Why haven't peace movements taken social defence seriously?

Petra Kelly

Petra Kelly has been a member of the German Greens (die Grünen) for 11 years and at the time of this conference, she represented the party in the Bundestag. In December 1990, after a national election in a newly united Germany, the Green Party received less than 4 per cent of the vote, and as a result, lost all of its seats in the German Parliament.

Just before this conference, I was at our Green Party conference and, as usual, we got caught up in discussing and quarrelling about many issues. As a result, we never got around to debating the question of social defence, or the present military situation in Lithuania or why we presently show so little support for the "Germany Without an Army" movement (Bundesrepublik ohne Armee).

It was one of those typical Green Party conferences which make it so dramatically clear how we end up missing out on the questions of the century by being so preoccupied with ourselves and our own quarrels. I say this with some melancholy and bitterness because the '90s will either be an age of social and nonviolent defence or an age of new nationalism: of the ugly Germans creating a Super-Germany within a super-militarised Europe, perhaps even an age when new national conflicts, like those between Hungary and Romania or between Czechs and Slovaks, begin all over again.

On one hand, we had so much hope when the group "Switzerland Without an Army" gained so much popular support during their campaign to create a referendum. Over 36 per cent of the Swiss population voted against the army and this was a very important and strategic signal in Western Europe -- in a small, neutral country, ruled by capital and European banks. It was brave enough to pose this most important question -- should we or should we not live with an army?

I was also very hopeful when a few weeks ago, Gert Bastian [former general in the German military and Green Party member] and I had the privilege of accompanying the Dalai Lama on his first personal trip to Prague, Czechoslovakia at the invitation of Vaclav Havel. The Dalai Lama was asked what type of defence he thought would be suitable for the future of Czechoslovakia and Eastern Europe. With his usual deep wisdom, he answered that there was no longer a need for any military defence, that in fact, military defence made no sense and that the only type of defence that is necessary is one that is civilian-based -- nonviolent, non-military defence.

The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet has repeatedly pointed out that what is most important is to be able to have a peaceful heart. Only when we understand the true nature lying within, can we live harmoniously with the rest of the natural world. E F Schumacher has said that a nonviolent and gentle attitude towards nature and living things can be the solution to our crisis. A violent and aggressive approach to the natural world is fed by human greed for short-term material gain without care for the long-term effects on other generations.

We all know that nonviolence differs considerably from religious pacifism. Nonviolence includes a broader definition of what causes and constitutes violence, takes the initiative against the existing system of dominance and privilege, and gives more conscious attention to the building of an alternative social structure. A J Muste called for a nonviolent revolutionary movement which would include both changes in external relationships and inner transformations of the individual.

My roots in nonviolence go back to the '60s when I was studying in the US and to the Prague Spring of 1968. I was in Prague, along with my grandmother, during those dramatic days in August. For five days I was under house arrest in a hotel in Wenceslas Square, and what I saw during those five days was the beginning of social or nonviolent defence.

Even after Dubcek and his closest associates were arrested, Czechoslovakia and its leaders remained steadfast in passive resistance, storing up the kind of patriotism through sacrifice and suffering which the country never had had before and would profit from greatly in the future.

The spirit to which its people so nobly responded was fittingly put into words in the 22 August 1968 Resolution. " ... let us lift our heads against raised gun barrels. With the calm and prudence of a dignified and free people ... let us stand proudly as our fathers stood and so that our children will not be ashamed of us. We are adopting this standpoint to the sound of occupation forces shooting, but we do so freely, and with an awareness of our historic responsibility ... "

Since the Prague Spring so much has occurred -- the phases of the Cold War, the ominous modernisation of the arms race between the superpowers and the rest of the nuclear powers, the upsurge of the various independent peace movements across the globe as well as those peace movements that were run by the old Communist regimes.

We, in Europe, have learned from the radical activity in the USA which had considerably broadened from opposition to the Vietnam War, racism and militarism, and so forth -- issues which marked the late '50s and '60s. The mass movements in the USA opposing the war and the NATO decision to deploy Pershing and Cruise Missiles in Western Europe had an impact on public opinion, public consciousness and even on some political leaders.

The strategies used for nonviolent struggle and civil disobedience by West European peace movements were very modest, in comparison to the democracy movements in Eastern Europe. In the West, the peace movement first went through a phase of massive mobilisation throughout various capitals in Europe, where once a year about 300,000 to 500,000 of us gathered together to demonstrate nonviolently -- but with very little creativity.

Some of us went on to participate in individual or collective civil disobedience actions in front of military bases and installations. The British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was in the forefront of mobilising people for such actions, including massive ´die-ins' and other forms of nonviolent protest. The women of Greenham Common were a hopeful sign of moving further with our civil disobedience.

In other areas of the world, such as New Zealand and Australia, we were seeing very powerful demonstrations for civil disobedience, and the concept of social defence was being included in the peace movement's platform.

However, in Germany, the debate was focused on getting rid of Pershing and Cruise Missiles. We also tried very hard to include the question of human rights in the platform of our different peace demonstrations. There were endless debates about whether or not to include Solidarnosc or whether or not to include the names of such people as Vaclav Havel or Barbel Böhley in the demands of the disarmament movement. For us it was clear that if we wanted to move to a nonviolent society, we must not only take up the issues of militarism and arms production and export, but also the question of human rights.

We tried to include the question of social defence as a goal of the peace movement, but this was very difficult. There were many internal debates within the movement as to how much military one should accept and what transitional steps are possible on the way to living without armies.

Not long after the Greens arrived in parliament in 1983, they began raising the issue of alternative forms of defence, including social defence. Those who attended the hearing within the Defence Committee or Green meetings on social defence, know how difficult it was to get a consensus.

Gene Sharp remained steadfast in his assertion that nonviolence is, above all, a practical strategy applicable to ordinary mortals and requires no special phase in a higher order of being. The theoretical and operative basis of civilian-based defence is the insight that power derives not from the barrel of a gun, as many people believe, but from the consent of the governed. We argued in the peace movement that civilian-based defence does not defend borders in the military sense we are accustomed to. The strength of nonviolent defence inheres in its capacity for ceaseless resistance, spoiling the spoils of war and depriving the aggressor of his anticipated fruits of victory.

There were, at this time, a few feasibility studies undertaken in Sweden, Denmark and Holland on social defence, but they always received funding at far below the requested amount. The German Greens, and a number of other alternative parties in European parliaments, endorsed a policy of social defence -- a nonviolent defence by the entire society -- to replace conventional armed defence. Even the French and Austrian Governments commissioned limited studies of the possible usefulness of nonviolent defence.

During the '80s, more women in the peace movement began demanding that violence against women -- psychological, physical and economic -- be recognised and stopped, and that social institutions be changed so that they no longer reflected a pattern of dominance and submission. These women were also in the forefront of demanding that social defence be included in the peace movement's aims. Women in the movement began encouraging a more humane and loving standard of behaviour instead of relationships steeped in aggression and competition. Nonetheless, peace movements across Europe became even more dominated by men, some of whom still believed in the more traditional way of gaining power.

Disarming particular weapons systems was the priority of the '80s, yet there was a tremendous amount of debating going on within the various peace movements. Not everyone was a whole-hearted supporter of pacifism or nonviolence or of saying "no" to all forms of military defence. Some of the war resisters in Western Europe even felt that it was right to take up a gun in Nicaragua to fight the Contras. We had many different direct action projects to try to halt the deployment of new weapons, to resist war taxes and to encourage conversion to a peacetime economy.

But only a small minority of people participated. It wasn't the impressive masses of people that we've recently seen on the streets of Leipzig or Dresden or Prague. And yet already in East Germany after the East German elections, we are seeing how quickly revolutions devour their fathers and mothers and how quickly West German capital and banks and politicians snuff out the dreams of nonviolence and a radically democratic East Germany.

The twentieth century has been far bloodier than the preceding one and in my opinion the coming ten years are our last hope for a truly nonviolent and peaceful new world order. Just as nuclear energy opponents in the '70s realised that it wasn't enough just to oppose nuclear energy, they also had to offer an alternative energy policy, so too have many critics of the arms race just now realised that they must promote an alternative defence policy. We must reject a mix of military and social defence concepts. Yet this has been at the root of a debate within the Federation for Social Defence (Bund für Soziale Verteidigung) founded in Minden in 1989. Civilian-based defence cannot be mixed or compromised if it is to provide a true nonviolent alternative to conventional means of defence. Military means must be phased out as training of the population progresses and public confidence in social defence increases.

What we need now is not so much exchanging our bad experiences in trying to get social defence accepted, but practical work in the area of social defence. This means building regional and local centres for social defence and nonviolent training, trying to increase the work of the Peace Brigades and having the courage to intervene nonviolently in situations of conflict. For example in Cambodia, or right now in Lithuania where Russian tanks and solders are trying to intimidate those who are struggling for independence. It also means supporting the nonviolent struggle of the Tibetan and Chinese people in exile and those who continue to struggle inside these countries.

Social defence must not end up as a study project or programme if there is any hope of it becoming a true and credible alternative. Discussions with Tibetan and Chinese friends from democracy and independence movements have shown me that they are well aware of the possibilities for using civilian-based defence, but that far too many of us here in Western Europe have tried to tell them how to resist. Nonviolent struggle, social defence, these are the key question for the '90s and for the end of this bloody century.

At a time when NATO has decided to continue its nuclear and chemical and conventional war strategies and at a time when it is about to move its borders to the East German-Polish border, this is exactly the time that civilian-based defence must be counter-proposed to NATO policies. Social defence is pragmatic rather than ideological and thus requires efficient organisation, detailed preparation and very good training. It is here, I believe, where peace movements and the limited resources they have, along with the Green Parties, have failed.

Even the German Greens, who have more resources than most, are still incapable of instituting practical work in the area of social defence. This nonviolent strategy of preparing societies to not be ruled by aggressors from within or without must become a key goal of the peace movements.

I am very grateful for the writings of Gene Sharp concerning civilian-based defence's potential. These writing need to be translated not only into the languages of Europe, but into Chinese and Tibetan as well. We must try to link up with nonviolent resistance movements around the world who are trying to pragmatically practice nonviolent forms of defence and massive campaigns of civil disobedience. Visiting India, I've been amazed at the many nonviolent civil disobedience campaigns going on there -- such as the demonstrations at the Orissa Missile Base. Or I think about the Chipko Movement (the "tree-huggers") of the Indian women. And I think of the nonviolent strategies that the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people strive to live by.

So far, the peace movement and the anti-nuclear movements have more-or-less functioned as an emergency fire-fighting brigade. But we have had neither the priorities nor the proper strategies for looking at the underlying problems in ridding the world of militarism and deterrence thinking. We should keep in mind that the UN could also play a role if civilian-based defence were adopted simultaneously by several countries in a coordinated programme of transarmament.

The massive nonviolent struggle in those East European countries which have been under a dictatorship, although they may not formally fall under the concept of civilian-based defence, have in fact taught us a lesson in advance preparation that we all need to learn. This lesson of self-liberation is one we have not yet qu

ite learned in Western Europe. Preparations in civilian-based defence can also help stimulate liberation groups around the world to apply similar methods and strategies against their own internal oppressive regimes.

But of all movements which have the freedom and the resource to do so, it is the West European disarmament movements which must address as soon as possible the issue of social defence as a main priority.