Applications of Nonviolent Action
Nonviolent struggle can be used in a variety of circumstances for a variety of objectives. These include:
• Dismantling dictatorships
• Blocking coups d’état
• Defending against foreign invasions and occupations
• Providing alternatives to violence in extreme ethnic conflicts
• Challenging unjust social and economic systems
• Developing, preserving and extending democratic practices, human rights, civil liberties, and freedom of religion
• Resisting genocide
More information can be found about each of these applications in the publications section of our web site.
Nonviolent struggle has considerable capacity to destroy dictatorships and to facilitate transitions to democratic political structures.
There are numerous instances where this has occurred, including: Guatemala and El Salvador in 1944, the Philippines in 1986, the liberation struggles against Communist tyranny in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia, and the October 2000 struggle to bring down the Milosevic regime in Serbia.
For more information, see our publications on nonviolent action as well as From Dictatorship to Democracy.
Blocking coups d’état
Nonviolent action can be used to block and deter coup’s d’état (which is how many dictatorships are established). It provides an alternative both to passive acceptance of a coup and a civil war against one’s own army.
Examples of this are: Germany in 1920 against the Kapp Putsch, France in 1961 against the Algiers generals’ coup, and the August 1991 coup in the former Soviet Union.
For more information, see our publications on nonviolent action as well as The Anti-Coup and Civilian-Based Defense.
Defending against foreign invasions and occupations
Improvised nonviolent struggle has been used against foreign aggression and occupations, such as in the Ruhr in Germany in 1923, in Denmark, Norway, Italy, and France in World War II, and in Czechoslovakia in 1968-1969.
Some states have considered formally adopting nonviolent struggle as a prepared component or substitute means of defense. Such a policy is called “civilian-based defense” (or “civilian defense”). It would be used to defend the country against foreign aggression, occupations, coups d’état, and executive usurpations.
For more information, see our publications on nonviolent action as well as Civilian-Based Defense.
Providing alternatives to violence in extreme ethnic conflicts
Ethnic disputes are often among the most brutal and difficult conflicts to resolve. The issues in such conflicts may relate to social justice, religious liberty, racial equality, autonomy, political independence, full integration, and respectful treatment.
Nonviolent struggle can provide an alternative means of action for groups that would otherwise rely on forms of violence, such as terrorism and guerrilla warfare. It may provide ethnic, religious, and racial minorities with an effective means of pressuring unresponsive governments, third parties, and even the dominant group to address their grievances. It can also be used by groups seeking autonomy or independence, such as those in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia in 1991.
Challenging unjust social and economic systems
Nonviolent struggle has often been used to challenge unjust social and economic systems. In fact, various forms of nonviolent action, such as labor strikes and economic boycotts, are often used to win higher wages and improved working conditions. The US civil rights movement is another example of a successful nonviolent struggle against an unjust system.
Developing, preserving and extending democratic practices, human rights, civil liberties, and freedom of religion
Popular empowerment through nonviolent action can place a check on government abuse of human rights, civil liberties, and religious freedom. Furthermore, the decentralizing effect of nonviolent action often serves to promote more democratic practices in a society. Examples of this include the struggles to guarantee woman’s suffrage and universal manhood suffrage.
Not all attempts to perpetrate genocide are equally successful. For example, Nazi attempts to deport Jews for extermination did not have the same effects in all occupied countries. While in some countries the proportion deported to the camps was high, the proportion was markedly low in others, such as Norway, Denmark, France, Italy, and Bulgaria.
This was because some groups whose cooperation was required to assist the deportations instead refused. This is a form of nonviolent resistance. Sometimes it was the intended victims themselves who refused cooperation, and sometimes it was the general population, collaborating governments, or even German officials. For one such example of this, see Resistance of the Heart: Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany in our publications section.