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Critique of Nonviolent Politics

Critique of Nonviolent Politics

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Published by: howardryan on Oct 02, 2010
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Critique of Nonviolent Politics
 
From Mahatma Gandhi to the Anti-Nuclear Movement
by Howard Ryan (hryan2211@gmail.com)Preface 2Part I Problems of Nonviolent Theory1 Nonviolent Philosophy 62 Moral View: Violence Itself Is Wrong 93 Practical View: Violence Begets Violence 134 Nonviolent Theory of Power 215 Voluntary Suffering 246 Common Nonviolent Arguments 347 A Class Perspective 49Part II Gandhi: A Critical History8 Father of Nonviolence 569 Satyagraha in South Africa 5910 Textile Strike 6611 Noncooperation Movement 1919-22 7012 Religious Conflicts 8013 Salt Satyagraha 8714 Congress Ministries 9715 The War Years 10116 Independence and Bloodshed 111Part III Nonviolence in the Anti-Nuclear Movement17 Nonviolent Direct Action 12018 Consensus Decision Making 12319 Open, Friendly, and Respectful 13620 Civil Disobedience 142Epilogue 151Notes 154©2002 by Howard Ryan. All rights reserved. Readers have my permission to use anddistribute for non-profit and educational purposes.
 
 
Critique of Nonviolent Politics 2
Preface (2002)
 
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.
Preface (1984)
 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:
 
 
Critique of Nonviolent Politics 3
1)
 
I discovered that Mahatma Gandhi, the father of modern nonviolence, was not theprogressive leader hailed by nonviolent advocates. Rather, Gandhi closelycontrolled the movements he led, opposed independent movements of workersand peasants, and sought to counter the revolutionary potentials in India. Gandhi'snonviolent doctrine was integrally tied to these aims.2)
 
I began to recognize problems in the anti-nuclear movement's processes andstrategies which hindered its mass organizing efforts. I traced many of theseproblems to the influence of nonviolent theory.It became clear to me that there is a need for critical discussion of nonviolence as amodel for social change, and I decided to write this book as a contribution to thatdiscussion.Nonviolence is an attractive philosophy for people dedicated to social justice, andespecially so for peace activists working to stop the violence of the military machine andits nuclear buildup. Longstanding pacifist groups such as the War Resisters League andthe American Friends Service Committee have for decades provided support andleadership to peace and disarmament efforts, draft resisters, conscientious objectors, andcivil rights strugglers. There is much in their history and present work in whichnonviolent activists can, and do, take pride.At the same time, there are problems in nonviolent political theory which can hinder thework of activists. Nonviolent proponents have misread and distorted history, exaggeratedthe accomplishments of nonviolence, and been slow to recognize the problemsnonviolent theory has posed for people's movements. The drawbacks of the nonviolentmodel of change are suggested most dramatically in the campaigns led by MahatmaGandhi, and seen also in today's anti-nuclear movement. While the scope of this book islimited to these two cases, future studies might apply a critical eye to other movementsguided by nonviolent philosophy such as the U.S. civil rights movement.I hope this book's critique will be a helpful, provocative challenge to the nonviolentcommunity, while contributing to the progress of the anti-nuclear movement. Part Iexamines major problems in nonviolent political theory. Part II explores the politicalhistory of Mahatma Gandhi, the century's most influential practitioner of nonviolence.Part III looks at the impact of nonviolent philosophy in the direct action/civildisobedience wing of the anti-nuclear movement.Certain groups and individuals figure large in my critique of nonviolent theory, whetherbecause of their influence or because of their many writings on the subject. The first isMovement for a New Society (MNS), a nonviolent training network with a small press,New Society Publishers, based in Philadelphia. MNS, along with the Quaker-connectedAmerican Friends Service Committee (AFSC), has played a particularly large role inbringing nonviolent theory and consensus decision making to the U.S. anti-nuclearmovement. The War Resisters League (WRL) is one of America's largest pacifistorganizations, has been active in anti-militarist movements since its founding in 1923,

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