The Right Livelihood Award (also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize) was established in 1980 to honour and support those “offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today”. This alternative award has during many years focused on the role of civil society and social movements, compared to the Nobel Peace Prize that has often been criticized for focusing on world leaders with a questionable “peace record”. One good example of that was the winner of this years’ Nobel Peace Prize, the EU, a continent militarily involved in many regions of the world and with a huge arsenal of both conventional and nuclear weapons.
Gene Sharp, famous for his research on nonviolent resistance, was one of the recipients of the Right Livelihood Award in 2012 and visited Stockholm during a few cold days in December. On one of the days of his visit, he met with people from the Swedish peace and nonviolence movement to talk about his research and about struggles for liberation around the world.
His research on nonviolence started already more than 60 years ago, and one of his main contributions is his effort to compile and categorise 198 methods of nonviolent resistance that have been used all over the world, published in The Politics of Nonviolent Action, vol 2: the Methods of Nonviolent Action, in 1973.
- I started to study nonviolence in 1949-50, and there is still so much to learn. But the knowledge is being accumulated and I am still learning. Nonviolence takes time.
One of the reasons he started to research nonviolence, was the absence of nonviolence resistance from common history books, which instead were full of references to wars, violent conflicts and military strategies. With time, the nonviolent resistance were forgotten, regardless of how important it was at the time. He studied this phenomenon in Norway during the late 1950s, where the stories of armed resistance against the German occupation during World War II often were told, while the nonviolent actions tended to be ignored.
Gene Sharp himself refused military conscription in the U.S during the Korea War, and was imprisoned for his conscientious objection. He calls his refusal a “first step”, which he then thought was not that important, instead he started to think about how to get rid of violence all together. In 1983 he founded the Albert Einstein Institution, with the aim to study and to promote strategic use of nonviolent action and resistance in conflicts. He still serves there as a senior scholar and although he is almost 90 years old he still publishies new books on nonviolence.
Many people in different nonviolent movements claim that your actions have to be combined with the moral belief in and ethics of nonviolence. However, Gene Sharp claims that if we have to wait for everyone to be firm believers in nonviolence, we are missing a great opportunity. The methods are there to be used anyways, by all those people that might only see nonviolence as one means several. Mr Sharp refers to this as a more “pragmatic side”.
- If people do not believe in nonviolence, it is not because they do not believe in it from a moral perspective, just that they do not believe that it works, and that we can address it. You do not have to love “your enemy”, instead you have to focus on how to remove their power. I chose to focus on the methods and how we can make them as strategic and effective as possible.
The 198 methods of nonviolent resistance that Sharp compiled are divided into three sub-categories; protest & persuasion, non-cooperation and intervention. In the first category, art displays, demonstrations and pressure on individuals can be found. The second category can be divided into social, economic and political non-cooperation, such as the boycott movement against South Africa during apartheid. Also intervention can be divided into social, economic and political categories, as well as physical and psychological interventions (see http://www.aeinstein.org/organizations103a.html for the full list)
- You have to identify the nature of power and how does it work. Where are your opponents weak and where are they strong, which strategy is most useful and when… you have to assess the “strategic estimates” in each context.
There is a need around the world for people to strategise, to learn and to refine the techniques of nonviolence, to move from being “submissive under oppression to taking pride in our capabilities, of what we can do. People can free themselves.” In the early 1990s Sharp visited Burma and was then asked to do an assessment of the Burmese situation and how nonviolence could be used in that specific context. He refused to write something context specific, but instead published a book called From Dictatorship to Democracy (1993), which is more generic.
- I know that my writings have been read by many movements around the world, but I would not go there to tell them what to do, that is not my job. People need to prepare for and plan their own liberation.
In 2010, Sharp published Self-Liberation: A guide to Strategic Planning for Action to End a Dictatorship or Other Oppression, the purpose of the book is to enable groups to self-reliantly develop strategies for their own nonviolent struggles. Read more about Gene Sharp and the Right Livelihood Award at http://www.rightlivelihood.org