challenging Craig Rosenbraugh’s position against nonviolence
n his 2004 book “The Logic of Political Violence: Lessons In Reform and Revolution” (published by Arissa Media Group), Craig Rosenbraugh, a veteran speaker of nonviolent advocacy turned “more realistic” in his post-Animal Liberation Front years, and thus now believing in what he calls “political violence” or the last-ditch efforts of the desperate, misses crucial truths.
To touch on a few points quickly, I think that Craig doesn’t adequately go through (or may be ignorant of) the techniques of nonviolence and when such techniques can actually work. Nor does he spend much time on anything more than pacifist nonviolence, even tho he does touch on the “soul force” angle of Ghandian non-pacifist nonviolence. Craig mentions nonviolent “political jiu-jitsu” (in regard to MLKjr), but somehow avoids Saul Alinsky’s “mass jiu-jitsu” (which worked wonders in early 1960s anti-racist manuvers in Chicago and Rochester, NY).
Hardly pacifist or passive, Alinsky’s nonviolent techniques were actually quite confrontive, while avoiding (via humorous and creative tactics) becoming a direct threat of the state (while still undermining its popularization of racism). Albeit, Alinsky was a reformer (and Craig does a service in his critique of reformism, for sure). But Alinsky’s gift is not in his politics; it’s his creative approach to nonviolently challenging popularized stereotypes which merits serious discussion.
Craig also misses discussing when nonviolence can work. Here, timing is everything. But Craig tries to race nonviolence against the last-ditch efforts of the socially and politically attacked as though they can “start” on similar footing!
Creative, confrontational nonviolence works best when it is begun at a time when aggression can be “nipped in the bud” so to speak. And while it can work to distract and re-direct aggression (i.e. the Clown Brigades of recent memory at various marches), this form of little-mentioned nonviolence plays out best when “the element of surprise” can be achieved.
My own experience proves this in spades, tho my own actions have not been sustained were i part of a more organized noncooperation community.
As for the idea that nonviolence is often a method used by those with privilege, that is an interesting factual assumption. Tho Craig touches on several unprivileged movements that say they’ve tried nonviolent strategies (protest and politics), it’s curious just what those strategies are. Have they been more than the same old pacifist game?
Here I think Craig is curiously ignoring the fact that many nonviolent strategies (which are most readily known and used) are foremostly pushed by so-called “well educated” organizers whose methods reflect their establishment knowledge. So, he doesn’t demystify enough, in my view. He feels to me as superficial –in a slightly more indepth way– as Ward Churchill in his “Pathology of Pacifism”.
I’ve personally seen the liberatory benefits of confrontive-style nonviolence, and have thoughtfully studied others’ examples (say, in Russell Means’ book “Where White Men Fear To Tread”, he touches on a few instances of such; also, John Trudell has exposed the reality that the State WANTS people to out-fight them, and continuously pushes comparitively weak groups to take it on in such confining ways like that. Trudell, who lost his entire family in 1979 to very suspicious circumstance, counsels “we have to out-think them, not out-fight them.” Another indigenous person, in his book “Wasase” (by Gerald Taiaiake Alfred), shows how dichotomistically-stuck approaches are very European, and not at all indigenously reconciling (towards the broader value of keeping and maintaining the longterm values of meaningful community solidarity).
These examples are not coming from privilege, and should be more closely examined. Craig’s book reminds me of the run-of-the-mill call for human stupidity as “the only way” to respond to the severe alienation of the privileged.
My prescription for nonviolence is:
First, understand the psychology of oppressors and their chain-of-command, including the origins of such a structure beginning in “elite” childhood coercions, and running up to how chain-of-command structures tool even these allegedly “powerful” people. (i.e. they Have To subordinate their individuality to The Culture of Violent Bureaucracy, or they’re not allowed to rise up) Noam Chomsky is instructive here, on the one hand when he demystifies how “internalized values” tool media professionals (shedding light on the bigger picture as well), and especially where he analyzes “social and cultural managers” and their ideological subordination to such severely alienated notables as Walter Lippmann (“the dean of the Kennedy intellectuals”). His book “Media Control” proves decisive here.
Second, look for our commonalities, via “radical’s radical” empathy. You don’t have to submit cowardly to coercion when seeking to understand the psychology of soldiering and how soldiers (including cops) are often the unwitting victims of their own trained beliefs about How and When One Must Act (alienatedly) towards uppity civilians. Norma Jean Almodovar, in her book “Cop To Call Girl” is an ex-LAPD cop who sheds interesting light from an insider’s view, for one. Basically, she rebelled after experiencing sexism when she was a traffic cop, and experienced very heavy censure for trying to publish a book about it.
Third, give yourself permission to activate your creative intelligence. Brainstorm. And begin looking at the meta ways that politics, both aggressive and responsive, act. Take steps back from the temptation to merely emotionally react (which is what we’re Supposed To be only “capable” of), and think things through!
Many operate on the false assumption that we are facing a monolithic situation when it comes to challenging seemingly impossible odds. But the reality is that we have been collectively (including within the ranks of the aggressors) hoodwinked by efforts to mobilize us on all sides of the paradigm of politics. And that means that our differences are always pushed by such entities, not our commonalities.
Many people are sick to death of the same old responses to the alienation we daily experience. And we are learning that we are not alone; that there are even many suicides amongst the dominators, for instance (recent NY Times article citing growing numbers of such amongst soldiers). And i know from experience that many folks, regardless of social position, are surprised and elated by creative approaches, especially those angled on solidarity with informal humanity!
To conclude, tho i hail originally from conditional privilege (where to not conform has been to experience sustained pressure to return to the fold, or face increasing familial hostility), today I am a houseless person who is a member of several communities whom are routinely set up and attacked violently by the heavily propagandized (aka strategically challenged) — given the opportunity. Yet for me my nonviolent visionary ideas are a spiritual path. Even if they “end up” not making a serious difference with most of you whom I think are deeply programmed with martial-centric dogmas (especially if you’re a “manly” guy).
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