Article by Ripess Europe

Workshop 1: Political action through alternative and solidarity economy
Organised by: RIPESS Europe, MES – Mouvement pour l’Economie Solidaire, l’Espace de travail Alternatives concrètes d’ATTAC France.

Presentations by Bruno Lasnier and Josette Combes, MES France

A few definitions to understand the differences between Transformation, Transition and Bifurcation
Bruno Lasnier

The idea of transforming society through citizen action emerged from the counter-culture movements of the 60s and 70s around the emergence of alterglobalism and the solidarity economy:

– The alterglobalisation movement is a social movement promoting the idea that a different way of organising the world is possible. The term was coined in 1999 to introduce the desire of citizens to defend a form of globalisation that would be different from the current one, with the slogan un autre monde est possible (another world is possible), borrowed from Le Monde diplomatique and taken up by Attac and then by the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in 2001.

– The solidarity economy movement proposes to build citizen-based alternatives to transform the economy in the service of a fairer society. The solidarity economy can be defined as “all production, exchange, savings and consumption activities contributing to the democratisation of the economy on the basis of citizen commitments”. This movement is based on the values of solidarity, reciprocity, autonomy, sharing, equality and equity to promote the solidarity-based economy as a lever for social transformation in the service of a social project based on greater solidarity and an alternative to the liberal economy.

In the SSE, two ways of conceiving transformation have always coexisted:

– a concept of economy repairing the negative effects of capitalism: this political vision does not seek to get out of the dominant economic model but aims to repair its negative effects by the fight against poverty, exclusion, the limitation of lucrativeness etc. Concepts such as social business and social entrepreneurship can be found in this concept of responsible capitalism, which is defended, for example, by Jean Marc Borello in his book Pour un capitalisme d’intérêt général, in which he proposes making the SSE the embodiment of capitalism serving the general interest.

– a transformative concept that proposes to emerge from a capitalist economy by reintegrating the dimensions of the market, redistribution and solidarity into a hybrid economy, as already expressed in the “Appel en faveur de l’ouverture d’un espace pour l’économie solidaire” (Call for the opening of a space for solidarity economy), published in the newspaper Le Monde on 18 June 1997: “Solidarity economy initiatives attempt to respond to the challenges facing our society today. These experiments suggest a plural approach to the economy, with the market not being the only source of wealth production, and encourage hybridisation between market, non-market and non-monetary resources. At a social level, they enable the production of local, voluntary and chosen solidarity. And on a political level, they help to make democracy more lively and interactive by seeking the expression and participation of everyone, whatever their status (employee, volunteer, user, etc.). In short, the solidarity economy should not be confused with other forms of economy in a kind of catch-all sector that would legitimise the breakdown of the wage-earning condition. Under no circumstances should it constitute a “sweeper economy” that would pick up those left behind by competitiveness. On the contrary, experiments in the solidarity economy are proving every day that it is possible to base initiatives on actions of solidarity.”

From the Ecological Transition Movement to the fork in the road

With the growing awareness of the impact of human society on our environment, the term “transition” also appeared in the 1970s, notably with the Meadows report in 1972, which stressed the need for “transition from a growth model to a global equilibrium” by highlighting the ecological risks induced by economic and demographic growth. In 1987, the Brundtland Report (Boissonade, 2017) recommended “the transition to sustainable development”. Over the last twenty years, the concept of ecological and inclusive transition has emerged, prompting a wide range of players – researchers, institutions, businesses, citizens’ initiatives and social movements – to claim this concept as a form of action to help society move towards a more sustainable model. Whether ecological, energy-related, social, solidarity-based, economic, democratic or digital, transition refers to “a process of transformation during which a system moves from one state of equilibrium to another”.1 It is neither a revolution nor an adjustment, but a fundamental reconfiguration of the way society functions and is organised, simultaneously affecting all areas of the system: political, economic, ecological, socio-cultural, scientific, technological and institutional. Developments in each of these areas are mutually reinforcing as we move towards a new model. Transition is therefore characterised by a gradual and far-reaching change in societal models over the long term. It is a process that is part of a complex system, which makes it difficult to grasp.

More recently, the term “bifurcation” has been coined: a bifurcation is a chosen, radical and systemic change of direction. In the trajectory (of a person, a territory, a society, humanity…), the bifurcation is opposed to progressive or gradual changes (by successive degrees). Unlike a transition, a bifurcation is a choice to break away from the system and embrace radical change.

How are alternatives political?
Josette Combes

“What matters for a citizen is his behaviour in the city, not his metaphysical preferences. Confucius

As an introduction to the workshop, it is important to be clear about the difference between the two terms politics and policy. The table below shows what comes under politics, i.e. the organisation of the city. Politics essentially consists of implementing strategies to regulate the political by taking advantage of the institutions that allow us to play a role in the dimensions concerned.  We have chosen to examine the three essential dimensions of politics: the economic, the social and the spiritual, proposing how politics acts and in particular what the solidarity economy brings into play.

Politics is about intervening in places of power, and for the SSE it is about promoting cooperation between human beings, limiting predation on resources and reclaiming the commons.

Politicy Politics
Economy (life support)

  • produce what, how, where
  • consume what, how, when and where
  • financing what, how and for what purpose
What needs to be done

  • self-management, partnership, ecological vigilance
  • relocation, sobriety, commons
  • distributing wealth and tax contributions

Social (interactions between humans, other species and natural resources)

  • relations between women, men and children
  • freedom of movement and expression
  • places for exchange, agoras, assemblies

Essential regulations


  • anti-discrimination (all)
  • deliberative assemblies, free media
  • common spaces, co-construction of public policies


  • art
  • education
  • physical activities

Encouraging personal research

  • access to artistic expression
  • education in cooperation
  • respect for the body and the absence of combat

These dimensions are generally interlinked, and if we are to change the course of ultra-liberal policies, we can envisage three scenarios Transformation, Transition and Bifurcation