Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict
Erica Chenoweth & Maria J. Stephan
Opening with the dramatic experience of East Timor where, under the Falintil, a guerrilla-based violent campaign against Indonesia had been waged for years without success and subsequent nonviolent campaign successfully won independence for the region, this book endeavours to analyze 232 violent and nonviolent resistance campaigns between 1900 and 2006, their successes or failures and resulting governance structures.
The conclusions? Nonviolent resistance campaigns are twice as likely to achieve full or partial success as their violent counterparts. This is true in spite of the degree of repression, its capabilities or type of governance (democratic or autocratic). The degree of success varied:
1. The exception: in anti-succession campaigns, no non-violent campaigns worked but it is not clear how many were tried; of the forty violent campaigns, only 4 worked.
2. In anti-regime resistance campaigns, the use of nonviolent strategies greatly enhanced the probability of success,
3. In campaigns with territorial objectives (anti-occupation or self-determination), nonviolent campaigns have a slight advantage,
4. In resistance campaigns with specific human rights objectives (anti-apartheid), nonviolent resistance has the monopoly on success.
Violent guerrilla movements may provide the (usually) youthful male participants with initial personal satisfaction but they usually fail to attract wide-spread support among the very citizens that they purport to represent. Older men, women and children are generally barred from direct participation; many within the age demographic are not attracted to violence, to the required training or the usually spare lifestyle. The movement tends to become dependent upon foreign support for weapons, a support that can be withdrawn at any time. It may also find itself with unsavoury “partners (the international drug trade). Members tend to be unable to participate in public discourse, being “underground”. Finally, violent campaigns are always met with violence and usually the state has greater resources than the combatants.
Violent resistance does work in 1:4 campaigns. What of the result? None of those within the study cut-off time period of five years following their success resulted in democratic regimes. The same lack of trust, fear of dissent within the ranks, military-like hierarchy and male hegemony that ensured their success ensures failure to achieve the stated goals of freedom and citizen participation.
Non-violent campaigns succeed 3:4 times. Non-violent campaigns require some of the same commitment to “lay one’s life on the line” as violent campaigns but the barriers to participation are lower on moral, physical, informational and level of commitment fronts (one can withdraw without penalty at practically any time). Higher numbers of involvement and diversity means enhanced resiliency, more tactical innovation, expanded civic disruption (raising costs to the regime of maintaining the status quo), greater opportunities for loyalty shifts among the opposition and more international sympathy and support. Non-violent campaigns can make use of a multitude of civil actions from boycotts to lobbying, sit-ins, walks, and marches, limited only to the imagination of the participants.
Success depends largely upon the numbers of people converted to the cause, the patience and resilience of the participants and the timing of the campaign. While success does not require a philosophical commitment to non-violence, it does require strategic commitment and recruitment to that common principle. It succeeds as a strategy. Provocateurs must be expected; defense requires pro-active plans for dealing with them.
Result after the campaign? The same skills inherent in waging a nonviolent campaign tend to extend to the governments that form after it. The immediate result following a successful non-violent campaign is more likely to be more democratic and participatory than those formed following violent successful actions.
Given the greater likelihood of success with non-violent campaigns, why choose violence? My speculations are:
1. Lack of knowledge and imagination about alternatives – education levels are lower in those who choose violence.
2. Pressure from those who benefit from violence – corporate arms sales, leaders who stand to gain by inter-sectoral distraction from real issues.
3. Emotional response overcomes intellectual analysis – in spite of the greater knowledge and resources of the state, violence becomes the fallback response
4. Numbers – non-violent campaigns usually need a lot of support and impatience with change often doesn’t wait. Participants have initiated violence to which they adre now committed.
The kick-shins and knock-heads response to injustice, rape, and seemingly impenetrable bureaucracies probably exists in all of us (I certainly count myself as most likely to feel a violent response) but most of us through education, a sense of responsibility for our actions and vague expressions of ethics and morals around killing other humans inhibit violence.
Should we then allow ourselves to become overcome with helplessness and impotence? Let us not be drawn into a false belief that non-violence means doing nothing. Studies have shown that “activists” (the people actively trying to make a difference) of any political stripe are healthier than those who accept the status quo.
This book has been a challenging read – because it is a scholarly enterprise. Still I would recommend it to anyone who has the patience. (I also recommend Gene Sharp’s exhaustive trilogy on non-violence dand “A Force More Powerful” available in video/CD and book form.) From this book, there are questions for further research especially analysis of winning strategies, whether violent or non-violent (what are the hallmarks of a successful violent campaigns? What are the best set-ups for winning a non-violent campaign?). Can the conclusions in this book find application on accomplishing systematic organizational change when dealing with international or corporate regimes?
More readers would result in more fruitful discussions…..
 An relatively recent exception is the recruitment of individuals to participate in suicide actions.
 A non-violent campaign can be considered to be “winning” when security personnel “switch sides” and refuse to level violence against protesters.
 Dakota Access Pipeline protests are an excellent recent example of pro-active attention to the presence of provocateurs.
 Many violent campaigns claim to have resorted to violence because “non-violence didn’t work”. Further analysis suggests that attempts to use non-violence were very limited (voting, a single march or sit-in, etc.) or failed to recruit sufficient support to the cause. This latter reason spells failure of either violence or non-violence.
 The Rosenstraße protests are an exception where a small number of women successfully embarrassed the Nazis into releasing their Jewish husbands.
 Unless “doing nothing” is part of the strategy for change.