Saturday, June 9, 2012

Belated Eulogy

Vaclav Havel died a little while ago and I was far too busy to reflect fully upon the influence that this Czech playwright has upon my life.
Over a decade ago I began to struggle with formulating a strategy for change within prisons. The new "security paradigm" has, I argue, removed the possibility of "reform through riot" and I had concluded that the best strategy would be centred on non-violent direct action. After all, prisons only function because prisoners cooperate; the prison system is extremely vulnerable to non-violent direct action and has no counter-strategy to contain such a prisoner movement.
My stumbling block was the religious basis for non-violent direct action. Those giants, Gandhi and King, demonstrated what could be achieved without violence but they rooted their core beliefs in religious faith. Peddling such ideas around the UK prisoner population, an irreligious bunch at best, would be utterly futile.
Havel - and others, such as Michnik - offered an avenue of action that was not based upon religion but upon political ideas (democracy, freedom) and utility. Like prisons, totalitarian States have an overwhelming preponderance of hard Power and violent resistance to that power is likely to end rather badly.
But like prisons, all totalitarian States are vulnerable to non-violent direct action. After all, when the individual is stripped of everything, all that remains is their ability to decline to cooperate, the ability to say, "No". This is a massively underappreciated point in terms of the British prison population.

Havel rescued me by liberating non-violent direct action from its reliance upon Faith and revealed that such a strategy can be successfully used even if the protagonists use it out of expediency. And, just as in the totalitarian States of Eastern Europe, I argue that such methods can be used within the prison system.

There are those who think about the nature of the world in which we live. And there are those whose actions change that world. Vaclav Havel was one of the rare few who straddled both thought and action and the society in which he lived has changed forever because of his existence.

Few of us can ever be granted such a memorial.


  1. This subject is best left to you, Ben!

  2. Ben, you can try saying "No" when you're shoved onto the "work programme" after you're released. Unfortunately, you'll soon become reacquainted with the term "sanction"!

    Great site, by the way.


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