Home | About | Donate

10 Things To Know About Nonviolent Struggle

10 Things To Know About Nonviolent Struggle

Rivera Sun

“There is a place between passivity and violence. I’ll meet you there.” – Rivera Sun

Nonviolent struggle is on the rise globally. Neither passive, nor inaction, this powerful way of working for change is proving Gandhi’s audacious claim that “nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind” to be correct. Here are ten things you should know about nonviolent struggle and how it works.

1 Like

Thanks for this; we don’t talk about this part of the solution nearly enough. We need such strategy to avoid ecological catastrophe.

In the early 1980s in college I studied Gandhi and Gandhian action and wrote a paper about using Satyagraha to further alternative energy and a more ecological society.

At the time the appropriate technology movement was in full swing, but while the tactics of the oppositional part of the movement seemed obvious, it was hard to come up with any way to compel anyone to build commercial wind turbines and solar PV, passive and active solar heating and cooling, etc. Home-made versions constructed by the “protestors” were the best I could think of—not the best solution on the scale we need it now. I’ve thought about that paper now and then and still don’t know the answer.

There are several main parts to the solutions to climate catastrophe–replacing fossil fuels with efficiency, conservation and wiser, more ecological lives; reforesting the planet; transforming chemical industrial agriculture to local organic low-meat permaculture and transforming industry to benign, closed-loop, ecological forms. Some of those–tree planting and farm construction and conversion, etc.–can be done with voluntary action, and the fossil fuel industries might be convinced to shut down with blockades and actions like the Dharasana Salt Works, but compelling government and industry to cooperate to build clean safe renewable energy is less likely to say the least. Anything less than a full takeover of the government, compelling it to represent the people and nature (which must be given rights) rather than corporations and the rich, seems unlikely to get the scale of building we need. Suggestions would be appreciated.

PS I’ve always preferred ”peaceful” action to ”non-violent”; saying the word ”violent”, even with a ”non” in front of it, triggers the frame of violence, just the opposite of what we want.


Some people will be injured and killed in non-violent struggle. And state action in the US has to be measured against private gun ownership as well. But failing to challenge the status quo will also result in the injury and death of many more people. I would prefer to die trying to attain the promise of American democracy rather than resign myself to a miserable life and certain death, under corporate rule.


Considering the scale and danger of global warming, the other environmental challenges of toxins, land use, etc and the deepening social crisis combined with the inability of the elite to attend to the crisis of the people and the planet; it appears to me that only deeply profound cultural and political change is necessary.

Revolutionary change, through strategic nonviolent civil resistance, is the level of change characterized in the studies related to paragraph 2 and 3 of the article.

Everything comes in its time. The constructive programs you rememder from the 60’s may have not been possible to go to scale then but now many of them are.

For me the key is always what do I do today? Am I taking individual action, am I helping others to do the same, am I helping to educate and organize?

The future will be as bright and as beautiful as we make it. Glad to see you there.

1 Like

Yes, there will be injuries and death even in nonviolent conflict. the key is the casualties are a tiny fraction of what civil wars create and a tiny fraction of the death and misery the current system provides


For nonviolent direct action to be effective, it must be disruptive to the profit-making or military activities of the targets of the action. This means that we must reject this relatively recent bourgeois-pacifist notion that regards tactfully-considered damage to the capitalist’s and militarist’s and police-state’s inanimate property as “violence”. These people have forgotten that nonviolent resistance is NOT about pleading or supplication - it is about making demands and engaging in the consequences of not complying with those demands - while always rejecting harm to living things when considering those consequences.


Non-violent struggle is a luxury for those dealing with a reasonably civilised government/society. The non-violence of the Jews in Nazi Germany didn’t help them any, nor result in fewer casualties, unless you consider 4 million deaths a few. There are many other similar historical examples.

1 Like

The success of nonviolent civil action seems to rest on its ability to create mass mobilization that wears at the pillars of support of the regime. As the article mentions every movement that has mobilized 3.5% of the population in active, coercive, nonviolence has always won, at least over the last 100 years that has been studied. Many of the fifty nonviolent revolutions of the last thirty years have won with far fewer.

The big problem in the USA is that private property ranks higher than even Christianity in the belief system of most Americans. To assault private property is repulsive to the very people that need to be won to a mass movement. Property damage also immediately allows the state to justify violence further alienating people like mothers, old people, children, physically challenged, etc., that otherwise could be part of the process of generating public support. While some revolutions have been effective utilizing both violent and nonviolent tactics the current research indicates a sizable reduction in success rates incurred by the presence of a violent flank.

Some of the most recent research is summarized and linked from a recent article by Chenoweth and Stephan in the Washington Post "How the world is proving Martin Luther King right about nonviolence"


Remember the words of Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

In a way, that summarizes much of the German peoples response to the Nazis. There was little use of nonviolent resistance against the Nazis. Keep in mind nonviolence is not passivity, it must be active and strategic to succeed.

The idea that nonviolent campaigns win by appeal to the conscience of the elite is almost completely myth. My experience, having been a member of the wealthiest 0.01 of 1% is best summarized by Richard Nixon’s White House taped comment “**** the people.” Whether nonviolence can beat genocidal regimes is open to debate as there is little real data. That strategic nonviolence can beat dictatorial regimes far more authoritarian and brutal than the USA regime, has been proven dozens of times in the last 30 years.

BTW–Nonviolence was used successfully against the Nazi’s several times. Rivera Sun has an article about that on her bog riverasun.com – The article is “Nonviolence vs. Nazis: Five Lessons to Trounce Trump”

1 Like

What the Jews did in Germany was not peaceful resistance; it was surrender, with a little violent resistance as in Warsaw.

1 Like

A holocaust survivor once asked me why was it that they had just marched on to the trains without fighting back. I was awestruck to say the least but I told him what I truly believed even though I hadn’t even been born yet in that era.

I told him it was that they were men with guns. The Nazis had organized themselves into a standing army that occupied the cities and towns and invariably used violence FIRST whether by beatings or even killing someone which always made unarmed civilians with children and old people obey the orders to assemble. It wasn’t a characteristic of any people to go meekly to their death it was that death was immediate and made obvious to them all constantly… Instant death for any disobedience… No one would have acted any differently when facing soldiers carrying machine guns. They couldn’t believe it was what it was. It couldn’t happen there but it did.

We know better now… We didn’t then. Men with guns and brutality. It happened in Cambodia too. The only true mistake was when the Nazis were first beginning and bullies roamed the streets (like the KKK at one time). They needed to be stopped by protests and pushing back with legal means.

The Black Lives Movement is doing that. Whether any racist cop will admit it or not, the knowledge that whatever happens will be noticed is in the back of their minds. This is also non violence. It isn’t the same thing but had the Nazis been opposed early on then maybe they would never have been able to come to power. Back in the early part of the last century and later, Jim Crow and Segregation were opposed, lynchings were opposed and brought to the country’s attention. The civil rights movement was the result but had things gone another way before World War Two then who can say. Mainstream Germany was terribly anti Semitic even in the press and academia. The strength of America’s non violence by the many succeeded in protecting the many against the few. That was always in our character and still is. People always need to speak out, speak up, push back and protest injustice and abuse.

We have learned!

1 Like

I reacted that way when you said [quote=“J4Zonian, post:2, topic:19301”]
Anything less than a full takeover of the government, compelling it to…

A full take over? By whom and how and what exactly do you mean by full take over? Do yo mean replace it with another government? I think you meant simply restoring our democracy more than anything else but words are limited.

IMO the word nonviolence is a single word form which is pretty much accepted by everyone. Peaceful is me taking a nap in a quiet moment…lol

This article is niave in the extreme and so full of twisted logic and inaccuracies, I don’t know where to begin, and don’t paticularly have the time to do so. It could only have been written by a privileged American probably brainwashed at an early age by watching too much Little House on The Prairie.

Long story short, non-violent resistance didn’t bring down the nazis, (these examples had the tiniest of effects and in some the protaganists were executed,) a brutal war waged over six years did.

It’s also quite a slur to suggest that if the jews had sat down in the road and waved a placard rather than, having seen many of their neigbhours shot before their eyes and observing their brain’s splattered all over the pavement, decided to obey an order, things would have been any different.

1 Like

I refer you to my comment to Jazonian below.

Although I am curious to see these “dozens of times in the last 30 years” that non-violence has truimphed over brutal dictators.

Regards lists of nonviolent campaigns…The book linked in paragraph 2 of the article is a book length version of a scientific study comparing the effect of violence versus nonviolence in over 323 maximalist goal movements from 1900 to 2006. Erica Chenoweth, the lead scientist has a TEDx talk on Youtube that at 12 minutes is very informative. The Global Nonviolent Action Data Base at Swarthmore is a detailed source for researchers and is accessible on the web.

Waving signs would be very unlikely to force a dictator to flee the country or stop the Nazi genocides. The website resources and authors linked from paragraph 3 can give you a better idea of how nonviolence can coerce political change.

You might enjoy this NATO whitepaper analyzing use by Russia of nonviolence in hybrid asymmetric warfare in Ukraine and proposing nonviolent civil defense strategies for the Baltic countries. This stuff works, but it is not what most people think it is. NATO Whitepaper - Nonviolent Civilian Defense to Counter Russian
Hybrid Warfare


1 Like

I can’t find this either in the pdf article you link to or the Rivarasun link.

I didn’t have time to read all the pdf you linked to but, scanning through it, again it is striking these actions, (eg of the Danes in WW2 and the Czechs during Soviet occupation,) did not result in the otherthrow of the oppressors and the the occupied parties remained occupied and persecuted. Denmark was finally liberated when the Nazis retreated from an attacking allied army. That’s why they left Denmark, not because some of the populace refused to cooperate, so these examples were of some slight moral use during these conflicts but can hardly be held up as examples of great success.

As much as I welcome and prefer non-violent protest, in fact any protest against oppressors, I retain my original premise that “Non-violent struggle is a luxury for those dealing with a reasonably civilised government/society.” Nothing in the pdf doc challenges that. Dissenters living under the yoke of the truly brutal are simply exterminated.

Even when it is property is of the US Defense Department, the racist police, or a slave-wage paying faceless corporation? And aren’t things like strikes, picketing and blockades also property actions? You are waving a red herring here - nobody is advocating damaging someone’s home or small shop. And isn’t a very basic requirement for progress that we get USAns to reject this phony sanctity of the property of the powerful?

Imagine if the southern civil rights strategy of MLK had been to burn down the Woolworth stores for their segregated lunch counters, instead of quietly sitting in, waiting, even politely dressed in nice clothes, just waiting to be served.

I imagine the US Army and the state police and National Guards would have been immediately used against them, instead of eventually being used to protect them. And it would have been done with the blessings and approbation virtually all the white folks of the nation. What do you think?

I don’t underestimate the imperial powers.

Clearly they have over-whelming advantage in the use of violence. Not only do they control the police, armed forces and private security companies, they have created the very culture of violence that condones one person dying every 36 seconds in The USA of poverty related conditions. Pretty impressive.

They also understand strategic nonviolent civil resistance and their vulnerability to it. The fact that it is 2X more likely to succeed than violence and works 3X faster is empirically proven. 50 nonviolent revolutions in the last 30 years and the use by both the USA and Russia to promulgate foreign revolution is difficult to deny.