We the people - Dr Gene Sharp at Zeitgeist Americas 2011

Uploaded by zeitgeistminds on 26.09.2011

My name is Gene Sharp, and this is the work I do.
This is a technique of combat. It is a substitute for war and other violence.
[ Video ] We speak some of this, as I'm telling you
the facts I know. >>> To be counted as a threat to a tyrant
is a matter of pride, I would say. It means we're effective. It means we're relevant.
It means, out of this very small office, we produce work. That threatens regimes. Gene
Sharp's tactics and theories are being practiced on the streets of Syria, as we speak.
>>> Unless we have something instead of violence and war, they will go back to violence and
war every time. [Video concludes.]
>>Philip Shishkin: Gene, welcome. >>Gene Sharp: Thank you, all of you. It's
very good to get a reception. Violence in our world is so common and mostly accepted
axiomatically that at times it seems to be an overwhelming permanent part of political
reality. But that is not the whole reality. During
the past century and long before, at least back to the Romans and I would argue before
that, people from time to time have found it another way to fight when they needed to
fight. And, in those specific situations, the use of violence shrank or disappeared
because it simply wasn't needed any more. The violence had been replaced with nonviolent
struggle or at least a forerunner of what we know is nonviolent struggle today. This
is people power, the power that employs psychological, social, economic, and political weapons
These means are very old. However, for the most part, nonviolent struggle has been viewed
as only a minor exception to the exceptions as responsible action in crises is violence.
Sometimes undeniable accomplishments by the use of nonviolent action have been ignored
or explained away without relevance to future major conflicts.
Misunderstandings have been common. It's been thought by many people to affect the future,
nonviolent struggles would require a charismatic leader. A Mahatma. It only works by converting
the heart of your opponents. In order to keep nonviolent discipline, it is necessary to
be committed to moral nonviolence. Otherwise, the course of action could only
be chartered by a single strategic genius. Violence works quickly. And nonviolent means
require much longer. The opponents say extreme dictatorships need not worry because they
can do nothing about dictatorships and the opponents fear nonviolence, but they're not
worried about nonviolent action. Because of the major nonviolent struggles
in recent years and months and days, we now know that all of those views are false. All
of them. The future now can, therefore, be different.
The methods of nonviolent action are many. But they're really quite simple. People sometimes
refuse to do what they've been required to do. And sometimes they do what has been forbidden
to do. Over the centuries, people have expressed their protests by actions, often symbolic
ones. At other times, people have refused to help to do something, to cooperate, to
obey. At other times, they have acted to disrupt the established social or political order.
Large movements of people, groups, and institutions have used these types of actions against an
education, against a situation or policy they did not like. Or they have acted to achieve
a new positive goal. The words for these many types of action have
been ones you're familiar with -- picket, leaflet, march, strike, boycott, civil disobedience,
embargo, stalling and obstruction, mutiny, hunger strike, sit-in, alternative economic
institutions, and parallel governments. These methods have been used through the deposing
unwanted changes, correcting grievances, and achieving revolutionary goals. Sometimes they
lasted only a few days. Some dictators in Guatemala and El Salvador, for example, collapsed
within two weeks. And some people say nonviolent means take forever. Some struggles lasted
a year or more. And sometimes people, using these means, have been defeated.
But, more often than not, more often than might be expected, these resistors were partially
or fully successful. How do these means work? Well, very rarely
this type of struggle changes opinions and feelings, conversion. However, the one example
that I and others have used to illustrate conversion, according to new research done
by Mary King in South India, it never happened that way. That really wasn't a very good example.
Sometimes a struggle ends with a compromise, as most labor strikes do.
Accommodation. Sometimes the opponents are forced by the
changed reality to accept the resistors' demands. Nonviolent coercion -- for example, last February,
in the face of national defiance, President Mubarak redesigned. Rarely repudiation and
noncooperations are completely severed or cut off the power, the opponent's power. The
opponent regime falls completely apart. And no one is left with enough power even to resign.
And, thus, disintegration. This occurred in the 1917 Russian Revolution and the 1944 revolutions
against military dictators in El Salvador and Guatemala. Nonviolent struggles have been
used to achieve oppression for minorities in the civil rights movement in the United
States, for example, for working people, for women, religious groups, victims of dictators,
peoples and others. Nonviolent struggles are waged in Nazi-occupied Denmark and Norway
where I used to live. And they saved Jews. The wives of Jewish men who had been arrested
-- some of them were already at the extermination camp -- demonstrated on the streets of Berlin.
And they got their husbands released and brought back even from extermination camps. That's
nonviolent struggle. In my youth it was believed that peoples of
eastern and central Europe would be living under communist rule for decades, barring
a western military intervention. But now the people of Poland, East Germany, the former
Czechoslovakia, and other countries are recognized as having freed themselves. Perhaps most remarkable
of all had been the achievements of the little nations of Lithuania and Latvia and Estonia,
their brave guerilla wars. All three had been annexed as republics of the Soviet Union.
And, using nonviolent defiance, they exited Soviet Union suffering. Only 12 lives lost
in Lithuania, 8 in Latvia, and none in Estonia. Compare that to Chechnya. In the former Soviet
Union itself, a hard line junta in August 1991 was intended to stop the proliferation
of Gorbachev. However, it was defeated by major protest and by noncooperation.
The use of nonviolent struggle in major conflicts has been expanding in recent decades, as has
the knowledge of how to make it effective. New publications have helped this development
with virtually no promotion. Like "From Dictatorship to Democracy," a generic examination of how
nonviolent struggle can destroy a dictatorship, is now in 34 languages. The Arab Spring and
other developments demonstrate that the genie is out of the bottle. It cannot be put back
again. And how to cast off a person nonviolently is now known and spreading. The media frenzy
at the Albert Einstein institution last month in April about nonviolent struggle in events
in Tunisia and Egypt consisted of four to seven major interviews every day, five days
a week for six weeks, which is probably over 160 interviews. That's not the amazing thing.
The amazing thing is the new reality that was revealed. These dozens of reporters arrived
with an accurate basic understanding of nonviolence. And this was new. None of them came with the
old false misunderstandings and preconceptions that in earlier years were nearly universal.
There is other evidence of this expanded view of reality.
And, if you'll permit a personal note, my new highly unorthodox dictionary and its essays
and its 825 defined terms challenges the pro-violence biases in our language, which we usually don't
even recognize. The understandings of power and defense and the paucity of clear words
about nonviolent alternatives. By the way, this volume calls attention to the fact to
the dictionary of the United States Department of Defense -- and I've been checking those
for quite a number of years -- does not contain a definition of either defense or of national
defense. It's whatever people want to call defense,
even though it's aggression. My new dictionary will be published by Oxford University Press
November 1. And Sharp's dictionary of power and struggle, language of civil resistance
in conflicts. It is now becoming understood the political
power is derived from identifiable sources. These include authority or legitimacy. Human
resources, individuals, groups and institutions who obey (indiscernible) skills and knowledge,
intangible factors including habits of obedience, doctrines of beliefs, material resources,
including economic transportation and communication systems and sanctions, punishments, provided
by police, prisons, and military forces. And yet all of those sources of political power
are made available by the obedience, cooperation, and assistance of people groups and institutions.
These are what a colleague of mine has called pillars of support. If obedience and restriction
of that cooperation is not merely restricted but cut off, the survival of that regime is
very doubtful. That is true even of extreme dictatorships. Without those six sources of
power, even the dictatorship or other system of oppression dies of political starvation.
Violence is, therefore, not needed. The objective of this type of struggle is not to kill and
destroy, but to paralyze and disintegrate. The new means of communication have been used
on Web sites and e-mails and all that kind of thing, as you are more familiar with than
perhaps I am. But that's all very good. We need to remember
that the technologies does not tell anyone what to do. It has in some ways been demonstrated
that the opponents have already used that technology for their own purposes. For example,
in Sudan. People received on their cell phones messages go to the protest in such and such
a square. And, when they got there, they were all arrested.
Nonviolent struggle has a requirement for success. Without those requirements, it's
sometimes defeated. That happens especially when people are unprepared, frightened, mixing
violence or timid. However, when well-prepared, when brave disciplined people act with a strategy,
the chances of success are strong. This growing capacity of nonviolent struggle
never produces miracles. But it can bring significant successes.
These successes need to be handled wisely. Hard-won gains achieved by nonviolent struggle
must not later be permitted to be incredibly, as appears to be happening in Egypt, or by
coup d'etat. And we have the only knowledge of how to defeat coup d'etat that exists.
This is dangerous. The intervention is intended to assist in nonviolent revolution or help
to defeat it or to achieve the other aims of the intervenors. The intervening government
may want other people to learn from this example how they, too, can achieve greater freedom
or justice. Repressive governments are now often well aware of the threat to their domination
that is posed by people who want to be free and who use nonviolence to gain their freedom.
They can be expected to behave brutally. It's not surprising when they're control is greater.
Sometimes others openly admit their alarm at the spread of the knowledge of nonviolent
struggle. Future of domination through the violence and popular helplessness is not inevitable.
We now have the knowledge needed to block that said future, if we have the will to use
it. We can block the installation of new dictatorships. And we can share knowledge of how to destroy
existing dictatorships. We are now at a new stage in the practice
and potential of nonviolent struggle. If we take wise and responsible steps in the
coming months and years, the future can review achievements far beyond our present ability
to imagine them. >>Philip Shishkin: Thank you very much for
that. [ Applause ]
>>Philip Shishkin: I think part of the appeal of your theories and of your teachings has
been the seeming simplicity of the idea that, if you stop obeying a dictatorship, the dictatorship
will fall. It sounds so simple. I think people think there's a trick to it. But your research
says that from Burma to Georgia to Kyrgyzstan to the Arab Spring, these can go on and be
devastating to dictatorial regimes. That fear of reprisings. It's like showing up for a
fight with a heavyweight boxer and winning without ever putting on the gloves.
But I think there's an important point I have to make here is that sometimes nonviolent
struggle has achieved fewer results. I mean, for every Egypt and Tunisia, there's Syria
and Libya where nonviolent struggles have morphed into something much more sinister
with no clear sort of resolution in site. So I wanted to ask you whether you think some
entrenched regimes -- and we can name names, but we all know what they are. And there are
quite a few of them in the world -- have been so successful in snuffing out any semblance
of opposition, whether it's online or in people's kitchens or anywhere else, that nonviolent
struggle has perhaps run its course in those societies. Or do you think they perhaps just
have not tried hard enough? >>Gene Sharp: That's too simplistic. And Syria
is very different from Libya. In Libya you had very quickly military intervention.
One of Quadifi's generals with his troops and guns changed sides, supposedly. I have
a suspicion he was an extreme evocateur. And he was later killed in the rebel camp. And,
once foreign military assistance was brought by NATO and the United States and France and
all the rest, that wasn't any more. And that kind of thing is when violence can wreck a
nonviolent struggle move. So in Syria they're still going. I've been startled and amazed
at the -- not only the nonviolent discipline, only scattered violence. And all kinds of
killing almost every day by people who say we're not afraid.
This is what Gandhi was trying to tell the Indians. Don't be afraid. Cast off here. I
thought he's being a little romantic and naive. The Syrians and others have said we're not
afraid any more. And that's what terrifies the dictators. That's why the brutality is
so great in Syria. They think, if they're only brutal enough, the resistance will collapse.
And so far the dictators have been proved wrong.
But this is not easy. If you have people within your movement who do not keep discipline,
who decide to do this or that, who you don't have a plan, you don't have a strategy, how
the hell are you going to win? And yet people try to do that all the time. They have to
learn what makes it effective and what makes it fail and then do the things that make it
successful. In the end of my big book from a long time
ago "The Politics of Nonviolent Action," in the last pages I think there's 30 or 35 specific
factors that contribute to whether the success or failure. And you have to -- it can be done,
and it's being done increasingly more and more.
>>Philip Shishkin: I think we have time for a couple of questions from the audience, if
anyone wants to step up to the microphones in the aisles.
Go ahead. >>> Thank you. It was a very moving presentation.
I fluctuate between a kind of optimism that Cory Booker would have talked about to a sort
of pessimism when it comes to the more repressive Asian societies, in particular, China, where
there is both economic power of a kind of unprecedented type before that is coupled
with a thousands-of-year-old culture that is very centralized.
And I'm curious if there's chance for movement even in my lifetime. I'm curious what your
thoughts are. >>Gene Sharp: There also are major sources
of nonviolent struggle from China long centuries ago.
And I was in Tiananmen Square the night the troops came in. So I'm not naive.
That system also is vulnerable. Otherwise, why would the Chinese government be so frightened
of nonviolent struggle? They established whole sections, I've been told, whole departments
of how to defeat nonviolent struggle. Accept it as testimony to the power they fear coming
from the people in nonviolent struggle. You have to learn how to do it skillfully.
If you were going to fight a war violently, you don't go to all the neighborhood bars
and get all the guys out of there and, "Let's go fight a war."
[ Laughter ] >>Gene Sharp: But that's about the way nonviolent
struggle has been conducted over the centuries. People were improvising. They didn't know
what the hell they were doing, what would be effective, who was this guy who was urging
violence? They didn't know he was a tool of the political police. This happened in the
Russian empire, the third century, repeatedly. I am told of the Gestapo doing that. Dictators
and rulers who fear the power of the people will do their damnedest to defeat it. And
you have to know how to be smarter than they are, and more courageous and more skilled
in what you do. >>Philip Shishkin: Any more questions for
Gene? Please go ahead. >>> You were there first.
>>>Okay. Thanks. Thanks, Esther. Mr. Sharp, your work is incredibly important,
and you've expressed it so well. What happens once a regime has fallen? What
is the book that describes or what are the rules that describe how you create excellent
civic society? Because we're all looking at the Arab Spring and other places in the world
and worried about what happens next. So what are some of the ground rules for creating
from those roots a great society? >>Gene Sharp: You're wise to be worried.
[ Laughter ] >>Gene Sharp: I can't spell that all out.
There are people who specialize in the building and construction of democratic institutions.
I haven't been able to do that. I've -- there are one or two other things I've been doing
for the last number of years. But in the end of my From Dictatorships to
Democracies, I warn about that stage, that this is what -- this is the time the Bolsheviks
seized control in Russia after the successful nonviolent February revolution, after some
months of confusion and weakness of the new constitutional government, then the Bolsheviks,
with Trotsky's help, staged a coup d'Ètat. This is how the Ayatollah, after the successful
nonviolent revolution against the shah seized power and established the oppressive regime
in Iran. And really, quite seriously, this book that we have, it's only about 40 or 50
pages, I think, it's a guide, steps that can be taken to prevent a coup d'Ètat, not always
military, often political, and some combination, and how to defeat it if a coup is attempted.
There have been actual historical cases which we have drawn upon, how to defeat coup d'Ètat
when people, in those cases, were only improvising. There was a case in Germany in 1920 against
accomplished -- a monarchist military coup d'Ètat which was defeated by noncooperation
and a general strike. By the defeat of the generals (indiscernible)
in Algiers against the French government and yet through the noncooperation and defiance
of people in France, massive demonstrations, and in Algiers, in which people in the air
force in France helped to block a coup d'etat by flying the planes out so the (indiscernible)
could not use the airplanes to go back and help seize power in Paris.
These cases, you didn't hear me talking about morals or ethics, do right and don't do wrong.
No, none of that. I tried to learn from what has actually happened and how people have
shown how other people in the future can do those things more skillfully and more effectively
and begin -- >>Philip Shishkin: There is an interesting
aside here. You mentioned that anticoup, when Hugo Chavez gave you a shoutout by name a
couple of years ago on Venezuela national TV, saying you were fomenting a revolution
against him. And I think I remember you advised him to get your book about how to prevent
a coup instead. >>Gene Sharp: Yeah, we had no requests from
Chavez. You know why he didn't? Because the same methods
to block a coup d'Ètat could be used to (indiscernible) Chavez, the same nonviolent, noncoercion,
defiance methods. And he knew it. >>Philip Shishkin: Please go ahead.
>>> I was going to say that Jerry had asked my question. But the question I'd like to
ask is, it's not just about regime change, getting rid of a good regime or a bad regime.
It's how do you build a regime that is in fact legitimate? That the people support?
And that has the right culture to make it persist?
>>Gene Sharp: That's what many people have been working on for a good number of centuries.
[ Laughter ] >>Gene Sharp: And I would refer you to what
they have come up with. They're not always right. They're not always perfect. But you
can learn a lot from them. And since someone is already doing that, I
haven't attempted to repeat their good deeds. >>Philip Shishkin: Please go ahead.
>>> (Off mike.) -- that has been bedeviling me and many other folks is, this country has
a history of people taking nonviolent action to effect change. You referenced the civil
rights movement. And we've -- I think it's fair to say that the Vietnam War and the change
in policy. What has happened in this country that we seem no longer to be willing to demonstrate,
to go on marches. What, in your estimation, is happening that -- with this country at
the moment? It's worked in the past. And yet we seem to be in a number of very difficult
issues, many of which were discussed by the panelists this morning, and we seem somewhat
apathetic about them. What is your explanation for that? I know
it's a tough one. >>Gene Sharp: I am not a great scholar of
the present condition of American society. But nonviolent struggle is not something you
do all the time, forever. You have to have a good reason. And some people don't feel
a good reason. Or they find some other way to express their grievances.
Nonviolent struggle should be used mostly in the extreme situations when things might
be so bad that you would -- people might say you have to go to violence.
People do not go to nonviolent struggle easily. But how you serve people up in the present
situation and malaise of thinking, I'm worried about that, as you are.
But I'm not someone who can tell you how to solve that. Maybe that's your job.
[ Applause ] >>Philip Shishkin: That's a fascinating subject.
And, obviously, with all the revolutions still ongoing, plenty to talk about.
Unfortunately, once again, we have to -- we have to wrap it up. But I would like to thank
you, on behalf of the audience, for your insights and for all the work that you have done.
[ Applause ]