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IPFS News Link • Peace?

What is nonviolent action?

• Albert Einstein Institute

Nonviolent action may involve:

1. Acts of omission—that is, people may refuse to perform acts that they usually perform, are expected by custom to perform, or are required by law or regulation to perform;
2. Acts of commission—that is, people may perform acts that they do not usually perform, are not expected by custom to perform, or are forbidden to perform; or
3. A combination of the two.

As a technique, therefore, nonviolent action is not passive. It is not inaction.

Nonviolent action is action that is nonviolent.

What are the applications of nonviolent action?

Nonviolent action can and has been used to:

• Dismantle dictatorships
• Block coups d'état
• Defend against foreign invasions
• Expel foreign occupation
• Provide an alternative to violence in extreme ethnic conflicts
• Challenge unjust social and economic systems
• Develop, preserve and extend democratic practices, human rights, civil liberties and freedom of religion
• Resist genocide

For more information, see the applications of nonviolent action section on our web site.

What are the methods of nonviolent action?

There are a multitude of specific methods of nonviolent action or "nonviolent weapons." Nearly two hundred have been identified to date, and without doubt, scores more already exist or will emerge in future conflicts. Three broad classes of nonviolent methods exist:

1. Nonviolent protest and persuasion,
2. Noncooperation, and
3. Nonviolent intervention.

For more information on these methods, see our list of 198 methods of nonviolent action and also The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Vol. 2: The Methods of Nonviolent Action (Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers, 1973).

How does nonviolent action work?

Nonviolent action works by getting a population to withdraw its support and obedience from the opponents. By getting key groups to withdraw their consent, nonviolent action is able to remove the sources of power for a regime or opponent group.

These sources of power are:

1. Authority—the belief among the people that the regime or opponent is legitimate, and that they have a moral duty to obey it;
2. Human resources—the number and importance of the persons and groups that are obeying, cooperating, or providing assistance to the regime or opponent;
3. Skills and knowledge—needed by the regime or opponent to perform specific actions and supplied by the cooperating persons and groups;
4. Intangible factors—psychological and ideological factors that may induce people to obey and assist the regime or opponent;
5. Material resources—the degree to which the rulers control or have access to property, natural resources, financial resources, the economic system, and means of communication and transportation; and
6. Sanctions—punishments, threatened or applied, against the disobedient and noncooperative to ensure the submission and cooperation that are needed for the regime or opponent to exist and carry out its policies.

All of these sources of power, however, depend on acceptance of the regime or opponent, on the submission and obedience of the population, and on the cooperation of innumerable people and the many institutions of society. When this obedience, acceptance, and support are withdrawn, the regime or opponent can be severely weakened or toppled.

What are the ways that nonviolent action can produce change?

Nonviolent action operates by producing one or more of these four mechanisms of change:

1. Conversion—changes in attitude cause the opponents to voluntarily make concessions;
2. Accommodation—the opponents negotiate and compromise;
3. Nonviolent coercion—the opponents are weakened so much that they are forced to capitulate; and