The question of violence

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Fri Jun 9 07:18:41 MDT 1995

This isn't up to your usual, Howie.

1. "Self-defensive" or reactive violence can and indeed does in fact
sometimes l,ead to insurrection and revolutionary violence. This of the
worker's response to the Bloody Sunday massacre on 1905, or indeed the
process Trotsky describes so brilliantly inn the Feb-Oct. pewriod in 1917,
with the defensive reactionb to Kornilov, etc.

2. "Self defense" is not a neutral principole. A rapist cannot plead self
defense in his use of violence against a woman who is resisting him.
Likewise the ruling classes has no right of self-defense to protect
themselves aginst resistance to their wrongs. (As individuals they may
have a right of self-defense against unjust or excessive violence.)

--Justin Schwartz

On Fri, 9 Jun 1995, Howie Chodos wrote:

> >>>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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