From Social Movement to Revolutionary Movement: Why We Need Both

By Hyung Kyu Nam (February 3, 2017


We should see ourselves in a long arc of change globally as we face a crisis with imperialism, capitalism, ecocide and both political and social oppression that are all interconnected: Zapatista, Seattle WTO, Tunisia, Egypt, Wisconsin, Spain, Greece, Occupy, BLM, Idle No More, Umbrella Movement. Ultimately, these crises require radical change.


To frame my comments, here are some definitions from The Social Movements Reader (edited by Goodwin and Jasper).


“A social movement is a collective, organized, sustained, and non-institutional challenge to authorities, powerholders, or cultural beliefs and practices.

A revolutionary movement is a social movement that seeks, at minimum, to overthrow the government or state, and perhaps to change the economy and key institutions of the entire society.”


There have been many social movements throughout history and in the present day, in US and globally; however, only a few combined resistance and creating alternative institutions with winning power and taking over the big institutions, for revolutionary change.


There are two notable examples of an evolution from movement of the squares to winning power; in Greece with solidarity networks and majority seats in parliament and Barcelona.


SYRIZA, a coalition of radical left parties, capitulated under the threat of global capital, while the Barcelona en Comu (in common) movement won power in a city and is governing in radically democratic ways, even in a country that has been in a similar crisis as Greece.


In the US, we have the Malcom X Grassroots Movement/Cooperation Jackson and the Richmond Progressive Alliance. Both theorists like Murray Bookchin and the European municipal movements call for creating confederations of mutual support networks.


For these revolutionary changes, we will need direct action that target power holders in order to negotiate with them as well as alternative mutual aid organizations, but we cannot stop there. We will also need to win power, in the city where it’s most accessible, with a new vision for radically inclusive and participatory democracy, where we negotiate with each other, over our communities, institutions, and commons and directly and democratically control and transform systems in our city, from policing and local economic development to infrastructure, transportation and water management, as well as city budgets, planning, and procurement. The magnitude of our political, ecological, social and economic crises need systemic transformation, which cannot happen without taking this next step to build the ‪#NextSystem.


We should focus on our city, not because rural places, the state and nation don’t matter, but because we are best positioned to make real democratic changes here, that then must become models for transformation to be adapted and spread horizontally and vertically, in what Gar Alperovitz calls a checker board strategy. This way, we can go beyond single issue reforms to create coherent systemic and revolutionary changes, because our crises are systemic and interconnected.


We face these crises and after this election, more people are recognizing that they can’t just continue their daily lives and that we need to mobilize and organize. The danger is that this is where things can fall apart, where we struggle to envision our future beyond resistance and struggle to build coalitions and agreed upon strategies and tactics towards common visions and goals.


To win, we will need to study, analyze and build inclusive and powerful coalitions around shared strategies to not only address our crises but, to take next step with strategic actions to create a real democracy. Let’s use this moment as a shock to the system, and make our way out of the underlying crises we’ve been facing even before this election. Let’s work together and build our skills to be effective change makers.

One thought on “From Social Movement to Revolutionary Movement: Why We Need Both”

  1. It seems to me that in order to improve stature, control, benefits, etc., in this country, the white ‘man’ has to be the one discriminated against so the non-whites can raise themselves up. Isn’t this also discrimination? When will we be able to believe that we ARE all created equal, see color (which is impossible to NOT see) without reacting, and be all-inclusive? When the benefits of self-imposed discrimination stop, the fight will stop. You work to keep the war going which only creates further imbalance. I, choose to no longer believe myself a victim, I also do not carry any guilt I’ve not been responsible for (history of America AND Mexico AND Africa) and only wish millions of others would too. Come on now, it’s been a six-decade battle and I for one, are becoming battle weary and bored. Time to stand up, grow up, take responsibility and get on with the business of living. If you’re still stuck, stop looking for handouts and assume responsibility for yourself. Millions before you have succeeded so jump off the ‘oh, poor me – the world owes me’ wagon and grow the ‘f’ up.

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