Wasp: Sticker-War as a Tactic for Civil Resistance

Eric Russell’s science fiction novel, Wasp, is brilliant. It was published in 1957 and weaves civil resistance theory with creative tactics that remain fully relevant half-a-century later. What I want to do here is share some excerpts that describe a very neat civil resistance tactic. Please see my previous post for the context of the story along with the novel’s compelling theory on civil resistance.

One of the first tactics that Mowry employs is perhaps surprising—posting stickers with different messages. His strategy is to make the authorities think a powerful underground movement lead by Dirac Angestun Gesept (D.A.G.) is resisting the regime. This movement is entirely imaginary. The sticker read for example:

“War is wealth for the few, misery for the many. At the right time, Dirac Angestun Gesept will punish the former, bring aid and comfort to the latter.”

Mowry bet that folks who came across the he posted in very public places would be too shocked to try and remove them and would stay very clear of them. “The chances were equally good that they’d spread the news, and gossip is the same in every part of the cosmos: it gains compound interest as it goes the rounds.”

In one instance, Mowry had planted a sticker on a shop window. He then stands on the other side of the street to see what would unfold. Very quickly, a crowd forms and a scowling police officer was at the scene. He immediately summons the shopkeeper who becomes very anxious when he sees the sticker.

‘Get if off!’

‘Yes, Officer, Certainly, Officer. I shall remove it immediately.’

The manager started digging with his nails at the sticker corners, in an attempt to peel it off. He didn’t do so well, because [Earth’s] technical superiority extended even to common adhesives. After several futile efforts, the manager threw the cop an apologetic look, went inside, came out with a knife, and tried again. This time he succeeded in tearing a small triangle from each corner, leaving the message intact.

A few minutes later, James Mowry, glancing back from the far corner, saw the manager emerge with a steaming bucket and get busy swabbing the notice. He grinned to himself, knowing that hot water was just the thing to release and activate the hydrofluoric base beneath the print.

Sure enough, but the time he came back a few hours later, “the sticker had disappeared; in it’s place the same message was etched deeply and milkily in the glass. The policeman and the manager were now arguing heatedly upon the sidewalk, with half a dozen citizens now gaping alternately at them and the window.

As Mowry walked past, the cow bawled, ‘I don’t care if the window is valued at two thousand guilders. You’ve got to board it up or replace the glass.’

‘But, Officer…’

‘Do as you’re told. To exhibit subversive propaganda is a major offence.’

By the end of the night, Mowry had slapped exactly one hundred stickers on shops, offices, and vehicles of the city transport system; he also inscribed swiftly, clearly, and in large size letters D.A.G. upon twenty-four walls. The latter feat was performed with [Earth] crayon, a deceitfully chalklike substance that made full use of the porosity of brick when water was applied. In other words, the more furiously it was washed the more stubbornly it became embedded.

The following day, Mowry brought a paper and searched it for some mention of yesterday’s activities. There wasn’t a word on the subject. First he felt disappointed; then, on further reflection, he became heartened.

Opposition to the war and open defiance of the government definitely made news that justified a front-page spread. No reporter, no editor would pass it up if he could help it; therefore the papers had passed it up because they could not help it. Somebody high in authority had clamped down upon them with the heavy hand of censorship. Somebody with considerable power had been driven into making a weak countermove.

That was a start, anyway. Mowry’s first waspish buzzings had forced authority to interfere with the press. What’s more, the countermove was feeble and ineffective, serving only as a stopgap while officials beat their brains for more decisive measures.

The more persistently a government maintains silence on a given subject of discussion, the more the public talks about it and thinks about it. The longer and more stubborn the silence, the guiltier the government looks to the talkers and thinkers. In time of war, the most morale-lowering question that can be asked is, ‘What are they hiding from us now?”

Some hundreds of citizens would be asking themselves that same question tomorrow, the next day, or next week. The [messages on the stickers] would be on a multitude of lips, milling around in a like number of minds, merely because the powers that be were afraid to talk.

And if a government fears to admit even the pettiest facts of war, how much faith can the common man place in the leadership’s claim not to be afraid of anything?

I did a little research to see where we’re at with sticker technology. While stickers with hydrofluoric acid still belong to the realm of science fiction, there are stickers that give the very real semblance of being etched in glass are available.

Patrick Philippe Meier

7 responses to “Wasp: Sticker-War as a Tactic for Civil Resistance

  1. Pingback: What Does a Wasp Have To Do With Civil Resistance? Everything. « iRevolution

  2. Awesome! Thanks for sharing – definitely want to pick up a copy of the book!

  3. This is brilliant, Patrick! 🙂

  4. Hi Patrick,

    Great post! Will look into getting the novel.


  5. I liked the part about gossip. In Belarus we worked on several ways to overcome the informational blockade of the government media. While our main tool are mass leaflets, we also held workshop-sessions on gossip with activists. It should be noted also that Lukashenko several times personally and publicly denounced some gossips and threatened to punish the spreading of gossip.

    The use of “earth-technology stickers” on the other hand is a definitely mistake. Any regime would easily exploit this as a proof that the “movement” is nothing but a bunch of collaborators. It is the major flaw of WASP that the Sirian intelligence is confronted with hundreds of clues for terranean involvement in the wave of rebellions, but never encourages public anger against the enemy infiltratedness of the DAG.

  6. A real-life sticker story. In 1998, I went undercover as a scab/spy for the Steelworkers union at a struck Kaiser Aluminum plant in Spokane, WA. In Northern California, we were fighting the same corporate raider from Texas who owned both Kaiser Aluminum and Pacific Lumber, so it was natural for us enviros to see how we could build alliances with the striking workers.

    One of the many things I did while in the plant was put little blue stickers all over the plant. I was driving fork truck, so had access to the entire place. We sent sheets of these stickers to all the management people in the plant (who were not on strike). Along with the stickers, we sent a letter encouraging managers to subvert the company from within in whatever manner they could and to put the stickers up as a message to others in management that they were not alone in opposing the corporate takeover.

    In reality, managers were a mix of both pro- and con-union, but couldn’t talk about any pro-union sentiment or anti-corporate-takeover sentiment for fear of losing their jobs. The opportunities for sowing dissent and distrust and breaking morale were great.

    It was my idea and I had wanted the stickers to be printed with a message so that the scabs (strikebreaking temp workers) would also be confused and might question what they were doing, but the union guys thought the little blue dots were enough.

    It was hard to know exactly how many managers actually did support the workers, since they couldn’t express their opinions other than to oppose the union’s demands. Whether there was or wasn’t a case of pluralistic ignorance going on—i.e. the majority of the managers privately supported the union, but assumed they were alone in doing so—didn’t matter. The plan effectively set such a situation up, with me being a man-in-the-middle by spreading stickers all over the complex. The idea was to convince pro-union managers that they were not alone so that they might help the workers’ cause however they could and to convince the pro-corporate managers that they couldn’t necessarily trust the others.

    Whether or not this had any effect or not, we’ll probably never know. But I sure loved the deviousness of it!

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