Mass movements in Poland, the Philippines, South Africa, the Soviet
Union, and China have in recent years challenged established
governments by nonviolent resistance and rebellion -- sometimes
alongside violence and sometimes to its virtual exclusion.
Similar movements have occurred in the past in Iran (1978-1979),
Czechoslovakia (1968-1969), the U.S. Deep South (1950s and 1960s),
India (1920s to 1940s), and in many other regions.
Journalists from newspapers, radio and television have reported on
these struggles, and they have usually recognized their nonviolent
character.. But they have not always described nonviolent action in
Powerful, dynamic struggles have been sometimes labeled "passive"
simply because no violence was used.
- Demonstrations of thousands of persons who were strictly nonviolent
have been labeled "violent" as a whole because of a small isolated act
by a handful of persons -- or even because the disciplined nonviolent
demonstrators were violently attacked by police or troops!
- The term "nonviolence" has itself often been used carelessly to
describe very different phenomena, ranging from passivity and
submission to Amish pacifism to the beliefs of Corazon Aquino.
- Other terms have also been used to describe nonviolent struggles
without attention to clarity of meaning: people power, civil
resistance, passive resistance, satyagraha, and the like.
Journalists, editors, commentators, and headline writers need more
precise terms with which to describe action and ideas in this field.
We have prepared this pamphlet to encourage journalists to continue
thoughtful coverage of nonviolent struggles, as their incidence grows
in frequency and political significance.
Bloodless coup: A successful coup d'etat in which there is no killing.
Not to be confused with nonviolent struggle, although such a coup
sometimes follows nonviolent protest and resistance against the
Boycott: Social, economic, or political noncooperation.
Civic Strike: A collective suspension of normal activities --
economic, social, and political -- by an entire society to achieve a
common political objective.
Civil disobedience: Deliberate, open, and peaceful violation of
particular laws, decrees, regulations, military or police orders, or
other governmental directives. The command may be disobeyed because it
is seen as itself illegitimate or immoral, or because it is a symbol
of other policies which are opposed. Civil disobedience may be
practiced by individuals, groups, or masses of people.
Civilian-based defense: A national defense policy to deter and defeat
aggression, both internal (i.e., coups d'etat) and external (i.e.,
invasions) by preparing the population and institutions for massive
nonviolent resistance and defiance. The broad strategy is to deny the
attackers' objections, block establishment of their government, and
subvert their troops. This policy, alone or in combination with
military means, has received governmental or military attention in
several European countries.
Civilian insurrection: A nonviolent uprising against a dictatorship,
or other unpopular regime, usually involving widespread repudiation of
the regime as illegitimate, mass strikes, massive demonstrations, an
economic shut-down, and widespread political noncooperation. Political
noncooperation may include action by government employees and mutiny
by police and troops. In the final stages, a parallel government often
If successful, a civilian insurrection may disintegrate the
established regime in days or weeks, as opposed to a long-term
struggle of many months or years. Civilian insurrections often end
with the departure of the deposed rulers from the country.
The ousters of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and the Shah of Iran in 1979
Also called "nonviolent insurrection."
Economic boycott: The withdrawal or withholding of economic
cooperation in the form of buying, selling, or handling of goods or
services, often accompanied by efforts to induce others to do
likewise. It may be practiced on local, regional, national, or
Economic noncooperation: The use of economic boycotts or strikes, or
both, against an opponent.
Economic sanctions: Usually, the imposition of international economic
boycotts and embargoes. The term can also be used in domestic
conflicts to refer to labor strikes and economic boycotts, shutdowns,
Economic shutdown: a suspension of the economic activities of a city,
area, or country on a sufficient scale to produce economic paralysis.
It combines a general strike by workers with a closing of businesses
by their owners and managers.
Embargo: An economic boycott initiated and enforced by a government.
Fast: Deliberate abstention from certain or all food. When applied in
a social or political conflict, it may be combined with a moral appeal
seeking to change attitudes. It may also be intended simply to force
the opponent to grant certain objections, in which case it is called a
Force: Either: (1) an application of power (including threatened or
imposed sanctions, which may be violent or nonviolent). As, "the force
generated by the civil disobedience movement." Or: (2) The body or
group applying force as defined in (1), usually used in the plural.
As, "the forces at the government's disposal.
General Strike: A work stoppage by a majority of workers in the more
important industries of an area or country, intended to produce an
economic standstill to achieve political or economic objectives.
Certain vital services, as health, food, and water, may be exempted.
Such strikes may be symbolic, lasting only an hour, to communicate an
opinion, or may be intended to produce economic paralysis in order to
force concessions from the opponent.
Hunger strike: See "fast."
Mutiny: Refusal by police or troops to obey orders. It can in extreme
cases entail individual or group desertion. It is a method of
nonviolent action unless the mutineers resort to violence.
Noncooperation: Acts that deliberately restrict, withhold, or
discontinue social, economic, or political cooperation with an
institution, policy, or government. A general class of methods of
Nonviolence: Either, (1) The behavior of people who in a conflict
refrain from violent acts. Or, (2) Any of several belief systems that
reject violence on principle, not just as impractical.
Otherwise, the term is best not used, since it often contributes to
ambiguity and confusion. To describe specific actions or movements,
the recommended terms are: "nonviolent action," "nonviolent
resistance," or "nonviolent struggle."
Nonviolent action: A technique of action in conflicts in which
participants conduct the struggle by doing -- or refusing to do --
certain acts without using physical violence. It is an alternative to
both passive submission and violence. The technique includes many
specific methods, which are grouped into three main classes:
nonviolent protest and persuasion, noncooperation, and nonviolent
The technique's variables include the motives for using it, the
objectives, the intended way success is to be accomplished
(mechanism), and the relation between nonviolent action and other
forms of action.
Nonviolent discipline: Orderly adherence to the planned strategy and
tactics of an action and to nonviolent behavior even in face of
repression. This is a major factor contributing to the success of a
nonviolent struggle movement.
Nonviolent resistance: Nonviolent struggle, conducted largely by
noncooperation, in reaction to a disapproved act, policy, or
government. The broader terms "nonviolent action: and "nonviolent
struggle" are therefore preferred to refer to the overall nonviolent
technique of action and to action in which the nonviolent group also
takes the initiative or intervenes, as in a sit-in.
Nonviolent sanctions: The methods of the technique of nonviolent
action. The term is used especially when one wishes to make clear that
these methods are not merely expressive behavior but are ways to wield
power, exercise influence, inflict punishments, and impose costs.
Nonviolent struggle: A synonym for "nonviolent action." This term may
be used also to indicate that the nonviolent action in a conflict is
particularly purposeful or aggressive. "Nonviolent struggle" is
especially useful to describe nonviolent action against determined and
resourceful opponents who use repressive measures and countermeasures.
Pacifism: Several types of belief systems of principled rejection of
violence. Pacifism is distinct from the technique of nonviolent
action, which is usually applied as a practical way to act by people
who are not pacifists. Pacifist belief systems, at a minimum, reject
participation in all international or civil wars, or violent
revolutions. Pacifists may support nonviolent struggle, or may oppose
it on ethical grounds as too conflictual.
Passive resistance: A nineteenth century term once used to describe
nonviolent struggle.. The term is now in disfavor and rejected because
"passive" is plainly inaccurate to describe recent cases of nonviolent
noncooperation and defiance.
People power: The power capacity of a mobilized population and its
institutions using nonviolent forms of struggle. The term was
especially used during the 1986 Philippine nonviolent insurrection.
Political boycott: See "political noncooperation."
Political noncooperation: The withholding of usual obedience to, or
participation in, the political system. The aim may be to correct a
specific grievance or to disintegrate a government. Political
noncooperation can take a great variety of forms, including
withholding of allegiance, civil disobedience of "illegitimate" laws,
and governmental refusal of diplomatic recognition. A synonym for
See also "noncooperation."
Sanctions: Punishments or reprisals, violent or nonviolent, for either
failure to act in the expected or desired manner or for acting in an
unexpected or prohibited manner. Nonviolent sanctions are less likely
than violent ones to be simple reprisals and more likely to be
intended to achieve a given objective.
See also "nonviolent sanctions."
Satyagraha: M.K. Gandhi's version of nonviolent action, and also his
fuller belief system enjoining nonviolent personal behavior and social
responsibility. Pronounced sat-ya-graha.
Strike: A group's deliberate restriction or suspension of work,
usually temporary, to put pressure on employers or sometimes the
government. Strikes take many forms and range widely in extent and
See also "economic noncooperation."
Transarmament: The process of incrementally building up a nation's
civilian-based defense capacity and gradually phasing out its military
defense capacity. "Transarmament" is contrasted to "disarmament" which
involves a simple reduction or abandonment of military capacity
without providing a substitute means for national defense.
See also "civilian-based defense."
Violence: The infliction on people of physical injury or death, or the
threat to do so. All behavior cannot be neatly classified as either
"violence" or "nonviolence," and several categories fall between these
two extremes, including "destruction of property."
In reporting a demonstration or resistance movement which is primarily
or exclusively nonviolent, care is required to distinguish it, for
example, from the acts of violence by small numbers of persons (who
may be undisciplined or deliberately disruptive for political reasons
or as agents provocateurs). Similarly, a demonstration should not be
described as "violent" when it is violently attacked by police or
troops but nevertheless maintains its nonviolent discipline.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
Journalists' inquiries about the history, nature, and dynamics of
nonviolent struggle may be addressed to:
The Albert Einstein Institution 1430 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge,
MA 02138 (617) 876-0311
The Albert Einstein Institution is a nonprofit organization which
supports work on the strategic uses of nonviolent sanctions in
relation to problems of political violence. Independent and
nonsectarian, it does not endorse political candidates and is not an
advocate of any political organization.