Friday, April 12, 2013

Severyn Bruyn

Recovering Nonviolent History: Civil 
Resistance in Liberation Struggles edited
by Maciej J. Bartkowski is one of the best
books I have read on this subject in decades.
 It is so well documented with cases and so
superbly interpreted with fresh theory that
I wish it could be on the best-seller list. It
tells us how people are learning nonviolent
resistance through the rise of social move-
ments and collective identities. It reveals how
 nonviolent action has worked effectively
using different strategies around the world
for a long time. Notably, the book recovers
new historical cases of civil resistance in addition to the already impressive
database of 106 mass-based struggles against dictatorship, occupation, and
self-determination that occurred between 1900 and 20061, thus encouraging
 further scholarly research.
In this book you will find cases of nonviolent resistance from Sub-Saharan 
Africa (Ghana, Zambia, Mozambique), North Africa and the Middle 
East (Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Palestine) Asia and Oceania (Burma, Bangladesh, 
West Papua), Europe (Hungary, Poland, Kosovo), and the Americas (Cuba 
and the United States.) The cases are written in a clear fashion; anyone can 
understand these stories and feel the unexpected power of people. The 
reader will learn a lot about nonviolent resistance in the past and what 
these movements portend for the future.
Maciej Bartkowski argues that the Great Man theory of change is not true. 
Significant changes in opposition against oppression do not require a 
charismatic leader like Gandhi. Some of the citizen movements in this book 
did have good leaders (e.g. Hungary, Zambia, Ghana, and Egypt) but others 
were virtually leaderless and still made significant changes.

The author makes a special point. Nonviolent resistance calls for inter-
disciplinary studies. In a time when universities have segregated their
disciplines in departments where faculty do not talk to one another,
these social movements call for collaboration. Such disciplines include
sociology, political science, economics, psychology, anthropology
history, and more. These resistance movements are multi-causal and
can have an impact on many institutions in the whole society. They
affect self-identity, government policies, and can impact on a whole
way of life.

An interesting fact: Nonviolent struggles for self-determination have been
escalating in recent times. The author points to statistical data on this
augmentation. I have been aware of the increase in nonviolent movements
in the last century but I never had scientific data. In the 20th century
alone collective movements began not only under the leadership of
Gandhi in India but Kagawa in Japan, Danilo Dolci in Sicily,
Lanzo del Vasto in France, Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams in
Ireland, Thich Nhat Hanh and Cao Ngoc Phong in Vietnam, Dom Heldar
Camara in Brazil, Vinoba Bhava in India, Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar
Chavez, David Dellinger, and Dorothy Day in the United States, and
more. These movements have produced a widespread awareness of t
he effectiveness of nonviolent resistance around the world.2
1. Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works. 
The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, (Columbia University Press,
New York 2011).

2. Severyn Bruyn and Paula Rayman, eds.,Nonviolent Action and Social 
Change, (Irvington Publishers, New York, 1979).

3. Severyn Bruyn, A Civil Economy (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan
Press, 2003); A Civil Republic (Kumerian Press, 2005).

Bartkowski sees a “paradigm shift” in the way we understand nonviolent
struggles in nation-states. He sees the importance of small acts of resistance
aligned with “institution building,” how “collective identities initiate
fundamental changes.” Alternative institution building is based upon
associations of people, not states. Civil associations are becoming the ground
 for self-governance in society. My own studies support the author’s outlook.
This growth in civil associations has been part of the evolution of society for

He does not take the traditional focus of historians on structures, military
power and mechanisms of coercion but instead recognizes that the force
shaping nations rests in the purposeful and defiant action of an unarmed
 citizenry. He does not see a tight military state as the basis for explaining
the inability of people to make changes. He does not view the state as
a top down, centralized machine, rather, as a diffused and fragile power
where the voluntary action of ordinary people makes change happen.
The latent power of people becomes evident with the gradual
withdrawal of consent and the accumulation of citizens in disobedience.
 Important changes are made by the autonomous “agency” of people.
The independent actions of ordinary persons make a difference. And it
happens under many different kinds of oppressive structures.

The author points to studies on the greater “efficacy” of nonviolent
campaigns in contrast to violent ones. The rate of success of civil resistance
campaigns is more than two and a half times higher than the rate of its failures
and more than twice as successful as their armed counterparts. Similarly,
Gene Sharp – the founder of cross-national studies on citizen resistance –
' once told me he found fewer people die in nonviolent struggles for
independence than in violent struggles. I hope that more research can
be done on such “efficacy.” It might convince people of their own power
to save human lives.

The use of nonviolent resistance has been taking place well before
Gandhi was born. People throughout history have been relying on
nonviolent methods of struggle. In certain times, citizens have
realized the benefits of nonviolent resistance as opposed to the
terrible consequences of armed struggle. The recognition of
these benefits of nonviolent struggle is increasing around the world.

In one chapter, Lee Smithey points out how nonviolent struggles can
be “integrative” and community making – a theme that comes up
in various empirical chapters included in this book. These case studies
show how people overcome their ethnic, religious, and racial differences
in nonviolent struggles. New “collective identities” rise above
and beyond class and racial differences. People in most cases are not
fighting as pacifists. They are just ordinary citizens who see a wrong and
become concerned and then angry enough to stand up for their rights. They
 are not in the same category as great religious founders like Buddha o
r Jesus who taught about compassion for humanity. Citizens are not
preaching about “loving your enemies.” They are regular people who
see a “wrong” and want to set it right.

Successful resisters have not rationalized their action on their pacifism
or their religion. The 10,000 teachers of Norway who stopped Hitler
from putting Nazi textbooks in their schools did not see themselves
as pacifists. Some died in concentration camps under terrible
conditions but by seeing the effectiveness of nonviolent tactics
they were able to win. Hitler and Quisling lost.

The citizens of Guatemala were not pacifists when they overthrew
Ubico, the tyrannous dictator in the 1940s who admired Hitler. The resistance
movement began when faculty in universities were losing liberties
and marched in protest. This protest led to a buildup of collective
identity and sympathy across the country. One teacher in a march
to the capital was killed by the government and became a martyr.
The resistance spread throughout the country and it finally resulted
in an entire “economic shutdown” of the nation. Ubico had to give
up his power. He went away to Mexico to buy a farm and live by himself.

This book is about the hidden history of nonviolent struggles in society.
Historians ignore these cases of nonviolence, preferring by tradition to write
about kings, emperors, and presidents and the elite. They ignore what the
underclass is doing to make change happen. This prejudice of historians
to write about the elite then leads to the loss of society’s collective memory.
The invisibility of small movements in history impacts adversely on
theories of social change by social scientists.

I hope that social scientists will buy this book about “recovering history.”
It adds to our collective memory and understanding of what has
actually been happening to bring about the formation and development of nations.

Severyn Bruyn, Professor Emeritus, Boston College. He is the author of numerous books, articles and plays, including Nonviolent Action and Social Change,  co-edited with Paula Rayman and an Oratorio "The Teachers of Norway" (that pays tribute to the bravery of the Norwegian teachers who waged nonviolent resistance against pro-Nazi Quisling regime during the Second World War).

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