Strategic Nonviolent Struggle Spreads


René Wadlow – TRANSCEND Media Service

In the face of felt oppression, strategic nonviolent struggle can become a viable alternative both to violence and also to passive submission.  You have to learn as much about nonviolent struggle as possible, know your own situation as well as possible, and know your opponent’s objectives, needs, and weaknesses as well as possible – and then make a plan.  Work out a plan that will weaken your opponent, but also strengthen your people and give them the capacity to carry on the struggle – to achieve the next objective.  Planning and implementation of effective action to lift oppression is always extremely difficult.  However, strategically planned nonviolent struggle appears to be a serious option in efforts to achieve a more democratic, free and just society.”
Gene Sharp

25 Sep 2020 – Gene Sharp may be looking down from Heaven as four nonviolent struggles go on at the same time in different political-cultural settings: Hong Kong, Thailand, Belarus, and Libya.  It is difficult to know from the outside how much these struggles are the result of strategic planning or a spontaneous reaction to events.  What is sure is that the impact of nonviolent struggle has been strongly highlighted and the examples are likely to spread.

The protests in Hong Kong are most likely the closest to what Gene Sharp advocated as strategic planning.  The current protests against the new oppressive legislation builds on earlier mass protests in 2014 and 2016 with the use of symbols – umbrellas – colors – yellow – and well articulated demands for reforms and protection of existing autonomy.  Writings on nonviolence are known in the university circles which provided mush of the leadership of the protests.  The reaction of the police stressed by the media made the protests well known both in Hong Kong and to a lesser extent on the mainland through the internet.  The Hong Kong efforts have contacts with nonviolent advocacy groups outside of China and with Chinese students living outside China. Thus knowledge of the efforts is spreading even if there may be fewer visible actions.

In Thailand, the strategic nonviolent efforts are also largely led by university students.  They are aware that the earlier protest movements in 1973, 1976, 1992, and 2010 had been brutally put down by the military and the police.  The demands of the student-led movement are clear: the resignation of the Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, a former military leader,  and the creation of a new constitution.  What is new in Thai politics is the open demand that the King’s role be modified to more ceremonial functions.  The current king, whose dynastic name is Rama X, came to power in 2016. He spends much of his time in Germany and has not developed the sort of mystic bond with the majority of the population that had earlier kings.  Criticism of the king was forbidden and heavily punished.  That the current king is directly a target of criticism is new and is, no doubt, the result  of discussions among the protest planners.  The choice of opposition targets is a crucial part of strategic planning.

Current protests in Belarus have had time to be planned well in advance since President Alexandre Lukashenko has been in power since 1994.  However, it seems likely that the movement was rather spontaneous, related to the 9 August 2020 elections and the brutality of the police and security forces against the first protesters.  The earlier “color revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine had made nonviolent efforts leading to political change well known in the area.  The policies and weight of Russia will play a role.  For the moment, it is difficult to predict the future.  However, certainly strategic planning is going on with women playing a crucial role.

The civilian-led nonviolent protests in Libya are the most unexpected.  They have probably been set off by the ever-more difficult standard of living. The conflicts in Libya have been armed conflicts led by military forces and tribal militias.  Tribal militias have played a role since independence at the end of World War II.  There is little tradition of nonviolent advocacy, although there is a certain nonviolent ethic among the Sufi groups in Libya.  U.N. and European government discussions on a political compromise among the military factions are at a dead point.  It will be important to watch to see if the nonviolent protests can change the atmosphere and lead to a more stable and less violent situation.

Strategic nonviolence has become increasingly used in societies which do not have a nonviolent religious culture. Its techniques of analysis and proposals for action may be increasingly used and thus merit close attention from peace builders.


René Wadlow is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. He is President of the Association of World Citizens, an international peace organization with consultative status with ECOSOC, the United Nations organ facilitating international cooperation and problem-solving in economic and social issues, and editor of Transnational Perspectives.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 28 Sep 2020.

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