Like the waves of the sea. Movements and organisation: a difficult relationship

By Maurizio Zandri, September 2017                                
Professor of International Studies at Link Campus University in Rome
/ I-Bridge International Research Center/ SudgestAid

Movements often show a great “spontaneity”, forms of self-organization, decision-making procedures influenced by the experience of direct democracy.
Therefore, a crucial question is: what is the relationship that a movement must have with the choice of a political representation, with elections and, in the end, with the organization?
We have seen that “Tahrir Movement” (Egypt) was able to bring down a dictator (not without a calculated strategy from the Armed Forces). Did he play a role in governing after Mubarak?
Without answering to "Phase 2" , i.e. how to consolidate one’s own success, that any revolutionary movement runs into, the following things may happen:

  • Who is already organized can easily adjust to the heritage of the "revolution", managing one’s own success;
  • In the absence of an organization, the sympathy of those who stayed at home is not conveyed, "the silent majority," is not the way to express themselves and to those who oppose the "revolution can easily retrieve consensus".

When in Tahrir as in Madrid, in Tunis as in New York, under the blows of repression you falter, but then, even heroically, you resists; and then you become famous and you will get amazing results in a short time, then you also go across a season of excitement and pride that inevitably ends to match your image with that of the "People", the Arab people as a whole in Tahrir, 99% of the population of the planet at Zuccotti. Then it turns out that a few million, almost the majority of Spaniards is for the status-quo conservation and the representatives of a medieval religious culture are more numerous than those who "chat" in Cairo. And this results in frustration and reflux. But these effects are the result of an self-emphasized representation, and a wrong way to see and to live Movements.

Over the years, based on my direct experience, I have found a simile. Protest movements, revolutionary movements, radical movements or even those movements tied to specific objectives, perhaps are a little bit like the waves of the sea. When retreating, they follow their nature. Then, they return. Their success is not measured by the portion of land that permanently flood, but with the sediments they leave. Over time, beaches are made by the waves, even though nobody notices them.

Experience suggests that Movements should limit their anxiety of being the permanent alternative “solution” for the existing conditions of things. The key actors of a Movement should know and accept that the Movement is not “all”. That the Assembly is just one of the several forms of decision, not the “totem” of democracy. Movements are a vital expression of democracy; they are the way through which we often overcome or even break unfair social, political and economic balances. But Movements are not THE democracy tout-court, nor a permanent model of new social relations.

Being aware of this may ruin the typical movements’ romanticism, but it could also save many of its key actors from an excess of disillusion and overacting the sense of defeat.
Finally, we should enhance the plurality of representation, the countless passages of the decision-making processes of a complex society. To consolidate forms of association in political parties, trade unions, the wealth of the companies interests is a powerful antidote against the people/leader short circuit, mediated by the traditional mass media, which takes attention-seeking behavior from people, bringing it to a plebiscite where the "vote" is no longer a form of democracy, but an alienation of its role.

The endless possibilities of the Internet era guarantee not only convocations of large gatherings and their self-organization, but also the ability to dialogue and organize among many, in different intermediate levels. Movements are often moments of mixture, place of confluence. When their innovation and tear fades, an organized intermediate company rich of forms and vitality enables the saving and the use of the energy they have unleashed.