Book review: 'How non violence protects the state'


“Pacifism simply does not resonate in people’s lives everyday realities, unless those people live in some extravagant bubble of tranquillity from which all forms of civilization’s pandemic reactive violence have been pushed out by the systemic and less violence of police and military forces.”

“Ultimately, nonviolence is created and encouraged by the State, and antithetical to anarchist revolution”The book is a well-researched and well-presented piece that offers a refreshing look at the self-righteous pie in the sky vacuum of principled pacifism, which builds upon Ward Churchill’s ‘Pacifism as Pathology’ from an anarchist viewpoint. Anyone who has ever attended a political demonstration will be all too familiar with the various examples in the book of pacifists often acting like the state’s first line of defence, so the book will come as no surprise but is still well worth the read.

In the first part of the book the author quickly dismisses some of the myths that pacifism rests on from Gandhi to the civil rights movement in America claiming that “there is a pattern to the historical manipulation and white washing in every single victory claimed by non-violent activists”. Although most class struggle anarchists are familiar with pacifists attempting “to erase the history that disagrees with them” it is important to briefly touch on some of these examples. The most classic prophecy being the notion that Gandhi’s brand of ‘non-violence’ led the Indian people to freedom in the process ignoring ‘violent’ strands in the struggle for independence including bombings and assassinations which were just as influential and prominent but just not given the same level of historical coverage and therefore whitewashed from history. The fact that the British Government were still recovering militarily from the devastating fallout from WW1 and was faced with a insurgency in Palestine from Jewish and Arab militants meant that giving some form of formal independence to India was a favoured option. As Gelderloos puts it, “The British were not forced to quit India. Rather, they chose to transfer the territory from direct colonial rule to neo-colonial rule.” Not far wrong if you look at India today where multi-national companies with the help of the state continue to bleed the countries natural resources dry.

Perhaps, the Vietnam war continues to have more resonance today considering that the current so-called modern Anti-war movement today continues to make the same mistakes, clinging their hopes in predominately mass peaceful rallies, petitions and lobbying our masters in Government who really don’t give a flying hoot. Just like then and now the US was not forced to withdraw from Vietnam through peaceful protests but rather defeated military and political due to a sustained violent resistance by the Vietnamese, which pushed soldiers to ‘conscientious rejection’ while in the front line soldiers attacked their superiors by all means necessary. The Pentagon estimated that “3% of officers and non-coms killed in Vietnam from 1961-1972 were killed in fragging by their own troops” (p14); thus, the anti-war movement may have worried the US Government but it didn’t force the Government to concede. For those who continue to pin their hopes in any political party of ‘lesser evil’ the record of the American Democratic Party or the English Labour Party when it comes to imperialist conquests speaks volumes compared to their rhetoric. The author also challenges the inherent orthodoxy and common mantra that ‘violence begets violence’ or, ‘violence alienates people’ which in turn creates greater repression of radical movements. As we know from recent times, we only have to look at one of the recent reasons for invading Iraq based on the alleged mass nuclear weapons to know that if the state does not have reasons to violently repress a movement it manufactures one which is swallowed by the mainstream media. In addition, the British Government’s repressive response by introducing internment, criminalisation etc to the IRA campaign in the North only led to increased support at home and abroad. Similarly, the Lebanese armed resistance to the recent Israeli occupation undoubtedly encouraged the Israeli public to question their government’s mantra of a swift victory. The point is to support and assist the most anti-authoritarian tendencies within liberation struggles rather than sticking “to militant postures and the violence of ideological hair-splitting” (p29) that still unfortunately continues to be a scourge on the anarchist movement. By using aspects of racism, patriarchy the author breaks down the strategic paralysis of pacifism, while one gets the feeling that the book is aimed at a more radical liberal American audience. The book does contain many contradictions, not to mention his apparent pretensions for white privilege over class divisions from making sweeping claims that the people “who benefit from patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism, or imperialism(nearly the entire population of the Global North)” to arguing that “ those who have condemned the violent resistance of people who have grown up in more oppressive circumstances than themselves should think about this the next time they eat a banana or drink a cup of coffee”(p39). Try explaining that to someone surviving on the peanuts offered from the welfare state, or on the minimum wage that they are more privileged? Which is not denying other forms of oppression including racism, patriarchy and imperialism?

Perhaps we have much to learn in Ireland that “all social struggles, except those carried out by a completely pacified and thus ineffective people include a diversity of tactics” (p22) when it comes to current struggles such as Shell to Sea. While continuous mass trespass and rallies may help to build confidence, is anyone under any illusions that what is needed is to make the finish the project unworkable and economically unviable is mass collective direct action including property damage etc and like all campaigns as we know there will always be a more militant section of the local community that understands the need for a ‘flexibility in tactics’, which is quite trivial in comparison to the devastating environmental and human consequences if the project is completed. In conclusion, the author’s account reminds us of the need to challenge the stagnation of principled pacifism wherever it raises its ugly head in order to build a revolutionary movement. The point is not to fetishise violence over any other tactic as some critics will reply but that “reckless violence that subjects people to unnecessary risks without striving to be effective or successful will most likely alienate people-especially those who already have to survive under the violence of oppression.”(p131)

Nevertheless, we all share in something in common with the words:

“Lobbying for social change is a waste of scare resources for radical movements. Imagine if all the millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours.... went into funding social centres, free clinics, free-schools...we might actually lay the foundation for a serious revolutionary movement”(p94)