An article from Do or Die Issue 10. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 1-101.
We must have the ability to defend ourselves, survive, and exploit crises in society including capitalist attempts to destroy us. The divided and industrial nature of today's society has already determined the instability of tomorrow.
"It is difficult for the British with their tradition of stability to imagine disorders arising beyond the powers of the police to handle, but already there are indications that such a situation could arise, and this at a time of apparently unrivalled affluence..."
"If a genuine and serious grievance arose, such as might result from a significant drop in the standard of living, all those who now dissipate their protest over a wide variety of causes might concentrate their efforts and produce a situation which was beyond the power of the police to handle. Should this happen the army would be required to restore the position rapidly. Fumbling at this juncture might have grave consequences even to the extent of undermining confidence in the whole system of government."
- General Sir Frank Kitson , ex-Commander-in-Chief of UK Land Forces.
"Imagine having no running water to drink.
Chemicals contaminate the pipes leading to your sink.
Just think, if the grocery stores close their doors,
And they saturate the streets with tanks and start martial law.
Would you be ready for civil war?"
- dead prez.
The myth is that though we may see crisis on the TV in other countries, Western Europe will be forever stable. This is an idea that our generation holds; other living generations are not so ahistorical - they, after all, have lived through history.
Our grandparents experienced the Second World War and all of its horrors and the cold war partition of Europe. Many of our parents were teenagers during the fall of the Spanish and Portuguese fascist regimes in the '70s, the rise and fall of the CIA-backed military coup in Greece, the May '68 revolt in France and serious social conflict in Italy in the '70s, to name but a few of Western Europe's recent crises. Not to mention internment of radicals, soldiers on the streets for nearly thirty years, bombings and guerrilla warfare in Northern Ireland.
For those who think 'that sort of thing couldn't happen here' it's worth remembering that Britain came perilously close in 1968-75 to a military coup spearheaded by leading industrialists, high ranking army officers and members of the secret services.
Social crises are regular occurrences in societies based on class warfare.
The crises we've known are likely to look pretty minor compared to what's on the horizon. Climate change and biological meltdown are already kicking off serious crises, killing hundreds of thousands and the ride hasn't even got going yet. The extremes of ecological instability are most visible at the ecological extremes - the Tropical, Arctic and Antarctic zones. However the evolving global crises WILL reach us in the Temperate zone. Things are gonna go a bit fucking weird. There is no way out of it; the ecological effects of yesterday's industry have already decided the ecological instability of tomorrow.
If the climate and life support systems of the earth destabilise, you can guarantee that society will also.
Economic crisis, though connected to crises arising from class struggle and ecological destabilisation, are capable of creating chaos in their own right. In the last five years of the twentieth century a wave of economic crises crashed whole economies; Albania, Russia, the Asian Tiger countries. In a globalised system the collapse of one economy can create a domino effect. For those assimilated into these fragile economies living standards get worse. Many people simply cannot afford to let things continue as they are.
The Indonesian uprising which ousted Suharto and the 1997 insurrection in Albania show what happens to regimes when their economies collapse. So, unfortunately, does the depression era rise of the Nazis.
Thanks to heavy economic manoeuvring West European societies have not experienced the destabilisation that has swept East Asia and the Second World in the last decade. Their economies are inherently less robust than those of the core capitalist countries, but that does not mean that the core capitalist countries are 'untouchable'. Listen hard - you can hear the crash before the impact.
The mass nature of industrialism - a society evolved to consolidate oppressor order - itself produces mass 'personal' disorders in the oppressed. Incremental changes in mental and physical health can seem trivial until a threshold is reached. Under certain circumstances these personal disorders can seriously re-order civilisation.
With herd medicine and transport systems turning humanity ever more into a mono-culture, we can expect future epidemics to reap an unparalleled harvest of heads. In the mean time a divided society will continue to create divisions, not just between people but within people. Despite the glossy charade, such a fractured society is always on the edge of implosion. As in the past, it is just a matter of time and chance how soon it will be before the personal becomes political in a cataclysmic fashion.
For all the reasons stated above it is highly likely that British society will be hit by serious crises within our lifetime. Any movement that does not take this into consideration is unlikely to survive. Crises by their very nature contain truckloads of both danger and possibility. Crises are moments of the extreme and when the shit hits the fan people look for extreme solutions.
Times of sudden (r)evolutionary possibility often arise out of war, chaos and social collapse. The period after both world wars saw massive revolutionary waves. The First World War brought us the Russian revolution as well as workers and peasant uprisings across much of Europe. The Second World War seriously damaged much of the social fabric of empire leading the way to insurgencies across the Third World. In turn the horror of the Vietnam War opened up fault lines across American society.
While insurrections have often arisen out of crises, crises may not be fertile ground for harmonious social (r)evolution. Though people look for extreme solutions, there are no 'pre-ordained' reasons why they will turn to anarchist ideas rather than authoritarian ones. In fact libertarian tendencies in the people are likely to be heavily curtailed when confronted with the interwebbed complexity of industrial society, peoples alienation from their own food and the scale of modern warfare.
Once again this is where I depart from what I've earlier called the 'It'll be all right on the night' tendency. Two factors that are likely to in part decide what happens in a crisis are:
1) How well known are anti-authoritarian ideas?
In crises peoples perception of the possible widens. Ideas, which under normal circumstances are rejected out of hand, in moments of crises can be judged and seen to be sensible. However, they can only be judged if they have been put forward in the past. Thus anti-authoritarian educational work to the non-aligned majority today, can influence decisions over aims and forms of organisation they make in crises tomorrow.
2) How experienced and organised libertarian groups are.
In any crises in British society today the main course of events will primarily be determined by the elite and the previously non-aligned. However, history has shown that relatively small groups can have a decisive effect in moments of crises. Spain in the 1920s and 1936, Northern Ireland, the Ukraine in 1919 and the French resistance provide some examples.
I am not advocating organising an armed vanguard force to lead the people to revolution in times of crisis. I'll leave these ridiculous notions to the Leninists. I am saying that as groups which understand what might be coming and have the ability in part to affect it we have a duty to intervene in times of crises. It's our role as anarchists to stop authoritarian organisations - right wing or left wing - gaining ground in times of crisis. Or at least attempt to do so.
If a group is to have any effect it must:
IMAGE: Some advice from an Orkney anarchist - "Cover main road block with automatic fire. Block secondary routes and mine or booby-trap these." 'Revolutionaries' too often don't think about the practicalities of insurrection, never mind prepare for it.
Thankfully, actions taken under other areas of strategy from Thumb in the Dam struggles to the growing of a combatative counter-culture prepare us in part for what might need to be done in crises. The experience 'affinity groups' get in the present from involvement in mass actions, anti-GM sabotage, strikes, hunt sabbing, monkeywrenching, animal liberation, pirate radio, general criminality and anti-fascist activity are all useful training for the unexpected future.
The anarchist scene in Britain is growing but it's still a small shoal in a sea of sixty million fishes. Nevertheless it's easy to underestimate our ability to intervene in a crisis by concentrating on our present number of 'activists'. In fact one consistent aspect of crises is that when the barricades go up many 'ex-activists/militants' come out of 'retirement'.
Thanks to dole cheques and the low level of generalised class struggle the British radical ecological and libertarian scenes have existed as 'alternative youth cultures'. These cultures have encapsulated the lives of tens upon tens of thousands of people over the last three decades. By their very nature youth cultures are cultures of the young, and when the young get older they usually leave. However, I believe that most of those who have 'left', 'dropped out of politics', 'got disillusioned', 'burnt out', etc. rejected not the principles of anarchism but the practice of activism. In times of social crises those who got off the hamster wheel will know that action is not only with purpose but in their interest. Those who have once stood up are likely to stand again.
(Counter) Revolutionary Rainy Day Reads
It's raining outside and unusually you're not feeling particularly passionate. Hell, why not read up on state counter-insurgency strategy? When it comes to insurrection and revolutionary struggle the state is highly efficient at assessing and learning from its successes and defeats. Sadly, radical movements rarely are. In times of relative social peace we have the space to learn from the past. If we ever need the lessons in the future we are unlikely to be able to do the reading. As well as studying 'our own' histories it is highly useful to read the 'other side's' view of things - not the propaganda it gives the people but the analyses it gives its own armies. Some of them are publicly available if you look for them and unlike the 'pie in the sky' rubbish radicals can come out with, they are useful, relatively undogmatic analyses of confrontations of strategy.
The first book worth reading is without a doubt the one from which this section's front page quote is from: Low Intensity Operations: Subversion, Insurgency and Peacekeeping by Frank Kitson, ISBN 0571161812. Anyone who jokingly might think themselves a revolutionary should read this book - without a doubt a Machiavellian masterpiece. Kitson's career culminated in being the top bod in the British land army and along the way he helped screw insurrections in Kenya, Malaysia, Oman, Cyprus and most famously of all, Northern Ireland. Written at the beginning of the '70s, Low Intensity Operations has remained hugely influential, especially in the British and American military. In the words of the author's 1991 Preface it was written: "primarily to prepare the army to play a part in countering subversion and insurgency...". While a tad dated, as a practical how-to book on snuffing out subversion it should be read by us all.
A good introductory (though non-specialist and therefore less useful) is Ragged War: The Story of Unconventional and Counter-Revolutionary Warfare by Leroy Thompson, ISBN 185409369X. Its author has a decent pedigree from a USAF Ranger-trained special missions unit and seems to have spent most of the last three decades training some real oppressive scumfucks. Being recently published this is by nature far more contemporary. The Art of Counter-Revolutionary War by Lt. Col. John J. McCuen, (ex-US Army General Staff) was published in 1972 and thus like Low Intensity Operations is heavily dated but well worth reading; not least for its vast and bi-partisan bibliographies.
While much of these books concentrate (understandably) on countering predominantly rural guerrilla warfare, to ignore urban counter-insurgency strategy would be a serious mistake. Northern Ireland is the classic Western case and radicals should devour anything they can find about it. The best available I'd say is The Military Strategy of the Irish Republican Movement by MLR Smith (Lecturer at Greenwich Military College), ISBN 0415091616.
The only serious attempt to breach this subject by British anarchists is the wonderful - but now very dated - Towards A Citizens Militia by Cienfuegos Press, ISBN 0904564339. It's a good introductory guide to principles of armed resistance, organisation and conduct of guerrilla warfare, the tactics of security forces, and the organisation and operation of civilian resistance movements. It's written by Stuart Christie, an Orkney-based anarchist who put his money where his mouth was - among other things famously attempting to assassinate Franco. It's practical, and at 28 A4 pages, quite concise. If you read any book in this selection read this one. Beware though - state technologies have advanced a lot in the last twenty years!
After a rainy day in with that lot you should be able to join the swelling ranks of counter-insurgency warfare trainspotters.
IMAGE: Mock village on the Dungeness peninsula in Kent which was constructed for realistic military training in Northern Ireland and urban areas.
The above sub-header is an oft used North American EF! slogan. Ecologically this civilisation (unfortunately probably not civilisation itself) is doomed - maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but within the lifetime of our children's children, our children or possibly even ourselves. We should not mourn for the death of this tyrannical, earth destroying culture but we should prepare for its end.
For the second time in this pamphlet I'm emphasising the need - in times of crisis, in times of stability - TO KNOW HOW TO FEED YOURSELF, YOUR FAMILY, FRIENDS AND COMRADES! We will not always be able to rely on the destruction and imperialism of industrial agribusiness to feed us like babies; nor should we.
George Bradford of the American anarchist magazine Fifth Estate is instructive in his essay 'We All Live In Bhopal'. In the aftermath of the 1984 chemical explosion in Bhopal in India (which killed, and continues to kill, thousands), the population fled:
"The New York Times quoted one man, who said, 'They are not believing the scientists or the state or anybody. They only want to save their lives... All the public has gone to the village.' the reporter explained that 'going to the village' is what Indians do when trouble comes. A wise and age old strategy for survival by which little communities always renewed themselves when bronze, iron and golden empires with clay feet fell to their ruin. But subsistence has been and is everywhere being destroyed, and with it, culture. What are we to do when there is no village to go to?...".
"The corporate vampires are guilty of greed, plunder, murder, slavery, extermination and devastation. We should avoid any pangs of sentimentalism when the time comes for them to pay for their crimes against humanity and the natural world. But we will have to go beyond them, to ourselves: subsistence... We must find our way back to the village, or as the North American natives said, 'back to the blanket', and we must do this not by trying to save an industrial civilisation that is doomed, but in the renewal of life which must take place in the ruin."
Until recently people were adept at subsistence even in Britain - birth place of industry. For most people it is only a few generations that separate their fingers from the soil. One does not need to go back to the times of the peasantry to see this connection. On an allotment site anywhere in Britain you'll find elderly working class people who know both the satisfaction and the personal and political reasons for growing.
Subsistence skills can be learnt by us all, and passed on to our children. Non-industrial medicine must also be strengthened. In preparing for 'the collapse' we also build our autonomy and reconnect with living systems. There are few things more satisfying, and sensible, than sitting down to eat a meal grown by the combined powers of nature and one's own hands. Let us rebuild the generational connection with the land now. And as Bradford says, "Let us do so soon before we are crushed."
In this section I have been talking about how we should prepare for a number of types of crises. I have not mentioned counter (r)evolution which I have largely dealt with in Task I: Growing Counter-Cultures. To many it may seem strange that I have separated 'preparing for crises' and 'preparing for counter-revolution' - surely a type of crisis?
My answer is that in this section I have been talking about what preparation our existing movement can make in anticipation of crises that are likely to be coming. On the other hand, discussions of counter-revolution presume a revolution worth countering - a class movement of vast scale. I have argued that in Western Europe only a significant working class counter-culture can seriously threaten the elite. That does not exist in Britain and no doubt is unlikely to in the immediate to medium term - if at all. In other words, preparations to defeat counter revolution could only be made by a movement as yet not in existence in anticipation of crises that without its existence are unlikely to come.
As I argued earlier in Task 1, only a combination of military disaffection and an armed people has any hope of successfully defeating a counter-(r)evolution - 'winning' a civil war. I also argued that rebellions such as France in '68 will remain only temporary when they are not products of past struggles and a strong counter-culture that can not only propel a vision of the future but field considerable armed class strength.
IMAGE: Troops on the streets in the UK. Many don't think 'that sort of thing could happen here.' In fact, the UK has hosted one of the longest civil wars in history.
It is worth here underlining the point that we should not look forward to these moments of cataclysm with relish. Anarchist history is brim-full with stories of social crises leading to uprisings which have in turn lead to the extermination of libertarians.
All powermongers are our foes and as a result anarchists have a tendency to get it in the neck. While harmony can be born of crisis, the child is more often horror.
However, an understanding that crises are likely in our lifetime shows that being in a sorted counter-culture rooted in the land yet with an ability to act in conflict is in our own interest.
Radical groupings are essentially gangs (see Camatte!) and gangs are what you need to survive and prosper in times of crises.
Next (Task IV)
1) The 1970s crisis and the secret state destabilisation of a succession of Labour governments is a rarely mentioned but extremely important part of recent British history: "A substantial section of the British Secret state and its allies in the Conservative party, business and the media believed, or found it useful to pretend to believe - the distinction is difficult to make - that British democracy, the state, and even the capitalist system itself was under threat from a resurgent left, spearhead by the trade unions and manipulated by the British Communist Party under instruction from Moscow..." - from Lobster Magazine No. 34, p.32.
Radical Right militias led by intelligence and military men were formed. Newspapers openly discussed the right circumstances for Army intervention in Britain while M15 orchestrated black propaganda against the Labour Cabinet and trade union leaders. Joint military and police operations were carried out at Heathrow Airport without government sanction. Plans were advanced to install an unelected government of 'National Unity' lead by Lord Mountbatten. No unsubstantiated conspiracy theory, this was first exposed in an autobiography by an ex-Daily Mirror executive who was actually at a meeting with some of the conspirators and a long time M15 agent. Similar manoeuvres within the military continued through to the mid '70s.
The parapolitical background to the '70s crisis is essential to any understanding of the death of the post-war consensus and the triumph of the Thatcherite radical right. It's amazing to realise how near to the brink Britain really was! See Who Framed Colin Wallace? by Paul Foot, (Macmillan, 1988) and, Smear: Wilson and the Secret State by Stephen Dorill and Robin Ramsay, (Fourth Estate). These are still the best and most fully documented accounts of the Wilson plot.
2) After the collapse of the state-backed pyramid scheme much of the Albanian population were left destitute. As a result in 1997, "Albania experienced one of the most profound proletarian revolutions of the Twentieth Century. Virtually the entire armed forces mutinied whilst workers formed revolutionary councils and seized 80% of the country... the Albanian Government was not going to extinguish the Albanian revolution because there was no longer a government. The revolution had extinguished the Albanian state. The world's investors began to panic. It took the armies of ten countries to crush the Albanian revolution and it was a close call..." 'Kissing goodbye to their Koreas', Black Flag No. 213, p.22.
3) Blatantly crazy millenarian revolts and the pro-peasant social reorganisation following the Black Death, are examples of the positive effects of past social ruptures, themselves arising from mass explosions of personal physical and mental health problems. On a similar but more depressing note we can look at the global rise of the West, enabled in large part by the mass deaths that Western disease brought to indigenous peoples.
4) I'm talking here about crisis as opposed to counter-revolutions. Counter-revolutions are essentially attempts by elites to counter and destroy the self-organisation of peasants and the working class - Roll back (r)evolution. While counter-revolutions by their nature presume the existence of large movements of the politically aligned, crises can break out when the majority of people are 'non-aligned'. I do NOT use the phrase non-aligned to mean apathetic. Most people today in Britain would not align themselves to any group of 'politicos' for a whole host of very sensible reasons.
5) Here I am talking about those who really lived inside the activist cultures of squatting, animal liberation, ecological direct action etc. In fact the sum total of all those involved peripherally over this period would probably run to over 100,000. Anyone who doubts this should note that despite most people who went to anti-road protests not being arrested there were 1,000+ arrests at Newbury alone! Similarly J18 was just below 10,000, while smaller RTSs have happened all over Britain. In the same period every weekend 'in the season' dozens of hunt sab groups were out in the field. At the turn of the '90s heyday of travelling tens of thousands were on the road at any given time. A high proportion of all those people would see themselves as anarchists.
IMAGE: Above is a pocket card carried by English soldiers in Ireland. Those of us living in Britain should not feel complacent: mainstream sources confirm that orders to use baton rounds were issued for an anti-Criminal Justice Bill demo in 1994. Demonstrators scaled the gates of Downing Street - had many of them actually made it over the gates into the street, orders were that a volley of plastic bullets should be fired.
IMAGE: "A security counter-action need cover no more than 5000 people... the total internment could easily be accomodated in a 'Gaelic Archipelago' off the West Highlands." - George Young, ex-Vice Chief of MI6 (Subversion and the British Riposte, 1984)