Constructive Programme

The Positive Force of Nonviolence

Constructive Programme (Program, CP) was coined by Gandhi, and it describes community-level actions to build positive alternatives to repressive structures, systems, processes or resources. Nonviolence is a positive force. When we express this force in action it is only natural to look for positive, constructive forms of it.

When people are in desperate straits, their first impulse is often to lash out against their oppressor, causing them to overlook this natural, powerful connection. Gandhi was aware of the positive force of nonviolence, and as early as 1894, the very first year of his public career, he saw to it that, “Side by side with external agitation, the question of internal improvement was also taken up.”

As Gandhi’s campaigns went on and his understanding of nonviolence matured, “Constructive Programme” assumed greater importance for him, until he could declare that “my real politics is constructive work.”

How Constructive Program arises:

  • There is a natural affinity between nonviolence and “cooperating with good,” even more than “non-cooperating with evil.”
  • It is a lot easier to do something oneself than insist others do so, making working within one’s own community to that extent more natural. (For a fuller explanation on this point, see Swadeshi in our Glossary.).
  • CP enables people to break their dependency on a regime, as they create their own goods and services. This in itself is a kind of liberation and makes it much easier to “dismiss” oppressive regimes.
  • Proactive, CP rouses people out of lethargy, fear and helplessness.
  • CP is ongoing, so it enables a movement to build momentum, especially at times when Satyagraha in the sense of direct resistance is for some reason not advisable.
  • Studies have shown that working together is the most effective way to reunite divided communities and people. While not everyone can protest or face arrest, everyone can participate in a well-designed CP, like Gandhi’s. Disparate projects can be connected in networks: the “P” stands for Program, not Project.
  • Most importantly: CP puts in place the institutions that will be needed when the oppressive regime falls. Many an insurrection has succeeded in dislodging an oppressor only to see their society slide back into injustice because other elements were ready to rush into the vacuum (and there is nothing people fear more than chaos).

We should not overlook the revolutionary potential of CP. When we take up CP we are not leaving the revolution behind; we are giving it a powerful new dimension. Making “illegal” salt in India deliberately put the Satyagrahis on a collision course with the British Raj (the Raj in due course lost).

Many social change projects going on today are potentially CP, if the participants would envision them as fitting into a comprehensive program of reform and liberation: the areas of food justice, reform of the excessively violent and dehumanizing mainstream media, restorative justice, peace work (all forms), creating progressive values—you can name others—are particularly ready to be woven into a comprehensive CP.

What are the criteria for effective CP? Projects should:

  • have political and social significance, rather than merely being positive
  • empower all participants
  • be non-symbolic (or be concrete projects with symbolic value)
  • have revolutionary potential, even when they are as far as possible not directly confrontational

The complementary relationship between CP and Satyagraha (or Obstructive Program) can be stated: Be constructive wherever possible and confrontational when necessary.

Learn more about Constructive Program in the CP module of our Self-Study course on nonviolence.