Welcome to Peace News, the newspaper for the UK grassroots peace and justice movement. We seek to oppose all forms of violence, and to create positive change based on cooperation and responsibility. See more

"Peace News has compiled an exemplary record... its tasks have never been more critically important than they are today." Noam Chomsky

  • facebook
  • rss
  • twitter

Nonviolent communication

Robbie Spence, Colchester

Yes, nonviolent communication can be used politically… I was glad to see PN devote a full page (PN 2528) to Cedric Knight’s account of nonviolent communication (NVC), and I’d like to make three points in response.

Firstly, Cedric focuses on the mechanics of NVC – the four-stage process of observation, feelings, needs and requests. While this is important, indeed distinctive of NVC, compared to other conflict resolution techniques, it should not overshadow the heart of the process, which is empathy and compassion.

The purpose of NVC is to create circumstances where we are more likely to be able to relate to one another heart-to-heart, free of enemy images, and create a world where everyone’s needs are met. The four-stage process is useful, especially in the early stages of learning NVC, in helping us achieve this compassionate consciousness, but it is just a toolkit.

Secondly, Cedric may have misunderstood the point about the “protective use of force”. The example quoted in Marshall Rosenberg’s NVC book is of pulling a toddler out of the path of an oncoming vehicle. This is force, not violence, and no sane parent would behave otherwise.
Last but not least, in answer to Cedric’s headline question, “Can nonviolent communication can be used politically?”, I’d say yes. Rosenberg chose to name his process “nonviolent communication” (rather than “compassionate communication”, which is its sub-title) to echo Gandhi’s example of nonviolence for social change. Drawing on, among others, theologian Walter Wink’s book, The Powers That Be, Rosenberg argues that for the last 8,000 years or so, people have lived under hierarchical systems where minorities with power have dominated majorities without power by means of violence that is mainly subtle and structural (with physical violence as a last resort). The features of domination culture include blame, shame, reward and punishment, duty and obligation, and doctrines of right and wrong – all of which are so deeply ingrained that it is hard for us to unlearn them on our way to practising NVC. While NVC is clearly a process of personal development, the way it challenges domination culture make it intensely political as well.

Gandhian protest

Paul Beswick, Penarth

This letter is to add my voice to the many which will no doubt be raised in protest against your response to George Paxton in Dec/Jan PN.
My initial thought, on reading your letter, was to cancel my subscription to PN. It was apparent to me that Gandhi’s integrity was under attack. Surely you must accept that to support a move towards civil war would mean everything he stood for – like Satyagraha – was no more than window dressing. Peace News often comes across as promoting class struggle (the cartoon opposite the letters in question would be a case in point). A revolution based on class struggle would indeed mean civil war – unlike a revolution based on a more transcendental, peaceful and Gandhian set of concerns. The recent correspondence with George Paxton makes it clear to me which sort of revolution I’d be in favour of, at least. I suppose I should thank you!

Milan Rai writes: I’m very sorry that you found my response to George Paxton’s letter so disturbing, Paul. I’m not sure what position you are taking on the documentation I referred to. It’s possible that I’ve misread Gandhi’s writings (which are available online, if you search for the “Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi”).
It’s also possible that there has been some error in recording the conversations, letters and press statements cited. It’s possible that even if the documents cited are accurately recorded, I have missed equally numerous repudiations by Gandhi of these positions, immediately after making these statements, so that during the period 1928-1946 Gandhi only very briefly (if repeatedly) favoured a short, sharp civil war as a way of resolving Hindu-Muslim conflicts in India.
If there have been such errors or omissions, I’d be grateful if they could be pointed out. On the other hand, if the documents are accurate, if there were no such repeated repudiations, and if, therefore, my reading is a fair one, then we are faced with the problem of explaining how Gandhi could write, for example: “I am more than ever convinced that the communal problem [between Muslims and Hindus] should be resolved outside of legislation and if, in order to reach that state, there has to be civil war, so be it.” (Letter to C. Vijayaraghavachariar, 29 April 1928) Is it “attacking Gandhi’s integrity” to point out that he wrote such a letter? Or that he repeated these sentiments in a press statement of 25 April 1941, and in various conversations? Is it an attack on Gandhi, or is it pointing to a complexity in Gandhi that is uncomfortable for those of us who are committed to nonviolence?
As someone whose turn to nonviolence was deeply influenced by Gandhi’s example, I find these and other inconsistencies in his thought extremely uncomfortable. Is it not better, however, and more faithful to Gandhi’s legacy, to strive to learn from what Gandhi actually said and did, rather than to construct a plaster saint whose perfection allows us to absolve ourselves of the responsibility to match his courage and determination? As for class struggle, Peace News has long held that oppression based on class, like oppression based on gender or race, or disability or sexuality, should be abolished, and, in the meantime, should be struggled against.
Peace News has long held the position, if I’ve understood it correctly, that it is possible and desirable and necessary to struggle for a nonviolent revolution in which class division is abolished along with other forms of injustice.
I hope that we can reach agreement on this. (However, I suspect we will not reach agreement on your other point, but we are very honoured to still be hosting Donald Rooum’s very fine cartoons!) Perhaps I should say that, so far, yours has been the only letter received in protest against my contributions on Gandhi – if other readers would like to add their voices to the discussion, please do write in.

Rock on pacifism

Jeff Cloves, Stroud

I'm presently confined to bed, after a serious and very painful fall from my bicycle. I'm re-reading Muriel Spark's excellent 1963 novel Girls of Slender Means which is set in 1945. Not only does it explore the world of ideas, its central male character is an “anarchist and poet”. In an early scene he and another poet are sitting in a café in their “corduroy trousers” discussing art and life: “a copy of Peace News lay on the table between them”. I whooped aloud – and painfully – when I read these words and wondered whether PN has ever figured in fiction before or since.

Tell us dear readers! Sadly, I find it hard to imagine a contemporary novelist even being aware of PN's existence, yet PN is full of good writing. In the 70s I used to write for the rock magazine Zigzag and it too was full of good writing by people who've since gone on to make a bigger mark. I've never come across a reference to Zigzag in fiction – and rarely one to Melody Maker or New Music Express come to that. Too low-brow for the literati? Novels concerned with pacifism are rare too, but how necessary they are. I've never ever been tempted to write a novel but It's my guess that there are would-be novelists reading this letter. So I offer you this subject: pacifism and rock n roll – and make sure you mention PN.

Topics: Culture