Non-violent resistance and repressive regimes: Summary
During the years a large range of non-violent methods has been developed. Usually it is so that their successful employment is considered to be dependent on their form and whether they fit in the strategy and tactics of the activists who use them. No attention is given to the character of the political regime where they have to be used. In this article I discuss whether that is right, especially in the case of repressive regimes. In an analysis of the views of Sharp and his critic Bleiker I conclude that two fundamental types of non-violent methods have to be distinguished, which I call Laboetiean resistance and underground resistance. Next I ask what kinds of repressive regimes there are. With Linz and Stepan I discern four types – totalitarian, post-totalitarian, authoritarian and sultanistic regimes –, characterized by values on four different dimensions – pluralism, ideology, mobilization and leadership. With the help of these typifications I can show that Bleiker’s criticism on Sharp has been too limited, and that, unlike what has been supposed by Sharp and Bleiker, the successful employment of non-violent methods is dependent on the regime type where they are used. This brings me to a theory of the possibility of non-violent resistance under different forms of repressive regimes. It shows that the prospects of non-violent resistance are dependent on the values of a regime on the four dimensions and that they are best under post-totalitarian regimes and authoritarian regimes, where for the former underground resistance gives the best chances of success and for the latter Laboetiean forms of resistance do.
Non-violent resistance and repressive regimes
Henk bij de Weg
"… the question addressed to those who participated and who obeyed orders should never be, ‘Why did you obey?’ but ‘Why did you support?’ " Hannah Arendt (2003, 48)
Direct action and non-violent resistance can take place for different reasons and in different political circumstances. Although the terms ‘direct action’ and ‘non-violent resistance’ overlap for a part and are often used interchangeably, generally it is so that in case of the former one thinks of activities directed against abuses in democratic countries, while one talks of (non-violent) resistance, when the activity takes place in countries with a repressive regime, especially when it is directed against the regime itself. However, the difference is not absolute, because a regime can be more or less democratic, or more or less repressive. Nevertheless, I want to use the dichotomy in the way as indicated and in this article I want to centre my attention on non-violent resistance in non-democratic political systems with non-violent resistance and direct action against threats of democracy itself as marginal cases, like the popular movements in Georgia in 2003 and the Ukraine in 2004.
Non-violent resistance can adopt different forms. In the best case, the form will be chosen in view of the aim pursued, but the circumstances in which the resistance takes place will also have to be allowed for. They can be less or more repressive. Therefore, when referring to the circumstances, one must think of the freedom to oppose in the first place, and then primarily of the existing political order.
Much has been written about non-violent resistance and its methods. Especially Gene Sharp has to be mentioned (bij de Weg, 2006b). His classification of methods of non-violent action is almost complete and has become classic. Sharp has classified these methods according to the way action is carried on and he has divided them into methods of protest and persuasion, methods of social non-cooperation, economic boycotts, and so on. However, he does not take account of the political circumstances under which the actions take place. It is true, Sharp emphasizes the importance of (strategic) planning, especially in his later works, but also then he does not link the political circumstances directly to the methods (Sharp, 1973: 2005). On the other hand it is so that often the same methods can be employed in different situations. Nevertheless more can be said about it. In what follows, I want to investigate the relation between the possibility of non-violent resistance and the political circumstances in which this resistance has to take place. I’ll do this by confronting Sharp’s ideas about non-violent resistance with the recent criticism by Bleiker, while taking the classification of repressive regimes by Linz and Stepan as a measure for the political circumstances where the resistance takes place.
The absence of regime types in Sharp’s theory of non-violent action
Although Sharp gives little attention to the political circumstances under the which non-violent methods described by him are applied, he is not indifferent to these circumstances. One of his assumptions about non-violent action is ‘that the struggle takes place where there are at least some civil liberties, although these may be reduced as the campaign continues.’ And he adds: ‘The use of nonviolent action against totalitarian systems requires separate discussion’ (1973: 455). But what we find then are only a few casual remarks. The most important one is only a passage on the ‘problems of openness and secrecy under dictatorships, especially totalitarian regimes’ (483-484). Besides that, Sharp mentions four factors that determine the choice of non-violent means, the last one being ‘… the type of repression and other countermeasures expected, the ability of the nonviolent group to withstand them, and the intensities of the commitment to the struggle within the nonviolent group’ (501). There is no talk of what can be mentioned a ‘separate discussion’, even not in his 2005, which is a kind of handbook for non-violent struggle.
An exception is his article ‘Facing dictatorship with confidence’ (1980), in which he pays attention to totalitarian systems, which he distinguishes from other kinds of dictatorships. Here Sharp discusses extensively the characteristics and weak points of totalitarian regimes and points out that ‘In special situations the [totalitarian] regime in fact becomes incapable to enforce its will. This may occur because too many people are defying it simultaneously, because its administrators are refusing to help, or because its agents of repression are not obeying orders to inflict the punishments’ (98). And with approval Sharp cites Karl W. Deutsch that ‘The … enforcement of decisions [by totalitarian government] depends to a large extent on the compliance habits of the population.’ (99). What Sharp does not see, and in fact it is also Bleiker’s criticism , is that this form of ‘non-compliance’ is fundamentally another kind of resistance than the overt use of non-violent methods as extensively dealt with by him in his 1973. His analysis brings him just to the conclusion that ‘Severe problems exist in transforming this general insight into deliberate concrete resistance actions to undermine and destroy the totalitarian system’ (99). Here, and in Sharp’s examples in his 1973 and 2005, we see that he considers basically the same methods possible against a totalitarian regime as against other types of repressive regimes. It is true that in countries ruled in a totalitarian way there have been some cases of successful non-violence resistance, using methods as described by Sharp (Sharp, 1980: 103-104). However, this did not result in more than a number of partial successes, how important they may have been. They did not lead to spectacular results like the fall of the ruling regimes or presidents as in the Philippines or the Ukraine, to mention a few cases in non-totalitarian states. It does not need much insight to see that a change of regime was wished by the majority of the people in the countries occupied by the Nazis and by the people of Eastern Europe.
Also in his 2003a, also a kind of guide for non-violent resistance, Sharp did not make a distinction between totalitarian and other kinds of repressive regimes. Even more, the question of the regime type is completely absent, although in my opinion this should be the starting point for the development of a strategy and a tactics for non-violent resistance, because this determines (as we’ll see also) the space and possibilities of this resistance and the choices to be made. It seems that Sharp thinks that the methods of non-violent action in his classification are all employable fundamentally in the same way, irrespective of the type of regime. Only the accidental situation is apparently relevant for the choice of methods. However, it is a problem that totalitarian systems are qualitatively different from other types of repressive regimes. Its rulers do not only wield power for the benefit of themselves and a small circle around them, while they leave the rest of the people alone, as long as they do not disturb the rulers, as in other repressive systems, but the rulers in a totalitarian state try, with their ideology and the institutions based on it, to penetrate the whole society, to mobilize it en to mould it to their will, in accordance with the ideology they advocated (what Sharp also says, though. See his 1980). Piecemeal methods of non-violent resistance like those described by Sharp can reach piecemeal results in such regimes at most, but it is more likely that they will result in more repression (which Sharps also expects; it’s true). Instead, totalitarian regimes and regimes with strong totalitarian traits require ‘totalitarian’ non-violent methods in order to have any chance to bring these regimes down. And just this is what happened in the former GDR and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.
However, I do not want to suggest without discussion that there are only two types of repressive regimes: totalitarian regimes on the one hand and non-totalitarian repressive regimes or what I would call, following Friedrich and Brzezinski (1965), ‘autocracies’ on the other hand. Repression is a matter of degree and a matter of aspects. Regimes can be more or less repressive, autocratic or totalitarian. They can be repressive in some way but not in another way. But that does not alter the fact that there is a fundamental qualitative difference between totalitarian and autocratic regimes and that the piecemeal methods for non-violent resistance as proposed and elaborated by Sharp and others working in his tradition can reach no more than piecemeal results in states governed in a totalitarian way or states with strong totalitarian traits. In the long run, they are not likely to bring such regimes down. However, by saying this I do not mean that ‘piecemeal non-violent methods’, or what I shall call hereafter ‘Laboetiean methods’, cannot have a function here, as I shall make clear in this article.
Bleiker’s criticism on Sharp
In his 2000, Roland Bleiker criticizes Sharp’s, what he calls, ‘Laboetiean’ vision on non-violent resistance in a way that basically agrees with my criticism as formulated above. Moreover, he develops an alternative approach. Bleiker calls the non-violent methods of resistance advocated by Sharp ‘Laboetiean’, because they go back to an idea formulated by Étienne de La Boétie (1530-1563). La Boétie presented a theory of power that was already radical and subversive in his time. Its essence is that in the end the power is based on the voluntary consent of the people subjected to it. In order to break the power of the ruler or to withdraw oneself from it, one needs simply to refuse to obey and to take back one’s consent to the execution of power. The ideas of La Boétie continued to have influence until the present. Although, according to Bleiker, it was for La Boétie only a theoretical argumentation, other people have put it into practice. Most well-known among them are Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but also many others have applied the ideas. Sharp, too, has been much influenced by La Boétie (see also bij de Weg, 2006a).
Although Bleiker is sympathetic to those who offered resistance in this sense or who have elaborated the idea theoretically, he sees here a great shortcoming, which is most striking in Sharp’s work. Stressing the aspect of obedience and submission and dependence of the subjects on the rulers in a one-sided way, as Bleiker analyses, as well as strongly relying on the autonomy and individual possibilities to act, Sharp tries to bring order in these possibilities and to structure them in a generally valid way independent of time. Bleiker sees here the spirit of La Boétie and a Laboetiean approach in which – and here Bleiker points to Sharp, but apparently he means all approaches that go back to La Boétie in general – the ‘theory of non-violent direct action epitomises the modern desire for control, the compulsion to systematise and categorise the world, such that all its various features can be understood and held accountable to one generally accepted frame of reference’ (2000: 110). Or in my words: non-violent resistance is in Sharp’s view simply a question of the right aim and the right means. According to Bleiker, such a Laboetiean essentialist approach is inadequate to understand the present non-violent popular resistance. In his view, the present reality of power relations is structured in a different way and it is not a matter of autonomously acting individuals and a simplistically, ahistorically and spatially conceived contradistinction between rulers and ruled as we see in Sharp’s conception. Power relations are not bipolar but multiple, complex, interwoven and stratified. People are part of and involved in fine, well developed social networks that are open to many influences, not only local influences but from a wide regional until global environment. Moreover, power relations develop in time. However, the Laboetiean approach does neither have an eye for the interaction between the individual and the groups to which the individual belongs on the one hand and the environment on the other hand, nor for underground processes that leave room for a way of resistance that boils down to living one’s own life in spite of the existing repression and adaptation. For Bleiker, resistance does not consist of spectacular actions that often take place more or less suddenly, but it is more what Havel – who surprisingly is not mentioned by Bleiker – has called ‘living in truth’ (Havel, 1990). Bleiker substantiates his view with an analysis of the events in the former GDR that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. First he gives a Laboetiean version of it in terms of striking events like mass demonstrations and streams of fugitives. Then he sets his own approach against it.
The Laboetiean approach as advocated by Sharp and others centres its attention, as Bleiker argues, especially on politically superficial phenomena, as they are, for instance, usually reported in the media (remember the images of the fall of the Berlin Wall). In the GDR we see, however, that the rulers also tried to control the daily life and private domain of the people in order to establish and maintain their power. This was only partially successful, particularly because the churches remained intact. Moreover, the GDR-regime undermined its power by its policy of repression, which led to discontent. This analysis supposes, unlike for example Sharp’s analysis, the network vision of power that I have indicated above and in which there is a strong overlap between ruler and ruled. In this view, resistance is not simply a matter of pushing the rulers out. It does not take place in massive revolts but in the triviality of the daily existence, as Bleiker shows. For people are not the passive spectators of their own existence but they make their existence themselves as they make also their own daily way of resistance. He says that this daily resistance is more important than the big revolts, which happen only rarely. Referring to de Certeau, Bleiker talks here of ‘networks of anti-discipline’ (2000: 201), although, with reference to Havel, I would rather have spoken of ‘living in truth’ in this context (see above). I want to call this type of resistance underground resistance, as distinguished from the Laboetiean resistance.
Here I bypass the significance of the international relations, mentioned by Bleiker, for the success or failure of non-violent resistance, how important they may be. What is relevant here is that Bleiker considers the underground resistance as more important than the open, Laboetiean resistance of mass meetings, strikes, and the like. To my mind, Bleiker creates here a contrast about which one can wonder whether it is really such a contrast as he suggests. Bleiker is right by stressing the importance of the underground resistance in the GDR and by analysing it. But there has also existed an overt resistance in the period before the fall of the Berlin Wall, like the in massiveness growing Monday demonstrations in Leipzig. What would have happened if this overt political resistance had not taken place? If there had not been an open popular revolt and if the people had not voted with their feet against the GDR by fleeing to the West? Might it not have happened then that there had remained a second German state next to the Federal Republic, albeit under a democratic government? This would have been one of the options.
What Bleiker also passes over, when he criticises Sharp, is that Laboetiean resistance, as advanced by Sharp, cannot take place in a vacuum: organized by a non-violent elite and the demonstrators show up on demand. It’s not that simple, also not in Sharp’s view. Here, too, it is true what Bleiker, referring to Gramsci, puts forward that a movement has only a chance of success, if it is supported by large sections of the population. Usually a Laboetiean revolt is preceded by discontent with the ruling regime and by much underground organization. Laboetiean resistance and underground resistance are rather to be seen as two aspects of the same resistance. Laboetiean resistance is the open confrontation with the dominant political structure, underground resistance is resistance by ignoring this political structure and by choosing one’s own way of life in opposition to the implicit or explicit way of life desired by the dominant political structure and practice, for example by developing alternative structures, by doing things as one likes them to do and not the way prescribed by the authorities. In short, it is opting for ‘living in truth’ .
of resistance are not unrelated to each other but they just need each other.
Laboetiean resistance needs a breeding ground in society in order, if needs
arises, to be able to develop into a mass movement. Underground resistance
needs the open resistance of Laboetiean action in order to break the dominant
political structure, so that the underground civil society and way of life can
also become overground. What, for example, Sharp shows is how you organize this
open resistance. That it is often more than only organising resistance in a
Laboetiean way but that it has also a relation with the way of life of the
repressed, can be read in several cases dealt with by Sharp in his 2005.
Rather than playing Bleiker off against Sharp here, for example by confronting Sharp’s cases with Bleiker’s criticisms, I would rather go back to the critical remarks that I have passed on Sharp above and that agree with those made by Bleiker in a certain sense. Sharp’s analysis, both as he made it theoretically and as he employed it in practice, is more than the simple idea that there is a ruler and that there are ruled and that the latter can withdraw their consent to the former in a simple way. This is only the underlying idea. Sharp elaborated it in a way that does be based on building networks and on an understanding how the existing networks of power relations function, in order to employ next the network developed by the resisters and the understanding acquired for undermining the existing network of the ruling power with Laboetiean means, with the consequence that the dictator falls from his pedestal because the pedestal has become crumbled. However, Bleiker is right that the use of Laboetiean methods played a minor part in toppling the GDR regime. This has been brought about mainly by underground resistance. In his book, Bleiker presents an analysis and a theoretical foundation of this important form of non-violent resistance, which is in fact an analysis of Havel’s ‘living in truth’. What I criticize Sharp for is that he insufficiently account of the character of the regime where the methods of non-violent resistance are to be deployed. This is actually also my criticism on Bleiker, but then the other way around. The methods of resistance advocated by Sharp and by Bleiker can simply not be used in the same circumstances. This made me to distinguish two kinds of resistance: Laboetiean resistance and underground resistance. Because they involve different methods, accordingly I want to make a distinction between Laboetiean and underground non-violent methods of resistance. The former contain the whole range of non-violent methods proposed by Sharp, the latter amount to choosing one’s own way of life including all what is involved in it. Laboetiean resistance directs oneself against the dominant political structures; they are on the political level. Underground resistance is on the level of daily life.
I have distinguished two types of repressive regimes: totalitarian regimes and autocracies. However, I stated already that this dichotomy is too simple. Besides that, my analysis suggests that there is a relation between the type of non-violent methods used and the regime types. Therefore, before going on, one needs to know first more about the characteristics of repressive regimes.
The regime classification of Linz and Stepan
We have seen that Bleiker rejects Sharp’s analysis and approach of non-violent resistance and the application of Laboetiean methods grounded on this approach. According to Bleiker, non-violent resistance does not work the way Sharp supposes. But what is the foundation of Bleiker’s conclusion? Actually it is his study and analysis of one case: the fall of the former GDR. However, the GDR is not representative for all repressive systems. There are totalitarian systems and autocracies, and also within a category the systems are different.
The distinction between totalitarian systems and autocracies (or authoritarian regimes, as he calls them) has originally also been made by Juan J. Linz 2000, although he largely refines it later in his study. Rather than starting with the characteristics of totalitarian regimes as described by Linz, I want to present first the much cited description of Friedrich and Brzezinski (1965: 22). They call a regime totalitarian, if it has 1) an official and elaborate ideology focused and projected toward a perfect final state of mankind; 2) a single mass party led by one man and hierarchically organized, which forms an oligarchy that defends the ideology and supervises the state bureaucracy and is intertwined with it; 3) a system of terror and secret police; 4) a nearly complete control and monopoly of the means of mass communication; 5) a monopoly of the effective use of all weapons of armed combat; 6) central control and direction of the economy. What this definition and other definitions of totalitarianism suggest, according to Linz, is that in a totalitarian state the distinction between state and society tends to disappear, and it is this melting of state and society that makes a totalitarian regime different from other types of non-democratic regimes, although the characteristics of totalitarianism are never completely realized (Linz, 2000: 66). ‘The dimensions that we have to retain’, so Linz continues, ‘as necessary to characterize a system as totalitarian are an ideology, a single mass party and other mobilizational organizations, and concentrated power in an individual and his collaborators or a small group that is not accountable to any large constituency and cannot be dislodged from power by institutionalized, peaceful means’ (67; italics mine).
As such all the separate elements can happen in an authoritarian state but the fact that they are present all together makes a state totalitarian (ibid.). In fact, Linz uses four dimensions in order to distinguish totalitarian from authoritarian regimes: pluralism, ideology, leadership, and mobilization (159-171; cf. Linz/Stepan, 1996: 38). We find three dimensions back in his definition of totalitarian regimes (see the italics), while the fourth, pluralism, is implicit in the sense that a totalitarian power does not tolerate competitive organizations that are not controlled by the regime or its party. We find them explicitly in his definition of authoritarian regimes: ‘political systems with limited, not responsible, political pluralism, without elaborate and guiding ideology, but with distinctive mentalities, without extensive or intensive mobilization …, and in which a leader or occasionally a small group exercises power within formally ill-defined limits but actually quite predictable ones’ (Linz, 2000: 159; italics mine).
One important political development since the 1960s, or rather since the death of Stalin in 1953, has been that most totalitarian regimes no longer conform to the totalitarian model because of inner developments of these regimes. Nevertheless, they are still different from the authoritarian regimes in the original dichotomy, so that the introduction of a new type of what they call ‘post-totalitarian regimes’ can be justified, according to Stepan and Linz. This type is different from the other types insofar as it is not an independent type that has been created as such. It is an evolution from totalitarianism and it can evolve either to democracy or to authoritarianism (Linz/Stepan, 1996: 293-4). Moreover, it was necessary to distinguish another type of non-democratic regime that is in some important respects different from other authoritarian regimes, and that is characterized by an extreme patrimonialism. Following Weber, who had already described it, they called it ‘sultanistic’.
Linz and Stepan give an overview of the regimes types and how they are characterized by the dimensions, which I summarize here (1996: 44-45; (I have omitted the dimensions for democratic regimes):
- No significant pluralism. Party monopoly. Former pluralism eliminated. No parallel society.
- Elaborate, guiding, utopian ideology that serves as a mission and legitimation for politics and the holistic social conception.
- Extensive mobilization into regime-created obligatory organizations. Emphasis on activism of cadres and militants. Effort at mobilization of enthusiasm. Private life is decried.
- Undefined limits of leadership; unpredictable. Often charismatic. Recruitment highly dependent on success and commitment in party organization.
- Limited not responsible, non-political pluralism. Still overwhelming state presence and party monopoly in politics. Most pluralism grew from underground opposition. In mature stadium often ‘second culture’ and ‘parallel society’.
- Guiding ideology still existing and real but in a weakened form. Pragmatism is often more important.
- Progressive loss of interest in organizing mobilization. Routine mobilization by regime to achieve a minimum degree of conformity and compliance. Way of careerism and opportunism. Withdrawal becomes accepted.
- Growing personal security for leading elite; seldom charismatic. Mutual checks and recruitment of leaders by party, but career in party less important.
- Non-political pluralism. Often quite extensive. Most pluralism had roots in society before the regime became authoritarian.
- No political elaborate and guiding ideology but distinctive ‘mentalities’.
- Generally mobilization not important.
- Leadership by individual or small group with power within formally ill-defined but actually quite predictable norms. Effort at cooptation of old elite groups. Some autonomy in state careers and in military.
- Still existing pluralism but subject to unpredictable and despotic intervention. No sphere of the economic and civil society is free of the despotic exercise of the sultan’s will. No rule of law.
- No elaborate, guiding ideology or distinctive mentalities with the exception of extreme glorification of ruler. Highly arbitrary manipulation of symbols.
- Occasional, manipulative mobilization, for showing support to the sultan. Periodic parastatic mobilization of groups that use violence against groups targeted by sultan.
- Personalistic, arbitrary, unrestrained leadership. Strong dynastic tendency. No autonomy in state careers. Compliance to leader based on fear and rewards. Staff of leader drawn from family, friends, business associates, or those who directly sustain regime with violence. Staff’s position derives from personal submission to ruler.
The characterization of political regimes by Linz and Stepan has not been without criticism. However, I think that it is here not the place to discuss its value, for another one would not influence my basic argument, which is that the possibility of non-violent resistance is dependent on the regime characteristics. What this characterization makes so useful for me is not only the types of non-democratic regimes discerned as such but the dimensions the authors use for typifying these regimes. For the possibility of non-violent resistance it is not so much interesting how a regime has been labelled, but why it receives these labels and what the features are that belong to the labels. Just these features are the elements that determine the space and possibilities for non-violent resistance.
However, the four dimensions employed by Linz and Stepan for classifying regimes are rather vague and they do not give them a clear meaning, nor did Linz in his 2000. Linz and Stepan rather refer to common sense for what they might mean in their context. Therefore, I want to give the dimensions (a bit the world turned upside down) my own interpretation in the light of the classification of regime types as presented by Linz and Stepan and of the way I want to use them. If we think of the dimensions as the values that a variable can obtain, or as the possible variation of variables, in a certain direction, I think that it is not too far-fetched to consider the dimensions in political respect as the possibilities to act that exist in a certain field or as the space or freedom there is for a certain action. Accordingly, I want to see the dimensions of Linz and Stepan as types of spaces or degrees of freedom a political actor has for (state-)independent actions.
If we interpret the dimensions in this way, I think that we can give them the following meanings:
- pluralism: the space or degree of freedom to organize one’s own life and relations with other people in one’s own way without state intervention.
- ideology: the space or degree of freedom for alternative ideas and opinions, especially those related to the structure of the state and economic freedom, but also the freedom to change a current course of behaviour (for instance after elections).
- mobilization: the space or degree of freedom not to take part in activities incited or stimulated, if not forced, from above in order to labour for purposes or actions set by the state and according to the rules set by the state.
- leadership: the space or degree of freedom of competition for selecting political leaders, in elections or otherwise, for instance by co-optation; it is the way that leadership succession takes place and the space or freedom of individuals or groups to put forward possible leaders independent of the present leader or leading group and to criticize the present leader or leading group..
If we look now at these four dimensions in the overview presented above, I think that we can formulate a few basic insights regarding the possibility of non-violent resistance under non-democratic regimes. Ignoring yet that there are two main types of non-violent resistance, namely Laboetiean resistance and underground resistance, we can say that these four dimensions give an indication of the possibility of non-violent resistance under several regime types. In general, we can say that the more the dimensions in a regime have the value of what they are in a democracy, the better the chances for successful non-violent resistance are. This means that the possibilities of non-violent resistance are better 1) the more pluralism there is in a society; 2) the less the dissemination of free ideas is limited by an official ideology; 3) the less state-forced mobilization exists in a society; 4) the more the election of leaders is free.
This being said, it is not surprising that almost all successful actions of non-violent resistance have taken place under post-totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. It is likely that this is not mere chance but that it is grounded on the characteristics of the regime types concerned. If we look at the overview of regime characteristics, we see that just under these two regime types the values of the dimensions allow for the best possibilities to organize a non-violent opposition.
When we take first pluralism, we see that under totalitarian regimes alternative ways of organizing independently of the state are repressed so severely that it is almost impossible to develop any non-official organization at all, how small the number of participants may be, because of the effectiveness of the secret police and intelligence. Only in the countries occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War some successful non-violent resistance could develop, because the Nazis had to gather their information from a fundamentally hostile population. Moreover, the resisters had the advantage that organizations dating from the pre-occupation era could not be brought completely under the control of the Nazis (examples in Roberts, 1967; Sharp, 2005). In Nazi-Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union and Eastern Europe resistance was almost non-existent.
Under sultanistic regimes there is some pluralism and it may be possible to develop some free organizations, but because of the lack of rule of law the repression is so harsh, that non-violent resistance cannot develop well.
Whether the Nazi regime in Germany would have developed into a kind of post-totalitarian regime is hard to say, since the regime has been broken by military intervention. However, in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the repression relaxed after the death of Stalin in 1953. This has given more room for non-violent opposition. In Eastern Europe alternative non-official organizations succeeded to develop, albeit often as underground organizations. This was the more so, the more the regime resembled an authoritarian regime as in Poland. And it is just under authoritarian regimes that the best possibilities for non-violent resistance exist. The reason is that in authoritarian governed countries usually some pluralism exists dating from the time before the authoritarian regime had been installed and that there is a certain, although limited, rule of law, which gives opposition groups some possibilities to develop. Recent examples of successful non-violent resistance are the Philippines (1986), Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003) and the Ukraine (2004). Georgia and the Ukraine were already on the edge of being democratic, and in the light of my thesis it is no wonder that here the non-violent resistance, if it is not better to speak already of non-violent action, scored a relatively easy success (easy in the light of the sometimes long lasting struggle in other countries, like Serbia (2000), Poland under communism, and so on).
The dimension ideology does not so much influence the possibility to organize non-violent resistance, as pluralism does, but the possibility of the development of the idea of non-violence and its applicability as such. And if this idea has been accepted somewhere in society, an official ideology that is actively supported by the regime makes the dissemination and development of non-violent resistance methods difficult, because everything which is not in keeping with it is suppressed. Even more, it is quite possible that the idea of non-violent resistance as a realistic alternative may simply not arise.
This limitation works in two ways. First, the idea of non-violent resistance may not easily take roots, because for any person it is difficult to meet, also by chance, a not officially tolerated idea, whatever it may be. But second, also for people who are explicitly looking for alternative ideas it is difficult to get them, and, if they have them to elaborate and disseminate them. This is also true for the idea of non-violent resistance, even when people put much effort into it.
Hence, also the ideology dimension makes the chances for the development of non-violent resistance better under post-totalitarian and authoritarian regimes than under totalitarian regimes. Under post-totalitarian regimes, the official ideology is hardly supported any longer but most of the time it is paid lip service only. Under authoritarian regimes there isn’t even a political elaborate and guiding ideology at all, but only what Linz calls a certain ‘mentality’ at most, which is more an unofficial way of thinking and feeling (2000: 162).
If it depends on the ideology dimension, the chances of non-violent resistance are even best under sultanistic regimes, because they do not have a guiding ideology or mentality at all that could limit the dissemination of the idea of non-violence.
The significance of mobilization for a regime is that social tasks are done that might not be done otherwise or that in some way are advantageously done by mobilizing the people. In our context its significance is especially that it strengthens the identification of the people with the regime. The effect of mobilization will be strongest under totalitarian regimes, where it is stimulated even at the cost of private life. When a totalitarian regime develops into a post-totalitarian regime, the importance of mobilization decreases gradually, and accordingly its negative effect on the possibility of non-violent resistance. The effect of mobilization under sultanistic regimes is uncertain, although it will certainly be less than under totalitarian regimes. On the one hand, it consists mainly of symbolic support of the ruler, and I guess that the effect may not be very great (which will not always be true, however; cf. North Korea). On the other hand, the negative effect of mobilization for non-violent resistance may be greater if it involves using violence against groups targeted by the ruler, above all if the targeted groups are non-violent activists.
Mobilizing people for the state and supported by the state is almost non-existent under authoritarian regimes.
What we often see is that non-violent resistance centres on the leadership question. For example, the leadership is corrupt or doesn’t want to resign in accordance with the democratic rules (Philippines 1986; Georgia 2003; Ukraine 2004). Then the leadership question can function as a catalyzing factor that stimulates resistance. What I want to discuss here is, however, in what degree the leadership dimension influences the possibility of non-violent resistance.
If we see the leadership dimension as the freedom to challenge publicly
the political leaders of the regime, then the chances for non-violent
resistance to organize itself are the better, the better an alternative leader
can be presented, even if this leader cannot be presented openly as a successor
for the leadership, but is only non-officially understood so. However, under a
totalitarian regime there can be no talk of an independent challenging leadership,
anyway. The recruitment of new leaders is highly dependent on success in a
proven commitment to the party organization. Moreover, any challenge to the
existing leadership that manifests itself will almost certainly be eliminated,
or at least being silenced. The second point will also be true under
sultanistic regimes, although there the possibility to challenge the leadership
by operating from abroad is usually better than under totalitarian regimes.
Under post-totalitarian regimes the state control of the population decreases,
while the chances for the development of independent groups and an independent
civil society grow. This may give space for regime criticizing personalities
who can develop into future leaders, even if this was not their original intention
and even if they are forced to work underground, if they are not silenced by
the regime. In fact, the possibility to present a regime challenging leader as
a part of the non-violence resistance strategy is best under authoritarian
regimes. Here the recruitment norms for leadership are more open than under the
other regime types and moreover the space to organize oneself independently of
the state is wider than under the other regimes (see pluralism). Because of
this also the prospects to develop a challenging leadership are better.
A second evaluation
The foregoing analysis of the possibility of non-violent resistance under different regime types is only a first attempt and for a part it has been based on guesses. However, I think that one thing has become clear: the possibility of non-violent resistance is not only a matter of organizational capacities of the non-violent resisters like planning and strategy. It is also related to the characteristics of the regime where the resistance takes places. These regime characteristics - and I have ignored that point - are not absolute, but they are a matter of degree. A regime can be more like a democracy on one dimension and less so on another dimension than another regime is, although we classify both in the same category. What is important here is that a regime has certain characteristics (its scores on the four dimensions), and that these characteristics influence the organizational opportunities of non-violent resistance. This aspect has been neglected by the leading authors on non-violence resistance and it has not received a place in their planning designs. In my opinion, it should just be the starting point of any strategic analysis. For example, Helvey 2004 formulates first the mission of non-violent resistance and next the military possibilities like geography, combat power and demography, but he forgets to ask what our chances are to organize ourselves at all, given the characteristics of the regime that we oppose.
The limitedness of Bleiker’s criticism on Sharp
In his 1993 Bleiker considered Laboetiean forms of resistance essential in bringing down the GDR-regime in 1989. As he puts it there: ‘Nonviolent struggle undoubtedly played a crucial role in precipitating the fall of the East German Communist regime. The combined effect of large-scale street protests and massive emigration increased in intensity until, in the winter of 1989, the authoritarian system crumbled under the pressure from below’ (32). In his 2000, however, he downplayed the importance of Laboetiean resistance in favour of what I have called underground forms of resistance. There he tries to show (for instance in chapter 6) that the overthrowing of communist statues is not the key event that it appeared to be for the ‘short attention span of worldwide television audiences’ (173).‘The events that deserve our analytical attention are not the moments when overthrowers hurl statues in the mud’ (183), since, as Bleiker had stated already before: ‘The idea, espoused by the la Boétiean tradition of dissent ... proved too simplistic and too spatially delineated to assess the complex and transversal events that toppled the authoritarian regime in 1989’ (136-7). The real events that overthrow a repressive regime are transversal processes, transformations of societal values and the like, as Bleiker stresses now. It is true, also Bleiker 1993 gave much attention to such processes and changes and also then he stated already that ‘a sole affirmation of the power contained in non-violent action cannot provide a satisfactory explanation of the East German revolution’ (32), but Laboetiean resistance and underground resistance were equally important. In his 2000 the Laboetiean actions seem to be no more than a footnote of history. They are ‘contributing’ at most and ‘bound by limits’ (185). The later is certainly true, but I think that in view of his whole analysis, it is symptomatic of Bleiker’s misunderstanding of the significance and meaning of Laboetiean resistance.
The point is that I do not want to deny that Bleiker’s analysis is correct for the GDR, but his whole analysis and criticism of Sharp and of the idea that one can topple a regime by means of Laboetiean methods is dependent on only one case. However, as we have seen, there are at least four main types of repressive regimes and each has its own characteristics. Moreover, these regime types are only Weberian ideal types. Each concrete repressive regime has its own peculiarities and may have characteristics of several types. Hence, what is true for the GDR, a post-totalitarian regime, need not be so for another repressive regime, for example an authoritarian regime. It is quite possible that under authoritarian regimes, where rulers do not try to control the daily life of the people, Laboetiean resistance can play a substantial role in bringing it down. What strikes me also in Bleiker’s analysis is that he does not see that Laboetiean resistance and underground resistance have their own roles and significances in the resistance process, dependent on the particular historical and political situation and the phase of resistance. This is also true, if we consider only post-totalitarian regimes. This flaw is the more striking as Bleiker stresses the lack of temporality and situationality in Sharp’s analyses. But in some conditions underground resistance are better, in other conditions Laboetiean resistance are, and often it happens that they support each other and supplement each other.
The case of Poland
Let us take the case of Poland, where Laboetiean resistance has been much more important than in the GDR. If Linz and Stepan are right this is so because before 1989 Poland was rather an authoritarian than a post-totalitarian regime. It is not the place here to give a thorough analysis of Poland in its communist period and I’ll follow mainly Linz/Stepan 1996: 255-269.
According to Linz and Stepan, Poland was different from the other communist Eastern European countries on all four regime typifying dimensions. Poland had a high degree of de facto societal pluralism, and the authors ‘believe that this … increased the ability of parts of civil society to resist the regime’s ideology and somewhat checked the will of the aspirant totalitarian regime to impose intense mobilization, especially in the ideological area’ (255-6). In the first place the strong and relatively autonomous position of the Roman Catholic Church was striking. This meant a break with the communist goal of total ideological hegemony and it limited communist societal mobilization. The Catholic Church became a strong support for both Laboetiean and underground forms of resistance. In addition, the agriculture was not collectivized but remained mainly organized in the traditional peasant cooperatives or in privately owned farms. Moreover, the style of leadership changes was more like in an authoritarian state than in a (post-)totalitarian state.
In Poland, a strong underground civil society and underground forms of resistance developed, like in the GDR. But what made this resistance especially different from resistance in the GDR were its Laboetiean forms. This had far-reaching consequences for the political development of Poland. The allowed pluralism and the underground civil society made that the people could live their lives as they liked, in a certain degree, but these were also a form of resistance. Open, Laboetiean forms of protest and resistance were important, however, in order to support and extort political demands. And that is what we actually saw. I think that one can state that the strikers in Gdansk in 1980 and the labour union Solidaridad, which was formed then, could never have reached its results of being recognized as an independent labour union and other concessions in the labour field, if the workers had not demonstrated and struck. It is true, the underground preparations for it were important, too, but the Laboetiean demonstrations and strikes caused the necessary clash with the regime in order to make clear how powerful the opposition really was. And it was not only at the end of the regime that this happened, when the Polish regime could no longer rely on the support of the Soviet Union, but it was already in 1980, when the Soviet Union still appeared to be strong, that the regime had to make concessions. The recognition of Solidaridad was cancelled later, indeed (also because Solidarity and others were unprepared for the coup in 1981), but what is important here is that this recognition and other concessions could probably never have been reached only by means of underground resistance and that it makes clear that Laboetiean resistance has a function of its own. It was a combination of (at first underground) organization into a civil society plus open demonstrations and strikes under the leadership of Solidarity that brought about these results. In 1981, much was turned back, and maybe this could have been prevented had Solidarity been prepared for such a reaction. However, what remained was the loss of the leading role of the communist party, symbolized by that fact that almost all key ministers were not party officials as such, but Polish party-soldiers under the leadership of a general. Then, at the end of the 1980s, history repeated itself ─ and now (because the Soviet Union had become weak) with the fall of the communist regime as a result (Linz and Stepan, 1996: 255/269; Paulson, 2005: 223-229).
Towards a theory of non-violent resistance against repressive regimes
What does this mean for the possibility of non-violent resistance under different forms of repressive regimes? I distinguished four main types of political regimes: totalitarian, post-totalitarian, authoritarian and sultanistic regimes. I made a distinction between two types of resistance: Laboetiean resistance and underground resistance. I distinguished the political structures – the political level – from the level of daily life. These levels are in fact directly related with the types of resistance. Therefore, I want to start to discuss the two first distinctions. We can represent them schematically in this way:
I have filled in the cells of the table, based on my analysis above. Here, + means ‘possible’, – means ‘not possible’, and –/+ means ‘hardly possible or only possible with a limited degree of success’.
Although there has been some successful cases of Laboetiean resistance against the Nazi regime, generally I think (grounded especially on the experiences in the communist countries in the Stalinist period) that one can state that Laboetiean forms of resistance have hardly any chance of success under totalitarian regimes and that such resistance will be severely suppressed if it happens. The values of all regime typifying dimensions for this type of regime work against it. In fact, this is also the case for underground resistance, since it requires at least a limited possibility to organize or to communicate freely, if not some kind of pluralism, which is almost completely absent under totalitarian regimes. Underground resistance, if any, will be individual at most or limited to very small groups of persons who know each other personally.
Under post-totalitarian regimes we see the development of underground networks of people, giving rise to a kind of underground pluralism or underground civil society. This can be the basis of more or less extended forms of underground forms of resistance, which can be so strong that especially the economy becomes paralysed in a certain degree in the sense that it functions far under the level of what would be possible under circumstances of freedom. These underground forms of resistance are well possible and apt for post-totalitarian regimes, because it was just here that in the past it has been tried to penetrate into all aspects of life in order to control society. But this totalitarian penetration of the state into society, which is a legacy of its totalitarian past (albeit in a moderate form), may now work against the regime, because it can be used as a means in order to block the smooth functioning of society – or parts of it, like the economic system – in order to overthrow or at least to disregard the regime. Especially in post-totalitarian Eastern-Europe underground resistance has been strong.
Under post-totalitarian regimes, the prospects for Laboetiean forms of resistance are better than under totalitarian regimes, because there is more pluralism, although most forms of pluralism are underground. In practice, we have seen that in Eastern Europe effective Laboetiean resistance took particularly place just before the end of the regimes, where it has given them the final push and where it also brought the new leaders to the forefront.
The best chances for non-violent resistance exist under authoritarian regimes, especially for the Laboetiean forms. Because of the pluralism that remains after the assumption of power by the new rulers there still exists a relatively good organizational structure and structure of personal relations that can be used for Laboetiean resistance. On the other hand, the possibilities for underground forms of resistance are limited, for authoritarian rulers usually do not try to penetrate and control the whole society on the level of clubs and associations, family and so on, like (post-)totalitarian regimes do. They confine themselves mainly to controlling some essential sectors like politics and economy, while often the economy is not so much brought under direct state control but is guided by liberal principles. The reason why underground resistance could be applied in post-totalitarian states, namely the penetration of state into society, is here simply absent. However, this absence makes the chances for Laboetiean resistance better since the reverse side of it is more room for pluralism.
Considering the characteristics of sultanistic regimes, non-violent resistance seems hardly possible in this case. That is also what we actually see. If there is resistance against such regimes, it tends to be violent if not leading to civil war. This is not only a consequence of the values of the dimensions, but also of the personalistic character of sultanistic regimes, which blocks any transition to a more democratic government and makes that sultanistic leaders often resist as much as possible against the loss of power.
My conclusion is that the best chances for non-violent resistance exist under post-totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. However, it will take fundamentally different forms depending on the regime type. Under authoritarian regimes, resistance will be mainly Laboetiean while under post-totalitarian regimes, it will be mainly underground. And that is what I meant when I stated that totalitarian regimes and regimes with strong totalitarian traits require totalitarian non-violent methods. Whereas totalitarianism tries to penetrate daily life as much as possible, underground resistance just tries to escape and avoid this penetration by replacing the forms of life prescribed by the state by forms of life that the resisting persons desire. It operates on the same daily level that is most characteristic for the totalitarian exercise of power and where it is most intrusive: the personal domain. In such a situation it is hardly to be expected that what I called the ‘piecemeal methods’ of Laboetiean resistance will have more than some local results. For, as we have seen in Eastern Europe, these forms of resistance will be easily suppressed as long as the post-totalitarian regime still is in firm control of power. Only when the regime already staggers, Laboetiean methods can have a role here.
Although this suggests that the effectiveness of non-violent resistance is regime-dependent, in fact it is so that both forms of resistance need each other, for both operate on different levels: underground resistance operates on the level of the daily life; Laboetiean resistance operates on the political level. Laboetiean resistance needs at least some passive support on the level of the daily life in order to be effective. If it is not supported on the ‘grass roots level’ of society at large in some way and if the grass roots at large do not consent to the actions, Laboetiean action will never be successful. On the other hand, underground resistance cannot do without a minimal Laboetiean resistance, i.e. action on the political level, in order give the final push to the dominant political structure, to move forward one’s own leaders, to take over the government, and to wind up the democratization process in order to prevent that the old puppets at the top stay, only seemingly looking in a different direction.
It is true, also Bleiker distinguishes between the political level and the level of daily life. However, for him this distinction has no consequences for the way the struggle against repression has to be managed. For him, Laboetiean and underground resistance are fundamentally equal ways of resistance that can be treated on the same line. What Bleiker does not see is that these ways of resistance supplement each other but also need each other. Moreover he doesn’t see that the successful employment of a certain type of non-violent resistance or the possibility to employ it at all depends on the type of regime where the resistance will take place. For him, non-violent resistance is underground resistance. For a leading role of Laboetiean resistance, even only during a certain phase, is no room. On the other hand, Sharps makes the opposite mistake. For him all non-violent resistance is Laboetiean and he does not see that underground resistance is fundamentally different from Laboetiean resistance. Moreover, he does not see that the application of certain methods is dependent on the type of regime where they have to be applied.
Repression is a matter of degree. The four types of repressive regimes are ideal types in the sense of Weber, but each actual repressive regime has its own characteristics depending on its mixture of values on the four regime typifying dimensions. These values can be more in the direction of what is characteristic for repression and totalitarianism or they can be more in the direction of democracy, although the values on the dimensions are not linked in the sense that, for example, a value on one dimension as moderately repressive corresponds necessarily with the same value on the other dimensions. This implies for the possibility of non-violent resistance that there are no idealtypical combinations of underground and Laboetiean methods. Probably we can say only that the more totalitarian a country is, the more the non-violent resistance must be underground. The more authoritarian a country is, the more non-violent resistance must be (but also can be) Laboetiean. This is what the cases of the GDR and Poland illustrate. However, if a country is too totalitarian, it becomes again less likely that also underground resistance can be successful. On the other hand, the more democratic a country is, the better the chances for successful Laboetiean action are, as is illustrated by the cases of Georgia (2003) and the Ukraine (2004).
By way of conclusion
My article is more founded on theoretical analysis than on empirical research. Actually, it is merely a series of hypotheses, and further investigations have to be done in order to substantiate and improve my theses. Apart from that, I don’t want to see my results or future improved results as deterministic. They show where the chances and possibilities for non-violent resistance are. But they indicate also what the weak points for non-violent resistance are and in what way it needs to be improved. When we see that there are presently hardly any chances for successful non-violent resistance under some types of regimes or that this resistance is not likely to develop, we see also for what type of situations better or fundamentally new methods of non-violent resistance need to be devised. For one must know a problem in order to be able to do something about it.
- Arendt, Hannah (2003), Responsibility and judgment, New York: Schocken Books.
- Bleiker, Roland (1993), Nonviolent struggle and the revolution in East Germany, Cambridge: The Albert Einstein Institution.
- Bleiker, Roland (2000), Popular dissent, Human Agency and Global Politics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Friedrich, Carl J.; Zbigniew Brzezinski (1965), Totalitarian dictatorship and autocracy, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.
- Havel, Václav (1990), Poging om in waarheid te leven, Amsterdam: Van Gennep.
- Helvey, Robert L. (2004), On strategic nonviolent conflict. Boston: The Albert Einstein Institution.
- Linz, Juan J. (2000), Totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, Boulder: Lynne Rieder.
- Linz, Juan J.; Alfred Stepan (1996), Problems of democratic transition and consolidation. Southern Europe, South America, and post-communist Europe, Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.
- Paulson, Joshua (2005), ‘Poland’s self-liberation 1980-1989’, in: Sharp (2005): 223-229.
- Roberts, Adam (ed.) (1967), The strategy of civilian defence., London: Faber and Faber.
- Sharp, Gene (1973), The Politics of Nonviolent Action. Non-violent resistance to aggression, Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers.
- Sharp, Gene (1980), ‘Facing dictatorships with confidence’, in zijn Social Power and political freedom, Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers, pp. 91-111.
- Sharp, Gene (2003a), From dictatorship to democracy, Boston: Albert Einstein Institution.
- Sharp, Gene (2003b), There are realistic alternatives, Boston: Albert Einstein Institution.
- Sharp, Gene (2005), Waging Nonviolent Struggle.20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential, Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers.
- Warmbrunn, Werner (1963), De Nederlanders onder Duitse bezetting, Amsterdam, H.J.W. Becht’s Uitg.Mij.
- Weg, Henk bij de (2006a), “Étienne de La Boétie: leven, werk en invloed”, on website http://www.bijdeweg.nl/Etienne_de_La_Boetie.htm .
- Weg, Henk bij de (2006b), “Gene Sharp: De theoreticus achter de geweldloze volksbewgingen”, in: Geweldloze Kracht, 41 (4), pp 18-20. Also on website http://www.bijdeweg.nl/GeneSharp.htm .
 An exception is his 1980 where Sharp, as we have seen already, explicitly discussed totalitarian systems. However, it seems that this is an incident in his vast oeuvre. Especially in his 2005 it was to be expected that attention would have been given to the relation between regime type and the employment of non-violent methods, if Sharp had considered it to be an issue.
 The same criticism applies for Helvey 2004, a manual for non-violent resistance written by one of Sharp’s fellow workers and heavily relying on Sharp’s approach. See also Sharp, 2003b.
 See Bleiker 2000 for what follows in this section.
 In his analyses, Bleiker uses especially the theories by Gramsci, Foucault en de Certeau. See Bleiker, 2000, and also his 1993 for the relevant literature.
 Sharp and his Albert Einstein Institution (which he has founded) have actively supported underground movements in Burma, Serbia and other countries. His books have been used by several non-violent resistance movements and have been adapted by such movements to the local circumstances. See my 2006b. Another example, not discussed by Sharp, of a combination of Laboetiean resistance and underground resistance is the Dutch doctors’ resistance during the Second World War against the nazification of their professional organization. See Warmbrunn, 1963: 151-154.
 Helvey summarises Sharp’s theory of power excellently in his 2004.
 Some non-violent methods categorised by Sharp can also be interpreted as ‘underground resistance’, especially in the categories social, economic and political non-cooperation, but roughly there is a dichotomy between Sharp en Bleiker.
 Most of this study has been published in 1975 for the first time.
 Linz mentions pluralism explicitly in the summary of his discussion of the characteristics of totalitarian regimes (or rather the absence of pluralism): ‘whatever pluralism of institutions or groups exists derives its legitimacy from [the] center …, and is mostly a political creation rather than an outgrowth of the dynamics of the preexisting society’. See Linz, 2000: 70.
 Linz and Stepan, 1996: 357. For instance Somoza’s Nicaragua, the Shah’s Iran, Batista’s Cuba and Ceauşescu’s Romania.
 Cf Sharps list of 198 methods of non-violent resistance in his 1973.