Non-violence: theory and practice


Comment by Ron Guignard

"Theory without practice is sterile. Practice without theory is blind." — Vladimir Ulyanov. "Action without full and relevant understanding is for the birds." — Ron Guignard. Lenin may not be flavour of the month, and who's Guignard anyway? But it doesn't matter who said the words, experience shows they make sense.

One lesson of Aidex was that organisation was lacking. Another was that conflict of theories from different groups at times tangled our feet. It was a marvel that anything we could maybe call triumph happened at all.

We paid more than we should have for the gains we made:

  • The media had a field day.

  • One group got its chance to patronise women.

  • That group also got its chance to put down, disrupt and endanger non-violent activists more than need be.

How did they do that last thing? They muddled people. They used the word "violence" to mean different things.

We had all agreed to act "violently". We used materials or our bodies to blockade gates. So, what was wrong with being "violent" by taunting police (from a long way behind the front line!)? What was wrong (still from a position of safety) with goading naive people to fight back when some police, estranged by these taunts, took the excuse to be vicious?

These tactics might have resulted in a recruit or two, but this group would have lost the 1917 Russian Revolution — such as it was. They would have estranged the "agents of state oppression" instead of getting most of them on side.

While this harassment went on, where were our strong and vocal gurus of non-violent action? Too busy acting to think about theory. They could and should have exposed the group for what it was.

Worse still, where were the non-violent-action workshops around the country to prepare for Aidex? I mean the ones that would issue credentials only to people who could be seen to benefit from the workshop.

"You mean you came with no NVAWS papers? Please go away. Don't meddle with serious work by sensible people. Otherwise, non-violent people will form a fence around you. You will be kept well away from where you can sabotage the action. We shall arrange for your arrest if you assault them."

Impractical? Maybe. So come on, NVA people, teach us how to teach others a way that works and cannot be pulled off course. When this happens, we must all get in on it. If we don't, we'll ate. Depending on how you look at it, we'll always be the dupes of:

  • stupid and cowardly people, and/or;

  • elitist people, and/or;

  • CIA-led agents provocateurs.

And we'll never achieve our goals. We shall be dragged into wrong acts at wrong times for wrong reasons. The media will tar us with the same brush as those who drag us there.

We all need to know the various ideas about people and the state. Our studies must cover politics, economics, law, the hard and soft sciences, education and personal growth, at least. We must work out between us what of these ideas we can use, and when and how to apply what mix of each.

We must know the limits of what we can safely get away with in any particular action. We must know how to negotiate with the state officials to extend those limits to the utmost. We must know how to change one action for another as soon as we reach those limits.

Before we do this, we must know and change ourselves. We may never lose all our faults, but we must at least be aware of them. We must strive towards more efficient self-knowledge, hence behaviour.

Even among our own group, I have observed at least two clear examples each of people:

  • behaving in an elitist way;

  • making racist utterances;

  • adopting sexist attitudes.

What other basic problems do people among us have? The right workshops can reduce them. If we do not all attend to theory as well as action, we shall fail in our intent.
[Ron Guignard is an Adelaide peace activist and a member of Stop Arms For Export.]

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