Nonviolence is Statist

Submitted by Reddebrek on April 29, 2018

Put quite plainly, nonviolence ensures a state monopoly on violence. States — the centralized bureaucracies that protect capitalism; preserve a white supremacist, patriarchal order; and implement imperialist expansion — survive by assuming the role of the sole legitimate purveyor of violent force within their territory. Any struggle against oppression necessitates a conflict with the state. Pacifists do the state’s work by pacifying the opposition in advance.[88] States, for their part, discourage militancy within the opposition, and encourage passivity.

Some pacifists obscure this mutual relationship by claiming that the government would just love to see them abandon their nonviolent discipline and give in to violence, that the government even encourages violence from dissidents, and that many activists urging militancy are, in fact, government provocateurs.[89] Thus, they argue, it is the militant activists who are playing into the hands of the state. Although in some instances the US government has used infiltrators to encourage resistance groups to hoard weapons or plan violent actions (for example, in the cases of the Molly Maguires and Jonathan Jackson’s attempted courthouse strike[90]), a critical distinction must be made. The government only encourages violence when it is sure that the violence can be contained and will not get out of hand. In the end, causing a militant resistance group to act prematurely or walk into a trap eliminates the group’s potential for violence by guaranteeing an easy life sentence or allowing authorities to sidestep the judicial process and kill off the radicals more quickly, On the whole, and in nearly all other instances, the authorities pacify the population and discourage violent rebellion.
There is a clear reason for this. Contrary to the fatuous claims of pacifists that they somehow empower themselves by cutting out the greater part of their tactical options, governments everywhere recognize that unconstrained revolutionary activism poses the greater threat of changing the distribution of power in society. Though the state always reserves the right to repress whomever it wishes, modern “democratic” governments treat nonviolent social movements with revolutionary goals as potential, rather than actual, threats. They spy on such movements to stay aware of developments, and they use a carrot-and-stick approach to herd such movements into fully peaceful, legal, and ineffective channels. Nonviolent groups may be subjected to beatings, but such groups are not targeted for elimination (except by regressive governments or governments facing a period of emergency that threatens their stability).

On the other hand, the state treats militant groups (those same groups pacifists deem ineffective) as actual threats and attempts to neutralize them with highly developed counterinsurgency and domestic warfare operations. Hundreds of union organizers, anarchists, communists, and militant farmers were killed in the anti-capitalist struggles of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During the last generation’s liberation struggles, FBI-supported paramilitaries killed sixty American Indian Movement (AIM) activists and supporters on the Pine Ridge Reservation alone, and the FBI, local police, and paid agents killed dozens of members of the Black Panther Party, Republic of New Afrika, the Black Liberation Army, and other groups.[91]

Vast resources were mobilized toward infiltrating and destroying militant revolutionary organizations during the COINTELPRO era. Any hint of militant organizing by colonized peoples, Puerto Ricans, and others within US territorial purview still incurs violent repression. Prior to September 11, the FBI had named the saboteurs and arsonists of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF) as the greatest domestic terrorism threats, even though these two groups had killed exactly zero people. Even since the bombings of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the ELF and ALF have remained priorities for government repression, as seen in the arrests of over a dozen alleged ELF/ALF members; the agreement of many of these prisoners to become snitches after one of them died in a suspicious suicide and all of them had been threatened with life sentences; and the incarceration of several members of an above-ground animal rights group for hounding a vivisection company with an aggressive boycott — which the government has termed “animal enterprise terrorism.”[92] And at a time when the Left was shocked that the police and military were spying on peace groups, far less attention was given to the government’s continuing repression of the Puerto Rican liberation movement, including the FBI assassination of Machetero leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios.[93]

But we need not infer the opinions and priorities of the state’s security apparatus from the actions of its agents. We can take their word for it. FBI COINTELPRO documents, revealed to the public only because in 1971 some activists broke into an FBI office in Pennsylvania and stole them, clearly demonstrate that a major objective of the FBI is to keep would-be revolutionaries passive. In a list of five goals with regard to black nationalist and black liberation groups, in the 1960s, the FBI includes the following:

Prevent violence on the part of black nationalist groups. This is of primary importance, and is, of course, a goal of our investigative activity; it should also be a goal of the Counterintelligence Program [in the original government lingo, that phrase refers to a specific operation, of which there were thousands, and not the overarching program]. Through counterintelligence it should be possible to pinpoint potential troublemakers and neutralize them before they exercise their potential for violence.


In identifying successful “neutralizations” in other documents, the FBI uses the term to include activists who were assassinated, imprisoned, framed, discredited, or harassed until they ceased to be politically active. The memo also lists the importance of preventing the rise of a black “messiah.” After smugly noting that Malcolm X could have fulfilled this role, but is instead the martyr of the movement, the memo names three black leaders who have the potential to be that messiah. One of the three “could be a very real contender for this position should he abandon his supposed ‘obedience’ to ‘white, liberal doctrines’ (nonviolence)” [parenthesis in the original]. The memo also explains the need to go about discrediting militant blacks in the eyes of the “responsible Negro community” and the “white community.” This shows both how the state can count on knee-jerk pacifist condemnation of violence and how pacifists effectively do the state’s dirty work by failing to use their cultural influence to make militant resistance to tyranny “respectable.” Instead, pacifists claim that militancy alienates people, and do nothing to attempt to counteract this phenomenon.

Another FBI memo, this one on American Indian Movement activist John Trudell, shows the same understanding on the part of the state’s political police that pacifists are an inert sort of dissident that do not yet pose a threat to the established order. “TRUDELL has the ability to meet with a group of pacifists and in a short time have them yelling and screaming ‘right-on!’ In short, he is an extremely effective agitator.”[95]
The government consistently demonstrates the unsurprising fact that it prefers to go up against a peaceful opposition. Much more recently, an FBI memo sent to local law-enforcement agencies across the country, and subsequently leaked to the press, makes it clear whom the government identifies as extremists and prioritizes for neutralization.

On October 25, 2003, mass marches and rallies against the occupation in Iraq are scheduled to occur in Washington, DC, and San Francisco, California....[T]he possibility exists that elements of the activist community may attempt to engage in violent, destructive, or disruptive acts....

Traditional demonstration tactics by which protesters draw attention to their causes include marches, banners, and forms of passive resistance such as sit-ins [emphasis mine]. Extremist elements may engage in more aggressive tactics that can include vandalism, physical harassment of delegates, trespassing, the formation of human chains or shields, makeshift barricades, devices used against mounted police units, and the use of weapons-such as projectiles and homemade bombs.


The bulk of the memo focuses on these extremist elements clearly identified as activists employing a diversity of tactics as opposed to pacifist activists, who are not identified as a major threat. According to the memo, extremists exhibit the following identifying characteristics.

Extremists may be prepared to defend themselves against law enforcement officials during the course of a demonstration. Masks (gas masks, goggles, scarves, scuba masks, filter masks, and sunglasses) can serve to minimize the effects of tear gas and pepper spray, as well as obscure one’s identity. Extremists may also employ shields (trash can lids, sheets of plexiglass, truck tire inner tubes, etc.) and body protection equipment (layered clothing, hard hats and helmets, sporting equipment, life jackets, etc.) to protect themselves during marches. Activists may also use intimidation techniques such as videotaping and the swarming of police officers to hinder the arrest of other demonstrators.

After demonstrations, activists are usually reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement officials. They seldom carry any identification papers and often refuse to divulge any information about themselves or other protesters....
Law enforcement officials should be alert to these possible indicators of protest activity and report any potentially illegal acts to the nearest FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.


How sad is it that the surest mark of an “extremist” is a willingness to defend oneself against attacks by the police, and how much responsibility do pacifists bear in creating this situation? In any case, by disowning and even denouncing activists who use a diversity of tactics, pacifists make such extremists vulnerable to the repression that police agencies clearly want to use against them.

As if it were not enough to discourage militancy and condition dissidents to use nonviolence through violent repression of the unruly, the government also injects pacifism into rebel movements more directly. Two years after invading Iraq, the US military got caught interfering once again in the Iraqi news media (prior interference included bombing unfriendly media, releasing false stories, and creating entirely new Arab-language media organizations such as al-Hurriyah that would be run by the Defense Department as a part of their psychological operations). This time, the Pentagon was paying to insert articles in Iraqi newspapers urging unity (against the insurgents) and nonviolence.[98] The articles were written as though the authors were Iraqi in an attempt to rein in the militant resistance and manipulate Iraqis into diplomatic forms of opposition that would be easier to co-opt and control.

The Pentagon’s selective use of pacifism in Iraq can serve as a parable for the broader origins of nonviolence. Namely, it comes from the state. A conquered population is schooled in nonviolence through its relationship with a power structure that has claimed a monopoly on the right to use violence. It is the acceptance, by the disempowered, of the statist belief that the masses must be stripped of their natural abilities for direct action, including the propensities for self-defense and the use of force, or they will descend into chaos, into a cycle of violence, into hurting and oppressing one another. Thus is government safety, and slavery freedom. Only a people trained to accept being ruled by a violent power structure can really question someone’s right and need to forcefully defend herself against oppression. Pacifism is also a form of learned helplessness, through which dissidents retain the goodwill of the state by signifying that they have not usurped powers the state exclusively claims (such as self-defense). In this way, a pacifist behaves like a well-trained dog who is beaten by his master: rather than bite his attacker, he lowers his tail and signifies his harmlessness, resigning himself to the beatings in the hope that they stop.

More immediately, Frantz Fanon describes the origins and function of nonviolence within the decolonization process when he writes:

The colonialist bourgeoisie introduces that new idea which is in proper parlance a creation of the colonial situation: non-violence. In its simplest form this non-violence signifies to the intellectual and economic elite of the colonized country that the bourgeoisie has the same interests as they....Non-violence is an attempt to settle the colonial problem around a green baize table, before any regrettable act has been performed...before any blood has been shed. But if the masses, without waiting for the chairs to be arranged around the baize table, listen to their own voice and begin committing outrages and setting fire to buildings, the elite and the nationalist bourgeois parties will be seen rushing to the colonialists to exclaim, ‘This is very serious! We do not know how it will end; we must find a solution-some sort of compromise.


This underlying comfort with the violence of the state, combined with shock at the “outrages” of forceful rebellion, lulls pacifists into relying on state violence for protection. For example, pacifist organizers exempt the police from the “nonviolence codes” that are common at protests these days; they do not attempt to disarm the police who protect peace protesters from angry, pro-war counter-demonstrators. In practice, pacifist morality demonstrates that it is more acceptable for radicals to rely on the violence of the government for protection than to defend themselves.

It is fairly obvious why the authorities would want radicals to remain vulnerable. But why do pacifists? It is not as though supporters of nonviolence have had a shortage of opportunities to learn what happens to defenseless radicals. Take for example the 1979 rally against white supremacy in Greensboro, North Carolina. An assortment of black and white workers, labor organizers, and Communists, accepting the premise that disarming and allowing a police monopoly on violent force would better ensure peace, agreed to not carry weapons for protection. The result was an event now known as the Greensboro Massacre. The police and FBI collaborated with the local Klan and Nazi Party to attack the demonstrators, who were relying on police protection. While the police were conveniently absent, the white supremacists attacked the march and shot 13 people, killing five. When the police returned to the scene, they beat and arrested several protesters and let the racist thugs get away.[100]

In the chaos of any revolutionary situation, right-wing paramilitaries such as the Ku Klux Klan are more than happy to eliminate radicals. The American Legion recently declared “war” on the anti-war movement.[101] That organization’s history of lynching anarchist labor organizers suggests the means they’ll use when their beloved flag is threatened.[102]

The debate between pacifism and a diversity of tactics (including self-defense and counterattack) may end up being decided if the current anti-authoritarian movement ever develops to the point of posing a threat, when police agencies hand over their blacklists, and right-wing paramilitaries lynch any “traitors” they can get their hands on. This situation has occurred in the past, most notably in the 1920s, and, to a lesser extent, in response to the civil rights movement. Let us only hope that if our movement once again poses a threat, as few of us as possible will be constrained by an ideology that leaves us dangerously vulnerable.
Despite this history of repression, proponents of nonviolence frequently rely on the violence of the state, not just to protect them, but also to accomplish their goals. If this reliance does not always lead to outright disasters like the Greensboro Massacre, it certainly cannot exonerate the nonviolent position. Pacifists claiming to eschew violence helped to desegregate schools and universities throughout the South, but, ultimately, it was armed units of the National Guard that allowed the first black students to enter these schools and protect them from forceful attempts at expulsion and worse. If pacifists are unable to defend their own gains, what will they do when they don’t have the organized violence of the police and National Guard? (Incidentally, would pacifists remember desegregation as a failure for nonviolence if black families had needed to call in the Deacons for Defense, instead of the National Guard, to protect their children entering those all-white schools?) Institutional desegregation was deemed favorable to the white supremacist power structure because it defused a crisis, increased possibilities for co-opting black leadership, and streamlined the economy, all without negating the racial hierarchy so fundamental to US society. Thus, the National Guard was called in to help desegregate universities. It is not that hard to imagine a set of revolutionary goals that the National Guard would never be called in to protect.

While pacifists protesting US militarism can never get the police or National Guard to simply enforce the law — disarming weapons banned by international treaties or closing military schools that train soldiers in torture techniques — the government still benefits from allowing these futile demonstrations to take place. Permitting nonviolent protest improves the image of the state. Whether they mean to or not, nonviolent dissidents play the role of a loyal opposition in a performance that dramatizes dissent and creates the illusion that democratic government is not elitist or authoritarian. Pacifists paint the state as benign by giving authority the chance to tolerate a criticism that does not actually threaten its continued operation. A colorful, conscientious, passive protest in front of a military base only improves the PR image of the military, for surely only a just and humane military would tolerate protests outside its front gate. Such a protest is like a flower stuck in the barrel of a gun. It does not impede the ability of the gun to fire.

What most pacifists do not seem to understand is that free speech does not empower us, and it does not equal freedom. Free speech is a privileg[103]e that can be — and is — taken away by the government when it serves their interests. The state has the uncontested power to take away our “rights,” and history shows the exercise of that power regularly.[104] Even in our daily life, we can try to say whatever we want to bosses, judges, or police officers, and unless we are slavishly congenial, honesty and a free tongue will lead to harmful consequences. In situations of social emergency, the limitations on “free speech” become even more pronounced. Consider the activists imprisoned for speaking against the draft in World War I and the people arrested in 2004 for holding protest signs at events where Bush was speaking. Free speech is only free as long as it is not a threat and does not come with the possibility of challenging the system. The most freedom of speech I have ever had was in the “Security Housing Unit” (maximum-security solitary confinement) in federal prison. I could yell and shout all I wanted, even cuss at the guards, and unless I thought up a particularly creative way to intentionally enrage them, they would leave me at peace. No matter: the walls were rock solid and my words were hot air.

The cooperation that is only possible with peaceful dissidents helps to humanize the politicians responsible for monstrous policies. At the massive protests against the 2004 Republican National Convention (RNC) in New York City, NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg gave special buttons to nonviolent activists who had proclaimed that they would be peaceful.[105] Bloomberg got political points for being hip and lenient, even as his administration cracked down on dissent during the week of protests. Pacifists got an added perk: anyone wearing the button would be given discounts at dozens of Broadway shows, hotels, museums, and restaurants (highlighting how the passive parade of nonviolence is tapped into as a boost to the economy and bulwark of the status quo). As Mayor Bloomberg put it, “It’s no fun to protest on an empty stomach.”
And the anti-RNC protests in New York were little more than that: fun. Fun for college students, Democratic canvassers, and Green Party activists to walk around holding witty signs with like-minded “enlightened” progressives. A huge amount of energy was expended weeks in advance (by the institutional Left and the police) in attempts to alienate and exclude more militant activists. Someone with a lot of resources distributed thousands of leaflets the weekend before the convention making the idiotic claim that violence — say, a riot — would improve Bush’s image (when, in reality, a riot, though it certainly would not have helped the Democrats, would have tarnished Bush’s image as a leader and “uniter”). The leaflet also warned that anyone advocating confrontational tactics was likely a police agent. The march ended, and people dispersed to the most isolated, least confrontational spot possible in a city full of the edifices of state and capital: Central Park’s Grand Lawn (appropriately, other protesters flocked to the “Sheep Meadow”). They danced and celebrated into the night, chanting such illuminating mantras as “We are beautiful!”

Later in the week, the Poor People’s March was repeatedly attacked by police making targeted arrests of activists wearing masks or refusing to be searched. March participants had agreed to be nonviolent because the march included many people, such as immigrants and people of color, whom march organizers were ostensibly concerned about as being more vulnerable to arrest. But when activists — peacefully — swarmed police officers to attempt to discourage the arrests, the activists were urged to ignore the arrests and keep moving, with march “peacekeepers” and police shouting identical messages at the crowd (“Move along!” “Stick to the march route!”). Obviously, all attempts at conciliation and de-escalation failed; the police were every bit as violent as they chose to be.

The next day, Jamal Holiday, a black New York City resident from a disadvantaged background, was arrested for the self-defense “assault” of a plainclothes NYPD detective, one of several who had, with no provocation, driven their mopeds into the peaceful crowd at the Poor People’s March, hurting several people (and running over my foot). This happened at the end of the rally, when, many of the march participants, including the supposedly “vulnerable,” were quite upset with the march leaders’ passivity and the continued police brutality. At one point, a crowd of protesters who had just been attacked by police began screaming at an organizer who was yelling at them through a bullhorn to get away from the police (there was nowhere to go) because they were “provoking” the cops. The response to Holiday’s arrest shows a hypocrisy that privileges state violence over even the right of people to defend themselves. The same pacifist segments of the movement who raised a stink about the peaceful protesters whom police arrested en masse on August 31 (a day reserved for civil disobedience-style protests) remained silent toward and unsupportive of Holiday while he endured the excruciating, drawn-out violence of the penal system. Apparently, for the pacifists, protecting an allegedly violent activist from a far greater violence comes too near to blurring their principled stand against violence.

Nonviolent activists go further than endorsing state violence with their silence: they are often vocal in justifying it. Pacifist organizers waste no opportunity to declare a ban on “violence” within their protests, because such violence would “justify” repression by the police, which is perceived as inevitable, neutral, and beyond reproach. The 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle are a typical example. Though police violence (in this case, the use of torture tactics against peaceful protesters blockading the summit site) preceded the “violent” property destruction by the black bloc, everyone from pacifists to the corporate media blamed the police riot on the black bloc. Perhaps the major grievance was that decentralized, non-hierarchically organized anarchists stole the spotlight from big-budget NGOs that require an aura of authority to keep receiving donations. The official claim was that the violence of the protests demonized the entire movement, though even the president himself, Bill Clinton, declared from Seattle that a violent fringe minority was solely responsible for the mayhem.[106] In fact, the violence of Seattle intrigued and attracted more new people to the movement than were attracted by the tranquility of any subsequent mass mobilization. The corporate media did not — and never will — explain the motives of the activists, but the violence, the visible manifestation of passion and fury, of militant commitment in an otherwise absurd world, motivated thousands to do that research on their own. That is why Seattle is thought of by the ahistorical as the “beginning” or “birth” of the anti-globalization movement.

Similarly, an article advocating nonviolence in The Nation complains that violence in Seattle and Genoa (where Italian police shot and killed a protester) “created negative media images and provided an excuse for even harsher repression.”[107] I will digress for a moment here to point out that the state is not a passive thing. If it wants to repress a movement or organization, it does not wait for an excuse, it manufactures one. The American Indian Movement was not a violent organization — the vast majority of its tactics were peaceful — but members did not restrict themselves to nonviolence; they practiced armed self-defense and forceful occupations of government buildings, often with great results. To “justify” repression against AIM, the FBI manufactured the “Dog Soldier Teletypes,” which were passed off as AIM communiqués discussing the supposed creation of terror squads to assassinate tourists, farmers, and government officials.[108] These teletypes were part of a general FBI disinformation campaign instrumental in allowing the consequence-free (for the government) false imprisonment and murder of several AIM activists and supporters. About such campaigns, the FBI says, “It is immaterial whether facts exist to substantiate the charge....[D]isruption [through the media] can be accomplished without facts to back it up.”[109] If, in the eyes of the government, it is immaterial whether an organization deemed a threat to the status quo has or has not committed a violent act, why do proponents of nonviolence continue to insist that the truth will set them free?

The previously mentioned Nation article demands a strict, movement-wide adherence to nonviolence, criticizing another pacifist organization’s refusal to openly condemn activists who use a diversity of tactics. The author laments, “It’s impossible to control the actions of everyone who participates in a demonstration, of course, but more vigorous efforts to insure [sic] nonviolence and prevent destructive behavior are possible and necessary. A 95 percent commitment to nonviolence is not enough.” No doubt, a “more vigorous” commitment to nonviolence means that activist leaders must more frequently utilize the police as a force for peace (to arrest “troublemakers”). This tactic has most certainly been applied by pacifists already. (In fact, the first time I ever got assaulted at a protest, it was not by the police but by a peace marshal, who tried to push me to the curb while I and several others were holding an intersection to keep the police from dividing the march and potentially mass-arresting the smaller segment. Notably, my resistance to the peace marshal’s light attempts to push me back visibly singled me out to the police, who were overseeing the work of their proxies, and I had to duck back into the crowd to avoid being arrested or assaulted more forcefully.)

Can anyone imagine revolutionary activists declaring that they need to be more vigorous in making sure that every participant in an event hits a cop or throws a brick through a window? On the contrary, most anarchists and other militants have bent over backwards in working with pacifists and ensuring that at joint demonstrations, people opposed to confrontation, afraid of police brutality, or especially vulnerable to legal sanctions could have a “safe space.” Pacifism goes hand in hand with efforts to centralize and control the movement. The concept is inherently authoritarian and incompatible with anarchism because it denies people the right to self-determination in directing their own struggles.[110] The pacifist reliance on centralization and control (with a leadership that can take “vigorous efforts” to “prevent destructive behavior”) preserves the state within the movement, and preserves hierarchical structures to assist state negotiations (and state repression).

History shows that if a movement does not have a leader, the state invents one. The state violently eliminated the anti-hierarchical labor unions of the early 20th century, whereas it negotiated with, elevated, and bought off the leadership of the hierarchical unions. Colonial regimes appointed “chiefs” to stateless societies that had none, whether to impose political control in Africa or negotiate deceptive treaties in North America. Additionally, leaderless social movements are especially hard to repress. The tendencies of pacifism toward negotiation and centralization facilitate efforts by the state to manipulate and co-opt rebellious social movements; they also make it easier for the state to repress a movement, if it decides there is a need to do so.

But the pacifist vision of social change comes from a privileged vantage, where full state repression is not a real fear. An essay on strategic nonviolence that came highly recommended from some pacifist acquaintances includes a diagram. Nonviolent activists are on the left, their opponents, presumably reactionaries, are on the right, and undecided third parties are in the middle.[111] All three segments are equally arrayed around an apparently neutral “decision-making” authority. This is an utterly naive and privileged view of democratic government, in which all decisions are decided by majority, with, at worst, a limited violence practiced only out of recalcitrant conservatism and reluctance to change the status quo. The diagram assumes a society without race and class hierarchy; without privileged, powerful, and violent elites; without a corporate media controlled by the interests of state and capital, ready to manage the perceptions of the citizenry. Such a society does not exist among any of the industrial, capitalist democracies.

Within such a model of social power, revolution is a morality play, an advocacy campaign that can be won by “the ability of dignified suffering [for example, the anti-segregation students sitting in at ‘whites only’ lunch counters while enduring verbal and physical attacks] to attract sympathy and political support.”[112] First of all, this model assumes an analysis of the state that is remarkably charitable and remarkably similar to how the state might describe itself in public-school civics textbooks. In this analysis, government is a neutral and passive decision-making authority that responds to public pressures. It is at best fair and at worst beset by a culture of conservatism and ignorance. But it is not structurally oppressive. Second, this model puts pacifists in the position of pressuring and negotiating with a decision-making authority that, in reality, is consciously bound by self-interest, willing to break any inconvenient law it may have set down, and structurally integrated with and dependent on the systems of power and oppression that galvanized the social movement in the first place.

Modern governments, which have long studied methods of social control, no longer view peace as the default social condition, interrupted only by outside agitators. Now they understand that the natural condition of the world (the world they have created, I should editorialize) is conflict: rebellion to their rule is inevitable and continuous.[113] Statecraft has become the art of managing conflict, permanently. As long as rebels continue to carry olive branches and a naive view of the struggle, the state knows that it is safe. But the same governments whose representatives hold polite talks with or rudely dismiss conscientious hunger strikers also constantly spy on the resistance and train agents in counterinsurgency — warfare techniques drawn from wars of extermination waged to subdue rebellious colonies from Ireland to Algeria. The state is prepared to use those methods against us.

Even when the government stops short of exterminatory forms of repression, dignified suffering simply stops being fun, and pacifists who have not fully dedicated their futures to revolution by declaring war on the status quo lose the clarity of conviction (maybe they somehow did something to “deserve” or “provoke” the repression?) and drop out. Consider the 1999 Seattle protest and the successive mass mobilizations of the anti-globalization movement: activists in Seattle were brutalized, but they took it on their feet, fighting back, and many were empowered by the experience. The same goes for the Quebec City demonstrations against the Free Trade Area of Americas (FTAA). At the other end, police repression at the 2003 anti-FTAA protests in Miami was wholly undeserved even by legalistic standards.[114] Protesters were not empowered or dignified by the one-sided violence — they were brutalized, and many people were scared away from further participation, including activists who were sexually assaulted by police while locked up. In the even more passive protests in Washington, DC — the yearly demonstrations against the World Bank, for instance — nonviolent resistance, consisting of the occasional orchestrated lockdown, arrest, imprisonment, and release, were not empowering so much as tedious and marked by dwindling numbers. They were certainly not successful in winning media attention or influencing people with the spectacle of dignified suffering, though in every case the criteria used by the pacifist organizers to ascertain victory was a combination of nothing more than the numbers of participants and the absence of violent confrontation with authorities or property.

In the final analysis, the state can use nonviolence to defeat even a revolutionary movement that has otherwise become powerful enough to succeed. In Albania in 1997, government corruption and economic collapse caused a large number of families to lose all their savings. In response, the “Socialist Party called a demonstration in the capital hoping to make itself the leader of a peaceful protest movement.”[115] But the resistance spread far beyond the control of any political party. People began arming themselves; burning or bombing banks, police stations, government buildings, and offices of the secret service; and liberating prisons. “Much of the military deserted, either joining the insurgents or fleeing to Greece.” The Albanian people were poised to overthrow the system that was oppressing them, which would give them a chance to create new social organizations for themselves. “By mid-March, the government, including the secret police, was forced to flee the capital.” Soon after, several thousand European Union troops occupied Albania to restore central authority. The opposition parties, which all along had been negotiating with the government to find a set of conditions to induce the rebels to disarm and convince the ruling party to step down (so they could step up), were instrumental in allowing the occupation to pacify the rebels, conduct elections, and reinstitute the state.

Similarly, Frantz Fanon describes opposition parties that denounced violent rebellion in the colonies out of a desire to control the movement. “After the first skirmishes, the official leaders speedily dispose of militant action, which they “label as childishness.” Then, “the revolutionary elements which subscribe to them will rapidly be isolated. The official leaders, draped in their years of experience, will pitilessly disown these ‘adventurers and anarchists.’” As Fanon explains, regarding Algeria, in particular, and anti-colonial struggles, in general, “The party machine shows itself opposed to any innovation,” and the leaders “are terrified and worried by the idea that they could be swept away by a maelstrom whose nature, force, or direction they cannot even imagine.”[116] Though these oppositional political leaders, whether in Albania, Algeria, or elsewhere, generally do not identify as pacifists, it is interesting to note how they play a similar role. For their part, genuine pacifists are more likely to accept the deceptive olive branches of pacifying politicians than offers of solidarity from armed revolutionaries. The standard alliance and fraternizing between pacifists and progressive political leaders (who counsel moderation) serve to fracture and control revolutionary movements. It is in the absence of significant pacifist penetration into popular movements that political leaders fail to control those movements and are rejected and amputated as elitist leeches. It is when nonviolence is tolerated by popular movements that these movements are hamstrung.

In the end, nonviolent activists rely on the violence of the state to protect their gains, and they do not resist the violence of the state when it is used against militants (in fact, they often encourage it). They negotiate and cooperate with armed police at their demonstrations. And, though pacifists honor their “prisoners of conscience,” in my experience, they tend to ignore the violence of the prison system in cases where the prisoner committed an act of violent resistance or even vandalism (not to mention an apolitical crime). When I was serving a six-month prison sentence for an act of civil disobedience, pacifists across the country flooded me with support. But, on the whole, they show a lack of concern for the institutionalized violence encaging the 2.2 million casualties of the government’s War on Crime. It seems that the only form of violence they consistently oppose is rebellion against the state.

The peace sign itself is the perfect metaphor for this function. Instead of raising a fist, pacifists raise their index and middle fingers to form a V. That V stands for victory and is the symbol of patriots exulting in the peace that follows a triumphant war. In the final analysis, the peace that pacifists defend is that of the vanquishing army, the unopposed state that has conquered all resistance and monopolized violence to such an extent that violence need no longer be visible. It is a Pax Americana.