Waging-Nonviolent-Struggle-20th-Century-Practice-and-21st-Century-Potential (4)

3rd part: https://freedomcn.org/waging-nonviolent-struggle3

Chapter Two


Human problems and the distribution of power

Important progress has been made over the past century to meet human needs more adequately and to advance freedom and justice throughout the world. However, grave problems remain for which there are no easy solutions. Long-standing conflicts, in- justices, oppression, and violence continue and even take new forms.

Many of these problems are created or maintained by the ac- tions of those persons and groups that control the State apparatus of their society, using its vast resources, bureaucracy, police, and military forces, to implement and enforce their will. In many States, the dominant group is seen to be so powerful that it can ignore the good of those it dominates in order to gain its objectives. In other cases, certain elites have created their own means of control and repression and have imposed their will by violence out- side of the State apparatus.
The concentration of power and control in the State can under certain circumstances be applied with great cruelty against an ap- parently helpless population. Such a State can impose tyranny, wage wars, establish or maintain oppression, indoctrinate the population, and commit genocide. It is the machinery of com- bined central controls and institutionalized violence that makes modern tyranny possible.1
Against opponents with strong means of control and repres- sion, people who see themselves as victims of oppression, injus- tice, and dictatorship often feel weak and powerless, unable to challenge the forces that dominate them. These dominated groups may include exploited economic classes, harassed religious mi- norities, populations of attacked or occupied countries, victims of attempted genocide, people living under dictatorships, nations under foreign domination, or despised ethnic or racial groups, among others. In all such cases the problem exists because one group has the power to impose its will on a weaker group.
When faced with such a strong State, power is seen to derive from the few who command the administrative system and the in- stitutions capable of applying violence for political purposes. The population is therefore believed to be fully vulnerable to rulers who may aim to sweep aside democratic institutions and human rights and to become tyrants. They never dream that they could possess sufficient power to improve their lives and to change those relationships.
Political power viewed as derived from violence
If the population widely believes that the real power in politics derives from violence, that it “comes out of the barrel of a gun,” then whoever has the most and biggest guns will find it much eas- ier to control the population.
Most such populations then passively submit. Sometimes, however, people who reject the current regime as oppressive and who see the power of violence arrayed against them conclude that they must use whatever violence they can muster against their oppressors. This may take the form of violent rebellions, assassi- nations, terrorism, or guerrilla warfare. The results of these ac- tions for the oppressed population have often been far from positive. Violent rebels are unlikely to succeed against extreme odds and the general population most likely will suffer massive casualties.
In the unlikely case that violent rebels succeed in defeating op- pressive rulers, the rebels will probably have simply established themselves as a new ruling elite in control of the State apparatus. Violence may on occasion remove the previous rulers or domi- nant elite and replace them with other persons or groups. How- ever, the actual relationship between the dominant elite and the dominated population is unlikely to be fundamentally altered by use of violence. In fact, the violence will likely contribute to a still greater concentration of power and an increased use of violence for political objectives.
Real and lasting liberation requires significant changes in the power relationships within the society, not merely replacement of personnel. Liberation should mean that the members of the pre- viously dominated and weak population obtain greater control over their lives and greater capacity to influence events.
If we wish to create a society in which people really shape their own lives and futures, and in which oppression is impossible, then we need to explore alternative ways to meet the society’s ba- sic need for means of wielding power. We also need to explore the origins of political power at a much more basic level.
Political power as variable
The views that power derives primarily from the capacity to wield violence and that the power of rulers is monolithic and rela- tively permanent are not correct. Power relationships are not fixed and unchangeable. Instead, the power capacities of the State and the other institutions of the society are variable and are de- rived from the interplay of
• the varying degrees of power wielded by the respective groups in the society;
• the degree to which these various groups have mobilized their power potential into effective power;
• the degree to which the social, economic, and political in- stitutions of the State and other powerful institutions are flexible and responsive to the will of the various sections of the population.
The existing distribution of power in a society is very real, but it is not permanent and will not be maintained under all condi- tions. Indeed, that distribution can at times change dramatically and rapidly.
A major change in the distribution of power happens when the sources of power at the disposal of the rulers are weakened or withdrawn, thereby drastically reducing their effective power. The power relationships also change if formerly weak groups mobilize their unused power potential into effective power.
Unless the sources of power of dominant groups are restricted or severed, or the sources of power of weaker groups are mobi- lized or strengthened, or unless both happen, the subordinated and oppressed groups inevitably remain in essentially the same relative power position. This is true despite any other specific changes that may be made in the society or whether or not changes occur in the persons of the rulers.
A fuller understanding of the nature of political power will help us to understand how power relationships can be fundamen- tally changed. In contrast to the monolithic view that political power is solid and highly durable and can only be weakened or destroyed by major destructive violence, the following insight is more accurate. It also allows for an understanding of how effec- tive control can be exercised over rulers who are, or could be- come, oppressors.
The social view of power
The social view of power sees rulers or other command sys- tems, despite appearances, to be dependent on the population’s goodwill, decisions, and support. As such, power rises continually from many parts of the society. Political power is therefore frag- ile. Power always depends for its strength and existence upon a replenishment of its sources by the cooperation of numerous insti- tutions and people—cooperation that does not have to continue.
In order to control the power of rulers, those sources of power that are provided by the society’s groups and institutions must first be identified. Then the population will be able, when needed, to restrict or sever the supply of those sources.
Sources of political power
The persons who are at any point the rulers do not personally possess the power of control, administration, and repression that they wield. How much power they possess depends on how much power society will grant them. Six of these sources of political power are:
(1) Authority: This may also be called legitimacy. It is the qual- ity that leads people to accept a right of persons or groups to lead, command, direct, and be heard or obeyed by others. Au- thority is voluntarily accepted by the people and therefore is pre- sent without the imposition of sanctions (or punishments). The authority figures need not necessarily be actually superior. It is enough that the person or group be perceived and accepted as su- perior. While not identical with power, authority is clearly a main source of power.
(2) Human resources: The power of rulers is affected by the number of persons who obey them, cooperate with them, or pro- vide them with special assistance, as well as by the proportion of such assisting persons in the general population, and the extent and forms of their organizations.
(3) Skills and knowledge: The rulers’ power is affected by the skills, knowledge and abilities of such cooperating persons, groups, and institutions, and the relation of their skills, knowl- edge, and abilities to the rulers’ needs.
(4) Intangible factors: Psychological and ideological factors, such as habits and attitudes toward obedience and submission, and the presence or absence of a common faith, ideology, or sense of mission, contribute to the rulers’ power.
(5) Material resources: The degree to which the rulers control property, natural resources, financial resources, the economic sys- tem, communication and transportation, and the like, helps to de- termine the extent or limits of the rulers’ power.
(6) Sanctions: These have been described as “an enforcement of obedience.” The type and extent of sanctions, or punishments,The presence of some or all of these six sources of power at the disposal of the rulers is always a matter of degree. Only rarely are all of them completely available to rulers, or completely absent.
Power relationships similar to those in political societies with State structures exist in other hierarchical institutions as well, which also derive their power from the cooperation of many per- sons and groups. Consequently various forms of dissent, nonco- operation and disobedience may have important roles to play when members of such institutions have grievances against the people who direct or control those institutions.
Next post: https://freedomcn.org/waging-nonviolent-struggle5/

For fuller analyses of power and sources of the thinking in this chapter, see Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1973), pp. 7-62, and Gene Sharp, Social Power and Political Freedom (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1980), pp. 21-67 and 309-378.

1 For further discussion of this analysis see Gene Sharp, Social Power and Political Freedom, pp. 285-308.

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