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Is There A Nonviolent Road To A Peaceful World ?
By Wilfred Wellock
In facing this problem it is necessary to get down to its roots, and the first fact to emphasise is that war is an expression of bad human relationships, whereas peace expresses the tranquility of harmonious human relationships. Hence the difference between war and peace is the difference between a knowledge and a lack of knowledge of the art of living and the conditions of personal and social wholeness, of physical, moral and spiritual health. The art of living includes stern discipline in obeying the commands of Truth.
Failures in human conduct there will always be in the very nature of things, but what is important is that such aberrations be prevented from spreading by means of social vigilance and a powerful social awareness of vital social values and standards of behaviour. There should be ample institutional means of insuring these in every society. Eternal vigilance is still and always will be the fundamental law of moral and spiritual health and of social progress.
Today, however, we are confronted with a wave of materialism that is sweeping across the world like a hurricane, in spite of professed religions and politics. In every country spiritual values are declining and moral standards weakening under the pressure of growing appetites and demands for all manner of excitements and self-indulgences. Throughout the West the prevailing aim of governments, political parties, and the public generally is maximum incomes and maximum production and consumption of goods and services. The outcome is a persistent demand for higher incomes, more markets for bigger exports of goods in order to import large quantities of food, raw materials and luxuries, increasing social tensions at home, and dangerous international tensions arising from the intensive competition of an ever-increasing number of “devouring” nations for markets and supplies.
In this situation it is idle to think in terms of a short cut to world peace. No conceivable peace conference could now take one firm, fundamental step towards that goal. The whole world lives in fear of a nuclear war, while a vast network of vicious international relationships holds the nations in the grip of mutual fear under the burden of mounting armaments. These are the realities behind the issue of peace and war today, and from them governments flinch as before a plague.
The two primary forces that are determining the course of events within and between the nations today are fear and greed, and to a large extent the fear is the product of greed.
The main cause of the changes that have led to the extension of the greed principle to its present dimensions, was the Industrial Revolution which took root some two centuries ago, in Britain. The building of factories fitted out with mechanisms where people were called upon to work various stipulated hours, for wages dictated by the owners, later called capitalists, was an innovation in production. It enabled an employer to live on the labour of his fellows, even sumptuously, and to give his family a good education and privileges which to the factory workers seemed fabulous.
From these simple beginnings sprang the powerful industrial states of today. In their wake came endless problems and all manner of proposed solutions. Among the latter were trade unions and political parties, Labour, Socialist, Anarchist and Communist, all of which were fighting instruments aimed at freeing the workers from the injustices and exploitations of capitalism. As already stated, the greed principle expressed itself in competition for world markets and supplies and also for the capture and exploitation of Colonial territories, which together ultimately led to the first world war, which also gave birth to Communist Russia. There followed the Treaty of Versailles which hurled Germany into complete bankruptcy, whence came Hitler and Nazism and ultimately the second world war.
But, as always when power becomes tyranny, there comes a day of reckoning. The logic of these shattering events penetrated into the millions of working-class minds in every Western country. Why, they asked, should all these evil things happen in a “Christian” country? The churches supported the two world wars, and have always supported capitalism with all its class divisions and antagonisms. What, then, is the church’s defence? Is religion played out? The answer came in empty churches. Orthodox Christianity lost its power and its leadership. The worker turned away, devoid of all spiritual guides, since no other religion, culture or philosophy was at hand. Thus deserted the common people gradually accepted the materialistic values of capitalism.
The consequences are before us. Today the workers of all classes, also the professions, including teachers, doctors, lawyers, scientists and at last civil servants are waging a gigantic social conflict for bigger shares of the national cake, to some extent against one another, and all against the Government.
One result has been a catastrophic lowering of moral standards. What wins money is justified. Gambling and all games of chance formerly under the condemnation of an almost universal conscience are now almost as universally accepted, openly and without shame or compunction, while the clamour for money as profit or wages or what, is breaking down the barricades of probity and honesty at an appalling rate.
In consequence, politics are becoming increasingly suspect. Even the labour and socialist movement has largely lost its soul, most of it having become middle class.
So far as the West is concerned, we have thus reached the era of a triumphant materialism. Today that materialism and the economic and social trends out of which it sprang, are extending their tentacles to the ends of the earth. They have gripped Japan, are penetrating into India and are now entering Africa.
Thus the time has come for the whole world to face the bleak realities of our time, especially the fact that over the last few decades the condition of man has markedly deteriorated. His future is threatened by two major evils: a war of extermination and the persistent and growing tendency towards the centralisation of industrial, financial and political power in the hands of tycoons and small coteries of politicians and others well entrenched in social and titled power.
There is no time to lose. The latest targets of armaments expansion indicated by the two Dinosaurs, register the supremacy and the impasse of economic and military power in the modern world. The high percentage of their total wealth which this expenditure consumes, indicates the magnitude of their fear, which is a demoralising and spiritually destructive force. Yet neither Dinosaur acknowledges a limit to such power or the necessity of setting a limit to its accumulation, although there exists a law which cannot be transgressed with impunity―the law of human limitation, or frailty. Once the concept of human wholeness vanishes the time soon comes when living ceases to be worth the candle.
That point is now being reached in the West, despite the heightening glamour and frenzy of perpetual excitement, self-indulgence and riotous living. Already behind the facade of a commercialised, vulgarised way of life one may feel the throb of a deep depression, perceive the shadows of harassing doubt and even a longing for the sweet fresh air of a simple, wholesome life.
The megatons multiply, but depressed imaginations refuse to face the magnitude of their menace, whence wide sections of the public barely move a muscle when informed that megatons are now assembled that could wipe out entire continents in the space of a few minutes. The grim fact is that the fear of living is becoming as frightening as was once the fear of death. Life has become so cheap that the gulf between it and death has almost vanished. Death having lost its sting, the grave spells freedom to an ever-increasing extent.
All this was bound to happen when the cash values of capitalism began to descend to the bottom of the social ladder. Today at every social level the paramount passion is to raise its allocation of the national income, whence politics have degenerated into a dog-fight for better shares of it.
Thus the idealism of fifty years ago―Christian, socialist, or what―has vanished, as has the concept of an equal society, leaving behind the dead weight of a rabid materialism that is obliterating the last vestiges of once highly esteemed spiritual values.
In this very serious situation I would make three submissions: First, that the foregoing material provides the background against which every effective instrument in the fight for world peace must be tested. Second, that no peace policy can succeed in the midst of the prevailing and growing materialism and all the antisocial activities and institutions to which it has given rise. Third, that the emergence of a peaceful world must follow a two-sided revolution in which both sides operate simultaneously, namely, a widespread personal resistance to war and all nuclear armaments, unilaterally, and a social and industrial decentralisation and fulfilling the right of every person to responsibility, creative self-expression and the spiritual values of cooperative participation in the running of industry.
War and violence are obviously played out and must be totally abandoned if civilisation is to survive. The only civilisation that can survive the storms and conflicts that are inseparable from the aggressive societies of today must rest on whole persons, and thus on a culture and way of life which can produce them. Peace is not a sacred symbol which sits on top of a civilisation like a gilded God, but a way of life which must be supported by society's major institutions―cultural, industrial, religious. Gandhi was one of the first to see the full significance of that truth, and to recognise the importance of developing India, both industrially and culturally, on very different lines from those now operating in the West.
During his later years Gandhi gave much thought to the problem of human wholeness and its achievement. He concentrated on two integral institutions, industry and education. His inquiries in England during his student days had convinced him that India would make a tragic mistake if she copied Western industrial methods. He deplored the very thought of India transforming men into machines as was happening in the West. He preferred a slower, more wholesome growth. Let there be mechanisms, so long as they assist the craftsman by taking out donkey work, but they must not be allowed to rob the craftsman of the right to responsibility in industry, to self-expression, and to the human values of cooperative working for common ends. He saw in India, with its 500,000 villages, a great opportunity of erecting a quite new kind of village democracy. In every village there would be agriculture, and a number of small industries. These would start with hand tools, but the workers would use their brains, study Western tools and methods and then select their own tools and mechanism with a view to high quality production and its satisfactions. The entire village economy would be developed stage by stage as meditation and experience determined. To meet the needs of this industrial and social pattern he evolved his system of Basic Education, which seeks to balance book learning and theoretical instruction with creative hand labour. In India I myself have witnessed small girls of six, spinning cotton in school while joyfully singing their spinning song. The system expresses the harmony of knowing, doing and being. It was first adopted in small village schools but it now runs right through to the university. This concept that education, industry and community self-government are all aspects of a process of producing whole persons reveals Gandhi's means of building a peaceful society in India, and throughout the world.
Obviously the highly industrialised and centralised West cannot copy Gandhi's pattern. It must therefore find another way of reaching the same goal. The basic principles involved in the Gandhian vision are unassailable. They include the universal right to responsibility, to creative self-expression and to the human values of cooperation, in one's daily labour. These rights demand the culture of small communities as the necessary basis of a valid democracy. Just how fast we can move towards industrial decentralisation cannot now be said. Obviously the start must be made with the small industries.
It is thus imperative that we of the West begin to think in terms of inaugurating a new creative era in which quantity yields to quality, abundance to sufficiency, complexity to simplicity, haste to meditation, fashion to individuality, limitation to character, mental fragmentation to spiritual wholeness, satiation to satisfaction and cash to culture.
Traditionally in most of Western Europe education meant the culture of the whole person, not only in private schools and universities, but in apprenticeship. Practically all the old craft Guilds stipulated in their list of principles that a master craftsman must prepare his apprentices for whole living, including his habits and morals generally. In some cases he had to teach them a foreign language, usually French, in order that when they had completed their apprenticeship as builder, wood craftsman, painter, etc. they might travel across Europe to study the works of the great masters in France, Belgium, Holland, Italy, etc, and as the Guilds had close relationships with the Church, their members were given free hospitality in the monasteries, of which there were many thousands enroute from London to Rome.
Happily there are many signs of the disquiet on the part of lone thinkers and small groups concerning present trends, in most countries, and numerous outspoken protests against some of the more sinister trends are being made. Indeed I could fill several pages with a brief account of them. Many community business enterprises are functioning in many European countries, while not a few private business concerns are endeavouring to cultivate a team spirit by various means which involve some degree of sacrifice of profits. An organisation has appeared in Britain under the name of “Demintry” which preaches and practises the decentralisation of at least a percentage of the capital of a business. One of these concerns describes itself as a “Commonwealth”, another as an “industrial community”. The verdict of these experiments is “Satisfaction all round”. They have definitely proved that co-ownership is a valid business principle both financially and spiritually, having revolutionised human relationships and developed a sense of unity of purpose. One of these firms allocates, by general agreement, 20 per cent of its profits to its workers, and a like sum, again with common consent, to a wide variety of public causes, local, national and international, thus establishing vital connections with its own locality, with the nation and with the wider world.
The case for co-ownership is strong. Labour is a vital factor in production, but it could be infinitely more vital and fruitful under co-ownership. Money is invested in machines, then why not in human beings who possess power which if appealed to in a just and human way could improve output enormously both in quantity and quality. The greatest crime of capitalism has been its rejection of the vast reservoir of creative power and enthusiasm by regarding its workers as machines rather than as persons whose natural instincts and impulses crave for self-expression. The means must be found of reawakening and using their long ignored finer powers.
Moreover current financial operations strongly vindicate the demand for co-ownership. During the last few decades enormous profits from most of our productive and distribution business have been handed out to shareholders for which they did nothing more than sign receipts, whereas in strict justice a considerable percentage of it should have been returned to the public in lower prices and to the workers in higher wages or as co-ownership capital.
The important fact is that the industrial revolution on behalf of human wholeness has begun. The task now is to extend it in every possible way. It is for the workers in the smaller industries to take the lead in agitating for co-ownership, and as far as possible with the backing of their trades unions. Only a little success is needed to open the way to what might become a general awakening and a powerful swing towards a creative democracy. Advancement in the main industries will help to point the way to the decentralisation of the giant industries.
In the West the public protests against the production and use of nuclear arms have had spectacular results, yet they have only touched the fringe of public opinion. It is my conviction that in a period of social decay like the present they will not succeed in their ultimate purpose without the inspiration of a constructive social revolution. It is in simultaneous direct action on both these fronts that I see the only hope of moving towards a free humanity and a peaceful world.