Sunday, 27 April 2014


If the likes of John Robb, Martin Van Creveld and William S. Lind are correct about their predictions about 4th Generation Warfare and the declining fortunes of the nation state then it’s only a matter of time before modern mass society will undergo certain changes as well. Should their predictions come true, then, it's important to consider how such changes might affect existing perceptions about politics and power.

Among the most important of these perceptions, I think, is how people look at mass movements as instruments of political and social change. Mass movements are one of the most defining characteristics of modernity, liberal democracy, and egalitarianism.

Inherent in all mass movements is the recognition that politics begins and ends with the masses; that it is only with the support of the masses that political parties will be able to acquire power, and that without the masses, a ruling party or state has no legitimacy, and is therefore open to revolt.

Whether it was the Marxists and Bolsheviks of the left or the Fascists and National Socialists of the right, all types of political movements in the 19th and 20th Century – with the possible exception of the traditional Anarchists and Monarchists – associated power with the masses. That was how the paradigm worked at the time: power came from quantity, and those who had the support of the "people," were assured of victory.

Furthermore, from the perspective of realpolitik, mass movements have been important because they are considered as one of the few ways by which a political group or series of groups can take control of the state apparatus, others being coups, foreign intervention and civil war.

Even when out of power, mass movements can be used to discredit ruling elites and political rivals, promote ideologies or create new social myths that could further be used to create political power.

In other words, mass movements have been the operating system of the modern world, and it’s hard to think of a modern society that did not in some way operate in this manner.

From the French Revolution all down the way to the Arab Spring and the Ukrainian Uprising, mass movements have played very important roles in changing modern society, and as such they have come to define the nature of power in the modern state. Power came from the mob/ the masses/ the people, and this power is ultimately tied with the state, which bestows back upon the masses their desires and passions (i.e. whatever the new ruling party promised them during the revolution/ election).

Furthermore, mass movements have been targeted by revolutionary groups to acquire power precisely because modern society has developed to be operated by and for the masses. It is inherent in the system. Mass movements help to define how the masses interact with the state. The state cannot exist without the masses, nor can the masses exist without the state, for that is how modernity expresses power. Even though mass movements may serve the interests of elites, it is not a simple one way relationship because the elites are dependent on the masses to acquire and maintain power within modern society. The masses are needed to serve as consumers, workers, laborers, and as sources of political power once the revolution has been established.

Of course manipulation of popular support is nothing new. The masses have always been, and probably always will be, controlled and manipulated by those who have the means and the talents to do so.

What has changed, however, is that the masses themselves have become somewhat irrelevant in this day and age.

If we are to believe in the 4th Generation Warfare paradigm, large groups of people are no longer necessary to carry out war. These days, financial warfare, cyber espionage/ intelligence, the media (both mainstream and alternative), the surveillance state, the subtle influence of NGO's, and soft power in general are now more important tools for acquiring power, especially with regard to those state institutions, which define modern society.

Is "solidarity" even possible in the age of the infinite selfie?
Can we say the same thing about mass movements? If modern mass society is based on popular support, and if its embodiment the nation-state is becoming increasingly obsolete thanks to globalization, then is it not reasonable to also say that the masses themselves, the source of power in the nation-state, are becoming obsolete as well?

It may be tempting to dismiss this assertion because modern society may now seem more mass-oriented than ever. However, if we are to consider how people now have fewer ties with each other, how the alternative media and social media is creating almost mutually exclusive narratives, how traditional industries are becoming less and less labour intensive, how 20th-century ideologies have become increasingly obsolete, and how the global economy is becoming increasingly unpredictable, we can say that the social paradigm of the 21st-century will result in a considerable alteration in the nature of the masses in modern society, a change that will clearly impact on the relevance of the mass movement.

Furthermore, it's also important to remember that mass movements rely on cohesion and a shared vision of society. This type of thinking is increasingly becoming obsolete, at least among developed nations, not only because of mass immigration and globalization, but also because the social conditions which allowed mass movements to flourish in the 19th and 20th centuries, such as industrialization, standardization, class consciousness, upward mobility, and urbanization, no longer exist in the 21st. Quite different factors are now in place.

With regards to the relationship between the masses and the state, we should keep in mind that mass movements are designed to take control of the state apparatus. In a world where the power of the nation-state is obsolete, this is no longer a feasible strategy as it ignores all the other factors which presently define post-modern societies, such as international corporations and diaspora communities.

Mass movements have been teleologically dependent on the idea of achieving power through the state, but today this type of power has increasingly become a meaningless illusion, while the ideologies that it nurtured, the same ones that were used to mobilize the masses in order to achieve these grand social and political goals, are themselves now obsolete and are ill equipped to handle the complexities of a post-industrial society. Although it may be possible to adapt them for smaller communities, they are no longer the same grand meta-narratives that inspired the vigour and passions of the political past.

It seems that unlike the mass movements of the past, the revolutions of the 21st Century will likely be elitist, with people like Edward Snowden or Julian Assange using technology to undermine state and corporate power, or groups like Hamas or even the Somali Pirate gangs creating alternative social structures. Furthermore, as the state loses more of its power, new players will inevitably fill the gaps to challenge the power of the state, and at the same time create new centres of power.

This is not to say that the masses will no longer have a role in political change in the 21st Century, but at this point, it's better to consider the possibility that in the emerging paradigm, what really matters is the realization that social change, revolutionary change, is not strictly about acquiring power, but about adapting to the chaos that emerges during a major paradigm shift.

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