Leading nonviolent theorist Gene Sharp continues to receive the recognition he has long deserved with an enthralling feature in The Nation magazine. Right from the outset, Nation reporter Sasha Abramsky paints Sharp as an unfairly overlooked figure, who “has labored in obscurity for much of his life.” This theme runs throughout the piece and is counter-balanced by the tremendous effect he’s had on global democracy movements over the past quarter century.
He was like a boutique wine: cherished by a select few, hidden from the broader public. Even his friends and colleagues believed that he was, to a degree, tilting at windmills.These days, however, with the Egyptian revolution upending longstanding assumptions about the interplay between dictatorships and the people they oppress, Sharp’s ideas don’t seem so quixotic. Those windmills, says his friend [Bob] Helvey, might just be morphing into giants.
What Abramsky does best, aside from accurately explain Sharp’s theories, is tell us more about the man himself. The story of how Sharp came to believe in the power of nonviolent action is no less engaging than the stories we’ve been hearing about the people and movements he’s come to influence.
Gene Sharp grew up in a conservative Republican family in the American Midwest. His formative years were dominated by stories of World War II, images of the horrors of death camps, the onset of the cold war, the atomic bomb. As the images sank in, he developed an abhorrence of violence and totalitarianism; during the Korean War he went to prison rather than allow the Army to conscript him.
Shortly after Sharp was released, he wrote a book about Mahatma Gandhi, who had recently been assassinated and who, Sharp concluded, was misunderstood. Maybe he was a saint, as he was widely being portrayed; maybe he wasn’t. To Sharp the question was beside the point. For him, Gandhi was one of the century’s great political strategists. He realized that Indians couldn’t successfully fight the British Empire militarily and instead carefully crafted a nonviolent strategy that ultimately destroyed the Raj. When Sharp completed the book, he sent a note to Albert Einstein, asking whether he would write an introduction; to his delight, the legendary physicist cum peace activist agreed. Sharp’s course was set.
The rest of Abramsky’s Nation piece is well worth the read.
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Is the description of the Albert Einstein Institution as “a bare-bones” operation really accurate?
We are after all talking about an Institution that has been funded by some of the worlds leading capitalists. For example, past funders include the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Institute, and the US government-funded US Institute for Peace and the National Endowment for Democracy. Such funding relations are no secret, except to the author of this article (Sasha Abramsky), as they are all advertised in the Albert Einstein Institution’s online annual reports.
Moreover, we are talking about a man (Gene Sharp) who according to Abramsky counts among his “longtime friend[s]” the current president of the British Academy, Sir Adam Roberts: an individual who just for the record, formerly served on the Albert Einstein Institution’s advisory board, and has spent the last seven years on the advisory board of the UK Defence Academy — which “is the institution responsible for post-graduate education and the majority of command, staff, leadership, defence management, acquisition and technology training for members of the UK Armed Forces and MOD Civil Servants.”
Thus to describe Gene Sharp as “a nonviolent equivalent of Leon Trotsky” is a little strange to say the least. Sharp is actually the polar opposite of Trotsky, and as I have demonstrated elsewhere Sharp’s organization works to serve, not challenge, imperial interests.
The political advantage that revolutionary activists fighting for emancipation had over their oppressive adversaries led Leon Trotsky to observe: “We had over our opponents an infinite advantage. We understood them much better than they understand us.”
Thus ironically, Gene Sharp and his imperial friends might well be repeating the same phrase in reference to their pragmatic promotion of nonviolence to serve capitalist not revolutionary politics.
Mr. Barker is a self-appointed free-lance manufacturer and distributor of deliberate disinformation about nonviolence and its teachers, so readers can safely disregared his comment above about Gene Sharp. Take, for example, his false insinuation that the National Endowment for Democracy is a major funder of the Albert Einstein Institution. The NED gave a small grant for publication of one AEI monograph almost 20 years ago, and on the basis of that Mr. Barker claims that Einstein is joined at the hip with the U.S. government. Take also his claim that Dr. Sharp is promoting “capitalist” and not revolutionary politics. Does he offer a single reference that proves this claim? He does not, he only makes a polemical charge that is totally unsupported by any evidence. And yet we know that resistance campaigns from West Papua to the Niger Delta to the Andean nations are using Gene Sharp’s ideas and analysis to develop strategies to resist the exploitation of their people by U.S. and European multinational corporations. In fact, it is Mr. Barker whose “research” and writing is counter-revolutionary.
What disinformation? Are you talking about my peer-reviewed conference paper that was published in 2008 (“Activist Education at the Albert Einstein Institution: A Critical Examination of Elite Cooption of Civil Disobedience”)?
In the above comment I did not insinuate that the National Endowment for Democracy was a major funder of the Albert Einstein Institution: I said that in the past the Albert Einstein Institution had received NED aid (which they did).
In 1991, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported, in a generally celebratory article, that the NED’s first acting president admitted that “A lot of what we [the NED] do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.” Ignatius adds: “The biggest difference is that when such activities are done overtly, the flap potential is close to zero. Openness is its own protection.”
Although on numerous occasions I have written to the Albert Einstein Institution to request their most recent annual reports, they have never replied to my requests. Therefore, I am forced to reply upon their online annual reports which do not provide a break down of how much aid is received from their financial supporters. Thus their 1993-1999 Report on Activities mentions the funders I cite, thus it appears that Mr Paine’s (pre-1990) information about NED support for the Institution complements my own research. Given that Peter Ackerman and his wife are the primary million dollar funders of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict and that both were board member of the Albert Einstein Institution during the 1993-1999 period, one might guess that they provided more funding for the Institution than the NED (although this is not mentioned in the Institutions annual reports).
That said, another fellow board member of the Albert Einstein Institution (mentioned in the 1993-99 report) was Professor Thomas Shelling, an individual the report points out has been “a consultant to the Departments of State and Defense, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and the CIA.” Therefore it is appropriate that funding for Sharp’s major theoretical contribution to non-violent scholarship – his trilogy, The Politics of Nonviolent Action (1972) – came indirectly from Professor Thomas Schellings grants, which in turn were obtained from the Ford Foundation (whose work was intimately linked with that of the CIA), and the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the US Department of Defense.
Peer-reviewed conference paper? Sweet Jesus; we all produce those by the dozens, Michael, and some that I’ve heard presented were doozies full of errors and rampant speculation. Your pieces are unfailingly of a similar strain of guilt by association that is truly tiresome. I work with ICNC every chance I get and no one on Earth has ever accused me of being in the pocket of the US government. Not only that, but the project I direct, PeaceVoice, gets its funding from a family foundation that made its fortune in the trucking industry. Am I the pawn of that industry, Michael? Your charges are specious, as always, and if you are looking to determine motive, ask most any Egyptian if that nonviolence might have worked pretty well instead of what we see in Libya? Ask an African American from the Deep South in the US. Ask me, Michael. Literally every single battle we undertook for decades when I was in northern Wisconsin we waged with robust nonviolence and we won each and every one. We shut down oil drilling, eliminated herbicides from the Chequamegon National Forest, stopped poor mining practices, stopped a huge incinerator, upheld Native American treaty rights, stopped the DOE twice from building nuclear waste dumps, stopped seven nuclear power plants and shut down a thermonuclear command facility. How many of those would we have won using violence? Zero, Michael. Wake up. Smell the conflict forensics.
Dear Professor Hastings
I hope you will take the time to seriously engage with the actual content of my work.
Once you have done this I would like to invite you to draw attention to the worst example of my “truly tiresome” use of “guilt by association.” I will then reply in full to your criticism.
By the way do you have a problem with the peer-review process in general (which I certainly do), or just with my peer-reviewed article?
I will look forward to hearing from you,
Notice that Michael Barker cannot leave one conspiracy theory alone without adding another to it: Although he fails to substantiate quantitatively any serious support of the Einstein Institution by the National Endowment for Democracy, he compares that organization with the CIA on the basis of an article by a Washington Post columnist quoting an opinion by someone who led the National Endowment for Democracy more than 25 years ago — thus demonstrating the substantive heft and immediacy of the sources on which he is willing to rely.
Mr. Barker also does more of his customary guilt-by-association theorizing by trying to tie Nobel Prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling (whose name he misspells) with Gene Sharp because Schelling was on Einstein’s board and Schelling had unrelated grants from the Ford Foundation, which Mr. Barker claims was linked with the CIA. Once more, he suggests, the CIA is contaminating Gene Sharp, this time through three degrees of separation. (Stephen Zunes debunked this kind of “research” three years ago: http://www.fpif.org/articles/the_cooties_effect)
This isn’t “research”, and it may not even rise to the level of disinformation, so evansescent is the evidence. It also leaves unanswered the question of why Mr. Barker is constantly barking up the tree of nonviolence.
Why is he so insistent that nonprofits and scholars who teach other people how to use nonviolent action are really nefarious? Does he prefer violent resistance as a means of liberation? Is he in mourning for dictators like Milosevic and Mubarak who were removed by popular movements in part by using knowledge gleaned from reading Gene Sharp and others, who’ve taught about the achievements of dozens of such movements in the past decades?
To believe Mr. Barker’s false charges, we’d have to believe that the scholars and teachers associated with foundations and nonprofits that help people learn about nonviolent struggle have really been spending their whole careers consciously doing the work of an intelligence agency for a war-making government.
There are only two explanations for this: Mr. Barker is really a science fiction writer and this is an installment story about an alternate universe in which the secret intentions of intricate cabals can explain events. Or he’s willing to try to disparage people whose undisclosed motives (if they have any) he cannot know, in order to attempt to discredit their work. But there is a simpler explanation about the motivation behind that work, namely that it’s been driven by the sincere desire to help shift the process of overcoming oppression to nonviolent methods, in a world that most of us agree is still far too violent.
Miguel Cervantes said more than 400 years ago, “Every man is the son of his own works.” By that standard, Gene Sharp and his colleagues are the progeny of the history we see before our eyes in Egypt and every other country where nonviolence is opening a new era of people’s rights.
To address a few of Mr Paine’s points.
Writing in 1986 for The New York Times, David Shipler cited the president of the National Endowment for Democracy, Carl Gershman, who said, “It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the C.I.A. We saw that in the 60’s, and that’s why it has been discontinued. We have not had the capability of doing this, and that’s why the endowment was created.” Gershman is still the president of the NED today. http://www.swans.com/library/art14/barker06.html
At the time that Thomas Schelling was being funded by the Ford Foundation it had been recently revealed that the Foundation had been working hand-in-glove with the CIA for decades. For further details, see professor Edward Berman’s The Influence of the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller Foundations on American Foreign Policy: The Ideology of Philanthropy (State University of New York Press, 1983). http://dissidentvoice.org/2010/06/the-ideology-of-philanthropy/
For a recent examination of the Ford Foundation’s anti-democratic exploits, see Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Random House, 2007). In this book Klein documents the role that the Ford Foundation played in supporting the “Berkeley Mafia who prepared the economic blueprint” for Indonesia’s future under Suharto’s dictatorship. The role that the Ford Foundation played in Indonesia was first documented by Ramparts magazine in October 1970, see David Ransom’s article “The Berkeley Mafia and the Indonesian Massacre.” http://www.pergerakankebangsaan.org/?p=396
With regard to the Stephen Zunes article which apparently “debunks” my work I have already answered Mr Paine’s criticism on the web site just under a month ago. http://dev2.wagingnonviolence.org/2011/02/what-the-world-can-learn-from-egypt-so-far/comment-page-1/#comment-20788
My main question is what is it about Sharp that Michael Barker hates so much? I mean seriously, of all the people you could become obsessed about, why him? Did he sleep with your mum or something?
Enough with the stalking already.
I had to do a websearch on wagingnonviolence.org for “Gene Sharp” to find this blog entry since there is no mention of him in the About section in regard to historical contributions in the nonviolent societal change movement. Also there is no link to his website, aeinstein.org in the Organizations category, listed on every page. Why is this? Are there some disagreements by the editors with his writings and/or associations, perhaps in agreement with and/or beyond those accusations/insinuations of Michael Barker in, “Sharp Reflection Warranted Nonviolence in the Service of Imperialism”, repeated here (and other places on this website, I see)?
I, and probably some others, would like to see a clear explanation for this exclusion.
There is no disagreement among the editors of this site in regards to the importance of Gene Sharp’s work. We all think very highly of him. Just read the many posts we’ve written about his work.
We do in fact have a link to the Albert Einstein Institution under the Organizations heading in the side bar and it’s been there since we started the site.
It’s true we don’t mention Gene on our About page. That’s not any slight against him. The point of the About page is to tell about our organization, not the whole history of nonviolent social change.