Gene Sharp

(2012, USA)

for developing and articulating the core principles and strategies of nonviolent resistance and supporting their practical implementation in conflict areas around the world.


Gene Sharp is the world's foremost expert on nonviolent revolution and has been described as the "Machiavelli of nonviolence". In a lifetime of academic work, he has established nonviolent action and people power as a successful means of political change. Sharp's writings on nonviolent struggle have been used by social movements around the world, from the jungles of Burma to the streets of Serbia and Tahrir Square in Egypt during the Arab Spring.

Contact Details

Gene Sharp
Albert Einstein Institution
P.O. Box 455
East Boston, MA 02128

Phone: +1 617 247 4882


Gene Sharp (born January 21, 1928) was a researcher at the Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, for nearly 30 years.  He is a graduate of Ohio State University with a B.A. in social sciences and an M.A. in sociology, and of Oxford University with a D.Phil. in political theory.

In 1983, Gene Sharp founded the Albert Einstein Institution, to promote the study and strategic use of nonviolent action in conflicts. He currently serves as the Senior Scholar. The Albert Einstein Institution's Executive Director is Jamila Raqib.

Sharp discovered as a graduate student that while historical accounts and research on violent conflict and military strategy were abundant, the successes of nonviolent actions had often been written out of the history books. To address this problem he began to study the historical cases where nonviolent means of struggle were used, in order to understand how the technique worked.  

While writing his first book on Gandhi at 25 years old, Sharp was jailed for 9 months for conscientiously objecting to conscription for the Korean War. He discussed his decision to go to prison for his beliefs in letters to Albert Einstein who wrote a foreword to this first book.    

While continuing his studies in Norway from 1957-60, Sharp began to analyse how nonviolent action operates in conflict, and to list specific methods of resistance. He studied Gandhian actions, looking for factors determining success and failure. His research work in Oslo included the resistance to the German occupation of Norway during World War 2, where evidence of nonviolent action had often previously been ignored.

Sharp argues that the major unresolved political problems of our time - dictatorship, genocide, war and social oppression - require us to rethink politics. He maintains that pragmatic, strategically planned, nonviolent struggle can be highly effective in ending oppression.

His writings have helped governments and social movements around the world plan and implement the use of successful nonviolent resistance. In 1990, Sharp advised the Swedish Ministry of Defence on their plans to incorporate a nonviolent resistance component into the existing military defence policy.

Sharp's book Civilian-Based Defense was used by the Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian governments during their separation from the Soviet Union in 1991. Lithuanian Defence Minster Audrius Butkevicius declared at the time, "I would rather have this book than the nuclear bomb".  

At the request of democracy activists, Sharp travelled illegally into Burma in 1992 to teach workshops on nonviolent action to students, democracy activists and Karen rebel fighters.  

A Burmese intellectual asked him to write an analysis that could be applied for the Burmese situation. Sharp resisted writing specifically for Burma but published a generic analysis in 1993 called From Dictatorship to Democracy. Simple to translate and easy to smuggle across borders this book would go on to become one of the seminal works for democracy activists across the world, translated into more than 34 languages on every continent.

Despite operating with modest funding for the past 8 years and working out of his home in East Boston, Gene Sharp has made From Dictatorship to Democracy and other key texts available for free online from the Albert Einstein Institution website. These texts have been studied by groups including Egypt's April 6 Movement, Serbia's Otpor, Georgia's Kmara, Kyrgyzstan's KelKel and Belarus' Zubr in their efforts to effect change in their societies without the use of violence. Oleh Kryenko, one of the leaders of Ukraine's 'Orange Revolution', said in 2004: "The bible of PORA has been the book of Gene Sharp, also used by OTPOR, it's called From Dictatorship to Democracy." 

Since its release in 2004, the Farsi edition of From Dictatorship to Democracy has been downloaded thousands of times by Iranians. Access to Sharp's writings peaked after the post-election 'green uprising' in 2009, and at the first court trial of activists arrested during the protests, Gene Sharp was cited (through his writings) as having influenced the activities of the Iranian opposition, which were described as having been planned in advance. One of the methods, which Sharp listed and the Iranian activists implemented, was for people to stay at home and paralyse a city as an expression of resistance against the regime.  

In 2010, Sharp published Self-Liberation: A guide to Strategic Planning for Action to End a Dictatorship or Other Oppression, a curriculum designed to enable groups to self-reliantly develop grand strategies for their struggles. His latest book, Sharp's Dictionary of Power and Struggle: Language of Civil Resistance in Conflicts is a reference work of key terms related to power and struggle, and was published by Oxford University Press in January 2012. His book How Nonviolent Struggle Works is forthcoming in Autumn 2012.

In 2011, How to Start a Revolution, a documentary focusing on Gene Sharp's writings and their impact on resistance movements around the world, was released, and has since been viewed by millions around the world winning 8 international awards including a Scottish BAFTA. The film, written and directed by British filmmaker Ruaridh Arrow, contains powerful archival footage of the use of nonviolent action in Serbia, Iran, Egypt, and elsewhere, as well as interviews with various of Sharp's associates.


Award Acceptance Speech by Gene Sharp

(The text of Gene Sharp's speech is also available in German.)

7 December 2012 

(Please note that below text differs slightly from the speech Gene Sharp gave on the evening of the Award Ceremony)

Mister Deputy Speaker,
Honourable Members of Parliament, 
Your excellencies, 
Fellow laureates, 
Dear friends, 

I wish to begin by thanking the Right Livelihood Award Foundation for the great honor of this award. I also wish to thank Michael True for the nomination for the award. 

Violence in our world is so common and mostly accepted without question that at times it seems to be a permanent part of reality. Those of us who want the future to be different are often relegated to a role of irrelevant objectors, able only to dissent, but unable to achieve a change away from the heavy role of violence in political practice. This situation can lead us to accept that reliance on violence is inevitable and beyond our control. That conclusion is a great error. 

During the past century and long before, at times people have found another way to fight when they needed to struggle for various objectives. In those limited situations the use of violence shrank or disappeared. The violence had been replaced with nonviolent struggle. 

Nonviolent struggle, or nonviolent action, includes three categories of methods. The methods of nonviolent protest are symbolic activities—such as marching and the displaying of certain colors. This technique also includes the more powerful methods of noncooperation such as social boycotts, labor strikes, economic boycotts, and political noncooperation, including civil disobedience. There are also the methods of nonviolent intervention and disruption, such as sit-ins, fasts, and the creation of new institutions. 

This technique is identified by what people do, not by what they believe. Such actions have been used against diverse types of opponents, including employers, governments, and dictatorships.  Rarely an individual takes such action, but almost always it is a group; scores, hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people acting together. 

Throughout the centuries people have waged this type of conflict with modest effectiveness. The past resisters have had limited knowledge and understanding of the operation of the technique. There were no guidebooks on planning strategy, nor even lists of "do's" and "don'ts". 

Sometimes this type of conflict was used where it was not expected, for example, in Nazi-occupied Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, elsewhere, and even in Berlin to save Jews during the Holocaust. 

It was once thought that the peoples of Eastern and Central Europe would be living under Communist rule for decades, barring a Western military intervention. Now, the peoples of Poland, East Germany, the former Czechoslovakia, and other countries are recognized as having freed themselves without a war of liberation.

Perhaps most remarkable of all are the little nations of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Their brave guerrilla wars were fought against both Nazi and Soviet rule, and all three Baltic states had been annexed as republics of the Soviet Union. Following their own improvised methods of nonviolent protest and new strategic understanding gained from my then new book Civilian-Based Defense, they exited the Soviet Union with minimal casualties. 

In early 2011 the predominantly nonviolent victorious revolutions against long entrenched autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt launched the "Arab Spring." The struggles were stunning in their mass mobilization, nonviolent discipline, fearlessness, and speed. 

Now there is a widespread growing hunger for knowledge about nonviolent struggle, fueling an increased demand for publications and other resources. New and old books are revealing a technique of great power with insights into its history and understanding of how it operates. The Arab Spring and other developments have let the genie out of the bottle and it cannot be put back again. The knowledge of how to cast off oppression nonviolently is now known and is spreading. 

The dramatic increase in media attention to our work at the Albert Einstein Institution in the wake of the Arab Spring revealed an amazing new reality. Nonviolent struggle is finally receiving the serious attention and consideration it has long deserved. Also, it should be noted that the several dozens of reporters from various countries who contacted us already had an accurate basic understanding of nonviolent struggle. None of them had the old misunderstandings that were nearly universal in past years. 

Long-standing misconceptions about nonviolent struggle have included that it can only be successful against gentle opponents, that it requires a charismatic leader, that it only "works" by conversion, that in order to keep the required nonviolent discipline it is necessary that resisters believe in moral nonviolence or pacifism, that wise action requires a single strategic genius, such as Gandhi, and that violence works quickly, while nonviolent struggle takes forever. 

We now know that those earlier misconceptions that limited the relevance of nonviolent struggle are false. Effective nonviolent struggle is now known to be more possible than earlier believed. Nevertheless, almost all governments retain their irrational faith in the omnipotence of violence, and therefore drag their people into disasters. 

However, we now know that the disasters caused by violence in political conflicts are not inevitable. My writings and those of others show that power in political conflicts is derived from identifiable sources. All of these sources are rooted in the obedience, cooperation and assistance of people and their institutions. When that cooperation and obedience are withdrawn, oppressive regimes are left without the support necessary for their continued rule. 

But despite this more accurate understanding and growing recognition, challenges remain. We now know that people need to learn how to plan a wise strategy for their struggle. If the hard-won gains achieved by nonviolent struggle are not to be later stolen, as they were in Russia by the Bolsheviks in 1917 and in Iran by the Ayatollahs in 1979, it is necessary to learn how to block such efforts. 

It is important that the achievements and failures of nonviolent struggles be accurately documented for the historical record and not forgotten or misrepresented after the immediate crisis has passed. It is necessary to learn how to block foreign military intervention, whatever the real motive, that can derail the collapse of the oppressing regime and help it to maintain its rule. 

Foreign military assistance can also give the foreign forces major control of both the on-going struggle and the future society. Instead of accepting military intervention, the nonviolent struggle movement needs to intensify its self-reliant efforts to paralyze or disintegrate the oppressive regime. 

Much has been learned about the nature and potential of nonviolent struggle. However, there is still much more to be learned. Dangers remain. Major efforts are required to spread knowledge of how to deal with those dangers and to increase the effectiveness of nonviolent struggles. A future of domination, the rule of violence, and popular helplessness, is not inevitable. We now have the knowledge needed to block that sad future, if we have the will to use it. 

We are at a new stage in the practice of nonviolent struggle and in the recognition of its potential. If we take wise and responsible steps in the coming years, the future will reveal achievements beyond what we can now imagine.


How to Start a Revolution (teaser)

In 2010, the BBC journalist Ruaridh Arrow made a documentary that combines examples of the most recent revolutions (Egypt, Iran, and Lithuania) with interviews and writings by Gene Sharp to demonstrate how often his findings are applied.

Panel talk with Gene Sharp, Jamila Raqib and Ruaridh Arrow

A panel talk with Gene Sharp, Jamila Raqib and Ruaridh Arrow after the screening of "How to Start a Revolution" at Bio Rio in Stockholm Dec 9 2012.

Gene Sharp's reaction to the Right Livelihood Award

1990 National Conference on Nonviolent Struggle and Defense

The films starts with the trailer of "How to start a revolution" and then shows a speech by Gene Sharp in 1990.

Zeitgeist 2011

This video starts with the trailer of  "How to start a revolution" and continues with a lecture by Gene Sharp followed by Q&A.

Insights with Gene Sharp: From Dictatorship to Democracy

Gene Sharp on The Norwegian Teachers Strike

Gene Sharp tells the story of the Norwegian teachers strike during the Second World War, a key influence in his development of the practice of nonviolent struggle.


Publications by Gene Sharp

For publications (in different languages) by Gene Sharp and The Albert Einstein Institution, please see their website 

Articles about Gene Sharp

The Quiet American. By Janine di Giovanni, New York Times, September 3, 20012

Gene Sharp: Author of the Nonviolent revolution rulebook. By Ruaridh Arrow, BBC, February 21, 2011.

For more articles about and interviews with Gene Sharp, please see the AEI's website


Right Livelihood Award Foundation

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