This book offers a regressive analysis of how dictatorships have collapsed, giving a general blueprint for how to bring one down and transform it into a democracy. The key word is “general,” because there are almost no action items. Instead, it gives the theoretical means of destroying dictatorships (the author himself has not taken part in fighting against a dictator). This fact is made obvious by passages such as this:
The use of a considerable number of [anti-dictatorship] methods —- carefully chosen, applied persistently and on a large scale, wielded in the context of a wise strategy and appropriate tactics by trained civilians — is likely to cause any illegitimate regime severe problems. This applies to all dictatorships.
Spoken like a true keyboard jockey. Nonetheless, the book does share some useful ideas:
Violent rebellions can trigger brutal repression that frequently leaves the populace more helpless than before.
When conventional military rebellion is recognized as unrealistic, some dissidents then favor guerrilla warfare. However, guerrilla warfare rarely, if ever, benefits the oppressed population or ushers in a democracy.
A halt to resistance rarely brings reduced repression. Once the restraining force of internal and international opposition has been removed, dictators may even make their oppression and violence more brutal than before. The collapse of popular resistance often removes the countervailing force that has limited the control and brutality of the dictatorship.
Resistance, not negotiations, is essential for change in conflicts where fundamental issues are at stake. In nearly all cases, resistance must continue to drive dictators out of power.
Nonviolent discipline is a key to success and must be maintained despite provocations and brutalities by the dictators and their agents.
…skillful, disciplined, and persistent use of political defiance may result in more and more participation in the resistance by people who normally would give their tacit support to the dictators or generally remain neutral in the conflict.
Even when the oppressive system was brought down, lack of planning on how to handle the transition to a democratic system has contributed to the emergence of a new dictatorship.
The author mentions an interesting point that partially explains why the Occupy movement in America fizzled out:
Action based on a “bright idea” that someone has had is also limited. What is needed instead is action based on careful calculation of the “next steps” required to topple the dicatorship. Without strategic analysis, resistance leaders will often not know what that “next step” should be, for they have not thought carefully about the successive specific steps required to achieve victory. Creative and bright ideas are very important, but they need to be utilized in order to advance the strategic situation of the democratic forces.
Here is the four-step formula for bringing down a dictatorship:
1. One must strengthen the oppressed population themselves in their determination, self-confidence, and resistance skills;
2. One must strengthen the independent social groups and institutions of the oppressed people;
3. One must create a powerful internal resistance force;
4. One must develop a wise grand strategic plan for liberation and implement it skillfully.
Simply identify where the dictator gets his power, and then go about limiting those sources. Besides the highlights I’ve shared above, the book had little additional meat in the actual process of making that happen. Much of it will be common sense to a casual reader of history.
Read More: “From Dictatorship To Democracy” on Amazon