Social Movements: the Strength of Organisation vs Anarchic Networks. Francine Mestrum. 2020

Are ‘traditional social and political ties’ weak? Have they always been so and will they be so in the future? These are questions that certainly cannot be answered in one page.

At first sight, the thesis is credible when one sees how political parties today struggle to convince people, how trade unions have hard times to achieve some minor victories, how social movements disappear as fast as they have emerged. And yet, beyond stating the obvious, we should wonder why this is happening? And if an ‘anarchic form of social network’ can do more than a proper organisation.

Let me try to give some examples of social movements today and yesterday and what they have achieved.

Take the ‘indignados’ in Spain. They do not exist anymore. It probably is wrong to say they had no influence, they first of all led to the emergence of a new political party, ‘Podemos’ that is now in government. But these government policies are not precisely in accordance with the demands of the movement.

Take ‘Black Lives Matter’, without central organisation, but certainly with influence among the population, though much less at government level.

The Arab spring had huge successes in Tunisia, Egypt, Sudan … but how lasting? Who is in power right now?

Take the ‘Nuits Debout’ or the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ in France, without any doubt with consequences at the level of politicization of large numbers of people. But at the political level?

And take the women’s strike of 8 March 2020, a very successful global demo, certainly with an impact on the general public, but with lasting changes?

As for the ‘Fridays for future’, the youth movement fighting climate change, it certainly contributed to more awareness of the urgent problems this planet is facing, though at the political level, again, its influence is not visible.

Or take a political party, MAS, ‘Movimiento al Socialismo’ in Bolivia that just won the elections with an absolute majority! This will, again, change the country!

And finally, take the ‘movement’ that does not want to be a movement and in which I have a long experience, the World Social Forum. It will celebrate in January 2020 its 20th anniversary, but what has it achieved?


Of course, the success or failure of a movement can only be assessed in accordance with its objectives. The WSF cannot be condemned for not achieving anything if it never wanted to achieve anything, just being an ‘open space’, claiming ‘another world is possible’ and leaving the practical implementation of it to its participants.

And if MAS was able to win the elections, which was its objective, it is thanks to a strong organisation and political will to work towards this achievement.

As for all the movements in between, it is not sure whether they ever had a clear objective. Growing awareness, certainly. Toppling dictatorships for the Arab spring, yes, with success. But then? Were they prepared to take over power? They were certainly not ready for it, so in the end, they lost.

Most national movements strive for a change of government, a change of policy, away from neoliberal austerity, desiring more social and environmental justice with jobs as well as social protection. But where did this succeed?

The progressive governments that came to power beginning of this century in Latin America were the result of careful and strong organisations, lasting for years, the building of a political party in Brasil , an alliance with indigenous movements in Ecuador, strong party politics in Chile, each time with the help of trade unions or other social movements.

Having a clear objective, then, certainly is one major condition for working towards success. From this depends the strategy one can develop and the different steps one can take.

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