The Role of Power in Nonviolent Struggle
Einstein Institution Monograph Series #3
by Gene Sharp
Title: The Role of Power in Nonviolent Struggle
Author: Gene Sharp
Published: 1990, 1994
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Nonviolent struggle is based upon the very nature of power in society and politics. The practice, dynamics, and consequences of nonviolent struggle are all directly dependent upon the wielding of power and its effects on the power of the opponent group. This technique cannot be understood without consideration of this important element in its nature.
This perception is in direct contradiction to the popular misconceptions that nonviolent action is powerless, that it conceptually and politically ignores the reality of power in politics, and that its advocates are naive in not accepting that violence is the real source of power in politics. These misconceptions, however, are themselves rooted in a denial or ignoring of the nature of power in politics and the crucial role of power in the operation of nonviolent struggle.
Nonviolent struggle is a political technique that needs to be understood in its own right, not explained or assessed by an assumption of its close association or identity with quite different phenomena. This technique of action uses social, psychological, economic, and political methods of applying sanctions, that is, pressures or punishments, rather than violent methods. The technique includes nearly two hundred identified methods of symbolic protest, social noncooperation, economic boycotts, labor strikes, political noncooperation, and nonviolent intervention (ranging from sit-ins to parallel government). These many methods are also called the "weapons" of nonviolent action.
The nonviolent technique is not to be confused with the important but separate phenomena of religious and ethical beliefs that espouse abstention from violence. Those beliefs may be shared by the same persons or movement using nonviolent action. However, far more frequently the practice of nonviolent struggle has been conducted by people and movements that lacked a principled commitment to nonviolent means. They had previously used violence or would be willing to do so in the future in other circumstances. Under the current conditions, however, people were willing to follow a grand strategy of nonviolent struggle for a particular purpose. They were willing to use these nonviolent weapons in place of violence, and to maintain nonviolent discipline, even though they were not committed to those means in other possible situations. The overwhelming reason for this choice of nonviolent means in conflicts has been that reliance on this type of struggle would increase the chances of their being successful in the current conflict.
Nonviolent struggle is a technique of matching forces against an opponent group. The opponent group usually has significant administrative, economic, political, police, and military capacity. The opponent group is commonly itself the State apparatus, controlled by an elite that is seen as hostile and injurious to the welfare and interests of a wider population. Or, the opponent group is frequently a non-state body that is backed by the State apparatus.
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