One more fig leaf for the state

IssueMay 2006
Comment by Andreas Speck

In last month's issue of Peace News (PN2472) Eddy Canfor-Dumas made the case for a Ministry for Peace as part of the government. However, it seems he is so deeply rooted in government thinking that he didn't even feel the need to explain why a ministry should be a good idea.

We have ministries for everything that we (we? Or the government?) think is important, and obviously, peace is important, so we need a ministry as “part of government dedicated to pursuing and promoting peace”?


Most of Canfor-Dumas's article looks at different levels of violence -- direct, structural, and cultural violence. There is little to argue with here, except that he seems to turn a blind eye to certain aspects of structural violence: government, state, police, prisons, the education system. And he needs to ignore them, in order to come to his conclusion -- that a new ministry is needed. So let's look deeper.

According to Galtung, structural violence is defined as “the cause of the difference between the potential and the actual” (Galtung, 1968). Unequal access to resources, to political power, to education, to health care, or to legal standing, are forms of structural violence. Structural violence expresses itself as repression (or uniformity; as the opposite of diversity, pluralism, freedom) and exploitation (or the opposite of equity).

When we look at Britain today, we can easily see structural violence at work -- and in fact not just deeply-rooted in British society, structural violence forms the basis on which this society is built. The education system, prisons, police, and government are built on, and form part of, the structural violence that, in turn, cause a lot of the direct violence in our society.

Fight the power

It is not surprising that the word “power” does not appear in Canfor-Dumas's article. But power is central. Not only in the sense of power over -- the power of one group of people to dominate another group of people (structural violence). An understanding of power is also crucial to fight power over and violence: power with as the power of people acting together in co-operation, to achieve things they won't be able to achieve on their own; and power to do something, based on skills, knowledge, conviction.


According to Galtung, the opposite of peace is violence. And violence always nurtures more violence. Peace is the opposite of violence, and the first step towards peace is the dismantling of the structures and cultures of violence, whether they be national, local or individual. I agree here with Canfor-Dumas that peace is too important to be dealt with piecemeal -- which means we need a broader perspective, and an analysis of state and power, if we want to work to end war and violence.

If state, if government -- and not just this government, but any government -- is based on power over, on structural violence, then obviously adding another ministry to it just won't do. German anarchist Gustav Landauer wrote, back in the 1920s: “The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently.” This is what I see as our major task when we talk about “addressing the root causes of violence, by transforming the deep structures and deep cultures from which violence springs” (Canfor-Dumas).

Building new relationships

The peace movement, but also the anti-globalisation movement, the radical gay/lesbian movement, the feminist movement, and the anarchist movement, are some of the places to explore and build new relationships, where we aim to overcome structural and cultural violence.

Affinity groups, community groups, nonviolent direct action, but also the development of alternatives -- squats, food coops, alternative housing, etc -- are places where we can contract other relationships and behave differently, not with the aim of becoming part of the state, but to dissolve this form of organising human relations which is based on (structural) violence, and which creates violence -- within society and globally.

Peace is too important to leave it to governments and ministries.