I often find it easier to visualise revolutionary strategy after having considered smaller, simpler, but analogous situations. Last night I watched a Swedish movie called Evil, set in the 1950s. It’s not exactly something I’d recommend others to watch but its plot certainly raised questions about resistance to power.

Erik Ponti is a kid living with an abusive father and seemingly then takes this out on others around him, pounding one kid to a bloody pulp in the opening scene (the book apparently presents this initial scene quite differently). Erik is consequently moved to a private boarding school and commits himself to keeping out of trouble.

The most striking thing about the school is the strict hierarchy set up among both teachers and students as well as the reliance on the students themselves to police each other. Each dinner table, for example, has a leader and vice leader who will harshly punish anyone else at the table for misbehaviour. Erik quickly sets himself apart from the others when he refuses to accept punishment by the table leader (a knife to the back of the head) after he swears at the table (“bloody!”). He is consequently slapped with worse punishments, which he also refuses until finally is forced to spend a number of weekends at the school in forced detention.

The movie essentially shows his resistance to the power of the student council using (mainly) non-violent techniques after encouragement from his roommate (who would have hooked up with Erik if I’d written the book) and the reaction from those above who become more and more infuriated at his non-cooperation, eventually climaxing in an attempt on his life. When the council realises the difficulty in controlling Erik they begin to take their fury out on his roommate, who is far less confident or capable of defending himself, and who finally leaves the school for good.

The film has strong (and at times blatant) undertones of Fascism versus Social Democracy. One of the teachers is quite obviously an ex-Nazi and at least two others are accused as being social democrats. So too Erik is cast as being democratic in his struggle against the student council, who are in turn depicted much like the SS.

In his resistance, Erik plays the typical non-violent martyr to a tee, even volunteering to take the punishment for his roommate. The rest of the student body seem to be resigned to the status quo and Erik makes little attempt to generalise his struggle against the student council. It’s a form of resistance I strongly identified with, and I too would have refused to submit to the punishments of the student council, but alone, even despite his physical strength, he was doomed to failure.

The simple truth was that the student council were an organised force, much as the State and capitalism. They not only had a moral legitimacy to act (given to them by the school leaders and tradition) but had the organisational ability and institutions to wield their power over the student body. The rest of the students, on the other hand, failed to organise together against the student council and were left in disarray, with no sense of solidarity, individually avoiding the wrath of the council or individually resisting and failing.

Malatesta has described the State merely as a form of (oppressive) organisation and behaviour that can only be challenged through the creation of a counter-organisation. Similarly, Gustav Landauer has described the State as a set of social relationships that can only be “smashed” through the construction of different relationships, different ways of behaving, different rituals of everyday life. Deleauze and Guattari have described all social relations as being on a spectrum between the (freedom fighting) war machine and the state form. And finally anthropologist David Graeber has observed how societies without states are complex forms of organisation against the state form, constructing imaginary worlds of power and resisting all seeds of domination within their actually existing societies.

I guess much of this is as Richard Day has written about in his book Gramsci is Dead, and is central to anarcho-syndicalist strategy (creating the old world in the shell of the new). Revolutionary strategy must, of course, include resistance, but its long term prospects critically depend on the active creation of counter-organisations now. And perhaps, even better, are where both the creation of counter-organisation and resistance meet.

This is all very obvious, but necessary for me to remember. The most important question then is how this can take place concretely? How can counter-organisations appeal to mass? How do these organisations obtain a material base without becoming middle-class domains or immediately snuffed out by the State before they take hold?