Violence/non-violence?

Valid debate or false opposition?

by

Fifth Estate # Daily Barbarian Number 1

Share this on... Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail
THE DAILY BARBARIAN supplement
FIFTH ESTATE, #298, June 19, 1979

The following article first appeared in a recent issue of Nuclear Times magazine and came to our attention as a reprinted leaflet circulated at the Midland Anti-Nuke demo by the Ann Arbor No-Name Anarchists. Due primarily to space considerations we have edited this version considerably (down to approximately half the length of the original) and some miner changes have been made in emphasis.

The anti-nuclear movement, with considerable assistance from the Three Mile Island plant, has lately been much more successful in getting publicity and making nuclear power a public issue. However, the movement is now at a turning point. This is symbolized particularly by the Clamshell Alliance’s abandonment of occupation this past summer. In the face of tremendous pressure from the state Clamshell called off its planned occupation of the Seabrook facility even though it had over 5,000 people committed to occupy. This decision created a crisis in the Clamshell’s decision-making process. The affinity groups could not make a decision by consensus so the coordinating committee called it off in spite of [text missing in original] a lot of occupation.

Since the time Clamshell has been moving away from occupations and toward small, purely symbolic actions and lobbying as strategy. In addition to urging people to send postcards to the NRC they have held only small fence crossings for the purpose of symbolic actions and for getting arrested.

Many clams now fear that Clamshell will never call another occupation at Seabrook. As a result, a group called Clams for Democracy has formed. It seeks a more democratic organizational structure and a more confrontational attitude toward the government

The divisions now developing in Clamshell are not unique: in the Crabshell Alliance as well there is an ongoing argument between those who see non-violence as a philosophy and those who see it as a tactical question. The former tend to favor cooperation with the government while the latter see the government as part of the enemy.

Clamshell is the largest and most developed of the anti-nuclear alliances, and as such its crisis last summer points to a larger crisis in the anti-nuclear movement—a crisis in its dominant philosophy and organizational structure.

As a theory of social change, non-violence suggests that only through disciplined pacifism can people realize their latent power and step out of the old reality and into the new. Accordingly, all changes in human relationships wrought in the past have led to the degradation of today’s society because the violent tactics used enabled the most violent to consolidate their power and exert it on a day-to-day basis. Thus, to the pacifist, the roots of present-day inequalities and exploitation are the means by which the present system came into being, and not with the development of the system itself—violence begets violence…Therefore, in order to bring about any real social change, the tactics used must be confined to non-violent ones so that the means used by one group of people to oppress another will not exist.

This all sounds very good on paper, and it seems to have worked at the various demonstrations. It should be remembered, however, that the recent demonstrations across the country were quite different from the conditions of day-to-day life. They were, in a word ideal. Both sides had an understanding of what was going to happen. For their part, the police and industry powers all cooperated and quite nicely, to the point that a tacit agreement of sorts was reached allowing the demonstrations to happen if the protesters also cooperated by causing a minimum of obstruction and delay. The police often went so far as to take non-violence training themselves where they learned about the type of people they would be facing and ways to get them to cooperate. By presenting their “human” face the police were able in many cases to elicit cooperation when resistance was supposedly the rule of the day. Forgotten was the fact that under different, non-ideal circumstances the police can act in a quite different fashion in fulfilling their roles as defenders of the arms and energy industries and the status quo in general.

What many practitioners of non-violence fail to realize is that there are two kinds of violence. The first is the kind used to acquire or maintain personal gain. This type includes not only the violence of warfare but also the violence by which the system maintains itself; the violence of working at breakneck speed in poisonous conditions under the threat of lost livelihood is no less real than the violence of the gun, only more subtle. The nuclear industry uses this sort of violence every day—both to its workers and to the public, over whose head it holds the sword of nuclear accidents.

The second class of violence is the type used by those oppressed by the first to throw off the oppressor. It is a form of self-defense in that its aim is stopping violence of the first kind. The violence used by the Hungarian and Czech people in an attempt to prevent the Russians from re-instituting state-capitalism in their countries is a good example of this kind of violence. There comes a point in opposing the seekers of cold profit when violence is the only alternative to death. The Vietnam War and hundreds of other similar incidents show that this society is quite capable of killing millions. At that point, non-violence becomes an impediment to the fight against this society.

Just as it is foolish to think that the Viet Nam War was ended primarily by US demonstrators, it would be ridiculous to believe that armed struggle looms in the anti-nuke movement’s near future. However, demonstrations in Europe have shown that the fight against nuclearism will have to become more militant if the movement is to put an end to nuclear plants and weapons. In Germany in 1976, 28,000 people occupied the Whyl nuclear plant site and they physically drove off the police who came to arrest them. Instead of merely making a symbolic statement and then accepting arrest, they utilized the strength of their numbers and collective principles to make an even stronger statement by not accepting the state’s right to arrest them. They were ultimately successful as the building of the Whyl plant was consequently canceled by the German Government.

A confrontation of similar proportions was also quite possible at the Seabrook site, where after a demonstration of 20,000 people, 5,000 were committed to “going over the fence.” Sadly the Clamshell hierarchy decided to cancel the occupation rather than force a confrontation. Instead of progressing, the Clamshell group has become fragmented and the leaders have gone so far as to propose solutions to the nuclear problem through legislative means. By abandoning the occupation, the Clam has raised the question of whether or not pacifists will be willing to continue the fight against nuclear plants and weapons or will they abandon their principles in confrontation with state violence.

Non-violence became associated with the anti-nuclear movement at the outset because of the influence of pacifist groups in the movement’s initial organizing. Because of this historic influence and because of initial success in using symbolic actions, nonviolence and no-nukes became virtual synonyms. But while pacifism can offer moral and ethical rationalities as to why activism is important, the pacifist analysis cannot answer the political question of why nukes exist. To fill that void, many people began to look for the economic and political importance to the capitalist system and the state. In doing this, many people began to see that the forces representing nuclear interests would never voluntarily stop producing them. They would have to be forced to stop directly by ever more militant actions.

Share this on... Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail