Forging a Diagonal Instrument for

the Global Left:  The Vessel

Rebecca Álvarez and Christopher Chase-Dunn

Institute for Research on World-Systems

v. 12-5-2018; 9442

Abstract: This article proposes a project to build a diagonal political organization for the Global Left that will link local and national networks and prefigurational communities to contend for power in the world-system during the next few decades of the 21st century. The World Social Forum (WSF) process needs to be reinvented for the current period of rising neo-fascist and populist reactionary nationalism and to foster the emergence of a capable instrument that can confront and contend with the global power structure of world capitalism. This will involve overcoming the fragmentation of progressive movements that have been one outcome of the rise of possessive individualism, the Internet and social media. We propose a holistic approach to organizing a vessel for the global left based on struggles for human rights, anti-racism, queer rights, climate justice, feminism, sharing networks, peace alliances, taking back the city, progressive nationalism, and confronting and defeating neo-fascism.


Social movements have been important drivers of social change since the Stone Age. They both reproduce and alter social structures and institutions.  In this essay, we use the world-systems perspective to examine the possibilities for increasing the cohesiveness and capability of progressive global social movements. The comparative evolutionary world-systems perspective studies the ways that waves of social movements have driven the rise of more complex and more hierarchical human societies over the past millennia. A long-run historical and global perspective is helpful for comprehending the current moment and for devising political strategies that can help mitigate the problems that must be addressed in the 21st century so that humanity can move toward a more just, peaceful and sustainable global future.  The contemporary world-system is entering another era like, but also different from, the “age of extremes” that occurred in the first half of the 20th century (Hobsbawm 1994). Devising a helpful political strategy for the Global Left requires that we understand the similarities and differences between the current period and the first half of the 20th century. It also requires that we understand the cultures of the movements and counter-movements that have emerged in the last few decades. The current period is daunting and dangerous, but it is also a period of great opportunity for moving humanity toward a qualitatively different and improved world society.[1]


The Global Social Justice Movement and the World Social Forum Process

          The global social justice movement that emerged beginning in the 1990s with the regional successes of the Zapatistas in Southern Mexico formed in response to the neoliberal globalization project. The Pink Tide that followed was the advent of leftist-populist political regimes in most Latin American countries based on movements against the neoliberal structural adjustment programs promoted by the International Monetary Fund (Chase-Dunn et al 2015). In 2001 the World Social Forum (WSF) was founded as a reaction to the exclusivity of the neoliberal World Economic Forum. Its purpose was to provide a global venue for popular progressive movements that were opposed to the neoliberal globalization project.  The founding conferences were held in Porto Alegre, Brazil with the support of the Brazilian Workers Party who had just won the presidency under the leadership of Ignacio de Lula Silva, a former auto worker.  The WSF adopted the slogan “Another World Is Possible” to counter Margaret Thatcher’s claim that there was no alternative to neoliberal globalization. The WSF held most of its global meetings in the Global South but also sponsored important local and national meetings in all the world regions.  This was an important venue for the emerging New Global Left and the global justice movement, but it did not include all of the movements of the Left (see below). It was intended to be a venue for activists from grass roots social movements to collaborate with one another.

The social forum process eventually spread to most regions of the world.  Just a few months after the first annual event in 2001, the World Social Forum’s International Council approved a 14-item Charter of Principles. It identified the intended use of the forum space by “groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neo-liberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism” (World Social Forum Charter of Principles, 2001). The Charter did not permit participation by those who wanted to attend as representatives of organizations that were engaged in or that advocated armed struggle. Nor were governments or political parties supposed to send representatives to the meetings. There was a great emphasis on diversity and on horizontal, as opposed to hierarchical, forms of organization. The use of the Internet for communication and mobilization made it possible for broad coalitions and loosely knit networks of grass roots movement activists to engage in collective action projects.

The participants in the social forum process engaged in a manifesto/charter-writing frenzy as those who sought a more organized approach to confronting global capitalism and neoliberalism attempted to formulate consensual goals and to put workable coalitions together (Wallerstein 2007).

One issue that was debated was whether the World Social Forum should itself formulate a political program and take formal stances on issues. A survey of 625 attendees at the World Social Forum meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2005 asked whether the WSF should remain an open space or should take political stances. Almost exactly half of the respondents favored the open space idea (Chase-Dunn, Reese, Herkenrath, Giem, Gutierrez and Kim 2008). Thus, trying to change the WSF Charter to allow for a formal political program would have been very divisive.

            But this was deemed not to be necessary. The WSF Charter also encouraged the formation of new political organizations. Those participants who wanted to form new coalitions and organizations were free to act, as long as they did not do so in the name of the WSF as a whole. The Assembly of Social Movements and other groups issued calls for global action and political manifestoes in Social Forum meetings at the both the global and national levels. Meeting in Bamako, Mali in 2006 a group of participants issued a manifesto entitled “the Bamako Appeal” at the beginning of the meeting. The Bamako Appeal was a call for a global united front against neoliberalism and United States neo-imperialism (see Sen et al.  2007). Samir Amin, the famous Marxist economist and co-founder of the world-system perspective (along with Immanuel Wallerstein, Andre Gunder Frank and Giovanni Arrighi), wrote a short paper entitled “Toward a fifth international?” in which he briefly outlined the history of the first four internationals (Amin 2008). Peter Waterman (2006) proposed a “global labor charter.” And a coalition of women’s groups meeting at the World Social Forum produced a feminist global manifesto that tried to overcome divisive North/South issues (Moghadam 2005).

            Ultimately, there was an impasse in the global justice movement between those who wanted to move toward a global united front that could mobilize a strong coalition against the powers that be, and those who preferred local prefigurative horizontalist actions and horizontalist network forms of organization[2] that renounce organizational hierarchy and refuse to participate in “normal” political activities such as elections and lobbying. These political stances had been inherited from the anti-authoritarian and anti-bureaucratic New Left movements of the world revolution of 1968. The New Left of 1968 embraced direct democracy, attacked bureaucratic organizations and was resistant to the building of new formal organizations that could act as instruments of revolution (Arrighi, Hopkins and Wallerstein 1989 [2012]).  Institutions that had been instruments of revolutionary change and challengers to existing power structures were thought to have become sclerotic defenders of the status quo when they got old. This was understood as an important lesson of the waves of class struggle and decolonization that had occurred in the 19th and 20th centuries. As Arrighi, Hopkins and Wallerstein (1989 [2012]: 64) said:

… the class struggle “flows out” into a competitive struggle for state power. As this occurs, the political elites that provide social classes with leadership and organization (even if they sincerely consider themselves “instruments” of the class struggle) usually find that they have to play by the rules of that competition and therefore must attempt to subordinate the class struggle to those rules in order to survive as competitors for state power.

This resistance to institutionalized politics and contention for state power has also been a salient feature of the world revolution taking place today. It is based on a critique of the practices of earlier world revolutions in which labor unions and political parties became bogged down in short-term and self-interested struggles that were seen to have reinforced and reproduced the global capitalism and the interstate system. This rejection of formal organization is reflected in the charter of the World Social Forum as discussed above. And the same elements were strongly present in the Occupy movement as well as in most of the popular revolts of the Arab Spring (Mason 2013).

            Paul Mason’s (2013) analysis contended that the social structural basis for horizontalism and anti-formal organization, beyond the disappointment with the outcomes of the struggles carried out by the Old Left, was due to the presence of a large number of middle-class students as activists in the movements. The world revolution of 1968[3] was led mainly by college students who had emerged on the world stage with the global expansion of higher education since World War II. John W. Meyer (2009) explained the student revolt and the subsequent lowering of the voting age as another extension of citizenship to new and politically unincorporated groups demanding to be included, analogous to the earlier revolts and incorporations of men of no property and women.

            Mason pointed out the similarities (and differences) with the world revolution of 1848, in which many the activists were educated but underemployed students. He also argued that the composition of participation in the current world revolution has been heavily composed of highly educated young people who are facing the strong likelihood that they will not be able to find jobs commensurate with their skills and certification levels. Many of these “graduates with no future” have gone into debt to finance their educations, and they are alienated from politics as usual and enraged by the failure of global capitalism to continue the expansion of middle-class jobs. These graduates can be considered part of Standing’s (2014) “precariat,” as they are increasingly forced to participate in the gig economy with little hope of future stable employment. Highly educated young people share an uncertain economic future with poor workers across the globe which could produce a transnational alliance of globalized precariats. Mason also pointed out that the urban poor, especially in the Global South, and workers in the G lobal North whose livelihoods have been attacked by globalization were important elements in the revolts that occurred in the Middle East, Spain, Greece and Turkey. Mason also stressed the importance of the Internet and social media for allowing disaffected young people to organize and coordinate large protests. He sees the “freedom to tweet” as an important element in a new level of individual freedom that has been an important driver of these middle-class graduates who enjoy confronting the powers-that-be in mass demonstrations. This new individual freedom is cited as another reason why the activists in the global justice movement have been reticent to develop their own organizations and to participate in legitimate forms of political activity such as electoral politics.

But Mason and other participant/observers in the global justice movement overemphasize the extent to which the movement has been incoherent regarding goals and shared perspectives.  Surveys of attendees at both world-level and national-level Social Forums have found a relatively stable multicentric network of movement themes in which a set of more central movements serve as links to all the movements based the reported identification of activists with movements (Chase-Dunn and Kaneshiro 2009). All the twenty-seven movement themes used in the surveys were connected to the larger network by means of co-activism, so it was a single linked network without subcliques. This multicentric network was quite stable across venues.[4] This suggests that there has been a fairly similar structure of network connections among movements that is global in scope and that the global-level network of movements is also very similar to the network that exists among Social Forum activists from grassroots movements within the U.S. (Chase-Dunn, Fenelon, Hall, Breckenridge-Jackson and Herrera 2019).  The central cluster of movement themes to which all the other movements were linked included human rights; anti-racism; environmentalism, feminism, peace/anti-war, anti-corporate and alternative globalization (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Movement links: the number of affiliations based on active involvement in 27 movement themes from the Social Fora surveys in Nairobi, Atlanta and Detroit[5]

Amory Starr (2000) identified anti-corporate activism as a powerful sentiment that has had wide support among activists of the Global Left. Whereas the Global Left contained both anti-globalizationists who advocated greater local autonomy (Amin 1990 and Bello 2002) as well as those who favored an alternative and more egalitarian form of globalization (Pleyers 2011); the whole issue of anti-globalization has taken a turn with the rise of right wing populism and hypernationalism supported to a great extent by some who were losers in the neoliberal globalization project. 

Justice Globalism as a Discourse

          An organizational structure that can gain the allegiance of large numbers of activists, especially young ones, will need to consider the culture of the Global Left that has emerged since the World Revolution of 1968.  The results of two important studies have empirically studied this culture are reviewed here.

Manfred Steger, James Goodman and Erin K. Wilson (2013) presented the results of a systematic study of the political ideas employed by forty-five NGOs and social movement organizations associated with the International Council of the World Social Forum. Using a modified form of morphological discourse analysis developed by Michael Freeden (2003) for studying political ideologies, Steger, Goodman and Wilson analyzed texts (web sites, press releases and declarations) and conducted interviews to examine the key concepts, secondary concepts and overall coherence of the political ideas expressed by these organizations as proponents of “justice globalism”.

            The key concepts of justice globalism extracted by Steger et al (2013: Table 2.1 pp. 28-29) are:

·       participatory democracy,

·       transformative rather than incremental change,

·       equality of access to resources and opportunities,

·        social justice,

·       universal human rights,

·        global solidarity among workers, farmers and marginalized peoples, and

·       ecological sustainability

More detailed meanings of each of these concepts have emerged in an on-going dialectical struggle with market globalism (neoliberalism). Steger et al discuss each of these and evaluate how much consensus exists across the forty-five movement organizations they studied. They find a large degree of consensus, but their results also reveal a lot of on-going contestation among the activists in these organizations regarding the definitions and applications of these concepts.

For example, though most of the organizations seem to favor one or another form of participatory democracy, there is awareness of some of the problems produced by an overemphasis on processes of participation and there are on-going debates about forms of representation and delegation.

The important notion of “horizontality” was not examined in detail in the Steger et al study, but it is well-known that “structureless” networks of equal and leaderless individuals have often been preferred over formalized decision-making and hierarchical structures of control.

Some of the organizations studied by Steger et al eschew participation in established electoral processes, while others do not. Steger et al highlight the importance of “multiplicity” as an approach that values diversity rather than trying to find “one size fits all” solutions.  They note that the Charter of the World Social Forum values inclusivity and the welcoming and empowerment of marginalized groups.  The idea of prefiguration --“building the new society inside the shell of the old,”[6] has found wide support from many important global justice social movement organizations.  The Zapatistas, the Occupy activists and many in the environmental movement have engaged in efforts to construct more egalitarian and sustainable local institutions and communities rather than mounting organized challenges to the global and national structures of power.  While human rights is a very central movement theme in the movement of movements as shown in Figure 1, the global indigenous movement contests the version of human rights that is enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. The indigenistas stress the importance of community rights over the rights of individuals and the idea that “Mother Earth” has rights.[7]  And these contentions have been shared by the many activists who sympathize with and identify with indigenous peoples ((Chase-Dunn, Fenelon, Hall, Breckenridge-Jackson and Herrera 2019). The discussion of global solidarity in Steger et al emphasizes the centrality of what Ruth Reitan (2007) has called “altruistic solidarity” – identification with poor and marginalized peoples – without much consideration of solidarity based on common circumstances or identities.  Steger et al do, however, mention the important efforts to link groups that are operating at both local and global levels of contention. 

Steger et al also designate five central ideological claims that find much consensus among the global justice activists:

These assertions shape many of the policy alternatives proposed by the global justice activists.

The Steger et al. study is a useful example of how to do research on political ideology and it provides valuable evidence about ideational stances and culture of the New Global Left.  It and the movement network results summarized above imply that the New Global Left has a degree of coherence that can be the basis of greater articulation.

          William Carroll’s (2016) study of global justice transnational alternative policy groups examines the problem of how to build a transnational counter-hegemonic bloc of progressive social forces (Carroll 2016: 23). Carroll’s study examined 16 progressive transnational think-tanks from both the Global North and the Global South.  He agrees with the results of the Steger et al study summarized above regarding the discursive content of the global justice movement and notes that the progressive counter-hegemonic think tanks that he has studied[8] have been trying to produce knowledge that is useful for prefigurative social change and a democratic and egalitarian forms of globalization in contrast to the neoliberal globalization project. Carroll critiques localist and anti-organizational approaches and proposes:

 counter-hegemonic globalization: “a globally organized project of transformation aimed at replacing the dominant global regime with one that maximizes democratic political control and makes the equitable development of human capabilities and environmental stewardship its priorities (Carroll 2016: 30).  

            The Steger et al study and Bill Carroll’s research on progressive think-tanks have not produced the last word on the culture of the contemporary Global Left, but they are valuable beginnings. We have been fortunate to have a global forum process as a central venue to study, but some important progressive social movements have been excluded or have excluded themselves from the Social Forum process. Nevertheless, the Social Forums (global, national and local) have provided convenient opportunities for studying progressive activists, but how representative these are of all the progressive forces in world politics remains an important issue.


Arab Spring, Pink Tide and Deglobalization

          The global political, economic, and demographic situation has evolved in ways that challenge some of the assumptions that were made during the rise of the global justice movement and that require adjustments in the analyses, strategies, and tactics of progressive social movements.  The Arab Spring, the Latin American Pink Tide, the Indignados in Spain, and the rise of New Leftist social media-based parties in Spain (Podemos) Italy and in Greece and the spike in mass protests in 2011 and 2012 were interpreted as the heating up of a world revolution against neoliberal globalization that had started in the late 20th century with the rise of the Zapatistas (Chase-Dunn, Stäbler, Breckenridge-Jackson and Herrera 2014).  But the outcomes of some of these movements have brought the tactics of the global justice movement into question. The left-wing Syriza Party, elected in Greece in 2015, was a debacle that was crushed by the European banks and the EU. They doubled down on austerity, threatening to bankrupt the pensioners of Greece unless the Syriza regime agreed to new structural adjustment policies, which it did. This was a case in which another world was possible but did not happen. This disappointment was a poke in the eye of the other new leftist social media parties in Italy and Spain as well as the global justice movement.

The huge spike in global protests in 2011-2012 was followed by a lull and then a renewed intensification of citizen revolts from 2015-2016 (Youngs 2017). The Black Lives Matter movement, the Dakota Access Pipeline protest, the #MeToo movement, the global Women’s Marches and the Antifa rising against neo-fascism show that the World Revolution of 20xx is still happening but that the powers that be have resources that can defeat these mass protests.

            The mainly tragic outcomes of the Arab Spring and the decline of the Pink Tide progressive populist regimes in Latin America were bad blows for the global left. The Social Forum process was late in coming to the Middle East and North Africa, but it eventually did arrive. The Arab Spring movements in the Middle East and North Africa were mainly rebellions of progressive students and young people using social media to mobilize mass protests against aging authoritarian regimes. The outcome in Tunisia, where the sequence of protests started, has been fairly good thus far. But the outcomes in Egypt, Syria and Bahrein were disasters (Moghadam 2018).[9] Turkey and Iran should also be added to this list. The mass popular movements calling for democracy were defeated by Islamist movements that were better organized and by military coups and/or outside intervention. In Syria, parts of the movement were able to organize an armed struggle, but this was defeated by the old regime with Russian help. Extremist Muslim fundamentalists took over the fight from progressivists, and the Syrian civil war produced a huge wave of refugees that combined with economic migrants from Africa to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. This added fuel to the already existing populist nationalist movements and political parties in Europe, propelling electoral victories inspired by xenophobic and racist anti-immigrant sentiment. In Iran, the green movement was repressed. In Turkey, Erdogan has prevailed, repressing the popular movement as well as the Kurds.  All these developments, except Tunisia, have been major setbacks for the global left.

The replacement of most of the Pink Tide progressive regimes and Latin America by reinvented local neoliberals and/or Trump-like strong men has largely been a consequence of falling prices for agricultural and mineral exports because Chinese demand slackened. The social programs of the leftist populist movements were dependent on their ability to tax and redistribute returns from these exports. But this may also represent an improved new normal for Latin America because almost all earlier transitions involved military coups and violent repression, whereas most of these recent rightward regime transitions have been relatively peaceful and have not involved takeovers by the military or violent repression (at least so far). In Brazil the threat of military rule continues to play a role in politics, but at least so far, the rightward shift has been less violent than it was in earlier regime transitions.  Stable parliamentary democracy to have finally arrived in most of Latin America. This is not utopia, but it is progress. Leftists can contend for power again in the next round.

The continuing rise of right-wing populist and neofascist movements and their electoral victories in both the Global North and the Global South[10] have added a new note that is reminiscent of the rise of fascism during the World Revolution of 1917 (Chase-Dunn Dudley and Grimes 2018). This raises the issue of the relationships between movements and counter-movements and the possibility that the instrumentation and articulation of the global left could be driven by the need to combat 21st century fascism. The glorification of strong leaders in the right-wing populist and neo-fascist movements was also seen in the 20th century. But charismatic leaders have also been important in progressive movements in the past. The Democratic Socialists of America (D.S.A.) in some ways seem to be reacting against the “leaderless” ideology of the horizontalists by capitalizing on the extraordinary popularity of their most famous member, Bernie Sanders, currently the most popular politician in the U.S., with 63% public approval. The platform proposed by Sanders incorporates many of the tropes of the New Left and the global justice movement.

Dani Rodrik (2018) has contended that two kinds of populism arose to contest the neoliberal globalization project. In Latin America in the 1980s and the 1990s the structural adjustment policies of the International Monetary Fund that required austerity and privatization were supported by neoliberal national politicians who attacked the labor unions and parties of formal sector workers, but this produced a populist reaction in many countries in which progressive politicians were able to gain election by campaigning against these policies and by mobilizing the residents of the “planet of slums” (Davis 2006)-- the urban informal sector population. This phenomenon was called the “Pink Tide.”  Regimes based on left-wing populism emerged in most Latin American countries, and Rodrik rightly sees this as a reaction against the neoliberal globalization project. Right wing populism emerged, and is still emerging, in countries of the Global North in which neoliberal globalization produced deindustrialization and many workers lost their jobs.  This occurred in contexts in which it was easier for politicians to blame immigrants and minorities than to point the finger at the big winners of global capitalism – finance capital and transnational corporations. And some of the big winners provided support for the politics of hyper-nationalism, xenophobia, racism and sexism that are the working muscles of right-wing populism and neofascism.

Right-wing populist politicians have exploited cleavages along cultural lines, rallying individuals against foreigners and minorities. Left-wing populist movements, on the other hand tended to garner support based on economic cleavages. They pointed to the wealthy 1% and large corporations as responsible for the economic crises and austerity policies. Thus, the neoliberal globalization project and the crises of late global capitalism have produced increasing political polarization as the context in which the New Global Left needs to reconsider its culture and attitudes toward organizational issues.

Globalization is understood to be two rather different things. Sometimes this word refers to the neoliberal globalization project, collection ideas and policies that emerged in the 1970s and spread across the world. But it also has been used to mean an increase in the degree of integration in the world-system. This is called structural globalization (Chase-Dunn 1999). Long-term quantitative studies show that there have been waves of globalization and deglobalization since the 19th century (Chase-Dunn, Kawano and Brewer 2000). What is usually referred to as globalization has been bumpy upward trend in trade globalization since 1945. Earlier periods of trade deglobalization occurred from 1880 to 1900 and from 1930 to 1945. There was a drop in the measure of trade globalization (the sum of global imports divided by global GDP) in 2008 and then a recovery but this indicator fell from 2012 to 2016 (see Table 1).

Trade Globalization












Table 1: Trade globalization: sum of global imports divided by global GDP. Source: World Bank 2018

                This may indicate that the world-system has entered another period of structural deglobalization, though this in not certain because there have been short-term down-turns before that were followed by recoveries of the upward trend since 1945. If indeed we have entered another period of deglobalization this has implications for political strategies that assumed that structural globalization was going to continue increasing.

          There has always been a tension within the global left regarding antiglobalization versus the idea of an alternative progressive form of globalization. Samir Amin (1990) and Waldon Bello (2002) are important socialist advocates of deglobalization and delinking of the Global South from the Global North in order to protect against neo-imperialism and to make possible self-reliant and egalitarian development. Alter-globalization advocates an egalitarian world society that is integrated but without exploitation and domination. The alter-globalization project has been studied and articulated by Geoffrey Pleyers (2011) as an “uneasy convergence” of largely horizontalist autonomous and independent activist groups and more institutionalist actors like intellectuals and NGOs. In our proposal for a way forward for the Global Left we advocate combining horizontalism and capable coordination in an instrument that can support and defend egalitarian projects and communities and struggle effectively against the power of reactionary states and firms.

            The unhappy outcome of the Arab Spring, the demise of the Pink Tide, the rise of populist right-wing and neo-fascist movements and parties and the possible arrival of another period of deglobalization are developments that suggest that the global left needs to reexamine its culture and devise strategies that can be more effective in confronting the crises of global capitalism and building a more egalitarian, democratic and sustainable world society.


The Vessel[11]: forging a diagonal instrument for the Global Left

          A new discourse has emerged in the past few years regarding possibilities for greater articulation among the movements of the global left and around the ideas of united fronts and popular fronts and new forms of organization. The tendency of progressive social movements to form around single issues and identity politics is increasingly seen as a problem that stands in the way of mobilizing more effectively to both allow people to construct more egalitarian and sustainable projects and communities and to become a significant and consequential player in world politics.  This has been recognized and addressed in different ways by both activists and political theorists for the last twenty years.  John Sanbonmatsu’s (2004) defense of a global counter-hegemonic project of the Left locates the roots of horizontalism and the celebration of diversity in the rise of the new social movements and postmodern philosophy in the years following the world revolution of 1968. He contends that the post-modern emphasis on differences, inspired by the critical philosophy of Michel Foucault, undercuts the ability of progressive forces to join to struggle for social change. This was a somewhat understandable reaction against Stalinism and the primary focus on taking state power that became the modis operandi of the Old Left.  But Neo-Leninists such as Jodi Dean (2012, 2016) have pointed out the limitations of leaderless mass protests as a method for producing political change. Greg Sharzer (2012, 2017) recounts the fate of utopian communities of the past that demonstrate the reincorporation of local projects and communities back in to capitalist business as usual.  Samir Amin (2008, 2018) proposed a new communist international that would permit participation from more than one legitimate group per country. Amin’s proposed new international has other features that differentiate it from the Third International, but it seems to remain a hierarchical organization like earlier Leninist vanguard parties.[12]

The World Social Forum held in Salvador, Brazil in 2018 focused on how the Social Forum process could be reinvented to more effectively confront the rise of right-wing forces (Mestrum 2017, 2018). The demise of the U.S. and European Social Forums may mean that the Social Forum process is over. If that is the case the question is: What can replace and improve upon the Social Forum? Given the numerous competing interest groups, all with legitimate claims, the puzzle is how to unite them all, or most, of them in a global social justice movement that does not privilege one interest group above the others. Intersectionality as a theoretical paradigm in sociology can be helpful in identifying the interlocking layers in the matrix of oppression and thusly providing a blueprint for avoiding the reproduction of social hierarchy within such a global social justice movement (hooks 2014). However, intersectional ideology alone cannot serve as a unifying motivator for a global political movement. Political movements need to “name the enemy” (Starr 2000). The global right has been so tremendously effective in large part because it has constructed its own enemies as “the globalists,” “the establishment,” and “immigrants.” A truly successful global social justice movement will need to construct the predations of the transnational corporate class and the neo-fascist Global Right as enemies and to make evident the connections between these enemies and the oppression and exploitation of the majority of the human population of both the Global South and the Global North. 

We contend that the anti-organizational ideologies that have been a salient part of the culture of progressive movements since 1968 have been a major fetter restricting the capability of these movements to effectively realize their own goals. But these ideas and sentiments run deep and so any effort to construct organizational forms that can facilitate progressive collective action must be cognizant of this embedded culture. The Internet and social media, allowing cheap and effective mass communications, have been blamed for producing specialized single-issue movements. We suggest that virtual communication can be harnessed to produce more sustained and integrated organizations and effective tools that can be used to contend for power in the streets and institutional halls of the world-system. We also think that the old reformist/revolutionary debate about whether to engage in electoral politics is a fetter on the ability of the global left to effectively contend. We agree that changing the policies of states or taking power in them should not be the only goals of progressive social movements. States are not, and have never been, whole systems. They are organizations that exist in a larger world economy and interstate system.  And while they should not be to sole target of progressive movements, their organizational resources can be used to facilitate the building of a postcapitalist global society.  The autonomists correctly perceive that dependence on state resources and support, as well as on funding from mainstream foundations, often compromises the integrity and flexibility of social movement organizations in their ability to challenge existing power structures. But the Progressive transnational social movements should be prepared to work with progressive state governments in order to try to change the rules of the global economic order (Evans 2009; 2010). When social movement organizations become part of the problem rather than part of the solution, new less dependent or compromised social movement organizations can take up the struggle.

           Progressive transnational social movements should also be willing to work at the local level with city governments to implement progressive goals such as a universal basic income, as these cities can then serve as progressive examples (Wright 2010; Lowrey 2018; Van Parijs and Vanderborght 2017).  This includes learning from cities in the Global South and applying lessons learned in the Global North. For instance, a universal basic income has been piloted in the twenty-first century in Kenya and Brazil and is now being introduced in Stockton (California) and Chicago. We agree with Paul Mason (2015) that the anti-utopianism of the Old Left and some in the New Left was somewhat misplaced. [13]  Prefiguration is a good idea. Sharing networks, coops, community banks, zero emissions homes, farms and industries are worthwhile endeavors for activists of the global left (Wallerstein 1998). But these local projects need to be linked and coordinated so that they can effectively contend in national and world politics.


Organizational Structure

The idea of leaderless movements and organizations is an anarchist trope that has been critiqued by both Marxists (Epstein 2001) and feminists (Freeman 1972-73).  Political organizations need to have institutionalized procedures for making decisions and ways to hold leadership accountable so that mistakes can be rectified.  These requisites are not so important when the world-system is humming along with business as usual, but when systemic crises erupt, and powerful popular right-wing social movements and regimes emerge, leaderlessness becomes an unacceptable luxury. An alternative to Leninist “march-in-line” must be found. While the culture of the contemporary global left usually equates the idea of a political party with vanguard parties or electoral machines, there is a recent literature that argues that new forms of party organization are possible in the age of internet communication (Dean 2012, 2016; Carroll 2015).

Wiki farms[14] facilitate the formation of virtual organizations that combine the merits of open networks with leadership structures (data stewards) that allow groups to collectively author documents and to make group decisions (Wiki Organization n.d.).  Horizontalism valorizes leaderlessness and informality, usually paired with consensual decision-making. Horizontalist organizations, also called “self-organization” (Prehofer et al 2005) have several advantages: resilience (you can kill some of them but there is redundancy), flexibility and adaptability, individual entities interact directly with one another, and there is no larger hierarchy that can be disrupted. These desirable characteristics are those that are stressed by advocates of horizontalist networks.  But critics of horizontality point out that structurelessness does not prevent the emergence of informal structures among groups of friends, and participants that are not linked to these friendship nets have no mechanisms for regulating the power of the informal networks (Freeman 1972-73).  

Diagonalism combines horizontalism with a semi-centralized formal organizational structure that is itself democratic and flexible.[15] A diagonal organization is a complex of horizontally connected individuals, small groups and larger regional organizations with a decision-making structure by which groups can discuss and adopt policies and implement them. Hierarchies are as flat as is possible consistent with organizational capacity and composite groups may report to more than one leadership group.[16] Leadership is rotational and maximizes opportunities for participatory democracy.  Organizational bureaucracy is kept to a minimum, but legitimate representatives or delegates from horizontal groups make collective decisions and help to formulate policies and plan actions for the whole organization. Degrees of hierarchy can be flexible depending upon the nature of the task. High stakes, high risk tasks usually require more hierarchy. Local groups can adjust their organizational structures the context and the nature of the task. The Vessel itself should maintain democratic and flexible decision-making and implementation structures.

          The Vessel is a diagonal network formed of project affinity groups and local communities that share the results of their experiments and constructions and coordinate with one another for political actions, included mass demonstrations, electoral campaigns and mobilizations of support and contention. Diagonalism links horizontal networks of individuals and groups with a legitimate leadership structure composed of designated delegates who are empowered to carry out the decisions of the organization that appoint them. Delegates make group decisions by means of both consensus and voting. Multiple organizations can represent communities and nations. The Council of the Vessel will be a compromise between horizontal leaderless and hierarchical command structures in which leadership is held by delegated individuals or groups. The Vessel will focus on the articulation of central issues and will formulate visions, strategies and tactics for the global left. It will promote communication and collaboration among transnational, national and local projects.[17] The Vessel should not be a political party in the old sense, but it should be allowed, unlike the World Social Forum, to adopt resolutions and to support candidates and campaigns.  It should have a designated structure composed of a chosen facilitating delegate council to coordinate collective decision-making and to deal with problems of security and communications.[18] Existing progressive global organizations should be encouraged to join.  Functions of the vessel and member organizations will vary depending upon circumstances, but he vessel level should specialize in the politics of international organizations and global issues, whereas the local, national and world regional organizations can focus on those issues which are salient in their contexts.


The main issues that we think should constitute the focus of the Vessel are:

·         Human rights,

·         Anti-racism, decolonization, indigenous rights; gender orientation, etc.,

·         Climate justice,

·         Feminism,

·         Sharing networks,

·         Peace/anti-war alliances,

·         Local and city-based progressive grassroots activism,

·         Anticorporate transnationalism (tax justice, etc.), and

·         Democratic global governance.

The Vessel should also coordinate efforts to combat 21st century fascism and right-wing populism and should encouraged participation with and make alliances (united fronts; popular fronts) with NGOs and political parties that are willing to collaborate with these efforts.[19]

Human rights and anti-racism have been central in the network of movements participating in the social forum process (Figure 1 above) Global Indigenism (Hall and Fenelon 2009; Chase-Dunn et al 2019) has been an increasingly important issue for the global left. The rights of colonized peoples, racial and ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples, and people with minority gender and sexual orientations are central to the inclusive concerns of the global left. The climate justice movement is already a collaborative project combining environmentalists with those who focus on the most vulnerable communities (Bond 2012; Foran 2018; Foran, Gray and Grosse 2017).  Feminism has been one of the central movements in the social forum network of movements (Moghadam 2018). Sharing networks are a potentially potent tool for organizing postcapitalist institutions that can transform the logic of global capitalism (Mason 2013; Danaher and Gravitz 2017). The peace/antiwar movements need local and national mobilization against militarism (Benjamin 2013) as well as engagement with international governmental organizations in order to prevent the emergence of wars among core states in the coming multipolar world. The existing international political organizations are under attack from right-wing forces. The Vessel needs to advocate the strengthening and democratization of global governance institutions that can help keep the peace as humanity passes through the coming multipolar phase of interimperial rivalry and to move in the direction of an eventual democratic and collectively rational form of global governance. The take back the city movement is an important venue for activists’ fight for social justice in both the Global North (Harvey 2012; Fasenfest 2018) and the Global South (Evans 2002; Davis 2006).  Progressive nationalism is an important defensive tactic against the appropriation of nationalism by the right-wing populists and neo-fascists. For example, how could the national economy of the United States be reorganized to produce things needed abroad without destroying the environment and in a fashion that uses the skills of those who have been left out of neoliberal globalization? The deglobalizing world is reinventing nationalism as a response to the crises produced by the neoliberal globalization process. In many cases, this nationalism has verged into neo-fascism. The global left has been resolutely cosmopolitan and internationalist, but how could it engage the rising wave of nationalism to propose more cooperative relations with peoples abroad and with the Global South? The Vessel also needs to provide support help to formulate analyses and strategies for movements at the local and national levels who are fighting against the rise of right-wing authoritarianism and the suppression of progressive popular movements.


          Rather than giving way to cynicism and resignation, the global left needs to face up to the setbacks that have occurred and devise a new strategy for moving humanity in a better direction. The next few decades will be chaotic, but the movements and institutions we build can make things better. Whether or not the big calamities all come at once or sequentially, we need to pursue a strategy of “disaster postcapitalism”[20] that plants the seeds of the future during the chaos. It is not the end, just another dark age, and an opportunity for transition to a much better world-system.  The vessel can take us there.


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[1] This is an update of an earlier article that reviewed the sociological literature on coalition formation, the history of united and popular fronts in the 20th century, and considered which of the central tendencies of the new global left might be in contention for providing leadership and integration of the network of anti-systemic movements that have been participating in the World Social Forum process (Chase-Dunn, Stäbler, Breckenridge-Jackson and Herrera 2014)

[2] Prefigurationism is the idea that small groups can intentionally organize social relations in ways that can provide the seeds of transformation to a more desirable form of future human society. Horizontalism abjures hierarchy in organizations. It is inspired by Robert Michels’s (1968 [1915]) observation that all organizations become conservative because the leadership ends up only trying to defend their own interests and the survival of the organization


[3] World revolutions are named after a symbolic year in which important events occurred that characterize the nature of the constellation of the rebellions designated.


[4] The surveys were conducted at Social Forum meetings in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2005, Nairobi, Kenya and Atlanta, Georgia in 2007 and Detroit, Michigan in 2010.


[5] Figure 1 displays the network connections for the 27 movement themes using data from Nairobi, Atlanta and Detroit. In order to produce this figure it was necessary to dichotomize the distribution of affiliations because formal network analysis requires it. We use the same cutting point that we have used in earlier studies of the network of movement ties:  1.5 standard deviations above the mean number of affiliations. Using this cutting point results in a figure that indicates that anarchism and the other movement themes in the upper left-hand corner of the figure are below the threshold for showing their connections with the other movements. This happens because these are relatively small movements in terms of numbers of activists and so when we use the mean of the whole distribution as the cutting point the ties are coded as zero because the number of their connections was below the cutting point. This figure is good for showing the relative location of the largest and most central movement themes such as human rights, anti-racism, environmental, fair trade, and anti-corporate and the overall multicentric structure of the movement of movements. But the implication that the movements in the upper left-hand corner were disconnected with the rest of the network is incorrect. All the movement themes had some connections with the larger network.


[6] Prefigurationism is the idea that small groups and communities can intentionally organize social relations in ways that can provide the seeds of transformation to a more desirable form of future human society.


[7] World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth held in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2010

[8] Some well-known examples are the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, the Third World Forum, the Centre for Civil Society, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era and Focus on the Global South.

[9] Val Moghadam (2018) shows how gender relations and women's mobilizations prior to the protest outbreaks, along with differences in political institutions, civil society and international influences, explain most of the variance in the different outcomes of the Arab Spring.

[10] The terminology of the world-system perspective divides the Global South into the periphery and the semiperiphery.

This turns out to be an important distinction for comprehending political developments in the Global South. Activists from the semiperiphery have been far more likely to participate in the Social Forum process, and activists from the periphery have been much more critical of international political organizations than those from either the Global North or the semiperiphery (Chase-Dunn et al 2008)

[11] The instrument should be named by those who do the work to create it. Vessel is a suggestion meant to be inclusive and supportive. Others have suggested the Fifth International (Amin 2008) International of Workers and Peoples (Amin 2018)  the Postmodern Prince (Gill 2000; Sonbonmatsu 2004) and the World Party (Wagar 1999).

[12] The Amin and Dean versions differ in some respects regarding their notions of agency – Amin was a Third Worldist who saw the workers and peasants of the Global South as the agents of progressive social change that had to be protected from the neo-imperialism of the global core by delinking.  Dean is more of a workerist who thinks that organized workers and their leaders can be mobilized to transform global capitalism despite the technological reorganizations and cultural penetrations that have produced the precariats of the era of neoliberal globalization.


[13] We doubt that Mason’s (2015) transitional program to postcapitalism, a global society in which wage labor has been replaced by the provision of free goods produced by networked machines, is a possibility for the next few decades, but we agree that this is a desirable goal for humanity.


[14] A wiki farm is a collection of wikis running on the same web server and sharing one parent wiki engine.

[15] Keith Hayson (2014:48-520) outlines an agenda for building an organizational diagonalism that is intended to produce a useful compromise between anarchistic horizontalism and organizational hierarchy that makes leadership and accountability possible. 

[16] In management theory control structures with multiple reporting lines are called matrix organizations (Gottleib 2007)

[17] Digital organizations and the discourse on net governance make new forms of network organizations possible. Organizations need to be able to make decisions. This can be done hierarchically or by means of group voting or discussions, or various combinations of these. The Vessel will recognize both horizontal authority structures and allow subgroups to adopt the structures that they need.  Organizations also need to specify their boundaries and protect themselves against those who would like to disrupt them, or worse. These jobs are best done by all active members, but it may be found necessary to delegate security jobs to individuals or subgroups. The best practices can be developed as things progress.

[18] Forging the Vessel should be begun at a meeting held under the auspices of the World Social Forum in 2019.

[19] This is list is a proposal for discussion. The development of a set of central issues should be among the first matters of discussion at the forging meetings.


[20] This is a play on Naomi Klein’s (2007) idea of disaster capitalism.