Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Book Review: "Non Violence Protects the State"

“Non-Violence Protects the State”, by Peter Gelderloos, published 2007

This is a book by a young Virginia anarchist activist involved in street protests and organizing against the School of the Americas, for which he went to jail for 6 months. It is principally aimed at the academic pacifist wing of the anarchist movement, and the pacifists he has met in various ‘reform’ struggles.

I am not a pacifist. I was prepared to like this book. I was told I wouldn’t be able to put it down until I was done. I actually couldn’t get through more than a few chapters before putting it down, for good. But I soldiered on and picked it up again. It is written in somewhat academic phraseology, and is skimpy on details at times. It suffers from both the strengths and predictable weaknesses of a specific kind of anarchism.


Gelderloos makes many correct points. He shows how pacifist ideology ignores the true history of many mass movements, like the Indian independence struggle and the U.S. civil rights movement. He shows how pacifism cannot deal with or overthrow a violent state. He shows how the history of struggle is one of using all kinds of tactics, not one tactic, or one tactic raised to one strategy, then raised to one goal, as have the pacifists with pacifism itself.

In the Marxist movement we have plenty of secret pacifists, who think some ultimate mass demonstration – UNARMED – will somehow bring about the collapse of capitalist power. Or a strike alone will bring the state to its knees, and to its destruction. Parties such as the Communist Party and the SWP are full of this kind of thinking.

Gerlderloos intead shows the violent opposition of Jews to the Nazi’s – instead of the diet of Spielbergian heroes we have been fed. He details the intimidation of the leadership of the IWW, and the role of a group of Northeast U.S. Italian anarchists – Galleanists - in combating WWI in the U.S. and later Mussolini, without abandoning the right to self defense and even the right to aggressive action.


He weakens his argument by condemning certain gains as non-existent, like the independence of India, the defeat of Jim Crow in the south, the massive demonstrations against U.S. intervention in the Middle East, or the withdrawal of the U.S. army from Vietnam. In essence, he almost says that violence is needed for revolution, not reform. Well, actually, it is needed for both. In this he cedes some apparent gains to the pacifists, which is unnecessary.

Franz Fanon seems to be his most quoted figure. Fanon aided the FLN in Algeria, who’s victory lead to the formation of a bourgeois nationalist government in that country… i.e. a state. Would Mr. Gelderloos denounce the ‘useless’ Algerian war, since it did not result in the complete freedom of the Algerians? Given his comments on other ‘reform’ struggles, I would imagine so. He does not have the transitional program to connect reform and revolution, and so must fulminate at the former without showing how to connect it to the latter.


What is disappeared in this book is the class struggle and the violent efforts of workers to fight or overthrow capital. He has chapters on how pacifism is racist and patriarchal, but not one on the working class and labor, and how pacifism is actually petit-bourgeois. Labor violence is only mentioned in one example, at Blair Mountain, safely in 1921. The word ‘class’ appears maybe 5 times. He is more incensed about white people and men than he is about bourgeois and middle class men, and bourgeois and middle-class women. The working class has a natural affinity for defending itself, and in his screeds against white people, he forgets this. Of course, Gelderloos is white. His approach as an anarchist is essentially ‘sectoralist’ instead of classist. Not all anarchists have this position, of course.

But in his gut he understands that it is middle-class people in the protest movement who are the most attached to pacifism, and his hostility is a healthy class reaction, although he has a hard time verbalizing it.

He also almost disappears the communist movements’ efforts to violently confront or overthrow capital, referring let’s say to ‘Vietnam’ or ‘Cuba’ as just names of countries. Why? A, because Marxism is his main competitor; and B, because somehow overthrowing capital without having anarchism as an end product is wrong, since a kind of ‘state’ survives after these revolutions. Since the principal enemy of anarchism seems to be the state, not capitalism, he cannot condone overthrowing capitalism and creating a new transitional state. Which would put him in an interesting position if the communist movement was close to overthrowing the capitalist state.

Of course, he also can’t tell the difference between Stalinism and Leninism or Trotskyism, but so be it. That is not his topic.


Vanderloos central point holds true – non-violence is only one tactic in a full arsenal. If you stop at pacifism, you cannot win. It is like painting with a palette of ‘beiges’ only. You might ‘feel good” but at the expense of some real progress. And as he illuminates you can actually end up helping blunt the protest movement. And ‘blunted’ protest movements is all we’ve had for years.

Here is a local example. The defeat of the Northwest mechanics happened the day after they shut down the scabs at the Holiday Inn 5 Corners and the day after they blocked the Northwest Airlines terminal gates in Bloomington with cars. Mass pickets is what it is called in the labor movement and the transitional program. What happened after those days?

That is the day that the voluble Ted Ludwig, chubby leader of that Mechanics local full of mostly middle-aged, but working-class, white men, decided that these events were one-shot deals, and his union didn’t need to shut down the scabs every day. The events had been a success, mind you. Only a few were arrested. They gained massive publicity and involved many union members, who weren’t afraid to intimidate the scabs. Instead he decided to follow the main path of the later P-9 and get Ray Rogers to start a ‘corporate campaign’ appealing to the ‘public’ to boycott Northwest Airlines. And with the appearance of Ray Rogers in any struggle, you can kiss your ass goodbye.


Gelderloos is to be congratulated for trying to get a discussion going about the limits of pacifism, as it is a taboo topic in the protest movement. Candlelight vigils are second nature to people who think that good thoughts will overcome. He points out that pacifist hostility to more militant action actually makes them ally with the police and authorities over and over again. Engels also pointed out the use of force in history. It is somewhat akin to the use of force in doing mechanical repairs. Anyone who has laughed at someone who has ‘hit’ or hammered something, and suddenly it works or is in the right place, understands the use of force in the physical world. This is not far different from its role in politics. Some are afraid to 'hit' with the hammer. But sometimes it is the only thing that works.

Another example, which he touches on, is the fondness of many for violent movies in which the ‘good’ guy kicks the ass of the ‘bad’ guy. Since this rarely happens in real life, people get a primitive satisfaction out of this. A good recent example is the series of films of Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, who manhandles CIA thug after CIA thug throughout the whole series of 3 films. A book written by reactionary Robert Ludlum has been changed in the hands of a British director into its exact opposite – a series which shows the CIA as a crooked bunch of killers, who need to be dealt with not with compassion or ‘discussion’ but with their own medicine.


As we approach the Republican convention in St. Paul, where they will attempt to herd us into approved ‘protest’ pens, let us keep that in mind. There will be plenty of ‘responsible’ people, friends of the hotel and restaurant industry, backed by 100s of police, telling us to do whatever we are told, and that will mean not seriously disrupting the convention. Instead, I think we should make the Republicans regret coming to St. Paul. And remind the Democratic Party politicians that inflicting this convention on the Cities is a net loss of citizens’ tax dollars, and only a gain for the businessmen and the respectability of these bloodthirsty cretins. Why would Democrats ‘welcome’ the Party of endless war in Iraq and endless tax breaks for the rich? Really, why?

And perhaps Mr. Gelderloos and the ‘black bloc’ will be there to make that point too.

And I found it at May Day Books ...

8/14/2007, Red Frog