Waging-Nonviolent-Struggle-20th-Century-Practice-and-21st-Century-Potential (6)

Last part http://www.freeinchina.org/waging-nonviolent-struggle5/
The structural basis of resistance

The answer to the problem of uncontrolled political power, that is to oppression, therefore may lie in learning how to carry out and maintain withdrawal of obedience and cooperation de- spite repression. This will not be easy.

Greater confidence and ability to practice noncooperation and disobedience can usually be achieved when members of the popu- lation are able to act as members of groups or institutions. This is also a requirement for effective restriction or severance of the sources of political power that were discussed above. At times, individuals may protest or resign and barely be noticed, but if all persons in a government department refuse to implement a pol- icy, their actions can create a major crisis.

Very importantly, in order to have a significant political im- pact, the disobedience and noncooperation often need to take the form of mass action. While individual acts may at times not have much impact, the defiance of organizations and institutions—for example, trade unions, business organizations, religious organiza- tions, the bureaucracy, neighborhoods, villages, cities, regions, and the like—can be pivotal. Through these bodies people can collectively offer disobedience and noncooperation. Organiza- tions and institutions such as these, which supply the necessary sources of power to the opponent group, are called “pillars of support.”3

The ability of the population to wield effective power and to control the power of their rulers will be highly influenced by the condition of these organizations and institutions. It is these “places” (or loci) where power can be mobilized and where it op- erates. Such “places” provide the structural basis for the control of the rulers, whether or not they wish to be controlled. Where these independent bodies are weak, the controls over the rulers’ power will be weak. Where those bodies are strong, the capacity to control the rulers will be strong.4

Factors in controlling political power

Three of the most important factors in determining to what degree rulers’ power will be controlled or uncontrolled are

  • the relative desire of the populace to control the rulers’ power;
  • the relative strength of the society’s independent organi- zations and institutions;
  • the population’s relative ability to withhold their consent and cooperation by concrete actions.Freedom is not something that rulers “give” the population. The degree of freedom within a society is achieved through the in- teraction between society and government.According to this social insight into the nature of political power, people have immense power potential. It is ultimately their attitudes, behavior, cooperation, and obedience that supply the sources of power to all rulers and hierarchical systems, even oppressors and tyrants.The degree of liberty or tyranny in any government is, there- fore, in large part, a reflection of the relative determination of the population to be free and their willingness and ability to resist ef- forts to enslave them. “For the tyrant has the power to inflict only that which we lack the strength to resist,” wrote the Indian sociologist Krishnalal Shridharani.5

Self-liberation and the mobilization of power potential

Without the direct participation of the population itself in the efforts to make changes, no major changes are likely to occur in the relative power positions between the population and whoever occupies the position of rulers. At most, a new group will replace the old one as rulers. The new rulers may or may not, at their own discretion, behave with restraint and concern towards the welfare and liberties of the people.

If the liberation of oppressed people is to happen and be genu- ine and durable, it must therefore be essentially self-liberation. That liberation needs to be achieved by means that ensure a last- ing capacity of people to govern themselves, to shape their own society, and to act to ensure their freedoms and rights. Otherwise, the people will face the likelihood of new, potentially even more oppressive, rulers, merely waving a different flag or espousing a different doctrine.

The great Indian Gandhian socialist Rammanohar Lohia once wrote that he was tired of hearing only of the need to change the hearts of the oppressors. That was fine, but far more important was the effort to change the hearts of the oppressed. They needed to become unwilling to continue accepting their oppression, and to become determined to build a better society. Weakness in peo- ple’s determination, and very importantly in their ability to act, makes possible their continued oppression and submission. Strengthen that determination and increase that ability to act, and these people need never again be oppressed. Such self-liberation can be achieved only through an increase in the power of the subordinates by their own efforts.

Indian independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi emphasized the importance of a change of will and a change of attitude as prerequisites for a change in patterns of obedience and coopera- tion. There was, he argued, a need for

  • a psychological change away from passive submission to self-respect and courage;
  • recognition by the subjects that their assistance makes the existing regime possible;
  • the building of a determination to withdraw cooperation and obedience.6Gandhi was convinced that these changes could be consciously influenced.
Once the dominated population wishes to make changes, it needs to be able to mobilize and wield effective power. Once the population is willing to disobey and noncooperate, it requires means of strong action. It then needs a technique of action through which it can maintain and strengthen its existing inde- pendent institutions, create and defend new ones, and, resist, con- front, and undermine the power of oppressive rulers.

The population needs to be able to restrict and sever the sources of power of its oppressors. The power of the rulers is weakened to the degree that the population

  • repudiates the moral right of the current rulers to rule;
  • disobeys, noncooperates, and refuses to assist the rulers;
  • declines to supply the skills and knowledge required by the rulers;
  • denies the rulers control over administration, property, natural resources, financial resources, the economic sys- tem, communication, and transportation.

Additionally, if the rulers’ punishments against a defiant popu- lation are not available because of disaffection in the military or police forces, or if popular defiance continues and even grows de- spite harsh penalties, then the power of the rulers will shrink or even dissolve.

A technique of action capable of accomplishing those controls over the power of rulers and of mobilizing the power potential of the population should also be one that will give the populace a lasting capacity to control any rulers, and to defend the popula- tion’s capacity to rule itself. A type of action with the potential to achieve such controls is the technique of “nonviolent action” or “nonviolent struggle.” Let us, therefore, examine in greater depth the nature of this type of struggle.

3 The term was introduced by Robert Helvey.
4 For further discussion of this analysis, see Gene Sharp, “Social Power and Political Freedom,” in Social Power and Political Freedom, pp. 21-67.
5 Krishnalal Shridharani, War Without Violence: A Study of Gandhi’s Method and its Accomplishments (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1939; reprinted: New York & London: Garland Publishing, 1972), p. 305.
6 See Gene Sharp, Gandhi as a Political Strategist, with Essays on Ethics and Politics (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1979), pp. 43-59.



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