“Nonviolent revolutions will never work because the psychopath dictator will kill you …he will kill all of you if necessary.” It is certainly true that many dictators kill easily and will kill great numbers of their own people in order to hold onto power. How is it that nonviolent revolutions are toppling dictators all over the world?

It is interesting that the following argument is seldom made:

“Violent revolutions will never work because the psychopath dictator will kill all the revolutionaries …he has most of the guns and soldiers and will kill all of you.”

The statement about armed revolutions is just as valid as the statement about nonviolent revolutions.

Why is it that the statement about nonviolent strategies is considered a telling argument but the identical statement about violent strategies is not?

The relevant question is not about the willingness of a power-mad dictator to kill his own people. We know from bitter experience that they are willing to kill and kill and kill … killing anyone who threatens them.

The relevant questions are all about the practical efficacy of the various possible strategies for opposing a dictator.

The dictator is only able to exercise power, e.g. to kill his opponents, when others are willing to follow his orders. The revolutions that succeed often do so because the army and police become reluctant to follow the dictator’s orders.

The last century has had many revolutions, some violent and some nonviolent. We’ve learned some things from these revolutions.

First, when someone shoots at soldiers they will shoot back. This guarantees that a violent revolution is going to be costly in terms of loss of life.

Second, in a violent revolution the casualty rate for women and children is about ten times higher than the casualty rate for the combatants.

Third, the dictator always has more soldiers and guns than the revolutionaries so the dictator usually wins violent conflicts. “Successful” violent revolutions generally require years or decades to finally win.

Fourth, the winner of a violent revolution is often no better than the dictator they replace. The new leader is usually the most ruthless of the revolutionaries and, after years of killing, has lost his compunction about killing.

Fifth, nonviolent revolutions may succeed or they may fail, but the total loss of life is almost always small compared to the loss of life in violent revolutions.

Sixth, in nonviolent revolutions the police and soldiers generally begin to resist the orders to kill fairly quickly. For example, the USSR soldiers sent to quell some of the Eastern European nonviolent movements in the 1950s had to be replaced every two weeks … this represents an enormous cost to the regime.

Seventh, violent revolutions brutalize the entire society. In contrast, the participants in nonviolent actions are empowered and strengthened in brotherhood. Win or lose, nonviolent movements usually generate substantial benefits for a society.

Finally, dictators know most of this and that is why they try to goad a nonviolent movement into abandoning their nonviolent strategies in favor of armed conflict. The dictator knows how to deal with violence.

The arguments should go like this:

“Violent revolutions, even when they ‘win’, are terribly costly in property damage, in lives lost, and in their psychological toll. It takes generations for the society to recover.”

“Nonviolent movements compared to violent revolutions, whether they win or lose, entail less property damage, far fewer lives lost and instead of traumatizing the entire society they generally empower people. “

In short, a nonviolent strategy against a dictator will usually have a far lower cost and a better chance of good outcomes than will a violent strategy.
Contact me: I love to hear from readers. Email me at cyberneticapress at gmail dot com. Thanks, Barry Clemson