Rightful resistance

By Lexi Rowland

Rightful resistance in rural China, as presented by O'Brien in his paper on the movement, has been extremely successful in creating a degree of democracy in a country where the communist party has so long been the rule of law. The type and success rate of the resistance practiced by China's rural population, as well as the many other examples of such a resistance in other countries, poses the question for whether this resistance would not be a non-violent way of creating meaningful change in all countries. Are revolutions and rightful resistance movements mutually exclusive?

Rightful resistance, in the form that it is practiced in rural China, is based on a few factors which O'Brien claims to be fundamental to its creation. Among these, the use of the existing institutional framework, allegiance of the resistors with political elites and the disavowal of violent protest are the most important for creating grass roots support for the movement. The use of an existing framework has been especially useful to the resistance movement because it leaves no room for political elites to claim that the resistors are illegitimate. This fact as well as the use of non-violence often creates the widespread support of both political elites and the community as a whole. In trying to make such a framework work for movements against the system however, this fact becomes problematic. 

The toss up lies in the fact that a revolution arguably cannot be simultaneously legitimate and revolutionary. The absence of violence may be achieved, and support at a grass roots level may be easily obtained, but working within the system of institutions in order to change such a system is something that is not easily achieved. Perhaps a movement may start this way but generally, in order to change the system it would need to discard of the system or become violent. Thus, this would not fall within O'Brien's analysis of what a rightful resistance should be.

Other definitions, which may offer more room for a movement to be defined as both revolutionary and rightful, are described in the Qu'ran. Here, the rightful resistance movement is one in which those who are resisting should be in a state of oppression. As an addition, violence should not be used without violence first being used by the aggressor. Due to the fact that an oppressed community is often the case with revolutionary environments, many of these revolutions could then be deemed rightful.

The use of violence would not be the deciding factor as to whether a movement should be deemed rightful or not. The decision lays with the political elites which are opposing such a resistance and therefore it would seem that rightful resistance and revolutionary resistance would remain mutually exclusive.