Reading the Resistance
January 23, 2017 5:32 AM   Subscribe

In the face of the global rightward populist turn, I have found myself thinking quite a bit about the concept of "the Resistance" that I have found in scraps of history and pop culture, such as the French resistance to the Vichy government. I would like to know more about the history of organized resistance efforts across the globe, particularly their structures and tactics, and their impact on large-scale events such as elections and war outcomes. Most interested in nonfiction accounts, but open to good fiction, films, other genres. Thanks! Vive la résistance!
posted by Miko to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
The Flame & Citron - Danish film starring Mads Mikkelsen based upon a famous Danish WW2 resistance group. Be aware that many after-the-fact accounts will glorify & simplify resistance efforts. I visited the Danish WW2 Resistance museum and found some of the exhibits troubling.
posted by kariebookish at 5:37 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

I just added a bunch of books from this reading list. The list covers more than "the Resistance", but it does have a good amount of links on it. Reading the last letters of the Manouchian Group before their execution was heartbreaking.
posted by dysh at 6:07 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Partisans of Vilna about the Jewish resistance in the Vilnius ghetto. I don't know how hard it will be to get ahold of it - but my local library has a copy, so perhaps yours does as well.

I can't recommend a specific book, but look for books about The White Rose movement in Germany.

I am rereading Every Man Dies Alone, a novel based on the true story of a German couple who resisted Hitler. They weren't part of an organized group, and their resistance consisted of leaving anti-Hitler postcards in public places, but they were eventually executed for this. Primo Levi called it "the greatest book ever written about the German resistance to the Nazis."
posted by FencingGal at 6:57 AM on January 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

I'd also suggest the 14-part TV series "Eyes on the Prize" about the American Civil Rights movement. The tactics used in that time period seem like they could be very pertinent now.
posted by FencingGal at 7:23 AM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

This current FPP links to the first chapter of a book on direct action in the U.S., Direct Action, by L. A. Kauffman. You can dip your toes into it via this post and see if it fits your needs.
posted by tofu_crouton at 7:25 AM on January 23, 2017

There is a lot of fantastic writing about resistance to the apartheid regime in South Africa, particularly with regards to how it was carried out without sacrificing humanity. I would recommend Mandela's 'Long Walk to Freedom', of course (it's a slow burn at the start but once it gets into the complex psychology of resistance I think you'll find much to interest you); Desmond Tutu's 'No Future without Forgiveness', which examines his time as chair of the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and Rian Malan's 'My Traitor's Heart', which is a great account of the complexity of joining the resistance against a regime that gives you privilege.

The big challenge for those joining the new resistance is how to do so without mirroring Trump's inhumanity. Every day we see Trump supporters being denigrated, laughed at and called stupid, and while this is emotionally satisfying in the short term it does little to make the resistance itself more effective. The antiapartheid movement will give you lots of ideas about how to beat 'em without inadvertently joining 'em.

Good luck!
posted by matthew.alexander at 8:12 AM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

Partisans of Vilna about the Jewish resistance in the Vilnius ghetto.

There is a very good book about this that came out somewhat recently called The Avengers by Rich Cohen. Noteworth because the author had a lot of access to the original partisans and has a lot of info/stories that aren't in other accounts. Googling 'Abba Kovner' can get you more online sources about these people.

Constance Markievicz is another good person to read up on, active in the Irish revolution and a big player in the Easter Uprising. Lot of good books about her, I suggest The Rebel Countess: The Life and Times of Constance Markievicz

I've also been fascinated by the story of The League of the Physically Handicapped, a group of activists in the WPA era who wanted to get the same access to jobs programs available for able-bodied people to the disabled in the US. A short but interesting campaign that kicked off a lot of what we know of as disability rights movements in the US.
posted by jessamyn at 8:36 AM on January 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

There are books about the French Resistance, but many don't get to the essential, which is that it was ad-hoc and only really named as such afterwards, when it was safe to do so.

It consisted of many acts of personal choice, really. People would quietly network with friends, family, co-workers they thought they could trust.

My grandfather-in-heart (grandfather of my ex-boyfriend, knew him from 1997 to his death a few years ago) was part of a more organized group that had coalesced from symphony musicians in Lyon. His wife, a clarinettist from Alsace, gave them German lessons. They would pretend to be Nazi collaborators, infiltrate, and share knowledge to protect people, but also, when needed, to execute Nazis. Sometimes one would pretend to be a lost soldier needing help, and draw out groups of Nazis that way.

My grandfather was proud of being part of it and helping to protect people, but it weighed on his heart to the very end. He could never directly talk about the executions; he would often say "I looked German boys in the eye, and what I saw were boys, just like me, drawn into something they didn't understand." It would bring tears to his eyes and he couldn't talk any more.

Other stories I've heard from Resistance members in Nice were quite similar – ad hoc, used existing networks of trust, did what they could and kept it secret. Often from their own neighbors and families. It was not easy, and the end of the war did not make it easier. There are families who were torn apart because they saw Resistance secrecy as treasonous – this is something that very much should be talked about. I see a lot of the current right-wing vulnerabilities in France stemming directly from the historical fallout of not facing the reality that there were very many collaborators and "just" people who didn't do anything when they could have; people who rejected family members who performed acts of resistance. The popular view of the Resistance as heroes is just that: a popular view that is also, partially, a very thin covering on rottenness. Like we've seen in the States: people who we thought were making progress towards tolerance and inclusion, but as soon as there's someone in power spouting rottenness, they come out from under their cover to do the same. This too exists in France w/r/t the Resistance and collaborators, and today w/r/t various forms of intolerance.
posted by fraula at 9:50 AM on January 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

Correction: his wife was a violinist. He was the clarinettist of the two. And I don't at all mean to be discouraging, just realistic. None of the résistants I met ever wanted to be heroes; they just wanted a better life for everyone. It was important to them to share the bleak side as well as the good.
posted by fraula at 10:22 AM on January 23, 2017

It's often difficult to define 'the Resistance' outside a war situation (and as fraula so rightly says, even in that context it can often be a definition after the fact). There are many histories of particular fights against particular oppressions, quite a few of which are mentioned upthread, but I don't even know if they'd consider themselves 'the Resistance'.

But if you're going for generally fighting against oppression, you could start with an easy-read comic book Fight the Power!. You could follow that with a graphic novel about workers' resistance, Wobblies!: A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World.

Then I'd definitely hit up some Orwell - Homage to Catalonia for the experience of being caught up in a literal war against fascism, and the second part of The Road to Wigan Pier for Orwell's thoughts on what puts 'ordinary' people off socialism - it does show its age and a bunch of unexamined biases, but it's clearly put and a good jumping-off point for considering the issues.

Part V of Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago covers escapes, uprisings and mutinies in the Gulag, which you might consider resistance in the most extreme circumstance.

If you want something good and meaty, then Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism covers a lot of resistance movements because a lot of them had anarchist elements (for example it covers Gandhi, anarchist resistance to the Soviets in the early period after the revolution, etc etc).

And while it's not about organised resistance, the experience of resistance in the heart and the soul when all other hope is lost can be important too; Janusz Korczak's Ghetto Diary, or Viktor Fankl's Man's Search for Meaning are books which have greatly affected me.
posted by Vortisaur at 12:41 PM on January 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

This may be a bit philosophical, please forgive me.
While the current situation is grave, and certainly deserves comparison with the 1930's, I am not certain it compares with the 1940's. We have authoritarian figures across the globe and a populist movement supporting them, but as of now, the world is more peaceful than ever, and more democratic. There are certainly a number of countries where you might want to be in the resistance. But none of these are in the "West".
Want we want now is to avoid to ever be in a situation where we might need to be in the resistance. We want to stop the US from accepting the authoritarian impulses of Donald Trump and his voters. We want to stop the EU from disintegrating. We want to support the democratization of African nations and of South America. We want to support the good forces in India and help stop the anti-democratic forces that are so similar to those in our own nations.
We don't want to be part of the resistance, because we don't want the resistance to be necessary.
For reasons, I grew up with my grandparents as parents a lot of the time, and they were resistance veterans. They had been terrible parents because they had been amazing heroes, which is paradoxically probably why I ended up living at their houses. They were forever damaged by the scars of fighting within their own country. Even as they were right, and they were, their whole existence was built on lies and fear. They were lionized, but they were also condemned, and they never felt safe. Being in the resistance, you never know if you are right or wrong. You never know if you will survive. You never know if your country will survive. You need to trust instincts that are in some aspects absurd, and you will know it if you are half conscious.
Oh, I forgot to mention that my paternal grandfather was tortured and died, and my dad never recovered from the loss, even as he had a successful life.
What I'm trying to say is: we don't want to go there. None of us do, and we need to act before resistance.
If we get to the stage where resistance is needed, I'll be there as a resistance granny. I'm not giving up. But we all need to fight now, before getting there
posted by mumimor at 1:10 PM on January 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Not really looking for direct comparitives here. I'm actually just interested in how the tactics evolved when things did get to that point, either in war or under oppression. I'm also aware that nobody in the US in 1930 thought things would ever get to that point. What I'm interested in is learning how individual people went from being regular folks like everyone else to mounting their own organized resistance efforts. I'm looking for examples like accounts of the Danish Resistance and the things mentioned above. Or even the contemporary underground railroads that help women get reproductive care that's been declared illegal (meaning, in fact, with some issues and some populations, we've already got resistance systems going on now).
posted by Miko at 4:56 PM on January 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

This biography of historian and Resistance member Marc Bloch is high on my reading list. I've just finished Jean Guéhenno's Diary of the Dark Years which is a thoughtful account of a noncombatant who kept up a quiet resistance, refusing to publish under the regime. I've also just finished W. E. B. Du Bois' powerful biography of John Brown; there are more factual accounts but this one drew me in, as it does track Brown's personal development. Before that, I was reading the diary of George Fox, for a portrait of the development of an organized nonresistance (and wow, did they ever not-resist hard).
posted by notquitemaryann at 5:09 PM on January 23, 2017

I heartily recommend Agnes Humbert's Resistance. Truly remarkable read.
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 8:15 AM on January 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

All four of my grandparents were part of the Danish resistance. For my paternal grandparents, this began as being part of the military resistance, led by officers disappointed with the government decision to accept the German occupation. For my maternal grandparents, it began with rescuing the Jews, since my grandfather was Jewish. Before the war, my granddad spent time saving family members and others from Nazi Germany. When all the Jews were in Sweden, my granddad went to Scotland to train as a parachuter, my grandmother had to escape to Sweden with my mum, leaving my uncle behind.

To be honest, I don't feel the available literature in English is what you are looking for. There is a novel I know has been translated, but I can't find on Amazon, so I guess it's really obscure. There is this book about the SOE in Denmark - with my granddad on the cover! But it is really geeky and focused on SOE. This film, where both my granddads appear, has an English version, and it is good, but also very narrow.

On a more personal level, I think the reasons people decided to resist and organize were very diverse, but they had in common that the people resisting had deep felt values. It was kind of a tabu in my family, but I had the feeling that my two grandfathers were actually in opposition to one another, one being liberal and internationalist and the other being a national conservative, but that they overcame it because of the higher cause. And you'd also have these really young guys joining the resistance who were maybe actually gangsters and thugs, but who had these overriding values, leading them to join the cause. I remember my grandmother being weirdly supportive of Islamic resistance fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan, because she could see herself in their struggles - she was probably the most radical of the four grandparents. Both my grandmothers ran guns in the prams, as well as information. Rough girls.

About the rescue of the Danish Jews. I think that the main thing is that Danish Jews were almost universally seen as Danish. There was anti-semitism, and not just a little. But for the majority population in Copenhagen and the other towns with Jewish populations, the Jews were seen as neighbors and friends. In a way, it was a local thing, though "local" included the areas where Jews spent vacations. I can see it today in my neighborhood. While other areas in Denmark may be islamophobic, I can't imagine anyone here turning on the Muslims. That would be sick, and anyone who did it would be ostracized. Jews during the 1930's were even more integrated: they were leaders of social change, and had allied with small shareholders to form an opposition against the big landowners and farmers.
posted by mumimor at 12:21 PM on January 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

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