Sharp on Resistance by Government Workers

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Governments, like all large bureaucracies, are run by people. People can be disobedient, uncooperative and stubborn. As a result, governments are vulnerable to noncooperation attacks from the civil servants who are tasked with carrying out their policies.

In his famous list of 198 methods of nonviolent action, Gene Sharp includes resistance techniques that have been used by government workers. The methods are categorized as “Political Noncooperation” and listed under “Action by Government Personnel.” In The Politics of Nonviolent Action1 Sharp discuses how each method has been used throughout history. Many of his examples are from Nazi Germany.

Be aware that these are nonviolent methods. Most of them are not likely to advance your cause when used individually or spontaneously. They should be part of a carefully planned strategy that employs several different methods at different times as conditions change.

Here are six of Sharp’s noncooperation methods for government workers:

#142. Selective refusal of assistance by government aides

In some cases government officials may refuse to carry out certain tasks. They do this openly and are upfront with their superiors about their disobedience.

#143. Blocking of lines of command and information

Restricting the flow of directives and information up and down the hierarchy can disrupt the smooth working of a government.

#144. Stalling and obstruction

Many of the suggestions in the OSS Simple Sabotage Field Manual fall under this category. With this method, noncooperation is disguised as compliance. Sharp refers to it as “polite procrastination.” He quotes Sir Basil Liddell Hart in describing this technique:

It may be made all the more baffling if practiced “with a cheerful smile and an air of well-meaning mistake, due to incomprehension or clumsiness … “2

#145. General administrative noncooperation

This is where almost everyone in the bureaucracy refuses to carry out the work of the state. This method would probably be used only in dire situations like an invasion or coup d’état.

#146. Judicial noncooperation

Judges and jurors may refuse to return the verdict mandated by those in power.

#147. Deliberate inefficiency and selective noncooperation by enforcement agents

Security personnel may disobey orders selectively or carry them out ineffectively.

One method Sharp might have added that has become a powerful weapon in recent months: selective leaking of classified information.

Related posts:

“Monkeywrenching Government”

“Top 15 Disruption Techniques from the OSS”

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Footnotes

  1. Gene Sharp. The Politics of Nonviolent Action Part Two: Methods of Nonviolent Action (Boston: Extending Horizons, 1973), 320–32.
  2. Quoted in: Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, 323

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