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Nonviolence is a philosophy and strategy for social change that rejects the use of physical violence. As such, nonviolence is an alternative to passive acceptance of oppression and armed struggle against it. Practitioners of nonviolence may use diverse methods in their campaigns for social change, including critical forms of education and persuasion, civil disobedience and nonviolent direct action, and targeted communication via mass media.

In modern times, nonviolence has been a powerful tool for social protest. Mahatma Gandhi led a decades-long nonviolent struggle against British rule in India, which eventually helped India win its independence in 1947. About 10 years later, Martin Luther King adopted Gandhi’s nonviolent methods in his struggle to win civil rights for African Americans. Then in the 1960s César Chávez organized a campaign of nonviolence to protest the treatment of farm workers in California. As Chavez once explained, “Nonviolence is not inaction. It is not for the timid or the weak. It is hard work, it is the patience to win.”[1] Another recent nonviolent movement was the “Velvet Revolution“, a nonviolent revolution in Czechoslovakia that saw the overthrow of the Communist government in 1989.[2] It is seen as one of the most important of the Revolutions of 1989.

The 14th and current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. Dalai Lama said nonviolence is the only way progress can be made with China.[3][4]

The term “nonviolence” is often linked with or even used as a synonym for pacifism; however, the two concepts are fundamentally different. Pacifism denotes the rejection of the use of violence as a personal decision on moral or spiritual grounds, but does not inherently imply any inclination toward change on a sociopolitical level. Nonviolence on the other hand, presupposes the intent of (but does not limit it to) social or political change as a reason for the rejection of violence. Also, a person may advocate nonviolence in a specific context while advocating violence in other contexts.

Forms

Advocates of nonviolence believe cooperation and consent are the roots of political power: all regimes, including bureaucratic institutions, financial institutions, and the armed segments of society (such as the military and police); depend on compliance from citizens.[5] On a national level, the strategy of nonviolence seeks to undermine the power of rulers by encouraging people to withdraw their consent and cooperation. The forms of nonviolence draw inspiration from both religious or ethical beliefs and political analysis. Religious or ethically based nonviolence is sometimes referred to as principled, philosophical, or ethical nonviolence, while nonviolence based on political analysis is often referred to as tactical, strategic, or pragmatic nonviolence. Commonly, both of these dimensions may be present within the thinking of particular movements or individuals.[6]

Philosophical

Buddha, known for his theory of nonviolence

Mahavira,To liberate one’s self, Mahavira taught the necessity of right faith, right knowledge and right conduct. Right conduct includes five great vows out of which first is Nonviolence (Ahimsa) – to cause no harm to any living being in any manner

Love of the enemy, or the realization of the humanity of all people, is a fundamental concept of philosophical nonviolence. The goal of this type of nonviolence is not to defeat the enemy, but to win them over and create love and understanding between all.[7] It is this principle which is most closely associated with spiritual or religious justifications of nonviolence, the central tenets of which can be found in each of the major Abrahamic religious traditions (Islam, Judaism and Christianity) as well as in the major Dharmic religious traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism). It is also found in many pagan religious traditions. Nonviolent movements, leaders, and advocates have at times referred to, drawn from and utilised many diverse religious basis for nonviolence within their respective struggles. Examples of nonviolence found in religion and spirituality include the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus urges his followers to “love thine enemy,” in the Taoist concept of wu-wei, or effortless action, in the philosophy of the martial art Aikido, in the Buddhist principle of metta, or loving-kindness towards all beings; and in the principle of ahimsa, or nonviolence toward any being, shared by Buddhism, Jainism and some forms of Hinduism. Additionally, focus on both nonviolence and forgiveness of sin can be found in the story of Abel in the Qur’an; Liberal movements within Islam have consequently used this story to promote Jewish ideals of nonviolence.

Respect or love for opponents also has a pragmatic justification, in that the technique of separating the deeds from the doers allows for the possibility of the doers changing their behaviour, and perhaps their beliefs. Martin Luther King said, “Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.”

Pragmatic

The fundamental concept of pragmatic nonviolence is to create a social dynamic or political movement that can effect social change without necessarily winning over those who wish to maintain the status quo.[7] In modern industrial democracies, nonviolence has been used extensively by political sectors without mainstream political power such as labor, peace, environment and women’s movements. Lesser known is the role that nonviolence has played and continues to play in undermining the power of repressive political regimes in the developing world and the former eastern bloc. Susan Ives emphasized this point with a quote from Walter Wink, “In 1989, thirteen nations comprising 1,695,000,000 people experienced nonviolent revolutions that succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations… If we add all the countries touched by major nonviolent actions in our century (the Philippines, South Africa… the independence movement in India…) the figure reaches 3,337,400,000, a staggering 65% of humanity! All this in the teeth of the assertion, endlessly repeated, that nonviolence doesn’t work in the ‘real’ world.”[8]

As a technique for social struggle, nonviolence has been described as “the politics of ordinary people”, reflecting its historically mass-based use by populations throughout the world and history. Struggles most often associated with nonviolence are the non co-operation campaign for Indian independence led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the struggle to attain civil rights for African Americans, led by Martin Luther King, and People Power in the Philippines.

Also of primary significance is the notion that just means are the most likely to lead to just ends. When Gandhi said that “the means may be likened to the seed, the end to a tree,” he expressed the philosophical kernel of what some refer to as prefigurative politics. Martin Luther King, a student of Gandhian non-violent resistance, concurred with this tenet of the method, concluding that “…nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.” Proponents of nonviolence reason that the actions taken in the present inevitably re-shape the social order in like form. They would argue, for instance, that it is fundamentally irrational to use violence to achieve a peaceful society. People have come to use nonviolent methods of struggle from a wide range of perspectives and traditions. A landless peasant in Brazil may nonviolently occupy a parcel of land for purely practical motivations. If they don’t, the family will starve. A Buddhist monk in Thailand may “ordain” trees in a threatened forest, drawing on the teachings of Buddha to resist its destruction. A waterside worker in England may go on strike in socialist and union political traditions. All the above are using nonviolent methods but from different standpoints. Likewise, secular political movements have utilised nonviolence, either as a tactical tool or as a strategic program on purely pragmatic and strategic levels, relying on its political effectiveness rather than a claim to any religious, moral, or ethical worthiness.

Gandhi used the weapon of non-violence against British Raj

Finally, the notion of Satya, or truth, is central to the Gandhian conception of nonviolence. Gandhi saw truth as something that is multifaceted and unable to be grasped in its entirety by any one individual. All carry pieces of the truth, he believed, but all need the pieces of others’ truths in order to pursue the greater truth. This led him to believe in the inherent worth of dialogue with opponents, in order to understand motivations. On a practical level, the willingness to listen to another’s point of view is largely dependent on reciprocity. In order to be heard by one’s opponents, one must also be prepared to listen.[citation needed]

Nonviolence has even obtained a level of institutional recognition and endorsement at the global level. On November 10, 1998, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the first decade of the 21st century and the third millennium, the years 2001 to 2010, as the International Decade for the Promotion of a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World.

Living

The violence embedded in most of the world’s societies causes many to consider it an inherent part of human nature, but others (Riane Eisler, Walter Wink, Daniel Quinn) have suggested that violence – or at least the arsenal of violent strategies we take for granted – is a phenomenon of the last five to ten thousand years, and was not present in pre-domestication and early post-domestication human societies. This view shares several characteristics with the Victorian ideal of the Noble savage.

For many, practicing nonviolence goes deeper than withholding from violent behavior or words. It means caring in one’s heart for everyone, even those one strongly disagrees with, that is who are antithetical or opposed. For some, this principle entails a commitment to restorative or transformative justice and prison abolition. By extrapolation comes the necessity of caring for those who are not practicing nonviolence, who are violent. Of course no one can simply will themselves to have such care, and this is one of the great personal challenges posed by nonviolence – once one believes in nonviolence in theory, how can the person live it?

Animal rights

Nonviolence, for some, involves extending it to animals, usually through vegetarianism or veganism.

Methods

Martin Luther King

Nonviolent action generally comprises three categories: Acts of Protest and Persuasion, Noncooperation, and Nonviolent Intervention. [9]

Acts of protest

Nonviolent acts of protest and persuasion are symbolic actions performed by a group of people to show their support or disapproval of something. The goal of this kind of action is to bring public awareness to an issue, persuade or influence a particular group of people, or to facilitate future nonviolent action. The message can be directed toward the public, opponents, or people affected by the issue. Methods of protest and persuasion include speeches, public communications, petitions, symbolic acts, art, processions (marches), and other public assemblies.[10]

Noncooperation

Noncooperation involves the purposeful withholding of cooperation or the unwillingness to initiate in cooperation with an opponent. The goal of noncooperation is to halt or hinder an industry, political system, or economic process. Methods of noncooperation include labor strikes, economic boycotts, civil disobedience, tax refusal, and general disobedience.[10]

Nonviolent intervention

Nonviolent intervention, compared to protest and noncooperation, is a more direct method of nonviolent action. Nonviolent intervention can be used defensively—for example to maintain an institution or independent initiative—or offensively- for example to drastically forward a nonviolent struggle into the opponent’s territory. Intervention is often more immediate and effective than the other two methods, but is also harder to maintain and more taxing to the participants involved. Methods of intervention includes occupations (sit-ins), blockades, fasting (hunger strikes), truck cavalcades, and dual sovereignty/parallel government. [10]

Tactics must be carefully chosen, taking into account political and cultural circumstances, and form part of a larger plan or strategy. Gene Sharp, a political scientist and nonviolence activist, has written extensively about methods of nonviolence including a list of 198 methods of nonviolent action.[11] In early Greece, AristophanesLysistrata gives the fictional example of women withholding sexual favors from their husbands until war was abandoned. The deterrence of violent attack and promotion peaceful resolution of conflicts, as a method of intervention across borders, has occurred throughout history with some failures (at least on the level of deterring attack) such as the Human Shields in Iraq because it failed to ascertain the value of the goal compared with the value of human life in its context of war; but also many successes, such as the work of the Guatemala Accompaniment Project[12]. Several non-governmental organizations, including Peace Brigades International and Christian Peacemaker Teams, are working in this area . Their primary tactics are unarmed accompaniment, human rights observation, and reporting.[13][14]

Einstein was a strong supporter of nonviolence

Another powerful tactic of nonviolent intervention invokes public scrutiny of the oppressors as a result of the resisters remaining nonviolent in the face of violent repression. If the military or police attempt to violently repress nonviolent resisters, the power to act shifts from the hands of the oppressors to those of the resisters. If the resisters are persistent, the military or police will be forced to accept the fact that they no longer have any power over the resisters. Often, the willingness of the resisters to suffer has a profound effect on the mind and emotions of the oppressor, leaving them unable to commit such a violent act again. [15][16].

There are also many other leaders and theorists of nonviolence who have thought deeply about the spiritual and practical aspects of nonviolence, including: Leo Tolstoy, Lech Wałęsa, Petra Kelly, Nhat Hanh, Dorothy Day, Ammon Hennacy, Albert Einstein, John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, David McReynolds, Johan Galtung, Martin Luther King, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Daniel Berrigan, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Mario Rodríguez Cobos (pen name Silo) and César Chávez.

We will wear you down by our capacity to suffer.
— Martin Luther King, 1963[17]

Green politics

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Nonviolence has been a central concept in green political philosophy. It is included in the Global Greens Charter. Greens believe that society should reject the current patterns of violence and embrace nonviolence. Green Philosophy draws heavily on both Gandhi and the Quaker traditions, which advocate measures by which the escalation of violence can be avoided, while not cooperating with those who commit violence. These greens believe that the current patterns of violence are incompatible with a sustainable society because it uses up limited resources and many forms of violence, especially nuclear weapons, are damaging for the environment. Violence also diminishes one and the group.

Some green political parties, like the Dutch GroenLinks, evolved out of the cooperation of the peace movement with the environmental movement in their resistance to nuclear weapons and nuclear energy.

As Green Parties have moved from the fringes of society towards becoming more and more influential in government circles, this commitment to nonviolence has had to be more clearly defined. In many cases, this has meant that the party has had to articulate a position on non-violence that differentiates itself from classic pacifism. The leader of the German Greens, for example, was instrumental in the NATO intervention in Serbia, arguing that being in favor of nonviolence should never lead to passive acceptance of genocide. Similarly, Elizabeth May of the Green Party of Canada has stated that the Canadian intervention in Afghanistan is justified as a means of supporting women’s rights.

This movement by Green leadership has caused some internal dissension, as the traditional pacifist position is that there is no justification ever for committing violence.

Revolution

Certain individuals (Barbara Deming, Danilo Dolci, Devere Allen etc.) and party groups (eg. Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, Democratic Socialists of America, Socialist Party USA, Socialist Resistance or War Resisters League) have advocated nonviolent revolution as an alternative to violence as well as elitist reformism. This perspective is usually connected to militant anti-capitalism.

Many leftist and socialist movements have hoped to mount a “peaceful revolution” by organizing enough strikers to completely paralyze it. With the state and corporate apparatus thus crippled, the workers would be able to re-organize society along radically different lines.[citation needed] Some have argued that a relatively nonviolent revolution would require fraternisation with military forces.[18]

Criticism

Leon Trotsky, Frantz Fanon, Reinhold Niebuhr, Subhash Chandra Bose, George Orwell, Ward Churchill[19] and Malcolm X were fervent critics of nonviolence, arguing variously that nonviolence and pacifism are an attempt to impose the morals of the bourgeoisie upon the proletariat, that violence is a necessary accompaniment to revolutionary change, or that the right to self-defense is fundamental.

Malcolm X criticised nonviolence

In the midst of violent repression of radical African Americans in the United States during the 1960s, Black Panther member George Jackson said of the nonviolent tactics of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“The concept of nonviolence is a false ideal. It presupposes the existence of compassion and a sense of justice on the part of one’s adversary. When this adversary has everything to lose and nothing to gain by exercising justice and compassion, his reaction can only be negative.”[20][21]

Malcolm X also clashed with civil rights leaders over the issue of nonviolence, arguing that violence should not be ruled out where no option remained:

“I believe it’s a crime for anyone being brutalized to continue to accept that brutality without doing something to defend himself.”[22]

Lance Hill criticizes nonviolence as a failed strategy and argues that black armed self-defense and civil violence motivated civil rights reforms more than peaceful appeals to morality and reason (see Lance Hill’s “Deacons for Defense”)[23].

In his book How Nonviolence Protects the State, anarchist Peter Gelderloos criticizes nonviolence as being ineffective, racist, statist, patriarchal, tactically and strategical inferior to militant activism, and deluded.[24] Gelderloos claims that traditional histories whitewash the impact of nonviolence, ignoring the involvement of militants in such movements as the Indian independence movement and the Civil Rights movement and falsely showing Gandhi and King as being their respective movements’ most successful activists.[25] He further argues that nonviolence is generally advocated by privileged white people who expect “oppressed people, many of whom are people of color, to suffer patiently under an inconceivably greater violence, until such time as the Great White Father is swayed by the movement’s demands or the pacifists achieve that legendary ‘critical mass.'”[26]

The efficacy of nonviolence was also challenged by some anti-capitalist protesters advocating a “diversity of tactics” during street demonstrations across Europe and the US following the anti-World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, Washington in 1999. American feminist writer D. A. Clarke, in her essay “A Woman With A Sword,” suggests that for nonviolence to be effective, it must be “practiced by those who could easily resort to force if they chose.” This argument reasons that nonviolent tactics will be of little or no use to groups that are traditionally considered incapable of violence, since nonviolence will be in keeping with people’s expectations for them and thus go unnoticed. Such is the principle of dunamis (from the Greek: δύνάμις or, restrained power).

Niebuhr’s criticism of nonviolence, expressed most clearly in Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932) is based on his view of human nature as innately selfish, an updated version of the Christian doctrine of original sin. Advocates of nonviolence generally do not accept the doctrine of original sin (though Martin Luther King, Jr., did accept a modified version of Niebuhr’s teachings on the subject).[citation needed]

Property damage

One minor, but commonly debated issue is whether the destruction of or damage to non-living objects, as opposed to people is actual “violence”. In much nonviolence literature, including Sharp, various forms of sabotage and damage to property are included within the scope of nonviolent action, while other authors consider destruction or destructive acts of any kind as potentially or actually a form of violence in that it might generate fear or hardship upon the owner or person dependent on that object.

Other authors or activists argue that property destruction can be strategically ineffective if the act provides a pretext for further repression or reinforces state power. Lakey, for instance, argues that the burning of cars during the Paris uprising of 1968 only served to undermine the growing working and middle-class support for the uprising and undermined its political potential.[citation needed]

Sabotage of machinery used in war, either during its production or after, complicates the issue further. Is saving a life by destroying property that will later be used for violence a violent act, or is passively allowing weapons to be used later the violent act (i.e. non-violence that leads to violence)? At a less abstract level, if someone is being beaten with a stick, it is usually not considered an act of violence to take the stick away, but if the stick falls to the ground and you break it, is that still considered a violent action?

In all of these debates it is relevant to consider the question of whether the perpetrator or victim of violence determines what is “violent”. Also, relative power of parties and the type of “weapon” being applied is relevant to the issue. Palestinian children throwing rocks at Israeli tanks as an example cited. Force itself here becomes a relative measure of power and petty violence by the disenfranchised may be violence, but ultimately is not the same as overarching “power” to destroy.

Differing views

The term nonviolence is sometimes used to define different sets of limitations or features, as different actions are considered violent or not violent. In a Wikipedia article on the 2008 Tibetan unrest, a quotation from Dawa Tsering, an Additional Secretary in the Department of Information and International Relations of the Tibetan government-in-exile claims that actions of beating people and setting fire to a building with people holed up inside who end up being burnt to death are both scenarios of nonviolence; though, some Western definitions would clearly clash with their definition of nonviolence which appears to include everything but intentional causing of fatal harm. In an interview with Radio France International Tsering said[27]:

First of all, I must make it clear that the Tibetan (rioters) has been non-violent throughout (the incident). …the Tibetans rioters were beating Han Chinese, but only beating took place. After the beating the Han Chinese were free to flee. Therefore [there were] only beating, no life was harmed. Those who were killed were all results of accidents. …the Han Chinese all went into hiding upstairs. When the Tibetan [rioters] set fire to the buildings, the Han Chinese remained in hiding instead of escaping, the result is that these Han Chinese were all accidentally burnt to death. Those who set and spread the fire, on the other hand, had no idea whatsoever that there were Han Chinese hiding upstairs. Therefore not only were Han Chinese burnt to death, some Tibetans were burnt to death too. Therefore all these incidents were accidents, not murder.

Organizations

See also

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