Joined up thinking for the Irish Left
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Public Inquiry >>
Bringing real change can only come through a non-violent opposition to oppression
Many ordinary people discuss the world’s problems, their nation’s problems, even local problems, perhaps even figure out how to solve them and then shrug and end the conversation with ‘what can I do I’m only one person?’
Unfortunately that lack of self-belief and lack of confidence in our ability to change things is exactly why so little changes in the world. It is that very attitude that enables an amazingly tiny number of powerful people to control most of what happens in human society. However, we do in fact have the power as individuals to decide to act collectively to effect change and thereby nullify and power that these world leaders, shadow leaders or whoever it is that is pulling the strings possesses.
Successive violent revolutions through history have proven that one corrupt and oppressive regime is most often replaced by another equally bad or even worse – fairly recent perfect examples of this are the French and Russian revolutions; both of which led to an enormous amount of blood-letting years after the ‘revolution’ had taken place and leaving the bulk of society no better off or worse off than before.
So what other options do we have? Taking a look at two other relatively recent examples – the civil rights movement in USA and the struggle for independence in India/Pakistan, it becomes immediately obvious that not only is there another road to change, but this is actually a road that leads to success. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s one-man rebellion against imperial oppression began in South Africa in the years before Word War One. From the very start he advocated non-violence and non-compliance, choosing to rely on the rule of law and moral high ground as a means to achieving his aims. In what is now India and Pakistan, Gandhi (as a Hindu) was very much guided by the concept of ashima (respect for life) in his objectives and also in the way he sought to achieve those objectives.
On several occasions Gandhi fasted until violence, rioting and looting amongst the population came to an end – in the run-up to independence and during the Muslim-Hindu conflict afterwards. What was originally a one man movement gained worldwide attention and such was the respect and reverence for this man that the whole country did eventually listen, however peaceful negotiation between the partitioned parts of the former Indian colony disintegrated after Gandhi’s assassination in 1948.
Despite the ultimate failure of his dreams of a peaceful co-existence, Gandhi’s legacy has inspired generations across the globe and created an unstoppable wave of anti-imperialism that ended the old European empires and ushered in a new era of independence for many nations across the world. In some cases this freedom was short lived, but what one man inspired proved that freedom, peace and true democracy are achievable goals and not just the pipe-dreams of the oppressed.
Martin Luther King Jr. is a another fine example of a non-violent, non-complier who’s efforts and belief in justice for all resonated around the world. Emerging from a small Alabama town in the 1950s he not only changed the course of American history, but gave hope of equality and freedom to all those around the world who are oppressed for their race or skin colour. Whilst other civil-rights leaders (such as Malcom X) advocated violent insurrection if necessary, King preached non-violent direct action, grounded in his religious beliefs. Despite being shot on several occasions he continued to campaign very publicly for emancipation of minorities and the end of segregation. His efforts succeeded, however like Gandhi he was eventually assassinated in 1968 by a sniper and so did not live to fully see the fruits of his labour. His unshakeable faith and belief in humanity’s potential to rise above its squalor gave him the strength to lead even though he was well aware that someone would eventually succeed in killing him.
His life and work no doubt inspired the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa (where Gandhi’s efforts began) and like Gandhi, even now he is held up as a shining example of right over might for all the oppressed.
Once again, the human world finds itself struggling to escape from oppression although the problems of economic/political hegemony are now exacerbated by climate change, overpopulation and near depletion of un-renewable resources. The hand of oppression seems to reach across the entire globe and equally the desire for freedom, equality and basic human rights seems to be fore-most in peoples minds the world over.
Power seems to be increasingly concentrated among the super-rich (a minute but hugely influential group of people) with their power exercised through gradual corporate takeover of all sections of human society and financial control of almost all areas of human activity. This situation has existed for centuries in many parts of the world, but now it appears that financial and social control of the entire world is almost complete.
As share-holders get richer, people are murdered by remote-control machines and foreign troops for oil, others starve to pay the debts of their governments while food is exported elsewhere and the financial incompetence of banks and commercial interests is borne on the backs of the ordinary working people. Maybe such inequality and unfairness has always been so prevalent, but never before has there been such widespread knowledge of this great divide between the ‘haves and have nots’ or such widespread understanding of why things are as they are.
Those in control, although they fear active rebellion and violence, realize that it gives them the perfect excuse for violent suppression and more removal of freedoms in the name of law and order. What they cannot deal with though, as both Gandhi and King understood, is being made irrelevant. If societies en-masse refused to comply with governments, financial institutions and all other instruments of control then the powerful would become the powerless. Without our complicity there is no government, there is no power structure, there is no financial system and also no means to wage war.
Perhaps ordinary people around the world are waiting for an extraordinary individual to lead us through these dark times and inspire the strength of will to bring about a major shift in the direction of human development? However, we cannot rely on such an individual to emerge – it is now time for each of us to become our own Gandhi or King and stand up against the tidal wave of oppression that looks soon to overwhelm us. Non-violent non-compliance is the only effective weapon we have, violence begets only more violence in an endless cycle.
Now more than ever, we need to find the strength to stand up for justice, fairness and human rights, the stakes are now too high to remain quietly idle. The road ahead will not be easy, whatever happens, but with faith and standing together, united by a refusal to accept the unacceptable, we have the power to change or collective futures and take back control of our own lives from those that seek to control all of us.