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"Unwise and untimely...."

If only Martin Luther King hadn't been "effete"! The Civil Rights Movement would have done so much better!

As I keep saying: A reputation for non-violence is a strategic asset.

1. To which one answer is: This isn't the 60s. No, it's not. And it's not 1776 (U.S.), 1789 (France), 1848 (Europe), 1861 (U.S.), 1871 (France), 1917 (Russia), 1933 (Germany), 1949 (China), or 1989 (Eastern Europe). It's not the Civil Rights era, the Suffragette Era, or the Stonewall Era either. And?

2. Another: If no Malcolm X, no MLK. Alas, historically, MLK preceded Malcolm X. Probably the better analogy: If no armed wing of the ANC, no Nelson Mandela. Alas, South Africa is not Europe or the United States; the only armed wing to be seen anywhere is the U.S. military and various smaller police and mercenary forces. Further, it's not clear how to advocate for non-violence while keeping one's fingers behind one's back when speaking of the armed wing. One must be the change one seeks.

3. Another: An eye for an eye. See the image above. Leaving aside becoming the mirror image of one's enemy, (see under Stalin vs. Czar, Mao vs. Emperor), except with a different jersey, is eye-for-an-eye effective? Circumstances on the ground differ, of course, but surely a sober assessment is "not always," and in the case of the Civil Rights Movement -- shall we consider, for a moment, learning from non-violent success, instead of romantic failure? -- not. Ditto Stonewall. Last I checked, gay activists hadn't emulated James Kopp. I suppose that makes them "effete," too?

There are certainly points on this issue, but that will do to go on with.

What I come back to is the idea that for real change to happen -- operationally, let's make our metric for "real change" the transformation of banks into public utilities -- "all walks of life" must participate in the change. How do we get to that point? The methods of non-violent protest and persuasion offer one clear path forward, since all, by definition, can participate. Not everyone can dress up in black and throw a rock through a Starbucks window, orgasmic though such tactics can be, even for agents provocateurs. Rather, think of non-violence as a collective placing of good will on the asset side of the balance sheet, and to be cultivated like an asset.

* * *

Bringing us to Greece. I note that the twitter feed from Greece has almost gone dark, suggesting the Greeks are otherwise occupied than tweeting, and good for them. I think their balance sheet is in good shape; "all walks of life" are participating (except for the elite, of course).

NOTE Headline from here.

UPDATE The best argument against non-violent methods of protest and persuasion as a strategy that I've seen is that it depends on media propagation, and we don't control the media. First, that's an invariant, true across all strategies. A second invariant is that alternative communications channels have to be developed.

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jumpjet's picture
Submitted by jumpjet on

have a prerogative not to get killed. In this I agree with him, largely because no agitator or protestor or revolutionary is a better asset to their cause dead than alive. The last person to pull that off was Jesus, and the chief reason he managed it, according to his followers, was that he didn't stay dead.

My own philosophy is to preserve life at all costs. So my advice to protestors, given from the comfort of my upper-middle-class upbringing, is that for Heaven's sake, don't let yourself get shot if you can help it. The last thing we need are martyrs; we need people who can reason and speak and work.

This is not the same thing as actively propagating violence. It's what the Egyptians in Tahrir Square did when they were besieged by Mubarak's thugs. They defended themselves when faced with violence from the elite. I don't consider that the same thing as violent behavior.

Submitted by lambert on

See under Mohamed Bouazizi, two thousand and ten years, give or take, after the historical Jesus. I don't advocate self-immolation, because I'm not confident enough in my own analysis to recommend that others risk their lives based on it. Others, and for example, Ian, are more confident. For reasons that, given the level of analysis in the post to which I link, I'm not clear on.

Submitted by dirac on

We are also not MLK, or Gandhi--and Tahrir is not over. I don't know, I think this little internecine bloggy argument is not very productive actually. I don't see where Ian is excluding the possibility of non-violence, yet you're decrying his use of supposed violent stances. I'd just like to point out that the culture at large sees violence differently by different measures. If some black flag moron wants to pretend he/she is Emma Goldman by kicking in a Starbucks window, he'll be rightly criticized (although I'd like to say the mischaracterization of anarchism by most people is a level of ignorance analogous to calling Obama a socialist) and ostracized by nearly everyone. There was a lot of liberal pearl clutching recently because some black flagger threw around traffic cones or moved barricades. Oh, the humanity. Starbucks windows destroyed? Oh, my goodness, my liberal upper-class sensibilities can't take it!

Yet, if the American government commits violence--not just by dropping bombs--but through its institutions, that has the veneer of legitimacy. Remember we gave the veneer of legitimacy to the American revolution, too. I know, I know--it was centuries ago, the cultural climate was much better, and yes, we need to find smarter ways to undermine this system. I guess best way to make the case you're trying to make is get out in the street and DO it, which I don't see happening yet on a mass scale.

Submitted by lambert on

... when a burnt coffee vendor's window gets kicked in. The stupidity and self-indulgence ticks me off, though. More seriously, I do tend to frown on advocating killing as a political tool based on sloppy reasoning, though. Call me crazy.

* * *

"I don't see where Ian is excluding the possibility of non-violence...." Well, I'd argue that labeling non-violent advocates as "effete" isn't an ideal rhetorical stance to bring that point across.

* * *

Yes, do it. We need to learn from those who are. Eh?

boilermaker's picture
Submitted by boilermaker on

violence are self defeating in a revolution. However, violence is a necessary element for social evolution. As you pointed out above, revolutionary situations are rarely if ever similar in nature or cause.

Non violence is best at advancing the interests of protesters in two ways. First it educates and then ultimately draws support or sympathy from the general population. Second, it plies on the conscience of those in power to acquiesce to the demand of the populous. The current situation however, will not succeed unless violence is added somewhere into the equation. Greece provides the appropriate example. The general population is already educated and supports the objectives of the protest. Reports indicate that 80% of Greece opposes the austerity and privatization measures, yet their protests and desires are ignored by the power that controls the country. Despite this massive disconnect, the power structure remains firmly in place.

Why did Gandhi's non violence succeed? Because the British establishment had just lived through horrendous violence and social upheaval, and they no longer had the stomach for continued violence. The early Labor movement succeeded because our business powers saw an ugly violent alternative with the Soviet Union. The civil rights, while generally non-violent, was itself the supported by violence (the use and threat of use of the National Guard is an act of violence). Our current power structure has no reason not to ignore the demands of the population absent a credible threat of violence. (double negative on purpose).

Our power structure believes that it can continue to enslave the populous without consequences. If the social pressure becomes to severe, they will merely pull the ripcord on their golden parachute and then land softly on the greek island that they bought with their ill gotten booty. They have no reason to change because they see no threat of violence to themselves. Yes, others may die, but they will be well insulated from those poor saps, such as the police, army or other mercenaries in their employ. It is only when real credible threats or possibilities of violence are targeted at the highest echelons of our hierarchy will substantial material change be enacted by non-violent means.

Until the rich and powerful feel insecure in their safety, they will neither care nor acquiesce to the demands of the people, no matter what non-violent means are employed.

Side note: I unfortunately do not believe that the "Arab Spring" is the success that other believe it to be. The spring succeeded in two countries that had old doddering dictators that also had a strong U.S. intelligence presence. It appears that those revolutions merely replaced the old with the new without substantial social changes. Other countries with on-going revolutions are either non-US aligned or their dictators are still seen as strategic assets. Their revolutions have devolved into violence because that is the only measure that will succeed.

Submitted by lambert on

A few points:

1. The entire process is global; the elite is global, the effects are global. The same fight really is being fought in Cairo, Bangkok, Athens, Madrid, Madison, WI -- and China, too -- although those on our side don't, I think, see that yet. So to say, as you are, that the power structure in Greece is still in place after a few months of protest, and therefore that non-violence has failed is, in essence, to say that the game is over in the first inning, or even before all the players are on the field.

2. I think that the advocates of killing their political enemies because that "works" -- let's not mince words, here, eh? -- have a little due diligence to do. The twentieth century as a very long and very bad history of revolutionary vanguards, from all points of the political spectrum, doing that very thing and ending up with a new boss that's the same as the old boss, but leaving a long trail of bodies behind them. If you're one such, can you explain why that's not going to happen again? (Granted, nobody really serious would be advocating such a thing in a public forum, creating small group dynamics which may be one reason why the killers tend to rise to the top in revolutionary vanguards.) The two great examples examples for "give war a chance" seem to be the Civil War and the American Revolution. In each case, there was at least a generation's worth of political work that preceded them; the abolitionists, and the Founding Fathers (as some like to call them). The soldiers in the civil war knew what they were fighting for: The Union. Can anybody say that work has been done now? I don't think so; it's only starting. Further, both those wars were led from within the elite, meaning that violence on the scale of a nation-state was available to the revolutionaries. Can we say that is the case today? No.

3. I think you're wrong on Ghandi, and too focused on the elite, as opposed to the ordinary Indians. One positive benefit of non-violence is that "all walks of life" can participate (as opposed to the revolutionary vanguard, the James Kopps of the left). The British didn't have the "stomach" for killing because the scale of Ghandi's support was beyond their capacity; the British presence in India was always small. The British would have been perfectly happy to slaughter Ghandi and kill all his followers if his movement had been on the scale of the Mau Mau rebellion, and they did just that. (One notes that our own elite may have taken thought to "Northern Command" being similarly stretched, and begun to develop drones in consequence.)

4. On the Arab Spring: By the protester's standards, it was a success. They met the goal that all agreed on, which was that Mubarak go. Now we are in a new phase. It's good that Mubarak's gone, and the situation is fluid.

5. On MLK, you show that non-violence "works," right?

Obviously, in the last analysis, non-violent protesters have to be willing to die (making Ian's characterization of them as "effete" all the more curious). The distinction is that non-violence advocates aren't necessarily willing either to become killers, even if only of themselves, or to ask others to become killers. (Of course, the elite has no problem with that; is that because being a killer is a positive good?)

DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

moreover, in an earlier post he pointed out that violence is the kleptocracy's preferred model. It is what they prepared for, it is what they understand, it is what they try to provoke. Our frightened elites are already arming themselves.

They are prepared for violence. They are not prepared for boycotts, rallies, youtube satire, prank phone calls, and the like.

It may well be that some of us will have to die, but nobody has to kill.

Martyrdom does have its purpose, think what happened when Ninoy Aquino was killed.

Or Hugh Latimer immediately before he was tied to the stake in October of 1555:
Be of good cheer, master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle in England, as I hope, by God's grace, shall never be put out.