Robbins Chapter 11 Antisystemic Protest

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Robbins Chapter 11

Antisystemic Protest


  • Early peasant protests were a consequence of relationships with land or with those who directly endangered the survival of the peasants.

  • Today, peasant revolts have been the result of globalization of the capitalist economy and the resulting social and economic transformations.

  • But what of forms of protest, such as workers’ organizations and strikes, national liberation, civil rights, feminist, militia, environmental, and fundamentalist religious movements?

  • Is there a relationship between the diverse groups of people involved in these protests?

  • Can we place these movements in any sort of global perspective?

  • One label that holds all these protests together is the term antisystemic protest.

  • These protests are attributed to the expansion of the capitalist world system.

  • This school of thought cuts across many disciplines.

  • Capitalism requires constant change – new modes of production, new organizations of labor, expansion of markets, new technology. It requires a society of perpetual change.

  • This all allows for an economic system that is very adaptive and flexible.

  • This flexibility has far-reaching effects on patterns of social and political relations.

  • One example is the invention and development of the of the American automobile.

  • This business created new jobs , the ability to buy homes, appliances, and more cars.

  • It also provides for pollution, dependence on oil.

  • The invention of the computer has had a similar effect.

Protest as Antisystemic: Two World Revolutions 1

  • Overview

  1. Immanual Wallerstein suggests that the first world revolution was in 1848 when workers, peasants and others staged rebellions in 11 European countries.

  • Beginning in France, all were put down in a few months.

  • Even so, the protests succeeded in setting an agenda for protest that lead to most of the reforms asked for by the protesters.

  1. The second world revolution occurred in 1968 when workers, students, peasants, and others in the United States, France, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Japan and Mexico participated in popular uprisings.

  • These movements also failed to gain immediate objectives of the protesters.

  • An agenda was created this time too (civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights indigenous rights, environmental rights, and others.

  • This agenda has define the goals of social movements since that time.

  • The revolution of 1848

  • This revolution, begun in France in February 1848, soon spread across many parts of Europe.

  • Within weeks many of the governments of Europe had been overthrown.

  • A rebellion in Brazil was even started by the revolution!

  • Within 1-1/2 years the revolution was overturned, except in France.

  • Even though the objectives of the workers were not immediately meet, two sets of social movements were defined:

  • Worker movements protesting the oppression of laborers originating in industrial revolution

  • Movements for national liberation motivated by a desire of peripheral countries to gain freedom from imperialism and colonial oppression.

  • Both types of movements were modeled after the French Revolution of 1789.

Protest as Antisystemic: Two World Revolutions 2

  • Worker movements

  • The revolution of 1848 marked first time a proletariat-based political group tried to achieve political power.

  • Even as they failed, it prodded a debate among labor rights advocates over the best way to improve the situation of workers:

  1. Option 1: Strike. The nation-states of Europe and the United States had outlawed worker unions and made strikes a crime.

  2. Option 2: Voting rights. As the workers constituted a large part of the population, if they could gain voting rights, they would gain power.

  • These two options, strike or vote, resulted in competing strategies.

  • The first was lead by social democratic parties seeking political power through the vote

  • The other lead by communist organizations advocating revolution.

  • By 1945, unions and labor-led political parties arose in the United States, England, France, and much of Western Europe, resulting in improved labor conditions.

  • Most countries recognized the right to strike, bargain collectively, develop programs for social insurance, education, unemployment, compensation, health.

  • Also to extend the rights of votes to minorities.

  • Workers in revolutionary states, including Russia and most of Eastern Europe achieved their goals under communist regimes.

  • While those in communist countries did not reach a level of prosperity seen in the western countries, all had acquired the goals of the 1848 Revolution.

Nationalist Antisystemic Movements 1

  • In the periphery, liberation movements were occurring.

  • While the movements in the United States and Europe were initiated by the working classes, in the periphery it was the middle-class and the intelligentsia who reached out to other anti-capitalist segments of their populations.

  • In countries in Asia and Africa, under European rule, gained their independence after WWII.

  • By 1968 most colonial powers had been forced to abandon, politically, their 19th and early-20th century empires and hand over power to the indigenous elites.

  • The exceptions were Vietnam and a few African states.

  • The world economy after WWII created an illusion.

  • In the West, people thought they had discovered the solution to the problems of economic depression and unemployment.

  • In the periphery, many felt that their mixtures of socialism and capitalism would enable they to develop economically and begin to achieve the prosperity of the West.

  • Samir Amin suggests that after WWII the efforts of the antisystemic movements of the 19th century had come to fruition.

Nationalist Antisystemic Movements 2

  • What progress was made?

  • According to Wallerstein, each of the movements that emerged out of the revolution of 1848 can take credit for one fundamental reform:

  • The social democrats of the West claimed to have transformed the core states into welfare states with social insurance and an increase in real wages.

  • What Wallerstein calls Fordism.

  • Conservative forces acceded to these reforms as they subdued protest; they whittle them down though.

  • In the communist countries, the socialization of the means of production was the great reform.

  • These countries experienced a lower level of social insurance and welfare than the West.

  • But they experienced more security and employment, though.

  • The great achievement of the national liberation movements (decolonization) was not increases in wages or social insurance, but in the increased participation of indigenous people in government and the creation of an indigenous elite.

  • The revolution of 1968

  • Who was engaged in this revolution?

  • The revolution in the United States was marked by student protests over the Vietnam War, demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention and the killing of students at both Jack State and Kent State during campus demonstrations.

  • In France, workers and students barricaded the streets of Paris.

  • In Japan, Mexico and elsewhere there were similar demonstrations.

Nationalist Antisystemic Movements 3

  • The revolution of 1968 (continued)

  • From a world system perspective, 1968 was as much a turning point as that of 1848.

  • The ‘old’ movements had attained state power or at least a voice in the state.

  • One consequence was that the new revolution was a protest against the old.

  • The new revolution was triggered by the beliefs that the old revolution had failed to reach their objectives and had become a part of the problem.

  • What had pushed this revolution?

  • In the United States, people protested the government’s attempts to stop the nationalistic objectives of the Vietnamese.

  • In Russia and the Eastern Bloc, people learned of Stalin’s brutality and witnessed the repression of freedom fighters in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

  • In the periphery, the economic dream turned to a nightmare of poverty, repression and corruption.

  • The new social movements were created that focused on ‘identity issues’: civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, indigenous people’s rights and handicapped rights.

  • At first there was a sense of mutual solidarity among the movements that was expressed as the idea of a rainbow coalition.

  • So in the West, the theme was the forgotten people -- minorities, women, and gays.

  • In the East the struggle was directed against the bureaucrats of the communist states, culminating in the toppling of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe in 1989.

  • In the periphery, the focus was on the observation that those in power continued to promote the programs that caused social and economic ruin for large segments of the population.

Nationalist Antisystemic Movements 4

  •  The revolution of 1968 (continued)

  • The new social movements (continued)

  • A range of antisystemic movements emerged out of the two world revolutions

  • Robbin’s assumption is that each of these movements examined in this chapter .represent protest about various features of the culture of capitalism.

  • He does remind us that not all protests are based on this. Others, such as the militia movements in the United States blame the groups who they see threaten their economic security.

The Protests of Labor 1

  • Overview

  • In his book, St. Clair, F. C. Wallace describes the 19th century working conditions of colas miners and the labor protests that came out of them.

  • Mining was not viable in much of Pennsylvania, but owners insisted on placing mines there and this fact has much to do with what followed.

  • The coal industry and the worker’s life

  • In the 1820s and 1830s, investors form Philadelphia and NY bought land in Pennsylvania that they thought would produce coal.

  • They thought to make a profit as coal was used to heat houses and fuel factories

  • The workers were from NW Europe.

  • Coal mining in this part of the world required the digging of shafts and jobs were allocated in a hierarchical fashion

  • The lowest were young boys who controlled the air doors.

  • Teenage boys were the mule drivers.

  • In the underground:

  • Were miner’s helpers, and then the contract miners.

  • Towards the top were the craftsmen.

  • There was a mine boss and the fire boss.

  • Aboveground:

  • At the bottom were the slate pickers, who might be as young as 4 years old.

  • Next up were the engineers, machinists, carpenters and teamsters.

  • Within the mine, the workforce was also divided by ethnic group, with the top jobs going to those from England, Wales and Germany.

The Protests of Labor 2

  • The coal industry and the worker’s life (continued)

  • Through the 1840s to the 1870s, mining grew, even though the pay was bad and conditions worse.

  • Many mine owners dug themselves into debt.

  • The failure right for an owner was 95%.

  • Mines failed to make money for a number of reasons:

  1. They ignored the geologists who stated mining in the area would never be profitable.

  2. Work stoppages due to accidents were frequent. Accidents include those caused 1) roof collapses, coal dust explosions, and mining-induced earthquakes.

  3. The number of deaths and accidents is hard to estimate in that, until the mine safety law of 1869, no one kept records.

  • Because profits were low, owners cut on safety and pay.

  • For the workers, without work stoppages ,the pay would have been above subsistence.

  • To compensate for the stoppages, there were often more than one person who worked in a household.

  • Other households took in borders and some women worked as seamstresses, cooks, and maids.

  • Food was cheap, but even so, if there were more than 2 children, the oldest often had to be put to work.

  • Black lung usually killed the workers, most did not live past 35 years.

The Protests of Labor 3

  • Worker resistance and protest

  • How could the laborers protect their interests and formally, or informally, protest the dangers they faced?

  • The protests occurred in many ways.

  • There were spontaneous work stoppages, sabotage, demonstrations and marches, and likely work slowdowns.

  • Many were meet with force from the police or state militia.

  • The first effective strike was in 1868 when the state legislature passes a law making 8 hours the legal work day.

  • The miners went on strike, asking for the 8 hour day without a cut in pay (meaning a raise would result).

  • The workers received a 10% raise and the miners formed the Workingmen’s Benevolent Association (the forerunner of the United Mine Workers of America).

  • Further, read about Molly Maguires. Its antecessor may have been the Ancient Order of the Hibernians.

  • In September 1875, an epidemic of violence broke out.

  • The victim had been attacking Irish or firing or blacklisting the Irish.

  • The backlashes were linked to the severity of the offense.

  • Destroying worker resistance

  • The owners and operators opposed all legislation that provided safety in the mines or which recognized workers’ rights, stating that they would cost too much.

The Protests of Labor 4

  • Destroying worker resistance

  • They tried to destroy the Ancient Order of the Hibernians.

  • Gowen lead the attacks (ex-coal operator and lawyer).

  • He hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to show a connection between the Ancient Order of the Hibernians and the Molly Maguires. They found none.

  • They he hired another agency to infiltrate the Ancient Order of the Hibernians, but only reported that the group was declining due to the smear campaign of Gowen.

  • Gowen got his chance when he was able to put the Ancient Order of the Hibernians and the Workingmen’s Benevolent Association on trial for a murder.

  • The results were to discredit a broken union and blame the miners for all the problems of the coal trade.

  • The International Confederation of Free Trade unions (ICFTU) provides a report each year on labor violence and repression

  • In the 133 countries and territories covered by the 2006 survey, they found:

  1. There were 115 deaths of trade unionists in 2005, while 1,600 were assaulted.

  2. There were 9,000 trade unionists arrested and 1,700 detained

  3. There were 10,000 had been fired.

  • Present situation in the United States:

  • In 2011, Wisconsin union protests targeted Governor Scott Walker, attempted to oust him and lost bid.

  • In the United States, in 2012 the percentage of wage and salaried workers in a union was 11.3%, as compared to 20.1& in 1983. New York had the highest percentage (23.2) while North Carolina the lowest (2.9)

  • Wal-Mart is the focus of union efforts: 1) United Food and Commercial Workers union is trying to organize, but 2) Wal-Mart is countering their efforts .

Global Feminist Resistance 1

  • Overview

  • In 1995, representatives from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from all over the world meet in Beijing, China, for the 4th World Conference on Women.

  • Their goal was to create a strategic sisterhood.

  • This would be an international organization that would connect the core with the periphery.

  • The model for present-day protests can be traced back to 1848 when 400 participants gathered in Seneca Falls, NY to plan how to abolish slavery.

  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton introduced a resolution that women be given the vote.

  • It passed only because Frederick Douglas supported the resolution.

  • Most Americans did not support the idea of women voting.

  • African American men gained the right to vote in 1869, but except in Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho and Utah, women did not gain any voting rights until 1920.

  • The modern feminist movement has help raise the status of women, mostly in the West, but women remain among the most economically, politically and socially marginalized member of the global society.

  • The majority of jobs for women are as street sellers, factory assembly lines, piecework, cash-cropping and commercial agriculture, prostitution and as domestic servants.

  • Even so, they produce 75-90% of the food crops in the world as they run households.

  • According to the UN, in every country the amount of work done by men does not come close to that done by women.

  • The feminization of poverty continues, with 2 of 3 adults being women.

  • An informal slogan for the Decade of Women: Women do two-thirds of the world’s work, receive 10% of the world’s income and own 1 percent of the means of production.

Global Feminist Resistance 2

  • Overview (continued)

  • These conditions incite feminist protest in virtually every country.

  • They took on dowry death in India.

  • In Bangladesh, they organized to receive access to employment and fair wages, as well as changes in the inheritance laws that favored men.

  • In the Philippines, women worked to elect their first woman president.

  • In South Africa, women have organized about sexual abuse, economic inequality and exclusion of women from politics.

  • In Kenya, women’s groups have exploded, supporting entry into business, community projects and revolving loan programs.

  • Women represent about 60% of the billion people who earn less than $1/day.

  • What are the factors that contribute to the inferior position of women in the world, and what are some of the strategies that can be employed to improve their position?

  • Gender relations in the culture of capitalism

  • Eleanor Leacock has studied the role of women in capitalism around the world

  • She has found that some women hold some level of power, but it depends on the gender system of their culture, the status, race religion or class to which they belong, the political system under which they live, and their personal attributes and life histories.

  • She agrees with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels that capitalism is patriarchal and paternalistic.

  • The mode of production creates a hierarchy of labor.

  • When the family structure relegates the women to domestic work this leads to gender oppression.

Global Feminist Resistance 3

  • Gender relations in the culture of capitalism (continued)

  • There are 4 developments that accompanied the expansion of capitalism that define its system of gender relations:

  1. The loss of control by women over valuable and productive resources.

  2. The expansion of industry into the periphery.

  3. The transformation of extended families into male-dominated nuclear families.

  4. The imposition on peripheral countries by multilateral institutions of structural adjustment .programs.

  • In the 18th and 19th centuries, capitalist expansion altered two sets of social relations:

  1. First, capitalism resulted in the loss of control of most members of the society over the means of production, making them dependent.

  2. And, capitalism undermined large, extended families groups, isolating them into individual or nuclear families, each a separate economic unit.

  • In these developments lay the origins of the suppression of women.

  • Missionaries further undermined women’s authority.

  • They refused to deal with women.

  • They taught women their place was the home.

  • Both Ester Boserup and Karen Sacks trace this pattern in Africa.

  • Why was the extended family not compatible with other elements of capitalist culture?

  • Modernization theorists state that the extended family declines as the nuclear family becomes the unit of progress.

  • Most feminist theories see the nuclear family as partly responsible for the lowered position of women.

Global Feminist Resistance 4

  • Gender relations in the culture of capitalism (continued)

  • If we assume that it is the preferred family unit in the culture of capitalism, how does the nuclear family lend itself to the relegation of women to an inferior position?

  1. The emergence of the nuclear family tended to release mean from the ties to the extended family and made them more autonomous.

  2. The nuclear family and patrilocality of the workforce serves to separate women from their peers.

  3. The nuclear family supports the subservient position of women is the prevalent form of marriage.

  4. The move of capitalism from the core to the periphery served to marginalize women economically.

  • In the 1990s, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have forced countries to terminate programs that provide social services.

  • Update: In 2012, the 15 year-old, Malala Yousufzai of Pakistan, was shot by the Taliban for advocating girls’ education. She has become an icon for women’s rights.

  • Update: In 2012, in Delhi, a 23 year-old college student was gang raped on a bus and died. It brought attention to this issue and prompted a call for change.

  • Update: Attitudes about female circumcision are changing in many African countries (also fewer American men are being circumcised).

Strategies of Protest 1

  • There is a link between the inferior status of women and 1) the economy, 2) family, and 3) the nation-state. This mingling of factors makes raising the status of women difficult.

  • Some suggest that without an overthrow of capitalism, women will remain subordinate. Robbins suggests this may be one reason so many women are active in revolutionary programs is to shake the culture of capitalism.

  • Robbins states that many communist (i.e.; China)/socialist (i.e., Cuba) countries do not allow for equality either (at least once the revolution is secured). With the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the plight of women is worse; the same is true in China.

  • Women are the disproportionate victims of labor exploitation.

  • Most of the labor abuses in China are targeted at women.

  • In New York, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, with 145 women dead. Today the deaths are seen in Bangladesh:

  • 2011: A garment factory fire killed 112; among the companies doing business were Wal-Mart®, the GAP®, Tommy Hilfiger®, Disney ®, K-Mart ®, and Sears ®.

  • 2013: A garment factory collapsed, killing 1,129 and injuring 2.500. Companies doing business included a wide range of Western clothing brands.

Strategies of Protest 2

  • This does not always match the interests of those in the periphery.

  • The result is a sense of distrust.

  • Insufficient attention has been given to the cultural and religious differences between the core and the periphery.

  • Aihwa Ong explains that Western feminist movements have tried to impose their own value systems on those of peoples in the periphery.

  • She suggests that exchanges of ideas between the core and the periphery would be more fruitful.

  • One example she points to is the Sisters in Islam.

  • They use their own religious beliefs to open dialogue with Islamic men.

Direct Action and Occupy Wall Street 1

  • On December 17, 2010, a young Tunisian street vendor (Mohammed Bouazizi) set himself on fire.

  • His goal was to draw attention to the corruption that was rampant in the Tunisian police force after his vegetable cart was illegally confiscated.

  • His story was posted on Facebook where it went viral, sparking the Arab Spring that followed.

  • One consequence of Arab Spring was that the dictator of Tunisia, Ben Ali, was ousted.

  • Another was that the Arab Spring protests spread across the Arab world (Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon, Jordan, Oman and Saudi Arabia); the results were mixed and the region remains unstable politically.

  • Perhaps the greatest political changes happened in Egypt (and this country remains in turmoil):

  • In January 2011, 250,000 Egyptian protestors flocked to Tahrir Square.

  • In response, Hosni Mubarak, the long-term dictator cracked down.; by February 11, 2011 he was overthrown.

  • Elections were announced; 24 June 2012, Egypt's elections placed the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi into power.

  • His presidency was filled with conflict, protests, and claims his group was consolidating power in order to create an Islamic state.

  • July 3, 2013 the military overthrew Morsi; by August 1 he remained in military custody.

Direct Action and Occupy Wall Street 2

  • In the United States, during the same time as Arab Spring, a different protest movement gained force, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement.

  • In June 2011 a group called New Yorkers against Budget Cuts (NYBC) gathered to protest the mayor’s layoff of 4,000 city workers. The camp they set-up was called “Bloomberville” (after the Hoovervilles of the 1930s depression era protests)

  • At the same time, Adbustersregisters the web address; Adbusters is an anti-consumerism organization.

  • Further, a journalist, David Degere, whose comments on his website were supported by Anonymous had this site hacked. Angered they promoted a protest called “Operation Empire State Rebellion of Flag Day.”

  • The first day of protest was September 17, 2011. and the protestors moved into Zuccotti Park. Their slogan?: “We are the 99%.”

  • This slogan was an acknowledgement that 1% of Americans own 40% of the wealth.

  • This was an acknowledgment that 1% of Americans own 83.2% of all resources.

  • The OWS also constructed a set of “Principles of Solidarity” (see pp. 324-325).

  • The protestors organized free food deliveries, donated by local “mom-and-pop’ businesses.

  • OWS protests began to appear in other nations.

  • But the OWS was challenged by authorities and what followed were a series of crack-downs and attempts by the protestors re regain ground (both literally and politically).

Direct Action and Occupy Wall Street 3

  • Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement (continued)

  • A strong criticism of OWS was that there was not a single stance or set of demands that united the protestors.

  • Some protesters were focused on economic inequality. Some wanted to abolish the Federal Reserve; others were upset by the Glass-Steagall Act that forbid saving institutions from trading securities. Another group wanted to overthrow capitalism.

  • Anarchism and direct action

  • David Graeber’s work in Direct action: An ethnography helps to explain the OWM and similar protest efforts.

  • Direct action is where one models a democratic organizational structure and then model your actions to achieve it.

  • He suggests you do NOT protest or make demands on the state; that simply gives legitimacy to it. Instead you directly solve the issue.

  • The example he gives is if toxic waste has been dumped do not ask for governmental help.

  • One acts to stop it.

  • This anarchist stance is informed by Quaker philosophies.

  • It can be a slow process , sometimes frustrating and bring conflict, but it also brings legitimacy to all members of the group.

  • For instance, the OWM, prohibited from communicating to the crowds electronically, used bullhorns in a daisy-chain of announcements.

  • “People mics” spread the messages.

Direct Action and Occupy Wall Street 4

  • Anarchism and direct action

  • Problems for the protestors

  1. The police, as long as they do no permanent harm, are not held accountable. This opens up the opportunity for brutality in the form of beatings, pepper spraying, and other maltreatments.

  • The “story” about violence in the 1999 Seattle WTO protests was that protestors started to break store windows and the police HAD to come in.

  1. In fact, the real story is that Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, contacted the governor to have him clear protestors in front of conference doors; the police treatment prompted the violence.

  1. How to interact with the media is another potential issue. Graeber suggests that it is nearly impossible for an American journalist to report such stories accurately because there is a standard narrative to follow:

  • The police are there to maintain order.

  • The policed themselves do not provoke violence (in spite of the history to the contrary; see p. 327).

  1. What about protestor violence? The Quaker origins of the movement eschew violence.

  • Graeber suggests, though that the nonviolent protest, modeled after Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King do not always work.

  • The intent is to provoke violence from the police to draw attention to the issue (i.e.; the pepper-spraying of an elderly woman during Occupy Seattle; the result is often the opposite: it legitimizes the violence.

  • One reaction to these issues is for the protestors to create their own media.

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