Monday, March 14, 2011

Gene Sharp writes the definitive work on nonviolent revolution

Gene Sharp's book "From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation" is a short but jam-packed explanation of how to get rid of an authoritarian government.  He explains how to plan ahead, how to spread out labor, what to do after you've succeeded, and on and on. It's just a dry but thorough how-to book.

Sharp doesn't deal with ICA, since the book was written in 1993. But an important point he makes is that for all your work and planning, it might not work anyway.  You might have to step back and try again later.

The military crackdown in Libya shows what can go wrong when a dictator decides he wants to stay no matter who is telling him to leave (in this case, everybody).  In Zimbabwe people may face the death penalty simply for watching videos and discussing what happened in Egypt.  This article gives several reasons why protests in Algeria will probably not succeed at this time (including their recent history of brutal crackdowns). 

So besides recommending Sharp's book, I'd also again like to stress that ICA is a tool, not a guarantee of success.  It is a tool that makes things cheaper, faster, and better connected.  It makes collective action more probable. It may even help lay the groundwork for success as well as doing it.  But even if you have the safest car in the world, you can still crash. 

It's good then, that there are resources like Sharp's to help think through any potential action.  When we protested Scientology in Clearwater in the 1990s, we would spend weeks ahead of time thinking up "what if" scenarios.  What if they physically assaulted one of us?  What if they infiltrated our group?  We were not thorough enough with this, because we never thought of "what if they tear up their own sidewalks?"  But it was still a helpful process.  One advantage of ICA is you get the resource of every brain involved.  Fewer things get missed that way.

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