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Why Nonviolence?


In 1978, the state of the people’s movement against nuclear power and nuclear weapons was already exciting and promising. The nationwide spread of groups using nonviolent direct action had demonstrated how broad and deep was the opposition to the entrenched and deadly pro-nuclear policies of our country’s ruling power structure. Since 1978, the continuation of arms buildups has met with vastly expanded public opposition in Europe, the U.S., Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Public awareness of the theory and practice of nonviolent action has also advanced. Tens of thousands of people have experienced brief training for participation in nonviolent action. Millions, in Poland, Bolivia, and elsewhere, have made gains against or even overthrown oppressive regimes through nonviolent action. The award-winning film “Gandhi” has revived interest in one of the greatest pioneers of nonviolent struggle. Some 110,000 copies of a newsprint tabloid version of this document have been distributed and it has been reprinted in magazine, pamphlet, or book form on at least three continents.

For many people, nonviolence remains mysterious, controversial, or both. This paper provides a short introduction to nonviolent struggle and to some of its contemporary applications, so as to help dispel some of the mystery and clarify the controversies. Although in historical terms nonviolence is still comparatively young, it has already proven to be a significant form of struggle. Its nature and potential deserve to be better understood.

In the first part of this paper we survey the history, methods and varieties of nonviolence. In the second part, we discuss its theory of power and dynamics, some important cases of its use, and its future potential. In the last part we suggest answers to some questions readers may have.

Within our severe limitations of space, we have said relatively little about nonviolent personal philosophies. We have emphasized nonviolence as a technique lest we otherwise seem to imply one must adopt such a philosophy before taking part in nonviolent struggle. Such involvement can raise important questions of motivation and values; we strongly encourage people to explore these further. There is much else this paper has had to omit; please note the bibliography at the end for further reading.

The current renewal of interest in nonviolent tactics and strategies comes out of popular struggles; we write as involved participants to increase the effectiveness of these struggles. We urge all who read this paper to take part in study, training, and nonviolent action, and to consider carefully how we all can contribute toward shaping a more humane, more just society.

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