Saturday, June 25, 2005

In Defense of Violence But Not Terrorism

In Defense of Violence But Not Terrorism
by John Spritzler (

There is a classic and very sophisticated method of propaganda known as the "false dichotomy." To defeat idea C, do not ever mention idea C. Instead, only present ideas A and B which, though different, both contradict idea C. Claim that A and B are the only possible and logical alternatives, and promote a widespread and heated debate between advocates of A versus B. Ruling elites have been using this propaganda against us for a long time.

During the Vietnam war, idea C was "The war is for a bad cause (oppressing Vietnamese peasants) and the U.S. ought not to win it." This idea never saw the light of day in the mainstream media. Idea A was "The war is for a noble cause (defeating Communism) and the U.S. should therefore fight to win it." Idea B was "The war is for a noble cause (defeating Communism) but it is a mistake to think we can win it so we should end it." Politicians and the media encouraged Americans to debate A versus B throughout the war.

Of course underlying the Vietnam War's ABC shell game was the more fundamental ABC shell game of the entire Cold War period. During the Cold War (and still today), idea C was this. "We should have a genuine democracy in which the values of ordinary working class people -- values such as equality, solidarity, fairness, and trust among people -- truly shape society, and the values of elites -- such as inequality, competition and top-down control -- do not."

The mass media never expressed this idea. Instead they told us that the choice we faced was either idea A, capitalism, or idea B, Communism. Communism and capitalism each claimed to be the only alternative to the other, and each told people that they had to support a ruling elite, either one based on private wealth or one based on holding leadership positions in the Communist Party. The entire Cold War was a kind of propaganda against idea C, the idea of genuine democracy. By encouraging us to debate Communism versus capitalism, the elites obscured the fact that both ideologies were fundamentally elitist and profoundly anti-democratic because they both said that economic production trumped the concerns of ordinary people for establishing equal, solidaristic and trusting relations between people.

Non-Violence versus Terrorism

Another very useful (for elites) pair of A and B ideas that are now frequently debated are a pair of ideas that, while seeming to be the only alternatives to each other, are actually fundamentally similar in one crucial respect: they both exclude the possibility of an idea, C, which oppressed people need if they are to have any chance of defeating the ruling elites who oppress them.

Idea C is this. "The struggle between oppressive elites and ordinary people is a clash between the opposing values of ordinary working class people versus elites. Despite efforts of elites to foment mistrust and hatred and even war between ordinary people of different races or religions or nationalities as a means of controlling them, ordinary people of different ethnic groups share working class values in common which are the opposite of their elite rulers. Elites will never, as a class, be persuaded they are wrong. The side that prevails is the side that brings the most force (which includes threatened or actual violence) to bear against the other. Ordinary people should therefore use persuasion to build trust and solidarity with each other, but they are justified (when it makes tactical sense) in using force against the ruling elite and against any other individuals who enforce elite oppression violently, for example armed soldiers who attack innocent people."

Idea A is the philosophy of non-violence, as described by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. According to this philosophy, force and violence are immoral. Oppressed people should seek to persuade the oppressor of the wrongness of oppression, and to do this by demonstrating the strength of their convictions by willingly accepting jail and violence upon themselves without responding with force or violence.

Idea B is the philosophy of violent terrorism, which is advocated by groups like Hamas in the Palestinian context, or Osama bin Laden in the more general Muslim context, or the IRA in the context of English rule in northern Ireland. Violent terrorism, in contrast to idea C, is based on race or nationality or religion but never on class. The idea of violent terrorism is that the enemy -- defined as an ethnic group based on race, nationality or religion -- will not yield to persuasion but only violence. The difference between ideas B and C is not violence versus non-violence, but violence against whom?

There is a lively debate now between ideas A and B, usually perceived as a debate between "non-violence" and "violence." If I had a nickel for every time I've read an article on the internet's anti-establishment and anti-war web sites, in which "violence" was used as a synonym for violence against unarmed civilians of the "oppressor" ethnicity, I would be rich. Sometimes the author's point is that violence is necessary or justifiable or merely understandable, and sometimes the author's point is that violence is wrong and only non-violent methods of persuasion are right. But the debate, whether engaged in sincerely or not, acts as a kind of propaganda against idea C.

The debate almost always tacitly assumes (without calling attention to the fact) the premise that our ruling elites want us to accept -- that the lines of conflict in the world are racial, religious or national but not class. The advocates of non-violence implicitly emphasize ordinary people when they argue for tactics which aim at persuasion. The advocates of violent terrorism implicitly emphasize elites when they argue for violence. But each side also implicitly rejects idea C, by either wrongly claiming that persuasion can win over elites, or wrongly targeting violence against potential friends whom we should try to win over by persuasion (or at least avoid driving into the arms of their elite rulers by violently attacking them.) The debate itself only serves the elite by suppressing idea C, an idea oppressed people need to embrace in order to win the class war.


At 12:46 AM, June 28, 2005, Blogger Rob said...

I agree with you that having a genuine democracy is sadly rarely ever expressed. I believe you unearth an important assumption in the disregard of class as well. I think it is ever rarely discussed because capitalism and the classes that result from participating in it (willfully or not), are viewed as naturally the most efficient economic system since it allows for the "pinnacle" of human achievement.

I find your "Idea C" still has the same assumption of A and B, that is the usage of the dichotomy of guilt and innocence, and ultimately right versus wrong. The elites and their enforcers are guilty. The difference from Idea B mainly is that that you are stating the supporters of the elites are fairly innocent. Those in the WTC did not deserve to be killed, even though most of them worked in trading, financial and business institutions which prop up the elite or sustain the status quo. Believers of Idea B purport that these supporters of the elites are not without guilt and are justifiably killed. Those who follow Idea A say anyone who uses violence for whatever justification, as "armed resistance" or those who "root them out", are not free from guilt.

This is problematic to me since each "idea" remains dualistic, retaining the two opposing notions of guilt versus innocence, and ultimately right versus wrong. For example, "using force against the ruling elite and against any other individuals who enforce elite oppression violently". At what point does one become a violent enforcer, just an enforcer, simply a supporter or just a bystander? Is an IOA desk jockey ok to kill? Are they if they draft a plan to extend the land grab for a settlement in the West Bank? How about the secretary that answers their calls? What if the secretary types up the orders for the land grab?

I believe it is not possible to be guilty or innocence, right or wrong. No one is without faults, shortcomings, weaknesses and mistakes. It is possible that we are all mistaken right now. Are you willing to kill someone for it nonetheless? There is a less problematic distinction that can be made, particularly since it explicitly supports a democratic society. We can build solidarity on the respect of the other, their opinions and their beliefs on the basic human level. Those who do not, i.e. those who believe they are more innocent and justified, and therefore better than the other, will not be allowed to be participate.

At 12:46 PM, December 30, 2011, Blogger Abram Spritzler said...

right and wrong, are real. real enough that it it is not wrong to defend the lives of innocent people by using force, violence. if you live in a democratic society, no matter how small or new, you DO have a legitimate say in making decisions of when to use violence and when not to. This is the whole point. Soldiers who decide to fire on me, my neighbors, and friends as ordered by the elite, are not going to stop us from trying to build a better world. we will fire back. but ours will be shots that return fire, not start it. Some of those who took part in the pogroms were killed by the communities that were victims of the pogroms in Russia in the early part of the 20th century. this was wrong. capital punishment is wrong. self defense is not. is this really this complicated? or are some people still so untrusting of the working class people around them every day of their lives that they would rather the elite control the guns and armies, because that has worked out so well!


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