Of wars and battles

The article “Street Combat Techniques,” from Khiaban, a newspaper apparently being circulated among the protesters in Iran, is a remarkable document. The article’s tone, at least in translation, is impersonal, sober, almost pedantic, but it’s a tone that befits a politics that wants to describe, occupy, and alter space and do so by the nonindividualized concentration of bodies.

Maybe I can make this clearer. A goal of the article, it seems to me, is to describe how striated city/state space might be utilized and transformed by the protesters. Taking urban features as a given, it explores how the protesters can escape the police’s attempts to force them into the impasses posed by walls, sidewalks, barricades, and the like. Such blockages stifle movement, and in revolt situations that is the same as stifling political expression. Because the article is not ideological, it doesn’t go into the content of the revolt’s multiplicity of demands, but it makes it clear that they should not have winning as their goal: “At the end of a day of rioting and clashes, it is not about someone being declared the victor of the battlefield.” Instead, the advice is aimed toward avoiding the battle, toward putting off the moment of confrontation indefinitely. In other words, to maintain the war environment, the structure of antagonism, but to disengage from the battle. It’s within this suspension that the expression of politics is possible: “Find a way to accomplish your objectives (chanting slogans, etc.) without wasting your energy on fighting.” To ensure that the distinction between the war and the battle remains intact, the article focuses on the microphysics of organization and insists on the primacy of combining bodies into fighting units: “Our idea of a united group is several known and skilled individuals, capable of acting as a single unit, anticipating the development of any alarming situations, and making swift decisions about how to react or carry out any preplanned scenarios.” This combining of bodies is the best technique — “[y]our body is your best and most malleable tool” — for evading capture and ensuring continued movement: “Always look for ways to use your body to escape.”

The document continually argues against individualizing, heroic actions, though it does so less by stressing black bloc-style consensualism, which you could call a subjective collectivization, than by describing modes of objective collectivity: wearing masks, sharing responsibility for handling equipment, forming counteroffensive lines, creating human ladders, etc. The deindividualized, eluding practices described by the article shouldn’t be confused with an insistence on smallness or purity: “Always look for ways to increase your numbers. Ally yourself with other groups and recruit people who are homeless.” In other words, street-combat techniques don’t have to be simply means to an end. The can be their own (prefigurative) politics.

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2 thoughts on “Of wars and battles

  1. i didn’t watch or read the news while this was happening — only catching bits from LBO.

    were the face masks to disguise themselves — or to protect themselves from Tehran’s polluted air? i’d assumed the latter because of the books i’d been reading this past spring.

  2. The article said it the masks should be used so that they couldn’t later be identified by the police. Though there may be other reasons as well.

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