violence

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Harrison
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Jun 3 2013 21:48
violence

Split from http://libcom.org/blog/impressions-ankara-turkish-protest-movement-01062...

Ablokeimet wrote:
Non-violence is something I grew out of some time ago, when I realised that it means allowing the ruling class to be as violent as it likes without any comeback. All you need is a couple of percent of the population to be prepared, as military or police, to use totally ruthless violence (e.g. wiping out a city "to encourage the others") and you're stuffed.

That said, however, we can't afford to allow the principle to develop that violence is an acceptable method of resolving disputes (especially as disputes will continue after the Revolution). Contrary to Engels, who said that "A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is", a revolution is the mass withdrawal of the working class from the wage labour relationship and the establishment of co-operative relations amongst workers to replace it.

The only place violence comes into the revolutionary process is to defend the new revolutionary system from attack by the ancien regime. Similarly, the political content of a given struggle against capital does not rely on whether the working class has taken up arms against the State. Rather, the political content needs to be judged according to the social relationships forged in the struggle. The only violence in which we should engage is that which is reasonably necessary in self defence. Of course, if the State has deployed battalions of riot coppers against us and they're running beserk in the manner described in the reports coming out, "reasonable force" can be quite extensive.

Ablokeimet, i think i see what you are trying to say - violence should be tactical and not a principle, which i agree with, but i also wanted to add a few things

a) i think unfolding struggle can be dependent on an evolving sequences of events drawing more and more people into it with an escalating character, and dependent on the context, sometimes in order for outbreaks to grow, they are dependent on morally grey use of violence (although I think equally in the wrong context, misplaced violence can demobilise struggle - aka formation of the red brigades in italy in the 1970s).

Quote:
The only place violence comes into the revolutionary process is to defend the new revolutionary system from attack by the ancien regime.

b) i think sometimes the best form of self-defense is pre-emptive, and if it can be done in a way that doesn't demobilise or damage a mass struggle, then it should be done. a lot of socialists and anarchists took this lesson from the experience of the paris commune, which engaged in combat only really in self-defense, and didn't kick down hard enough when it had the upper hand, letting counter-revs regroup.

I think generally violence needs to be considered in terms of - is it harmful/beneficial to developing a particular struggle, and that people always strike at their strongest, but it might only be possible to crush them at their weakest.

But yeah generally i would agree with a modified definition of what you describe - the only violence used should be that which is necessary, and not out of principle. But i think its important to point out how violence that does not conform to positive human morality might at points be necessary for success. This upsets me, and there are of course points at which you have to draw lines, but drawing it at solely self-defence (even in its widest possible definition) is too restrictive.

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Noah Fence
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Jun 3 2013 22:31
Quote:
But i think its important to point out how violence that does not conform to positive human morality might at points be necessary for success. This upsets me, and there are of course points at which you have to draw lines, but drawing it at solely self-defence (even in its widest possible definition) is too restrictive.

Regretfully, I can't help but agree with this. Could I swing the club or pull the trigger though? I doubt it.

Harrison
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Jun 3 2013 23:33

I am much the same in that respect.

I also want to point out i think Ablokeimet's opinion is completely morally reasonable and superior to the juvenile character of both the pacifist and riot fetishist views that continue to parasite on anarchism, and in the short term is an absolutely fine attitude for anarchists to have, considering that our primary tasks at the moment consist of basic reconstruction tof social solidarities. Outside of internet land and conversations with comrades i know well, I doubt i'd challenge it in conversation, and I wouldn't be averse to using it in a conversation if it is way to wean someone off pacifism, riot fetishism or a liberal outlook on social struggle.

In the longer term I think it is necessary to deconstruct it through broader debate, lest anarchists eventually assert it in an actual situation.

ie. I don't agree with the urgent polemic vitriol with which the points i've mentioned are often combined when put forth by situ's, and I think it often undermines the somewhat valid points, by wrapping itself up in an unnecessary 'more militant than you' aesthetic.

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Conjoined
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Jun 4 2013 04:56

In reality, violence exists in certain social situations. Often, there is no choice whether or not to engage in violence, the state initiates it. For these situations, it is necessary that folks be ready to stab, shoot and kill BETTER than their adversary.
There are probably situations where violence, or the threat of violence, will counter, or, even better, pre-empt shitty motherfuckers from consolidating power over other people. If the whole class is armed, are we not safer? more egalitarian? more CLR James-democratic?
Who's willing to open-carry on a picket line? a squat defense? an occupation?
Great discussion. Real talk about the characteristics of "what it's going to take": non-violent social revolution defended by ruthless violence and the suppression of cop bullshit.

I suspect these questions need to be collectively addressed in some way by the working class under Turkish, theistic rule for this to develop into what we'd all love to see; same could be said about anywhere, but definitely here and there.

Thanks for splitting this thread, thanks to the people fighting the Turkish state.

Ablokeimet
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Jun 5 2013 14:55
Harrison wrote:
Ablokeimet, i think i see what you are trying to say - violence should be tactical and not a principle, which i agree with, but i also wanted to add a few things

...

b) i think sometimes the best form of self-defense is pre-emptive ...

but drawing it at solely self-defence (even in its widest possible definition) is too restrictive.

Thanks for splitting this topic off. Anyway, I have some points in response:

1. What I'm saying is that we should have a principled position on the use of force, one we can defend in the face of people who do not already agree with us and about which we would not be alarmed if our political opponents took it up. The "our violence is good, but their violence is bad" position is one that makes sense for Leninists, because it allows them to segue easily into repression when they achieve power. For Anarchists, it is incoherent and unprincipled.

2. Yes, sometimes the best defence is pre-emptive, but we have to be careful about the parameters. In advanced capitalist societies, the only circumstances I would agree justify pre-emptive force are when dealing with street level Fascism. This is because:

(a) A Fascist group is not a debating society, but a standing conspiracy to murder. Since you can't follow them around all the time, you have to confront them when possible and defeat them physically. Trotsky* said we should "acquaint their head with the pavement" and I think that's a reasonable statement. We don't need to kill them, just to demoralise them.

(b) While it is correct that violence can never prove a political perspective, there is one it can disprove. The physical defeat of Fascism, particularly if achieved with the strong participation of those they regard as untermensch, can serve to dispel Fascism's appeal for many of its followers. This is because part of the appeal of Fascism is the assertion that might makes right. When the Fascists are demonstrated in practice not to have the might, they cease to appear to be right.

3. There was one incident that crystallised the principle of "reasonable force in self defence" for me and proved that it was sufficient. It was a picket line in Melbourne in the early 1990s. About 30 or 40 workers were picketing outside a glass factory and the coppers were trying to break the picket. The workers had linked arms and had packed themselves into one solid block. The coppers spent hours wrestling with them, trying to detach the picketers one by one and failing. It was clear that the coppers were under orders not to be the ones to throw the first punch - and the picketers were also determined on that point. After a few hours, the coppers gave up and left the picket line intact.

When I read about this, everything clicked into place. We, the working class, are the immense majority and we don't need violence unless it is necessary to defend ourselves from people who are using violence themselves. This stance throws the responsibility for violence back onto the people who have no alternative except to use violence or see their power fall apart. In these circumstances, observers are more likely to fall in behind us and less likely to be swayed by the propaganda of the capitalist class. In the example of the glass factory picket, the police refrained from violence for tactical reasons - and lost. The workers refrained from violence - and won.

4. As hinted above, there are different levels of violence which can be justified in different situations. Sometimes we only need to use sufficient force to escape; sometimes we need sufficient force to prevail in a given encounter; sometimes to prevail in a battle; and sometimes to prevail in a war. When force is justified and how much is justified will be determined by how violent and how persistent our opponent is.

5. We should recognise that, although we always have the right to use reasonable force in self defence, it is sometimes the wiser course not to exercise that right. Sometimes it's better to take the hit and make our enemy pay by exposing them publicly. This can be especially effective when the perpetrator has a reputation to uphold. And sometimes the best response to violence is not counter-violence, but an act of open class struggle. The example I use is that, in some countries, it is relatively common for union activists or organisers to be assassinated. The best response to an assassination of that nature, I believe, is a strike. If, for example, there was a general strike in Colombia every time a union activist is murdered there, I think the murders would stop pretty quickly. A number of unionists in Colombia working for Coca Cola have been assassinated. It would greatly protect unionists in that company there if The Coca Cola Company knew that its workers world-wide would strike in the event of another murder of a Coca Cola worker in Colombia. And so on.

6. There is a reason for my argument in favour of minimising the resort to violence by our movement. This is that we take damage every time we use it. Even when the use of force is justified, we take damage - it's just that, in those circumstances, we take less damage by using force than by not using it. We take damage because the use of force encourages the authoritarian idea that might makes right. It disorients people on our side and, except in the peculiar case of Fascism, entrenches our opponents in their positions. The more force we have to use in the course of the Revolution to prevail, the more difficult will be our problems afterwards.

If we must use force in self defence, then let us do it without hesitation and with all vigour necessary to prevail in the concrete situation. But let us not use force to substitute for having insufficient numbers on our side, because that is a confession of political weakness and let us not be hypocrites by criticising actions of others when we would defend them if we had done it ourselves.

* I know quoting Trotsky is considered bad form by many Anarchists, but not everything he said was wrong. If he wasn't right about a lot, his wrong ideas wouldn't be so dangerous.

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Noah Fence
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Jun 5 2013 19:20

One of the reasons I love Libcom is that I sometimes read posts that disentangle, clarify and build upon thoughts that I have already have. Ablokeimet's is probably the best example of that I have come across. I spend a lot of time confused and unsure about what I believe so posts such as this are very helpful. Thank you.

I don't believe in broad brush pacifism, yet by nature I am a pacifist. I guess I find the idea of hurting people simply a horrible one. However, it's clear to me that in certain circumstances, the greater harm would come from rejecting violence. I prefer to think about the times when non violent action is massively more effective than violence would be:

Quote:
There was one incident that crystallised the principle of "reasonable force in self defence" for me and proved that it was sufficient. It was a picket line in Melbourne in the early 1990s. About 30 or 40 workers were picketing outside a glass factory and the coppers were trying to break the picket. The workers had linked arms and had packed themselves into one solid block. The coppers spent hours wrestling with them, trying to detach the picketers one by one and failing. It was clear that the coppers were under orders not to be the ones to throw the first punch - and the picketers were also determined on that point. After a few hours, the coppers gave up and left the picket line intact.

I love the symbolism of this as well as the effectiveness.

Riot fetishism has been mentioned and my own experience has been that being involved in such activity was very hedonistic and self indulgent. The last thing on my mind when throwing bricks and whatever was the good of mankind, really it was just an adrenalin sport. That is not to say that I think there is never cause for a riot but I would guess a lot of people have the same motives as I had when a younger man.

Quote:
I know quoting Trotsky is considered bad form by many Anarchists, but not everything he said was wrong. If he wasn't right about a lot, his wrong ideas wouldn't be so dangerous.

If a quote makes the right point then I personally couldn't care less what the source of it is.

Massive props for a brilliant post!

Harrison
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Jun 5 2013 22:16

Just to say Ablokeimet's post is super interesting, but i have to sort out a bunch of stuff tonight in preparation for tomorrow morning. so i'll just drop in a couple of quick points

Quote:
What I'm saying is that we should have a principled position on the use of force, one we can defend in the face of people who do not already agree with us and about which we would not be alarmed if our political opponents took it up.

a) i think the point about the picket line is particularly interesting. i also think the above quote is particularly important, and i think anarchists need a principled position to be identified with workers with whom we come into contact, considering the media angle often slanted on anarchists. I think ablokeimet's opinion is a very good public and general position to take under capitalism, but i still think the paris commune example is salient

b) i guess when talking about pre-emptive violence, is not so much struggles under capitalism i refer to, but revolutionary violence.

Quote:
The more force we have to use in the course of the Revolution to prevail, the more difficult will be our problems afterwards.

With regard to this, i think there may be instances in a revolutionary situation where a small amount of pre-emptive force in certain situations might save the use of vast amounts of force later.

I think i have reached a point where i cannot say any more, in that I think both Ablokeimet have fully expressed our opinions and will have to agree to slightly differ.

Ablokeimet
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Jun 6 2013 12:48
Conjoined wrote:
In reality, violence exists in certain social situations. Often, there is no choice whether or not to engage in violence, the state initiates it. For these situations, it is necessary that folks be ready to stab, shoot and kill BETTER than their adversary.

Quite correct. Although we should only use reasonable force in self defence, we should definitely be prepared to to use it successfully when it is, indeed, necessary.

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ultraviolet
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Jul 12 2013 15:21

ablokeimet, i also found your post enlightening, and i find myself agreeing with both you and harrison. as has been said, your positions are not all that different. i think harrison's view is not so much a contradiction of yours, but rather a supplement. at least that's how i take it.

Harrison wrote:
b) i guess when talking about pre-emptive violence, is not so much struggles under capitalism i refer to, but revolutionary violence.

this is the key point for me.

Ablokeimet wrote:
2. Yes, sometimes the best defence is pre-emptive, but we have to be careful about the parameters. In advanced capitalist societies, the only circumstances I would agree justify pre-emptive force are when dealing with street level Fascism. This is because:

(a) A Fascist group is not a debating society, but a standing conspiracy to murder.

during a revolution, isn't the state "a standing conspiracy to murder" the revolution? in that case, what would you say our position on pre-emptive violence towards the state should be? (i would stand with harrison on this one.)

this leads me into a (non-rhetorical) question, something i've always been unsure about without even quite realizing i'm unsure because it seems like it should be obvious. what exactly does it mean to "smash the state"?

that is, in a revolution, how will we know when the state is defeated? i think there's two dangers in not having this clearly defined:

1. we think the state is defeated, when it really is just weak, then we ignore it, and meanwhile it quite suddenly gains strength and comes back and destroys the revolution when we least expect it.

2. or, the opposite, the state is defeated but we don't realize it, and so we go on "over-kill" -- killing off thousands of people who we fear may resurrect the state, when in reality they aren't a threat.

so, again, what does it mean to smash the state? (this may seem like a tangental discussion, but it's central to the question of how much violence is needed in revolution, so i think it fits on this thread.)

i know that for the state to be good and dead, there cannot be a power vacuum.

so, we have to have built a federation of democratic councils as the new political power. but what does it really mean to abolish the old power institutions? is it sufficient that virtually everyone, including the soldiers, has stopped seeing the government as a legitimate authority anymore, because the new non-state political institutions have taken that role? or do we have to kill (and/or imprison) the politicians? and if we do, which ones? just the head of state (president, prime minister, monarch, whatever)? or all the representatives and appointed department heads? or somewhere in between?

and what about the state's military power? is it enough that there has been a mutiny in the army, with many of the soldiers joining our side, and the others having surrendered or deserted? or do we need to make sure we kill (and/or imprison) commanding officers, to make sure they don't try to reorganize the state army at a later date? and if so, which ones? just the generals? or all the officers? or somewhere in between?

and what do we do with all the counter-revolutionary, but surrendered, soldiers - whose numbers may be dangerously high? is disarming them enough? prison camps perhaps? or is even disarming them going too far, and unfair, because everyone else is armed? should we let them keep their weapons, integrate them into the new society and hope for the best? speaking of prison camps, there will already be surrendered state-soldiers in there from during the war - at what point is it safe to let them out? (those who think prison camps are cruel/unjust, the alternatives during war are either to shoot your captives, which is worse, or set them free to go on their way, which is idiotic.)

edit - also, what about occupying the most significant government buildings of legislative decision making - i.e. parliament, congress, the white house? in reading about revolutions this often comes up as a very important part of defeating the state. but honestly i don't quite get it. government is not a building, it's the bureaucracy of powerful decision makers who meet in that building. if we take over the building, seems to me they could just use some other place to meet. so, is this really such an important part of smashing the state? and if it is, why? it seems purely symbolic.

Ablokeimet
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Jul 14 2013 03:56
ultraviolet wrote:
this leads me into a (non-rhetorical) question[/b], something i've always been unsure about without even quite realizing i'm unsure because it seems like it should be obvious. what exactly does it mean to "smash the state"?

A very good question, since it raises an issue that illuminates the difference between a couple of different currents within Anarchism. My answer to it starts with a quote from Gustav Landauer:

"The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behavior; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently."

To smash the State is to build a set of counter-institutions which allow society to function, but without a coercive power from above, thus allowing the working class to withdraw from the coercive institutions of capitalism. Class struggle Anarchists believe that this will occur through the building of soviets or some similar organs of mass revolutionary workers' direct democracy and the these soviets deciding that they will move beyond being merely oppositional bodies to becoming the means by which workers will control social life, including "the economy" directly.

At this point, if not before, we can expect that the capitalists will attempt to use their State to crush us with violence*. And, at that point, we need to be clear about our right to use reasonable force in self defence. We need to defend ourselves from the violence of the State in its death throes. If the capitalists attack us, we mobilise to defeat them - with arms, if necessary (as is likely to be the case at some stage).

This brings us to Ultraviolet's next question:

ultraviolet wrote:
in a revolution, how will we know when the state is defeated?

OK. Let's imagine President Sarah Palin is in the White House and doesn't want to give up, now that the North American Congress of Soviets has declared itself the sovereign power and that the United States have been abolished. Now, if the Congress of Soviets hasn't gone off half-cocked, it will mean:

(a) That the vast majority of the working class in North America has delegates at the Congress;

(b) A majority at the Congress of Soviets has decided for the Revolution; and

(c) A reasonable proportion of the minority at the Congress can be expected to go along with the declaration, since their objections are based on timing or procedures.

Now, it's obvious that the State hasn't yet been defeated if President Palin is still sending the 82nd Airborne Division against us, so let's assume that they've mutinied and come across to our side. The first condition of knowing that Palin has been defeated is, therefore, that she's run out of soldiers to attack us or pilots to bomb us. In keeping the loss of life down, it would be important to take out her ability to communicate with the military and other coercive organs of the State. Taking down their communication network would therefore be the first thing. The second thing would be cutting off supplies of fuel, electricity, water and food for the White House and all military bases that haven't come across. This would be important in putting them under pressure and preventing them just waiting events out. In these circumstances, they'd have the choice of coming out and attacking, or surrendering. Attacking without the advantage of communication with their other forces, however, would mean a lack of strategic perspective and often not knowing what to do once they were out of the base. In the meantime, we could pick them off one by one.

OK. Suppose we'd dealt with all the military. What then? We don't set up a Red Army, as the Bolsheviks did. Instead, we rely on the people armed. This means:

(a) Army units which have surrendered are disbanded, as are most of those which have come across.

(b) A minority of the military units which have come across to the Revolution are re-organised into a training corps, training up the workers' militia with elected and recallable officers that has already formed (see above for defending ourselves during the process of revolution), before becoming individual advisors to units of the militia as the training spreads.

(c) Cops and demobbed soldiers have to be swiftly absorbed into the working class. Give them honest jobs to do as soon as possible. The last thing you want is for them to go looking for a modern Wrangel because they're now unemployed. This would also have the advantage of cutting the working week and/or increasing production after the dislocation of the period leading up to the Revolution.

(d) As the economic transformation (i.e. the abolition of wage labour and the communisation of economic life) occurs, the workers' militia will transform, through the same process, into the armed people, since all classes will dissolve into the working class and the working class will, therefore, disappear as well.

The question remains of what to do with President Palin and her Administration, with the politicians and with the top of the officer corps. I think that the answer there would be exile. Let them go to any country that will have them.

There would also be a further question (and this is why I chose the US as the site of the Revolution breaking out) of the vast store of nuclear weapons, chemical and biological weapons, and other armaments like bombers, aircraft carriers, etc. The answer to this is simple. [b]We destroy them.

This would be challenging to implement, because it requires confidence in the reaction of the working class in the rest of the world, but it is also the course which would lead most swiftly to the Revolution spreading. We would give the world clear evidence that the most dangerous imperialist power on Earth is no more and demolish, at a stroke, all the paranoia about "ravening Anarchists laying waste to the world with the weapons they have stolen from the United States". We would deal with the global network of US bases by inviting all US military personnel serving overseas to come home and be demobbed, or to join the society in which they are stationed if that is their preference (Now, take a moment to consider the difficult choices before the base commanders once their home power is destroyed and they are isolated in a society in which they are unwelcome in the eyes of the masses and now useless in the eyes of the local government).

Finally, there is the possibility of invasion from outside. This is a real threat to consider, because many imperialist nations intervened in the Russian Civil War. This is less of a danger than might be imagined, however, and certainly not a reason to maintain a State and a Red Army. This is because:

(a) The soldiers of the invading armies will be very vulnerable to revolutionary propaganda. The real danger would be that their armies would dissolve in the face of fraternisation. Intervention would also expose the invading State(s) to the danger of the contagion spreading through returning soldiers.

(b) Although the destruction of the major military hardware of Uncle Sam would mean the workers' militia would be at a disadvantage in terms of armaments, that wouldn't affect the difficulty in the establishing an occupation. We could keep things like fighter jets and anti-aircraft defences until the danger period is over, but the real advantage we would have would be that it would take a vaster number of forces than they would be able to raise, let alone maintain, to keep the revolutionary workers' movement down.

Therefore, in answer to the choices put up by Ultraviolet, my choice would be to err on the side of generosity. We should remember that, through the organs of mass workers' democracy, and through rehearsed reaction plans, we will be able to deny economic resources to those who rise in revolt against the Soviets. Tanks aren't a lot of use if they have no fuel to run on, drones are useless if their communication with base is jammed and soldiers need food as well as guns. Staging a revolt against the Soviets would be lot harder than people might imagine.

In summary, therefore, my proposals stem from the realisation that the "physical force vs moral force" debate has been superseded. With the rise of capitalism, the major force which the working class has to wield is economic force. And it is this force which will win us the Revolution and do the most important part in defending it. Physical force will only be necessary for a supplementary role.

* This will be the case until the Revolution has spread across more than half the world. At some stage after that point, provided we have been successful in preventing the Revolution degenerating into dictatorship, the rest of the transition would be resisted with progressively less vigour.