I have often quoted Gene Sharp’s little book from ‘Dictatorship to Democracy’ when talking about the importance of peaceful protests pointing out how violent protests play to a government’s strengths.
So, the other day I when I came across a combined precis of three other books he wrote, called ‘How non-violent Struggle works’ I was keen to read it and have now had the chance to condense it down to this summary of around 800 words. This book has definitely helped confirm my view that peaceful protests are the only realistic way forward to achieve the reforms and changes we need to our governance.
This short book of around 100 pages starts by pointing out that there are not only two alternatives to protest, namely, ‘Passive Submission’ or ‘Violent Reaction’ but a third ‘Non-Violent Protest’- NVAs.
The other key issues are covered in around half a dozen chapters which I summaries below in a number of bullet points comment with key issues highlighted in red.
First it is important to understand:
‘THE EXERCISE OF POWER DEPENDS ON THE CONSENT OF THE RULED WHO, BY WITHDRAWING THAT CONSENT CAN CONTROL OR EVEN DESTROY THE POWER OF THEIR OPPONENTS.’
· The politics of NVAs can require up to 15 years to succeed.
· NVAs are performed by ordinary people not pacifists or saints.
· They work – consider most successful union wage disputes.
· Governments will always try to suppress NVAs.
While central power sees people as dependant upon goodwill decisions of the government, governments are also very dependant on the people’s goodwill.
‘OBEDIENCE IS AT THE HEART OF POLITICAL POWER’.
While people generally do obey, obedience is not automatic as all governments are based on consent.
· NVAs must not be half-hearted to win.
· They need discipline, control, intelligence, good timing and the right strategy and tactics as with any military action/campaign.
· Refusing consent requires the protestors to have self-confidence, motivation and involves inconvenience and suffering.
· Success comes from maintaining non-cooperation despite repression.
‘FREEDOM DOES NOT COME FOR FREE’
There are numerous methods of NVAs to consider and adopt from economic, social and political actions employed via three ‘weapons’ – Protest and Persuasion, Non-cooperation and Non-Violent intervention. Choosing the right tactics for the methods used is very important.
· Success is accelerated once institutions join the struggle.
· NVA is fluid not static and involves risks – cowardice does not mix with success.
· Success comes from spreading knowledge widely.
· Don’t launch a struggle on general objectives like ‘World Peace’ be specific. (THA’s six demands!)
· Focus on the opponent’s weaknesses - limited victories are better than no victories – quality is better than quantity.
‘RESORTS TO VIOLENCE BRINGS DEFEAT’
· Publicise all campaign developments.
· Whether one or several groups involved coordination is vital and openness helps the cause.
· Maintain the moral high ground – attack ‘evil’ government actions.
· Give notice of NVAs to avoid government over reaction.
· Timings - don’t start before the people are ready. (which I believe they are not yet in the UK!)
· Vary tactics, concentrate on success and drop those that are unsuccessful.
Avoid giving ultimatums to governments and it is better to act against an order than a prohibited area and the more successful the NVAs the greater the risk of government retaliation and repression including confiscation, economic sanctions, bans, arrests and even imprisonment.
· Be aware of government propaganda used to weaken the resistance.
‘PERSISTENCE IS VITAL AS THE WORSE GOVERNMENT REPRESSION COMES BEFORE THEIR CAPITULATION’
· Maintain moral by explaining the aims.
· Success is more likely without hate.
· Disperse leadership into independent cells.
· NVAs benefit from government overreaction so don’t resort to violence which will draw more support from home, the people in government and from abroad.
The four ways to achieve success against a government include – Conversion, General Accommodation without total acceptance, non-violent coercion as the government sees the writing on the wall and disintegration as the government falls apart.
‘DEFEAT COMES FROM GIVING UP’
· Of the 198 methods and techniques listed 61 are directly economic.
· A partial win is better than no win.
· Don’t be over confident in success.
‘A REDISTRIBUTION OF POWER BROUGHT ABOUT BY NVAs MAKES LASTING CHANGES TO SOCIETY.’
· NVAs strengthened People as they end submission, lose their fear and make a stand.
· During the campaign people gain an increased in self-esteem, enthusiasm and hope.
· NVAs reduces anti-social behaviour.
· Increases group unity and cooperation as the benefits achieved spread.
“A FREE SOCIETY NEEDS STRONG SOCIAL GROUPS AND INSTITUTIONS CAPABLE OF INDEPENDENT ACTION AND ABLE TO WIELD POWER IN THEIR OWN RIGHT.” (THA’s six demands)
· Violent revolutions often end up with a greater centralisation of government power.
· NVAs usually leads to decentralising of power and improved democracy.
· A plan is needed to maintain the gains. (THAs six demands)
‘A PLAN IS NEEDED TO MAINTAIN THE GAINS WON AND TO AVOID A RETURN TO THE OLD WAYS’
Finally, this is where THA’s six demands really come into the equation as they set a template to follow with the reforms to our governance giving us lasting improvements to our democracy in line with the original meaning of the word – ‘demos’ meaning people and ‘kratos’ meaning power – for without real effective ‘People Power’ you have Democracy in name only.