Sunday, June 23, 2013

The non-violent approach to class war

A couple of related stories from the protests in Brasil and in Turkey are of interest. In Taksim Square demonstrators threw flowers at the police lines while in Brasil several police appeared to be supporting the protests by sitting down in solidarity with demonstrators. Another confirmation of the Party's long held view that ideas are social and will inevitably spill over to the agents of state coercion.

The situation in Syria began with peaceful demonstrations for democratic reform. Even Syrian state television now admits that the revolution began with legitimate, non-violent demands for much-needed reforms. But the struggle devolved into a violence that has now brought the country to a full-blown civil war. The tactics of non-violence can be a frustrating path for those who seek freedom. But, nevertheless, popular, peaceful protests have the best chance of winning.

The non-violent movements that gathered momentum early on has become side-lined by the Free Syrian Army. The Syrian regime's bloody crackdown on dissent pushed many Syrian protesters into an armed uprising and call for foreign military intervention. The FSA began as a collection of soldiers who refused to fire on peacefully protesting civilians, who then left the army and began to form militias aimed at protecting these demonstrators. Soon, this purely defensive function gave way to raids and ambushes of government troops, thereby fuelling the regime's claims that protesters are not peaceful, and that they cannot be dealt with peacefully. The armed opposition helped Assad gain the upper hand by justifying the government's battle against so-called terrorists. Unfortunately, developments did lead to the formation of self-appointed leaders from various exile organisations setting up a Syrian National Council, seeking support from such outside parties as "the Friends of Syria" (whose promotion of  “regime change” is done solely for strategic and economic reasons and has nothing to do with democracy whatsoever.) We have witnessed the birth of the Free Syrian Army, financed, armed and trained by Saudi Arabia and Qatar as well as various Western powers, including Britain and France who have no recriminations whatsoever about there earlier instigation of civil war in Libya. There has also been a growth in the Muslim Brotherhood influence, creating a religious sectarianism division within Syria. Now the ranks of the FSA are full of Islamic Jihadists and paid mercenaries of Qatar and Saudi Arabia. We witnessed how the militarisation of the Syrian protests lessened the democratic nature of the opposition by placing the power into the hands of the armed exile groups who have ended up serving the interests of rival nations because it is they who arms them, rather than expressing the genuine will of the Syrian people.

Socialists are not pacifists on principle but purely as a practical tactic. We acknowledge that there might be instances in which violence is a legitimate means to use. Peaceful resistance does not mean no resistance. It does not mean non-action. It involves direct action, like general strikes, which is capable of paralyzing the country.

The members of the World Socialist Movement often meet demands for our solutions to the on-going struggles in Palestine, in Syria and all the other places over the world where despots are repressing peoples. We are asked  how we'd deal with someone like Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein or whoever is the latest personification of evil is. We are accused of offering no immediate answer and it is true - we are no aspiring Che Guevaras - thankfully.  Socialists don't want to die for socialism, we want to live for socialism. By shortening of our lives with martyrdom, we can make no constructive useful contribution to the future.

Our view is that the power of dictatorships ultimately comes from the willing obedience of the people they govern.  All hierarchical systems require the cooperation of people at every level, from the lowliest workers to the highest bureaucrats. Despots depend on the population’s cooperation and submissiveness - and if the people effectively withhold their consent, even the strongest of regimes can collapse. Without the consent of the working class - either their active support or their passive acquiescence the ruling class would have little power and little basis for rule.

If protesters don’t have a clear objective, then they are likely to be sadly disappointed. Protest alone accomplishes very little. If you don’t have that basic understanding of what you’re doing, then you’re not going to win anything. One struggle doesn’t always do the job; sometimes you have to have two or three or four or five struggles in succession. Class war is, in fact, very much like war, a series of class-struggle battles with both victories and defeats. Cutting off our enemy's sources of sustenance, its power, is the ultimate goal. But it won’t happen easily, or quickly, or always. Non-violence is not passive, nor is it a way of avoiding conflict. Any non-violent movement that takes on a well-entrenched dictatorship. Those who start such a movement must be prepared for a long struggle, with setbacks and numerous casualties. After all, only one side is committed to non-violence. Nor is there any guarantee of success, even in the long run. However the other option, entails even larger casualties and has even less prospects of success.

Violence is not all that effective in a revolution. People have long thought that power grows out of the barrel of a gun and it's taken a number of historical events to prove that is not true. When non-violence fails, the pacifist method is condemned. But when violence fails, it is the strategy or tactics that are blamed - not the actual violence as the method. And partial success of non-violence is seen as total failure where a temporary ceasefire in violence is seen as progress.

Non-violent means will increase our chances of the military refusing to obey orders. But if you go over to violence, the soldiers will not mutiny. They will be loyal to the dictatorship and the dictatorship will have a good chance to survive.  An armed response from the revolutionaries will not succeed, as the regime is invariably stronger on the military front. As soon as you choose to fight with violence you're choosing to fight against opponents in possession of the best weapons. The state's police and  army are better trained in using those weapons. And they  control the infrastructure that allows them to deploy them. To fight dictators with violence is to cede to them the choice of battleground and tactics. Using violence against  experts in it is the quickest way to have a movement crushed. That is why governments frequently infiltrate opposition groups with agents provocateurs—to sidetrack the movement into violent acts that the police and  security agencies can deal with. Non-violence is an aspect of resistance that the normal forces of coercion are ill-prepared for. When the ruling class choose to use their superior force against non-violent activists, they sometimes find that it does not bring about the desired results. First, all sanctions must be carried out by the ruler's agents (police or military personnel) who may or may not obey or may reluctantly make a show of obeying to commit brutal acts against people who are clearly presenting no physical threat. It could have the effect of converting them to our point of view by winning over their hearts and minds. Even if a non-violent campaign is unable to change our adversary's way of thinking, it can still wield power and influence the course of events who may decide it is too costly to continue the fight or forced to make concessions because its power-base has been dissolved.

People turn violent because they feel there is little alternative but to resort to violence. Socialists organizations will develop the substitutes to militarising the class struggle and then people will have a choice of psychological weapons, social weapons, economic weapons and political weapons which can be applied and are ultimately more powerful against tyranny.  Once enough people and organizations within a society (trade unions, community groups) are engaging in civil disobedience and withholding their cooperation from a regime, the capitalists' power will gradually wither from political starvation.

The success or failure of any peaceful revolt largely depends on the campaign’s ability to undermine the regimes supporters and weaken the allegiance of its civil servants, police and soldiers to the regime; to persuade those neutrals sitting on the fence to join the opposition. The worse the regime suppresses protests, the more steadfast ought the opposition  be in its commitment to non-violence and the more the people resists, the more we will realize our own power and discover the means of re-shaping our destiny.

Non-violent popular civil-disobedience has an important role in moving forward from limited political democracy to full social democracy, which is what we mean by socialism. Not as a substitute for electoral and constitutional action, but as an additional guarantee that the socialist majority will achieve its goal under any conceivable circumstances. Some people say we can't expect the revolution to adhere to its original principles if there is indiscriminate violence and  spilt blood. Not only should we expect it, we should demand it. If we have learnt anything we should know what is wrong will never be right; a lie cannot be fabricated into fact; an unjust crime cannot be repackaged as a just act.  Non-violence, like any other goal, must be nurtured by a hope in a better tomorrow. We must move forward and never let our hope for peace and justice die.  The goal of the revolution is to bring a new spirit of democracy and freedom and that the tactics used in the revolution are just as important as the goal.

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