Towards liberation. A draft statement for the WRI




Towards liberation

Life can be better than this. The most fortunate of us have been crippled and scarred; we are less than we could be. All of us have lived in societies where individuals, groups, classes exert arbitrary power over others. This is the essence of oppression. Women and men who should be able to think and decide and act for themselves are forced to be the obedient instruments of the will of others.

Nor is it the conditions of the present time alone that cripple us. 'The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living' wrote Marx. The history and culture of every society shapes the consciousness of those born and brought up within it, and no culture is without repressions, taboos, and myths which limit the growth of individuals and of society as a whole. Without a profound cultural revolution there is no revolution at all.

What is the purpose of revolution? Is it to ensure that society runs more efficiently, rationally, productively? All these things are important, often critically so. Yet the core of revolution lies elsewhere. Its touch-stone is liberation - transforming the lives of people, their relationships to each other, to their minds and bodies, to the things they produce, to the world about them.

Every revolution poses a question: what does it mean to be human? What are the shackles that must be cast off? What are the social and economic and cultural conditions that can enable people to develop and flourish? The answer to be sure cannot be given once for all. The possibilities open at any particular time are always limited, dependent on social forces, economic conditions, above all on the awareness and imagination of the people. That is why every generation, every group seeking its emancipation must write and re-write its own manifesto. Yet some general statements are possible. To be human involves awareness and the freedom and ability to change the world about us. The symbols and structure of language unlocked the doors of perception and brought with it a uniquely human capacity for creation.

"A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the constructions of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality."

Marx, Capital.

This creative imagination enables human beings not only to meet their physical needs for food, shelter, clothing, sex, but to create for its own sake. Human beings make their own ends beyond the instinctual drives of their animal natures. Thus sexual drives function at the biological level to secure the continued existence of the species; at the human level sex can be valued for its own sake as sensuous delight and a source of communication and joy. We need a broad perspective on what it means to be human. It is not enough to see men and women as the inventors of tools and techniques and social organisations that have wrought a physical transformation of the natural world and increased the productive forces to an astonishing degree. These achievements must be set along-side others. Humans are also the animals that play, that laugh, that create music and poetry, that are capable of compassion, that can question their own actions.

Liberation is the process whereby a truly human status is achieved by all so that their potentialities for joy and creativity are realised.

Liberation is needed because the achievements of the human species have a darker side. These we can critically assess in the light of the social, economic and ritual reality of tribal societies destroyed under the mercantile and imperial expansion of western civilisation. Tribal societies have been broadly egalitarian and democratic in their social organisation. They had no formal political hierarchy, the means of production were communally owned and land under customary tenure was periodically re-distributed. There are indeed extant tribal societies - the Nuer of the Sudan, the Shavante of Central Brazil, the Trio Indians of Suriname and Brazil - where political hierarchy is unknown.

Under the impact of civilisation based on conquest all that was destroyed. State formations prior to the invention of modern technology discovered and utilised that most subtle, complex and sophisticated tool of all - other men and women used as objects, not as autonomous human beings. Hence the institution of legal slavery, transformed under conditions of modern technology into the subjugation of men, women and children as wage labourers, and the various forms of class and hierarchic society down to the present day. Under the conditions of state domination the capacity to conceptualise, symbolise and celebrate in poetic mythology can be utilised to further oppression and whole civilisations become ensnared in their myths and ideologies. The Aztecs believed that human sacrifice was necessary to avert natural disaster and to gain the good-will of the gods in battle. To obtain sacrificial victims they needed to go to war, and to ensure success in war they needed even more victims. This logical conundrum led to an escalation of human sacrifice until it reached staggering proportions - and at the same time accelerated the downfall of the civilisation and its conquest by the Spaniards. Yet the absurdity of many societies today is no less extreme when whole economies are geared to military expenditure; when peace could mean economic chaos and continuing along the present course could mean the greatest disaster in history.

Thus culture may be used to reinforce oppression. It can teach oppressor and oppressed alike to accept their situation as natural, indeed it can make oppression invisible. Thus the position of woman in Western society has been so re-in forced by cultural norms and stereotypes that one of the prime tasks of the women s movement has been to unravel and lay bare the ramifications of oppression.

Culture can reinforce oppression in another way. Hierarchic societies were not built without enormous psychic toll. To turn spontaneous and autonomous human beings into agents and tools requires repression and distortion. Myths and rituals can act as a means of sublimating repressed needs and desires, sometimes in a destructive form. The Nazi ideology of Aryan superiority, its symbols, its mass rallies, its irrational policy of genocide directed against Jews, gypsies and others is a notable example. Certainly Nazism needs to be studied also in terms of its immediate social and political causes, but these cultural and psychic aspects are not less important.

But culture in its broad sense is not monolithic. Traditions of liberation survive systems of domination. The functional sociology which sees every aspect of society as contributing to the harmonious functioning of the whole is profoundly conservative. It fails to take account of the way societies change and of those repressed cultural traditions which invariably constitute the basis and support for liberation struggle and social change. It is more profitable and accurate to see societies as comprising a number of competing culture and value systems.

Nor do we suggest that it is possible to somehow get outside and beyond culture. Rather within each society are the cultural seeds of liberation. Cultural traditions vary widely and this means that to some degree the process of liberation will vary. Oppressed groups, classes, peoples have to organise for their own liberation in the light of their experience and tradition. Only the oppressed themselves can unravel the complexities of their oppression and articulate the conditions for their liberation.

What then is the particular cultural and historical perspective from which this present statement is written? We who have drafted and worked on it are members of War Resisters' International, an anti-war organisation that dates back to the period immediately following World War I. Its members are united by a declaration which denounces war as a 'crime against humanity' and pledges them to work for the removal of its causes. It has consistently opposed war and the military solutions to social and national problems. During the second world war many thousands of its members went to prison rather than take part in it. At the same time it opposed nazism and fascism and the policies that had led to their coming to power. Many of its members in Europe took part in the passive resistance to German occupation and in operations to rescue persecuted groups. During the Vietnam war it was the first body to campaign among American soldiers urging them to consider taking collective action, including sit-down strikes and desertion, to oppose the war.

War Resisters' International has members and sections in many countries. But its support comes mainly from Europe and North America and from the middle and professional class; its leadership is still predominantly male. While wishing to broaden our basis and programme, we recognize that our statements are bound to reflect to some degree the limitations of our origins and present situation.

From the start and increasingly in recent years, many members of War Resisters have placed their opposition to war in the context of a broader commitment to end the structural violence inherent in many forms of social and political organisations such as capitalism, imperialism and the authoritarian forms of 'socialism'. This violence can be as extensive as the overt violence of war and the struggle against it no less vital. In this sense War Resisters' International, in the words of its Council statement in 1968, 'is first and foremost a freedom movement'.

The present statement explores the implications of the struggle against all forms of destructive violence. It does not claim to speak for everyone in the movement or to have a confident answer to many of the problems that are raised. It is intended rather as a contribution to a continuing debate on the priorities, tasks and methods of liberation at the present time.

We see the question of violence as central. This should scarcely need arguing when the stockpiles of nuclear weapons in the world are sufficient to destroy life several times over, when the spread of nuclear weapons and technological developments in rocketry and anti-ballistics systems could bring the danger of global war back to the critical point it had reached in the early 60s and when arms production has become the pivot of a precarious economic stability in the capitalist countries. Violence however is central in another sense. The tasks of liberation can be defined as that of removing the structure and occasions of violence on the one hand and on the other of building new structures, new cultures in which violence is minimised and men and women can attain a human status.

The particular insight of the libertarian tradition has been its insistence that these two tasks must proceed together because they are inextricably interwoven. The organisations and social structures we create now to resist oppression, the parallel institutions we set up, are nothing less than the new society in the process of becoming. Moreover the quality of peoples lives in the present time are affected by our actions and relationships, by the kind of counter culture we create. Their lives -- our lives -- are neither more nor less important than those of people who may live when the process of liberation has reached a further stage. Selfishness -- a proper regard for our own interests and integrity -- is the kernel of a liberation movement.

To the extent that our organisations are authoritarian or practise discrimination against women or ethnic or cultural groups (and they mostly do to some degree) they are part of the system of oppression they have been set up to oppose.

It is not just the structure of our organisations that is at stake but all our relationships. For what are social structures but sets of relationships that have persisted through time and become reinforced by cultural norms and various degrees of coercion? The core of our opposition to the present society is that it promotes and perpetuates anti-human relationships. If we want to build something radically different we have to build on a different base.

We have used the terms liberation and revolution. Are they synonymous? In one sense yes, for revolution, like liberation, is often used to describe the permanent struggle for radical change. But it has also a narrower meaning, that of the swift and decisive overthrow of existing power relationships in society. Such social cataclysms occur only in specific historical situations. To imagine that revolution is always just around the corner may be to cut oneself off from the real needs of people and to invite ridicule and repression.

Our commitment is to liberation. We see this as occurring at times gradually, at times through confrontation and upheaval. In either case the process is a continuing one. We do not imagine that social, economic and political questions will ever be solved once for all, or that there can ever be a static utopia. Rather we think in terms of a revolutionary culture and practice within which are located moments of dramatic confrontation and success (revolution} and dramatic setbacks (counter-revolution). The forces of reaction will not be finally put to rest for they spring from tendencies that are probably just as enduring (though not more so) as the drives towards renewal and liberation. The liberationist of one decade may become the authoritarian ruler of the next. The people, stirred to revolutionary awareness and action, may retreat into the stultifying but less demanding role of having others make decisions on their behalf.

Twin dangers face those committed to work for liberation. One is of making revolutionary confrontation an end in itself and in the process treating people as tools and instruments and thus introducing alienation into the very heart of the revolutionary method. The other is of forever touching the surface of problems and strengthening the total system of oppression by making it just bearable to people who would otherwise rise up in revolt.

A critical factor here is how changes are brought about. All manner of charitable hand-outs tend to increase dependence on the existing order. This probably goes too for a great deal of the legislation in parliamentary democracies which may be remote from the concerns and experience of most people.

But where changes are brought about by the direct action of the people most concerned, the effect can be very different. People may begin to question not only this or that abuse or injustice but the total system of power relations. Through small victories they may realise their power to bring about radical change. It was in this way that the student action in Paris in May 1968 led to a general strike. The nature of their demands also carried revolutionary implications. They related in the first instance to their own situation, but raised the more general issue of self-management. The strike which ensued involved not only manual workers but also many technicians, managerial and professional people.

For us then the crucial issue is self management by people in every sphere - economic, social, cultural -- and the key method that of direct action by people on their own behalf.

What is it specifically we object to in the societies we live in? Most of us come from the richer countries which combine a capitalist economy with some form of political democracy. This is why our analysis and comment focuses on such societies. Yet many of the points apply also to the centralised bureaucracies of Russia and Eastern Europe and to authoritarian regimes wherever they exist.

The fundamental question is the distribution of power. To be powerless is to have no say in how one leads ones life. In capitalist societies the power that derives from the ownership and control of the means of production is denied the majority of the people and concentrated in the hands of private corporations and the state. The dynamic of capitalism moreover is tending towards greater concentrations of power in both economic and political fields.

The structure of giant capitalist and state enterprises is hierarchical and more or less authoritarian. Redistribution of power implies different structures, networks of equal groups rather than a pyramid of authority. In a word self-management by producers in co-operation with the community.

The scale of giant enterprises means that whatever the formal structure individuals within them have little real say in running their affairs. In such a situation even self-management could remain without substance. Control would be exercised through a formal system of great complexity and power tend to pass into the hands of a few people with specific skills in persuasion or manipulation. As far as possible therefore we need to decentralise, breaking down the size of overall enterprises and units of production.

Much the same critique can be made of the structure and scale of the political system of centralised government.

The mode of production generally is mechanical and dehumanising. Assembly line techniques reduce complex human skills into a set of simple operations endlessly repeated. Little wonder that strikes in Western capitalist countries are more often than not unofficial and related to particular grievances about the conditions of work. Little wonder too if many are frustrated and brutalised.

Automation can be used discriminately to reduce the tedium of work. But a more fundamental change in the mode of production is needed. We should be aware of the significance of production techniques that are being developed to allow small groups of people to produce a complete product as an alternative to the endless division of labour that characterises the traditional factory. Even where such techniques are being developed within the context of capitalism their importance in their own right should not be overlooked.

The purpose of production is to secure profit for the enterprises concerned. In theory this is related to the needs of society by the mechanism of the market and the intervention of governments. But where wealth is unevenly distributed the laws of supply and demand are distorted. Today the power and wealth of the large corporations is such that they can manipulate demand to a considerable extent to meet their production requirements. Advertising is now a major factor in production costs and the head of General Motors for instance was prepared to describe the enterprise some years ago as 'basically a marketing organisation'. Governments may intervene and have tended to do so increasingly in the period since World War IL But they have their own interests and priorities especially in relation to military expenditure and the maintenance of their position of power and are also subject to the pressures from large industries and multi-national corporations.

The dynamic of capitalism is towards expansionism (including imperialism), waste and the concentration of power. The combination of competition with mass production unrelated in any direct way to the needs of society leads to the classic pattern of boom, overproduction, slump. During the period of slump the smaller, more vulnerable firms tend to go out of business. Loss of production creates shortages and demands which serve eventually to set the cycle in motion again, but with power now concentrated in fewer and larger enterprises.

Because the ability to weather the periods of slump is related to the size and strength of the enterprise, the tendency is for the successful enterprise to grow at the expense of competitors; to establish first a monopoly, or near monopoly, in a particular field; to establish next control of the various stages of production that give the enterprise its new materials -- as when chocolate manufacturers manage vast estates in Africa to grow the cocoa they need; finally we have the development of international corporations involved in a range of products, with huge research and development departments, enormous advertising budgets, and their own policing and. welfare schemes; independent states as it were operating across the frontiers of the nation states of capitalism.

Imperialism is a facet of capitalist expansion. New sources of raw materials were needed as capitalism developed and new markets for manufactured products. In the 18th and 19th centuries these were achieved through direct military conquest and annexation. The (approximately} self-sufficient economies of Africa, Asia and Latin America were destroyed and the whole area given over to the production of raw materials for Western Europe and North America. At the same time indigenous crafts and industries were suppressed so that cheap manufactured goods, such as cotton garments, would have an expanded market. Thus what is sometimes referred to as the under-developed or Third World could be more accurately termed the de-developed world.

Today the direct political control has been largely relinquished. But the economies of these areas are still largely geared to the needs of the capitalist countries. Moreover political control is still exercised, in particular through the CIA network of the United States and through financial and military support and inducements to secure favourable regimes, and to 'destabilise' those, like Allende's government in Chile, which threaten Western interests. In some cases action takes the form of military intervention and war as in Cambodia and Vietnam.

The terms of trade in the international market tend to operate against the primary producers of the de-developed world, sometimes wiping out in a single shift the gains they have made over a period of years, or cancelling out the value of all the aid they are receiving. That aid itself is more often than not of dubious worth, amounting at worst to a form of imperialism. It can tie the recipient country even more rigidly to the imperialist economic system both through financial indebtedness and the need to obtain spares, and technical data and training from the original source.

The industrial capitalist countries have today less need of the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America as a market for their goods. Thus the veritable explosion of international that has taken place since the war has been concentrated among the industrialised countries. But they do depend critically on the de-developed world for oil and for a number of strategic raw materials. Thus for half of the materials listed by the American Defence Department in the mid 60s as strategic, 80%-l00% came from imports; three-quarters of such imports were from the non-industrialised world.

The population explosion can be seen, in part at least, as a consequence of capitalist political economy. The close connection between population and the land available for food production is lost. Food surpluses, coming in the first instance from the New World, and later from areas opened up by imperialism provided the basis for population growth in Britain and Western Europe. This growth was a prerequisite for the development of industrial capitalism in its labour intensive phase.

Capitalism, and the kind of state socialism which is predicated on a similar agro-industrial base as capitalism, now threatens humankind with ecological disaster. Unless population growth is checked, the number of people on the planet could soon be too great for any known political-economic system to cope with. The run-down of mineral and energy resources, the depletion of soils, the pollution of land, water and atmosphere, spell the same message; capitalism is no longer viable. We cannot afford its waste of resources. We cannot afford its dynamic of endless, and ultimately irrational, expansion.

Meanwhile economic expansion, expressed in terms of the GNP, is the sacred cow of every capitalist nation. The political reasons for this are evident. If growth slows down, the demand for fundamental redistribution of wealth will be much harder to resist. The international companies play an important role here. Their success depends on high levels of production and trading in all the countries in which they are based, for cut-backs and restrictions in one country would soon be reciprocated by others. Furthermore it is only when their economies are expanding that governments are prepared to invest the vast sums in research and development which no inter-national company can afford on its own. Thus the international companies act as a powerful lobby for expansion.

Arguably there is a similar dynamic at work in the state socialist countries of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The internal accountability system operating in the state industries, means that industries compete with each other for growth and profitability. This in turn affects the sums made available to them by the central . government. Thus decisions on national priorities are affected by what have become powerful and entrenched interests. The military and the associated arms industry is only the most obvious case in point.

The waste under capitalism goes beyond the resources squandered on advertising and arms. Competition is production leads to duplication and the failure to exploit resources in the most rational and economic way. Thus when mining operations at a single field are properly co-ordinated it is possible to double or triple the percentage of oil by manipulating relative pressures of gas and water; this advantage is often lost under a system of competitive production. Resources are wasted in producing artificial differences between products, in the duplication of research, in costly security systems designed to prevent rivals from obtaining information, and in suppressing innovations when the margin of profit to be had from introducing them is too low.

If we look at the political economy of capitalism as a whole and take into account not only this waste at the level of production but the waste of manpower and resources represented by the hierarchies of management, the state bureaucracy and the army - all the jobs which seem to be socially necessary but are in the preponderance of their functions only made necessary by the system - we can get some measure of the irrationality of the social order. One calculation, made in 1920 before the advent of cybernation, put the wastage of labour power in the United States at 50% of the total; that is to say that half the working population were either unemployed or engaged in useless or positively harmful work. A recent calculation for Britain puts the total of actual and hidden unemployment in the region of 10 million.

Yet undoubtedly the most extreme and dangerous waste, not only in capitalist but in all nation-states, is military expenditure. In 1962 a United Nations study concluded that something like $120 billion (£43,000 million) was being spent annually on military account - equivalent to between 8% and 9% of the world's output of all goods and services at that time, and to at least 2/3rds if not the whole of the entire national income of the 'Third World'. Since then Vietnam, the multiple re-entry rocket systems and the anti-ballistic systems have given the spiral another twist.

Military expenditure is now such a major item in all the large capitalist countries and in the Soviet Union that their economies can be said to be geared to military production. Whole regions of the United States are tied up with arms production. Every major electronics company has a stake in it. The military-industrial complex in the United States has been estimated to involve 100,000 companies, to create one in nine jobs and to generate one tenth of the gross national product.

The final indictment of capitalism is that without this expenditure the system would be thrown in to chaos. We refer not simply to the dislocation that any sudden major shift in production is bound to bring, but to the fact that capitalism requires a major area of non-productive employment to regulate the permanent tendency of the system to overproduction and slump. Since World War II the arms and space industry has been the major regulating factor in preventing major slumps and all the social and political upheaval that accompanies them. To be effective such a regulator must not in its turn stimulate further production. So tractors for the 'Third World' won't do for a substitute. Even the space industry has an unfortunate habit of producing useful commodities like communications satellites or probes to locate natural resources. Military expenditure is ideal. It primes no other industry except for gravedigging.

Other major areas of repression and injustice exist in capitalist societies; the discrimination against women and children, ethnic and cultural groups and homosexuals; the neglect of the cultural, economic and social life of periphery areas which form in some instances a kind of semi-colonial hinterland to the central metropolis; the authoritarian system of education.

Many of these features it is true are to be found in other types of society. But as we have already stated, our objection is not to capitalism alone but to all forms of authoritarian hierarchical systems where unequal power relations are stratified and consolidated. Capitalism is a particular instance of such a system, one in which power is concentrated through the exclusion of the majority from the ownership and control of the means of production. In the Soviet Union private ownership of production has been eliminated but it has been replaced not by control from the base but by a rigid bureaucracy and an authoritarian state which has crushed every last vestige of civil liberty for the individual; where it is a crime to own a simple duplicating machine without a licence or to move about even within the country without permission. Even in its relations with the 'Third World' the Soviet Union has taken on an exploitative and neo-imperialist role, and the case for describing the country as state-capitalist rather than socialist is now very strong. It is thus small advantage to substitute domination based on class for domination based on the monopoly of power by the state and its agents. Today indeed it is the state which can be identified as the chief enemy of human liberation.

But while it is true that many of the injustices we seek to remove are not unique to capitalism, we have to analyse and understand them in their specific setting if we are to act effectively against them.

Women have been oppressed under many, perhaps under all, political systems. But the kernel of this repression under capitalism has been the subjection of women to the double task of market wage labour and non-market house labour. Under industrial capitalism the home is no longer essentially a unit of production; rather it is a social unit which makes possible the capitalist mode of production in the factory and mechanised farm. Bourgeois ideology fixes women's place in this social unit, in a condition moreover of increasing isolation as the extended family has disintegrated. Her creative powers are to be expressed in reproduction, and in servicing the needs of her husband and children, and in the daily round of menial tasks. The work that is open to the majority of women in industry and commerce is traditionally subservient and low paid, and the discrimination against women doing the same work as men needs no comment. Even in left and radical movements women have tended to play secondary roles, so much are all our organisations the creatures of our time and culture. Truly the front line of reaction runs through our own divided psyches.

At home the care and early socialisation of children is largely the responsibility of the mother. But this creative and enhancing task can become a nightmare under the conditions of overwork, harassment and isolation which many women face. Women s sexuality too has been alternatively denied and exploited, She is the goddess or the whore. In neither instance is she accorded a human status and it is the demand for a human status that is at the core of the women's liberation movement. Yet this demand - apparently so simple - has profound implications for the economic and social order and for the way in which both men and women see themselves and their relationships.

Racism has always carried strong sexual overtones. But racism itself cannot be understood in its capitalist setting without reference to the history of imperialism. Similarly authoritarian schooling has little to do with the way children learn and a great deal to do with providing industry with a disciplined work force.

Such a summary of our reasons for insisting on radical change is bound to be both incomplete and highly schematic. We have not attempted to take account of the differences between various capitalist countries, between the giants like the United States, Britain, Japan, South Africa, and the smaller client states like Norway and Ireland. We acknowledge that such differences do exist. Nevertheless we believe hat there are features and tendencies common to all and that everywhere radical changes are needed. In each country (or region or locality) the specific demands and the decision about what action to take has to be made by the people directly involved.

We have in passing indicated our response to the authoritarian regime in the Soviet Union. Many of the comments apply also to the regimes in Eastern Europe, though again there are obviously important differences between them. Radical change in all the European state socialist countries is clearly necessary and unarmed struggle in these areas, coupled with clandestine organisation, is likely to be the most appropriate and feasible method. China presents a very different situation which we discuss later.

Finally we have for the sake of simplicity referred to the Third World as if its interests were homogenous and could be set in simple contrast to the interests of the capitalist states of the industrialised world. In fact it is clear that the countries of the Third World are deeply divided and that ruling elites in many instances have aligned their interests with those of the dominant groups in the capitalist and imperialist nations. Some indeed are prepared to squander their area s natural resources for aggrandisement and power. It is against regimes of this kind that many of the liberation movements are engaged in bitter conflict.

We have suggested that change in society comes sometimes gradually sometimes through crisis and upheaval. What are the prospects facing the industrial capitalist countries at the present time? Forecasts are notoriously uncertain and the expectation of the imminent collapse of capitalism has often in the past proved unfounded. Yet it is difficult to see how the industrial capitalist nations can avoid a crisis of the gravest magnitude. What are the elements of this crisis? .

  1. As countries in the de-developed world achieve socialist or populist revolutions they will, like Tanzania or China, devote a much greater proportion of their natural wealth to raising their own living standards and achieving a greater measure of self-sufficiency. Even where no such revolutions occur the present regimes, including many reactionary ones, will co-ordinate their efforts to secure more realistic prices for their raw materials. This has already happened to some degree in the case of oil. The effect on industrial capitalist economies will be to produce inflation and severe shortages.
  2. Over a longer time span whose duration can only be guessed at, the energy-ecology crisis will start to take a serious hold. If this crisis is not to lead to disaster the whole pattern of economic and political life in the industrialised countries will have to undergo radical changes. In place of a capital-intensive monoculture, a labour intensive and varied agriculture and horticulture; in place of an economy rooted in heavy industry one based on approximate self-sufficiency in food production supported by an appropriate level of industry; in place of gigantic nation-states with their bureaucracies, armies and all the elaborate paraphernalia of prestige and power, a network of communities co-operating through a variety of intermediate bodies; in place of the giant metropolis, the smaller city, town and rural community.
  3. An intensification of the eco-political crisis through the attempt by centralised authority to maintain and tighten its grip. This implies a variety of authoritarian regimes of the right or left which attempt to manage the crisis by a series of harsh measures to keep down wages, suppress all unofficial strikes and other actions at the base, and secure obedience from the population; the kind of programme indeed which some environmentalists are already advocating. And because powerful centralised government is predicated upon high-energy consumption to release large numbers of people for its armies and bureaucracies, we can expect a crash programme to develop new sources of power as the fossil fuels become scarce. In particular we can expect a speed-up of nuclear power production in spite of the clear evidence that this involves terrifying hazards and cannot provide a stable long-term solution to energy needs.
  4. Increasing instability of the capitalist economies and a return to the classic pattern of boom and slump as the safety valve of military expenditure ceases to operate effectively. This is likely to occur as the military industry becomes more capital intensive and so fails to absorb unemployment at the same rate or as inflation and shortage of raw materials force cutbacks in military expenditure.
  5. The possibility of further imperialist wars to secure access to strategic raw materials or to contain real or supposed threats to national security. Such wars, like that in Vietnam, not only put a heavy strain on the resources of the imperialist powers but can lead to internal unrest.
  6. The renewed danger of global war as nuclear weapons spread and if and when technological advances seem to make a first strike strategy feasible. There are in any case likely to be critical situations when internal economic and political crises are attributed to the subversion of enemy powers.
  7. Increasing pressures from the neglected peripheries of the nation states for economic, cultural and political autonomy.


A few additional facts to illustrate the extent of the eco-political crisis. They are taken mainly from a special number of the English socialist magazine The Spokesman where the original sources of figures and estimates are cited.

Of the 19 mineral and energy resources which are of most vital importance to any industrialised society, 10 are likely to run out within 40 years; all but one of these will run out inside 22 years if the present rates of increase in consumption continue. Even if new reserves are found so that total reserves are increased five-fold, they would still only last for 30-70 years.

Of the fossil fuels, coal is still relatively plentiful. The time estimated to exhaust the middle 80% of the world s coal resources has been calculated at about 300-400 years, but only 100 to 200 years if coal is used as a main energy source, and an even shorter period if a considerable proportion of the reserves are diverted to the production of plastics, fertilisers, man-made fibres and protein synthesis. Oil reserves are much smaller. World peak production at the present levels will occur between 1990 and 2000 and the middle 80% of total reserves could be exhausted by the second or third decade of the next century.

Nuclear energy offers no way out. Burner reactors depend on supplies of uranium 235, of which there are only limited reserves. Breeder and conversion reactors could use the much more common uranium 238, but it is a mistake to think that even if they do come into widespread use they will give unlimited power, for while their fuel is relatively cheap their capital cost is high in terms of materials and energy input. Even the projected fus1'on reactors would be limited by the reserves of lithium.

But the fundamental and clinching objection to the nuclear power programme is that it is too dangerous. Radioactive isotopes escape into the air and water all the time from nuclear power plants and there have already been cases where the concentration of escaped isotopes has constituted a threat to nearby populations. Professor Linus Pauling has estimated that if America's safety levels against radiation from peaceful atomic energy installations are not substantially lowered, the United States may suffer 90,000 additional deaths from cancer year; 60,000 more pre-natal deaths each year; 20,000 extra cases of leukaemia and 12,000 additional children born with gross mental and physical defects. There is also the serious problem of thermal pollution of waterways through the cooling of nuclear plants, the mounting problem of the disposal of radioactive wastes, and the risk of . major accident.

Alternative sources of power can and will be developed. Many of them however such as wind, tidal and solar energy make more sense in the context of the kind of decentralised society outlined above. In terms of the present trends in energy consumption they could make a relatively small contribution. Thus the collective device for an electric generating plant powered by solar energy with a capacity of 1,000 megawatts (enough to supply a city of perhaps 1.5 million} would have to cover an area of about 16 square miles and involve complex and expensive components. As for tidal power, one calculation puts the world 's potential tidal power at less than 1% of the present power needs.

Whatever the new technological developments, there is an absolute limit to the quantum of energy we can produce without raising the temperature of the atmosphere to danger level. This objection does not apply to the utilisation of energy already falling on the planet through the sun s rays or to wind and tidal power, but it does apply for instance to the widespread development of nuclear power, and to a number of science-fiction solutions that are suggested from time to time.

The limits on energy and resources affect the prospects for development among the poorer nations. Calculations suggest that to raise the world's 1970 population to current US levels of per capita consumption would require the extraction of almost 30 billion tons of iron, more than 500 million tons of copper and lead, more than 300 million tons of zinc and about 50 million tons of tin as well as large quantities of other materials. Except in the case of iron, the necessary quantities of these materials far exceeds all known or inferred reserves. The additional energy required to make this effort in any case virtually rules it out. This suggests that the priorities for the de-developed countries will be to get the imperialist powers off their backs, to devote their natural resources towards their own betterments and to develop along lines that are radically rather than marginally different from those of the giant industrial powers. We can expect those bourgeois nationalist regimes bent on creating industrial capitalist societies to face increasing pressure from radical elements and especially from the mass of poor or landless peasants.

Given the nature of oppression in capitalist society and the crisis it is likely to face, what are the key areas for resistance and radical action? We suggest the following as being of particular importance.

  1. Action by producers to secure self-management
  2. Action by communities as determined by place of residence - which for many, especially women, is also the place of work
  3. Action by regional and cultural communities neglected or exploited by the central state
  4. Action by women and by oppressed ethnic and cultural groups
  5. Action by radical alliances against militarism and imperialism
  6. Action against the hierarchies which dominate our lives - the giant companies and the state
  7. Cultural action for freedom in the realms of theatre, film, literature, education, the arts. Action aimed at community control of the media.

Cultural action in a sense is involved in all the other areas of activity. We refer here however not simply to books, articles films and so on with overt social and political messages but to a much wider field of cultural activity; to the myths, symbols and religions of a society; to its literature art and music; to the fairy tales we tell our children.

Some radicals are sceptical about the importance of this whole area. What has the exploration of nuances of feeling and relationships got to do with the task of revolution? The sentiment is reinforced by the philosophical tradition which regards culture as the superstructure determined by the material base. But ideas too are part of the material world - if not of what world are they a part? Rather than postulating two sharply distinct levels of reality one of which (the material) determines the other (ideological) we suggest a mutual dependence and inter-action between the cultural and socio-economic spheres of human activity. To neglect the importance of one or the other in its own right is to cripple radical politics.

The forms of activity in the areas we have outlined will vary. In the capitalist democracies there is always a considerable scope for agitation within constitutional limits; the forming of political groups and networks; the holding of marches, vigils, demonstrations; the setting up of centres for relief and constructive work, like the ~ women s aid centres and the workshops for alternative technology; the publication of newspapers and periodicals. But sooner or later, if the issues are important, direct action will probably be necessary; sit-downs, occupations, squatting, boycotts, strikes, refusal of rent and rates; the open defiance of unjust laws; the obstruction and subversion of the military and the police.

The level of activity will also vary. Agitation may be over a simple issue like the right of a community to have a road crossing in a busy area; the right of workers threatened with redundancy to take over and run enter-prises; the need to secure changes in the law or the repeal of repressive legislation. These levels of action, compounded perhaps by a more general crisis, may escalate and take on revolutionary dimensions.. At this point we can expect a general strike, the take-over of radio and television stations, the obstruction of all government institutions and the substitution of government by alternative forms of self-management at the economic political and cultural levels.

Clearly it would be folly to precipitate such a confrontation before the radical forces are sufficiently developed. I f our efforts are aimed not at revolutionary confrontation as an end in itself but at liberation in all fields of human action, we can hope for a relationship between the deepening crisis and people s readiness to confront it. Yet we must also be aware that the crisis may be thrust upon us due to economic collapse, outside intervention, or attempted coup. At some point, in any event, that confrontation will occur.

We can distinguish in these forms of action two broad categories; resistance and the building of alternatives. The strike that brings production to a standstill can be compared to the setting up of alternative industry or the re-starting of production under workers' control. The refusal of rent and rates with community levies for alternative houses, playgrounds, landholding, welfare services.

How does the campaign build up? There is no set pattern. It always involves organisation, discussion, political or economic pressure. If the issue, or complex of issues, is sufficiently important and touches the perceived interests of a privileged group too closely, then forms of direct action will be necessary. If the point is reached where the total structure of power relationships in society will be affected, then one can expect at some time a revolutionary confrontation.

What about forms of organisation? Again we do not see a single formula. We reject the notion of authoritarian hierarchies which mirror the alienated and alienating structures of capitalist industry and the state. Instead of a single revolutionary vanguard party which puts itself outside and above the majority of people, we see the need for an alliance of groups struggling for liberation in different fields; workers in industry -- not only the industrial proletariat, but technicians, journalists, teachers, nurses -- that broad spectrum of people in a range of employments that found a common platform in the strike in May '68 in Paris; tenants and residents, women, homosexuals, minority groups and sub-cultures, war resisters and disaffected soldiers and police; those involved in alternative communes, workshops, farms, schools. Many such groups overlap in aims and membership. But they can also criticise one another, point out to each other the extent to which they are still involved in systems of privilege and exploitation, raise each others' awareness.

An alternative scenario favours the formation of a mass radical party which seeks power through parliamentary election. This approach does not rule out direct action but sees it as a supportive measure to combat particular injustices or as a last resort to defeat the efforts of a military coup to overthrow the constitution, as for instance when the workers in Berlin defeated the attempted Kapp putsch in 1920.

What are its drawbacks? The first is the nature of state power which depends on the military, police, prisons and centralised bureaucracy. The function of government is to direct this essentially authoritarian power for particular ends. Historically the changes brought about from above by the power of governments have sometimes been beneficial - legislation for instance in 19th century Britain regulating the conditions of work and the exploitation of the young; Dubcek's attempt in Czechoslovakia to curb the power of the central authority.

But if the purpose is to abolish that structure of relationship that is epitomised in the class system and state power, then the radical programme must not be to seize control of the state but to dismantle it through obstruction, spreading disaffection and building alternative bodies to carry out its legitimate functions. We have no confidence that the state will legislate itself out of existence. The state must be regarded as a class or power elite in its own right; like every other such group it will always seek to consolidate and extend its power rather than relinquish it.

The second drawback follows from this. A party which is elected to carry out a fundamental re-structuring of power in society is likely to find state institutions ranged against it. At a simple level this takes the form of inertia and resistance by the civil service to measures they view with disfavour. At a more serious level it can mean the overthrow of the government by the army, aided as often as not by an imperialist power; Chile is the most obvious recent example. How much more likely is this to happen if a party were elected with a programme to dismantle the machinery of state power, and in particular the armed forces? Is it likely that the army, civil service and capitalist and landowning class would stand by while they are stripped of their power -- or rather are they going to use their power against their own interests?

We do not simply ignore the power of governments and legislative assemblies. It is often important to secure the repeal of repressive legislation, to support particular reforms, to air grievances in the assemblies, even to help secure the election of one party rather than another to office where victory of one party, like the victory of the Nazis in Germany in 1933, will lead to wholesale repression. The danger of this last course however is that it tends to weaken the determination to press for radical change by giving people an emotional and moral stake in the power structure. Voting for any party is also to some degree legitimising the system as such. It is a com-promise. Even if it is occasionally necessary its drawbacks and limitations should not be forgotten.

Direct action on the other hand is open to the objection that it is unjustified in a democratic society, especially where it takes on revolutionary proportions. The point is a serious one. Unarmed resistance involves the application of power and like all others is open to abuse. The direct action of homeless people in Europe squatting in unoccupied buildings has only to be compared with the squatting by Zionist groups on the West Bank of the Jordan in an attempt to extend Israel's borders. Every instance of direct action has therefore to be considered and evaluated on its own merits.

It is quite another thing to rule out direct action as necessarily inappropriate where some form of parliamentary democracy exists. This is mistaken on two counts. The first concerns the nature of democratic rule; the second, the unit within which the concept of majority rule is assumed to operate.

Democracy implies two notions which can come into conflict. One is rule by the majority through the vehicle of some kind of constitutional and electoral machinery. The other is the notion of respecting certain fundamental human rights - the right of all citizens to live, to be free from arbitrary arrest and harassment, to express their opinions and to organise with others. What happens if a democratically elected government sets aside civil liberties and begins to persecute a political, ethnic or other group. In Nazi Germany, were the Jews, socialists, gypsies to quietly accept their 'democratic' fate of annihilation? Would it have been undemocratic of them to resist, even by force of arms? No majority or minority anywhere, no government however constituted has the right to set aside fundamental human rights.

But this is just what governments are doing, especially the governments of the great powers. The nuclear weapons poised to strike at their enemies could inflict destruction on a much greater scale than the Nazi s were ever able to do in their concentration camps. Does it really make any difference that those whose lives are threatened most directly live outside the boundaries of the particular nation-state? Within those boundaries too there are communities whose language, culture, or vital interests are at stake. It may be a working class community who are being dispersed to make way for a motorway, or a whole ethnic group faced with discrimination like the blacks and Indians in the United States, or indeed the bulk of the working population in all capitalist countries who have little or no say at their place of work where they spend most of their waking hours. All such groups have taken direct action quite properly against the will and interests of elected governments.

For many purposes the nation state is too small a unit -- that is when its actions affect the lives and rights of people outside it. For other purposes it is too large and can ride roughshod over communities within its boundaries, communities which must take direct action in some instances or be broken up. Thus in place of the single fixed unit of the nation-state with its overreaching claims, we suggest a multiplicity of units with rights and interests that have to be considered and weighed and struggled for.

The centralisation of power in the modern state has left large numbers of people with little say in the running of their lives. The party machine dominates the selection of candidates to the legislative assemblies; the legislative assemblies become more and more the rubber stamp of the decisions of the government executive, and the executives themselves are hemmed in by the inertia and conservatism of their bureaucracies and by world economic forces they cannot control. In this situation the real risk is that democracy becomes an empty formality, a charade. Direct action is essential to maintain the vitality at the base. To be sure it involves risks and it can be used to support privilege and reaction. Yet without it democracy soon ceases to have any meaning.

Where direct action is coupled with nonviolence it may have the advantage of keeping open the door of rational discussion and allowing opponents to adjust their perceptions and priorities. This could be particularly important in the crisis of capitalist societies. There is a danger that with mounting unrest support will grow for policies which promise law and order at the expense of civil liberties, especially among some sections of the middle class, and perhaps more generally among older people. If we write off these people we may not only be doing them an injustice but sealing our own fate at the same time. People act according to their perceived interests. But those perceptions can change. We have to allow for that and encourage it: be willing to enter dialogue, build alternatives that people can relate to. These things too are part of the revolutionary task.

The opposite kind of object to direct action is that in some circumstances it is insufficient and needs to be accompanied by armed struggle. Perhaps this is true of some situations, for instance where there is no semblance of democratic rights or civil liberty. But the potentialities of unarmed resistance should not be underestimated.

The power of the state and ruling class or alliance has a number of dimensions - military, organisational, economic, cultural. These interlock and reinforce one another. But they depend finally on the consent or acquiescence of large numbers of people and on the loyalty of the army, police and civil service. In the short run military and other coercive power is usually decisive, but in the longer term the cultural element -- in which we include the notions of legitimacy and the moral and psycho-social hold of the state -- is critically important.

There have been occasions when the state, in spite of overwhelming military strength, has been rendered inoperative. In Northern Ireland, the British government was powerless in face of the general strike called by the Ulster Workers' Council. In the February revolution in Russia in 1917 the Czarist regime was overthrown by the general strike and the refusal of the soldiers to open fire on strikers and put down the insurrection.

Gandhi's campaign in India operated on many levels. It paralysed the administration through the mass defiance of laws. It struck at the economic power through strikes and boycotts. At the same time it established alternative industry, alternative education, alternative units of administration. Above all it sparked a great cultural awakening among the majority of people who had been cowed by the humiliations of colonialism and challenged the moral right of the British raj to govern India. In this last it was able to call forth a response from a large section of British liberal and working class opinion.

This kind of leverage is not always available. The Indian experience was influential in the anti-colonial struggle in Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia. But in South Africa the Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign in 1953 was harshly and successfully crushed. And in face of Portuguese colonialism and the racist regime of Ian Smith in Rhodesia, the liberation movements in Southern Africa turned to guerrilla warfare.

There have been instances of successful nonviolent resistance even against dictatorships. In occupied Norway the teachers went on strike and refused to implement the Nazi teaching programme in the schools. There were mass arrests and deportations to concentration camps; but the strike could not be broken and the teachers eventually won their case. There were also minor but significant victories in other occupied countries. True, none of these instances involved a serious challenge to Nazi power and they took place when the regime had a world war on its hands. It is a far cry from victories at this level to overthrowing Nazi power through unarmed resistance.

Yet it is surely not fanciful to imagine Nazi power stretched to its limits by its occupation of a vast area being precipitated into internal crisis as a result of strikes, non-co-operation and obstruction at every level. If disaffection once spread to the Germany armies the overthrow of the regime would become a practical possibility as a result of mutiny or a coup aimed at installing a more liberal regime. The abortive July 20th plot suggests the kind of turn events might take, sooner or later with a more successful outcome. This is not the scenario for a totally peaceful change, but it is one where widespread non-co-operation provides the motor force for change.

We are convinced that direct action, mass civil disobedience and satyagraha - Gandhi s concept of non-co-operation coupled with moral force - have hardly begun to be explored. They could prove vital both in averting or superseding ever more destructive wars and in developing a decentralised libertarian socialism.

This is not to say that unarmed resistance will be effective in all situations, or to condemn those who react with spontaneous or organised violence to conditions of intolerable oppression. On the contrary we recognize that in such situations homicide is a human right, an assertion of dignity and worth.

We have to take into account the social situation in which violence occurs if our condemnation of it is not to take on a moralistic character. The spontaneous violence, whether by an individual or a large number of people, in response to extreme oppression or a threat to life is as natural and human as a cry of hunger or pain. Organised violence, which involves planning, training, securing the obedience of people to kill when ordered, takes on a different character. Yet arguably that too is justified, or at least unavoidable, in some circumstances. Certainly such organised violence on the part of the oppressed has to be distinguished from the violence of the oppressor. The scale of violence too may be crucial. The violence of the liberation movements cannot be com-pared, up to the present moment at least, with the massacres of Hiroshima, Dresden, Passchendale. Weapons of mass destruction like the strategic nuclear weapons designed to wipe out whole cities can never be justified.

There is a moral ambiguity however in an absolute refusal to resort to any kind of armed resistance. In many parts of the world structural violence is no abstraction but a reality which claims lives daily through avoidable hunger and disease and through torture and judicial murder. In present day Brazil for instance, or Chile. Not to resist in such circumstances is to bear a measure of responsibility for the continuation of the oppression.

The nonviolent resister it is true takes a different course. He cannot, any more than those who take to armed insurrection, guarantee that his approach will succeed or that it will necessarily result in less suffering than a resort to violence. Like most people he sets certain limits on the actions he is prepared to engage in even for a just cause. For some people this limit is the torturing of people or the wiping out of civilian populations. For the pacifist it is taking part in organised warfare. Whether effective or not the furthest he can go is to be prepared to die.

The options open to individuals however at a particular time may not be open to society as a whole, if only because large numbers of people would consider them impossible. Thus at a certain point in history to talk of mass nonviolent resistance to invasion or oppression can be politically absurd. Yet it is only by the action of committed individuals and groups, often facing persecution and isolation, that it can ever become a social and political possibility.

The role of the radical is precisely to widen the choices at the social, political and cultural level. The loneliness, frustration and despair which every radical, whether violent or nonviolent, experiences at times comes from the fact that she or he may be advocating a coarse of action which has little or no chance of being implemented at that time. The temptation is to retreat into sectarian isolation, On the contrary radicals have constantly to find ways of making their insights and commitments socially relevant.

We are committed in our lives as far as our courage and understanding permits to exploring and extending nonviolent direct action in the cause of liberation. For some this involves an absolute repudiation of killing under any circumstances, for others such a categorical commitment is not possible for they recognize that circumstances could arise in which they might feel morally compelled to kill or to take part in armed resistance. All of us however see the task of developing unarmed action as one of the paramount and historic tasks of this period.

If we turn to the dilemmas facing organised armed resistance, one of the crucial questions is how for it is capable of bringing about a free socialist society. How far is it inevitable that the liberation armies which accumulate power daring the period of struggle will dominate society after victory has been won, and form the basis of a new centralised and militaristic nation-state? In some instances this is precisely what is envisaged. Our support for the struggle against oppression need not blind as to the fact that not all those involved in the struggle are libertarian socialists and some may well end up persecuting those who are.

Armies are notoriously centralised, hierarchic and authoritarian; they are the epitome of alienated relationships. Military training and discipline are designed to elicit total and automatic obedience so that a soldier will obey the order to kill complete strangers instead of doing something sensible like running away or shooting the officer on his own side instead.

Does guerrilla warfare operate on a different dynamic? In the early stages, guerrilla warfare is decentralised and puts responsibility for initiative on the local group. Fanon and others have stressed the psychological importance of armed resistance in terms of breaking the mystique of colonial power. In this respect radical non-violent action operates in a similar way.

There are other parallels. Both nonviolent revolution and guerrilla warfare are based on the belief that people need to gain confidence and experience through their own action and self-organisation. Both rely on a kind of propaganda by the deed -- on action itself as a way of undermining the hypnotic power of things as they are. For what are words and ideas alone in face of the implacable solidity of institutions and arrangements that persist year after year, decade after decade? Both recognize the power of symbols. The guerrilla group that blows up a colonial or military outpost or a government office destroys a symbol as much as an instrument of oppression. Gandhi's salt march in 1930 and the campaign against the salt laws which followed it also centred on a law that symbolised the subjugation of the Indian people. When people volunteered in their tens of thousands to be arrested and imprisoned, the mystique of courts and prisons lost their hold. Both stress the importance of building counter-institutions so that people will see that the necessary functions mediated through colonial or capitalist or state institutions can be organised by people directly. Both recognize that the struggle is as much psychological and moral as physical, though in neither is coercion of some kind absent.

But as guerrilla war progresses it tends to change in character. Instead of the skirmishes and hit and run attacks there are pitched battles between disciplined armies using sophisticated and ever more destructive weapons. This development is in fact envisaged in the theories of guerrilla warfare as pat forward by Mao Tse Tung, General Giap and others. Inevitably what goes with that is the accruing of power to the army and the building up of a new set of hierarchical relationships.

The state that eventually emerges if the campaign is successful may be more or less radical depending on the a ideology and social composition of those involved and on other contingent circumstances. It may be able to achieve a great deal in terms of modernisation and social welfare and it may, as in China, succeed in involving people in economic and political decision making as never before.

Such achievements, like the achievements of bourgeois democracies, are not to be dismissed lightly. They may represent the best that was historically possible in their time. Thus in China the social revolution has gone a long way. The emphasis on the village and commune, on self-sufficiency, on the full use of human power rather than on developing technology blindly for its own sake is of outstanding interest and importance. The economic and social programme in fact is remarkably close to that which Gandhi advocated for India but which was rejected in favour of a Western capitalist style of industrialisation.

Nevertheless China is not a federation of free communes. There exists another side - that of the state and the army, the growing arsenal of nuclear weapons and the foreign policy dictated, as everywhere else. largely by considerations of national self-interest. In particular China's support for the government of Sri Lanka when it put down the JVP uprising and massacred its young supporters was reprehensible and reactionary.

As long as there exists a centralised state with its own army, police and bureaucracy, the liberation struggle has only just began. The further development of that society will take place through popular movements directed against the new establishment. In China the Cultural Revolution seems to have been in part just such an oppositionary movement aimed at curbing the power of the party machine. But for outside observers at least the outcome appears ambiguous, especially as the army was used in the later stages to bring the movement to heel. It remains to be seen whether the cultural revolution has fundamentally altered power relationships or left the party bureaucracy and the central government in stronger control than before.

When we turn to India however, the classic instance of nonviolent resistance in the anti-colonial struggle, we again had a nationalist state involved in the arms race and, more recently, in the production of nuclear weapons. Moreover the vast disparities of wealth in India remain; the power of the big landowners and employers has not been broken; the caste system retains a considerable hold, there is periodic famine; hundreds of thousands of poor and landless peasants live in destitution or move to the overcrowded cities.

This should serve as a warning against any glib conclusions about the consequences of nonviolent as against violent revolution. Yet in fact there was not a nonviolent revolution in India but rather a mass unarmed struggle followed by a transfer of state power to a national bourgeoisie which itself had to rely on an army, police and civil service trained by the colonial power and steeped in its traditions. Why should we be surprised if that produces a more reactionary situation than the one which results from a period of armed struggle? In both cases you end up with an army and centralised state, but at least in the latter case the army has emerged from the grass roots in the course of guerrilla and revolutionary war. The nonviolent revolution which would destroy the concept and tradition of state and military power altogether is something else again.

After Indian independence, the constructive programme of the Gandhian movement continued, most notably in the Gramdam movement which promotes voluntary land reform and village communism. But the element of radical resistance largely disappeared. It is easy to see why. It is one thing to take radical action against an occupying colonial power, quite another to take it against an administration comprising many former colleagues and co-workers. Only now is a radical nonviolent oppositionary movement emerging prepared to launch serious campaigns against the policies of the Congress government. At the same time other movements have emerged which advocate and make preparations for armed revolution.

The revolution which will end class and state oppression has yet to occur. A major industrial crisis however and a breakdown of the international market, which is now a serious possibility at some point, could undermine the global domination which in the past has so often succeeded in crushing or diverting revolutionary initiatives. It would not of itself make revolution inevitable, but it does imply profound social, political, and economic changes.

The character of such changes depends in part on how far radical awareness, radical structures, have permeated and taken hold in a particular country or group of countries. Revolutionary change will not occur without a struggle. It will not be brought about from above but has to develop from below in opposition to the existing state and establishment, however 'revolutionary' that state may proclaim itself. And if the revolutionary movement is not to become a centralised authority in its turn, the struggle has to avoid building up armies and authoritarian chains of command. This implies if not complete non violence then at least that the main dynamic for revolutionary change should come through unarmed struggle involving the majority of the people.

Similarly there are political and military developments in other parts of the world that are positive and important even though they are not non violent. The military coup which disposed of the Caetano dictatorship was predicated on the use of violence and military power. It left intact a highly centralised state under strong military influence. Yet it opened up new possibilities in Portugal itself and in its African territories. It has led to arrangements for independence for Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique and a cease-fire leading to independence in Angola. It enabled the people of Portugal to play an active part in political life so that the Spinola regime in its turn could be replaced by one that was more progressive.

Thus it is impossible not to welcome the Portuguese coup. At the same time our allegiance is to those that are continuing to press for greater freedom, and to those caught up in the military machine who are refusing to co-operate with it. On May 31st 1974, men in the 4519 battalion of the Portuguese army in Angola refused to go into action against the Angolan liberation forces, MPLA and made the following statement:

"Today at 8pm we received orders to prepare two fighting sections for active service, possibly in the north. Aware of our condition as free men and not as animals whose life ends in the slaughter-house, we, members of this company, are refusing determinedly to take part in such actions."

Observer, London, May 1974

Here is the crux of the matter. This simple assertion of human dignity cannot be brushed aside. Yet it spells the downfall of every army, state and government whatsoever for there is not one that does not depend on the unquestioning obedience of its trained elites.

We have not tried in this statement to draw up a blueprint for utopia. Rather we have attempted to locate some of the main areas of oppression and violence that stem from the hierarchies of class and state power and suggested a method of working for radical change.

The general thrust and direction of this change is clear enough; it is towards the decentralisation of economic and political power -- away from the state and capitalist employers and towards the people and their formal and informal participatory organisations at the grass roots. This decentralisation would have to be accompanied by a system of co-ordination and co-operation through a network of bodies at regional, area and in some instances world level.

Might not this lead to a new hierarchy, a new power structure? Certainly. This danger always exists. Some formal restraints such as the rotation of delegates and abolition of all pay differentials can lessen the danger to some degree. But the main safeguard will always be an active tradition of direct action and the refusal to sanction or permit any body to claim for itself the monopoly of the use of force in the community. Either we are all soldiers or there are no soldiers: all policemen or there are no police.

No-one expects all the institutions of the bourgeois state to disappear overnight. What we can expect and foster is the growth of a different way of dealing with problems that help to provide a rationale for the repressive' forces of the state. Thus in the matter of crime, an emphasis on settling disputes locally and informally rather than on perfecting a vast body of obscurantist law, in relation to community conflicts, the development of techniques of nonviolent intervention and mediation. Examples of how people can manage when thrown on their own resources -- from the Paris Commune in 1871 to Catalonia in 1936, from Budapest in 1956 to the Paris suburb of Nantes in 1968 and Free Derry in 1969 -- suggest that the problems are by no means so insuperable as bourgeois ideology supposes.

We have not attempted to give a detailed strategy for revolution. We have suggested a pattern of activity that could make revolution at some point a social possibility, a pattern that depends on individuals and groups and the working population as a whole struggling for liberation in their particular area of interest and commitment.

We do see some activities as being of special importance. The women's struggle which has profound cultural, psychological and social implications and which could undermine the social unit of the nuclear family so important to Western capitalism. The struggle of producers for self-management which could change the relations of production and allow a rational debate on the scale and mode of production to meet social need. The struggle of the de-developed world for the control of their resources. The libertarian socialist resistance in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The anti-militarist struggle that can put a check on the impetus to war and subvert the instruments of state oppression.

As an international body committed both to liberation and anti-militarism we see our role as that of campaigning on a number of fronts; against the imperialist policies of the major powers; against weapons of mass destruction whoever possesses them; against conscription and all armies; against the multinational corporations; against the irresponsible policy of building nuclear power stations. We will encourage individual refusal to take part in any kind of military work and seek through human contact with soldiers and others to subvert armies and other instruments of oppression. At the same time we will sponsor study and practical work to develop the theory and practice of nonviolent action in every sphere -- in promoting revolutionary change, in resisting occupation and oppression, in developing unarmed peacemaking corps to intervene and mediate at the request of communities in conflict. At national, regional and local levels (including area levels that cut across existing nation-state boundaries} we will join forces with those struggling for self-management and building alternative bodies and networks.

The kind of libertarian society that could emerge when centralised concentrations of power have been dissolved will be untidy and imperfect. Without state authorities commanding a monopoly of violence, conflicts of interests are bound to occur leading at times to bloody and violent clashes. Without an overriding world authority to secure and police an equal distribution of the worlds resources -- that vain bourgeois dream -- there will be more and less well off regions. Without a fixed set of laws and a single authority to enforce them, there will be injustices, though hopefully on nothing like the present scale.

Liberation cannot be achieved without risks. Do we think the risks of some disorder, inefficiency and injustice that will certainly accompany the dissolution of centralised power are to be compared with the risk of the present system of nation-states leading us to ecological disaster or nuclear war? Do we like the liberals and advocates of world government think we can ride the warhorse of the state or subject individual states to a super-power which does not in its turn become an even greater menace to human life and freedom? Or do we take that other real but creative risk and declare that we believe that with the props that bolster inequality, privilege and power taken away the people themselves can find a way of running their own affairs, of working out their own path to self-management and liberation?

Programmes & Projects
Other publications

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.