Gene Sharp, From Democracy to Dictatorship: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation

IssueJune 2011
Review by Gabriel Carlyle

Originally published (for Burmese dissidents) in 1993, From Dictatorship to Democracy has since been translated into at least 28 other languages, and has now been reprinted in English by Housmans Peace Bookshop.

Sharp’s analysis – and this short book in particular – has reportedly played a significant inspirational role in a whole series of nonviolent uprisings, from Serbia to Egypt. Nonetheless, his leaden prose, the extremely general nature of much of the analysis and the lack of fleshed-out historical examples make this heavy reading.

However, his core messages are extremely simple: nonviolent action can be used to overthrow dictatorships; hard work, discipline and sacrifice are needed to achieve this; having a strategy is essential.

In the preface, Michael Randle – himself one of the UK’s most experienced practitioners of nonviolent action – notes that: “the insights in this study are pertinent to campaigns against unjust and irresponsible policies in our own societies”, not just dictatorships. Quite so. How many activists do you know who work within a strategic framework, let alone a grand strategic vision? If for no other reason than this, they – and probably you too – should force themselves to read this book

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