "non-Governmental organizations and their development" in 2009. The researchers note two main approaches — "liberal" and "radical". From a liberal point of view (which was supported by Ferguson and Hegel), civil society is seen as the "arena of organized citizens", which is the balance of the "state-market" system, supporting the accountability of the state to citizens. From this point of view, civil democratic values can be supported in such an arena. (Lewis, 2009) In addition, de Tocqueville emphasizes the role of volunteerism and community spirit in this concept of associationism in the United States. The radical concept arises in the works of the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, in which a great emphasis is placed on negotiations and conflicts. This point of view rationally recognizes the existence of conflicts, as a huge number of civil society individuals create competing ideas and interests (not all of which are legitimate, but nevertheless can take over). The concept rightly highlightes the simultaneous existence of "uncivilized societies" that develop into violent extremist groups.


However, for the further solution of problems concerning the non-profit organizations and civil movements is seen in creation of the special Commission which on the basis of the legal act will define on specific signs compliance of actions of the organization not only to the purposes specified in the Charter but also to the General moral principles and principles of legality. It is possible to reorganize the Department of non-profit organization also, which is Part of the Ministry of Justice on the basis of the above ideas. Such a Commission will have a priority (perhaps undisputed) right to dissolve the organization, as well as the Declaration of a civil movement or self-publishing materials extremist/prohibited in the territory of the Russian Federation.

Thus, civil society should be seen as a place of struggle between hegemonic and counter-hegemonic forces, which should be regulated to counter arbitrariness and anarchy, prevent anti-government movements and revolutionary tremors.


  1. Bourdieu P. (2005) Male domination / tr. from Fr. by Markova Yu. V. // Bourdieu P. Social space: fields and practices. M.: Institute of experimental sociology; St. Petersburg.: Alethea, 2005. P. 286-364.
  2. David Lewis. (2009) Non-governmental Organizations and Development/ David Lewis, Nazneen Kanji – N. Y.: Routledge, 2009. – P. 239. P. 127-128.
  3. Encarnacion O.G. (2000) Tocqueville's Missionaries: civil society Advocacy and support of democracy / tr. from En. by G.Weinstein // "Journal of world politics". 2000. Vol. 17, vol. 1.
  4. Theory of state and law: textbook for law universities and faculties / under the editorship of prof. Alekseev S. S. // 3rd edition, 2005, 458 p., Ed. – NORM. P. 85.
  5. Vityuk V.V. (1999) Composition and structure of civil society as a special sphere of society // Civil society: theory, history, modernity / Resp. edited by Z.T.Golenkov. M., 1999. P. 65.

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