Nonviolence Versus Capitalism

by Brian Martin

Martin Luther King banner at 2012 U.S. Republican Convention, courtesy

Nonviolent action provides the best hope for moving beyond capitalism to a more humane social and economic system. In the past, methods of nonviolent action such as strikes, boycotts, non-cooperation, sit-ins and alternative institutions have most commonly been used to challenge systems of direct violence, such as repressive governments. Capitalism is a more difficult system to challenge using nonviolent action because of the way it infiltrates people’s everyday thinking and behaviour. In order to develop a nonviolence strategy against capitalism, a careful analysis is required to pinpoint key areas for attention, spell out alternatives and highlight opportunities. At the core of capitalism is private ownership of the means of production, including land, factories and knowledge. This is backed up, ultimately, by the coercive power of the state. Problems with capitalism are well known, so only a summary is given here. Generally speaking, the system of ownership encourages individuals and groups to put special interests above general interests.

Typical Problems with Capitalism

  • Social inequality is fostered within and between societies: the rich become richer and the poor become poorer;
  • Work is unsatisfying and often dangerous;
  • Workers are alienated from the product of their labour;
  • Those who cannot obtain work suffer poverty and boredom;
  • Consumers buy goods as substitute gratifications in place of satisfying work and community life;
  • Opportunities for economic gain foster antisocial practices, such as bribery and legislation to protect monopolies;
  • Selfishness is encouraged and cooperation discouraged;
  • Men use positions of economic power to maintain male domination, and dominant ethnic groups use economic power to maintain their domination;
  • Military and police systems needed to protect the system of private property are also used for war and repression;
  • The profit motive encourages production and promotion of products with consequences harmful to human health and the environment, such as cigarettes, pesticides and greenhouse gases.

Although capitalism has many shortcomings, it also has strengths. It has repeatedly demonstrated the capacity to promote great increases in the productive capacities of societies, harnessing individual and social drives for improved living standards. Although capitalism is compatible with dictatorship, it also thrives in liberal societies in which certain civil liberties are maintained, at least for most people most of the time. Although many harmful and wasteful products are produced, capitalist markets are responsive enough to produce and distribute many largely beneficial products, such as vegetables, bricks, beds and recorded music.

It is worth noting that what is called capitalism can be many things. (1) It is typically a system in which a small number of large corporations dominate in most sectors of the economy. This is commonly called ‘monopoly capitalism’ though ‘oligopolistic capitalism’ would be more accurate. Capitalism is never a pure or freestanding system but in practice is always intertwined with other systems of power, including the state, patriarchy and the domination of nature. Free-market libertarians advocate a totally free market, perhaps maintained by a ‘minimal’ state, but such a system is, as yet, hypothetical. ‘Capitalism’ as discussed here means ‘actually existing capitalism.’ (2)

Capitalism has shown a remarkable capacity for regeneration in the face of crises. Some Marxist analysts have referred to today’s system as ‘late capitalism,’ (3) but it is possible that it will, centuries hence, be known as ‘early capitalism.’ As capitalist economies move from the industrial era to postindustrial society or information economy and move from national economies to a global economy, what people recognise as capitalism is transformed.

The next section introduces nonviolence and outlines its strengths and weaknesses for transforming capitalism, followed by sections giving a skeleton analysis of capitalism from the point of view of developing nonviolent strategy, a survey of some alternatives to capitalism and, ideas for developing a strategy against capitalism. Ultimately, strategy has to be worked out by participants, but it is possible to offer ideas for further examination and testing. (4)


Nonviolent action can be defined as any form of social action that does not involve threatening or inflicting physical harm on people or objects. It includes everything from speeches, leaflets, petitions and rallies to non-cooperation, strikes, boycotts, sit-ins and setting up alternative institutions. (5)

Activists undertaking principled or Gandhian-style nonviolence are engaged in a search for ‘truth’ and believe that violence is morally wrong. (6) Activists using nonviolence for pragmatic reasons believe it is more effective than violence. In practice there is often overlap between these two constituencies.

Nonviolent action has several strengths. First, it is potentially far more participatory than organised violence. Participating in a rally, boycott or sit-in is possible regardless of sex, age or ability. In comparison, most front-line soldiers are young fit men. The secrecy required for violent actions also reduces participation. In practice, most nonviolent action campaigns are far more participatory than violent struggles.

The use of only nonviolent methods makes it easier to win over both supporters and opponents. Violence often increases the opponent’s solidarity. Soldiers, when ordered to attack nonviolent resisters, are far more likely to refuse or defect than when confronting armed opponents. Bombing of a civilian population typically increases its support for its government. Militaries and police often try to incite violence by the other side, sometimes by using agents, in order to discredit it.

When activists use nonviolent methods, this does not eliminate violence, since violence can be used by the other side, and often is. Nevertheless, using only nonviolent methods tends to reduce the risk of violence by the other side. In Britain’s colonial empire, concentration camps and torture were used in Kenya against the violent Mau Mau Uprising, (7) whereas there were far fewer killings against the nonviolent independence movement in India led by Gandhi.

Nonviolent action has been used for thousands of years, but only in the past century has it been consciously developed as a means for social change. Gandhi was the acknowledged pioneer in development of the strategic use of nonviolent action. A nonviolent action campaign involves systematic analysis, planning, training and organising as well as overt action.

Yet even today many of those who use nonviolent action do so in a rather unsystematic, unreflective fashion. This is a great contrast to the way that military and police forces are organised, with extensive training, planning and technological support, underpinned by government endorsement and massive funding. By comparison, nonviolent activists have relatively few resources, little in the way of institutional backing, and seldom any endorsement from dominant groups. The successes of nonviolent action are all the more remarkable given this disparity.

Historical examples can give some idea of the potential of nonviolent action. Some often-cited examples are the Indian independence movement, the US civil rights movement and the movement for women’s emancipation. (8)

A common objection is that nonviolence may work when the ruling class is tolerant, but cannot succeed against really repressive rulers. In fact, there are many examples of nonviolent action being effective in the face of the most severe repression. Struggles against the Nazis in occupied Europe were often effective. (9) The incredibly repressive and highly armed government of Iran under the Shah was brought down principally by nonviolent action in the 1978-79 revolution. (10) The South African system of apartheid, backed by military force and a government committed to repression was transformed largely through strikes, boycotts and other forms of nonviolent action. (11) Eastern European communist regimes, with comprehensive systems for surveillance and repression of dissent, dissolved in 1989 in the face of popular resistance. (12)

Of course, nonviolent action is not always successful. A proper assessment of its potential is only possible by comparing it to violent options, given an equal allotment of resources, commitment and insight. The fact is that nonviolent action has seldom been tried with the same degree of sacrifice as violence. For example, in the Algerian struggle for independence from France, a million people were killed. No nonviolent struggle yet has ever been taken to this level. The closest may be the Iranian revolution, in which tens of thousands of people were shot dead in the streets in nonviolent protests against the regime.

The costs of attempts at violent revolution are enormous. Millions of people have died in revolutionary wars in China, Angola, El Salvador and dozens of other countries. Many attempts at armed liberation have ended in complete failure. (13) Others have led to militarisation of the revolution. (14) Yet for decades many on the left remained attached to the idea of revolution through armed struggle.

Neither violence nor nonviolence has yet been effective in opposing capitalism. The main approaches relying ultimately on violence grow out of different strategies by socialists. One is the Leninist strategy of armed struggle under command of a communist party to capture state power. The power of the state is then used to smash capitalist social relations. This strategy has been disastrous, leading to repressive regimes with millions of victims in purges and famines. (15) Most communist regimes have collapsed or introduced capitalist economic policies under communist party rule. (16)

Some analysts categorise communist regimes as ‘state capitalist,’ meaning that the state-run economic system essentially operates as a capitalist enterprise, exploiting the workers just like any other employer. (17) Given that workers have not been in command, it is misleading to refer to these societies as socialist.

The other main socialist approach has been social democracy, which means seeking governmental power through elections and then, once elected, using the power of the state to transform capitalism into socialism. Many labour, socialist and communist parties have pursued this route, gaining power in many countries especially in western Europe. In practice, socialists in government have become supporters of capitalism, and their successors today vie for office on the grounds that they can manage capitalism more effectively than their opponents. (18)

Both the Leninist and social democratic strategies rely on the power of the state to dismantle capitalism. Ultimately this means obtaining control over the state’s military and police powers as a means of challenging the capitalist system of ownership. Since socialist approaches to opposing capitalism have relied on controlling the state and its means of violence, they cannot be considered strategies based on nonviolence.

For all its failures and accommodations, at least the socialist tradition has seriously addressed the issue of capitalism as a system of oppression. The nonviolence tradition, in contrast, has hardly begun to work out a strategy to transform capitalism into a different system. The most that can be said is that techniques of nonviolent action have been used on many occasions to challenge aspects of capitalism. Some examples are:

  • Workers’ direct action against employers, such as strikes and sit-ins, to obtain better pay and conditions or a greater say in decision making;
  • Workers’ control and cooperatives, providing alternatives to capitalist ownership and management;
  • Environmental movement campaigns against damaging industries, harmful products and new industrial developments;
  • Local campaigns against commercial developments (often linked to campaigns elsewhere);
  • Squatting in unoccupied buildings as a means of exposing and challenging private control over housing;
  • Global campaigns against agencies and arrangements extending the power of capital, such as campaigns against the World Bank and the Multilateral Agreement on Investment;
  • Direct action against genetically engineered crops.

A close look at just about any aspect of capitalist society will reveal challenges using nonviolent action. Consider advertising, a crucial part of consumerism and the commodity-based culture. Responses have included rejection of advertising messages (as in ‘no junk mail’ signs on mail boxes), campaigns against particular styles of advertising, and the creative defacing of billboards.

Indeed, it can be argued that a great deal of reform of capitalism has occurred as a result of nonviolent action. The major qualification is that much of this reform has occurred through government regulation, thus relying on the power of the state that is ultimately backed by force. This points to a divergence in approaches within the nonviolence rubric.

Reform efforts with the aim of getting the government to act often use nonviolent action, such as rallies, petitions and blockades to get people’s attention and trigger government intervention. In this case, nonviolent action is a tool for getting the state to use its power for change. Direct action, in contrast, uses nonviolence as a means of change without relying on outside coercive power (i.e., the state).

In practice, though, it is often difficult to make a clear distinction between reform and direct action. In many cases where governments make laws, enforcement occurs only as a consequence of popular outrage or direct action, as when activists or journalists expose corporate flouting of environmental regulations. In other cases, direct action leads governments to pass laws that mainly have the effect of co-opting a popular struggle, as in much legislation covering workplaces.

Although many groups have used nonviolent action to challenge aspects of capitalism, few nonviolence theorists have looked at this issue. The central preoccupation of writing on nonviolence is with systems involving direct use of violence, including dictatorship, war and genocide. Nonviolent action is proposed as an alternative to direct physical violence. Capitalist enterprises seldom own or directly control means of organised violence,(19) though of course capitalism can be held responsible for widespread suffering and death, for example through impoverishment of Third World countries. (20)

The leading contemporary theorist of nonviolent action is Gene Sharp whose book The Politics of Nonviolent Action is a classic in the field. As the theoretical foundation for nonviolent action, Sharp endorses the consent theory of power. (21) In this model, power is not a monolithic entity held by oppressors, but rather a relation between individuals and groups in which subjects, through consent or acquiescence, give power to rulers. Nonviolent action is a withdrawal of this consent. Non-cooperation, for example a refusal to obey, disrupts the power relationship.

Sharp argues that consent is central to all systems of power. This includes the consent of groups such as the police that carry out the orders of rulers. Nonviolent action disrupts the usual pattern of acquiescence and has the potential to win over third parties and members of the oppressing group.

Sharp’s theory of power is very empowering for activists. It says that power is always precarious and that people at any level, through their own actions, can challenge and undermine repressive and oppressive systems. In contrast, theories that conceive of power as something held by rulers, or as built into systems such as social class or bureaucracy, do not have a built-in role for human agency. (22)

The consent theory of power is easiest to apply when oppressors are obvious and distinct, such as dictators, police and occupying troops. When nonviolent activists confront soldiers, as in Beijing in 1989, it is clear who is exercising violence for the purposes of repression and it is clear that undermining the will of the troops, commanders and government leaders is vital to success of the nonviolent struggle.

However, the consent theory of power doesn’t work nearly so well when confronted with systems of oppression where there are no obvious rulers or agents of repression. (23) Capitalism is one such system. Nearly everyone is implicated in the market, simply by buying and selling goods and services. If markets based on ownership of property are exploitative, then nearly everyone benefits at different points, though some benefit far more than others.

Some systems of collective ownership and use exist in capitalist societies, such as public parks, public transport and libraries, to which everyone has access. But these are islands of collective provision in a system largely based on private ownership, in which many people own land, vehicles and books. While some capitalists own vast empires built on real estate, factories and copyrights, many others are mini-capitalists, perhaps owning a small parcel of property or a few shares. Anyone who puts their money in a bank indirectly invests in the various enterprises to which the bank gives loans.

A key element in capitalism is the way people’s labour power is turned into a commodity. Employees sell their labour power to employers in exchange for money. Yet in everyday life many people are employers in a small way, for example when they pay someone to mind their children, transport their belongings or handle their legal affairs. Lots of people are in a contradictory situation, being both employees and employers in different contexts.

The complexities continue within workplaces, most of which are organised bureaucratically, namely with hierarchy and a division of labour. Workers in mid ranges of the hierarchy are subordinate to those above but have formal authority over those below. Such workers are both rulers and ruled.

Systems of domination with clear rulers and agents, such as military dictatorships, make it quite clear to opponents those who must be opposed. These are systems based on command, as indeed are military forces. Withdrawing consent from command systems, though often dangerous, is straightforward. (24)

Capitalism, in contrast, is a system without such clear rulers and agents. It is a system of distributed power, in which nearly everyone is a type of collaborator. It is far more difficult to challenge such a system by saying to people, ‘withdraw consent.’ Does this mean not to obey the boss? Does it mean not to buy goods from a large corporation? Does it mean not to respect private property?

Capitalism is a difficult system to challenge because capitalist relationships infiltrate people’s everyday lives, making them part of the process. The Leninist approach to socialism aimed to conquer capitalism by deploying the power of the state. However, this created an even more oppressive system.

If nonviolent action is to be used to tackle capitalist oppression, then it needs to be built on an informed strategy, including a careful analysis of the foundations of capitalist power, a vision of an alternative and a plan for moving from the present situation towards the alternative. It also needs to include challenges to other systems of domination, especially those in symbiosis with capitalism, including the state, the military, bureaucracy and patriarchy.

Capitalism from the Point of View of Nonviolent Strategy

There are vast numbers of critical analyses of capitalism. (25) However, most of these chiefly deal with what is wrong, and prescriptions for change are most commonly directed at what governments should do. For the purposes of developing a strategy for transformation of capitalism through nonviolent action, only certain aspects of analysis are relevant. Here, the focus will be on links between capitalism and systems of violence, belief systems and destruction of alternatives.

If a participatory grassroots strategy against capitalism is to succeed, it needs to be based on widespread understanding of why and how capitalism needs to be changed. The vanguard approach to social change, vesting authority or wisdom in a charismatic leader or political party, is not compatible with the sort of participatory programme of action needed.

a. Capitalism’s Link with Systems of Violence

From the point of view of nonviolence, a crucial feature of capitalism is its links with systems of violence, notably the military and police. For some capitalist countries, which are run as repressive states, this connection is obvious. But for capitalist countries with representative government, the connections between the military, police and capitalist social relations are less overt.

For most of the time, state violence is not required to defend capitalism, since most people go along with the way things are. If the challenge to capitalism is violent, such as by a revolutionary party that uses bombings or assaults, then police and military forces are used to crush the challengers. But sometimes there are serious nonviolent challenges, especially when workers organise. Troops are typically called out when workers in a key sector (such as electricity or transport) go on strike, when workers take over running of a factory or business, or when there is a general strike. Spy agencies monitor and disrupt groups and movements that might be a threat to business or government. Police target groups that challenge property relations, such as workers and environmentalists taking direct action.

At the core of capitalism is private property. Military and police power is needed to maintain and extend the system of ownership. It should be noted that petty theft and organised crime are not major challenges to the system of property, since they accept the legitimacy of property and are simply attempts to change ownership in an illegal manner. Criminals are seldom happy for anyone to steal from them. Principled challenges to property, such as squatting and workers’ control, are far more threatening.

Many people, especially in the United States, believe that government and corporations are antagonistic, with opposite goals. When governments set up regulations to control product quality or pollution, some corporate leaders complain loudly about government interference. But beyond the superficial frictions, at a deeper level the state operates to provide the conditions for capitalism. The state has it own interests, to be sure, especially in maintaining state authority and a monopoly on what it considers legitimate violence, but it depends on capitalist enterprises for its own survival, notably through taxation. In capitalist societies, states and capitalism depend on and mutually reinforce each other. (26)

b. Belief Systems

Another crucial feature of capitalism is belief systems and associated behaviours, including consumerism, entitlement, individualism and selfishness, as well as belief in property. Beliefs do not arise out of nothing: they are an adaptation to the situations in which people find themselves, sometimes challenging these situations. Here are a few common beliefs in capitalist societies.

  • Capitalism is superior to alternatives; (Many people assume that success, in other words dominance, means superiority or virtue. Logically, this doesn’t follow.)
  • Capitalism is inevitable; (In the face of everyday reality, many people cannot easily conceive of an alternative that is fundamentally different.)
  • It is fair that people receive what they earn; (The system of jobs operates as a method of allocating the economic product to individuals and groups. This system is arbitrary and built on the exercise of power. There is nothing inherently fair about it.)
  • The market is the most efficient method of matching supply and demand; (In practice, many ‘markets’ are artificial constructions, as in the case of copyrighted software. The market is not used for things people hold dearest, such as allocating affection in a family.)
  • Selfishness is innate and justified; it makes the profit system operate; (Humans have the potential for both selfishness and altruism. (27) Social systems can foster either.)
  • People who are poor have only themselves to blame; (Blaming the poor ignores the exercise of power in creating poverty and denies the social obligation to help those in need.)
  • Greater production and consumption lead to greater happiness. (Actually, happiness is not closely correlated with objective measures such as income; (28)
  • Comparisons between people are highly important to people, which suggests that inequality fostered by capitalism reduces happiness. (29)

There are other beliefs commonly found in capitalist societies, but of course not everyone subscribes to every one of these beliefs. Nevertheless, the passionate commitment to certain core beliefs by some people (especially those with the most power) and general acceptance by many others makes it possible for capitalism to carry on most of the time without the overt use of force to repress challenges.

There are quite a few contradictions within usual belief systems. Here are some examples.

  • The ideology of capitalism is a free market in labour. This implies unrestricted immigration, but all governments and most people oppose this; (30)
  • Sexual and racial discrimination is incompatible with a labour market based on merit;
  • A free market in services implies the elimination of barriers based on credentials. For example, anyone should be able to practise as a doctor or lawyer.

A key group involved in shaping belief systems is intellectuals. Although right-wing commentators attack universities as havens for left-wing radicals, in practice most academics, journalists, teachers, policy analysts and other knowledge workers support or accept the basic parameters of the capitalist system. Through advertising, public relations, policy development and public commentary, intellectuals give legitimacy to beliefs supportive of capitalism. Many of the most vehement intellectual disputes, for example over employment, public ownership and taxation, are about how best to manage capitalism, not how to transcend it.

Intellectuals as a group are not passive tools of capitalists, though, having their own interests. Intellectuals tend to support the state in its management of society, since this puts intellectuals in a privileged position. (31) Close scrutiny needs to be made of any anti-capitalist movement led by intellectuals, to ensure it is not a way to put a group of them in a privileged position. Radical intellectuals may become involved in revolutionary parties. (32) Successful socialist revolutions almost always are led by intellectuals (Lenin and Mao are the most prominent examples) and result in power to a stratum of intellectuals. (33) However, as noted before, this strategy has been a failure in challenging capitalism, and has led to misery for millions.

The reality is that capitalism has adapted itself to other systems of power, including state power, racism, patriarchy, professional privilege and the intellectual class.

c. Destruction of Alternatives

For the past several centuries, alternatives to capitalism have been systematically destroyed or co-opted. Sometimes this is through the direct efforts of owners and managers and sometimes it is accomplished by the state.

  • The family-based ‘putting-out’ system of production was replaced by the factory system. The new system was initially not any more efficient but gave owners the power to extract more surplus from workers; (34)
  • Workers’ control initiatives have been smashed. Sometimes this is at the factory level. In revolutionary situations, such as Paris in 1871 or Spain in 1936-1939, it has been at a much wider scale;
  • Provision of welfare from the state, including pensions, unemployment payments, disability and veterans’ supports and child maintenance, undercuts community-based systems of collective welfare and mutual support. (35) This helps to atomise the community, making commodity-based provision seem the only possibility;
  • Worker-controlled organising is opposed. Trade unions are often tolerated or cultivated as a way of co-opting worker discontent, so long as the unions focus on wages and conditions rather than control over production;
  • Left-wing governments have often acted to dampen direct action by workers; (36)
  • Affluence and the promotion of satisfaction through consumption have bought off many dissidents, actual and potential;
  • Socialist governments, especially those that provide an inspiring example to others, have been attacked by political pressure, withdrawal of investment, blockades, destabilisation and wars;
  • International agreements and agencies, including the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organisation, are used to expand opportunities for capitalism, especially through opening national economies to international investment;
  • The production and promotion of attractive new products and services makes people want to join the consumer society. (37) Many commodities appeal to people’s wants, including junk food, television, stylish cars, trendy clothes, status. (38) An orientation to commodities serves to displace achievement of human values that are possible without commodities, including friendship and work satisfaction.

The implication of these and other examples is that a nonviolent strategy needs to both build alternatives and to challenge the power of the capitalist system to smash or co-opt alternatives.

d. Other Factors

Whether capitalism is about to collapse or actually does collapse cannot be easily predicted. Nor is it obvious that collapse is a good thing. It might open opportunities for grassroots alternatives, (39) but it might create a demand for state repression. The collapse of the Russian economy under capitalism does not seem to be improving prospects for a better alternative. In any case, the possibility of collapse should be taken into account in developing strategy.

Whether globalism is a new phase in capitalist development or simply an extension and revision of national capitalist systems is important, (40) but it is not clear how much this affects the way a nonviolent struggle against capitalism is carried out.


Any challenge to capitalism needs to have some alternative in mind. If the alternative is too vague, it may be difficult to formulate an effective strategy. If it is too detailed, it may make it difficult to build widespread support. If it is too reformist, it may not lead to significant change.

There are many possible alternatives. Here are some key features that are worth considering:

(A) Cooperation, rather than competition, is the foundation for activity;

(B) Priority in the distribution of social production is to those with the greatest needs;

(C) Satisfying work should be available to everyone who wants it;

(D) The system is designed and run by the people themselves, rather than authorities or experts;

(E) The system is based on nonviolence. A nonviolent strategy against capitalism only makes sense if the means and ends are compatible.

Every one of these features is a challenge to the capitalist way of doing things, and in every case capitalism tries to achieve a goal through a means that is contradictory to it.

(A) Capitalism is founded on competition between firms and between workers. It appeals to people’s worst impulses with the contradictory argument that pursuing self-interest serves the greater good;

(B) Philosophers who look at ‘just desert’ find little justification for unequal rewards. (41) Why should someone receive more simply because they have rich parents or high natural ability?

The standard idea is that allocation of the economic product under capitalism is through jobs: people get rewarded for doing the work to keep society going. This is a sort of meritocracy. However, although jobs do some of the allocation, there’s far more to the story. What actually determines a large proportion of the allocation of goods and services are:

  • Ownership of capital (providing profits to owners);
  • Credentials (providing high salaries to those with the background and opportunities to obtain degrees and enter occupational areas with protection against those without credentials (42);
  • Executive salaries and perks (providing high return to managers with more power);
  • State interventions (welfare, pensions);
  • Unpaid work (housework, child care).

Within the framework of the regulated market, solutions to economic inequality include reducing working hours, increasing wages, reducing credential barriers, taxing wealth and paying for housework. However, none of these challenges the foundations of capitalism.

There is plenty of production in the world today to satisfy everyone’s needs (but not, as the Gandhian saying goes, anyone’s greed). The problem is distribution. (43)

(C) Under capitalism, work is typically regarded as an unpleasant activity that is necessary to obtain income for a good life. People are expected to adapt to fill jobs, rather than work being tailored to the needs of people. (44)

Compared to a society that distributes goods to those who most need them, under capitalism there is a great deal of inappropriate production, wasted effort and pointless activity, including advertising, planned obsolescence, military production, provision of luxuries for the rich and unnecessary work and jobs that serve only to help justify receiving a share of society’s resources. (45) In contrast, there is a great deal of work that is needed but for which there is little or no pay, including child rearing, provision of goods and services for the poor, environmental improvements, and friendship and support for people who are lonely or have disabilities.

(D) Capitalism is founded on control by those with the most money and power. Participation by the people is fostered only to the extent that it helps firms compete or maintains managerial control (as in limited forms of industrial democracy).

(E) Capitalism is founded on the state’s use of its power to protect the system of ownership.

Thus, capitalism fails on all these five criteria, but so does any system relying on state power, including state socialism. To find systems that go some distance towards the ideal, it is necessary to look at alternatives that have been rejected by both capitalists and socialists. Here are several possibilities, which satisfy most or all of these five criteria.

a. Sarvodaya

The Gandhian ideal of village democracy and economic self-reliance, going under the name sarvodaya, is a fundamental rejection of capitalist economics. (46) It is founded on local cooperation with property under collective trusteeship. Its fundamental requirement is to eliminate discrimination and serve those with greatest need. It is based on ‘bread labour,’ namely everyone working to produce the necessities of life. Collective work of this sort has the potential of being satisfying to nearly all. Being organised at a village level, it is participatory and self-managing. Finally, its essence is commitment to nonviolence as a way of life.

b. Anarchism

Anarchism rejects the state and other forms of domination, instead relying on people’s ability to collectively organise their own lives, a project commonly called self-management. (47) The foundation of anarchist economics thus is cooperation. In a typical anarchist model, production is carried out by self-managing collectives that cooperate with each other directly and through federations. There is no exchange of goods and services, which instead are freely available to all in what can be called ‘free distribution’ or ‘collective provision.’ Work is voluntary, though it is likely to be attractive since it is a cooperative endeavour for human needs. Anarchists differ on the role of violence in a self-managing society, but this version of anarchist economics is definitely compatible with nonviolence. (48)

c. Voluntaryism

Voluntaryism is a modification of libertarianism (49) involving complete rejection of the state and any form of institutionalised violence. (50) Voluntaryism is built on a market, but one that is entirely voluntary: exchange only occurs with the agreement of all parties. It is thus cooperative, as the name ‘voluntaryism’ suggests, and is managed by the people who are involved in it. Voluntaryist self-organisation can be perceived as behind many significant enterprises, such as the postal system and railways, before they were monopolised by the state. Since it totally rejects the state and other forms of organised violence, voluntaryism instead relies entirely on nonviolence. (51) Voluntaryism provides no guarantee of serving those with greatest needs. However, its cooperative foundation provides some hope that people will come forward for this purpose.

d. Demarchy

Demarchy is an alternative to electoral democracy based on dozens of groups in every local community, each of which makes and implements decisions about a particular function such as transport, food production, education or the arts. (52) Members of the demarchic groups are chosen by lot from volunteers. Though designed as a political alternative, demarchic principles can be applied to the economic system. Demarchic groups would make decisions about production, land use and the money supply, while the actual production could be done by cooperatives. (53) Demarchy is based on a total rejection of the state and its bureaucratic structures, including the military, and thus implicitly relies on nonviolence. It is self-managing, using random selection to foster participation of a wide cross-section of the population in a complex society, with stratified samples to deal with unequal volunteering rates. The evidence from groups of randomly selected citizens brought together to make decisions on challenging issues is that they are likely to be highly attuned to the community interest, including those in greatest need. (54)

These four models are examples of economic systems founded on or compatible with nonviolent principles. Many variants are possible, and there are other models that are available or to be developed in the future. These are all radical alternatives, in the sense that they challenge the roots of capitalism and other economic systems founded on violence.

Rather than thinking of an alternative as an ideal that is to be achieved at some time in the future, it is useful to think of an alternative as a direction, in other words as a guide for developing strategies. In some senses, the alternative does not matter in itself, but only in how it affects what people do now. Indeed, the alternative can be said to be the transitional strategies aimed at bringing it about. This is another way of saying that the means become the end, and implies that any worthwhile alternative should incorporate the ends in the means. With these models as backdrops, it is time to turn to the practical issue of strategies against capitalism.


To talk of nonviolent strategy against capitalism today is simply to toss out ideas. There can be no presumption of formulating a grand plan for bringing about an alternative, since that would be incompatible with the full participation of those involved. The actual strategy has to be worked out by participants, and that is yet to occur.

Indeed, any overarching plan is vulnerable to attack or cooption, precisely because it is something that can be observed and targeted. Far more threatening to capitalism is a wide variety of challenges and alternative practices, each contributing to a general change of belief and behaviour.

Nevertheless, it is not wise to avoid discussion of strategy, leaving everything to spontaneous and uncoordinated initiative. Thinking strategically is essential so that actions are effective. The goal should be that strategy is democratised. All sorts of individuals and groups need to think about and debate visions, methods and paths, so that the ‘big picture’ is not left to a few high-level theorists.

For capitalism to be replaced or transformed into a better social system will take decades or centuries. To imagine that a brief revolutionary struggle can bring about lasting change can be a dangerous illusion. It is far better to think of strategies that bring short-term improvements while contributing to long-term change. If things proceed more quickly than expected, so much the better. But it is quite possible that capitalism will become more powerful and pervasive in spite of all efforts to the contrary. A strategy needs to be viable in that circumstance too.

With this in mind, consider some challenges to capitalist social relations.

Building Alternatives

Creation of alternatives to capitalist practices is the most clear-cut approach to change. Creating alternatives obviously adheres to the requirement of incorporating the ends in the means. Here are some possibilities. (55)

(A) Community exchange schemes, such as LETS (Local Employment and Trading System), which is a not-for-profit, cooperative information service to coordinate local exchange of goods and services. (56) Unlike the anonymous market, formal barter systems such as LETS promote direct connections between people, fostering a more cooperative approach. LETS supplements the money economy but also challenges it, causing difficulty for the state to exercise its power through taxation.

(B) Local money systems. (57) Local money is directly connected to people in a community, greatly restricting the power of national governments and large corporations, especially major banks. Local money helps to make people aware of the social role of money, challenging the idea that it is a neutral exchange medium. (58) LETS and local money systems are challenges to the construction of markets by states. Also important here are microfinance systems serving the poor, such as the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. (59)

(C) Workers’ control of production. (60) When workers decide for themselves how to organise work, make decisions about products and markets and otherwise take control, this gives experience in an alternative to the normal hierarchical organisational structure. It provides a direct challenge to the market in labour power and to managerial prerogative.

(D) Community control. (61) When people in neighbourhoods, suburbs and towns have a direct say in how things are organised, this gives experience in an alternative to the normal practice. Roads, building regulations, power systems, emergency services, schools, health care and many other aspects of community life can potentially be controlled by the people who use them. This is an alternative and challenge to the usual system of control by administrators or elected representatives, which is normally attuned to the interests of powerful corporations and the administrators and representatives themselves.

(E) Free distribution. Providing goods and services directly to those who need them, free or with a voluntary charge, is a dramatic alternative to the capitalist market. Providing free food to the homeless, such as by the group Food Not Bombs, is one example. Another is free software, produced by volunteers and provided free to anyone who wants to use it. (62) Public libraries and parks are existing facilities that are challenges to the market. They need to be expanded and defended from fee-for-service. (63) Another avenue is opening up private or restricted facilities to the public, such as university libraries and government offices.

These and other alternatives serve several functions. They give people an experience of a different way of doing things, showing that alternatives are possible. They put limitations on the penetration of capitalist practices into daily life. And they lay the basis for wider challenges.

Not every alternative is a complete break with capitalism. For example, local money systems are compatible with an economy dominated by local capitalists. Nevertheless, the degree of local empowerment usually outweighs this potential disadvantage. Certainly, national governments usually try to squash local money systems. Alternatives differ in the degree to which they provide a full-scale challenge to capitalism.

Promoting alternatives can proceed by formal channels such as circulating information, forming organisations, lobbying and voting. But this is often quite inadequate. Nonviolent action certainly can play a role, including rallies and strikes as well as just proceeding to create the alternative.

In many cases, attempts to promote or maintain alternatives come under direct attack. Often this takes place through laws, which are enforced by police and courts. Civil disobedience then has a role to play.

Building alternatives is an enormous topic. There are no general answers about how best to proceed. A deep understanding of the local situation, and what can be achieved in the circumstances, is essential. Nevertheless, it is valuable to think of local campaigns in the wider context of anti-capitalist strategies, to gain insight into wider social dynamics and potentially to share experiences and build alliances.

Challenging the Violent Foundation of Capitalism

Methods of nonviolent action such as refusals to obey, rallies, strikes, boycotts and sit-ins are excellent tools for challenging the capitalist system. Examples of direct challenges to property are occupying land and civil disobedience against intellectual property. (64) Strikes and boycotts are a direct challenge to owners and managers. Sometimes building an alternative is a direct challenge too. For example, LETS, free distribution, local money and local self-reliance are challenges to the market. Workers’ control is a major challenge to owners and managers.

Underpinning capitalism is the state and its claimed monopoly over organised violence. Nonviolent action is the best hope of a direct challenge to the violence of military and police systems. (65) Nonviolent action has been instrumental in toppling many repressive regimes, as noted in section two above. To undermine capitalism, the potential of nonviolent action to oppose state violence needs to be directed at state support for property and other props for the capitalist system.

Nonviolent action can also be developed into a full-scale alternative to military defence. Instead of using weapons and troops to defend (or attack), a community would defend itself using non-cooperation, rallies, strikes, boycotts, occupations and other forms of nonviolent action. (66) This would need to be organised with resources and training on a scale similar to military forces. Preparation would include designing energy, transport, agriculture, communication and other technological systems to be resilient against attack, training in foreign languages and intercultural understanding, fostering community solidarity, building links with sympathetic groups in other countries (especially potential aggressor countries), introducing comprehensive education and training in nonviolent action, running simulations (analogous to military training exercises), and setting up decision making systems and popular ‘intelligence’ services to assess potential threats. Such a system for defence using nonviolent action has been given various names, including nonviolent defence, social defence, civilian-based defence and defence by civil resistance.

No society has ever systematically prepared itself for nonviolent defence. In this sense, nonviolence is in an early stage of development equivalent to violence before the introduction of armies and organised weapons production. Therefore, it can be said that the full-scale nonviolent alternative to the military has yet to be tried.

One of the key implications of promoting the capacity to use nonviolent action against aggressors is that it provides skills and ideas for communities, which they can use against more local targets. In a social defence system, it would be desirable for workers to know how to shut down production quickly and completely, without damaging equipment. A crucial piece of equipment, such as a computer chip, might be designed so that, when removed, rapid resumption of production is impossible. A replacement could be kept in a safe place such as another country. With this sort of preparation, even torture would be useless to get production going again.

If workers had this capacity to shut down production, it could be used against employers. Indeed, workers’ control provides the best sort of defence against repression, since a collectively run workplace is far harder for an aggressor to control, without the managerial chain of command in which top figures can be replaced or induced to support the aggressors.

Similarly, if communities are self-reliant in energy and food and have skills in mutual help, they are in a far stronger position to resist being incorporated into a corporate-dominated commodity culture. Thus, virtually all the measures to build the capacity for nonviolent defence of a community are equally valuable for building the capacity to resist capitalist social relations and challenge the power of the state to support capitalism. (67)

Network communication systems, including telephone, fax and electronic mail, are ideally designed for nonviolent resistance to aggression, since the aggressor cannot shut down communication by controlling a few key points, as in the case of major television and radio stations, traditionally the first points of call in military coups. Compatible with this, internet communication proved to be highly effective in organised global citizen resistance to the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. (68)

Undermining Beliefs in Capitalism

To create an alternative to capitalism, it is essential to undermine beliefs that capitalist ways of doing things are desirable, superior or inevitable. People in capitalist societies live their daily lives enmeshed in a web of beliefs and small acts that constantly recreate understandings of what is possible and desirable. When people purchase a meal, see and hear advertisements, wear brand clothes, aspire to ever more material possessions or mould themselves to compete in a market for employment slots, they are involved in behaviours and beliefs that reflect and reproduce a capitalist-dominated way of life.

Capitalism is sustained largely by support and acquiescence rather than force. When large numbers of people break the law, police and military enforcement can be futile or counterproductive. The fact is that most people go along with the system, even those who oppose it. The challenge is to develop a strategy that undermines beliefs in capitalism and creates momentum to bring about an ever-expanding challenge.

This is a very difficult challenge. Capitalism has shown a remarkable capacity to co-opt its critics, for example in the use of the rhetoric of ‘revolution’ in advertising. Apple Computers has used the image of Gandhi spinning khadi as an advertising angle, turning Gandhi’s opposition to western-style industrialism into a corporate pitch for an opposite direction.

Nevertheless, many people are quite disillusioned with the results of capitalist development. There are many points for ideological challenge:

  • Enormous inequalities in wealth and income (which conflict with ideas of fairness);
  • Alienating work (which conflicts with people’s awareness of satisfying activities, often pursued in non-work time);
  • Environmental impacts (which conflict with widely shared values);
  • Increased commodification, such as ownership of genetic information, which conflicts with traditional ideas of common heritage.

In the past several decades, one of the most potent challenges to capitalist beliefs systems has been provided by the rise in environmental consciousness. Prior to the 1960s, the environmental consequences of industrialisation were commonly seen as a symbol of progress. The environmental movement challenged this belief system, putting in its place an image of pollution and environmental destruction as a totally harmful and unwelcome feature.

The environmental movement has been a leader in the use of nonviolent action, most prominently in dramatic stunts by Greenpeace but more pervasively through thousands of actions in communities around the world. The environmental movement has drawn on and helped create a huge number of idealistic campaigners who have been willing to make enormous sacrifices in direct actions, community organising, education, developing alternative processes and products and a host of other initiatives. The movement has been extraordinarily successful in making environmental values into a dominant belief system. It is a sign of success in this regard that corporations now present themselves as environmentally responsible and resort to various underhanded techniques to continue their damaging practices.

Of course, the environmental movement and the transformation of popular consciousness has not been enough to stop corporate (and government) assaults on the environment. The point is that environmental campaigning has been highly successful in undermining beliefs about capitalism as inherently good.

Although environmental consciousness provides a potent challenge to capitalism, it is not a guaranteed road to an alternative. Although some sections of the environmental movement aspire to a non-capitalist future, others are quite happy to promote a reformed capitalism, in which corporations minimise pollution and produce energy-efficient products. (69)

Other movements have a similar diversity of orientations to capitalism. For example, liberal feminists aim for equal opportunities for women in corporations and the market, whereas socialist and anarchist feminists see women’s liberation as closely tied to challenges to capitalism and the state.

The reason environmental and feminist challenges contain divergent orientations to capitalism is that they are fundamentally challenges to power systems that are only partially tied to capitalism. Environmentalism can be considered to be a direct challenge to the human domination of nature, especially as manifested in industrialism. Capitalism has relied heavily on domination of nature but so has state socialism; both were built on industrialism. But portions of capitalist economies are not so dependent on industrialism, notably the information economy and the services sector. Although an environmentally friendly capitalism is hard to imagine, it cannot be ruled out.

Feminism is a direct challenge to patriarchy, namely social relations putting men in a position of collective domination over women. Patriarchy long predated capitalism, and has been prevalent in hunter-gatherer societies, feudalism and state socialism as well as capitalism. (70) It could easily be argued that patriarchy is a more deeply rooted system of domination than capitalism. Some critics argue that the expansion of capitalist relations actually undermines patriarchy, for example by breaking up the extended family (often dominated by a patriarch) and putting men and women on a more equal footing in the marketplace. Capitalism, like other systems before it, has adapted to patriarchy. Feminist struggles thus may partially challenge capitalism.

While the labour, environmental and feminist movements have the capacity to undermine certain beliefs about capitalism, they also can reinforce ideas underlying capitalism. This is especially true when movements seek reform. When the labour movement seeks higher pay and better conditions, when environmentalists seek cleaner technologies and restrictions on industry and when feminists seek equal opportunity for women to be corporate managers, core beliefs in private property and the market are not challenged. Therefore, a nonviolent challenge to capitalism may need to include some campaigns that confront or undermine these core beliefs.

For example, challenging the expansion of so-called intellectual property, including copyright, patents, trademarks and trade secrets, can draw on the obvious contradiction that intellectual property is supposed to foster the production of new ideas by restricting their reproduction. (71) Intellectual property can seem irrational because it is now so cheap and easy to copy and circulate digital materials. People may not realise that they routinely break the law when they photocopy an article or make a video recording of a television programme.

Currently, there is a major push by powerful governments and corporations to expand intellectual property. The struggle over ideas is crucial in this. Should copyrights and patents be called ‘intellectual property’ or ‘monopoly privilege’? Are authors autonomous creators or do they draw on a heritage of ideas and skills made possible by the society in which they were reared and educated? A movement to challenge intellectual property would draw on disparate initiatives including the free software movement and the campaign against corporate control over genetic information. If beliefs in intellectual property were undermined, this might trigger questioning of other sorts of property. For example, should large investments in the form of factories be controlled by remote owners who can simply withdraw in the search for profit, or should workers and local communities have some degree of control over such investments?


Challenges to capitalism via armed force or elections have been repeatedly tried and have repeatedly failed. They rely on capturing state power and using the state’s monopoly over organised violence. It is time for a systematic use of nonviolent action to challenge capitalism and build alternatives to it. This requires some development in nonviolence theory, which is primarily oriented to opposing repression and aggression in which there are obvious opponents. In a military attack or dictatorship, the task for nonviolent activists is to build their own unity, morale and will while undermining that of the opponent. In the case of capitalism, though, the opponent is not nearly so obvious, since most people are involved in buying and selling goods and labour power. Capitalist social relations pervade everyday life in such a way that the targets for rallies, strikes, boycotts and sit-ins are less obvious.

The death, suffering and wasted human potential attributable to capitalism, including everything from impoverishment of Third World peoples to the boredom of factory jobs, is enormous. There is certainly good cause to take action. The question is, how?

There are today large numbers of people working in various ways toward non-capitalist futures, including running cooperatives, opposing the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, fostering local self-reliance and questioning consumerism. These initiatives are almost entirely nonviolent, largely for pragmatic reasons. If movements in these and other areas can learn from each other and from collected wisdom about nonviolent struggle, then there is some hope of building alternatives to capitalism, or at least slowing its expansion into more facets of life.

It would be a mistake to set up a central committee for anti-capitalist struggle. That is characteristic of a military model which has been tried and failed. A nonviolent movement against capitalism has to be participatory and not depend on a few commanders. If there are leaders, they must be able to be replaced should they be arrested, killed, discredited or coopted, as routinely happens in nonviolent campaigns.

A participatory movement inevitably will be diverse and open to a range of voices. Nonviolent action is founded on the importance of human communication, of dialogue, both with opponents and within the movement itself. The nonviolence movement contains within its repertoire a wealth of experience and skills in conflict resolution and negotiating disagreements, as well as in nonviolent direct action. (72)

A movement against capitalism is bound to be a long-term enterprise, likely to require longer than the lifetime of most participants. This is an especially difficult challenge, since most activists are motivated by issues that seem immediately urgent, such as a war, an election, a proposed law or development, or an outrageous event. The most obvious mass movements gain momentum through bringing together large numbers of protesters, usually aided by media coverage. Mass campaigns are valuable, but also required are quiet and patient efforts to build alternatives and change ways of thinking, involving discussions, personal behaviours, small meetings and local initiatives.

If a movement is long-term and can’t rely on continued high visibility, then it had better be satisfying for participants. In short, the struggle should be fun! Consumerism appeals to people’s immediate wants. To challenge it, something just as appealing in its own way, though more deeply satisfying, is needed.

A nonviolent strategy against capitalism must be founded on building economic alternatives. That is the Gandhian constructive programme. However, since supporters of capitalism act to destroy or co-opt alternatives, a second strand in the strategy is required: a nonviolent challenge to the violent foundations of capitalism. Putting these two strands together, what is needed are alternatives that challenge capitalism, and challenges to capitalism that help build alternatives. A third necessary strand is changing beliefs in capitalism. This suggests that the most potent alternatives are those that help change people’s thinking.

Nonviolent action as a means of social change has the important characteristic that it is compatible with the ultimate goal, a nonviolent society. This applies to economic alternatives. An economic alternative worthy of promotion by nonviolent action should mesh with its own defence by nonviolent action.


(1) The word ‘capitalism’ is used here to refer to a set of social relations, which have significant regularity and are constantly being both reinforced and challenged. At times I refer to ‘capitalism’ as an entity in itself; this is just a shorthand for a persistent set of social relations and should not be taken to imply that these relations are monolithic, unchanging or autonomous. A poststructural approach might avoid the word ‘capitalism’ altogether and refer instead to the multitude of contingent and problematic negotiations, behaviours and the like. My main aim is to raise the issue of nonviolent action as a means of challenging capitalist social relations. No doubt this analysis could be rewritten from a rigorous poststructuralist framework. Would it be any more valuable in that form?

(2) This expression, by analogy, relates to the use of ‘actually existing socialism’ to distinguish Soviet-type societies from the ideal of socialism. See Rudolf Bahro, The Alternative in Eastern Europe (London: NLB, 1978).

(3) Ernest Mandel, Late Capitalism (London: NLB, 1975).

(4) I thank David Lewit, Wendy Varney and Tom Weber for valuable comments on an earlier version of this paper.

(5) The most comprehensive treatment is Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1973).

(6) In principled nonviolence, the conception of nonviolence is broader than simply an absence of physical violence. See M. K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (New York: Schocken, 1961).

(7) Robert B. Edgerton, Mau Mau: An African Crucible (New York: Free Press, 1989).

(8) For example, see Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler, Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: The Dynamics of People Power in the Twentieth Century (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1994); Robert Cooney and Helen Michalowski (eds.), The Power of the People: Active Nonviolence in the United States (Philadelphia: New Society Press, 1987); Ralph E. Crow, Philip Grant and Saad E. Ibrahim (eds.), Arab Nonviolent Political Struggle in the Middle East (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1990); M. K. Gandhi, An Autobiography or the Story of My Experiments with Truth (Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1927); Pam McAllister, The River of Courage: Generations of Women’s Resistance and Action (Philadelphia: New Society Press, 1991); Philip McManus and Gerald Schlabach (eds.), Relentless Persistence: Nonviolent Action in Latin America (Philadelphia: New Society Press, 1991).

(9) Jacques Semelin, Unarmed against Hitler: Civilian Resistance in Europe, 1939-1943 (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1993).

(10) David H. Albert (ed.), Tell the American People: Perspectives on the Iranian Revolution (Philadelphia: Movement for a New Society, 1980); Fereydoun Hoveyda, The Fall of the Shah (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980).

(11) Stephen Zunes, ‘The role of nonviolent action in the collapse of apartheid,’ Gandhi Marg, Vol. 20, No. 4, January-March 1999, pp. 389-420.

(12) Michael Randle, People Power: The Building of a New European Home (Stroud: Hawthorn Press, 1991). On the contribution of western peace movements to the process, see David Cortright, Peace Works: The Citizen’s Role in Ending the Cold War (Boulder: Westview, 1993).

(13) Examples include Bolivia, Greece, Hungary, Malaya, Palestine and South Africa.

(14) Prominent examples are China, Cuba, Soviet Union and Vietnam.

(15) This is especially true in China and the Soviet Union. Tens of millions died in each country due to government policies.

(16) Vinoba Bhave believed that communism would triumph over capitalism and that the ultimate struggle would be between Gandhism and communism. See Vishwanath Tandon, Selections from Vinoba (Rajghat, Varanasi: Sarva Seva Sangh Prakashan, 1981). Events have shown this to be seriously mistaken. I thank Tom Weber for this point.

(17) See, for example, Tony Cliff, State Capitalism in Russia (London: Pluto Press, 1955). The category ‘state capitalism’ is contentious given the significant differences between state socialism and monopoly capitalism.

(18) See, for example, Carl Boggs, Social Movements and Political Power: Emerging Forms of Radicalism in the West (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986).

(19) Many enterprises have security guards, but as systems for organised violence these are far short of the military and police. The privatisation of police and armies is of potential significance in the future development of capitalism and systems of coercion.

(20) The death and suffering due to inequitable social systems can be called structural violence. Capitalism is a major contributor to this sort of violence. See Johan Galtung, The True Worlds: A Transnational Perspective (New York: Free Press, 1980), a good introduction to Galtung’s important work on this and other relevant topics.

(21) Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1973), pp. 7-62; Gene Sharp, Social Power and Political Freedom (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1980), pp. 21-67 and 309-378.

(22) Obviously, class analysis is compatible with agency, since many activists have used class analysis as a guide. The point is that agency is not integral to the theory. Cynthia Kaufman, ‘Thoughts on anticapitalist activism: imagining a way beyond revolution or reform,’ Socialist Review, Vol. 25, Nos. 3/4, 1995, pp. 65-82, argues that the categories of capitalism and revolution, and the assumption of change from above, are obstacles to anticapitalist activism.

(23) Brian Martin, ‘Gene Sharp’s theory of power,’ Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 26, No. 2, 1989, pp. 213-222.

(24) Complexities can arise when there is a high level of collaboration, such as in former East Germany with its pervasive secret police.

(25) The classic critique is by Karl Marx. A few recent samples, from a range of viewpoints and degrees of criticism, are Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968); Frederic F. Clairmont, The Rise and Fall of Economic Liberalism: The Making of an Economic Gulag (Penang, Malaysia: Southbound, 1996); John Kenneth Galbraith, Economics and the Public Purpose (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976); Mark A. Lutz and Kenneth Lux, The Challenge of Humanistic Economics (Menlo Park, CA: Benjamin/Cummings, 1979); Tibor Scitovsky, The Joyless Economy: An Inquiry into Human Satisfaction and Consumer Dissatisfaction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976); Jeremy Seabrook, The Myth of the Market: Promises and Illusions (Bedeford, Devon: Green Books, 1990); Lester C. Thurow, The Future of Capitalism (New York: Morrow, 1996); Hilary Wainwright, Arguments for a New Left: Answering the Free-Market Right (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994); Ellen Meiksins Wood, Democracy Against Capitalism: Renewing Historical Materialism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). As well as criticism of capitalism, there is considerable criticism of neoclassical economic theory, the theory commonly used to justify capitalism, in these and other writings.

(26) Robert L. Heilbroner, The Nature and Logic of Capitalism (New York: Norton, 1985), p. 105, says ‘remove the state and the regime of capital would not last a day.’ See also Michael Moran and Maurice Wright (eds.), The Market and the State: Studies in Interdependence (London: Macmillan, 1991); Charles Tilly, Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990-1992 (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1992). Note that there are areas of obvious friction between state and corporate interests. For example, businesses want secure encryption whereas government spy agencies want only encryption that they can break. The clash is most obvious in total economic mobilisation for war, in which the state overrides the market. See Lionel Robbins, The Economic Problem in Peace and War: Some Reflections on Objectives and Mechanisms (London: Macmillan, 1950).

(27) Alfie Kohn, The Brighter Side of Human Nature: Altruism and Empathy in Everyday Life (New York: BasicBooks, 1990).

(28) Michael Argyle, The Psychology of Happiness (London: Methuen, 1987).

(29) Relevant here is Paul L. Wachtel, The Poverty of Affluence: A Psychological Portrait of the American Way of Life (Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1989).

(30) Principled libertarians support unrestricted immigration.

(31) Charles Derber, William A. Schwartz and Yale Magrass, Power in the Highest Degree: Professionals and the Rise of a New Mandarin Order (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990); Alvin W. Gouldner, The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class (London: Macmillan, 1979).

(32) For withering critiques, see Max Nomad, Rebels and Renegades (New York: Macmillan, 1932); Max Nomad, Aspects of Revolt (New York: Bookman Associates, 1959).

(33) George Konrád and Ivan Szelényi, The Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power (Brighton: Harvester, 1979).

(34) Stephen Marglin, ‘What do bosses do? The origins and functions of hierarchy in capitalist production,’ Review of Radical Political Economics, Vol. 6, No. 2, Summer 1974, pp. 60-112.

(35) Community-based systems should be distinguished from private charities. The key distinction concerns who controls the provision.

(36) Ralph Miliband, The State in Capitalist Society (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969). A specific example of the way state-led transformation discourages popular initiative is given by Ed Brown, ‘Nicaragua: Sandinistas, social transformation and the continuing search for a popular economic programme,’ Geoforum, Vol. 27, No. 3, 1996, pp. 275-295.

(37) Martin P. Davidson, The Consumerist Manifesto: Advertising in Postmodern Times (London: Routledge, 1992).

(38) On status and economics, see Robert H. Frank, Choosing the Right Pond: Human Behavior and the Quest for Status (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985).

(39) L. S. Stavrianos, The Promise of the Coming Dark Age (San Francisco: Freeman, 1976).

(40) On corporate globalisation, see for example Richard J. Barnet and John Cavanagh, Global Dreams: Imperial Corporations and the New World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994); William Greider, One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997); David C. Korten, When Corporations Rule the World (London: Earthscan, 1995); Jerry Mander and Edward Goldsmith (eds.), The Case Against the Global Economy and For a Turn toward the Local (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996).

(41) On the psychological aspects, see Morton Deutsch, Distributive Justice: A Social-Psychological Perspective (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985).

(42) Randall Collins, The Credential Society: An Historical Sociology of Education and Stratification (New York: Academic Press, 1979); Ronald Dore, The Diploma Disease: Education, Qualification and Development (London: Allen and Unwin, 1976).

(43) On the way that social and economic changes are causing greater inequality, see Robert H. Frank and Philip J. Cook, The Winner-Take-All Society: Why the Few at the Top Get So Much More Than the Rest of Us (New York: Penguin, 1996).

(44) There is a large body of writing on the nature of and rationale for work. See for example P. D. Anthony, The Ideology of Work (London: Tavistock, 1977); Vernon Richards (ed.), Why Work? Arguments for the Leisure Society (London: Freedom Press, 1983).

(45) On the enormous surplus of production over needs, see J. W. Smith, The World’s Wasted Wealth 2: Save Our Wealth, Save Our Environment (Cambria, CA: Institute for Economic Democracy, 1994).

(46) Kunal Roy Chowdhuri, ‘Gandhi’s theory of sarvodaya socialism,’ Gandhi Marg, Vol. 15, No. 1, April-June 1993, pp. 62-77; Amritananda Das, Foundations of Gandhian Economics (Bombay: Allied, 1979); Romesh Diwan, ‘Income distribution theories and Gandhian economics,’ Gandhi Marg, Vol. 6, No. 10, January 1985, pp. 707-720; Romesh Diwan and Sushila Gidwani, ‘Elements in Gandhian economics,’ Gandhi Marg, Vol. 1, No. 5, August 1979, pp. 248-258; Romesh Diwan and Mark Lutz (eds.) Essays in Gandhian Economics (New Delhi: Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1985); Detlef Kantowsky, Sarvodaya: The Other Development (New Delhi: Vikas, 1980); J. C. Kumarappa, Swaraj for the Masses (Bombay: Hind Kitabs, 1948); J. C. Kumarappa, Economy of Permanence: A Quest for a Social Order Based on Non-Violence (Rajghat, Kashi: Akhil Bharat Sarva-Seva-Sangh-Publications, 1958, 4th edition); Jai Narain, Economic Thought of Mahatma Gandhi (New Delhi: Sehgal, 1992); Rama Shankar Singh, ‘Elements in Gandhian economics,’ Gandhi Marg, Vol. 12, No. 4, January-March 1991, pp. 454-466.

(47) Daniel Guérin, Anarchism: From Theory to Practice (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970); John Griffin, A Structured Anarchism: An Overview of Libertarian Theory and Practice (London: Freedom Press, 1991); Pierre Guillet de Monthoux, Action and Existence; Anarchism for Business Administration (Chichester: Wiley, 1983); Colin Ward, Anarchy in Action (London: Freedom Press, 1982).

(48) This summary of anarchist economics follows the collectivist model that is common in anarchist circles outside the US. For an introduction, see Jon Bekken, ‘Peter Kropotkin’s anarchist critique of capitalism,’ Libertarian Labor Review, #11, Summer 1991, pp. 19-24; Jon Bekken, ‘Peter Kropotkin’s anarchist communism,’ Libertarian Labor Review, #12, Winter 1992, pp. 19-24; Jeff Stein, ‘Anarchist economics, part III: the collectivist tradition,’ Libertarian Labor Review, #13, Summer 1992, pp. 24-29. For a detailed vision of a self-managing economic system, with many anarchist features but not couched within the anarchist tradition, see Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel, Looking Forward: Participatory Economics for the Twenty First Century (Boston: South End Press, 1991).

(49) Libertarians who advocate a free market usually endorse a ‘minimal state’ to protect private property. Libertarian economics is competitive, has no provision for those with greatest need (aside from privately organised schemes) and relies ultimately on violence.

(50) The journal contact information is The Voluntaryist, PO Box 1275, Gramling SC 29348, USA.

(51) Voluntaryism appears to be the only market-based model with an explicit adherence to nonviolence.

(52) John Burnheim, Is Democracy Possible? The Alternative to Electoral Politics (London: Polity Press, 1985); F. E. Emery, Toward Real Democracy; and Toward Real Democracy: Further Problems (Toronto: Ontario Ministry of Labour, 1989).

(53) Demarchy is also compatible with a more competitive economic model.

(54) Lyn Carson and Brian Martin, Random Selection in Politics (Westport, CT: Praeger, in press).

(55) A useful review is Gary Moffat, ‘Building economic alternatives,’ Kick It Over, #29, Summer 1992, pp. 4-12.

(56) Richard Douthwaite, Short Circuit: Strengthening Local Economies for Security in an Unstable World (Totnes, Devon: Green Books, 1996).

(57) Thomas H. Greco, Jr., New Money for Healthy Communities (Tucson, AZ: Thomas H. Greco, Jr.,  1994).

(58) On the non-neutrality of money see Nigel Dodd, The Sociology of Money: Economics, Reason and Contemporary Society (London: Polity, 1994).

(59) Muhammad Yunus, ‘Alleviating poverty through technology,’ Science, Vol. 282, 16 October 1998, pp. 409-410.

(60) Ken Coates and Tony Topham, The New Unionism: The Case for Workers’ Control (London: Peter Owen, 1972); Gerry Hunnius, G. David Garson and John Case (eds.), Workers’ Control: A Reader on Labor and Social Change, (New York: Vintage, 1973); Ernie Roberts, Workers’ Control, (London: Allen & Unwin, 1973); Hilary Wainwright and Dave Elliott, The Lucas Plan: A New Trade Unionism in the Making? (London: Allison and Busby, 1982); Daniel Zwerdling, Workplace Democracy: A Guide to Workplace Ownership, Participation and Self-Management Experiments in the United States and Europe (New York: Harper and Row, 1980). On cooperatives, see George Melnyk, The Search for Community: From Utopia to a Co-operative Society (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1985); Jenny Thornley, Workers’ Cooperatives: Jobs and Dreams (London: Heinemann, 1981).

(61) David Morris and Karl Hess, Neighborhood Power: The New Localism (Boston: Beacon, 1975).

(62) Free Software Foundation; <>: accessed October 2016.

(63) On the struggles for public libraries and parks, see Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965), pp. 73-74.

(64) On possible actions against intellectual property, see Brian Martin, Information Liberation (London: Freedom Press, 1998).

(65) State proxies such as paramilitary forces can also be challenged by nonviolent action.

(66) Anders Boserup and Andrew Mack, War Without Weapons: Non-violence in National Defence (London: Frances Pinter, 1974); Robert J. Burrowes, The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense: A Gandhian Approach (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996); Gustaaf Geeraerts (ed.), Possibilities of Civilian Defence in Western Europe (Amsterdam: Swets and Zeitlinger, 1977); Stephen King-Hall, Defence in the Nuclear Age (London: Victor Gollancz, 1958); Brian Martin, Social Defence, Social Change (London: Freedom Press, 1993); Michael Randle, Civil Resistance (London: Fontana, 1994); Adam Roberts (editor), The Strategy of Civilian Defence: Non-violent Resistance to Aggression (London: Faber and Faber, 1967); Gene Sharp with the assistance of Bruce Jenkins, Civilian-Based Defense: A Post-Military Weapons System (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).

(67) Brian Martin, Social Defence, Social Change (London: Freedom Press, 1993), chapter 14.

(68) David Wood, ‘The international campaign against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment: A test case for the future of globalization?’ Philosophy and Geography # 3, 2000, pp. 24-45.

(69) For example, Ernst von Weizsäcker, Amory B. Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins, Factor Four: Doubling Wealth-Halving Resource Use (London: Earthscan, 1997).

(70) Some analysts argue that patriarchy arose or became much stronger with the rise of agriculture. In any case, patriarchy certainly predated capitalism.

(71) Ronald V. Bettig, Copyrighting Culture: The Political Economy of Intellectual Property (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1996); Debora J. Halbert, Intellectual Property in the Information Age: The Politics of Expanding Ownership Rights (Westport, CT: Quorum, 1999); Seth Shulman, Owning the Future (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999).

(72) For practical material see Howard Clark, Sheryl Crown, Angela McKee and Hugh MacPherson, Preparing for Nonviolent Direct Action (Nottingham: Peace News/CND, 1984); Virginia Coover, Ellen Deacon, Charles Esser and Christopher Moore, Resource Manual for a Living Revolution (Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1981); Narayan Desai, Handbook for Satyagrahis: A Manual for Volunteers of Total Revolution (New Delhi: Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1980); Per Herngren, Path of Resistance: The Practice of Civil Disobedience (Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1993); Martin Jelfs, Manual for Action (London: Action Resources Group, 1982); Katrina Shields, In the Tiger’s Mouth: An Empowerment Guide for Social Action (Sydney: Millennium Books, 1991).

EDITOR’S NOTE: Brian Martin is professor of social sciences at the University of Wollongong, Australia and vice president of Whistleblowers Australia. He is the author of 14 books and hundreds of articles on dissent, nonviolence, scientific controversies, democracy, and other topics. Our thanks to Gandhi Marg, Vol. 21, No. 3, October-December 1999, pp. 283-312.

“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi