Crossroads for the Anti-Nuclear Movement
from Urgent Tasks Number 10
by Phil Rubio

What Happened After Three Mile Island?

All over America, people watched on television and saw "experts" lie, contradict each other, and balk at ordering a complete evacuation. They gambled on the "worst case" — a complete meltdown — not occurring, and balanced the radiation leaking out of the damaged reactor, with its potential long-term danger to all life, against the future of the nuclear industry, whose credibility would have been even more jeopardized if an emergency had been declared. Instead, it was merely an "event."

Yet they still had to contend with demonstrations not just here, but in Europe and Japan. The outcry in this country forced the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) immediately to put a freeze on operating licenses and construction permits for new reactors for one year, and, a month later, to close five plants it discovered were susceptible to earthquake damage because of faulty design. But for all their safety regulations, there was no evacuation plan, and none exists today. The fact that a disaster was avoided, although narrowly, became the industry's rebuttal — it showed that the system did work, after all.

The height of cynicism around that incident was reflected in a remark made recently by Carl Walkse, president of the Atomic Industrial Forum, the industry's major trade group. Public support has been restored in the nuclear industry, he says, because of the "resilience and short memory of the public."1

Despite this claim, uncertainty and polarization of opinion continues. News about Three Mile Is- land crops up frequently in the media. While some residents want TMI back "on line," others have vehemently protested the court and NRC rulings permitting the release of thousands of gallons of radioactive "cooling water" to be dumped into the nearby Susquehanna River, and the ventilation of radioactive krypton gas.

Countless accidents and near-misses have occurred around the world since the inception of nuclear power — TMI was only the latest and one of the worst:2 there was the Fermi experimental breeder in Detroit, Browns Ferry reactor in Alabama (both near-meltdowns), the Churchrock, New Mexico, spill of a hundred million gallons in a radioactive mill tailings pond, and explosions at waste disposal sites in central Russia (1957) and France this year. The former was the worst in history, contaminating hundreds of square miles, wiping out all life.3 Ironically, it was hushed up both by the Russian government and the CIA.

Oil, Nuclear, and the Energy Crisis

What has happened in the last year to improve the political position of the nuclear industry? Once again, in the words of Carl Walkse (referring to the seizure of the embassy and American hostages in Iran by Islamic students), "I think the old ayatollah bailed us out." But before anyone is tempted to curse Ayatollah Khomeini for the resurgence and reconsideration of nuclear power, consider the basis for this statement. (Besides doing the world and itself a favor by ousting the hated Shah, the February Revolution also shut down the four reactors under construction that he had ordered.)

For years the U.S. has enjoyed relatively low oil prices and high consumption, both in industry and in consumer use (motor vehicles primarily), mostly of imports from Mideast countries the U.S. monopolies first explored and then dominated. It has always been cheaper to import oil than to drill for it here — even today we import almost half our oil.

Only the recent hikes in prices by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), beginning with the 1973-74 oil embargo, have forced U.S. oil companies to explore domestic reserves, including shale.

At the same time, American oil companies declared a shortage, and long lines formed at the gas pumps. A skeptical public soon was exposed to evidence of a "contrived" shortage by these companies, and when one was declared in late 1978- early 1979 (again using the Mideast revolution in Iran with its oilfield strikes by workers, and rising OPEC prices), anger against the oil companies was so great that it compelled Mobil and others to take out a series of full-page ads to explain their position. Surveys at the time showed most Americans didn't believe that there was a real oil shortage.

"The Old Ayatollah Bailed Us Out"

While many of those who were angry at the oil companies were also anti-OPEC, there was beginning to be in the working class a widespread challenge to their production for profit. Yet as soon as students in Teheran seized the U.S. embassy and took 64 hostages in protest against the U.S. giving asylum to the hated Shah for medical treatment, thousands of Americans were in the streets with chants like, "Iran — take your oil and shove it."

Associated Press reports in the fall started telling of such things as the Energy Department's "Iranian Response Plan," and other federal studies that proposed, for example, "reopening of some nuclear power plants now shut down for regulatory reasons, encouragement of industries and businesses to switch to coal or natural gas and easing of clean air laws to permit this . . . removal of federal price controls on crude oil and gasoline, thus allowing prices to rise to discourage consumption."4

Isn't this what the oil, nuclear, and coal industries — the Energy Conglomerate — wanted all along? Regulations and controls are a constant headache to this conglomerate, because they represent added costs, which cuts into profits.

Opponents of nukes surely know that nukes are not an isolated issue, but are connected with the whole energy system, which in turn is connected with the political-economic system. But where did the Energy Conglomerate get such luck, persuading so many people to accept a lowering of the social costs of energy (for the conglomerate — but higher costs for us) — relaxing clean air standards for coal plants, and an end to the NRC freeze on new reactor licenses imposed after TMI? Part of the answer to that question lies in the next section, "the Emergence of Patriotism." But whether the nuclear industry in this country can take advantage of a changed political environment remains to be seen. Utilities are not moving toward ordering new reactors; in fact several, including the operator of TMI, Met-Ed, are considering coal conversion. It appears that only massive state intervention, on the level of what's happening in France, and in the backing for breeder technology, will be the "bail-out," not the ayatollah.

In addition, nuclear proponents face not just the continuing controversy over the safety and viability of nuclear power, but new interest in the "front and back ends" of the fuel cycle. The "front end," uranium mining and milling, is considered the most dangerous, and the "back end," waste disposal, hasn't begun to be resolved, as wastes are found leaking into groundwater, ocean water, and possibly into the food chain.

Re-Emergence of Patriotism

The "Iranian crisis" was not just an emotional response to the "plight of the hostages" by Americans. It was something that had been simmering for some time: the rise of the ideology of national chauvinism in the U.S., for the first time since the Viet Nam war. This is a much more formidable foe than is "lack of education" about nukes that many in the anti-nuke movement have complained of for so long.

We should have gotten a good idea of what was to come back in July of 1979 at Rocky Flats, Colorado, site of the only U.S. weapons plant producing plutonium triggers as well as the neutron bomb.

First, one month after TMI, 15,000 mostly young white people, many more of them working class than at any previous demonstration, attended an anti-nuke rally at the bomb plant. While this April rally did emphasize the disarmament issue over the local health hazard issue, it was clear that TMI had prompted more to come out than anticipated.

But in the summer, with only a few weeks of very efficient organizing, carpools, etc., a pro-nuclear rally drew 10,000 (also mostly white, older working people) to the same site. The nuclear industry for the first time had a visible mass movement of its own. This rally made clear links between the weapons and power questions, saying, "Faced by critical energy shortages, we must expand our output of nuclear-generated electricity. Faced by major powers seeking global domination, we must maintain our nuclear defense capabilities."5

And just as the nuclear industry represents a synthesis of all major trends of capitalist development, this pro-nuke rally represented those forces which, among other things, had supported U.S. intervention in Viet Nam, were opposed to the fight for equality by people of color, and supported the government/industry position at TMI in declaring nukes to be safe. (In the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, area, Met-Ed has organized a "Friends of TMI" coalition that includes local labor leaders and Chambers of Commerce.) In short, it was a "pro- America" rally.

It featured speakers like Peter Brennan, former Secretary of Labor under Nixon and president of the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades in New York City. He can be well remembered for his part in organizing the pro-war "hard-hat" demonstrations of the 1960's, and opposition to affirmative action for Black and Latino workers in the skilled trades. The rally organizer is a supervisor at Rocky Flats, and the action was sponsored by a group called Citizens for Energy and Freedom. It had the support of the Steelworkers local at the plant, as well as the local AFL-CIO Central Labor Council.

Those attending the rally are the kind of people industry and government are counting on to back, if it becomes "necessary," an invasion of Arab oil fields during some future embargo, or the use of emergency police powers against future anti-nuke demonstrators.

Even after the observation is made that unions are not equivalent to workers, the question still must be posed — how is it possible for "labor" to identify with "management" on a question of such overriding social importance? The answer is to be sought in the habit of class collaboration conditioned by the participation, especially of white workers, in three centuries of genocide and land theft against the Native peoples, and the enslavement and continuing subjugation of Black people on this continent.

The anti-nuclear movement must consider the prevalence of racism and chauvinism not merely in society at large, but within its own ranks. It is instructive to contrast the wide public outcry following TMI to the slight attention given to the largest accidental spill of radioactive materials in U.S. history — which occurred only four months later on July 19, 1979. The slurry of millions of gallons of radioactive liquids and tons of radioactive solids from a burst tailings dam in Churchrock, New Mexico, has permanently contaminated the Rio Puerco River and surrounding groundwater.

The main residents of the area,, cattle-raising Navajo people, have been warned not to use the river or their wells, in effect depriving them of their residence, food, and main source of income. Yet, after the initial news splash there has been a media white-out. The spill has not been cleaned up, the groundwater contamination continues, the mill that produced the radioactive waste went back into production. In perhaps a final irony, testing of individuals and samples from the area has been delayed because precedence at the nation's few radiation testing centers is being given to materials from TMI.

There have been — and will continue to be — demonstrations and protests about the Churchrock spill, led by Navajo and Chicano activists. But the international wave of protest that came after TMI was not duplicated even when the damage was greater.

The lack of widespread protest over the Churchrock spill and the issue of uranium mining on Native lands is perhaps the most glaring weakness of a still politically immature movement. A refusal to examine openly the historic connection between the nuclear weapons program and the .development of nuclear reactors; a narrow focus on domestic reactors, while most reactors are now produced for export sales to Third World nations; an inability to understand the ability of nuclear capital to diversify its current nuclear-related interests, co-opt the emerging "alternative technology" field and politically neutralize the movement's offensives; all these and other blindspots characterize a majority of the movement's organizations and activists.

These will have to be faced if success is to mean more than the tightening of safety regulations at the most closely sited reactor. To avoid raising the weapons issue, the rape of Native lands, and the right of Third World nations to control their resources, merely to try and get a labor speaker on a platform, is not just opportunist. It's a huge missed opportunity.

Solar Power and Workers' Control

Perhaps the most initially appealing tendency within the anti-nuke movement to the young white activists who comprise most of it is the alternative technology and energy sources movement. While understandable as a way of trying to escape the increasing alienation of bourgeois society, it is not unlike the oft-heard worker's dream — "to be my own boss." That's possible for a few, in both cases, but not even an option for all.

The most obvious mistake by this tendency is to look at energy development (such as solar) in nonpolitical terms, either the extreme anti-technology position, or the naive assumption that "they can't buy the sun" ("they" being the energy monopolies). The latter position says that solar is unfeasible for big business because it's unprofitable, because supposedly it can't be exploited.

As Steve Zeluck points out, "To start with, capitalists need not own the sunlight to be able to charge for it. They do not charge for coal because they own it. The cost of coal arises from the fact that labor is involved in making coal available to society — otherwise coal would, like air, be a free good. The same for sunlight. . . . It is this understanding of the contradiction between private cost and social cost (an expression of the contradiction between social production and private appropriation) which is at the root of our differences with so many ecologists."6

Even in two of the most politically conscious expressions of prosolar energy, we find contradictions. In an article by Denis Hayes, written before he headed the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI), a government-funded agency, we see some international implications.

On the one hand he recognizes, "It is, rather, to acknowledge that new energy sources do not constitute simple technical fix to the world's most difficult social and economic problem: the uneven distribution of wealth. Consequently, if profound social change does not accompany the introduction of biogas plants, windmills, or photo-voltaics (solar), only the rich will have energy. The wedge driven into the income gap as a result may lead to a more painful readjustment later."7 In other words, it may not be enough to stop the revolution of people who have had enough of poverty, starvation, and oppression.

But these are ironic words when compared to this earlier statement: "In developing gentle, sustainable energy sources, the Third World and the industrial world can be of mutual assistance, even as each independently pursues its own selfinterest. . . . Widespread use of solar equipment in the Third World, where it is already cost-effective would have positive effects in the industrial nations. . . . With the rapid reductions in costs that assembly lines could bring, decentralized solar devices would find ever more applications In rich lands and poor alike. Such a state of economic affairs is so manifestly in the interest of the industrial world that it warrants granting Third World customers subsidies on early orders. France, aware of this fact and eager to attract large orders, is now marketing a subsidized solar irrigation pump throughout the Third World."8

In a world characterized by unequal development and unequal exchange, there is no such thing as mutual assistance" between the industrialized countries and the Third World. And when you talk about "solar equipment being already cost-effective" in the Third World, and the "rapid reductions in costs" from assembly lines (which of course would be much cheaper than in the West), you get a picture not much different from what we have today. The only difference is that nukes are inherently dangerous, while solar is not.

Under present social conditions, Filipinos could slave in a factory making heliostats for solar power plants for low wages, and walk home at night to their huts by the new school built for foreign technicians' children employing solar panels. Nothing is "gentle" in the hands of the imperialists. As Hayes himself points out, "Just six countries — India, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, South Korea, and Taiwan — use half of all electricity consumed by 110 developing nations. . . . If service spreads as expected at about 1 per cent per year, three-fifths of the rural residents of the Third World will still be without electricity at the century's end."9 Oddly enough, those six countries share some things in common: brutal, repressive dictatorships, nuclear technology (Brazil, South Korea, India, the latter of which already has bomb capability), and a growing industrial output center for the West, as well as a market for consumer goods.

As for the idea of solar assembly lines here in the U.S., the Midnight Notes Collective sums it up best: "At this moment, capital is obviously testing out two possible futures: a risky, capital-intensive nuclear future and a labor-intensive, low energy version. Neither is very tempting, though there will always be, after the priority is set, a combination of both. The choice we are offered is one between cancer and misery. The 'loyal opposition' to capital within the anti-nuclear movement seems to accept such a blackmail and is campaigning for the 'misery' version: 'solar jobs,' conservation, and 'laborintensive' production. In this sense, they are 'educating' the masses, but they face the same problem that dominant capital faces with its cancer option. Imposing labor-intensive production on a working class that has been fighting around the refusal of work is as hopeless as the search for responsible high capital-intensity worker. However, if we are not able to reject the choice between cancer and misery, we will surely get both."10

The authors of No Nukes do show some recognition of the capitalist exploitation of solar. They quote Brian Martin's critique of Amory Lovins' "soft path": "My basic conclusion is that a slow transition to a combination of hard and soft technologies is possible, in which the soft components are introduced in such a way as to maintain private control over the design of society."11

They further show how companies acquiring solar heat patents include Mobil Oil, General Electric, General Motors, Martin Marietta, DuPont, Boeing, and United Aircraft, and companies developing solar cells include General Electric, Westinghouse, and Bell Telephone.12 But their "strategies for change" underestimate the enemy — it will not sit by while it is lobbied to death. "Consumers can also lobby their legislators for the kinds of tax breaks . . . that make commercial solar equipment more affordable. . . . Another possibility is that utilities would themselves distribute, lease, or sell solar systems and insulation to rate-payers. . . . Existing municipal entities like water departments could install solar technologies, as is being done in California. City governments can create solar co-ops . . . leasing programs by manufacturers . . . (and finally) some people are opposing outside corporate control of energy by turning to locally controlled power production and distribution."13

The problem with all of these "solutions" is not that they are impossible — to some extent they all are possible. Not only could solar be developed under capitalism, even along the lines they suggest, it could be developed alongside present technologies, as Brian Martin says, like nuclear, oil, and coal. But it will be on their terms. The last item they suggest, "publicly-controlled utilities," will never occur in a meaningful way short of an uprising. If they are talking about "nationalization," that is, taking away private control from any industry, this is state, not peoples', control. For another thing, utilities are still one of the most efficient industries in this country, and given the government's pattern of nationalizing those "in trouble," it's not likely to happen here.

By failing even to raise the de- mand for workers' control, they are not likely to attract the most advanced workers, but will assuredly continue to be allied with trade unionists who consider themselves the "loyal opposition" to capital (the UAW's Fraser, LAM's Winpisinger, etc.). "The capitalist system forms a unity: exploitation in one place can result in profits in another place. This would also certainly be the case in the solar industry. The solar workers would do the shit work and the companies (e.g., steel companies which produce sheet metal) would make the profits. (Harvey) Wasserman's cry for a 'laborintensive' development means nothing more than offering capital a new source of human work, a new source of exploitation."14

It is important to support the idea of demonstrating the viability of alternative sources of energy. Their development was in response to capitalist development of nuclear and is progressive. However, the danger exists of their being turned into their opposite, from a technology that can be beneficial to one that exploits. It is capital's tendency to do this with all "reforms."

But simply proclaiming "people's control of energy" does not offer a clear idea of how change will come about, or who or what will be the motive force to change society and the way we manage energy. This is evidenced by No Nukes authors' solutions: "lobbying, pressure, etc." Most working people don't see this as viable, in fact, the trend is for people to be less involved in traditional politics, staying home on election day, etc., in protest or disillusionment.

For capitalism, we exist as labor power, and the capitalists' tendency has been to try either to reduce the cost of this labor power (and increase profit), or to tie higher wages to greater productivity. The working person's only everyday outlets for frustration are the grievance and the petition. Her union is a defense against capital, but it is also incorporated into capital, and becomes an instrument in her exploitation. She expects it to protect her, while management also demands that it help keep labor peace.

While fleeting and sporadic, working people do get a glimpse of change when they participate in action — a ghetto uprising, a wildcat or slowdown at work, an occupation of a corporate or utility office — that is self-organized by workers. They may also support ideas for "more jobs through solar," but those who now work increasingly resist work itself. That's not because they're lazy, but because they are driven to produce more of what is already alienated from them, namely the thing they produce as well as their labor power.

We don't believe in promising a nuclear-free future under capitalism (or some "benign" form of it) to workers. It is just not possible, because nukes are "rational" under capitalism. We don't believe in "selling" a plan to the working class that promises more jobs — and more misery as well as the same boss. Solar by itself is just a technology. The working class must control it, or be exploited by it. Our alternative is to demonstrate to workers the embryo of socialism embodied in everyday acts of resistance, especially periods of upsurge, where workers reject their wage-labor status and affirm themselves as producers of society.

The distrust that lingers among many working people since TMI is not just for nukes themselves, but for the utilities, the government, and the corporations that build them. It is a good opportunity to show that nukes are a part of capitalism, and that both must go. Solar and other alternative forms must be argued for in the context of changed social relations, because according to the latest polls, most people already accept the idea of increased solar energy. Once again, the challenge is mainly from those who favor nuclear as part of "energy independence," in other words, "making America strong," tied to national chauvinism and trust in the system to "make it safe."

The Illusion of Non-Violence

Despite a long-standing resistance, an issue that has faced the anti-nuke movement since it moved beyond the stage of intervention at siting hearings is now before it. It has been forced into the debate by recent events at Seabrook, New Hampshire, and Burnham, New Mexico, where, in altogether different circumstances, the term "energy war" became more than metaphor.

It is difficult to argue the whole question of non-violence in the antinuke movement. Like many other things, it has not been open to debate, but taken as a "given." Social movements past and present have used non-violence as one tactic among many. But in the anti-nuke movement there is a strong commitment to ideological pacifism. The fact that this tendency survived the civil rights and anti-war era of the '60's, and the brutal repression that came down on certain segments of those movements, particularly the Black movement, is a tribute to the flexibility of capital in dealing with white dissent, especially its "loyal opposition" in the liberal/left community.

There has even been a tendency to blame the victims of police and state violence in the '60's, as "provoking" violence from those quarters — and "this time we'll make sure we don't do that." Failure to learn from the recent past will leave the movement unprepared for inevitable repression, as the movement and the state both escalate their struggle. Before discussing the present debate around non-violence, it would be useful to look at the origins of the philosophy and uses in social movements of the past, in particular India and the civil rights movement in the U.S.

Gandhi's Legacy

The key element to Gandhi's satyagraha, or non-cooperation, is its roots in Hindu religion. This can in turn be extrapolated to any other religion in the world that teaches the "nobility of suffering," which includes the Quaker, Catholic, and Eastern-oriented trends that are strong in the U.S. anti-nuke movement. "The way to do better is to avoid, if we can, violence from our side and thus quicken the rate of progress and to introduce greater purity in the methods of suffering. The purer the suffering, the greater is the progress. Hence did the sacrifice of Jesus suffice to free a sorrowing world," Gandhi writes. "I have therefore ventured to place before India the ancient law of self-sacrifice. For Satyagmha and its offshoots, noncooperation and civil resistance, are nothing but new names for the law of suffering. . . . Our nonresistance to Government violence must bring the latter to a standstill."15

There is no guarantee that nonviolence quickens the rate of progress. Changes are either forced upon, or accepted by, the ruling class when measured against a rising, militant movement. A former Irish missionary in Africa, Dr. Colin Morris, wrote in Unyoung, Uncolored, Unpoor that "Passive resistance depends for its success upon the creation of public opinion which will be shamed or angered into giving justice to those who choose to match official power with self-sacrifice. Gandhi had no possible complaint on this score. British tolerance plus Hindu fanaticism was a winning combination." But despite this tolerance, "Magistrates prefaced their sentences with elaborate speeches of regret; Viceroys and Colonial Secretaries made pilgrimage to the prisons he was dignifying by his presence."16 It took more than satyagraha to shake the British hold over India.

"Gandhi's faith in passive resistance* never wavered, but the Indian National Congress finally abandoned the policy in 1935, turning to direct action. By 1942, Gandhi had lost political control of all but a handful of his followers, and civil war raged throughout India. Britain used tanks and even aircraft to keep order. Yet during the seven years that Gandhi was in the political wilderness, able to speak for no national movement, his stock reached new heights with the British government. Passive resistance was no longer an amiable eccentricity on Gandhi's part; it had become the lesser of two evils."17

We Would Simply Be Disposed Of …"

In a generally accurate look at revolution in the Third World, Morris continues, " . . . the wretched of the earth do not go in for passive resistance. It is no novelty for them to suffer without retaliation. . . . Nor, unlike the passive resister, can they settle for a moral victory. Having nerved themselves to strike a blow, it must be decisive because they know they are unlikely to get a second chance. . . . They have few qualms about using violence because society as they know it is a system of organized violence."18

Yet most of today's proponents of non-violence ignore this fact. During the Viet Nam war, they carefully sidestepped the fact that it was a people's war against U.S. domination, instead portraying the Vietnamese as victims. While I'm sure few would agree outright with Gandhi's idea that "the purer the suffering, the greater the progress," the other arguments in favor are more stubbornly clung to. One is "violence only begets more violence, and changes nothing." The other is, "even if it did, we wouldn't stand a chance anyway."

The No Nukes authors rule out violence (in which we include selfdefense) in any anti-nuke action as ludicrous because "we would simply be disposed of." The Coalition for Direct Action at Seabrook (CDAS) in its manual, "It Won't Be Built," makes a similar statement: "it makes no sense to attack when the state's forces are so much stronger." It is interesting to think what the world would look like if people had always asserted such timidity and hopelessness, and not taken whatever action was necessary to free themselves for fear that they would "simply be disposed of."

Of course, we're taking this argument in its broad sense, because there are tactical considerations that must be dealt with in each occasion. During the Flint sit-down strike in 1937, guns were forbidden inside the occupied plant because of fear of disruption by provocateurs. Yet the actions of the strikers and the Women's Emergency Brigade in arming themselves with everything short of firearms was sufficient evidence to the company and the state that they considered self-defense and defense of the occupied plant as something other than ludicrous.

Gandhi himself has some interesting thoughts on this: "I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence. . . . Hence it was that I took part in the Boer War, the so-called Zulu rebellion and the late War [World War I]. . . . I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honor than that she should in a cowardly manner become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor."19 Gandhi evidently didn't see non-violence as an absolute — only he would determine when it "was nobler to suffer" and when that constituted cowardice. A fine line indeed, especially when of those three wars most progressives would justify participation only in the Zulu uprising — and then only against the white settlers.

But Gandhi's idealism (he called it "practical idealism") has found a thread in the anti-nuke movement, especially in this country. At one point, the No Nukes authors affirm, "they [the nuke industry] will come to see that the pursuit of nukes must cease"!! With all the means of corporate wealth, media manipulation, and government connections at their disposal, it will hardly be a question of being able to "dissuade" them from the nuclear path. This kind of dreaming is one reason why Third World people and workers in this country stay away from the movement in droves, knowing, from bitter experience and common sense how formidable their enemies are.

Violence, while not welcomed by anyone, is inevitable as part of an overall strategy by any people organizing themselves to come to power, not just to create the conditions for the oppressor to "back off." Franz Fanon, an African psychiatrist who took part in the Algerian war of independence against France (and whose patients included French Army interrogators), wrote, "The violence which has ruled over the ordering of the colonial world, which has ceaselessly drummed the rhythm for the destruction of native social forms and broken up without reserve the systems of reference of the economy, the customs of dress and external life, that same violence will be claimed and taken over by the native at the moment when, deciding to embody history in his own person, he surges into the forbidden quarters."20

But that kind of daily violence and brutal repression can also give rise to a paralyzing fear. Sections of both the Iranian and Nicaraguan revolutionary movements argued the necessity in their countries of waging armed actions against the Shah and Somoza dictatorships to help break that syndrome of fear.

In this country, police have remained non-violent towards the antinuke movement not because they are dumbfounded by their tactics, but because they "learned their lesson" in the '60's. Things can be kept from getting out of control if the whole event is scripted ahead of time, i.e., demonstrators move into forbidden ground, police read them their rights, then carry them to waiting police vans, and then clock out at the end of the shift. Even though laws are being broken, it is all routine. The demonstrators are made to look more like foolish kids with time on their hands than courageous fighters for public safety.

There are also other factors in determining not only how long they will put up with civil disobedience, but who is doing it. It has been wrongfully asserted that Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was able to conduct his non-violent campaign when he initially had a middle-class following, but all that changed when poor Blacks, whose labor value to capital was worth less than middleclass Blacks, entered the movement, and repression began. The entrance of more Black working people did affect the movement. But King was beaten just the same (and white middle-class clergy and professionals weren't immune) because of the threat the civil rights movement posed to the institution of white supremacy, especially in the South.

Colin Morris is also in error that non-violence is strictly a middleclass phenomenon. Both Gandhi and King were able to attract poor people, who were willing to be non- violent for a while, for a reason. They were able to draw out both sides of a dual consciousness that exists in conflict in all peoples at the same time: the one, that tends to be subordinate, blaming itself for its oppressed condition, accepting it, and usually falling prey to religious ideas ("love thine enemy," "turn the other cheek," etc.). The other, the side that desires passionately to master its own fate and, in Fanon's words "embody history in his own person," is willing to do anything to turn the tables on its oppressor, to force him to stop forever.

A "History" of Non-Violent Struggle

Despite the evidence to the contrary which we have tried to present, the most common defense for non-violence as strategy is "it worked in India." In an attempt to strengthen this argument, a wide range of pacifist groups, from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) to the War Resisters League (WRL) have recently published a book entitled The Power of the People.

It presents the history of American social movements in terms of their "non-violent roots." The debate in those movements over this tactic is downplayed, distorted, or ignored, as is the use of armed struggle and self-defense by those movements. The book is obviously meant for the anti-nuke movement, particularly younger activists who don't know first-hand the experiences and struggles of the '60's and the struggles within the movements. By also presenting "historical" examples of non-violent struggle by a variety of groups (workers, Native peoples, Blacks, Chicanos, women, and students), a "background" is provided for people to argue, as well as to feel that they come from a "solid tradition." "It worked before, and it can work again, if we just do it right," seems to be the thesis of this book.

It begins with a long quote by Chief Seattle, which says nothing about violence or non-violence. But through this first section Native people are patronizingly and inaccurately shown as early advocates of non-violence through their "reverence for life . . . that has yet to be surpassed." This is a clever, but dishonest argument — right away, proponents of non-violence are allied with those who "revere life," while proponents of armed struggle are merely destructive. Because Native people revered life, they fought to preserve their lives, as well as their way of life that was threatened by the white settlers. The armed resistance of 400 years' duration, continuing through Geronimo, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and, in our lifetime, the American Indian Movement (AIM) is conveniently, yet incredibly, forgotten.

The labor movement is praised because "workers endured violence, ranging from starvation wages to being shot down, and, for the most part, still struggled to improve their situation without resorting to violence."21 The use of non-violent sitins in the auto strikes of the late '30's across the Midwest are claimed as part of the non-violent movement. Instances of workers using force are edited out. Glorifying passivity and selecting history; this is a curious account.

Nowhere in their history of the United Farmworkers, led by Cesar Chavez, is mentioned the later rejection by young Chicanos in the Southwest of the practice of nonviolence, particularly after continual attacks by sheriff's deputies and the goon squads of the growers.

When talking of the anti-war movement the authors say, ". . . most activists preferred the excitement of skirmishes with the police." Once again, it was not "excitement," but a level of resistance that had risen in response to the escalation by the government of the Viet Nam war and escalation by campus and local police against initially peaceful anti-war demonstrations.

From there they go on to assert, as they do in their history of the civil rights movement, that once the advocates of "violence" burned themselves out the "people" came back to non-violence, much like the return of the prodigal son. "Movements for greater control by people over their lives — amongst women, students, homosexuals, blacks, Native Americans, Chicanos, and other groups — also led to the realization that courage without wisdom leads to the morgue and to jail more often than to liberation."22

By the time we get to the end of the chapter we still don't really know how the war ended, except that, thanks to the pacifists, thousands were marching in"Washington, D.C., and in 1975, "the war effort became totally demoralized." No mention is made of the fact that, while resistance grew in this country and fraggings rose while morale fell in the U.S. military, the Vietnamese popular forces were continuing an armed struggle that had the support of the Vietnamese people, was not just a "product of frustration" and originally was given no chance of defeating either the French or U.S. military might.

What Happened to "SNCC"?

The greatest distortion comes with the analysis of the Student Non- Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the eivil rights movement. The transition of SNCC from a civil rights group to a Black Power organization is seen not as a political process, but one of electoral jockeying that made Stokely Carmichael president. In this racist portrayal, once again non-violence was disrupted by a small minority within the movement, which supposedly killed the group a short time later. "SNCC rapidly lost supporters, and within two or three years, Carmichael and Brown's supporters admitted that SNCC was dead."23 In other words, you didn't let us whites stick around to guide you and you ruined a good thing.

In truth, SNCC evolved into a variety of Black Power organizations that rejected non-violence, adopted self-defense and supported armed struggle. Deacons for Defense and Justice in Louisiana and elsewhere, Alabama's Lowndes County Black Panther Party, Oakland Black Panther Party (later a national organization), League of Revolutionary Black Workers were among many that flourished. Carmichael and Brown later became leaders of two Black nationalist organizations — the Afrikan Peoples Party and the All-Afrikan Peoples Revolutionary Party. Local SNCC groups were replaced with Black Student Unions, and the civil rights movement became the Black liberation movement.

In the beginning, SNCC had attracted large numbers of young whites as well as Black student activists. More and more, as whites from up North flocked to sit-ins and voter registration drives down South, Black activists realized that they needed their own organization. They needed to have control over the direction of the struggle in their community, and with the tremendous backlash of racism from white America, whites were told to return to work in their own communities, where they were really needed.

The authors know this full well, but have curiously omitted it. To them, "Black Power" was a setback. Instead they praise Rev. King for "coming back," despite setbacks within the movement. Their conclusion is one of mystical optimism — that "we did some good." "Blacks now have many of the tools they need to fight the discrimination that remains," they write. "... They have better access to the political system and the courts, and, if other methods fail . . . Black leaders know from experience how to organize direct action."24

Miami, Chattanooga, Wichita — by the time this reaches print there will be more names to add to the list of cities where "better access to the system" for Black youth now means an open shot at a police cruiser. The inability of former civil rights leaders such as Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson, Bayard Rustin and others to get the people of Liberty City to listen to their pleas for calm shows the respect that remains for the voices of the past.

The Power of the State, The Power of the People

"The power of the state is based on brute force and economic coercion, while our power is based on the internal strength of individuals acting collectively for something we know to be right — non-violent direct action is on our terms rather than those of the police/state."25

This quote from the CDAS occupation manual is a good example of the anti-nuke movement's misunderstanding of the nature of the enemy and mis-estimation of the terms of the struggle. True, the power of the state depends ultimately on brute force. But that use is selective. The use of violence by the state is far more common in Third World communities, both within and outside the current borders. But its use there is only possible because, historically, those who make up the invading force — whether U.S. cavalry, National Guard, Marines, S.W.A.T. team, state police or local deputies — know that they will be welcome or even hailed in their community when they return.

"Knowing that we're right" does not place the struggle on our terms, especially non-violent struggle, which depends on an over-reaction by the state to "succeed" — that is, if success is measured in terms of winning sympathy, but not shutting down the reactors. When the movement has gone beyond the attempts at sympathy and actually moved to cut the wires and stop construction, it has seen for the first time a glimpse of the power that the state reserves for serious threats to its normal operation.

That last lesson is now becoming more apparent to many anti-nuke activists. But until the realization occurs that an American version of the path taken by Iran — where reactor towers are now being considered for use as grain storage bins — is the surest end to the threat of slow death by radiation, the movement seems determined to become one more addition to the long list of ill-fated reform efforts.


*Properly speaking, Gandhi distinguished his noncooperation movement from the "passive resistance of the suffragettes and others" in South Africa. Despite Morris' inaccuracy in terminology, he is correct in substance.[return to text]

1. Denver Post, December 23,1979.[return to text]

2. Georgy et al., eds., No Nukes: Everyone's Guide to Nuclear Power, pages 15, 72, 105,108, 111, 113-120.[return to text]

3. Roberts and Medvedev, Hazards of Nuclear Power, Russell Press, Ltd., Nottingham, 1977, pages 58-73.[return to text]

4. Rocky Mountain News, November 25, 1979.[return to text]

5. Ibid., August 25, 1979.[return to text]

6. Urgent Tasks Number 6, page 6.[return to text]

7. Hayes, Energy for Development: Third World Options, Worldwatch Institute, page 35.[return to text]

8. Ibid., pages 10-11.[return to text]

9. Ibid., page 38.[return to text]

10. Midnight Notes Collective, Strange Victories of the Anti-Nuke Movement.[return to text]

11. Georgy et al., op. cit., pages 281-82.[return to text]

12. Ibid., page 284.[return to text]

13. Ibid., page 291.[return to text]

14. Midnight Notes Collective, op. cit.[return to text]

15. Gandhi, "Young India," in Indian Political Thought from Manu to Gandhi, ed. D. Mackenzie Brown, Berkeley, 1959, pages 143-146.[return to text]

16. Morris, Unyoung, Uncolored, Unpoor, Abingdon Press, Nashville, Tenn., 1969, page 86.[return to text]

17. Ibid., pages 88-89.[return to text]

18. Ibid., pages 92-93.[return to text]

19. Gandhi, op. cit., page 148.[return to text]

20. Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, Grove Press, N.Y., 1968, pages 40-41. Emphasis added.[return to text]

21. American Friends Service Committee et al., The Power of the People, page 33.[return to text]

22. Ibid., page 205.[return to text]

23. Ibid., page 172.[return to text]

24. Ibid., page 175.[return to text]

25. Coalition for Direct Action at Seabrook, It Won’t Be Built, page 7.[return to text]

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