Ernesto Che Guevara, Leon Trotsky, Frantz Fanon and Subhas Chandra Bose were fervent critics of nonviolence, arguing variously that nonviolence and pacifism are an attempt to impose the morals of the bourgeoisie upon the proletariat, that violence is a necessary accompaniment to revolutionary change or that the right to self-defense is fundamental. Note, for example, the complaint of Malcolm X that "I believe it's a crime for anyone being brutalized to continue to accept that brutality without doing something to defend himself."
George Orwell argued that the nonviolent resistance strategy of Gandhi could be effective in countries with "a free press and the right of assembly", which could make it possible "not merely to appeal to outside opinion, but to bring a mass movement into being, or even to make your intentions known to your adversary"; but he was skeptical of Gandhi's approach being effective in the opposite sort of circumstances.
Reinhold Niebuhr similarly affirmed Gandhi's approach while criticising aspects of it. He argued, "The advantage of non-violence as a method of expressing moral goodwill lies in the fact that it protects the agent against the resentments which violent conflict always creates in both parties to a conflict, and it proves this freedom of resentment and ill-will to the contending party in the dispute by enduring more suffering than it causes." However, Niebuhr also held, "The differences between violent and non-violent methods of coercion and resistance are not so absolute that it would be possible to regard violence as a morally impossible instrument of social change."
"The concept of nonviolence is a false ideal. It presupposes the existence of compassion and a sense of justice on the part of one's adversary. When this adversary has everything to lose and nothing to gain by exercising justice and compassion, his reaction can only be negative."
Malcolm X also clashed with civil rights leaders over the issue of nonviolence, arguing that violence should not be ruled out if no option remained.
In his book How Nonviolence Protects the State, anarchistPeter Gelderloos criticises nonviolence as being ineffective, racist, statist, patriarchal, tactically and strategically inferior to militant activism, and deluded. Gelderloos claims that traditional histories whitewash the impact of nonviolence, ignoring the involvement of militants in such movements as the Indian independence movement and the Civil Rights Movement and falsely showing Gandhi and King as being their respective movement's most successful activists.:7–12 He further argues that nonviolence is generally advocated by privileged white people who expect "oppressed people, many of whom are people of color, to suffer patiently under an inconceivably greater violence, until such time as the Great White Father is swayed by the movement's demands or the pacifists achieve that legendary 'critical mass.'":23 On the other hand, anarchism also includes a section committed to nonviolence called anarcho-pacifism. The main early influences were the thought of Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy while later the ideas of Mohandas Gandhi gained importance. It developed "mostly in Holland, Britain, and the United States, before and during the Second World War".
Nonviolence advocates see some truth in this argument: Gandhi himself said often that he could teach nonviolence to a violent person but not to a coward and that true nonviolence came from renouncing violence, not by not having any to renounce.
Advocates responding to criticisms of the efficacy of nonviolence point to the limited success of non-violent struggles even against the Nazi regimes in Denmark and even in Berlin. A study by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan found that nonviolent revolutions are twice as effective as violent ones and lead to much greater degrees of democratic freedom.