Editorial: Protect!

IssueFebruary 2008
Comment by Emily Johns , Milan Rai

The theme of this issue - and of Peace News in general - is “the power of nonviolence”.

As this issue goes to press, Peter Gelderloos, the author of How Nonviolence Protects The State (partially reviewed in PN2487-8), begins a UK speaking tour devoted to denigrating the power of nonviolence (tour details on p16).

Peace News welcomes debate, and therefore we welcome Peter Gelderloos to the UK, despite our profound disagreements with him on strategy and principle.


In debating nonviolence, it is important to avoid certain common ways of talking about nonviolent action. For example, the idea that activism can be “reformist” or it can be “revolutionary”, and never the twain shall meet. The trouble with this is that we can easily end up pitting people against each other in an unnecessary and damaging way.

The French thinker André Gorz, who sadly died last September, coined the term “non-reformist reform” to help us avoid this trap. It should be possible to work for small changes in the present order while remaining committed to a larger-scale transformation. It should be possible to pursue modest reforms which lead logically towards deeper social change. If this kind of thinking is correct, there's no need to choose between “reformism” and “revolution”.

In this connection, in some quarters there is sometimes a temptation to think that civil disobedience is “revolutionary” (or “radical”). This is also a dangerous way of thinking for our movements.

As Noam Chomsky said in 1971, “Tactics are neither radical nor conservative, nor do they lie anywhere else on the political spectrum. They are successful or unsuccessful in achieving certain goals that may be discussed in terms of their political character.”

Any tactic can be used for any purpose - either to undermine powerful institutions or to entrench privilege. What matters is the objective, and whether the tactic chosen is effective in achieving the objective (and a morally acceptable way of doing so).

Judging people by the type of nonviolent tactic they use soon becomes, as Chomsky suggests, “politically destructive”.

Peace News is committed to “nonviolent revolution”.

This means that we are committed to the goal of transforming our social, political and economic institutions so that they embody the values of equality, solidarity and freedom, and create the conditions for a truly peaceful world.

It does not mean that we are committed to one particular form of nonviolence in the long struggle that we face. It does mean, however, that we are committed to discovering how nonviolence can protect our future from the state, the corporation and the other forces that threaten humanity and the planet we are part of.

See more of: Editorial