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Social Defence

Social Defence

Jørgen Johansen and Brian Martin


Irene Publishing

Available online (for free) and as a printed book.

Social defence is nonviolent community resistance to aggression and repression, as an alternative to military forces. Given the enormous damage caused by military systems, social defence is an alternative worth investigating and pursuing.

Since the 1980s, Jørgen Johansen and Brian Martin have been involved in promoting social defence. In this book, they provide an up-to-date treatment of the issues. They address the downsides of military systems, historical examples of nonviolent resistance to invasions and coups, key ideas about social defence, important developments since the end of the Cold War, and the role of social movements.

Social defence challenges deeply embedded assumptions about violence and defence. It is also a challenge to powerful groups with vested interests in systems of organised violence, especially militaries and governments. Popular action against aggression and repression is a radical alternative ‒ and a logical one. Social defence is part of the path towards a nonviolent future.

From the introduction:

Social defence is nonviolent community resistance to repression and aggression, as an alternative to military forces. The basic idea is to replace military forces and methods with a different sort of system, relying on unarmed civilians.
The possibility of defence by unarmed civilians was stimulated by observation of people's struggles against oppressive governments. In the mid 1800s, Hungarians were ruled by an emperor, part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. A nationalist movement developed, seeking greater independence and freedom. The movement did not use arms. Instead it used a variety of methods of noncooperation, including boycotting Austrian businesses, refusing to pay taxes, refusing to speak German and refusing to serve in the Austrian army.

From 1898 to 1905, people in Finland mounted an unarmed resistance to the Russian empire, seeking autonomy. This struggle was mostly successful. If people can organise resistance to a repressive government and succeed without using arms, this suggests the possibility of replacing armed forces altogether. With suitable planning and training, people could be prepared to resist aggression without weapons. ...

Without weapons for defence, it might be possible for invaders to enter a country. But to conquer the country normally requires obtaining cooperation from a proportion of the population, in order for farms and factories to operate and for orders to be obeyed. If people are united in opposition, there are many ways to frustrate the goals of the invaders. ...

Enemies serve well to justify military establishments. They also provide a potent distraction from a key function of militaries: to defend rulers against their own people. This is most obvious in military dictatorships, when generals run a country. More commonly, militaries are the tools or allies of governments in repressing opposition through force and terror. Even in societies with free elections and civil liberties, soldiers are called upon as a last resort to any popular uprising (violent or not). For example, if workers occupy workplaces, dispensing with bosses, the government may call in the troops.

This brings up the most common need for "defence": it is not against foreign invaders but rather against one's own government, when it uses force against citizens. Getting rid of armaments and armies and instead relying on popular citizen action for defence is a threat to governments. If the people can resist a foreign invader, then they can use the same skills to resist the government itself.

The existence of militaries raises the old question, "Who guards the guardians?" One resolution to this question is for the people to be their own guardians.

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Published in Chain Reaction #137, December 2019. National magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia.

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