Strategic nonviolence has the potential to empower citizens, thwart coups, overthrow dictators and defend nations. This section includes historical accounts of nonviolent civilian resistance in the Philippines and Czechoslovakia, an essay on civilian-based defense and a book review of The Politics of Nonviolent Action by Dr. Gene Sharp. There is also some additional material by and about Dr. Sharp, including a magazine article he wrote, a lecture he presented (available as an mp3 download) and an interview I did with the man himself.

Some of the longer pieces have a summary page with graphics.

In the mid-1980's a popular movement sprang up to oust the corrupt Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. As the resistance gained momentum, two key military officers defected from the government and sequestered themselves inside a Manila military base. What followed was an amazing example of nonviolent struggle as hundreds of thousands of ordinary Filipinos took to the streets to protect the rebel officers from troops still loyal to Marcos.

"What the story of the Philippine revolution demonstrates is the power people can have when they withdraw consent."

This article explores the potential of civilian-based defense—the technique of defending a nation's social institutions using strategic nonviolent action. It is based on the book The Politics of Nonviolent Action, a lecture by Gene Sharp that I attended, and an interview I did with him after the lecture.

"…we may be able to give up military weapons for the same reason we gave up bows and arrows—not because they are wicked and immoral—but because we have discovered a better weapons system."

In 1968 the Soviet Union and four other Communist countries invaded Czechoslovakia. Rather than defending themselves militarily, the Czechoslovakian people responded with nonviolent resistance. This piece describes some of the nonviolent tactics they used in an attempt to thwart Soviet objectives. There are also some comments on how the Czechoslovakians could have used nonviolence more effectively, the vulnerabilities of bureaucratic systems, and the practicality of using strategic nonviolence for national defense (civilian-based defense).

"The story of Czechoslovakia in 1968 is a testament to the power of civilian resistance and the limitations of military force. Even when the country was bristling with Warsaw Pact troops and military equipment, in no way could it be said the Soviets were in control of Czechoslovakia."

This is a review of The Politics of Nonviolent Action by Gene Sharp. In part one, Power and Struggle, Sharp discusses the nature of political power, why people obey rulers, the limitations of using violence, and how change can be brought about through the use of strategic nonviolence. He also offers reasons why historians have largely ignored the technique of nonviolent struggle.

"Without at least the passive support of the general population and his/her agents, the most powerful dictator in the world becomes just another crackpot with dreams of world domination."

The Power of Nonviolent Action
By Gene Sharp

This lengthy article was originally published in the March 1976 issue of Fellowship magazine. In this piece Sharp relates several historical episodes, including the American Revolution, where nonviolent action played a pivotal role in achieving political change. He goes on to advocate more serious study of strategic nonviolence for national defense, and upbraids the peace movement for its failures and reluctance to explore new alternatives to war. For me, one of the more interesting threads is the idea of a "hidden history" of nonviolent struggles. While historians focus on wars, revolutions and bloody coups, nonviolent power dynamics may be more influential in shaping history than is generally recognized.

"It has been estimated that in nine or ten of the thirteen colonies, British governmental power had already been effectively and illegally replaced by substitute governments before Lexington and Concord."

You can download an Adobe Acrobat PDF version of this article by clicking on the link below. The file will take about 25 seconds to download with a 56k modem. To view the PDF you need Acrobat Reader 4 or later. If you don't have Reader (it's free), click HERE to download the latest version from the Adobe Web site.

Downloadable mp3 Files

In this speech, strategic nonviolence expert Gene Sharp stresses the need for nations to have effective methods of defending themselves. He makes a case for the feasibility of nonviolent civilian-based defense, while advocating more research to increase its potential for success. Though this lecture was originally presented in 1983, its main points are just as relevant today, and it provides a great introduction to the subject of nonviolence for those of us who would rather listen than read.

Nonviolence & Civilian-based Defense

I interviewed Dr. Sharp in June 1983 while he was attending a conference in Whittier, California. This transcript represents those portions of that conversation that still seem (to me) most interesting and relevant. I’ve tried to include questions that reveal a little about the personal side of the man and his work, and those that cast a critical eye on Sharp’s conception of civilian-based defense and the possibility of transarmament.