What Is Controlled Opposition?
Controlled opposition secretly works against you.
“The best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves.” - Lenin
Controlled opposition is any person or organization which appears to be on one side, but is secretly working against the interests of that movement.
Originally coined to describe government agents who would infiltrate activist movements and subvert them from within, the term has come to describe any activist or organization that isn’t actually working for the side they claim. Controlled opposition could be directly controlled by or in contact with a movement’s opposition, but they could also merely have an agenda aligned to interests other than their stated cause.
Controlled opposition is a powerful strategy. In a typical political conflict, each group only gets to play their side of the conflict. With controlled opposition, one organization can play both sides. Controlled opposition can also act as spies, feeding information back to opposition organizations, feeding disinformation to those they pretend to ally with, and deliberately instigating infighting to ensure activist work does not get done.
Controlled opposition will typically make decisions harmful to their movement and try to get others to do the same under the guise of helping them. While controlled opposition might appear to take action and even have small symbolic wins, what controlled opposition will never do is make meaningful and decisive victory, because their goal isn’t to win. If someone on their side begins to adopt a strategy that could actually win or cause a loss for the opposition, controlled opposition will be there to undermine that strategy and ensure the win does not occur.
While controlled opposition might have secondary aims like eliminating certain activists or making the movement look bad, the goal of controlled opposition is to run the movement they claim to support on behalf of their opposition. If controlled opposition can gain control of a movement, then they can ensure that anyone seeking to oppose the side they really work for will join organizations and efforts they control that are designed to fail.
Controlled opposition can be challenging to identify for the reason that they are functionally spies, and spies try to hide their true identity. However, the easiest way to identify controlled opposition is to judge activists by their outcomes. If you find yourself asking why an organization or activist appears to be engaging in activity harmful to their movement, consider the possibility that this harm is intentional. Only occasionally does controlled opposition make themselves obvious, by participating in hit pieces against the movement they claim to support, promoting opposition organizations, or being caught in a lie intended to harm the movement they claim to support.
Controlled opposition is more dangerous to a movement than open opposition. Open opposition inspires resistance, while controlled opposition is designed to absorb that resistance. Once controlled opposition takes control of a movement, the only hope for the cause of that movement is for real opposition to take back the movement, expose controlled opposition for what they are, or build an alternative movement.