Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Erica Chenoweth & Maria J. Stephan's "Why Civil Resistance Works"

Erica Chenoweth is an assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University. Previously she was a fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and a visiting fellow at the University of California at Berkeley's Institute of International Studies.

Maria J. Stephan is a strategic planner with the U.S. Department of State. Formerly she served as director of policy and research at the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC) and as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and American University. She has also been a fellow at the Kennedy School of Government's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, and reported the following:
In Why Civil Resistance Works, we tell the story of how hundreds of resistance campaigns have overthrown oppressive regimes or expelled foreign occupiers by relying almost entirely on nonviolent methods of resistance. In fact, we find that between 1900 and 2006, nonviolent resistance campaigns were about twice as effective as violent insurgencies seeking similar objectives. Promisingly, over the past few decades, nonviolent resistance campaigns are more common around the world—and they are becoming more successful too.

These figures are true even when we look at places where nonviolent resistance would be expected to fail—such as in Iran. On page 99 of our book, we discuss some of the obstacles that nonviolent activists had to overcome in facing down the brutal regime of Shah Reza Pahlavi. We write:
The Shah’s security forces launched a massive crackdown on the protestors a couple of weeks after the mourning ceremonies began. Yet this crackdown failed to deter the Islamists, who began to mobilize seminary students in Qom for even larger mourning ceremonies…. But the real awakening would not occur until late summer 1978, when masses of Iranians began to participate in revolutionary protests.
These passages describe the fact that the nonviolent opposition activists in the 1977-1979 Iranian Revolution were confronted with brutal repression, but that repression backfired. As happens in so many cases of nonviolent resistance, even the most brutal regimes find it difficult to justify to their populations, and in particular, to members of their security forces, why the regimes must crack down so violently against unarmed civilians (they have an easier time justifying repression when the protestors are armed). Often, such repression leads to backfire—a paradox in which increased repression results in increased mobilization. Page 99 of our book describes some instances of backfire, and the subsequent “awakening” of Iranian society that ultimately brought down the Shah’s entrenched power. Interestingly, a broad-based coalition of Iranian civic groups engaged in prolonged civil disobedience, notably a nationwide strike that paralyzed the economy, achieved in only a few months what the anti-Shah Marxist and Islamist guerilla factions failed to achieve during years of armed struggle. This underlies a main point of our book: that even the most repressive regimes cannot sustain repression forever if large numbers of people sustain their refusal to obey.

Our book does not make the argument that resistance campaigns succeed just because they are nonviolent. Unarmed insurrections require strength in numbers, strategic planning, tactical innovation and leverage in order to up-end the status quo. But our ultimate aim in this book is to show that nonviolent resistance is a powerful force for change in our world, and to confront the conventional wisdom that violence is necessary to confront oppressive regimes. It is our hope that the historical record—and our descriptions of several cases of successful nonviolent resistance—will give pause to apologists of violence, and hope to those using civil resistance to struggle against intolerable circumstances.
Learn more about Why Civil Resistance Works at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue