Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Real Nature of Politics: Nonviolent protest as an instrument for change in Cuba

Thank you Gene Sharp.

Protests in Cuba in September 2017 following regime response to Hurricane Irma
Human action is a powerful force and not to be underestimated, but to be maximized requires knowledge, strategic planning and courage. It also requires an understanding of the real nature of political power.

Last month on January 28th, the anniversary of Jose Marti's birth, non-violent resistance theoretician Gene Sharp passed away at the age of ninety.  Professor Sharp in his book, Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential, recognized that political power is "the totality of influences and pressures available for use to implement, change, or oppose official policies for a society." This means that political power "may be wielded by the institutions of government, or in opposition to the government by dissident groups and organizations."

A must read for activists.
Mao Zedong was wrong. Political power does not grow out of the barrel of a gun. According to Gene Sharp the sources of political power include "authority, human resources, skills and knowledge, intangible factors, material resources, and sanctions."

If we look at Cuba, the communist dictatorship there uses propaganda claims, both internally and internationally, to assert that the regime has achieved successes in education and health care. These are pillars of legitimacy and authority for the Castro regime. The dictatorship has also trained and staffed a massive intelligence apparatus to monitor and surveil the populace in Cuba.

Between 1959 and 2006 Fidel Castro had all power concentrated in his hands and due to a serious illness turned it over provisionally to his brother, General Raul Castro, who had previously been Minister of Defense. On February 24, 2008 the 597 members of the rubber stamp assembly unanimously elected a 31 member Council of State that in turn elected Raul Castro “president” at the Palace of Conventions in Havana, Cuba.

There is a large military that is heavily embedded in the Cuban economy, including tourism.  In the area of skill and knowledge there is a dictatorship with 59 years of experience in ruling a country. First generation leaders are dying out, but many remain in key posts, including Raul Castro.

There have been and continue to be opportunities for dissident and resistance groups to shift political power away from this regime using nonviolent resistance. Gene Sharp described this active technique of struggle:
"Nonviolent action, or nonviolent struggle, is a technique of action by which the population can restrict and sever the sources of power of their rulers or other oppressors and mobilize their own power potential into effective power. This technique is based on the understanding of political power presented [above].  That understanding showed that the power of rulers and of hierarchical systems, no matter how dictatorial, depends directly on the obedience and cooperation of the population. Such obedience and cooperation, in turn, depend on the willingness of the population and a multitude of assistants to consent by their actions or inaction to support the rulers."
Sharp's 2009 book available online: "Self-Liberation A Guide to Strategic Planning  for Action to End a Dictatorship  or Other Oppression" offers a clearer and more developed insight to his theoretical approach.  Critics of nonviolent resistance view it as an unarmed struggle when contrasted with violent resistance. Gene Sharp in 1990 at the National Conference on Nonviolent Sanctions and Defense in Boston contested that mistaken view:

"I say nonviolent struggle is armed struggle. And we have to take back that term from those advocates of violence who seek to justify with pretty words that kind of combat. Only with this type of struggle one fights with psychological weapons, social weapons, economic weapons and political weapons. And that this is ultimately more powerful against oppression, injustice and tyranny then violence."
University Academics Maria J. Stephan and Erica Chenoweth in their 2008 study "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic on Nonviolent Conflict" compared the outcomes of 323 nonviolent and violent resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006. They found that major nonviolent campaigns achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with just under half that at 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns.

History demonstrates that even the Nazis could be stopped in particular instances with nonviolence. In Denmark, under Nazi occupation, the Danes disobeyed under penalty of death and saved between 70% -90% of the Jewish population between 1940 and 1945 first hiding them and then smuggling approximately 7,500 Jews out of the country.  In Germany in February and March of 1943 German (non-Jewish) wives married to Jewish men and their relatives organized mass demonstrations in Rosenstrasse Street in Berlin to protest their husband’s being sent to concentration camps and escalated the protests until their men were released and returned home which they were.

The above mentioned Stephan, Chenoweth study also suggests “that nonviolent campaigns are more likely than violent campaigns to succeed in the face of brutal repression.” This depends on the nonviolent opposition movement having a strategic vision and maintaining its non-violent posture even under the worse repression. However the more brutal the regime the better the results with nonviolent resistance and the worse the results with violent resistance.
This can be seen in Syria. The uprising against Assad in 2011 was initially nonviolent and despite the brutal repression of the Syrian regime the nonviolent opposition registered great victories until elements of the Syrian military defected  and the resistance abandoned its nonviolent posture in the mistaken belief that violent resistance would achieve change faster. The end result, rather than undermine the Assad regime it changed the entire dynamic of the struggle, the body count of the opposition skyrocketed, and the Syrian dictatorship consolidated its rule.

Conservative activist Morton Blackwell explained a profound truth often ignored by activists of all ideological stripes in a talk titled "The Real Nature of Politics," which is required reading and offers three conclusions.
"1. Being right in the sense of being correct is not sufficient to win.  You don't win just because your heart is pure, even if you can prove logically that you are right.
2. The winner in a political contest over time is determined by the number and the effectiveness of the activists and leaders on the respective sides.
3. The number and effectiveness of the activists and leaders on a given side in a political contest is determined by the political technology used by that side."
 These conclusions work both in a political struggle within a democratic order, and in confronting a dictatorship that does not play by democratic rules.  These three ideas need to be present when planning protests in Cuba. Protests can have two general goals: one is symbolic and the other strategic. Strategic protests are symbolic, but often times symbolic and improvised protests are not strategic.

Strategic protests require carrying out a strategic estimate (identifying the reality on the ground, the strengths and weaknesses of the regime and the opposition) then plotting out a strategy which can be broken down into a series of campaigns using a variety of tactics. However all of this should be in the service of restricting and severing the sources of power of the dictatorship. According to Sharp this means weakening the power of the rulers "to the degree that the population
  • repudiates the moral right of the current rulers to rule;
  • disobeys, non-cooperates, and refuses to assist the rulers;
  • declines to supply the skills and knowledge required by the rulers;
  • denies the rulers control over administration, property, natural resources, financial resources, the economic system, communications, and transportation."
In a democratic order protests are legally recognized and carry little danger and are commonplace. This is not the case in Cuba. According to Gene Sharp, "[d]ictatorial conditions make an act of nonviolent protest less common and more dangerous. Hence, if it does occur, the act may be more dramatic and may receive greater attention than it would where the act is common or carries no penalty." Gene Sharp identified "54 methods of nonviolent protest and persuasion and listed them in seven subclasses."  Protests can seek to show what "resisters are against or in favor of something, the degree of opposition or support, and, sometimes, the number of people involved."

By Gene Sharp

Formal Statements                     
1. Public Speeches               
2. Letters of opposition or support               
3. Declarations by organizations and institutions               
4. Signed public statements               
5. Declarations of indictment and intention               
6. Group or mass petitions

Communications with a Wider Audience                     
7. Slogans, caricatures, and symbols               
8. Banners, posters, and displayed communications               
9. Leaflets, pamphlets, and books               
10. Newspapers and journals               
11. Records, radio, and television               
12. Skywriting and earthwriting

Group Representations                     
13. Deputations               
14. Mock awards               
15. Group lobbying               
16. Picketing               
17. Mock elections

Symbolic Public Acts                     
18. Displays of flags and symbolic colors               
19. Wearing of symbols               
20. Prayer and worship               
21. Delivering symbolic objects               
22. Protest disrobings               
23. Destruction of own property               
24. Symbolic lights               
25. Displays of portraits               
26. Paint as protest               
27. New signs and names               
28. Symbolic sounds               
29. Symbolic reclamations               
30. Rude gestures

Pressures on Individuals                     
31. “Haunting” officials               
32. Taunting officials               
33. Fraternization               
34. Vigils  Drama and Music               
35. Humorous skits and pranks               
36. Performances of plays and music               
37. Singing  Processions               
38. Marches               
39. Parades               
40. Religious processions               
41. Pilgrimages               
42. Motorcades  Honoring the Dead               
43. Political mourning               
44. Mock funerals               
45. Demonstrative funerals               
46. Homage at burial places

Public Assemblies                     
47. Assemblies of protest or support               
48. Protest meetings               
49. Camouflaged meetings of protest               
50. Teach-ins

Withdrawal and Renunciation                     
51. Walk-outs               
52. Silence               
53. Renouncing honors               
54. Turning one’s back

In the case of Cuba, following Hurricane Irma in 2017, and the regime prioritizing tourist destinations in the island as priorities for re-establishing electricity and clean water, while Cubans had to do without, mass protests spontaneously erupted around the island. This may indicate that this is a topic that can mobilize large numbers of Cubans to become disaffected with the regime. Effective protests that can reach a majority of the populace, and could lead to recruits for campaigns to change things for the better and reduce the number of activists and leaders on the other side through a process of demobilization.

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