The Revolution Will Not Be Assisted By The ICNC (The Counter-Revolution Is Another Matter)

By Stephen Gowans

I confess that when Michael Barker sent me a link to nonviolence advocate Brian Martin’s Gandhi Marg article “Dilemmas in promoting nonviolence” I wasn’t too keen on reading it. [1] With a pile of unread books threatening to bury me under an avalanche, I thought my time could be better spent on avalanche control. Plus, I was hoping to get around to mowing the tufts of hair that advancing age have brought to my ears.

It was, therefore, with scant enthusiasm that I flipped desultorily through Martin’s article. Undecided as to whether to plunge in, I skipped to the conclusion. If anything there grabbed my attention I would read the article in full. Otherwise, I would toss “Dilemmas in promoting nonviolence” on my not-worth-the-time pile, along with the stack of Stephen Zunes articles I had accumulated.

The first sentence of Martin’s conclusion read: “Proponents of nonviolence have come under attack for supporting bad causes, in particular US imperialism.”

My attention shifted more firmly to the article, away from a precariously balanced book teetering atop my book pile.

The next sentence brought me fully awake. “[F]ew of the claims of the critics stand up to scrutiny and many lack evidence.”

I was immediately interested. Which claims lack evidence? Which don’t? Which stand up to scrutiny? Which wither under Martin’s analysis?

Laying a brace against the tottering mountain of books beside me, I dove into Martin’s article, anxious to discover how the claims of nonviolence critics fell apart under careful examination.

Hmmm. Nothing on page 1. Oh well, he’s just getting started. Page 5 – Still nothing, but there are 15 pages of text to go. It’s early. Page 10 – A bus rumbles by and shakes the Himalaya of books beside me. A book hurtles to the floor. I move quickly to avoid it. Nothing yet. Page 15 – Still nothing. Did I read the conclusion correctly? I skip ahead to check. Proponents of nonviolence…under attack…supporting US imperialism…lack evidence. No mistake. Page 16. Nothing. Pages 17 and 18. Still nothing. Page 19. Ah, there it is. In the final paragraph before the conclusion. A single sentence: “the stance of the anti-imperialist critics is seriously flawed, including by the absence of any proof that nonviolent movements are pawns of the US government.”

What? I just cancelled a much needed date with my ear-hair scissors to learn that “[F]ew of the claims of the critics stand up to scrutiny and many lack evidence” because “the stance of the anti-imperialist critics is seriously flawed”?

Nonviolence advocate Brian Martin: His Gandhi Marg article should have been tossed on the not-worth-the-time pile.

This is like being told that the secret to getting rich is to accumulate a lot of money. Or that when people lose their jobs, unemployment happens. I should have trusted my instincts and tossed Brian Martin on the not-worth-the-time pile.

Problems with Martin’s Case

Here are the problems, if they’re not already evident.

First, the ICNC (International Center on Nonviolent Conflict), one of the proponents of nonviolence that has come under attack for supporting bad causes, has been criticized for its connections to ruling class organizations and for aiding groups whose aim is to bring down foreign governments whose policies are not conducive to the interests of Western economic elites. Of this there is considerable evidence and documentation. Michael Barker has catalogued a lot of it. Click here.

Rather than dealing with the criticism above and the evidence that supports it, Martin deflects attention. Those who criticize the ICNC for its ruling class connections are deemed champions of the idea that “nonviolent movements are pawns of the US government.” This has demagogic potential. No one wants to be called a dupe, and accusing the ICNC’s critics of branding grassroots activists as victims of a swindle serves two purposes: it turns grassroots activists against the critics and takes attention away from the central issue: the ICNC’s ties to the US foreign policy establishment.

The second problem is that Martin fails to show that the critic’s case falters under close examination and lacks evidence. In fact, he doesn’t examine it at all. Instead, he simply asserts that the case lacks substance, footnoting the conclusion with a reference to a personal communication from “Hardy Merriman – of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.” Merriman told Martin that “the burden of proof should be on those making the assertion that recent nonviolent movements are fronts for Western powers. They never provide such proof.”

Just to make this clear: Martin’s careful examination of the critics’ case boils down to an assurance from good old Hardy Merriman, of the ICNC, that the ICNC’s critics haven’t got a case. This is like a George W. Bush supporter declaring that few of the claims of Bush’s critics stand up to scrutiny, because Dick Cheney told him so in a personal communication. No wonder Martin buried this in a footnote.

The ICNC's Hardy Merriman. Told Martin that the critics' case against the ICNC is baseless. Like Dick Cheney assuring a Bush supporter that criticisms of Bush fail to stand up to scrutiny and lack evidence.

But that’s just the start of the problems with this dishonest piece of scholarship. ICNC critics have never said that nonviolent movements are fronts for Western powers (at least, the ones I know haven’t.) What they’ve said is that the ICNC (and Western powers) are fronts for the US ruling class, of which ICNC supremo Peter Ackerman, is a charter member. You can find out more about the ex-leveraged buyout specialist, former head of the CIA-interlocked Freedom House, and now Council on Foreign Relations board member, here. When Ackerman isn’t teaching foreign activists how to use nonviolent civil disobedience to overthrow Third World governments, he’s running Rockport Capital Inc., a private investment firm. Just the kind of guy you would expect to be assisting progressive causes.

ICNC supremo Peter Ackerman. Runs Rockport Capital Inc., is an ex-leveraged buyout specialist, has headed the CIA-interlocked Freedom House, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Just the kind of guy you would expect to be assisting progressive causes.

Nor do the critics of the ICNC criticize the organization for promoting nonviolence, though Martin would have you believe that nonviolence is the burr under their saddles. The truth is that what bothers the ICNC’s critics is the organization’s integration into the US foreign policy estblishment. It’s not the tactics the ICNC promotes, but the reasons it promotes them, and on whose behalf, that galvanizes the center’s critics. Martin misses this, whether deliberately or not, is unclear.

The Case Against the ICNC

Martin doesn’t name me in his article, and he may never have had me in mind. But all the same, let me summarize my own objections to the ICNC, and its siblings, the AEI (Albert Einstein Institution) and CANVAS (Center for Applied Nonviolent Actions and Strategies), and more broadly, “democracy” promoting organizations like the NED (National Endowment for Democracy, established to take up the former CIA function of meddling in foreign countries’ elections.)

The ICNC and NED are fronts for Western ruling class interests.

These organizations engage with movements abroad to influence them and use them to achieve Western foreign policy goals.

Nonviolent civil disobedience movements can be effective in bringing down governments that have been demoralized or weakened by war, threats of war, sanctions, economic crisis or outside propaganda (delivered via Radio Liberty, Voice of America, NED-funded ‘independent’ media, the Western mass media, and so on) or some combination of the above. Nonviolent civil disobedience movements, by themselves, without outside intervention to disorganize and weaken the governments they seek to change, are usually ineffective. (I provide an example later on in this article.)

By promoting nonviolent civil disobedience the ICNC and CANVAS:

(A) provide tools for activists abroad to overthrow their governments. These tools become effective when Western powers first disorganize and weaken the foreign governments they have targeted for overthrow;

(B) encourage activists at home to adopt nonviolent civil disobedience, pointing to its successes abroad, but ignoring the role played by war, sanctions, economic crisis and propaganda as softening up interventions that help nonviolent civil disobedience to work. This channels domestic activists into a set of activities that, while they may often be successful when used in conjunction with intervention to weaken target governments, are likely to be far less successful otherwise, and may well be completely ineffective and inappropriate to the circumstances.

The problem with pragmatic nonviolence (the nonviolence based on strategic, not ethical considerations that Gene Sharp, the ICNC’s intellectual godfather champions) is not that it is always ineffective, but that it is not unconditionally more effective than violence, as its promoters claim. It is easy to conceive of circumstances in which nonviolence is the method of choice, but equally easy to conceive of other circumstances in which nonviolence will fail miserably. The position of the ICNC, AEI and Brian Martin is that nonviolence is always more effective than violence, a claim which, to throw Martin’s words back at him, withers under scrutiny and lacks evidence. The complaint against Martin and his fellow pragmatic nonviolence promoters, then, is that what they are promoting is a position that locks domestic activists into a nonviolence that is not always the best tactic for the circumstances at hand.

To strengthen their case, Martin et al point to recent successes abroad, intimating that domestic activists can be equally effective if they use the same techniques. This, however, completely ignores the role Western intervention has played in these countries of weakening governments and providing funding to activists to organize civil disobedience and build media support. No Western government is going to sanction itself, threaten to bomb its own population, distribute anti-government propaganda calling for its overthrow, or pay local activists to agitate for its downfall. Absent these conditions, the chances of civil disobedience working in the United States, Britain, Canada and elsewhere in the Western world to achieve anything close to what has been achieved elsewhere, are slim at best. It’s kind of like saying building a roof will keep you safe from the elements, because, look, those people over there built a roof and now they’re warm and dry, ignoring all the preceding work in building a foundation, frame and walls.


Indeed, the efficacy of these techniques absent help from rich outside donors can be measured by what happened in Georgia, after the Rose Revolutionaries, using techniques of nonviolent civil disobedience, ousted Eduard Shevardnadze, clearing the way for Washington’s new man, Mikheil Saakashvili, to come to power.

A second nonviolence-based revolution should have happened when Saakashvili turned out to be little better than the man he replaced. Instead, nothing.

“Georgia is a semi-democracy,” explains Lincoln Mitchell, who worked for the National Democratic Institute in Georgia from 2002 to 2004. “We have traded one kind of semi-democratic system for another. There is a real need to understand that what happened is another one-party government emerged.” [2]

According to Mitchell, “under Shevardnadze, there was freedom of assembly and the press, and the government was too weak to crack down on dissent. But the state was rife with corruption, and elections were poorly run. Under Saakashvili, the central government is stronger and official corruption has been reduced, but the media have far fewer freedoms and there are fewer civil organizations. Elections still don’t function well.” What’s more, “parliament has been weakened through constitutional changes mandated by Saakashvili, making it difficult for the legislative branch to restrain executive power.” [3]

So why don’t the Rose Revolutionaries dust off their nonviolence skills, and oust Saakashvili, the way they did Shevardnadze?

One reason is that many Rose Revolutionaries have moved on to do Uncle Sam’s work in other countries whose governments Washington has slated for regime change.

“Every few months” explains the Los Angeles Times’ Borzou Daragahi, Nini Gogiberidze, a Rose Revolutionary employed by the nonviolence promoter CANVAS, “is deployed abroad to teach democracy activists how to agitate for change against their autocratic governments, going everywhere from Eastern Europe to train Belarusians to Turkey to coach Iranians.” [4] Apparently, with their fires of indignation burning against the autocracies of Victor Lukashenko and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Gogiberidze and her CANVAS colleagues have failed to notice that Saakashvili is also an autocrat.

George Bush with Georgian autocrat Mikheil Saakashvili: Rose Revolution activists are too busy working to overthrow autocrats on Uncle Sam's regime change hit list to notice the autocrat at home.

Another reason is that the Rose Revolutionaries’ rich donors have withdrawn their funding, and diverted it to the whole point of the Rose Revolution – Saakashvili. As the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler reported in 2008, “the Bush administration scaled back funding for voluntary civil and social organizations” (i.e., the Rose Revolutionaries) “in order to devote resources to building up the central government.” [5] Saakashvili got more help from Washington to consolidate his position, while the nonviolence movement sputtered to a halt, starved of the funding that once fueled it. Money helps in organizing, and organization is critically important in both strengthening governments and overthrowing them.


As I finished Martin’s article I reflected on its title: Dilemmas in promoting nonviolence. One of the dilemmas Martin failed to address is that of defending the ICNC, an organization that is bound up with US ruling class interests and at the same time promotes nonviolent civil disobedience (mainly in Third World countries), and which is condemned not for its promotion of nonviolent activism but for its integration into the US foreign policy establishment and its assistance to the pursuit of US foreign policy goals. As Franklin Foer reported in The New Republic, “When some of State’s desk officers don’t want to create international incidents by advising activists on how to overthrow governments, they gently suggest visiting [ICNC chief] Ackerman, who has fewer qualms about lending a helping hand.” [5] Nonviolence promoters have found themselves springing to the defense of this dodgy organization (which does what the CIA used to do but tries to make it appear progressive) because they’ve misinterpreted attacks on the ICNC as attacks on nonviolence.

Stephen Zunes. Fronts for the ICNC in leftwing circles.

The real dilemma for independent nonviolence promoters is to figure out how to build a firewall between the Western ruling class interests that lurk behind seemingly neutral organizations like the ICNC, fronted by the soi-disant progressive and anti-imperialist Stephen Zunes, and genuine grassroots movements. The solution is summed up clearly in the epigram: the revolution will not be funded (or selflessly assisted by ultrawealthy members of the Council on Foreign Relations.) Genuine grassroots revolutions and movements will only achieve genuine grassroots goals if they reject engagement with fronts for Western ruling class interests. Otherwise, activists abroad may find themselves helping to bring another Saakashvili to power. Another US client, eager to transform his country into a profit center for US investors, may be congenial to the interests of investment firms, like Rockport Capital Inc., but will hardly be congenial to the interests of the bulk of grassroots activist who clear the way for his ascension to power. As for activists at home, they may find themselves straitjacketed into a mode of achieving social change that is not always well suited to the circumstances at hand, and which succeeds only when backed by the massive intervention of Western states, an intervention that clearly won’t be happening at home. The warning, beware of ultra-rich establishment figures bearing gifts, and even more so their progressive lieutenants, scarcely needs justification.


In March 2010 the ICNC revealed on its website who its board of academic advisors is. Among the names was Brian Martin.

1. Brian Martin,” Dilemmas in Promoting Nonviolence,” Gandhi Marg, October-December, 2009.
2. Glenn Kessler, “Georgian Democracy A Complex Evolution,” The Washington Post, August 24, 2008.
3. Ibid.
4. Borzou Daragahi, “A Georgian soldier of the Velvet Revolution”, The Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2008.
5. Kessler
6. Foer, Franklin, “Regime Change Inc. Peter Ackerman’s quest to topple tyranny,” The New Republic, April 16, 2005.

13 thoughts on “The Revolution Will Not Be Assisted By The ICNC (The Counter-Revolution Is Another Matter)

  1. Sweet, I was duped by Al, gave money, etc.

    However, i went to Honduras and saw the on-going oppression, met with folks being repressed, in hiding.

    You guys will note the dearth of any cogent journalism having to do with Honduras on Al’s websites.

    Nough said.

    This is one gringo that will not benefit or go along with the left wing of US imperialism.

    No way. I’d shoot John Wayne if he were to mess with my people in the Americas. Oh, he’s dead. Well, my bad.

    Fortunately, people in the Americas are getting wise to the empire’s tool bag full of manipulative tactics.

    Follow the money. Revolutionary leftists don’t take lucre from Uncle Sammie or his minions. No way.

  2. On Ackerman, ive been reading up on the debate between Giodano and others .. defending Ackermans funding of Narconews..a little research led me to this:

    Now Giodano claims to be a friend of Venezuela….and says Morales is of his school of authentic journalism…But here is Ackerman in 2007 on Chavez:

    ‘Though today’s autocrats are thus swimming against the tide of history, they are swimming hard. The casus belli of their new counteroffensive has been the triumph of the “colored revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine, which brought greater political freedom to millions. Claiming that “foreign influence” is to blame for such events, and concerned that colored bells may soon toll for them, today’s autocrats are determined to root out democracy advocates through police harassment and intimidation, false accusations and arrests, revoked registrations and shuttered offices. Security forces in China, Venezuela, Egypt, Iran, Zimbabwe and the former Soviet states of Eurasia have been among the most single-minded in this effort, forcing a number of democracy assistance programs to close. There is also evidence of coordinated activity among authoritarian regimes. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez visited President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus in July 2006 to bring him good news: “There are many possibilities now for forming a strategic alliance to save the world from madness, wars and color revolutions.”

    It is tempting to dismiss the likes of Hugo Chávez and Alexander Lukashenko as small-time opportunists destined for the dust-bin of an increasingly democratic history. This would be a mistake. The autocratic offensive against democracy and its promoters is a serious challenge and should be a high priority, especially for any American administration espousing a Freedom Agenda as its central theme. ‘

    Giordano has been taking money from this neo-Gandhi?

  3. Hi stu
    Thanks for your piece on the Narco news journos revolt…Ive emailed it to Eva Golinger.

    BUT i noticed your Students revolt piece has appeared in the following site

    which also carries This:

    an article in support of MDC in Zimbabwe!There is a seciond and more recent one also against the govt of Zimbabwe

    Are you aware of this? As you know Stephen Gowans has written extensively on Zimbabwe and the MDC…

  4. The so-called left in the US might be the most politically naive bunch of losers I’ve ever seen!

    The American Left is worse than naive. They are political frauds and manipulators.

    In practice, they represent one thing: the Left wing of American Empire.

    Behind all their “anti-imperialist” rhetoric, the American Left’s real agenda is to maintain their own country’s imperialist dominance against other nations.

    As such, they tacitly support and justify their Empire’s “non-violent” forms of imperialism deployed against whomever is their latest victim.

    The same could be said for other nations like Australia, Britain, and Canada, all of whom increasingly are using these forms of Colored (Counter) Revolutionary tactics.

    Canada’s NED? Whose Rights? What Sort of Democracy? Haiti

    Canada’s Copy and Paste NED: Foundation for “Political Warfare” Takes Cue from U.S. Strategy

    The underlying reason why so-called Western Leftists would support this agenda is not difficult to figure out.

    Just look at the background of people like Brian Martin, Stephen Zunes, etc.

    They are part of the middle and upper-middle class intelligentsia.

    For all their supposed “anti-capitalist” posturing, this class is quite economically privileged and benefits from being citizens of imperialist nations like the USA or Australia.

    This is the reality of the Western Imperial Left.

  5. Stephen Gowans and I are approaching the issues – and my article – from different perspectives.

    In my article, I discussed four dilemmas in promoting nonviolence: nonviolence in support of the wrong cause, whether nonviolence is the most suitable method, the intersection of violence and nonviolence, and participation versus giving assistance. I then argued that it is useful to think of nonviolence as a non-neutral tool. With this background, I then briefly examined the arguments of anti-imperialist critics of nonviolence (not including Gowans) in relation to the four dilemmas.

    I thought it was obvious I was doing this analysis from a nonviolence perspective. When I concluded that “the stance of the anti-imperialist critics is seriously flawed”, I prefaced this with the phrase “From a nonviolence perspective”. I didn’t rely on anyone from ICNC for this conclusion; the conclusion flowed from my prior analysis.

    Gowans is not using a nonviolence perspective. I think that explains much of his disagreement with my statements.

    For more detail on my argument about military funding, see my book Technology for Nonviolent Struggle ( Gowans speculates that I hope for funding for nonviolent action from governments or “imperialist foundations”. To the contrary, I have long argued that the most promising road to a nonviolent future is through grassroots initiatives, as elaborated in my book Social Defence, Social Change (

    Gowans has missed a crucial point in my argument about nonviolent action being a non-neutral tool. He says that my view is that “nonviolent struggle [is] necessarily liberating and empowering”. That is not correct. I said that methods of nonviolent action “are far easier to use for empowerment and liberation than for oppression” and that “spreading nonviolent action is likely to be beneficial, though there remains the possibility that techniques could be used for unwelcome purposes”.

    Another point requiring clarification is what counts as nonviolent action. Gowans refers to the Israeli government blockade of Gaza as “a nonviolent form of struggle”. It is not. In my article, I stated that nonviolent action does not include “methods backed by violence, such as economic sanctions backed by military force”. See Gene Sharp’s book The Politics of Nonviolent Action for more on distinctions between conventional political action, nonviolent action and violent action.

    I thank Stephen for the opportunity to clarify our respective viewpoints. No doubt we will continue to differ on some fundamental points. Even so, it is valuable to spell out arguments, test assumptions and focus on crucial issues.

  6. They (ICNC) aren’t very straight forward are they?

    Whenever I read Zunes defense of the ICNC it sounds so much like a plea rather than a rebuttal. And it just feels “funny”. Same thing here with Brian Martin. I wonder what that’s all about. Something is hidden here.

    How on Earth can Peter Ackerman and ultra rightist neo con Michael Ledeen (sympathetic to fascism, who has been identified as a forger before the Niger forgeries) get along so well? Writing articles together, calling each other friends?

  7. I wrote a few diaries on the Subject of Narco News and Al Giordano who is supported by Peter Ackerman. I think, I’m not sure, that it led to a mini revolution by students at Narco New’s school for Authentic Journalism.

    Peter Ackerman has written at least two articles with Michael Ledeen, Ledeen calls Ackerman his friend. I read your stuff also and it’s great. It’s pretty clear that ICNC is a extremely conservative missionary trouble making group. I think Ackerman and Duvall are born again Christians …Soujourners or some such silliness.

    ICNC is the classic missionary stance….the kind the Conquistador’s used with the Church. The Conquistadors would come in and lay waste to a village and the priests would follow speaking of Non violence love and maybe it would be a good idea to build us a church because otherwise the Conquistador’s will get mad…only hear it’s reversed…they support the resistance and the Conquistadors come later. …

    Anyway take a look at these little diary bits.

  8. Following upon Brian Martin’s argument that nonviolent action is non-neutral, I offer these further thoughts.

    If Brian has coerced me through force into working for him as a slave, and I free myself by whacking him on the head with a hammer, my use of violence is empowering and liberating. If he threatens to whack me on the head with a hammer if I refuse to work for him as a slave, his threatened use of violence is oppressive. If Palestinians, through a well-organized and financed program of nonviolent action, manage to reclaim the territory appropriated from them by the Zionist project, their use of nonviolent action would be empowering and liberating. Israel’s use of a blockade to force Gazans to abandon and oust Hamas – a nonviolent form of struggle – is oppressive.

    From these examples it is clear that there is no reason why violence cannot be liberating and empowering, and no reason why nonviolent forms of struggle cannot be oppressive.

    Indeed, a little thought will show that most oppression is enforced through the nonviolent action of the oppressor. The state rarely uses violence to enforce the interests of the ruling class, and relies mostly on persuading the oppressed, through the schools, religion, media and patriotic spectacles, and through elections to create the illusion that the non-dominant classes have a significant stake in public policy, to identify with the oppressor and his interests, i.e., nonviolent means. The state avoids putting a gun to the head of the oppressed by nonviolently seeking control of their minds.

    People who have no option but to sell their labor to live are exploited by their employers, but this oppression isn’t enforced violently; it’s enforced through the nonviolent action of an oppressive system which compels the propertyless to sell their labor and are only able to sell their labor to the extent they increase the capital of their employers. The nonviolent action of the capitalist system through which labor is exploited is hardly liberating and empowering for labor, any more than the nonviolent action of the state in colonizing the minds of the oppressed is.

  9. True. I said very little, indeed nothing, about the content of your article, other than your claim that the anti-imperialist critics of the ICNC have no case. My intention was not to critique your article in full, but to examine its conclusion that “few of the claims of the [ICNC’s] critics stand up to scrutiny and many lack evidence.” I set out to show that you hadn’t examined the claims or evidence, and that the conclusion you drew, therefore, was unwarranted. Your conclusion appears to have been based solely on a personal communication from a representative of the ICNC, who provided you nothing more than an assurance the critics’ allegations were groundless. An assurance from an interested party that the charges against his organization are unfounded, you will agree, hardly amounts to scrutinizing the critics’ claims and finding that they’re devoid of evidence. Readers can indeed draw their own conclusions, comparing your comments to my own, and I made it easy for them to do so by providing a link to your article in my article’s opening paragraph.

    Readers who compare the two articles will discover that your argument, namely, that “methods of nonviolent action are indeed non-neutral tools” (which you complain I’ve failed to address) have nothing whatever to do with the main purpose of my article, which, again, concerned your failure to back up one of your concluding statements. I will note here, however, that the second part of your sentence, viz., that methods of nonviolence “are far easier to use for empowerment and liberation than for oppression” is based on a logical fallacy. It seems almost axiomatic that methods of nonviolent civil disobedience cannot easily be used for repression, but it does not follow that their use must therefore be for liberation and empowerment. They can, and have, been used to clear the way for the rise to power of US client regimes, the case of Saakashivili being one example, and one I cited in my article. There are more. To defend your thesis that nonviolent disobedience is liberating and empowering, you’re forced to contest examples of nonviolent civil disobedience being used to promote imperialist goals, for if nonviolent action has been yoked to the service of enforcing Western domination, how can nonviolent civil disobedience be empowering and liberating of necessity, as its alleged non-neutral character implies?

    On another matter, you say that I’ve mischaracterized your position, and that you don’t believe that “nonviolence is always more effective than violence”. Fair enough. You also say that “nonviolent action is a promising option that deserves support to see how effective it can become.” On what grounds do you say it’s promising? And promising in which respects? In most, or only some? Can I conclude that your position is that nonviolence may not always be more effective than violence, but that you hope it is? I too would prefer to use nonviolent action to violence, but acknowledge that nonviolent civil disobedience may not always be effective. So, where do we differ?

    Your comment about the untold billions spent by the militaries around the world on methods of violence and the pittance spent on nonviolence puzzles me. You seem either to be calling on governments with large militaries to spend more on nonviolence (in which case, presumably, they can use nonviolence to accomplish what their militaries already accomplish) or you’re trying to justify the involvement of wealthy individuals and imperialist foundations in the financing of nonviolent civil disobedience research. If so, I gather your position is that the non-neutral character of nonviolent civil disobedience will ensure that nonviolent action will always be aimed at liberation and empowerment, despite its funding source, and will not be used to advance the class interests of the wealthy individuals, imperialist foundations and militaries who foot the bill. Attributing a necessary liberating and empowering ethos to nonviolent action makes justifying taking ruling class lucre easy, but it doesn’t make nonviolent struggle necessarily liberating and empowering.

    I take issue with your observation that “Armed struggle has been used against capitalist states for a century, with few successes and many disasters.” If we strike from history the Bolshevik Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, the Cuban Revolution, the Korean, Albanian and Yugoslav partisan campaigns against fascist occupation states during WWII, the Vietnamese armed struggle against French, Japanese and US imperialism, the national liberation struggles in Africa, and so on, maybe. But why limit this to the 20th century and capitalist states? Let’s add the American Revolution and French Revolution too. Weren’t these armed — and effective — struggles against oppression? True, they were against colonial and artistocratic oppression, but is it only armed struggle against non-capitalist states that is to be permitted? Moreover, struggles succeed or fail for many reasons, some of which have nothing whatever to do with whether violence is used or eschewed. And there are numerous examples of nonviolent struggle being used against capitalist states with few successes and many disasters. I’ve lost count of how many boycotts, demonstrations, sit-ins, protests, letter writing campaigns, occupations and the like have accomplished nothing, and have, by their failure, allowed systems of oppression to continue. And there are also cases of nonviolent civil disobedience being deployed against progressive and revolutionary states, Chile under Allende being a conspicuous example, and the Albert Einstein Institution’s training of anti-Chavez activists in the use of nonviolent civil disobedience being another. Some armed stuggles succeed; some fail. Some nonviolent actions succeed; some fail. The reasons they succeed or fail may, at times, have nothing whatever to do with the method of struggle chosen, and may have suceeded or failed with either method. But you attempt to create the impression of a correlation between nonviolence and success and armed struggle and failure by cherry-picking the data and altering the historical record.

    Finally, whether “nonviolent action has contributed to liberation from oppressive rule in places like the Philippines, Indonesia and East Timor” has nothing whatever to do with the issues raised by the ICNC’s critics. If we grant that nonviolent action has indeed contributed to the success of these movements are any of the claims below disproved?

    o ICNC head Peter Ackerman is a charter member of the US ruling class and US foreign policy establishment.

    o The ICNC is interlocked with ruling class organizations and has provided aid and training to groups whose aim is to bring down foreign governments whose policies are not conducive to the interests of Western economic elites.

    o Nonviolent action may not always be appropriate to the circumstances.

    o It is possible to conceive of circumstances in which armed struggle is likely to be more effective than nonviolent action.

  10. Another great post.

    The CIA is not stupid. Of course it would create its own peace and nonviolent organizations.

    That’s what it did in the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia.

    They have lots of tools to use against those who want another form of economic development– be they communist, socialist, reformist, or something else.

    If your resources, including labor markets, are not open to exploitation, they will use lots of tools against you. They don’t have to bomb you. They just need these “pro-democracy” front groups to destabilize your country.

    That’s what they are using against China right now. They always used the Tibet issue, and when it’s convenient, this ratchets up. And now they have the Turkic-speaing Uighurs in the west of the country.

    The so-called left in the US might be the most politically naive bunch of losers I’ve ever seen!

  11. Stephen Gowans has described at length his dissatisfaction with my article “Dilemmas in promoting nonviolence”. However, he has said very little about the content of the article, in particular not mentioning my key argument that “methods of nonviolent action are indeed non-neutral tools: they are far easier to use for empowerment and liberation than for oppression”. Readers can judge for themselves by reading my article ( and comparing it to Gowans’ comments.

    Gowans says that my position is that “nonviolence is always more effective than violence”. That is incorrect. My position is that nonviolent action is a promising option that deserves support to see how effective it can become. Militaries the world around have spent untold billions of dollars on research, development, training, deployment and testing. The amount of support for nonviolent action is minuscule by comparison.

    That nonviolent action has contributed to liberation from oppressive rule in places like the Philippines, Indonesia and East Timor is evidence of its potential even without much funding or training.

    Armed struggle has been used against capitalist states for a century, with few successes and many disasters. I think nonviolent action holds a much greater potential for moving to a more humane social and economic system, as argued in my book Nonviolence versus Capitalism (

    Brian Martin

  12. It would be cool if you could go back over Haiti in your color revolution analysis. The more I learn about it and the fake ‘Left’ parties who opposed Aristide, the more I think it also fits what you talk about perfectly. That is to say, it wasn’t just some random right-wing coup.

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