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Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation
Sharp, Albert Einstein Institution
October 06, 2003
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One of my major concerns for many years has been how people could prevent
and destroy dictatorships. This has been nurtured in part because of a
belief that human beings should not be dominated and destroyed by such
regimes. That belief has been strengthened by readings on the importance
of human freedom, on the nature of dictatorships (from Aristotle to analyses
of totalitarianism), and histories of dictatorships (especially the Nazi
and Stalinist systems).
Over the years I have
had occasion to get to know people who lived and suffered under Nazi rule,
including some who survived concentration camps. In Norway I met people
who had resisted fascist rule and survived, and heard of those who perished.
I talked with Jews who had escaped the Nazi clutches and with persons
who had helped to save them.
Knowledge of the terror
of Communist rule in various countries has been learned more from books
than personal contacts. The terror of these systems appeared to me to
be especially poignant, for these dictatorships were imposed in the name
of liberation from oppression and exploitation.
In more recent decades
through visits of persons from dictatorially ruled countries, such as
Panama, Poland, Chile, Tibet, and Burma, the realities of today's dictatorships
became more real. From Tibetans who had fought against Chinese Communist
aggression, Russians who had defeated the August 1991 hard-line coup,
and Thais who had nonviolently blocked a return to military rule, I have
gained often troubling perspectives on the insidious nature of dictatorships.
The sense of pathos
and outrage against the brutalities, along with admiration of the calm
heroism of unbelievably brave men and women, were sometimes strengthened
by visits to places where the dangers were still great, and yet defiance
by brave people continued. These included Panama under Noriega; Vilnius,
Lithuania, under continued Soviet repression; Tiananmen Square, Beijing,
during both the festive demonstration of freedom and while the first armored
personnel carriers entered that fateful night; and the jungle headquarters
of the democratic opposition at Manerplaw in "liberated Burma."
Sometimes I visited
the sites of the fallen, as the television tower and the cemetery in Vilnius,
the public park in Riga where people had been gunned down, the center
of Ferrara in northern Italy where the fascists lined up and shot resisters,
and a simple cemetery in Manerplaw filled with bodies of men who had died
much too young. It is a sad realization that every dictatorship leaves
such death and destruction in its wake.
Out of these concerns
and experiences grew a determined hope that prevention of tyranny might
be possible, that successful struggles against dictatorships could be
waged without mass mutual slaughters, that dictatorships could be destroyed
and new ones prevented from rising out of the ashes.
I have tried to think
carefully about the most effective ways in which dictatorships could be
successfully disintegrated with the least possible cost in suffering and
lives. In this I have drawn on my studies over many years of dictatorships,
resistance movements, revolutions, political thought, governmental systems,
and especially realistic nonviolent struggle.
This publication is
the result. I am certain it is far from perfect. But, perhaps, it offers
some guidelines to assist thought and planning to produce movements of
liberation that are more powerful and effective than might otherwise be
Of necessity, and
of deliberate choice, the focus of this essay is on the generic problem
of how to destroy a dictatorship and to prevent the rise of a new one.
I am not competent to produce a detailed analysis and prescription for
a particular country. However, it is my hope that this generic analysis
may be useful to people in, unfortunately, too many countries who now
face the realities of dictatorial rule. They will need to examine the
validity of this analysis for their situations and the extent to which
its major recommendations are, or can be made to be, applicable for their
I have incurred several
debts of gratitude in writing this essay. Bruce Jenkins, my Special Assistant,
has made an inestimable contribution by his identification of problems
in content and presentation, and through his incisive recommendations
for more rigorous and clearer presentations of difficult ideas (especially
concerning strategy), structural reorganization, and editorial improvements.
I am also grateful for the editorial assistance of Stephen Coady. Dr.
Christopher Kruegler and Robert Helvey have offered very important criticisms
and advice. Dr. Hazel McFerson and Dr. Patricia Parkman have provided
me information on struggles in Africa and Latin America, respectively.
Although this work has greatly benefited from such kind and generous support,
the analysis and conclusions contained therein are my responsibility.
Nowhere in this analysis
do I assume that defying dictators will be an easy or cost-free endeavor.
All forms of struggle have complications and costs. Fighting dictators
will, of course, bring casualties. It is my hope, however, that this analysis
will spur resistance leaders to consider strategies that may increase
their effective power while reducing the relative level of casualties.
Nor should this analysis
be interpreted to mean that when a specific dictatorship is ended, all
other problems will also disappear. The fall of one regime does not bring
in a utopia. Rather, it opens the way for hard work and long efforts to
build more just social, economic, and political relationships and the
eradication of other forms of injustices and oppression. It is my hope
that this brief examination of how a dictatorship can be disintegrated
may be found useful wherever people live under domination and desire to
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