On the non-violence/violence dialectic:

“To abjure violence it is necessary to have no experience of it.”-George Orwell

Strictly speaking, as a Nationalist, he was an enemy, but since in every crisis he would exert himself to prevent violence — which, from the British point of view, meant preventing any effective action whatever — he could be regarded as “our man.” In private this was sometimes cynically admitted. The attitude of the Indian millionaires was similar. Gandhi called upon them to repent, and naturally they preferred him to the Socialists and Communists who, given the chance, would actually have taken their money away. How reliable such calculations are in the long run is doubtful; as Gandhi himself says, “in the end deceivers deceive only themselves”; but at any rate the gentleness with which he was nearly always handled was due partly to the feeling that he was useful.” – Orwell on Gandhi

“I believe it’s a crime for anyone being brutalized to continue to accept that brutality without doing something to defend himself.”- Malcolm X

I personally deplore violence:  I have mild post-traumatic issue from watching a girlfriend die when I was young. I won’t go into detail, but I have seen more people die from drug addiction, car wrecks, and violence that someone from my relatively privileged background should be able to say, but such is the luck of life. Yet I find absolute statements of non-violence to be irresponsible if others are condemned for being willing to engage in defensive violence. Furthermore, I find that this tactic often is used in ways that defend and legitimatize power when non-violence is moved from a preferred tactic to a strategy.

The problem with the way we talk about non-violent social justice movements is we speak as if violence wasn’t a necessity in them in two ways. In almost dialectical ways, actually.  Let us look at the Satyagraha movement of Gandhi and the actually existing struggle for Indian Independence, not the stories we in America and Europe like to tell ourselves about it.  First of all, the struggle for Indian independence had Satyagraha at its face, but as Orwell noted this was actually used by the British as a means to an end.  It is important to remember that Gandhi was not the only face of the Indian independence movement: first there was the revolutionary Jugantar, then All India Forward Bloc, Communist Party of India, the Radical Democratic Party, and the various radical wings of INA.   There was several conspiracies, two mutinies, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose appealing to the Axis powers, as well as the non-violent actions and self-sufficiency. Gandhi worked because there were Indian nationalists, socialists, and communist forces ready to rip throats out if he didn’t. Furthermore, the success of his non-violence was predicated on violent acts by the other side. Subtle violent actions and non-lethal means are also not likely to draw sympathy from non-violent protestors.

This, for all we like to deny it, was also true of the rather moderate successes of Martin Luther King Jr.

Kasama republished an article from Common Dreams , but the Kasama debates were telling in the extreme:

All of the arguments that Black Bloc instigations have been stupid and counter-productive are valid. But that is largely there hasn’t really begun a true battle that one can speak of winning. The Black Bloc tries to create battles artificially, and that’s either dumb or deliberate police infiltration. But the Occupy Movement has at most been shaping a terrain for future battles. We’re still a long way from there though. As long as it’s understood that the battle hasn’t really yet begun, then it is valid to counsel tactics of peaceful protest. That does not mean that peaceful protest will actually win a battle when the time comes. – PatrickSMcNally

I think their model fit the real conditions of mass consciousness and military capacity at the time. The Panthers took up their example, but gave it a politico-military party of combat, and then degenerated into adventurist ultra-leftism – including offensive operations against the State before mass consciousness and military capacity was present. This led them into a focoist mind-set, which like Che learned in Bolivia, doesn’t work.

A problem I see in all communists, anarchist, and socialist writing is the quiet acceptance of the false dichotomy between violence and non-violence pursued by liberals and reactionaries.

These a tactical questions, and for those who pursue non-violence as a strategy, we should tell them they are wrong not in the non-violent part, but the strategy part: it is a political error to take any tactic off the table.-SKS

No one is arguing for turning the Occupy movement into an armed insurrection against the bourgeoisie state. No one is arguing that all protests must include a suicidal direct assault on the forces of repression. It is true that wanna be street fighters are committed to breaking windows, throwing bottles, and setting fire to trash cans as a strategy, and that is a problem.

A bigger problem is to advocate absolute pacifism as the only acceptable means of resistance. A bigger problem is to distort the history of every popular uprising in the last hundred years in support of moralistic liberalism. This is what Gene Sharp does in his work and for his admirers here I suggest you try his cool tactic of dis-robbing in front of riot cops. It is supposed to confuse the forces of the state and for anyone stupid enough to take his advice, you will quickly find out what concentrated pepper spray does to all that exposed skin (in particular to those sensitive areas of the genitalia.)

I understand why people become pacifists, especially those with a strong religious background. I believe it is a luxury that we can not afford and this has nothing to do with a desire for violence.-Stiofan

As a tactic, I prefer non-violence and people advocating for armed insurrections of a small minority like the Weathermen are likely to find themselves dead or in imprison without doing a damn thing for the people they are trying to help.  As a strategy, this is foolish as it gives the opponents a clear line they can cross.  As a moral imperative, it’s incoherent because of the dialectical relationship I described between the success of non-violent reform/autonomy movements and the violence employed.   What pascifism asks of people can be somewhat inhuman. Again, look at Gandhi:

If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest Gentile German might, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment. And for doing this I should not wait for the fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance, but would have confidence that in the end the rest were bound to follow my example. If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept the prescription here offered, he or they cannot be worse off than now. And suffering voluntarily undergone will bring them an inner strength and joy [...] the calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews by way of his first answer to the declaration of such hostilities. But if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant. For to the God-fearing, death has no terror.


Even Karl Kautsky would not ask that of anyone. While Orwell has his flaws and is indeed no real dialectical thinker, he was dead on in encapsulating the unresolved dialectics:

If one harbours anywhere in one’s mind a nationalistic loyalty or hatred, certain facts, although in a sense known to be true, are inadmissible. Here are just a few examples. I list below five types of nationalist, and against each I append a fact which it is impossible for that type of nationalist to accept, even in his secret thoughts:

BRITISH TORY. Britian will come out of this war with reduced power and prestige.

COMMUNIST. If she had not been aided by Britain and America, Russia would have been defeated by Germany.

IRISH NATIONALIST. Eire can only remain independent because of British protection.

TROTSKYIST. The Stalin regime is accepted by the Russian masses.

PACIFIST. Those who “abjure” violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.

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About El Mono Liso

Por una civilización de la pobreza.

Posted on November 30, 2011, in ideology, Left-turn, Philosophy and Politics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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