From: Brian Martin, "Social defence: arguments and actions", in Shelley Anderson and Janet Larmore (eds.), Nonviolent Struggle and Social Defence (London: War Resisters' International and the Myrtle Solomon Memorial Fund Subcommittee, 1991), pp. 115-119.

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Organising society for social defence

What changes in society would be necessary for an effective social defence?

Social defence is possible in society just as it is today. Perhaps the most important thing is the willingness of people to actually resist. But social defence, like military defence, can be made much more powerful by preparation.

Most important is people's understanding of their own capabilities and of the dynamics of nonviolent action. For example, workers must understand the power of strikes, telecommunications workers must understand the power of information and everyone must understand the power of symbolic action.

In general a social defence system will be stronger when a society is more self-reliant and, in particular, not dependent on or subject to groups of elites.

An aggressor will probably want to take over industrial production, for example. This can be resisted by management and workers. But if brutality is used, then individual resisters may be killed or agree to cooperate. In order to be prepared for this, facilities should be designed with resistance in mind. On the one hand, facilities producing goods for the population should be designed so that production can continue even after key managers and workers are removed. On the other hand, it should also be possible to close down production in case it is taken over by the aggressor. One suggestion is that there be crucial and difficult-to-replace pieces of equipment which could be broken if necessary. Replacements could be kept in a safe place, such as a foreign country. In this way, even torture could not get production going again.

Note that changes of this sort mean loss of control by managers and an increase in skills and responsibility by workers. After all, the crucial pieces of equipment could be broken at any time.

At present, energy systems such as electricity production are quite centralised and hence subject to takeover. A population would be more self-reliant if there were a move to greater energy efficiency and decentralisation. Communities with energy-efficient buildings with solar heaters and local wind generators are more resistant to threat than communities dependent on supplies of fuel and electricity.

The same applies to transport. Communities designed to maximise reliance on walking and cycling are less vulnerable than ones built around either mass transit or the automobile. Similarly for food. The greater the production of food in local gardens, the less the vulnerability to disruptions in the food supply.

Communications is another vital area. Systems that allow individuals to communicate with each other with low potential for disruption or monitoring are the best for social defence. Centralised, one-directional systems such as television are the most vulnerable: they can be taken over or destroyed by just a few troops. Network systems are much better: face-to-face conversation, telephone, short-wave radio and CB radio are good systems for social defence. Among the print media, the reliable typewriter and photocopier are accessible to just about anyone, unlike sophisticated printing presses.

Self-reliant systems need to be mutually supportive. For example, if central electricity systems were cut off, this would make it impossible to use most word processors and photocopiers. But with local generators, publishing could continue.

Learning foreign languages and about foreign cultures is crucial for a social defence system. This is necessary to communicate to invaders and to people in countries from which attacks might come.

One of the difficult issues for a society with social defence is how decisions are to be made. The weakest part of the resistance is likely to be the official leaders. They may be killed, arrested or subjected to incredible pressure to cooperate with the aggressors. The rest of the population should be prepared to continue the resistance even in the face of pleas or pronouncements from official leaders to surrender. This means that the official "leaders" should not have exceptional power or status. The more egalitarian the society, the more likely it is that there will be talent and initiative in depth ready to continue the resistance.

I could say much more on what a society with social defence would be like, but much of this is speculation. No one knows what changes would be most effective, since none of them have been tried. It is difficult to say for sure what would work, since this depends on the people themselves being involved in the development of the system.

Comment You will have to use your judgement about whether to discuss the potentially radical changes in society that might accompany a social defence system. Some people are comfortable with present society and will be threatened by the idea of workers controlling production and so forth. They want to hear, most of all, how social defence can work in society as it is today.

Others, though, aren't really interested in social defence if it means defending present society. They want favour greater self-reliance, person-to-person communication, egalitarian relations, etc.

Another argument that might be used is the relation of a reliance on military defence to the nature of society. To a greater or lesser degree, present systems of industrial production, energy, food, transport, communications and politics are attuned to the requirements of the military, which means being amenable to centralised control. In other words, a militarised society is one based on command and obedience. A social defence society would be one based on self-reliance and independent action.

What role will police play in a society that has converted to social defence? Wouldn't they have to use weapons, for example against individuals who rush about in a murderous frenzy? Couldn't they use the weapons against the population?

Response 1 This is a serious issue. In Costa Rica, there is no army but the police have become militarised and almost turned into a surrogate army. No one has really addressed this issue.

Response 2 Very few activities of the police require arms. But some situations seem to. There is a need for further development of nonviolent methods to control individuals who become dangerously violent. It should be remembered that if a social defence is based on community self-reliance, there would be greater community responsibility for "policing", too.

Response 3 The police probably cause more crime than they prevent. Criminologists know that the crime rate has little connection with the level of policing or imprisonment. Most prisons breed crime, and most police forces breed corruption. If social defence is a viable alternative to the military, then surely it can be extended to deal with crime. After all, what is war except organised crime controlled by governments? In the words of sociologist Charles Tilly, "If protection rackets represent organized crime at its smoothest, then war making and state making -- quintessential protection rackets with the advantage of legitimacy -- qualify as our largest examples of organized crime."

Reference: Charles Tilly, "War making and state making as organized crime", in Peter B. Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer and Theda Skocpol (eds.), Bringing the State Back In (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pages 169-191.

Comment This is very difficult question. It raises the basic issues of social control, and raises, in many people's minds, the spectre of chaos that would engulf any society without violence to maintain order. The answer you make to this question will reflect how much you want to challenge conventional assumptions.

Doesn't social defence require too much discipline?

A social defence system will only work if people believe in what they are defending. If they do, then discipline will not be a big problem.

People welcome some types of discipline and resist others. The discipline of many sports teams, drama companies and search-and-rescue teams shows that people will accept discipline for things they believe in. On the other hand, discipline is difficult to achieve in schools, armies and many workplaces because people feel compelled to do things they don't really want to do.

The experience of wars shows that people are capable of making incredible sacrifices to defend their society. On the other hand, studies of soldiers in wartime show that most people are extremely reluctant to kill even for a cause they believe in. The challenge for social defence is to tap the commitment for defending a community, without having to make people kill. In principle, this shouldn't be as hard as what the military has to do.

What do we do about national boundaries? Without an army, couldn't people just move into the country from all parts of the world?

Response 1 If the local people were opposed to massive immigration, they could use a variety of nonviolent methods to resist it.

Response 2 It is important to help political or economic refugees. Leaving a community is, after all, one way to refuse to cooperate. Much more needs to be done to develop ways to integrate refugees into our society.

Response 3 Most refugees are fleeing either war, political repression or economic oppression. The techniques of social offence can be used to challenge militaristic and repressive regimes. In addition, massive economic changes are required to reduce the exploitation of poor peoples in poor countries, both by Western governments, corporations and banks, and by the wealthy elite in the poor countries.

Comment The fear of refugees is widespread and deep-seated in many Western countries. It is bound up with nationalism and racism and protection of privileged living standards on the one hand, but also with concern about a way of life and a sense of community on the other. The former concerns are connected with militarism, the latter with the potential for social defence. Hence there is no simple answer on this issue.

General comment Discussions about what a society with social defence would be like can be fascinating, but they can also divert attention from practicalities. It would be futile to wait until society is self-reliant and so forth before introducing social defence -- after all, the system of military force is part of what needs to be changed to change society. The challenge is to develop initiatives for people to intervene in the present society-military system and move toward a more self-reliant, egalitarian society and social defence system.