“Types of Nonviolence” by Thomas Weber and Robert J. Burrowes

Reference: Nonviolence International

‘Nonviolence’ is an umbrella term for describing a range of methods for dealing with conflict which share the common principle that physical violence, at least against other people, is not used. Gene Sharp, the best known writer on nonviolent action, has compiled the most comprehensive typology of nonviolence; a summary is given in Table 1.

While this typology illustrates the various approaches to nonviolence, the criteria which underpin them are still not clear. These criteria may be identified by examining the two major dimensions of nonviolent action.

The first dimension (the tactical-strategic) indicates the depth of analysis, the ultimate aim and the operational time-frame which activists use. The second dimension (the pragmatic-ideological) indicates the nature of the commitment to nonviolence and the approach to conflict which activists utilise: this includes the importance attached to the relationship between means and ends and the attitude towards the opponent.

Tactical exponents of nonviolent action use short to medium term campaigns in order to achieve a particular goal within an existing social framework; their aim is reform. Strategic exponents of nonviolent action are guided by a structural analysis of social relationships and are mainly concerned about the fundamental transformation of society; particular campaigns are thus conducted within the context of a long-term revolutionary strategy.

Pragmatic exponents use nonviolent action because they believe it to be the most effective method available in the circumstances. They view conflict as a relationship between antagonists with incompatible interests; their goal is to defeat the opponent. Ideological exponents choose nonviolent action for ethical reasons and believe in the unity of means and ends. They view the opponent as a partner in the struggle to satisfy the needs of all. More fundamentally, they may view nonviolence as a way of life.

To summarize, the criteria which underpin the two dimensions of nonviolent action are itemized in Table 2.

Figure 1: Matrix of Nonviolence

By reference to their standing in relation to the criteria itemized in Table 2, it is possible to identify the orientation of individual activists and particular campaigns. For example, virtually all campaigns which have been conducted in Australia (such as the Franklin River campaign) fall into the tactical-pragmatic category. Most campaigns with a Christian perspective (such as the Montgomery bus boycott organised by Martin Luther King Jr.) are examples of the tactical-ideological category. The Palestinian Intifada probably the best recent example of the strategic-pragmatic category. And many of Gandhi’s campaigns (including the Salt Satyagraha) were clearly in the strategic-ideological category.

The commitment of individual activists and the nature of particular campaigns can also be illustrated graphically according to the strength of their standing in relation to each of the criteria identified on the matrix in Figure 1. They may be located in any quadrant on the matrix, near to or far from a particular axis, and at various distances from the origin.

This article will now examine the use of tactical and pragmatic nonviolence and consider the important relationship between means and ends. We will then examine various Christian justifications for nonviolent action as well as Gandhi’s conception of it; these traditions provide much of the theoretical basis for ideological (or creed-based) nonviolent activism. This article will then discuss the structural analysis important to an understanding of the strategic use of nonviolent action. It will conclude with an examination of the dynamics of ideological nonviolence and an analysis of the most fundamental reason for adherence to it, that is, as the basis for a way of life.

Table 1. Types of Nonviolence

Non-resistance Non-resistants reject all physical violence on principle and concentrate on maintaining their own integrity, e.g. the attitude of the Amish and Mennonite sects of Christians.
Active Reconciliation A Faith-based rejection of coercion and a belief in active goodwill and reconciliation, for example as practiced by Quakers and other religious activist groups.
Moral Resistance Moral resisters actively resist evil with peaceful and moral means such as education and persuasion. This has been the basis of much of Western pacifism.
Selective Nonviolence The refusal to participate in particular wars or kinds of war, e.g. nuclear war.
Passive Resistance Nonviolent tactics are employed because the means for an effective violent campaign are lacking or are not likely to succeed; e.g. most strikes, boycotts and national non-cooperation movements belong to this category.
Peaceful Resistance Peaceful resisters believe that nonviolent methods are more effective; e.g. some of Gandhi’s campaigns fall into this category because many of his followers did not fully internalise what he taught.
Nonviolent Direct Action Practitioners may view nonviolence as a moral principle or practical method. The object is victory rather than conversion. An example is provided by the Greenham Common actions.
Gandhian Nonviolence (Satyagraha) Satyagraha aims to attain the truth tnrough love and right action; it demands the elimination of violence from the self and from the social, political and economic environment. Gandhi’s Salt Satyagraha is a classic example.
Nonviolent Revolution Revolutionaries believe in the need for basic individual and social change and regard the major problems of existing society as structural, e.g. the campaigns of Jayaprakash Narayan and Vinoba Bhave in India.

Table 2. The Major Dimensions

The Tactical-Strategic Dimension
Criterion Tactical Nonviolence Strategic Nonviolence
Analysis of Social Framework Conservative Structural
Aim Reform Revolution
Operational Timeframe Short/Medium Term Long Term
The Pragmatic-Ideological Dimension
Criterion Pragmatic Nonviolence Ideological Nonviolence
Nature of Commitment Most Effective Ethically Best
Means and Ends Separate Indivisible
Approach to Conflict Incompatible Interests Shared Interests
Approach to Opponent Competitive Cooperative