to Democracy

A Conceptual Framework for Liberation


Fourth U.S. Edition

Gene Sharp

The Albert Einstein Institution



All material appearing in this publication is in the public domain

and may be reproduced without permission from Gene Sharp.

Citation of the source, and notification to the Albert Einstein Institution

for the reproduction, translation, and reprinting of this publication, are appreciated.

First Edition, May 2002 , Second, June 2003 , Third, February 2008 , Fourth Edition,

May 2010


From Dictatorship to Democracy was originally published in Bangkok in 1993

by the Committee for the Restoration of Democracy in Burma in association with

Khit Pyaing (The New Era Journal). It has since been translated into at least

thirty-one other languages and has been published  in Serbia, Indonesia, and Thailand,

among other countries.


This is the fourth United States Edition. Printed in the United States of America.

Printed on Recycled Paper.

The Albert Einstein Institution

P.O. Box 455,  East Boston , MA 02128, USA

Tel: USA +1 617-247-4882,  Fax: USA +1 617-247-4035

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Table of Contents



Facing Dictatorships Realistically 1

A continuing problem 2

Freedom through violence? 4

Coups, elections, foreign saviors? 5

Facing the hard truth 7


The Dangers of Negotiations 9

Merits and limitations of negotiations 10

Negotiated surrender? 10

Power and justice in negotiations 12

“Agreeable” dictators 13

What kind of peace? 14

Reasons for hope 14


Whence Comes the Power? 17

The “Monkey Master” fable 17

Necessary sources of political power 18

Centers of democratic power 21


Dictatorships Have Weaknesses 25

Identifying the Achilles’ heel 25

Weaknesses of dictatorships 26

Attacking weaknesses of dictatorships 27


Exercising Power 29

The workings of nonviolent struggle 30

Nonviolent weapons and discipline 30

From Dictatorship to Democracy v


Openness, secrecy, and high standards 33

Shifting power relationships 34

Four mechanisms of change 35

Democratizing effects of political defiance 37

Complexity of nonviolent struggle 38


The need for Strategic Planning 39

Realistic planning 39

Hurdles to planning 40

Four important terms in strategic planning 43


Planning Strategy 47

Choice of means 48

Planning for democracy 49

External assistance 50

Formulating a grand strategy 50

Planning campaign strategies 53

Spreading the idea of noncooperation 55

Repression and countermeasures 56

Adhering to the strategic plan 57


Applying Political Defiance 59

Selective resistance 59

Symbolic challenge 60

Spreading responsibility 61

Aiming at the dictators’ power 62

Shifts in strategy 64


Disintegrating The Dictatorship 67

Escalating freedom 69

Disintegrating the dictatorship 70

Handling success responsibly 71

vi Gene Sharp


Groundwork For Durable Democracy 73

Threats of a new dictatorship 73

Blocking coups 74

Constitution drafting 75

A democratic defense policy 76

A meritorious responsibility 76


Appendix One

The Methods Of Nonviolent Action 79

Appendix Two

Acknowledgements and Notes on

The History of From Dictatorship to Democracy 87

Appendix Three

A Note About Translations and

Reprinting of this Publication 91

For Further Reading 93

From Dictatorship to Democracy vii














One of my major concerns for many years has been how people

could prevent and destroy dictatorships. This has been nurtured in

part because of a belief that human beings should not be dominated

and destroyed by such regimes. That belief has been strengthened

by readings on the importance of human freedom, on the nature of

dictatorships (from Aristotle to analysts of totalitarianism), and histories

of dictatorships (especially the Nazi and Stalinist systems).

Over the years I have had occasion to get to know people who

lived and suffered under Nazi rule, including some who survived

concentration camps. In Norway I met people who had resisted

fascist rule and survived, and heard of those who perished. I talked

with Jews who had escaped the Nazi clutches and with persons who

had helped to save them.

Knowledge of the terror of Communist rule in various countries

has been learned more from books than personal contacts. The terror

of these systems appeared to me to be especially poignant for these

dictatorships were imposed in the name of liberation from oppression

and exploitation.

In more recent decades through visits of persons from dictatorially

ruled countries, such as Panama, Poland, Chile, Tibet, and

Burma, the realities of today’s dictatorships became more real. From

Tibetans who had fought against Chinese Communist aggression,

Russians who had defeated the August 1991 hard-line coup, and

Thais who had nonviolently blocked a return to military rule, I

have gained often troubling perspectives on the insidious nature of


The sense of pathos and outrage against the brutalities, along

with admiration of the calm heroism of unbelievably brave men

and women, were sometimes strengthened by visits to places where

the dangers were still great, and yet defiance by brave people continued.

These included Panama under Noriega; Vilnius, Lithuania,

under continued Soviet repression; Tiananmen Square, Beijing,

during both the festive demonstration of freedom and while the


first armored personnel carriers entered that fateful night; and the

jungle headquarters of the democratic opposition at Manerplaw in

“liberated Burma.”

Sometimes I visited the sites of the fallen, as the television tower

and the cemetery in Vilnius, the public park in Riga where people

had been gunned down, the center of Ferrara in northern Italy where

the fascists lined up and shot resisters, and a simple cemetery in

Manerplaw filled with bodies of men who had died much too young.

It is a sad realization that every dictatorship leaves such death and

destruction in its wake.

Out of these concerns and experiences grew a determined

hope that prevention of tyranny might be possible, that successful

struggles against dictatorships could be waged without mass mutual

slaughters, that dictatorships could be destroyed and new ones

prevented from rising out of the ashes.

I have tried to think carefully about the most effective ways

in which dictatorships could be successfully disintegrated with the

least possible cost in suffering and lives. In this I have drawn on my

studies over many years of dictatorships, resistance movements,

revolutions, political thought, governmental systems, and especially

realistic nonviolent struggle.

This publication is the result. I am certain it is far from perfect.

But, perhaps, it offers some guidelines to assist thought and planning

to produce movements of liberation that are more powerful

and effective than might otherwise be the case.

Of necessity, and of deliberate choice, the focus of this essay is

on the generic problem of how to destroy a dictatorship and to prevent

the rise of a new one. I am not competent to produce a detailed

analysis and prescription for a particular country. However, it is my

hope that this generic analysis may be useful to people in, unfortunately,

too many countries who now face the realities of dictatorial

rule. They will need to examine the validity of this analysis for their

situations and the extent to which its major recommendations are, or

can be made to be, applicable for their liberation struggles.

Nowhere in this analysis do I assume that defying dictators will

be an easy or cost-free endeavor. All forms of struggle have complicaix

Gene Sharp

tions and costs. Fighting dictators will, of course, bring casualties. It

is my hope, however, that this analysis will spur resistance leaders

to consider strategies that may increase their effective power while

reducing the relative level of casualties.

Nor should this analysis be interpreted to mean that when a

specific dictatorship is ended, all other problems will also disappear.

The fall of one regime does not bring in a utopia. Rather, it opens the

way for hard work and long efforts to build more just social, economic,

and political relationships and the eradication of other forms

of injustices and oppression. It is my hope that this brief examination

of how a dictatorship can be disintegrated may be found useful

wherever people live under domination and desire to be free.

Gene Sharp

6 October 1993

Albert Einstein Institution

Boston, Massachusetts

From Dictatorship to Democracy x








Facing Dictatorships Realistically

In recent years various dictatorships — of both internal and external origin — have collapsed or stumbled when confronted by defiant, mobilized people. Often seen as firmly entrenched and impregnable, some of these dictatorships proved unable to withstand the concerted political, economic, and social defiance of the people.

Since 1980 dictatorships have collapsed before the predominantly nonviolent defiance of people in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Slovenia, Mada-gascar, Mali, Bolivia, and the Philippines. Nonviolent resistance has furthered the movement toward democratization in Nepal, Zambia, South Korea, Chile, Argentina, Haiti, Brazil, Uruguay, Malawi, Thailand, Bulgaria, Hungary, Nigeria, and various parts of the former Soviet Union (playing a significant role in the defeat of the August 1991 attempted hard-line coup d’état).

In addition, mass political defiance1 has occurred in China, Burma, and Tibet in recent years. Although those struggles have not brought an end to the ruling dictatorships or occupations, they have exposed the brutal nature of those repressive regimes to the world community and have provided the populations with valuable experience with this form of struggle.

1 The term used in this context was introduced by Robert Helvey. “Political defiance”

is nonviolent struggle (protest, noncooperation, and intervention) applied

defiantly and actively for political purposes. The term originated in response to

the confusion and distortion created by equating nonviolent struggle with pacifism

and moral or religious “nonviolence.” “Defiance” denotes a deliberate challenge to

authority by disobedience, allowing no room for submission. “Political defiance”

describes the environment in which the action is employed (political) as well as

the objective (political power). The term is used principally to describe action by

populations to regain from dictatorships control over governmental institutions

by relentlessly attacking their sources of power and deliberately using strategic

planning and operations to do so. In this paper, political defiance, nonviolent resistance,

and nonviolent struggle will be used interchangeably, although the latter

two terms generally refer to struggles with a broader range of objectives (social,

economic, psychological, etc.).


The collapse of dictatorships in the above named countries certainly has not erased all other problems in those societies: poverty, crime, bureaucratic inefficiency, and environmental destruction are often the legacy of brutal regimes. However, the downfall of these dictatorships has minimally lifted much of the suffering of the victims of oppression, and has opened the way for the rebuilding of these societies with greater political democracy, personal liberties,

and social justice.

A continuing problem

There has indeed been a trend towards greater democratization and

freedom in the world in the past decades. According to Freedom

House, which compiles a yearly international survey of the status of

political rights and civil liberties, the number of countries around the

world classified as “Free” has grown significantly in recent years:2

Free P artly Free N ot Free

1983 54 47 64

1993 75 73 38

2003 89 55 48

2009 89 62 42

However, this positive trend is tempered by the large numbers

of people still living under conditions of tyranny. As of 2008, 34% of

the world’s 6.68 billion population lived in countries designated as

“Not Free,”3 that is, areas with extremely restricted political rights

and civil liberties. The 42 countries in the “Not Free” category are

ruled by a range of military dictatorships (as in Burma), traditional

repressive monarchies (as in Saudi Arabia and Bhutan), dominant

political parties (as in China and North Korea), foreign occupiers (as

in Tibet and Western Sahara), or are in a state of transition.

2 Gene Sharp 2 Freedom House, Freedom in the World, 3 Ibid.

Many countries today are in a state of rapid economic, political,

and social change. Although the number of “Free” countries has increased

in recent years, there is a great risk that many nations, in the

face of such rapid fundamental changes, will move in the opposite

direction and experience new forms of dictatorship. Military cliques,

ambitious individuals, elected officials, and doctrinal political parties

will repeatedly seek to impose their will. Coups d’état are and will

remain a common occurrence. Basic human and political rights will

continue to be denied to vast numbers of peoples.

Unfortunately, the past is still with us. The problem of dictatorships

is deep. People in many countries have experienced decades or

even centuries of oppression, whether of domestic or foreign origin.

Frequently, unquestioning submission to authority figures and rulers

has been long inculcated. In extreme cases, the social, political,

economic, and even religious institutions of the society — outside

of state control — have been deliberately weakened, subordinated,

or even replaced by new regimented institutions used by the state

or ruling party to control the society. The population has often been

atomized (turned into a mass of isolated individuals) unable to work

together to achieve freedom, to confide in each other, or even to do

much of anything at their own initiative.

The result is predictable: the population becomes weak, lacks

self-confidence, and is incapable of resistance. People are often too

frightened to share their hatred of the dictatorship and their hunger

for freedom even with family and friends. People are often too

terrified to think seriously of public resistance. In any case, what

would be the use? Instead, they face suffering without purpose and

a future without hope.

Current conditions in today’s dictatorships may be much worse

than earlier. In the past, some people may have attempted resistance.

Short-lived mass protests and demonstrations may have occurred.

Perhaps spirits soared temporarily. At other times, individuals and

small groups may have conducted brave but impotent gestures,

asserting some principle or simply their defiance. However noble

the motives, such past acts of resistance have often been insufficient

to overcome the people’s fear and habit of obedience, a necessary

From Dictatorship to Democracy 3

prerequisite to destroy the dictatorship. Sadly, those acts may have

brought instead only increased suffering and death, not victories or

even hope.

Freedom through violence?

What is to be done in such circumstances? The obvious possibilities

seem useless. Constitutional and legal barriers, judicial decisions,

and public opinion are normally ignored by dictators. Understandably,

reacting to the brutalities, torture, disappearances, and

killings, people often have concluded that only violence can end a

dictatorship. Angry victims have sometimes organized to fight the

brutal dictators with whatever violent and military capacity they

could muster, despite the odds being against them. These people

have often fought bravely, at great cost in suffering and lives. Their

accomplishments have sometimes been remarkable, but they rarely

have won freedom. Violent rebellions can trigger brutal repression

that frequently leaves the populace more helpless than before.

Whatever the merits of the violent option, however, one point

is clear. By placing confidence in violent means, one has chosen the very

type of struggle with which the oppressors nearly always have superiority.

The dictators are equipped to apply violence overwhelmingly.

However long or briefly these democrats can continue, eventually

the harsh military realities usually become inescapable. The dictators

almost always have superiority in military hardware, ammunition,

transportation, and the size of military forces. Despite bravery, the

democrats are (almost always) no match.

When conventional military rebellion is recognized as unrealistic,

some dissidents then favor guerrilla warfare. However, guerrilla

warfare rarely, if ever, benefits the oppressed population or ushers in

a democracy. Guerrilla warfare is no obvious solution, particularly

given the very strong tendency toward immense casualties among

one’s own people. The technique is no guarantor against failure,

despite supporting theory and strategic analyses, and sometimes

international backing. Guerrilla struggles often last a very long

time. Civilian populations are often displaced by the ruling gov-

4 Gene Sharp

From Dictatorship to Democracy 5

ernment, with immense human suffering and social dislocation.

Even when successful, guerrilla struggles often have significant

long-term negative structural consequences. Immediately, the

attacked regime becomes more dictatorial as a result of its countermeasures.

If the guerrillas should finally succeed, the resulting

new regime is often more dictatorial than its predecessor due to the

centralizing impact of the expanded military forces and the weakening

or destruction of the society’s independent groups and institutions

during the struggle — bodies that are vital in establishing and

maintaining a democratic society. Persons hostile to dictatorships

should look for another option.

Coups, elections, foreign saviors?

A military coup d’état against a dictatorship might appear to be

relatively one of the easiest and quickest ways to remove a particularly

repugnant regime. However, there are very serious problems

with that technique. Most importantly, it leaves in place the existing

maldistribution of power between the population and the elite in

control of the government and its military forces. The removal of

particular persons and cliques from the governing positions most

likely will merely make it possible for another group to take their

place. Theoretically, this group might be milder in its behavior and

be open in limited ways to democratic reforms. However, the opposite

is as likely to be the case.

After consolidating its position, the new clique may turn out to

be more ruthless and more ambitious than the old one. Consequently,

the new clique —

in which hopes may have been placed — will be

able to do whatever it wants without concern for democracy or

human rights. That is not an acceptable answer to the problem of


Elections are not available under dictatorships as an instrument

of significant political change. Some dictatorial regimes,

such as those of the former Soviet-dominated Eastern bloc, went

through the motions in order to appear democratic. Those elections,

however, were merely rigidly controlled plebiscites to get public

endorsement of candidates already hand picked by the dictators.

Dictators under pressure may at times agree to new elections, but

then rig them to place civilian puppets in government offices. If

opposition candidates have been allowed to run and were actually

elected, as occurred in Burma in 1990 and Nigeria in 1993, results

may simply be ignored and the “victors” subjected to intimidation,

arrest, or even execution. Dictators are not in the business

of allowing elections that could remove them from their thrones.

Many people now suffering under a brutal dictatorship, or who

have gone into exile to escape its immediate grasp, do not believe that

the oppressed can liberate themselves. They expect that their people

can only be saved by the actions of others. These people place their

confidence in external forces. They believe that only international

help can be strong enough to bring down the dictators.

The view that the oppressed are unable to act effectively is

sometimes accurate for a certain time period. As noted, often oppressed

people are unwilling and temporarily unable to struggle

because they have no confidence in their ability to face the ruthless

dictatorship, and no known way to save themselves. It is therefore

understandable that many people place their hope for liberation in

others. This outside force may be “public opinion,” the United Nations,

a particular country, or international economic and political


Such a scenario may sound comforting, but there are grave

problems with this reliance on an outside savior. Such confidence

may be totally misplaced. Usually no foreign saviors are coming, and

if a foreign state does intervene, it probably should not be trusted.

A few harsh realities concerning reliance on foreign intervention

need to be emphasized here:

• Frequently foreign states will tolerate, or even positively assist,

a dictatorship in order to advance their own economic

or political interests.

• Foreign states also may be willing to sell out an oppressed

people instead of keeping pledges to assist their liberation

at the cost of another objective.

6 Gene Sharp

From Dictatorship to Democracy 7

• Some foreign states will act against a dictatorship only to gain their own economic, political, or military control over the country.

• The foreign states may become actively involved for positive purposes only if and when the internal resistance movement has already begun shaking the dictatorship, having

thereby focused international attention on the brutal nature  of the regime.

Dictatorships usually exist primarily because of the internal

power distribution in the home country. The population and society are too weak to cause the dictatorship serious problems, wealth and power are concentrated in too few hands. Although dictatorships may benefit from or be somewhat weakened by international actions, their continuation is dependent primarily on internal factors.

International pressures can be very useful, however, when they are supporting a powerful internal resistance movement. Then, for example, international economic boycotts, embargoes, the breaking of diplomatic relations, expulsion from international organizations, condemnation by United Nations bodies, and the like can assist greatly. However, in the absence of a strong internal resistance movement such actions by others are unlikely to happen.

Facing the hard truth

The conclusion is a hard one. When one wants to bring down a

dictatorship most effectively and with the least cost then one has

four immediate tasks:

• One must strengthen the oppressed population themselves

in their determination, self-confidence, and resistance skills;

• One must strengthen the independent social groups and institutions

of the oppressed people;

• One must create a powerful internal resistance force; and

• One must develop a wise grand strategic plan for liberation

and implement it skillfully.

A liberation struggle is a time for self-reliance and internal

strengthening of the struggle group. As Charles Stewart Parnell

called out during the Irish rent strike campaign in 1879 and 1880:

It is no use relying on the Government . . . . You must only

rely upon your own determination . . . . [H]elp yourselves

by standing together . . . strengthen those amongst yourselves

who are weak . . . , band yourselves together, organize

yourselves . . . and you must win . . .

When you have made this question ripe for settlement,

then and not till then will it be settled.4

Against a strong self-reliant force, given wise strategy, disciplined

and courageous action, and genuine strength, the dictatorship

will eventually crumble. Minimally, however, the above four

requirements must be fulfilled.

As the above discussion indicates, liberation from dictatorships

ultimately depends on the people’s ability to liberate themselves.

The cases of successful political defiance — or nonviolent struggle

for political ends — cited above indicate that the means do exist

for populations to free themselves, but that option has remained

undeveloped. We will examine this option in detail in the following

chapters. However, we should first look at the issue of negotiations

as a means of dismantling dictatorships.

4 Patrick Sarsfield O’Hegarty, A History of Ireland Under the Union, 1880-1922 (London:

Methuen, 1952), pp. 490-491.

8 Gene Sharp


The Dangers Of Negotiations

When faced with the severe problems of confronting a dictatorship

(as surveyed in Chapter One), some people may lapse back

into passive submission. Others, seeing no prospect of achieving

democracy, may conclude they must come to terms with the apparently

permanent dictatorship, hoping that through “conciliation,”

“compromise,” and “negotiations” they might be able to salvage

some positive elements and to end the brutalities. On the surface,

lacking realistic options, there is appeal in that line of thinking.

Serious struggle against brutal dictatorships is not a pleasant

prospect. Why is it necessary to go that route? Can’t everyone just

be reasonable and find ways to talk, to negotiate the way to a gradual

end to the dictatorship? Can’t the democrats appeal to the dictators’

sense of common humanity and convince them to reduce their

domination bit by bit, and perhaps finally to give way completely

to the establishment of a democracy?

It is sometimes argued that the truth is not all on one side. Perhaps

the democrats have misunderstood the dictators, who may have

acted from good motives in difficult circumstances? Or perhaps some

may think, the dictators would gladly remove themselves from the

difficult situation facing the country if only given some encouragement

and enticements. It may be argued that the dictators could be

offered a “win-win” solution, in which everyone gains something.

The risks and pain of further struggle could be unnecessary, it may

be argued, if the democratic opposition is only willing to settle the

conflict peacefully by negotiations (which may even perhaps be

assisted by some skilled individuals or even another government).

Would that not be preferable to a difficult struggle, even if it is one

conducted by nonviolent struggle rather than by military war?


Merits and limitations of negotiations

Negotiations are a very useful tool in resolving certain types of issues

in conflicts and should not be neglected or rejected when they

are appropriate.

In some situations where no fundamental issues are at stake,

and therefore a compromise is acceptable, negotiations can be an

important means to settle a conflict. A labor strike for higher wages

is a good example of the appropriate role of negotiations in a conflict:

a negotiated settlement may provide an increase somewhere between

the sums originally proposed by each of the contending sides. Labor

conflicts with legal trade unions are, however, quite different than

the conflicts in which the continued existence of a cruel dictatorship

or the establishment of political freedom are at stake.

When the issues at stake are fundamental, affecting religious

principles, issues of human freedom, or the whole future development

of the society, negotiations do not provide a way of reaching a

mutually satisfactory solution. On some basic issues there should

be no compromise. Only a shift in power relations in favor of the

democrats can adequately safeguard the basic issues at stake. Such

a shift will occur through struggle, not negotiations. This is not to

say that negotiations ought never to be used. The point here is that

negotiations are not a realistic way to remove a strong dictatorship

in the absence of a powerful democratic opposition.

Negotiations, of course, may not be an option at all. Firmly

entrenched dictators who feel secure in their position may refuse to

negotiate with their democratic opponents. Or, when negotiations

have been initiated, the democratic negotiators may disappear and

never be heard from again.

Negotiated surrender?

Individuals and groups who oppose dictatorship and favor negotiations

will often have good motives. Especially when a military

struggle has continued for years against a brutal dictatorship without

final victory, it is understandable that all the people of whatever

10 Gene Sharp

From Dictatorship to Democracy 11

political persuasion would want peace. Negotiations are especially

likely to become an issue among democrats where the dictators have

clear military superiority and the destruction and casualties among

one’s own people are no longer bearable. There will then be a strong

temptation to explore any other route that might salvage some of the

democrats’ objectives while bringing an end to the cycle of violence

and counter-violence.

The offer by a dictatorship of “peace” through negotiations with

the democratic opposition is, of course, rather disingenuous. The

violence could be ended immediately by the dictators themselves, if

only they would stop waging war on their own people. They could

at their own initiative without any bargaining restore respect for

human dignity and rights, free political prisoners, end torture, halt

military operations, withdraw from the government, and apologize

to the people.

When the dictatorship is strong but an irritating resistance

exists, the dictators may wish to negotiate the opposition into surrender

under the guise of making “peace.” The call to negotiate

can sound appealing, but grave dangers can be lurking within the

negotiating room.

On the other hand, when the opposition is exceptionally strong

and the dictatorship is genuinely threatened, the dictators may seek

negotiations in order to salvage as much of their control or wealth

as possible. In neither case should the democrats help the dictators

achieve their goals.

Democrats should be wary of the traps that may be deliberately

built into a negotiation process by the dictators. The call for

negotiations when basic issues of political liberties are involved may

be an effort by the dictators to induce the democrats to surrender

peacefully while the violence of the dictatorship continues. In those

types of conflicts the only proper role of negotiations may occur at

the end of a decisive struggle in which the power of the dictators

has been effectively destroyed and they seek personal safe passage

to an international airport.

Power and justice in negotiations

If this judgment sounds too harsh a commentary on negotiations,

perhaps some of the romanticism associated with them needs to

be moderated. Clear thinking is required as to how negotiations


“Negotiation” does not mean that the two sides sit down together

on a basis of equality and talk through and resolve the differences

that produced the conflict between them. Two facts must

be remembered. First, in negotiations it is not the relative justice of

the conflicting views and objectives that determines the content of a

negotiated agreement. Second, the content of a negotiated agreement

is largely determined by the power capacity of each side.

Several difficult questions must be considered. What can each

side do at a later date to gain its objectives if the other side fails to

come to an agreement at the negotiating table? What can each side

do after an agreement is reached if the other side breaks its word

and uses its available forces to seize its objectives despite the agreement?

A settlement is not reached in negotiations through an assessment

of the rights and wrongs of the issues at stake. While those

may be much discussed, the real results in negotiations come from

an assessment of the absolute and relative power situations of the

contending groups. What can the democrats do to ensure that their

minimum claims cannot be denied? What can the dictators do to

stay in control and neutralize the democrats? In other words, if an

agreement comes, it is more likely the result of each side estimating

how the power capacities of the two sides compare, and then

calculating how an open struggle might end.

Attention must also be given to what each side is willing to give

up in order to reach agreement. In successful negotiations there is

compromise, a splitting of differences. Each side gets part of what

it wants and gives up part of its objectives.

In the case of extreme dictatorships what are the pro-democracy

forces to give up to the dictators? What objectives of

the dictators are the pro-democracy forces to accept? Are the

12 Gene Sharp

From Dictatorship to Democracy 13

democrats to give to the dictators (whether a political party or

a military cabal) a constitutionally-established permanent role

in the future government? Where is the democracy in that?

Even assuming that all goes well in negotiations, it is necessary

to ask: What kind of peace will be the result? Will life then be better

or worse than it would be if the democrats began or continued

to struggle?

“Agreeable” dictators

Dictators may have a variety of motives and objectives underlying

their domination: power, position, wealth, reshaping the society, and

the like. One should remember that none of these will be served if

they abandon their control positions. In the event of negotiations

dictators will try to preserve their goals.

Whatever promises offered by dictators in any negotiated

settlement, no one should ever forget that the dictators may promise

anything to secure submission from their democratic opponents, and

then brazenly violate those same agreements.

If the democrats agree to halt resistance in order to gain a reprieve

from repression, they may be very disappointed. A halt to

resistance rarely brings reduced repression. Once the restraining

force of internal and international opposition has been removed,

dictators may even make their oppression and violence more brutal

than before. The collapse of popular resistance often removes the

countervailing force that has limited the control and brutality of the

dictatorship. The tyrants can then move ahead against whomever

they wish. “For the tyrant has the power to inflict only that which

we lack the strength to resist,” wrote Krishnalal Shridharani.5

Resistance, not negotiations, is essential for change in conflicts

where fundamental issues are at stake. In nearly all cases, resistance

must continue to drive dictators out of power. Success is most often

5 Krishnalal Shridharani, War Without Violence: A Study of Gandhi’s Method and Its

Accomplishments (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1939, and reprint New York and

London: Garland Publishing, 1972), p. 260.

determined not by negotiating a settlement but through the wise use

of the most appropriate and powerful means of resistance available.

It is our contention, to be explored later in more detail, that political

defiance, or nonviolent struggle, is the most powerful means available

to those struggling for freedom.

What kind of peace?

If dictators and democrats are to talk about peace at all, extremely

clear thinking is needed because of the dangers involved. Not everyone

who uses the word “peace” wants peace with freedom and

justice. Submission to cruel oppression and passive acquiescence to

ruthless dictators who have perpetrated atrocities on hundreds of

thousands of people is no real peace. Hitler often called for peace,

by which he meant submission to his will. A dictators’ peace is often

no more than the peace of the prison or of the grave.

There are other dangers. Well-intended negotiators sometimes

confuse the objectives of the negotiations and the negotiation process

itself. Further, democratic negotiators, or foreign negotiation specialists

accepted to assist in the negotiations, may in a single stroke provide

the dictators with the domestic and international legitimacy that

they had been previously denied because of their seizure of the state,

human rights violations, and brutalities. Without that desperately

needed legitimacy, the dictators cannot continue to rule indefinitely.

Exponents of peace should not provide them legitimacy.

Reasons for hope

As stated earlier, opposition leaders may feel forced to pursue negotiations

out of a sense of hopelessness of the democratic struggle.

However, that sense of powerlessness can be changed. Dictatorships

are not permanent. People living under dictatorships need not remain

weak, and dictators need not be allowed to remain powerful

indefinitely. Aristotle noted long ago, “. . . [O]ligarchy and tyranny

are shorter-lived than any other constitution. . . . [A]ll round, tyran-

14 Gene Sharp

6 Aristotle, The Politics, transl. by T. A. Sinclair (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England

and Baltimore, Maryland: Penguin Books 1976 [1962]), Book V, Chapter 12,

pp. 231 and 232.

From Dictatorship to Democracy 15

nies have not lasted long.”6 Modern dictatorships are also vulnerable.

Their weaknesses can be aggravated and the dictators’ power can be

disintegrated. (In Chapter Four we will examine these weaknesses

in more detail.)

Recent history shows the vulnerability of dictatorships, and reveals

that they can crumble in a relatively short time span: whereas

ten years — 1980-1990 — were required to bring down the Communist

dictatorship in Poland, in East Germany and Czechoslovakia in

1989 it occurred within weeks. In El Salvador and Guatemala in 1944

the struggles against the entrenched brutal military dictators required

approximately two weeks each. The militarily powerful regime of

the Shah in Iran was undermined in a few months. The Marcos dictatorship

in the Philippines fell before people power within weeks

in 1986: the United States government quickly abandoned President

Marcos when the strength of the opposition became apparent. The

attempted hard-line coup in the Soviet Union in August 1991 was

blocked in days by political defiance. Thereafter, many of its long

dominated constituent nations in only days, weeks, and months

regained their independence.

The old preconception that violent means always work quickly

and nonviolent means always require vast time is clearly not valid.

Although much time may be required for changes in the underlying

situation and society, the actual fight against a dictatorship sometimes

occurs relatively quickly by nonviolent struggle.

Negotiations are not the only alternative to a continuing war

of annihilation on the one hand and capitulation on the other. The

examples just cited, as well as those listed in Chapter One, illustrate

that another option exists for those who want both peace and freedom:

political defiance.





Whence Comes The Power?

Achieving a society with both freedom and peace is of course no

simple task. It will require great strategic skill, organization, and

planning. Above all, it will require power. Democrats cannot hope

to bring down a dictatorship and establish political freedom without

the ability to apply their own power effectively.

But how is this possible? What kind of power can the democratic

opposition mobilize that will be sufficient to destroy the dictatorship

and its vast military and police networks? The answers lie in an oft

ignored understanding of political power. Learning this insight is

not really so difficult a task. Some basic truths are quite simple.

The “Monkey Master” fable

A Fourteenth Century Chinese parable by Liu-Ji, for example, outlines

this neglected understanding of political power quite well:7

In the feudal state of Chu an old man survived by keeping

monkeys in his service. The people of Chu called him “ju

gong” (monkey master).

Each morning, the old man would assemble the monkeys

in his courtyard, and order the eldest one to lead the others

to the mountains to gather fruits from bushes and trees.

It was the rule that each monkey had to give one-tenth of

his collection to the old man. Those who failed to do so

would be ruthlessly flogged. All the monkeys suffered

bitterly, but dared not complain.

7 This story, originally titled “Rule by Tricks” is from Yu-li-zi by Liu Ji (1311-1375)

and has been translated by Sidney Tai, all rights reserved. Yu-li-zi is also the pseudonym

of Liu Ji. The translation was originally published in Nonviolent Sanctions:

News from the Albert Einstein Institution (Cambridge, Mass.), Vol. IV, No. 3 (Winter

1992-1993), p. 3.

One day, a small monkey asked the other monkeys: “Did

the old man plant all the fruit trees and bushes?” The others

said: “No, they grew naturally.” The small monkey

further asked: “Can’t we take the fruits without the old

man’s permission?” The others replied: “Yes, we all can.”

The small monkey continued: “Then, why should we depend

on the old man; why must we all serve him?”

Before the small monkey was able to finish his statement,

all the monkeys suddenly became enlightened and awakened.

On the same night, watching that the old man had fallen

asleep, the monkeys tore down all the barricades of the

stockade in which they were confined, and destroyed the

stockade entirely. They also took the fruits the old man had

in storage, brought all with them to the woods, and never

returned. The old man finally died of starvation.

Yu-li-zi says, “Some men in the world rule their people by

tricks and not by righteous principles. Aren’t they just like

the monkey master? They are not aware of their muddleheadedness.

As soon as their people become enlightened,

their tricks no longer work.”

Necessary sources of political power

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;

18 Gene Sharp

From Dictatorship to Democracy 19

Skills and knowledge, needed by the regime to perform specific

actions and supplied by the cooperating persons and


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 availability

of the needed sources of power and, consequently, expand

the power capacity of any government.

On the other hand, withdrawal of popular and institutional cooperation

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 threaten

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 follows,

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.8

The English Nineteenth Century legal theorist John Austin

described the situation of a dictatorship confronting a disaffected

people. Austin argued that if most of the population were determined

to destroy the government and were willing to endure repression

to do so, then the might of the government, including those

who supported it, could not preserve the hated government, even if

20 Gene Sharp

8 Karl W. Deutsch, “Cracks in the Monolith,” in Carl J. Friedrich, ed., Totalitarianism

(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1954), pp. 313-314.

From Dictatorship to Democracy 21

it received foreign assistance. The defiant people could not be forced

back into permanent obedience and subjection, Austin concluded.9

Niccolo Machiavelli had much earlier argued that the prince

“. . . who has the public as a whole for his enemy can never make

himself secure; and the greater his cruelty, the weaker does his regime


The practical political application of these insights was demonstrated

by the heroic Norwegian resisters against the Nazi occupation,

and as cited in Chapter One, by the brave Poles, Germans,

Czechs, Slovaks, and many others who resisted Communist aggression

and dictatorship, and finally helped produce the collapse of

Communist rule in Europe. This, of course, is no new phenomenon:

cases of nonviolent resistance go back at least to 494 B.C. when plebeians

withdrew cooperation from their Roman patrician masters.11

Nonviolent struggle has been employed at various times by peoples

throughout Asia, Africa, the Americas, Australasia, and the Pacific

islands, as well as Europe.

Three of the most important factors in determining to what

degree a government’s power will be controlled or uncontrolled

therefore are: (1) the relative desire of the populace to impose limits

on the government’s power; (2) the relative strength of the subjects’

independent organizations and institutions to withdraw collectively

the sources of power; and (3) the population’s relative ability to withhold

their consent and assistance.

Centers of democratic power

One characteristic of a democratic society is that there exist independent

of the state a multitude of nongovernmental groups and

9 John Austin, Lectures on Jurisprudence or the Philosophy of Positive Law (Fifth edition,

revised and edited by Robert Campbell, 2 vol., London: John Murray, 1911 [1861]),

Vol. I, p. 296.

10 Niccolo Machiavelli, “The Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy,” in The

Discourses of Niccolo Machiavelli (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1950), Vol.

I, p. 254.

11 See Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1973), p.

75 and passim for other historical examples.

institutions. These include, for example, families, religious organizations,

cultural associations, sports clubs, economic institutions, trade

unions, student associations, political parties, villages, neighborhood

associations, gardening clubs, human rights organizations, musical

groups, literary societies, and others. These bodies are important

in serving their own objectives and also in helping to meet social


Additionally, these bodies have great political significance.

They provide group and institutional bases by which people can exert

influence over the direction of their society and resist other groups

or the government when they are seen to impinge unjustly on their

interests, activities, or purposes. Isolated individuals, not members

of such groups, usually are unable to make a significant impact on

the rest of the society, much less a government, and certainly not a


Consequently, if the autonomy and freedom of such bodies

can be taken away by the dictators, the population will be relatively

helpless. Also, if these institutions can themselves be dictatorially

controlled by the central regime or replaced by new controlled ones,

they can be used to dominate both the individual members and also

those areas of the society.

However, if the autonomy and freedom of these independent

civil institutions (outside of government control) can be maintained

or regained they are highly important for the application of political

defiance. The common feature of the cited examples in which

dictatorships have been disintegrated or weakened has been the

courageous mass application of political defiance by the population

and its institutions.

As stated, these centers of power provide the institutional bases

from which the population can exert pressure or can resist dictatorial

controls. In the future, they will be part of the indispensable

structural base for a free society. Their continued independence

and growth therefore is often a prerequisite for the success of the

liberation struggle.

If the dictatorship has been largely successful in destroying or

controlling the society’s independent bodies, it will be important for

22 Gene Sharp

From Dictatorship to Democracy 23

the resisters to create new independent social groups and institutions,

or to reassert democratic control over surviving or partially

controlled bodies. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956-1957

a multitude of direct democracy councils emerged, even joining

together to establish for some weeks a whole federated system of

institutions and governance. In Poland during the late 1980s workers

maintained illegal Solidarity unions and, in some cases, took

over control of the official, Communist-dominated, trade unions.

Such institutional developments can have very important political


Of course, none of this means that weakening and destroying

dictatorships is easy, nor that every attempt will succeed. It certainly

does not mean that the struggle will be free of casualties, for those

still serving the dictators are likely to fight back in an effort to force

the populace to resume cooperation and obedience.

The above insight into power does mean, however, that the deliberate

disintegration of dictatorships is possible. Dictatorships in particular

have specific characteristics that render them highly vulnerable

to skillfully implemented political defiance. Let us examine these

characteristics in more detail.





Dictatorships Have Weaknesses

Dictatorships often appear invulnerable. Intelligence agencies,

police, military forces, prisons, concentration camps, and execution

squads are controlled by a powerful few. A country’s finances,

natural resources, and production capacities are often arbitrarily

plundered by dictators and used to support the dictators’ will.

In comparison, democratic opposition forces often appear

extremely weak, ineffective, and powerless. That perception of

invulnerability against powerlessness makes effective opposition


That is not the whole story, however.

Identifying the Achilles’ heel

A myth from Classical Greece illustrates well the vulnerability of

the supposedly invulnerable. Against the warrior Achilles, no blow

would injure and no sword would penetrate his skin. When still a

baby, Achilles’ mother had supposedly dipped him into the waters

of the magical river Styx, resulting in the protection of his body from

all dangers. There was, however, a problem. Since the baby was

held by his heel so that he would not be washed away, the magical

water had not covered that small part of his body. When Achilles

was a grown man he appeared to all to be invulnerable to the enemies’

weapons. However, in the battle against Troy, instructed by

one who knew the weakness, an enemy soldier aimed his arrow at

Achilles’ unprotected heel, the one spot where he could be injured.

The strike proved fatal. Still today, the phrase “Achilles’ heel” refers

to the vulnerable part of a person, a plan, or an institution at which

if attacked there is no protection.

The same principle applies to ruthless dictatorships. They, too,

can be conquered, but most quickly and with least cost if their weaknesses

can be identified and the attack concentrated on them.

26 Gene Sharp

Weaknesses of dictatorships

Among the weaknesses of dictatorships are the following:

1. The cooperation of a multitude of people, groups, and institutions

needed to operate the system may be restricted or


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.

From Dictatorship to Democracy 27

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


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 decentralizes

controls and decision making, its control over the central

levers of power may be further eroded.

Attacking weaknesses of dictatorships

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 organizations 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.

28 Gene Sharp






Exercising Power

In Chapter One we noted that military resistance against dictatorships

does not strike them where they are weakest, but rather where

they are strongest. By choosing to compete in the areas of military

forces, supplies of ammunition, weapons technology, and the like,

resistance movements tend to put themselves at a distinct disadvantage.

Dictatorships will almost always be able to muster superior

resources in these areas. The dangers of relying on foreign powers

for salvation were also outlined. In Chapter Two we examined the

problems of relying on negotiations as a means to remove dictatorships.

What means are then available that will offer the democratic

resistance distinct advantages and will tend to aggravate the identified

weaknesses of dictatorships? What technique of action will

capitalize on the theory of political power discussed in Chapter

Three? The alternative of choice is political defiance.

Political defiance has the following characteristics:

• It does not accept that the outcome will be decided by the

means of fighting chosen by the dictatorship.

• It is difficult for the regime to combat.

• It can uniquely aggravate weaknesses of the dictatorship and

can sever its sources of power.

• It can in action be widely dispersed but can also be concentrated

on a specific objective.

• It leads to errors of judgment and action by the dictators.

• It can effectively utilize the population as a whole and the

society’s groups and institutions in the struggle to end the

brutal domination of the few.

• It helps to spread the distribution of effective power in the

society, making the establishment and maintenance of a

democratic society more possible.

The workings of nonviolent struggle

Like military capabilities, political defiance can be employed for a

variety of purposes, ranging from efforts to influence the opponents

to take different actions, to create conditions for a peaceful resolution

of conflict, or to disintegrate the opponents’ regime. However,

political defiance operates in quite different ways from violence.

Although both techniques are means to wage struggle, they do so

with very different means and with different consequences. The

ways and results of violent conflict are well known. Physical weapons

are used to intimidate, injure, kill, and destroy.

Nonviolent struggle is a much more complex and varied

means of struggle than is violence. Instead, the struggle is fought

by psychological, social, economic, and political weapons applied

by the population and the institutions of the society. These have

been known under various names of protests, strikes, noncooperation,

boycotts, disaffection, and people power. As noted earlier, all

governments can rule only as long as they receive replenishment of

the needed sources of their power from the cooperation, submission,

and obedience of the population and the institutions of the society.

Political defiance, unlike violence, is uniquely suited to severing

those sources of power.

Nonviolent weapons and discipline

The common error of past improvised political defiance campaigns

is the reliance on only one or two methods, such as strikes and mass

demonstrations. In fact, a multitude of methods exist that allow

30 Gene Sharp

From Dictatorship to Democracy 31

resistance strategists to concentrate and disperse resistance as required.

About two hundred specific methods of nonviolent action have

been identified, and there are certainly scores more. These methods

are classified under three broad categories: protest and persuasion,

noncooperation, and intervention. Methods of nonviolent protest

and persuasion are largely symbolic demonstrations, including parades,

marches, and vigils (54 methods). Noncooperation is divided

into three sub-categories: (a) social noncooperation (16 methods),

(b) economic noncooperation, including boycotts (26 methods) and

strikes (23 methods), and (c) political noncooperation (38 methods).

Nonviolent intervention, by psychological, physical, social, economic,

or political means, such as the fast, nonviolent occupation, and

parallel government (41 methods), is the final group. A list of 198 of

these methods is included as the Appendix to this publication.

The use of a considerable number of these methods — carefully

chosen, applied persistently and on a large scale, wielded in the

context of a wise strategy and appropriate tactics, by trained civilians

— is likely to cause any illegitimate regime severe problems.

This applies to all dictatorships.

In contrast to military means, the methods of nonviolent struggle

can be focused directly on the issues at stake. For example, since

the issue of dictatorship is primarily political, then political forms of

nonviolent struggle would be crucial. These would include denial

of legitimacy to the dictators and noncooperation with their regime.

Noncooperation would also be applied against specific policies. At

times stalling and procrastination may be quietly and even secretly

practiced, while at other times open disobedience and defiant public

demonstrations and strikes may be visible to all.

On the other hand, if the dictatorship is vulnerable to economic

pressures or if many of the popular grievances against it are economic,

then economic action, such as boycotts or strikes, may be

appropriate resistance methods. The dictators’ efforts to exploit the

economic system might be met with limited general strikes, slowdowns,

and refusal of assistance by (or disappearance of) indispensable

experts. Selective use of various types of strikes may be conducted

at key points in manufacturing, in transport, in the supply

of raw materials, and in the distribution of products.

Some methods of nonviolent struggle require people to perform

acts unrelated to their normal lives, such as distributing leaflets,

operating an underground press, going on hunger strike, or sitting

down in the streets. These methods may be difficult for some people

to undertake except in very extreme situations.

Other methods of nonviolent struggle instead require people

to continue approximately their normal lives, though in somewhat

different ways. For example, people may report for work, instead

of striking, but then deliberately work more slowly or inefficiently

than usual. “Mistakes” may be consciously made more frequently.

One may become “sick” and “unable” to work at certain times. Or,

one may simply refuse to work. One might go to religious services

when the act expresses not only religious but also political convictions.

One may act to protect children from the attackers’ propaganda

by education at home or in illegal classes. One might refuse to join

certain “recommended” or required organizations that one would

not have joined freely in earlier times. The similarity of such types

of action to people’s usual activities and the limited degree of departure

from their normal lives may make participation in the national

liberation struggle much easier for many people.

Since nonviolent struggle and violence operate in fundamentally

different ways, even limited resistance violence during a political

defiance campaign will be counterproductive, for it will shift

the struggle to one in which the dictators have an overwhelming

advantage (military warfare). Nonviolent discipline is a key to success

and must be maintained despite provocations and brutalities

by the dictators and their agents.

The maintenance of nonviolent discipline against violent opponents

facilitates the workings of the four mechanisms of change

in nonviolent struggle (discussed below). Nonviolent discipline is

also extremely important in the process of political jiu-jitsu. In this

process the stark brutality of the regime against the clearly nonviolent

actionists politically rebounds against the dictators’ position,

32 Gene Sharp

From Dictatorship to Democracy 33

causing dissention in their own ranks as well as fomenting support

for the resisters among the general population, the regime’s usual

supporters, and third parties.

In some cases, however, limited violence against the dictatorship

may be inevitable. Frustration and hatred of the regime may

explode into violence. Or, certain groups may be unwilling to abandon

violent means even though they recognize the important role of

nonviolent struggle. In these cases, political defiance does not need to

be abandoned. However, it will be necessary to separate the violent

action as far as possible from the nonviolent action. This should be

done in terms of geography, population groups, timing, and issues.

Otherwise the violence could have a disastrous effect on the potentially

much more powerful and successful use of political defiance.

The historical record indicates that while casualties in dead

and wounded must be expected in political defiance, they will be

far fewer than the casualties in military warfare. Furthermore, this

type of struggle does not contribute to the endless cycle of killing

and brutality.

Nonviolent struggle both requires and tends to produce a loss

(or greater control) of fear of the government and its violent repression.

That abandonment or control of fear is a key element in destroying

the power of the dictators over the general population.

Openness, secrecy, and high standards

Secrecy, deception, and underground conspiracy pose very difficult

problems for a movement using nonviolent action. It is often

impossible to keep the political police and intelligence agents from

learning about intentions and plans. From the perspective of the

movement, secrecy is not only rooted in fear but contributes to fear,

which dampens the spirit of resistance and reduces the number of

people who can participate in a given action. It also can contribute

to suspicions and accusations, often unjustified, within the movement,

concerning who is an informer or agent for the opponents.

Secrecy may also affect the ability of a movement to remain nonviolent.

In contrast, openness regarding intentions and plans will not

only have the opposite effects, but will contribute to an image that

the resistance movement is in fact extremely powerful. The problem

is of course more complex than this suggests, and there are significant

aspects of resistance activities that may require secrecy. A wellinformed

assessment will be required by those knowledgeable about

both the dynamics of nonviolent struggle and also the dictatorship’s

means of surveillance in the specific situation.

The editing, printing, and distribution of underground publications,

the use of illegal radio broadcasts from within the country, and

the gathering of intelligence about the operations of the dictatorship

are among the special limited types of activities where a high degree

of secrecy will be required.

The maintenance of high standards of behavior in nonviolent

action is necessary at all stages of the conflict. Such factors as fearlessness

and maintaining nonviolent discipline are always required. It is

important to remember that large numbers of people may frequently

be necessary to effect particular changes. However, such numbers

can be obtained as reliable participants only by maintaining the high

standards of the movement.

Shifting power relationships

Strategists need to remember that the conflict in which political defiance

is applied is a constantly changing field of struggle with continuing

interplay of moves and countermoves. Nothing is static. Power

relationships, both absolute and relative, are subject to constant and

rapid changes. This is made possible by the resisters continuing their

nonviolent persistence despite repression.

The variations in the respective power of the contending sides

in this type of conflict situation are likely to be more extreme than in

violent conflicts, to take place more quickly, and to have more diverse

and politically significant consequences. Due to these variations,

specific actions by the resisters are likely to have consequences far

beyond the particular time and place in which they occur. These effects

will rebound to strengthen or weaken one group or another.

34 Gene Sharp

From Dictatorship to Democracy 35

In addition, the nonviolent group may, by its actions exert influence

over the increase or decrease in the relative strength of the

opponent group to a great extent. For example, disciplined courageous

nonviolent resistance in face of the dictators’ brutalities may induce

unease, disaffection, unreliability, and in extreme situations even

mutiny among the dictators’ own soldiers and population. This

resistance may also result in increased international condemnation

of the dictatorship. In addition, skillful, disciplined, and persistent

use of political defiance may result in more and more participation in

the resistance by people who normally would give their tacit support

to the dictators or generally remain neutral in the conflict.

Four mechanisms of change

Nonviolent struggle produces change in four ways. The first

mechanism is the least likely, though it has occurred. When members

of the opponent group are emotionally moved by the suffering

of repression imposed on courageous nonviolent resisters or are

rationally persuaded that the resisters’ cause is just, they may come

to accept the resisters’ aims. This mechanism is called conversion.

Though cases of conversion in nonviolent action do sometimes happen,

they are rare, and in most conflicts this does not occur at all or

at least not on a significant scale.

Far more often, nonviolent struggle operates by changing the

conflict situation and the society so that the opponents simply cannot

do as they like. It is this change that produces the other three mechanisms:

accommodation, nonviolent coercion, and disintegration.

Which of these occurs depends on the degree to which the relative

and absolute power relations are shifted in favor of the democrats.

If the issues are not fundamental ones, the demands of the opposition

in a limited campaign are not considered threatening, and

the contest of forces has altered the power relationships to some

degree, the immediate conflict may be ended by reaching an agreement,

a splitting of differences or compromise. This mechanism is

called accommodation. Many strikes are settled in this manner, for

example, with both sides attaining some of their objectives but neither

achieving all it wanted. A government may perceive such a

settlement to have some positive benefits, such as defusing tension,

creating an impression of “fairness,” or polishing the international

image of the regime. It is important, therefore, that great care be

exercised in selecting the issues on which a settlement by accommodation

is acceptable. A struggle to bring down a dictatorship is

not one of these.

Nonviolent struggle can be much more powerful than indicated

by the mechanisms of conversion or accommodation. Mass noncooperation

and defiance can so change social and political situations,

especially power relationships, that the dictators’ ability to control

the economic, social, and political processes of government and the

society is in fact taken away. The opponents’ military forces may become

so unreliable that they no longer simply obey orders to repress

resisters. Although the opponents’ leaders remain in their positions,

and adhere to their original goals, their ability to act effectively has

been taken away from them. That is called nonviolent coercion.

In some extreme situations, the conditions producing nonviolent

coercion are carried still further. The opponents’ leadership in fact

loses all ability to act and their own structure of power collapses.

The resisters’ self-direction, noncooperation, and defiance become so

complete that the opponents now lack even a semblance of control

over them. The opponents’ bureaucracy refuses to obey its own leadership.

The opponents’ troops and police mutiny. The opponents’

usual supporters or population repudiate their former leadership,

denying that they have any right to rule at all. Hence, their former

assistance and obedience falls away. The fourth mechanism of

change, disintegration of the opponents’ system, is so complete that

they do not even have sufficient power to surrender. The regime

simply falls to pieces.

In planning liberation strategies, these four mechanisms should

be kept in mind. They sometimes operate essentially by chance.

However, the selection of one or more of these as the intended mecha-

36 Gene Sharp

nism of change in a conflict will make it possible to formulate specific

and mutually reinforcing strategies. Which mechanism (or

mechanisms) to select will depend on numerous factors, including

the absolute and relative power of the contending groups and the

attitudes and objectives of the nonviolent struggle group.

Democratizing effects of political defiance

In contrast to the centralizing effects of violent sanctions, use of the

technique of nonviolent struggle contributes to democratizing the

political society in several ways.

One part of the democratizing effect is negative. That is, in

contrast to military means, this technique does not provide a means

of repression under command of a ruling elite which can be turned

against the population to establish or maintain a dictatorship. Leaders

of a political defiance movement can exert influence and apply

pressures on their followers, but they cannot imprison or execute

them when they dissent or choose other leaders.

Another part of the democratizing effect is positive. That is,

nonviolent struggle provides the population with means of resistance

that can be used to achieve and defend their liberties against existing

or would-be dictators. Below are several of the positive democratizing

effects nonviolent struggle may have:

• Experience in applying nonviolent struggle may result in the

population being more self-confident in challenging the

regime’s threats and capacity for violent repression.

• Nonviolent struggle provides the means of noncooperation

and defiance by which the population can resist undemocratic

controls over them by any dictatorial group.

• Nonviolent struggle can be used to assert the practice of

democratic freedoms, such as free speech, free press, independent

organizations, and free assembly, in face of repressive


From Dictatorship to Democracy 37

• Nonviolent struggle contributes strongly to the survival, rebirth,

and strengthening of the independent groups and institutions

of the society, as previously discussed. These are

important for democracy because of their capacity to mobilize

the power capacity of the population and to impose limits

on the effective power of any would-be dictators.

• Nonviolent struggle provides means by which the population

can wield power against repressive police and military

action by a dictatorial government.

• Nonviolent struggle provides methods by which the population

and the independent institutions can in the interests

of democracy restrict or sever the sources of power for the

ruling elite, thereby threatening its capacity to continue its


Complexity of nonviolent struggle

As we have seen from this discussion, nonviolent struggle is a complex

technique of social action, involving a multitude of methods,

a range of mechanisms of change, and specific behavioral requirements.

To be effective, especially against a dictatorship, political

defiance requires careful planning and preparation. Prospective

participants will need to understand what is required of them.

Resources will need to have been made available. And strategists

will need to have analyzed how nonviolent struggle can be most

effectively applied. We now turn our attention to this latter crucial

element: the need for strategic planning.

38 Gene Sharp




The Need For Strategic Planning

Political defiance campaigns against dictatorships may begin in a

variety of ways. In the past these struggles have almost always been

unplanned and essentially accidental. Specific grievances that have

triggered past initial actions have varied widely, but often included

new brutalities, the arrest or killing of a highly regarded person, a

new repressive policy or order, food shortages, disrespect toward

religious beliefs, or an anniversary of an important related event.

Sometimes, a particular act by the dictatorship has so enraged the

populace that they have launched into action without having any

idea how the rising might end. At other times a courageous individual

or a small group may have taken action which aroused support.

A specific grievance may be recognized by others as similar

to wrongs they had experienced and they, too, may thus join the

struggle. Sometimes, a specific call for resistance from a small group

or individual may meet an unexpectedly large response.

While spontaneity has some positive qualities, it has often

had disadvantages. Frequently, the democratic resisters have not

anticipated the brutalities of the dictatorship, so that they suffered

gravely and the resistance has collapsed. At times the lack of planning

by democrats has left crucial decisions to chance, with disastrous

results. Even when the oppressive system was brought down, lack

of planning on how to handle the transition to a democratic system

has contributed to the emergence of a new dictatorship.

Realistic planning

In the future, unplanned popular action will undoubtedly play significant

roles in risings against dictatorships. However, it is now

possible to calculate the most effective ways to bring down a dictatorship,

to assess when the political situation and popular mood are

ripe, and to choose how to initiate a campaign. Very careful thought

based on a realistic assessment of the situation and the capabilities of


the populace is required in order to select effective ways to achieve

freedom under such circumstances.

If one wishes to accomplish something, it is wise to plan how to

do it. The more important the goal, or the graver the consequences

of failure, the more important planning becomes. Strategic planning

increases the likelihood that all available resources will be

mobilized and employed most effectively. This is especially true for

a democratic movement – which has limited material resources and

whose supporters will be in danger – that is trying to bring down

a powerful dictatorship. In contrast, the dictatorship usually will

have access to vast material resources, organizational strength, and

ability to perpetrate brutalities.

“To plan a strategy” here means to calculate a course of action

that will make it more likely to get from the present to the desired

future situation. In terms of this discussion, it means from a dictatorship

to a future democratic system. A plan to achieve that

objective will usually consist of a phased series of campaigns and

other organized activities designed to strengthen the oppressed

population and society and to weaken the dictatorship. Note here

that the objective is not simply to destroy the current dictatorship

but to emplace a democratic system. A grand strategy that limits

its objective to merely destroying the incumbent dictatorship runs

a great risk of producing another tyrant.

Hurdles to planning

Some exponents of freedom in various parts of the world do not

bring their full capacities to bear on the problem of how to achieve

liberation. Only rarely do these advocates fully recognize the

extreme importance of careful strategic planning before they act.

Consequently, this is almost never done.

Why is it that the people who have the vision of bringing political

freedom to their people should so rarely prepare a comprehensive

strategic plan to achieve that goal? Unfortunately, often

most people in democratic opposition groups do not understand

the need for strategic planning or are not accustomed or trained to

40 Gene Sharp

From Dictatorship to Democracy 41

think strategically. This is a difficult task. Constantly harassed by

the dictatorship, and overwhelmed by immediate responsibilities,

resistance leaders often do not have the safety or time to develop

strategic thinking skills.

Instead, it is a common pattern simply to react to the initiatives

of the dictatorship. The opposition is then always on the defensive,

seeking to maintain limited liberties or bastions of freedom, at best

slowing the advance of the dictatorial controls or causing certain

problems for the regime’s new policies.

Some individuals and groups, of course, may not see the need

for broad long-term planning of a liberation movement. Instead, they

may naïvely think that if they simply espouse their goal strongly,

firmly, and long enough, it will somehow come to pass. Others assume

that if they simply live and witness according to their principles

and ideals in face of difficulties, they are doing all they can to implement

them. The espousal of humane goals and loyalty to ideals are

admirable, but are grossly inadequate to end a dictatorship and to

achieve freedom.

Other opponents of dictatorship may naïvely think that if only

they use enough violence, freedom will come. But, as noted earlier,

violence is no guarantor of success. Instead of liberation, it can lead

to defeat, massive tragedy, or both. In most situations the dictatorship

is best equipped for violent struggle and the military realities

rarely, if ever, favor the democrats.

There are also activists who base their actions on what they

“feel” they should do. These approaches are, however, not only

egocentric but they offer no guidance for developing a grand strategy

of liberation.

Action based on a “bright idea” that someone has had is also

limited. What is needed instead is action based on careful calculation

of the “next steps” required to topple the dictatorship. Without

strategic analysis, resistance leaders will often not know what that

“next step” should be, for they have not thought carefully about the

successive specific steps required to achieve victory. Creativity and

bright ideas are very important, but they need to be utilized in order

to advance the strategic situation of the democratic forces.

Acutely aware of the multitude of actions that could be taken

against the dictatorship and unable to determine where to begin,

some people counsel “Do everything simultaneously.” That might

be helpful but, of course, is impossible, especially for relatively weak

movements. Furthermore, such an approach provides no guidance

on where to begin, on where to concentrate efforts, and how to use

often limited resources.

Other persons and groups may see the need for some planning,

but are only able to think about it on a short-term or tactical basis.

They may not see that longer-term planning is necessary or possible.

They may at times be unable to think and analyze in strategic terms,

allowing themselves to be repeatedly distracted by relatively small

issues, often responding to the opponents’ actions rather than seizing

the initiative for the democratic resistance. Devoting so much

energy to short-term activities, these leaders often fail to explore

several alternative courses of action which could guide the overall

efforts so that the goal is constantly approached.

It is also just possible that some democratic movements do

not plan a comprehensive strategy to bring down the dictatorship,

concentrating instead only on immediate issues, for another reason.

Inside themselves, they do not really believe that the dictatorship

can be ended by their own efforts. Therefore, planning how to do

so is considered to be a romantic waste of time or an exercise in

futility. People struggling for freedom against established brutal

dictatorships are often confronted by such immense military and

police power that it appears the dictators can accomplish whatever

they will. Lacking real hope, these people will, nevertheless, defy

the dictatorship for reasons of integrity and perhaps history. Though

they will never admit it, perhaps never consciously recognize it, their

actions appear to themselves as hopeless. Hence, for them, long-term

comprehensive strategic planning has no merit.

The result of such failures to plan strategically is often drastic:

one’s strength is dissipated, one’s actions are ineffective, energy is

wasted on minor issues, advantages are not utilized, and sacrifices

are for naught. If democrats do not plan strategically they are likely

to fail to achieve their objectives. A poorly planned, odd mixture of

42 Gene Sharp

From Dictatorship to Democracy 43

activities will not move a major resistance effort forward. Instead,

it will more likely allow the dictatorship to increase its controls and


Unfortunately, because comprehensive strategic plans for liberation

are rarely, if ever, developed, dictatorships appear much more

durable than they in fact are. They survive for years or decades

longer than need be the case.

Four important terms in strategic planning

In order to help us to think strategically, clarity about the meanings

of four basic terms is important.

Grand strategy is the conception that serves to coordinate and

direct the use of all appropriate and available resources (economic,

human, moral, political, organizational, etc.) of a group seeking to

attain its objectives in a conflict.

Grand strategy, by focusing primary attention on the group’s

objectives and resources in the conflict, determines the most appropriate

technique of action (such as conventional military warfare or

nonviolent struggle) to be employed in the conflict. In planning a

grand strategy resistance leaders must evaluate and plan which pressures

and influences are to be brought to bear upon the opponents.

Further, grand strategy will include decisions on the appropriate

conditions and timing under which initial and subsequent resistance

campaigns will be launched.

Grand strategy sets the basic framework for the selection of

more limited strategies for waging the struggle. Grand strategy also

determines the allocation of general tasks to particular groups and

the distribution of resources to them for use in the struggle.

Strategy is the conception of how best to achieve particular objectives

in a conflict, operating within the scope of the chosen grand

strategy. Strategy is concerned with whether, when, and how to fight,

as well as how to achieve maximum effectiveness in struggling for

certain ends. A strategy has been compared to the artist’s concept,

while a strategic plan is the architect’s blueprint.12

12 Robert Helvey, personal communication, 15 August 1993.

Strategy may also include efforts to develop a strategic situation

that is so advantageous that the opponents are able to foresee

that open conflict is likely to bring their certain defeat, and therefore

capitulate without an open struggle. Or, if not, the improved

strategic situation will make success of the challengers certain in

struggle. Strategy also involves how to act to make good use of

successes when gained.

Applied to the course of the struggle itself, the strategic plan is

the basic idea of how a campaign shall develop, and how its separate

components shall be fitted together to contribute most advantageously

to achieve its objectives. It involves the skillful deployment

of particular action groups in smaller operations. Planning for a

wise strategy must take into consideration the requirements for success

in the operation of the chosen technique of struggle. Different

techniques will have different requirements. Of course, just fulfilling

“requirements” is not sufficient to ensure success. Additional

factors may also be needed.

In devising strategies, the democrats must clearly define their

objectives and determine how to measure the effectiveness of efforts

to achieve them. This definition and analysis permits the strategist

to identify the precise requirements for securing each selected objective.

This need for clarity and definition applies equally to tactical


Tactics and methods of action are used to implement the strategy.

Tactics relate to the skillful use of one’s forces to the best advantage

in a limited situation. A tactic is a limited action, employed

to achieve a restricted objective. The choice of tactics is governed

by the conception of how best in a restricted phase of a conflict to

utilize the available means of fighting to implement the strategy. To

be most effective, tactics and methods must be chosen and applied

with constant attention to the achievement of strategic objectives.

Tactical gains that do not reinforce the attainment of strategic objectives

may in the end turn out to be wasted energy.

A tactic is thus concerned with a limited course of action that

fits within the broad strategy, just as a strategy fits within the grand

strategy. Tactics are always concerned with fighting, whereas strat-

44 Gene Sharp

From Dictatorship to Democracy 45

egy includes wider considerations. A particular tactic can only be

understood as part of the overall strategy of a battle or a campaign.

Tactics are applied for shorter periods of time than strategies, or in

smaller areas (geographical, institutional, etc.), or by a more limited

number of people, or for more limited objectives. In nonviolent

action the distinction between a tactical objective and a strategic

objective may be partly indicated by whether the chosen objective

of the action is minor or major.

Offensive tactical engagements are selected to support attainment

of strategic objectives. Tactical engagements are the tools of the

strategist in creating conditions favorable for delivering decisive attacks

against an opponent. It is most important, therefore, that those

given responsibility for planning and executing tactical operations be

skilled in assessing the situation, and selecting the most appropriate

methods for it. Those expected to participate must be trained in the

use of the chosen technique and the specific methods.

Method refers to the specific weapons or means of action. Within

the technique of nonviolent struggle, these include the dozens of

particular forms of action (such as the many kinds of strikes, boycotts,

political noncooperation, and the like) cited in Chapter Five.

(See also Appendix.)

The development of a responsible and effective strategic plan

for a nonviolent struggle depends upon the careful formulation and

selection of the grand strategy, strategies, tactics, and methods.

The main lesson of this discussion is that a calculated use of

one’s intellect is required in careful strategic planning for liberation

from a dictatorship. Failure to plan intelligently can contribute to

disasters, while the effective use of one’s intellectual capacities can

chart a strategic course that will judiciously utilize one’s available

resources to move the society toward the goal of liberty and democracy.




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 destroying

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


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


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 dictators

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


• What are the strengths of the democratic forces and the general


• 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


Choice of means

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

48 Gene Sharp

From Dictatorship to Democracy 49

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.

In previous chapters we have argued that political defiance

offers significant comparative advantages to other techniques of

struggle. Strategists will need to examine their particular conflict

situation and determine whether political defiance provides affirmative

answers to the above questions.

Planning for democracy

It should be remembered that against a dictatorship the objective of

the grand strategy is not simply to bring down the dictators but to

install a democratic system and make the rise of a new dictatorship

impossible. To accomplish these objectives, the chosen means of

struggle will need to contribute to a change in the distribution of

effective power in the society. Under the dictatorship the population

and civil institutions of the society have been too weak, and the

government too strong. Without a change in this imbalance, a new

set of rulers can, if they wish, be just as dictatorial as the old ones.

A “palace revolution” or a coup d’état therefore is not welcome.

Political defiance contributes to a more equitable distribution

of effective power through the mobilization of the society against

the dictatorship, as was discussed in Chapter Five. This process

occurs in several ways. The development of a nonviolent struggle

capacity means that the dictatorship’s capacity for violent repression

no longer as easily produces intimidation and submission among

the population. The population will have at its disposal powerful

means to counter and at times block the exertion of the dictators’

power. Further, the mobilization of popular power through

political defiance will strengthen the independent institutions of

the society. The experience of once exercising effective power is

not quickly forgot. The knowledge and skill gained in struggle will

make the population less likely to be easily dominated by would-be

dictators. This shift in power relationships would ultimately make

establishment of a durable democratic society much more likely.

External assistance

As part of the preparation of a grand strategy it is necessary to assess

what will be the relative roles of internal resistance and external

pressures for disintegrating the dictatorship. In this analysis we have

argued that the main force of the struggle must be borne from inside

the country itself. To the degree that international assistance comes

at all, it will be stimulated by the internal struggle.

As a modest supplement, efforts can be made to mobilize world

public opinion against the dictatorship, on humanitarian, moral, and

religious grounds. Efforts can be taken to obtain diplomatic, political,

and economic sanctions by governments and international organizations

against the dictatorship. These may take the forms of economic

and military weapons embargoes, reduction in levels of diplomatic

recognition or the breaking of diplomatic ties, banning of economic

assistance and prohibition of investments in the dictatorial country,

expulsion of the dictatorial government from various international

organizations and from United Nations bodies. Further, international

assistance, such as the provision of financial and communications

support, can also be provided directly to the democratic forces.

Formulating a grand strategy

Following an assessment of the situation, the choice of means, and a

determination of the role of external assistance, planners of the grand

strategy will need to sketch in broad strokes how the conflict might

best be conducted. This broad plan would stretch from the present

to the future liberation and the institution of a democratic system.

50 Gene Sharp

From Dictatorship to Democracy 51

In formulating a grand strategy these planners will need to ask

themselves a variety of questions. The following questions pose (in

a more specific way than earlier) the types of considerations required

in devising a grand strategy for a political defiance struggle:

How might the long-term struggle best begin? How can the

oppressed population muster sufficient self-confidence and strength

to act to challenge the dictatorship, even initially in a limited way?

How could the population’s capacity to apply noncooperation and

defiance be increased with time and experience? What might be

the objectives of a series of limited campaigns to regain democratic

control over the society and limit the dictatorship?

Are there independent institutions that have survived the dictatorship

which might be used in the struggle to establish freedom?

What institutions of the society can be regained from the dictators’

control, or what institutions need to be newly created by the democrats

to meet their needs and establish spheres of democracy even

while the dictatorship continues?

How can organizational strength in the resistance be developed?

How can participants be trained? What resources (finances, equipment,

etc.) will be required throughout the struggle? What types of

symbolism can be most effective in mobilizing the population?

By what kinds of action and in what stages could the sources

of power of the dictators be incrementally weakened and severed?

How can the resisting population simultaneously persist in its defiance

and also maintain the necessary nonviolent discipline? How

can the society continue to meet its basic needs during the course of

the struggle? How can social order be maintained in the midst of

the conflict? As victory approaches, how can the democratic resistance

continue to build the institutional base of the post-dictatorship

society to make the transition as smooth as possible?

It must be remembered that no single blueprint exists or can be

created to plan strategy for every liberation movement against dictatorships.

Each struggle to bring down a dictatorship and establish

a democratic system will be somewhat different. No two situations

will be exactly alike, each dictatorship will have some individual

characteristics, and the capacities of the freedom-seeking population

will vary. Planners of grand strategy for a political defiance struggle

will require a profound understanding not only of their specific

conflict situation, but of their chosen means of struggle as well.13

When the grand strategy of the struggle has been carefully

planned there are sound reasons for making it widely known. The

large numbers of people required to participate may be more willing

and able to act if they understand the general conception, as well

as specific instructions. This knowledge could potentially have a

very positive effect on their morale, their willingness to participate,

and to act appropriately. The general outlines of the grand strategy

would become known to the dictators in any case and knowledge

of its features potentially could lead them to be less brutal in their

repression, knowing that it could rebound politically against themselves.

Awareness of the special characteristics of the grand strategy

could potentially also contribute to dissension and defections from

the dictators’ own camp.

Once a grand strategic plan for bringing down the dictatorship

and establishing a democratic system has been adopted, it is

important for the pro-democracy groups to persist in applying it.

Only in very rare circumstances should the struggle depart from

the initial grand strategy. When there is abundant evidence that the

chosen grand strategy was misconceived, or that the circumstances

of the struggle have fundamentally changed, planners may need to

alter the grand strategy. Even then, this should be done only after a

basic reassessment has been made and a new more adequate grand

strategic plan has been developed and adopted.

52 Gene Sharp

13 Recommended full length studies are Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action

of Nonviolent Action, (Boston, Massachusetts: Porter Sargent, 1973) and Peter Ackerman

and Christopher Kruegler, Strategic Nonviolent Conflict, (Westport, Connecticut:

Praeger, 1994). Also see Gene Sharp, Waging Nonviolent Stuggle: Twentieth Century

Practice and Twenty-First Century Potential. Boston: Porter Sargent, 2005.

From Dictatorship to Democracy 53

Planning campaign strategies

However wise and promising the developed grand strategy to end

the dictatorship and to institute democracy may be, a grand strategy

does not implement itself. Particular strategies will need to be

developed to guide the major campaigns aimed at undermining the

dictators’ power. These strategies, in turn, will incorporate and guide

a range of tactical engagements that will aim to strike decisive blows

against the dictators’ regime. The tactics and the specific methods of

action must be chosen carefully so that they contribute to achieving

the goals of each particular strategy. The discussion here focuses

exclusively on the level of strategy.

Strategists planning the major campaigns will, like those who

planned the grand strategy, require a thorough understanding of the

nature and modes of operation of their chosen technique of struggle.

Just as military officers must understand force structures, tactics,

logistics, munitions, the effects of geography, and the like in order

to plot military strategy, political defiance planners must understand

the nature and strategic principles of nonviolent struggle. Even then,

however, knowledge of nonviolent struggle, attention to recommendations

in this essay, and answers to the questions posed here will

not themselves produce strategies. The formulation of strategies for

the struggle still requires an informed creativity.

In planning the strategies for the specific selective resistance

campaigns and for the longer term development of the liberation

struggle, the political defiance strategists will need to consider various

issues and problems. The following are among these:

• Determination of the specific objectives of the campaign and

their contributions to implementing the grand strategy.

• Consideration of the specific methods, or political weapons,

that can best be used to implement the chosen strategies.

Within each overall plan for a particular strategic campaign

it will be necessary to determine what smaller, tactical plans

and which specific methods of action should be used to impose

pressures and restrictions against the dictatorship’s

sources of power. It should be remembered that the achievement

of major objectives will come as a result of carefully

chosen and implemented specific smaller steps.

• Determination whether, or how, economic issues should be

related to the overall essentially political struggle. If economic

issues are to be prominent in the struggle, care will be

needed that the economic grievances can actually be remedied

after the dictatorship is ended. Otherwise, disillusionment

and disaffection may set in if quick solutions are not

provided during the transition period to a democratic society.

Such disillusionment could facilitate the rise of dictatorial

forces promising an end to economic woes.

• Determination in advance of what kind of leadership structure

and communications system will work best for initiating

the resistance struggle. What means of decision-making

and communication will be possible during the course of the

struggle to give continuing guidance to the resisters and the

general population?

• Communication of the resistance news to the general population,

to the dictators’ forces, and the international press.

Claims and reporting should always be strictly factual. Exaggerations

and unfounded claims will undermine the credibility

of the resistance.

• Plans for self-reliant constructive social, educational, economic,

and political activities to meet the needs of one’s own

people during the coming conflict. Such projects can be conducted

by persons not directly involved in the resistance activities.

• Determination of what kind of external assistance is desirable

in support of the specific campaign or the general liberation

struggle. How can external help be best mobilized

54 Gene Sharp

From Dictatorship to Democracy 55

and used without making the internal struggle dependent

on uncertain external factors? Attention will need to be given

to which external groups are most likely, and most appropriate,

to assist, such as non-governmental organizations (social

movements, religious or political groups, labor unions,

etc.), governments, and/or the United Nations and its various


Furthermore, the resistance planners will need to take measures

to preserve order and to meet social needs by one’s own forces during

mass resistance against dictatorial controls. This will not only create

alternative independent democratic structures and meet genuine

needs, but also will reduce credibility for any claims that ruthless

repression is required to halt disorder and lawlessness.

Spreading the idea of noncooperation

For successful political defiance against a dictatorship, it is essential

that the population grasp the idea of noncooperation. As illustrated

by the “Monkey Master” story (see Chapter Three), the basic idea is

simple: if enough of the subordinates refuse to continue their cooperation

long enough despite repression, the oppressive system will

be weakened and finally collapse.

People living under the dictatorship may be already familiar

with this concept from a variety of sources. Even so, the democratic

forces should deliberately spread and popularize the idea

of noncooperation. The “Monkey Master” story, or a similar one,

could be disseminated throughout the society. Such a story could

be easily understood. Once the general concept of noncooperation

is grasped, people will be able to understand the relevance of future

calls to practice noncooperation with the dictatorship. They will

also be able on their own to improvise a myriad of specific forms of

noncooperation in new situations.

Despite the difficulties and dangers in attempts to communicate

ideas, news, and resistance instructions while living under

dictatorships, democrats have frequently proved this to be possible.

Even under Nazi and Communist rule it was possible for resisters

to communicate not only with other individuals but even with large

public audiences through the production of illegal newspapers,

leaflets, books, and in later years with audio and video cassettes.

With the advantage of prior strategic planning, general guidelines

for resistance can be prepared and disseminated. These can

indicate the issues and circumstances under which the population

should protest and withhold cooperation, and how this might be

done. Then, even if communications from the democratic leadership

are severed, and specific instructions have not been issued or

received, the population will know how to act on certain important

issues. Such guidelines would also provide a test to identify counterfeit

“resistance instructions” issued by the political police designed

to provoke discrediting action.

Repression and countermeasures

Strategic planners will need to assess the likely responses and repression,

especially the threshold of violence, of the dictatorship

to the actions of the democratic resistance. It will be necessary to

determine how to withstand, counteract, or avoid this possible

increased repression without submission. Tactically, for specific

occasions, appropriate warnings to the population and the resisters

about expected repression would be in order, so that they will know

the risks of participation. If repression may be serious, preparations

for medical assistance for wounded resisters should be made.

Anticipating repression, the strategists will do well to consider

in advance the use of tactics and methods that will contribute to

achieving the specific goal of a campaign, or liberation, but that will

make brutal repression less likely or less possible. For example, street

demonstrations and parades against extreme dictatorships may be

dramatic, but they may also risk thousands of dead demonstrators.

The high cost to the demonstrators may not, however, actually apply

more pressure on the dictatorship than would occur through

everyone staying home, a strike, or massive acts of noncooperation

from the civil servants.

56 Gene Sharp

From Dictatorship to Democracy 57

If it has been proposed that provocative resistance action

risking high casualties will be required for a strategic purpose,

then one should very carefully consider the proposal’s costs and

possible gains. Will the population and the resisters be likely to

behave in a disciplined and nonviolent manner during the course

of the struggle? Can they resist provocations to violence? Planners

must consider what measures may be taken to keep nonviolent

discipline and maintain the resistance despite brutalities. Will such

measures as pledges, policy statements, discipline leaflets, marshals

for demonstrations, and boycotts of pro-violence persons and groups

be possible and effective? Leaders should always be alert for the

presence of agents provocateurs whose mission will be to incite the

demonstrators to violence.

Adhering to the strategic plan

Once a sound strategic plan is in place, the democratic forces

should not be distracted by minor moves of the dictators that may

tempt them to depart from the grand strategy and the strategy for a

particular campaign, causing them to focus major activities on unimportant

issues. Nor should the emotions of the moment — perhaps

in response to new brutalities by the dictatorship — be allowed to

divert the democratic resistance from its grand strategy or the campaign

strategy. The brutalities may have been perpetrated precisely

in order to provoke the democratic forces to abandon their well-laid

plan and even to commit violent acts in order that the dictators could

more easily defeat them.

As long as the basic analysis is judged to be sound, the task of the

pro-democracy forces is to press forward stage by stage. Of course,

changes in tactics and intermediate objectives will occur and good

leaders will always be ready to exploit opportunities. These adjustments

should not be confused with objectives of the grand strategy

or the objectives of the specific campaign. Careful implementation of

the chosen grand strategy and of strategies for particular campaigns

will greatly contribute to success.






Applying Political Defiance

In situations in which the population feels powerless and frightened,

it is important that initial tasks for the public be low-risk, confidencebuilding

actions. These types of actions — such as wearing one’s

clothes in an unusual way — may publicly register a dissenting

opinion and provide an opportunity for the public to participate

significantly in acts of dissent. In other cases a relatively minor (on

the surface) nonpolitical issue (such as securing a safe water supply)

might be made the focus for group action. Strategists should choose

an issue the merits of which will be widely recognized and difficult

to reject. Success in such limited campaigns could not only correct

specific grievances but also convince the population that it indeed

has power potential.

Most of the strategies of campaigns in the long-term struggle

should not aim for the immediate complete downfall of the dictatorship,

but instead for gaining limited objectives. Nor does every campaign

require the participation of all sections of the population.

In contemplating a series of specific campaigns to implement

the grand strategy, the defiance strategists need to consider how the

campaigns at the beginning, the middle, and near the conclusion of

the long-term struggle will differ from each other.

Selective resistance

In the initial stages of the struggle, separate campaigns with different

specific objectives can be very useful. Such selective campaigns

may follow one after the other. Occasionally, two or three might

overlap in time.

In planning a strategy for “selective resistance” it is necessary

to identify specific limited issues or grievances that symbolize the

general oppression of the dictatorship. Such issues may be the appropriate

targets for conducting campaigns to gain intermediary

strategic objectives within the overall grand strategy.

These intermediary strategic objectives need to be attainable

by the current or projected power capacity of the democratic forces.

This helps to ensure a series of victories, which are good for morale,

and also contribute to advantageous incremental shifts in power

relations for the long-term struggle.

Selective resistance strategies should concentrate primarily on

specific social, economic, or political issues. These may be chosen in

order to keep some part of the social and political system out of the

dictators’ control, to regain control of some part currently controlled

by the dictators, or to deny the dictators a particular objective. If

possible, the campaign of selective resistance should also strike at

one weakness or more of the dictatorship, as already discussed.

Thereby, democrats can make the greatest possible impact with their

available power capacity.

Very early the strategists need to plan at least the strategy for the

first campaign. What are to be its limited objectives? How will it help

fulfill the chosen grand strategy? If possible, it is wise to formulate

at least the general outlines of strategies for a second and possibly

a third campaign. All such strategies will need to implement the

chosen grand strategy and operate within its general guidelines.

Symbolic challenge

At the beginning of a new campaign to undermine the dictatorship,

the first more specifically political actions may be limited in scope.

They should be designed in part to test and influence the mood of

the population, and to prepare them for continuing struggle through

noncooperation and political defiance.

The initial action is likely to take the form of symbolic protest

or may be a symbolic act of limited or temporary noncooperation.

If the number of persons willing to act is small, then the initial act

might, for example, involve placing flowers at a place of symbolic

importance. On the other hand, if the number of persons willing to

act is very large, then a five minute halt to all activities or several

minutes of silence might be used. In other situations, a few indi-

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From Dictatorship to Democracy 61

viduals might undertake a hunger strike, a vigil at a place of symbolic

importance, a brief student boycott of classes, or a temporary sit-in

at an important office. Under a dictatorship these more aggressive

actions would most likely be met with harsh repression.

Certain symbolic acts, such as a physical occupation in front

of the dictator’s palace or political police headquarters may involve

high risk and are therefore not advisable for initiating a campaign.

Initial symbolic protest actions have at times aroused major

national and international attention — as the mass street demonstrations

in Burma in 1988 or the student occupation and hunger strike

in Tiananman Square in Beijing in 1989. The high casualties of demonstrators

in both of these cases points to the great care strategists

must exercise in planning campaigns. Although having a tremendous

moral and psychological impact, such actions by themselves

are unlikely to bring down a dictatorship, for they remain largely

symbolic and do not alter the power position of the dictatorship.

It usually is not possible to sever the availability of the sources

of power to the dictators completely and rapidly at the beginning of

a struggle. That would require virtually the whole population and

almost all the institutions of the society — which had previously been

largely submissive — to reject absolutely the regime and suddenly defy

it by massive and strong noncooperation. That has not yet occurred

and would be most difficult to achieve. In most cases, therefore, a

quick campaign of full noncooperation and defiance is an unrealistic

strategy for an early campaign against the dictatorship.

Spreading responsibility

During a selective resistance campaign the brunt of the struggle is

for a time usually borne by one section or more of the population.

In a later campaign with a different objective, the burden of the

struggle would be shifted to other population groups. For example,

students might conduct strikes on an educational issue, religious

leaders and believers might concentrate on a freedom of religion

issue, rail workers might meticulously obey safety regulations so as

to slow down the rail transport system, journalists might challenge

censorship by publishing papers with blank spaces in which prohibited

articles would have appeared, or police might repeatedly fail

to locate and arrest wanted members of the democratic opposition.

Phasing resistance campaigns by issue and population group will

allow certain segments of the population to rest while resistance


Selective resistance is especially important to defend the existence

and autonomy of independent social, economic, and political

groups and institutions outside the control of the dictatorship, which

were briefly discussed earlier. These centers of power provide the

institutional bases from which the population can exert pressure or

can resist dictatorial controls. In the struggle, they are likely to be

among the first targets of the dictatorship.

Aiming at the dictators’ power

As the long-term struggle develops beyond the initial strategies into

more ambitious and advanced phases, the strategists will need to

calculate how the dictators’ sources of power can be further restricted.

The aim would be to use popular noncooperation to create a new

more advantageous strategic situation for the democratic forces.

As the democratic resistance forces gained strength, strategists

would plot more ambitious noncooperation and defiance to sever

the dictatorships’ sources of power, with the goal of producing increasing

political paralysis, and in the end the disintegration of the

dictatorship itself.

It will be necessary to plan carefully how the democratic forces

can weaken the support that people and groups have previously offered

to the dictatorship. Will their support be weakened by revelations

of the brutalities perpetrated by the regime, by exposure of the

disastrous economic consequences of the dictators’ policies, or by a

new understanding that the dictatorship can be ended? The dictators’

supporters should at least be induced to become “neutral” in their

activities (“fence sitters”) or preferably to become active supporters

of the movement for democracy.

During the planning and implementation of political defiance

62 Gene Sharp

From Dictatorship to Democracy 63

and noncooperation, it is highly important to pay close attention

to all of the dictators’ main supporters and aides, including their

inner clique, political party, police, and bureaucrats, but especially

their army.

The degree of loyalty of the military forces, both soldiers and

officers, to the dictatorship needs to be carefully assessed and a

determination should be made as to whether the military is open

to influence by the democratic forces. Might many of the ordinary

soldiers be unhappy and frightened conscripts? Might many of the

soldiers and officers be alienated from the regime for personal, family,

or political reasons? What other factors might make soldiers and

officers vulnerable to democratic subversion?

Early in the liberation struggle a special strategy should be developed

to communicate with the dictators’ troops and functionaries.

By words, symbols, and actions, the democratic forces can inform the

troops that the liberation struggle will be vigorous, determined, and

persistent. Troops should learn that the struggle will be of a special

character, designed to undermine the dictatorship but not to threaten

their lives. Such efforts would aim ultimately to undermine the morale

of the dictators’ troops and finally to subvert their loyalty and obedience

in favor of the democratic movement. Similar strategies could

be aimed at the police and civil servants.

The attempt to garner sympathy from and, eventually, induce

disobedience among the dictators’ forces ought not to be interpreted,

however, to mean encouragement of the military forces to make a

quick end to the current dictatorship through military action. Such

a scenario is not likely to install a working democracy, for (as we

have discussed) a coup d’état does little to redress the imbalance of

power relations between the populace and the rulers. Therefore, it

will be necessary to plan how sympathetic military officers can be

brought to understand that neither a military coup nor a civil war

against the dictatorship is required or desirable.

Sympathetic officers can play vital roles in the democratic

struggle, such as spreading disaffection and noncooperation in the

military forces, encouraging deliberate inefficiencies and the quiet

ignoring of orders, and supporting the refusal to carry out repression.

Military personnel may also offer various modes of positive

nonviolent assistance to the democracy movement, including safe

passage, information, food, medical supplies, and the like.

The army is one of the most important sources of the power of

dictators because it can use its disciplined military units and weaponry

directly to attack and to punish the disobedient population.

Defiance strategists should remember that it will be exceptionally difficult,

or impossible, to disintegrate the dictatorship if the police, bureaucrats, and

military forces remain fully supportive of the dictatorship and obedient in

carrying out its commands. Strategies aimed at subverting the loyalty

of the dictators’ forces should therefore be given a high priority by

democratic strategists.

The democratic forces should remember that disaffection and

disobedience among the military forces and police can be highly

dangerous for the members of those groups. Soldiers and police

could expect severe penalties for any act of disobedience and execution

for acts of mutiny. The democratic forces should not ask the

soldiers and officers that they immediately mutiny. Instead, where

communication is possible, it should be made clear that there are a

multitude of relatively safe forms of “disguised disobedience” that

they can take initially. For example, police and troops can carry out

instructions for repression inefficiently, fail to locate wanted persons,

warn resisters of impending repression, arrests, or deportations, and

fail to report important information to their superior officers. Disaffected

officers in turn can neglect to relay commands for repression

down the chain of command. Soldiers may shoot over the heads of

demonstrators. Similarly, for their part, civil servants can lose files

and instructions, work inefficiently, and become “ill” so that they

need to stay home until they “recover.”

Shifts in strategy

The political defiance strategists will need constantly to assess how the grand strategy and the specific campaign strategies are being implemented. It is possible, for example, that the struggle may not go as well as expected. In that case it will be necessary to calculate

64 Gene Sharp

From Dictatorship to Democracy 65

what shifts in strategy might be required. What can be done to increase the movement’s strength and regain the initiative? In such a situation, it will be necessary to identify the problem, make a

strategic reassessment, possibly shift struggle responsibilities to a different population group, mobilize additional sources of power, and develop alternative courses of action. When that is done, the new plan should be implemented immediately.

Conversely, if the struggle has gone much better than expected

and the dictatorship is collapsing earlier than previously calculated, how can the democratic forces capitalize on unexpected gains and move toward paralyzing the dictatorship? We will explore this question in the following chapter.





Disintegrating The Dictatorship

The cumulative effect of well-conducted and successful political

defiance campaigns is to strengthen the resistance and to establish

and expand areas of the society where the dictatorship faces limits

on its effective control. These campaigns also provide important

experience in how to refuse cooperation and how to offer political

defiance. That experience will be of great assistance when the time

comes for noncooperation and defiance on a mass scale.

As was discussed in Chapter Three, obedience, cooperation,

and submission are essential if dictators are to be powerful. Without

access to the sources of political power, the dictators’ power

weakens and finally dissolves. Withdrawal of support is therefore

the major required action to disintegrate a dictatorship. It may be

useful to review how the sources of power can be affected by political


Acts of symbolic repudiation and defiance are among the available

means to undermine the regime’s moral and political authority

— its legitimacy. The greater the regime’s authority, the greater

and more reliable is the obedience and cooperation which it will

receive. Moral disapproval needs to be expressed in action in order

to seriously threaten the existence of the dictatorship. Withdrawal

of cooperation and obedience are needed to sever the availability of

other sources of the regime’s power.

A second important such source of power is human resources,

the number and importance of the persons and groups that obey,

cooperate with, or assist the rulers. If noncooperation is practiced by

large parts of the population, the regime will be in serious trouble.

For example, if the civil servants no longer function with their normal

efficiency or even stay at home, the administrative apparatus will

be gravely affected.

Similarly, if the noncooperating persons and groups include

those that have previously supplied specialized skills and knowledge,

then the dictators will see their capacity to implement their

will gravely weakened. Even their ability to make well-informed

decisions and develop effective policies may be seriously reduced.

If psychological and ideological influences — called intangible

factors — that usually induce people to obey and assist the rulers

are weakened or reversed, the population will be more inclined to

disobey and to noncooperate.

The dictators’ access to material resources also directly affects

their power. With control of financial resources, the economic

system, property, natural resources, transportation, and means of

communication in the hands of actual or potential opponents of

the regime, another major source of their power is vulnerable or removed.

Strikes, boycotts, and increasing autonomy in the economy,

communications, and transportation will weaken the regime.

As previously discussed, the dictators’ ability to threaten or

apply sanctions — punishments against the restive, disobedient, and

noncooperative sections of the population — is a central source of

the power of dictators. This source of power can be weakened in

two ways. First, if the population is prepared, as in a war, to risk

serious consequences as the price of defiance, the effectiveness of the

available sanctions will be drastically reduced (that is, the dictators’

repression will not secure the desired submission). Second, if the

police and the military forces themselves become disaffected, they

may on an individual or mass basis evade or outright defy orders to

arrest, beat, or shoot resisters. If the dictators can no longer rely on

the police and military forces to carry out repression, the dictatorship

is gravely threatened.

In summary, success against an entrenched dictatorship requires

that noncooperation and defiance reduce and remove the sources of

the regime’s power. Without constant replenishment of the necessary

sources of power the dictatorship will weaken and finally disintegrate.

Competent strategic planning of political defiance against

dictatorships therefore needs to target the dictators’ most important

sources of power.

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From Dictatorship to Democracy 69

Escalating freedom

Combined with political defiance during the phase of selective resistance,

the growth of autonomous social, economic, cultural, and

political institutions progressively expands the “democratic space”

of the society and shrinks the control of the dictatorship. As the civil

institutions of the society become stronger vis-à-vis the dictatorship,

then, whatever the dictators may wish, the population is incrementally

building an independent society outside of their control. If and

when the dictatorship intervenes to halt this “escalating freedom,”

nonviolent struggle can be applied in defense of this newly won

space and the dictatorship will be faced with yet another “front” in

the struggle.

In time, this combination of resistance and institution building

can lead to de facto freedom, making the collapse of the dictatorship

and the formal installation of a democratic system undeniable

because the power relationships within the society have been fundamentally


Poland in the 1970s and 1980s provides a clear example of the

progressive reclaiming of a society’s functions and institutions by

the resistance. The Catholic church had been persecuted but never

brought under full Communist control. In 1976 certain intellectuals

and workers formed small groups such as K.O.R. (Workers Defense

Committee) to advance their political ideas. The organization of

the Solidarity trade union with its power to wield effective strikes

forced its own legalization in 1980. Peasants, students, and many

other groups also formed their own independent organizations.

When the Communists realized that these groups had changed the

power realities, Solidarity was again banned and the Communists

resorted to military rule.

Even under martial law, with many imprisonments and harsh

persecution, the new independent institutions of the society continued

to function. For example, dozens of illegal newspapers and

magazines continued to be published. Illegal publishing houses annually

issued hundreds of books, while well-known writers boycotted

Communist publications and government publishing houses.

Similar activities continued in other parts of the society.

Under the Jaruselski military regime, the military-Communist

government was at one point described as bouncing around on the

top of the society. The officials still occupied government offices and

buildings. The regime could still strike down into the society, with

punishments, arrests, imprisonment, seizure of printing presses, and

the like. The dictatorship, however, could not control the society.

From that point, it was only a matter of time until the society was

able to bring down the regime completely.

Even while a dictatorship still occupies government positions

it is sometimes possible to organize a democratic “parallel government.”

This would increasingly operate as a rival government to

which loyalty, compliance, and cooperation are given by the population

and the society’s institutions. The dictatorship would then

consequently, on an increasing basis, be deprived of these characteristics

of government. Eventually, the democratic parallel government

may fully replace the dictatorial regime as part of the transition to

a democratic system. In due course then a constitution would be

adopted and elections held as part of the transition.

Disintegrating the dictatorship

While the institutional transformation of the society is taking place,

the defiance and noncooperation movement may escalate. Strategists

of the democratic forces should contemplate early that there will

come a time when the democratic forces can move beyond selective

resistance and launch mass defiance. In most cases, time will be

required for creating, building, or expanding resistance capacities,

and the development of mass defiance may occur only after several

years. During this interim period campaigns of selective resistance

should be launched with increasingly important political objectives.

Larger parts of the population at all levels of the society should become

involved. Given determined and disciplined political defiance

during this escalation of activities, the internal weaknesses of the

dictatorship are likely to become increasingly obvious.

70 Gene Sharp

From Dictatorship to Democracy 71

The combination of strong political defiance and the building

of independent institutions is likely in time to produce widespread

international attention favorable to the democratic forces. It may also

produce international diplomatic condemnations, boycotts, and embargoes

in support of the democratic forces (as it did for Poland).

Strategists should be aware that in some situations the collapse

of the dictatorship may occur extremely rapidly, as in East Germany

in 1989. This can happen when the sources of power are massively

severed as a result of the whole population’s revulsion against the

dictatorship. This pattern is not usual, however, and it is better to

plan for a long-term struggle (but to be prepared for a short one).

During the course of the liberation struggle, victories, even on

limited issues, should be celebrated. Those who have earned the

victory should be recognized. Celebrations with vigilance should

also help to keep up the morale needed for future stages of the


Handling success responsibly

Planners of the grand strategy should calculate in advance the possible

and preferred ways in which a successful struggle might best

be concluded in order to prevent the rise of a new dictatorship and to

ensure the gradual establishment of a durable democratic system.

The democrats should calculate how the transition from the

dictatorship to the interim government shall be handled at the end

of the struggle. It is desirable at that time to establish quickly a new

functioning government. However, it must not be merely the old

one with new personnel. It is necessary to calculate what sections of

the old governmental structure (as the political police) are to be completely

abolished because of their inherent anti-democratic character

and which sections retained to be subjected to later democratization

efforts. A complete governmental void could open the way to chaos

or a new dictatorship.

Thought should be given in advance to determine what is to be

the policy toward high officials of the dictatorship when its power

disintegrates. For example, are the dictators to be brought to trial in

a court? Are they to be permitted to leave the country permanently?

What other options may there be that are consistent with political

defiance, the need for reconstructing the country, and building a

democracy following the victory? A blood bath must be avoided

which could have drastic consequences on the possibility of a future

democratic system.

Specific plans for the transition to democracy should be ready

for application when the dictatorship is weakening or collapses.

Such plans will help to prevent another group from seizing state

power through a coup d’état. Plans for the institution of democratic

constitutional government with full political and personal liberties

will also be required. The changes won at a great price should not

be lost through lack of planning.

When confronted with the increasingly empowered population and the growth of independent democratic groups and institutions — both of which the dictatorship is unable to control — the dictators will find that their whole venture is unravelling. Massive shut-downs of the society, general strikes, mass stay-at-homes, defiant marches, or other activities will increasingly undermine the dictators’ own organization and related institutions. As a consequence of such defiance and noncooperation, executed wisely and with mass participation over time, the dictators would become powerless and the democratic defenders would, without violence, triumph. The dictatorship would disintegrate before the defiant population.

Not every such effort will succeed, especially not easily, and

rarely quickly. It should be remembered that as many military wars

are lost as are won. However, political defiance offers a real possibility

of victory. As stated earlier, that possibility can be greatly increased

through the development of a wise grand strategy, careful strategic

planning, hard work, and disciplined courageous struggle.

72 Gene Sharp



Groundwork For Durable Democracy

The disintegration of the dictatorship is of course a cause for major

celebration. People who have suffered for so long and struggled

at great price merit a time of joy, relaxation, and recognition. They

should feel proud of themselves and of all who struggled with them

to win political freedom. Not all will have lived to see this day. The

living and the dead will be remembered as heroes who helped to

shape the history of freedom in their country.

Unfortunately, this is not a time for a reduction in vigilance.

Even in the event of a successful disintegration of the dictatorship

by political defiance, careful precautions must be taken to prevent

the rise of a new oppressive regime out of the confusion following

the collapse of the old one. The leaders of the pro-democracy forces

should have prepared in advance for an orderly transition to a democracy.

The dictatorial structures will need to be dismantled. The

constitutional and legal bases and standards of behavior of a durable

democracy will need to be built.

No one should believe that with the downfall of the dictatorship

an ideal society will immediately appear. The disintegration of the

dictatorship simply provides the beginning point, under conditions

of enhanced freedom, for long-term efforts to improve the society and

meet human needs more adequately. Serious political, economic, and

social problems will continue for years, requiring the cooperation of

many people and groups in seeking their resolution. The new political

system should provide the opportunities for people with varying

outlooks and favored measures to continue constructive work and

policy development to deal with problems in the future.

Threats of a new dictatorship

Aristotle warned long ago that “. . . tyranny can also change into

tyranny. . .”14 There is ample historical evidence from France (the

14 Aristotle, The Politics, Book V, Chapter 12, p. 233.

Jacobins and Napoleon), Russia (the Bolsheviks), Iran (the Ayatollah),

Burma (SLORC), and elsewhere that the collapse of an oppressive

regime will be seen by some persons and groups as merely the

opportunity for them to step in as the new masters. Their motives

may vary, but the results are often approximately the same. The

new dictatorship may even be more cruel and total in its control

than the old one.

Even before the collapse of the dictatorship, members of the old

regime may attempt to cut short the defiance struggle for democracy

by staging a coup d’état designed to preempt victory by the popular

resistance. It may claim to oust the dictatorship, but in fact seek only

to impose a new refurbished model of the old one.

Blocking coups

There are ways in which coups against newly liberated societies can

be defeated. Advance knowledge of that defense capacity may at

times be sufficient to deter the attempt. Preparation can produce


Immediately after a coup is started, the putschists require legitimacy,

that is, acceptance of their moral and political right to rule.

The first basic principle of anti-coup defense is therefore to deny

legitimacy to the putschists.

The putschists also require that the civilian leaders and population

be supportive, confused, or just passive. The putschists require

the cooperation of specialists and advisors, bureaucrats and civil

servants, administrators and judges in order to consolidate their

control over the affected society. The putschists also require that the

multitude of people who operate the political system, the society’s

institutions, the economy, the police, and the military forces will

passively submit and carry out their usual functions as modified by

the putschists’ orders and policies.

The second basic principle of anti-coup defense is to resist the

putschists with noncooperation and defiance. The needed cooperation

and assistance must be denied. Essentially the same means of

struggle that was used against the dictatorship can be used against

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From Dictatorship to Democracy 75

the new threat, but applied immediately. If both legitimacy and

cooperation are denied, the coup may die of political starvation and

the chance to build a democratic society restored.

Constitution drafting

The new democratic system will require a constitution that establishes

the desired framework of the democratic government. The

constitution should set the purposes of government, limits on

governmental powers, the means and timing of elections by which

governmental officials and legislators will be chosen, the inherent

rights of the people, and the relation of the national government to

other lower levels of government.

Within the central government, if it is to remain democratic,

a clear division of authority should be established between the

legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. Strong

restrictions should be included on activities of the police, intelligence

services, and military forces to prohibit any legal political interference.

In the interests of preserving the democratic system and impeding

dictatorial trends and measures, the constitution should

preferably be one that establishes a federal system with significant

prerogatives reserved for the regional, state, and local levels of government.

In some situations the Swiss system of cantons might be

considered in which relatively small areas retain major prerogatives,

while remaining a part of the whole country.

If a constitution with many of these features existed earlier in

the newly liberated country’s history, it may be wise simply to restore

it to operation, amending it as deemed necessary and desirable. If

a suitable older constitution is not present, it may be necessary to

operate with an interim constitution. Otherwise, a new constitution

will need to be prepared. Preparing a new constitution will

take considerable time and thought. Popular participation in this

process is desirable and required for ratification of a new text or

amendments. One should be very cautious about including in the

constitution promises that later might prove impossible to implement

or provisions that would require a highly centralized government,

for both can facilitate a new dictatorship.

The wording of the constitution should be easily understood

by the majority of the population. A constitution should not be so

complex or ambiguous that only lawyers or other elites can claim

to understand it.

A democratic defense policy

The liberated country may also face foreign threats for which a

defense capacity would be required. The country might also be

threatened by foreign attempts to establish economic, political, or

military domination.

In the interests of maintaining internal democracy, serious

consideration should be given to applying the basic principles of

political defiance to the needs of national defense.15 By placing resistance

capacity directly in the hands of the citizenry, newly liberated

countries could avoid the need to establish a strong military capacity

which could itself threaten democracy or require vast economic

resources much needed for other purposes.

It must be remembered that some groups will ignore any constitutional

provision in their aim to establish themselves as new

dictators. Therefore, a permanent role will exist for the population to

apply political defiance and noncooperation against would-be dictators

and to preserve democratic structures, rights, and procedures.

A meritorious responsibility

The effect of nonviolent struggle is not only to weaken and remove

the dictators but also to empower the oppressed. This technique

enables people who formerly felt themselves to be only pawns or

victims to wield power directly in order to gain by their own efforts

greater freedom and justice. This experience of struggle has impor-

76 Gene Sharp

15 See Gene Sharp, Civilian-Based Defense: A Post-Military Weapons System (Princeton,

New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1990).

From Dictatorship to Democracy 77

tant psychological consequences, contributing to increased self-esteem

and self-confidence among the formerly powerless.

One important long-term beneficial consequence of the use of

nonviolent struggle for establishing democratic government is that

the society will be more capable of dealing with continuing and

future problems. These might include future governmental abuse

and corruption, maltreatment of any group, economic injustices, and

limitations on the democratic qualities of the political system. The

population experienced in the use of political defiance is less likely

to be vulnerable to future dictatorships.

After liberation, familiarity with nonviolent struggle will provide

ways to defend democracy, civil liberties, minority rights, and

prerogatives of regional, state, and local governments and nongovernmental

institutions. Such means also provide ways by which

people and groups can express extreme dissent peacefully on issues

seen as so important that opposition groups have sometimes resorted

to terrorism or guerrilla warfare.

The thoughts in this examination of political defiance or nonviolent

struggle are intended to be helpful to all persons and groups

who seek to lift dictatorial oppression from their people and to establish

a durable democratic system that respects human freedoms

and popular action to improve the society.

There are three major conclusions to the ideas sketched here:

• Liberation from dictatorships is possible;

• Very careful thought and strategic planning will be required

to achieve it; and

• Vigilance, hard work, and disciplined struggle, often at great

cost, will be needed.

The oft quoted phrase “Freedom is not free” is true. No outside

force is coming to give oppressed people the freedom they so much

want. People will have to learn how to take that freedom themselves.

Easy it cannot be.

If people can grasp what is required for their own liberation,

they can chart courses of action which, through much travail, can

eventually bring them their freedom. Then, with diligence they

can construct a new democratic order and prepare for its defense.

Freedom won by struggle of this type can be durable. It can be

maintained by a tenacious people committed to its preservation

and enrichment.

78 Gene Sharp
































Appendix One

The Methods Of Nonviolent Action16

The Methods of Nonviolent Protest and


Formal statements

1. Public speeches

2. Letters of opposition or support

3. Declarations by organizations and institutions

4. Signed public statements

5. Declarations of indictment and intention

6. Group or mass petitions

Communications with a wider audience

7. Slogans, caricatures, and symbols

8. 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 awards

15. Group lobbying

16. Picketing

17. Mock elections

Symbolic public acts

18. Display of flags and symbolic colors

19. Wearing of symbols  79

16 This list, with definitions and historical examples, is taken from Gene Sharp,

The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part Two, The Methods of Nonviolent Action.

20. Prayer and worship

21. Delivering symbolic objects

22. Protest disrobings

23. Destruction of own property

24. Symbolic lights

25. 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  80 Gene Sharp From Dictatorship to Democracy 81

Public assemblies

47. Assemblies of protest or support

48. Protest meetings

49. Camouflaged meetings of protest

50. Teach-ins

Withdrawal and renunciation

51. Walk-outs

52. Silence

53. Renouncing honors

54. Turning one’s back


Ostracism of persons

55. Social boycott

56. Selective social boycott

57. Lysistratic nonaction

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 (hijrat)



Action by consumers

71. Consumers’ boycott

72. Nonconsumption 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

Action by middlemen

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

Action by governments

92. Domestic embargo

93. Blacklisting of traders

94. International sellers’ embargo

95. International buyers’ embargo

96. International trade embargo 82 Gene Sharp

From Dictatorship to Democracy 83



Symbolic strikes

97. Protest strike

98. Quickie walkout (lightning strike)

Agricultural strikes

99. Peasant strike

100. Farm workers’ strike

Strikes by special groups

101. Refusal of impressed labor

102. Prisoners’ strike

103. Craft strike

104. Professional strike

Ordinary industrial strikes

105. Establishment strike

106. Industry strike

107. Sympathetic strike

Restricted strikes

108. Detailed strike

109. Bumper strike

110. Slowdown strike

111. Working-to-rule strike

112. Reporting “sick” (sick-in)

113. Strike by resignation

114. Limited strike

115. Selective strike

Multi-industry strikes

116. Generalized strike

117. General strike

Combinations of strikes and economic closures

118. Hartal

119. Economic shutdown


Rejection of authority

120. Withholding or withdrawal of allegiance

121. Refusal of public support

122. 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 compliance

134. Nonobedience in absence of direct supervision

135. Popular nonobedience

136. Disguised disobedience

137. Refusal of an assemblage or meeting to disperse

138. Sitdown

139. Noncooperation with conscription and deportation

140. Hiding, escape and false identities

141. Civil disobedience of “illegitimate” laws

Action by government personnel

142. Selective refusal of assistance by government aides

143. Blocking of lines of command and information

144. Stalling and obstruction

145. General administrative noncooperation   84 Gene SharpFrom Dictatorship to Democracy 85

146. Judicial noncooperation

147. Deliberate inefficiency and selective noncooperation by enforcement agents

148. Mutiny

Domestic governmental action

149. Quasi-legal evasions and delays

150. Noncooperation by constituent governmental units

International governmental action

151. Changes in diplomatic and other representation

152. Delay and cancellation of diplomatic events

153. Withholding of diplomatic recognition

154. Severance of diplomatic relations

155. Withdrawal from international organizations

156. Refusal of membership in international bodies

157. Expulsion from international organizations


Psychological intervention

158. Self-exposure to the elements

159. 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-in

167. Pray-in

168. Nonviolent raids

169. Nonviolent air raids

170. Nonviolent invasion

171. Nonviolent interjection

172. Nonviolent obstruction

173. 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 strike

183. Nonviolent land seizure

184. Defiance of blockades

185. Politically motivated counterfeiting

186. Preclusive purchasing

187. Seizure of assets

188. Dumping

189. Selective patronage

190. Alternative markets

191. Alternative transportation systems

192. Alternative economic institutions

Political intervention

193. Overloading of administrative systems

194. Disclosing identities of secret agents

195. Seeking imprisonment

196. Civil disobedience of “neutral” laws

197. Work-on without collaboration

198. Dual sovereignty and parallel government

86 Gene Sharp


Appendix Two

Acknowledgements and Notes on

the History of From Dictatorship

to Democracy

I have incurred several debts of gratitude while writing the original edition of this essay. Bruce Jenkins, my Special Assistant in 1993, made an inestimable contribution by his identification of

problems in content and presentation. He also made incisive recommendations for more rigorous and clearer presentations of difficult ideas (especially concerning strategy), structural  reorganization, and editorial improvements.

I am also grateful for the editorial assistance of Stephen Coady. Dr. Christopher Kruegler and Robert Helvey offered very important criticisms and advice. Dr. Hazel McFerson and Dr. Patricia Parkman provided information on struggles in Africa and Latin America, respectively.

However, the analysis and conclusions contained therein are solely my responsibility.

In recent years special guidelines for translations have been developed, primarily due to Jamila Raqib’s guidance and to the lessons learned from earlier years. This has been necessary in order

to ensure accuracy in languages in which there has earlier been no established clear terminology for this field.

“From Dictatorship to Democracy” was written at the request of the late U Tin Maung Win, a prominent exile Burmese democrat who was then editor of Khit Pyaing (The New Era Journal).

The preparation of this text was based over forty years of research and writing on nonviolent struggle, dictatorships, totalitarian systems, resistance movements, political theory, sociological analysis, and other fields. I could not write an analysis that had a focus only on Burma, 87 as I did not know Burma well. Therefore, I had to write a generic analysis. The essay was originally published in installments in Khit Pyaing in Burmese and English in Bangkok, Thailand in 1993. Afterwards it was issued as a booklet in both languages (1994) and in Burmese again (1996 and 1997). The original booklet editions from Bangkok were issued with the assistance of the Committee for the Restoration of Democracy in Burma. It was circulated both surreptitiously inside Burma and among exiles and sympathizers elsewhere. This analysis was intended only

for use by Burmese democrats and various ethnic groups in Burma that wanted independence from the Burman-dominated central government in Rangoon. (Burmans are the dominant ethnic group in Burma.)

I did not then envisage that the generic focus would make the analysis potentially relevant in any country with an authoritarian or dictatorial government. However, that appears to have been the

perception by people who in recent years have sought to translate and distribute it in their languages for their countries. Several persons have reported that it reads as though it was written for their country.

The SLORC military dictatorship in Rangoon wasted no time in denouncing this publication. Heavy attacks were made in 1995 and 1996, and reportedly continued in later years in newspapers, radio, and television. As late as 2005, persons were sentenced to seven-year prison terms merely for being in possession of the banned publication.

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. A copy of the English language

edition was seen on display in the window of a bookstore in Bangkok by a student from Indonesia, was purchased, and taken back home.

There, it was translated into Indonesian, and published in 1997 by a major Indonesian publisher with an introduction by Abdurrahman Wahid. He was then head of Nadhlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organization in the world with thirty-five million members, and later 88 Gene Sharp President of Indonesia.

During this time, at my office at the Albert Einstein Institution we only had a handful of photocopies from the Bangkok English language booklet. For a few years we had to make copies of it when we had enquiries for which it was relevant. Later, Marek Zelaskiewz, from California, took one of those copies to Belgrade during Milosovic’s time and gave it to the organization Civic Initiatives. They translated it into Serbian and published it. When we visited Serbia

after the collapse of the Milosevic regime we were told that the booklet had been quite influential in the opposition movement. Also important had been the workshop on nonviolent struggle

that Robert Helvey, a retired US Army colonel, had given in Budapest, Hungary, for about twenty Serbian young people on the nature and potential of nonviolent struggle. Helvey also gave them copies of the complete The Politics of Nonviolent Action. These were the people who became the Otpor organization that led the nonviolent struggle that brought down Milosevic.

We usually do not know how awareness of this publication has spread from country to country. Its availability on our web site in recent years has been important, but clearly that is not the only factor. Tracing these connections would be a major research project.

“From Dictatorship to Democracy” is a heavy analysis and is not easy reading. Yet it has been deemed to be important enough for at least twenty-eight translations (as of January 2008) to be prepared, although they required major work and expense.

Translations of this publication in print or on a web site include the following languages: Amharic (Ethiopia), Arabic, Azeri (Azerbaijan), Bahasa Indonesia, Belarusian, Burmese, Chin (Burma), Chinese (simplified and traditional Mandarin), Dhivehi (Maldives), Farsi (Iran), French, Georgian, German, Jing Paw (Burma), Karen (Burma), Khmer (Cambodia), Kurdish, Kyrgyz (Kyrgyzstan), Nepali, Pashto (Afghanistan and Pakistan), Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Tibetan,

Tigrinya (Eritrea), Ukrainian, Uzbek (Uzbekistan), and Vietnamese. Several others are in preparation.

Between 1993 and 2002 there were six translations. Between 2003 and 2008 there have been twenty-two From Dictatorship to Democracy 89

The great diversity of the societies and languages into which translations have spread support the provisional conclusion that the persons who initially encounter this document have seen its analysis to be relevant to their society. Gene Sharp, January 2008

Albert Einstein Institution, Boston, Massachusetts, 90 Gene Sharp



Appendix Three

A Note About Translations

and Reprinting of this Publication

To facilitate dissemination of this publication it has been placed in the public domain. That means that anyone is free to reproduce it or disseminate it.

The author, however, does have several requests that he would like to make, although individuals are under no legal obligation to follow such requests.

• The author requests that no changes be made in the text, either additions or deletions, if it is reproduced.

• The author requests notification from individuals who intend to reproduce this document. Notification can be given to the Albert Einstein Institution (contact information appears in the

beginning of this publication immediately before the Table of Contents).

• The author requests that if this document is going to be translated, great care must be taken to preserve the original meaning of the text. Some of the terms in this publication will not translate

readily into other languages, as direct equivalents for “nonviolent struggle” and related terms may not be available. Thus, careful consideration must be given to how these terms and concepts are to be translated so as to be understood accurately by new readers.

For individuals and groups that wish to translate this work, the Albert Einstein Institution has developed a standard set of translation procedures that may assist them. They are as follows:

• A selection process takes place to select a translator. Candi-91-dates are evaluated on their fluency in both English and the language into which the work will be translated. Candidates

are also evaluated on their general knowledge surrounding the subject area and their understanding of the terms and concepts present in the text.

• An evaluator is selected by a similar process. The evaluator’s job is to thoroughly review the translation and to provide feedback and criticism to the translator. It is often better if the translator and evaluator do not know the identities of each other. • Once the translator and evaluator are selected, the translator submits a sample translation of two or three pages of the text,

as well as a list of a number of significant key terms that are present in the text.

• The evaluator evaluates this sample translation and presents feedback to the translator.

• If major problems exist between the translator’s sample translation and the evaluator’s evaluation of that translation, then either the translator or the evaluator may be replaced, depending upon the judgement of the individual or group that is sponsoring the translation. If minor problems exist, the translator proceeds with the full translation of the text, keeping in mind

the comments of the evaluator. • Once the entire text is translated, the evaluator evaluates the

entire text and gives feedback to the translator.

• Once the translator has considered this feedback and made any necessary changes, the final version of the text is complete and the translated book is ready to be printed and distributed.


92 Gene Sharp

For Further Reading

1. The Anti-Coup by Gene Sharp and Bruce Jenkins. Boston:The Albert Einstein Institution,2003.

2. Dictionary of Civilian Struggle: Technical Terminology of Nonviolent

Action and the Control of Political Power by Gene Sharp. Publication forthcoming.

3. On Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: Thinking About the Fundamentals

by Robert L. Helvey. Boston: The Albert Einstein Institution, 2002.

4. The Politics of Nonviolent Action (3 vols.) by Gene Sharp. Boston:

Extending Horizons Books, Porter Sargent Publishers, 1973.

5. Self-Liberation by Gene Sharp with the assistance of Jamila Raqib. Boston: The Albert Einstein Institution, 2010.

6. Social Power and Political Freedom by Gene Sharp. Boston: Extending

Horizons Books, Porter Sargent Publishers, 1980.

7. There Are Realistic Alternatives by Gene Sharp. Boston: The Albert Einstein Institution, 2003.

8. Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential by Gene Sharp. Boston: Extending Horizons Books, Porter Sargent Publishers, 2005.

For order information, please contact:

The Albert Einstein Institution, P.O. Box 455, East Boston, MA 02128, USA

Tel: USA +1 617-247-4882,  Fax: USA +1 617-247-4035

E-mail:,  Website:  From Dictatorship to Democracy 93