THEORY AND PRACTICE OF NONVIOLENCE 11
Theoryand Practice of Nonviolence
Conflictresolution has been one of the most explored aspects of thecontemporary human society. This may partly be attributed to theincreased prevalence of conflicts especially within countries.Research has shown that as much as conflicts between nations havebeen on a downward trend since the Second World War, the same cannotbe said to be true for civil war. Needless to say, there are numerousstrategies for eliminating or resolving conflicts in the contemporaryhuman society. In the past, almost every conflict resulted in violentconfrontation. This technique was favored primarily as a result ofits capacity to enhance conflict resolution in a speedy mannerespecially in instances where one of the disputants was considerablymore powerful than the other. As much as this may have been the case,lasting peace could not always be achieved by violent means. Indeed,such techniques often left the losing party feeling shortchanged andcheated, in which case there would be contempt. This contempt wasalways a recipe for conflicts in the future. This necessitated thedevising of other techniques that would provide a win-win situationfor the parties concerned, which gave rise to nonviolence.
Oneof the most popular nonviolence actions in the history of mankind maybe the Mahatma Gandhi’s movement in India. Indeed, Gandhi is seenas the first individual in human history to extend the nonviolenceprinciple from the individual level to the social and even thepolitical plane. The application of his philosophy of nonviolence wasin resistance against the British rule. Prior to his advent in theresistance movement, Indians had resisted the British rule in variedways including the local uprising of tribal groups and peasants. Ofparticular note, however, is the fact that no movement had managed tolink the local grievances to all-India efforts at expelling theBritish from the country. Indeed, Indians were marked by varieddivisions based on religion, class, religion, region and castes. Thiswas until 1857 when the soldiers (called sepoys) rebelled againstreligious and racial abuse thereby sparking and connecting up to thepeasant rebellions in the western, northern and central parts ofIndia. As much as the rebellion may have nearly had a national scope,its consciousness was simply not nationalist. Indeed, the demands ofthe revolt were for the expulsion of the British and the return ofthe power to local princes who were the only legitimate andconceivable authority. However, this rebellion could not stand theBritish repression thanks to its deficiency of coordination andplanning. Further, the movement became more divided and weaker as itgot closer to the “local control” objectives. As much as themovement was anti-imperial, it was essentially backward looking.Scholars have noted that nationalist politicians came from anemerging class of middle class Indian civil servants and lawyers(Gandhi,2001).As much as these people were still present in 1857, they did not takepart in the army mutiny as they opined that their own future wasclosely linked to modernization in which case they though it betterto get the acceptance of the British as equals rather than placingtheir fate in the hands of the princes.
Bythe time Gandhi came into the scene in 1915, the Indian NationalCongress was composed of two factions. One of the factions was usingthe usual techniques of petitioning while the other had becomeimpatient with the ineffective “begging” technique and moved toindividual terrorism. It was worth noting that the two factions werestill elitist and were distinct from the popular resistancemovements.
MahatmaGandhi used a wide range of tactics in his nonviolence movement. Oneof the earliest and most distinctive and techniques involved theadoption of traditional Indian garments that he had hand-fashionedhimself or fashioned by other Indians. This was aimed at showing hisdisapproval for all things foreign especially things that seemed topropel the ideals and ways of life of the British colonizers.
Inaddition, Gandhi, as a passive resister of the Indian rule madepublic speeches that condemned the same. These public speechesusually called for mass demonstrations against certain aspects of theBritish rule. For instance, in 1919, there was a mass agitationagainst the repressive and exploitative British rule in India,especially after the Rowlatt Act was passed. This Act was aimed atextending the limitations of Indian civil rights at the time of war.The potential of the agitation to cripple the Indian economy isevidenced by the fact that it coincided with mill workers’ wavestrike (Gandhi,2001).However, Gandhi approached this Act by launching a satyagraha(nonviolent resistance) so as to channel the anger of the people to anonviolent direction. Satyagraha was a basic nonviolent resistancestrategy that her worked out in 1907, consisting of training a groupof volunteers who assisted in leading mass marches, as well as massviolations of certain laws and which led to intentional massprotests. Of particular note is the fact that Gandhi called fornationwide mass demonstrations but reiterated the need for holdingthem on Sunday so as to eliminate the possibility of any workstoppages (Gandhi,2001).
Inaddition, Gandhi preached the gospel of non-retaliation especially ininstances where the British responded to his tactics with savageforce. For instance, in 1919, the Muslims joined the movement againstthe Rowlatt Act, thereby joining Hindus in the peaceful marches.However, the British became particularly alarmed with the eliminationof the religious divisions that they had worked so hard to retain.Indeed, they were increasingly terrified by the scenes of Hindus andMuslims drinking from the same cup in broad daylight. In essence,they resorted to sheer savagery in an effort to put down the campaignleading to the Jallianwallabagh massacre. It is well noted that themassacre was, essentially, an assault on unarmed villagers in whatwas an enclosed area so as to give rise to a “moraleffect”rather than disperse the crowd. Research shows that the massacreresulted in the death of at least 400 people, with a wave ofrepression, public flogging, torture and random arrests following themassacre. It is worth noting that Gandhi still preached againstretaliation even in instances where the protestors were killed.Indeed, when strikes and mass matches erupted in a large number ofcities, the middle class started being afraid of the militancy of thepeasants and the workers. Gandhi voiced his concern over the same bycondemning the violence that had erupted on the two sides although itwas not equal at all (Nojeim,2004).It is well noted that the violence resulted in the deaths of at least1200 Indians and 4 whites, while another 3600 Indians were seriouslywounded. Researchers have noted that Gandhi stated that he hadcommitted an enormous blunder in triggering the mass civildisobedience without having sufficient ideological and organizationalcontrol over the movement (Nojeim,2004).
Further,Gandhi also resisted British rule through introducing the concept ofnoncooperation. This technique was based on the theory that nojustice system would exist or even last without the cooperation ofthe victim. This means that the capitalist system propagated by theBritons would not last or even exist unless the workers and peasantsgot sucked into it. Indeed, the British rule would never have lastedas long as it did in the country if the inhabitants had not beenattracted to it and become co-opted into the system. Scholars havenoted that every other system of domination exists as a result of thecollaboration and participation of the victims in which case in thesystem of domination, no one was fully innocent. Both sides involvedsome element of complicity. Gandhi noted that the presence of theBritish in India was attributable to the collaboration of theIndians, especially since they supplied them with the police, went totheir courts, hired their lawyers and used their laws so as toresolve their conflicts. He proposed that they should becomeautonomous in the future and fail to cooperate with the Britons,which would eventually result in a breakdown of the later.
Lastly,Gandhi used fasting not against the British but against his fellowIndians. His justification of fasting was based on the fact that itwas a component of dying. He noted that nonviolence specialized inthe way or art of dying just as violence did to the art of killing.His basis for the technique was that through the suffering and deaththat was imminent in fasting, an individual can trigger or stimulatecertain processes in other individuals and build on nonviolence(Nojeim,2004).He called it the voluntary flesh crucifixion rather than blackmail asthe British saw it to be. He stated that he would torture and crucifyhimself for the sake of his love for Indians just as Christ died formankind, simply because he could not bear the thought that theIndians could stoop so low as to kill each other and use violenceagainst their fellow human beings. it was an act that was aimed atbringing back sanity to their lives, and since they loved him, hewould evoke their love and trigger it by stating that they would nothave him any more if they persisted in behaving in that manner(Chenoweth&Stephan, 2011).This was the basis and meaning of fasting to death, and could only beused against individuals who loved him and who he loved, people towhom he was closely bonded, solely with the aim of evoking theirsympathies and the best in them (Nojeim,2004).
Similartactics are used by the environmental group NextGen, whose mission isto take political actions to as to preserve the prosperity of Americaand avert the possibility of a climate disaster. This organizationprimarily uses campaigns ad calls for public protests in instanceswhere it feels that the environment (or their interests) is at stake.For instance, the organization has been calling for protests andasking people to write a letter to the president with regard to theestablishment of the Keystone XL pipeline as it is seen asexacerbating issues pertaining to carbon pollution.
However,these tactics have been far from effective in pushing for the agendaof the movement. This is unlike the tactics used by Earth liberationFront, an international underground movement that is composed ofindependent cells that undertake direct action. The key differencebetween Gandhi’s movement and the EFL is the fact that the lateruses violence in challenging the powers that be including arson,animal releases, vandalism attacks and bombings. They may betargeting a wide range of entities including restaurants, researchlaboratories, business and housing developments, as well as furfarmers who encroach the rural areas and endanger the well-being ofthe environment and wildlife. This movement is well known forcarrying out tree-spiking activities in areas that forest servicesand lumber companies target.
First,nonviolence has been proven as strategically and tactically inferiorto violent techniques. Nonviolence activists who try to appearstrategic often avert the possibility of any real strategizing usingintrepid simplitudes like “violenceis a tactic of the oppressors. The best tactic is least resistance sothat the oppressors are hit at their weakest moment”(Chenoweth&Stephan, 2011).The tactics that nonviolence activists can use are simply inferior tothose of violent or revolutionary activists. For instance, themorality notion used by nonviolence activists aims at changing theopinions of people, which may involve educating individuals,disseminating propaganda and information. This could mean educatingindividuals about the evils pertaining to the actions of a certainestablishment and how the lives of people would be affected byindustries. As much as such education may influence people to makedonations and take part in protests, it rarely encourages people toundertake fundamental changes on their life priorities or to takeconsiderable risks. As much as this tactic may be mildly effective inattaining fleeting victories, it faces a number of barriers(Chenoweth&Stephan, 2011).For instance, there is the elite regulation of highly developedsystems of propaganda that have the capacity to decimate anycompeting systems of propaganda that the nonviolent activists maycreate. Pacifism is always unable of keeping itself from beingwatered down and co-opted, leave alone allowing for effectiverecruitment and expansion. In most cases, nonviolence concentrates onaltering minds and hearts while underestimating the media’s thoughtcontrol and culture industry. Scholars have noted that theintelligent and conscious manipulation of the opinions and organizedhabits of masses is a crucial aspect in democratic societies.Entities that manipulate this mechanism in the society are theinvisible government that makes up the true ruling entity of thecountry. Propaganda machines have the capacity to mobilize so as todiscredit, drown out, factionalize or even counter any ideologicalthreat whether in the broad struggle for revolution or evengrassroots campaign. Unfortunately, nonviolence activists do notrecognize this simple fact. Education or information can guideefforts pertaining to empowered social movements but in itself, itwould not change anything. Indeed, idly circulating information wouldonly give the existing powers more chances for fine-tuning theirruling strategies and propaganda.
Inaddition, pacifism or nonviolence is simply deluded. The fact thatviolence does not always produce the desired results immediately doesnot make nonviolence a better option. Indeed, it is well noted thatthere are numerous victories that have been won on the basis of theuse of violence. Militant social movements have been successful inaltering society and becoming a force to reckon with in the society.Scholars have noted that struggles that have involved the use ofvaried techniques including armed struggle can and have beensuccessful (Roberts&Garton, 2009).For instance revolutions in China, Vietnam, Cuba, Algeria, Kenya,France, South America and even the North were extremely successful incausing a social change. As much as pacifists may want to cite theIndian example in underlining the success of nonviolence, it is wellnoted that there were other changes both within the country and inthe international scene that caused the success. For instance, theapplication of nonviolence was not entirely uniform in the country.Indeed, a wide range of mass protests in the country eventually endedup being extremely violent with the protestors combating the police.As much as there was disproportionate amount of deaths on the twosides, the losses suffered on the British rulers’ sides caused achange of heart and reconsideration of the efficacy of remaining inthe country (Roberts&Garton, 2009).Similarly, there were immense losses on the international scenes as aresult of the First World War in which the British wereparticipating. In essence, they could not sustain the colony, and amilitant one at that, especially at a time when they were alsosuffering immense losses on the international plane. Further, windsof change were already sweeping across a wide range of countries withcolonizers being forced out of their colonies by a collective forceof countries. This means that the theory on the success ofnonviolence in India is simply warped (O`Brien&O`Brien, 2009).In most cases, pacifists see it as better to see themselves asrighteous instead of logically defending their views. Pacifistssimply prefer the easy way out of a situation especially consideringthat they face a considerably more comfortable future thanindividuals who commit themselves to armed struggle or revolutions.
Forall the fanfare with which it comes, nonviolence theory is based onnumerous falsifications, delusions and manipulations of the truth. Onthe same note, nonviolent practice is simply self-serving andineffective. Neither has it ever existed, nor has it ever worked.Nonviolence has not only soaked up everyone in the global system butit has become involuntary, coerced and enforced. For a large numberof people who are fighting against something, nonviolence is not aviable option. Indeed, the Earth Liberation Front would scoff at anyattempt to call for nonviolence in its activities especiallyconsidering that it has been quite successful in eliminating a largenumber of threats to the environment in its years of existence. Alarge number of strategies that the nonviolence activists feel wouldbe effective are aimed at maintaining the status quo (O`Brien&O`Brien, 2009).For instance, the fact that the Gandhi did not even want to holddemonstrations or mass protests on a work day so as to avert thepossibility of causing work stoppages raises questions on thegenuineness of his actions or even the interests that his actionswere aimed at serving. Indeed, when protesting against bad workingconditions, it is only fair that there be some stoppage in theperformance of duties in that entity so as to send the message home(O`Brien&O`Brien, 2009).Otherwise, how can someone protest about bad working conditions butstill work in them and avoid any action that would tear them out?Exclusive dependence on coming up with alternatives is never anoption especially considering that the status quo has the capacity tocrush any alternatives that are unable to defend themselves. Thisexplains the ineffectiveness of the nonviolence movement of MahatmaGandhi.
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King,M. E. (2008). Aquiet revolution: The first Palestinian Intifada and nonviolentresistance.New York: Nation.
Nojeim,M. J. (2004). Gandhiand King: The power of nonviolent resistance.Westport (Conn.: Praeger.
O`Brien,A. S., & O`Brien, P. E. (2009). AfterGandhi: One hundred years of nonviolent resistance.Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.
Roberts,A., & Garton, A. T. (2009). Civilresistance and power politics: The experience of non-violent actionfrom Gandhi to the present.Oxford [England: Oxford University Press.