Self-Liberation 101, Lesson 6: Enter the Urban Guerilla
While Mao Tze Tung is generally well known, the other giant of guerrilla doctrine, Carlos Marighella, remains obscure to the non-specialist. The primary reason for this is that Carlos Marighella had the bad luck to get killed without accomplishing much of anything. Yet this need not distract the discerning reader from the basic value of Marighella’s work. Carl von Clausewitz, after all, was not much of a general. But as a theoretician, he is a pillar of Western military science. Albert Einstein never conducted a single successful experiment. In fact, it is rumored that his mere presence in the same building as a sensitive physics experiment would cause experimental machinery to fail. Yet no one would denigrate the value of General Relativity simply because its author could not reliably cook an egg, much less operate a particle collider. Yet, for some odd reason, ignoramuses arrogantly dismiss Carlos Marighella simply because he had the bad luck to get shot in a police ambush.
Operating in Brazil in the 1960s, Marighella faced a tactical dilemma that seemed to make guerrilla warfare impossible. On the one hand, Brazil is a vast country full of dense jungles. But on the other hand, Brazil’s population is heavily urbanized, while most of the jungle is too dense and too resource-deficient to support any kind of human population beyond scattered bands of hunter-gatherers. Thus it was not possible to form a classical Mao doctrine guerrilla army in the jungles of Brazil, as it could not feed itself and there was no population for it to recruit from, hide among or derive support from. Further, the classic Mao-doctrine guerrilla almost inevitably requires the support of an outside Power in order to triumph. His high-intensity, high-impact guerrilla operations require huge quantities of heavy weaponry and ammunition which are extremely difficult to obtain unless a friendly State provides them. While several means, such as drug dealing and support from a wealthy diaspora, have permitted some classical guerrilla movements to forgo foreign sponsorship in whole or in part, these solutions were not available to Marighella’s radical splinter faction of Brazilian communists.
The Brazilian guerrilla movement had to operate in Brazil’s cities. But here immediately arises a vast array of seemingly insurmountable problems. How is a guerrilla movement to operate in an environment in which its enemies can concentrate overwhelming force at the drop of a hat, within hours if not minutes? How could guerrillas operate in an environment permeated through and through with police surveillance, saturated with army patrols and full of total strangers each of whom could potentially be a government informant?
Cities are, apparently, easily accessible terrain for the security forces of the State. They are full of roads and streets, full of people who can inform and cooperate with government authorities, full of technological networks that can serve as instruments of counter-guerrilla propaganda and surveillance.
Yet cities are also a form of jungle. In conventional warfare, cities are the most restrictive of all restrictive terrain. They are three-dimensional mazes full of tall buildings that can serve as cover and conceal escape. When a shot comes from a window of a forty-story high-rise, how are policemen down on street level supposed to figure out which of the dozens if not hundreds of open windows conceals the shooter? Indeed, as the sound of the shot reverberates from wall to wall to wall within the urban canyon, how are the police even to tell which BUILDING the shot came from? How are they to get to the shooter who, even as they rush about and point, is quickly disassembling and hiding his weapon and preparing to blend into the anonymous mass of humanity moving about on the city streets? How are they to stop him and his associates before they have escaped to strike again?
Cities are riddled with underground sewers, subway tunnels, maintenance shafts for underground communications cables, little nooks and crannies of all description. They are full of nondescript vans, trucks and taxis, beat up old subcompacts and unremarkable sedans mass-produced to look identical one to the other.
Yet accessways normally used by city engineers to repair broken water mains or shorted telephone cables can also be used to convey small groups of audacious men and women quickly and invisibly from one point to another. An otherwise unremarkable vehicle, taxi or lorry or moving van or even tractor-trailer can, in the blink of an eye, turn into the deadly expanding fireball of a car bomb. Among the dozens of identical subcompacts moving in orderly rows on a busy city street, who is to tell which one serves anonymously as the getaway vehicle for a group of young men and women who only moments before wielded submachineguns and homemade grenades with deadly purpose, yet now look like nothing more than a gaggle of college students out to have a good time? The crowds that can potentially provide information to the security forces of the State can just as easily provide information to the guerrilla.
The same factors that can render the guerrilla obvious can also render him anonymous. The same traffic-choked streets that convey the security forces of the State rapidly to any point in the city can also paralyze these security forces in vast traffic jams. Even the automatic deference given by urbanites to police uniforms and police sirens can, with stolen uniforms and fake sirens, be turned against the State. Every advantage the State possesses in the city, seemingly on its home turf, can in theory be turned into a hindrance. Every disadvantage the guerrilla possesses when operating in the city can in theory be turned into an advantage.
Guerrillas have operated in cities since time immemorial. One need only recall the Sicarii and the Narodnaya Volya to realize that there is, in principle, nothing inherently infeasible about an urban guerrilla. But, until Carlos Marighella came along, no one had developed a systematic doctrine of urban guerrilla warfare. Marighella’s genius was in realizing that there were already guerrilla-like entities operating with relative impunity in vast areas of every city in the world. These entities, the urban criminal gangs, had developed means and methods which could be turned to guerrilla use and, combined with a complete re-casting of guerrilla warfare, produce an entirely new method of waging war. What is more, Marighella’s brilliant intellectual breakthrough proved so incredibly useful in such an unbelievable array of disparate situations that it has been adopted, with variations, by everyone from al-Qaeda to ACT UP, ALF, ELF and Greenpeace. When one discards the ludicrous communist rhetoric and actually READS what Carlos Marighella has to say, the basics of the doctrine are applicable in almost every political struggle imaginable.
And nowhere is this doctrine more applicable than in the struggle to liberate the Jewish People from Israeli oppression. The State of Israel is a tiny strip of land scarcely measuring forty-five kilometers by two hundred. Its Jewish population is overwhelmingly urban. The vast majority of it lives in the teeming communities of Gush Dan, the proverbial Zionist “heartland”, from Gedera to Hadera. Israel has a well-developed infrastructure of roads, cellular communications and so forth. The entire territory of the State is accessible within minutes to its security forces and permeated by agents of the Shabak. Within less than an hour of any true emergency, hundreds upon hundreds of heavily armed Israeli kapos can concentrate overwhelming firepower, including armor, artillery, helicopter gunships and precision-guided aerial bombs dropped from fixed-wing aircraft, anywhere within the territory of the State. The State of Israel in its entirety can, with only a little distortion, be treated as a single giant urban zone. It is for this reason that Carlos Marighella’s seminal work, “The Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla”, is of overwhelming importance to the struggle to liberate Medinat Yehudah.
Dear reader, look past the ludicrous communist rhetoric. Look past the obsolescent references to 38-caliber revolvers and bank robberies in the style of John Dillinger. Concentrate on what Carlos Marighella is saying with the same dogged zeal you would devote to a page of the Gemarra. Focus, read, think and read again. The keys to the liberation of our trampled country lie, in great part, in this seminal doctrinal work.