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Ten Simple Steps for a Successful R

Subject: Ten Simple Steps for a Successful Revolution

January 19, 1997
The Independent, in co-operation with The Yomiuri Shimbun 

Ten simple steps for the people to take power back from the dictators  
In Belgrade, protesters are putting into practice new methods to mobilise
support and fight tyranny.  'Independent' writers analyse the key techniques


Don't kid yourself that people are prepared to revolt in large numbers for
democracy alone. The concept is too abstract, especially in societies with
little experience of what it means. 

To succeed, you have to tap into more tangible feelings of discontent and
offer very basic promises of improvement. Serbians are not generally too
bothered by the autocratic, corrupt nature of Milosevic's regime; rather,
they are at the end of their economic rope and deeply disillusioned at the
way every promise Milosevic made has been broken or betrayed. 

When they bang on their pots and pans to drown out the state television news
every evening, they are basically: giving their version of Peter Finch in
Network: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!" 


Keep the media spotlight on you. In the Baltic republic of Estonia, one of
the  most astonishing moments in the peaceful revolution was a live
television debate, organised by a sympathetic producer.  TV news is vital,
especially for all those stuck out in the provinces.  Foreign media are even
more important.  

Be amenable to foreign journalists, and find spokesmen who speak foreign
languages. Foreign journalists are lazy so court them, even do their work
for them. 

East Timorese activists run into embassies to seek asylum during
international summits - foreign correspondents love to get a real story as a
break from boring briefings.  

The more interested news desks get, the more information will be beamed back
into the country via foreign radio, and these days in a surprising number of
countries via satellite TV. 

English-language slogans get good play on TV and in photographs. Think about
pictures: Korean demonstrators hurl lit newspapers at police in lieu of
petrol bombs - they look great but do no real damage. 


The revolutionary hero is a cliche - and one that needs to be carefully
considered. On the one hand, a hero, or a figurehead, can be a real asset,
especially if they have international profile. It helps to make the movement
more than just a group of faceless, nameless people. Think of Aung San Suu
Kyi, Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel. The international media knows their faces
their names, their history. Indonesia's Megawati Sukarnoputri and the
Philippines' Cory Aquino are no great political thinkers - but their lineage
gives them respect and legitimacy and their gender gives them a power
against military governments which no man can have. It is much harder to
arrest or execute a woman, than a man.

But there comes a time when you need to say: it isn't your movement at all.
In people's revolutions, the leader - the figurehead - is nothing, by
comparison with the brave but undirectable people who have put themselves on
the line. Unless you are Mandela or Havel, don't think you're that special.
In Serbia, for example, many of those on the street have got more moral
fibre in their little fingers than the people who prance around in front of
the microphones. 


The regime will blame you for being terrorists, bombers, madmen, everything.
You must give them the minimum of ammunition, so that they, not you, will
look dodgy when they make the accusations. 

Discourage violent or antidemocratic rhetoric. Serbian opposition leader Vuk
Draskovic's wife, Dana, appeared early on in the crisis raving about
blasting the way to victory. She has been sent to media Coventry ever since. 
When a bomb explodes at a pro-establishment building or organisation - as
happened in Belgrade recently - it will be obvious to everybody that this is
just another provocation by the regime. If they get violent, it just
strengthens your hand. 

As one previously cautious Czech said, after going on a demonstration in
1989 and being beaten up: "As I lay on the ground, I felt free."  In
general, good behaviour wins you points. During a 1989 strike in Ukraine,
marshals made sure that miners did not step in the rose beds. 

If you are in a country where people like to get drunk, you could try
banning alcohol altogether, as, for example, happened in Gdansk when
Solidarity was first formed in 1980.  


All the most successful movements have been superb at using entertaining
ideas to get people smiling and keep them that way, even when the going gets

Solidarity has to be a cheerful business. In Prague, people rang little
bells and jangled keys. In Romania, they cut the holes out of the flag. In
Serbia, they do everything from  blocking the traffic to banging pots and
pans during the television news.

Co-opt the best designers, the most popular actors, the funniest
joke-writers. Badges or clothing with subversive messages become enormously
popular: in Poland, they sold T-shirts saying "I am an anti- socialist
In general, it should be remembered that every successful revolution has at
least half a dozen brilliant badges to be remembered by. 


Keep your energy up. Serbia's students have been very smart in avoiding too
many all nighters and pacing themselves. Dictators, and political leaders in
general, never get tired (as Italy's Giulio Andreotti once said, "power
tires only those who do not have it"), and they are infinitely vigilant and
patient (as Francois Mitterrand once said, "like cats, we sleep with one eye
open"), so flagging can be fatal.

And don't ask people to do very much. The best East German demonstrations
were in Leipzig, where you could attend a weekly church service, walk down
the road, then go home. Like going to an exercise class, but much more fun.
Sleepovers can be enormously effective (as in Moscow during the 1991 coup,
or in the parliaments of the Baltic states, earlier that year), but they are
best suited for defending a fragile democracy. 

Build a broad-based movement, and avoid creating divisions that you will
only have to heal once (if) you take power. Serbian demonstrators have
understood this as they encourage the police, army and even members of the
ruling party to come over to their side.

Persuade bits of the establishment to crack. All dodgy regimes love the
trappings of respectability. They cosset the establishment. 

If you can persuade the establishment to seem publicly disloyal, you're in
clover. Strikes by actors, orchestras, pro-test letters from writers' unions
- all of these have played an important role as early warning signs in the
past. Students and dissidents can be written off as troublemakers. 

But when theatres are dark or the concert halls closed, that gets
embarrassing. If the army cracks, too - as it has in Serbia, to some extent
- that's a bonus. You may think that old general or ancient apparatchik is a
vile racist. But if he also wants the regime to go, put your feelings to one
side. Your mum may think he is the best thing ever. 

Unlike in democratic elections, where dodgy individuals lower the tone of an
entire party, you need a bit of everything in people's power, to let your
movement reflect the rich tapestry of life. 


Be seriously gradual: only ask for things which the mad totalitarians have
already signed up for, thinking the commitments
can be ignored. Thus, in the Soviet Union, the much-mocked Helsinki
agreement was powerfully used by dissidents. They insisted they were not
against Soviet Communist power as such (usually a lie; they were against it,
with good reason), but were merely protesting against the flouting of a
particular article in the Soviet constitution or the Helsinki final act.

Similarly, in Serbia. the demonstrators have not fixed  their sights on
Milosevic but have instead focused on the refusal to accept the results of
an election which he himself allowed to proceed.  

Emphasise your respect for the rule of law - bring detailed legal actions
before adopting quasi-legal or illegal methods. 

Each little concession helps you to win. Ryszard Kapuscinski, in his account
of the Iranian revolution, Shah of Shahs, calls it the "zigzag to the
precipice". It is just a matter of whether your society is ready to boil.
Press home concessions by asking for another little change. 


Prepare the ground for when the basic victories are won. If demonstrations
have the desired effect, a protest movement can very quickly become an
embryo government - and that is when the real problems start, as Vaclav
Havel, Lech Walesa and plenty of others found in the 1990s. 

Without proper planning, your brave new government could quickly become
deeply unpopular and then the bastards you worked so hard to overthrow might
just come back again before they have had a chance to be properly reformed.
It takes a long time for fully functioning democracy to take root, and
vigilance must be maintained (ask any Bulgarian about this). Right now the
opposition in Serbia is making all the right noises, but what will happen if
they get into power? 

In Serbia's case, start thinking about an international rescue plan to get
the economy out of the doldrums. Think about aid to set up independent radio
and television stations and international monitors to advise on and watch
over free elections. 

Think about equipment and training for new businesses and municipal
services. Seek advice on which industries are viable and which are just
clogging up the atmosphere. 10    DON'T COMPROMISE

Don't settle for any compromises and don't be conned. Once you compromise,
you are lost. The bastards always try to squirm their way out of trouble,
but you should always push for total capitulation. Remember: they think
democrats are mugs, and they are comfortable with brazen lies. Get any
agreements in writing, or (better) get the Prime Minister or President
himself to read out the agreement in a humiliating televised climbdown. A
promise is not a promise until it has been read out on the main evening news
- midnight late news, another trick they sometimes try, is emphatically not
good enough. The East Germans didn't stop when Honecker resigned and they
didn't stop when the wall came down; only once the opposition was invited on
to a round table with the government and elections were called did they
consider the battle to be won. By contrast, in Belgrade in March 1991,
anti-government demonstrators allowed themselves to be conned by Milosevic's
promises that he would meet their various demands; the fizz then went out of
the protests and the government rapidly recovered control. This time around,
Milosevic is being equally slippery; but the opposition and the students
seem to understand that it ain't over till it's over. 

Marx: The workers have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world
to gain. 

Lenin: Where force is necessary it must be applied boldly, decisively and
completely. But one must know the limitations of force; one must know when
to blend force with a manoeuvre, a blow with an agreement 

Mao: We must let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought
contend and see which flowers are the best and which school of thought is
best expressed and we shall applaud the best blooms and the best thoughts. 

Jesus Christ: The truth shall set you free. 

Garibaldi: I can offer you neither honours nor wages, I offer you hunger,
thirst, forced marches, battles and death. Anyone who loves his country,
follow me.
Robespierre: Any law which violates the inalienable rights of man is
essentially unjust and tyrannical; it is not a law at all, and: Any
institution which does not suppose the people good and the magistrate
corruptible is evil. 

Gandhi: What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the
homeless whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of
totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy? and: 
The moment the slave resolves that he will no longer be a slave, his fetters
fall. He frees himself and shows the way to others. Freedom and slavery are
mental states.

Anon (graffiti): Revolution allows the revolutionary to sublimate his
sado-masochistic, neurotic, anal tendencies into a concern for the working
Oscar Wilde: Disobedience in the eyes of any one who has read history, is
man's original virtue. It is through disobedience that progress has been
made, through disobedience and through rebellion. 

Thomas Jefferson: The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time,
with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.