social movements

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Breaking Through for LGBTQI Rights

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/05/2022 - 6:04am in

We have to understand that the ones who are in these spaces are the ones who can create change, be it positive or negative....

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The Catalan social and solidarity economy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/04/2022 - 8:00am in

In Catalonia, in recent years, a myriad of enterprises and organisations have emerged which prioritise putting people, planet, and social justice at the centre of their socio-economic activity, rather than capital and profit-maximisation. This phenomenon is referred to in Catalonia as the social and solidarity economy (SSE); other labels include the ‘solidarity economy’, ‘social economy’, ‘co-operative and solidarity economy’, and ‘transformative economies’. Historically, the SSE has its roots in pre-capitalist commoning and nineteenth century co-operatives, associations, and mutual aid societies, all of which constitute collective responses to societal needs or risks in the areas of food, care, health, housing, work, culture, education, and social security. Today, this approach to organising enterprise and socio-economic activity is finding renewed relevance among civil society actors, public policy makers, and academics who see the SSE’s potential for developing societies that are not characterised by systemic inequalities and global crises. The Catalan solidarity economy proposes a transformative development model based on values that include democracy, equality, social and economic justice, sustainability, and concern for community. It defines itself as a movement that seeks to construct an economy in the service of life and, in this sense, its aims intersect with feminist perspectives towards economies.

The wider Catalan SSE framework encompasses several large ‘families’: the third social sector (non-profit service delivery organisations), mutual societies, the co-operative movement, as well as diverse community economy initiatives including care economy projects, agro-ecological consumption groups, exchange networks and time banks, community currencies, urban gardens, and citizen management of public facilities. At the Catalan territorial level, the broader SSE encompasses approximately 7,422 organisations, 139,202 working individuals, a social base of 2.5 million people, and a turnover of €7,853 million. These statistics back the declaration made on a movement postcard – Una altra economia és possible ja existeix! which translates to: Another economy is possible already exists!

My recently completed PhD thesis traced the evolution of the Catalan co-operative movement and the solidarity economy between the years 1975 and 2019. The aim has been to understand better how social actors have contributed to the concerted growth of this socio-economic transformative movement since the 1990s. The thesis is based on qualitative interviews conducted with forty-two individuals across twenty-two worker co-operatives located in and around Barcelona Province. The analysis compared the experiences of these architects, legal- finance- and organisation-professionals, social scientists, economists, authors and journalists, software and multimedia designers, musicians and music educators, and audiovisual technicians. Drawing on these participants’ experiences, the thesis pursued two lines of enquiry. The first line of enquiry was to understand how these service-sector professionals and technicians came to view co-operative self-management (autogestió cooperativa in Catalan) as a meaningful and viable way to organise their working lives, especially in the context of the employment crisis that began in 2008. The second line of enquiry investigated how the participants approached the tensions involved in sustaining their ethical values while navigating multiple objectives (social and economic) and pursuing quality of working life in capitalist market environments that are often unfavourable to such aims.

When I arrived in Barcelona in 2015 to carry out the fieldwork, Catalonia was still experiencing the effects of an economic, social, and political crisis which had seen unemployment in Spain increase from 1.94 million in December 2007 to 6.28 million in April 2013. This was the highest level of unemployment Spain had experienced since the 1970s. With the bursting of the domestic housing credit bubble in 2008, what had begun as a financial crisis cascaded into the real economy. Ordinary citizens were shouldering the full burden of this systemic crisis through the destruction of jobs, severe household indebtedness, and massive mortgage foreclosures and evictions. The political response to the crisis involved austerity measures applied to public budgets, bank bailouts, and structural reforms in finance and labour markets, all of which demonstrated a blatant unwillingness to break with the prevailing neoliberal agenda.

Yet this systemic crisis also opened up possibilities for social change as those civil society activists who viewed systemic change as imperative began to self-organise. Civil society mobilisations were taking place across Spain, particularly from 2011 onwards. Citizen groups were seeking to reinstate and expand social rights, protect public services, and to ‘take back democratic control’ of public institutions and make them more accountable. This grassroots democratic renewal brought to the fore a generation of social activists who had participated in ‘counter-project’ events between 1994 and 2004 in Barcelona: the mass demonstrations against the Iraq War, the World Bank, and European Council summits. For these individuals, the worst excesses of global capitalism had alienated them from their city home. A post-Olympic Barcelona now experienced rampant mass tourism and real estate speculation that disrupted local social life and displaced residents. These activists were responsible for the emergence of new social movements such as alter-globalisation, environmentalism, pacifism, feminism, as well as NGOs, co-operatives, and alternative media outlets. In response to the 2008 crisis and a delegitimised traditional party politics incapable of responding to people’s needs, these citizen networks and political organisations ushered in the so-called ‘new politics’, which was characterised by socially progressive electoral platforms based on a decentralised and participatory democracy. Political successes resulted, including for the anti-austerity party Podemos in the 2015 Spanish general election, the Junts pel Si platform in the 2015 Catalan parliamentary elections, and the left-wing electoral platform Barcelona en Comú in the the 2015 Barcelona Municipal elections.

These political platforms have created a political-economic climate more favourable to the development of SSE ideas. From around 2015, the SSE entered what could be described as an expansive phase, which has included normalising the SSE through its integration within mainstream institutions and general socio-economic policies. Political will especially at the local Municipal level has supported enabling SSE policies that have a long-range, cross-sectional, and mainstreaming approach and which have been co-constructed with movement actors. The SSE has been promoted ‘as a powerful engine of socio-economic transformation that responds […] to the multiple problems, challenges, and needs of the city’.

As my thesis documents, this expansive phase represents the culmination of concerted movement building by committed co-operative movement actors beginning in the 1980s, if not earlier. Between the late 1970s and mid-1990s, factory takeovers and self-managed firms were established in the industrial sector as a response to economic crisis and pervasive unemployment. These experiences marked not only the beginning of a rediscovery of legal forms that enabled worker self-management but motivated strategies by co-operators to shift self-management from a marginal and defensive position to one of agency in innovative economic and social progress. By the late 1980s, the co-operative enterprises formed by professionals and technicians in the rapidly-expanding services sector had started to be viewed as potential social actors who could help realise this objective.

From the mid-1990s onwards, a more ideologically and politically motivated movement was beginning to take shape, notably through the Xarxa d’Economia Solidària de Catalunya (XES), the Catalan Solidarity Economy Network, which was formally constituted in 2003. The XES is committed to realising social transformation through systemic change. For over a decade, a key strategic objective of the XES and the Spanish-wide Red de Redes de Economia Alternativa y Solidaria (REAS) has been to advance economic democracy, conceived as a decentralised and democratic social market populated by collectively owned and managed entities. Unlike the Basque region’s co-operative group Mondragón, which operates in large-scale manufacturing, economic activity in Catalonia consists predominately of SME’s located within the services sector. Collaboration, intercooperation, and territorial and sector-based networks have therefore been the main strategies adopted to achieve greater scale and benefit from synergies between SSE entities.

XES members have been co-constructing movement-specific social institutions, including training and enterprise advisory services, with the goal of supporting entities to sustain both their substantive values and enterprise viability. Knowledge has been collectively generated and circulated in fields spanning feminist economics, degrowth, social auditing and impact methodologies, the procomún (digital and knowledge commons), and ethical finance. These co-operators have demonstrated a clear will to recover the historical hope of the progressive left by creating organisations and socio-economic systems that act as real and viable alternatives to capitalist models, profit-maximisation objectives, and hierarchical management styles. The solidarity economy proposal represents, therefore, the will to rethink socialism in search of greater efficiency and, above all, greater democracy.

The service-sector professionals interviewed for the thesis identify with the XES and its broader ethico-political project. The majority initiated or joined worker co-operatives between the mid-1980s and mid-2010s. Their role in bringing about systemic change is demonstrated through co-operative case studies, including in legal services; ethical insurance brokering; journalism, communication, and web technology services; and architecture, urbanism, and co-operative housing services. Across each of these sectors it is shown that a neoliberal capitalist market and business logic can compromise the realisation of professional ethics and personal values. These professionals are instead reclaiming the etymological meaning of the term profession, that is, ‘to profess something that defines one’s fundamental commitment’. They have been adapting cooperativism to their own occupation-specific concerns regarding professional ethics, quality of working life, and the contribution they might make towards developing a more just, equitable, democratic, and sustainable society.

Based on their experiences, I developed an occupation-specific framework that draws on existing moral behaviour models and this framework guided the discussion of how co-operative members have been reimagining and remoralising their profession, cultivating moral agency, and sustaining their multiple objectives. Members have been going beyond their professions’ self-regulation mechanisms to radically rethink the enterprise models, social responsibility, and organisational arrangements needed to realise their professions’ social roles. Their co-operative models foreground indispensable elements of the ethical world, such as the freedom to act and to choose and to take responsibility for one’s choices, as well as durability over time.

The Catalan SSE proposal is viewed as a long-range proposal, given that its goal is to contribute to reconfiguring society and economies based on solidarity economy principles and values. It does not, nor cannot, offer panaceas for moments of crisis. Its consolidation requires manifold communicative actions to foster dialogue and social consensus on both the need for and the existence of alternatives. This movement has generated an enduring and plausible social reality that has been attracting individuals from increasingly diverse occupations and backgrounds. Cornelius Castoriadis describes such ‘innovative ideas’ within the social and political ambit as having ‘contagious effects’ and this is indeed cause for hope and optimism.

The set image is ‘IV Catalan Solidarity Economy Fair, 2015’

The post The Catalan social and solidarity economy appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

The Growing Power of American Social Movements

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/03/2022 - 12:00am in

Social movements often fail, the scope of their concerns is limited, and their impact on parties is cyclical, rather than ever-expanding.  ...

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Book Review: How Social Movements Can Save Democracy: Democratic Innovations from Below by Donatella della Porta

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 24/02/2022 - 10:07pm in

In How Social Movements Can Save Democracy: Democratic Innovations from BelowDonatella della Porta explores how progressive social movements can deepen direct democracy through popular participation. The book repositions social movements as actors within institutional or formal politics and will inspire readers to consider their influence as citizens beyond traditional modes of participation in the public arena, writes Carla Quiroz.

How Social Movements Can Save Democracy: Democratic Innovations from Below. Donatella della Porta. Polity. 2020.

Find this book (affiliate link):amazon-logo

In How Social Movements Can Save Democracy, Donatella della Porta explores some innovative proposals from progressive social movements at a time when various crises challenge existing institutions, party systems have been shaken and democratic conceptions need to be legitimated. This valuable book proposes opportunities for institutions to deepen direct democracy through popular participation: for instance, through referendums ‘from below’ or constitutions.

The book is split into five parts. In the first chapters, the author argues that social and economic crises bring times of change, giving civil society the opportunity to discuss potential innovative contributions. While social movements have been studied as contentious actors, they have also nurtured new ideas. Social movements’ ideas can enter institutional politics to strengthen plurality and contribute to the deepening of democracy.

Della Porta emphasises the importance of democracy through the involvement of citizens. Her argument is focused on how we can restore democracy’s legitimacy and efficacy. Encouraging such participation is important both in and outside existing institutions, and through formal and informal checks, where collective activity can be articulated and demands can be resolved. Della Porta proposes different exchanges between various spheres of action where citizen participation is crucial — for example, through schools, neighbourhoods and factories — while still recognising the political role of social movements.

BLM protest, Los Angeles

Image Credit: Photo by Santi Fox on Unsplash

During economic crises, waves of protest or moral disruption, social and grassroots movements push for political opportunities, increasing their capacity to pursue constitutional powers. In general, constitutions set up relations between the state and citizens and also protect the fundamental rights of the population and ‘common goods’. In this sense, classical sociologists such as Ferdinand Tönnies, Émile Durkheim and Max Weber have paid attention to the origins of constitutions; according to Chris Thornhill, constitutions regulate exchanges between different spheres of action, producing and reproducing power.

Nevertheless, della Porta refuses to think that constitutions are solely political. The author argues that constitutions also need to be supported by collective identification by political communities through popular participation, becoming a symbol of union. To describe how social movements facilitate the progressive aspects of constitutional processes, she provides two examples. The first of these is Iceland, which suffered a financial crash in 2008. This crisis allowed Iceland to reconstitute a social pact through a constitutional process that was highly pluralistic in terms of the background of citizens. The second is the Irish constitutional process, which was also pushed by the crisis. Activating participation through the appropriation of opportunities, resource mobilisation and collective framing emerges as a way to regain political legitimacy and empowerment.

Referendums from below have also been promoted by social movements. Referendums from below are described as direct democracy, involving social movements and civil society organisations in referendum campaigns. Della Porta includes some examples to explain this, including the case of the privatisation of the water supply in Italy, the referendum on Scottish independence and the pseudo-referendum on Catalonian independence. While it is true that referendums are usually a response to political discontent, they can contribute to the reinvention of democratic government through popular participation.

Following this idea, referendums imply an open channel of participation where participatory democracy is promoted by progressive social movements, in contrast to simple delegation by a political elite. Social movements can be successful in promoting referendums themselves, but they can also appropriate referendums that have been promoted by political elites, introducing their own strategies. From time to time, social movements can even be seen as offering a moderate path of contentious action. Della Porta claims that usually social movement scholars have focused on party elites, the media and the public; however, it is important to consider the contribution of citizens or the grassroots as producers of messages too.

In the fourth chapter, della Porta reclaims the historical indifference between two fields of study: the study of political parties and the study of social movements. While studies of political parties mainly focus on elections and activities within institutions, social movements are mainly located outside institutions. However, they are mutually dependent as institutional politics is usually permeated by social movements as actors in the political system. Through this line of thinking, della Porta defines the concept of ‘movement parties’, which emerge as a hybrid of the two. According to Herbert Kitschelt’s definition, ‘movement parties are coalitions of political activists who emanate from social movements and try to apply the organization and strategic practice of social movements in the arena of party competition’.

Movement parties have emerged where crises have been faster and where citizens have supported radical changes. This overlap between political parties and social movements aims to link memberships and organisational actions, integrating institutional politics and ideological militancy. The emergence of this kind of political party is facilitated when economic and political crises produce grievances and people cannot find existing channels of representation in the party system and traditional coalitions. In this context, new movement parties emerge usually on the Left, appropriating opportunities and symbolic resources to put forward claims for social justice, equality and democracy. The author develops these ideas by looking firstly at Podemos as a movement party in Europe, and secondly at Movement towards Socialism (MAS) in Latin America.

How Social Movements Can Save Democracy offers a deeply contextual and theoretical approach, giving examples drawn from across the world. The book’s biggest contribution is opening a reconfiguration of social movements as actors within institutional or formal politics. It also inspires the reader to think about the opportunities associated with political and economic crises as a space of ongoing learning. The book therefore works as a tool to position the reader as a citizen who can influence the use of referendums or other examples of popular participation, challenging the government and political elites as well as traditional modes of participation in the public arena.

How Social Movements Can Save Democracy suggests that crises offer the opportunity for social movements and civil society to co-produce, or at least influence, future institutional changes. Popular participation through direct democracy using more sophisticated techniques could ensure a better quality of democracy: more effective and plural where the grassroots are represented by citizen-led democratic innovations.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The LSE RB blog may receive a small commission if you choose to make a purchase through the above Amazon affiliate link. This is entirely independent of the coverage of the book on LSE Review of Books.

 

On Coming to Terms

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 20/01/2022 - 12:00am in

BlackLivesMatter” world, it won’t be one where the current constellation of movement organizations simply disappear or become ineffective in their attempts to bring Black people closer to liberation....

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Reckoning with Deva Woodly’s Reckoning

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 19/01/2022 - 4:00am in

Black Lives Matter was not born in the streets, even if it sometimes moved there following the police murder of Michael Brown in 2014, and again after the killing of George Floyd in 2020. But the movement, after these intense episodes of protest and direct action has not stayed in the streets—and this is probably its most important innovation as a social movement. ...

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The Promise of Black Lives Matter

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 19/01/2022 - 12:00am in

How can BLM activists and other allied individuals and organizations capitalize on the outrage they are precipitating by bringing first-time protesters into the fold? Moreover, how can they help people who are concerned about racial inequality—motivated to do something about it and already thinking structurally—to also act structurally? ...

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We Are a Reckoning

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/01/2022 - 12:00am in

This nation is mine. Mine to claim. Mine to hold to account. Mine to participate in reshaping. So I tell an American story because it is my story to tell....

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We make our own history – A call to action!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/04/2016 - 4:00pm in

As we become political subjects on our own behalf, recognise ourselves in each other and see the connections between our different movements, we come closer to being able not only to articulate the hope of “another world”, but also to bring it about.

With these words, Laurence Cox and Alf Gunvald Nilsen conclude their latest book We make our own history: Marxism and Social Movements in the Twilight of Neoliberalism. In this blog post, I will provide a critical appraisal of this important book.

The challenge to academia

WeMakeThe first important contribution by Cox and Nilsen is their challenge to traditional academic theorising and here especially its missing relevance for practice. ‘The academic mode of production … encourages the contemplative mode (critical or celebratory) and discourages a praxis-oriented one; the net effect … is to disengage theory from practice and construct a mystified relationship between the two’. Problems are perceived as structurally generated and, therefore, beyond the possibility of being addressed. ‘This is often very welcome for the senior academics who act as professional gatekeepers, as it combines the display of great cleverness with the practical conclusion that there is nothing to be done – prefiguring a transition to a resigned worldly wisdom’. From a movement perspective, what is required instead is a praxis oriented theory, which directly informs the choice of strategies in concrete struggles. ‘Theory, in this sense, is a tool that we use to figure out what is happening to us, why it is happening, and what to do about it, by going beyond the immediacy and situatedness of a particular experience’.

When reading the book within the Marxism Reading Group in the School of Politics and IR at the University of Nottingham, we were not always convinced that the authors succeeded in living up to their own demands. Especially Chapter 2 on ‘needs’ and ‘capacities’ as fundamental ontological categories reads more like a highly complex, traditional academic analysis than a movement relevant, easily accessible text, with which concrete strategies can be thought through and developed. Nonetheless, the book serves well as a critical reminder to left-wing academics, not to submit to the standard requirements of the discipline, but to reach out to struggles and involve themselves in their concrete manifestations.

Movements from above in the making of history

A second major contribution of the volume is the emphasis that any given order is not a structural given, but an order made by dominant forces, the so-called movements from above. As a result, it becomes clear that oppressive systems too are human made and, therefore, can also be changed by human agency.  In the words of the authors, ‘the concept of social movements from above enables us … to grasp that “the way things are” has been consciously produced, not only in the here-and-now, but also across historical time and across different spatial scales’.

Neoliberalism since the early 1970s, including also the most recent wave of austerity policies, is understood as a project by movements from above, open for potential contestation by movements from below. History, in short, is understood as the outcome of a continuing struggle between movements from below and above. In a way, this is a tremendously empowering vision in that it makes clear that the current dominant order can be changed.

Stalemate in current struggles

While neoliberalism has increasingly come under criticism as a result of the global financial crisis since 2007/2008, and more and more social movements from below have started to contest it, nonetheless current austerity policies continue the dominant neoliberal line of restructuring. Cox and Nilsen’s third key contribution is to define the current situation as a situation of stalemate. ‘What of times of stalemate, when we are doing everything we can, they are clearly on the defensive, and yet we are not moving forward?’ The concept allows us to comprehend that while there is increasing contestation, policies continue unaltered. This does not, however, imply that resistance would be without impact. In a way, the dominant forces, the movements from above, have to resort more and more to authoritarian forms of policy implementation to maintain the current order. In other words, increasing violence in rolling out cuts to public services is a sign of weakness, not of strength by the dominant forces.

Movements, strategy and state power

The authors also make important observations in relation to concrete struggles. First, while they do not reject engagement with state power, unlike autonomist Marxists, they council caution vis-à-vis the possibilities of obtaining change through the structures of electoral democracy. ‘The recognition of potential gains in engaging with the state should be joined to an equally clear perception of what is risked in a strategy that does not seek to move beyond the institutionalisation of political power in the state’. This point reminds one of Karl Marx’s assessment of the achievements by the Paris Commune in 1871. Having taken over state power, the revolutionaries immediately embarked upon transforming key institutions of the bourgeois state including education and the police (see Karl Marx and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat).

Cox and Nilsen also provide a useful assessment of the potential role of political parties and, by extension, trade unions. On the basis of the revolutionary history of the last 100 years, they strongly warn against the political party leading the movement in a top-down fashion. Instead, the primary emphasis has to rest on the movement and the activism of its members. ‘A party is worthy of Marxist interest only to the extent that it is successful in placing the movement first’.

Movement struggle and the structural tendencies of capitalism

The struggle of movements from below and above is at the core of the book’s argument. Structure, in turn, is generally only perceived as the result of these struggles. Rethinking structure as collective agency, ‘this leads to an analysis of social structures and social formations as the sediment of movement struggles’, the authors write. And yet, I am sceptical whether this reflects a proper assessment of structure and its implications for human agency. I am not convinced that structure can simply be viewed as the result of ‘a struggle over how human needs are to be satisfied and how human capacities are to be deployed’. When capitalists engage in relentless competition with other capitalists over ever more market share and higher profits, then this is not the result of capitalists wanting to satisfy their human needs. Capitalists such as Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, have long amassed more than enough wealth to satisfy all their possible needs. If Microsoft engages in competition for yet further profits, then this is an activity which cannot be explained with satisfying needs.

In order to unravel the underlying dynamic, we need to look at the structural tendencies resulting from the way capitalist production is set up. Organised around the private ownership of the means of production and wage labour, not only workers but capitalists too have to reproduce themselves through the market. Capitalists are in constant competition with each other over market share and are, therefore, driven generally though the introduction of new technology to produce new and better products in order to out-compete their fellow capitalists and secure and increase their market share. In turn, their rivals have to do everything possible in order to match and overtake them. Otherwise, they are in danger first to lose market share and then to go bankrupt. As Marx noted, ‘under free competition, the immanent laws of capitalist production confront the individual capitalist as a coercive force external to him’ (Marx, 1867/1990: 381).

If capitalists, driven by competition for survival, engage in constant activities of further expansion, then this is the result of structural imperatives, not because of the fulfilment of personal needs. It is this structuralist dimension of the capitalist social relations of production, which is overlooked by Cox and Nilsen. Appreciating this structuralist dimension does not imply that agency would be side-lined. Rather, it is absolutely essential to comprehend these structural tendencies in order to assess properly the best strategies for resistance.

Overall, this is a hugely important book, a must-read for those interested in movement-relevant theorising with the goal of engaging in praxis leading towards a future beyond capitalism.

This post was originally posted on Trade Unions and Global Restructuring (23 December 2014) and appears here as one of the texts originally read in the Marxism Reading Group. 

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