11 Violence and Terrorism

Submitted by Juan Conatz on December 23, 2010

We all deplore each other's violence. Most people, whether they admit it or not, are conditioned by the mass media, the neo-Church, and they deplore the type of violence that the State deplores, and applaud the violence that the State practises. Dear old ladies, incapable of upsetting the feelings of a cat sitting on the chair they wish to occupy, passionately demand flogging, hanging and disembowelment, sometimes even for demonstrators. Lynch-law is not "anarchy". It is that degree of law beyond the State, to which authoritarian thinking can lead. The State itself can invoke vigilantes, or fascist thugs. It can give carte blanche to the police when its authority is bypassed or flouted, or where it appears that the State apparatus is insufficient. When it does not do so, lynch-law arises. Yet the same people, from the indignant old ladies to the lynchers and the fascists, will be morally outraged by assassination, since the mass media have not prepared them for this.

After the First World War, the press had barely ceased the campaign against reinstating conscientious objectors in their jobs, when they were deploring the "violence" of the workers occupying the factories in Italy. They welcomed Mussolini's mass violence, and deplored as "violence" the attempts to shoot him. To the pacifist conscientious objector, the criterion being "violence" and not freedom the men who tried to shoot Mussolini were "on a par" with the fascists-"They were using the same methods." Yet common sense showed that those who were nearer to Mussolini were not those who were trying to shoot him, but those who, because they deplored violence, sought to make the population tranquil, and would sooner co-operate than resist; who, although they were not fascists, felt that anything was better than revolutionary "violence". Yet that would have been individual. Fascist violence was mass.

We find there is, despite the cynicism of the pacifist, a distinction between our violence and theirs. We admire the rebel who tried to assassinate Mussolini, or those who did, in face of an angry crowd, kill the king of Italy, the president of France, the Czar of Russia. It is possible to understand the action of one man against a tyrant. We find it impossible to see a parallel with the violence used by the State: the murders in the concentration camps, the slow deaths in Siberia, the judicial killings, the use of fascist squads to remove political opponents, the firing squad, the mass bombings, the use of methods of wholesale slaughter.

A retired military man, who may have sent thousands to their deaths, will be morally outraged at so non-violent an exercise as the occupation of homes by squatters, and will write to the Press condemning it as "violence". His violence was legitimate, so he does not regard it as being violent. A street demonstration obstructing his car would not be legitimate. He inveighs at the violence. What really disturbs him is the legitimacy. Legitimate violence is a State monopoly, for the State makes the laws. It is not possible for the revolutionary to shift people from deliberately induced apathy, within a framework acceptable to the Metropolitan Police or the capitalist press. Nor is there any way of rebelling discreetly, of challenging public opinion though refraining from offending people's conception of good taste. Nor can one change the economic basis of society to approving nods from the judiciary.

No such means existed in Nazi Germany. It is not possible in Russia today. It is unknown here. Polite persuasion is permitted in this country, but only on terms that render it ineffective. The public can be tickled with feathers, when what it needs, in Heine's phrase, is a violent shove in the ribs with a lamppost. Traditional non-violent protests, such as Aldermaston, become institutionalised. Their protagonists in due course enter government. The test of demonstrations is not, however, whether or not they are non-violent. That is a criterion introduced by Christian socialist tradition and inherited by the "New Left". It is not a revolutionary test, which is whether or not such demonstrations disturb the chain of obedience by which orders are transmitted and obeyed.

The use of force is inconsistent with freedom and the more a regime employs violence, the more repressive it is. Resistance to force, however, is the first essential to achieve freedom, even if one has to employ violence to do so. The violence that is practised by the State is the antithesis of freedom, because it is the means by which rule is maintained. If one can only resist the imposition of the State's commands by violence, then such violence must be a prerequisite of freedom, however illegitimate it may be dubbed.

No crime committed in the history of the human race could match the crimes of governments. To such an extent are people terrorised by capitalism and the State that they are prepared to believe the laws imposed upon them are necessary for their existence. When it becomes plain that these laws threaten society, it is pretended that something illegal is involved. Faced, for instance, with the annihilation of the German Jews, the constitutionalist cannot bear to admit that the whole operation, from Hitler's parliamentary tactics in achieving power, to the laws passed by the Reichstag and dutifully administered by the judiciary, were at the time perfectly legal and constitutional.

If a fascist or a state communist regime achieved parliamentary power here, or if its violent takeover were subsequently legitimised, the same police force as exists now would operate. Its officers would not sacrifice a night's sleep, let alone a pension, at our fate -- yet the mass media asks us to be sorry for PC Jones if he is jostled by demonstrators.

But the moral code invented by the neo-Church is no more binding upon the revolutionary than the religious code invented by the old Church was binding upon the bourgeoisie once they rejected its authority. "Public opinion", the marketable commodity created by power, would be shocked at any individual act of a revolutionary. However despotic a tyrant might be (and even if he were a rival one) there would be tears for his weeping wife and bereaved children, and a homily on the futility of violence. Nothing would be said of his victims. It is in the nature of the State that the tyrant's victims should be numerous, and the tyrannicide's particular. For the power maniac cannot care who or what stands in his way. Scruples are a handicap to him, though if he can turn other people's scruples to his advantage, he will certainly do so.

If, perhaps, in striking a blow against the vilest autocrat, such as happened in throwing a bomb at the king of Spain on his wedding day, a flunkey were accidentally injured, the press would be "outraged" though the same press failed to understand the lack of patriotism shown by those Spaniards who objected to wholesale slaughter in the Moroccan war. In 1910, during an "outrage" at Tottenham, a boy was shot dead, either by the perpetrators or the police, certainly by accident. Nothing could match the horror of the press until four years later, when the Germans shot a lot more, by design rather than by accident. The British, of course, did the same thing, but this was "accidental" and it was hard luck upon the civilians; an excuse the Tottenham gunmen could hardly have given. Horror at violence in this type of context is pure cant. It is objection to persons doing individually what the State legitimises wholesale.

The peace-time profession of non-violence held by all respectable citizens should not be confused with the idealised non-violence held by the peace movement. Even here, this doctrine contains some element of hypocrisy, for thinking of specific leaders of the declared pacifist movement and even excluding the Quakers who give non-combatant service in time of imperialist war, one finds most of them oppose all war until they find a cause they can support by war. But they will never accept class struggle. Gandhist pacifism, on the other hand, may be revolutionary but is completely authoritarian. Those who look on violence as the worst crime of the State -- because they judge everything on its degree of violence -- may be right, but it does not follow at all that if the State could rule without violence -- if the ruling class could conquer without force of arms -- this would be the same thing as freedom.

On the contrary, a samurai class which could impose its will by moral authority and gentle persuasion would not be less authoritarian than one which needed to use the sword and the whip. It might be less intolerable to live under. But there is no difference, in the compulsion they use, between a Gandhi and a Mao Tse Tung. Gandhi, by his moral persuasion, might have been the more effective dictator.

The mother who says to her children "I will not punish you but you have broken my heart" is no less matriarchal than the one who smacks them in temper and forgets it. Though on balance one prefers the yogi to the commissar, it is only while one is not brainwashed by the yogi that he is harmless. Those who, by moral persuasion and superior virtue, can induce the virtues exemplified by non-violence are not giving us freedom. They are fakir-nazis.

Neither the party nor the ashram should be in a position to take over government in an overthrow of capitalist society. If they should do so, it should be a hazardous enterprise in the face of a rebellious people. Dictators should always have to reckon with the fact that assassination is their professional hazard. All forms of government should have to reckon on the fact of a class struggle. Unless it is an unmitigated tyranny or is representative of a class terrified by a traumatic experience of revolution, it seldom wishes to do so. When a government admits the existence of the class struggle, the police state is said to exist. Social conquest, no longer disguised, is carried out by the police (or, if there is no tradition of public service, by the armed forces acting in a police capacity).

When a state no longer needs to admit this brutal fact of existence, it does not cease to employ police: it sets out, however, to make itself more loved by means of persuasion at its disposal and by giving the police some useful tasks with which to occupy themselves. The police become concerned with traffic control, for instance, which however more socially useful it might be, would hardly be handed to a Gestapo with its hands full. It is like using the army for flood relief.

When the State rests upon national conquest as well as social conquest (occupied France, British India), or when the social conquest is of recent origin and military force (Franco's Spain), the police state is essential. Once the fact of social conquest is generally accepted, the State seeks to persuade the community that it is part of a natural order and even that it is of divine origin.

When the Church was the custodian of moral values, its function was to persuade society of the legitimacy and divinity of sovereign rulers.1 The neo-Church, via the mass media and new science of sociology and psychology, has taken this task over. It proves to us that rebellion is illegal and even unfashionable, or that revolutionaries hate their fathers (as against the happy family life of the conformists), and will even, given their head, prove that criminals are a racial type or that racial types are criminals. Deviation from State dogmas may be shown as degeneracy. Given sufficient funds, they will teach us all how we may fit into a sick society.

An American psychologist has studied the motives of those who tried to kill presidents of the United States. This type of study is becoming a new national sport. He has come up with the conclusion that it is "a wish for immortality". No doubt -- but what lies behind the desire to become president? Many would-be assassins viewed their act "as a stroke of national policy or patriotic heroism". How did the Presidents view their acts? It completely escaped the vision of the psychiatrist that the greater the tyrant, the greater the need for assassination. Those rebels who tried to kill European dictators may have been less delinquent than the pilots who bombed Germany and Italy. The latter may have viewed their murders as national policy and patriotic heroism -- there was a great deal of encouragement to do so at the time.

But it is, of course, completely beyond the province of the psychiatrist to inquire into the causes of war. The sociologist has no such qualms and he will even endow the impersonal State with human qualities in the way that the early Church invoked its divinity. A "country" is looked on as a real person, with anthropomorphic attributes. Children growing up after the First World War found it hard to understand that Belgians were really not necessarily "poor" nor "little"; and after the Second World War it was difficult for them to understand that Poland was not, in fact, a "small" country. Still less was it possible to understand that all Americans were not rich and powerful. More importantly, the term "aggression" applied to a national act has completely misled everyone. Many reformers sincerely believe that "aggressiveness" causes wars. It is one of the reasons that the sport of boxing gets so many critics (especially those who, like Baroness Summerskill, began as pacifists and ended, though politically committed to the atom bomb, still opposed to "aggressiveness"). Yet the professional boxer is lucky to become a P.T. corporal in time of war -- he is more likely to be in the glasshouse for his aggressiveness. It is not the Rocky Marcianos who are the good soldiers. The meek, professional diplomat with the bowler hat and umbrella, who begs one's pardon if he is bumped into on the staircase, will embroil the nation in war, and the civil servant Eichmann is the prototype of how he will then behave.

The mere "aggressiveness" of a Napoleon or a Hitler could not cause a war. One can find their like at any street corner. What causes war is the meekness of the many. Obedience enables leaders to pursue an aggressive course.

It was not "the German character" nor even the nazi ideology that caused the German army in the last war to behave in a way that provoked resistance. It was conquest itself, made more obvious by the fact that the conqueror was foreign, and more painful by the fact of its being nazi. The diplomats tried to hide the plain fact of conquest by creating "legitimate governments" that paraded the shabby old patriotic colours. In occupied Russia the Germans had the chance of being regarded as liberators, but nazi ideology regarded the conqueror as a superior class and acted accordingly. It was painfully obvious in the Ukraine that the Soviet ruling class had been replaced by an invading ruling class that regarded the Ukrainians as natural helots. Nazi ideology prevented Germany from disguising the naked fact of a police state in arms.

Resistance throughout Europe was given a national-patriotic ideology largely by the London-based propagandists whose active part in the struggle consisted of encouraging radio speeches and intrigues with British diplomacy. So far as those on the spot were concerned, resistance to the police state was unavoidable. The Communist Party, talking in the language of the class struggle but in practice obeying the political necessities of the Russian government, was able to persuade the underground movements that these two opposing matters were identical.

The Communist Party of today does not entirely deny that there is a class struggle, but it does its best to adapt its terms to those of national patriotism, since it serves the interests of the Kremlin. The liberal, and usually even the pacifist, would deny there is a class struggle at all, which we find a strange attitude. Much as we oppose national war, we would hardly pretend it did not exist. It is hard to define a nation, and imperialism has made the lines blurred. Nor are racial differences confined to opposing nation-states. It is highly desirable that such wars should not exist. Yet they do, notwithstanding our disapproval. It is more difficult to define a class war because there is a degree of voluntarism.

The nation-state can say, in regard to national war, what the law is; who are its subjects and whom for the time being it considers not to be its subjects. Even to press a national claim based on race, as against power, is to commit treason (as Sir Roger Casement discovered). Unless the State chooses, even ideological affinity is not recognised but as treason. (Joyce and Amery were hanged, though several hundred Germans, in British employ, had committed exactly the same "offence" as they.) Successful treason is impossible, since it then becomes the highest patriotism. Many of the "Old Bolsheviks" were executed for "collaborating with fascism" a few years too soon. All this is part and parcel of the terrorism of the State.

The state cannot, however, normally admit the fact of a class war, because this would be to sanction counter-terrorism by the people. Once it is obliged, by the creation of a police state, to admit the fact of a class war, the response is always the same. It can be seen in Czarist Russia when the Police State was opposed by individual acts of violence, which were the only means of protest. Acts of "terror" against the Spanish police state have announced to the world that there can be no compromise with the Franco regime.

The manner of these acts causes an alliance between the "constitutional and democratic" police forces, and those police forces which are acknowledged to be no more than an armed conspiracy against the people. There was an entente between the Western police and those of Czarist Russia, when the Kremlin established a political police bureau combining diplomatic intrigue, espionage and anti-revolutionary activity, which, with its lavish bribes and employment of agents-provocateurs, corrupted everything it touched.

Public concern prevented the nazi co-operation with the democratic police forces being too well publicised, though it is exemplified by the head of the French police, M. Chiappe, handing over the dossiers of the revolutionaries to the Gestapo in 1940. The British police then, and since, declined to give an assurance that they would not do the same thing in the same circumstances.

When the bourgeoisie becomes "terrorised" it is "provoked" into using the police and shows the true image of social conquest. In the United States the bureaucracy is so efficient in the silent art of mass destruction that the young rebels have spat upon bourgeois culture and taken the responsible attitude of "irresponsibility" -- both from revolutionary hope and from new despair they "provoke" the police so that persuasion has to stop and is replaced by force.

Even back in the legendary days of Robin Hood, violence was justified once social conquest was recognised. It not only justifies the revolutionary, but also, at any rate to himself, the criminal. What is wealth but the accumulated thefts of the past? How did the titles and the ownership of land arise? Once it is appreciated that the accumulation of property is due to theft, but that the robbery goes back in time, it is hard for anyone to understand the argument of capitalist economics that robbery has got to cease now. Why? Because the law says so. The tinhorn gambler wants to quit the game because he is winning. The moral sanctions against disobedience of the State need a lot of honeyed words from the neo-Church to make them convincing.

The present values now described as "bourgeois" are those established in Victorian times, and are a justification of power remaining where it is. The same ethics and morals exist in Russia, though in the economic sense there is no bourgeoisie, for they are those of the power-holding minority. An exaggerated feeling of destiny, chauvinism, sexual puritanism and the other feelings arising from power on the one hand and abnegation to the State on the other, are characteristic of rising capitalism and of Soviet Russia. In both cases a stable ruling minority is in triumph over a successful State that acts as a fa├žade to human misery. In both cases some form of mass terror became necessary. In Victorian England it was poverty, in Soviet Russia, political repression. In both cases, the only antidote, individual terror, became apparently anachronistic because of the success of the media of persuasion. In one, such action seemed unnecessary because of the "continuous advance of suffrage" and in the other because it has been identified with "capitalist and fascist sabotage of socialism". Resistance in both cases became sullen, non-violent, resigned.

In all political history there is a feeling that "Things may be bad, but let them not get worse." It increases as one gets older, and breeds on defeat. It is the case against militant action, and against holding individual autocrats responsible of acts of tyranny "for fear of the backlash".

Fortunately, there is renewed hope with every generation. Disastrously for humanity, the State is winning the race -- its powers of destruction grow faster than the forces of rebellion against it.

The State, as institutionalised conquest, leads to destruction. Apart from the philosophical discussion of ends and means, it is common sense that one's actions should be conditioned according to one's aims. Our aims are not the conquest of power, but the accountability of individuals for their actions. The enemies of freedom should not escape their responsibility by pleading the fact that they acted under orders. At the point where they are held personally liable for their deeds of violence, they on the plea that violence (by anyone else) is "futile".

Pacifism ceases to be ranked with bolshevism and anarchy, and until the State chooses otherwise, the public is completely sold on the futility of "violence", though most of the "violence" against which it inveighs is in protest against mass murder. It is genuinely hard for the average person to understand, in the face of mass conditioning, that a person might be vehemently opposed to mass murder and for that very reason all the more inclined to make a violent protest. One of the present authors, facing a Spanish court-martial as the result of his belief in the removal of dictators, found that some of his friends and relatives genuinely protested his innocence, citing his known opposition to nuclear armament. "He is a pacifist, not a terrorist," they said, and it was inexpedient, whilst on a capital charge, to undertake the obvious explanation. One or two afterwards felt they had been misled. The other of the present writers, facing a British court-martial, was rebuked for his "inconsistency" in opposing mass murder when it was notorious he supported individual violence ("and you cannot deny this from your actions"). It appeared clear to them that if one did not support State violence, or objected to sacrifice for the ruling class, one could not sustain any form of violence and probably not eat meat either. Those who think this is an exaggeration need only refer to some of the imbecilic comments made at conscientious objectors' tribunals.

But violence is not the yardstick. It is not even relevant to social revolution, which has to do with the economic change-over of the system. Violence is only needed to answer terror from above by the imposition of personal responsibility from below. Historically, one sees most ruling classes will fight on to the end rather than give up power, and at that point another ruling minority wants to take over. This cannot be answered by mass terror, for generally the army of those having or seeking power will be superior to any army of those opposing power. It cannot be defeated by non-resistance, for this is exactly what it wants. It cannot be opposed by non-violent resistance, for this presupposes a trained class of leaders whose rule will be only qualitatively different. Finally imposed power by force can only be answered by individual violence. No dictator is so powerful as to be invulnerable to anyone with an elementary knowledge of chemistry. Those dictators who understand this (like Portugal's Salazar) become invisible rulers, and their modesty and lack of flamboyancy is idealised. They stay in power, and their longevity becomes another virtue until they commit the indiscretion of dying.

Politics is bedevilled by the myth of the "strong man". Just as the State is given the qualities of a person, the person is given the qualities of the State. Little Hitler, who never raised his hand for a blow in anger during his life, was one "strong man". Churchill, doddering in the care of valets, was another. Unfortunate, paralysed, neurotic Roosevelt; crafty priest-trained Stalin -- these were the great men of the Second World War. They were admired for their "strength", meaning that none of them were averse to setting into motion the techniques of mass murder. Neville Chamberlain's bourgeois scruples at doing so made him "weak". The public at the time were brainwashed by this type of presentation into believing that Hitler was in fact, the physically stronger of the two. One blow with the famous gamp and Adolf would have collapsed. But that is not how politics are conducted. Those who, in 1939, believed the official story that war was due "to one man only" did not see the simple alternative to war.2 They accepted that the only alternative was submission.

Why do the mass media become hysterical at the idea of manhandling statesmen? Is it because this destroys the image? Hero figures must, however, be reduced to size. "The great are only great because we are on our knees."

  • 1cf. "God and the State" -- Michael Bakunin.
  • 2Correspondence in "The Times" following the publication of "Killing No Murder" by Edward Hyams revealed the true attitude of the Establishment. Apparently Hitler could have been assassinated and plans were submitted. But individual killing of leaders (as distinct from dissidents) was "always murder" and could have "undesirable repercussions". Presumably the Second World War was a "desirable" repercussion.