Contemplating Political Violence
Personal comment and more political theory
I have found it interesting over the last year to read the comments against me, my beliefs and activities on this site. While I do find constructive criticism quite healthy and necessary I have been amused that the bulk of criticism against me has consisted of unfounded rumors and outright lies (ie. that I drive a $30k car, I get payed great sums of $$ for speaking engagements, I am truly a capitalist at heart, I don't know how to shoot a gun, I am a trust-funder, etc.) It strikes me as a bit odd to say the least that not only do the perpetrators of these written attacks fail to identify themselves, but more importantly they have failed to pose any serious challenge to my theories, writings and beliefs on the need for a revolution in this country and the involvement of a mixture of strategies. With that said I look forward to reading more mythological tales of my personal life on this site written by anonymous cowards. For those who do have thought provoking critiques and criticisms of my work, based not on religion, emotion or personal attacks, I thank you in advance for contributing to the needed philosophical development of resistance politics in this country.
Contemplating Political Violence
For political activists it is crucial to constantly analyze strategies and tactics to ensure that the activities we engage in are effective and worthwhile. For those who do continually engage in the analytical process, the time comes when each individual must answer the question: Am I involved in particular strategies and tactics because they are truly capable of advancing the movement and stopping a given injustice, or am I primarily acting only to appease my own personal conscience? Failing to ask this question and to honestly answer it commonly leads to burnout and dropout on an individual level and ineffectiveness and ultimate failure for movements as a whole.
When pondering the above question it may not be easily understood how to determine if a particular tactic and strategy has been exhausted or is ineffective. The simplest answer is that when a tactic or strategy has been repeatedly unsuccessful over a lengthy period - thus causing not the growth but often the stagnation and even demise of a movement - that tactic and/or strategy on its own should be deemed ineffective and exhausted. The desirable question then becomes what tactic and/or strategy needs to be implemented to progress a given movement?
Here in the United States, societal norms dictate that anyone involved in activist politics has a right to voice opinions and advocate for change as long as it is done in accordance with certain guidelines. These rules specifically pertain to a strict adherence to lawful and nonviolent behavior with the only exception being the occasional use of nonviolent civil disobedience. Yet, even this strategy is commonly looked down upon and is only considered valid if those committing the act work closely with the police and then agree to face all penalties resulting from the disobedient behavior.
Owing to the power and enforcement of these societal norms, nearly all individuals and organizations involved in social and political movements in the United States adhere to this lawful and nonviolent policy. The most obvious question then needs to be considered: Has a strict adherence to lawful and/or nonviolent activities ever solely advanced a social or political movement in U.S. history? How about internationally?
The answer to both of these questions is a firm no, and that is precisely why those in power positions in the United States are so adamant about people adhering to the state-sanctioned, society-approved methods of political and social change. These people realize that if the lawful and nonviolent policies are followed religiously, no progress will ever be made in various movements and, thus, their power positions will never be threatened.
It is frequently believed by many people in this country that nonviolence has a rich and successful history in the United States and internationally. Unfortunately, this mythical perception has taken a dominant position in many westernized societies resulting from many western writers and filmmakers refusing to provide an accurate portrayal of nonviolence history and its relationship with political violence. In nearly every popular case of reported nonviolence success, the progress that came resulted only from the assistance of politically violent actions.
By far, the most commonly referred to example of successful nonviolence application is the case of Gandhi advocating for civil rights in South Africa and independence in India. The overwhelming majority of books available in the United States, and even the legendary Gandhi film, would have readers and viewers believing that Gandhi's nonviolent methods forced the British to give up colonial rule of India, thus granting its independence. Nothing could be further from the truth. In addition to Britain suffering from the involvement in two World Wars, and the declining rate of colonial occupations during that time, there was also a fierce and violent contingency to the independence movement. This violent element successfully instilled an atmosphere of fear into the British government making Gandhi and his nonviolent followers the more appealing of two opponents. Churchill realized that if his government did not deal with Gandhi, they would be faced with the more unruly and uncontrollable violent masses. Thus, India's independence achieved in 1947 was a result of a combination of strategies, both nonviolent and politically violent, which forced the British government to give up one of its colonized lands.
A similar story is repeated in the U.S. civil rights movement, another commonly cited example of successful nonviolence application. While the enfranchisement and desegregation campaigns, of which King became a major focal point, did achieve some success, it was only made possible by the less popular, violent elements of the civil rights movement. Similar to the Indian independence movement, the violent contingency of the civil rights movement made individuals such as King appear much more attractive to white racists. They knew that if they did not deal with King and the nonviolent sector they would be forced to face the violent elements, which sprouted up with the likes of Marcus Garvey, Robert Williams, Malcolm X and the black power movement as a whole. To assume that nonviolence was responsible for the success of the civil rights movement is misleading at best. Not only has the civil rights movement never been fully realized, but also the progress that was made in the 1950s and 1960s came from mixture of strategies, both violent and nonviolent.
In addition to the civil rights movement, each and every major social and political movement throughout U.S. history has relied upon a mixture of tactics that did include political violence. From the terrorism, armed insurrection and warfare involved in the War for Independence that formed this country, to the numerous violent slave revolts in the abolitionist movement, to the effects of World War 1 on the suffragette movement, to the riots, bombings and property destruction in the labor movement - no movement has gained a recognizable degree of progress or success without the implementation of political violence.
While no one in their right mind would glorify political violence, the question remains: Why is political violence necessary to advance political and social movements in the United States? The simplistic answer is because other tactics individually have never worked, will never work, and most importantly, cannot work to achieve justice in this country. This is fundamentally a result of the inability for non-violent approaches to actually confront and threaten the opponent - or in the largest and most crucial sense - the political structure of the United States.
Gandhian nonviolence - the predominant school of thought behind nonviolent action in the United States - dictates that the opponent must be weaned from error by sympathy for the non-violent activists. It states that the opponent must see the evils in his or her own actions and voluntarily change. This, it is too often argued, is the only methodology for creating lasting positive social and political change. Nonviolent theorists and practitioners also believe that even if the opponent does not have a healthy and working conscience, he or she could be pressured by a third party who would have sympathy for those engaging in the nonviolent self-suffering that Gandhi prescribed. Martin Luther King, Jr. strongly believed in the third party theory and applied it in various desegregation and enfranchisement campaigns.
The fundamental requirement in order for the above-mentioned non-violent theories to be successful is the ability for the opponent to have a healthy and working conscience. The healthy and working conscience is needed to allow the opponent to decipher between right and wrong, good and evil, just and unjust. One of the direst questions that need to be asked then is: Does an individual who is knowingly and purposely involved in unjust activities have a healthy and working conscience? Do executives from cigarette corporations, who have knowingly and purposely sold deadly products to people for years have healthy and working consciences? Do vivisectors, who blindly continue their fraudulent and appalling research purely for monetary gain, have healthy and working consciences? Do executives of corporations such as Pacific Lumber, who have been engaged in chopping some of the last remaining old-growth trees in this country strictly for financial gain, have healthy and working consciences? In all these examples, the answer is no. A healthy and working conscience would not allow someone to knowingly and purposely engage in atrocities.
Additionally, those believing in the third party theory are taking for granted the third party having a healthy and working conscience and the desire and ability to actually pressure the primary opponent into changing. In most cases the third party theory proves to be extremely unsuccessful as that entity has neither the desire, power, or influence to stop the injustice caused by the primary opponent. For instance, some non-violent elements of the U.S. anti-war movement (if you can even call it a movement as opposed to an extreme failure) will suggest that when the movement commits massive nonviolence in the United States and is met by repression from the U.S. government, some third party will intervene out of sympathy for the non-violent protesters. Unfortunately, this is a very skewed view of reality, as being that the U.S. government is a global bully, terrorist regime, and world power, no country will likely even attempt to intervene. A fine example can be seen currently in the case of the Iraqi massacre. People and governments all around the world know that the U.S. government invaded Iraq unjustly and remains there committing daily atrocities. But what governments are standing up to stop the U.S. government?
Realizing that nonviolent approaches on their own cannot be successful it seems apparent that those continuing to adhere to a strict code of nonviolence are attempting to appease personal consciences far more than actually attempting to progress their given issue or movement. This ability to engage in strategies and tactics that are only within the moral guidelines set by the nonviolence religion suggest that non-violent practitioners - especially in westernized societies such as the United States - are acting from a position of privilege and security and not out of a necessity to stop a particular injustice. The obvious difference occurs when someone (as in the case of the PLO in Palestine for instance) commits an act of political violence because they are in life and death circumstances. The point I am making here is that the purposeful adherence to the nonviolence religion is actually allowing a heightened degree of violence and injustice to exist because the unjust entity is never threatened. White liberals can preach the ethics and morals of nonviolence adherence to eternity but the fact remains that the environment continues to be destroyed, animals continue to be murdered en masse, and people continue to be exploited, tortured and murdered because people are not engaging in strategies and tactics that will actually stop the injustice. And by not even confronting these areas of injustice, we are all guilty of allowing them to continue.
Today the threat to life on the planet is so severe that political violence must be implemented in justice pursuits. To refuse this consideration constitutes a refusal to acknowledge the dire state of the world and the historical legitimacy of political violence in justice movements. The ability for justice to ever become a reality - especially in regards to the United States - directly depends on the willingness of individuals to do whatever it takes, to use any means necessary, to stop global murder, exploitation, and destruction of life.
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