Marx and Engels on Nonviolence

A few days ago, I asked the question in class, how would Marx view the lack of violence in the Indian revolution?  Knowing that Marx believed violence was necessary for a successful revolution, I wanted to understand why.  I did some research on Marx and Engels’ views on violence in revolutions.  I found this Jstor article very helpful in understanding their opinions:  Most of the first two pages is just review of Marxist philosophy of revolutions.

According to Engels in The Principles of Communism, he would not resist a nonviolent revolution, however he views violence as the only way to combat suppression, as suppression itself is enforced through violence.  He describes the proletariat as, “goaded into revolution” by this suppression.  This seems to suggest that violence is the natural response to suppression.  Therefore there needs to be some powerful outside source or leader separate from the masses, who advocates for nonviolence, in order to prevent this seemingly inevitable course of actions.  In the Indian Revolution, that strong leader and advocate for nonviolence appears to be Gandhi.  Without Gandhi, while the Revolution would still occur according to Marx and Engels, it would most likely be a violent one because there would be no one preventing it from becoming one.  Therefore, the prerequisite for a nonviolent revolution is an incredibly influential leader, who is a supporter of nonviolence.  Such influential leaders like Gandhi are not common, which is part of the reason why we remember Gandhi so positively 60 years after his death.  So a nonviolent revolution may not be impossible, however, it is incredibly unlikely, as leaders like Gandhi are extremely rare.  Marx and Engels do not deny the effectiveness of a nonviolent revolution, however they deny the ability for it to be implemented.  So the prospect of a violent revolution is not inevitable as Marx and Engels assert, but highly unlikely.

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4 Responses to Marx and Engels on Nonviolence

  1. Pho says:

    I agree with the fact that it takes a strong leader in order to commit a nonviolent revolution. In the instance of Gandhi, he successfully influenced his followers to fight a nonviolent revolution, dictating that the ability to reject violence is a much more powerful weapon than to commit it. Gandhi was also able to control his followers and prevent them from seeking violence. For example, Gandhi called off his civil disobedience campaign when he heard about an outbreak of violence from demonstrators. On the other hand, I agree with Marx and Engels in the idea that a violent revolution is inevitable however, a strong leader such as Gandhi is able to prevent that inevitability. I believe that when a society attempts to create change or when they look to rebel against an opposition, they choose violence as a solution to their disorder. Society inevitably selects the tactics of violence however, there is a chance for a strong enough leader to create an impact on society, in order to steer the people in a nonviolent direction.

  2. Katherine says:

    I agree with Pho, because I think that a violent revolution is easier path to fight a cause, however the non violent revolutions have proved to be more effective. It is easier in a violent revolution to gain followers for because it is the usual type of revolution and it is what people are used to when they want to fight a cause. Gandhi was able to lead his followers through ideas and self control instead of death and destruction and through this he was able to create a revolution that would impact how people go about change until now, including our civil rights movement.

  3. Sheena says:

    Although violent revolutions seems to cause more followers, non-violent revolutions are more effective and the changes that are made last for longer. For example, all of the France’s revolutions were violent and the time between all the revolutions was very little. In the span on a century France created three new republic that did not for less than 20 years. However, many non-violent protests have changes that remain for many years.

  4. Dr. K says:

    Katherine and Sheena,

    Why do you think non-violent revolutions are more effective?

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