Speaker: Adam Roberts, Oxford University


It's worth remembering as a beginning to this that actually no major leader of any civil resistance movement that I have been able to find has been a complete, absolute, fundamentalist pacifist, not even Gandhi. Gandhi was very explicit that there were circumstances where force was justified and wrote articles to that effect. He also believed—and it's a persistent theme of his writing and it's obviously a worry in his mind—that the worst thing of all was cowardice and that bravery, whether it assumed violent or non-violent forms, was preferable, always better than cowardice.

Of course, famously, Martin Luther King, the great leader of the civil rights movement, applied for a gun license when his house was attacked and, more importantly—and we'll come to this in a second—had other complex relations with the world of power.

As to the dependence on factors of force, the first thing to note is that many non-violent movements have emerged in the wake of their own country's defeat in war. So there's an interesting connection with war here. The Russian Revolution of 1905, largely non-violent in character, followed immediately on the defeat of Russia in the war against the Japanese. The Argentine uprising, as it were, the civic uprising that led to the defeat and withdrawal of the Galtieri regime, followed the defeat of Argentina in the Falklands War. The Belgrade revolution of the year 2000 followed one year after the NATO military campaign against Serbia. So there's an obvious connection there that when a regime has been cut down to size, as it were, when its magic has been lost by retreat as a result of war, it may be vulnerable to a civil uprising.

Then there's another connection that has been very little noted in the literature, which is that for a non-violent movement to achieve its objectives, it may be very important that there is defended space nearby. Think of the way in which Denmark rescued Jews from Hitler's attentions in 1943 by spiriting several thousand Jewish citizens of Denmark across the sound to Sweden. But it was because Sweden had defended space that it was able to accept and then protect these refugees. Think of the refugee movement from East Germany in 1989 that was absolutely crucial in the downfall of the Wall and then the ending of the East German regime, none of which would have happened without this massive movement of refugees. It was because they were able to escape to defended space in Austria, West Germany, and so on that that movement was able to take place.

Transcript of entire lecture

Lecture based off a discussion of Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-Violent Action from Gandhi to the President