It falls to me to discuss with you Protest Movements


So perhaps I should not simply nominate some notable protest movements of the recent times but try to think theoretically about what we might mean by these two words



How do we define Protests?



Protest has been around since human formed political societies


but what do we mean by protest - is it a particular form of challenge to a recognised socio-political order/norm?



Peoples Century opening



I mean, is it a qualitatively determined point on a spectrum of increasingly challenging behaviours which starts with questioning at its mildest...passes through protest...and continues on into violence/revolution?


 Or is this whole spectrum of challenge to some normal pattern... 'protest'?



Are there primary and secondary forms of protests.


The late medieval gnostic millenarian movements - which gathered in major towns to challenge the oppressive elites of the established church theology and offer a doctrine of  a pure spiritual path where a lower being from heaven created the material world and God/Christ were pure spirit. Millenarian theology was the ostensible form of challenge to established doctrine,  but it symbolised a deeper political demand of recognition of the peasants.


The boredom of English youth in the late 50s and early sixties -  the so-called 'mods and rockers 'rumbles' on Margate or Brighton beach - were they symbolic protests at a secondary level against the dullness of working -class early 60s social norms?


Were the anti-vietnam demonstrations of the later sixties primary forms of protests?


Are trade union marches for higher wages 'protests'


Are the 2001 G8 'protests' in Genoa really protests or they 'riots', revolutionary activism, low grade terrorism?  They saw the wounding of hundreds of policemen and civilians forced to lock themselves inside of their homes and the death of a young Genoese anarchist named Carlo Giuliani—who was shot while trying to throw a fire extinguisher on a policeman—during two days of violence and rioting by groups supported by the nonchalance of more consistent and peaceful masses of protesters, and the hospitalization of several of those peaceful demonstrators just mentioned. Police were subsequently accused of brutality, torture and interference with the non-violent protests.


Is the concept of a  protest pointing at essentially  peaceful activity?



and then we come to the idea of  'Movement' - why use a term that connotes a socio-political dynamic?


What s a movement - do we need to invoke a notion of time and evolution of praxis? of the interaction of consciousness and action? Of accumulation of numbers of people, of articulation of purpose..


But if that is right, then can we claim that the Gilets-Jaunes events signalled a movement?..or were they too chaotic for that.


Here we ought to distinguish Marx from Gramsci: class from 'ensemble'...where the latter needs assemblage and experience rather than identity


Class-conflict versus hegemonic/counter-hegemonic formation.


and then we can extend the idea of dynamics by addressing the idea of international movements - trans-national movements...


There is the unfolding of a movement...which is itself a movement as it passes from one recruit to another



and there is the spreading of the movement that passes from one country/region to another...



that is to say mobilisation and diffusion.



And here we might draw a distinction between national and trans-national dimensions of protest movements.


Are some protest movements simply and wholly national? What defines the limit of a 'national' movement? The protest events  that are organised in 'this' space?


or well it started here and we are protesting in our group that's it.


or is a matter of degrees of political and social consciousness?




In Britain an example of a national protest may well be the CND protests of the 1950 and early 60s or indeed Brexit events


but they are not unlinked to Internationally related causes or phenomena e.g. atomic weapons or populist Euro-scepticism



Are Protest movements typically national political spectacles that are linked to an International cause? What might be seen as 'trans-national...



Though trans-national may sound terribly contemporary, it has been with us for an age:


Even in the heyday of development of the consolidated national state, social movement analysts have found much evidence of trans-national activism



The two familiar mechanisms, diffusion and mobilization revealed themselves through the widespread adoption of similar forms of collective action. The most familiar mechanism was the diffusion of movements across borders.


From the Reformation, which swept across Europe through the missionary work of Protestant “saints” to the antislavery movement that spread from England to France, the Netherlands, and the Americas to the diffusion of anarchism by missionaries like Enrico Malatesta to the spread of nationalism through colonialism, print, and the railroad


the transnational diffusion of collective action is a familiar process.


Recent episodes such as the spread of xenophobic nationalism show that such diffusion has intensified in our era.


International mobilization is a second classical mechanism for transnational collective action.



Both of these processes were observable through the adaptation of the forms and the framing of collective action



Sidney Tarrow  is among the key social movement analysts including Della-Porta, Doug MacAdam et al, who has argued that an important change in protest has been the emergence of a trans-national activism that we see in the G8...protests.


He asks:


 To what extent and how does the expansion of transnational activism

change the actors, the connections among them, the forms of claims

making, and the prevailing strategies in contentious politics?


Does the expansion of transnational activism and the links it establishes

between non-state actors, their states, and international politics create a

new political arena that fuses domestic and international contention?


If so, how does this affect our inherited understanding of the autonomy

of national politics from international politics?




Critique of Tarrow:

But Tarrow does not ask what gives a trans-national movement its potential to be trans-national.



a) that causes/issues escape national boundaries as they can be recognised as universal - that is to say relevant to all humans.




b) there is yet another aspect to protest movements which Tarrow does not really pick up on which is that of  the expansion or discovery of  causes - that is of issues which were not taken seriously as things to be protested and then become so.



But this needs to be recognised for the issue(s) the get on the agendum of political protest.


Without recognition there will be little recruitment and thus low activism and any movement will lose its momentum


The problem of recognition partly lies in the difficulty of the provocation of imagination of potential agencies - will they see/grasp the importance of this issue or are they so normalised to seeing the world like 'this' that they cannot  get that my issue matters?


This may be seen as a problem of re-framing established and socially accepted categorisations of matters, ideas, spaces, places, and persons.



And this process we can call de-differentiation: when issues cross the barrier of not-relevant to relevant with regard to a) agency and b) appropriate spaces


Agency:  what's it got to do with us

We see this with the rise of the New Left in Western countries where traditional workers concerns about pay and so forth get stretched by the emergence of an International politics of civil rights, Vietnam, imperialism


and this is a re-definition in a Gramscian direction of class politics/struggles into protest movements being created that address the loose assemblage of causes of the oppressed.


and I will say something about the Autonomist movements in the 1970s which though I suggest are primarily about the re-negotiation of the issue space of protest, there is a dimension of agency as well in them


that is to say the Italian L'autonomia movements protesting about work conditions in the factories ere also challenge the traditional carve-up of who has the right to protest


Traditionally assumed to be the communist led trade unions


and not a semi-anarchist syndicalism merging from below - amongst the workers themselves..and worse from women!



In other word these movements marked out an autonomous protest movement from within themselves - define the issues rather than accepting a top down defined issue agenda on which protest could or could not happen


and of course this re-defines the role of the traditional trade union




AND in regard of:


Spaces:  what's it got to do with here?


The case of Autonomia movements in Italy:

IN Italy, again autonomous politics as a form of anti-establishment politics emerged not only from workers activism in the 60s against the capitalist state of which Fiat under Agnelli was a key symbol and against Communist part reformist TU politics but, from the  activism of the Women’s movement. Main movements: Rivolta Feminile and Lotta feminista  (Women’s struggle) 1970. Around these groups were formed women’s centres, bookshops, consciousness raising groups, alternative health centres where women could get contraception – contra-RC religion


But in Italy there was another dimension that had emerged via the student movements in 68 that challenged the university authorities much as it had in France and more important the ‘Hot Autumn’ of 1969.


Hot Autumn was a massive increase of the antagonism between the workers and management in the factories esp. in the North and workers struck not only for higher pay but for the removal of speed-ups in factories, merit pay, differentials, working conditions..or as they said the Mirafiori factory in Turin “We want Everything”. These were demands and a face of a politics that fell outside what the Communist party was used to or could cope with. As such the workers were making autonomous demands from the party line and free from the normal parameters within which management expected negotiations to be conducted.


As early as 68 telecomms workers – white collar workers demand human conditions of work to enable a creative open rather than a controlled narrow work place.


In the HA of 69 around 72mln working hours were lost through strikes. As a way of discrediting the movement fascist supporters bombed a bank in Milan killing 14 people and the security services arrested two anarchists, one of whom died in police custody. This was the beginning of a strategy of tension between the left and the right/authority forces.


The movements of workers from the southern agricultural regions up to the north  and in to the cities created a crisis of housing and thus the beginning of squatting movements. In 1971 squatters were confronted by police in a massive clearance of the squatters and the police in turn were confronted by workers from the local factories who came to defend the squatters. Across days and nights there were bloody battles on the streets of Milan.


Ina addition, across the early 70s were the autoreduzione activities where people simply reduced their bills of electricity and other utilities to what they thought they could pay and across Italy were movements to demand more parks, schools, play areas and so forth – all of which brought politics out of the unions and parties and trad ideologies and into the world of everyday life.


Early 70s emergence of groups: Lotta Continua (Continuous Struggle); Potere Operaio (Workers Power); Autonomia Operaia (Worker’s Autonomy). These groups that often theorised the politics as well as practice (praxis) then, were key to developing notions of self-management, council communism and revolutions that started to articulate anti-work strategies. The workers were thinking of how to organise their own work places without management; or as one worker put it: In our occupation, the factory is the starting point for the revolutionary organisation of work – not a place to work.



And German activism brought agency and space de-differentiation together

The suppression of oppositional voices merged in Germany in 68 within the  radical youth wing on the SPD where new leftist and  feminist Helke Sander at the annual conference called on the male leadership to take the blinders from their eyes and recognised their own sexism.


The platform continued as if nothing had been said, but it was spark for women to increase their demands within the movement. And this spilled out into a creative set of demands for women in terms of child care needs, discrimination, abortion, male violence and abuse, rights at work to have time off for child care etc – all of these disrupt the modalities of patriarchal capitalism


And all of this was not easily theorisable in social or Marxist terms and thus did not easily get accommodated within the usual terms of class analysis.


By this very move the early radical  feminist posed an immanent challenge to the supposed progressive and left politics of the party led movement that was organised by a male leadership which universalised itself by claiming ideological adherence to democratic principles of new left politics. But of course women’s demands were outside - and implied recognition from within the domain of women but not more generally - an attempt at re-differentiation


This led to the emergence of women’s groups across Germany and the emergence of political consciousness raising that culminated in 1973 and 74 in a series of protests and days of action around the agendum of their demands. In ‘74 the first women’s squatting started as did police violence against them at the same time as major protests leading to the legalisation of abortion.



But diffusion and spreading is not merely a matter of recruitment - more and more people getting involved - mobilised


but a matter of how consciousness is raised - how do people becomes aware of  the issues - the protests





and this  surely - if you like - is via media based propaganda


It was sporadic at all levels of society where it sprung out in various forms: trade unions; anti-Vietnam; rock and pop culture; counter-culture as indeed was the coherence of its coverage by the mass media – which is built to turn what could become historical narrative, into a series of unconnected (thus de-historicised) spectacular events to  thereby commodify them.


International Times (IT) and Poster Workshop

More complex view in poster from 1967 that links invasion to racism to cultural and military ( fordefense’) imperialism





Equally the protest movement on moral grounds rather than legal argued that Vietnam was an unjust anti-communist invasion…


 And these arguments link into arg that are already accepted or go against established pol values namely of anti-colonialism/imperialism – viz portray Vietnam as imperialist so not only to appeal to a radicalised student movement but to move wider into populist residues of isolationist anti-imp discourses from the inter-war period that hang on into post WW2 despite Truman doctrine


 These are cross-cutting images in that they portray big state which many in US dislike esp non-elite ordinary folks – who associate it with uprooting their traditions (racism etc!) – the metropolitan elite…with anti-capitalism which does have a folksy popularity of anybody’s entitled to become rich – the US dream – embodied in Coke.






May 68 posters



What is the role of the Media in Protest Movements?