Viewport width =
July 14, 2008 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Revolutionary Violence is not ok

I used to think anti-globalisation protestors were pretty cool. Of course, this was when I was about fourteen and fancied myself a revolutionary because I got drunk and smashed in shop windows, or ran across car roofs and ripped off their windscreen wipers because cars represent, like, the greedy rape of resources, and stuff. It wasn’t until someone kicked in the door of my flatmate’s car that I realised just how stupid smashing things in the name of revolution is. So it’s nice to see that the protestors who turn up to the G8 summit nowadays to promote legitimate concerns don’t feel the need to burn things as they did a decade ago.

During the 34th G8 summit, which ended last week in Toyako, Japan, the leaders of the world’s rich nations talked a bit about global food prices, climate change and armed conflict. They munched on a lot of sumptuous Japanese fare. They released a series of important sounding statements in an attempt to send off powerful ‘signals’, but as always they resisted actually promising to do anything. They sent some of their signals to Zimbabwe, Iran and North Korea, and forgot about Iraq or Palestine. They talked about maybe letting China, Brazil, India, South Africa and Mexico into their club, but couldn’t really agree.

Outside in the streets thousands of folk from all over the globe marched with paper mache masks representing the various world leaders. There were few arrests and little violence; a $US280m security presence was forceful, keeping protestors away from the G8’s central resort, but both sides appear to have forsaken the violence of past G8 summits, at least for now. That violence reached its peak at the 2001 summit in Genoa, where 23-year-old Carlo Giuliani was beaten to death by the security forces. Later that year terrorism replaced globalization as the issue of the moment, and the protests begin to die down. Which is sweet, because violence is poos.

Of course most people are anti-violence, but then most will accept violent self-defence – that is, violence for the sake of stopping violence. Conservative opinion counts police brutality as a form of self-defence for society against outsiders; radical opinion counts revolutionary violence as a form of self-defence against capitalism. Hence you get Kiwi teenagers in Che Guevara shirts who think Hizbollah is radical for firing rockets at Israel, even if this means hundreds of Lebanese die in the retaliation. Good one…

Nowadays I don’t like either state brutality or revolutionary violence. Sure, if some shit-head points a knife in your eye you’re justified to retaliate, but when you stretch self-defence beyond such immediate situations – indirect defence, pre-emptive strikes etcetera – things get tricky. Because I used to think I was a bit of a revolutionary I feel an obligation to tell people that, actually, smashing things because it feels radical achieves precisely nothing.

Recently the cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek wrote a book called Violence in which he argued that there are two forms of violence: ‘objective violence’ is systemic poverty and discrimination, whereas being beaten up is merely ‘subjective violence’ and is the understandable result of ‘objective violence.’ Never mind the fact that, say, having your spine broken in four places by your partner’s foot is fairly objectively violent whatever socio-economic background you come from. Perhaps the kids who rioted on the streets of Genoa are better than the cops who beat them up, but really, neither were acting in a particularly constructive manner.

Revolutionary violence is not a particularly effective way to achieve peaceful Utopia. In The Victorians, novelist and historian A.N. Wilson quotes one revolutionary’s fond memories of the Chartist riots of 1848: “I ran like a lunatic and pulled the bell at Schappers… at some corner on my way, knocking over an old woman’s apple-basket (or it may have been oranges!) I was going too quick for her gentle cursing.”

Wilson goes on to explain the fault in the Chartist’s logic: “One wonders how gentle the cursing was, and whether this tiny vignette of political fervour does not tell us rather a lot about the state of mind respectively of a political activist and an actual working-class woman. We know that in after years most of the fruit-sellers of London declared themselves to have been in favour of the Charter. But how many would have favoured days of street-fighting upsetting their apple-baskets?”

I guess it all comes down to the Jesus complex – that is, believing you can drag people through fire for their own good, even if it kills (or impoverishes) them in the process. If you value utopias over the here and now, you can justify anything.

Just remember I will always love you, Even as I tear your fucking throat away. But it will end no other way.


About the Author ()

Tristan Egarr edited in 2008. He threw a chair once.

Comments are closed.

Recent posts

  1. VUW Halls Hiking Fees By 50–80% Next Year
  2. The Stats on Gender Disparities at VUW
  3. Issue 25 – Legacy
  4. Canta Wins Bid for Editorial Independence
  5. RA Speaks Out About Victoria University Hall Death
  6. VUW Hall Death: What We Know So Far
  8. New Normal
  9. Come In, The Door’s Open.
  10. Love in the Time of Face Tattoos

Editor's Pick

Uncomfortable places: skin.

:   Where are you from?  My list was always ready: England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, puppy dogs’ tails, a little Spanish, maybe German, and—almost as an afterthought—half Samoan. An unwanted fraction.   But you don’t seem like a Samoan. I thought you were [inser

Do you know how to read? Sign up to our Newsletter!

* indicates required