Power and Struggle
By Gene Sharp
Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff
Citation: Gene Sharp. Power and Struggle. Marina Finkelstein, eds. Boston: Porter Sargent, 1973, 105 pp.
Power and Struggle examines the nature and sources of political power, and then explores the potential for nonviolent action to serve as an effective alternative to the use of violence in controlling political power.
Power and Struggle will be of interest to those seeking nonviolent alternatives to violent conflict. This text is the first part of Sharp's three part series, The Politics of Nonviolent Action. This work is divided into two chapters, with a brief introduction.
Chapter One explores the nature and control of political power. Sharp argues that political power is rooted in social factors. These social sources of political power include socially recognized authority, human cooperation and obedience, the skills and knowledge of the population. All the social sources of political power depend upon the support, cooperation and obedience of the populace. Hence withdrawing such support can be an effective means of resistance to political power. Sharp asks, "Why do men obey?" He explores the reasons behind civil obedience, argues that obedience is essentially voluntary, and hence that obedience can be withdrawn. Sharp concludes this chapter by sketching a theory of nonviolent control of political power. Traditionally political power has been controlled either by relying on the self-restraint of the ruler, or by establishing institutional checks, or by the application of superior means of violence. Nonviolent action works to control political power by affecting the very sources of that political power.
Chapter Two explores the idea of nonviolent action. Nonviolent action is differentiated from passive inaction. Nonviolent action consists of "active protest, noncooperation and intervention. Overwhelmingly, it is group or mass action." It may proceed either by acting in unexpected ways, or refusing to act in expected ways. Nonviolent action produces change via three general mechanisms: conversion, accommodation, or nonviolent coercion. Sharp addresses various common misconceptions about the nature and efficacy of nonviolent action, and proceeds to illustrate the effectiveness of nonviolent action by historical overview. Cases reviewed include Gandhi's activities in colonial India, anti- Nazi struggles, civilian uprisings in Latin America, and American civil rights struggles.
Power and Struggle investigates the nature of political power, and the potential of nonviolent action to oppose such power. Clearly written and illustrated with many historical examples, this text is quite accessible to the lay reader.