Why Movements Fail

On Facebook, Kaxu Haga, East Point Peace Academy Coordinator, posted:

Looking for resources on studying movements that FAILED. We always romanticize current and historical movements that had the best successes, but there’s so much to learn from the times that we didn’t. Books, websites, articles, anything?

He’s received a good number of valuable responses. You might want to review them on Facebook.

The one that most attracted my attention was this recommendation: The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution by Micah White.

Here’s my response to his question:

Why Some Movements Succeed And Others Fail by Greg Satell sums it up very well, very briefly. His reference to the book, Join the Club, is well taken. Excellent, important book.


Rachel L. Einwohner makes a distinction between a failed movement, which fails to mobilize people, and a movement failure, which fails to achieve its goal. She argues that even a failed movement may not be fruitless because “failures of some types may lead to other kinds of successes.”


Violence Doesn’t Work (Most of the Time)” by Stephen Pinker

“Just think of the failed independence movements in Puerto Rico, Ulster, Quebec, Basque Country, Kurdistan, and Tamil Eelam. The success rate of terrorist movements is, at best, in the single digits.”


Algerian Chronicles by Albert Camus

A beautifully written collection of articles and essays about Algeria written by Camus over a 20 year period. Though the Left ostracized him in the 50s, these works have proven eerily prescient. I wonder if Mandela read it while in prison. Many passages could be lifted verbatim and applied to today’s reciprocal terrorism. Heart-breaking book.

Any spirited movement will likely include some violence, and we need not waste our time trying to convert the violence-prone. But we need not legitimize it, and we need to learn how to conduct nonviolent demonstrations that are not disrupted by violence.

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