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The term subversion ( Latin subversio "overthrow", "destruction") has several meanings. In general, the term refers to processes, endeavors or representations that want to question or change an existing social order (authorities, social affiliations and hierarchies , exploitation of groups, concentrations of power , etc.).

Political subversion

Political subversion is a clandestine activity , the aim of which is to overthrow or weaken or improve an existing order through infiltration and undermining. The term is often used in a discriminatory or manipulative way for groups that only presumably or allegedly operate subversion. In some regimes , the entire actual, suspected or alleged political opposition is summarized as subversion.

Methods of Subversion can be:

  • Civil disobedience , including civil disobedience , is a form of political participation whose roots go back to antiquity. The modern fathers of the concept are Henry David Thoreau , Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • As political opposition refusal of obedience or the active oppositional behavior toward authority or the government is called.
  • Subculture : The official culture, which advocates the officially desired values , is opposed to its own culture, which propagates opposing content, e.g. B. in pop and rock music (e.g. in punk ), in art or literature. The art mentioned can be subversive if it holds up a counter-model to the existing wishful thinking of the social order or confronts it with realities (e.g. ghettos). Non-political examples are exploitation films from the 1970s and 1980s, which were subversive in that they scratched existing values ​​with combinations of topics such as church / religion, National Socialism and excessive violence in order to provoke; Of course, without pursuing any political will, but simply to lure people into the cinemas. So subversive topics often have a certain appeal to people.
  • Diversion : The dissemination of rumors or false reports, the falsification or suppression of messages and documents, overt or hidden propaganda against this order or for groups or individuals who fight against this order, their recruitment, smuggling in or out and funding, as well as corruption or poaching supporters of the order.
  • Insubordination : disobedience to superiors, used today in particular with regard to military authority, see also refusal to command and refusal to obey .

Secret services can also use these methods, but in their home country mostly with the aim of maintaining a certain regime. The subversion practiced by the KGB towards countries outside the borders of the former USSR consisted of 4 stages:

  1. demoralization
  2. destabilization
  3. crisis
  4. "Normalization"

Most demoralization actions are open, use methods which are legal in the target country and are not easy to identify because they extend over very long periods of time. The fundamental principle of demoralization and destabilization is to turn the opponent's forces against oneself.

Actual or alleged subversion can also be acts such as organized or continued shoplifting, regular fare dodging , painting of public facilities, communication guerrillas or damage to property if they are committed in whole or with, among other things, the conscious intention to harm the assumed political or social opponent and are therefore suitable to undermine the existing order.

In post-structuralist theories (e.g. Michel Foucault ) the term is used in an explicitly positive way.

In the South American military dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s , the term “subversive” was used almost indiscriminately as a generic term for all political opponents. This provided the justification for the arrest and murder of tens of thousands of people (see also Desaparecidos ).

Subversive argumentation as a stylistic device

In rhetoric , the tactic of subversive argumentation consists in highlighting inconsistencies and self-contradictions in the ideology and argumentation of the opponent truthfully, but obviously and in a way that is as embarrassing as possible for the opponent. Among other things, the opponent's point of view can be defended with obviously bad arguments that cannot be rejected by the opponent. This type of argumentation is used especially in relation to dogmatic and ideological structures of thought.

In art this became known as the communication guerrilla as an artistic strategy for the subversion of communication structures. A critical examination of such strategies of over-affirmation and the relationship between art and politics can be found in the anthology Art, Crisis, Subversion. On the politics of aesthetics at the subversive fair Linz09 .

Even jokes are considered a form of subversive argument. To George Orwell : "Every joke is a little revolution." Loriot : " Humor arises when order is broken". It is no coincidence that many dictatorships found jokes subversive and condemned joke-tellers to sometimes draconian punishments.


Web links

Wiktionary: Subversion  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Tomas D. Schuman in the book Love Letter to America. NATA, Los Angeles CA 1984, ISBN 0-935090-13-4 .
  2. Nina Bandi, Michael G. Kraft, Sebastian Lasinger (Eds.): Art, Crisis, Subversion. On the politics of aesthetics. transcript, Bielefeld 2012, ISBN 978-3-8376-1962-1 .
  3. Ben Lewis : The Weird Manifesto. Communism and satire from 1917 to 1989. Blessing, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-89667-393-0 .
  4. Kurt Hirche: The "brown" and the "red" joke. Two German dictatorships in 1200 political jokes (= Das Heyne-Sachbuch 67). Unabridged paperback edition. Heyne, Munich 1967.