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Class of Nonviolence - Lesson Two - Essay 2

Gandhi in the Postmoderm Age

by Sanford Krolick and Betty Cannon

The theory of nonviolence as an offspring of democracy is still in its infancy. Mohandas Gandhi, the master of this philosophy and its methods, was educated in Britain as a lawyer and learned well the principles of democracy. Throughout his years in South Africa and in the campaign for Indian independence, his efforts in dealing with conflict were consistent with the basic beliefs of democracy. While others fought revolutions promising that victory would bring democracy, Gandhi brought about revolutions using democratic principles and techniques; his victories were signified by the acceptance of democracy. Gandhi never tired of talking about the means and ends, claiming that the means used in settling the dispute between the Indian people and the British Government would determine the type of government India would evolve. He was fond of saying that if the right means are used, the ends will take care of themselves.

Gandhi called his philosophy satyagraha. In the United States it has been called nonviolence, direct action, and civil disobedience. These terms are inadequate because they only denote specific techniques Gandhi used. However, for the purposes of this discussion, we will use nonviolence to designate the philosophy and resisters to designate those who adopt. this$ philosophy and carry out its methods.

The basic principle of nonviolence is to seek negotiations. The goal of a nonviolent movement is to establish an atmosphere that leads co a successfully negotiated agreement and thereby establishes the basis for compromise in the settlement of future conflicts.

The first step in a nonviolent campaign is for the resisters to define the minimum terms that they would accept in negotiations. Their minimum demands must be precisely that; every effort should be made to ensure that all resisters and opponents clearly under, stand this, because once at the negotiation table, these demands must not be conceded. They should reflect the fundamental principle involved. The price of bus fare was irrelevant to the freedom riders. The right of each individual to choose where he wished to sit was fundamental to the recognition of the principle of equal treatment regardless of race.

There are pragmatic as well as philosophical reasons for demanding the minimum terms. A statement of maximum demands can put the opponent on the defensive, and perhaps make him feel that the resisters have mapped out a master plan for the future that affords little latitude for expressing his ideas and ~ needs. He would then believe that negotiations would result in his being forced to capitulate rather than in his gaining an honorable agreement.

Too many demands may be confusing. Dissatisfaction and disunity can result if serious negotiations reveal that the leaders and participants have different priorities. Furthermore, the opponent might seek a solution to what he believes is the main point but which is only of marginal importance to the resisters, and thus end up disgusted when his efforts do not yield settlement. More important, the opponent must clearly understand that the resisters cannot be "bought off" by minor or irrelevant concessions that do not recognize the fundamental principles involved. Thus the minimum demands must be stated at the beginning, repeated continuously, and upheld throughout the negotiations. The resisters must not accept any settlement that fails to recognize these demands un, less they become convinced their position is incorrect If the resisters are purists, as Gandhi was, they will also refuse to abide by an agreement to which the opponent concedes (possibly out of frustration) if he - is not convinced of the validity of the resisters' position.

Publicity about the movement and its objectives is essential for educating the opponent, the participants, and the public. Resisters should pursue publicity with unrelenting enthusiasm, either on their own using a duplicating or copying machine or through newspapers and national television. They must publish the objectives, the strategy, and the tactics of the campaign. Secrecy has no place in a nonviolent campaign; it serves only to destroy communications with the participants and invite suspicion from .the public and the opponent.

In a nonviolent campaign the opponent must al, ways be informed ahead of time of the precise course of any action that is planned-for example, the exact route a demonstration intends to follow. This is particularly important if confrontation is likely since it reduces the possibility of violence through panic on either side. Of course, the authorities can thwart action by arresting resisters ahead of time, but plans that have been well publicized can arouse sympathy' and attract support.

Publicity should also be understood as a form of communication that lays the groundwork for agreement. Until the opponent agrees to formal negotiations, publicity should be treated as a substitute. Honesty and accuracy are critical, as is the avoidance of any derogatory or slanderous statements. Insults from the opponent are best ignored. The movement will be judged by the honesty and fairness with which its case is presented.

The resisters' communications should indicate that they are listening as well as talking and are willing to admit a mistake or miscalculation. These steps' must be continued throughout the movement until final agreement is reached. They are the basic tools for airing differences and settling disputes within a democratic framework.

Such activities may evoke a violent response from authorities who hope to quell the movement quickly. They might also bring a sympathetic offer to negotiate. However, it is most likely they will bring no response at all. Most nonviolent groups are destroyed by neglect, not by action. Finding their proposals are ignored, not even dignified by a response or reaction, resisters become stifled and the movement dissolves. Perhaps this is why pacifism has been considered weak and ineffective in America. It is all too easy for frustration to lead to violence. When this happens the resisters have lost the initiative.

Keeping the Initiative

Gandhi's most important contribution to the theory of nonviolence was his insistence that the resisters must keep the initiative at all times. While the opponent must be given ample opportunity to consider the proposals, he must not be allowed to ignore them. Gandhi fully understood that half the battle, indeed often the most difficult part of the battle, js to convince the opponent that he must deal with resisters. Even in using force the opponent becomes involved in a relationship with the movement and makes a commitment to resolving the issue.

. If the minimum demands of the resisters have been clearly formulated and extensively publicized, and if every avenue to the establishment of negotiations has been tried but the opponent has either refused to negotiate or will not deal with the minimum demands, then nonviolent direct action is necessary if the resisters are to keep the initiative. Direct action should be pursued only when all other alternatives, with the 'exception of violence, have been tried. The focus of the action must be carefully chosen, for it must both demonstrate the problem and elicit a response from the opponent. The action must leave the opponent latitude for response; above all, it must allow for face saving. While action should be dramatic, it should not be presented in a way that calls for surrender or capitulation of the opponent. A creatively negotiated settlement between equals remains the objective.

No matter what the response of the opponent may be, he must always be treated with the respect and dignity that the resisters are seeking for themselves. In actual practice, there are only a few times during a nonviolent campaign when direct action is truly necessary. During 25 years of almost continuous nonviolent activities, Gandhi used organized direct action fewer than 10 times.

The major techniques of direct action fall under two headings: noncooperation and civil disobedience. The techniques of noncooperation include mass rallies, strikes, picketing, and boycotts. The grape workers' campaign led by Cesar Chavez illustrates these techniques. The aim of the grape workers was honorable negotiations. They wanted to be recognized as a union with the right to bargain collectively with growers for wages, hours, and benefits. The workers established a union hall and held mass meetings throughout the campaign. When the growers were not willing to negotiate, the workers voted to go on strike, refusing to cooperate in harvesting the crop. The growers responded by hiring other migrants and some seasonal workers from Mexico.

The resisters then established picket lines near the farms in hope of gaining the cooperation of the strike breakers. Although this tactic continued daily for many months, it was not successful in preventing the harvest or in gaining negotiations with the growers. Chavez then decided to initiate a nationwide boycott of grapes. He sent the young people who had come to California to offer their support to the movement back to the cities to organize the boycott. This move widened the issue by creating interest and involvement across the nation. The individual shopper's decision about purchasing grapes was less crucial than the involvement of established union members who refused to cross picket lines to ship and handle grapes. In September 1966 the grape workers voted for the union with which the growers agreed to bargain.

The second method of direct action, more suitable to situations that do not involve economic relationships, is civil disobedience. This involves noncooperation with respect to a specific law or set of laws. In using this technique it is essential that all participants disobey only the law or laws specified, while obeying all others. The point is not to bring the opponent to his knees but to the negotiating table. Great care must be taken in selecting the law to be contravened. It can be central to the grievance or symbolic of it. The more important determinant is the involvement of the participants. From the resister's viewpoint, it should be a law that has regularly affected large groups. The number of people affected by the injustice is more important than the injustice done. This was understood by Martin Luther King Jr., in singling out public lunch counters that refused service to black customers as the issue of the Birmingham, Alabama civil disobedience demonstration. Such humiliation had been experienced by many blacks. The issue emphasized the demand for equal treatment, and the action pointed to the local laws that violated the rights of black citizens.

Civil disobedience is serious business. The deliberate violation of law is virtually guaranteed to evoke response from governmental authorities. The strength, determination, and cohesiveness of the resisters will be tested. Typically, arrests will be made. The ability of the movement to continue with disciplined resisters once the leaders are arrested is crucial. The aim is "to fill the jails," thus jamming the courts while retaining public interest and sympathy.

In Birmingham, King initiated the movement with only 20 resisters. Through nightly mass meetings, volunteers came forth in increasing numbers to fill the places of the men who were jailed. King testified that the turning point came when he called upon high school students to join the march to city hall, challenging the police barricades and courting arrest. The news service coverage of the march included a picture of a six-year-old being arrested. On May 7, 1963, the Senior Citizens Committee of 125 business leaders of Birmingham met with King. As they walked out on the street for lunch,

... "there were square blocks of Negroes, a veritable sea of black faces. They were committing no violence. They were just present and singing. Downtown Birmingham echoed to the strains of the freedom songs."
King states that when the meeting reconvened. "One of the men who had been in the most deter, mined opposition cleared his throat and said: 'You know, I've been thinking this thing through. We ought to be able to work something out.' "

In their civil disobedience campaigns, both Gandhi and King focused on the ambiguity between the officially stated democratic principles and the clear violation of these principles in practice. "These campaigns compelled the government authorities to choose between ideals and actions. Either they had to renounce their democratic ideals and suppress the resisters by force in order to maintain their dominance, or they had to affirm their ideals, honestly negotiate, and replace dominance with compromise. As the choice became increasingly clear, the response of the authorities to the resisters depended in part on the reaction of the majority of citizens. In this, nonviolence paid tremendous dividends. By 1947 the majority of British citizens were unwilling to support massive repression of India. In 1960 many in the South and North were unwilling to support massive repression of civil rights marchers.

In a direct action campaign it is essential that the resisters avoid using violence in any form. This is not an end in itself; it is a means of breaking the cycle of fear and repression in order to establish a basis for trust and democratic negotiation. . An. action cannot be characterized as nonviolent if it is performed out of fear, for that may lead to submission. As Gandhi was fond of saying, the mouse does not exercise nonviolence in allowing the pussycat to eat him. Gandhi also insisted that when one saw no choices except to respond with violence or to submit, violence was the better choice because it afforded more self-respect than did cowardly submission. He emphasized the third alternative, nonviolent resistance, as a conscious choice.

Nonviolence is sterile unless it is coupled with a program to bring about change. A firm commitment to refuse to respond with violence or to submit to fear comes from strength, courage, and self-discipline. Nonviolence is truly the conquest of violence.

Actors and Roles in Nonviolent Confrontation

Perhaps a clearer understanding of nonviolence can be gained if the conflict is viewed in terms of individuals. The average individual approaches a new relationship with mixed feelings. He hopes to gain understanding, respect, and appreciation; he fears that he may suffer rejection, disgrace, or humiliation. Most relationships contain a mixture of these feelings and reactions. The direction in which a relationship develops depends in large part on how conflicts that arise are resolved. If resolution based on understanding, mutual respect, and honesty is found, then a basis of trust is initiated. Each conflict that is resolved by these methods increases the trust and reinforces feelings of respect and understanding.

In contrast, if a conflict is not settled or is settled in a manner that leads one or both parties to believe that his basic rights and self-respect have been damaged, then feelings of misunderstanding and anger jeopardize the basis of trust. If this pattern is repeated in future conflicts, these feelings are reinforced. The ineffective means of resolving one conflict lays the foundation for dealing with the next, and this has a spiraling effect. Distrust, apprehension, and fear that stem from a lack of trust can come to govern the course of the relationship. As tension mounts each person becomes increasingly suspicious of the' other's motives. Each then becomes afraid to yield his power and position because he imagines that his opponents will take advantage of him. Each clings to what he has, refusing to make concessions. Each believes any gain by the other is his loss. Each side thus becomes locked into a position, unable to move for fear of giving the advantage to the other.

Yet the strange part of such a relationship is that each becomes increasingly dependent upon the other. The negative feelings of distrust, anger, and fear tie them together like an invisible bond. Each perceives that he could or would change if he could trust the other, each looks to the other to make the first move for compromise, and each sees the possibility of resolving the situation as depending upon the other. The result is that both are deadlocked in a relationship that they find uncomfortable and threatening, yet one in which each has surrendered his own ability to solve the problem by assigning the other the responsibility for making the first move to end the deadlock. Each blames the other for the situation, which is only another way of assigning the opponent the power and responsibility for resolving the dispute. H the opponent has the power to create the problem, then he should have the power to resolve it. The ability to exercise creativity, individuality, and initiative is gone.

If the situation escalates, anger and fear build. Each party in the dispute begins to think of the other in dehumanizing ways. Each begins to imagine that the other is 'evil, and think and talk of him as sinister, scheming, devoid of human sympathy and honor. These thoughts can give rise to self-fulfilling actions; as each opponent spends considerable time scheming, entertaining uncharitable thoughts, and plotting revenge, he does become sinister and increasingly devoid of charity. Total victory-the ability to force the opponent into complete submission-is seen as the only way out of the situation. The appalling fact is that violence can so dehumanize people that they are willing to sacrifice their own lives in order to destroy an opponent.

Nonviolence is a program for breaking the cycle of fear while, at the same time, achieving the desired social or political ends. But it is not without its own risks. Personal injury, legal sanctions, and social criticism are always possibilities. Resisters have to weigh these costs when deciding whether their protest is worth it. Charles Evers, civil rights leader from Mississippi, weighed his participation this way:

"My life would be safe if I shuffled and tommed and said, 'Yassuh, Mr. Charlie, we niggers is real happy.' But then I'd be dead already. I'd rather die on my feet than live on my knees."
In summary, we have presented the basic tenets of nonviolence. Our object has been to describe those tactics that resisters need to follow if they are to engage in nonviolent protest. These include seeking negotiations (where minimum terms have been defined and the objectives of the protest made clear) and keeping the initiative both at the 'negotiating table and, if necessary, in the streets. Direct action such as noncooperation or civil resistance should be used only if the paths to negotiation are blocked.

These tactics are bound to create tensions in a democratic society. Obviously, if many actions were protested, the society would be in turmoil and the government would probably resort to more and more force to maintain order. Democracy might soon be ended under the guise of protecting it. On the other hand, if governmental decisions and social mores could not be protested, then the system could hardly be called democratic. While majority rule is a fundamental principle, so is the right of a minority to defend itself, its rights, and its interests. Jefferson proclaimed this in 1776. But unlike the tactics that he and his fellow colonists used, the nonviolent resisters of this 'century have protested within the structure and, for the most part, the rules of the system. For the sake of democracy, it is well that they have done so. Violence threatens the character of the system; nonviolence is a democratic means of conflict resolution.


This reading is from The Class of Nonviolence, prepared by Colman McCarthy of the Center for Teaching Peace, 4501 Van Ness Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20016 202/537-1372