Worth thinking through ‘smash pacifism’ critique of nonviolent tacts
There has been a small increase in a valid discussion centering around nonviolence that i think i have much to add to, but which, for some reason, is being ignored by the two camps involved. One, the camp of the middle-class-values-challenged comes with no surprise. But the other, the anarchic/anti-authoritarian camp, well, that is puzzling. Perhaps both camps are tooled by “tried and true”-type agendas, i’m not sure. But one thing remains, all nonviolence is being reduced into curiously superficial categories, and confrontational types of nonviolence (certainly not ‘passive’) remaining in a sort of meta no-man’s-land space. i figure.
The critique of nonviolence that first came to my attention was Ward Churchill’s book (admittedly authored by two others, but he’s the most well known). Entitled
- Pacifism as Pathology: Reflections on the Role of Armed Struggle in North America
. I read it, and couldn’t help but to bring up my above reaction, as he did not mention it.
Next, and only of late, i came across an interesting analysis by the infamous zig zag of warrior publications ( http://warriorpublications.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/smash-pacifism-zine.pdf. In it, zig zag goes over, apparently quite thoroughly, the work and thinking of both Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Definitely something to chew on.
Recalling an article i came across in , there was a case for armed self-defense even when Black folks (my generation’s normalized name for African Americans) were out-numbered in the bigger picture of things. The article discussed, at some length, someone by the name of Robert F. Williams and his leading (?) several defense situations where people duped into racial hysteria got very much out of hand. A norm for the South at that time, and in some cases, the North (i.e. Chicago).
In all these cases, you can gather a portion truths which ought very much to be thought through carefully.
And yet, the insights of people like Gerald Taiaiake Alfred (apparently a leading voice in Idle No More thought) make loads of more sense, at least to me. In his book
(which for curious reasons, zig zag totally dismisses), on page 130 and 131, Gerald hits the proverbial nail on the head. Basically, if visionary peoples (i.e. Indigenous, and decolonizing settlers) take up a paradigm of “the master” (not Gerald’s words), then such peoples become that. In fact, they have to do it WORSE in order to “win”.
Very well said (the exact words are much better!).
On the other hand, when the white hot stupidity of a group of vigilantes is shooting off its severe alienation AT you and your neighborhood, as Robert F. Williams was exposed to, we all need to find ways to respond which change that kind of stupidity. To at least run it off, or, better yet, to touch it in its heart.
And what better way to touch people in their hearts than via the power of creative, confrontational types of nonviolence?
Saul Alinsky, the 1940s-1960s “back of the yards” organizer had some nifty ideas which gets more at what i’m talking about. He basically counseled “mass jiu-jitsu” kinds of tactics, including in response to racist mindset. i’ve mentioned him before, so i won’t mention his tactics specifically, but basically he “went outside the experience of” those hyped up to hate and fear the groups he helped organize to defend themselves, “while remaining inside the experience of” those doing the defending.
Major in his strategy was the power of humor.
And this is what i think has some true excellence. And i’m saying this as one WHO HAS TRIED THESE things! Yes, radically so, in fact. So radically so that i’ll only discuss such privately! (heh) But, yours truly DID find ways to both surprise the hysterically mobilized AND survive their duped wrath long enough to get through the heart of their activity (i.e. while marching in various mass marches in several large cities out East). And that was no “bullshit” situation, either. No bullshit! i was literally putting my life on the line, or, at least, into a VERY LARGE UNKNOWN in which none of my colleagues at the time dared (tho a few marched with me at different times, they were all non-key colleagues, so to speak).
Now, as an artist-type i also did my share of creative cartoons along these lines. You might look for the Pleasure Power Comix zine i did (look for it in this blog), which gave out an interesting idea. Basically, using some sort of whip cream as a way to humiliate (or at least change the intense hysteria) adversaries. And while it may be true that gathering and maintaining large amounts of dairy-based whip cream isn’t realistic, there was an alternative substance that i saw demonstrated at the Seattle Hemp Fest a few years ago: Dr.Bronner’s! Soap! Made into a whip cream substance! Wow! Now, add a little sweetness to it…?
The bottom line for me on this topic is, yes, Ghandi and MLKj were superficial champions. But, they served a key purpose, to basically advance the cause of a people COMPLETELY marginalized and sidelined. Yes, their advancements appear to have given most value to the middle classes (of india and the u.s.a.), and helped strengthen the larger picture that is Alienation, Inc. today. Pacifism, or passive resistance, does prove to have a limited merit.
On the other hand, the CONTEXT is also key. The Black Panthers were crushed (were they not?). Any group which stood up with any violent self-defense methods got crushed. Great programs to help their communities, aside.
On the other hand, AIM (American Indian Movement) seems to have made some advances, in a similar stand. Though, after their biggest stand (Wounded Knee, 1970s), at least 65 AIM supporters and members were murdered. And some leading thinkers of the movement, such as John Trudell, who was the AIM chairman for a few years, and persists to this day in promoting Indigenous excellence and ‘thinking things through’, think that the guns aspect of AIM was a plant. A planted means to allegedly defend their people.
Did it work?
Depending on how we look. On the one hand, the media actually covered their Wounded Knee stand…and Indigenous truths suddenly became something powerful to think about.
Certainly, there are a lot of grey areas to explore and think through on this topic, but the bottom line is, what is most meaningful to the spirit which first brought us into our critical thinking and desires for sanity? What feeds that? And what cannot?
One thing no one mentions in the dialog on this topic is that timing is key. If you wait until vigilante groups come to your door, then violent response seems to be “the only possible” response (tho i think if vomit bombs went off suddenly, drenching the vigilante mob outside your door, violence would be heartily messed with). But if you “nip” violence “in its proverbial bud” early on, with creative tactics of nonviolence, another reality rears its head!
To conclude, even tho i am a member of a community under intense siege (and ignored categorically by all forms of media–except for the anti-authoritarian press), and must look forward to extreme violence and death if and when i am ever put into prison, i maintain the desire to “solve the problem” rather than perpetuate it, via the stupidity of maiming and killing violence. Or any violence which blocks possible bridge-making.
We want more Norma Jean Almodovars and John Stockwells (whistleblowers of the status-quo); we want to inspire their standing. And if we are stuck in “Us vs Them” dogmas (absolutes), then how are we going to truly advance anything remotely human??!?
Think it through, folks, think things through!!!!