What is Violence?

We like to paint our society as being opposed to violence, to be supportive of peace. Yet, so often we seem to contradict that sentiment by supporting what seems to be violence. I think this largely has something to do with us never really defining, what violence is.

The lazy and liberal thing to do is to turn to the Dictionary for its definition (which is most fallacious because: which dictionary is right?). In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, violence is defined as “the use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy,” and also “intense, turbulent, or furious and often destructive action or force.” These kind of definitions are intentionally vague, because they are an attempt to “cover all the bases.” They are trying to form a definition that applies to any use of the word. But they ignore the fact that there is a clear difference between the use of “violence” when referring to the behavior of a storm and the behavior of a person. No one finds a “violent” storm to be morally repugnant. So, I think we could agree that the term “violence” when used to refer to the actions of a person, refers to “actions by a group or individual which bring malicious harm to another group or individual.” And it’s that operative word “malicious” that is most significant.

When people decry “violence” they seldom are referring to things like self-defense, or punishment for severe crimes. We count certain harmful acts to be justified, and thus not really “violent.” These justified acts are responses to a violent act, and would not exist if the instigator had not been violent first. If one person is attacked by another, and the victim defends themself with harmful force, would you call that victim violent? I doubt it. They are behaving defensively, not violently. It was the attacker that was violent.

The purpose of this is to point out that just because force might be used against a person or group, doesn’t mean that force is violent, it doesn’t mean those people are violent. Last year Trump insisted that there was “violence on both sides” in Charlottesville. But one of those sides, the Anti Fascists, were only responding to the violence of the Fascists, they were only defending themselves and the community against the provocation of the Fascists, and one of them gave their life to do so: Heather Heyer. No Fascists were killed, or even severely harmed, on that day.

This applies on a larger scale as well. When an oppressed people use force against their oppressors, they are not being violent, they are responding to violence being brought against them. If the Rohingya use force to resist their genocide, are they being violent? Are they “as bad” as the Myanmar Military? Of course not, they are being defensive, not violent.

But it goes beyond this. As we’ve established: violence is an act that brings malicious harm to another person. Such an act may not be force. It could be blocking access to lifesaving needs. If someone dying of thirst came to your door and begged for water from your tap, and you refused, resulting in the dehydrated person’s death, is that not an act of violence on your part? And if you lock someone out of your home in the winter, causing them to lose limbs to frostbite, is that not also violence? If you agree, then you must see my point: poverty is violence.

When owners deny housing to the poor, that is violence. When they deny food to the starving, that is violence. When a bank forecloses on a poor family and evicts them out onto the street, that is violence. When a company buys a people’s water supply, and then charges them to to access it again, locking the poor out from access to a basic human need, that is violence. When a city embezzles money that is meant to maintain its water system, and then refuses to repair it when the water becomes contaminated with lead, that is violence. When indigenous people are forced off their land because it was bought by logging companies, or a company is going to build a dam on it, that is violence. When the anyone is denied healthcare to save their lives just because they cannot afford it, that is violence. And when workers are paid starvation wages for their work that makes an owner rich, that is violence.

When the poor use force to fight against their poverty, they are not being violent, it is the owners, the bourgeoisie, that were violent towards them by making them poor. Instead, those poor people are fighting back against the violence being brought against them. The poor are being defensive, not violent. If you find the forceful actions of the oppressed to be abhorrent, if you don’t want them to behave so desperately, then oppose the actions of those who make them desperate.

National-Liberationism

It has become very common recently for many leftists to denounce many liberatory movements as “nationalist,” particularly among the Left-Communist and Anarchist camps. They do this because the culture that binds these liberatory movements is often called “nationalism of the oppressed.” These leftists fail to analyze the nature of this “nationalism,” and thus lump it in with the same nationalisme which actually conducts oppression. I want to try and explain the flaw in that thinking, and encourage the use of a more accurate term for these liberatory movements: National-Liberationism.

First we have to look at what this so called “nationalism” is and what differentiates it from actual nationalism. The word “nationalism” is accurately applied to ideologies and movements like that of the Nazis, the KKK, Imperial Japan and it’s bushido code, and most recently with the Trumpism of the United States (as well as traditional American Culture). These movements and their nationalism are ones of domination; that is, they seek to impose the will of one nation upon others to exploit them. They are inherently xenophobic, rejecting diversity and embracing violently enforced political borders. This ideology has the effect of harm, slavery, exploitation, and most importantly: this ideology forces artificial national identity upon subjugated people.

Look at the national identity of Black Americans, or the Seminole people, even the Palestinians. These nations only exist because that national identity was forced upon them, they are nations that did not exist before the oppression that created them. As a result, their entire character is the polar opposite of nationalism, it is a Liberatory-Nationalism. Because it exists purely as a means of survival, and to maintain resistance to the nationalism that oppresses them. When an oppressed nation raises a national banner it does so not as a symbol for dominating others, but to throw off it’s own oppression. It does not seek to raise borders, but to eliminate the borders that have been forced upon it. This is characterized by these National-Liberation movements often welcoming foreign individuals, and groups that are not from the groups oppressing them. Such as the Kurds and Catalans welcoming foreign fighters, or the Native Americans welcoming “illegal aliens.”

Of course it is possible for a National-Liberation movement to corrupt itself into a nationalist movement, we need look no further than the Zionist movement for this to be seen. But it is not inevitable. Dismissing National-Liberation movements altogether as “nationalism” because of this possibility is as wrong as dismissing democracy and communist movements because they could become corrupted into despotic systems. Oppose a movement for embodying the things you stand against, not because it might become something that it isn’t right now. Opposing National-Liberationism only helps the oppressors.

The Reclamation of Communism

“The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the overthrow of all existing social conditions.  Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution.  The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.  They have a world to win.

Workers of the world, Unite!

These fiery words concluded the “Manifesto of the Communist Party” by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.  They were a declaration and a rallying cry, boldly announcing to the world that Communists would not retreat, they would not hide their intentions because they did not need to.  The cause of the Communists was noble, just, and necessary.  For the Communists strived toward the total liberation of all people, the end of exploitation, and a classless society where everyone truly is equal.  Communists all over the world strived to overthrow monarchies and oligarchic republics, establish democracies, often for first time, and to improve the standard of living for all people.  Such a cause requires no deceit, no trickery to bring the masses to your cause.  Because the masses are the cause.  Their liberation, and your own, is the very thing which a Communist fights for.

For over 100 years Communists boldly proclaimed themselves in this way, never attempting to hide their intent and proudly calling themselves Communists.  But then came the cold war, McCarthyist fear and silencing of dissent, and the rise of the “new left.”

With the confrontation between the U.S. empire and the USSR, came heavy stigmatization of Communism.  The term came to become synonymous, in the public eye, with totalitarian dictatorship (much because of U.S. propaganda efforts to do just that) and even opposition to Democracy.  Because of this the “new left” sought to distance itself from the term “Communism,” and the ideals it represented.  They no longer sought to transform society into a classless one.  Now “leftists” looked to Social-Democratic ideals as the “true” embodiment of Socialism.  They denuded the left of it’s anti-Capitalist goals, now seeking to instead make Capitalism more ethical (something, Communists have always regarded as neither possible nor desirable.)  Even leftists that still sought to end Capitalism, such as Anarchists, tried to distance themselves from Communism and Marxism, denying the crucial role those ideals played in the formation of Kropotkin’s ideology.  Even Anarchists that acknowledged this, and sought to reinvigorate the Communist ideals of Anarchism, like Murray Bookchin, still avoided the term “Communism.” Because if they dared use it, they would be labeled a treasonous sympathizer to the Soviet Union, and perhaps even face arrest.  They ignored that all-important tenant founded in those final lines of the Manifesto; Communists do not hide our goals or abandon our ideals.  Communists proudly and boldly announce our ideology, we do not allow Capitalists to redefine our terms.

It is long past due that Communists reclaim our name, that we once again make our intentions known to the world, and proudly bear the title of Communists.  We will always be demonized by the Ruling Class, the owners, and always have been.  We shouldn’t care what they say and what they think of us, because they are our enemies; we aren’t appealing to the Ruling Classes.  It is the Working Class, the “Proletariat,” the renters, the laborers, the homeless and jobless, all those who cannot live off the work of others, it is they that we preach to.  We make it known to them that we seek to allow them to liberate themselves, because no one can do it for them, and we are them.  We tell our fellow workers what we are, and what Communism is.

It is to you that I now speak. To you , the wage-worker , the renter, to all those who do not own the factory or the department store, to all those who must sell their labor just so they can keep a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs.  I’m here to tell you that we Communists are not the wealthy owners trying to maintain their power, as the fascists are.  We are from among you, we are workers . As I write this I work two jobs to keep from becoming homeless.  So, when we tell you what we are seeking to accomplish, we are not making promises of things which we want to give you, as the politician does.  We are asking you to help yourself, to take our hands as equals to liberate us all.

What do we, the Communists, seek to liberate us all from?  We all know what the Capitalists have taught us that communism is, what they claim about our talk of liberation.  The Capitalists tell you we want dictatorship, that we oppose Democracy.  They point to the Soviet Union as if it were the primary example of Communism, and as if Communists want to duplicate it exactly.  The Soviet Union is an important country to study and learn from because it was the first great experiment with Communism.  But it is no more the perfect example of Communism than the first efforts at building Democracy out of Feudal-Europe were perfect examples of Democracy.  If we wholly reject the Soviet union as a learning tool because it was too oligarchical, why then do we hold up the establishment of Parliament in England with the Magna Carta as a triumph of Democracy?  That “Democracy” was anything but, as only the nobles could vote or hold office.  Even when America’s Republic was first established, only male landowners could vote or hold office.  But these are still important, still victories of Democracy that put us one step further down the road to a better world.  The Soviet Union is no different.  It was imperfect, but it made great strides in our march towards complete freedom and Democracy, and proved many of the core concepts of Communism as correct and possible.

Since I have pointed out that Communists oppose oligarchy and dictatorship, you might be asking what we want.  What do Communists Stand for, why do we believe a revolution is necessary, and how do we want to change society and Government?

Communism is the pursuit of the ideals that inspired the American Revolution, and that the U.S. Government has always paid lip service to.  Communism is the abolition of class society and all forms of exploitation, it is the end of the subjugation of the many by the few.  Communism is true Democracy where all people are a part of Government, not subjected to it. This is what we advocate when we call ourselves Communists; Communists demand Democracy in all systems that affect everyone and everyone needs to survive and live comfortably.  Instead of a sham Democratic Government controlled by wealthy Oligarchs, and workplaces ruled by small Tyrants.

Communists see the old echos of Feudal and Religious Society that continue to dominate our lives, and we know they must be abolished.  Where before we had the King, the Lord, and the Priest, we now have the Owner, the CEO, and the Economist.  Where before we were serfs subjected to Church law and the command of the Noble, we now are Wage-Workers subjected to the Puritan Work Ethic and the dictates of the Capitalists who own all things that we rely on to survive.  Where before the System was guarded by Knights devoted to the code of Chivalry, now Capitalist Society is enforced by Police that are blindly devoted to whatever the Capitalist Oligarchs declare is the law.

Communists, above everything else, oppose exploitation.  We want you, the worker, to benefit entirely from your work.  Not work to support the laziness of owners and be rewarded for your backbreaking labors with a miniscule portion of the wealth you create.  But we also know that we are not islands unto ourselves.  We all need and benefit from the society we live in, and thus it is in our interests to ensure that everyone is healthy, comfortable, and always has access to all they need to survive.  This is why Communists regard healthcare, shelter, food, water, and access to work, all as human rights.  And so seek to build systems that allow all access to these needs, instead of leaving most lacking these simply because they don’t generate profit for an owner, as Capitalism does.

However, unlike the Social-Democrats who think all of these can be provided without changing anything by implementing welfare systems, Communists know that the system must be drastically altered to ensure all of these things for everyone. Thus Communists advocate changing both the Government and the economy into a single Democratic System.  Under such a system, tax-funded welfare programs would not exist at all, because everyone’s needs would be provided for inherently by the socio-economic system.

I know that right now everything you’ve been taught in School or by your friends and family is screaming at you: “This is utopian, impossible!  This is tyrannical! It only works on paper, not in real life!  It always devolves into a Dictatorship!. etc. etc.”  All these points I will address in the coming pages.  I ask you to please remember that these points about Communism were taught to you by Capitalists.  If you wanted to learn how a car works, would you consult an Amish person?  If you want to know what Communism is, do not seek out its most ardent opponents.  Instead, listen to Communists.

To my Communist Comrades I say stand up and boldly proclaim our name!  End this cowardly concealment of our title, do not let the Capitalists take it from us.  Those who fight to end tyranny and exploitation never have anything to be ashamed of, but rather it is their opponents that should be ashamed.

Of course, Communism is a solution to a problem.  We cannot ever convince you to advocate for a solution if you do not believe there is a problem.  Obviously, we all want a classless society, or at least the vast majority of people, especially those who believe in Democracy.  Communists point to Capitalism as a system that must be eliminated first if we are to achieve that classless society.  But why?  Why can’t we achieve classlessness without abolishing Capitalism?  That, is not a short answer, Karl Marx wrote for years on the subject, and created the most comprehensive analysis of Capitalism to-date, called “Das Kapital,” and it is three immense volumes long!  Nonetheless, I will attempt to answer this question as concisely as possible.

What Can Be Done?

Where do we go from here? What can I do? These are what I constantly asked myself for a long time when I first realized the things I have discussed in this book.  It’s frustrating to realize that society has gone so wrong, and not have any cause actively working to right this great wrong.  So that is what we need to do: build that group.

That begins by simply talking.  Make Communism, and critiques of Capitalism, regular conversation again.  Talk to everyone who will listen, and organize discussion groups.  That is the only way to accomplish anything; dismantling Capitalism is a societal effort, so the first things we need to do is build networks to directly confront the forces and ideas of Capitalism.  The seeds of such a movement are planted by holding open discussions.

Start by simply talking to friends, when you convince enough of them, hold formal discussion groups.  Advertise them, and encourage anyone and everyone to join them.  When these grow large enough they can branch out, other chapters can be started in other neighborhoods and cities.  Eventually the scale will be large enough that they can be transformed into a network of confederated assemblies which can begin to work in their communities to make people’s lives better, and eventually to directly confront the existing Capitalist Governments, syphoning political power from them, and eventually replacing them and taking control of the means of production.

But that is very long term. Right now you, and every other Communist, simply needs to build a network of support for each other, and to work constantly to raise the class consciousness of those around you.  “Democracy dies in darkness” the liberals like to say.  Throw this at them when they scoff at criticism of Capitalism.  If they love discourse so much, to the point that they are willing to “hear out” fascists, then why do they shut down dialog when we attempt to talk about the immoral nature of Capitalism and Class-Society?  Dialog must be open and constant on this, push every oρortunity to point out the flaws of Capitalism and Class-Society, and Constantly bring the discussion back to Democracy, because that is what Communism is about: Democracy finally realized.

But when you are talking to people, even other Communists, keep what I call “the Robin Hood Effect” in mind.  I am not talking about the concept in economic and political circles of “taking from the rich and giving to the poor.”  What I am talking about is the effect of a past person being seen more favorably by people later on, and perhaps even taking on symbolism for ideas that the historical figure may have even been opposed to.

I call this “The Robin Hood Effect” because the actual historical figure called Robin Hood is perhaps the earliest and best documented figure for this phenomenon to occur around.  You see, the actual Robin Hood was simply a common bandit, or perhaps several different bandits. (Some historians believe that Robin Hood was a title given to the leader of a group of bandits, rather than a single person.)  This person didn’t care about the plight of the poor, and would rob and kill them as much as the wealthy, perhaps even more so due to the poor being easier targets.  Attack the poor and the Feudal lord won’t care.  Attack the nobility and you’re likely to face down an army that’s come to kill you.  And yet, despite this, only a few years after the disappearance of the real Robin Hood, we see romantic tales being told about the champion of the poor who “stole from the rich and gave to the poor.”

It is that image of Robin Hood that has endured, not the real one.  No one cares about how the real Robin Hood was horrible towards the poor, and they don’t think anyone is a monster for idolizing Robin Hood.  Because it’s understood that no one idolizes Robin Hood the bandit that robbed and killed anyone. They idolize the image of Robin Hood the champion of the poor and the oppressed.

This phenomenon didn’t Stop With Robin Hood, it even continues today with more contemporary figures.  By far the most well known and controversial, is Stalin.  Whether or not Stalin committed the atrocities he is accused of is no longer relevant, because those who look to him do not see that, nor support anyone doing such things.  Indeed, they don’t believe Stalin did them at all.  For them, Stalin is that champion of the poor and the oppressed, an advocate of democracy and justice.  People who look to Stalin for inspiration do not advocate for mass-murder, homophobic oppression, or suppression of criticism towards the Government.  In fact they are, in the vast majority of cases, staunch opponents to all those things.  Many of them are even LGTBQA!

In a person’s life, their actions and beliefs are important.  What living people an individual looks to for inspiration matters, because those people are still alive, they still lead groups and take actions.  But what dead leaders a person looks to for inspiration doesn’t matter at all.  These historical figures can come to represent anything.  All that matters is what inspiration an individual finds in that historical figure, what ideas the individual advocates as a result of their admiration for the historical figure.  Don’t recoil from someone because they admire an historical figure that you think was a monster, or allow the conversation to get caught up on what that figure did or didn’t do.  Instead, listen to the ideals and principles that the person advocates, because that’s all that matters.

Spreading class consciousness is a slow and often agonizing process and it’s likely that we will never see Communism realized within our lifetimes.  But we must begin that process, we must plant these seeds.  They will take many years to germinate, but no Communist ever promised that this would be a fast process.  I stumbled upon a poem that spoke to me on this subject just the other day.  It is by Josiah Gilbert and titled “Gradatim:”

“Heaven is not gained at a single bound;

But we build the ladder by which we rise

From the lowly earth to the vaulted skies,

And we mount to its Summit round by round.

 

I count this thing to be grandly true,

That a noble deed is a step toward God-

To a purer air and a broader view.

 

We rise by that are ‘neath our feet;

By what we have mastered of good and gain;

By the pride deposed and the passion slain,

And the vanquished ills that we hourly meet.

 

We hope, we aspire, we resolve, we trust,

When the morning calls us to life and light,

But our hearts grow weary, and, ere the night,

Our lives are trailing the sordid dust.

 

We hope, we resolve, we aspire, We pray,

And we think that we mount the air on wings

Beyond the recall of sensual things,

While our feet still cling to the heavy clay.

 

Wings for the angels, but feet for men!

We may borrow the wings to find the way-

We may hope, and resolve, and aspire, and pray,

But our feet must rise, or we fall again.

 

Only in dreams is a ladder thrown

From the weary earth to the sapphire walls;

But the dream departs, and the vision falls,

And the sleeper wakes on his pillow of stone.

 

Heaven is not reached at a single bound:

But we build the ladder by which we rise

From the lowly earth to the vaulted skies,

And we mount to its summit round by round.”

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Communism will take even longer.  Because we are not simply trying to evolve the existing socio-economic system into another form, as Feudalism did to become Mercantilism, and then Capitalism.  Instead we are proposing a revolution; we seek a complete change to something else.  That takes patience, and determination.  “Heaven will not be reached at a single bound, But we must build the ladder by which we rise.”

That ladder to Communism is built by talking, by talking often, and by helping each other. “The propaganda of the deed” is powerful.  If we can build Communist assemblies in every city that improve their Communities, as groups like the Black Panthers did, then we will have a power that the Capitalists never even thought to tap into: the power of Solidarity, of mutual aid, and of mutual love.

Capitalists maintain power through fear.  Fear of arrest, fear of homelessness, fear of hunger and poverty.  But fear is a weak motivator.  Make a man afraid of you, and he will do what you say only as far as is necessary, beyond that his contempt will make him look for a way to defeat you.  But work to make a man love you, and they will gladly throw themselves upon the gates of hell for you.  We must cultivate that kind of love with each other and with our Communities.

This is how we build the ladder to Communism. With each word spoken to raise class consciousness, another rung is added.  With each homeless person sheltered and fed, another rung is added. With each meeting held to teach about Communism, another rung is added.  Slowly and gradually we will build our ladder, until one day the people will gladly raise the red banner above every rooftop, and we can finally greet each other as equals in a Democratic Society.

“Workers of the world, unite.”