By Brian Martin
Brian Martin has been involved in the radical science, environment and peace movements since the '70s and has written widely in these areas. He works in the Department of Science and Technology Studies, University of Wollongong, Australia.
It was in 1980 that I first became involved in promoting social defence, along with several others in the group Canberra Peacemakers. At that stage we called it nonviolent defence, but the name didn't matter. No one that we knew had heard of it or understood a thing about it. So the immediate challenge was to be able to describe the idea in a readily understandable way to those unfamiliar with it. It wasn't long before the phrase "Social defence is nonviolent community resistance to aggression as an alternative to military defence" came tripping off our tongues.
This abstract explanation still didn't mean much to most people, so we amplified the description by referring to strikes, boycotts and non-cooperation. If there was a bit more time, a few historical examples were very helpful, such as the resistance to the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. Thus, gradually, began an education in the arguments about social defence.
Since then, I have had many interesting experiences in speaking about social defence. Talks to military officers, government bureaucrats and left-wing activists each have their own particular challenges. Still, in some ways the most testing audience is interested members of the "general public".
It doesn't take long to find that there are a number of standard questions and common concerns. This applies whether talking to a large audience or to an individual friend.
Although I have read quite a lot about social defence over the years -- and written on the topic myself -- I never really thought about the fact that there was no simple introduction to the arguments for speakers. After all, it was a continual challenge to encourage others to develop their skills at speaking about social defence. It was only at the social defence conference at Bradford, England in April 1990 that it really became obvious to me that there was a need for more practical materials about social defence. By contrast, there are some superb academic studies, and there are numerous insights to be found in a wide range of books and articles.
I think that the most useful introduction to arguments about social defence is one that is honest about limitations of the arguments themselves. Therefore, although I am an advocate of social defence, I've tried to point out the weaknesses of some of the replies (as well as the strengths).
I've also tried to avoid presenting a single prescription about social defence. There are a number of ongoing disputes about what how it should be organised and promoted. I have my own views and these have undoubtedly coloured my presentation. Perhaps my strongest commitment is to widespread participation in promotion of social defence. This is reflected not so much in the particular answers here, but in the existence of this material itself.
In almost every case, the "best" answer is one tailored to the circumstances of the speaker and listener. The responses included here can at most be a starting point.
It's also important to remember that there are no official "right answers" on social defence. After all, social defence has never yet been introduced. As Johan Niezing, one of the world's foremost theorists on social defence, told me, "There are no experts on social defence." Arguments are only one part of the promotion of social defence. Other activities are also necessary. One of the most enjoyable and challenging things in my involvement with social defence has been developing ways to promote it that go beyond trying to convince governments to implement it. The second part of this manual is titled "actions", and is intended to include all sorts of ways for people to promote social defence. (Of course, presenting the "arguments" of part 1 is also a form of action. Therefore, to be precise, the second part should perhaps be called "other actions".)
The sorts of actions that have most interested me are ones that can be carried out by an individual or a small group -- small here meaning from two to perhaps ten people. This is because my own work on social defence has mainly been with small groups. Undoubtedly there are many valuable things that can be done with large groups too! If you have the luxury of working with a large group committed to social defence, there should be plenty of ideas for activities surging forward.
My emphasis on actions for small groups also reflects my belief that social defence should be organised in a decentralised fashion, with maximum local autonomy.
Experience with actions to promote and implement social defence is very limited. My own involvement in a number of small projects has served to show the immense range of possible actions. But until there has been more practical experience with actions, it is largely speculation whether they will work in any particular situation. The best thing is to try things out and see what happens. The learning process can be rapid. I have emphasised actions that have been tried, but included also ideas for possible actions. I have also given extra attention to projects with which I have personal experience, because then it is possible for me to give a more realistic picture of strengths and weaknesses. Since there is a common practice of publicising one's successes and keeping quiet about one's failures, there is always a risk of over-optimism in relying on published accounts.
Needless to say, there are undoubtedly many other actions that I have not heard about. I would be greatly pleased to hear from others about both arguments and actions, and will do what I can to publicise the experiences of others.
In compiling both arguments and actions, I have relied heavily on previously published materials. Several portions of text are taken directly from the broadsheet "Social defence" produced by Canberra Peacemakers in 1982 and written by Nick Hopkins, Claire Runciman, Frances Sutherland and myself. Much of the material on social offence is taken from a leaflet "Resist repressive regimes" produced by Schweik Action Wollongong in 1987 and written by Terry Darling, Lisa Schofield and myself. Sources for a number of the arguments and actions are given in the text.
I thank Barbara Clark, Howard Clark, Christine Schweitzer, Hans Sinn and Ralph Summy for valuable comments on an earlier version.
Social defence is a nonviolent alternative to military defence. It is based on widespread protest, persuasion, non-cooperation and intervention in order to oppose military aggression or political repression. It uses methods such as boycotts, refusals to obey, strikes, demonstrations and setting up alternative government.
Social defence is nonviolent community resistance to aggression. This includes defence against military aggression, defence against government oppression of local communities, and defence against male violence against women. Social defence is nonviolent defence of the vital features of society -- including human rights, local autonomy, and participation -- against all oppressive forces.
These two answers correspond to two orientations among supporters of social defence. They can be called the narrow and the broad definitions. Each definition has its advantages and disadvantages. In the following answers, the narrow definition will usually be assumed. To supplement the examples here about resistance to military aggression, those favouring the broad definition can readily provide examples from struggles by feminists, environmentalists, peace activists and others.
Yes. There are actually several different names that all mean about the same thing. The main ones are social defence, nonviolent defence, civilian-based defence and civilian defence.
It is usually unfruitful to get into discussions about names, except with people promoting social defence who need to agree about what they are going to call it. The different names do have different connotations. The expression "civilian-based defence" usually refers to nonviolent defence operating under direction of a government, whereas the expression "social defence" often refers to nonviolent defence based on grassroots initiatives.
Social defence is not passive. Its core is nonviolent action, and this includes strikes, fraternisation and setting up alternative institutions. There are also offensive measures to be taken, such as communications to undermine international and domestic support for the aggression. Social defence does not mean just sitting there and accepting whatever the aggressor inflicts.
It is a common misconception that nonviolence is passive. The expression "passive resistance" has been used to describe a type of nonviolent resistance, but usually it is better to avoid it since it gives the wrong impression.
No, not if social defence is defined as an alternative to military defence. Social defence is nonviolent community resistance designed to counter military invasions and coups. Your action is an excellent example of nonviolent action in a more general sense. Of course, there is a very close connection between social defence and nonviolent action: social defence is based on the use of nonviolent action. Social defence means that the functions of the military are eliminated or replaced (or, at the very least, supplemented). There can be lots of nonviolent action in a community but if the military is still present, there is the potential for waging war and carrying out repression.
This answer is based on the narrow definition of social defence. Using the broad definition, the answer might be "yes" if the action were part of a strategy to develop community resistance to oppression and aggression.
There are several serious problems with military methods.
(l) War. Military forces can be used to attack as well as to defend. The weapons of modern war are designed for killing vast numbers of people, and also can devastate the environment. As long as armies and armaments are present, there is a possibility that they will be used. There are numerous wars occurring around the world today, and there is a continuing possibility of the extensive use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as well as increasingly deadly "conventional" weapons.
Since the development of planes and missiles, everyone -- civilians as well as soldiers -- is on the front line in a war. Social defence provides a way for everyone to take responsibility for defence, unlike military methods.
(2) Arms races. Military methods tend to encourage the very threat they are intended to defend against.
If a country relies on social defence and cannot launch a violent attack, then other governments will find it harder to justify their reliance on violence for defence. It is harder to convince soldiers of the justice of their government's war if they are attacking an unarmed opponent.
Since social defence contains no military capability, nuclear attack and aerial bombardment become pointless and harder to justify.
(3) Military repression. One of the greatest threats to freedom and democracy in many countries today is military forces. If military forces take over the government, who will stop them? Who guards the guardians?
With social defence, this problem does not arise, since social defence is based on popular participation and so removes the dependence on a professional defence force. The nonviolent methods used against a foreign aggressor can also be used against local military forces that try to take power.
(4) Reduced democracy. Military forces are based on hierarchy and obedience. They train people to kill on command. This is contrary to the equality, questioning, mutual respect and dialogue that help promote a democratic society. The influence of military systems often inhibits or thwarts greater participation in the rest of society.
Social defence is much more compatible with a society based on equality and wide political participation.
Gene Sharp, the leading researcher on nonviolent action, has identified 198 different types of nonviolent action and given examples of each one. Sharp divides the methods of social defence into three categories: symbolic actions, non-cooperation, and intervention and alternative institutions.
Symbolic actions, including: formal statements (speeches, letters, petitions); slogans, leaflets, banners; demonstrations, protest marches, vigils, pickets; wearing of symbols of opposition (such as the paper clips worn by Norwegian civilians during the Nazi occupation); meetings, teach-ins.
Non-cooperation, including: social boycott, stay-at-home; boycotts by consumers, workers, traders; embargoes; strikes, bans, working-to-rule, reporting "sick"; refusal to pay tax or debts, withdrawal of bank deposits; boycotts of government institutions; disobedience, evasions and delays; mock incapability ("go slow", "misunderstandings", "mistakes").
Intervention and alternative institutions, including: fasts; sit-ins, nonviolent obstruction and occupation; sabotage (such as destruction of information and records); establishment of parallel institutions for government, media, transport, welfare, health and education.
Rather than listing these in an abstract fashion, the most persuasive thing is examples that are meaningful to your audience. If there has been an effective strike recently or a potent symbolic protest, refer to it and then comment "Now just imagine this sort of action being well prepared in advance and systematically used against an aggressor."
A second option -- usually second best -- is to refer to historical examples of nonviolent actions. So, if you are mentioning the effectiveness of speeches, you could refer to the speech by the leading church figure that led to the ending of the Nazi euthanasia programme. If you learn one or two historical case studies really well, you can develop the examples in a systematic fashion. This is preferable to picking examples from too large a range of cases, which sounds less coherent and may open you to criticism from people who know, or think they know, about the cases themselves.
Reference: Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1973).
Social defence is based on the principle that no regime -- whether democracy or military dictatorship -- can survive without the passive acquiescence of a large fraction of the population. In other words, all societies are built on consent, cooperation and obedience. Social defence is designed to systematically disrupt this consent, cooperation and obedience and replace it by non-cooperation and disobedience.
If, in a business corporation or a government body, large numbers of the workers refuse to carry out instructions, set up their own communications systems and mobilise supporters from the outside, the top officials can do little about it.
This idea applies to military forces themselves. If only a few soldiers refuse orders, they can be arrested or shot and discipline maintained. But if large numbers refuse to cooperate, an army cannot function. This occurred during the Algerian Generals' Revolt (see description), in the collapse of the Russian armies during World War One, during the Iranian Revolution (see description) and many other times.
This is an abbreviated account of the consent theory of power, as presented by Gene Sharp and others. This theory has its own limitations, but theoretical debates are not appropriate for most discussions of social defence. Rather than give this sort of answer, an alternative is to give examples of the effectiveness of non-cooperation and not worry about the theoretical explanation.
The idea of nonviolent resistance to aggression can be traced to a number of writers, including Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Elihu Burritt (a Christian pacifist), William James and Bertrand Russell. The campaigns led by Gandhi in South Africa and India were important in developing the idea of a nonviolent alternative to war. Gandhi himself began advocating defence by nonviolent resistance in the '30s. A number of writers were inspired by Gandhi and developed his ideas. In the '30s, advocates of a nonviolent substitute for war included Richard Gregg, Bart de Ligt, Kenneth Boulding, Jessie Wallace Hughan and Krishnalal Shridharani.
Perhaps the first fully-fledged description of a national social defence system was by Stephen King-Hall, a British writer and former naval officer, in his 1958 book Defence in the Nuclear Age. He thought that British parliamentary democracy could be better defended from communism if the military were abolished and replaced by organised nonviolent resistance. King-Hall's treatment moved social defence onto the agenda as a pragmatic rather than just a moral alternative.
Shortly after this, the idea of social defence was developed by various researchers including Theodor Ebert in West Germany, Johan Galtung in Norway, Adam Roberts in Britain and Gene Sharp in the USA. Since then, these and other researchers have worked on the idea, inspired both by historical writing about nonviolent struggles and by contemporary use of nonviolent action in a variety of campaigns. I can recommend a number of excellent books and articles on social defence.
Any brief summary of the history of ideas is bound to be incomplete and unfair to the contributions of some people. Furthermore, the full history of ideas of nonviolent struggle is yet to be written. Perhaps the most important point here is the interaction of theory and practice. This is why it is useful to emphasise Gandhi and his campaigns and also some more recent campaigns such as the US civil rights movement, the peace movement, the feminist movement and the environmental movement.
Nonviolent struggle has been used for thousands of years in a wide variety of contexts. (See examples.) But, as mentioned before, the idea of social defence has really only been around since the '50s and '60s, and it is not yet widely known among the general public.
There is a relatively small degree of formal endorsement of social defence. Many green parties endorse social defence, as do a number of activist groups.
On the other hand, a large number of groups -- such as environmental groups and social justice groups -- make very sophisticated and conscious use of the methods of nonviolent action. The development of these skills and experience in nonviolent action lays a good foundation for the development of social defence.
For a list of activities and contacts, see "Actions".
Illustrations from history can show how nonviolent action works and suggest the potential for social defence. Nevertheless, there are a number of reservations which are worth remembering. Whether to mention these reservations, and when, depends on the audience, their knowledge of nonviolent action and the type of discussion.
Historical examples do not prove the case for social defence -- or anything else. For every example of effective nonviolent action, another example could be provided of ineffective nonviolent action. Historical examples are like tools in a box. They can be useful for hammering points home, but if you try to build a grand edifice, someone else may be able to bring it tumbling down.
Historical examples are not examples of social defence, but rather of nonviolent action of the sort that might be part of a social defence system. In many cases, nonviolent action was largely spontaneous. There was little preparation, no training and little planning.
Each example has its own specific limitations as an example. Some of these limitations will be mentioned below. If there is someone in the audience with special knowledge, your nice example may be spoiled. Be prepared to admit the shortcomings of each example.
On the other hand, there is no need to be overly defensive about the examples. For every failure of nonviolent action, there is a failure of violent action (usually with far more horrendous consequences). It is useful to regularly make comparisons with historical examples of the use of violent action to put things in perspective.
The writing of history always involves interpretation and, therefore, value judgments. Some writers, such as Gene Sharp, who favour the use of nonviolent action undoubtedly present certain historical episodes in a different light than writers who assume that state power or class struggle or whatever is the crucial issue. This only serves to emphasise the point that historical examples are like tools in a box. Different people pick different tools and use them for different purposes, whether to show the potential power of nonviolence or the necessity of warfare.
It is important to emphasise coups, since they are often overlooked in the usual comparisons between having military forces and having none. Military regimes are, arguably, just as serious a problem as warfare itself. In such cases, militaries obviously are a cause rather than a solution to the problem.
On 13 March 1920 in Berlin, there was a putsch (military takeover) led by General von Lüttwitz. The extreme right-wing Dr Wolfgang Kapp became Chancellor. Commanders of the German army refused to support the elected government and took no action against the putsch. It was left to the people to take action.
Germany's Weimar republic had been set up after the country's defeat in World War One. The government in 1920 was led by President Friedrich Ebert. In the wake of the coup, the government fled from Berlin to Stuttgart, from which it encouraged resistance by non-cooperation.
When the Kappists took over two pro-government newspapers, all Berlin printers went on strike. The Ebert government called for a general strike throughout Germany. Support for the strike was overwhelming, especially in Berlin, and included groups from most political and religious orientations.
Opposition by civil servants was also crucial in opposing the coup. Workers in government bureaucracies refused to head government departments under Kapp.
Non-cooperation ran deep. Bank officials refused to honour cheques presented by Kappists unless they were signed by appropriate government officials. But not one such official would sign. Typists were not available to type proclamations for the Kappists.
Kapp foolishly alternated between making concessions and attempting crackdowns, neither of which produced support. As his weakness became more obvious, opposition increased. Some military units and the security police declared their support for the legal government. After only four days, Kapp resigned and fled. With the collapse of the putsch, the Ebert government could once again rely on the loyalty of the army.
The Kapp putsch is an excellent example because of the many types of nonviolent action used. Especially important is the crucial role of legitimacy for any government. People usually think of a military regime as inevitably getting its way, but in practice it only does so when people routinely obey. For bank officials to refuse to cash cheques is a wonderful example of the ordinariness of non-cooperation. This example also has the advantage that the nonviolent resistance was successful.
The historical context is important in understanding the putsch. The Weimar republic was an attempt at setting up parliamentary democracy in the most difficult of situations. Not only was the economy in tatters, but there was serious opposition from both the right and left. There had nearly been a revolution in Germany in the aftermath of the war. The Ebert government could rely on the army, a bastion of conservatism, to oppose left-wing insurgency. On the other hand, the army generally did not oppose threats to the republic from the right, and most military leaders sat on the sidelines during the Kapp putsch. Popular action was necessary to defeat the putsch precisely because the army did nothing.
Another element in the story of the putsch is the role of armed workers' groups in several parts of Germany. This left-wing armed struggle was an attempt at social revolution rather than just opposition to the coup. After the defeat of the putschists, the Ebert government used the army to smash the workers' opposition -- including the general strike in Berlin, which was still continuing. General von Seeckt, who declined to oppose the coup, had no hesitation in using force against the workers.
It should also be remembered that the Weimar republic was followed by the Third Reich, in a transition that largely occurred through legal channels, including elections. The issue of the rise of the Nazis to power is a complex one. It is worth noting here that the Weimar republic regularly resorted to article 48 in its constitution, which essentially was a provision for martial law, in order to stop threats, especially from the left. This was reliance on government repression of civil liberties, backed by the military. Clearly, there was no policy to develop the capacity of the population to use direct action to protect freedom and democracy (not to mention the overthrow of capitalism). The Kapp putsch led to a spontaneous mass exercise in nonviolent resistance, but this had no lasting consequences.
Reference: DJ Goodspeed The Conspirators: A Study of the Coup d'état (London: Macmillan, 1962).
Until 1962, Algeria was a colony of France. Beginning in 1954, an armed independence struggle was waged by Algerian nationalists against French settlers who were supported by French military forces. In April 1961, French president Charles de Gaulle indicated that he was prepared to negotiate with the Algerian nationalists.
Leading sections of the French military in Algeria, who were strongly opposed to Algerian independence, staged a coup on 21-22 April 1961 in the city of Algiers. They were initially very successful, encountering little open resistance from loyal sections of the military. There was a possibility of a parallel putsch in France, or an invasion.
Resistance to the coup developed rapidly. Trade unions and political parties called a one-hour general strike, and ten million workers joined. After some delay, de Gaulle, in a broadcast on 23 April, called for non-cooperation with the coup by both civilians and troops. Although the rebel generals controlled the Algerian media, French broadcasts were picked up by many French soldiers in Algeria on their transistor radios.
In Algeria, many soldiers refused to cooperate with the coup. Many pilots flew their transport planes or fighters out of Algeria. Others faked mechanical problems. Many soldiers just stayed in their barracks. Others caused inefficiency in administration and communications.
After four days the coup disintegrated. Not a single shot had been fired at the rebels.
The special value of the example of the Algerian Generals' revolt is the many methods of non-cooperation used by soldiers. This is a good example to use when talking with military personnel! They, possibly more than anyone else, need to know of the power of non-cooperation and of their responsibility to consider resisting rather than obeying orders.
Just because the revolt collapsed in four days, just like the Kapp putsch, does not mean that all coups last only four days!
It should be noted that the revolt and nonviolent resistance to it came towards the end of the long and bloody war for Algerian independence. The Algerian independence movement used ruthless methods, as did the French colonial army. As many as a million people were killed in the struggle. It might be asked whether an unarmed liberation struggle could have achieved independence with less loss of life. One key point is that the French army could be relied upon to fight the Algerian nationalists -- if they didn't, they would be killed. The limited loyalty of the French conscripts, and their low level of support for the war, was indicated by their non-cooperation during the revolt. Arguably, the liberation struggle didn't make full use of potential dissent within the French army because of the polarising violence of the war.
Reference: Adam Roberts, "Civil resistance to military coups",Journal of Peace Research, Volume 12, 1975, pages 19-36.
Other military coups: Poland, 1981. Reference: Jan Zielonka, "Strengths and weaknesses of nonviolent action: the Polish case" Orbis spring 1986, pages 91-110.
Fiji, 1987. Reference: Brian Martin, "Lessons in nonviolence from the Fiji coups" Gandhi Marg, Number 114, September 1988, pages 326-339.
The usual justification for having military forces is to stop an invasion by another state's military forces. Therefore it is essential for advocates of social defence to give examples of what to do about invasions. But coups and repressive regimes should be emphasised too, especially since it is more obvious that military strength is the cause rather than the solution of these problems.
The Versailles treaty at the end of World War I required that Germany pay reparations to the victorious allies. Due to disastrous economic conditions, Germany defaulted on payments. In response, in January 1923 French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr, a region bordering France and Belgium. The French government by this action also hoped to keep Germany weak economically and militarily.
Germany was unable to mount military resistance due to its small army and collapsing economy. The German government called instead for non-cooperation. This struggle was called the Ruhrkampf.
There were many varieties of non-cooperation carried out by employers, trade unionists, government workers and many others. There were rallies, strikes and boycotts. Railway workers refused to cooperate, and were dismissed. A French company was brought in to operate the railways, but the departing German workers sabotaged the equipment. The few trains that ran were boycotted. There was also resistance from civil servants, shopkeepers, trade unions and the press.
French authorities enacted severe penalties, with many fines, arrests, detentions, deportations, long prison sentences, confiscations, beatings, forced labour and shootings.
Some groups engaged in violent resistance, carrying out sabotage that led to deaths. This led to severe reprisals by the occupiers, undermined the unity of the resistance and weakened international support for it.
On 26 September 1923 the resistance was called off unconditionally by the German government. The German economy virtually collapsed in massive inflation partly caused by the printing of money to fund the resistance. But there were potent effects on the other side too. French public opinion was outraged by the brutality of the occupation, and this contributed to the fall of the French government in 1924.
Economically too, the occupation failed to achieve the extraction of resources for which it was originally designed. A revised schedule of reparations was arranged by an international commission (the Dawes Plan). Occupation forces were withdrawn by June 1925.
This is a good example to answer the question, "what if the enemy just occupied part of the country?" It is also a good illustration of how severe repression by an occupier can be counterproductive. Of course, France in 1923 was a "democratic" country, so that public opinion could exert considerable pressure. On the other hand, this was just five years after the 1914-1918 bloodletting of the western front, during which Germans were depicted in propaganda as cruel and inhuman huns. No doubt the nonviolence of the resistance contributed to the development of sympathy among the French public.
Reference: Wolfgang Sternstein, "The Ruhrkampf of 1923: economic problems of civilian defence", in The Strategy of Civilian Defence: Non-violent Resistance to Aggression Adam Roberts ed (London: Faber and Faber, 1967), pages 106-135.
In the '60s, a number of reforms were made in Czechoslovakia which reduced the repressive aspects of communist rule. These moves -- so-called "socialism with a human face" -- were strongly supported by the Czechoslovak people, but bitterly opposed by the Soviet government.
On 20-21 August 1968, a military invasion of Czechoslovakia was launched by hundreds of thousands of troops from the Soviet Union and four other Warsaw Pact countries, with the expectation of installing a pro-Soviet government within a few days. Military resistance would have been bloody and futile, so the Czechoslovak government instructed the army not to resist the invasion.
The Czechoslovak people, from the political leadership to the workforce, united in spontaneous nonviolent resistance to the occupation. Non-cooperation with the invaders was practised at all levels: by the president, by army officers, by shopkeepers, by farmers and even by secret police. People sat in front of tanks. Streets signs and house numbers were removed, and false information given out. People talked with the Soviet troops -- who had been told they were invading to stop a capitalist takeover -- and undermined their loyalty so rapidly that many had to be rotated out of the country within a matter of days.
Underground newspapers were published. Radio and television were broadcast (from changing locations), providing news and greatly helping the resistance. The announcers called strikes, gave tactical instruction on street confrontations, requested rail workers to slow the transport of Soviet equipment, cautioned against rumours and counselled nonviolence.
The nonviolent nature of the resistance undermined Soviet propaganda justifying the invasion. All acts of violence against the invaders received heavy Soviet media coverage. Indeed, some violent incidents apparently were staged by Soviet forces to discredit the resistance.
Due to the unified civilian resistance and to the demoralisation of Soviet troops, Soviet leaders offered reforms and other concessions. The Czechoslovak leaders, held in Moscow and isolated from the resistance, did not really understand how effective it was. Under extreme pressure, they made compromises. This demoralised the opposition. As the Czechoslovak position weakened, the Soviet forces consolidated the occupation, removing their "unnecessary" concessions.
The Czechoslovak example is one of the best examples of nonviolent resistance to invasion because of the wide variety of effective methods used, especially fraternisation and the radio.
It is important to note that military resistance was not even tried. The Czechoslovak military sat on the sidelines, and Western forces likewise did nothing. Czechoslovak soldiers did provide some help to the resistance, for example in maintaining radio broadcasts.
The resistance can be judged a success or a failure depending on which comparison is made. The most active phase of resistance lasted only a week, but a puppet government was not installed until April 1969, eight months later. The resistance was important in causing a massive loss of Soviet credibility around the globe, especially in Western communist parties, at a minimal loss of life. Arguably, a violent resistance would not have been so successful in this.
Reference: Philip Windsor and Adam Roberts Czechoslovakia 1968: Reform, Repression and Resistance (London: Chatto and Windus, 1969).
Other occupations: Hungary by Austria, 1850-1867
Norway, Denmark, Netherlands by Germany, 1941-1945
Maximiliano Hernández Martínez became the dictator of El Salvador in 1931. Although he introduced some valuable reforms, he ruthlessly crushed political opposition. In 1932, an armed uprising was brutally crushed by the military, who executed many thousands of campesinos (small farmers) in reprisal.
In 1943, there were stirrings of opposition, with leaflets and petitions. The government responded with increased censorship, arrests and other controls.
The opposition was stimulated by US government rhetoric of a fight for freedom and democracy against Nazism. Also important was outrage over constitutional changes allowing Hernández to serve a further six-year term as president.
On 2 April 1944, there was a military revolt, which was repressed harshly. This helped to trigger a nonviolent insurrection. University students took the lead and organised a student strike, which spread to high schools. Over a period of a few weeks, physicians and businesses joined the strike, until virtually the entire country was at a standstill, including government offices, banks and railways. This was essentially a stay-at-home strike, which cut most services.
Police shot at some boys, killing one. As a result, large crowds surged onto the streets. On 8 May, Hernández agreed to resign, and he left the country three days later.
The military was not used against the insurrection. The unreliability of the soldiers had been shown by the 2 April revolt. The officer corps, which was loyal to Hernández, did not risk using the army against the population.
While the nonviolent action of the people was enough to bring down Hernández, it was not effective in ensuring a transition to a nonrepressive society. There was a military coup later in 1944. The years since have seen continued oppression of Salvadorean people.
This example is useful to counter the widespread perception that Latin American politics consists of right-wing military dictatorships, sometimes confronted by left-wing guerrillas. The toppling of the repressive government of Guatemala a few weeks later in 1944 -- stimulated by the example of El Salvador -- is another instance.
The case of El Salvador is also useful in illustrating that even in a police state there are opportunities for effective unarmed resistance, although of course at a risk. A seemingly simple leaflet can be a very significant form of defiance. Wider non-cooperation can be triggered by the process of open resistance, via strikes and further leaflets. If nothing is done by the government, others are emboldened to join in; repressive steps, on the other hand, can cause outrage and an expansion of resistance.
The limitation of the example is the poor outcome. There was no strategic plan behind the resistance: individuals and groups acted to bring down Hernández, but there was little thought about how to make the process lead to a stable and less repressive society.
Reference: Patricia Parkman Nonviolent Insurrection in El Salvador: The Fall of Maximiliano Hernández Martínez (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1988).
Iran under the Shah was an incredibly repressive state. The secret police were pervasive, and torture was used routinely to terrorise the population. Income from oil was used to finance a giant military machine. In addition, the Iranian government was actively supported by the United States government and was not opposed by the Soviet Union, Israel and most Arab states. Yet this seemingly impregnable regime was overthrown without arms. There was horrific violence, almost all of it against unarmed opponents of the government.
The regime was riddled with corruption and out of touch with the needs of the people. Many groups opposed the Shah, from communists to Islamic fundamentalists.
Protest escalated in 1978. Troops opened fire on a crowd, killing several people. A mourning procession, held in Islamic tradition 40 days after the deaths, turned into a political protest, and troops were used again. Each time people were killed, this became a trigger for further protest 40 days later. Gradually more and more secular opponents joined the processions and religious demonstrations.
There were also massive strikes and go-slows in factories. Oil and power workers, crucial to the economy, were key participants. Eventually the economy ground to a halt, although food continued to be delivered.
The government was unable to stem the tide of opposition. The Shah vacillated between concessions that were unconvincing and repression that alienated more of the population. The Shah had created such a fawning entourage that he received no realistic advice. (Becoming a megalomaniac, out of touch with the people, is an occupational hazard for dictators.)
Martial law was declared in September 1978, but the cycle of demonstrations, killings of demonstrators and increased opposition continued. Strikes and closure of shops expanded until the economy was in collapse.
The spiritual leader of the Islamic resistance, Ayatollah Khomeini, was in exile. Cassette tapes of Khomeini's speeches were smuggled into the country and distributed through the bazaars, which were key centres for opposition sentiment. Khomeini made calls for soldiers and police to desert.
Eventually the troops refused to obey and instead joined the revolution. The Shah fled the country and Khomeini became the new head of state.
Unfortunately, this revolution carried out without arms did not lead to a nonviolent society. The secular dictatorship of the Shah was replaced by a theocratic dictatorship which, after solidifying its power, was just as ruthless as its predecessor in stamping out dissent. Furthermore, the Islamic Republic waged a bloody war with Iraq for most of a decade, leading to many more deaths than under the Shah.
The Iranian example is outstanding in showing that unarmed resistance can work against the most repressive regime. It is a risky example because of the widespread loathing of the Islamic Republic in the West. (This loathing may be well deserved, but it is partly due to a systematic campaign of vilification by Western governments, supported by news media. The repressive regime of the Shah was a key element in the Western military planning, so its abuses of human rights were largely ignored.)
If you are able to make the distinction between the nonviolent methods used in the revolution and the repressive regime that came to power after the revolution, then this is a useful example. After all, military forces were not used to undermine the Shah: they were supporting his rule. There were some left-wing guerrilla opponents of the Shah, but they were small in number, infiltrated by state agents, and served to justify government repression. It was the power of the people that won the day.
The opposition was not entirely nonviolent. As well as demonstrations, strikes, go-slows and closure of businesses, there were many riots, often triggered by shootings by soldiers. The key point, though, is that armed struggle against the Shah played almost no role.
It is worth noting that the loyalty of the regime's troops is a key to revolution, whether violent or nonviolent. The nonviolence of the movement helped undermine the loyalty of the troops.
Some might argue that tens of thousands of people killed is a high price to pay. But this is a relatively small figure compared to many revolutions won by guerrilla struggle.
Other repressive governments: Guatemala, 1944; Philippines, 1986
Other nonviolent struggles: Indian independence movement; United States civil rights movement
This is one of the most challenging questions about social defence, and also one of the most common ones. There are several ways to respond.
Nonviolent resistance can be successful against very repressive regimes. There are several relevant historical examples. Against the Nazis, there was effective nonviolent resistance in several countries, including Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands. The Iranian revolution occurred in the face of a ruthless military and torture apparatus [see description].
This answer emphasises the successes of nonviolent action. People need to know about these. They help to counter the idea that repression is all-encompassing and unstoppable. But the historical examples are limited in their persuasive value, since the Nazis were not toppled by nonviolent resistance, and the Iranian revolution, while largely nonviolent itself, did not replace the apparatus of violence in Iran.
Even the most ruthless dictatorship depends for its existence on passive support or nonresistance by a large fraction of the population. No government in history has been so powerful that it could function without a fair degree of consent or acquiescence. If the regime adopts unpopular policies and tries to repress all opposition violently, this will cause ever larger numbers of people to oppose and resist the government.
This answer is based on the theory that power rests on consent. It will probably fail to convince those who are not somewhat sympathetic already. Examples are needed to address the imagined problems of life under a horribly repressive regime.
Real-life dictatorships are not as all-powerful as might be imagined. The Nazi regime relied on support from a significant fraction of the German people through most of the Third Reich, and on several occasions public protest led to changes in policies. Under the brutal military regimes in Argentina and Chile, many individuals continued to openly express opposition in the workplace, in public protests and in the media. Student protests have shaken the harsh regimes in South Korea and Burma. If nonviolent resistance could be prepared for and expanded, then dictatorships would be difficult to sustain.
For example, consider the courageous stand of publisher Jacobo Timerman in Argentina, who maintained his newspaper's open resistance until he was arrested and tortured. An international campaign led to his release and he wrote about his experiences in a powerful book. His efforts were among those that contributed to the collapse of the generals' regime in the country.
This answer can be made more effective if you can describe detailed experiences in nonviolent resistance under severe repression, such as the Timerman example. It is worth linking this answer to the previous one of the crucial role of consent.
Reference: Jacobo Timerman Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number translated from the Spanish by Toby Talbot (New York: Vintage, 1982).
You are asking the wrong question. Ruthlessness -- namely, the psychology of the ruler -- is not the key factor.
The real question is how to make sure that the ruler is dependent in some way on the nonviolent resisters. This might be economic dependence or it could be the influence of family members who know people in the resistance. If there is a dependency relationship, then the ruler will encounter great obstacles if severe repression is used. But if there isn't some direct or indirect connection between the two sides, then even a fairly benevolent ruler may do really nasty things. Dependency, not attitude, is the key.
This answer can be quite effective if there is time to explore examples of how the dependency relationship works.
International support is important too, and there are many opportunities for nonviolent resistance to repressive regimes from people on the outside. [For more details see the section on social offence.]
The methods and tactics used in social defence need to be specially chosen if repression is harsh. More use can be made of quiet "mistakes" in carrying out tasks and "misunderstandings" of orders. Preparation in advance is crucial for things such as shutting down factories, protecting dissidents, providing food and shelter for survival, maintaining communications and exposing repression to the world. When support for the resistance becomes widespread, open defiance becomes possible.
Describing "what to do" is effective because it appeals to people's practical sense of tackling a difficult task.
It is seldom easy to stop a ruthless invader or ruler, whether using violence or not. Military planners routinely anticipate thousands or millions of casualties in opposing the enemy, most obviously in the case of waging a nuclear war. Social defence planning must also prepare for the heavy casualties. If people are not willing to sacrifice, then perhaps they should think again about whether resistance is worth the cost.
This is not an answer for the uninitiated or the fainthearted. The question of whether a social defence should be prepared to "accept" heavy casualties is a fundamental challenge, and has hardly been discussed. Of course, advocates of military methods seldom discuss this either -- Herman Kahn did so in his book On Thermonuclear War and caused an uproar -- but have implicitly "agreed" to "accept" heavy casualties. Military planners and governments make this decision on behalf of their populations. Social defence is different in that the resistance depends on popular support. This is why the issue of heavy casualties seems more acute for social defence than military defence: people have to take responsibility for the sacrifice themselves, rather than letting rulers do it.
Reference: Gene Keyes, "Heavy casualties and nonviolent defense", Philosophy and Social Action volume 17, numbers 3-4, July-December 1991.
This is a special case of the question about how social defence can work against severe repression. It is worth listing several responses, both because the Nazi example is often raised and because it illustrates the types of responses that are possible on other historical examples.
Nonviolence couldn't work because it was not tried, in a big way, against the Nazis. Many Germans were ardent supporters of the Nazis, and many people in other countries were admirers as well. Supporters of military methods tended to be especially favourable to the Nazis.
There was no concerted attempt from outside Germany to undermine the Nazis using nonviolent methods. Stephen King-Hall gives a telling account of how he tried futilely as late as 1939 to drum up British government support for a campaign to undermine the German people's support for Hitler. There has been no further study on this issue, so it remains a possibility that concerted nonviolent attack from around the world could have undermined or restrained the Nazi regime.
Throughout the rule of the Nazis, there was a German opposition to Hitler. This internal opposition was not fostered by the Allies, nor has it been given sufficient credit by post-war writers.
This is a potentially powerful answer, but it has to confront deep-seated beliefs that since the Nazis were so formidable militarily, nonviolence wouldn't have had a chance. The idea that the Nazis relied on public support is hard to get across.
Reference: Hans Rothfels, The German Opposition to Hitler (London: Oswald Wolff, 1961).
The case of the Nazis should not be removed from its historical context. It is unfair to set up a worst case -- the rise of a ruthless regime and its solidification of power -- and then expect nonviolence to be a solution without its own process of development and solidification.
This is true, but may not be convincing. If advocates of social defence use historical examples that they choose, they need to be able to respond to examples chosen by others.
Violence did not "succeed" against the Nazis. The normal assumption underlying the Nazi example is that only violence -- namely the allied war effort -- would have worked against the Nazis in a period less than decades.
The war by Western governments was against German military and political expansion, not against the ruthless system of fascism alone. The allies in World War Two did not attempt to topple the fascist regimes in Spain and Portugal. After the war, the allies allowed or encouraged many fascists to obtain positions of power. Essentially, the war was about power politics, not justice and freedom. Western military strength has not been used against numerous dictatorial regimes around the world, but instead has frequently been used to prop them up.
Examples of the mythology (or hypocrisy) of the allied war effort are provocative to many people and must be used carefully. Beliefs about the holiness of the cause of the allies are possibly as deep-rooted as those about the necessity of military force.
Nazi genocidal politics were not the reason why Western governments waged war against Nazi Germany. There is ample historical evidence that easy opportunities to disrupt death camp operations were passed over by the Allied governments. The policy was explicitly to win the war first and stop genocidal killing afterwards. The allies minimised any association of their cause with that of the Jews.
Indeed, genocide has often been permitted to proceed with no military intervention by "non-ruthless" governments. The Turkish government's extermination of the Armenians in 1919, Stalin's purges in the '30s and the Cambodian exterminations from 1975 to 1979 are major examples where military forces in other countries stood by and did nothing. Of course, the killings were carried out by, or with the support of, the militaries in the countries where they occurred.
This is a direct challenge to the usual ideas about genocide and the need for military defence. Note, though, that it does not describe how nonviolence would stop genocide.
The Nazi extermination of the Jews and other stigmatised groups did not begin until after the war began. In effect, the war provided a brutalising environment conducive to the killings as well as a cover for them. Much of the blame for Nazi genocide can be attributed to the war itself.
Again, this is a direct challenge to the usual ideas about genocide. These issues are often bound up with powerful emotions in people. Tread carefully.
This is perhaps the most difficult situation of all. Yet in the midst of war and massacres, nonviolent action has often made a difference.
The best time for nonviolent action is before a war gets going. Nazi Germany was much more vulnerable to nonviolent sanctions during the '30s than once war broke out.
The situation you are describing in one in which both sides are strongly committed to violence, as in the civil war in El Salvador or the war between Iran and Iraq. We can't really speak of social defence until there is a significant commitment to nonviolent methods by at least one side.
In many cases, wars and massacres persist because outside governments either do nothing or provide arms and support for killing. Supplies of arms and purchases of oil kept the Iraq-Iran war going. Resolute nonviolent action from the international community would have a powerful effect in such situations. The trouble is, this approach is seldom carried through.
This is question for which there is no good answer. A problem caused by reliance on violence is posed, and then advocates of nonviolence are asked to come up with a solution. Examples can be effective here, since in many cases "democratic" governments have supported the forces of repression. Stepping back from the current fighting and looking at what led to it can show many opportunities for nonviolent intervention.
Social defence by the Kuwaiti people was probably not a possibility, since Kuwait was a grossly unequal and authoritarian society. The time to stop Saddam Hussein was much earlier, in the '80s. Nonviolent opposition was required then against the governments of Iraq, Kuwait and others in the Gulf region that were repressive and undemocratic.
A principal reason why Saddam Hussein's Iraq became such a military power and threat was the support given by outside powers. His invasion of Iran in 1980 was supported by the governments of the United States, the Soviet Union and many other countries. Numerous companies sold him arms and technologies of repression. Governments were silent about his use of chemical weapons against Iranians and against Kurds in Iraq and about his brutal repression of political opponents in Iraq. He was given diplomatic support right up until the invasion of Kuwait.
Since many governments gave Saddam Hussein support during the '80s, a key role for nonviolent action should have been to expose and oppose the hypocritical foreign policies of Western governments. That is a lesson for the future. There are plenty of repressive regimes in the world today being given full support by Western governments.
Notice that this question is a special case of the previous one.
The case of Iraq can be a trap, because the agenda for action was set by governments, especially the US government. It is easy to start telling about the courageous initiative of the Gulf Peace Camp set up between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, the effectiveness of the sanctions or the importance of addressing the real grievances of peoples in the Gulf region. But it should be emphasised that Iraqi military strength and adventurism were aided and abetted by numerous governments. Why should this be considered a "hard case" to deal with by nonviolent action? It is actually a much harder case to justify for the proponents of military strength, the arms trade and "pragmatic" power politics.
I would do my best to use nonviolent methods to prevent and stop rape. Using violence might make the situation worse.
Reference: John H Yoder What Would You Do? (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1983).
That isn't the real issue. Social defence is about the collective defence of a society, and whether nonviolence is a better way to do this.
Military systems are a major contributor to rape, not a solution. Armies are commonly involved in rape of civilians as well as killing and looting. Many female soldiers and wives are raped in "peacetime". Anything that helps to remove or replace military systems also helps to reduce rape.
Reference: Cynthia Enloe Does Khaki Become You? The Militarisation of Women's Lives (London: Pluto, 1983).
Most rapes in our society are by people known to the woman -- especially husbands. There is also a much higher rate of child sexual abuse -- by male relatives, especially fathers -- than most people realise. Scare-mongering about rape by strangers, including enemy soldiers, diverts attention from the most important issue, male domination. Armies are male dominated, and can only contribute to the problem.
Almost all combat soldiers are men, and armies are essentially male institutions. Associated with this, women are often expected to be passive and are not encouraged to develop their skills at resistance.
Social defence challenges this pattern. It involves both men and women developing skills for nonviolent struggle. Many of the things involved in developing social defence -- including support networks, nonviolent action training and building individual and community self-reliance -- can also be used to act against rape.
It is a challenge for us to develop campaigns against rape that are linked with campaigns towards social defence. There are some positive connections, unlike the situation with military defence.
If there's a military coup, what are you going to do to stop rape by soldiers -- especially when they threaten to shoot the woman if you resist?
The question about rape is not strictly about social defence, but it must be answered. (There are other questions like this that are encountered by people who speak on peace issues.) There is no single best answer, because much depends on the audience and the tone of the discussion. A calm, "rational" answer like response 1 may work, but not if there is lots of emotion behind the question. Response 2 is logically correct but probably ineffective.
Responses 3 to 5 take up the fundamental issues and challenge the usual assumptions underlying this question. Many people commonly assume that soldiers are there to protect the population, and believe that "our" soldiers wouldn't hurt us. Response 6 is a more emotional one. If you pitch it correctly, this sort of response can be very effective.
Rather than just planning for nonviolent resistance to an invader, there are also nonviolent ways to take the struggle to the opponent. This is one way to oppose harassment such as border violations.
Just as military defence always includes a capacity for offence, so social defence can include a capacity for offence. There are many possible techniques to oppose coups and repression in other countries.
You can Write letters: This is simple but influential. Letters to repressive governments or their embassies in your country, stating your concerns, can have an impact, as demonstrated by Amnesty International's letter-writing campaigns against torture. Letters to local newspapers are an effective way to get your message to the public. Letters to opponents of repressive regimes can provide valuable information and moral support.
You can Organise discussions: This can range from informal conversations between two people to large public meetings. Discussions and meetings are vital for sharing the information, insights and skills necessary to stimulate and organise effective action.
You can Make public statements: This can be done individually or as a group. You can produce and wear a T-shirt, pin up a poster, organise or sign a petition, make statements to the media and organise small rallies.
You can Support trade union actions: This is of symbolic and economic importance. This action can be initiated or promoted by individuals in unions or by several unions as a group. Trade union bans and public statements have been very important in challenging military power in the Philippines.
You can Support action through organisations: Religious, sporting, artistic, women's, youth and many other groups can have an impact by distributing information to members, making public statements and instituting bans.
You can Join boycotts: Don't wait for governments to do it. Your shopping dollar makes a difference. Boycotts of South African goods have helped to end apartheid.
You can Communicate through organisations: Churches, diplomatic services, banks and other corporations often make regular contact across national boundaries, for example through phone calls and computer links. These channels can be used to pass other information in the course of normal business.
You can Communicate via visitors: Both personal and official visitors provide another means of getting information to and from a country.
You can Refuse to be a tourist: Instead, write to the foreign government saying you won't visit until democracy is restored. This has been of symbolic and economic importance in the case of Fiji.
You can Help people escape repression: They need invitations, visas, money and jobs.
You can Communicate via short-wave radio: Repressive governments often cut off communications, especially just after a coup, such as in East Timor after 1975, in Poland in 1981 and in China in 1989. Short-wave radio allows people to communicate directly over long distances, outside government control.
You can Join or support nonviolent intervenors: For example, the organisation Peace Brigades International sponsors nonviolent activists to enter violent conflict situations, such as in Guatemala and Sri Lanka. By their very presence, they inhibit violence. They may try to mediate between opposite sides, accompany individuals threatened by violence, organise publicity, or do practical work for the local community.
It's just as true to say that violence has been tried and failed, so it is necessary to use nonviolence. The unarmed intifada has brought more worldwide support for the Palestinian cause than previous more violent actions.
In South Africa and other countries, nonviolence was not used to the full extent. Often people gave up in the face of repression. Nonviolent struggle does not mean that there is no violence from the other side.
Although the claim that nonviolence has been tried and failed is, on close inspection, a weak one, it does point to the limited development of nonviolent practice. Not often enough are nonviolent struggles carried though against really repressive opponents. There are insights still to be learned about how to build morale through a long campaign entailing much suffering. Militaries, using the insights of psychology, have learned how to build morale in their relatively small, homogeneous and hierarchical organisations. A similar learning process is necessary to create the basis for a really powerful social defence.
Indeed, it isn't. But neither is military defence guaranteed to succeed. The question is whether social defence is a better system when all things are taken into account.
Correct, if the enemy actually decides to use them. But neither does any other defence work against nuclear weapons once they are launched. (Civil defence provides some protection. It may be worth considering.)
The real question is whether social defence provides deterrence. Military armaments -- especially nuclear weapons themselves -- supposedly provide deterrence by threatening to devastate any attacker. Yet nuclear weapons also justify the threat they are supposed to defend against.
Social defence provides deterrence because it offers no threat. To attack an unarmed society with nuclear weapons would be the ultimate outrage, and cause an incredible backlash throughout the world, including in the attacking country.
Nuclear weapons have never been used against relatively poorly armed, "defenceless" countries that are outside nuclear alliances: Burma, Rwanda, Costa Rica, and so on. Leaders of nuclear states realise that any such attack would be unthinkably counterproductive.
Correct! Social defence is a system designed for a world in which there can still be fierce social struggle, but in which violence is not used. It seeks an end to war, namely mass organised violence. It does not promise a golden age of total harmony.
I'm not sure whether or not world peace, in the sense of universal harmony, is possible. I support the quest for such a world peace, but I think it is only something for the distant future. (This is the same as what some proponents of the military say about social defence!)
Social defence provides tools for nonviolent struggle to confront the problems in the world today. Arguably, this is compatible with the search for ways to supersede the problems altogether.
This is a standard criticism from some pacifists. I think it is best to be honest about the different philosophy behind social defence. It is really about seeking nonviolent, constructive struggle rather than abolishing the need for struggle at all.
I agree that the present system has a lot of problems. But it may still be worth defending against even greater oppression and repression. A military dictatorship with widespread torture and killings would be much worse.
You are correct. Social defence simply won't work unless people are willing to defend the core values of their society. Yet history shows that people will support a military defence of a repressive regime against a worse one, as in the Soviet resistance to the Nazis in World War Two. Surely the same could apply to social defence?
The ability to wage nonviolent struggle against an invader also gives people the power to oppose inequalities and oppression in their own society. Joining a social defence effort might be just the way to challenge the shortcomings of the society.
This really gets to the core of what defence is all about. What is worth defending in society? Who should act to defend it, and how? These fundamental issues are seldom discussed. Discussions about social defence often bring them to the fore, which is all for the better whatever stance people may take.
The challenge for social defence is to demonstrate that it is the most effective way to resist. Otherwise some people will head for the hills and possibly end up being massacred as well as helping to justify violent attacks on the nonviolent opposition.
A social defence system will offer plenty of opportunities for people who want to make courageous and potentially dangerous stands. In fact, some of the rebels in present society, who are often in trouble with the authorities, could well become the heroes in a nonviolent resistance. Perhaps a social defence system should provide real glamour for certain types of resistance, while trying to remove the romantic image of violence.
Some of the people who say they'd join a guerrilla resistance are engaging in wishful thinking. Without practical skills and a deep commitment, violent resistance is a losing proposition. Most urban dwellers have many more skills for nonviolent resistance (though often without realising it). The key, therefore, is building their commitment.
The claim that people would prefer to join a guerrilla resistance does raise the important issue of the glamour attached to violence. Social defence is sometimes presented as entirely a carefully planned, rational and almost bureaucratic enterprise. Although planning and training are crucial, social defence also needs to be seen as exciting, challenging and involving real creativity. If it's all these things, it will almost certainly be a good defence.
Actually, India was not (and is not) an especially promising place for developing a unified resistance. The country is severely splintered by religious differences, the caste system, economic inequality, language, and sexual inequality. The prospects are better just about anywhere else!
You are right that divisions in society weaken the ability to unite for a nonviolent resistance (or for a violent resistance for that matter). But sometimes the threat to a society is so overwhelming that differences are set aside for the time being. In any case, an important priority in the development of social defence is addressing inequalities and divisions in the society.
Yes, it could be. A combined system of military and social defence has both strengths and limitations.
A combined system promises to have the advantages of both methods. The military defence would serve for deterrence purposes and to protect borders. But if the military were defeated, nonviolent resistance could then spring into action. This would solve a key limitation of military defence, namely that the consequence of military defeat is total surrender.
The disadvantage of a combined system is that the social defence system is compromised by the violence in the initial military defence. An enemy is less likely to be inhibited against attacking nonviolent resisters if the attackers have already suffered casualties. Furthermore, it becomes much harder to win support from within the country from which the attack comes, because the resistance can be painted as essentially violent.
Even if a total replacement of military defence is superior, there inevitably will be a period of transition in which capacities for both types of resistance exist. In practice, there will probably be situations in which military power isn't used to resist. For example, in the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, there was no military resistance. (Some soldiers helped the nonviolent resistance.) Furthermore, the greatest danger in most countries is a military coup rather than invasion, and of course military forces are the cause of the problem. All this is an argument to build the capacity for social defence as much as possible.
There is an ongoing debate about whether combined military and social defence is an appropriate option. Supporters include members of military forces who are sympathetic to social defence, but who realise how difficult it is to argue for complete conversion.
There is little useful evidence about combining military and social defence. Sweden does this, but the component of social defence is too small to provide much insight.
One likely consequence of combining military and social defence is that the overall defence system, including social defence, is under the command of government and military planners. This could well be detrimental to social defence, for which large-scale participation and decentralisation of leadership is important.
It may be a diversion to get into debates about combined military and social defence. The imbalance between the two is so great now that the main thing is to expand the capacity for social defence.
Many people use nonviolence for pragmatic reasons, because it works better to defend the important things about a society with less loss of life and freedom. In other words, nonviolence is more effective than violence (especially taking into account arms races, military coups, nuclear weapons, and so on). A moral commitment to nonviolence is not required.
Some people would argue that a moral commitment to nonviolence is a valuable thing, and will make social defence more effective. But, at least currently, it is not an obligation!
Is a moral commitment to violence required for military defence?
Some people think that there must be a moral commitment to nonviolence because they assume that violence is necessarily more effective than nonviolence. They also associate nonviolence with struggles in India and with Gandhi, which they assume were entirely motivated by moral commitment. These assumptions need to be challenged.
Raising the connection of moral commitments to military defence is a good way to stimulate thinking about this issue. In fact, many people have developed a deep-seated commitment to the need for force via the military.
You are right that nonviolent methods could be used for oppression. But this is not nearly as big a problem as it is for violent methods.
First, social defence depends on widespread participation. Oppression is much less likely when most sectors of the population are involved. Severe repression is usually carried out by a tiny fraction of the population.
Second, even if nonviolent methods are used in undesirable ways, the consequences are less severe than with violent methods.
Third, effective nonviolence requires communication and dialogue, unlike violence. The other side needs to be listened to as well as talked to. This means any oppressive use of nonviolent action will be much more likely to be brought to people's awareness.
You have pointed to a crucial issue. It is vitally important that any action -- violent or nonviolent -- be directed to a good cause.
In many cases, governments use (or fail to use) nonviolent action in ways that support oppression. For example, outside support for Iraq's repressive regime, through trade and diplomatic recognition, enabled it to carry out ruthless attacks on the Iraqi population as well as the invasion of Kuwait.
Social defence is a tool that can be used for the wrong cause. Activists need to carefully study the situation before intervening.
Although things may seem peaceful now, a threat could arise very quickly. Military alliances can change rapidly and friends become enemies. Just look at the changing relationships between the United States, the Soviet Union and China in the past century.
A military coup is not as unlikely as you might think. A social crisis, such as a severe economic downturn, could be the precursor of a coup. This is what happened in Uruguay. Once called "the Switzerland of South America", in a short period it came under the sway of a ruthless military government.
As long as military systems exist, there is the chance of war and repressive government. During the century of "peace" in Europe after 1815, many people thought the problem of war was coming under control by use of treaties and alliances. The period after 1914 should have dispelled this myth.
Actually, now is a good time to develop social defence. Because there is no immediate threat, we have the opportunity to introduce and test an alternative system.
This question highlights one of the dilemmas for advocates of social defence: when the danger of war is low, the perceived need for an alternative is also low, but when war is at hand, the use of nonviolent action may seem too late or too difficult. Perhaps the root of this problem is that defence is seen as someone else's responsibility -- namely the military's.
Social defence is possible in society just as it is today. Perhaps the most important thing is the willingness of people to actually resist. But social defence, like military defence, can be made much more powerful by preparation.
Most important is people's understanding of their own capabilities and of the dynamics of nonviolent action. For example, workers must understand the power of strikes, telecommunications workers must understand the power of information and everyone must understand the power of symbolic action.
In general a social defence system will be stronger when a society is more self-reliant and, in particular, not dependent on or subject to groups of elites.
An aggressor will probably want to take over industrial production, for example. This can be resisted by management and workers. But if brutality is used, then individual resisters may be killed or agree to cooperate. In order to be prepared for this, facilities should be designed with resistance in mind. On the one hand, facilities producing goods for the population should be designed so that production can continue even after key managers and workers are removed. On the other hand, it should also be possible to close down production in case it is taken over by the aggressor. One suggestion is that there be crucial and difficult-to-replace pieces of equipment which could be broken if necessary. Replacements could be kept in a safe place, such as a foreign country. In this way, even torture could not get production going again.
Note that changes of this sort mean loss of control by managers and an increase in skills and responsibility by workers. After all, the crucial pieces of equipment could be broken at any time.
At present, energy systems such as electricity production are quite centralised and hence subject to takeover. A population would be more self-reliant if there were a move to greater energy efficiency and decentralisation. Communities with energy-efficient buildings with solar heaters and local wind generators are more resistant to threat than communities dependent on supplies of fuel and electricity.
The same applies to transport. Communities designed to maximise reliance on walking and cycling are less vulnerable than ones built around either mass transit or the automobile. Similarly for food. The greater the production of food in local gardens, the less the vulnerability to disruptions in the food supply.
Communications is another vital area. Systems that allow individuals to communicate with each other with low potential for disruption or monitoring are the best for social defence. Centralised, one-directional systems such as television are the most vulnerable: they can be taken over or destroyed by just a few troops. Network systems are much better: face-to-face conversation, telephone, short-wave radio and CB radio are good systems for social defence. Among the print media, the reliable typewriter and photocopier are accessible to just about anyone, unlike sophisticated printing presses.
Self-reliant systems need to be mutually supportive. For example, if central electricity systems were cut off, this would make it impossible to use most word processors and photocopiers. But with local generators, publishing could continue.
Learning foreign languages and about foreign cultures is crucial for a social defence system. This is necessary to communicate to invaders and to people in countries from which attacks might come.
One of the difficult issues for a society with social defence is how decisions are to be made. The weakest part of the resistance is likely to be the official leaders. They may be killed, arrested or subjected to incredible pressure to cooperate with the aggressors. The rest of the population should be prepared to continue the resistance even in the face of pleas or pronouncements from official leaders to surrender. This means that the official "leaders" should not have exceptional power or status. The more egalitarian the society, the more likely it is that there will be talent and initiative in depth ready to continue the resistance.
I could say much more on what a society with social defence would be like, but much of this is speculation. No one knows what changes would be most effective, since none of them have been tried. It is difficult to say for sure what would work, since this depends on the people themselves being involved in the development of the system.
You will have to use your judgement about whether to discuss the potentially radical changes in society that might accompany a social defence system. Some people are comfortable with present society and will be threatened by the idea of workers controlling production and so forth. They want to hear, most of all, how social defence can work in society as it is today.
Others, though, aren't really interested in social defence if it means defending present society. They want favour greater self-reliance, person-to-person communication, egalitarian relations, and the like.
Another argument that might be used is the relation of a reliance on military defence to the nature of society. To a greater or lesser degree, present systems of industrial production, energy, food, transport, communications and politics are attuned to the requirements of the military, which means being amenable to centralised control. In other words, a militarised society is one based on command and obedience. A social defence society would be one based on self-reliance and independent action.
This is a serious issue. In Costa Rica, there is no army but the police have become militarised and almost turned into a surrogate army. No one has really addressed this issue.
Very few activities of the police require arms. But some situations seem to. There is a need for further development of nonviolent methods to control individuals who become dangerously violent. It should be remembered that if a social defence is based on community self-reliance, there would be greater community responsibility for "policing", too.
The police probably cause more crime than they prevent. Criminologists know that the crime rate has little connection with the level of policing or imprisonment. Most prisons breed crime, and most police forces breed corruption. If social defence is a viable alternative to the military, then surely it can be extended to deal with crime. After all, what is war except organised crime controlled by governments? In the words of sociologist Charles Tilly, "If protection rackets represent organised crime at its smoothest, then war making and state making -- quintessential protection rackets with the advantage of legitimacy -- qualify as our largest examples of organised crime."
Reference: Charles Tilly "War making and state making as organised crime", in Peter B Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer and Theda Skocpol (eds) Bringing the State Back In (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pages 169-191.
This is a very difficult question. It raises the basic issues of social control, and raises, in many people's minds, the spectre of chaos that would engulf any society without violence to maintain order. The answer you make to this question will reflect how much you want to challenge conventional assumptions.
A social defence system will only work if people believe in what they are defending. If they do, then discipline will not be a big problem.
People welcome some types of discipline and resist others. The discipline of many sports teams, drama companies and search-and-rescue teams shows that people will accept discipline for things they believe in. On the other hand, discipline is difficult to achieve in schools, armies and many workplaces because people feel compelled to do things they don't really want to do.
The experience of wars shows that people are capable of making incredible sacrifices to defend their society. On the other hand, studies of soldiers in wartime show that most people are extremely reluctant to kill even for a cause they believe in. The challenge for social defence is to tap the commitment for defending a community, without having to make people kill. In principle, this shouldn't be as hard as what the military has to do.
If the local people were opposed to massive immigration, they could use a variety of nonviolent methods to resist it.
It is important to help political or economic refugees. Leaving a community is, after all, one way to refuse to cooperate. Much more needs to be done to develop ways to integrate refugees into our society.
Most refugees are fleeing either war, political repression or economic oppression. The techniques of social offence can be used to challenge militaristic and repressive regimes. In addition, massive economic changes are required to reduce the exploitation of poor peoples in poor countries, both by Western governments, corporations and banks, and by the wealthy elite in the poor countries.
The fear of refugees is widespread and deep-seated in many Western countries. It is bound up with nationalism and racism and protection of privileged living standards on the one hand, but also with concern about a way of life and a sense of community on the other. The former concerns are connected with militarism, the latter with the potential for social defence. Hence there is no simple answer on this issue.
Discussions about what a society with social defence would be like can be fascinating, but they can also divert attention from practicalities. It would be futile to wait until society is self-reliant and so forth before introducing social defence -- after all, the system of military force is part of what needs to be changed to change society. The challenge is to develop initiatives for people to intervene in the present society-military system and move toward a more self-reliant, egalitarian society and social defence system.
There needs to be much more research into the dynamics of nonviolent action and how it has worked historically, as well as investigation into the practicalities of conversion from military defence to social defence. (This process is called transarmament.) Also, we need to develop the arguments for social defence and take them to influential people in government and the military as well as the general public. Once it is realised that social defence is a superior approach, some governments will begin transarmament.
This approach is based on the power of logic and the ability to introduce reforms from the top. Popular pressure on elites provides an additional incentive. This approach has the advantage of appearing independent of special interest groups and thus appealing to a wide cross section of the population, including those in top positions. Its disadvantage is its reliance on those who have the greatest vested interest in the present system to bring about change.
In Switzerland in 1989, a citizens' initiative to abolish the army obtained more than one third of the vote. This was an astounding performance considering the limited resources of the group Switzerland Without an Army, and the opposition of the government. Groups in other European countries have been stimulated to promote similar initiatives. Eventually armies may be abolished by popular mandate. Of course, a country without an army will need to rely on nonviolent methods for defence.
This approach is based on persuading people that armies are counterproductive and unnecessary, and using the mechanism of the citizens' initiative to bring about institutional change. The advantage of this approach is that it brings the issues to the general population and puts decision-making power in their hands. Its disadvantage is that there is no guarantee that even a majority vote will lead to actual abolition of the army, since there is no force, aside from the law, to make the government obey the vote. In addition, a campaign to get people to vote a certain way does not empower them to take the direct actions required for social defence. Finally, only some countries make provision for citizens' initiatives.
We cannot expect the government to introduce social defence on its own. Therefore, the best approach is to develop the capacity of individuals, groups and communities to use nonviolent action to defend themselves and the things they believe in. Campaigns for social defence can be linked to campaigns by workers, women, peace groups, minorities and others.
The actual introduction of social defence is not likely to occur as a process of normal policy. Instead, nonviolent resistance may be stimulated by a crisis such as increased government repression, a military coup or an invasion. In such a crisis situation, many people will eagerly seek out information about resistance. A move to social defence might be possible in the aftermath of such a crisis.
This is the model of "grassroots action", relying on local initiatives as the basis for social defence. Its advantage is that campaigns can be undertaken today to develop the capacity for nonviolent resistance. In addition, the linkage to social movements provides a foundation for experimentation and development of the practice of nonviolent action. Its disadvantage is that there is no orderly process of transarmament, no mechanism by which the military can be disarmed and social defence become generally accepted. This shortcoming is linked to the lack of any model for general nonviolent transformation of structures of power and privilege.
The most fruitful way to develop social defence is by promoting social offence. There needs to be a vast expansion of action by people supporting nonviolent opponents of repression in other countries. This is less risky than challenging one's own military, and can unite people from a range of political perspectives. By gaining practical experience in nonviolent action against repression in other countries, people gain insights and skills that can readily be used against repression at home.
The philosophy behind this approach resides in the familiar saying that, "the best defence is a good offence". Most people are genuinely altruistic and are willing to act against repression elsewhere, as testified by the success of Amnesty International. The advantage of this approach is the possibility of mobilising people and giving them experience in relevant nonviolent action, as well as developing international solidarity. Its disadvantage is the relatively limited repertoire of nonviolent actions that operate from far away, and also the lack of any programme for replacing the military.
It is impossible to graft social defence onto a society that it is not suited for it. The best approach is to promote campaigns to change society to become more self-reliant, participatory and equal. When society has changed sufficiently in this direction, then introduction of social defence will be a natural process. People will only defend their society when it is worth defending.
Instead of promoting social defence in a society built on hierarchy and inequality, this approach aims to change society so that it is worthy of being defended by its members. The advantage of this approach is the focus on the conditions for social defence, and on the systems of hierarchy and dependence which are linked to government and military repression. The disadvantage is that the possibility of mobilisation for social defence is postponed into the indefinite future.
The question of how social defence could or should be introduced is a subject of some debate among its proponents. It is accurate to say that, because social defence has never been introduced, no one knows for sure how to do it. Differences concerning the best method reflect differing views about the nature of society, especially the possibility of reform versus the necessity of radical change.
There are plenty of worthwhile things that need doing, in areas like health, education, housing and social welfare. At the end of World Wars I and II, there were rapid demobilisations of massive armies and very rapid shifts to civilian production. So it is possible to convert to a nonmilitary economy. There is a lot of work being done on "peace conversion", which means converting skills and machinery from military production to nonmilitary production.
Yes. Sweden has a policy of "total defence", and this includes military defence, civil defence, economic self-reliance, psychological defence -- and social defence.
In several other countries -- most notably Switzerland -- the general population is considered to be essential to military defence. Although the focus is on military resistance, nonviolent resistance would inevitably be part of this.
In quite a number of countries, including the Netherlands, Denmark and Austria, there have been official government investigations into the possibilities for social defence. I expect that government interest will expand in coming years.
Not really. Although Sweden's policy of "total defence" includes social defence, it is really subordinated to military imperatives. In other countries, government interest in social defence has been limited and certainly has had no real impact on policy.
Government introduction of social defence has disadvantages. It may mean that control over planning is in the hands of the military, which will limit the prospects for future development. Furthermore, it may compromise a key function of social defence, namely to resist military coups.
These two responses reflect two orientations to government introduction of social defence: the optimistic and the pessimistic. A compromise answer would mention both the advantages and disadvantages of government-sponsored social defence.
Social defence is a challenge to our present political and economic system. It puts power in the hands of the people that can be used against employers, government officials and experts. It is fundamentally at variance with military hierarchies which keep power and knowledge in the hands of a minority. The continuance of the military system is in the interests of a powerful few, including governmental elites, weapons manufacturers and those whose privileges are ultimately defended by force.
A second reason is that the idea of social defence is fairly new. Although nonviolent action has been used for centuries, it is only since the '50s that the idea of a nonviolent replacement for the military has been systematically developed.
Many people believe that present society is organised in the best available way. It can be very challenging to argue that present social arrangements are fundamentally flawed. The usual idea is that certain individuals, political parties or businesses are corrupt and need to be replaced. It is much more subversive to argue that the system of government or corporate management is to blame for problems, and furthermore that "corrupt" individuals within the present system are essentially well-meaning and behaving naturally within their environment.
The idea of social defence raises all these issues. Members of the military are not doing anything wrong or evil; instead, the system in which they operate has unfortunate consequences. The standard belief is that problems in society are due to individuals rather than social structures. The promotion of social defence must confront this belief at one stage or another.
That's the subject of the next section.
Many questions can be answered, but that may not satisfy people's real worries. Social defence represents a deep threat to some people. One reason is that it questions the assumption that professionals (the military) can take care of problems. Social defence requires people -- including those sitting in the audience -- to take responsibility. That's scary.
Therefore, it can be important to respond in a way that takes people's fears into account. Arguments that are logical may not be enough.
Other questioners hold strong beliefs that make social defence difficult to accept. Left-wing supporters of guerrilla warfare are an example; members of armed forces are another. Once again, logical arguments may not be enough.
Producing a leaflet or information sheet is a surprisingly valuable action if lots of people can be involved in it. If several people are involved in writing, editing and producing the leaflet, they all develop or improve skills which would be relevant in a crisis situation. On the other hand, if just one person in isolation writes the text and it is produced by an outside business with no connection to social defence, the impact of the production process is limited.
Even better is involving outsiders in discussions about the content of the intended leaflet.
In 1982, four members of Canberra Peacemakers set out to produce a large information sheet on social defence. We first had lengthy discussions about what things were to be included, and then divided up the writing of the initial draft into four parts. We each commented on each other's drafts until a moderately polished text was produced.
Then we circulated the text to a range of other people for comments. Getting the comments, discussing them and making changes in response to them (and sometimes not making changes) was a stimulating process.
There was also the task of collecting graphics, especially cartoons. When the text was finalised, we had it typeset, and then laid out the text and graphics -- a skill new to several of us.
The result was the social defence broadsheet. (A broadsheet is a large sheet of paper such as one taken from a newspaper.) We had expected this to be a preliminary effort, but it has proved useful for many years. Versions of it were produced in Canada and Britain.
Two years later, we revised the text to be more relevant to Soviet readers, obtained a Russian translation, and thus produced the Russian version of the broadsheet.
In 1983, Canberra Peacemakers produced a leaflet on "Social Defence and Public Servants". In Australia, government bureaucrats are called "public servants". Since Canberra is the national capital, public servants are the largest segment of the workforce.
We invited some friends who were public servants to join us in a meeting to develop ideas for the leaflet. We had several brainstorms (yelling out things to write on a piece of paper on the wall) to bring out ideas about how public servants could act against an invasion or coup. These ideas were then discussed.
After producing a draft of the leaflet, we circulated it to the people at this meeting, and to several other public servants, to obtain comments about accuracy and presentation. The result was a single sheet of paper giving a summary of social defence and particular actions that public servants could take. This was subversive because public servants are normally expected to take orders rather than act on their own initiative.
The leaflet possibly had more impact through the involvement of various people in its production than in its distribution.
Leaflets can be distributed in many ways. They can be displayed on racks, at bookstalls, given to friends and colleagues, passed out at rallies, mailed to interested people, and so on.
The most effective use of leaflets is with people who are interested in the topic. Putting them in every mailbox is mostly a waste of time and paper. It is better to have them available when social defence is being talked about. For example, if you lead a discussion or give a talk about social defence, you can have leaflets available for those who want them. Or perhaps you are organising a local neighbourhood meeting to discuss social defence. If you knock at the doors of neighbours, you can have a leaflet for those who are potentially interested.
After producing the Russian social defence broadsheet, the bigger challenge was to get copies into the Soviet Union. We contacted a few organisations that smuggled material into the country, and made the broadsheet available to them. As well, we gave copies to a few people who were travelling to the Soviet Union. In the years since 1984, a larger number of dissident groups have become open, and we have posted copies to a number of groups and individuals.
In only a few cases have we received replies from the Soviet Union as a result of these deliveries. Apparently it has been published in one of the leading democratic opposition papers. But even if the broadsheets are intercepted by the KGB, at least someone reads the material! It's not a secret, after all.
Written material is only one medium for communication. There are also radio, television, drama, posters, painting and sculpture. All of these and others are worth using.
After producing the broadsheet, members of Canberra Peacemakers wanted to try something different. We hit upon the idea of a slide show: a sequence of slides with a taped commentary. There were a couple of talented photographers who participated.
Actually, producing a slide show involves a lot of different skills, and this meant we had to ask a range of people to help. Many of them were friends who hadn't heard of social defence before.
The script: A couple of people worked on this. It required reworking to fit in with the ideas of the photographers.
Actors: Part of the show was a scenario of resistance to an invasion of Canberra. We needed a number of different people for a variety of roles. Setting up scenes and getting people prepared and in place was tricky but a lot of fun.
Library sleuths: We wanted some pictures of historical events, such as the Kapp Putsch and the resistance to the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, and these had to be tracked down. The photographers made slides from the pictures chosen.
Artists: Some slides were made from drawings.
Speakers: The commentary to the slides was spoken by two people.
Musicians: Music for the sound track was recorded by a band in which one of our members played.
Recorders: The music and commentary had to be tape recorded.
Producers: The slides and sound track had to be coordinated, including the additions of beeps (or automatic cues) indicating when the slides should be changed. This was a mammoth task.
The whole operation was a big one, but very worthwhile. The best thing was that quite a number of different people became involved because they were needed for certain things, and so became aware of social defence. Furthermore, this wasn't social defence in the abstract, but in the context of a vividly imagined scenario. After all, acting out being a soldier or a resister is quite different from just talking about it.
There are several benefits from producing and distributing information about social defence, especially learning and interacting with other people. The disadvantage is that the information is not connected to practical action: it is knowledge in a vacuum. As well as getting information to people, there needs to be organising, namely encouraging them to do things.
Running a course -- anything from a few lectures to a university degree -- can be an excellent way to promote social defence. This topic is too large to be treated here, and anyway there is a lot of material available on peace education. It is worth exploring teaching in relation to groups which might otherwise never be exposed to social defence, such as police.
"National service" is compulsory for all males in many European countries. Conscientious objectors to military service usually undertake "alternative service". ("Total objectors" refuse even the alternative service.) In Belgium and Austria, study of social defence has been included in the study part of the alternative service.
Classroom learning sometimes becomes very separate from practical experience. It is learning about rather than learning to do something. Should social defence become just another subject in the curriculum?
The solution to this problem is to introduce as many practical exercises as possible, such as interviews, simulations, community research, short-wave radio communication and nonviolent action training.
Learning is most effective when it is voluntary. Compulsory study of social defence should be approached with care.
Teachers often learn much more than students. Preparing a course can be an excellent way to learn.
Teaching does not have to be based on the usual model of expert teacher and ignorant student. More egalitarian models are possible. These are better described as study groups.
Getting people together to talk about a subject, plan strategies and run workshops is an excellent way to stimulate interest and activity, and can be a lot of fun. It is also lots of work for the conference organisers. This is a whole topic on its own that will not be discussed in detail here. A few points:
- There are big conferences, small conferences, specialised conferences and general conferences. Design your conference for your purposes. Get ideas from talking to people who have run conferences and from those who have attended them.
- Bigger is not necessarily better.
- The process -- the human dynamics of the conference -- is at least as important as the formal outcomes.
- Good organisation is essential. Bad organisation can make the whole thing counterproductive.
- Organising a conference is almost always more work than it seems when plans are first made. Make sure there are people willing to do the work.
Lobbying means trying to convince people in positions of power to take certain views or actions. Lobbying is more a matter of trying to get someone else to take action rather than taking action oneself. Nevertheless, it has an important function.
People in positions of power -- politicians, corporation executives, top government bureaucrats, military commanders, media producers, church leaders, trade union officials -- can make a big difference to efforts to promote social defence. They can provide support, including finance, resources, communication channels and legitimacy. Even their tolerance can make things easier. Certainly their hostility can make things difficult.
Some activists argue that social defence cannot be brought about by government decree, because governments are built on a monopoly over "legitimate" violence. That may be true: the problem of war is built into the social system. But individuals are not pure pawns of the system. Some of them are open to persuasion. Lobbying, though it has limitations, is one technique for promoting social defence.
In an actual crisis, the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance may depend on the understanding of people in positions of power. For example, in the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, Dubcek and most of the other Czechoslovak leaders did not really understand the dynamics of the resistance. As a result, they unwisely made compromises with the Soviet rulers that helped undermine the resistance.
The lesson from this is that people in top positions should be encouraged to understand the dynamics of nonviolent action, even if they are not willing to support it at the present time.
Lobbying requires the skills of speaking and producing information for particular audiences. Lobbying efforts often depend on one or two experts, and the nature of the activity encourages this. To make it more of a learning and participatory process, every effort should be made to involve a whole group in developing their skills in speaking and making contacts.
The skills of translation and interpretation are crucial for social defence. If there is an invasion from a country where a different language is used, then being able to speak and write to the invading troops and to the population of the country is essential. Similarly, if there is a coup in another country, language skills are vital in mounting social offence to support resisters.
The possible activities here are countless. Leaflets, pamphlets and books can be translated into other languages. This requires a sensitivity to language and social understandings in other cultures, in order to translate terms such as social defence and nonviolent action. Translation efforts can be linked to group study of different cultures.
Better still, different versions of social defence materials can be produced. Relevant local examples can be introduced, and new arguments used to replace inappropriate ones. For example, people's major concerns in the United States about invasion or military coups are very different from those in Central America.
Skills in interpretation between languages are also crucial. Developing these skills could be linked to projects to spread the idea of social defence.
Language skills open up the possibility of comparing nonviolent struggles in different cultures and many other such projects.
Armies use simulations, which are often called "exercises". They pretend that there is a mobilisation, military engagement or war, and have commanders and troops do all the things that they would do in the actual event. This provides excellent training, and many lessons can be learned. Of course, simulations can never quite be the same as the real thing, but on the other hand they are less costly and destructive.
Simulations are an excellent tool for social defence, too. Since there is no social defence system, simulations are unlikely to have full support of governments, corporations, trade unions and so forth. Therefore social defence simulations are both training for nonviolent resistance and also a method of promoting the nonviolent alternative. (This is really not so different from military simulations.)
A simulation can be considered to be a large-scale role play: people are playing roles in as realistic a situation as can be constructed short of the real thing. It is also possible to have role plays that are much smaller and therefore don't require the full participation of people in workplaces and so forth.
In 1982, Canberra Peacemakers organised a workshop with members of a local radio station. 2XX is a community radio station: it is noncommercial and is run mainly by the volunteers who produce the programmes. We knew some workers at 2XX and invited them along to a weekend workshop.
During the weekend we introduced the idea of social defence, did brainstorms about possible threats to 2XX and discussed methods of nonviolent resistance and who might undertake them.
Finally, on Sunday afternoon, we ran a small role play of resistance at 2XX to an invasion. In a single large room, some people acted the part of 2XX workers, others pretended to be soldiers, and others acted like members of the public who came as a result of a broadcast asking for support. This little exercise, involving about ten people, was helpful in making the role of 2XX in a nonviolent resistance much more real. It also gave us a much more concrete sense of what taking action would mean.
This was as much as Canberra Peacemakers did with 2XX in terms of role plays. A next stage might have been to organise a simulation. A large-scale scenario could have been prepared, with people acting in the 2XX studios and local suburbs.
In 1965, members of the Quaker community in Canada carried out a major simulation. The scenario was that a right-wing Canadian government backed by the United States ("the Unionists") had taken power. The simulation took place on Grindstone Island in Ontario, following months of planning. Fifty people took part.
Some participants took the role of the local Unionist commanders, who were "instructed" to demand compliance. Other participants essentially played themselves, taking the role of resisters who were committed to a process of consensus decision making and personal nonviolence. There were also "umpires" who ran the socio-drama according to the rules planned beforehand.
The simulation was planned to last for several days, but it came to an end after only thirty-one hours. By that stage, thirteen of the defenders had been "killed" (in simulation). It was an emotionally shattering experience for many of those involved, leading them to question the relevance of their firm beliefs. It also was an extremely useful learning exercise, especially in showing the limitations of particular styles of consensus decision making in a crisis situation.
Reference: Theodore Olson and Gordon Christiansen Thirty-one Hours: The Grindstone Experiment (Toronto: Canadian Friends Service Committee, 1966).
Short-wave radio is an excellent way for individuals to communicate at a great distance without central control. Television and conventional radio are one-directional methods of communication, and repressive regimes usually take control of them. Telephones are better, since they allow individuals to talk to each other. But the telephone network can be monitored centrally, and connections can be cut off, for example out of a country.
Few people have short-wave radios or know how to use them. There are several possible projects to promote the potential for nonviolent resistance using short-wave.
- Obtain a short-wave radio and learn how to use it.
- Run training classes in short-wave with people in social movements.
- Introduce the idea of social defence to existing short-wave users.
- Communicate with people in other countries, especially those under repressive rule, about nonviolent resistance.
- Encourage people with language skills to learn about both short-wave radio and social defence.
- Select a very cheap short-wave system and supply it free to nonviolent resistance groups around the world.
- Encourage engineers and technicians to develop cheap and effective short-wave systems that will serve well in the face of repression.
"Research" is often thought of as something that only scientists and scholars can do. But actually anyone can do certain kinds of investigation.
"Community research" means an investigation that is carried out by community activists rather than by outside professional researchers. Community research is a way to find out things and also to raise the idea of social defence in a relatively nonthreatening way.
Social defence and the Australian Post Office: members of the group Schweik Action Wollongong wanted to learn more about communications and social defence. Communications is an enormous topic, so to narrow it down we focussed on the postal service.
First, we tried to find articles and books about the post and about how it had been used in the face of repression. Were there studies of how to avoid censorship under a dictatorship? Were there studies of how a resistance infiltrated the postal service and ensured delivery of its own messages while interrupting the regime's communication? Unfortunately we could find almost nothing helpful along these lines. These, therefore, are useful topics for investigation!
Second, we looked for articles about the Australian Post Office, such as the way it is organised and the stages through which mail is processed. Most of the articles available deal with economics and the quality of service. There is hardly anything that describes the day-to-day practicalities of postal operations.
To search for articles and books on these topics, we used a university library. Encyclopaedias were good sources of information and also listed further references. We used searches of computerised databases to try to find current articles about the post. Many of the articles that we did trace were in obscure journals, and we had to use the interlibrary loan service to obtain them. There was not much available. Obviously social scientists are not very concerned about the post office.
The next stage of our project was interviews with people working for the post office. We used three methods of approach. One was just walking into a local post office and asking to interview the workers there. We obtained some helpful information in this way. A second approach was contacting friends who happened to work for the post office. This was the most helpful method. The third approach was to call up post office managers. They were not willing to talk with us. But this approach is worth trying, because managers often have an excellent overview of operations, and their cooperation can lead to introductions to other employees. We also contacted a trade union official, but he was not helpful either.
The post office project is just one of an enormous number of possible community research projects. Here are some groups that might be approached as part of a project: computer programmersoe; transport workersoe; school studentsoe; workers in televisionoe and radiooe; workers in the building trades, including plumbersoe, electriciansoe and carpentersoe; actorsoe; health workersoe; farmersoe; policeoe; and soldiers:
There are several benefits from community research. To begin, it does not require highly specialised skills to do it. The techniques are straightforward. But there are skills that require development.
Community research can be done by an individual or a group. As an individual project, community research can be carried out even where there are no other people interested in the topic. But when there is a group involved, this makes the project more satisfying. The different members of the group learn from each other and provide stimulation and support for keeping the work going.
An important feature of community research is that the process is as important as the end product. This includes not only learning by the researchers, but also by the people interviewed.
In giving a talk about social defence, the speaker is usually considered to be the expert. This can be a problem, since some people do not like being lectured to. Interviews in a community research project are quite different. The people being interviewed are the experts. For example, the post office workers knew far more about the post office than we did. Yet as they were telling us about the post office, they were also learning about social defence, because they were thinking about how nonviolent action might work in their own situation.
The results of community research can be presented in talks, leaflets or articles. Best of all is providing information to the people interviewed. This is a way of thanking them for their contribution and also showing them the picture toward which their comments contributed.
It is not news that vast amounts of money are spent on science for war and repression. This includes development of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, biological toxins, the psychology of fighting groups, and technologies for crowd control, electronic surveillance and torture. The range of military-related research and development is enormous and frightening. By comparison, there is hardly any scientific research devoted to improving nonviolent resistance.
Partly this is because scientists do not know about social defence and have no idea how their skills could contribute. The problem runs deep, since whole fields of science have arisen because of military spin-offs; these fields have little positive potential. Other fields, which would be highly useful for social defence, have never been developed because funding is not available.
Scientific research, in any case, is a virtually untapped resource for social defence. Contact a few scientists. Tell them about social defence. Ask them what things they would be able to do. Suggest some projects and see what they think. Ask them to suggest other scientists to talk to. Get their help in searching scientific and technological publications.
Here are some useful developments for a social defence system.
- Easy ways for insiders to disable and re-enable machinery.
- Industrial processes resistant to outsider sabotage.
- Small-scale renewable energy systems.
- Cheap and easy-to-use short-wave radio.
- Ways to determine whether torture has been used.
- Ways of destroying or hiding computer information.
- Coded or hidden communications via computers, telephone, radio.
- Long-term storage of food.
- Non-vulnerable transport systems.
- Medicines easily administered by non-specialists.
- Miniature video recorders.
- Safe ways to disable weapons.
- Non-jammable broadcasting systems.
- Seed varieties robust to lack of fertilisers and pesticides.
Soldiers are expected to undergo military training, otherwise they are much less effective. Similarly, social defenders can undertake training in nonviolent action. Voluntarily -- no conscription!
There is a vast wealth of experience in nonviolent action training, developed in campaigns against racism, nuclear power and nuclear weapons, environmental threats, male domination and so forth. There are many experienced nonviolent action trainers. They have practical knowledge of brainstorming, facilitation of meetings, consensus decision making, group dynamics, dealing with group conflict, role plays, simulations, planning for direct action, organising meetings, applying the theory of nonviolence, analysis of local power structures, listening and speaking, reading and writing, personal development, and a host of other things. There are also some good readings on methods in these areas.
The challenge is to apply these methods to social defence, and to develop campaigns that use the skills developed.
Organising means building community support. This is the basic work of forging a social movement, or just mobilising support to rectify a wrong. It includes canvassing door-to-door, calling public meetings, researching local power structures, mounting campaigns, raising money, bringing together diverse groups, developing the skills of local people, establishing organisational structures and communications systems, developing support from a range of groups, and numerous other methods.
Organising is hard work. The people who benefit most from organising are the poor, oppressed and the discriminated against. They must confront the power of social system.
Organising for social defence is virtually unknown. How would it work? Who would do it? What would be the goals? Who would be hostile?
Let's say that you are a member of a small group that would like to build awareness of and support for social defence in your neighbourhood, which might be an apartment block, an area of suburbia, a small town or a rural region. After a lot of preparation, you embark on a survey of community resources for nonviolent resistance.
Visiting people household by household, you ask about: telephones, radios and other electronic communications equipment; equipment for typing, word processing, photocopying and printing; energy supplies; transportation; food; personal skills, including speaking, writing, health care, telecommunications, gardening, child care, fixing machines; contacts and networks, including sporting clubs, church groups, friendship networks, co-workers, and so forth.
With this sort of information, it should be possible to develop a good idea of the strengths of the community against aggression, and also weaknesses that need to be overcome.
Of course, one of the main reasons for carrying out the "survey" is to introduce the idea of social defence, and to find out what it means in terms of people's lives. Those carrying out the survey need to be quite familiar with arguments about social defence, to have plenty of written material for distribution, and be willing to alter their own views!
A slightly different survey would be to find out about what people think are threats to their security. This might be crime, police harassment, or economic conditions -- the response would vary enormously from person to person and from community to community. The next thing would be to link social defence to people's concerns. This may be quite difficult!
It should be possible to link the promotion of social defence with any of a number of campaigns.
Community security against crime. Networks of friendship, communications and local awareness can provide protection against neighbourhood crimes.
Defending against male violence. Feminist groups and others have taken action to prevent or resist male violence against women and children. Similarly, gays have organised against anti-gay violence and ethnic groups have organised against racial violence.
Workers' control. It is possible for workers to collectively make decisions and run their workplaces.
Campaigns in each of these areas (and many others) have an obvious connection with the potential for social defence. The difficult question is, how can social defence be linked, in a practical way, with campaigns in these areas? There is a lot of work required to develop answers to this question.
Societies are filled with networks of people. This includes groups of friends, professional groups, sporting clubs, church groups, trade unions, women's groups and many others. Networks are commonly based on personal friendship or acquaintance, and on mutual interests. They are a key resource for social defence.
There are two basic ways to promote social defence through networks. One is to set up new networks for the specific purpose of nonviolent resistance. The second is to help existing networks become better vehicles for nonviolent resistance. This leads to a virtually unlimited number of possible projects.
Mobilise your personal networks for social defence. Tell your friends about it so they will know what you are talking about when there is a crisis. Approach the most sympathetic individuals to take action against repression in other countries.
Make contingency plans for communication. Make sure that lists of telephone numbers are available, with back-up copies. Plan what you would do if telephones were not working.
Introduce social defence in organisations with which you're involved, such as church groups, workplace groups or school groups. Develop practical activities that build the network and the skills of the people in it.
Imagine that your network is infiltrated, for example by political police. (It might well be.) Develop methods that take this into account.
Decide which technologies help your network communicate most effectively, and make sure people know how to use them.
(nb: this list has not been updated for online publication. Please check Housmans World Peace Directory or similar for up-to-date information)