Violent Or Nonviolent Revolution?

Via Naked Capitalism, researcher Erica Chenoweth attempted to qualify which style of insurgency is more effective — she claims nonviolent action has a better yield:

Occupy’s public discussions on “diversity of tactics” have often lacked historical perspective; discussions, at least online, have tended to degenerate to “Ghandi!” “No, ANC!” Now, however, Erica Chenoweth has developed a dataset and analyzed the historical record. Below are the results of her study of 323
 non-violent and violent campaigns 
 1900‐2006. I’m sure, readers, that like any study, Chenoweth’s work is open to challenge on any number of grounds. That said, surely looking to the historical record to see what’s worked isn’t such a bad thing?


24 Comments on "Violent Or Nonviolent Revolution?"

  1. Hadrian999 | Feb 9, 2012 at 10:30 am |

    If nonviolent revolution starts to work here someone will make it violent, too many people have too much to lose

    • Liam_McGonagle | Feb 9, 2012 at 8:07 pm |

      Agree, there is ample historical precedent for splinter groups to add unproductive violence into the mix–some maybe contrived black ops, others may be sincere but misguided attempts to deal with frustration.

      But I don’t think that should blind us to the fact that actual progress does get made.  It just sucks donkey b*lls that it happens so slowly.  One hundred years between the Emancipation Proclaimation and the 1964 Civil Rights Act?  It’s kind of disgusting to have to stuggle so long for something so elementary, but it seems a little wide of the mark to say it isn’t progress.

  2. Connie Dobbs | Feb 9, 2012 at 10:44 am |

    Non-violent revolution does not work when the majority is committed to continued oppression.

  3. I call total and utter bullshit on that graph.

    People protest, governments or companies say they’ll do something and it’s counted as a victory. Then a year later they change things so that they get what they want anyway and the protesters from before don’t even remember. That’s not a victory at all.

    The very creation of America was a peaceful protest against The United Kingdom. Great Britain, for those who don’t know. And they weren’t going to allow it. Sent troops and everything to kill all who stood up. So it become a violent protest, and that did work.

    There’s a reason violent protests don’t work anymore: because society is indoctrinating you all the way from kindergarten with those punchlines “violence is never the answer”, “violence never solved anything” and many more. Propaganda, all of it. And it’s been very effective. We’ve come to the point where all 30-ish people believe that and protest are less and less succesfull. Because they big shots know the middle class will back down eventually and that they’ll never use violence.

    Your multi-tenthousand signatures for change on all your peitions, they just light their fireplace with those.

    All your so-called “victories” are nothing of the sort. You’re like stupid dog that being beaten. Angry one moment but when the big man says something in a nice & sweet tone, you sit down and wag your tail happily. And you think you actually accomplished something. Cuz hey, big man said something in a sweet tone.


    •  I think you’re a perfect example of the hidden reality behind the facts. If you’re stupid your revolution is going to fail no matter whether it’s peaceful or violent. The facts represented in the graph illustrate that intelligent people tend more towards non-violence than violence–given the opportunity.

  4.  Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

  5. razzlebathbone | Feb 9, 2012 at 2:07 pm |

    What a nice world that would be.

    Unfortunately, in the real world, it wasn’t Gandhi’s nonviolent protests that drove out the British. Ghandi’s people got the shit kicked out of them by cops, and the outraged Indian people rioted, and the riots drove out the British.

    The popular myth of Gandhi is an important tool for modern power and control.

  6. InTheDoldrums | Feb 9, 2012 at 3:09 pm |

    The state in all its permutations has been busy for decades learning every possible way to counter act any kind of actual revolution, non violent or not.  
    All they do is throw the occasional bone on issues that really aren’t that important to maintaining the power structure, and beat down or infiltrate and dismantle any and all kinds of orgs that in any way represent an actual threat to the power structure. 

  7. Even Ghandi advocated violence, when it was absolutely necessary.

    • Monkey See Monkey Do | Feb 9, 2012 at 4:40 pm |

      In self-defence.

      • Hadrian999 | Feb 9, 2012 at 5:07 pm |

        a just revolution is self defense

        • Monkey See Monkey Do | Feb 9, 2012 at 6:00 pm |

          Well i believe Ghandi saw it more as using violence against an individual who would be directly trying to kill or rape you or a loved one. In any other case one should be as violent as possible at the system but not individuals.

          • marklar_primus | Feb 9, 2012 at 11:41 pm |

            I constantly wonder why people extoll the virtues of this guy so often. Ghandi murdered his wife by witholding medical treatment she begged him for. The British empire left India primarily because it was starting to cost them more to maintain than they could extract in return even without the strikes and rioting. A pure business decision.

            Same kind of thing with the much loved “Mother” Theresa. That evil little troll of a fanatic was happy to deny medical treatment to dying prostitutes so they could convert to Christianity before “paying” for their sins. “There there child, we’ll feed you and keep a roof over your head while you die in torment but giving you medicine would wrongly defy God’s judgement of your wickedness”. Then tens of millions is collected from world leaders to “help the poor” but was used to build convents around the world to increase the influence of Catholicism instead.

            It’s not enough that they systematically enslave you. They have to fool you into worshiping at the feet of monsters as well.

          • Monkey See Monkey Do | Feb 10, 2012 at 4:30 am |

            I agree with what your saying about mommy Theresa, she also preached against the use of contraception to commmunities suffering from AIDS. She probably did alot of good too though, she was just brainwashed by her religion.

            It’s not even so much about Ghandi as the individual, it’s more about the idea of non-violent revolutions breaking through the collective consciousness. Ghandi was just a figure head and his face is used today as a representation of that movement. Unfortunately our societies need indviduals to idolize instead of revering ideas and movements. If you research India’s independence thoroughly you will find it wasn’t as black and white as you just stated. Many situations involving millions of people could have easily gone violent but didn’t (in the past there would have been bloodbaths) It showed a change in people. I think thats what is important to focus on.

            Non violent revolution doesn’t usually get the props it deserves because its not as in your face as violent revolutions are. We aim more for the brain, to get people thinking, use strategies like Foot Dragging, Culture Jamming, Hacktivism, Defacement, Sabotage, Protest, Property destruction, The arts, communication & education etc etc . These are the tools of the non-violent activst.

  8. Liam_McGonagle | Feb 9, 2012 at 8:02 pm |

    Maybe we make a mistake in considering each of these events a discrete observation with no significant relationship to one another.  Maybe their both complementary strategies that are part of a larger social evolution.

    • eyeoftheaxis | Feb 10, 2012 at 2:44 am |

      Good Cop / Bad Cop – willingness to work with one in order to avoid the other. Only works absent indifference. Sounds like a fortune cookie, but I’m just saying the guy driving the tank doesn’t care if your standing in front of it, and while the person with nothing to loose doesn’t care if your driving a tank, the one that has not been squashed like a bug wins.

      • Liam_McGonagle | Feb 10, 2012 at 12:14 pm |

        I’ll admit that I don’t have a clue what you’re getting at, but I’m pretty sure you’re missing my point.

        The dividing line between successive movements in a given country and their violent/non-violent phases seems pretty arbitrary.  It also seems pretty stupid to say that the conditions arising from the resolution of one movement had no significant impact on its successors.

        If what you’re trying to say that violence has considerable coercive value, I’d have to say, “Duh.”

        • eyeoftheaxis | Feb 10, 2012 at 2:10 pm |

          I’m not the best communicator, and as of New Years and the stroke of Obama’s pen I’m little paranoid about what I say where.
          I’m saying yes violence has coercive value, …like you say, duh. – I was going for the other duh. The powers that be don’t give a shit if riots break out. Smashing windows has very little effect other than pissing people off. If the mob gets ugly, the ones with the body armor and zip ties have ways to deal with it, and they will be more than happy to. The real coercive value is in scaring the shit out of them, and I don’t think the good old fashioned window smashing riot will do that now days. The successors need to adapt to that.

          • Liam_McGonagle | Feb 11, 2012 at 12:24 pm |

            I apologize for being a bit too abrasive myself.  That, unfortunately, seems to be one of my irreducable, inherent character traits.  I’m aware of being a pr*ck while I do so, generally, but even if I don’t really intend insult I don’t seem to be able to stop myself from doing it.

            The only other thing I’d say is that it’s probably a matter of degree.  Al Assad in Syria can probably take another month or so of this, but I guarantee you even his closest supporters will get sick of this sh*t soon, and seeing his inability to bring it to resolution, will eventually start to see scope for their own ambitions via palace coup.

  9. Redacted | Feb 9, 2012 at 8:52 pm |

    I’m going for violent because I would probably die in it, and that would end my involvement in all matters.

  10. This graph presents painfully inadequate data.
    I would like to know how the term “violence” in being framed here.
    Our culture’s foundation rests on violence and exploitation, so the question is not to fight or refrain from fighting, but whether you will ever choose to stand up against abuse.

    And by the way, to what ‘peaceful’ revolutions does this chart refer?  india?  Nice try.  I don’t know if youve ever heard of this strange artefact–it’s called a HISTORY BOOK… Peek inside and you’ll find that India’s resistance to colonialism was no more pacifistic than the often reviled Irish Troubles, or the overthrow of the Russian Tzars.

    Freedom is not something you are given, but something you must take.

  11. Harryheck | Feb 10, 2012 at 7:32 am |

    I wonder if Erica Chenoweth distinguished as to whether or not the “successful” revolutions rejected capitalism, the commodity form, and the quantifiable rationality of pecuniary domination.  Were the “revolutions” merely political upheaval or were the successful revolutions seeking a complete break with the institutions that dominate our world?  Perhaps the successful “non-violent” revolutions succeeded because the “new boss” was the same as the “old boss” by cooperating with the demands of the “market”?  Although the Soviet Union and Maoist China have proved to be failures, in the beginning of the revolutionary pursuits in those countries, the revolutionaries sought to break free from the established institutions.  The only way to successfully do so is through violent upheaval.  Read your history, as just prior to the failed “Revolution of 1905,” PEACEFUL protestors sought to deliver a peaceful petition of grievance to the Czar at his Winter residence in Saint Petersburg.  The Czar refused to hear the pleas from the poor workers, seeking help from the Czar (they wanted the Czar to assist them, by providing them with the legal right to have Sundays off of work).  Instead, the Czar ordered the military stationed nearby to eliminate the public gathering through the use of firearms and sabres.  PEACEFUL protest, and “non-violence” ONLY WORKS WHEN THE “ALTERNATIVE” CHANGES VERY LITTLE OF THE SOCIOECONOMIC FABRIC.  VIOLENCE IS REQUIRED TO ELIMINATE CAPITALISM, AS THE CAPITALISTS/BOURGEOISIE ARE WILLING TO KILL TO PROTECT THEIR PARASITIC STATUS.

  12. emperorreagan | Feb 10, 2012 at 10:36 am |

    This is a poor article.  The author should have waited to publish the actual paper.  Posting a bunch of slides from a Powerpoint presentation is pointless – it’s a bunch of unsupported bullet points without a speaker providing the evidence and leading you to those points.  A comment to look at her book to see the evidence is unsatisfactory.  My general assumption when people refuse to provide evidence or try to shift the onus to the reader to find the supporting information is that they’re full of shit.  

    The article never defines violence, nonviolence, partial success, or success.  With only two buckets, “violence” versus “non-violence” she is making some determination on insurgencies that contained both elements or insurgencies that turned violent at some point.  That’s a place where bias in the characterization of the data is quite likely to show up.  Did she make an effort to separate cases where government agents served as agent provocateurs to incite violence and discredit a movement?  

    What’s a success?  Is success defined in terms of an insurgent movement’s goals, or is it defined based on her own bias that democracy should be the end goal of any movement?  Would she, for example, define Egypt as a success because it’s putting on the face of being a democracy, or a failure because they replaced a dictator with a “democracy” that will have a behind-the-scenes military dictatorship at best?          

    She uses weaselly statements like “many insurgents use violence reflexively.”  She apparently has a data set she’s working from, so tell us how many of these campaigns started using violence from the get-go, without previous non-violent attempts to protest for redress of grievances.

    Maybe the paper is good or the book is good, but this pdf of a powerpoint presentation is bullshit.

  13. Mobidinc | Jul 8, 2012 at 8:11 pm |

    violence is natures way, if something is sick or lame it dies, this world has a sickness that cant be cured with a simple request, we need to immunize the system and then keep it clean regularly so as to prevent an environment that is attractive to sickness, example put the gov on the welfare (reduce incomes) and restrict their ability to interact with any industry financially, make the job less appealing to the corrupt. I work harder than any of those pricks and have no choice in practically any issue I value.
    we do have a choice, but it seems so far from reality that we cannot see it. good luck to us all.  

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