Why Civil Resistance Doesn’t Work

     Above: Philippine Defense Minister Juan Enrile leads troops in a coup against Ferdinand Marcos on Day 2 of the “People Power” revolution, February 23, 1986. 

Counterpunch published my lengthy rebuttal to an article by pacifist academic Tom T. Hastings regarding the effectiveness of a purely nonviolent strategy (“civil resistance”). I’m posting an excerpt here:

        While it is common to catch pacifists in historical distortions—both Michael Neumann in CounterPunch, and Francis Fox Piven in her book Challenging Authority, have remarked on this—it’s extraordinary to catch one in the type of outright deception Hastings serves up. I was compelled to step up and correct the record, not only because this nutty professor is misrepresenting the historical consensus about the Philippines and other countries, but to prevent him from doing any more damage to the public’s understanding of how social movements and direct action actually function…

       For you see, [rather than being deposed by strict nonviolence] Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos was actually toppled by what Routledge’s Dictionary of the Modern Politics of Southeast Asia calls “a civilian-supported military revolt” [which ultimately] launched rocket attacks on Villamore air force base, as well as Marcos’ home.

       …[Hasting’s] distortion of South Africa’s transition is only slightly less egregious…Amnesty International refused to classify Nelson Mandela as a Prisoner of Conscience because he declined to renounce violence until after his release from prison. Political scientist Stuart J. Kaufman, in his acclaimed book Nationalist Passions, demonstrated that over 15,000 people were killed in civil war in the final years of apartheid…

     Then there is Serbia. The civil resistance group in Serbia, Otpor, was founded in 1998, but didn’t attract many people until fall of 1999—after NATO had bombed the country for 78 days, destroyed vital infrastructure, and killed hundreds of Serbs. NATO then implied that it would likely bomb the country again in support of ethnic Albanian ultra-militants, the UÇPMB, who were continuing to attack Serbia near the border with Kosovo…

     Even aside from this context, the Serbian movement abandoned nonviolence when the moment came to topple Milosevic. Two days before his resignation, mass rioting ensued and numerous government building were devastated. Otpor leader Srdja Popovic was strangely laissez-faire about the outcome:

     “Well, breaking [a] few windows and, and Parliament in flames, it’s just nothing…dozen[s] of cars were destroyed but…that was like a children’s game.”

     One has to wonder if Popovic would take this same attitude towards, say, an anti-capitalist black bloc action in the US, or does he only approve of chaos when its unleashed on foreign cities? The fact that Popovic is known to have been cozy with Stratfor, the Texas-based corporate espionage group, gives us a clue.

    If these showcase histories of “successful civil resistance” were actually violent, it seems clear that the Peace Studies surveys that Hastings promotes—including the Chenoweth-Stephens “Why Civil Resistance Works” survey and the Swarthmore College database—are fatally distorted as well.

 

Your Conclusions Mean Nothing

 

You can read the complete article here.

 

 

 

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