‘Nonviolence’ is an umbrella term for describing a range of methods for dealing with conflict which share the common principle that physical violence, at least against other people, is not used. Gene Sharp, the best known writer on nonviolent action, has compiled the most comprehensive typology of nonviolence; a summary is given in Table 1.
While this typology illustrates the various approaches to nonviolence, the criteria which underpin them are still not clear. These criteria may be identified by examining the two major dimensions of nonviolent action.
The first dimension (the tactical-strategic) indicates the depth of analysis, the ultimate aim and the operational time-frame which activists use. The second dimension (the pragmatic-ideological) indicates the nature of the commitment to nonviolence and the approach to conflict which activists utilise: this includes the importance attached to the relationship between means and ends and the attitude towards the opponent.
Tactical exponents of nonviolent action use short to medium term campaigns in order to achieve a particular goal within an existing social framework; their aim is reform. Strategic exponents of nonviolent action are guided by a structural analysis of social relationships and are mainly concerned about the fundamental transformation of society; particular campaigns are thus conducted within the context of a long-term revolutionary strategy.
Pragmatic exponents use nonviolent action because they believe it to be the most effective method available in the circumstances. They view conflict as a relationship between antagonists with incompatible interests; their goal is to defeat the opponent. Ideological exponents choose nonviolent action for ethical reasons and believe in the unity of means and ends. They view the opponent as a partner in the struggle to satisfy the needs of all. More fundamentally, they may view nonviolence as a way of life.
The commitment of individual activists and the nature of particular campaigns can also be illustrated graphically according to the strength of their standing in relation to each of the criteria identified on the matrix in Figure 1. They may be located in any quadrant on the matrix, near to or far from a particular axis, and at various distances from the origin.
This article will now examine the use of tactical and pragmatic nonviolence and consider the important relationship between means and ends. We will then examine various Christian justifications for nonviolent action as well as Gandhi’s conception of it; these traditions provide much of the theoretical basis for ideological (or creed-based) nonviolent activism. This article will then discuss the structural analysis important to an understanding of the strategic use of nonviolent action. It will conclude with an examination of the dynamics of ideological nonviolence and an analysis of the most fundamental reason for adherence to it, that is, as the basis for a way of life.
It consists of acts of protest and persuasion, noncooperation and nonviolent intervention designed to undermine the sources of power of the opponent in order to bring about change.
Nonviolent protest and persuasion is a class of methods which are ‘mainly symbolic acts of peaceful opposition or of attempted persuasion, extending beyond verbal expressions’. These methods include marches, vigils, pickets, the use of posters, street theatre, painting and protest meetings.
Noncooperation – the most common form of nonviolent action – involves the deliberate withdrawal of cooperation with the person, activity, institution or regime with which the activists have become engaged in conflict. These methods include the provision of sanctuary (social); strikes, boycotts and war tax resistance (economic) and boycotts of legislative bodies and elections (political). Political noncooperation also includes acts of civil disobedience – the ‘deliberate, open and peaceful violation of particular laws, decrees, regulations … and the like which are believed to be illegitimate for some reason’.
Nonviolent intervention is a class of methods involving the disruption or destruction of established behaviour patterns, policies, relationships or institutions which are considered objectionable, or the creation of new behaviour patterns, policies, relationships or institutions which are preferred. The disruption class of methods includes nonviolent occupations or blockades, fasting, seeking imprisonment and overloading facilities (such as courts and prisons). The creation class of methods includes establishing alternative political, economic and social institutions such as non-hierarchical cooperatives, markets, ethical investment groups, alternative schools, energy exchange cooperatives as well as parallel media, communications and transport networks. This last class of methods is what the Gandhian literature refers to as the constructive program.
|Non-resistance||Non-resistants reject all physical violence on principle and concentrate on maintaining their own integrity, e.g. the attitude of the Amish and Mennonite sects of Christians.|
|Active Reconciliation||A Faith-based rejection of coercion and a belief in active goodwill and reconciliation, for example as practiced by Quakers and other religious activist groups.|
|Moral Resistance||Moral resisters actively resist evil with peaceful and moral means such as education and persuasion. This has been the basis of much of Western pacifism.|
|Selective Nonviolence||The refusal to participate in particular wars or kinds of war, e.g. nuclear war.|
|Passive Resistance||Nonviolent tactics are employed because the means for an effective violent campaign are lacking or are not likely to succeed; e.g. most strikes, boycotts and national non-cooperation movements belong to this category.|
|Peaceful Resistance||Peaceful resisters believe that nonviolent methods are more effective; e.g. some of Gandhi’s campaigns fall into this category because many of his followers did not fully internalise what he taught.|
|Nonviolent Direct Action||Practitioners may view nonviolence as a moral principle or practical method. The object is victory rather than conversion. An example is provided by the Greenham Common actions.|
|Gandhian Nonviolence (Satyagraha)||Satyagraha aims to attain the truth tnrough love and right action; it demands the elimination of violence from the self and from the social, political and economic environment. Gandhi’s Salt Satyagraha is a classic example.|
|Nonviolent Revolution||Revolutionaries believe in the need for basic individual and social change and regard the major problems of existing society as structural, e.g. the campaigns of Jayaprakash Narayan and Vinoba Bhave in India.|
|The Tactical-Strategic Dimension|
|Criterion||Tactical Nonviolence||Strategic Nonviolence|
|Analysis of Social Framework||Conservative||Structural|
|Operational Timeframe||Short/Medium Term||Long Term|
|The Pragmatic-Ideological Dimension|
|Criterion||Pragmatic Nonviolence||Ideological Nonviolence|
|Nature of Commitment||Most Effective||Ethically Best|
|Means and Ends||Separate||Indivisible|
|Approach to Conflice||Incompatible Interests||Shared Interests|
|Approach to Opponent||Competitive||Cooperative|
Some political activists believe that the ends achieved will justify any means. They dismiss the nonviolence of those who place a strong emphasis on the purity of means as merely ‘symbolic’ while defining their own actions as ‘real’. In the words of Pelton, what they attempt to do is to “proclaim that all “means-and-end-moralists” are strangers to the world of action and are passive non-doers” (Pelton, 1974, p. 252). Not only is this not the case, it also ignores some of the important philosophical issues involved in any consideration of the relative importance of means to ends.
Some activists recognise that nonviolence may well prove to be the best means for achieving the ends sought. Others see nonviolence in certain contexts as simply a method of last resort. American social activist Saul Alinsky, has even gone so far as to claim the following:
If Gandhi had had weapons … and the people to use them this means would not have been so unreservedly rejected as the world would like to think … If he had had guns he might well have used them in an armed revolution against the Bntish which would have been in keeping with the traditions of revolutions for freedom through force. Gandhi did not have the guns and if he had had the guns he would not have had the people to use the guns.
(Alinsky, 1972, pp. 39, 38)
Alinsky sums up his dismissal of ideological nonviolence by noting that “Means and ends are so qualitatively interrelated that the true question has never been the proverbial one, “Does the End justify the Means?” but always has been “Does this particular end justify this particular means?”” (Alinsky, 1972, p. 47).
But Alinsky overlooked the fact that the ends Gandhi sought were far more ambitious than merely freeing India from British domination and potentially exchanging white exploiters for indigenous ones. Gandhi’s aim was to bring about a peaceful and just society, a new India and a new Indian.<
Along with Aldous Huxley, who claimed that “Good ends … can only be achieved by the employment of appropriate means”, and that “The end cannot justify the means, for the simple reason that the means employed determine the nature of the ends produced” (Huxley, 1938, p.9), Gandhi maintained that “The means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree: and there is just the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as there is between the seed and the tree” (Gandhi, 1961, p. 10). He added that “They say “Means are after all means.” I would say, “means are after all everything.” As the means so the ends. There is no wall of separation between means and ends” (Young India, 17 July, 1924), and, “if one takes care of the means, the end will take care of itself” (Harijan, 11 February, 1939).
Huxley notes that the almost universal desire to believe in short cuts to Utopia makes us less than dispassionate when looking at means “which we know quite certainly to be abominable”. Quoting Thomas a Kempis’ famous line, “All men desire peace. but very few desire those things which make for peace”, he adds that “the thing that makes for peace above all others is the systematic practice in all human relationships of nonviolence” (Huxley, 1938, p. 138). It is the primary means to this important end. Echoing Gandhi, Huxley asserts:
If violence is answered by violence, the result is a physical struggle. Now, a physical struggle inevitably arouses in the minds of those directly and even indirectly concerned in it emotions of hatred, fear, rage and resentment. In the heat of conflict all scruples are thrown to the winds, and all the habits of forbearance and humaneness, slowly and laboriously formed during generations of civilised living, are forgotten. Nothing matters any more except victory. And when at last victory comes to one or other of the parties, this final outcome of physical struggle bears no necessary relation to the rights and wrongs of the case: nor in most cases, does it provide any lasting settlement to the dispute.
(Huxley, 1938. p. 139)
Huxley suggests that the golden rule to be kept in mind when ends, and the means to achieve them, are chosen is to ask whether the result will be merely the attainment of some immediate goal, or to transform the society to which they are applied “into a just, peaceable, morally and intellectually progressive community of non-attached and responsible men and women” (Huxley, 1938, p. 32).