Nonviolent Resistance a global History 1830-2000

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Nonviolent Resistance

A Global History 1830-2000
Module HI31D

(Advanced Option)

Nonviolent Resistance: A Global History 1830-2000
Module HI31D
Module teacher: David Hardiman

Room 308. Tel. 72584. Email:

Module website (includes all the information in the handbook, but will be updated as necessary):
Seminars are held each Wednesday in room H 0.43 (ground floor of Humanities) from 10.0 to 12.0 in the morning.

Module Aims

The module examines the history of nonviolent resistance in a global perspective during the modern period. It examines the ways in which the method has evolved over time, bringing out how protesters learnt from past struggles, in the process evolving their own strategies and techniques in the context of their own societies. It provides, therefore, a case study of a global dialogue. The module will bring out the way in which a range of different and evolving issues could be asserted through this means, ranging from working class demands of Britain in the 1830s and 1840s, to nineteenth century nationalist causes, notably that of the Hungarians within the Hapsburg Empire, the Finns within the Russian Empire, the demand for independence by Indian nationalists led by Gandhi (who reframed the concept as satyagraha), non-violent resistance to the Nazis, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the civil rights movement by African-Americans in the USA, the upsurge in eastern Europe in the 1980s, the pro-democracy protests in Burma in 1988 and China in 1989 that failed, and the successful movement in Serbia in 2000 to remove Slobodan Milosevic. This list is by no means exhaustive, and students may explore movements other than the ones focussed on in the weekly seminars in their written work, examining the efficacy of the method in a variety of particular historical contexts. There will also be a discussion of the efficacy of the method; when it has worked best and when it has failed; and the relationship between nonviolent and violent resistance, such as terrorism, and warfare. The module is conducted through a two-hour seminar each Wednesday from 10.0 to 12.0 in room H0.43.


(All seminars apart from week 1 are on Wednesdays in room H 043, from 10.0 to 12.0)

Autumn Term – weeks:

  1. 15 minute preliminary meeting on Wednesday 3 October at 915 in H 303

  2. Defining nonviolent resistance and its implications.

  3. Violence and nonviolence – a discussion of theories.

  4. The 18th and early 19th centuries.

  5. Passive resistance for national self-determination without revolution – Hungary and Finland.

  6. Reading week.

  7. Satyagraha and ‘Nonviolence’: Gandhi in South Africa.

  8. Gandhi in India.

  9. Gandhi’s influence in South Asia and the World.

  10. Nonviolent resistance to Hitler

Spring Term – weeks:

  1. US Civil Rights Movement.

  2. Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa.

  3. Nonviolence in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s: theories, critiques, movements, and the Gandhi film.

  4. Solidarity in Poland 1980-8.

  5. Women and nonviolence.

  6. Reading week.

  7. Burma and China.

  8. OTPOR in Serbia.

  9. Comparative themes (1).

  10. Comparative themes (2).

Summer Term – week:

3. Revision session

Leading questions for the module

Set out below are some comparative questions relating to violence, nonviolence and strategy that you will be thinking about during the course of the year:

  • Definitions of nonviolence and forms of nonviolent resistance.

  • How understanding of such movements has shifted over time.

  • How has the theory and practice of nonviolent resistance evolved over time?

  • Does violence help or hinder revolutionary change? Does it make it faster or slower?

  • Is nonviolence futile against certain opponents, such as highly unscrupulous and violent dictators?

  • Do humans have a tendency towards violence that makes effective nonviolence hard to achieve? Isn’t violence cathartic, and thus a healthy force? Isn’t heroic violence more stirring, courageous and inspirational than nonviolent resistance?

  • Doesn’t power, as Mao Tse Tung put it, grow from the barrel of a gun?

  • Is nonviolence – as Marxists have alleged – a liberal, reformist and bourgeois ideology?

  • Does nonviolence favour the socially privileged?

  • Is nonviolent resistance a negation of the rule of law? Does it breed contempt for the law?

  • Does nonviolent resistance have greater potential for mass mobilisation than violent resistance?

  • Is nonviolence primarily a moral or pragmatic principle? Do people act nonviolently primarily for the sake of their own conscience, or because it gets better results?

  • Does a society have to be structurally ready for change, or can particular historical circumstances and strategic choices by dissidents determine the outcome of a movement, regardless of the political, social and economic structure of a society?

  • How important is strategy for a movement? What are the most important strategic considerations to be taken into account? These may include framing an agenda, building an organisation, forging broad-based solidarity, deploying symbols, developing a repertoire of imaginative forms of protest, media use and publicity, intelligence gathering, cultivating external help, and so on.

  • How important is charismatic leadership for a movement? What is the role of local leaders and local organisation?

  • What is the role of compromise?

  • Does nonviolence promote democracy?

  • Is nonviolence more efficacious in a global age?

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