Last night BBC radio 4 broadcast a discussion about the use of direct action in a ‘democratic’ society. You can listen to the show here.
Firstly it is worth noting that these types of discussions are usually very one sided. The student protests that smashed up the Tory HQ has caused a social shift where the theory of direct action, and indeed violence, has to be recognised and given some legitimacy by mainstream media. Up until this point the mainstream media has taken a hard-line stance against these sort of acts; now the discussion is back in the public domain. This can be put down to the larger public’s change in attitude and a recognition that current political and social institutions don’t represent us. What were once considered the only legitimate means of social change do not work and other means are required.
Many of the panel argued a moral stance either for or against direct action and violent protest. This in its self is a failure to recognize that key issues of political violence are not moral issue but that of power and privilege. Likening the bombing of an abortion clinic to class based political action ignores the flow of power behind these acts.
Using violence to gain authoritarian political, or social power, over a person, or group of people, can be considered, at least from an anti-authoritarian stance, as unjustified. However using violence as means to gain liberation is, and has been historically displayed as, critical to maintaining or gaining levels of freedom and bringing about the decentralisation of power.
Part of the reason that the panel are unable to recognize this is down to their own privilege. We can presume that all of the panel have some general social privilege. With this presumption in mind, it is not unimaginable to think that the panel very rarely feel the oppressive nature of hierarchical social relationships. These positions of privilege also promote a vested interest in maintaining current social relationships that many of us recognize as repressive.
Of course violence takes place every single day and much of it is either accepted or viewed as justified. This violence almost always flows from positions of power onto those with less power. This may be war, police violence or domestic abuse as well as less obvious violence within general social hierarchies such as wage labour, patriarchy, racism etc.
Despite this the fact this argument is taking place should be considered an early success of the student protests as well as a sign public opinion is behind a struggle for a more egalitarian society. This struggle, of course, is not inherently violent but respects the individual or community choice to use the tactics they feel are required to maintain or gain the levels of freedom and equality they desire.
Peter Gelderloos - MP3 of public talk and following interview with the author of ‘How Non-Violence Protects the State’.
Pacifism as Pathology – Ward Churchill
Uri Gordon - Anarchy Alive! (Ch.4 – Peace, Love and Petrol Bombs: Anarchism and Violence Revisited)