Showing posts with label Gene-Sharp. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gene-Sharp. Show all posts

Monday, September 3, 2012

Practical Epistemology Recycled

[Originally posted April 2010, but has been reworked a couple of times.  The original (with some comments) is at]

Wikipedia defines epistemology as "the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge". Traditionally it has led to questions like whether we can really know anything, and discussing the qualities of different kinds of knowledge like logical or mathematical knowledge.

How much attention has been paid, however, to the question "Who can I trust?" -- perhaps far and away the most important epistemological question that anyone can ask.

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]

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Freedom Through Violence?" a Chapter from Gene Sharp's From Dictatorship to Democracy

The Entire book is available for download from a link on this page:

I won't say much, but would like to draw attention to the last paragraph:
Even when successful, guerrilla struggles often have significant long-term negative structural consequences.... If the guerrillas should finally succeed, the resulting new regime is often more dictatorial than its predecessor due to the centralizing impact of the expanded military forces and the weakening or destruction of the society’s independent groups and institutions during the struggle — bodies that are vital in establishing and maintaining a democratic society.

What is to be done [when faced with dictatorship]? The obvious possibilities
seem useless. Constitutional and legal barriers, judicial decisions,
and public opinion are normally ignored by dictators. Under-
standably, reacting to the brutalities, torture, disappearances, and
killings, people often have concluded that only violence can end a
dictatorship. Angry victims have sometimes organized to fight the
brutal dictators with whatever violent and military capacity they
could muster, despite the odds being against them. These people
have often fought bravely, at great cost in suffering and lives. Their
accomplishments have sometimes been remarkable, but they rarely
have won freedom. Violent rebellions can trigger brutal repression
that frequently leaves the populace more helpless than before.
      Whatever the merits of the violent option, however, one point
is clear. By placing confidence in violent means, one has chosen the very
type of struggle with which the oppressors nearly always have superior-
ity. The dictators are equipped to apply violence overwhelmingly.
However long or briefly these democrats can continue, eventually
the harsh military realities usually become inescapable. The dictators
almost always have superiority in military hardware, ammunition,
transportation, and the size of military forces. Despite bravery, the
democrats are (almost always) no match.
        When conventional military rebellion is recognized as unrealis-
tic, some dissidents then favor guerrilla warfare. However, guerrilla
warfare rarely, if ever, benefits the oppressed population or ushers in
a democracy. Guerrilla warfare is no obvious solution, particularly
given the very strong tendency toward immense casualties among
one’s own people. The technique is no guarantor against failure,
despite supporting theory and strategic analyses, and sometimes
international backing. Guerrilla struggles often last a very long
time. Civilian populations are often displaced by the ruling gov-
ernment, with immense human suffering and social dislocation.
     Even when successful, guerrilla struggles often have signifi-
cant long-term negative structural consequences. Immediately, the
attacked regime becomes more dictatorial as a result of its coun-
termeasures. If the guerrillas should finally succeed, the resulting
new regime is often more dictatorial than its predecessor due to the
centralizing impact of the expanded military forces and the weaken-
ing or destruction of the society’s independent groups and institu-
tions during the struggle — bodies that are vital in establishing and
maintaining a democratic society. Persons hostile to dictatorships
should look for another option.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Has Dr. Gene Sharp, "Clausewitz of Nonviolence" Been the Biggest Inspiration and Guide for Nonviolent Revolutions for 3 Decades?

Has Dr. Gene Sharp, "Clausewitz of Nonviolence" Been the Biggest Inspiration and Guide for Nonviolent Revolutions for 3 Decades?

That's the question I've been asking myself since this morning, when I first heard of him in an NPR interview?  He has written perhaps a dozen or more books, most of which can be downloaded online.  And the movements in Libya and Egyptian may have learned (largely by way of Serbians who struggled against Slobodan Milosevic) their style of peaceful regime change from Sharp.

Dr. Sharp, who gives much credit to Gandhi, created the Albert Einstein Institution which has actively trained and advised people all over the world who are trying to free themselves, and  has written "how to" books like 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action. (The Iranian regime accused their own pro-democracy activists of using over 100 of the 198 methods).

It is too much for me to digest right now, so I'll just suggest a couple of links.  One is the a New York Times article which provides a concise but detailed account of the workings of the Egyptian revolution so far: A Tunisian-Egyptian Link That Shook Arab History.
You can read a very recent short interview with Sharp on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty., or a longer article on him here.
  Oddly, there are a couple of very interesting reflections on Sharp in Scientific American (or their web site at least) by science journalist John Horgan:

How George W. Bush rejected my "Sharp" idea for countering terrorism


Egypt's revolution vindicates Gene Sharp's theory of nonviolent activism.

The first SciAm article points out that Sharp was once funded by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) who subsequently, unfortunately, ignored him.

This DARPA episode, and the Bush admin's rejection of Horgan's "outside the box" idea of distributing Sharp's writings to "fundamentalist Muslims and others who might be at risk of becoming terrorists" -- these two cases illustrate, I think, the self-defeating attitude looked at in "(What Was the Cold War?) The Man With Only a Hammer".

To me, it seems very important that Dr. Sharp does not advocate non-violence for its "virtuousness", but rather because it is most effective.  He says
Peaceful protest is best, he says — not for any moral reason, but because violence provokes autocrats to crack down. “If you fight with violence,” Mr. Sharp said, “you are fighting with your enemy’s best weapon, and you may be a brave but dead hero.”
I might add that the nonviolent approach as pursued in Egypt, with all the discipline and meticulous planning it requires complements the forging of a new structure to replace the oppressive regime, while violent revolutions too often leave things in chaos, which then is replaced by a regime which is either naturally oppressive, or, in the course of turning the chaos into something orderly becomes oppressive.

At the moment, Gene Sharp's books prices have gone into the stratosphere, as they were mostly out of print, and he has suddenly gotten so much attention.

It may be best to see what free downloads are available at The Albert Einstein Institution web page.