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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

"Nothing is static." - From Dictatorship to Democracy by Gene Sharp

Updated: Jun 8

'From Dictatorship to Democracy' is an interesting but short book by Gene Sharp. Written as a pamphlet guide to overcoming dictatorship, it contains plenty of insights into abuse of power and strategies deployed to maintain power and control as well as nonviolent resistance tactics.

‘His practical ideas for non-violent rebellion have turned him into something of an icon among leaders of the Egyptian revolt, and other opponents of dictatorship.’ – Sunday Times


‘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. This belief has been strengthened by readings on the importance of huma freedom, and histories of dictatorships.’ (page xx)


‘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.’ (page xix)


‘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 been atomised (turned into a mass of isolated individuals) unable to work together to achieve freedom, to confide in each other, or even to do much or anything at their own initiative.’ (page 5)


‘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;

·      One must develop a wise grand strategic plan for liberation and implement it skillfully.’ (page 12)


‘Firmly entrenched dictators who feel secure in their positions 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.’ (page 17)


‘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.’ (page 21)


‘Success is most often 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.’ (page 22)


‘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.’ (page 23)


The “Monkey Master” fable – a fourteenth-century Chinese parable ‘Yu-li-zu 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”.’ (page 28)


‘One characteristic of a democratic society is that there exist independent of the state a multitude of non-governmental groups and institutions. These include, for example, families, religious organisations, cultural associations, sports clubs, economic institutions, trade unions, student associations, political parties, villages, neighbourhood associations, gardening clubs, human rights organisations, musical groups, literary societies and others… 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 dictatorship.’ (page 33)


Every possible course of action for liberation will involve risks and potential suffering, and will take time to operate… 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.’ (page 42)


Nonviolent struggle is a much more complex and varied means of struggle than is violence. Instead, the struggle if fought by psychological, social, economic and political weapons applied by the population and institutions of the society. These have been known under various names of protests, strikes, non-cooperation, boycotts, disaffection, and people power.’ (page 45)


‘Nothing is static. Power relationships, both absolute and relative, are subject to constant and rapid changes.’ (page 52)


‘There are also activists who based 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 for liberation.’ (page 65)


‘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.’ (page 105)


‘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.’ (page 106)


‘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.’ (page 123)


'The Methods of Non-Violent Action'

(At least, my favourite ones)


'Symbolic public acts

18. Display of flags and symbolic colours

19. wearing of symbols

25. Displays of portraits

26. Paint as protest

Drama and music

35.Humorous skits and pranks

36. Performances of plays and music

37. Singing


38. Marches

39. Parades’

(pages 124-126)


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