Basic Concepts of Nonviolence

Reference: International Center on Non-Violent Conflict

 Conditions for Nonviolent Conflict

  • A conflict in which at least one side believes that its conventional options for resolution are insufficient.
  • A decision that nonviolent action will be the most effective way to wage the conflict.
  • Use of civilian-based nonviolent tactics as the foundation of a strategy to undermine an opponent’s sources of power.

Core Insights

  • Power in societies comes from the consent and obedience of people in those societies.  In nonviolent conflict, people change their patterns of consent and obedience, and therefore change their behavior, as a way of exercising power.
  • All oppressors rely on the support of key societal groups in order to maintain their system of control. Nonviolent action shifts the loyalties and undermines the reliability of those key groups.
  • Like other forms of struggle, nonviolent conflict requires analysis of one’s situation and strategic planning in order to be carried out effectively.
  • Nonviolent conflict is a pragmatic choice for most oppressed groups.  They choose it because they feel that it is the most effective means available for them to wage their struggle.


Widely held misconceptions about nonviolent conflict can impact media coverage, as well as informed policy analysis and international support.  The following are some of the most common misconceptions:

Nonviolent Conflict versus Nonviolence

  • Nonviolent conflict is a pragmatic way for ordinary people to fight for justice, human rights and democracy against an opponent.  “Nonviolence”, on the other hand, often refers to a set of religious or moral principles and beliefs.

Action versus Passivity

  • Nonviolent conflict is an active and disruptive form of struggle.  It is not inactive, submissive, or “passive resistance.”

Waging Conflict versus Conflict Resolution

  • Nonviolent action is a technique for waging a struggle.  It is not a form of negotiation, compromise or conflict resolution. Negotiation or compromise may or may not accompany nonviolent struggles, just as they may or may not accompany violent struggles.

Impact of Repression

  • The success of a nonviolent movement does not depend on the degree to which the opponent responds with violent repression.  A violent response or crackdown by the opponent does not mean that nonviolent movement has failed.  In fact, it is frequently a sign that the opponent is being seriously challenged.  Successful nonviolent movements develop strategies to withstand repression.  Therefore, the level of repression can shape struggles, but it is not the sole determinant of their outcome.

Conversion versus Coercion

  • The success of a nonviolent movement does not depend on converting or persuading the opponent to agree with movement’s aims or grievances. Persuasion and conversion may occur in a struggle, but can also be coercive as well by undermining an opponent’s sources of power.

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