Tue Feb 22nd, 2011 at 05:38:45 AM EST
Since we were having rather more silliness than content in the other diary, here's a spin off.
Let's start from the original claim in the NYT that Sharp is a meek, humble intellectual living in modest circumstances - whose books have nonetheless sparked revolutions all over the world.
I described this as "any old nonsense" because that's exactly what it is.
To understand why, some background is needed.
Firstly, the concept while NYT piece painted Sharp as an 'humble unassuming follower of Gandhi and Einstein, dedicated to something oxymoronic called "non-violent conflict", living a modest existence in a cheap part of town - etc, etc.
Not even the basic facts are true. Sharp certainly isn't lacking cash or connections. He may not choose to spend the money on bling, but even if he earns "only" $100k a year - plus expenses - that's more than US workers earn. And the annual reports of the Albert Einstein Institution show that it has received multi-million dollar donations. (Conveniently, the sources aren't named, but Sourcewatch has some of them.)
It's also used as a funding conduit, as happened with OTPOR. And here's another terminological inexactitude - even though the NYT implies that Sharp's methods are elegant and can be decisively successful, the reality is that it still cost the US more than $40 million dollars, funnelled through various sources and fronts, to fund and organise a supposedly bottom-up campaign against an unpopular dictator in charge of a relatively mild security police state with a working electoral system.
The U.S. democracy-building effort in Serbia was a curious mixture of secrecy and openness. In principle, it was an overt operation, funded by congressional appropriations of around $10 million for fiscal 1999 and $31 million for 2000.
Some Americans involved in the anti-Milosevic effort said they were aware of CIA activity at the fringes of the campaign, but had trouble finding out what the agency was up to. Whatever it was, they concluded it was not particularly effective. The lead role was taken by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the government's foreign assistance agency, which channeled the funds through commercial contractors and nonprofit groups such as NDI and its Republican counterpart, the International Republican Institute (IRI).
While NDI worked closely with Serbian opposition parties, IRI focused its attention on Otpor, which served as the revolution's ideological and organizational backbone. In March, IRI paid for two dozen Otpor leaders to attend a seminar on nonviolent resistance at the Hilton Hotel in Budapest, a few hundreds yards along the Danube from the NDI-favored Marriott.
During the seminar, the Serbian students received training in such matters as how to organize a strike, how to communicate with symbols, how to overcome fear and how to undermine the authority of a dictatorial regime. The principal lecturer was retired U.S. Army Col. Robert Helvey...
So Helvey was shipped over to "educate" the leaders of OTPOR and promote regime change. This is interesting because it reveals two things.
Firstly the goal of "non-violent conflict" as defined by the Institution is - simply - regime change.
Secondly, it's regime change sponsored, funded, and directed by outsiders.
So "non-violent conflict" - which is amusingly like "war is peace" - actually means "manipulating civilians for para-military aims."
Sharp may indeed be the Clausewitz of "non-violent conflict", because this is a doctrine which encourages colonial powers to use local unarmed civilians as a substitute for direct armed warfare.
It's cheap, it's low-risk, it can be very effective, and it plays well on TV. What's not to like?
Well - it's not necessarily democratic. It might even, at a bit of a stretch, be seen as top-down and manipulative.
Since the US has final say on whether or not revolution happens - because it supplies the essential funding, training, consultancy and support materials without which any effort is unlikely to succeed - we're a long way from the ideal of heroic bottom-up self-organising revolution that the NYT gushed over so wetly.
The reality is that these revolutions don't happen because of Sharp's books, but because of the tactical support and cash handouts that support them. And it's the US that choses when and where these revolutions happen. Not the people who die and are injured in the course of them.
Sharp's techniques may be worth studying, but it's clear that in practice implementing them successfully requires external funding, expert training, material support, and consultancy.
In fact, Sharp is pure Cold War - and it's the Cold War thinking that shaped his initial ideas.
Reflecting Albert Einstein's patronage, one of its first books was Dr. Sharp's "Making Europe Unconquerable: The Potential of Civilian-Based Deterrence and Defense," published in 1985 with a forward by George Kennan, the famous "Mr. X" 1940's architect of the Cold War who was also a founder of the CIA's Operations division. There, Sharp reports that "civilian-based defense" could counter the Soviet threat through its ability "to deter and defeat attacks by making a society ungovernable by would be oppressors" and "by maintaining a capacity for orderly self-rule even in the face of extreme threats and actual aggression." He illustrates its feasibility by discussing the examples of the Algerian independence in 1961 and the Czechoslovakian resistance to Soviet invasion in 1968-9. In his forward, Kennan praises Sharp for showing the "possibilities of deterrence and resistance by civilians" as a "partial alternative to the traditional, purely military concepts of national defense."
In some of the Einstein documents, before "guided interference" was turned into "non-violent conflict", it was called "civilian defense."
(More awake readers will recognise elements of Operation Gladio in this - the strategy that did more to damage Italy's democracy than any other post-war event.)
As for Helvey, here are his own words:
So, I got selected to be a senior fellow at the Harvard Center for International Affairs. [As one does - Ed.] So when I was up at Cambridge one day, I saw a little poster saying "Program for Nonviolent Sanctions," you know, room such and such. I didn't have anything to do that afternoon so I went up to the seminar on nonviolent sanctions. Primarily, I guess, being an army officer I was going to find out who these people are, you know, these pacifists and things like that -- troublemakers. Just trying to get an understanding of it.
And Dr. Gene Sharp happened to be there. And he started out the seminar by saying, "Strategic nonviolent struggle is all about political power. How to seize political power and how to deny it to others." And I thought, "Boy, this guy's talking my language." And, you know, that's what armed struggle is about.
What I did initially was, I had sort of a side session with five or six of the Otpor leaders of this leaderless organization and asked them some questions to get a feel for what they were looking for. And then I started into my seminar.
I think they were looking for something to keep the momentum going. You know, they had done very, very effective work in mobilizing individual groups. But there was something missing to take them beyond protest into actually mobilizing to overthrow the regime. I just felt that something was lacking. They were doing something very, very well, but there seemed to be an invisible wall here that they needed to get over.
And then we talked a little bit about propaganda. Propaganda today is not a very good word. We like to use the word media or information.
Now, any time you have a mass movement, there's going to be some isolated acts of violence. And there's not a whole lot you can do about that. But once violence becomes a policy or accepted, then it becomes a major contaminant -- so major that you're going to lose the moral high ground. And a lot of people that have joined in your movement because it was nonviolent are going to start backing away.
The international community from which you've received not only moral and political support, but sometimes financial support, will start to get very nervous about providing that support to an organization that condones violent action.
This is eccentric for two reasons. The first is that the US has never been bothered about violent regimes run by useful individuals. But clearly, it's far more nervous about populist revolutions.
I'll leave the apparent contradiction there as an exercise for the reader.
The second is that to understand how remarkable this story is, you have to consider what would happen if a hypothetical progressive international movement began running similar campaigns in the West, supplying:
- Published and freely distributed copies of material about practical civil disobedience and revolution
- Formal military consultancy and training
- Cash funding
- Practical support in the form of books, t-shirts, stickers, and so on. (Which might seem trivial, but these items turn out to be game changers.)
How many governments in the West would be happy with this kind of interference? How many would consider it democratic?
Of course, we live in proper democracies, so the rules are different.
So that's who Gene Sharp is; yet another US establishment figure who promotes democracy by... other means.