Social Movements, Political Parties and the State

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Room 4.206 University Place

Oxford Road

University of Manchester


United Kingdom

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Speakers: David Bailey (University of Birmingham), Cemal Burak Tansel (University of Sheffield)

The elevation of Jeremy Corbyn – socialist activist, dedicated CND member and prominent supporter of Stop the War – to Leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party has reignited in the UK an old debate about the relationships between social movements, formal political parties, and the state. Nevertheless, it should not be taken as an exceptional development, surprising as it was to many people. Examples from around the world can be cited to show the need to re-examine these relationships. For instance, new parties of the Left in southern Europe, most notably Syriza in Greece, have emerged out of wide-ranging and multiple social movements against recession, austerity and inequality. Further afield, there have been the Gezi Park protests in Turkey, the detachment of part of the South African trade union movement from the ANC, itself a social movement in origin but now an established party of power, and widespread disruption in Brazil in opposition to the government. Moreover, although social movements have often been associated with ‘progressive’ politics, the rise of Right populist parties and movements such as Front National in France and the Tea Party in the US forces us to re-examine this as well.

Numerous questions can be asked when trying to make sense of the above and other developments. For example, does the upsurge in grassroots engagement and support for Corbyn mean that the Labour Party can once again be seen as a social movement? Is it inevitable that parties such as the ANC and Syriza will become distant from the social movements which gave birth to them? Are social movements and political parties necessarily distinct, and if so then how do they relate to each other, especially in times of crisis and complex social upheavals? How should we understand the relationships between social movements and the state, when it appears that some social movements may help augment and strengthen state power? What are the consequences of these developments for social movements and for formal politics? And what happens to activists and their causes when they enter the formal political arena?

This seminar explores and addresses these questions by engaging with the relationship between social movements, political parties, and the state from a variety of perspectives drawn from politics and sociology.

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