The Invention of the Urban Guerrilla: Social Science, Counterinsurgency, and Revolutionary Movements in the Global 1960s

Thursday, March 1, 2018 - 16:00
Tamiment Library, 70 Washington Sq. South, NY, NY
Sponsor: Center for the United States and the Cold War

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An excerpt:

The urban guerrilla was invented in 1964, not by revolutionaries but by counterrevolutionaries: social scientists working for the Pentagon who organized the first “urban insurgency” conference and produced a new, predictive literature on the topic. It was a concept before it was a reality, if it ever became a reality. The conceptualization preceded the appearance of systematic and doctrinal thinking by would-be urban guerrillas, which came toward the end of the 1960s. This realization actually drew upon its distorted conceptualization. Earlier, US Black radicals proposed a program of self-defense of rural space that the urban guerrilla concept transformed into urban offense, drained of political content, and voided of strategic orientation. In part this transformation grew out of influence drawn from radical theories forged in other lands. But Black thinkers were already responding to a set of defensive state security measures put into place with US government technical assistance that drew upon the urban guerrilla concept. As events put stress on the already weakly formed urban guerrilla concept, the experts who invented it soon discarded it, replacing it with the terrorist concept. This figure had greater longevity, though no more a robust or sound intellectual foundation. To understand the terrorist concept, a thoroughly depoliticized but highly racialized formation, it is necessary to turn the analysis back to proleptic debates among social scientists and security experts about what Black radicals wanted and how they were going to get it. 

© 2019 Stuart Schrader