Sunday, September 18, 2011

Socio-Political Conflict Resolution & Nonviolence: A Select Bibliography and Historical Exemplum


What follows is by way of an introduction to whet your appetite for the subject matter covered in our latest compilation in the Online Research Bibliographies series: Socio-Political Conflict and Nonviolence. I had originally intended to post this bibliography and essay in honor and celebration of May Day, as “the exemplum” outlines the nonviolent theory and praxis exemplified by KOR, the Workers’ Defense Committee (later: Komitet Samoobrony Społecznej KOR/Social Self-Defense Committee, KSS-‘KOR’) in Poland that played a direct “service” role in the emergence of Solidarity (or Solidarność, the first non-Communist party-controlled trade union in the Warsaw Pact countries) in 1980. Perhaps more importantly, KOR represented a new philosophy and political strategy for the democratic opposition that was at once revolutionary and reformist: the former insofar as it made a deliberate break with the primary modes of civil resistance in Polish history in its rejection of political violence and corresponding fidelity to principles of truth (cf. the idea of ‘living in truth’ that became prominent among opposition intellectuals like Václav Havel, Jacek Kuroń and Adam Michnik) and nonviolence (in Gandhian terms, ‘satyā’ and ‘ahimsa’). The “reformist” character of the democratic opposition refers to its means and methods (thus not its theoretical cast or social vision), which were predominantly gradual and piecemeal, including a commitment to the “self-organization” of civil society (what in Gandhi’s doctrine of satyāgraha was termed the ‘Constructive Programme’). In many and important respects, KOR incarnated the political cultural logic and virtues of what has been called Poland’s “Self-limiting Revolution.” This was the first of several nonviolent “revolutions” (e.g., the ‘Velvet’ Revolution in Czechoslovakia) that culminated in a series of roundtable talks that began in 1989 and took place in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), Hungary, and Poland. The “roundtable talks” in these countries was responsible for the negotiated breakdown of (and thus peaceful transition from) Party-State Communism (as Jon Elster notes, the regimes in the GDR and Czechoslovakia were crumbling before the talks began). (In what follows, I don’t mean to slight the structural catalytic or precipitating role played by the policies and reforms initiated through Mikhail Gorbachev’s political doctrines of perestroika and glasnost.)

The “new opposition” that formed in Poland in the 1970s was not entirely novel and thus there was an historical tilling of the soil for civil resistance and nonviolent politics: from the Polish October of 1956 and the Club of the Crooked Circle (Klub Krzywego Koła, 1955-1962), to Jacek Kuroń and Karl Modzelewski’s “Open Letter to the Party” (for which they were both imprisoned) and the “Letter of 34”in 1964, and the “unstructured strike” by predominantly women workers in the textile factories at Łódź in 1971, Poland was not without its fair share of historical examples of nonviolent civil resistance and opposition politics. Indeed, vast underground publishing networks, self-education societies (e.g., the ‘Flying University’ or Uniwersytet Latający, revived in 1977), cultural clubs and networks thoughout the arts, a “second economy” with its grey-black market, all of this and more existed prior to Poland’s nonviolent (i.e., ‘bloodless,’ ‘self-limiting,’ and ‘looking glass’) social revolution. With regard to groups and events that acted as precursors to KOR in particular, we learn from Jan Jósef Lipski’s invaluable study that in addition to some of the above, we can count dissident lawyers, writers and scholars; the Club of the Seekers of Contradiction; “Walterites” (pupils of Jacek Kuroń: ‘the nom de guerre of General Karol Świerczewski, the “General Walter” of the Spanish Civil War, and thus they identified themselves ideologically with the communist tradition’); the “Commandos” (‘the name was forged in the cell of the Polish United Workers (PUWP) party at Warsaw University’); the March 1968 student protests (including the few protests that followed the invasion of Czechoslovakia); the Scouts of Black Troop No. 1 and the Band of Vagabonds; students and young university graduates associated with the Warsaw Club of Catholic Intelligentsia (KIK); Ruch (Movement); the trial of the “Tatra Mountaineers” (several young people arrested in 1969 for ‘having organized, in collaboration with some Czechs, the smuggling of copies of Paris Kultura into Poland by way of Czecholslovakia and across the Tatra Mountains’); sundry ‘minigroups’ of associates and sympathizers; the “Letter of 66” (also mistakenly known as the ‘Letter of 59’) signed by intellectuals and artists protesting changes in the Constitution of the Polish People’s Republic (PRL) (the Diet passed the constitutional amendments of February 10, 1976); and, as “the final act of the opposition by intellectuals before the creation of KOR was a letter of Edward Lipiński to Edward Gierek” (First Secretary of the Polish United Workers’ Party from 1970-1980). In the words of Jan Josef Lipski, this letter, “which contained a many-sided critique of the system of governing and warned of catastrophe, became an important factor influencing the formation of a new social consciousness among the intelligentsia, and many of the ideas it contained were to enter into the standard repertoire of later attempts to forumlate a program.”

According to Lipski, KOR had a considerable impact on the course of events in Poland, an impact constrained by its numerical strength and by the “tremendous inertia of the system.” Moreover, the government “limited its repsonse to the activities of KOR to restraints and repressions,” and KOR stood out among other weaker if not smaller and less successful opposition groups (despite their ‘not inconsiderable’ and ‘on the whole positive’ achievements), so much so that “KOR created not only an original model of opposition but above all it was unrivaled in its actions, which extended from help for the workers in 1976, through the periodical Robotnik (The Worker) and the Initiating Committees of the Free Trade Unions (KZ WZZ), and eventually to Solidarity.” KOR’s “social service” role ended with the formation of Solidarity in
September 1980, formally dissolving itself the following year.

KOR: An Historical and Sociological Exemplum of the Theory and Praxis of Nonviolence

In his book, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (1995), Charles M. Payne shares Bob Moses’s understanding of the civil right movement as characterized by two forms of collective praxis and liberation: a “community-mobilizing” form and a “community-organizing” form. The latter was, and is, a necessary and but not always a sufficient condition of the former. It is not always sufficient insofar as community or social movement mobilization frequently requires a precipitating catalytic incident or event that serves as the tipping-point for people to step out of the routine of daily work and life and risk involvement in “history-making” species of collective action. Both forms of collective praxis occur on the terrain of civil society as the site of hegemonic struggles to capture the hearts and minds of individuals as part of a Gramscian (or Gramscian-like) “war of position” inspired by democratic values and principles that, ideally, rely on means and types of collective action in harmony with those values and principles and the short-term goals and long-term ends they necessitate. Those committed to the theory and praxis of nonviolence believe they’ve found the types and means of action best suited to, that is, in most harmony with, such emancipatory democratic values and principles. Albeit with some notable exceptions (e.g., Aldon Morris’ 1984 study, Origin of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communites Organizing for Change), narratives of the civil rights movement privilege “community-mobilizing,” and it is the form of collective action called to mind by “popular memory and the only part of the movement that has attracted scholarly attention,” understandable in part owing to the mass media’s focus on “large-scale, relatively short-term public events,” on historical display in “the tradition of Birmingham, Selma, the March on Washington…[and] best symbolized by the work of Martin Luther King.”[1] Not in the foreground and klieg lights of mass media, but setting the stage as it were for such mass mobilization and social protest is the “community organizing” tradition that is the subject matter of Payne’s indispensable work. In this lesser-known tradition of nonviolent democratic praxis, there’s a “greater emphasis on the long-term development of leadership in ordinary men and women, a tradition best epitomized” by Bob Moses himself, but also such remarkable individual as Ella Baker, Septima Clark, and Fannie Lou Hamer.[2]

More generally, Payne informs us that “We do not ordinarily realize how much the well-publicized activism of the sixties depended on the efforts of older activists who worked in obscurity throughout the 1940s and 1950s.”[3] Similar stories can be told elsewhere, as in the case of the “Self-limiting” and Velvet Revolutions in East-Central Europe, for example the forms of nonviolent action community organizing and social resistance that took place in the nooks and crannies of civil society in Poland as a necessary condition for the eventual emergence of Solidarity as both a “trade union” and wider social movement, the principal collective actor in the country’s “evolutionary” or “self-limiting” revolution.[4] Of course that revolution cannot be explained without an appreciation of the structural role of Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of perestroika and glasnost in the Soviet Union that began in 1985, but the comparative success of Solidarity cannot be accounted for without an understanding of such underground and above ground phenomena as the “Flying University” (TKN) or the Workers’ Defense Committee (KOR), the latter founded in support of striking Polish workers in 1976. Aleksander Smolar provides us with an introduction to this Polish variation on community organizing that set the stage for the country’s nonviolent and thus “self-limiting” social revolution and from which I will quote at length, for it enables us to see what occurs when nonviolent democratic and emancipatory struggles “from below” transcend the barriers between “making history” and the living of daily life among members of the lower and middles classes of civil society. Speaking first of KOR, Smolar says

“The very creation of an organization independent from the authorities and functioning openly was a bold political act. The following months witnessed the emergence of different opposition groups, one of which was characteristically named the Movement for the Defence of Human and Civil Rights (ROPCiO), as well as the publication of illegal periodicals and books. It is estimated that between 1976 and 1980, the opposition numbered several thousand persons. It was composed overwhelmingly of the intelligentsia and students, assisted by a few individual priests and members of religious orders; the institutional hierarchy of the Church did not officially affirm its attitude toward initiatives of this sort, either for or against. Only with time did the groups in question manage to make their way—albeit on a small scale—into the countryside.”[5]

Later the Catholic Church did play a pivotal part vis-à-vis the Party-State in Poland in protecting the social resistance and nonviolent politics coming to fruition in the fragile but expanding terrain of Polish civil society. But what I want to highlight here is the nature of revolutionary leadership and the role played by only a few corresponding organized groups engaged in both legal and illegal (yet not unethical) activities, a leadership that articulated a moral and political philosophy as the very marrow of its nonviolent political strategy. This revolutionary leadership was composed of what in Eastern and Central Europe—as well as the Soviet Union—is termed the “intelligentsia” or what we more commonly refer to as intellectuals. As Rudolf Bahro reminds us, even Lenin made his appeals in revolutionary Russia not to the workers as such, but to those capable of leading the workers, for “instead of appealing to the working class as a whole...[Lenin] appealed to the most enlightened elements in Russia, meaning the most advanced (most cultivated, most intellectualized) workers and to the minority of intellectuals and specialists inspired by the revolution. [....] The workers—individual exceptions apart—were never Marxist in the strict sense. Marxism is a theory based on the existence of the working class, but it is not the theory of the working class.”[6] Bahro elaborates:

“[I]n no known historical case did the first creative impulse in ideas and organization proceed from the masses; the trade unions do not anticipate any new civilization. The political workers’ movement was itself founded by declassed bourgeois intellectuals, which in no way means that the most active proletarian elements did not soon come to play a role of their own in the socialist parties and tend themselves to become intellectuals.”[7]

Marxist and post-Marxist writing on intellectuals tends to equivocate between (or simply conflate) the notion of intellectuals as a sociological and descriptive category and the meaning of the term in a normative sense. We’re not assuming intellectuals invariably form a united class of sorts destined for the sort of leadership role Bahro alludes to here, indeed, for it is often the case that only a very small number of intellectuals summon up the requisite moral motivation for revolutionary politics, one reason why Sartre was compelled to make his famous public “Plea for Intellectuals” in Japan in 1965.[8] Most intellectuals are not naturally inclined, given their location and status in the existing socio-economic order, to make what Sartre called a “a concrete and unconditioned alignment with the actions of the underprivileged classes.” And in outlining the central role of intellectual leadership in nonviolent revolutionary politics we need not subscribe to a strict Leninist interpretation of this “vanguardist” model of revolutionary politics, especially insofar as it clashes with democratic means and methods, but it would be foolish to deny the truths inherent in the vanguardist model in as much as it represents a recognition of the necessary role of formal and informal leadership in nonviolent reformists and revolutionary politics. In particular, we’re speaking here of the role of what James MacGregor Burns memorably described as “transformative leadership” (in contrast to the ‘transactional’ type common to conventional power politics), using Mahatma Gandhi by way of exemplifying this particular type of intellectual leadership:

“Transforming leadership ultimately becomes moral in that it raises the level of human conduct and ethical aspiration of both leader and led, and thus it has a transforming effect on both. Perhaps the best modern example is Gandhi, who aroused and elevated the hopes and demands of millions of Indians and whose life and personality were enhanced in the process. Transcending leadership is dynamic leadership in the sense that the leaders throw themselves into a relationship with followers who will feel ‘elevated’ by it and often become more active themselves—thereby creating a new cadre of leaders [these are what Gramsci termed ‘organic intellectuals’] . [….] Leaders are taskmasters and goal setters, but they and their followers share a particular space and time, a particular set of motivations and values. [….] The problem for them as educators, as leaders, is not to promote narrow, egocentric self-actualization but to extend awareness of human needs and the means of gratifying them, to improve the larger social situation for which educators or leaders have responsibility and over which they have power. Is it too much to believe that it is ‘the grand goal of all leadership—to help create or maintain the social harbors for these personal islands?’ Gandhi almost perfectly exemplifies this…. The transforming leader taps the needs and raises the aspirations and helps shape the values—and hence mobilizes the potential—of followers.

Transforming leadership is elevating. It is moral but not moralistic. Leaders engage with followers, but from higher levels of morality; in the enmeshing of goals and values both leaders and followers are raised to more principled levels of judgment. Leaders most effectively ‘connect with’ followers from a level of morality only one stage higher than that of the followers, but moral leaders who act at much higher levels—Gandhi, for example—relate to followers at all levels either heorically or through the founding of mass movements that provide linkages between persons at various levels of morality and sharply increase the moral impact of the transforming leader. Much of this kind of elevating leadership asks sacrifices from followers rather than merely promising them goods.”[9]

Raghavan Iyer has well captured Gandhi’s own conception of social and political “transformative” leadership, of the role, if you will, of nonviolent vanguardist intellectuals. Gandhi realized that “Revolutions are the work of comparatively small groups of men who concentrate all their energies to the task:”

“Gandhi’s pleas for heroism in society involved him in the recognition of the need for inspired leadership in political and social activity and the role of small groups as pioneers and pathfinders, but also in a stout refusal to distinguish sharply between the elect and the masses. ‘All cannot be leaders, but all can be bearers,’ he declared in 1921. Courage, endurance, fearlessness and above all self-sacrifice are the qualities required of our leaders. ‘A person belonging to the suppressed classes exhibiting these qualities in their fullness would certainly be able to lead the nation; whereas the most finished orator, if he has not got these qualities, must fail.’ In well-ordered organizations, leaders are elected, he said, for convenience of work, not for extraordinary merit. A leader is only first among equals. Someone may be put first, but he is no stronger than the weakest link in the chain. And yet the true leader shows his capacity to assume heavy burdens of responsibility by taking upon himself the errors and failings of those weaker than he is, and if necessary atoning for them and using them as the basis of his own self-examination.”[10]

Owing to his introduction of the aśrama or monastic ideal into politics (which entails the moral if not spiritual ‘purification’ of conventional power politics or Realpolitik), Gandhi elaborated fairly stringent standards for any would-be satyāgrahi (that is, the practitioner of satyāgraha, literally, ‘holding on to Truth,’ therefore, one who is bound to ‘truth-force or soul-force; Gandhi importantly distinguished his nonviolent doctrine of satyāgraha from conceptions of ‘passive resistance’) including, most controversially, “the taking of vows as the necessary means to self-purification and self-discipline.”[11] And the practice of satyāgraha is further distinguished from the closely connected notions of civil disobedience and noncooperation: while it underpins his particular formulations of civil disobedience and noncooperation, it is at the same time much broader in meaning, entailing as it does the idea of a “constructive program” (In the words of a recent Egyptian activist: ‘The real politics start after the demonstrations end.’) the patient building of alternative forms of social association, instititutions, and ways of life in civil society by way of lessening dependence on the State: think here, for example, of the “co-ops, communes, and collectives” of the 1960s and ‘70s in the United States, some of which continue into our own time (e.g., food co-operatives and free clinics); of CORE, the Highlander Folk School, Citizenship Schools, and SNCC during the struggle for civil rights; of the praxis of the comunidades de base inspired by Liberation Theology in Latin America; of the aforementioned Flying Universities and KOR in Poland as well as samizdat across the countries of the Soviet bloc; of the formation of the Citizens Forum and The Public against Violence in Czechoslovakia during the Velvet Revolution of 1989; of the new social movements (e.g., the April 6th movement), NGOs, lawyers’ associations, trade unions, the counter-cultural role of music and poetry and the arts generally, the self-discipline and self-organization of the masses in Tahrir Square[13], and the prefigurative function earlier played by the Kifaya movement, in Egypt’s recent revolution; of the Internet cafes as seedbeds and greenhouses for political dialogue and debate, the men and women marching and protesting side-by-side, in Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution.

As should be clear from Gandhi’s nonviolent campaigns, satyāgraha should not be viewed simply as the political prerogative of those few individuals in possession of the requisite virtues of ethical leadership—of moral and spiritual charisma—and the uncommon capacity for self-suffering (tapas), for its efficacy, in the end, is judged by its capacity to move others, both one’s opponents as well as the public, and this occurs in circumstances in which appeals to reason simpliciter fall on deaf ears for reason often is, as Hume famously claimed, the “slave of the passions,” at least in the sense that one’s well established or otherwise intransigent convictions are rarely altered by rational argument, for in such cases the head depends on a prior movement of the heart:

“Although Gandhi sometimes formulated the doctrine of satyāgraha in a typically individualist fashion, he was fully aware that it was dependent in practice upon the sanction, not only of individual conscience (satyā) and ahimsa [nonviolence] but also of public opinion. ‘An awakened and intelligent public opinion is the most potent weapon of the satyāgrahi.’ He must first mobilize public opinion against the evil which he is out to eradicate, by means of a wide intensive agitation. When public opinion is sufficiently roused against a social abuse, ‘even the tallest will not dare to practise or openly lend support to it.’ [Like Socrates,] Gandhi refused to set up the demos as a demi-god and he could recognize no higher court of appeal than ‘the Court of conscience.’ And yet he was willing to see that the success of the satyāgrahi’s efforts must necessarily depend not merely on the appeal to his own conscience but even more on the awakening of the slumbering conscience of a large number of people, and ultimately, the stifled conscience of those responsible for enacting or administering unjust laws and social abuses.

In its appeal to public opinion, to the prevailing or potential respect in society for satyā and ahimsa [truth and nonviolence], and to the moral sensitivity of those whose acts are being challenged, satyāgraha differs from the methods of rational persuasion and violent action chiefly in its unique reliance upon tapas or self-suffering. Gandhi argued that experience has shown that mere appeal to [the faculty of] reason produces no effect upon those who have settled convictions. ‘The eyes of their understanding are opened not by argument, but by the suffering of the satyāgrahi. The satyāgrahi tries to reach the reason through the heart. The method of reaching the heart is to awaken public opinion. Public opinion, for which one cares, is a mightier force than gunpowder.’”[12]

As Iyer proceeds to explain, this is not an argument for the abdication of reason although Gandhi did value nonviolence and love more than reason. The turn to satyāgraha is only justified when reason has failed, where attempts at rational persuasion have no effect, in cases where one has exhausted, insofar as is practically reasonable, legalistic arguments and conventional avenues for change. The purpose in all cases remains to both convert and convince one’s opponent.

Returning to Smolar’s discussion of the leaders of Poland’s self-limiting revolution: while the new social resistance that broke out in 1976 was not a direct result of actions or public proclamations of the Catholic Church, the Church in Poland did, in time, transform the historic Polish culture of resistance into one no longer eager or content to resort to violence, indeed, both intellectuals and the masses at large came to decisively reject violent methods of social and political change, a belief that was not the sole or necessary conclusion of political realism or expediency in the shadow of Soviet domination:

“The Catholic Church in Poland, traditionally powerful, naturally fulfilled some of the functions of an opposition, in a system based on the omnipotence of a single [political] party. First and foremost, the Church was an independent moral universe of free speech and free ideas. But it also presented a consistent message of nonviolence, especially following the tragedy of the Second World War. [….] The authority of the Catholic Church in Poland, already very strong, was reinforced when the archbishop of Kraków, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, became John Paul II in 1978. His philosophy and his strategic vision for the transformation of Poland can be summarized in a passage often cited by him, and by Solidarity’s martyr priest, Father Jerzy Popieluszko: ‘Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’”[13]

The Church’s position on this score, and John Paul II’s exhortations in particular, affirm a Gandhian-like commitment to absolute nonviolence (not surprisingly, Gandhi regarded Jesus as the very embodiment of the true satyāgrahi) or, put differently, an “absolute moral rejection of all political violence.”

We’re now prepared to introduce the intellectual vanguard of the nonviolent democratic opposition in Poland, incarnate in both individual leaders and groups like KOR. It was KOR that played, in Jan Jósef Lipski’s words, a “service role” in the building of Solidarity, only to dissolve when it had played out its part on the larger dramatic political stage of a new and powerful opposition social movement. The deliberate means and methods of this de facto intellectual vanguard exemplified Burn’s criteria for transformative leadership:

“The strategy formulated by the leading figures of the democratic opposition, notably by Jacek Kuroń and Adam Michnik, can be summed up in a few sentences. Its first principle was Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s and Václav Havel’s ‘living in truth.’ Refusing to live in the ‘Big Lie’ was, in terms of a famous essay by Havel, the basis of ‘the power of the powerless.’ Beyond the moral value of such a demand, it was a way of delegitimizing public life built on a lie and on an imposed official definition of reality. The idea of ‘living in truth’ became the foundation of the new opposition in the whole communist world. With the collapse of the informational monopoly of the state, the opposition started to play an ever more important cognitive, moral, and indirectly political role.

The second key principle of the new opposition was the self-organization of society. This ‘civil society’ strategy opposed the reconstruction of social ties to an official policy of atomization and political control of society. The new peaceful programme of social and political resistance was summed up in Jacek Kurón’s appeal to protesters” ‘set up your own committees instead of burning down party committees.’ (In 1970-1, protesting shipyard workers on the Baltic coast had set fire to communist party offices.) He expressed the idea of a necessary self-organization of society, independent from the state and, if necessary, against it. Every genuine social organization, every demonstration of mutual trust and of solidarity in society, has value in itself as a way of reconstructing a human universe. The mainstream of the opposition was deliberately and profoundly anti-political. Faced with the strategic choice described by Adam Michnik in his letter from prison, the answer of the opposition was clear. The objective was not to defeat the ruling power but to progressively liberate society from its control.

The third leading principle was insistence on strict respect for the law: ‘the conspicuous exercise of rights’ in the words of János Kis, a leader of the Hungarian opposition. The constitution, international standards (including the 1975 Helsinki agreements), and domestic law became efficient arms of resistance. The authorities were criticized not on the basis of their own ideology—as was common in the ‘revisionist’ opposition of the 1950s and 1960s—but by reference to universal moral and legal norms, which had been formally accepted by the communist authorities themselves.

The new strategy of the opposition relied on the assumption that the emergence of an archipelago of new islands of autonomy would be gradual and sufficiently limited so as not to push the communist authorities to a confrontation. It aimed at exploiting the possible interest of the authorities in tolerating the ‘lesser evil’ of an enlarged sphere of social autonomy, thus avoiding a perhaps bloody full-scale confrontation with the emergent opposition and its likely domestically and internationally negative effects. The dilemma facing the government was either to clamp down with all the coercive power necessary in order to eradicate dissidence, which it had all the instruments to do, or to accommodate itself to the fact that it was progressively losing control over a renascent civil society.”[14] [emphasis added]

Each of the three principles above is uncannily close to the basic values and principles that fueled Gandhi’s moral and political philosophy and praxis of nonviolence. The first, an absolute and unswerving commitment to the principle of truth in the social and political realm, was critical to Gandhi’s bold attempt to destroy long-standing and fairly rigid if not calcified (doctrinal and actual) boundaries “between public and private morals, religious values and political norms, ethical principles and political expediency.”[15] It is perhaps easier to discern the problems associated with such boundaries in non-democratic or would-be totalitarian societies wherein the painting of an abstract picture in one’s private studio or the reading of an Orwell novel on a bus may be deemed acts politically hostile or subversive vis-à-vis the State and its legitimating political ideology. Under such oppressive conditions, the ethical values of private life and the intimate realm cannot but have political ramifications and implications, for the nature of “the political” as defined (in a de jure and de facto sense) by the organs of the State sucks the air of freedom out of the social spaces of associated and communal living that give meaning to civil society. While KOR activists appear to have had a sophisticated grasp of the possible and actual strategic logic of nonviolent conflict, their belief in and commitment to nonviolence was ethical and principled (or creedal), meaning theirs was not solely a choice of pure expediency, preference for a tactical rule, or a contingent strategic choice dictated by the political environment (one more or less common to life within Party-State Communist regimes of East-Central Europe during the Cold War). As we learn from Jan Jósef Lipski’s seminal “emic” or participatory historical study, KOR: Workers’ Defense Committee in Poland, 1976-1981 (1985), “Perhaps on no other issue did KOR exhibit so deeply the influence of Christian ethics.”[16] To be sure, there are more than a few influential formulations of Christian ethics that assume or endorse the doctrine of double moral standards, or “the common contention that there are two levels or types or structures of morality, one for the individual in his private life and in his immediate surroundings, the other for political and collective conduct.”[17] From Thomas Aquinas to Reinhold Niebuhr, prudential politica adapts the natural law to raison d’état such that “politics may be subordinated, but must not become subservient, to morals.”[18] But KOR intellectuals like Jacek Kuroń invoked Christian ethics by way of proclaiming their decisive rejection of the doctrine of double moral standards, as we see in Likpski’s summary of salient points from Kuroń’s essay, “A Christian Without God” (published in Znak under the pen name Elżbieta Borucka): “His far-reaching acceptance of the principles of Christian ethics, his rejection of ethical relativism and view of ethical principles as if they were transcendent, and his refusal to make a distinction between the ethics of public life and the ethics of private life—all this made Kuroń into one of the most ‘Christian’ of those who do not accept the Christian faith, and yet he was representative of his ideological milieu.”[19] Kuroń, a lifelong Marxist, or at least a lifelong independent socialist thinker and activist was, as Lipski notes, representative in this regard of a majority of non-religious members of KOR. And this deliberate adoption of a Christian ethos by the non-Communist Polish Left was evidence of an increasing rapprochement with the Church that began early on under the Gierek regime. In effect, the Left abandoned, in the words of Timothy Garton Ash, “the outdated stereotypes of the bigoted nationalist, ‘reactionary,’ anti-Semitic Church (which lived on as a terrible phantom in the mind of the Western Left).”[20] Indeed, by 1979 there existed “the embryo of that tacit alliance of workers, intelligentsia, and Church unprecedented in Polish history, unique in the Soviet bloc, and unseen in the West, which was to grow into Solidarity.”[21]

The Polish Left that led KOR was aiming, like Gandhi, to “spiritualize” politics in a manner focused more broadly on religious values than religious beliefs, a focus transparent in the title of Kuroń’s essay above. Within this conception, the (suppressive) “power” of conventional politics is distinguished from what Gandhi termed “sattvic” politics, that is, a politics oriented toward “truth,” “goodness,” and “purity,” (the meaning of sattva). A cardinal principle of this kind of politics is nonviolence. And for both Gandhi and KOR, one consequence of this conception of power is a concentration on the actual or latent (or possible) power that lies in the hands of the masses, viewed as inversely proportional to the socio-economic and political power that depends on coercion and forms of hierarchy today largely exercised by and intrinsic to the State and capitalist corporations. In its suppressive forms, such power rules out, inhibits, or corrodes democratic expression and participation. Members of KOR exemplified tapas in their service of humanity as a result of their belief in, and commitment to, truth and nonviolence as ultimate values and guiding principles of political praxis. The men and women of KOR took a principled and concrete stand against State terror and lawlessness, while “giv[ing] help to the persecuted” and “present[ing] the truth to society, countering the lies of propaganda.”[22] In the manner of the satyāgrahi, members of KOR made dramatic and urgent appeals to the consciences of their fellow citizens, appeals which also served to create structures and sentiments of human cooperation and solidarity based on trust, humility, and even agape or eros. They courageously assumed the risks of harassment, beatings, unemployment, imprisonment, and even death as part of their open and legal social, economic, and political activities on behalf of workers and their families. The lawyers, academics, writers, literary critics, editors, economists, scientists, priests, and other intelligentsia fashioned the social relief, social welfare, and social defense work of KOR so as to give priority those people most in need of immediate help (e.g., those imprisoned, without income, harmed by the security forces, or in need of legal assistance): “money, advice, legal or medical aid, a job or sometimes simply moral support.”[23]

This brings us to the second principle of KOR and the nonviolent democratic opposition generally in Poland, namely, the commitment to the “self-organization” of civil society so as to establish its relative and democratically-grounded independence from the coercive power of the State. For Gandhi, this ambitious and long-range task fell under the heading of the “Constructive Programme,” a necessary and increasingly more important complement to the individual and collective acts of civil resistance (primarily forms of non-cooperation and civil disobedience). At least one by-product or spillover effect of such a constructive program was thought by Gandhi to include the development of the capacity and “quality required for non-violent responsible government.”[24] In a 1941 pamphlet on the Constructive Programme, Gandhi spelled out its purposes and goals (specific of course to the Indian subcontinent), thus attention and energy were to be directed to “the need for working together toward communal unity, the removal of untouchability, a program of adult education and village improvement, peasant uplift and the development of nonviolent labor unions, economic and social equality, decentralized economic production and distribution through promotion of cottage and small-scale industries, and the abolition of various social evils.”[25] It is clear that the nature of such constructive programs will vary in content owing to the requisite sensitivity to time and place, although they may share subscription to fundamental principles, say, of freedom, equality, and social justice. Although KOR’s foremost purpose was in meeting the aforementioned urgent needs of suffering or injured workers and those dependent on them, its avowed long-range goal “was to stimulate new centers of autonomous activity in a variety of areas and a variety of social groups independent of KOR,”[26] a goal markedly achieved in part with the formation of Solidarność (Solidarity), in the provision of direct or indirect inspiration for sundry religious, student and peasant groups and committees, and the publication of political and cultural periodicals outside the aegis of the Party-State.

The third and final principle cited by Smolar that compares favorably with Gandhi’s moral and political philosophy was the insistence on legality (assuming here its democratic and constitutional character), inclusive of the moral and legal norms enshrined in municipal and international legal instruments. KOR’s efforts in support of workers were scrupulously legal in as much as they were sanctioned “by the the international agreements ratified by the People’s Republic of Poland, including the Final Act of the Helsinki Conference and the Polish Constitution, as well as other laws.”[27] While KOR never applied for “offical permission to act” through legal registration, it was able to invoke an

“old but still valid law from the 1930s which allowed for the formation of committees devoted to relief actions (aid to flood or fire victims, for example), and such committees did not have to be registered. In addition, KOR had only one characteristic of an organizaton: members. It had no by-laws or statutes, no chairmen, no membership fees. There was also a legal loophole: any group attempting to register becomes illegal if it is denied registration, and any further activity by such an organization is then subject to criminal sanctions. This is not the case for organizations that simply neglect to register, and which are then subject only to administrative sanctions. In this, and in all similar cases, KOR knew very well that repression (or the lack of it) would depend solely on the degree of self-confidence felt by the authorities, and not on the law; but KOR wanted to have the law on its side as far as possible.”[28]

This emphasis on legality, and the value therefore of having “law on one’s side,” was given principled expression and reaffirmation in the stated aims of the newly christened Social Self-Defense Committee, or (KSS)-KOR, in September 1977:
1. To struggle against repressions used for reasons of conscience, politics, religion, or race, and to give aid for those persecuted for these reasons.
2. To struggle against violations of the rule of law, and to help those who have been wronged.
3. To fight for the institutional protection of civil rights and freedoms.
4. To support and defend all social initiatives aiming to realize Human and Civil Rights.[29]

Gandhi found much to criticize in European legal systems but we should recall his training as a barrister in England, where he was called to the Bar in 1891. Although his time in South Africa and later leadership of the struggle for Indian independence found him frequently assuming the standpoint of the rebel if not (nonviolent) revolutionary, thereby inclining him toward the moral sensibilities and political temperament of the philosophical anarchist, he often asserted in word and demonstrated in deed the moral and political values associated with the democratic rule of law, respect for which was fundamental to his theoretical conceptions of civil resistance and civil disobedience. While Gandhi thought non-cooperation could be safely practiced by and was readily available to the masses, he believed civil disobedience was best employed “only as a last resort and by a select few—at any rate in the beginning.”[30] One reason the satyāgrahi’s criteria for and conditions of civil disobedience are more stringent than those for the many forms of non-cooperation is that the former, for Gandhi, is predicated upon a prior “habit of willing obedience to laws without fear of their sanctions.”[31] In fact, Gandhi says, “disobedience of a particular rule assumes a willing acceptance of the sanction provided for its breach.”[32] In sum, Gandhi believed that “Civil disobedience presupposes scrupulous and willing observance of all law which do not hurt the moral sense or violated individual conscience.”[33] Alongside the aforementioned anarchist sensibilities, Gandhi upheld the Liberal’s respect for the rule of law, which is premised upon according metaphysical and moral priority to the individual qua individual, one deserving of the dignity and possessed of the self-respect intrinsic to the notion of moral autonomy. For Gandhi, a basic moral duty follows from these axiomatic premises: a sacred duty to ascertain the proper conditions of political and legal loyalty and support. Gandhi believed that “most men do not understand the complicated machinery of government,” including a failure to appreciate the fact “that every citizen silently but nevertheless surely sustains the government of the day in ways in which he has no knowledge,” a belief of Gandhi’s in many respects similar to that found among the political philosophers of post-structuralist anarchism.[34] Bhikhu Parekh explains Gandhi’s understanding of the citizen’s moral duty with regard to the State and its laws:

“When a law was just, a citizen had a ‘sacred duty’ to give it his fullest co-operation and ‘willing and spontaneous obedience.’ The duty has a dual basis. As a moral being he had a general duty to do or support good. And as a citizen he had a specific moral duty to help sustain the community into which he was born and rooted, by which he was profoundly shaped, whose benefits he had enjoyed and to whose members he was bound by ties of mutual expectation [essentially the argument of the personified Laws in the Crito]. If a law was unjust or morally unacceptable, he had the opposite duty. To obey it was to ‘participate in evil’ and to incur moral responsibility for its consequences. It was ‘mere superstition’ and an attitude worthy only of a ‘slave’ to think that all laws, however unjust, deserved to be obeyed or that a citizen was somehow exempt from the duty to judge every law before obeying it.

Gandhi agreed that a law could not be judged in isolation from the general character of the state concerned. If the state was ‘intrinsically’ or ‘mainly’ good, it deserved the fullest co-operation of its citizens and its occasional ‘lapses’ should not be judged too harshly. All men made mistakes and no citizen had a right to magnify those of the state. Furthermore a good state was unlikely to want to act badly, and deserved the benefit of the doubt. Again, the state represented ‘compulsory co-operation’ and no-one could be its member on his own terms.”[35]

In a timely, original, and important social scientific study, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (2011), Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan come to the following conclusions:

First, “that historically, nonviolent resistance campaigns have been more effective in achieving their goals than violent resistance campaigns. This has been true even under conditions in which most people would expect nonviolent resistance to be futile, including situations in which dissent is typically met with harsh regime repression.”

Second, “the historical success of nonviolent campaigns is explained by the fact that the physical, moral, and informational barriers to participation in nonviolent campaigns are substantially lower than in violent campaigns in given comparable circumstances.”

Chenoweth and Stephan make explicit the error of drawing a further but unwarranted inference from their findings, namely, “that just because a campaign is nonviolent does not guarantee its success. [….] Rather, the ability of the campaign to make strategic adjustments to changing conditions is crucial to its success, whether it is nonviolent or violent.”

These arguments do not account for the specific moral and political motivations of leading actors involved in nonviolent resistance campaigns. In other words, it may very well turn out to be the case that a principled commitment to nonviolence is what sustains (in the face of repression and violence) those involved in nonviolent resistance campaigns, in addition to, or apart from, a belief in the strategic efficacy of nonviolence. Indeed, it may turn out to be the case that such a belief (and principled commitment in praxis) is on the order of wishful thinking in the form of a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, a creedal belief in the value and (eventual) success of nonviolent action may provide the requisite motivation to sustain actors in protracted social conflict and campaigns of nonviolent resistance, thereby directly contributing to their effectiveness and enhancing their probability of success. The corresponding question being whether or not simple belief in the strategic effectiveness of nonviolence or the adoption of nonviolence as a policy or tactic is sufficient to motivate a devoted cadre to persevere in the cause and throughout the course of such resistance campaigns.

[1] Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995: 3.
[2] Ibid., 3-4.
[3] Ibid., 29.
[4] Please see Timothy Garton Ash, The Polish Revolution: Solidarity. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 3rd ed., 2002, and the articles by Aleksander Smolar, Mark Kramer, Kieran Williams, and Charles S. Maier, in Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash, eds., Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-Violent Action from Gandhi to the Present. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
[5] Aleksander Smolar, “Towards ‘Self-limiting Revolution:” Poland, 1970-1989,” in Roberts and Ash, eds. (above): 132.
[6] Rudolf Bahro (David Fernbach, tr.),The Alternative in Eastern Europe. London: NLB, 1978: 196-197.
[7] Ibid., 149.
[8] Jean-Paul Sartre (John Mathew, tr.), Between Existentialism and Marxism. New York: Morrow Quill, 1979 (first English translation, New Left Books, 1974).
[9] James MacGregor Burns, Leadership. New York: Harper, 1978: 4, 20, 448, 455. I came across this in Dennis Dalton’s Mahatma Gandhi: Nonviolent Power in Action. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993: 191-194.
[10] Raghavan Iyer, The Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi. Santa Barbara, CA: Concord Grove Press, 2nd ed., 1983 (first edition, Oxford University Press, 1973): 139.
[11] Ibid., 73.
[12] Ibid., 286-287.
[13] Smolar in Roberts and Ash, eds., 129-130.
[14] Ibid., 132-133.
[15] Iyer, 40.
[16] Jan Jósef Lipski (Olga Amsterdamska and Gene M. Moore, tr.), KOR: Workers’ Defense Committee in Poland, 1976-1981. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1985: 71.
[17] Iyer, 58.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Lipski, 75.
[20] Ash, 23.
[21] Ibid., 27.
[22] Lipski, 42.
[23] Ibid., 62.
[24] Gandhi quoted in Iyer, 306.
[25] Ibid., 306-307.
[26] Lipski, 64.
[27] Ibid., 45.
[28] Ibid.
[29] Ibid., 200.
[30] Iyer, 245.
[31] Ibid.
[32] Ibid., 276.
[33] Ibid., 247. Bhikhu Parekh provides a succinct summary of the Gandhian justificatory conditions of and criteria for civil disobedience: “After taking full account of its general character, the views of the majority and his own fallibility, a citizen might decide that he could not in good conscience obey a particular law. If this was how he felt, he had a duty to disobey it on two conditions. First, his disobedience should be ‘civil,’ that is, it should be public and non-violent; he should show why he finds the law unacceptable and how it violates his integrity or truth; he should be prepared to enter into an open-minded dialogue with the government and his fellow-citizens and to accept an honourable compromise; and he should voluntarily submit himself to the prescribed punishment. Second, he should have earned the adhikār or moral right to disobey the law. Civil disobedience or non-cooperation with an otherwise good government was a serious matter with potentially grave consequences and required mature deliberation. Only those were entitled to resort to it who had as a rule obeyed its laws, demonstrated their loyalty to the state and proved their moral maturity by not turning every disagreement into a matter of principle.” See Parekh (below): 125-126.
[34] Please see, Todd May, The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994.
[35] Bhikhu Parekh, Gandhi’s Political Philosophy: A Critical Examination. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989: 124-125.

References & Further Reading:
  • Ash, Timothy Garton. The Polish Revolution: Solidarity. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 3rd ed., 2002 (Penguin Books, 1999).
  • Ash, Timothy Garton. The Magic Lantern: The Revolution of ’89 Witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin, and Prague. New York: Vintage Books, 1993.
  • Bahro, Rudolf (David Fernbach, tr.). The Alternative in Eastern Europe. London: NLB, 1978.
  • Bernard, Michael H. The Origins of Democratization in Poland. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
  • Brown, Judith M. Gandhi: Prisoner of Hope. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989.
  • Brown, Judith M. and Anthony Parel, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Gandhi. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
  • Chenoweth, Erica and Maria J. Stephan. Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.
  • Dalton, Dennis. Mahatma Gandhi: Nonviolent Power in Action. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
  • Elster, Jon, ed. The Roundtable Talks and the Breakdown of Communism. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1996.
  • Havel, Václav (Paul Wilson, ed.). Open Letters: Selected Writings, 1965-1990. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.
  • Havel, Václav, et al. (John Keane, ed.). The Power of the Powerless. London: Hutchinson, 1985.
  • Havel, Václav, et al. (Jan Vladislav, ed.). Václav Havel or Living in Truth (Twenty-two essays published on the occasion of the award of the Erasmus Prize to Václav Havel). London: Faber and Faber, 1987.
  • Iyer, Raghavan N. The Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi. Santa Barbara, CA: Concord Grove Press, 2nd ed., 1983 (1st ed., 1973, Oxford University Press).
  • Kaufman-Lacusta, Maxine (with contributions by others). Refusing to Be Enemies: Palestinian and Israeli Nonviolent Resistance to the Israeli Occupation. Reading, UK: Ithaca Press, 2011.
  • Konrád, György (George) (Richard E. Allen, tr.). Antipolitics. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984.
  • Lipski, Jan Jósef (Olga Amsterdamska and Gene M. Moore, tr.). KOR: Workers’ Defense Committee in Poland, 1976-1981. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1985.
  • Michnik, Adam (Maya Latynski, tr.). Letters from Prison and Other Essays. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1985.
  • Michnik, Adam (David Ost, tr. and ed.). The Church and the Left. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1993.
  • Morris, Aldon D. The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change. New York: The Free Press, 1984.
  • Ost, David. Solidarity and the Politics of Anti-Politics: Opposition and Reform in Poland since 1968. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1990.
  • Parekh, Bhikhu. Gandhi’s Political Philosophy: A Critical Examination. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989.
  • Payne, Charles M. I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995.
  • Raina, Peter. Political Opposition in Poland: 1954-1977. London: Poets and Painters Press, 1977.
  • Roberts, Adam and Timothy Garton Ash, eds. Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-Violent Action from Gandhi to the Present. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Smolar, Aleksander. “Towards ‘Self-limiting Revolution:’ Poland, 1970-1989,” in Roberts and Ash (above), 2009: 127-143.
  • Staniszkis, Jadwiga. Poland’s Self-Limiting Revolution. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.
  • Stephan, Maria J., ed. Civilian Jihad: Nonviolent Struggle, Democratization, and Governance in the Middle East. New York: Palgarave Macmillan, 2009.
  • Touraine, Alain, et al. (David Denby, tr.). Solidarity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983.


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