The Movements of Movements in Socialism and Democracy

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

By Valentine M. Moghadam
Socialism & Democracy Vol. 33

In early December 2018, I was completing Part 1 of this big two- volume collection of essays, and in his concluding chapter, Laurence Cox’s core message of “listening and learning” and of “being loyal to each other” resonated as I heard news of the angry protests in France against president Emmanuel Macron’s fuel tax.1 The protesters, mostly from rural and low-income areas, were aggrieved because the rise in diesel fuel tax would add to their already considerable financial burdens, but they also were angry because Macron had not been listen- ing to them. Could it be that across the globe, many politicians and even activists who shared Macron’s view of the need to reduce carbon emis- sions had not been listening or learning from people whose lives had been upended by over 30 years of business-friendly economic policies? Is it a wonder that in France, angry citizens engage in street protests (recall Charles Tilly’s famous book The Contentious French), and in other countries they may vote for right-wing populist parties?

The premise of The Movements of Movement is that our world is not only in crisis (the crisis of capitalism, of climate change, of civilization) but also in movement. This refers not just to social movements but also to people in motion, including migration. With respect to the first type of movement, editor Jai Sen and many of the contributors favor the deliberative, horizontal, prefigurative process that has largely character- ized the World Social Forum (WSF) since its inception. There is no single movement, they argue, but in fact many movements.

In his introductory chapter, the Indian-born Sen highlights the different types of movement – of refugees and migrants impelled by war, economic devastation, and climate change, to cross borders; movements of indigenous people who are reclaiming their history, culture, identities, and rights; movements that challenge neoliberalism and its perversion of socio-economic development (although Sen suggests that all development is criminal and arrogant); movements of faith; movements of women. He refers to the famous 2011 political movements – the Arab Spring protests, Occupy Wall Street, anti-auster- ity protests in Europe – and endorses the view of one of the book con- tributors to the effect that all the movements are “re-creating the world” (I, 19; see also Lee Cormie’s essay on communities of faith). The WSF has been a space “where people in movement can gain the possibility of growing through their interactions, learning from their exchanges, and where the possibility also exists of new actors entering and joining the discussions” (I, 21).

Here it might be useful to recall the purpose of the WSF:
The WSF is an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society….The WSF bring together and interlinks only organizations and movements of civil society from all the countries of the world. (from Articles 1 and 5 of WSF Charter of Principles, June 2001)
Movements of Movements forces scholar-activists to recognize the dilemmas and tensions that we face in both our scholarly analyses of social and/or revolutionary movements and our political practice: how to listen, learn, and connect while also trying to develop a theory of change and a political strategy; how to respect the plurality and diversity of local struggles while also seeking to build a powerful anti-systemic movement for an alternative world; what we can and should reclaim from past movements and struggles while also recogniz- ing that there will be some movement resistance to (paraphrasing Marx) “the traditions of the dead generations.”

Sen states that “there are many different movements taking place in our world today, and differing perceptions of justice, and many ways of moving, all of which we can learn from”; these include “the student-led revolt in France in 1968, the Zapatista movement in Mexico since 1994, the ‘Battle of Seattle’ in 1999, and…what some call today ‘political Islam.’” (I, 16). He seems to be offering a very expansive notion of “justice movements,” which may just as well include right-wing popu- list-nationalist forces. After all, like political Islam, they have a sense of grievance and injustice – but one rather different from those who other- wise regularly attend the WSF.

As I read the two-part book, I wondered: Do we celebrate all struggles or do we rank them, acknowledging that some may be divisive or violent or ideologically objectionable? Moreover, having missed recent opportunities to forge a sustained global movement against the ravages of neoliberal capitalist globalization and its many side effects – and by missed opportunities I am referring to the post- 2008 period, characterized by the Arab Spring, Occupy, and anti-auster- ity protests – when is the time for strategic movement-building? Or do we have to settle for the many disparate and fragmented local struggles, some of them connected from time to time at the WSF, others going their own way with violent methods, and yet others morphing into right- wing populism? Is it at all possible to coordinate the disparate struggles around a common goal of creating a world in which the welfare of the people and the planet – not the profits of businesses or elites or self- serving political parties – matter the most?
A review such as this could not possibly do justice to the many valu- able essays that comprise the two volumes, including essays on indigen- ous people, labor, feminism, 1968, Zapatismo, India, Bolivia, South Korea, Black Bloc riots. Other than the editor’s introductory chapters and the concluding chapter in each volume, the essays were written in the period 2004–7 and reprinted for this publication. What follows is a discussion of essays that revolve around two issues: the question of religion and the question of political strategy.

On religion

The socialist left, and especially Marxists, communists, and anarchists, have had a vexed relationship with religion. To be sure, the animosity and periodic violence has been mutual. But common ground also has been explored, whether through Soviet-era Marxist-Christian Dialogues, Latin American Liberation Theology, or the short-lived Islamic Marxism of pre- and post-revolutionary Iran. In “Re-creating the world: Communities of faith in the struggles for other possible worlds,” Lee Cormie mentions “faith-based resistances to the projects of neoliberal globalization,” with an interesting discussion of “transmodern traditions.” But what of fundamentalist or extremist forms of reli- giosity, such as political Islam? Can it be part of a strategic coalition for another world? If so, what is its vision of that other world?

In Part 1, Roel Meijer has a chapter on jihadi Salafism, specifically on the founder and first leader of al-Qaida in the Arabia Peninsula (AQAP). This is a man who advocated jihad and “martyrdom” in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya and the Philippines, and who welcomed the US invasion of Iraq because it would become a battleground for the Islamic cause. Meijer ends by writing, “For liberal Westerners, and perhaps to all those who consider themselves civil, cosmopolitan, and/or progressive, Yusuf al-Uyairi’s thought is not very pleasant” (I, 437). I could call that an understatement. Meijer’s application of terms like “Marxist revolutionary praxis” and “Leninist strategy” to al- Qaeda’s approach, and his comparison of al-Uyairi to Che Guevara is jarring given that al-Uyairi and other founders or leaders of political Islam (including Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, and Osama bin Laden – not to mention al-Baghdadi of ISIS) offer nothing remotely similar to the anti-capitalist critique and emancipatory objectives of Marx, Lenin, and Che. In “Anti-Systemic Movements and Transform- ation of the World-System, 1968–1989,” Fouad Kalouche and Eric Mie- lants refer to “anti-systemic religious ways of relating to a world repressed through modernist, socialist, and liberal discourses” (I, 75). In a limited sense, jihadism may be termed anti-systemic, but where is its anti-capitalist and emancipatory program? Meijer ends his own chapter by claiming that “this seemingly ‘closed’ worldview has tre- mendous appeal for youth in both the Middle East and the West … ” This may be true, but then many Muslims reject that worldview. More- over, there exist other “closed” worldviews that appeal to youth, such as neo-Nazism.

In Part 2, Danila Daulatzai writes of “the problem of secularism in progressive politics” and charges the WSF with exclusion, because it “replicate[s] the authoritative forms of secularism found in Europe as well as the United States of America, which have failed miserably in attending to the dynamic relationship between religion and politics” (II, 117). Daulatzai does not explain what she means by “dynamic relationship,” although it is no secret that many of the world’s consti- tutions, as well as their social policies, are founded on or inspired by the dominant religion of each country. Nor does she bother to discuss the variants of secularism, from the atheistic policies of former commu- nist countries to the different models found in Mexico, Turkey, India, France, the US, Austria, and so on, where God may or may not be invoked by political leaders but mosques, churches, synagogues, and temples abound. She criticizes a Pakistani participant and a representa- tive of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) for their staunch secularism, and the Egyptian revolutionary feminist, author and gynecologist Nawal Saadawi for her critique of heavy veiling.

According to the notes on contributors, Daulatzai was born in Los Angeles and continues to live in the US, whereas the Muslim secularists she criticizes have direct and daily experience with religious domination in their own countries. (I would add that the sad plight of religious min- orities in most Muslim-majority countries is sufficient reason to support mosque-state separation.) Her hero is Tariq Ramadan, but why not Amina Wadud, voice of a genuinely egalitarian Islam? Daulatzai opines that at the WSF, Muslims were “being considered incapable of pursuing progressive political positions … ” (119). Her essay was written before the two forums in Tunis, 2013 and 2015, where the majority of participants were Muslims from Tunisia and neighboring countries, many of them engaged in a robust defense of secular femin- ism, and in at least one session that I attended, the right of Muslims to change their religion. But Daulatzai finds the WSF not just exclusionary but “unethical” (132).

The inconsistency of Meijer’s and Daulatzai’s essays with others in the two-part book is stark but unexplored. For example, the essays by feminist activists – Jennifer Ho, Virginia Vargas, and Andrea Smith, and the Feminist Dialogue statement of 2007 in Nairobi (II, 326) – would be anathema to the adherents of political Islam. In “International Feminisms: New Syntheses, New Directions,” Vargas writes of femin- ism’s contention with the varied forms of fundamentalism: “of God, the market, or tradition” (319) and emphasizes the “rights of the body,” including the right of abortion. Andrea Smith quotes a US prison chaplain defending traditional marriage and pointing out how radical Islamists deplore American depravity when they see “American women abusing Muslim men,” same-sex marriage, and the like (see 149). She cites this passage as indicative of the heteropatriarchy of the Christian Right, but she seems to be rejecting its veracity while also overlooking the “heteropatriarchy” of the Islamic Right. As Nicola Pratt showed, in her analysis of the Cairo conferences (2002–8) that grew out of opposition to the US war in Iraq, members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood at one session she attended railed against a form of cultural globalization – whereby the West exported “feminist” con- cerns such as domestic violence, gay rights, and the eradication of female genital mutilation – rather than the impacts of neoliberal econ- omic policies on Egypt’s working people. The consensus at that session, she writes, was that Western moral and cultural values were corrupting “Egyptian womanhood.”2

On the other hand, in “Mahmoud Mohamed Taha: Islamic Witness in the Contemporary World,” François Houtart shows how the brilliant Sudanese scholar Taha, who was tragically executed, sought to develop an emancipatory Islam. Houtart writes: “In the present political circum- stances, Taha’s message has a tough time being heard” (II, 376) – quite the understatement. Between hardened Islamist messages and authori- tarian governments, Taha’s liberatory message, like that of Islamic fem- inists (as distinct from Islamist women activists), is ignored if not regarded as heretical. In my judgement, it is one thing to introduce readers to progressive Islamic thinkers who have been systematically marginalized, or to draw attention to the liberation theology of the Catholic Worker or the short-lived Worker Priest movement. It is a differ- ent matter altogether to extol representatives of what are profoundly reactionary groups in a book presumably about movements against capitalism and for liberation.

On strategy

The Movements of Movements: Part 2: Rethinking Our Dance

Although most of the essays celebrate the open, leaderless, horizon- tal nature of the movements that made up the Global Justice Movement (GJM) and the groups and organizations that convene at the WSF, several of them take issue with that stance and call for a more strategic approach to confront neoliberal capitalism and the wars and environmental degradation that it has spawned.

In “The Strategic Implications of Anti-Statism in the Global Justice Movement,” Stephanie Ross criticizes the “romanticized view of civil society as a realm of freedom and autonomy” and “rejection of the possi- bility that state power can be used by progressive forces to create alterna- tives to capitalism” (II, 201). She concludes: “While convincing people that ‘another world is possible’ is key, how much more demoralizing is to see that belief unsupported by material changes in relations of power and wealth?” (II, 216). In “The Weakest Link? Neoliberalism in Latin America,” Emir Sader is critical of the emphasis on “the social” at the expense of “the political,” and the way the WSF took up this stance to keep the Forum exclusive to “civil society” and social movements while closed to political parties. He points out that despite the crisis of Mexico’s ruling PRI, the Zapatistas chose to remain outside electoral poli- tics and even scorned the left-wing candidate, Andres-Manuel Lopez- Obrador (AMLO), in the 2006 elections that were won by the right- wing party (see I, 504f). AMLO was elected president in 2018.

In “The Return of Strategy,” the late Daniel Bensaïd argues that “we need now to be specific about what the other ‘possible’ world is and – above all – to explore how to get there” (I, 518). He mentions two scen- arios based on earlier uprisings: an insurrectional general strike, and extended popular war. Similarly, the late Egyptian Marxist economist Samir Amin asks: Who will challenge the new imperialist order, and how? In the course of discussing the first, second, and third interna- tionals (he mentions in passing the fourth, or Trotskyist, international) Amin criticizes those who “wish to maintain the WSF in a state of maximal impotence” (I, 481). He suggests that it is time to move towards a “Fifth International” (II, 465–483).
Ezequiel Adamovsky, in “Autonomous Politics and its Problems: Thinking the Passage from the Social to the Political” (II, 248), proposes several theses toward the building of an effective political strategy: an ethics of equality, which includes listening to the other side of an argu- ment; horizontalism, which requires institutions such as a reasonable div- ision of labor, weak forms of delegation and representation, a clear delineation between the rights of the collective and its majorities and those of individuals and minorities, a fair and transparent conflict-man- agement code of procedure (to prevent “divisionism” and the end of cooperation); an appropriate political organization, rather similar to the soviets before the Bolshevik party took over them.

An example of a horizontalist is David Graeber, who opposes “top- down popular front groups” and is a promoter of anarchist principles. His 2007 essay is filled with statements about how “we have won” and the major institutions of global governance have lost. He celebrates the putative victory of the GJM and proposes that “the ruling classes live in fear of us” (II, 393). The interesting part is where he uses the example of the anti-nuclear movement to distinguish between short-term, medium- term, and long-terms goals (the latter – to “smash the state and destroy capitalism” – is typical of “the more radical elements”). The essay’s reliability, however, is called into question through assertions that “the Washington Consensus lies in ruins” and that the IMF and World Bank are approaching bankruptcy. “The IMF no longer serves any obvious purpose, even for capitalists” (II, 402), he claims. Tell that to the Tunisians, who have had to take out a big loan and impose austerity on the people, igniting many protests and strikes in early 2018 and since.

In “Another World is Inevitable, but which Other World?,” Lee Cormie states that there is no single, grand, encompassing movement (II, 629); here he agrees with editor Jai Sen. His aspiration is for “a world where many worlds fit” (II, 531) Contra Graeber, he concedes that the economic and political power of corporate elites has expanded rather than shrunk. He falters, though, in citing Asef Bayat to the effect that “the urban disenfranchised, through their quiet and unassuming daily struggles”…are involved in refiguring “new life and commu- nities for themselves and different urban realities on the ground in Middle Eastern cities” (II, 556). Not quite. It took noisy mass protests to create different urban realities, and even then, most of the Arab Spring protests failed, either because of the lack of strategic vision and planning, or because of external intervention.

Some essays try to bridge the divide between the “verticals” and the “horizontals.” Michael Löwy, in “Negativity and Utopia in the Global Justice Movement” (II, 223), argues that the GJM combines the great refusal, concrete propositions, and a utopian vision of another world – all centered around identification of the capitalist system itself as the root of corporate and financial domination, wars, and the like. Muto Ichiyo also takes issue with the notion of “the multitude” – in fact, there is no one people, there are many divisions and many conflicts. (“Towards the Autonomy of the People of the World: Need for a New Movement of Movements to Animate People’s Alliance Processes,” II, 449–463). He writes of the potential for alliance-building among “very diverse groupings of global people with intersecting identities” (453). In his Afterword, Laurence Cox urges that activists should “learn to be loyal to each other” and argues for “continuing, deepening, and extending the conversations between movements from below that can allow us to shape an alternative kind of alliance for a different (and more diverse) kind of world, and aggregate [Gramscian] hegemony. … Hence neither One Agreed Programme nor Fragmented Resistance for its own sake” (628, original emphasis). But what, then?

The Movements of Movements is a very big book (rather, two big books) but well worth the reader’s time, and editor Jai Sen is to be applauded for what surely was a herculean effort. While drawing atten- tion to the plurality and diversity of the GJM, it also sheds light on the differences in approach to key issues, including religion, modernity, and political strategy. But one may well ask: what exactly is entailed in the diversity that so many contributors extol, and with what implications? For if “the party” and “program” no longer are appropriate, if we need to keep having conversations with each other, if we want diversity in our alternative world, is everyone and every group included? These questions need to be addressed honestly.

It may very well be the case that what Christopher Chase-Dunn and his colleagues have termed “the new Global Left” needs to look back to the history of socialist movements for answers. In my view, that would mean something like a very clear, very coherent platform – one that could mobilize the largest number of adherents around core issues,

even if some supporters might not agree on some of the accompanying issues and values. A first step might be to revisit and update the 2005 Porto Alegre Manifesto, signed by 19 prominent WSF participants and outlining 12 proposals on economic measures, peace and justice, and democracy, “to give sense and direction to the construction of another, different world.”3 The proposals in that manifesto align with the recent call for a Progressive International, an initiative of the (Bernie) Sanders Institute in Vermont, USA, and DiEM25, cofounded by the former Syriza finance minister Yannis Varoufakis.4 Could Samir Amin’s call for a kind of Fifth International see the light of day? Could a future volume emanating from this series be devoted to just such a strategic political formation?

  1. The Movements of Movements, ed. Jai Sen, for the Challenging Empires series (New Delhi and Oakland: OpenWord and PM Press, 2017, 2018), in two volumes: Part 1: What Makes Us Move? (2017), 669 pp., and Part 2: Rethinking Our Dance (2018), 612 pp.
  2. Nicola Pratt, “The Gender Logics of Resistance to the ‘War on Terror’: constructing sex–gender difference through the erasure of patriarchy in the Middle East,” Third World Quarterly, 33: 12 (2012), 1821–1836.
  3. Available at rs/content/2005-02/20group_of_nineteen.cfm
  4. See

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

The Movements of Movements: Part 2: Rethinking Our Dance

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