Nonviolent revolution

Nonviolent revolution

A nonviolent revolution is a revolution using mostly campaigns of civil resistance, including various forms of nonviolent protest, to bring about the departure of governments seen as entrenched and authoritarian. While many campaigns of civil resistance are aimed at much more limited goals than revolution, generally a nonviolent revolution is characterized by simultaneous advocacy of democracy, human rights and national independence in the country concerned. In some cases a campaign of civil resistance with a revolutionary purpose may be able to bring about the defeat of a dictatorial regime only if it obtains a degree of support from the armed forces, or at least their benevolent neutrality.

An effective campaign of civil resistance, and even the achievement of a nonviolent revolution, may be possible in a particular case despite the controlling government taking brutal measures against protesters; the commonly-held belief that most revolutions which have happened in dictatorial regimes were bloody or violent uprisings is not borne out by historical analysis. Nonviolent revolutions in the 20th century became more successful and more common, especially in the 1980s as Cold War political alliances which supported status quo governance waned.[citation needed]

In the 1970s and 1980s, thinkers in the Soviet Union and other Communist states, and in some other countries, began to focus on civil resistance as the most promising means of opposing entrenched authoritarian regimes. The use of various forms of unofficial exchange of information, including by samizdat, expanded. Two major revolutions during the 1980s strongly influenced political movements that followed. The first was the 1986 People Power Revolution, in the Philippines from which the term 'people power' came to be widely used, especially in Hispanic and Asian nations.[1] Three years later, the Revolutions of 1989 that ousted communist dictatorships in the Eastern Bloc reinforced the concept (with the notable exception of the notoriously bloody Romanian Revolution), beginning with the victory of Solidarity in that year's Polish legislative elections. The Revolutions of 1989 provided the template for the so-called color revolutions in mainly post-communist states, which tended to use a color or flower as a symbol, somewhat in the manner of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia.

In December 1989, inspired by the Eastern Bloc revolutions, the Mongolian Democratic Union (MDU) organized popular street protests and hunger strikes against the communist dictatorship. In 1990, thinkers in the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic started civil resistance against the dictatorship, but was initially crushed by Red Army in the Black January massacre.

Recent nonviolent revolutions include the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, which was highlighted by a series of acts of civil disobedience, sit-ins, and general strikes organized by the opposition movement.



The beginnings of the nonviolence movement lie in the satyagraha philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, who guided the people of India to independence from Britain. Despite the violence of the Partition of India following independence, and numerous revolutionary uprisings which were not under Gandhi's control, India's independence was achieved through legal processes after a period of national resistance rather than through a military revolution.

According to the socialist Fourth International, Karl Marx acknowledged a theoretical possibility of "peaceful" revolutions, but the Fourth International articles also say "The development and preservation of good relations with the military forces is one of the absolute priorities of preparatory revolutionary work". Some have argued that a nonviolent revolution would require fraternisation with military forces, like in the relatively nonviolent Portuguese Carnation Revolution.[2]

Peaceful revolution

A peaceful revolution or bloodless coup is a regime change that occurs without violence. A Peaceful revolution is, if between two sides, one faction is not willing to use armed force. If the revolutionists refuse to use violence, it is known as a nonviolent revolution. If the revolutionists are willing to use force, but the loyalists (government) negotiate or surrender to divert armed conflict it is called a bloodless war. Hawaii has had both types of peaceful revolutions in 1893 and 1954, other peaceful revolutions that have occurred are the Bloodless Revolution of 1688 in England, the People Power Revolution of 1986 in the Philippines, and the peaceful revolution of 1989 in Germany.

As it relates to democracy

One theory of democracy is that its main purpose is to allow peaceful revolutions. The idea is that majorities voting in elections approximate the result of a coup. In 1962, John F. Kennedy famously said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."[3]

This theory is rebutted by Murray Rothbard who points out that to more closely approximate such results, it would be necessary to disenfranchise the elderly, women, and those who are otherwise at a physical disadvantage in combat, and to give trained soldiers multiple votes. He also says that such theory, if carried to its logical conclusion, would require making voting more difficult (e.g. by spacing polling places further apart) and eliminating secret ballots, as those who would be deterred by inconvenience or persecution for revealing their support for a candidate would be unlikely to fight for him.

George Lakey in his 1973 book [1] and in his 1976 "A Manifesto for Nonviolent Revolution", laid out a five stage strategy for nonviolent revolution. Stage 1 Cultural Preparation or "Conscientization": Education, training and consciousness raising of why their is a need for a nonviolent revolution and how to conduct a nonviolent revolution. Stage 2.Building Organizations: As training, education and consciousness raising continues, the need to form organizations. Affinity groups or nonviolent revolutionary groups are organized to provide support,maintain nonviolent discipline, organize and train other people into similar affinity groups and networks. Stage 3. Confrontation Organized and sustained campaigns of picketing, strikes, sit-ins, marches, boycotts, die-ins, blockades to disrupt business as usual in institutions and government. By putting ones body on the line nonviolently the rising movement stops the normal gears of government and business. Stage 4. Mass Non Cooperation: Similar affinity groups and networks of affinity groups around the country and world, engage in similar actions to disrupt business as usual. Stage 5. Developing Parallel Institutions to take over functions and services of government and commerce. In order to create a new society without violence, oppression, environmental destruction, discrimination and one that is environmentally sustainable, nonviolent, democratic, equatable tolerant and fair, alternative organizations and structures including businesses must be created to provide the needed services and goods that citizens of a society need.

Gene Sharp, who many in the Arab Spring revolutions where influenced by has documented and described over 198 different methods of nonviolent action that nonviolent revolutionary's might use in struggle. No government or institution can rule without the consent of the governed or oppressed. That is the source of nonviolent power. Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew that as well.


Lakey, George.(1973) Strategy For A Living Revolution. Grossman: New York, NY.

Lakey, George. (1976) A Manifesto For Nonviolent Revolution. Training For Change: Philadelphia, PA (

Lakey, George. (2002) Strategizing For A Living Revolution. retrived on 10/26/2011 from

Sharpe, Gene. (1973) The Politics of Nonviolent Action. Porter-Sargent: Boston, MA.

List of nonviolent revolutions by era


Cold War

In nations of the Warsaw Pact

Outside of the Warsaw Pact

Post–Cold War period

Colour revolutions

These are revolutions in post-communist authoritarian Europe and other new countries that were part of the former Soviet Union or Warsaw Pact. Each of these had massive street protests and/or followed disputed elections and led to the resignation or overthrow of leaders considered by their opponents to be authoritarian. Almost all of them used a particular colour or a flower to be their symbol of unity.

  • 2000 – The Bulldozer Revolution, which led to the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević. These demonstrations are considered by many to be the first example of the peaceful revolutions that followed in Georgia and Ukraine; however, the Serbs adopted an approach that had already been used in parliamentary elections in Slovakia and Croatia in 1998 and 2000, respectively, characterized by civic mobilization through get-out-the-vote campaigns and unification of the political opposition. The protesters in Serbia didn't adopt a colour or specific symbol (the most recognizable symbol of the revolution was a stylized fist), and despite the commonalities, many others refer to Georgia as the most definite beginning of the series of "colour revolutions." The demonstrations were supported by youth movement Otpor.
  • 2003 – The Rose Revolution in Georgia, following the disputed Georgia legislative election, 2003, led to the overthrow of Eduard Shevardnadze and his replacement by Mikhail Saakashvili after new elections were held in March 2004. The Rose Revolution was supported by the civic resistance movement, Kmara.
  • 2004 – The Orange Revolution in Ukraine, followed the disputed second round of the 2004 presidential election and led to the annulment of the result and the repeat of the round—the leader of the opposition Viktor Yushchenko was declared President, defeating Viktor Yanukovych. The Orange Revolution was supported by Pora.

Revolutions in the Middle East

The media attention given to the color revolutions has inspired movements in the Middle East, and their supporters, to adopt similar symbology.

  • The Cedar Revolution in Lebanon followed the assassination of opposition leader Rafik Hariri in 2005. Chiefly, the movement demanded the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, ending a de facto occupation. Unlike the revolutions in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, this movement did not seek to overturn disputed election results, but did cause the pro-Syrian government of Lebanon to fall. Due to similarities in motivation and organization strategies, it is widely considered[by whom?] a cousin of the color revolutions.

Revolutions in Latin America and Asia

Drawing inspiration from the People Power Revolution of 1986 in the Philippines, as well as other succeeding color revolution movements, several South American countries experienced what were effectively non-violent revolutions.

  • Dominican Republic- "The Butterflies" or "Las Mariposas". The Mirabel sisters fought to change their government, by underground movements. Also by rejecting sexual advances from the president himself. Three sisters were ordered to be killed by the president at the time, Rafael Trujillo, and only one survived to tell the story. There is also a movie made about their ordeal.
  • Ecuador – The impeachment of President Lucio Gutierrez, by the Congress of that country after days of increasing demonstrations and protests by citizens led by the citizens of Quito, the capital. Thousands of demonstrators were present in the Plaza of Independence. Flags were waved in celebration shortly after Congress voted out Gutierrez 62-0. Airport runways were blocked by demonstrators to prevent Gutierrez from leaving the country. The former president was later given asylum by Brazil and was transported out of the country on April 24. Protesters also intended to depose the Congress after accusing the body of alleged corruption as well.
  • the PhilippinesEDSA Revolution of 2001 (EDSA II), a four-day popular revolt that peacefully overthrew Philippine president Joseph Estrada in January 2001, self-organized through SMS messaging.

Organizers and supporters

The Soros Foundations

The Soros Foundations, founded by philanthropist George Soros, have been active for many years in fostering a transition to democracy and free enterprise in the post-Soviet sphere. Through the Open Society Institute, they are noted for their close relationships with several of the color revolutions, particularly in Ukraine.

Some opponents of the revolutionary movements, especially those on the extreme right or left wing, have accused Soros of staging coups d'état, deliberately using popular nonviolent movements as a front. The Soros Foundations also contribute to Freedom House and some of the other organizations charged as "front groups" for U.S. intervention.

However, the Soros Foundations have also supported similar "regime change" in U.S.-backed countries, and Soros heavily invested in defeating George W. Bush in 2004. The view that Soros is acting as a front for the Bush administration is not supported by mainstream opinion.

Other organizations

Students for Global Democracy, an organisation originated in the US, works with the ZUBR organization in Belarus, which is attempting to bring a color revolution to that nation. SGD has also worked with the new Azerbaijani YOX! (No) movement.

In some specific fields within social change movements, there is also interest in nonviolent revolution. For example, MindFreedom International, a nonprofit coalition, has a mission statement which calls for a "nonviolent revolution" in the mental health system. To help accomplish this, MindFreedom has created in reality the "International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment" that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called for in more than ten speeches and essays.

Current nonviolent resistance

Several countries are experiencing the rise of non-violent resistance movements with the intent of effecting a non-violent revolution.


There have been a number of protests against President Alexander Lukashenko, with participation from student group Zubr. The most recent major protests were on March 25, 2005. This was a self-declared attempt to emulate the Kyrgyzstan revolution, and involved over a thousand citizens. However it was severely suppressed by the police which arrested over 30 people.

Mikhail Marinich, a leader of the opposition, is currently[when?] in prison. The opposition uses as a symbol the white-red-white former flag of Belarus. The movement has had significant connections with that in neighboring Ukraine, and during the Orange Revolution some white-red-white flags were seen being waved in Kiev.

Lukashenko has said in the past: "In our country, there will be no pink or orange, or even banana revolution." More recently he's said "They [the West] think that Belarus is ready for some 'orange' or, what is a rather frightening option, 'blue' or 'cornflower blue' revolution. Such 'blue' revolutions are the last thing we need".[4] On 19 April 2005, he further commented: "All these coloured revolutions are pure and simple banditry."[5]


The 2007 Georgian demonstrations against the government of president Mikheil Saakashvili. The demonstrations peaked on November 2, 2007, when 50,000–100,000[6] rallied in downtown Tbilisi, capital of Georgia.[7] Protests were organized by the National Council, an ad-hoc coalition of ten opposition parties, and financed by the media tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili.[8] Demonstrations were initially largely peaceful, but turned violent the next day when the police used heavy-handed tactics, including tear gas and water cannon.[9]


The opposition in Moldova, is reported to have hoped and urged for some kind of Orange revolution, similar to that in Ukraine, in the followup of the Moldovan parliamentary elections, 2005, while the Christian Democratic People's Party adopted orange for its color in a clear reference to the events of Ukraine.[10]

A name hypothesized for such an event was "grape revolution" because of the abundance of vineyards in the country, however such a revolution failed to materialize after the governmental victory in the elections. Many reasons have been given for this, including a fractured opposition and that the government had already co-opted many of the political positions that might have united the opposition (such as a perceived pro-European and anti-Russian stance). Also the elections themselves were declared fairer in the OSCE election monitoring reports than had been the case in other countries where similar revolutions occurred, even though the CIS monitoring mission strongly condemned them.


On March 25, 2005, activists wearing yellow scarves held protests in the capital city of Ulan Bator, disputing the results of the 2004 Mongolian parliamentary elections and calling for fresh elections. One of the chants heard in that protest was "Let's congratulate our Kyrgyz brothers for their revolutionary spirit. Let's free Mongolia of corruption."[11]

Russia, Bashkortostan

The opposition in the Republic of Bashkortostan has held protests demanding that the federal authorities intervene to dismiss Murtaza Rakhimov from his position as President of the republic, accusing him of leading an "arbitrary, corrupt, and violent" regime. Airat Dilmukhametov, one of the opposition leaders, and leader of the Bashkir National Front, has said that the opposition movement has been inspired by the mass protests of Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.[12] Another opposition leader, Marat Khaiyirulin, said that if an Orange Revolution were to happen in Russia, it would begin in Bashkortostan.


There has been longstanding opposition to President Islam Karimov, from liberals and Islamists. The revolution in neighboring Kyrgyzstan began in the largely ethnic Uzbek south, and received early support in the city of Osh. Nigora Hidoyatova, leader of the Free Peasants opposition party, has referred to the idea of a farmers' revolution. She also said that her party is collaborating with the youth organization Shiddat, and that she hopes it can evolve to an organization similar to Kmara or Pora.[13]

Arab Spring Revolutions

Several violent or nonviolent protests in the early 21st century, especially the ones Tunisia and Egypt, have been termed "Social Media Revolutions", alluding to the role played by Web 2.0 communications technologies in massive mobilization.

Despite an initial ban on the use of the internet, once it was lifted social media was used quite extensively in coordinating the masses in marching to key government locations. On 11 February 2011, President Hosni Mubarak resigned as president of Egypt, leading people to label this as a peaceful and mostly non-violent people's revolution where, except in a limited number of incidents, loss of life was caused directly by acts of the government rather than protesters.

See also


  1. ^ Beech, Hannah (August 17, 2009). "Corazon Aquino 1933–2009: The Saint of Democracy". Time.,9171,1914872,00.html. Retrieved May 20, 2010. 
  2. ^ Dan Jakopovich: Revolution and the Party in Gramsci's Thought: A Modern Application.
  3. ^ JFK's "Address on the First Anniversary of the Alliance for Progress," White House reception for diplomatic cors of the Latin American republics, March 13, 1962. Public Papers of the Presidents – John F. Kennedy (1962), p. 223. Wikisource
  4. ^ News . Retrieved on 2010-09-29.
  5. ^ [1][dead link]
  6. ^ Thousands Rally in Capital Against Georgia President, The New York Times
  7. ^ "Tear gas used on Georgia protest". 2007-11-07. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  8. ^ Patarkatsishvili Pledges to Finance Protest Rallies. Civil Georgia. 2007-10-28.
  9. ^ Tear gas used on Georgia protest, BBC News, November 7, 2007
  10. ^ Features – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. Retrieved on 2010-09-29.
  11. ^ Asia-Pacific | Mongolians protest for new poll. BBC News (2005-03-29). Retrieved on 2010-09-29.
  12. ^ Bigg, Claire. (2005-04-08) Bashkortostan: Opposition Denounces ‘Dictatorship’ At Moscow Protest – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty © 2010. Retrieved on 2010-09-29.
  13. ^ Features – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. Retrieved on 2010-09-29.

External links

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