Tags Archives: News » Nonviolence

Visit the global News » Nonviolence archives for posts from all DGR sites.

Time is Short: Nelson Mandela and the Path to Militant Resistance

By Adam Herriott / Deep Green Resistance UK
We have had several months to reflect on the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. Since his death, world leaders have attempted to coopt this legacy. It is especially interesting to see how many who once branded Mandela a terrorist are rushing to pay their respects. [1]

His freedom fighter past has been quietly forgotten. Mainstream writers, intellectuals, and politicians prefer to focus on his life after prison. A simple Google search for Mandela is dominated by articles about tolerance and acceptance.

But often lost in discussions of Mandela are the details about why he was sent to prison by the Apartheid Government. He rose to leadership in the African National Congress (ANC) against Apartheid and his role in the creation of its militant wing, the Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK) which means “Spear of the Nation” in Zulu and Xhosa.

Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom is very well written bringing the reader on Nelson’s journey with him. He dedicated his life to the struggle to create a South Africa where all are equal.

For a detailed summary of Mandela’s path to militant resistance see the DGR Nelson Mandela Resistor Profile.

Mandela came from a privileged background and was groomed to council the leaders of his tribe. He received an excellent ‘western’ education. He moved to Johannesburg and trained as a lawyer. In Johannesburg, he came into contact with ANC members. His radicalisation began as he attended ANC meetings and protests.

On page 109 of Mandela’s autobiography he explains that he cannot pinpoint the moment when he knew he would spend his life in the liberation struggle. He states that any African born in South Africa is politicised from birth with the oppression and inequality Africans in South Africa suffer. “I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments that produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people.”

In 1948, the Nationalist (Apartheid) Party won the general election and formed a government that remained in power until 1994. Following the election, the ANC increased activities resulting in deaths at protests by the police. In response, the government introduced legislation that steadily increased the oppression on Africans in South Africa.

The ANC National Executive including Mandela discussed the necessity for more violent tactics in the early 1950s but it was decided the time was not yet right. Mandela consistently pushed the ANC to consider using violent tactics. During the forced eviction of Sophiatown in 1953, Nelson gave a speech.

As I condemned the government for its ruthlessness and lawlessness, I overstepped the line: I said that the time for passive resistance had ended, that non-violence was a useless strategy and could never overturn a white minority regime bent on retaining its power at any cost. At the end of the day, I said, violence was the only weapon that would destroy apartheid and we must be prepared, in the near future, to use that weapon.

The fired up crowd sang a freedom song with the lyrics ‘There are the enemies, let us take our weapons and attack them’. Nelson pointed at the police and said “There are our enemies!”

Mandela saw that the Nationalist government was making protest impossible. He felt Gandhi had been dealing with a foreign power that was more realistic than the Afrikaners. Mandela knew non-violence resistance works if the opposition is playing by the same rules but if peaceful protest is met with violence then tactics must evolve. For Mandela “non-violence was not a moral principle but a strategy; there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon.”

This is a lesson that should be learned for the current resistance to the destruction of our world. The current strategy of non-violence in the environmental movement is simply ineffective.

The Sophiatown anti-removal campaign was long running, with rallies twice a week. The final eviction was in February 1955. This campaign confirmed Mandela’s belief that in the end there would be no alternative to violent resistance. Non-violent tactics were met by ‘an iron hand’. “A freedom fighter learns the hard way that it is the oppressor who defines the nature of the struggle. And the oppressed is often left no recourse but to use methods that mirror those of the oppressor. At a certain point, one can only fight fire with fire.”

Following the Sharpville massacre in March 1960, where 69 people were murdered by the police and then the ANC was declared an illegal organisation in April 1960, the National Executive agreed that the time for violence had come:

At the meeting I argued that the state had given us no alternative to violence. I said it was wrong and immoral to subject our people to armed attacks by the state without offering them some kind of alternative. I mentioned again that people on their own had taken up arms. Violence would begin whether we initiated it or not. Would it not be better to guide this violence ourselves, according to principles where we saved lives by attacking symbols of oppression, and not people? If we did not take the lead now, I said, we would soon be latecomers and followers to a movement we did not control.

This new military movement would be a separate and independent organisation, linked to the ANC but fundamentally autonomous. The ANC would still be the main part of the struggle until the time for the military wing was right. “This was a fateful step. For fifty years, the ANC had treated non-violence as a core principle, beyond question or debate. Henceforth the ANC would be a different kind of organisation.”

The parallels with the modern environmental movement’s commitment to non-violence over the last fifty years are uncanny.

The military organisation was named Umkhonto we Sizwe (The Spear of the Nation) or MK for short. Mandela, now underground hiding from the authorities, formed the high command and started recruiting people with relevant knowledge and experience. The mandate was to wage acts of violence against the state. At this point, precisely what form those acts would take was yet to be decided. The intention was to begin with acts least violent to individuals but more damaging to the state.

Mandela began reading and talking to experts especially on guerrilla warfare. In June 1961, Mandela released a letter to the press explaining he continued to fight the state and encouraged everyone to do the same. In October 1961, Mandela moved to Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, where the Umkhonto we Sizwe constitution was drafted.

In planning the direction and form that MK would take, we considered four types of violent activities: sabotage, guerrilla warfare, terrorism and open revolution. For a small and fledgling army, open revolution was inconceivable. Terrorism inevitably reflected poorly on those who used it, undermining any public support it might otherwise garner. Guerrilla warfare was a possibility, but since the ANC had been reluctant to embrace violence at all, it made sense to start with the form of violence that inflicted the least harm against individuals: sabotage.

Because Sabotage did not involve loss of life, it offered the best hope for reconciliation among the races afterwards. We did not want to start a blood-feud between white and black. Animosity between Afrikaner and Englishman was still sharp fifty years after the Anglo-Boer war; what would race relations be like between white and black if we provoked a civil war? Sabotage had the added virtue of requiring the least manpower.

Our strategy was to make selective forays against military installation, power plants, telephone lines and transportation links; targets that would not only hamper the military effectiveness of the state, but frighten National Party supporters, scare away foreign capital, and weaken the economy. This we hoped would bring the government to the bargaining table. Strict instructions were given to members of MK that we would countenance no loss of life. But if sabotage did not produce the results we wanted, we were prepared to move on to the next stage: guerrilla warfare and terrorism.

DGR is following a similar strategy in the hope that we can transition to a truly sustainable society. We think that its unlikely that those in power will allow this. So phase four of the DGR strategy Decisive Ecological Warfare calls for decisive dismantling of all infrastructure.

On December 16th 1961, MK carried out its first operation. “Homemade bombs were exploded at electric power stations and government offices in Johannesburgh, Port Elizabeth and Durban. On the same day, thousands of leaflets were circulated around the country announcing the birth of Umkhonto we Sizwe. The attacks took the government by surprise and “shocked white South Africans into the realization that they were sitting on top of a volcano”. Black South Africans now knew that the ANC was no longer a passive resistance organisation. A second attack was carried out on New Year’s Eve.

Nelson was arrested in 1962 for inciting persons to strike illegally (during the 1961 stay-at-home campaign) and that of leaving the country without a valid passport. During this trial he gave his famous ‘Black man in a white court’ speech. The speech can be found here. Nelson was sentenced to five years in prison.

In May 1963, Nelson and a number of other political prisoners were moved to Robben Island and forced to do long days of manual labour. Then in July 1963, Nelson and a number of other prisoners were back in court, now charged with sabotage. There had been a police raid at the MK Rivonia farm during a MK meeting where they had been discussing Operation Mayibuye, a plan for guerrilla warfare in South Africa. A number of documents about Operation Mayibuye were seized.

What become known as the Rivonia Trial begin on October 9th, 1963 in Pretoria. Huge crowds of supporters gathered outside the court each day and the eleven accused could hear the singing and chanting. The Crown concluded its case at the end of February 1964, with the defence to respond in April.

Right from the start we had made it clear that we intended to use the trial not as a test of the law but as a platform for our beliefs. We would not deny, for example, that we had been responsible for acts of sabotage. We would not deny that a group of us had turned away from non-violence. We were not concerned with getting off or lessening our punishment, but with making the trial strengthen the cause for which we were struggling – at whatever cost to ourselves. We would not defend ourselves in a legal sense so much as in a moral sense. We saw the trial as a continuation of the struggle by other means.

Then on April 20th, 1964, Nelson gave his famous ‘I am prepared to die’ speech. Three important sections are:

“I must deal immediately and at some length with the question of violence. Some of the things so far told to the Court are true and some are untrue. I do not, however, deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the Whites.”

“We of the ANC had always stood for a non-racial democracy, and we shrank from any action which might drive the races further apart than they already were. But the hard facts were that fifty years of non-violence had brought the African people nothing but more and more repressive legislation, and fewer and fewer rights.”

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Eight of the eleven, including Nelson were sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island. These eight had been expecting the death sentence. Nelson was released after 27 years in prison on February 11th, 1990.

He was aware that his family suffered because of his focus but knew that the needs of the many in South Africa were more important than the needs of the few. It is important to remember that Nelson Mandela and his family are only human, with faults and issues. His first wife accused him of domestic violence, which he always denied. His second wife is accused of ordering a number of brutal acts while Mandela was in prison. And some of Mandela’s children found him difficult. [2]

It is true that Mandela embraced non-violence upon his release from prison in 1990. But, he did this once he felt the disintegration of Apartheid was inevitable. Despite what the vast majority of media coverage would have us believe, a combined strategy of violence and non-violence were necessary to bring down Apartheid.

DGR is committed to stopping the destruction of the world. We recognize that combined tactics are necessary. As Mandela did, we need a calm and sober assessment of the political situation. It is a situation that is murdering the world. We need to leave every tactic on the table whether it is violent or non-violent. There simply isn’t enough time to restrict ourselves to exclusively non-violent tactics.

References

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2013/12/06/when-conservatives-branded-nelson-mandela-a-terrorist/
[2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2349335/Nelson-Mandela-death-ballroom-dancing-ladies-man-tempestuous-love-life.html

Time is Short: Reports, Reflections & Analysis on Underground Resistance is a bulletin dedicated to promoting and normalizing underground resistance, as well as dissecting and studying its forms and implementation, including essays and articles about underground resistance, surveys of current and historical resistance movements, militant theory and praxis, strategic analysis, and more. We welcome you to contact us with comments, questions, or other ideas at undergroundpromotion@deepgreenresistance.org

Time is Short: Nonviolence Can Work, But Not for Us

By now we should all be familiar with what’s at stake. The horrific statistics—200 species driven extinct daily, every child born with hundreds of toxic chemicals already in their bodies, every living system on the planet in decline—haunt us as we go about our work in a world that refuses to hear, listen, or act on them. After decades of traditional organizing and activist work, we’re beginning to come to terms with the need for a dramatic shift in strategy and tactics, and indeed in how we conceptualize the task before us.

It is not enough any longer (if it ever was) to build a reformist social movement, one more faction among many attempting to fix the failings within our society. With industrial civilization literally tearing apart the biosphere and skinning the planet alive, we can afford no other goal than to build a resistance movement capable of—and determined to succeed in—bringing down industrial civilization, by any means necessary.

We know this will require decisive underground action to be successful, and starting all but from scratch, this begins with promoting the need for militant resistance; trying to garner acceptance and normalization of the fact that without militant resistance—including sabotage and direct attacks on key nodes of industrial infrastructure—there is little, if any, hope that earth will survive much longer.

However, the pervasive ideology of the dominant culture leaves most of its members unwilling to even consider dialogue on the topic of militant resistance, much less adopting it as a strategy. One manifestation of this is the all-too-widely held belief that nonviolent resistance is more always more effective than violent resistance.

The most common explanation provided to justify this idea is that violent movements alienate potential supporters, while nonviolent movements are more likely to mobilize “the masses” around a cause, and that without mass participation and support, there can be no social or political change.

For example, several years ago two university professors conducted a statistical comparison of violent and nonviolent social movements in the 20th century, with the goal of determining the relative effectiveness of violent and nonviolent strategies. The survey was limited to anti-occupation & anti-colonial movements, as well as those that sought regime change or the end of an oppressive government. In 2011, the findings were published in a book called Why Civil Resistance Works. The authors concluded that, based on their data, nonviolent movements are statistically twice as effective as violent ones, and they explained this as being due to the propensity of nonviolent movements to elicit greater participation from the general population.

An underlying premise—unstated by those who espouse this line of reasoning—is that without popular support and engagement, movements cannot achieve their aims. While it is certainly the case that mass movements can be effective in creating social change, that is by no means always the case. The simple (and perhaps unfortunate) truth is that some causes will never enjoy popular support, regardless of what strategies or tactics they use. In a deeply, fundamentally misogynistic and racist culture, a culture that has as its foundation the slow dismemberment of the living world, the support and enthusiasm of the majority is by no means a signifier that a cause is a worthwhile one. And a lack of that popular support doesn’t mean a cause or movement isn’t righteous.

We would do well to remember that the majority of Germans didn’t support any resistance against the Nazis, and even a decade after the war ended and the atrocities of the Nazi genocide were well known, most Germans still opposed even the idea of a theoretical resistance to Nazi rule.

Similarly, a movement to dismantle civilization will never enjoy the support or participation of a mass movement. Far too many people are completely dependent upon it, or too attached to the material privilege and prosperity it affords them for their allegiance, or simply unable to question the only way of life they ever known, or all of the above. The truth is that any effort to stop civilization will always be a minority, not only without popular support, but likely directly opposed by the majority of the dominant culture. This is a sobering fact that, while perhaps difficult to come to terms with, we need to accept and build our strategy around. Rather than starting from the abstract position of “nonviolence works” and building a strategy for our movement from there, we should start with the material realities of our situation—the time, resources, and numbers of participants available to us.

This is why framing the whole discussion within a ‘violent/nonviolent’ dichotomy is problematic. When we reduce the complexities of entire movements and strategies down to the simple categories of ‘violent’ and ‘nonviolent,’ we relegate all discussion about strategy to theoretical and conceptual realms, glossing almost entirely over the nuances and dynamics of particular struggles. And it’s these details that determine what strategies will be effective. If we want to decide on an effective strategy, we need to first examine closely and critically our situation, and determine from there what will be most effective.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that we won’t ever have the numbers of participants required for strategies of popular nonviolence. It doesn’t matter how effective nonviolent strategies and movements may be in other situations; we’re not in those situations and without the necessary numbers, nonviolent strategies hold no promise for us. We need to halt industrial civilization in its tracks, and that position isn’t one that can muster a mass movement.

Which brings us back to the need for decisive underground action. Unlike nonviolent strategy, which is dependent upon mobilize huge numbers of participants, a strategy of militant attacks on key nodes of industrial infrastructures—a strategy of decisive ecological warfare—doesn’t require mass participation or support. Coordinated and repeated attacks against systemic weak points or bottle necks can cause systems disruption and cascading systems failure, resulting in the collapse of industrial activity and civilization—which must be our goal if we profess any love for life on this planet.

Given that industrial infrastructure is the foundational pillar of support for the function and existence of industrial civilization, and that these infrastructure networks are sprawling, fragile, and poorly protected; coordinated sabotage presents the best strategy and hope for a movement to bring down civilization.

Recognizing the need for underground action and the key role it must play if we’re to be successful as a movement doesn’t mean disavowing all nonviolent action. We need bio-diverse movements and cultures of resistance, and for some objectives nonviolent strategies are appropriate and smart and should be pursued. But we also need to recognize the limitations of various strategies, and especially the limitations of our own situation.

To reiterate, we will only ever be a small movement; we’ll never enjoy the support and participation required by mass nonviolent campaigns. The unfortunate truth is that most folks won’t ever willingly challenge the basis of their own way of life, much less organize to confront power and dismantle that way of life.

We also don’t have much time: according to conservative estimates, we have five years to stop the development and construction of fossil fuel infrastructure before being locked into catastrophic runaway climate change.

Those limitations—the lack of numbers and the short time available, combined with the fragility and vulnerability of the physical infrastructures of planetary murder—are what should point us away from mass nonviolence and towards a strategy of strategic sabotage. Coming to terms with and acting upon that reality isn’t always easy, but the sooner we’re able to let go of our misinformed and misguided dreams of a mass movement, the sooner we can start the real work of building a serious resistance movement.

Time is Short: Resistance Rewritten, Part 2

Editor’s Note: This article originally ran August 8, 2013, in the Deep Green Resistance News Service.  We are republishing the entire Time is Short series, and welcome your comments.

By Lexy Garza and Rachel Ivey / Deep Green Resistance

Humans are storytelling creatures, and our current strategy as a movement is a story, with a beginning, middle, and end.  We need to ask whether that story matches up with reality, and with the way social change has happened throughout history.

Resistance Rewritten part II

So here’s the story as it stands:

  • By raising awareness about the issues, we will create a shift in consciousness.
  • A shift in consciousness will spark a mass movement.
  • A mass movement can successfully end the murder of the planet by using exclusively pacifist tactics.

We all know this narrative, we hear it http://localhost/chapters/ns/resistance/strategy/time-is-short-resistance-rewritten-part-ii/referenced all the time, and it resonates with a lot of people, but we need to examine it with a critical eye along with the historical narratives that are used to back it up. There are truths behind these ideas, but there is also the omission of truth, and we can decipher the interests of the historian by reading between the lines. Let’s take each piece of this narrative in turn to try and find out what’s been omitted and those interests that omission may be concealing.

So let’s start with the idea of “a shift in consciousness.”  The idea that we can educate society into a new and different state of consciousness has been popularized most recently by writers like David Korten, who bases his analysis on the idea:

“The term The Great Turning has come into widespread use to describe the awakening of a higher level of human consciousness and a human turn from an era of violence against people and nature to a new era of peace, justice and environmental restoration.”

Another way that this idea is often mentioned is in the form of the Hundredth Monkey myth. A primatologist named Lyall Watson wrote about a supposed phenomenon where monkeys on one island began teaching each other to wash sweet potatoes in the ocean before eating them. Myth has it that once the hundredth monkey learned to do it, monkeys on other islands who had no contact with the original potato washing monkeys spontaneously began washing potatoes, exhibiting a kind of tipping point or collective jump in consciousness. The existence of this phenomenon has been thoroughly debunked, and even Watson himself has admitted that he fabricated the myth using “very slim evidence and a great deal of hearsay.” This hasn’t stopped optimistic environmentalists from invoking the hundredth monkey phenomenon to defend the idea that through raising our collective consciousness, by getting through to that hundredth monkey, we’ll spark a great turning of humankind away from the behaviors that are killing the planet.

Unfortunately, this line of thinking doesn’t pan out historically. Let’s take the example of resistance against the Nazi regime and the genocide it committed. And let’s look at some omitted historical information. In 1952, after the Nuremberg Trials, after all of the information about the atrocities of the holocaust had become common knowledge, still only 20% of German citizens thought that resistance was justifiable during wartime which, under the Nazis or any other empire, is all the time. And mind you, the question was not whether they personally would participate in the resistance; it was whether they thought any resistance by anyone was justifiable.

At the time that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, 80% of Southern whites still disapproved of giving legal rights to black people. So, raised awareness of the atrocities of the holocaust and of American slavery did not translate into an increased willingness to support resistance.  It was not a shift in consciousness that got the civil rights act passed – it was the hard and dangerous work of organizing, protesting, and putting pressure on the government not by changing its mind but by forcing its hand. [1]

This same unfortunate trend is true about current efforts to educate about climate change. A recent Yale study found that raised awareness about the facts of climate change is not the most powerful influence on someone’s attitude about the issue. Far more powerful on an individual’s attitude are the attitudes of their culture and their community. Right now, the culture we live in here in the US is dedicated to downplaying the risks and tamping down any kind of resistance. Our way of life depends on the very technologies that are causing climate change, and it’s difficult to make someone understand something if their salary, much less their entire way of life, depends on not understanding it. [2]

Pointing these things out is not intended to devalue education efforts. If we didn’t think education was important, we wouldn’t be writing this, and every social justice movement that’s had a serious impact has been very intentional about education. But it’s important to put education in perspective as just one tactic in our toolbox. If we’re looking to education and raising awareness as a strategy unto themselves as many seem to be, history tells us that we’re bound to be disappointed.

So who is served by the dominance of this narrative?  Those who are profiting from the destruction of the planet are the ones whose interests are served by this because the longer we wait for the mythical great turning, or the hundredth monkey, or the next level of consciousness, the more time we give this system to poison the air and water, gut the land, and chew up what little biodiversity we have left.

Ideas can be powerful, but only if they get people to act.  History tells us that more awareness often does not translate into more action.  Let’s take the focus off trying to change people’s ideas about the world, and start focusing on changing material circumstances.

Mass Movement

Part and parcel with the idea of a consciousness shift is the hope that such a shift will lead to a mass movement, and this idea is extremely prevalent among many environmentalists.

We have Bill McKibben saying things like, “I can’t think of anything we can do except keep trying to build a big movement. There’s nothing else that’s ever going to do it.” – Bill McKibben

This is a very absolute statement, and it shows that folks like McKibben who have the most clout in the mainstream environmentalist crowd are telling us in no uncertain terms that building a mass movement is the only hope that we have to halt the destruction of the planet. I would hope that if he’s so sure about that, he has history and some evidence on his side to back it up.

And to be certain, there are examples throughout history of times when numbers mattered. Strikes, the Montgomery Bus Boycott – the key factor in some victories has been numbers.  But the omitted history here is that a mass movement is not the only thing that has ever worked.

One of the most successful movements against oil extraction to date has been MEND, which stands for Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. The area was being ravaged by Shell, and just a few hundred people took on both the Nigerian military and Shell’s private military. They’ve won popular support among the Niger Delta community, and more importantly, those few hundred people have managed to make significant reductions in the oil output from the region, which is something that mainstream environmental movement can’t boast by any stretch of the imagination.

The French Resistance to German occupation during WWII played a significant role in facilitating the Allies rapid advance through France, and active resisters to the Nazi occupation of France was composed of about one percent of the population. Supporters, judging by how many people were reading the underground newspaper, were as much as ten percent of the population, but the active resistance – those who were organizing strikes, gathering intelligence on the German military, sabotaging arms factories, attacks on the electrical grid, telecommunications, attacking German forces and also producing underground media about these activities – these folks were a very small segment of the population, about one percent, hardly a mass movement.

The Irish Republican Army, which fought the British occupation of Ireland, is a similar case with regard to the numbers.  At the peak of the IRA’s resistance, when they were the most active, they had 100,000 members, which was just over 2% of the population, only 15,000 of which were guerilla fighters.  And they had 700 years of resistance culture to draw on, while our modern environmental movement has been losing ground steadily in the fifty years since its birth.

This is not to say that broad popular support isn’t something we should hope for or something we should value, but we do need to call into question the idea, an idea that people like Bill McKibben seem to completely buy into, that a mass movement is the only scenario we can hope for.  The history of resistance tells us otherwise, it tells us that small groups of committed people can be and have been successful in resisting empire.

Who is served by the dominant mass movement narrative?  The people who are murdering the planet are served by this narrative. They are the victors, and they will continue to be the victors until we stop buying into their version of history and their vision of the future.  While we wait for a mass movement, they are capitalizing on our paralysis and our inaction.  And another 200 species went extinct today.

Dogmatic Pacifism

Recently we’ve seen the rise of the term eco-terrorist to define groups or individuals who use tactics involving force.  We’ve even seen recent legislation, like House Bills 2595 and 96 in Oregon, used to redefine tree sits and other nonviolent forest defense tactics as terrorism.  The FBI defines eco-terrorism as “”the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against people or property by an environmentally oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature.”

When I hear the term eco-terrorism, I’m reminded of a bumper sticker that my friend has on her car, which says “they only call it class warfare when we fight back.”  In this case, they only call it terrorism when people fight back.  US imperialism, police violence, and the eradication of 200 entire species every single day – to the FBI, these things don’t count as terrorism.  But the destruction of property, even if it harms no humans at all, gets condemned not only by the FBI, but by mainstream environmental organizations as well.

“The Sierra Club strongly condemns all acts of violence in the name of the environment,” said Bruce Hamilton, Sierra Club conservation director. “That type of criminal behavior does nothing to further the cause of promoting safe and livable communities.” I would like to hear Bruce Hamilton tell that to the living communities who are still alive today because of the use of forest defense tactics.  I think they would disagree.

A side note on the Sierra Club: Between 2007 and 2010 the Sierra Club accepted over $25 MILLION in donations from Chesapeake Energy, one of the biggest gas drilling companies in the US and a firm heavily involved in fracking. Of course, the higher ups in the Club kept this from the members. At the time they ended their relationship with Chesapeake Energy in 2010, they turned their back on an additional $30 million in donations.  We have to ask if a corporation, which like all corporations is singularly capable of focusing on profits, would donate any money much less that much money to a group using tactics they felt would be remotely likely to put a dent in their revenue.

So people like Hamilton are not only condemning acts they calls violent, but they’re condemning criminal behavior in the name of the environment.  The problem with that is that the government, and the corporations that run it, THEY decide what is criminal and what isn’t, and they are increasingly criminalizing any action that has a chance of challenging their power or profits.

As activist Tim DeChristopher found out, something as nonviolent as bidding on land against oil companies is criminal.  As occupy protesters found out, occupying public space is criminal.

If activists accept the line between legality and criminality as a line that cannot be crossed, they accept the idea that activists should only take actions sanctioned by the very people whose power we should be challenging.  The state tends to criminalize, or classify as “violent,” any type of action that might work to challenge the status quo. Let’s keep that in mind as we look at the historical examples that are often used to back up this emphasis on the exclusive use of nonviolent tactics.

The fight against British occupation led by Gandhi is often the first and most prominent example used to promote exclusive nonviolence. Gandhi gained notoriety by leading large nonviolent protests like marches, pickets, strikes, and hunger strikes. He eventually was allowed to engage in negotiations with the occupying British who agreed to free imprisoned protesters from prison if Gandhi called off the protests.  Gandhi is sometimes portrayed as single handedly leading a nonviolent uprising and forcing the British to make concessions, but we have to ask – what is the omitted history here?

The truth is that the success of the movement against the British occupation was not solely the result of pacifist tactics; it was the result of a diversity of tactics.  While Gandhi was organizing, a socialist named Bhagat Singh became disillusioned with what he saw as the ineffectiveness and hypocrisy of Gandhi’s tactics.  Singh went on to lead strikes and encourage militancy against the British occupation, and is considered one of the most influential revolutionary leaders in India, more revered by some in India than Gandhi.  The combination of economic tactics, peaceful and symbolic actions, cultural revival, and yes, militancy, had an effect together.  Most in the West, the activists that I’ve met that look to nonviolence as the primary guiding principle for their tactics have never heard of Bhagat Singh.

George Orwell had this to say on the topic of Gandhi: “Pacifism is objectively pro-fascist. This is elementary common sense. If others imagine that one can somehow ‘overcome’ the German army by lying on one’s back, let them go on imagining it, but let them also wonder occasionally whether this is not an illusion due to security, too much money and a simple ignorance of the way in which things actually happen. As an ex-Indian civil servant, it always makes me shout with laughter to hear, for instance, Gandhi named as an example of the success of non-violence. As long as twenty years ago it was cynically admitted in Anglo-Indian circles that Gandhi was very useful to the British government. Despotic governments can stand ‘moral force’ till the cows come home; what they fear is physical force.”

Another prominent proponent of nonviolence was Martin Luther King Jr. For a people terrorized by the violence of poverty, police violence, white supremacist terrorism, and other horrors, the power of King’s words and the importance of his work, his significance to the civil rights movement, cannot be overstated.  Other nonviolent groups and action like the freedom riders were very effective in demonstrating the reality of racist brutality.  However, the gains made by the movement during that time were not solely the result of nonviolent tactics.

The Black Panther party and other groups were advocating for self-defense tactics and militancy, and they were widely censured for it by more mainstream elements within the movement, much like militant environmental defense is being censured by the mainstream today.  A group called the Deacons for Defense and Justice was training black communities in armed self-defense tactics.

Again, in the case of the civil rights movement, it was not nonviolent tactics alone that produced the gains of that era; it was a diversity of tactics.

We already mentioned MEND, and MEND is not a nonviolent group.  They are an armed militia, and they use tactics from sabotage to kidnapping oil executives in order to defend their land and their people. The land is being utterly decimated by oil extraction.  The people live in poverty despite the Nigerian government making millions from the oil rich area.  The tactics MEND uses are a last resort.  Before MEND, the resistance in the Niger Delta was primarily nonviolent, and it was led by a man named Ken Saro-Wiwa.  Ken Saro-Wiwa and his group, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, never deviated from their commitment to nonviolence, even as Ogoni resistance leaders were being routinely murdered, both by oil company thugs and legally, through state execution.  In 1995, despite a massive human rights outcry from around the world, Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed on false charges by the Nigerian government, along with eight other Ogoni resistance leaders.  As Orwell pointed out, the Nigerian government and the oil companies it serves can stand “moral force” until the cows come home, it has no effect.  But the physical force of MEND’s tactics was able to reduce oil output by one third between 2006 and 2008.

The movement for women’s suffrage is another movement often misremembered in the popular imagination as being won solely by nonviolent means.  In Britain, women started out with pickets, and lobbying, and letters to the editor. But when these tactics failed, some suffragists moved on to direct action, such as chaining themselves to the railings outside the prime minister’s home, and to actually going and casting ballots illegally, which got them arrested.  After a protest in 1910 turned into a near riot due to brutal police beatings of protesting women, the movement began to wage guerilla warfare, orchestrating systematic window smashing campaigns and arson attacks.  The slogan of this movement was “deeds, not words.” They were imprisoned and tortured for their efforts, but in 1918, they won the right to vote.  Again, this fight was won by a diversity of tactics.

So there’s a pattern here to which parts of history become mainstream, and which parts become marginalized and even forgotten.

Whose interests are served by omitting militancy from the historical record? It is in the interest of governments and corporations that we never seize the physical force to actually stop them.

However, plenty of people around the world ARE seizing that physical force, and they have been throughout history.  Instead of haggling with Monsanto over ineffective regulations of GMO crops, and the labeling of GMO products, Hungary decided to burn all of Monsanto’s GMO corn fields within their borders to protect the integrity of their other crops.  Another example of GMO resistance is that this past June in Southern Oregon, 40 Tons or 6,500 sugar beet GMO crops were destroyed by hand and the field burned over a three night period. There has been a complete media blackout of this in response, perhaps to avoid inspiring more folks from taking this type of action.

Fracking equipment was set ablaze around so called New Brunswick in Canada two weeks later. This is coming at a time of increased indigenous resistance to hydraulic fracturing in the region, after numerous direct actions, midnight seizures of drilling equipment, and a local man being struck by a contractor’s vehicle.

Another example of resistance through physical force is that instead of accepting the Brazilian government ignoring their voices and sentencing their way of life to be destroyed, hundreds of indigenous demonstrators occupied and began to manually dismantle Belo Monte Dam construction.

So let’s look again at the narrative we began with:

  • By raising awareness about the issues, we will create a shift in consciousness.
  • A shift in consciousness will spark a mass movement.
  • A mass movement can successfully end the murder of the planet by using exclusively pacifist tactics.

I hope that we’ve been able to demonstrate that while there are underlying truths here, this narrative leaves out a lot of important information, and as a result, a strategy based on this narrative is not working.

Here’s a version of those ideas that incorporates some of the omitted information that we talk about today.

  • Education is vitally important, but we can’t expect raising awareness to galvanize most people into action, especially when action would threaten their privilege and entitlement.
  • Popular support is valuable, but resistance has often been carried out by small groups of determined people, not by mass movements.
  • Nonviolence can be a powerful tactic, but winning strategies are marked by a diversity of both peaceful and militant tactics.

What does this mean for our actions?  How can we incorporate this information into our strategy?

  • Vocally challenge these narratives
  • Support extra-legal resistance
  • Support political prisoners
  • Adhere to security culture

We tried really hard as we were writing this to not sugarcoat any of this.  When I’ve spoken frankly in the past about biodiversity collapse, catastrophic climate change, and the horror I feel in response to them, I’ve had some people say “tone it down.  Don’t be so doom and gloom, you’ve got to give the people hope.”  Let me say now for the record – fuck hope.  We don’t need it.  As one author put it, “hope is a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency.”  In other words, you only need hope in situations where you have no control, no power.  Those who do have power, who are using that power to murder the planet, have written a narrative that masks the power we could wield, that lies in order to make sure we never claim the tools to challenge their profits.

Every day that we abide by their rules and accept the narrative that serves their power is a day we waste.  But every day is also a new chance to rewrite that narrative, to change the story.  With a truer understanding of the past we can form a more effective strategy for the present.  With a more effective strategy in the present, we can reject a future on the dying planet they have us headed toward.

With everything, literally, at stake, it’s time to do what we can with what we have, and it’s time to claim the legacy of resistance that these and other examples of silenced history could teach us.

References

[1] http://books.google.com/books?id=kKv8PXwIiFkC&pg=PA237&lpg=PA237&dq=civil+rights+gallup+polling+1960&source=bl&ots=-TTg7n7EbO&sig=odTF9mCzMqJkuPH2xZoRYCDPYaI&hl=en&ei=HkLgS-WcFpKwNtWsmKsH&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6&ved=0CCAQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q&f=false

[2] http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1981907

This is the second part of a two piece series on strategic resistance by Lexy Garza and Rachel Ivey. The first piece is available here: Resistance Rewritten, Part 1.

Deep Green Resistance – Liberal vs Radical Part 3 of 3

Don’t miss Liberal vs Radical part one and part two.

(Video captions available in English, Russian, Portuguese.  Contact us if you would like to translate this or other Deep Green Resistance videos to another language.)

Video Transcript:

Once people realize that bad things are happening most of us are called to action. I would say these are the four main categories of response.

Response Categories

The take home point here, if you remember nothing else from this, is that all four of these categories can be either liberal or radical.

None of them are inherently liberal or radical. It depends how we use them. They all have strategic strengths, they all have strategic failings. So it depends what we want to do with them.

This is the realization to which radicalism brings you. My two favorite people again.

Liberal vs Radical quotes

Social change requires force. Why? Because it’s not a mistake out of which the powerful can be educated. Don’t misunderstand me that when I say “force”, that does not have to equal violence. Whether or not to wage your struggle using violence or nonviolence is a decision that comes way later, way down the pike.

Nonviolence is a very elegant political technique if it is understood and used properly. I don’t think that it is being used properly on the left right now but this is not a division between violence and nonviolence. It is only to recognize that power is not a mistake, I mean, not unless you’re a liberal.

Again, if you want to be a liberal, great, if that’s the framework that works for you, it’s your decision. I mean really, some of my best friends, right?

[Lierre Keith and audience laugh]

Back to our categories.

The first one is legal, for obvious reasons. A lot of activist groups really focus on making legal changes to the social power. And, to quote Catharine MacKinnon, “Law organizes power”, so it makes sense that a lot of us will sort of gravitate to that. The trick is we got to do that as radicals and not as liberals.

Basic question: Does this initiative, whatever it is, does it redefine power? Not just who’s at the top of the pyramid, but does it actually redefine power? Does it take power away from the powerful and redistribute it such that we all have some control over the material conditions? That would make it a radical action. But a lot of people, they give up on the legal stuff, or it doesn’t appeal for whatever reason.

Direct action, also tried and true. You can totally bypass the legislative arena and get a lot done. Usually that’s some kind of civil disobedience. It can be letter writing, petitioning, some kind of pressure but it really kicks into gear when you hit them economically.

Great example is the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It was not a legal campaign, it was “we’re going to hit them economically”, and they did. They brought the bus company to their knees and made them stop segregating the buses. So it can be very effective.

Your basic insurrection would be another good example of direct action. That covers a lot of ground from very liberal things to very successful movements on up to really profound change.

Number three is withdrawal. Now this is a tricky one. The main difference between withdrawal as a successful strategy and withdrawal as a failed strategy is whether that withdrawal is seen as adequate in itself or whether it’s seen as necessary, connected to a larger political struggle. And that distinction hinges exactly on the difference between liberal and radical. Because issues of identification and loyalty are crucial to resistance movements but they’re not enough because your emotional state is not actually what’s going to create political change.

The withdrawal has to go beyond the intellectual, beyond the emotional, beyond the psychological. It’s got to include a goal, actually winning justice by withdrawing.

Withdrawal may give solace but ultimately it will change nothing. Living in a rarefied bubble-world of the already converted is a very poor substitute for freedom and it will not save our planet.

This is Gene Sharp, who I think is marvelous, and you should go to the library, get every book he’s ever written, keep you busy for a year. He makes a very similar point. The people who he calls “utopians” I would call “withdrawalists”.

Utopians Gene Sharp

They’re often especially sensitive to the evils of the world, they crave certainty and purity, they reject the evil as firmly as possible, they don’t want to have any compromise, and they await this new world, which will come into being by either an act of God, a change in human spirit, autonomous changes in conditions, some kind of spontaneous upheaval… but all of these are beyond deliberate human control.

The most serious weakness of this response to the problem of this world is not the broad vision or the commitment of the people who believe in it. The weakness is that these believers have no effective way to reach the society of their dreams. That about sums up my youth.

[L.K. and audience laugh]

I’ve heard the phrase “secular millennialism” and that’s exactly what he’s getting at.

So the left has these vague notions that our actions will inspire others, that even more vaguely these will accumulate into some kind of meaningful social change, or kick off a spontaneous insurrection.

There’s a nonviolent version which is usually lifestyle stuff like diet. There’s the more militant actions like the Weather Underground. Those are the two poles of secular millenialism. Change will happen because it MUST or because the Great Turning narrative says it will, or because the fires of our righteous rage will make it be so.

Given that revolution is not actually inevitable, I think we would be wise to understand the basic principle of resistance. “Dislodging injustice requires”, in the words of Andrea Dworkin, “organized political resistance”.

This brings us to the next category which is spirituality.

Withdrawalists’ stance is usually based on despair but it’s an answer that relies on faith, not on strategy. Which is to say, it’s an emotional response, an emotional solution, and it’s not a material solution. This merges right into Millenarianism.

Millenarianism is any religious movement that predicts the collapse of the world order as we know it, to be replaced by this wonderful time of justice and whatnot. There are lots of examples across history of desperate people taking this up. I highly recommend reading up on this.

Much of the left has been infected by this kind of thinking. We’re going to meditate to stop global warming, we’re going to orgasm our way to peace…

If all else fails, which it will, December 2012 is coming up, right? How many of these have we lived through? I’m 46, I think I’ve lived through 4? Every 10 years there’s another one, right? It’s not going to happen.

The worst examples in history that we know of: the Xhosa Cattle Killing Cult. The Xhosa are cattle-herding people in eastern South Africa. In the 1700s there’s various colonial invasions, displacement, genocide, war, all these horrors. By 1854 there’s this terrible lung disease and a whole bunch of the cattle die so the people are just incredibly vulnerable at this point, and somebody has a vision.

A teenage girl has a vision, and the vision is, if we kill all the cattle, destroy all our food stocks, even our cooking pots, everything, then this great thing will happen. The dead are going to return, the food supplies will just spring up overnight, there’s going to be gigantic cattle that you’ve never even seen before, they’re so big, and the spirit warriors will drive the British out and we will have our land again.

This vision starts to spread, everybody starts having visions, it’s just like this mass visioning is happening everywhere.

People believe it, more people believe it, they start killing the cattle. At some point so many cattle are killed that the carrion birds can’t even keep up with it. There’s so many corpses rotting in the sun. 400,000 beasts are slaughtered by the end of this.

The first deadline comes, does anything happen? One guess… no.

And of course the unbelievers are blamed. This is always where it ends with this kind of millenialism. It’s YOUR fault ’cause you didn’t believe it. So the very last cattle have to be killed.

A few people are hanging on, “nah, I’m just going to keep this one cow for some milk”. You can’t do it. So every last cattle has to be killed.

So, what happens? Mass starvation ensues. All its attendant atrocities and horrors, people ate corpses, people ate grass, people ate their children. I mean it’s just absolute hell. The population at one point was 105,000 and it collapses to 26,000 people, a lot whom had to escape into cities ’cause they were just starving in the countryside.

150 years of imperialism could not defeat the Xhosa but 2 years of millennial fever almost did.

So, bad example.

The Boxer Rebellion is another one, just as horrible. They called themselves the Righteous Harmony Society. This was a religious society in northern China that was absolutely a response to the Opium Wars and British Imperialism. You get why people are desperate.

They did martial arts, diet and prayer and they believed they’d be given the power to fly if they did this. And absolutely, they had special garments, protection against bullets and swords. You find that theme a lot. You’re going to wear this special garment and they won’t be able to kill you.

There was going to be an army of spirit soldiers that was going to arrive to save the day and drive out the British. They never appeared. The entire thing ends in complete disaster for China. Very evil stuff. How the British responded was just appalling.

Anyway, two examples and it is really worth, I think, knowing more about this because I just see these tendencies all the time and it’s not going to end well for us either.

Divine intervention has never yet stopped a system of unjust power across the entire sweep of human history. As a political strategy it is a complete failure and we really need to get over this one.

This is not in any way to dismiss the role of spirituality in a resistance movement. Spirituality is so often the core of any culture, and it is often the cradle of the resistance movement.

A lot of people talk about the black churches as the beginning of the Civil Right Movement, the Anti-Apartheid Movement also, the churches play this huge role. All across the world you can find how the Tibetans and the Buddhism, how this all comes together. It gives people incredible dignity and strength, you can get yourself respect through your spiritual practice. It absolutely helps communities stay together under really brutal conditions, helps set community norms.

All that is incredibly important. My point, really, is that faith is not a political strategy.

The only miracle we’re going to get is us.

Don’t miss Liberal vs Radical part two.

Watch more DGR videos:  http://youtube.com/user/DeepGreenResistance.

The Decision to Die, The Decision to Kill

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition 

It is long past time we honestly assessed our capacity for violence. Violence – unconscionable violence many seem unconscious of – rages on around us. I write “unconscionable” because what other word describes the images of Palestinian children on hospital beds with half their heads caved in? I write “unconscious” because how many of us actively sit in the despair these images produce?

Within violence there are two extremes: the decision to die and the decision to kill. The decision to die and the decision to kill can be as easy as deciding what to have for dinner. For the wolf, the decision to kill and the decision what to have for dinner are literally the same. For the moose hunted by the wolf, the decision to die becomes the decision to be dinner. For the moose, the decision to die means sacrificing her body to the sacred cycle so that life may continue.

It is becoming increasingly clear the dominant culture must be stopped. The more effective we become resisting, the more violence will be visited upon us. Will we be strong enough to decide to die for a better world? Will we be strong enough to decide to kill for a better world? If this sounds too extreme, then I ask you: what decisions were faced by Tecumseh, Nat Turner, Crazy Horse, Denmark Vesey, and Padráic Pearse when they picked up rifles and hatchets to meet bullets and swords?

***

I experienced the decision to die and the decision to kill simultaneously the two times I tried to commit suicide. I am compelled to write about my suicide attempts because in what was designed to produce my own death, I produced new life. And, in the process of healing, I see that I am privy to experiential wisdom that most never will be. I’m not saying that anyone should visit the dark places I have, but now that I have returned from those dark places I feel a responsibility to describe what I’ve seen.

The decision to die came slowly. It began during my senior year in college. The reality that I borrowed $90,000 to pay for my education started to sink in. I saw my future draining away while I was inevitably chained to jobs to make enough money to pay off my loans. I wanted to be a literature professor spending my life reading, researching, and writing about the stories that shape the world, but somehow I let myself be convinced that the best way to pay off my loans was to take out another $120,000 to go to law school.

From the moment I settled on going to law school, my decision to die solidified as I stuffed the messages of protest my heart sent me deeper and deeper into a hole dug by my own denial. I hated law school. I sensed the deep contradiction inhering to the practice of law. Lawyers are supposed to practice justice, but I read case after case of the United States endorsing genocide through Federal Indian law policy, genocide through upholding slavery, patriarchy through a concentrated attack on the bodies of women, and the constant destruction of natural communities in the name of “progress,” “the economy,” and “development of natural resources.”

Then, I became a public defender. The hole of denial I dug to bury my heart in simply was not big enough. My emotions – left to fester in their hole – seeped out to infect my body with a profound weariness. Each time I accepted my own powerlessness in the face of the system, each time I walked into a jail to sit with someone who should not have been held there, and each time I watched the face of a client being dragged to prison, my heart pumped out its poison. The poison spread into my limbs making my every move a struggle upstream against a strong current. The poison spread into my mind until it became impossible to see a future inhabited by anything other than the clinging, gray fog of numbness.

Finally, I made the decision to die.

The only person I’ve ever tried to kill is myself. It wasn’t hard. I even looked myself in the eye – my reflection in the mirror – as I ground a couple sleeping pills with the butt of a knife into a fine powder. I watched my hands as they stopped shaking for the first time in days to shape the powder into tidy, straight lines. I noticed the way the cowlick over my forehead conveniently fell out of the way as I bent to snort the lines. I even enjoyed the taste of the tap water as I drank down the twenty-odd pills and put on my pajamas before crawling into bed losing consciousness.

In my desperation, the decision to kill was that easy.

I survived the suicide attempts in a physical sense and I am very grateful. Parts of me, however, did not survive. I killed the last vestiges of my desires for financial and social comforts. I killed my self-doubt that I was capable of embracing an actively resistant lifestyle. I killed my denial that my heart truly knows what’s best for me.

In so many ways, I was left for dead – and it was the best thing to ever happen to me because I know how untouchable a dead person can be. Giving up on everything but the defense of those I love makes me more effective than I could ever have imagined.

***

I was recently part of a discussion about the practice of tree spiking. Tree spiking is a tactic used by land defenders to protect forests from logging. The tactic involves hiding a long nail – called a spike – in the trunks of trees. Typically, logging companies are alerted to the possibility of spikes in a proposed cut, so loggers are aware of the risks they’re taking. If the blade of a saw strikes the nail it can break the saw or cause the saw to careen off possibly injuring or even killing the logger or mill worker. Bad profit margins in spiked forests and pressure from logging unions to protect loggers make corporations reluctant to log in areas where tree spiking has occurred. In short, tree spiking can be an effective way to combat deforestation.

Many people are outraged that land defenders would consider a tactic that might lead to the injury of fellow humans. They remind advocates of tree spiking that many loggers have no choice in their profession. Tree spiking detractors ask advocates if they aren’t just occupying a place of privilege when they place a logger’s body in jeopardy through spiking. Detractors accuse advocates of being just like our corporate enemies if we even consider placing a human in physical harm’s way. And, as if this should end all debate of the efficacy of tree spiking, they ask, “Isn’t tree spiking violent?”

Imagine a logging operation. The spray of living flesh coats the loggers’ arms and chests and sticks to their beards in the form of saw dust. Behind the loggers is a stack of dozens of dead tree corpses. These trees were stretching their green nettled arms towards the sky in celebration of the sun’s warmth just moments before. Underneath the tree, in the soil and crawling up the trees’ skin, a whole network of mycelium was busily shuffling nutrients from strong, healthy trees to young or sickly trees in the community. In the tops of the trees, families of swallows have built their mud nests against the trunks. Many of these nests, full of chicks with wings not quite ready, are crushed as the trees collapse to the ground.

Then, a logger hits a spike. His saw careens off the nail. Maybe the saw strikes him and he is cut and bleeding. Maybe the cut is so bad he must be rushed to the hospital. Maybe the cut is so bad he dies. In any case, the logging stops – if even just for the time it takes to remove the injured logger.

When I imagine this logging operation and listen to people urging advocates of direct action tactics like tree spiking to think of the loggers that may be hurt or to disregard any option that involves violence, I cannot help but ask: What about the trees? What about the mycelia networks living in mutual relationship with tree roots? What about the chicks living in the treetops?

***

I am growing impatient. We are losing and losing badly.

Just this morning, I looked at a list of extinct species. West African black rhinoceroses will never again cause the earth to shake under their heavy tread. Pyrenean ibexes will never again dance their sure-footed way through the mountains of France and Spain. Sea minks will never again glide through the green foams along the coasts of Maine and New Brunswick.

What would these animals ask us if they were still around to communicate? Would they ask us to hesitate in the face of their total extermination, or would they ask us to help them survive?

It’s not just extinction either. The best-case estimate for old growth forest in the United States is that we’ve lost 95% since the arrival of Europeans on this continent. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization says that 22-44 million trees are cut down per day around the world, or 916,000 trees cut down per hour, or 15,000 trees cut down per minute, or 250 trees cut down per second.

How many CEOs, politicians, or loggers have been cut down by land defenders? Any? A few? A fraction of the 250 living trees felled around the world in one second?

I need to be explicitly clear. I am not calling for wanton violence. I am simply asking those of us who love life on the planet enough to be engaged in active resistance not to remove tools from the table.

We must think about the negative impact of any action taken, but we must also remember that every second that passes means more trees felled, more forests eradicated, more topsoil spent, more water rendered incapable of sustaining life, more air poisoned, more species extinct, and more peoples killed and displaced. We must understand that the destruction that builds with every passing second brings us closer and closer to our own extinction.

***

Our own violence was long ago determined for us. The decision to die and the decision to kill are made through our complicity in this genocidal and ecocidal system daily. To think that we can somehow keep our hands clean ignores that they have been soaking in blood for centuries. There’s not one square inch of soil on this continent that has not been affected by the perpetual shedding of indigenous blood by the dominant culture. The comforts of civilization come to us greased in the human tallow of oppressed workers around the world, come to us over mangled corpses in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine, come to us through the psychic theft perpetrated by a world view trying to tell us that all of this is how it should be.

We are animals. Just like the relationship between the wolf and the moose, we must kill to survive and we must die so that others may live. We can choose to kill as the wolf does – carefully selecting a sick or weak moose to sustain the pack – or we can kill indiscriminately dropping napalm, bouncing betties, and carpet bombs. We can recognize that we are already killers, or we can hide in our comforts and deny the violent reality surrounding us.

There are those who for a number of valid reasons are not willing to engage in direct actions like sabotage or tree spiking because they might be deemed violent. I would encourage those who reject violence in all forms to consider whether they are willing to accept life-threatening violence on their own bodies. If you cannot do violence, are you willing to take violence? Can you place your body between the bombs and the bombs’ targets?

Rachel Corrie was smashed to death under an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 when she acted to stop the destruction of a Palestinian home in Gaza

Rachel Corrie was smashed to death under an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 when she acted to stop the destruction of a Palestinian home in Gaza

We have seen what will happen to even non-violent resistors who effectively impede business as usual. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Rachel Corrie was smashed to death under an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 when she acted to stop the destruction of a Palestinian home in Gaza. Ken Saro-Wiwa, a poet no less, was hung by the Nigerian government. These non-violent resistors all demand that we ask: Can you make the decision to die?

There are others who believe that we need to stop the dominant culture from destroying everything and are willing to consider a variety of tactics. I cannot take the place of your heart in your own journey towards understanding your limits. I can, however, tell you that as someone who has made the decision to die and the decision to kill before, I do not believe it makes you evil, wrong, or even any different from the rest of us.

We are all engaged in violence. Some are willing to take it, but will not engage in violence. Some are willing to give violence. It is time we decide our capacity for violence. Time is short. How we channel this violence will determine our very survival.

 

References:

http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Wildlife/2009/0102/earthtalk-how-threatened-are-us-old-growth-forests

ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/008/A0400E/A0400E00.pdf

Time is Short: Nelson Mandela and the Path to Militant Resistance

behind_the_rainbow-05We have had several months to reflect on the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. Since his death, world leaders have attempted to coopt this legacy. It is especially interesting to see how many who once branded Mandela a terrorist are rushing to pay their respects. [1]His freedom fighter past has been quietly forgotten. Mainstream writers, intellectuals, and politicians prefer to focus on his life after prison. A simple Google search for Mandela is dominated by articles about tolerance and acceptance.But often lost in discussions of Mandela are the details about why he was sent to prison by the Apartheid Government. He rose to leadership in the African National Congress (ANC) against Apartheid and his role in the creation of its militant wing, the Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK) which means “Spear of the Nation” in Zulu and Xhosa.

Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom is very well written bringing the reader on Nelson’s journey with him. He dedicated his life to the struggle to create a South Africa where all are equal.

For a detailed summary of Mandela’s path to militant resistance see the DGR Nelson Mandela Resistor Profile.

Mandela came from a privileged background and was groomed to council the leaders of his tribe. He received an excellent ‘western’ education. He moved to Johannesburg and trained as a lawyer. In Johannesburg, he came into contact with ANC members. His radicalisation began as he attended ANC meetings and protests.

On page 109 of Mandela’s autobiography he explains that he cannot pinpoint the moment when he knew he would spend his life in the liberation struggle. He states that any African born in South Africa is politicised from birth with the oppression and inequality Africans in South Africa suffer. “I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments that produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people.”

In 1948, the Nationalist (Apartheid) Party won the general election and formed a government that remained in power until 1994. Following the election, the ANC increased activities resulting in deaths at protests by the police. In response, the government introduced legislation that steadily increased the oppression on Africans in South Africa.

The ANC National Executive including Mandela discussed the necessity for more violent tactics in the early 1950s but it was decided the time was not yet right. Mandela consistently pushed the ANC to consider using violent tactics. During the forced eviction of Sophiatown in 1953, Nelson gave a speech.

As I condemned the government for its ruthlessness and lawlessness, I overstepped the line: I said that the time for passive resistance had ended, that non-violence was a useless strategy and could never overturn a white minority regime bent on retaining its power at any cost. At the end of the day, I said, violence was the only weapon that would destroy apartheid and we must be prepared, in the near future, to use that weapon.

The fired up crowd sang a freedom song with the lyrics ‘There are the enemies, let us take our weapons and attack them’. Nelson pointed at the police and said “There are our enemies!”

Mandela saw that the Nationalist government was making protest impossible. He felt Gandhi had been dealing with a foreign power that was more realistic than the Afrikaners. Mandela knew non-violence resistance works if the opposition is playing by the same rules but if peaceful protest is met with violence then tactics must evolve. For Mandela “non-violence was not a moral principle but a strategy; there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon.”

This is a lesson that should be learned for the current resistance to the destruction of our world. The current strategy of non-violence in the environmental movement is simply ineffective.

The Sophiatown anti-removal campaign was long running, with rallies twice a week. The final eviction was in February 1955. This campaign confirmed Mandela’s belief that in the end there would be no alternative to violent resistance. Non-violent tactics were met by ‘an iron hand’. “A freedom fighter learns the hard way that it is the oppressor who defines the nature of the struggle. And the oppressed is often left no recourse but to use methods that mirror those of the oppressor. At a certain point, one can only fight fire with fire.”

Following the Sharpville massacre in March 1960, where 69 people were murdered by the police and then the ANC was declared an illegal organisation in April 1960, the National Executive agreed that the time for violence had come:

At the meeting I argued that the state had given us no alternative to violence. I said it was wrong and immoral to subject our people to armed attacks by the state without offering them some kind of alternative. I mentioned again that people on their own had taken up arms. Violence would begin whether we initiated it or not. Would it not be better to guide this violence ourselves, according to principles where we saved lives by attacking symbols of oppression, and not people? If we did not take the lead now, I said, we would soon be latecomers and followers to a movement we did not control.

This new military movement would be a separate and independent organisation, linked to the ANC but fundamentally autonomous. The ANC would still be the main part of the struggle until the time for the military wing was right. “This was a fateful step. For fifty years, the ANC had treated non-violence as a core principle, beyond question or debate. Henceforth the ANC would be a different kind of organisation.”

The parallels with the modern environmental movement’s commitment to non-violence over the last fifty years are uncanny.

The military organisation was named Umkhonto we Sizwe (The Spear of the Nation) or MK for short. Mandela, now underground hiding from the authorities, formed the high command and started recruiting people with relevant knowledge and experience. The mandate was to wage acts of violence against the state. At this point, precisely what form those acts would take was yet to be decided. The intention was to begin with acts least violent to individuals but more damaging to the state.

Mandela began reading and talking to experts especially on guerrilla warfare. In June 1961, Mandela released a letter to the press explaining he continued to fight the state and encouraged everyone to do the same. In October 1961, Mandela moved to Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, where the Umkhonto we Sizwe constitution was drafted.

In planning the direction and form that MK would take, we considered four types of violent activities: sabotage, guerrilla warfare, terrorism and open revolution. For a small and fledgling army, open revolution was inconceivable. Terrorism inevitably reflected poorly on those who used it, undermining any public support it might otherwise garner. Guerrilla warfare was a possibility, but since the ANC had been reluctant to embrace violence at all, it made sense to start with the form of violence that inflicted the least harm against individuals: sabotage.

Because Sabotage did not involve loss of life, it offered the best hope for reconciliation among the races afterwards. We did not want to start a blood-feud between white and black. Animosity between Afrikaner and Englishman was still sharp fifty years after the Anglo-Boer war; what would race relations be like between white and black if we provoked a civil war? Sabotage had the added virtue of requiring the least manpower.

Our strategy was to make selective forays against military installation, power plants, telephone lines and transportation links; targets that would not only hamper the military effectiveness of the state, but frighten National Party supporters, scare away foreign capital, and weaken the economy. This we hoped would bring the government to the bargaining table. Strict instructions were given to members of MK that we would countenance no loss of life. But if sabotage did not produce the results we wanted, we were prepared to move on to the next stage: guerrilla warfare and terrorism.

DGR is following a similar strategy in the hope that we can transition to a truly sustainable society. We think that its unlikely that those in power will allow this. So phase four of the DGR strategy Decisive Ecological Warfare calls for decisive dismantling of all infrastructure.

On December 16th 1961, MK carried out its first operation. “Homemade bombs were exploded at electric power stations and government offices in Johannesburgh, Port Elizabeth and Durban. On the same day, thousands of leaflets were circulated around the country announcing the birth of Umkhonto we Sizwe. The attacks took the government by surprise and “shocked white South Africans into the realization that they were sitting on top of a volcano”. Black South Africans now knew that the ANC was no longer a passive resistance organisation. A second attack was carried out on New Year’s Eve.

Nelson was arrested in 1962 for inciting persons to strike illegally (during the 1961 stay-at-home campaign) and that of leaving the country without a valid passport. During this trial he gave his famous ‘Black man in a white court’ speech. The speech can be found herehttp://www.anc.org.za/show.php?id=3763. Nelson was sentenced to five years in prison.

In May 1963, Nelson and a number of other political prisoners were moved to Robben Island and forced to do long days of manual labour. Then in July 1963, Nelson and a number of other prisoners were back in court, now charged with sabotage. There had been a police raid at the MK Rivonia farm during a MK meeting where they had been discussing Operation Mayibuye, a plan for guerrilla warfare in South Africa. A number of documents about Operation Mayibuye were seized.

What become known as the Rivonia Trial begin on October 9th, 1963 in Pretoria. Huge crowds of supporters gathered outside the court each day and the eleven accused could hear the singing and chanting. The Crown concluded its case at the end of February 1964, with the defence to respond in April.

Right from the start we had made it clear that we intended to use the trial not as a test of the law but as a platform for our beliefs. We would not deny, for example, that we had been responsible for acts of sabotage. We would not deny that a group of us had turned away from non-violence. We were not concerned with getting off or lessening our punishment, but with making the trial strengthen the cause for which we were struggling – at whatever cost to ourselves. We would not defend ourselves in a legal sense so much as in a moral sense. We saw the trial as a continuation of the struggle by other means.

Then on April 20th, 1964, Nelson gave his famous ‘I am prepared to die’ speech. Three important selections are:

“I must deal immediately and at some length with the question of violence. Some of the things so far told to the Court are true and some are untrue. I do not, however, deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the Whites.”

“We of the ANC had always stood for a non-racial democracy, and we shrank from any action which might drive the races further apart than they already were. But the hard facts were that fifty years of non-violence had brought the African people nothing but more and more repressive legislation, and fewer and fewer rights.”

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Eight of the eleven, including Nelson were sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island. These eight had been expecting the death sentence. Nelson was released after 27 years in prison on February 11th, 1990.

He was aware that his family suffered because of his focus but knew that the needs of the many in South Africa were more important than the needs of the few. It is important to remember that Nelson Mandela and his family are only human, with faults and issues. His first wife accused him of domestic violence, which he always denied. His second wife is accused of ordering a number of brutal acts while Mandela was in prison. And some of Mandela’s children found him difficult. [2]

It is true that Mandela embraced non-violence upon his release from prison in 1990. But, he did this once he felt the disintegration of Apartheid was inevitable. Despite what the vast majority of media coverage would have us believe, a combined strategy of violence and non-violence were necessary to bring down Apartheid.

DGR is committed to stopping the destruction of the world. We recognize that combined tactics are necessary. As Mandela did, we need a calm and sober assessment of the political situation. It is a situation that is murdering the world. We need to leave every tactic on the table whether it is violent or non-violent. There simply isn’t enough time to restrict ourselves to exclusively non-violent tactics.

References

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2013/12/06/when-conservatives-branded-nelson-mandela-a-terrorist/
[2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2349335/Nelson-Mandela-death-ballroom-dancing-ladies-man-tempestuous-love-life.html

Time is Short: Reports, Reflections & Analysis on Underground Resistance is a bulletin dedicated to promoting and normalizing underground resistance, as well as dissecting and studying its forms and implementation, including essays and articles about underground resistance, surveys of current and historical resistance movements, militant theory and praxis, strategic analysis, and more. We welcome you to contact us with comments, questions, or other ideas at undergroundpromotion@deepgreenresistance.org

 

Originally published by Deep Green Resistance News Service