Opus Nonviolentus

(from The Peaceworker, May 2005)

by Tom H. Hastings

Director, Peace & Nonviolence Studies track, Conflict Resolution, MA/MS

Portland State University

Review: Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential, by Gene Sharp, Extending Horizons Books, 2005.

In January 1991, as the world's attention was entirely on Iraq, Kuwait and the U.S., Gene Sharp, elder scholar on nonviolent power, was invited to Latvia, where the collapsing Soviet state was engaging in brutal oppression of Latvian independence demonstrators. The people established a parallel government, which brought Sharp in to consult as nonviolent demonstrators were getting killed by the infamous Soviet-backed Black Beret security forces.

Gene Sharp has been around the nonviolent block more than anyone I've heard of. The Baltic states, Burma, South Africa, China during the invasion of troops into Tiananmen Square, and many other hotspots before, during and after climactic, power-changing moments of struggle.

He has seen nonviolence succeed more than he has seen it fail—and how many leaders of overmatched military forces can say that about the forces they advise? Overmatched, did I say? Apparently, not usually.

With the exceptions of China and, so far, Burma, nonviolence has won the day against heavily armed, practicing despots.

This is the most comprehensive work produced by Gene Sharp and his associates at the premier institute for the study of nonviolent power, the Albert Einstein Institution at Harvard. His associates include a former military officer and many other real-life conflict managers, as well as researchers.

For the student of nonviolence, this is a mandatory volume, full of stories and theory, tactics and political exegesis.

Sharp knows his material more thoroughly than anyone, and he has recruited the best colleagues. I recall talking to him at our hotel at a conference several years ago, asking if he might ever be open to my sending a student researcher his way. He shook his head. "Probably not. Any student I might take on would need to be extraordinarily gifted and disciplined." This is likely his last book. It is just the thing for the gifted and disciplined student of nonviolence, 550 pages of solid helpful information, enough to provide the foundations for nonviolent revolution.

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