Why are we losing?
Why, after 40 years of struggle, education, petitions, letters to the editor, reusable coffee mugs, marches, protests, direct action and even sabotage, are we still losing? Why do mountains, old growth and glaciers keep disappearing? Why are children born with 200 toxic compounds in their bodies? Why do the levels of carbon in the atmosphere continue to rise as the species count plummets? And why is the trend accelerating?
Is it because civilization functions by destroying landbases, vacuuming them up and turning living communities into dead objects? Is it because people are scared to fight back, or don’t want to lose the privileges and material prosperity afforded to them by this arrangement of power? Is it because those doing the destroying have nearly inexhaustible resources at their disposal?
There are many factors over which we have no control, to be sure. But that’s no reason for us to focus on what we can’t change, instead of what we can.
And above all else, what we do have control over is our own strategy; our plan to achieve that most necessary goal of stopping industrial civilization from destroying the planet. We do not have control over what the majority of people think or do, we do not have control over what those in power think or do, we do not have control over the amount of time we have, we do not have control over the devastating rate of biotic collapse, but we do have control over how we choose to fight back.
Yet the strategies we’ve chosen to pursue as a movement haven’t worked at all. This is true whether we talk about idealist strategies of converting “the masses”, isolated individuals and communities withdrawing from mainstream culture, reformist attempts to “green” capitalism, or spontaneously inspired popular uprising. None of these have been effective. In fact, one could argue that by diverting energy back into supporting industrialism and capitalism (both of which are functionally at odds with a living world), many of the popular strategies have actually helped those in power to solidify their domination and hegemony.
If we hope to ever make a real material difference, to seriously disrupt and dismantle the operation of the industrial machine, we need to start thinking, planning, and acting strategically. If we don’t, we will continue to stumble around blindly in circles, re-hashing the same failed plans and ideas over and over again—and the world burns.
Fortunately, there is a wealth of strategic advice and doctrine available to learn from. There is much of value that we can discover from those who have been the best at using strategy—predominantly militaries—and although we have decidedly different objections and convictions than them, the underlining principles are essentially the same.
There are virtual libraries of this sort of information, but the ‘Nine Principles of War & Strategy’ is a great basic primer on good strategy. The list outlines nine simple strategic principles, tools for strategic analysis that can serve as a foundation for establishing strategy and devising operations.
Objective: Direct all operations toward a clearly defined, decisive and attainable objective. A clear goal is a pre-requisite to devising a strategy. A decisive objective is one that will have a clear impact on the larger strategy and struggle; there is no point pursuing a goal of questionable or little value. And obviously, the objective itself must be attainable; otherwise efforts toward it are a waste of time, energy and risk.
Offensive: Seize, retain and exploit the initiative. To seize the initiative is to determine the course, place and nature of the battle or conflict. Seizing the initiative positions the fight on our terms, forcing them to react to us.
Mass: Concentrate the effects of combat power or force at the decisive place and time. Resistance groups engaging in asymmetric conflict have limited numbers and a limited force, especially compared to those in power; we must engage where we are strong and they are weak, and strike when and where we have overwhelming or decisive force, and maneuver instead of engaging when we are outmatched.
Economy of Force: Allocate minimum force to secondary efforts. Economy of force requires that all personnel are performing important tasks that tangibly help achieve mass and accomplish the objective, regardless of whether they are engaged in decisive operations or not.
Maneuver: Place the enemy in a disadvantageous position through the flexible application of combat power. This may mean concentrating forces; it may mean dispersing them, moving them, or hiding them. In all cases, it hinges on mobility and flexibility, which are essential for asymmetric conflict. This flexibility is necessary to keep the enemy off balance, allowing resisters to retain the initiative. It is used to exploit successes, to preserve freedom of action, and to reduce vulnerability. It continually poses new problems for the enemy by rendering their actions ineffective.
Unity of Command: For every objective, ensure unity of effort under one responsible commander. This is where some streams of anarchist thought come up against millennia of strategic advice and experience. No strategy can be implemented nor decisions made by consensus under dangerous or emergency circumstances. That’s why the anarchist columns in the Spanish Civil War had officers even though they despised rulers. A group may make strategic or operational decisions by any method it desires, but when it comes to on-the-ground implementation and emergency situations, some form of hierarchy is required to take more serious action.
Security: Never permit the enemy to acquire an unexpected advantage. Knowledge and understanding of enemy strategy, tactics, doctrine, and staff planning improve the detailed planning of adequate security measures. When fighting in a panopticon, this principle becomes even more important. Security is a cornerstone of strategy as well as of organization.
Surprise: Strike the enemy at a time or place or in a manner for which they are unprepared. By seeking surprise, forces can achieve success well out of proportion to the effort expended. Surprise can be in tempo, size of force, direction or location of main effort, and timing. This is key to asymmetric conflict—and again, not especially compatible with open or participatory decision making. Resistance movements are almost always outnumbered, which means they have to use surprise and agility to strike and accomplish their objectives before those in power can marshal an overpowering response.
Simplicity: Prepare clear, uncomplicated plans and clear, concise directives to ensure thorough understanding. The plan or strategy must be clear and direct for easy understanding and the simpler it is, the more reliably it can be implemented by multiple coordinating groups.
Of course, these principles don’t apply the same way in every situation, and aren’t meant to constitute a checklist.
Yet when we compare these principles to the popular strategies put forward by the environmental movement, their absence is striking. There is no critical analysis or serious planning.
We are in the middle of a war, a war against life. But we don’t seem to remember that fact. Or if we remember it, we don’t act accordingly. That needs to stop. The stakes could not be higher; everything worth loving is being killed. Living in this dire reality, it is our duty to fight back, by any means necessary.
Those in power have no qualms about the use of explosives to blow up mountains; we shouldn’t have any about the use of explosives to blow up dams and transmission lines. Those in power also have no qualms about devising and implementing effective strategy, we shouldn’t have any qualms about doing so ourselves.
Again, lest we forget; we are in the middle of a war; if we don’t act like it, then we’re doomed to failure. If we want to stop losing, if we want to stop the last vestiges of old growth and wetlands from disappearing, the ancient glaciers from melting, we need to develop strong and serious strategies to win. And we need to put them into action.
Time is Short: Reports, Reflections & Analysis on Underground Resistance is a biweekly 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.