Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Non-violent non-cooperation for a stateless society

Non-aggression and non-violence sound similar.

I believe that voluntaryists could apply Gandhi’s non-violent non-cooperation but that it would take a lot of effort to develop this capability.


Gandhi’s main concern was individual’s search for truth which he called Satyagraha. In his mind Satyagraha was a religious pursuit. He believed that truth can only be achieved through non-violence. (This belief is similar to Rand’s – that aggression negates reason.)

Non-violence implies non-cooperation with violent authorities. As opposed to agorism, Gandhi’s non-cooperation is always overt. It is an open fight. It is always active and always risky. Ghandi thinks of non-cooperation as an expression of love towards the opponent and non-aiding her in self-destructing evil.

Gandhi recommends the following non-violent non-cooperation escalation ladder:
  • Giving up of medals, titles and honorary posts
  • Non participation in government loans (any T-bills in your pension plan?)
  • Non participating in partied organised by officials
  • Suspension of courts by lawyers and replacing them with private arbitration
  • Boycott of government schools by parents and providing alternative education (xoxo un-schoolers!)
  • Giving up posts at universities by scholars and offices by counsellors
  • Refusal of military service in selected foreign countries

The most extreme forms of non-cooperation are called civil disobedience. The last two escalation steps require so much discipline that Gandhi did not think that his movement was ready for them.
  • Withdrawal from government service
  • Overtly breaking unjust laws
  • Withdrawal of the police and army
  • Suspension of taxes

Gandhi’s people

Ghandi attracted and developed devoted Satyagrahis whom he describes as “disciplined soldiers”.

Satyagrahis pledged to follow the rules and resolutions of the movement’s central Committee and near absolute obedience was required. Gandhi would suspend civil disobedience if he felt that his idea of non-violence was not followed closely enough by his people.

Before Gandhi deemed his followers ready for the fight, they prepared though ascetic life of work, fasting, chastity (no, not the kinky type) and prayer. They trained for long marches, for withstanding cold, severe beatings, and starvation. They were happy to accept imprisonment, part with their property and even life. Those who could not contribute by active involvement were contributing labour and funds.

A part of their preparation was extensive networking. Satyagrahis were in contact with all their neighbours and were offering help and personal services. They combined charity with widespread agitation.

Gandhi’s strategy

Gandhi was skillful and precise in projecting his power.

The regulations targeted for civil disobedience were selected very carefully by the central Committee. These were the only laws Satyagrahis were allowed to break. Otherwise they were expected to be exemplary citizens.

Central Committee was targeting laws which were commonly considered immoral and which simultaneously placed a heavy burden on people. The best example was the state monopoly on salt production resulting in a ban on desalination of salt from sea water.

He would first present respectful petitions and carefully listen to the needs of the opponent. His careful listening was perhaps, as Gandhi wants it, an act of love towards the opponent. It also allowed him to be scrupulously exact when dealing with the opponent later.

After a petition failed, Gandhi would announce that a specific form of non-cooperation would start on a given day in a chosen region unless the decision is revoked. Next, he would escalate non-cooperation one step at a time. Sometimes thousands would go to prison in the process. They accepted this suffering as their battle wounds.

He did not escalate non-cooperation if he thought his movement was not capable of the next level of mature, non-violent opposition.

How I recon it worked

The strength of non-violence was that it was simultaneously a religion-based ideology for the masses, an inspiring idea for the intellectuals and a language acceptable for the movement’s opponents.

The precise control Gandhi had over millions must have been worrying for the English ruling class. In my opinion, the effective command of this large movement was the main source of his success. No political system can survive determined, intelligent opposition of a large group of people.

The second source of Gandhi’s success was the ability to shame opponents for violating the moral standard of civility which they themselves accepted for unrelated reasons.

Gandhi said he always aimed at converting his opponents through self-suffering and love, not by embarrassing them. Yes, most likely self-suffering of Satyagrahis did soften many hearts. However, he did shame many people into surrender too. He actually admits it here:

But it is my deliberate conviction that had we but acted with uniform honesty and dignity, behoving Satyagrahis, we would have disarmed all opposition on the part of the Government and such strictly honourable behaviour on the part of so many prisoners would have at least shamed Government into confessing their error in imprisoning so mane honourable an innocent men. [1]

To avoid ostracism he only non-cooperated on issues which had a wider social support. This added social pressure to his arsenal. The following passage shows his appreciation of good public relations:

                Awakened and intelligent public is the most potent weapon of a Satyagrahi. [1]

I think shaming sucks. But he gets a pass because he used it as defence against worse forms of violence.

(Please notice that non-aggression seems to be a good subject to shame people on.)

I also think that you can only shame into civility authorities who hold civility as a value. There were no Gandhis from Communist Russia or National Socialist Germany probably because they were all killed early in their struggle.

Did it work?

I understand that in the end, the non-cooperation movement was not the ultimate force in defeating the British in India. Instead, it gave the various national political parties something to unite around. Finally, the British occupation turned into a domestic occupation. So on a large scale it was only a partial success at best.

It did work on a medium scale though. Gandhi invented the method for 60,000 Indians opposing racist tax laws introduced in 1906 in South Africa. It worked. The laws got repealed in 1914 after multiple campaigns of civil disobedience. South African Indians succeeded despite being an immigrant minority in a racist society.

This is the scale which might apply to the voluntaryist movement one day.


If it worked for Indians, could it work for voluntaryists? We have different objectives, but there are striking similarities between Ghandi’s movement and the voluntaryist movement:
  • both movements aspire to use non violent means
  • both movements value reason and truth
  • both dislike violence for ethical reasons (NAP)
  • both oppose unjust governments which have overwhelming military power
  • in both cases passivity means unwilling cooperation with the opponent

In many ways we are in a better position than the Indian movement. Our case is more logically consistent. Gandhi was distracted by promoting Indian economic protectionism, alcohol prohibition and other silliness and voluntaryist do not have this problem. Also, most of us do not waste energy on crazy spiritual practises and emotional self-repression. Finally, we are operating under a democratic system, which does leave more tools of political pressure.

On the other hand, voluntaryists do not have a disciplined movement and, perhaps rightly so, they fear one. More importantly and regrettably, our moral case is being successfully dismissed by the wider public because it contradicts the moral code of altruism. Finally, today’s dependent class are not foreigners but our own, often members of our families and social networks.

To replicate Gandhi’s method, we would need to:
  1. Agree which laws we can convince the public to be immoral. Which part of the state feels really unjust to you? The tax code? Military interventionism? Central banking? Central schooling? None?
  2. Oppose the injustice by creating a disciplined movement dedicated to personal integrity even at the cost of suffering financial and political repression.
  3. Members would have to show real concern for the general betterment of their local communities.
  4. Finally, we could start climbing the non-cooperation ladder. 

This seems like a challenge to me. But maybe that’s the way to go.


[1] Mohandas K. Gandhi – Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), 1951
[2] Mohandas K. Gandhi – The Story of My Experiments with Truth, 1927

1 comment:

  1. Ghandi was too much of a statist (a lawyer by trade) and believed in non-defense of his fellow man. (He sat still while his followers were being beaten senselessly) I can't get behind that, even if he was far more correct than the alternative of the time. But now we know better. There is a balance and the NAP portrays it perfectly.