Comments on "PMR - A Constructive Criticism" by Anonymous
The recent blockades of Stryker vehicle transport in Olympia, WA was a radicalizing experience.
My comments below are directed to the person who posted on Seattle Indymedia on 11/19/07 ( http://publish.seattle.indymedia.org/en/2007/11/262931.shtml) and to anyone else who might find them interesting. This was also posted to Portland Indymedia and so I'm posting my comments here as well.
`````I am a 52 year-old activist, living in Seattle for 30 years. For most of that time I've been politically active, mainly interested in helping build the anti-imperialist/anti-war movement. I've watched the activism that was ignited by the US debacle in Vietnam continually wane, constantly weighing how much to "live my life" against what role I might play in helping the movement develop. I was convinced in 1999 that the massive resistance shown to the Seattle WTO meeting marked a turning point, only to disappointed when that exhilarating episode proved to be a blip along a continued descent of activism (though some scattered individuals did become quite radicalized by those events.)
````` While I myself didn't do any blockading, I closely followed, through Indymedia etc., the two weeks of heroic resistance to the movement of the Stryker vehicles out of the port of Oly. I went to Oly on 11/17 for the march and rallies that celebrated the success of these actions and was inspired by the speeches, discussions and stories. Once again, I feel hopeful at the imminent growth of a powerful movement. Who knows, maybe there will be (or has just been) a leap in consciousness that is soon to manifest itself in ever more massive resistance to the attempts of the US to shore up its rotting empire. Were this to happen even in the absence of a military draft (which I will oppose every inch of the way, but that's another story), it would show that activists' understanding of the nature of the US empire is in many respects far higher than in the '60s.
`````I was excited to read your 11/19 posting at Seattle (and Portland) Indymedia for a couple of reasons, but mainly because YOU ARE CLEARLY INTENT ON BRINGING THE DIFFERENCES IN POLITICAL VIEWS THAT EXIST WITHIN THE MOVEMENT OUT INTO THE OPEN IN ORDER FOR THEM TO BE UNDERSTOOD AND DEBATED. I'm convinced that the movement can develop most rapidly and deeply is by people bouncing their views off each other. This inevitably leads to open criticism of views in the movement with which you disagree. For many years there has been a taboo against engaging in such "divisive" activity within the movement. After all, it is claimed by some, you do your thing and I'll do mine and what the hell, every little bit helps. By this means, whether the proponents of this view were conscious of it or not, any idea that went against the prevailing reformist views (1) was rejectable on the grounds that the proponent was splitting the movement into those nasty factions that those wacky ultra-leftists always manage to create.
`````So, I really liked the overall tone of your comments which made it clear, on one hand, that unity in struggle has tremendous power, yet on the other hand didn't shy away from speaking your mind against those ideas within the movement which serve to weaken it. As I understand it, the essence of your criticism is that the view of PLACING THE ISSUE OF NON-VIOLENCE ABOVE ALL OTHER ISSUES SERVES TO WEAKEN THE MOVEMENT. Of course, the issue is not whether you like violence or not, but rather whether or not engaging in violence against the police puts one onto the side of the forces against which we struggle. The main reason I'm writing this long post is to support some of the points you made by going a bit more deeply into them.
`````When examining events in the real world, I'm sure you'd agree that violence vs. non-violence is simply a FALSE DICHOTOMY. Countless attacks upon the masses that are the result of capitalist rule are generally not thought of as violent (poisoned groundwater, starvation, failure of the state to act on known dangers before natural events occur, degradation of peoples' mental capacities by racism, consumerism, sexism and other untold sorts of ideological assaults.) What's the point of separating these sorts of atrocities and others into violent and non-violent categories?
`````To defend themselves against the degradations imposed on them by the exploiters, the masses use every means at their disposal. The more conscious we are of the bigger picture, the better we are at determining which tactics in any particular situation serve to strengthen the movement. By strengthen, I mean to develop the consciousness within the movement that will also serve to draw more people into the struggle. We constantly examine how our struggles can most effectively deal with the violence that is inevitably directed against them when, like the Strkyer blockaders (or the WTO protesters), their actions are achieving some success. Tell me pacifists, could the people of Vietnam have thrown the US out of their country by sitting down and holding hands as the napalm fell? On the other hand, the non-violent civil disobedience tactics taken by the vast majority of the anti-WTO protesters were tremendously successful and raised this episode to the level of a historic event. The key to figuring out what to do at every juncture is of course an understanding of how the world works. This is what I mean by consciousness. The better you know how society works, the better will be your choices of tactics to use against the authorities, the clearer it will be with whom you should ally and who you should oppose, and the better you will know how to organize.
````` Pacifist ideology holds that everyone on the planet, including the exploiters, can be won over to their stand and away from war and all forms of violence. Pacifists imagine that this will happen by everyone eventually being convinced by the consistently non-violent tactics they employ in their struggles against oppression that theirs is the side of everything that is good for humanity. The greater the gulf between their pacifism and the violence committed against them by the cops, they imagine, the more success they will have in winning support to their ideology and to the side of "good", against the "evil" forces that perpetuate violence. I view this type of thinking as utter fantasy since it ignores (and hence, I'm sorry to say, serves to obscure) the actual source of the problem: capitalist rule.
`````While I'm no expert on the history of pacifism, let me briefly discuss the source of pacifist views. The "love thy neighbor" views of various religions is of course a fundamental source of these ideas. Central to these ideas is the dichotomy of good vs. evil. Such morality was undoubtedly useful many hundreds of years ago in the development of society, but in capitalist society only serves to prevent the masses from understanding the social relationships that exist today. Gandhi's leadership role in ending Britain's rule of India following WWII provided pacifism with tremendous prestige. On one hand even greater losses of life, especially due to the partition (which separated East and West Pakistan from India) were avoided by non-violent forms of struggle. On the other hand, the collapse of the British empire following the war provided a tremendous opportunity to the Indian toilers to obliterate many aspects of crushing, age-old oppression (such as the caste system) they endured at the hands of the local exploiters. It is clear that because of the pacifism of Gandhi, much of this oppression has continued for many more decades and will be smashed only by some future upsurge of the Indian workers and peasants. I would be grateful if anybody who reads this post would provide more details to my rudimentary analysis of this history.
`````So, at what point in any given situation does it advance the struggle to more activly resist police repression instead of pursuing non-violent civil disobedience-type of tactics? This is simply unanswerable without having as full a grasp of all the factors in the particular situation that you can possibly have. Since I didn't participate in the Oly blockades and I don't have much of an analysis of the people and organizations that took part, I can't seriously address that situation. However, since I was among those who surrounded the WA state convention center to prevent the delegates from entering the WTO meeting (thereby preventing it from convening), I can discuss some of the factors that played out there. Forgive me for raising the WTO actions as an example since I know a lot of people are tired of hearing about it and want to more forward rather than dwell in the past. However, I think this is a great illustration of some of the principles worth understanding. Also, this episode has been so thoroughly distorted by the bourgeois media that I feel compelled to describe the events as I saw them.
`````Thousands of demonstrators had sat down, preventing WTO delegates from getting into the Convention Center. A phone call from Madeline Albright, Clinton's Sec'y of State, to Seattle's mayor demanded the delegates be allowed to enter. The cops were thus instructed to remove the demonstrators and started in with rubber bullets, tear gas, and pepper spray with brutality that I had never before experienced. As soon as the cops started this attack, but definitely not before, Black Bloc people, often described as anarchists from Eugene (I have no idea whether they were from Eugene or whether any of them actually had any politics you could seriously describe as anarchist; let's be though generous and concede that you're an anarchist if you say you are) started hurling trash cans through store windows (and probably other types of violence against property but not people). I'd be surprised if there were more than 50 of these anonymous people (they wore cloths over their faces) while their were thousands of demonstrators sitting in the streets being brutalized by the cops.
`````At the time I must say that part of me wanted to help the BBers exact revenge for the vicious police attacks, but I restrained myself. As you know, the picture painted by the media was, inevitably, that the thousands of NVCDers were violently attacking the cops. The BBers thereby gave the authorities a wonderful gift by allowing the action to be grossly distorted in the media. This was infuriating to the NVCDers and, in my opinion, contributed to the failure of many of them to keep active in anti-globalization/anti-imperialist type of politics. I definitely do not agree with others who would have banned the BBers from the event. I merely want to offer this episode as an example of how the "violence against capitalist property" tactics served to weaken the struggle. It would have been great if the NVCDers had different politics that would have led them to offer more resistance to the attacks leveled at them. However, those were not the objective conditions that we were dealing with.
`````As you point out in your post, pacifist ideology arises from a certain relatively privileged section of society (I call it the petty bourgeoisie.) Part of this class, because it abhors the atrocities committed in "their name" (many identify themselves as patriotic Americans), engage in sometimes even fierce struggle against these injustices. But, because of its intermediate position in society (fundamentally neither capitalist nor worker, yet since we're talking about ideology and painting with a broad brush, there will always be individuals who don't adhere to these rules) this section is incapable of understanding that to the downtrodden sections of working people, these injustices are just the latest in an endless chain of degradations they suffer at the hands of capital. Neither is this section capable, on the whole, of understanding that these attacks have their source in the system of capitalist oppression.
`````The key of strengthening the militancy of the anti-imperialist movement is therefore of course to organize sections of the working class into the anti-imperialist movement. While in the present conditions, this is no simple task, huge benefits to the strength of the movement reflect the fact that, objectively the working class bears the greatest brunt of imperialist aggression in that it serves as the cannon fodder for war. When Lenin was discussing how to organize prior to the 1905 revolution, he advocated "going lower and deeper" amongst the masses, a favorite phrase of mine.
`````Lastly, I'd like to comment on two points you made that my comments above didn't touch on. First of all, I want to support your point against the calling of merely "'feel good actions' that focus on personal 'empowerment'". This is essentially what activists in Seattle complain about when they hear that there is just going to be a parade without any activity that would prevent the war machine from carrying out its aims. The Stryker blockade was an awesome example of greater things that we will be able to achieve to thwart the war machine.
`````Secondly, I agree that there is a large tendency within the movement, especially in pacifist circles, to carry out an event for the sake of media attention rather than to carry out the action for the sake of the action itself, regardless of how the bourgeois media choose to deal with it. It's important to oppose this view and I think the best way to do that is to show how the mass media represent the interests of the rich and will, fundamentally, thwart the growth of the movement every way it can without blowing its cover.
`````So, thanks for the post of 11/19. Your summary of the course of political debate during these port blockade events is extremely valuable not only to those who participated in the events, but also to activists all around the country (world?) who are forming their own organizations and launching their own actions against US imperialism's war machine. For instance, you reminded me that a prevailing view at the outset was to do nothing at all to stop transport of the Stryker vehicles (since they were, after all coming home!) and that this view was defeated by those who grasped that these almost new (and newly-designed) vehicles were undoubtedly returning just for repairs only to be sent right back to Iraq. The more others can learn from the experience of local groups, the faster things can develop and it would be great if more details of the political debates can be discussed publicly. While it's of course important to be vague (and even opaque) when talking publicly about organizational issues (and especially about which individuals are involved), I'm sure you (or others) could figure out ways for additional political differences to be illuminated. While I'm mentioning security issues, you could be more effective on line if you were to drop "Anonymous" and take on some unambiguous name that allows the reader to know who is posting the comment (2 or 3 other "anonymous"-named comments were made after your post making things pretty confusing.)
`````Sorry to have been somewhat longwinded in my remarks, but this seemed to be a good opportunity to express some of my ideas, some of which I've been thinking about for years but had not until now put into writing.
(1) By "reformist" I mean the notion that things like racism, poverty and war can actually be eliminated while the capitalists still rule.
(2) The result of the end of the British raj (British rule of the Indian subcontinent) was the creation of Pakistan (a Moslem country which subsequently split into two countries, one of which is now Bangladesh) and India, a mainly Hindu country. The mass migrations of Moslems and Hindus that accompanied this partition caused social devastation of historic proportion.
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