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Strategies for Resistance and Change

2011 June 10
by Ian Welsh

There are multiple strategies for change in a corrupt and oligarchical society.  They aren’t all mutually exclusive.  Let’s run through some of them.

Showing Up and Playing Nice (aka. Demonstrations)

Demonstrations by themselves work when your lords and masters want them to.  In some time periods this is because your lords and masters have a moral system which allows them to feel shame.  Seeing demonstrators who believe in peace, or not being racist, or not ruling India for Britain’s benefit, triggers the morals they have, and they are moved.

In other time periods this is because they need the consent of the governed, and they know that the next step beyond demonstrations is something worse.  During the Great Depression there were occasions in which citizens took the police on, straight up.  Within living memory union members had fought the army straight up.  So when people started demonstrating in large numbers in the 60s, there were still people in power who remembered all that.  It didn’t make them give in, right away, but it did make them think.  At this point and time, no one in power in the US and much of the West, remembers the last time the population got uppity enough to go toe-to-toe with military or paramilitary forces.

Huge demonstrations could be, but haven’t been, as a rule, occasions to build real organizations.  When all those people show up, all their names should be being gathered, local lodges should be being created, and so on.  So far that hasn’t been done.  Why, I’m not entirely sure, but what I’ve seen is that the people who run the large national organizations like the national chapters of NARAL or NOW, for example, just want a mailing list, they don’t really want a lot of direct action.  They want to play the inside game, make deals and concessions, play like they’re Senators, not like outsiders.  They don’t want a vibrant organization full of motivated people who would call them on their sellouts, who would make them fight their friends in DC.

Remember, though, that demonstrations as just showing up, only work if the oligarchy wants it to.  If the teabaggers show up with a couple hundred people, that will get media coverage, because the oligarchy found them useful.  If anti-war protesters show up in the hundreds of thousands, yawn.  No media coverage for you.  Not only do you not get through to your lords and masters, you don’t even let the rest of the population know what’s going on.

Showing up and shutting things down

The next step up.  This is what the French unions often do.  Get the truckers involved, pull the trucks up, and shut the roads down.  Go to a refinery, in large numbers (not a couple dozen) and occupy it.  Don’t move voluntarily.  If the cops want to move you, make them do it the hard way.  (I leave the definition of hard way to each organizing group’s own conscience.)  Shut down commerce.  Shut down key facilities which are worth a lot of money to the oligarchy.  Don’t let anything move.  Cost them money.  Force the police to choose sides.  They won’t always choose yours, but sometimes they will.

This method applies costs to the oligarchy.  It changes their cost/benefit analysis.  And since cost/benefit is how the oligarchy has been trained to think, it can have some effect.  This method works best if you can get the blue collars on your side, in particular the folks who regularly use big equipment.  Miners, construction workers, truckers, and so on.  In Europe these people tend to be left wing, in the US they have been co-opted, an this is one reason why your lords and masters don’t care what you think, because you don’t have the big iron backing you up.  (A main battle tank can be taken on by the right construction equipment used in the right way.  The US army knows this.)


Of course I would never write that I think anyone should riot.  However, as a practical matter, sometimes people do, for example the Greeks, right now.  Maybe you don’t want to be impoverished for the rest of your life to pay off rich oligarchs who don’t pay taxes for a crisis they deliberately created so they could buy up state assets at cents on a dollar.  You’ve decided to fight, and not lay down.  Ok then.

So if you’re going to riot, let’s talk about how you do it.  First, don’t riot in your own fucking neighbourhood.  The oligarchy doesn’t care if you destroy your own assets, or if you fight the police where members of the oligarchy aren’t.  Cops are members of the servant class, the oligarchy doesn’t give one damn if a few of them get messed up, that’s what they’re there for.  If you are going to riot, go to where the oligarchs live.  March on their neighbourhoods, and fight the cops on the way there, or once you get there.  If the cops don’t fight you on the way there, feel free to set up your trucks and completely shut down the entire district so no one can get through.  Remember, while I would never tell anyone to be violent, if for your own reasons you’ve decided, like America’s founders, that you’ve had it up to here, and aren’t taking it anymore, do it where it matters.  Productive assets owned by the oligarchs are also good.  Or how about their yacht clubs.  Use your imagination.

Note also that Malcolm X makes Martin Luther King possible.  Everyone doesn’t have to have the strategy, what they must not do is what Arundhati Roy refused to do, they must not condemn others on the same side.

Shunning and Shaming

Simple shunning and shaming works great and doesn’t need to involve any violence.  Find out the schedule of every member of government, every oligarch and every senior bureaucrat who thinks the best way to deal with a crisis is to screw ordinary people and show up everywhere they do.  Heckle them, surround the building they are in.  When they come out, scream at them.  Make their daily lives miserable.  Make it so they can’t go anywhere without a police escort.  No violence necessary.  Just get in their faces and let them know what you think of their policies.  Ben Nelson being booed at a pizza parlor, a minor example, shook him up to no end.  Don’t do business with them.  Don’t shake their hands if you run into them.  Make it clear that most of the population considers them a moral leper.

The Difference Between Violence and a Willingness To Die

Two different things.  If you are a non-violent protester who wishes to have full effect, you must, at the least, be willing to be beaten, and to die.  The protesters in Egypt were willing to die.   To the extent they succeeded (and that extent is not yet known, since getting rid of Mubarak may not change much that matters) it was when they made the army choose between shooting them, and protecting Mubarak.  They forced the army to make that choice.  The army wasn’t willing to, though since then they’ve proved willing to shoot Egyptians for themselves.

Shutting things down in ways that really hurts the oligarchy, even if done in a completely non-violent way, is going to be met with violent response quite often.  You must know, upfront, what you will do in that case.

Opting Out and Creating a New System

Be clear, the financial oligarchs don’t make most of their money directly from you.  They make their money by packaging revenue streams (or what appear to be revenue streams) and selling those streams.  So , mortgages, debt of various kinds, parking receipts, rent on public buildings sold to investors and then leased back, and so on.  That’s how they make their money. Other elites may sell you things, but they too are in the financialization system.  Everyone is looking for a locked in stream, which is why there is the huge push to make sure you own nothing.  Put your data in the “Apple Cloud” and that’s great, as long as you can make your monthly payments.

Opting out is about finding a way to live which puts you on the hook for as little of this as possible.  You lose a ton of convenience by opting out (tried to travel without a credit card?)  But to the extent you refuse to be on the hook for monthly payments, whether mortgage or credit card, or anything else, you both increase your freedom and you decrease their power by decreasing the revenue streams they want to monetize.  Their key focus is “must have”.  You must have a phone, you must have internet access, you must have food, you have housing,  you must have health insurance (because you will be forced to buy it).  What you must have, what you must pay, is what can be securitized, what is a reliable revenue/rent stream.  Every part of the oligarchy wants to lock this down, that’s why they make it harder and harder to go bankrupt, that’s why they try and make things which aren’t property (ideas) into intellectual “property”, that’s why they make unpatentable drugs illegal and patentable drugs massively expensive.

To the extent that you can get yourself and other people out of the system, you are directly hitting the oligarchy, not just because of revenue, but because the less dependent people are, the more they can oppose the oligarchy.  This means growing food among small groups (something they are trying to make illegal).  This means figuring out how to provide local energy without going through the utilities.  This means creating your own financial institutions, by hook or crook.  This is the work of creating ground based power.  The right wing does this through their churches, the left has lost its lodges, the unions are in disarray, the co-ops have not caught up the slack and so on. There is a ton of room here for real social entrepreneurs (ones who don’t want to cash out).

It is important to have a market of markets.  That is to say, right now, the only way most people can make a living is to work for someone else.  That’s it.  In the old days, if things didn’t work out, you could go back to the farm, or in the even older days you could just go homestead.  It might not be that great a life, but it was an alternative to the system.  As a result, the system had to treat you enough better than the alternative (family agriculture or subsistence agriculture), to keep you away from it.  Even as that went away, there was the spectre of communism.  The Western world felt it was necessary to treat their population better than the Communist world.  When the Communist bloc fell, the oligarchs shrugged and said “so, where are they going to go?”  With no other options, they no longer had to treat their own population well, or so they felt.

Opting out isn’t just about hurting the oligarchs directly, it is about creating that other economy.  Call if the slow economy, call it “off the grid”, whatever.  A place where people can get shelter, food, clothing and basic healthcare without being involved in the mainstream economy.  What that world, should it be created, will offer, is autonomy.  It will offer not having a boss riding you 40 hours a week and emailing you at home.  Your material circumstances may be lower, but autonomy is worth a lot of happiness and peace of mind.

This certainly isn’t easy to do.  The counterculture tried, and to a large extent failed. It is still necessary, because without the threat of an operating alternative system which people can go to, the current system sees no reason to treat people well.

Concluding Remarks

This certainly isn’t exhaustive, nor is it meant to be.   The point is that there are a variety of different strategies, and different strategies are suitable for different times, places and circumstances.  If you’re drawn to one strategy, that’s probably what you should be working on.  At the same time, recognize that some strategies may prove more successful than others, depending on the circumstances.  No strategy works in every time and place.

And for God’s sake, don’t imitate your idiot masters.  If at first something doesn’t succeed, and if you try and try and try again, and it still doesn’t work, try something else.

102 Responses
  1. groo permalink
    June 13, 2011

    @Morocco Bama. II

    …Prior to the establishment of the national banking system, the national currency supply consisted of a confusing patchwork of bank notes issued under a variety of rules by banks chartered under different state laws. Notes of sound banks circulated side-by-side with notes of banks in financial trouble, as well as those of banks…

    What does this mean, except that it is a -sorry-quite senseless citation of something.

    I tell you.
    At that time the diverse metrics were quite confused, and some Dudes, even the Originators of the Constitution really did not KNOW what this was all about.

    There have been some insights into the money system, e.g. Goethe (Faust I&II), which You should investigate, and also the insights of the founding fathers, who were inspired by the early enlightenment, –down to Adam Smith–, and had some deep difficulties in understanding the ‘measurement problem’ versus the value-problem. Up to Marx.

    The early enlightenment –I am quite sure about that–was confused by the riddle of ‘value’ and its measurement.

    Please refrain from senseless citations of passages You do not seem to understand quite well.
    As well as all those Economists, who refuse to learn and accept HET (History of Economic Thought, to be precise).

    (Always ready for a good fight. So please raise Your fist and kick me in the face. )


  2. Morocco Bama permalink
    June 13, 2011

    groo, what the hell are you smoking? Seriously, whatever it is, it’s some good shit. Maybe you can tell Lisa the source and she can lace the caviar at her next dinner engagement.

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