Introduction to Nonviolent Struggle

Introduction to Nonviolent Struggle

by Kevin S. Van Horn

(This is a reconstruction of the talk based on my notes, with some alterations and additions. Much of the content was taken from Gene Sharp’s works, in particular, The Politics of Nonviolent Action and Waging Nonviolent Struggle.)
Why Nonviolent Action

In this talk I’m going to discuss the basics of nonviolent struggle. But the first question to address is this: why limit ourselves to nonviolent action? Some libertarians argue for the legitimacy and appropriateness of violent action on the grounds that the state initiate the use of force and threats thereof against us on a daily basis, and therefore we are entitled to defensive or retaliatory violence against them. Whatever degree of validity such an argument may (or may not) have in theory, I would argue that in practice there are some grave problems with attempting to win our freedom by violent means:


It would injure and kill innocents. Yes, in theory violent resistance to tyranny is defensive violence; but do you really think it would work out so cleanly and neatly? How many bullets would miss their mark and tear away some toddler’s face? After a bomb destroys an ATF, IRS, or FBI headquarters, how many of the scattered body parts lying around would belong to innocents who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Some may try to dismiss such casualties as “collateral damage”, but that very concept is a collectivist one that discounts the worth of individuals. Furthermore, an honorable person will practice moral conservatism whenever possible: if it’s not clear whether an action is moral, assume that it’s not and don’t do it.

It would be destructive of our goals. The libertarian ideal is to circumscribe the use of violence, or threats of its use, within much tighter bounds than currently operate: defensive use only, or possibly limited use in compelling aggressors to pay restitution. Yet in a violent struggle we would become accustomed to, and far too comfortable with, the use of violence. We would attract people who are attracted to violence. What happens after winning such a violent struggle? If the record of previous violent revolutions is any guide, we could easily end up with a new government worse than the old one.

It would be counterproductive. Violent action on our part would allow the government to portray us as terrorists, thus strengthening support for the government and weakening support for our cause. Many who are currently friendly to our cause would be frightened into the arms of our enemies. It would shift attention away from the issues we want to emphasize and onto the violence of the resistance. And it would weaken a central point of our message: that the state is nothing but institutionalized violence.

Sources of Political Power
The Nature of Political Power

Mao Zedong once said, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” In this view, whoever has the most and biggest guns will control things. The state is regarded as a single, monolithic entity of tremendous power and vast resources… which leads to the conclusion that resistance is futile.

The preceding view is common, even among libertarians, but it is essentially collectivist in nature. The truth is that organizations, including the state, do not act; only individuals do. The key idea of nonviolent struggle is that governments are not abstract, monolithic entities; rather, they are groups of flesh-and-blood individual human beings, each making their own decisions, seeking their own goals, and following their own agendas. Furthermore, the power of any government depends intimately on cooperation from many other groups outside of the government itself, as well as on cooperation and obedience from the populace at large. Political power is therefore fragile, and can collapse with startling suddenness if the right conditions are created.

To quote Gene Sharp, a researcher who has for many decades studied and written about the technique of nonviolent struggle:

The rulers of governments and political systems are not omnipotent, nor do they possess self-generating power. All dominating elites and rulers depend for their sources of power upon the cooperation of the population and of the institutions of the society they would rule.

So we need not take over the State’s decision-making process (elections); we need not physically destroy the State’s coercive resources (violent resistance); instead we can win our freedom by striking at the heart of the State’s power, disrupting the patterns of cooperation and obedience on which it depends.
The Six Sources

Gene Sharp lists the following six sources of power:

Authority, or perceived legitimacy.
This is the quality that leads people to voluntarily obey commands, accept decisions, accede to requests, or follow suggestions. It is the (perceived) right to command or direct, to be heard or obeyed by others.
These are the people who obey, cooperate with, or give assistance to the rulers. This includes people working within the government and allied institutions, as well as cooperating persons in the general population.
Skills and knowledge.
This is the availability of needed skills, knowledge, and abilities among those persons cooperating with the rulers.
Material resources.
This is the control of money, land, computers, communications, transportation, natural resources, etc., which the rulers can use for their own purposes.
Intangible factors.
These are psychological, cultural, and ideological factors that promote obedience to and cooperation with the rulers. They may include habits, traditions, religious beliefs, language conventions, fear of foreign threats, a sense of belonging, presence or absence of a common faith, ideology, or sense of mission, and so on.
This is punishment of those who disobey, typically by seizure of assets, imprisonment, or execution. This includes sanctions applied indirectly through third parties; for example, if your children don’t receive all the vaccinations the state government demands, then even private schools won’t allow them to attend.

Although I’ve described these sources from the viewpoint of the rulers’ power, they can also be sources of power for the resisters. For example:

* Authority. This can arise from earned respect. Gandhi had little in the way of material resources, but he could call for a boycott and have millions of people willingly comply with his request.
* Nonviolent sanctions. The resisters can apply their own, nonviolent, sanctions when their numbers are sufficient. These include picketing, nonviolent harrassment of officials, and social or economic ostracism.

Cooperation and obedience are central to all six sources of power: each of them either creates or depends on the cooperation and obedience of others:

* Authority leads to willing, habitual obedience.
* Personnel, as a source of power, is defined as the cooperation and obedience of others.
* Skill and knowledge are available only from those persons willing to cooperate.
* Material resources are available for use only if cooperating personnel are available; also, they are acquired through the obedience and cooperation of the subjects, who either willingly surrender the resources or choose obedience over the threat of punishment.
* Intangible factors affect people’s willingness to cooperate and obey.
* Sanctions require the cooperation of at least some subjects in order to be carried out. For them to be effectively applied requires that disobedience be detected, and this generally requires the cooperation of additional persons beyond just those in government employ.

Therefore, a nonviolent resistance attacks the patterns of obedience and cooperation that support the enemy, rather than physical attacking their material resources and personnel.
The Importance of (Non-)Cooperation

This highlights yet another reason for rejecting violent action: it focuses on the wrong problem. Our problem is not, at its root, that the government have the firepower to compel our obedience. The real problem is the mental enslavement of America — the acceptance of the government’s rule as legitimate, and our meek acquiescence to whatever demands the rulers may impose on us. The essential battleground where we must win lies in our own hearts and minds, and in those of our fellow Americans.

Four and a half centuries ago, Étienne de la Boétie wrote “The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude”, addressing this very issue. He wrote that a refusal to cooperate is all that is needed to render a tyrant powerless:

Everyone knows that the fire from a little spark will increase and blaze ever higher as long as it finds wood to burn; yet without being quenched by water, but merely by finding no more fuel to feed on, it consumes itself, dies down, and is no longer a flame. Similarly, the more tyrants pillage, the more they crave, the more they ruin and destroy; the more one yields to them, and obeys them, by that much do they become mightier and more formidable, the readier to annihilate and destroy. But if not one thing is yielded to them, if, without any violence they are simply not obeyed, they become naked and undone and as nothing, just as, when the root receives no nourishment, the branch withers and dies.

Later in the same essay, de la Boétie tells the people of his day — and us also — that we are responsible for our own bondage:

Poor, wretched, and stupid peoples, nations determined on your own misfortune and blind to your own good! You let yourselves be deprived before your own eyes of the best part of your revenues; your fields are plundered, your homes robbed, your family heirlooms taken away. You live in such a way that you cannot claim a single thing as your own; and it would seem that you consider yourselves lucky to be loaned your property, your families, and your very lives. All this havoc, this misfortune, this ruin, descends upon you not from alien foes, but from the one enemy whom you yourselves render as powerful as he is … He who thus domineers over you has only two eyes, only two hands …; he has indeed nothing more than the power that you confer upon him to destroy you. Where has he acquired enough eyes to spy upon you, if you do not provide them yourselves? How can he have so many arms to beat you with, if he does not borrow them from you? … What could he do to you if you yourselves did not connive with the thief who plunders you, if you were not accomplices of the murderer who kills you, if you were not traitors to yourselves? … Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into pieces.

Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed.
Pillars of Support

The state’s power is heavily dependent on the cooperation of certain key institutions and organizations. These are called its pillars of support. Some common external pillars of support for governments include

* the educational system,
* organized religion,
* the news media,
* the banking system, and
* big business.

Recognizing that governments are themselves composed of various sub-organizations, we may also identify pillars of support within a government, upholding executive power. These include

* the police,
* the military,
* the courts,
* the state educational system,
* the bureaucracy, and
* state governments (supporting the federal government).

Attacking the Pillars of Support

An essential part of any effective nonviolent struggle is to identify and attack the enemy’s few crucial pillars of support. All of these organizations are made up of individuals who can be influenced. If the resisters can persuade these individuals to lessen or even withdraw their support for the enemy, the pillar is weakened, and the enemy’s power is diminished. If these individuals are persuaded to actively support the resistance, the power of the resisters is likewise increased.

These efforts can take place at both an individual and an organizational level. An early attack might focus on “pulling out” one or a few influential individuals. The organization as a whole are still supportive of the enemy, but there is dissent within. As an example, the mass media in this country are on the whole heavily statist, but John Stossel is a highly visible journalist who bucks this pattern. The Republican Party as a whole is highly supportive of the Iraq War and the Bush administration’s attack on civil liberties, but Ron Paul is an outspoken and increasingly visible dissenter.

A later stage of attack can focus on the organization itself, seeking to alter its internal culture and official policies. For example, a religious body previously supportive of the government might take an official stance against government policy; news stories may become increasingly hostile to the government and favorable to the resisters; important businesses may refuse to withhold taxes or report information to government agencies; the American Bar Association could issue an opinion that certain government actions were unconstitutional or illegal. If successful, such an attack may not only remove a pillar of support for the state, but convert it into a pillar of support for the resisters.

Finally, if a pillar of support cannot be influenced to withdraw its support for the enemy, it can be targeted for organizational destruction. This means disrupting its activities to the point that it can no longer provide effective support for the enemy. This may occur by encouraging silent internal dissent — employees who pretend to do their jobs but are deliberately ineffective. It may also occur via widespread noncooperation. For example, how effective could the IRS be in carrying out its mission if there were widespread refusal to provide it with the information it requires? Noncooperation also includes economic and social boycotts aimed at crippling the organization.
Internal Pillars of Support

Internal pillars of support are of special importance, as weakening these most directly weakens the state. In particular, weakening the support of the police and military, so that they are ineffective in carrying out the orders of the rulers, has been crucial in other successful nonviolent struggles. Here I will give two examples: the ousters of dictators Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia.


Marcos allowed a “snap” election to be held in 1986 after massive protests against his rule. He claimed a win, but it is widely believed that his opponent Corazon Aquino actually won the vote. Aquino refused to concede the election, and launched a nonviolent campaign against Marcos. Then a small group of Army officers became disaffected and planned a coup against Marcos. Their plans were discovered, and they and 300 troops took refuge in adjacent Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame. Thousands of protesters surrounded the camps to protect the rebels. Loyalist troops were sent against the rebels, but they turned back rather than kill civilians. A second assault took over Camp Aguinaldo, but the commander then stalled and refused to fire on the rebels in Camp Crame because of the large number of civilians between the two camps and within Camp Crame itself. In the end, Marcos fled the country and Aquino was sworn in as the new president.

In Yugoslavia, OTPOR (the major organized resistance to Milosevic) made conscious efforts to neutralize the armed agents of the Milosevic regime. Milosevic’s opposition had pressed for new elections. Well before the elections, OTPOR and others had deepened contacts with elements of both the police and army. OTPOR and its allies set up their own parallel system for collecting election results, and so were able to state with confidence that the results claimed by the Milosevice regime were fraudulent.

Workers at the Kolubara mines went on strike in protest against the election fraud. Thirty busloads of police arrived to break the strike; 15,000 to 20,000 demonstrators arrived to protect and support the strikers. The police stalled in dispersing the demonstrators, and did not act when a bulldozer slowly plowed through the police barricade, followed by thousands of demonstrators.

A mass demonstration in Belgrade was planned. Cacak mayor Velimir Ilic, a supporter of the resisters, coordinated plans with some police officers from Cacak, who also encouraged additional defections within their ranks. OTPOR sent polite letters to army commanders and police headquarters letting them know that “Serbia was coming to Belgrade.” OTPOR also held secret talks with army and police to ensure that, although they would not openly disobey, they would nevertheless fail to effectively execute their orders. Demonstrators came from all over the country, and occupied key government building in Belgrade. Police efforts to stop the demonstrators from arriving, and to disperse them once arrived, were hesitant and ineffective. Milosevic finally conceded defeat and stepped down.

The Methods of Nonviolent Action

In his research on nonviolent struggle, Gene Sharp counted 198 distinct methods of nonviolent action, in three groups:

Nonviolent protest and persuasion.
These are mainly symbolic acts of peaceful opposition or of attempted persuasion. These methods are more common in the early stages of a struggle, when the resisters are trying to build support.
This includes social noncoooperation, such as social boycotts and ostracism; economic noncooperation, such as economic boycotts and strikes; and political noncooperation, such as civil disobedience, rejection of authority, and boycott of governmental institutions.
Nonviolent intervention.
These methods seek to disrupt or change the situation in some basic way. They may involve psychological, physical, social, economic, and political interventions. These methods include various kinds of psychological pressure, nonviolent obstruction, and the creation of alternative social, economic, and legal institutions.

The Cranfills will give a more detailed overview of these methods in their talk later today.

Non-cooperation is the largest and most frequently used class of methods of nonviolent action — just as de la Boétie advised. Non-cooperation serves to undermine the habitual obedience on which the state depends. It may weaken or sever the sources of the state’s power. Massive disobedience can overwhelm the state’s enforcement mechanisms so that only a small fraction of those who disobey are ever punished — and a well-organized resistance can provide insurance to cover those few targeted for punishment.

Non-cooperation not only weakens the state, it strengthens the resisters themselves at a deep, personal level:

* It leads to increased self-respect and self-confidence. The resisters are no longer on their knees, but on their feet. They find that they are capable of unsuspected depths of courage.
* It reduces habits of submissiveness and fear of the state. Resisters find that disobedience does not lead automatically to punishment — and that they have the strength to endure when it does.
* It leads the resisters to a greater awareness of their own power. Successful resistance of any sort leads to the realization that the state is not all-powerful, and that the resisters are capable of balking it.

The case of Corbett Bishop is a striking example of the power of non-cooperation. Bishop was a conscientious objector during World War II. He came to the conclusion that his religious beliefs required him to discontinue all cooperation with the war effort, even in the Civilian Public Service program.

Refusing to continue his CPS work, Bishop was arrested on Sept. 9, 1944. He announced that his spirit was free and that if the arresting officers wanted his body, they would have to take it without any help from him. In prison he refused to eat, stand up or dress himself. He was force-fed by tube. After 86 days he was brought to trial for walking out of CPS camp, but the judge released him until a decision could be made.

Bishop refused to return to court, and was rearrested on Feb. 20. He then went limp and remained limp during his later hearings. He told the U.S. Commissioner, “I am not going to cooperate in any way, shape or form. I was carried in here. If you hold me, you’ll have to carry me out.” He was fined and sentenced to four years in prison. Bishop continued his complete personal noncooperation and, finally, after 144 days, he was paroled without signing any papers or making any promises.

Bishop was, however, expected to work on a cooperative farm in Georgia. When he refused to do so he was again arrested, on Sept. 1. Bishop again went limp, resumed his full noncooperation, and was returned to prison to finish his uncompleted sentence. After continued refusal by Bishop to do anything, and considerable newspaper publicity, the Dept. of Justice on Mar. 12 released him on parole, with no conditions and without his signing anything. This ended 193 days of continuous and total personal noncooperation.

It is a common misconception that nonviolent action is based on turning the other cheek and loving one’s enemies. The reality, as we see from Bishop’s example, is that the technique of nonviolent struggle is based on the human capacity for intransigent, unreasonable, perverse, unbearably aggravating and downright mulish stubbornness… which is yet another reason why this technique is so well-suited to libertarians. smiley face
Character Traits Needed for Success

Our struggle for freedom is as much or more about changing what is within ourselves as it is about changing the world in which we live. Rammanohar Lohia, a follower of Gandhi, emphasized that Gandhian nonviolence was not so much about changing the heart of the oppressor as it was about changing the hearts of the oppressed. Gandhi sought to develop the following qualities in his fellow countrymen:

* Self-respect. Those who have a healthy self-respect understand their own worth and are willing to fight for their rights.
* Self-confidence. This is a prerequisite for human action, for as Mises explained, individuals act only when they expect that their actions can improve their conditions.
* Self-reliance. A people cannot be free of the control of their oppressors if they depend on them for essential goods and services.
* The power of decision-making. We always have choices. Too often we tell ourselves that we have no choice but to obey when the state make their demands, when the truth is that fear and inexperience cause us to shy away from choices that involve disobedience.

Gandhi spent the majority of his time and effort on this “constructive work” — much more than he spent on the more widely known campaigns of civil disobedience.

Perhaps the most important traits needed by nonviolent resisters are simple courage and determination. Consider one of the six sources of state power: sanctions, or the ability to impose punishments on those who disobey. Take note that the sanctions do not directly produce compliance; if you shoot a man for refusing to dig a ditch for you, the ditch remains undug. Sanctions are effective only if fear is stronger than the will to resist, so that the target chooses obedience over suffering punishment. When the will to resist is strong, sanctions become ineffective, as the Quakers of colonial Massachussetts demonstrated. The Puritan colonial government punished the Quakers severely for preaching their doctrine, with whippings, forced marches naked through the snow, and outright execution at times; yet the Quakers refused to give up their beliefs. This went on for year after year, and decade after decade, until the Quakers simply outlasted their enemies.

I would add a few additional character traits that I believe are important for our particular struggle. To highlight the evils of the state, we must exemplify the opposing virtues. The contrast between the state and us must be as night and day:

* The state is institutionalized violence; therefore, we must be entirely nonviolent.
* Lying is as natural as breathing to government officials; therefore, we must be scrupulously truthful.
* Fraud and broken promises are the norm for the state; therefore, we must take pains to always keep our word and deal honestly with all.

Dealing with Repression
Elements for Success

We can be sure that in our struggle for freedom we will face repression. The physical danger may not be as great as it would be in a violent struggle, but it is present nonetheless. We can expect to face confiscation of property and data; economic sanctions such as fines, blacklisting, and dismissal from jobs; legal harrassment, including arrest and imprisonment; new repressive legislation; and direct physical violence.

Stubbornness and determination are essential elements for success in dealing with repression. Once we have chosen a course of action, we, like the Quakers of colonial New England, must simply refuse to give in. We must make it clear that the punishments meted out against us will not produce capitulation; for if repression is seen to weaken our movement, our opponents will conclude that they just need to apply more of it to make us submit.

Our resolve not to submit must be coupled with an equally firm resolve to maintain nonviolent discipline. We can be sure that the enemy will try to provoke us to violence, or falsely claim that we have engaged in violence, for that will give it free reign to engage in harsh and brutal measures against us without fear of the consequences.

Another essential element is social support. When acting alone, in isolation, our options for dealing with repression are limited. But when acting as part of a larger movement, not only can our actions be more effective, but the personal risk can be reduced and the impact of repressive measures can be blunted. For example, there are about 75 million households in America. Suppose that 10% of these households refuse to pay income taxes. This would come to 7.5 million cases of tax refusal, which would overwhelm enforcement; only a small fraction of these could actually be prosecuted.

Now suppose that we have achieved a high level of rapport and solidarity in our movement. We have close personal ties with each other, and we take care of our own. Those who suffer prosecution and imprisonment would then not suffer alone; they would have the moral support and encouragement of their friends. They could count on financial and/or material aid for their families. These things would make their suffering far more bearable than facing it alone.

A final element of success is to know our own strength at each stage of the struggle, and to choose our battles accordingly. Biting off more than we can chew — exposing ourselves to a greater level of repression than we are prepared to withstand — will only destroy morale. Likewise, being excessively timid will allow opportunities to slip away.
Political Ju-Jitsu

In the Japanese martial art of ju-jitsu, there is no attempt to block an attacker’s thrust nor to match it with a counter-thrust. Instead the attacker is pulled forward in the same direction he is already moving, causing him to lose balance and fall.

Political ju-jitsu works on a similar principle: rather than meet the state’s violence with counter-violence, their coercive violence is made to rebound against them. To use another analogy, think of a game of chess. One protects a piece, not by making it impossible for the opponent to capture the piece, but by ensuring that the opponent will suffer a greater loss than you should he take the piece.

To see how this works, consider the state’s options in responding to an organized campaign of non-cooperation. They can overlook the disobedience, or they can punish the resisters. Either course of action can strengthen the resistance and weaken the state’s power.

If the rulers choose to overlook the disobedience, this will embolden other to disobey and erode the state’s authority. If they try to force compliance through violent action, this may create sympathy and support for the nonviolent resisters, thereby increasing their power, while creating revulsion towards the state and consequent loss of support, thereby decreasing state power.

There are no guarantees that these consequences will occur, of course. It is up to the resisters and their supporters to take active measures to publicize state violence and promote sympathy for the state’s victims. The resisters must make the state pay dearly for every act of violence.

As an example of political ju-jitsu, let us consider the events of “Bloody Sunday” in St. Petersburg, Russia, in January 1905. A mass demonstration of over 100,000 people was organized to petition the Tsar for certain reforms. The demonstrators arrived from all over the city, converging on the Winter Palace. The Tsar’s soldiers responded with great violence against the demonstrators, killing many of them. Up to this moment, opposition to the Tsar had come largely from intellectuals. Most Russians had viewed the Tsar as a benign father figure. Bloody Sunday destroyed that image. Opposition now arose from the general populace. By violently suppressing the demonstration, the Tsar cut off his own base of support. Twelve years later he lost his throne; shortly thereafter he lost his life.

Political ju-jitsu may provide a solution to a long-standing problem for the libertarian movement: how to popularize the Non-Aggression Principle. For most people it is easy to ignore dry, abstract arguments that coercive violence lies behind every statute passed by legislators — assuming they ever hear those arguments at all. But when the iron fist is seen to descend on honest, peaceful, sympathetic individuals who have clearly harmed no-one, the state’s violent nature becomes undeniable.

A successful nonviolent struggle requires ongoing organizational efforts in the following areas:


The public:
o Publicizing facts and grievances.
o Promoting sympathy.

o Recruiting.
o Training, incorporating into actions.
o Promoting commitment.

o Developing leadership skills among the members.
o Preparing advance replacements for arrested leaders.

Movement in general:
o Preparing training manuals.
o Preparing participants to act without leaders when necessary.
o Maintaining communications.

But what form should the organization itself take? The lesson from past nonviolent struggles is clear: don’t have a centralized organization. A centralized organization makes it easy for the state to destroy their opposition by arresting the leadership. With a decentralized organization, there is no head to cut off. Milosevic faced this problem. OTPOR and its allies consciously avoided have a central leadership, instead having many local organizations that coordinated efforts; as a result, Milosevic didn’t know whom to attack. And let’s face it — we as libertarians are biased against hierarchy to begin with. We are fortunate that necessity for us is also a virtue.

To quote Terry Pratchett, “Chaos always wins out over order, because it is better organized.” Not more organized — just better organized.

Nonetheless, having a decentralized organization is not the same as having no organization at all. Although I envision many autonomous local organizations, in which the members know each other personally, still these will want to cooperate with each other and coordinate efforts. They will want to share ideas and training materials; coordinate actions and campaigns for greater effect; and discuss strategy and tactics with each other.
The Levels of Strategy

There are several levels of strategy to consider: grand strategy, strategy, tactics, and methods.

Grand strategy is the master concept of the struggle. It answers the question, “How are we going to win this struggle?” It gives guidance on how to divide the struggle into phases or campaigns, and which methods of nonviolent action are appropriate. Without a grand strategy, the movement may easily dissipate its energy and resources pursuing ineffective action.

Strategy is the planning for a single campaign for specific objectives; it fills in the details of the grand strategy for one phase. It keeps the movement focused on action that forwards the campaign objectives. Strategy includes

* Allocation of tasks and resources.
* Creating a favorable situation for the planned offensives.
* When to kick off the campaign.
* The general plan for use of tactics to achieve campaign objectives.

The first campaign must necessarily focus on building strength, which generally involves the methods of protest and persuasion. This strength is measured in the number of individuals involved in the movement; their degree of training in nonviolent struggle; and their ability to withstand repression. As previously mentioned, this strength-building (“constructive work”) was the focus of most of Gandhi’s work in India.

Tactics are limited plans of action, focused on a specific encounter with the opponent, and aimed at achieving some limited objective in furtherance of the campaign strategy. Good tactical planning is especially important for acts of civil disobedience, to ensure the desired result: either the opponent backs down or his response provokes revulsion and weakens his support. Without such planning the participants in an act of civil disobedience may suffer needlessly and to no useful purpose. Tactical planning includes

* the choice of nonviolent method(s) to use;
* the time and place of action;
* drumming up publicity;
* encouraging participation; and
* support for those who may suffer as a result of their participation.

Finally, the lowest level of strategy is methods: the individual forms of nonviolent action used.
The Strategic Estimate

The strategic estimate is a concept borrowed from military planning, and first applied to nonviolent struggle by retired U.S. Army colonel Robert Helvey (an associate of Gene Sharp). The purpose of the strategic estimate is to provide solid intelligence about both the opponent and the ‘battlefield’ on which the struggle is being carried out. In particular, we need to understand the specifics of the sources of power for the Federal, state, and local governments, so that we can work to weaken those sources. We need to assess potential sources of power for our own movement. We need to understand what are the most important pillars of support for the American state, and how to influence them, so that we can use our limited resources most effectively.

I have written previously about the strategic estimate, so I won’t go into a lot of detail here, other than to give you pointers to where you can read more. The Free America website links to an article I wrote for Strike The Root on the strategic estimate; you can also find there an extensive list of questions to be answered in the strategic estimate, adapted from the list Helvey proposes. Finally, I have set up a wiki for collecting answers to these questions. Currently this contains some information on the IRS and an analysis of factors supporting the perceived legitimacy of governments in general, and the United States in particular.

One difficulty with the idea of the strategic estimate, at least at this stage of things, is that it is rather overwhelming. There are very many questions to answer, and getting those answers may require substantial thought and effort. We need to avoid analysis paralysis, spending all of our time and effort collecting and analyzing information, with little left over for action. I have some thoughts on how to deal with this problem.

First, we can structure the process of identifying and analyzing important pillars of support by considering our fundamental goal: to eliminate the state’s ability to violate the NAP with impunity. We want to reduce or eliminate the state’s ability to initiate violence against others, or at least against those of us who care to be free. So it makes sense to start with the state’s organs of violence and work outward from there.

So we begin with those sub-organizations within the state that have the greatest number of armed agents. This would be the various branches of the military and so-called “law” enforcement. These are important internal pillars of support, and we need to understand their internal organizational structures, social dynamics, and operating procedures. As a starting point, we need a list of the various federal, state, and local agencies and how many armed agents they have. For the federal level, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has some useful information available on the Web:

* Bureau of Justice Statistics home page.
* Law Enforcement Statistics.
* Federal Law Enforcement Statistics.

Identifying those supporting organizations and institutions, both within and without the government, on which these organs of violence depend gives us the next ring of pillars of support. For example, for enforcement agencies to be effective they need money, equipment, and information; who are the immediate suppliers of these? As another example, my impression is that federal “law” enforcement rely heavily on the support of state and local “law” enforcement.

We can repeat this process, identifying successive rings of support, and thereby build up a picture of the support structure on which the state depends in order to apply violence against us. This will then allow us to identify the key pillars of support and points of weakness where these may be attacked.

Second, we can avoid analysis paralysis by doing iterative analysis, similar to the method of iterative development in the field of software engineering. In iterative development you study and design a little, then write, test, and debug some code, then repeat the process, building on the code written and lessons learned in earlier cycles. Likewise, iterative analysis begins with local groups collecting information on their local and state governments, focusing on what they need to know to be effective in their current and near-future activities. This information and their experiences as activists leads to some refinement of strategy, which then guides the priorities for collection and analysis of strategic data in the next iteration.

My guess is that some mixture of these two approaches will prove to be the most useful. The first approach — working out from the organs of violence — is important for long-term planning. The second approach — focusing on that strategic data most immediately needed — keeps the strategic estimate relevant to the here and now.

For many years I participated very little in the freedom movement, for the simple reason that I couldn’t see anything I could do that had a reasonable chance of making a worthwhile difference. Learning about the technique of nonviolent struggle changed that. Finally, here was the outline of what I had been seeking for over twenty years — a workable plan for achieving a free America.

There is no longer any excuse for inaction. It’s time to win our freedom.


The Human Rights Force [;-;] The Human Rights Media [;-;] The Human Rights Congress [;-;] The Human Rights Prosecutor Office (Citizens Protector) [;-;] The Human Rights and Strategic Nonviolent Struggle Academy [;-;]

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