Radicalism and Repression

The Causes of Repression
Repression is commonly viewed by some radical activists as a proof of their effectiveness. For instance, harrassment/infiltration by the FBI, a reduction of civil liberties, mass arrests, long sentances, or other activities can all be viewed in this way.

This argument is wrong. Repression is the production of movement effectivness AND movement weakness. When the balance of power favors the state (or corporation, or other repressive agent) then it will use repression more often because it can get away with it. And obviously the repression will be applied against groups that are posing an actual threat to the powerful.

The danger with ignoring the balance of power is that many radicals falsely conclude that their actions are tactically correct because they are being repressed. So they go on doing things, like property damage, that are hurting their movement.

If they instead focussed on building a mass-base for their movement, they would be able to achive more, reduce the level of repression, and gradually build up for situations in which more radical forms of action are possible and sustainable.

Extreme Animal Rights Movement and Environmentalists
The animal rights movement is an excellent example of this. They are sidelined to the margins and generally seen as an outsider movement - they don't fit so well with the movements for peace, unions, women, people of color, LGBTQ, and the environment.

Like the Weatherman of the post-Sixties in the US, the Red Army Faction in Italy, Direct Action in Canada, and other extreme-left groups that developed after the FAILURE of the Sixties and a general DECLINE in activism, elements of the animal rights movement (Animal Liberation Front, and on a different level PETA) today consistently engage in radical tactics that ensure strong popular opposition to it and a high level of repression. The same is true for the extreme radical environmental movement (Earth Liberation Front), and the Black Blocs.

Note that I'm not arguing that the radical tactics are morally wrong. Liberating animals from a testing lab or destroying a bulldozer makes moral sense. However, tactically it sucks if you don't have a strong majority of people on your side.

Redefining Radical
I think radical action is to work for the long haul. To take people from where they are at and move them as far along the radical continuum as possible. You do this as a member of a radical movement that has a significant mass base, acting on behalf of the radical members of a community (whether working class, a city, a race, a gender, a sexual orienation, a mix of factors, or other community). So you aren't acting on your own, or as a member of an elite anti-democratic organization (ex. not in a small leninist or secretive anarchist organization trying to "lead" the masses).

Thus a radical will not engage in flowery revolutionary rhetoric (or many forms of confrontational direct action that are more media spectacles than effective change) in most situations because it alienates people.

Instead you are building up strong relationships/friendships with people. You are proving to them that they can trust you through your honesty, hard work, simple living, accountability, transparency, commitment and involvement in anti-oppression (anti-racism, etc), and the democratic participatory nature of your organizations. You are showing them that their actions are part of the long road, by explaining how social change works (ex. the Movement Action Plan is a good model), by networking with like-minded groups, and by working together in an effective organization that achieves its goals.