The Habit of Direct Action

Submitted by Reddebrek on June 18, 2016

The habit of direct action . . .

All action, we can see upon reflection, realizes some belief.
Indirect action is often criticized on the ground that the means employed
are unreliable; a strong point, but perhaps applied too sweepingly, and
I think less fundamental than another. I want to distinguish (as direct
action) that action which, in respect to a situation, realizes the end
desired, so far as this lies in one's power or the power of one's group;
from action (indirect action) which realizes an irrelevant or even con-
tradictory end, presumably as a means to the "good" end. The most
significant — but not the only — distinction lies in the kind of fact thereby
created for other persons. It is direct action, to present a person with
the kind of attitude towards "race" which one advocates; it is indirect
action to rely on legal enforcement because in this is realized the concept
that these people must obey the law simply because it is the law, and
this may hopelessly obscure the aim.

Persons with no patience often make a bad distinction between
"talk" and "action". It can be seen that the important distinction is
between talk that is mere moral assertion or propositional argument,
and talk (in fact: direct action) which conveys a feeling, an attitude,
relevant to the desired end.

To take a homely example. If the butcher weighs one's meat
with his thumb on the scale, one may complain about it and tell him
he is a bandit who robs the poor, and if he persists and one does nothing
else, this is mere talk; one may call the Department of Weights and
Measures, and this is indirect action; or one may, talk failing, insist on
weighing one's own meat, bring along a scale to check the butcher's
weight, take one's business somewhere else, help open a co-operative
store, etc., and these are direct actions.

Proceeding with the belief that in every situation, every individual
and group has the possibility of some direct action on some level of
generality, we may discover much that has been unrecognized, and the
importance of much that has been under-rated. So politicalized is our
thinking, so focussed to the motions of governmental institutions, that
the effects of direct efforts to modify one's environment are unexplored.

The habit of direct action is, perhaps, identical with the habit of
being a free man, prepared to live responsibly in a free society. Saying
this, one recognizes that just this moment, just this issue, is not likely
to be the occasion when we all come of age. All true. The question
is, when will we begin?

David Wieck


Convenors and contacts of the Committee
of 100 throughout the country are being
urged to get a programme of education under
way as soon and as imaginatively as possible.
The object should be to train ourselves to
become more effective and more active

The booklet "Schools for Non- Violence",
drafted by Anthony Weaver and prefaced by
Bertrand Russell, is intended to help this
programme. It contains suggestions on the
conduct of meetings, schools and study
groups, and lists a series of questions for
which we need answers, and references to
eighty books which will help us in the search.

The topics outlined are: Civil Disobedi-
ence, Non-violent direct action, Non-violent
action as a defence policy, Political theory
and a philosophy of conflict, Positive neutral-
ism, Industrial action and the economics of
disarmament, Psychology of violence and
non-violence, Ethics and religion, Education.

If we want to make more effective and
convincing propaganda, we need to have our
arguments at our finger tips. This booklet
will help us to educate ourselves, and others.

"Schools for Non-Violence" is published
by the Committee of 100 and is obtainable
from Housmans Bookshop, 5 Caledonian
Road, Nl, for 6d. and 2d postage, or 5s. a
dozen post free.