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Nonviolent revolution

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A nonviolent revolution is a revolution conducted primarily by unarmed civilians using tactics of civil resistance, including various forms of nonviolent protest, to bring about the departure of governments seen as entrenched and authoritarian without the use or threat of violence.[1] While many campaigns of civil resistance are intended for 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.

An effective campaign of civil resistance, and even the achievement of a nonviolent revolution, may be possible in a particular case despite the government in power taking brutal measures against protesters.[2] The commonly held belief that most revolutions that have happened in dictatorial regimes were bloody or violent uprisings is not borne out by historical analysis. Nonviolent Revolutions came to the international forefront in the 20th century by the independence movement of India under the leadership of Gandhi with civil disobedience being the tool of nonviolent resistance. An important non-violent revolution was in Sudan in October 1964 which overthrew a military dictatorship. Later it become more successful and more common in the 1980s as Cold War political alliances which supported status quo governance waned.[3]

In the 1970s and 1980s, intellectuals 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.[4] Three years later, the Revolutions of 1989 that ousted communist regimes 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 anti-communist revolutions in Eastern Europe, the Mongolian Democratic Union (MDU) organized popular street protests and hunger strikes against the communist regime. In 1990, dissidents in the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic started civil resistance against the government, but were initially crushed by the Soviet Armed Forces 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.


Historical examples of nonviolent resistance for significant political change go back as far as Ancient Rome. [5] The majority plebeian class of Rome held general strikes and abandoned the city to force changes in the written constitution of the Republic.

Nonviolent revolution was popularized in the 20th century by 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.[6]

Peaceful revolution[edit]

A peaceful revolution or bloodless coup is an overthrow of a government that occurs without violence. 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.

Peaceful revolutions that have occurred are the Carnation Revolution of 1974 in Portugal,[7] the People Power Revolution of 1986 in the Philippines, and the Peaceful Revolution of 1989 in Germany.[8][9]

As it relates to democracy[edit]

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."[10][11]

George Lakey in his 1973 book[12] and in his 1976 "A Manifesto for Nonviolent Revolution",[13] laid out a five-stage strategy for nonviolent revolution:[14]

  • Stage 1 – Cultural Preparation or "Conscientization": Education, training and consciousness raising of why there 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 one's 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, equitable, 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 influenced many in the Arab Spring revolutions, has documented and described over 198 different methods of nonviolent action that nonviolent revolutionaries might use in struggle. He argues that no government or institution can rule without the consent of the governed or oppressed as that is the source of nonviolent power. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. argued this as well.[15]

List of nonviolent revolutions by era[edit]


Dates nonviolent revolution Notes
1919 March 1st Movement Korea in an attempt to annul the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1910 and declare independence.
1930 Salt Satyagraha in India an attempt to overthrow British colonial rule.
1942 Quit India movement demanding immediate independence for India from British rule.

Cold War[edit]

In nations of the Warsaw Pact[edit]

Dates nonviolent revolution Notes
1968 The Prague Spring a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia.
1989 The Revolutions of 1989 Even though many of these revolutions did not take place entirely in 1989, they are usually grouped together as such.
1980–1989 The Solidarity movement popular resistance to communist rule, though progress is halted by the imposition of martial law.
1987–1989/1991 The Singing Revolution a cycle of singing mass demonstrations, followed by a living chain across the Baltic states (Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia), known as the Baltic Way.
1989 The Peaceful Revolution in the German Democratic Republic leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall
1989 The Velvet Revolution – the bloodless revolution in Czechoslovakia leading to the downfall of the communist government there.
1989 The bloodless revolution in Bulgaria led to the resulted in the downfall of the communist government.
1990 The Golaniad a protest in Romania in April by Bucharest students who demanded a non-communist government. The protests ended in bloodshed after an intervention of miners called in by President Ion Iliescu (June 1990 Mineriad).
1991 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt led to the effect of a revolution, was mostly non-violent.

Outside of the Warsaw Pact[edit]

Dates nonviolent revolution Country
1964 The October Revolution  Sudan
1952 The Egyptian Revolution  Egypt
1969 The al-Fateh Revolution  Libya
1973 The 1973 Afghan coup d'état  Afghanistan
1974 The Carnation Revolution  Portugal
1985 The April Intifada  Sudan
1986 The People Power Revolution  Philippines
1990 The Mongolian Revolution of 1990  Mongolia

Post–Cold War period[edit]

Colour revolutions[edit]

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.

List of nonviolent revolutions by region[edit]

Middle East[edit]

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.

Latin America[edit]

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 Mirabal 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 Gutiérrez, 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.



  • Sudan - The Sudanese Revolution in 2018 was a major shift of political power in Sudan that started with protests throughout the streets on 19 December 2018 and continued with sustained civil disobedience for about eight months, during which the 11 April 2019 Sudanese coup d'état deposed President Omar al-Bashir after thirty years in power and ultimately leading to a "Political Agreement and a Draft Constitutional Declaration" legally transitioning to a civilian democracy.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nepstad, Sharon Erickson. (2011). Nonviolent revolutions : civil resistance in the late 20th century. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-977820-1. OCLC 707267312.
  2. ^ Summy, Ralph (1994). "Nonviolence and the Case of the Extremely Ruthless Opponent". Global Change, Peace & Security. 6: 1–29. doi:10.1080/14781159408412772.
  3. ^ Chenoweth, Erica; Stephan, Maria J. (2011). Why civil resistance works : the strategic logic of nonviolent conflict. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-15682-0. OCLC 660804982.
  4. ^ Beech, Hannah (August 17, 2009). "Corazon Aquino 1933–2009: The Saint of Democracy". Time. Archived from the original on August 10, 2009. Retrieved May 20, 2010.
  5. ^ Howes, Dustin (2015). "Defending Freedom in the Early Roman Republic". Civil Resistance: Comparative Perspectives on Nonviolent Struggle. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. p. 43. ISBN 9781452945118.
  6. ^ Dan Jakopovich: Revolution and the Party in Gramsci's Thought: A Modern Application.
  7. ^ "Your guide to the Carnation Revolution".
  8. ^ "30 YEARS OF PEACEFUL REVOLUTION". October 28, 2019.
  9. ^ "East Germany 1989 - the march that KO'd communism". BBC News. October 13, 2019.
  10. ^ JFK's "Address on the First Anniversary of the Alliance for Progress," White House reception for diplomatic corps of the Latin American republics, March 13, 1962. Public Papers of the Presidents – John F. Kennedy (1962), p. 223. Wikisource
  11. ^ JFK : Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable on YouTube
  12. ^ Lakey, George.(1973) Strategy For A Living Revolution. Grossman: New York, NY.
  13. ^ Lakey, George. (1976) A Manifesto For Nonviolent Revolution. Training For Change: Philadelphia, PA (http://www.trainingforchange.org/manifesto_for_nv_revolution Archived November 19, 2011, at the Wayback Machine)
  14. ^ Lakey, George. (2002) Strategizing For A Living Revolution. retrieved on October 26, 2011 from http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/lakeylivrev.html
  15. ^ Sharp, Gene. (1973) The Politics of Nonviolent Action. Porter-Sargent: Boston, MA.

External links[edit]