Constructive Program

Constructive Program is action taken within the community to build structures, systems, processes or resources that are positive alternatives to oppression. It often works along side Obstructive Program, which usually involves direct confrontation to or noncooperation with oppression. Constructive Program is doing what one can to imaginatively and positively create justice within one’s own community.

Confrontations—whether violent or nonviolent—can capture attention, intrigue the media, and catalyze fledgling movements. However, even poignant instances of nonviolent resistance do not by themselves build or sustain movements. Indeed, since principled nonviolence is at its core a positive rather than negative principle, many people are drawn to Constructive Program’s emphasis on “cooperating with good” instead of Obstructive Program’s emphasis on “non-cooperation with evil.” Moreover, there is again a special power and directness in improving oneself rather than (or alongside) trying to change the other (see [[swadeshi]]).

Gandhi defined Constructive Program quite early in his career and coined the term to denote the myriad of activities that he felt were prerequisite to carrying out the more overt and confrontational modes of nonviolent action. For example, he established four ashrams in the course of his long career where satyagrahis [nonviolent actors] could live a nonviolent, creative life that was largely self-sufficient (and sustainable). As Constructive Program took on more and more importance over the course of the freedom struggle, the spinning wheel became its symbol. By using the spinning wheel to create home-spun cloth, each Indian could participate in the struggle to build a sustainable economy separate from the British textile industry. Spinning enabled every Indian to participate in the ‘bread labour’ of fulfilling a basic need, gave employment to millions of idled workers, and finally freeing India from England’s economic domination. The spinning wheel became the ‘sun’ in the ‘solar system’ of many other projects. (See Constructive Programme, Its Meaning and Place, [Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1941]).

Many modern nonviolent movements pay little to no attention to Constructive Program, instead focusing all of their energy on such techniques as protest, non-cooperation and civil disobedience. Activists are tempted to reason, “We will build a new society after the present regime is gone.” Gandhi argued that the reality was reversed, as demonstrated by recent events: While nonviolent insurrectionary movements in the second half of the 20th century have successfully liberated people from repressive regimes in South Africa, the Philippines, Poland, the Czech Republic, Serbia, and many other places, in almost all cases the same problems of poverty and other forms of structural violence have returned to undermine the gains of the insurrection. This is not because nonviolence doesn’t “work” but because nonviolence without Constructive Program is incomplete – at least if we want to follow nonviolence for permanent, constructive change.

The first Palestinian Intifada (1987-1991) is a notable example of the powerful application of Constructive Program. The Palestinians planted community gardens, purchased only their own products, taught in neighborhood schools, established women’s groups and other social networks, and focused on making themselves self-reliant and self-sufficient even during intense repression and without a recognized national government. These activities provided tangible sustenance for the people, as well as cohesiveness (most of these projects required close cooperation) and psychological well-being.