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Chapter 13

Tactics and Targets

by Aric McBay

For me, nonviolence was not a moral principle but a strategy; there is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon.

—Nelson Mandela

Deeds, not words!

—Slogan of the Women’s Social and Political Union

Recall that all operations—and hence all tactics—can be divided into three categories:

  • Decisive operations, which directly accomplish the objective.
  • Sustaining operations, which directly assist and support those carrying out decisive operations.
  • Shaping operations, which help to create the conditions necessary for success.

Where tactics fall depends on the strategic goal. If the strategic goal is to be self-sufficient, then planting a garden may very well be a decisive operation, because it directly accomplishes the objective, or part of it. But if the strategic goal is bigger—say, stopping the destruction of the planet—then planting a garden cannot be considered a decisive operation, because it’s not the absence of gardens that is destroying the planet. It’s the presence of an omnicidal capitalist industrial system.

If one’s strategic goal is to dismantle that system, then one’s tactical categories would reflect that. The only decisive actions are those that directly accomplish that goal. Planting a garden—as wonderful and important as that may be—is not a decisive operation. It may be a shaping or sustaining operation under the right circumstances, but nothing about gardening will directly stop this culture from killing the planet, nor dismantle the hierarchical and exploitative systems that are causing this ecocide. Remember, the world used to be filled with indigenous societies which were sustainable and enduring. Their sustainability did not prevent civilization from decimating them again and again.

In this chapter we’ll break down aboveground and underground tactics into the three operational categories. For each class of operations, we’ll further break tactics down by scale for individuals, affinity groups, and larger organizations. This is summarized in Figures 13-1 and 13-2 below. As a rule, any tactic an individual can carry out can also be accomplished by a larger organization. So the tactics for each scale can nest into the next, like Russian matryoshka dolls.

Every resistance movement has certain basic activities it must carry out: things like supporting combatants, recruitment, and public education. These activities may be decisive, sustaining, or shaping, as shown in the illustration. And they may be carried out at different scales. Operations like education, awareness raising, and propaganda (shown under aboveground shaping) may occur across the range from the individual to large organizations. The scope of education may change as larger and larger groups take it on, but the basic activities are the same.

Other operations change as they are undertaken by larger groups and networks. Look in the underground tactics under sustaining. Individuals may use escape and evasion themselves, to start with. Once a cell is formed, they can actually run their own safehouse. And once cells form into networks, they can combine their safehouses to form escape lines or an entire Underground Railroad. The basic operation of escape and evasion evolves into a qualitatively different activity when taken on by larger networks. A similar dynamic is at work in recruitment; individuals are limited to mutual recruitment, but established groups can carry out organizational recruitment and training.

And, of course, some resistance units are too small to take on certain tasks, as we shall discuss. Individuals have few options for decisive action aboveground. Underground, they are limited in their sustaining operations, because secrecy demands that they limit contact with other actionists whom they could support. But once organizations become large enough, they can embrace new operations that would otherwise be out of their reach. Aboveground, large movements can use acts of omission like boycotts or they can occupy and reclaim land. And underground networks can use their spread for coordinated large-scale actions or even guerrilla warfare.