Non-violence, Peace Movements Were Major 20th Century Influence

Often over-looked in the history of the world since 1900 were the triumph of philosophies of non-violence, civil disobedience against unjust laws, and peace movements.

Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, Richard Gregg, Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King Jr. had an enormous impact, and continue to do so. These movements, which elevate the noble ideas that war and violence are not necessary, have been surprisingly successful. And they continue to serve as a foundation for conflict resolution, mediation, peace studies, and diplomacy.

This is easy to forget when the most recent dramatic example — the Arab Spring in the Middle East in the 2010s — was ruthlessly crushed, at least in the short term. Peaceful, non-violent revolution in Russia in the early 20th century also failed, and some argue that Europe’s “Spring of Nations” in 1848 failed for similar reasons. Numerous books and countless articles have been written on why these revolutions failed.

Perhaps more amazing, given human propensity for war and violence, is why some of these revolutions succeeded — most notably, an end to British colonialism in India and much of the 53-nation British commonwealth; an end to legalized discrimination, segregation, and enactment of civil rights legislation for African Americans in the United States; and peaceful transition in South Africa from apartheid and white minority rule to black majority democratic rule.

John Green of Crash Course World History offered this overview:

“Humans often resort to violence when they come into conflict. In the 20th century, it became much more common for people to enact change by means of nonviolence, and there was a common thread of connection between many of the most notable advocates of peaceful change. Crash Course will take you from Gandhi to Gregg to Bayard Rustin to Martin Luther King, Jr, to the Cold War to Arab Spring along a path of nonviolent resistance and peaceful change.” Transcript.


The Kingdom of God is Within You

War and Peace

“A Letter to a Hindu”

Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy’s Theory of History

Mahatma Gandhi

“The Story of my Experiments with Truth”

John Ruskin

Henry David Thoreau

Gandhi in South Africa

Indian resistance to British rule

British Raj

Jain community of monks



Salt March of 1930

Gandhi’s views of Western societies

Vietnamese Independence Movement

Phan Chu Trinh

Egyptian strikes against British rule, 1919

Resistance to American involvement in World War I

Fellowship of Reconciliation

AJ Musty and Kirby Page and Dorothy Day

conscientious objectors

Richard Gregg

The Power of Nonviolence

Spanish Civil War

Pablo Picasso


Nazi Gestapo response to unarmed women

Rosenstrasse protest

Bayard Rustin linked Gandhi and King

Martin Luther King’s trip to India, 1959

Alexander Dubcek, the Czech Communist Party

Prague Spring

Soviets crushed the spring in 1969

Gene Sharp, Politics of Nonviolent Action




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