In an interview for The Guardian, environmentalist and human rights activist and author, Arundhati Roy, told Stephen Moss, “If you’re an Adivasi [tribal Indian] living in a forest village and 800 CRP [Central Reserve Police] come and surround your village and start burning it, what are you supposed to do? Are you supposed to go on hunger strike? Can the hungry go on a hunger strike? Non-violence is a piece of theater. You need an audience. What can you do when you have no audience? People have the right to resist annihilation.” This sums up why nonviolence is such a cataclysmic failure. Nonviolence relies entirely on an audience and not just any audience but an audience that is sympathetic to the nonviolent protesters and an audience who has power to change the situation or at least has influence among the powerful. It is a tactic that is completely reliant on mercy of the ruling class that we ought to be fighting, not begging for scraps. Without elite support (from universities, corporate media, governments, especially police and political parties, corporations, NGOs, and wealthy benefactors) or without mobilizing those not afraid to use violence, nonviolent movements change nothing because power concedes nothing without force. Without elite support or violent backers, nonviolent movements are simply crushed, arrested, killed, or ignored. Aside from this, how can one in good conscience go on hunger strike when over a billion people in the world go hungry every night? Are the billion people not enough to compel change? Whether hunger strikers realize this or not, their actions convey a message that their bodies are more important than those who starve without some kind of political motivation but rather starve simply because of destitution caused by state or corporate greed that has robbed them of their resources to survive. It is not a show of solidarity to starve yourself intentionally for political ends. It just adds to the senseless suffering in the world.
While a desire for peace is noble and perhaps a beautiful vision, pacifism in this world dominated by violence is ultimately pathology. It is simply magical thinking to believe peace can be “wished” or “prayed” into existence. Ultimately, nonviolence in the current state of the world is naive and childish. Justice must come before peace because if we prioritize peace before justice, we ignore every ongoing and past atrocity and crime against humanity committed by the parasitic ruling class of the world. We would be joining arm in arm with dictators, rapists, vulture capitalists, billionaires, mass murderers, and terrorists. Assata Shakur wrote “Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.” This is because one can’t appeal to the hearts, minds, or humanity of people who have none. People who say “there’s good in everyone” just aren’t familiar with the putrid, rotten, carbuncular, reptilian, monstrous, underbelly of humanity known as the ruling class.
Nonviolence puts those who practice it at the mercy of the state and corporate thugs. It is absolutely defenseless and it fetishes martyrdom in a world filled with billions of martyrs, living and dead. It says “take me as victim and make sure I get a good close up on camera so that hopefully someone powerful somewhere will sympathize and put an end to this!” It implies practitioners are more important than the matyrs who never got their close ups on TV. In his book the Failure of Nonviolence, (which this article quotes frequently) Peter Gelderloos explains“The only thing pacifists can accomplish is to convince those of us who actually care about doing the right thing – and neither states nor institutions, nor abstract forces such as capital have ever been included in this category” (Gelderloos, page 214.) So they only succeed in pacifying those who need to fight the institutions that will never do the right thing as they don’t care about what’s right. To put it bluntly, committing to nonviolence regardless of the circumstances is suicide.
What Does Violence Even Mean?
The definition of violence ought to be simple and straight-forward but it is muddled by the propaganda of those who enjoy a monopoly on violence and who seek to be seen as“peacekeepers” of the world. Peace, nonviolence, and pacifism are used by governments, corporations, and religious institutions as code-words or euphemisms to mean submission. They claim to want peace but they really want docile, servile, obedient, complacent, passive consumers who accept the government’s rule, coercion, and violence as “normal” and “necessary.” If people don’t conform to that, then they are labeled “enemies of peace, freedom, and democracy” and they will use overwhelming force to crush them. Governments get to be as violent as they like but they never call themselves violent. They claim to be practicing “self-defense” yet when we defend ourselves from the government, we are labeled terrorists. In the state’s point of view, there is no legitimate self-defense against it. But it’s important to note self-defense is still violence. So violence is not inherently a good or bad thing. It depends completely on the circumstances. It’s similar to the “war on drugs” that is, in fact, a selective war on drugs. The government masks itself as a crusader against “drugs” but its drugs – legal drugs – the manufacturers of which sometimes receive large government subsidies and provide millions in taxes in return – are not generally called “drugs” but “medicine,” “recreational substances,” or another euphemism.
As the saying goes “when the rich rob the poor it’s called business. When the poor fight back it’s called violence.” The word violence is used by powerful institutions to describe something not officially ordained or illegal with little regard for the actual meaning.“In the dominant discourse, “violence” is reserved for those acts which disrupt the social peace,” (Gelderloos, page 211) which is the illusion of peace. It is order enforced through the subjugation and oppression of the underclass. Enforced “peace” or social “peace” are oxymorons. The force required for such “peace” is violent. So any “peace” achieved through the state that gives itself the “right” to enforce it is violent. One can’t be nonviolent and support the state and condemn those who resist it. One also can’t be passive and nonviolent. By doing nothing, you become complicit in the violence you do nothing to stop. Doing nothing in the face of injustice or letting others get slaughtered because of an alleged “commitment to nonviolence” is nothing but hypocrisy and arguably more violent than the violence inflicted to resist that slaughter. Peter explains “[Violence] is a category, a human construct in which we choose to place a wide array of actions, phenomena, situations, and so forth. “Violence” is whatever the person speaking at the moment decides to describe as violent. Usually, this means things they do not like. As a result, the use of the category “violence” tends towards hypocrisy. If it is done to me, it is violent. If it is done by me or for my benefit, it is justified, acceptable, or even invisible,” (pg 20-21.) “In other words, “violence” is not necessarily a category that is reasonably defined, so much as one that is defined by the reactions of our peers. What is considered normal [or] acceptable is much less likely to be defined as violent, no matter how much harm it may cause…Violence is a very flexible term that people can bend and twist however they want to morally justify or condemn the actions they have already decided are acceptable or unacceptable,” (pg 25.) Violence in this sense is more of a propaganda term than something consistent, tangible, or easily understood. Violence is used as a slur by the state and media much like the words terrorist, illegal alien, or commie. But states use violence more than anyone. They just don’t call it violence. The victors in wars never say that. But they always call the losing side violent or terroristic.
Tawinikay wrote of states that “They don’t consider it violent to storm into a territory with guns drawn and remove its rightful occupants. They don’t consider it violent to level mountaintops, or clearcut forests, or to suck oil out of the ground only to burn it into the air. They don’t consider it violent to keep chickens and pigs and cows in tiny crates, never allowing them to see sunlight, using them like food machines. But smash a window of a government office.. Well, that goes too far.”
Many like to make a distinction between violence in self-defense and unprovoked violence. But this is less of a reflection of the actual meaning of the word and more of a reflection of how people use it as a term of slander or indictment. Consulting the most objective source, Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines violence as “the use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy.” This definition doesn’t distinguish between violence in self-defense or unprovoked or indiscriminate violence, as well it shouldn’t. One word can’t describe the nuances of conflict but our society has a tendency to reduce everything into black and white soundbites, so we are left with words that are only used in one sense. Pacifists and powerful institutions both purport the false dichotomy or binary thinking that alleges one can either want to fight with a state military or want total nonviolence (submission) and anything in-between or outside of these choices is “terrorism.” But terrorism is just violence with a political motivation, which describes just about everything states do (incarceration, wars, policing, etc.) aside from the meager social services they provide, which people had to fight tooth and nail for. When they don’t use the label of “terrorist” to describe those outside the statist spectrum, pacifists often slander anyone who believes in combative resistance as “conservative” or “right-wing” as if self-preservation is “conservative” and the left is synonymous with submitting to authority and certain death, which it’s not. Meanwhile, many see no problem with state wars.
People rarely identify as violent or nonviolent. Most people consider both options as potentially viable given the circumstances and being willing to fight does not mean lacking compassion. One could simultaneously fight fascism and provide emotional support, food, water, education, and medical care to those in need and some do. That is not a contradiction but behaviors that compliment one another. What one fights for is most important.
As stated violence can be good or bad, depending on the circumstances and who is on the receiving end. This should be obvious, yet most proponents of pacifism claim all violence is “the same,” i.e. “bad.” However, ”pacifists have always been more comfortable with the violence of the oppressor than with the violence of the oppressed,” (Gelderloos, page 223). They want us to believe that the violence of an abductor kidnapping a child is the same as the violence used by the child to resist his or her captor. Obviously, it isn’t. Too often proponents of strict nonviolence also misrepresent state wars as driven by misunderstanding between two equally violent and powerful sides because that is far more palatable for most people and requires less action. But the reality is almost always incredibly one-sided: giant, trillion-dollar empires massacre completely outgunned victims for profit. Violent resistance to these empires, even within the context of a war, cannot be compared even remotely to the empire’s violence. It’s not “all violence.” That kind of reductive thinking is what maintains injustice, exploitation, oppression, slavery, and other forms of hierarchical relations.
Similarly, pacifists often oversimplify and flatten other words like “hate” or “contempt,” painting them as strictly destructive emotions, removing all nuance from the context. But righteously hating a mass murdering dictator is quite different than indiscriminately and ignorantly hating ethnic minorities or the poor. Whether or not hate can have a positive impact is less about the emotion and more about what is done with the emotion and to whom it’s directed. If hate festers inside of us and is never released or acted upon then it can be quite negative. But those interested in justice and equity and willing to use a diversity of tactics aren’t motivated by hate, despite what pacifists claim. Love is the motivation, and we must fight for what we love if we want to remain. Hating tyranny is better than feeling despair, dejection, powerlessness, and hopelessness that often come with submission and nonviolence in the face of tyranny. The mantra to “love everyone” really isn’t possible because one can’t simultaneously love a victim and his or her oppressor. To love a tyrant is to be complicit in his or her crimes and to reinforce the tyrant’s actions and self-righteousness. Destruction, often considered a synonym of violence is often condemned in the same way. Senseless and mindless destructive is negative, of course, but destruction of institutions that only destroy, oppress, torture, and humiliate is quite positive. As Mikhail Bakunin stated, destruction can be a creative force. Another false dichotomy purported by pacifists is that either one wants to build or destroy. But one can’t build anything of value to replace the system without eventually destroying it.
Merriam Webster also defines violence as “intense, turbulent, or furious and often destructive action or force,” which means violence isn’t exclusive to humans or other animals. This dictionary also defines violence as “injury by or as if by distortion, infringement, or profanation” and “undue alteration (as of wording or sense in editing a text),” so this means violence doesn’t even have to be physical, which makes it quite hard to pinpoint as there’s no objective way to quantify emotional damage. And if even editing a text can be violent, this means violence is quite broad and ubiquitous and it would remain so even if all wars ended today.
Violence and destruction can be renewing and they are most certainly inevitable. Violence sustains us and other animals. Only non-carnivorous plants could be considered truly nonviolent as they photosynthesize to survive. We are all violent. Even vegans eat dead plants that had to be killed for their survival. Claiming an animal’s life is more important than a plant’s is arguably speciesism. All animals are violent and nature itself is chaotic and destructive, despite the many symbiotic relationships that exist within nature. In fact, violence is part of the reason those symbiotic relationships work. For example, the dead animals and plants we excrete become a food source for plants. Therefore, obsession with nonviolence is quite contrary to nature and to be completely nonviolent is an impossible task. While a correct use of the word, calling property destruction “violent” is usually an attempt to give life to inanimate objects and displays the capitalist prioritization of “private property” and the obsession with “property rights” over the natural world. The felony charge in the US for destruction of property over $250 exemplifies this obsession and demonstrates where government priorities lie.
In December of 1999, The ACME Collective published a communique from the black bloc in the N30 in Seattle, which stated“Private property –especially corporate private property is itself infinitely more violent than any action taken against it….when we smash a window we aim to destroy the thin veneer of legitimacy that surrounds property rights.” This is accurate. Corporate property is infinitely more violent than any action taken against it because the resources used to construct the property are violently ripped from the Earth sometimes via slave labor and almost always without the consent of the surrounding population. Corporate property is also protected via state violence. It often displaces people from their homes through colonization and gentrification, and it is used to house products produced by wage slaves (or unwaged slaves in some cases) and sold by wage slaves.
If we use Merriam Webster’s definition of violence just about everything the state does can be considered violent and supporting the state is violent as it contributes to the state’s violence. Simply paying taxes is indirectly violent because taxes fund wars, prisons, oppressive laws, police forces, border patrol, and a variety of other coercive institutions. Other indirect forms of violence include supporting any part of the government, (police, military, etc.) doing nothing to stop state violence, buying clothes from a sweat shop, calling the police, foreclosing homes, and snitching.
When speaking of revolutionary Spain in the late 19th and early 20th century, Peter states “Aside from uncleanliness or hygiene, the principal term used to unleash a moral panic and mobilize elite action was “violence”. Among the elite, then as now, in Barcelona as in the English speaking world, “violence” was a euphemism for a threat to the ruling order and its illusion of social peace, with which the class struggle, the brutality of patriarchy, and the murderousness of colonialism are hidden. The newspapers did not talk about violence when cops killed strikers, when landlords evicted families, or when poor people died of hunger. They talked about violence when workers went on strike, when tenants stopped paying rent, when street vendors refused to surrender their wares to the cops (who would harass them at the behest of the store owners), and when anarchists carried out sabotage or held unpermitted marches.” pg 27
Because the state is waging a constant war on us, any attack we make against the state is self-defense. Two sides of a battlefield don’t usually wait until one side starts shooting so they can declare self-defense. The expectation is there in open warfare.
Institutional Support of Civilian Pacifism:
Peter Gelderloos explains in his book that “Nonviolence in its most current and effective forms not only lacks revolutionary, transformative character, but it serves the interests of the very organizations that on a world scale are most exploitative, the most powerful, and the most violent,” (Gelderloos, pg. 207). This is because the corporate media, other corporations more broadly, governments, and religious institutions decide what is violent and what is not. And when nonviolent protesters base their actions on how they will be portrayed by these institutions, they lose their own moral compass and adopt the values of these institutions. But these institutions always demonize any movement or person, nonviolent or violent, if they are against the state, corporate interests, or religious hierarchy and dogma. Many pacifists naively believe that the “truth will prevail” (meaning corruption will be exposed by the media, the beatings of pacifists will speak for themselves, and good will triumph over evil) because they think the corporate media is on their side when in reality it’s just a lapdog mouthpiece for the corporate state. The truth often does come out but nearly no one reads about it or sees it because the corporate media ignores it and when judges and prosecutors decide our fate anyway, the truth doesn’t matter because they can decide whatever they like regardless of the truth.
It’s not just some individuals who identify as pacifists who use violence. There are numerous violent institutions that promote peace, such as the Rand Corporation, the Ford Foundation, the International Republican Institute, and the National Endowment for Democracy. Gene Sharp, one of the modern figure heads of the “peace movement” received funding for his doctoral dissertation from the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, and his Albert Einstein Institution (AEI) received grants from the International Republican Institution and the National Endowment for Democracy from 1993-1999 revealed in AEI’s own report. Both the the International Republican Institution and the National Endowment for Democracy are funded by the government. “NGOs profit constantly off the state’s need to recuperate popular rage. Rich donors and government agencies give away huge amounts of money to pay dissidents to feel like they’re making a real change in the world by running services that constitute a bandage on the gaping wounds of poverty and structural violence, while training those in need to passively accept aid rather than fighting to change their circumstances. Thanks to charity, the powerful can throw some crumbs to those who wait obediently, allowing them to more effectively crush those who rise up to create change directly” (Gelederloos pg 37)
Because nonviolence is defenseless, Gelderloos explains “This is why nonviolence systematically tries to preempt its own repression by currying favor with the people in power, by appealing to the values they share with the dominant system ([domestic] peace, social order, lawfulness, democracy) by minimizing critiques of capitalism, the state, and other foundations of power, and by disguising a reformist, pro-authority movement as “Revolutionary,” communicating to the elite that they can serve a useful purpose. The systematic tendency of nonviolence toward reformism, cowardice, bootlicking, and the betrayal of other currents in social struggle stems from its unconscious recognition of its own defenselessness and need to gain favor with the authorities” (Gelderloos, pg. 124-125).
Democracy vs. Dictatorship and the Implications of Nonviolent Regime Change:
Most pacifists are statists obsessed with the concept of democracy and consider it synonymous with justice, freedom, and truth because this is what politicians tell us. This is why nonviolence more often sparks regime changes than revolution. Gelderloos explains “At best, nonviolence can oblige power to change its masks, to put a new political party on the throne and possibly expand the social sectors that are represented in the elite, without changing the fundamental fact that there is an elite that rules and benefits from the exploitation of everybody else” (Gelderloos, page 11).”As long as future elections regularly cycle out candidates, they will think freedom has another chance of flourishing with each new change of masks. On inspection, a peaceful coup in the name of democracy is only a contradiction if we swallow liberal rhetoric about the rule of law. Law is always coercive, but it is legitimized through a variety of illusions or rituals,” (pg 118). Most pacifists promote nonviolence because they believe in authority and due process, a process which even governments don’t respect. Due process would theoretically be better than what governments do already but no judge or anyone else can decide what is right and wrong and it ultimately comes down to them to decide the fate of everything under their jurisdiction.
Democracy is a misnomer for our governments. There can’t be a democracy that was formed involuntarily but all of them have been. There are no state “democracies.” A true democracy would be formed with the consent of everyone in it. Instead, elites get together and decide a landmass of millions of people is now a “democracy” whether we, the masses, like it or not. Democracy in this framework is completely perverted. A rule by majority within a society is illegitimate if the society was never formed voluntarily. There can be legitimately democratic groups formed voluntarily within so-called state “democracies” that may disagree with the state and therefore are called “anti-democratic,” but the state itself is entirely undemocratic.
Plans to take illegal actions can’t be publicized as they would run the risk of being shut down by pigs or feds but this doesn’t make them automatically “anti-democratic,” despite the accusation, so long as the people involved agreed to the plans and they don’t target innocent people. State democracies would rather project the image of homogeneity and silence dissidents and minorities than listen to them. Far more democratic are the spontaneous actions of people contrary to due process. States demand the public to respect due process but governments get to play judge, jury, and executioner all in one with preemptive attacks, drone strikes, secret coups, police killings, and so on, completely chucking it out the window. In such an lop-sided fight as the one the corporate state wages against us, secrecy is paramount. It is governments that must be transparent if they exist at all, not the people being brutalized by them. But it matters little whether government decision making is secret or transparent if they are making decisions for us (as they always do). We have the right to make our own decisions and govern our own affairs. Gelderloos explains “Our practices should not be constantly subjected to consensus and compromise” [because] “Unity is a Trojan horse for centralization and domination.” (pg. 302) We can’t lose ourselves and our own autonomy within any collective or group. “Any practice that attempts to impose homogeneity in the name of unity violates the sense of solidarity and mutual respect necessary for diverse currents of social struggles to coexist.” (pg 303.)
Further, Gelderloos elaborates “This brings us back to the earlier questions. Democracy is merely another way to organize exploitation, oppression, and social control. Democratic governments have coexisted with slavery, colonialism, warfare, the most patriarchal societies with some of the most unequal concentrations of wealth, the destruction of the environment, starvation, extreme poverty, the pathologization or murder of trans people, labor exploitation, job and housing precarity, homelessness, exclusion from healthcare, genocide, and any other bad thing we can think of. The most brutal forms of poverty and the worst destruction to the environment have occurred since democracy became the predominant form of government on the planet…..The line between democracy and dictatorship is fictitious. Whatever difference there is is primarily one of formalism and ritual. The two classes of government are often interchangeable, and when a government changes from one to the other, many of the same people tend to stay in charge,” (pg 117). Further, “There is no clear distinction between dictatorship and democracy. All governments dictate, many dictators are elected, and the subjects of typical dictatorships often have ways to influence the government that are more direct than the means enjoyed by citizens of typical democracies,” (pg 120 ). We shouldn’t forget some of the most hated dictators to ever live like Hitler were democratically elected too. The main reason representative “democratic” government has flourished over dictatorship in the first world is that the business elite find the former more economically stable: “Whereas dictators can impose capital controls or default on loans without warning, democracies usually allow bank technocrats to control their monetary policy, and they lack a potentially erratic strongman figure who might defy investors,”(pg. 188-189).
The Pacifist Rewriting of History and the Hypocrisy of Ghandi
A common tactic of pacifists is to rewrite history and portray movements that employed a diversity of tactics as strictly nonviolent like the protests against the Vietnam war, (in which some US soldiers fragged their commanding officers in protest and the decisive factor that ended the war was the highly violent Viet Cong resistance) the civil rights movement, (see my previous article to read about armed resistance within this movement), the Tienanmen Square protests, (when in reality there were “major riots, armed resistance, and the lynching of several soldiers by the crowd”) and the Indian independence movement. Ghandi is often mentioned exclusively in history classes on the Indian Independence Movement by pacifists, whereas revolutionary, combative figures are left out completely like Bhagat Singh who bombed the Central Legislative Assembly in Delhi and killed British police officer, John Saunders, in Lahore, British India to avenge Lala Lajpat Rai who died two weeks after being beaten by police in a protest. Indian Revolutionary Freedom fighter, Madan Lal Dhingra, who assassinated British official Sir William Hutt Curzon Wyllie is another example ignored by historians and teachers. Arguably, these revolutionaries did more for the people of India, despite their absence in history books. Ghandi only had sway over British authorities because they were worried about real revolutionaries like Singh and Dhingra actually capable and willing to use violence who were targeted for state repression with the help of Ghandi. As Peter states in his book “The British colluded with the nonviolent and dialogue-oriented segment of the movement to isolate and repress the “violent” radical currents so they could stage-manage a transition of power that would be favorable to British interests.” (Gelderloos, Peter: The Failure of Nonviolence, pg 40-41.)
Gandhi above all was a hypocrite and a sycophantic bootlicker happy to collude with his country’s colonizer. He went to school in Britain, his country’s colonizer, organized a volunteer effort to support the British in the Boer war of 1899 and Zulu war of 1906 in South Africa, and won a Boer and Zulu war medal. These were hardly “defensive wars” either. The Zulu war began when the Zulu rebelled against the British attacks on their population and the British enslavement of the Zulus in South Africa’s diamond mines. And the Boer war began after the British plotted to overthrow the the Boer government to mine its gold.
Indian independence from Britain arguably didn’t lead to any major changes in India either. Gelderloos explains “The government of India continued to mete out humiliation, exploitation, beatings, and killings after the victory of the supposedly nonviolent independence movement.” (Gelderloos, Peter: The Failure of Nonviolence, pg. 34.) Leaders were killed off as well. The same is true of the government of South Africa after independence. Both are still very capitalist and exploitative. The Civil Rights Movement also touted as a victory for nonviolent methods didn’t lead to revolutionary changes either. “In the United States, the desegregated South continued to preserve white supremacy northern style, through gentrification, judicial lynchings, structural discrimination, and other measures.” (Gelderloos, pg 34). Further, arguably the only reason the Civil Rights Movement was able to achieve anything at all was because of armed groups that defended nonviolent activists like the Black Panther Party, the Deacons of Justice and Defense, and Joseph Mallisham’s defense force. In his book, Gelderloos writes, “Many times in history, governments have conceded minor victories to peaceful movements because they feared that not-peaceful movements would grow; these are, therefore, victories achieved though a diversity of tactics, because without the presence of the scary radicals, the government would have no need to bargain with the harmless pacifists,” (pg. 218.)
Most proponents of nonviolence seek recuperation with the state as Ghandi did. They negotiate and look for common ground with the very same oppressors they claim to be “fighting.” Proponents of strict nonviolence are reformers, not revolutionaries, and they encourage radicals to fight for reform instead of revolution and turn their social movements into money makers palatable to the powers that be. Gelderloos explains “The Civil Rights movement in the US was recuperated when it was convinced to fight for voter registration instead of any material equality or meaningful freedom” (pg 39.)
The Pacifist Lie that “The State Wants Us to Be Violent”
Some pacifists claim that governments want us to be violent so that they can attempt to justify more repressive measures but that is absurd. They don’t need an excuse to oppress and kill people. They do it to innocent, peaceful people all the time. For example, the majority of victims of police killings are unarmed, peaceful people and the war in Iraq has killed far more civilians than terrorists. Governments encourage police, massive corporations, and state employees to be violent and they want the public to accept that violence as normal while we are relegated to pacifism. Most violence portrayed in the media is violence against the public committed by governments to normalize that type of violence alone. The only time the most powerful, ruling states support civilian violence against other states is when these states run contrary to the interests of more powerful states.
FBI informants like Brandon Darby (who encouraged two activists to make Molotov cocktails so that he could imprison them just for the plan) commonly entrap vulnerable people by encouraging them to make plans for attacks but the point is to put them in prison, not to actually let the targets or their movements become violent. Politicians like Bill Clinton, Obama, and Bloomberg have all lauded protesters who remain nonviolent while scolding those who use combative tactics. (Antifascists or “antifa” who are fighting Neo-Nazis in US demonstrations and protests are now labeled “terrorists” by the media and some politicians.) They don’t want us to be violent. They want those of us willing to fight state and corporate tyranny killed or in prison and they will do anything to make that happen, including painting us all as “nihilist bombthrowers.” If they can’t imprison us, they encourage us to be nonviolent as we are more easily controlled that way. As an example, “During the US occupation of Iraq, the Pentagon planted stories in Iraqi newspapers that appeared to be authored by Iraqis and members of the resistance, calling for a nonviolent struggle. Obviously, the military prefers to go up against pacifists than people with guns. Failing at that, their only option to avoid losing in Iraq was to spur an internecine religious war that would make the US military seem like a force for peace and stability.”i One of the articles was entitled “The Sands Are Blowing Toward a Democratic Iraq.”ii
While pacifists claim their peaceful resistance is more palatable to the general public because it is nonviolent, Gelderloos argues in his book that violence against the state doesn’t alienate all of us. “It is a fact that there are a great many people who are more likely to sympathize with a struggle if they see people taking risks and fighting back than if they see people carrying giant puppets or dressing up like turtles. And this brings up the question, who would we rather have on our side? Those who want to fight back or those who just want theater?” (Gelderloos, pg. 106)
We can’t debate or negotiate with the state because the debate will never be portrayed fairly in the state-run media, and there’s nothing to debate or negotiate when you realize the state is our enemy. Most proponents of nonviolence don’t want to debate proponents of combative tactics either and they do anything they can to stop such debate or skew it in their favor. ”The only way for a media-savvy activist organization to bring together such diverse crowds in a mass and create the pseudo-movement they need to ride to power is to ardently avoid any theoretical debate, any collective discussion of strategy, any envisioning of new worlds or elaboration of social critiques, any truly creative processes. What they want are sheep. Sheep who will dress in orange or pin a rose on their t-shirt, baaa “yes” or “no” in unison, and go home when those entrusted with the thinking have decided it is time,” (page 113).
“Pacifist” Violence, Slander, and Harassment of Combative Movements and Black Blocs
Many pacifists unable able to answer or counter the arguments made by proponents of a diversity of tactics revert to slander and ad hominem attacks, claiming they are “police provocateurs,” “informants”, or “government agents,” claims which expose their targets to police violence. This thinking is beyond infantile. It assumes anyone with the gull to fight the corporate state with more than giant puppets and peace signs must be part of the government itself, looking to entrap activists. Many hypocritical “pacifists” have also physically attacked fellow protesters in attempt to stop them. For example, during the student movement in Spain in 2009 sparked by the privatization of Spain’s universities, self-appointed student leaders of the movement prevented discussion of a diversity of tactics and threw out students who tried to “mask up or practice self-defense in the protests,” (Gelderloos, page 12). Further, according to the ACME Collective during the N30 protests on six occasions “pacifists” attacked individuals targeting corporate property. Some stood in front of a Niketown super store and tackled and shoved the block bloc. Those “peacekeepers” are more often undercover cops than anyone in the black bloc, despite pacifist slander alleging the contrary.
If pacifists can’t claim combative protesters are undercover police, then they often call them “spoiled” or “middle-class white men,” despite the fact that it’s usually the underclass of all genders and races that uses these tactics and pacifists are usually spoiled and middle or upper class and primarily white. The most aggressive rioters in the UK Student movement, for example, were women and the most aggressive in the Oakland riots, (which led to the first indictment of an on-duty pig for murder in California) were minorities most directly affected by police terror. The Black Bloc in Oakland also had a feminist and queer bloc. Yet many pacifists at that time still made the claim that those being violent were white males. The same occurred when indigenous people, immigrants, and anarchists fought with police and destroyed property (including a branch of the Royal Bank of Canada, which was a sponsor) to protest the 2010 Vancouver Olympic games. Many pacifists claimed it was “privileged white, male anarchists” endangering more “vulnerable people” and they linked arms to protect private property and prevent riots.
There were also the 2009 riots in response to the G20 in Pittsburgh wherein the queer anarchist block was the most violent and combative according to Gelderloos. At the Queers Fucking Queers action event, queer people started an illegal dance party, attacked police, and smashed an American Apparel store and a bank. In the 1969 Stonewall riots queers, gays, lesbians, and transgender folks also battled with cops. Queers have also beat up transphobic frat boys and on May 16, 2010 “masked queers” threw torches into the home of a man who murdered transwoman, Dana Larkin. There are also individuals like Marius Mason who entered prison as Marie and transitioned to Marius in prison. Marius was an Earth Liberation Front activist sentenced to 22 years for burning Michigan State University property for its research on GM crops, as well as burning commercial logging equipment that caused $4 million in damage. (Marius’ husband ratted her out.)
Some pacifists will also revert to calling rioters and others who use combative tactics as “outside agitators” even when those rioting are residents of the town they are rioting in. Gelderloos explains “Delegitimizing rioters as outside agitators, and equating the categories of “anarchist” and “outside agitator” is nothing but the regurgitation of a longstanding government smear tactic. The government used it when anti-capitalist struggles heated up after WWI to justify the Palmer Raids and their deportation of thousands of anarchist immigrants. And they used it again during the Red Scare to go after the Communists,” (page 164).
The Efficacy of a Diversity of Tactics Vs. Strict Nonviolence
Another lie purported by most pacifists is that nonviolence is more effective than violence. But if nonviolence was truly more effective than violence, the state would use it. Almost all state borders were drawn up via violent conquest and those borders are patrolled with armed guards ready to harm or kill those who cross them without government permission. Almost all coup changes were violent and states grant themselves the “right” to use force whenever they deem it fit. Every law is enforced via the threat of violence or incarceration, which is itself violent. Governments and violence are inseparable.
Many pacifists also argue violence against the state increases repression of the public but the criteria for a successful movement ought not to be the level of repression that comes with resistance. Both nonviolent resistance and violent resistance both provoke increased repression. (For example, there was a large increase in white supremacist bombings and lynchings after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.) Nonviolent activists are also frequently labeled “terrorists” by the government and media along with combative activists. As another example, the ACLU revealed that under the guise of “counterterrorism efforts” the FBI has monitored the peace group, School of Americas Watch, which researches the Orwellian U.S Army School of the Americas, now renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation that trains death squads in South America. The FBI has also monitored the Thomas Merton Center, a Pittsburgh-based peace center, the Quaker American Friends Service, the National Lawyers Guild, and freelance journalists who covered the FTAA protests in Miami in 2003 like Dave Lippman, calling them “terrorist sympathizers”. Further, the Pentagon monitors other anti-war activists, including a Quaker Meeting House in Lake Forth, Florida that holds counter-military recruiting meetings and activists who staged anti-nuclear protests in Nebraska on the 50th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Nagasaki. iii Even when there is no resistance of any kind, there is repression because the parasitic corporate state subsists through the subjugation of the public. Many pacifists argue that by resisting government tyranny with violence, we only “perpetuate cycles of violence.” But this view is entirely contrary to the historical record. Violence generally beats people into submission and“police shoot and torture people not because they have had rocks thrown at them, but because it is their job. Politicians rule and make decisions that kill thousands not because they were beaten as infants but because institutions of power manufacture their own interests and impose them on what might be considered human or biological interests. Cycles of violence do not explain oppression. The State is pyramidal and accumulative, not cyclical,” (Gelderloos pg 103).
It is absolutely absurd for pacifists to blame combative protesters for increased police repression (as many do) as if it makes sense for police to beat up peaceful protesters because combative protesters elsewhere broke some windows. Doing so legitimizes, normalizes, and attempts to justify police terror. Pacifists should be blaming police instead of combative protesters as we don’t get to chose the police response. There are also many instances wherein combative, violent, forceful, or illegal resistance resulted in less repression (since states are motivated by fear and hate and they often only do something positive like indict a cop for murder when they fear public upheaval and riots for not doing so) and nonviolent resistance has resulted in greater repression, which Peter discusses in his book and which this article will discuss. Among the most obvious examples are Ghandi and MLK often touted as the heroes of nonviolent method who were killed for their efforts. They exemplify the fact that the use of the nonviolent tactics is not without serious consequences. Speaking broadly, Peter points out in his book that despite the recent rise of combative tactics used by activists in Greece, France, and Spain, police repression has not increased significantly in these countries as a result, whereas the UK and the Netherlands have seen far greater police repression and surveillance despite their more pacified and peaceful residents.
As another example when the IWW renounced sabotage and violence the state actually increased repression of the group, taking advantage of their weaker position. As Gelderloos states, “The belief of modern pacifists, which was not shared by King or Gandhi, that peaceful struggle can avoid brutal consequences at the hands of police and military, has been effectively used as a selling point to flood the ranks of nonviolent movements with opportunists, weekenders, fair-weather friends, cowards, careerists, and naïve citizens who think that changing the world can be easy and hassle-free. Repression is inevitable in any struggle against authority. It is important to be able to survive this repression, but in the worst case, a struggle that is completely crushed by repression is still more effective—because it can inspire us today—than a struggle that allows itself to be recuperated for fear of repression, as happens with many nonviolent movements.” (Gelderloos, page 46). Beyond being inspiring, it is also more psychologically liberating to resist, even if it ends in failure. As has been said before, it’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees. Gelderloos states in his book that better criteria to gauge the effectiveness of social movements are “whether or not the tactic or method is liberating” and “whether [or not] it makes us more free and opens up space for new social relations”(Gelderloos, page 28). “New relations mean: do people share communally and enjoy direct access to their means of survival, or is the social wealth alienated; are people able to organize their own lives, activity, and surroundings, or is decision-making authority monopolized by government structures; do women, trans, and queer people enjoy means of self-defense and self determination, or are they fully exposed to the violence of patriarchy; do people of color and indigenous people have means of self-defense and autonomy, or are they at the mercy of colonial structures like the market and the police?” (Gelderloos, page 46). Peter’s two other criteria for success are whether or not the movement increases awareness of new ideas worth fighting for and whether or not it is supported by the elite.
The nonviolent argument that police and federal repression will be worse if we fight back is the most sycophantic, obsequious, cowardly argument one could make. What if no one had risen up against the Nazis because they were worried they would hurt Jews and other targets more if they did? We would probably live in a world still dominated by the Third Reich. Of course, this isn’t an argument or an attempt to justify the Allies’ war crimes like the bombing of Dresden, Fukushima, or Nagasaki, but armed resistance was absolutely necessary. Delusional pacifist Mark Kurlansky actually wrote of WWII “if they wanted to save the Jews, the best chance would have been not going to war.” In fact, there was nonviolent resistance to WWII and it was ruthlessly exterminated while many of those who took up arms made it out alive. To be specific, Lithuanian Jews who carried out sit-ins against deportation were subsequently forced into cattle cars and Jewish councils refusing to comply were executed. Denmark, which did not resist violently during WWII also served as “an important source of food, armaments, and raw materials for the war machine” and the Nazis took over Denmark in “one of the shortest ground campaigns in history” according to Gelderloos. Let’s compare these examples to the violent rebellions of 1943, which shut down Sobibor and Treblinka death camps during WWII. Soviet-Jewish POW Alexander Pechersky from Minsk led the Sobibor uprising on October 14, 1943, killing 11 SS officers who were discovered prematurely, forcing the rest to make a run for it. 107 were murdered fleeing but 58 survived. Former Jewish captain of the Polish Army, Dr. Julian Chorążycki, and former Polish Army officer, Dr. Berek Lajcher, organized the Treblinka uprising. 100 former prisoners managed to escape after the revolt at Treblinka on August 2, 1943 after stealing an arsenal of weapons and setting fire to most of the infrastructure in the camp. Partisans of the Armia Krajowa (Home Army) helped the escapees reach safety. Many were also saved by Catalan anarchists and Yugoslav partisans. Similarly, prisoners who revolted at Auschwitz-Birkenau on October 7 1944 managed to blow up the crematoria though most were killed. And about 150 survived the Białystok Ghetto Uprising led by the Anti-Fascist Military Organization (Antyfaszystowska Organizacja Bojowa), a branch of the Warsaw Anti-Fascist Bloc. These weren’t isolated incidents either. Let’s examine some more specific examples of the failures of strict, dogmatic nonviolence and successes of a diversity of tactics.
Examples of the Failures of Nonviolent Movements:
The overwhelmingly peaceful protests of the war in Iraq on February 15, 2003 were perhaps the largest nonviolent movement of all time. The BBC estimated 6 to 11 million people worldwide (other estimates were as high as thirty million) protested in 600 cities, including three million in Rome alone, yet they failed to stop the war. The size of the protest was enough for pacifists to declare victory, despite the fact that the protests did nothing to stop the war. What was actually effective was sabotage of military recruiting centers and infrastructure of war along with blockades of the ports of Olympia and San Francisco to stop shipments of military equipment.
Similarly, the peaceful “color revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia, Lebanon, and Kyrgyzstan were failures as they focused on one political party and were satisfied when another party came into power. They all received support from elites, the corporate media, and funding from the US and billionaires like George Soros. “It’s no coincidence that every single Color Revolution has replaced a government that had a close relationship with Russia with a government that wanted a closer relationship with the United States and European Union,” (Gelderloos, pg 114). “And in every case, the organization responsible for conducting the so-called revolution received funding from progressive capitalists like billionaire George Soros, or from US and EU governmental institutions like USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, and Freedom House,” (pg 115). (The Freedom House was funded primarily with grants from the USG, specifically USAID from 2006-2015, which only funds governments that support American interests while discriminating against those that don’t. Representatives of Cuba also accused it of having ties to the CIA. It also opposed the creation of the ICC and essentially enslaves countries in debt under the guise of “humanitarian aid,” the funds from which go into enormous infrastructure projects built by US companies that do not benefit the general public.)
The slogan of the “Orange Revolution” of 2004 in Ukraine was simply “yes” – not exactly inspiring or nuanced. During the Saffron Revolution of Myanmar catalyzed by the government removal of fuel subsidies in 2007, leading to a 66% price increase, common people took to the streets and nonviolently protested. Thousands were arrested and between 13 to hundreds were killed. (Estimates varied widely.) Fuel subsidies were not restored and nothing was accomplished. In Serbia the movement called the “Bulldozer Revolution,” which has its roots in the similar “Отпор!“(Resistance!) movement and drew from the Philippine’s 1983′-86′ ‘Yellow Revolution’ was satisfied with the ousting of President Slobadan Milosevic. However, senior Milosevic official, Dragan Tomić succeeded Milosevic as President and was just as corrupt. Tomić allegedly gave oil to the Serb Volunteer Guard, members of which have been indicted for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing by the International Criminal Tribunal.
The color revolutions also failed in Belarus and Azerbaijan when their governments decided to crush them with beatings, kidnappings, murder, and arrests, which isn’t surprising as simply participating in any unregistered organization or activity is considered a crime in both countries. During Kuwait’s “Blue Revolution” women won the right to vote but women still are considered inferior to men and voting remains an illusion of freedom. Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolution” ended Syrian military occupation of Lebanon, which much of the Lebanese government already supported but Syria still very much controls Lebanon. Kyrgyzstan’s Tulip Revolution wasn’t completely nonviolent. It “stormed government buildings and physically ousted the ruling party…People rioted, beat up cops, and took government buildings by force” (Gelderloos pg 119.) But because the goal was simply regime change, the revolution achieved nothing as the state just changed its mask and carried on business as usual, which serves as another lesson. Combative tactics alone aren’t enough to bring revolution. The goals must be revolutionary. Nonviolent movements frequently seek regime change with no conception of the underlying problems of governance, hierarchy, and authority. If a violent movement seeks simple regime change or reform with no broader or deeper goals, it is bound to fail as miserably as a nonviolent movement in achieving any substantial change in the quality of common people’s lives.
The Hong Kong democracy movement also called the Umbrella Movement is another example. Protesters took to the streets on September 26 2014 around the government headquarters after “831 decision” was made by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, the national legislative body of the ‘People’s Republic’ of China. The decision gave a nominating committee exclusive power to nominate candidates for the Chief Executive elections. Candidates would have to receive at least half of the committee’s support to run. Protesters were angry that they couldn’t nominate their own candidates and wanted greater input in the election process. Police responded with tear gas and cleared out the protesters in two months. Not only did the protests fail to overturn 831 decision, the academic freedoms and civil liberties of activists were nearly dismantled.
The Falun Gong movement is another devastating example. Falun Gong (literally, “Dharma Wheel Practice” or “Law Wheel Practice”) is a spiritual practice rooted in compassion, self-control, and honesty that combines meditation and qigong. By 1999 the number of Falun Gong practitioners was estimated by the government to be around 70 million and was viewed as a threat to the state as its nonviolent tenants did not involve the government. In April 1999, 10,000 practitioners peacefully gathered by Beijing’s central government compound to ask for legal recognition and independence from the state. In July 1999, the government began to persecute practitioners in response, initially by blocking access to websites that mention the practice. The government’s prosecution of practitioners then sharply escalated with arbitrary arrests, forced labor, torture, psychiatric abuse, and even organ harvesting of practitioners. According to the Kilgour–Matas report written by Canadian MP David Kilgour and human rights lawyer David Matas, 62,000 practitioners have had their organs harvested for profit from 2000-2008.
The Tibetan independence movement that seeks independence from China and autonomy for Tibet is another example. The movement is overwhelming nonviolent and thus those within it are taken advantage of for this reason. Even hanging a picture of the Dalai Lama who once advocated for Tibetan independence is considered a crime the Chinese government. The movement has been an astounding failure.
Cherokee nonviolence could be considered another example. The Cherokee won their first defensive war against British colonists who sought to steal their land but failed in their second war. This led many Cherokee to give up much of their traditional identity, including their dress, language, and rituals and instead assimilate to avoid being slaughtered by the colonists. The Cherokee also fought with the British against indigenous nations allied with France in the Seven Years War and then helped squash the Creek rebellion in 1814 with colonists led by the murderous Andrew Jackson. It is tragically ironic that they thought this would help prevent their own slaughter by the USG as just 24 years later: “In 1838 US troops forced thousands of Native Cherokee into concentration camps where they were forced westward on the Trail of Tears. In the winter “one out of every four Cherokee died from cold, hunger, or diseases. Many other nations were forcibly relocated: the Choctaws, Chickasaws Creeks, Shawnees, Miamis, Ottawa, Wendats, and Delawares,” (Gord Hill: 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance, pg. 36).
Māori nonviolent resistance to the government of New Zealand’s theft of their lands in the village of Parihaki in Taranaki is another example. Te Whiti o Rongomai III, a Māori spiritual leader and founder of the village of Parihaka led the resistance and insisted Māori not fight but instead passively resist. As a result Whiti was arrested by the British colony of New Zealand and all the lands were stolen. However, Maori resistance (aside from Te Whiti) was and is mostly combative and violent, and this is arguably the sole reason they have survived at all. Similarly, peaceful Aboriginal Tasmanian resistance to British colonialism in Australia could be considered another example. Aboriginal Tasmanians did fight in the Black War of the early 19th Century to protect their land and themselves from colonist rape and violence but as they faced a far better equipped and numerous enemy, the Tasmanians surrendered on December 31, 1831 and the government did not honor the conditions of the surrender but instead exterminated them.
Successful Examples of Combative, Forceful, Illegal, and Violent Resistance:
The Spanish and Ukrainian Revolution are perhaps the most inspiring examples of armed resistance against government tyranny. In both revolutions radically new relations were formed from the bottom up. Shops were collectivized in Spain, large tracts of land were collectivized and shared among those who actually worked the land, money stolen from the masses and held in massive banks was expropriated, women enjoyed greater positions of equity, cops and hitmen who had killed workers were offed, Churches that had facilitated the exploitation and murder of peasants were destroyed, and freedom reigned until the Revolution was crushed by the fascists. There were pacifists in the Revolution as well whose fate was very different: “In Zaragosa the anarchists were mostly unarmed and decided to organize a larger unions to win gradual improvements whereas in Barcelona the anarchists were armed and decided to be more combative. The differences in the outcomes are painfully plain. The anarchists of Zargoza, lacking a means or will to defend themselves were promptly all shot by a firing squad in the first days of the coup, whereas the anarchists of Barcelona were able to implement their vision of a new world for several years before being defeated militarily,” (Gelderloos, pg 242).
Much of the same type of egalitarianism of the Spanish Revolution was created by the Ukrainian Revolution of 1917-1921, which took place in the context of the First World War wherein Russia, Great Britain and Germany sought to take more more and more land under their control. The authoritarian Russian Bolsheviks set their sights on Ukraine in 1917 and declared the establishment of their own government there, invading a number of Ukrainian cities in January of 1918 in attempt to gain control over the state. In February they took control of Kiev and committed war crimes against the civilian population. In September 1918 Nestor Makhno, a native of Huliaipole, sought to defend his home and formed the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, also called the Black Guard or Makhnovshchyna (Махновщина), consisting of Ukrainian peasants and workers. Makhno procured weapons and equipment from the Austro-Hungarian and German forces that retreated from Ukraine during the war. The Black Guard fought both the fascist, antisemitic “White Guards” and the despotic Russian Red Army until 1922. At the Black Army’s peak, they drove off all of the White Guards from Southern Ukraine. They also expropriated land from the greedy aristocracy in Ukraine that claimed ownership of vast tracts of unused land, which they then redistributed among Ukrainian peasants. Their black flags read “Liberty or Death” and “The Land to the Peasants, the Factories to the Workers.” The army didn’t have officers as in traditional armies. Instead, all leaders within it were elected, assemblies were called to decide policies, soldiers were self-disciplined, and all joined voluntarily. None were forced via conscription. Much of this structure was copied by the anarchists of the Spanish Revolution.
The same year Makhno formed his army, he helped create and guard stateless libertarian communes, which they called Makhnovia or the “Free Territory” in Huliaipole. Makhno wrote that the Free Territory had “equality and solidarity of its members”iv and “freedom of speech, press, assembly, [and] unions” v All land in Makhnovia was shared and communally held and factories, railways, and farms were voluntarily collectivized. Compulsory education was abolished, schools were reconstructed and free courses were offered to the public. Some communities also eschewed the use of fiat currency altogether. Wherever the army liberated towns, they posted a notice stating “Workers, your city is for the present occupied by the Revolutionary Insurrectionary (Makhnovist) Army. This army does not serve any political party, any power, any dictatorship. On the contrary, it seeks to free the region of all political power, of all dictatorship. It strives to protect the freedom of action, the free life of the workers, against all exploitation and domination. The Makhnovist Army does not, therefore, represent any authority. It will not subject anyone to any obligation whatsoever. Its role is confined to defending the freedom of the workers. The freedom of the peasants and the workers belong to themselves, and should not suffer any restriction.”
In February 1920, 20,000 soldiers of the Red Army invaded Ukraine, overwhelming Makhno’s army and terrorizing their sympathizers under Leon Trotsky’s orders. In June Russia’s secret police force, the Cheka, sent agents to assassinate Makhno but were unsuccessful. Trotsky tricked Makhno into believing he wanted peace by signing a treaty in October 1920, which the Bolshevik government initially refused to publish or even acknowledge, continuing their policies of mass arrests of anarchists. The next month several Black Army commanders and staff met at the Red Army Southern Front headquarters for a conference where they were arrested and immediately executed by the Red Army. The treaty delegation was also arrested. A massive force of 350,000 Red Army soldiers was then sent to completely destroy the Makhnovist movement, bringing it to an end in 1922. Part of the reason Makhno’s army was defeated was that they were never able to manufacture their own weapons or ammunition and they relied on weapons procured from their enemies in battle. While short-lived, much like the Spanish Revolution, the Ukrainian Revolution is an inspiring example of what the world could be like.
One of the biggest successes of all armed resistance movements was the Viet Cong’s victory in the Vietnam war. Outgunned, outnumbered, and far more poorly equipped, the Viet Cong still won the war against the largest empire on Earth, because the Viet Cong were tireless, they never gave up, and they relied on the support from civilians as they enjoyed a mostly mutually beneficial relationship with them. This should not be taken as an endorsement of the Viet Cong, however, as they killed civilians too, albeit far fewer the US empire, and they had internment camps. But their successful resistance in the face of empire is inspiring. Another decisive factor that contributed to the end of the war was the violent resistance of US soldiers to their superiors. Many rank and file dissidents in the US military fragged their commanding officers.
The Weather Underground may have also contributed to the end of the Vietnam War. They were a radical, combative, left-wing group that sought to overthrow the US government and bring an end to the war in Vietnam. They broke Dr. Timothy Leary out of jail and bombed several government buildings and banks with clear messages about their meaning. On January 29, 1975 they bombed the United States Department of State building, which they stated was “in response to the escalation in Vietnam”. The war ended just a few months later in April and it’s certainly possible their bombing influenced Nixon’s decision to end the war.
Another prominent example is the Afghan resistance in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Afghan victory in that war may have ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union as this occurred just one year later. In Dresden and Berlin, civilian clashes with cops and rioting may have contributed to the fall of the Berlin wall.
The Haitian Revolution is another example. The Revolution was led by slaves who rose up against French colonial rule, freeing themselves, abolishing slavery in Haiti, and ending French rule. However, their freedom came with a cost. By the end of the war, 200,000 Haitians were dead and the rebels also committed war crimes, decapitating the children of French masters and raping women. Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the new black leader declared Haiti a free republic but essentially brought slavery back. This revolution could be seen as a cautionary tale. Any revolution that doesn’t attempt to do away with hierarchy and social castes is bound to become despotic once again. But the revolution does show armed rebellion against empires can be effective. Similarly, Nyanga or Gaspar Yanga, sold into slavery in Mexico escaped with a group of slaves who created their own Maroon colony. In 1609 550 Spanish troops attacked the colony’s small band of 100 fighters and former slaves. Although they were outnumbered by more than 5 to 1 and possessed inferior weapons they resisted the attack using their superior knowledge of the land. Both sides suffered major losses and the colony was burned but the residents fled and kept fighting, forcing the Spanish to sign a treaty in 1618, giving the colony autonomy. By 1630 San Lorenzo de los Negros de Cerralvo was formed.
The Windward Maroons are another example of slaves who freed themselves by violently resisting the empire that kept them in chains. Nanny of the Maroons led the community of formerly enslaved Africans in a military campaign against the British colonizers in Jamaica. Although the Windward Maroons were outnumbered and outgunned, their military tactics were far superior. They utilized camouflage, greater knowledge of the terrain, cow horns with holes drilled in them for long range communication not understood by the British, and they built their village with only one entrance, making flanking impossible. The Maroons successful resistance forced the British to sign a peace treaty in 1740, granting freedom for the Maroons, and 500 acres to Nanny and her followers. The small town built on the land still exists to this day. However, not all of this was revolutionary. Part of the treaty stipulated that the Maroon would help catch runaway slaves.
The revolt of slaves aboard the ship Creole in November 1841 is another example. 128 slaves won their freedom as a result of the revolt. The UK had already outlawed slavery at this point and so the slave ship was illegal and the revolt was fortunately found to be legal self-defense. Similarly, a group of Mende people kidnapped in Sierra Leone and shipped on the Spanish schooner La Amistad in 1839 to be sold into slavery killed the captain and the cook and took over the ship. They then told the navigators to direct them to Africa but instead they sailed north where they were stopped by the US ships. In 1840, the courts found that the slave ship was illegal and that the kidnapped men acted in self-defense. They were all set free.
The Italian resistance movement is another prominent example. However, it’s important to recognize this resistance was very varied and not exclusively anti-authoritarian. The Resistenza italiana or just Resistenza consisted of various resistance groups that opposed the occupying German forces and the fascist Italian regime of Italy during World War II. It included socialists like the Matteotti Brigades, communists like the Garibaldi Brigades, monarchists (unfortunately), anarchists like Stella Rossa in Turin, and the partigiane combattenti or Partisan fighters. Women played a large role in the resistance and took up arms in several of the resistance groups, including the partisan combatants who stood 35,000 strong. Arguably, the biggest and most tangible success of the Italian Partisans was the capture and execution of the dictator Mussolini, along with 13 other fascist officials, including Fernando Mezzasoma, Luigi Gatti, Alessandro Pavolini and Achille Starace who were hung by their feet in a public square. The number of fascist officials hung in the square was significant because Mussolini ordered the execution and public display of the same number of his enemies the previous year.
The Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional, (EZLN) or the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, the indigenous army of Chiapas Mexico is another example. Since 1994 they have been at war with the Mexican state, paramilitaries, and corporations seeking to exploit resources and civilians in Mexico. The war was triggered by the passage of NAFTA, which came into force on January 1st of 1994 as the “free trade” agreement resulted in the removal of Article 27, Section VII, from the Mexican Constitution that promised land reparations to indigenous groups throughout Mexico. The Zapatistas are not perfect as they have some hierarchy and espouse nationalism but they have liberated and brought a measure of autonomy to villages previously under brutal government rule.
The Palestinian Second Intifada is another example. 47 Palestinians and five Israelis were killed within the first five days and 3000 Palestinians killed and 1000 Israelis over the next five years. But Israeli repression has been even more harsh during periods of Palestinian nonviolent resistance. According to estimates made by the Israeli Chamber of Commerce, the Second Intifada created $45 billion in damages in 2002, mostly in the tourism industry, one-third of Israel’s total GDP, thus significantly reducing the money available for the slaughter of Palestinians.
A diversity of tactics has also been successful in responses to police terror. For example, the 2008 Greek riots broke out on December 6 2008 when an unarmed 15-year-old Greek student, Alexandros Grigoropoulos (Αλέξανδρος Γρηγορόπουλος) was killed by two police “special officers” after provoking him verbally. The police lied that they were attacked first but this was contradicted by all witnesses who said the boy never attacked and the police shot him without any cause. The riots that broke out all across Greece lasted for months and“millions of people participated, young and old, immigrants and citizens. The arson attacks on banks and police stations that in the previous years had been the sole practice of anarchists instantly generalized to the point of becoming common. By some accounts few police stations in the whole country escaped attack. The insurrection made a joke of the pacifist claim that “violence alienates people” by bringing together people from across Greece and inspiring people all over the world. The momentum of the uprising galvanized social struggles in the country and brought them to a new level….The momentum created by the insurrection led directly to the occupation of numerous abandoned 21 buildings, government buildings, and vacant lots for the creation of social centers, neighborhood assemblies, community gardens, and assemblies of artists, critical journalists, medical workers, and so forth,” (Gelderloos, pg 68). The resistance was fierce and some threw Molotov cocktails and stones at police. Nine banks were burned or destroyed completely the following Sunday after Grigoropoulos was murdered. Police meanwhile threw firebombs and tear gas at protesters. Several thousand high school students left their schools to march to local police stations and throw paint bombs, eggs, and water bottles. According to a teacher’s union, students also occupied 600 schools in cities like Serres, Imathia, Chalkidiki, Pieria, and Thessaloniki.vi The Athens University of Economics and Business was also occupied and 300 students demonstrated outside of Korydallos Prison.
On December 13, 100 protesters firebombed a police station near the site where Grigoropoulos was murdered and on December 16, masked young people firebombed the Athen’s riot police headquarters. On December 21 2008, a group of demonstrators threw petrol bombs at the police academy in West Athens. Two masked gunmen fired on a riot squad with an MP5 and a Kalashnikov, for which the Revolutionary Struggle group took responsibility. A group of anarchists also torched a police bus and the public broadcaster ERT was briefly occupied by protesters who transmitted a message to “Stop watching, get out into the streets.” Some labor unions went on strike in solidarity with the demonstrators, including air traffic controllers, which forced Olympic Airlines to cancel 28 flights and postpone 14. Artists occupied commercial theaters, anarchists occupied abandoned buildings to start social centers, and rural communities fought against garbage dumps, dams, and other development projects. The town hall in Ioannina was also occupied.“The insurrection also saw a flourishing of neighborhood assemblies, social centers, community gardens, arsons that destroyed debt and tax records, [at companies like Tiresias SA] and organized looting that put expensive foodstuffs at the free disposal of people without a lot of money,” (Gelderloos pg 69). Solidarity demonstrations took place in 70 cities around the world, including places as far as Siberia and Sao Paulo.vii Justice was finally won for the victim on October 11, 2015 when the pig who killed the boy, Epaminondas Korkoneas, was found guilty of homicide and sentenced to life in prison plus 15 months while his partner who accompanied him during the murder was sentenced to ten years. On January 16 some of the lawyers arrested in Athens sued the police for assault and their use of tear gas.
The Black Spring in Kabylie is another example. After the murder of a Kabyle youth, Guermah Massinissa, in Kabylie, a Berber territory occupied by Algeria, intense rioting broke out. 126 Kayble protesters were murdered by Algerian police but Berbers pushed out government forces and managed to bring autonomy to their territory. The Arouch, plural for arch, which is the Kabyle democratic assembly with no leader and horizontal organization was brought back, the gendarmerie withdrew, and the Berber lanugage, Tamazight, was recognized officially.
The Tunisian Revolution, the first revolution of the Arab Spring is another example. The catalyst for revolution was the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a street food vendor, who had been abused and robbed by pigs for years. Bouazizi was ignored when he visited the governor’s office to ask for his confiscated wares back and he threatened to burn himself to death if the governor wouldn’t see him, which he did just one hour later. Tunisians took to the streets to protest the police abuse of Bouazizi, food inflation, restrictions on freedom of speech, unemployment, and squalid living conditions, and they were met with riot police, police bullets, and tear gas canisters, one of which landed in a mosque. Protesters burned tires and attacked the ruling party’s office in Thala on January 3 in response. Riots, strikes, and protests then spread across the country. 95% of Tunisia’s 8,000 lawyers went on strike on January 6. Journalist Lucas Dolega was killed on January 14 after being shot in the head by police with a tear gas canister and funeral processions for those killed on January 9th by police were shot at by pigs. The next day the state announced the closure of all schools and universities in an attempt to stifle dissent.
President of Tunisia, Ben Ali, was targeted by the rest of the ruling class in an attempt to contain the movement and shift blame away from the entire system. The Tunisian military then targeted Ali’s security forces who they chased off on January 14th. In response Ali made gatherings of more than three people an arrestable offense and ordered police to shoot violators of this new order if they flee. On January 26th President Ben Ali left the country, international warrants were issued for his arrest, and the ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally party was dismantled by the new interior minister. Minister for Higher Education and Scientific Research, Ahmed Brahim, the Minister of Local Development, Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, and Minister of Economic Reform, Elyes Jouini all resigned as well. The secret police were also abolished. 338 demonstrators were killed primarily by pigs by the end of the demonstration. But protests, free expression, (especially on the internet) strikes, and general resistance are now far more common in Tunisia. Free, democratic elections were also held as result of the protests and various jail breaks and raids were carried out, including one in Mahdia that freed 1000 inmates. The media attempted to portray the movement as nonviolent when it employed a diversity of tactics.
The Egyptian Revolution is another example. The Revolution began on January 25, 2011 as a protest against the rising police brutality, continuing state of emergency laws, corruption, and unemployment during the reign of President Mubarak. Millions took to the streets demanding Mubarak step down and the revolution continued after Mubarak was ousted. Gelderloos describes the uprising as “largely anticapitalist in nature,” (pg. 75). This movement was again portrayed as ‘nonviolent’ by the Western media to discourage Egyptians and others from thinking that violence against the state works. The movement engaged in peaceful protests, riots, self-defense, attacks on police, and plaza occupations. Protesters burned down 90 police stations and even collectively raised funds in Tahir Square to buy gas for Molotov cocktails. President Hosni Mubarak dissolved his government and resigned as a result. In June 2012 Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of protesters but the sentence was overturned. Mubarak was replaced by Mohamed Morsi who was deposed in a coup just one year later for the same autocracy Mubarak had employed. Fortunately, the movement shifted the dialogue from elections to autonomy.
When states across the world impose austerity measures and people use a diversity of tactics to defeat them, they are always more successful than when strict nonviolence is employed. For example, the 2010 general strikes in Spain serve as another example and the subsequent 15 M movement serves an example of the failure of nonviolence. They strikes began on September 29, 2010 in response to austerity measures imposed by the government. Strikers blockaded highways and government buildings, engaged in sabotage, looted, rioted, fought with police, expanded neighborhood assemblies, established workplace assemblies, and occupied hospitals to oppose privatization and support worker’s self-control. They also occupied homes that had been foreclosed and established collective housing and urban gardens. The strikes and protests were highly anticapitalist in their character, opposing privatization of education and healthcare.
The 15M (15th of May) movement began with plaza occupations and was an attempt to co-opt the anticapitalist general strikes to refocus them on strictly political demands. Nonviolent protesters were brutally evicted from Placa Catalunya again showing the massive failure of nonviolence alone. The plaza occupation assemblies, however, did create “police-free zones where immigrants and others could be safe for over a month….The police, for their part, tried to put an end to the movement with a heavy use of the truncheon, helping people to realize that unlike on the silver screen, in reality the idea that sitting down and getting beaten is dignified is a load of crap,” (Gelderloos, page 133). “In Barcelona…10,000 participated in heavy rioting, burning of banks and multinationals and intense fighting with police,” (Gelderloos, page 134). “The government arbitrarily labeled an anarchist [group] a “terrorist” organization. Some in the name of “nonviolence” “tackled, hit, or tried to arrest people guilty of spraypainting, wearing a mask, or committing some minor form of vandalism.” (Gelderloos page 136). Citizen patrols also attempted to kick out illegal immigrants seeking refuge in the plaza and pacifist sycophants linked arms in front of banks and cops to protect them, showing that they value corporate property and hired killers of state more than they do the movement and its aims to better the world. They also pulled masks off masked protesters and took pictures of rioters to share with pigs. A CGT member even punched a protester who threw eggs at a bank. Self-appointed movement “leaders” also prohibited the “blocking of streets or painting of banks, and they boycotted debate on the subject. In Barcelona they even made the paperwork disappear when anarchists tried to reserve the sound system to organize such a debate,” (Gelderloos pg. 16).
In December 2010 Felip Puig became the new interior counselor of Catalonia. One of Puig’s first acts in office was to remove “the article in the police protocol that prohibited torture and removing the cameras from Catalan police stations – cameras that had proven their usefulness in the previous administration by catching frequent beatings and acts of torture carried out by police.” He also evicted occupiers of Plaza Catalunya and introduced new laws that punish property destruction in protests as a form of “terrorism” and criminalize the use of masks.
The general strike of January 27, 2011 and March 29, 2012, however, retained the character of the general strike of 2010 with anarchists, anti-capitalists, and marginalized youth rioting and carrying out sabotage. Anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists marched down Pau Claris from Gracia to Plaza Catalunya and set “fire to nearly every bank and luxury shop they passed,” (Gelderloos, page 287). They also attacked police, burned dumpsters, a starbucks, and a shopping mall. On October 31, 2012 anarchist unions held a general strike without the support of major unions. Blockades of burning tires were built, sabotage was carried out, and banks were attacked.
Another example is the 2006 CPE law protests in France. In February, March, and April of 2006, millions took to the streets to oppose the CPE (Contrat première embauche or First Employment Contract) law, an austerity measure allowing bosses to fire workers under 26 without any reason during their first two years of employment, increasing the precarity of young people’s lives in France. The bill also legalized manual labor apprenticeships for children as young as 14, night labor for youths 15 and older, and the suspension of welfare for entire families when a child in them skips school. A diversity of tactics was employed during the protests. Streets, highways, and universities were blocked off, stores were vandalized, some peacefully protested, some went on strike, (including students from 68 of France’s 89 universities according to the Union Nationale des Étudiants de France) many universities like Rennes and government buildings were occupied, and some attacked police. One protester named Cyril Ferez was knocked into a 3-week coma after being trampled by police and a three-year-old child was hospitalized after inhaling tear gas thrown by police. According to the CGT, 3.1 million took to the streets in total to protest the austerity measure. The protests did not enjoy elite support and as a result of the actions against it, the law was defeated on April 10.
The 2001 riots in Argentina catalyzed by a series of government measures called the Corralito (which means “corral, animal pen, or enclosure”) are yet another example. The Corralito empowered the government to seize all civilian bank accounts in an attempt to pay government debts and prevent a bank run and capital flight, (which is when people in mass withdraw their money due to fears the bank will collapse and invest elsewhere). As a result, “…Tens of thousands of people took to the streets, smashed banks, looted supermarkets, and fought with the police,” which “finally shattered the terror of the military dictatorship of 1976-1983 [that] murdered around 30,000 dissidents…only by rising up were people able to conquer their fear, and since then Argentine politics have not been the same. Whereas previously, the country had remained in the military’s shadow, with the government controlled by the rightwing and the neoliberals, since 2003 Argentina has had a leftwing government that has supported the prosecution of figures from the dictatorship, and opposed the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and other free trade agreements with the US. In the streets, many things also changed. Neighborhoods in all the major cities formed assemblies to facilitate their self-organization on economic, cultural, and political levels, upgrading neighborhood infrastructure, organizing soup kitchens, food and clothing banks, libraries, and theaters, and coordinating protests. Workers took over factories and other workplaces that had been paralyzed by debt, often linking these occupied factories in a productive network, and defending them from police with the help of neighbors,” (Gelderloos, pg. 19-20). The Free Trade Area of the Americas was defeated in Argentina and the Corralito ended on December 2 2002.
The Brazilian Passe Livre Movimento (Free Pass Movement) is another example. Millions of Brazilians filled the streets in June 2013 to fight for free public transit after multiple fare hikes and billions were spent by the government to evict the favelas (slums) for the World Cup, despite the fact that the “leftist” “Worker’s Party” was in power at the time. Protests turned to riots in Goiania and São Paulo and rioters attacked government buildings and burned buses. The government issued a variety of reforms, such as a reduction of fares, the abolition of taxes on public transport, and the reallocation of petroleum revenue to health-care and education.
The 2006 Oaxaca Rebellion is another example. The rebellion began with a nonviolent strike by a local teacher’s union who demanded better pay. 3000 police deployed by the governor responded with bullets. In reaction parents, cooperatives, NGOs, unions, and others formed the Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca or APPO (Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca) which then occupied Oxaca to demand the state’s governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, (accused of violating the freedom of the press, destroying public spaces, and stealing the 2004 election) resign or be removed. When Ruiz left Oaxaca and fled to Mexico city, the APPO gained full control of the city while battling with police. The APPO then occupied television and radio stations to warn others about threats from police and gangs and to demand the release of political prisoners. Police continually attacked the radio stations, resulting in six deaths of APPO members. On October 29, 3500 federal police and 3000 military police removed protesters in Oaxaca’s Zócalo (the main square of Mexico City) with 5,000 army troops stationed just outside the city. Police also began raiding the homes of activists and dropping teargas from helicopters on the protests. Many of those removed from Zócalo sought sanctuary at the Benito Juárez Autonomous University of Oaxaca where police have no jurisdiction. The EZLN voiced their support for the rebellion and blocked highways in Chiapas.
On November 25, federal police responded to another APPO march with tear gas and rubber bullets. The marchers defended themselves with rocks and homemade PVC rockets. 160 were arrested. On November 26 four government buildings were set on fire. On the 27th the chief of the federal police stated the APPO would no longer be tolerated. APPO leaders then went into hiding, citing security concerns but were not without significant victories. The rebellion employed horizontal forms of self-organization, shared communal meals, and created assemblies and collectives. It did not have elite support and was defamed in the media. Tragically, however, police killed dozens of the APPO members and Ruiz was not removed from power but he was arrested on suspicion of embezzlement in 2014 after serving his term. Gelderloos explains “In 2006, indigenous people, teachers, and workers in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca rose up against the government. They set up barricades, kicked out the police, held assemblies and indigenous cultural festivals, and liberated villages. Much of Oaxaca was autonomous for six months. At the very end of the rebellion, movement politicians who had succeeded in taking over the central assembly convinced people not to fight back against the military invasion, although as a whole the movement was not nonviolent, and for months had fought with stones, fireworks, slingshots, and molotov cocktails,” (Gelderloos, pg 65).
The Guadeloupe and Martinique General Strike is yet another example. “In January 2009, a general strike broke out in the French colonies on the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. The strikes were triggered by poor living conditions, the high cost of living, and low wages, though racial tensions and anticolonial sentiments were also major elements, as the population of these French colonies, reserved as vacation resorts for rich white tourists, are primarily black descendants of African slaves. Due to forced economic dependence on tourism, island residents had to deal with high prices, low wages, short-term, precarious employment, and exotification in their own homes for the amusement of foreign vacationers. Because unemployment already topped 50%, the strikers wisely chose to complement their attempted economic shutdown with more forceful tactics. After four weeks of failed negotiation, islanders began rioting, burning cars and businesses, throwing rocks and eventually opening fire on the police. After just three days, the French authorities came back to the negotiating table with a much better offer: raising the lowest salaries by a whopping 200 euros a month, and acceding to all of the strikers’ top 20 demands. President Sarkozy, a hardliner and law-and-order politician through and through, took on an apologetic tone with rioters and promised to review French policy in all its overseas possessions,” (Gelderloos, pg. 70-71). The uprising also inspired strikes in other French colonies including Reunion and French Guiana.
The Seattle WTO protests of 1999 (also called the “Battle of Seattle”) are another prominent example. On November 30, 1999, 40,000 people took to the street to protest the WTO Ministerial Conference (where members essentially collaborate to rob the world) being held at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in Seattle, Washington. Key intersections were taken over by the Direct Action Network and militant anarchists in black bloc marched down Pike Street from 6th Avenue, blockading the streets. The activist blockades and lockdowns prevented delegates from the WTO from reaching the convention center and split the police forces in two. Police responded with pepper spray, tear gas canisters, and stun grenades. At 6th Avenue and Union Street, the crowd managed to repulse them. The black bloc smashed dozens of shops and police cars, catalyzing others to join and come noon, the ceremony at the convention center was canceled. Seattle mayor Paul Schell declared a state of emergency, initiated a curfew, and an unconstitutional “no-protest zone” that spanned 50 blocks. At night the Governor Gary Locke called the National Guard to surround the “no protest zone”
Gelderloos explains “When the union leaders refused to march downtown in an effort to help police restore order and segregate their supporters from the rioters, a large contingent of the labor march broke away and came downtown. Though labor leaders and supporters of nonviolence are loathe to admit this, they were mad and some of them were also smashing stuff – windows and newspaper boxes. And then just a lot of people not in black joining in as often happens.” The “Battle of Seattle” also had the effect of changing the discussion in US corporate media. “Antiglobalization” was a topic that could no longer be ignored and the corporate media had to at least address opposition to the WTO. Police chief of Seattle, Norm Stamper resigned and mayor Schell may have lost his 2001 mayoral primary reelection due to his handling of the affair. A total of $20 million in damage was done to store fronts if lost sales are included. It is clearer perhaps nowhere else than at protests of economic conferences of world leaders and protests of oil, gas, logging, and fracking operations that police work to protect the super rich at the expense of the rest of us as they are particularly vicious at these protests.
Occupy Boston could be considered another example.”Occupy Boston, one group that supported a diversity of tactics and that used some light forms of self-defense to resist an attempted police eviction, outlasted Occupy Wall Street by a whole month. Occupy Oakland, which was far from nonviolent, triggered a general strike, spread critiques of capitalism that surpassed OWS’s populist rhetoric, and disrupted the functioning of the government and economy far more than any other Occupy,” (pg 85). People also shared food and engaged in collective decision making and organization.
Student movements that employ a diversity of tactics have also been successful. The Quebec Student Movement is one example. In February 2012 Quebec city students took to the streets to protest austerity measures targeting Quebec’s education system planned the year prior, specifically condemning a proposal by the Quebec Cabinet to increase university tuition from $2,168 to $3,793 between 2012 and 2018. However, the movement didn’t just focus on tuition hikes but rather condemned the whole system and “linked their movement with ongoing indigenous and environmental struggles.” (Gelderloos pg. 88). The office of the Finance minister was occupied along with McGill University’s administrative building. In the first month, nine per cent (36,000) of Quebec’s students went on strike. In March students blocked the entrance of the Loto-Québec (lottery) head office, to which police responded with tear gas and flash bangs. Student demonstrators also blocked the entrance ramp with concrete blocks. The Jacques Cartier Bridge just a few kilometers away was also blocked in February. 200,000 gathered in downtown Montreal on March 22nd to protest, occupying 50 blocks. 185,000 Quebec students went on strike in April and May, to which the Education Minister and Deputy Premier Line Beauchamp responded by resigning on May 14, 2012. On April 11th the headquarters of Québecor, a National Bank headquartered in Montreal, and the Montréal offices of CIBC were blockaded. Various banks and police were also attacked by people in black bloc.
The Draconian “Bill 78,” which prohibits freedom of assembly, picketing, or protest on or near university grounds, and anywhere in Quebec without approval from police was passed in May. The bill also places restrictions upon the right of employees of universities to go on strike. The same day the municipality of Montreal passed a law prohibiting mask-wearing during any demonstration. But most students remained undeterred and unafraid and as a result of the continued resistance, the Ministry announced a freeze of tuition and scrapped the austerity bill on September 5, 2012. The ruling party was also voted out in part due to the movement and the strikers voted to go back to class.
The 2011-2013 student protests in Chile are another example. In May 2011 millions of high school and university students began to protest the lack of public funding for education and demand an end to for-profit education as there has not been one public university built in Chile since 1990. Riots broke out, students erected barricades, (blocking 350 areas according to Deputy Interior Minister Rodrigo Ubilla) occupied schools and public areas, attacked banks, and fought with police. The student Libertarian Federation played a prominent role. The government responded with concessions, (mainly lowering interest rates on school loans) which students repeatedly denied, demanding better offers, greater transparency, and an ability to engage in the political process.
When governments and corporations seek to gentrify neighborhoods and kick out squatters from abandoned buildings, a diversity of tactics can also be effective. The Burgos Uprising is one example. In response to the collusion of state and real-estate developers to gentrify a lower class neighborhood in January 2014 in Burgos Spain, residents of Gamonal staged a protest, which police attacked, catalyzing four nights of riots during which rioters destroyed banks and construction equipment and defended themselves from police terror. Blockades were erected to prevent construction. The mayor announced the gentrification would continue and rioting spread to Madrid, Barcelona (where multiple banks were smashed and a police station and town hall were attacked), Melilla, and Zaragoza. As a result, the project was finally canceled.
The Can Vies Revolt is another example. On May 26, in response to the eviction of the Can Vies social center, which was a part of a larger wave of gentrification, 1000 protesters gathered in the rain. Hundreds of anarchists smashed banks, attacked police, and set fire to a media van. The next day, more people returned to the streets and set fire to an excavator in the process of destroying Can Vies. The following day ten thousand protesters gathered, attacked banks, created barricades, fought with police, and refused to negotiate with the government. Rioters retook Can Vies and raised 100,000 euros via crowd-funding to rebuild the center damaged by the government. The terrified state also issued a number of reforms.
The 1986 and 1987 riots in Hamburg could be considered another example. Residents began squatting in empty houses on Hafenstraße st. in Hamburg in 1981. When the government announced the eviction of the squatters, millions of dollars in damage was caused by riots and the mayor resigned. A cooperative bought the housing so that the squatters could live there without being harassed.
The Rojava Movement is another prominent example. Rojava, also known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. is an autonomous region with a population of four million located in West Kurdistan occupied by the Syrian government. (Northern Kurdistan is located in southeastern Turkey, Southern Kurdistan is located in northern Iraq, which has been autonomous since 1970, and Eastern Kurdistan is located in northwestern Iran. Kurdistan is split by so many different states as a result of changing hands from empire to empire over the centuries.) The Kurds of Rojava under Syrian rule have long faced policies of Arab nationalism and Arabization, which most reject. They have also faced laws that prohibit Kurds from owning property, driving cars, speaking Kurdish, or forming political parties, and have also been subject to numerous land confiscations. In the beginning of the Syrian Civil War when government forces retreated from several Kurdish areas, the underground political parties, Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat (PYD or the Democratic Union Party) and the Encûmena Niştimanî ya Kurdî li Sûriyê (or the Kurdish National Council) joined to form the Kurdish Supreme Committee (KSC) and created the Yekîneyên Parastina Gel (YPG or People’s Protection Units) militia to defend their lands (though they were apparently supported by the US Air Force and French bombers and “more than 500 American commandos are embedded with the YPG” according to Rolling Stone Magazine). The KSC dissolved in 2013 when the PYD abandoned it to form the polyethnic Tevgera Civaka Demokratîk, or TEV-DEM, which currently governs Rojava. The YPG are among the only forces in Syria actually fighting ISIL terrorists (as the Turkish and Syrian governments see Kurdish autonomy as a greater threat to their profits and are thus funding ISIL and bombing the YPG) whom they repelled in the Siege of Kobanî and in the Tell Abyad offensive. The Democratic Union Party has also formed the Women’s Defense Units for the sole purpose of defending women and the Asaish, a mixed force of men and women.
The Constitution of Rojava, also called the Charter of the Social Contract, was adopted on January 29 2014 by the Democratic Union Party, the leading party of Rojava. The Constitution declares“the areas of self-management democracy do not accept the concepts of state nationalism, military or religion or of centralized management and central rule but are open to forms compatible with the traditions of democracy and pluralism, to be open to all social groups and cultural identities and Athenian democracy and national expression through their organization …” The Charter of the Social Contract calls for the separation of state from religion, the recognition and protection of women’s and children’s rights, prohibition of female circumcision, a sustainable revolution organized from the bottom up, “freedom, equality, equal opportunity and non-discrimination, equality between men and women,” respect for prisoners (unfortunately the constitution doesn’t go as far as advocating for prison abolition), and the right to seek asylum. Residents of Rojava have also established autonomous agricultural and urban communes and committees for human and ecological welfare. Although there is hierarchy within Rojava, it is more horizontal than the US-backed Kurdish Regional Government of Iraqi Kurdistan. The main problem with the government of Rojava is that it is still representative, so for all their talk of autonomy, they still operate in many of the same ways as a representative democracy. They also still maintain prisons, hold private property, and trade fiat currency. However, they remain far more progressive and less authoritarian than any other government in the region, especially in terms of their treatment of women and minorities. And they have only achieved this measure of success because they have resisted state and terrorist tyranny with arms.
A diversity of tactics has also worked for indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples who have forcefully resisted colonization are among the few indigenous people who have survived the brutal genocide of colonizing nations. The Mapuche struggle is a good example. The Mapuche make up a horizontal, autonomous indigenous nation (consisting of 80% of the natives in Chile) that practices collective agriculture, collective ownership of land, is organized from the bottom up, and has resisted Spanish colonization for centuries with fierce combat and their knowledge of the land. The Arauco War for Mapuche lands lasted 327 years. The Spanish were able to conquer some Mapuche cities within this period but the Mapuche won them back through their own raids. It was only until 1843 that the Chilean state was able to establish a colony at the Strait of Magellan and settle in Valdivia, Osorno, and Llanquihue. In 1861 the Chilean state was finally able to incorporate several Mapuche territories in Araucanía. The state of Argentina managed to occupy Mapuche lands the same year. In 1883 half of all Mapuches were murdered and many more died in the following years from hunger, disease, and continued attacks from Spanish colonists. Many Mapuche continue to resist colonization by sabotaging mining and logging equipment, protesting, blocking roads, rioting, hunger striking, and fighting with police to protect their ancestral lands from exploitation. Werner Luchsinger, a major landlord who stole Mapuche territory and whose cousin owned the estate police who shot a young Mapuche, Matias Cartileo, in the back was the target of Mapuches in 2013. Werner’s mansion was burned down in January of that year on the 5th anniversary of Matias Cartileo’s death, killing both Werner and his wife.
Some Mapuche have expressed “we are not poor. We are a society apart,” which is crucial to understanding indigenous struggle. The answer to monopolies and capitalism isn’t necessarily redistribution of capital; it is autonomy and redistribution of power. Many don’t want to be apart of the economic system as it separates us from the natural resources we have deemed money can buy. Instead of valuing these natural resources, we value man-made money, simply a piece of cotton and linen that itself represents hierarchy and exploitation of the Earth. Mapuche resistance is branded as “terrorism” by the Chilean media and government but most remain undeterred. A counter terrorism statute introduced by the late notorious Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, is still being used against native Mapuches. The statute defines “terrorism” incredibly broadly and includes acts of arson intended to produce fear. The statute also allows prosecutors to keep evidence from the defense for up to 6 months. In August 2004, five Mapuches were sentenced to 9-10 years in prison for “terrorist arson” for burning a pine plantation on Poluco Pidenco estate, land that traditionally belonged to Mapuches but was stolen by the state and bought by logging company Mininco. Those convicted of ‘terrorism’ under the law are prohibited from holding public office for 15 years, becoming educators, joining a trade union, or engaging in journalism. Mapuches have achieved food sovereignty, retaken much land from large corporations, and are true stewards of the land.
The resistance of the Six Nations (Iroquois), Lakota, and Coast Salish people could also be considered another example. They owe their continued existence to their use of a diversity of tactics, including taking up arms against their colonizers. Red Cloud’s War serves as a good example. During the war the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Northern Arapaho fought the USG in Wyoming and Montana from 1866 to 1868 for control of Powder River County in Montana, which was traditionally held by the Crow tribe that cooperated with the army believing it was in their best interests. The tribes attacked three USG forts by Powder River set up to protect travelers to Montana’s gold fields. In the Fetterman Fight alone, 81 US soldiers were killed. The tribes won in 1868, gaining legal control of Powder River and peace was made through the Treaty of Fort Laramie. However, they were displaced in the Great Sioux War of 1876 eight years later. The Crow tribe ultimately lost their lands and came to realize they picked the wrong side.
The Battle of the Little Bighorn is another example. During the battle Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes led by Crazy Horse and Chief Gall fought the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army on June 25-26 of 1876 in Montana. Five companies of the 7th cavalry were decimated and its leader, George Armstrong Custer, was killed, along with 268 other US soldiers.
Yet another inspiring example is the Oka crisis. After Mohawks built a barricade on Kanehsatake/Oka & Kahnawak territories to prevent police from trespassing and removing the natives so that a golf course could be built, the police assaulted the barricade. The Mohawks responded with gunfire, killing one pig. 2000 police and 4500 soldiers with tanks, APCs, and naval and air support were then brought in. But news had spread of the conflict and the Mohawks received broad support, resulting in a victory: the golf course was never built.
A diversity of tactics can even be effective for prisoners. The Pendleton Indiana State “Reformatory” revolt is one example. After prisoner Lincoln Love was beaten by guards and sprayed with tear gas, the guards responsible were stabbed by inmates and three staff members were taken hostage. The Department of Corrections agreed to all 22 demands the prisoners made to release the hostages, including the institution of minimum wage for inmate labor, ending censorship of letters and other media, and the launch of an FBI investigation into abuse by guards.
The release of Joaquin Garces, an anarchist bank robber from prison is another example. Sympathizers employed a diversity of tactics to release Garces, including legal appeals, hunger strikes, posters, protests, road blockades, the smashing of banks, sabotage, the destruction of police vehicles, fighting with cops, and arson.
A Final Thought
This article shouldn’t be misinterpreted as a glorification of violent tactics or an attempt to encourage a full-scale, frontal assault on the corporate state tomorrow. Most people are too brainwashed to support something like that, much less join it, and though we shouldn’t base our actions on what the general public would think, we need more broad support for such a full scale assault to be successful and that support will more likely come with incremental attacks that improve the quality of life for average people. Making an attack on the corporate state that is doomed to fail is just as useless as strict, dogmatic nonviolence. That would only create more martyrs we don’t need. Instead, asymmetric tactics must be employed. We must weigh risks versus rewards when formulating our plans, target the corporate state where it is weakest, do it clandestinely and carefully with proper organization and planning, and retreat quickly, so as to increase the chances of success. The war is a long-term prospect but there are battles we can win right now. And of course, we don’t just need fighters. We need artists, writers, organic farmers, silviculturists, wildlife biologists, doctors, and so on that can help replace the hierarchical, capitalist empires we have with horizontal or circular, voluntary communities that address human and ecological needs. But everyone able has to be prepared to fight to survive.
“The lesson is clear, for those willing to face the music. In order to show people that we are serious, that we are committed, that we are fighting for our lives, it is better to express unambiguously that we are the enemies of the established order, that we negate their laws, their offers of dialogue, and their false social peace, it is better to attack (and to come dressed for the occasion) than to dress up as clowns, tote about giant puppets, playing up a theatrical conflict with the police, locking down and expecting them to treat us humanely, or wait for the cameras to give our witty protest signs a close-up….. Only because we do not frame this as a popularity contest, but as a revolution, as a struggle to destroy the present system and create something wholly new, do all the festive and creative aspects of our struggle break out of the usual cycles of loyal dissent and counterculture that are co-opted from the beginning. ” (Gelderloos, pg 109).
iv Makhno, Russian Revolution in Ukraine, 1936
v Declaration Of The Revolutionary Insurgent Army Of The Ukraine (Makhnovist). Peter Arshinov, History of the Makhnovist Movement (1918-1921), 1923. Black & Red, 1974.