Why and how to work with governments

Jean-Marie Muller

Jean-Marie Muller is active in the Mouvement pour une Alternative Nonviolente in France and is co-author of La Dissuasion Civile(Fondation pour les Etudes de Défense Nationale, 1987).

Nonviolent civilian defence is an alternative to military defence: defence against attempts at destabilisation, at control, at domination or occupation of our society, coupled with a way of organising and preparing nonviolent actions of non-cooperation or of confrontation so that the enemy becomes incapacitated and unable to reach the ideological, political, economic goals that prompted the aggression.

What relationship can supporters of nonviolent civilian defence have with a government? As an essentially violent institution, the State is considered the principal enemy of nonviolent revolution. Therefore those of us who cooperate with it are accused of betraying nonviolence.

First of all, this is not about asking the State to organise nonviolent civilian defence along military lines. The framework for nonviolent civilian defence is completely different: it is not a code prescribed by the State and imposed on the people. It is a mobilisation of the people, affirming their rights, their liberty, their worth and their culture. The structure of nonviolent civilian defence is not upheld at the peak of the State's pyramid: it depends on support from the base of society. It does not rely on a regimented discipline imposed upon citizens but on free and resolute citizens taking responsibility to defend their liberty. Nonviolent civilian defence is truly the strength of the citizen and the power of the people.

Civilian defence mobilises citizens in organisations separate from the State and functioning in a realm outside its control: bodies such as political movements, workers' and professional unions, humanitarian associations -- from the largest non-governmental organisations to the smallest neighbourhood action group -- and the churches. In a crisis, all these autonomous citizens' organisations -- civil society -- would become the supply of resistance for nonviolent civilian defence.

Civil society, however, does not represent all sectors: political society is an important facet of any democratic society, and vital for effective nonviolent civilian defence. Potential aggressors often think of seizing the political sector so that they can dictate their own objectives through its structure. As one cannot defend one part of the framework and leave the other wide open for attack, the question becomes not should the civilian and the political sectors work together at all, but how their union can be made the most effective.

In case of an aggressive intervention, we must also convince political society to prepare, to mobilise and to organise a nonviolent strategy, starting from the base. The contacts already established with political organisations and the unions will help to put into action an institutional dialogue with the people who make up political sector.

The essential characteristic of political society is its dependence on the public sector: the legislature, represented by the parliamentarians, and the executive branch, represented by the ministers. Those who propose a nonviolent strategy are brought before the elected representatives -- from the smallest town all the way up to the ministers and their aides.

Negotiations won't bring overnight abolition of the armed forces, unilateral disarmament and the choice of civilian nonviolence as the sole form of national security. What we need is a process of transarmament: a socio-political dynamic transforming our militarised society into a civilised one.

The first step must be to show the coherence of our nonviolent civilian defence strategy. It is irrational for a society's entire defence to rest solely on the military. The mobilisation of citizens for total nonviolent civilian defence should be put into practice, willingly supported by the institutions within the political sector.

We must convince institutional representatives that nonviolent civilian defence is imperative: they may not agree to renounce military defence, but this is no reason not to try to convince them that there is another way. This dialogue, however, will be a conflictual dialogue. Our choice of nonviolence, rooted in both ethical and pragmatic reasons, does not permit us to put aside our questioning of military ideologies, strategies, the military industrial complex or the militarisation of our societies.

On the one hand, we ask those in power to accept our arguments for nonviolent civilian defence and, on the other, we still challenge their support of military defence. Arguing with a defence minister, the militant advocate of nonviolence is in a superior position: the minister merely needs convincing that a good minister should recognise the benefits of nonviolent civilian defence; the militant, on the other hand, has to be convinced that a good citizen should let her/himself be seduced by the metallic brilliance of military hardware...

And so in this scenario, there are big areas of disagreement and a little area where agreement might be possible. Concrete results will only be seen if a real mobilisation occurs, a large enough movement of citizens to put pressure on those elected. It is not enough for officials to think nonviolent civilian defence is effective: they must believe that the people themselves are ready to put the strategy into action.

These officials will also find out that citizens will be tempted to experiment with nonviolent action, not against a foreign power but against abuses of power by their very own government. If you teach a functionary too well to disobey illegitimate orders from illegitimate powers, s/he might also disobey an illegitimate order from a legitimate power.

In military defence, the weapons are in the hands of the State, usable for defence against an outside enemy and also against a force from within. In nonviolent civilian defence, the "weapons" are in the hands of the people themselves and can be used in defence against actions of the State if fundamental rights are threatened. This power, the power held by the citizens themselves, is what we call democracy. Since the true strength of democracy lies in the people, the preparation of nonviolent civilian defence will reinforce their rights and weaken those of the State.

More nonviolent civilian defence leads to a smaller army and a less powerful State. Anarchists who seek an end to the State and pacifists who seek an end to the army are both inconsequential if they reject policies of nonviolent civilian defence. Rather they should be the first to adopt a pragmatic attitude that would advance their goals instead of an ideological one which serves merely to affirm them.

The preparation of nonviolent civilian defence reinforces democracy, making it all the more possible to struggle against injustice and thus pursue permanent social revolution which all our "democracies" need.

I wish to distinguish between civilian defence and social revolution first so as not to confuse the two, and second to make sure that they are not separated. They are not the same but reinforce each other. There are two approaches to nonviolent civilian defence: the "instrumentalist" and the "structuralist". The first promotes research into the methods of nonviolent resistance that can be substituted for armed civilian defence; the other promotes the transformation of the structural form of society creates the conditions for civilian defence. These two positions often clash with each other, as if they were irreconcilable. But I see them as completely compatible: we should choose both and create a coherent movement.

It is clear that the institutional dialogue between the advocates of nonviolent civilian defence and public representatives can only take place in a pure democracy: a democracy not only of representation but of active participation. As these ideal conditions do not exist, we must strive to dialogue with our adversaries as well as with our partners. These talks are by no means easy and their eventual success will require long term commitment.

In this dialogue, we have to make sure that our proposals are concrete, credible and well-grounded in conditions of our society. To reach these goals, we should create Institutes for Research on Nonviolent Conflict Resolution, open to all people from any background wanting to study the potential offered by nonviolence. And since the work would undeniably be for the "public good", it should be funded by public resources. There should be no revulsion against taking State funds for such research because, in a democracy, these funds belong to the citizens themselves.

As a second step, each social sector has to be examined in detail so as to identify methods of resistance which citizens could set in motion in their daily professional lives.

The military mobilisation of citizens -- only the male ones however -- forces them to leave their homes, families and children, and their work. Mobilisation for nonviolent civilian defence, however, includes both men and women, would take place in the local area, and would fall within the natural boundaries of their civic responsibilities. This mobilisation would not, as some fear, resemble a "nonviolent army": the combat units of nonviolent civilian defence are work units where citizens carry out their professional duties.

Provision would need to be made for the non-cooperation of functionaries faced with illegitimate orders from an illegitimate power. In other words, how to ensure that the functionaries would refuse to collaborate so that the administration would escape the authority of the aggressor and instead abide by the constitution of the democratic society.

Another issue that needs to be raised is parallel communication facilities. In the event of an occupation by a foreign army, a system that worked in peacetime would be sabotaged. It is irrational that only the army maintains an alternative form of communication in the event of a crisis. Political and civil societies should be perturbed by the existence of such clandestine communications systems.

To the extent that those in power give weight to our propositions for nonviolent civilian defence, to that same extent will it be easier to raise the subject at the level of civil society. Our propositions will then advance in a dialectical movement between the pressure from civil society and the backing of political society.

Translated by Philippa Edwards