Elizabeth Perry and Grzegorz Ekiert join the podcast to discuss their new book Ruling by Other Means: State-Mobilized Movements (coedited with Xiaojun Yan). Elizabeth is the Henry Rosovsky Professor of Government at Harvard University and Director of the Harvard-Yenching Institute. Grzegorz is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Government at Harvard University and Director of Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies.
What we are doing in this volume is blurring the boundaries between this older conception of top-down mobilized movements and this newer conception of bottom-up organic, spontaneous civil society propelled movements and discovering that there’s an awful lot in the middle there.
- What are state-mobilized movements?
- Why do authoritarian regimes mobilize supporters?
- The role of violence in state-mobilized movements
- Why do people mobilize to support dictators?
- What does it teach us about civil society?
Today’s episode focuses on state-mobilized movements and I’m sure a lot of you are wondering, ‘What are they?’ They look a lot like civil resistance. They involve protests and other forms of public participation except they don’t oppose dictators and authoritarian regimes. They actually support them. The notion of public participation in support of leaders who oppose political participation seems paradoxical. It doesn’t even seem possible, but it happens. It actually happens quite a lot.
Our guests Elizabeth Perry and Grzegorz Ekiert are Professors of Government at Harvard University. They recently coedited the book Ruling by Other Means. We discuss state-mobilized movements through examples in China, Russia, and even the United States. My hope is this conversation helps us understand civil society, political participation, and authoritarianism in new ways.
But before we begin, I want to thank everyone for listening. It feels like the podcast has real momentum. Some of you have emailed me looking for ways to help. A very simple thing everyone can do is to leave a 5 star rating and review on your favorite podcast app or share your favorite episode on social media. But for now… this is my conversation with Elizabeth Perry and Gregorz Ekiert,,,
Elizabeth Perry and Grzegorz Ekiert, welcome to the Democracy Paradox.
Thank you. Thank you for having us.
Well, your book was really remarkable. It absolutely caught me off guard, because when I think of social movements, I imagine civil resistance campaigns. But your book really opened my eyes to the reality that social movements exist in support of the state. It’s almost like the dark side of civil disobedience. Why don’t we start there? Can you help explain the similarities and the differences between state mobilized movements from more organic social movements?
Now, I think you just expressed a very common way of looking at movements and protest and contention. We’ve been doing this in social sciences, but also in journalism, also in public discourse. We always think about this as the movements opposing the state, movements demanding things from state, and those states trying to fend off those challenges all the time. And I think that view of this divide between state and societies is very well entrenched in the way we think about relations between citizens and states. But there is another side of the story, of course, as you mentioned. And this other side of the story has been with us for a long time. So, you have a lot of research and work and historical reflection which emphasized cooperation between movements and states.
So, from the point of view of the project and our book what we really wanted to do is not so much to change the discourse in social movement research and theory, but really to shed light on a development which has been with us for a long time, but we didn’t pay enough attention to it. And I think this has implications both for looking at historical cases of various kinds as we did in this book, but also thinking about the current politics and the way democracy is threatened in many, many parts of the world.
Those of us who came of age in the sixties, seventies, or eighties or more recently tend to think of social movements as being bottom-up organic participatory movements where people express new identities or present their causes whether it’s anti-war or anti-pollution and so on. But as Grzegorz pointed out, of course, there is a much older history also of top-down movements.
For those of us who have long studied communist countries, you know, often the distinction was made between communist countries that were mobilized societies where we thought the state, through its department of propaganda, mobilized people not in their own interests, but in the state’s interests. And the contrast was made between that and democracies where we tended to see people as engaging in autonomous kinds of activities that were in their own interest and often challenged, not always, sometimes they were also complimentary to the state’s agenda, but often challenged the state’s authority and state power.
And so, what we are doing in this volume is blurring the boundaries between this older conception of top-down mobilized movements and this newer conception of bottom-up organic, spontaneous civil society propelled movements and discovering that there’s an awful lot in the middle there that may be organized by parts of the state, but also has audiences within society. And that, in fact, the picture is far more complicated. It’s not simply one of communist countries versus democracies, but that communist countries and democracies alike have very complicated kinds of movements that are part state and part society.
So, Liz, you just mentioned about movements in the 1960s and 1968 was an enormous year for political movements around the world. I did not realize that China had a student protest movement in 1968. Your chapter details both how the student movements in 1968 and 1989 in China were actually met by a state mobilized movement at the same time. I think it’s a good way to help understand this concept. Can you just explain this example and how it relates back to the concept?
Sure. As you said, 1968 was a fascinating year because it was a kind of global outburst of student unrest and, you know, we have these moments in history. 1919 is another one where we have popular protests all around the world, the Seattle general strikes, May 4th movement in China, unrest in Korea, Egypt, and so forth. 1989 is another one with the fall of communism and the Tiananmen protests in China. The student movement that you referred to in China was part of the Cultural Revolution. So, these were the Red Guards who Chairman Mao himself called out on the streets as Mao put it provocatively, ‘Bombard the headquarters,’ by which he meant that the young students in China should feel free to attack the Chinese Communist Party itself. Not himself, of course, but his rivals within the Chinese Communist Party.
And the students then in this Red Guard movement put on Red Guard armbands that suggested they were loyal to Chairman Mao himself to his charismatic authority and went out and attacked other authority figures, their own teachers, low level Communist Party cadres and then ultimately Mao’s top rivals within the Party itself, Liu Shaoqi, the President of China, the head of state and many others. That’s when Deng Xiaoping fell for example and many other top leaders who had been long time Communist Party cadres and were knocked out of power by the Red Guards. So, the Red Guard movement itself was a kind of state mobilized movement with Chairman Mao himself having encouraged these students to take to the streets.
But their protests became very violent and they also devolved into rival factions where so-called radicals and so-called conservatives battled each other on university campuses in factories and elsewhere. And finally, even Chairman Mao himself had had enough of the chaos and together with the military with the People’s Liberation Army authorized what were known as Mao Zedong thought propaganda teams work teams of factory workers who went into university campuses and other units in Chinese cities primarily where the violence was most intense and suppressed the student uprising.
So, both the Red Guard movement and the counter protest against it can be seen as different kinds of state mobilized movements to do anything during the Mao period in China. You had to have chairman Mao’s personal imprimatur if it was going to last for any period of time and involve violence. And so, both of these movements, in fact, were supported by Mao, but at different times and for somewhat different reasons.
I find it fascinating that the original state mobilized movement got out of hand. So, the idea that the authorities can create these movements, but they can’t completely control them, that they become entities of their own. Do we see that happen time and time again throughout history that this potential of bringing out the masses can have disastrous results for their leader?
We certainly see it time and time again in China. And, you know, Mao had seen that back in the mid 1950s, 56-57 which was another moment of global unrest, the Hungarian Revolution, unrest in Poland and Eastern Europe and in China as well. Partly because Mao was so concerned about what was going on in Eastern Europe and didn’t want to have the same kind of revolt of dissident intellectuals within China, he authorized what he called the Hundred Flowers Campaign. ‘Let a hundred flowers bloom. Let a hundred schools of thought contend,’ he said. In creating a kind of state mobilized movement, primarily centered on university campuses, not so much among students, but among faculty members, senior intellectuals, who began writing big character posters and making all kinds of suggestions about how to improve and open up Chinese politics.
And it, in Mao’s view, got out of hand as well. Later he claimed that from the very beginning, he had intended for it to get out of hand so that he could, as he put it, ‘see the snakes and goblins come out of their hiding places,’ know who the bad folks were and subject them all to the antirightist campaign, to often decades of labor reform. But, in fact, scholarship has established that Mao initially was very optimistic about the Hundred Followers Campaign. He thought that as a state mobilized movement it would do his bidding and it would provide some constructive suggestions. But ones that would be totally aligned with his own views. And in fact, when these intellectuals demanded more democracy, more human rights freedoms, less control by the Chinese Communist Party authorities, Mao was deeply disappointed by it.
And so, repressed it extremely harshly. So, it’s something that we see again and again, even in the Post-Mao movement. Deng Xiaoping was initially delighted by the Democracy Wall Movement that began in 1978 and initially was very supportive of it, because young people were writing these big character posters that were criticizing the Cultural Revolution in which Deng himself had been a victim. But it too got out of hand as far as Deng Xiaoping was concerned and got awfully close to criticizing himself and certainly his priorities for Post-Mao China. And he then clamped down on it in the summer of 1979 again quite brutally.
So, yes, it has certainly been a recurring pattern. It’s quite common for these movements to then take on a life of their own which is true for both state-mobilized movements and more autonomous social movements as well which often spiral out of control and directions that their initial organizers had never imagined.
This is one of the conclusions of the book. That there are risks for the state in using mobilization of that kind and not only that mobilization is risky, but also, we have to acknowledge that our sort of distinction that bottom-up grassroots movements are authentic and the state organized movements are fake and somehow not authentic. This has to be really reevaluated because those people who are mobilized by the state are very often as much involved, as much engaged. This becomes part of their identity in a very powerful way. And we have a chapter in the book which is written by Julie Hemment about the Nashi movement in Russia.
The Nashi movement was a creation of the Kremlin to be used against other liberal movements in urban settings in Russia. And these were mostly younger people from provinces who are transported to the cities to organize protest against the liberals and so on. But she tells the story about transformation of those people who participated in this movement. That they suddenly felt that they had agency. That they can do things and suddenly, different ideas of what they want than those handlers from the Kremlin were trying to do with them. So, you know, after several years developing this movement the Kremlin shut it down, because they decided this is becoming too risky. That this movement is getting out of control.
So, I think that is why the strategy is problematic and it’s very often used by states which are in quite desperate straits, because they cannot do things different ways. So, trying to rely on those very uncertain and potentially dangerous means.
So, you just described the Nashi movement and that was created by the Kremlin. Is your definition of a state mobilized movement, does it imply that the authorities create the movement or can it be a genuine organic movement that happens to support the ideals and the purposes of the state?
We make a distinction in the introduction to the book between three different sets of relationship between states and movements and we sort of use the analogy of travelers. So, sometimes bottom-up movements discover that they have a similar agenda to state goals and they cooperate from time to time in various ways. So, there’s one possibility. So, there is no direct governance of the movement, but really sort of separate authentic movements finding some common cause. So, that’s one possibility. The other possibility is closer relationships. That those movements are very much committed to a broad set of concerns and values and goals of the state. And they cooperate with the state in much closer ways than those accidental encounters in the previous case. And finally, the third possibility is that those movements are really organized by the state.
So, we see that handled in the way resources are transferred and those people are organized and so on. So, I think, you know, it’s very relational. It can move from very little cooperation into very state directed from above actions and contention.
Right. And I would just add to that, that, you know, we’ve been talking here about the state, but in fact, of course, the state is an extremely complicated entity just as society is. And so, it’s not only possible, but usual in these state-mobilized movements that it’s only a part of the state that is actually authorizing the movements. And if you have the entire state and its department of propaganda and so on behind it then it comes much closer to that traditional view of Communist top-down mobilized movements.
But as Grzegorz mentioned in the movements that we’re looking at, frequently states were in quite dire circumstances when they felt it necessary to turn to a state mobilized movement, because there was factional conflict and disagreement and dissension within the state itself. And so, you have a top leader like Mao or Deng Xiaoping trying to get rid of his enemies and turning to society as an important resource for really attacking or neutralizing other elements within the state or in the case of the January sixth attack on the Capitol in the United States, you had Trump and now it appears a number of Congress people in direct communication or varying levels of communication with the protestors.
But obviously that was a small part of the entirety of the U.S. Federal Government. And so, it is in most of the movements that we’re talking about here that it’s individual leaders, individual parties, members of parties, agencies within the party that may have a particular relationship with various social movements and sometimes really very close ones. Sometimes the kind of synergy that has developed serendipitously. Other times much more structured and premeditated. So, there’s a very wide range of possibilities here.
So, Liz, you do believe that state-mobilized movements do exist in democracies as well as autocracies?
Yes. Our book, in fact, makes a few references to that in the introduction. We reference Trump. At that point it was well before the movement on January 6th against the election results. But we already referenced the fact that Trump was holding campaign rallies, tweeting out to his followers in ways that were designed to encourage them to engage in various kinds of movements in support of his authority. Similarly in India, the world’s largest democracy, under Modi in particular. We’ve seen the mobilization of right-wing nationalistic movements and movements that have also divided the Indian population on the basis of religion and other kinds of identities. So, certainly we do see them in contemporary democracies as well as earlier democracies.
One of the chapters in our book looks at the Jim Crow South and looks at a couple of counties in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement. One county where local level officials actually allied with the KKK and other white supremacist forces to oppose Civil Rights enforcement in that county and another county which did things really quite differently. And, some might argue that the Jim Crow South was not exactly a democracy since in many ways it continued the authoritarian characteristics of the plantation Southern economy. But still it was at least embedded within a formally democratic system, the 1960s America. And there we also, on this local level, see very interesting examples of different ways in which state authorities allied with social forces to position themselves both against federal law and against local, developments.
So, generally these kinds of state-mobilized movements are more common in authoritarian systems probably than in democracies. And they are certainly more common, I would say, in the modern world than in earlier periods in part, because all the modern states feel the need to show that they have citizen support. That part of their legitimacy whether they are authoritarian states or democracies, they need to show that the people are with them. And so, these movements provide an important way of doing that.
But in democracies, of course, there are elections and other mechanisms by which state leaders can demonstrate that they have popular support in authoritarian systems. It’s more difficult to do that since the electoral system to the extent that it exists usually is rigged. And so, these kinds of movements then become another way of showing that there is popular support, mass support, for individual political leaders or for government policies.
And we also note that there is a category of goals of the state which we call the mobilization for infrastructural development. When the states are really trying to accomplish certain goals, not through the clean bureaucratic process by mobilizing citizens to solve various problems. And this kind of state led mobilization is also common both in non-democratic and democratic states. When you think about the responses of the U.S. to the Great Depression, for example, or responses of democratic states to the war situation, very often you have that kind of movements emerging and being encouraged by the state and behaving in a movement like way. Not as a kind of social policy or bureaucratic project from about.
So, a lot of the conversations about regime type focus today just on democracy and authoritarianism as if authoritarianism is effectively the opposite of democracy. But there’s an older literature that pits democracy against totalitarianism and sees authoritarianism as a third regime type. And the difference between totalitarianism and authoritarianism was that totalitarian regimes were autocratic, but they mobilized the masses, whereas authoritarian regimes tried to silence the masses keep them out of politics. I find it fascinating that throughout your book you have case after case after case of authoritarian regimes, not totalitarian always, but authoritarian regimes that are bringing the masses into civil society almost encouraging civil society to be able to accomplish statewide goals. Do you find that this idea of state-mobilized movements really blurs the ideas of regime types that we’ve traditionally thought about in politics and political science?
I think that typology of regime type is, very useful in ways of thinking about major differences between different types of structuring politics. But you know it’s pretty simplistic. And, of course, those various regime types have been evolving and changing for a very long time. I don’t think that today these are a very useful categories for serious thinking about politics, because, you know, when you think about the shades of authoritarian politics, which goes from places in which you still have some elements of democracy in place, some very clean elections in place to places where there is a lot of terror and political repressions and so on.
It’s the same with democracies. I think, you know, they come in many different forms and on the continuum sort of between low quality and high quality, a good question today, ‘Is Hungary a democratic system, a democratic country? Is Poland a democratic country today?’ They are both members of the European Union. Then you can move to some other parts of the world where things are much more complicated and so on. Yeah, this is mostly an empirical question. Really not a question of sort of formal typology.
And when we start paying serious attention to empirical developments, historical developments on the ground, then we see, you know, a lot of complexity. A lot of, you know, layers of various developments which are not so obvious when you start thinking in typological way, but think it is still, you know, relevant to keep in mind that there are those who have done mental differences between different types of regimes.
There are these fundamental differences, but I think as Grzegorz was pointing out, you know, it is an interesting question how we should really distinguish among these differences. What are really the key differences that should underlie our taxonomies of political regimes? And Western political philosophy going all the way back at least to Aristotle and Plato has looked at institutions as the way for distinguishing among different kinds of regimes is one where the institution involves the many or the few and oligarchy or democracy and so forth.
But there are other ways, if you go back to classical Chinese philosophy, for example, the topology is not based on institutions. It’s based on governance outputs. And so, you have regimes that do better for the people and regimes that don’t do as well for the people. And the key is really looking at the output and then typologizing it according to that. And I think it’s interesting, we, for example, try to look at an important governance output like today, controlling a pandemic. Regime type in the classical Western political science vein tells us very, very little about who’s done well and who hasn’t done well in controlling COVID.
Our flagship democracies, the US and the UK, have fallen tragically short, but then we have others like New Zealand, Australia, that seemed to have done reasonably well. But it doesn’t really seem to have anything to do with whether they’re democracies or non-democracies. It may have something, quite a bit to do with the top leader of that society, which is absolutely key to the classical Chinese distinction among regimes. You go back then and you discover that where the leader is moral and has the interests of the populace in mind, these governance outcomes tend to be in the interest of the people. And when the leader is out for personal gain this tends to result in corruption and a regime that is not favorable to the interests of the people.
So, it begins not with the institutional setup, but rather with the moral fiber of the top leader and whether that does or doesn’t allay popular interests which may be a much better guide for today to understanding which countries have done well and which have not done so well. So, all of that is by way of saying that I think, you know, our sort of traditional political science taxonomy is probably not very useful. but there may be other taxonomies that await future development that would help us better understand really what kinds of countries are more or less adept at using these kinds of movements and which ones use them for good and which ones use them for less benign purposes.
And that helps to explain the differences in outcome that we see with these different movements. So, I think it’s a very rich vein to mine for future political science research encouraging us to think about regimes and regime types in rather new ways.
For me, it’s not about trying to pigeonhole different countries into regimes, but it does change the way that we think about authoritarianism. The way that authoritarian regimes traditionally are supposed to find ways to limit civil society and silence people from becoming politically involved, so it’s fascinating that these authoritarian leaders are engaging and encouraging political action from the masses. But that brings me to a very blunt question that I’d like to pose to you. How do dictators find supporters willing to defend their regime?
I think there are lots of reasons why ordinary people want to defend their regime. You know, some of them may be pure materialistic kinds of payoffs that the regime provides to those who participate in these movements. A lot of them may be psychological, emotional, ideological kinds of payoffs that people experienced by participating. Charismatic authority is not unimportant in understanding whether it’s Trump’s followers in this country or a Mao’s followers in the Cultural Revolution. People feel for reasons that may seem irrational to some of us a kind of personal connection to a leader that for whatever reason they find charismatic that somehow has some kind of extraordinary power they feel. And by being part of that movement they then can share in that reflected glory.
So, I think there are lots of different reasons and, in some cases, people have genuinely shared interests with the top leader and with the regime and are very supportive of the kinds of policies that their government may be pursuing. This is perhaps especially visible during times of national emergency, warfare and so forth. But it’s also true during ordinary times where ordinary people may support some of the government policy. So, there can be materialistic, rational, and seemingly irrational, emotional, charismatic kinds of connections that ordinary people have to these movements. So, I think there are lots of different reasons that we need to explore to understand the attraction of these movements.
You know, we tend to think about the relationship between dictatorial regimes and leaders and people in such a way that we should not blame the people for the way those governments operate or those leaders operate. But there is no system in the world regardless how authoritarian it is which can survive without significant social support and, I think, you know, at least mentioned already, you know, a lot of various reasons why people tend to support non-democratic authoritarian governments, emotional and material interests and so on, but also, you know, these are shared values.
I think that there are segments of the population which have those very traditional, authoritarian values which resonate very well with the policies of authoritarian governments. They simply believe in those, you know, Sheri Berman made this wonderful argument recently saying that, you know, supply side explanation of rise of populism. You know, when you tell this story on the macro level that there are big segments of the population which suffer from variety of economic developments, industries moving away and so on and so on. On the macro level this all makes sense, globalization causing a lot of damage to various communities around the country. But when you start asking people, when you look at the micro level, ‘Why did they vote for Trump?’ For example, they didn’t vote for Trump because of those sort of economic woes, but they don’t like abortion, don’t like gay people.
So, I think, you know, that’s another under developed segment of thinking about the relationship between people and their rulers in which we kind of tend to be cautious about making a link between people’s beliefs or beliefs of significant segments of the population and those political discourses and political claims which are produced by authoritarian leaders of various kinds.
There’s a very interesting new book by Lily Tsai, political scientist at MIT, which she entitled When People Want Punishment. And although Lily is a China scholar and developed her theory based on research in China, she also applies it to the United States and to Trump supporters and to other countries as well. The idea is that there is something in human nature. There is a basic psychology in all of us that likes to see people punished if they did bad things. And so, if we think people are bad, and we may think they’re bad, because somehow they’re migrants or somehow we think they are violent or somehow. They have various customs or preferences that we think are somehow deserving of punishment. Then we like to have a leader and a government that is willing to say they’re going to punish these folks.
And that’s a kind of psychology that is very common to us. And if the state is able to present what it’s doing as a kind of moral punishment of evil then people think that’s great. And yet, others of us may think that those who are being punished didn’t do anything evil in fact and that the government is using this kind of psychology for its own purposes. But as Grzegorz was pointing out, there are lots of different reasons, you know, psychological, emotional, as well as rational, and, ideological that play into this.
Now when we think of civil resistance movements, we oftentimes describe them as non-violent and they’re oftentimes in opposition to the state. I know that there’s lots of violent protests that exist that are in opposition to the state as well. But when we look at state mobilize movements, Liz just brought up a great point that a lot of times they feel that people need to be punished. And in many places around the world, for instance, I think of African elections where you have a lot of violence around election time. That’s often encouraged by those in power to be able to encourage people to vote the right way, if you will. Do state mobilized movements, do those oftentimes result in violence more often? Do they encourage violence? Do they incite violence in any ways?
They do often incite violence. It depends in part on what elements of society are mobilized in these movements. Sometimes it’s young, innocent students and even they, of course, can be incited to be quite violent as turned out to be the case with initially rather naive Red Guards in China’s Cultural Revolution. But often from the very beginning, the state is mobilizing thugs, gangsters, professional purveyors of violence and mobilizing them precisely because they are known to intimidate other elements of society. And that’s the whole point.
So, I think that the social composition of the movement is also important. And another essay in our edited volume by Mark Beissinger looks particularly at the extent to which the state-mobilized movements during Color Revolutions and other examples that he focuses on the extent to which they actually went after thugs and gangsters and incorporated them into the state’s repressive effort. So, I think that’s one important element, but, as we mentioned earlier, often these movements spiral out of control and movements that may begin as non-violent can turn into their opposite depending on a whole variety of idiosyncratic things that may develop during the course of the movement itself.
So, I think it’s very hard to predict the extent of violence that’s likely to develop in these movements just as is true of non-state mobilized movements which often begin quite peacefully and then develop a kind of life of their own and feel more and more that they have to struggle for their continued existence. And to ensure that their goals are met and sometimes become increasingly violent or are repressed by a limit of the state and in reaction turn violent to try to press their case more effectively. So, violence is often a very important part of these movements.
And, of course, Levitsky and Ziblatt, when they develop this test of when democracies are moving to die, emphasized tolerance of violence as one of the most important elements in the story. And again, as much as we are attached to the notion of bottom-up against the state movements, we are also attached very much to nonviolence and, you know, it should be emphasized that nonviolence as a strategy of social movement is a quite recent invention. You know, you may think about Gandhi and going back to the struggle for independence in India. But for many, many decades, it seemed completely ridiculous for many people who are involved in various kinds of social movements, activities, and violence was a big chunk and part of many movements on the left and on the right for many, many years.
You know, it’s very important to keep that in mind that this violence is never far away and if it’s tolerated it can become a part of the repertoire of action. And, of course, now we tend to make an argument that violence doesn’t pay and nonviolent movements are much more effective. But I would like to remind ourselves about Bill Gamson’s book published many years ago in which he looked at the samples of various American movements over the long period of time and discovered that those which were violent, were much more successful than those who are not. So, it’s not exactly clear that non-violence pays off and brings better results. And, of course, you know, the moment the state which is the powerful entity with all the coercive resources at its disposal becomes involved in social movement domains, the chances for violence are going up.
How should we think about state-mobilized movements when they’re created or they begin as a way of supporting the leaders of the state when those leaders actually fall out of power? For instance, we can think of January 6th, you’ve already mentioned that as being a type of state-mobilized movement, but Donald Trump’s no longer in power. So, is this now a movement against the state or is it still essentially a state-mobilized movement?
Well, Donald Trump is no longer in power, but the entire Republican Party seems to be using his playbook or almost the entire Republican party. So, we also in our book emphasized the important role that political parties play. I mean, parties are by their nature mobilizing machines. That’s what they’re supposed to be doing and in democracies, we think of them as mobilizing ordinary people to get out the vote to reelect their leaders. But many of those, who are using this playbook in the Republican party are still members of Congress and governors and so forth. So, we do have elements of the state that are very much part of that movement and are continuing to promote it. It would have a very different kind of meaning if, in fact, the establishment wing of the Republican Party had not basically bought this approach.
But the fact that they have shows the extraordinary power that a kind of state-mobilized movement can have even after the leader has, fallen from power. So, I don’t think one wants to be too categorical in deciding what is a state-mobilized movement and what isn’t. There are all different kinds of shades of this and it’s probably not productive to be too rigid in our definitions of what we want to include and what we want to exclude, but rather to see most of these as a kind of spectrum of possibilities with different kinds of connections to different elements of the state and to society as well. But I think in the case of the January 6th movement, it really is. It’s continuing connections to elements of the state that give it such extraordinary staying power.
And we have to acknowledge that movements have their own lives as much as other social entities. And, you know, even if those who mobilize it lose power and move somewhere else, those movements tend to survive. So, you know, think about Spain. For example, Franco has been out of power for how many decades? Five, six and there are still sort of Francoist supporters and movements in Spain fighting for historical memories, fighting for interpretations of various kinds and so on. So, you know, once the movement is unleashed, it may survive for a long time. And these are the legacies of state-mobilized movements about which we sort of also do not know too much.
So, I think this is another of those elements which probably would be useful to look at in careful ways. How long do ways of organizing and those organizers and those participants that can survive the change of the state or the configuration of the regime and this may be the case easily with what happens in the US that even if Trump doesn’t run in the next election, this movement is going to be there for years to come.
Yeah, If we look at contemporary China, it was just a few years ago that students at a number of different universities in China tried to go into the factories using the Maoist playbook to mobilize workers for their own interests on the basis of Mao’s Marxist ideology. And, of course, the Chinese state landed on them like a ton of bricks, because the last thing it really wants is that Maoist playbook being used against it today. So, these movements do have very complicated legacies that can be carried on both by elements of the state and by ordinary people as well who know about their country’s history and may find aspects of those state-mobilized movements from the past to be appealing and to be resources for their own concerns today.
So, before we go, I want to ask you guys one last question. We’ve talked a lot about the way that we have to think differently about civil society when we think of state-mobilized movements. So, just a very simple question. What is one thing that you learned about civil society through this project?
This is, of course, a great question. Now what we learned about civil society is that we tend to develop a mythology about certain segments of a social organization. You know, for the last 30 years or 40 years, we have been living with a Tocquevillian paradigm which basically states that, you know, more of civil society the better. You know, it creates very robust democracies and brings all the good things together. I think what we discovered is that this is not exactly true. That in many cases, you know, a very robust civil society, which is directed by the state, just kind of organized by the state in a variety of ways, can be very dangerous to democracy. Can be very dangerous to liberalism. Can be very dangerous to open public discourse.
So, I think this is important to keep in mind that it really is not about civil society, but about what kind of civil society you have in place. And I think, you know, this is something we didn’t talk about. But I think the most dangerous moment comes when divided civil society becomes prey to the state in such a way that the state starts to support one segment of the divided civil society. That this is what is happening now in many post-communist countries. That the state is starting to shift resources in a massive way toward nationalistic organizations and groups of, kind of, right-wing pillars of civil society. So, that’s the lesson. That nothing is inherently good or bad, but certain many things are very contextual. And, in some cases, being strong is good in some cases being strong can really be very dangerous.
Yes, that divisiveness, of course, is something that we’ve seen in our own country as well. And this it seems to me is really the poison that can come out of this kind of state-society alliance. That it does divide society against itself and is very difficult to overcome. You know, we’ve known for a long time that NGOs could also be GONGOs. That is to say they could be government organized non-governmental organizations. And so, we’ve known that a number of group associations within civil society could be captured by the state, funded by the state and so forth. But I think the full extent of this activity and the way in which it could mobilize people emotionally as well as materially, psychologically, ideologically perhaps has not been so well appreciated.
We’ve tended to think of NGOs, or GONGOs especially, as things that kind of depress social activism and taking in some kinds of ways. And we think of authoritarian states through corporatism through registering and licensing also as kind of domesticating elements of civil society, so that trade unions are not so feisty and they do the will of the state and so forth. But I think the lesson that really has come out of this book is the way in which these state-mobilized movements can often be far more consequential and far more deep seated, far more long lasting than perhaps we fully appreciated in the past.
Well, thank you so much for taking the time with me. Your book was really a great read. There’s a lot of case studies we didn’t get a chance to talk about. We didn’t get to talk about the response to Tiananmen Square that happened within China. You mentioned the way that the Civil Rights Movement faced a lot of opposition in the United States. That was another one that really caught my attention to just grab hold of me as I read it. Because I wanted to know so much more. So, edited volumes can sometimes feel very academic, but yours really brought out so many different stories and so many different perspectives. It really brought a lot to the conversation. And thank you so much for putting that together and for writing it.
Thank you for having us today, Justin.
Thank you very much.
Ruling by Other Means: State-Mobilized Movements edited by Grzegorz Ekiert, Elizabeth J. Perry, and Yan Xiaojun
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