by Maciej BartkowskiOctober 05, 2017
My previous post looked at how nonviolent movements often play a role in political transitions and democratization.
However, in some cases, nonviolent movements succeed in ending an incumbent authoritarian’s rule, but are unable to consolidate gains and instead the situation deteriorates. Such impacts can be observed in three types of movements:
Such movements are—at least in their beginning stages—nonviolent (because of their seemingly peaceful actions). But their underlying agenda and goals are based on and promote intolerance, discrimination and violence. Some examples include the anti-refugee protest movement, Pegida, in Germany; the alt-right movement in the United States; Ayatollah Khomenei as the symbolic leader of the Iranian nonviolent revolution of 1979; or the Nazis’ nonviolent boycott of Jewish stores and businesses in 1934.
For example, the Orange revolution in Ukraine in 2004 forced the Kuchma regime to accept a rerun of the presidential elections. The elections, in turn, ensured the victory of the opposition candidate—only to see the reforms in post-revolutionary Ukraine stalled and authoritarianism with massive political corruption reemerging soon afterwards. During a popular uprising in 2011, the Egyptians established the principles and norms of transparency, solidarity, democracy and equality that governed their captured Tahrir square for 11 days. However, they failed to ensure that their ideals would also live and shape realities in work places, universities, public institutions and rural communities in all of Egypt.
These are the movements with noble and progressive ideas, but their strategic means to realize them contradict the very nature of their positive ends. We can identify at least two types of such movements:
One case in point is Tamarod in Egypt, which gathered more than 20 million signatures in support of President Morsi’s removal and led massive anti-government protests in June 2013. The movement strategically aligned itself with the Egyptian military, and supported the 2013 coup that led to Morsi’s downfall. These events were followed by the massacre of the Muslim Brotherhood supporters in August of that year and the eventual reestablishment of the authoritarian regime in Egypt.
The US-based antifa movement that is willing to adopt violence against extreme right activists and justifies it by the noble cause of stopping fascism—even though it recognizes that eventual defeat of racism and violent extremism come from political mass mobilization and participation.
Since these flaws take account of actual characteristics of movements themselves, then their negative trajectories might actually be shifted if the inner workings of the movements are transformed. In other words, activists have a degree of agency and control over these changes. What factors do activists need to pay attention to in order to increase the likelihood that civil resistance would generate positive change in the long-term, and how? In my view, two aspects about movements come into play:
Basing a movement’s conduct on respect for universal human rights can help the movement adhere to nonviolent discipline and prevent or reduce violence during and after the struggle. Elizabeth A. Wilson refers to this as a “human rights ethos” in her recently published ICNC Monograph, People Power Movements and International Human Rights. She identifies four principles by which nonviolent campaigns can measure their human rights ethos:
To sustain their gains and increase capacity to implement lasting positive change, movements must pursue a strategy of disruptive actions plus long-term constructive resistance. The latter is based on building networks and coalitions, and setting up alternative and parallel processes, practices, norms, and institutions to those that exist (which are often rigged against ordinary people). The movement’s capacity to sustain its victories can be strengthened through resistance that builds self-reliance, self-organization, and self-governance, and constructs a new, positive social and political reality well before this reality becomes a new norm for state practice.
Civic, grassroots institutions create the basis for a more viable and democratic transition to follow. They include underground free press and uncensored communication networks, alternative schooling and educational systems, economic cooperatives, and parallel cultural institutions, which are all built during resistance against oppression. Such constructive resistance also helps build positive social capital prior to the transition. Dense associational networks that provide various services to the needy and repressed, supported by civic entrepreneurship, can be propitious for developing a culture of genuine public service and public accountability. These can also help reduce corruption during the ensuing transition.
As my previous blog post noted, scholarly research that looks at larger historical data on nonviolent movements points strongly to the democratizing force of civil resistance. We know that the majority of successful nonviolent movements do lead to democratic transitions, but certainly not all movements do.
However, rather than making broad generalizations about civil resistance based on certain high profile failed cases, we are better off first remembering what the data tell us about civil resistance and democratization; and second discussing and trying to understand which movement characteristics increase the probability of failure, which movement attributes increase the probability of success, and how movements can strive to become more strategic and better prepared for long-term struggle to ensure lasting victories in building more peaceful and just societies.
This article has also been translated into Spanish.
Dr. Maciej Bartkowski is a Senior Advisor to ICNC. He works on academic programs to support teaching, research and study on civil resistance. He is a series editor of the ICNC Monographs and ICNC Special Reports, and book editor of Recovering Nonviolent History. You can follow him @macbartkow