dealing with the inevitable erruption of the underground

By Anonymous (found at

Amidst all the jingoism, flag-waving and sabre-rattling, the push to go to war has driven a great number of peace activists out of the woodwork. As of yet, they are still largely unorganized, but we can soon expect massive peace rallies in large cities (despite the impression created by the mainstream media of unanimous support for retaliation). The peace movement, as always, will largely consist of broad-based calls for peace, faith-based prayers for peace and activist-based demonstrations for peace. Unfortunately, as always, the peace movement will be utterly ineffective at actually creating the condition of peace. Despite claims to the contrary, the peace movement has never—on its own—succeeded in stopping a war. Ghandian non-violence would have been a complete failure to the end of gaining Indian independence in the absence of armed resistance within that country, coupled with Hitler’s assault on Britain. The Vietnam War was not stopped by a domestic peace movement, but by the militant intransigence of the Viet-Cong, in combination with the persistent mutiny of U.S. troops (who were, in all fairness, likely motivated and inspired by the domestic peace movement). What has historically stopped war has been material resistance which makes the project of carrying out war untenable.

The domestic anti-war movement has not always limited itself to calls, prayers and demonstrations for peace. It has also manifested itself through very deliberate material resistance to the U.S. war machine, largely through acts of civil disobedience. Unfortunately, the United States has continued its slow march toward totalitarianism relatively unabated since the 40’s (arguably, since the end of the 19th century), and that slow march has suddenly become a charge since the ascention of G. W. Bush to the presidency and its pace can only quicken in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Those committed to the tactics of civil disobedience cannot hope to be nearly as effective in a nation where the notion of “civility” has been hijacked and is quickly becoming equated with complicity in a totalitarian police-and-intelligence state. The most volatile sectors of American society are being systematically beaten down by zealous law enforcement and incarcerated by an over-grown criminal justice system, and there is no reason to expect this trend to reverse any time soon. Those who oppose war, imperialism and capitalism—and who choose to manifest that opposition through direct, material assaults on those systems—will have to become much more nuanced in their willful disobedience to escape imprisonment and persecution. If history is any lesson, when faced at every turn with intolerance and repression, such folks have nowhere to go but underground where their alienation from structures of support and accountability can only deepen1. We would do well to prevent this migration of many of our most committed comrades to the underground—not because the underground or its tactics are necessarily unethical (even when self-consciously engaged in “armed struggle”, most such underground groups go to great lengths to avoid threats to life and limb), but because the underground breeds distrust, alienation and unaccountability. To clarify, we should not prevent folks from making that migration should they choose to (and we should by no means visit reprisals upon them for doing so), but we should take up the fight against the intolerance and repression which motivates that migration. Furthermore, should our comrades make such choices, as many already have, we should refrain from abandoning them altogether. The struggle in this case is not against the people who engage in direct, material resistance, but against their persecution and the resultant distrust, alienation and unaccountability which makes this form of resistance unsustainable and which could lead down the road to actual terrorism.

You may argue that “you cannot blow up (or burn down) a social relationship”, to which many will reply “but you can dismantle the material institutions which inform and enforce those social relationships”. But the ideological arguments are largely moot: no matter how vociferous or persistent your arguments against attacks on property, there will always be those who will disagree with you, some more respectfully than others, and there will always be those who will make their disagreement evident through their actions. It is vital that we do not vilify them because of these disagreements, as the desperation of their actions will increase in proportion to the persecution visited upon them. The liberal and progressive left is fond of citing this axiom when it comes to criticizing U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, but is loathe to apply the lesson in its own ranks.

By no means am i suggesting that we should accept and support the work of anti-war, anti-imperialist underground groups, no matter what. What i’m suggesting is that the parameters of what we consider acceptable and worthy of support should be decided based upon our own ethical and strategic determinations, not the laws of the state. Any attempts to hold such groups accoutable for activities we deem unacceptable should be undertaken by ourselves and no one else—under no circumstances should the responsibility for holding others accountable be delegated to law enforcement, nor should any encroachment by law enforcement be tolerated. And accountability should be undertaken in good faith and on equal terms, recognizing that underground resistance cannot be willed away or forced into submission—it will only strike back ten-fold. How do you think we got to the point where countless people now lie dead in the rubble of the World Trade Center towers?

Just as many of us are urging restraint against the swell of vengeance in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, we must similarly urge restraint against the repression of those people who will inevitably take it upon themselves to put their bodies on the line—where our urgent voices have failed—to halt the war machine in its tracks. As they fight for the freedom of victims of U.S. imperialism, we must fight for theirs.

1. By “underground”, I refer not to people who form themselves into security-conscious affinity groups for occasional actions while remaining politically active (and hence supported by and accountable to a larger community), but those people whose commitment to struggle has moved them to the use of certain tactics which obliges them to abandon their political communities and work to avoid prosecution of themselves and the friends and comrades with whom they associated. The greater and the more comprehensive the state repression, the greater the number of people obliged to go underground to maintain their commitment to struggle.

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