Dictatorship to Democracy

~ Gene Sharp

Selected Readings


Gene Sharp (January 21, 1928 – January 28, 2018) was an American political scientist. He was the founder of the Albert Einstein Institution, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the study of nonviolent action, and professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He was known for his extensive writings on nonviolent struggle, which have influenced numerous anti-government resistance movements around the world. Unofficial sources have claimed that Sharp was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015, and had previously been nominated three times, in 2009, 2012 and 2013. Sharp was widely considered the favorite for the 2012 award. In 2011, he was awarded the El-Hibri Peace Education Prize. In 2012, he was a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award for "developing and articulating the core principles and strategies of nonviolent resistance and supporting their practical implementation in conflict areas around the world", as well as the Distinguished Lifetime Democracy Award.

From Dictatorship to Democracy has been circulated worldwide and cited repeatedly as influencing movements such as the Arab Spring (pictured) in 2011. Sharp has stated that after FDTD was first written, "although no efforts were made to promote the publication for use in other countries, translations and distribution of the publication began to spread on their own.... We usually do not know how awareness of this publication has spread from country to country."

CNN profile of Sharp in 2012 stated that FDTD had "spread like a virus," calling it a "viral pamphlet." The book "started life in Myanmar as incendiary advice printed on a few sheets of paper and surreptitiously exchanged by activists living under a military dictatorship." Later it "took on a life of its own... eventually, some say, inspiring the uprisings known as the Arab Spring."



SOURCES OF POLITICAL POWER      [Gene Sharp From Dictatorship to Democracy]

The principle is simple. Dictators require the assistance of the people they rule, without which they cannot secure and maintain the sources of political power. These sources of political power include:

•Authority, the belief among the people that the regime is legitimate, and that they have a moral duty to obey it;
•Human resources, the number and importance of the persons and groups which are obeying, cooperating, or providing assistance to the rulers;
•Skills and knowledge, needed by the regime to perform specific actions and supplied by the cooperating persons and groups;
•Intangible factors, psychological and ideological factors that may induce people to obey and assist the rulers;
•Material resources, the degree to which the rulers control or have access to property, natural resources, financial resources, the economic system, and means of communication and transportation; and
•Sanctions, punishments, threatened or applied, against the disobedient and noncooperative to ensure the submission and cooperation that are needed for the regime to exist and carry out its policies.

   All of these sources, however, depend on acceptance of the regime, on the submission and obedience of the population, and on the cooperation of innumerable people and the many institutions of the society. These are not guaranteed. Full cooperation, obedience, and support will increase the avail-ability of the needed sources of power and, consequently, expand the power capacity of any government.
   On the other hand, withdrawal of popular and institutional co-operation with aggressors and dictators diminishes, and may sever, the availability of the sources of power on which all rulers depend. Without availability of those sources, the rulers’ power weakens and finally dissolves.
   Naturally, dictators are sensitive to actions and ideas that threat-en their capacity to do as they like. Dictators are therefore likely to threaten and punish those who disobey, strike, or fail to cooperate. However, that is not the end of the story. Repression, even brutalities, do not always produce a resumption of the necessary degree of submission and cooperation for the regime to function.
   If, despite repression, the sources of power can be restricted or severed for enough time, the initial results may be uncertainty and confusion within the dictatorship. That is likely to be followed by a clear weakening of the power of the dictatorship. Over time, the withholding of the sources of power can produce the paralysis and impotence of the regime, and in severe cases, its disintegration. The dictators’ power will die, slowly or rapidly, from political starvation.
   The degree of liberty or tyranny in any government is, it fol-lows, in large degree a reflection of the relative determination of the subjects to be free and their willingness and ability to resist efforts to enslave them.  Contrary to popular opinion, even totalitarian dictatorships are dependent on the population and the societies they rule. As the political scientist Karl W. Deutsch noted in 1953:

Totalitarian power is strong only if it does not have to be used too often. If totalitarian power must be used at all times against the entire population, it is unlikely to remain powerful for long. Since totalitarian regimes require more power for dealing with their subjects than do other types of government, such regimes stand in greater need of widespread and dependable compliance habits among their people; more than that they have to be able to count on the active support of at least significant parts of the population in case of need.



of Dictatorships

1.The cooperation of a multitude of people, groups, and institutions needed to operate the system may be restricted or withdrawn.
2.The requirements and effects of the regime’s past policies will somewhat limit its present ability to adopt and implement conflicting policies.
3.The system may become routine in its operation, less able to adjust quickly to new situations.
4. Personnel and resources already allocated for existing tasks will not be easily available for new needs.
5.Subordinates fearful of displeasing their superiors may not report accurate or complete information needed by the dictators to make decisions.
6.The ideology may erode, and myths and symbols of the system may become unstable.
7.If a strong ideology is present that influences one’s view of reality, firm adherence to it may cause inattention to actual conditions and needs.
8.Deteriorating efficiency and competency of the bureaucracy, or excessive controls and regulations, may make the system’s policies and operation ineffective.
9.Internal institutional conflicts and personal rivalries and hostilities may harm, and even disrupt, the operation of the dictatorship.
10.Intellectuals and students may become restless in response to conditions, restrictions, doctrinalism, and repression.
11.The general public may over time become apathetic, skeptical, and even hostile to the regime.
12.Regional, class, cultural, or national differences may become acute.
13.The power hierarchy of the dictatorship is always unstable to some degree, and at times extremely so. Individuals do not only remain in the same position in the ranking, but may rise or fall to other ranks or be removed entirely and replaced by new persons.
14.Sections of the police or military forces may act to achieve their own objectives, even against the will of established dictators, including by coup d’état.
15.If the dictatorship is new, time is required for it to become well established.
16.With so many decisions made by so few people in the dictatorship, mistakes of judgment, policy, and action are likely to occur.
17.If the regime seeks to avoid these dangers and decentralises controls and decision making, its control over the central levers of power may be further eroded.

With knowledge of such inherent weaknesses, the democratic opposition can seek to aggravate these “Achilles’ heels” deliberately in order to alter the system drastically or to disintegrate it. The conclusion is then clear: despite the appearances of strength, all dictatorships have weaknesses, internal inefficiencies, personal rivalries, institutional inefficiencies, and conflicts between organisations and departments. These weaknesses, over time, tend to make the regime less effective and more vulnerable to changing conditions and deliberate resistance. Not everything the regime sets out to accomplish will get completed. At times, for example, even Hitler’s direct orders were never implemented because those beneath him in the hierarchy refused to carry them out. The dictatorial regime may at times even fall apart quickly, as we have already observed. This does not mean dictatorships can be destroyed without risks and casualties. Every possible course of action for liberation will involve risks and potential suffering, and will take time to operate. And, of course, no means of action can ensure rapid success in every situation. However, types of struggle that target the dictatorship’s identifiable weaknesses have greater chance of success than those that seek to fight the dictatorship where it is clearly strongest. The question is how this struggle is to be waged.


Planning Strategy

In order to increase the chances for success, resistance leaders will need to formulate a comprehensive plan of action capable of strengthening the suffering people, weakening and then destroy-ing the dictatorship, and building a durable democracy. To achieve such a plan of action, a careful assessment of the situation and of the options for effective action is needed. Out of such a careful analysis both a grand strategy and the specific campaign strategies for achieving freedom can be developed. Though related, the development of grand strategy and campaign strategies are two separate processes. Only after the grand strategy has been developed can the specific campaign strategies be fully developed. Campaign strategies will need to be designed to achieve and reinforce the grand strategic objectives.

The development of resistance strategy requires attention to many questions and tasks. Here we shall identify some of the important factors that need to be considered, both at the grand strategic level and the level of campaign strategy. All strategic planning, however, requires that the resistance planners have a profound understanding of the entire conflict situation, including attention to physical, historical, governmental, military, cultural, social, political, psychological, economic, and international factors. Strategies can only be developed in the context of the particular struggle and its background.

Of primary importance, democratic leaders and strategic planners will want to assess the objectives and importance of the cause. Are the objectives worth a major struggle, and why? It is critical to determine the real objective of the struggle. We have argued here that overthrow of the dictatorship or removal of the present dicta-tors is not enough. The objective in these conflicts needs to be the establishment of a free society with a democratic system of government. Clarity on this point will influence the development of a grand strategy and of the ensuing specific strategies.

Particularly, strategists will need to answer many fundamental questions, such as these:

•What are the main obstacles to achieving freedom?
•What factors will facilitate achieving freedom?
•What are the main strengths of the dictatorship?
•What are the various weaknesses of the dictatorship?
•To what degree are the sources of power for the dictatorship vulnerable?
•What are the strengths of the democratic forces and the general population?
•What are the weaknesses of the democratic forces and how can they be corrected?
•What is the status of third parties, not immediately involved in the conflict, who already assist or might assist, either the dictatorship or the democratic movement, and if so in what ways?

At the grand strategic level, planners will need to choose the main means of struggle to be employed in the coming conflict. The merits and limitations of several alternative techniques of struggle will need to be evaluated, such as conventional military warfare, guerrilla warfare, political defiance, and others. In making this choice the strategists will need to consider such questions as the following: Is the chosen type of struggle within the capacities of the democrats? Does the chosen technique utilize strengths of the dominated population? Does this technique target the weaknesses of the dictatorship, or does it strike at its strongest points? Do the means help the democrats become more self-reliant, or do they require dependency on third parties or external suppliers? What is the record of the use of the chosen means in bringing down dictatorships? Do they increase or limit the casualties and destruction that may be incurred in the coming conflict? Assuming success in ending the dictatorship, what effect would the selected means have on the type of government that would arise from the struggle? The types of action determined to be counterproductive will need to be excluded in the developed grand strategy.

[From Gene Sharp’s Dictatorship to Democracy]


The Methods of Non-Violent Action
Gene Sharp From Dictatorship to Democracy

Formal statements
1. Public speeches 2. Letters of opposition or support3. Declarations by organizations and institutions4. Signed public statements5. Declarations of indictment and intention6. Group or mass petitions

Communications with a wider audience
7. Slogans, caricatures, and symbols8. Banners, posters, and displayed communications 9. Leaflets, pamphlets, and books 10. Newspapers and journals 11. Records, radio, and television 12. Skywriting and earthwriting

Group representations
13. Deputations 14. Mock awards15. Group lobbying 16. Picketing 17. Mock elections

Symbolic public acts
18. Display of flags and symbolic colors 19.Wearing of symbols 20. Prayer and worship 21. Delivering symbolic objects 22. Protest disrobings 23. Destruction of own property 24. Symbolic lights25. Displays of portraits 26. Paint as protest 27. New signs and names 28. Symbolic sounds 29. Symbolic reclamations 30. Rude gestures

Pressures on individuals
31. “Haunting” officials 32. Taunting officials 33. Fraternization 34. Vigils

Drama and music
35. Humorous skits and pranks 36. Performance of plays and music 37. Singing

38. Marches 39. Parades 40. Religious processions 41. Pilgrimages 42. Motorcades

Honoring the dead
43. Political mourning 44. Mock funerals 45. Demonstrative funerals 46. Homage at burial places

Public assemblies
47. Assemblies of protest or support 48. Protest meetings 49. Camouflaged meetings of protest 50. Teach-ins

Withdrawal and renunciation

51. Walk-outs52. Silence53. Renouncing honors54. Turning one’s back

Ostracism of persons
55. Social boycott 56. Selective social boycott 57. Lysistratic non-action 58. Excommunication 59. Interdict

Noncooperation with social events, customs, and institutions
60. Suspension of social and sports activities 61. Boycott of social affairs 62. Student strike 63. Social disobedience 64. Withdrawal from social institutions

Withdrawal from the social system
65. Stay-at-home 66. Total personal noncooperation 67. Flight of workers 68. Sanctuary 69. Collective disappearance 70. Protest emigration

Action by consumers
71. Consumers’ boycott 72. Non-consumption of boycotted goods 73. Policy of austerity 74. Rent withholding 75. Refusal to rent 76. National consumers’ boycott 77. International consumers’ boycott

Action by workers and producers
78. Workmen’s boycott 79. Producers’ boycott 80. Suppliers’ and handlers’ boycott

Action by owners and management
81. Traders’ boycott 82. Refusal to let or sell property 83. Lockout 84. Refusal of industrial assistance 85. Merchants’ “general strike”

Action by holders of financial resources

86. Withdrawal of bank deposits 87. Refusal to pay fees, dues, and assessments 88. Refusal to pay debts or interest 89. Severance of funds and credit 90. Revenue refusal 91. Refusal of a government’s money

Rejection of authority
120. Withholding or withdrawal of allegiance 121. Refusal of public support122. Literature and speeches advocating resistance

Citizens’ noncooperation with government
123. Boycott of legislative bodies 124. Boycott of elections 125. Boycott of government employment and positions 126. Boycott of government departments, agencies and other bodies 127. Withdrawal from government educational institutions 128. Boycott of government-supported organizations 129. Refusal of assistance to enforcement agents 130. Removal of own signs and placemarks 131. Refusal to accept appointed officials 132. Refusal to dissolve existing institutions

Citizens’ alternatives to obedience
133. Reluctant and slow compliance134. Non-obedience in absence of direct supervision135. Popular non-obedience 136. Disguised disobedience 137. Refusal of an assemblage or meeting to disperse138. Sitdown 139. Noncooperation with conscription and deportation 140. Hiding, escape and false identities 141. Civil disobedience of “illegitimate” law

Psychological intervention
158. Self-exposure to the elements159. The fast(a) Fast of moral pressure(b) Hunger strike(c) Satyagrahic fast 160. Reverse trial 161. Nonviolent harassment

Physical intervention
162. Sit-in 163. Stand-in 164. Ride-in 165. Wade-in 166. Mill-in1 67. Pray-in 168. Nonviolent raids
169. Nonviolent air raids170. Nonviolent invasion171. Nonviolent interjection172. Nonviolent obstruction173. Nonviolent occupation

Social intervention
174. Establishing new social patterns 175. Overloading of facilities 176. Stall-in 177. Speak-in 178. Guerrilla theater 179. Alternative social institutions 180. Alternative communication system

Economic intervention
181. Reverse strike 182. Stay-in strike183. Nonviolent land seizure 184. Defiance of blockades 185. Politically motivated counterfeiting186. Preclusive purchasing 187. Seizure of assets 188. Dumping 189. Selective patronage 190. Alternative markets 191. Alternative transportation systems