Tags Archives: Nonviolence

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Time is Short: Nonviolence Can Work, But Not for Us

By now we should all be familiar with what’s at stake. The horrific statistics—200 species driven extinct daily, every child born with hundreds of toxic chemicals already in their bodies, every living system on the planet in decline—haunt us as we go about our work in a world that refuses to hear, listen, or act on them. After decades of traditional organizing and activist work, we’re beginning to come to terms with the need for a dramatic shift in strategy and tactics, and indeed in how we conceptualize the task before us.

It is not enough any longer (if it ever was) to build a reformist social movement, one more faction among many attempting to fix the failings within our society. With industrial civilization literally tearing apart the biosphere and skinning the planet alive, we can afford no other goal than to build a resistance movement capable of—and determined to succeed in—bringing down industrial civilization, by any means necessary.

We know this will require decisive underground action to be successful, and starting all but from scratch, this begins with promoting the need for militant resistance; trying to garner acceptance and normalization of the fact that without militant resistance—including sabotage and direct attacks on key nodes of industrial infrastructure—there is little, if any, hope that earth will survive much longer.

However, the pervasive ideology of the dominant culture leaves most of its members unwilling to even consider dialogue on the topic of militant resistance, much less adopting it as a strategy. One manifestation of this is the all-too-widely held belief that nonviolent resistance is more always more effective than violent resistance.

The most common explanation provided to justify this idea is that violent movements alienate potential supporters, while nonviolent movements are more likely to mobilize “the masses” around a cause, and that without mass participation and support, there can be no social or political change.

For example, several years ago two university professors conducted a statistical comparison of violent and nonviolent social movements in the 20th century, with the goal of determining the relative effectiveness of violent and nonviolent strategies. The survey was limited to anti-occupation & anti-colonial movements, as well as those that sought regime change or the end of an oppressive government. In 2011, the findings were published in a book called Why Civil Resistance Works. The authors concluded that, based on their data, nonviolent movements are statistically twice as effective as violent ones, and they explained this as being due to the propensity of nonviolent movements to elicit greater participation from the general population.

An underlying premise—unstated by those who espouse this line of reasoning—is that without popular support and engagement, movements cannot achieve their aims. While it is certainly the case that mass movements can be effective in creating social change, that is by no means always the case. The simple (and perhaps unfortunate) truth is that some causes will never enjoy popular support, regardless of what strategies or tactics they use. In a deeply, fundamentally misogynistic and racist culture, a culture that has as its foundation the slow dismemberment of the living world, the support and enthusiasm of the majority is by no means a signifier that a cause is a worthwhile one. And a lack of that popular support doesn’t mean a cause or movement isn’t righteous.

We would do well to remember that the majority of Germans didn’t support any resistance against the Nazis, and even a decade after the war ended and the atrocities of the Nazi genocide were well known, most Germans still opposed even the idea of a theoretical resistance to Nazi rule.

Similarly, a movement to dismantle civilization will never enjoy the support or participation of a mass movement. Far too many people are completely dependent upon it, or too attached to the material privilege and prosperity it affords them for their allegiance, or simply unable to question the only way of life they ever known, or all of the above. The truth is that any effort to stop civilization will always be a minority, not only without popular support, but likely directly opposed by the majority of the dominant culture. This is a sobering fact that, while perhaps difficult to come to terms with, we need to accept and build our strategy around. Rather than starting from the abstract position of “nonviolence works” and building a strategy for our movement from there, we should start with the material realities of our situation—the time, resources, and numbers of participants available to us.

This is why framing the whole discussion within a ‘violent/nonviolent’ dichotomy is problematic. When we reduce the complexities of entire movements and strategies down to the simple categories of ‘violent’ and ‘nonviolent,’ we relegate all discussion about strategy to theoretical and conceptual realms, glossing almost entirely over the nuances and dynamics of particular struggles. And it’s these details that determine what strategies will be effective. If we want to decide on an effective strategy, we need to first examine closely and critically our situation, and determine from there what will be most effective.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that we won’t ever have the numbers of participants required for strategies of popular nonviolence. It doesn’t matter how effective nonviolent strategies and movements may be in other situations; we’re not in those situations and without the necessary numbers, nonviolent strategies hold no promise for us. We need to halt industrial civilization in its tracks, and that position isn’t one that can muster a mass movement.

Which brings us back to the need for decisive underground action. Unlike nonviolent strategy, which is dependent upon mobilize huge numbers of participants, a strategy of militant attacks on key nodes of industrial infrastructures—a strategy of decisive ecological warfare—doesn’t require mass participation or support. Coordinated and repeated attacks against systemic weak points or bottle necks can cause systems disruption and cascading systems failure, resulting in the collapse of industrial activity and civilization—which must be our goal if we profess any love for life on this planet.

Given that industrial infrastructure is the foundational pillar of support for the function and existence of industrial civilization, and that these infrastructure networks are sprawling, fragile, and poorly protected; coordinated sabotage presents the best strategy and hope for a movement to bring down civilization.

Recognizing the need for underground action and the key role it must play if we’re to be successful as a movement doesn’t mean disavowing all nonviolent action. We need bio-diverse movements and cultures of resistance, and for some objectives nonviolent strategies are appropriate and smart and should be pursued. But we also need to recognize the limitations of various strategies, and especially the limitations of our own situation.

To reiterate, we will only ever be a small movement; we’ll never enjoy the support and participation required by mass nonviolent campaigns. The unfortunate truth is that most folks won’t ever willingly challenge the basis of their own way of life, much less organize to confront power and dismantle that way of life.

We also don’t have much time: according to conservative estimates, we have five years to stop the development and construction of fossil fuel infrastructure before being locked into catastrophic runaway climate change.

Those limitations—the lack of numbers and the short time available, combined with the fragility and vulnerability of the physical infrastructures of planetary murder—are what should point us away from mass nonviolence and towards a strategy of strategic sabotage. Coming to terms with and acting upon that reality isn’t always easy, but the sooner we’re able to let go of our misinformed and misguided dreams of a mass movement, the sooner we can start the real work of building a serious resistance movement.

Time is Short: Where Do We Draw the Line? The Keystone XL Pipeline and Beyond

Originally posted on Deep Green Resistance News Service:

The Keystone XL Pipeline is without question the largest environmental issue we in North America face today. It’s not the largest in the sense that it is the most destructive, or the largest in terms of size. But it has been a definitive struggle for the movement; it has brought together a wide variety of groups, from mainstream liberals to radicals and indigenous peoples to fight against a single issue continuously for several years. It has forged alliances between tree-sitting direct actionists and small rural landowners, and mobilized people from across the country to join the battles in Washington and Texas, as well as at the local offices of companies involved in building the pipeline in their own communities. It has also posed serious questions to us as a movement about how we will effectively fight those who profit from the destruction of the living world.

But it’s time for…

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Cultures of Resistance

The book Deep Green Resistance studies the American Civil Rights Movement, the British Women’s Social and Political Union, and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. All these “cultures of resistance” provide loyal support for their members, so they may do the difficult work of demanding social and political change. I’ve looked into a few other such cultures and offer them here:

An excellent example is the diverse resistance put up by many ethnic minorities to Burma’s military dictatorship. The State Law and Restoration Council (SLORC), a military junta of General Ne Win, took control of Burma in 1962 and renamed it Myanmar. Already troubled by decades of British colonialism and a 1942 Japanese invasion, Burma’s diverse peoples—Rohingya, Karen, Padaung, Mons, Kachins, Akha, many more—were subjected to enslavement, rape, forced prostitution, all the usual manner of violence committed by the powerful against the powerless.

The military government also (as usual) sold off great swaths of forest to foreign timber companies, and seized slaves and land for other economic enterprises like railroads and agriculture. The Burmese human-rights disaster is somewhat well-known for the politician Aung San Suu Kyi, kept under arrest by the SLORC despite her overwhelming 1990 election win. The movie Beyond Rangoon also has publicized this struggle. Though exactly the sort of entrenched oppression supposedly condemned by the West, the very opposite of democracy, no serious intervention was ever mounted from outside Burma. One reason, perhaps, is that the SLORC’s business partners were familiar to anyone in the US: Amoco, Texaco, and PepsiCo, then owners of Pepsi-Cola, Taco Bell, Frito Lay, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut. Admiring the bravery of Aung San Suu Kyi is one thing—she won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her devoted, nonviolent activism—divesting from an obscure overseas horror when there’s cash to be made, quite another.

Though there were some UN efforts to alleviate the suffering in Burma, by and large the people were on their own. There would be no cavalcade of outraged freedom fighters taking on the SLORC or its army, the Tatmadaw, on behalf of the 300,000 Rohingya refugees forcibly displaced into desperate camps in neighboring Bangladesh. It’s frankly impossible for most people in the US to imagine just how terrifying this sort of frontier resource warfare really is; I surely can’t begin to grasp it. Human rights activist Edith T. Mirante writes: “[T]he Refugees described a systematic campaign of terror-rape by the Tatmadaw. A military buildup in the area had apparently been accompanied by one of the largest-scale uses of tactical rape in Asia since Japan’s 1937 occupation of Nanking, China. It is worth noting that present-day [1993] Burma is ruled by a general trained under that same Japanese fascist military.” Women and young girls from the frontier zones were also abducted and sold to Thai brothels. They were advertised as being “AIDS free,” but as Mirante writes, “they don’t remain AIDS free for long.”

Women traditionally held positions of respect within their pre-colonial communities, and this carried forward into the resistance to the military dictatorship. The Shan people believed a woman’s bullet could defeat an enemy’s defensive magic, and I daresay they were right. Mon women—the Mon are a Buddhist people—served in the rebel army in combat roles, “perhaps inspired by Chama Devi, queen of an ancient Mon empire.” There was scarcely anything so fearsome to Burma’s tribal people as a tattooed woman with a gun. A well-organized, complementary non-violent strategy played an important role, as well: “[E]thnic minority women in exile have worked tirelessly to make people in other countries aware of Burma’s plight. Shan, Karen, Kachins, Pa-O, and other female activists have organized demonstrations around the world, lobbied governments and international organizations for refugee aid, and publicized issues like the destruction of Burma’s rain forests and the threats of AIDS and forced prostitution.”

A similar coalition of indigenous peoples in Canada has recently formed to fight tar sands pipelines and oil tanker traffic in the lands and waters that have sustained them for thousands of years. In a rare, breathtaking show of solidarity, “more than 130 First Nations governments in western Canada have firmly declared that they do not support the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project and that they will not support such projects anywhere in the traditional territories of opposed First Nations; as a result, there is unprecedented unified opposition to both the Enbridge and the Kinder Morgan pipeline and tanker projects,” according to West Coast Environmental Law. Canada’s tar sands mines are so outrageously destructive, so obviously the last desperate grasping of the end of the oil age, that opposition is finally beginning to match the scale of the psychopathology driving such activity. The coalition-building and superb organizing is a model to be admired and duplicated.

In a very different part of the world, the alliance Moskitia Asia Takanka has defended the tropical Moskitia rainforest and Patuca River from the occupying Honduran government for thirty-five years. As the international human rights group Cultural Survival notes, “For 3,000 years, Indigenous people have plied their dugout canoes up and down the Patuca River, the central artery of Honduras’ vast Moskitia lowland rainforest. On its rich floodplain they grow cocoa, oranges, rice, beans, cassava, and other crops for subsistence and sale, and its fish provide a vital source of protein. ‘The river is our life,’ says Lorenzo Tinglas, president of the Tawahka people’s governing council. ‘Any threat to the Patuca is a threat to four Indigenous Peoples—the Tawahka, Pech, Miskitu, and Garifuna—and we will fight to the death to protect it.’”

Danielle DeLuca writes in Cultural Survival Quarterly: “Despite years of protest from local Indigenous Peoples and international environmental groups, in January 2011 the Honduras government signed a contract with a Chinese company to start construction on the first of three dams that would have many irreversible consequences in the Moskitia, Central America’s most biologically diverse tropical wilderness…[C]ommunities are fighting for their futures as dam construction gets underway.”

There are plenty more examples: The 1980s militant resistance of the Bougainville islanders to a copper and gold mine owned by industrial giant Rio Tinto-Zinc and the Papua New Guinean government, that successfully closed the mine. This struggle was popularized in the documentary film The Coconut Revolution, and is fascinating not only because the small Bougainville population took on the Papua New Guinea Army and won, using resources like coconut oil for diesel fuel, but for its tidy representation of every facet of the global situation: their landbase was being destroyed for a limited resource they themselves had no use for, their water was being poisoned and they had nowhere else to go. Unfortunately, commodity prices are pressuring the mine to reopen.

Endnotes

http://mendnigerdelta.com/ Accessed 3/7/12.

McBay, Aric; Keith, Lierre; and Jensen, Derrick. (2011.) Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet. New York, NY.: Seven Stories Press. 113-192.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aung_San_Suu_Kyi Accessed 3/2/12.

Another story of women’s important role in armed struggle is the Nepalese People’s Liberation Army, “Maoist guerrillas, who were waging an underground war to abolish monarchy in Nepal and promulgate a constitution of, by and for the people.” http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=106139 Accessed 2/21/12. Thanks to Premadasi Amada for bringing this to my attention.

Mirante, Edith T. (1993.) Burma’s Ethnic Minority Women: From Abuse to Resistance. In: Miller, Marc S., editor. (1993.) State of the Peoples: a global human rights report on societies in danger. Boston, MA.: Beacon Press. 7-14.

Mirante, Edith T. (1993.) Burmese Looking Glass: A Human Rights Adventure and a Jungle Revolution. New York, NY.: Atlantic Monthly Press.

http://wcel.org/resources/environmental-law-alert/first-nations-north-south-and-interior-stand-against-oil-tankers Accessed 3/3/12.

http://www.vancouverobserver.com/politics/2012/02/13/nation-building-how-enbridge-pipeline-issue-unified-northern-bc Accessed 3/3/12.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4G5KtqPSW8Q Accessed 3/3/12.

http://www.vancouverobserver.com/sustainability/2012/01/17/enbridge-northern-gateway-joint-review-panel-smithers-finds-100-opposition Accessed 3/3/12.

http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/enbridge-pipeline-first-nation-says-an-oil-spill-is-inevitable-and-would-wipe-out-their-1627405.htm Accessed 3/3/12.

http://www.vancouverobserver.com/politics/2012/02/13/nation-building-how-enbridge-pipeline-issue-unified-northern-bc Accessed 3/3/12.

http://www.culturalsurvival.org/take-action/honduras-dont-dam-patuca-river Accessed 7/8/11.

http://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/pursuit-autonomy-indigenous-peoples-oppose-dam-construction Accessed 3/4/12.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDpvxQe_Jhg&feature=gv Accessed 3/4/12. See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bougainville_%E2%80%93_Our_Island_Our_Fight Accessed 3/4/12.

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/bougainville-president-backs-panguna-mine/story-e6frg8zx-1226058523408 Accessed 2/19/12.

http://www.abc.net.au/correspondents/content/2010/s2900363.htm Accessed 2/19/12.

http://www.mpi.org.au/1new-page.aspx Accessed 2/19/12. See also: http://www.mpi.org.au/about-mpi.aspx