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The Real Reason Behind the Success of Non-Violent Protests

Recent events such as the popular uprisings in the Middle-East and ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement have created renewed interest in the whole concept of non-violent protests. Here are my thoughts on the set of conditions which make non-violent protests a viable option.

Let us consider the movement for Indian Independence (from Britain) and the Civil Rights Movement (in the USA)- the two most widely studied and successful non-violent protest movements in the last century. While there are those who see non-violence as the key to the success of both movements- I think otherwise.

In both cases, it was the unspoken but very obvious threat of unprecedented violence which made the opposing parties (Britain and White USA) relent.

In India, the British had two options: deal with oxbridge educated Indians (including Gandhi) who led the non-violent movement OR take their chances with hardcore nationalists who would actively use violence and accept help from other countries. Given that the British administration in India was mostly run by Indians, the second possibility would have created a situation which would rapidly degenerate into a nasty and expensive civil war. The British government simply chose the much less expensive path of negotiating with the oxbridge educated set.

Any use of large-scale violence by the British in post-WW1 India would have almost certainly resulted in something that no party in the conflict could have controlled.

The civil rights movement in the USA was also similar in that the choice was between MLK-types and Malcom X-types. Would you take your chances with a charismatic preacher or an equally charismatic guy who believed that whites were devils? Let us also not forget that the treatment of blacks in 1950-era USA was a god-sent opportunity for propaganda by the ex-USSR. Any serious attempt to suppress the civil-rights movement would have radicalized blacks to a level where the cost of denying equality would be much higher than just giving them legal equality.

In the end, the US government chose to deal with MLK-types over Malcom X-types because it was less expensive. However MLK’s non-violent movement would not have succeeded if Malcom X-types did not preach a radical and violent path.

Non-violence succeeds only if there is an obvious risk of a much more nastier and violent struggle.

So there is unlikely to be any real change until those in power + their henchmen (and their kids) have to start worrying about getting killed or maimed without warning. Sometimes even that is not enough, otherwise violent revolutions would not have occurred in human history.


  1. December 26, 2011 at 3:38 pm


  2. jackal
    December 26, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    I concur, but when those in charge are irrational, as obviously is the case today, going by reining in civil liberties and subjecting people to illegal search, much less reinterpretation of the Constitution by SCOTUS favoring corporatism at the expense of personal freedom, I do not see any government willingness to negotiate one single inch, even though a super majority are now at odds with the government, depicting exactly why peaceful revolution has nearly always taken a back seat to violent revolution. For the government to abdicate even partial power, i.e. reduction of spending, it would mean as much as every person at the trough voluntarily giving up a portion of entitlements. The health-care industry, for example, is the beneficiary of Medicare dollars. Its preference to continually increase costs, signals it will never abate its cancerous greed. No monopoly, which is what government is, has ever given back a single dime voluntarily, with few exceptions as you’ve duly noted, when it can use the threat of its own violence to continue the fleecing of taxpayers. You might just as well try to intimidate a foreign enemy, and make more actual headway. That’s how I view today’s miserable situation.

    It will end very badly, but that is OK.

  3. Ryu
    December 26, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    ZOG is laughing at OWS. It has no teeth. They may camp out and bang drums all they like. Until the day that interferes with commerce, then they will be quietly evicted.

    MLK was greatly assisted by the Black Panthers, the Weather Underground, and other leftist groups. There were bombings, arsons, assassinations galore. Not to mention he had quite a bit of help from the “communists.” Like Gandhi and Mandela, all of his vices have been covered up to make a hero out of him.

    MLK was willing to die for his beliefs.

    It’s not going so well for the Egyptians right now. Nor the Syrians. For all the talk of liberation and freedom, I see little traction.

  4. Matt Strictland
    December 26, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    Non Violent protest only works when the party being protested either lacks the ability or will to eliminate the protesters and social pressure either from inside or outside can be built against the party being protested.

    Only the possibility of having their kids + themselves killed can convince rich people to change.

    When those two things are in play, it may work. Otherwise it will fail.

  5. Matt Strictland
    December 26, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    Matt Strictland :
    Non Violent protest only works when the party being protested either lacks the ability or will to eliminate the protesters and social pressure either from inside or outside can be built against the party being protested.
    Only the possibility of having their kids + themselves killed can convince rich people to change.
    When those two things are in play, it may work. Otherwise it will fail.

    Agreed. However the same tech that empowers the average Joe can also be used for great harm by the powerful.

    Amusingly the 70’s movie Moonraker shows this in action. A group of rich people used advanced bio tech and an orbital station in a plan to kill everyone else. It failed courtesy of 007 but the idea is not entirely implausible.

    There are innumerable technology empowered extermination schemes that could be and may be employed.

    Robot kill swarms or bugs or the like might work but happily technology, esp[especially computers is kind of democratic as well.

    Happily for the rest of us, the Rich are fiscally connected and clever with money, not good with sciences. The number of nuts willing to work with them on that is also very limited.

    Another option is a soft extermination campaign, pay people to stay out of trouble (adapting the social credit you and I favor) and not have kids . This would work with the caveat it tends to show their hand and being these people are greedy lunatics , they won’t want a smaller market or to pay the costs either.

    Still its not a sure thing they won’t “tribe up” and try to take the rest of us out in come proactive fashion. Given the level of fear over the “mostly harmless” OWS people its in character for them, if the system collapse or a mob doesn’t get them first (or we get very lucky and fix things)

  6. webe
    December 27, 2011 at 5:43 am

    Disagree. The critical factor with non-violent protest is that it catalyzes an AVALANCHE effect. The numbers become so overwhelming that it makes no sense anymore to attempt to quash the protest. In all such situations there are of course diverse groups pursuing some anti-status quo agenda through a variety of means, against a much better organized and usually far more brutal state apparatus.
    I have seen this with a relatively innocuous protest in a liberal democracy against stationing of medium-range nuclear missiles. The turning point was when the riot police attacked peaceful grandmothers.
    In many other protests it is the “revelation” of complete brutality in the public space which garners support from the majority who usually try and survive somewhere on the sidelines, listing the pros and cons for both sides. The regime goes too far (psychotic arrogance) and suddenly EVERYBODY (including the police, army, and representatives of usually conservative institutions like the civil service and doctors) is willing to take a stand. Then it is game over, because there is obviously something very unstable in any situation where a few people exert power over an entire nation. Solzjenitsyn claimed that communism would cease to exist the moment everybody realized that everyone else had realized that nobody believed in it anymore.
    Such moments usually crystallize around public displays of brutality and contempt.

  7. jackal
    December 27, 2011 at 7:21 am

    SCOTUS decisions play a critical role in the outcome of protest. Appointees to the court have transformed a governmental branch, once devoted to civil rights and personal liberties, into a practitioner of discrimination, a protector of government, a whore to big business, and these high and mighty people won’t even hear death penalty cases — in a land where the majority of people on death row are innocent, thanks to corruption in the legal system. In recent decades, the court has been incrementally diluting civil liberties in favor of stockholders. SCOTUS sided with stockholders in the case of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, with big health-care in Roe v. Wade, with the legal industry when the death penalty was reinstated with Gary Gilmore (who was executed in Utah by firing squad), and with corporatism in a case granting corporations “person” status, for chrissakes. History shows that corporate-influence pedaling was illegal prior to the post-Civil War boom (in the same way that religious-influence pedaling has always been and remains illegal today). Huge corporate profits in post-Civil War America rooted whoring politicians siding with corporations, spurring the growth of monopolies, which not even Teddy Roosevelt was able to dent. America has been on a downward path ever since. Most despicable, the SCOTUS won’t protect the most vulnerable among us — the unborn. Consequential to many SCOTUS decisions, the American economy has very rapidly become a predator economy, where everything has become so expensive, no one can afford a thing without going into debt. Long gone is the idea of working one’s way through college, or paying cash for a new car, or even restaurants visits without credit cards. Credit triples the cost of homeownership, and consumers have no choice in the price because easy money upends supply and demand to favor price-increasing, to the point where it’s impossible to save enough money to buy a home with cash, as once had been the trend with our grandparents. Seniors need Medicare to pay $50,000 for joint replacements that cost only $5,000 off shore. Banks regularly shoplift funds from depositor accounts. With so many corporate raptors circling overhead everywhere, there is little option for many but to take refuge below the surface, like groundhogs. All, thanks to SCOTUS, which has transformed itself as much into whores, whose only dissimilarity with politicians now is that they wear robes. Truth has become so obfuscated, no one even sees how liberals and conservatives are in fact joining forces. The only difference between OWS and Tea Partiers, for example, lies with its constituency. While the Tea Party appeals to traditional conservatives, the OWS appeal to liberals who are fed up with the same things that conservatives are fed up with — politicians, liberal and conservative alike, who’ve swamped our economy and destroyed job opportunity. But no liberal is going to join the Tea Party. That would besmirch reputations with implication of association with the likes of Sarah Palin or, god forbid, the Christian Right’s Governor Perry. However, by joining the OWS, liberals can save face by using re-branded agenda that is virtually identical to conservative ideology and purpose. Most still don’t see how partisan politics has been a mere divide-and-conquer strategy that has very successfully kept the minds of people off the larger picture — elite predators.

  8. December 28, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    I wonder why the MRA movement has not caught onto this yet.

  9. Matt Strictland
    December 29, 2011 at 12:03 am

    Wald :
    I wonder why the MRA movement has not caught onto this yet.

    They have to a greater degree, MGTOW and all that are forms of non violent protest and as the dialog is slowly but surely being opened onto topics they care about, even if it is to harangue them its working.

  10. hans
    December 30, 2011 at 5:08 am

    As usual we don´t get the full picture over here in the west. Just the Disney version.

    Egypt was mainly a food riot aimed at the overall corruption with Mubarak as the main scape goat. Syria is already a covert civil war just like Libya is, with the usual culprits(western secret agencies) fumbling for their strings to pull in those countries.

    Also you can´t compare uprisings in “the colonies” with trouble in the western “homelands”.

    The occupy movement was just the first blip, and they tried to co-opt it like mad. But the very thing that makes it look like a failure also defended it against getting hijacked.

    It has been now clobbered down by a militarized and brutalizing police force that to all half-lucid observers has nothing at all to do with a true police anymore, supposedly protecting the citizenry but in fact openly acting like the payed goons they are.
    People took note.

    We´ll see what the coming spring will bring. This next year is likely to turn into the most defining year in recent history, and I´m not talking about this ridiculous maya calender psyops.

    • jackal
      December 30, 2011 at 6:33 am

      OWC was not first. The Tea Party was, and it is a tsunami! Actually, one could make the case that Libertarians paved the way, beginning way back in the 70s. It’s just that most people have been asleep at the switch, as oblivious as holocaust victims had been in Nazi Germany. Only now, as unemployment, foreclosure, and inflation shock consciences, public opinion has reached the critical mass required to get sleeping sheeple on board. We wouldn’t be here but for the sheeple nature of people (“Escape From Freedom” Eric Fromm), which people, lacking complete empathy for the less fortunate, are content to let others suffer because they are numbed by jobs and affordable lifestyle, content as though well fed cows in a pasture. In this way, the government isn’t as much the problem as is the interminable need of people for domestication.

  11. January 1, 2012 at 10:57 am

    Non-violent protests succeed when the people with the real power support their goal. In India only the military and foreign civil service, what Gearoge Orwell called the “Blimps”, supported the Empire; the commercial class found it distasteful and didn’t need to have India as a colony to have it as a trading partner. In the US southern whites supported segregation, but the rest of country did not, in particular the Northeatern commercial class, who really run things.

  12. Anonymous
    January 2, 2012 at 1:17 am

    I invite you to read the following:


  1. February 13, 2012 at 10:01 am

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