Subversive organizations are generally doomed. Fatah only gained some ground with the’ support of Arab governments and its eventual institutionalization by the Rabin-Peres government. It was never an organization per se, but always an extension of some government: Egyptian, Syrian, and later Israeli. As such, Fatah enjoyed operational, financial, logistical, and above all moral support from a current ally.
Though it seems counterintuitive, moral support is the most important kind. Besieged by hostile states whose abilities tower above their own, subversive groups feel themselves tremendously insecure. For all their bragging, they are afraid. Not incidentally, Arab terrorists talk to Shabak interrogators moments after arrest, and Palmach closely cooperated with the British occupiers.
For all their brouhaha, Jewish terrorist groups were utterly insignificant. Irgun and Lehi spent more time hiding from the British than attacking their policemen and Arab civilians. Their impact on the British decision to evacuate was negligible compared to the concurrent Arab rioting.
JDL, too, was an organization about as efficient as an elementary school’s summer project. Rabbi Kahane was a great leader, but not a manager; nor were any of his associates. JDL was heavily infiltrated by the police, one of whose agents became the group’s top weapons specialist. Quite a number of people in the organization’s top ranks could conservatively be described as morons whose egos were inflated at the expense of their brains. Their lack of professionalism was staggering. Their lack of basic common sense in compartmentalizing security operations, their extensive bragging about the purchase of illegal firearms, their inability to build most basic IED and smoke bombs properly, their inability to discern proper targets, which led to JDL’s involvement even in school brawls, and their lack of organizational structure and aim—all this was covered up by extensive lying; thus a few dozen unruly kids passing through JDL’s summer camps became a formidable army in the newspaper reports. Rabbi Kahane’s boiling love for the Jewish people overcame the glaring inefficiencies in the short term, but the haphazard organization was doomed from the beginning, and duly fell into disrepair after the Rabbi’s departure to Israel.
Militant organizations must act on their militancy. Otherwise, they attract cowards and braggers, but real hotheads leave them for the lack of action. Militant skills must be practiced and honed if they are to be maintained. This problem of inaction has plagued Jewish militant organizations from Betar to JDL to you-know-who in present-day Israel. Moreover, they lack a safe haven for training and the logistics to procure weapons.
Criminal gangs are not really a counterexample, as their militancy is confined to brouhaha. Their ridiculous hip-shooting contests only look good in movies; in real life, such fights leave very few casualties. Law enforcement is less interested in criminal gangs, which shoot only at one another, than in subversive organizations. Subversive organizations consist of “normal” people, so police have no trouble choosing agents for infiltration. Clinging to their “normality,” subversive groups eschew the commonsense measures which the gangs widely employ to resist infiltration—torture of suspected agents, involving them in heinous crimes, and execution on suspicion.
Similar problems plague Israeli anti-establishment organizations. The last thing I want to do about those well-wishing and often selfless people is to discredit their efforts; let’s just say that their inefficiency would drive Buddha nuts.
Ultra-leftists are generally a bit more efficient than right-wingers, though the advantage is often marginal. The left are better financed and counseled than the right. The establishment’s tolerance of them allows them to attract professionals in relevant fields who would otherwise be loathe to confront the government. Leftists are often intellectually brighter than the right: bright people want absolute freedom for their creativity, so they develop nihilism, seek to implement it, and drift to the left.
Efficient organizations generally require a lot of bureaucracy. Complex adaptive systems such as societies or economies are only manageable on a micro-level. Organizations require many professionals in highly specialized fields, from office management to media relations to legal to counterintelligence to guerrilla tactics. They need a lot of such professionals—even the brightest manager cannot realistically control operations in another city. But professionals rarely have a rebel mindset: the very nature of their professionalism, the long years spent on the acquisition of mundane skills, demands conservatism. Thus, an anti-establishment organization generally cannot attract professionals in sufficient numbers. Some supposed exceptions, notably the NAACP, actually confirm the rule: legal professionals joined the NAACP in scores because they expected it to become the new mainstream.
Two examples, the PLO and the Bolsheviks, illustrate a proper scheme for subversive organizations. Both lacked any kind of professionalism. The PLO often outsourced terrorism to PFLP and similar small, highly specialized terrorist groups. When offered control over Gaza, the PLO insisted in the Oslo Accords that Israel help it to administrate the territory. The Bolsheviks likewise had a minuscule presence in Russia, where terrorist acts were committed by other parties. When they seized power, the Bolsheviks had to rely on tsarist bureaucrats to run the state. Both the Bolsheviks and the PLO had a major advantage: lacking presence on the ground, they were not subjected to repressions. Living safely abroad, they could attract relevant professionals, not in state affairs, but at least in media relations, logistics, and general management. For decades, the two groups flourished in exile, engaged in subversive propaganda, and waited for a suitable moment. When the government relaxed its grip, the Bolsheviks and the PLO quickly moved and established themselves in the target territories. There are plenty of similar examples, notably the Khmer Rouge and Ayatollah Khomeini.
A subversive organization must be located abroad and geared toward the two ends by a single means. It must aim at heating the target society to a boiling point, at the same time decomposing the security forces. Subversion thus is almost entirely propaganda. So successful was the PLO that it instigated the Intifada without being materially involved in it, and was contracted by the Israeli government to end the uprising. That is the ideal of any subversive organization: to heat the society until it explodes, keep immune from retaliation, and have its critical influence recognized by the adversary.