Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship To Democracy Part 4

Continuing…

Four

Dictatorships Have Weaknesses

Dictatorships often appear invulnerable. Intelligence agencies, police, military forces, prisons, concentration camps, and execution squads are controlled by a powerful few. A country’s finances, natural resources, and production capacities are often arbitrarily plundered by dictators and used to support the dictators’ will.

In comparison, democratic opposition forces often appear extremely weak, ineffective, and powerless. That perception of invulnerability against powerlessness makes effective opposition unlikely.

That is not the whole story, however.

Identifying the Achilles’ Heel

A myth from Classical Greece illustrates well the vulnerability of the supposedly invulnerable. Against the warrior Achilles, no blow would injure and no sword would penetrate his skin. When still a baby, Achilles’ mother had supposedly dipped him into the waters of the magical river Styx, resulting in the protection of his body from all dangers. There was, however, a problem. Since the baby was held by his heel so that he would not be washed away, the magical water had not covered that small part of his body. When Achilles was a grown man he appeared to all to be invulnerable to the enemies’ weapons. However, in the battle against Troy, instructed by one who knew the weakness, an enemy soldier aimed his arrow at Achilles’ unprotected heel, the one spot where he could be injured. The strike proved fatal. Still today, the phrase “Achilles’ heel” refers to the vulnerable part of a person, a plan, or an institution at which if attacked there is no protection.

The same principle applies to ruthless dictatorships. They, too, can be conquered, but most quickly and with least cost if their weaknesses can be identified and the attack concentrated on them.

Weaknesses of Dictatorships

Among the weaknesses of dictatorships are the following:

1. The cooperation of a multitude of people, groups, and institutions needed to operate the system may be restricted or withdrawn.

2. The requirements and effects of the regime’s past policies will somewhat limit its present ability to adopt and implement conflicting policies.

3. The system may become routine in its operation, less able to adjust quickly to new situations.

4. Personnel and resources already allocated for existing tasks will not be easily available for new needs.

5. Subordinates fearful of displeasing their superiors may not report accurate or complete information needed by the dictators to make decisions.

6. The ideology may erode, and myths and symbols of the system may become unstable.

7. If a strong ideology is present that influences one’s view of reality, firm adherence to it may cause inattention to actual conditions and needs.

8. Deteriorating efficiency and competency of the bureaucracy, or excessive controls and regulations, may make the system’s policies and operation ineffective.

9. Internal institutional conflicts and personal rivalries and hos- tilities may harm, and even disrupt, the operation of the dictatorship.

10. Intellectuals and students may become restless in response to conditions, restrictions, doctrinalism, and repression.

11. The general public may over time become apathetic, skeptical, and even hostile to the regime.

12. Regional, class, cultural, or national differences may become acute.

13. The power hierarchy of the dictatorship is always unstable to some degree, and at times extremely so. Individuals do not only remain in the same position in the ranking, but may rise or fall to other ranks or be removed entirely and replaced by new persons.

14. Sections of the police or military forces may act to achieve their own objectives, even against the will of established dictators, including by coup d’état.

15. If the dictatorship is new, time is required for it to become well established.

16. With so many decisions made by so few people in the dictatorship, mistakes of judgment, policy, and action are likely to occur.

17. If the regime seeks to avoid these dangers and decentralizes controls and decision making, its control over the central levers of power may be further eroded.

Attacking Weaknesses of Dictatorships

With knowledge of such inherent weaknesses, the democratic opposition can seek to aggravate these “Achilles’ heels” deliberately in order to alter the system drastically or to disintegrate it.

The conclusion is then clear: despite the appearances of strength, all dictatorships have weaknesses, internal inefficiencies, personal rivalries, institutional inefficiencies, and conflicts between organizations and departments. These weaknesses, over time, tend to make the regime less effective and more vulnerable to changing conditions and deliberate resistance. Not everything the regime sets out to accomplish will get completed. At times, for example, even Hitler’s direct orders were never implemented because those beneath him in the hierarchy refused to carry them out. The dictatorial regime may at times even fall apart quickly, as we have already observed.

This does not mean dictatorships can be destroyed without risks and casualties. Every possible course of action for liberation will involve risks and potential suffering, and will take time to operate. And, of course, no means of action can ensure rapid success in every situation. However, types of struggle that target the dictatorship’s identifiable weaknesses have greater chance of success than those that seek to fight the dictatorship where it is clearly strongest. The question is how this struggle is to be waged.

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