Part One:Two Flawed Theories

Theory One: Countersubversion Theory

Countersubversion theory was influenced by nativism and took shape as a form of government repression during nineteenth century industrial struggles and early twentieth century scapegoating of immigrants.2 Faced with a rising tide of militant labor activism, corporate elites and state agencies blamed the unrest on a few ringleaders conspiring to foment criminal subversive activity and eventually armed revolution. Following WW1 and the Bolshevik revolution there was a backlash against immigrants to the US from Italy, Russia, and other countries. These immigrants-seen as diluting the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant essence of the culture and nation-were scapegoated for purportedly bringing subversive "alien" ideas such as socialism and anarchism into the country and thus threatening law and order and even national security.3

Countersubversion theory emerged as the analytical model favored by corporate elites and private security firms to enlist state agencies in an effort to repress strikes and civil unrest aimed at industrial worksites and mines. Countersubversion theory later expanded beyond its early focus on alleged labor agitation and organizing by communists and anarchists to see all dissident social movements arising not from any real social or economic conditions, but as the creation of outside agitators who comprise a cadre at the epicenter of the movement. These leaders use the movement as a front to hide their plans for criminal subversive activity and eventual violent armed revolution.4

A key feature of countersubversion identified by author Frank Donner was the focus on individual ringleaders, outside agitators, foreign agents, hidden conspirators, and master manipulators. "The emphasis on individuals-cherchez la personne!-plays another quite separate role in the intelligence schema. It personalizes unrest and thus detaches it from social and economic causes. Under this view the people are a contented lot, not given to making trouble until an `agitator' stirs them up. As soon as he or she is exposed or neutralized, all will be well again."5 The solution is to use widespread surveillance and infiltration to penetrate to the core of the movement, expose the criminal cadre, and restore order as the larger movement collapses without the manipulators to urge them to press their grievances which were never significant to begin with.

Countersubversion has been used to guide government intelligence agency policy, provide a mission for organizations and groups, and as an ideology that mobilizes a mass movement. Countersubversion theory, for instance, has been a guiding ideology of the FBI in its campaigns against the left, and in its occasional efforts to investigate the far right.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsPrintNext Page

More on Activism/Liberty

Spotlight On

Browse Topics | Site Guide | Multimedia Bookstore | Magazine | Publications | Activists Resources

Political Research Associates

Copyright Information, Terms, and Conditions

Please read our Terms and Conditions for copyright information regarding downloading, copying, printing, and linking material on this site; our disclaimer about links present on this website; and our privacy policy.

Updates and Corrections