Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Nonviolent Strategy against Capitalism *

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Nonviolent Strategy against Capitalism *

Article excerpt

Challenges to capitalism via armed force or elections have repeatedly been tried and failed. It is time for systematic use of nonviolent action to challenge capitalism and build alternatives to it. A comprehensive nonviolent strategy involves nonviolent methods to move towards economic and social alternatives that do not rely on systems of violence.

Capitalism is responsible for an enormous level of death, suffering and wasted human potential, including everything from impoverishment of Third World peoples to boredom in factory jobs. There is certainly good cause to take action.

Of course, capitalism has positive sides, too, notably the capacity to harness human energy and ingenuity to improve material standards of living. It is important to recognise capitalism's strengths. To talk of challenging capitalism means seeking something even better and not assuming that it is the only or inevitable way to organise people's lives.

The question is, how should capitalism be challenged? Armed struggle has been tried, but there is not a single instance in which an advanced capitalist economy has been overthrown by armed force to create a better system. In some poor countries, liberation through armed struggle has brought benefits (and costs: this is a highly contentious topic), but there is no equivalent record in challenging developed capitalist states. Soviet conquests destroyed capitalism in Eastern Europe but the resulting state socialist societies were not an attractive alternative and eventually collapsed, with nonviolent action playing a major role (Randle 1991).

Nor has electoral politics had much success in challenging capitalism. Socialist parties have been elected to office but have adapted to capitalism rather than leading the way to a complete alternative (Boggs 1986).

Both armed struggle and electoral politics rely ultimately on force. Their aim is to capture state power and use it - including the power of the state to coerce - to transform the economy and society.

An alternative road is nonviolence. Today, large numbers of people work in various ways toward noncapitalist futures, including running cooperatives, opposing harmful trade agreements, fostering local self-reliance and questioning consumerism. These initiatives are almost entirely nonviolent, often for pragmatic reasons. If movements in these and other areas can learn from each other and from collected wisdom about nonviolent struggle, then there is some hope of building alternatives to capitalism, or at least slowing its expansion into more facets of life.

A nonviolent movement against capitalism has to be participatory and not depend on a few commanders. Leaders must be able to be replaced should they be arrested, killed, discredited or coopted, as routinely happens in nonviolent campaigns. It would be a mistake to set up a central committee for anticapitalist struggle. That is characteristic of the unsuccessful military model.

A movement against capitalism is likely to be a longterm enterprise, requiring longer than the lifetime of most participants. This is an especially difficult challenge, since most activists are motivated by issues that seem immediately urgent, such as a war, an election, a proposed law or development, or an outrageous event. Highly visible mass movements gain momentum through bringing together large numbers of protesters, usually aided by media coverage. Mass campaigns are valuable, but so are quiet and patient efforts to build alternatives and change ways of thinking, involving discussions, personal behaviours, small meetings and local initiatives.

If a movement is long-term and can't rely on continued high visibility, then it had better be satisfying for participants. In short, the struggle should be rewarding - indeed, fun! Consumerism appeals to people's immediate wants. To challenge it, something is needed that is just as appealing in its own way, though more deeply satisfying. …

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