Structural Violence

One legacy of the 1970s movements that carried over to the green parties was analysis of society based on a logic of totality. The existing system was defined as a total unity; each element conforming to a functional logic. This was evident in particular in the use of the concept of structural violence: greens questioned the legitimacy of the state itself because it was seen as a violent institution. As Spretnak and Capra noted in their interviews with German greens, 'Many Greens mentioned

Max Weber's observation that the state is the seat of legitimized violence' (1985: 48). But greens also speak of violence in even broader terms as characteristic of the whole social order. The British Green Party's Manifesto for a Sustainable Society seems to suggest as much in saying:

Violence underpins our social fabric and international relations depend on the use or threat of force. Our whole world can be defined as already at war. Nuclear weapons are the tip of an iceberg in a world built and sustained on the principles of violence, exploitation and domination. To rid ourselves of all weapons of mass destruction we have to transform the material and cultural foundations of society. Lasting peace is impossible in the context of a patriarchal social and political system based on domination, a denial of feelings and an unquestioning obedience to authority. An economic system that exploits people and the entire planet, that fosters excessive competition, aggression and consumerism, cannot be the basis of a peaceful world.

(Green Party 1989:DF109)

As this statement implies, simply ending the use of force by the state will not be enough in itself to challenge the deeper causes of violence. However, it is also unclear from the above passage whether violence results from an unjust social order or whether that injustice is itself a form of violence. This kind of ambiguity is likely to cause problems for the greens in defending other aspects of their critique of violence. The advantage of a broad interpretation of violence is that it can seem to justify green support for improved aid for the Third World, or for greater attention to challenging male violence. This seems to be the case, for instance, in the comment by Capra and Spretnak that 'an economy that is ecologically balanced and socially just will naturally be nonviolent' (1984:89). But if violence is merged with its causes it does undermine the moral clarity of the critique of the use of organised violence by the state. Suffering in the form of death, disease and impoverishment that results from structural injustices may in some situations be objectively greater than suffering from war or civil strife, but it is not necessary to define these results as a form of violence in order to show that greater harm has resulted.4

The concept of structural violence is therefore unclear and contentious. In its original usage (Fanon 1968) it was intended to describe the effects of colonialism on the colonised. Its usage presupposes that the analysis of oppression should not be restricted to the direct use of force but should also include the results of colonialism: economic exploitation and loss of cultural identity. The most obvious problem with seeing particular social structures as necessarily violent is that the intention and responsibility of individuals concerning the threat of physical harm to others becomes blurred by competing judgements about the immorality of social structures. It might be argued that this reflects a more realistic theory of power than the implied individualistic morality of nonviolence, but as will be made clear below it is possible to develop nonviolence in a way that takes account of the constraints of power. It is not possible, though, to use structural violence to resolve the choice faced by an individual agent between violent and nonviolent opposition. One of the dangers of structural violence is therefore that it makes a nonviolent alternative so absolute that the temptation to return to violent means of achieving it seems stronger.

A slightly different interpretation of the Green Party's statement might be that the threat of violence helps to sustain other kinds of domination that are not in themselves necessarily violent. Challenging the implicit threat of violence as well as its actual manifestation may be the main object of the greens' critique. If, as Giddens (1986) argues, the use and threat of violence is an essential feature of the development and current form of the nation-state, then removal of that threat, at least from the state, could have far-reaching consequences for society as a whole. This seems to be a more defensible position, since although such a position would place violence in a social context by identifying violence as a cause of wider social problems, in principle violence would remain analytically separable from the consequences of its use.

For greens, however, the main problem has been how to define a nonviolent alternative vision of society while maintaining as broad-ranging a critique as possible of existing forms of domination, both violent and nonviolent. One line of division has been between those who argued for a mainly moral critique of violence and those who argue for reducing violence from a more pragmatic position. In the mid-1970s the Dutch PSP was divided over how to define its pacifism. The most rigorous pacifists in the party defended the PSP's traditional position—that pacifism was based mainly on the moral goal of avoiding evil, but the majority supported the position that nonviolence should be seen as part of the broad aim of building socialism from below. Establishing a society based on principles of self-management would allow violence to be opposed more effectively. The traditional pacifists were defeated in their efforts to prevent a redefinition of the party's official position as 'the attempt to minimise violence on either practical or moral grounds' (Lucardie 1980:115). But the question remains as to whether this combination provides a plausible basis for strategy.

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