There are times in history where violence was necessary. But too often violent revolutionaries become as violent and oppressive as the people they overthrow. Or worse, they legitimize and encourage the violence of their oppressors.
The French Revolution began with the summary execution of up to 40,000 civilians without trial … and evolved into Napoleon as a war mongering dictator.
It’s hard not to cheer the Haitian Slave Revolution … but after all the slaves were freed, and the battle was won … the victors engaged in the gratuitous torture, mutilation and murder of nearly all white men — whether they were former slave holders or not. Women and children were generally killed last. White women were often raped or pushed into forced marriages under threat of death.
[I’m not saying that the Haitian slaves should instead have just engaged in peaceful protests — they didn’t even have that right. Their *only* option was violence.]
The problem is, once you’ve rationalized and legitimized violence — it’s often hard to stop.
But peaceful protests often have a great track record. In the last sixty years I’d say that the peaceful protests have done way more good than the violent protests.
1955–1968 — Using a variety of nonviolent methods, including bus boycotts, economic boycotts, massive demonstrations, marches, sit-ins, and freedom rides, the U.S. civil rights movement won passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
1968–69 — Nonviolent resistance to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia enabled the Dubcek regime to stay in power for eight months, far longer than would have been possible with military resistance.
1970s and 80s — The anti-nuclear power movements in the US had campaigns against the start-up of various nuclear power plants across the US, including Diablo Canyon in Central California.
1986–94 — US activists resist the forced relocation of over 10,000 traditional Navajo people living in Northeastern Arizona, using the Genocide Demands, where they called for the prosecution of all those responsible for the relocation for the crime of genocide.
1986 — The Philippines “people power” movement brought down the oppressive Marcos dictatorship.
1989 — The nonviolent struggles to end the Communist dictatorships in Czechoslovakia in 1989 and in East Germany, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in 1991.
1989 — The Solidarity struggle in Poland, which began in 1980 with strikes to support the demand of a legal free trade union, and concluded in 1989 with the end of the Polish Communist regime.
1989 — Nonviolent struggles led to the end of the Communist dictatorships in Czechoslovakia in 1989 and in East Germany, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in 1991.
1990 — The nonviolent protests and mass resistance against the Apartheid policies in South Africa, including a massive international divestment movement, especially between 1950 and 1990, brings Apartheid down in 1990. Nelson Mandela, African National Congress leader, is elected President of South Africa in 1994 after spending 27 years in prison for sedition.
1991 — The noncooperation and defiance defeated the Soviet “hard-line” coup d’état in Moscow.
1996 — The movement to oust Serbia dictator Slobodan Milosevic, which began in November 1996 with Serbs conducting daily parades and protests in Belgrade and other cities. At that time, however, Serb democrats lacked a strategy to press on the struggle and failed to launch a campaign to bring down the Milosovic dictatorship. In early October 2000, the Otpor (Resistance) movement and other democrats rose up again against Milosevic in a carefully planned nonviolent struggle.
1999 to Present — Popular protests of corporate power & globalization begin with Seattle WTO protest in Seattle, 1999. This is what set the trend for the Occupy movement which is still alive.
2001 — The “People Power Two” campaign, ousts Filipino President Estrada in early 2001.
2004–05 — The Ukranian people take back their democracy with the Orange revolution.
2010 to Present — Arab Spring nonviolent uprisings result in the ouster of dictatorships in Tunisia