How to Start a Revolution… Or Not

Capitalists always seek to undermine the organizing efforts of the working-class. Thus, in the wake of World War II the US government increasingly relied upon the class fighters of their newly launched Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to crush the democratic aspirations of ordinary people. Part of this secretive work involved the manipulation of electoral processes, with vast sums of money being channelled by the CIA to pro-capitalist political leaders and their parties to help them beat their socialist adversaries. Another component of this dirty political warfare directed millions of dollars towards the task of sabotaging the trade union movement. None of this is too surprising. Nevertheless, we need to be conscious of such anti-democratic interventions if we are to eventually beat our adversaries and ensure the socialist transformation of society. 

Part of this toxic history of the CIA’s ‘democratic’ manoeuvrings are recounted in Ruaridh Arrow’s book Gene Sharp: How to Start a Revolution (2020) – a hagiography of the late Gene Sharp (1928-2018), a man who is now remembered as one of America’s most influential theorists of nonviolence despite his umbilical connection to state department elites. This essay therefore aims to review Arrow’s book as a means of exploring how the ruling-class has co-opted the tools of civil disobedience to serve their own nefarious political ends.

To start with it is critical to highlight that Arrow, the ever-doting biographer, is adamant that despite Sharp’s friendly relations with America’s leading elites there is “no basis” for any accusation that the theorists work was in any way entangled with that of the imperial machinations of the US government or the CIA. With this proviso in mind Arrow launches into his book by accurately recalling how the CIA’s first “involvement in election manipulation… began with a growing horror that the communists were likely to win the Italian election due to be held in 1948.”

Arrow explains how the US intelligence agency then replicated similar anti-democratic interventions all over the world until their covert activities were finally exposed by ‘The Church Committee’ — a government body that “was set up in 1975 to publicly investigate the role of the agency in overseas elections.” But the lasting damage to global democracy causes was already done; and here Arrow provides a chilling illustrative example of the CIA’s democratic subversions by looking at the case of Chile.

“In an operation that was virtually a clone of the Italian plan,” he writes, the CIA interfered in the 1964 elections to stop Salvador Allende winning, with the agency spending “nearly four million dollars supporting political parties, publishing and broadcasting propaganda and radicalising slum dwellers.” These covert attacks on democracy then intensified when Allende became Chile’s president in 1970 and came to a violent head in 1973 when the CIA “backed a military coup which brought to power General Augusto Pinochet, [a leader] who went on to perpetrate some of the worst human rights abuses ever recorded.”

Such anti-democratic intrigues continue through to this day; indeed, they are a vital part of capitalist statecraft. But partly as a response to the American public’s revulsion to the Church Committee’s sordid findings, the US government decided that the best cover for continuing such anti-democratic work would be to carry it out under the cover of democracy. As Arrow notes, under President Reagan’s supervision the CIA’s “political warfare campaign” now evolved, “Instead of continuing these programs in secret under the CIA, [Reagan] opted to take democracy promotion out of the shadows. In effect, he privatised it.”[1]

In 1983 the President marked this foreign policy shift by launching a new organization called the National Endowment for Democracy. This groups four affiliate institutions — the AFL-CIO’s American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), the International Republican Institute, and the National Democratic Institute – then received Congressional funding to enable the US government to overtly intervene in other countries political affairs. Arrow explains:

“The US press were sceptical and pointed out, correctly, that this was work previously conducted by the CIA, now being repackaged and brought out into the open. The Wall Street Journal quoted one official as saying, ‘we used to do some of this covertly… but when we stopped being able to keep our secrets in these matters, people became unwilling to accept out money’.” (p.83)

This backstory is apparently recounted in Arrow’s book because of its relevance to understanding Gene Sharp’s role in promoting nonviolent means of overthrowing foreign governments. This being done to debunk the accusations that Sharp’s revolutionary work has any relationship with the type of activities historically undertaken by the CIA. You might now begin to understand why Arrow’s book is so confusing.

To be clear, no physical evidence has been unearthed to prove that Sharp worked with the CIA: but it remains the case that the primary reason why Sharp’s critics have raised concerns about his work is because the theorist’s writings were closely aligned with the political interventions undertaken by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). And while it is true that Sharp’s nonviolent activism has received direct funding from the NED, Arrow remains perplexed why anyone would be bothered by this relationship. Arrow simply repeats: “I could find absolutely no evidence that he worked for or with the CIA or in pursuit of its objectives.”

Still, Arrow at least acknowledges that “a convincing case can be made that [Sharp’s] body of work, always in the public domain, was effectively co-opted by the US political warfare project with little consultation from the man who developed it.” And while this could be true, there remain many, many good reasons why Sharp has attracted so many detractors. Some of these reasons are provided within Arrow’s own text. For example, from early on in his long career Sharp had consciously set himself the unusual task of trying to convert the war-mongering members of the ruling-class to adopt the principles of nonviolent struggle, not a normal working-class pursuit by any means. Thus, from as early as 1960, Arrow writes, Sharp “had already decided that co-opting the system was the only way that change could be made.” [2] 

The violent side of nonviolence

Sharp, however, was not the first academic to demand that his government integrate nonviolent resistance into its repertoire of power. And in many ways his career echoed that of retired naval commander Sir Stephen King-Hall: a military man whose 1958 book DefenseintheNuclear Age had first “brought the notion of non-violent defense into the realm of strategic debate by urging it upon the UK, NATO, and the US, in lieu of nuclear weapons.”[3] King-Hall, as we know now, failed to popularize this novel idea, and it was only Sharp’s unrelenting persistence that led to his contemporary notoriety for pushing this elite-centred approach to social change.

In the mid-1960s Sharp made especially good headway into infiltrating elite circles after getting headhunted by one of America’s leading war strategists, Thomas Schelling, to join the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. The Center representing “a think tank for the up and coming US foreign policy elite,” as Arrow puts it.[4] Now based in the same department as Henry Kissinger — the powerbroker who famously went on to oversee the US-backed coup against Allende — you can begin to understand why some people became suspicious about Sharp’s allegedly objective approach to civil disobedience. As Howard Zinn famously said, “you can’t be neutral on a moving train.”[5] Arrow continues Sharp’s story noting how once in America:

“Schelling began looking for funding for Gene’s work from the Ford Foundation, set up by Henry Ford’s family to spread democratic values, but it was the US Department for Defense ‘Advanced Research Projects Agency’ (ARPA) which would stump up the first serious cash. Although he was not aware of it at the time, the ARPA money was a component of a classified US government effort to develop weapons and strategies for fighting counter-insurgences and curtail communist advances in remote parts of the world.” (p.74)

Considering the sinister nature of such research it is not wholly unsurprising that just a few years later the Center for International Affairs would become a focus for angry student protests.[6] And as a point of record, the Ford Foundation (like the Rockefeller Foundation and Carnegie Foundation) were, at that very time, working hand-in-glove with the CIA (that is, throughout the 1950s and 1960s) although Sharp would not have necessarily known it at the time. (An early and well-read article highlighting the connections between liberal foundations, the CIA, and the warmongers at Harvard was published by Ramparts magazine in October 1969 as “Sinews of empire.”) Still, while Sharp may have been unaware of such connections, Arrow should have been better informed — especially considering the subject matter covered in his own book — than to naively describe the Ford Foundation as a conduit for “spread[ing] democratic values”. This really is quite inexcusable given its past history.

Now, to return to Sharp’s personal views on obtaining military funding for peace research, Arrow says that:

“When challenged on this later by members of pacifist organisations, Gene was unapologetic about receiving the Department of Defense money. He’d been arguing since his time at Oxford that governments should finance research into nonviolent resistance as a substitute for war and that this should be fully integrated into national defense strategy.” (p.74)

Sharp however evidently drew a line in the sand when it came to the CIA. And Arrow goes on to explain how:

“In 1975, Gene was searching for another two-year funding grant and Schelling recommended him back to the Department of Defense. It was clear Schelling had potential funding contacts in the CIA, but Gene was adamant that he would refuse to take their money.” (p.76)

This subject had come up for discussion after Sharp had submitted a “funding proposal to Schelling’s Department of Defense contact – the head of the newly created office of ‘Net Assessment’ – a discreet unit of Pentagon futurologists whose job was to plan for strategic problems 30 years ahead.”[7] As part of his two-year funding bid for a colossal $452,000 grant, Sharp had sold his research plan to his potential funders like this:

“Basic and problem-orientated research, coupled with deliberate efforts at refinement and development, would very likely increase significantly the effectiveness of this nonviolent combat technique, as has been done with the technique of war. In addition to research, other means may help improve effectiveness, including contingency planning, training, and specific preparation to make the technique operational in conflicts in which war or other violence would otherwise be used. Such deliberate development of the effectiveness of this technique may extend the types of situations in which it is a viable option, even against extremely powerful and ruthless regimes.”

In this instance the head of Net Assessment had decided that the proposal was not appropriate for his department, so evidently, he had passed the grant application on to the CIA appending a note saying: “I thought the CIA might be interested in this work.” Sharp, as Arrow points out, was not keen to apply for CIA funds as he “feared from the stories in the press that the intelligence agency had gone rogue and would hijack the work for what he described as ‘bad dealings’.”

Sharp’s funding worries would however soon be permanently resolved as the following year one of his students, a young millionaire named Peter Ackerman, completed his own Ph.D. at Tufts University before going on to become Sharp’s generous benefactor. In the 1970s Ackerman had “earn[ed] millions of dollars” as a Wall Street banker specialising in ‘junk bonds’, and in 1982 he then took the decision to secure Sharp’s research future by funding the creation of two new groups: the first organization was ‘The Program on Nonviolent Sanctions’ which was based at Harvard, and the second was the privately based Albert Einstein Institution.[8]

A nonviolent banker

In the coming decades, most of the funding for Sharp’s two research/training groups were derived from Ackerman’s millions, but a quick perusal of the annual reports that were filed online by the Albert Einstein Institution lends credence to the logic that Sharp’s work continued to be highly entwined with imperialist foreign policy making elites. For example in May 1987 the Institution received a $50,000 grant from the US Institute for Peace, a group which at the time maintained close links to the intelligence community and is considered to be a sister organisation to the NED. By way of a contrast to the intelligence-linked USIP, Arrow explained that when the NED was created their founding board of directors “voted to forbid any employment of CIA personnel or allow the CIA to influence its programs.” [9] The same cautious approach did not hold true for the USIP, and an early critical article that was published in Z Magazine highlighted how:

“The idea of a national peace institute was long in the making and approved by a wide spectrum of peace advocates. But by the time the USIP was formally established in 1984, its board looked like a ‘who’s who’ of right-wing ideologues from academia and the Pentagon. By law, the USIP is an arm of the U.S. intelligence apparatus. The legislation that established the USIP specifies that ‘the director of Central Intelligence may assign officers and employees’ of the CIA to the USIP, and the Institute is authorized to use and disseminate ‘classified materials from the intelligence community.’

“In practice, the USIP intersects heavily with the intelligence establishment. Nearly half its board members played some role in the Iran-contra operations, and an analysis of the USIP’s grantmaking priorities since 1986 reveals substantial funding for ‘scholars’ already on the take from other military and intelligence agencies.”[10]

In the second decade of its existence, a summary of the varied work undertaken by the Albert Einstein Institution between the years 1993 and 1999 provides further details of their bad dealing supporters. Over this period stand-out financiers (which are listed on the first page of their report) included the National Endowment for Democracy, the USIP, the International Republican Institute, and the German-based Friedrich Naumann Stiftung. In addition, the Albert Einstein Institution received aid from two of America’s most influential liberal philanthropic organizations, the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Institute. “The origin of Gene’s work in the belly of an establishment” Arrow writes…

“…which was deploying political warfare would later lead to the often repeated theory that [Sharp] was a CIA asset and the Albert Einstein Institution a front for the destabilisation of governments not aligned with US political and economic interests.

“Those who believe this version of events can easily be forgiven because the weight of circumstantial evidence is convincing. The type of activities pioneered in Italy in the late 1940s would be easily recognisable in the funding priorities of the National Endowment for Democracy 50 years later. There is no doubt that the US, first under the CIA and later through the arms of the NED sought to influence and build democracies favourable to US policy interests.” (pp.88-9)

This is all very interesting, and Arrow explains that Sharp had received his first NED grant in the early 1990s which was used to enable his Institution to train Burmese democracy activists.[11] This delicate educational work was delivered by a new recruit to the Albert Einstein Institution named Colonel Bob Helvey who was fresh from serving as was the Dean of the United States Defense Intelligence School. With all the CIA-linked accusations flying around Arrow assures his readers that Sharp took every precaution in choosing to employ Helvey.

“Gene asked him frankly whether he had ever worked for the CIA. Bob understood the concern and assured Gene that as a brigade intelligence officer in Vietnam his duties had been exclusively tactical military intelligence, not political intelligence. As defense attache in Rangoon, his role had also been exclusively military intelligence and he had not been involved in political intelligence or what he termed ‘manipulations’ on behalf of the CIA. Bob also assured Gene that his work with Tin Maung Win and Ye Kyaw Thu and the democratic opposition in Burma had been strictly personal and not part of any military assignment or responsibility.” (pp.152-3)[12]

Weaponising nonviolence, and the case of Venezuela

For reasons that will perhaps remain unknown, during the 1990s Ackerman took the decision to focus less on banking and more on his academic – and inaccurate – studies of the history of nonviolence. In 1999 he therefore helped raise $3 million to fund the 1999 Emmy-nominated film A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, whose creation also received additional financial support from the USIP. Then in 2002 Ackerman co-authored a book with the same name — a text that has gone on to become something of keystone book amongst nonviolent activists, despite all its serious shortcomings. The release of this publication also coincided with the launch of Ackerman’s new pet project which was christened as the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC).

According to Arrow, in November 2003 Bob Helvey had become upset with the lack of funding that Sharp was getting and so he informed Ackerman that the Albert Einstein Institution “needed to embark on a major fundraising effort to fulfil the mission properly.” But “Ackerman disagreed strongly – he felt he had donated enough to perform the basic tasks and didn’t want any of Gene’s time wasted on fundraising.” Ackerman was already providing Sharp “with an annuity that would provide a salary for the rest of his life” and now he had his own new Center to manage. This argument apparently brought Sharp and Helvey into a serious disagreement “with their major donor” Peter Ackerman. Nevertheless, the pair “decided to press ahead” in open defiance of their multi-millionaire benefactor which resulted in Ackerman “threaten[ing] to remove all of his funding.” Arrow recounts how “In a phone call, Ackerman repeated the ultimatum, to comply with his request or he would cease further funding of the institution.” But Sharp was adamant that he was not beholden to his powerful financier, which led to Ackerman cutting him free. As Arrow observes: “The money had been stopped and there was barely enough left to meet existing staff costs.”[13]

“Peter Ackerman now turned his attention soley to his own organisation, the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC). He began a more active promotion of nonviolent resistance training, funding Bob Helvey and the Serbs from CANVAS to carry out consultations with democracy groups around the world.

“The activities of the ICNC now meant that Gene’s work was turning up in places that Gene and Jamila [Raqib the Institutions executive director] had had no direct contact with. When a training camp carried out by Bob Helvey for Venezuelan activists was discovered by the government, the first thing Gene and Jamila hear about it was Hugo Chavez personally denouncing Gene on Venezuelan national television.” (p.219)

This is a nice story but is not completely true. Chavez did, it is true, attack Sharp’s activism in June 2007 during a short segment of his regular TV show, Alo Presidente, but it is wrong to suggest that Sharp knew nothing about this training camp. This is because in the Spring 2006 edition of the Albert Einstein Institution’s newsletter they reported that in May 2005 the Institution had “hosted a strategy workshop for Venezuelan nonviolent activists” that took place in Boston with funding provided by the ICNC.[14] Earlier still, in 2004, another report (which is reproduced on the Albert Einstein Institution’s web site) discusses President Chavez’s “increasingly authoritarian” “regime”. The report goes on to state that since December 2001 “Chávez’s popularity began to wane” and, as the Institution asserts, to retain power his “government responded with violent repression against… protesters”. Sharp himself, along with other staff from his Institution, then met with citizens opposed to Chavez’s presidency to “talk about the deteriorating political situation in their country”, which, in April 2003, led to the Institution organizing a nine-day in-country consultation to “develop a nonviolent strategy to restore democracy to Venezuela.”[15] Although it is not clear which groups Sharp consulted with during this period, we do know that at the same time the NED was playing an important role in providing aid to the very same opposition groups that had coordinated an unsuccessful coup attempt against President Chavez in 2002.[16]

The CIA connection

Another group worth discussing whose ‘democratic’ mission is directly related to the US government’s broader democracy promoting establishment is Freedom House – an organization upon whose research Sharp relied heavily upon in determining which countries needed his aid. In 1988 Noam Chomsky gave a succinct summary of this group’s activities when he wrote:

“Freedom House, which dates back to the early 1940s, has had interlocks with… the World Anticommunist League, Resistance International, and U.S. government bodies such as Radio Free Europe and the CIA, and has long served as a virtual propaganda arm of the government and international right wing.”

Even Arrow, in his muddled history of US democracy promoting activities singles this group out for special attention noting that it had “carried out training for activists and civil society organisations” throughout the Cold War and should be considered an “outlier” owing to its links to the CIA. And although it is not accurate to say it is an outlier in any meaningful sense, Arrow is right to note that: “Freedom House was not made subject to any of the controls on former intelligence personnel which bound the NED organisations”. Arrow continues “in fact, former CIA director, James Woolsey, would later become chairman of the Freedom House board of trustees.”[17]

What remains unexplored by Sharp’s naïve biographer is that Woolsey served as Freedom House’s chair between 2003 and 2005 before handing on this honour to Peter Ackerman. Such elite connections were normal for Ackerman, who is a longstanding member of the “imperial brain trust” known as the Council on Foreign Relations (joining their board of directors in July 2005). As socialist commentator John Bellamy Foster observed in 2008: 

“Ackerman [also] sits on the key advisory committee of the CFR’s Center for Preventive Action, devoted to overthrowing governments opposed by Washington by political means (or where this is not practicable, using political low intensity warfare to soften them up for military intervention). The CPA is headed by Reagan’s former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General John W. Vessey, who oversaw the invasion of Grenada. The members of the advisory committee of the CPA, including Ackerman himself, have all been heavily involved in helping to fulfill U.S. war aims in Yugoslavia, and the Center has recently focused on overturning Chavez’s government in Venezuela (see John Bellamy Foster, ‘The Latin American Revolt,’ Monthly Review, July August 2007). On top of all of this Ackerman is a director of the right-wing U.S. Institute of Peace, which is connected directly through its chair J. Robinson West to the National Petroleum Council, which includes CEOs of all the major U.S. energy corporations.  On the domestic front, Ackerman has been working with the Cato Institute to privatize Social Security.”

The irony is that the very person who funded nearly all of Sharp’s work throughout the 1980s and 1990s specializes in working in cooperation with members of the intelligence community. While another researcher of nonviolence who upholds such a dubious legacy is Professor Erica Chenoweth; an individual who first worked as a consultant for the ICNC in 2006 and later served as the co-chair of their advisory board before co-authoring the much-quoted book Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (2011). Arrow introduces her work in his own biography and goes so far as to celebrate her book saying this was the first study that “proved” with “evidence that nonviolent campaigns could be more successful than violent campaigns”.[18] Again this is not entirely true. And we also know that this type of research remains of huge interest to both the military and to the intelligence community, and while Chenoweth was serving as the ICNC’s co-chair she was simultaneously a member of the CIA’s “Political Instability Task Force” and rather unsurprisingly her research has been showered with millions of dollars from her military paymasters.[19]

Bringing ‘democracy’ to Venezuela

Finally, it is appropriate to observe that following in the ‘democratic’ footsteps of her nonviolent mentors, Professor Chenoweth would keep alive a strong hatred of Hugo Chavez’s Venezuelan “regime” and its authoritarian legacy. This was made clear in Chenoweth’s latest book Civil Resistance: What Everyone Needs to Know which was published last month by Oxford University Press. Herein she discusses how “authoritarian” regimes like to countermobilize their supporters “by paying loyalists to hold patriotic parades, setting up encampments, or turning out in pro-government marches”. She uses three examples to make this point: the first two are the unquestionably authoritarian regimes of Bashar al- Assad in Syrian and Putin in Russia, but her third example is that of Hugo Chávez, who she says went on to establish his “so-called Bolivarian Circles, or pro-government grassroots neighborhood organizations, in the slums of Venezuela”.

In relation to Chavez’s recent political successor Nicolás Maduro, Chenoweth applauds the “millions of people joined marches and demonstrations against President Nicolás Maduro in 2017 and 2019.”[20] She then moaned that…

“…Maduro’s government in Venezuela responded to protests in 2019 by expelling American diplomats, citing evidence that the US government had conspired to support a coup against his government.” (pp.234-5)

Of course, Maduro’s reaction was far from controversial, as earlier in her own book Chenoweth herself acknowledged that Maduro had good reasons for being suspicious of the US government. But it seems that the peace-loving professor is primarily concerned about Venezuelan government conspiracies because she had idolized the right-wing opposition movement. Ironically, it seems that Chenoweth is not generally supportive of US interventions in other countries as, she says, such foreign support “may actually undermine a civil resistance campaign’s critical source of strength: mass participation.” Chenoweth continues:

“This is arguably part of what happened to the pro-democracy movement in Venezuela in 2019 and 2020. A diverse, inclusive movement to challenge the power of Nicolás Maduro began to shrink in size and diversity once the United States began to double down on economic sanctions against Maduro and his close associates, actively support opposition leader Juan Guaidó, and threaten armed intervention to install him.” (p.138)

It is important to note here that the “pro-democracy” protest that Chenoweth refers to was in reality a US-backed coup that was led by right-wing politicians and fascists. The events surrounding these right-wing attacks on Maduro also featured in an online magazine that includes Chenoweth as one of its founders.[21] On February 1, 2019 the magazine thus discussed in frank terms how it was routine for American presidents to engage in “foreign-imposed regime change”. The following day the magazine then ran an article by a longstanding ICNC contributor (who is a current USIP senior scholar) which described Maduro’s government as a fully-fledged dictatorship which had needed removing. And while socialists have criticisms of the capitalist governments of both Maduro and his popular predecessor (Hugo Chavez), we by no means follow the imperialist line which sees the likes of Chenoweth and her magazine providing uncritical support to Guaidó’s fascist-leaning reactionaries.

Writing at the time of the coup in January 2019, Socialist Alternative thus explained that ordinary people “cannot have the slightest confidence in the Maduro government, the bureaucracy or the senior army officers if we want to prevent the victory of the reaction.” Instead:

“The first task of the working class and the politically conscious and combative people of Venezuela is to organize resistance against the coup. We must begin by denouncing the true objectives of Guaidó, the right wing and imperialism. We have to organize assemblies in each company and place of work to discuss what our needs and demands are and how the economic plans and policies of the right mean a mortal danger. It is urgent to create action committees in defense of the rights of workers and the people in each work center and each neighborhood, defending a genuinely socialist class program, which proposes the expropriation of the big private monopolies and banking to end the hyperinflation and corruption, the abolition of the privileges of the bureaucracy and that strives to transfer real power to the hands of the working class and the oppressed. We must organize massive mobilizations and the legitimate self-defense of the people against the violence of the right.”[22]

These democratic solutions are a million miles away from the type of sanitized capitalist-friendly resistance that is promoted by the likes of Chenoweth, Ackerman and Sharp.

But it is not true, as Chenoweth asserts in her book, that Marxists are “skeptical of the idea that nonviolent struggle could overcome entrenched economic inequality and bring about true economic justice.” This is because Marxists believe that it is precisely through the building of huge mass political movements and the organization of powerful general strikes across the world that the working-class can lay the groundwork for the final overthrow of the capitalist status quo. Of course, in the process of organizing nonviolent mass movements globally there is no question that capitalist elites will at some point attempt to drown such resistance in blood. This is why Marxists believe it is common sense that people have the right to defend themselves from capitalist violence.

And if you wanted a good example of how far the ruling-class will go to prevent the socialist transformation of society we need only reflect upon Chenoweth’s own examples where, in passing, she states that the US government have “fomented unrest and backed right- wing movements and insurgencies in many… countries, from the Contras in Nicaragua to armed militias associated with the Indonesian military during anti- communist mass killings of 1965– 1966.”[23] In the latter instance the CIA intervened directly with logistical assistance to help organize the slaughter of up to one million socialists and trade unionists. So, once you get you head around the utter depravity of the powers that be one can better understand why democratic movements of workers must always be able to defend themselves. History would seem to show that nonviolent resistance alone might not be enough to protect genuinely revolutionary movements of the working-class.


[1] Arrow, Gene Sharp, p.vii, p.76, p.80, p.82.

[2] Arrow, Gene Sharp, p.89, p.48. In an 1987 article, anarchist researcher Brian Martin discussed some of the major problems associated with such a pro-military approach to nonviolence which I previously discussed here, “From Sharp to Lovins: elite reform as progressive social change,” Swans Commentary, July 26, 2010.

[3] Gene Keyes, “Strategic non-violent defense: the construct of an option,” Journal of Strategic Studies, 4(2), June 1981, p.126.

[4] Arrow, Gene Sharp, p.72. In 1965 Sharp departed from his prestigious intellectual base at Oxford University — where he had carried out his Ph.D. — to settle in America.

[5] In March 2006 Howard Zinn served on the founding board of directors of a group called the International Endowment for Democracy which was formed to challenge the anti-democratic work of the National Endowment for Democracy. Perhaps unaware of the problems associated with the work of the Albert Einstein Institution, Zinn’s name would later appear in the Spring 2006 issue of the Albert Einstein Institutions newsletter where he lent his support to the Institution’s ongoing funding appeal. Likewise, in 2010 Zinn controversially signed an open letter that defended Sharp and the ICNC from legitimate criticisms that stemmed from the problematic relationships they maintained with the NED.

[6] Between “1968-72, the Center was so beset by student protests and upheaval that it could barely get its work accomplished.” Howard Wiarda, Harvard and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (WCFIA): Foreign Policy Research Center and Incubator of Presidential Advisors (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2010), p.41. Wiarda makes the point that it was quite likely that the Center was funded by the CIA as “Robert Bowie, CFIA’s first director, had an extensive CIA background and could have been a channel for CIA funding, and we do know that CFIA’s sister institution down Massachusetts Avenue, the Center for International Studies (CIS) at MIT, did receive extensive CIA funding during this same period.” (p.43) Bowie also served as CIA chief National Intelligence Officer from 1977-1979.

[7] Arrow, Gene Sharp, p.80.

[8] Arrow, Gene Sharp, p.81, p.85.

[9] Arrow, Gene Sharp, p.83.

[10] Sarah Diamond and Richard Hatch, “Operation peace institute,” Z Magazine, July/August 1990. The authors observe that one of top three “organizations receiving the largest number of grants” is the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis at Tufts University (where Ackerman obtained his Ph.D.). They note “About $90,000 has gone to the Albert Einstein Institution in Cambridge, where liberal peace researcher Gene Sharp studies the political impact of nonviolent sanctions… But a careful analysis of the USIP’s annotated list of 238 grant projects through early 1990 reveals undeniable favoritism toward researchers committed to Cold War paradigms. No recognized left scholars—let alone anyone with the Rainbow Coalition or European Green movements—has been funded to date.”

[11] Arrow, Gene Sharp, p.157. Arrow notes that later in 1995 “the National Endowment for Democracy granted the Albert Einstein Institution an additional $45,000 to continue providing training in political defiance alongside consultation visits.” Bob Helvey was “accompanied” on these training missions by a project officer from the IRI. (p.170)

[12] Tin Maung Win and Ye Kyaw Thu were cofounders of the Committee for the Restoration of Democracy in Burma (CRDB) which was founded in America in September 1986. “The CRDB’s parent organization, the Foundation for Democracy in Burma, was formed in conjunction with CRDB, as was its political party, the New Republic Party of Burma. Of the founding Burmese members, Tin Maung Win (vice chairman and general secretary) and Ye Kyaw Thu (executive director) seem to have played the most direct roles in organizing and directing the CRDB’s activities. Both Win and Thu had ‘long been in the national and revolutionary politics’ of Burma and ‘had participated in leadership in the armed struggle’ before migrating to the US in the 1970s, after which they kept the line of communication with the revolutionary leaders ‘active and healthy’.” Brian Denny, “The warden’s dilemma as nested game: political self-sacrifice, instrumental rationality, and third parties,” Government and Opposition, 56(1), April 2019, p.11 This article also discussed the nature of the training provided in Burma by Helvey which was supported by the NED.

[13] Arrow, Gene Sharp, p.216, p.216.

[14] The Albert Einstein Institution Newsletter, Spring 2006, p.10.

[15]Report on activities, 2000-2004,” The Albert Einstein Institution, 2004, pp.20-1. “The nine-day consultation was held by consultants Robert Helvey and Chris Miller in Caracas for members of the Venezuelan democratic opposition.” (p.21) The relevance of this report is discussed here: George Ciccariello-Maher and Eva Golinger, “Making excuses for empire: reply to defenders of the AEI,” Venezuelanalysis.com, August 4, 2008.

[16] Kim Scipes, “AFL-CIO in Venezuela: déjà vu all over again,” Labor-Notes, April 1, 2004.

[17] Arrow, Gene Sharp, p.84. Later he writes: “The Egyptian offices of American democracy promotion agencies, like IRI and Freedom House were being provided with so much money by the US government in 2006 that they couldn’t work out how to spend it. That year Freedom House received a grant of $900,000 for development of Egyptian civil society advocacy and reform, but spent less than half of the money – mainly due to restrictions the Egyptian government placed on funding of groups they deemed too threatening.” (p.245)

[18] Arrow, Gene Sharp, p.64.

[19] I discussed these murky CIA connections in more depth here, “Why civil resistance works and why the billionaire-class cares,” CounterPunch, May 3, 2017.

[20] Chenoweth, Civil Resistance, p.235, p.230.

[21] The magazine in question, Political Violence @ A Glance, is supported by a university think tank that is funded by the military, and by philanthropies that include the Carnegie Corporation and the Charles Koch Foundation.

[22] George Martin Fell Brown, “Venezuela: for mass mobilization of workers to build real socialism and put an end to corrupt bureaucracy!”, Socialist Alternative, January 24, 2019.

[23] Chenoweth, Civil Resistance, p.136.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s