‘Violence’ in Political Protests
By Anonymous Comrade
Political protests reaching as far back as the 1950s were lauded as being violent in one form or another. Civil disobedience not included, the purported violence was primarily property damage or economic disruption – general strikes, anti-war efforts, and anti-racist efforts alike; the government demonized all as violent in nature. Knowing that the state maintains its monopoly on violence, it attempts to distract sympathy by labeling these actions as violent, and after resolving them (or failing to), declares that the issues could have been addressed by going through proper channels. Every leftist reader knows what the people’s rightful response is: bullshit.
Due to internal classification of economic disruption as an act of violence, the government responded in kind. Any act of ‘violence’ by protestors will be met with extreme force by a state in disarray, as is seen in the Harlem riot of 19432, the Detroit riot of 19433, and even the Sunset Strip riots4. The commonality among these riots is the disruption of economic activity or the inconveniencing of the state. Each riot was also followed by strong state action, from direct militaristic police intervention, of state sanctioned removal of counterculture hot spots. Similar to riots, labor strikes also cause massive disruption, and strikers have lately been demonized for destroying economic value over the course of their strike. The Amazon workers’ strike5 in Spain, Germany, and Poland is a recent example. The government takes these actions specifically for the purpose of removing threats to authority, maintaining an air of legitimacy, and to quell perceived consciousness arising; this pattern is seen after any major civil unrest surfaces.
Most recently and of most immediate impact is the Indigenous and Black people’s struggle for basic human rights, either clean water or safety on the streets. Compare the Dakota Access Pipeline protests with previously mentioned protests. They share two major factors: economic disruption and an increase in consciousness. Black Lives Matter similarly has captured the nation’s attention; traffic blockages and large public demonstrations serve to challenge the status quo and incite consciousness in the populace. Given that the capitalist protectorate state of the U.S. will protect the interests of business and its concentrated power at any cost, it is unsurprising to see the traumatizing scenes resulting from the NoDAPL5 and BLM protests. This leads us to the topic at hand – the virtue and value of violence in political protest.
It is my opinion that due to the state’s monopoly on violence, any form of dissent will be criminalized. The J20 protests that led to the terrifying violence of broken windows and damaged vehicles, and the arrests that followed further exemplify this. Property damage incites response, and response gives rise to public notoriety. The more often and bluntly the public at large must see and deal with the justified rage of a population that is fed up with societal and economic injustice, the more consciousness is transferred and fed into those who have not realized the true state of affairs that exists within the capitalist oligarchy, and the more allies we will have on the streets and in our organizing committees.
Direct action has become the material reality of achieving a dual power structure and a mass base within the oppressed segments of society. Supporting and amplifying voices within these communities should be the primary goals of any socialist movement. Doing so within protests while still moving towards revolutionary goals of liberation and camaraderie requires protests become both unavoidable and highly publicized.
Violence is required to give legitimacy to protests. Protest violence, primarily economic damage and economic hindrance, is a first step towards the destruction of capitalist hegemony. If the participants are not willing to express their displeasure physically, media will skimp on coverage, the public will look upon it as just another milquetoast led march. The value of protest violence is in its ability to polarize the public and publicize a message. Therefore, take the state’s definition of violence and give them what they want – destruction of property and disturbance of business. They have yet to realize that their own definitions will be their downfall; as we become more adept at utilizing their systems and exploiting them as a weakness, our just movements will become unstoppable.
So long as capitalist hegemony continues to infringe on basic human rights and needs, it should be a natural response to react with passion. Simultaneously, media reports will nearly always depict protestors as the aggressor, and very rarely delve into the material conditions that led to the current environment and resulting protest. As Martin Luther King Jr said, the riot is the language of the unheard; as the unheard, we must become vocal and visible. We must become impossible to ignore and become ungovernable.
This work will continue until the end of capitalism and its oppressive structures. It should be our responsibility to dispense with the information that allows the mass base to understand protests and their consequences through a dialectic analysis – to understand the causes and the reasoning for taking ‘violent’ action during events. In the end, we must take the current, government definition of violence (property damage, economic disruption) and utilize it to show the fallacies of capitalism and its refusal to value human life over human wealth.