Letter To The Editor: "I appreciate almost all your posts, except one particular article"
Updated: Aug 18, 2022
Edited 8/18/2022. Changed "two organization" to "two organizations" for clarity.
The GroundUp will introduce this Letter To The Editor by Mark Rudd by encouraging readers to understand that in organizing towards revolution black swans (can be considered a metaphor for an event that is surprising (to the observer), has a major effect, and, after being observed, is rationalized in hindsight)) and the more impactful dragon kings (a double metaphor for an event that is both extremely large in size or impact (a "king") and born of unique origins (a "dragon") relative to its peers (other events from the same system)))) need to be actively and creatively sought out and then controlled as best as possible by resistance forces. The observer of these events should be state actors. They should always be kept on their toes! For example, we believe that the title of our article POC Militants Will Shut Down The Abuse Of The u.s.a (and Part 2 of the article) is as truthful as Why Civil Resistance Works — both pieces are titled to further a political agenda. Our piece is confident towards a specific goal — the book title is confident in proclaiming civil resistance WORKS.
John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry is as much a part of the whole abolitionist movement as Frederick Douglass and General Tubman and Lincoln’s political, not empathetic emancipation proclamation is. The final cause of a situation is excruciatingly present in the formative stages of a historical development — for example we think the Iranian Revolution demonstrates the elasticity of “Works” given that the fortune or misfortune of state actors was confronted with the ideological apparatus of Islam that the Ayatollah crafted a hegemony with. And in the case of the First Palestinian Intifada the limited “Works” of the Palestinian success was very much dependent on u.s. foreign policy. When factored in to the u.s. situation, the question arises: what are the dominant ideologies in circulation that people will band around and who or how are people going to be saved when the state cracks down?
To those who want me to slow down and would say, "Look, the Iranian Revolution and the First Palestinian Intifada did actually work. The Shah and Palestinian leaders have established clear socioeconomic gains," we say, sometimes what is gained through the ease of mass appeal is a different kind of chain. The easiest ideas to rally behind won't necessarily preserve dignity en masse. Sometimes, the masses are so hustled by ideology that they will go along with the signs of the time in a sort of Stockholm syndrome.
In the u.s., there are very fledgling ideologies of resistance and dignity in circulation. Many are covert reactionary americanisms. Black Lives Matter is not one of these and the movement and ideology is obviously very important but none the less it demonstrates clearly that the spectrum of acceptable “revolutionary” thought is abysmally low when saying Black Lives Matter is a matter of controversy. And people feel in their hearts the string pluck of passion and commitment when they say Black Lives Matter. But swooning with such a feeling and existing in a mode of satisfaction is a stay too long on the island of the lotus eaters (in Greek mythology the lotus-eaters were a race of people living on an island dominated by the lotus tree, a plant whose botanical identity is uncertain. The lotus fruits and flowers were the primary food of the island and were a narcotic, causing the inhabitants to sleep in peaceful apathy). But this is as much an indictment of BLM as a comfort zone as it is an indictment of racism and right and yes, left americanisms.
Civil resistance in the u.s. is very much a tether ball match when innovation isn’t happening with strategy. The same goes for violent resistance. The song "Zombie" by The Cranberries albeit naïve and reactionary, addresses this quite well ("When the violence causes silence/We must be mistaken"). We want effective civil resistance and effective violence. Mass mobilization and numbers of bodies involved in particular movements or resistance activities don't matter at the end of the day. What works and what works in a truly and genuinely non-oppressive, system changing way are two very different things. Lotus eaters are no better than Zombies. The apathetic who don't want to stir the pot are no better than those who in their excitement for change believe that smashing the pot on the ground is the best and only strategy for establishing this change.
With that being said, what Mark's letter assumes about The GroundUp is that we approach our politics through a moral lens. In our now disused WordPress, we make very clear in the article “What Is To Be Done” About Fascists In The USA?" that we approach our politics through a psychological lens when we write:
"'Contrary to Slavoj Žižek saying in an interview that, 'If a guy talks like that jerk [Richard Spencer], you should just ignore him. If he hits you, turn around. Don’t even acknowledge him as a person. That’s the type of violence I would call for. Not physical violence,' [we believe d]isregarding power is nothing more than mental masturbation. There is physical power — which is growing in the united states in the new white supremacist movement. Punching nazis or neo-nazis is not a matter of whether it is right or wrong, it is a matter of overcoming such a simplistic way of looking at reality. Ethics often end where politics begin.'"
When Mark writes, "Taking the Freire statement first, he’s right: mass pervasive violence of colonial and class systems comes before any violence initiated by the oppressed. I read that as an accurate philosophical and moral truth, but not as a guide for what to do." We ask, what do you mean Mark, by moral truth? Again from the noted Wordpress article we wrote, "non-cognitivists, like A. J. Ayer, who argued that moral judgments cannot be translated into non-ethical, empirical terms (they lack truth value) and thus cannot be verified, but do express a speaker’s feelings; and C.L. Stevenson who wrote “The Emotive Meaning Of Ethical Terms,” agrees with Ayer that ethical sentences express the speaker’s feelings, but he adds that they also have an imperative component intended to change the listener’s feelings and that this component is of greater importance..." We would suggest that someone like Freire who faced serious state repercussions for his political and pedagogical activity was not waxing philosphical with the noted sentence. We argue that Freire was validating the varied praxis of the oppressed upon the oppressor.
Mark continues to address morality throughout his letter with, "I would probably still support revolutionary violence to this day on moral terms if, in fact, the small violence actually worked to stop the larger violence. But that isn’t the case, for a whole host of reasons. The reactive violence of the oppressed, no matter how righteous and justified you or I or anyone else might think it is, almost always works against the struggle for liberation." And we say to this, we can Boo! or Hurrah! or moan or bark or yell or smile or frown our "moral" view of the response the oppressed makes to the oppressor all we want. And they have to wake up and get murdered by the police and get sexually assaulted as domestic workers and be wage slaves and get their land encroached upon and deal with thousands of other atrocities. See, its not a matter of the philosophical domain of the deed to the oppressed. It is only those who are not confronted day in and day out by the oppression that "righteous and justified" becomes the ultimate concern. It is the psychological domain of the deed that is most pressing on the oppressed. This means, oppressed people are in pain AND THEY WANT TO GET OUT OF PAIN!
And once more Mark writes about morality with, "Nonviolent strategy and tactics work because they allow the oppressed to claim the higher moral ground: [that is,] the government is responsible for all violence. Claiming morality not only attracts support, but it splits the enemy. [So] take the easy route: It’s very very hard, perhaps even impossible, to prove that violence is righteous (though it’s always self-righteous)." Again, the domain of the deed of the oppressed is not philosophical, the domain of the deed of the oppressed is psychological. If an oppressed person is in pain and they don't think or feel that claiming a moral high ground will help them maybe attract widespread support, then the act of claiming moral high ground is not in fact a liberatory pursuit. It is still the case in revolution after revolution that small groups of people are still vanguarding the political system. Mass support is great but until collective formation exists beyond the powerful persuasion of thought that is safety in numbers, tyranny will continue to rule the land.
The GroundUp is neither Dissent nor is it Crime Think Inc. This publication and community is neither a sort of third position between existent liberalism and existent or defunct materially existing socialisms operating on the state level nor is it a safe house for violence and destruction as the ONLY strategy and tactic towards revolution. We support and work towards a new leftist epistemology that replaces the non-cognitive dimensions and considerations of left thought. And we support a politics of anti-oppression.
We believe in the reality of instinct. The reality of feeling and responding to what is wrong and oppressive and cruel in ways that MIGHT make what is wrong and oppressive and cruel stop. Edward Abbey writes in "Theory of Anarchy," that "New dynasties will arise, new tyrants will appear— no doubt. But we must and we can resist such recurrent aberrations by keeping true to the earth and remaining loyal to our basic animal nature." What this means in the left political ecosystem is we here at The Groundup are the decomposers and detrivores and we write for an audience composed in part by decomposers and detrivores. These pieces in general are not feel good. They are ant and bot flies eating carrion. There is a reason hyenas and crows give people the willies — it's because they look almost as "negative" as the actions they perform! But they are not bad for their actions. Their actions are part of the ecosystem.
With that being said, as much as we encourage severe and violent responses to oppression, we encourage the emergence of new energy. That is in part why our logo has a radish in it. We get in the dirt. We deal with the dirty of politics. We deal with decay and its disposal but also new life. We like the idea of saying something like, "You don't like the way of the centipede and mold? Alright — then what organisms are needed to make your goal happen? Know though, for as long as a system contains cruelty be prepared for us to start breaking that system down."
What is important above all else is outmaneuvering oppressors and eliminating oppression. The strategy towards this goal should neither be exhaustively violent nor non-violent. The strategy should be what TRULY works. As Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan note in their aforementioned book where it is argued that civil resistance WORKS, "[N]othing substitutes for strategic creativity and innovation in determining whether the opposition [to oppression] will carry the day."
We agree. Creatively innovating to carry the day. A diversity of tactics, if you will.
To the Editors of The Ground Up: I am new to The Ground Up. You contacted me for an interview based on my [organizing] history, and I gladly accepted. In scanning TGU, it was impossible to miss a statement which appears on the About page of your website in bold red: “We are also the only leftist publication that strongly believes in the efficacy of community-created violence against the state.” Supporting that proud statement is an epigraph from Paolo Freire on your homepage, [which reads,] “Never in history has violence been initiated by the oppressed. How could they be the initiators if they themselves are the result of violence?”
Consequently, I am deeply concerned about the implications of some of the views expressed in your [articles] and what appears to be [a] general support of violence both as a tactic and, even worse, as a strategy (though nowhere do I find any discussion of the distinction between the two).
Taking the Freire statement first, he’s right: mass pervasive violence of colonial and class systems comes before any violence initiated by the oppressed. I read that as an accurate philosophical and moral truth, but not as a guide for what to do.
Freire’s lifework was entirely nonviolent. He addressed the problem of popular education [on] critical thinking and action. The core of his methodology was helping oppressed people understand both the systemic nature of the violence that they are exposed to and the related fact that “culture” and the right to read appear to be reserved for the elites. Teaching the poor of Brazil how to read and how to think critically was the crime for which the military junta forced Freire into many years of exile. Presenting his observation out of [that] context of building a mass movement using consciousness raising, as you do, mangles the history. Maybe, you haven’t thought deeply enough about the “right to violence.”
Yes, there’s a right to violence in a rational sense. There’s a right for people to be angry and to express that anger. But the goal of successful liberation remains.
The phrase “community-created violence,” itself is problematic. Who constitutes a “community?” Very angry young men? Elders who have a more disciplined view? Small business owners protecting their property? Children whose overwhelming emotion is fear? You are taking the prerogative to define “the community” as anyone who agrees with you. Come on, you [have to] do better than that.
The goal of the oppressed, which should be everyone’s goal, is to abolish the system that produces violence. Fifty years ago, as a founder of the Weather Underground, I argued for the logic of revolutionary war — that it takes a small amount of violence to stop the larger violence. I was under the thrall of a slogan of the Black Power movement, “By any means necessary.” That slogan was a code word for violence, used exactly the same as today’s seemingly neutral and innocuous phrase “diversity of tactics.” (No wonder cops look for kids espousing “diversity of tactics” to infiltrate and set up to be busted).
I would probably still support revolutionary violence to this day on moral terms if, in fact, the small violence actually worked to stop the larger violence. But that isn’t the case, for a whole host of reasons. The reactive violence of the oppressed, no matter how righteous and justified you or I or anyone else might think it is, almost always works against the struggle for liberation.
“He who the gods would destroy they first make angry.”
For one thing, the state has infinitely more firepower than oppressed people. Our strategic strength is our numbers and our ability to withhold consensus. That’s the hidden power of nonviolence. Put another way, Chairman Mao was wrong: political power does not come out of the barrel of a gun. It comes from the consent of the governed. An excellent reference on this is Jonathan Schell’s “The Unconquerable World.”
Ultimately all change becomes a battle for public opinion and support: will the large majority of the American people support, say, the legitimate struggle of Black people to control police violence, or the legitimate struggle of Indigenous people to control their land and water and destiny?
Ordinary, nonpolitical people, of whom there are many, do not like violence; in fact, they justifiably fear it. The important exception is state violence, which they have been conditioned over many years to accept. To most people, including many of the oppressed, all violence which is not state sanctioned is either criminal or the result of mental illness.
What the government and the right well understand — which [the left] seems to have a hard time with — is that when it comes to violence, rational cause and effect, who starts it? and who reacts? is always confused and muddled. When the police attack, they always claim self-defense, even (especially) when they initiate the violence. And they usually get away with it. When the Chicago Police and the fbi murdered Fred Hampton and Mark Clark on Dec 4, 1969, they claimed that they were responding to shots fired from inside the apartment; though, anyone could plainly see the bullet holes on the door all came from outside. It took many years and an 18 month trial for the truth to come out.
Nonviolent strategy and tactics work because they allow the oppressed to claim the higher moral ground: [that is,] the government is responsible for all violence. Claiming morality not only attracts support, but it splits the enemy. [So] take the easy route: It’s very very hard, perhaps even impossible, to prove that violence is righteous (though it’s always self-righteous).
The repressive state forces and the far right work so hard to provoke violence because it justifies their violence. Trump has over the last years incessantly broadcast the danger of "Antifa" terrorism. Even the fbi agrees that there is no such organization, that it’s an ideology, a distinction that [nearly no one] understands. So, idiotic militia men in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at demonstrations at the state capitol, carry AR-15s to protect themselves from non-existent "Antifas" while gung-ho trumpist farmers in Iowa burn their own equipment claiming that Antifa did it. (I’m sure insurance paid). “Leftist terrorists” were the justification for federal police occupying downtown Portland during the Summer 2020 Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests, which allowed them to achieve their goal of provoking more violence.
Over the last year a consensus seems to have developed in the Movement for Black Lives organizing strategy that is completely nonviolent. Check out their latest webpage: it’s ninety nine percent tactics that feed a nonviolent strategy. But, unlike the classic Civil Rights Movement (1945-1965), they just don’t proclaim it. I guess [this difference] is a bone thrown to the faction which holds: (1) [that] the right to self-defense of the oppressed is sacred and anyone who limits that right is a racist; and (2) “violation of property should not be equated to violation of human life.”
I happen to agree that the second statement is true, yet it’s a tough one to swallow for a lot of americans. Again, we can skip the whole question just by not insisting on the principle, that is, by adopting nonviolent strategy. Why spend years trying to convince our neighbors that their property is not as important as their lives? Our goal is not to take their property, especially not that of the poor and middle class.
As for the right to self-defense, follow the lead of the classic civil rights movement: Keep the guns hidden. The Deacons for Defense didn’t carry guns around openly. Martin Luther King, Jr., had a gun in his house. Self-defense needs to be discreet because your self-defense is somebody else’s nightmare of fear or “terrorism.” Split the enemy, don’t unite them.
The Second Intifada in Palestine, with bombings, succeeded in reducing the Israeli Jewish peace movement from about twenty five percent of the population down to less than five percent. If that seems to you a great victory, you need to have your head examined. Split the enemy, don’t unite them in fear.
There’s a hell of a lot more to say about nonviolent strategy — such as the fact that nonviolent strategy allows ALL members of a community to participate, not just the usual (male, young) suspects. But I’ll end this letter with two reading references: one is anything by Gene Sharp, whose work inspired the resistance to Milosovich in Serbia and the militants of Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring. He explains why nonviolent strategy works and catalogs almost two hundred nonviolent tactics that work. His best known work, translated and used around the world, is “From Dictatorship to Democracy.”
Also study the work of Harvard scholar Erica Chenoweth; especially Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, written with her co-author, Maria J. Stephan. [These scholars] studied over 350 modern state political struggles. Among many important findings, they showed that nonviolent struggles succeeded at double the rate of violent. (Of course I’ve heard spurious attacks on both Chenoweth and Sharp from ultraleftists).
Thanks to the Editors of The GroundUp for your work and for giving me the opportunity to present a view contrary to yours. I appreciate almost all your posts, except one particular article, from back in June, 2019, “POC Militants Will Shut Down the Abuse of the usa,” which features two individuals from two organizations that openly claim to be implementing the right to violence, one calling itself a “Gun Club.” These two organizations have invited provocateurs and informants into their ranks. It’s an absolute certainty that they’re already there. That’s what the fbi and the rest of the repressive apparatus does. Infiltration and surveillance are not only legal, they’re the bread and butter of the intelligence machine. The epigrams which I cited at the beginning of this rant guarantee also to put The GroundUp and its readers under surveillance. Is that smart?
Anyway, thanks for staying with this.
I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org