This website is not being actively updated, but DGR organizing continues in the UK. Please contact us if you want to get involved.
by Aric McBay
The key problem with identifying successful strategies is that the context of historical resistance is different from the present. Their goals were often different as well. There’s a difference between destroying or expelling a foreign power, and forcing a power to negotiate or offer concessions, and dismantling a domestic system of power or economics. Such differences are the reason we’ve used relatively few anticolonial movements as case studies; their context and strategy are too different.
Resistance groups often fall prey to several major strategic failures. We’ll discuss five big ones here:
- A failure to adhere to the principles of asymmetric struggle.
- A failure to devise a consistent strategy and goal.
- An inappropriate excess of hope; ignoring the scope of the problem.
- A failure to adequately negotiate the relationship between aboveground and underground operations.
- An unwillingness or inability to use the required tactics.
The first of these is a failure to adhere to the principles of asymmetric struggle. Yes, most resisters want to fight the good fight, and an out-and-out fight can be tempting. But that can only happen where resisters have superior forces on their side, which is almost never. The original IRA engaged in and lost pitched battles on more than one occasion.
In occupied Europe, writes M. R. D. Foot, “whenever there was a prospect that a large partisan force could be set up, people started asking for heavy weapons” instead of the submachine guns they were usually delivered. But artillery was always short on the front lines of conventional conflict, its presence drastically cut the mobility of a resistance group, and ammunition was hard to come by. “Bodies of resisters who clamoured for artillery were victims of the fallacy of the national redoubt … and of the old-fashioned idea that a soldier should stand and fight. The irregular soldier is usually much more use to his cause if he runs away, and fights in some other time and place of his own choosing.”16
Former Black Panthers have identified a similar problem with BPP strategy, specifically with their habit of equipping offices and houses to use as pseudofortresses. Explains Curtis Austin, “Using offices inside the ghetto as bases of operations was also a mistake. As a paramilitary organization, it should not have made defending clearly vulnerable offices a matter of policy. Sundiata Acoli echoed these sentiments when he noted this policy ‘sucked the BPP into taking the unwinnable position of making stationary defenses of BPP offices.… small military forces should never adopt as a general action the position of making stationary defences of offices, homes, buildings, etc.’ The frequency and quickness with which they were surrounded and attacked should have led them to develop a policy that would have allowed them to move from one headquarters to another with speed and stealth. Instead, the fledgling group constantly found itself defending sandbagged and otherwise well-fortified offices until their limited supplies of ammunition expired.”17
Early Weather Underground and SDS strategy similarly ignored the importance of surprise in planning actions by advertising and promoting open conflicts with the state and police in advance. This was criticized by other groups at the time. Writes Ron Jacobs, “From the Yippies’ vantage point, the idea of setting a date for a battle with the state was ridiculous: it provided the police with a greater capacity to counter-attack, and it also took away the element of surprise, the activists’ only advantage.… Pointing out the differences between the planned, offensive violence of Weatherman and Yippie’s spontaneous, defensive version, Abbie Hoffman termed Weatherman’s confrontations ‘Gandhian violence for the element of purging guilt through moral witness.’ ”18 (This analysis is interesting, if perhaps surprising and a little ironic, given the Yippies’ propensity for symbolic and theatrical actions.)
A most notable example of this problem was the “Days of Rage” gathering in Chicago in 1969. According to Weatherman John Jacobs, the intent of the Days of Rage was to confront the forces of the state and “shove the war down their dumb, fascist throats and show them, while we were at it, how much better we were than them, both tactically and strategically, as a people.”19 Jacobs told the Black Panthers that 25,000 protesters would be present.20 However, only about 200 showed up, met by more than a 1,000 trained and well-equipped police. In a speech the day of the event, Jacobs changed tack and argued for the importance of fighting for righteous and moral (rather than tactical or strategic) reasons: “We’ll probably lose people today … We don’t really have to win here … just the fact that we are willing to fight the police is a political victory.”21 The protesters then started something of a riot, smashing some police cars and luxury businesses, but also miscellaneous cars, a barbershop, and the windows of lower- and middle-class homes22—not a great argument for superior strategy and tactics. The police quickly dispatched the protesters with tear gas, batons, and bullets. In the following days, almost 300 people were arrested, including most of the Weather Underground and SDS leadership. The Black Panthers—who were not afraid of political violence or of fighting the police—denounced the action as foolish and counterproductive. The Weather Underground, at least, did seem to learn from this when they went underground and used tactics better suited to an asymmetric conflict. (How effective their tactics were while underground is another question.)
All of this brings us to the second common strategic problem of resistance groups. Although their drive and values may be laudable—and although their revolutionary commitment is not in question—many resistance groups have simply failed to devise a consistent strategy and goal. In order for a strategy to be verifiably feasible, it has to have an endpoint that can be described as well as a clear and reasonable path or steps that connect the implementation of the strategy to the endpoint.
Some people call this the “A to B” factor. Does a proposed strategy actually lay out a reasonable path between point A and point B? If you can’t explain how the strategy might work or how you can implement it, you certainly can’t evaluate the strategy effectively.
It seems dead obvious when put in these terms, but a real A to B strategy is often missing in resistance groups. The problems may seem so insurmountable, the risk of group schisms so concerning, that many movements just stagger along, driven by a deep desire for justice and in some cases a need to fight back. But this leads to short-term, small-scale thinking, and soon the resisters can’t see the strategic forest for the tactical trees.
This problem is not a new one. M. R. D. Foot describes it in his writings about resistance against the Nazis in Occupied Europe. “Less well-trained clandestines were more liable to lose sight of their goal in the turmoil of subversive work, and to pursue whatever was most easy to do, and obviously exasperating to the enemy, without making sure where that most easy course would lead them.”23
It’s good and courageous to want to fight injustice, but resisters who only fight back on a piecemeal basis without a long-term strategy will lose. Often the question of real strategy doesn’t even enter into discussion. Jeremy Varon wrote in his book on the Weather Underground and the German Red Army Faction that “1960s radicals were driven by an apocalyptic impulse resting on a chain of assumptions: that the existing order was thoroughly corrupt and had to be destroyed; that its destruction would give birth to something radically new and better; and that the transcendent nature of this leap rendered the future a largely blank or unrepresentable utopia.”24 Certainly they were correct that the existing order was (and still is) thoroughly corrupt and deeply destructive. The idea that destroying it would inevitably lead to something better by conventional human standards is more slippery. But the main problem is the profound gap in terms of their strategy and objective. They had virtually no plan beyond their choice of tactics which, in the case of the Weather Underground, became largely symbolic in nature despite their use of explosives. Their uncritical “apocalyptic” beliefs about the nature of revolution—something shared by many other militant groups—almost guaranteed that they would fail to develop an effective long-term strategy, a problem to which we’ll return later on.
It’s very interesting—and hopefully illuminating—that a group like the Weather Underground did so many things right but completely fell down strategically. We keep coming back to them and criticizing them not because their actions were necessarily wrong, but because they were on the right track in so many ways. The internal organization of the Weather Underground as a clandestine group was highly developed and effective, for example. And their desire to bring the war home, their commitment to action, far surpassed that of most leftists agitating against the Vietnam War.
But as Varon observed, “The optimism of American and West German radicals about revolution was based in part on their reading of events, which seemed to portend dramatic change. They debated revolutionary strategy, and their activism in a general way suggested the nature of the liberated society to come. But they never specified how turmoil would lead to radical change, how they would actually seize power, or how they would reorganize politics, culture, and the economy after a revolution. Instead, they mostly rode a strong sense of outrage and an unelaborated faith that chaos bred crisis, and that from crisis a new society would emerge. In this way, they translated their belief that revolution was politically and morally necessary into the mistaken sense that revolution was therefore likely or even inevitable.”25
All of this brings us to a third common flaw in resistance strategy—an excess of hope. Obviously, we now know that a 1960s American revolution was far from inevitable. So why did the Weather Underground and others believe that it was? To some degree, this sort of anchorless optimism is a coping mechanism. Resistance groups are up against powerful foes, and believing that your desired victory is somehow inevitable can help morale. It can also be wrong. We should remember former prisoner of war James Stockdale’s “very important lesson”: “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”26
Another factor is what you might call the bubble or silo effect. People tend to self-sort into groups of people they have something in common with. This can lead to activists being surrounded by people with similar beliefs, and even becoming socially isolated from those who don’t share their ideas. Eventually, groupthink occurs, and people start to believe that far more people share their perspective than actually do. It’s only a short step to feeling that vast change is imminent. This is especially true if the goal is nebulous and difficult to evaluate.
The false belief that “the revolution is nigh” is hardly limited to ’60s or leftist groups, of course. Even World War II German dissidents like Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, a conservative but anti-Nazi politician, fell prey to the same misapprehension. Writes Allen Dulles: “Despite Goerdeler’s realization of the Nazi peril, he greatly overestimated the strength of the relatively feeble forces in Germany which were opposing it. Optimistic by temperament, he was often led to believe that plans were realities, that good intentions were hard facts. As a revolutionary he was possibly naïve in putting too much confidence in the ability of others to act.”27
Significantly, but perhaps not surprisingly, his naïveté extended not just to potential resisters but even to Hitler. Prior to the July 20 plot, he firmly believed that if only he could sit down and meet with Hitler, he could rationally convince him to admit the error of his ways and to resign. His friends were barely able to stop him from trying on more than one occasion, which would have obviously been foolish and dangerous to the resistance because of their planned assassination.28 Of course, Nazi Germany was not just a big misunderstanding, and after the failed putsch, Goerdeler was arrested, tortured for months by the Gestapo, and then executed.
The fourth common strategic flaw is a failure to adequately negotiate the relationship between aboveground and underground operations. We touched on this on a number of occasions in the organization section. Many groups—notably the Black Panthers—failed to implement an adequate firewall between the aboveground and underground. But we aren’t just talking about organizational partitions and separation; the history of resistance has showed again and again the larger strategic challenge of coordinating cooperative aboveground and underground action.
This has a lot to do with building mutual support and solidarity. The Weather Undeground in its early years was notably abysmal at this. Their attitude and rhetoric was aggressively militant. The organization, in the words of its own members (written after the fact), had a “tendency to consider only bombings or picking up the gun as revolutionary, with the glorification of the heavier the better,” an attitude which even alienated other armed revolutionary organizations like the BPP.29 Indeed, the Weather Underground would deliberately seek confrontation for the sake of confrontation even with people with whom it professed alignment. For example, in one action during the Vietnam War, Weather Underground members went to a working-class beach in Boston and erected a Vietcong flag, knowing that many on the beach had family in the US armed forces. When encircled, instead of discussing the war, they aggressively ratcheted up the tension, idealistically believing that after a brawl both sides could head over to the bar for a serious chat. Instead, the Weather Underground got their asses kicked.30
Now, there’s something to be said for pushing the limits of “legitimate” resistance. There’s something to be said for giving hesitant resisters a kick in the pants—or at least a good example—when they should be doing better. But that’s not what the Weather Underground did. In part the problem was their lack of a clear and articulable strategy. In his memoir, anarchist Michael Albert relates a story about being asked to attend an early Weather Underground action so that he could see what they do. “About ten of us, or thereabouts, piled into a subway car heading for the stop nearest a large dorm at Boston University. While in the subway, trundling along underground, one of the Weathermen, according to prearranged agreement, stood up on his seat to give a speech to his captive audience of other subway riders. He nervously yelled out ‘Country Sucks, Kick Ass,’ and promptly sat down. That was their entire case. It was their whole damn enchilada.”31 What are people supposed to get from that? By contrast, no one reading the Black Panther Party’s Ten Point Plan would be confused about their strategy and goals.
But the Weather Underground’s most ineffective actions in the aboveground vs. underground department were those that actually harmed aboveground organizations. Their actions in Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) are a prime example. SDS was a broad-based organization with wide support, which focused on participatory democracy, direct action, and nonviolent civil disobedience for civil rights and against the war. Before the formation of the Weather Underground, a group called the Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM), led by Bernardine Dohrn, later a leader of the Weather Underground, essentially hijacked SDS. They gained power at a 1969 national SDS convention and expelled members of a rival faction (the Progressive Labor Party and Worker Student Alliance). They hoped to push the entire organization into more militant action, but their coup caused a split in the organization, which rapidly disintegrated in the following years. In the decades since, no leftist student organization has managed to even approach the scale of SDS.
The bottom line is that RYM took a highly functional aboveground group and destroyed it. The Weather Underground’s exaltation of militancy got in the way of radical change and caused a permanent setback in popular leftist organizing. What the Weather Underground members failed to realize is that not everyone is going to participate in underground or armed resistance, and that everyone does not need to participate in those things. The civil rights and antiwar movements were appropriate places for actionists to try to build nonviolent mass movements, where very important work was being done, and SDS was a crucial group doing that work. Aboveground and underground groups need each other, and they must work in tandem, both organizationally and strategically. It’s a major strategic error for any faction—aboveground or underground—to dismiss the other half of their movement. To arrogantly destroy a functioning organization is even worse.
There is a fifth common strategic failure, which in some ways is the most important of them all: the unwillingness or inability to apply appropriate tactics to carry out the strategy. Is your resistance movement using its entire tool chest? A resistance movement that is fighting to win considers every operation and every tactic it can possibly employ. That doesn’t mean that it actually uses every tool or tactic. But nothing is simply dismissed without consideration.
The Weather Underground, to return again to their example, was a group which began with an earnest desire to fight back, to “bring the war home,” and express genuine solidarity with the people of Vietnam and other countries under American attack by taking up arms. Initially, this was meant to include attacks on human beings in key positions in the military-industrial complex. Indeed, before they went underground, as we’ve already discussed, the Weather Underground was eager to attack even low-level representatives of the state hierarchy, specifically police. Shortly after going underground, they changed their strategy.
The turning point in the Weather Underground’s strategy of violence versus nonviolence was the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion. In the spring of 1970, an underground cell there was building bombs in preparation for a planned attack on a social event for noncommissioned officers at a nearby army base. However, a bomb detonated prematurely in the basement, killing three people, injuring two others (who fled), and destroying the house. After the explosion, the Weather Underground took what you could call a nonviolent approach to bombings—they attacked symbols of power like the Pentagon and the Capitol building, but went out of their way to case the scenes before detonation to ensure that there were no human casualties.
Rather ironically, their post–Greenwich Village tactical approach again became largely symbolic and nonviolent, much like the aboveground groups they criticized. Lacking connections to other movements and organizations, and lacking a clear strategic goal, the Weather Underground’s efforts were doomed to be ineffective.
Land defense and social justice work are necessary for healthy human and non-human communities, but any victories will be irrelevant if industrial civilization makes the planet literally unlivable. The system must be stopped before it triggers irreversible runaway climate change and ecological collapse, and only strategic underground attacks against critical infrastructure will stop it. There are many hard working activists in the aboveground struggle, though we can always use more. Unfortunately, as far as we can tell, vanishingly few people are carrying out the necessary attacks against industrial bottlenecks and weak points in infrastructure. Underground promotion remains the most important work for those of us in the aboveground.
To help us better understand the barriers to formation of an underground, we’re surveying those who have committed to aboveground work. If you’ve joined a radical aboveground group, publicly stated your support of ecosabotage, engaged in environmental civil disobedience, or otherwise drawn attention to your strong enviro-political beliefs, we want to learn the reasons behind your decision.
What does it mean to decolonize my heart and mind, and how do I go about doing that?
by Derrick Jensen / Deep Green Resistance
Many indigenous people have said to me that the first and most important thing we have to do is decolonize our hearts and minds. Part of what that means is to question every assumption that you ever had about the way life is. Many indigenous people have told me the most important difference between indigenous and western ways of being is that even the most open-minded westerners perceive listening to the natural world as a metaphor rather than a literal action. Indigenous people around the world generally perceive the world as consisting of other beings to enter into relationship with and to whom we have responsibility, as opposed to resources for us to exploit.
“When I look at trees I see dollar bills.”
If you look at trees and see dollar bills, you‘re going to treat them one way. If you look at trees and see trees, you‘ll treat them another way. And if you look at this particular tree and see this particular tree, you‘ll treat them differently still. The same is true of course for women, which is one reason I am so completely opposed to pornography; when I look at women and I see orifices, I‘ll treat them one way; if I look at women and I see women I‘ll treat them another way, and if I look at this particular woman and I see this particular woman I‘ll treat her differently still.
How you perceive the world affects how you behave in the world. So, a lot of the decolonizing is to change unquestioned assumptions that control how you perceive and act in the world.
A young writer approached Anton Tschechow and said he wanted to write a story and he didn’t know what to write. So Tschechow said: “I want you to write a story about a man, who squeezes every drop of slave’s blood out of his body.”
We have been trained since infancy to be slaves to the system. To be addicted to the system. The word “addict” comes from the same root as the word “edict,” and it means “to enslave.” In ancient Rome, a judge would issue an edict, that would addict someone to someone else, that would enslave them.
We are enslaved to the system, and we need to squeeze every drop of slave’s blood out of ourselves. Another way to look at this is to recognize that, as Robert J. Lifton has written about so well, before you can commit any mass atrocity you have to convince yourself that what you‘re doing is not in fact an atrocity, but instead a good thing.
So the Nazis were not committing genocide and mass murder, they were instead purifying the Aryan race. The North American settlers were not committing genocide and mass murder and land theft, they were manifesting their destiny. Today, nobody is killing the planet, they are instead developing natural resources.
I shared a stage with Ward Churchill one time and we were chatting backstage, and I said ”I can‘t believe how stupid the Nazis were to take such careful records of their atrocities, meticulous records of how much gold they pulled from teeth … why would they take such strict records of these terrible actions?” He just looked and me and said, “Derrick, what do you think the GNP is?“ GNP is a very highly detailed description of the conversion of the living to the dead, of the dismemberment of the living planet.
So part of decolonizing is to recognize that things we think are good, like civilization, like industrialism, like developing natural resources, may in fact be quite terrible and atrocious. This is absolutely crucial work. One of the things that happens through this process that is crucial to decolonizing is transfering your loyalty away from the dominant system and toward the landbase. This is pretty much what all of my work is about. Once you transfer your loyalty to the landbase, everything else is just technical, you know, what to do then. But until you do that your loyalty will still be, by definition, with the dominant culture.
When I do resistance radio interviews, I‘m always very clear before the interview that you can be as biocentric and ecocentric as you want. If we‘re talking about the Mississippi River, or talking about the Colorado River, or the Columbia River, I don‘t actually care about agriculture. My loyalty is completely with the river. If the water stays in the Colorado River, I don‘t care if that means that cotton growers will be driven out of business, or that golf courses in Arizona will go dry. Because my loyalty is not with industrial capitalism; my loyalty is with the living planet.
How do we do it? We start to question every assumption. There is a sense in which it‘s very easy and a sense in which it‘s really hard.
The sense in which it‘s very easy is that, like many environmental activists, we begin by wanting to protect a specific piece of ground. But we end up questioning the foundations of western civilization. That‘s because we start to ask questions, and once the questions start they‘ll never stop. So we can ask: why is this land being destroyed? And the answer is usually: because someone is going to make money off of it. Or economic production; it‘s good for the economy. Then you ask: why is most land harmed? Well, it‘s good for the economy.
So then you ask: have all cultures had economies based on destroying their land base? No. And then you ask: what does it mean that you have an economy based on destroying the land base? And then you ask: what is the endpoint of having an economy based on destroying the land base? And of course, the answer is obvious: you destroy the land base, and you destroy the capacity of the earth to support life. As we see.
In that sense decolonizing is really easy. All you have to do is to ask one question. It‘s the same with rape culture. You ask: why was this woman raped? Then you ask: why is any woman raped? Why are so many women raped? Has every culture been a rape culture? And once those questions start, you head back to the roots of the problem. In the case of rape, the patriarchal violation imperative, in the case of civilization, well, civilization’s economic arrangements, and also the patriarchal violation imperative.
In another sense it‘s very hard. You have to give up on everything that brought meaning before. You die, that‘s the point. That‘s a very scary process, and it can be a very painful process, it‘s a process that many of us went through in our twenties. There is that great line by Joseph Campbell: if the signs and symbols of the dominant culture work for you, then there will be a sense of meaning in your life and a sense of accord with the universe. If the signs and the symbols of Catholicism work for you, then you have a 2000 year old path of meaning laid out for you.
If the American Dream works for you, and making money brings you meaning, then you have a couple of hundred years system of meaning set out for you. I would say that meaning is really perverse, but we‘ll leave that. Campbell then says: if those signs and symbols don‘t work for you, then basically you‘ll find your life meaningless, and you‘re set adrift. Then you have to go on what he called a hero journey, and I‘m sorry for the sexism of the language. That‘s the journey, that we all have to find to go through, to find meaning in our own lives.
Life consists of a series of deaths and rebirths. It‘s pretty extraordinary that the central message of the Jesus story is completely missed. It‘s not that Jesus was a real human being who died and then was resurrected; instead it‘s that for a new part of us to be born, an old part of us has to die. This is true in any case. When we are in our late teens and early twenties, we have to die as children to be born as adults. That part is left behind, and a new part emerges. That can be incredibly painful and scary, which is why cultures around the world have had social means by which the young people would be shepherded through that process.
We don‘t have that. We certainly don‘t have any social approval for it. Instead, people are pulled back into the culture at every moment. This culture tries to bring us back through television, through books, through economically forcing you to stay in the system, making you economically dependent upon the system by telling you that you are a consumer, and not a citizen or a human animal who needs habitat. It‘s constantly reinforced. But if you can find another community, a community of people who value living trees over dollars, who value the real world, whose loyalty is with the real world, that can really help this passage.
The really difficult part of decolonizing is that it involves a great definite death and rebirth. A death of faith that the system will work out, a full internalization of the understanding that the dominant culture hates life, and that the dominant culture will kill everything on the planet unless it‘s stopped. That‘s what decolonization feels like; it‘s the death of one‘s loyalty to the system that raised you.
If space aliens had come down from out of space, and were vacuuming the oceans, changing the climate, putting dioxin in every mother‘s breast milk, obliterating the planet and giving us computers, and tomatoes in January, and whatever goodies we want; if space aliens were doing this, most of us would not have a hard time decolonizing because we would see it. But after five, and ten and fifteen generations, people won‘t see it any more.
One of the reasons we‘ve become so stupid about this is because from childhood we pledged allegiance to this culture. We were taught that this culture is more important than a living planet.
Once again, we need to think about this as though it were space aliens who were destroying the planet. Because it doesn’t really matter who is destroying the planet; they are destroying the planet and they need to be stopped.
So for me, the process of decolonizing has, as its very essence, making one‘s loyalty to the real world.
Perhaps the single most important aspect of our work as aboveground organizers and activists is to promote and normalize militant, underground resistance against industrial civilization. There is a lot of other important work that we do as well—organizing alternative institutions, landbase restoration, and aboveground political work to dismantle dominant power structures—but ultimately, civilization won’t be stopped (and we won’t be successful) without coordinated and strategic underground action. Working to promote and normalize militancy is incredibly important for aboveground individuals and organizations, because it prepares and tends the soil from which such action will spring. Without this support—a culture of resistance that embraces, celebrates, and promotes underground action—it is much more difficult for underground groups and networks to become established and be effective.
While this is a foremost priority for us, it can also be one of the most difficult parts of our work. Publicly speaking out in support of militancy and a diversity of tactics can be very scary, for entirely valid reasons. There is the fear that it will invite backlash and condemnation from those loyal to the status quo, as well as the fear that it will alienate us from friends and family, and perhaps most daunting of all, there is the fear that those in power will arrest and throw us in jail. Again, these are all perfectly valid fears, and ones that individuals should confront before deciding what they are and aren’t comfortable doing as part of a resistance movement.
That said, there is an array of things we can do and steps we can take to minimize those risks and navigate them more securely. The best thing to do is to familiarize yourself with good security culture practices and fully internalize those behavior patterns until they become automatic. For more on security culture, click here.
In addition to security culture, there are specific ways of talking about underground action that can help to minimize security risk and make your message more appealing and accessible for your audience. What follows are some basic “dos” and “don’ts” that we have learned from our experience speaking and communicating about militant resistance, as well as an overview of several commonly asked questions on the subject and ways to answer them.
According to an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in July, the planet is in the midst of the 6th mass extinction event. Strikingly, the scientists who wrote the article call this a “biological annihilation.”
This isn’t a random sequence outcome of a natural societal development. The dominant global culture (industrial civilization) is a culture of imperialism. We can define that as a culture that colonizes and extracts resources as a standard way of operating.
Industrial civilization has become the dominant culture by violence, and violence maintains it.
Timber is ripped from forests and shredded for sale. Rivers are enslaved to irrigate fields and power cities. Oil is burned to propel commerce. Fracking injects poisons into the planet in order to extract even more petrochemicals. Traditional ways of life and sustainable relationships with the land are destroyed, so the only alternative is the toxic (and profitable) cycle of wage labor, debt, and poverty. Patriarchy teaches men to objectify and dominate women, and women to acquiesce. The result is a loss of bodily autonomy to the point that half of all children are unwanted by the mother, and a culture in which eating disorders are a leading cause of death among young women and teenage girls. The legacy of slavery underlies the modern prison system, where vast profits are made by locking up the powerless and oppressed.
As a friend put it, “oppression is always in service of resource extraction.”
The shiny gadgets used to enthrall us are made possible by child miners in the Congo, by workers toiling to the point of mass suicide in Foxconn factories in China, and by the exportation of e-waste to conveniently isolated locations.
And of course, the military, police, and private security (mercenaries) are ready to beat, imprison, or kill anyone who stands in the way of this system. Finally, this culture’s atomized families and recent trends like the rise of neo-liberalism help ensure we remain isolated physically and emotionally, without the strength that comes from being part of a community.
Between the threat of violence, bribery, and the sense of helplessness that comes from isolation, most people aren’t willing to resist. American culture has been built on genocide for 500 years; at this point, most settlers can’t even imagine a society not based on violence.
For those who can, we need to get serious about our strategies.
In the west, and especially in the United States, most activists operate within a mythic framework of non-violent resistance that’s far different than the liberation politics of the 1960’s and 70’s. In this mythology, violence doesn’t solve anything, and non-violence has a magical ability to win conflicts—even if those victories only occur in hearts and minds.
“We win through losing,” a friend says (sarcastically) of this mindset.
Don’t get me wrong. Non-violence can be a supremely elegant and effective technique for social change. Applied correctly—forcefully—non-violence can immobilize a repressive regime or corporate power, making it impossible to move in any direction. Violence should, of course, be avoided anytime it can be.
But non-violent resistance doesn’t always work. As Adam Herriott writes in his excellent multi-part series, “The destruction of our world isn’t an ‘environmental crisis,’ nor a ‘climate crisis.’ It’s a war waged by industrial civilisaton and capitalism against life on earth–all life–and we need a resistance movement with that analysis to respond…the decision about what strategy and tactics to use depends on the circumstances, rather than being wedded to one approach out of a vague ethical dogma…the choice between using non-violence or force is a tactical decision. Those who advocate for the use of force are not arguing for blind unthinking violence, but against blind unthinking nonviolence.”
So what’s next? What happens when non-violence doesn’t work? What should you do when you have voted, petitioned, demanded, protested, raised awareness, locked down, blockaded, and it hasn’t worked?
Do you keep using the same tactics that have failed again and again, hoping they’ll work this time?
Do you give up?
This is not a theoretical question.
It’s a situation that has been faced by many resistance movements throughout history. Lately I’ve been reflecting on one in particular; the Oka Crisis that went down near Montreal in 1990.
After 400 years of gradual land theft, the Kahnesetake band of the Mohawk Nation was left with a fraction of a fraction of its traditional territory. With land “development” encroaching continuously, tensions came to a head in 1990 when plans began moving forward to expand a golf course into an extremely important site: a pine forest next to the tribal cemetery.
Members of the Kahnesetake community went through various channels to fight the expansion, including petitioning local government and the federal Indian Bureau. Nothing worked, so they began a non-violent occupation of the golf course. After a gradual escalation—police beatings, threats from masked assailants—many of the Mohawks began carrying weapons. Special police forces were called in to raid the camp, and women stood them down. Someone began shooting—from which side is impossible to say—and a policeman was killed. After a weeks-long standoff during which many more shots were exchanged, the Mohawks were eventually evicted—but the land was protected from development.
Are we committed to winning as much as those Mohawk warriors?
Species extinction, fascist and Nazi extremism, global warming, police violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, resource extraction, industrial expansion, the prison industrial system. Are we committed to stopping these injustices?
If so, we must consider all means, including the use of force and violence.
This is an emergency.
HOW A REVOLUTION MIGHT BEGIN: THE CUBAN PRECEDENT
Perhaps one of the more important lessons of revolutionary history comes from Cuba, where in 1956, a small group of revolutionaries landed near the Sierra Maestra mountains. Almost immediately, the rebels were attacked and routed. Of the original group of 80, only about 20 regrouped in the mountains.
Nonetheless, over the next several years, their movement grew. They recruited locals, coordinated with underground cells in Havana and other urban areas, and built support networks elsewhere in Latin America. By January 1959, the revolutionaries had overthrown the rule of the Batista government.
Marx informs any revolutionary, but I am not a Marxist. Like China and the Soviet Union, Cuba followed a highly centralized, industrialized development path that contains much to criticize (while still representing an inspiring alternative to the capitalist model). The events that took place after the Cuban revolution are, to me, less interesting than the methods used to carry out the revolution itself. Che’s guerilla warfare techniques were well suited to the rural countryside and have influenced every revolutionary group since. And there is much to learn from how the Cuban underground organized.
The most important lesson, I think, is that the revolutionaries just got started. They didn’t wait for the perfect conditions, which they knew would never appear. They suffered major setbacks, but they persisted, and they had unshakeable confidence that they would prevail. Despite their lack of numbers, they had a good foundational strategy. By playing to their strengths, avoiding unwise confrontations, and by gradually building strength, they defeated a force that was initially much superior and initiated a tectonic political shift from capitalist vassal state to socialist nation-building experiment.
DAKOTA ACCESS PIPELINE SABOTAGE
On July 24th, two women—Ruby Montoya and Jessica Reznicek—publicly admitted to sabotaging the Dakota Access Pipeline in an attempt to stop the desecration of native territory, the ongoing destruction of the climate, and threats to major rivers.
In an interview with them shortly after, they explained their motivations. Ruby, who was a kindergarten teacher before quitting her job to fight the pipeline, was in tears as she explained that those kids would have no future without action.
Jessica and Ruby have repeatedly called for others to take similar actions of eco-sabotage.
Last year, I published a call for ecological special forces:
“Small forces of ecological commandos that could target the fundamental sources of power that are destroying the planet. We have seen examples of this. In Nigeria, commando forces have been fighting a guerrilla war of sabotage against Shell Oil Corporation for decades. At times, they have reduced oil output by more than 60%.”
As we noted, “no environmental group has ever had that level of success. Not even close. In the U.S., clandestine ecological resistance has been relatively minimal. However, isolated incidents have taken place. A 2013 attack on an electrical station in central California inflicted millions of dollars in damage to difficult-to-replace components used simple hunting rifles. The action took a total of 19 minutes, displaying the sort of discipline, speed, and tactical acumen required for special forces operations.
“Our situation is desperate. Things continue to get worse. False solutions, greenwashing, corporate co-optation, and rollbacks of previous victories are relentless. Resistance communities are fractured, isolated, and disempowered. However, the centralized, industrialized, and computerized nature of global empire means that the system is vulnerable. Power is mostly concentrated and projected via a few systems that are vulnerable.
“Even powerful empires can be defeated. But those victories won’t happen if we engage on their terms. Ecological special forces provide a method and means for decisive operations that deal significant damage to the functioning of global capitalism and industrialism. With enough coordination, these sorts of attacks could deal death blows to entire industrial economies, and perhaps (with the help of aboveground movements, ecological limits, and so on) to industrialism as a whole.
“Implementation of this strategy will require highly motivated, dedicated, and skilled individuals. Serious consideration of security, anonymity, and tactics will be required. But this system was built by human beings; we can take it apart as well.”
That strategy, while not sufficient on its own, would help us move towards a more effective, forceful movement. Read that article here.
This may sound drastic to you. But consider: the planet is being destroyed. We’re living through the sixth great mass extinction event. The most powerful nation in the world just elected Donald Trump. There is no sign of a looming political shift, and alternative parties and movements are largely sidelined or co-opted.
CHARLOTTESVILLE COMES HOME
As I write this, I’m at my sister’s house; she’s just given birth to my (first) nephew, who has beautiful brown skin and is what’s called “mixed race.” Before long, he will emerge into the world, and he will be perceived as a black child, and then as he grows, a black man.
White supremacy is experiencing a resurgence. Days before I write this, at a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, hundreds of virulent racists marched, chanting “blood and soil” and “white lives matter.” In front of studiously inactive police, they severely injured more than two dozen anti-racist protestors and one fascist plowed his car into a crowd of anti-racist protestors, killing a woman and severely injuring others.
The day after, as my sister lay in bed nursing her new beautiful baby boy, more white supremacists were gathering in downtown Seattle, about two miles away. Later, the Amerikkkan president defended the supremacists, saying there were “great people” involved in the white supremacist protests.
To anyone who is paying attention, this isn’t a surprise. Our nation has been built on foundation of systematic white supremacy in service of the extraction of resources. Those are the roots of this society, and the trend continues today. The everyday violence of this culture fuels its operation. The system is functioning perfectly, exploiting every possible method for economic, social, and political gain while funneling wealth to the top.
How can I make a better world for my nephew? How can I make a survivable world? My answer—at least one part of it—is by halting that everyday violence.
It’s time that we organized and carried out a revolution.
Max Wilbert is a writer, activist, and organizer with the group Deep Green Resistance. He lives on occupied Kalapuya Territory in Oregon.
There are two news reports that someone with an air rifle has targeted an electrical substation  and overhead electrical cables  in the Nottingham area in May 2016. Its unclear exactly how many incidents there were. It resulted in power cuts in 8,000 homes and businesses in the Nottingham area. The electrical company was able to “pinpoint a damaged component which was consistent with having been caused by a firearm,” 
by Ben Warner / Deep Green Resistance UK
“The first thing you do is to forget that I’m Black. Second, you must never forget that I’m Black.”
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The UK has never stopped being a racist country, but the vote to leave the EU has given more confidence to many racists. Racist attacks are on the rise. Now more than ever, “white people” like me need to use our privileges to support groups like Black Lives Matter.
A friend of mine who was born in the UK and is of Pakistani origin, was surprised when the “nice” old white lady he had escorted out of the hospital where he works said “Ohh, you’re such a lovely boy, almost makes me wish I hadn’t voted out.” We laughed about it. Her comment displayed so much ignorance it was scarcely believable, but as you peel away one layer, another becomes visible. This casual comment helps to reveal the truth that racism is based on ignorance.
There is no scientific basis for a categorisation of humanity into races of any kind. The commonly used nomenclature of black and white is particularly troublesome and unfounded. It is physiologically unfounded because in the entire history of humanity no human has ever been born with black or white skin. It is troublesome because in the English language white has almost exclusively positive associations, whereas black has largely negative ones. Humans have been arbitrarily labeled by the lighter skinned males who have held power in our culture since its inception. This labeling has been done as part of a “divide and conquer” strategy, a trick which has served the powerful well for millennia. We cannot let this process continue.
For those who doubt that the UK remains an institutionally racist country, a quick look at the statistics may help to change your mind. In 2015, 3000 UK police were being investigated for alleged assault against members of the public. Only 2% of them were suspended for these actions. In the West Midlands, black and Asian police were four times more likely to be suspended than their white colleagues. In the same region, black and Asian people were 3.5 times more likely to report being assaulted. In London, 55% of the victims of police assault were people of colour.
Across the UK, people of colour are 3 times more likely to be tasered by police, at least 6 times more likely to be stopped and searched, and more likely to be strip searched. Since 1990, over 500 black and Asian people have died in police custody – over a third of the total – yet only 14% of the British population are people of colour. Not one police officer has been successfully prosecuted for any of these murders, though many of them were a result of excessive force or negligence. Police officers have said that little has changed in the mindset of the police force since 1999, when it was found to be institutionally racist by the white judge Sir William Macpherson.
People of colour are twice as likely to be unemployed than whites, and black people are almost 3 times more likely to be unemployed than any other population in the UK. Black people are also 44% more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act than whites. Compared to their white counterparts, black people are 17 times more likely to be diagnosed with a psychotic illness. Despite there being no evidence that black people are more aggressive than whites, mental health staff are more likely to perceive them as being potentially violent, more likely to prescribe drugs (and at higher doses) or other physical treatments, as opposed to psychotherapy or counseling. GPs are also more likely to put black people into the hands of the police rather than the hands of mental health service providers.
Additionally, black people are more likely to get cancer at a younger age and more likely to die of it than the rest of the population. Not enough research has been done to uncover the exact reasons for this which, is indicative of the lack of concern that our society has for black people. However, if we accept that the UK is institutionally racist, one reason becomes obvious. Why would a black person go to a GP if they know s/he is likely to refer them to the police and that the police are a racist institution? Is it better to ignore a symptom of cancer or risk being handed over to the police by a doctor who will most likely be a white middle class male? Bearing all this in mind, it should not surprise anyone that rates of depression are 60% higher for people in ethnic minority groups than for whites.
These statistics should be shocking for any sane person. However, being shocked is not enough. We also need to act. White people are not immune to the social programming that is a part of our culture. I want to end racism, but I have been taught to be racist by the white supremacist society I was raised in. White people should work through education and direct action to dismantle the racism, in themselves and in society. We should work to respect, listen, support and encourage the voices and leadership of people of colour.
We should work to counter the efforts of white supremacists and fascists groups, whether by challenging racist individuals whenever they make racist comments or by resisting racist organisations which continue to encourage or practice racism. We need to educate ourselves about the long history of the struggle against racism. We need to work to dismantle the racist institutions (housing, education, criminal in-justice, banking, culture, media, extraction, and so on) that help to maintain white supremacy. We must remember that when we choose to fight racism and imperialism, we are joining a protracted, centuries-old struggle, which indigenous people and people of color have always been on the front lines of. As white people, we must allow those who have experienced these histories first hand to inform our resistance.
If you can’t be at tomorrow’s Rising Up! Heathrow action, then support it remotely from home. See details below from Rising Up!:
Airport expansion makes no sense – air pollution limits are already being breached and we need to be reducing flights to meet climate change targets not increasing them. The planned expansion at Heathrow will also see local communities bulldozed – where is the democracy? Watch this video for more information.
We have three actions you can join this coming weekend (including just for an hour from your own home!).
If you are already involved thank you! and please share so we can blast our targets
3. A communications blockade of Heathrow – you join in and make some telephone calls / post on social media if you can (again we are on target between pledgees and those joining by facebook). More information will come through this week to those signed up in the meantime you can pick your time slot
These actions are super important in terms of the movement to stop insane airport expansion. They are also our live experiment in creating inclusive actions for everyone to join in, which also include acts of civil disobedience, which have historically always been necessary as the way to see change.
In March we facilitated a workshop at Grow Heathrow. It was a lively and interesting debate focused on Civilisation. We talked about why DGR believes the murder of the biosphere is caused by civilisation. Although not all the participants agreed, there was some support, many good questions were asked and the discussion ended with everyone on friendly terms.
DGR UK members launched the Rights of Nature UK campaign in June. We are campaigning for nature to have legal rights in the same way as humans and animals. CELDF in the US has successfully supported 30 communities to get Rights of Nature laws enacted. Is a part of nature under threat where you live? If not would you like to help with the campaign? If so get in touch: (firstname.lastname@example.org); website; facebook.
In July, Lierre Keith spoke in London at the long-awaited Thinking Differently conference (videos to follow soon). Lierre arranged to meet with Radical Feminist activists in London the day after the conference. About twenty women attended to discuss a number of pressing issues, including how the environmental and feminist communities can support each other more in their struggles. Lively discussion ensued with topics ranging from the US election to Teresa May’s swift decision to abolish the Department for Energy and Climate Change. There is growing recognition that environmentalists and feminists along with anti-racists, anti-capitalists and others share a common enemy. It is important that these varying groups build effective alliances. For this to happen, groups need to be open to radical feminist analyses. More joint meetings and exchanges of ideas will follow.
DGR Scotland launched in August. They have a facebook group with a website to follow soon. It is an exciting time for DGR Scotland to be taking off with hopes getting higher that we can break from our UK colonial status, from our role of providing a large part of our territory as hunting playground for the rich, with having no say over having UK nuclear subs parked near to our major city and our being dragged into illegal wars.
Finally, we’re making a change to how we post DGR UK news. For the last 3 years, we’ve been posting regularly to the DGR UK blog and then sending out very irregular e-newsletters. This is changing so that everyone on the e-newsletter list will get email alerts when we post to the DGR UK blog (which is about once per month) and there won’t be any more e-newsletters. You can of course unsubscribe from these if you wish using the link at the bottom of each notification email.
For the Wild!
The DGR UK Team