Critique of Nonviolent Politics 2
Critique of Nonviolent Politics
may be the only comprehensive critique of nonviolenttheory that has been written. I wrote it between 1980 and 1984, while living in Berkeley,California. Since 1977, I had been active in the movement against nuclear power andweapons which, in California, focused its protests at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plantnear San Luis Obispo, and at the University of California's Lawrence Livermore Labswhere nuclear weapons are designed. Nonviolence was the prevailing political theory inthe movement, especially in the "direct action" wing which organized mass blockadesand occupations at nuclear facilities. Nonviolence informed our tactics and strategies, ourgroup processes, and our general ethos and outlook.As I engaged in the movement, I was drawn to nonviolent theory and became an avidstudent. In early 1980, I began a writing project--a positive explanation of nonviolenttheory to serve as a guide for anti-nuclear activists. The project would also help to clarifymy own developing political philosophy. My working draft was soon challenged by apolitically astute friend, who introduced me to Marxism. While grappling with theseideas, I remained active as an anti-nuke activist but became critical of various movementpractices that were influenced by nonviolent theory. I also encountered books by Indianhistorians who pointed out the elite biases in Gandhi's thought and practice. A year afterembarking on my positive nonviolence guide, I was writing instead a full-scale critiqueof nonviolence. By 1984, when I set the project aside, I had written a book-lengthtreatment. In 1996, I extracted the document from very old computer disks and did someediting. I dropped a concluding chapter on anti-nuclear strategy, adding in its place a newepilogue. But the document remains largely as originally written.
Nonviolence is a model of social change rooted in religious pacifist teachings andfashioned into a mass protest technique by leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, MartinLuther King, Jr., and A.J. Muste. Today, the tradition is carried by anti-nuclear groupscommitted to nonviolent direct action. Tens of thousands of protesters have applied theGandhian technique of mass civil disobedience at nuclear facilities and military bases inEurope, Australia, the U.S., and Canada. Most of these protests are guided bynonviolence codes of conduct and a nonviolent philosophy.My own introduction to nonviolence came in 1977 when I joined the anti-nuclearmovement in Southern California. After a period of fascination and learning, I became adoubter and finally a firm critic of nonviolent philosophy. The reasons for my changewere twofold: