Urban guerrilla warfare  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Urban guerrilla redirects here. For the Hawkwind song, see Urban Guerrilla.

Urban guerrilla refers to someone who fights a government using unconventional warfare in an urban environment. During the Cold War, many were on the left-wing of the political spectrum. However, nothing in armed struggle makes it inherently left or right-wing.

Theory and history of the urban guerilla

The urban guerrilla phenomenon is essentially one of industrialised society, resting both on the presence of large urban agglomerations where hideouts are easy to find and on a theory of alienation proper to the modern society of mass consumption.

Historically guerrilla warfare was a rural phenomena, it was not until the 1960s that the limitations of this form were clearly demonstrated. The technique was almost entirely ineffective when used outside of the later colonial environment, as was shown by the Cuban sponsored efforts in Latin America during the 1960s culminating in the hopeless foco campaign headed by Che Guevara in Bolivia that culminated in his death. The need for the target government to be simultaneously incompetent, iniquitous, and politically isolated was rarely met.

The failure of rural insurgency forced the discontented to find new avenues for action, essentially random terrorism aimed at creating maximum publicity, provoking the targeted regimes into excessive repression and so inciting the general population to join a wider revolutionary struggle. This movement found its mentor in the leader of the ephemeral Acao Libertadora Nacional, Carlos Marighela. Before his death during a bank robbery in 1969 he wrote The Minimanual of Urban Guerrilla Warfare which, between the polemics, gave clear advice on strategy and was quickly adopted by others around the world.

In action no urban guerrilla movement has managed to move beyond the first portion of its operations - creating conditions where the government takes extreme repressive measures to limit the activities of the insurgents. The formation of a number of brutal military regimes in Latin America is directly linked to the efforts of guerrillas. However the next stage has never been achieved, a popular uprising to overthrow the government. Instead, the guerrillas are killed, captured, forced into exile, brought into government, or sufficiently marginalized to render them ineffective in achieving their stated goals.

Historical examples

Historical examples include the Weathermen and the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) in the United States, the FLQ in Québec, Canada, the Red Army Faction (RAF) in West Germany, the Red Brigades (BR) in Italy, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland, ETA in the Basque region of Spain, the Tupamaros in Uruguay, the Movimento Revolucionario 8 de Outubro (MR-8) in Brazil, the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR) in Chile and the Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (ERP) in Argentina. The PLO and Hezbollah in Lebanon, groups such as Hamas in the Palestinian territories, and the insurgent forces in Iraq are other examples. However, not all urban political violence can be labeled as urban guerrilla. The Black Panther Party might not qualify, due to its public nature, although its policy of "self-defense" was interchangeable with a policy of armed struggle in "militarily occupied" African American communities. Similarly the Italian Autonomia movement, and the German Autonomen engaged in urban political violence, but not as urban guerrillas due to their policies of public, mass and non-deadly violence.

In the 1970s BBC comedy "Citizen Smith" Wolfie Smith, the leader of the fictional "Tooting Popular Front" described himself as an Urban Guerilla.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Urban guerrilla warfare" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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