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Fighting to Win: Interview with Craig Rosebraugh (english)
by The 'A' Word
Email: the_a_word [at] riseup.net
17 Apr 2003
interview with Craig Rosebraugh, former spokesperson for the ELF.
from issue #4 of "The 'A' Word", a magazine out of Seattle
entire issue is online at:
The following essay is from issue #4 of "The 'A' Word", a little magazine out of Seattle. We are looking to distribute more around the country, if you are
interested in carrying it, let us know.
The entire issue is online at:
The 'A' Word
FIGHTING TO WIN:
An Interview with Craig Rosebraugh
by darby kargymm
The 'A' Word: Clearly, we don't want to be the "good jews", but isn't there a chance of becoming marginalized and thus ineffective? (see below for
definition of “good jews”)
Craig Rosebraugh: I think part of the problem preventing justice movements from actually progressing is this fear that controversial activities will
lead to marginalization and ineffectiveness. Any effort that actually poses a threat to the political structure in the United States will be deemed
illegitimate and marginal by the executives of that system and its corporate media. Marginalization from the mainstream does not mean that a particular
movement or struggle will be ineffective. Rather, a revolutionary movement, which by its very design will be marginal in comparison to mainstream politics,
can be very effective and successful with a surprisingly small number of participants. This fear of engaging in strategies which may marginalize a group or
movement often prevents the engagement of activities which are necessary for any change to occur.
The “good Jew” terminology originated from the Nazi holocaust and represented those Jews who, in the face of genocidal conditions, went about their normal
daily lives in a business as usual manner. They believed that if all of the correct norms and rules were followed that some higher power would save them
from the Nazi’s “Final Solution” and the total annihilation of the Jewish people. Contrary to this suicidal belief and practice, the only factors preventing
total Jewish annihilation at the hands of Hitler were the few scattered uprisings in the ghettos and death camps and, of course, the Allied political
violence that finally closed the camps.
Today in the United States, the good Jews are mirrored heavily among leftists who blindly follow only state sanctioned rules governing the pursuance of
social and political change. In a similar business as usual manner, the absolutist nonviolent left only uses strategies which are deemed morally, and even
religiously acceptable, and those coincidentally that are also sanctioned by the very political system one should be trying to change. There is also the
similar belief that the good Jews had in the higher power, that today if nonviolence is practiced absolutely than the ends we all desire will surely come
about. In theory this sounds wonderful, but in the history of the United States nonviolence on its own has never threatened the political structure in this
country that is in desperate need of fundamental revolutionary change. Only by refusing to be the good Jews, by refusing to live our lives in a business as
usual manner - rejecting the notion that if we vote, recycle, go to an occasional protest we are going to change things - do we stand any chance of forming a
movement that will successfully challenge the political system of the United States.
TAW: Can you describe in greater detail the process of the Algerian Insurgents "creating revolutionary conditions"?
CR: There is a widely held belief among activists in the United States that the revolutions do not begin until all necessary pre-revolutionary
conditions are in place. Likewise, when even discussing the topic of illegal or politically violent strategies, these are typically only considered
legitimate in historical terms. For example, many people today will look at the many violent slave revolts, the labor riots, the nonviolence of the
Suffragettes and civil rights proponents, the violent sector of the black power movement, etc. and consider them legitimate activities because the state of
society was so unjust in these incidences that involved individuals and groups had no other recourse left available. Yet, today in the United States
so-called “progressive” members of society, those politically conscious and active, rarely if ever will seriously discuss the need for a political revolution
and the involvement of political violence. Simultaneously, these same advocates of justice will applaud and stand behind foreign justice groups who engage
in violence while failing to see the hypocrisy in their own morality. Perhaps the most obvious recent example of this phenomenon can be seen with the
tremendous amount of support voiced for the Zapatistas in Chiapas.
Once a necessary realization is made that a political and social revolution is required in the United States, a fundamental question arises, does a
revolutionary atmosphere currently exist within this country? I would say no. However, similar to the case in Algeria, many pre-revolutionary conditions do
exist. In Algeria, ever since the French colonization began in 1830, unrest and frustration among Algerian nationals was present. Moslem Algerians knew they
could not achieve any political and social justice under French rule. But the necessary spark to ignite the flame of revolution had yet to come about.
Unrest, frustration, and anger do not on their own typically manifest into revolution. It took organizations, such as the FLN, using a variety of strategies
including a fierce campaign of political violence to create the needed catalyst to transform the unrest, frustration, and anger into revolutionary action.
In the United States, serious unrest, frustration, and anger are very present in everyday society. Thanks to popular corporate media culture, these
justified emotions are often neutralized through various means of consumerism and, naturally, the political system itself is rarely seriously questioned.
Similar to Algeria, I believe many of the necessary pre-revolutionary conditions do exist in the United States. A revolutionary movement needs to emerge to
serve as the catalyst to transform all the rage into action against the government.
TAW: Can you outline the "Five Rules for the Game of Social and Political Change" as you call them?
CR: The following five rules are those that are commonly preached to and followed by proponents of positive political and social change in the United
States. I learned these rules many years ago and followed them religiously for far too long. These rules of course are those provided by those in power,
those in the position of governing and ensuring that fundamental revolutionary change never becomes a reality.
RULES FOR THE GAME OF SOCIAL AND POLITICAL CHANGE IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
1. You have the right to pursue social and political change as long as you follow the rules below.
2. All social and political change in the United States has come about ONLY through nonviolent methodologies and these are the ONLY methods which are
permitted to be used.
3. With few exceptions, all activity must stay within the realm of behavior which is sanctioned or approved by the government. This directly relates to
engaging in activities which are lawful and thus permitted by the government.
4. One rare exception to rule #3 has been the occasional use of nonviolent civil disobedience when unjust laws were broken for the greater good of
society. While it is doubtful any unjust laws exist within the United States in current times, in an individual did decide to commit an unlawful act of
nonviolent civil disobedience he or she must be prepared to submit to all penalties under the law resulting from this behavior.
*Note to #4: On the extremely rare occasion when one may decide that a law is
unjust and therefore should be broken, it is best to coordinate this activity with
the local, state, or federal policing forces to ensure safety for the participants and
the general public.
5. You have right to pursue social and political change as long as you follow the rules above.
TAW: In the past decade we have seen inspiring developments within the radical environmental movement, where do you hope this movement will go in the
coming years? (since you say that ELF isn't necessarily a revolutionary movement)
CR: While there have been inspiring developments within the radical environmental movement, realistically the actions at least to me are only
inspiring in comparison to many other ineffective and shameful strategies. The ELF, which 1997 has inflicted approximately $45 million in damages on
entities destroying life on this planet, still has demonstrated itself to be a reformist organization. While I have and continue to support the group and
all of the actions it has taken, I consider it a reformist group because it is targeting single (or even multiple) issues under the existing power structure.
The ELF definitely serves a needed purpose, to effectively demonstrate to individuals, corporations, and governmental agencies that they will be held
accountable for their environmentally destructive practices. However, until a revolutionary movement changes the political structure of the United States
government, serious environmental threats will not cease, nor will overall societal injustice both domestically and as a matter of foreign policy.
Whether one is concerned with human rights, environmental protection, or even animal advocacy, none of these single-issue concerns can be thoroughly
addressed by reformist pursuits. A revolutionary movement is needed in the United States to at minimum allow for an atmosphere where there is a possibility
of justice for all of these single-issue concerns.
TAW: How specifically does your analysis differ from Ward Churchill's monumental work: _Pacifism as Pathology_?
CR: In Pacifism as Pathology, Churchill concentrates on addressing the weaknesses of pacifism and nonviolent methodology. While I have expanded on
this subject in my manuscript, I also take a more in-depth look at political violence, its historic role and the theoretical justifications for the practice.
Furthermore, there are three main points argued in my work: 1) reform in the United States has proven itself to be a fruitless venture; 2) a political and
social revolution is necessary in the United States; and 3) a revolution in the United States must be comprised of a variety of strategies – but it cannot be
successful without the implementation of political violence. In my work I explore the foundations on which these assertion s rest.
TAW: Considering how deeply entrenched pacifism is within the context of North American political activism, how feasible is it for proponents of
tactical diversity to make gains WITHIN the movement, without completely isolating potential allies?
CR: It really depends on what movement you are referring to. There is not a revolutionary movement currently in the United States. Instead there are
multitudes of single-issue reformist pursuits that by their very design have been and will be ultimately ineffective. This is precisely due to them purposely
not targeting the United States government. Each individual pursuit is in a sense reaffirming and supporting the political structure by only seeking
single-issue gains within it. To worry about isolating one’s self from current single-issue movements due to advocating and/or taking part in revolutionary
actions is counterproductive. A new movement must be built which understands the necessity of diversity and of specifically targeting the United States
Take the environmental movement for instance. When I was a spokesperson for the ELF, I constantly was asked how I felt about the group being isolated and
marginalized from the environmental movement. My response was that the popular environmental movement, which arguably began in the 1960s, has been
unsuccessful at stopping the continued mass destruction of the natural environment. I am broadly measuring success as having the movement’s growth and
effectiveness outweigh the growth and severity of environmental destruction. So for the ELF to be concerned that they may be alienating themselves from the
environmental movement is a ridiculous notion. In my view, the ELF is a primary part of the environmental movement.
TAW: What correlation is there between privilege/security and Pacifism or strict non-violence?
CR: Those who are in a position of privilege, social, economic, etc, are much more apt to follow a policy of pacifism or nonviolence because their
very lives may not be immediately at stake. Those who are less in a position of privilege or personal security often times are more apt to abandon a
practice of strict pacifism or nonviolence because their very lives may be at stake. It often comes down to the perceived urgency of a particular situation
and the ability of those involved to maintain privilege and security or not. Here in the United States the overwhelming majority of progressives follow an
adherence to pacifism or nonviolence almost religiously because they have the luxury to do so. Of course I argue with luxury, privilege, and security comes
a responsibility to be personally accountable for your actions as well as inactions. I do believe that often times a blind adherence to nonviolence or
pacifism leads to a severe increase in violence due to a particular movement failing to ever threaten the originator of injustice.
TAW: How do you interpret the phrase "Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it" in the context of political strategy/tactics?
CR: Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Certainly. By far, one of the easiest illustrations of this notion can be seen by looking at
the current peace and/or anti-war movements in the United States. For some particular reason, the so-called leaders of this effort believe, and preach to
the U.S. public, that by engaging in the same tactics as have been used historically in U.S. anti-war efforts, the U.S. government will be forced to stop its
militaristic aggression in Iraq. By following the same five rules of social and political change, as I stated above, that were implemented during the Gulf
War and, most notably, the Vietnam War, this current movement expects to stop U.S. governmental violence. Or does it really? Is there actually a serious
expectation among the left today that this current anti-war movement stands any chance at succeeding? Or is this even seriously considered? Similar to
other social and political movements in the United States, the anti-war or peace cause appears to be made up far more of organizations and individuals who
are merely attempting to appease their own personal consciences versus those who actually expect to change things. Otherwise there would be no logical
explanation for engaging in the same strategies that have NEVER worked in the past. In fact, no peace or anti-war movement has ever stopped the United
States government from engaging in militaristic ventures. Even if one particular movement did ever successfully force the U.S. government to abandon a
military venture, there is ample evidence suggesting that the government would not be ultimately stopped from engaging in other simultaneous or future
militaristic atrocities. If we do not learn from our mistakes in the past, we are doomed to repeat them. The current peace and anti-war movement is
currently in this cycle.
TAW: What similiarities do you see between the ELF and the Weather Underground Organization? Are there strengths/weaknesses you see between the two?
What can we learn from the WUO and how does it apply now?
CR: One perhaps obvious similarity is that both organizations have been considered marginal by their movements. The Weather Underground, while being
a self-described anti-imperialist organization, was considered a hindrance to the Vietnam anti-war movement by those in more mainstream groups. Similarly,
the ELF has been condemned by organizations such as the Sierra Club who have gone as far as to work directly with the FBI to stop ELF actions. While the ELF
has considered itself a part of the environmental movement, the Weather Underground, at least in theory, considered itself more focused on anti-U.S.
government and anti-imperialist activity. This, again in theory, is the direction I believe justice pursuits need to go. However, the actual policies and
actions of the Weather Organization I considered to be ineffective. For one, the group failed to educate even a small sector of the U.S. population on the
need for a political and social revolution. As a result when their actions were committed people judged them as extremist and marginal. Secondly, the
actions the Weather Organization took were far too reactionary and geared toward publicity. This may have not been a conscious decision to go for publicity
but due to their being no revolutionary or anti-imperialist movement, the actions of the WU were very isolated and exclusionary. The ELF at least is
directly involved in the environmental movement. The counter culture of drug use, among other forms of liberation experimentation were also implanted into
the daily lives of those in WU. I think this had a negative effect overall and helped in the ineffectivess of the organization. A final easily noticeable
difference between the two groups is that the WU used explosives and the ELF has only thus far used incendiaries. This may be of no importance or it may
have some relevance due to public support. I am not certain this can easily be answered.
The main lesson I believe that should be taken from the WU is that certainly a revolutionary movement is needed in this country. But it must be that, a
movement not one small group acting as a revolutionary force. This movement must begin simply with public education. Until at least a portion of the U.S.
public understands and believes in the necessity for a political and social revolution, that movement cannot be successful. A group or groups can work as a
catalyst, but in order for a movement to be built their actions must not remain exclusionary.
TAW: In the essay "Nonviolent Action as the Sword That Heals, Challenging Ward Churchill's Pacifism As Pathology" -By George Lakey, he says:
"Diversity of tactics open to all possibilities is like trying to build a house
without a strategy, a house that includes solar panels, a woodburning stove, a massive oil furnace, electric baseboard heating, huge windows facing north,
asbestos insulation, a jacuzzi in every bedroom, a meditation room dedicated to
simplicity, and so on. When we build a house we [pacifists] do make choices, guided by some overall concept. That's what makes sense when building a house or
when building a revolutionary movement." How do you respond to that?
CR: Lakey says, “Diversity of tactics open to all possibilities is like trying to build a house without a strategy, …When we build a house we
[pacifists] do make choices, guided by some overall concept. That is what makes sense when building a house or when building a revolutionary movement.”
I disagree entirely with Lakey’s simplistic assertion. To use his house metaphor for example, the diversity of tactics relates to the very tools one would
use to construct the house. You would not expect to build a house by restricting yourself to one or two tools. How many people could build a suitable house
today with a hammer and tape measure only? When one begins a project like building a house or a revolutionary movement, every tool in the toolbox must be
available for use. You always may run into the unforeseen, a situation which requires that tool you would have never considered using. In answer to Lakey’s
misguided example, I would ask if one is an absolutist practitioner of pacifism or nonviolence, will they just give up when it appears their set of tools on
their own are not working. Would they just stop building a house because they simply did not put all of the available tools in their toolbox? How long
would they have to wait to see if their tools would have the ability to work or not? How long are people (both domestically and internationally) supposed to
lived under the tyrannical and oppressive conditions of the United States government before realizing that other, more extreme tools are needed? History has
demonstrated that a revolutionary movement must have access to and be willing to use any tool in that tool box. What happens when and if the person
requiring shelter dies of exposure before the house is built just because the builder refused to use the needed tools? How much longer are we as so-called
“progressives” going to wait before we use all the necessary tools in our toolbox against the United States government?
You don't need a weatherman ...
by ... to know which way the wind blows
(No verified email address)
12 Sep 2004
"If the weathermen hadn't existed, far from being a boon for capital and the government, capital and the government would have had to invent them."
- Discussion on Radical Strategy, Sabotage, and the Weathermen