Power and Protest (social movements) in the 20th Century:
(4) The peace, anti-war and anti-nuclear movements:
Section 3: NONVIOLENCE AND PACIFISM
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
(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 - http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2006/10/19/putting-the-state-on-trial/):
“In 1999, a sheriff (a junior Scottish judge) at the court in
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
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
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
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:
war by Nazi planes of a Spanish village called
movement. In 1962, Benjamin Britten wrote his War Requiem to
be performed at the re-consecration of
Mass for the Dead (see: www.its.caltech.edu/~tan/Britten/britwar.html). 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.
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
German Social Democrats against
German general strike against attempted Kapp putsch 1920
Libyan resistance to Italian occupation
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
Hungarian rebellion 1956
Those who have studied the effectiveness and of non-
violence have often been drawn to a view that is not unlike that of anarchists:
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
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:
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
Another follower of Gandhi, Danilo
Dolci, used non-violence against the mafia in
Cesar Chavez fights for peasants’ rights in
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
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 (
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,
Kurlansky, Mark: Nonviolence: The History of a
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,
A Few Relevant Websites:
http://conscienceonline.org.uk (to resist taxes for war)
http://www.sipri.org/ (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute)
http://www.opendemocracy.net/author/scilla-elworthy a source on Scilla Elworthy, founder of http://www.peacedirect.org/