The question of violence

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Fri Jun 9 21:27:00 MDT 1995

That's better, but I think the role of violence in revolution
(understanding the latter as systematic social change that replaces one
mode of production with another) is "dialectical" in the following sense.
Normarrly duscontented groups will put forth demands and reform proposals.
If these exceed certain limits or threaten entrenched prerogatives, these
groups will be met with violent repression by the authorities. At that
point they may and sometimes do respond with violence--call it
self-defensive violence--of their own. Sometimes this results over a
period, long or short, in the political defeat of the old rulers and their
replacement by the formerly oppressed groups or those who designate
themselves, with whatever degree of plausibility (which varies with the
case) as their representatives.

People who anticipate these patterns occurring, as did (I believe) the
Bolsheviks (and I don;t conbsider myself one) or Marx are sometimes called
advocates of violent revolution. I believe this is true only in the sense
that :who wills the end wills the means": if we want changes that require
a revolution and foresee that these will involve violence on the pattern
described, we must be willing to accept these consequences to get the
desired results. The point ios not that we announce a principle: "use
violence only inn self defense", but rather that we, who would prefer
nonviolent chanmge if possible, doubt that it;s possible given the way
those in power are likely to respond (violently) to peaceful demands, and
so accept the self-defensive violence on our side that will arise in
response to these repressive responses.

I hope taht reads more cleraly that I think it does.

If there is "educative" violence I suspewct that it is the violence of
those in power, which teaches us that "the civilization and justice of the
bourgeois order comes out in its lurid light whenever the slaves and
drudges of that order rise against their masters. Thenm this civilization
and this justice stand forth as undisguised savagery and lawless revenge."
(Some old German wrote that.)

--Justin Schwartz

On Fri, 9 Jun 1995, Howie Chodos wrote:

> Justin wrote:
> >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.)
> You may be right, Justin, but I'd still like to push this a bit further.
> What I was trying to say was not that in the process of struggle that
> reactive violence can never develop into a revolutionary situation. I was
> arguing that there is a difference between justifying violence on the ground
> of self-defense, and justifying the use of violence to enact social change.
> The key to any transition from one to the other is the recognition that
> there is something about the system which will not go away by itself. It is
> not enough simply to defend oneself, but one has to be rid of the cause of
> the problem. This is the analogy that I was trying to get at with Lenin's
> argument that trade unionism represents a (necessary, of course) defensive
> posture, but that it does not by itself facilitate an awareness of the need
> to transform the system. Similarly, defensive violence can be part of the
> development of a crisis situation, but will generally not produce a
> revolutionary transformation of the social order.
> The second point I was trying to make concerned the possible educational
> value of isolated acts of violence committed in order to help people see the
> "true nature" of the system. If we are trying to do more than simply preach
> to those who are already convinced that the state needs to be overthrown, is
> an instrument of class dictatorship, etc., we need to recognize that most
> people start from a position which accepts the legitimacy of state action in
> some sense. It was for this reason that I suggested that to hope that
> "exemplary" acts of violence against the state would do something to change
> their appreciation of the nature of the state is illusory. I may have
> over-extended the notion of "self-defense" here, but I was trying to suggest
> that someone who is not convinced the state is the instrument of oppression
> could perceive state suppression of terrorist violence as a legitimate act
> of "self-defense".
> It was not my intention to provide the state with grounds for claiming
> "self-defense" as it suppresses legitimate opposition. I argued that we need
> to push as far with non-violent means as possible to achieve our goals, and
> that then, if the state intervenes with violence, we are in a good poosition
> to argue that such violence is anti-democratic, and any response to it,
> including a violent one, may be justified. I agree that "the ruling classes
> has no right of self-defense to protect themselves aginst resistance to
> their wrongs", but this does not solve the problem of how to convince people
> of this fact. It is precisely because self-defense is not a universal
> principle, but must be argued with respect to the concrete circumstances,
> that we cannot hope to convince people of the need for revolutionary change
> on the basis of the right to self-defense alone.
> I hope this is a bit clearer.
> Howie Chodos
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