How social movements can best fulfill their crucial role in the 21st century

climate protest
Protestors at venue of Glasgow summit on climate change

Social movements have always been important for the progress of humanity, but  in the 21st century there are two additional and very special reasons why the role of the social movements has become all the more crucial. Firstly, there is a survival crisis in the form of the basic life-nurturing conditions of the planet being threatened seriously. Secondly, the current world establishment/leadership has failed miserably so far in resolving this most critical issue of our times (with many aspects worsening) and appears at present to be quite incapable of resolving this crisis on its own. This situation (on top of earlier highly relevant issues like injustice and inequalities at several levels) has given social movements an unprecedented crucial role in the 21st century.

Will social movements be able to fulfill this crucial role? It is a question of very great importance. Here we list some essential requirements for social movements if they are to be able to fulfill this role of great importance.

Keeping in view the special conditions of the 21st century, various social movements should have a high level of consciousness of the survival crisis, its central importance and what is needed to resolve this. No matter what their specific area of concern (and it may well be a very specialized one), such higher consciousness should be there.

Related to this, there is need for a more comprehensive understanding of broader issues, even if the chosen area of work is only a very, very small part of this.

In particular, there is a need to absorb and integrate the crucial concerns of peace, environment protection, justice, equality and democracy, in such a way that all these urgent concerns can be advanced together instead of conflicting with each other.

There is a great need for ensuring that local issues can be related to national and global issues in such a way that these can be mutually supportive for each other, a source of strength for each other.

Those movements which seek to mobilize special sections of people on the basis of gender, age, class etc. should also have this broader consciousness of issues of greatest urgency concerning humanity.

Social movements must be peaceful and non-violent.

Social movements should work in conditions of transparency and not secrecy.

There should be an effort to integrate various struggles with various kinds of constructive work which shows the way forward for creating an alternative world—creative work relating to health, education, energy, farming, nutrition, small industry, community life etc.

There should be an effort to involve as many people as possible, creating spaces even for those people who are able to contribute only in very limited ways.

At the same time better ways of supporting those who are committed to working whole time for various social movements should be found by creating broader support networks.

Social movements should not neglect the broader tasks, base-level tasks of spreading those values and value systems in society which are conducive to a world of justice, equality, environment protection, peace and real democracy.

Social movements must be highly conscious of the very dangerous role of imperialism in our world, and should be firmly opposed to imperialism. However their opposition must always be specifically to the forces of imperialism and never to the people of any country. As far as the relationship with the ordinary people of even the biggest imperialist country is concerned, this must be based on peace, friendship and fraternity. With increasing social consciousness the people of imperialist countries must also rise against the imperialism of their own countries, and this is probably the most peaceful and democratic path for checking the destruction caused by imperialism.

Social movements should be free from superpower rivalries and should not make the mistake of seeking the support of any superpower or becoming subservient to it.  Interactions with governments are a part of daily life, are unavoidable, and care must be taken to guide this interaction on the basis of principles of social movements. Similar should be the relations with various political parties. However if the government of any country is found to be truly living up to the ideals of social movements on the basis of very honest appraisal then social movements can cooperate with the government in much closer and trusting ways.

When social movements form their own political parties and contest elections, then they should remain very honest to their essential principles and avoid making any opportunistic compromises.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children, Earth without Borders and A Day in 2071.


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