The Efficacy of Combative Resistance

From Dissident Voice - by Stuart Jeanne Bramhall

You occasionally read a totally mind bending book that opens up a whole new world for you. The Failure of Nonviolence by Peter Gelderloos is one of them, owing to its unique evidence-based perspective on both “nonviolent” and “violent” resistance. It differs from Gelderloos’s 2007 How Nonviolence Protects the State in its heavy emphasis on indigenous, minority, and working class resistance. A major feature of the new book is an extensive catalog of “combative” rebellions that the corporate elite has whitewashed out of history.

Owing to wide disagreement as to its meaning, Gelderloos discards the term “violent” in describing actions that involve rioting, sabotage, property damage or self-defense against armed police or military. In comparing and contrasting a list of recent protest actions, he makes a convincing case that combative tactics are far more effective in achieving concrete gains that improve ordinary peoples’ lives. He also explodes the myth that “violent” resistance discourages oppressed people from participating in protest activity. He gives numerous examples showing that working people are far more likely to be drawn into combative actions – mainly because of their effectiveness. The only people alienated by combative tactics are educated liberals, many of whom are “career” activists working for foundation-funded nonprofits.

Gelderloos also highlights countries (e.g., Greece and Spain) which have significantly slowed the advance of neoliberal capitalism via combative resistance. In his view, this explains the negative fiscal position of the Greek and Spanish capitalist class in addressing the global debt crisis. Strong worker resistance to punitive labor reforms and austerity cuts has significantly slowed the transfer of wealth to their corporate elite, as well as the roll-out of fascist security measures.

The Gene Sharp Brand of Nonviolence

Gelderloos begins by defining the term “nonviolent” as the formulaic approach laid out by nonviolent guru Gene Sharp in his 1994 From Dictatorship to Democracy and used extensively in the “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. This approach focuses exclusively on political, usually electoral, reform. Gelderloos distinguishes between political revolution, which merely overturns the current political infrastructure and replaces it with a new one – and social revolution, which overturns hierarchical political infrastructure and replaces it with a system in which people self-organize and govern themselves.

The nonviolent approach Sharp and his followers prescribe relies heavily on a corporate media strategy to promote their protest activity to large numbers of people. This obviously requires some elite support, as the corporate media consistently ignores genuine anti-corporate protests. As an example, all the nonviolent color revolutions in Eastern Europe enjoyed major support from the State Department, billionaire George Soros and CIA-funded foundations such as the National Endowment for Democracy and the National Republican Institute.

Is Nonviolence Effective?

Gelderloos sets out four criteria to assess the effectiveness of a protest action:

It must seize space for activists to self-organize essential aspects of their lives.
It must spread new ideas that inspire others to resist state power and control.
It must operate independently of elite support.
It must make concrete improvements to the lives of ordinary people.
As examples of strictly nonviolent protest movements, Gelderloos offers the “color” revolutions (see * below), the millions-strong global anti-Iraq war protest on February 15, 2003 and 2011 Occupy protests, which were almost exclusively nonviolent (Occupy Oakland being a notable exception).

In all the color revolutions Gelderloos describes, the goal has been strictly limited to replacing dictatorship with democracy and free elections. None attempted to increase economic democracy nor to reduce oppressive work and living conditions. In fact, most of the color revolutions forced their populations to give up important protections to integrate more thoroughly into the cutthroat capitalist economy.

So-called “democracies” such as the US are just as capable as dictatorships of engaging in extrajudicial assassination, torture, and suspension of habeas corpus and other legal protections. However US corporations generally find “democracies” more investment-friendly. Owing to greater transparency, they are less likely to nationalize private industries or arbitrarily change the rules for doing business.

Besides failing to meet any of his criteria, the 2003 anti-Iraq war movement failed to stop the US invasion of Iraq and the 2011 Occupy protests failed to achieve a single lasting gain.

Successful “Combative” Protests

He contrasts these strictly nonviolent protests with nearly 20 popular uprisings (see ** below) and two (successful) US prison riots that have incorporated “combative” tactics along with other organizing strategies. Most have been totally censored from the corporate media and history books or whitewashed as so-called “nonviolent” actions (e.g., the corporate media misportrayed both the 1989 Tiananmen Square rebellion and the 2011 Egyptian revolution as nonviolent protests).

The US, more than any other country, uses prison to suppress working class dissent. Most prison struggles employ a diversity of tactics combining work stoppages and legal appeals with property damage, riots and attacks on guards. Nonviolent protest tends to be particularly ineffective in the prison setting. A nonviolent hunger strike usually reflects a situation in which prisoners have so little personal control that the only way to resist is to refuse to eat.

Gelderloos also analyzes a number of historical combative uprisings, pointing out their relative strengths and weaknesses. He devotes particular attention to the Spanish Civil War (a failed working class revolution), the anti-Nazi partisan movements during World War II, combative Indigenous peoples resistance to European colonizers and autonomous liberated zones created in Ukraine, Kronstadt, and Siberia following the Bolshevik Revolution and in the Skinmin Province of Manchuria in pre-World War II China.

Who Are the Pacifists?

He devotes an entire chapter to the major funders and luminaries of the nonviolent movement. Predictably most of the funding comes from George Soros, the Pentagon, the State Department and CIA-funded foundations such as USAID, NED, and NIR. Among other examples, Gelderloos describes the Pentagon running a multi-million dollar campaign to plant stories in Iraqi newspapers to promote “nonviolent” resistance to US occupation.

*Examples of political/regime change color revolutions:

Philippines – Yellow Revolution 1983-86
Serbia – Bulldozer Revolution 2000
Georgia – Rose Revolution 2003
Ukraine – Orange Revolution 2004
Kyrgyzstan – Tulip Revolution 2005
Lebanon – Cedar Revolution 2005
Kuwait – Blue Revolution 2005
Burma – Saffron Revolution 2007
**Examples of combative uprisings (despite being a partial list, it effectively illustrates the extent to which combative resistance is censored out of the mainstream media and history):

1999 Battle of Seattle – contrary to media whitewashing (I was there), the combative component wasn’t a matter of a few Black Bloc anarchists breaking windows. Numerous “peaceful” marchers joined in destruction of corporate storefronts, looting and throwing rocks at police. Inspired 3rd world WTO delegates to shut down Doha round of WTO negotiations.
1990 Oka Crisis (near Montreal) – in which Mohawk warriors took up arms to stop a golf course expansion on their lands. Successful in defeating the golf course expansion.
1994 Zapitista (Mexico) – armed uprising against NAFTA. Successfully seized space, liberating numerous villages which continue to be run by popular assemblies.
2000 2nd Palestinian Intifada – successful in seizing and defending space, defeating the CIA/Israeli army invasion of Gaza in 2009. Inspired combative insurrections in Tunisia and Egypt.
2001 Kabbylie Black Spring armed protest to liberate Berber territory occupied by Algeria. Successfully seized space to bring back traditional assemblies and reverse erosion of Berber culture. Won increased autonomy of Kabylie, including official recognition of Berber language.
2003-2005 Bolivia Water and Gas Wars against strict water privatization implemented by Bolivian government and Bechtel. Successful in ending years of Bolivian dictatorship, slowing advance of neoliberalism and restoring indigenous autonomy. Received no elite support until 2005 union and political party support elected the movement into government, putting neoliberalism back on track.
2006 Oaxaca (Mexico) Rebellion – coalition of indigenous people, teachers and workers fought police and military and ran Oaxaca by popular assembly for one month. No elite support until assembly taken over by politicians who convinced them not to fight back against the military. Greatly improved quality of life while it lasted.
2006 CPE France – combative (rioting, burning cars, fighting police and occupying public buildings) uprising against new legislation allowing bosses to fire younger workers without cause. Defeated new law.
2008 Athens insurrection – millions-strong armed uprising (consisting of arson attacks on banks and police stations, occupation of vacant lots and buildings to create community gardens, community centers and popular assemblies) triggered by police murder of a teenager. Besides destroying debt and tax records and providing brief period of self-governance, it inspired new cycle of anarchist activity throughout Greece.
2009 Guadalupe General Strike – inspired by poor living standards, especially high cost of living combined with low wages and high unemployment. After three days of rioting, setting fire to cars and businesses and opening fire on the police, demonstrators won an increase of $200 euros per month in the lowest salaries and 19 other demands.
2009 Oscar Grant riots (Oakland) – prompted by police murder of an African American named Oscar Grant. Spontaneous rioting, property damage, looting and shooting back at police. Resulted in first case in California history in which an on-duty police officer was charged with murder. Influenced Occupy Oakland to adopt a diversity of tactics that included combative resistance.
2010 Tunisian revolution – contrary to corporate media white washing, this was a violent uprising in which protestors burned tires and attacked the office of the ruling party. It failed to create any new self-organized spaces. It only received elite support, which pressured Tunisians to accept a purely political solution (i.e. regime change), when local authorities failed to quell popular unrest. Economic tyranny and police abuse/violence remain unaddressed.
2010 15 M Movement and General Strikes (Spain) – millions took part in general strike against austerity measures incorporating sabotage of the transportation infrastructure, blockades, looting, rioting and fighting with police. Established numerous police-free zones (which persisted for months) throughout Spain run by popular assemblies. Occupied numerous hospitals and primary care centers and established urban gardens and collective housing facilities. Prevented privatization of numerous health clinics and inspired anti-capitalist focus of Occupy movement.
2011 Egyptian revolution – combative rebellion (contrary to corporate media claims that it was nonviolent). Protesters burned over 90 police stations and used clubs, rocks and Molotov cocktails to defend themselves against police and government thugs. Set up self-governing assemblies in Tahrir Square and inspired a large number of activists to remain in the streets to fight the repressive Islamic government that replaced Mubarak.
2011 Libyan Civil War – began as spontaneous uprising but quickly transformed into a foreign military intervention. Gelderloos uses Libya to demonstrate why revolutions that wish to end oppressive social relations must never allow military or political revolution to assume precedence.
2012 Quebec student movement – rioting, looting, property damage and fighting back against the police prompted by massive tuition hike. Provided thousands of young people direct experience of self-governing assemblies and successfully spread critiques of debt, austerity and capitalism throughout Canada. Forced government to reverse tuition hike.
2013 Mapuche (indigenous nation occupied by Chile and Argentina) struggle – long history of combative resistance continues to present day. Employs both nonviolent and combative methods, including arson, sabotage against mining and logging companies and armed land occupations. In January 2013 (5th anniversary of unprosecuted police murder of Mapuche teenager) they liberated large tracts of land.



To qualify the Spanish Civil War as "a failed working class revolution" is a disservice. It didn't fail because of some flaw in anarchism, it was crushed, captured in between Franco's fascist army and the state's liberal Republic.

To call it "a failed working class revolution" doesn't attribute blame one way or another: the verb 'failed' simple means 'didn't work'. Unless you're arguing that the Spanish Civil War was actually successful then you're just talking to talk.

how can it have failed when it is constantly victorious in my heart

Only from lack of mortars and artillery and the skills required to use it accurately!

Anarchists should learn chess! Franco retained power after WWII in the same way he gained it, by knowing the art of war, of developing alliances with the powerful, of having trade and treaties with whoever offers the safest and least imperialistic motives, enter USA, fresh from the proletariat victory they had against the Nazis. Liberals may be utterly boring and predictable, but they are at least forgiving, look at the improvements and freedoms gained by the West German and Japanese people after WWII. It was a win for the proletariat because on both ideological sides the workers were mostly uneducated humble and moral people with a common cause who ended up having a better standard of living thanks to the hard working USA proletariat and the generous gift of their taxes. USA and the West IS actually already an anarchist realm leased out to the capitalists on behalf of the proletariat! They even allow liberals to protest as psuedo-anarchists!

Who is Franco?

Oh, he was a war criminal! Got a 'Go pass Nuremberg' card dammit!

This guy is the new anarcho-arachnoid anti-fa!

Nutjobs have been unleashed upon Anews. Here.. take your pills, Last King of Scotland.

Actually I have to see a man about a dog, you pill pushing elitist scum!

And another annoying thing about the whole mystique attached to the Spanish Civil War was the romanticism which Westerners brought to what was just a dirty filthy slaughter of peasants. Hemingway, that macho posturing alcoholic who was only interested in feeding his ego, he was sooo up himself his head emerged out of the entrance to his esophagus! And Orwell, just another penniless journalist looking to making some mercenary money on the side! The peasants all got duped by these foreigners one way or the other. They didn't know the difference between Lenin, Marx or Bakunin, all they wanted was a 40hr week and one decent meal on the table every day, with a litre of wine to wash it down with, then they were happy! 99% of the world are SIMPLE folk, not theoretical masterminds of deluded revolutionary ventures! And isn't that the lot of most people, not to be exploited and to have 8hrs labor, 8hrs of ones own, and 8hrs sleep/day? Its not theoretically complex, and any system which can provide THIS particular desire will win in the end. Anarchists should move out of the 19th and 20th century, and Genderloss should get a life, and a dick. Culture is Auschwitz, philosophy is war against the status quo, politics is a melon.

"99% of the world are SIMPLE folk"

"We! Are! The 99%!"

Anarchists are the 1% because they think and act and stuff!

Just gradients of various beings that our spiritual/mind first material second.

Some 'SIMPLE' folk would like to work even less then 8 hours and what they want to do might not be definable as work in the traditional sense. There was also a time when 'SIMPLE' folk did not look at clocks or watches. The work that we have today is a product of protestant/puritans who were just in a position to influence the world because of where and when they operated, cultishness aside.

Sure using percentages is vague in the context of spirit/mind relative to social forces. Democracy comes to mind, the first gigantic statistical fallacy. I'm aware of the tyranny of the clock, can we take this even back to the ancient Egyptians? Did their slaves ever revolt, could they be defined as slaves if they were devout believers in their deities ? We know of ancient Greek uprisings, and Rome's Spartacus. Some older avant-garde artists I knew anticipated Bob Black's Abolition of Work but as an aesthetic of life-styles which were anti-work, defined as any activity one does not enjoy doing, then don't do it. Simple for some, but the fragmented fabric of urban capitalist existence precipitates disunity and disillusion by having allowed vanity free rein in appeasing its inherent disconnectedness with its material condition. The Marxist flaw began by demanding a leveling of material acquisition and labor value rather than the leveling of psychic awareness by way of mental boot-camp to prevent people from becoming peasant minded and wage slaves.
The idea of there being a gauntlet to run or rite of passage to travel through appeals to me. In its organic form nature provides the obstacle course devoid of any ideological interference, Certainly the first people possessed a method of attaining a consciousness of being, but at the moment I can only expect a 40hr/week labor for those still entrapped within the yoke of their own subservient temperament.

Well let me be clear that I don't think anarchs should be structuring their strategy around the material belly of the workers or any kind of 'belly' based value. I do agree that aesthetic types are the ones to consciously seek work abolition. It's my contention that anarchs should abandon the history driven political-economic program and construct a new mytho-poetic aesthetic approach more in the vein of Novatore or Wilde( an approach that could encompass material attack like the illigalist ones but also other approaches as well, and the attack should be based on personal intimacy of some sorts and not a program). I think if anarchists put their eggs in those baskets they would do much better then their current modern forms.

As for ancient and pre-history, a lot of that is based on objectively constituted states of mind. Julian Jaynes has a theory for what made the Egyptians/Greeks ect what they were that makes a lot of sense. Basically it was auditory bicameral commands that helped to put things like the the Sphinx up. The current human model would never have done those things with the level of self-interest and self reflection that exists today, but we still live by the reverberating habits of of the historical body.

Overall though yes, self over coming is fun and if the old/new age types are right, it is why the physical world exists. I think what anarchs need is our own Napoleon Hill but in a more Potlachian spiritual wealth driven direction. The mind and it's subconscious elements really can be tapped into creating what you could call a 'Law of Attraction'. Anarchs would be best to start doing these things.

Yeah like the reverberating giant angry bull statue in Wall St[?], a token hollow plagiarizing to mimic the model for Empire by the reproduction of spectacular visual effects. Rodin looks alot better in a forest clearing. Its a shame there is no surviving data, the Sphinx was pre-hieroglyphic, but then bicameral society needs no narrative to attain its goals.
Julian James is inspirational, I agree with a Potlachian driven spiritual wealth model or psychic communal ledger, I've been musing along this direction for many years.
Oh yeah, I have the same birthday as Julian, oops, that's a moronic statement and has no relevance to anything at all.

" Its a shame there is no surviving data, the Sphinx was pre-hieroglyphic, but then bicameral society needs no narrative to attain its goals."

There is compelling evidence put forth by Robert Schock and others that the Sphinx was an upper Paleolithic creation. That coupled with Gobekli Tepe and more megaliths to come and you have a human being that was doing associated with only agriculture city states and literacy. Both the primitivist camp and the official history are going to need to re-think and re-write some things. Could there be such a thing as non civilized human memetic megalith or is a different aborigial definition of civilization needed. It looks like what we have is a dynamic mixture of hunting and gathering and foraging combined with very sophisticated grain domestication which was working as a surplus system until that whole ice age thing.

21st Century anthropology will be fun to watch. You might find this interesting if you haven't watched it already

Thanks for the reference. Upper Paleolithic IS the big unknown, I thought Jared Diamond covered the dispersal of agricultural development ok in the following 10,000 yrs to the present on geographical latitudinal advantages and domesticated species in the northern hemisphere cultural development context, longterm sedentary habitation won over nomadic migration materially, but spiritually something was lost, the compromise which fast-forwards to the frustrating sophistication of complex urban life. But nothing about consciousness, so its good to have Jaynes fill in the preceding era.
I'm going to assume that physiologically the human brain has not altered much in the last 50,000 yrs, and that children up to a certain age are bicameral, and that the modern languages and system of thought divert and negate the potential for modern people to have bicameral consciousness, and to succumb to numerous mental illnesses and the need for counseling. I remember up to about the age of 5 or 6 I was certain that I had 2 brains. I also think that the modern overload of materialistic and economic distractions overwhelm the innate psychic potential of most folk.
Yes 21st century anthropology is gonna be very interesting. I might try and get a secondhand copy of Jaynes book nothing like having the authors words and nuances in complete context.

"'m going to assume that physiologically the human brain has not altered much in the last 50,000 yrs, and that children up to a certain age are bicameral, and that the modern languages and system of thought divert and negate the potential for modern people to have bicameral consciousness, and to succumb to numerous mental illnesses and the need for counseling. I remember up to about the age of 5 or 6 I was certain that I had 2 brains. I also think that the modern overload of materialistic and economic distractions overwhelm the innate psychic potential of most folk."

If you tie bicameral theory as well as the theory of neotony together it is truly disgusting what has happened to children over the last 10 000 years with modernity being the most horrendous of the lot. In essence children through neotony are what created humanity to begin with, not the other way around.

You crazy!!

The best ones are

I like this review. To person above, if anarchists can't beat fascists then, yes, that is a failure of anarchism. We exist in the world, not the marketplace of ideas.

Always a breath of fresh air from Gelderloos, one of the few voices of reason around here

And yet yet again, Genderloss and any other so-called anarchists would not last 5 minutes in any non-western non-democratic nation because freedom of speech PERMITS you to have your little tantrums about the status-quo, in any underdeveloped nation with despotic warlords or dictatorship you would just disappear. This is the hypocrisy of anarchists, they deny that they are inherently privileged to be able to protest in the first place, and then to protest against the system which permits protest is to my thinking the act of a backstabber and malcontent! I think that many anarchists are crypto-fascists and have trouble in personal relationships because of their innate ressentiment! There is enough politics in the world, but not enough love!

What the fuck happened to you troll? You started off quirky and insightful but now it's turned to the bitter snarkiness of a pedantic old baby boomer with an expensive set of golf clubs. Are you testing out different personas?

Umm, I'm physiologically a troll, not psychologically assumed as any personae! MmmK

so like … green skin and a bridge that you live under? … with a modem?

no, dude, all the best troll bridges are equipped with Wi-Fi.

i got some inside info and i am PRETTY SURE that peter gelderloos is a liberal and anyone who finds his material of any slight value is PRETTY LIBERAL too... so good to not be a liberal...

The 1952 Washington D.C. UFO event is renowned as one the most compelling, groundbreaking UFO events in modern, where several orb-like flying objects were seen flying in formation right above the White House, to the dismay of the entire US establishment. The case is still largely unexplained, as the movements and speeds of these objects, as well as the inability of the US Air Force to confirm their nature, defied any conventional explanation such as "weather balloons", "birds" or "swamp gas"...

(you've been warned)

Seems obvious, doesn't it? But that's the genius of it. Works every time. A classic but sill effective. Good show!

Commander Keith Alexander is that u? How about you reveal everything the Agency knows about UFOs once and for all, and we stop the Snowden infoanarchy tactics?

They live!

The Quebec student strike was not prompted by a "massive tuition hike" since the increase was quite modest. The problem was there were a series of small tuition increases planned over several successive years in advance, something quite unprecedented in Quebec history where tuition fees are usually budgeted year by year according to provincial education funding.

The point being that those quebecois get it. The french get it. Want things from the state like free education?
Riot until you get concessions from power. The only logical bargaining position for the lower classes.
Make'em afraid.

They got it, for a time, a short time... then back to slavery. Quebecois aren't very different than muhricans.

But yeah, the French, Italian, Nigerian, Chinese and Co get it, and get it straight... they don't go one single inch backwards when they start a fire. People in NA, including me, are really too passive-aggressive. Needs more structure and infrastucture... I mean constructive ones.

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