To the revolutionary, a fundamental change in the status quo is the highest priority. It is with this in mind that terrorism gains a legitimate foothold in the aspirations of the revolutionary. Terrorism is not a legitimate form of revolution but a legitimate tool of revolution. Its aims superimpose those of the revolutionary and so will always be considered though never always implemented. While some critics may dissent based on moral grounds and link subhuman attributes to those who resort to such means it cannot be denied that terrorism is an effective means to the revolutionary whose sole aim is change.
Marighela, in discussing the role of the urban guerrilla in the revolution, explained that in order to bring about change it was imperative to “create a situation in which the government has no option but to use repressive means.” While such a view lends more to the method rather than the outcome it does bring one point to the forefront, that the aims of revolution are seen by those who underpin it as being so critical that all options must be explored. Revolutionary action can generally be divided into three primary techniques; terror, guerrilla warfare and coup d'etat however the employment of these techniques is dictated by the situation and, at times, the desperation.
While coups can be defined by the uprising of organised, regular military forces, guerrilla warfare distinguishes itself from terrorism for one often misunderstood reason, that it is the actions of irregular forces against “regular military forces and their supply lines and communication.” Terrorism will target an unsuspecting civilian population. To return to Marighela, while guerrillas, acting within the confines of their definition may achieve the footing of revolution, so too will terrorism. The revolutionary will use indiscriminate acts of violence in an attempt to foster discontent with the government, creating a “climate of collapse” and the call for a popular front government.
It must be understood that terrorism is a tool and not an end in itself. Driven by ideals, beliefs, aspirations, groups or individuals can choose from any number of options, using any means, to achieve their short term or long term goals. The beliefs and ideologies from which derives a primary source of motivation may also restrict the options available and, coupled with external factors such as the state and its many apparatus, courses of actions such as the use of violence may suddenly become tenable. Tools of violence may become an option in societies lacking an organised opposition “which is capable of expressing itself in any non violent political process.” Such a situation forms the basis for terror against an indigenous autocracy according to Calvert.
To most people, the use of excessive and indiscriminate violence is near impossible to justify and while we as part of a greater community must not condone such actions it must not be without appreciating the motivations behind them. A common adage is that terrorism is a weapon of the weak, though this is not a limited concept. Terrorism is “most useful to groups that are not powerful enough to confront their adversary in direct battle or even wage guerrilla warfare.” It is also a tool that “small, elite groups have used to enable them to render passive the majority of the population,” a view shared by Eubank and Weinberg who add that in a liberal democracy, terrorism is used by an excluded minority “whose preferences have lost out or are no longer seriously considered in the normal democratic struggle over the formation of public policy.” In order to relate back to the aspirations of the revolutionary, Laqueur explains that successful revolutionary movements embedded in history owe their success, in large, to the social and political conditions of the time. Terrorism is then utilised in an attempt to create these conditions artificially. Though Machiavellian in nature, for a revolutionary to resort to terrorist methods is not to question his endgame.
If terrorism as indeed a tool to be utilised, then it is important that we understand that aims and goals of such indiscriminate violence for if the revolutionary finds such aims best suit the cause then an abhorrence to violence may become a necessity to violence. While there may be different forms of terrorism, political terrorism shares the greatest correlation to revolutionary aspirations. With a goal that bares a revolutionary nature, Greene proposes that the “principal function of terror is to convince people that the revolutionary movement in powerful and that the power of the state is weak.” Given this interpretation terrorism as revolution begins to develop its legitimacy based on the grounds of its organic aims.
To elaborate on the aims of political terrorism, Fairbarn suggests the existence of two aims. The negative aims of terror seek to instil in the population a fear of the group or movement that exceeds any fear of the enemy while the positive aim of terrorism seeks to arouse the people through the paralysis of bureaucracy. The aims of terrorism are further developed into disruptive and coercive terrorism and are both distinctively revolutionary in their nature. Disruptive terrorism seeks to achieve Fairbarn's positive aims and is designed to advertise. It is intended to build up the movements' morale and prestige while at the same time provoking authorities to take harsh and excessive measures to “alienate the population and force call for abandonment of counter action.” Coercive terrorism professes negative aims and is intended to demoralise the population and weakens confidence in the Central Authority. It becomes evident then that the aims of terrorism serve to reinforce or, in fact, instigate the intentions of the revolutionary.
Terrorism proves itself useful to the revolutionary's campaign against the state, especially when faced with an existing and functioning democracy. The incorporation of terrorism becomes pertinent to the revolutionary when the state is in possession of the moral high ground, although this is not a limiting factor. In such situations the revolutionary may find him or herself resorting to “provocations from the repertoire of violent politics” as a case of necessity. Terrorism targets the state and, generally, presents a direct challenge to the monopoly on violence by the state and its ability to protect its citizens. Wilkinson describes terrorism political in character as primarily revolutionary in its character. In a totalitarian society, terrorism is employed in the assistance of formal or informal resistance. In this care it is generally domestic in its nature. In liberal democracies however, terror is used to undermine in an attempt to subject the society and its institutions to totalitarian rule. In the case of liberal democracy, terrorism has proven itself to be particularly effective. Given the predominance of free press and open access to radio and television, those resorting to terror are able to “orchestrate their efforts to max effect.” Given the profound impact terror has on the population, it influences the civilians to place pressure on the government. With this effect, to the revolutionary, terror becomes more of a viable option. In both these cases, terrorism is revolutionary in bits aims and its goals, simply “opposite sides to the same coin.”
Terror against the state will seek to confirm repression either to the movement or to the greater population. In reacting to the highly irregular violence of terrorism the irrational and excessive actions by government forces confirm claims of repression, reinforcing either nationalist or revolutionary sentiment. The government as the guardian of law and order is seriously weakened as a legitimate authority.
From a more pragmatic perspective, terrorism has the effect of tying up large numbers of troops in a `defensive posture' The uncertainly of the next attack, its target, location and even the identification of its perpetrators have seen the mass deployment of manpower and resources, exposing vulnerable and possibly decisive segments of the state to the remainder of the revolutionary movement. At times, political parties, legitimate players in an established process, have shared a bond with terrorist organisations. They have provided a legal and legitimate front to an otherwise outlawed movement, voicing the concerns of the movement while potentially serving to provide the political framework should the revolution succeed. In stark contrast, a political party may attempt to establish it own terrorist group in order to instil a change that it have been unable to instigate legally.
As morally repugnant though it may be, to adopt a pragmatic approach, terrorism, by definition against an unarmed civilian population, serves the aims of the revolutionary. Seemingly indiscriminate and excessive violence against innocents becomes a “means of dissuading people from supporting the enemy and to punish those who have supported the enemy.” Terrorism may also be used to pave the way for greater and more obvious violence directed towards the population. This is not a regrettable side effect of the revolutionary but a deliberate and calculated plan. Terrorism serves the revolutionary purpose through the provocation of “massive and indiscriminate violence against the population by the states military and political apparatus.” In essence, using the state and its very own functionaries to alienate the broader population and undermine its own foundations.
General distaste and repulsion to terrorism by the population is only further exacerbated by a concept and use of the term terrorist imposed by the state. Employed in such a manner, terrorism adopts an emotive edge and may be encouraged by the state to further alienate revolutionary movements. States require the use of the word as a “psychological weapon against perpetrators and their avowed causes.” When combating such movements, victim groups or countries indiscriminately label all enemies as terrorists, an attempt to dehumanise the opposition and provide a basis for justification of any countermeasures take. It is also a view that perpetrators of terrorism, through the indiscriminate taking of lives, are in some way derived from subhuman social groups. Such a view is preposterous and fails to take into account the plight of those people, the aims of their movement and the desperation which facilitate such drastic action. It is more rational to conclude that these people are not sub human, but victims, driven to terrorism by an external environment. To concede this is not to condone such an indiscriminate use of violence.
Douglas Lackey, a moral philosopher by trade, draws a distinction between terrorism and revolution on the basis of a “persistent refusal to direct violence at military targets” and where the civilian is the direct and intentional target of attack. True as this may be, it does not form a chasm between revolution and terrorism. Revolution is the intended aim of a movement. Target, though carefully chosen, are just means for achieving such an end. The aims of terrorism have been mentioned previously and are merely utilised by the revolutionary to achieve this end.
More established forms of revolution have included guerrilla warfare and banditry. However, like terrorism, they are not effective all of the time and in all situations. Banditry in particular is of questionable relevance to the revolutionary cause, as was the case in Mexico where change was achieved not by roving bands of outlaws but by political ends. To this end are such alternatives to terror any more legitimate?
The concept of jus in bello dictates that the destruction of life and property is inherently wrong and so follows that in times of war, such acts must be kept to a minimum. In other words, no more than is strictly necessary to achieve an objective. On this basis alone, terrorism as used by the revolutionary gains a legitimate foothold so long as the psychological effects and perceived reactions far outweigh the cost and are seen to be the best way to bring about change rather than engage in a potentially lengthy and more costly war.
Terrorism is inherently linked to revolution. Threats and the use of violence are among “the closest indicators of a social movement's revolutionary intent.” Revolutionary movements “tend to draw for its support on politicised groups that then subsequently turn to violence to achieve their ends” with the effectiveness of recruitment dependent upon whether violence appears to be a plausible option for achieving their aims. To further the link between terrorism and revolution, Schmid explains that “conflict itself is not illegitimate but part of the human existence and can be a positive mechanism for social and political change.”
Irrespective of it abhorrent nature, terrorism must be considered a legitimate form of revolution. The correlation between the aims of revolution and the aims of terrorism are indicative of this. To justify such legitimacy it has also been necessary to clarify a common misunderstanding that terrorism is not an end in itself but rather a tool to be utilised at the discretion of the revolutionary. Terrorism, whether its intended target be the state of the general population serves only to reinforce the aspiration of revolution. To understand this will only provide sharp focus on the plight and misgivings of minorities and those seeking a voice in an ever expanding global society.