The problem with Gene Sharp’s nonviolence

Gene Sharp

The late Gene Sharp was a political scientists who aspired to be the Clausewitz of nonviolence.

He said you didn’t have to be a pacifist, although he was one, to embrace nonviolence.

He claimed that nonviolent struggle was a tactic, the same as armed struggle, and often a superior tactic.

His great insight was that the power of oppressors comes from being able to compel the obedience of the oppressed.  Once the oppressed lose their fear, the oppressor has no more power.

Of course that only applies to an oppressor who wants to enslave you.  If his aim is to kill you, things are different.  Nonviolence worked for the Danes against Hitler.  It wouldn’t have worked for the Jews.

One great advantage of nonviolence is that its leaders have to inspire voluntary followers.  The leaders don’t have the option, unlike, say, Michael Collins’ IRA or the Vietnamese NLF, of killing members of their constituencies to keep them in line.

I was and still am favorably impressed with Gene Sharp, but I saw him in a new light after reading an article by one Marcie Smith about how the CIA weaponized Sharp’s tactics to take down anti-U.S. governments.

She wrote a second part, which is newly published, about the shortcomings of Sharp’s philosophy as a way of bringing about social change in the USA.

Both articles are long, but important if you are interested in nonviolent action or social change.  They report on a lot of history I hadn’t known.

Afterthought.  I am not a pacifist. I did not object to doing military service.  I believe there is such a thing as a right of revolution.  I am a citizen of a country that was founded on that principle.   But I think revolutionary violence is a last resort, not a first resort or a default choice.

Nonviolent tactics need not have a religious or pacifist basis.  The late Saul Alinsky was a skilled practitioner of nonviolent struggle.

LINKS

Change Agent: Gene Sharp’s Neoliberal Nonviolence (Part One)  by Marcie Smith for nonsite.org.

Change Agent: Gene Sharp’s Neoliberal Nonviolence (Part Two) by Marcie Smith for nonsite.org.

Bloodless Lies by Lorenzo Raymond for The New Inquiry.

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