Is Nonviolence a Tactic, Policy, or Principle?
Is Violence Pragmatic and Necessary?
Both can be ineffective. Both can be effective.
It’s not Violence vs. Nonviolence.
It’s Violence and Nonviolence, and
how they’re leveraged for success.
Violence, nonviolence, and civil disobedience are tools in the great struggle against tyranny and oppression. They have been used in the great class war against the Global Financial and Political Elites. They still are. These tools are strategies and tactics based upon values and principles. Violence and nonviolence are no more anything else than the term Global War on Terrorism is rife with misnomers. Terror is a feeling. It’s an immediate physiological response to a reactive emotion. Flight or fight or freeze and still piss your pants. Terrorism is a tactic in crime and war. It’s been pointed out repeatedly one cannot wage a military campaign against tactics. Instead, one does so with strategies and tactics against enemies using terror as a tactic.
Many of us confuse nonviolence with being a rigid “thing.” Growing numbers of people continue to feel inspired by the fierce stands Mahatma Gandhi and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., took for nonviolence. Ironically, both were murdered almost 20 years apart during periods of violent civil strife. Their deaths sparked even greater outbreaks of violence.
Even so, many people view nonviolence as an inviolate colonnade of pillars holding up temples of peace as if such abstractions of mind existed out in the physical world. Nonviolence, a tool, has come to be regarded as religious doctrine by many people. Instead of a tactic, however, it’s another invisible but real, to them, flying buttress supporting the invisible architecture of an abstract cathedral. By doing so, these believers in the holiness of this abstract tool risk bringing everything they stand for collapsing down upon them in bloody ruin.
The proponents of nonviolence, upholding Gandhi and King and even Buddha and Jesus, often dismiss or suppress any challenge to nonviolence. Who would dare question nonviolence? I imagine the Global Elites and the security and intelligence apparatus under their control appreciate being the only ones to dispense violence while not receiving any in turn. Nonviolence helps keeps them in power.
Don’t make any abstraction of mind so rigid an ideology it cripples effective action. It doesn’t matter if it’s politics, religion, economics, or tradition. Those nouns, those words stand for concepts with definitions held within the abstract mind. Which means we make it all up in our heads and call it “real.” If enough people agree yes, it’s real indeed, and then we label it “consensual reality.” And so we go, as brilliantly collapsed as ever. All abstractions are tools.
The most effective toolboxes have a modest variety of choices. It is the same during resistance against oppression and struggles for justice, equality, and liberty. We struggle against the class war of the financial elites, against institutionalized racism, corporatism, sexism, corruption, and fascism. We struggle for social, environmental, and economic justice. We struggle for power. Aye, we struggle for the power to determine our own lives together.
We move beyond begging and whining to make requests. We move beyond requests to make demands. If once again dismissed as those who dare make demands for what we supposedly don’t deserve even tho we work our asses off building civilization even under the lash of imperialists and capitalists, we will rise up and take it as we stand in our power. We the tired, the hungry, the working classes, the middle classes, the small business entrepreneurs, the unemployed and underemployed, the homeless, the debt slaves, the wage slaves, the professional who just wants to help people but struggles to keep his or her practice alive, the fed up, the pissed off, the disabled, those exploited for their patriotism only to be blown up and shot down, the unjustly imprisoned, the persecuted, those who are sick and tired of being declared by the privileged classes as “victims who brought it all upon themselves,” those who work hard and work smart and work together and work apart and still cannot make it, those who are beyond fed up with being called lazy and dirty and ignorant, those who are DONE with being labeled whiners by rich folks bloated with affluenza who cannot understand our desperation, those who have HAD it with being dismissed and disrespected because we dare to declare we intend to overthrow your asses and not allow you deranged capitalist fascists to hide amongst us behind some We the People bullshit after your lust for wealth has plundered and destroyed the commonwealth of our Planet Earth.
So, what’s it gonna be? Violence? Or nonviolence? Or civil disobedience with a savvy, edgy creative verve? I love having choices, and I love having choices of tools and tactics.
Use what works. Let’s stand for nonviolence first. Who wants to get hurt anyway? So, how did nonviolence work? What results were generated? What was effective, and what wasn’t? Now, who wants to stand there and be brave while being mowed down and blown up or arrested, detained, tortured, raped, mutilated, skinned alive, and disappeared? For turning a tactic into a pillar of inviolate principle?
Any success any practitioner of nonviolence achieves derives directly from the oppressor’s degree of unwillingness to slaughter people to crush rebellion. Martin Luther King, Jr., toward the end of his life, is thought to have contemplated the futility of nonviolence in certain if not many situations. Did he wonder what if any would justify violence? We do not know for sure. He was assassinated as he had come to oppose the Vietnam War, more for its imperialism, racism, enrichment of the military-industrial-intelligence complex, and the distraction the war proved to be from the dual struggle for Civil Rights and economic democracy.
King seems to have understood in rare cases sometimes war may be a just cause, as it was against the Nazis. Suppose, however, the White supremacists and racist segregationists chose to machine gun down peaceful Civil Rights protestors after tiring of hosing them with water cannons? Kill them in such shockingly fearful numbers people either stood there and died in droves or fled in terror?
Would you support those who survived to run off, grab weapons and training, and return to fight back against the racists in power, to rise up in violent insurrection? Look at the Arab Spring today. Consider Libya and Syria. Those gruesome wars continue in those countries. If peaceful protestors had remained nonviolent, they would’ve eventually all been killed or worse, tortured horribly. So the survivors took up arms, not knowing what outcomes may transpire. Three years later they’re still fighting each other.
A Hindu fanatic assassinated Mahatma Gandhi during the mass violence gripping the Indian Subcontinent in 1946-1948 during the Wars of Partition. Well over a million people were killed with tens of millions more uprooted from their homes. What began as mutinies by Indian military forces against their Imperial British overlords soon degenerated into communal Hindu-Muslim genocide and ethnic cleansing. The British got out to avoid being sucked into an enormous civil war they no longer had any resources or belly for in the wake of the Second World War. No sooner had British India been partitioned into Pakistan and India did the two fall into a conventional military war over Kashmir and other Partition flashpoints.
Gandhi led a strong and powerful nonviolent movement. Understand this movement did not exist in a peaceful vacuum. During Gandhi’s movement for peaceful resistance a million and a half Indians, most of them volunteers, fought for the British Empire in the First World War. Scattered rebellions and riots broke out across the British Raj during the same time. These sporadic insurrections continued during the time between the World Wars and even during the Second World War. Prime Minister Churchill’s personal decision to dismiss the Indian Bengalis as not worthy of help led to an artificially-induced famine in which three million people perished in 1943. Unbelievably, almost 2,500,000 Indians fought under the British in the Second World War, including stopping the final Japanese invasion of India in 1944.
Gandhi’s nonviolence tactics worked in some of these cases, such as his 1930 Salt March to the Sea. His Satyagraha teachings for “truth-force, ” made famous during his march to the sea to make salt, made a profound impression upon the young Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet clearly failed as the appropriate tool in other cases. For some time, however, it appears Gandhi’s strategy for mass, cooperative, nonviolent resistance would succeed. The Indian National Congress declared India’s independence from the British in January 1930. Sectarian, communal hatreds between religious sects, particularly Hindus and Muslims, proved difficult to control. The violence unleashed proved ghastly beyond comprehension.
It doesn’t matter as Gandhi, and later MLK, made nonviolence the cornerstone of their belief system regardless of circumstances and regardless of results. Instead of regarding nonviolent resistance as a powerful tool to use as often as possible without resorting to the tool of violence, all violence was viewed as equally morally depraved and unethical. Nonviolence was elevated upon a pedestal and ennobled.
Gandhi and then King declared violence to be more difficult to engage in than nonviolence. Their followers still say so today. Of course it is harder to receive beatings than to fight back, but what are the results of turning your last remaining cheek to be smashed and broken? Is the desired outcome achieved? Violent uprisings and riots pressured the American regime to enact the Civil Rights Act in 1964, although King got to stand behind President Lyndon Johnson as he signed it.
King continued to urge nonviolent resistance in the face of violence. He did so even when many other civil rights activists called for armed struggle against tyranny. Some pointed out violence was the only way property-owning, capitalist White American men won their Revolution of 1775-1783 against British aristocrats, imperialists, and banksters. Violence won the Civil War against the Confederacy and its institutions of legalized slavery. The manner in which the tool of violence is wielded and leveraged generates success or failure.
This way of thinking has hampered the success of many a revolutionary movement, as we’ve seen from the intermittent, quasi-civil war inside the United States from 1947 to 1985. It has drawn many people into Leftist organizations grown tired of U.S. involvement in foreign wars as imperialists cloaked in patriotism. Many others were simply tired of violence failing to generate any successful resolution to “the Revolution.”
Well, the scattered, random, and disorganized mayhem associated with the Left in the 1960s and 70s was a failure to use the tool of violence effectively. The federal government used violence effectively to suppress the revolutionary groups one after another. During the Occupy uprisings of 2011-2012, the majority of the Occupy demonstrators were peaceful. Many went to great lengths to maintain nonviolence as they protested. Local city and state police forces, however, have been heavily militarized since the confluence of the Anti-Globalization Revolts and the attacks of 9/11, and crushed the Occupy movement as an open, mass revolt.
Even so, many realized it would be foolhardy for rioters to throw stones and sticks at heavily armed police and military forces. Upping the ante with firebombs, guns, and explosives would trigger worse retaliation backed by mainstream media justification. Violence is clearly a tool of last resort, and not one to be ignored. What we see in the current Ukrainian Revolution is vicious street fighting between organized rioters in homemade armor with homemade weapons. The rioters fought in rough battle formations and even beat back not only specialized police forces but also pushed aside the now-scorned nonviolent peaceful protestors. The images from Kyiv are a striking mix of homemade Medieval weaponry amid the stark, iced-over ruins of an Postmodern urban Apocalypse.
In summary, as the Global War on Terror and Terrorism is a misnomer as one cannot wage war upon a tactic, so is it a misnomer to regard nonviolence not as a tool but as a higher moral principle demanding adherence to a lifestyle with the same degree of fervor reserved for religious zealots and political fanatics. The wise, prudent, and pragmatic revolutionary will use whatever tools they have to choose from most appropriate for the moment.
Perhaps nonviolence is the best choice for most of the time. Nonviolent resistance can escalate to different degrees of civil disobedience without crossing the line into violence. If the authorities respond with low-level violence such as with riot-control gear, flash grenades, tear gas, pepper spray, and beatings with truncheons and batons, many protestors can effectively tough these attacks out. When the authorities escalate to provocative attacks to draw out a violent response so as to justify further police brutality, the demonstrators must be clear-headed enough while under stress not to take the bait.
If the authorities, however, resort to mass slaughter, martial law, mass internments, and using military weapons against relatively defenseless civilians, then the people in the streets have every right to fight back in self-defense with whatever they can get their hands on. They may also deem it prudent to retreat and scatter. They would then regroup to strategize the next phase of insurrection in what became a revolution.
Consider your toolbox. Consider the tools in your toolbox. I prefer peace to nonviolence resistance and both over riots and war. And I do not allow my preferences interfere with survival, defense, and success.
Both the Green Party of the United States and the Communist Party of the United States of America oppose violence and stand for peace and nonviolence. What choices will YOU make when the bludgeon fists of authority come down upon you or you are screwed over by job loss with your life savings eviscerated by the banksters and Corporacrats? What would you do in response?
What would you do if the violence is from a common criminal who breaks into your home and starts raping and maiming your loved ones? Always be prepared. Always be prepared for what you don’t want to do but must as well as what you would love to welcome with joy.
The majority of human beings desire peace. What peace looks like differs from one ethnic group to another, and I take a stand true peace is not merely the absence of violence but also is the absence of injustice, racism, sexism, classism, poverty, fear of authority, and oppression in any form. Peace is freedom for all, shared responsibility by all for all, with health and prosperity. Peace is freedom from violence as well as freedom from tradition. Peace becomes peace. Sometimes, unfortunately, nonviolent actions fail to achieve peace, for sometimes, unfortunately, violence leveraged and focused with intention will secure peace.
Let us stand for peace. Let’s use nonviolence to achieve it. Let us not shrink from using violence to achieve peace.
William Dudley Bass
10 – 11 February 2014
American Political Party Statements on Nonviolence:
“4. Non-Violence. Ten Key Values: The Ten Key Values of the Green Party,” What We Believe, Green Party of the United States, 2000, 2014. <http://www.gp.org/what-we-believe/10-key-values>.
“Why does the Communist Party oppose violence?” FAQ, Communist Party USA: Radical Ideas. Real Politics. 2014. <http://www.cpusa.org/faq>.
Classic Gandhi and King nonviolence:
King, Rev. Martin Luther, Jr. “The King Philosophy: Triple Evils, Six Principles of Nonviolence, Six Steps of Nonviolent Social Change, The Beloved Community,” The King Center, Atlanta, GA, 1968, 2014. <http://www.thekingcenter.org/king-philosophy>.
M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, <http://www.gandhiinstitute.org>.
Controversies on Chartism, Revolutionary Nonviolence, and Violent Insurrection:
Duncan, Lucy. “Revolutionary nonviolence? David Solnit on people power and creativity,” Acting in Faith: Connecting Friends to the work of AFSC, American Friends Service Committee, February 2012. <https://www.afsc.org/friends/revolutionary-nonviolence-david-solnit-people-power-and-creativity>.
Gelderloos, Peter. How Nonviolence Protects the State, 2nd Edition, The Anarchist Library, August 2012. <http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/peter-gelderloos-how-nonviolence-protects-the-state>.
Newman, Mark. “Chartism: violence vs non-violence,” History and Theory, Socialist Alternative Australia, November 2000. <https://sa.org.au/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=6712:chartism-violence-vs-non-violence>.
Solnit, David. “Seattle WTO Shutdown ’99 to Occupy: Organizing to Win 12 Years Later,” The Indypendent: a Free Paper for Free People, December 2011. <http://www.indypendent.org/2011/12/05/seattle-wto-shutdown-99-to-occupy>.
Criticism of the Terms “Terror” and “Terrorism” in the Global Long War on Terror and Terrorism:
“Criticism of the War on Terror,” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 2008, 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_the_War_on_Terror>.
Horton, Scott. “Rethinking the War on Terror,” The Stream, HARPER’S MAGAZINE. October 2007. <http://harpers.org/blog/2007/10/rethinking-the-war-on-terror>.
Nanda, Ved P. “Introductory Essay: International Law Implications of the United States’ “War on Terror,” University of Denver Strum College of Law, Denver, CO. September 2009. <http://www.law.du.edu/documents/djilp/37No4/Nanda-Final.pdf>.
Reese Stephen D. and Seth C. Lewis. “Framing the War on Terror: The internalization of policy in the US press,” Journalism, University of Texas Moody College of Communication School of Journalism, Austin, 2009. <http://journalism.utexas.edu/sites/journalism.utexas.edu/files/attachments/reese/framing-war-on-terror-sagepub.pdf>.
“War on Terrorism,” GPF: Global Policy Forum, 2005-2014. <http://www.globalpolicy.org/war-on-terrorism.html>.
Weapons and violence used by rioters in the Ukrainian Revolution of 2013 – ongoing:
“Ukraine: Battling Forces No Friends Of Working Class,” Socialist Alternative News, Socialist Alternative, February 2014.
Stroken, Sergey. “Ukrainian ultras: New challenge to West,” RT: Russia Today, January 2014. <http://rt.com/op-edge/ukrainian-violence-ultras-pravy-sektor-288>.
“War gear: Weaponry & armor of rioters in Kiev [PHOTOS],” RT: Russia Today. January 2014. <http://rt.com/news/war-gear-ukraine-riot-084>.
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