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Is It Time to Critically Interrogate Nonviolence & Nonviolent Direct Action?

Black Agenda Report

March 15, 2018

By Doug Henwood

time to question nonviolence

Time to question nonviolent direct action as the path to change.

Activism. Democracy. Change through nonviolent direct action. These, Doug Henwood points out, have been fetishes for much of the US left for quite some time, especially that portion of the US left that takes its marching orders from corporate funders. Gene Sharp, the founder of the Albert Einstein Institute who passed away at the end of January was regarded as the father of American nonviolent direct action.

I usually write a weekly piece for Black Agenda Report, but this time I’m going to use that space to republish somebody else’s work, easily the most important thing I’ve heard so far this month. It’s an hour long Doug Henwood interview for the weekly radio show Behind The News on KPFA radio. Doug talks with Marcie Smith, who is writing a book on Sharp’s long and problematic career in the service of the US national security apparatus. Smith is an adjunct econ professor at John Jay College. She reveals how Gene Sharp and the Albert Einstein Institute which he founded weaponized and deployed nonviolent direct action in the service of successful and unsuccessful US attempts to overthrow the governments of the Soviet Union, Ukraine, China, Myannmar, Iran, Egypt during the Arab Spring, Venezuela, the former Yugoslavia and the Baltic States.

Besides deploying nonviolent direct action to topple governments standing in the way of Uncle Sam’s global empire, Gene Sharp and his funders have mentored a good deal of what some regard as the US left – at least those parts of it under the influence of one-percenter philanthropy – in the tactics and what passes for the philosophy of nonviolent direct action. According to Sharp’s and the Albert Einstein Institute’s peculiar philosophy, property destruction is violence, while the ravages of poverty and deprivation, of economic blockades and lack of medical care just to name a few phenomena, are not. Sharp’s views on the methods and importance of nonviolent direct action are highly influential in such quarters as Moral Monday and the so-called New Poor Peoples Campaign, parts of the environmental movement, and other places. Whether or not we embrace or espouse nonviolent direct action as an occasional tactic or a bedrock and fundamental strategy we owe it to ourselves to understand the origin of this idea, why the national security state promotes it, how and for whom it works and does not work, and why.

It’s time to critically interrogate the fetishes of nonviolence and nonviolent direct action as a path to the world we need to build. This great interview is a good start to that conversation. Here is the link. Click to listen or download it.

 

[You can find Doug Henwood’s Behind the News shows archived for the last several years at http://leftbusinessobserver.com .]