The War of the Flea
The 32nd Letter of an Autonomous Thinker

Amsterdam, November 24 2002

Dear reader, 

Individuals who belong to the masses seem to be powerless against the powerful ruling body that some call the state, others the establishment, while I prefer to use the word elite. Many activists do not realise that they are like fleas, minute entities that are only a nuisance. But thousands of fleabites are worse then one bite from a tiger. A myriad of individual intrusions in the private living sphere of leaders makes more impression than many thousands of people who once demonstrate in front of the office of leaders. To bite another flea is of course a waste of time.

Robert Taber published in 1965 (edition Paladin 1970) “The War of the Flea” about successful mass struggles against oppressive indigenous or foreign powers. Though the present rich Western World and the poor Third World of that time differ vastly many principles of The War of the Flea are still valid for the present struggle of the masses against the privileged elite despite the fact that most past mass struggles were led by elements that later formed a new elite. Many points demand to be considered seriously in regard to a successful struggle against a powerful elite.

1. The first goal is mass power.
The purpose of the action is to change the mind of leaders so they take also into account the needs of the masses and only then a permanent change in the situation of the masses will occur. Direct improvements of the position of the masses are only a side effect of the struggle. The struggle is motivated by the hope for a better future.

2. As many mass people as possible have to become active.
Mass people must get confidence that they become powerful when they act on their own initiative. Political actions by populist or leftist organisations never lead to fundamental changes because a leading body controls all action. In the end this leading group merges with the old elite and denies any autonomy to the masses. Leftist and populist leaders (communists in Eastern Europe, socialists in Western Europe, populists who assumed power in Argentine, Japan or Italy) only proved that the gap between elite and mass remained and that the masses never got any independent power.

3. The power centre has to be attacked.
Guerrilla and govern forces often clash but leaders remain untouched. Because power is concentrated in the hands of people from the elite, the elite has to be attacked in person.

4. Conflicts inside the elite must be utilized.
In the elite several groups compete for power. It is best to attack only one of these groups and to let the rest of the elite (for the moment) in peace. When the masses have demolished the power of one elite group it is obvious that the power of other groups can also be neutralised.

5. The power of the elite must be undermined.
When the elite power decreases an improvement of the position of the masses will come by itself. The masses will gain self-esteem and leaders are forced to take decisions that are also beneficial to the masses and do not in the first place safeguard the privileged position of the elite.

6. Agreements with even part of the elite are wrong.
The power of the masses must remain independent of any influence of the elite. When the masses start to negotiate with the elite they are encapsulated and drawn into the realm of the elite (and given some crumbs of bread to remain silent). The negotiating policy of leaders of leftist parties and trade unions only resulted in the acceptation of these leaders into the old elite. To safeguard this privileged position (in average a much higher income than the masses) the interest of the masses became subordinate to the continuation of the status quo.

7. Successes are necessary.
Small successes have to be realized. The continuous existence of an opposing force outside the realm of influence of the elite is already a success. It shows that something escapes the power of the elite. When people see that their own independent and creative actions result in a small change, they will become self-confident and the possibility for a fundamental change will grow.

8. The final goal is a situation in which the elite cannot live anymore on the old way when it took in the first place decisions that favoured the own already privileged group. At the same time the masses must not want to live on the same way as before. 

For further ideas about the War of the Flea see Letter 88 and Letter 92.

Yours truly, Joost van Steenis


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33. The importance of individualism
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