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From Dictatorship to Democracy
From Dictatorship to Democracy
The Need for Strategic Planning
Political defiance campaigns against dictatorships may begin in a variety of ways. In the past these struggles have almost always been unplanned and essentially accidental. Specific grievances that have triggered past initial actions have varied widely, but often included new brutalities, the arrest or killing of a highly regarded person, a new repressive policy or order, food shortages, disrespect toward religious beliefs, or an anniversary of an important related event. Sometimes, a particular act by the dictatorship has so enraged the populace that they have launched into action without having any idea how the rising might end. At other times a courageous individual or a small group may have taken action which aroused support. A specific grievance may be recognized by others as similar to wrongs they had experienced and they, too, may thus join the struggle. Sometimes, a specific call for resistance from a small group or individual may meet an unexpectedly large response.
While spontaneity has some positive qualities, it has often had disadvantages. Frequently, the democratic resisters have not anticipated the brutalities of the dictatorship, so that they suffered gravely and the resistance has collapsed. At times the lack of planning by democrats has left crucial decisions to chance, with disastrous results. 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.
In the future, unplanned popular action will undoubtedly play significant roles in risings against dictatorships. However, it is now possible to calculate the most effective ways to bring down a dictatorship, to assess when the political situation and popular mood are ripe, and to choose how to initiate a campaign. Very careful thought based on a realistic assessment of the situation and the capabilities of the populace is required in order to select effective ways to achieve freedom under such circumstances.
If one wishes to accomplish something, it is wise to plan how to do it. The more important the goal, or the graver the consequences of failure, the more important planning becomes. Strategic planning increases the likelihood that all available resources will be mobilized and employed most effectively. This is especially true for a democratic movement – which has limited material resources and whose supporters will be in danger – that is trying to bring down a powerful dictatorship. In contrast, the dictatorship usually will have access to vast material resources, organizational strength, and ability to perpetrate brutalities.
“To plan a strategy” here means to calculate a course of action that will make it more likely to get from the present to the desired future situation. In terms of this discussion, it means from a dictatorship to a future democratic system. A plan to achieve that objective will usually consist of a phased series of campaigns and other organized activities designed to strengthen the oppressed population and society and to weaken the dictatorship. Note here that the objective is not simply to destroy the current dictatorship but to emplace a democratic system. A grand strategy that limits its objective to merely destroying the incumbent dictatorship runs a great risk of producing another tyrant.
Hurdles to planning
Some exponents of freedom in various parts of the world do not bring their full capacities to bear on the problem of how to achieve liberation. Only rarely do these advocates fully recognize the extreme importance of careful strategic planning before they act. Consequently, this is almost never done.
Why is it that the people who have the vision of bringing political freedom to their people should so rarely prepare a comprehensive strategic plan to achieve that goal? Unfortunately, often most people in democratic opposition groups do not understand the need for strategic planning or are not accustomed or trained to think strategically. This is a difficult task. Constantly harassed by the dictatorship, and overwhelmed by immediate responsibilities, resistance leaders often do not have the safety or time to develop strategic thinking skills [except for Sam Rainsy].
Instead, it is a common pattern simply to react to the initiatives of the dictatorship. The opposition is then always on the defensive, seeking to maintain limited liberties or bastions of freedom, at best slowing the advance of the dictatorial controls or causing certain problems for the regime’s new policies.
Some individuals and groups, of course, may not see the need for broad long-term planning of a liberation movement. Instead, they may naïvely think that if they simply espouse their goal strongly, firmly, and long enough, it will somehow come to pass. Others assume that if they simply live and witness according to their principles and ideals in face of difficulties, they are doing all they can to implement them. The espousal of humane goals and loyalty to ideals are admirable, but are grossly inadequate to end a dictatorship and to achieve freedom.
Other opponents of dictatorship may naïvely think that if only they use enough violence, freedom will come. But, as noted earlier, violence is no guarantor of success. Instead of liberation, it can lead to defeat, massive tragedy, or both. In most situations the dictatorship is best equipped for violent struggle and the military realities rarely, if ever, favor the democrats.
There are also activists who base their actions on what they “feel” they should do. These approaches are, however, not only egocentric but they offer no guidance for developing a grand strategy of liberation.
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 dictatorship. 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. Creativity and bright ideas are very important, but they need to be utilized in order to advance the strategic situation of the democratic forces.
Acutely aware of the multitude of actions that could be taken against the dictatorship and unable to determine where to begin, some people counsel “Do everything simultaneously.” That might be helpful but, of course, is impossible, especially for relatively weak movements. Furthermore, such an approach provides no guidance on where to begin, on where to concentrate efforts, and how to use often limited resources.
Other persons and groups may see the need for some planning, but are only able to think about it on a short-term or tactical basis. They may not see that longer-term planning is necessary or possible. They may at times be unable to think and analyze in strategic terms, allowing themselves to be repeatedly distracted by relatively small issues, often responding to the opponents’ actions rather than seizing the initiative for the democratic resistance. Devoting so much energy to short-term activities, these leaders often fail to explore several alternative courses of action which could guide the overall efforts so that the goal is constantly approached.
It is also just possible that some democratic movements do not plan a comprehensive strategy to bring down the dictatorship, concentrating instead only on immediate issues, for another reason. Inside themselves, they do not really believe that the dictatorship can be ended by their own efforts. Therefore, planning how to do so is considered to be a romantic waste of time or an exercise in futility. People struggling for freedom against established brutal dictatorships are often confronted by such immense military and police power that it appears the dictators can accomplish whatever they will. Lacking real hope, these people will, nevertheless, defy the dictatorship for reasons of integrity and perhaps history. Though they will never admit it, perhaps never consciously recognize it, their actions appear to themselves as hopeless. Hence, for them, long-term comprehensive strategic planning has no merit.
The result of such failures to plan strategically is often drastic: one’s strength is dissipated, one’s actions are ineffective, energy is wasted on minor issues, advantages are not utilized, and sacrifices are for naught. If democrats do not plan strategically they are likely to fail to achieve their objectives. A poorly planned, odd mixture of activities will not move a major resistance effort forward. Instead, it will more likely allow the dictatorship to increase its controls and power.
Unfortunately, because comprehensive strategic plans for liberation are rarely, if ever, developed, dictatorships appear much more durable than they in fact are. They survive for years or decades longer than need be the case.
Four important terms in strategic planning
In order to help us to think strategically, clarity about the meanings of four basic terms is important.
Grand strategy is the conception that serves to coordinate and direct the use of all appropriate and available resources (economic, human, moral, political, organizational, etc.) of a group seeking to attain its objectives in a conflict.
Grand strategy, by focusing primary attention on the group’s objectives and resources in the conflict, determines the most appropriate technique of action (such as conventional military warfare or nonviolent struggle) to be employed in the conflict. In planning a grand strategy resistance leaders must evaluate and plan which pressures and influences are to be brought to bear upon the opponents. Further, grand strategy will include decisions on the appropriate conditions and timing under which initial and subsequent resistance campaigns will be launched.
Grand strategy sets the basic framework for the selection of more limited strategies for waging the struggle. Grand strategy also determines the allocation of general tasks to particular groups and the distribution of resources to them for use in the struggle.
Strategy is the conception of how best to achieve particular objectives in a conflict, operating within the scope of the chosen grand strategy. Strategy is concerned with whether, when, and how to fight, as well as how to achieve maximum effectiveness in struggling for certain ends. A strategy has been compared to the artist’s concept, while a strategic plan is the architect’s blueprint.(12)
Strategy may also include efforts to develop a strategic situation that is so advantageous that the opponents are able to foresee that open conflict is likely to bring their certain defeat, and therefore capitulate without an open struggle. Or, if not, the improved strategic situation will make success of the challengers certain in struggle. Strategy also involves how to act to make good use of successes when gained.
Applied to the course of the struggle itself, the strategic plan is the basic idea of how a campaign shall develop, and how its separate components shall be fitted together to contribute most advantageously to achieve its objectives. It involves the skillful deployment of particular action groups in smaller operations. Planning for a wise strategy must take into consideration the requirements for success in the operation of the chosen technique of struggle. Different techniques will have different requirements. Of course, just fulfilling “requirements” is not sufficient to ensure success. Additional factors may also be needed.
In devising strategies, the democrats must clearly define their objectives and determine how to measure the effectiveness of efforts to achieve them. This definition and analysis permits the strategist to identify the precise requirements for securing each selected objective. This need for clarity and definition applies equally to tactical planning.
Tactics and methods of action are used to implement the strategy. Tactics relate to the skillful use of one’s forces to the best advantage in a limited situation. A tactic is a limited action, employed to achieve a restricted objective. The choice of tactics is governed by the conception of how best in a restricted phase of a conflict to utilize the available means of fighting to implement the strategy. To be most effective, tactics and methods must be chosen and applied with constant attention to the achievement of strategic objectives. Tactical gains that do not reinforce the attainment of strategic objectives may in the end turn out to be wasted energy.
A tactic is thus concerned with a limited course of action that fits within the broad strategy, just as a strategy fits within the grand strategy. Tactics are always concerned with fighting, whereas strategy includes wider considerations. A particular tactic can only be understood as part of the overall strategy of a battle or a campaign. Tactics are applied for shorter periods of time than strategies, or in smaller areas (geographical, institutional, etc.), or by a more limited number of people, or for more limited objectives. In nonviolent action the distinction between a tactical objective and a strategic objective may be partly indicated by whether the chosen objective of the action is minor or major.
Offensive tactical engagements are selected to support attainment of strategic objectives. Tactical engagements are the tools of the strategist in creating conditions favorable for delivering decisive attacks against an opponent. It is most important, therefore, that those given responsibility for planning and executing tactical operations be skilled in assessing the situation, and selecting the most appropriate methods for it. Those expected to participate must be trained in the use of the chosen technique and the specific methods.
Method refers to the specific weapons or means of action. Within the technique of nonviolent struggle, these include the dozens of particular forms of action (such as the many kinds of strikes, boycotts, political noncooperation, and the like) cited in Chapter Five. (See also Appendix.)
The development of a responsible and effective strategic plan for a nonviolent struggle depends upon the careful formulation and selection of the grand strategy, strategies, tactics, and methods.
The main lesson of this discussion is that a calculated use of one’s intellect is required in careful strategic planning for liberation from a dictatorship. Failure to plan intelligently can contribute to disasters, while the effective use of one’s intellectual capacities can chart a strategic course that will judiciously utilize one’s available resources to move the society toward the goal of liberty and democracy.
12 Robert Helvey, personal communication, 15 August 1993.