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A. 4.a. Civil Resistance to Military Coups

An important role for unarmed resistance has been for people to mobilize in defence of their existing government against illegal attempts by military and political groups to seize power. Key examples have become part of the literature on civil resistance – for example the civilian mobilization on behalf of the socialist government in the newly created Weimar Republic in 1920. Whilst unarmed resistance to coups is sometimes treated as part of a wider debate about the possibility of defending existing governments and society against military attack, its importance is in many ways distinct from the case for abandoning weapons for national defence, and can be seen as central to debates about democratization.

Gorbachev, Mikhail, The August Coup: The Truth and the Lessons, London and New York, Harper Collins, 1991, pp. 127

Gorbachev’s own brief account of the attempted coup against him and his reformist programme in August 1991, with some appended documents.

Martin, Brian, Lessons in Nonviolence from the Fiji Coups, Gandhi Marg, Vol. 10, issue 2 (Sept), 1988, pp. 326-339

(also in Martin, Nonviolent Struggle and Social Defence (A. 1.b. Strategic Theory, Dynamics, Methods and Movements) ), Ch. 5.

McCaughan, Michael, The Battle of Venezuela, London, Latin America Bureau, 2004, pp. 116

Examines thwarting attempted coup by the right against Hugo Chavez in 2002. (See also the works under Venezuela in E IV.12)

Norden, Deborah L., Military Rebellion in Argentina: Between Coups and Consolidation, Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1996, pp. 242

Studies military rebellions after return to civilian government in 1982.

See also: Lopez Levy, Marcela , We Are Millions: Neo-Liberalism and New Forms of Political Action in Argentina London, Latin America Bureau, , 2004 . Includes brief reference to millions demonstrating in support of President Alfonsin after a military uprising in a barracks in Argentina, Easter 1987, against trials of military for the ‘Dirty War’ (pp. 41 and 122), and explains broader context.

Remnick, David, Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1994, pp. 586

Part 4, pp. 433-90, covers the August Coup, emphasizing popular support for the resistance as well as the mistakes of the plotters. For a contrasting interpretation see:

Roberts, Adam, Civil Resistance to Military Coups, Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 12, issue 1, 1975, pp. 19-36

Discusses resistance to Kapp Putsch in Germany 1920 and attempted coup in France by generals based in Algeria in 1961.

Sharp, Gene ; Jenkins, Bruce, The Anti-Coup, Cambridge MA, Albert Einstein Institution, 2003, pp. 64

Summary analysis of potential for popular nonviolent resistance to defeat coup attempts, recommendations for organised strategy and advance preparations to prevents coups, and with very brief description of resistance to Kapp Putsch in 1920, the Algerian Generals in 1961 and to attempt to overthrow Gorbachev in 1991.

Steele, Jonathan, Eternal Russia: Yeltsin, Gorbachev and the Mirage of Democracy, London, Faber and Faber, 1994

Chapter 4, pp. 59-70, gives an eye witness account of the coup and stresses the inefficiency of the plotters and the limited popular response to Yeltsin’s call for popular defiance and a general strike.

Talbott, John, The War Without a Name: France in Algeria 1954-62, New York, Alfred Knopf, 1980, pp. 305

Ch. 9 examines the generals’ putsch in 1961 and notes responses to it both by the left and by De Gaulle, and their conflicting claims to have quashed the coup.

Taylor, Richard, Training Manual for Nonviolent Defense against the Coup d’Etat, revised edition with introduction by Hardy Merriman, Washington DC, Nonviolence International, 2010, pp. 76

Zunes, Stephen, Civil Resistance against Coups: A Comparative and Historical Perspective, ICNC Monograph Series, Washington D.C., ICNC, 2017, pp. 104 pb

Zunes provides detailed case studies of civil resistance to military coups in recent decades.  His aim is to advance an analysis of the role of civil society and nonviolent movements in resisting such takeovers, and the role of international pressure and solidarity by both governments and activists. Available in PDF at:

See also:

Adam Roberts, Civil Resistance in the East European and Soviet Revolutions, (C. I.2.c.i. Comparative Studies), Includes brief assessment of the August 1991 coup attempt in the Soviet Union and popular resistance to it.