Violence and Social Change
These are some thoughts that I posted at the Carnival of Anarchy
1. I am in total agreement that individual and small group acts of violence such as attentats, bombings and vandalism serve no purpose, either in advancing the cause of anarchism or social change. In fact, such actions only hold back social change, and anarchism, to this very moment, has to endure the caricature of the mad bomber, due to the actions of a tiny minority more than 100 years ago.
2. Ideally, social change would come about without violence, and our approach, whether one that encourages or discourages violence, does have an effect upon the amount of violence that occurs. But our responses are only one aspect of the situation. We do not control the playing field. History and culture are major determinants. A society with a long history of violence and little history of peaceful change will not be positive ground for a successful non-violent movement. How much support the ruling class has, how great the level of disintegration of the old order determines how peaceful change will be. Mass movements involving violence, but in a limited manner, such as mass insurrections, or dual power situations backed by armed groups, may be the inevitable form that social change takes in most situations. We have seen this recently in Mexico with the Zapatista Movement which began as an armed insurrection, and the Oaxaca Commune where a certain amount of defensive violence occurred. In both cases, they faced an opposition that would not hesitate to engage in massacre, yet the movements engaged in minimally violent response.
3. Hence, barring a situation like East Germany where even the ruling elite's supporters abandoned the state en-mass, it appears the most we can ask for is a minimization of violence during mass social change.
4. This does not mean that pacifists ought to be criticized for their total rejection of violence, or that they can not, and would not, play a significant role in a social revolution. Even a revolution entailing a great amount of violent conflict involves much action that is non-violent in nature. Think of the Cuban revolution where the Directorate engaged in urban guerilla warfare and the 26th of July Movement fought in the mountains. General strikes – a non-violent method – were also used and were an important aspect in the overthrowing of the Batista dictatorship.