'The Bourgeoisie, Historically, Has Played a Most Revolutionary Part': Understanding Social Movements From above
Cox, Laurence and Gunvald Nilsen, Alf (2006) 'The Bourgeoisie, Historically, Has Played a Most Revolutionary Part': Understanding Social Movements From above. In: Proceedings Eleventh international conference on alternative futures and popular protest.
'From castles and palaces and churches to prisons and workhouses and schools; from weapons of war to a controlled press', Raymond Williams writes, 'any ruling class, in variable ways though always materially, produces a social and political order'. This productive activity constitutes the essence of what can be referred to as social movements from above. This paper explores social movements from above as the organization of multiple forms of skilled activity around a rationality expressed and organized by dominant social groups, which aims at the maintenance or modification of a dominant structure of entrenched needs and capacities in ways that reproduce and/or extend the power of those groups and its hegemonic position within a given social formation. Starting from a theoretical conception of social structure as the sediment of struggle between social movements from above and those from below, the paper discusses the relevance of a conception of social movements from above to activist experience in particularly as a way of avoiding the reification of exploitative and oppressive social structures. The paper moves on to an outline of a model of the fields of force animated by movements from above and below in understanding the major 'epochal shifts' and 'long waves' in capitalist development. This model is then put to work in a prolegomenon to an analysis of global neoliberal restructuring as a social movement from above aiming to restore the class power of capital over labour. This analysis aims to discern the hegemony of neoliberalism not as an accomplished and monolithic state of affairs, but as an unfinished process riddled by internal contradictions which the movement of movements might exploit in its efforts to impose an alternative direction and meaning upon the self-production of society. Our goal in this paper is to use this general analysis to explore neo-liberal globalisation as what we are calling a social movement from above. Elsewhere we have made an initial attempt on the question that follows from this, of how the movement of movements can win (Cox and Nilsen 2005c). Our interest here, then, is in understanding the historical context up to the mid-1990s or thereabouts - the 'house that neo-liberalism built', where it comes from and how it works with a view to identifying effective tools for its demolition.
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