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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Peter Gelderloos: Arms and the Movement (UPDATED with support information)

Peter Gelderloos, author of How Nonviolence Protects the State (and other works), has an interesting article in the June issue of Utne Reader. Entitled, "Arms and the Movement," it is an investigation into the relationship between non-violence, armed struggle and social change. It covers ground similar to that explored in his longer book on the topic, tackling some common pacifist mythology pretty effectively.

Before moving on, I should point out that Gelderloos was recently arrested after a squatter demonstration in Barcelona. Folks wanting to offer him financial support are advised by Peter to email him for instructions at shigmagism (at) yahoo.com. He needs money for defense and to repay the squatter movement, which quickly raised a stunning 30,000 euros to bail him out. While I was in Spain in January I had the pleasure of seeing the squatter movement in action in the streets and it is quite an impressive and well-organized movement - certainly by American standards.

Since I have written at length on the topic of violence and non-violence myself (Gelderloos quotes me a couple times in his book and for a while one of my pamphlets was bundled with his book through Signalfire Press), I won't get into the finer points of the debate between violence and non-violence except to say that, realistically, those of us in the Valley ought to be considering very carefully the recent public re-emergence of white supremacists in the anti-immigration movement and just what that means for us in terms of self-defense. As someone who does this kind of work myself, I would advocate for any radical doing immigrant solidarity work to consider very seriously getting armed and becoming familiar with basic firearm usage and safety, among other basic considerations.

The question of armed struggle is one thing. One can choose to participate in armed struggle or not. One can debate various tactics and whether violent or non-violent actions are justified at various times and against various opponents (capital, the state, reactionaries, etc). Right now, probably for justifiable reasons, there is no armed struggle movement on the left in this country. Still, whatever one's opinions of that fact, self-defense should be non-negotiable. So, what we do need, without a doubt, is a revolutionary movement capable of defending itself.

Read Gelderloos' article below. Here's an excerpt:
Perhaps confused by their own false history of the peace movement during the Vietnam War, pacifist organizers against the invasion of Iraq seemed to expect a repeat of a victory that never happened. On February 16, 2003, as the U.S. government moved toward war with Iraq, Agence France-Presse hailed weekend protests as "a stinging rebuke to Washington and its allies." The protests were the largest in history; excepting a few minor scuffles, they were entirely nonviolent. United for Peace and Justice and some other antiwar groups even suggested that the protests might avert war.

As we now know, they were totally wrong, and the protests were totally ineffective. The invasion occurred as planned, despite the millions of people nominally, peacefully, and powerlessly opposed to it. The antiwar movement did nothing to change the power relationships in the United States. President Bush received substantial political capital for invading Iraq, and was not faced with a backlash until the war and occupation effort began to show signs of failure due to the effective armed resistance of the Iraqi people.

A good case study regarding the efficacy of nonviolent protest can be seen in Spain's involvement with the U.S.-led occupation. Spain, with 1,300 troops, was one of the larger junior partners in the "Coalition of the Willing." More than a million Spaniards protested the invasion, and 80 percent of the Spanish population was opposed to it, but their commitment to peace ended there; they did nothing to actually prevent Spanish military support for the invasion and occupation. Because they remained passive and did nothing to disempower the leadership, they remained as powerless as the citizens of any democracy. Not only was Prime Minister Aznar allowed to go to war, he was expected by all forecasts to win reelection.

Until the bombings. On March 11, 2004, just days before the voting booths opened, multiple bombs planted by an al-Qaida-linked cell exploded on Madrid trains, killing 191 people and injuring 1,755. Directly because of this, Aznar and his party lost in the polls, and the Socialists, the major party with an antiwar platform, were elected to power. The U.S.-led coalition shrunk with the loss of the Spanish troops. Whereas millions of peaceful activists voting in the streets like good sheep have not weakened the brutal occupation in any measurable way, a few dozen terrorists willing to slaughter noncombatants were able to cause the withdrawal of more than a thousand occupation troops.

So much for the victories of pacifism.

The Madrid bombings do not present an example for action, but rather, an important paradox: Do people who stick to nonviolent tactics that have not proved effective in ending the war against Iraq really care more for human life than the Madrid terrorists? From India to Birmingham, nonviolence has failed to sufficiently empower its practitioners, whereas the use of a diversity of tactics got results. Put simply, if a movement is not a threat, it cannot change a system that is based on centralized coercion and violence.
Arms and the Movement

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Blogger Mizg├«n said...

Thanks for the link to the Gelderloos article, Pheonix Insurgent.

It has been understood for some time among Kurds in Turkish-occupied Kurdistan that the only thing that forced the Turkish state to make minor (extremely minor) cultural concessions to Kurds was the armed resistance.

At this point, I suspect the armed resistance will have to continue because, although there are Kurdish politicians working very hard for political change, the Turkish state is as intransigent on the full political rights of Kurds as ever before.

I am going to have to re-read the Gelderloos article and your work on violence/nonviolence in order to present this topic in a Kurdish context.

Again, thanks.

Thu May 10, 07:58:00 PM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're article is thought provoking, but I feel that it comes off presenting somewhat of a false dichotomy: Passive non-violent protest, or aggressive violent slaughter of innocent people.

If you want to stop a war, you pull the fucking rug out from under the war machine by withholding the funds, and drying up the supply of hired killers (troops).

Therefore if the dumbshit sheeple really understood their collective power, all they would have to do is stop paying all taxes immediately.

Furthermore putting extreme social pressure on people who decide to become hired killers for the government would also be helpful. But really all the population has to do is stop paying taxes, and the government has not choice but to change course, or cease to exist.

Both of these tactics are non-violent.

Sat Jul 07, 09:24:00 AM 2007  

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