How Nonviolence Protects the State, Peter Gelderloos interview
Posts tagged pacifism
I really am astounded that they seem to have no understanding of the fact that Nelson Mandela founded Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress, which set off car bombs at high-profile targets and openly stated its desire to overthrow the apartheid government by force.
Y’all can have Desmond Tutu, but no, you can’t have Nelson.
…to achieve political change saying that nonviolence is “nonnegotiable”… like (s)he has some bargaining power or some shit. IF YOU DON’T SUBMIT TO NONVIOLENCE, I’LL PUT A FLOWER IN THE BARREL OF YOUR AR-15. THEN IT’S GAME OVER.
An argument that I hear frequently from nonviolence activists is that the state’s agents provocateur engage in violence within popular movements to discredit said movements, which shows that the state understands that nonviolence is more powerful and people will only be alienated if violence is undertaken by the protesters.
Below is a short step-by-step explanation of why this is bullshit, starting from the premise of agents provocateur trying to discredit a movement through the use of violence.
1. The state’s agents provocateur engage in rather ineffective and pointless violence/vandalism in the midst of a broader demonstration.
2. The mass media, right on cue, denounces the violence/vandalism, says that it discredits the movement and alienates people. This is ultimately a self-fulfilling prophecy; because the media tells people that violence alienates them, it convinces people that they are alienated by violence. This becomes painfully obvious when we see how unalienated people are by the violence the United States commits against other countries, largely because of media and state framing of the issue.
3. State/media promotes the narrative of how only nonviolence can create real change, makes references and overtures to historical examples like MLK, Gandhi, etc. This is where it gets interesting: the state, which is what you are protesting against in some form or another, is telling you which ways are most effective to combat it.
4. People, particularly leaders, in the movement dig their heels further into strategic nonviolence and bourgeois respectability, and refuse to consider any other options.
5. The government successfully “discredits” the only effective threat against its existence; i.e. political violence to overthrow the state.
“It is the obligation of every person who claims to oppose oppression to resist the oppressor by every means at his or her disposal. Not to engage in physical resistance, armed resistance to oppression, is to serve the interests of the oppressor; no more, no less. There are no exceptions to the rule, no easy out.”
Why Armed Struggle Works
Picture: June 1979, the Sandinista National Liberation Front, leading an insurrection against the rule of Anastasio Somoza Debayle, makes a strategic retreat from the capital Managua to the nearby city of Masaya, which had been liberated by an armed people’s resistance. The revolution would succeed three weeks later, and FSLN troops would ride triumphantly into Managua to cheering crowds.
The Somoza dynasty had shown no mercy to nonviolent demonstrations in the past, not hesitating to open fire on unarmed student marches (as they did in Leon in 1959, to highlight one example). When the people rebelled, they knew that the only path to a people’s victory, not merely a change in the leadership of a corrupt state, would require an armed struggle. The United States supported the government until it became obvious that Somoza was unsustainable, then hoping to prop up a new oligarchic government to replace him. Because the Sandinistas were the only organized armed force in the country other than the repressive National Guard, they were able to prevent the United States from imposing its will on the country yet again.
Fellow Tumblrers: Who wants to help me swarm the tags “nonviolence,” “nonviolent,” “pacifism,” and “pacifist” with a bunch of posts about how ridiculous they are? Let’s start the great debate, and let’s make our case clearly.
Post examples of the success of armed struggle, the limitations of the nonviolent principle, the historic failure of nonviolence in anti-colonial/anti-imperialist movements, the impotence of a domestic radical struggle that denounces violence on principle, the white privilege implicit in pacifism, etc. Pictures, quotes, essays, videos, songs, whatever’s clever.
Let’s also be principled in this critique. There are many future revolutionaries out there who can be won over here, and the best way to do so is to not make insults, to not shout down, to not dismiss experiences. Let’s not come off like macho authoritarian assholes.
“Pacifists tell us that the ends never justify the means. This is a statement of values disguised as a statement of morals. A person who says ends don’t justify means is simply saying: I value process more than outcome. Someone who says ends do justify means is merely saying: I value outcome more than process. Looked at this way, it becomes absurd to make absolute statements about it. There are some ends that justify some means, and there are some ends that do not.”
Download the free ebook version here. This should be required reading among the American left.
“There is nothing in this world currently deserving of the name peace. Rather, it is a question of whose violence frightens us most, and on whose side we will stand.”
In lucid and accessible prose, Gelderloos invites activists to consider diverse tactics, systematically debunking the notion that non-violent activism is the only acceptable or effective method of struggle.
“In fact, no pacifist can claim any success that didn’t rely on violence, or the potential threat of violence. When MLK needed help against violent racists he appealed to LBJ to send in the Marines. In order to maintain their worldview that pacifism can bring about fundamental change, pacifists have to restrict their definition of nonviolence to their own individual actions. This way they don’t have to admit that they rely on violence carried out by others, usually the state.”