Serpent’s Tail £5.99
From Dictatorship to Democracy, By Gene Sharp
No fool, this child of the revolution
Sunday 08 January 2012
The American academic Gene Sharp's seminal essay "From Dictatorship to Democracy" could be subtitled "the essential guide to peaceful resistance".
It was originally written in 1993 to support the opposition movement in Burma and was circulated among dissidents. The brutal Burmese regime recognised its importance by sentencing those found in possession of the booklet to seven-year prison terms. Since then, it has inspired opponents of oppression the world over. The work has travelled, as a photo-copied pamphlet, from Burma to Serbia and from Egypt to China, and contributed to numerous peaceful uprisings including the Arab Spring.
This updated version is drawn from more than 40 years of research and writing on peaceful methods of protest, totalitarian systems and political theory. One of the key tenets of Sharp's analysis is that non-violent struggle has a greater chance of success than violent resistance, because tyrannical regimes will, invariably, have the superior military power with which to suppress armed risings. The solution, Sharp contends, is "political defiance" – a term first coined by Robert Helvey, a retired US army colonel with whom Sharp worked in Burma.
In emphasising the need for strategic planning, Sharp puts forward four important stages: the first, Grand Strategy, directs the use of all available resources and offers a basic framework for the other three – strategies, tactics and methods. Sharp also offers suggestions to ensure a dictatorship is not merely replaced by another tyrannical regime. Alongside the resistance movement, he advocates the development of independent social, economic, cultural and political institutions which can contribute to changing the power relations within a society.
Sharp refers to his work as "a heavy analysis" and "not easy reading", but I found it hugely accessible. To support his arguments, he adroitly blends a 14th-century Chinese parable and the Classical Greek myth of Achilles into his formal analysis.
The book is a must read for all those interested in human rights and democracy, but those supporters of totalitarian regimes should also pay heed to it for, as Sharp points out: "All dictatorships have weaknesses, internal inefficiencies, personal rivalries, institutional inefficiencies and conflicts between organisations and departments."
As Sharp demonstrates, identifying these vulnerabilities is the first step towards liberation from tyranny.
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rarest Beanie Baby bought for just £10 at car boot sale could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 2 Katie Hopkins and The Sun editor are reported to police for incitement to racial hatred following migrant boat column
- 3 Katie Hopkins has just written a piece so hateful that it might give Hitler pause – why was it published?
- 4 Australian student Tommy Connolly, 23, adopts his pregnant, homeless 17-year-old cousin to give her a chance at 'a better life'
- 5 Cancel Sky at your peril: man spends 96 minutes in chat but fails to get rid of service
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Star Wars 7: George Lucas admits he hasn't seen The Force Awakens trailer
Star Wars: Rogue One trailer: Watch the teaser for the Jedi-less Death Star heist film
Avengers: Age of Ultron: 'After credits' scene leaks online
Kevin Spacey's successor at The Old Vic promises a more low-key approach
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate