Up to this point I've only looked at examples from the first two categories of nonviolent action: protest/persuasion and noncooperation. As we near the July 4th holiday and will hear stories about the greatness of our violent revolution a couple centuries ago, I thought it apt to kick things up a notch and jump into the methods of nonviolent intervention.
First an introduction from The Politics of Nonviolent Action:
The forty-one methods in this class differ from those in the classes of protest and persuasion and of noncooperation in that in some way they intervene in the situation. Such methods of intervention operate both negatively and positively: they may disrupt, and even destroy, established behavior patterns, policies, relationships, or institutions which are seen as objectionable; or they may establish new behavior patterns, policies, relationships which are preferred...
Compared with the methods of the [other classes], the methods of of nonviolent intervention pose a more direct and immediate challenge. If successful, the victory is likely to come quicker by the use of methods in this class than with the use of methods in the previous classes, because disruptive effects of the intervention are harder to tolerate or withstand for a considerable period of time.
For example, intervention by a sit-in at a lunch counter disrupts more immediately and completely than would, say, picketing or a consumers' boycott, though the objective of each of these actions be to end racial discrimination. However, though the challenge of methods of intervention is clearer and more direct, the result is not necessarily more rapid success; precisely because of the character of intervention, speedier and more severe repression may be a first result--which, of course, does not necessarily mean defeat.
In most cases, use of the methods of this class may induce change through the mechanisms of accommodation or of nonviolent coercion, i.e., without the opponent's being convinced that he ought to change his policy on the matter in question. However, certain of these methods (especially those classed as psychological intervention) and also the repression which frequently occurs against others (especially those of physical intervention) may contribute to the opponent's conversion, or at least his becoming less certain of the rightness of his previous views...
To a greater degree than in the classes discussed earlier, methods of nonviolent intervention are associated with initiative by the nonviolent actionists. The methods of intervention may be used both defensively--to thwart an opponent's attack by maintaining independent initiative, behavior patterns, institutions, or the like--and offensively--to carry the struggle for the actionists' objectives into the opponent's own camp, even without any immediate provocation. These methods, therefore, are not simply defensive responses to the opponent's initiative.
With all that in mind, today I'd like to cover a form of physical intervention:
168. Nonviolent raids
In nonviolent raids, volunteers march to certain designated key points of symbolic or strategic importance and demand possession. This method usually involves civil disobedience and the risk of severe repression by police and troops. During the 1930-31 campaign in India, for example, quite a few of the seized Congress offices were reoccupied, and unorganized attempts to occupy government buildings occurred. An even clearer example from that campaign was the effort to "seize" the Dharasana salt depot. Almost every day for a period of weeks volunteers marched in an orderly procession toward the depot and asked possession. Intending to take the salt stored there as an advanced method of defiance of the Salt Act (which was a major point of attack during that campaign), the volunteers met with severe repression.
Some readers might recall that powerful scene from Attenborough's Gandhi, wherein satyagrahis were brutally beaten by men guarding the Salt Works, after which the American reporter Vince Walker phoned in his report:
Whatever moral ascendancy the West once held was lost here today. India is free, for she has taken all that steel and cruelty can give and she has neither cringed nor retreated.
More about the raid:
On May 4, 1930, Gandhiji wrote a second letter to the Viceroy. He was at the small village of Karadi, seven kilometers from Dandi. He again addressed the Viceroy as "Dear Friend" and wrote that it was his intention to reach Dharasana with his companions and ask for possession of the Government Salt Works there. Gandhiji wrote that the government could prevent the raid, "as it was playfully and mischievously called," by abolishing the salt tax, by arresting him and his party, or by brutally attacking the satyagrahis.
Gandhiji gave the brutal repression of satyagrahis as his reason for raiding the Dharasana Salt Works.
Gandhiji begged the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, to abolish the salt tax, "which many of your illustrious countrymen have condemned in unmeasured terms and which.., has evoked universal protest and resentment expressed in civil disobedience. You may condemn civil disobedience as much as you like. Will you prefer violent revolt to civil disobedience?"
At dead of night, at 12.45 a.m. they were awakened by the tramp of heavy boots. It was the District Magistrate of Surat, an Englishman, accompanied by two Indian officers and thirty policemen armed with rifles, pistols and lances. A party of armed constables entered the shed and the District Magistrate flashed his torch on Mahatma Gandhi's face.
There was no trial, no sentence and no fixed term of imprisonment. Gandhiji was to be held in prison for as long as the government thought it necessary.
When the news of Gandhiji's arrest spread, there were demonstrations everywhere, but the people were non-violent. Hartals were declared in Bombay, Delhi, Navsari, Ahmedabad and Surat. The next day more areas were on hartal.
There were reactions abroad, too. Indian businessmen in Panama closed their business for 24 hours. Indians in Sumatra did the same. In Nairobi, the Indian community went on hartal. From America, 102 clergymen sent a telegram to the British Prime Minister urging him to seek a friendly settlement with Gandhiji and the Indian people. Reports of Gandhiji and his doings filled newspapers all over Europe.
Seeing the support that Gandhiji had, the Government feared that there might be demonstrations at the Yeravda Central Jail and secretly took him from there to Shivaji's fortress in the Purandar Hills.
Gandhiji had expected to be arrested, and as far back as April 9 he had drafted a message to the Indian people which was released upon his arrest:
"If the struggle so auspiciously begun is continued in the same spirit of non-violence to the end, not only shall we see Purna Swaraj established in our country before long, but we shall have given to the world an object lesson worthy of India and her glorious past.
"Swaraj won without sacrifice cannot last long.... Let not my companions or the people at large be perturbed over my arrest, for it is not I but God who is guiding this movement.....
"Let every villager fetch or manufacture contraband salt, sisters should picket liquor shops, opium dens and foreign cloth dealers' shops. Young and old in every home should spin and get woven heaps of yarn every day. Foreign cloth should be burnt.
"Hindus should give up untouchability. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Parsees and Christians should all achieve unity of heart..... Let students leave government schools and colleges and government servants resign their services and devote themselves to the service of the people and we shall find that Purna Swaraj will come knocking at our door."
Since Gandhiji was under arrest and could not lead the raid on the Dharasana salt depot, his successor, Abbas Tyabji, set out from Karadi to lead the raid. On the morning of May 12, the satyagrahis got up early, said their prayers and fell into line, ready to march to Dharasana. The party had hardly started walking when it was confronted by the District Magistrate and the District Superintendent of Police of Surat with four hundred policemen armed with rifles and lathis. Abbas Tyabji and the satyagrahis were arrested, put in buses and taken to Jalalpur.
Now it became Sarojini Naidu's responsibility to lead the raid. She was in Allahabad attending a meeting of the Congress Working Committee when she learnt of Abbas Tyabji's arrest. She immediately hurried to Dharasana, 250 kilometers north of Bombay.
Heaps of shining salt lay behind the barbed wire, guarded by four hundred policemen who were directed by several British officers.
Manilal Gandhi, the second son of Gandhiji, was in the front rank of the marchers. As they approached the barbed wire they started chanting, "Inquilab Zindabad! Inquilab Zindabad!"
The column reached the depot at 6.30 a.m. When the leaders tried to throw ropes round the posts holding the barbed wire to pull and uproot them, the police rushed on them with steel tipped lathis.
Not a single marcher raised his arm to defend himself as the police repeatedly beat him. In two or three minutes the ground was covered with fallen volunteers, their skulls or shoulders fractured with the blows. Great patches of blood stained their white clothes. But those behind them continued to press forward till they too were struck down.
When every one in the first column had been struck down, stretcher bearers rushed up and carried the injured to a thatched hut.
Another column then formed up and marched towards the barbed-wire fence. This column also was struck down. There was no fight or struggle. The marchers just walked forward until they fell injured.
The brutal beating of unresisting men angered many in the watching crowd. The leaders had a hard time persuading them to remain peaceful, reminding them of Gandhiji's instructions. The British Superintendent of Police also sensed their anger and posted twenty-five of his men armed with rifles on raised ground to fire if the crowd turned violent.
The volunteers now changed their tactics. In groups of twenty-five they sat near the wire fence, making no attempt to go through it. Yet the police attacked them. Bleeding bodies toppled over, but fresh groups of men took their place and allowed themselves to be beaten.
The police then started dragging the men away, seizing their arms or legs. Some were thrown into a nearby ditch filled with water.
Hour after hour, the stretcher bearers carried away bleeding bodies and put them in rows in the temporary hospital. The few doctors there were unable to cope with the number of injured.
At last a British Officer went up to Sarojini Naidu and touching her arm, said, "You are under arrest."
She said, "I will come with you, but don't touch me." The crowd cheered as she followed the officer to the barbed-wire enclosure that served as jail. Later, Manilal Gandhi was also arrested.
The volunteers then decided to suspend the operation for two days, till reinforcements of satyagrahis arrived. But the police and the military blocked the main road to Dharasana and managed to prevent volunteers from getting through.
Though denied reinforcements, the satyagrahis continued the attempt to enter the salt works till June 6.
Writing about the action at Dharasana, Young India reported:
"And this is the Government of India, red in all its tooth and claw. It can strike its lathis on harmless, unarmed citizens.... The satyagrahis did not succeed in bringing salt from the salt heaps. They were beaten, wounded, abused. They sustained a partial defeat in as much as some of them gave way before the furious lathi charges.
"But those who suffered the blows did so quite joyfully.... They unmasked to the whole world that the Government is not founded on love and consent of the people, but it rules the people against their will, keeping them down by sheer physical force.
"They can only rule India as long as the people are not strong and determined enough to undergo all possible suffering unflinchingly in order to overthrow this Government.... Who will say that the satyagrahis are defeated?.... We hope that their sufferings will bring about a change of heart in the oppressors."
The ultimate aim was not so much to seize salt as to bring to light the violence on which British rule rested and to put moral pressure on the government.
Gandhiji also wanted Indians to regain their self-respect by showing them that they could challenge the all powerful British Government.
As he had hoped, the Government's repressive measures, far from cowing the people, only made them intensify the satyagraha. All over the country, people either made salt or raided government salt works. Nearly fifteen thousand marched on the salt depot at Wadala near Bombay. Many were beaten with lathis and badly injured.
The boycott of foreign cloth was having its effect on the textile industry in England. Hardly any cloth could be sold in India. So many mills in Lancashire were idle.
The no-tax campaign also spread, particularly in Gujarat. In the talukas of Bardoli, Borsad and Kambusar the peasants had to suffer great repression for refusing to pay land revenue. The property they owned was sold at ridiculously low price. At one place, property worth Rs. 3,000 was sold for just Rs. 15. When they could no longer bear the repression, about eighty thousand people migrated from Gujarat to the State of Baroda.
A report said, "One passed row after row of padlocked cottages, and through the bars of windows one could see only empty rooms. The streets were silent lakes of sunlight."
Unrest had spread. About one lakh satyagrahis, seventeen thousand of them women, were in jail. The Indian National Congress now called upon students to boycott schools and colleges and take part in the national struggle for freedom. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru called upon the people to boycott the coming census operations.
The administration was nearly paralyzed. The Viceroy, who had laughed at Gandhiji's "crazy scheme of upsetting the government with a pinch of salt", found that he was no longer in control. The pinch of salt had proved more powerful than a trainload of dynamite!
Some further notes about this method:
As the volunteers do not use violent methods of seizing or holding such places, their raids are not conducted with the main intent of actually gaining possession. Rather, nonviolent raids are intended more as a challenge to authority, a symbolic defiance of the established regime, a means of bringing into use some of the psychological mechanisms associated with self-suffering. In an extremely advanced stage of a nonviolent revolt, however, large masses of people might conceivably surround such "seized" points and effectively obstruct efforts by officials to recapture them, if helped by restrictions on the means of repression or assistance from the troops or police.
Dharasana was a follow-up action to the Salt March I blogged about previously (an example of Method 90) and one part of a successful strategic campaign. Yet perhaps that seems remote to Americans and in light of our holiday weekend, what about an example from our own revolutionary history?
A variation on this method--seeking possession of merchandise rather than of a place--was practiced in Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony, on January 18, 1770, in an attempt to deal with eight merchants who were violating the nonimportation agreement [a response to the Townshend Act of 1767]. The offending merchants had refused to reverse their behavior and to surrender the imported products to the committee of inspection. Arthur Schlesinger reports that:
The whole body of more than a thousand persons then proceeded, in impressive and orderly array, to the houses or stores of each of these men; and, through William Molineux as spokesman, demanded that the goods, which had once been place in the store, should be immediately deposited with the committee of inspection. Only Cary made the concession demanded.
Not 100% successful in this case, but how many battles really are, particularly in a first go? If you approach it all holistically, then you recognize each effort is a tactical part of the strategic whole and that defeats will happen, just as victories.
In my ongoing research into resistance, I have found our national myths obscure a lot of nonviolent action and successful, grassroots rebellion because the July 4th narrative is easier to disseminate and manipulate. Sad, because the real stories are much more compelling from where I sit.
So with the American Revolution on our minds, how might we apply such methods today? Could we raid Congress to impress upon them the passion we have for ending the war and demonstrate our commitment to that goal? Clearly that would pose a logistical problem for us, trying to motivate Americans to take such drastic action (which, I must note, I'm not advocating as a first step by any means), so what other things must happen first?
In short: what is our "pinch of salt"?
8. Banners, posters, and displayed communications
9. Leaflets, pamphlets, and books
19. Wearing of symbols
71. Consumers' boycott
90. Revenue refusal
137. Refusal of an assemblage or meeting to disperse