Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mass Movements, a SWOT analysis

Political movements can be of two types. Some can be intellectually oriented, to which most of the elite are attracted. These are characterized as having some high ideal which might be the bedrock of the current society but towards which attention has been missing for a long time. However, this does not have immediate short term applications and it is difficult to motivate many people towards such causes.

The rest are mass movements - i.e., which can attract large numbers of people to their fold by virtue of having as one of its causes something that holds fruitful to many people of different walks of life at the same time. A few specimens as have happened in India are Mahatma Gandhi's movement against the British for India's independence, JP Narayan's movement against Indira Gandhi calling for her to resign and Anna Hazare's brief for short term fixes such as his campaign against alcoholism in Ralegon Siddhi, his earlier 'fast unto death' against corrupt ministers only to get them resigned and the recently concluded fast for an anti corruption bill. The sway of mass movements among the lips of many is that numbers of people rooting for a cause can give concrete results to meet that cause. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi often harps the line that a mass movement is needed for public development.

Whether mass movements can be successful or not or whether they are beneficial to the masses will be left for the reader to decide. But in the view of the permanent fascination of the average Indian for mass movements of one type of the other, it becomes necessary first to examine this entity called the 'mass movement'. The purpose of the post is to examine the phenomenon of mass movements by a commonly used management tool - the SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunities and threats) analysis. Putting all of these on the table at the same time for a particular entity would make it easy for one to choose to take a decision of deploying that entity or not deploying it.

(Below as extracted from Eric Hoffer's "The True Believer" [3])

1) Strengths:

(a) Large numbers of people batting for a particular cause can lead to its successful implementation.

(b) If a people are backward, successful modernization can perhaps be brought about only by united action that is offered by a mass movement.

(c) A mass movement can dent another of an opposing doctrine. What is required here is a better corporate structure of accomodating those of the other doctrine. The more it can endanger a sense of bonhomie, the greater the chances of its success. This is because the raw material for mass movements and the minds that are attracted towards them are about the same. This works both the ways hence also finds a mention in weaknesses.

(d) Being able to create a perception that performing an act will lead to a moment of glory. For this glory, mass movements are able to create an awareness of an audience, that our deeds will bring an applause from our contemporaries or will be remembered by the generations to come.


(a) Has the possibility to be derived from a state of anguish of the failed and not necessarily far sighted. As Thoreau said, "If anything ail a main, so that he does not perform his functions, if he have a pain in his bowels even.. he forthwith sets about reforming the world." [1]

(b) Can attract unworthy elements of the society who are lost causes on their own might and actively seek to add to their worth by associating with such movements. This is corroborated by observations that when mass movements are around, crime in the society declines.

(c) If two mass movements cohabit a place, there is a possibility of interchangeability of cadre. In Germany between the wars, there was always a certainty of the youth opting for the communists.

3) Opportunities:

(a) Holds a promise of sudden and spectacular change in living conditions of supporters. The driving forces used for the same are religious and nationalist fervor for change.

(b) To offer a substitute for individual hope. Mass movements can dope the followers with hope of the future, while making them sacrifice the present.

4) Threats:

(a) Derives from the belief in omnipotence of a particular ideology. For e.g., Lenin and the Bolsheviks had faith in the power of the Marxist doctrine before setting out for their utopia. In the case of Nazis, they had a belief in an omnipotent leader and the techniques of blitzkrieg and propaganda as tools for irresistible power

(b) People supporting mass movements usually have an extravagant conception of the prospects and potentialities of the future, are ignorant of the difficulties involved in their undertaking. Experienced people are less likely to lead or support mass movements.

(c) An intelligent mass movement leader will recognize that the fuel for mass movements comes from the ability of the movement to make members sacrifice rather than seek self interest. When such a leader comes to place, the movement becomes ever lasting as goal posts initially set for the movement keep shifting and people are coerced to permanently live to sacrifice. For e.g, according to Hitler "the more posts and offices a movement has to hand out, the more inferior stuff it will attract, and in the end these political hangers on overwhelm a successful party in such numbers that the honest fighter of former days no longer recognizes the old movement. When this happens, the mission of such a movement is done for" [2].

(d) It holds immediate threat to the unity of a family, as individuals not bound to a family are more likely to be supportive of a mass movement than a person who is bound by responsibilities of a family.

The outcome of mass movements - as Eric Hoffer puts it, is determined by two factors, one of which is how well its active phase is concluded after achieving its goals. The longer a movement stays volatile, the less beneficient it becomes. The more beneficial mass movements have been short lived - for e.g. the Reformation, the Puritan, French and American revolutions. Many nationalist movements fall into this category. The other factor for determining the outcome of a mass movement is to see how well it can usher in the next phase after the mass movement is concluded which is to have a more distant goal, something that ushers in a reign of stability, and can build enduring organizations towards achieving this distant goal. We will examine this at a later date.


[1]: Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Modern Library edition (New York: Random House, 1937), p. 69.

[2]: Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1943), p. 105.

[3]: Eric Hoffer, The true believer

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