By Sven Beckert
Dec 12, 2014 – Few topics have animated today’s chattering classes more than capitalism. In the wake of the global economic crisis, the discussion has spanned political boundaries, with conservative newspapers in Britain and Germany running stories on the "future of capitalism" (as if that were in doubt) and Korean Marxists analyzing its allegedly self-destructive tendencies. Pope Francis has made capitalism a central theme of his papacy, while the French economist Thomas Piketty attained rock-star status with a 700-page book full of tables and statistics and the succinct but decisively unsexy title Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Harvard University Press).
With such contemporary drama, historians have taken notice. They observe, quite rightly, that the world we live in cannot be understood without coming to terms with the long history of capitalism—a process that has arguably unfolded over more than half a millennium. They are further encouraged by the all-too-frequent failings of economists, who have tended to naturalize particular economic arrangements by defining the "laws" of their development with mathematical precision and preferring short-term over long-term perspectives. What distinguishes today’s historians of capitalism is that they insist on its contingent nature, tracing how it has changed over time as it has revolutionized societies, technologies, states, and many if not all facets of life.
Nowhere is this scholarly trend more visible than in the United States. And no issue currently attracts more attention than the relationship between capitalism and slavery.
If capitalism, as many believe, is about wage labor, markets, contracts, and the rule of law, and, most important, if it is based on the idea that markets naturally tend toward maximizing human freedom, then how do we understand slavery’s role within it? No other national story raises that question with quite the same urgency as the history of the United States: The quintessential capitalist society of our time, it also looks back on long complicity with slavery. But the topic goes well beyond one nation. The relationship of slavery and capitalism is, in fact, one of the keys to understanding the origins of the modern world.
For too long, many historians saw no problem in the opposition between capitalism and slavery. They depicted the history of American capitalism without slavery, and slavery as quintessentially noncapitalist. Instead of analyzing it as the modern institution that it was, they described it as premodern: cruel, but marginal to the larger history of capitalist modernity, an unproductive system that retarded economic growth, an artifact of an earlier world. Slavery was a Southern pathology, invested in mastery for mastery’s sake, supported by fanatics, and finally removed from the world stage by a costly and bloody war.
Some scholars have always disagree with such accounts. In the 1930s and 1940s, C.L.R. James and Eric Williams argued for the centrality of slavery to capitalism, though their findings were largely ignored. Nearly half a century later, two American economists, Stanley L. Engerman and Robert William Fogel, observed in their controversial book Time on the Cross (Little, Brown, 1974) the modernity and profitability of slavery in the United States. Now a flurry of books and conferences are building on those often unacknowledged foundations. They emphasize the dynamic nature of New World slavery, its modernity, profitability, expansiveness, and centrality to capitalism in general and to the economic development of the United States in particular.
The historians Robin Blackburn in England, Rafael Marquese in Brazil, Dale Tomich in the United States, and Michael Zeuske in Germany led the study of slavery in the Atlantic world. They have now been joined by a group of mostly younger American historians, like Walter Johnson, Seth Rockman, and Caitlin C. Rosenthal, looking at the United States.
Photo: Interesting lineup. Stalin dropped, Chou En-Lai and Deng added
By Li Hongfeng
Literature of Chinese Communist Party, Issue 4, 2014
Abstract: As the chief architect of China’s reform and opening up and socialist modernization drive, Deng Xiaoping created a new historical period of reform and opening up. During the historical process of advancing reform and opening up, Mr. Deng thoroughly demonstrated a strategist’s strategic thinking, judgment, design and decision. He created a new historical period, starting reaffirming and reinstating the Party’s ideological guideline of seeking truth from facts. After deeply studying the profound changes of domestic and foreign situations, Mr. Deng gave two important strategic judgments: China being and to be in the preliminary phase of socialism; and peace and development being two great issues of the contemporary world. On the basis of such two judgments, he made a series of far-reaching strategic decisions centering on his belief in socialist and communist causes. Mr. Deng suggested leadership should have principles, systematicness, foresight and creativity, which reflected Deng’s understanding of regularity in leadership and essential characteristics of his leading style.
In Deng’s life, he fell three times and rose up again. After Mr. Deng was reinstated at the third time, his career ushered in full swing and he created a new historical period of China’s reform and opening up. Looking back on the great historical process of Deng Xiaoping boosting reform and opening up and learning about his strategist’s wisdom in strategic thinking, judgment, design and decision can be beneficial to deepening reform comprehensively and carrying forward reform and opening up and socialist modernization drive.
I. Strategic starting point of defining ideological guidelines
The “cultural revolution” resulted in a ten-year-old turmoil and brought about severe calamities, incurring great costs to our Party, country and nation. The “left” wrongdoings can’t be continued and it is a must to correct those mistakes.
Deng Xiaoping undertook duties in a dangerous situation. As soon as taking office, Mr. Deng manifested a great strategist’s foresight. Facing the complex situation of many things waiting to be done, Deng Xiaoping grasped the most important link – starting from establishing the ideological guideline.
For Deng’s creation of a new historical period, it is a strategic starting point to reaffirm and reinstate the Party’s ideological guideline of seeking truth from facts.
Seeking truth from facts is our Party’s ideological guideline in both correctly understanding and changing the objective world. The China’s revolutionary process has fully proved: only on the basis of the guideline of seeking truth from facts, our Party could create the China’s revolutionary path of encircling the cities from the rural areas; our Party could find the three valuable approaches of the armed struggle, united front and party building; our Party could correctly resolve a series of basic problems on the nature, objective, driving force, goal and transformation of Chinese revolution; our Party could establish the correct political, military and organizing guidelines; our Party could build up a Marxist working-class vanguard in a semicolonial and semifeudal society with a large rural population and a small working-class population; our Party could successfully Sinicizing Marxism and create and develop Mao Zedong Though; our Party could surmount numerous hardships, overcome mistakes and frustrations in the progress, correctly sum up experience and lessons, unite all Party’s members and the whole Chinese nation and continuously accomplish new achievements. As the Party and Chinese people were armed with the ideological guideline of seeking truth from facts, the Chinese revolution embarked on the path to successes.
After become the ruling party, our Party had various mistakes and errors, especially the all-round wrongdoing of the “cultural revolution,” which was caused by various complex reasons but basically, resulted from the diversion from the ideological guideline of seeking truth from facts.
After smashing Gang of Four in 1976, the whole Party and nation were inspired. However, the wrong proposition of “two whatevers” remained restricting people’s thinking. The discussion on the criteria of truth succeeded in breaking the barriers of “two whatevers.” To support and promote the discussion on criteria of truth, Deng Xiaping made 26 remarks and speeches in less than two years in order to repeatedly expound on the essential reasons of seeking truth from facts.
Mr. Deng definitely pointed out: the “two whatevers” are wrong and don’t comply with both Marxism and Mao Zedong Thought. Marx, Engles, Lenin, Stalin or Mao Zedong proposed any “whatever.” It is not allowed to impair the whole Mao Zedong Thought with several or partial words and sentences. To follow Mao Zedong Thought shouldn’t focus on citations of Chairman Mao’s remarks but highlight the exertion of Mao’s essential thought.
By Andrew Wedeman
The Communist Party of China has been grappling with corruption almost from its birth. Corruption was one of the major issues during the 1989 anti-government demonstrations.
The leadership, in fact, responded to public anger over corruption and what was then known as “official profiteering” by launching a major campaign, in the course of which the number of individuals charged with corruption jumped from 33,000 in 1988 to 77,000 in 1989, and 72,000 in 1990.
Since the 1989 campaign, the leadership has waged an ongoing “war” against corruption and routinely prosecutes substantial numbers of officials. Between 1997 and 2012 the Supreme People’s Procuratorate reported that it indicted 550,000 individuals on either corruption or dereliction of duty charges, including three members of the powerful Politburo (Chen Xitong in 1997, Chen Liangyu in 2006, and Bo Xilai in 2012).
These prior efforts notwithstanding, upon assuming the office of General Secretary of the party in November 2012, Xi Jinping announced yet another campaign, which was formally approved by the Third Plenum of the Eighteen Party Congress in early November 2013. At first, the campaign appeared to be a repeat of the same old song and dance. Many of the steely toned slogans about the necessity to fight a life-and-death struggle against corruption and the need to put an end to extravagant spending by officials and cadres had been raised many times before.
Announcements of new regulations mandating fewer dishes at official banquets, banning the purchase of luxury sedans and their use for unofficial business, and the construction of lavish government buildings all reiterated orders issued in past years. Eighteen months on, however, it appears that far from a smoke and mirrors attempt to create the impression of action, Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign may well be the most sustained and intensive drive against corruption since the start of the reform era.
By the Numbers
Measuring the intensity of an anti-corruption campaign is, admittedly, a tricky business given that we cannot even roughly estimate the true extent of corruption. Instead, we can at best guess at the extent by asking experts for their impressions of how bad things are or tracking changes in the number of officials who suddenly stop being corrupt because they get caught. Indices such as the popular Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) published by Transparency International would have us believe that rather than getting worse, corruption in China has actually been on the decline for at least a decade, with its score falling from 7.6 (out of a maximum of 10, where 10 is the most corrupt and 1 the least corrupt) in 1995 to 6.0 in 2013, which would put China just below the 75th percentile and hence not among the worst of the worse.1
Data on prosecutions tell a different story. The number of criminal indictments was up 9.4 percent in 2013, with the total number of corruption and dereliction cases increasing from 34,326 in 2012 to 37,551 in 2013 (see Figure 1). The number of officials holding position at the county and departmental levels who were indicted rose from 2,390 to 2,618, a 9.5 percent increase. The number of officials the prefectural and bureau levels who were indicted shot up more dramatically, from 179 in 2012 to 253 in 2013, a 41.4 percent jump. Although nine percent increases in the total number of cases and in the number of county and department officials indicted may seem modest for a highly trumpeted campaign, these increases followed a decade in which the total number of indictments had been slowly decreasing. Increases in 2013, moreover, follow more modest increases in 2012. As a result, the total number of indictments in 2013 was 16.2 percent more than in 2011, and the number of country and department officials indicted was up 12.6 percent compared to 2011. More critically, the 41 percent increase in prefectural and bureau level officials indicted is the largest such increase since 2004, and represents a 27.8 percent rise over 2011. Finally, eight officials at the provincial and ministry levels were indicted, compared to five in 2012. The party’s Discipline Inspection Commission (DIC) also reported a 13.3 percent increase in the number of party members who faced disciplinary action.
Sources: Zhongguo Jiancha Nianjian [Procuratorial Yearbook of China], (Beijing: Zhongguo Jiancha Chubanshi, various years) and Zuigao Renmin Jiancha Yuan Gongzuo Baogao [Work report of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate], 3/18/2014, available at http://www.spp.gov.cn/tt/201403/t20140318_69216.shtml, accessed 6/12/2014.
Note: To provide a long-term perspective, I have transformed the raw data on cases filed into an index anchored on the years 1997-8. I do this because the 1997 revision of the criminal code decriminalized a large number of low-level offenses. The dramatic drop in cases filed thus creates the misleading impression that either corruption fell dramatically, which it did not, or that enforcement suddenly slacked off, which it did not either.
It is also possible to look at the type of corruption a campaign is targeting and who is getting caught to get a more nuanced sense of whether Xi’s roar is that of a paper or a real tiger.
Oct. 27, 2014 – AMBERG, Germany–The next front in Germany’s effort to keep up with the digital revolution lies in a factory in this sleepy industrial town.
At stake isn’t what the Siemens AG plant produces–in this case, automated machines to be used in other industrial factories–but how its 1,000 manufacturing units communicate through the Web.
As a result, most units in this 100,000-plus square-foot factory are able to fetch and assemble components without further human input.
The Amberg plant is an early-stage example of a concerted effort by the German government, companies, universities and research institutions to develop fully automated, Internet-based "smart" factories.
Such factories would make products fully customizable while on the shop floor: An incomplete product on the assembly line would tell "the machine itself what services it needs" and the final product would immediately be put together, said Wolfgang Wahlster, a co-chairman of Industrie 4.0, as the collective project is known.
The initiative seeks to help German industrial manufacturing–the backbone of Europe’s largest economy–keep its competitive edge against the labor-cost advantages of developing countries and a resurgence in U.S. manufacturing.
Underpinning the effort is the Internet of Things, where the Web meets real-world equipment. Google Inc. made a big push on the consumer front this year with its $3.2 billion purchase of Nest Labs Inc., which makes thermostats that can be remotely controlled by smartphones and other connected devices.
Full-fledged smart manufacturing is still in the pilot phase. But the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence has worked with German industrial companies to engineer some of the most advanced demonstrations in the field.
By Robert Ware
University of Calgary
Posted on April 5, 2014
Socialism and Democracy Online / sdonline.org
Few outside China would think of China as a socialist, or Marxist, society. Inside China the views vary widely, but few would say, without qualifiers, as the Constitution does, that China is socialist. No one – anywhere – now sees China as a model for socialism. Nevertheless, socialism is a strong force in China and Marxism a subject of continuing investigation. Just how significant a role socialism and Marxism play is not easily determined, but the importance of that role and some of its complexity is well worth considering.
Recently I have taught Marxism in Beijing and have had occasion to see some of the strengths and weaknesses of the theory and its application. After some remarks on my experiences there, I will discuss my observations about the nature of Marxism in China in theory and practice. Whatever one says about China’s problems and about how Marxism is discussed there, a large role for studying, developing, and applying Marxism in China remains.
I argue here that the significance of Marxism in China can be compared to that of democracy in the west, especially in North America. In both settings, the relevant practices are dysfunctional in significant ways, but both Marxism and democracy give a rationale and a tissue of support – and, consequently, a locus of struggle – for efforts to improve life for the majority. Their actual influence can be depressingly weak, but both are worthy of investigation, for political as well as intellectual reasons. I will consider some questions about the kinds of socialism and Marxism that prevail in China, but also, importantly, what topics are rejected or simply ignored.
Visits, courses, and socialists
Teaching Marxism in China is fascinating, although the same can probably be said for teaching most other subjects there, primarily because of China’s great development and energy, as well as its complexity and chaos. My observations here come largely from recent visits to China, including three weeks in the fall of 2007 (accompanied by my wife, Dr. Diana Hodson), a month at Renmin University in Beijing in July 2010, and two months at Peking University (again with my wife) in September-November 2011. I have also learned much from many helpful correspondents and subsequent contacts, both inside China and out.
In 2007, I visited five academic institutions in Beijing and Shanghai, lecturing on analytical Marxism and libertarian socialism and discussing Marxism and democratic theory, in China and abroad. (I was revisiting universities, where I had taught analytical philosophy in 1984-85 [Fudan University in Shanghai] and 1986-87 [Peking University and the Institute of Philosophy in Beijing]. In the 1980s, I also lectured on analytical Marxism at a variety of universities and institutes throughout the country.) I also participated in a conference in 2007, at a Communist Party university in Shanghai, celebrating the 140th anniversary of Marx’s Capital with over a hundred economists, mostly Chinese, and a few theorists from other disciplines. In 2010, I taught a summer course at Renmin University of China (RUC) in Beijing and served as a commentator at a conference at the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau (CCTB) celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Grundrisse.1
At Peking University in the fall of 2011, I taught a small undergraduate philosophy course on analytical Marxism and a graduate philosophy seminar on Marxism and radical politics. G.A. Cohen’s philosophically acute and influential studies were the central texts for the seminar. We looked at new approaches to historical materialism, the core of Marxist studies in China, and at equality and freedom, which are generally not discussed as Marxist topics.
The first reading assignment I gave for my summer course in 2010 on analytical Marxism at RUC2 was Albert Einstein’s “Why I am a Socialist” and two introductions to analytical Marxism. The first short writing assignment was to answer the question “Why I am a socialist,” or alternatively “Why I am not a socialist.”3 From the start, I had a good opportunity to learn about young people’s views in contemporary China through this small group of university students in Beijing. Of the thirty students, twenty gave reasons for why they were socialists and ten gave reasons for why they were not. In the twenty, I include one who became socialist later, after reading the Communist Manifesto (I assume again) in English. I also include two who said they were not socialists because they were communists.
Given what I had heard previously in China, I was surprised that two-thirds of my students were socialist, but of course I could not conclude anything in general about young people from that exercise. Certainly, that the course was on Marxism would be a factor, although there were students in the course who were there for the credits, out of curiosity, and for the opportunity to develop their English. After the assignment was handed in, we talked about what young people in universities and in the country generally think about socialism. Before telling them the results, I asked them to guess the division of the class in the exercise. There was a fair amount of variation about the class and greater variation for figures about the views of other groups. Afterwards, I learned, through quizzing many friends and contacts, that there is little idea of how many people, young or old, are socialists.
I know of no good studies of the number of Chinese who are socialists, but it is also difficult to know what a good study would be. Much depends on how the question is asked and what the meaning of socialism is in the relevant context. The same is true for understanding what significance to give to the 2009 Rasmussen poll that ‘found’ that one third of US young people under 30 believe that socialism is superior to capitalism. What do the people polled think socialism is? In the case of the Chinese, young people would naturally think of Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong thought or socialism with Chinese characteristics.
The reasons that people give, however, tell something about what they mean when they think of socialism. Quite a few of my students explained their allegiance in terms of their beliefs about human nature. Several said that they were socialists because it is human nature to be altruistic or collectivist, and a similar number were not socialists because, they said, people are self-interested by nature. Of course, this was a good topic for discussion in the class on a topic that is usually given short shrift in Chinese Marxist studies.
Many students were socialists because of parents or grandparents who were members of the Communist Party or had fought in Korea or the War of Liberation. And there were a variety of personal reasons, including moral reasons. An interesting rhetorical question was: if not a socialist, what would you be? The suggestion was that capitalism is not a viable alternative. The dominant question is what kind of socialism should there be.
With even cursory contact, it is obvious that there are millions of socialists in China. There were twenty in my class, and if two thirds of the adult population were socialists, China would have about 500 million socialists. That surely wildly overestimates the numbers, even for a country with a constitution that proclaims its socialism. For a more plausible estimate, consider first that the Communist Party of China has about 80 million members. There is certainly a lot of opportunism and cynicism amongst them, but on the basis of my private queries of many members, I cannot imagine that more than a quarter of them would actually reject socialism, even in their hearts.4 That leaves at least 60 million socialists in the Party.
Then there are surely several million socialists outside the Party. Many people are principled Maoists – some who see positive aspects of the Cultural Revolution – for example those involved with the Utopian Bookstore in Beijing, which has a wide variety of socialist and anarchist books in translation, where lectures are given, and with a widely followed Chinese website – until early 2012 when it was closed down after the detention of Bo Xilai. Bo, the former mayor of the megacity, Chongqing, is thought to have had millions of socialist followers because of popular social policies with Maoist trappings. These days there are also many “Marxologists” and other socialist theorists who do not want to be Party members. Some committed Marxists reject membership for principled reasons. Some socialists prefer not to undergo the strictures and discipline of the Party. Many lack the enthusiasm and happily go on with their own private lives. I would add another 10 million socialists outside the Party.
Thus, my very rough guess is that there are at least 70 million socialists in China. This should not come as a surprise to anyone who observes the intellectual scene in universities, institutes, and the media. Socialism is a known ideology that many take seriously and many more are curious about. (I also heard of many who scoffed at fellow students studying Marxism and socialism.5 There is a lively diversity of opinion.)
This is not to deny that there is also strong interest in capitalism and ideas of neoliberalism in some circles, although there are ways in which such interests are against the grain, historically and politically. Economic decisions might favor private ownership and individual entrepreneurs, but rarely would they be justified on the basis of capitalist ideology or neoliberal theory. Occasionally, ideas are drawn from western “capitalist” thinkers, but almost always in support of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Part of the CCDS team at the conference: Kathy Sykes, Janet Tucker, Harry Targ, Paul Krehbiel
By Paul Krehbiel
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
"The capitalist class is in a serious crisis without solution," said David Schweikart at the Moving Beyond Capitalism conference held in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico from July 30-August 5, 2014. "But there is a solution," he said, "economic democracy, democratic socialism." Over 200 people from 15 countries discussed how to make this happen, organized by the Center for Global Justice.
Chronic high unemployment, depression of wages and benefits, cuts in social services, and growing inequality and repression, and social and political resistance are endemic to nearly all capitalist countries, said Schweikart, a Philosophy professor at Loyola University in Chicago, and author of After Capitalism.
Schweikart’s model of democratic socialism calls for a regulated competitive market economy, socialized means of production and democratic workplaces (he advocates worker-run cooperatives as an example), non-profit public banks to finance projects, full employment, and a guarantee that human needs will be meet for everyone.
Cliff DuRand, a conference organizer, said people are creating alternatives to capitalism today all over the world. "If we’ve built these alternative institutions, the next time the capitalist system collapses…we will be able to survive without it."
Gustavo Esteva, a former Mexican government official, founder of the University of the Land in Oxaca, and an advisor to the Zapatistas in Chiapas in southern Mexico, gave a good account of how the indigenous people of this region are creating a new democratic and socialist-oriented society that they control, within the borders of a capitalist Mexico. The Zapatistas launched an armed uprising in the mid-1990′s to stop NAFTA and the Mexican government from allowing multi-national corporations to come into Chiapas to extract minerals to enrich the corporations and destroy their lives and their local economy.
Ana Maldonado of the Venezuelan Ministry of Communal Economy could not attend, so University of Utah Professor Al Campbell filled in for her. Campbell has worked in Venezuelan with the Community Councils, a new form of grassroots democracy and socialism. Created in 2006 by the late socialist president Hugo Chavez, there are 20,000 Community Councils today, each holding meetings in neighborhoods where all residents can attend, discuss, and vote on decisions for their community.
Private, for-profit banks came under sharp attack for causing the 2008 Great Recession, and for ripping off billions of dollars from people world-wide, primarily through charging high interest rates. Ellen Brown, founder of the Public Banking Institute based in California, declared, "Without interest payments, there would be no national debt," which now stands at over $15 trillion. Politicians use the debt as an excuse to cut funds for education, health care and other social programs. An example of local bank rip-offs is a bank loan for the purchase of a house, where the homeowner pays the bank 2-3 times or more than the cost of the house due to interest payments.
Brown said the solution is to set up not-for-profit public or state banks — like the Bank of North Dakota. She describes how to do it in her book Democratizing Money: The Public Bank Solution. Since the 2008 economic crash, 20 other states including California have introduced bills to study or establish publicly-owned state banks.
"The US controls third world countries," Brown explained, "by putting them in debt and then forcing repayment with high interest rates," which they can’t afford to pay. Brown said the book, Confessions of an Economic Hitman, by John Perkins, explains how devastating this is.
Coops in Cuba
Camila Pineiro Harnecker, a leader of the cooperative movement in socialist Cuba, explained that her country is giving much more attention to the development of worker-run cooperatives as a way to help workers create jobs for themselves, and learn how to become masters of their work and work lives. The state socialist sector dominates the economy, but coops now comprise 12% of the workforce and are expected to increase in number.
Occupy Wall Street protest, two days after dismantling of Zuccotti Park camp (Christopher Smith)
Dissent Magazine, September 4, 2014
Cross-posted from Waging Nonviolence.
Those who get involved in social movements share a common experience: sometimes, when an issue captures the public eye or an unexpected event triggers a wave of mass protest, there can be periods of intense activity, when new members rush to join the cause and movement energy swells. But these extraordinary times are often followed by long, fallow stretches when activists’ numbers dwindle and advocates struggle to draw any attention at all.
During these lulls, those who have tasted the euphoria of a peak moment feel discouraged and pessimistic. The ups and downs of social movements can be hard to take.
Certainly, activists fighting around issues of inequality and economic justice have seen this pattern in the wake of Occupy Wall Street. Many working to combat climate change have encountered their own periods of dejection after large protests in recent years. And even members of movements that have been very successful—such as the immigrant students who compelled the Obama administration to implement a de facto version of the Dream Act—have gone through periods of deflation despite making great advances. Further back in history, a sense of failure and frustration could be seen among civil rights activists following the landmark 1964 Freedom Summer campaign.
After intensive uprisings have cooled, many participants simply give up and move on to other pursuits. Even those committed to ongoing activism wonder how they can keep more people involved over the long haul.
Unfortunately, the fluctuating cycles of popular movements cannot be avoided. Unlike community organizing, which focuses on the slow and steady building of organizational structures, a boom-and-bust pattern is inherent in mass protest movements. Wide-scale uprisings can make a major impact on public consciousness, but they can never be sustained for long. The fact that they fade from view does not mean they lack value—the civil rights movement, for one, scored many of its biggest wins as a result of mass mobilization and the innovative use of nonviolent direct action. But it does present a challenge: Without an understanding of movement cycles, it is difficult to combat despondency.
So how, then, do we know when movements have died—and when are they primed to revive? And how do activists translate periods of peak activity into substantive and enduring social change?
For Bill Moyer, a trainer and strategist who experienced first hand some of the landmark movement cycles of the 1960s and ’70s, grappling with these questions became a life’s work. Moyer’s legacy is an eight-stage model for how movements can overcome despair and marginality to change society—a framework known as the Movement Action Plan, or MAP. Nearly three decades after it was first developed, the MAP continues to offer insights into problems that, while new to fresh generations of activists, in fact have a long lineage.
The Moyer map
Moyer was born in 1933 and grew up as the son of a TV repairman in northeast Philadelphia. As a child, he aspired to one day become a Presbyterian missionary in Africa. But a trouble-making spirit would ultimately get in the way. As he told it, “In March 1959 I was voted out of the Presbyterian Church because I invited a Catholic and a Jew to talk to the youth group.”
The expulsion led him into the arms of the Quakers. At the time, Moyer was just three years out of Penn State, working as a management systems engineer and searching for more “meaning.” Through Philadelphia’s active Quaker meetinghouse, Moyer came in contact with a vibrant circle of socially engaged peers, and an elder couple tutored him in theories of nonviolence. These encounters forever altered his life. “I had no idea that it was the start of ‘the sixties,’” Moyer later wrote, “and never suspected that I was beginning my new profession as a full-time activist.”
Without models that looked at the long arc of protest movements, Moyer contended, activists became stuck in their thinking, repeating past tactics and failing to strategize for how to effectively move their campaigns forward.
In the 1960s, Moyer would take a job with the American Friends Service Committee in Chicago, helping to convince Martin Luther King to launch an open housing campaign in the city. Moyer then worked on King’s last drive, the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C. In the decade that followed, he spent his energies protesting the Vietnam War, supporting American Indian Movement activists at Wounded Knee, and promoting the newly emerging movement against nuclear power.
As he increasingly began training other activists, Moyer saw a gap. “How-to-do-it models and manuals provide step-by-step guidelines for most human activity,” he wrote in 1987, “from baking a cake and playing tennis to having a relationship and winning a war.” Within the world of activism, however, such material was harder to come by.
Saul Alinsky and his followers had created training manuals for their specific brand of community organizing. Likewise, materials drawing from Gandhi and King were available for instructing people in how to create individual nonviolent confrontations. But Moyer believed that there was a lack of models that looked at the long arc of protest movements, materials that accounted for the highs and lows experienced by participants. The result, he contended, was that activists became stuck in their thinking, always repeating the past tactics and failing to strategize for how to effectively move their campaigns forward.
Moyer’s MAP aimed to address this need. It was initially printed in 1986 in the movement journal Dandelion, with twelve-thousand newsprint copies distributed through grassroots channels. Subsequently, it became an underground hit. The plan would continue to be circulated by hand, translated into other languages, and shared at trainings for well over a decade, before taking its final form in the 2002 book Doing Democracy, published shortly before Moyer’s death.
“Every good movement”
Of course, creating social change is a lot trickier than baking a cake. And Moyer was not the only person to propose that movements progress in stages.
Within the academic field of social movement theory, which experienced significant growth in the 1970s and ’80s, scholars were increasingly appreciating how social change happens through what sociologist Sidney Tarrow calls “cycles of contention.” Drawing on the work of theorists including Herbert Blumer and Charles Tilly, the standard academic account holds that movements pass through four stages: emergence, coalescence, bureaucratization, and decline. The last stage is not necessarily negative: movements sometimes are defeated or repressed, but other times they fade away because they have won their key demands.
Outside of academia, a variety of activists have offered thoughts of their own. In the March 9, 1921 edition of Young India, Mohandas Gandhi wrote, “Every good movement passes through five stages: indifference, ridicule, abuse, repression, and respect.” Because Gandhi’s take highlights the likelihood that resistance will be met with a crackdown by authorities, the prospect of progressing through his stages seems less inviting than riding out the academics’ model. But Gandhi believed that dissidents are strengthened by the trials they endure. “Every movement that survives repression, mild or severe, invariably commands respect,” he contended, “which is another name for success.”
In recent years British author and activist Tim Gee has gone so far to propose a four-stage model based on a popular maxim that mirrors Gandhi’s sentiment (and is often misattributed to him): “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
All of these different models have some value, but they also present problems.