Direct action

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Mohandas Gandhi and supporters Salt March on March 12, 1930. This was an act of non-violent direct action.
Depiction of the Belgian general strike of 1893. A general strike is an example of confrontational direct action.

Direct action is a method and a theory of stopping objectionable practices or creating more favorable conditions using immediately available means, such as strikes, boycotts, workplace occupations, sit-ins, or sabotage, and less oppositional methods such as establishing radical social centres, although these are often squatted. Direct actions are often (but not always) civil disobedience. Those employing direct action aim to either

  • obstruct another agent or organization from performing some objectionable practice
  • act with whatever resources and methods are within their power, either on their own or as part of a group, in order to solve problems

This method and theory is direct in that it seeks immediate remedy for perceived ills, as opposed to indirect tactics such as electing representatives who promise to provide remedy at some later date.


The theory of direct action developed primarily in the context of labor struggles. In his 1920 book, Direct Action, William Mellor placed direct action firmly in the struggle between worker and employer for control "over the economic life of society." Mellor defined direct action "as the use of some form of economic power for securing of ends desired by those who possess that power." Mellor considered direct action a tool of both owners and workers. For this reason he included within his definition lockouts and cartels, as well as strikes and sabotage.

By the middle of the 20th century, the sphere of direct action had undoubtedly expanded, though the meaning of the term had perhaps contracted. Most campaigns for social change -- notable those seeking suffrage, improved working conditions, civil rights, an end to abortion, and environmental protection -- employ at least some types of violent or non-violent direct action.

Nonviolent direct action

Mohandas K. Gandhi's teachings of Satyagraha (or truth force) have inspired many practitioners of nonviolent direct action (NVDA), who often view it as a tool that the less powerful can use against those with more power. In 1963, civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr. described the goal of NVDA in his Letter from Birmingham Jail: "Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored."

The anti-nuclear movement has deployed NVDA: for instance, during the 1980s many groups which opposed the introduction of Cruise missiles into the UK employed tactics such as breaking into and occupying US air bases, blocking roads in order to prevent the movement of military convoys, disruption of building works related to military projects and so forth. Many groups also set up semi-permanent 'peace camps' outside air bases such as Molesworth and Greenham Common.

Animal rights groups such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) have also used the tactics of NVDA in the past, such as breaking into laboratories where animal experiments are carried out and physically removing—"liberating"—the animals from the premises (although it is arguably cruel to release these tame animals into the wild).

Other examples

See also

External links

This page contains information from Anarchopedia (view authors). It has been modified so that it meets Communpedia's standards. AP