Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What are the Conditions for Nonviolent Resistance to Win against Authoritarianism?

I googled { "Gene Sharp" "Occupy Wall Street" } because I'd just learned of the documentary movie about his work, How to Start a Revolution, and an aside that it was being picked up as the "official" something-or-other of OWS, silly as that may sound
Why silly?  Sort of reminds me of states having state birds and state flowers -- seemingly as an absolute necessity (and less mandatorily, sometimes, state muffins).  So, should every "movement" have an "official movie".
  So in the list of google hits was a 2001 article from The Nation, "Path of Least Resistance" which asked:

Yes, nonviolence is a noble ideal, but do you really think it would stop a Hitler?" Or a street thug, a dictator, a death squad?
   Pacifists are long accustomed to these questions, mostly thrown up by self-proclaimed realists. And they get the put-down message: Nonviolence is a creed only slightly less trifling than hippies sticking flowers in soldiers' gun barrels.
Here is what I think, and I can only say this is based on a lot of reading on "totalitarian" regimes ...
(Why the quotes?  The idea of "totalitarianism" as an ideology seems wrong to me. Communism, especially, did not start out with that as an ideology; rather it had a fatal flaw of starting out committed to goals that could only be achieved by incredibly concentrated power, but there is just too much to say about this)
... some regimes are impervious, at least in the short to medium run, to non-violent resistance.  These are regimes, like North Korea, Stalin's USSR, Mao's China, Nazi Germany, Saddam Hussein's Iraq ... that are in some sort of permanent state of emergency and terror that ferociously attack the slightest indication of insubordination or heresy, and are not afraid to annihilate whole classes of people who had no idea of resisting the government, just to be sure nobody is missed.

A useful book that opened my eyes was <Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography, 1888-1938. The eye-opening fact for me was that a huge majority -- something like 90% -- of the original plotters and operatives of the revolution were annihilated mostly by judicial murder.  Does this sound like a case of excessive do-gooderism?  The nanny state run amok?

The death of Stalin started the USSR on a course of trying to find its way back to normalcy, which was very pronounced in the first years under Khrushchev ... but the status quo was too pathological for one man, and a semi-illiterate peasant and an embarrassment to many in the leadership ... to bring about.

Still, there was an important transition, from total terror eminating from one man, to more of an oligarchy -- rule by a class, ironically, the Communist party.  The party had deposed one seemingly absolute ruler, and no leader would again exercize such a balance of terror over even his closest lieutenants as Stalin did.  The ruling class came to expect some kind of civility among rough peers. This class became comfortable; committed to a stable and relatively calm life.  And over decades, they became more clear headed, and many perceived, in at least some part of their psyche, that the current state of affairs was a farce.  But for anyone subject to the judgement of peers, to admit this to anyone else, remained too dangerous and would cause the whole rether comfortable (for apparatchiks) system to come crashing down unless such heretics were quickly expelled and hidden away somewhat, as was done to Khrushchev.

[to be continued]

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