Gandhi Was Wrong – Nonviolence Doesn’t Work

“And people like me! Because I force them to! With violence!”
Travis of the Cosmos

Pacifism as a Sacred Cow

It’s time to lead another liberal sacred cow to the killing floor. I’m talking about non-violence. I’ve never exactly been a fan of pacifism. What finally inspired me to write this article was Stephen Gowans’ own excellent article “Peaceniks for Imperialism,” which exposes the blatant pro-imperialist slant of Canada’s Peace Magazine, a publication that legitimizes the overthrow and destabilization of governments who resist the machinations of the US, the EU, G-20, etc. Peace Magazine‘s version of imperialism is supposed to be okay because they advocate, get this—non-violence! Wait, they advocate non-violence, but when their imperialists heroes occasionally decide to use violence as in Iraq, that’s fine, albiet not ideal according to them. I recommend that all readers go over to Gowans’ blog What’s Left, and read that article if only to read the ideas of Peace Magazine‘s editor, which would be hilarious were they not taken so seriously.

Gandhi & MLK: Useful Lackeys for the Ruling Class

Behold the sacred cow of non-violence. What is it exactly? Most people associate it with Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. I am not exactly a lover of violence, and as for politics I think anything achieved through peaceful means is a victory. If anything you save a lot of money on bullets and explosives that way. Yet non-violence has been upheld to a level of sanctimony so high it ends up becoming a powerful weapon in the hands of those who have no compunction about using violence.

Ask yourself: could it be that there is a reason why the media and academia bid us to worship Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. while virtually ignoring the struggle of people like Malcolm X or Fred Hampton, and of course totally ignoring or villifying people like Fidel Castro, Danny Ortega, Augusto Cesar Sandino or Ho Chi Minh?

Why, for another example of a blatant double standard, are the Palestinians supposed to be constantly and collectively condemned for random acts of violence when the Israeli state routinely levels buildings and shells overcrowded neighborhoods?

Malcolm X, Hero of the Civil Rights Movement, Heavily Criticized Pacifism

Malcolm X, Hero of the Civil Rights Movement, Heavily Criticized Pacifism

Of course, it’s not difficult at all to see why the establishment loves to preach non-violence to us proletarians—when overturning and crushing governments that are hostile to its interests, non-violence goes right out the window. Did the US, for example, incite the rebels of Afghanistan to resist the government with non-violence? History tells us that they clearly did not.

Non-violent resistance, which is not really resistance at all, has essentially become an order by governments and the ruling classes to disarm and put oneself at their mercy to do what they will. Knowing that these forces, including those in the US, are becoming increasingly accustomed to using violence, who would make such a foolish choice?

Non-Violence Is Ineffective

Put simply, non-violence as a tactic and principle is absurd. For one, what is the end in itself? Resistance, reform and the revolutionary overthrow of a despotic or otherwise undemocratic government. Victory is the end. Seeing that there is virtually no government on Earth that believes in non-violence in the pursuit of preserving itself, why should those who take issue with the government’s policies be forced to play by a different set of rules?

If a particular government is in fact an open dictatorship, the call for non-violence is suicide. Does anyone honestly believe, for example, that non-violent resistance would work against the US occupation of Iraq, or against the government of modern Russia? Did non-violence work for G-20 protesters in Pittsburgh? Non-violence tends to only work when there is some kind of liberal tendency amongst the ruling class or at least a powerful segment of the population in a particular country. For example, it worked for the Indians because there were enough people in Britain, including those in the upper classes, who were shocked by the violence used by the British. The United States had a large population of northern liberals who, despite harboring their own racist tendencies even to this day, simply could not tolerate the horrifying abuse of African-American Civil Rights protesters. It would not work in a country like modern-day Russia, where resistors are often beaten, arrested and even killed, and few ever take notice. More still may think the victims deserved it for not minding their business and going with the flow. It would not work in Turkey, where historically peaceful protests have faced everything from tear gas and clubs to knives and even snipers.

What right do the liberal academics and pundits have to insist that the dissenters in these countries limit themselves to non-violent tactics? Liberal intellectuals love their martyrs, but they are rarely willing to put themselves in the line of danger. When they do get a rude awakening, as perhaps some did in Pittsburgh or at other Iraq war protests, their response is more moral condemnation, that eternally idiotic and useless “speaking truth to power,” as though somewhere there is some higher force that will mediate and punish the government for its thuggery.

Non-Violence is Pro-Imperialist

This brings us to the next point; how non-violence is disarming and rendering the American left helpless against the government and the neo-fascist thugs who have been gaining in popularity since the election of Obama. From time to time I love reading the blog of David Neiwert, who may very well be one of America’s best experts on the radical right and the militia movement. Neiwert has a new book out entitled The Eliminationists, which documents years of increasingly violent rhetoric coming not only from the radical right, but also the more mainstream Fox News variety. Many of Neiwert’s articles on what he calls “Eliminationism,” that is a form of political rhetoric that calls for the physical destruction of political opponents, are available to read on his site.

Neiwert is right to highlight the fact that political discourse in the US has become far more violent, to the point where conservatives tend to see their liberal opponents as inhuman monsters who must be exterminated to save the country. The problem is that when one reads enough of Neiwert’s articles on the subject, one is left with the question as to who is he appealing to? If the right is becoming increasingly violent, not only in its rhetoric but its actions, and there is plenty of evidence that this is true, to whom should the poor progressives appeal to? Obviously there are the law enforcement organs, but the fact is in the US there are mostly liberals and the conservatives, and only the latter have politicians who listen to them.

If progressives don’t want to find themselves the victims of more domestic terrorism, there is only one way to deal with the thugs on the right—show them that their tough-talk isn’t going to be tolerated, that they are going to be called on their actions. I know that folks like Neiwert don’t approve of this, citing that the right has been and is increasingly portraying itself as a persecuted group, but this is inconsequential. They are going to whine about persecution anyway, even if they are winning. Far better it is that they whine while they are losing.

Lastly, non-violence in the face of violent reactionaries is appeasement, if not tacit collaboration. It is an indisputable fact that in the years after Hitler rose to power, there were many figures in the European ruling class who breathed a sigh of relief, hoping that he would destroy the bogeyman that was the Soviet Union. To that end, they gave Hitler virtually anything he wanted. Yet there still was one more, less sinister reason why the European nations did not take on Hitler. People were tired of war, with the memory of the hell that was the Great War still fresh in the collective mind. Hitler succeeded largely because nobody called his bluff. When he marched into the Rhineland, giving the troops orders to retreat immediately at any sign of French resistance, there was none. When he demanded the Sudetenland, they gave it to him, and then Czechoslovakia as well. When he attacked Poland, the French did not launch a devastating offensive on Germany’s open Western flank. The end result is that more than fifty million people lost their lives because people were not willing to expend a few thousand. Non-violence couldn’t stop a Hitler, but just the opposite. If people insist that resistance to US/EU/Russian imperialism must always be non-violent, they are essentially encouraging collaboration.

The Black Panther Party takes a stand Against Police Brutality

The Black Panther Party Takes a Stand Against Police Brutality

It would be untrue to suggest that the working class has never won any significant gains from peaceful, even legal means, but the fact is that the most important gains were usually won by violence and often sacrifice. Whereas the liberals insist that we make ourselves martyrs in the name of non-violence, it is far better to make martyrs of the ruling class and their military/police thugs.

Many people might question the wisdom of that approach, but I remind the reader that a martyr’s worth is tied to how many people idolize him or her. When the ruling class is overthrown and the means of propaganda dissemination are in the hands of the working class, there will be no weeping for the generals, the CEOs, and those moral cowards who insist we make ourselves willing targets for despotic regimes.

Non-violence, much like anarchism, is yet another childish idealistic creed. Great advances have been achieved through non-violence, but far more have been achieved through revolutionary violence. In fact, many of the successes of non-violent resistance, for example in India, could have been achieved violent means as well, and with far less loss of life. Would India have gained her independence from the British if there hadn’t also been hundreds of violent mass uprisings to coincide with Gandhi’s tactics? Would Martin Luther King Jr. have been so successful had it not been for figures like Malcolm X, or the Black Panthers, that reminded white America that if one form of resistance didn’t work, there were plenty willing to resort to other forms?

Such a conflict might have been bloody, and as always some innocents would get caught up in the crossfire. But when we look at the real costs of ongoing institutional racism in the US today, which does in fact still have extremely lethal results for African Americans and Latinos, one cannot help but think that a more decisive resolution to the problem would have in the long run saved far more lives.

Far more important is the fact that those who have elevated non-violent resistance, which should be seen only as a tactic and not a strategy, to the level of a religious creed, would have progressive forces accept failure and defeat for the sake of an idea that is not shared by the other side. As alluded to before, the ruling class has no qualms about violence when it is used in its favor. It is only when they are on top that they want peace and stability.

There can be no logical reason why, in the conflict with a side that not only endorses and uses violence, but possesses superiority in the means to conduct violence, the resistors should adopt a policy of strict non-violent resistance. Non-violent resistance as a creed is submission and tacit collaboration. Though the sides may not be equal, and the establishment far more powerful, it is far better to throw a punch than to get put in a headlock on the playground. Trust me, I’ve been there.



Categories: Economic Exploitation, Government, History, Theory, Workers Struggle, World History

Tags: , ,

14 replies

  1. I disagree with you on the Israeli-Arab issues. The Arab should first stop being so hateful and violent and learn for once to be friends with the Israelis. That way the conflict will end. And there is no reason for the Israelis to give up land to a bunch of thugs who wants them dead from the start. All the peaceful protest in China ain’t gonna stop the Government from killing them with waves and waves of troops and bullets. Sometimes non-violence works and sometimes it never does. The thing with MLK jr. is that it is biased that way because people don’t want to fight in a war to get freedom……like some lazy coward……….

    • “I disagree with you on the Israeli-Arab issues. The Arab should first stop being so hateful and violent and learn for once to be friends with the Israelis.”

      Excuse me but are you out of your mind? Do you even know what the facts are concerning the state of Israel and its illegal occupation of Palestine?

      I suppose you would naturally not want to be “so hateful and violent” and “want to be my friend” if I broke into your house, treated your spouse like a prostitute and enslaved your children. This is precisely the situation in Palestine.

      The “Israelis”, which isn’t really a nation at all but a collection of Europeans of various nations who are unified only in their religious background, invaded with US and British backing a territory that had been lived in by Arab Palestinians for at least 2000 years.

      As for peaceful protests in general they do not work, ever. The only way a peaceful protest movement does work is if the alternative faced by the ruling class is a protest movement which is armed and willing to use in the words of Malcolm X “Any means necessary.”

      In short Ghandi starving himself did not bring Indian independence rather the armed protests of rioters did. The British saw that their alternative was either a revolution or a transfer to a state of their choosing.

      Civil rights in the US was won not by MLK’s many speeches–inspiring as they are–or his many dreams. But rather by the willingness of men like Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party to use any means necessary to take civil rights for themselves.

      The long and the short of reality is that peaceful protests only work if they are backed up by the potential for violence, and then only if the ruling classes know that they probably cannot contain the violence.

      Chairman Mao for all his ideological flaws was correct in this: “Every communist must learn that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

      • Contemporary example: Anna Hazare
        (worth a look!)

        Your simplification of the Israeli-Plalestine conflict is sickening and a bit stupid. I am incidentally pro-palestine, but a peaceful solution, when possible is surely the best. Curious that you state the only unifying force behind israels cohesion is religion, not cultural or racial; I wonder what your views on a Kurdish state might be?
        Or what you believe constitutes a ‘nation’?

        The armed protest of the Indian rioters was certainly a factor in achieving India independence, but once you accept that a colony is an economic resource as well as political then you see that economic protest also has it’s place. e.g the indian ‘salt march’ of 1930 or the boycott on British cloth.

        What are your views on the post-independence righteous violence of Indian Partition? Was that justified, because the perpetrators on both sides believed it was.

        Once you accept that you may be wrong a whole world of opportunity for mistakes opens up, you can’t reverse death.

        Violence may have it’s place in the world of protest, but as a means to an end. If the means require too high a cost to pay, or worse and inefficient means, then it is not viable.

        Your statement…

        ‘The long and the short of reality is that peaceful protests only work if they are backed up by the potential for violence, and then only if the ruling classes know that they probably cannot contain the violence.’

        …is interesting and correct to an extent. But it is too simplistic, ignoring the power of economic force and the media’s effect on public opinion. There are other ways to achieve change, to ignore them is to weaken your position in bringing them about.
        Nelson Mandela and the ANC used this to their advantage.

        Cilvil rights in the US were certainly influenced by the militant civil rights movement, but you are foolish to discount the force of non-violent methods used in that struggle.
        If the efforts of the Black Panthers and the Weathermen alienated potentially sympathetic sectors of society then their efforts would have been counterproductive; just as the KKK alienated potentially sectors of society through their violent acts.

        Always remember, once you accept that the man opposite you is just you under different conditions, then you must remember that you may be just as deluded as you believe he is.
        Once you accept this, then you may think twice before you kill him.

        • “Your simplification of the Israeli-Plalestine conflict is sickening and a bit stupid. I am incidentally pro-palestine, but a peaceful solution, when possible is surely the best. Curious that you state the only unifying force behind israels cohesion is religion, not cultural or racial;”

          It is not a simplification, it is a clear understanding of the material conditions and their historical origins. Facts are what matters when doing analysis on any social phenomenon. The fact of the matter is that the only thing that unifies the Israelis is religion–and of course their repugnant political ideology Zionism (which itself is based on claims in the desert scribblings that serve for scripture in Judaism). Jews do not constitute a race. Why is that? How is that? Because race in and of itself is a social construct–there is no biological evidence for race existing. As for culture from where did the Israelis arrive? America, Britain, France and other European countries, and they brought with them the culture of their countries of origin. They have no unified culture.

          As such one can only logically conclude that any cohesion is either based on religion or a political ideology excused by Judaism.

          As for a peaceful solution? Thats not going to happen. Israel does not want it, and for peaceful solutions to work both have to agree to stop fighting. To expect the Palestinians to stop defending themselves from aggression is insane.

          “I wonder what your views on a Kurdish state might be?”

          Should the Kurds, which are a nation–which I will define later–decide that they want a state separate from Iraq, I would support that decision. National Self-Determination is inviolate unless the consequences from self-determination, including secession, would harm the construction of socialism along Marxist-Leninist lines. As Iraq is not socialist, and I doubt a Kurdistan would be either, should the Kurds want a state separate from Iraq let them have it.

          ” Or what you believe constitutes a ‘nation’?”

          What I believe constitutes a nation is irrelevant. What a nation is is relevant. A nation has some very clear attributes and all of them are concrete and material.

          1. A nation must have a historically constituted territory. Israel lacks this having only occupied the lands in question some 60 years at best. The Palestinians on the other hand have occupied these lands for some 2000 if not longer.

          2. A nation must have a common psychology manifesting itself in a culture. Israel lacks this as the Jewish population of the state all comes from may varied European countries each with its own culture. The Palestinians have a culture all their own.

          3. A nation must have a language. Both the “Israelis” and the Palestinians have languages–or in the case of the Israelis many different languages bound together by two official languages (English and Hebrew).

          4. A unified economic structure. Both the “Israelis” and the Palestinians have these.

          Now, each of these four conditions must be met. If any one of them is missing the proposed nation is not a nation. Finally one should not confuse a state with a nation. A state is a political organization, a nation is a group of people. They are not the same.

          “The armed protest of the Indian rioters was certainly a factor in achieving India independence, but once you accept that a colony is an economic resource as well as political then you see that economic protest also has it’s place. e.g the indian ‘salt march’ of 1930 or the boycott on British cloth.”

          Economic protest does have its place. That place is subordinate to political protest. Non-violent protest also has a place that place is subordinate to violent revolutionary activity. The fact of the matter is that in India the rioters achieved more in a few weeks than Gandhi did in decades. Why is that? Because they showed that they were not afraid of dying for freedom. Such an enemy is not easily conquered. And given the exhaustion of the British following WW2 it would be politically unacceptable in the home country of the imperialist power.

          “What are your views on the post-independence righteous violence of Indian Partition? Was that justified, because the perpetrators on both sides believed it was.”

          My views are that the Partition of the subcontinent into three states was unnecessary and actually lead to more violence. That said, the self-determination of the Bangladeshis, Indians and Pakistanis is inviolate. In short my views on this period of Indian history are that while it could have been avoided, but it wasn’t and it is what it is.

          “Once you accept that you may be wrong a whole world of opportunity for mistakes opens up, you can’t reverse death.”

          People are going to die regardless. The question is whether or not they are laying down their lives for the right reasons. Any person unwilling to sacrifice his life for the freedom of his decedents deserves to live as a slave.

          “Violence may have it’s place in the world of protest, but as a means to an end. If the means require too high a cost to pay, or worse and inefficient means, then it is not viable.”

          Violence does not simply have “maybe” a place. It has a place, period. The simple fact of the matter is that political power grows from the barrel of a gun. Those who take up guns eventually will have power.

          The question really should be which is more acceptable? Dying in one’s feet or living on one’s knees. For me the former is preferable to the latter–always.

          “is interesting and correct to an extent. But it is too simplistic, ignoring the power of economic force and the media’s effect on public opinion. There are other ways to achieve change, to ignore them is to weaken your position in bringing them about.
          Nelson Mandela and the ANC used this to their advantage.”

          It is hardly simplistic. The fact that you are ignoring is that Nelson Mandela for all his trials in prison really accomplished very little in ending the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

          The fact of the matter is while he was urging peaceful protest, others were willing to take up violence and the violence used to secure the status quo by the Apartheid Regime was of such an extent that it shocked an appauled the world. The boycotts in South Africa did very little if any economic damage. The sanctions against South Africa brought on by the outrage at the violence and state counter-violence brought South Africa to its knees.

          In short in South Africa the costs of maintaining Apartheid became unacceptable to the South African Ruling Class.

          “Cilvil rights in the US were certainly influenced by the militant civil rights movement, but you are foolish to discount the force of non-violent methods used in that struggle.”

          Civil Rights in the US was not only “influenced” by militant actions of Black Americans but was actually the result of those militant actions.

          Like in India, and in South Africa, the costs of violence became unacceptable to the ruling classes of the US and American Apartheid had to end or risk the over turn of the entire state.

          Martin Luther King Jr’s speeches and boycotts accomplished extremely little if anything.

          “If the efforts of the Black Panthers and the Weathermen alienated potentially sympathetic sectors of society then their efforts would have been counterproductive; just as the KKK alienated potentially sectors of society through their violent acts.”

          But they didn’t. The Black Panthers began to unite the Black communities together and started to wield them effectively. They constituted a greater threat to the status quo than the KKK ever did–since the KKK was attempting to maintain the status quo at the time.

          And any person who would be alienated by violent action to progress society is no better than the oppressor to start with.

          “Always remember, once you accept that the man opposite you is just you under different conditions, then you must remember that you may be just as deluded as you believe he is.
          Once you accept this, then you may think twice before you kill him.”

          The man opposite me in a political conflict is my enemy. Enemies either surrender or are destroyed. Once you accept this the path to victory is clear.

    • Buddy, do you know at all about the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict? Isreal was formed by recently landed European Jews under the guidance of European and American imperialism. Israel has not stopped expanding and intruding on Arab lands since 1948.

      Basically – the Isrealis come, take all the land, kick out the non-Jews, and kill those who put up a fight to this unilateral seizure of land…and the Arabs are to blame for the violence?

      http://www.laborforpalestine.net/wp/

      As for China…

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/wikileaks/8555142/Wikileaks-no-bloodshed-inside-Tiananmen-Square-cables-claim.html

      The first people killed in the Tiananmen Square incidents were police officers and soldiers, who were all initially UNARMED.

      Maybe as far as your analysis goes you should turn off CNN and turn on your cerebrum.

  2. Non Violent resistance is the longest and most trying road to your solution. The fruit of a non violent resistance is so sweet but you might die even before you test it , its fruits are primarily for your grand children. The most importnat part of non- violent resistance is teaching your people why you are fighting(your cause), teaching them how they should teach their children so that the message wont be forgotten. Never ever dream that you will be the one who enjoys early the results of the non-violent struggle. In fact , in many cases , you will be the first casuality of the struggle. And the funny thing is the danger always comes from the very people who you are fighting for.

    But dont forget though, nOn Violence – only works when you have the land(raised Platform) by which U stand and suffer the injustice so that your suffering is clearly visible to every one who has the brain to understnad NonViolence only works when you get killed but your cause wouldn’t and not vise versa

    • I couldn’t agree with you more, sir. All that crud about nonviolence is for whiny do-gooders who allow their enemies to make slaves out of them.

  3. A hello from Brasil
    I am a reader of your site here in the lands of south of the big River
    And i gree with you about non-violence . In my country we could never overthrow the dictatorship if not the guerrillas and the popular struggle (which was often violent) . But say that the MG and MLK are lackeys seems a little heavy . to say that his speech is distorced in favor of imperialism is another story .
    Even so , of course , that pacifism never gave us a real accomplishment , ever under the capitalism – things have always been won with blood .
    Talking Advantage , i would like to apologize ( I can not speak English , only portuguese [my language] and Spanish) . But is worth remembering that many in the U.S territory , just as i do not know English , and do not have the google translator in their lives – would greatly help these people to have the revolutionary messages have issues in their native languages (like portguese and Spanish)

    Até a próxima

  4. “But say that the MG and MLK are lackeys seems a little heavy . to say that his speech is distorced in favor of imperialism is another story .”
    No it isn’t ‘heavy’ to say this as Martin Luther King had sought to serve in the interests of the state as opposed to serving in the interests of the urban exploited African American community. The same community that was requiring self-defense from a system of exploitation, oppressed and abuse. Martin Luther King was unwilling to provide solidarity for those defending themselves and instead felt he would be capable of reconciling with the state throwing urban blacks into the water. Now more than ever we see that Martin was wrong, we see that Martin gave urban blacks nothing more than a good promise. He didn’t give urban blacks the tools that they could use to liberate and protect their own communities in a self-determined fashion. What he gave them was a tool for collaboration, a tool that could be used for collaborating with the bourgeois state at the expense of all African American brothers. Now more than ever urban blacks face poverty, AIDS and unemployment even more so than in the 1960’s, the liberation hasn’t been finished yet. It won’t be finished until we oust the issue which is the bourgeois state from black communities.

  5. I think we should have a nuanced approach towards how we handle modern MLK revisionism which allows mad men like Glenn Beck to reference him. The King Archive have just released a book called ‘ALL LABOR IS HOLY’ which emphasizes the idea that modern media disproportionately portrays King’s practice as Gandhi-ism rather than praxis derived from his association with 1930’s and 40’s era CPUSA members. King was emphasizing non-violence, but non-violence specifically to labor union members involved in labor struggles. Non-violence in the dopey sense of Gandhi is dumb, but non-violent union demonstrations also have a place in this discussion.

Trackbacks

  1. MLK Day: A Dream Lost « The Red Phoenix
  2. MLK Day: the Lessons of Pacifism & the Civil Rights Movement « The Red Phoenix
  3. MLK Day: the Lessons of Pacifism & the Civil Rights Movement | Systemic Capital.com

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