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
By Gene Sharp
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
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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.
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.