The man who wrote the playbook for the nonviolent revolution in Egypt is Gene Sharp, a meek, unassuming Professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Sharp is the "Machiavelli of nonviolence" and the "Clausewitz of nonviolent warfare.” In addition to Egypt, Sharp’s work has influenced non-violent struggles the world over, including that in Tunisia, Georgia, the Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, and Serbia. To study Sharp’s methods is to know the awesome power of nonviolence. One learns “Political Ju-Jitsu”: application of nonviolent leverage to take down the opposition using its own force against it. His methods would have made the great Sun-Tsu shake in his armor.
In Waging Non-Violent Struggle, Sharp lists four different mechanisms or “broad processes” by which non-violent resisters can achieve success: conversion, accommodation, non-violent coercion, and disintegration. The choice of which mechanism depends on what conditions already exist or what conditions the resisters can create. The number of the nonviolent troops available to deploy obviously is a major factor.
With conversion, the opponent, as the result of actions by the non-violent group, comes around to a new point of view that embraces the ends of the group. Conversion seeks to free not only the subordinate group, but also free the opponents whose own system and policies imprison them. The non-violent group by its own attitudes and actions seeks to separate the “evil” from the “evildoer”—to remove the”evil “and salvage the “evildoer.“ (Waging Non-Violent Struggle at p. 416)
The group’s suffering is its greatest weapon in converting the opponent. The suffering attacks the rationalizations and overcomes the indifference of the opponent. It neutralizes and immobilizes the opponent’s repression.
The greater the social distance—the degree of separation of “fellow feeling,” mutual understanding, and empathy—between the contending groups, the less the possibility of conversion. Some non-violent resisters may take steps to reduce or remove the social distance between contending groups. In other words, resisters should cultivate sameness and avoid “otherness” with the opponent.
“In accommodation, the opponents are neither converted nor non-violently coerced.” (Id. at p. 417) Without the opponent having fundamentally changed their way of thinking about the issues, they agree to yield to at least part of the resister’s demands to avoid a possibly more unsatisfactory result. When the opponent no longer sees violent repression as appropriate, they believe they are eliminating a nuisance or minimizing losses, or they are yielding to what they see as an inevitable result, they will accommodate the non-violent resisters. The opponents make accommodations when they still have a choice. The same influences that might that resulted in conversion or non-violent coercion are involved.
“In nonviolent coercion, the opponents neither are neither converted, nor do they decide to accommodate to the demands. Rather, the shifts of social forces and power relationships produce the changes sought by the resisters against the will of the opponents, while the opposition remains in existing positions.” (Id. at p. 418). This approach assumes that the change sought is not ouster of the leaders or overthrow of the government. Non-violent coercion takes place in three ways: 1) Opponents cannot control defiance because it has become too huge; 2) Noncooperation and defiance has made it impossible for the system to operate unless the resister’s demands are met; 3) The opponent’s ability to use repression is impaired because of the police or military has become unreliable.
Essentially, the resisters block the opponent’s will, despite the opponent’s continued attempts to impose it. The enemy loses its sources of power: legitimacy of authority, human resources, and the cooperation of key personnel such as technicians, officers, and administrators. Habits of obedience are broken. The opponent may lose access to material resources. The ability of the tyrant to apply sanctions is reduced or removed.
“Disintegration results from the more severe application of the same forces that produce nonviolent coercion. However, those forces operate more extremely in disintegration, so that the opponents ‘regime or group falls completely apart.” (Id. at p. 419). Egypt and Tunisia are great examples of nonviolent coercion and disintegration.
Sharp cautions that for nonviolent coercion or disintegration to succeed, the resisters need large numbers and must be skilled in applying nonviolent struggle. It will also be necessary to maintain defiance and noncooperation for significant periods. It is most effective when the opponent is dependent on the resisters for sources of power (e.g. police, army, civil service, courts), or when the opponent source of supplies is interrupted (e.g. through strikes or boycotts). Conversion of key members in the opponent’s group can also contribute to the coercion or disintegration.
SHARP’S WORK IS A GREAT RESOURCE
Sharp’s works contain an exhaustive list of nonviolent methods as well as a historical compendium of nonviolent movements. This brief summary of just some of his concepts of nonviolent resistance does not do justice to him. OWS activists should study him as military cadets study Clausewitz, Sun-Tsu, and Patton.