The Movements of Movements: A Review

The Movements of Movements: Part 1: What Makes Us Move?

By Rabin Chakraborty
March 16th, 2018

The book titled – “The Movements of Movements -Part-1: What makes us move?” is about worldwide people’s movement as well as of the people who are involved in those movements. It is a compilation of essays, edited by Sri Jai Sen, and written by people who are either actively involved in the movements or are close associates of the movements.

In his excellent introductory note, the editor gives a broad outline of the book by stating that – “This book is about people in movement; it is about women and men who feel moved to do something about the world around them and about the social and political movements for justice and liberation that they form.

 …In a way, it is more than this. It is an attempt to present (and to see and to hear and to feel) the extraordinary drama of the flow of social movement taking place across the world in our times, that we are so privileged to be a part of or to be witness to, perhaps more than ever before in history”.

The editor invites readers “to consider this book as a space where movements themselves are speaking to each other, and where they can perhaps grow through their interactions, learning from their exchanges. Through this we all—including those of us in movement—can perhaps move towards a fuller understanding of the deeper meanings of movement and of their potentials and limitations, individually and collectively, and of the worlds of movement around us”.

Movements are taking place everywhere -in Asia, in Africa, in North America, in South America, in Europe, in Australia. There is surge of movements at the moment. In this connection the editor quotes the famous historian Eric Hobsbawm as – “our world today could well be said to be going through an Age of Movement, including birthing new movement that is increasingly independent of traditional social and political institutions (such as unions and political parties) and/or that is forging new institutions, and that is daily taking new shapes and struggling to rebuild the world in new ways”.

People revolt and they revolt for varied reasons. Revolts and movements are happening across the globe of refugees and migrants, impelled by war, economic devastation, and now also the impacts of climate change; movements among indigenous peoples; movements among peoples of varied sexualities towards gaining and defending their freedoms; movements challenging the arrogance and criminality of ‘development’ and of neoliberalism; movements challenging authoritarian­ism and the increasingly authoritarian and profoundly anti-democratic tendencies in supposedly democratic societies under neoliberalism; movements against war; movements among structurally oppressed peoples such as the Dalits of South; movements of faith, especially among peoples who believe that values integral to their beliefs are being corrupted and/or overwhelmed; and continuing movements among women fighting for equality, justice, and respect. The list is long.

A whole set of new movements world saw during the last decade. They include the movements that toppled dictatorial regimes in Tunisia and then Egypt (2011); the Occupy movement in North America and then across Europe (2011); the indignados movement in Spain (2011); the massive rebellion against EU-imposed austerity programmes in Greece and the anti-corruption movement in India (both also in 2011); the massive students’ protest against fee hikes in Quebec, Canada (2012); the growing assertion by indigenous peoples across Turtle Island (‘North America’) (2012), including the Defenders of the Land and the Idle No More movements; democratisation movements across Africa; movements that have rocked Turkey, Brazil, and Romania (2013) and Hong Kong (2014). All this, aside from the countless continuing, sustained, even if less publicised move­ments all over the world by social movements, student organisations, trade unions, and political formations, and locally among ordinary peoples everywhere.

We may not be fully aware of the details of these movements. The book like this opens up the window to hitherto unknown movements with its intricacies and about the people connected to them. There are altogether 26 pieces of essays including the ‘Introduction’ and the ‘Afterword’. The essays are divided in three Sections. The first section titled as ‘Invocations’ contains a poem by Shailja Patel and the introduction – ‘The Movements of movements: An Introduction and an Exploration’ by the editor.  

The second section titled as ‘Movementscapes’ contains 7 essays giving the sketches of certain key features of the landscape of contemporary movement in the world from 1968 till about 2010 written by people belonging to different movements from various parts of the world. Some of them are from indigenous people and some from the settlers. The intention is to get fundamentally —and structurally—different views of the landscape they inhabit and see. It is the same world but seen through different eyes and different experiences.

In the third section titled as ‘The Movements of movements: The Struggles for other World’, there are a wide range of sensitive and reflective portraits of movement, several of which are critical discussions of how different movements move (and/or have moved) in different contexts.

Finally, the book ends with the ‘Afterword’ titled as ‘Learning to Be Loyal to Each Other: Conversations, Alliances, and Arguments in the Movements of Movements’ by Laurence Cox that reads across all the essays in this book and critically engages with several.

It will be wrong to believe that the nature and spirit of all these movements are same. This cannot be so, since these movements are of the people scattered over different geographical parts of the globe. They have different social and economic background and also, they have their own history and cultural background. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that the meaning and understanding of common idioms of movements of the people at different places would differ in character and in content. Here comes the necessity of dialogue between movements to know each other and to mitigate differences. The book is intended to create a space for such dialogue.

So, the book is not just to tell story of the movements in the style – ‘my movement is best, my line of action is best, or my theory is best’. It is more on expressing one’s movement in a way so that others may understand it, may relate to it and even may learn something to emulate it.
Let us look into some of the essays as example. David McNally in his essay – “From the Mountains of Chiapas to the Streets of Seattle: This Is What Democracy Looks Like” traces the events followed by the guerrilla movement called the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in January 1994 which occupied the town of San Cristobal de las Casas, the old colonial capital of the Mexican state of Chiapas, declaring that NAFTA was a ‘death sentence’ for indigenous peoples and peasants throughout Mexico. It was a direct revolt against globalization. In subsequent period there was a series of uprising in France in 1995, in East Asian countries due to calamitous economic collapse sweeping through one East Asian economy after another in the course of 1997-98, and finally the blocked of Seattle streets in Washington by the activists of ‘Direct Action Network’ in November 30, 1999 to protest against holding of WTO convention.  

According to the author the strength of all such movements lies in their reliance on the self-
activity and self-mobilisation of “thousands upon thousands of oppressed people. New notions of politics, new senses of the possible, are created in the heat of such struggles. The emphases on direct action, on participatory democracy (often organised through mass assemblies), and on the festive and celebratory side of political protest, distinguish these as truly popular movements, upheavals that are reclaiming and improvising upon great traditions of mass insurgence. In the streets of Cochabamba, Oaxaca, Paris, Seoul, and elsewhere, one hears the irregular rhythms of popular revolt. Freed from the constraints of bureaucratically-dominated electoral politics, these movements are reinventing a language and poetry of resistance. Utilising mass strikes and uprisings, land occupations, popular assemblies, and direct democracy, they are carving open the spaces of opposition to globalising capitalism”.

In his essay titled – “Storming Heaven: Where Has the Rage Gone?” Tariq Ali discusses about the period starting in 60’s. According to him the resistance of the people of Vietnam against US forces ignited the imagination of the more radicalised segments of the Sixties generation around the world. They started believing that – “If the Vietnamese were defeating the world’s most powerful state, surely we, too, could defeat our own rulers”. So, a storm swept the world in 1968. The author believes that the spirit of 1968 didn’t die. He goes on narrating the incidents followed by the Paris uprising throughout the world from his own experience as an associate of the magazine -The Black Dwarf. 

He brings in the debate on the future of socialist movement after the debacle of Soviet Union. He lamented that – “The epochal shift that took place in 1989 relegated most things radical to the museum of horrors. All revolutions and all revolutionaries became monsters, mass murderers, and, of course, terrorists. How can the lyrical sharpness of politics in 1968 be anything but alien to the spirit of this age that has followed?” He closes his essay with the words – “Were the dreams and hopes of 1968 all idle fantasies? Or did cruel history abort something new that was about to be born? Revolutionaries—utopian anarchists, Fidelistas, Trotskyist all sorts, Maoists of every stripe, etc—wanted the whole forest. Liberals and social democrats were fixated on individual trees. The forest, they warned us, was a distraction, far too vast and impossible to define, whereas a tree was a piece of wood that could be identified, nurtured, improved, and crafted into a chair or a table or a bed. Now the tree, too, has gone”.

A large section of people on earth numbering about 350 million distributed over 70 countries who are stamped as ‘Indigenous people’ or ‘Aboriginals’ or ‘Native Americans’ by their colonizers and settlers are struggling to resist further dispossession and disconnection. The basic spirit of the indigenous people, all that is held sacred, their sources of connection to their distinct existences and the sources of their spiritual power are threatened. To them relationships to each other, communities, homelands, ceremonial life, languages, histories etc are the sources of their spiritual power. These connections are crucial for them to lead a meaningful life. But, the contemporary form of colonialism is obliterating their very way of life through various means.

The essay titled – “Being Indigenous: Resurgences Against Contemporary Colonialism” by Taiaiake Alfred and Jeff Corntassel discusses strategies for resisting further encroachment on Indigenous existence by Settler societies and states—as well as by multinational corporations and other elite organisations controlled by state powers and elements of the imperial institutional network. They also focus on how Indigenous communities can regenerate themselves to resist the effects of the contemporary colonial assault and renew politically and culturally.

Anand Teltumbde in his essay -“Dalits, Anti-Imperialist Consciousness, and the Annihilation of Caste” asserts that in the era of globalization, the Dalits in India which constitutes one sixth its population could be a natural ally of anti-imperialist movements. But, the left in India could not use this force in their fight against imperialism. “Dalits are the worst victims of imperialism—internal as well as external— and they are therefore inherently against any kind of imperialism”.  It is significant to note at this point that according to the author the imperialism is not only external, it is internal too.  “In class terms, they should be considered as the organic proletariat of this country. Although afflicted by caste divisions, the history of suffering has forged a workable identity for them. Nowhere in the world would such a large mass of have-nots be so readily available for radical change!” Again, at the same time, he appreciates the fact that it is not the case that Dalits would automatically rally against imperialists. Conscious effort is needed for this.

He recognizes also the fact that the “The Dalit movement today is hopelessly fragmented among self-seeking leaders. These leaders are a kind of comprador to the community, brokering the interests of Dalit masses to the enemy camp. This realisation is slowly dawning on Dalits but in the absence of any alternative, they still passively throng to these leaders and lend them legitimacy. These leaders are wise enough to keep parroting the issues that still appeal to Dalits”.

The essay titled – “The Tapestry of Neo-Zapatismo: Origins and Development” written by Xochitl Leyva Solano and Christopher Gunderson is an excellent piece of writing from which we get to know the course of development of Zapatista movement in its entirerity. It gives a detailed account of how EZLN, or Zapatista National Liberation Army (Ejercito Zapatista de Liberation National) came into being in 1983. It is a good lesson to know that movements do not fall from sky. Actually, the course of events leads inevitably to some action in the form of a movement. Zapatista movement is an ideal example for case study about movement, as a huge quantity of literature and documents in the form of articles, interviews, video, etc. on its course of development are available.

The essay – “Ecological Justice and Forest Rights Movements in India: State and Militancy—New Challenges” – by Roma and Ashok Choudhary is on the struggle of forest people in India. Forest and forest-lands are the places of natural habitat of adibasi, moolnibasi and various other indigenous groups of people, which are, again, the places of natural resources in the eyes of Indian state and national and international corporate houses. The forest people are in constant struggle to save their habitat from the hands of those organised looters. A detailed account of this struggle from the days of colonial rule till the rule of independent India can be found here. Both the authors are close associate of the struggles of the forest people for several decades. So, it is good to read the experience of the people belonging to the movement.

There are two essays on ‘feminism’/’women’s movement’. One is – “Open Space in Movement: Reading Three Waves of Feminism” by Emilie Hayes and the other is – “International Feminisms: New Syntheses, New Directions” – by Virginia Vargas. Emilie Hayes gives an excellent account of the history of the development of the women’s movement since early twentieth century. The entire period of the history of women’s movement can be seen as divided into three distinct phases, and these phases in course of time came to be known as first, second and third wave. This distinction is made based on the basis of the nature of understanding of the problem as well as the nature of demands arising at different times. Then she elaborates how the localised movements got internationalized and how the opportunity to exchange ideas in the platform like World Social Forum (WSF) helped to conceptualise the movement better. The ‘Open Space’, according to author, means an atmosphere which is “socially horizontal” with “no leaders” and relatively undirected “without an owner”. “There is no official spokesperson, no central hierarchy, and the only shared commitment is an opposition to neoliberal globalisation”. She tells us that – “While open space within the feminist movement has allowed for the expression of dissent, which has in turn helped to build a more inclusive feminism, it has also created fractures within the movement”. She adds – “However, the strength of second- and third-wave feminism has been their self-awareness and self-criticism, which has allowed for the identification of shortfalls and the continued revitalisation of feminism and feminist theory. It is when all feminist voices are part of the dialogue that feminism will truly be able to move forward”.

The essay authored by Virginia Vargas on the other hand traces the course of development of this movement in the light of her experience in Latin American countries. In this part of the globe the concept of the feminist movement grew according to its social, political and cultural experiences. It underwent changes with the change in development paradigm in the different parts of that continent. She elaborates how this movement was integrated with the International Movements and also discusses about how movement was benefited through dialogues with other movements at the international forums.  

The special feature of this book is that it allows space to the movements of the people of different religious faiths as well. It appreciates the fact that the people of different religious faiths are confronting the onslaught of modernity. There is clear division within the people of each group, – Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews and other smaller groups, on the question of adjusting with the modern ideas of democracy, justice, etc. One section of the people is trying to adhere to the old tenets of the religion, whereas the other section is trying to make an adjustment with the modern ideas keeping essential message of the religion intact.
Lee Cormie in his essay “Re-Creating the World: Communities of Faith in the Struggles for Other Possible Worlds” gives an account of how different alliance and council of Churches came into being during last forty to fifty years and how they took side with the movements on various issues like hunger, inequality, neo-liberal globalisation, etc.

There are two essays on Political Islam. Interestingly, instead of narrating the movement as such it narrates the life and acts of two Muslim rebels to give the idea about the movements in the name of Political Islam. Houtart, in his essay “Mahmoud Mohamed Taha: Islamic Witness in the Contemporary World”, narrates how the turn of events changed the course of life of a university educated young engineer to take stand in favour of the founding values of these religious movements. His aim was to – “rediscover the prophetic character of Islam, to underline what it could provide in a world of deepening inequalities, suffering under the blows of global capitalism, and to contribute to peace and reconciliation in torn and ravaged countries”.

The vision of Mahmoud Mohamed Taha about society, according to Samir Amin, is that “the ideal society that must be the objective of social struggle, the society that creates the most favourable conditions allowing for the individual human being to undertake his own fight to move closer to God, the society without which faith will remain a victim of the limits society imposes upon the blossoming of responsible individual freedom, can only be a socialist and democratic society”.

Roel Meijer, on the other hand, in his essay – “Fighting for Another World: Yusuf al-‘Uyairi and His Conceptualisation of Praxis and the Permanent Salafi Revolution” gives an account of the Islamic Movement in different parts of the world. According to him, of the different trends of Islamic Movements, al-Qaeda is the group which follows the most modern political ideology and movement. So, he chooses to track the course of development of this movement “by examining the vivid and powerful writings, life, and life practice of Yusuf al-‘Uyairi, a key activist, strategist, and theorist in the radical Islamic movement”.

My task was to introduce the book and for this I picked up a few articles for discussion quite arbitrarily. There are other pieces which are equally important and interesting. But, to limit the size of the article, I refrain from mentioning all of them.

The editor reminds us at the beginning of the book that it is not a “comprehensive encyclopedia of movement today, or even an up-to-date reportage of all movement that has recently taken place or that is taking place today. … Rather, this book is merely one attempt to bring together some outstanding essays that help us all to perceive the larger world of movement, and to begin to understand it; and to make this book a space where conversations between movements begin to open up, at different levels”.

Before I close, I must draw attention to the essay – “Learning to Be Loyal to Each Other: Conversations, Alliances, and Arguments in the Movements of Movements” under the section ‘Afterword’ by Laurence Cox. It reflects “on the meanings of this collection as a whole, offering independent, detailed, and critical perspectives on points of divergence and convergence among these movements and what they reveal about the dimensions, scales, and magnitude of changes that are today sweeping the world”. 

An important aspect of the book which needs special mention is that each and every author gives a long list of articles and books as reference at the end of the essays. It is indicative of the extent of labour put by the authors in writing the essays and also indicative of the extent of the debate and discussion in this regard that is going on throughout the world. This collection of the references at the end of the essays taken together is really a treasure of this book. 

I’m sure that this book will be useful to those who want to know about the trends of ongoing movements worldwide. It would also be a good lesson for them to know how the ‘culture of dialogue’ between different movements may help to re-discover the meaning and scope of their own movement. The benefit of such a practice is appreciated by almost all the authors of this book. Many of them acknowledged in unambiguous term that they have benefited by debating on the differences in their views in the platform of WSF. It helps them in improving their understanding about various aspects of their own movement.

Another lesson one may get on reading this book is that a practice of dialogue with other movements is a way to some extent to do away with the ‘we are right’, ‘we are the only’, or ‘we have all the truths’ kind of syndrome.

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