Erica Chenoweth
November 4, 2013 6:55 PM   Subscribe

Erica Chenoweth studies political violence and non-violent resistance. Her research indicates that nonviolent campaigns have been more successful than armed campaigns and that movements are effective when they (1) attract widespread and diverse participation; (2) develop a strategy that allows them to maneuver around repression; and (3) provoke defections, loyalty shifts, or disobedience among regime elites and/or security forces. Her TED talk and an interview.
posted by latkes (30 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is awesome. I've heard activists say this a lot (that nonviolence has a better track record than violent revolution), but it's great to see some solid academic work on the topic. Can't wait to dig into more of her research.
posted by lunasol at 7:00 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is why non-violence is not tolerated anymore.
posted by srboisvert at 7:12 PM on November 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


However, all tactics are local and it depends enormously on the situation. Gandhi was able to do what he did because the British people are fundamentally decent. If he had tried the same tactics against Stalin, he would have been liquidated and his movement would have ended.

Likewise for Martin Luther King, Jr. If he'd tried his tactics against a Stalin or a Mao, his effort wouldn't have lasted long, and neither would he.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:21 PM on November 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


This study assumes that opposition movements have a choice. Sometimes they don't.
posted by wuwei at 7:28 PM on November 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


This is really interesting, but at the risk of being a little glib, I definitely read this as being by Kristin Chenoweth and had a vision of her dressed up as Galinda singing about her research and it kinda blew my mind.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:29 PM on November 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


If he'd tried his tactics against a Stalin or a Mao, his effort wouldn't have lasted long, and neither would he.

Chenoweth agrees with you. From the interview:
"I agree that nonviolent resistance may not work against some truly totalitarian regimes. But I would suggest that violent insurgency does not fare any better than unarmed campaigns against these types of regimes."
posted by mokin at 7:42 PM on November 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


Likewise for Martin Luther King, Jr. If he'd tried his tactics against a Stalin or a Mao, his effort wouldn't have lasted long, and neither would he.

You realize he was shot, right? It's not like MLK died after saying "mission accomplished!" His views continued to evolve and his work was far, far from complete.

There's a reason Fred Hampton was murdered in his sleep and MLK gets a surreal DC memorial (decades after the struggle to even get him a dang holiday!). The Hollywood-ization of the civil rights movement sops up the blood that gave us the victories currently being erased. The movement never ended, it was violently repressed when it demanded more than legal victories.
posted by gorbweaver at 7:43 PM on November 4, 2013 [20 favorites]


wuwei - did you get a chance to read much of it yet? Doesn't seem to me she makes an assessment about choice but she (and colleagues) do compare tactics across a range of regime-types. In general for example she seems to have found that in the most repressive regimes non-violence is not successful, however, neither is violence. She acknowledges that armed resistance is sometimes successful, although apparently it seems to be less successful more recently in history.

For folks who are serious about these issues, I find it pretty interesting, thought provoking stuff.

The main question it raises for me is that most large-level political change happens in a context where there are both violent and non-violent (for lack of more complex terminology) movements happening simultaneously. Not clear to me on a superficial read how they determine which movements to consider the ones that matter to the study.
posted by latkes at 7:43 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is why non-violence is not tolerated anymore.

It never was tolerated.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:43 PM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


This study assumes that opposition movements have a choice. Sometimes they don't.

Sure they do. Put up or shut up.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:46 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


What about the interplay between nonviolent and violent movements? Is there synergy between when there's an unofficial "good cop bad cop" routine?
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:02 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Latkes, I read the study when it came out. I actually agree that peaceful mass movements are best. What I am saying is that _movements may not get a choice_. Yes, violent insurgency against totalitarian dictatorships is likely to fail. But when your friends are dying in the streets (like in Syria) what do you do? Keep dying with them, or pick up a weapon and have a fighting chance? I get it. Some people say nothing is worth that, or they wouldn't do it. Just understand that not everyone agrees.

I say that, acknowledging that the Syrian resistance fighters are problematic, and, opposing US intervention. Just to save everyone from a "grah grah wuwei how dare you support US intervention in Syria." Because I don't.

And then, ask yourself. What is success? Elections? What happens when a government falls, and now there are "free elections", but the economic system remains the same? Like in the Philippines after Marcos. What then? Is that a "success?"
posted by wuwei at 8:23 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


The general efficacy of violent movements is a completely separate issue from whether or not we ought to "blame" people who form or join one. It's completely understandable why people would take up arms. It is also apparently demonstrable that, in general, on average, taking up arms is no more likely to succeed than participating in a nonviolent movement, and that it is often typically less likely to succeed.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:27 PM on November 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I am not a student of British and Indian colonial history, but I am reasonably sure that the British did many many non "decent" things during their occupation. Gandhi's success in not getting assassinated by the British was no doubt due to many complex social and political factors, rather than some inherent goodness of his country's colonial oppressors.
posted by emjaybee at 8:36 PM on November 4, 2013 [10 favorites]


I am not a student of British and Indian colonial history,

Start here: The Right Honorable Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, first Governor-General.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:54 PM on November 4, 2013


There's a reason Fred Hampton was murdered in his sleep and MLK gets a surreal DC memorial (decades after the struggle to even get him a dang holiday!).

Actually, he doesn't even get a holiday some places. While MLK day is celebrated in northern Virginia, in Richmond it's "Stonewall Jackson Day." The Stonewall Jackson memorial/mural was put up in Richmond to commemorate it years before the MLK memorial went up in DC. And btw, Richmond is a majority black city.
posted by rue72 at 8:59 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


What about the interplay between nonviolent and violent movements? Is there synergy between when there's an unofficial "good cop bad cop" routine?

That's what the Northern Ireland Catholics (some of them) tried to do. The Provisional IRA was the violent part, and Sinn Féin was the non-violent part, who claimed they had no contact with the other guys.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:24 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gandhi was able to do what he did because the British people are fundamentally decent.

If they were fundamentally decent no Gandhi would ever have been necessary. Jesus.
posted by edheil at 9:25 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am reasonably sure that the British did many many non "decent" things during their occupation.

The Indian Rebellion, 1867. British victory over the rebels was slowed down by the fact that the British army stopped for several days of Rape of Nanking style looting and murder every time they took a city. The Guardian estimates the death toll at ten million, and yet people still believe that...

the British people are fundamentally decent


They were the greatest propagandists in human history.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:29 PM on November 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


maneuver around repression

it's just that easy!
posted by cupcake1337 at 10:30 PM on November 4, 2013


Everyone taking issue with Chocolate Pickle's comment are focusing on the wrong word. The British occupiers of India - and most of their other colonies - were not, on the whole, fundamentally decent, but the British people were. A large part of what gave India the push towards becoming an independent nation is the publication of the horrors that were being perpetrated against the Indian people by the British colonial overseers - which is what inspired MLK Jr.'s public and non-violent confrontations with racist local police forces and state governments.

The public in these situations is fundamentally decent, but blind, either willingly or unwittingly. What Gandhi, MLK Jr., and everyone that follows the principles of non-violent resistance are betting on is that through exposing their opposition as the true monsters of the situation, that through the public's inaction they tacitly approve of what is going on here, and that this generates the true political force that changes the status quo. That is what Gandhi did in India, and that is what MLK Jr. did in the American South, and I'm pretty sure that's what Chocolate Pickle was alluding to.

That's the reason why Chenowith states quite frankly that non-violence does not work under true totalitarianism - there is no secret or blindness there. Everyone knows that the state is horrible and oppressive, the problem is not the lack of political will but the frank and brutal domination of the state. To choose an example already stated, Assad's Syria. That, wuwei, is why your statement about "not having a choice" is technically true, but not exactly pertinent. Yes, non-violence is not really an option when someone's getting their genocide on, but I can't think of a state that got to the point where civil war and state-sanctioned genocide were going on that wasn't already a true totalitarian state, which, as was previously mentioned, something that is specifically exempted by Chenowith from the circumstances of her study.
posted by Punkey at 10:42 PM on November 4, 2013 [11 favorites]


Actually there was nothing secret about the scale of British violence in India in 1867. It was widely reported in lurid detail and the British people were quite pleased. The people of Britain were, in general, quite racist and in favor of keeping the lesser races in their place.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:09 PM on November 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


...which is why it's fortunate that Gandhi's efforts took place in the 1930's, more than 60 years later.
posted by Punkey at 11:16 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]



Actually there was nothing secret about the scale of British violence in India in 1867. It was widely reported in lurid detail and the British people were quite pleased. The people of Britain were, in general, quite racist and in favor of keeping the lesser races in their place.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:09 PM on November 4 [+] [!]


It's problematic of course to be sweeping either way, but in 1867 , and earlier too, there was substantial British opinion amongst liberals that the Empire either needed to be drastically reformed to change its oppressive character or be gradually unwound. These views were often very naive and simplistic about what was possible or just ( e.g. dreaming of all the colonies gradually being freed after more just policies were implemented and their societies nicely improved , and then all the new independent nations being eternally grateful and loyal to Mother Britain etc.) , but they were not an insignificant part of the political scene in the UK. Even powerful and respected British colonial administrators and military commanders could hold such liberal views e.g. James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin (not the Elgin's Marbles chap, that was his dad - but he was often mocked in the press for his dad's looting), who took the crucial decision to send troops from China to India without permission from London soon after he heard that the Indian Mutiny had started and by doing so, probably saved the British Raj, was well-known for being vocally Empire-skeptic in his personal opinions.
posted by Bwithh at 11:57 PM on November 4, 2013


But do Non-Violent methods ever actually bring about revolutionary change? Look at the USA and MLK Jr. was it a success? ... hmm .. not really - blacks in the USA are still in a pretty bad situation. (incarcerated, subordinated, poor)

India? - well .. India is still run by a wealthy landholding elite who think of themselves as pretty British..

South Africa... things still seem pretty bad for non-whites.
posted by mary8nne at 4:50 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I agree that nonviolent resistance may not work against some truly totalitarian regimes. But I would suggest that violent insurgency does not fare any better than unarmed campaigns against these types of regimes."

As a point about averages, this might very well be true, though, of course, she can't seriously mean that about every case. There can be no doubt whatsoever that violence sometimes works in the service of justice, and that sometimes it is the only thing that works, both at the personal and the group level. If someone denies that you know they're out of touch with reality.

The good points that pacifists have had are that violence is necessary less often than people tend to think, and that it has more/worse repercussions than people think. But I know several pacifists, at least one of them a prominent one, and she openly admits that violence is sometimes necessary. (There are, of course, different varieties of pacifism.) The sane pacifist point is basically about probabilities--seeking peaceful solutions at every point can be way more effective than most of us think.

Of course, a real concern with justice and humanity also requires that we also be willing to use violence against the unjust when necessary.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 5:07 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think political science is a very worthy social science, but the tendency to try to quantify the unquantifiable can really go too far. Classifying a case as violent versus nonviolent is problematic in and of itself. It's telling one of Chenoweth's TED talk's key examples was the downfall of Slobodan Milosevic. The protesters themselves were nonviolent, but the Kosovo Liberation Army attacks and the NATO sorties dropping bombs all over the country were not. That violence probably eroded Serbian support for Milosevic more than post-election protesters.

In her paper: The list of nonviolent campaigns was initially gathered from an extensive review of the literature on nonviolent conºict and social movements. Then we corroborated these data using multiple sources, including encyclopedias, case studies, and a comprehensive bibliography on nonviolent civil resistance by April Carter, Howard Clark, and Michael Randle.38 In such a data set, wouldn't successful nonviolent movements be overrepresented? Before the Internet especially, it could be impossible to know about nonviolent protests that failed: the evidence for it happening gets destroyed and the participants are dispersed, imprisoned, tortured or quietly executed.

Further, how do you determine where one unsuccessful nonviolent event ends and another occurs? To use the Serbian example, an estimated 200,000 people participated in student-led protests in Belgrade in '96. Is that a separate event that gets categorized as an unsuccessful event? Is it included under a violent event, as it surely was influenced by KLA attacking Serbians in the Kosovo region? Or is it part of the successful, nonviolent movement to force Milosevic out? Defining these things even slightly differently will vastly change the data.

Lastly, comparing say, resistance to Soviets in the 1980s to say, suffragette movements in the early 20th century or postcolonial African movements in the 1950s and 1960s is not very illuminating, to say the least. In many cases the circumstances of the resistance movement matter far more than their tactics. If the Mau Mau groups in Kenya had called for a general strike followed by mass protests in the 50s, they probably would have been just as successful as they were using violence. How many troops would Clement Atlee have sent when support for the empire was declining domestically and internationally?

Likewise if movements in eastern European Soviet Republics had been more violent, it's unlikely they would have failed after Gorbachev took power. Chenoweth's case studies for successful nonviolent movements in her paper all come from SE Asia (Phillipines, Burma, and East Timor), which does not tell us much about the rest of the world or what leads to the success or failure of other very different types of nonviolent movements.

This matters a great deal because if we take from this that resisters to oppression lose their right to foreign support through recognition, sanctions, logistics, etc. when the executions and torture overwhelm them and they take up arms, we would likely be making a bad choice. Chenoweth is correct that more nonviolent movements should receive more support from the West before they turn violent, but unfortunately violence is the only tactic for many of the oppressed after nonviolence fails.
posted by Luminiferous Ether at 6:03 AM on November 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow: "This is why non-violence is not tolerated anymore.

It never was tolerated.
"

Oh, come on... We can do better than that.

(Whether you believe him a deity or not, it fits.)
posted by IAmBroom at 9:27 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


wuwei: "And then, ask yourself. What is success?"

Seems to me you should judge the paper on the basis of its definition of success, or else you're just moving the goalposts.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:30 AM on November 5, 2013


Thank you, Punkey. You are correct.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:38 AM on November 5, 2013


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