This is going to be one of my more pedantic, academic ones, both because I’m following up on an earlier similar post and because I’ve got to synthesize two political-sciencey subjects. So, you know,
In The Grass Roots, I explained a bit about civil society, how it exists between government and private citizens, how it’s essential for a functioning democracy, how its traditional forms are ailing the world over (bowling leagues, knitting societies, clubs like the Masons and the Elks, etc.), and how many nations that fall outside the liberal-democratic range have created a kind of official or at least government-fomented simulacrum (work brigades in Cuba, official unions across the communist and fascist worlds, so on, so on). I may also have mentioned, though I don’t recall, that one of the reasons these governments create these pseudo civil societies is that they make it easier to interact with their populace.
That can be a bad thing. The Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación or SNTE (sen-tay) which counts on the mandatory membership of every schoolteacher makes it simple for the government to regulate teaching as a profession—they’ve just got to deal with the top few people at the union—and for the union to organize against said regulation—since those same few people can use the massive financial resources of the SNTE to pay rural teachers to occupy the Zócalo in Mexico City. The problem is that the union doesn’t do a whole lot for either students or all the teachers who don’t run in the higher circles of the organization.
Sometimes these constructed entities can be a good thing, or at least as good a thing as a part of a genuine civil society. Work brigades during the golden days in Cuba when Soviet money was still rolling in were a source of both mass community service and of intense social bonding, part of what knitted that country so closely together (and part of the source of the social fabric that helped to see it through the hard years after the fall of the USSR).