The question of violence

Bryan A. Alexander bnalexan at
Thu Jun 8 12:00:57 MDT 1995

Howie, could you say a bit more about the educational uses of violence?
Your statement made me think first of Raoul Vaneigem's observation that
anarchist terror "exactly" lays bare the nature of the state's social
protection racket.

Bryan Alexander
Department of English
University of Michigan

On Thu, 8 Jun 1995, Howie Chodos wrote:

> Some of what follows may already have been argued. I am just getting caught
> up with the several inter-twining threads on morality, violence, and support
> for Mumia Abu-Jamal.
> To begin, it strikes me that the minimal Marxist position is that the use of
> violence as a conscious intrument of social transformation cannot be ruled
> out in advance. We would like to do it peacefully but, to be frank, we think
> that fairly unlikely. There are, in general, three basic justifications that
> seem to me to be available for the use of violence. First, that it is
> necessary in order to achieve social change; second, that it has an
> educational value; third that it is necessary in the face of the onslaught
> by the ruling class.
> A number of other people have made the argument that in the foreseeable
> future there is little hope for insurrectionary violence to be successful.
> This means that one cannot today call people to the barricades in the
> expectation of overthrowing the dominant class. This rules out justification
> number one for the time being. I find justification number two unacceptable
> under any circumstances that I can now imagine. To say that the use of
> violence today is necessary in order to educate people about the evils of
> the system is to behave in a substitutionist fashion. One takes unto oneself
> the right to maim and kill in the name of educating the great unwashed.
> This leaves self-defense, which seems to me to be widely supported both for
> individuals and for collectivities of various kinds (eg. nations). It is
> important, I think, to note that justifications one and three for the use of
> violence involve different kinds of arguments, and do not automatically
> follow from each other. To argue that it is right to defend yourself against
> the abuses of capitalism does not automatically entail a belief that it is
> equally justified to use violence to overthrow capitalism. It does not even
> entail a commitment to the need to change the system. One could fight an
> injustice on purely liberal grounds and retain the belief that these are the
> exceptions rather than the rule.
> And this strikes me as important in cases like the one to which our
> attention has been drawn, Mumia Abu-Jamal. I am learning about it in detail
> for the first time, but what seems to me to be the key issue is saving his
> life, and the broadest support for him would seem to become possible when
> the injustice is understood as one of flagrant judicial misconduct. In this
> sense, at one level it doesn't matter against whom the injustice has been
> committed. I would therefore differ here from those who have argued that we
> must support him because of his politics. His politics, or his race, or the
> combination of the two, may explain why he was singled out, and the extent
> of his mistreatment. But it should not be the cause of our anger nor the
> sole basis for our support. I think this was the case that was first put by
> Lenin in 1902 in _What Is To Be Done?_ and remains valid. Revolutionaries
> must respond to all instances of oppression regardless of who is the victim.
> We may be able to also explain why certain people are the victims of the
> system, but agreement on the why is not required before acting together to
> alleviate particular injustices.
> Howie Chodos
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