Nonviolence In A Revolutionary Context (Crystal Busenbark)


May 1, 2009 by Gsmith

tmw-maydayCrystal Busenbark is an observant Latter-Day Saint who was tapped to give a presentation on nonviolence and revolution for a May Day demonstration at her university. This is her speech…

My friends, Albert Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We have had thousands of years of attempting to solve our problems through violence, but today war is still being waged across the globe, genocide – Hitler’s final solution – is being perpetrated this very minute, more people died in violent conflict during the 20th century than any other time in history. Violence does not work, violence creates more problems then it could ever hope to solve. If we allow ourselves to justify armed conflict in order to solve our problems we set a precedent for violence as an acceptable means to achieve our ends.

• In 44 B.C. the Roman Senate conspired to have Julius Caesar killed, he was attacked by the Liberators and stabbed over 20 times. By killing Caesar the Senate hoped to preserve the Republic, however less than a year later Antony had the Senate exiled and Octavianus Caesar declared the Liberators enemies of the state. Subsequently the Roman Empire was plunged into civil war as Senators Cassius and Brutus raised a pair of armies to over throw Octavianus Caesar.

• In 1789 the French people rose up in a violent revolt against Louis the 16th and the aristocracy. The people succeeded in overthrowing the monarchy; however in 1793 the French people faced The Reign of Terror – the mass execution of so called “enemies of the Revolution”. Some 50,000 people were put to death by the guillotine in one 10 month period as the new government attempted to violently crush resistance. 72% of the victims of The Reign of Terror were workers and peasants. The French Revolution led directly to the Napoleonic wars and two subsequent violent revolutions as modern France took shape.

• In October of 1917 the Bolshevik party led an armed revolt on Petrograd and took control of Russia away from the provisional government who had been attempting to setup a democracy and draft a constitution. In 1924, following the death of Lenin, Joseph Stalin manipulated his way from an administrative position to party leader and de facto ruler of the Soviet Union. Stalin’s rule would see a non-aggression treaty with Adolf Hitler and the death of 20 million Russian citizens by starvation, in Gulag labor camps and the Great Purge, also known as the Great Terror.

• In 1945 the Allied forces, with the help of the Soviet Union whom Hitler had betrayed, accepted the formal surrender of Nazi Germany. In recognition of their contribution and sacrifice on behalf of the war effort roughly 30% of Europe was ceded to Stalin – whose policy of terror on the German people led to the death of roughly 2,000,000 German citizens and another 1,000,000 German POWs. Stalin even went so far as to give arms to China and the North Koreans.

• Holding the Soviet Revolution as a model to be emulated Mao Zedong led an army of communists to overthrow the Chinese Nationalists in 1949. His “People’s Republic” emulated the Russians and likewise has starved and violently purged tens of millions of Chinese citizens.

After violent insurrection was credited with having succeeded in a few prominent cases it could be advertised as necessary to overthrow any offensive ruler. Once violence was seen as imperative, its destructive costs could be ignored. Once violence was widely accepted as a solution to injustice and tyranny, revolutionaries had no incentive to consider less damaging alternatives for taking power – however effective they have been in the past.

The idea that the majority of successful revolutions have been armed conflicts is a fallacy based on centuries of revolutionary propaganda. History is ultimately a harsh judge of those who insist on substituting violence by a few for participation by all. Violent revolutionaries are not the agent of change and their empowerment is not the result. It is not a myth that violence can alter events. It is a myth that it gives power to the people.

Non-violent resistance has created the power to overcome the most extreme of human rights violations, take down the most brutal of empires, topple the worst of the tyrants, and overthrow the most powerful of governments. Non-violent movements have shown us time and again that violence might be able to destroy power but it will never be capable of creating it. True power lies in the willingness of the people to take actions together in support of a common purpose. True power is 13 nations comprising 1,695,000,000 people who experienced nonviolent revolutions that succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. If we add all the countries touched by major nonviolent actions in our century (the Philippines, South Africa… the independence movement in India…) the figure reaches 3,337,400,000, a staggering 65% of humanity! All this in the teeth of the assertion, endlessly repeated that nonviolence doesn’t work in the ‘real’ world.

• In 1905 an Orthodox priest, persuaded 150,000 workers to walk the icy streets of Russia’s ancient capital in the century’s first public challenge to autocratic power. He ignited mass action nationwide that led to the country’s first popularly elected national parliament

• Men like Sir Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, and John Locke championed the form of the revolution known as Silent Revolution and helped the people of Great Britain to achieve enormous progress in the society which was later termed as the enlightenment. The results of these men’s’ work, including others in continental Europe, shaped Europe and later the whole world forever. Today, these men are remembered by all educated people. When they died in their various countries, these men were given the most superb burials, because of what they helped their country and the world at large to accomplish.

• After the world war that opened the door to the Bolshevik takeover in Russia and imposed reparations on Germany, miners and railway workers in the Ruhr in 1923 confronted invading French and Belgian soldiers who were sent to extract German resources. They refused to cooperate and thwarted the invaders’ goals until the British and Americans pressed for the troops’ withdrawal.

• In 1930-31 Mohandas Gandhi led mass civil disobedience against the British in India. He convinced his followers to stop paying salt taxes and cease buying cloth and liquor monopolized by the raj, intensifying his nation’s long, successful drive to independence.

• Danish citizens during the German occupation in World War II refused to aid the Nazi war effort and brought their cities to a standstill in the summer of 1944, forcing the Germans to end curfews and blockades; other European peoples under Nazi domination resisted nonviolently as well.

• Salvadoran students, doctors, and merchants, fed up with the fear and brutality visited on their country by a longtime military dictator, organized a civic strike in 1944. Without picking up a single gun, they detached the general from his closest supporters, including members of the military, and forced him into exile.

• Less than ten years after the British left India, a Baptist preacher from Georgia, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., following Gandhi’s teachings, led his fellow African Americans on a 15 year campaign of marches and boycotts to overthrow racial segregation in the American South.

• A few years after Dr. King was assassinated, Polish dissidents defied communist rule by initiating new forms of social action rarely seen in the Soviet bloc. Later workers struck and won the right to organize, giving rise to Solidarity and eventually the end of communism.

• As change was brewing in Poland, a group of Argentine mothers, outraged by their government’s silence about the disappearance of their sons, started marching in the central plaza of Buenos Aires. They did not stop until the legitimacy of their country’s military junta was undermined, leading to it’s downfall after the debacle of the Falklands War.

• As the generals fell in Argentina, General Augusto Pinochet, across the Andes in Chile, faced a surging popularity movement that mounted a series of protests of his dictatorship. Ultimately they overturned him through a plebiscite he was not supposed to lose.

• Half a world away, after Ferdinand Marcos stole the election in the Philippines in 1986, the widow of an assassinated opposition leader led hundreds of thousands into the streets. Supporting a rebellion by reform minded military officers they deprived the dictator of any chance to hold power by force and he fled the country.

• Not long after Filipinos reclaimed their democracy, Palestinians challenged Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by organizing protests and boycotts and by building their own network of social services. This wave of nonviolent resistance became the largest if least visible part of the intifada.

• While Solidarity continued its fight, boycott organizers, trade union, and religious leaders in South Africa joined to wage a nonviolent campaign against apartheid. Along with international sanctions they helped fore the freeing of Nelson Mandela and negotiations for a democratic future.

• Days after the Berlin Wall fell, thousands of Czech students sat down at the edge of Wenceslas Square in Prague chanting “We have no weapons… the world is watching.” In weeks the communist regime and others like it in East Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria and even Mongolia were gone.

• In the 1990s a Burmese mother, Aung San Suu Kyi led her countries democracy movement while under house arrest, as young Burmese were bolstered in their struggle by a new worldwide cohort of nonviolent activists and practitioners.

• In 1996 and 1997, tens of thousands of Serbian citizens marched through the streets of Belgrade to protest the refusal of President Slobodan Milosevic to honor the results of local elections, until he finally capitulated and in 1999 they returned to the streets to demand his removal.

The concept of non-violence is at the heart of every major religion across the globe. In the Sermon On The Mount Jesus Christ urged his followers to “love thy enemy”, the Daoist concept of wu-wei (a stoic approach to life that we should emulate the yielding nature of water), Muslim Suefism teaches love and devotion, the Buddhist principle of metta (a loving-kindness toward all beings), the Torah teaches Jews respect for life, freedom and brotherhood, as well ahimsa (do no harm) a value shared by Jainism and Hinduism.

Violent revolutionaries are just choosing one pile of dead bodies over another, choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil. I reject the notion that a dead fascist is better than a dead non-fascist; that some lives are worthy to be traded for others, a dead human being is a dead human being regardless of who they are. I will grant you the fact that non-violence is a much harder route to take than violence. Non-violence is not for the timid or the weak, it takes great courage and strength to walk with dignity unarmed and unafraid into the conflict. Non-violence is the willingness to sacrifice all that one has, our time, out imagination. The time for us to evolve has come. Non-violence is the only way that we can ever hope to solve our political and moral conflicts. In the words of the pacifist Albert Einstein “We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Humankind has used violence to solve its problems for over 2000 years, the time has come to advance our accepted wisdom out of the middle ages and into the 21st century.


15 thoughts on “Nonviolence In A Revolutionary Context (Crystal Busenbark)

  1. J. Madson says:

    Thanks Crystal, great stuff. If you haven’t read Walter Wink, The Powers that Be, I would suggest it. Although I suspect you may already be familiar with it in that you make many of the points he does.

    Its remarkable how violence always leads to more violence. You could arguably trace our current conflict with “terrorism” to WWI which in turn led to Lenin and Hitler to WWII to Stalin, gulags, and mass murder. As one writer noted

    “So when Stalin demanded that Truman and Churchill deliver the anti-communist Russians to him after Germany’s surrender so that he could either murder them or send them to the Gulag, Truman and Churchill willingly complied. Is that what a partnership with evil to defeat evil is all about?”

    We of course know how this led to the cold war to Afghanistan to the support and training of the Mujahadeen. More interestingly we then find the US allowing the Mujahadeen to enter the Balkans in our military adventures there and 10 years later or so we have 9/11.

    One of the more interesting non-violent protests I was not aware of was the Bulgarians refusing to hand over Jews to Hitler. They were very clear that they would strike, lay down on railroad lines, do anything including die rather than be complicit in that evil. No Bulgarian Jews died.

  2. Joseph says:

    Thanks, Gregoire and Crystal, for posting this. A very good speech, with some important thoughts. And also thanks to J. Madson. Your argument that our problems with terrorists can be traced back to WWI convinces me. Of course, from there it goes even further back. “Successful” wars only bring about temporary peace. Our current good relations with Germany and Japan owe more to a generous outpouring of assistance than to any military victories.

  3. tariq says:

    I agree that nonviolent methods are best for most cases, but not every case. Let’s not become dogmatic about nonviolence to the point of ridiculousness. (And I’m not saying that you’re doing that, Crystal. I agree with you for the most part, but not completely). For example, I was at a talk in DC given by a professor who calls himself an anarchist pacifist. During the Q&A, a woman asked him what a woman who is attacked by a rapist should do. If she is able to defend herself by using violence, should she? He answered that she should give the rapist a hug and tell him that Jesus loves him. I thought that it was incredibly stupid advice that a woman should hug her rapist. My stance is that a woman in that situation has every right to defend herself by any means necessary. A few years ago in Philadelphia I was attacked by a gang of authoritarian men who meant to do me serious harm to punish me for my political activism. Luckily there were some anarchist friends of mine nearby who had not taken any silly nonviolence pledge and who didn’t subscribe to the privileged notion that “violence is never the way”. They beat the snot out of my attackers, and by giving my attackers some minor injuries, my friends saved me from months or maybe even years of pain. I think there are alot of holes in the philosophy that “violence is never the way”, and I certainly believe that if there is a choice between me dying or a fascist dying, I will choose the fascist without a second thought. I don’t want to get into a long lecture here, but I will suggest that anyone who considers themselves an absolute pacifist should read the books How Nonviolence Protects the State, by Peter Gelderloos, and Endgame, by Derick Jensen, and see if you still feel that violence is never, ever justified. One last point; while it is possible to be an anarchist without being a pacifist, it is not possible to truly be a pacifist without being an anarchist, because if you truly are a pacifist, then you must necessarily reject all militaries and all police, and thereby reject all states, since all states are upheld by militaries and police. I had an argument with another activist at a conference a while back. He argued that it is wrong for environmentalists to use direct actions such as destroying bulldozers in order to stop forests from being clear-cut. He said that he is a pacifist and only agrees with non-violent methods such as working to get laws passed to protect forests. Never did it occur to him that by getting laws passed, he is only committing violence by proxy. He doesn’t use violence against anyone, but he has police, and courts, and prisons to commit his violence for him, all the while he can pat himself on the back for being such a peaceful individual, maybe meditating and chanting words from the Dalai Lama as he obliviously sits on a cloud upheld by layers of institutions that are founded and upheld by violence. Anyone who truly is a pacifist, must also be an anarchist. Leo Tolstoy wrote alot about this, arguing that you can’t be against violence and for the state, because all states, no matter how democratic, are based on violence.

  4. J. Madson says:

    Tariq, you make some interesting points but this discussion also illustrates alot of the problems with the label pacifism or non-violence. I imagine we all dont agree on what they mean. Some of the strongest advocates for non-violence I know distinguish between police powers and military powers for example.

    There is also a distinction between lethal force and non-lethal force. In general it seems to me that the proper non-violent path is to use violence as an absolutely last resort and in some cases not at all. This would require us to be very creative and imaginative on how we approach issues.

    I also agree that your rape example calls into question pacifism, but I see a large distinction between a very personal confrontation like the one you cite where I would not deny someone’s right to defend themselves and the violence of governments and nations.

    Being passive may protect the state, but I dont see how being non-violent (and by that I mean actively confronting the evils of society without lethal force or violence) protects the state.

    I think one of the biggest misnomers about pacifism is that it is the same as passivity which is why I prefer the term non-violence. Ghandi regularly spoke about how he could do nothing with cowards and he would prefer an individual who uses violence over a passive coward but that his ultimate goal was to have brave, non-violent individuals confront evil even in the face of death.

  5. Tariq Khan says:

    I don’t think I understand what you mean by distinguishing between military and police powers. Are they saying that violence committed by militaries and police is ok, but that violence committed by ordinary citizens defending themselves from militaries and police is not ok? If so, then all they’re really saying is that violence that goes up the social and political hierarchy is wrong, but violence that goes down the hierarchy is perfectly justified, which is an idea that works quite in favor of those near the top of the pyramid. Pacifist ideas usually are championed most strongly by privileged white westerners, that is, people who don’t face the threat of bombs being dropped on their communities, or of police harassing them at every turn. Just like how it was a man who told the woman to hug her rapist; that’s easy for him to say as he doesn’t face any real threat of ever being raped. Just like how it’s always white activists telling black activists to “settle down” and stop being so “angry”; that’s easy for white people to say as they don’t have cops occupying their neighborhoods and incarcerating their friends and family members as a regular occurrence. White westerners love Ghandi, but people from India and Pakistan, like my family, don’t think Ghandi was all that great, and they have stories they can tell you about him that make him seem much less divine than white westerners make him out to be. In fact, my great-grandfather was among the victims in Amritsar, India when General Dyer ordered his troops to open fire on the crowd of Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus who were peacefully demonstrating against the English colonialists. After that day, many Indians didn’t think it was a good idea to just let soldiers gun them down. We have to be self-critical and investigate how much our ideas are informed by our own privilege. I don’t glory in violence, and in practice, just about all of the activism I’ve been involved in for the past ten years has been nonviolent. In fact, newspaper articles in the Washington Post and local media outlets have referred to me as a pacifist simply because based on what kinds of things they’ve seen me do, they make that assumption, but I do not consider myself to be a pacifist and don’t call myself one. I believe that just as a woman who is under assault from an attacker has every right to defend herself by any means necessary, communities under assault also have every right to defend themselves and their land bases by any means necessary. I don’t believe that an Iraqi father who shoots a U.S. soldier or who shoots some Islamic fundamentalist that is attacking his children is “just as bad as” the Soldier or fundamentalist who is trying to kill or torture his children. I think it is absurd to say that the Jews who participated in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising are “just as bad as” the Nazis who wanted to send them to concentration camps. I am a father, and if someone attacks my son, I will do everything I can to defend him. If someone attacks my son, I could take the position that “violence is wrong, and if I engage in violence to defend my son, then I am just as bad as the person attacking my son.” Then, as my son is being brutalized and killed, I could say, this is not the time to be weak and turn to violence, this is the time to get creative. And then I could pray that the Lord will soften the heart of my sons attacker, and of course, when that doesn’t work, because it won’t, maybe I could politely ask the attacker to stop, and be sure I’m polite because I don’t want to alienate him or weaken my message by being rude in my request. And when that doesn’t work, because it never does, then I could protest the attacker by holding up a sign that says, “stop attacking my son”, or maybe even make big puppets and play drums, and of course, that type of thing never changes anything, so, as my son dies, I could invite my pacifist friends over to have a candlelight vigil, as we all stand as witnesses to the abuse and death the attacker inflicts on my son, and we could cry together and talk about how horrible it is, and we could congratulate ourselves for being strong enough not to resort to violence and then we could chant “Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Martin Luther King” as the person who killed my son gets away with no consequences. But, I don’t subscribe to the insane notion that “I’m just as bad as” the attacker, so I wouldn’t do any of those insane “creative” actions to resist the attacker. Rather, I would do everything in my power to physically stop the attacker, and I hope that if someone attacks me, there won’t be any pacifists nearby. I want people nearby who are interested in doing what will work, not what will make them feel good about themselves. Not what will score them some points with Jesus. But what will work to stop the attacker. It’s not necessarily true that violence only leads to worse situations. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. We have to take each situation in its own context rather than trying to apply some broad, standardized rule to every situation. The Zapatistas who took up arms in 1994, and still are committed to defending their land base by any means necessary, did not end up going down some “cycle of violence”, and if anything, they are more liberatory in their politics now than they were in 1994. The Jews who participated in the Warsaw Uprising ended up having a higher survival rate than Jews who did not fight back. The anarchist militias that fought the fascists in the Spanish Civil War did not show any signs of creating a monster. The Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution, on the other hand, did create a highly authoritarian society, but that’s what they were trying to do in the first place. That’s what their goal was. Real life isn’t so simple as to just make some blanket rule that “all violence is wrong”. Much violence is wrong. But there are situations in which violence is the most moral, effective thing a person can do. As Derrick Jensen says, nonviolence does not necessarily imply love. Just as a mother who loves her children will use violence against someone who threatens them. An indigenous person who loves her landbase will defend it in whatever ways she has to. We need to take situations in context and avoid any kind of dogmatic thinking or false dichotomies. too much pacifist dogma isn’t based on clear thinking, but rather, it’s based on faith and magical thinking. Yes, I believe there is a lot of good, effective nonviolent activism in the world today and I would like to see more of it, but I do not think that nonviolence is “the only way” and sometimes it is not a good or effective way at all. For a much better analysis of this issue than my ranting and raving is doing, check out Derick Jensen’s book Endgame in which he deals with these issues in a much more organized, in-depth, eloquent way than I have here.

  6. tdamcbigity says:

    Glad you gave a shout out to Aung San Suu Kyi!

  7. Joseph says:


    I also would like to see what J. Madson by distinguishing between police powers and military powers, but I’m confident he did not mean that police and military violence are always justified. That would directly contradict everything else I’ve seen on Mormon Worker.

    I personally avoid labels for the very reasons you mention, I’m not willing to trade one set of rigid dogma for another. I think the point here is that non-violence in most cases is more effective. I can’t think of any revolutionary programs based on violence that have resulted in truly changed societies. But basing an entire program on violence is different to me from responding to an immediate situation requiring violence. I also believe that true self-defense is different than using self-defense as an excuse to force your ideas onto someone else. My biggest concern is not forcing my ideas onto someone else, though how feasible this is I’m not sure. I think our tendencies to do this in one way or another should be mitigated, though.

    Lastly, while I do agree with the ideas Crystal and J. Madsen have shared, I do own a shotgun, and if someone were invading my home I would not wait to find a “creative” way to protect my family.

  8. Tariq Khan says:

    I agree with all of your sentiments and think you made very good points. I don’t want any kind of revolutionary program that’s based on violence either. However I will go a little further than that and say that I also don’t want a revolutionary program that’s based on nonviolence. The kind of society I want to live in is one that is based on the ideals of mutual aid, free association, individual liberty, and respect for the earth and the animals. I want a revolutionary program, for lack of a better term, that is based on the idea that we will do whatever it takes to get there, and I believe that what it takes to get there is a vast diversity of tactics. The problem I have with dogmatic pacifism is that it limits itself, cutting itself off from a wide range of tactics, as though there is a large room full of available tactics, and we only allow ourselves to use the ones that are in one corner of that room. when this happens, we stop thinking in terms of what will be effective, and start thinking in magical faith-based terms of what will make us feel good about ourselves. Then we end up doing yet another weekend anti-war march where we march around a government approved march route and yell slogans at empty government buildings (which I’ve done more times than I care to admit), and nothing changes except that we can pat ourselves on the back for “doing our part” as authority continues to destroy the world. It’s a mutually beneficial situation; the cops get to feel good because they get a chance to beat up on what they think are hippies, and we activists get to feel good about ourselves because we “spoke truth to power”, and the state and the corporate-techno-industrial complex get to continue doing exactly what they’ve always been doing because our signs and puppets and drums and slogans don’t actually do anything to stop them. Everyone wins, except of course for the people who are getting invaded and occupied, and except of course for the ecosystem and the animals. And except of course for humankind in general.

  9. Joseph says:


    Thanks for you thoughts. I do appreciate seeing both sides of this issue here. I can certainly appreciate both your and Crystal’s thoughts on this important topic. As I mentioned before, I need flexibility, and rigid dogmas never lead to healthy solutions. I would certainly not say that violence is always wrong, but I will say that violence nearly always results in innocent bystanders being hurt. Sometimes that is a price that must be paid, but it should be considered as part of the cost before a decision is made (unless, of course, it is a situation needing immediate attention, such as the situations mentioned previously).

    Switching gears, though, here’s a link to a great tribute to one of my favorite pacifists: Pete Seeger who turned 90 this week. He could be dogmatic, but I was raised on his music, and now my youngest daughter’s favorite CD is a Pete Seeger disc!

    If Pete Seeger’s tireless persistence doesn’t lift your spirits, I don’t know what can!

  10. J. Madson says:


    I think we perhaps may be talking past one another but let me explain my problems with violence and why I favor non-violent action.

    You are right that for many non-violent individuals it originates in faith/religion/etc and I unabashedly would say that the root cause of my non-violent leanings are found in Jesus of Nazareth. Not because I want to feel good about myself, or be in some deity’s good graces, but that I actually believe he revealed the only possibly way to conquer domination systems without becoming that evil yourself. Since I know religious arguments will not fly with many, I will stick to something more secular.

    You mention that you reject the idea that defending your family is just as evil as the individual who attempt to take life. So do I. I reject the idea that defending one’s country is just as evil as invading another nation. I dont think anyone here is saying that all violence is the same in terms of its ethical or moral nature. Defending one’s person, child, community, etc is infinitely more moral than being an aggressor.

    What I do reject is the idea that doing violence can be the most moral thing to do. The problem with violence for me is that violence can never end violence because its very success leads others to imitate it. In many ways violence is at its worse when it succeeds. In fact, the scary thing for me is that the myth of redemptive violence can be found among marxists, capitalists, fascist, leftists, atheists, church goers, anarchist, all alike. In some regard it is the dominant religion/myth among all groups.

    Nietzsche understood very well the Christian call for non-violence and this is what he found weak and base in it. He felt that what was required was a dionysus god who allowed force as opposed to the weak, cross hung, jesus. But he also understood that if you are to slay monsters you must be careful not to become the monster and this is where I believe violence inevitably leads. I do not want to live in a world ruled by violence. I want my children to know a world where violence is rejected and I believe the only possible way to end its rule is to deny it entirely.

    Lets take your criticism of Ghandi. your great-grandfather was among the victims who peacefully demonstrated. Anyone who preaches non-violence is aware that innocent people will die. They will die in violent conflict as well as non-violence. The distinguishing factor between violence and non-violence for me is that non violence seeks to transform relationships where violence seeks to defeat an enemy. Non-violence is rooted in the idea that even our enemies are capable of change and transformation.

    So yes, many died because of Ghandi’s means but I would submit that thousands upon thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands were saved because of his means. The British would have gladly taken up their arms and weapons and fought Indian violence and India may have achieved its independence but at what cost to its own people, British, and to their national psyche. What the British were not prepared for was the non-violence and I believe in this instance it saved many more lives than were lost.

    To be clear, I am not going to condemn individuals who defend themselves even with violence. There are many cases where I would even say that is justified but I also believe that there is a better way. I truly believe that if we try to make the world better through violence we will merely perpetuate the foundational myth of all civilizations, cities, and nations that are based upon the original murder. We will unintentionally or intentionally arguing that might should be part of the dialogue over what is correct, just, and right.

  11. Tariq Khan says:

    J. Madson,
    You’re probably right that we’re talking past one another. I don’t think you’re hearing what I’m saying. I’m not arguing that we should “make the world better through violence.” I’m arguing that we make the world better through a wide range of tactics, and that we avoid dogmatic thinking and magical thinking. There is so much I have to respond to in your post that it would be way too long for this and I simply don’t have the time. But let me at least respond to your one point that “nonviolence is rooted in the idea that even our enemies are capable of change and transformation”. We can see this idea illustrated well in the Book of Mormon with the converted Lamanites who swore oaths to never again take up the sword, and when their enemies brutally attacked them, they allowed themselves to be slaughtered rather than break their oath. As a result of their brave nonviolent stand, many of the violent Lamanites who were attacking the converted Lamanites were pricked in their consciences, and they threw down their weapons, repented, and joined the nonviolent, converted Lamanites. However, this idea that violent oppressors will transform when their victims respond nonviolently, only works if the oppressors see their victims as human, or worthy of compassion in the first place. The Jews who went nonviolently to the gas chambers certainly didn’t change Hitler’s racist, genocidal attitudes. It took armed force to stop the Nazis. As for the Amritsar massacre in India, in which General Dyer ordered his troops to fire machine guns into the crowds of nonviolent demonstrators (almost 2,000 unarmed, nonviolent people were murdered in cold blood in that massacre), the nonviolence of the demonstrators didn’t do a thing to transform General Dyer’s heart. Nor did it transform the hearts of most white colonialists in India at the time. Most white people in India agreed that General Dyer did the right thing in killing those Indians, because those white people didn’t view Indians as being fully human in the first place. In fact, the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, a white man named Michael O’Dwyer, commended General Dyer and called it a “correct action”. Back in England the mainstream press also commended General Dyer for “teaching the Indians a lesson”. The Morning Post, which was a major English newspaper of that time, gave Dyer an award of 26,000 pounds sterling, which was a lot of money at the time, and that paper called Dyer the “Savior of Punjab”; a very different name than what Indians called him, “the butcher of Amritsar”. Most English criticism of General Dyer’s massacre came from people who already were against English colonialism in the first place, in other words, their hearts didn’t need any changing to begin with, and the few criticisms that did come from colonialists, like Winston Churchill, weren’t that it was an immoral action, but that it was a politically bad move that made England look bad. In other words, their hearts weren’t changed either. As for General Dyer, he never showed any remorse for his actions, and he defended his murders all the way to his death bed, arguing that if Indians didn’t want him to kill them, then they should have, “obeyed my orders”. Personally, I don’t think there is anything moral or ethical about letting some fascist stomp all over people in the hope that one day the fascist will change. The idea itself, that our enemies can change, is one that works against liberation and in favor of authority. It’s an idea that asks us to identify with the oppressor rather than with the oppressed. It’s asking us to have more compassion for General Dyer than we do for his victims and their families. Would you tell a woman to just let a rapist have his way with her because then the rapist’s heart will be pricked and he will become a better person? Of course not. Why then would you tell communities to just let governments and corporations have their way with them because then their hypocrisy will be exposed and they will change. They never change. Governments don’t willingly give up power. Militaries don’t voluntarily disarm. Corporations don’t voluntarily stop destroying ecosystems. They stop when they have no other choice. The English didn’t leave India because they changed their hearts. They left India because they had no other choice. Their empire became too unmanageable. Indians were resisting in many ways, employing a diversity of tactics, nonviolently and violently. Indians and Pakistanis know this history, but white westerners only know about Ghandi, and they fetishize him. If you were to go to India or Pakistan and call yourself a Ghandian, people would look at you like you’re crazy. (I know someone who did exactly that, and people did look at him like he was crazy). Perhaps white people love Ghandi so much because they don’t like the idea of brown people arming themselves and standing up to white people. At my university a couple of years ago, on MLK Day, a leader from the NAACP spoke about the civil rights struggle. He said that originally, white people hated Martin Luther King and didn’t want to listen to anything he had to say(there were Mormon Church leaders who definitely hated him and accused him of the worst crime possible at that time; being a communist), but then Malcolm X started talking, saying that black people should take their rights by any means necessary, the ballot or the bullet, and then all those white people said, “you know what? Maybe we should start taking Dr. King more seriously.” Getting back to my point about oppressors only changing if they see their victims as human or worthy of compassion. The U.S. government and the military don’t see Arabs as fully human, so the death of Arabs doesn’t prick their consciences. They’ll stop messing with the middle east when they have no other choice but to stop. Zionists don’t see Palestinians as fully human, so the sight of dead Palestinians does not prick their consciences. They’ll stop killing Palestinians when they have no other choice but to stop. Corporations don’t see the forests as anything other than cash, so the sight of the aftermath of a clear-cut doesn’t make any CEO want to change the way he does business. He’ll stop destroying the ecosystem when he has no other choice but to stop. And on and on and on. I have so much more to say, but I really do have other things I need to attend to. I suppose this is a discussion that will just have to go unresolved for the time being.

  12. NotMadson says:

    tell me what i’m missing: an article concerning non-violence on a website that argues for involuntary redistribution of income?

    anticipated replies:

    1) violence was used to “earn” the income, thus life isn’t fair, thus compulsory redistribution is justified

    2) we’re paying for it through taxes, so, how to get mine?

    3) it all belongs to Him anyways, so quit laying claim to that which isn’t yours

    4) help me here, my ignorant mind is running out of ideas…

    i don’t mean this to come across in an argumentative manner, i really do have a question and am seeking clarification.

  13. Grégoire says:

    Dear NotMadson:

    Capital structures society using implied violence. The threat of starvation, implicit in the present social contract, is a good example. Would you like to see your wife/husband and children starve? No, right? So you go to work for the highest bidder. You *sell* yourself, in other words. The employers *buy* you for the lowest price they can possibly get. Your labor is, first of all, not yours to sell, any more than a prostitute has the *right* to rent out her (or his) body. Be that as it may, you are forced to do this because of the structure of the system.

    Everyone who contributes to this blog disagrees on the details, but we all seem to be committed to restructuring the system to remove this implied violence. Why shouldn’t the world be (as Bentham described it) a common storehouse available to all? Why shouldn’t you be able to derive a just measure of the produce this society creates? That would be a *non-violent* society.

  14. Joseph says:


  15. Tariq Khan says:

    Where does this website argue for involuntary redistribution of income? I haven’t read every article Mormon Worker ever put out, but of the ones I have read, I haven’t seen anyone argue for involuntary redistribution of income, or for that matter, involuntary anything. What the heck are you even talking about?

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