Date of Award

Spring 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


International Affairs


What explains the violent or nonviolent nature of a social movement? While much literature exists on both phenomena separately, this essay compares the charismatic leaderships of two liberation movements, one violent and one nonviolent, to attempt to identify the determinants for the respective violent or nonviolent strategy. The two case studies, Mahatma Gandhi in India and Che Guevara in Cuba, show similar starting points, characterized by a deep compassion for disenfranchised and marginalized people in their regions suffering from an exploitative foreign power. This paper identifies three main factors that influenced Mahatma Gandhi and Che Guevara to join or lead a nonviolent and a violent movement, respectively: 1) the historical and structural context of the countries and regions, 2) the influence of travel on the development of ideology, 3) Che Guevara’s witnessing of the overthrow of Árbenz’ government in Guatemala, and Gandhi’s time in South Africa as significant turning points. As a result, both movements will be studied in comparison and the conclusion drawn that both Gandhi and Che Guevara a) had unique, larger visions for their people and struggles; b) had well-defined, short-term goals of self-determination; c) shaped their revolutionary strategies with unique ideological aspects, which then led them to opt for violent or nonviolent tactics.