The question of violence

Howie Chodos howie at
Thu Jun 8 23:01:59 MDT 1995

>>>Bryan Alexander wrote:

>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.<<<

>>>John D. Walker wrote:

>About the self-defense justification: standard cases of justified use of
>lethal force in self-defense essentially involve a reasonable beliefs
>that one is threatened with death or serious harm, which justifies use of
>such force against the agency doing the threatening.
>I wonder whether *this* sort of model will do as a justification for
>revolutionary violence.<<<

I don't know how far I can take this, but I find it intriguing how these
promptings to elaborate set me thinking back to Lenin and _What is to be
done?_ (_WITBD?_). First, it seems to me that one of the implications of my
earlier argument is that self-defense cannot be used to justify
insurrectionary violence, not because it is wrong to use violence in
self-defense, but because to argue that reactive violence (which is what
self-defense is, by definition) leads in some sense to revolution is to make
the kind of "spontaneist" argument that Lenin convincingly (IMO, of course)
criticized in _WITBD?_. I think it is fair to extrapolate from his argument
there to say that no form of defensive action on its own (whether violent or
not) can ever lead to an awarenes of the need for revolution or to the
ability to carry it out.

The flip side of this error is to believe that engaging the ruling class
with violent methods automatically leads to raising consciousness about the
violent nature of the system. It cannot, by the same token that reactive
violence is not in itself revolutionary. If we accept the legimitacy of the
self-defense argument, then it must be extended to the state's reaction to
violence as well as to victims of state violence. The only way to counter
the state's right to use violence is to demonstrate that it is being used
for unjust purposes. (Lenin also had a bit in _WITBD?_ on the connection
between economism and terrorism, if memory serves, though I cannot offhand
remember if the gist of his argument bears any resemblance to what I have
argued here).

I do now want to suggest that this points to insurrectionary violence
becoming justifiable only once all democratic avenues of struggle have been
exhausted, and the state is attempting to suppress a mass opposition
movement by force. It is possible to expose the violence of the system by
showing how it must ultimately resort to violence in order to defend the
power, wealth and privilege of the few, not, I would argue, by inducing it
to react violently to some provocation.

Howie Chodos

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