Springingtiger's Blog

To The Barricades? I Don’t Think So!

“Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!” (Les Miserables)

“To the Barricades”, the phrase that says the revolution is dead. We have seen again and again in Paris in 1832 and 1848 and in Dublin in 1916 amongst others, that a small ill equipped force cannot defend fixed positions against a superior force with uninterrupted supply lines. The revolutions that succeed tend to adopt a more Fabian strategy, avoiding direct confrontation and instead, exploiting the enemies weaknesses, attacking supply lines and wearing him down by, in effect, a guerilla campaign of attacking vulnerable targets like scouting parties and supply caravans. Successful revolutions take the fight to the enemy and don’t allow him to play to his strengths.

The English were defeated by the American colonials by a strategy that depended on avoiding battle except when it suited Washington and using French allies to prevent the English supporting their troops by sea. The English had a difficult time subduing the Boers in South Africa because the Boer Komando were highly mobile mounted units who would not allow the English to compel them to fixed battle. They were only eventually defeated because the English cut off their support by interning civilians in Concentration Camps and destroying crops.

When in 1919 the Irish War of Independence began in earnest, they turned to a system of guerrilla warfare that owed much to the Boer Komando, the legendary Flying Columns that moved quickly from place to place, wearing down the English and their allies with ambushes, bombings and assassinations.

In Cuba Castro’s forces were vastly outnumbered and compelled by Batista’s forces to flee into the Sierra Maestra mountains where they could move unimpeded and wage a guerrilla campaign against the Batistas while gathering support from the people. Indeed at the Battle of La Plata it was the government forces who made the mistake of trying to defend a fixed position, which became vulnerable when their lines of supply were cut.

A major factor in the success of any revolution is the support of the people as Che Guevara wrote in Guerrilla Warfare, “The guerilla fighter therefore relies on the complete support of the people of the area. This is absolutely indispensable. And this can be seen very clearly by taking as an example gangs of bandits that operate in a region. They have all the characteristics of a guerilla army: homogeneity, respect for the leader, bravery, knowledge of the terrain, and often even a complete understanding of the tactics to be employed. The only thing they lack is the support of the people and inevitably these gangs are captured or exterminated by government forces.” While the people might hope for the revolutionaries’ success they are far more inclined to actively provide support when the revolutionaries demonstrate an ability to take the fight to the enemy. It is also essential to get one’s message across to the people, to explain what is happening and why. It’s almost a cliche that revolutionaries try to seize the radio station, Fidel set up a pirate radio station, Radio Rebelde to get his message to the people and bypass the Batista controlled media.

This brings us to the primary battlefield of the Twenty First Century revolution, the Internet. The Internet allows people to communicate without the censorship of government which is why believers in totalitarian government are so intent on bringing it under government control. The internet allows us to reach people with our message and to challenge government propaganda. The internet allows information and news to be disseminated which governments wish to suppress. The other thing about the internet is that it can literally become a field of operations, secrets can be discovered and leaked, information can be both discovered and destroyed or altered. The infrastructure of oppression can be destabilised, communications impeded and the electronic transfer of capital frustrated. Both sides know this which is why a hacker will be pursued and heavily punished by government while corrupt bankers remain untouched, and child molesters receive derisory sentences many times shorter than given to a hacker.

We do ourselves a disservice when we romanticise revolution, death may be painless, but dying tends to be rather painful, and people die in revolutions. Eschew romanticism, a revolution must be realistic, it may be a gamble – much in life is – but it must be achievable and planned. Barricades represent the failure of the past, better than a barricade is the roadblock that stops a truck, but preferable to violence is persuasion, as Che pointed out revoulution should only be employed against totalitarian regimes. However a totalitarian regime may pose as a western democracy, don’t listen to the words of the politicians, look at the effect of government on the people; if it is obvious that a small minority control the system and the bulk of its resources, then it may be a legitimate target for revolution because it is not a genuine democracy.


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