A BRAVE EXAMPLE FOR THE
by Gene Sharp
The dramatic collapse of Ferdinand E.
Marcos' regime in the face of an enormous nonviolent insurrection has important
lessons. The events in the Philippines showed that dictators need not be accepted
passively, and that effective alternatives to violent revolt exists. The principle
is to withdraw the sources of power.
The Catholic bishops spoke out against Marcos and counseled nonviolent resistance.
Opposition politicians planned a campaign of economic and political resistance. The
general population mounted huge demonstrations to show that it would not submit to
election fraud and murder. Soldiers mutinied, and officials and diplomats
defected. Thousands of people turned back tanks ordered to attack nonviolent rebel
troops at Camp Crame.
The Filipino people's brave example to the world may well stimulate new nonviolent freedom
struggles elsewhere. Which country will be next to follow their example:
Indonesia, South Korea, Chile?
The Philippines was not the first successful nonviolent overthrow of a repressive regime.
The rule of Czar Nicholas II of Russia collapsed after about a week of the mainly
nonviolent February-March revolution of 1917. The regimes of General Hernandez
Martinez in El Salvador and General Jorge Ubico of Guatemala were dissolved by nonviolent
insurrections of about two weeks each in 1944.
Nonviolent action includes at least 198 distinct methods ranging from mild symbolic
protests to potentially paralyzing forms of social, economic, and political
non-cooperation, and to the non-disruptive forms of intervention. Nonviolent
resisters have been defeated, achieved mixed results, and been victorious in the face of
enormous odds, as in the Philippines.
We often forget that non-violent struggle were sometimes used successfully even against
the Nazis. In Norway, the teachers' resistance kept the schools out of facist
control and prevented the establishment of a totalitarian state. Non-cooperation and
underground escape networks saved many Jews' lives. A more-than-week-long public
demonstration by 6,000 women, most of them non-Jewish, in Berlin in 1943 resulted in the
release of at least 1,500 Jews.
Each successive case of non-violent anti-communist struggle in Eastern Europe since 1953
has been more difficult for the Soviets to crush. Resistance in East Germany in June
1953 was crushed in two days. The improvised Czechoslovakian resistance in 1968-69
ultimately failed, but it held off Soviet control for eight months, which would have been
impossible by military means. In Poland, resistance continues after five years with
major achievements, including a large illegal information system that publishes papers,
magazines, and books.
Nonviolent sanctions operate on an important insight into the nature of political power:
the power of all rulers and governments is vulnerable, impermanent, and dependent on
sources of society.
A ruler's power depends on the degree of cooperation, submission, obedience, and
assistance received from the subjects, both the population and the paid helpers.
Non-violent cooperation and disobedience cut off the sources of ruler's power. If
the defiance continues despite repression, it will disintegrate even a dictatorship.
Contrary to the usual assumption, dictatorships are not omnipotent. They contain
weaknesses; nonviolent sanctions exploit them. Given that these non-violent
sanctions exist, the question becomes becomes to what degree they can be applied and to
what degree they can effective.
In the past, most non-violent struggles have been improvised, without large-scale
preparation or training. Thus they may be simply prototypes of what could be
developed by deliberate efforts. It seems certain that a combination of scholarship
and preparation could make future non-violent struggles much more effective. It is
possible that his technique could become a full substitute for violence in liberation
struggles and even for national defense.
Note: Gene Sharp, Director for Program for Nonviolent Sanctions, Center for
International Affairs, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachussetts, wrote this foreword
for People Power: An Eyewitness History, The Philippine Revolution of 1986.
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into the nature
the power of
all rulers and governments
the sources of