More on insurgencies

I read:

Anthony James Joes’s Urban Guerrilla Warfare
The US Marine Corps’s Guerrilla and how to fight him
Carlos Marighella’s Manual of the Urban Guerrilla

The latter 2 books are from the 1960s and I read them as background. Joes is a counterinsurgency theorist who analyzes a wide range of urban insurgencies and comes to several interesting conclusions:

1. Urban insurgencies almost always fail militarily because they lack any safe areas and because they attack their enemy where it is strongest.


I read:

Anthony James Joes’s Urban Guerrilla Warfare
The US Marine Corps’s Guerrilla and how to fight him
Carlos Marighella’s Manual of the Urban Guerrilla

The latter 2 books are from the 1960s and I read them as background. Joes is a counterinsurgency theorist who analyzes a wide range of urban insurgencies and comes to several interesting conclusions:

1. Urban insurgencies almost always fail militarily because they lack any safe areas and because they attack their enemy where it is strongest.

2. Because of the massive rural-to-urban migration happening and because of technological capacities favouring counterinsurgents in rural situations (it looks like recent history in Colombia and Sri Lanka offer some evidence of this), there are likely to be more urban insurgencies in the future.

3. The US should stay out of urban counterinsurgency, as it’s politically costly and difficult to do as a foreign force.

Where guerrilla-type wars have had success, they have usually been wars against foreign invaders (the Afghans against the USSR, Hizbollah against Israel, the Chinese against the Japanese…) Domestic insurgencies, even separatist insurgencies, have had less success historically, perhaps because they are more difficult to win popular support for.

Che Guevara’s guerrilla warfare manual argued that:

“Where a government has come into power through some form of popular vote, fraudulent or not, and maintains at least an appearance of constitutional legality, the guerrilla outbreak cannot be promoted, since the possibilities of peaceful struggle have not yet been exhausted.”

He changed his mind about this, but he might have been right in the manual.

Carlos Marighella’s manual of the urban guerrilla is more heartbreaking to read, since he was assassinated not too long after it came out. Joes argues that the Brazilian insurgency is an unsuccessful example.

It would be great to have a manual for how to win change in a society with democratic forms, intense propaganda and co-optation, and wide and differentiated hierarchies of privilege and investment in the status quo. I don’t think a good strategy for the situation we’re in would involve any kind of violent insurgency. But it would be good to be debating and discussing this with lots of people who are thinking about it.

There’s a few fiction books about it (Nader’s recent book Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us, and maybe Daniel Suarez’s Daemon/Freedom books) but it is hard to come by. Rabble’s trying to do something on the topic now, and I respect them for it.

Author: Justin Podur

Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.