Forum topic: Statement on the social movements of 2011

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Forum topic: Statement on the social movements of 2011
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Statement on the social movements of 2011. The discussion was initiated by baboon.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

"The social scene has changed"

I think that this is a very clear and sharp analysis of the phenomenon of social movements overall. It seemed to me that initially, in the face of very real problems (not least those of imperialism) that there was a tendency in ICC discussions as far as I understood them, to see "social movements" as something to be looked down upon. I think that the "other side" of this underestimation was a view of fully formed, conscious social movements of class struggle falling from the sky.

This short piece highlights the international nature of the social movements this last year - to me they look unprecedented in capitalism. From passivity the streets across the world burst into anger and active involvement. The article certainly points to all the weaknesses of this movement and its fragility but nevertheless the solidarity across the board, across race, religion, nation, gender, old and young (a division the bourgeoisie particularly works on), immigrant, etc., and the debates and discussion have been very positive points even with all the weaknesses shown. It's essential that this movement, which may be entering a new phase,  has and confronts its own experiences and problems.

The whole importance of assemblies is underlined here as is the position that "There is no opposition between the class struggle of the modern proletariat and the profound needs of the social layer exploited by capitalism". The struggle of the working class is for the whole of humanity.

I generally agree with

I generally agree with Baboon. Of course, there is another question of just what is a "social movement"? Was the Civil Rights Movement a social movement? What about the Tea Party? Is something a "social movement" only if we sympathize with its politics or its political direction, etc.?

There is an enormous social science literature on these questions. What is the relationship between the concept "social movement" now being used by the ICC and this literature?

Peter Pan
Social movement

I agree with the comrades above. This article is a very dense, but very understandable and plastic/expressive synthesis off the "social movements" that 2011 has seen. However, we should indeed watch out with the term "social movement", because it can meen everything. A racist movement is a social movement as well. Maybe we should rather use "protest movement", although even that can be ambiguous. But I too often say social movement, because not all of these movements were very clear class movements:

  • the protest wave in North-Africa and the Middle East was more of a movement of non-exploting and clearly exploited classes and social layers.
  • whereas the Indignados-movement (or should I say 15M-movement?) in Spain became quite fast a clear proletarian movement, the Occupy-movement was more heterogenous and it took more time before clear proletarian struggle, like in Oakland, showed up.


The bourgeoisie fears the

The bourgeoisie fears the contagion of revolt, but they must also fear the culture of debate which is it's precursor. The protest movements of 2011 have initiated this process and shattered the bourgeoisie's preferred conception of the exploited as " failures, idlers, incapable of taking the initiative of doing anything in common." Of course, under their unseen, and obscene, dictatorship most of us are just that. Failures, idlers, and incapable of any initiative. This is what we are accustomed to as servants of the ruling class; and since the failure of the first revolutionary wave it's all most of us have come to expect from life. Boredom at best: despair at worst. The Assemblies may have started to change all that.

The ICC see the Assemblies as the nucleus of a new form of society in which public life will no longer be monopolized by "experts", or what I would call "know-alls" and those with the gift of the gab. Instead, we, the exploited, will "think discuss and decide together"; we will "build mutual confidence, empathy, solidarity." We will be "developing confidence in each others capacity" and discover "the strength of the collective action of the masses." This we do through "mutual respect" and "active listening". Neither of these capabilities would feature highly on a bourgeois list of talents, and their so-called education system actively discourages both. This on the grounds that those intended to be failures and employed idlers need neither, and will only be subversive if woken up. If people start to animate their own critical criteria, as the ICC puts it, what's to become of the deadening and deadly society in which we all live, and which needs our total submission, and lack of any initiative, for its very sustenance?

In his remarkable description of what happened to the failures and idlers in the heat of revolution in Russia in 1917, and the apparent frenzy of suddenly liberated minds, John Reid refers to "the thirst for education"; something unimaginable to most of us under the aegis of the bourgeoisie's education system, where "education" only refers to job qualifications, for failures, idlers and rulers alike.

So let's welcome the social movements, and anticipate their future proletarianisation. For all social movements embody some sort protestation at the condition of society, do they not? Even when utterly wrong, like racism. Or totally silly, like the Tea Party. For even the bourgeoisie needs liberating, if only from the ideological prisons of their own making. Even the billionaire, who can buy all the "freedom" she wants, can't but me love but only the imitation, and suspects that something's wrong. As Baboon reminds us: the struggle of the working class is for the whole of humanity.

To follow up on the above,

To follow up on the above, there appears to be two approaches to the question of whether or not the Tea Party is a "social movement." One approach sees it as a genuine social movement, emanating from the "grassroots;" a response to the bank bailouts and health care reform. It is primarily a movement of the "labor aristocracy" against free riding and what they see as "government overreach." Although this movement has been exploited and manipulated by the Republican Party for electoral advantage and has been put to work against many of the social wage programs grassroots Tea Partiers support such as Medicare, Social Security, etc.--it still maintains a real bottom-up character. Theda Skocpol's recent book, The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism seems to take this view.

The second interpretation sees the Tea Party as a pure "Astroturf" phenomenon. It was created by Republican Party operatives to manipulate public opinion against any attempt to nationalize the U.S. health care system. It has been given disproportionate coverage in the media, blowing it out of proportion to its actual membership and ability to mobilize people. It is a top down public relations gimmick. According to this view, the Tea Party can't be a social movement, because its very ideology rejects social movements as a legitimate way to influence policy. It is undergirded by a philosophy of "rugged individualism" that rejects collective action, solidarity and genuine debate. It is characterized by tight central control from Republican Party front organizations that engage in instrumental manipulation rather than real bottom-up organizing, discussion and debate. This seems to be the gist of Andrew DiMaggio's book: The Rise of the Tea Party.

All of this raises some pretty tough questions about the ICC's adoption of the concept of a social movement. Are social movements even possible under state capitalism? It seems-in the definition of social movement implied in the above works--a real social movement requires something like "permanent mobilization" in a way that might not be possible anymore without running a strong risk of reintegration into the state.

In this sense, the movements we saw across 2011 seems to have more in common with a "class movement" rather than a "social movement" in the sense implied above. They rose up spontaneously, engaged in intense struggle for a period of time and then died out. The attempt to turn them into "social movements" on the basis of a permanent mobilization was a major factor in their demise.

The definition of a social movement used in these works seems to describe the Civil Rights movement pretty well, or perhaps even the workers' movement during ascendancy, but I have real doubts as to how well the concept of social movement can help us understand Occupy, the Indignadoes or elements of the Arab Spring. Before, the ICC was using the concept "social revolt," which may be a little closer.

I understand that it is difficult to characterize these movements, being partly on the class terrain and partly not, but I think the concept of "social movement" has a certain social science connotation that could inject more confusion than clarification. 

Rereading the statement again, I realized that it doesn't really try to define what a "social movement" is. Its a major weakness. Obviously, it has something to do discussion, debate and solidarity, but this seems a rather thin description. We need a better theorization.