April Carter: Direct Action (1961)

Our History 85

April Carter was secretary of the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War from 1958 to 1961, having previously studied politics at LSE and worked in the Foreign Office. Organiser of many of the early CND protests, Carter was arrested at the Swatham nuclear base in 1959, before becoming  one of the co-founders in 1960 of the Committee of 100 for civil disobedience. She then became European organiser for the March from San Francisco to Moscow before joining the editorial staff of Peace News. In 1968, she protested against the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. Moving into academia, she lectured at a number of universities, before joining the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute from 1985 to 1987. In the 1980’s she was a member of the Alternative Defence Commission.

Carter has published a number of books: The Political Theory of Anarchism (1971), Direct Action and Liberal Democracy (1973), Authority and Democracy (1979), Politics of Women’s Rights (1988), Success and Failure in Arms Control Negotiations (1989), Peace Movements (1992), The Political Theory of Global Citizenship (2001)   Direct Action and Democracy Today (2004) and People Power and Political Change (2012).

“A democratic society has two main elements. One is a constitutional and legal framework that safeguards individual and minority rights and allows for some measure of popular control. The other is the practice of their democratic rights by the people. Of these two elements the latter is the more important, since even an ideal constitution cannot operate effectively unless the people take their political duties seriously; merely to keep it functioning mechanically a system dependent on elections has to rely on its citizens bothering to vote. Moreover, the forms of democracy may be used to disguise the realities of political power; the ballot box may be a popular symbol of democracy, but is no guarantee of it. The methods of non-violent action are not concerned with the forms of democracy; they are the means of creating or defending the spirit of it, and of putting it into practice where the ‘normal constitutional channels’ either do not exist or are inadequate.

“Non-violent action is a method of maintaining the values inherent in the idea of democracy – values which are more crucial to its reality than such forms as a general election every five years. It is therefore a compliment to the forms of democracy as devised by liberal theory, not a negation of them. Genuinely democratic society may perhaps emerge from the inter-action of law and the constitution on the one hand, and protest and non-violent action on the other. The principles basic to non-violence are closely related to the principles of democracy: direct action methods are realising both.”

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