Gene Sharp, author of "From Dictatorship to Democracy" and many other works on Revolutionary theory, has been both hailed and denounced as the godfather of the Color Revolutions that swept much of the world, as well as being a central thinker relied on by the revolutionaries of the Arab Spring and its current descendants. His works are considered by many to constitute the Rulebook for Modern Revolution.
I'm not much of a theoretician; I'm more inclined to study practice and results, and when Gene Sharp's name is raised in connection with the Occupy Movement, I tend to encourage people to really think about what kind of results have come from Gene Sharp-inspired revolutions and ask themselves whether that's really what they want from this revolution.
The first "color" revolution that I can recall was the People Power revolution in the Philippines against Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. It's color was yellow, and its symbol was a hand sign: index finger raised with thumb at a 90 degree angle in the form of the letter "L" (for "Laban.")
It was an astonishing event, and it helped trigger a cascade of revolutions against dictatorship throughout the rest of the 1980's and continuing to this day. These revolutions eventually led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the stark hegemony of the United States and vulture capitalism.
In other words, things today are the way they are, socially, politically, and most especially economically, largely as a consequence of the numerous revolutions against dictatorship that have taken place under "colors" (all but red and black allowed, apparently!) and the theories of (sometimes the direct consultation with) Gene Sharp and his disciples.
But wait. Aren't we conducting something of a revolution against the way things are?
From the Sharp-ian point of view, then, isn't the Occupy Movement really a counter revolution?
This is where things can get very muddled indeed.
"The Politics of Nonviolent Action" (1973) was Gene Sharp's seminal nonviolent uprising study that became something of a manual for the People Power uprising against Marcos in 1986. Many of the forms of nonviolent resistance that Sharp advocates were codified in the Philippines: a distinctive color, a charismatic leader, mass rallies and marches, refusal to comply with the orders of the state, varied forms of nonviolent resistance and so on. Key to the Sharp version of nonviolent revolution is the Demand. The Demand was part of the initial call to Occupy Wall Street from AdBusters in the summer of 2011 when the poster announcing Occupy Wall Street carried the heading: "What is our one demand?"
That's straight out of the Gene Sharp recipe. The Revolution must have a demand or a series of demands.
The Revolution must have a leadership as well.
The Revolution must appeal to the masses.
The Revolution must have a Grand Strategy.
And in some of his works, Gene Sharp seems to be saying, "The Revolution must follow my recipe exactly -- or it will fail."
To date, there has been no set of demands from Occupy as a unit -- in part because it is not a unit -- nor has an identifiable leadership for the Movement emerged. There is no Ninoy or Cory Aquino. The Occupy Movement has a strong resonance with the People, but it is not, by any means, a mass movement, nor does it look much like it will become one. There is no identifiable Grand Strategy beyond slogans and ideals. "UnFuck the World" is about as close to a Grand Strategy as the Movement has come, and that came very early, and it's not really a strategy. It's also about as close to a unifying demand as Occupy seems able to get. And there are those who would dispute it's value because of "language."
To my way of looking at these things, that's quite all right, but it is deeply dissatisfying in the Sharp vision of Revolution.
Very little -- at times, nothing -- that Occupy is doing fits the Sharp model, and thus to many of Sharp's disciples and devotees, the Occupy Movement hasn't really started yet. It isn't a "movement." And it's not "revolutionary."
The Sharp recipe for revolution is very exact and exacting. Certain things must be done, or it is not a revolution. They must be done in a certain way, under certain authorities, or they will not succeed. The movement must develop in stages, generally over a long period of time, building into a mass movement, or it will fail.
The many failures of Sharp-style revolutions of late (as examples see: Syria, Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Greece, Spain, Portugal, etc.) are typically blamed on the revolutionaries for not following the recipe Sharp lays out with enough exactitude, and not having established the proper groundwork before rising up.
On the other hand, many of those who now live under regimes where the Sharp-style revolutions succeeded -- in the Philippines, throughout Eastern Europe and much of the former Soviet Union, as well as more recently Tunisia and Egypt -- are saying, "Wait just a minute here, this isn't quite what we bargained for at all..."
Yes, well. That's part of what I see as the chief problem with the Sharp recipe for revolution: it's not really a revolutionary recipe at all. It is a recipe for a marketing campaign that has certain aspects of a revolution. New bosses, but a similar -- and in some cases arguably a worse -- system.
It's a political and economic marketing campaign that aims to gain popular support to replace the present ("dictatorship") with a new product (an ersatz "democracy") that serves the interests of the oligarchs and plutocrats while giving the People the semblance of "liberty" which they are -- somehow, oh how can it be? -- unable to utilize successfully on their own behalf.
The thrill of revolutionary victory often leads to serious reassessment of what actually took place. It was not what many people thought it was or should be.
I would argue that the Sharp recipe for revolution works poorly against dictatorships these days, and it doesn't work at all against what I call "civil democracies," which is to say the kinds of governments that are now the norm. They are not real democracies, but they have the appearance of civil democratic procedures.
Which is not to say that there is no value in studying Sharp; there is value, plenty of it. He's thought long and hard and has written extensively about how the People (or more precisely, an activist faction thereof) can effectively change the conditions under which they live, and change the governments by which they are ruled, through a multipronged program of strategic nonviolent resistance.
That's why I say that those who wish to follow the Sharp model really should give it a go. Try it. I have never seen it successfully deployed in a civil democracy, but there is no reason it couldn't be. Or is there? Others have pointed out that the Sharp model of revolution can only be employed overseas. It could never be done in the United States, and it's not meant to be utilized here. After all, the Neo-Libs and Neo-Cons are already in power and they are the ones we are struggling against...
(h/t to Cuchulain in comments for spurring me to actually write something about this topic...)