On Thursday night I walked over to the Prolific Oven for our local Reading Radical group. We were a smaller group this week, three of us were familiar with radical political theory and praxis, and one of us was new to the conversation.
The new guy was awesome. He had this wide-eyed political wonder about him. He’s beginning to break free from the capitalist dichotomy of liberal vs. conservative and he’s engaging the rich histories and traditions of the radical Left to do so.
Trump’s presidency has been a powerful tool for the Left as many lazy liberals are beginning to recognize their privilege is based on the exploitation of people and Earth’s ecosystems. When middle class white liberals feel ‘oppressed’ themselves by the Orange Caesar they begin to recognize the far less abstract oppressions others daily face: like murderous police violence, the caging of migrant babies, and the rampant xenophobia of the Muslim ban.
Ward Churchill says it this way: “Those who are on the receiving end, whether they are in Iraq, they are in Palestine, they are in Haiti, they are in American Indian reserves inside the United States, whether they are in the migrant stream or the inner city, those who are ‘othered’ and of color in particular but poor people more generally, know the difference between the painlessness of acquiescence on the one hand and the painfulness of maintaining the existing order on the other.”
What I brought to the conversation was in regard to the article I had been working on for the Hampton Institute on the violence of dogmatic pacifism. The three of us who were a bit more familiar with leftist theory, history, and action were quick to ramble off about the differences in liberatory community armed self-defense, armed militias, and armed insurrections.
The new guy freaked out lol Understandably so.
We live in the largest most violent Empire the Earth has ever experienced. We are told that our resistance to the most violent Empire on Earth can only ever be pacifism. It must be a dogmatic pacifism, not a tactical pacifism but a universal philosophy that assumes life is non-violent, Earth’s systems are non-violent, structural systems are non-violent, and individual experiences of oppressive violence are not worth resisting with violence.
Supposedly you will lose your claim to morality if you defend yourself from a rapist or if you defend your community from fascism. Supposedly your self-defense will be ineffective and useless in regard to liberation.
I think it’s actually the exact opposite.
You lose moral credit if you project dogmatic pacifism onto the bodies of oppressed people who experience violence from the “civil” leaders, state authorities, and heavily armed police forces. You lose moral credit if your privilege is violently sustained by the objectification of another’s body, especially if you subject the oppressed to your pacifism, justifying their acceptance of your abuse by training them not to fight back.
The new guy was quick to suggest that the DSA is non-violent in its approach to social change. I was quick to suggest that the structural violence of capitalism and the US military itself are completely antithetical to the message of non-violence. To play the games of the state, is to play the game of Empire, of state building, and of the perpetual structural violence of the system.
It is important that we nuance violence and reuse the term against the elite capitalist and white liberal classes that have pretended their actions are moral, just, civil, and non-violent. It is important that we re-frame the conservation to show how police violence is murderous and rampant, how banks profit off markets of endless debt, how the rich get richer by simply being rich (financialization of the economy), and how private property robs the larger whole of the collective commons (trees, water, land, fish, rivers, ideas etc. are all understood as property to be owned, objects to be used, and resources to be exploited).
A Zine circulated during Occupy Oakland says it brilliantly: “As others have pointed out, colonization, gentrification, mass incarceration, and police killings are all forms of displacement, of erasure. We have become accustomed to ceaseless, dramatic disruptions of the environments we live in—so long as it is capitalists and police driving them, not poor people. This normalizes an alienated relation to the urban landscape, so whole neighborhoods can be leveled and replaced without anyone batting an eyelid. It normalizes a social system that itself has only been imposed on the earth over the past couple centuries, making the most unsustainable way of life ever practiced seem timeless and eternal.”
It is important we begin to analyze the ways power and violence are already flowing through our society, our culture, and our pacifisms. I think we will begin to recognize that power and violence are inherent to life, but how they are used and for what purposes are absolutely vital. Our goal should be in sharing power and using violence tactically and not dogmatically or as our overall strategy. We do not need to replicate the ways power and violence have been used by the capitalists but transform both power and violence for collective liberation.
“A movement strong enough to retain the territory it seizes from the police wouldn’t need to break or burn anything, only to transform it. On the other hand, as long as such inequalities persist, people are bound to lash out against them via property destruction as well as other tactics. Anyone who truly desires to see an end to property destruction should hasten to bring about the end of property itself. Then, at last, the only reason to break windows would be thrill seeking.” (Occupy Oakland Zine)
There is much more to be said and many other debates to be had but the point I am trying to make in this short blog and in the longer article coming out soon: we need to embrace a diversity of tactics.