Ziviler Widerstand - Letzte Generation

Civil resistance

How to succeed


There is a plethora of studied evidence on the effectiveness of peaceful civil resistance - the strategic use of peaceful means by citizens who want to make a difference socially, politically or economically.


Civil resistance is a recognised and effective means of driving social and political change. The NAVCO dataset, one of the largest to date on the subject, examined campaigns from 1900 to 2006 and showed, peaceful civil resistance was twice as successful as violent methods in achieving campaign goals.[1] Reasons for this include the fact that people can be easily mobilized because the "moral, physical, informal barriers and risks to people tend to be lower than in violent protests."[2] The latest studies show that because there is currently more civil resistance than ever before, it is becoming less successful overall. But there is still the case that civil resistance remains statistically a more effective tool.[3] The most famous examples of civil resistance are the movements of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., however, there are also many examples in German history, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and Helgoland. In the latter, on December 20, 1950, two Heidelberg students, René Leudesdorff and Georg von Hatzfeld, occupied the island of Helgoland for two nights and a day in a "rescue operation." They ended up sparking a widespread movement to have Helgoland returned to Germany by the British, who until then had been using the island without permission as a training target by the Royal Air Force. The scientific consensus in no way says that civil resistance is the remedy, nor that it must be pacifist or morally motivated, but that it makes purely strategic sense.[4]

René Leudesdorff (left) and Georg von Hatzfeld toast with a bottle of wine each in a bunker on Helgoland Island. In December 1950, the two Heidelberg students, accompanied by two journalists, set sail for British-occupied Helgoland. There they raised several flags.

Source: © Picture Alliance / DPA


November 19, 1989 (Velvet Revolution) - demonstrators kneel in front of riot police in downtown Prague. The police reacted with violence. Within a few weeks, the non-violent protest initiated a movement toward democracy in Czechoslovakia.

Civil resistance is closely linked to democracy. If we look at the history of the emergence of many democracies, we see that in more than 70% of the cases in which dictatorships were overthrown, civil resistance played a decisive role.[5] Examples of the long democratic tradition of civil resistance include the Color Revolutions in Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003), Lebanon (2005), Kyrgyzstan (2005), and democratization in the Philippines in 1986, Poland in 1988, the Czech Republic and Hungary in 1989, Ukraine in 2004/2005, and Nepal in 2006.[6] Moreover, in scholarly debate, led by people like Hannah Arendt, Henry David Thoreau, and Jürgen Habermas, also revolves around the fact that existing democracies can rely on civil resistance to regulate themselves and strengthen their own democratic principles.[7] In this context, civil resistance is designed to build constructive, peaceful tensions so that a society addresses previously repressed or unrecognized deficits.[8] As Robin Celikates put it, history shows that democracies are always susceptible to distortion and manipulation, and that some problems cannot be solved conclusively within the framework of democratic institutions. Civil resistance has often demonstrated its democracy-promoting function and given citizens a voice that would otherwise be silenced through other institutional channels.[9] After all, the very concept of democracy states that it is a form of government that emanates from the people, and that their political activity should be central to this form of government.[10]

To complement this, the "Movement Action Plan" - a model based on successful case studies that summarizes the different phases of civil resistance - shows the different stages of protest. It is interesting to note that even when states violate democratic values, such as freedom and equality, it is common in the initial phase of protests, also called "normal" or "silent" times, that the public nevertheless accepts the actions of politicians.[11] Reasons for this include the fact that the violations of democracy are not dealt with publicly and go largely unnoticed, and that politicians present their work in a way that appears to be consistent with fundamental values. However, as the protests progress, it is likely that the social, political and economic structures that have enabled the opposition to behave anti-democratically will be dismantled and support for civil resistance will grow.[12] The anti-nuclear movement is one of many examples that illustrate these dynamics: At the beginning of the protests, it was estimated that only 10-15% of the public perceived anti-democratic measures as a serious problem; over the course of the protests, this shifted to a majority of about 80%..[13]

04 June 1980 - Demonstrators of the anti-nuclear movement are evicted by the police. Source: © DPA: Dieter Klar


In conclusion, we see that civil resistance is by no means a "desperate act" or "last resort" used uncontrollably, but illustrates that it is an effective and democratic tool. Without civil resistance, it is difficult to imagine the many political and social changes of the past centuries.

[1] Vgl. CHENOWETH / STEPHAN: How Civil Resistance Works, 7-8; SHARP: The Politics of Nonviolent Action, 4.

[2] Vgl. Ebd.

[3] Vgl. CHENOWETH: Civil Resistance. What everybody needs to know.

[4] Vgl. ROBERTS/ GARTON ASH, Civil Resistance and Power Power Politics: the Experience of Non-Violent Action from Gandhi to the Present, p. 372

[5] Vgl. KARATNYCKY/ACKERMAN: How Freedom is Won, 6-8.

[6] Vgl. Ebd., 4; Vgl. CHENOWETH/ WILES SHAY: List of campaigns in NAVCO 1.3.

[7] Vgl. THOREAU: Civil Disobedience, 12-13.

[8] Vgl. SHARP: The Politics of Nonviolent Action.

[9] Vgl. CELIKATES: Klimaprotest ist “nicht antidemokratisch”,; Vgl. MARTIN: Democracy without elections.

[10] Vgl. OXFORD REFERENCE: Democracy.

[11] Vgl. MOYER: The Movement Action Plan, 9-10.

[12] Vgl. ebd., 26-32.

[13] Vgl. ebd., 10; 32.


CELIKATES, Robin: Klimaprotest ist „nicht antidemokratisch“. Interview im Deutschlandfunk. 20.10.2019. Online zugänglich unter: (Letzter Zugriff am 11.11.2022).

CHENOWETH, Erica / STEPHAN, Maria J.: Why civil resistance works: The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict. In: International Security Nr. 33/1, (2008): 7-44.

CHENOWETH, Erica / WILEY SHAY Christopher: List of Campaigns in NAVCO 1.3. Harvard Dataverse. 2020. Online zugänglich unter (Letzter Zugriff 14.11.2022).

KARATNYCKY, Adrian / ACKERMAN, Peter:  How freedom is won. From civic resistance to durable democracy, New York 2005. Online zugänglich unter: (Letzter Zugriff am 11.11.2022).

KING, Martin Luther Jr.: Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Online zugänglich unter: (Letzter Zugriff am 11.11.2022).

MOYER, Bill. The movement action plan. A strategic framework describing the eight stages

of successful social movements, 1987. Online zugänglich unter: (Letzter Zugriff am 11.11.2022).

OXFORD REFERENCE: Democracy. Online zugänglich unter: (Letzter Zugriff am 11.11.2022).

SHARP, Gene: The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Boston, Mass. 1973. (Letzter Zugriff 11.11. 2022).

THOREAU, Henry David: Civil Disobedience. 1849. Online zugänglich unter: (Letzter Zugriff am 14.11.2022)

MARTIN, Brian: Democracy without Elections. In: Ehrlich, Howard (Hrsg.): Reinventing Anarchy, Again, Edinburgh 1996, 123-136. Online zugänglich unter: (Letzter Zugriff am 11.11.2022).

ROBERTS, Adam / GARTON ASH: Civil resistance and power politics: the experience of non-violent action from Gandhi to the present. Oxford university press, 2009.

Further Resources

CHENOWETH, Erica: What everybody needs to know, 2021.

ENGLER , Marc / ENGLER, Paul: This is an uprising. How nonviolent revolt is shaping the twenty-first century”, 2016.

MARTIN, Brian: From political jiu-jitsu to the backfire dynamic: How repression can promote mobilization. In: Schock, Kurt (Hrsg.): Civil resistance: Comparative perspectives on nonviolent Struggle, Minneapolis 2015, 145-167. Online zugänglich unter: (Letzter Zugriff am 11.11.2022).

SHARP, Gene. 198 Methods of nonviolent action

FILM: Gene Sharp How to start a revolution

FILM: Childrens March:

FILM: Freedom Riders full:

FILM: United in Anger (Act Up)

FILM: Gandhi (1982)