Monday, February 27, 2012


One of the first lessons you learn in Movement and Resistance Theory is that the person who initiates violence or advocates it within the context of a generally nonviolent resistance movement is a provocateur and is probably a police plant or informant.

The tactic is ancient; it's a wonder that anybody falls for it any more. But they do.

Meanwhile, resistance movements evolve -- and so do counter-resistance activities by the State. The provocateurs may not be who or what you think they are any more, and they may not be the ones advocating the violent path of resistance.

After considering some of the things Mark Rudd had to say about his time as a radical (and violent) revolutionary in the late sixties and early seventies, I'm struck by something he's repeated many times: "I was doing the FBI's work for them." By which he means that by advocating bombings and sabotage (and carrying some of it out) and by engineering the destruction of the Students for Democratic Society (SDS) he believes he "killed" the anti-Vietnam War Movement in this country. I think he is wrong about that, but this is what he believes, I assume sincerely.

The key is that he believes that he was "doing the FBI's work for them." And what, exactly, would that be?

The provocateur traditionally seeks to instigate some kind of generally illegal and often violent action on the part of an individual activist or on the part of the activist group so as to discredit and delegitimize them or to provide probable cause for arrest or indictment.

In the process, the infiltrator or provocateur sows the seeds of discord, dissension, division, fear, uncertainty, and doubt which can have the effect (pleasing to the authorities) of disabling or destroying the resistance.

That's what Mark Rudd believes he did as an advocate and practitioner of violent resistance 40 years ago. It is approximately what an FBI infiltrator and provocateur would have done to the SDS and the Weathermen/Weather Underground if he didn't do it.

Note has been made from time to time that he got away with it, too. Not only were charges against him dropped when he emerged from hiding, but he has managed to live a fairly normal life as a college professor of mathematics (now retired) in New Mexico.

In other words, not only did he behave like an FBI infiltrator/provocateur as a leader of SDS and then the Weathermen, he ultimately got to live an almost charmed life as a college professor as if nothing had happened -- much as an FBI informant/infiltrator/provocateur might.


Nowadays of course he's done a 180 and has become a passionate advocate for the purest forms of pacifist nonviolence -- because, as he put it, violence destroys the Movement. He's become such a purist about nonviolence that he says anything that will be interpreted as "violent" by the police or the public is "violence" by definition, including wearing black or bandanas.

And not surprisingly, anyone who makes this kind of absurd claim about "violence" is likely to be challenged -- or even be dismissed as a crank.

But let's think about it some more. Mark Rudd was using the same sort of absolutist language in his advocacy of nonviolence as I frequently encounter: model the Movement after Gandhi and King, repudiate any kind of violence whatsoever, do not engage in anarchism or black bloc tactics, build the Movement by appealing to the middle class, do not confront authorities, do not curse or speak harshly to the police or other authorities, do not carry shields, do not wear black or bandanas... one could go on and on, it is almost a catechism among purist nonviolence advocates.

Resistance movements have evolved since Rudd was a fiery young revolutionary, and so have counter-resistance activities by authorities. What may have worked forty years ago doesn't work now, either for the resistance or the counter-resistance. Repeating the Gandhi and King methods (especially of mass rallies and marches) essentially doesn't work at all any more; the authorities simply do not care if the People are in the streets protesting something or other or if they are rallying to hear inspirational speakers. It doesn't make a bit of difference to the Powers That Be. So everytime I hear or read somebody saying "Do it like Gandhi," I want to gag. It doesn't work; we're beyond that.

But then when it comes to nonviolence, Gandhi and King (with a dollop of Gene Sharp) are the Only Ways permitted by advocates. There is no other acceptable model. When I listen to some of those who promote nonviolence, what they actually seem to be saying is "Don't have a Movement at all, because nothing you can do will be effective against the mighty power of the Empire. I've been there, I know, listen to me."

And the discussion around the topics of Diversity of Tactics (which Rudd and many other nonviolence advocates insist means "violence") has been filled with demonization, divisiveness, fearmongering, doubt-raising, much falsehood, and so on.

I've begun to wonder, just who are the Provocadores now, and what is their task? There are very few people who advocate conducting a violent resistance campaign as part of or in association with Occupy. Not even the demonized "Black Bloc Anarchists" are suggesting anything like the kinds of violent resistance Mark Rudd and the Weathermen were conducting back in the day. The idea is outrageous and bizarre.

But because nobody in their right minds is talking about bombings and sabotage or any other sort of armed insurrection in connection with Occupy, the advocates of nonviolence have been tightening down the definition of "violence" to include such absurdities as wearing black or bandanas or sassing authority. Anything that anyone might interpret as "violence" has to be cleansed from the Movement. Otherwise, the police will have justification for a violent response.

Who are the provocateurs now, and what are their tactics for discrediting and delegitimizing resistance movements?

Are we witness to the evolution of strategies and tactics?

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