views updated Jun 11 2018


The path of resistance has been neither straight nor narrow. First adopted by the political right, and then crossing the aisle to the left, resistance is sometimes considered a means and other times an end. Its modern history traces the evolution of an idea and a transformation in politics.

The English word resistance is a derivation of "resist," stemming from the Latinvia the Frenchmeaning "to stand." Resistance has a technical scientific meaning, the opposition offered by one body to the pressure or movement of another, as well as a later psychoanalytic one, the unconscious opposition to repressed memories or desires. But the Oxford English Dictionary 's primary definition: "To stop or hinder (a moving body); to succeed in standing against; to prevent (a weapon, etc.) from piercing or penetrating," has a distinct political bent.

Conservative Roots

Edmund Burke (17291797), the great conservative thinker of the modern era, makes the case for resistance in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Fondly remembering Marie Antoinette as a "morning star, full of life, and splendour, and joy" (p. 75), Burke criticizes the revolutionary overthrow of birthright authority. Horrified by the thought of the hair-dresser who thinks himself the equal of his betters, he rails against the leveling of classes. But what really motivates Burke's fear and loathing of the French Revolution is his belief that these radical and sudden changes fly in the face of time-tested tradition and are an "usurpation on the prerogatives of nature" (p. 49). Undermining the firm foundations of society, this can only lead to chaos. As such, Burke appeals to his English audience to resist such progress in their own country "with their lives and fortunes" (p. 16).

Nearly a century later, Burke's countryman Matthew Arnold (18221888) takes up the call of conservative resistance. In Dover Beach (1867) he describes a faithless land that "Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light. Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight/Where ignorant armies clash by night." Arnold's mid-nineteenth century England was a world of storm and strife: urbanization, industrialization, and class warfare. The republican ideals of the French Revolution had triumphed over Burke's beloved tradition, and "nature," after Darwin, was harnessed to progress. A new principle of resistance was needed; for Arnold it was culture. As "the best which has been thought and said" (p. 6) as he defines it in Culture and Anarchy (1869), culture offered a means with which to rise above the politics, commerce, and machinery of the day and supply a universal standard upon which to base "a principle of authority, to counteract the tendency to anarchy which seems to be threatening us" (p. 82) Culture was a metaphysical realm where "real thought and real beauty; real sweetness and real light" (p. 69, author's emphasis) could safely flourish, eventually returning to terra firmaif at allin the form of an ideal State to guide society.

Anti-Colonial Resistance

Halfway around the world Mahatma Gandhi (18691948) was developing his own ideas of resistance. Arriving at conclusions similar to Burke and Arnold, he stood these conservative notions on their head in opposing British colonial rule. Central to Gandhi's political philosophy was the idea of satyagraha. In Sanskrit this means "insistence on the truth"; Gandhi, however, also used the word to denote "civil resistance." This was a logical translation for him. Insisting on the truth in an India under foreign rule meant resisting the imposition of that rule, for as long as India labored under colonial guns and culture, she would have a false idea of herself. It was this false idea: that English culture comprised the "best that has ever been thought and said," that one needed to be violent like one's oppressors, that needed to be resisted more fiercely than even the British themselves. To be free of European bodies on Indian soil was one thing, to be free of their ideas, their prejudices, and their technology, was another. As Gandhi rhetorically asks in an early pamphlet Hind Swaraj (1910), "Why do you forget that our adoption of their civilization makes their presence at all possible?" (p. 75). As with Arnold, insistence on the truth meant cultivating a resistant culture that could rise above the world of the West and act as a guide to a truly home-ruled India. And like Burke, tradition offered a resource for this resistant culture. Gandhi counseled breaking India's economic dependence on Britain by khaddar, a return to the hand looming of cloth, and looked to non-Westernized, rural India for political and spiritual models.

Radical resistance, defined in part as the rejection of foreign cultures and the celebration of indigenous traditions, winds its way through the twentieth century, as European colonies in Africa and Asia were swept away by struggles of national liberation. This strain of resistance makes its way back to the metropole in the words of those finding parallels between their own struggles and anticolonialism. A key point of identification was the fight against internalized oppression, what the Algerian writer and activist Albert Memmi (b. 1920) referred to as the colonizer within (1965). In 1970 the American group, Radicalesbians, issued a manifesto calling for "The Woman-Identified Woman." "[W]hat is crucial" they write, "is that women begin disengaging themselves from male defined response patterns. For irrespective of where our love and sexual energies flow, if we are male-identified in our heads, we cannot realize our autonomy as human beings." "Only women," they conclude, "can give to each other a new sense of self."

These final words were picked up and developed by the radical black women of the Combahee River Collective, who asserted in 1977, "We believe that the most profound and potentially radical politics come directly out of our identity," setting the stage for an "identity politics" that argued for resistance based within and upon the unique experiences of a person's ethnicity, gender, or sexual identity (p. 272).


La Résistance was the name adopted by the French citizens who fought against the Nazi occupation of France. But the specter of oppression didn't disappear with the defeat of Fascism in the postwar West. Instead, totalizing power was identified everywhere and resistance was redefined as an everyday battle with no end in sight.

This total resistance against totality finds its roots in existentialism. Existentialists argued that the fate of humanity is to choose and to act; indeed, it is only in these actions that one defines who one is. "Man is nothing else but that which he makes of himself," Jean-Paul Sartre (19051980) writes in Existentialism Is a Humanism (1946; p. 349). If the importance of action (or resistance) was once judged on its efficacy in bringing about (or protecting) an ideal or country, Sartre was now arguing that it was the choice, and the action that follows, which matters. In the Myth of Sisyphus (1955), Albert Camus (19131960) retells the tale of Sisyphus, condemned for eternity by the gods to roll a rock up a hill only to watch it roll back down again. In this task Camus identifies the human condition as being condemned to an action that brings no certain result, but also finding definitionand happinessin the absurd and ceaseless labor.

In 1961 Erving Goffman (19221982), an American sociologist influenced by the existentialists, wrote Asylums (1961), discussing "total institutions." Observing patients in a mental asylum, Goffman agued that the job of total institutions is to createor recreatetheir charge's identity in order to integrate them into the world. Individuals, however, don't always do what they should. The patients Goffman observed elided institutional demands and created an "underlife" where different values reigned. Indeed, it was in resisting the definitions pressed upon them that inmates of institutions developed their own sense of identity. Asylums was an implicit critique of the postwar "Free World" of big business and the welfare state, mass media, and compulsory education. But, Goffman argues, this institutionalization and homogenization of thought and behavior need not lead only to despair, for as Goffman's mental patients taught him, "It is against something that the self can emerge" (p. 320).

Meanwhile, youth cultures such as the beatniks, and later the hippies, were busy acting out identities of resistance, defining themselves by what they were not as much as what they were ("I'm gonna wave my freak flag high," sang Jimi Hendrix in 1968). The freak, mental patient, artist, native, and resurrecting an old ideal of nineteenth-century anarchism, the criminal, were celebrated (and idealized) in their "otherness"; their resistanceconscious or notto the world of the white-collared conservative. In 1968 the world seemed to explode. Vietnamese nationalists were defeating the most powerful military in the world, U.S. college campuses and urban ghettoes were in upheaval, young people stood up to dictatorships in Mexico City and Prague, and perhaps most dramatic of all, students and workers, together, took to the streets of Paris in May 1968. The world was rocked to its core, yet politically little seemed to change: the ruling powers in these countries continued to rule.

In Paris of the 1960s Michel Foucault (1926-1984), like Gofffman, was examining total institutions such as prisons, asylums, and schools, but the French intellectual was interested in institutions of the mind as well, such as disciplinary boundaries and classification systems. The failures of the political resistance in 1968 confirmed what Foucault had already known: that power was not something out thereeasy to identify and to overthrow. Instead it was everywhere, "the disciplinary grid of society," which was continuous, anonymous, intimate, and even pleasurable (1980, p. 111). Whereas previous critics of totalitarianism, from the left and the right, elevated the ideal of the individual subject resisting against totalizing society, Foucault countered that the individual was itself problematic. This Enlightenment creature that made new ideals of personal freedom possible also opened up a new site of oppression: the individual's mind, body, and spirit. Because power is impressed upon and internalized into the subject, it raises the vexing problem of who resists and what exactly are they resisting. Can one resist the very subject thing doing the resisting?

Resistance remains a stated goal for Foucault, but it must be reconceptualized. The ideal of developing the pure subject in opposition to the corrupting object of society must be rejected. "Maybe the target nowadays," he suggests, "is not to discover what we are, but to refuse what we are" (1984, p. 22). Foucault's refusal to provide an answer, to spell out what the resistant subject is for or against, is characteristic, as it is the answer, the category, the truth which constrains us most of all.

In his essay, "The Masses: The Implosion of the Social in the Media" (1985) the playful postmodernist Jean Baudrillard (b. 1929) extends Foucault's ideas to theirperhaps illogicalconclusion. Baudrillard argues that strategies of resistance always change to reflect strategies of control. Against a system that excludes or represses the individual, the natural demand is one of inclusion: to become a subject. This, however, is not the modern world. In twenty-first century Western society people are bombarded with appeals for their participation: "Vote!" and "This Bud's for You," and yet they also know that their choice or vote matters little. Against a system that justifies and sustains its existence by the consent (or consumer purchases) of those it governs, the masses have devised their strategy of resistance: apathy"a spontaneous, total resistance to the ultimatum of historical and political reason" (p. 588). Popular politics is "no longer a question of revolution but of massive devolution a massive desisting from will" (p. 586). It is a resistance to resistance.

Cultural Resistance

While apathy may reign supreme in the voting booth, some scholars and activists have been looking for resistance elsewhere: on the street corner, in the living room, or at the club, that is, in cultural expression. Matthew Arnold first articulated cultural resistance, but the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (18911937) framed the contemporary discussion.

Gramsci, writing from a Fascist jail in the 1920s and early 1930s, reflected on why the communist revolutions he labored for in the West had so far failed. Part of the reason, he concluded, was a serious underestimation of culture and civil society. Power does not just reside in institutions, but also in the ways people make sense of their world; hegemony is both a political and cultural process. Armed with culture instead of guns, one fights a different type of battle. Whereas traditional battles were "wars of maneuver," frontal assaults that seized the state, cultural battles were "wars of position," flanking maneuvers, commando raids, and infiltrations, staking out positions from which to attack and then reassemble civil society (pp. 229239). Thus, part of the revolutionary project was to create counterhegemonic culture behind enemy lines. But if this culture was to have real power, and communist integrity, it could notcontra Arnoldbe imposed from above; it must come out of the experiences and consciousness of people. Thus, the job of the revolutionary is to discover the progressive potentialities that reside within popular consciousness and from this material fashion a culture of resistance.

It was this implicitly politico-cultural mission that guided the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham in the 1970s. The CCCS is best known for its subcultural studies, and it was within these mainly working-class subcultures that researchers found an inchoate politics of resistance. Mods one-upped their bosses with their snappy dress. Punks performed the decline of Britain with lyrics that warned: "We're your future, no future." Skinheads recreated a cohesive white, masculine working-class world that no longer existed. And Rastafarians turned the world upside down by rereading Christianity into a condemnation of white Babylon. It was through culture that young people contested and rearranged the ideological constructionsthe systems of meaninghanded down to them by the dominant powers of postwar Britain.

For Stuart Hall (the influential director of the CCCS) and his colleagues, cultural resistance was politically ambiguous. Subcultures opened up spaces where dominant ideology was contested and counter hegemonic culture was created, however, these contestations and symbolic victories often remained locked in culture. "There is no 'subcultural solution'" to structural inequality write Hall and his colleagues in Resistance through Rituals (1976), "They 'solve,' but in an imaginary way, problems which at the concrete material level remain unresolved" (pp. 4748). As W. H. Auden (19071973) came to lament, "Poetry makes nothing happen"at least not by itself.

Resistance Refuted and Reimagined

Is cultural resistance, resistance at all? Malcolm Cowley (18981989) raised this question in Exile's Return (1934), his memoir of Bohemian days in Greenwich Village. He pointed out that while the cultural conservatism of the Victorians may have served an era of capitalism predicated on hard work and savings, by the 1920s a new ethic was needed for what was becoming a mass consumer economy. Within the context of consumer capitalism the bohemian call to be freed from yesterday's conventions translates easily into freedom to buy tomorrow's products. More recently, Thomas Frank has taken up the refrain, writing in his journal The Baffler (1993):

Over the years the rebel has naturally become the central image of this culture of consumption, symbolizing endless, directionless change, an eternal restlessness with "the establishment"or, more correctly, with the stuff "the establishment" convinced him to buy last year. (p. 12)

As a purely political strategy resistance also has its critics. Resistance only exists in relation to the dominant power"bonds of rejection," are what Richard Sennett calls these in his discussion of Authority (1980)and without that dominant power, resistance has no coherence or purpose. This is not a difficulty if resistance is a tactic on the road to revolution (and thus the end of resistance), but once this goal is discarded resistance becomes problematic, for what is the point of resistance if the very thing being resisted must be maintained?

In the early twenty-first century, theorists and activists are rethinking and redefining resistance, approaching it less as a stand against the world and more as means with which to actualize a new one. This is a central theme of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's Empire (2000). Resistance, they argue, has two sides. Yes, it is opposing the current world, "but at the same time it is linked to a new world." This new world, however, unlike the revolutionary utopias of times past, "knows no outside. It knows only an inside, a vital and ineluctable participation in the set of social structures, with no possibility of transcending them" (p. 413). This is a strange resistance. What sort of opposition counsels participation inside the system? What sort of new world cannot transcend the old one? The answers lie in Hardt and Negri's analysis of empire. Within the social structures of the system of global capitalism they discover resistant elements: global interdependence, social networks, systems of communication, affective and immaterial labor, and the formation of cooperative consciousness. These ideas and practices are as useful to a new world as they are necessary to the old one. As such, these experiences lived by the multitude are both conformity and resistance, depending upon how one understands and mobilizes them.

Hakim Bey (also known as Peter Lamborn Wilson) shares Hardt and Negri's suspicion of a world "outside," but believes that through resistance one can catch a glimpse of an alternative. His model is the TAZ, or Temporary Autonomous Zone (1985), an immediate experiencea happeningthat temporarily reverses the rules, laying bare the structures of the present and experimenting with a model for the future. The TAZ is necessarily limited in time and space. "But," Bey argues, "such moments of intensity give shape and meaning to the entirety of a life" (p. 100). Protest groups such as London-born Reclaim the Streets put this philosophy of resistance into practice in the 1990s: throwing large, illegal street parties that literally demonstrated to participants what the experience of a participatory public culture feels like. What is being created, through acts of resistance, is a revolutionary imagination. As the rebel-poet Subcommandante Marcos of the Zapatista army in Southern Mexico writes,

In our dreams we have seen another world. A sincere world, a world definitively more just than the one in which we now move. That sincere world was not a dream of the past, it was not something that came from our ancestors. It came from ahead, it was from the next step that we had taken.

See also Liberty ; Resistance and Accommodation .


Arnold, Matthew. Culture and Anarchy, 1869. Reprint, Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

. "Dover Beach." In Poetical Works, edited by C. B. Tinker and H. F. Lowry. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1950. First published in 1867.

Baudrillard, Jean. "The Masses: The Implosion of the Social in the Media." New Literary History 3 (1985): pp 57789.

Bey, Hakim. TAZ: The Temporary Autonomous Zone. New York: Autonomedia, 1985.

Burke, Edmund. Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790. Reprint, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. New York: Knopf, 1955. The Combahee River Collective.

"The Combahee River Collective Statement." In Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology, edited by Barbara Smith. New York: Kitchen Table/Women of Color Press, 1983. First published in 1977.

Cowley, Malcolm. Exile's Return. 1934. Reprint, London: Penguin, 1976.

Duncombe, Stephen, ed. Cultural Resistance Reader. New York: Verso, 2002.

Foucault, Michel. The Foucault Reader. Edited by Paul Rabinow. New York: Pantheon, 1984.

. Power/Knowledge. New York: Pantheon, 1980.

Frank, Thomas. "Alternative to What?" The Baffler 5 (1993): 514; 119128.

Gandhi, Mahatma K. Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, 1910. Reprint, Madras: Ganseh and Co/Nationalist Press, 1919.

Goffman, Erving. Asylums. New York: Anchor, 1961.

Gramsci, Antonio. Prison Notebooks. Edited by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. New York: International, 1971. Originally written between 19291935.

Hall, Stuart and Tony Jefferson, eds. Resistance through Rituals. London: Unwin Hyman, 1976.

Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. Empire. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Marcos, Subcommandante. "A Thank-You to the NGO's." EZLN communiqué, 1 March 1994.

Memmi, Albert. Colonizer and the Colonized, 1965. Reprint, New York: Beacon Press, 1991.

Radicalesbians. The Woman-Identified Woman. Gay Flames pamphlet, New York, 1970.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. "Existentialism Is a Humanism." 1946. In Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre, edited by Walter Kauffman. New York: New American Library, 1975.

Sennett, Richard. Authority. New York: Norton, 1980.

Stephen Duncombe


views updated Jun 27 2018



The concept of resistance, meaning literally to stand against, entered the social sciences primarily from politics and culture. While there is a clinical psychoanalytic definition of the term, and a technical one used by the physical sciences, it is really resistance in a critical politico-cultural sense that has had the greatest impact in the field.

Resistance in a political context is often thought of as the property of the left. The famed French (and often communist-led) Résistance against the Nazi occupation immediately comes to mind. But the concept was first introduced into the modern political lexicon from the right, by Edmund Burke, who argued for the necessity of resisting revolutionary progress in his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Burke was incensed at the French overthrow of birthright authority and the leveling of classes (he was particularly horrified by the thought of the hairdresser who thinks himself the equal of his betters). These, and other such revolutionary abuses, fly in the face of time-tested tradition and threaten to upset the natural order of things. As such, it is the best wisdom and the first duty of every Englishman to stand against such radical change, with jealous, ever-waking vigilance (p. 54).

The conservative call for a resistance against change was taken up by Burkes countryman Matthew Arnold. By the mid-nineteenth century the republican ideals of the French revolution had the lead over Burkes beloved tradition, and nature, after Darwin, was harnessed to progress. A new principle of resistance was neededand for Arnold, it was culture. As the best that has ever been thought and said (as he defines it in Culture and Anarchy, 1869), culture offered a means with which to rise above the politics, commerce, and industry of the day and supply a universal standard upon which to base authority and order.

Karl Marx, exiled in England when Arnold was writing, also thought resistance a conservative ideal. In their 1848 Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels paint a heady portrait of dynamic change: traditions overthrown, nature transformed, nations dissolved, people uprooted; a world where all that is solid melts into air (p. 38). For Marx, resistance is not the answerits the problem. It is capitalisms bourgeois caretakers who are resisting the systems own logic. Capitalism has socialized the means of production, yet ownership is kept in the hands of the few. The revolutionary solution is to tear asunder this final resistance and herald in the new world.

Resistance moved leftward with the anticolonial struggles of the twentieth century. Mohandas K. Gandhi, waging a battle against British rule in India, advocated a political philosophy of satyagraha. In Sanskrit this word means insistence on the truth, but Gandhi also used it to denote civil resistance. This conflation of meanings makes a certain sense, as for Gandhi it was the untruths of colonial rulethat power must rest upon violence, that English culture comprised the best that has ever been thought and saidthat needed to be resisted more fiercely than even the British themselves. To be free of European bodies on Indian soil was one thing; to be free of their ideas, their prejudices, and their technology was another. Drawing upon both Burke and Arnold, but turning these ideas on their head, Gandhi advised the practice of civil disobedience, not merely in the streets, but through a political and spiritual return to traditional Indian culture and practices like khaddar, the hand-looming of cloth.

Radical resistance, defined in part as the rejection of foreign cultures and the celebration of indigenous traditions, spread across the globe as European colonies in Africa and Asia were overturned by struggles of national liberation. Gandhis strategy of nonviolent civil disobedience was not adopted by all. The Caribbean psychiatrist-cum-rebel Frantz Fanon made the case for bloody resistance in his influential The Wretched of the Earth (1963). Indeed, for Fanon it is the very violence of the resistance that will clear the way to a new society. But for all their differences, Gandhi and Fanon agreed on one thing: that the enemy that one had to resist the most virulently was the enemy one had internalizedwhat the Tunisian writer and activist Albert Memmi referred to in his 1957 book The Colonizer and the Colonized as the colonizer within.

The concept of resistance returned to the West via concerns with identity and identity-construction. In the early 1960s the American sociologist Erving Goffman argued that the job of total institutions like prisons, hospitals, and armies is to createor recreatetheir charges identity in order to integrate them into the system. However, Goffman observes, the patients in the mental institution he studied actually formed their identities by eliding institutional demands and creating underlives within the institution. In brief, it is in resisting the definitions pressed upon them that inmates of institutions develop their own sense of identity: It is against something that the self can emerge (p. 320). Goffmans book, Asylums (1961), was not merely a critique of total institutions, but a critical assessment of the postwar Free World of big business and the welfare state, mass media, and compulsory educationa mostly benign, but nonetheless totalizing system.

It was in resistance to this benign totalitythe tickytacky little boxes where everyone comes out all the same, as Pete Seeger sang in 1962that a youth counterculture emerged in the 1960s, as young people created under-lives by defining themselves against The System. Some of this resistance was politicalopposition to the American war in Vietnam, for instancebut it was also a stylistic confrontation: new styles of clothes, forms of music, and types of intoxicants. In other words, it was cultural resistance.

The idea, and ideal, of cultural resistance, while first championed by Matthew Arnold, takes its radical articulation from the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci held that hegemony is both a political and cultural process and thus part of the revolutionary project is to create a counterhegemonic culture. But if this culture is to have real power, and radical integrity, it cannotcontra Arnoldbe imposed from above; it must come out of the experiences and consciousness of the people. Thus, the job of the revolutionary is to discover the progressive potentialities that reside within popular consciousness and from this material fashion a culture of resistance.

It was this implicit politico-cultural mission that guided the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at the University of Birmingham in the 1970s. The CCCS is best known for its study of subcultures, and it was within mainly working class subculturespunks, mods, skinheads, and Rastafariansthat researchers found an inchoate culture of resistance. For Stuart Hall and his CCCS colleagues, however, cultural resistance was politically ambiguous. Subcultures opened up spaces where dominant ideology was contested and counter-hegemonic culture was created; at the same time, these contestations and symbolic victories often remained purely cultural, leaving the political and economic systems untouched. Cultural resistance, unless translated into political action, becomes what Hall and others referred to as imaginary solutions to real-world problems (Hall 1976).

This raises a nagging question that dogs the whole project of politico-cultural resistance : Is this resistance really resistance at all? The efficacy of cultural resistance has been questioned since at least 1934, when Malcolm Cowley, reminiscing about his Greenwich Village life in Exiles Return, pointed out that while bohemians may have flouted Victorian values of thrift and savings, their libertinism and emphasis on style and innovation mesh quite nicely with the needs of consumer capitalism. As the Frankfurt School theorist Theodor Adorno snidely remarked about the jazz fan of the era, he pictures himself as the individualist who whistles at the world. But what he whistles is its melody (Adorno 1938, p. 298). Resistance as a political strategy also has its critics. Resistance only exists in relation to the dominant powerbonds of rejection is what Richard Sennett calls this relationship in his discussion of Authority (1985) and without that dominant power, resistance has no coherence or purpose. What, then, is the point of resistance if it rests on the maintenance of the very thing being resisted?

Michel Foucault, like his contemporary Erving Goffman, studied total institutionsprisons, asylums, and schoolsbut the French intellectual was interested in institutions of the mind as well: disciplinary boundaries and classification systems. The failures of radical political resistance in 1968 confirmed what Foucault had already known: that power was not something out thereeasy to identify and overthrow. Instead, it was everywhere, continuous, anonymous, intimate, and even pleasurable: the disciplinary grid of society (p. 111), as he names it in Power/Knowledge (1980). For most critics, the individual subject/self is the hero of resistance against totalizing control; Foucault countered that the subject itself was problematic. The Enlightenments focus on the subject allowed for new ideals of personal freedom, but it also opened up new sites of oppression: the individuals mind, body, and spirit. Because power is impressed upon and internalized in the subject, it raises a vexing problem: Who is it that resists and what exactly are they resisting? Can one resist the very subject doing the resisting? Resistance remains a stated goal for Foucault, but one that must be reconceptualized. The ideal of developing the pure subject in opposition to the corrupting object of society must be rejected. Maybe the target nowadays, he suggests in The Subject and Power (1984), is not to discover what we are, but to refuse what we are (p. 208).

This idea of resistance is played out to itsperhaps illogicalconclusion by the playful postmodernist Jean Baudrillard. In his 1985 essay The Masses: The Implosion of the Social in the Media, Baudrillard argues that strategies of resistance always change to reflect strategies of control. Against a system that excludes or represses the individual, the natural demand is one of inclusion: to become a subject. Today, however, people are bombarded with appeals for their participationand yet they still feel that their choice or vote matters little. Against a system that justifies and sustains its existence by the political consent (or consumer purchases) of those it governs, the masses have devised a new strategy of resistance: apathy, a massive desisting from will (p. 109). A resistance to resistance.

Another path taken has been to move beyond resistanceto reimagine identities and politics not tied to the negation of the other. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri sketch a bleak portrait of an all-pervasive, omnipotent system of control: Empire (2000). They acknowledge that within such a system, political and cultural resistance is usually expressed in a generalized being-againsta negative resistance. Yet they also see the chance for something different. They argue, like Marxists before them, that the system itself is generating the very tools and social conditions that make transcendence possible. The system of Empire relies upon new communication flows, new forms of organization, and new subjectivitiesall of which might give rise to radical identities, ideals, and collective actions not mired in the negation of being-against, thereby offering the subjectivity necessary for proactive social change, that is: a being-for. The boldest, and perhaps most outrageous, proposal to move beyond resistance comes from the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek who, drawing upon ideas of Jacques Lacan in The Ticklish Subject (1999), proposes something he calls the Acta radical act that jumps outside the coordinates of the dominant system, including any opposition tied to these coordinates. This act transcends resistance and its attendant disobedient obediencebut one might also legitimately ask: Where does an act like this lead?

SEE ALSO Colonialism; Cultural Studies; Fanon, Frantz; Foucault, Michel; Gandhi, Mohandas K.; Goffman, Erving; Gramsci, Antonio; Hall, Stuart; Marx, Karl; Marxism


Adorno, Theodor. 1938. On the Fetish-Character in Music and the Regression of Listening. In Cultural Resistance Reader, ed. Stephen Duncombe, 275303. New York and London: Verso, 2002.

Arnold, Matthew. 1869. Culture and Anarchy. Ed. J. Dover Wilson. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Baudrillard, Jean. 1985. The Masses: The Implosion of the Social in the Media. In Cultural Resistance Reader, Ed. Stephen Duncombe, 100113. New York and London: Verso, 2002.

Burke, Edmund. 1790. Reflections on the Revolution in France. Ed. L. G. Mitchell. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Cowley, Malcolm. 1934. Exiles Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920s. London: Penguin, 1976.

Duncombe, Stephen, ed. 2002. Cultural Resistance Reader. New York and London: Verso.

Fanon, Frantz. 1963. The Wretched of the Earth. Trans. Richard Philcox. New York: Grove Press.

Foucault, Michel. 1980. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 19721977. Ed. Colin Gordon; trans. Colin Gordon et al. New York: Pantheon.

Foucault, Michel. 1982. The Subject and Power. In Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, ed. Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, 208226. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Gandhi, M. K. 1919. Hind Swaraj; or, Indian Home Rule. Madras, India: Ganesh/Nationalist Press.

Goffman, Erving. 1961. Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. New York: Anchor.

Gramsci, Antonio. 19291935. Prison Notebooks. Ed. Quinton Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith. New York: International Publishers, 1971.

Hall, Stuart, and Tony Jefferson, eds. 1976. Resistance through Rituals: Youth Cultures in Post-War Britain. London: Unwin Hyman.

Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. 2000. Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels. 1848. The Communist Manifesto. Trans. Samuel Moore. New York and London: Verso, 1998.

Memmi, Albert. 1957. The Colonizer and the Colonized. Trans. Howard Greenfield. New York: Beacon Press, 1991.

Sennett, Richard. 1980. Authority. New York: Norton.

ŽiŽek, Slavoj. 1999. The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology. London and New York: Verso.

Stephen Duncombe


views updated May 21 2018



"Resistance," as a category covering all forms of opposition against the new European order imposed by Nazi Germany, has no conceptual unity. It covers a variety of reactions against very different regimes imposed and different policies pursued in different countries and regions of Europe at different times of Nazi expansion, from 1938 until 1945. The form these reactions took—their means of action, their organization, their development, their political program, and even their ideology—were first of all dictated by the German aggression to which they were reacting and the intrusive policies of the occupier to transform their societies. Secondarily resistance was shaped by endogenous factors, such as the respective weight of radical political movements in the prewar political arena; traditions of insurrection and armed struggle, as well as of civil disobedience and distrust of state authority; the legitimacy of prewar political institutions; and social cohesion or the lack of it, because of social, political, or ethnic polarization. To clarify these matters, the marginal movements of dissent against national dictatorship in Germany or in Italy are not dealt with here, because they proceed from a very different dynamic and cannot be subsumed under the same analytical umbrella as the movements that emerged in the countries Germany and Italy occupied. It is not that resistance in Italy or Germany was of no importance; it is rather that the historical phenomenon that contemporaries understood as resistance was located in countries occupied by the Axis Powers.

The term resistance has been variously used to describe partisan attacks on German troop transports; military intelligence gathering for the Allied services; the killing of collaborationist "traitors"; the networks organizing the hiding and, sometimes, escape of Allied aircrew, Jews, and requisitioned workers; the printing and distribution of underground newspapers and pamphlets; the attitudes of the churches toward Nazi rule; and the preparation of postwar politics by political movements. Depending on the definition adopted, the term resistance refers to small nuclei of radicalized guerrillas; military professionals with technical expertise in intelligence gathering and transmission; large-scale networks involving the active participation of thousands of individuals and the complicity of tens if not hundreds of thousands; or even the mainstream of political opinion, including their traditional elites, in a given country during the last months of the occupation. Differences pertain both to the nature and the scale of the phenomenon, and each definition is also implicitly normative. Some more radical forms of resistance are condemned by part of the national opinion and postwar historiography as "terrorism." Other mainstream forms focused on the preparation of the postwar are similarly decried as attentisme—the tendency to wait and see—or cowardice. Measuring resistance in terms of military effectiveness is highly problematic. Defining it in terms of ideological coherence is similarly bound to failure. Not all antifascist movements were at all times anti-German, nor were all anti-German movements forcibly antifascist. The attitude of communist parties while the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact lasted illustrated the first contradiction; the precocious radical action by ultranationalist authoritarian movements in occupied countries, in Ukraine, Poland, Serbia, or Belgium, exemplify the latter.

Nevertheless, it is the merger in some occupied countries of all these various strands of "resistance" into a "home front" in the months leading to liberation that has retrospectively created the image of a united and organized movement, equally involved in the struggle against the occupier and, drawing legitimacy from this combat, in the foundation of a new postwar order. Yet, both activities were often more dissociated than glorifying narratives admit. The turmoil of war also offered a unique opportunity for political revolutions, replacing prewar political elites, forcing through radical political agendas, benefiting from wartime polarization. In its mildest form, this involved the drafting of new constitutions or political platforms for reforms to be implemented after the liberation, such as the nationalization of certain economic sectors or the reinforcement of social rights. In its more radical forms, this involved the purging of political enemies who had chosen the occupier's side through imprisonment, expulsion, or execution and/or the expropriation and expulsion by legal or by violent means of ethnic minorities, seizing on the extreme violence unleashed by Nazi population policies to settle once and for all the unresolved minority questions of the nation-states born from or reshaped by World War I. The fault lines between collaboration and resistance are much less clear here than in cases in which concrete action against the occupier is involved, simply because domestic political agendas often occupied a much higher priority. The radical nature of wartime political revolutions depended on the degree of turmoil, the level of violence, and the destruction or delegitimization of prewar political structures. Two factors are therefore crucial in outlining a typology of the war experience and the reactions it triggered: space and time.


The spatial factor derives from the fundamentally and deliberately asymmetrical nature of Nazi rule in Europe. Between the two extreme ends of the timescale on which Nazi planners projected their program—the immediate strategic contingencies of battle and the ultimate ideological goals of transforming the European continent in an imperial order destined to last one thousand years—there was an almost infinite latitude for experimentation, provisional solutions, and a very peculiar management of priorities, of a military, economic, or ideological nature. Very schematically, one can distinguish three geographical areas.

Eastern Europe

The war in eastern Europe occupied the most central place in the Nazi ideology, because this was where the Lebensraum, the vital space of colonization for the German race, was located—a space to be vacated by a war of annihilation (Vernichtungskrieg), wiping out local elites and overall decimating the indigenous population. This war of destruction was primarily waged in Poland, Ukraine, and Byelorussia and to a lesser extent in the Baltic countries. It was accompanied by large-scale murder, genocide, civil war, and ethnic cleansing. Collaboration was a desperate choice, devoid of any hope for an alternative political order, because the Nazi occupier never offered any other perspective than a brutal and planned policy of colonization, plunder, starvation, and deportation as outlined, for example, in the detailed and sinister Generalplan Ost.

The region was moreover the scene for multiple occupations and shifting front lines. The German–Soviet partition of Poland in September 1939 created waves of refugees, mostly eastward, but the anticipation of a better life in the Soviet zone was soon to be disappointed by harsh Stalinist policies. The German invasion of the USSR in June 1941 provoked new waves of evacuation and retaliatory killings. The loyalties of Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, and Jews to either of the occupiers of prewar Poland inevitably caused civil war fault lines to run partly along ethnic lines. Anti-Soviet Ukrainian nationalists similarly initially welcomed the German army as liberators, only to discover that, apart from the recruitment of auxiliary military and police personnel, the German occupier had no wish whatsoever to create a viable Ukrainian nation. By 1943, the security situation for Ukrainian auxiliaries in the German-controlled forces was such that they deserted in droves to the Soviet partisans or the Ukrainian nationalist partisans. After having actively participated in the elimination of the local Jewish population, from 1943 onward, Polish, Ukrainian, and Lithuanian nationalists would increasingly turn on each other, trying to carve out ethnically homogeneous areas in the anticipation of a postwar settlement. While both the Polish anticommunist Home Army and the Polish communist partisans waged a heroic battle for survival against the German occupier, the prospect of a united front was never an option, as the brutal events of the autumn of 1944 illustrate, when the Red Army patiently witnessed from the outskirts of Warsaw the elimination of the nationalist insurrection by the German Army.

Southeastern Europe

Southeastern Europe, particularly the Balkans, form a second area with a distinct fate. The German invasion responded to the strategic imperative to occupy the northern shore of the Mediterranean in order to avoid a British landing rather than the implementation of any precise planning or ideological design. The winter famine in Greece in 1941 and 1942, for example, was the result of cynical neglect and contempt for the lives of the local population and not of any deliberate calculation. In Yugoslavia in particular, a country that had verged on civil war ever since its creation after World War I, extreme brutality against the civilian population combined with murderously divisive occupation policies, as practiced by the German, Italian, and Hungarian occupiers, exacerbating tensions among Serbs, Croats, Bosnian Muslims, Slovenes, ethnic Hungarians, ethnic Germans, Jews, and Gypsies, degenerated into generalized internecine killing. The creation of a Croat fascist—Ustaša—State and the annexation policies in other areas were particularly nefarious in this regard.

In this context of anarchy, the tiny prewar communist parties emerged as the most efficient and credible endogenous force. Partisan republics, organizing the redistribution of land and capable of halting ethnic violence, both by offering an alternative political creed and by ruthlessly eliminating its nationalist adversaries, established the only homegrown communist regimes in Europe outside the Soviet Union, in Albania and Yugoslavia. In Greece only the intervention of twenty-two thousand British troops could avert a similar scenario. Unlike postwar France, Italy, or the German Democratic Republic, which would rhetorically proclaim to be political regimes born from resistance struggle, the Albanian and Yugoslav communist parties effectively transformed a clandestine underground apparatus into a new ruling elite, with all the problems this entailed. By 1957 Milovan Djilas, himself a partisan hero, would describe in The New Class how a regime built on this historical legitimacy was hermetically closed to the younger generations and fundamentally frozen in its evolution.

Western and central Europe

Finally, there is the heterogeneous group of occupied countries from western and central Europe—Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, and Czechoslovakia. Here the Nazi occupier proceeded to limited annexations of regions integrating the Reich—the Sudeten area, Alsace-Lorraine, the whole of Luxembourg, and the Eupen-et-Malmédy area ceded to Belgium in 1919—but mainly, the occupation policy was one of Aufsichtsverwaltung, a policy of economic exploitation at minimal cost, leaving the national administration largely intact.

The institutional setting in this third area was extremely heterogeneous. Czechoslovakia was dismembered between the annexed zone, the protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia, and the fascist clerical puppet state of Slovakia. Denmark, which had accepted the entry of German troops into its territory, was placed under the protection of a German governor, but was otherwise allowed to maintain its institutions, to the point that it even held free elections in March 1943—elections that did not even alter the internal political balance. In France, political events anticipated German decisions as to the fate of its institutions, as the national assembly of the Third Republic dissolved itself and elected a World War I hero, the elderly Philippe Pétain, as head of a new authoritarian state. Pétain's first decision was to offer an armistice and accept unconditionally the terms imposed by the German occupier, including the partitioning of the country into a southern zone, unoccupied until November 1942, a central zone under German military rule, and the "forbidden zone" of the coastal defense line. In Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium, the national governments and, with the exception of Belgium, heads of state, had fled to London before the French collapse, in the hope of continuing the war. In Norway, the Germans first instituted military rule and later installed the fascist government of Vidkun Quisling, a notoriously failed experiment in the exportation of their political model. In Belgium, they opted for military rule for the whole duration of the occupation, while in the Netherlands they imposed civilian Nazi rule under Reichskommissar Arthur Seyss-Inquart.

In spite of these very contrasting institutional settings, Nazi policies in this third area were both comparable and coordinated. National and local administrations were left in place, with an overall relatively prudent policy to replace recalcitrant civil servants with politically more obedient personnel. The central concern was to limit the German presence and avoid major disruptions. The army, procurement ministry, and the SS leadership had conflicting views on the priorities guiding occupation policy; these parties were concerned, respectively, with: military security by avoiding radical policies, maximal economic benefit or Nazification, and an all-out war against the ideological enemies of the Reich. The first two imperatives did dominate the occupation policy, with one brutal exception: the deportation of all Jews from these territories to the centers of mass death in eastern Europe, a quite disruptive policy, but one that was an unquestionable priority on the Nazi agenda. The mass deportation of Jews in the summer of 1942 was one example of an operation planned for the whole area in a concerted timetable. Another example is the deportation of workers for German industry, after a policy of voluntary recruitment, reaching a peak in the summer of 1943. Obviously, these coordinated policies provoked comparable reactions and delineated a common horizon of action for local resistance movements.

The view of the occupier

The vantage point for an integrated analysis of these very heterogeneous situations, between the three groups and inside each of the groups described above, is of course the perspective of the German occupier. Even though the pursued goals were entirely different depending on the geographical reach, Nazi Germany also acquired considerable expertise in occupation management in general and in counter-insurgency in particular—an experience carefully studied by the U.S. military in particular after 1945. The science of occupation management started from an analysis of the precedent of World War I. The first occupation of Belgium had mobilized an inordinate number of military and administrative personnel, for a disappointing return on investment in economic terms, and a catastrophic impact on Germany's public relations, an error Nazi planners were determined to avoid in 1940. Nazi domination over half a dozen countries by the summer of 1941 offered a new sample for comparative analysis.

Extremely instructive in this regard is the report published by the occupation expert and SD (Sicherheitsdienst) man Werner Best concerning his study tour of occupied capitals in August 1941. At the height of the Nazi onslaught on the Soviet Union, Best tried to establish the elementary rules allowing the most efficient management of any given occupied territory, with a minimal input of German military and administrative personnel. After a stint as occupation expert in Paris in 1940 and 1941, Best would apply his conclusions as German governor of Denmark. Best, whose credentials as a first-hour Nazi and anti-Semite cannot be doubted, not only allowed the elections of March 1943, but he also organized or at the very least tacitly authorized the discreet evacuation of the tiny Danish Jewish community over the Copenhagen Sound. The predictable disruption and polarization a manhunt in the streets of the capital would have caused were a price Best was not willing to pay for the sake of adding one thousand victims to a continental program killing several millions. Denmark continued to be the exemplary student in the classroom of occupied nations, to the point of causing genuine concern among the Danish elites about the postwar treatment of Denmark after an Allied victory. Best then proceeded to negotiate with the Danish "underground" on a mutually agreed program of "demonstrative Sabotagetätigkeit," a series of spectacular but harmless bomb attacks, sufficient to convince Allied capitals of the Danish resistance spirit, but not destructive enough to hinder German logistics, nor to force the occupier into retaliation and a spiral of terror and counter-terror that would threaten the mutually beneficial Aufsichtsverwaltung. But the evacuation of the Copenhagen Jews did pass to posterity as one of the most heroic and humanitarian resistance acts in the whole of occupied Europe.


A second parameter is chronology, and more particularly the duration and proximity of battle. On the eastern front, the military confrontation raged uninterruptedly from June 1941 through April 1945 and with it the spiral of radicalizing violence, among belligerents and against the civilian populations caught between the hammer and the anvil, with intense partisan activity behind the German lines. The awkward position of Italy in the geographical typology described above illustrates the pertinence of the chronological factor. Until September 1943, Italy was an occupation force and cobelligerent with the Wehrmacht on the eastern front. After the Italian surrender and until April 1945, the very slowly receding front line crossed the peninsula, with the polarizing effects of massive violence observed elsewhere. From the urban revolt in Naples to the guerrilla battles in the hills of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, the military confrontation spilled over into local civil wars, with over ten thousand civilians killed in massacres by German troops and the auxiliaries of the Salo Republic. No country better illustrates the difference between antifascism and resistance than Italy. By 1926, Benito Mussolini had effectively placed the political opposition against his regime out of harm's way. Antifascism was limited to the milieu of political exiles, and domestic public opinion was characterized by consent rather than widespread opposition and subversion. The Allied and, consequently, German invasions triggered very different reactions, and the sheer violence and displacement of the military confrontation mobilized a partisan movement both in size and strategy more akin to the Balkan situation than to that of the occupied countries of western Europe. One year later, the advance of the Red Army in south-central Europe would cause short but intensely violent confrontations in the Axis states of Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia. There are in this regard obvious difficulties in comparing the Hungarian "resistance" in April 1945 with the Norwegian resistance in April 1940.

In western Europe, resistance is foremost characterized by physical separation from the battlefield. In May and June 1940, the battle lasted for five days in the Netherlands, eighteen in Belgium, and forty days in France—too short to allow for any organized, nonmilitary resistance to emerge. Until the return of battle in June 1944, resistance was mainly limited to intelligence, escape lines, the underground press, or the preparation of popular militias for D-Day and H-Hour. Radical formations who engaged in bomb attacks or shooting of the German Army were condemned in most underground newspapers, which deemed such a strategy both useless from a military point of view and wasteful of civilian lives because of the draconian retaliation they provoked. The Allied landings opened a wholly new and very violent chapter, with the full-out engagement in battle of resistance troops and generalized guerrilla warfare. Large-scale massacres of civilians, such as in the French village of Oradour, where 642 civilians were killed, or in the Vercors, where a partisan uprising was massacred by retreating German troops, occurred only in the wake of the invasion, partly because of the emergency transfer of troops from the eastern front who imported their brutal methods of counterinsurgency. Similarly violent episodes occurred during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 and January 1945. The partisan warfare in western Europe is mostly a rural phenomenon, coinciding with the length of regular military engagement in a given locality. Major cities such as Paris and Brussels were spared from potentially murderous liberation battles.

A last important chronological distinction applies to the "end" of resistance. For Poland, Ukraine, and the Baltic countries, anti-Soviet partisan activity continued into the late 1940s. For parts of central and eastern Europe, particularly for the Balkans, including Greece, 1945 is not the end of the cycle of civil war, ethnic cleansing, expropriation, and political violence. The second half of the decade from 1938 to 1948 is in that regard often more fundamental than the five years up to 1943.


These fundamental differences serve as an elementary precaution to any generalizing overall interpretations of the phenomenon of resistance in Nazi-occupied Europe. With these reservations in mind, one can, however, outline a few common characteristics of the organized opposition to Nazi rule in Europe.

A first useful distinction applies to the forms of engagement. One should not confound "intentional" resistance of highly motivated "first movers" with the less political "functional" resistance of large networks. Intentional resistance involved patriots and nationalists, who rejected German occupation because it violated national sovereignty, and a broad alliance of antifascists, the most active and organized of which were the communist parties. Functional resistance involved individuals, groups, and institutions that occupied a particular place in society allowing them to give crucial support to an organized resistance movement. There are notoriously few intentional resisters among farmers and clerics, yet both social groups came to play a crucial role in the hiding and feeding of an ever increasing clandestine population, including resistance militants whose identity has been discovered by the enemy, Allied prisoners of war and recovered aircrew, Jews, and requisitioned workers. Farms, monasteries, orphanages, and boarding schools had the real estate, the means, and the advantage of not being suspected of subversion, which allowed them to play a pivotal rule in the "humanitarian" resistance all over Europe. Policemen, as well as civil servants working in the labor administrations and the municipal registry offices, were faced with a very different choice. Their daily tasks involved often-considerable assistance to the occupation authorities in tracing the addresses and identities of wanted individuals or lending assistance to their arrest. Under the increasing pressure of the ever more intrusive policies of occupation, disobedience and/or resistance became an inevitable choice. Warning searched-for individuals or delivering forged papers was often a less dangerous approach than a blanket refusal to cooperate with the occupation authorities. The dynamic of engagement in resistance activities is thus very different for each of these groups.

This distinction between intentional and functional resistance also offers the possibility of reconstructing a chronology of resistance engagement different from the chronology of battle outlined above. Practical difficulties of logistics and organization are a major factor that occupies a central place in the first generation of historiography on resistance movements. Establishing contacts between exile governments in London and resistance movements on the Continent and, often only in a second stage, among resistance movements themselves, working in complete isolation, took one to two years. Facilitating these contacts through radio transmitters, rather than emissaries and "mail-boxes," in southern France, Spain, Portugal, and Switzerland, took even longer. Charles de Gaulle's emissary, Jean Moulin, for example, was parachuted into the French Alps in January 1942, but only after a perilous return to London in February 1943 did he succeed, at the end of May 1943, in creating the Conseil National de la Résistance (National Resistance Committee), representing most movements, parties, and trade unions in occupied France. The Belgian government-in-exile set up a highly inventive system of financial support for workers in hiding to escape labor conscription in Germany, through guaranteed loans by Belgian banks, but the scheme started functioning only in April 1944. Conflicts between movements, emissaries, British services, and exile governments, the arrest of emissaries, and highly successful infiltration operations by the German counterintelligence, Abwehr, notoriously in the Netherlands in the so-called Englandspiel, all made these efforts long and costly in terms of human lives.

Resistance was also intrinsically a bet on the future. The military and geopolitical prospects were therefore a crucial factor: the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941; the U.S. declaration of war in December of that year; the halting of the German offensive on the eastern and North African fronts; the first German defeats, especially at Stalingrad at the start of 1943; and the Allied landings in North Africa, Italy, Normandy, and the Provence all affected public opinion in the occupied countries and, by creating hope for a liberation from German presence, encouraged resistance. Even more decisive were the concrete policies pursued by Nazi Germany in the occupied regions. During the killing spree of the Einsatzgruppen on the eastern front in the summer of 1941, there was hardly any organized resistance, and the local Jewish population was completely taken by surprise by these indeed inconceivably brutal actions. It was only in the following months that the partisan movement organized its actions behind enemy lines. During the razzias (roundups) of the summer of 1942, the Jewish population of western Europe was similarly taken by surprise. The fact that the first three months of deportations represented two-thirds of the total number for the whole of the war shows the effectiveness of the various forms of resistance to the German policies that developed in the ensuing months. Among them, Jewish immigrant militants of the communist parties in both France and Belgium—the famous Francs tireurs et Partisans–Main d'Œuvre Immigrée—formed the most radical units of urban guerrillas in a fight for survival, targeting also the personnel organizing the deportations. One year later still, the labor draft took the form of massive roundup operations, but by the end of the summer of 1943, the yields of the German labor recruitment policies dropped dramatically, thereby fueling the resistance with tens of thousands of clandestines to hide, feed, and, for a minority among them, enroll in Maquis formations preparing for guerrilla warfare. The failure of the labor draft from the summer of 1943 onward was undoubtedly the main success of the resistance in western Europe and the main factor explaining its transformation from an active minority into a mass movement involving all sectors of the occupied society.

The combination of these factors helps to explain the early engagement of nationalists in the resistance, during the fall of 1939 in Poland; the summer of 1940 in Norway, the Netherlands, and Belgium; from April 1941 in Serbia and Greece; followed by the simultaneous entry of communist militants all over occupied Europe in June and July of 1941. A broadening of the basis occurred late in 1942 and in the course of 1943, particularly through the dynamic of "functional" resistance involving resisters with a very different profile. In late 1943 and during 1944, the expectation of a German retreat then created space either for a process of unification of a national resistance front anticipating the formation of a new postwar political coalition, such as in most western European countries, or a situation of civil war in the absence of prospects for coalition and power-sharing, such as in eastern and southern Europe. Resistance is thus a central category in understanding the war experience and postwar trajectory of European societies, but one whose impact has to be measured carefully in political, social, and even cultural terms depending on the geographical and chronological setting, and it is furthermore necessary to distinguish between the different forms of engagement in the struggle against it.

See alsoAntifascism; Collaboration; Einsatzgruppen; Occupation, Military; Vlasov Armies; Warsaw Uprising; World War II.


Gerlach, Christian. Kalkulierte Morde: Die deutsche Wirtschaftsund Vernichtungspolitik in Weissrusland, 1941 bis 1944. Hamburg, Germany, 1999.

Gross, Jan Tomasz. Polish Society under German Occupation: The Generalgouvernement, 1939–1944. Princeton, N.J., 1979.

——. Revolution from Abroad: The Soviet Conquest of Poland's Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia. Rev. ed. Princeton, N.J., 2002.

Herbert, Ulrich. Best: Biographische Studien über Radikalismus, Weltanschauung und Vernunft, 1903–1989. Bonn, Germany, 1996.

Kedward, H. R. In Search of the Maquis: Rural Resistance in Southern France, 1942–1944. Oxford, U.K., 1993.

Mazower, Mark. Inside Hitler's Greece: The Experience of Occupation, 1941–1944. New Haven, Conn., 1993.

Moore, Bob, ed. Resistance in Western Europe. Oxford, U.K., 2000.

Snyder, Timothy. The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569–1999. New Haven, Conn., 2003.

Tomasevich, Jozo. War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941–1945: Occupation and Collaboration. Stanford, Calif., 2001.

Tönsmeyer, Tatjana. Das Dritte Reich und die Slowakei, 1939–1945: Politische Alltag zwischen Kooperation und Eigensinn. Paderborn, Germany, 2003.

Pieter Lagrou


views updated May 29 2018


Excerpts from Resistance: My Life for Lebanon

Written by Soha Bechara
Printed in 2003

"Inevitably, I would be arrested. But what would they do with me? Torture me? Execute me on the spot?"

Born in Lebanon on June 15, 1967, Soha Bechara remembered her childhood as happy and peaceful, filled with playtime with her cousins and village-wide festivals and celebrations. In her memoir, Resistance: My Life for Lebanon, Bechara described her village of Deir Mimas as "like paradise to me."

By the time Bechara was a teenager the situation had changed. From the early 1970s, Bechara had grown increasingly aware of the troubles that came to plague her country, as Palestinians living in camps along Lebanon's southern border fought with Jews in the neighboring country of Israel. (Palestinians—Arabs who claimed historic ties to land that now comprised the nation of Israel—had been forced to leave Jordan in 1970 and many of them, including the leadership of the political group called the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] settled in southern Lebanon.) Palestinian raids into Israel from southern Lebanon brought counterattacks by Israeli planes dropping bombs near Bechara's hometown.

Bechara also experienced firsthand the political differences between the Lebanese people that led to a civil war in 1975, and forced her family to travel back and forth between their village and shelters in Beirut for a time. "We were refugees in our own city," she recalled in Resistance: My Life for Lebanon. And by 1976 "the daily reality was war." She expressed her growing political activism by volunteering at Red Cross clinics and joining the Communist Party. When Israel invaded in 1978 and occupied a portion of Lebanon that included her childhood village, Bechara had already become accustomed to war. Despite the leaflets dropped by Israeli war planes in 1982 advising the Lebanese to leave West Beirut, Bechara wanted to stay.

A sense of devotion to the interest and culture of Lebanon had blossomed in her.' 'I could not stop thinking about Israel and my duty as a Lebanese," she wrote in Resistance, recalling her experiences in the early 1980s. She was humiliated and angered by Israel's occupation of her homeland. Eventually her nationalist beliefs culminated in her desire to do "anything" for her country. The following excerpt from Bechara's memoir, Resistance: My Life for Lebanon, will paint a picture of her decision to become an assassin, as well as her terrible experiences in prison.

Things to remember while reading Excerpts from Soha Bechara's Resistance: My Life for Lebanon:

  • The resistance movement to which Bechara refers throughout her memoirs was a group of militant political activists who attempted to oust Israel from Lebanon throughout the late 1970s and 1980s.
  • The South Lebanon Army (SLA) was a militia, or loosely organized civilian army, that served as an Israeli ally in Lebanon. Sometimes the SLA would work with the Israeli Defense Forces, Israel's army.
  • Rabih was the only name by which Soha Bechara knew her superior in the resistance movement. She met him in 1986, and he was her main contact with the resistance movement as she prepared for and attempted the assassination of the South Lebanon Army leader Antoine Lahad in 1988.
  • Bechara had earned the trust of Antoine Lahad by working as his wife Minerva's aerobics instructor. The position enabled her to enter the Lahad household as a guest and offered her the opportunity to spend time alone with the Lahads.
  • Issam is the name of Soha Bechara's cousin, with whom she lived in Marjayoun in the area occupied by Israelis in the south of Lebanon. Issam had no idea of his cousin's activities for the resistance movement prior to her imprisonment.
  • On November 7, 1988, Bechara was arrested by the South Lebanon Army and, after being interrogated in Israel, was sent to Khiam prison in southern Lebanon without being officially charged or put on trial for her attempted assassination of SLA chief Antoine Lahad.

Excerpts from Resistance: My Life for Lebanon

Chapter 8: The Operation

I met again with my contact at the heart of the resistance.

Rabih listened as I told him about my first interview with Antoine Lahad. Right away, he made it clear that we would have to plan for me to be replaced by someone whose job it would be to eliminate the militia chief. I answered that, considering the circumstances, I myself was in the best position to succeed. Rabih was not very taken with this idea. He admitted its efficiency, but he seriously doubted that I was capable of carrying out the operation. But faced with mystubbornness, he resigned himself to taking the risk. There was still the question of the weapon. ...

Time was short, so Rabih and I decided to meet in a discreet spot, a café where couples often went on dates. That day, he secretly brought with him a 5.5 mm revolver. In a few words he told me how it worked, pointing out the safety catch. ...


I took my role of aerobics instructor very seriously. Little by little, I became quite close to Minerva. ... So I found myself going again and again to her house, either to bring her videocassettes or to work out problems with the classes. When she was busy or indisposed and I had to wait, I would play with her little son, whose affection I easily gained.

Step by step, I fine-tuned my plan. ...


Wearing a white shirt, blue pants, and black ballet slippers, I made it once again without difficulty into the couple's beautiful house. I had been dropped off by Issam, who, to kill time, liked to join the nightly cavalcade of cars that filled the streets of Marjayoun. Before leaving, I had taken the revolver from its cache and hid it among a few other little things in my purse. The SLA chief's bodyguards let me pass without suspicion.

The usual routine.

I found Minerva in the garden with a Spanish friend. We moved inside, where we met her friend's husband, César, the director of a television station. Later, Antoine Lahad joined us. The atmosphere was pleasant. We spoke in French. Minerva lamented once again the small-mindedness of people in the occupied zone. We moved into the living room. The militia chief sat down near the telephone, with me to his right, as I had imagined. The conversation idled along. I kept myself a bit behind it all.

I listened.

After a half-hour, our hostess asked us what we'd like to drink. I murmured my thanks, but said that it was late and I had to go. Her husband insisted, and I made as if I was staying out of politeness. The militia chief turned on the television. It was the nightly news, on the station of the occupied zone. There was a report on the Intifada . On the screen, I had time to see a young Palestinian throwing a stone. Antoine Lahad watched distractedly, playing with the remote control. Suddenly, the telephone rang. He picked it up. His face darkened. Whoever he was talking to was obviously bringing up an unpleasant subject.

I stole a glance at the living room clock.

It was nearly eight. Sitting to my left, Antoine Lahad continued his conversation. His gaze rested on me for a moment. He examined me, as if curious. I drew towards me the bag lying at my feet. I was extraordinarily calm. I slid my hand into the opening, telling Minerva that I had brought the keys and videotapes she wanted. My hand, hidden from sight, closed on the handle of the gun. Still sitting, I took the weapon from the bag like it was the most natural thing in the world. Instantly, I pointed it towards the militia chief, supporting my fist with my left hand.

I struggled to aim at the condemned man's heart.

I pulled the trigger once and thought I saw the bullet bury itself in his khaki shirt. Antoine Lahad, taken aback, shot to his feet, as Rabih had predicted. An insult sprang from his lips... . I fired a second time, as planned.

He staggered.

For a second, life in the living room froze. Minerva, lying on the ground, let out a scream, shattering the silence. She cried for a gun to settle me and a helicopter to evacuate her husband. I threw a sweeping glance around me. The Spanish woman, her face ashen, looked at me fixedly, like a madwoman. Her husband, paralyzed with terror, was staring at me like he would be next. I took the chance to throw the gun into the bedroom off the living room, trying to gain a little time. The bodyguards would look for the weapon as soon as they burst into the room, which would be soon enough. Six feet away from me, the militiaman's body had rolled to the floor and lay there, motionless.

Chapter 9: The Arrest

It was done. I had completed my mission.

What would happen to me now?

I had asked myself the question a thousand times since deciding to carry out the operation, and I had never found an answer. We had made no plans for me to escape, or for someone to rescue me. It would have been too dangerous. Antoine Lahad's house was like a fortified camp. I had been able to enter an hour earlier, fooling the guards one last time, then fire on the leader of Israel's proxy militia. But now the two shots had sounded the alert.

Inevitably, I would be arrested. But what would they do with me? Torture me? Execute me on the spot?


Chapter 10: Khiam

Khiam, or hell with no name, with no existence.

The Khiam prison, set up in an old military installation, was created in 1985. ... Khiam sat on a promontory that was strategically important for the occupied zone. It was far from any fighting, quite close to Israel, and difficult to access. Officially, the SLA was responsible for the prison, although the Israelis had managed it directly when it was created and then gradually shifted the interrogation work to Lebanese mercenaries. Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security agency, kept files on all the detainees, and now and then its agents would come to inspect the premises. The squat buildings of Khiam looked down upon the village of the same name. They consisted of interrogation rooms and two sets of usually overcrowded collective cells, one set for men and one for women.A few other buildings housed the guards, and that was all. The prison was encircled by watchtowers and surrounded by a minefield. It would have been extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to escape.

When I landed there, its reputation was already well established.


The prison fed on two kinds of prey. First there were the resistance fighters, myself among them, captured in battle or exposed by the security forces. We all suffered the same fate. Interrogation and torture to start, then seclusion without trial or sentence, the length of detention set by the whims of the jailers. Israel did not want to appear responsible for these cumbersome detainees. Probably, a part of the Israeli public would not accept such human rights violations committed under the auspices of their country. The proof: when Lebanese were detained on Israeli soil, kept as hostages in exchange for information about soldiers missing in action, or even more macabre, in exchange for the bodies of those killed and abandoned to the enemy, Israeli and Palestinian human-rights groups and lawyers would struggle tirelessly for the prisoners. In comparison, Khiam was perfect for Israel. No laws, no judges, no lawyers. Prisoners in Khiam were negated, buried, conveniently wiped from the world of the living.

But the security forces were not satisfied with locking up the ones who fought them. The prison was often bursting with people who had no relation to the guerrillas. Women, children, and the elderly, from all backgrounds, were also transferred to Khiam for the purposes of intimidation, pressure, and torture. For the SLA, it was a means to get information about people judged to be suspicious, and a way to blackmail or threaten the prisoners into collaborating with the security services in the occupied zone. For these prisoners, too, detention became a kind of lottery. No one knew, on going into Khiam, if he would be released the next week or many years later.

And no one could be sure of coming out alive, particularly the women—the daily routine wore down even the most healthy. In part, this was because of the climate. The prison, located to the south of Beirut but at a high altitude, was stifling hot in summer and freezing cold in winter. Snow would fall at that height, and the buildings, like all those in hot countries, were designed without the slightest protection against the cold. The cells, which naturally had no running water, were spartan. The detainees slept under sheets on old foam mattresses. Blankets were rare. Because of poor construction, the floors of the jail were never clean. Moisture rose from the ground and seeped through the mattresses atnight, chilling you to the bone. Apart from these pallets and some iron water-tanks, the detainees shared a plastic bucket, often without a lid, as a latrine. It was emptied twice a day, in the heat of summer as in winter. The buckets were usually constructed out of kitchen-oil jugs.

In Khiam, the rhythm never changed.

The women detainees were woken at dawn and given a frugal breakfast. They then had to clean their cell, come out by turns and empty the bucket, quickly wash themselves in the cramped room designated for that purpose, and fill up their water-cans. Time outside the cell was limited to five minutes, measured by stopwatch in a quasi-military fashion. Tardiness was severely punished. At noon, a scanty lunch was brought into the cells. In mid-afternoon, a few pieces of food were also served. These three moments were the only times of day when the prison became somewhat animated. At all other times, silence was the rule, and any raised voices were subject to punishment. Coughing, or clearing one's throat, was also prohibited. The detainees could talk in low voices with other women inside the same cell, but communication between cells was not allowed.

The prisoners, shut up in their cells, were cut off from all contact with the outside world. Visits were forbidden, even for families who lived only a few miles from Khiam. Nothing came to lighten the dull monotony . Whether they had been captured during an operation or torn unsuspecting from their beds, the women were all in the same boat. ...

The mediocre food and uncomfortable cells encouraged sickness in bodies already tired out by interrogations and intensive torture. In the prison, where the detainees (men and women) sometimes numbered over two hundred, there were supposed to be two medical orderlies, of extremely limited competence and means, but usually there was only one. In Khiam, you were better off not getting sick. It was very difficult to get permission from the camp authorities to be transferred to the nearest hospital in Margayoun. You were also better off not complaining too much or breaking the rules. Reprisals were instant. Beatings and time in solitary subdued the more rebellious.

... For the male prisoners, living conditions were even harsher than for the women, partly because of overcrowding and the constant beatings administered by the guards. This was especially true of the solitary cells. A woman confined to solitary was locked up in a sort of box, two and a half feet wide by six and a half feet long and eight feet high, in which she could still move a little. For the men, the solitary was a nightmare; the cell was a cube, measuring less than three feet a side, pierced by a tiny hole. The prisoner, swallowed up, compressed, foldedover on himself, was of course unable to stand and could barely move except to eat. He was sometimes taken out so that he could hurriedly wash himself. Yet somehow prisoners survived in that half-light for many months, though they often suffered heavy consequences: skeletal disorders and problems of vision. One of them held out for a year and a half of this inhuman treatment.

What happened next ...

Antoine Lahad survived Soha Bechara's attack, and Bechara spent ten years in the prison at Khiam. The mistreatment of prisoners at Khiam came to international attention, and several groups rallied in their calls for better treatment of Khiam's prisoners and for Bechara's freedom in particular. The horror of her imprisonment continues to haunt Bechara. Freed on September 3, 1998, Bechara confessed in her memoir that "I have not spent a single day since I was freed without thinking of the camp, of those men and women who suffered there." In 2000, when the Israeli forces left southern Lebanon, Khiam closed. Bechara wrote of the time as "a rare moment of unity for the Lebanese," who had been divided for so long.

But that moment was short-lived. Although the enemies had changed since Bechara first took up her fight for freedom, Lebanon remained divided in the 2000s. Religious and political differences continued to cause conflict in the nation. In addition, the neighboring country of Syria, which had become a strong political force in Lebanon since sending troops to support various factions in the civil war in 1976, maintained its troops in Lebanon even after the civil war ended in 1990, and tried to gain control of the Lebanese government.

On March 13, 2005, an estimated one-fourth of the Lebanese population demonstrated for national unity and against Syria. Demonstrators called for the withdrawal of Syrian troops and an investigation into the deaths of Lebanese officials perceived to be at odds with Syria. The rally was considered to be the "biggest anti-government demonstration ever staged in the Arab world," according to the Everett, Washington, Herald. In what demonstrators called "an independence revolution," according to the Herald, Sunni Muslims, Christians, Shiites, and Druze united to announce, as one Beirut resident put it, "The most important thing is that I'm Lebanese." Bechara's desire for "a free Lebanon, a country at peace," which she wrote about in Resistance, continued to be the quest for millions of its citizens.

Did you know ...

  • Of Bechara's ten years in prison, six were spent alone in a cell that measured six feet by two feet. During this time she was allowed only ten minutes to eat the one meal served each day.
  • Israeli troops forced the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) out of Lebanon in 1982, but Israel remained an occupying force in Lebanon until 2000.
  • In 1989 Khiam prisoners revolted against their poor treatment. The uprising resulted in the deaths of two inmates and only a few improvements, such as blankets and sanitary buckets.
  • In 1994 the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) won the prisoners of Khiam many rights once denied, including communication with relatives and limited visits, the ability to receive packages of clothing, food, and toiletries, and access to news and books.
  • Upon her release from Khiam on September 3, 1998, Soha Bechara found it difficult to adjust to life outside of prison, especially because she was overwhelmed by questions from thousands of journalists and visitors. To adapt to her new life away from the public eye, she moved to France.

Consider the following ...

  • Soha Bechara's personal account of conflict is unusual because most prison memoirs have been written by men. Identify the details in her story that are unique because of her gender.
  • Female participants in revolutionary movements are often characterized as acting out plans designed by men without being fully knowledgeable about the consequences or meanings of their activities. Describe Soha Bechara's knowledge of her own activities. Use specific examples from the excerpt to support the description.
  • Soha Bechara describes inmates' poor treatment at Khiam. Imagine that the world has just learned of Khiam inmates' miserable conditions during its years of operation. Write a persuasive letter to the United Nations requesting international support for the humane treatment of prisoners. Possibly do extra research on the historical treatment of prisoners to make the letter more convincing.

Cavalcade: Procession of vehicles.

Cache: Hiding place.

Idle: To go slowly.

Intifada: The armed and violent popular uprising of Palestinians against Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Condemned: Doomed.

Proxy: A person authorized to act with the authority of another.

Promontory: A high point of land overlooking a lowland or a body of water.

Occupied zone: The part of Lebanon occupied by Israeli troops.

Mercenaries: Hired soldiers.

Cumbersome: Burdensome, awkward.

Auspices: Guidance or authority.

Macabre: Horrific.

Guerrillas: Soldiers who use unconventional fighting methods.

Stifling: Airless, oppressive.

Spartan: Simple, without comforts.

Latrine: Toilet.

Frugal: Minimal.

Monotony: Sameness.

Reprisals: Retaliatory actions.

For More Information


Bechara, Soha. Resistance: My Life for Lebanon. Brooklyn, NY: Soft Skull Press, 2003.


"Giant Crowd Rallies in Lebanon." Herald (Everett, Washington) (March 15, 2005): p. A3.

Web Sites

"Syria Withdraws Up to 6, 000 Troops from Lebanon." The New York Times. (accessed on June 24, 2005).


views updated May 29 2018


Resistance is one of the most controversial and emotional issues associated with the Holocaust and other genocides. The overwhelming scope of the Holocaust raised the question, How could so many people be murdered? Initially, writers proposed that it could only happen if the victims allowed it to happen through their own powerlessness. The phrase, "Jews went like sheep to the slaughter," as described most famously in the writings of Hannah Arendt, and later adopted by Raul Hilberg, summed up the early opinion that Jews offered little or no resistance. Later research, however, demonstrated that the issue was perhaps not the lack of resistance but how resistance was defined and, equally important, not why there was so little but how there was so much resistance that actually occurred.

Jewish Resistance during the Holocaust

The overwhelming might of the Nazi machine, together with local collaborators, made large-scale armed resistance impossible. Jews were isolated, with little arms or training, often disoriented by the progressive stages of the Final Solution and physically beaten down and systematically starved. Furthermore, most were primarily burdened by communal or familial responsibility and feared to act in the face of brutal Nazi reprisals. This limited the options of the more settled and older members of the community. Thus, in the ghettos, younger Jews—often those who had been members of the prewar Zionist youth movements—usually carried out armed resistance. The most famous resistance was the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, where a small number of Jews held out for almost a month. Other ghettos where Jews fought back included Vilna and Kovno in Lithuania and Bialystok, Kracow, and Czestochowa in Poland. According to some estimates, there were more than sixty ghettos in the Baltic areas that had underground resistance groups.

Jewish resistance was eventually found in the midst of the death camps, under the worst possible conditions. In camps such as Sobibor (August 1943) and Treblinka (October 1943) armed revolts caused both camps to stop functioning (Sobibor immediately and Treblinka after a few months). In Auschwitz-Birkenau another revolt (October 1944) resulted in the destruction of at least one gas chamber. This revolt was carried out by the Sonderkommando, the Jewish prisoners who were forced to work in the gas chambers and crematoria and who were supplied with gunpowder smuggled by women inmates from their slave labor in munitions factories.

Outside of the camps and ghettos Jewish resistance appeared as a form of partisan or resistance movements. However, in many cases, particularly in Eastern Europe, the Jewish units were not only forced to operate separately but also hunted and targeted by local resistance units, such as the Armia Krajowa in Poland. These Jewish units were often denied arms by both the national underground movements and the Allies, and they often had to protect themselves from these national units as well as the Nazis. Nonetheless, there was resistance, which usually took two forms. The first was offensive and consisted of attacks against Nazi forces and installations, or against places that could harm the Nazi war effort (such as trains, bridges, and telephone wires). The second was defensive and consisted especially in the formation of "family camps"; Jews who had succeeded in escaping the Nazis and had fled into the dense woods of Eastern Europe could find refuge in these camps, which were run and defended by Jews. The most famous of these camps was the Bielski otriad, which saved more than 1,100 Jews in Belorussia. An estimate of the number of these partisans in the East puts the figure at about 30,000.

In Western Europe, such as in France and Belgium, some separate Jewish groups did operate, but many of the Jews who were active in the resistance contributed in the context of the national underground. This was also the pattern with other lands, such as Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Italy, and Greece.

Whether resistance only involves fighting and violence is another question. While some scholars dismiss all forms of nonviolent or spiritual resistance, others such as Tzvetan Todorov have pointed out that nonviolence does not mean nonresistance to evil. In contrast to Hilberg and his followers, they advance the idea that as Yehuda Bauer put it, "one resists without using force" (2001, p. 120). Scholars are still exploring the precise definition of the term resistance, but various actions that fit into the definition might include smuggling food in opposition to Nazi decrees, establishing medical efforts to provide for the community, and continuing religious, educational, and cultural activities. Forms of these activities all took place in the ghettos and camps, and all were based on the idea of working to attempt to survive until liberation, thus depriving the Nazis of their goal of creating a Europe that was Judenrein ("free of Jews"). These actions also defied the Nazi attempt to define Jews as Untermenschen ("subhuman"), by affirming Jewish self-definition. In religious terms, in a reversal of the traditional term Kiddush Ha-Shem (literally "Sanctification of the Name" in Hebrew, referring to the obligation to accept martyrdom in certain conditions), a rabbi in the Warsaw ghetto put forward the commandment of Kiddush Ha-Hayyim, the "Sanctification of Life," as a religious obligation.

Resistance during Other Genocides

While resistance during the Holocaust is the best documented and most discussed example of resistance to genocide, it is not the only example. And as each example of genocide in history has its own unique features, so too do the other examples of resistance. But the lack of specific studies and detailed documentation hampers the discussion of other examples of resistance. For example, Soviet archives have only become accessible since the end of the cold war. Their availability gives historians the opportunity to compare Joseph Stalin's gulags to the Nazi concentration camp system, but significant differences do exist. While even in the midst of the gulag, at the height of Stalin's terror (and immediately after his death in 1953), there existed a network of anti-Stalinist and anti-Soviet activities that included strikes, protests, underground newspapers, and, ultimately, armed revolts in 1942, 1953, and 1954 that involved thousands of inmates. Resistance by refusal to work would have been futile in a Nazi system that existed to provide death, not products.

Also, while the myth of the impossibility of escape from the Gulag was one that was popularized by many, including survivors such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn, others, such as the scholar Anne Applebaum, have pointed out that thousands did escape, especially in the early years of the Gulag. For example, Applebaum cites official Soviet statistics: in one year alone (1947), 10,440 prisoners escaped and only 2,894 were recaptured.

While there is not a specific account of Tutsi resistance to the Hutu genocide, reports of resistance have surfaced. Philip Gourevitch described Bisesero as being "the only place in Rwanda where thousands of Tutsi civilians mounted a defense against the Hutus who were trying to kill them" (1998), and he also described non-violent rescues by individuals. As the war crimes tribunals continue their prosecutions in 2004, more evidence of both resistance and rescue are being documented.

Ultimately, resistance to genocide on a large scale can only succeed with assistance either from significant segments of the local populations or with international assistance. Failing that, resistance can save some, but its more lasting value might exist in giving the threatened group a sense of pride and self-determination, even in the sense of choosing the time, place, and method of their death, and in leaving a lasting legacy both to the survivors and to those who will come later. And, it is this sense of self-determination that can be a basis for rebuilding the family and community with a sense of group self-worth and shared humanity, both of which are necessary for the ability to not forget and to stand as equals among others.

SEE ALSO Bystanders; Perpetrators; Rescuers, Holocaust


Applebaum, Anne (2003). Gulag: A History. New York: Doubleday.

Bauer, Yehuda (2001). Rethinking the Holocaust. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.

Gourevitch, Philip (1998). We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda. New York: Picador.

Hilberg, Raul (1992). Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders. New York: Aaron Asher.

Todorov, Tzvetan (1996). Facing the Extreme: Moral Life in the Concentration Camps. New York: Metropolitan Books.

Mark Weitzman


views updated May 23 2018


Civilian resistance to enemy soldiers operating in their midst was an important factor in the South during the second half of the Civil War. In contrast to the North, which experienced only brief invasions by Southern forces in 1863 and 1864—many regions in the South grappled with the presence of enemy soldiers in the vicinity on a regular basis for the duration of the war. Clashes between Union troops and Southern civilians intensified during this period, and in many instances, civilian resistance took violent form. Those who took up arms to smite the Yankee invaders believed in the rightness of their cause, but in the end their activities brought more suffering to the South. Historians believe that their guerrilla actions further hardened the harsh Union attitude toward Southern civilians and private property during the latter stages of the war.

Defending the Heartland

The majority of Southern civilians adopted passive or cooperative attitudes when forced to interact with Northern units. Many Southern families and communities, their ranks greatly thinned by the Confederate Army's desperate appetite for healthy young white men, simply wanted to do whatever was necessary to get the enemy soldiers moving on. Acts of defiance were not likely to accomplish this goal. Furthermore, most understood that resistance or shows of hostility would likely serve only to provoke greater destruction."Most women understood that when the enemy appeared, any hostile or provocative gesture on their part could cost them heavily—thus a woman who rushed out and cut her own well rope as thirsty Northern soldiers came through her gate could well have her house burned by the furious bluecoats" (Kennett 1995, p. 298).

In some areas of the South, in fact, acts of sabotage or violence against Federal troops in the region was strongly opposed by the majority of community members. They reasoned that partisan acts of resistance would keep the invaders in the area longer as they sought to apprehend the culprits. And the longer that an enemy army stayed in an area, the more resources it would consume. Writing in Marching through Georgia (1995), historian Lee B. Kennett recounts at least one instance in which Southerners were so angered by a local man's decision to burn a bridge in the path of Union troops— thus delaying their departure from the region—that community members set fire to his home and fields.

Nonetheless, many Southerners embraced guerrilla activity when Federal troops entered their lands. Guerillas operated either as members of spontaneously formed groups, or as part of already-existing home guard or militia units (Linderman 1987, p. 196). The first notable instances in which guerilla activity occurred came during the 1862 Peninsula campaign in Virginia, and ambushes, sniper attacks, acts of sabotage, and other forms of "irregular warfare" became more frequent from that point forward. Most of these rifle-toting defenders of the Southland lacked formal military training, and the squirrel rifles and other modest firearms at their disposal limited their ability to inflict significant casualties on the enemy. But their familiarity with the local terrain, their implacable hatred for the invading Yankees, and their ability to melt into the general population combined to make them a force to be reckoned with in some districts.

Union concerns about Southern irregulars further intensified when it became clear that Confederate authorities were sanctioning—and in some cases providing material support to—some guerrilla activity. The most notable instance of official government assistance to irregulars came in the region of Virginia that came to be known as "Mosby's Confederacy," in homage to the charismatic John Singleton Mosby and his guerrilla followers.

Rooting Out the Guerrillas

Confederate partisans viewed their actions as noble and valorous acts of defiance against an oppressive foe. Ordinary soldiers in the Northern ranks, however, harbored a much different view of these resisters. Seizing on the dominant methodologies of the partisans—bushwhackings, sniper attacks, nighttime arson attacks, and the like—Yankee troops overwhelmingly described the guerrillas as cowardly and amoral. They also saw these partisan activities as a violation of basic tenets of war.

It did not take long for Union commanders and soldiers alike to see all local civilians as potential enemies. This evolving view of civilians made it much easier for Union soldiers to rationalize their looting and destruction of Southern households and personal property. The increasingly ruthless behavior of the federal army in turn prompted new acts of bushwhacking and sabotage from outraged partisans. A spiraling cycle of violence thus came into being, and it became more powerful with each act of partisan sabotage or Union attack on Southern property. Inevitably, Southerners who were innocent of any acts of hostility against Union soldiers sometimes suffered at the hands of angry and suspicious Yankees.

An Unstoppable Tide

Confederate guerrilla activity against Union troops was most sustained during Union General William T. Sherman's notorious "March to the Sea" in 1864 and early 1865. During this march, as Sherman's army cut a wide and destructive path through the heart of the Confederacy, bands of Confederate partisans bedeviled the enemy force in their midst through sniper attacks, attacks on bridges and trestles, sabotage of railroad tracks and telegraph wires, and raids on supply depots and other outposts. These actions never threatened to derail Sherman's march, but they did constitute an annoying nuisance. "Our armies traverse the land," Sherman fumed, "and the waves of disaffection, sedition and crime close in behind as our track disappears" (Kennett 1995, p. 98).

Determined to reverse this state of affairs and punish the South for its stubborn resistance, Sherman embraced the idea of neutralizing guerrilla activity in captured territory through the deportation of agitators and irreconcilables. This policy of displacement of sympathizers of Confederate guerrillas actually originated while Sherman commanded Memphis in the fall of 1862, in retaliation for sniping at Union steamboats. From mid-1864 forward, Union forces moving through Confederate lands expelled thousands of people from their homes. Most were deported to locales in the North, where it was thought that their poisonous attitudes would be so diluted as to render them harmless. By some accounts an estimated 20,000 Southerners were unloaded at the harbor in Cairo, Illinois, without any provision for their shelter or other needs. Other Union commanders adopted similarly harsh measures to address the guerrilla issue. Union General Ulysses S. Grant, for example, became so fed up with Mosby's predations that he ordered the arrest of all men under fifty living in Loudon County—the heart of Mosby's Confederacy.

Rank-and-file Union soldiers were largely supportive of these measures. Rebel troops, though, expressed profound disgust at the Union Army's increased use of "hard war" tactics to smash partisan activity and destroy the will of Southern civilians. "I try to restrain my bitterness," wrote one member of Stonewall Jackson's famed Stonewall Brigade. "[But] it is an insult to civilization and to God to pretend that the Laws of War justify such warfare" (Douglas 1940, pp. 315–316).


Douglas, Henry Kyd. I Rode with Stonewall. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1940.

Glatthaar, Joseph T. The March to the Sea and Beyond: Sherman's Troops in the Savannah and Carolinas Campaigns. New York: New York University Press, 1985.

Grimsley, Mark. Hard Hand of War. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Kennett, Lee B. Marching through Georgia: The Story of Soldiers and Civilians during Sherman's Campaign. New York: HarperCollins, 1995.

Linderman, Gerald F. Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War. New York: Free Press, 1987.

Mitchell, Reid. Civil War Soldiers: Their Expectations and Their Experiences. New York: Viking, 1988.

Robertson, James I., Jr. Soldiers Blue and Gray. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1988.

Royster, Charles. The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans. New York: Knopf, 1991.

Woodworth, Steven E. Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861–1865. New York: Vintage, 2006.

Kevin Hillstrom


views updated May 18 2018


Psychoanalysis understands resistance as something that stands in the way of the progress of analytic work during treatment. The term appeared for the first time in Sigmund Freud's writings in the Studies on Hysteria (1895d), where he reportedin connection with the case of Lucy he had given up testing the degree of hypnosis of his patients because "this roused the patients' resistances and shook their confidence in me, which I needed for carrying out the more important psychical work" (p. 108). During his treatment of Elisabeth von R., already mindful of his own role in the clinical work, Freud perceived this resistance through the efforts he had to make in order to get his patient to remember certain painful representations. In the Freudian psychodynamic approach, this concept refers to the psychic force that the patient opposes to the bringing into consciousness of certain unpleasurable representations during treatment: the psychic force developed to maintain repression.

If the topographical theory led to the idea that psychoanalysis was, in Freud's words, an interpretative art that consisted of making the unconscious conscious, the analyst's task was henceforth to "lead the patient to recognize his resistance and to reckon with it." Analysis of the resistances thus became one of the cornerstones of analytic technique; analysis of the transference was soon linked with it.

In "The Dynamics of Transference" (1912b), Freud wondered why transference, the most effective among the factors of success, could become the most powerful agent of resistance. He was thus led to distinguish between positive and negative transference, and to conclude that "transference to the doctor is suitable for resistance to the treatment only in so far as it is a negative transference or a positive transference of repressed erotic impulses."

Freud agreed that nothing in analysis is more difficult than overcoming the resistances. However, these phenomena are valuable because they make it possible to bring to light patients' secret and forgotten emotions of love; above all, by endowing these with a sense of immediacy, the resistances facilitate the recognition of these emotions, because, as Freud put it in a well-known formulation, "it is impossible to destroy anyone in absentia or in effigie " (1912b, p. 108). Instead of remembering, the patient reproduces attitudes and feelings from his or her life, which, through the transference, can be used as means of resistance against the treatment and against the therapist. It is as if the patient's intention to confound the analyst, make him feel his impotence, triumph over him, becomes more powerful that his or her intention to bring an end to his or her illness.

The article "Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through (Further Recommendations on the Technique of Psycho-Analysis II)"(1914g) marked a turning point where the discovery of repetition compulsion put an end to an illusion: Freud admitted that naming the resistance still did not make it disappear immediately. Analytic technique purported to be an art of interpretation that focused above all on recognizing the resistances and communicating them to the patient. Discovering that "The greater the resistance, the more extensively will acting out (repetition) replace remembering" (p. 151), Freud recognized the importance of the need for working-through (durcharbeiten ) "One must allow the patient time to become more conversant with this resistance with which he has now become acquainted, to work through it, to overcome it, by continuing, in defiance of it, the analytic work according to the fundamental rule of analysis" (p. 155). Freud constantly reiterated that it is the working-through of the resistances that offers the patient the greatest chance of change.

In the chapter "Resistance and Repression" in Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (1916-17 [1915-17]), Freud underscored the forms of the resistances, which are very diversified, extremely refined, and often difficult to recognize, and their protean characterattributes that require the physician to be cautious and to remain on guard against them. Thus, during treatment, phenomena such as gaps in memory, screen-memories, overabundant production of dreams, cessation of free association, avoidance of causal links, judgments about the insignificance of thoughts that come to mind, or even flight into treatment may all be understood as forms of resistance. But it was the most paradoxical forms of resistancerepetition compulsion and the negative therapeutic reactionwhich Freud linked to unconscious feelings of guilt, that gave his study of the resistances its full amplitude.

In Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety (1926d), Freud returned to the forms of the resistances and distinguished those of the ego, the id, and the superego. The first type is under the aegis of the pleasure principle and includes three possibilities: resistance to the lifting of repression, resistance to the loss of secondary gains from illness, and transference resistance, which aims to maintain repression. The second, resistance of the id, corresponds to "the power of the compulsion to repeat" (1926d, p. 159) and necessitates working-through. The third, resistance of the superego, comes out of the feeling of guilt and the need for punishment, which stand in the way of successful treatment; this type was later described as a negative therapeutic reaction, itself linked to the death instinct.

If Freud remained reticent on the intrinsic nature of the resistances while underscoring their variability, richness, and solidity, he always believed that the patient's work on his or her own resistances was indispensable to the success of the treatment, even positing in his last writings that this work alone carried in it the potential for real and lasting change in the ego.

Analysts after Freud have done relatively little further work on the manifestations of resistance during treatment. However, Melanie Klein, by seeing resistance essentially as a manifestation of negative transference, paved the way for a certain number of other studies, notably those of Wilfred Bion, who described psychotic resistance as "attacks on linking."

MichÈle Pollak Cornillot

See also: Acting out/acting in; Active technique; "Analysis Terminable and Interminable"; "Autobiographical Study, An"; Cathartic method; Change; Character; "Constructions in Analysis"; Cure; Defense; Development of Psycho-Analysis ; Doubt; Ego; Ego and the Id, The ; Evenly-suspended attention; Face-to-face situation; Fundamental rule; Id; Interpretation; Negative therapeutic reaction; Psychoanalysis of Children, The ; Psychoanalyst; "Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through"; Repressed; Repression, lifting of; Silence; Studies on Hysteria ; Superego; Technique with adults, psychoanalytic; Termintaion of treatment; Therapeutic alliance; Training analysis; Transference; "Wild " Psycho-Analysis ; Working-through.


Bion, Wilfred Ruprecht. (1959). Attacks on linking. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 43 (4-5), 308.

Freud, Sigmund. (1912b). The dynamics of transference. SE, 12: 97-108.

. (1914g). Remembering, repeating and working-through (further recommendations on the technique of psycho-analysis II). SE, 12: 145-156.

. (1916-17a [1915-17]). Introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. Parts I and II. SE, 15-16.

. (1926d [1925]). Inhibitions, symptoms and anxiety. SE, 20: 75-172.

Freud, Sigmund, and Breuer, Josef. (1895d). Studies on hysteria. SE, 2: 48-106.

Further Reading

Busch, Fred. (1995). Resistance analysis and object relations theory. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 12, 43-54.

Gray, Paul. (1992). Memory as resistance, and the telling of a dream. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 40, 307-326.

Smith, Henry F. (1997). Resistance, enactment, and interpretation: A self-analytic study. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 17, 13-30.


views updated May 23 2018

re·sist·ance / riˈzistəns/ • n. 1. the refusal to accept or comply with something; the attempt to prevent something by action or argument: she put up no resistance to being led away. ∎  armed or violent opposition: government forces were unable to crush guerrilla-style resistance. ∎  (also re·sist·ance move·ment) [in sing.] a secret organization resisting authority, esp. in an occupied country. ∎  (the Resistance) the underground movement formed in France during World War II to fight the German occupying forces and the Vichy government. Also called maquis. ∎  the impeding, slowing, or stopping effect exerted by one material thing on another: air resistance would need to be reduced by streamlining.2. the ability not to be affected by something, esp. adversely: some of us have a lower resistance to cold than others. ∎  Med. & Biol. lack of sensitivity to a drug, insecticide, etc., esp. as a result of continued exposure or genetic change.3. the degree to which a substance or device opposes the passage of an electric current, causing energy dissipation. Ohm's law resistance (measured in ohms) is equal to the voltage divided by the current. ∎  a resistor or other circuit component that opposes the passage of an electric current.PHRASES: the line (or path) of least resistance an option avoiding difficulty or unpleasantness; the easiest course of action.


views updated May 11 2018

1. (in microbiology) The degree to which pathogenic microorganisms remain unaffected by antibiotics and other drugs. Genes for antibiotic resistance are often carried on plasmids or transposons, which can spread across species barriers.

2. (in ecology)
a. The degree to which a pest can withstand the effects of a pesticide. It depends on the selection and spread within a pest population of genes that confer the ability to destroy, or minimize the effects of, a pesticide.

b. See environmental resistance.

3. (in immunology) The degree of immunity to infection that an animal possesses.


views updated Jun 08 2018

resistance refusal to accept or comply with something.
The Resistance is the name given to the underground movement formed in France during the Second World War to fight the German occupying forces and the Vichy government. The Resistance was composed of various groups which were coordinated into the Forces Françaises de l'Intérieur in 1944, which joined with Free French forces in the liberation of Paris and northern France.
the line of least resistance an option avoiding difficulty or unpleasantness; the easiest course of action.