Diversity of Tactics

Nikolai Kochergin, Storming of the Winter Palace.

Nikolai Kochergin, Storming of the Winter Palace.

[Spanish translation here]

Istanbul, July 24

Dear people,

My time is running out. Soon I will have to leave the country. It prompts me to make another reflection on the concept of revolution, on the real, substantial change that all of us – or almost – want to see in this world.

Many people who call themselves revolutionaries consider the revolution to be something serious. Especially in Turkey. They hide out in their coves, plotting, drinking tea, smoking, theorizing, and accusing other revolutionaries of not being revolutionary enough. When they go out onto the streets with their banners, they sing their ominous chants, they spell doom to the ruling class, and they dream of Judgment Day when all counts will be settled.

This is old school, this won’t happen. A real revolution means joy, unity, and fun. The Turks have understood this at Occupy Gezi, like the Spaniards before them. Satire is one of the most powerful weapons against authorities. It exposes their absurdity and their lack of moral justification. It shows the world that the emperor wears no clothes. And there’s no way to defend against it.

Classic revolutionaries base their ideas on theories, many of which have devolved into dogma’s. This is not a solid base for change. All the present political currents are rooted in philosophies that go back to the 18th and 19th centuries, sometimes even further. In our present, rapidly evolving information society, they are all heavily outdated.

Personally, I don’t believe in communism, or socialism, or nationalism. Up to a certain point I do believe in liberalism (the European original) and at the same time I’m fascinated by the idea of anarchism. All these -isms address social and economic issues, but in their core they are political theories. This is a major flaw. Nowadays, the most basic level is not political, but ecological. A 21st century revolution can only be aimed at a transition towards sustainability. This means in the first place environmental and energetic sustainability. Without it, there is no way to attain the necessary sustainability on a demographic, social, economic and political level.

The struggle must be fought on all fronts, simultaneously. There are infinite ways to do this. Opinions on the matter differ up to the point that many people have lost sight of their shared objectives, and instead engaged in conflicts over methodology. Some people who think of themselves as true revolutionaries are convinced that we should destroy and rebuild. Others think that we should try to change the system from within.

For me, all roads are fine as long as they lead to Rome. What’s important is that we agree on a starting point. Logically, this should be the idea of equality between peoples, races, creeds, genders, sexual orientations, etc. Until we cease to think that some of us are inherently better than others, we will keep causing conflict, suffering, death and destruction. The revolution will need to be a revolution of all humanity.

So let’s look at some of the fronts. Political, economic, legal, military and communicational. With regard to each of these I will make a case for ‘diversity of tactics’.

In Spain 2011, people rose up against a corrupt political class, shouting ‘they don’t represent us.’ In the occupied squares, citizens started organising in leaderless assemblies to provide a model for direct democracy. It was a glorious experiment, but in its radical ambition it was also very dogmatic. A wholesale rejection of representative politics is a severe limitation of your range of action. There is nothing wrong with founding a political party, or supporting an existing party, if it can help you reach an objective. You can always withdraw your support, and it doesn’t exclude simultaneous experiments with direct democracy in the squares or online.

Also, the idea of a movement being leaderless is completely unrealistic. There are always leaders, whether explicit or not, and you are going to need them. But there is a difference between ‘leaders’ and ‘authority’. A leader is someone who gets things done, either by him- or herself, or by inspiring other people to collaborate. Authority on the other hand implies coercion. “Do as I say, because I say so.” I have a problem with that, and with any society that is based on it. Authority is to be questioned, and to be fought if necessary. Another difference is that authority is tied to a person, whereas leadership is connected to a specific goal, and as such limited in time. A true leader is someone who steps up to do something, and who steps back when it has been accomplished.

Delacroix, Liberty leading the people.

Delacroix, Liberty leading the people.

On the economic front, there is a hell of a lot you can do. You can camp out in the square and shout slogans against capitalism, but it won’t really make a difference if you get your beer and chips at the local discount supermarket. You can also retreat to the countryside, work the land every day and try to be completely self-sufficient. This is already a lot more useful, but there are only few of us who can bear the hardships and the satisfactions of this kind of life. In between, there is a world of possibilities. You can support organic producers, as an individual or as a collective. You can support small businesses. You can boycott big businesses or any venture that is not respectful of its workers or the environment. You can set up cooperatives. You can start your own business. Why not? Capitalism offers opportunities, also the opportunity to erode it from within. The transition towards an energetically sustainable economic model is the biggest investment opportunity since the industrial revolution. There are whole new empires to be built, and old ones to be destroyed. There are new technologies to be developed, systems to be decentralised, people and potentials to be liberated. If you treat profit as a means and not an end, you can go a very long way.

On the legal front, injustice has to be denounced, remembered, and fought, everywhere. It’s not about what is legal or not, but about what is right and what is wrong. I don’t believe any of these two to be absolute, but I’m convinced that people have a very well developed sense of justice. Whenever possible, make use of the legal system with all its cavities to frustrate attempts at punishing people who were in their right, and to get the real crooks locked up. The laws are not sacred, not even the sacred ones. A law that is unjust should be challenged on the political front, and massively disobeyed until it is repealed.

Then there is the military front, for lack of a better word. In Spain, one of the founding principles of the indignado movement was the idea of nonviolence. I used to adhere to that. I substantially agreed with the notion that any society born in violence will be violent as a result. But since I came to Turkey I changed my mind. Gezi Park was the most joyful and peaceful society I have ever been part of, but it would never have been possible without active, violent resistance. The people who threw the Molotovs, who burned the buses, who beat back police and who manned the barricades in defence of our free republic were among the kindest and most generous people in all of Gezi. They responded proportionately to police aggression, and they were supported by the great majority of people who didn’t engage in active resistance themselves.

Nonviolence can be extremely powerful in many circumstances, but in others it can be utterly useless. Not many authorities will allow a peaceful revolution to happen. So if you are dedicated to real change, you will need to be willing to use force, or to support the use of force, whenever there is no viable alternative. As the saying goes, “si vis pacem, para bellum”. If you want peace, prepare for war.

Emanuel Leutze, Washington crossing the Delaware

Emanuel Leutze, Washington crossing the Delaware

Like any other action, violent action needs to have a clear, justified scope. Usually, it will be about repulsing an invader, or conquering a space. It makes no sense to smash up banks or put Starbucks franchises to the torch simply because you don’t like capitalism. Remember, the capitalists never pay. They are insured, and the insurance companies will take it out on the people. You and your neighbour will end up paying for the bank you destroy, not the bank itself.

The primary opponent in a potentially violent struggle will be the police. In theory, their role is to ‘serve and protect’ the population, but in most societies they are an instrument of repression at the service of abusive authorities. A healthy society doesn’t need police. In Gezi Park, and in Puerta del Sol, the commitment of the citizens themselves was enough to guarantee everybody’s safety. If at any time I felt unsafe in Istanbul, it was because of the police being around, not because of them being absent.

The Turkish uprising has taught us a wealth of tactics on how to deal with them, ranging from personal protection measures, to the practice of building barricades, to the weapons you can use to beat them. Popular support is vital for any aggressive tactic to succeed.

These tactics need to be shared and studied and improved. If there is one advantage the people have over authorities, it is their organic way of organisation. Rebels can operate in small independent cells, there is no command chain to disrupt, no single person to be held accountable.

In the majority of cases, the use of force against police will be pointless. Throwing stones at panzers is little more than symbolic. But there’s a psychological aspect to the matter as well, which a black block friend of mine once explained to me. Throwing a stone at police is about the sense of empowerment, the feeling that you are not defenseless. It’s about realising that you are indeed capable of active resistance against authorities.

Which leaves the communications front. We are making headway on this one. The internet is in itself a revolutionary medium because it offers everyone the opportunity to be an active newscaster instead of a passive consumer. It has broken the monopoly of the state and commercial enterprises. There is no ‘official’ version of the news any more.

Contrary to popular belief, the revolution will be televised. But only once it is well under way. The big networks typically arrive at the moment when everybody already knows what’s happening through other media, and the mainstream can no longer ignore it.

It’s true that nobody can predict the moment of revolution, but once it happens, you can be sure that someone will be there to report on it in word and image. The revolution will be live. And we will be here to broadcast it.

This is already a major accomplishment. The presence of cameras and the possibility to livestream footage directly onto the web has forced authorities to be much more cautious in their repression of dissent. During the 1980s and 1990s, close to 3000 Kurdish villages were burned down by the Turkish military. There was no press around, and no cameras to show the atrocities to the world. Nowadays, it would be different. We are watching, and they know it.

There’s a lot to be done on the communications front. For now, we are still experimenting with live broadcasting. The next stage will be collaborative editing. With a handful of dedicated people we can start creating content in real time that can beat mainstream media both in quality and velocity. We can set the tone for the narrative, we can present it in full 4-D from every imaginable perspective. As my brother Naber likes to quote, “we will be our own historians.”

In a few days I’m leaving for other fronts of resistance. But don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on Turkey. The latest news from here spells more trouble. The decision by the court to declare illegal the redevelopment of Taksim has been overturned by a higher court dominated by AKP judges. Tayyip doesn’t cede, and neither do the people. They have no reason to give in after all they have accomplished in the past two months.

Last Saturday a couple who had met at the Gezi occupation decided to marry in the park. As part of her wedding outfit, the girl wore a white helmet. All the people had been invited to attend, except for police on duty. The bastards showed up anyway, and they treated the wedding guests to tear gas, chemical water and rubber bullets.

In response, the people chanted, as they have been doing many times before. “This is only the beginning. The struggle continues.”

Occupy Gezi, by Alpist.

Occupy Gezi, by Alpist.


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