Thorough organization is crucial to the success of nonviolent struggle in any context. Gandhi, for example, emphasized this. However, the importance of good organization has not always been recognized and this accounts for the failure of some nonviolent struggles in the past.

Given the variety of organizational models available, your strategic plan should identify the organizational framework – including the decision-making structure and process – that your strategy will utilize. While local communities, independent community organizations (such as trade unions and religious bodies) and collectives (groups of people appointed to perform specific functions on behalf of a larger organization) will each have a role to play in many nonviolent struggles, the major organizational and decision-making unit should be the affinity group. Why is this?

Decentralization is important as a means of creating the political consciousness necessary for people to realize their responsibilities and to facilitate their involvement in making and implementing decisions. How might this be achieved? And what principles should guide the formation of any new structures?

The fundamental principle is that each person or group should have the opportunity to influence decisions on any issue in direct proportion to their ‘legitimate material interest’ in the outcome. Moreover, these new structures should satisfy the needs of each individual, including their needs for self-esteem, participation, and control. The empirical evidence and the research suggest that this organizational model should be based on small groups of people (such as affinity groups and collectives) as well as community organizations (including trade unions and religious assemblies). These should be firmly rooted in local communities that are part of wider identity groups. In turn, these groups and communities should be part of local, regional, and international networks.

Identity groups are racial, religious, ethnic, cultural, or class groups that display high levels of social cohesion because of shared values, attitudes, and beliefs. They are more relevant than nation-states because they command greater loyalty than do artificially integrated states. Within these identity groups, local communities would be important elements of the nonviolent defense. Citizens’ councils – perhaps modeled on the workers’ soviets formed during the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917 – could be organized. But there are many possibilities. These include collectives (like those self-managing organizations developed by anarchists during the Spanish Revolution), communes, ‘church base communities’ (like those in Central/South America), and various forms of tribal organization. The relevant model would be determined by local circumstances.

In turn, community organizations would be important because a major part of any nonviolent defense would be conducted through the independent organizations and institutions of society. Community groups such as trade unions, worker cooperatives, professional associations, cultural organizations, and religious bodies would all provide forums for planning and organizing components of the defense and could be major vehicles of the resistance itself. The importance of community groups to nonviolent defense was illustrated by the Norwegian resistance to Nazi occupation in World War II. For example, despite the incredible hardships they suffered, more than six hundred teachers who were imprisoned for eight months in a concentration camp north of the Arctic Circle resisted the Nazi demand that they join the new teachers’ organization.

Within these local communities and organizations, smaller groups of people, such as affinity groups and collectives, would be necessary; most of the detailed planning, preparation, and organization of the nonviolent defense would occur at this level. These smaller groups are also important because they would provide the basis for every person being able to resist ‘in an organized manner as a member of a group’.

An affinity group usually consists of between five and thirteen people; it is characterized by relationships built on common interests, face-to-face contact, mutual respect and consensus decision-making – conditions that prevail among friends. The importance of the affinity group derives partly from the intimacy of the relationships it allows; people feel needed, included and accepted. In essence, an affinity group is created by its members in order to perform a range of political task and personal support functions. For this reason, the affinity group accepts responsibility for deciding its membership – it is not open to everyone – and it usually functions in accordance with a set of agreements. A typical set of agreements – which members may be asked to sign – would include:

(i) a statement of commitment to the nonviolence principles of the group;

(ii) a statement of commitment to participate in the nonviolent actions of the group;

(iii) a set of behavioral guidelines, including agreements to respect and support each other, to use inclusive language and to deal with conflict within the group;

(iv) a set of group process guidelines, including agreements about sharing leadership roles and using some form of consensus decision-making; and

(v) agreements about how the group will balance the intellectual, emotional and spiritual aspects of its time together.

Source of this document: