Why the UK (and US) Left Is Wrong To Be So Dismissive of Non-Violent Struggle

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Yves here. This is meaty article makes a strong and well-documented case for non-violent tactics. It’s not hard to guess that a big reason for the new-found enthusiasm on the left for force is that the extreme right engages in aggressive display and sometimes action and they are gaining ground. However, the causality is likely to run the other way. Voters move to the right when times are bad, and the post global financial crisis era has been good pretty much only for the rich. Right wing governments tolerate quasi and actual fascist displays because among other things it makes them look moderate by comparison (and they don’t want to offend a voting block), even before you get to more cynical theories (which do operate in some cases) of the thugs acting as an extension of government, as opposed to fancying themselves as working towards the Fuhrer.

But non-violent movements have much greater potential to mobilize masses. Many are opposed philosophically to violence; others aren’t willing to take the risk.

By Ian Sinclair,  the author of The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003, published by Peace News Press. He tweets @IanJSinclair. Originally published at openDemocracy

Non-violence is under attack.

Many influential figures on the Left in the UK dismiss, misrepresent or ignore the concept of non-violent struggle, also known as civil resistance. Indeed, two books have recently been published that explicitly criticise non-violence – Andreas Malm’s ‘How To Blow Up A Pipeline’ and ‘In Defense of Looting’ by Vicky Osterweil. In a June 2020 editorial, the revolutionary Leftist magazine Salvage proclaimed: “Salvage glorifies the burning down of the Minneapolis third police precinct [in response to the murder of African-American man George Floyd]”.

Below I respond to some of the myths often repeated on the Left about non-violent struggle.

Myth One: Violence Is More Effective Than Non-Violence in Making Change

“Columnists did not cut it. Activists could not have done it. Peaceful protest did not do it. Sports boycotts, books, badges and car boot sales did not do it,” wrote Afua Hirsch in The Guardian in April 2018 about the end of apartheid in South Africa. “It took revolutionaries, pure and simple. People willing to break the law, to kill and be killed.”

Yet while there is disagreement about the relative importance of violence and non-violence in the struggle, it is clear that at the very least, non-violent struggle played an important contributory role in the end of apartheid.

Summarising the key events – which included labour strikes, boycotts, demonstrations and civil disobedience, activities involving hundreds of thousands of people – in a 2010 article for the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, Lester Kurtz, a professor at George Mason University, wrote: “In the end, a concerted grassroots non-violent civil resistance movement in coalition with international support and sanctions forced the white government to negotiate.” Of course, many highlight the importance of the armed resistance but I’m confident no serious historian or observer would be dismissive of the incredibly brave non-violent resistance to apartheid.

More broadly, to quote the non-violent action guru George Lakey, “the underlying assumption” of a view such as Hirsch’s “is that violence is the most powerful force in the world”. As Lakey noted in 2001: “This is conventional wisdom, shared by most right-wingers, left-wingers, and people in the middle. It’s as popular as the old consensus that the earth is flat. And it is just as incorrect.”

The 2011 book ‘Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict’ by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan provides academic evidence in support of the efficacy of non-violent struggle. The 2012 winner of the American Political Science Association’s Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award, given annually for the best book on government, politics, or international relations, the study was a key inspiration for the founders of Extinction Rebellion, arguably one of the most successful protest movements in recent British history (though writing in Peace News Gabriel Carlyle notes their analysis of the book isn’t quite right).

Analysing 323 examples of resistance campaigns and rebellion from 1900 to 2006, the authors concluded that non-violent campaigns have been twice as successful as violent campaigns in achieving their objectives. They argued this difference is down to non-violent campaigns being more likely to attract mass support. This greater level of participation tends to lead to more tactical innovation, more loyalty shifts among the regime’s supporters, and raises the political, economic and social costs to the regime – all of which increase the chances of success.

Their findings are broadly supported by the research of Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham, assistant professor of political science at the University of Maryland. Using a different data set of violent and non-violent strategies of groups seeking self-determination between 1960 and 2005, she concluded that non-violent resistance “is more effective than violence in obtaining concessions over self-determination”.

A 2020 journal article in the American Political Science Review by Omar Wasow of Princeton University provides further evidence. Evaluating Black-led protests in the US between 1960 and 1972, he found that “non-violent activism, particularly when met with state or vigilante repression, drove media coverage, framing, congressional speech, and public opinion on civil rights. Counties proximate to non-violent protests saw presidential Democratic vote share increase 1.6-2.5%.”

In contrast, “Protester-initiated violence… helped move news agendas, frames, elite discourse, and public concern toward ‘social control’.” He concluded that violent protests likely caused a 1.5-7.9% shift among whites toward Republicans in the 1968 presidential election, tipping the close-run election for Richard Nixon.

Myth Two: Non-Violent Struggle Is Passive

Hirsch’s framing above implies that ‘peaceful’ activists don’t break the law, aren’t willing to get killed, and aren’t revolutionaries. This ahistorical muddle feeds into another popular myth about non-violent struggle – that it is passive and avoids conflict.

Chenoweth sets out the reality in her new book ‘Civil Resistance: What Everyone Needs To Know’: “Civil resistance is a method of conflict – an active, confrontational technique that people or movements use to assert political, social, economic or moral claims… In a very real sense, civil resistance constructively promotes conflict.”

Having created a list of 198 methods of non-violent action, Gene Sharp – sometimes called “the Clausewitz of non-violent warfare” – described them as “non-violent weapons… the direct equivalent of military weapons”. Sharp saw non-violent struggle as a form of warfare, arguing that a non-violent campaign should have the same level of strategic vision, tactical smarts and coordination as a successful military campaign – one reason he sought out the influential military historian and strategist Sir Basil Liddell Hart to discuss the topic in the late 1950s.

The often strategically brilliant US civil rights movement provides a good case study. Writing about the representation of Martin Luther King in the 2014 film ‘Selma’, Jessica Leber noted that the non-violent campaign he led in 1965 for African-American voting rights “was incredibly aggressive, brave, and strategic – in many cases aiming to force the state into violent opposition”.

Myth Three: Non-Violent Struggle Isn’t a Realistic Option When Confronting Dictatorships

Writing last year in support of Palestinian armed resistance to the Israeli occupation, Louis Allday approvingly quoted the former resistance fighter and South African president, Nelson Mandela: “Non-violent passive resistance is effective as long as your opposition adheres to the same rules as you do, but if peaceful protest is met with violence, its efficacy is at an end.”

Like Allday, Kehinde Andrews, professor of Black studies at Birmingham City University, also believes non-violent struggle is not a realistic tactic in the face of violence. Speaking to Giles Fraser on the latter’s Confessions podcast, Andrews argued: “You have to be realistic. If you create a politics which can overturn Western capitalism, you are going to have to use violence. You are not going to have a choice because there will be violence meted out against you.”

In contrast, Chenoweth and Stephan noted: “The notion that non-violent action can be successful only if the adversary does not use violent repression is neither theoretically nor historically substantiated.” They argued that their findings are “true even under conditions in which most people would expect non-violent resistance to be futile, including situations in which dissent is typically met with harsh regime pressure”. Writing in 2003 about the misconceptions around non-violent resistance, the political scientist Kurt Schock argued that the evidence actually points to the opposite conclusion: “In fact non-violent action has been effective in brutally repressive contexts, and it has been ineffective in open democratic polities.”

There are many historical examples showing how largely non-violent movements played a central role in overthrowing repressive governments. The Shah of Iran in 1979, President Marcos’s oppressive 20-year reign in the Philippines in 1986 and President Bashir in Sudan in 2019 are just a few.

One reason non-violent struggle can overthrow brutal dictatorships is because, as Chenoweth and Stephan note, government repression is more likely to backfire against a non-violent campaign than it is against a violent campaign. This backfiring often leads to even greater mobilisation against the government, shifts among loyalists to the regime and sanctions against the violent offender.

What’s more, using a data set of 308 resistance campaigns between 1950 and 2013, Chenoweth and Evan Perkoski, from the University of Connecticut, highlight a “counterintuitive paradox” – that those campaigns which remain non-violent and unarmed with no significant foreign support are safest from mass killings. They concluded: “Non-violent uprisings are almost three times less likely than violent rebellions to encounter mass killings, all else being equal.”

Myth Four: Non-Violence Isn’t Realistic in the Global South

Speaking on a Novara Media livestream last year, host Michael Walker explained that he supports a strategy of non-violence in countries like the US and UK, countries which “are liberal democracies where public opinion matters”. However, he went on to note “the limits of non-violence in Global South countries” such as Indonesia and Chile, where reformist, largely non-violent social democratic movements and governments were violently overthrown by the military and CIA.

Last year, Guardian columnist Nesrine Malik wrote that in 2010, as she was travelling to Sudan, the country of her birth, at the beginning of what became the Arab Spring, “it was simply unfathomable that peaceful protests would overthrow an Arab dictator. It had never happened before.”

In reality, movements that have primarily relied on non-violent struggle have a long history in the Global South, including some successes in the Arab world.

Sudan itself provides two examples, with dictatorships toppled in 1964 and 1985 “through massive civil resistance campaigns”, according to Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, an assessment confirmed by Dr Willow Berridge in his 2015 book ‘Civil Uprisings in Modern Sudan: the “Khartoum Springs” of 1964 and 1985’.

It is also worth noting that in the Novara Media livestream, Walker was referring to President Suharto’s murderous seizure of power in Indonesia in 1967, and Augusto Pinochet’s destruction of Allende’s democratically elected government in Chile in 1973. But he failed to mention that non-violent campaigns played a central role in ousting Suharto in 1999 and Pinochet in 1988.

Though pretty much unknown in the West, there are many other examples of non-violent campaigns playing a central role in regime change in the Global South. In 1944 peaceful demonstrations overthrew the Guatemalan dictator General Ubico. The same year, President Maximiliano Hernández Martínez in El Salvador was removed by mass civil resistance. Influenced by Gandhi, Kwame Nkrumah led a popular, largely non-violent uprising to win independence for Ghana in 1957. Many more examples of the power of non-violent struggle are listed in Chenoweth’s book ‘Civil Resistance: What Everyone Needs To Know’ – from the campaign for Zambia’s independence in 1964 to Brazil’s transition from military dictatorship to popular democracy in the 1980s, and Malawians bringing down 30-year dictator Hastings Kamuzu Banda in the early 1990s.

Is the Data on Non-Violence Reliable?

As a seminal text with a bold conclusion, Chenoweth and Stephan’s ‘Why Civil Resistance Works’ has unsurprisingly received some criticism, including a number of academic responses.

All of the three critiques I have read argue the NAVCO database that Chenoweth and Stephan base their conclusions on is flawed.

In 2018 Mohammad Ali Kadivar and Neil Ketchley noted: “The coding of violence used in NAVCO derives primarily from the Correlates of War data set, which requires that all combatants be armed and for there to be at least one thousand battle deaths during the course of a campaign.” This definition, they added, “excises incidents of unarmed collective violence, which are otherwise coded as episodes of nonviolent protest.” Therefore, in addition to non-violent and violent campaigns, Kadivar and Ketchley presented a third category: “unarmed collective violence”, described as episodes which “inflict physical damage on persons and/or objects… without the use of firearms or explosives”.

With this expanded terminology, they concluded: “An event history analysis finds that riots are positively associated with political liberalisation in 103 non-democracies from 1990 to 2004,” and that, “In contrast to the assertions by non-violent resistance literature… acts of [unarmed collective] violence have not been detrimental to the cause of democratisation but may have even enhanced the chances of a democratising outcome.”

In a 2020 journal article in Critical Sociology, Alexei Anisin highlighted a number of campaigns that are missing from the NAVCO dataset. When these are included, he noted that from 1900-2006 non-violent campaigns were successful 48% of the time, unarmed violent campaigns 56% of the time, and violent campaigns 29% of the time.

Similarly, writing in the Comparative Politics journal in 2016, Fabrice Lehoucq noted that Chenoweth and Stephan omitted several campaigns that took place in Central America after 1900. Adding in these omitted examples he finds the success rate of non-violent and violent campaigns to be pretty much the same – 42% and 41%, respectively.

Chenoweth replied directly to Lehoucq’s criticism, noting the NAVCO database had been expanded and refined since 2011, and that “the aggregate statistics are virtually identical to those cited in ‘Why Civil Resistance Works’, with non-violent campaigns having a much higher success rate than violent campaigns.” Moreover, even if one were to agree that Lehoucq’s and Anisin’s analyses are accurate, then non-violent campaigns have close to the same success rate as “unarmed violence campaigns”, and close to or better success rates than “violent campaigns” – results which are very far away from the dismissive assertions of the UK Left.

It is also worth highlighting two key takeaways from ‘Why Civil Resistance Works’ that I am not aware of being seriously challenged. First, non-violent campaigns are associated with far less death and destruction than violent campaigns – compare the orgy of violence in Syria and Libya after 2011 with what happened in Tunisia and Egypt, for example. Second, non-violent campaigns are more likely to lead to more democratic forms of governance than violent campaigns, a finding which is echoed by a 2005 Freedom House study.

As Chenoweth noted in her reply to Lehoucq: “‘Why Civil Resistance Works’ was not intended to be the final word on the matter, but it has helped to provoke systematic academic inquiry on a topic that has long been neglected or even derided in scholarly circles.”

Future research will refine and challenge our existing assumptions about non-violence and violence. Having read a little around the subject, I’m struck by how complicated and often contradictory campaigns and movements are in the real world – history rarely provides definite answers. In addition to actively reading about the topic, supporters of non-violent action should welcome sincere, evidence-based research and criticism. This is, after all, how one gains a greater understanding of how the world works and how to make it better – not by reflexively rejecting and misrepresenting a concept that has a long history of creating positive change.

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54 comments

  1. PlutoniumKun

    I think that trying to analyse this statistically is almost impossible. Every local conflict is different and very minor changes of definition in what is considered ‘violent’ or ‘non-violent’ can create very different results.

    If you look at Irish history, most violent uprisings proved pretty much useless. Until one succeeded. There were three great non-violent movements in 19th Century Ireland – Daniel O’Connell campaign for catholic emancipation, the Parliamentary campaigns for Home Rule, and the agitations for land reform in the 19th Century. The first was a success in that it led to the lifting of the suppression of the catholic church, but its little doubt that the reason was the fear by the authorities that it could turn violent – hundreds of thousands of people would turn up for mass rallies. The Home Rule campaigns were more or less a failure, while land reform was generally a success (although there was localised violence, such as ‘houghing’ cattle), although arguably it was the collapse of arable farming in Ireland that meant landlords were no longer interested in keeping control of their estates.

    Ireland won its freedom through a failed rebellion in 1916, and the subsequent guerrilla war, which did succeed. But arguably the War of Independence (1918-1921) largely succeeded because the guerrilla warfare led to space where non-violent activists then created parallel government structures throughout rural areas that led to British rule more or less collapsing. More recently, in Northern Ireland, the IRA campaign objectively failed, and the subsequent peace deal (with non-violent activism) is proving far more fruitful for the former IRA members (no names mentioned) – but arguably it was the military campaign that provided the space for the future ‘peaceful’ campaigns. You can argue either case.

    In the 1990’s I knew a lot of Earth Firsters, who were very influenced by anarchist ideas of making existing systems unworkable. I witnessed at least one very expensive piece of construction plant go up in smoke. It was probably insured, so I doubt the construction company wasn’t too worried – the road was built through a very beautiful area. Given that most of the Earth Firsters were usually more interested in sitting around smoking dope I never thought they would ever be a serious force, and I was right. If you are going to pursue either monkey wrenching or full on violence, it is literally a life commitment. Usually only people with absolutely no other choices in life, or with an ideological/religious obsession is willing to carry that through. Even in major rebellions, the number of people willing to actually make bombs and shoot guns is a very, very small minority, and they are often the type of people you don’t really want in charge of your health service later on.

    Reply
    1. David

      A much longer comment of mine has fallen into moderation for some reason, but just to say I very much agree with your first paragraph. Life is too complicated to analyse in such terms.

      Reply
    2. Grumpy Engineer

      Even in major rebellions, the number of people willing to actually make bombs and shoot guns is a very, very small minority, and they are often the type of people you don’t really want in charge of your health service later on.

      Oh wow… That’s the quote of the day.

      And it’s precisely why I’ve never been a fan of “the revolution”, regardless of the cause. Occasionally we get lucky and what comes after the revolution is better than what existed before the revolution, but history shows that it’s usually worse. Sometimes profoundly so.

      Reply
      1. Soredemos

        History shows no such thing. The Soviet Union, Stalin and all, was simply a vast upgrade on Tsarist Russia. Pre-Bolshevik Russia was astonishingly backwards, and once you understand what a hellhole it was (‘a hen isn’t a bird, and a woman isn’t a person’, was one ‘delightful’ bit of Russian rural folk wisdom) then that puts all the Bolshevik attempts at massive and rapid social engineering into perspective. They were so successful that the Russian Federation has been basically coasting on the leftovers for thirty years, even in their massively degraded state (at least materially. Socially, Putin seems to have decided to fully throw his lot in with turning the clock back to ‘traditional values’, judging by his latest Valdai Club speech. I’m extremely glad I’m not something like a gay Russian or other social minority).

        Haiti is another example. As much as a disaster as most of its subsequent history was, the ending of slavery was still a clear improvement.

        Reply
    3. Ellery O'Farrell

      From my study of Irish history–I’m only part of the diaspora–you’re very much right that the War of Independence largely succeeded because of the parallel government structures, which were more just than those of the English. That was essential, as indeed was the omerta enforced not only by the IRA guerillas but by the populace. But it was also due to the, shall I say genius, of Michael Collins, who understood the need for countrywide support as well as the need for (targeted) violence, not in general but directed specifically against British agents and their Irish collaborators (and he carefully said he evaluated each case to make sure it was valid). Of course he had enormous luck and charisma and was loved by the people generally for his generosity, and equally of course the British cooperated through various atrocities such as the burning of Cork.
      But more to the point perhaps one of the greatest factors in the Irish victory was the existence of an independent press, especially in the United States, that reported on both sides of the conflict and felt free to call out the biases and violence of the established rulers. Which I think is also true for Gandhi and India. Where are we now?

      Reply
      1. PlutoniumKun

        Yes, the free press, and especially its influence in the US was crucial for forcing the British government to moderate its response. Because of this it could not do what it regularly did in remote outposts of Africa or Asia. It was the confused response of Britain – a mixture of soft footing and violence – that ensured a complete flip in public opinion in Ireland. Its hard to exaggerate just how unpopular the 1916 rebels were, and how fundamentally this had changed in just a couple of years.

        Its also surprising when you read accounts of the time just how sporadic the uprising was. Most of the country was unaffected, and the overwhelming majority of IRA activists were poorly armed and not particularly well trained, and many much preferred singing rebel songs in pubs to actually going out to fight. They should have been no match for regular units. It was the breakdown of government authority- especially the establishment of parallel courts – that made the difference.

        Collins was of course a military genius and its no wonder Mao and Ho Chi Minh studied him carefully. It still blows my mind that he spent most of his days hiding out in the Intelligence archives in Dublin Castle while a huge chunk of the British army was searching for him. Its as if bin Ladin was found working in the data centre in the Pentagon. He never ordered anyone shot unless it really made a difference. He simply focused on identifying the weak links between the police/army senior command in London and the men on the ground in Ireland. One by one he snipped them away.

        Reply
  2. ArkansasAngie

    Personal opinion only (POO) — The moment you decide to “go on the attack”, you have lost the moral high ground and “!” can respond.

    The idea that violence is so cavalierly discussed is astonishing. It’s as if real people aren’t getting hurt.

    I support the right to protest. I am in fact looking for an opportunity to peacefully assemble.

    I am also in favor of arresting any and every one who participates in anything other than peaceful assembly.

    You lose the moral high ground and you lose. The moment you decide to force your opinion is the moment you become public enemy.

    BTW — this applies to governments, too

    Reply
    1. Louis Fyne

      —-The idea that violence is so cavalierly discussed is astonishing.—

      And (IMO) seemingly discussed by people (chicken hawks) who have never seen the consequences of violence whether the immediate physical impact (the blood, the screaming, the scramble to apply first aid, etc) or the secondary emotional impact (of those hurt and bystanders).

      Yes, if you want to be a full-blown revolutionary violence is the option…but c’mon let’s look at the body bags of all the successful/failed revolutions….those death counts are only worth it for genuine unsolvable existential human issues .

      Every hot button topic on MSNBC today can be solved within the current US political system if politicans and activitsts are competent.

      Reply
      1. Rod

        Every hot button topic on MSNBC today can be solved within the current US political system if politicans and activitsts are competent.

        What if they are not aligned with your thinking?
        Competency in maintaining the Status Qua is demonstrated daily in america by Lobbyists and Republican/Democratic Lawmakers.

        Reply
        1. Louis Fyne

          IMO, and IMO only….this is why we had the original Federalism. Discrete federal government with as many decisions as possible made at the state level.

          Devolve powers, taxation, spending to the state legislatures, analgous to the UK devolution of powers to Scotland/Wales/Northern Ireland.

          Direct democracy does not scale up when you have 330+ million people under one system with national level issues decided by 536 people (POTUS + Congress).

          Not saying this is an ideal or preferred solution. But it is a political solution and doesn’t involve bloodshed.

          Reply
          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            Under that devolution scenario, if Minnesota decides to legalize industry filling the upper Mississippi with cancer juice, what do the downriver states do about that?

            Reply
          2. Carla

            @ Louis Fyne, re: “Discrete federal government with as many decisions as possible made at the state level.

            Devolve powers, taxation, spending to the state legislatures, analgous to the UK devolution of powers to Scotland/Wales/Northern Ireland.”

            If you lived in Ohio, where the legislature is trying to out-do Texas with medieval legislation criminalizing peaceful protest and any abortion for any reason, while encouraging teachers to carry guns in their classrooms, maybe you wouldn’t have such a rosy view of “devolving powers” to the states.

            Reply
      2. lyman alpha blob

        That “if politicians are competent” is a gargantuan “if”. The fact that the vast majority of them have always been venal, corrupt [family blog]ers looking to feather their own nests is why we see so many uprisings and protests in supposedly democratic nations these days. So far they are predominately non-violent, but how long will that last if the political elites won’t budge?

        The article even notes, although with a bit of a handwave, that “largely non-violent movements played a central role in overthrowing repressive governments”, not that they succeeded in changing things by themselves. The Shah of Iran didn’t exchange hugs with the Ayatollahs and hand over the keys to the palace after placing mints on all the pillows as a gesture of goodwill.

        If freedom really is just another word for nothing left to lose, we are creating an incredibly “free” society, and one that is heavily armed. Malcolm X gave the elites a choice – the ballot or the bullet – because he knew that people can only be pushed so far and they aren’t going to wait around forever for the concrete material benefits needed to live a life with decency. The Democrat party walking back nearly all their promises to actual citizens and then patting themselves on the back for passing what is largely a corporate giveaway was about as tone deaf as it gets.

        Reply
        1. Synoia

          “If competent” is of little relevance…

          Why is the reelection money not from the public purse?

          Why does the US senate continue to exist?

          Reply
      3. Soredemos

        A violent revolution in the US would have to put quite a lot of effort into matching the bodycount the current system has made so routine that most people don’t even notice it. 45,000 a year dead from lack of healthcare, but our politicians are always working to give us ‘access’, and we just let the dying continue. Another 40,000 dead annually from car accidents, but we just shrug: “Well you have to have cars, there’s simply no other way to do transport. Literally impossible.”

        If we’re going to wax poetic about the supposed virtues of pure non-violence, I seem to recall how the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq saw the largest anti-war protests in world history. And they amounted to absolutely nothing. The government simply ignored them, and directed the media not to cover them. When there’s no real threat of push-back, governments can simply ignore any amount of protest. In Japan in 1960, the government simply pushed the US ‘security’ treaty through, in blatantly anti-democratic fashion, despite absolutely massive protests. This essentially shattered an entire generation of Japanese political idealists,and Japanese democracy never even partially recovered. A decade later the government did it again, against far smaller protests. They saw that they could basically just force through whatever they wanted. At worst you have a PM resign as a sacrificial lamb, but still get what you want.

        Occupy was crushed by coordinated police and paramilitary action, and we simply let it happen. You can’t even say the impulse continued on into other other peaceful but disruptive movements, because it mostly didn’t. Occupy’s biggest legacy was Sanders, intentionally or otherwise, sheepdogging revolutionary impulse into Democratic electoral politics. It’s like a modern refresh course in the difference between real and parliamentary democracy, only nobody has taken the lessen to heart and there’s zero sign of an American Lenin.

        (I personally don’t think Occupy was ever going to amount to much by itself. Regardless of what the late David Graeber thought, anarchists are absolutely worthless at organizing or achieving anything. Occupy didn’t do much other than hand out books and rape a few passing women. but it was clearly viewed by our elites as the potential start of something dangerous to them, and they got away with crushing it with no real long-term repercussions).

        Reply
    2. Cat Burglar

      In the US, we still have our right to free speech and to assemble — as much as it has been eaten away around the edges. No secret policemen will show up in the middle of the night to take us camping for what we write here, or for what we do in protests. I take that to mean that, as long as we can make our case without state constraint, we have an obligation to do it without violence. I understand this article as an expression of frustration over elite blockage of policy to stop global warming and wealth inequality — and I feel plenty of that.

      The issue here is power. Since the fix is still holding, pressure through every open legal channel must be increased. There are plenty of ways to do it beyond writing your Congress critter, paper, or blog. The article uses the term “non-violent resistance,” not just protest — what is needed is a capacity not just to demand
      change from the authorities, but for a movement with the ability exercise power strategically to stop or disrupt status quo operation. Here’s the Irish example again: as they planned, in 1918 the radical nationalists ran for seats in Parliament, swept the election, refused to be seated in Parliament, stayed in Ireland, and seated themselves as the first Dail. Nobody could say they lacked support, or that they were not the legitimate representatives of the nation, so they took the power they already had — of course, some people across the water had problems with them declaring it openly.

      So I think protest should flood every channel — but more important than any tactical discussion over violence, is to form organizations and networks of concerned people, that have a strategy for when and where power should be exercised, and to build that capacity. It will take a lot of imagination, probably more than your average NGO can muster, but it is out there. Lambert’s idea about the aftermath of the Sanders failure: for him to have gone out after the election on tour to support strikers, is on the right track.

      For now, the Senate and COP26 have shown us the fix is holding.

      Reply
    3. Soredemos

      I don’t care about the ‘moral high ground’.

      I care about seizing power for the majority of the population to pursue public policies in its own interest. Class warfare is not a metaphor, and I bristle at the suggestion that the vast number of victims of capitalism should feel restrained to play nice when their oppressors butcher them in huge numbers on a regular basis. As just one of many examples, every time an American dies from lack of healthcare, that is a social murder.

      The fact is that violence can be a valid tool in the course of achieving radical change. It seldom succeeds all on its own, but pick a successful peaceful movement, and nine times out of ten there will also have been violent alternatives that provided pressure that made the peaceful movement a more appealing alternative to negotiate with. And in some cases, like Cuba, there was no alternative to violence.

      Reply
    1. JEHR

      Occupy scared the elite out of their wits so that they kettled up all the non-violent demonstrators and kept them locked up for awhile. They are still psychologically locked up, but the elites know that Occupy was a very important threat, and thus, I think it did its job. Occupy may just complete the job with a proper leader or it may end like the Arab spring.

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    2. lordkoos

      The response of the state to Occupy was quite violent as is often the case in modern America. When I see or participate in demonstrations I always hope that people will not “take the bait” and will remain peaceful, but this is a difficult thing to ask. Non-violence requires training, when people are violently attacked by police often a natural instinct is to fight back. As soon as a protester becomes violent, the state and the right wing are able to use that as an excuse for all kinds of terrible behavior. Unfortunately the police have gotten pretty adept at instigating violence via planted provocateurs and then blaming it on the demonstrators.

      Reply
      1. Cat Burglar

        Using non-violent tactics in a protest makes it very difficult for you to be charged with anything but a misdemeanor, like trespassing, or creating some kind of hazardous situation. In crowd situations, police frequently have to resort to violating your rights or breaking the law, which gets your case thrown out of court (during the Seattle WTO protests, and others), or ties them up in a lawsuit they lose (when Oakland police fired wooden pegs at anti-Iraq war protesters blocking the Port of Oakland, for example). Ultimately, you come out ahead publicizing your issue.

        Any group doing property destruction or hurting people as a tactic should have good lawyers, especially if they present a political threat. They will be hounded by every means the state possesses, for decades. Given the high cost of the tactic, it usually ends up being ineffective as a protest tool because it distracts from the issue, and too many resources have to go into legal defense, to say nothing of how it might alienate the public morally. The state finds provocateurs useful for diverting movements.

        Reply
    3. Mantid

      Occupy is a good example of the “new way” to repress protests, either violent or not. Two fundamental forces are at play now that weren’t in the time of the Irish rebellion, Vietnam, Velvet revolution, etc. It is drones, social media surveillance, and the modern, encased in plastic, near (and soon) robotic military. With surveillance helping nip descent in the bud before it can flower (kill, arrest, freeze bank accounts, various other intimidation), followed by coordination to the second with action by powers that be across an entire continent – as was the case with Occupy, it’s very difficult react before being in jail or shot. Also, with the advent of drones (shooting bullets, tear gas, bombs, filming suspects, etc.), there is a disconnect between the agresor and the recipient of violence. Sure, a few US drone operators in Afghanistan cried in their sleep over guilt, but how many didn’t? Lastly, with the militarized cops bearing down on a crowd, there is no recognition of who the police are – very little guilt that way. If you shoot grandma in the face with tear gas, she, and no one else in the crowd can know it’s you. Much less shame. Do you think that the people getting shot in the eye by a random rubber bullet is random? No, those projectiles are laser aimed and accurate as hell.

      Even more lastly, near complete control of the media. So many events are ignored by the powerful controllers of media. Ivermectin is a case in point.

      Reply
    4. Cat Burglar

      It depends on what you think Occupy was — a protest, or an attempt at overthrowing the social order. It was not an adequate tool for overthrow, but was a very effective protest tactic. It’s ideas spread widely — at the time, I was in a meeting of ranchers in a small town on land use, and “the 99%” came up in discussion, and got a very positive response. Soon after I was in an Occupy support march in a conservative western desert town that drew several hundred people. The movement had an influence way out of proportion to it’s size, because it said what everyone was thinking.

      Occupy made wealth inequality a publicly recognized problem, so it was a success in that sense, and so I agree with JEHR. Its program prepared the way for the Sanders campaign — which had a program and a tactic for gaining power. It required outright cheating by the flunkies of the large donor class to stop the challenge; that wouldn’t have been necessary had the threat been weak. They still have the power to turn back the challenge, as we have seen with the BBB bill in the Senate, but are inept at concealing what they are doing now.

      Reply
  3. Tom Stone

    There is no mechanism for peaceful change in the USA.
    Period,full stop.
    Change will come any way, the only questions are when,and how ugly it will be.
    My guess is within 2-3 years,and uglier than anyone has imagined.

    Reply
    1. ArkansasAngie

      Voting is the preferred method of regime change. And … regime change starts at home. And … and … AND … that’s why I would give a blank check to ensure free elections. Whether you think fraud happen or not … even the idea … the perception of fraud is not acceptable. Throw the yahoo’s out has to have meaning.

      Reply
      1. Charger01

        When you only have the choice between coke and pepsi, thats not much of choice to vote for. They’re both bad for you.

        Reply
    2. Mantid

      There is one, strike, boycott and/or refuse to participate. It must be in large enough numbers but the pocketbook is all that the powers that be (“the 1%”, legacy term from occupy) understand. An example would be if a massive amount of people boycotted amazon. Another would be 4 – 5 major cities having a garbage strike, no garbage pick up. Protesting, voting, surveys, worthless in my opinion.

      Reply
    3. lance ringquist

      i have always thought that economic collapse will trigger it. then its anyone’s guess which way it will go.
      in today’s world local, and i mean a country, seems that nether way can achieve change for the better.
      the world today is run not only by local oligarchs, but by a world wide oligarchy, so rich, so powerful, that they can keep their servants in positions of power no matter what you do locally. see macron of france and modi of india. both faced massive almost non violent movements, and they are still there, still in full control, and no change.
      except modi of india yesterday did cave in on his three free trade laws that would strip india of its food sovereignty, and hand it to the oligarchs corporations.
      i do not believe it was the mass protests. i believe its because free trade is collapsing again. after the collapse of 2008, free trade never fully recovered. then covid came, free trade went down more, then the so called recovery, free trade has not even recovered to pre covid, let alone pre 2008. which means modi saw he would have trouble importing food they used to grow, and exporting cash crops for the world markets.
      want change, start with free trade.

      Reply
      1. Starry Gordon

        Don’t forget that power corrupts. It can be counted on, although it may take a long time. For those on top, victory is death.

        Reply
  4. David

    I seriously doubt whether you can analyse “323 examples of resistance campaigns and rebellion from 1900 to 2006” and expect to reach any useful conclusions at all. This kind of thing is so context dependent that cases have to be analysed more or less individually, and when you do that, you often find that the outcome often depends on factors that can’t be quantified, and on the attitude of the group that is being attacked, as well as external influences and great-power dynamics. (Thus, Bashir was not “overthrown” in 2019, he was sacrificed by the military junta to remove a source of conflict.) And let’s not forget that Sudan was in an almost permanent state of civil war from about 1958 to 2005. That may have had an influence). Let’s take a few big, meaty examples.

    Much depends on what the power being attacked thinks its interests are. In Rhodesia (1965-80) there was a sizeable settler community with nowhere else to go, prepared to fight to the end of need be. It could only be overthrown by force, as was indeed the case. In Uganda and Kenya the settler population was small, and, whilst there was some violence in Kenya, it was on nothing like the same scale. A few years later, the Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin, was overthrown not by civil disobedience but by the Tanzanian Army.

    But even these sort of outcomes are often more complex than it might seem at first sight. For example, the Portuguese were actually winning their colonial wars in Angola and Mozambique, territories they could not imagine giving up, so ingrained were they in Portuguese history and self-image. But the 1974 coup d’état in Lisbon by Army officers indirectly led to the independence of these countries. So was this “violent” or “non-violent?” Likewise, the French could not bring themselves to accept the independence of Algeria (then part of France) barely ten years after the end of the German occupation, and were prepared to fight to retain it. They won, militarily, but were forced out by international pressure and the sheer unsustainable cost of the war. But this decision required someone of the stature of De Gaulle to take it, and he, in a bizarre twist, was originally installed in power by a military coup in 1958, designed to forestall … Algerian independence. In many cases, it’s not public protest that forces dictators out, but cracks in their own support. Everybody remembers the huge crowds in Tehran in 1978 demanding that the Shah should go. But in fact, the regime could have stayed in power for a long time: it was the refusal of the Army to support the Shah that finally persuaded him to leave.

    Since the article explicitly mentions South Africa, I’ll say a word about that case, not only because I was there for some of the end, but also because the treatment in the article is part of a wider trend, especially in the US, to try to turn the liberation struggle into a kind of replay of the US civil rights movement, which it very much wasn’t. South Africa before 1990 was run by the Afrikaners, about 60% of the roughly 10% white population, most of whom had lived there since the seventeenth century, and who believed (and were told by their Church), that the country had been given to them by God. They believed their country to be the target of a Soviet Total Assault, designed to eradicate the last Christian stronghold in Africa, and install Communism everywhere. The government anticipated a gigantic Soviet-Cuban military assault through Namibia, using nuclear and chemical weapons (which is why they had their own nuclear programme.) Civil disobedience, insofar as the regime took any notice of it, was just another part of the Communist conspiracy. From the early 1960s, it was obvious to Mandela and others that non-violent resistance could not possibly succeed on its own, and the military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe, was formed. Its original objective was to overthrow the apartheid regime by force, but this was never possible. Three things brought apartheid to an end. One was the cost and unpopularity of the border wars in Angola and Namibia, fought mostly by conscripts. The second was the end of the Cold War, which effectively removed the main ideological prop from the apartheid regime. The third was the domestic situation (“the country was burning” as one white General put it to me) which led to a tactical decision by De Klerk, when he took power, to release Mandela and to unban the ANC and the Communist Party, hoping to put an end to the violence with a few minor political concessions. He was hopelessly outmanoeuvred by the ANC, and capitulated on almost everything in the face of widespread and escalating violence in the country.

    In other words, the idea that there is somehow a thoughtful choice to be made between “violent” and “non-violent” approached is quite misguided. the two are very seldom alternatives, except on a very small-scale domestic level. Obviously, any group that resorts to violent means when non-violent means will work just as well is making a mistake, but in real life such situations are seldom clear-cut. Almost everything, in the end, depends on what your opponent is prepared to give up, and at what price.

    Reply
    1. ChrisRUEcon

      #Concur

      I found the South African example problematic as well given the wider revolutionary story in Africa. So thanks to you for the personal assessment, and to PK above as well.

      My own thoughts … first, with tongue planted firmly in cheek:

      Call: “Why the UK (and US) Left Is Wrong To Be So Dismissive of Non-Violent Struggle”

      Response: Seems to work (via France24) pretty well for the French (via France24)!!

      From my vantage point shifting ever leftward away from blue liberal land, I’m not sure why the author feels they need to be concerned about books embracing “left” violence here in the US. The left in the US and UK is freakin’ tame. Does anyone seriously expect the #PodcastLeft (yes, new splinter group dropped … who dis?!) in the US to be anything like Les Gilets Jaunes? Earlier this year on #Twitter, there was a tweet bemoaning the US Left as “imperialists who want free healthcare” – a.k.a. woefully, or even willfully ignorant of the global struggle against the agents of late stage capitalism. The left here remains fractured and unfocused because each splinter group sees itself as in possession of the one silver bullet that can slay the beast. I’m a fan of Lambert’s inside-game-outside-game paradigm, but sadly see too many purported leftists feeling like they have to go all in on one or the other. I’m sympathetic to making those in power feel uncomfortable and shunned, and I don’t think you need violence to make that real. But as the French example shows, sometimes when the target is properly chosen, the oppressor will relent.

      Reply
  5. Antoine LeDada

    It seems impossible and pointless to separate non-violent and violent struggle. They go hand-in-hand. Every guerillero knows it needs popular support and help from the masses. But there are very few guerillero-type people barring complete desperation, hence the rest embrassing the non-violent movements. If you’re a peaceful protester not willing to brandish the specter of armed warfare should your protesting fall on deaf ears, you have very very few leverage.

    Reply
  6. Rod

    Good post to follow the COP 29.
    The Climate Crises is certainly forcing a ‘Fish or cut bait’ moment for everyone paying attention to all that needs to be done– that is not being done fast enough.

    I thought this was a turn that needs thought for America and other working democracies:

    the political scientist Kurt Schock argued that the evidence actually points to the opposite conclusion: “In fact non-violent action has been effective in brutally repressive contexts, and it has been ineffective in open democratic polities.”
    Something in here that addresses the lack of Mass in recent mass mobilising actions(the Wars/Occupy/BLM/Climate)???

    Also, it is not clear to me from the article if ‘Property Damage’ falls under the ‘Violence’ catagory for the Author. I suspect it does.

    I couldn’t agree more with this:
    Sharp saw non-violent struggle as a form of warfare, arguing that a non-violent campaign should have the same level of strategic vision, tactical smarts and coordination as a successful military campaign –

    ime, everybody involved needs Strategy and a Plan B–or two, before stepping out.

    Reply
      1. Rod

        Thanks for that read.
        Lots of things are complicated up, but Sharp saw non-violent struggle as a form of warfare, arguing that a non-violent campaign should have the same level of strategic vision, tactical smarts and coordination as a successful military campaign – still sounds true to me.

        so i followed https://www.jacobinmag.com/2019/06/gene-sharp-cold-war-intellectual-marcie-smith
        Interesting that Ms Smith got to him after spending time in the Climate Movement and ends the cited article with:

        That’s dangerous. It puts protest movements in a position where they can be easily co-opted, where they can serve as a kind of battering ram, and then the neoliberal experts with the “good ideas” come rolling out and with the content. That’s something that I have seen, and it concerns me greatly. Because when supposedly progressive forces triumph, but then conditions for the average person get worse – well that is doing the fascists’ work for them.

        Tool makers oft cannot control who and how their tools are used.

        Reply
  7. Carolinian

    Thank you for this. Some of us believe that the great social struggle is less left/right but rather rational versus irrational and to solve problems like AGW will take the rational side of our natures rather than the emotional. Therefore it’s hardly surprising that the powerful are constantly using fear and emotional appeals to keep the underlings in line. Riots merely reinforce their fear argument while attracting many rioters who have no sincere social goals at all but are just acting out–perhaps even out of boredom. Wasn’t that true in the Rittenhouse case? Both shooter and shot were there for the action.

    Meanwhile MLK’s appeal for a colorblind society was perfectly rational and in the end, I think, will prevail over the racism stirred up by the manipulators. The Dems do it too with the White Supremacy focus often just a tactic to stir up hatred against their opponents. All of which is to say that if you want to afflict the comfortable and powerful you need to repudiate the violence that made them powerful and comfortable. And if in the end it does come down to violence at least go after the wine caves rather than your own neighborhoods.

    Reply
    1. carbpow

      I think there is little rational remaining. The Rittenhouse issue is a good example. Why in the world would a kid cross state lines, with support of his mother, to protect a car dealership from possible looting while carrying an assault rifle? He and his family has zero financial or personal interest in this used car dealership. It makes no sense. Of course I am well over 50 years old. When I was 17 we were not allowed to walk around in town with weapons. We could walk along the roads during hunting season with weapons, but in town? No. There is nothing rational about the reasoning currently. It is distressing. I moved from the USA to another country which most US citizens would consider a 3rd world or developing country. Sure we have corruption though not on the USA level and we have more rationality as well a sense of common purpose here than in the US. I do not understand the US any more, neither do most people I know form there

      Reply
      1. Carolinian

        Well he was 17 years old and kids are into guns (me too at one time). He was a member of some junior policeman club. When he crossed state lines it was from 20 miles away without the gun and his father lives in Kenosha. At the trial he said he picked out an M-16 (kept by his friend in WI) because he wouldn’t be allowed to own a hand gun at 18.

        So blame his parents for letting him be there, but the “white supremacist” accusation seems to be a media creation and the people that he shot were white. Personally I was opposed to all of the rioting last year (not the protesting) and disinclined to make excuses for that either. The reasons are in the above article.

        Reply
  8. David Jones

    The last two UK movements to achieve significant successful change were, I think, the suffragettes and the IRA and they used both a mixture of violent and non-violent change.

    Reply
  9. TomT

    Elevating nonviolence to the level of a belief system seems to be just as silly as elevating violence in th same way. It only makes sense to me to view these as tactics. And they have been used historically (and often successfully) in tandem, rather than as mutually exclusive approaches. This fact frequently seems to get left out of these discussions.

    Reply
  10. Oh

    Non violence will work if boycotts, strikes, and messaging to garner public support is used along side. A sustained effort will bear fruit but it will take time.

    Reply
  11. GlassHammer

    Is it possible that the cavalier promotion of the use of violence is little more than “tough talk” from a bunch of people who are simply online too much and too engaged with their own echo chamber?

    Reply
  12. PHLDenizen

    This piece is reductive in its bifurcation of non-violence and violence distinguished primarily or entirely by absence or presence of direct physical violence. Violence is multi-dimensional, multi-causal and framing it as shooting people vs linking arms and singing “we shall overcome”. That’s an exaggeration, but the omission of an expansive definition of violence undercuts the article’s lofty notion.

    Murder is immoral and (presumably) you aren’t burying your neighbors in your backyard, but you’re likely to watch your neighbors go bankrupt for having the nerve to get sick — you’re a witness to violence. Or you’re involved in a car accident that leaves you catastrophically injured, yet the lobbyists, judiciary, tort reformers, and guild of attorneys (why is there no H1B program to import some? Open borders drive costs down and are good for consumers…) all engage in a concerted fashion to deny litigation opportunities to those most in need. Mandatory arbitration. Means testing. NIMBYism. “Deplorable” loathing. No social safety net, particularly around healthcare. Privatization of public goods. Porous borders to compress wages of the would-be middle class into the working poor — or even to squeeze them right out of the labor market. Ludicrously high SALT caps. Refusal to prosecute and render bankrupt every cretinous Wall Streeter. Regulatory capture in the FDA and SEC. Refusal to shoot monopolies in the head. Housing policies engineered to ensure precarity and homelessness. Unaffordability of marriage or kids. Penalizing the unwed and childless by choice.

    These are all forms of violence. There’s a certain banality to it. You can tart them up as being economic problems or political problems or social problems, but they all victimize a group for the benefit of another via a power differential. Policy decisions are potentially violent. Personnel decisions are potentially violent. Violence is a hardwired attribute and this rhetorical sleight of hand that insists democracy is too civilized for class warfare is bullshit. Democracy is little more than a nickel plated veneer of equal participation and the myth of a fair referee.

    You don’t need to kill them all when you can simply starve them out through resource deprivation. That’s what violence ultimately is — kicking a populace down every level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs by denying them the dignity of living a dignified life. It’s efficacy in the US stems from a small cabal of wealthy monsters who use their immense capital to buy all the machinery to commit bloodless violence against 99% of the US. It’s magnitudes of order more difficult to organize an effective countermeasure.

    ArkansasAngie states:

    The idea that violence is so cavalierly discussed is astonishing. It’s as if real people aren’t getting hurt.

    You lose the moral high ground and you lose. The moment you decide to force your opinion is the moment you become public enemy.

    “Real people” in staggering large numbers are getting hurt hour-by-hour, day-by-day as it is for the reasons I enumerated above. The 0.01%’ers may not have the moral ground, but they’re far, far from losing. And the rest of us are far, far from winning. The moment you refuse to acknowledge that power and wealth disparities are violence equal to or worse than having your arms broken is to become a public enemy in your own right.

    Possessing a moral compass is cheap. Being able to act on that moral compass is expensive. The Bezoses of the world may repel you with values you find loathsome, but they can accomplish in days or weeks or months what would take millions of people years or decades to accomplish. How many generations of your family need to be buried with untreated diabetes and cancer until single payer arrives? As John Kerry said: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” The US solved this conundrum through election cycles wherein politicians keep asking people to accept a few casualties in the near-term — while they promise to “fight” to remedy the “mistakes” of injustice and hatred of the lower classes for future generations. There is never a last man to die because mistakes are features, not bugs.

    Non-violence and violence are tactics. In the same way that terrorism is a tactic, not something you can wage war against. Sometimes non-violence is effective. And sometimes the guerillas need to be conscripted into the living embodiment of an inheritance tax, picking off the recipients of dynastic wealth until the message penetrates their steel plated bubbles. You don’t need to be a bloodthirsty savage who thrives on chaos to see the utility in violence. You’ve been watching the state have at it for decades. Sometimes learning from your enemy is a useful enterprise. And maybe that offends your sensibilities.

    As a point of reference, I use the WHO’s definition of violence: “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.” It wasn’t until I read this that I became aware of it: https://peh-med.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13010-018-0059-y (“Violence” in medicine: necessary and unnecessary, intentional and unintentional”)

    The article is interesting in its application to the very specific domain of medicine the debate of whether or not violence is warranted and the sources of such violence:

    …definitions of violence, emphasizing the importance of understanding the term not only as a physical perpetration but as an act of power of one person over another. I next explore the paradox of a healing profession that is permeated with violence sometimes necessary, often unintentional, and almost always unrecognized.

    Extrapolation of its findings is, to my mind, a better framing to discuss violent vs non-violent tactics. It’s also illuminating in how it models the attitudes of the PMC, not just physicians.

    Reply
    1. Eclair

      Thank you, PHLDenizen, for summarizing so beautifully my reaction after reading this article on Saturday morning. I had no time to write, as we were heading off to our daughter’s house for the week.

      During Occupy, a friend and myself organized a 6-week long series of workshops on non-violence, using a workbook produced by the Pace e Bene organization. I personally am uncomfortable with violent tactics, and never felt a bond with those members of Occupy and, later, with environmental protest groups working against pipelines and the Utah tar sands project. I identified with the women elders at Standing Rock, who were committed to a non-violent, prayerful resistance.

      Having said that, during the course of our workshop, we identified what Pace e Bene termed, ‘structural violence.’ You discuss this: “These are all forms of violence. There’s a certain banality to it. You can tart them up as being economic problems or political problems or social problems, but they all victimize a group for the benefit of another via a power differential. Policy decisions are potentially violent. Personnel decisions are potentially violent.”

      There is another facet of structural violence, that of violence against the natural world: clear-cutting old-growth forests, dumping poisonous industrial refuse into rivers, massacring animals to put their heads on our walls, burning fossil fuels and sending tons of carbon into the atmosphere. These actions also affect adversely the health of humans and of entire eco-systems.

      I can visualize a Resistance movement against such structural violence. And, as you discuss, such a movement can use differing tactics; non-violence to start, including destruction of offensive infrastructure (what kind of society makes it a crime to disable monstrous earth-moving equipment used to kill-off entire mountains and forests, while rewarding the violence done to the Earth and to living trees and animals?), but with the implicit threat of violence if demands are not met.

      And, there are always the individuals who love violence (and, as PK remarks, you don’t want them in charge of your health system in the aftermath), who flit about on the fringes of any movement for change, (and a proportion of these are infiltrators who will use violent tactics to discredit a movement) and who need to be kept restrained, mostly. But, they are really really great to have about when you need them.

      One commenter emphasized that whatever the tactics, an overall plan, a strategy, is essential. The State and Corporations have the upper hand in this area, already possessing a hierarchical planning structure. We the people tend to mill about and dislike authority.

      One piece of wisdom we kept reiterating during the workshop, attributed to Gandhi: everyone has a piece of the truth. The oil field workers will be against shutting down fossil fuel exploration; but their truth is they need the wages to feed themselves and their kids. How do we insure they won’t go hungry.

      Reply
  13. William Hunter Duncan

    The problem with the Left in America is, it mostly consists of highly educated white people who have no report’ with the working class. If the Left were serious about social change they would be making inroads with the working class across the spectrum, to organize mass labor walkouts. But being working class, working among the working class, among people who do not have a college degree, the majority of them of every color don’t have any time for the Left, in part because they perceive the Left has no time for them. The Left, particularly with the obsession around race and gender at the expense of economic class, have lost the working class. And the Left is nothing but captive to neoliberals, if it doesn’t have the working class.

    Violence by the Left will only play into the hands of the Right and Neoliberals.

    Reply
    1. lance ringquist

      and nafta joe biden is working on another free trade agreement as we speak. the vote blue no matter who crowd is silent on this, except to call workers deplorable.
      the pmc class is seeing there degree’s get ever less bang for the buck. yet they cling to the nafta democrats, and look their noses done on the deplorable, or throw crumbs at them that only only make things worse in the end.

      Reply
  14. Ian Nemus

    “I…am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land can never be purged away but with blood. I had, as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed, it might be done.”

    John Brown, abolitionist.

    Violence should always be the last resort, if only because it always comes at a very high price to someone.

    But any movement not willing to use it at all will always be at a disadvantage to those who are.

    Reply
  15. Dave in Austin

    The term “non-violence” has turned out to be pretty elastic and is no longer directly connected to the Constitutional right to “peaceably assemble”. And “passive resistance” is not always passive..

    Marching and large public meetings designed to show public support for a cause are definitely protected and are a great idea- even in Ireland during the period of huge public meeting during the 19th century they were allowed.

    Blocking major roads and streets (as was done by MLK in the Birmingham march of 1965, the Occupy demonstrations and the Extinction Rebellion’s recent acts in England) are more a form of “passive-aggressive” resistance, where the participants claim the right to stop others from going about their daily business on behalf of a cause.

    And as usual actions by those “we” agree with are tolerated and encouraged while the same acts by the other side will not be tolerated. Let me give you a pair of thought experiments:

    1) anti-immigration “activists” decide to halt immigration into Sanctuary cities by chaining themselves across every interstate highway entering the city. Non-violent or violent? Allowed or not allowed?

    2) marches of “peaceful” Support our Police enthusiasts turn a blind eye to armed people in hoodies on the fringes of demonstrations, even after they start to shoot-up and burn cars with “Black Lives Matter” bumper stickers after dark and do the same to houses with BLM signs on the lawn.

    The oldest rule in war and on the schoolyard is “Whatever you do to me, I have the right to do to you”.

    And many people who are frustrated at the “pace of change” in the direction they want often daydream about using “more direct measures” to bring about change and encourage others to do so. On the right we just saw two examples- Dingbat Kyle Rittenhouse and the 1/6 crowd. On the left we saw the “Armed Medic of Kenosha” and the spate of anti-Asian attacks usually by American-born Blacks angry about “those people taking over our neighborhoods”. The drum-beaters don’t end up in jail or in the hospital; those who hear the drums do.

    Reply
  16. Adam Eran

    Some generalizations.

    1. From David Graeber: modern civilization is ambiguously an extortion racket and a utopian project. The utopian project makes the extortion (e.g. tax collection) palatable. If that utopia is just pie in the sky, though, or if such tax collections offend the plutocrats, then the organization of dissent is effective in throwing a spanner in the works. (cf. Rick Perlstein’s accounts of the Reagan presidency and the Republicans’ willingness to organize dissent as a way to gain power. R’s don’t give a rat’s fanny about abortion, but it’s effective at motivating some percent of the population to vote for them.)

    2. On a personal level, harsh discipline is effective in raising children who are compliant. Unfortunately, they later have difficulty perceiving what’s congenial. Abuse works short-term, but fails long-term.

    …and #2 may be only micro, and not macro…after all, microeconomics can’t be enlarged to become macroeconomics. Think of the paradox of thrift–savings is a virtue for an individual, but if an entire economy net saves, the economy tanks. (See Sonnenschein-Mantel-Debreu for the proof that micro can’t become macroeconomics).

    So…generalizing about violence is probably not possible, but I’d suggest the above is at least some clarification about its ambiguity. After all, dollars are valuable because of the threatened violence of tax collection.

    Reply
  17. Scott1

    It is right there in the beginning of the essay. It is neither non-violent or violent action that will bring about the changes that I see as worth achieving. Peace. I want peace because we must understand and work at our real duty that is to protect the forever of the species, the set and sort of animals that we are, both violent and peaceful and violent in order to survive since we hunt. Hunting is violent with the aim of feeding our family and our tribe. We act as hunters, a violent thing, so we do not starve and we go on. We can ask the Inuit why they kill seals. There isn’t damned much of all in the way of vegetables in the arctic. We live in the arctic too.

    I have a twenty two long rifle cartridge rifle. I live in the city. It is a city that pretends to be a small town. Even shooting a bb gun in town is illegal. If I do in fact run out of money and am hungry I will shoot squirrels. Cops may come around to shoot me for breaking the law. I could see the situation as impossible overall. Starvation is no way that I want to go. We fear cannibals, especially the ones that hunt us as we hunt pigs. There are memories in our lives we do not want to have. Cannibalism is a memory neither I or most of humanity wants to live with. Civilization is the creation of warming heart memories. The violence I have committed in order to protect the weak and defenseless makes me smile and be proud of myself.

    Selfish violence I want to deny.
    When you hunt me, I hunt you.

    You started it.

    It is the whole town of Kenosha to be avoided. I see a picture of burning cars lighting the streets with Police tanks roaming the streets and citizens by default running around with guns. This is not civilized behavior. Don’t go to Kenosha for a job. It is no town to move to. Let that town expire.

    Far as violence and non violence, it simply takes both types of acts to make life livable. The Nazis were making a people into beasts as they acted like beasts with noses full of the smell of human sacrifice. We cannot be beasts.

    We must be beasts. We cannot be beasts. We must be beasts.

    “The moral imperative of passionless violence.”
    The TV show “Combat” had as its mission to show soldiers attempting to hold onto their humanity during war. I am not the only one whose father only said a few words about what he experienced as a soldier while we watched that show.
    I know he had a pistol.

    Kyle Rittenhouse went to Kenosha just like other young men went to war. He went as a beast. They were no longer burning cars. It was the job of the Kenosha police to protect the cars. So the job was not his and he went specifically with a rifle to put himself in a position to shoot someone.
    “Absalom,Absalom!” -The greatest tragedy of human life is to live according to the wrong ideals.

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