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close this bookMaldevelopment - Anatomy of a Global Failure (United Nations University)
close this folder3. The crisis of state
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentNation-state and the ideology of nation in crisis'
View the documentEthnicity: myth and reality
View the documentThe cultural dimension of development in Africa and the third world
View the documentThe cultural dimension: the example of the crisis in the arab world today - the end of the Nahda?7
View the documentNew forms of the social movement
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New forms of the social movement

All observers are agreed that the organizational forms through which societal movements are expressed have begun a phase of challenge whose outcome is unpredictable. This challenge is general and affects West East and South.8

For a century or more it has been customary for the particular organizational forms of various currents in society to follow the logic of a certain political practice. In the developed capitalist society this organization was based on two main axes. The first, the axis of class struggle, was a justification for the industrial working-class organization (trade unions, socialist and communist workers' parties), modelled sometimes on other popular classes (the peasant or agrarian syndicate parties, small traders' parties). The second, the axis of political ideology, was a justification for the clash between the conservative right and the reformist left. Communist powers emerged from this history, whose forms they retained, even where gradually the state-party monopoly, by calling an official halt to 'crass struggle' and electoral swings, stripped them of meaning. In Africa and Asia the history of the past century has been one of polarization of the social movement around the struggle for national independence. Here the typical model was of the unifying party, with the aim of grouping the social classes and various ethnic strands into a vast, disciplined movement (often ranged behind more or less charismatic leaders) and effective in action for a single goal. The powers that emerged with independence are largely immobilized in this inheritance, with the single party-state retaining its legitimacy solely from the achievement of the aim of national independence.

These practices were rationalized by what might appear to be a scientific theory of society. The ideology of the Enlightenment was the main source of its mix of values (humanist values of freedom, well-being) and 'scientific' theories of their operation (competition between individuals governing the economic mechanism). The socialist movement, including Marxism, retained the values of the inheritance of the Enlightenment and at the same time denounced the hypocrisy of the bourgeois content of the societal plan they entailed, with a call to go beyond them - by way of reform or revolution - on the basis of class struggle. The national liberation movements were inspired by one or the other approach in varying proportions according to the aims of the leading class - or stratum - in the movement.

In the end, the two practices were put on equal footing with the notion of political rationality. It was forgotten that the social movement was differently expressed in earlier periods, in Europe and elsewhere, through the channel of religion among others. It was forgotten that even in the apparently stable West, this rationality was not strong enough to resist the violent social crisis of the 1930s when large masses were rallied under the 'irrational' banners of racism and murderous folly.

Nowadays - in three parts of the world: West East and South - the models of management of social life penned within these organizational forms seem to have exhausted their historical potential.

In the West the consensus is so broad as to reduce the historical impact of the socialist movement and the right-left polarization. The spontaneous response of the system is the 'Americanization' of political life, that is, the organization of 'lobbies' in which partial interests are crystallized (production sectors, regions, various groupings...) and which, without any ideological concern for an overall plan for society, compete for scraps of power. In the East the civilian society tries to break the shell of the party-state, to provide scope for the dialectic of the genuine contradictions within the society. In the Third World the legitimacy founded on a restoration of independence has worn very thin for the younger generations.

In all cases it is striking how the speeches of the authorities are linked to the past. We have built the best available society, say the candidates to elections in the West; we just need this or that adjustment (followed by the details). We have built socialism, say the authorities in the East; we just need to improve the efficiency in this area. We have built the nation and embarked on economic development, it is said in the South; we just need to keep up the effort. Here too there is no social plan to break with the logic of current reality.

Is it any wonder in these circumstances that the expression of unsatisfied social needs takes another form? The irruption of these new forms has already begun: feminist movements, ecological movements, local community action movements (for towns and neighbourhoods), ethnic or religious community movements. Their rationale in terms of broad ideologies may be still embryonic, but it is already possible to identify certain contour lines, appealing to lines that may not be entirely new but have hitherto hardly been touched upon (such as the critique of sexism or concern with ecology), or overtly the heritage of the past down-played by the 'modem' world: hence the religious renaissance, especially of the fundamentalist currents.

Are the new forms of social expression the germ of a future very different from our contemporary world? Or just the soap bubbles of a passing crisis, bound to burst when everything returns to order?

On the former hypothesis, will the future represented by the development of these new expressions (or renewed when they draw on ancient inheritances) bring progress for humankind, or will it rather be a sign of a collapse into barbarism? Andre Malraux, with his well-known intelligence and pessimism, said that the 21 st century would be the century of religions, meaning not only the revival of tolerant faith but also of fanatically violent conflicts. In the 1930s and 1940s Nazi barbarity had already caused it to be said that ours was an age of intolerance; but the defeat of fascism had rekindled hopes: the nightmare was over, it was only an accident on the way.

Without any doubt we share Immanuel Wallerstein's view that the old organizations' (trade unions, popular and workers' parties, national liberation movements) struggle to take power from the monopoly of the bourgeois and foreign imperialist classes, achieved it to varying degrees - through reform or revolution, negotiation or war - and had in fact accomplished a great deal, if not "everything': the welfare state, economic development and power, national dignity

On this view these movements, which were recently 'anti-system' to the extent that they really clashed with the existing system, have nowadays been 'recuperated' and are part of the 'system', in the sense that they have turned into relatively conservative forces unwilling that anybody should want to go 'further' then they have and above all overtake them to do more.

But what is the 'system' against which, or within which, the old or new social forces operate?

Would it be wrong to describe it as capitalist in the West and in the Third World? It has certainly not yet exceeded the limits of 'existing capitalism as the world system', that is, it has not overcome the centres-peripheries polarization. It is, therefore, a system that continues to be intolerable to the great mass of people in the Third World, with or without 'development'. For them it means the squalor of the shanty-towns, the frustrations of impossible consumer hopes, cultural humiliation, the arrogance of corrupt dictators, and sometimes simply famine. But in the West, despite the social calm procured by capitalism in its advanced centres, there is a malaise indicative of the limitations of the system's capabilities. In the countries of the East, it would seem inaccurate to describe the system as capitalist, even if it is far from the image of socialism held by the Marxism from which it seeks inspiration. There the real social forces want something else, amid the confusion of conflict between the often mixed aspirations of socialists and capitalists.

'Really existing capitalism' remains the objective obstacle to the advance of the peoples. There is no alternative to popular national transformation in Third World societies. At the same time this transformation begun by the so-called 'socialist' revolutions has not completed the agenda of aims to be achieved.

In such a case it is difficult yet to say if the 'new' movements are or are not capable of going forward, with a response to the objective challenge.

Some of the movements appear to have reached an impasse. This is the case for the religious fundamentalist revivals or the 'ethnic' communal retreats. They are symptomatic of the crisis and not solutions, exclusive products of disillusionment, and they should fold-up as soon as they show their powerlessness to meet the real challenge. That is, an expression of optimism in contrast to Malraux's pessimism - that reason will triumph.

Other movements, however, may have a place in the reconstruction of a plan for society that. 'beyond capitalism', would, after learning form the failures of the other movements, resolve the contradictions that really existing capitalism cannot overcome.

It seems to us that this is the case whenever the 'new (or old!) movements' operate not exclusively on the ground of 'winning the state', but on that of an alternative conception of social power to be won. The choice is not between 'struggling for power or struggling for an alternative' (whet?), but as to the conception of power for which the struggle is waged. The organizational forms constructed out of the prevailing 'traditional' concept of power (power = state) are bound to lose much of their legitimacy as peoples take the mettle of this conservative state.

Conversely, the organizational forms emphasizing the multiple social continent of power that must be developed will reap increasing success. In this category the theme of non-party politics, expounded in India by Rajni Kothari on the basis of Gandhian culture, could be very fruitful. Likewise the anti-authoritarianism in Latin America, where Pablo Gonzales Casanova identifies the main quality of the 'new' movements: rejection of authoritarianism in state, party or leadership, and rejection of doctrinaire aspects of ideology. This is a reaction against the heavy burden of the historical formation of the continent, and is undoubtedly a reaction that encourages progress. But similarly for the same basic reason, feminism in the West, with its aim of attacking at least some of the roots of autocracy, stems from the same logic of an alternative concept of social power. To some extent the West is in the vanguard of the new advances in the liberation of society. Whether these advances mean a penetration 'beyond capitalism', or can be 'rescued' by the social system is still wide open to argument. It seems, that at least in the medium term, the advantages of a central capitalist position are such that the movements in question will not rock the foundations of capitalist management of society.

The future of the 'new movements' is uncertain, which is why it cannot be ruled out that they will collapse in the current crisis.

Extrapolating from the propositions of Frank and Fuentes and by bringing into the open what is probably implicit in their comments, it seems to us that the 'effectiveness' of the social movement cannot be judged by the same criteria at all times. In periods of 'prosperity' (the A phases of the long cycle) the movements easily adopt centralized organizational forms. The reason for this is that they operate in a system where the rules of the game are known. They can then, according to circumstance, achieve some of their aims (pay increases for example). By contrast the periods of structural crisis (the B phases of the cycle) are marked by doubts as to the rules of the game, under challenge when the 'new order' emerging from new international and internal balances has not yet crystallized. The crisis of society must surely bring a crisis of ideologies, political practices and thereby organizational forms? But is it not precisely in those periods that the new ideological forces are crystallized, to sketch the outlines of new social plans, that, to paraphrase a famous quotation, 'by seizing the masses, become material forces'?