Posted: April 12, 2015 in Livin' in the USA, Politics
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Dummy 3 flat 72-small(This will appear in The Anarchist Cookbook, by Keith McHenry with Chaz Bufe, scheduled for October 2015. It will contain accurate information on anarchism, dozens of tasty vegan recipes, and “recipes” for social change.)

A reasonable definition of sabotage is that it’s anything that causes physical damage or destruction to chosen targets and/or causes disruption to the normal operation of such targets.

Surprisingly, a good majority of sabotage is done for nonpolitical reasons. It’s done on the job, and its perpetrators are workers who are simply fed up with low pay, lousy working conditions, meaningless work, bosses they hate, or all of the above. As Martin Sprouse puts it in his interview book, Sabotage in the American Workplace, workers engage in sabotage “as a direct method of achieving job satisfaction.”

In contrast, very little sabotage is done for political reasons. But the two types can overlap, as with slaves in the pre-Civil War United States feigning stupidity, ignorance, or incompetence as a way of lightening their work burden. Though it probably was not a primary motivation, such sabotage helped to undermine slavery.

But here we’ll consider only politically motivated sabotage.

Except in very rare circumstances, sabotage in and of itself is not sufficient to achieve political goals–any political goals. It’s usually part of a broader campaign that can include civil disobedience, legal actions, and public education.

Because of this, it’s very important that sabotage doesn’t alienate unaligned people. It’s essential that it be nonviolent, that it injure no one. Authoritarian politicians and corporate shills are almost always delighted when saboteurs injure or kill people. They’re already attempting to equate sabotage with terrorism. Don’t make their job easier. Don’t play into their hands.

Sabotage (sometimes) involves destruction of things. Terrorism involves destruction of people (or threats of it). Make this crystal clear if you engage in sabotage.

Because much sabotage is illegal (not all is), it can be quite risky. Prosecutors routinely and viciously persecute politically motivated saboteurs, and judges routinely hand down savage sentences to them for piddling crimes (20 years for torching an SUV, for example).

One consequence of this is that those who engage in sabotage in groups are often turned against each other. The FBI routinely infiltrates progressive groups, no matter how mildly reformist and nonviolent, and will not only use informers but also provocateurs who will urge the group to perform illegal actions. In addition to this, provocateurs will often offer to supply money and logistical support for the actions they push. Sometimes they’ll also use emotional manipulation, appeals to “ethical responsibility” or “ethical duty,” implying that they’re ethical and courageous, and everyone else isn’t–unless they do what the provocateur wants them do do. (But be aware that some holier-than-thou types who aren’t informers or provocateurs also employ such manipulative language.)

Then if any members of the target group take the bait, the FBI will arrest them and, through threats of sadistic prison sentences, often turn at least one member who will then identify and testify against the rest–and sometimes implicate and provide false testimony against innocent others. This is not only tragic on a personal level, it’s movement destroying. Be very wary of anyone who urges illegal, especially highly illegal, acts, offers to supply money or other support for them, and attempts to emotionally manipulate you.

Since the risks can be so extreme, we recommend that people do not engage in highly illegal sabotage in groups except under exceptional circumstances (Nazi occupation, for example), and even then it should only be done as an absolute last resort. It’s far safer to engage in legally risky sabotage as an individual, and if you do that to tell absolutely no one about it. (Not telling anyone is difficult to do and takes a psychological toll–it’s isolating–so think several times before engaging in illegal solo sabotage.) Group sabotage should only involve legal forms of sabotage or the mildest, least risky forms of illegal sabotage–and even then we don’t recommend it.

Sabotage can take many forms, from the highly illegal to the perfectly legal. On the illegal side, it can range from simply pulling out survey stakes to destroying equipment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. On the legal side, one common form involves going into a supermarket during a strike, filling shopping carts with food, and walking out without paying.

One grey-area (probably illegal) activity some friends of mine took part in decades ago involved McDonald’s announcing plans to open a new Golden Arches in their neighborhood. About a dozen people went to another McDonald’s a couple of miles away, ordered meals, ate them, and then took ipecac. They had a puke-in. After they vomited, they left a flyer asking that McDonald’s not build the new outlet in their neighborhood. (One hesitates to call it a “restaurant.”)

They only had to do this twice before McDonald’s canceled construction of the new store. They evidently didn’t have the stomach to call the cops and then see headlines screaming, “Customers Arrested for Vomiting in McDonald’s.”

A more famous example of sabotage took place at the New York Stock Exchange in the late 1960s. Abbie Hoffman and other Yippees–who normally would have been turned away simply because of their appearance–gained admittance after telling security, “We’re Jews and we want to see the stock exchange.” Once inside, they tossed dollar bills down to the trading floor from a balcony. Chaos ensued as traders clawed all over each other to get the money. And what Hoffman and company did was entirely legal.

If you decide to engage in sabotage, be creative, keep your risk to a minimum, have fun, and think carefully about public perception of your acts.

(For ideas on sabotage, see Martin Sprouse’s book mentioned above, and also The Art and Science of Billboard Improvement, by the Billboard Liberation Front.)


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