By Kyle Rearden
“People who have held public positions during peace time should not be recruited for the [civilian] resistance movement. It is likely that these individuals will be arrested and subjected to brain washing. They should have no knowledge of the resistance movement, so your organization will not be compromised, nor lose members. Make sure this ‘basic rule of recruitment’ is well known, even to the enemy. Thus you can protect these valuable and courageous people to some degree since the enemy is aware of this policy, his interest in them will diminish. Examples of members unsuitable for the resistance movement are: prominent politicians both active or retired; leading economists, editors, professors, important administration officials. All these persons are too well known to participate in the ‘underground movement.’ They certainly will be shadowed, will be arrested sooner or later, or even executed. For them it is best to join guerrilla units.”
Satyagraha, simply defined, is using the force of truth alone in convincing opponents the righteousness of one’s cause. Often, suffering is inflicted upon practitioners of satyagraha by their enemies, yet their modus operandi is to stand firm until a mutually agreeable solution is negotiated. There is an assumption at work here that by reaching the conscience of one’s oppressors, satyagrahans are able to persuade them to remedy their grievances because there is, presumably, a limit to how many times, and how severely, each individual has within himself to hurt another man, face-to-face (of course, satyagraha assumes that oppressors have consciences worth appealing to in the first place).
A political scientist known as Gene Sharp has studied so-called “nonviolent struggle” in the attempt to not only comprehend it, but also to gauge its efficacy. Unfortunately, I’m left with the impression that satyagraha has a mean time to harassment (MTH) of exactly zero, because the whole idea of nonviolent struggle is to confront the State directly, as if nonviolent struggle were nothing more than a suicide pact. It’s almost as if satyagrahans throw themselves upon the gears of the State just to end up as nothing more than a pasty mush.
Sharp’s entire book appears to be collective-movementism on steroids, frankly. Considering the very existentiality of disingenuous activists and their fake grievances, it is merited to ask the quite uncomfortable question of, is there more to politics that pure spectacle? Generally speaking, I don’t mindlessly trust so-called “activists” farther than I can throw them, yet much like the politicians they appear to emulate, activists themselves are reminiscent of broken clocks, which by nature are correct twice a day.
Right from the get go, Sharp has an odd conception of force versus consent. He wrote:
“In summary, the power of rulers is dependent upon the availability of its several sources. This availability is determined by the degree of obedience and cooperation given by the subjects. Despite inducements, pressures, and even sanctions, such obedience and cooperation are, however, not inevitable. Obedience remains essentially voluntary. Therefore, all government is based upon consent.”
Although I will concede to Sharp that the decision to engage in civil disobedience versus carefully calculated submission is self-evident of free will, I fear he has committed a non sequitur here by implying that said obedience to the State legitimizes it, and that therefore institutionalized coercion is somehow voluntary. Imagine, if you will, had Sharp used this same line of fallacious reasoning to explain why a raped woman eventually “consented” to a rapist because she figured that if she didn’t struggle against him while he held a knife to her throat, then maybe he’d choose to let her live once he finished raping her; such a crime as rape is not legitimized as being consensual or voluntary simply because the victim “chose” to take the path of least resistance currently available, particularly given that her survivability was in doubt. He also wrote:
“This does not mean that the subjects of all rulers prefer the established order. They may consent because they positively approve of it. But they may also consent because they are unwilling to pay the price for the refusal of consent. Refusal requires self-confidence, motivation to resist, and may involve considerable inconvenience and suffering. The degree of liberty or tyranny in any government is, to a large degree, a reflection of the relative determination of the subjects to be free and their willingness and ability to resist efforts to enslave them.”
Again, I will partially agree with Sharp that refusing consent ought to be a matter of course for dissidents, yet what constitutes the consent of the governed? Am I still expected by the State to obey the laws and pay the taxes despite the fact that I have canceled my voter registration back in 2013? Truth be told, the State, as an oxymoronic expropriating property protector, is already dialogically estopped (as the rapist is), so Sharp’s misconstruing of obedience is highly problematic.
So, what is all this talk of so-called “nonviolence” all about, anyway? Sharp explains that:
“Nonviolent action is a generic term covering dozens of specific methods of protest, noncooperation, and intervention, in all of which the resisters conduct the conflict by doing – or refusing to do – certain things without using physical violence. As a technique, therefore, nonviolent action is not passive. It is not inaction. It is action that is nonviolent.”
“Extensive use of nonviolent action has occurred despite the absence of attention to the development of the technique itself…[i]t has usually been practiced under highly unfavorable conditions and with a lack of experienced participants or even experienced leaders…[t]he people using it have usually had little real understanding of the nature of the technique which they sought to wield and were largely ignorant of history…[u]nder such conditions it is not surprising that there have often been defeats or only partial victories, or that violence has sometimes erupted…[w]ith such handicaps, it is amazing that the practice of the technique has been as widespread, successful, and orderly as it has.”
This is rather quite revealing, for Sharp admits here that the satyagrahans are, for the most part, largely incompetent. Combined with the lack of genuine empathy by their opponents (for having a conscience would presumably require a capacity for even a tiny bit of empathy), doesn’t this all kind of suggest that satyagraha is great if you already have a serious death wish and you’d like to go out in a blaze of martyrdom? All sarcasm aside, I’m actually quite petrified that most “activists” I’ve noticed take nonviolent struggle seriously at all, because it seems to be a recipe for failure. Sharp describes that:
“In general, quality is more important that quantity. Lowered standards to obtain large numbers can be counterproductive, and lead to a weaker and smaller movement. High standards of nonviolent behavior are very important to produce a strong movement in both quality and quantity.”
Wait a damn minute – if quantity is less important that quality, then you don’t have much of a cultural bowel movement, do you? Isn’t the whole idea to garner numbers (that is, critical mass) so that you can inexplicably remedy your grievances someday, somewhere, somehow? My God, it’s almost as if nonviolent struggle was weaved out of whole cloth by an idiot, much like the idea of government itself.
Are there any redeeming or even insightful qualities of nonviolent struggle? Sharp details that:
“Strategy is at least as important as nonviolent action as it is in military action. It is important to choose the course of action and carry it out carefully and intelligently. It is quite inadequate simply to say that one will be moral and do what is right. There may be several courses of action which are all morally ‘right.’ What is ‘right’ may involve maintaining or creating maximum opposition to ‘evil.’ If so, the problem is how to do this in order to meet one’s moral responsibility and maximize the effects of one’s actions. Those actions must be carefully chosen and carried out at the right time.”
Couldn’t Sharp just apply praxeology to satyagraha in order to gauge whether it’s worth anything? Oh, wait, that’s right – had he done that, then there’d no point in examining case study after case study at the Albert Einstein Institute, wouldn’t there? Besides mentioning and quoting B.H. Liddell Hart occasionally, I don’t think Sharp’s advocacy for democracy is strategic at all, for he also wrote:
“The effect of surprise in war is the incapability of the opponents to react effectively. In nonviolent struggle this incapability is produced not by secrecy but instead by the nonviolent resisters’ reliance on nonviolent means. At times, surprise in nonviolent action may weaken its effectiveness. Open announcement of the intention to use nonviolent methods may reduce nervousness among troops, make more severe repression less probable, and increase the chances of inducing disaffection.”
If I earned a silver coin for every time I’ve heard “activists” brag about how they were gonna go do something “nonviolently” and then watch the footage as the police mercilessly beat them into submission, I’d have enough capital in sound money to 100% back my own private currency in paper cash. This is ridiculous on its face, never mind how untrue it is against the light of experience, for all you have to do is look at the Bush, Jr. era anti-war marches, the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests, or even the 2016 Citizens for Constitutional Freedom (C4CF) sit-in at the Malheur Refuge – absolutely none of them were able to accomplish their stated goals, not dissimilar from your average government programs! For a more disturbing explanation of nonviolent struggle, consider the following:
“The informed resister in crisis situations is not surprised by the occurrence of brutalities against the nonviolent group. In reaction, either to halt the defiance or to resort to violence would have serious negative consequences. To be effective, the resisters must persist through the brutalities and suffering and maintain their fearlessness, nonviolent discipline, and firmness. Some time and considerable suffering may be required to demonstrate to the opponents that brutalities will not crush the movement.”
Now, it’s makes more sense – satyagrahans are little more than punching bags for the State! Well, at that point, wouldn’t the American political prisoners be the ideal practitioners of satyagraha? Continuing on:
“Nonviolent resisters who know what they are doing will not be surprised at the repression inflicted by the opponents. Freedom is not free. There is a price to be paid…[b]rutalities may be also reduced when it is clear that repression is rebounding against the opponents’ position by alienating their supporters and provoking increased resistance. When this occurs, the opponents may realize that their repression and brutalities are counterproductive and need to be restricted. It is possible that the worst repression may come shortly before capitulation by the opponents….[t]here is suggestive evidence that the maintenance of nonviolent discipline in face of repression tends significantly to restrict the repression and to cause especially difficult problems for the opponents.” [emphasis added]
This isn’t even true, for increased brutalities without consequences, if anything, emboldens the oppressors to be even more cruel than they were before, simply because they can get away with it due to the fact that the pacifists won’t a lift a finger to protect their own people. Such defenselessness being somehow persuasive is just not that convincing, unless the real goal is to serve up grist for the mill; in other words, provide disposable fodder for the news cycle. I truly wonder how many “activists” are also shareholders (or otherwise directly work for such shareholders) in mainstream media corporations whose stock increases in value every time there’s a sensationalistic “news” story that’s covered that they themselves instigated? Controlled opposition, much?
Don’t worry, for there’s even more facepalm worthy moments in Sharp’s book worth pointing out and commenting on! He explains that:
“The participants in the struggle need to feel constantly that they are part of a much larger movement which gives them, personally, support and strength to carry on. They need to feel that others are in continuing solidarity with them. To these ends, regular contacts and demonstrations of ‘togetherness’ can be important. These may include mass meetings, marches, songs, parades, and wearing of symbols of unity. It may help if they share a common philosophy and if they keep the lines of communication open among activists, leaders, and support groups.”
Collective-movementism, much? Trudging onward:
“The opponents may even try to provoke violence and break down the resisters nonviolent discipline. Resistance violence is seen to ‘legitimize’ violent repression. The opponents may provoke violence by very severe repression, or they may employ spies and agents provocateurs. If it is publicly revealed that the opponents have acted in these ways, the news could disastrously undermine some of their usual support and power position.”
I wish Sharp went into more detail on this, because arguably the number one issue in preventing constructive “change” in the world today are the secret police. Honestly, I think Vortex: The Threat That Keeps Us Apart deals better with this problem by advocating ostracism, which may or may not involve public exposure, given that such public exposure of informants (for example) really only matters if the public gives a damn about living in a police state in the first place, for if they truly don’t, then such open-source intelligence is largely an exercise in screaming bloody murder at a deaf wall. Sharp continues:
“The introduction of violence into a nonviolent struggle movement may weaken nonviolent discipline, contribute to a shift to violence, and even lead to the collapse of the movement. The use of violence by the grievance group tends to unleash disproportionately severe repression by the opponents and to reverse any sympathy for the resisters which may be developing inside the opponent group.”
Really, Mr. Sharp? If anything, “movements” collapsing were largely due to satyagraha itself failing to persuade opponents to much of anything, since there was no sense of empathy worth appealing to in the first place, largely because they’re just too far gone towards being inhuman; it’s like trying to rationalize ethics to a robot – it’s already a failure before you even begin talking.
More importantly, Sharp is consistently dodging the issue how one is supposed to get funding for such nonviolent struggles. If it is true that revolutions are incredibly expensive, then why would nonviolent struggles be any cheaper? In other words, whose bankrolling this stuff?
Further distinctions are made by Sharp as to what is nonviolent struggle as well as what it is not. He wrote:
“Sabotage – defined for this discussion as ‘acts of demolition and destruction of property’ – is not compatible with nonviolent struggle…[o]ne additional way of slipping into violence occurs when resisters prepare to use violence in some possible future situation. Such preparations constitute a great temptation actually to use violence, especially at a crisis point when limited violence has already occurred.”
Well, no shit, Sherlock…it’s obvious that monkey-wrenching is a use of force, and therefore not pacifistic like satyagraha. Revealingly, Sharp explains that:
“Political jiu-jitsu operates basically by the opponents’ violent repression against nonviolent resisters alienating support from the opponents. This can result in the growth of internal opposition among the opponents’ usual supporters, an increase in power of the resistance movement, and the turning of the third parties against the opponents…[n]onviolent discipline combined with persistence against violent repression causes the adversaries’ repression to be exposed in the worst possible light. This, in turn, may lead to shifts in opinion and then to shifts in power relationships favorable to the nonviolent group. These shifts occur as support for the opponents is withdrawn while support for the nonviolent group is strengthened. The resisters’ nonviolence helps the opponents’ repression to throw them off balance politically.”
This claim is blatantly untrue, simply because that mere exposure of oppressor’s violent repression seldom turns public opinion against them. When was the last time statists flipped sides during a protest and sided with the protesters once the riot cops started kettling and/or baton charges? It doesn’t happen, at least not here in America; culturally, Americans are a historically stubborn people, whether for good or for ill. This doesn’t deter Sharp at all, for he also said:
“Repression against nonviolent resisters may attract wide attention to the struggle and strong sympathy for the suffering nonviolent group. It obliges the opponents to condescend to explain, to justify themselves. Thereby the claims of the physically weak resisters are now heard in the court of public opinion, perhaps world opinion.”
If true, then how do you explain C4CF? They garnered world-wide attention, yet they failed to accomplish their goals, and although a few of them were able to beat the rap, most of them plead guilty before trial, or were otherwise convicted on “lesser” charges, but still largely becoming felons in the process. Just repeating the same talking points, Mr. Sharp, doesn’t make it empirically true (unless you believe Joseph Goebbels). The truth of the matter is that the American people (collectively speaking) by and large do not support “activism” unless it’s political crusading, period. Additionally, Sharp writes that:
“Experience in using nonviolent action tends to increase the degree of fearlessness among the resisters…[b]y learning that they can remain firm in face of repression, they can gain a sense of being liberated from fear. Suffering is seen as serving the cause. The loss of fear of the opponents’ sanctions makes one of the opponents’ major sources of power ineffective. This will not only weaken that system but enhance the ability of those people to remain free of oppression.” [emphasis added]
Ah, so the price of freedom (“freedom isn’t free – there is a price to be paid”) is suffering, then? And so, satyagraha facilitates said suffering in the vain hope that freedom can be won without a shot being fired, even if you happen to incur the legal handicap of becoming a felon, which can never be erased? Isn’t this just a recipe for disaster? Let’s continue on:
“The effectiveness of nonviolent action is increased when the resisters and the general grievance group possess a high degree of internal unity. Violence usually excludes some people because of age, gender, physical condition, beliefs, or distaste. However, nonviolent action seems to contribute to internal unity better than violence, and attracts participation of wider and more heterogeneous groups than does violence.”
Yet again, notice the collective-movementism (yawn-fest special). At most, this might be true if you believe that most individuals are pacifists. Finally, there is:
“Nonviolent action, in contrast, appears to have different long-term effects on the distribution of power within the society. It does not have the centralizing effects of violence. It increases the potential for greater popular control. Therefore, people are likely to enjoy greater freedom and, consequently, less dictatorship and greater democracy.”
What’s his evidence for this claim? This seems to be an unsupported assertion, which appears to me to be more akin to the wistful musings of someone who has no appreciation for the private property ethic (hence, democracy).
Gene Sharp’s How Nonviolent Struggle Works is a literary work that serves as one big attempt at an unconvincing justification for protesting, plain and simple. The book ends by saying that:
“The future uses and effectiveness of nonviolent struggle depend upon our gaining increased knowledge of its nature. We also need to deepen our skills in applying this technique to meet major social and political needs. Increased understanding of this option needs to be spread throughout the society. Additionally, greater strategic acumen and capacities in using nonviolent action in actual conflicts are required.”
Yeah, that’s actually quite an understatement, given the glaring incompetency of “activists” themselves. Frankly, I think Sharp ought to watch protest footage, like the recent antifa “activists” blocking traffic in and around the Portland, Oregon metro area, which infringes on an individual’s right to travel. Personally, I think an alleged dichotomy between satyagraha and revolution is a false one, for a more accurate market selection of libertarian resistance to statism would range from agorism to vigilantism, quite frankly.