Review: Waging Nonviolent Struggle – 20th Century Practice And 21st Century Potential

5 Star, Asymmetric, Cyber, Hacking, Odd War, Change & Innovation, Civil Society, Consciousness & Social IQ, Culture, Research, Democracy, Diplomacy, Peace, Poverty, & Middle Class, Politics, Public Administration, Secession & Nullification, Stabilization & Reconstruction, Survival & Sustainment, Voices Lost (Indigenous, Gender, Poor, Marginalized)
Amazon Page

Gene Sharp

5.0 out of 5 stars Foundation Work Not Yet Appreciated,August 28, 2012

In 1992 I was the second-ranking civilian in Marine Corps intelligence, and with the support of the Marine Corps, sought to get National Intelligence Topics moved from denied areas that were few in number and declining in importance, toward “low-intensity” threats and conditions in the Third World. The Marine Corps also tried to shift the US intelligence collection system from “priority driven” (collect over and over on the same limited set of targets) to “gap driven” (do a first pass on everything, then start over focusing on gaps). I’ve been thinking for a very long time about the deficiencies in US diplomatic, information, military, and economic (DIME) predispositions, bias, capabilities, and Achilles heels. I had more or less given up on the US Government specifically ever coming to its senses, when a bolt of lighting came out of the blue — Admiral James Stavrides, Supreme Commander for NATO, gave a TED talk about “open source security.” That is code for a complex range of things called Operations Other Than War (OOTW), Stabilization & Reconstruction (S&R), Public Diplomacy, and International Assistance, among other things. The US stinks at all of them, in part because we do not have a Whole of Government strategy, operations, intelligence, and logistics approach to anything — stovepipes, each badly managed and crossing wires, seem to be the standard.  The “M” in the Office of Management and Budget is not just silent, it is non-existent.

While I have read many other books relevant to the ideal of creating a prosperous world at peace, a world that works for all, this book was recommended to me as a starting point for avanced thinking in non-violent peace and prosperity operations, as I like to think of them, along with the author’s previous work, The politics of nonviolent action (Extending horizons books).

This is a practical book with very specific case studies and very specific itemizations (198 of them) that may replicate some of the author’s earlier work, but easily make this one book a stand-alone reference work for advanced studies by diplomats, warriors, and policy wonks long isolated from the real world. This book is not a replacement for Howard Zinn’s A Power Governments Cannot Suppress or Jonathan Schell’s The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People. The three go well together.

For the grand strategic view I would suggest Philip Allott’s The Health of Nations: Society and Law beyond the State; at the operational level, Mark Palmer’s Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World’s Last Dictators by 2025, and at the tactical level, Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail (BK Currents (Paperback)).

This is a multi-purpose volume. One can skip the case studies and ingest the beginning and the end, which is what I did, or one can use the volume as a distributed reading and research exercise–if I were using it each case study would be the foundation for a student paper on what never happened — the obliviousness of the UN, NATO, the US, etcetera, to the non-violent intervention points and the importance of NOT persisting with support to dictators and foreign military sales. As an aside, the dirty little secret of the CIA is that they are never serious about deposing evil, they just like to toy with dissidents on the margins — the best documentary on this long-standing fact is Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times.

I value the book for the brevity of its main point: non-violent power is real and practical and has many manifestations (most of them not really known to me in a coherent scheme before reading this book). State power is context dependent, and much — *much* — more subject to public will than most realize.

The author is a deep student of Gandhi, and summarizes some of Gandhi’s wisdom. I would also point the reader to my own summary of the work of others, augmented by my own original matrix for analyzing preconditions of revolution, easily found by looking for < 2011 Thinking About Revolution in the USA and Elsewhere (Full Text Online for Google Translate) >.

The author outlines three main situations where non-violent changes of power can occur:

01 Non-violent protest and persuasion

02 Non-coperation (economic boycotts or labor strikes, political)

03 Non-violent intervention — it is in this arena that I believe the USA has wasted 50 years and allowed corruption to displace good will.

I note with interest the author’s emphasis on openness versus secrecy as the underlying value for non-violent resistance, as well as his emphasis on solidarity (cultural) and discipline (moral and physical) as essential to facing down repression.

Chapter 4 “The Methods of Non-Violent Action (pp. 49-65) is for me, at the age of 60 and generally well-read, a wake up call on how little I actually know. In 14 pages the author has distilled the essence of what could be, should be, the forms of democratic non-violent protest that a truly democratic and serious USA might plan, program, and budget to support.

198 specifics, I will not list them here, but since these reviews are also my aide memoires (I now travel light and donate all books after reading), I will list the principle headings to inspire the use of this book by others.

I Actions to Send a Message / Nonviolent Protest and Persuasion
+ Formal statements (1-6)
+ Communications with a wider audience (7-12)
+ Group presentations (13-17)
+ Sympolic public acts (18-30)
+ Pressure on individuals (31-34)
+ Drama and music (35-37)
+ Processions (38-42)
+ Honoring the dead (43-46)
+ Public assemblies (47-50)
+ Withdrawal and renunciation (51-54)

II Actions to Suspend Cooperation and Assistance / Methods of Non-Cooperation

A. Actions to suspend social relations/The methods of social noncooperation
+ Ostracism of persons (55-59)
+ Noncooperation with social events, customs, and institutions (60-64)
+ Withdrawal from the social system (65-70)

B. Actions to suspend economic relations/The methods of economic noncooperation
(1) Economic boycotts
+ Action by consumers (71-77)
+ Actions by workers and producers (78-79)
+ Action by middlemen (80)
+ Action by owners and management (81-85)
+ Action by holders of financial resources (86-91)
+ Action by governments (92-96)
(2) Labor strikes
+ Symbolic strikes (97-98)
+ Agricultural strikes (99-100)
+ Strikes by special groups (101-104)
+ Ordinary industrial strikes (105-107)
+ Restricted strikes (108-115)
+ Multi-industry strikes (116-117)
+ Combination of strikes and economic closures (118-119)

C, Actions to suspend political submission and assistance/The methods of political noncooperation
+ Rejection of authority (120-122)
+ Citizens’ noncooperation with government (123-132)
+ Citizens’ alternatives to disobedience (133-141)
+ Actions by government personnel (142-148)
+ Domestic governmental action (149-150)
+ International governmental action (151-157)

III. Methods of Disruption/The methods of Nonviolent Intervention
+ Psychological intervention (158-161)
+ Physical intervention (162-173)
+ Social intervention (174-180)
+ Economic intervention (181-192)
+ Political intervention (193-198)

The above list is by no means complete but it is very explicit, very imaginative, and the best starting point I have every seen.

Beginning on page 509 the author discusses a number of righteous outcomes toward which non-violent struggle can aspire, and I list them here:

01 Dismantling dictatorships
02 Blocking coups d’etat
03 Increasing defense against foreign aggression and occupation
04 Lifting oppression of ethnic, religious, and racial groups
05 Lifting social and economic injustices
06 Preserving and extending democratic practices and human rights
07 Dictatorship prevention
08 Genocide prevention
09 Preservation of indigenous peoples and cultures
10 Non-violent struggle in the midst of violent conflict (an alternative)

The book concludes with four Appendices

A. Preparing a Strategic Estimate for Nonviolent Struggle — this is an intelligence reqwuirements document! What needs to be known before beginning.
B. Glossary – non-trivial, I think to myself that non-violence has the same need for standardization of terminology as does NATO
C. Preparing Translatons on Nonviolent Struggle
D. Sources for Further Reading

The index is solid.

This book was written before the Arab Spring and before Occupy, and it clearly is not being read by either group, but one can only hope that as time goes by, the absolute merits of non-violence and of diversity of non-violent methods — 198 and counting — may proliferate. I put the book down pensive about the 5,000 secessionist movements around the world (27 of them in the USA), all with very legitimate grievances, all with legitimate aspirations I would hope they could achieve with the non-violent methods in this book.

I will end with one observation: I did not learn until recently that Gandhi and Martin Luther King agreed not only on the importance of non-violence, but also on the value of violence if non-violence is not successful and continued oppression is in store. Those who would diminish the non-violent approach should be well aware that non-violence is an alternative to violence but in no way does it preclude violence. Governments can abuse some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but they cannot abuse all of the people (99% will do here) all of the time. The Industrial Era is OVER. Epoch B has begun, and I could not have asked for a more profound reader than this book by Gene Sharp.

My three remaining links:
The Tao of Democracy: Using co-intelligence to create a world that works for all
Escaping the Matrix: How We the People can change the world
Radical Man: The Process of Psycho-Social Development

Robert David Steele
THE OPEN SOURCE EVERYTHING MANIFESTO: Transparency, Truth & Trust

Vote and/or Comment on Review