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Saturday, January 11, 2014


Following up on the Ruhrkampf from yesterday, here's another example of civil resistance in post-WWI Germany from Brian Martin:

On 13 March 1920 in Berlin, there was a putsch (military takeover) led by General von L├╝ttwitz. The extreme right-wing Dr Wolfgang Kapp became Chancellor. Commanders of the German army refused to support the elected government and took no action against the putsch. It was left to the people to take action.
When the Kappists took over two pro-government newspapers, all Berlin printers went on strike. The Ebert government called for a general strike throughout Germany. Support for the strike was overwhelming, especially in Berlin, and included groups from most political and religious orientations.

Opposition by civil servants was also crucial in opposing the coup. Workers in government bureaucracies refused to head government departments under Kapp.

Noncooperation ran deep. Bank officials refused to honour cheques presented by Kappists unless they were signed by appropriate government officials. But not one such official would sign. Typists were not available to type proclamations for the Kappists.

Kapp foolishly alternated between making concessions and attempting crackdowns, neither of which produced support. As his weakness became more obvious, opposition increased. Some military units and the security police declared their support for the legal government. After only four days, Kapp resigned and fled. With the collapse of the putsch, the Ebert government could once again rely on the loyalty of the army.

Comment The Kapp putsch is an excellent example because of the many types of nonviolent action used. Especially important is the crucial role of legitimacy for any government. People usually think of a military regime as inevitably getting its way, but in practice it only does so when people routinely obey. For bank officials to refuse to cash cheques is a wonderful example of the ordinariness of noncooperation. The example of the putsch also has the advantage that the nonviolent resistance was successful.
Another element in the story of the putsch is the role of armed workers' groups in several parts of Germany. This left-wing armed struggle was an attempt at social revolution rather than just opposition to the coup. After the defeat of the putschists, the Ebert government used the army to smash the workers' opposition -- including the general strike in Berlin, which was still continuing. General von Seeckt, who declined to oppose the coup, had no hesitation in using force against the workers.

And from there to that benevolent regime (because everybody knows nonviolence can only work against those) called Jim Crow:

Franklin McCain, who helped fuel the civil rights movement in 1960 when he and three friends from their all-black college requested, and were refused, coffee and doughnuts at a whites-only lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., died on Thursday in Greensboro. He was 73.

The cause was respiratory complications, his son Franklin Jr. said.

Mr. McCain was one of the so-called Greensboro Four, who sat down at lunch counter stools at an F. W. Woolworth store on Feb. 1, 1960, fully expecting that they would not be served. When they were not, they came back the next day, and the next, and the next.

As word of the protest spread, others, in ever-growing numbers, joined them. By the end of the fifth day, more than a thousand had arrived. And on July 25, the store relented and made the lunch counter available to all.

It was not the first such sit-in...But the Greensboro episode, by most estimations, had the widest impact, inviting national publicity and inspiring a heightened level of activism among college students and other youths. Later that year, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, one of the most effective civil rights groups, was born in Southern black colleges.

Others soon imitated the Greensboro campaign in more than 55 cities and towns in 13 states. Only some were successful, but their cumulative effect was to contribute to the momentum that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned segregated restaurants with interstate operations, as Woolworth had.

Whenever I see calls for revolution, I always have to wonder, "what have you actually tried to effect change?"  Nothing generally is the answer.


January 11, 2014 in Pax Americana | Permalink


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