Friday, May 9, 2008

The Art of Rebellion - Part Two

I hope that I can stimulate some interest not in the outrage and tragedy that is conventional war, although knowledge of such could be useful, but primarily in the art of revolt. The principles of the art of rebellion might apply in regional secession, guerilla warfare or insurgency. They might apply among a group of friends doing their best to confront the imperialism of the market within their potential territory or their neighborhood. They might allow a stunted, humiliated individual to find dignity and achieve small successes along her life path, rather than resignation.

While conflict, even armed conflict, is as natural as a rainy day in the Pacific Northwest, war, or large-scale invasions in the interest of an elite or ideology, that is, violent brutality as a continuation of politics seems to only begin with urban civilization. I have read a great deal about the exploits of Hannibal, Alexander the Great, Caesar, Napoleon and so on. There is much to learn from them, but little to be inspired by. Theirs is the story of wretched masses impoverished by the scale and insanity of the conflicts in their lands, of obedient soldiers dutifully following the orders of their superiors. It is the story of plunder and rape and pillage, of senseless slaughter and bloodshed. War has little to do with real courage and more to do with a superficial heroism based primarily in self-preservation, although one does find examples of extraordinary bravery and solidarity, a humanity that asserts itself in the midst of the inhumane. Calls to class war, from my point of view, represent an ignorance of the realities of war or an example of a general lack of vocabulary among radicals who want to overthrow the present order. These calls are a shallow romanticism, often the privilege of those who live in peace. I am interested in the re-awakening and celebration of the warrior spirit. The call is not for war, but an end to war through revolution. Tecumseh, Pontiac, Zapata, Makhno, Gabriel Dumont, Crazy Horse, Durruti, the uncontrollables everywhere, these are my “heroes”. Perhaps these examples are too militaristic. I’m sure you have friends, neighbors or acquaintances who have the fighting spirit, who stand up to the bullies around them, who aren’t afraid to speak their mind, who give support to rebellious practices, be they attitudes or actions. This is the warrior spirit that should be acknowledged and encouraged, especially when it coincides with anarchic desires.
Martial skills are useful for everyone, including those who simply want to irritate, to vandalize, to commit small low level attacks designed to make public their hatred of the institutions and managers of this culture. And a clandestine group of friends that creates beauty by destructive means or that spreads subversion using playful methods, can also benefit from and help inform the martial approaches I am advocating.

Thoughts of revenge

Many rebels are tired of laying in bed at night sweaty and angry and filled with impotent thoughts of revenge. They are anxious to explore the possibilities that resisting and (re)claiming offer. And outside of these milieus, there are others whose communities or friends are threatened and haven’t the skills to act on their desires. Is it possible to resist or to defend? Can we engage with the world around us and not get caught? Might we ever win? Ongoing ecological catastrophes cascading into a potential collapse make the situation urgent. Institutions of domination are global, but this doesn’t mean that to overcome this planetary regime local confrontations and occupations are futile. Perhaps the mega-monster can be torn apart limb by local limb.
Low intensity insurgency based primarily on unconventional warfare techniques is one possible avenue to pursue. This doesn’t mean a resistance dominated by a sea of berets and humorless “revolutionaries”. Rather these insurgencies would be primarily based among groups of friends, in geographical or genuine communities. This usually implies some degree of a mutually beneficial and trusting relationship between the actual fighters and the folks around them.
Presently there seems to be widespread interest among anarchists in exploring a variety of martial arts. There is also interest in destructive actions, occupations of shelters and of food producing land bases, in survival and wilderness skills, etc. The urgency brought on by the shredding of the green world has helped create a rebel milieu anxious to fight for a future.

And this era has also helped rebels back into our bodies. There will always be philosophers; incisive people who can easily juggle ideas, but hopefully we will now begin to honor those with sensual wisdom among us as well: more women, the indigenous traditionalists, those with survival skills and earth knowledge, maybe even rednecks, with whom we should be building bridges. A more holistic approach seems necessary if we are going to succeed in our desires for healthy communities and individuals. So perhaps once our philosophizing is complimented by an equal degree of pursuit of sensual knowledge, including martial skills, a more significant threat will begin to emerge. And the more that we integrate martial skills into our ideas the more confident and healthy we will be and the more likely will we begin to see opportunities that we were previously blind to.

Against militarization

Being organized along martial lines doesn’t imply a hierarchical structure of arrogant superiors and obedient ranks. Obviously we don’t want to militarize rebellion. Rather than the art of war, this is about the art of revolt. The hope is that potential insurgents will develop a richer vocabulary and experience around conflict. There is for instance an enormous difference between attacking, invading and fighting or between claiming and occupying. We can explore these and many other differences and concepts.
Training camps, or anarchist madrassas, places where radical theory, survival skills and martial arts are learned and shared, could be very useful at this point. A martial component will be a healthy aspect of a holistic approach to rebellion. And having an awareness of military history, of martial approaches, could be helpful, even life saving. Luckily, it isn’t necessary to reinvent combative skills, because there are timeless truths and principles that apply to all combat.

Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu is actually an honorific title given to Sūn Wǔ (c. 544 BC – 496 BC), the author of The Art of War. There is some debate about the original title of this famous text, which some of you may be interested in because it seems that the author intended to suggest martial arts, rather than war. In any case, Sun Tzu looked at both the philosophy of conflict as well as the conduct of military operations, especially maneuvers and combat, making his writings as they stand useful to anarchist rebels. The Art of War is an important text and should be widely read by potential insurgents. This isn’t to say that Sun Tzu was an anti-state communist, rather that his writings are poetic and open ended enough to be used by just about anybody interested in being victorious in “combat” or “conflict”. This means that many, many people have read them, including your adversaries. Therefore to succeed, study this text, among others, and aim to be on equal footing with your opponents, at least in theoretical knowledge.

The Art of War is widely available, but I thought I’d share some of my favorite quotes from one of the translations:

Those skilled in warfare establish positions that make them invincible and do not miss opportunities to attack the enemy.

Generally, in battle, use the common to engage the enemy and the uncommon to gain victory.
Those skilled at uncommon maneuvers are as endless as the heavens and earth, and as inexhaustible as the rivers and seas.

To be certain to take what you attack, attack where the enemy cannot defend.
To be certain of safety when defending, defend where the enemy cannot attack.

Subtle! Subtle! They become formless.
Mysterious! Mysterious! They become soundless.

In armed struggle, the difficulty is turning the circuitous into the direct, and turning adversity into advantage.
Therefore, if you make the enemy's route circuitous and bait him with advantages, though you start out behind him, you will arrive before him.

Our own parables

One of the ways that I understand Sun Tzu and make his work relevant, is through the use of the genre in which he expressed himself. While there is no reason to reinvent useful philosophies of combat and conflict, we can pass on new parables, ones that grow out of our own experience and insights. For instance, based on some of the discussions that friends and I have been having, new ideas have begun to emerge which might be helpful to others. The notion here is that we can all contribute to philosophical meditations on revolt, based on our own study and experience. This sharing might help our projects and attempts and make each of us more worthy opponents of the megamachine.
I think that it is safe to say that anarchist insurgents are a small minority within almost every given population, it is certainly true where I live. For many reasons, mobility, lack of kinship ties, etc., we are a dispersed group of people. Yet, it is important, from the perspective of the art of rebellion, to at times concentrate one’s forces, especially on a vital point of an opponent. Naturally those in control of the repressive apparatus are aware of such things and have planned and trained accordingly. Riot control techniques, for instance, are an example of this. So rather than remaining inactive out of fear of losing a direct, collective confrontation as a group and thus remaining defeated, we can find ways to act as a group without appearing to be a group. Remember Sun Tzu: “subtle, subtle, they become formless.” We can concentrate our forces, we just can’t let our enemy know that we are doing so until it is too late.
Every potential rebel exists in different circumstances, regardless of the fact that we all live within various prisons of capitalist civilization. Therefore it is up to you to decide if it is best for an in-the-street, prolonged, collective confrontation at a counter summit all dressed in black, for instance, or whether it is wiser to avoid uniforms, appear to be unconnected individuals, and coordinate an action that occurs quickly, following which the participants melt away. The latter would be an example of acting as a group without appearing to be a group.

Napoleon’s campaigns

Since Sun Tzu there have been innumerable treaties and theoretical works on war. For instance in the 1st century AD Sextus Julius Frontanus wrote a book called “ On Military Affairs.” Byzantium produced both Strategikon by Mauricius and the Tactica by Leo the Wise. There are many such books, but I believe that overall they have little benefit for our purposes although a historian or a scholar could find much value there.

Much later, in Europe during Napoleon’s reign, and in fact inspired by his successful campaigns, Carl Von Clausewitz (1780-1831) wrote “ On War”. This is the only text that compares in importance and originality to Sun Tzu’s. As pointed out, many treaties on various aspects of war and military approaches had been written after Sun Tzu, but Clausewitz was the first to introduce a philosophical perspective on it and he did so thoroughly. His contributions are enormous. I won’t attempt to summarize his ideas, but will mention some of the areas that he explored and some of the terms that he used.

Clausewitz wrote about the essential unpredictability of war, explored the asymmetrical relationship between attack and defense, came up with the useful concepts of “fog” and “friction” in war and emphasized that there must be a culminating point of an offensive. Commentators also remind us that he used a dialectical method to present his ideas making them sometimes difficult to understand. If you are truly interested in military theory, then Clausewitz is a must read. It would be difficult for any writer on these topics to claim to not have been influenced by him. We will introduce a few of his ideas later.

By the way, Clausewitz had a contemporary, Antoine Henri Jomini, who was also largely stimulated by Napoleons campaigns into a search for a theory or a collection of laws on war. He is worth investigation for a fuller understanding of the development of the theory of combat.

Finally there is JFC Fuller, one of the greatest military thinkers of the 20th century. He is nearly as important as Clausewitz, if only because his influence is also widespread, but his ambition was not as great. The Principles of War, as they have been known for nearly a century, were first codified by him. The US Army’s list of the principles of war, found in one of their basic field manuals is almost identical to the list first compiled by Fuller. Let’s have a brief look at these.

The principles of war

Economy of force
Unity of command

Bring decisive force to bear at critical times and places.

Define a decisive and attainable objective for every military operation.

Seize, retain, and exploit the initiative.

Strike the enemy at a time and/or place and in a manner for which he is unprepared.

Never permit the enemy to acquire an unexpected advantage.

Economy of Force
Allocate minimum essential combat power to secondary efforts.

Place the enemy in a position of disadvantage through the flexible application of combat power.

Unity of Command
For every objective, there must be a unified effort.

Prepare clear, uncomplicated plans. Complex plans are more likely to be misunderstood or to fall-apart as soon as something goes wrong.

All apply to organized anti-authoritarian rebellion. We should also keep in mind that these are the guiding principles of literally every military organization in the world.

Timeless truths

The timeless truths of combat, while having been derived from a careful study of centuries, even millennia, of human history, can also, with a little imagination, be applied to social struggles as well. These truths seem to apply in all combative situations, regardless of changes in the technology of conflicts. Keep in mind that these principles and truths are not necessarily intended to be used in direct military battles against state forces, although they could be used in this way. They can also be used in fighting against gentrification, protecting your autonomous space from being destroyed or its valuables taken, to stop developments, to occupy or reoccupy land, etc. And you will notice that the truths of combat often coincide with the basic principles of war elaborated on earlier.

The first and most important truth is that “defense is the stronger form of combat”. This is a quote from Clausewitz, but he was not the first to make this realization. All things being equal, it would seem that the side with the defensive posture will likely succeed. And a defender with well placed and well protected forces, even with less weaponry or less experience or fewer people, can still have an enormous advantage. The practice here would be to dig in, make fortifications, don’t yield for as long as possible, and your opponent will surely take heavy losses, and may even retreat.

An example: a group of friends has spent the last several years building a wilderness camp as a place to hunt and fish from, to go and gather medicines and food, to escape from capitalist civilization, in short, to practice green ways. Somehow a group of “opponents” (forestry officials or whatever) has not only discovered the camp, but has decided to “ remove the squatters.” These officials are intent on evicting the camp dwellers. Luckily, one of the camp occupants was doing a regular peripheral sweep and spotted the officials on their way up. She returns to camp and warns everyone. Because the camp dwellers have studied and practiced martial skills, they don’t just panic and abandon their camp and its valuables. Rather they are confident from the knowledge that because they have the defensive posture they enjoy many advantages and will put these advantages to maximum use by combining them with other skills they have acquired through collective study and practice. In all likelihood, the officials will soon give up and return home or retreat to seek reinforcements, giving the rebels a chance to hold onto their position long enough to gather their stuff, avoid arrest or injury and hopefully escape to another camp.

The defensive posture is the strongest, so it makes absolute sense to focus on where one can have an impact, namely where you live, here and now, with the confidence that comes with knowing that should you manage to wrest even a small area from authority and the market, you have a good chance of holding onto it for a long time, perhaps long enough for other areas to accomplish the same, join you or open new fronts.

In fairness, however, the second truth must also be remembered: “an attacker willing to pay the price can always penetrate the strongest defenses.”

Some military theorists have noticed that superior combat power always wins. This is the third truth of war. All other things being equal, fate smiles on the side with the greatest combat power. For this reason it makes absolutely no sense for a minority of revolutionaries in North America to contemplate attempting an outright military contest against the police and army. The states combat power is simply overwhelming.

Better to focus on making friends within the military and hoping for mutinies or at least treasonous acts (like providing gear or information to outsiders). In any event, destroying the imperialism of the market is not a military exercise. Martial skills are primarily helpful when occupying (reoccupying for First Nations people) and/or defending territory, for building the confidence to initiate small battles and to act as a grounding influence for dreamers. There will be times, however, when the insurgents will have the superior combat power and this would be the time not to be afraid, but to push and succeed.

The fourth truth of combat is what Clausewitz referred to as “friction in war”. During any combat operation, most activities are hindered by mistakes, the dispersal effects of firepower, disruptions caused by confusion and fear in a potentially lethal environment, etc. Practicing in the safety of your local wilderness or in a camp or dojo, is just not the same as the real thing. The pace especially suffers and therefore allowances must be made during the planning stages for this friction. Keep this truth in mind when planning to disrupt a gathering of economists or politicians for instance, and you will less likely be thrown off by the “friction” and its effects.

Achieving surprise in a combative situation is extremely important. This is the fifth truth. Analysis of historical military confrontations has shown that surprise actually significantly increases the combat power of the side that achieves it. In fact, as mentioned in part one, surprise is the greatest of combat multipliers. As noted above, it is included in the US Army’s list of the Principles of War.

T.S. Dupuy writes that offensive action is essential to positive combat results as his first truth. Defense and strength and surprise are important, but ultimate combat success involves offensive action. Even should a strategy of overall defensive posture be the plan, (for example successful local upheavals which are surrounded by hostile adversaries), offensive tactics and operations must be selectively employed for final victory.

While the purpose of this chapter is to encourage the study and practice of martial skills, my focus is on strategy and tactics generally and, when specifically “military”, on ground combat. I have completely ignored air and naval theorists. Such thinkers do exist and any insurgency would have to deal with aspects of each.

Many if not most state forces today use a combination of land and air combat. For instance high tech, high performance helicopters will often do reconnaissance that directs far away tanks, with extremely specific GPS coordinates, to their targets. Land Combat today is rarely unsupported by fixed wing aircraft, drones or helicopters. Thus we should more accurately speak of Air Land Battle in many instances.

As for Naval combat, these ideas can be applied effectively to deter and harass navies or to initiate very small scale naval combat, although we mustn’t forget about the power and potential of a sailors mutiny.

However I do think that what you can learn from these introductions and ideas, especially followed up by your own study and practice, can be applied to all areas of conflict.

Tactics and strategy

One important and useful exploration is the distinction between tactics and strategy.

Clausewitz believed that strategy belonged primarily to the realm of art, while
tactics belonged primarily to the realm of science.

From a military point of view strategy is the planning and managing of the resources available in warfare. The military and political elite, i.e. those with national power to influence these matters, do this.

Just below strategy, the military uses the term operations when the direction of armies or large forces in military (usually combat) activities within a clearly defined theater is involved. Therefore conceptually operations lie between strategy and tactics when engaged in combat.

Tactics are the specific techniques used to achieve your strategic ends. They are influenced by local conditions, or you can say that context determines your choice. Tactics are the detailed maneuvers and offensives used to achieve the objectives of your strategy. They are often plans and moves that gain advantages in the short term, while strategy is the larger-scale framework of direction and control. You can practice your tactics, but you must use intuition for your strategy.


One might think that studying the techniques of sieges would only be of interest to hobbyists or scholars of medieval warfare, but this is not the case. In fact, I’ve noticed that many of the most significant conflicts that occur tend to have siege qualities to them. If we look at Oka, Gustafsen Lake, MOVE, Caledonia, squat evictions, etc., we find sieges and siege techniques used by both sides.

“A siege is a military blockade of a city or fortress with the intent of conquering by force or attrition, often accompanied by an assault. A siege occurs when an attacker encounters a city or fortress that refuses to surrender and cannot be easily taken by a frontal assault. Sieges involve surrounding the target and blocking the reinforcement or escape of troops or provision of supplies (a tactic known as "investment"), typically coupled with attempts to reduce the fortifications by means of siege engines, artillery bombardment, mining (also known as sapping), or the use of deception or treachery to bypass defenses. Failing a military outcome, sieges can often be decided by starvation, thirst or disease, which can afflict both the attacker or defender.

Generally speaking, siege warfare is a form of low-intensity warfare (until an assault takes place) characterized in that at least one party holds a strong defense position, it is a highly static situation, the element of attrition is typically strong and there are plenty of opportunities for negotiations.”


Whenever considering an action it is important to reflect on what Clauswewitz called “ the variables representing the circumstances of combat”. Let’s look at an example.

A group of friends decides to destroy a couple of bridges in a nearby wilderness to prevent logging and other industrial activity.

The first step is to look at the many basic security considerations to follow: don’t tell anyone outside the group anything ever, have alibis, don’t use or carry any techno-devices to communicate, document or brainstorm, etc.

Back to our example. You want to destroy some bridges. Security measures have been undertaken. You have used your knowledge of strategy, operations and tactics in making plans. You were conscious of some of the principles and truths of conflict: surprise, movement, economy of force, etc. But what we haven’t looked at yet are the variables that typically come into play, (the concept of friction does take into account these influences to some extent).

Trevor Dupuy breaks down the variables into a few simple categories, although I’ve tweaked these somewhat. There are many that are sure to influence the outcome and smoothness of your action, so please make sure that variables are considered before pursuing your objective.

The variables are Environmental, Behavioral, and Operational. Under environmental we find primarily the weather and terrain, although I would include season, time of day and even lunar cycle as important. Secondly we find behavioral variables. These relate to the psychology and nature of the human participants. Morale, training, emotional well being, stability, drug and alcohol use, experience, etc. Finally, operational includes vulnerability, mobility, fatigue and posture. It should be noted that we have easy influence over these and should take advantage of this fact.

The environmental: It’s cold and rainy. Will this affect your terrain enough to make any changes? Do you need to make a fire, perhaps to burn the bridge, if so can you make a fire in the rain? You were counting on the full moon to help, but the clouds will inhibit this, got your flashlight? Heavier clothing can slow down your escape. The area is primarily a deciduous forest, so in spring there will be plenty of coverage from the leaves, but it’s autumn, and you can’t hide behind bare branches, or can you?

The behavioral: if it is going to be a rainy and cold night and one of your group is inexperienced or weak, you might want to make sure that his backpack is checked for proper clothing, that he is rested enough to do the action, perhaps consider pairing him up with a stronger or more experienced participant, etc. If you expect to be confronted, who has the most training to stand firm, who is likely to flee?

The operational: will the rain make it muddy and slow down your vehicles? Does everyone have the proper clothing? If you have to sit still and hide for a long period of time in uncomfortable circumstances, has everyone trained in this long enough?

Variables and the reality of friction generally, are essential last steps to take before setting out to “battle”. Good hunting.

The paragraphs on sieges came from Wikipedia, as did parts of the description of the Principles of War. Your local library or bookstore might have a section on military history or theory. For the sake of brevity, I had to ignore many other useful concepts, so consider this an introduction only.

Seaweed 2008


Severino said...

"Calls to class war, from my point of view, represent an ignorance of the realities of war or an example of a general lack of vocabulary among radicals who want to overthrow the present order. These calls are a shallow romanticism, often the privilege of those who live in peace."

What are you talking about here? You're into warriors and the warrior spirit but not class war? How do "calls for class war" represent ignorance and romanticism?

sea weed said...

Hey Severino,

The context was that we should be calling for an end to war through revolution.

Is the ultimate conflict simply a military contest between two clearly defined classes? Social revolution is mot a military exercise. That is all i was pointing out. After studying "war" through the ages, i came to the opinion that we need a wider vocabulary to truly express the kinds of conflicts we want to create.

Severino said...

War isn't just a military exercise either and neither is class war. Wikipedia defines war as "any large scale, violent conflict." Anyway, many of us anti-militarist anarchists call for class war because we think the battle is more one-sided than it should be. The rich are fighting us everyday. We can and should fight back even harder. Therefore, class war.