An open letter to George Lakey and all believers in non-violent revolution, written after I had attended a day-school with G.L. as the main speaker on “Strategies for Non-violent Revolution’ at the Friends Meeting House in Manchester, on May 23.
In his opening speech George Lakey spoke a lot about an envisaged ‘world community’ and ended by proclaiming his assumption that the ideal we all had in mind was World Government. When I asked him to explain the connection between ‘world community’ and World Government, two totally opposed concepts to me, G.L. replied that they were the same thing. I gathered that George developed the ideal of World Government due to his belief that we could not get around the problem of ‘the Law thing’.
If you propose that, since history has shown that Man cannot do without Government, the end for which we strive is a World Government, achieved by the means of non-violent revolution, you must also see that throughout recorded history every Government has had the power, the agencies, and has not hesitated to use, small or large-scale violence to preserve the status quo. More precisely, it seems that if you propose: it is evident from history and/or is evident now that Man has always needed Government (to preserve Law and Order), you must accept: it is evident from history—and to me now—that every Government has needed to use violence (to preserve Law and Order), from which I infer that you are saying: it is evident from history and/or now that Man has always needed violence (to preserve Law and Order).
I assume that G.L.’s claim after offering the first proposition (have you read The Poverty of Historicism by Karl Popper?) and accepting the second, is that my inference can be avoided by saying that a World Government and the Law and Order it would be preserving would differ considerably and fundamentally from any Government hitherto governing. I would ask G.L. how. I would ask him how he sees such a heterogeneous species—in individual differences and in group norms —as ‘Mankind’ bound to a (I suppose, assembly of representatives-type) World Government and the ‘Law and Order’ it purports to be preserving (but which it would undoubtedly manufacture so that it has something to, can be seen to have something to, and justifies its existence in, preserving) without the use by the World Government of violence. To me, ‘to preserve Law and Order’ is a blanket phrase used by some Governments, and a concept implicit in all Governments, whether they call it ‘Law and Order’, ‘National Interests’ or in G.L.’s case ‘World Interests’ so that they can reduce, classify, illegitimise and thus contain the whole range of behaviour they suspect or know to be against them, or at all likely to bring them down—from the ‘mentally sick’ to the ‘thief’, from the vandal to the conscientious objector; the first three categories of which Governments and their agencies say they are interested in reducing, i.e., a large justification for their existence since those categories threaten the stability of the status quo —but whose classificatory scales and incidence rates they are forever increasing. We are still slaves, but most of us do not see that we are slaves (in the so-called ‘democracies’ of the West, at any rate)—which is all to the good for Governments and their associates, Big Business Inc.—for slaves who do not feel or see their shackles, do not demand their release, are unlikely to rebel.
To get back to my main point. That if you adopt the strategy of non-violent revolution because this is the nature of your own conscientious position and is the fundamental nature of the desired ‘world community’ (the end therefore intimately linked with the means of achieving it), it is paradoxical, even I would say an untenable position, that you find the real fact of any Government today at all viable in the light of your own non-violent conscience, and the idea of a World Government (which, if you do accept the above propositions about Governments—their necessity and their necessary violence—to be true, you must postulate as having ‘law-enforcement agencies’) to be the ideal end for non-violent revolution. (This argument has been stated much more succinctly by, for instance, Herbert Read — see Resurgence, Vol. 2, No. 2—and before him Gandhi, Tolstoy and probably many others.)
The processes of forced ‘union’, concentration and centralisation of power by Governments and other hierarchical power structures (i.e., really a concretization, isolation and insulation) undoubtedly has deleterious effects on the persons thus forcefully ‘unified’ (immediately—e.g., .for those dispossessed by the Enclosures, and in the long term— e.g., again the dispossessed, and the effects of ‘unity’ under one Government on any region more than a certain distance from the Government ruling it) and with obviously advantageous effects for the ‘Unifiers’—Governments and the dominant ruling class they exist to, and notably, protect. Yet more centralisation and concentration of power, which is implied in the concept of ‘World Government’, would indubitably increase alienation; this would undoubtedly lead to an increase in ‘anti-social’ and ‘asocial’ behaviour; the World Government would organise more coercive agencies to deal with it (i.e., to preserve ‘Law and Order’ or ‘World Interests’) which would further antagonise persons and groups of persecuted persons, and result in widespread violence. I suggest that World Government is no solution to Governments in conflict now.
Governments and authoritarian organisations illegitimise all violence except their own and that which is advantageous to them. Something like the attitude most persons might now have perhaps— but the effect differs considerably in magnitude. I have not and do not intend to, use violence to compel people to accept my ideas or do what I say— though I realise that in paying taxes to the State I am indirectly involved in violence. However, I accept though find it abhorrent, that some people welcome and are content to use violence. I do not hope to change this situation, because I do not fully understand it (except to say that compulsion and coercion of people by Governments has a brutalising effect, and forces people to be violent). Governments talk about ‘putting down’ violence and disorder (by their own violence, of course). Surely the violent individual is least socially harmful the more his capacity for (especially large-scale) violence is minimised? Therefore hierarchical power structures which allow persons to gain positions whereby they are enabled to use violence on a large-scale, must be dissolved. To illustrate this—a man with an impulsive, violent temperament in possession of a wooden pistol in the middle of the Sahara Desert is obviously socially harmless; in a village with a rifle he is dangerous; more so with a tank in a city, and yet more dangerous sat by the controls of a rocket-range (back in the desert?).
What I do see is that institutionalised violence has been and is the biggest single preventative of peace and harmony on earth. There is a lot of evidence for believing that politicians and police men and the like tend to have (obviously) authoritarian, aggressive and violent, even delinquent, personalities. (See Alex Comfort’s Authority and Delinquency in the Modern State.) I see nothing revolutionary in proposing a union of present Governments, in terms of creating a non-violent world; nor in the idea of a new institution—a World Government —because I believe that it would not fail to use violence, and on a large scale. I propose that the only revolutionary idea, in terms of creating a non-violent world, is the doing away with violent, hierarchical institutions, not least — Governments.
I believe in ‘self-government’—the only ‘government’ I will have—my own conscience. I am represented by, and represent, no one but myself. I believe that the only way that Mankind can live so that each person can develop his best capabilities is by a way of voluntary co-operation—by mutual aid. I ask George to think again about the idea of World Government. ‘World community?’—well, I visualise rather a ‘World of communities’ of free persons in free co-operation, living together by free exchange. As you have gathered, I am an Anarchist. We do not need, and never have needed (although there have always been) Governments, masters, ‘bosses’ and formal authority of any kind. (See the current Anarchy, No. Ill, for a good exposition of Anarchism as being the only essentially non-violent and revolutionary philosophy.)
About ‘the Law thing’—you must be aware that there is no required, or evident, connection between legality and morality; yet, unless you believe in the necessity of legal systems ‘for their own sake’, you seem to believe that without the legal system there would be no morality. To me, they seem for the greater part, opposed. The State holds you responsible for any ‘crime’ you may commit, including ‘crimes’ against itself like refusing to fight in its wars, but reduces any constructive and purposeful personal responsibility you have in deciding what you want to do with your life to little or nothing. Witness the tragic absurdity of the American and British Governments in, on the one hand, making ‘pot’-smoking illegal when it has been found to be highly unlikely to have physically or socially harmful effects, and on the other hand, to refuse to make illegal or stop using ‘CS’ gas when it has been found to be certainly physically harmful (and to me socially harmful, as are all such typical manifestations of Governments). The bellum omnium contra omnes that I think G.L. fears, is already evident to me, and it is not the ‘war of all against all’ that Hobbes took the State to be stopping and preventing, but a war of all against all that the State is happily perpetuating.
I suspect that George formed the ideal of a World Government from a belief that Man needs Governments and will always need Governments, and because of all the Governments now preparing for or actually waging war against each other, one Government— a World Government—would be best. If you do not believe in the absolute and eternal necessity of Governments though, would you then postulate the World Government as ultimately ‘withering away’? I suspect that this is a highly improbable prophecy/promise. Even if it purported to be a non-warring Government of the World (but nevertheless with its ‘law-enforcement agencies’ to control ‘civilly-disobedient Earthlings’), it would seem likely that a similar excuse to the Soviet State’s would be found; instead of the possibilities of ‘counter-revolution’ and invasion by other nations, the World Government would hang on to power and all its trappings —nuclear weapons, a soaring space-weapons budget, etc., the lot!, on the grounds of a ‘World Defence System’ in case of invasion from outer space.
Even if George Lakey had stated a case for World Government as the ideal end for non-violent revolution, on the sole basis of a rational world-economy and equal distribution of wealth, I would dispute this again on the grounds that coercion of regions on the part of the World Government would be likely to accrue from any conflicts irresolvable on the basis of prolonged rational discussion, between it and any region, and would lead the World Government to form and use violent ‘law-enforcement agencies’. If you reject this suspicion, I would suggest that a world united by a system of free exchange of commodities, surplus food, etc. (and this I presume is what G.L. wants—or at least the disappearance of free-enterprise and State-capitalism), and with the recognition of the freedom of each commodity-producing group or unit by each other, would not need a World Government, but would function well with a system of unit-co-ordinating information (NOT decision – making) centres.
The violent power-seekers and delinquents, and that is not to say that politicians or aspiring politicians are not sincere men(!), must be deprived of their expensive and so-effectively destructive toys—the machines and the machine of power. One might say that there is a sort of ‘World Government’ already—or at least a world conspiracy of Governments. They are all agreed on the rules of the game they play with the lives of those they govern (thus there has never been a war with total annihilation of one Government and its ‘side’ by another). They all ultimately agree, but need to make it look as if they don’t, so that the governed will keep providing expensive, destructive toys, and remain happy to be, or at least not unhappy to be, governed. As the American anarchist Randolph Bourne said: ‘War is the health of the State’—‘health’ primarily in psycho-social terms—i.e., Governments certainty of their ability (and staging of ‘shows’ like wars, etc.) to hold the governed, and keep them convinced (conned) of the necessity for Government. There is a better chance of the appearance of a non-violent humanity (and the disappearance of violent humanity) when the institutions which encourage, enforce and perpetuate violence, are gone.
I would suggest that ‘the illusion of being together’ and the miserable endurance, which is all we seem to have in common at present, would be strengthened by the existence of a World Government; that the mature recognition and acceptance of the differences and the uniqueness of individual human beings, would be hindered or made impossible. Unless you want even less freedom than most of humanity have now, unless you are prepared to justify violence as a necessary measure in certain instances (then specify), if you remain basically a believer in non-violence, such an ideal as World Government is inappropriate, even foolish.
Unless you can provide totally convincing reasons and evidence for up holding your present views on non-violence/to World Government, and I am fairly convinced that you cannot (please do not think me smug—I am just very concerned that you do reconsider your ideals), I cannot help but see you at present as a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’, and a potential willing member of some Government, at some time, somewhere.
This does not minimise my admiration for people in the Quaker Action Movement like the crew of the Phoenix who, despite its declared illegality by the US Government, shipped medical supplies to North Vietnam, and for draft-resisters and all insurrectionaries and rebels everywhere acting for and taking their freedom. However, I ask you, George, to see that the only consistent outlook that you can have on the basis of non-violence, is a libertarian one. Until all non-violent revolutionaries see this, the movement will remain radically split; and I for one will not join with George Lakey in any action, nor support any action of his, if his action is intended to further the creation of a World Government.
Peter Baker .