(more from my research for A Rebel Comes of Age)
How Nonviolence Protects the State
Peter Gelderloos (2007 South End Press)
How Nonviolence Protects the State takes up where Ward Churchill’s 1985 Pacifism as Pathology leaves off – expanding on Churchill’s basic premises (see previous blog) with more recent historical examples. Like Churchill, Gelderloos bemoans the determination of nonviolence proponents to impose their ideological views across the entire progressive movement. He blames this mainly on The Nation magazine and other “alternative” media outlets for falsely framing the debate as a question of “nonviolent” vs. “violent” organizing strategy. No one, he argues, endorses pure violence as a tactic.
Gelderloos divides his book into seven chapters. Each explores specific weaknesses of exclusive nonviolence as a political strategy:
Chapter 1 Nonviolence is ineffective – Here Gelderloos exposes the falsified history of “successful” nonviolent resistance movements – which he maintains are neither exclusively nonviolent or successful. In the case of Gandhi’s Quit India campaign, the Mahatma was elevated to fame by the British press. The latter chose to focus on his acts of civil disobedience, rather than the hundreds of freedom fighters who were planting bombs and assassinating British officials and native civil servants.
Gelderloos describes a parallel process occurring in the case of Martin Luther King’s nonviolent civil rights campaign. The mainstream media never reported on the Birmingham civil rights marches that degenerated into riots, which, in many cases, were the real trigger for both local and federal law changes.
He also contrasts the millions of peaceful demonstrators who were unable to stop the 2003 US invasion of Iraq – with the single 2004 train bombing that led Spain to withdraw their troops from occupied Iraq.
Chapter 2 Nonviolence is racist – Gelderloos agrees with Churchill that the vast majority of dogmatic nonviolent proponents are privileged middle class whites, for whom the full repression of the capitalist state is never a genuine fear. Black looting (usually for food and basic necessities) is condemned as “violence.” In cntrast, white activists cut a chain fence to trespass on a military base are embraced as “nonviolent” and acceptable. White progressives are also quick to condemn third world autonomy movements, such as the Iraq and Afghan insurgencies against US occupation.
Chapter 3 Nonviolence is statist (i.e. serves the state) – Nonviolent activists share the fundamental view that the state (via police, FBI, CIA and military) should hold the monopoly on violence. In moments of conflict, they always line up with state authority. Among other examples, Gelderloos cites the Poor Peoples March at the 2004 Republican National Convention, where Mayor Bloomberg handed out badges to protestors who committed to nonviolent protest. When the police manhandled and arrested protestors (without badges) who were either black, covered their faces or refused to submit to arbitrary searches, white nonviolent marchers failed to come to their defense and blamed the arrestees for the police decision to target them.
Chapter 4 Nonviolence is patriarchal (i.e. supports male oppression of women and sexual minorities) – The nonviolent movement only permits women to use violence to defend themselves in individual cases of attempted rape. It’s not considerable acceptable in situations of ongoing domestic violence. Nor against the gradual systemic violence – for example the harmful corporate-produced chemicals in their breast milk – that is gradually poisoning their children.
Chapter 5 Nonviolence is tactically and strategically inferior – The nonviolent movement is totally focused on short term tactics and unable to show how any of these tactics will achieve their long term goals. When confronted with their inability to achieve goals, nonviolent advocates give the pat response: “Political change takes a long time and may not come in our lifetime.”
Gelderloo bemoans the millions of dollars wasted on grassroots lobbying, which is almost never effective. Even when Congress meets your demands on paper, they always backtrack. He gives the example of the School of the Americas (SOA) campaign, which sucked up years of organizing and nonviolent protests When enough public pressure built up, the Pentagon simply closed the SOA and reopened it under a new name.
He proposes the provocative question: ” Does it make more sense to blockade a bridge for a few hours by forming a human chain – or putting it out of commission for six months by blowing it up?”
Chapter 6 Nonviolence is deluded – The nonviolent movement is full of extreme contradictions. Nonviolent advocates support state violence all the time, simply by paying taxes. Activists from the privileged class need to understand what the rest of the world has known all along: neutrality isn’t possible. The question is which violence scares us the most and which side we will stand on.
Chapter 7 The alternative: possibilities for revolutionary activism – Gelderloos finishes with his vision of strategies that are most likely to succeed in dismantling corporate rule. He envisions building a loose confederation of local autonomous groups that will form non-corporate structures (free clinics, cooperatives, farmers markets, etc) to meet local needs. While he sees no need to convert everyone to anarchism, he warns of the need to be continually on guard against cooptation by the Institutional Left. And the need to learn self defense. If activists occupy a building to create a free clinic, they need to make sure the police can’t take it away from them.
A PDF of Gelderloos’ book can be downloaded free at zinelibrary
In A Rebel Comes of Age, seventeen-year-old Angela Jones and four other homeless teenagers occupy a vacant commercial building owned by Bank of America. The adventure turns deadly serious when the bank obtains a court order evicting them. Ange faces the most serious crisis of her life when the other residents decide to use firearms against the police SWAT team.
$3.99 ebook available (in all formats) from Smashwords: