“Whether the State is called monarchy or republic, crime will always be necessary to maintain and assure its triumph. This crime will no doubt change its direction and object, but its nature will remain the same. It will always be the forced and abiding violation of justice and of honesty – for the good of the State”. – Mikhail Bakunin
This piece was prompted by reading Eric Laursens’ The Duty to Stand Aside, a study of the dialogue that took place during WW2 between George Orwell and anarchist-pacifist Alex Comfort. Orwell argued that after a point the only way of defeating Nazism was supporting the Allies in the effort and that pacifism at this point practically meant taking a pro-Nazi stance. Comfort on the other hand thought the task of the intellectuals, even at that time was to bring to light the crimes that the Allies (“our side”) were committing and to oppose this militarization of society and fighting the spread of Nazi’s by supporting the local militias and not through formal soldiers engaging in battles. The debate continued till Orwell’s death, years after the war had formally ended. And answering the agonizing questions of the role of intellectuals, peace activists and the society of the nation engaged in organized violence are still as urgent as they were 60 years ago.
I consider myself to be a pacifist with a “p” and not a “P”. I think pacifism is derived from a genuine moral value and a value that all anarchists share, that conflicts should not be resolved through violent means. That all forms of violence in an unequal society serves the interests of the powerful and that a believe that conflicts can be resolved through means of force will ultimately lead to new forms of despotism or strengthen the old. But, i realize that this is one of the many moral values that anarchists and all humans share and in the reality values are often at conflict. And if by standing firmly for one value we forsake other (a position with capital “P”) – say, the value of human life, which might in a particular circumstance be only protected through some violent means then, it is nothing more than a selfish act that makes us feel good.
These, then, are some of my thoughts on a rational and pacifist position on question of violence:
1. Structural Pacifism: Violence, more often then not, is a means of maintaining violence. The power system establishing, maintaining and expanding itself by means of force (and “engineering of consent”.) Lets take states, they are by definition organization and concentration of violence in a society. They is justified and legitimized by images of a chaotic stateless society, where people cannot organize production, distribute services and goods and maintain welfare for all. So, a Leviathan is needed. This state then, through institution of violence and its threat creates a straitjacket for maintenance of its power and power of private capital. Through this imagined fear of chaos a very real violence of poverty and control is established that further creates alienation and aggression. Any serious pacifist cannot ignore these facts. The long term goal and vision of all pacifists must be a creation of society which is not based on inequalities, violence as a means of social regulation and conflict resolution. That means a society without the state, the caste system, capitalism, military and other structural forms of violence.
2. Particular instances of necessary criminality: Outside philosophy conference rooms and in a world of real consequences for real human beings there is no question of “should we oppose violence”? There is only the following questions:
a. In the particular context are the purported reasons for using violent means correct and justified? Driven by what (vulgarized) value?
b. Is some form of violence the only possible means through which the justified end result is sought?
c. Is the current form of violence the only possible form that can attain the results?
There are also questions like, what structural conditions have led us to a situation where we need some form of force to achieve this goal?
Even the most radical anarchist or pacifist regularly participate in the institutions of structural violence, for example, reporting robbery of your motorbike to a cop or purchasing an mobile phone. The value of being able to communicate with friends and colleagues in this particular case outweighs the value of not engaging in capitalist violence. The same principles applies in many other conflicts.
Within the current society, we have to survive, try to achieve a good life and struggle to build a new society by creating alternative structure of self management. And in order to survive, struggle and organize we might at time use these very institutions, at time critically justify them for particular cases and at times defy them when they are in absolute contradiction to humanity, our wellbeing and survival – we have a duty to resist unjust laws and “just laws” being used unjustly.
In last few years, USA has withdrawn its support for Kurdish fighters who defeated ISIS in northern Syria. (Kurdish militias picking up arms was itself a largely justified act in face of barbarism of Daesh.) People like Noam Chomsky have argued that non-combatant USA troops should stay in the region and help the Kurdish forces. This is seen as a support for NATO and American imperialism by many commentators on the left.
Kurds beings dependent on US military for technical and air support is sign of a structural problem. But within this structural problem this particularly less lethal form of military assistance was essential for the Kurds who were threatened by being crushed by the Turkish forces.
This being said, it is important to note that such conditions where violence from powerful institutions like state can be a means for a peaceful end are extremely rare. In almost all cases, the seizing of state violence and opening up channels of dialogue would considerably eliminate violence on the planet – and the threat of nuclear annihilation.
In Kashmir, it is very clear that the ongoing counter-insurgency operations will not end violence of pro-independence groups, or bring peace and prosperity to the valley. It is a tactic of brutally crushing the people of Kashmir. The Doval doctrine, which was described in 2010 by the current NSA to be:
“Don’t overreact, don’t give in, don’t follow appeasement, it [2010 protests] will pass off. It looks big in the midst of it, they cannot sustain it beyond a point and even if they do there is a price that they have to pay.” “In the game of power the ultimate justice lies with the one who is strong”.
The ethos of the State.
The violence in Kashmir is not a military issue, it is a political issue and a matter of grievances and political alienation of the betrayed and tortured people of the land. Like the Kurdish militants and any violent Independence struggle there is some justification for armed rebellion in Kashmir, this time against the barbarism of Indian state. And it will easily loose its traction and popular support if the Indian occupation ends. (And if not, there is a threat of further militarization of the Kashmiri society like the Adivasis in parts of active Naxal insurgency.) There will be many questions to resolve in the process, only possible through resolving the political problem and holding a plebiscite. There will also be the questions of “Pakistani aggression” in the region that can be solved with trilateral dialogues and confidence building and economic collaborations. But this much is clear, there is no justification either for the ends or the means that India seeks in Kashmir.
Coming back to the Orwell-Comfort dialogue, I believe Orwell was right in that after a point in the events of WW2 it was necessary for Allies to engage militarily. But Comfort was also right in that the duty of intellectuals and activists still lies on exposing the lies and fabrications of their own states to examine whether the purported threats are real, and are the means uses are proportionate and if there are nonviolent and more democratic alternatives available and at the same time recording the crimes of our side in hope for some justice or for same uncertain reason that Winston Smith started writing his diary.
To a large extent, these questions will remain intangible if there is no peace and disarmament movement tied with other popular struggles to make any pacifism and anti-militarism a reality.