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As well as belonging to different groups, members of a resistance movement can be divided into five general classes: leaders; cadres or professional revolutionaries; combatants or frontline activists; auxiliaries; and the mass base. Although the terminology stems from armed struggle, the basic division of roles can apply to any group that wants to confront and dismantle oppressive systems of power.

Leaders are those who work to organize and inspire the organization, either as administrators or ideologues, and serve important decision-making roles. In explicitly antiauthoritarian organizations, like those of the pre-WWII Spanish Anarchists, the leaders may be effectively integrated with the cadres. In the organizational illustration of Figure 8-5, the leaders (or officers) are colored black.

Cadres or professional revolutionaries form the backbone of a resistance organization. Though the term “cadre” has been prominently used in communist circles, it’s also used in a more general organizational sense and especially in militaries. In the original military sense, cadres are “the key group of officers and enlisted personnel necessary to establish and train a new military unit,” or, more generally, “a nucleus of trained personnel around which a larger organization can be built and trained.”2 Cadres (the term refers to both the group and individuals) have the skills needed to operate and perpetuate a resistance organization, and they take their job seriously. They carry out their resistance work as professionals, regardless of how they make their income. Most people who take on this role in community groups are called “organizers” or the like, but you can recognize them when you see them by their commitment, their experience, and their work ethic. As the organizational core group, they do what needs doing to move the group forward, including the recruitment and training of new members. Essentially anything in the taxonomy of action that falls under “capacity building and operations” is under the purview of cadres. Good cadres are distinguished by their psychological drive to succeed, their dedicated professionalism, their experience and history, and their concrete organizational work.3 In Figure 8-5, cadres could be any permanent member of the resistance shown in dark grey, but would definitely include the affinity group on the left selecting new recruits.

Combatants or frontline activists are those who engage in direct confrontation and conflict with power. They are, in a word, warriors. This could be anyone who does that work in conjunction with resistance organizations, from people who do tree sits to people who confront and expose rapists. This kind of work can entail a very high level of risk, physical or otherwise. As we’ve already discussed, the people on the front lines are usually a small (but essential) percentage of those involved in resistance. This role can overlap with that of the cadres, but there are important differences. Work on the front lines may be more specialized than organizational cadre tasks, and it requires a narrower area of experience and responsibility. Despite this, the risk and stress involved means that not everyone who would make a good cadre would make a good combatant, and vice versa. Some people have families or children who need their support, and some people simply aren’t psychologically suited to the roles on the front lines.

Figure 8-5

Know that the most effective combatants are those willing to give up their lives, whether through death or prison. Even aboveground activists engaged in confrontation activities may spend time in prison; in fact, they are more likely to be identified and arrested, although they may serve less time than underground activists who are caught. A man from the Mohawk Warriors Society once explained to me why the police were afraid of his group: “They aren’t scared of us because we’re willing to take up arms. They’re scared of us because we’re willing to die.” Likewise, many Black Panthers knew that when they joined the Black Panther Party (BPP) they would either end up dead or in prison. The struggle was worth it to them.

Auxiliaries are sympathizers, people living otherwise normal lives who offer moral or material support to more active members of the resistance. Auxiliaries may or may not be considered a formal part of a resistance organization. They may provide funding, material support, shelter and safehouses, transportation, a pool of (and screening for) recruits, or health care and equipment maintenance. Auxiliaries may also pass information on to the resistance, including information they observe about occupier activities such as construction, troop movements, or personnel information. Auxiliaries can be candidates for recruitment to more serious roles. In Figure 8-5, the auxiliaries would include the light grey figures associated with the movement who act as informants or do press work without actually being part of a formal organization.

The mass base consists of the people who generally support or sympathize with the resistance, and follow its activities with interest, but who aren’t organizationally involved and who don’t offer direct material support. People who read the underground newspapers in occupied France might be a part of this group. The mass base usually supports the resistance in a more generalized or nebulous way through discussions with friends or neighbors, which increases its perceived popularity and legitimacy. They might also share literature or other materials of interest with each other. Aboveground organizations sometimes engage the mass base for fund raising. And the mass base in general can act as a pool for recruitment, either into the auxiliaries or for other roles.