A call for a nonviolent strategy of the global peace and justice movement

Stellan Vinthagen

We live in a historical time of social change. While the economy, state regimes and wars are being globalised, the social forces of people's movements are as well. At least 15 million demonstrated worldwide against the war in Iraq 2003. The gathering of "the global movement of movements" at the World Social Forum continues to grow, the latest in Brasil with 150000 participants. This global peace & justice movement has drawn the conclusions of earlier strategies of reform through national parties and elections and revolution through armed rebellion, and is searching for a nonviolent strategy of social change.

Twin problem

Current global confrontations like Prague (with the World Bank), Gothenburg (with EU) or Genoa (with G8) exhibit a twin problem due to lack of a coherent strategy: violent riots and ineffective nonviolent resistance. These and other protests have also failed to organise effective nonviolent confrontations and new coherent strategies of nonviolent engagement with global powers. This twin problem is a problem arising in part from a lack of skilled nonviolence within the movement. Very few people with knowledge of nonviolent theory and movement practice have taken an organising part within the movement (with some exceptions in USA).

It is already clear that this global movement is not a simple spontaneous outburst of mobilisation, but an ongoing mobilisation. The WSF is explicitly searching for a non-armed and non-electoral politics (see the WSF charter at www.forumsocialmundial.org) -- a kind of "non-violent social resistance" -- while not outlining what that really means. Since no nonviolent strategy has been adopted so far there is now an ongoing discussion on moving away from global confrontations. The confrontations are seen as unproductive and too much of symbolic bashing of the logos of the present world order (Bush, WTO, G8 etc.) -- in favor of making alternatives visible and creating local resistance. The emphasis on constructive alternatives is great -- as a matter of fact a central part of the kind of nonviolent strategy Gandhi did suggest -- while the problem is a lack of resistance approach.

In my understanding, the present global movement is a movement ready for adopting a nonviolent resistance strategy as its approach to politics and social change. The language of nonviolence already exists within numerous workshops, declarations and organisations: affinity groups, disobedience, peaceful, dialogue, guidelines etc. Organisations like War Resisters' International have the potential to contribute to this development of a nonviolent strategy. However, it is not only the global movement that lacks an understanding of nonviolent strategy, we who work with nonviolence are lacking a global understanding of nonviolence, and need to develop a global repertoire of nonviolent resistance together with the global peace and justice movement. This is a challenge for nonviolent activists and scholars to develop something new from past experiences.

Transcending traditional politics

The movement of movements is transcending both the local/global levels of politics, and the very idea of politics confined into certain areas (e.g. militarism, economics, cultural or environmental) or subjects (e.g. nuclear weapons, conscription, genetically modified crops and agrobusiness or thousands of other subjects of the evil effects of present world systems). This is a movement of the full fledged heterogeneity that social life is about, and the diversity of tactics needed in protecting that life. What that means for nonviolent resistance is difficult to comprehend, but clearly something different. We are in need of a comprehensive strategic framework which is adoptable for various contexts and needs.

Traditionally power critical approaches (such as feminism or anarchism) and nonviolent resistance have been marginal to "mainstream oppositional politics", but today it does not have to be so. There seems to be a greater need for approaches that not only critically engage with oppression and violence of all kinds, but also have the practical tools from centuries of experiences to create change. It is my firm belief that the global movements need to be offered the choice of a comprehensive alternative to the usual political traditions. If the coming struggles of global confrontations are not built on the (limited but yet well founded) historical experiences of nonviolent movements, then this fragile movement of movements in the making might be less effective and even might loose its momentum of mobilisation and its capacity for creating lasting change.

What we aim to do: War Resisters' International is calling on nonviolent resistance trainers, scholars, activists and organisers to participate in the conference "Globalising Nonviolence" in order to explore together how we can adopt strategic nonviolent resistance in global networks. We do not think we already have the answers of how to go about this mildly speaking gigantic task, but we know that we have to try, history is drafting us.

The most important matter is to recognise that current nonviolent knowledge, training forms, strategy, organisational forms and action forms (i.e. our nonviolent repertoire) need to be developed in accordance with global conditions. What specific development is needed is not yet clear, but we do recognise that we are in a new situation. The global movements will make us understand the new situation and, hopefully, we will then learn and contribute with our understanding of nonviolent strategy, making the global movement of movements not only challenging the present world order but effectively changing it. Another -- and nonviolent -- world is possible!

Stellan Vinthagen, WRI Triennial Committee, and Department of Peace & Development Research Göeborg University, Sweden stellan.vinthagen@padrigu.gu.se

This article is a very short version of an article published by War Resisters' International in a series of articles leading up to the International Triennial Conference in July 2006 in Germany. In the original version of the article (go to /tri2006/en/news/msg00001.html) you can read an analysis of what consequences globalisation has for contemporary politics and a detailed action plan for developing a nonviolent strategy within the global peace and justice movement.

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