Appendix: Letter on the use of violence

May 2, 1973

Dear Comrades,

The usual "Marxist" approach is of course non-revolutionary (I mean pseudo-Marxist). The vast majority of extreme-left people declare they fully support the necessity of armed action and civil war in the future. To them, it is a mere principle.

One must not only say:

If you want peace prepare for revolution, but also

If you want revolution, prepare for war, i.e., civil war.

It is so easy to fall into delirium that one cannot be too careful when dealing with this matter. On the other hand, the attitude of most political groups which refuse to take the problem seriously must be denounced as conservative.

I feel that most of the time so-called revolutionaries refer to violence from a purely political point of view, in the sense in which Marx attacked politics as such: for example in his 1844 article on the King of Prussia and social reform. The purpose of politics is to change the system of government, not the very basis of society; to change the way the system is managed, not the system itself. If we examine left-wing groups, whether Trotskyist, Maoist or even anarchist, we see that their picture of a future society is not very different from the one we live in now. Who really puts forward the communist program? Who among them really talks about the abolition of commodity production, the abolition of economics and economy as separate fields? What they want is a democratically controlled capitalism, where the workers would apparently be the new rulers… through the medium of their representatives, of course. Hardly anyone in revolutionary groups understands revolution as the emergence of new relations, for which the material basis already exists. Those who officially support such views usually interpret them in the sense that such a change is possible now and must begin now. This is of course a complete rejection of revolution, as we find in the counter-culture and elsewhere.

All this may sound a bit confusing, but it is important to realise that the use of violence – in the revolution and also before – depends on the social program of the revolution. Basically, the content of the movement is the same as it used to be, but the way it will be carried out will be different. In Marx's time, the proletariat still had to develop productive forces; nowadays it will only have to change them, to communise them, so to speak. In Marx's time, as in 1920, there was still an important petty-bourgeois fraction of the population, even in countries like Germany. The party could only appear as a separate body, as a formal organisation. Its task was first to defeat the State and its army, and only then to start transforming society. Now the communisation of society can begin at once and is indeed part of the purely military action. We can and must make the bourgeoisie and the State, i.e., the organs of commodity capitalist economy, utterly useless, by destroying that economy and replacing it with communism. From our own point of view, military struggle now includes social weapons which did not exist 50 years ago – or which existed to a much smaller degree. On the other hand, from the point of view of capital, the State has become much more efficient than it used to be. Surely you know M. Klare's War Without End (Vintage Books, 1972). Although it deals mostly with wars in under-developed areas, it provides useful information about the strategy of the big capitalist States preparing for civil war within the developed world (of course this includes the USSR and China: the way China reacted in the face of the Ceylon insurrection was typical). The State knows what the leftists ignore, that is, that communisation is possible and is a real danger to its existence. It will try to isolate revolutionary elements with the help of the official organisations (unions, Communist Parties, socialist and labour parties, even most of the left-wing groups). Its strategy will probably consist of separating revolutionary areas from the others. Its ultimate tactics will include systematic destruction in these areas, so as to prevent them from evolving towards communism by destroying its material conditions: industry, power, transport, etc. It will not hesitate to annihilate these areas if necessary, using the same methods it used in the second world war (which was imperialist on all sides, just like the first). Before reaching that stage, it will try to crush the revolutionary movement by using elite troops. If we consider the problem from a simple material point of view, the superiority of capital is remarkable: our only hope lies in a subversion so general and yet coherent that the State will be confronted by us everywhere.

I believe that one cannot just make general remarks like these. There are things to do right now. If we look at the Tupamaros or Baader, it seems that they chose military struggle so as to give a sort of impulse to society, and also because they could not stand using traditional methods any more. This second reason is not a "mistake": they just could not help it. They were fed up and disgusted by this world. I do not reproach them for this "irrational" element. But one must admit that such an attitude is close to madness. I have nothing against madness: what we call a "madman" is only an individual produced by our society who is unadapted to it. This society also gets rid of subversive elements by turning them mad.

But they also started armed struggle in order to set the proletariat in motion. They hoped to awaken it. This was pure illusion, typical of politics. The political mind always tries to act first upon the others, to organise or force them to do something, while it stays outside of the social movement. Our task is political only in so far as it deals with the destruction of political power. The main task of communists is not to gather others. They organise themselves together with others while undertaking tasks which come from their own needs – personal and social, immediate and theoretical.

This is expressed in a very awkward way, unfortunately. What I would like to stress is that our main objective cannot be to act upon people's consciousness so as to change it. There is an illusion in propaganda, whether it is made by texts or by deeds. We do not "convince" anyone. We can only express what is going on. We cannot create a movement in society. We can only act within a movement to which we ourselves belong.

Dealing with the military question, the same principle is valid. It is obvious that it is necessary to explain the military program of the revolution, by means of texts, leaflets, etc. In practice there are many things to do. But they must always aim at something which is already under attack in one way or another, or which is resented, or where there is an active contradiction, however small it may be. I will give an example. If some person has been particularly vicious to workers (a capitalist, a high official), it does not necessarily follow that one should attack him personally, as if he were a symbol. It may be useful or dangerous, according to the context. It would be childish to assume that the proletariat will realise the meaning of the act and change its mind and attitude accordingly. This will only be the case if the proletariat is already engaged in some sort of violent action. Otherwise such an attack will just strengthen the State.

On the other hand, if a minority organises an action against the army, against a decisive aspect of its function and its future counter-revolutionary role, this may have an impact, although no social force seems to be working against the army in our countries at the moment. An activity of this type will help show – even to a few people – that revolutionaries are already "at war" against the army. The condition for this is our ability to explain the meaning of our acts, which requires at least some capacity for expression. At the moment we are very weak – you and we. The official left and the extreme-left have a monopoly of expression (see below). This may be hard to explain, and I realise that what I am writing is very abstract. I will try to give my view from a different approach.

One of the strengths of capital is that people – even the proletariat – just do not imagine how far the State will go in civil war. Many future events will surprise them. It is very useful to point out now the important aspects of the future civil war. We would most likely come into contact with radical (and even "liberal") elements within the army itself. At first such actions seem to be totally external to the present state of the social movement. But this is not the case: there are many radical workers who already think about the military question.

I do not believe that the Angry Brigade, Baader, and others, were "wrong." (They were victims of a kind of delirium, where the inner logic of violence and social isolation bred violence and social isolation.) I have only expressed partial views. However, nothing good can be done if we don't connect our activity now with what we can already know about revolution in the future. I reject self-destruction. Complacency on that issue is irresponsible and criminal.

You must have heard about the agitation which developed in France on the question of conscription in the lycées and universities. You can hardly imagine the ideology of the Trotskyist and Maoist groups (the Communist Party is of course nationalist, as it has been since 1934). A few days ago I read a Maoist text asking for popular control over the army! The leftists refuse to say: down with military service, since they believe that the existing army is at least a bit more democratic and popular than an army of volunteers. The more radical ones went so far as to say: down with the army. But no one said a word about civil war. The details are even worse. This is why we made a leaflet which is highly dogmatic: at least it states the principle that the military question is a necessary part of revolution. But it is amazing to see that even genuine revolutionaries adopt such a naive attitude in these matters.

Please regard this letter as only a letter, and not as a "text" properly speaking.


Jean Barrot

Taken from the For Communism website.