Imagining Other


Power and Protest (social movements) in the 20th Century:

(4) The peace, anti-war and anti-nuclear movements:




Links: Imagining Other Index Page

  Peace and War Section 1 (the anti-war movement)

       Peace and War Section 2 (the anti-nuclear movement)

      Peace and War Section 4 (war today) 

          Peace and War Section 6 (updates)

Outline of this Section:

1. Introduction.

2. Nonviolence against war. Link

3. Examples of nonviolence in action. Link

4. Nonviolence as the basis for changing the social order, or for bringing about a completely different social order. Link

5. References, useful books, and web links. Link


1. Introduction:


(These are brief notes only, and I wrote them some time ago – but I’ve delayed uploading them for too long [in the vain hope of adding to them first!], so here they are. The books listed below give a full account of the ideas and descriptions of the use of nonviolence)


As indicated, pacifism is for many not simply the refusal to fight; rather it is the belief in non-violence as a way of resolving war and similar violent conflicts, e.g. resisting invasion or occupation. There have in fact been many examples of the practice of non-violent resistance to attack (see 2 below). 


Going further, non-violence can be seen as a way of life, and a way of building a different kind of community and world order (see 3 below). Non-violence as an active way of life often becomes linked with civil disobedience: i.e. it is an appropriate strategy to adopt against any policy to which there is strong moral (i.e. conscientious) objection. It has been used by environmentalists, animal rights activists etc. Non-violence as a technique, and as a philosophy of life, is largely derived from Mahatma Gandhi (see also forthcoming notes on anti-colonialism). Gandhi’s term was ahimsa, or non-harm: that is, it is wrong to harm others – or yourself! Gandhi and others observed that violence met with violence does not solve a conflict, but worsens it. Non-violent opposition to an aggressor can deeply affect the opponent, appealing to their conscience or their better selves; non-violence thus creates win-win situations.


To distinguish this kind of direct action from others (e.g. action that is against another group of people because of their difference) it is important that the reasoning behind the action be strong and defensible (it should not be based simply on emotions), and that those undertaking it be prepared (if necessary) to suffer. It should always be possible to argue that the action being undertaken aims to stop or prevent some evil.


Sometimes the reasoning behind an action can be linked to the broad principles on which our society is supposed to be based – individual and collective rights, democracy, the rule of law. Thus, in recent protests against war, especially the war in Iraq, but also more generally with nuclear weapons, use has been made of legal arguments: demonstrators cause damage to military equipment, or obstruct the operations of the military, and then use the courts to try to get a legal ruling that they were justified because the equipment was about to be used for an illegal purpose. Says George Monbiot (Guardian 17.10.06 - “In 1999, a sheriff (a junior Scottish judge) at the court in Greenock instructed the jury to acquit three women who had boarded a Trident submarine testing station in Loch Goil and thrown its computers into the sea.” Though the judge would not rule that the equipment contravened international law, he did agree the women had no criminal intent. There is now a peaceful blockade being set up at Faslane: which will involve further legal challenges. (Source, Monbiot loc cit).


In 1996 four women were acquitted of conspiracy and criminal damage after disabling a Hawk jet which was due to be sold by BAE to the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia.


However, governments can always wriggle out of these judgments: more recently (March 2006) the law lords ruled that defendants carrying out direct action against B52 bombers destined for Iraq, could not use the argument that the war in Iraq was illegal: “while aggression by the state is a crime under international law, it is not a crime under domestic law”. But they were allowed to show that they were seeking to prevent specific war crimes from being committed – e.g. the B52s were carrying cluster bombs and depleted uranium on their munitions.


In other countries the courts have taken an even stronger line: in Ireland five peace campaigners were acquitted after causing $2.5 m worth of damage to a plane belonging to the US navy, at Shannon airport, in 2003. The German federal administration also threw out charges of insubordination against a major in the German army. He refused to be implicated in the invasion of Iraq, and the court agreed that the UN permits a state to go to war in only two circumstances: in self-defence, and when it has been authorized to do so by the UN. They argued that Resolution 1441, used by the US and Britain to justify the invasion, contained no such authorization.


Interestingly, there have been quite a few desertions and appeals for conscientious objector status among those serving in Iraq: according to S. Goldenberg (Guardian, 05.05.04) there were 71 applications for CO status in 2003 (50% were approved), as against 46 in 2002. Some 29,000 (?!) have rung the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors for advice… There were 1,113 desertions from the marines in 2003, and by May 2004 there had been 384. and


International agreements such as those made at Nuremberg do try to put limits on what violence can be used in international conflict. Thus Nuremberg identified aggression by one state against another as “the supreme international crime”. However, Monbiot cites a statement by Sir Michael Jay, permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office which warns the courts not to pass judgments that conflict with government policy!!! Such judgments would weaken the government’s hand in negotiations, and would undermine the position of our allies (presumably the US?!).  


2. Non-violence against war (from Gregg 1960):

It may be argued that non-violence is all very well when used against a “civilised” opponent who has a conscience, but that such resistance would fail if it was attempted against the armies of certain nations with a reputation for ruthlessness and callous brutality. However, this is an over-simplification. Non-violence has been used (as described below) against even the Nazis, who are usually seen as the epitome of an unfeeling and violent aggressor. Further in the past, the history of Cromwell's conquest of Ireland, and the records of the laws and punishments of those days shows clearly that the English in that century were fearfully brutal and callous, yet the non-violent resistance of the Quakers prevailed against them. 

Gregg goes so far as to argue that even Nazi hearts could be touched by long-term kindness: during the severe Nazi persecution and brutality toward German Jews just before 1940, the Nazi officials permitted American Quakers to do relief work in Germany because the Nazis remembered that, during the blockade and starvation of Germany by the British fleet just after World War I, American Quakers had brought food and help and much kindness to Germans then.  In Nazi-occupied Norway, when citizens were obliged to wear a gold star if they were Jewish, many non-Jews, and even the King, put on the star, and the Nazis had to give up the policy.

One of the reasons that I am interested in the study of non-violence is that it is inter-disciplinary:


- we need to understand the human personality and the causes of violence (i.e. to use the tools provided by psychology). For example, the “critical theorists” –

            Theodore Adorno and others - who studied the causes of the rise of Nazism, identified what they called the “authoritarian personality”: people who have a deep-

            seated need either to obey a leader, or to try to be a leader themselves.

            - we also need to understand group behaviour and the origins of conflict – and this takes us into social psychology and sociology

- we could benefit from studying the way that wars have arisen in the past, through a study of history and politics

- as a philosophy of life, many artists, writers and musicians have been committed to pacifism and non-violence, and some works of art/music/poems express

opposition to war or horror at the consequences of war and violence: Francisco Goya painted The Disasters of War in 1910 – illustrating the horrors of the

Peninsular War. In 1937, Pablo Picasso painted perhaps the most famous anti-war picture: Guernica, which commemorates the aerial bombing during the

Spanish Civil war by Nazi planes of a Spanish village called Guernica. Picasso also painted the dove symbol that has been adopted by some in the peace

movement. In 1962, Benjamin Britten wrote his War Requiem to be performed at the re-consecration of Coventry cathedral. It was written for soloists from

England (Peter Pears) Russia (Galina Vishnevskaya) and Germany (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau), setting poems by Wilfred Owen together with parts of the Latin

Mass for the Dead (see:  The other great 20th century English composer, Michael Tippett was also a pacifist.

The role-call of writers and artists who opposed war could go on and on: William Blake, Ruskin, Emerson, Tolstoy

- an excellent book (ed. Dunn, 1963) illustrates this point: it has articles on all these areas, and on legal and economic aspects such as: the creation of

 international bodies to avoid war, international economic co-operation, the problem of food and population growth and how this might contribute to conflict.

3. Examples of non-violence in action:

It seems to me that the public ought to be more aware of the large number of episodes where non-violence has been used in conflict situations – many in war.

This list of examples is taken from Gene Sharp in ed. Dunn 1963 (pp 143 – 4). (See also Sharp 1973, Gregg 1960, Roberts 1969):

Hungarian passive resistance against Austria 1850 –1867

German Social Democrats against Bismarck 1878 – 1890

Non-whites in S. Africa

Indian campaigns in S. Africa

Ruhr passive resistance against French occupation 1923 – 25

German general strike against attempted Kapp putsch 1920

Libyan resistance to Italian occupation

Barcelona and Madrid bus boycotts 1957

Finnish resistance to Russian rule 1901 – 5

Norwegian resistance to Quisling and Nazi occupation

Danish resistance and strikes 1940 – 5

East German revolt 1953

Strikes in prison camps in Soviet Union (esp. Vorkuta) 1953

Hungarian rebellion 1956

Poland against the Soviet Union

4. Non-violence as the basis for changing the social order, or for bringing about a completely different social order:

Those who have studied the effectiveness and of non- violence have often been drawn to a view that is not unlike that of anarchists: when power is put into anyone’s hands – whether this power is gained from military might or economic strength or any other source – there is a distinct possibility that the power will be misused. As Lord Acton said: “All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.  However, Acton was not an anarchist! Leopold Kohr (ed. Dunn 1963 p 175) links the point about the dangers of power to a concern about war: “violence and war are the product, not of the will to do evil… but of the power to do evil which overrides all will, whosoever’s it might be” (emphasis added). In other words, in order to do away with war, we have to work towards a world in which no-one has the ability or the means to carry it out: possession of weapons by any state – no matter how peaceful it is – makes war possible and even likely.

We have also seen in the 21st century how powerlessness can lead to violence (the perception among many Muslims who resort to violence is that the US is trying to impose its way of life on them; Palestinians feel similarly vis-à-vis Israel – and in the last century in Ireland Catholics lacked civil rights and were discriminated against in housing etc, leading to the resistance by the IRA (though I have to make the point that it was the non-violent movement starting with the civil rights movement that won the peace). Powerlessness is surely the flip-side to a few having great power.

Thinking along these lines – how to build a world free of violent conflict - we soon realize that the social order required must be quite different from the current social order in most parts of the world, and the key must be not simply more democracy as April Carter puts it, but far greater equality, and a far more equitable distribution of power. Of course, a completely equitable distribution of power would mean the absence of power!!

Add to this the realization that non-violence is a tool for solving many kinds of conflict, and we should not be surprised to see how it has been used in many different situations to try to bring about a more just social order:

In Cyprus – where there is conflict between Greek and Turks over ownership of the island – a peace group worked with Turks who had been displaced from homes after the Greek takeover of part of the island.

Martin Luther King used non-violence in his campaign for black civil rights – see forthcoming notes: The Civil Rights Movement.

One of Gandhi’s followers Vinoba Bhave traveled throughout India persuading wealthy landowners to give land to the poor – the Gramdan movement.

Another follower of Gandhi, Danilo Dolci, used non-violence against the mafia in Sicily.

Cesar Chavez fights for peasants’ rights in California.

The anti-globalisation movement is mainly committed to non-violence – see forthcoming notes: The Anti-globalisation Movement.

5. References, useful books, and web links (see also Section 5):


Ackerman, Peter and DuVall, Jack: A Force More Powerful. Palgrave 2001. 0-312-24050-3.

Brewer, John D: Ending Violence (peace in N Ireland and S Africa). Palgrave. 0-333-80180-6. Uses C Wright Mills’s ‘sociological imagination’ model…

Carter, April: Peace Movements: International Protest and World politics since 1945. Longman 1992. ISBN 0-582-02773-X. 

Clark, Howard: Civil Resistance in Kosovo. Pluto 2000. 0-7453-1569-0.

Dunn, Ted (ed.): Alternatives to War and Violence. James Clarke and Co Ltd (London) 1963.

Engler, Mark: This Is An Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt is Shaping the Twenty-first Century – to be released early 2016.

Galtung, Jacobsen, Brand-Jacobsen: Searching for Peace: the road to TRANSCEND. Pluto 2002. Approach adopted as UN training guide. 0-7453-1928-9.

Gregg, Richard B.: The Power of Nonviolence. James Clarke and Co Ltd, London. 2nd edn 1960.

Kurlansky, Mark: Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea. Cape. 2006. ISBN 9780224077910.

Mayer, Peter (ed.): The Pacifist Conscience. Pelican 1966.  

Miall, Hugh: Preventors of War – emergent conflict and peaceful change. Palgrave 2003. 0-333-98767-5.

Roberts, Adam (ed.): Civilian Resistance as a National Defence. Pelican 1969.

Schell, Jonathan: The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence and the Will of the People, Penguin.  History of non-violence, how revolutions can succeed without violence, ‘structures of co-operative power’ can replace coercion. But to start with, WMD must be destroyed, as science/technology of warfare has turned warfare into mutual destruction and ‘broken the link between politics and warfare.’

Tolstoy, Leo (tr. Peter Serikin): A Calendar of Wisdom, Hodder, Stoughton 1998. Each day has 4 - 6 quotations. First appeared 1904 as Thoughts of Wise Men.


A Few Relevant Websites: published by The Randolph Bourne Institute: (to resist taxes for war)  (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) a source on Scilla Elworthy, founder of