“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?
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.
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.