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Silja j.a. Talvi
Silja j.a. Talvi
Stephen R. Shalom
Nonviolence Versus Capitalism
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Jan knippers Black
Eleanor J. Bader
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Nonviolence Versus Capitalism
London: War Resisters International, 2001
Review By Camy Matthay
Brian Martins book Nonviolence Versus Capitalism is a cogent argument for the value of using nonviolent action as strategy for moving beyond capitalism. Though Martin knows that some people adhere to nonviolent strategy on moral grounds, Martin is saying that even if one lacks these convictions, that it is still possible to support a path based on nonviolence for pragmatic reasons alone.
Martins reasoning is based on the grounds that the most prominent alternatives to capitalism that were pursued in the l900snamely state socialism and social electoralismwere tried and they consistently failed. Furthermore, since socialist alternatives rely on the power of the state, these strategies differ very little from capitalism in their ultimate dependence on violence for control of society. One form of domination would simply replace a previous form. Under these conditions of social control, would it mean anything then if the commissars of the new order claimed their system was more enlightened?
Nonviolent strategyif only by defaultdeserves a chance. It is the most promising method of moving beyond capitalism to a more humane social and economic system and has the great merit of integrating the ends with the means.
To dismantle the capitalist system, Martin points out that we need to understand how capitalism keeps itself in business and we need to have some grasphowever tenuousof where we are going, of what is going to be better. Thus, if the goal is a world with far less suffering, it is imperative that we refine our dreams for a nonviolent future in concrete terms.
In light of this, Martin presents descriptions of four alternative systems that are explicitly constructed on non-violent foundations. His examples include: (1) Sarvoydaya, the Gandhian ideal of self-sufficient village democracy (a lifestyle being practiced by over six million people in India and Sri Lanka), (2) an anarchistic model of decentralized direct collective control over all the affairs of life and relationship, (3) voluntaryism a spin off of libertarianism that is based on cooperative relationships in a market economy, and (4) demarchya sociopolitical model that presents a non-coercive and localized solution to the participation dilemma associated with direct democracy.
Martin evaluates these alternatives against conditions he believes a cooperative, egalitarian, nonviolent society should fulfill. These conditions or principles are: cooperation; altruism; satisfying work; inclusivity (i.e., the system should be designed and run by the people themselves, not by authorities or experts); and nonviolence.
The most valuable part of Nonviolence Versus Capitalism may be the suggestions Martin offers on how to assess the anti-capitalistic merits of campaigns involved with environmental issues, workers rights, etc. Though Martin admits that a campaign might be extremely important even though it doesnt directly oppose capitalism, his method of assessment, which he condenses into a few sobering questions, is for a specific anti-capitalistic purpose and as such has tremendous value to those who are interested in determining whether or not a strategy merely tweaks the status quo by subtractive and additive reforms, or promotes revolutionary changes that would effectively challenge the underpinnings of capitalism.
A strike for higher pay, he points out, can be valuable to exploited workers, but it does not challenge the asymmetry of power in the relationship between employers and workers. A strategy aimed to give workers control over what they produce and what they would charge for their labor, however, is quite different since it challenges, among other things, the legitimacy of hierarchical relations.
In a similar critique of nonviolent strategy, Martin points out how withdrawal of consent as a nonviolent tactic can be used to change relationships to means of production, but revolutionary change is not just a matter of withdrawing consent from a particular factory owner, but of withdrawing consent from ownership itself.
It is worth noting that although factory owners, corporate directors, CEOs, etc., may be the master thieves, they are nonetheless not the capitalist machine. We are all both guests and hosts in the market-economy hotel. Expending energy to modify the behavior of those in the penthouse has proven to be generally useless. Identifying and killing those who dominate and exploit is a clear the slate strategy that presents troubling problems not the least of which is the fact that it attracts extremists who, under some illusion of being in possession of the true way, practice a kind of despotic self-righteousness. Lastly, bombing the top floor of the hotel is tantamount to collective suicide.
What is really going to matter in the years ahead is how carefully the hotel is dismantled and if the number of people effectively challenging the legitimacy of capitalism can reach a tipping point.
Martin does not underestimate the difficulties associated with challenging intricately distributed systems of domination; he is aware that technocratic societies produce a surfeit of disinformation and info-tainment. He also understands howbeyond the mystifications of consumerismcapitalism is sustained by belief systems including property, entitlement, individualism, and everyday behaviors including status enhancement, the pursuit of autonomy, and selfishness.
Again, in the struggle against capitalism, Martin emphasizes that what is going to matter is numbers, i.e., enough people who are enchanted with the possibility of a more humane social reality to be true to the task of developing local initiatives where important questions can be collectively addressed questions such as: How would I really like to live? In what kind of society (or non-society) would I feel most comfortable? In what kind of system can individuals live up to themselves?
Nonviolence, Martin reminded me, is a method of waging conflict. It is not mere passive resistance, far more than a precautionary principal, and no more neutral than a gun.
Martins book has given me hope, and he has earned my infinite respect, in that his book models the faith in human rationality that I believe would be a principle feature of a post-capitalistic world.... A world that has removed all removable injustices, extended civil associations beyond coercive institutions and states, and accepted the necessity to defend a biocentric ethic that takes Life more seriously than individual gain