ARGUMENTS FOR AND AGAINST STREET FIGHTER VIOLENCE
Alone Doesn't Work
* Nonviolence is nothing but “pacifism” which is really self-destructive passivity.
* Nonviolence as practiced by millions in India, the American Civil Rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War Movement did not accomplish its goals. The state always crushes nonviolent opposition. It was the few thousand violent people who really made a difference.
* Progressive nonviolent movements are ineffectual; their efforts are trivial.
* Symbolic or nonviolent arrests are just submission to authority and support rather than challenge authority.
Destruction and Assaults on Police are Not "Violent"
* Destroying property, even through smashing, burning or explosives, is not violence. Don't use the same definitions as the corporate media and state.
* Police are only hired body guards of the capitalist elite and therefore throwing rocks or Molotov cocktails at them in "self-defense" is not violence.
* One can still call oneself nonviolent if one engages in property destruction or "self-defense" against police, or if one organizes with or participates in actions with, those who do so.
* No one has a right to judge others’ tactics as violent; they can only specify what acts they oppose.
Activists Must Respect A "Diversity of Tactics"
* The best way to protest or abolish capitalism and/or maintain and expand the welfare state is through supporting a "diversity of tactics" i.e. property destruction and street fighting in addition to nonviolent action.
* There must be no "marginalization" of those who use diverse tactics. We can’t divide ourselves between “good” and “bad” activists. Solidarity must be a primary value.
* We should not waste time in divisive conversation about tactics, but focus on the issues which unite us.
* Property destruction and street fighting force the press to cover us and the power structure to pay attention.
* We will assert publicly that police are always violent and that activists never provoked them or only acted in self-defense. The most outrageous alleged activist violence is obviously the work of provocateurs, thrill seekers or locals.
* We can’t control everyone at demonstrations.
are Politically Suspect
* Pacifists think they are morally superior to other activsts.
* "Pacifists" are nonviolent only because they are afraid of police retaliation and losing their white middle-class privileges; they are elitists and reformists who do not want real and radical change.
* White “Pacifists” who support violence only by people of color and third world people are racists who want others to do their fighting. Those who totally reject armed rebellion, at home or abroad, are racists who want poor people of color to live in slavery.
* "Pacifists" are inherently suspect as people who use police tactics (like peacekeepers), may report activist violence to the police ("snitch") and therefore must be monitored and labeled dividers, peace cops, peace Nazis, government infiltrators or undercover cops if they continue to speak out against violence.
is a "Leaderless Movement"
* We use “anarchist,” equalitarian, consensus oriented methods where everyone has an equal say and equal responsibility--"this is what democracy looks like!!"
* This is not a male led movement and women accept and engage in violence as much as men.
* People of color have an equal say and if they oppose violence because of fear of racist retribution, they will be accommodated.
* Nonviolent people are equal to those who use or condone violence.
* Anarchists are equal partners.
* We are not promoting violence when we forbid activists to judge it. The government should not allege guilt by association or engage in collective punishment.
the “Tenets” above are drawn from various
progressive apologetics for violence, many influenced by Ward
book “Pacifism as Pathology: Reflections on the Role of Armed Struggle
in North America” which was re-issued and widely distributed in
The subtitle of “Return of Street Fighting Man”, i.e., “The
of the New Progressive Violence,” is obviously a reply to his book,
making the point that violence, not nonviolence, is the true
Its publisher describes “Pacifism as Pathology” thusly: “Ward Churchill dares to ask uncomfortable questions, arguing that while pacifism promises that the harsh realities of state power can be transcended through good feelings and purity of purpose, it is in fact a counter-revolutionary movement that defends and reinforces the same status-quo it claims to oppose. Churchill debunks the claims of historical pacifist victories, and proposes ways to diminish much of the delusion, aroma of racism, and sense of privilege which mark the covert self-defeatism of mainstream dissident politics.”1/ This description is written more clearly than much of the book, whose meandering, mostly ad hominem, arguments are laden with convoluted sentences, intellectual jargon and erudite references.
Ward Churchill, an "associate" member of the United Keetowah Band of Cherokees, is a Professor of American Indian Studies at Sangaman State University, Colorado. He is best known as the author of "Pacifism as Pathology" and “Agents of Repression: The FBI's Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement,” and has written other books on Native American and indigenous people.
Churchill does not call himself an anarchist but a revolutionary and an “indigenous,” i.e., a Native American who wants independence from the federal government. (Hopefully, he would extend to all Americans the same right to be free of federal control.) He is not a Marxist or socialist, dismissing both Marxism and capitalism as “Eurosupremacist.”2/ He definitely is opposed to white imperialism over people of color worldwide. As I will discuss below, this failure to detail a revolutionary alternative undermines his arguments, such as they are, for revolutionary violence.
A footnote to “Pacifism as Pathology” explains: “Let's be clear on this point: ‘revolution’ means to obliterate the existing status quo and replace it with something else, not to engage in reformist efforts to render it ‘better’ while leaving it in place.” However, he admits the book’s “thrust has been more to debunk the principles of hegemonic nonviolence rather than to posit fully articulated alternatives.” As I shall illustrate, his refusal to reveal what he considers “reformist” and what he considers “revolutionary” undermines his arguments.
Churchill is quite controversial in the American Indian movement, which has factionalized over bitter controversies and accusations over the years. Charges of “sellout,” “informant” and “infiltrator” are quite common. Churchill is called both by some factions, as is his good friend well-known American Indian Movement activist and Hollywood actor Russell Means. (Search the Internet and newsgroups for numerous examples.) Churchill and Means have organized a number of protests and nonviolent civil disobedience to protest the celebration of Columbus Day over the last ten years.
I personally met Churchill in the fall of 1999 when he spoke on FBI abuses in Washington, D.C. and socialized with him at a party afterwards. I gave him a copy of my book The Davidian Massacre about the FBI’s massacre at Waco and he laughed heartily when I explained that it was written by a pacifist and libertarian who believes in the right to self-defense. It would be a few more months before I discovered he had authored “Pacifism as Pathology” and was the street fighter’s guru.
I also later was reminded that Churchill gave a nominating speech for Russell Means at the Libertarian Party convention in 1987 when Means attempted to gain the Presidential nomination. As a member of the party, I supported Means and attended the convention. (In 2001 Means considered running for Governor of New Mexico on the Libertarian ticket.) Since many libertarians also believe in keeping open the option of armed revolution, Churchill may feel as comfortable with libertarians as does Means. (This pro-nonviolent action e-book is written also for my libertarian friends.)
In January of 2001 Churchill spoke at the 2001 National Conference on Organized Resistance at American University. He prefaced his talk by inferring that he would call anyone who disagreed with him on any point a racist. (When I asked a question later, I began by telling him I thought sexual oppression was a more basic form of oppression than racial oppression, undercutting his ability to use that tactic.) It was in this speech he labeled himself an indigenous, but, as usual, refused to describe any alternative revolutionary vision. In addition to his arguments as described herein, Churchill stressed that the only thing that is moral is what works for the revolution, that a wide variety of types of violence is justified, that “winning” attracts people and losing does not, and that activists should prepare for the inevitable government crackdown by buying lots guns.
Looking to expose the inconsistencies of his advocacy of “any means necessary” political violence, I asked him if his position theoretically did not justify radical women castrating dominant abusive men as a political tactic. I even mentioned that I had noticed that several Native American women on news groups were extremely hostile towards him and that he himself theoretically could be the target of such a tactic. This was met with laughter by those who understood the question and outrage by those who could not follow the train of logic and thought I was calling for Churchill to be castrated.
In reply, Churchill only groused about " feminist eugenics." I later discovered I was more accurate than I knew. Churchill writes in “Pacifism as Pathology”: “Clearly, we recognize the right of women to respond to physical and/or psychological aggression using whatever means are necessary, up to and including armed or violent self-defense or retaliation.” (Emphasis mine.) However, Churchill never did answer the main point--where do you draw the line when you advocate violence?
I also commented that anyone who has the guts to stone cops and get into armed revolution, sure as heck better have the guts to stop paying taxes and thereby stop supporting the war machine and the militarization of law enforcement. He replied with an obvious lie, asserting that Jews in Nazi Germany did do tax resistance, as well as a great deal of other nonviolent civil disobedience, and it was all useless. However, in “Pacifism as Pathology” Churchill accurately claims that Jews were overwhelmingly passive either because they could not believe other Germans would violate their rights or because they followed Jewish leadership recommendations that they cooperate with the Nazis. It was only after Germany placed its Jews in ghettos and concentration camps that some began to resist.
Later that morning Churchill quickly walked by me, obviously eager to avoid more confrontational conversation. As he fled, I called out, "Hey, Ward, you've got to stop paying those taxes!!" One question I would have asked him, had he not fled, was how he would feel if street fighters disrupted his next Columbus Day protest with window breaking and rock throwing. It would be interesting to see if he respected a diversity of tactics when those tactics were used to disrupt his nonviolent demonstration.
On September 11, 2001, the day of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, I finally got around to sending out and e-mail about this e-book, including to Ward Churchill. I got this very typical reply:
Subject: Re: Renounce Activist Violence NOW!!These vignettes illustrate the problem with Ward Churchill and other street fighters' arguments for violence. They are based on inaccurate or manufactured “facts” and faulty logic, delivered with large doses of insult and intimidation (“ad hominem”) against anyone who disagrees. The title “Pacifism is Pathology,” is itself an ad hominem attack, since he compares a commitment to nonviolent action to a mental disorder.
Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2001 18:18:13 -0600 (MDT)
From: Churchill Ward <Ward.Churchill@Colorado.EDU>
To: Carol Moore <email@example.com>
Displacement of systemic violence onto others is NOT "nonviolent."
Please send me no further nauseatingly self-indulgent and ultimately HYPERVIOLENT missives advocating the perpetuation of carnage in the 3rd World.
Instead, rather than bothering ANYONE with further unsolicited white supremacist sanctimony, I strongly recommend you seek therapy on an urgent basis.
racism and the other virulent delusions you seem to suffer CAN be cured.
Golly gee, it's like deja vu all over again. I was part of all these stupid arguments 30 years ago, they haven't improved. 1) trashing is not violence 2) trashing is usually a foolish tactic 3) neither violence/non-violence nor property destruction/no destruction are moral issues or chiseled-in-stone policies. 4) But at this point, it seems to me that non-violence and non-destruction are likely to be much more effective tactics. 5) Some people will likely vent their frustration, or whatever, that doesn't have to ruin everything, or keep anyone away. 6) Trashers might make police respond more violently or more quickly, but maybe not. There is certainly no guarantee that no trashing will prevent a violent police response... “John Kaye” on the "A16" web page, early 2000.
Street fighter arguments boil down to: nonviolence alone doesn’t work;
smashing and burning property and fighting with cops in "self-defense"
isn’t violent; you better respect those who do these things and not try
to marginalize us; those who don’t respect us and our tactics destroy
and probably are cops; this is a leaderless movement, which means we
our clique which tries to control the organizing process) do what we
and you just have to put up with it. Street fighters actually use
relatively few arguments, relying more on emotional appeals.
I use counter-arguments commonly used by nonviolent action advocates. I also include many of my own insights gained during organizing for the April, 2000 IMF/World Bank Protests in DC (“A16") (see “A16" Case Study), as well as from my observation of Internet organizing for subsequent protests and from media coverage. I also quote from a web article by long-time nonviolence trainer George Lakey of Training for Change. The (PDF) article, "The 'Sword That Heals': Challenging Ward Churchill's ‘Pacifism As Pathology’" focuses on the pragmatic reasons nonviolent action remains superior to violent action. Lakey debated Churchill in a public forum in early 2001. Note that street fighter arguments below are highlighted in bold.
“NONVIOLENCE ALONE DOESN’T WORK”
The argument that nonviolent action by itself doesn’t work, unless supplemented by violence, is based largely on ignorance of–or refusal to admit--the many successes of nonviolent action in the 20th century. It is one of several “big lies” underlying the pro-violence argument.
but “pacifism” which is really self-destructive passivity.
Critics of nonviolent action use the old-style term “passive resistance” to equate all nonviolent action with passivity. This false comparison is a straw man they set up that they can easily knock down. In “Pacifism as Pathology” Ward Churchill proclaims that “It was the Jews passivity, ‘passive resistance’ and nonviolence–their lack of physical resistance--which allowed the Nazis to murder millions.” However, as we have seen, Churchill admits that German Jews did not organize any real resistance until it was too late.
There was one well known successful protest in 1943 by 2000 gentile wives of Jewish men which forced the Nazis to release their husbands from German prison. More impressively, once Germany occupied their nations, Danish, Finish, Belgian, Norwegian and Bulgarian citizens created widespread campaigns of mostly nonviolent non-cooperation, including hiding thousands of Jews. If Jews and other Germans frightened by the Nazi rise to power in 1933 immediately had organized these kinds of nonviolent resistance, the history of the world might have been quite different.
Would street fighting have stopped the Nazis? The truth is, it was a decade of sometimes massive street brawls between anarchists, communists and Nazis that drove many Germans to seek strong laws and a strong leader. It was the burning of the German parliament--which Nazis alleged was done by a communist arsonist--that gave Chancellor Hitler the excuse he needed to suspend the Constitution and begin his reign of terror. These are inconvenient facts about activist violence that Churchill omits.
Pacifists and others who use nonviolence may be extremely angry and assertive people. Some people are committed to nonviolence because they know in themselves how much violence begets violence. They join those who consciously decide to channel their anger into assertive nonviolence.
practiced by millions in India, the American Civil Rights Movement, and
the anti-Vietnam War Movement did not accomplish its goals. The
always crushes nonviolent opposition. It was the violent people
really made a difference.
Churchill writes: “There has never been a revolution, or even a substantial social reorganization, brought into being on the basis of the principles of pacifism.” He sites as examples Britain giving up India only because it was too broke after World War Two to keep it; the American civil rights movement succeeding only because of the 1960s riots by blacks in the inner cities; and the Vietnamese military victories being more influential in ending the war than American draft resistance and nonviolent protests.
In his article, George Lakey replies that India did free itself because: “...Britain went on to maintain other colonies well past Indian independence in 1948. One dramatic example is Britain's ruthless suppression of the Mao Mao rebellion in Kenya in the 1950s by bombing villages. Britain retained capacity for major military response to an armed struggle for independence, but couldn't continue domination against a nonviolent struggle for independence.” Gandhi triumphed by teaching masses of poor and oppressed people to use nonviolent action in an organized fashion, and the British knew they could not afford to control these masses.
Lakey writes that: “In the case of the U.S. civil rights struggle, at the risk of over-simplification I'd identify the curve of effectiveness in achieving tangible, concrete goals like this: 1955-1965, the curve goes up and up. Some of the goals were: to integrate buses (Montgomery, Freedom rides); to integrate lunch counters and other public accommodations (sit-ins, stand-ins, swim-ins, etc. the Birmingham campaign and the 1964 Civil Rights Act); to enable blacks to vote in the deep South (Mississippi Summer, Selma March, the 1965 Voting Rights Act).
“The curve starts downward from 1965 in terms of major beachheads taken by the mass movement, although for years afterward there was implementation of what was made possible by earlier gains, like getting black officials elected even in the deep South. Notably, from 1965 there were riots in northern cities like Newark, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Watts, and the rise of the Deacons of Defense and Black Panther Party. By 1968 even non-threatening legislation like a bill to fund rat control in inner cities was openly laughed at in the House of Representatives. The mass civil rights movement lost much of its power precisely at the time when it lost its consensus on nonviolent struggle as the basis for mass action.”
It should be noted that the 1968 Washington, DC riot was started accidently by activists protesting the death of Martin Luther King. It also should be noted that the white elite has used the riots as an excuse to create and continue the 30-year “War on Drugs” that effectively singles out and decimates potentially rebellious youth in poor black neighborhoods.
Regarding Vietnam, politicians and the military’s memory of years of large, mostly nonviolent protests against that war continue to make it difficult for the U.S. to engage in large scale, long-term wars without being first assured they are supported by the (usually reluctant) American people. The 1970 National Guard killings of four students at Kent State, the institution of the draft lottery and the desertion of women from the anti-war movement to the feminist movement helped bring about the decline of the anti-war movement. (As did the waning of the late 1960s sunspot cycle height.) However, stepped up violence by groups like the Weather Underground did the most to destroy the credibility and effectiveness of the anti-Vietnam war movement–just as such violence hurt the civil rights movement.
Lakey explains that the early successes of nonviolent movements were copied by later, largely nonviolent revolutions worldwide, even against heavily armed government militaries. “Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic had overwhelming military power in 2000, and was thrown out by a nonviolent movement. Same with Philippines dictator Marcos in 1986. Same with the East German, Hungarian, Czech, and Polish dictatorships in 1989. The Shah of Iran had one of the ten most powerful armies in the world and a secret police whose ruthlessness was second to none. He was overthrown 1977-79, nonviolently.”
Churchill asserts that "Pacifism possesses a sublime ignorance in its implicit assumption that its adherence can somehow dictate the terms of struggle in any contest with the state" and warns activists the state can crush them whenever it likes. But Lakey lists examples where, after violent revolutions failed, nonviolent ones succeeded. He cites El Salvador and Guatemala in the mid-1940s, the African National Congress in South Africa in the 1980s and, more recently, the Zapatistas of Chiapas. Similarly, the Solidarnosc labor movement in Poland originally engaged in some property destruction. But organizers realized that property destruction only gave the Communist government justification to suppress them and scared off potential allies, so they ended that tactic. As pointed out in the introduction to this e-book, in the mid-eighties, when Palestinian and nonviolent activist Mubarak Awad started organizing assertive nonviolence, including tax resistance, among Palestinians, the Israelis quickly kicked him out of the country. They were doubtless terrified he would bring true "people power" to Palestine.
Lakey eloquently counters Ward Churchill’s attacks on nonviolent action when he writes: “What makes Ward's argument in this book so disempowering to activists is that he discounts people power, which is the main power we have access to! Grassroots activists can't match the government's money, and we can't match the government's violence. What we have potential access to is people power, and discounting people power is an invitation to despair.”
movements are ineffectual; their efforts are trivial.
Ward Churchill refuses to describe what he considers to be appropriately “revolutionary,” as opposed to “reformist,” political goals for progressives. He does describe some pacifists, like "the Gandhian movement, the Berrigans, and Norman Morrison” as revolutionary, but never clearly explains why he considers them so. Nevertheless he derides American progressive movements that use nonviolent action for what he infers should be one of their goals, ending U.S. imperialism. “We are left with a husk of opposition, a ritual form capable of affording a sentimentalistic ‘I'm okay, you're OK’ satisfaction to its subscribers at a psychic level but utterly useless in terms of transforming the power relations perpetuating systemic global violence.” He attacks “symbolic civil disobedience,” i.e., small scale arrest scenarios, as opposed to those which aim to cause significant disruptions. He claims they are “trivial” compared to government crimes “which the nonviolent movement claims to be ‘working on.’" Examples he sites, circa the mid-1980s writing of his book, include U.S. government mass murder in the Vietnam and Indochina wars and support for death squads in Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
However, the failure to end this sort of “systemic global violence,” i.e., U.S. imperialism, is less a failure of nonviolent action than a failure of most progressive groups to embrace this as a political goal. Most such groups are allied with the Democratic Party, labor unions or state socialist groups. Democrats and labor unions will not give up intervention to help favorite nations, especially if military cuts cost union jobs. The more delusional state socialist groups want to retain a strong military for the day their revolution succeeds, to help them control the internal populace and spread their version of socialism worldwide. Why doesn’t Churchill attack these politics?
Of course, even if liberal and state socialist groups focused on a noninterventionist position that resonates with a large majority of Americans, most Americans would still reject their left liberal or state socialist tendencies, ones Churchill himself may not support. Churchill should be attacking reformist and state socialist goals, not nonviolence as the political means, as the real cause of the ineffectuality of progressive movements.
Additionally, Churchill rails at one point against late sixties movement liberals who refused to support mass nonviolent direct actions, he ignores the many large and disciplined such actions carried out over the last twenty years in the anti-nuclear, peace and feminist movements. Such actions applied to more radical goals might prove effective. One must wonder why Churchill is so reluctant to attack reformist's goals as virulently as he attacks their tactics.
arrests are just submission to authority and support rather than
This is a frequently repeated street fighter claim. And it certainly is true in cases of well-orchestrated sit-ins at government offices, dutifully choreographed with police, in support of some moderate reformist cause, such as ending just one foreign intervention, or freeing just one prisoner, or increasing any social welfare program–or even ending government-sponsored Columbus Day celebrations, a Ward Churchill cause. However, this is not true of nonviolent actions with more radical, inherently anti-authoritarian goals, such as resisting taxes in order to abolish war (or abolish taxes); performing abortions to protest laws against abortion; creating safe work places for sex workers to protest laws against prostitution; distributing medical marijuana or sacred peyote to protest drug laws; or organizing a community secession project to demand the right to secede from the union. These are so radical that minor cooperation with police (like telling them the time and place of an action) can hardly be considered submission to authority. It is the political goal, not the nonviolent political means, that defines whether one is submitting to or challenging authority.
even through smashing, burning or explosives, is not violence.
use the same definitions of violence as the corporate media and state.
It is argued that the physical force used to smash a window or burn an automobile is not violence because it is only property. As DC "Black Bloc" street fighter spokes person Chuck Munson aka "Chuck0" wrote in an e-mail: “Smashing a window or fucking up a store is not violent. You can't ‘hurt’ property. It is inanimate. Some people argue that property trashing causes emotional damage to people. This is the argument of a pro-capitalist liberal.” (It should be noted that Mr. Munson, a 35 year old who always stays out of harm's way by doing "press" during demonstrations.)
Not surprisingly those who make this argument are anti-capitalists who believe private ownership of property (or more property than they believe is justified) is inherently violent. Therefore they refuse to recognize as legitimate the rage most people feel when they see their own or others' property smashed and destroyed. (Of course, I've seen anarchists get furious when their own property was stolen.) They also refuse to admit that smashing and burning property in the middle of a demonstration could lead to injuries of demonstrators or innocent passerbys. Most irresponsibility consider these to be mere collateral damage of street fighting tactics.
Of course, most street fighters, like many leftists, define any attitude, act or institution perceived as unjust as being violent, even though it involves no form of physical or psychological attack. But they see no inconsistency in this. Some charge the “structural violence” of the corporations causes most poverty and that “poverty is the greatest form of violence.” Yet those who decry such “structural violence” seek the political power to use actual police and military violence against any corporate employee who does not obey their regime's command.
Street fighters may argue that smashing store and car windows and burning dumpsters during demonstrations is no different than “Plowshares” activists’ hammering nuclear missiles in their missile silos. Of course, they ignore the fact that Plowshares activists welcome arrest and trial as a form of witness. Street fighters would say they aren’t “dumb enough to stand around and get caught.”
Finally, it is absurd to put down definitions of violence and nonviolence used by most nonviolent activists because the state and media may use similar ones. Charging guilt-by-common-language-usuage is an effective but reprehensible silencing tactic.
Police are only
body guards of the capitalist elite and therefore throwing rocks or
cocktails at them in “self-defense” is not violence.
Advocates of violence also stretch the definition of self-defense. This goes well beyond throwing crowd control gas canisters back at police in alleged “self-defense.” Most alleged “self-defense” actions actually consist of provoking police by rushing barricades, tearing down fences, smashing police cars or store front windows, or setting dumpsters on fire in the street and then fighting with police who appear at the scene. Some attacks on police, like the April 16, 2000 assault on several officers with a section of chain link by two dozen protesters yelling “Whose streets? Our streets?” are nothing but attempts to conquer territory and face down police.
True self-defense is defense against unprovoked attack. Provoking police violence and fighting back against it by attacking police with sticks, stones, bottles and even Molotov Cocktails is just plain street fighting.
Some deny that attacks on police are “violence” asserting that police are just “hired body guards of the capitalist elite,” against whom it is acceptable to do violence. I’ve even seen the claim that throwing a bottle at a police officer is not violence because he is wearing protective gear.
Street fighters like to excuse their provocations by claiming that police would be violent no matter what they did. However, this claim is belied in America by twenty-odd years of relatively limited police violence against nonviolent activists (1975-99), a period when there was relatively little street fighting. This compares to a great deal more police violence against nonviolent activists (1966-75) when street fighters and activist bombers were prevalent. Similarly, police violence has escalated in response to the renewal of street fighting.
In October, 1979 I participated in the attempt by two thousand nonviolent protesters to occupy the nuclear power plant at Seabrook, New Hampshire. Having already arrested and held thousands of protesters in previous demonstrations, the police decided this time around to gas and beat most of us away from the fences. Painful as the gas might have been, the “beatings” were half-hearted, and the officer who sprayed pepper spray in my fact actually apologized for doing so, as he pushed me and others away. I have supported another two dozen smaller actions and see relatively little police brutality.
Obviously there have been incidents of police brutality through the years, as well as continuing brutality against people of color. And the increasing militarization of law enforcement in the 1980s led to incidents like the massacre at Waco, a law enforcement abuse which so outraged me I wrote a book about it. Nevertheless it is clear that a minority of activists, with support of some reformist leaders, have gone out of their way to provoke the kind of police brutality we have seen in 2000 and 2001.
Even police who want to beat nonviolent protesters cannot do so without causing a public outcry--unless there is some sort of actual or claimed provocation. That is why historically police have had to plant provocateurs to excuse their violence. The new progressive violence worldwide is a dream come true for any police forces which enjoy abusing protesters. More importantly, assaults against police can drive even relatively fair-minded officers to outrageous retaliatory violence.
Even claiming the right to violent self-defense is used against protesters. George Lakey describes the tragic fate of America’s Black Panthers, a group that promoted only true self-defense, and not police provocation. He writes: “Isn't violence advisable for self-defense, in combination with other tactics? It seems only common sense... pragmatically, the track record of organizations that have tried that policy is sobering.
“The best-known case in the U.S. is the Black Panther Party, which did community organizing, ran educational programs, created breakfast programs for poor children, and adopted a policy of armed self-defense. The Panthers were not developing an armed struggle for social change. That choice enabled them to stay close to the people they were organizing, in contrast to the experiment by the Weather Underground to try to create an armed revolution that resulted in their isolation from the people and political irrelevance.
“Even though the Panthers claimed a right to self-defense that many fair-minded U.S. citizens would say is part of our tradition, they were cut down. Their effort to create the capacity for armed self-defense gave the racist federal government the opening it needed to destroy at least one of its enemies.”
Ward Churchill actually advocates that all activist go out and buy guns for self-defense, in case police decide to assault them in their homes. As the Black Panthers discovered in the 1960s and 1970s, and militia groups and the Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas discovered in the 1990s, paranoid police and federal agents assume political and religious dissidents hold guns only for one purpose – to attack police. So holding guns to defend against some possible future attack by police actually encourages the police to attack--and justifies police violence in the minds of a fearful and gullible public. Gun owners who also are political activists have to be particularly careful in their rhetoric and actions.
One can still
oneself nonviolent if one engages in property destruction or
against police, or if one organizes with or participates in actions
those who do so.
Street fighters like to maintain that they are “nonviolent people” so that they are not rejected out of hand by the nonviolent majority. They make false distinctions between fabricated concepts like “nonviolent-passives” and “nonviolent-militants,” defining “militancy” as their rushing barricades, breaking windows and defending themselves against police and “passivity” as doing traditional nonviolent civil disobedience, but with the support of the street fighters.
They try to convince nonviolent activists that street fighters can help strengthen their nonviolent actions. For example, they say a mob of street fighters advancing on a barricade under attack by police can stop police from beating nonviolent people. They claim that even if the street fighters get a little “out of hand,” the nonviolent people they are supporting are not responsible for the violence.
However, activists working closely with, and expecting aid and support from, people itching to fight with police are deluding themselves if they claim to be nonviolent. They are more rightly called “passive street fighters.” As "Mark S." wrote on an anarchist e-mail list, describing the April 16, 2000 protests in Washington, DC: “Their (sic) was no clear line between those who would maintain a strictly pacific response to police aggression and those who would fight back more directly. The willingness of pacifists to use the Black Bloc inevitably has the effect of undercutting strict pacifist tactics/politics within the movement.”
No one has a
to judge others’ tactics as violent; they can only specify what acts
These attempts to re-define smashing and burning property and attacking police in “self-defense” as “not violent” are not always successful, especially with more experienced activists. One tactic to deflect criticism is a legalistic approach of telling activists they have no right to define others’ actions as “violent”; they can only very specify the acts they oppose. If an activist says, “Let’s not have violence at the demonstration,” street fighters will make them list every act they are opposed to–and make them listen to a laborious explanation of why the tactic is not violent or is justified. For example, August minutes of a Mobilization for Global Justice meeting organizing for the September 2001 DC protests in Washington, reveal street fighters are trying to bog down discussions of nonviolent action guidelines by asking that “tactics should be spelled out so it was clear what this [nonviolence] means.”
A number of street fighters have quoted one statement in Ward
“Pacifism as Pathology”: “What is at issue is not therefore the
of hegemonic pacifism with some ‘cult of terror.’ Instead, it is
the realization that, in order to be effective and ultimately
any revolutionary movement within advanced capitalist nations must
the broadest possible range of thinking/action by which to confront the
state. This should be conceived not as an array of component forms of
but as a continuum of activity stretching from petitions/letter writing
and so forth through mass mobilizations/demonstrations/onward into the
arena of armed self-defense, and still onward through the realm of
military operations (e.g., elimination of critical state facilities,
of key individuals within the governmental/corporate apparatus,
The Street Fighter quotes on the main page includes several similar
It is clear that street fighting is just the beginning of the violence for some followers of Churchill. Nevertheless, those left liberal activists who want no more than a few broken windows and burning dumpsters to dramatize their causes have provided several concepts which are repeated over and over like mantras to silence those who might oppose street violence.
The best way to
or abolish capitalism and/or maintain and expand the welfare state is
"using all the tools in our toolbox" and supporting a "diversity of
i.e. property destruction and street fighting in addition to nonviolent
As street fighter spokes person Chuck Munson wrote on DC Indymedia after the April, 2000 DC protests : ”One of the main objectives of the Black Bloc was to show other activists how large the spectrum is for direct action.... I think most of us, not just anarchists, are tired of protest as usual....We successfully broadened the debate about tactics and started to get people to think beyond the simplistic moralisms of the nonviolent protest tradition.”
The first counter argument to this assertion is the long list of negative effects of violent action on internal organizing (conflict over process violations and violence, intimidation of nonviolent activists, increased paranoia, increased male dominance, disempowrment of nonviolent activsts, failure to support prosecuted activsts); on public perception (it excites the press, obscures the issues and disgusts and frightens the public); and on the establishment (it unites the power structure, increases police harassment, infiltration, repression, and scapegoat prosecutions).
Ward Churchill and his ilk ridicule these concerns and those who hold them, as if ridicule alone will nullify the real human dynamics, proven by thousands of years of human history: that violence begets violence; that those who use violence in an organized and consistent fashion, be they part of the state or trying to take over the state, inevitably run roughshod over the nonviolent majority, most of whom are women and nonviolent males.
Ward Churchill said in his January, 2001 talk, "What wins attracts people; what loses does not." Street fighters probably will not stop until their tactics are proved to be the tactics of "losers."
The first reaction of nonviolent activists who hear the “toolbox/diversity” argument is often: “Why can’t they do their violent demonstration somewhere far away from us, preferably on another day?” George Lakey comments at length on this question: “Everyone ‘doing their own thing’ in a mass action doesn't work because it's self-contradictory. If those who organize the action base it on strategic nonviolent action, they aren't being allowed to ‘do their thing’ if others come in and do violence or even property destruction. The advocates of violence or property destruction, when it comes down to it, are being intolerant by not letting their comrades carry out their intentions. The only way that tolerance can work is by mutual understanding that different strategies will be used at different times or in different places – sufficiently different so that the police cannot use one kind of action as an excuse to bash the other kind.
“Tactical disagreement is another diversity challenge that faces our movement. If some of our more militant friends aren't willing to ‘agree to disagree’ but instead do confrontive tactics that endanger others without their consent, then the issue is no longer about strategy and tactics, it is about respect and needs to be tackled on that level.”
In essence, Lakey is telling street fighters that they are asking for respect, but they are not willing to give it. But street fighters don’t really want just respect–they also want obedience. They believe that everyone else must accept their tactics and that they have a right to use these tactics at any event they choose. They are eager to use such actions to recruit more street fighters to their ranks. And they know that the best way a few dozen, or even a few hundred, street fighters can protect themselves from beatings, arrest and prosecution, is to do their actions near a much larger group of nonviolent people so they can escape into the crowd for “cover” when police attack or attempt to arrest them.
Some street fighters deal with potential rejection by activists by joining the organizing and finding powerful allies who will help them bully everyone else into accepting the possibility of violence, as happened in Washington, DC, Philadelphia and Prague, Czechoslovakia protests in 2000 and in Quebec City and Genoa protests 2001. Others stay clear of official organizing, reject the organizer’s guidelines and do their thing, as happened in Seattle in 1999, Los Angeles in 2000, and Washington, DC on Inauguration Day in January, 2001.
Of course, street fighters usually deny to the public and other activists any intention to use violence, if only to protect themselves from being targets of arrest and prosecution. However, there are always those who can’t control themselves and shout their intentions all over the Internet or in public meetings.
There must be no
of those who use diverse tactics. We can’t divide ourselves
“good” and “bad” activists. Solidarity must be a primary value.
Ward Churchill describes bitterly how in the late 1960s the nonviolent effectively marginalized groups attempting to build “fighting movements” by “calling for nonattendance at the demonstrations of ‘irresponsible’ organizations” and “wittily coining derogatory phrases to describe them.” Ostracism and ridicule worked, for Churchill claims: “[T]he stigmatized organizations themselves institutionalized this imposed isolation, their frustration with attempting to break the inertia of symbolic opposition to the status quo converted into a ‘politics of despair’ relying solely on violent actions undertaken by a network of tiny underground cells.”
Contemporary street fighters take this warning about what they explicitly call “marginalization” very seriously. Since early 2000 they have worked very hard to make “marginalization” the enemy of progressive solidarity. They particularly demand that protest guidelines and organizers do not condemn violence; they even have managed to gain support for “self-defense” from some organizing groups.
Their primary and most effective “guilt trip” is the appeal to solidarity among all progressive "anti-capitalists." It is amazing how many activists who would have been embarrassed to call themselves “anti-capitalist” in early 2000 now do so. Not surprisingly, this has lead to the claim that nonviolent activists, including nonviolent anarchists, as well as those who refuse to define themselves as “anti-capitalist,” are now the ones being marginalized.
However, as protests worldwide have become increasingly violent during 2001, more people are speaking out against violence. (See “Marginalization Begins” quotes.) It is only a matter of time before the great majority who prefer strictly nonviolent protest “break solidarity,” insist on strict nonviolent action guidelines, refuse to work with people they believe will engage in violence, and organize lots of peacekeepers to “keep the peace,” effectively marginalizing street fighters once again.
We should not
time in divisive conversation about tactics, but focus on the issues
This is not an argument but another “solidarity” guilt trip, as well as an intimidation tactic to stop open discussion of violence and to prevent nonviolent people from organizing against the violent ones. A perfect example is an e-mail sent by Robert Naiman to organizers of the September, 2001 Washington DC protests: “We're of one mind on non-marginalization. A great deal of work has been done and is being done on this. This will get better. Part of the problem now is that most folks who shot their mouths off about Genoa were disconnected from our process. That is already getting better. I personally have squashed a lot in the last week or so, and I know others have done so as well.“ What Naiman is saying is: “A lot of people freaked out about violence after Genoa but we shut them up.” As I found out during April, 2000 organizing in D.C., pro-street fighter activists even will send representatives to meetings nonviolent people organize to discuss activist violence in order to “peer pressure,” intimidate and bully them into silence. (See my “A16" Case Study.)
This sort of intimidation is necessary because the majority of people do not want to engage in the violence that "progressive" leaders and their street fighter cohorts are committed to fomenting. And few people are going to volunteer to provide “cover” for street fighters who want to break windows, light fires, assault police and then disappear into swarms of nonviolent people in order to evade arrest and imprisonment. (Observing these people at work inspired me to write yet another peace song, this one entitled "The People Want Peace, but the Leaders Want War".)
and street fighting force the press to cover us and the power structure
to pay attention.
During 1999 a leading professional progressive publicity person complained to me repeatedly about the difficulty of obtaining publicity for progressive projects he had worked so hard on. So I was not surprised in spring of 2000 when he went over to the street fighters side, telling me “if the window smashers won’t come...we won’t get any publicity.”
However, those who use street violence to get media attention want to have it both ways: they want the press to pay attention to their issues because of their violence, but they don’t want them to cover the violence itself!
For example, DC organizer Nadine Bloch proclaimed in December, 2000, talking about Seattle, 1999 and Washington, DC, 2000: “What kind of coverage would we have had if there were not windows broken?” Yet media workshops conducted by Ms. Bloch and her cohorts stress that activists should ignore all media inquiries about violence and “bring the conversation back to the issues.” When reporters ask about specific violent incidents shown on television or witnessed by reporters, some activists deny the incidents happened. I even have read claims that televised shots of activist violence actually is “boss media” fabricated video footage!
Street fighters and their liberal allies are extremely frustrated when their strategy doesn’t work and the media follows its own directive: “if it bleeds, it leads.” The September, 2001 DC protest organizing page laments that: “the media tends to focus on things they identify as ‘Protests turned violent when...’ while ignoring tens of thousands of other participants probably says more about the reality of selling tv commercials than about the actions themselves.” They are disconcerted when activist violence does not help them sell their ideological product to the media and the public.
Their media efforts can be successful. Reporters attending the August 13, 2001 press conference of organizers for the September demonstrations in DC mostly asked about the issues and could not get a handle on the kind of questions that would have revealed that organizers pro-violence position. However, a good reporter can still trip them up, as on did at their August 22, 2001 press conference when a question about using peacekeepers led to thirty minutes of activists refusing to condemn activist violence. At an August 28, 2001 press conference activists clamped down on such press "disruptions" Robert Weismann of the Ralph Nader group Essential Action demanded the press focus on "substantive" issues, "In fact we're going to insist on it."5/
We will assert
that police are always violent and that activists never provoked them
only acted in self-defense. The most outrageous alleged activist
violence is obviously the work of provocateurs, thrill seekers or
On various listserves frequented by street fighters, activists boast about and justify their provocations and fights with police in some e-mails. Nevertheless, they assert to nonviolent activists and the media that there was no activist violence, or that the worst or most inappropriate violence was done by “locals” or “thrill seekers” or “looters” or “government provocateurs.”
In truth, street fighters celebrate the fact that their tactics, and the resulting police violence towards nonviolent activists, radicalizes these activists and makes them more likely to become street fighters. As street fighter spokes person Chuck Munson wrote above about "A16": We successfully broadened the debate about tactics and started to get people to think beyond the simplistic moralisms of the nonviolent protest tradition. A leading "A16" organizer using the moniker "solstic smurf" bragged: What we saw was huge crowds giving a broad endorsement to our politics and some of them being moved to join us. That's what we always wanted, right? In August 2001 Munson declared on a listserve: It's time to take the fight to the capitalists, without the interference by those who want to build big organizations or "one big movement."...Our numbers are already quite large, mainly thanks to the police batons and tear gas which have the magical effect of turning many moderates into instant street fighters.
Left liberal A16 organizer Nadine Bloch obviously recognized this dynamic when, at a televised April 16, 2000 press conference, she bellowed enthusiastically: “Despite the scare tactics, the threats, the harassment, the surveillance, the helicopters over head, the raid of our workshop area and teaching area, we will not be silent. And the sounds of this repression will serve as an amplified call to action.”
Considering that Bloch did everything she could to ensure that “no one” (i.e, “trashers” and street fighters) would not be kept away by “marginalizing” talk of nonviolence and especially peacekeepers, it can be safely assumed she wanted enough violence to bring down that kind of repression. Ironically, the obvious necessity to provoke police violence through activist violence supports the argument above that there has been relatively little police violence against nonviolent protesters in America in the last twenty years.
Once again, some of this goes back to Ward Churchill. In ”Pacifism as Pathology” he assails progressive activists who opposed violence because it would bring police violence down on themselves; he asserts that tactics which could provoke such violence “might in themselves alleviate a real measure of the much more massive state-inflicted violence occurring elsewhere; better that another 100,000 Indochinese peasants perish under the hail of cluster bombs and napalm than America’s principled progressives suffer real physical pain while rendering their government’s actions impracticable.” Believing that activist violence “might” work obviously is sufficient excuse to attempt to lure other activists into street fighting by provoking "radicalizing" police violence. What these activists don’t count on is that for every activist “radicalized,” five might drop out of activism all together.
Street fighters assertions that “provocateurs” really caused violence is increasingly coming true. As members of the Anti-Capitalist Convergence of Washington, DC complained in a July 2001 “Communique”: “The fascists [police officers in Genoa, Italy] impersonated anarchists in their attempt to discredit our movement. Numerous reports indicate that paramilitary or police officers donned masks and dressed in black to disguise themselves as Black Bloc anarchists, and then attacked peaceful demonstrators, set fire to working-class-owned automobiles, and smashed and looted ‘mom-and-pop’ stores in downtown Genoa. These acts of the undercover agents were designed not only as a pretext for their violent assaults on demonstrators, but also to attempt to breach the solidarity between anarchists and other protesters.” As more provocateurs infiltrate actions, even street fighters cannot identify the real activists.
Don't blame us
violence, we can’t control everyone at demonstrations.
This sentence contains two lies. First, it is well known that if protest organizers insist their demonstration will be nonviolent, refuse to work with street fighters, and organize lots of peacekeepers to discourage violence, street fighters usually will avoid the demonstration in disgust. (I like to say that peacekeepers repel street fighteres like garlic repels vampires.) After all, there is only one thing more annoying to macho young males than having other activists telling them they shouldn’t be smashing and trashing at a nonviolent demonstration--and that is having such activists stand nonviolently between them and the targets of their violence, be they store fronts or police officers.
The second, and actually contradictory, lie is that many of these professional organizers actually think they can control the violence. They believe they can telegraph to violent activist groups, or organize inside their “Black Bloc” or affinity group, what is an acceptable level of violence. They forget that violence begets violence; activist violence begets police violence begets more activist violence, etc., etc., etc.
This belief in control is delusional – and not just because violent demonstrations will in fact be infiltrated by police and other provocateurs. Several quotes from street fighters illustrate the inability to control the violence once it gets going.
In August of 2000 "Black Bloc" tactician Mark Laskey wrote in an e-mail responding to a description of obnoxious behavior at a demonstration: ”Well, if sections of the black bloc are accurately described in this persons article, than I would say that he is in the right to call them on their asshole behavior. The idea behind the black bloc should be to heighten the militancy of demonstrations and radicalize the politics involved, not to arrogantly denounce other protesters and push to the front of a march at the expense of everyone else … If we can't maintain this sort of self-discipline as a bloc, then I think we really need to reconsider this tactic.”
Zmag editor Michael Albert, who actively promotes limited street fighting, was quite annoyed by the Molotov Cocktail throwing in Quebec City, writing: “Finally, we also need some clarity about violence.....Our tactical sense must couple to strategic plans aimed at winning. We can have teach-ins. We can have rallies. We can have marches. We can have strikes. We can build our own blockades. We can utilize all manner of creativity and playfulness amidst our dissent. We can go out and talk to people. We can obstruct. We can destroy property when doing so sends a clear and coherent message. We can hurl back tear gas canisters in self defense and tear down walls and other obstacles to remain mobile...But to attack the police with the intent of doing bodily harm, whether with stones or Molotov cocktails, simply invites further escalation of their violence. It does nothing to hinder elite agendas but instead propels and legitimates them. Anger-fed violence is hard avoid in some situations, I well know. But avoid it we must.”4/
In her Village Voice article Sarah Ferguson describes what happened in one carefully planned scenario: “….The new buzz is about ‘diversity of tactics’ delineating zones of protest for different levels of confrontation with police. This anything-goes approach fits with the ideal of maintaining an openly democratic, nonhierarchical movement. But in practice, such an open-ended strategy can easily allow for more aggressive tendencies to hold sway. Organizers in Quebec tried to set aside green zones for festive, nonviolent protest, a yellow zone for ‘defensive’ nonviolence, and a red zone for ‘high risk’ actions. But they quickly changed color with the level of police response. By the end of the first night, the streets were a surreal collage of heated battles interspersed with throbbing techno jams, street fires, and om-ing peace circles, all enveloped in clouds of noxious gas. In fact, the protests in Quebec were as militant as they were because more peaceful groups ceded turf, rather than try to carry out nonviolent civil disobedience within the diversity of tactics model.”6/
The last comment, of course, illustrates a basic fact about violent street fighter activism: the inevitable escalating and uncontrollable violence drives away the great majority of potential activists who, despite all the arguments and bullying of street fighters, prefer to remain nonviolent.
When the arguments above do not succeed in immediately silencing questions, concerns and especially opposition to activist violence, street fighters and their supporters quickly go into attack mode. They put down all nonviolent actionists, even those who only support nonviolence pragmatically, with what they consider to be a scurrilous epithet: "pacifist" and accuse them of being "morally superior." Ward Churchill’s title “Pacifism is Pathology” is itself an ad hominem attack; he calls pacifism “a pathological illness when advanced as a political methodology.” While I list several different charges, the most frequent attack street fighters and their supporters use is accusing nonviolent activists of being “peace Nazis,” “infiltrators” or “cops.” Only the heartiest or most committed nonviolent activists will put up with having that charge hurled against them repeatedly.
are morally superior to activists who use "diverse tactics."
Having had the charge of "moral superiority" thrown at me a number of times by outraged street fighters, I know how perplexing and unanswerable that ad hominen attack can be, even to people who believe only in the tactical superiority of nonviolence. May leftist egalitarians are embarrassed to be accused of being "superior" in any way, so this a clever way of undercutting their criticism of violent tactics. And those of us who do in fact believe nonviolence is a morally, as well as strategically, superior tactic have not had to defend that position in so long that we have forgotten how. One response might be, "you think you have a right to use violence because your anti-capitalist views are morally superior to capitalism, so why the beef if I think nonviolence is morally superior to violence?" In truth, the violent activists believe both their goals and their tactics are morally superior and are much more self-righteous than the average nonviolence activist.
only because they are afraid of police retaliation and losing their
privileges; they are elitists and reformists who do not want real and
In “Pacifism as Pathology” Ward Churchill charges that: “The question central to the emergence and maintenance of nonviolence as the oppositional foundation of American activism has not been the truly pacifist formulation, ‘How can we forge a revolutionary politics within which we can avoid inflicting violence on others?’ On the contrary, a more accurate guiding question has been, ‘What sort of politics might I engage in which will both allow me to posture as a progressive and allow me to avoid incurring harm to myself?’ Hence, the trappings of pacifism have been subverted to establish a sort of ‘politics of the comfort zone,’ not only akin to what Bettleheim termed ‘the philosophy of business as usual’ and devoid of perceived risk to its advocates, but minus any conceivable revolutionary content of true pacifist activism - the sort practiced by the Gandhian movement, the Berrigans, and Norman Morrison.”
I believe there is substantial truth in this charge as applied to most statist progressives. It is probably Churchill’s most powerful point, lending an air of credibility even to his least substantial assertions. After all many progressives avoid arrest even for standard civil disobedience, sit-ins and blockades where they face small fines and little or no jail time. (Though it should be noted that lately some judges have added long probation periods to the sentences of leading organizers who were arrested for minor acts of civil disobedience.)
Having practiced and organized war tax resistance for more than twenty years, I know how difficult it can be to persuade anti-war progressives to engage in even “token” war tax resistance. In this form individuals resist a few dollars, for just a few months, at least until they get their first or second letter from the IRS demanding payment. Although war tax resisters never get more than small penalties and interest as IRS “punishment,” most activists are irrationally fearful that the IRS response to such resistance might somehow cost them their job or career, or result in prosecution or imprisonment. (See more information about war tax resistance at NWTRCC.ORG.)
Considering Ward Churchill’s hostility to the idea of tax resistance, I am quite sure that Mr. Churchill himself dutifully pays his income tax so as not to threaten his comfortable university professor position or lifestyle. This would certainly belie the quote he uses to preface the section of “Pacifism as Pathology” called “The Comfort Zone.” The quote from “The Last Poets, 1972" reads: “Don’t talk to me of revolution until you’re ready to eat rats to survive...”
However, just because people are unnecessarily afraid of being arrested or imprisoned for nonviolent civil disobedience or tax resistance does not mean they are therefore duty bound to risk arrest, prosecution and long prison terms for street fighting or armed rebellion–especially if they are against these on principled or pragmatic grounds. The real challenges are to inspire these people with a truly revolutionary vision and then to convince these frightened activists to engage in the variety of arrestable nonviolent actions. Totally counter-productive to that goal is the justified fear of dealing with street fighters ranting about “overthrowing capitalism” and provoking police to random violence against demonstrators.
support violence by people of color and third world people only
are racists who want others to do their fighting. Those who totally
armed rebellion, at home or abroad, are racists who want poor people of
color to live in slavery.
Churchill alleges that during the 1960s “pacifists” would state that “the Panthers were ‘as bad as the cops’ in that they had resorted to arms...; they had ‘brought this on themselves’ when they ‘provoked violence’ by refusing the state an uncontested right to maintain the lethal business as usual it had visited upon black America since the inception of the Republic.” However, he thinks there is a much more convoluted “pacifist” conspiracy against people of color.
He alleges that pacifists like David Dellinger, Joan Baez, Benjamin Spock, Holly Near, Noam Chomsky, A. J. Muste, etc. supported violence by groups like the Vietnamese National Liberation Front, even as they adamantly enforced nonviolence at home, at least for white activists. He charges that such activists believe they can use First World resources to create the alternative culture, while engaging in symbolic nonviolent actions that challenge the establishment.
Churchill charges they have similar attitudes towards people of color in this country: “From there, the nonviolent American movement (by now overwhelmingly composed of white ‘progressives’) can be steered into exactly the same symbolic and rhetorical ‘solidarity’ with an emerging nonwhite armed revolution within the United States and - voila! - positive social transformation has not only been painlessly achieved (for whites), but they (being the prefigurative nonviolent ‘experts’ on building post-revolutionary society) have maneuvered themselves into leading roles in the aftermath.”
This questionable claim is another Churchill-ism that young street fighters have used to lambast older nonviolent activists as sellouts and racists. They quote his assertion: “Small wonder that North America's ghetto, barrio and reservation populations, along with the bulk of the white working class - people who are by and large structurally denied access to the comfort zone (both in material terms and in a corresponding inability to avoid the imposition of a relatively high degree of systemic violence) - tend either to stand aside in bemused incomprehension of such politics or to react with outright hostility.”
Street fighters themselves charge that anyone who thinks people of color should just "passively" allow themselves to be oppressed are obviously racists. Like Churchill they assume nonviolence must be passive. And they ask petulently, “People in poor countries have violent street fights all the time, why can’t we?“
George Lakey counters these arguments when he writes: “Is nonviolent action a "white thing"?
“That would be a big surprise to the hundreds of thousands of people of color in the U.S. who have used nonviolent direct action in campaigns for over a century....
“A far, far higher proportion of people of color have engaged in nonviolent action in the U.S. than have white people, and continue to do so year in and year out. Not to mention the role of nonviolence in the anti-colonial struggles in Africa and Asia. When we think of nonviolence, why do the names of Gandhi, King, Aung San Suu Kyi, Cesar Chavez, so easily leap to mind? They are only the tip of the iceberg.
“Neither the mass media nor the schools have served us well in letting us know what's really going on. They glamorize violence. It's up to us activists to spread the information about people power...I won't even start with the myth that nonviolent action is inherently middle class -- that's even more off base than the myth that it's white. A far higher proportion of working class people have engaged in nonviolent action than middle class people. Since unions have been the ‘shock troops’ of class struggle, to read their history is to read a large part of the history of nonviolent action in the U.S.”
Lakey also replies to Churchill’s inference that there is a white “pacifist” conspiracy against blacks. “Is there a racist division of labor between white people creating alternative institutions and people of color doing the street actions?
“Ward seems to discount the value of what traditionally has been called ‘prefigurative work:’ building alternatives so a new society begins to take shape within the womb of the old. Further, he states that whites avoid risk by building alternatives, allowing the risk-taking to be done by people of color in the streets.
“It seems to me that Ward downplays the huge place in communities of color that is taken by culture work and alternatives. Long before the Nation of Islam took headlines for their alternative-building, African Americans have been re-creating culture and building pride, for example. For some leaders of color, alternatives have been a pragmatic, strategic imperative.”
I believe those white street fighters who claim to speak for people of color and third world people, while really just bolstering their own violent inclinations, are themselves guilty of a racism. In my experience, street fighting actually increases the latent racism of many white street fighters. As I detail in my “A16" Case Study, white activists ignored political issues of importance to people of color, brushed off activists of color concerns about violence and “riots”; dismissed as “looters” people of color who joined white Seattle “trashers”; ridiculed assertions that police were more likely to target for arrest people of color than white activists; “dissed” and shunned an African American minister who publicly rejected property destruction as a tactic; intimidated an African American man who objected to an activist “squat” in a building already being renovated for low income residents; physically attacked black police officers on April 16, 2000 and then vociferously defended those attacks.
Other street fighter racism includes refusal during some demonstrations to consider whether their tactics might endanger nondocumented third world immigrants and a willingness to insult any person of color who challenges their politics or tactics as a “sell out,” “Uncle Tom,” “Oreo” or, of course, "cop." Finally, I have noticed that white street fighters worldwide have been outraged by the shootings that wounded three white demonstrators in Gothenburg. They made a martyr of the white anti-globalization activist who died in Genoa. But few mention the three Papua New Guineans killed in anti-globalization demonstrations shortly before the Genoa protests. These protesters really don't care if First World activists provoking police to violence overshadow and discredit nonviolent protesters in Third World countries who deal with real and murderous government oppression.
suspect as people who use police tactics (like peacekeepers), may
activist violence to the police ("snitch") and therefore must be
and labeled dividers, peace cops, peace Nazis, government infiltrators
or undercover cops if they continue to speak out against violence.
Ward Churchill’s attacks on peacekeepers or marshalls have been particularly effective. He writes: “Surrounding the larger mass of demonstrators can be seen others - an elite. Adorned with green (or white, or powder blue) armbands, their function is to ensure that the demonstrators remain ‘responsible,’ not deviating from the state-sanctioned plan of protest. Individuals or small groups who attempt to spin off from the main body, entering areas to which the state has denied access (or some other inappropriate activity) are headed off by these armbanded ‘marshals’ who argue - pointing to the nearby police - that ‘troublemaking’ will only ‘exacerbate an already tense situation’ and ‘provoke violence,’ thereby ‘alienating those we are attempting to reach.’... At this juncture, the confluence of interests between the state and the mass nonviolent movement could not be clearer...Both sides of the ‘contestation’ concur that the smooth functioning of state processes must not be physically disturbed, at least not in any significant way.”
What Churchill and all street fighters ignore is the reason nonviolent protesters use (or accept police demands they deploy) marshalls and peacekeepers: violent protesters disrupted marches and rallies, alarming nonviolent activists, families with children, the elderly and disabled, none of whom had any interest in street fighting, in being “cover” for street fighters, or in being “radicalized” by street fighter-provoked police violence. Rather than be pawns in the games street fighters play, and rather than relying on police violence, they created their own to nonviolent peacekeeper protectors. This empowering act by nonviolent people is what truly outrages the inherently authoritarian street fighters. (Again, one wonders how Churchill would deal with more-revolutionary-than-thou disrupters at one of his Columbus Day protests.)
Street fighters are fearful that committed nonviolent activists or pacifists, and especially peacekeepers or marshalls, will point them out to police and even grab them and turn them over. They bitterly alleged such things happened in Seattle. Obviously, those opposed to protesters smashing property or attacking police officers potentially could identify such a person to police, or even bear witness in court--especially if it was a particularly heinous act that led to injury or death. However, street fighters’ real fear is that nonviolent peacekeepers at protests successfully will defuse and discourage street violence. Therefore it is necessary to accuse people of being “peace cops” or “peace Nazis” in order to squelch their desire for nonviolent peacekeeping.
Verbal assaults on peacekeepers started before the Seattle protests and rose to a frenzy during organizing for “A16." (See full details in “A16" Case Study.) Nevertheless, the permitted rally, which was organized specifically so that activists could have a safe space, had 200 orange clad peacekeepers who carefully guarded its perimeter against any street fighters fleeing the police.
In subsequent protests some nonviolent protesters have organized peacekeeping teams quietly, but street fighters have been very effective in squelching most such organizing. Probably the easiest way for police or media to discover if a group of organizers really is committed to a nonviolent protest is to ask them if they intend to have peacekeepers and then gage the sincerity and enthusiasm of their response.
equalitarian, consensus oriented methods where everyone has an equal
and equal responsibility--"this is what democracy looks like!!"
For more than twenty years, peace, feminist and other progressive movements have used direct democracy “consensus processes,” which aim at getting approval for decisions by all meeting participants, whether they represent large organizations or only themselves. This process has worked successfully, even in very large meetings with dozens of people.
Only since 1999 has a new structure, promoted by the street fighter-controlled Direct Action Network, been used widely--the representative “Spokes Council” structure, which also uses consensus process. Technically all members can have a say at Spokes Council meetings through their “Spokes.” However, street fighters and their allies actually control decision-making. They do so first by steering most activists to “General Meetings” which are purely for disseminating information and recruiting volunteers. They then discourage participation in Spokes Council meetings and make sure that clique members or supporters are both facilitators of, and a critical mass of “Spokes people” at, all the Spokes Council meetings. This structure has made it easy for a small clique to promote “nonmarginalization” and a “diversity of tactics” and squelch those who speak out for truly nonviolent protest and for peacekeepers.
Of course, a good reporter can always figure out who is really in control. Kevin Diaz, of the Washington City Paper, wrote what he found in organizing for the April 2000 protest in DC in a front page story “Puppet Show” covering the organizing and the protests.
“Questions are being raised in the discussion groups about the organization's openness and supposed devotion to a nonhierarchical structure...
"I've spoken with some students who are somewhat new to activism, and was told that they felt profoundly out of place at the big [General] meetings, as if there was absolutely no reason to be there," writes Zachary Wolfe, a National Lawyer's Guild member. "There is a sense that a handful of people think they know what to do, and everyone else had best fall in line and follow directions."
...The suggestion that the mobilization has leaders and followers has long been a hot topic of contention, and not just via e-mail. Maintaining a veneer of solidarity amid an otherwise fractured left requires some delicate diplomacy. Part of the schtick is that nobody acts like a dictator. Although there have been insider jokes about the existence of a "central committee," [“A16" publicist Adam] Eidinger, ever the flak, takes pains to portray the organization as flat and leaderless: "It's really an amorphous, informal group. There really is no leadership."
Dissenters within the movement—and not just [Vlad] Budney—seem to sense an unseen hand pulling things together behind the scene. [Carol] Moore, the sidelined peacekeeper, puts [Nadine] Bloch high on her list of suspects. "She's totally in control," Moore says.
...[Mike Dolan of a Ralph Nader trade group who organized in Seattle] "I would say Nadine [Bloch] is in charge, but she'll deny it," he says.
Bloch, in fact, does deny it. An interview in her office quickly turns confrontational. "There are people within a nonhierarchical structure who have leadership characteristics," she says. Pressed to explain what she means, she repeats in a rising voice: "There are people within a nonhierarchical structure who have leadership characteristics."7/
This absurdly tortuous denial of her defacto leadership would be funny, if it did not represent the authoritarian manipulation of process in service of people committed to smashing, burning and attacking anything or anyone who stands in the way of their goals. Ms. Bloch is once again influential in organizing the Mobilization for Global Justice, this time for the September, 2001 demonstrations and acting as a press spokesperson. At least eight members of the clique that dominated in 2000 also dominate this action.
This is not a
led movement and women accept and engage in violence as much as men.
While a greater percentage of young women activists today are willing to engage in property destruction and even assaults against police than in decades past, control remains firmly in the hands of males. Many of the female “leaders” (Ms. Bloch being a prime example) are employed or manipulated by white male leaders who stay in the background to hide their influence. And the incidence of violence against women actually may be rising as violent male street fighters attract abusive males to activism.
People of color
an equal say, and if they oppose violence because of fear of racist
they will be accommodated.
This is true if the people of color are “politically correct” left liberals or anti-capitalists, or dependent on social welfare programs or safely apolitical--and there are enough of them demanding an equal say that we have to let them have it. In April 2000 organizing in Washington, DC those few people of color who spoke out on their fear of property destructoin and violence in a majority black city were ignored. In Los Angeles, Latinos and African Americans did have a say and the protests were relatively nonviolent; in most of the other white-controlled American and European protests people of color were relatively powerless.
equal to those who use or condone violence.
That is true as long as they do not judge, question or challenge street fighters right to use violent tactics, including in the middle of their nonviolent action, or ever utter the word “peacekeeper.”
This is true of the anarchists who only challenge capitalism and not the liberal welfare state, do not expect to be represented formally at coalition press conferences, and aren’t too demanding that left liberal leaders help them if they are prosecuted for felonies.
We are not
violence when we forbid activists to judge it. The government
not allege guilt by association or engage in collective punishment.
Powerful activists who condone violence by squelching criticism of it are promoting it, and bear moral, if not legal, responsibility for any activist violence. That is why I have mentioned herein the ones who have spoken out most publicly and most frequently under their real names. When such activists decide it is no longer politically useful to promote and condone violence, nonviolent activists should hold them responsible for their immoral abuse and intimidation of nonviolent people. They should not allow them to hold leadership positions without apologizing for their behavior and forswearing such advocacy in the future.
There is a thin line between associating with violent people and conspiring to commit violence with them. In a police state one has to expect that the police will not bother to differentiate and punish everyone involved until they crush the violence. "Co-opting the cops" is just a much smarter strategy than attacking them and then screaming about civil liberties when they attack back.
Even advocates of street fighting admit the drawbacks of violence. In a December 18, 1999 Znet editorial “Different Strokes for Different Folks?” Editor Michael Albert lists problems mentioned by nonviolent activists: “...[violent tactics] help authority rationalize its lack of legitimacy, increase tendencies to thoughtless individualism, amorality, and paranoia, put off unorganized working people and minorities (not to mention those unable to participate in violent settings), curtail open discussion and democratic decision-making, obscure the focus of protester's anger, distort media coverage disrupting communication to broader audiences, and also give elites means to change the rules of engagement to their advantage.” More details of such negative dynamics are below.
Negative Effects of
Action on Internal Organizing
Organizing any action always presents multiple opportunities for conflict, power struggles, domination, factionalization, demoralization and failure. Adding the element of violence, be it street fighting or armed rebellion and terrorism, multiplies these stresses. Additional problems caused by violence include:
Over Process Violations: Those who advocate or engage
violence believe the ends justify the means. Many refuse to be
with organizing of demonstrations, preferring to show up later and do
Those who choose to be involved in organizing–including those who encourage or condone violence, but don’t intend to engage in it themselves--often violate process to silence those who would cause conflict speaking out against violence in meetings. (Such debates often are pushed to Internet e-mail and web page debates, i.e., like this web page e-book.) Violence advocates and their allies must work closely together and often form “cliques” which carefully plan every move in the struggle for influence and control of organizations.
Violence advocates manipulate both structured and allegedly “leaderless” groups. They often engage in the kind of process violations long criticized in nonviolence circles. These include hogging the show, being “problem solvers,” aggressively “speaking in capital letters,” defensiveness, nitpicking, attention seeking, task and content focus, hostile put downs and one-up-manship, negativism, “focus transfer,” intransigence and dogmatism, condescension and paternalism, speaking for others, being “on the make,” competition for power/recognition/credit, and running the show.
of Nonviolent Activists: Intimidation starts with
guilt-trips and quickly escalates. Some who condone violence
that anyone who criticizes them will just “drive them to violence” and
thereby be responsible for any violence. Some claim that only if
nonviolence advocates tolerate those advocating violence can they
win them away from violence. Many claim that anyone who
violence is destroying unity, solidarity, the movement. Appeals
solidarity are particularly powerful among leftist groups.
Violent activists claim everyone is responsible to protect them from government prosecution, especially against conspiracy charges. They gloss over any distinction between what I call “righteous” and "bogus" conspiracies. Righteous conspiracies are ones like open organization of nonviolent civil disobedience or war tax resistance or Plowshares-type damaging of military equipment where activists take responsibility and wait to be arrested. Open conspiracies do not need to enforce silence or secrecy among members, though members may choose to withhold certain information from the general public or the police before an action.
Bogus conspiracies are those that promote violent property destruction and assaults against police and others. While such conspiracies may claim responsibility as a group for acts, individuals do not offer themselves up to arrest as "witness." Bogus conspiracies need to use heavy intimidation techniques to enforce silence and secrecy for long periods of time in order to protect conspirators from arrest and prosecution.
Advocates of violence are usually willing to verbally and even physically intimidate opponents to frighten them into submission. Violence advocates actively “divide and conquer” nonviolent activists by repeatedly attacking critics of violence as purists, troublemakers, “peace nazis,” provocateurs, informers, government agents, or “snitches.” (In terrorist groups such labels can make a person a target of assassination.) Threats of physical harm sometimes turn to action.
However, most activists are silenced by one-on-one peer pressure which exploits individual weaknesses such as a naive idealism, friendship, a need to belong--or even vices, like alcohol or drug habits. Subtle threats of ostracism and expulsion from political groups and social circles by comrades, drinking buddies and soccer mates can be quite effective.
Paranoia: Advocates of violence have much to fear from police
trying to gather evidence of crimes – or to provoke crimes for which
can be prosecuted. Local governments can charge those who
or commit violence on a variety of property destruction and assault
The federal government can do even more. See the
Code Chapters 7, Assault; 12, Civil Disorders; 19, Conspiracy; 26,
Criminal Street Gangs; 102, Riots; 115, Treason, Sedition and
Since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, juries have been willing to believe almost any charge of violence or conspiracy to commit violence brought by prosecutors. More than a dozen militia members have done two to five years on plea bargains for little more than discussing over beers or the Internet what they might do someday should martial law be declared or the government try to take away their guns. In contrast, street fighters are organizing property destruction and assaults on police in the here and now.
Because of local, state and federal infiltration and disruption of activist groups during the 1960s and 1970s, politicians put severe controls on their ability even to collect information about such groups. However, during the 1990s under the guise of fighting international and domestic terrorism, and now with the return of street fighting, these agencies have returned to their old bad habits of spying and infiltration, but with much more powerful technological tools. The FBI is now gathering a huge data base gleaned from e-mails, web pages, government infiltrators, and news video to help pinpoint defacto "street fighter" leaders who might be targeted for prosecution. Such tools are already being used in Sweden to prosecute activists months after riots there.
Police agencies again are using undercover agents. Some pose as naive newbies; some try to be “insiders” so they can obtain information, influence decisions and set up people for future busts; others are violent provocateurs who only show up at demonstrations.
Of course, police agencies may not consider arrests and prosecutions the most expedient way to deal with street fighters, especially given the difficulty of identifying and catching masked individuals in riotous situations. Even trials based on solid evidence can be lengthy processes with uncertain outcomes. For those reasons police forces may simply increase pre-emptive strikes and police brutality to frighten nonviolent activists and divide them from the violent minority. This tactic has been used with increasing severity, and effectiveness, during the 2000-2001 cycle of demonstrations, engendering rising paranoia among all activists.
Over Violence: In those groups where process violations,
and intimidation are not successful in squelching debate, bitter
may rage over a number of issues: definitions of violence; the creation
of guidelines for using property destruction and violence against
the honesty of those who agree not to use certain levels of violence;
violent activists are provoking the police to beat and radicalize
people; whether or not to cooperate or communicate with the police
the demonstration; how to relate to groups or press which are
to violence; whether to have peacekeepers at demonstrations; how to
with violence after it happens; how to deal with those who witness or
others’ violence; how to protect members of the group from criminal
how many resources to put into legal defense.
The amount of internal group conflict depends on the number and sophistication of nonviolent activists in a group and their willingness to speak out against violence. In groups with a strong nonviolence tradition, there may be quite active strife leading to a split between factions. In those with a weak nonviolence tradition, the least sophisticated people may be persuaded by arguments and peer pressure to go along with the agenda of the violent people. As both activist violence and police repression increase, these conflicts inevitably split most groups and movements, leading to just the “marginalization” violent activists fear.
Increased Machismo and Male Dominance: The return of street fighting man is truly the return of machismo and male dominance. Even though more aggressive or opportunistic women may engage in actual street fighting, and others may actively defend it, it is still a very male-motivated and dominated activity. (Not surprisingly, many tight knit street fighter groups are composed of drinking buddies who watch or play sports together.) Since violence attracts violent males, street fighting strategies probably will lead to an increase in the number of assaults on and rapes of activist women by activist men. The necessity of creating women's and mens group's to deal with renewed dominance issues, as happened in Washington, DC in mid-2001, is a sympton of this.
Failure to Support those Prosecuted: Most violent groups do not have the organizational or fund-raising ability to help those accused of serious felonies obtain adequate long term defense against serious changes. Progressive groups like the National Lawyers Guild sometimes help and activist may form their own legal defense committees. However, news of these prosecutions, the pitiful pleas for funds for attorneys fees, the burnout of activists trying to support the accused, and the long sentences meted out to some activists frightens and demoralizes many activists.
of Nonviolent Activists:
Street fighters' machismo, insulting attitudes and outright
of nonviolent people demoralizes and marginalizes the great majority of
people who through temperament, attitude or ideology prefer not to
in street violence and not to work with or be in the same street
as street fighters. It limits the issues they feel comfortable
on and the strategies they can pursue. It forces them to put more
energy into convincing the public, press and police that they are
It keeps them on their guard with other activists, wondering if street
fighters are likely to disrupt their events. These stresses force
many new or less committed people to drop out of activism entirely.
George Lakey, in his reply to Ward Churchill, writes: "What makes Ward's argument in this book so disempowering to activists is that he discounts people power, which is the main power we have access to! Grassroots activists can't match the government's money, and we can't match the government's violence. What we have potential access to is people power, and discounting people power is an invitation to despair." (See http://www.infoshop.org/solid.html for information on activists being prosecuted.)
Negative Effects of
Action on Public Perception
We can see that violence is destructive of internal organizing, where at least there is an agreement on goals. It is equally destructive of the relations of any movement to the press, the public and the establishment.
Excites the Press and Obscures Issues: The media loves
because it sells newspapers and increases radio and television
“If it bleeds, it leads,” is a media mantra. Organized political
violence presents an opportunity for reporters to do ongoing stories
conflict in activist movements and about activist "villains"
the police "heroes" who protect the public from chaos.
Much as protesters might try to “keep on message,” the media usually ignores the message. This may be somewhat less true of causes with which the media is sympathetic, but editors still lead with the “crime story” and include the issues as an afterthought. Even then, the media is more likely to use the violence to promote their own political agendas, and not the protesters'. Most importantly, media coverage of violence frightens the public into greater dependence on the news, instead of their own faculties of reason, to tell them just how safe or unsafe their world is becoming.
Disgusts and Frightens the Public: Well planned and executed
actions heighten the moral superiority of the actionists in the eyes of
the general public--especially if the authorities respond to their
and open protest with unwarranted violence. However, the
hint of violence–or the condoning or promoting of same--is quickly
on by the press and the establishment and used to discredit actionists
in the minds of the public.
Most members of the public are driven more by fear of harm or loss of security than any broader political perspective. Usually only the most severe threat to their livelihoods, beliefs or lives will rouse them to action against the establishment. But the sight of just a few broken windows or a few young people stoning police officers is enough to send up howls for the authorities to stop rioting and looting. Poor people, who already live in the midst of so much violence, may be more susceptible to these fears since it is more often poor neighborhoods that are destroyed in such rioting. Except in the most brutal dictatorships, street fighting and armed rebellion or terrorism usually drive a frightened public into the arms of political elites.
Even the credibility of the most just cause, like that of Palestinians who have been dispossessed and oppressed for fifty years by the the U.S.-funded Israeli military, can be tarnished by an emphasis on street fighting and terrorism. Not surprisingly, in the mid-eighties, Israel deported Palestinian and nonviolent activist Mubarak Awad who had started organizing assertive nonviolence, including tax resistance, among Palestinians. Israel would much rather deal with the violent protesters who excuse its increased repression and confiscation of lands.
Negative Effects of
Action on the Establishment
Violent action makes it difficult to "split the power structure" and "co-opt the cops."
the Power Structure: Even members of the ruling classes can be
swayed to sympathy with protesters by creative and strictly non-violent
actions in a good cause. Good nonviolent action divides the
classes. Throughout history police and soldiers wooed with sound
political arguments and non-violent demonstrations repeatedly have to
over to the side of the activists. It is easier to "co-opt the
with nonviolence. However, fear of violence–against rulers, police and
soldiers, and common citizens–only unites these factions and increases
their solidarity, from the corporate suites and halls of Congress, to
thin blue line in the streets and in the back rooms of police stations.
Street violence may result in minor concessions, as the World Banks' September 2001 invitation to debate four policy groups (Global Exchange, Jobs With Justice, 50 Years Is Enough and Essential Action) which are members of the Mobilization for Global Justice which condones street violence. However, the atmosphere of distrust engendered by activist violence makes both sides wary and undercuts the possibility of any fruitful dialogue.
Increases Police Harassment, Infiltration and Repression: Violence permits the state to enhance its power by increasing infiltration and harassment of even the most nonviolent activist groups. Authorities are quick to lump together nonviolent civil disobedience with stoning of police officers, labeling it all “criminal protest.” Politicians consider such violence an excuse to pass more laws, increase sentences, build more prisons, expand police forces, and condone police brutality. Activists who promote violence to “prove” we live in a police state and to radicalize other activists only end up increasing the power of that state and the willingness of the general public to put up with its abuses. This has been amply proven in the last two years by police disruptions of organizing and violence towards protesters, including nonviolent ones who "only condone" street fighter violence.
Scapegoat Prosecutions: While police are not always very
in catching those who commit violent acts during the chaos of riotous
or in assembling sufficient evidence to convict them, prosecutors must
find individuals to "make examples of." Sometimes they will prosecute
against whom they can establish the best case--even if they suspect or
know that person is innocent. Protesters not willing to plead for
lesser charges can expect long and expensive legal battles; three
charged with felonies for allegedly attacking Philadelphia's police
in August, 2000 are still waiting to go to trial. While judges and
have so far gone easy on most protesters, another riot or two on the
of Genoa, including serious injuries or deaths of police or protesters,
could quickly convince judges and juries to bend to the will of
demanding trial and conviction on strong charges, including conspiracy
charges, carrying long prison terms. (One protester who allegedly
threw a rock at an officer in Eugene, Oregon in 1999 is now serving
years in prison. A Swedish "rioter" received a four year
ACTION STRATEGIES: SATYAGRAHA, DURAGRAHA,
STREET FIGHTING AND ARMED REBELLION/TERRORISM
Because violent activists and their apologists find it useful to muddy
the definitions of words like violence, pacifism and nonviolence, it is
important to understand and even categorize them. Dictionary
of violence all refer to physical (and sometimes psychological) force
assault. Obviously, governments are the greatest source of
considering that they are maintained by the threat of police violence
possess weapons of mass destruction for use against rebellious citizens
and other nations. The question is, what kind of action shall
use to protest these and other injustices?
Dictionary definitions of pacifism recognize that it means a moral opposition to war and violence as a means of resolving disputes. Pacifists do differ over the morality of using violence for personal self-defense in non-political settings. Also, most self-described pacifists accept some measure of state violence to enforce laws and collect taxes. However, many renounce state violence and therefore call themselves "anarchist pacifists."
Pacifists may have originated the concept of "nonviolent action," but one does not have to be a pacifist to use nonviolence. In fact, most nonviolence advocates are not pacifists, but think it is strategically smarter to choose from a wide variety of nonviolent action methods than to engage in violent action.
Traditional nonviolence theory recognizes two different forms of nonviolent action. One is “satyagraha,” meaning “truth force,” a philosophical as well as tactical perspective. The other is “duragraha,” meaning “resistant force," mostly tactical perspective. (The old style "passive resistance” is probably more duragraha.)
While pacifists emphasize satyagraha, they may engage in the duragraha, usually from ignorance or lack of experience. Likewise, non-pacifist nonviolent actionists usually use duragraha, by may engage in satyagraha, depending on the action or campaign.
It is important also to make a clear distinction between two different forms of violent action, street fighting and armed rebellion or terrorism. Street fighters engage in petty property destruction and physical confrontations with others, especially police, with intent to harm, but not kill. Sometimes such violence is spontaneous; very often small groups plan for it in advance. Armed rebels and terrorists use threatened and actual murders and massive property destruction, though the degree and targets of violence vary greatly depending on the group. In both cases, it is the willingness to consider violence as a currently viable strategy–not a theoretical one for some future emergency or opportunity–that allows us to define an activist as a street fighter or an armed rebel or terrorist. This is true even if most of their current actions are in fact nonviolent.
Below I describe the differing attitudes towards important philosophical and strategic concepts of those who engage in these four kinds of action. As we can see, these attitudes become more negative and destructive as the action becomes more violent. These categories certainly are open for debate and discussion, but I believe they contain important distinctions which should be recognized and used.
Nonviolence: a belief system and primary goal, usually transcending the immediate goal
Truth: that which we pursue, but admit we may not possess in full
Opponent: seen as a being potential friend or ally who also may possess some truth
Means: the ends do not justify the means
Goals: no physical and psychological violence towards others, resolution of conflict over competing truths, mutual enlightenment/consciousness raising, nonviolent resolution which accommodates needs of all parties, improved relationship between parties
Honesty: openness and honesty, taking public responsibility for acts; strives for open group processes
Strategy: nonviolent action should only be engaged in when participants understand and are committed to nonviolence; emphasize conflict resolution and peacekeeping; recognize actions may provoke authorities to violence but that is not the goal; gives up on a strategy when it is clear it is not working and is becoming mere harassment; may engage in non-aggressive blockading; will not work with those who do not agree to nonviolence guidelines
Property destruction: rarely engages in property destruction, except in "Plowshares" type actions where symbolically damage property which clearly is used to harm, like military weapons; individuals take public responsibility for actions and wait for arrest after the action
Violence towards People: none during demonstrations, even if attacked by police; refrains from acts that endanger others
Participants: large numbers of people, male and female, from young children to the elderly, feel comfortable with most actions
Nonviolence: an effective tactic for achieving one’s goals
Truth: that which we are convinced we possess and want to convince others of; may be somewhat intolerant and exclusive
Opponent: ranges from being seen as being potential friend or ally to being an enemy who must be defied, proven wrong, made to look bad
Means: the ends may justify the means, but it is tactically smarter to be nonviolent
Goals: minimize physical violence; get publicity, vent anger; gain concessions from or impose beliefs on opponent
Honesty: usually takes public responsibility for acts; goal usually is open process, but often manipulated by small factions; sometimes protects leaders by claiming “leaderlessness”
Strategy: engage in nonviolent action despite possibility of activist violence; interest in nonviolent conflict resolution and peacekeeping; may hope result of nonviolent action is to provoke opponent (especially police) to violence; may engage in non-aggressive blockading; will not work with those who do not agree to nonviolence guidelines
Property destruction: may engage in anonymous petty property destruction like stickering, spray painting
Violence towards People: may sometimes engage in mild verbal abuse, harassment, persistent blockading that provokes violence from opponent; none during demonstrations, even if attacked by police; refrains from acts that endanger others
Participants: somewhat smaller numbers of people, since committed pacifists and vulnerable individuals may decline from engaging in the most assertive actions
Nonviolence: a useful front or cover for organizing street fighting; a tactic that's good for women and weaker males; a counter-revolutionary “pathology”
Truth: that which we are convinced we possess and intend to impose on others; intolerant and exclusive
Opponent: the enemy who must be defied, proven wrong, humiliated, bullied, defeated
Means: ends justify the means; violent property destruction (with hand held weapons and Molotov cocktails) and violence towards opponents (hitting, pushing, throwing objects, including Molotovs) are justified tactics
Goals: get publicity, vent anger, seek vengeance, feel empowered by temporary occupation of territory, gain concessions, intimidate opponents, impose beliefs; goad government to brutality to radicalize populace
Honesty: semi-secretive and often dishonest about goals and methods; may take public responsibility for acts, if can do so without arrest; often manipulated and controlled by small factions; often protects leaders by claiming “leaderlessness”; intimidation, threats against those who question or criticize their tactics
Strategy: tries to integrate into larger nonviolent actions for cover and to recruit new activists who may not have planned to do street fighting; hostile towards nonviolent conflict resolution and peacekeeping; uses aggressive blockading and barricading, property destruction and assaults on opponent; wants to provoke police violence against nonviolent activists to radicalize them; temporarily liberates territory through barricade building, numbers and assaults on opponent
Property Destruction: engages in targeted property destruction like using property to build barricades; breaking windows of/smashing up police and press cars and large corporate stores and office; setting fire to dumpsters, trash piles, automobiles, corporate outlets and banks
Violence towards People: minor physical assaults like “pie-ing,” spitting, throwing liquids on people; attacks on opponents with fists, sticks, stones, bottles, Molotov Cocktails; flagrant reckless endangerment that could harm others
Participants: mostly aggressive males; nonviolent activists who in accepting others violence become “passive” street fighters
Nonviolence: an ineffective strategy or one that is useful only for women and weaker males; a counter-revolutionary “pathology”
Truth: that which we are convinced we possess and intend to impose on others; intolerant and exclusive
Opponent: the enemy who must be harmed, vanquished or killed
Means: ends justify the means; massive property destruction and individual or mass murder are the most effective tactics
Goals: to get publicity, vent anger, seek vengeance; goad government to brutality to radicalize populace; harm, terrorize, or kill opponent(s) and populace; to take control of territory and government
Honesty: highly secretive, though sometimes may admit to deeds after committing them; intimidation, threats, violence against those who question or criticize their tactics
Strategy: intimidate and threaten those who call for nonviolent conflict resolution and peacekeeping; use targeted or indiscriminate violence, killing and property destruction against opponent, innocent bystanders or those who refuse to take sides
Property Destruction: targeted or indiscriminate large scale burning, bombing and destroying of homes, buildings, businesses, farm land, military, government and cultural sites
Violence towards People: targeted or indiscriminate violence to intimidate, injure, capture, torture, maim or kill
Participants: Mostly aggressive males
| Point by Point Counter-Arguments to the Tenets | Negative Effects of Violent Action |