Peace Movements

Peace movements are based on the premise that violence is a destructive discretionary choice and aim to settle conflicts through peaceful non-violent methods. As an antidote to war, it works at establishing world peace and harmony by protesting against oppression and injustice in all forms, without resorting to violent means. Peace movements are organized by groups in the civil society formed on the basis of similar ideologies or causes. These groups are usually autonomous units, independent of the governments. We have a whole gamut of peace movements ranging from those that aspire to end hegemonic capitalist exploitation, to the movements focused at terminating labor disputes, peace movements aimed against nuclear weapons to those aimed at protecting the basic human rights. However, their influence is most profoundly felt in their protests against violent conflicts between nations. Peace movements, therefore, strive towards eradicating the ills of the society and animosity between nations through peaceful methods, rooted in philosophical doctrines and demonstrated through protests, economic sanctions, boycotts, dialogues and peace rallies. A new dimension has been added by the feminist claims to “peace activism” against gender exploitation.



Modern day peace movements involve anti-war movements along with political peace-keeping efforts and social movements based on the protection of basic human rights of dignity, equality and freedom. The religious foundation of peace movements is often attributed to Christianity, through its propagation of love and brotherhood. History of peace societies and associations can be traced back to the rise of Christian sects, such as, Quakers who espoused the pacifist doctrines of Christianity and abstained from violence, on religious grounds. The philosophical basis of peace movements can be attributed to enlightenment and evangelical religious revival in England in 18thcentury which aimed at curing the moral decadence of the society through reason and social reforms .These social reforms included peaceful crusades against slavery, poverty and a positive re-construction of the society. These intellectual traditions served as torch-bearers of peace movements in the 19th century. The Napoleonic wars highlighted the destructive impact of war and its futility. The first organized peace movements took place in early 19th century with the establishment of peace societies In New York and London. The London Peace Society, conceived of the possibility of mass mobilization through international peace conferences, convened with the objective of conflict resolution between nations through peaceful mediation and the creation of an institution towards that end. The peace societies played a crucial role in spreading awareness about the devastating impact of war and propagating the doctrine of permanent universal peace. These experimental peace initiatives were sporadic in nature, often interrupted by the resurgence of war. The late 19th century witnessed the formation of the first international organization, namely, Inter-parliamentary union, for peaceful arbitration of conflicts among nations.

The International peace Bureau, established in 1891, also sought to achieve international solidarity to further the cause of world peace. It proposed the creation of an international organization for smoother conflict resolution. Its advocates were active in “no more war” campaigns orchestrated by World Resister's International movement, post- First World War. The early 20th century witnessed the emergence of various trends within the peace movement, prominent during the First World War. The socialist trend was necessarily antimilitarist, rooted in the belief that war was a tool of the capitalist domination. They took recourse to the creation of revolutionary workers' movements to end capitalist hegemony. The radical pacifists group within the peace movement derived their inspiration of non-violence from ethical and religious sources. The civilians resorted to petitions and appeals whereas some didn't hesitate to resort to violence, to achieve their goals. The women's resistance to war was discernible in their demonstrations through platforms like Women's Peace party, created by American Feminists who demanded women's franchise. Women's International League for Peace and Freedom created by Jane Addams was elemental in uniting women in their crusade for personal and political liberty, while actively opposing the war efforts. The “Christmas truces” during First World War were symbolic of a deeper protest against the war and so was abstinence from participation in war efforts. The socialist opposition to the war culminated in the Russian revolution of 1917 and the peace of Brest-Litovsk (1918) with central powers. The socialists organized massive strikes to showcase their grievances against the war. The formation of League of Nations, as an International body for peaceful conflict resolution, was a crucial initiative, Post- First world war. Post-first world war, poets and novelists echoed the inefficacy of wars and the consequent loss of life and property.

Peace activism suffered a setback in Europe and USA at the outset of the 2nd World war. However, the Women's league for peace and freedom was still active and its proponents suggested mediation of neutral nations as a means to conflict resolution. Women's resistance was also observed in Scandinavia where participants urged the President of the League of Nations to dissolve hostilities through peaceful dialogues. When the war became more intense, unoccupied European countries kept the message of peace alive through relief efforts and extending support to “conscientious objectors”. Though isolated instances of peace activism were witnessed, the overall movement suffered a blow due to difficulties in communication and internal division based on ideologies. In UK, pacifists campaigned against bombing of German civilian sites by British forces. The role of American peace organizations in supporting Jewish refugees was remarkable. Non-violent resistance against German occupation was hosted in European countries. The methods included boycott, establishing communication lines, distributing banned pamphlets and asylum to Jewish people. In the post-second world war scenario, the peace movement tilted towards the alarming issue of nuclear disarmament, with increasing incidences of nuclear weapons testing by superpowers. Apart from the fear of the possibility of a full-blown nuclear warfare, nuclear testing could spell disaster for the environment and human health. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) was launched in 1958 in London. The aim was pressurizing the government for unilateral nuclear disarmament including a ban on nuclear testing and supply of nuclear weapons to other countries, through peaceful methods of non-violent direct action. The role of CND was crucial in urging nations to negotiate the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and the Partial Test Ban Treaty. The campaign has elicited support from all walks of society and continues to march towards a nuclear weapon- free world.

Anti-War Movements

While anti-war movements are temporary single-issue based movements that aim at ending the immediate war in the political horizon and become inactive thereafter, anti- war activism is ideologically-charged and transcends the temporal dimension. Anti-war activism conducts ceaseless protests against disarmament and militarism, with diverse goals such as, promoting international solidarity, peace education, crafting international dispute-resolution mechanisms-assigning permanence to the anti-war protests. However, anti-war movements are more successful because of their focused singular goal of ending a specific war. By challenging the core claim of the government to legitimacy for undermining “social contract ”, anti-war movements generally succeed in affecting policy changes, and shifting public opinion, thereby, achieving their objectives. Anti-war movements generally thrive in liberal democracies and occur when the reason for the war is insubstantial and the course of the war is protracted and immensely taxing. The anti-nationalist nature of their protest, against wars with imperialist or colonialist overtones (the U.S. war on Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq or Israel in Lebanon), makes their movement “unpatriotic” in popular perception. The anti-war sentiments had been popular ever since the 18th century. Intellectuals, artists and periodicals of the peace societies brought to the fore the devastating horrors of wars and its futility. Protests against conscription, exorbitant cost of waging wars and the menacing consequences were among the anti-war themes during much of 19th century. Anti-war movements became organizationally sound during the inter-war period and held that war was a capitalist tool to exploit the masses. The most significant impact of anti-war movement was witnessed in Vietnam War, where the American government was forced to re-evaluate its commitment to war on the face of severe popular opposition. The anti-war protests in Vietnam War were based on moral and economic grounds. Student activism in this movement was unprecedented, with demonstrations taking a violent turn, occasionally.


Towards Social Justice

In the words of Martin Luther King “Peace is not the absence of conflicts, it is the presence of justice”. While anti-war movements highlight the negative aspect of peace, emphasizing on the absence of war or political violence, the “positive peace” embodies the noble doctrines of better human rights protection, stronger civil society , peaceful dispute resolution mechanisms and feminism, to name a few. Human Rights protection has been deemed as the first step towards social justice. The concept of human rights protection came to the foreground following the cruelties observed in the 2nd World War. That every human being is entitled to enjoy the three basic rights of dignity, equality and freedom, forms the premise of Human rights. The United Nations proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to guarantee and protect the civil, cultural, political, social and economic rights of every individual. Social movements around the world have proclaimed and upheld the intrinsic human values of dignity and freedom, long before the foundation of United Nations. The enlightenment thinkers believed that human beings had the potential to re-construct their society, through collective action, if it failed to meet their rational standards. This is the intellectual proposition on which social movements operate. The anti-slavery movement in the late-18th early 19th century sought to abolish the inhuman institution of slavery in Europe and colonial America and emancipate slaves to a world of dignity equality and freedom. The labor movements aimed at improving the working conditions of the working class through employment and labor laws, such as, minimum wages, elimination of child labor, the right to organize into trade unions etc. The women's movements included demands for women's suffrage, reforms on domestic violence, reproductive rights, right to own property etc. A common feature of these social movements is the presence of international appeal and universal solidarity.


Martin Luther King delivers his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on August 28th 1963.


Peace movements have provided the modern world with the alternative of non-violent resistance, for peaceful resolution of conflicts. Peace, in itself, is non-violent and a powerful antidote to war. The peace movements work on the principle of co-operation, inter-dependence and international solidarity for a more harmonious world order. By voicing their protests against nuclear weapons, they have advanced the cause of nuclear disarmament, playing savior to the humanity and environment. The role of peace movements in promoting “positive” peace through continuous efforts towards the protection of human rights and the cause of social justice is noteworthy. They strive for fair resource-distribution so as to ensure that civilians don’t bear the brunt of drain towards militarization. However, the ebb and flow of peace movements, through much of 20th and 21st century has demonstrated the limitations of their methods. They don't guarantee automatic and constant success. Peace movements have protested against most of modern wars, but with little success towards ending them. In the contemporary world, even vigorous peace movements have failed to end the “war on terror”. However, their voice of protest has acted as a check on the exercise of unlimited power by the establishment. Through peaceful conflict resolution, protection of human rights and international co-operation, the peace movements seek to create an emancipated world - free of violence and oppression.


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