Gene Sharp

How Nonviolent Struggle Works (2013)

How Nonviolent Struggle Works (2013) by Gene Sharp


This small book offers the principal contents of the 902 pages of the original 1973 The Politics of Nonviolent Action to anyone who wants to learn the substance of how nonviolent struggle works.(1) That is, how the nonviolent technique can operate in conflicts, even when strong opponents are willing and able to impose harsh repression.

There are almost no historical examples presented in this abridged text. They can easily be found elsewhere.(2)

This distilled text is amazingly faithful to the original lengthy complex analysis published in 1973. The full The Politics of Nonviolent Action did not appear ready-made that year. That book was the result of years of efforts to understand, describe, and present the technique of nonviolent action.

That work was done as several distinct sections of the whole. These sections were: understanding of political power, methods of action, and dynamics of change. When put together these components reveal the essence of this technique. Not perfectly, for the final text left room for corrections and improvements. Not completely, for the knowledge of the operation of this technique was and is in a continual process of growth and development.

Depending on what sections are counted and at what stage of their development, The Politics of Nonviolent Action required about fifteen years. That does not count more than a year of editorial work with Dr. Marina Finkelstein at Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs, where I had been invited from Norway in December 1965 by Professor Thomas C. Schelling.

The earlier work was conducted at the Institute for Social Research, Oslo, the University of Oslo, Norway, and St. Catherine’s College of Oxford University, where Alan Bullock was Master.

Before the final editorial work, a draft of The Politics of Nonviolent Action was accepted in 1968 in partial fulfillment of requirements for my Doctor of Philosophy degree (D. Phil.) at Oxford University. My advanced studies in Oxford, 1960-1964, were supervised by John Plamenatz.

The Politics of Nonviolent Action is currently published in three volumes: Part One: Power and Struggle, Part Two: The Methods of Nonviolent Action, and Part Three: The Dynamics of Nonviolent Action.

The present text is an extreme abridgement of the published The Politics of Nonviolent Action. The original condensation was prepared by Jaime González Bernal in Spanish in Mexico and published as La Lucha Política Noviolenta. Jaime González Bernal told me that his condensation required a full year of work. It was published in Spanish in Mexico in private printings under the title La Lucha Política Noviolenta: Criterios y Técnicas. The first printing was in March 1988 (© Gene Sharp, 1988 and © Jaime González Bernal, 1988). González Bernal’s condensation was used by groups in Mexico that were struggling for fair elections.

The same edition was published in October 1988 in Santiago, Chile, under the title La Lucha Política Noviolenta: Criterios y Métodos by Ediciones ChileAmérica CESOC. It was copyrighted by Gene Sharp, Jaime González Bernal, and Ediciones ChileAmérica.

A revised expanded Mexican edition was printed in 1991 (© Gene Sharp, 1991 and © Jaime González Bernal, 1991) by Epessa.

Revisions of the translated passages in Spanish were made in 1993 and 1994 by Sandra Denisse Herrera Flores.

A new revised and expanded edition was printed for Cuba in 1997 (© Gene Sharp, 1997) by Hermas al Rescate. The most important addition was the expansion of the number of mechanisms of change from three to four, adding “disintigration” of the oponents’ regime.

(These terms are defined in this text.)

I produced an English language text from the Spanish in 1996. Sections of that English text were incorporated in my The Power and Practice of Nonviolent Struggle, which has been published in Arabic, Dutch, Hebrew, Portuguese, and Tibetan. It was never published in English.

The chapters on the dynamics of nonviolent conflict in my Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential draw heavily on González Bernal’s format and text, but are considerably different in content.

The English language text here is primarily Mr. González Bernal’s condensation returned to English. It has been evaluated and edited with the important assistance of Caridad Inda. She has made major contributions to this text from 1987 to this edition in 2013.

I have made limited recent changes and additions to both the English and the Spanish texts, and have changed the title to How Nonviolent Struggle Works.

Jamila Raqib provided editorial suggestions, consulted on the merit and usefulness of this text, and managed production. Jessica Drawe and Michael Levy also provided final editing and assisted with production.

After re-reading both the English and the Spanish texts, I was amazed at the quality of the condensation made by Mr. González Bernal. This concentrated version of The Politics of Nonviolent Action provides the essence of the nonviolent technique. I decided that this English text must be published, both for use by English readers and to facilitate future translations. This is the first printing of the English language text.

Major efforts in July and August 2012 to locate Jaime González Bernal were unfortunately unsuccessful.

This book will have diverse readers: the general public, faculty and students, protesters, social change activists, police and military officers, developers of political policies, religious thinkers, journalists, people of diverse political views, and many more.

Although this condensation is extremely good, I hope that many of its readers will later go to the complete The Politics of Nonviolent Action for more information, details and many historical examples. My other writings in the field are also relevant. Several are listed at the end of this publication.

Gene Sharp

1 Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action. Boston: Porter Sargent Publisher, 1973. Available at

2 See, for example, The Politics of Nonviolent Action and Gene Sharp, Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential. Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers, 2005.

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