From Dictatorship to Democracy

A Conceptual Framework for Liberation

The Albert Einstein Institution, 1993


Gene Sharp

Notes made by Russ Faure-Brac 4/25/2014

This book is focused on how to overthrow a dictatorship using nonviolent means, but it also applies generally to the abolition of war.

  1. Exercising Power
    1. High degree of secrecy required for

i.     Underground publications

ii.     Illegal radio broadcasts

iii.     Gathering intelligence about the operations of the dictatorship

  1. Choose from Four Mechanisms of Change

i.     Conversion – Opponents accept the protesters’ aims (rare)

ii.     Accommodation – Compromise (doesn’t bring down a dictatorship)

iii.     Nonviolent coercion – Opponents retain their position but can’t act effectively

iv.     Disintegration – Supporters of the opponents repudiate their former leaders and the regime disintegrates, not even having the power to surrender

  1. Strategic Planning
    1. Grand Strategy – Conception that directs all available resources (economic, human, moral, political, organizational, etc.). Determines appropriate conditions and timing for launching campaigns.
    2. Campaign Strategies

i.     How best to achieve particular objectives in a conflict. It clearly defines objectives and how to measure the effectiveness of efforts to achieve the objectives.

  1. Tactics – They implement the campaign strategy. Always concerned with fighting, involve shorter periods of time, or smaller areas, or limited number of people or more limited objectives.
  2. Methods – Specific weapons or means of action (strikes, boycotts political noncooperation, etc.)
  3. Planning Strategy
    1. Understand the entire conflict situation – physical, historical, governmental, military, cultural, social, political, psychological, economic and international factors.
    2. The real objective is not to overthrow the dictatorship, but to establish a free society with a democratic system of government. Consider:

i.     What are the main obstacles to achieving freedom?

ii.     What factors will facilitate achieving freedom?

iii.     What are the main strengths of the dictatorship?

iv.     What are the various weaknesses of the dictatorship?

v.     To what degree are the sources of power for the dictatorship vulnerable?

vi.     What are the strengths of the democratic forces and the population?

vii.     What are the weaknesses of the democratic forces and how can they be corrected?

viii.     What is the status of third parties who might assist either the dictatorship or the democratic movement?

  1. Questions re Choice of Means

i.     Is the struggle within the capacities of the democrats?

ii.     Does the technique utilize the strengths of the dominated population?

iii.     Does the technique strike at the weakest or strongest points of the dictatorship?

iv.     Do the means help the democrats become more self-reliant or dependent on third parties?

v.     What is the record of the chosen means?

  1. Formulating a Grand Strategy

i.     The plan stretches from the present situation to the future liberation and institution of a democratic system

ii.     How can social order be maintained in the conflict?

iii.     Make the Grand Strategy widely known

  1. Consider the following in a campaign:

i.     How do objects of the campaign relate the Grand Strategy?

ii.     Carefully choose the specific smaller steps

iii.     Determine whether or how economic issues relate to the campaign.

iv.     Determine in advance the leadership structure and communication system to be used.

v.     Communicate resistance news to the public in strictly factual terms. Exaggerations and unfounded claims will undermine credibility.

vi.     Conduct self-reliant constructive social, educational, economic and political activities during the conflict, perhaps by persons not directly involved in resistance activities.

vii.     Determine what kind of external assistance is desirable – NGO’s, governments or the UN and its various bodies.

  1. Applying Political Defiance
    1. If the population feels powerless and frightened, start with low-risk, confidence-building tasks. Choose an issue that will be widely recognized and difficult to reject.
    2. Use “selective resistance” to focus on limited issues or grievances which symbolize the general oppression of the dictatorship. The blunt of the struggle will be borne by one section or more of the population (e.g., students). In a later campaign with a different objective, the burden should shift to other population groups.
    3. Aim at the Dictator’s power. Early on, communicate with the dictator’s troops and functionaries. Convince troops that the goal is to undermine the dictator, not to threaten their lives.
    4. Sympathetic officers can spread disaffection and noncooperation in the military forces, encourage deliberate inefficiency and the quiet ignoring of orders, order shooting over the heads of demonstrators, direct civil servants to lose files and instructions and become “ill” so they can stay home and “recover.” Provide safe passage, food, medical supplies, etc. to the democratic movement.
    5. Celebrate victories, even on limited issues.
    6. Major Conclusions
      1. Liberation from dictatorship is possible;
      2. Carefully thought strategic planning will be required to achieve it; and
      3. Vigilance, hard work and disciplined struggle, often at great cost, will be needed.


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