The Applicability of Nonviolent Struggle in Armenia: Part 5

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As we have already noted in the previous publications, each part of the article series on the applicability of nonviolent struggle in Armenia will discuss in details the applicability of possible options of political/civil disobedience in our country, as well as the reasons of failure of the means has been chosen by political forces so far.

The article series is based on the study of international practice, as well as the scientific literature available. For Part One, Two, Three and Four of the current article you can follow the shown links.

In the previous part of the article series we discussed the methods of nonviolent struggle, in other words, the “peaceful weapons”, implementation of which would make it possible to achieve tangible political change. In this part of the article series we would touch upon several key issues that are faced during almost all nonviolent resistance movements. Particularly, principles of openness and secrecy often encountered during nonviolent civil movements, as well as their applicability in nonviolent civil movements would be discussed. The main four options of change which are the results of nonviolent struggle as well as the positive impact of the democratization would also be discussed in this part.

Almost in every type of movement that brings about political change the organizers and the participants face the problem of levels of secrecy and openness. The Armenian experience shows that during all political movements their initiators have been guided by private agreements and usually have not been accountable to their supporters in the activities undertaken, etc. As a proof, the expression “Restrain him!” said by one of the leaders of the notorious “bourgeois-democratic revolution” can be probably recalled. By the way, this expression has turned into a saying. In fact, the problem of secrecy during movements can lead to serious obstacles up to even dissolving the wave of resistance. The lines between secrecy and openness in case of nonviolent civil resistance movement can have much more serious impact on the course and outcome of the movement than it can have on any other type of movement.

As it has already been mentioned, one of the most important preconditions for the effectiveness of nonviolent struggle is the highest level of discipline performed by the participants of the movement, but by discipline obedience to the incomprehensible orders given by the leaders of the movement is not meant. In this century of technological development practically it is impossible to keep details of the movement’s strategy and tactics secret from the police or intelligence services. Therefore, keeping such information secret from the movement beneficiaries is not conditioned by the fear of them being leaked out to the above-mentioned agencies. Such behavior contributes to fear within the movement which dampens the spirit of resistance and reduces the number of participants. Such level of conspiracy can cause unjustified suspicions towards one another within the movement participants, which can lead to a serious split in the movement. The result of the above-mentioned may also be the fact that the movement loses its ability to remain nonviolent.

Besides the above-mentioned negative consequences, the high level of secrecy in nonviolent civil movement creates objective conditions for vertical relations between the leaders and the participants of the movement. In Armenia we have witnessed numerous civil movements with vertical leadership and are familiar with its consequences. In contrast to the negative outcomes of secrecy, openness regarding the details of the strategy and tactics has totally the opposite effect. There are several positive consequences that openness in a civil movement can have. Particularly, the highest level of openness creates an image of a powerful movement with immense potential as well as objective conditions for the people to have palpable impact on decision-making process and to that extent the movement is led by a horizontal leadership, which in its turn promotes the development of political and civil consciousness among that particular circle of the people. Though, that doesn’t mean that the movement organizers must be guided by the principle of extreme openness and transparency throughout the movement. There are such aspects of movement activities that simply require secrecy. In case of nonviolent civil resistance movements, among the activities that require highest level of secrecy can be found editing, printing and distribution of underground publications, as well as implementation of such activities that are illegal within the borders of a particular country but their effectiveness is necessary for the outcome of the movement or simply collecting confidential information on the authorities. The above-mentioned activities require the highest possible level of secrecy.

Four Key Options to Reach Political Change via Nonviolent Resistance

According to various and practically proven theories, there are four key options to reach political change via nonviolent civil resistance. These are:

  • Conversion
  • Conformism
  • Peaceful enforcement
  • Disintegration

Conversion takes place when political opponents become rationally persuaded that the principles of the nonviolent civil resistance movement are just and accept the goals put forward by the civil resistance movement. In nonviolent civil resistance history the examples of change via conversion are a few.

Far more often, in the course of nonviolent civil resistance movements a conflict transformation occurs, in result of which the power relationship of the conflicting parties are significantly changed, which in its turn sometimes leads to the fact that the parties are forced to take into account the objective reality. The other options of change come from similar situations. When the nonviolent movement fails (because the objectives declared have secondary meaning) to involve the vast majority of population in it or a movement with significant potential gradually dissolves (because of wrong strategies or/and inefficient use of resources) and as a result power transformation between the conflicting parties takes place, that particular movement doesn’t represent any danger to the authorities. In the end, that particular conflict finds its solution in compromise, in other words, in conformism towards the created situation by resistance struggle. In case of conformism the authorities can dissolve the resistance movement as a result of minor concessions. A number of work strikes and student strikes also have similar resolution, when the parties equally reach their goals partially. Therefore, nonviolent civil resistance designers must bear in mind that there must be paid enough attention to the choice of controversial issues and the movement strategy.

Only in case the nonviolent civil resistance movement is skillfully designed the struggle can be much more powerful, as a result of which that would be possible to form such an objective reality of the power sources arrangement, that the authorities lose their control over the economic, social and political processes implemented by the government and the society. In such cases the authorities would have no other choice but undergo peaceful enforcement option of change and will gradually give up their positions.

Disintegration follows the peaceful enforcement. The latter is considered to be the logical continuation of peaceful enforcement. The resisters’ self-direction, noncooperation and the highest level of discipline become so complete that even the authorities’ formal control over them is diminished and the system begins to disintegrate. It’s important to remember that the change brought forward via one of the options mentioned, depends on the objective assessment of relative and absolute power, the objectives and the attitudes of the ones involved in nonviolent struggle.

Positive Consequences of Democratization Achieved via Nonviolent Struggle

We’ve spoken about the ways of democratization, the obstacles faced during that process as well as about the consolidated democracy which is reached as an outcome. But what type of democratization process nonviolent resistance victory leads to. Another important phase in the life of a particularly country and society begins as a result of regime change achieved by nonviolent civil resistance.

As we have stated in previous parts, nonviolent struggle first of all matures the society, makes independent social groups stronger, and initiates the formation of a powerful civil society. We also stated that the regime change achieved by violence is not yet a guarantee for building a nonviolent and democratic society and the history not once proved that those who came to power by force often established much more ruthless dictatorial regimes in the country.

Still, in case of nonviolent struggle the democratic nature of the next authorities is not totally guaranteed either. But in contrast to violent struggle, it creates favorable conditions for the society to have control over political processes. The leaders of nonviolent struggle movement can influence their followers or even put some pressure on them, but they can never arrest them or harass them. In case the nonviolent struggle movement succeeds it means that the population has already mastered the necessary means of resistance, so they would know how to keep the authorities accountable to them.

In his handbook Professor Gene Sharp differentiates positive democratizing effects nonviolent struggle may have as a result of its success, which I’d like to cite below as an ending of this part of the article series:

· Experience in applying nonviolent struggle may result in the population being more self-confident in challenging the regime’s threats and capacity for violent repression.

· Nonviolent struggle provides the means of noncooperation and defiance by which the population can resist undemocratic controls over them by any dictatorial group.

· Nonviolent struggle can be used to assert the practice of democratic freedoms, such as free speech, free press, independent organizations, and free assembly, in face of repressive controls.

· Nonviolent struggle contributes strongly to the survival, rebirth, and strengthening of the independent groups and institutions of the society, as previously discussed. These are important for democracy because of their capacity to mobilize the power capacity of the population and to impose limits on the effective power of any would-be dictators.

· Nonviolent struggle provides means by which the population can wield power against repressive police and military action by a dictatorial government.

· Nonviolent struggle provides methods by which the population and the independent institutions can in the interests of democracy restrict or sever the sources of power for the ruling elite, thereby threatening its capacity to continue its domination. (Gene Sharp, From Dictatorship to Democracy, pp. 37-38)

Narek Samsonyan