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NEGATIVE AND POSITIVE NONVIOLENCE

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ALFAZ, SPAIN, Jul 19 2011 (IPS) - It is remarkable that two of the greatest evils of the 20th century -colonialism and the Cold War- were both overcome with nonviolence: Gandhi’s nonviolent campaign against British colonialism which led to India’s and Pakistan’s Independence in 1947, paving the way for other countries’ independence, and the nonviolent demonstrations, especially in Gdansk and Leipzig, which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the Cold War.

Barack Obama, in his belligerent Nobel Peace Prize speech of 2009, failed to mention the power of nonviolence. But he would not have been president without the nonviolence of, for example, the Freedom Riders against Anglo-Saxon brutality in the US South (see for example Bernard Lafayette Jr., “The Freedom Riders”, International Herald Tribune, 21-22 May 2011).

But, as with most things, there are two approaches to nonviolence, and the difference matters in theory and in practice. Both are forms of power. Negative nonviolence tries to stop the other side’s direct or structural violence, whereas positive nonviolence tries to make the antagonist start being peaceful. Thus, negative nonviolence demands acts of omission -no more violence- and positive nonviolence invites acts of commission, for peace.

Negative nonviolence includes non-cooperation, civil disobedience, breaking unjust laws, declaring and practising autonomy. And positive nonviolence includes clearing the past through conciliation, the present through mediation of dangerous conflicts, and building a future through equitable participation in positive projects. They are not mutually exclusive. Gandhi and Martin Luther King used both.

Obviously, both forms refrain from direct physical violence. But negative nonviolence may include symbolic violence like “rude gestures, taunting, haunting officials” (from Gene Sharp’s “The Politics of Nonviolent Action”. Sharp deserves credit for his outstanding work to make such techniques well known -but is it nonviolence?). By contrast, positive nonviolence insists on nonviolent speech and thought, something beyond the psychological capacity of many. How can I be against them and for them at the same time?

However, there are deeper differences in philosophy.

Imagine a state that is using violence, war, external or internal, “civil”. There are five very different ways of responding.

The first is to respond in kind and enter a war with three outcomes: A wins, B wins, or stalemate (ceasefire, armistice, whether preparing for renewed hostilities or not). Second, guerrilla action or terrorism, a continuation of the war by less formal means. Third, negotiation, continuation of the war by verbal means. They all have something in common: a winner, a loser, or stalemate.

And that also applies to the fourth, negative nonviolence. Every effort is made to leave the other side only one option: capitulation -whether in exile, in court, or dead- because it is seen as intrinsically evil. This is violence, under the guise of nonviolence.

Yet there is a fifth form of nonviolence, developed by Gandhi (see Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash, “Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Nonviolent Action from Gandhi to the Present”; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). He insists that the conflict is evil, not the other side. Do not fight to coerce, but engage in dialogue to convert. Arne Naess and this author identified Gandhian norms for negative and positive nonviolence, like:

-Define the conflict well. State your own goal clearly. Try to understand your opponent’s goal. Emphasise common and compatible goals.

-See conflict as an opportunity to meet the opponent and to transform society. and to transform yourself.

-Do not polarise. Distinguish between antagonism and antagonist. Maintain contact. Empathise with your opponent’s position.

-Solve conflict. Always seek negotiation with the opponent. Seek positive social transformations. Seek human transformation of self and opponent.

-Conversion, not coercion. Seek solutions that are acceptable to yourself and your opponent. Never coerce your opponent. Convert your opponent into a believer of the cause.

Gandhian nonviolence covers negative and positive aspects. It may include self-immolation (Tunis) and massive protests (Cairo). But seeing the opponent as somebody simply to be removed is not Gandhian. The Gandhian approach is to remove autocracy and kleptocracy in favour of rule by the people and an economy for the people by converting the autocrat-kleptocrat, not by coercing him. Readiness for dialogue is almost built into the word “Gandhian”. When dialogue offers are rejected by the opposition demanding regime change, there is poor conflict analysis at work, reflecting a deep culture ever ready to issue certificates of evil.

Eliminating a demonised leader is counted as victory, and to violent logic it is. But Gandhian victory would be to arrive, through dialogue, at an acceptable outcome, not confusing persons with issues. An autocrat knows much about power, not only for himself, and a kleptocrat knows much about wealth, not only for himself. Make them work for a solution. If crimes have been committed, then the rule of law should prevail; but exchanging clemency for repentance, when possible, might be a wiser policy.

Getting rid of the autocrat and/or kleptocrat may also create martyrs and harden their supporters. A vacancy at the top may be filled by equally violent people. And a new constitution may change institutions but not structures, like the imperial structures torturing the Arab-Muslim world.

Killing Saddam Hussein and bin Laden is no substitute for understanding something not paid attention to. Negative nonviolence is indispensable but, like violence, silences that other voice. Positive nonviolence is never afraid of dialogue and mutual learning. Use both together. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Johan Galtung, Rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University, is author of “A Theory of Conflict”, TRANSCEND University Press, 2010 (www.transcend.org/tup).

 
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