What they say and what they don’t say about war and violence: the humanist position

Before beginning the exposition of our proposals on the present problematic war situation, we consider it appropriate to make explicit some of our principles and beliefs, which come into play when considering the current situation, especially with regard to war conflicts and the threat posed by nuclear weapons which, in an irresponsible manner, is already playing a role in the war in Ukraine.

By Arturo Viloria

At the basis of all our proposals is the consideration of human consciousness as active and intentional, forming an indissoluble structure with the world, and not as a mere reflection of or separate existence from it. The consciousness structures the world, and does so according to its needs, beliefs and interests. To give a somewhat coarse example, the look of the person who suffers a bombing in his city, who experiences how his life is razed to the ground, will not be the same as that of the arms dealer who sees in the bombing the possibility of increasing his sales and improving his income.

Nor is it a minor issue to highlight the landscape of beliefs and values from which we structure the complex situations that we face and which compromise us all. This, which seems a truism, is often ignored when analysing or describing the objective facts, which are presented in the most convenient way for the interests of those who construct their narrative. Ortega said that in communication, what is said is as important as what is not said, alluding precisely to the background of beliefs beneath the discourse, which if it is not known does not allow for a complete understanding of it. Silo, in his contribution on the conditions for dialogue, formulates that dialogue cannot take place without taking into account the pre-dialogical interests and beliefs, which will facilitate or impede agreement on the matters to be dealt with. Thus it has often happened that although many people say they are in favour of peace and against wars, this opinion is far from leading to a resolution to act in that direction, because other, more powerful interests mobilise them in a different direction or immobilise them.

It is therefore appropriate to consider the landscapes from which people think, feel and act. The Document of the Humanist Movement sets out our basic principles regarding the social situation in which we find ourselves and our proposals for action. It states: All forms of physical, economic, racial, religious, sexual and ideological violence, through which human progress has been hindered, are repugnant to humanists. And in order to define what we mean by violence, Thesis 4.1 of the Humanist Party defines its different forms as expressions of the negation of the human in the other. Thesis 6 goes further and places the overcoming of violence in all its forms as the axis of the process of humanisation of the world, capable of giving continuity to the historical process and meaning to the human being, since it affirms its intentionality denied by others. If we were in the field of biology, we could say that non-violence is in the DNA of humanists.

From these ideological and existential coordinates, humanists have been denouncing for decades the arms race, the threat of nuclear weapons and the human and environmental disaster that wars provoke. There is no need to recall that a small part of what is spent on armaments could solve the serious environmental and poverty problems in the world.

This position is far removed from other conceptions and, above all, it is far removed from that which prevails in a system that is violent at its most basic root. Violence is the appropriation of the whole by one part, which manifests itself in the increasing accumulation of resources in fewer and fewer hands, which dehumanises the oppressed and denies them the possibility of choice. Of course, violence contaminates all ambits of human existence, and it would take too long to examine its various expressions, but it is worth bearing in mind that it is embedded in our formation landscape, that set of beliefs, behaviours and values that is transmitted to us in the early stages of our biography. Violence, and even revenge, are at the basis of the founding narrative of many modern states and at the basis of the maintenance of social, economic and political order.

Numerous theories have been developed to legitimise violence. Edmund Burke, on the basis of an alleged “predatory” nature of human beings, which made them wolves to their fellow man, developed the idea of a powerful state, which he called Leviathan, necessary to prevent society’s descent into a savage state of nature, which only the harsh coercion of Leviathan could prevent. Quite opportunely, this line of thought served to justify the growing power of the absolute monarchies that were imposing themselves in Europe and the monopoly of the use of violence for the new states. Similarly, the racist theories developed in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries coincided with the new colonial expansion of Western powers in Africa and Asia. Numerous social scientists established a system of superior and inferior races and individuals that again sought to justify the violent appropriation of resources and people. In this case, Darwin’s evolutionary theories and the natural selection of the fittest were used to dehumanise millions of people, viewing them from a purely zoological point of view. Soon after, Nazism and fascism took horror to an unknown scale, following the same ideological coordinates. Finally, the institution of patriarchy in the Iron Age, which relegated women and subjugated them to men, was also justified in Europe on theological grounds in the Middle Ages, which were finally replaced by scientific arguments. The traces of these ideologies persist in language, which have regarded the oppressed natives as natural; the exploited workers as labour power; the relegated women as procreators; the dominated races as zoologically inferior; the young people dispossessed of the means of production as only a project, caricature, immaturity of full men; the Latin American and African peoples as evolutionarily incomplete, as underdeveloped.

Background to the current situation: a chance for peace

The late 1980s saw the end of the Cold War, which had been fought between two major blocs led by the United States and the Soviet Union and which had brought the world to the brink of nuclear war on several occasions.

The deployment of nuclear weapons by both powers was based on the doctrine of nuclear deterrence, whereby both powers hoped that the fear of a confrontation that would mean the end of the planet would prevent the two powers from pressing the nuclear war button. During the first half of the 20th century, wars had caused devastation unseen in previous centuries, culminating in World War II with the use of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The impact of the bombs on human consciousness still resonates and puts us in the presence of the real possibility of unleashing a catastrophe that will end human life on the planet as we know it But although it did not come to this point, the conflict between the capitalist and communist blocs triggered numerous conventional wars in countries in Africa, Asia or Latin America, in which each side was armed and led by the rival powers.

In this context of grave danger for humanity, three leaders from different continents, countries and cultures formulated a way out of the suffocating violence suffered by the populations. Separated in space but not in time, Mohandas Gandhi in India, Martin Luther King in the United States, and Mario Rodríguez Cobos, Silo, in Argentina, coincided in developing active non-violence as a method of social and personal transformation. All over the world, movements against wars, for the civil rights of ethnic minorities and women and for the independence of colonised peoples gained great force, driven by a new generation. Several countries, led by India, which had gained its independence thanks to mobilisation led by Gandhi, came together to break out of the two-bloc politics that had divided up the world.

The situation changed radically when the top leadership of the Soviet Union under President Mikhail Gorbachev concluded that it was necessary to revolutionise the system and open it up to the aspirations of the people through a policy, they called perestroika. Gorbachev sealed with President Reagan a number of agreements limiting nuclear weapons, with mechanisms to verify compliance. A new era of détente opened, the iron curtain that hermetically divided Europe into two parts collapsed, and the old Warsaw Pact, which aligned the countries of Eastern Europe in a military organisation, was dissolved.

The bipolar world ended. The gurus of capitalism announced the end of history and ideologies and preached a savage neoliberalism that began to dismantle the mechanisms that the wellbeing state had created to secure the lives of the working classes, expensive and superfluous for large corporations. However, NATO, the main military organisation of the US-led bloc, did not disappear, as its Eastern nemesis had done. On the contrary, with the communist threat gone, it began a process of enlargement in 1999 that began with the entry of Central European countries (Hungary, Czech Republic and Poland) into the organisation. In the same year, NATO carried out its first large-scale war action in Europe with the bombing of Belgrade. The cooperation mechanisms (Organisation for European Cooperation and Security), which had been created to include all the countries of Europe and Russia, did not develop, and expectations of an era of peace and economic cooperation were dashed.

The integration of the Balkan and Baltic countries, and even the invitation to Ukraine and Georgia to join the organisation, pushed NATO to Russia’s borders and into a corner. The United States took advantage of the new NATO members to deploy missiles on their territory in an initiative that was first dubbed Star Wars, but was finally downgraded to a missile defence shield designed to neutralise potential Russian attacks.

On the other hand, NATO activity has been extremely aggressive in recent decades. Interventions in Libya or Afghanistan, to cite two examples, have had nothing to do with the defence of its member states, and everything to do with supporting the role of the United States as a global gendarme. NATO’s expansion and aggressiveness is best understood against the backdrop of US strategic planning as defined in the 1994-1999 Defence Planning Guidance. Its main objective, according to the guide, is to prevent the emergence of a new rival, whether on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, and thus to prevent a hostile power from dominating a region whose resources, with consolidated control, would be sufficient to generate a world power. These regions include Western Europe, East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union, and Southwest Asia.

Just as in the Eurasian area the hostile rival is Russia, in the non-violent the US strategic planning has been aimed at preventing the expansion and rise in influence of China, an emerging regional and global power. The military deployment of the US armed forces has spread over all continents and oceans (700 military bases in more than 80 countries).

A hypothetical strong European Union, freed from its military dependence on NATO, is not in the interests of the imperialist strategy of the USA. A power whose economic weight is comparable to that of the USA and whose economic, political and social interests do not coincide with those of the USA. Although the evolution of the European Union, as defined by its creators, was to form a strong political structure of a federal nature, with its own constitution and even a purely European defence policy, many obstacles have prevented this and have sought to make the EU as unregulated a free market area as possible. It is precisely those countries most closely tied to or dependent on the United States, especially the UK until its exit from the EU, that have been responsible for slowing down many of the initiatives to advance political integration.

Other regional powers openly question the unipolar or, as it was called in the 1970s, imperialist model, and have agreed to take steps based on their economic and political potential. Thus, in 2006, Brazil, Russia, India and China joined together in the BRIC, which was later joined by South Africa in 2011 to form the BRICS. Cooperation between these countries has taken the form of new financial institutions, and in the approach to reforming existing ones in which they do not feel represented (IMF), or even in the replacement of the dollar as the franc currency in international trade. These measures herald a new multipolar world system that is also based on solid growth predictions for the economies of these countries, which will soon surpass those of the United States and the main EU countries. The BRICS could be joined by other economic and political powers such as Mexico and South Korea, which would still increase their weight.

In recent years we have returned to the explosive situation of the Cold War, but this time the war is not in Africa or Asia, but in its interior. The unilateral break-up of the United States in 2019 by the Trump Administration of the Treaty for the elimination of short- and medium-range nuclear missiles (INF), signed in 1987, opened the door to the build-up of nuclear weapons and to restarting a dangerous arms race. In 2023 Russia confirmed this trend and withdrew from the New START treaty, which limited the number of nuclear weapons for both powers.

Wars in the name of human rights?

And once again it has been necessary for the aggressors to justify the military interventions of NATO and/or the USA in the eyes of national and international public opinion. All sorts of arguments have been used, from threats from terrorist groups to the defence of Western strategic interests or even the defence of democracy and human rights in the intervening countries. A curious paradox that is not supported by any side, since in any war the most basic rights disappear, including the right to life. The balance sheet of the interventions leaves no trace of rights or wellbeing, but rather of destruction, impoverishment of populations and increased violence in all ambits. Wars are best understood by tracing their correspondence to the control of strategic resources such as oil, uranium, gas, etc.

On the other hand, the argument of defending democracy and Western values, which deserve to be exported to more backward countries that do not enjoy the marvellous Western standards, takes us back to that Darwinian discourse that established superior and inferior races, still current in the landscape of many people, and prevents us from noticing how the look towards the rest of the world is tinged with a superiority that is manifested in the judgements and evaluations that are made about the way other cultures dress or greet each other. Racist theories are undoubtedly connected to the supremacist currents in the United States, which reject equal rights and opportunities and the civil rights of minorities, and which aspire to an ethnic cleansing that is today causing serious racial clashes among the population.

War once again looms over Europe

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has once again led Europe to suffer a war on its territory that could lead to a nuclear catastrophe. Once again, the people are trapped and frightened. Their lives threatened. Their future is cut short. Once again, at the same time as the bullets, the prices of energy sources (oil and gas) have skyrocketed. Once again, the vultures and scavengers who, feed on the dead, will reap huge economic benefits. Let us be clear that the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army, in a unilateral decision by Putin’s government, is an act that deserves the full repudiation and condemnation of the peoples and the international community. But let us not just look at the snapshot of the moment of the invasion and consider the whole process described above.

The war has reactivated and sharpened Europe’s dependence on the hegemonic policy of the United States and its subordination to NATO. Important economic relations between Russia and EU countries have been severed. Russia’s energy supplies to Europe, which were worth billions of euros, have been diverted to purchases of liquefied fuel from the US. The arms industry is rubbing its hands with the huge increases in military spending demanded of European EU countries. Arms supplies to Ukraine are steadily upward, including weapons that are now banned by the UN. Russia is beginning to consider and publicise situations in which Russia would be willing to use nuclear weapons. The temperature is gradually rising, as populations become accustomed to the nuclear threat.

Meanwhile, media propaganda in favour of war is overwhelming. News of military operations, of economic sanctions intended to strangle the Russian economy, of weapons sent from all over Europe to strengthen the Ukrainian army, or of massacres caused by the Russian army, is spread. Opinionators repeatedly pontificate on the legitimacy of this war, and only the end of the conflict is envisaged in terms of the defeat of the Russian state and the end of Putin. On the other hand, there is no information in the media about the legacy of this war. Thousands of dead and wounded, destroyed infrastructure, razed cities, and hatred and despair among two peoples whose history and culture are intertwined. Every day that passes, the war shows the disaster it will leave for future generations. There is no talk of peace because behind the data and information with which the media bombard the population and which claim to be the absolute truth, there are values and interests that underlie the discourse. From outside the European continent, the view is different. Lulla da Silva, president of Brazil, has put his finger on the sore spot and denounced the fact that no work is being done to find a negotiated solution to the conflict, and the danger that this war poses for the entire planet. The truth is that this war is not only between Ukraine and Russia, it is also the United States’ war against Russia, for which it is using the Ukrainian state, and into which it has dragged the European Union, in which the countries bordering Russia are particularly sensitive to Russian imperialism.

The EU, traditionally inclined towards diplomacy and negotiation, has mutated into an arms supplier to a conflict zone; it has even created a fund, paradoxically called the Peace Fund, for military aid to Ukraine, in violation of the basic principles of an organisation which was born precisely with the philosophy of preventing wars in Europe after the European population suffered two devastating world wars.

The position of the Humanist Party

In the World March for Peace and Nonviolence, promoted by all the organisations of the Humanist Movement, five points were raised which are still fundamental today, and which should be applied to solve the conflict in Ukraine: global nuclear disarmament, the immediate withdrawal of invading troops from occupied territories, the progressive and proportional reduction of conventional weapons, the signing of non-aggression treaties between countries, and the renunciation by governments of the use of war as a means of resolving conflicts.

For humanists, at this point in the 21st century, two basic principles should form the basis of international relations. The first is the renunciation of war as a means of resolving conflicts between countries, and the second is the prohibition, for all states, of the manufacture, stockpiling and use of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

On the first point, humanists will be proposing the progressive adoption in constitutional texts of an express renunciation of war, except in the case of legitimate self-defence. In our country we have an important precedent worthy of being remembered, the Constitution of the Second Republic, approved in 1931, established this. This principle is not based on the naivety of a few well-intentioned people, but on the well-founded experience of the disastrous consequences that wars have had all over the world. Abandoning wars for good would be a gigantic step forward in this prehistory of humanity that we still live in today.

On the second point, despite the dangerous moment of war in Europe, an important initiative has made headway in the United Nations. A large majority of states have signed the NPT Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which entered into force in 2021. But it is precisely the nuclear-weapon states that are most virulently refusing to sign this treaty. Nor have the other non-nuclear-weapon states in NATO signed up to this agreement. For this reason, and in the situation of war in which we find ourselves, humanists will be proposing the immediate signing of the NPT by the Spanish state, which would mean a change in Spanish foreign policy and would have a major impact on the governments and public opinion of the countries of the European Union.

Humanists propose Spain’s exit from NATO, which we consider to be an organisation whose interests are not those of promoting peace and security in its member states, but are directly linked to strengthening the imperial position of the United States on the planet. The security of European countries must be dealt with within the European Union, with its own organisation without external dependence.

We also raised the issue of Spain’s withdrawal from the anti-missile shield. This initiative was seen by Russia as a hostile act, and the bases where the missiles were stationed, including Rota in Cadiz, were marked as military targets in a conflict between the two powers.

In conclusion, we would like to recall what Silo said at the Nobel Peace Prize summit in Berlin in November 2009, in which he pointed out that the current crisis is evidence of the global failure of a system whose methodology of action is violence and whose central value is money. The defence of human life and the most basic human rights has not yet taken root in the population at a general and global level. Violence is still advocated when it comes to arguing defence and even preventive defence against possible aggressions. It is necessary to awaken the consciousness of Active Nonviolence which allows us to reject not only physical violence, but also all forms of economic, racial, psychological, religious and gender-based violence. We humanists are committed to this task.

Redacción Madrid