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The Albert Einstein Institution

Mass movements in Poland, the Philippines, South Africa, the Soviet Union, and China have in recent years challenged established governments by nonviolent resistance and rebellion -- sometimes alongside violence and sometimes to its virtual exclusion.

Similar movements have occurred in the past in Iran (1978-1979), Czechoslovakia (1968-1969), the U.S. Deep South (1950s and 1960s), India (1920s to 1940s), and in many other regions.

Journalists from newspapers, radio and television have reported on these struggles, and they have usually recognized their nonviolent character. But they have not always described nonviolent action in clear terms:

Powerful, dynamic struggles have been sometimes labeled "passive" simply because no violence was used.

- Demonstrations of thousands of persons who were strictly nonviolent have been labeled "violent" as a whole because of a small isolated act by a handful of persons -- or even because the disciplined nonviolent demonstrators were violently attacked by police or troops!

- The term "nonviolence" has itself often been used carelessly to describe very different phenomena, ranging from passivity and submission to Amish pacifism to the beliefs of Corazon Aquino.

- Other terms have also been used to describe nonviolent struggles without attention to clarity of meaning: people power, civil resistance, passive resistance, satyagraha, and the like.

Journalists, editors, commentators, and headline writers need more precise terms with which to describe action and ideas in this field.

We have prepared this pamphlet to encourage journalists to continue thoughtful coverage of nonviolent struggles, as their incidence grows in frequency and political significance.


Bloodless coup: A successful coup d'etat in which there is no killing. Not to be confused with nonviolent struggle, although such a coup sometimes follows nonviolent protest and resistance against the government.

Boycott: Social, economic, or political noncooperation.

Civic Strike: A collective suspension of normal activities -- economic, social, and political -- by an entire society to achieve a common political objective.

Civil disobedience: Deliberate, open, and peaceful violation of particular laws, decrees, regulations, military or police orders, or other governmental directives. The command may be disobeyed because it is seen as itself illegitimate or immoral, or because it is a symbol of other policies which are opposed. Civil disobedience may be practiced by individuals, groups, or masses of people.

Civilian-based defense: A national defense policy to deter and defeat aggression, both internal (i.e., coups d'etat) and external (i.e., invasions) by preparing the population and institutions for massive nonviolent resistance and defiance. The broad strategy is to deny the attackers' objections, block establishment of their government, and subvert their troops. This policy, alone or in combination with military means, has received governmental or military attention in several European countries.

Civilian insurrection: A nonviolent uprising against a dictatorship, or other unpopular regime, usually involving widespread repudiation of the regime as illegitimate, mass strikes, massive demonstrations, an economic shut-down, and widespread political noncooperation. Political noncooperation may include action by government employees and mutiny by police and troops. In the final stages, a parallel government often emerges.

If successful, a civilian insurrection may disintegrate the established regime in days or weeks, as opposed to a long-term struggle of many months or years. Civilian insurrections often end with the departure of the deposed rulers from the country.

The ousters of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and the Shah of Iran in 1979 are examples.

Also called "nonviolent insurrection."

Economic boycott: The withdrawal or withholding of economic cooperation in the form of buying, selling, or handling of goods or services, often accompanied by efforts to induce others to do likewise. It may be practiced on local, regional, national, or international levels.

Economic noncooperation: The use of economic boycotts or strikes, or both, against an opponent.

Economic sanctions: Usually, the imposition of international economic boycotts and embargoes. The term can also be used in domestic conflicts to refer to labor strikes and economic boycotts, shutdowns, and intervention.

Economic shutdown: a suspension of the economic activities of a city, area, or country on a sufficient scale to produce economic paralysis. It combines a general strike by workers with a closing of businesses by their owners and managers.

Embargo: An economic boycott initiated and enforced by a government.

Fast: Deliberate abstention from certain or all food. When applied in a social or political conflict, it may be combined with a moral appeal seeking to change attitudes. It may also be intended simply to force the opponent to grant certain objections, in which case it is called a hunger strike.

Force: Either: (1) an application of power (including threatened or imposed sanctions, which may be violent or nonviolent). As, "the force generated by the civil disobedience movement." Or: (2) The body or group applying force as defined in (1), usually used in the plural. As, "the forces at the government's disposal.

General Strike: A work stoppage by a majority of workers in the more important industries of an area or country, intended to produce an economic standstill to achieve political or economic objectives. Certain vital services, as health, food, and water, may be exempted. Such strikes may be symbolic, lasting only an hour, to communicate an opinion, or may be intended to produce economic paralysis in order to force concessions from the opponent.

Hunger strike: See "fast."

Mutiny: Refusal by police or troops to obey orders. It can in extreme cases entail individual or group desertion. It is a method of nonviolent action unless the mutineers resort to violence.

Noncooperation: Acts that deliberately restrict, withhold, or discontinue social, economic, or political cooperation with an institution, policy, or government. A general class of methods of nonviolent action.

Nonviolence: Either, (1) The behavior of people who in a conflict refrain from violent acts. Or, (2) Any of several belief systems that reject violence on principle, not just as impractical.

Otherwise, the term is best not used, since it often contributes to ambiguity and confusion. To describe specific actions or movements, the recommended terms are: "nonviolent action," "nonviolent resistance," or "nonviolent struggle."

Nonviolent action: A technique of action in conflicts in which participants conduct the struggle by doing -- or refusing to do -- certain acts without using physical violence. It is an alternative to both passive submission and violence. The technique includes many specific methods, which are grouped into three main classes: nonviolent protest and persuasion, noncooperation, and nonviolent intervention.

The technique's variables include the motives for using it, the objectives, the intended way success is to be accomplished (mechanism), and the relation between nonviolent action and other forms of action.

Nonviolent discipline: Orderly adherence to the planned strategy and tactics of an action and to nonviolent behavior even in face of repression. This is a major factor contributing to the success of a nonviolent struggle movement.

Nonviolent resistance: Nonviolent struggle, conducted largely by noncooperation, in reaction to a disapproved act, policy, or government. The broader terms "nonviolent action: and "nonviolent struggle" are therefore preferred to refer to the overall nonviolent technique of action and to action in which the nonviolent group also takes the initiative or intervenes, as in a sit-in.

Nonviolent sanctions: The methods of the technique of nonviolent action. The term is used especially when one wishes to make clear that these methods are not merely expressive behavior but are ways to wield power, exercise influence, inflict punishments, and impose costs.

Nonviolent struggle: A synonym for "nonviolent action." This term may be used also to indicate that the nonviolent action in a conflict is particularly purposeful or aggressive. "Nonviolent struggle" is especially useful to describe nonviolent action against determined and resourceful opponents who use repressive measures and countermeasures.

Pacifism: Several types of belief systems of principled rejection of violence. Pacifism is distinct from the technique of nonviolent action, which is usually applied as a practical way to act by people who are not pacifists. Pacifist belief systems, at a minimum, reject participation in all international or civil wars, or violent revolutions. Pacifists may support nonviolent struggle, or may oppose it on ethical grounds as too conflictual.

Passive resistance: A nineteenth century term once used to describe nonviolent struggle. The term is now in disfavor and rejected because "passive" is plainly inaccurate to describe recent cases of nonviolent noncooperation and defiance.

People power: The power capacity of a mobilized population and its institutions using nonviolent forms of struggle. The term was especially used during the 1986 Philippine nonviolent insurrection.

Political boycott: See "political noncooperation."

Political noncooperation: The withholding of usual obedience to, or participation in, the political system. The aim may be to correct a specific grievance or to disintegrate a government. Political noncooperation can take a great variety of forms, including withholding of allegiance, civil disobedience of "illegitimate" laws, and governmental refusal of diplomatic recognition. A synonym for "political boycott."

See also "noncooperation."

Sanctions: Punishments or reprisals, violent or nonviolent, for either failure to act in the expected or desired manner or for acting in an unexpected or prohibited manner. Nonviolent sanctions are less likely than violent ones to be simple reprisals and more likely to be intended to achieve a given objective.

See also "nonviolent sanctions."

Satyagraha: M.K. Gandhi's version of nonviolent action, and also his fuller belief system enjoining nonviolent personal behavior and social responsibility. Pronounced sat-ya-graha.

Strike: A group's deliberate restriction or suspension of work, usually temporary, to put pressure on employers or sometimes the government. Strikes take many forms and range widely in extent and duration.

See also "economic noncooperation."

Transarmament: The process of incrementally building up a nation's civilian-based defense capacity and gradually phasing out its military defense capacity. "Transarmament" is contrasted to "disarmament" which involves a simple reduction or abandonment of military capacity without providing a substitute means for national defense.

See also "civilian-based defense."

Violence: The infliction on people of physical injury or death, or the threat to do so. All behavior cannot be neatly classified as either "violence" or "nonviolence," and several categories fall between these two extremes, including "destruction of property."

In reporting a demonstration or resistance movement which is primarily or exclusively nonviolent, care is required to distinguish it, for example, from the acts of violence by small numbers of persons (who may be undisciplined or deliberately disruptive for political reasons or as agents provocateurs). Similarly, a demonstration should not be described as "violent" when it is violently attacked by police or troops but nevertheless maintains its nonviolent discipline.


Journalists' inquiries about the history, nature, and dynamics of nonviolent struggle may be addressed to:

The Albert Einstein Institution 1430 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138 (617) 876-0311

The Albert Einstein Institution is a nonprofit organization which supports work on the strategic uses of nonviolent sanctions in relation to problems of political violence. Independent and nonsectarian, it does not endorse political candidates and is not an advocate of any political organization.

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