Topple Your Target With The Help Of Their Financiers

A violent Dictatorship, when experienced from the oppressed side, can seem undefeatable. If your opponent is killing anybody who speaks up then it might be easy to look at the situation as impossible. In “The Almighty Pillars Of Power”, chapter four of “Blueprint For Revolution”, Srdja Popovic explained his solution to this problem. A public denouncement of the regime would get you killed quickly. The businesses and institutions that finance the Dictator are a safer target.

“Every tyrant rests on economic pillars, and economic pillars are much easier targets than military bases or presidential palaces. Shake them and the tyrant will eventually fall,” said Popovic. This theory is attributed to Dr. Gene Sharp, “the father of nonviolent struggle theory.”

Sharp argued that all leaders and governments rely on similar mechanisms to stay in power. Work out what institutions, people, and businesses prop up the target Dictator and you know where to focus your advocacy. The example from this chapter in the book is the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, but the strategy it provides is  relevant for campaigns targeting the public image of Democratic governments, corporations, and individual oligarchs.

The group of Syrian activists who attended the training made lists of the consumer goods and services common in Syria. They then thought about whether the companies behind those products might be convinced to withdraw their investments from the country. The next step would be to develop a plan to move those companies and individuals closer to your side through shaming, negotiation, and boycotts.

* In 2006 President Bashar al-Assad gave Al-Waleed bin Talal, the owner of the Four Seasons Hotel in Aleppo, the Umayyah National Medal. It is the highest Syrian civilian award. The hotel is co-owned by the Syrian Tourism Ministry. Full Disclosure: Talal has received at least one medal every year since 1997. Photo Credit: Website of Al-Waleed bin Talal.

Popovic gave the example of shutting down a fancy hotel in Aleppo, The Four Seasons. He made the correct assumption* that the owner of the hotel probably has a lucrative connection with Assad. If the activists were to organize protests that connected the transnational company who franchised the Aleppo hotel to the brutality of the Assad regime they might be able to get that franchise closed down, and they could at least reduce its profits.

This benefits the movement because it hacks at the finances of the Assad regime. Popovic said to the activists, “He has less money to pay for bombs and bullets to kill you guys. Bullets are expensive. Bombs are expensive. So he needs money, badly, and we have the power to make sure he doesn’t get it.”

This strategy can work no matter who the target is, nor who is on the list of connected targets. The example for the book is a Dictatorship but these strategies can be used against transnational corporations and oligarchs too.

A Dictator might be propped up by a banker, a family software company, and a weapons manufacturer. Every target has a pressure point to take advantage of, although their weak spots might not be immediately obvious. The banker might be connected to an international bank who can be influenced with shame. Maybe the software company needs licenses in the countries it wants to sell in. And the weapons manufacturer probably imports parts from around the world. Your influence campaign can begin anywhere on that supply chain. Research the target extensively, plan well, and make sure to keep the crosshairs of the campaign on the ultimate goal of gutting financial and public support for the real target.  

Dictatorships are expensive enterprises. A Dictator has all of the costs of governance plus those of personal security like Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s personal detail of female bodyguards, infrastructures such as secret police for repressing public opinion, and institutions of State-media for guiding public opinion. By targeting the financial supporters of your target-Dictator and reducing the amount of money coming in to finance their tyranny you force them to make decisions. They must decide who in their base can be cut from the payroll, which programs can be defunded, who is important to them. This will lead to division, insecurity, and conflict among their followers. It could also lead to disobedience and defection from the military, the police, politicians, and former allies of the Dictator.  

The regime is vulnerable when their finances are dwindling, their base of support is splintering, and disobedience spreads among their citizenry. The people, under a Dictator, are used to fearing for their lives for small infractions. As the Dictator’s influence shrinks and less people are willing to use violence for them against their fellow citizens, the realm of what is possible expands. Information that might have only been smart to share in privacy with family before can now be wheatpasted all over the town with less risk.

A Dictator can be put off balance by campaigns targeting their big-money supporters in society through their international ties. This opens the opportunity for a broad-based movement of the citizenry to build new institutions that meet their needs, and win political power.  


This is Part 4 of a series on Srdja Popovic’s “Blueprint For Revolution”

Part 1 Why Liberation From Oppression Can Happen Here And Anywhere

Part 2 Dream Big, Start Small – Initiating Momentum & Victory

Part 3 How To Peacefully Face A Brutal Dictatorship And Win

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