1. Aktörerna: stater, kapital, folkrörelser
2. Scenen: världen
3. Folkrörelser före världsmarknadssystemet
4. Lokalsamhällets försvar mot världsmarknadssystemet
5. Lönearbetarnas försvar mot kapitalägarna
6. Systemperiferiernas försvar mot centrum
7. Böndernas försvar mot matmarknaderna
8. De marginaliserades strävan efter likaberättigande
9. Civilsamhällets självförsvar
10. Folkrörelsesystemet
English summary

Carriers of Democracy

The global social movement system


Excerpts in rough English



by Jan Wiklund


To the English Summary



Chapter 5: Wage earners' defence against capital owners




Labour movements of the system periphery

About the establishments of the world market system in the periphery - plantations, mines and devices for transport of raw materials to the center - germs of labour movements bred early. The workers of the sugar plantations learnt how to negotiate with the owners despite their legal inferiority, by go-slows, sabotage and marronnage; a slave rebellion at Haiti set up the second American independent republic - see Chapter 6 System peripheries defence against the center. The first strikes in West Africa occurred in the 1890s, only some decade after the European occupation. But in most places in the peripheries full time workers remained a small minority until our age, and labour movements remained for that reason small and rather powerless. They have been able to make a name for themselves only as allies to national movements, and had had to pay for that. They have gained some weight only in the late 20th century.

This is connected with the function of peripheries.

The purpose of peripheries is to reduce the cost of labour. In the center of the system, the direct producers had forced states and capital owners to begin reducing violence with integration, after the great rebellion movements of the 17th century. After the French Revolution the development speeded up, and workers got an ever growing part of the economic surplus, in shape of salaries and social security. But somebody had to pay for this, and the somebody was the workers in the periphery.
For workers in the periphery had two great handicaps, compared to workers in the center.

Firstly, the system peripheries weren't as politically sensitive as the center. In the center, it was not easy for the rulers to use violence without getting on the wrong side of important middle classes they were dependent on. In the periphery no such groups existed, so violence was more acceptable for the system. In reality, the relations of states/capitals and workers have always been violent in the system peripheries, from the slavery of the 16th and 17th centuries to the dictatorships and prohibited unions of today.

Secondly, and more important, the workers of the system peripheries had an inferior resistance technique and unionisation skill, at least in the beginning. The workers of the peripheries were recruited directly from the countryside and were unused to industrial conditions. Normally a generation was needed before union traditions had been developed and the workers were able to make an effective resistance against exploitation. A generation was needed before new urbans had learnt to survive in urban areas and use their terrain for political purposes.

The first generations of workers in the periphery were also not full time or full life workers, and had little interest in organising defence.

Fully proletarian, urbanised workers, who are completely adjusted to an industrial society have to be salaried so that the salary covers the whole life, including childhood, education, sickness, unemployment, and old age. Their salaries have, for that reason, to be rather high. If the family of the worker can bear the cost for child rearing, sick care, unemployment relief and pension, salaries can be reduced to what the workers need during their active time. But then, they need a base in a self-subsistent household [47].

And workers in the system periphery had this, and they still have in some degree. For few were interested in working in the center owned mines and plantations. To get someone to work there at all the colonial authorities had to use force, in the shape of tax or slave labour. Under such circumstances, work became socially degrading, something the young of the villages could engage in for a few years before they went back home. The turnover of workers was high. And the motivation to organise trade unions was low.

Instead, railwaymen, municipal workers and dockers were pioneers of labour movements in the periphery; their work called for education so the workers had to be permanent. This was the case in Colombia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Argentina and India. In some regions, where land ownership was strongly monopolised and didn't permit work migration, particularly in Latin America, a professional miner craft was also formed, which got a key role in some places [48].

In Chile, for example, the pioneers of labour organising were railwaymen to be sure, but the miners of the nitrate mines were the first to capture a position of power in society. Nitrate was the principal Chilean export product, and in the nitrate districts in the deserts of the north there were no intermediaries between workers and the representatives of the companies. The workers could quickly construct a public identity as "the Chilean people" opposed to the foreign-owned nitrate companies [49].

The mancomunales, or communes, of the nitrate workers - financial, political, and cultural organisations that carried out insurances, edited newspapers and organised theatre plays - were for that reason early respected by the middle class as a possible partner.

This possible partnership with the middle class was from an early date the main strategy of the Chilean labour movement. As early as the at slump of 1919 they spent much energy on getting in teachers and office staff people into street demonstrations and unions, and this strategy paid off. The state begun to yield to the demands in the early 20s, but it also laid down conditions, in the shape of an

intriguing labour legislation that made employed union functionaries the key people. These functionaries continued, far beyond the fall of the Union Popular, to carry on the middle class alliance that had given rise to them. The workers themselves were thereby put aside and lost most of their self-esteem.


[47] The system has been described in Claude Meillassoux: Maidens, meal and
money: capitalism and the domestic community, Cambridge University Press 1981.

[48] Literature on labour movements in the system periphery is scarce - which is lamented by all its authors. About Latin America I warmly recommend Charles Bergquist: Labor in Latin America, Stanford University Press 1986. Sylvia Ann Hewlett & Richard S Weinert: Brazil and Mexico; patterns in late development, Institute for the Study of Human Issues 1982, and Edward Epstein (ed): Labor autonomy and the state in Latin America, Unwin Hyman 1989 may complete. About African movements, Robin Cohen has written or edited some books: Richard Sandbrook & Robin Cohen: The devlopment of an African working class, Longman 1975, Robin Cohen: Labour and politics in Nigeria, Heineman 1974, and William Cobbett & Robin Cohen (ed): Popular struggles in South Africa, Review of African Political Economy 1987. Asia is most scantily documented. There is, for example Mark Selden: The proletariat, revolutionary change and the state in China and Japan 1850-1950, in Immanuel Wallerstein (ed): Labor in the world social structure, Sage 1983, and Jean Chesneaux: The Chinese labor movement 1919-1927, Stanford University Press 1968. There are also two collections edited by Roger Southall: Labour and unions in Asia and Africa, Macmillan 1988, and Trade Unions and the new industrialisation of the Third World, Zed 1988.

[49] Charles Bergquist: Labor in Latin America, Stanford University Press 1986.


Chapter 7: Farmers' defence against food markets




Land reform and anti-colonialism in the system periphery


The pioneer, as in so many cases in social movement history, was the Irish.

The land of Ireland was owned by English landlords, mostly absentees, and was rented by Irish peasants. When food prices fell in the 1870s due to competition from American import, the leases were kept at the earlier high levels. The rural discontent was organised into a national movement was the Irish nationalists in the Irish Republican Brotherhood. It had up to then been an urban phenomenon, but it saw the opportunity to win a mass base in its struggle with the British rule. Together with local rural mobilisations and a few parliamentarians they founded the Irish Land League with the aim to decrease the lease or if possibly take over the land themselves [24].

The method was primarily resistance to evictions of peasants in arrears.

This was a popular and often successful method that involved the whole district. Peasants who took over evicted peasants' place were banned - nobody would speak or deal with them, and when this method was extended to the estate managers the language was endowed with a new word, coined after John Boycott in Co Mayo. The movement was integrated by the middle class nationalists and became so strong that it could elect the majority of parliamentary seats in Ireland; it also dominated local politics and local courts in countryside Ireland, and after a few years the British state was compelled to a tenancy legislation and began to buy off the estate owners and sell their land cheap to the peasants.

The Irish agrarian movement was significant in Ireland, but on the global level only the Mexican agrarian movement made a hegemonic impact. It was the Mexican movement, together with the Indian and the Chinese, which put land reform at the global agenda [25].

This despite that the agrarian movement in Mexico was a local affair that hardly went beyond the borders of the state of Morelos.

Morelos belongs to the densely populated central tableland of Mexico. Sugar plantations had begunt to establish themselves there in the late 19th century, protected by Diaz' development despotism (see chapter 6, the section Post-colonial movements). The villages tried to protect themselves with lawsuits and never been completely unsuccessful despite the corrupt judicature. But in 1909 the planters changed tactics. So far, they had relied on bribed judges. But now this was not enough; the planters had invested heavily in equipment that required increased sales to pay off. So they took, with the help of Diaz, complete control over the state legislature and made it a law that the planters could take over all land in the state if they wanted.

The villages tried to defend themselves with petitions to the central government but with no avail. What emboldened them to go further was an instance of contemporaneousness: when the middle class constitutionalist movement took to arms in the north in November 1910, the peasants of the village of Anenecuilco invaded a newly stolen field and planted maize.

The authorities kept a low profile because they were busy controlling the northern insurrection. And two other villages, Ayala and Noyotepec, joined Anenecuilco and established a joint fund. As chairman they elected the chairman of Anenecuilco municipality, Emiliano Zapata.

It is fitting here to define the concept "peasants". The peasants called themselves campesinos, i.e. country people. What acted were the villages, collectively, like during the early world market system, see chapter 4. The bimodal system had not given space for stratification among the peasants; all identified with the village regardless of profession [26].

Success, for both the little agrarian movement and the democracy movement in the north, called for bolder projects. At the Shrove Sunday Market next year in the small town of Cuautla, Zapata together with the local teacher proclaimed revolution and association with the democracy movement. The aim was land reform in Morelos.
Now, the Mexican establishment hurried to coopt the democracy movement, appointed its leader Francisco Madero as president and sent an army to Morelos to deal with the peasants. This proved more difficult than expected.


[24] Samuel Clark & James S Donnelly (ed): Irish peasants - violence and political unrest 1780-1914, The university of Wisconsin Press 1983, and F.S.L: Lyons: Ireland since the famine, Fontana 1971.

[25] John Womack: Zapata and the Mexican Revolution, Alfred A. Knopf 1969, is still the book most quoted by people writing on the Mexican agrarian movement. It ends in 1920; for later times there are Dana Markiewicz: The Mexican Revolution and the limits of agrarian reform, Lynne Rienner 1993; Gerardo Otero: Agrarian reform in Mexico, in William Thiesenhausen (ed): Searching for agrarian reform in Latin America, Unwin Hyman 1989 and The new agrarian movement in Mexico 1979-1990, University of London 1990. John P Powelson & Richard Stock: The peasant betrayed contains a chapter about Mexico. And Ann L Craig: The first agraristas, University of California Press 1983 describes villages passed by of the Zapatist movement.

[26] For example, Zapata himself was a horse breeder, his brother Eufemio was a fruit dealer, other of the future leaders of the movement were teachers, limeworkers or farm-hands. The picture is supported by an investigation about the agrarian movement in Peru in the 60s; the labour migrants were leading, they had experience of city life and/or labour organising (Gavin Smith: Livelihood and resistance - peasants and the politics of land in Peru, University of California Press 1989).


Chapter 9: Self-defence of the civil society




Post-Fordist movements for the commons

After the breakdown of the post-war boom, defence of the commons has grown more urgent. For the strategy of the rulers to reach a new crise-free capitalism is to commercialise all relations, also those that were left alone by the welfare agreements of the 19th and 20th century. Firstly, the commons administrated by states and municipalities were attacked, and the social wage systems of the 1900s begun to be phased out. Secondly, legal means were developed to privatise nature, culture, ideas and knowledge that earlier had been seen as commons and been managed within the gift economy [87].

The first to feel the weight of the new strategy were people in those system peripheries that had sought advancement by means of loan financed investments. In the mid-70s, the banks increased the interests and used their bailiff IMF to recover the debts. The condition, pursued by an obstinately pigheaded IMF, was that the indebted states had to sacrifice all public commitments in order to pay their debt services [88].

The ex-beneficiaries of the abandoned social services reacted with so called IMF riots, beginning in Lima in July 1976 and continuing with about ten per year in different parts of the world.

IMF riots have had slightly different bases and been organised in slightly different ways in different countries.

Most typically, the revolts have been carried by the urban poor and broken out when the government has signalled that it has yielded to IMF demands and increased the price for public services. The great IMF revolt in Venezuela in 1989 was triggered by increased bus fares, and implied that underclass people from the shantytowns occupied the buses and used them as barricades, and then sacked the shops, with strictly applied quotas for the lot of everyone. The IMF riot in Argentina the same year worked much the same way.

The initiatives have as a rule come from district associations, housewives' leagues, co-operative canteens and churches in the shantytowns. These bodies haven't "directed" anything though; the activities have developed spontaneously and ended after a few days or a week of clashes with the police. Larger formal organisations haven't been involved, trade unions have been too week to play any part, and as a rule the result has been that the government has cushioned its policy somewhat. Sometimes, particularly discredited governments have been forced to resign, for example after the so far most comprehensive IMF riot in Argentine 2001 when it was supplemented with factory occupations, self-organising of the working-class quarters and even local currencies instead of the national one wrecked by the IMF.

In some instances, IMF riots have inspired more continuous resistance against abolished commons. Primarily in those three regions where the long recession has hit hardest - in Latin America, the Islamic Zone [89], and Africa, where the South African anti-privatisation movement is globally leading.

The resistance against the Apartheid regime had been sustained by trade unions and community organisations, the latter organising the whole households. The settlement between ANC and the Nationalist Party in 1990 implied that little should be changed except the race barriers, and the black middle class rushed to place themselves in privileged positions in the most inegalitarian country in the world. The new ANC government welcomed enthusiastically the privatisation model Washington Consensus as a method to substitute class differences for race differences; water, electricity, health care and education was privatised, fees were increased, and the lower classes were disconnected. Meanwhile, the Aparteid state's modest attempt at import substitution was liquidated and unemployment rose to 50%. Therewith, the black townships were mobilised anew to defend their living standards, or rather survival, interpreted as defence for the commons threatened with enclosure [90].

According to Ashwin Desai, the resistance began in Chatsworth, a township near Durban, in 1999. Important factors in the early mobilisations were that the local ANC made common cause with the inhabitants rather than with the government, and that the majority were Indians, with modest veneration for ANC's exile politicians. But when Chatworth's inhabitants had repulsed heavily armed bailiffs, coming there to evict unemployed tenants for unpaid rents, and got a court injunction that they were right to do so, the protests spread rapidly. Another Chatsworth-reinvented repertoire - mass demonstrations with payment of the "just" rents, water fees and electricity fees - added to the protests.

Focus for this township movement is rents, water and electricity. While municipal authorities delink the township inhabitants, the movement's electricians and plumbers relink them again. This is combined with demonstrations and, like in Soweto's Operation Khanyisa (enlightment), delinking of authorities offices, and payment of the "just" rent 10 Rand and participation in municipal elections. At the UN conference on racism in Durban in 2001 the different township movements met for the first time in joint demonstrations against the remaining apartheid practices and discussed the Washington Consensus as an expression of global apartheid, with activists for the commons from the whole world.




[87] An overview is given in Philip McMichael: Development and social change; a global perspective, Thousand Oaks 1996. David Bollier: Silent theft, Routledge 2003, describes the consequences.

[88] John Walton & David Seddon: Free markets and food riots: The politics of global adjustment, Blackwell 1994.

[89] Asef Bayat: Social movements, activism and social development in the Middle East, in Transnational Associations 2, 2001.

[90] Ashwin Desai: We are the poors - community struggles in post-apartheid South Africa, Monthly Review Press 2002. For the South African central Anti-Privatisation Forum, see



Chapter 10. The social movement system


In this book, the development of the social movements after the French Revolution has been related classified according to different themes. The different chapters from 5 through 9 have dealt with conflicts between wage earners and capital owners, between periphery and center, between food producers and the market, between the culturally subordinated and superordinated, and between the civil society and the coercion machinery of the state or the accumulation forces of capital. The everyday discourse speaks of labour, national, women's, minorities', peace, environmental or commons movements.

The everyday discourse is not wholly wrong, but it isn't very precise either.

Firstly, a theme (the chapter headings) seldom corresponds fully to the identity of a movement. Even if a conflict between e.g. a periphery and a center is articulated by a national movement, many movement identities is usually drawn into the conflict, and the more who are drawn into it, the more successful it is. During the heyday of the anti-colonial movements, labour movements and agrarian movements were drawn into the anti-colonial struggle and contributed to it in crucial ways. And labour movement have been most successful when they have been able to articulate all direct producers' aspirations, as they succeeded to do to a large extent in Scandinavia in the 30s.

Secondly, the notion of fix movement identities, with individual development histories, is somewhat suspect. To be sure, there is some truth in it; as I contended (with support from Veit Michael Bader) in the section The social movement cycle, there are identities because collectives articulate and work out a common language that keeps the collective together as an identity when it organises and acts [1]. It is useful for them to do like that. And instead of having to invent a new language, some collectives may use an existing one (despite the risks), and with any luck join a successful practice and claim successful allies from other places and times.

But there is also a point in seeing beyond al these time-honoured and hypostatic theme-identities and theme-families. For the articulations is only a part of the social movement cycle, and a later part of it at that.

There is no reason why the result of the articulation should dominate the understanding of a social movement so much that we don't see other parts of it.

The social movement development before 1789 shows a very marked common history; in the system center an emphasis on tax rebellions followed by one on bread seizures; with time data depending on time data for the centralisation of the states and the commercialisation of food distribution, respectively. In the system periphery the time data followed data for the penetration of colonial empires.

But there is also a common history after 1789, that cut across the identity borders, not only touching organising and activity forms but also the diffusion of the political results.

The period after 1789 is possible to divide into four epochs, common to all social movements within the world market system: the epoch of the democratic bread seizure, the epoch of mass organising, the epoch of professionalised mass organisations, and the epoch of campaign organising.

Each of them has had its dominating form of popular politics and its form of result. The shifts from one into another have all been provoked by powerful advances of many, contemporaneous social movements, and the following collapse of these advances [2].

The epoch of the democratic bread seizure, 1789-1848. The popular politics of the 18th century, i.e. bread seizures or local risings provoked by market prise for food, tax protests, and land occupations, survived the French Revolution. But the intense period of popular politics in Western Europe and North America had created a whole series of new repertoires.




[1] Veit Michael Bader: Kollektives Handeln, Leske & Budrich 1991.

[2] The dating of the social movement advances are given by André G Frank & Martta Fuentes: Civil democracy; social movements in recent world history, in Samir Amin (ed): Transforming the revolution, Monthly Review Press 1990.


Publicerad av Folkrörelsestudiegruppen: