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Srdja Popovic, Blueprint for Revolution

Scribe Publications; 304pp; £9.99

ImageAt the first nonviolence training I ever attended, I was given a copy of Gene Sharp's famous list of the '198 methods of nonviolent action' (the 199th method, the trainers opined, was to flypost copies of the list itself). I subsequently purchased a second-hand copy of Sharp's famous three-volume work The Politics of Nonviolent Action but – like many others, I suspect – never did much more than dip into it. For one thing it was long, and – perhaps more importantly – Sharp is not an exciting writer.

By contrast, this useful book – which seeks to popularise some of Sharp's fundamental insights – is written in a breezy and engaging style, peppered with pop culture references and full of great stories.

A key figure in the Serbian people power movement that ousted Slobodan Miloševi? (many of the book's best anecdotes draw on Popovic's personal experiences from this campaign), Popovic now co-runs the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), a tiny organisation that has worked with people from almost 50 countries around the world.

In the book he draws on a plethora of examples – ranging from Israel and Syria to Burma and the Maldives, and variously featuring cottage cheese, ping pong balls, Buddhist monks and the rice pudding of the title - to illustrate a variety of precepts and principles. The latter include: 'pick battles big enough to matter, but small enough to win'; have a 'vision of tomorrow' that people can all get behind; identify – and target – your opponents' pillars of power; use humour to undermine fear and make your movement cool; don't declare victory too early – or too late (Tiannamen Square is given as an example of the latter); and always be on the offence ('the moment we started playing defence, our defeat was only a matter of time', he notes).

Unfortunately, I had some question marks about the historical accuracy of some of these examples. For example, he gets Gandhi's salt march completely wrong (far from proving that Gandhi was 'a dude who could get shit done', the march achieved little in the way of tangible results, with even the Salt Law itself remaining in place), while his account of the overthrow of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak makes it sound more like the logically inevitable outcome of activist planning than was perhaps the case. Elsewhere, Popovic has been criticised 'for grossly overstating the role he and CANVAS have played in supporting various popular struggles', and this is also reflected in the book.

Popovic is also known to have made some questionable political judgements in the past, resulting in his removal from the advisory board of the US web-site Waging Nonviolence, and some of what he has to say will doubtless irk at least some PN readers. Thus, Hugo Chavez is simply a 'dictator', the West is 'the free world', and 'Mao and Arafat' are his two exemplars of political violence (the latter, the only look-in that the Palestinians, no slouches at nonviolent action themselves, get in the whole book).

Nonetheless, on balance this is an inspiring book on civil resistance that will doubtless play an important role in helping bring these ideas and strategies to a wider public.


I recently heard him talking

I recently heard him talking on an AoC interview and it's amazing how much they tried to have this battle without any violence and all the methods they applied.