Direct action, violence & that fence at Shannon airport


One of the most interesting arguments from within and, interestingly from without, the growing anti-war movement is on the use of violence. Typically, the argument takes this form: anti-war protests are peace protests, therefor they must be peaceful. Further, these self-appointed arbitrators within and without the movement have extremely tight definitions of what is and what isn't peaceful.

All this leads to some fundamental questions. Firstly, what constitutes violence? Almost everyone agrees that the mass "shock and awe" carpet bombing of people living in Baghdad is violence. Likewise shooting or injuring a person is violence.

But does pulling down a fence constitute violence? Many argue that such minor property damage can not be seen as violent.

Anarchists favour mass direct against the war. Opinion polls and massive demonstrations have shown that the majority in Ireland are completely against this war. The last Irish Times poll found that 54% wanted the Shannon refueling ended - even if the war received UN support.

The next step is to take action, getting large numbers to Shannon where it counts. We favour mass, peaceful, direct action capable of mobilising enough of the massive public support to make it impossible to continue refueling US military planes. Violence is of no use to us here.

Anyway, we must be completely honest and realistic. Any violence from anti-war people would easily be faced down with well organised violence from the state forces. Our advantage is in numbers and determination, not in training and arms!

Should we always be peaceful? What about anarchism in general? For us, the most thorough and successful revolution will be the most peaceful one. When the majority are won over to the idea of a completely new way of running the world it should not be too hard to achieve it.

However, we are not ideological pacifists. No ruling class in all of human history has ever quietly surrendered its power and wealth. Violence may well be needed to defend a successful revolution from the old ruling class. If anything is to learnt from past revolutions it is that the penalty for failure is usually death.

Counter revolutions are bloody and vicious. The mass graves of the Communards of Paris or the leftists slaughtered by Saddam's Ba'athists (after the CIA helped them to power) bear silent witness to this fact.

We may have to fight to defend ourselves and the new society we want to help create. But violence should be absolutely minimised. It is not something any reasonable person takes pleasure in - it should always be a last resort. There is no place in the anarchist movement for those who glory in violence and carnage.

Any violence necessary to defend an anarchist society would be tiny and marginal compared to the violence routinely meted out every day by capitalism. When billions of dollars are readily available for warplanes and cluster bombs we should remember that our rulers never seem to be able to find the same sort of money for famine relief, clean water or basic health care. Every day 24,000 people die of hunger around the world. Who then are the violent ones?

This page is from the print version of the Irish Anarchist paper 'Workers Solidarity'

Print out the PDF file of WS75
This edition is No75 published in March 2003