Colombia: Is kidnapping a method of revolutionary struggle? A libertarian socialist position

Colombia: Is kidnapping a method of revolutionary struggle? A libertarian socialist position

This article, originally published in Spanish in El Libertario # 52, February-March 2008, Venezuela, critically examines the kidnapping tactic Marxist guerrillas are using in Colombia.

There are ideas and actions on the world that claim to transform it, that transformation being the theme of all political work, in which ideas of what “has to be" become social imperatives when it comes to the public good. This leads to the extreme polemics of ideological positions that arise from both “reactionary” and “revolutionary” sectors confronted with the march of historic events. Not only do they polarize themselves, but each position includes contradictions and insulting misunderstandings. In the unstable parts of the world where social conflicts continue to storm, the discussion of goals and methods continues to be common in contemporary politics.

This difficult debate is going on in Colombia, a country full of social contradictions and contrasts. Insurgents there use a method of "political" struggle that raises major questions, such as: is it possible to legitimize kidnapping with economic or political intentions?

On the one hand, economic kidnapping has been adopted as a tactic of "class war or struggle." Those with this view claim to distinguish themselves from those who carry out the common criminal kind of kidnapping that seeks to satisfy a group’s desire to enrich itself by exchanging those it kidnaps for valuable loot. Those adopting kidnapping as a tactic of "class war or struggle" claim they are using it to finance a superior, altruistic and avenging goal like social revolution.

On the other hand, political kidnapping tries to make dramatic impacts by holding figures with significant power captive in order to use them in hopes of creating pressure to grant social demands, repeal repressive laws, remove military checkpoints or facilitate “humanitarian exchanges” (obtaining the release of other social and political fighters, such as unionists imprisoned for so-called crimes of rebellion).

At first glance, even though these methods are illegal as far as the establishment is concerned, those who use them believe that the rest of society sees them as legitimate. With this version of armed struggle, they claim to be social justice and shock force leaders defending those most oppressed by the abuses of power. This argument also seeks to warn and punish the powerful of all kinds who cynically conceal and deny the existence of inequality and injustice. It is a defiant and daring way of responding forcefully against the typical legality and morality of the privileged. However, its logic usually overlooks the relationship between the ends and means of social struggle, not reflecting on whether the intended ends justify such means nor pondering other aspects of justice, the deprivation of liberty, the humiliation and/or tortuous ordeals to which prisoners are subjected, the suffering and worry of their loved ones and the counter-productive and repugnant effect this struggle tactic generates in the opinion of an emotional and vulnerable public.

Paradoxically, this “revolutionary vanguard” would be correct to question itself about the forced disappearances and political assassinations it carries out, cruel and abominable methods violating human rights and carried out with fire and blood in fascistic actions intended to dissuade, demoralize and remove forces opposing them on the social stage.

To what extent can political struggle separated from ethics end up blurring the vision of a better society?

Unfortunately, in Latin America and in Colombia in particular, where armed struggle still survives as a means of creating a supposedly new society, for some time the fight for that society has been taking the dangerous and authoritarian path of Stalinism. The struggle, in which elite vanguardist and messianic minorities are involved through military action, has made them believe they are the bearers of Truth who have the absolute right to control everyone’s lives—from dissidents to kidnap victims—and the country’s destiny.

The most shameful thing is that, on this continent, it is contributing to another round in the political self-destruction of socialism because its suicidal practices are almost no different from dictatorial, paramilitary and fascist cruelty. It has created a many-headed narco-landowning monster in the image and likeness of its opponents. Obviously, it’s clear that this authoritarian shortcut not only debases the struggle for social justice, but its adherents also run the unfortunate risk of appearing like the enemy.

Depriving both rich and poor (like private soldiers and police) human beings of their liberty, using them in a Machiavellian way as pawns or human shields of war and keeping them in isolated makeshift archipelago “gulags” in the thickest and most dangerous part of the jungle for long periods in hell is clearly and simply fascism. All of us who love freedom and social justice cannot fall into this trap and believe naively that there is a “good and justified” fascism of the Left and another, “evil and unjustified” fascism of the Right. To be precise, fascism is an armed and anti-democratic oligarchy that uses its monopoly on weapons to impose its will, no matter what. The people, that is, an organized society of free and critical individuals, must completely oppose such nefarious methods if they don’t want to be accomplices or victims of such tragic intentions sooner or later. Furthermore, it is urgent that we begin defending ourselves from those who say they’re defending us.

What even more horror and tragedy there will be in a “dirty and covert” war like Colombia’s if we become accustomed to losing sight of our ethical values on the cloudy horizon of justice, if we don’t reflect on the wisdom, harm or unsuitability of political actions taken against the ethical integrity of others.

What meaning or value would there be in holding on to the inhuman principles of a historic war when the practices of the supposed armed wing of the people only deepen national and international repudiation and strengthen in turn the laws or governments of the Right that, with the pretext of “fighting terrorism,” criminalizes all peaceful social protest?

If we are seeking to transform society into a more human and just one, we cannot use the same logic of authoritarian power as the most reactionary of the Right has traditionally used. Furthermore, how much more harm will this mistaken practice produce to the cause of a free and democratic socialism distinct from the Stalinism taking course right now in Latin America through its current followers?

Ivan Dario Alvarez - Colombia
Translation: SonofTomJoad
Taken from the El Libertario website.

Comments

gypsy
May 30 2010 09:57

good article.

Elli
May 30 2010 12:29

Totally devoid of a class perspective, caught up in liberalism along with stupid claims of fascism.

The problem isn't the tactics used, the problem is with the sorts of groups that typically employ these tactics; guerrilla groups, sometimes supported by peasants, who don't hold any persuasion amongst the working class and who propagate nationalism and national liberation.

With that in mind, its to be expected that these sorts of groups would employ these tactics (from political assassinations, to kidnappings, to bombings and so forth). But to universalize those tactics as wrong misses the point that they could be justified in other contexts.

Quote:
is it possible to legitimize kidnapping with economic or political intentions?

Certainly.

Or do you have a problem with workers kidnapping their bosses in France, for instance, to meet their demands?

Does it hurt your poor little heart that it deprives the rich of their sacred liberty?

roll eyes

Quote:
However, its logic usually overlooks the relationship between the ends and means of social struggle, not reflecting on whether the intended ends justify such means nor pondering other aspects of justice, the deprivation of liberty, the humiliation and/or tortuous ordeals to which prisoners are subjected, the suffering and worry of their loved ones and the counter-productive and repugnant effect this struggle tactic generates in the opinion of an emotional and vulnerable public.
Quote:
To what extent can political struggle separated from ethics end up blurring the vision of a better society?

This is boring ethics. Tactics aren't a question of morals, a question of ethics, its purely a question of whether they are effective in achieving the ends. By and large, kidnapping is an ineffective tactic in class struggle, which is why it should typically be avoided. Most revolutions require war, a civil war, they require violence and killing. This says, however, nothing about the sort of society that is going to follow, or which we wish is going to follow.

Quote:
Depriving both rich and poor (like private soldiers and police) human beings of their liberty, using them in a Machiavellian way as pawns or human shields of war and keeping them in isolated makeshift archipelago “gulags” in the thickest and most dangerous part of the jungle for long periods in hell is clearly and simply fascism.

No, fascism is clearly and simply a description of political regimes that arose between the World Wars on the defeat of various uprisings.

Quote:
To be precise, fascism is an armed and anti-democratic oligarchy that uses its monopoly on weapons to impose its will, no matter what.

To be precise, the Soviets in Russia represented a minority of the population (a majority of the working class, albeit), they had a monopoly of weapons and they imposed their will on others, with violence.

Were the Soviets fascist?

Quote:
If we are seeking to transform society into a more human and just one, we cannot use the same logic of authoritarian power as the most reactionary of the Right has traditionally used.

And nor can you use the same logic of liberalism which seeks to transcend historical situations and impose universal morals and laws.

Ed
May 30 2010 13:06

embarrassed

I thought it was alright to be honest though I agree it reads a bit overly 'philosophical' and there is a lack of class struggle analysis.. I think you're being overly harsh though, I think the main thing to be gleaned from it is an opposition to the vanguardist militia tactic that is popular throughout Latin America.. so yeah, the bits you quoted do seem like they could be in a first year philosophy student's essay, but I think part of that is coz you're removing it from the context of the wider issue. That is that:

Quote:
Unfortunately, in Latin America and in Colombia in particular, where armed struggle still survives as a means of creating a supposedly new society, for some time the fight for that society has been taking the dangerous and authoritarian path of Stalinism. The struggle, in which elite vanguardist and messianic minorities are involved through military action, has made them believe they are the bearers of Truth who have the absolute right to control everyone’s lives—from dissidents to kidnap victims—and the country’s destiny.

..which is fair enough, in my opinion...

I also reckon its a bit unfair of you to pull out the French bossnappings to contradict them. I wouldn't say the bossnappings were anything like the kidnappings by guerrilla groups in Latin America; no matter how much the media would like to hype it up as being some sort Stalinist guerrilla tactic, everyone was always going to leave with all their fingers.. this article was written before all that shit in France went on so I think you can forgive them when they ask:

Quote:
is it possible to legitimize kidnapping with economic or political intentions?

..coz when Latin American radicals think about kidnapping, I think its fair to assume they didn't think about French factory workers locking their boss in the cupboard..

Elli
May 30 2010 13:34

I don't know if there's anything you wrote worth responding to because I largely agree with what you say, but I dislike repeating myself.

Quote:
I also reckon its a bit unfair of you to pull out the French bossnappings to contradict them. I wouldn't say the bossnappings were anything like the kidnappings by guerrilla groups in Latin America

No, because the former are the efforts of the working class to defend or advance whatever aims they have. The latter are efforts by nationalist guerrillas who want the money to perpetuate their national liberation war. The former I would support, the latter I wouldn't. But none of this gives any definitive conclusion on whether kidnapping is, or isn't, "a method of revolutionary struggle" (stupid phrase IMO). After all, bossnapping could be a method I would support in Latin America, or anywhere else.

But considering when they say things like:

Quote:
All of us who love freedom and social justice cannot fall into this trap and believe naively that there is a “good and justified” fascism of the Left and another, “evil and unjustified” fascism of the Right. To be precise, fascism is an armed and anti-democratic oligarchy that uses its monopoly on weapons to impose its will, no matter what.

and

Quote:
Depriving both rich and poor (like private soldiers and police) human beings of their liberty, using them in a Machiavellian way as pawns or human shields of war and keeping them in isolated makeshift archipelago “gulags” in the thickest and most dangerous part of the jungle for long periods in hell is clearly and simply fascism.

roll eyes

then they clearly have expressed a universal moral stance on kidnapping, about depriving the rich of their liberty roll eyes , which applies not only to Latin America, but also to...wherever.

Quote:
..coz when Latin American radicals think about kidnapping, I think its fair to assume they didn't think about French factory workers locking their boss in the cupboard..

I agree, but the problem isn't with kidnapping, the problem is the groups and the class stances of the groups which use these tactics. I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with kidnapping, or assassinations or whatever. But the sorts of groups which tend to use these tactics pretty much solely rely on them, because, lacking support from the working class, the only base they have is to start some people's war in the name of whateverthefuck. In such a situation, I don't think there is anything revolutionary about these tactics because its not a revolutionary struggle, but one caught up in nationalism. I mean, its a bit redundant IMO. The fact that FARC or whoever kidnaps people is irrelevant for my stance on them, but I'd say its more of a symptom of the class composition of that organization.

gypsy
May 30 2010 15:37
Quote:
The fact that FARC or whoever kidnaps people is irrelevant for my stance on them, but I'd say its more of a symptom of the class composition of that organization.

So if the FARC were urban based and had a majority of working class fighters you would support kidnapping as a tactic? Its not a great article and I understand your criticisms, I was just happy to see a libertarian article from that part of the world.

The FARC in the past have kidnapped civilians who you would be hard pressed to say are rich.

Elli
May 30 2010 16:11
Quote:
No, because the former are the efforts of the working class to defend or advance whatever aims they have. The latter are efforts by nationalist guerrillas who want the money to perpetuate their national liberation war. The former I would support, the latter I wouldn't.
Caiman del Barrio
May 30 2010 18:59
Quote:
Its not a great article and I understand your criticisms, I was just happy to see a libertarian article from that part of the world.

Yeah, looking at the date, I imagine it's an attempt to respond to the growing clamour for the release of Betancourt. Looking at the author, I imagine priority had been given to finding a Colombian voice on the situation (unfortunately, from what I've heard, Colombian "libertarios" tend to be plataformistas who support Hugo, Evo and his happy band of antimperialistas).

I think most of the criticisms made on this thread are fair. The fascism comparison is especially foolish.

gypsy
May 30 2010 19:04

Yeah I agree the Fascism comparison is foolish he must have been drinking aguardiente at that point. smile