A Manifesto for Nonviolent Revolution | Training For Change

A Manifesto for Nonviolent Revolution


Organizing & Strategy iconOrganizing & Strategy





Reprinted with permission from A Manifesto for Nonviolent Revolution. Philadelphia, PA: Movement for a New Society, 1976

by George Lakey

How can we live at home on planet Earth?

As individuals we often feel our lack of power to affect the course of events or even our own environment. We sense the untapped potential in ourselves, the dimensions that go unrealized. We struggle to find meaning in a world of tarnished symbols and impoverished cultures. We long to assert control over our lives, to resist the heavy intervention of state and corporation in our plans and dreams. We sometimes lack the confidence to celebrate life in the atmosphere of violence and pollution which surrounds us. Giving up on altering our lives, some of us try at least to alter our consciousness through drugs. Turning ourselves and others into objects, we experiment with sensation. We are cynical early, and blame ourselves, and wonder that we cannot love with a full heart.

The human race groans under the oppressions of colonialism, war, racism, totalitarianism, and sexism. Corporate capitalism abuses the poor and exploits the workers, while expanding its power through the multinational corporations. The environment is choked. National states play power games, which defraud their citizens and prevent the emergence of world community. What shall we do?

Rejecting the optimistic gradualism of reformists and the despair of tired radicals, we now declare ourselves for nonviolent revolution. We intend that someday all of humanity will live on Earth as brothers and sisters. We issue this manifesto as guidance in the next decades to ourselves and others who choose not to escape, who want to recover their personhood by participating in loving communities, who realize that struggle is central to recovering our humanity, and who want that struggle to reflect in its very style a commitrnent to life.

The manifesto includes a vision of a new society-its economy and ecology, its forms of conflict, its global dimensions. The manifesto also proposes a framework for strategy of struggle and change, which is presented here.


A person may be clear in his or her analysis of the present order, may have a bold projection of a new society, but still be uncertain about what course to take in getting from here to there. Should I devote myself to building counter institutions, or to shooting practice, or to protest demonstrations? Should I organize among students, workers, the unemployed, or the “solid citizens?”

Decisions on what to do are often taken on impulse or because of movement fashions; a particular tactic like occupying buildings may be taken up because it meets the psychological mood of the moment. Serious long-run struggle cannot be waged on such a basis, however. Mood and fashion are too much at the mercy of repression. Rosa Luxemburg may have been exaggerating when she said that we shall lose every battle except the last, but the basic point is sound; the struggle will be long and hard and our actions cannot be evaluated only by short-run psychological satisfactions.

Further, struggle by impulse is undemocratic. Wide popular participation in decisions about struggle can only come through wide discussion, which requires time, which requires planning ahead. Leaving strategic decisions to the crisis point means delegating power to a central committee or to the demagogue who is most skilled at manipulation of mood and fashion.

Tactics – actions at particular moments-often must be improvised as best they can, and leaders have their role at such times. Strategy – a general plan which links the actions into a cumulative development of movement power, and which provides means for evaluating tactics-is too important to be left to the leaders.

Creating a Strategy

The most effective strategy is specific to the historic situation. The Chinese Communist Party, for example, began with a strategy borrowed from Europe and tried to organize the industrial proletariat. Only when Mao Tse-Tung devised a strategy for the Chinese situation, emphasizing peasants rather than workers and the countryside rather than the city, did the struggle have more chance for success.

In the Belgian socialists’ struggle for universal suffrage there was a period of flirtation with a violent strategy imported from the French revolutionary tradition. Only when the workers turned away from the romance of the barricades and, through wide discussion decided on a disciplined general strike, did the campaign achieve its goal.

Strategies gain in power as they gain in specific relation to the situation. Every situation, however dismal it may seem has some leverage points. (Even in Hitler’s concentration camps inmates organized resistance movements.) The hopeful, creative revolutionist will find those leverage points and develop a plan for struggle.