In political terms, nonviolent action is based on a very simple postulate: People do not always do what they are told to do, and sometimes they act in ways that have been forbidden.
Subjects may disobey laws they reject. Workers may halt work, which may paralyze the economy. The bureaucracy may refuse to carry out instructions. Soldiers and police may become lax in inflicting repression; they may even mutiny.
When all such events happen simultaneously, the persons who have been "rulers" become just other persons. This dissolution of power can happen in a wide variety of social and political conflicts.
When people refuse their cooperation, withhold their help, and persist in their disobedience and defiance, they are denying their opponents the basic human assistance and cooperation which any government or hierarchical system requires. If people do this in sufficient numbers for long enough, that government or hierarchical system will no longer have power. This is the basic political assumption of nonviolent action.
Nonviolent action is a generic term covering dozens of specific methods of protest, noncooperation, and intervention, in all of which the resisters conduct the conflict by doing--or refusing to do--certain things without using physical violence. As a technique, therefore, nonviolent action is not passive. It is not inaction. It is action that is nonviolent.
Whatever the issue and whatever the scale of the conflict, nonviolent action is a technique by which people who reject passivity and submission, and who see struggle as essential, can wage their conflict without violence. Nonviolent action is not an attempt to avoid or ignore conflict. It is one response to the problem of how to act effectively in politics, especially how to wield power effectively.
In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, nonviolent action has risen to unprecedented political significance throughout the world. People using it have amassed major achievements. Higher wages and improved...