The Ideas and Dynamics of Civil Resistance


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The modern practice of civil resistance sprang from new ideas about the underlying nature of political power that began to be framed about 170 years ago. As later developed by Gandhi and adopted by scores of movements and campaigns for rights and justice in recent decades, strategies of civil resistance have exhibited a common dynamic, propelled historic changes, and imparted certain political and social properties to their societies. The record of these strategies in liberating oppressed people, when compared to that of violent insurgency or revolt, has been remarkable – and suggests why political violence may substantially be reduced in the future.

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The Ideas and Dynamics of Civil Resistance

  1. 1. CIVIL RESISTANCEEmergingForce forRightsand Justice
  2. 2. CIVILRESISTANCE “Power concedes nothing and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to, and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue until they are resisted…The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” – Frederick Douglass
  3. 3. “The Right to RiseUp” A half-century later, Leo Tolstoy predicted that “public opinion” would change the “whole structure of life” making violence “superfluous.”
  4. 4. “The Right to RiseUp”Gandhi was “overwhelmed” byTolstoy’s thinking… - Irish resistance to British rule (e.g. rent strikes) - 1905 Russian revolution (e.g. marches, strikes)
  5. 5. A New Way to “Rise Up”Gandhi’s “nonviolent weapons” in resisting British rule:- Mass marches/protests- Refusal to pay taxes- Boycotts, resignations- Active interference
  6. 6. Tactics of ResistanceProtest/Persuasion- Petitions, symbols, vigils- Marches, walk-outsNon-cooperation- Boycotts, strikes, sit-ins- Civil disobedienceIntervention- Blockades, seizures
  7. 7. The Dynamic of Resistance When the people deprive an oppressor of their consent, it reduces his legitimacy. When enough people refuse to cooperate, they increase the cost of holding control. When the system’s legitimacy drops and its costs rise, its enforcers doubt its endurance.
  8. 8. RECORD OF RESISTANCEThe great nation-changing nonviolent movements: Indians (1920s-40s) East Germans (1989) Salvadorans (1944) Mongolians (1990) African-Americans (‘60s) Malians (1991) Poles (1970s-1980s) Russians (1991) South Africans (‘84-’92) Serbs (2000) Chileans (1985-1988) Georgians (2003) Filipinos (1986) Ukrainians (2004) Czechs/Slovaks (1989) Maldivians (2008)
  9. 9. RESULTS OF RESISTANCE In the 35 years between 1970 and 2005, there were 67 transitions from authoritarian to democratic governments. In 50 of 67 transitions, the key factor was nonviolent force.
  10. 10. The risks of strategic choicesTiananmen Square, June 1989“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” - Sun Tzu
  11. 11. Triumphs of people power….
  12. 12. Emergent properties of civilresistanceConsent - confers legitimacy - recasts the idea of power - creates space to resist
  13. 13. Emergent properties of civilresistancereason - respects the citizen’s mind - persuasion, not coercion - signals honesty & credibility
  14. 14. Emergent properties of civil resistanceself-rule- Swaraj- Self-organization- Planning- Nonviolent discipline
  15. 15. Emergent properties of civil resistancerePresentatIon- Ascertaining and presenting people’s grievances- Listening, delegating and inviting participation- Humility, not hierarchy- Solidarity of all, not heroism of the few
  16. 16. Emergent properties of civilresistanceresIlIenCe- Momentum- Existential stakes- Certitude of faith in eventual success Fannie Lou Hamer
  17. 17. Emergent properties of civilresistancetransforMatIon- No monolithic enemies- Everyone a stakeholder- Ends reflected in means
  18. 18. How Resistance Changes Everything “By breaking the rules of the game, [the dissident] has disrupted the game…He has shattered the world of appearances… He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. Living within the lie can constitute the system only if it is universal…and therefore everyone who steps out of line denies it in principle and threatens it in its entirety.”
  19. 19. The Basis of Resistance:A Choice of Identity“Who are you?”The object of a ruling elite,submissive to threats of violence…and social anesthesia? orA citizen, able to resist thelie that injustice can’t beopposed, able to developthe means to obtain power?
  20. 20. Demand for Militant StruggleFrom people who want…-Self-determination(West Papuans, Sahrawis)-End to dictatorship(Syria, Belarus, Fiji)-End to violence(Mexico, Nigeria)
  21. 21. Violent v. Nonviolent PowerNew study of 323 violent and nonviolentcampaigns, 1900 to 2006: -Violent campaigns succeeded in 26% of cases. -Nonviolent campaigns succeeded in 53% of cases. Stephen & Chenoweth, “Why Civil Resistance Works”, International Security, Summer 2008.
  22. 22. What Civil Resistance Delivers• Rights• Self-rule• Justice• Democracy• Peace