Asking the Oppressed to Be Nonviolent Is an Impossible Standard That Ignores History

Yves here. It may well be that the circumstances where nonviolent protest can succeed are more limited than Gandhi and Martin Luther King fans would have you believe. Getting a ruling elite to cede significant power historically does seem to require violence. Ask the Visgoths in 476 AD, who I understand stormed Rome after seeking the same status as Roman citizens following many years of doing their dirty work. Or the French after 1789; Simon Schama in his account Citizens stresses the incredible violence of the revolutionary period. Or the Communist Revolution…

The template for success for nonviolent activism is when the authorities lose legitimacy from protestor headbreaking (think for instance, Birmingham’s Bull Connor turning police dogs on civil rights protestors, including children) or when the scale of the protests is so overwhelming that the police realize their safety is at risk (as in they lack the manpower to subdue the crowd). But the powers that be have gotten adept at countering those pressure points. Press blackouts and propagandized coverage can keep official savagery under wraps; the authorities are increasingly getting tanks and other military weapons as well as new crowd control devices like sound guns to give them greater leverage against raw numbers.

This is a cinematic version of how non violent protest works when it works (sorry you can’t watch it locally due to movie police, but it’s worth a gander to YouTube to ave a look):

But as Frederick Douglass warned:

The general sentiment of mankind is that a man who will not fight for himself, when he has the means of doing so, is not worth being fought for by others, and this sentiment is just. For a man who does not value freedom for himself will never value it for others, or put himself to any inconvenience to gain it for others. Such a man, the world says, may lie down until he has sense enough to stand up. It is useless and cruel to put a man on his legs, if the next moment his head is to be brought against a curbstone….

The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

By Justin Podur, a Toronto-based writer and a writing fellow at Globetrotter. You can find him on his website at and on Twitter @justinpodur. He teaches at York University in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change. Produced by Globetrotter

In January 2023, after five police officers killed Tyre Nichols, President Joe Biden quickly issued a statement calling on protesters to stay nonviolent. “As Americans grieve, the Department of Justice conducts its investigation, and state authorities continue their work, I join Tyre’s family in calling for peaceful protest,” said Biden. “Outrage is understandable, but violence is never acceptable. Violence is destructive and against the law. It has no place in peaceful protests seeking justice.”

In June 2022, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Biden made the same call to protesters. “I call on everyone, no matter how deeply they care about this decision, to keep all protests peaceful. Peaceful, peaceful, peaceful,” Biden said. “No intimidation. Violence is never acceptable. Threats and intimidation are not speech. We must stand against violence in any form, regardless of your rationale.”

It is a curious spectacle to have the head of a state, with all the levers of power, not using that power to solve a problem, but instead offering advice to the powerless about how to protest against him and the broken government system. Biden, however, showed no such reluctance to use those levers of power against protesters. During the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, when Biden was a presidential candidate, he made clear what he wanted to happen to those who didn’t heed the call to nonviolence: “We should never let what’s done in a march for equal rights overcome what the reason for the march is. And that’s what these folks are doing. And they should be arrested—found, arrested, and tried.”

In the face of murderous police action, Biden called on protesters to be “peaceful, peaceful, peaceful.” In the face of non-nonviolent protesters, Biden called on police to make sure the protesters were “found, arrested, and tried.”

Are protesters in the United States (and perhaps other countries where U.S. protest culture is particularly strong, like Canada) being held to an impossible standard? In fact, other Western countries don’t seem to make these demands of their protesters—consider Christophe Dettinger, the boxer who punched a group of armored, shielded, and helmeted French riot police until they backed off from beating other protesters during the yellow vest protests in 2019. Dettinger went to jail but became a national hero to some. What would his fate have been in the United States? Most likely, he would have been manhandled on the spot, as graphic footage of U.S. police behavior toward people much smaller and weaker than Dettinger during the 2020 protests would suggest. If he survived the encounter with U.S. police, Dettinger would have faced criticism from within the movement for not using peaceful methods.

There is a paradox here. The United States, the country with nearly 800 military bases across the world, the country that dropped the nuclear bomb on civilian cities, and the country that outspends all its military rivals combined, expects its citizens to adhere to more stringent standards during protests compared to any other country. Staughton and Alice Lynd in the second edition of their book Nonviolence in America, which was released in 1995, wrote that “America has more often been the teacher than the student of the nonviolent ideal.” The Lynds are quoted disapprovingly by anarchist writer Peter Gelderloos in his book How Nonviolence Protects the State, an appeal to nonviolent protesters in the early 2000s who found themselves on the streets with anarchists who didn’t share their commitment to nonviolence. Gelderloos asked for solidarity from the nonviolent activists, begging them not to allow the state to divide the movement into “good protesters” and “bad protesters.” That so-called “antiglobalization” movement faded away in the face of the post-2001 war on terror, so the debate was never really resolved.

For the U.S., the UK, and many of their allies, the debate over political violence goes back perhaps as far as the white pacifists who assured their white brethren, terrified by the Haitian Revolution, which ended in 1804, that abolitionism did not mean encouraging enslaved people to rebel or fight back. While they dreamed of a future without slavery, 19th-century abolitionist pacifists understood, like their countrymen who were the enslavers, that the role of enslaved people was to suffer like good Christians and wait for God’s deliverance rather than to rebel. Although he gradually changed his mind, 19th-century abolitionist and pacifist William Lloyd Garrison initially insisted on nonviolence toward enslavers. Here Garrison is quoted in the late Italian communist Domenico Losurdo’s book Nonviolence: A History Beyond the Myth: “Much as I detest the oppression exercised by the Southern slaveholder, he is a man, sacred before me. He is a man, not to be harmed by my hand nor with my consent.” Besides, he added, “I do not believe that the weapons of liberty ever have been, or ever can be, the weapons of despotism.” As the crisis deepened with the Fugitive Slave Law, Losurdo argued, pacifists like Garrison found it increasingly difficult to call upon enslaved people to turn themselves back to their enslavers without resistance. By 1859, Garrison even found himself unable to condemn abolitionist John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry.

The moral complexities involved in nonviolence in the antiwar movement were acknowledged by linguist, philosopher, and political activist Noam Chomsky in a 1967 debate with political philosopher Hannah Arendt and others. Chomsky, though an advocate for nonviolence himself in the debate, concluded that nonviolence was ultimately a matter of faith:

The easiest reaction is to say that all violence is abhorrent, that both sides are guilty, and to stand apart retaining one’s moral purity and condemn them both. This is the easiest response and in this case I think it’s also justified. But, for reasons that are pretty complex, there are real arguments also in favor of the Viet Cong terror, arguments that can’t be lightly dismissed, although I don’t think they’re correct. One argument is that this selective terror—killing certain officials and frightening others—tended to save the population from a much more extreme government terror, the continuing terror that exists when a corrupt official can do things that are within his power in the province that he controls.”

Then there’s also the second type of argument… which I think can’t be abandoned very lightly. It’s a factual question of whether such an act of violence frees the native from his inferiority complex and permits him to enter into political life. I myself would like to believe that it’s not so. Or at the least, I’d like to believe that nonviolent reaction could achieve the same result. But it’s not very easy to present evidence for this; one can only argue for accepting this view on grounds of faith.

Several writings have sounded the warning that nonviolence doctrine has caused harm to the oppressed. These include Pacifism as Pathology by Ward Churchill, How Nonviolence Protects the State and The Failure of Nonviolence by Peter Gelderloos, Nonviolence: A History Beyond the Myth by Domenico Losurdo, and the two-part series “Change Agent: Gene Sharp’s Neoliberal Nonviolence” by Marcie Smith.

Even the historic victories of nonviolent struggles had a behind-the-scenes armed element. Recent scholarly work has revisited the history of nonviolence in the U.S. civil rights struggle. Key texts include Lance Hill’s TheDeacons for Defense, Akinyele Omowale Umoja’s We Will Shoot Back, and Charles E. Cobb Jr.’s This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed. These histories reveal continuous resistance, including armed self-defense, by Black people in the United States.

Even before these recent histories, we have Robert Williams’s remarkable and brief autobiography written in exile, Negroes With Guns. Williams was expelled from the NAACP for saying in 1959: “We must be willing to kill if necessary. We cannot take these people who do us injustice to the court. … In the future we are going to have to try and convict these people on the spot.” He bitterly noted that while “Nonviolent workshops are springing up throughout Black communities [, n]ot a single one has been established in racist white communities to curb the violence of the Ku Klux Klan.”

As they moved around the rural South for their desegregation campaigns, the nonviolent activists of the civil rights movement often found they had—without their asking—armed protection against overzealous police and racist vigilantes: grannies who sat watch on porches at night with rifles on their laps while the nonviolent activists slept; Deacons for Defense who threatened police with a gun battle if they dared turn water hoses on nonviolent students trying to desegregate a swimming pool. Meanwhile, legislative gains made by the nonviolent movement often included the threat or reality of violent riots. In May 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, for example, after a nonviolent march was crushed, a riot of 3,000 people followed. Eventually a desegregation pact was won on May 10, 1963. One observer argued that “every day of the riots was worth a year of civil rights demonstrations.”

As Lance Hill argues in The Deacons for Defense:

In the end, segregation yielded to force as much as it did to moral suasion. Violence in the form of street riots and armed self-defense played a fundamental role in uprooting segregation and economic and political discrimination from 1963 to 1965. Only after the threat of black violence emerged did civil rights legislation move to the forefront of the national agenda.

Biden’s constant calls for nonviolence by protesters while condoning violence by police are asking for the impossible and the ahistorical. In the crucial moments of U.S. history, nonviolence has always yielded to violence.

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  1. Questa Nota

    Messaging can get confusing when mayors get involved like in DC, Chicago, NYC, Portland and elsewhere. Politics being local, and in theory conduits for local concerns, but in practice also conduits for media and other concerns.

  2. Terry Flynn

    Students of British history know of things like the Peterloo massacre (authorities initiated violence and thereby started huge reform movement) or the Poll Tax riot (which I watched on TV live and immediately knew spelled the end of the Thatcher government even if it might take a little time).

    Violence (initiated by one side or the other) has traditionally led to the necessary reform when it comes to the UK. I’m not condoning it…. Merely making an observation. Plus the powers that be seem to believe this too…. After all, why ban an episode of Star Trek TNG for YEARS from official terrestrial TV broadcast because it included an offhand comment that “violent struggle for rights usually works eventually – see Ireland” (I’m paraphrasing).

    Judge the overlords by what they do, not what they say.

    1. NoFreeWill

      Pacifism as Pathology is the definitive book on this subject in North American left circles… and it’s written by an indigenous person who was part of the American Indian Movement. It’s mostly white people telling others not to be violent, which is an option they (we) usually have that others may not. The left has never been more constrained than today by these people, who usually don’t understand historical context of the success of MLK/Ghandi was conditional on the existence of the Black Panthers/Malcolm X and the centuries of Indian violent resistance to British rule, and Gandhi’s contemporaries who were assassinating British officers/etc.

      1. Michael Fiorillo

        Ward Churchill is a fraud and a plagiarist: his claims of Native ancestry are bogus, and he is a proven plagiarist.

        The article’s author instantly lost credibility by citing him.

        1. Æ

          Nah Churchill recognizes the power of Baudrillard see his chapter in Marxism and Native Americans. This trumps your silly metrics

        2. ArvidMartensen

          I don’t know this man, but a quick look around says that he told some very inconvenient facts re 9/11 in a pretty aggressive way and had a reason to believe his family was of Indian heritage. He was sacked from his academic job and sued the University to get it back.

          After reviewing 17,000 pages of evidence, the American Association of University Professors would later find most of the claims leveled against Churchill “almost entirely false or misleading.” When Churchill sued CU, a jury reached the same conclusion. ”

          It appears as if the right wing went after him for the 9/11 essay, including Liz Cheney. So maybe not so cut and dried as you say. Possibly a right wing hatchet job was done on him.

          And I think we need to look at who gains from pacificism, and its probably the people who are most in favour of others being pacifists so as to keep themselves in power, killing and maiming at will.

          1. Michael Fiorillo

            I read the article in Mother Jones (not an especially credible source these days, given its Russiagate history, but OK) and despite their efforts he comes off about as Native American as Michael Scott in The Office’s classic Diversity Day episode. His statement that “I never claimed I was f#×*ing Sitting Bull” is pure deflection.

            And about those “Little Eichmans” he claims infested the Twin Towers on 9/11/2001: does that include the delivery people who died that day? The cooks and waiters at Windows on the World, the two carpenters I personally knew who, as cruel fate would have it, just happened to be looking at a job in the building?

            I’m old enough to remember white radicals fawning over members of the Black Panther Party who were later revealed as police informers and thugs; the Mother Jones article was a Proustian reminder of that nonsense.

  3. KD

    Its actually a very difficult question. First, true non-violent protest is not non-violent, it invites a violent response from authorities, and in effect re-distributes violence. Second, Gandhi would have had less success if India had been occupied by Nazi Germany instead of the British (and if they hadn’t been broke to boot and reduced to an American Satrap). So, its not actually non-violent, and it can only work with a particular kind of regime, in a particular set of circumstances. On the other hand, violent protests, especially violent protests by racial/ethnic groups can often create a violent backlash among people not sharing an racial/ethnic identity with the violent protesters. For example, the Indian Muslims have calmed down as the Hindus came down hard on violent (Muslim) protests. The violent race riots in the 60’s did as much to elect Nixon as any other factor.

    You hear these calls for violent race riots in America from the left, but I’m not sure they know what they are talking about. I think its similar to the “2nd Amendment remedy” fantasies on the Right. There are no “people of color” as any kind of shared identity outside graduate seminars. If Blacks riot, especially if they impact Hispanics and Asian people and businesses, they might find both a lack of solidarity and a lack of white guilt resulting in an unpleasant backlash. It might actually increase a minority exodus to the GOP and empower Trumpian-style law and order politics. I note there is seems to be a much lower level of tolerance for race riots in SE Asia, and a real multi-cultural America is probably more likely to resorts to sticks than carrots.

    1. Michaelmas

      KD: Gandhi would have had less success if India had been occupied by Nazi Germany instead of the British

      This has been a standard trope over the years. But a major factor — perhaps the major factor — that goes unmentioned is that British authorities were retaining WWII-level RAF forces in the Indian subcontinent with the aim of using them to help suppress the independence movement by force if necessary. Mass “strikes”/mutinies in 1946, by British Royal Air Force servicemen of the non-officer ranks, forestalled that.

      Mutiny in the RAF – Secret History

      Royal Air Force strikes of 1946

      ‘A series of demonstrations and strikes occurred at several dozen Royal Air Force stations in the Indian subcontinent beginning on 22 January 1946. As these incidents involved refusals to obey orders, they technically constituted a form of mutiny. The protests arose in response to slow demobilization and return of British troops to Britain, and use of British shipping facilities for transporting G.I.s. The “mutiny” began at either Maripur or nearby Karachi (RAF Drigh Road) and later spread to involve nearly 50,000 men over 60 RAF stations in India, Ceylon, Burma and as far away as Singapore, Egypt, North Africa, and Gibraltar.[4] The peaceful protests lasted between three and eleven days….’

      ‘the precedent set by this event was important in instigating subsequent actions by the Royal Indian Air Force and later, the Royal Indian Navy in February 1946 in which 78 of a total of 88 ships mutinied. Lord Wavell, Viceroy of India, commented at the time, “I am afraid that [the] example of the Royal Air Force, who got away with what was really a mutiny, has some responsibility for the present situation.”‘

      In other words, if the empire could have suppressed Gandhi and the Indian independence movement, it would have.

      1. KD

        Interesting. I knew Britain was broke, and I knew Britain was dependent on the US, and the US was happy to kill the Empire, but did not realize it was mutiny that turned the tide.

        To take some dates, 1789 ended in Emperor Napoleon and decades of continental war, which was hardly the glorious revolution people were counting on. We know what happen with 1917, but its not clear that the Bolsheviks would have won if the Whites hadn’t been divided so badly amongst themselves. Franco was able to bring everyone together under his banner in Spain and that didn’t work out so well for the Reds. I think the Reds in Iran were pretty annoyed to get pushed out of the way by the Clerical faction. Even if you destroy the existing government and start the revolution, there is no guarantee that your faction or even your political movement comes out on top.

      2. hk

        It was a mistake on the part of the British, in a manner of speaking, to maintain a large “nonprofessional” force in colonies like that. Colonial armies of every empire were highly professionalized for a reason–and that includes the British Indian Army. If I remember right, of course, Britain by 1946 no longer really trusted the Indians, even those of the “martial races,” to fight loyally for the Empire against potential Indian rebels, as the notion of “Indianness” crossing tribal boundaries was becoming increasingly consolidated…

      3. Late Introvert

        So the key is to get the military on the side of the people. I don’t see that happening in the US without major upheaval, but that seems on our plates then, doesn’t it.

        p.s. Hello future readers of the Library of Congress archives!

        1. hk

          Swiss Guards vs the French Guards. To simplify: the French Guards would not shoot the French people; the Swiss did, then the French shot the Swiss.

    2. hk

      It’s really a matter of political calculation, figuring out what has the best chance of “working,” and what “working” means, given the contexts. Speaking of Nazis and violent “protests,” I’d read that the Czech resistance originally wanted to “violently” fight the Nazis, then Lidice reprisals happened, at which point they turned to “nonviolence” (ie sabotaging war industry and such, rather than assassinating Nazi leaders.). To be honest, one does wonder how far Gandhi would have gotten had he sought to take the violent route in 1930s (see 1857).

      Changing the world is hard, with ir without violence.

    3. fjallstrom

      The British could have shot Gandhi. The Nazis undoubtly would have.

      The result would have been a massive, violent uprising. Or as wikipedia puts it:

      Gandhi was released before the end of the war on 6 May 1944 because of his failing health and necessary surgery; the Raj did not want him to die in prison and enrage the nation

      Gandhi was protected by the violent consequences of killing him. Essentially he had positioned himself as a martyr, a living saint, who could dare the occupiers to kill him and suffer the consequences or let him live and postpone the suffering. The British empire, at this point being pretty experienced at the whole empire thing, chose the latter. The British empire had no problem murdering people, it just didn’t needlessly blow up their own support.

      The Nazis liked killing people, but were really crappy at the whole empire thing. Despite having an early model in Denamrk of how they could handle an occupation, they choose not to. Their Reich lasted just 12 years and almost everybody hated them at the end.

      1. Bugs

        But in the end it was the RSS that killed the man. Homegrown fascists who now control the Indian government. Not sure what the lesson is, frankly.

  4. NotTimothyGeithner

    Re: MLK

    Per Julian Bond, reading between the lines of King is a message of my way or Garveyism. MLK wasn’t fighting for equality of African Americans as some kind of trailblazer but what that would mean. This is why MLK and Malcolm X were able to come together. They weren’t that far apart.

    Even the Promised Land rhetoric is important African Americans will be Americans (not in that nonsensical “I don’t see color” Bill O’Reilly nonsense) or well need to find a promised land. The next part was the violent seizure of places other people lived. The most rationale alternative would be a Deep South and Florida new country with migration out of Chicago, crushing US industry.

  5. Paul Art

    Nice article and surprising as well to read in NC. 1789 and 1917 sent a message out but the rich have been very successful in burying it. While some may wish for a similar message more brutal and merciless than 1789 and 1917 in the present day, we still don’t have that kind of Capitalism, the one Stalin characterized as, “the most savage” leading up to 1917 that birthed the revolution. One cannot help but wonder if the lack of a Gold standard that allows free money printing by the Fed satiates the 0.1% greed which helps them in not oppressing the 99% into a 1917 type action. We still have SS and Medicare, Unemployment Insurance, the 8-hour day (at least for a majority?) etc. The disgruntled in flyover land are not numerous enough to form any kind of critical mass for anything other than a Jan 6 style fizzle pop. They are like a 5000 man army with 100,000 guns. One person can only fire one gun at a time? Election turnouts are still not low enough to indicate disaffection levels that might prompt violence. Most people still have something to lose ergo lack of cannon fodder. Violent protest needs cannon fodder with a sizeable number of the “nothing to lose-ers”?

  6. Carolinian

    Since this an article about “history” then one can easily say that of course violence gets results. The question is what results? Will you merely be replacing one set of corrupt oppressors with another? The reasoning behind MLK and the civil rights movement was the same as Gandhi–to create not even a moral example but more an example of reason versus unreason. In such circumstances martyrdom will happen, Jesus will be crucified, Yellow Vests will have their heads bashed or lose eyes to rubber bullets. All those pacifists may exemplify a higher form of courage. Mass consciousness needs those willing to set an example and pay a price.

    And one should also be careful about what constitutes “the oppressed.” Clearly there’s a problem with the police but if you take away the police those poor neighborhoods will often face violence from other directions. I think the above is a hugely complicated question and not subject to easy conclusions. Just because our dubious president is for something doesn’t mean we should be against it.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Gandhi didn’t free India. Nehru did. Anyting Gandhi did was against the backdrop of 6 million under arms and negotiations with the Soviets.

      Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

      Don’t let peace, love, dope language cloud this message. Here is where he gets the last line.

      He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored,
      He has loosed the fateful lightening of His terrible swift sword
      His truth is marching on.

      Who went to the Mountaintop and saw the Promised Land? Moses. Who succeeded Moses? The Reverend King wasn’t a local yahoo minister stringing together random references that make people feel good because they go, “oh yeah, Jesus, I remember him…around Christmas, friends with Rudolph?”

      This is what comes next.

      1. Carolinian

        The whole question of John Brown and his moldering body is itself quite complicated. It’s not ahistorical to say that while the South fought the Civil War over slavery the North did not. The resulting titanic slaughter settled the legal question but it did not do away with racism and exploitation–North and South. Violence is something that takes place on the level of survival, not the battle of ideas. For years after the war the South was able to play the victim with considerable Northern sympathy, many in the North blaming it all on the blacks and their presence here.

        Perhaps ideas and reason don’t matter but that’s more Conservative thinking than Liberal. Gandhi planted the seed as did MLK. It took time to grow.

        1. hk

          I think it is accurate to say that the South got violent because of slavery and much, if not most, of the North got violent because the South did. This probably shaped the history of the 100 years after the Civil War.

          1. Carolinian

            The firing on Fort Sumter is another case that isn’t totally what it seems. Some say Lincoln deliberately maneuvered for it to happen and provide an excuse to invade the South and put down the rebellion.

            Don’t get me wrong. Our SC forbears (not mine personally) were monsters and should be seen as such.But elsewhere in the South, such as the border states, support for slavery had become far more ambivalent. Indeed this was one reason the firebrands were insistent on a secession they thought would settle the question in their favor. The Lost Cause claim that the hard core slavers were going to eventually give up willingly was a fiction.

            1. hk

              I know what you are talking about: in my occasional neck of the woods, envoys from (Louisiana) Governor Moore (one of whom was Braxton Bragg, I think) delivered an ultimatum to the federal arsenal at Baton Rouge as soon as the state seceded, which was duly surrendered to the state militia–same thing that took place everywhere in the South, including, in a sense, at Fort Sumter as well. What made Fort Sumter stand out was that it took a day’s shelling before the Federals gave up–which, I suppose, was inevitable. But, at the same time, though, many military people do think surrendering without a “fight” is dishonorable: there were several isolated fortresses, as late as World War 2 (I want to say it was either Lorient or St. Nazaire, where German garrisons were holed up months after D-Day) where the garrison commanders actually requested a bit of theatrical shelling before they surrendered. Still, engaging in actions of open violence at awkward times does get people riled up on the other side….

        2. JBird4049

          My apologies for the long excerpt. I think that getting a better understanding of President Lincoln’s thoughts is important.

          I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.

          I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free.

          The Peculiar Institution was the root cause of the Civil War, as it was the Southern Slavocracy that dictated the steps to that war. The goal of the Southern elites, which were centered on its plantation class was not to maintain slavery. That was not enough. It was to strengthen and expand it. As long as they believed they had a chance of this while part of the United States, they remained a part of the Union.

          This is the reason for the violent, occasionally lethal, almost total suppression of the Southern abolitionists, the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, guerrilla warfare in Kansas and Missouri, the judicial corruption, which included bribery and threats of violence against the judges and sheriffs, the roving bands of heavily armed kidnappers who were fine with murder, and finally duels, beatings, and other unpleasantness by its supporters in the North against even mild opprobrium.

          Once Abraham Lincoln won the election, they assumed that being an opponent of slavery he would do two things; continue to block the westward expansion of slavery and seek to end it. It is probable that the slave owners could have kept slavery going for some generations, if they had not been determined to have it all their way. They were trying to expand their system of slavery all the way through Central America, the West Coast, and Cuba. Once Lincoln had won the election, they knew that they could not get everything they wanted and took the South out of the Union and formed the Confederacy.

  7. CoryP

    The journey of this site’s attitudes towards such things echoes my own. It’s remarkable and heartening to see. I don’t have anything useful to say other than thanks for cross posting Justin Podur.

  8. Hayek's Heelbiter

    “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

    ~ John F. Kennedy on the first anniversary of the Alliance for Progress, 13th March 1962

  9. Societal Illusions

    Change always comes at a cost, if only in the fear that can arise. Action leads to outcomes, and inaction leads to the status quo. Thus the wonderfully insightful and clear Frederick Douglas describes the tension brilliantly.

    When my needs are threatened, I will react. But first I will compute long term vs short term costs against the potential gains. I don’t expect I am alone in this. When the short term pain of inaction falls enough below the anticipated long term pain, the ball is set in motion.

    Is injustice a form a violence? Is it morally correct to harm or kill when someone is harming or trying to kill me?

    Has history not demonstrated that given certain circumstances violence is warranted? – that the cost of the corrective violence, in the end, must be less than the cost of enduring the current violence? The “greater good?”

    When I’m winning off someone else’s back and they are OK with it, no change will occur. When they stop participating, what will I do then?

    I wonder if the non-violence option is removing consent. By refusing to comply, I am no longer complicit. But some things aren’t options: eating, breathing, sleeping. When those are threatened what level of violence is not justified to eliminate that threat?

    When systemic consent is removed and non-compliance threatens the needs of those who are the powerful and can exert effective influence on the situation or the system, then change can happen.

    Desperation or Inspiration – pick one. Hope picks inspiration – doing what is right because it is right. Desperation is more immediate, for sure.

  10. PlutoniumKun

    Arguably the first modern mass non-violent political movement was the Irish Catholic Emancipation movement led by Daniel O’Connell from the late 18th Century to the 19th Century. This was based around massive illegal but peaceful ‘monster meetings’ around the country. This movement had a major influence on Frederick Douglass (who actually visited ‘O’Connell) and later Gandhi. But it was always implicit – and occasionally stated explicitly by O’Connell – that its success was based on the underlying threat that it could turn violent. Without this implicit threat, such movements rarely succeed, as CND or the anti-Iraq war protestors can attest. In the latter case, it was always interesting to me that the Labour government of the time was much more nervous about pro-foxhunting protestors at the time than the anti-war movement. They suspected the capacity of the former to turn nasty, and they usually had guns.

    Violence though is of course a double edged sword, as the State and establishment almost always has more and better guns. Violence rarely works unless there is a coherent political structure behind it – which is why governments often try to provoke a violent response – it allows them to behead opposition groups before they get a chance to create a real alternative.

  11. Cat Burglar

    The article closes with the Birmingham desegregation campaign example. Movement leaders identified the local merchants as the power group they could pressure by boycott, protest marches, sit-ins, and voter registration. A court order banned the protests, leaders went to jail, and protests continued under violent attack by local government (that was when the riots occurred, and violence seems to have been introduced as a tactic by police, not the marchers). Higher powers intervened to mediate, and local merchants required suspension of protests as a good faith gesture for negotiations, which succeeded. The need to restore business as usual trumped all — the movement had demonstrated the power to stop everything, or to allow it to continue.

    Birmingham demonstrated popular control of the creation of the conditions of existence — popular power. Developing the power to turn society on or off by the decision of popularly run organizations is the key. Sheriff O’Connor employed the most violence, and lost the contest.

  12. Kouros

    The state has always the threat of violence behind it. So the citizenry better responds in kind. However, the strategic goal should be to replace the system that has been built for decades, and centuries and not to replace one head with another and one clique with another, the way all the modern revolutions so far have achieved. Partial exception goes for the Bolshevik one, where private ownership was destroyed as the golden calf; however, they removed the democratic process and formed a clique.

    Only a random selection of representatives from the population can have a chance to forestall the oligarchic push for political and economic control. For a longer period of time, long enough that people remember. Because it seems that, according to The Dawn of History, we have had experienced such things in the past, but they were forgotten or twisted beyond recognition by the “victors”.

    I am also of the opinion that beheaded heads cannot pass on memes…

  13. Retired Carpenter

    A few relevant quotes in some sort of order:
    Fiery but mostly peaceful protests after police shooting”, CNN national correspondent Omar Jimenez, 2020
    Many individual idealists are taking the justified position that the best way to bring unethical groups under ethical control is to disassociate themselves clearly from the unethical conduct of the group, at whatever cost. Too few of them have realized that, if such action is to be morally redemptive, it must disassociate the individual not only from the policy of using physical force but from the policy of insisting on material advantages which destroy human fellowship and make the use of force necessary.” Niebuhr, A Critique of Pacifism, 1927
    “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” – Nietzsche , Beyond Good and Evil, 1886
    Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” Thucydides, The Melian Dialogue, History of the Peloponnesian War, ~400 BC(E)
    – “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, 1849.

    Seems like circular “progress”.

    Retired Carpenter

  14. Gulag

    “In the end, segregation yielded to force as much as it did to moral suasion.”

    Maybe not.

    As Christopher Lasch argued long ago:

    “By addressing their oppressors not only as fellow sinners but as fellow Southerners King and his followers exposed the moral claims of the white supremacist regime in the South to the most damaging scrutiny and the appeal to a common regional past was probably just as important, in the eventual victory over segregation as the appeal to profound and absolute unities. King always believed even in the face of what sometimes must have seemed overwhelming evidence to the contrary that there are great resources of goodwill in the Southern White man that we must somehow tap.”

    1. hk

      The importance of this observation is that “violence” usually leads to an endgame where one group or the other has to disappear: they can no longer live next to each other as neighbors if things go too far. It is easy for people far away to moralize violence, but locals have to think deeper.

      1. Old Jake

        Maybe the most trenchant observation in this discussion. We tend to see action as either violent or nonviolent, but of course there is a wide variety of actions that can be termed violent. If we recognize that we must continue, for whatever reason, to coexist with those in whom we seek change, then the actions must be tuned to that end.

        To change social relationships in a planned and directed manner when the initiator and principal driving agent is not the one in power is a very difficult thing to do. And it is very easy, once the effort is in motion, for it to be hijacked by a self-interested agent. I doubt very much that a “handbook” for such plans can be created, though perhaps a set of guidelines akin to Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” could be assembled.

        1. Susan the other

          “…when the driving agent is not the one in power.” When the driving agent is the planet, maybe even the sun and the cosmos. Yet we continue to live inside a human-symbol bubble. God will smite us for being naughty so we all need to get along. Let’s change that thought. For a foolproof overriding cause we can all embrace let’s just dump materialism and embrace environmentalism.

  15. TMoney

    Even if violence is effective, in any activist organization in the US today, the person suggesting violence is the FBI informant / undercover operative.

  16. voislav

    In my personal experience, taking violence off the table is like fighting with one hand behind your back. Violent protests are more effective, they create more media coverage and therefore heighten awareness of the issues. There might be some short term blow back, but generally most causes benefit from increased awareness and subsequent discussion on the issues that led to the violence. I am not saying one should default to violence, but it even threats of violence can be very effective in advancing one’s agenda.

    I find that people who advocate exclusively for peaceful protests are people that are: 1) part of the establishment and are looking to divert accumulated outrage to a relatively safe outlet, or 2) outside the establishment, but looking to leverage themselves into the establishment, buy a seat at the table. Peaceful protests are a way of telling the establishment that you are the right partner, as you are willing to rock the boat, but not hard enough to overturn it. Violence or threats of violence signal that you are willing to do anything to achieve your goals, including sinking the boat.

  17. Mildred Montana

    “No ruling class has ever abolished or even reformed itself.”—Gore Vidal

    Exhibit A: Louis XVI. For the first two years of the French Revolution the new constituent assembly was willing to promulgate a constitutional monarchy with Louis as titular head. At first he pretended to play along with the idea. But then in 1791 he attempted to flee to Austria, ostensibly to raise a pro-aristocrat, counter-revolutionary force. He was captured at the border and returned to Paris.

    And that was the end of him and the monarchy. By refusing to yield his “divine right to rule” and accept a new order of things he forced the new government’s hand. In the face of such still-powerful and intransigent resistance, it necessarily resorted to violence. Louis XVI lost his head in 1793, triggering the Terror of 1793-94 where many aristocrats and clergy lost theirs also.

    Poor privileged, entitled, stubborn, stupid man. His foolish obstinacy in the face of the inevitable cost him his life and that of many others.

  18. lyman alpha blob

    Small possible correction on the intro, although I may be mistaken myself going from memory.

    Those Goths whacked Rome more than once. I believe the citizenship request came from Alaric who showed up with his armies to threaten Rome in 410, when it was still relatively powerful. He gave the Romans the option of granting them full citizenship, which he felt was only fair since he and the Goths had fought and won so many battles for Rome in the past. The Romans refused, and they wrecked the place.

    By the time 476 rolled around, Rome was already in great decline and the Goths were basically beating a dead horse at that point.

  19. Darnell

    Let’s focus on today and tomorrow. Until Norfolk Southern puts a couple billion into escrow to completely clean up the environment in the Ohio train wreck site, plus guarantee to pay the town’s medical bills, maybe buy houses and property ruined by their money saving move, until then, maybe the townspeople can continually block the tracks?

    1. Mr Robert Christopher

      Before you pass sentence, perhaps a proper investigation is needed.

      “They derailed the East Palestine train directly over a drainage culvert. The drainage pond feeds into streams which feed into the Ohio River. Look how the orange train car is tipped right over the drainage culvert, a deliberate act of terrorism against the America.–Julian Rum”

      Is this fake news?
      Who are ‘they’?

      1. CNu

        A long time ago in a final-four office suite far, far away – I was handsomely compensated to organize, lead, and document network penetration tests against corporate clients interested in reducing their critical infrastructural risk exposure. This activity occupied a precarious interstice within audit and accounting due to its tendency to yield unpredictably highly material findings. The audit partners simultaneously loved, hated, and feared us because while we always gave them something sexy to talk about with their clients, we almost always gave them something quite obscene to talk about with their clients as well, i.e., something that would have a significant material impact on their financial statements if truthfully disclosed.

        If the train derailment over the drainage culvert and into the Ohio river was intentional, this would comprise what I sarcastically used to refer to as a “military-backed criminal super-hack”. So much accumulated and real-time insider information would be required to set up a transaction like this, that really only insiders coupled with technical experts could pull it off.

        That’s some Seymour Hersch level isht right thurr….,

        If true, it comprises the minimum baseline level of violence required to unseat the vampire squids with their blood funnels crammed down our throats.

        1. JBird4049

          I am all for a good conspiracy especially as they appear to be SOP with our Beloved Leaders, but I also believe in Murphy Law’s. Anything that can go wrong, will.

  20. ven

    I don’t really see how non-violence will ever succeed in radically over-throwing elite interests. At best, it will win some concessions for a period, which over time will get gradually whittled away, as exemplified by social security nets, education, healthcare etc. But the plutocracy remains in control.

    This is a critical reason why China and India diverged. China overthrew both the colonialists, but also the Chinese elites that supported them. India, under Gandhi and Nehru, persuaded the British to leave, and simply allowed the Indian elites to step into their shoes; so no real change to the existing Indian oligarchy. Look at where India and China are today.

    1. JBird4049

      >>>China overthrew both the colonialists, but also the Chinese elites that supported them.

      And from what I can see, with my limited understanding and from far away the Chinese just replicated the old imperial system, which has been finalized by Xi who overturned the system put in place after Mao to prevent long term autocratic rule by a single individual. I think the Chinese are stronger, but it is like the strength of cast iron. Strong, but brittle. The Indians, while not as strong, seem to me to be more malleable. The cracks it has are less likely to shattered the whole piece.

      The United States is suffering from the Chinese disease of over-centralizing of power with much, although by no means all, of the power dictated by the power of the gun. However, the Chinese are apparently spreading some of the wealth, unlike the American elites who can’t seem to find a way of getting wealthy without impoverishing and killing people, including their fellow Americans.

      There is also the problem of imposed and limited kind of Americanism (and Sinicization) that favors the increasing power of the central authorities over anything else.

  21. Starry Gordon

    Of course the powerful, rich, and well-connected are going to recommend non-violence to the poor, which is much more convenient for them. One notices that their state does not avoid violence, indeed, often revels in it.

    However, the revolutionaries have to consider the costs of violence. One of them is that to get anything fundamental done, they will have to abandon their normal business and conduct of life and organize themselves militarily, because that is the mode of social organization which is the most effective under conditions of force and coercion. As noted more than once above, standing behind many nonviolent movements was the potential of violence if the nonviolence failed. And standing behind the violence is a resumption of the very state against which the revolution began, although it may be given new names and decor. Avoiding a descent into violence may turn out to be not only virtuous but rational. But only when it is possible.

    1. Michael Fiorillo

      A prolonged general strike combined with mass street mobilizations is an effective and non-violent way to bring down a regime. Given the truth of what you say about the State’s use of violence, it’s one of the only ways.

  22. Cat Burglar

    Violence is often not defined when it is discussed as a political tactic.

    When I organized protests for an environmental group, we were pretty strict: it meant no person gets hurt, and no property gets damaged or broken. If you were anchoring a protest banner to a bridge using metal cable, that cable was always plastic coated to keep from cutting through the paint down to metal. One time a team spent a few hours the night before an action wrapping the metal caribiners in tape to keep them from marring the brickwork on a smokestack. Gaining entry to an industrial facility always had to be done without breaking and entering, which kept us from getting onto the roof of a state capitol building one time. It helped us when we went to court — we had only committed misdemeanors.

    A standard police practice was to tell people hanging off some structure that they had received a phone threat to drop something (hanging off a bridge once, protesting nuclear weapons on a Navy ship passing under us, they said they had a threat somebody would drop a refrigerator onto the battleship, and we’d be charged with attempted murder if we dropped anything). Sometimes a business would threaten a lawsuit if they lost money, but it never happened, probably because they knew it meant more exposure of what we were protesting. We often stumbled onto very serious security and safety breaches that someone with malign intent could have exploited, and activists in jail always joked with each other that the authorities would be shaking our hands, not prosecuting us, if they knew how bad it could be. The only team that did serious time had federal charges for hanging a banner off Mount Rushmore.

    So is plain property destruction violence? Nobody gets hurt, so it is not a tangible harm to any person. If it is violence, then is the money lost when a business is shut down from a boycott or a sit-in or a strike a comparable harm, a kind of abstract violence? Anti-terror laws seem to hold that any illegal act committed with political intent is terror, but law and morals are not the same thing: an illegal act might be the right thing to do morally.

    There is a large ambiguous range of tactics between violence (hurting people) and non-violence. The thousand student marchers in Birmingham that defied the court order against protests (“the rioters”) had to know there would be official violence against them, and went anyway. Let’s say a group against police violence blocks police cars inside the garage using a sit-in — that isn’t just a protest, it is direct action: they are using their power to stop patrols they oppose. There is vast scope scope for resistance.

  23. ChristopherJ

    Thank you, Yves. Very topical given tomorrow’s (it’s Saturday here already) Rage against the war rally. Will not be surprised if there is a sizeable number of uniformed and non-uniformed police and agency ‘types’ present. Their job will be to inflame the rage through violence so that Biden’s thugs can move in, crack heads and arrest protestors. I hope not, but I remember occupy. Stay safe

  24. dcblogger

    the civil rights movement did not depend upon moral persuasion of their example, but the coercion of non-cooperation. they won the bus boycott because the bus company needed their fairs.

    in my opinion (I was 12 years old at the time of the Watts riots) white opinion began to shift against civil rights after the riots.

    I would argue further, except an entire book has been written about the practicality of non-violent non cooperation.

  25. dcblogger

    the 3 most common tactics of informers, sexual exploitation, entrapment on a drugs charge (or controlling a weak person thru access to drugs), or entrapping on a weapons charge.

    1. JBird4049

      And the lower the class of the target or less white, the more likely that felony entrapment will be used. I would also add that many of the drug and gun control laws are often little enforced against middle class whites, but against the poor and working classes as well as those of darker complexion.

      Since the law at every level is overly complex and often abstruse, it is easy for the police, district attorneys and the judiciary to legal crush people that they do not like; drug use is about the same across class and race lines, but look at the percentages of those incarcerated.

      A black person is more likely to be searched, more likely to be charged, be charged more severely, more likely to be convicted, and will likely receive a heavier sentence that a white person, everything else being equal. The same is true across class lines. If you compare two people of the same sex and race, but different classes, it is the lower class that will be treated more harshly. This is not just about having greater resources to pay for a legal defense, although that is a part of it, merely being of a higher or lower class will help or hurt the accused.

      That is not to say that the rates of crime or the kinds of crimes committed in different communities are the same, but just who goes to prison, the people who illegally foreclose on (steal) a house, or the person who commits burglary? The person who illegally opens fraudulent checking accounts on unsuspecting customers, and charges outrageous fees, or the one who passes a bad check?

      Laws that are passed will always fall more heavily on the poor and minorities. Sometimes, the laws are implicitly not meant to be enforced on anyone else, but of course, no one can say that.

      The reason the police usually get away with outrageous crimes including theft, rape, and murder is because they are the designated good guys, the thin blue line between civilization with its Good People and the howling mob. They often commit crime as well as create the conditions for violent crime, often carried out as personal justice, is also ignored; the king’s peace is likely the start of the slow decrease in violent crime, particularly murder. In exchange for not killing people, the government would enforce the laws especially those against violence. Around the world, the most violent areas are where the police are the criminals or at least perceived to be. Does one call a criminal gang for help? If there are no police, just how do you defend yourself or get justice?

      Then again, the worst policing most often happens in economic sacrifice zones where the poor are confined.

  26. Not Qualified to Comment

    First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

    —Martin Niemöller

    Nice sentiment, but had he spoken out for the socialists they would have come for him then.

    Better, surely to claim “When they came for the socialists WE did not speak out…” and if ‘we’ are sufficiently numerous ‘they’ will not dare to push their luck. This, surely, is the reverse side of the Democracy coin. It is only when ‘we’ are not sufficiently numerous to intimidate ‘them’ without violence that violence raises its ugly head as our only recourse – but in that case who is this ‘we’ and for whom do we speak?

    1. JBird4049

      >>>Nice sentiment, but had he spoken out for the socialists they would have come for him then.

      In 1932, the Socialists were the moderates, being as they were to the right of the communists, but were destroyed by the combined, allied efforts of the Communists and the Nazis who did not want there to be an attractive alternative to their political parties; it would be better to say that had he spoken out for the socialists, either or both parties of the communists and Nazis would have come after him.

  27. Skip Intro

    I was surprised to see no mention of the Mothers’ Movements, which seem to be able to influence some pretty violent, authoritarian regimes. I was reminded of this seeing Ukrainian wives and mothers mobbing a Ukrainian press gang trying rounding up conscripts for the meat grinder. The most committed nazis nationalists may be willing to gun them down, but many other soldiers seem to flinch from this.

  28. ian

    The real question what the consequences of violence while protesting should be if you’re caught. Suppose someone throws a rock through my window claiming that he was protesting some injustice – despite my not even knowing him. Should I be able to press charges or sue? Why should I have to eat the cost of the window?
    If there are no consequences, people will do all kinds of bad things, claiming they are oppressed.

  29. bojang bugami

    If one is going to do practical thinking about violence, one might spare a few moments to analyzing various kinds of violence the governing authorities will use against political movement people, and how those movement people might take direct countermeasures against particular violence application technologies.

    Large numbers of people in close-packed or at least close-ordered groups should be prepared to withstand or avoid or neutralize the kinds of crowd suppression technologies which will be used well short of the massed machine guns rung of the crowd control escalation ladder.

    One such “less lethal” anti-groups technology would be microwave weapons, such as the Ratheon field mobile “oven ray”. In that spirit, here is an interesting video I just came across called ” Defeating Microwave Weapons! – Part 1

  30. Robert Gray

    “In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience.”
    — Stokely Carmichael

    And there’s the rub, since the 1%, along with their lackeys and enforcers, are obviously altogether lacking in such a moral compass. ‘Hiring half of the working class to suppress the other half’ was once hyperbole but with the expansion and militarisation of police forces nowadays the real question is: What is wrong with these people (i.e., the enforcers)? Whatever happened to class consciousness?

    More people talk about 1984 than have actually read it; it’s really quite scary. Just as powerful is Jack London’s far less-known The Iron Heel. Things happen there that could be straight out of today’s news — not, of course, on the MSM but on the uncensored, alternative sources that we here follow.

  31. Peter Nightingale

    “Asking the Oppressed to Be Nonviolent …” is an incorrect framing if nonviolence is viewed as a strategy rather than a moral imperative. Erika Chinoweth discusses the strategy and its likely outcomes in detail in this presentation about the 3.5% rule.

    Jonathan Schell summarized his observations in The Unconquerable World as follows: “Violence is the means, as all dictators have known, whereby the few dominate and exploit the many. Nonviolence is the means by which the many can reclaim their rights and advance their interests.”

  32. Jack

    Author begins his article by confusing various levers of power. Although there are interactions between federal , state and local law enforcement agencies, they are suppose to be separate . Biden cannot press his “levers of power” to solve murders. Writer makes a leap by suggesting that Biden had no problem using those “levers of power” back in 2020.
    This type of writing may be passable Marxist rhetoric, but it’s not a solution. Violence is not a solution .
    Perhaps we can begin with some definitions : who is oppressed ? Is it certain racial groups ? Is it the 90% working for the 10%?
    Is it the new immigrants (asylum seekers , etc .)?
    Is it our children who have regular drills in case a gunman enters their premises?
    Is it women who continue to face constant attacks in so many forms ?
    Maybe it’s the gay community in its many forms ?
    Maybe it’s the unemployed or illiterate or perhaps it’s the disabled who cannot speak for themselves ?
    I am sure you can add but writers like the above continue to tear down one of the best countries in the world . Perhaps they could use that energy and find positive solutions.

  33. Cetra Ess

    I would recommend Joseph P Martino’s ‘Resistance to Tyranny: A Primer’ as essential reading on this topic. He reviews the history of violent and non-violent resistance, worldwide, going back to the Chinese dynasties, with a view to learning what have been the most effective forms of resistance.

    He notes some patterns, such as that tyrannical governments always disarm a population as a first step, which is what I think Biden is essentially trying to do, in a way, when he calls for non-violence.

    Martino concludes the historical evidence would appear to support that violent or non-violent revolt are historically successful most often when used in combination.

    I’m reminded that for nearly 100 years the woman’s suffrage movement was not able to achieve women’s right to vote, despite every possible non-violent method of protest and especially despite numbers, unity and male allies. It was only until they started resorting to violence, sabotage and blowing stuff up that they were finally successful. I think this will be the same pattern with American anti-Black racism, also looking like it will need to be how police violence and impunity will need to be finally overcome, the two being intricately related – since, after all, American police are historically descended from the KKK, a heck of an evil spirit to exorcize.

  34. Eclair

    During Occupy, another woman and myself led a months long discussion group on non-violence as a philosophy and a tactic. It was an interesting experience. We focused primarily on Gandhi and MLK.

    We didn’t compare and contrast with violent revolutions: the French violent overthrow of the Bourbons, the Russian violent overthrow of the Romanov dynasty, the Chinese overthrow of the Ching dynasty. The last two, I believe, involved a good bit of land reform and redistribution, breaking up the vast estates of the ruling class and parceling them off to the peasantry. They were, as well, internal revolutions, rather than kicking out foreign troops and rulers. As compared to India, or Ireland, where the ‘native’ peoples were tossing out foreign occupiers.

    I occasionally wonder if the existential animosity the US ruling blob feels towards Russia and China is due to the fact that both these nations tossed out their ruling classes and confiscated/ redistributed their enormous wealth, pretty successfully. Kind of, ‘this could happen to us, if we let this kind of behavior go unchallenged.’

    Another situation I have been pondering: what is the difference between ‘revolution’ and ‘resistance?’ (Or maybe I have watched too many Star Wars films!) Does the latter build up to the former? Does a vigorous resistance movement provide time and opportunity to build up a network of leaders who are ready to step in and counter the inevitable chaos that results when the status quo is destroyed? How much of a resistance movement involves non-violent versus property-destroying actions, e.g., sabotage? And, how does any resistance movement prevent, identify and neutralize the infiltrators that will be sent in by the ruling elite? Asking for a friend.

  35. jrkrideau

    Considering the origins of the USA it is a bit ironic that its president is say violence is never the answer.

  36. thoughtful person

    Late, very late, as often happens.

    FWIW I think there is a reason that control of the narrative is so important. Why else do the powers of be spend half, or maybe more, of never disclosed covert budgets on propaganda (see Pike report for one bit if evidence). I’d argue more still is spent in supporting acceptable news and entertainment corporations (through ad purchases, investments etc).

    As Frederick Douglass wrote, “injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.”

    Douglass mentioned agitation, which reminds me of Emma Goldman’s “educate, agitate, organize!” mantra.

    In the history of revolutions to date, most involved violence, and many did not change much in the end. If we want lasting change I would put money on consciousness raising, creating some culture such as songs, and organizing around concrete material benefits.

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