Nonviolent Struggle and Social Defence
Published in 1991 by War Resisters' International and the Myrtle Solomon Memorial Fund Subcommittee (of the Lansbury House Trust Fund; Charity Reg No 306139) c/o War Resisters' International, 55 Dawes Street, London SE17 1EL, Britain.
A grant towards the production of this book was received from the Puckham Trust
ISBN 0 903517 14 0
Edited by Shelley Anderson and Janet Larmore
Production by Howard Clark and Ken Simons
All copyrights are held by the authors
Buy a paper copy online at WRI's webshop
Social defence and the state
- Why haven't peace movements taken social defence seriously?
- Why and how to work with governments
- Transitions to civilian-based defence
- Yugoslavia: the past and the future
Case studies of people's power
- People Power: The Philippines
- The Intifada
- Czechoslovakia's nonviolent revolution
- Nonviolent people's struggles in India
- China: a time of hope met by horror
- How we won democracy in Chile
- A new style of Polish protest
- Social defence against coups: the case of Fiji
- Low Intensity Conflict: Central America
- Low Intensity Conflict: South Africa
Social defence: arguments and actions
Shelley Anderson is editor of Reconciliation International. Janet Larmore works for Greenpeace International. Both are US citizens living in the Netherlands. At the time of the Bradford conference, they both worked for Disarmament Campaigns.
"It's wonderful to meet a group of people whose time has come." With this greeting James O'Connell of the Bradford School of Peace Studies welcomed participants to the Bradford Conference on Nonviolent Struggle and Social Defence, held 3-7 April 1990 in Bradford, England. In the following pages you will read about some of the discussions from that conference. The gathering, which included five full days of plenary sessions, workshops and intense personal conversations that went on into many late hours of the night, was organised by War Resisters' International (WRI) and the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR), in cooperation with the Bradford School of Peace Studies.
Over 100 people attended the conference, where a unique mix of politicians, grass roots activists, researchers -- and one member of the West German Military Academy -- challenged and listened deeply to one another. Some participants, like German parliamentarian Petra Kelly and researcher Gene Sharp, are well known in international peace movement circles; others are respected activists inside their own communities, involved, in particular, with campaigns to abolish their countries' militaries or in promoting conscientious objection.
They came with first-hand experiences of both violence and active nonviolence: a Dutch nonviolence trainer had lived in Romania under Ceaucescu; a South African minister from Natal had witnessed the assassination of his next-door neighbour; a Central American peace activist traced his activism to seeing, when he was a young boy playing football with friends, government soldiers drag a team mate away and behead him. East German participants listened attentively to Maria Diokno from the Philippines on how the revolution brought about by people's power was betrayed; Elzbieta Rawicz-Oledzka of Poland and Vanessa Griffen of Fiji co-led a workshop on the role of social defence after a military takeover. Perhaps the only thing all the participants had in common was a desire to explore the power of nonviolence.
People's power in the Philippines, the nonviolent revolutions in Eastern Europe, the pro-democracy movement in China have all inspired more people to investigate the possibilities of nonviolent social defence. But as interest increases, so do the questions. And one major question which confronted many of the Bradford conference's participants was -- what exactly is meant by the phrase "social defence"? And how does it differ from the other terms -- civilian-based defence, popular resistance, people's power, nonviolent civilian defence. Common to all these is a belief in the usefulness of mass, non-military action by ordinary citizens in defending their way of life. But should the definition be restricted to defending a territory against outside aggression? Or should it be expanded to include the protection of institutions or certain values against any threat, internal or external? If this is the case, whose values are to be defended? The consensus or the degree of social unity that this assumes may not exist in reality. What if the way of life to be protected is actually the source of violence itself? How is social defence different from nonviolent struggle?
Coming up with a concrete definition is not just an academic exercise. Linked to all this is an important strategic question about how the idea of social defence should be presented to the larger society. This is the question of whether or not social defence is a supplement to military defence, or a replacement. Some advocates urge a de-coupling of social defence from its pacifist roots, and an emphasis on social defence as a practical way of making the costs of an occupation so high that any aggressor would think twice about an invasion. Researchers such as Gene Sharp and Jean-Marie Muller have found military officials very interested in social defence for this reason. Indeed, in response to the 1985 study La Dissuasion Civile, written by Muller and his colleagues Christian Mellon and Jacques Semelin for the Foundation for National Defence Studies, General Buis wrote, "If nuclear deterrence fails, if the enemy has not been discouraged from attacking, then our deterrence strategy is useless. That is why civilian resistance is necessary; and it must be nonviolent."
Advocates point out that social defence is a method that could be used by any citizen, after training, not just by pacifists or nonviolent activists. Social defence could be integrated into military defence plans, which could be an important step towards persuading the military to adopt more defensive strategies -- another first step towards the longer term goal of ending the military. The advantage to both this approach and definition of social defence is a very practical one, supporters point out -- even if does not accept the pacifist dream of ending war completely, the body count is lowered. While a simultaneous civilian defence may not come up to a pacifist ideal, fewer people are killed.
But for many nonviolent activists the idea of working alongside the military is tantamount to sleeping with the devil. While nonviolent action may involve many of same components as military action (keeping morale up, good communications, clear goals and coordinated action), many believe the two systems are incompatible. In a conference workshop dealing with this issue, Slovenian peace activist Marko Hren said that the military model was based on centralised power, hierarchy and obedience. A nonviolent resistance, on the other hand, was by its very nature decentralised and non-hierarchical. He gave the example of his own country of Yugoslavia, where at the time military units were augmented by the organisation of civilians for non-armed defence.
Many of the conference participants supported a much broader definition of social defence, a definition that would encompass nonviolent social movements that struggle to change society from within. "The word ´defence' in the phrase social defence is losing its international dimension in Europe," said Andreas Gross of Switzerland at the conference. "In the future, there may not be one state defending itself from another, but rather democratic, social and peaceful achievements, processes and projects against the use of force from several sides. This progression from foreign policy to the internal politics of countries throughout the world must be included in the social defence concept, so practical concrete steps can be developed on the way to societies without armies." German activists, uncomfortable with the reactive connotation of the terms "social defence", have come up with the phrase "social attack", meaning a programme of action that gets to the roots of violence in one's own society. Julio Quan of Guatemala defines social defence in this broader context as, "The creation of a democratic based power for economic, social, political, ideological and ecological security."
As stated before, social defence implies a degree of unity, or consensus, on the part of the civilian population. What if such consensus does not exist -- and for good reasons, because society's own institutions are the oppressors? Some theorists, such as Theodor Ebert, distinguish between the nonviolent defence of a society against a military aggressor, either internal (coup or civil war) or external, and when the aggressor is the government itself or an institution in the society. The first definition is an example of social defence. The second he would call Gewaltfreier aufstand, or social uprising. Many activists do not like such a distinction. Women in particular are expanding on the idea of social defence to explore questions like just what are the values we would want to defend and what kind of world do we want to live in.
"Women can't defend the existing governmental institutions with their sexist structures, as they are an expression of structural and personal violence against women," writes Renate Wanie in her paper "Women and Social Defence". "I believe that women will take an active part in putting social defence into practice if they can combine their political hopes for a life worthy of human beings with their individual daily and autonomous decisions." Wanie cautions peace groups to examine their own sexist structures and ways of organising, and points out that nonviolence can be a double-edged sword for women. "We have to be careful so that in nonviolent actions -- which often imply a readiness to suffer and a sacrificial attitude -- women don't reinforce our socialised role. An act which can be liberating for men, as it contradicts their conventional role, can affect women negatively."
Another important challenge raised at Bradford throughout the conference was just how applicable Western ideas of social defence are to situations in the South. Once again, the aggressor may not be an external enemy, but one's own government, or other official institutions. There may also be more than two parties involved in the conflict, as is the case where countries are composed of many different ethnic or tribal groups. The violence of poverty, of external debts which hold development for ransom, and of newer, more sophisticated forms of warfare such as low-intensity conflicts demand new nonviolent strategies and campaigns. A great deal of sharing went on during the conference between East Europeans and participants from Latin America, Palestine, Asia, the Pacific and South Africa, whose experiences with repressive governments and active nonviolent opposition gave them some comparison.
The conference was exhausting, stimulating and challenging by turns, just as the entire issue of social defence is. We hope this account of some of the conference's proceedings will encourage more groups and individuals to investigate the potential of a nonviolent defence. Then perhaps we will see if social defence is, indeed, an idea whose time has come.
By Petra Kelly
Petra Kelly has been a member of the German Greens (die Grünen) for 11 years and at the time of this conference, she represented the party in the Bundestag. In December 1990, after a national election in a newly united Germany, the Green Party received less than 4 per cent of the vote, and as a result, lost all of its seats in the German Parliament.
Just before this conference, I was at our Green Party conference and, as usual, we got caught up in discussing and quarrelling about many issues. As a result, we never got around to debating the question of social defence, or the present military situation in Lithuania or why we presently show so little support for the "Germany Without an Army" movement (Bundesrepublik ohne Armee).
It was one of those typical Green Party conferences which make it so dramatically clear how we end up missing out on the questions of the century by being so preoccupied with ourselves and our own quarrels. I say this with some melancholy and bitterness because the '90s will either be an age of social and nonviolent defence or an age of new nationalism: of the ugly Germans creating a Super-Germany within a super-militarised Europe, perhaps even an age when new national conflicts, like those between Hungary and Romania or between Czechs and Slovaks, begin all over again.
On one hand, we had so much hope when the group "Switzerland Without an Army" gained so much popular support during their campaign to create a referendum. Over 36 per cent of the Swiss population voted against the army and this was a very important and strategic signal in Western Europe -- in a small, neutral country, ruled by capital and European banks. It was brave enough to pose this most important question -- should we or should we not live with an army?
I was also very hopeful when a few weeks ago, Gert Bastian [former general in the German military and Green Party member] and I had the privilege of accompanying the Dalai Lama on his first personal trip to Prague, Czechoslovakia at the invitation of Vaclav Havel. The Dalai Lama was asked what type of defence he thought would be suitable for the future of Czechoslovakia and Eastern Europe. With his usual deep wisdom, he answered that there was no longer a need for any military defence, that in fact, military defence made no sense and that the only type of defence that is necessary is one that is civilian-based -- nonviolent, non-military defence.
The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet has repeatedly pointed out that what is most important is to be able to have a peaceful heart. Only when we understand the true nature lying within, can we live harmoniously with the rest of the natural world. E F Schumacher has said that a nonviolent and gentle attitude towards nature and living things can be the solution to our crisis. A violent and aggressive approach to the natural world is fed by human greed for short-term material gain without care for the long-term effects on other generations.
We all know that nonviolence differs considerably from religious pacifism. Nonviolence includes a broader definition of what causes and constitutes violence, takes the initiative against the existing system of dominance and privilege, and gives more conscious attention to the building of an alternative social structure. A J Muste called for a nonviolent revolutionary movement which would include both changes in external relationships and inner transformations of the individual.
My roots in nonviolence go back to the '60s when I was studying in the US and to the Prague Spring of 1968. I was in Prague, along with my grandmother, during those dramatic days in August. For five days I was under house arrest in a hotel in Wenceslas Square, and what I saw during those five days was the beginning of social or nonviolent defence.
Even after Dubcek and his closest associates were arrested, Czechoslovakia and its leaders remained steadfast in passive resistance, storing up the kind of patriotism through sacrifice and suffering which the country never had had before and would profit from greatly in the future.
The spirit to which its people so nobly responded was fittingly put into words in the 22 August 1968 Resolution. " ... let us lift our heads against raised gun barrels. With the calm and prudence of a dignified and free people ... let us stand proudly as our fathers stood and so that our children will not be ashamed of us. We are adopting this standpoint to the sound of occupation forces shooting, but we do so freely, and with an awareness of our historic responsibility ... "
Since the Prague Spring so much has occurred -- the phases of the Cold War, the ominous modernisation of the arms race between the superpowers and the rest of the nuclear powers, the upsurge of the various independent peace movements across the globe as well as those peace movements that were run by the old Communist regimes.
We, in Europe, have learned from the radical activity in the USA which had considerably broadened from opposition to the Vietnam War, racism and militarism, and so forth -- issues which marked the late '50s and '60s. The mass movements in the USA opposing the war and the NATO decision to deploy Pershing and Cruise Missiles in Western Europe had an impact on public opinion, public consciousness and even on some political leaders.
The strategies used for nonviolent struggle and civil disobedience by West European peace movements were very modest, in comparison to the democracy movements in Eastern Europe. In the West, the peace movement first went through a phase of massive mobilisation throughout various capitals in Europe, where once a year about 300,000 to 500,000 of us gathered together to demonstrate nonviolently -- but with very little creativity.
Some of us went on to participate in individual or collective civil disobedience actions in front of military bases and installations. The British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was in the forefront of mobilising people for such actions, including massive ´die-ins' and other forms of nonviolent protest. The women of Greenham Common were a hopeful sign of moving further with our civil disobedience.
In other areas of the world, such as New Zealand and Australia, we were seeing very powerful demonstrations for civil disobedience, and the concept of social defence was being included in the peace movement's platform.
However, in Germany, the debate was focused on getting rid of Pershing and Cruise Missiles. We also tried very hard to include the question of human rights in the platform of our different peace demonstrations. There were endless debates about whether or not to include Solidarnosc or whether or not to include the names of such people as Vaclav Havel or Barbel Böhley in the demands of the disarmament movement. For us it was clear that if we wanted to move to a nonviolent society, we must not only take up the issues of militarism and arms production and export, but also the question of human rights.
We tried to include the question of social defence as a goal of the peace movement, but this was very difficult. There were many internal debates within the movement as to how much military one should accept and what transitional steps are possible on the way to living without armies.
Not long after the Greens arrived in parliament in 1983, they began raising the issue of alternative forms of defence, including social defence. Those who attended the hearing within the Defence Committee or Green meetings on social defence, know how difficult it was to get a consensus.
Gene Sharp remained steadfast in his assertion that nonviolence is, above all, a practical strategy applicable to ordinary mortals and requires no special phase in a higher order of being. The theoretical and operative basis of civilian-based defence is the insight that power derives not from the barrel of a gun, as many people believe, but from the consent of the governed. We argued in the peace movement that civilian-based defence does not defend borders in the military sense we are accustomed to. The strength of nonviolent defence inheres in its capacity for ceaseless resistance, spoiling the spoils of war and depriving the aggressor of his anticipated fruits of victory.
There were, at this time, a few feasibility studies undertaken in Sweden, Denmark and Holland on social defence, but they always received funding at far below the requested amount. The German Greens, and a number of other alternative parties in European parliaments, endorsed a policy of social defence -- a nonviolent defence by the entire society -- to replace conventional armed defence. Even the French and Austrian Governments commissioned limited studies of the possible usefulness of nonviolent defence.
During the '80s, more women in the peace movement began demanding that violence against women -- psychological, physical and economic -- be recognised and stopped, and that social institutions be changed so that they no longer reflected a pattern of dominance and submission. These women were also in the forefront of demanding that social defence be included in the peace movement's aims. Women in the movement began encouraging a more humane and loving standard of behaviour instead of relationships steeped in aggression and competition. Nonetheless, peace movements across Europe became even more dominated by men, some of whom still believed in the more traditional way of gaining power.
Disarming particular weapons systems was the priority of the '80s, yet there was a tremendous amount of debating going on within the various peace movements. Not everyone was a whole-hearted supporter of pacifism or nonviolence or of saying "no" to all forms of military defence. Some of the war resisters in Western Europe even felt that it was right to take up a gun in Nicaragua to fight the Contras. We had many different direct action projects to try to halt the deployment of new weapons, to resist war taxes and to encourage conversion to a peacetime economy.
But only a small minority of people participated. It wasn't the impressive masses of people that we've recently seen on the streets of Leipzig or Dresden or Prague. And yet already in East Germany after the East German elections, we are seeing how quickly revolutions devour their fathers and mothers and how quickly West German capital and banks and politicians snuff out the dreams of nonviolence and a radically democratic East Germany.
The twentieth century has been far bloodier than the preceding one and in my opinion the coming ten years are our last hope for a truly nonviolent and peaceful new world order. Just as nuclear energy opponents in the '70s realised that it wasn't enough just to oppose nuclear energy, they also had to offer an alternative energy policy, so too have many critics of the arms race just now realised that they must promote an alternative defence policy. We must reject a mix of military and social defence concepts. Yet this has been at the root of a debate within the Federation for Social Defence (Bund für Soziale Verteidigung) founded in Minden in 1989. Civilian-based defence cannot be mixed or compromised if it is to provide a true nonviolent alternative to conventional means of defence. Military means must be phased out as training of the population progresses and public confidence in social defence increases.
What we need now is not so much exchanging our bad experiences in trying to get social defence accepted, but practical work in the area of social defence. This means building regional and local centres for social defence and nonviolent training, trying to increase the work of the Peace Brigades and having the courage to intervene nonviolently in situations of conflict. For example in Cambodia, or right now in Lithuania where Russian tanks and solders are trying to intimidate those who are struggling for independence. It also means supporting the nonviolent struggle of the Tibetan and Chinese people in exile and those who continue to struggle inside these countries.
Social defence must not end up as a study project or programme if there is any hope of it becoming a true and credible alternative. Discussions with Tibetan and Chinese friends from democracy and independence movements have shown me that they are well aware of the possibilities for using civilian-based defence, but that far too many of us here in Western Europe have tried to tell them how to resist. Nonviolent struggle, social defence, these are the key question for the '90s and for the end of this bloody century.
At a time when NATO has decided to continue its nuclear and chemical and conventional war strategies and at a time when it is about to move its borders to the East German-Polish border, this is exactly the time that civilian-based defence must be counter-proposed to NATO policies. Social defence is pragmatic rather than ideological and thus requires efficient organisation, detailed preparation and very good training. It is here, I believe, where peace movements and the limited resources they have, along with the Green Parties, have failed.
Even the German Greens, who have more resources than most, are still incapable of instituting practical work in the area of social defence. This nonviolent strategy of preparing societies to not be ruled by aggressors from within or without must become a key goal of the peace movements.
I am very grateful for the writings of Gene Sharp concerning civilian-based defence's potential. These writing need to be translated not only into the languages of Europe, but into Chinese and Tibetan as well. We must try to link up with nonviolent resistance movements around the world who are trying to pragmatically practice nonviolent forms of defence and massive campaigns of civil disobedience. Visiting India, I've been amazed at the many nonviolent civil disobedience campaigns going on there -- such as the demonstrations at the Orissa Missile Base. Or I think about the Chipko Movement (the "tree-huggers") of the Indian women. And I think of the nonviolent strategies that the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people strive to live by.
So far, the peace movement and the anti-nuclear movements have more-or-less functioned as an emergency fire-fighting brigade. But we have had neither the priorities nor the proper strategies for looking at the underlying problems in ridding the world of militarism and deterrence thinking. We should keep in mind that the UN could also play a role if civilian-based defence were adopted simultaneously by several countries in a coordinated programme of transarmament.
The massive nonviolent struggle in those East European countries which have been under a dictatorship, although they may not formally fall under the concept of civilian-based defence, have in fact taught us a lesson in advance preparation that we all need to learn. This lesson of self-liberation is one we have not yet quite learned in Western Europe. Preparations in civilian-based defence can also help stimulate liberation groups around the world to apply similar methods and strategies against their own internal oppressive regimes.
But of all movements which have the freedom and the resource to do so, it is the West European disarmament movements which must address as soon as possible the issue of social defence as a main priority.
By Jean-Marie Muller
Jean-Marie Muller is active in the Mouvement pour une Alternative Nonviolente in France and is co-author of La Dissuasion Civile(Fondation pour les Etudes de Défense Nationale, 1987).
Nonviolent civilian defence is an alternative to military defence: defence against attempts at destabilisation, at control, at domination or occupation of our society, coupled with a way of organising and preparing nonviolent actions of non-cooperation or of confrontation so that the enemy becomes incapacitated and unable to reach the ideological, political, economic goals that prompted the aggression.
What relationship can supporters of nonviolent civilian defence have with a government? As an essentially violent institution, the State is considered the principal enemy of nonviolent revolution. Therefore those of us who cooperate with it are accused of betraying nonviolence.
First of all, this is not about asking the State to organise nonviolent civilian defence along military lines. The framework for nonviolent civilian defence is completely different: it is not a code prescribed by the State and imposed on the people. It is a mobilisation of the people, affirming their rights, their liberty, their worth and their culture. The structure of nonviolent civilian defence is not upheld at the peak of the State's pyramid: it depends on support from the base of society. It does not rely on a regimented discipline imposed upon citizens but on free and resolute citizens taking responsibility to defend their liberty. Nonviolent civilian defence is truly the strength of the citizen and the power of the people.
Civilian defence mobilises citizens in organisations separate from the State and functioning in a realm outside its control: bodies such as political movements, workers' and professional unions, humanitarian associations -- from the largest non-governmental organisations to the smallest neighbourhood action group -- and the churches. In a crisis, all these autonomous citizens' organisations -- civil society -- would become the supply of resistance for nonviolent civilian defence.
Civil society, however, does not represent all sectors: political society is an important facet of any democratic society, and vital for effective nonviolent civilian defence. Potential aggressors often think of seizing the political sector so that they can dictate their own objectives through its structure. As one cannot defend one part of the framework and leave the other wide open for attack, the question becomes not should the civilian and the political sectors work together at all, but how their union can be made the most effective.
In case of an aggressive intervention, we must also convince political society to prepare, to mobilise and to organise a nonviolent strategy, starting from the base. The contacts already established with political organisations and the unions will help to put into action an institutional dialogue with the people who make up political sector.
The essential characteristic of political society is its dependence on the public sector: the legislature, represented by the parliamentarians, and the executive branch, represented by the ministers. Those who propose a nonviolent strategy are brought before the elected representatives -- from the smallest town all the way up to the ministers and their aides.
Negotiations won't bring overnight abolition of the armed forces, unilateral disarmament and the choice of civilian nonviolence as the sole form of national security. What we need is a process of transarmament: a socio-political dynamic transforming our militarised society into a civilised one.
The first step must be to show the coherence of our nonviolent civilian defence strategy. It is irrational for a society's entire defence to rest solely on the military. The mobilisation of citizens for total nonviolent civilian defence should be put into practice, willingly supported by the institutions within the political sector.
We must convince institutional representatives that nonviolent civilian defence is imperative: they may not agree to renounce military defence, but this is no reason not to try to convince them that there is another way. This dialogue, however, will be a conflictual dialogue. Our choice of nonviolence, rooted in both ethical and pragmatic reasons, does not permit us to put aside our questioning of military ideologies, strategies, the military industrial complex or the militarisation of our societies.
On the one hand, we ask those in power to accept our arguments for nonviolent civilian defence and, on the other, we still challenge their support of military defence. Arguing with a defence minister, the militant advocate of nonviolence is in a superior position: the minister merely needs convincing that a good minister should recognise the benefits of nonviolent civilian defence; the militant, on the other hand, has to be convinced that a good citizen should let her/himself be seduced by the metallic brilliance of military hardware...
And so in this scenario, there are big areas of disagreement and a little area where agreement might be possible. Concrete results will only be seen if a real mobilisation occurs, a large enough movement of citizens to put pressure on those elected. It is not enough for officials to think nonviolent civilian defence is effective: they must believe that the people themselves are ready to put the strategy into action.
These officials will also find out that citizens will be tempted to experiment with nonviolent action, not against a foreign power but against abuses of power by their very own government. If you teach a functionary too well to disobey illegitimate orders from illegitimate powers, s/he might also disobey an illegitimate order from a legitimate power.
In military defence, the weapons are in the hands of the State, usable for defence against an outside enemy and also against a force from within. In nonviolent civilian defence, the "weapons" are in the hands of the people themselves and can be used in defence against actions of the State if fundamental rights are threatened. This power, the power held by the citizens themselves, is what we call democracy. Since the true strength of democracy lies in the people, the preparation of nonviolent civilian defence will reinforce their rights and weaken those of the State.
More nonviolent civilian defence leads to a smaller army and a less powerful State. Anarchists who seek an end to the State and pacifists who seek an end to the army are both inconsequential if they reject policies of nonviolent civilian defence. Rather they should be the first to adopt a pragmatic attitude that would advance their goals instead of an ideological one which serves merely to affirm them.
The preparation of nonviolent civilian defence reinforces democracy, making it all the more possible to struggle against injustice and thus pursue permanent social revolution which all our "democracies" need.
I wish to distinguish between civilian defence and social revolution first so as not to confuse the two, and second to make sure that they are not separated. They are not the same but reinforce each other. There are two approaches to nonviolent civilian defence: the "instrumentalist" and the "structuralist". The first promotes research into the methods of nonviolent resistance that can be substituted for armed civilian defence; the other promotes the transformation of the structural form of society creates the conditions for civilian defence. These two positions often clash with each other, as if they were irreconcilable. But I see them as completely compatible: we should choose both and create a coherent movement.
It is clear that the institutional dialogue between the advocates of nonviolent civilian defence and public representatives can only take place in a pure democracy: a democracy not only of representation but of active participation. As these ideal conditions do not exist, we must strive to dialogue with our adversaries as well as with our partners. These talks are by no means easy and their eventual success will require long term commitment.
In this dialogue, we have to make sure that our proposals are concrete, credible and well-grounded in conditions of our society. To reach these goals, we should create Institutes for Research on Nonviolent Conflict Resolution, open to all people from any background wanting to study the potential offered by nonviolence. And since the work would undeniably be for the "public good", it should be funded by public resources. There should be no revulsion against taking State funds for such research because, in a democracy, these funds belong to the citizens themselves.
As a second step, each social sector has to be examined in detail so as to identify methods of resistance which citizens could set in motion in their daily professional lives.
The military mobilisation of citizens -- only the male ones however -- forces them to leave their homes, families and children, and their work. Mobilisation for nonviolent civilian defence, however, includes both men and women, would take place in the local area, and would fall within the natural boundaries of their civic responsibilities. This mobilisation would not, as some fear, resemble a "nonviolent army": the combat units of nonviolent civilian defence are work units where citizens carry out their professional duties.
Provision would need to be made for the non-cooperation of functionaries faced with illegitimate orders from an illegitimate power. In other words, how to ensure that the functionaries would refuse to collaborate so that the administration would escape the authority of the aggressor and instead abide by the constitution of the democratic society.
Another issue that needs to be raised is parallel communication facilities. In the event of an occupation by a foreign army, a system that worked in peacetime would be sabotaged. It is irrational that only the army maintains an alternative form of communication in the event of a crisis. Political and civil societies should be perturbed by the existence of such clandestine communications systems.
To the extent that those in power give weight to our propositions for nonviolent civilian defence, to that same extent will it be easier to raise the subject at the level of civil society. Our propositions will then advance in a dialectical movement between the pressure from civil society and the backing of political society.
Translated by Philippa Edwards
By Gene Sharp
Gene Sharp is president of the Albert Einstein Institution in Boston, Massachussetts, and is the author of numerous books on nonviolence and civilian-based defence.
What are the more likely ways by which a shift from military-based defence to a civilian-based defence system might be actually implemented? That question is the focus of this paper.
By "civilian-based defence" is meant here a national defence policy to deter and defeat aggression, both internal (as coups d'état) and external (as invasions). This capacity is to be achieved by preparing the population and institutions for massive nonviolent resistance and defiance. Civilian-based defence is one specific application, out of various uses, of the general technique of nonviolent action, or nonviolent struggle.
"Transarmament" is the process of the changeover from military-based defence to civilian-based defence. This is projected as usually occurring by incrementally building up a nation's civilian-based defence capacity and then gradually phasing out its military defence capacity. "Transarmament" is contracted to "disarmament" which involves a simple reduction or abandonment of military capacity without providing a substitute means of defence.
An examination of how transitions from military-based defence to civilian-based defence might be possible is necessarily based on certain assumptions. These should be made explicit to make possible reasoned evaluation.
The assumptions underlying this paper include the following fifteen points:
1. It is more important to achieve a transition from military-based to civilian-based defence than either (a) to witness against the violence and oppression of the world without making an impact on it, or (b) to present a doctrinally-driven schema for comprehensive social change which is most likely to going to remain only that.
2. Society and the world cannot be changed both comprehensively and rapidly. Time and strategic steps are required.
3. Political violence, including war for defence, is not going to be developed without the prior development of an effective nonviolent substitute form of struggle and means of defence. Therefore, "disarmament" or repudiation of military means will not precede transarmament to civilian-based defence. Instead, military means can only be abandoned after civilian-based defence capacities and abilities to wage nonviolent struggle for other purposes are in place.
4. Civilian-based defence and nonviolent struggle can be effectively practised without a principled commitment to ethical or religious "nonviolence" or even without an acceptance of the view that substitute nonviolent sanctions are universally applicable.
5. The separation of nonviolent struggle from assertions that a certain ethical, religious or political position is a requirement for its sincere or effective practice is a pre-requisite for the widespread adoption of nonviolent struggle and for transarmament to a civilian-based defence. Nonviolent struggle has begun to escape from the ideological ghetto in which it has wrongly been placed by many critics and advocates alike. That separation of nonviolent struggle and civilian-based from identification with doctrinaire positions is already well underway, and attempts to restore a presumed connection between them could be disastrous.
6. "Human nature" does not need to be changed as a pre-condition for civilian-based defence.
7. A prior transformation of the international system is not required before adoption of civilian-based defence by individual countries or groups of countries.
8. A prior transformation or revolution of the social system is not a pre-requisite for the acceptance of civilian-based defence or a requirement for its viability.
9. The use of nonviolent struggle for liberation from a foreign yoke or domestic dictatorship, or for other purposes, does not lead to an easy, "natural" adoption of civilian-based defence. Instead, specific consideration, adoption, and preparations for civilian-based defence are required.
10. Civilian-based defence requires widespread acceptance and support from the society before it can be adopted and implemented effectively.
11. An identification of civilian-based defence as only related to, or compatible with, a particular political perspective or doctrine will seriously inhibit the policy's wider acceptance. However, there is nothing wrong with any political or cause group claiming that civilian-based defence is compatible with its own views, while allowing that the policy may also be compatible with the perspectives of other groups.
12. An identification of civilian-based defence with pacifism and anti-militarism will serve to alienate important potential support. Such identification will instead serve to cause the policy to be dismissed or opposed without fair evaluation. Specifically, no peace or pacifist group or radical political body should identify itself as the prime advocate of, or authority on, civilian-based defence.
13. A "trans-partisan" approach -- which seeks to achieve careful evaluation of civilian-based defence by people and groups of widely differing political views and attitudes to defence and past wars -- has the greatest opportunity to produce widespread acceptance of the potential viability of this policy and agreement to initiate steps toward its adoption. A trans-partisan approach would also aim at incorporating people holding various perspectives in support of the development and adoption of civilian-based defence
14. If the substance of a possible civilian-based defence policy is presented on the basis of its potential utility, such a policy might well receive widespread support across the political spectrum in a democratic society.
15. Effective civilian-based defence requires planning and preparations, and cannot be responsibly left to simple spontaneity. This is not to deny the usefulness of appropriate types of initiative and spontaneity within the context of clear strategic conceptions and planning.
On the basis of these assumptions and insights, one can conclude that in most cases (but not all), civilian-based defence could not be adapted quickly as a full substitute for military defence, whatever might be desirable. This is in part because of the time required for preparing the new policy, organising the transition, and achieving the needed popular and organisational support.
Therefore, in most situations, consideration of civilian-based defence and transarmament to it will necessarily be an incremental process of a series of limited steps. These will move toward increasing the role, importance, and scale of the civilian-based defence preparations. Indeed, excessively rapid, ill-prepared changeovers could result in unnecessary failures of civilian-based defence when it is applied. Those failures would unjustifiably help to discredit the whole policy.
In this incremental approach to transarmament, civilian-based defence would be adopted in a series of limited steps, and preparations and training would begin on a relatively modest basis, while the existing military policy is still in place. The civilian-based "components" could then be expanded in stages. Instead, therefore, of a single all-or-nothing decision on adopting the policy, there would be a series of sequential decisions on whether to take the next immediate step. This process would differ significantly from the more traditional "campaigns" or "movements" for or against policies.
The emphasis is the transarmament period ought not responsibly to be on abandoning military means but instead primarily on the increase in effective defence capacity through the development of the new civilian-based defence policy.
In all countries not subject to imminent attack, time is available for reasoned evaluation and decision about the new policy, and to research its capacities, dynamics, requirements, and strategic principles.
The steps in the incremental adoption of civilian-based defence will be of varying substance and duration. There is no blueprint of steps and time scale that is applicable to all countries and situations. In general, however, the following elements will be included in the process of transarmament:
- public education;
- policy and feasibility studies;
- evaluation by the public, private organisations, official institutions, defence departments and ministries, and legislatures;
- introduction of a modest civilian-based component (perhaps for specific purposes);
- preparing and training of the populace;
- consideration of adding other purposes for which civilian-based defence may be utilised;
- legislative and administrative action on these decisions;
- strengthening the capacities of civilian-based defence; and
- unification of the defence policy.
Major attention must be given to comparative analyses of the advantages and disadvantages, the capacities and incapacities, of military-based and civilian-based defences to meet security needs for the present and the foreseeable future.
No single model or policy consideration and partial or full transarmament can be created that will be applicable to all countries and situations. There are at least four general models:
1. Full, relatively rapid, adoption of civilian-based defence as the country's defence policy by small countries that at present have, or when independent will have, no viable military or alliance alternative because of some special situation or condition. Existing such countries might include Iceland and Costa Rica. Possible future such countries might include Palestine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Armenia, Hong Kong, and Tibet. The initiatives for adopting civilian-based defence might come from the government or from the population and independent institutions of the society.
2. The addition of a civilian-based component to a predominantly military defence policy to serve one or more specific purposes with no intention to expand that component to play wider roles within the overall policy. Examples where this has already occurred include Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, and Yugoslavia. Countries which may add such a policy in the future include Norway and Finland, and the many countries which are vulnerable to coups d'état, such as Thailand, Chile, and Zambia. The civilian-based components might be intended for use (a) where military resistance is futile or suicidal; (b) where military resistance has failed; or (c) where internal usurpations are possible.
3. The phased introduction and gradual expansion of civilian-based defence elements with the objective of full transarmament. This is especially likely in countries whose military capacity, when compared to potential attackers, is so limited that they are incapable of serious military defence. Countries in such situations which also require effective external or internal defence include Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Mexico and Taiwan.
4. The negotiated, phased, multilateral transarmament of several neighbouring countries, simultaneously introducing civilian-based defence components, perhaps followed by a phased reduction of military weaponry. Transarmament by international negotiation might be arranged in Central Europe and Central America, for example.
Very little attention has been given to the applicability of civilian-based defence to present and potential superstates compared to the defence problems of small and medium-sized countries. These superstates include the USA, the Soviet Union, China, India, and potentially Brazil. The applicability of civilian-based defence to them depends in part on the assessment of the nature of these regimes and their objectives.
Most of the superstates have been clear aggressors against other countries, but that does not eliminate their own need for defence, externally and internally. Their own security problems are much simplified if their own militarily dependent allies (as NATO partners and Japan for the USA) could become self-reliant in defence through civilian-based defence.
All superstates would need defence against internal usurpations, as executive usurpations, coups d'état, "secret governments", and the like. Political democratisation and decentralisation in superstates could also be facilitated by a civilian-based defence policy.
Attention to the potential of civilian-based defence for very large countries is required, including the models of transarmament and corollary structural changes which might be required for maximum effectiveness.
In assessing how the changeover from military-based defence to civilian-based defence might best be handled, it is most important to recognise that the problem requires serious analysis and policy development. We are now at a stage of the development of nonviolent struggle and civilian-based defence where such analyses and policy studies are possible. We are also at a point internationally where we can project the project relevance of civilian-based defence for various countries. Rigorous attention is now required to the possibilities and models of transarmament for a considerable variety of countries and security situations.
By Marko Hren
Marko Hren was active in the Ljubljana Peace Movement Working Group throughout the '80s and has recently been involved in setting up both a Centre for the Culture of Peace and Nonviolence and a Peace Research Institute. A member of the WRI Council, he initiated the campaign for Slovenia Without an Army.
The story of Yugoslavia begins after the Second World War. The army was established during the war. It was a revolutionary army almost exclusively connected to the Communist Party and the political system. We had a Holy Trinity of Army, Ideology and Political System. These three elements are closely interconnected: Communists in the Army, generals in the governments, and so on. The chief of all three units -- a general, president, and ideologist all in one -- was Tito.
We have a hierarchical structure and therefore good grounds for the militarisation of the political system and also of social life, of education and the media, etc. In 1949-50, Tito gave a historical "no" to Stalin, which means he gets in power for a couple of decades and Yugoslavia starts to redefine its way to socialism and so distinguish itself from other Eastern countries. Yugoslavian political leaders invent self-management and, together with Tito, the defence concept which is literally called "general people's defence civilian protection". This was abbreviated to SLONDS and implemented in every aspect of life in Yugoslavia. Each factory had a SLONDS unit, each community, sport organisation, cultural group, everywhere. The rules of the game were the same, just as the committees were the same. Within the Communist Party, within the political and decision-making bodies, each structure had a committee for SLONDS.
This concept, like self-management, was generally implemented at the same time everywhere in the country. Yugoslavia is a multi-state country, which has six states within the federation. We have a joke that Yugoslavia has seven neighbours, six republics, five languages, four nations, three religions, two alphabets and one party! Our religions range from Islam to Orthodox, our neighbours from NATO to neutral to Warsaw Pact. It is a rich variety. We have learned that one model cannot be applied to such a vast and varied rainbow. This is why self-management failed and why this concept of defence failed.
Another problem with this concept was that it was implemented from above and strictly within the State-Party framework. It was completely bureaucratised, with hundreds and hundreds of bureaux. You can imagine if each factory had its office! These SLONDS officials did nothing, of course, except run the bureaucracy. It was completely cut off from society. People could not identify with it.
The third problem was the worst: there was hierarchy, order, discipline -- all the values of the state. These committees were used as a control mechanism in many ways: a way to get information from people, a way to control them, to intervene in their lives if necessary. Finally, SLONDS had a role in the militarisation of society as a whole.
Some days ago Yugoslavia agreed to abolish all the SLONDS committees. These committees will be dismissed, they are now dead. The whole concept of defence will now have to be rethought. Yugoslavia is splitting up and the Communist Party has been dissolved. The exact definition Tito and others had, of a complementary combination of the people, together with the Army, defending the State.
Rather than using the word complementary we should accept the reality that these two concepts exist parallel to each other. They can cooperate at times, but they can also exclude each other.
I want to talk now about two parameters which I think exclude each other.
Military logic is defined by following parameters. It is state-based. Military defence applies to state borders. The military universe accepts the state and borders as relevant. It is something which presupposes, even demands, obeying society and therefore it requires centralisation. This implies subordination, which also implies a punishing policy. A hierarchical order is also basic parameter.
On the other hand, when we try to define the qualities of people's power, from which comes social defence, we find it community-based, civil society, based on people. Civil society by definition does not recognise state borders. The state may want to use military power as a defence concept, but civil society doesn't. We assume here a civil society where individuals are active, with a variety of differences, where pluralism is alive.
In the case of Yugoslavia the concept of general people's defence could not be implemented in the same way in Kosovo, where rural Albanian and patriarchal groups of people live, as in a Serbian shepherd village or in the city of Ljubljana.
We have two concepts here -- the military concept of separation and confrontation; the social defence concept of cooperation and communication. These qualities and parameters are very different. One we believe is slowly dying; the other we hope is gaining more life and can be implemented with strength and patience.
Now I think we in Slovenia have a good opportunity to abolish the army. It is a small country, relatively homogeneous and we can reach consensus on certain questions. When Slovenia gains more autonomy, it will be able to determine its own defence concept. In my opinion, for Slovenia to introduce its own army would be extremely provocative and provide an excuse for a nationalist war.
My friends and I are proposing that Slovenia, as a small new state, should develop a new defence policy -- an alternative security concept based on peace politics and incorporating social defence. We want help in deciding what parameters we must think about. Slovenia now has two options, to demilitarise or to have our own army.
By Maria Serena I Diokno
Maria Serena I Diokno is the executive director of the José W Diokno Foundation, a human rights organisation. As were most conference participants, she was heartened by the examples of nonviolent changes in Eastern Europe, but had a warning: the initial impulse of people's power must be organised and sustained if real change is to continue. Diokno was also sceptical about applying Western ideas about nonviolence and social defence to situations in the South.
Notes to the text:
19 February 1986: The United States Senate passes a resolution condemning the Philippine election as fraudulent.
22 February 1986: Defence Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and General Fidel Ramos announce withdrawal of support for Marcos and call for his resignation. With 300 soldiers they barricade the Ministry of Defence in Camp Aguinaldo and the Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police Headquarters in Camp Crame. Cardinal Sin appeals over Radio Veritas for people to bring food and lend moral support. Marcos' dictatorship is toppled after four days of people's power.
EDSA is the ten-lane Epifamio de los Santos Avenue, barricaded by tens of thousands of people to separate Marcos' troops from the rebel troops of Enrile and Ramos.
The nonviolent overthrow of Marcos in 1986 came from a combination of 10 years of peaceful struggle against the dictatorship. EDSA [scene of the people's victory; used here to refer to the nonviolent rising itself] is sometimes portrayed by Filipinos as isolated, distinct from other movements before it. This is a mistake. People don't just rise up ´like that,' just like we've heard from Eastern Europe.
The struggle took two forms: one, the underground violent movement conducted by the New People's Army, the armed component of the communist party. Then you have the broader, legal movement. It was organised around issues, one of the strongest of which was the human rights movement. This was understandable, given the dictatorial policies of the previous regime and Marcos' repression of civil liberties.
Then you had the organisation of what you might call social sectors: labour, farmers, the urban core (the squatters), students, women, the religious. 90 per cent of my people are Catholic so the Church has tremendous influence, socially and politically. This kind of organising had been going on during the dictatorship and it's important that you recognise that this had started even before the assassination of Senator Aquino. Benigno was assassinated in 1983. After this came the tremendous openness of the upper and middle classes, which had been very cautious before about joining any opposition against the dictatorship. But it was the social sectors that were the hardest hit by the dictatorship. They couldn't unionise or strike.
What happened in 1983 was not only the assassination of Aquino but also the recognition of the failure of the dictatorship's economic policies. For example, you'll find a greater participation on the part of private business in the opposition movement. Marcos' cronies were able to gain concessions in borrowing money. Even now they live like kings while our external debt rises tremendously. Marcos' intrusion into free enterprise caused the business sector to react. The value of our currency had dropped dramatically. We are completely dependant on exports for oil, so you can imagine how we were affected each time oil prices went up. On top of that, world prices for our largest export, sugar, dropped.
A combination of all these factors awakened people that the dictatorship had to go. Of course, the question was how do we remove the dictatorship. I must admit that at that time we never developed any kind of sophisticated social defence. Our view then, from the knowledge we had gained from the field, was that we wanted to exert militant, but nonviolent pressure. We were going to use all the peaceful methods we could to defy Marcos, undermine the confidence in him and hopefully even attract people who supported him to leave him. Late in 1985 when Marcos offered to hold elections and the opposition took it up, many of us thought this was a way to change through nonviolent means.
In 1984 he'd called elections for a rubber stamp parliament, which he totally controlled and which many of us had boycotted. So with the 1985 election there was again discussion. The organised opposition consisted of 1) politicians opposed to the dictatorship and 2) cause-oriented movements. Parties in the Philippines are traditionally built around personalities, not causes. In contrast, the movements had very clear causes, human rights for instance and rejection of US Government intervention in the Philippines.
The cause-oriented movement was split. Some felt the election wouldn't bring change and we had best boycott it. A larger number felt we should give it a try, that we could unite around Ms Aquino and get her to agree to some kind of social agenda. So the elections galvanised more people into action. On a personal note -- I foolishly volunteered to count the votes, and I went to the worst precinct. People were shooting at anything. This was in the heart of Manila, so you can imagine in less accessible areas the kind of intimidation that went on.
The peak of all this was Ms Aquino's call for civil disobedience after the election, because she realised that Marcos would not respect the outcome. The response to that call was also very positive. She named the crony companies and asked people to abstain from buying their products. The most difficult one was beer -- that was asking a lot! But some restaurants actually cancelled huge orders of beer.
EDSA originated as a military rebellion. This will help you understand why it has been so difficult for us to transform people's power into an avenue for change. A lot of this had to do with the role of the armed forces.
Minister Enrile, a defence minister who is now a senator in the upper chamber, and General Ramos heard that Marcos was about to arrest them. A year before EDSA, a group was formed within the armed forces which came to be known as RAM (the Reformed Armed Forces Movement) -- they were becoming more disenchanted with the way Marcos was running not only the military institutions, but the country. RAM is now the group behind the series of coup attempts against Ms Aquino. So you see a continuum behind that movement and now. In this context, it becomes clearer why EDSA didn't work the way we wanted.
The Aquino forces began to make contact with people in the opposition. Cardinal Sin generally had distanced himself from even human rights movements. Now he said via the radio that this group had staged a rebellion against Marcos and that we should go and protect them. And really that's what protected the military. If the civilians had not come out in numbers, it would have been easy for Marcos to deal with it as purely a military exercise. But people responded, they filled the streets, they stayed there and slept there for days. And it became very difficult for Marcos' tanks to run over people.
Even then, there were doubts about whether or not this action was wise. My father [Senator José Diokno], who was detained for two years during the dictatorship, refused to go when this happened in EDSA. There was a feeling that this was a military attempt to save their necks and the people were simply being used to cover that action.
In any case it went on.
There was a tremendous amount of religious symbolism in people's power. Cardinal Sin, lots of rosaries and lots of prayers. Nuns came in their habits, priests came. There was such a strong outpouring of religion that some called it the "miracle" of EDSA -- I disagree: in the end this robs the people of their part in EDSA.
Many people who took part in EDSA were unorganised, which gives you a view into why people's power hasn't worked. When people are unorganised it tends to be a one shot deal. You go into it, it works, you get Ms Aquino. There's only one problem; Marcos is out and each one goes back to their own work. There were some organised sectors, but since the movement was organised in Manila, the organised sectors outside Manila couldn't take part in EDSA. So you had a mix of organised and unorganised groups with one common motivation: to get Marcos out.
The tragic part is that beyond that, the people of EDSA couldn't agree on what they wanted. You had someone who was for agrarian reform sitting next to someone who would refuse to give up their land sitting next to someone who simply wanted US nuclear weapons and the bases out, next to someone who said we need the Americans! There was no clear, unified vision except to get Marcos out.
The attitude of the military is that they were the saviours of the country. That had it not been for their action, Marcos would have remained. And because they played a crucial role in his ousting, they must continue to play a crucial role in decision making. This is the biggest problem we've had -- how to ´depoliticise' the military, which was extremely politicised during the dictatorship and remains so. Cory was only the third option. The other two had to do with a military-civilian junta that would rule for, say a year, change Marcos' constitution and then call for national elections. Then they said they would step down and turn over power.
A real problem we faced was that these people who came out as heroes and saviours of the country were powerful during the dictatorship. General Ramos was head of the unit where most of the torturers came from.
It's something like in Argentina: when Alfonsín started to investigate some human rights violations by the military, coup attempts were made against him. Some powerful people insisted "Don't investigate human rights abuses and we'll let you off."
What kind of role have cause groups played play since EDSA?
They went into a lull. The overwhelming attitude was ´All right, let's give her a chance.' Ms Aquino came into power in February and by July there was a first coup attempt -- the one she quelled by punishing the perpetrators by making them do 65 pushups. We were of course upset. The group I work with wanted a statement issued condemning the coup and insisting that the government investigate it, but other groups said, ´don't rock the boat. If you issue a statement now you might be giving ammunition to the right wing.'
That was the first of seven coups and it turned out that everything we thought would happen, happened. Aquino didn't take the coup seriously. She was afraid of alienating the army and of losing her position. She forgot that it was the people who put her there! The military would have been massacred had it not been for the people.
I don't think Ramos wanted to punish his own people. He was afraid the military would split -- like it is split now. The psychology of the army is one of wanting to be on the winning side, even with the latest coup in December 1989. Testifying before the Senate Committee on Defence, the head of domestic intelligence said that about 70-80 per cent of the armed forces are fence sitters who will wait to see which side will win, and then shift. He was sacked because he said this so openly.
So we saw Aquino move farther and farther away from the social agenda she had promised during the elections. It also became increasingly difficult for organised movements to speak out against her because she was popular. She certainly wasn't Marcos and she kept saying she was responsible for getting him out.
I served in the government's peace foundation but resigned in January as a result of the 1987 Farmers March through the palace. The farmers marched through the palace and were met by marines and fired on. About 12 were killed and 90 injured. This took place at the time we were actually forming the International Democratic Front and all the press was there. So I quit in protest.
You mentioned that had it been just a military coup, Marcos would have suppressed it, but since it was the people demonstrating, he didn't act. In contrast, in Tiananmen Square there were really no such qualms on taking action. What was the difference?
Marcos knew he was a dictator but he couched everything in legal terms. He was also very conscious of his image abroad -- that counted more than his image at home; he even had his own press relations firm in New York City. In comparison, the government in China is not conscious of its image abroad.
Another factor was that he was so out of touch with the pulse of the people that he didn't realise how many people were out there. He was so crazy he imposed a curfew because everyone was out in the streets -- as if you could arrest everyone. Incidentally, that is a lesson which the RAM has now learned. They saw that Marcos' big mistake in EDSA was that he did not fire into the crowd. So this last time, they made sure they did that. Last December, the coup attempt was very bloody. They shot, they fired, they bombed. They made it very clear that they were willing to take violent steps, even if it meant killing civilians.
They put snipers in the posh area where all the banks and rich homes are. In the second part of the coup they shifted away from the camps and sent troops into this area. The very rich could see what it was like to feel the coup. They weren't firing indiscriminately, rather they fired at military men. But if there had been people's power at that time, civilians would have been killed.
Marcos couldn't afford to fire into a crowd. He portrayed himself as a man of democracy. The RAM people mean business, they carry firearms.
I'm struck by the image of nuns giving flowers to men in the military and the supposed change of heart and the contrast with Tiananmen Square.
I don't know if it would happen now if the military made a move against the government and the government called for people to come to the streets. In a very odd way, people were less polarised during the dictatorship because Marcos united us. Now we are extremely polarised. We can't talk about any issue, not even human rights, without being accused of being Communists.
I always say, "If Marcos had done this (a human rights violation, for example), you would have agreed it was wrong, so if it is being done now, why is it OK?" But they say if you complain about it now, you must be in favour of the New People's Army. And I say the NPA has nothing to do with it.
The NPA has committed excesses, but now for every human rights complaint against the military, you have to file one against the NPA to show you're balanced. It's that bad. I don't belong to the NPA; I don't pay for their guns. But my taxes go into those bullets the military uses. I helped put this government into power and they must be accountable. They don't understand this and think you are favouring the Communists.
The Catholic Church in the Philippines is divided. In the hierarchy, they are careful not to be critical of Aquino. Some may think it could contribute to her destabilisation; some may have other motives. But some are active in Christian base communities, as in Central America, and these too are accused of being Communist fronts. There has been persecution and killings since 1986. More human rights lawyers were killed in three years afterwards than during 14 years of the dictatorship.
This indicates one thing. It is not that Aquino is repressive, it's that she does not control the armed forces. Marcos did. And he used this. He would hit the people hard enough to frighten them, but not hit the people who really count. He was good at that because he was in control.
By Andrew Rigby and Nafez Assaily
The role of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories was traditionally seen as passive and longsuffering, according to Andrew Rigby of the School of Peace Studies at University of Bradford. During the mid-'70s, however, Palestinians began developing their own organisations within the Territories, such as trade unions, women's groups and youth groups. Nonetheless, the outbreak of the Intifada in 1987 took everyone by surprise. Rigby, author of Living the Intifada(Zed Press, forthcoming), and Nafez Assaily of the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence spoke at a session on the Intifada.
"The struggle is not nonviolent. I would use the term ´unarmed struggle'. They are not using lethal weapons, though they do use stones and molotov cocktails and inflict physical injury on Israeli soldiers. This choice to use unarmed struggle is made from good, pragmatic reasons not out of any principled commitment to nonviolence," said Rigby.
The first few months of the Intifada were disorganised, but a structure of organisation and coordination soon followed. Within a few months, a complex organisational structure developed based on popular committees and a unified command and with good communication with the outside leadership. A pattern also developed of neighbourhood committees. "This was, in a way, an attempt to set up the infrastructure of a Palestinian state. The most obvious public display -- that they were paying legitimacy and obedience to their own institutions rather than Israeli ones -- was the regular closing of shops each day by striking. This is of particular symbolic importance," says Rigby.
Palestinians have tried to break the links with Israel and to build a more self-reliant economy, but Rigby thinks the success has been very uneven: "There is an underground university and people are getting degrees, but very few. Emergency health care was established, including the development of a blood bank, which was particularly impressive. I think the health concerns now are longer term -- the care of people maimed physically and psychologically.
"I've heard people in Palestine talk about the future of the struggle and they talk about a horizontal escalation -- a spread of civil disobedience in society -- as intensifying it. But the leadership fear the escalation will be vertical, meaning the use of lethal weapons. This is a current debate. The longer they must struggle and suffer without the sense that there is some political progress, then the more frustration grows and so does the temptation to resort to lethal weapons among certain sectors of the population."
Nonetheless, Nafez Assaily of the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence believes that social defence can and has played a role in the Intifada. Assaily feels that it is important for the Palestinian people to study and gain as full an understanding as possible of the various social, economic, ideological and political forces, as well as the Jewish traditions underlying and driving the Israeli Occupation.
"The Israelis have used very wise methods," says Assaily. "They have tried to create gaps of misunderstanding at the family level. Most Palestinians are Muslims. We men are the power in the family. When I go with my family to Jericho, where there is nice weather in the winter, there is a permanent checkpoint where the Israeli soldiers will question me, humiliate me, give me orders, and abuse my feeling of power in my family. I will be upset and I'll go home still upset. I'll watch TV and read the paper and still be upset. If my son turns the channel on the TV or brushes my paper as he passes by, I'll find an excuse to beat him. In that way I can still show I have power. The child resists and says ´Remember what happened this afternoon -- you are no longer my protector.' My wife will be on his side. A division has then been created in the family.
"Fortunately this method didn't work. But the Israelis have other ways to create distrust within society. They create mistrust between the employee and his employer, between the shopkeeper and his clients, between two cousins, between student and teacher. Our society is like this: everyone is connected to each other.
"Sometimes they will take a man and ask him many questions, such as how many cousins he has. If he doesn't answer he could be put in jail for six months, for violating security rules. He'll find the question normal; he'll tell the soldiers the names of his cousins. Then they'll ask more specific questions about one of the cousins: if he's married, has kids, etc. They will allow the man to go. Afterwards they'll ask the cousin to come. They'll give him the information supplied by the man and they will say that he (the first man) is a good friend of theirs. He will mistrust his cousin from then on. Unfortunately for us, this works. They create mistrust and this is why the Intifada was born."
A well-coordinated and well-executed strategy must be developed by the Palestinians, based not only on Israeli spoken policy but also on their hidden agenda, says Assaily. "We must organise in a peaceful way and we must not give Israelis an excuse to use violent action.
"I live in the old city of Jerusalem. Once when I tried to enter the old city at 9.30pm some young Israeli soldiers stopped me and asked me to open the boot of my car. I did. They asked me to open the bonnet. I did. They asked me to take the back seat out. I did. This is all done for security purposes. They asked me to take off the right front wheel, and then the left, and so on, and I did whatever they asked. This continued until midnight. I obeyed them not because I'm a coward, but because I know the results: they are looking for any reason to put me in jail if they think I am an obstacle to security. Finally, they let me go.
"I didn't give them the excuse they were looking for. If I give them this excuse, they are achieving something: they have made me angry, which could result in a misunderstanding in my family. But I went home calmly and I slept.
"About 15 days later I came at approximately the same time to the same point. The same guards were there. They stopped me and recognised me. They know that I would not give them the excuse to take action, and respectfully they left me.
"I am not saying that I was brave or that I succeeded in defeating them. But I did make their injustice visible. Second, through my actions, I let them know that I strongly believe in nonviolence. And nonviolence in my country has a bad reputation."
If nonviolence has such a bad reputation, how then can you convince people to keep supporting it? There are two facts to keep in mind about nonviolence in Palestine, says Assaily. The first is that since Israel was established in 1948, the Israelis have tried very hard to achieve peace and security through force. They haven't succeeded. On the other hand, the Palestinians tried for 43 years to achieve their goals by armed struggle. They also haven't succeeded. So both armed struggles failed to achieve their goals. Now is the time for nonviolence and Palestinians have to encourage the Israelis to turn to nonviolence by using it themselves.
"The other fact is that for Israelis, no one can give them peace," says Assaily. "Only the Palestinians can give them peace. The US can give them money and weapons but not peace. And the only people who can give us peace are the Israelis. The Arabs can give us money and weapons, but they can not give us peace. We must act on these two facts. More nonviolence, more effectiveness."
There have been many examples of nonviolent resistance during the Intifada: daily strikes, boycotts of Israeli products, non-cooperation on all levels, demonstrations and marches, withholding taxes, the use of alternative institutions in place of Israeli ones, defying school closures, support for solidarity activities, special days of fasting and praying, blocking roads into Israeli settlements, ostracising Palestinian informants, and the controlling of time by advancing Palestinian clocks one hour.
Assaily provided a further explanation of these methods:
Conducting strikes: The Israelis are doing their best to break the strikes which have been going on, even before the Intifada began. They went to the houses of the bigger merchants and forced them to open in the mornings. They broke the doors of the shops. But the Palestinians didn't fight. So the Israelis didn't do anything more to break the strikes -- they realised the futility of their strike-breaking efforts. This means we gained recognition and legitimacy for strikes as a nonviolent method to say no to the occupation. With the exception of emergency vehicles and necessary services such as pharmacies and bakeries, strikes involve the total non-movement of vehicles and the complete shut-down of commercial and educational activities. These strikes affect everyone.
Noncooperation on all levels and demonstrations: What has been until now a limited refusal by Palestinians to cooperate with the Israeli Occupation authorities must become a widespread defiance of unjust Israeli orders. Not only must Palestinians act in unison in disobeying the Israelis, but they must reinforce their solidarity, their social defence, by holding massive demonstrations in support of, for example, those arrested for refusing to obey orders. In the past, Palestinian youths burned tyres, threw stones and set up road blocks. Now they must be joined by other vulnerable segments of society, such as the blind and those who have been disabled during the Intifada. Palestinians must engage in new, nonviolent protest such as public prayers, silent marches, symbolic funerals, offering Israelis flowers to say "goodbye" not "welcome" and wearing some uniform sign on their clothing to indicate Palestinian solidarity. Such tactics will not harm the Israelis physically, but will hurt them much more than petrol bombs.
Using alternative institutions: Palestinian Popular Committees, created to replace Israeli institutions, provide the Palestinian community with educational, medical, agricultural and other social services. The Israelis, who viewed the committee as a threat, decreed that membership in a committee was a crime punishable by ten years in jail. To circumvent this law, Palestinians work through existing legal organisations, such as the international Scout movement, whose bye-laws require that Scouts everywhere help all people in all situations.
Defying school closures: Our education is under Israeli control. That means we don't have a single line or page of our history in the history and geography books. As a result, our children can't learn about their problems, their people, their rich Palestinian heritage. When the Israeli Occupation authorities closed all schools in the Occupied Territories, this affected all ages -- from the early grades up to the university level. However, because of the school closures, the Palestinians have developed, for the first time in their history, a curriculum of their very own. Teachers, who have joined Scout societies, teach students in the tents of Scout camps, and there are other creative ways which can be developed. Many see this as a positive effect of the closures. As Palestinians learn their own history and heritage, a cohesiveness develops, helping create a strong social defence.
Supporting solidarity activities: This involves social and moral support for those who have been injured or imprisoned, and publicising their stories as much as possible. There is also economic support by boycotting employment in Israel. Those unemployed as a result of the boycott, can help Palestinian villagers plant and harvest crops and work on land reclamation projects. Such community outreach can strengthen the Intifada's social defence. Another aspect of the vitally important economic support is that the Intifada exists solely through the efforts of those living within the Occupied Territories. We refuse financial support form outside the Territories, that is, from the Arab World. The Intifada will be free of charges that it is being manipulated by, or is a tool of, anyone other than the people of Palestine.
Blocking roads into Israeli settlements: Instead of using stones to block the roads into Israeli settlements, the Intifada can send an unmistakable message of commitment to the Israelis and the world by tens of thousands of Palestinians lying across the roads, using their bodies as roadblocks. A number of things can be accomplished simultaneously by this. First, it would be a dramatic confrontation between the Israeli army and the Palestinians. Second, it would be a staggering cost increase, if all one and a half million Palestinians had to be arrested, transported, detained, fed and processed in Israeli jails.
Controlling Palestinian time: Palestinians advance their clocks forward an hour in the spring one month before the Israelis advance their clocks, and in the autumn turn back their clocks one month before the Israelis. In effect, this is sending a message to the Israelis that we are the masters of our country. We are deciding for ourselves when to sleep, when to wake up, when to eat, and when to open and close our shops.
"Yet another way of resistance and solidarity could be the holding of Palestinian curfews," continues Assaily. "Israeli patrols use a loudspeaker to announce curfews, and the streets have to be emptied. They are not the only ones who can call a curfew. Since the Declaration of the State of Israel states that non-Jews have the right to practise their religion freely, Palestinians can call their own curfews and use this time as a call to prayer and fasting in the privacy of their own homes.
"Another tactic could be crying and wailing. The Israelis have built tent cities near Palestinian areas. They have also settled in such Palestinian communities as the Casbah in Hebron and the Old City of Jerusalem. Palestinian women and children could cry and wail loudly, preventing the Israelis from sleeping. There is no law against crying and wailing!"
In addition to all these methods of resistance, what is also important to remember, according to Assaily, is that, "The effectiveness of nonviolent forms of Intifada must be taught and understood and practised in all situations. There must be an ongoing commitment to the Intifada, a full-time, total commitment to ending the Occupation, not just a series of sporadic, isolated acts."
Changing enemy images also plays an important role. Assaily said,"If you ask an Israeli what they think of Palestinians, the first thing they'll say, without thinking, is ´they are terrorists.' If you ask a Palestinian what he thinks of an Israeli, he'll say, without thinking, ´they are murderers.' We must change this through education. I took my son to see a kibbutz so he could see the good side of the Israelis. My son saw the kindergarten with swings, slides, etc. He climbed up the slide and shouted out, ´The voice of the Intifada is stronger than the Occupation!' I told him to be quiet, that we were now in Israel. ´But I don't see any soldiers,' he said. That to him is what Israel is. It was time to show him the good side of Israel.
"If the Palestinian state is established in nonviolence, then it will continue in nonviolence. Israel was established by force and it continues with force. I want us to learn from their mistakes.
"Finally, and most importantly, Palestinians must approach the Israelis with the Palestinian flag raised in one hand and the other hand extended to the Israelis to show our willingness to shake hands and let the Israelis leave the Occupied Territories with their dignity intact."
By Jan Kavan, Ruth Sormova, and Michaela Neubauerova
Of all the incredible events that took place during 1989 in Eastern Europe, perhaps the revolution in Czechoslovakia was the most amazing. Vaclav Havel, former dissident and now President of Czechoslovakia, described the Velvet Revolution as "a revolution where not a single window was broken." Three Czechs came to the Bradford conference to discuss the use of nonviolence in Czechoslovakia's struggle and in its subsequent revolution. Ruth Sormova is a member of the Independent Peace Association and now holds a seat in the parliament. Michaela Neubauerova works with Civic Forum. Jan Kavan left Czechoslovakia in 1968 to study in London. There he continued to be a key member of the democratic opposition, publishing material under the Palach Press imprint and smuggling it into Czechoslovakia. After the revolution, he returned to Prague where he now represents Civic Forum in parliament.
Ruth Sormova: In 1987 and '88, a number of groups came into being. Many were closely connected with Charta 77 which was already 11 years old. All dealt with human rights issues, not only due to personal experience with their violation, but primarily because fundamental human rights were seen as a basis.
On the other hand, many people felt it would be a good idea to form some smaller groups apart from Charta 77 with their own specific goals. One such group was the Independent Peace Association (IPA) which appeared in Spring 1988, IPA was a type of citizens' group which realised the necessity of peace initiatives which wouldn't be eliminated by any state structures or organisations. Apart from the fact that IPA was the first peace group of a "different kind", I feel that it brought an important aspect to Czech independent movements as a whole. We tried to make our activities as public as possible.
In August 1988, the first big demonstration took place in Prague and later on we tried to organise public discussion meetings. Although most of these meetings were broken up by the police, people began to realise that they could be involved and that it was worthwhile. It is significant that violence never came from the side of the people, although those in power tried to make Charta 77 and other activists equal to terrorists.
The representatives of the state power were the only ones who used violence. Sometimes it was quite hard [to be be subjected to this violence] but I feel this really helped convince people that if something positive were to be achieved, it was necessary to use nonviolent means.
As expected, the appearance of IPA and other groups was suppressed by the state. Some were imprisoned. Others subjected to all kinds of persecution. Such state of affairs made it impossible to launch an open social dialogue. On the other hand, it helped bring different groups in the independent movements closer together. Now the situation is different and Czechoslovakia is confronted with how and where to we find something we have in common for the future.
Michaela Neubauerova: Our revolution has several peaceful attributes. I think when one hears the word "revolution", one thinks of something violent. I think the atmosphere of those days [during November and December] surprised most people because it could have been really violent.
17 November was when the peaceful demonstration by students was broken up by the police and this was done even more brutally than all the previous demonstrations. The students couldn't understand why there were still police who would act against completely defenceless people participating in a peaceful demonstration for human rights, freedom of speech, and so forth. On one side were students singing songs and passing candles or flowers to people on the other side. The people on the other side were of approximately the same age but were wearing helmets and carrying shields, ready to beat them.
How was it possible that two groups of people living in the same country, belonging to the same generation, could be so different? Their values were different even if both wanted to live quietly in a nice country. The first group, the police, defended everything that happened from the political scene as though it was all right. Even if they sometimes didn't agree with it, they supported it, and did so actively by persecuting people who dared to disagree. As a result, the country was really quiet -- but this was the silence before the storm. The other groups started to realise that all their values were locked up by the regime. This regime, even though it was endlessly talking about human rights, was completely unable to change its substance or its totalitarian character.
This demonstration in November was the first one, with a few individual exceptions, where passive resistance was used. As I look at it now, it was very effective and it significantly influenced [the use of] nonviolence for the whole revolution. During the following two days people were deciding about their future. They could have just left the matter as had been done several times before, but this time, they decided to take the risk and fight. During these two days Civic Forum was established, mostly by people who were previously active in independent movements. Strike committees were formed along with Public Against Violence, which is the parallel to Civic Forum in the Slovak republic.
At the beginning of the week, new demonstrations took place at Wenceslas Square, and more and more people joined. The police squads were threatening to suppress the demonstration, as they had done so many times before. During the days that followed, demonstrations took place in other parts of the country. Vaclav Havel, other representatives of Civic Forum, students, workers, and strike committees started negotiations with the government. They were, naturally, hard times. One day, a people's militia gathered around Prague. No one knew what they would do. [The threat of] violence was very close at that time.
One very important event was the massive demonstration that took place on 26 November. About one million people participated. It was also a turning point for our movement, especially in the countryside. The situation in the small towns was quite clear. People in the country were still hesitating. These demonstrations convinced them it was worth participating. It was necessary to show them that the ideas of revolution were constructive, that it was really something better than the old regime, that we could and we wanted to be better. Because violence can never be constructive, it was very important to stress the necessity of nonviolence during the whole process. Violence from our side would only justify violence from the state power. We wouldn't give them that chance.
The atmosphere of the demonstration was very special and completely new for many of us. One thing that increased the value of these nonviolent demonstrations was that people participating overcame their hatred. They were able to listen to a policeman who was a participant in the 17 November action and they even appreciated his expressing [his views] of what would happen, although he was a symbol of state power and persecution.
After this weekend, the general strike followed. Still the communists were trying to persuade the people that the leaders of the opposition were very irresponsible, that they were acting out of selfish interest and that a general strike could destroy our economy. The negotiations with the government brought in a new government, but it still consisted of ten communists and five members of other parties and non-party members. Obviously, the Communist leaders still wanted to keep power. They were forced to make some changes, which they did, however, they severely underestimated the situation. A new demonstration came and on 10 December, a so-called Government Commission of Understanding was named.
The opposition came from former dissident circles, consisting mostly of intellectual groups. People leading the movement were recruited from independent movements, especially from Charta 77, and peace and environmental groups which had been established during the past few years. I think without this, the revolution wouldn't have happened. These personalities heavily influenced how the revolution happened. They were, of course, in a difficult position because they were handicapped by communist propaganda.
The only way to attract the common people was to be as open as possible. The groups participating at the beginning of the revolution were mostly students, actors, and people from the arts. Students are generally the most critical part of the population, and specifically for our country because they were the only ones who didn't carry the burden of failure of 1968.
Jan Kavan: In order to discuss some of the problems we are now facing in Czechoslovakia, I must return to the period before the revolution. I would also like to talk briefly about the role civil society played then, as well as its continued need now.
There seems to be a number of parallels in the pre- and post-revolution situation. Before the revolution, we talked about the need to democratise the existing institutions from below at a time when we believed one might have to combine some radical reformism with a more direct revolutionary approach. In the long period leading up to the revolution, some very rudimentary reforms of civil society had emerged. A kind of imperceptible, rather internal society, has been in the making for quite some time. We've been in close cooperation with our Polish revolutionary friends since the mid-'70s. We've realised, on a smaller scale than in Poland, that some of our parallel forms of society -- be they in printing, theatre, underground, or university -- were similar, if not identical.
The system tried to absorb some forms of civil society into the structures of the state. The failure to do that was one of the catalysts that led to the emergence of a number of independent groups and the atmosphere which precipitated the revolution. If you look at the different independent groups, from IPA to to some of the more cultural groups, they all share a common denominator. They rejected all forms of Communism and the encompassing domination by the party in all its institutional forms. They subscribed to what has been called "solidarity of the shaken", or solidarity of the oppressed. They built certain informal mechanisms for self protection.
The goal was not so much to gain political power. The goal of many activists was to drive the system out of their personal lives, to promote traditional values such as respect for other individuals, the dignity of the individual, and democratic self-determination, and slowly to prepare conditions for the emergence of democratic, pluralistic self-organising civil society which by its existence would limit political power.
There is yet one more thing to keep in mind when discussing Czechoslovakia and East Germany -- to a certain extent in isolation of each other. I would like to draw attention not only to the various domino theories as to which country precipitated changes in the others, but also to the fact that long before 1989 there was an increasingly closer cooperation between the activists in independent groups across the East European borders. Some were directly meeting on the borders such as our Czech and Polish friends, some via London (Hungarians, Czechs, Poles), and in this way issued joint political statements. For example, on the 30th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution, a discussion was started about the political principles common to all the different independent groups in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, and to a certain extent, Yugoslavia.
This kind of solidarity cannot be underestimated. I remember once trying to persuade a leading journalist from one of the British daily papers to publish a brief communiqué about an important meeting on the Polish-Czechoslovak border. He told me I was wasting my time because the British public wasn't interested in these items which aren't seen as being newsworthy. "These people only meet with each other and correspond in order to give each other a kind of moral slap on the shoulder, to encourage each other to survive. Sure, they are courageous and one should respect them, but it's not newsworthy because they will never get to power." Yet, we were talking about a meeting which was attended by Vaclav Havel, Adam Michnik, Jacek Kuron and others who are now fairly close to power.
Early in November 1989 I was invited to a seminar in Wroclaw, Poland, to introduce Czechoslovakian independent culture to our Polish friends. There were many who were taken aback by the widespread solidarity that many Poles showed us in Wroclaw, especially at concerts given by independent Czech musicians. They felt partly undeserving, that this solidarity could never be repaid to the thousands of young Poles. This was just a few weeks before our revolution. Nevertheless, I do believe that even the Wroclaw seminar and the impact it had on civil society and the young Czechs -- who were able to smuggle themselves across the border to avoid the police checks -- were one of several catalysts which brought about the change.
The revolution was, to a large extent, carried out thanks to the immediate political aftermath following the students' demonstrations from the June massacre, the first mass demonstrations afterwards, and the many activists who quickly united, including the dissidents from Charta 77 and other independent groups. They've created what is now the Civic Forum. Civic Forum, along with help from public pressure, successfully negotiated change.
What we in Czechoslovakia still need after the revolution is a movement which is responsive to needs for autonomy and optimal participation. A few years ago Adam Michnik explained the "philosophy of political compromise" -- the need to explore aspects of social change which would be acceptable to both the political elite and to the independent groups which wanted greater autonomy and political influence -- to us. It seems to me that this need for a political compromise is still necessary.
What we now have is two Civic Forums. On the one hand, there is the Civic Forum which is an attempt to maintain an informal movement as an association of politically active people who are trying to inspire as wide of public activity as possible and therefore trying to influence the state of public affairs. On the other hand, we have what I would call a political elite which formed shortly after the negotiations at the round table. Of course, since then, some of the persons have changed and have become members of government, parliamentarians, president, and so forth. Nevertheless, the concept has remained that the inner council of the Civic Forum is a kind of new political élite with its hands on the power.
I remain optimistic for many of the same reasons I was optimistic before the revolution. For one thing, the civil society structures have not been dismantled, and cannot be dismantled. People are still aware of the power of social pressure, of the ability to self-organise and to try to take public affairs into their own hands.
In the constitution of Civic Forum there is a beautiful sentence which describes one of goals of the Forum as "to create self-managed democratic institutions and mechanisms enabling the participation of citizens in public affairs." I still think that's the goal of the movement, but at the moment, part of the political elite is closing the door to its own past. Now they are taking the Forum into what I call a blind alley. Again, it is understandable. It was created as a kind of negative consensus against a totalitarian power. But it is now necessary to create a positive consensus based on a joint effort to continue the democratisation of society, to introduce some principles of market economy, political pluralism, and I hope also a principle called justice.
In conclusion, it seems to me that the role of civil resistance in the protest of political and social change will be diminished after the revolution. It will be replaced not only by more traditional politics, but by different points of social defence. Social defence will try to use the informal structures of civil society to defend, for example, the independent trade unions, or rights of the worker, principles of a participatory democracy, political rights, and a need for greater openness.
Civic Forum needs to be a movement, as opposed to perhaps slowly emerging as a political party; although, I think this will probably happen after the elections. Parties don't need to be so open to the public, except to a certain extent to their members, but not to the public, as such. I do believe that movements do and that civil society structures can insure that. I think the principles of active citizenship both guarantee forms of nonviolent change and take away the danger of military confrontation. To me, it is also a guarantee that eventually the main political goals of the movement and of the revolution will be reached -- to create a democratic society which will respect the dignity of the people and their views, and will encourage wide participation.
It is necessary to keep the civil society movement active so that Czechoslovakia does not slip back into totalitarianism, so that we do not simply trade one group in power with another. To keep all forms of power in check we must make use of public activity combined with a free press and with a legally guaranteed access to media.
I keep stressing the role of civil society because I frequently meet people, in Eastern Europe but especially in the West, that believe that once we carried out the revolution and got rid of the Communist Party, everything has now been resolved. Now all we need to do is get a market economy and copy some Western institutions, and everything will be fine. I'm trying to gently suggest that the problem is much more complex. The long term success of the revolution depends very much on the continuation of civil society, a civil society which has been greatly enriched by its experiences.
[note, June 1991: Civic Forum is now split into competing parties, but continues to exist as an umbrella organisation. Jan Kavan is fighting to clear his name of charges -- made in parliament -- that he was a secret police contact in 1969-70 during his London exile.]
By Narayan Desai
Narayan Desai has had a long experience with nonviolence -- his father was Gandhi's personal secretary, and Narayan was raised in Gandhi's ashram. Narayan lives at his own ashram, the Institute for Total Revolution, and at the time of conference was Chair of War Resisters' International. In his opening address to the Conference, he analysed four contemporary examples of Indian nonviolence.
I will talk about four recent cases of people's power and nonviolent action. Two can be considered successful, or at least immediate successes.
The first case is from Baliapal, on the eastern coast of India, in the state of Orissa. Baliapal, which has been described as the granary of Orissa, was selected by the central government to have a missile base. Many people are surprised to hear that India is planning missile bases, but this has been going on for a long time. I chose this case in particular because it is entirely people's power which has prevented the base from functioning, and at last the government has abandoned the idea of a missile base there. We aren't yet sure if there won't be missiles somewhere else, but still people succeeded in preventing it at Baliapal.
This happened for many reasons. Baliapal is a lush area which produces rice, coconuts, vegetables that feed Calcutta and many other places. The whole population was to be evicted for the missile base, and the people decided that they would resist. The whole movement against the missiles was organised spontaneously. When I tried to find out who was the leader, I could not, because there wasn't one. But we know of many people who were involved, such as a school teacher who had lost his wife. He said to himself, I am in grief, but my area -- and he called it my land -- is in greater grief, so let me sing about this greater grief in order to forget my personal grief. And his songs are sung in hundreds of villages. They are very simple songs, but they have spread throughout. He was only one example, there were many others spread all over the area.
All they did was very simple. They did not allow any government officers to enter the whole area of several hundred square kilometres. The people created physical or human barriers and kept vigil day and night. Except for teachers, who were government officials, the authorities were not allowed to enter the area at all. Teachers were allowed in: they talked about what was going on and were on the side of the people. The government took a whole battalion of soldiers around the area, but the men, women and children continued their vigil with songs, and people's theatre. People kept watch in tree tops and blew conch shells or rang brass bells to warn others if they saw a jeep or other vehicle coming. Then people would come in their thousands and surround the area. The campaign succeeded so well that they have toppled the government there, and the local government is now ruled by a party that has openly supported the opposition.
The second case is also from Orissa, in a forest region near a hill called Gandhamadan. A private company intended to clear the forest in order to construct a monstrous aluminium factory on the hill. This would have meant denuding the hill, depriving the tribal people there of forest wood, food and medicinal plants. The people created barriers at strategic points of entry into the forest and prevented any of the company's vehicles from entering the area for months. There was only one pass on the hill, so it was easy to block the passage, which was done every day for more than two years. The company decided to shift the proposed factory to another site.
The third case is a general case, related to the anti-nuclear power movement in India. There have been people's demonstrations against proposed nuclear power plants in Kakrapar in Gujarat, in Kaiga in Karnataka, in Tamilnadu, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh, where the struggles are still going on. Here the people have been mobilised by educational programmes, grassroots organisations and demonstrations. In the case of Kakrapar, in Gujarat where I am from, there have been occasional demonstrations with intense, provocative reprisals by the administration. There has been one case of stone-throwing and sabotage by the people in the course of five years of peaceful struggle. The struggle is still going on and victory does not seem around the corner.
The fourth case is connected with two big dams on the river Narmada, which passes through three states in central and western India. It is one of the larger rivers in India and, as all rivers in India, is considered holy. The tribal people who are threatened with eviction from the area, supported by environmentalists, are leading the struggle here. After three years of drought and famine, the idea of irrigation canals is very attractive to the beneficiaries of the diverted dam water. But more than 100,000 tribal people live upstream and are threatened with eviction. Environmentalists are concerned about the forest cutting, water logging, soil salinisation and similar long-term damages which may follow the big dams. Some demonstrations have succeeded, others have not. The latest demonstration was two weeks ago when a few thousand people brought their bullock carts, tractors, and trucks and blockaded a bridge. The new government, which had promised so many things, negotiated for 24 hours, at the end of which the state's Chief promised to give serious consideration to their demand if the movement was postponed. So it was postponed for some time. But the demonstrators considered it a big success.
All these four struggles happened in relatively poor parts of the country. It's the poor who are usually affected by the so-called development programmes of the rich. Tribal people have in particular been affected. The bureaucracy and the military have almost invariably been on the side of the "civilised" in these struggles. This reminds one of Gandhi's prophecy that there would be a struggle between the citizens and the military in India.
The two places where people's power has succeeded are where the people were self-reliant. They did not have to depend on outside forces to continue their struggle. That was a very important factor. Self-reliant, decentralised units of society may be vitally important in social defence.
The mobilisation was faster and more thorough where the issue was immediate and concrete, as in the case of Baliapal and Gandhamadan. The power plant issue was not that concrete. It takes more time and effort to mobilise the people when the issue is relatively distant and abstract, like radiation or the after effects of big dams. The qualities that were defended in all these struggles were those of the means of livelihood and culture.
Some of the methods employed in these struggles were conscientisation, organisation, direct struggle, and providing an alternative, especially in the case of the power plants. The tools were songs, drama, traditional theatre, newspapers in local languages and house-to-house contact. Some of the lessons that we learned are that although these seem to be different issues, they are all interlinked. The problem seemed to be a struggle between the citizens and the military or bureaucracy combined. I describe them, not as individuals, but as forces of life and forces of death.
The struggle is going to be long-drawn. We also found that nothing teaches better than action. It needs a lot of grassroots organisation. Wherever there was grassroots organisation, we had more success. The conflict is also about the concept of development and progress.
Just where does the strength come from? The basic strength comes from the inner qualities of those who struggle. It comes out of the faith, the patience, and out of the perseverance of those who are involved in the struggle. A lot of it came out of the culture in which they had been living and which they want to defend. It also comes out of self-reliance. Lastly, the strength was evident also when it was realised that the ´enemy' was not one or more individuals, but the system, which was anti-people and anti-nature.
By Leung Wing Yue, Lau Bing Sum, and Liu Wei Ping
The image of a lone man stopping a row of tanks captured the world's attention in June 1989. Three people spoke at the workshop on the Chinese democratic movement, two of whom were in the People's Republic when Chinese students made their nonviolent witness. Leung Wing Yue works with the Trade Union Education Centre in Hong Kong and has been active in issues around workers' rights, the environment and women's rights. She was in China making contact with the independent workers unions that sprang up during the student demonstrations. Lau Bing Sum was born in China and grew up in Hong Kong. She has lived in Britain for many years and works with the Federation for a Democratic China (FDC), and other pro-democracy groups. Liu Wei Ping was in the Chinese merchant marines when he heard of the student fast in Tiananmen Square. Along with several co-workers, he left his ship to join the protest. He gave the following eye-witness account of what happened in June 1989.
Liu Wei Ping: I come from Beijing. The lives of the Chinese people have been very poor and difficult, because of ten years of economic reforms. During these ten years people's eyes were opened. There was much corruption both inside and outside the Communist Party. Some people took this opportunity to become millionaires. But ordinary people went through difficult times. Because of this, in the spring of 1989, the democracy movement started on a big scale. This movement was led by students and the movement's slogan was "Stop Corruption". They used peaceful means to appeal to the government. But unfortunately the government ignored these demands.
Because of this, some university students started a hunger strike. They used this method to protest against the government's attitude. The students' action aroused much reaction from people all over the country. Finally the whole country stood up and supported this movement. Particularly the citizens of Beijing recognised this as a peaceful, rational nonviolent action. At the same time the students asked one of the Communist Party leaders to step down. The government not only ignored this, they declared martial law on the 20 May. And that led to the massacre on 4 June 1989.
On 4 June I was working for the Red Cross in Beijing. I saw nine students killed in front of my own eyes. That evening I was hurt by a bullet. At four o'clock in the morning there were four female students inside a tent. The armoured car was coming across Tiananmen Square. One of the students was taken away. I tried to stop the armoured car. I told them there were people inside the tent. But the soldiers didn't listen to me. They pointed at me and accused me of being a thug. The armoured car moved slowly toward the tent. I could only stand there. The car crept through. I could hear them screaming. I heard their last screams and then they were dead. One of the soldiers shouted "You must clear away!"
Being one of the Red Cross workers, I was very clear about what happened that evening at the Square. Throughout it all, people used peaceful means to appeal to the government, but the government used force against the people. We couldn't believe that these things could be done by the People's Army and the people's government. After this massacre, the people became anti-government. This was terrorism against their own people. Many people disappeared. My own family was surrounded several times by soldiers sent for me. I finally managed to escape and come to Britain and became a political refugee. Recently I received a letter from friends. They wrote, "Your success is our victory. We heard about you in the broadcasts. We are very pleased for you. But please do not forget -- you are a Beijing person. Do not forget us and do not forget the people in Beijing. Do not forget our common goal. Please tell the friends outside China we won't give up. Our method of struggle is still peaceful, radical and nonviolent. But we still face a very unreasonable government. The murderers have not yet put down their weapons."
What's going to happen to our peaceful struggle? We hope that our friends outside China will help us appeal to the Chinese government to stop the suppression. We still have many students and workers in prison. We hope the people of the world will put pressure on the Chinese government to release political prisoners. Our Federation for a Democratic China has launched a petition campaign to collect 10,000 signatures to present to the Chinese government, for their release.
Lau Bing Sum: I work with the Federation for a Democratic China, an international organisation started in Paris by pro-democratic Chinese dissidents in exile and nationals living overseas, and other pressure groups for the democracy movement.
The purpose of the FDC is to gather forces all over the world and unite the Chinese people outside China, in order to achieve democracy in China. So the FDC coordinates branches, tries to put pressure on the Chinese government from outside China and gathers information on how the Chinese government violates human rights. Most importantly, we organise ourselves to be an effective opposition. We have discussions on social change and try to learn from the East Europeans, so we can envisage an alternative government and everything will be ready to change the government. We also send information to China, via packets, and the Goddess of Liberty boat which was launched in March to broadcast to China.
Leung Wing Yue: I've done research on the workers' movement in China during the '80s, and also been involved for seven years in the anti-nuclear movement in Hong Kong. I went to Beijing last June because I heard the workers had organised themselves into an autonomous federation. Because of my work, my observations will reflect a heavy emphasis on the workers.
What makes people ready to struggle? In 1989 the democracy movement was started by the students but was very soon joined by the masses, especially in the cities, and first of all in Beijing. There were more than one million people, or one-seventh of the city's population, out in the streets demonstrating. The scale of it much surpassed that of just a student or a campus demonstration. The movement also spread to many other cities. People have remained very poor since 1949 [when the Chinese Communist Party came into power] so why 1989? It was a moment when the building up of frustrations was perhaps triggered by the reforms of the '80s. People's expectations were raised, the people's eyes were opened to compare themselves to the outside world. So there was agitation for change and at the same time a rising frustration because of the resistance coming from the bureaucracy, which was due to corruption, to the monopoly of power by a very few top bureaucrats and Party members. 1989 was primarily because people felt, especially many young people, that there was hope for change. That after ten years of reform, maybe the government was ready for more openness in the political arena.
The 1989 movement started as a movement of hope, in contrast to those popular movements around the world which start from bitterness or desperation. It started as a positive, optimistic movement, and the citizens and workers responded very quickly. They wanted to give voice to their hopes, to ask for justice: they said corruption led to injustice, and that they could push for reforms from the government.
Why did it start as a nonviolent movement? Because the movement believed it could ask for reason from those in power. Out of this began a peace movement, even though China does not have a strong tradition of pacifism. It was a demonstration of the people's wishes. They asked for freedom.
So the abstract asking for freedom of expression, of speech, publications and information was in the early stage of the movement. But very soon, in mid-May, the movement advanced to another stage. Through the process of demonstrations, through asking for dialogue, came the increasing awareness of the need for organisation and autonomy. They began to focus on the concept of autonomy. This is quite unique in Communist countries, where the government has the monopoly of power. Until 4 June, the movement did not aim at changing the system structurally. That's why you had the continual singing of the national anthem. Both the autonomous students federation and the workers federation emphasised that they didn't want to oppose the rule of the Communist Party, and didn't really aim at structural changes.
After martial law and more than one million people marching in the streets to demonstrate, when troops began to move in, that was when the citizens of Beijing, almost spontaneously, began to organise into groups. These had all kinds of names: Citizens' Picket Team, Citizens Prepared to Die Team and equivalent workers' groups. In an attempt to block the onslaught of the military attack, the people began to come out and organise. At the same time there was an important parallel development. Some groups of people -- students first, then journalists -- organised themselves into autonomous federations, in opposition to the official federations. Then the workers formed an autonomous workers federation in mid-May, and autonomous citizens' federations, in Beijing but also in other cities. These formations were an important development. It was through the workers involvement, like the journalists, and a few peasants autonomous federations, that this originally idealistic movement became more concrete.
We keep asking, now after 4 June, why did we fail? Yes, the massacre happened, but many people ask why weren't the people able to counteract the oppression. I think this was because the students, and the intellectuals who were at the centre stage of the movement, really resisted involving other groups on an equal footing, like workers groups and citizens groups. For example, there were small number of intellectuals and students who saw the importance of the workers organisations and joined hands with them, but they represented a very small minority. I think there was a high degree of elitism among the students, which has a long tradition in China. When the workers autonomous federation was born, the students welcomed it but said, "We want to keep the purity of the student movement." It was these people who were killed, it was the workers and the people who suffered the highest casualties during the massacre, because they tried to stop the army. The students were willing to get the support of workers and ordinary people but they were not ready to really incorporate or join hands with the workers organisations. The autonomous workers federation was only allowed to move their headquarters into the Square at the end of May when the situation had become more tense, and there were more signs of repression with people were being detained or attacked. That was a fatal error of the 1989 movement.
I think the exiles have increased their awareness that any future democracy movement must have workers participation, and even the participation of the peasants in the countryside, since 80 percent of the Chinese population lives in the countryside.
By Fernando Aliaga Rojas
Following his defeat in a national referendum, Chilean president General Augosto Pinochet was forced to call free presidential elections for 14 December 1989. The candidate of the democratic opposition, Patrício Aylwin, scored an easy victory over Pinochet's designated successor.
Fernando Aliaga Rojas works with Servicio Paz y Justicia both in Chile and at the international level.
The happiness that evening of 14 December 1989 spread spontaneously along the downtown streets. After a 16-year-long military dictatorship, democracy had been regained in Chile. It was gained by walking the road of nonviolence, through political strategy and elections.
There is still a long road to walk, but this experience gives us the confidence to continue. We have turned pain into the strength of the oppressed. The methods and politics of our nonviolent struggle against dictatorship are interrelated and characterised below. Many actions were developed by groups that dared to challenge repression.
After the 11 September 1973 military coup and the subsequent human rights violations, a huge silence, the result of threats and terror, hung over Chile. No one dared to denounce torture in front of the courts. There was a traumatic muteness. It was at this point that the Church became the voice of the voiceless. The expression that gave birth to the whole organisational process was very simple: "Cry out the truth!" It was a cry for justice, a way to release the pain and despair.
Because it was impossible to keep silent, women and relatives of the disappeared expressed their silence in public. Worried about the fate of their loved ones, women began to come together and organise, and later to develop initiatives around social and justice issues.
These first nonviolent actions tried to inspire others by proclaiming the value of "crying out the truth." These actions included printing clandestine pamphlets and leaflets, painting slogans on walls at night and -- at great risk to their safety -- denouncing human rights violations at the Organisation of American States (OAS) commission meeting in Santiago in July 1974.
Underlying these actions was the principle of active nonviolence: if there is injustice, the first requirement is to report it, otherwise you are an accomplice. This principle was spread in numerous ways and helped overcome the double suffering of the people: the suffering of the original violence, and the suffering caused by having to keep silence about it. This principle also created support for telling the truth and acting on it.
The dictatorship's goal was to divide and isolate citizens in their own homes. This increased tensions and violence within families, and made finding meeting places very important. There had to be a conscientious response against the regime's intentions, and effort to break the circle of isolation.
We needed to find places to hold meetings, to make the meeting places known and to create activities that would help the growth of sharing and solidarity. In some parishes there was total support, while in others only "reliable" people were allowed to participate. It was necessary to exchange information about the location of fasts and meetings and where solidarity-building cultural shows could be held. This catalogue of information was very useful and had to be updated continually.
One of the biggest challenges during the first few years, and another example of active nonviolence, was to find places to hide people. Many church people and embassies helped people leave the country or hid them for the necessary length of time.
The main object was to have refuges which could save people's lives and end their isolation, where activities could be held that would help people express solidarity and keep a sense of values alive. Little by little handicraft workshops offered a way of earning some money and a place to raise people's awareness, while providing a safe screen.
Finally, together with Church boarding houses, there were some places where people could meet with a degree of freedom. These included cafes and restaurants like the popular "Don Peyo", where politically marked people could meet to exchange news and plan activities.
Denouncing repression and human rights violations demanded great creativity. There is a long list of such protests: those organised by relatives of the disappeared; the imaginative ones carried out by students -- like when they tried to plant 19 trees, representing Eduardo Jara's age when he was murdered; and the times people got on buses to give passengers news about the regime's injustices. Pamphlets were continually distributed.
There was a wonderful creativity expressed in jokes, popular plays, songs and in other ways. Almost all the cultural workshops and artistic events expressed this. How can we forget the "Human Rights Cantata" and the lighting of candles in the shanty towns? Active nonviolence offered training and strategy during all these activities.
Training was considered a necessity for people who faced arrest. We had the assistance of psychologists who taught us techniques about controlling our body, overcoming fear and resisting psychological torture. Everyone had to be prepared, especially human rights activists. Some of the training took place when visiting prisoners in jail. Training was incorporated into fasts and hunger strikes, taking advantage of the time participants had during these actions.
We offered advice and evaluation to everyone who planned public actions. The "Sebastian Acevedo" movement against torture improved so much that it became one of the biggest of such movements. Many tactics were used to neutralise any possible spying by the secret police (DINA). These tactics varied from the simplest, like a chain of people who communicated with key words, to the more sophisticated, like writing messages on the back of bus tickets.
In general all the permanent groups incorporated strategic thinking and planning in their denunciations of human rights abuses. During the protests of 1982-1983 we could even offer courses in nonviolence training. A network of shanty town leaders who could organise teams and tactics was available for this.
Such active nonviolence developed methods of regaining democracy through ways that didn't bolster a government which gained support, or felt it did, each time an armed group arose to fight against.
Most Chileans backed the strategy of following a political path to regain democracy, so it was necessary to struggle on several fronts. It was fundamental to struggle for the right to belong to a political party. Many people were arrested, tortured and killed in defence of this right. As a result of this, we gained a great deal of support from abroad and many condemnations of the Chilean military government.
Another key objective was the reorganisation of society so as to create and support base organisations. Thousands of activists visited shanty towns, at a risk of great personal danger, to do this. They organised a network of groups and committees, especially in the poorer districts.
The third factor that led to a restoration of democracy was the consensus developed among the political parties. The unity of the democratic opposition was the key in the October 1988 plebiscite victory.
Finally, education for democracy -- linked to educating people about human rights and using all the community education techniques -- was very important. We tried to involve the pobladores (poor people) by organising participatory seminars on liberation struggles. We taught people's history, with an analysis based on real experiences, and encouraged thinking about solutions to social conflicts. We included chapters on the history of the workers movement, political parties and civil education. Our summer schools made a valuable contribution to the struggle.
Political strategies and mass participation strengthened the struggle for change. The stress put on action as an educational process was linked with work in the political parties, so our defence of human rights had a real political impact.
That is why we in Chile say that active nonviolence has proven itself as a methodology for struggle, a methodology that takes its inspiration from moral values and that gave our people the strength to regain democracy.
Translated by Roberta Bacic
By Elzbieta Rawicz-Oledzka
Elzbieta Rawicz-Oledzka from Poznan spoke of the impact the protest group Wolnosc i Pokoj (WiP -- Freedom and Peace) had on the Polish political climate when it emerged after four years of martial law. WiP began in 1985 with a public fast in a church. Two years later it pulled off a previously impossible feat for an opposition group: an international peace movement seminar in Warsaw. Even though two churches succumbed to their hierarchy and withdrew facilities, and despite a lot of visa problems, WiP managed to bring together peace activists from 17 countries who were addressed by leading figures in the Polish democratic opposition.
At a time when other groups were organising in clandestine ways, WiP members put their names to statements, publicly returned their military papers, and developed new forms of demonstrations such as ´roofing' (climbing onto the roof of large buildings to display banners). Conference participant Michael Randle, of the UK Social Defence Project, interviewed Elzbieta in July 1990 -- another version of this interview appears in his book People Power: the building of a new European home (Hawthorn Press, 1991)
What in your view were the key factors that led to revolt and political change in Poland?
The economic factor was most important. The Round Table talks between representatives of the government and Solidarity in early 1989 opened the way to a new political and economic system; they also set a precedent which was followed elsewhere in Eastern Europe. But it was largely the economic situation which forced the government to take this unprecedented step. The government needed a compromise at home to get the economy moving again; and it needed international legitimacy to encourage other countries to assist Poland in a period of economic crisis. Back in 1981 the government had tried to crush Solidarity through brute force. But this did not touch the root of the problem, and by the mid-1980s the economic crisis had become so acute that it was clear that a new initiative would have to be taken.
There were, of course, other factors, notably the changes in Soviet policy, but the economic factor was central.
How important was nonviolence in the struggle for change?
For the movement I worked with, Freedom and Peace (Wolnosc i Pokoj -- WiP), nonviolence was crucial right from the start. This is clear from WiP's founding statement in 1985. Contact with the Western peace movements was also important, both tactically and in the exchange of ideas. Tactically it enabled us to put pressure on the Polish authorities to avoid extremes of repression in dealing with our movement. Thus we distributed our founding document to friends in the Western peace movements and as widely as possible both within Poland and outside. As a result when all the participants in one of our actions were arrested and faced the possibility of long sentences, protests from the Western peace movements, publicity on Radio Free Europe, and so forth, prompted the Polish authorities to release everyone involved quite soon.
Nevertheless when you and others openly protested against the policies of the government, you knew you faced serious risks of being beaten up or spending years behind bars. What led you to overcome your fears and take to the streets?
I and many from a still younger generation had been at school or university during the period 1980-81 when Solidarity emerged as a major force in Polish society, and at the time of the crackdown in 1981. In a sense, we felt that it was our turn to do something to try to change it.
It is true that at first arrests, searches and imprisonment have a traumatic effect. For instance, when your home is searched for the first time, it feels like a violation of your person and privacy. But afer a few times you know what to expect and the impact is less. Speaking for myself, I can say that there came a point when I felt that the situation was quite unbearable, and that I simply had to do something to try to change it.
How important was the church to the emergence of WiP?
We saw the church as a kind of physical necessity; it provided almost the only space open for public initiatives. Some WiP members saw themselves as Catholics, but WiP also included non-religious and even anti-religious people. So holding fasts, vigils and meetings in churches was less because people were influenced by Catholic ideas as that church buildings were almost the only places we could meet; the church offered some sort of social sphere of independence. A few clergy were open to peace initiatives, and the rest tended to take an attitude of silent acceptance: after all, there was not so much going on in 1985-86 and Solidarity had little visible presence.
WiP adopted a very different style of protest from Solidarity.
That's true. Since the imposition of martial law in 1981, Solidarity had been operating underground. By 1985, however, it had largely lost momentum, and we in WiP decided that the time had come to act openly. We informed as many people and organisations as possible about our intentions in advance of an action. We even wrote to the police sometimes giving them details of our plans. The underground press was very important in spreading the word within Poland. It was a flourishing industry at that time, with many factories producing two or three underground papers.
Humour soon became an important element in our protests. In Wroclaw the ´happenings' of the Orange Alternative Movement were often so amusing that people watching would all be laughing and the police would stand round embarrassed not knowing how to react. Some of these demonstrations coincided with significant anniversaries. One ´celebrated' the anniversary of the 1917 Russian Revolution, with groups of people representing the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks and Czarist forces. Even though all public demonstrations were banned, the atmosphere was relaxed and good-humoured, and for some time the police did not realise that this was an action aimed against the authorities. When the police finally did realise what we were up to, they moved in and arrested everybody. But then down at the police station many of the demonstrators were charged with the offence of "Celebrating the Russian Revolution" -- and these were the words which actually appeared on the charge sheets and were solemnly read out when they appeared in court.
On another occasion, one group of demonstrators dressed up in imitation police uniforms and used French loaves instead of truncheons to stage a mock attack on the rest of the participants. The bystanders were all laughing, and again for a while the police did not know what to do. This style of demonstration spread from Wroclaw to other cities, and humour became a feature of many WiP demonstrations.
Did Solidarity follow this lead at all?
No, not to my knowledge. I think the Solidarity leaders were too old and rather too serious to adopt this style of protest.
Did they follow your example in other ways -- for instance in organising and demonstrating more openly?
I don't think we influenced them in that way either. However, after the opening of the Round Table Talks in early 1989, Solidarity were in a curious situation of semi-legality. Formally they were still an illegal organisation; but their leaders were sitting down with government and Party representatives to try to reach an agreement on a new constitution for Poland. By this time Solidarity had their own offices and were able to organise quite openly and without interference.
But of course there was a considerable degree of interaction between WiP and Solidarity. Some WiP people were invited to join the Solidarity National Committee. It was largely due to WiP influence too that Solidarity eventually took up the issue of alternative service for conscientious objectors.
Has there been much interest, arising out of the success of civil resistance in Poland, in the notion of social defence?
Not as such. For a while after the end of communist rule, there was a lot of interest in the idea of Polish neutrality, and of drastically reducing the size of the armed forces and the level of military expenditure. But people have been alarmed by the pace of German unification and the ambiguous statements by Chancellor Kohl on the issue of Poland's borders.
How strong is WiP at this stage?
Unfortunately the end of the old system has left many WiP activists feeling unsure of their role; there are disagreement about what to do, and some people have become demoralised. Numerically WiP was never strong -- it had no more than a few hundred active supporters at the height of its activities. However, because of the style and daring of its demonstrations, it had an impact out of all proportion to the numbers involved. It succeeded in particular in making conscription and alternative service a major issue in the country.
By Vanessa Griffen
On 14 May 1987, the elected government of Dr Timoci Bavadra was forcibly removed by a military coup, led by then Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka. Bavadra's coalition government, consisting of the predominantly Indian-supported National Federation Party and the newly formed (1985) Fiji National Labour Party, represented the first substantial change in government since Fiji became independent in 1970. For 17 years the Alliance Party, a multi-racial grouping of three sub-associations for Indians, Fijians and other races (General Electors) had ruled Fiji under the leadership of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. Bavadra's Coalition outlined a number of proposed changes in policy, introduced small but significant social welfare benefits in its short time in office, and promised to investigate government corruption. More controversial before and after the elections, was its plan to reintroduce a ban on nuclear ship visits, a policy held by Fiji until 1983. The Coalition intended to be non-aligned. In contrast, Mara and his Alliance government were known to be friendly and supportive of US interests in the South Pacific region.
Vanessa Griffen is a member of the Fiji Anti-Nuclear Group and editor of Women, Development and Empowerment: a Pacific feminist perspective (Asian and Pacific Development Centre, Kuala Lumpur, 1989).
Supporters of the coup used race to justify the removal of the Bavadra government, which was described as "Indian dominated" because the majority of its electoral support came from the National Federation Party, supported by Indian cane farmers and the middle class. However, the Bavadra victory was carried by its winning four Fijian national urban seats indicating some Fijian discontent with the Alliance, the predominantly Fijian-supported party. [Under the 1970 Constitution, Fiji had a complicated system of communal (racial) and national electorates.] Although the Alliance conceded defeat, destabilisation activities were instigated involving key members of the party and its Fijian supporters and not restrained by the party leadership. Racial fears were whipped up -- with Bavadra painted as a stooge of Indians; Fijians were warned of a loss of their lands and the undermining of the chiefs under the new government. Race was a significant factor in mobilising support for the coup and racism remains a central part of maintaining military control.
In September 1987, just when a peace agreement had been reached between Mara and Bavadra -- the former and deposed prime ministers respectively -- and agreed by the Governor-General, Rabuka staged a second coup. He abrogated the 1970 Independence Constitution and declared Fiji a republic with a President as head of state. He established a military government, appointing ministers from the army and the Fijian Taukei Movement. In December, he transferred power back to an "interim government" headed by Ratu Mara, with Rabuka himself as both Minister for Home Affairs, until September 1989, and head of the army. This interim government arose from and depends on military support. Attempts to formulate a constitution entrenching Fijian political dominance continue, turning non-Fijians into second class citizens. The current climate is characterised by the militarisation of Fiji, the escalating use of violence to solve disputes in the absence of a properly constituted political system, diminishing respect for the rule of law, and an abiding insecurity about human and political rights under the proposed constitution.
The people's response to the first (May) and second (September) coups differed. In May, response was motivated by feelings of shock at the military takeover and anger at the removal of an elected government. There had been high hopes of reform under Bavadra; for supporters, and even though those uneasy at the end of the Alliance's 17-year reign, there were hopes of progressive changes and a new political climate.
An early response to the coup was to gather at the two places where the elected government ministers were being held prisoners. When the ministers were separated along racial lines and Indian MPs moved to Borron House, a crowd gathered there. The day after the coup a small group of relatives and friends gathered at the Prime Minister's residence where the army was holding Coalition ministers. This gathering grew into a more conscious protest vigil and show of support with the arrival of other supporters -- a woman activist and a trade union leader were instrumental in passing the word around that people should be encouraged to meet at the site the next day (Saturday).
Meanwhile, anonymous newsletters produced by individuals working in small groups appeared overnight, commenting on the coup and addressing myths about the Bavadra government and its intentions. With the daily newspapers -- the Fiji Times and the Fiji Sun -- closed for a week after the coup, these political leaflets were distributed in various parts of Suva aiming to inform and educate the public to counter the pro-coup rationale and propaganda coming from the government-controlled radio and coup supporters.
On Saturday, two days after the May coup, a large crowd gathered at the Prime Minister's residence. The soldiers guarding the house and moving in and out of the short cul-de-sac then put up roadblocks to control access. There was no overt violence towards the crowd. On Sunday, however, when a prayer meeting was planned, soldiers dispersed the crowd gathered outside where the ministers were being held. Led by a well-known woman activist, the crowd -- now also consisting of students from the nearby University of the South Pacific -- marched to Suva city centre. This was the first protest march against the coup. In Suva, police arrested the march leader and she was subsequently detained for four days.
One week after the coup the release of the ministers and resumption of reporting by the press provided a lull in which people were able to absorb the first factual details of the coup and who was involved. The Governor-General of Fiji had adopted an apparently mediating stance by assuming executive powers and appointing an interim administration. The military was in evidence with roadblocks and key parts of the city were under army control.
A significant event in this early period that was to affect people's willingness to show opposition to the coups was a racial attack on Indians attending a prayer meeting in Albert Park. Indigenous Fijians in support of the coup attacked men, women and children, chasing them through the city streets. The spread of public knowledge of this attack had a strong effect -- inciting anger and also a sense of fear and horror. To be noted also was Fijian support for the attackers. A key element in controlling popular opposition had been violence and the threat of violence by the Fijian Taukei Movement, indigenous supporters of the coups. Racial attacks and the firebombing of Indian shops in central Suva were an intimidation tactic aimed at forcing a more extremist position on the Fijian leadership as well as intimidating the Indian population generally.
The Back to Early May Movement was a well organised and sustained social defence group formed to counter the effect of the coup and influence the political deliberations of the Governor-General. Composed of individuals from a diverse range of backgrounds -- church leaders, leading public servants, well-known individuals -- it characterised itself as being a non-party group of concerned citizens. The movement set out a number of simply stated demands, basically requesting a "Return to early May" (the days before the coup) and suggesting a conciliation process and the formation of a government of national reconciliation. The Back to Early May Movement advertised its demands in the newspapers and organised a signature campaign intended to get a number of citizens to show commitment and support. Despite harassment, it gathered 100,000 signatures calling on the Governor-General to pursue efforts to arrive at a peaceful solution to the coup crisis. However the Governor-General's delay in making any response or giving any recognition to the campaign soon led to disillusionment by Movement leaders, who were forced to acknowledge that other political forces held power and there was no intention of listening to public opinion. The Back to Early May Movement had been successful in focusing public awareness and soliciting citizens' support for conciliation. It represented a broad-based citizens' group responding to the coup: but the lack of recognition for quite an impressive signature campaign led to the conclusion that the Governor-General and the political leadership were impervious to popular influence.
At the same time, the Coalition Party under the leadership of Dr Bavadra had begun an education and information campaign called Operation Sunrise. Its main aim was to counter army propaganda disseminated amongst Fijians. Parliamentarians travelled with Bavadra to Fijian villages, where meetings were held to explain the interests behind the coups and to respond to propaganda about Libyan influence, the 1970 Constitution, Fijian land rights and the threat posed by Indians to Fijian land and customs. Other meetings were also organised in different centres, drawing some thousands of supporters. The Coalition party focused mainly on explaining the coup and did not direct any action that may be taken by its supporters.
The newspapers played an important role also in analysing events and reporting on developments. The Fiji Sun in particular printed critical editorials signed by the publishers; and the letters columns of both papers were a forum for continuing expressions of opposition -- countered by letters of support -- for the coups, the army and the interim administration.
The second coup in September was qualitatively different from the first: it established full military control. Rabuka appointed his own cabinet and the military presence was more seriously felt by all citizens. Roadblocks were established throughout the country but particularly in the urban centre of Suva. Motorists were harassed, cars thoroughly searched. In this period, a curfew and again a news blackout were imposed. The Sunday Observance decree, imposing restrictions on movement and activities on Sunday, was severely enforced. Ordinary Fijians for the first time also experienced the military controls: curfew-breakers and Sunday Observance offenders were on occasion made to crawl on hands and knees to the Central Police Station. Indian citizens were still the prime targets: women washing had clothes trampled in the mud; even children playing were punished, with incidents when noses were scraped on concrete. These experiences were deeply traumatic, shocking and showing a level of repression and human rights abuses never experienced before in Fiji. The response of people in this context was predictably different.
The second coup represented the army turning its attention to controlling the population and quelling political opposition among party organisers, union officials, academics and other individuals. Coalition party organisers who had worked amongst the farmers were identified, taken by soldiers, beaten and harassed. One view is that these attacks in the second coup directed at rank and file organisers of the Coalition effectively broke up the party's organising activities by taking away grassroots organisers.
Overall, the experience of the second coup showed people in Fiji the raw face of army control: a curfew was established and enforced; roadblocks, checks of vehicles and harassment of people became a common occurrence. A news blackout again produced a spate of leaflets -- but discovery of materials in cars became a more serious risk. The enforcement of the Sunday Decree established a closer degree of militarycivilian contact and repression; the Decree was particularly supported by the fundamentalist Methodist church section of the Taukei Movement.
The "interim" government set up in December 1987 was given the task of formulating a Constitution for the republic of Fiji and returning the country to constitutional government. The draft constitution supported by the army and the Great Council of Chiefs gives Fijians a guaranteed majority of seats and a permanent monopoly on power: racial electorates and chiefly power are combined in a system of government compared by some commentators to the kind of racial separation found under apartheid.
The curtailment of the rights of assembly and other political freedoms following the coups had meant restrictions on political organising and activities against the coups. Permits are required to hold meetings and the state has withheld these from the Coalition and other groups considered as opposed to the regime. A planned march by women and children organised by two women's organisation had to be cancelled for lack of a permit. On the other hand, the Taukei Movement and other coup support groups, including some factions within the Methodist Church, are allowed to hold meetings and make political statements. Groups refused a permit have been told that the police cannot vouch for their safety from attack by these pro-coup elements.
Official repression is only part of the equation in Fiji. The threat of violence and intimidation from non-official sources is an impediment to social defence action. Racism and the threat of a violent response from citizens supportive of the coups is an important feature of repression and control in Fiji.
Instances of people resisting militarisation and voicing opposition to the regime have continued to occur. When Rabuka's promotional film No Other Way was premiered in Suva, a small group of women organised a protest outside the theatre, despite the presence of the police and a crowd of onlookers presumed to be supporters of the film and its main character, the coup leader. The protesters were removed by the police, held in the police station for some hours, but not actually charged.
Over a period of time, however, a series of control measures contributed to a suspension of people's protest: the increased army presence, decrees limiting human rights and rights to assembly, the existence of a black list used to prevent certain individuals leaving the country, and the introduction of an Internal Security Decree in mid-1988 (since removed, but it can be re-introduced) which gave the regime wide powers to detain individuals without trial and allowing security forces to kill citizens in the performance of their duties. When the army presence, including its use of roadblocks, were reduced, most people -- particularly in Suva -- were anxious to return to ordinary, peaceful pre-coup life. The emotional upheavals of the coups and all that the country experienced of military controls and human rights abuses meant that there is now a conscious value placed on pursuing a routine life and activities.
The Coalition has continued to be the major organised voice of opposition to the regime. Its attention is presently focused on rebutting the racist draft Constitution. Recently, an International Women's Day celebration in Lautoka was used to express women's feelings about the post-coup society and the effects on Indian women in particular. Indian students from the University of the South Pacific attending a Holi celebration in Suva took religious leaders by surprise by voicing their opposition to political events and condemning Indian inaction; effigies of Indian collaborators with the regime were burnt. These responses were relatively new in the present climate of a minimum of expression against the post-coup reality.
In small ways, individuals and groups continue to defend the idea of a humane and just society in Fiji. The Peace and Justice Committee of the Catholic has made firm statements on social and political issues; the YWCA and other women's groups have continued to draw attention to the social and economic impacts of militarisation and violence in society on women. Educative processes continued to be given priority.
The potential for a violent response in Fiji cannot be ignored. Understanding of or sympathy for peaceful resistance is not present in all quarters. Some responses would be violent if it were not so clear that the outcome would be unsuccessful and result in more violence and bloodshed. The lack of a violent response in Fiji is due to strategic considerations rather than a rejection of violent action in principle. The provocation posed by direct violence, unjust constitutional provisions and racism is very strong. The place of nonviolent social defence in Fiji's situation is an issue that is open to debate. The present depressing facts that citizens and political groups face is the well-entrenched power of the military, its central role in Fiji politics and the extent of militarisation of Fiji society along racial lines. The social desire to redress, defend, or correct this trend of militarisation does exist. The challenge presented is how people in Fiji can respond to militarisation and racism and defend their beliefs and protect social values in the face of militarisation.
Some general points on social defence and nonviolent action drawn from the experience in Fiji
* Coups are a shocking experience in societies where the military has been invisible or uninvolved in political and public activity.
* The racial element has been an important issue sharpening the violence in Fiji; racism as a rationale for the coups has spread political support for the military to civilian supporters. Racial violence by ordinary citizens against each other is the single most important stimulus for violence occurring in Fiji.
* Military and police responses are only part of the equation when assessing responses to people's nonviolent social defence activities. In Fiji, the militant Taukei Movement and the politically-oriented religious fundamentalist faction of the Methodist Church are also potential aggressors whose intimidating actions are difficult to predict.
* The use of force, controls on movement, beatings and harassment of citizens and use of repressive laws have cumulatively led to an awareness of the nature of military rule in Fiji. The choice at the moment for maintaining peaceful ´ordinary' times following two years of upheaval has contributed to people's withdrawing from very active public opposition to the regime. The spectre of racial violence is a significant deterrent.
* The militarisation of the police force is a subject often neglected. The role and function of the police force has been undermined by the coups. The police no longer enforce the law equally; they had to recognise the superior power of the military. The change in top police officers after the coups contribution to militarisation of the police force. Defence actions are ambivalently viewed by the police, who respond with violence or who appear under pressure to conform to military-inspired repression or harassment of political activists or protesters.
* The passage of time produced different responses to the effects of the coups. Intervening periods of repression and violence followed by military control being well-established have depressed nonviolent social defence actions in a small state where family pressures, limited employment options also act to restrain political oppositions by individuals after a time.
* A key question in Fiji is the Constitution. Is it an issue around which action should be organised? Are other issues more likely to mobilise people? If the constitution represents the future political system and society planned for Fiji, could people if organised manage to effectively stop a racist constitution being adopted. Should other issues be focused on by organisers, eg military rule and what it means; militarisation and evidence of its penetration of Fiji society; racism and its detrimental effect on people? Could actions be more effectively organised around presentation of issues along these lines?
By Julio Quan
Julio Quan, originally from Guatemala, now works in Costa Rica. He was instrumental in the November 1988 consultations with the Nicaraguan government on social defence. The following are excerpts from an interview with Julio, as well as comments he made during various workshops on low intensity conflict and on applying social defence in Third World countries.
I think it's important to first discuss what we are confronting and what we are defending. The strategy we're confronting in Central America is Low Intensity War (LIW) or Low Intensity Conflict (LIC)? Where does it come from?
Nonviolent forms of struggle are not alien to Central America. Nonviolence has been with us for centuries, though we may not call it by the same name. There was an enormous amount of propaganda during the Second World War in Latin America for one or the other side. We were inundated with Allied propaganda. In those days radio was common, so it was easy to communicate. Newspapers weren't useful since most people couldn't read. When we saw the struggle against the fascists in Germany with all its lack of freedoms, we discovered that it was exactly the same struggle we were having. When they portrayed Hitler or Mussolini, they were describing our own presidents. So all the propaganda against the Axis was propaganda against our own way of life. That's why you see after the Second World War most of the tyrannies in Latin America went down one by one.
We had two nonviolent revolutions in Guatemala and El Salvador in 1944. People organised, and between March and June, two of the worst tyrants in Latin America [Ubico in Guatemala and Hernández Martínez in El Salvador] went down due to mass civil disobedience, especially in urban areas. Many people, for the first time in their lives, participated in a political and nonviolent way. Of course, getting rid of the government is not the same as implementing a new one that is just. In Guatemala, three generals took power, so people had to fight violently in October of the same year. Within six months, we had both a nonviolent and a violent revolution. In El Salvador, the military took over power and stayed there until 1979.
The basic question is how to build a social movement to get rid of an unwanted government, while at the same time creating the basis for another government that will implement the necessary changes.
From that moment on in Central America a new myth started to develop: the fear of communism. For 10 years Guatemala had a democracy, and mild but important changes took place. For the first time, women and Indians (indigenous people are 60 per cent of the population) had rights and there was land reform. This coincided with the Cold War and suddenly we became a threat to the USA. Our ruling class has always been weak and so needed outside support to maintain power. In 1954 we were invaded by the US helped by members of our ruling class.
Manyfoci began to develop in the country -- a foco being a small group of people fighting together, regardless of their social class, from an easily defended place, in order to spread the idea of the necessity of change. That created fear among the ruling class. President Kennedy came along and a strategy was developed: a modernisation of our economy without changing the social-economic structure and counter-insurgency. The foco theory meant there were various armed groups that were going to get together which meant they had to be eliminated.
And so we got the "selective assassination". With death squads -- which in Central America is the army without the uniforms -- the possible creation of foci were stopped by eliminating the leaders. Many were assassinated and fear was everywhere. In 1980 alone, about 100 of my university colleagues were killed and 500 of us left the country.
Archbishop Oscar Romero is another example. Why do you assassinate someone like him? To instill fear. But it backfired. It doesn't matter if it was a leader like Romero or a university professor. These people have friends and it affects them. You become very upset with what is going on, and the revolutionary process is not diminished. When people thought they were going to die anyway, they said "I might as well die killing (defending myself)" and they joined the revolution, in what was called prolonged people's war -- a strategy first developed in China and then in Vietnam against the US army.
With prolonged people's war, the counter-insurgency strategy had to change. Genocide was the result. They just wiped out regions, villages, and so forth. What the USA had learned in Vietnam, they began applying in the Third World, especially in Central America.
How do you fight against genocide? You must fight with arms. There is nothing that I know in nonviolence that allows you to directly fight against genocide. So we fought indirectly and many of us left and went elsewhere to create solidarity movements.
But this strategy came to an end too. There is a moment where it is not possible to continue the genocide. Strategic military studies say "We can kill so many people. But if we kill more, the economy will be affected." And then the strategy shifted to one in which they tried to control the hearts and the minds of the people. That is more dangerous because it combines selective assassination, psychological, economic and other strategies in controlling people.
One of the strongest elements of LIC is ideology through psychological operations. In Central America, we have the "electronic church". New Christian sects come and through the use of TV and radio try to create instant salvation and an instant resolution to everything. This ideological security works against transforming people's consciousness.
This shift towards an ideological and political control over people began in the '60s and '70s, at the same time that more international attention was being focused on the government's policies. At one point Guatemala refused aid from US president James Carter because they knew they'd get aid from South Africa, Taiwan, and Israel. LIC became the most important strategy adapted by our military, along with the help of these countries. Since the '80s then, social change struggles in Central America have confronted this LIC strategy which aims at controlling the hearts and minds of the people.
If LIC's aim is at a false consciousness based on lies, then nonviolence is exactly the opposite: nonviolence is based on the truth and the creation of a real consciousness of the people. So what we weren't able to do during the '70s and the genocide, we were now able to try in a new form of nonviolent struggle.
The role of nonviolence in these cases is what we call social defence: every segment of society must develop the mechanisms by which they can defend themselves against aggression, which is not just physical aggression, but psychological and economic.
When I talk to people in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador about social defence, they look at me like I was crazy. "Defending what society? This society that exploits us? No thanks, we don't want to defend this society." That is why I have my own definition for Third World countries: it is the creation of a democratic-based power for economic, social, political, ideological, and ecological security. Civilian-based defence as Gene Sharp defines it is not for us. It may be useful once a society has become "homogeneous" and we have to defend ourselves. The role of nonviolence in these conditions is what we call social defence, not civilian-based defence.
The role of nonviolence needs to be carefully analysed and studied in the Third World. We need our own "weapons" in our nonviolent war. These will also vary with different cultures. The tactics must be carefully chosen. And this can't all happen in a vacuum. Not until all these complementary tactics, strategies and action are well thought out and organised can people start doing the little bit that each one of us is capable of doing. It is essential to realise that we can do very little, but that that little bit is absolutely essential as a part of a very large strategy.
We won't go anywhere if people continue to act and struggle only on the personal level. On the contrary -- when people try things and they are not successful except at that level, they get discouraged and say "this doesn't work". It's not only the ruling class and the army that we are struggling against, it's the doubts within us that ask "does this work? How can it work against machine guns?" The doubts about nonviolence's effectiveness is the most difficult obstacle to overcome. It helps to read the many examples about situations where nonviolence has been successful. But it is important not to take the examples out of context. They should be analysed within their historical, political, cultural contexts.
I began working in 1982 to establish social defence for Costa Rica. At that time, it looked like there was no contradiction between what society (the people) wanted and what the authorities wanted -- which is why I chose to try applying civilian-based defence there in the context in which Sharp defines it.
However, Costa Rica (which has no regular army), became the political centre for the US against Nicaragua, just as Honduras became the military centre, and began receiving money and training from the US. The idea was to establish military forces in Costa Rica to attack Nicaragua. The ruling class was afraid the revolution would spread into Costa Rica, so they took up the US offer. Costa Rica has a strong ruling class because they manage through the church, education, and mass media to form the social consciousness of the people.
I began to talk to Costa Rican grassroots groups and political parties in order to introduce the idea of social defence. But of course the struggle was against the US and the ruling class who wanted militarisation to defend their own interests. So it was extremely difficult to find inroads for social defence within Costa Rica.
The next country we tried was Nicaragua. In the beginning it would have been easy for Nicaraguans to defend themselves through social defence because the government and the grassroots movements were united. But the contras began to attack and the people of Nicaragua knew how to defend themselves with arms, so our efforts diminished at the same rate as the contras became stronger. Our efforts weren't necessarily rejected, but as an outside force (I'm from Guatemala, not Nicaragua), our intentions were questioned more and more. People began to ask, "What do these people really want? Are they trying to undermine us?"
But in 1987 with the peace talks beginning, the Nicaraguan government invited us to come and talk to them. A group of experts, including Jean-Marie Muller, met with many groups. One day I wanted to make an appointment with the Interior Minister, Tomas Borge, but his secretary said he was extremely busy. She asked me to tell her in one minute what this civilian-based defence was all about. I remember so clearly Jean-Marie Muller's face. I had worked so long at convincing him to come all the way to Central America, and now I had to explain years of struggle in one minute.
So I said, "Tell the Minister that civilian-based defence is something we are going to give to the people of Nicaragua so in case, you, the Sandinistas, do not fulfil their needs, they can kick you out of power." One minute later she came back and said we had his full support and were going to get his personal aide to participate with us. And they did participate. A real revolutionary understands these kinds of things!
Since the elections in Nicaragua, the University for Peace has had a representative in Managua and they have asked that we continue with the project. About 10 per cent of the population has weapons and they know how to use them. But now the Sandinistas have a chance to establish a democratic system in Nicaragua. Democracy doesn't just mean having a democratic government: it means having a democratic opposition that is going to make the system work. I'm convinced they'll win the next election hands down. Projects like civilian-based defence and empowering the people will help the revolution in Nicaragua.
The most important nonviolent struggle right now is the one at the political level. The Central American Peace Plan calls for formation of reconciliation commissions in each of the countries and for a national dialogue. There have been very few chances for grassroots leaders to talk and exchange ideas before this. A network of communication has now been created between groups in Central America. They've been able to make demands -- political, economic, social -- and talk about strategies. We're trying now to collaborate with grassroots groups in that struggle. With Peace Brigades International (PBI), we try to introduce these kinds of concepts to the peasants and workers. This is a tremendous responsibility right now: we are not yet at the stage of organising people.
The Central American Peace Plan is a government plan, but today we are also talking about a "People's Plan." It is already in the minds of the people and we don't have to work at introducing ideas so much -- they come to us. PBI already has more requests than it can handle.
I don't talk of pacifism: I talk of nonviolence or non-military forms of struggle. Peace without justice just won't work in Central America. We have malnourished kids (80 per cent of Central American kids are malnourished with the exception of those in Costa Rica) yet we export millions of pounds of meat to the international market. People want schools, help, justice. The Central America Peace Plan has opened up the possibility to solve the conflict at that level. But without a People's Peace Plan, it won't work. We have to work at the grassroots level.
There are over 600 NGOs registered in Guatemala alone. It is difficult to know which ones are pushing LIC without even realising it. So we must create a network. We don't want charity -- we want justice and we're going to fight for it violently or nonviolently. When I see people picking up arms when they have no other alternative, I do not condemn them. But I know that when they do so, it is another excuse that our military and the powerful in our country have to smash them. The power of nonviolence has to be learned by the majority of the people.
by Jacqui Boulle, Lawrence Sibisi and Rob Goldman
How does one apply concepts of social defence in countries with oppressive regimes? Struggling against one's own government and against low intensity conflict (LIC) is precisely what Jacqui Boulle, Lawrence Sibisi and Rob Goldman from South Africa are faced with. Jacqui was active with the once-banned End Conscription Campaign, Lawrence is chair of the Natal Anglican Justice and Reconciliation Committee, and Rob is the Justice and Reconciliation worker for the Anglican Church and is also active in the war resisters' movement. Together they presented their experiences.
Jacqui Boulle: Social defence is a very foreign term to us; we don't really know what it means. What we can talk about is people's power. A lot of the strategy used by the South African government is similar to that which is being used in Central America. Many strategists have spent time in the USA learning about Vietnam, Guatemala, and so on. We've used Namibia as a testing ground and now South Africa itself.
Since the majority of people is neutral, the state must work at co-opting the greatest amount possible and supporting them, along with eliminating those in opposition. A sophisticated network was developed (the National Security Management System) with small committees set up in all little towns. They gather information about what was happening in that area and distribute it to one of two committees. To a Security Committee, which would detain or assassinate people or ban organisations, raid offices; or to a Welfare Committee, which would look at grievances expressed. That method of ideological warfare (winning the hearts and minds of people and eliminating the opposition) was the major strategy of the state up to the '70s.
That strategy failed because it assumed that you could co-opt people through meeting certain welfare needs and that people weren't interested in political questions. In addition, there was pressure building up within the country exposing the LIC. There was a legitimacy crisis within the state, and the economic crisis meant that the state could no longer afford the welfare programmes and the upgrading of townships. Now the state realises it need to address the political questions.
Lawrence Sibisi: I work among the homeless, as well as the squatters, whom are regarded as the scum of the earth. We are faced with an oppressive regime whose brutality diminishes any chances of a nonviolent struggle for the black masses.
The system has used many forms in its external destabilisation programme. It has used vigilantes who are know as the Warlords, and who have killed a number of activists, especially those who side with progressive movements. These vigilantes are members of the Inkatha, which sadly seems to be the most acceptable organisation within the Western countries because of Chief Buthelezi who is its leader.
They have gone on rampages unapprehended to get rid of a notorious group called Amas Senores. This group has been going about shooting and destabilising people in black townships. They are a group of thugs who unfortunately are being supported by the police, who supply them with arms. The sophisticated machinery that they use cannot be found anywhere else except by the police. They rape and maim in the townships -- raping even pregnant women -- and whenever they are caught, nothing is done by the police because they are actively destabilising the communities.
We also have death squads in the form of the Civil Cooperation Bureau (CCB), which is part of the South African Defence Force (SADF) hit squad. This is presently being investigated by the arms commission. People are brutally killed and the allegations are strong that the CCB has been part and parcel of those killings. Recently we've heard of how vigilantes in municipalities have been spying. It has hired people to spy for it, which is one way in which the LIC is being operated.
Just as with the SADF, it has its own strategy which is called WHAM: winning hearts and minds of the people. It takes place in various forms like taking young people into camps, or the army playing soccer games with the township people. This has not been successful. The township dwellers are aware of their notorious activities and why it is in the townships. It's not just coming in to introduce life to the people: they are the instruments of death, they are the ones who have been shooting our people. We have rejected them completely.
What then have the oppressed masses done to frustrate the aims of the opponent?
Defence committees have been formed, along with street committees and area committees. We use these committees to spread information. For example, if we hear that the vigilantes will be attacking, this information will be spread to area committees. The area committees, because they are large, pass on information to street committees. This means that every street within the village gets the information.
Night vigils are organised when we hear a rumour that the vigilantes will attack. We place people in different areas, in strategic points where they will be able to see who is coming. So whenever somebody comes in, he or she has to be screened and tell who they are before they are allowed to pass. This has helped considerably in driving back the vigilantes.
At times, people have had to spend their nights in the fields for nothing and the vigilantes do not come. But it is very helpful, even if it is a hoax, that these people are on stand-by in case anything should happen.
We have used structures which are acceptable to the oppressed masses of our country, like civic and youth organisations, which are very effective with information and education for political change in our black communities.
We've also embarked on services which are geared to peace, like the one we'll have on Good Friday. The primary purpose is to highlight the need for peace in our troubled, torn country.
We are a peace loving people. Hence our various strategies which are peaceful and through which we try to show the world that yes, we want peace and justice in our country. Funerals have also been used to try to encourage the culture of our people in song as well as drama. Calls for peace can also be seen in our funerals.
Our drama relates to the death of the victims. We are trying to use an alternative theatre. Black communities which are very much oppressed by the regime are no longer interested in drama such as that of William Shakespeare. Instead the events which are happening in and around us are becoming the main focus of this alternative theatre. The Bruce Lees of the movies are very much outdated in our culture. But what has risen of late are the Mandelas and the Sisulus who are very much our heroes.
When one looks around the black townships you'll see toddlers who no longer sing songs that are happy or irrelevant to them, but now sing songs that are very much relevant to the people's struggle.
We have also used people's courts. I know this will raise some people's ire when I speak about it because it has been portrayed as a very barbaric form of keeping law in our country. But we who are within the townships have found the people's courts more helpful than those courts set up by the Pretoria regime. These courts serve to stop those people who are committing acts of violence, robbery, and so on. Whereas when we take the culprits to the South African courts to be charged, we find them walking around the streets in the afternoon. The South African courts do not take seriously the need for these people to be punished -- particularly if it is black people causing harm to other black people. So we're trying to eliminate that by introducing our own people's courts. They may not be perfect, but they do supplement the South African regime's courts.
We've also used as a powerful weapon the boycott of community counsellors -- those people who are part of the regime. The regime has used these bodies to enhance its image within the country. However it has failed dismally. The people are aware that these people are harmless bodies. Hence the introduction of new structures that are acceptable and popular to the oppressed masses.
When organising boycotts of any form, we speak to the transport people, those who own cabs as well as their bosses. They are told that on a particular day there will be a stay-away, and they should not operate in order to achieve a complete standstill. This is how we've frustrated the regime. Even those who may be collaborators, and who may want to get to work, cannot because they have no means of transport.
Within the trade union movement, we have successfully mobilised and organised the workers, which means when there is a stay-away, it is a complete stay-away. The workers have been so unionised that they see the effect of their stay-away whenever there are such campaigns. We've also used consumer boycotts. For example, if a particular firm or store does not want to heed the call for a living wage, then a massive campaign is made against that particular firm or product so that people don't buy that product at all. These are some of the instruments which we have used which are nonviolent and which are very helpful. There are also rent boycotts, hunger strikes and sanctions which have been very effective nonviolent instruments in bringing about pressure.
We're hoping for the best -- that one day nations will turn their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Rob Goldman: The LIC strategy of the South African government spreads all around the world. Millions of South African Rand are used in Europe and in the USA to spread the propaganda of the South African government. That is also part of LIC. Security networks in South Africa also work closely with security agencies in Europe and the USA.
Last year, for instance, I was travelling around Europe speaking, but when I got back home, my passport was restricted to a limited time period, which is not normal for the average citizen. This happened clearly because of this security network working in Europe. And my wife and three-week old baby's passports were also restricted.
The state is viewed by the majority as the aggressor against the people. The current regime is in power by the will of some 2 per cent of the population. Gene Sharp mentioned the various pillars one can look at that prop up a society. My experience with the End Conscription Campaign (ECC) is that we've identified the Defence Force as one of the major pillars, so our work involves chipping away at it. The ECC seeks to represent the views of those conscripts and their families and friends who do not support conscription in the current South African context. It helps organise that community to undertake effective opposition to conscription and to call for full recognition of conscientious objection.
It is crucial that the government, in its policy of capturing the "hearts and the minds of the people" also captures the hearts and minds within the white community as well. The white community benefits of course in almost every way from apartheid. But the one way in which it must pay is through conscription. Only those categorised as "whites" by the government are conscripted. And that is the cost for my community, if I may put it that way, for the privileges we have.
Those of us involved in the resistance movement see our task as changing the hearts and minds of the people and moving them from supporting the regime to supporting the opposition.
The continuance of the current South African government relies very heavily on conscripts such as myself. We in the war resisters movement are saying, "No, we refuse to participate in this system". Our campaigns try to influence the hearts and minds of our community and wean them away from supporting the SADF.
In addition to the night vigils mentioned by Lawrence, there is another type of vigil which just occurred three weeks ago. A women's organisation in a black community and in a white community got together for an all night vigil in a church in an area where there is a lot of violence. This was a witness of peace in that context.
It is an unfortunate part of the illness of apartheid, that a white face at a black funeral, or in a situation of violence, has the effect of reducing the level of state violence. But as a result of that truth, there have recently been support groups established. At the invitation of a family in a black community which feels it's going to be threatened, a white person or family comes into their home and sleeps there for a night or a week. There is a rota system, so that the home continually has a white presence in it, for as long as necessary. This has saved people's lives.
The most difficult area to work in is at the level of schools. This is the terrain the state most tightly controls since it is the young who can be so easily influenced. That is also part of LIC -- infiltrating the mindset of young people. Our experience of resistance from the state and harassment from the state has been the most intense when we've tried to get into schools to speak and present alternatives to the students. We have a system of high school paramilitary training in the white schools. The state has completely resisted when we've tried to come in to present alternatives to that.
Recently we held a peace fair with games and competitions which was part of our campaign. It was quite popular and many people came. The morning of the fair a helicopter dropped pamphlets over the crowd against us and our organisation. Fortunately, some eagle-eyed person managed to pick up the registration number of the helicopter. Tracing later showed that it was a helicopter hired out by the SADF. Through one of our contacts in the white assembly of parliament we asked questions of the relevant ministers of defence and police. They completely denied that the state had anything to do with the helicopter escapade. But the matter was pursued and they were eventually forced into a corner. In fact, they had to admit that they were responsible -- at taxpayer's expense -- for hiring a helicopter to drop stupid pamphlets over a fun fair.
In their defence, they used the reasoning that South Africa is involved in a state of war, thus the normal processes of law can be suspended in carrying out the defence of the state. That is an example of LIC strategy.
Hit squads are also a part of this reasoning that normal processes are suspended. One of our activists was on a hit squad list, but because he was constantly moving around, he wasn't found. Then he had a meeting with the hit squad person assigned the task of eliminating him -- quite a bizarre situation. And this person said in the interview that he felt he was completely justified in carrying out the assassination because it was in the interests of the security of the state. He felt completely above the law in being able to do that.
We are in a situation of growing militarisation -- a situation where militarised mentality is the order of the day. And it's been growing, particularly during the P W Botha era where security management systems and conscription were on the increase, and Europe and other countries were not supporting the arms embargo and were building up the military forces.
Julio Quan mentioned that in Nicaragua one in every ten people are armed. Well, in South Africa in the white community, one in every two people own firearms. Some of those own more than one weapon each. And those are the weapons that are officially owned through licences. In the black community where it is not so easy to get a licence to buy arms, there is massive production of amazingly innovative weapons. It's gotten so serious that when Nelson Mandela came to speak a few weeks ago he made an impassioned plea that went as follows:
"My message to those of you involved in this battle is take your guns, your knives and your pangas and throw them into the sea. Close down the death factories. End this war now."
Last year in South Africa , there was one murder every 45 minutes, one serious assault every 4 minutes, one rape every 26 minutes, one car theft every 9 minutes, one robbery every 10 minutes, one burglary every 3 minutes.
That shows the extent of this spiral of violence and the whole culture of militarisation that we have and that is our challenge to try to change. And it isn't simply going to change once the apartheid government is removed from power. It is a long term challenge for us and for the concept of nonviolent action and civilian defence.
Lawrence: We are in fact very grateful to our white brothers and sisters who have stood by us in times of persecution, like when the vigilantes attack or when the police harass the black communities. Their presence has actually stopped some attacks from taking place.
But we are easy targets, and it's a shame we have to ask the white community for help, to serve as repellents. These are acts of desperation, but they serve to extend a hand of friendship and love to our white brothers and sisters in South Africa. Therefore we value their presence.
When a black person reports something after having witnessed an attack or act of violence, even though it is the truth, chances are very slim that people will believe what he or she says. But when something is witnessed by a white person, it is taken to be the truth. When these attacks happen, which happen sometimes even with white people there, it is a least taken to be the truth when a white person has witnessed it, and people act accordingly.
But I would like to sound a word of warning. We don't accept just any white. We are very careful who comes in to give us the kind of protection we need. So it must be people who identify solely with our struggle and who long to see a new alternative society come about peacefully.
Like the Indians in Central America, whose government is working to destroy their culture, we too have lost our dignity and humanity as a result of an oppressive regime. Our people are just beginning to try to rediscover their ways and humanity. It has so brutalised us, not just militarily, that our culture has also been persecuted. Our people now look down on their own culture.
Our culture requires us to live a communal life. But it is no longer communal with the introduction of Western civilisation. We are no longer concerned about the needs of our neighbours. These are some of the things we are tying to regain. The Coca-Cola and hamburger culture has viciously fought for the destruction of that profound culture that black people had in their land of birth.
Any culture which is not geared to bring about one nation, self-respect, or self-reliance is a culture that has to be rejected with the contempt it deserves. We are in a process of trying to revive our culture and those things that made our communities one, those things that built up our people into one human entity.
We are not giving in to LIC. We are empowering our people, developing our people through such things as self-help projects, where people learn to be self-reliant. We have developed communal gardens, so we don't have to go to a white man to buy our vegetables.
Other projects such as sewing and candy-making allow people to raise money. In these ways we try to frustrate the regime, so that we're not entirely dependent on its mercy. We too can develop our lives so we get to a point where we can say in a new society that we need nothing from white people.
But another warning for those who think we want nothing to do with white people. In the new South Africa that we're looking for, there will be one nation built by one humanity, where the dispossessed will have a share in the land of their birth, where the disenfranchised will have a vote as well as a future which will determine the humanity of white people as well. As long as we blacks are seen as being inhuman, so will white people be seen in return. So long as our freedom is denied us, freedom will also not exist for white people. For freedom is indivisible.
By Brian Martin
Brian Martin has been involved in the radical science, environment and peace movements since the '70s and has written widely in these areas. He works in the Department of Science and Technology Studies, University of Wollongong, Australia.
It was in 1980 that I first became involved in promoting social defence, along with several others in the group Canberra Peacemakers. At that stage we called it nonviolent defence, but the name didn't matter. No one that we knew had heard of it or understood a thing about it. So the immediate challenge was to be able to describe the idea in a readily understandable way to those unfamiliar with it. It wasn't long before the phrase "Social defence is nonviolent community resistance to aggression as an alternative to military defence" came tripping off our tongues.
This abstract explanation still didn't mean much to most people, so we amplified the description by referring to strikes, boycotts and non-cooperation. If there was a bit more time, a few historical examples were very helpful, such as the resistance to the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. Thus, gradually, began an education in the arguments about social defence.
Since then, I have had many interesting experiences in speaking about social defence. Talks to military officers, government bureaucrats and left-wing activists each have their own particular challenges. Still, in some ways the most testing audience is interested members of the "general public".
It doesn't take long to find that there are a number of standard questions and common concerns. This applies whether talking to a large audience or to an individual friend.
Although I have read quite a lot about social defence over the years -- and written on the topic myself -- I never really thought about the fact that there was no simple introduction to the arguments for speakers. After all, it was a continual challenge to encourage others to develop their skills at speaking about social defence. It was only at the social defence conference at Bradford, England in April 1990 that it really became obvious to me that there was a need for more practical materials about social defence. By contrast, there are some superb academic studies, and there are numerous insights to be found in a wide range of books and articles.
I think that the most useful introduction to arguments about social defence is one that is honest about limitations of the arguments themselves. Therefore, although I am an advocate of social defence, I've tried to point out the weaknesses of some of the replies (as well as the strengths).
I've also tried to avoid presenting a single prescription about social defence. There are a number of ongoing disputes about what how it should be organised and promoted. I have my own views and these have undoubtedly coloured my presentation. Perhaps my strongest commitment is to widespread participation in promotion of social defence. This is reflected not so much in the particular answers here, but in the existence of this material itself.
In almost every case, the "best" answer is one tailored to the circumstances of the speaker and listener. The responses included here can at most be a starting point.
It's also important to remember that there are no official "right answers" on social defence. After all, social defence has never yet been introduced. As Johan Niezing, one of the world's foremost theorists on social defence, told me, "There are no experts on social defence." Arguments are only one part of the promotion of social defence. Other activities are also necessary. One of the most enjoyable and challenging things in my involvement with social defence has been developing ways to promote it that go beyond trying to convince governments to implement it. The second part of this manual is titled "actions", and is intended to include all sorts of ways for people to promote social defence. (Of course, presenting the "arguments" of part 1 is also a form of action. Therefore, to be precise, the second part should perhaps be called "other actions".)
The sorts of actions that have most interested me are ones that can be carried out by an individual or a small group -- small here meaning from two to perhaps ten people. This is because my own work on social defence has mainly been with small groups. Undoubtedly there are many valuable things that can be done with large groups too! If you have the luxury of working with a large group committed to social defence, there should be plenty of ideas for activities surging forward.
My emphasis on actions for small groups also reflects my belief that social defence should be organised in a decentralised fashion, with maximum local autonomy.
Experience with actions to promote and implement social defence is very limited. My own involvement in a number of small projects has served to show the immense range of possible actions. But until there has been more practical experience with actions, it is largely speculation whether they will work in any particular situation. The best thing is to try things out and see what happens. The learning process can be rapid. I have emphasised actions that have been tried, but included also ideas for possible actions. I have also given extra attention to projects with which I have personal experience, because then it is possible for me to give a more realistic picture of strengths and weaknesses. Since there is a common practice of publicising one's successes and keeping quiet about one's failures, there is always a risk of over-optimism in relying on published accounts.
Needless to say, there are undoubtedly many other actions that I have not heard about. I would be greatly pleased to hear from others about both arguments and actions, and will do what I can to publicise the experiences of others.
In compiling both arguments and actions, I have relied heavily on previously published materials. Several portions of text are taken directly from the broadsheet "Social defence" produced by Canberra Peacemakers in 1982 and written by Nick Hopkins, Claire Runciman, Frances Sutherland and myself. Much of the material on social offence is taken from a leaflet "Resist repressive regimes" produced by Schweik Action Wollongong in 1987 and written by Terry Darling, Lisa Schofield and myself. Sources for a number of the arguments and actions are given in the text.
I thank Barbara Clark, Howard Clark, Christine Schweitzer, Hans Sinn and Ralph Summy for valuable comments on an earlier version.
What is social defence?
Social defence is a nonviolent alternative to military defence. It is based on widespread protest, persuasion, non-cooperation and intervention in order to oppose military aggression or political repression. It uses methods such as boycotts, refusals to obey, strikes, demonstrations and setting up alternative government.
Social defence is nonviolent community resistance to aggression. This includes defence against military aggression, defence against government oppression of local communities, and defence against male violence against women. Social defence is nonviolent defence of the vital features of society -- including human rights, local autonomy, and participation -- against all oppressive forces.
These two answers correspond to two orientations among supporters of social defence. They can be called the narrow and the broad definitions. Each definition has its advantages and disadvantages. In the following answers, the narrow definition will usually be assumed. To supplement the examples here about resistance to military aggression, those favouring the broad definition can readily provide examples from struggles by feminists, environmentalists, peace activists and others.
Is social defence the same as civilian-based defence?
Yes. There are actually several different names that all mean about the same thing. The main ones are social defence, nonviolent defence, civilian-based defence and civilian defence.
It is usually unfruitful to get into discussions about names, except with people promoting social defence who need to agree about what they are going to call it. The different names do have different connotations. The expression "civilian-based defence" usually refers to nonviolent defence operating under direction of a government, whereas the expression "social defence" often refers to nonviolent defence based on grassroots initiatives.
I don't see how passive resistance can possibly succeed against an aggressor.
Social defence is not passive. Its core is nonviolent action, and this includes strikes, fraternisation and setting up alternative institutions. There are also offensive measures to be taken, such as communications to undermine international and domestic support for the aggression. Social defence does not mean just sitting there and accepting whatever the aggressor inflicts.
It is a common misconception that nonviolence is passive. The expression "passive resistance" has been used to describe a type of nonviolent resistance, but usually it is better to avoid it since it gives the wrong impression.
We've just had a protest action at a local military base. Isn't that social defence?
No, not if social defence is defined as an alternative to military defence. Social defence is nonviolent community resistance designed to counter military invasions and coups. Your action is an excellent example of nonviolent action in a more general sense. Of course, there is a very close connection between social defence and nonviolent action: social defence is based on the use of nonviolent action. Social defence means that the functions of the military are eliminated or replaced (or, at the very least, supplemented). There can be lots of nonviolent action in a community but if the military is still present, there is the potential for waging war and carrying out repression.
This answer is based on the narrow definition of social defence. Using the broad definition, the answer might be "yes" if the action were part of a strategy to develop community resistance to oppression and aggression.
Why not just keep using military defence? It's the established system, after all.
There are several serious problems with military methods.
(l) War. Military forces can be used to attack as well as to defend. The weapons of modern war are designed for killing vast numbers of people, and also can devastate the environment. As long as armies and armaments are present, there is a possibility that they will be used. There are numerous wars occurring around the world today, and there is a continuing possibility of the extensive use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as well as increasingly deadly "conventional" weapons.
Since the development of planes and missiles, everyone -- civilians as well as soldiers -- is on the front line in a war. Social defence provides a way for everyone to take responsibility for defence, unlike military methods.
(2) Arms races. Military methods tend to encourage the very threat they are intended to defend against.
If a country relies on social defence and cannot launch a violent attack, then other governments will find it harder to justify their reliance on violence for defence. It is harder to convince soldiers of the justice of their government's war if they are attacking an unarmed opponent.
Since social defence contains no military capability, nuclear attack and aerial bombardment become pointless and harder to justify.
(3) Military repression. One of the greatest threats to freedom and democracy in many countries today is military forces. If military forces take over the government, who will stop them? Who guards the guardians?
With social defence, this problem does not arise, since social defence is based on popular participation and so removes the dependence on a professional defence force. The nonviolent methods used against a foreign aggressor can also be used against local military forces that try to take power.
(4) Reduced democracy. Military forces are based on hierarchy and obedience. They train people to kill on command. This is contrary to the equality, questioning, mutual respect and dialogue that help promote a democratic society. The influence of military systems often inhibits or thwarts greater participation in the rest of society.
Social defence is much more compatible with a society based on equality and wide political participation.
What methods are used in social defence? You've mentioned boycotts and strikes. Can you be more specific?
Gene Sharp, the leading researcher on nonviolent action, has identified 198 different types of nonviolent action and given examples of each one. Sharp divides the methods of social defence into three categories: symbolic actions, non-cooperation, and intervention and alternative institutions.
Symbolic actions, including: formal statements (speeches, letters, petitions); slogans, leaflets, banners; demonstrations, protest marches, vigils, pickets; wearing of symbols of opposition (such as the paper clips worn by Norwegian civilians during the Nazi occupation); meetings, teach-ins.
Non-cooperation, including: social boycott, stay-at-home; boycotts by consumers, workers, traders; embargoes; strikes, bans, working-to-rule, reporting "sick"; refusal to pay tax or debts, withdrawal of bank deposits; boycotts of government institutions; disobedience, evasions and delays; mock incapability ("go slow", "misunderstandings", "mistakes").
Intervention and alternative institutions, including: fasts; sit-ins, nonviolent obstruction and occupation; sabotage (such as destruction of information and records); establishment of parallel institutions for government, media, transport, welfare, health and education.
Rather than listing these in an abstract fashion, the most persuasive thing is examples that are meaningful to your audience. If there has been an effective strike recently or a potent symbolic protest, refer to it and then comment "Now just imagine this sort of action being well prepared in advance and systematically used against an aggressor."
A second option -- usually second best -- is to refer to historical examples of nonviolent actions. So, if you are mentioning the effectiveness of speeches, you could refer to the speech by the leading church figure that led to the ending of the Nazi euthanasia programme. If you learn one or two historical case studies really well, you can develop the examples in a systematic fashion. This is preferable to picking examples from too large a range of cases, which sounds less coherent and may open you to criticism from people who know, or think they know, about the cases themselves.
Reference: Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1973).
How can nonviolence work? We know that violence works by forcing or frightening people into submission. How can nonviolence be anywhere as effective?
Social defence is based on the principle that no regime -- whether democracy or military dictatorship -- can survive without the passive acquiescence of a large fraction of the population. In other words, all societies are built on consent, cooperation and obedience. Social defence is designed to systematically disrupt this consent, cooperation and obedience and replace it by non-cooperation and disobedience.
If, in a business corporation or a government body, large numbers of the workers refuse to carry out instructions, set up their own communications systems and mobilise supporters from the outside, the top officials can do little about it.
This idea applies to military forces themselves. If only a few soldiers refuse orders, they can be arrested or shot and discipline maintained. But if large numbers refuse to cooperate, an army cannot function. This occurred during the Algerian Generals' Revolt (see description), in the collapse of the Russian armies during World War One, during the Iranian Revolution (see description) and many other times.
This is an abbreviated account of the consent theory of power, as presented by Gene Sharp and others. This theory has its own limitations, but theoretical debates are not appropriate for most discussions of social defence. Rather than give this sort of answer, an alternative is to give examples of the effectiveness of non-cooperation and not worry about the theoretical explanation.
How did the idea of social defence develop?
The idea of nonviolent resistance to aggression can be traced to a number of writers, including Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Elihu Burritt (a Christian pacifist), William James and Bertrand Russell. The campaigns led by Gandhi in South Africa and India were important in developing the idea of a nonviolent alternative to war. Gandhi himself began advocating defence by nonviolent resistance in the '30s. A number of writers were inspired by Gandhi and developed his ideas. In the '30s, advocates of a nonviolent substitute for war included Richard Gregg, Bart de Ligt, Kenneth Boulding, Jessie Wallace Hughan and Krishnalal Shridharani.
Perhaps the first fully-fledged description of a national social defence system was by Stephen King-Hall, a British writer and former naval officer, in his 1958 book Defence in the Nuclear Age. He thought that British parliamentary democracy could be better defended from communism if the military were abolished and replaced by organised nonviolent resistance. King-Hall's treatment moved social defence onto the agenda as a pragmatic rather than just a moral alternative.
Shortly after this, the idea of social defence was developed by various researchers including Theodor Ebert in West Germany, Johan Galtung in Norway, Adam Roberts in Britain and Gene Sharp in the USA. Since then, these and other researchers have worked on the idea, inspired both by historical writing about nonviolent struggles and by contemporary use of nonviolent action in a variety of campaigns. I can recommend a number of excellent books and articles on social defence.
Any brief summary of the history of ideas is bound to be incomplete and unfair to the contributions of some people. Furthermore, the full history of ideas of nonviolent struggle is yet to be written. Perhaps the most important point here is the interaction of theory and practice. This is why it is useful to emphasise Gandhi and his campaigns and also some more recent campaigns such as the US civil rights movement, the peace movement, the feminist movement and the environmental movement.
What about practical action towards social defence? Who is supporting it today?
Nonviolent struggle has been used for thousands of years in a wide variety of contexts. (See examples.) But, as mentioned before, the idea of social defence has really only been around since the '50s and '60s, and it is not yet widely known among the general public.
There is a relatively small degree of formal endorsement of social defence. Many green parties endorse social defence, as do a number of activist groups.
On the other hand, a large number of groups -- such as environmental groups and social justice groups -- make very sophisticated and conscious use of the methods of nonviolent action. The development of these skills and experience in nonviolent action lays a good foundation for the development of social defence.
For a list of activities and contacts, see "Actions".
Illustrations from history can show how nonviolent action works and suggest the potential for social defence. Nevertheless, there are a number of reservations which are worth remembering. Whether to mention these reservations, and when, depends on the audience, their knowledge of nonviolent action and the type of discussion.
Historical examples do not prove the case for social defence -- or anything else. For every example of effective nonviolent action, another example could be provided of ineffective nonviolent action. Historical examples are like tools in a box. They can be useful for hammering points home, but if you try to build a grand edifice, someone else may be able to bring it tumbling down.
Historical examples are not examples of social defence, but rather of nonviolent action of the sort that might be part of a social defence system. In many cases, nonviolent action was largely spontaneous. There was little preparation, no training and little planning.
Each example has its own specific limitations as an example. Some of these limitations will be mentioned below. If there is someone in the audience with special knowledge, your nice example may be spoiled. Be prepared to admit the shortcomings of each example.
On the other hand, there is no need to be overly defensive about the examples. For every failure of nonviolent action, there is a failure of violent action (usually with far more horrendous consequences). It is useful to regularly make comparisons with historical examples of the use of violent action to put things in perspective.
The writing of history always involves interpretation and, therefore, value judgments. Some writers, such as Gene Sharp, who favour the use of nonviolent action undoubtedly present certain historical episodes in a different light than writers who assume that state power or class struggle or whatever is the crucial issue. This only serves to emphasise the point that historical examples are like tools in a box. Different people pick different tools and use them for different purposes, whether to show the potential power of nonviolence or the necessity of warfare.
It is important to emphasise coups, since they are often overlooked in the usual comparisons between having military forces and having none. Military regimes are, arguably, just as serious a problem as warfare itself. In such cases, militaries obviously are a cause rather than a solution to the problem.
On 13 March 1920 in Berlin, there was a putsch (military takeover) led by General von Lüttwitz. The extreme right-wing Dr Wolfgang Kapp became Chancellor. Commanders of the German army refused to support the elected government and took no action against the putsch. It was left to the people to take action.
Germany's Weimar republic had been set up after the country's defeat in World War One. The government in 1920 was led by President Friedrich Ebert. In the wake of the coup, the government fled from Berlin to Stuttgart, from which it encouraged resistance by non-cooperation.
When the Kappists took over two pro-government newspapers, all Berlin printers went on strike. The Ebert government called for a general strike throughout Germany. Support for the strike was overwhelming, especially in Berlin, and included groups from most political and religious orientations.
Opposition by civil servants was also crucial in opposing the coup. Workers in government bureaucracies refused to head government departments under Kapp.
Non-cooperation ran deep. Bank officials refused to honour cheques presented by Kappists unless they were signed by appropriate government officials. But not one such official would sign. Typists were not available to type proclamations for the Kappists.
Kapp foolishly alternated between making concessions and attempting crackdowns, neither of which produced support. As his weakness became more obvious, opposition increased. Some military units and the security police declared their support for the legal government. After only four days, Kapp resigned and fled. With the collapse of the putsch, the Ebert government could once again rely on the loyalty of the army.
The Kapp putsch is an excellent example because of the many types of nonviolent action used. Especially important is the crucial role of legitimacy for any government. People usually think of a military regime as inevitably getting its way, but in practice it only does so when people routinely obey. For bank officials to refuse to cash cheques is a wonderful example of the ordinariness of non-cooperation. This example also has the advantage that the nonviolent resistance was successful.
The historical context is important in understanding the putsch. The Weimar republic was an attempt at setting up parliamentary democracy in the most difficult of situations. Not only was the economy in tatters, but there was serious opposition from both the right and left. There had nearly been a revolution in Germany in the aftermath of the war. The Ebert government could rely on the army, a bastion of conservatism, to oppose left-wing insurgency. On the other hand, the army generally did not oppose threats to the republic from the right, and most military leaders sat on the sidelines during the Kapp putsch. Popular action was necessary to defeat the putsch precisely because the army did nothing.
Another element in the story of the putsch is the role of armed workers' groups in several parts of Germany. This left-wing armed struggle was an attempt at social revolution rather than just opposition to the coup. After the defeat of the putschists, the Ebert government used the army to smash the workers' opposition -- including the general strike in Berlin, which was still continuing. General von Seeckt, who declined to oppose the coup, had no hesitation in using force against the workers.
It should also be remembered that the Weimar republic was followed by the Third Reich, in a transition that largely occurred through legal channels, including elections. The issue of the rise of the Nazis to power is a complex one. It is worth noting here that the Weimar republic regularly resorted to article 48 in its constitution, which essentially was a provision for martial law, in order to stop threats, especially from the left. This was reliance on government repression of civil liberties, backed by the military. Clearly, there was no policy to develop the capacity of the population to use direct action to protect freedom and democracy (not to mention the overthrow of capitalism). The Kapp putsch led to a spontaneous mass exercise in nonviolent resistance, but this had no lasting consequences.
Reference: DJ Goodspeed The Conspirators: A Study of the Coup d'état (London: Macmillan, 1962).
Until 1962, Algeria was a colony of France. Beginning in 1954, an armed independence struggle was waged by Algerian nationalists against French settlers who were supported by French military forces. In April 1961, French president Charles de Gaulle indicated that he was prepared to negotiate with the Algerian nationalists.
Leading sections of the French military in Algeria, who were strongly opposed to Algerian independence, staged a coup on 21-22 April 1961 in the city of Algiers. They were initially very successful, encountering little open resistance from loyal sections of the military. There was a possibility of a parallel putsch in France, or an invasion.
Resistance to the coup developed rapidly. Trade unions and political parties called a one-hour general strike, and ten million workers joined. After some delay, de Gaulle, in a broadcast on 23 April, called for non-cooperation with the coup by both civilians and troops. Although the rebel generals controlled the Algerian media, French broadcasts were picked up by many French soldiers in Algeria on their transistor radios.
In Algeria, many soldiers refused to cooperate with the coup. Many pilots flew their transport planes or fighters out of Algeria. Others faked mechanical problems. Many soldiers just stayed in their barracks. Others caused inefficiency in administration and communications.
After four days the coup disintegrated. Not a single shot had been fired at the rebels.
The special value of the example of the Algerian Generals' revolt is the many methods of non-cooperation used by soldiers. This is a good example to use when talking with military personnel! They, possibly more than anyone else, need to know of the power of non-cooperation and of their responsibility to consider resisting rather than obeying orders.
Just because the revolt collapsed in four days, just like the Kapp putsch, does not mean that all coups last only four days!
It should be noted that the revolt and nonviolent resistance to it came towards the end of the long and bloody war for Algerian independence. The Algerian independence movement used ruthless methods, as did the French colonial army. As many as a million people were killed in the struggle. It might be asked whether an unarmed liberation struggle could have achieved independence with less loss of life. One key point is that the French army could be relied upon to fight the Algerian nationalists -- if they didn't, they would be killed. The limited loyalty of the French conscripts, and their low level of support for the war, was indicated by their non-cooperation during the revolt. Arguably, the liberation struggle didn't make full use of potential dissent within the French army because of the polarising violence of the war.
Reference: Adam Roberts, "Civil resistance to military coups",Journal of Peace Research, Volume 12, 1975, pages 19-36.
Other military coups: Poland, 1981. Reference: Jan Zielonka, "Strengths and weaknesses of nonviolent action: the Polish case" Orbis spring 1986, pages 91-110.
Fiji, 1987. Reference: Brian Martin, "Lessons in nonviolence from the Fiji coups" Gandhi Marg, Number 114, September 1988, pages 326-339.
The usual justification for having military forces is to stop an invasion by another state's military forces. Therefore it is essential for advocates of social defence to give examples of what to do about invasions. But coups and repressive regimes should be emphasised too, especially since it is more obvious that military strength is the cause rather than the solution of these problems.
The Ruhr, 1923
The Versailles treaty at the end of World War I required that Germany pay reparations to the victorious allies. Due to disastrous economic conditions, Germany defaulted on payments. In response, in January 1923 French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr, a region bordering France and Belgium. The French government by this action also hoped to keep Germany weak economically and militarily.
Germany was unable to mount military resistance due to its small army and collapsing economy. The German government called instead for non-cooperation. This struggle was called the Ruhrkampf.
There were many varieties of non-cooperation carried out by employers, trade unionists, government workers and many others. There were rallies, strikes and boycotts. Railway workers refused to cooperate, and were dismissed. A French company was brought in to operate the railways, but the departing German workers sabotaged the equipment. The few trains that ran were boycotted. There was also resistance from civil servants, shopkeepers, trade unions and the press.
French authorities enacted severe penalties, with many fines, arrests, detentions, deportations, long prison sentences, confiscations, beatings, forced labour and shootings.
Some groups engaged in violent resistance, carrying out sabotage that led to deaths. This led to severe reprisals by the occupiers, undermined the unity of the resistance and weakened international support for it.
On 26 September 1923 the resistance was called off unconditionally by the German government. The German economy virtually collapsed in massive inflation partly caused by the printing of money to fund the resistance. But there were potent effects on the other side too. French public opinion was outraged by the brutality of the occupation, and this contributed to the fall of the French government in 1924.
Economically too, the occupation failed to achieve the extraction of resources for which it was originally designed. A revised schedule of reparations was arranged by an international commission (the Dawes Plan). Occupation forces were withdrawn by June 1925.
This is a good example to answer the question, "what if the enemy just occupied part of the country?" It is also a good illustration of how severe repression by an occupier can be counterproductive. Of course, France in 1923 was a "democratic" country, so that public opinion could exert considerable pressure. On the other hand, this was just five years after the 1914-1918 bloodletting of the western front, during which Germans were depicted in propaganda as cruel and inhuman huns. No doubt the nonviolence of the resistance contributed to the development of sympathy among the French public.
Reference: Wolfgang Sternstein, "The Ruhrkampf of 1923: economic problems of civilian defence", in The Strategy of Civilian Defence: Non-violent Resistance to Aggression Adam Roberts ed (London: Faber and Faber, 1967), pages 106-135.
In the '60s, a number of reforms were made in Czechoslovakia which reduced the repressive aspects of communist rule. These moves -- so-called "socialism with a human face" -- were strongly supported by the Czechoslovak people, but bitterly opposed by the Soviet government.
On 20-21 August 1968, a military invasion of Czechoslovakia was launched by hundreds of thousands of troops from the Soviet Union and four other Warsaw Pact countries, with the expectation of installing a pro-Soviet government within a few days. Military resistance would have been bloody and futile, so the Czechoslovak government instructed the army not to resist the invasion.
The Czechoslovak people, from the political leadership to the workforce, united in spontaneous nonviolent resistance to the occupation. Non-cooperation with the invaders was practised at all levels: by the president, by army officers, by shopkeepers, by farmers and even by secret police. People sat in front of tanks. Streets signs and house numbers were removed, and false information given out. People talked with the Soviet troops -- who had been told they were invading to stop a capitalist takeover -- and undermined their loyalty so rapidly that many had to be rotated out of the country within a matter of days.
Underground newspapers were published. Radio and television were broadcast (from changing locations), providing news and greatly helping the resistance. The announcers called strikes, gave tactical instruction on street confrontations, requested rail workers to slow the transport of Soviet equipment, cautioned against rumours and counselled nonviolence.
The nonviolent nature of the resistance undermined Soviet propaganda justifying the invasion. All acts of violence against the invaders received heavy Soviet media coverage. Indeed, some violent incidents apparently were staged by Soviet forces to discredit the resistance.
Due to the unified civilian resistance and to the demoralisation of Soviet troops, Soviet leaders offered reforms and other concessions. The Czechoslovak leaders, held in Moscow and isolated from the resistance, did not really understand how effective it was. Under extreme pressure, they made compromises. This demoralised the opposition. As the Czechoslovak position weakened, the Soviet forces consolidated the occupation, removing their "unnecessary" concessions.
The Czechoslovak example is one of the best examples of nonviolent resistance to invasion because of the wide variety of effective methods used, especially fraternisation and the radio.
It is important to note that military resistance was not even tried. The Czechoslovak military sat on the sidelines, and Western forces likewise did nothing. Czechoslovak soldiers did provide some help to the resistance, for example in maintaining radio broadcasts.
The resistance can be judged a success or a failure depending on which comparison is made. The most active phase of resistance lasted only a week, but a puppet government was not installed until April 1969, eight months later. The resistance was important in causing a massive loss of Soviet credibility around the globe, especially in Western communist parties, at a minimal loss of life. Arguably, a violent resistance would not have been so successful in this.
Reference: Philip Windsor and Adam Roberts Czechoslovakia 1968: Reform, Repression and Resistance (London: Chatto and Windus, 1969).
Other occupations: Hungary by Austria, 1850-1867
Norway, Denmark, Netherlands by Germany, 1941-1945
Toppling of repressive governments
El Salvador, 1944
Maximiliano Hernández Martínez became the dictator of El Salvador in 1931. Although he introduced some valuable reforms, he ruthlessly crushed political opposition. In 1932, an armed uprising was brutally crushed by the military, who executed many thousands of campesinos (small farmers) in reprisal.
In 1943, there were stirrings of opposition, with leaflets and petitions. The government responded with increased censorship, arrests and other controls.
The opposition was stimulated by US government rhetoric of a fight for freedom and democracy against Nazism. Also important was outrage over constitutional changes allowing Hernández to serve a further six-year term as president.
On 2 April 1944, there was a military revolt, which was repressed harshly. This helped to trigger a nonviolent insurrection. University students took the lead and organised a student strike, which spread to high schools. Over a period of a few weeks, physicians and businesses joined the strike, until virtually the entire country was at a standstill, including government offices, banks and railways. This was essentially a stay-at-home strike, which cut most services.
Police shot at some boys, killing one. As a result, large crowds surged onto the streets. On 8 May, Hernández agreed to resign, and he left the country three days later.
The military was not used against the insurrection. The unreliability of the soldiers had been shown by the 2 April revolt. The officer corps, which was loyal to Hernández, did not risk using the army against the population.
While the nonviolent action of the people was enough to bring down Hernández, it was not effective in ensuring a transition to a nonrepressive society. There was a military coup later in 1944. The years since have seen continued oppression of Salvadorean people.
This example is useful to counter the widespread perception that Latin American politics consists of right-wing military dictatorships, sometimes confronted by left-wing guerrillas. The toppling of the repressive government of Guatemala a few weeks later in 1944 -- stimulated by the example of El Salvador -- is another instance.
The case of El Salvador is also useful in illustrating that even in a police state there are opportunities for effective unarmed resistance, although of course at a risk. A seemingly simple leaflet can be a very significant form of defiance. Wider non-cooperation can be triggered by the process of open resistance, via strikes and further leaflets. If nothing is done by the government, others are emboldened to join in; repressive steps, on the other hand, can cause outrage and an expansion of resistance.
The limitation of the example is the poor outcome. There was no strategic plan behind the resistance: individuals and groups acted to bring down Hernández, but there was little thought about how to make the process lead to a stable and less repressive society.
Reference: Patricia Parkman Nonviolent Insurrection in El Salvador: The Fall of Maximiliano Hernández Martínez (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1988).
Iran under the Shah was an incredibly repressive state. The secret police were pervasive, and torture was used routinely to terrorise the population. Income from oil was used to finance a giant military machine. In addition, the Iranian government was actively supported by the United States government and was not opposed by the Soviet Union, Israel and most Arab states. Yet this seemingly impregnable regime was overthrown without arms. There was horrific violence, almost all of it against unarmed opponents of the government.
The regime was riddled with corruption and out of touch with the needs of the people. Many groups opposed the Shah, from communists to Islamic fundamentalists.
Protest escalated in 1978. Troops opened fire on a crowd, killing several people. A mourning procession, held in Islamic tradition 40 days after the deaths, turned into a political protest, and troops were used again. Each time people were killed, this became a trigger for further protest 40 days later. Gradually more and more secular opponents joined the processions and religious demonstrations.
There were also massive strikes and go-slows in factories. Oil and power workers, crucial to the economy, were key participants. Eventually the economy ground to a halt, although food continued to be delivered.
The government was unable to stem the tide of opposition. The Shah vacillated between concessions that were unconvincing and repression that alienated more of the population. The Shah had created such a fawning entourage that he received no realistic advice. (Becoming a megalomaniac, out of touch with the people, is an occupational hazard for dictators.)
Martial law was declared in September 1978, but the cycle of demonstrations, killings of demonstrators and increased opposition continued. Strikes and closure of shops expanded until the economy was in collapse.
The spiritual leader of the Islamic resistance, Ayatollah Khomeini, was in exile. Cassette tapes of Khomeini's speeches were smuggled into the country and distributed through the bazaars, which were key centres for opposition sentiment. Khomeini made calls for soldiers and police to desert.
Eventually the troops refused to obey and instead joined the revolution. The Shah fled the country and Khomeini became the new head of state.
Unfortunately, this revolution carried out without arms did not lead to a nonviolent society. The secular dictatorship of the Shah was replaced by a theocratic dictatorship which, after solidifying its power, was just as ruthless as its predecessor in stamping out dissent. Furthermore, the Islamic Republic waged a bloody war with Iraq for most of a decade, leading to many more deaths than under the Shah.
The Iranian example is outstanding in showing that unarmed resistance can work against the most repressive regime. It is a risky example because of the widespread loathing of the Islamic Republic in the West. (This loathing may be well deserved, but it is partly due to a systematic campaign of vilification by Western governments, supported by news media. The repressive regime of the Shah was a key element in the Western military planning, so its abuses of human rights were largely ignored.)
If you are able to make the distinction between the nonviolent methods used in the revolution and the repressive regime that came to power after the revolution, then this is a useful example. After all, military forces were not used to undermine the Shah: they were supporting his rule. There were some left-wing guerrilla opponents of the Shah, but they were small in number, infiltrated by state agents, and served to justify government repression. It was the power of the people that won the day.
The opposition was not entirely nonviolent. As well as demonstrations, strikes, go-slows and closure of businesses, there were many riots, often triggered by shootings by soldiers. The key point, though, is that armed struggle against the Shah played almost no role.
It is worth noting that the loyalty of the regime's troops is a key to revolution, whether violent or nonviolent. The nonviolence of the movement helped undermine the loyalty of the troops.
Some might argue that tens of thousands of people killed is a high price to pay. But this is a relatively small figure compared to many revolutions won by guerrilla struggle.
References: David H. Albert (ed.) Tell the American People: Perspectives on the Iranian Revolution (Philadelphia: Movement for a New Society, 1980); Fereydoun Hoveyda The Fall of the Shah (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980).
Other repressive governments: Guatemala, 1944; Philippines, 1986
Other nonviolent struggles: Indian independence movement; United States civil rights movement
What about severe repression? What about ruthless invaders who just keep killing people at the least hint of resistance? What can be done to stop a programme of total extermination? How can social defence possibly work against repressive regimes such as the dictatorships of Hitler and Stalin?
This is one of the most challenging questions about social defence, and also one of the most common ones. There are several ways to respond.
Nonviolent resistance can be successful against very repressive regimes. There are several relevant historical examples. Against the Nazis, there was effective nonviolent resistance in several countries, including Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands. The Iranian revolution occurred in the face of a ruthless military and torture apparatus [see description].
This answer emphasises the successes of nonviolent action. People need to know about these. They help to counter the idea that repression is all-encompassing and unstoppable. But the historical examples are limited in their persuasive value, since the Nazis were not toppled by nonviolent resistance, and the Iranian revolution, while largely nonviolent itself, did not replace the apparatus of violence in Iran.
Even the most ruthless dictatorship depends for its existence on passive support or nonresistance by a large fraction of the population. No government in history has been so powerful that it could function without a fair degree of consent or acquiescence. If the regime adopts unpopular policies and tries to repress all opposition violently, this will cause ever larger numbers of people to oppose and resist the government.
This answer is based on the theory that power rests on consent. It will probably fail to convince those who are not somewhat sympathetic already. Examples are needed to address the imagined problems of life under a horribly repressive regime.
Real-life dictatorships are not as all-powerful as might be imagined. The Nazi regime relied on support from a significant fraction of the German people through most of the Third Reich, and on several occasions public protest led to changes in policies. Under the brutal military regimes in Argentina and Chile, many individuals continued to openly express opposition in the workplace, in public protests and in the media. Student protests have shaken the harsh regimes in South Korea and Burma. If nonviolent resistance could be prepared for and expanded, then dictatorships would be difficult to sustain.
For example, consider the courageous stand of publisher Jacobo Timerman in Argentina, who maintained his newspaper's open resistance until he was arrested and tortured. An international campaign led to his release and he wrote about his experiences in a powerful book. His efforts were among those that contributed to the collapse of the generals' regime in the country.
This answer can be made more effective if you can describe detailed experiences in nonviolent resistance under severe repression, such as the Timerman example. It is worth linking this answer to the previous one of the crucial role of consent.
Reference: Jacobo Timerman Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number translated from the Spanish by Toby Talbot (New York: Vintage, 1982).
You are asking the wrong question. Ruthlessness -- namely, the psychology of the ruler -- is not the key factor.
The real question is how to make sure that the ruler is dependent in some way on the nonviolent resisters. This might be economic dependence or it could be the influence of family members who know people in the resistance. If there is a dependency relationship, then the ruler will encounter great obstacles if severe repression is used. But if there isn't some direct or indirect connection between the two sides, then even a fairly benevolent ruler may do really nasty things. Dependency, not attitude, is the key.
This answer can be quite effective if there is time to explore examples of how the dependency relationship works.
International support is important too, and there are many opportunities for nonviolent resistance to repressive regimes from people on the outside. [For more details see the section on social offence.]
The methods and tactics used in social defence need to be specially chosen if repression is harsh. More use can be made of quiet "mistakes" in carrying out tasks and "misunderstandings" of orders. Preparation in advance is crucial for things such as shutting down factories, protecting dissidents, providing food and shelter for survival, maintaining communications and exposing repression to the world. When support for the resistance becomes widespread, open defiance becomes possible.
Describing "what to do" is effective because it appeals to people's practical sense of tackling a difficult task.
It is seldom easy to stop a ruthless invader or ruler, whether using violence or not. Military planners routinely anticipate thousands or millions of casualties in opposing the enemy, most obviously in the case of waging a nuclear war. Social defence planning must also prepare for the heavy casualties. If people are not willing to sacrifice, then perhaps they should think again about whether resistance is worth the cost.
This is not an answer for the uninitiated or the fainthearted. The question of whether a social defence should be prepared to "accept" heavy casualties is a fundamental challenge, and has hardly been discussed. Of course, advocates of military methods seldom discuss this either -- Herman Kahn did so in his book On Thermonuclear War and caused an uproar -- but have implicitly "agreed" to "accept" heavy casualties. Military planners and governments make this decision on behalf of their populations. Social defence is different in that the resistance depends on popular support. This is why the issue of heavy casualties seems more acute for social defence than military defence: people have to take responsibility for the sacrifice themselves, rather than letting rulers do it.
Reference: Gene Keyes, "Heavy casualties and nonviolent defense", Philosophy and Social Action volume 17, numbers 3-4, July-December 1991.
Nonviolence didn't work against the Nazis. It couldn't have worked anyway.
This is a special case of the question about how social defence can work against severe repression. It is worth listing several responses, both because the Nazi example is often raised and because it illustrates the types of responses that are possible on other historical examples.
Nonviolence couldn't work because it was not tried, in a big way, against the Nazis. Many Germans were ardent supporters of the Nazis, and many people in other countries were admirers as well. Supporters of military methods tended to be especially favourable to the Nazis.
There was no concerted attempt from outside Germany to undermine the Nazis using nonviolent methods. Stephen King-Hall gives a telling account of how he tried futilely as late as 1939 to drum up British government support for a campaign to undermine the German people's support for Hitler. There has been no further study on this issue, so it remains a possibility that concerted nonviolent attack from around the world could have undermined or restrained the Nazi regime.
Throughout the rule of the Nazis, there was a German opposition to Hitler. This internal opposition was not fostered by the Allies, nor has it been given sufficient credit by post-war writers.
This is a potentially powerful answer, but it has to confront deep-seated beliefs that since the Nazis were so formidable militarily, nonviolence wouldn't have had a chance. The idea that the Nazis relied on public support is hard to get across.
Reference: Hans Rothfels, The German Opposition to Hitler (London: Oswald Wolff, 1961).
The case of the Nazis should not be removed from its historical context. It is unfair to set up a worst case -- the rise of a ruthless regime and its solidification of power -- and then expect nonviolence to be a solution without its own process of development and solidification.
This is true, but may not be convincing. If advocates of social defence use historical examples that they choose, they need to be able to respond to examples chosen by others.
Violence did not "succeed" against the Nazis. The normal assumption underlying the Nazi example is that only violence -- namely the allied war effort -- would have worked against the Nazis in a period less than decades.
The war by Western governments was against German military and political expansion, not against the ruthless system of fascism alone. The allies in World War Two did not attempt to topple the fascist regimes in Spain and Portugal. After the war, the allies allowed or encouraged many fascists to obtain positions of power. Essentially, the war was about power politics, not justice and freedom. Western military strength has not been used against numerous dictatorial regimes around the world, but instead has frequently been used to prop them up.
Examples of the mythology (or hypocrisy) of the allied war effort are provocative to many people and must be used carefully. Beliefs about the holiness of the cause of the allies are possibly as deep-rooted as those about the necessity of military force.
References: Naom Chomsky and Edward S Herman The Political Economy of Human Rights (Boston: South End Press, 1979); Tom Bower Blind Eye to Murder: Britain, America and the Purging of Nazi Germany -- A Pledge Betrayed (London: Andre Deutsch, 1981).
Nazi genocidal politics were not the reason why Western governments waged war against Nazi Germany. There is ample historical evidence that easy opportunities to disrupt death camp operations were passed over by the Allied governments. The policy was explicitly to win the war first and stop genocidal killing afterwards. The allies minimised any association of their cause with that of the Jews.
Indeed, genocide has often been permitted to proceed with no military intervention by "non-ruthless" governments. The Turkish government's extermination of the Armenians in 1919, Stalin's purges in the '30s and the Cambodian exterminations from 1975 to 1979 are major examples where military forces in other countries stood by and did nothing. Of course, the killings were carried out by, or with the support of, the militaries in the countries where they occurred.
This is a direct challenge to the usual ideas about genocide and the need for military defence. Note, though, that it does not describe how nonviolence would stop genocide.
References: Leo Kuper Genocide (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981); Martin Gilbert Auschwitz and the Allies (London: Michael Joseph, 1981).
The Nazi extermination of the Jews and other stigmatised groups did not begin until after the war began. In effect, the war provided a brutalising environment conducive to the killings as well as a cover for them. Much of the blame for Nazi genocide can be attributed to the war itself.
Again, this is a direct challenge to the usual ideas about genocide. These issues are often bound up with powerful emotions in people. Tread carefully.
How can nonviolent methods have a chance in the middle of a violent confrontation, such as a war? If resisters lined up against troops, they would just be shot down.
This is perhaps the most difficult situation of all. Yet in the midst of war and massacres, nonviolent action has often made a difference.
The best time for nonviolent action is before a war gets going. Nazi Germany was much more vulnerable to nonviolent sanctions during the '30s than once war broke out.
The situation you are describing in one in which both sides are strongly committed to violence, as in the civil war in El Salvador or the war between Iran and Iraq. We can't really speak of social defence until there is a significant commitment to nonviolent methods by at least one side.
In many cases, wars and massacres persist because outside governments either do nothing or provide arms and support for killing. Supplies of arms and purchases of oil kept the Iraq-Iran war going. Resolute nonviolent action from the international community would have a powerful effect in such situations. The trouble is, this approach is seldom carried through.
This is question for which there is no good answer. A problem caused by reliance on violence is posed, and then advocates of nonviolence are asked to come up with a solution. Examples can be effective here, since in many cases "democratic" governments have supported the forces of repression. Stepping back from the current fighting and looking at what led to it can show many opportunities for nonviolent intervention.
How could nonviolence have possibly worked against Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait?
Social defence by the Kuwaiti people was probably not a possibility, since Kuwait was a grossly unequal and authoritarian society. The time to stop Saddam Hussein was much earlier, in the '80s. Nonviolent opposition was required then against the governments of Iraq, Kuwait and others in the Gulf region that were repressive and undemocratic.
A principal reason why Saddam Hussein's Iraq became such a military power and threat was the support given by outside powers. His invasion of Iran in 1980 was supported by the governments of the United States, the Soviet Union and many other countries. Numerous companies sold him arms and technologies of repression. Governments were silent about his use of chemical weapons against Iranians and against Kurds in Iraq and about his brutal repression of political opponents in Iraq. He was given diplomatic support right up until the invasion of Kuwait.
Since many governments gave Saddam Hussein support during the '80s, a key role for nonviolent action should have been to expose and oppose the hypocritical foreign policies of Western governments. That is a lesson for the future. There are plenty of repressive regimes in the world today being given full support by Western governments.
Notice that this question is a special case of the previous one.
The case of Iraq can be a trap, because the agenda for action was set by governments, especially the US government. It is easy to start telling about the courageous initiative of the Gulf Peace Camp set up between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, the effectiveness of the sanctions or the importance of addressing the real grievances of peoples in the Gulf region. But it should be emphasised that Iraqi military strength and adventurism were aided and abetted by numerous governments. Why should this be considered a "hard case" to deal with by nonviolent action? It is actually a much harder case to justify for the proponents of military strength, the arms trade and "pragmatic" power politics.
Surely you wouldn't just sit and do nothing while soldiers raped your mother or your wife?
I would do my best to use nonviolent methods to prevent and stop rape. Using violence might make the situation worse.
Reference: John H Yoder What Would You Do? (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1983).
That isn't the real issue. Social defence is about the collective defence of a society, and whether nonviolence is a better way to do this.
Military systems are a major contributor to rape, not a solution. Armies are commonly involved in rape of civilians as well as killing and looting. Many female soldiers and wives are raped in "peacetime". Anything that helps to remove or replace military systems also helps to reduce rape.
Reference: Cynthia Enloe Does Khaki Become You? The Militarisation of Women's Lives (London: Pluto, 1983).
Most rapes in our society are by people known to the woman -- especially husbands. There is also a much higher rate of child sexual abuse -- by male relatives, especially fathers -- than most people realise. Scare-mongering about rape by strangers, including enemy soldiers, diverts attention from the most important issue, male domination. Armies are male dominated, and can only contribute to the problem.
Almost all combat soldiers are men, and armies are essentially male institutions. Associated with this, women are often expected to be passive and are not encouraged to develop their skills at resistance.
Social defence challenges this pattern. It involves both men and women developing skills for nonviolent struggle. Many of the things involved in developing social defence -- including support networks, nonviolent action training and building individual and community self-reliance -- can also be used to act against rape.
It is a challenge for us to develop campaigns against rape that are linked with campaigns towards social defence. There are some positive connections, unlike the situation with military defence.
If there's a military coup, what are you going to do to stop rape by soldiers -- especially when they threaten to shoot the woman if you resist?
The question about rape is not strictly about social defence, but it must be answered. (There are other questions like this that are encountered by people who speak on peace issues.) There is no single best answer, because much depends on the audience and the tone of the discussion. A calm, "rational" answer like response 1 may work, but not if there is lots of emotion behind the question. Response 2 is logically correct but probably ineffective.
Responses 3 to 5 take up the fundamental issues and challenge the usual assumptions underlying this question. Many people commonly assume that soldiers are there to protect the population, and believe that "our" soldiers wouldn't hurt us. Response 6 is a more emotional one. If you pitch it correctly, this sort of response can be very effective.
Question 1. Why should we just wait to be taken over?
Question 2. How can social defence work against harassing threats?
Question 3. What about the invader that takes over a remote, sparsely populated part of the country, sets up a fortified border, and gradually takes over more and more territory?
Rather than just planning for nonviolent resistance to an invader, there are also nonviolent ways to take the struggle to the opponent. This is one way to oppose harassment such as border violations.
Just as military defence always includes a capacity for offence, so social defence can include a capacity for offence. There are many possible techniques to oppose coups and repression in other countries.
You can Write letters: This is simple but influential. Letters to repressive governments or their embassies in your country, stating your concerns, can have an impact, as demonstrated by Amnesty International's letter-writing campaigns against torture. Letters to local newspapers are an effective way to get your message to the public. Letters to opponents of repressive regimes can provide valuable information and moral support.
You can Organise discussions: This can range from informal conversations between two people to large public meetings. Discussions and meetings are vital for sharing the information, insights and skills necessary to stimulate and organise effective action.
You can Make public statements: This can be done individually or as a group. You can produce and wear a T-shirt, pin up a poster, organise or sign a petition, make statements to the media and organise small rallies.
You can Support trade union actions: This is of symbolic and economic importance. This action can be initiated or promoted by individuals in unions or by several unions as a group. Trade union bans and public statements have been very important in challenging military power in the Philippines.
You can Support action through organisations: Religious, sporting, artistic, women's, youth and many other groups can have an impact by distributing information to members, making public statements and instituting bans.
You can Join boycotts: Don't wait for governments to do it. Your shopping dollar makes a difference. Boycotts of South African goods have helped to end apartheid.
You can Communicate through organisations: Churches, diplomatic services, banks and other corporations often make regular contact across national boundaries, for example through phone calls and computer links. These channels can be used to pass other information in the course of normal business.
You can Communicate via visitors: Both personal and official visitors provide another means of getting information to and from a country.
You can Refuse to be a tourist: Instead, write to the foreign government saying you won't visit until democracy is restored. This has been of symbolic and economic importance in the case of Fiji.
You can Help people escape repression: They need invitations, visas, money and jobs.
You can Communicate via short-wave radio: Repressive governments often cut off communications, especially just after a coup, such as in East Timor after 1975, in Poland in 1981 and in China in 1989. Short-wave radio allows people to communicate directly over long distances, outside government control.
You can Join or support nonviolent intervenors: For example, the organisation Peace Brigades International sponsors nonviolent activists to enter violent conflict situations, such as in Guatemala and Sri Lanka. By their very presence, they inhibit violence. They may try to mediate between opposite sides, accompany individuals threatened by violence, organise publicity, or do practical work for the local community.
Nonviolence has been tried and failed, as in South Africa. Violence cannot be ruled out in liberation struggles.
It's just as true to say that violence has been tried and failed, so it is necessary to use nonviolence. The unarmed intifada has brought more worldwide support for the Palestinian cause than previous more violent actions.
In South Africa and other countries, nonviolence was not used to the full extent. Often people gave up in the face of repression. Nonviolent struggle does not mean that there is no violence from the other side.
Although the claim that nonviolence has been tried and failed is, on close inspection, a weak one, it does point to the limited development of nonviolent practice. Not often enough are nonviolent struggles carried though against really repressive opponents. There are insights still to be learned about how to build morale through a long campaign entailing much suffering. Militaries, using the insights of psychology, have learned how to build morale in their relatively small, homogeneous and hierarchical organisations. A similar learning process is necessary to create the basis for a really powerful social defence.
Social defence is not guaranteed to succeed.
Indeed, it isn't. But neither is military defence guaranteed to succeed. The question is whether social defence is a better system when all things are taken into account.
Social defence won't work against nuclear weapons. It has no deterrent value.
Correct, if the enemy actually decides to use them. But neither does any other defence work against nuclear weapons once they are launched. (Civil defence provides some protection. It may be worth considering.)
The real question is whether social defence provides deterrence. Military armaments -- especially nuclear weapons themselves -- supposedly provide deterrence by threatening to devastate any attacker. Yet nuclear weapons also justify the threat they are supposed to defend against.
Social defence provides deterrence because it offers no threat. To attack an unarmed society with nuclear weapons would be the ultimate outrage, and cause an incredible backlash throughout the world, including in the attacking country.
Nuclear weapons have never been used against relatively poorly armed, "defenceless" countries that are outside nuclear alliances: Burma, Rwanda, Costa Rica, and so on. Leaders of nuclear states realise that any such attack would be unthinkably counterproductive.
Social defence is not really peaceful. It perpetuates the idea of the enemy, and so has more in common with military defence than with a peace based on harmony throughout the world, which should be our real aim.
Correct! Social defence is a system designed for a world in which there can still be fierce social struggle, but in which violence is not used. It seeks an end to war, namely mass organised violence. It does not promise a golden age of total harmony.
I'm not sure whether or not world peace, in the sense of universal harmony, is possible. I support the quest for such a world peace, but I think it is only something for the distant future. (This is the same as what some proponents of the military say about social defence!)
Social defence provides tools for nonviolent struggle to confront the problems in the world today. Arguably, this is compatible with the search for ways to supersede the problems altogether.
This is a standard criticism from some pacifists. I think it is best to be honest about the different philosophy behind social defence. It is really about seeking nonviolent, constructive struggle rather than abolishing the need for struggle at all.
I wouldn't want to defend this society. It has a small rich elite while many people live in poverty. There is no real democracy: a small ruling class manipulates politics to serve vested interests. Human rights are trampled on. Minority groups suffer enormously from discrimination and harassment.
I agree that the present system has a lot of problems. But it may still be worth defending against even greater oppression and repression. A military dictatorship with widespread torture and killings would be much worse.
You are correct. Social defence simply won't work unless people are willing to defend the core values of their society. Yet history shows that people will support a military defence of a repressive regime against a worse one, as in the Soviet resistance to the Nazis in World War Two. Surely the same could apply to social defence?
The ability to wage nonviolent struggle against an invader also gives people the power to oppose inequalities and oppression in their own society. Joining a social defence effort might be just the way to challenge the shortcomings of the society.
This really gets to the core of what defence is all about. What is worth defending in society? Who should act to defend it, and how? These fundamental issues are seldom discussed. Discussions about social defence often bring them to the fore, which is all for the better whatever stance people may take.
People wouldn't sit around to be attacked. They will resist violently whether you like it or not. I'll be heading for the hills to join the guerrilla resistance.
The challenge for social defence is to demonstrate that it is the most effective way to resist. Otherwise some people will head for the hills and possibly end up being massacred as well as helping to justify violent attacks on the nonviolent opposition.
A social defence system will offer plenty of opportunities for people who want to make courageous and potentially dangerous stands. In fact, some of the rebels in present society, who are often in trouble with the authorities, could well become the heroes in a nonviolent resistance. Perhaps a social defence system should provide real glamour for certain types of resistance, while trying to remove the romantic image of violence.
Some of the people who say they'd join a guerrilla resistance are engaging in wishful thinking. Without practical skills and a deep commitment, violent resistance is a losing proposition. Most urban dwellers have many more skills for nonviolent resistance (though often without realising it). The key, therefore, is building their commitment.
The claim that people would prefer to join a guerrilla resistance does raise the important issue of the glamour attached to violence. Social defence is sometimes presented as entirely a carefully planned, rational and almost bureaucratic enterprise. Although planning and training are crucial, social defence also needs to be seen as exciting, challenging and involving real creativity. If it's all these things, it will almost certainly be a good defence.
There are too many social and cultural divisions in our society for people to unite and support a nonviolent resistance. The special conditions that allowed nonviolence to work in India simply don't apply here.
Actually, India was not (and is not) an especially promising place for developing a unified resistance. The country is severely splintered by religious differences, the caste system, economic inequality, language, and sexual inequality. The prospects are better just about anywhere else!
You are right that divisions in society weaken the ability to unite for a nonviolent resistance (or for a violent resistance for that matter). But sometimes the threat to a society is so overwhelming that differences are set aside for the time being. In any case, an important priority in the development of social defence is addressing inequalities and divisions in the society.
Couldn't social defence be a supplement to military defence?
Yes, it could be. A combined system of military and social defence has both strengths and limitations.
A combined system promises to have the advantages of both methods. The military defence would serve for deterrence purposes and to protect borders. But if the military were defeated, nonviolent resistance could then spring into action. This would solve a key limitation of military defence, namely that the consequence of military defeat is total surrender.
The disadvantage of a combined system is that the social defence system is compromised by the violence in the initial military defence. An enemy is less likely to be inhibited against attacking nonviolent resisters if the attackers have already suffered casualties. Furthermore, it becomes much harder to win support from within the country from which the attack comes, because the resistance can be painted as essentially violent.
Even if a total replacement of military defence is superior, there inevitably will be a period of transition in which capacities for both types of resistance exist. In practice, there will probably be situations in which military power isn't used to resist. For example, in the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, there was no military resistance. (Some soldiers helped the nonviolent resistance.) Furthermore, the greatest danger in most countries is a military coup rather than invasion, and of course military forces are the cause of the problem. All this is an argument to build the capacity for social defence as much as possible.
There is an ongoing debate about whether combined military and social defence is an appropriate option. Supporters include members of military forces who are sympathetic to social defence, but who realise how difficult it is to argue for complete conversion.
There is little useful evidence about combining military and social defence. Sweden does this, but the component of social defence is too small to provide much insight.
One likely consequence of combining military and social defence is that the overall defence system, including social defence, is under the command of government and military planners. This could well be detrimental to social defence, for which large-scale participation and decentralisation of leadership is important.
It may be a diversion to get into debates about combined military and social defence. The imbalance between the two is so great now that the main thing is to expand the capacity for social defence.
I don't think most people have the moral commitment to nonviolence required for social defence.
Many people use nonviolence for pragmatic reasons, because it works better to defend the important things about a society with less loss of life and freedom. In other words, nonviolence is more effective than violence (especially taking into account arms races, military coups, nuclear weapons, and so on). A moral commitment to nonviolence is not required.
Some people would argue that a moral commitment to nonviolence is a valuable thing, and will make social defence more effective. But, at least currently, it is not an obligation!
Is a moral commitment to violence required for military defence?
Some people think that there must be a moral commitment to nonviolence because they assume that violence is necessarily more effective than nonviolence. They also associate nonviolence with struggles in India and with Gandhi, which they assume were entirely motivated by moral commitment. These assumptions need to be challenged.
Raising the connection of moral commitments to military defence is a good way to stimulate thinking about this issue. In fact, many people have developed a deep-seated commitment to the need for force via the military.
Couldn't social defence be used to oppress people? It might be used by racists, for example. How can we make sure it is used for only good causes?
You are right that nonviolent methods could be used for oppression. But this is not nearly as big a problem as it is for violent methods.
First, social defence depends on widespread participation. Oppression is much less likely when most sectors of the population are involved. Severe repression is usually carried out by a tiny fraction of the population.
Second, even if nonviolent methods are used in undesirable ways, the consequences are less severe than with violent methods.
Third, effective nonviolence requires communication and dialogue, unlike violence. The other side needs to be listened to as well as talked to. This means any oppressive use of nonviolent action will be much more likely to be brought to people's awareness.
You have pointed to a crucial issue. It is vitally important that any action -- violent or nonviolent -- be directed to a good cause.
In many cases, governments use (or fail to use) nonviolent action in ways that support oppression. For example, outside support for Iraq's repressive regime, through trade and diplomatic recognition, enabled it to carry out ruthless attacks on the Iraqi population as well as the invasion of Kuwait.
Social defence is a tool that can be used for the wrong cause. Activists need to carefully study the situation before intervening.
Social defence doesn't seem relevant here. There are no military threats looming and a military coup is unthinkable. Why are you so concerned?
Although things may seem peaceful now, a threat could arise very quickly. Military alliances can change rapidly and friends become enemies. Just look at the changing relationships between the United States, the Soviet Union and China in the past century.
A military coup is not as unlikely as you might think. A social crisis, such as a severe economic downturn, could be the precursor of a coup. This is what happened in Uruguay. Once called "the Switzerland of South America", in a short period it came under the sway of a ruthless military government.
As long as military systems exist, there is the chance of war and repressive government. During the century of "peace" in Europe after 1815, many people thought the problem of war was coming under control by use of treaties and alliances. The period after 1914 should have dispelled this myth.
Actually, now is a good time to develop social defence. Because there is no immediate threat, we have the opportunity to introduce and test an alternative system.
This question highlights one of the dilemmas for advocates of social defence: when the danger of war is low, the perceived need for an alternative is also low, but when war is at hand, the use of nonviolent action may seem too late or too difficult. Perhaps the root of this problem is that defence is seen as someone else's responsibility -- namely the military's.
What changes in society would be necessary for an effective social defence?
Social defence is possible in society just as it is today. Perhaps the most important thing is the willingness of people to actually resist. But social defence, like military defence, can be made much more powerful by preparation.
Most important is people's understanding of their own capabilities and of the dynamics of nonviolent action. For example, workers must understand the power of strikes, telecommunications workers must understand the power of information and everyone must understand the power of symbolic action.
In general a social defence system will be stronger when a society is more self-reliant and, in particular, not dependent on or subject to groups of elites.
An aggressor will probably want to take over industrial production, for example. This can be resisted by management and workers. But if brutality is used, then individual resisters may be killed or agree to cooperate. In order to be prepared for this, facilities should be designed with resistance in mind. On the one hand, facilities producing goods for the population should be designed so that production can continue even after key managers and workers are removed. On the other hand, it should also be possible to close down production in case it is taken over by the aggressor. One suggestion is that there be crucial and difficult-to-replace pieces of equipment which could be broken if necessary. Replacements could be kept in a safe place, such as a foreign country. In this way, even torture could not get production going again.
Note that changes of this sort mean loss of control by managers and an increase in skills and responsibility by workers. After all, the crucial pieces of equipment could be broken at any time.
At present, energy systems such as electricity production are quite centralised and hence subject to takeover. A population would be more self-reliant if there were a move to greater energy efficiency and decentralisation. Communities with energy-efficient buildings with solar heaters and local wind generators are more resistant to threat than communities dependent on supplies of fuel and electricity.
The same applies to transport. Communities designed to maximise reliance on walking and cycling are less vulnerable than ones built around either mass transit or the automobile. Similarly for food. The greater the production of food in local gardens, the less the vulnerability to disruptions in the food supply.
Communications is another vital area. Systems that allow individuals to communicate with each other with low potential for disruption or monitoring are the best for social defence. Centralised, one-directional systems such as television are the most vulnerable: they can be taken over or destroyed by just a few troops. Network systems are much better: face-to-face conversation, telephone, short-wave radio and CB radio are good systems for social defence. Among the print media, the reliable typewriter and photocopier are accessible to just about anyone, unlike sophisticated printing presses.
Self-reliant systems need to be mutually supportive. For example, if central electricity systems were cut off, this would make it impossible to use most word processors and photocopiers. But with local generators, publishing could continue.
Learning foreign languages and about foreign cultures is crucial for a social defence system. This is necessary to communicate to invaders and to people in countries from which attacks might come.
One of the difficult issues for a society with social defence is how decisions are to be made. The weakest part of the resistance is likely to be the official leaders. They may be killed, arrested or subjected to incredible pressure to cooperate with the aggressors. The rest of the population should be prepared to continue the resistance even in the face of pleas or pronouncements from official leaders to surrender. This means that the official "leaders" should not have exceptional power or status. The more egalitarian the society, the more likely it is that there will be talent and initiative in depth ready to continue the resistance.
I could say much more on what a society with social defence would be like, but much of this is speculation. No one knows what changes would be most effective, since none of them have been tried. It is difficult to say for sure what would work, since this depends on the people themselves being involved in the development of the system.
You will have to use your judgement about whether to discuss the potentially radical changes in society that might accompany a social defence system. Some people are comfortable with present society and will be threatened by the idea of workers controlling production and so forth. They want to hear, most of all, how social defence can work in society as it is today.
Others, though, aren't really interested in social defence if it means defending present society. They want favour greater self-reliance, person-to-person communication, egalitarian relations, and the like.
Another argument that might be used is the relation of a reliance on military defence to the nature of society. To a greater or lesser degree, present systems of industrial production, energy, food, transport, communications and politics are attuned to the requirements of the military, which means being amenable to centralised control. In other words, a militarised society is one based on command and obedience. A social defence society would be one based on self-reliance and independent action.
What role will police play in a society that has converted to social defence? Wouldn't they have to use weapons, for example against individuals who rush about in a murderous frenzy? Couldn't they use the weapons against the population?
This is a serious issue. In Costa Rica, there is no army but the police have become militarised and almost turned into a surrogate army. No one has really addressed this issue.
Very few activities of the police require arms. But some situations seem to. There is a need for further development of nonviolent methods to control individuals who become dangerously violent. It should be remembered that if a social defence is based on community self-reliance, there would be greater community responsibility for "policing", too.
The police probably cause more crime than they prevent. Criminologists know that the crime rate has little connection with the level of policing or imprisonment. Most prisons breed crime, and most police forces breed corruption. If social defence is a viable alternative to the military, then surely it can be extended to deal with crime. After all, what is war except organised crime controlled by governments? In the words of sociologist Charles Tilly, "If protection rackets represent organised crime at its smoothest, then war making and state making -- quintessential protection rackets with the advantage of legitimacy -- qualify as our largest examples of organised crime."
Reference: Charles Tilly "War making and state making as organised crime", in Peter B Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer and Theda Skocpol (eds) Bringing the State Back In (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pages 169-191.
This is a very difficult question. It raises the basic issues of social control, and raises, in many people's minds, the spectre of chaos that would engulf any society without violence to maintain order. The answer you make to this question will reflect how much you want to challenge conventional assumptions.
Doesn't social defence require too much discipline?
A social defence system will only work if people believe in what they are defending. If they do, then discipline will not be a big problem.
People welcome some types of discipline and resist others. The discipline of many sports teams, drama companies and search-and-rescue teams shows that people will accept discipline for things they believe in. On the other hand, discipline is difficult to achieve in schools, armies and many workplaces because people feel compelled to do things they don't really want to do.
The experience of wars shows that people are capable of making incredible sacrifices to defend their society. On the other hand, studies of soldiers in wartime show that most people are extremely reluctant to kill even for a cause they believe in. The challenge for social defence is to tap the commitment for defending a community, without having to make people kill. In principle, this shouldn't be as hard as what the military has to do.
What do we do about national boundaries? Without an army, couldn't people just move into the country from all parts of the world?
If the local people were opposed to massive immigration, they could use a variety of nonviolent methods to resist it.
It is important to help political or economic refugees. Leaving a community is, after all, one way to refuse to cooperate. Much more needs to be done to develop ways to integrate refugees into our society.
Most refugees are fleeing either war, political repression or economic oppression. The techniques of social offence can be used to challenge militaristic and repressive regimes. In addition, massive economic changes are required to reduce the exploitation of poor peoples in poor countries, both by Western governments, corporations and banks, and by the wealthy elite in the poor countries.
The fear of refugees is widespread and deep-seated in many Western countries. It is bound up with nationalism and racism and protection of privileged living standards on the one hand, but also with concern about a way of life and a sense of community on the other. The former concerns are connected with militarism, the latter with the potential for social defence. Hence there is no simple answer on this issue.
Discussions about what a society with social defence would be like can be fascinating, but they can also divert attention from practicalities. It would be futile to wait until society is self-reliant and so forth before introducing social defence -- after all, the system of military force is part of what needs to be changed to change society. The challenge is to develop initiatives for people to intervene in the present society-military system and move toward a more self-reliant, egalitarian society and social defence system.
How can social defence be brought about?
There needs to be much more research into the dynamics of nonviolent action and how it has worked historically, as well as investigation into the practicalities of conversion from military defence to social defence. (This process is called transarmament.) Also, we need to develop the arguments for social defence and take them to influential people in government and the military as well as the general public. Once it is realised that social defence is a superior approach, some governments will begin transarmament.
This approach is based on the power of logic and the ability to introduce reforms from the top. Popular pressure on elites provides an additional incentive. This approach has the advantage of appearing independent of special interest groups and thus appealing to a wide cross section of the population, including those in top positions. Its disadvantage is its reliance on those who have the greatest vested interest in the present system to bring about change.
In Switzerland in 1989, a citizens' initiative to abolish the army obtained more than one third of the vote. This was an astounding performance considering the limited resources of the group Switzerland Without an Army, and the opposition of the government. Groups in other European countries have been stimulated to promote similar initiatives. Eventually armies may be abolished by popular mandate. Of course, a country without an army will need to rely on nonviolent methods for defence.
This approach is based on persuading people that armies are counterproductive and unnecessary, and using the mechanism of the citizens' initiative to bring about institutional change. The advantage of this approach is that it brings the issues to the general population and puts decision-making power in their hands. Its disadvantage is that there is no guarantee that even a majority vote will lead to actual abolition of the army, since there is no force, aside from the law, to make the government obey the vote. In addition, a campaign to get people to vote a certain way does not empower them to take the direct actions required for social defence. Finally, only some countries make provision for citizens' initiatives.
We cannot expect the government to introduce social defence on its own. Therefore, the best approach is to develop the capacity of individuals, groups and communities to use nonviolent action to defend themselves and the things they believe in. Campaigns for social defence can be linked to campaigns by workers, women, peace groups, minorities and others.
The actual introduction of social defence is not likely to occur as a process of normal policy. Instead, nonviolent resistance may be stimulated by a crisis such as increased government repression, a military coup or an invasion. In such a crisis situation, many people will eagerly seek out information about resistance. A move to social defence might be possible in the aftermath of such a crisis.
This is the model of "grassroots action", relying on local initiatives as the basis for social defence. Its advantage is that campaigns can be undertaken today to develop the capacity for nonviolent resistance. In addition, the linkage to social movements provides a foundation for experimentation and development of the practice of nonviolent action. Its disadvantage is that there is no orderly process of transarmament, no mechanism by which the military can be disarmed and social defence become generally accepted. This shortcoming is linked to the lack of any model for general nonviolent transformation of structures of power and privilege.
The most fruitful way to develop social defence is by promoting social offence. There needs to be a vast expansion of action by people supporting nonviolent opponents of repression in other countries. This is less risky than challenging one's own military, and can unite people from a range of political perspectives. By gaining practical experience in nonviolent action against repression in other countries, people gain insights and skills that can readily be used against repression at home.
The philosophy behind this approach resides in the familiar saying that, "the best defence is a good offence". Most people are genuinely altruistic and are willing to act against repression elsewhere, as testified by the success of Amnesty International. The advantage of this approach is the possibility of mobilising people and giving them experience in relevant nonviolent action, as well as developing international solidarity. Its disadvantage is the relatively limited repertoire of nonviolent actions that operate from far away, and also the lack of any programme for replacing the military.
It is impossible to graft social defence onto a society that it is not suited for it. The best approach is to promote campaigns to change society to become more self-reliant, participatory and equal. When society has changed sufficiently in this direction, then introduction of social defence will be a natural process. People will only defend their society when it is worth defending.
Instead of promoting social defence in a society built on hierarchy and inequality, this approach aims to change society so that it is worthy of being defended by its members. The advantage of this approach is the focus on the conditions for social defence, and on the systems of hierarchy and dependence which are linked to government and military repression. The disadvantage is that the possibility of mobilisation for social defence is postponed into the indefinite future.
The question of how social defence could or should be introduced is a subject of some debate among its proponents. It is accurate to say that, because social defence has never been introduced, no one knows for sure how to do it. Differences concerning the best method reflect differing views about the nature of society, especially the possibility of reform versus the necessity of radical change.
What about all the soldiers? What will they do when armies are disbanded? What about arms factories? What will the workers do instead?
There are plenty of worthwhile things that need doing, in areas like health, education, housing and social welfare. At the end of World Wars I and II, there were rapid demobilisations of massive armies and very rapid shifts to civilian production. So it is possible to convert to a nonmilitary economy. There is a lot of work being done on "peace conversion", which means converting skills and machinery from military production to nonmilitary production.
References: Gene Keyes, "Force without firepower: a doctrine of unarmed military service", CoEvolution Quarterly number 34, summer 1982, pages 4-25; Seymour Melman The Demilitarized Society: Disarmament and Conversion (Montreal: Harvest House, 1988); Hilary Wainwright and Dave Elliott The Lucas Plan: A New Trade Unionism in the Making? (London: Allison and Busby, 1982).Contact: Center for Economic Conversion, 222C View Street, Mountain View CA 94041-9982, USA
Isn't social defence already part of the defence policy of some governments?
Yes. Sweden has a policy of "total defence", and this includes military defence, civil defence, economic self-reliance, psychological defence -- and social defence.
In several other countries -- most notably Switzerland -- the general population is considered to be essential to military defence. Although the focus is on military resistance, nonviolent resistance would inevitably be part of this.
In quite a number of countries, including the Netherlands, Denmark and Austria, there have been official government investigations into the possibilities for social defence. I expect that government interest will expand in coming years.
Not really. Although Sweden's policy of "total defence" includes social defence, it is really subordinated to military imperatives. In other countries, government interest in social defence has been limited and certainly has had no real impact on policy.
Government introduction of social defence has disadvantages. It may mean that control over planning is in the hands of the military, which will limit the prospects for future development. Furthermore, it may compromise a key function of social defence, namely to resist military coups.
These two responses reflect two orientations to government introduction of social defence: the optimistic and the pessimistic. A compromise answer would mention both the advantages and disadvantages of government-sponsored social defence.
If social defence is so good, then why hasn't it been tried before?
Social defence is a challenge to our present political and economic system. It puts power in the hands of the people that can be used against employers, government officials and experts. It is fundamentally at variance with military hierarchies which keep power and knowledge in the hands of a minority. The continuance of the military system is in the interests of a powerful few, including governmental elites, weapons manufacturers and those whose privileges are ultimately defended by force.
A second reason is that the idea of social defence is fairly new. Although nonviolent action has been used for centuries, it is only since the '50s that the idea of a nonviolent replacement for the military has been systematically developed.
Many people believe that present society is organised in the best available way. It can be very challenging to argue that present social arrangements are fundamentally flawed. The usual idea is that certain individuals, political parties or businesses are corrupt and need to be replaced. It is much more subversive to argue that the system of government or corporate management is to blame for problems, and furthermore that "corrupt" individuals within the present system are essentially well-meaning and behaving naturally within their environment.
The idea of social defence raises all these issues. Members of the military are not doing anything wrong or evil; instead, the system in which they operate has unfortunate consequences. The standard belief is that problems in society are due to individuals rather than social structures. The promotion of social defence must confront this belief at one stage or another.
What can I do?
That's the subject of the next section.
Many questions can be answered, but that may not satisfy people's real worries. Social defence represents a deep threat to some people. One reason is that it questions the assumption that professionals (the military) can take care of problems. Social defence requires people -- including those sitting in the audience -- to take responsibility. That's scary.
Therefore, it can be important to respond in a way that takes people's fears into account. Arguments that are logical may not be enough.
Other questioners hold strong beliefs that make social defence difficult to accept. Left-wing supporters of guerrilla warfare are an example; members of armed forces are another. Once again, logical arguments may not be enough.
American Friends Service Committee In Place of War (New York: Grossman, 1967).
Anders Boserup and Andrew Mack War Without Weapons: Non-violence in National Defence (London: Frances Pinter, 1974). This is one of the most important treatments available. It is especially valuable in giving insights into strategy. In recent years both Boserup and Mack have promoted defensive military defence rather than social defence.
Bulletin of Peace Proposals, volume 9, number 4, 1978. A series of articles on social defence.
Theodor Ebert Gewaltfreier Aufstand and Soziale Verteidigung (2 parts), Waldkircher Verlagsgesellschaft, Waldkirch, West Germany, 1981.
Civilian-Based Defense: News & Opinion, 3636 Lafayette Avenue, Omaha NE 68131, USA. The key English-language periodical on social defence, with articles and news from around the world.
Johan Galtung Peace, War and Defense. Essays in Peace Research, Volume Two (Copenhagen: Christian Ejlers, 1976). Galtung provides some superb insights into the structure of society and the role of nonviolent alternatives. His writing is usually abstract rather than practically oriented. In recent years Galtung has promoted defensive military defence rather than social defence.
Gustaaf Geeraerts (editor) Possibilities of Civilian Defence in Western Europe (Amsterdam: Swets and Zeitlinger, 1977). A useful collection of articles.
Steven Duncan Huxley Constitutionalist Insurgency in Finland: Finnish "Passive Resistance" against Russification as a Case of Nonmilitary Struggle in the European Resistance Tradition (Helsinki: Finnish Historical Society, 1990). A provocative scholarly study investigating the complex social dynamics underlying a case often cited in literature on nonviolent struggle.
Gene Keyes, "Strategic non-violent defense: the construct of an option" Journal of Strategic Studies volume 4, number 2, June 1981, pages 125-151. Valuable history of the idea of nonviolent defence, and valuable insights from Denmark under the Nazis.
Jørgen Johansen Socialt Försvar -- en ickevaldsrevolution (Morjarv, Sweden, 1990).
Stephen King-Hall Defence in the Nuclear Age (London: Victor Gollancz, 1958). A pioneering effort, this book reads very differently from most others in the area, especially in its anti-communism and uncritical support for British parliamentary democracy. Nevertheless, there are some provocative suggestions for nonviolent defence, especially at the international level.
Brian Martin Uprooting War (London: Freedom Press, 1984). Social defence is presented as a key feature of a grassroots strategy to challenge and replace the war system.
Christian Mellon, Jean-Marie Muller, and Jacques Semelin La Dissuasion Civile (Paris: Fondation pour les Etudes de Défense Nationale, 1987).
Johan Niezing Sociale Verdediging als Logisch Alternatief (Antwerp and Assen/Maastricht: EPO and Van Gorcum, 1987
Michael Randle People Power: the Building of a new European Home (Stroud, England: Hawthorn Press, 1991). Analyses people's power experiences in East and Central Europe in 1989-90 and discusses future relevance of social defence.
Adam Roberts (ed) The Strategy of Civilian Defence: Non-violent Resistance to Aggression (London: Faber and Faber, 1967). An excellent collection. The essays that include criticism of social defence are especially useful for advocates.
Adam Roberts, "Civil resistance to military coups", Journal of Peace Research volume 12, number 1, 1975, pages 19-36. A highly useful survey with valuable case material.
Gene Sharp Social Power and Political Freedom (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1980). A collection of Sharp's essays including some on civilian-based defence. Sharp presents his ideas slowly, carefully and systematically.
Gene Sharp Making Europe Unconquerable: The Potential of Civilian-based Deterrence and Defense (Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger, 1985). A general argument for civilian-based defence, without much practical detail. Sharp remains steadfast in his advocacy of nonviolent action and social defence, and is indefatigable in his effective writing and speaking.
A further English-language bibliography of some 70 books on civilian-based defence is available from the Civilian-Based Defense Association, Box 31616, Omaha, Nebraska 68131, USA. A French bibliography is available from MIR-IRG, 35 rue van Elewyck, B-1050 Bruxelles, Belgium.
Producing a leaflet or information sheet is a surprisingly valuable action if lots of people can be involved in it. If several people are involved in writing, editing and producing the leaflet, they all develop or improve skills which would be relevant in a crisis situation. On the other hand, if just one person in isolation writes the text and it is produced by an outside business with no connection to social defence, the impact of the production process is limited.
Even better is involving outsiders in discussions about the content of the intended leaflet.
In 1982, four members of Canberra Peacemakers set out to produce a large information sheet on social defence. We first had lengthy discussions about what things were to be included, and then divided up the writing of the initial draft into four parts. We each commented on each other's drafts until a moderately polished text was produced.
Then we circulated the text to a range of other people for comments. Getting the comments, discussing them and making changes in response to them (and sometimes not making changes) was a stimulating process.
There was also the task of collecting graphics, especially cartoons. When the text was finalised, we had it typeset, and then laid out the text and graphics -- a skill new to several of us.
The result was the social defence broadsheet. (A broadsheet is a large sheet of paper such as one taken from a newspaper.) We had expected this to be a preliminary effort, but it has proved useful for many years. Versions of it were produced in Canada and Britain.
Two years later, we revised the text to be more relevant to Soviet readers, obtained a Russian translation, and thus produced the Russian version of the broadsheet.
In 1983, Canberra Peacemakers produced a leaflet on "Social Defence and Public Servants". In Australia, government bureaucrats are called "public servants". Since Canberra is the national capital, public servants are the largest segment of the workforce.
We invited some friends who were public servants to join us in a meeting to develop ideas for the leaflet. We had several brainstorms (yelling out things to write on a piece of paper on the wall) to bring out ideas about how public servants could act against an invasion or coup. These ideas were then discussed.
After producing a draft of the leaflet, we circulated it to the people at this meeting, and to several other public servants, to obtain comments about accuracy and presentation. The result was a single sheet of paper giving a summary of social defence and particular actions that public servants could take. This was subversive because public servants are normally expected to take orders rather than act on their own initiative.
The leaflet possibly had more impact through the involvement of various people in its production than in its distribution.
Leaflets can be distributed in many ways. They can be displayed on racks, at bookstalls, given to friends and colleagues, passed out at rallies, mailed to interested people, and so on.
The most effective use of leaflets is with people who are interested in the topic. Putting them in every mailbox is mostly a waste of time and paper. It is better to have them available when social defence is being talked about. For example, if you lead a discussion or give a talk about social defence, you can have leaflets available for those who want them. Or perhaps you are organising a local neighbourhood meeting to discuss social defence. If you knock at the doors of neighbours, you can have a leaflet for those who are potentially interested.
After producing the Russian social defence broadsheet, the bigger challenge was to get copies into the Soviet Union. We contacted a few organisations that smuggled material into the country, and made the broadsheet available to them. As well, we gave copies to a few people who were travelling to the Soviet Union. In the years since 1984, a larger number of dissident groups have become open, and we have posted copies to a number of groups and individuals.
In only a few cases have we received replies from the Soviet Union as a result of these deliveries. Apparently it has been published in one of the leading democratic opposition papers. But even if the broadsheets are intercepted by the KGB, at least someone reads the material! It's not a secret, after all.
Written material is only one medium for communication. There are also radio, television, drama, posters, painting and sculpture. All of these and others are worth using.
After producing the broadsheet, members of Canberra Peacemakers wanted to try something different. We hit upon the idea of a slide show: a sequence of slides with a taped commentary. There were a couple of talented photographers who participated.
Actually, producing a slide show involves a lot of different skills, and this meant we had to ask a range of people to help. Many of them were friends who hadn't heard of social defence before.
The script: A couple of people worked on this. It required reworking to fit in with the ideas of the photographers.
Actors: Part of the show was a scenario of resistance to an invasion of Canberra. We needed a number of different people for a variety of roles. Setting up scenes and getting people prepared and in place was tricky but a lot of fun.
Library sleuths: We wanted some pictures of historical events, such as the Kapp Putsch and the resistance to the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, and these had to be tracked down. The photographers made slides from the pictures chosen.
Artists: Some slides were made from drawings.
Speakers: The commentary to the slides was spoken by two people.
Musicians: Music for the sound track was recorded by a band in which one of our members played.
Recorders: The music and commentary had to be tape recorded.
Producers: The slides and sound track had to be coordinated, including the additions of beeps (or automatic cues) indicating when the slides should be changed. This was a mammoth task.
The whole operation was a big one, but very worthwhile. The best thing was that quite a number of different people became involved because they were needed for certain things, and so became aware of social defence. Furthermore, this wasn't social defence in the abstract, but in the context of a vividly imagined scenario. After all, acting out being a soldier or a resister is quite different from just talking about it.
There are several benefits from producing and distributing information about social defence, especially learning and interacting with other people. The disadvantage is that the information is not connected to practical action: it is knowledge in a vacuum. As well as getting information to people, there needs to be organising, namely encouraging them to do things.
Running a course -- anything from a few lectures to a university degree -- can be an excellent way to promote social defence. This topic is too large to be treated here, and anyway there is a lot of material available on peace education. It is worth exploring teaching in relation to groups which might otherwise never be exposed to social defence, such as police.
"National service" is compulsory for all males in many European countries. Conscientious objectors to military service usually undertake "alternative service". ("Total objectors" refuse even the alternative service.) In Belgium and Austria, study of social defence has been included in the study part of the alternative service.
References: "Belgium and Austria: conscientious objectors study civilian-based defense" Civilian-Based Defense: News & Opinion Volume 2, number 4, July 1985, pages 3-4
Andreas Maislinger, "The discussion of civilian-based defense concepts in Austria" Civilian-Based Defense: News & Opinion volume 4, number 4, May 1988, pages 7-9.
Classroom learning sometimes becomes very separate from practical experience. It is learning about rather than learning to do something. Should social defence become just another subject in the curriculum?
The solution to this problem is to introduce as many practical exercises as possible, such as interviews, simulations, community research, short-wave radio communication and nonviolent action training.
Learning is most effective when it is voluntary. Compulsory study of social defence should be approached with care.
Teachers often learn much more than students. Preparing a course can be an excellent way to learn.
Teaching does not have to be based on the usual model of expert teacher and ignorant student. More egalitarian models are possible. These are better described as study groups.
Getting people together to talk about a subject, plan strategies and run workshops is an excellent way to stimulate interest and activity, and can be a lot of fun. It is also lots of work for the conference organisers. This is a whole topic on its own that will not be discussed in detail here. A few points:
There are big conferences, small conferences, specialised conferences and general conferences. Design your conference for your purposes. Get ideas from talking to people who have run conferences and from those who have attended them.
Bigger is not necessarily better.
The process -- the human dynamics of the conference -- is at least as important as the formal outcomes.
Good organisation is essential. Bad organisation can make the whole thing counterproductive.
Organising a conference is almost always more work than it seems when plans are first made. Make sure there are people willing to do the work.
Lobbying means trying to convince people in positions of power to take certain views or actions. Lobbying is more a matter of trying to get someone else to take action rather than taking action oneself. Nevertheless, it has an important function.
People in positions of power -- politicians, corporation executives, top government bureaucrats, military commanders, media producers, church leaders, trade union officials -- can make a big difference to efforts to promote social defence. They can provide support, including finance, resources, communication channels and legitimacy. Even their tolerance can make things easier. Certainly their hostility can make things difficult.
Some activists argue that social defence cannot be brought about by government decree, because governments are built on a monopoly over "legitimate" violence. That may be true: the problem of war is built into the social system. But individuals are not pure pawns of the system. Some of them are open to persuasion. Lobbying, though it has limitations, is one technique for promoting social defence.
In an actual crisis, the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance may depend on the understanding of people in positions of power. For example, in the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, Dubcek and most of the other Czechoslovak leaders did not really understand the dynamics of the resistance. As a result, they unwisely made compromises with the Soviet rulers that helped undermine the resistance.
The lesson from this is that people in top positions should be encouraged to understand the dynamics of nonviolent action, even if they are not willing to support it at the present time.
Lobbying requires the skills of speaking and producing information for particular audiences. Lobbying efforts often depend on one or two experts, and the nature of the activity encourages this. To make it more of a learning and participatory process, every effort should be made to involve a whole group in developing their skills in speaking and making contacts.
The skills of translation and interpretation are crucial for social defence. If there is an invasion from a country where a different language is used, then being able to speak and write to the invading troops and to the population of the country is essential. Similarly, if there is a coup in another country, language skills are vital in mounting social offence to support resisters.
The possible activities here are countless. Leaflets, pamphlets and books can be translated into other languages. This requires a sensitivity to language and social understandings in other cultures, in order to translate terms such as social defence and nonviolent action. Translation efforts can be linked to group study of different cultures.
Better still, different versions of social defence materials can be produced. Relevant local examples can be introduced, and new arguments used to replace inappropriate ones. For example, people's major concerns in the United States about invasion or military coups are very different from those in Central America.
Skills in interpretation between languages are also crucial. Developing these skills could be linked to projects to spread the idea of social defence.
Language skills open up the possibility of comparing nonviolent struggles in different cultures and many other such projects.
Armies use simulations, which are often called "exercises". They pretend that there is a mobilisation, military engagement or war, and have commanders and troops do all the things that they would do in the actual event. This provides excellent training, and many lessons can be learned. Of course, simulations can never quite be the same as the real thing, but on the other hand they are less costly and destructive.
Simulations are an excellent tool for social defence, too. Since there is no social defence system, simulations are unlikely to have full support of governments, corporations, trade unions and so forth. Therefore social defence simulations are both training for nonviolent resistance and also a method of promoting the nonviolent alternative. (This is really not so different from military simulations.)
A simulation can be considered to be a large-scale role play: people are playing roles in as realistic a situation as can be constructed short of the real thing. It is also possible to have role plays that are much smaller and therefore don't require the full participation of people in workplaces and so forth.
RADIO STATION 2XX: A ROLE PLAY
In 1982, Canberra Peacemakers organised a workshop with members of a local radio station. 2XX is a community radio station: it is noncommercial and is run mainly by the volunteers who produce the programmes. We knew some workers at 2XX and invited them along to a weekend workshop.
During the weekend we introduced the idea of social defence, did brainstorms about possible threats to 2XX and discussed methods of nonviolent resistance and who might undertake them.
Finally, on Sunday afternoon, we ran a small role play of resistance at 2XX to an invasion. In a single large room, some people acted the part of 2XX workers, others pretended to be soldiers, and others acted like members of the public who came as a result of a broadcast asking for support. This little exercise, involving about ten people, was helpful in making the role of 2XX in a nonviolent resistance much more real. It also gave us a much more concrete sense of what taking action would mean.
This was as much as Canberra Peacemakers did with 2XX in terms of role plays. A next stage might have been to organise a simulation. A large-scale scenario could have been prepared, with people acting in the 2XX studios and local suburbs.
GRINDSTONE ISLAND: A SIMULATION
In 1965, members of the Quaker community in Canada carried out a major simulation. The scenario was that a right-wing Canadian government backed by the United States ("the Unionists") had taken power. The simulation took place on Grindstone Island in Ontario, following months of planning. Fifty people took part.
Some participants took the role of the local Unionist commanders, who were "instructed" to demand compliance. Other participants essentially played themselves, taking the role of resisters who were committed to a process of consensus decision making and personal nonviolence. There were also "umpires" who ran the socio-drama according to the rules planned beforehand.
The simulation was planned to last for several days, but it came to an end after only thirty-one hours. By that stage, thirteen of the defenders had been "killed" (in simulation). It was an emotionally shattering experience for many of those involved, leading them to question the relevance of their firm beliefs. It also was an extremely useful learning exercise, especially in showing the limitations of particular styles of consensus decision making in a crisis situation.
Reference: Theodore Olson and Gordon Christiansen Thirty-one Hours: The Grindstone Experiment (Toronto: Canadian Friends Service Committee, 1966).
Short-wave radio is an excellent way for individuals to communicate at a great distance without central control. Television and conventional radio are one-directional methods of communication, and repressive regimes usually take control of them. Telephones are better, since they allow individuals to talk to each other. But the telephone network can be monitored centrally, and connections can be cut off, for example out of a country.
Few people have short-wave radios or know how to use them. There are several possible projects to promote the potential for nonviolent resistance using short-wave.
Obtain a short-wave radio and learn how to use it.
Run training classes in short-wave with people in social movements.
Introduce the idea of social defence to existing short-wave users.
Communicate with people in other countries, especially those under repressive rule, about nonviolent resistance.
Encourage people with language skills to learn about both short-wave radio and social defence.
Select a very cheap short-wave system and supply it free to nonviolent resistance groups around the world.
Encourage engineers and technicians to develop cheap and effective short-wave systems that will serve well in the face of repression.
"Research" is often thought of as something that only scientists and scholars can do. But actually anyone can do certain kinds of investigation.
"Community research" means an investigation that is carried out by community activists rather than by outside professional researchers. Community research is a way to find out things and also to raise the idea of social defence in a relatively nonthreatening way.
Social defence and the Australian Post Office: members of the group Schweik Action Wollongong wanted to learn more about communications and social defence. Communications is an enormous topic, so to narrow it down we focussed on the postal service.
First, we tried to find articles and books about the post and about how it had been used in the face of repression. Were there studies of how to avoid censorship under a dictatorship? Were there studies of how a resistance infiltrated the postal service and ensured delivery of its own messages while interrupting the regime's communication? Unfortunately we could find almost nothing helpful along these lines. These, therefore, are useful topics for investigation!
Second, we looked for articles about the Australian Post Office, such as the way it is organised and the stages through which mail is processed. Most of the articles available deal with economics and the quality of service. There is hardly anything that describes the day-to-day practicalities of postal operations.
To search for articles and books on these topics, we used a university library. Encyclopaedias were good sources of information and also listed further references. We used searches of computerised databases to try to find current articles about the post. Many of the articles that we did trace were in obscure journals, and we had to use the interlibrary loan service to obtain them. There was not much available. Obviously social scientists are not very concerned about the post office.
The next stage of our project was interviews with people working for the post office. We used three methods of approach. One was just walking into a local post office and asking to interview the workers there. We obtained some helpful information in this way. A second approach was contacting friends who happened to work for the post office. This was the most helpful method. The third approach was to call up post office managers. They were not willing to talk with us. But this approach is worth trying, because managers often have an excellent overview of operations, and their cooperation can lead to introductions to other employees. We also contacted a trade union official, but he was not helpful either.
The post office project is just one of an enormous number of possible community research projects. Here are some groups that might be approached as part of a project: computer programmersoe; transport workersoe; school studentsoe; workers in televisionoe and radiooe; workers in the building trades, including plumbersoe, electriciansoe and carpentersoe; actorsoe; health workersoe; farmersoe; policeoe; and soldiers:
There are several benefits from community research. To begin, it does not require highly specialised skills to do it. The techniques are straightforward. But there are skills that require development.
Community research can be done by an individual or a group. As an individual project, community research can be carried out even where there are no other people interested in the topic. But when there is a group involved, this makes the project more satisfying. The different members of the group learn from each other and provide stimulation and support for keeping the work going.
An important feature of community research is that the process is as important as the end product. This includes not only learning by the researchers, but also by the people interviewed.
In giving a talk about social defence, the speaker is usually considered to be the expert. This can be a problem, since some people do not like being lectured to. Interviews in a community research project are quite different. The people being interviewed are the experts. For example, the post office workers knew far more about the post office than we did. Yet as they were telling us about the post office, they were also learning about social defence, because they were thinking about how nonviolent action might work in their own situation.
The results of community research can be presented in talks, leaflets or articles. Best of all is providing information to the people interviewed. This is a way of thanking them for their contribution and also showing them the picture toward which their comments contributed.
It is not news that vast amounts of money are spent on science for war and repression. This includes development of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, biological toxins, the psychology of fighting groups, and technologies for crowd control, electronic surveillance and torture. The range of military-related research and development is enormous and frightening. By comparison, there is hardly any scientific research devoted to improving nonviolent resistance.
Partly this is because scientists do not know about social defence and have no idea how their skills could contribute. The problem runs deep, since whole fields of science have arisen because of military spin-offs; these fields have little positive potential. Other fields, which would be highly useful for social defence, have never been developed because funding is not available.
Scientific research, in any case, is a virtually untapped resource for social defence. Contact a few scientists. Tell them about social defence. Ask them what things they would be able to do. Suggest some projects and see what they think. Ask them to suggest other scientists to talk to. Get their help in searching scientific and technological publications.
- Here are some useful developments for a social defence system.
- Easy ways for insiders to disable and re-enable machinery.
- Industrial processes resistant to outsider sabotage.
- Small-scale renewable energy systems.
- Cheap and easy-to-use short-wave radio.
- Ways to determine whether torture has been used.
- Ways of destroying or hiding computer information.
- Coded or hidden communications via computers, telephone, radio.
- Long-term storage of food.
- Non-vulnerable transport systems.
- Medicines easily administered by non-specialists.
- Miniature video recorders.
- Safe ways to disable weapons.
- Non-jammable broadcasting systems.
- Seed varieties robust to lack of fertilisers and pesticides.
Soldiers are expected to undergo military training, otherwise they are much less effective. Similarly, social defenders can undertake training in nonviolent action. Voluntarily -- no conscription!
There is a vast wealth of experience in nonviolent action training, developed in campaigns against racism, nuclear power and nuclear weapons, environmental threats, male domination and so forth. There are many experienced nonviolent action trainers. They have practical knowledge of brainstorming, facilitation of meetings, consensus decision making, group dynamics, dealing with group conflict, role plays, simulations, planning for direct action, organising meetings, applying the theory of nonviolence, analysis of local power structures, listening and speaking, reading and writing, personal development, and a host of other things. There are also some good readings on methods in these areas.
The challenge is to apply these methods to social defence, and to develop campaigns that use the skills developed.
References on nonviolent action training
Virginia Coover, Ellen Deacon, Charles Esser and Christopher Moore Resource Manual for a Living Revolution (Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1981).
Martin Jelfs Manual for Action (London: Action Resources Group, 1982).
Organising means building community support. This is the basic work of forging a social movement, or just mobilising support to rectify a wrong. It includes canvassing door-to-door, calling public meetings, researching local power structures, mounting campaigns, raising money, bringing together diverse groups, developing the skills of local people, establishing organisational structures and communications systems, developing support from a range of groups, and numerous other methods.
Organising is hard work. The people who benefit most from organising are the poor, oppressed and the discriminated against. They must confront the power of social system.
Organising for social defence is virtually unknown. How would it work? Who would do it? What would be the goals? Who would be hostile?
EXAMPLE: COMMUNITY INVENTORY
Let's say that you are a member of a small group that would like to build awareness of and support for social defence in your neighbourhood, which might be an apartment block, an area of suburbia, a small town or a rural region. After a lot of preparation, you embark on a survey of community resources for nonviolent resistance.
Visiting people household by household, you ask about: telephones, radios and other electronic communications equipment; equipment for typing, word processing, photocopying and printing; energy supplies; transportation; food; personal skills, including speaking, writing, health care, telecommunications, gardening, child care, fixing machines; contacts and networks, including sporting clubs, church groups, friendship networks, co-workers, and so forth.
With this sort of information, it should be possible to develop a good idea of the strengths of the community against aggression, and also weaknesses that need to be overcome.
Of course, one of the main reasons for carrying out the "survey" is to introduce the idea of social defence, and to find out what it means in terms of people's lives. Those carrying out the survey need to be quite familiar with arguments about social defence, to have plenty of written material for distribution, and be willing to alter their own views!
A slightly different survey would be to find out about what people think are threats to their security. This might be crime, police harassment, or economic conditions -- the response would vary enormously from person to person and from community to community. The next thing would be to link social defence to people's concerns. This may be quite difficult!
References on organising
Saul Alinsky Reveille for Radicals (New York: Vintage, 1969).
Saul Alinsky Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals (New York: Random House, 1971).
Howard Clark, Sheryl Crown, Angela McKee and Hugh MacPherson Preparing for Nonviolent Direct Action (London: CND and Peace News, 1983).
Ed Hedemann (ed) War Resisters League Organizer's Manual (New York: WRL, 1981).
Anthony Jay The Householder's Guide to Community Defence Against Bureaucratic Aggression (London: Jonathan Cape, 1972).
Si Kahn How People Get Power: Organizing Oppressed Communities for Action (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970).
Si Kahn Organizing: A Guide for Grassroots Leaders (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981).
Richard K. Taylor Blockade: A Guide to Non-violent Intervention (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis, 1977).
It should be possible to link the promotion of social defence with any of a number of campaigns.
Community security against crime. Networks of friendship, communications and local awareness can provide protection against neighbourhood crimes.
Defending against male violence. Feminist groups and others have taken action to prevent or resist male violence against women and children. Similarly, gays have organised against anti-gay violence and ethnic groups have organised against racial violence.
Workers' control. It is possible for workers to collectively make decisions and run their workplaces.
Campaigns in each of these areas (and many others) have an obvious connection with the potential for social defence. The difficult question is, how can social defence be linked, in a practical way, with campaigns in these areas? There is a lot of work required to develop answers to this question.
Societies are filled with networks of people. This includes groups of friends, professional groups, sporting clubs, church groups, trade unions, women's groups and many others. Networks are commonly based on personal friendship or acquaintance, and on mutual interests. They are a key resource for social defence.
There are two basic ways to promote social defence through networks. One is to set up new networks for the specific purpose of nonviolent resistance. The second is to help existing networks become better vehicles for nonviolent resistance. This leads to a virtually unlimited number of possible projects.
Mobilise your personal networks for social defence. Tell your friends about it so they will know what you are talking about when there is a crisis. Approach the most sympathetic individuals to take action against repression in other countries.
Make contingency plans for communication. Make sure that lists of telephone numbers are available, with back-up copies. Plan what you would do if telephones were not working.
Introduce social defence in organisations with which you're involved, such as church groups, workplace groups or school groups. Develop practical activities that build the network and the skills of the people in it.
Imagine that your network is infiltrated, for example by political police. (It might well be.) Develop methods that take this into account.
Decide which technologies help your network communicate most effectively, and make sure people know how to use them.
(nb: this list has not been updated for online publication. Please check Housmans World Peace Directory or similar for up-to-date information)
Nonviolence Today, PO Box 292, West End Q 4101. Tel +61 7 366 2660, Email email@example.com.
Schweik Action Wollongong, PO Box 492, Wollongong East NSW 2520. Tel +61 42 287 860, fax +61 42 213 452, Email Brian_Martin@central-gw.uow.edu.au.
Andreas Maislinger, Department of Political Science, University of Innsbruck, A-6020 Innsbruck, Innrain 52. Tel +43 5222 724 2712.
Arge für Wehrdienstverweigerung und Gewaltfreiheit, Schottengasse 3a/1159, A-1010 Wien. Tel +43 222 535 9109.
Johan Niezing, Free University of Brussels, Pleinlaan 2, B-1050 Brussel. Tel +32 2 660 3920).
fiches documentaires pour une autre défense, MIR-IRG, 35 rue van Elewyck, B-1050 Bruxelles, Belgium. Tel +32 2 648 5220; fax +32 2 640 0774.
Forum voor Vredesaktie, 35 van Elewijckstraat, B-1050 Brussel. Tel +32 2 640 1998; fax +32 2 640 0774.
Centre de Ressources sur la Non-Violence (Nonviolent Resource Centre), 5770 Cöte Des Neiges, Montreal, Quebec H3S 1Y9, Canada. Tel. +1 514 340 9209.
Hans Sinn, Social Defence Project, RR 4, Perth, Ontario K7H 3C6. Tel and fax +1 613 267 1899.
alternatives non-violentes, 16 rue Paul-Appell, 42000 Saint Etienne (quarterly).
Institut de Recherche sur la Résolution Non-violente des Conflits, BP 19-94121, Fontenay-sous-Bois. Tel +33 4875 4446.
Mouvement pour une Alternative Nonviolente (MAN), 20 rue du Dévidet, 45200 Montargis. Tel +33 38 931 373, fax +33 3893 5332 (publish nonviolence actualité, monthly).
Bund für Soziale Verteidigung, Friedensplatz, W-4950 Minden. Tel +49 571 24339.
Versohnungsbund, Kuhlenstr 5a-7, W-2082 Uetersen. Tel +49 4122 3663.
Ohne Rustung Leben, Kornbergstr 32, W-7000 Stuttgart 1. Tel +49 711 293388.
Föderation Gewaltfreier Aktionsgruppen/Graswurzelrevolution, Scharnhorststrasse 6, W-5000 Köln 60. Tel +49 221 765842.
Institute for Total Revolution, Vedchhi, Dist Surat 394641, Gujarat, India. Tel Valod 74.
INNATE: An Irish Network for Nonviolent Action Training and Education, 16 Ravensdene Park, Belfast BT6 0DA, Northern Ireland.
Guglielmo Minervini, La Meridiana, via M. D'Azeglio 46, 70056 Molfetta. Tel +39 80 941928; fax +39 80 934 0399.
Nazionale di Ricerca sulla Difesa Popolare Nonviolenta, Piazza Salvo d'Acquisto, 13-80134 Naples, Italy. Tel +39 81 552 1728.
Segreteria Tecnica, Rete di Formazione alla Nonviolenza, c/o Riccardo Marconcini, Piazza Cernaia 3/12, 16124 Genova. Tel +39 10 204360 or +39 10 202712; fax +39 10 500724.
Lineke Schakenbos, c/o Women for Peace, Postbox 963, 3800 A Z Amersfoort.
Sociale Verdediging Informatie-projekt, c/o Samenwerkingsverband Geweldloos Aktief Postbus 288, 5280 AG Boxtel, the Netherlands.
Association for Transarmament Aotearoa, PO Box 5629, Dunedin.
Palestinian Centre for the Study of Nonviolence (PCSN), PO Box 20999, Jerusalem, via Israel. Tel +972 2 894604; fax +972 2 285061.
Jørgen Johansen, Krossekarr 6822, 450 81 Grebbestad. Tel +46 525 11289; fax +46 525 10893.
Groupe DPNV-Carouge, p.a. Michel Megard, 25 chemin des Voirons, CH-1213 Petit-Lancy.
Michael Randle, School of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, Bradford, West Yorkshire BD7 1DP.
Gene Sharp, Albert Einstein Institution, 1430 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. Tel +1 617 876 0311; fax +1 617 876 0837.
Mel Beckman, Civilian-Based Defense: News & Opinion, 3636 Lafayette Avenue, Omaha NE 68131. Tel +1 402 558 2085.
Civilian-Based Defense Association, 154 Auburn Street, Cambridge MA 02139. Tel +1 617 868 6058.
Barbara Clark, PO Box 1222, Walla Walla WA 99362. Tel +1 509 522 0399.
Nonviolent Action for National Defense Institute (NAND), 8200 W Outer Drive, Detroit, Michigan 48219, USA. Tel +1 313 592 6254.
Program on Nonviolent Sanctions in Conflict and Defense, Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, 1737 Cambridge Street, Cambridge MA 02138.
International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR), Spoorstraat 38, 1815 BK Alkmaar, the Netherlands. Tel +31 72 123014; fax + 31 72 151102 (produces Reconciliation International quarterly).
Peace Brigades International: Central America Office, 193 Yonge St, Suite 502, Toronto, Ontario M5B 1M8, Canada.
War Resisters International, 55 Dawes Street, London SE17 1EL. Tel +44 71 703 7189; fax +44 71 708 2545; Email firstname.lastname@example.org (co-produces Peace News monthly)
Lists of affiliates are available from all the above international organisations.