Tag Archives: nonviolent resistance

In case of aggression more Poles will join nonviolent defense and civil resistance than armed struggle

18 Mar

Which type of collective resistance has greater chances of mobilizing more people in the face of a violent adversary? In other words, which resistance – violent or nonviolent – has more powerful participation driver?protest

According to a recent survey for the Polish commercial broadcaster TVN 27% of adult Poles expressed their desire to take up arms in case of foreign aggression. This would constitute 8,6 million of all adult Poles. However, this number increases by 10% or more than 2 million people, to the level of 11,9 million (37%) of those who are ready to “resist [foreign invasion], not by fighting with arms, but by engaging in other, non-military activities.” 11% or  2 million people, were undecided. But even this group would be more likely to participate in some selected and lower risk nonviolent resistance actions than to join or lead an armed campaign. Thus, the participation in nonviolent struggle in Poland could in theory reach the level of close to 50% of the adult population or 16 million people, almost twice as many as those who are now ready to join armed struggle.  The remaining 19% would immigrate from the country altogether.

In my recent piece on the conflict in Ukraine I have highlighted that nonviolent civilian-led defense and resistance have greater chances of mobilizing and engaging much greater number of people than the armed struggle. I wrote that by “opting for the military approach [to the conflict in Donbas] Ukraine had significantly limited human resources and civic mobilization capacities, especially in the light of recent reports on increase in draft dodging. Approximately 250,000 active duty Ukrainian military personnel, several thousands of paramilitary forces and civilian volunteers – at best, 300,000 people – might be engaged directly or indirectly in the armed struggle. This constitutes not even 1% of the Ukrainian adult population (15 years and older). Therefore, the first and foremost strategy for Ukraine must be to devise the type of resistance that asks and enable all 40 million people to take part in it, and do so on a daily basis.”

Indeed, according to my colleague, Erica Chenoweth, who studied 323 armed and unarmed conflicts over more than 100 years, nonviolent campaigns have historically been “11 times larger as proportion of population size than average violent campaigns.” This feature, among other elements described in the recent study on countering hybrid warfare with nonviolent civilian defense, makes civil resistance an attractive defense weapon against aggression by a more powerful neighbor.

Those who are responsible for planning national defense and security policies of their countries, specially when they face militarily superior adversary, would benefit from paying greater attention to a powerful participation driver that  nonviolent defense and civil resistance offer. Arguably, this type of resistance could turn whole nation into a disciplined and committed fighting society much easier and faster than armed resistance.

 

Political Resistance against Russian Aggresion

23 May

From Kyiv Post, with Olena Tregub, May 2, 2014

The “anti-terrorist operation” the Ukrainian government launched in eastern and southern Ukraine to displace the Russian-backed separatist militia has been a failure. The acting Ukrainian president Oleksandr V. Turchynov himself acknowledged on April 30 that the “overwhelming majority of security forces in the east are not able to carry out their duty to defend our citizens.”

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Crimean Tatars in protest to commemorate 70th anniversary of 1944 deportation. Russian-occupied Symferopol, Crimea, May 18, 2014

The overall struggle of separatists and their backers has clear political objectives: to hold local referenda and win support for secession of a large minority or ideally majority of the regions’ population; either voluntarily or through falsification. The problem is that for this political struggle the Ukrainian government mobilized merely the military instrument – the very tool for which its adversaries hold a strong suit. In fact, the separatists have a clear advantage over Ukrainian forces that have poor organizational skills and training to deal with a limited scale guerrilla insurgency embedded with small but boisterous pro-rebel civilian crowds.

This kind of political struggle calls for total political resistance, not military engagement.

In the call for total political resistance the Ukrainian authorities would address two simple but crucial questions:

1. How can unarmed local populations make the life of the occupiers in Crimea and separatists in southeast Ukraine difficult?

2. How can the social cohesion and solidarity among Ukrainians be enhanced despite ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity?

The call for total political resistance could thus offer general “tips” or “resistance recommendations” equally to help guide actions, stimulate people’s imaginations and expand their resourcefulness given their abilities, skills and risks which they are willing to take.

The Ukrainian government, together with mainstream and social media could launch a nationwide campaign of total political resistance that would recommend specific actions and expected behavior from Ukrainians at a time of crisis, including:

· Do not give out any information to separatists

· Ignore separatists’ request for assistance

· Do not serve them when they come to buy groceries, water, medicine or other products or charge them more than usual; or sell them bad, expired goods

· Do not exchange their dollars to local currency or vice versa

· If separatists want to stay in your hotel or home give them the worst rooms and food. Inform them that restrooms do not work

· Protect, offer shelter and extend your solidarity to Ukrainians, Ukrainian Russians and Ukrainian Jews and other minorities who are attacked because of their pro-Ukrainian views

· Use your balconies and windows to display Ukrainian flags or Ukrainian national colors

· Wear cloths with Ukrainian national colors and Ukrainian traditional dress

· Go to the local Ukrainian churches for collective prayers

· Design, print and distribute thousands of leaflets and brochures in villages, towns and cities across eastern and southern Ukraine about what life would be like under Russian occupation

· Engage in pro-Ukrainian graffiti that could mark towns

· Paint trees, buildings, and other city landmarks in Ukrainian colors with difficult-to-remove materials

In Crimea, if you work for a state-owned company serving the new Russian administration (e.g. postal service, telephone companies, public administration, railroad administration, etc.):

· Work slowly

· Do not complete tasks on time

· Complete administrative tasks incompetently and without much enthusiasm

· Produce and offer poor-quality goods and services

· Treat machinery carelessly

· Take excessive sick leave

· Delay in responding if they call you and operate with slow reactivity in your professional communications with government structures

· Increase consumption of power to push the power system to its limits

· Do not pay taxes and other government bills

· Protect, offer shelter and extend solidarity to Ukrainians, Ukrainian Russians, Tatars and other minorities who oppose Russian occupation

· Increase the costs of the Russian annexation in any imaginable way short of violence

For some, political resistance can be viewed as naïve and weak given the level of repression. After all, activists are targeted, kidnapped and killed in eastern Ukraine.

However, political resistance does not imply that life will not be lost but that the probability and scale of killings will be still much lower than when the armed conflicts breaks out. Political resistance is about staying alive as much as the armed struggle is about killing. And, it is political resistance, not armed struggle that holds greater promise for saving civilian lives, and preserving country’s infrastructure while at the same time imposing considerable costs on the adversary. Finally, it is political resistance that holds greater promise to awaken those in eastern and southern Ukraine who are now apathetic, fearful and withdrawn.

Furthermore, if armed groups use the language of violence our natural reaction is to use the language they understand well. However, more effective way would be to develop a strategy that they either do not understand or for which they lack training. Political resistance might work better where the current “anti-terrorist operations” failed – namely, in keeping separatist militia and its Russian backers off-balance and mobilizing the local population in active though unarmed opposition.

For those who look for a military solution against an armed adversary it is appropriate to recall the words of the British captain Basil Liddell Hart, who interrogated German generals after the World War II: “[Nazi Germans] were experts in violence, and had been trained to deal with opponents who used that method. But other forms of resistance baffled them- and all the more in proportion as the methods were subtle and concealed. It was a relief to them when resistance became violent, and when non-violent forms were mixed with guerrilla action, thus making it easier to combine drastic suppressive action against both at the same time.”

While launching total political resistance the Ukrainian government together with Ukrainian civil society would emphasize the message: small triumphs through the acts of political resistance will prove to you and others that ordinary people: women, men, elderly, disabled and even children can do things to support the country and Ukrainians are not defenseless even if they do not have arms.

Understanding civil resistance. Questions I am asked and wrestle with

22 Mar

z15502016QWhile I continue teaching and writing on civil resistance, some prominent scholars, opinion makers and students have lately asked a number of very pertinent questions regarding the practice of and corresponding analytical concepts about civil resistance — no doubt some of the queries were sparked by the recent popular upheaval in Ukraine. Since these questions often resurface in various conversations, I would like to take a shot at some of them, including:

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Protest laying down1. How are nonviolent actions and violence defined in civil resistance? When does a nonviolent action stop and violence begin?

Nonviolent action in civil resistance is a politically purposeful act conducted outside the institutionalized politics that can be coercive, but it does not entail physical violence or bodily harm.  As a politically purposeful tool, a nonviolent action aims at 1) delegitimizing an adversary, 2) decreasing adversary’s effective control over the population, 3) weakening the loyalty of its key allies, and 4) increasing the scope and diversity of the participation by a) mobilizing disengaged parts of the society and b) deploying various other action-initiatives that people will be able and willing to join. The above political goals are intrinsically linked to a nonviolent character of resistance actions without which the goals cannot be achieved. Any violence by civil resisters would be bound to undermine — if not in short, then in the mid- and long-term perspectives — political goals of the civil resistance struggle. For example, the goal of the anti-communist opposition in Poland was set around the struggle to win the right to establish free trade unions. By itself, the goal was revolutionary in the tightly controlled “workers” country, but more importantly, the very nature of the goal made the use of violence redundant and even counterproductive. Instead, reaching the goal of legal trade unions that would be independent of the communist party entailed a political (nonviolent) mobilization of workers supported by other segments of the society. They would then choose suitable nonviolent actions — such as occupational strikes inside the factories — that were effective in minimizing the risks of repression (in contrast to open street demonstrations that were crushed in the past) and in increasing the economic and political costs on the regime where idle factories occupied by protesting workers became powerful examples for hundreds of thousands of other workers across industries on how to resist in order to achieve the goal of free trade unions.

Nonviolent action turns into violence when a political tool to delegitimize an adversary — disrupt the business-as-usual and solicit loyalty away from an adversary — shifts to becoming a purely material device used to physically harm the opponent. This would include, for example, throwing stones or Molotov-cocktails during the campaign.

2. If implied threats are used, people harm themselves on purpose or property is destroyed as part of a nonviolent campaign. Is this still nonviolent?

Threats of physical violence (e.g. against collaborators), destruction of property (e.g. cutting communication lines) or self-inflicted harm in order to express a protest are on the borderline of violent and nonviolent tactics. They are usually part of an overall nonviolent campaign that would include hundreds of other clearly nonviolent tactics beyond the ones mentioned above. For example, self-immolation by the Tibetan protesters is a relatively small — though a very dramatic and tragic — element in their self-preservation and self-determination struggle that includes a very rich repertoire of cultural resistance, including family and community-based actions to protect and develop Tibetan culture and language and traditions in defiance of the persistent campaign of Hanisation.

Still, even though the borderline actions are few and far between in an overall nonviolent campaign, it is worth delving more into their nature. One way to assess the character of these actions is to highlight the essence of a civil resistance struggle. The core value of civil resistance is life in and of itself — its preservation and bettering. Political struggle is carried out as long as a human being remains a political agency for action. Death, including by suicide, ends all political engagements. A destruction of property might not entail, in the process, bodily harm, but any benefits stemming from that action might be outweighed by massive reprisals if it is not executed strategically. Blowing up the railways in order to undermine the German war efforts during WWII might have led to considerable collateral damage because Germans held nearby villages — even though they might not have been directly involved in the sabotage —accountable for the actions of the partisans. On the other hand, the concealed sabotage of the German weaponry, which failed to shoot, drive or communicate once it reached the front, by the Danish factory workers was less risky, with lower chances of punishing repression once the weapons were loaded and sent where the German army needed them. Both cases show property destruction, but the first example leads to a loss of civilian life and the second one considerably limits that possibility. Consequently, the latter action can be said to remain within the realm of nonviolent resistance while the former is outside that realm.

547742_571900669547272_354267135_n3. If the activists set the nonviolent battlefield so as to provoke the authorities to use violence, is that still considered nonviolent?

Nonviolent action is often designed — as Martin Luther King Jr. said — to dramatize the already existing injustice. Violence of the adversary against nonviolent action is therefore an extension of the repressive system that is in place. Nonviolent action does not so much provoke but expose to a larger public the violence that the community is being subject to.  A smart nonviolent action is the tool to show the real face of injustice in a dramatic way. This is done to draw massive media attention and, consequently, awaken a large part of the population that over years and decades might have become numbed to or complicit in the existing injustice.

Nonviolent action that exposes violence in a vivid fashion remains in every sense nonviolent as it was before violence was evoked to crush it.

4. Can civil resistance authentically sustain itself on its own for long and succeed against a materially powerful adversary without some kind of external assistance?

The question is set on the (wrong) premise that a nonviolent contestation is material and, consequently, only a materially stronger force prevails. If the material resources (money, manpower, capacity to repress) matter for the outcome of the struggle then the natural question is how resource-deprived, seemingly powerless and until now victimized people can become their own liberators, as well as a sole force able to bring down immovable repressive structures. Surely, the thinking goes, they must have received material help from outside (from other governments with resources) that aided them in their success. The major problem with the premise and derived from its conclusions is that in reality the nonviolent struggle is hardly ever driven by material “boosters” from outside. The resilience of mass-based civil resistance movements that can withstand repression, government propaganda and attempts of co-optation while continuing mobilization and disruptions come from individual and collective fortitude and will. Those who maintain their power through material force, including firepower, can hardly understand a different force. The Ukrainian activists that were kidnapped and tortured during the Maidan revolution told the media that their captors — while beating them up — wanted to know how much money activists received from the foreign embassies in Kyiv, how the money transfer was organized and who was behind it. They could not comprehend that a three-month-old Maidan and other ongoing protests, often in freezing winter temperatures, could have been organically propelled and sustained over time by the voluntary participation and actions of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who donated their time, money, goods, and services and took the risk simply because they deeply identified with and shared the values and ideals that Maidan represented.

The government that projects its power through the tools of oppression, bribery, and propaganda has major difficulties in grasping that political authority of a movement can, in fact, be derived from entirely different (nonmaterial) sources: a genuine representation of people’s grievances and expectations, an organically-created sense of an individual and collective responsibility for the movement and people’s free volition to join the movement that undergirds authentic consent and participation.

With the authentic grassroots force comes people’s commitment to the movement, and with that commitment the movement can self-generate needed resources. The most successful civil resistance movements were also the most effective fund-raisers. The Polish solidarity movement was an extremely effectual resistance force because it mobilized millions while its self-organizing skills were propelling the most successful grassroots fund-raising machinery in Polish history. The assistance from other governments for civil resistance movements in the distant and recent past has never been a decisive factor in the ultimate victory of the nonviolent campaigns. Some activists realize that an external help from governments can in fact do more harm than good as it helps the regime brand the movement as a foreign stooge that represents other governments’ interests rather than the interests of the local population. This is one more reason why activists develop their own domestic sources of material and financial support to reinforce their grassroots legitimacy and occupy a better position to defend themselves against the regime’s attempts to discredit them.

enhanced-buzz-2970-1385130500-25 5. Is a successful nonviolent fight against a democratically elected leader a civil resistance or a coup?

Civil resistance differs from a coup in at least two aspects. First of all, although both are extra-legal struggles, a coup is also an extra-constitutional takeover of power by a small group of power holders (political insiders) often as a direct result of violence or threat of violence. In turn, more often than not, the force behind civil resistance that can successfully challenge a violent regime without resorting itself to violence is a nationwide movement that represents grievances of the majority of the population. Because of its national representation — in terms of the composition and goals of the movement — combined with its largely nonviolent nature, the civil resistance eventually draws to its side key allies of the regime, e.g. sprawling bureaucracies, business communities and security forces. In that sense, civil resistance of national proportion is the manifestation of the fundamental constitutional credo that the people (nation) are the sole source of power and sovereignty in the country (see, for example, the first articles of the constitutions of Venezuela, the Russian Federation, Poland, Turkey or Ukraine). In civil resistance, the power is exercised in the extra-legal way, meaning beyond and above the established political procedures. However, in contrast to the coup, which is the usurpation of power by the actions of the few political insiders, mass-based civil resistance is the practical expression of a basic constitutional value — that only the people can claim and reclaim political power.

Finally, in contrast to a coup, where the only goal is a takeover of power by a deposition of the incumbents, civil resistance can bring about a major political change through at least three processes: a nonviolent coercion powerful enough to lead to the disintegration of the regime, a negotiated settlement between the regime and the opposition movement (by far, historically, the most common pattern of power transfer in civil resistance struggles), and finally, a conversion of the regime that sides with the movement and adopts its demands.

Ukraine-protests6. Why was it considered to be a nonviolent force that brought down Yanukovych when during the decisive days of resistance, just before his escape from Kyiv, media were showing people who used violence against his security forces?

During the 92 days of the Maidan revolution, 112 activists are now reported to have been killed. Close to 200 demonstrators are still missing, most of them presumably dead, their bodies buried in local forests surrounding Kyiv. 17 police and interior security troops have died during the same period. Violence was used by a small minority of the protesters, but minority violence was neither effective in protecting civilians nor in inflicting serious damage to Ukrainian security forces. Yanukovych fled not because of violence, but because he could no longer rely on his political allies and more importantly on the army that he planned to use to crash Maidan. His interior minister’s plan called for 22,000 police and troops to turn Maidan in Kyiv into Central Europe’s Tiananmen Square. He managed to assemble up to 5,000 police/interior security forces but he still needed the army. When the orders came, the army disobeyed the orders for mobilization. It did that not because it was scared of the violent opposition minority, but because it perceived the revolution as genuinely grassroots, representing grievances and ideals of the majority of Ukrainians. And this, in turn, was the result of nonviolent actions and mobilization of millions of Ukrainians from November 2 until Yanukovych fled Kyiv on February 21, hence the title of my co-authored article Ukraine Explained: A Nonviolent Victory.

The Maidan revolution in Ukraine was largely nonviolent and self-restrained. When violence broke out (three days in the second half of January and three days in the second half of February), it was limited and carried out by a few hundred, while millions that were engaged in various forms of resistance remain nonviolent. For comparison, the Tunisian revolution that lasted 28 days (3.5 times shorter than the Maidan revolution), is considered by most observers to have been nonviolent — 20 police and army troops died. Millions remained expressly nonviolent. President Ben Ali fled, not because he lost 20 security members, but because, like Yanukovych, he could no longer rule the country while his political and security allies no longer obeyed his orders.

7. Nonviolent restraint is useless when one is being attacked by armed thugs and has no way to run. Violence is needed to repel violence.  How then is civil resistance reconcilable with a life-and-death situation?

In a situation where an individual’s life is in immediate danger because of an armed attacker who is ready to shoot and kill on the spot and there is nowhere to retreat, the use of arms can be the only way to survive. However, what works in a dark alley in one-on-one combat is not necessarily applicable to a collective struggle driven by its own dynamics. The resistance of the many against an armed regime or a group is not about one encounter that decides the outcome of the battle, but about repeated interactions pursued on multiple levels (local, regional, national) among members of a movement, between activists and the general public that they try to mobilize, and a movement and the regime’s pillars of support (e.g. the business community) or oppression (security forces).

The dynamics of civil resistance in collective struggles brings to the fore the phenomena that are not present in the situation of a one-on-one encounter, for example, an adversary’s repression against unarmed people backfiring on the regime, or disruptive collective nonviolent actions undermining the control of the regime, exacerbating its internal divisions or causing loyalty shifts among its supporters in the movement’s favor.                                            

8. Is peaceful resistance against an extremely ruthless dictator idealistic? 

Because of its peaceful character, civil resistance is often considered, in moral terms, as an ethically superior force vis-à-vis a nakedly brutal material power. In that sense, many equate civil resistance with an idealistic fight, particularly if waged against a brutal tyrant. For example, commentators would reflect on the idealism of the Syrian peaceful resistance when it took on the ruthless Assad regime in March 2011.

Idealism of civil resistance is then contrasted with the realism of armed resistance — after all, a violent regime understands, and thus is afraid of only one thing: superior violence. In practice, however, when faced with a brutal dictatorial regime, civil resistance is in fact the most realistic of all possible alternatives, be it surrender, negotiations, conventional politics or armed resistance.

Violent or unarmed resistance is undertaken because the population is not ready to surrender. There is also an acknowledgment that other traditional channels of bringing about a political change — through courts, party politics, elections, grand political bargain or negotiations — are not a viable option for the repressed. In a highly violent environment, the overarching goal of the resistance is to provide an effective protection for the civilian population and to launch a successful campaign to bring a ruthless regime down.

The three-year anniversary of the Syrian uprising (March 15) offers a vivid example of the realism and utopianism of the selected resistance methods. Strategically, the armed resistance against a militarily stronger force proved to be a major failure in achieving its two main objectives: neither protected the population (more than 120,000 lives perished, more than 5 million Syrians are internally displaced, and 3 million are refugees) nor ended the tyranny (Assad remains in power). In fact, it was the armed resistance that turned out to be idealistic and emotional at is core, verging on utopianism. The underlying reasoning was, in fact, based on a number of misconceptions, both about armed and civil resistance, which I articulated earlier in one of my blog posts. Civil resistance, while it lasted, proved to be more strategic, calculated and realistic even though not many recognized this at that the time. In my co-authored piece on the resistance in Syria, published in fall 2013, we wrote about four misguided beliefs rooted in the seemingly  “realistic” necessity for the armed insurgency against the Assad regime and concluded that “the real gains of civil resistance [in Syria] were never assessed, before being overcome by the myth of the power of the gun, and later by [misguided] hope that external military intervention could resolve the conflict.”