Tag Archives: violence

My Recent Maxims on Civil Resistance Compiled

1 Nov

Here is a compilation of my twit-length, pithy sayings, mostly about civil resistance. Their aim is to stimulate creative thinking about tenacity of nonviolent struggle and nature of political conflicts in general.

  • Dictators are boring & humorless. Another reason to rebel against them.
  • People that eventually won against oppression waged struggle equally with unjust rule as with themselves. They stopped acting like victims.
  • Nonviolent struggle is not sprint but marathon. The last thing we want is a burnt-out movement 10 years before ultimate victory.
  • Civil resistance draws out violence & shows that people’s obedience is no longer voluntary. No regime can survive without obedience.
  • How to know civic activism is alive & well? When u hear: “We do not have money. We have something more valuable: our hands & minds.”
  • Nonviolent struggle is about unique grassroots power. It cannot be exported or foreign born. It is in minds & hearts of the oppressed.
  • Dictatorship has stronger players but successful movement prevails because its team has better strategies & discipline
  • Successful nonviolent struggles are led NOT by protest movements BUT welfare movements capable of building networks of mutual trust & civic solidarity
  • Mastering resilience in civil resistance? Millions develop supreme confidence in positive outcome of nonviolent struggle even though it does not seem likely in their lifetime.
  • Inner voice ‘I have no choice.’ Alter voice ‘Choice is there. Imaging it craves for ur intellect or courage or both.’
  • Power of authoritarians is inversely proportional to self-organization, mutual solidarity & mobilization of ordinary people.
  • How to convince authoritarian brute that cost of repressing people is higher than cost of accommodation? Make him face organized society.
  • Regimes often say that peaceful protests & civil disobedience are illegal. True, civil resistance breaks law to uphold rule of law. (inspired by Michael Davis)
  • Nonviolent struggle is like long distance swim. Need to pace speed, regulate moves & improve technique to minimize risk going under water
  • Nonviolence is not running from wrong instead it is fighting wrong with right. (inspired by Rev. James Lawson)
  • Those ordered to repress activists should ask for WRITTEN orders from superiors. Nothing concerns tyrants more like evidence of their crimes
  • Tactician credo: If anything can go wrong it will. Strategist credo: In the process of ‘going wrong’ there are opportunities for victories.
  • Often cited as a reason for taking up arms against brutal adversary is revenge. This is shortcut to failure not strategy for success.
  • How to move from spontaneous to organized civil resistance? Build networks & collaborations among different segments of society
  • What is civil resistance? Self-organized, resilient, disciplined, mobilized, agile, diffused but united biopower of citizens.
  • Liberating & transforming society without challenging oppressor directly. Essence of stealth civic struggle
  • Civil resistance is driven by a voluntary commitment of many. Authenticity of nonviolent movements comes from that force
  • Autocrats spend huge resources on trying to make civil resistance violent. Understanding why is step to victory for nv activists
  • True power rests in people’s minds & thoughts
  • Saying fundamental HRs are culturally bounded is like accepting different global standards for plagiarism & its permissibility
  • Havel wrote about disturbing peace. Diplomats know little about it. They only practice making peace.
  • Nonviolent struggle is not sprint but marathon. The last thing we want is a burnt-out movement 10 years before ultimate victory.
  • How to be more effective nonviolent trouble maker? For start, let’s imagine our rebellion & check how it fits with society we want to build.
  • Nonviolent resistance wins the day not because it mobilizes masses but because it imposes prohibitive costs on regime’s pillars of support.
  • Nonviolent resisters succeeded in the past because they down there believed that failure was impossible.
  • In civil resistance solidarity is more important than heroism. It is primacy of strategy over emotions. Victory comes from former not latter.
  • Rule of law’ occludes the fact that without people’s consent no laws, institutions, elites can rule. Call for new lingua of people power.
  • Gandhi, Havel, Walesa, Mandela agreed on this point: idea of political violence to overthrow dictatorial regimes is NOT radical enough.
  • Resistance is about preeminence of action. Inaction is less effective than violent action. Violence is less effective than nonviolent action
  • Movmts cannot transform society without doing it one breath at a time. Short goals and small victories are crucial to propel transformation.
  • For every insurmountable condition that hampers civil resistance there is a skill that overcomes that condition
  • People revolutions are unpredictable because they are driven by human creativity, ingenuity & imagination that defy known rules.
  • Peacemaking is far too often about pacification. What is needed instead is to energize suppressed society
  • Civil resistance is iterative & protracted process of collective mobilization & organizing not merely media grabbing protests
  • Saying fundamental HRs are culturally bounded is like accepting different global standards for plagiarism & its permissibility
  • People know social/political problems they face. They now need alternative possibilities and knowledge of how to implement them.
  • What movements do: alert, educate, serve, mobilize. If you say you have a movement, how do you do in each of these areas? (inspired by Hardy Merriman)
  • Insubordination is easy to punish. Incompetence is not. Good Soldier Shvejk knew that. Anti-dictatorship activists could use his example. (inspired by Ivan Marovic)
  • If I am being asked to die for a cause I say I prefer to live for it. (inspired by Kumi Naidoo)
  • People activise after & only when their own rights are violated. People must act prior to their rights being violated & fight 4 rights of others (inspired by HR defender from Kazakhstan).
  • In the era of junk food Gandhi’s wisdom “your food must be just enough to keep your mind and body in good order. Men becomes what he eats.”

International recognition of nonviolent movements

  • International community gives awards to single pro-democracy activists. It is yet to recognize pro-democracy movements. We see towering trees but not majestic forests.
  • Time to change it: No multilateral document recognizing contribution of nonviolent movements to democratization processes.
  • Right to civil resistance has not yet been raised to the level of a universal human right. Can this be done & how?

China/Hong KongIMG_3210

  • Perfect dilemma for Chinese censors? Democratic movement in China adopts & reclaims ‘Xi’ & ‘Jinping’: 习 or 近 or 平 or combinationIMG_3211
  • Umbrella movement activists reclaim President Xi Jinping for their struggle. Chinese censors in tough spot, need to censor their boss.
  • NPR: ‘Protest became violent in Hong Kong’ & all I then hear is about police violence. Media must say: protest is peaceful, police is violent
  • @OCLPHK would benefit from knowing who their potential allies in Chinese regime & security forces are & how to help their moderate stand
  • Drone- tool in civil resistance. This shows how large protest in HongKong was. No state censorship can deny it http://ow.ly/C5hWb
  • #‎HongKong‬ govn’t lets protests & hopes it discredits itself. Counterstrategy is to self-organize HK society so it runs without govern’t.
  • Protesters in ‪#‎HongKong‬ must lead two struggles: for hearts & minds of HongKongers & sympathy & support of mainland Chinese.

Russia

  • #‎Putin‬ is truly afraid of his own society not western militaries. Assistance must go to civic mobilization & movements
  • Creativity of defiance- Russian environmental NGO must identify on its publications ‘a foreign agent’ but adds ‘not’ before & ‘even frogs know it’ after
  • Russian NGOs that receive foreign funds need to register as foreign agents. Russian regime receives more foreign funds through loans and payments from abroad than all Russian NGOs combined. According to its own definition Kremlin is the MAIN FOREIGN AGENT in Russia.
  • How to defeat ‪#‎Putin‬? Work on humanitarian aid to Russian schools hospitals libraries & service organizations to create human solidarityUntitled
  • How to take on Putin? Challenge him in the way he will not know how to react. Like on this picture:

Ukraine

  • Ukrainians must work out strategies of reaching out to such Russian activists and helping them grow- without undermining them.
  • In US Congress ‪#‎Poroshenko‬ rephrased Kennedy to say “I am a Crimean Tatar.” In fact, our call must be “We Are All Crimean Tatars now!”
  • #‎Ukraine‬ must keep ceasefire & build bufferzone around occupied parts of Donbas. Rebels-Russia will get into quagmire of costly occupation.
  • Ukraine risked its democratic transition when it opted for war in Donbas. Never was there a country that successfully democratized when at the same time it waged a violent conflict no matter how just its cause was.
  • The Ukrainian Maidan was violent for a total of 5 days. The real revolution happened during the remaining 88 days http://ow.ly/wl3iV
  • Embassies of democracies in Kyiv -open your doors to Ukrainians for medical emergencies. Bring your embassy doctors to help (during Euromaidan revolution)
  • Diplomats of democracies in Kyiv- GO to hospitals, document crimes against civilians & protect them from arrests! (during Euromaidan revolution)

ISIS

  • Bombing ISIS gave it opportunity to shift blame on outside aggressors for all that is wrong on the territories they control, enhanced ISIS credentials and increased effectiveness of its recruitment propaganda
  • Military chiefs from more than 30 countries meet at Andrews air force base to discuss a campaign against ISIS while all agree that there is no military solution to the ISIS problem. Am I missing something here?
  • ISIS survival depends on credibility among locals. Military campaign may contain ISIS. Only political organizing can defeat it.

Miscellaneous

  • Voting age should be lowered to 16 like in Scotland. No healthier civic education for youths than political campaigning & ballot box.
  • US military – Jack of All Trades – will fight Ebola in Africa. If we invested as much resources in civilian side of life we would not need army to fight diseases now.
  • 70 years ago Warsaw fought Germans-200,000 died. Krakow did not take arms & people lived to fight battles they could win. Bravado vs wisdomBaltic Way 25 Google Doodle
  •  The Google way to celebrate the Baltic Way – the nonviolent struggle for freedom

 

Check also:

Maxims on Civil Resistance part III

Maxims on Civil Resistance part II

Maxims on Civil Resistance part I

Myopic Strategies of the Syrian Struggle and Key Lessons

14 Jul
Members of the Free Syrian Army. Source: Al Arabiya

Members of the Free Syrian Army. Source: Al Arabiya

 

[gview file=”http://maciejbartkowski.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Myopic-Strategies-of-the-Syrian-Struggle-Key-Lessons-Bartkowski-Taleb.pdf”]

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.”