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Subversion refers to an attempt to overthrow structures of authority, including the state. It is an overturning or uprooting. The word is present in all languages of Latin origin, originally applying to such events as the military defeat of a city.

As early as the 14th century, it was being used in the English language with reference to laws, and in the 15th century came to be used with respect to the realm. The term has taken over from ‘sedition’ as the name for illicit rebellion, though the connotations of the two words are rather different, sedition suggesting overt attacks on institutions, subversion something much more surreptitious, such as eroding the basis of belief in the status quo or setting people against each other.

Subversive activity is the lending of aid, comfort, and moral support to individuals, groups, or organizations that advocate the overthrow of incumbent governments by force and violence. All willful acts that are intended to be detrimental to the best interests of the government and that do not fall into the categories of treason, sedition, sabotage, or espionage are placed in the category of subversive activity.

Recent writers, in the post-modern and post-structuralist traditions (including, particularly, feminist writers) have prescribed a very broad form of subversion. It is not, directly, the governing realm which should be subverted in their view, but the predominant cultural forces, such as patriarchy, individualism, and scientism. This broadening of the target of subversion owes much to the ideas of Antonio Gramsci, who stressed that communist revolution required the erosion of the particular form of ‘cultural hegemony’ in any society.

The neoimperialist movement uses the term 'political subversion' to describe a method of taking complete control of or annexing a foreign state by gaining a majority in the foreign state's government using representatives loyal to the government of the core-state of a neoimperialistic empire.




Subversion is a crime in China. The government of the People's Republic of China prosecutes subversives under Articles 102 through 112 of the state criminal law.[1] These articles specify the types of behavior that constitute a threat to national security and China has prosecuted many dissidents using these laws. Of these, Articles 105 and 111 are the ones most commonly employed to silence political dissent.[1] Article 105 criminalizes organizing, plotting, or carrying out subversion of the national regime, or using rumor mongering or defamation or other means to incite subversion of the national regime or the overthrow of the socialist system.[2] Article 111 prohibits stealing, secretly collecting, purchasing, or illegally providing state secrets or intelligence to an organization, institution, or personnel outside the country.[3]

United Kingdom

There is no crime defined as "subversion" (as opposed to treason) in British Constitutional law. Attempts have been made to introduce definitions but there is no general consensus among political and legal theorists.[4][5] Subversives are usually prosecuted when they break other laws, such as vandalism, etc.


Throughout history, governments have sponsored subversive elements of an opposing country to cause instability or other political ends.


At the turn of the millennium, anger at the monopolizing of public space by commercial advertisers and corporate interests prompted a social movement to subvert corporate advertising, especially the ubiquitous corporate logos that inundate public space. "Subvertising", a form of vandalism or graffiti, involves subtly changing posters and advertisements to alter the intended meaning of corporate slogans and logos, usually in an attempt to highlight the company's unethical practices.

See also


  1. ^ a b Silencing Critics by Exploiting National Security and State Secrets Laws. Congressional-Executive Commission on China.
  2. ^ Coliver, Sandra (1999). Secrecy and liberty: national security, freedom of expression and access to information. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. pp. 243. ISBN 978-9041111913.  
  3. ^ Coliver, 1999, p. 245.
  4. ^ Spjut, R. J. (1979). Defining Subversion. British Journal of Law and Society, 6(2), 254-261
  5. ^ Gill, Peter (1994). Policing politics: security intelligence and the liberal democratic state. Routledge. p. 119. ISBN 978-0714634906

External links

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