40 years ago: Military revolution

IssueSeptember 2012

[The views of nonviolent revolutionaries towards more “traditional” revolutionary struggles have frequently been discussed in PN. Here, Nigel Young contributes to a then current debate within War Resisters’ International (WRI).]

I hope that we can examine the assumptions that we, as war resisters, have brought to bear when we have adopted positions in relationship to ‘military modes of liberation’...

The fact that a ‘new system of oppression exists in embryo in violent procedures’ is not just a matter of ‘means’ but represents a structural relationship between ‘means’ and ‘ends’. That many of these ends may have a superficial similarity with the aims of many members of WRI is undeniable. But whether this is enough to justify some sort of support for the programmatic ends of liberation movements or solidarity with them depends on one’s answer to a number of complex questions.

To identify the needs and desires of oppressed peoples with the aims, implicit and explicit, of a specific leading resistance organisation is to perform an enormous logical and sociological leap. It makes numerous assumptions about the relationship between leaders and led.

The very words used in describing such aims are fraught with ambiguities which cannot begin to be resolved without examining the context within which they are put forward. Putting them in context can begin to suggest the structural interdependence of various processes, many of them outside the control of movement, once certain aims and methods have been chosen. The realisation of the aims as we understand them may be made impossible by this structural interdependence....

It is not enough to relate [the oppressiveness of liberation movements] to the often autocratic and military style of the organisation itself. It has integrally to do with concept of revolution and change held by the movement.


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