May 30, 2005

Non-Violent Resistance Works

So how does one overthrow dictatorships? Gene Sharp of the Albert Einstein Institute for Peace has been providing the information about how to do this for years. Via Laura Rozen, we find an interview with him that shows his techniques have been widely used by a number of oppressed people throughout the world including a number of formerly Soviet controlled countries. As Laura Secor starts her piece on Sharp:

A CURIOUS THING started happening in the formerly Communist world in the year 2000. One after another, hated, repressive governments gave way to mass movements of nonviolent refusal. First there was Serbia, then Georgia, then Ukraine, and now Kyrgyzstan. It was as if a virus were spreading - one that led long abused populaces to wake up to their own power, which they could withhold from authorities to stunning effect.

But it wasn't a virus. Among other things, it was an 88-page booklet by a Boston scholar named Gene Sharp, which has circulated in local translation at the site of every one of these nonviolent democratic revolutions.

Called ''From Dictatorship to Democracy," Sharp's booklet lays out a theory of power that explains the mechanisms of dictatorship and their weaknesses. It also details the nuts and bolts of nonviolent resistance: which tools to use in order to undermine a regime's sources of power, how to sustain discipline in the face of violent response, and the crucial importance of entering such struggle as one would a military campaign, with a strategic plan. Tactics include demonstrations and posters, strikes and sit-ins, boycotts and campaigns of non-cooperation. Some of these techniques work to paralyze the society and thus convince rulers that they cannot govern without budging on the issues at stake - or that they cannot govern at all.

Actually, I'd call it a virus. Sharp's ideas have been circulating the globe since the 1950's and has been a part of every non-violent resistance movement since the lunch counter sit-ins of the Civil Rights era. Dr. Sharp wrote "From Dictator to Democracy" in 1983 in response to a request from an exile from Burma looking to bring down the brutal military dictatorship in Burma. (Burma is now known as Myanmar and is famous for the example of Aung San Suu Kyi who is leading the non-violent protest there.)

Dr. Sharp provides a very clear roadmap for how to undermine dictatorships by understanding the weakness of the regime and how to deprive it of the legitimacy and acquiscence of the people that it needs to keep power. One fascinating point he makes is that this type of resistance doesn't need a charismatic leader to work, and in fact, it can work extremely well if these techniques are spread diffusely through the society.

Charismatic leaders are really not typical, in spite of the preconceptions and people thinking of Gandhi and Dr. King.

Wise leaders, intellectually wise leaders who know non-violent struggle well can be very helpful, but someone who is charismatic isn't necessarily wise. Charismatic leaders can even have a negative effect, because their recommendations for action may be unsound.

And besides they are often targets for assassination or imprisonment. And as we've noted in the case of Gandhi and King alone then people feel lost. And much better than looking for or trying develop a charismatic leader (or even worse somebody claiming to be one) is to spread the knowledge of how to wage non-violent struggle effectively to spread that knowledge, that information widely and keep it deeply diffused among the population of the potential resisters.

And then no matter who's arrested or who is killed the population knows essentially what to do and if they have that know-how of what to do, that's going to make their resistance stronger and more durable.

It sounds like we should be reading some Gene Sharp and sharing the knowledge broadly as it might come in very handy as the American Taliban tries to entrench their vision of government onto our country.

Go order or download a copy of From Dictatorship to Democracy.

Secor's article also points out that the Albert Einstein Institute has lost its funding and will be forced to close their doors in September. It seems that these are some ideas that ought to be funded to the fullest if we really desire to have peace and democracy spread throughout the world.

Posted by Mary at May 30, 2005 12:16 PM | Philosophy | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |

But don't stand in front of the bulldozer unless you KNOW the world has it TV cameras on you and you KNOW the driver can see you.

Posted by: JC Bob at May 31, 2005 11:40 AM

I agree that nonviolent resistence is the both tactically and morally the best way to overturn a corrupt political system.

Posted by: The Haikuist at June 2, 2005 02:07 PM