In an entry on “Freelance Freedom Fighters” (which also mentioned a post of mine from a few days back), the folk at Lenin’s Tomb point to an article by Loretta Napoleoni on “The New Economy of Terrorism”.
I think the point of Napoleoni’s article (as is the point of most such articles) is to instruct us about the power of contemporary terrorism, and our powerlessness to do much about it. Lenin’s Tomb comments (after some further references to Iraq) that “it looks as if the occupation is fucked.”
But Napoleoni’s first example is the Red Brigades, and she tells us effectively that soon enough the financial tail was wagging the terrorist dog:
Just to give an idea of the vast amount of money required by an armed organization to function, in the 1970s, the Red Brigades had a turnover of $8 to 10 million, equivalent to about $100 million today. This figure was equivalent to the turnover of a medium size Italian company. Generating such vast flow of money required constant attention and absorbed the bulk of the time of the full time members of the organization.
If this was indeed the case, one might argue that it was all to the good that the Red Brigades had their hands full trying to keep their financial show on the road, and so had little disposable time to engage in much real political violence.
At the very least, the picture Napoleoni provides is of a rather inefficient organization, more concerned with striving to maintain its overheads than with engaging in the activity to which it was purportedly dedicated.
Back to my earlier post, it would seem worth investigating the “tipping points” at which a political organization is transformed into what is effectively a mafia-style commercial (or better, perhaps, financial services) operation. Is that also the point at which such an organization ceases to be politically effective?
Of course, the violence continues. The FARC and the IRA (to use examples I invoked before) continued and continue to terrorize their respective populations in more or less everyday, low-level ways. But they have lost sight of their political goals and, more importantly perhaps, are in any case no longer in a position to accomplish them.
If I were a convinced free marketeer, I might even suggest that at this point (if not before) the best way of combatting such terrorists-turned-financiers would be to ensure that there were other more profitable, legitimate, channels for their financial investments. I.e. follow the money, and construct economic mechanisms (oh, I dunno, reducing taxes, say) to allow it to flow elsewhere. But I’m not, in part because you can’t overlook the importance of affect and habit: as being terrorist, even growing up terrorist, becomes a way of life, it also becomes a habit or lifestyle that’s hard to shake off. It shapes your affective and emotional life. (Look at the trauma when guerrilla groups disband, as in the Salvadoran case.)
Anyhow, more on this anon.
Oh except, and this does vaguely tie in with what I’m supposed to be doing, all this reminds me of the anecdote that opens Jorge Castañeda’s Utopia Unarmed: the question, in the 1970s, of what to do with the Montoneros’ $70 million in unspent ransom money, which ended up in trust with the Cubans after an earlier financial arrangement went wrong. The Cubans tried to get the Argentines to give the money to the Sandinistas, but the Argentines initially refused until under pressure they agreed to hand over $1 million, but on condition that the Nicaraguans would spread the word and set up some photo ops to give the impression that the Montonero leader Firmenich was a key figure fighting to defeat Somoza. The principle being that this would cheer up the chaps back home: the fight might be going badly in Argentina, as the military junta busily eliminated up to 30,000 people under the Proceso, but at least the head Argentine rebel honchos were helping out the Revolution elsewhere, rather than simply getting lazy and unfit sipping Havana Club on the Malecón.