First U.S. publication of a handbook on fighting dictators, first published in the early 1990s at the request of an exiled Burmese diplomat.
In this slim book, which has been translated into at least 28 different languages, Sharp (Political Science Emeritus/Univ. of Massachusetts, Dartmouth; Waging Nonviolent Struggle, 2005, etc.) synthesizes his years of research on nonviolent struggle. He explains that his general focus “make[s] the analysis potentially relevant in any country with an authoritarian or dictatorial government.” The author opposes the use of violence unconditionally, insisting that to choose violence is to choose a means of struggle in which oppressors nearly always have superiority. Sharp claims that overthrowing a dictatorship is a matter of identifying how the dictatorship’s internal structure works and adopting a strategic design to identify weaknesses and change the balance. The author provides a list of “Achilles' heels,” which can be targeted through psychological, economic, social and political action; in an appendix, he briefly discusses 198 such tactics. Sharp stresses the importance of cutting off a dictatorship from its sources of power and support and building up mass defiance and resistance. His generic format, however, presents problems since dictatorships, like political situations, offer particular challenges that are not easily addressed with a one-size-fits-all approach. Sharp insists that resistance, not negotiations, will be the key to change, but the longevity of Burma's SLORC dictatorship raises questions about the author’s approach.
Includes some interesting theoretical points, but the generalities limit the book’s effectiveness.