The following piece on “Counterinsurgency” strategy as an instrument of domination, appeared on several blogs in the German-speaking area in Europe.
In this first part, we will take a brief look at the development and origins of counterinsurgency and the thought processes and considerations of the strategists of power. We will use some of their language to illustrate how thoughtful and elaborated their approach is.
In the following texts, we want to shed some more light on the counterinsurgency strategy that states have been using to dominate and control us since the middle of the 20th century. We want to address the history and some of the procedures of this strategy and also hope that the issue will be picked up and that it will lead to a discussion. We think it is important to make the issue understandable to those who have not been dealing with it for years. We welcome any additions or comments on the issue, as it seems important to us to elaborate and deepen our knowledge about the dimension of the war that is being waged against a self-organized society.
An Outline of the History of Counterinsurgency
Various systems of domination in human history have acted similarly to NATO’s counterinsurgency doctrine, we remember “bread and circuses” or “carrots and sticks”. What is special about the counterinsurgency model, however, is that it has been written down as a concept and sociologists, military leaders and politicians have written about the possibilities and shortcomings of this strategy in a decades-long debate.
The domination over the population was thus very concretely written down and systematized, even though “liberal democracies” always want to preserve the appearance of codetermination and liberties, it is actually revealing what counterinsurgency shows about the view of the state and its bureaucrats.
The counterinsurgency model can be traced back to its origins through several different strands. One of these traces leads to British colonial rule in India and Southeast Asia, to the insurgencies there, and to the revival and modernization of counterinsurgency strategies in Northern Ireland and Britain during the height of the Irish Republican Army-led independence struggles. This first strand is largely based on the writings of British insurgency theorist Sir Robert Thompson, the leading architect of his country’s anti-guerrilla strategies in Malaya from 1948 to 1959. Another strand goes back to the US colonial period in the Philippines in the early 20th century, others to Trotsky and Lenin in Russia, to Lawrence of Arabia during the Arab revolt, or even as far back as the Spanish insurgency against Napoleon-all of which find mention in current writings on counterinsurgency. Other strands reach back to the political theories of Montesquieu or John Stuart Mill, while others can even be traced to antiquity, referring to the works of Polybius, Herodotus, and Tacticus.
The doctrine of counterinsurgency, as used significantly by NATO countries, has its origins in the anti-colonial struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. In Algeria, the French army tried to crush the uprisings and struggles against their colonial rule. The Algerian liberation movement, the FLN (Front Liberation National), fought along the lines of the lessons Mao Zedong had learned from the guerrilla war in China. The insurgents acted often with and within the population; in addition to a militarily organized liberation army, there were also clandestine and loosely connected groups that took action against the colonial power in the cities and rural areas.
The military approach at that time mainly knew the symmetrical war, state armies against each other, the tactics from that time proved to be useless in the struggle with a liberating population, so it happened that military strategies started to research the struggle against the population and worked out theories about the nature and conditions of this struggle.
The first writings on the suppression of such uprisings were written by David Galula and Roger Trinquier, who fought as generals and officers in the French army. They gave their thoughts the name “modern warfare” or “counterinsurgency warfare,” among other names.
The U.S. and Britain were enthusiastic about the approaches of the French military, courted them, and invited them to the States on several occasions, where they took over the training of special forces for the “Vietnam War” and lectured on the concept of counterinsurgency at various universities.
NATO embraced this concept in the mid-1970s and started a process of further spreading and theorizing counterinsurgency, in which states continued to implement the paradigm and it increasingly became an approach beyond the existence of an actual insurgency. Rather, the strategies that had proven effective in the fight against revolutionary aspirations and insurgencies were also applied to the country’s own population and the possibility of an insurgency. Thus, the concept became more and more a way of governing, dominating and manipulating.
After the September 11 attacks and the “war on terror” declared by the U.S. government, the concept of counterinsurgency became even more important to the approach of NATO. In the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, various U.S. generals and the United States administration elaborated the concept more and more, moreover, with the extended intelligence capabilities that were made possible by digitalization, the complete monitoring of all worldwide data traffic was made possible, thus the “Total Information Knowledge” about the population of the whole planet was extended more and more. The various programs of the NSA have the goal of intercepting, evaluating and processing all information worldwide. In the meantime, it is possible for the authorities to recognize patterns in the digital behavior of a person, which in the view of the state speak for a “radicalization” (no matter in which form) and to take appropriate steps. For example, the U.S. used this to suggest the sermons of more moderate imams to users who were interested in the sermons of radical Islamists on YouTube.
Counterinsurgency as a strategy of domination
In their writings, Galula and Trinquier made the thesis that in “everything, no matter what it is about,” there is a minority that is for something, a passive majority that is considered undecided, and a minority that is against something. In counterinsurgency, there is often talk of a minority that supports the government and a “radical minority” that fights against the government.
Even though counterinsurgency began as a military concept, its utility for the general exercise of power was present from the beginning. In the same way, well-established means of domination, such as the experience of pacifying revolutionary movements ,for example, that of the workers movement with the betrayal of social democracy, have been included.
Galula himself writes in “Counterinsurgency Warfare” that the core strategy of counterinsurgency theory “simply gets to the heart of the fundamental lessons of the exercise of political power.” He continues by writing:
“In any situation, no matter what issue, there is an active minority that is in favor of that cause, a neutral majority, and an active minority that is against that cause. The technique of power is to rely on the favorable minority to rally the neutral majority around it and either neutralize or destroy the hostile minority.”
This paradigm is therefore a deliberate and planned form of domination, which the ruling networks of capital, state and power discuss, debate and improve.
The basic pillars of counterinsurgency
Counterinsurgency according to General Petraeus, an American general who continued to develop counterinsurgency in Iraq and on whose writings the U.S. and NATO countries currently rely for the most part, includes basic approaches:
- Massive collection of information about the entire population.
- Identification and annihilation of the revolutionary minority
- Appeasement of the masses
The purpose of collecting information en masse is to be able to identify the “radical minority” and to have assessments of the population’s attitudes and behavior. By collecting data on every conceivable platform, a very comprehensive picture emerges of what motivates people, what their attitudes are, and so on. This data is used to make predictions about how “at risk” people are to join an uprising and to take appropriate action. In the U.S., there are special agencies that compile “de-radicalizing” content for so-called endangered persons, and the creation of a “cyber task force” in German investigative and intelligence agencies points in a similar direction.
“Winning hearts and minds”
The most important struggle waged by the structures of domination is the struggle for the population; no effort is being spared to keep them in a state of “passive minority. On the one hand, this is carried out through distraction and diversion in the form of media, the technological assault through social media, and on the other hand, through the use of violence, repression and terror.
Ensuring basic needs and creating the image that without the state and power everything would collapse and these needs can no longer be provided is an important pillar of this strategy. How often do we encounter the point in discussions that people see that something is wrong, but the structures of power are in such a solid position and create the impression that nothing can be done without them. The destruction, obstruction and pacification of alternative structures, resistant and revolutionary moments and movements runs through the history of capitalism and patriarchy. Social democracy, the Greens, etc., take on the function of integrating the very ideals they fought for and turn them more and more into liberalism until they are part of the capitalist apparatus; in both cases this has now occurred.
So often it has happened that mass movements have been absorbed by parliamentary and reformist approaches, thus taking the resistant wind out of their sails.
For example, the women’s quota is not to be seen as a feminist achievement but as a capitalist lie of equality. For as long as even one person in the world is oppressed, no one can be truly free.
The struggle waged for the passivity of the population plays a central role for the system, in military counterinsurgency as well as in governing and subjugating society. The display of power, superiority or the use of terror and the most brutal violence are also part of these considerations. On a minor level, these are cops “going overboard,” people killed in police custody or on the street; on a higher level, they are paramilitaries, CIA prisons, and torture regimes. To show that the arm of the state and power reaches everywhere is meant to intimidate, unsettle, and ensure that people, before they revolt, remain rather in the normality of herd existence in the capitalist order. Racism, sexism and anti-Semitism are in different ways, which would go beyond the scope of this text, rule-stabilizing ideologies. Part of the violent counterinsurgency is to reinforce them through structural violence in government agencies and in the workplace and the toleration and perpetration of racist and patriarchal violence through non-prosecution and conviction, denial and direct support of the police and judiciary. Moreover, the mechanisms of counterinsurgency are usually deeply embedded in consumer society, advertising, the media, and the culture industry. They reproduce the system’s apparent lack of alternatives and spread mechanisms of division. In this, they are not controlled by the state, but the limits of their emancipatory content are restricted, on the one hand, by state repression and, on the other, by the ideologies of capitalist patriarchy. The market logic, according to which contents are produced, takes care of the rest of the pacification. The mediation of certain ideals of beauty is also part of the distractions that encourage people to consume and self-optimize in order to feel better instead of politicizing their circumstances.
In addition, there are a few Netflix series, a few sports heroes to admire, and the opportunity to seek recognition and social contacts, which continue to break down as people lose themselves in isolation and feel themselves tiny, in “social networks” and the world of simulation. Digitalization and the shift of many social interactions to the Internet play into the hands of domination. On the one hand, this collects massive amounts of information that can be exploited to track down the “radical minority.” On the other hand, the shift to virtual spaces ensures an ever greater alienation from actual and binding encounters and relationships with people, which leads to passivity and ultimately to the “neutrality” desired so ardently by the structures of power. Thus, the void of exploitative normality is filled by the digital and real world of the spectacle; nothing changes in the conditions of being dominated and exploited.
While in other parts of the world revolutionary movements are also fought militarily, in Europe the struggle is fought on a different level. This struggle is mainly taking place on the level of “winning hearts and minds” or isolating and dispersing the “revolutionary minority”.
The NATO member states are also preparing to fight uprisings and revolts in the cities more effectively. With the paper “Urban Operations in the Year 2020”, preparations have been made on how best to combat insurgencies in capitalist metropolises, which potential has been amplified by the Corona pandemic and ever worsening conflicts as a result. Here, too, the research and reflections of the social scientists and military leaders working on this issue are based on the counterinsurgency paradigm and also focus their considerations on the “pacification of problematic neighborhoods,” using the concept of appeasing the masses. The transformation of public space and the construction of squares and cities is also part of these considerations. There are hardly any narrow alleys, winding backyards or non-viewable squares anymore. Camera surveillance in public spaces is becoming more and more intense; none of our movements is still unobserved. Counterinsurgency has penetrated urban planning and many other areas.
Even if there is no military, armed conflict here, we are under constant fire, the goal of which is to keep the population passive and to pressure, isolate and ultimately “neutralize” us as revolutionaries.
This may mean that we become part of the “passive minority” or we may be imprisoned for life, isolated or killed. Revolutionary people with steadfast attitudes are examples of this. Bobby Sands, who died on hunger strike against the British occupation in Northern Ireland. Ulrike Meinhoff who was driven to her death after solitary confinement and psychological torture in prison. Abdullah Öcalan who is held in total isolation on Imrali by Turkey or very recently Dimitris Koufontinas who is murdered by the Greek state by not responding to his demands. All available means are used against people who are determined to overcome these conditions. The assassination of Sakine Cansız, Leyla Şaylemez and Fidan Doğan by the Turkish secret service on January 9, 2013 in Paris shows that this also includes murder.
War and peace. Which peace?
What is a “peace” in Europe if it is built on domination and control all the time?
Which strives to absorb, isolate, control and fight us in one way or another, people are murdered at the external borders and the wars of this world, while here the profits keeps piling up?
It is a bad joke and in the end also a cover-up of what is discussed and worked out in the bureaucracy and the structures of the power!
How systematically this is proceeded ,that the attacks on us take place all the time is covered up by liberalism and “representative democracy”, they are there to hide it. In the end, it is the monopolies of state and capital and the imperatives of capitalist value creation that determine the course of political decisions.
A real peace would have as a condition that we are not constantly exposed to ideological, psychological and physical attacks, that we have the possibility of self-determination in this society, that we are not constantly made accomplices of this system or that we can defend ourselves against these attacks. The self-defense against the attacks is criminalized, subjected to repression and demonized, people who oppose the structures of domination are declared a “radical minority” by the most radical minority that this world has to offer, namely the structures of the state, patriarchy, exploitation and domination. The capitalist system not only exploits the resources of this planet and humanity, but also leads to a fragmentation of society in the metropolises and centers of its domination. This development can also be seen as part of the strategy to dominate society and keep it governable. The contradictions are so clear that the only way out to maintain the status quo is to push forward numbing and isolation.
The level at which these considerations are made is frightening, but they should also strengthen our determination and our awareness to fight and overcome these structures. For this it is necessary to deal with what the state and its helpers are doing to keep us down, to control us and to eliminate us.
We should not give in to the attempts of appeasement and distraction of this system, which conceal the extent to which we are controlled, monitored and dominated! To understand the strategies with which domination keeps itself in power are first steps to be able to act against it. To draw the consequences from the fact that a war is being waged against us with non-military means, means not to settle for a false peace, to confront the attacks and to look for ways out of this misery. To give the structures of power as little as possible surface to attack and to hit them where it hurts the most.
In this sense: No peace with these conditions! Greetings go out to all comrades in struggle, friends and companions, inside and outside the prisons!
For the liberation of society!