Peoples' movements and protests




Only the conservatives can become revolutionaries



Any suggestion for improvals can be mailed to the author


By Jan Wiklund



In the early 90s, Craig Calhoun caused quite a stir by dismissing the concept of "new social movements". There was nothing new about them, he wrote in the article New social movements of the early nineteenth century. The popular movements at the beginning of the nineteenth century had almost exactly the same characteristics that they tried to impose on those that were then called new: broad class alliances, a focus on what one can do here and now instead of trying to get into parliament, and a greater interest in existential questions than too economic.

Calhoun has since developed the story of the early nineteenth century in a new book called The roots of radicalism. There he tries to explain why some movements become revolutionary while others are content with gradual reforms. And the result may surprise some: it is mainly conservative people who become revolutionaries.
In other words, it is mainly people whose existence is tied to the traditional – but threatened – who are prepared to invest their lives in major changes. Major changes, namely, of the social mechanisms that threaten their way of life. Big changes, so that nothing changes.

To traditional Marxists this sounds like blasphemy. Was it not the modern working class that would change the world. Yes, says Calhoun, but the working class has been shown to strongly prefer step-by-step solutions. Instead, it is small farmers threatened with extinction who have manned the great revolutions of both the 19th and 20th centuries.

For the environmental movement to which I belong, this should not be anything new. We should know that people who are threatened with not being able to live as they used to get pissed off and participate in resistance to highways and nuclear power plants and industrial logging and industrial fishing, and in doing so can develop a death-defying militancy that the average striker rarely displays to.

In order to change society in a big way, you have to enlist the help of people who dislike the changes the current system forces on them. In Sweden, perhaps mainly rural residents and low-educated people.

The anger can strike in any direction, but it is not ideologically conditioned. Calhoun shows how whoever on Monday calls for a strong man to clear up the situation on Tuesday can participate in riots against the same strong man. What is constant is the desperation and the impossibility of continuing on the beaten path. The first to organize the discontent wins.

Published by Folkrörelsestudiegruppen: