Ljubodrag Simonović: Revolutionary violence
The notion of violence has a historical nature. In modern times, it is determined according to the basic human and civil rights, proclaimed in the French Revolution, which form the basis of modern humanism. Concretely, the nature of the ruling order conditions the nature of the prevailing violence. In liberal capitalism, the prevailing violence was based on the principle bellum omnium contra omnes. In monopolistic capitalism, the prevailing violence is based on the principle “Destroy the competition!”. It is not characterized by a struggle between citizens, who are reduced to atomized private subjects, but by a struggle between gigantic corporations. The prevailing contemporary violence results from capitalism as a totalitarian destructive order.
From the historical point of view, violence has an emancipatory dimension. Departing from the American and French Revolutions, Marx came to the conclusion that “violence is the midwife of history”. From the onset of capitalism, bourgeois theorists insisted on the right to combat the prevailing violence, including the armed struggle. Locke and Kant share the view that free citizens not only have the right to oppose the violence threatening their freedoms, but that the opposition to violence is their most important civic duty. For Njegos, “to place a foot upon tyranny’s neck, this is the most sacred of man’s duties”. Following in the footsteps of this emancipatory legacy, Lenin put forward a theory of ”unjust” (conquering) and “just” (liberating) wars. According to Marx, violence in a proletarian revolution is not the aim, but the means for doing away with capitalist tyranny. With the development of political institutions, revolutionary violence has become one of the available means for abolishing capitalism. Engels’ insistence on a ”dictatorship of the proletariat” is meaningless, because, after a (true) socialist revolution, classes will no longer exist, and there will only be free people whose livelihoods will derive from their own work.
In the contemporary world, the violence directed towards the capitalist order and contemporary imperialism is referred to as “terrorism”. Following the class and the colonial principles, the ideologues of capitalism do not make a distinction between the struggle for freedom and terrorism; more precisely, they equate the workers’ struggle against capitalism and the struggle of oppressed peoples against imperialism with “terrorism”. In conquered countries, colonial masters refer to those who fight against the colonial yoke as “bandits”, “murderers”, “thugs”… The notion of “terrorism” comprises all traditional qualities of fighters against the class order and colonialism. At the same time, it also involves the spontaneous opposition of enraged young people to the capitalist order, which has deprived them of their future.
It is not “terrorism” when capitalists, guided by greed, cause accidents in nuclear power plants, with lethal consequences to the living world; when they start thousands of fires in the Brazilian jungles every single day; when they contaminate the soil and water with poisonous heavy metals dropped from aircraft; when they empty thousands of nuclear waste containers into the oceans every single day and contaminate the seas and the coastlands with oil, killing millions of animals; when they burn entire towns with phosphorus bombs and contaminate rivers and the earth with projectiles tipped with depleted uranium; when, thanks to economic fascism, they force people to produce and consume contaminated food and genetically modified crops; when they fire millions of people from work and force women to undergo sterilization in order to get a job; when the most developed capitalist countries, through economic measures and political and military pressures, destroy the economies of less developed countries, causing suffering and death to tens of millions of children; when people are pushed into debt-slavery and deprived of their basic human and civil rights; when American capitalists provoke wars and create a war hysteria in order to ensure the survival of the American military industry; when the CIA forms terrorist groups to incite civil wars and destroy existing states … However, it is “terrorism” when a group of dissatisfied young people from the Parisian suburbs, who live on the margins of society, smash the windows of limousines or of the shops in posh areas, or throw stones at armored police vehicles and heavily armed police forces, who protect the ruling order, which creates social poverty and destroys life on Earth.
Capitalism is opposed to the emancipatory legacy of bourgeois society and produces forms of political struggle with a destructive character. Contemporary “terrorism” is a capitalistically degenerated struggle against capitalism, namely, a destructive violence that uses the capitalist means and methods and thus further intensifies the process of destruction. It is a manifestation of the ruling spirit of destructive capitalist irrationalism. It does not seek to create a new world, but to destroy the existing one. That is the basic difference between a revolutionary struggle and terrorist acts. Terrorism is not marked by a visionary consciousness, but by fanaticism, as a result of the increasingly ruthless destruction of entire nations by the most powerful capitalist corporations.
The ever-deeper existential crisis in the world creates conditions for the development of religious fanaticism, with a fatalistic and destructive character. For fanatics, who glorify an illusory world “in the heavens”, this world is but a springboard for their departure into “eternity”. By killing the “infidels”, they acquire their tickets for “The Pearly Gates”. Terrorism, under the veil of religious fanaticism, is based on anti-existential nihilism. However, only a naive person can believe that the eradication of religion would bring the eradication of violence. Over 99% of young “terrorists” have not read a single religious book, a fact Michel Onfray, in his “Atheist Manifesto”, claims is the source of their violent behavior. At the same time, the main “spiritual sustenance” for almost all “terrorists” in the West is the products of the capitalist entertainment industry: Hollywood films, “video games” and sports, where violence acquires a spectacular dimension. Onfray “overlooks” the most important point: young people’s violence results from their positions in society and the nature of the ruling order. It is the consequence of reducing young people, particularly those living in ghettos, to “hooliganism”. Onfray’s intention is clear: by shifting the responsibility to religion, he relieves the ruling capitalist order of any responsibility for the increasing violence in society. At the same time, he does not see the difference between the violent character and the violent consciousness. He also does not make any distinction between the violence of the young, who just mimic the model behavior, and the violence used to express dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. The destructive behavior of the young is a capitalistically degenerated expression of their justified dissatisfaction with their life and the world in which they live. Just as do existing religions, Onfray conceals the true nature of monopolistic capitalism and resorts to an “anthropological argument”, which holds man at the social-Darwinist level that characterizes liberal capitalism. Onfray: “The primitive still exists in the post-modern, the animal still endures in man, the beast still lives in homo sapiens …” (30)
It does not occur to Onfray to show that rather than opposing the violence, the state and the legal system, as well as other institutions of capitalist society, are regulatory mechanisms of capitalism as a violent (destructive) order. A typical example is the rules of fair play in sport. The “violence in sport” involves behavior that crosses the established limits of a “sporting fight”. It is not considered violence if a boxer, “in a proper manner”, kills his “opponent” by hitting him in the head, but it is considered violence if he kicks his bottom. In the first case, he will be declared “champion”; in the second case, he will be disqualified. Violence is not the behavior that threatens man’s freedom and life, but it does threaten the ruling order. Sport is the best promoter of destructive violence and, as such, is a call to violence. “Top sportsmen”, who use the worst forms of destructive violence, have become the “idols” of the young. Sport destroys interpersonal relations based on solidarity, as well as visionary consciousness, drawing the young into the world of capitalist values. It is no accident that sport is the dearest child of capitalism.
The “war on terrorism” is just an ideological mask used by American imperialism and resembles the Nazi “struggle against Judeo-bolshevism”, which was used as a cover for annihilating the Jews and the Slavs and conquering a “living space” (Lebensraum) for German capital. It is an excuse for establishing a “new world order” based on American imperialism. Those who terrorize the world, under the pretext of a “war on terrorism”, seek to do away with anyone who can stop their endeavors to turn the world into a concentration camp. The “fight against terrorism” is, actually, the fight by the West to acquire a monopoly on violence, which means that terror would become the exclusive means by which the West will rule the world. The “protection against terrorism” that they offer is a sort of mafia racket: those who do not accept the steel embrace of the “world police” shall be subjected to horrendous terror. “Global terrorism” is becoming the “main threat to humankind” – this slogan is repeated over and over again by the proponents of American policies all over the world, who try to ingratiate themselves to their masters. The relation towards terrorism reveals the true ambitions and reach of American politics: the “fight against terrorism” does not have anything to do with forming a new block or with any ideology, it has a global and anti-existential character. At the same time, capitalists in the most developed Western countries use controlled media to spread existential panic so that citizens will unquestioningly accept their “protection against the terrorist threat”, which means being deprived of their basic civil and human rights. This is a totalitarian “integration of society” dominated by the most reactionary political forces. Tens of millions of cameras, wiretaps, micro-chips implanted in citizens, similarly to dog chipping and cattle branding, unwarranted intrusions, kidnapping, torture, “silent” liquidations, total control over the media, deployment of special military units in cities, erection of concentration camps…. The “fight against terrorism” is, actually, the form in which capitalists carry out an open dictatorship.
Ecocide is the most detrimental form of capitalist terror. This type of violence has an annihilating character. “Consumer society” is the highest stage in the development of capitalism as an ecocidal order. In the “consumer” stage of development, destructive potential of capitalism has reached the metastasis and capitalism has turned into a totalitarian destructive order. Each segment of social life and each segment of nature are subjected to the destructive process of capitalist reproduction. Actually, life itself, conditioned by capitalism, has become terror over people. When life itself became a terror, then any attempt to define terror at the normative level and to regulate it legally becomes meaningless.
The view of Oskar Negt that “time for going to the barricades has passed” only contributes to the depoliticization of the oppressed working people at a time when capitalism has entered the last stage of its combat with life on the planet, and when, consequently, the fight against capitalism has become an existential imperative. In Negt, instead of a critique of capitalism and the forms of political struggle against capitalism being conditioned by the trends in its development, capitalism is conditioned by an “enlightening” (pacifistic) political option. In that context, the discussion ignores all questions about the true (destructive) nature of capitalism, addressing only those questions that do not devalue the given political option. Concretely, workers and their children should be “taught democracy”. Ultimately, the primary concern of Negt’s concept is not to question the economic and political stability of Germany, which means that workers should not start an open class struggle. In practicality, his option serves to preserve the capitalist order with its “bearable” exploitation of workers and the “welfare state” that enables the unemployed to keep from starving and maintains “social peace”. Workers’ political struggle has been abolished, while their “class struggle” is reduced to the struggle of trade unions, whose aim is to sell their labor at the highest price. It is a typical social-democratic option, which at the time of the Weimar Republic enabled Hitler to come to power, whereas today it enables capitalists to destroy nature and threatens the biological survival of European nations and the emancipatory potential of civil society.
Capitalism as a destructive totalitarian order and, consequently, as destructive of the emancipatory legacy of bourgeois society and man as a humane and biological being, must be the starting point in a critique of capitalism and the political struggle against capitalism. Criticism of capitalism cannot start from a political analysis of possible social developments. Such an approach is unacceptable not only for reasons of truth, but, above all, for existential reasons. Notwithstanding a possible action at a particular political moment, a critique of capitalism must start from the nature of capitalism. The “storming of the barricades” is not a product of the “voluntarism of a radical political consciousness” (Negt); it is rather the result of the increasingly dramatic capitalist destruction of life, and is a legitimate form of political struggle against capitalism. Without the willingness of the working class to stand at the barricades, all other political options are nothing but a political clamor, which cannot produce any essential changes. The militarization of the working class and the young that results from the struggle for survival and is based on the humanist visionary consciousness is of utmost existential significance. Instead of a pacifistic upbringing, the young people should develop the will to fight against capitalism and to create a humane world. Considering the fact that the economic crisis of capitalism is affecting an increasing number of people, leading to the biological demise of peoples living in the most advanced capitalist states, the “postponement” of a radical political option can result in a “political climate” that can give rise to a new fascism. At the same time, without political organization and the political engagement of workers on a daily basis, storming the barricades cannot have a true revolutionary, which means a visionary character, but just a rebellious and destructive one. A revolutionary fight is not only a fight against the ruling order, but also a fight for a humane world.
The notion of revolutionary violence should be determined by the principle that concrete humanity can be reached relative to concrete inhumanity. In other words, the nature of capitalism as a totalitarian destructive order conditions the nature of the struggle against capitalism. If we ignore that, advocating “humanism” becomes an empty “humanistic” rhetoric. In the contemporary world, the concept of violence exceeds the framework of morality and politics and appears in the existential sphere. The humanistic ideals of modern society, which were affirmed in the French Revolution, can no longer be the starting point in the fight against capitalism. Also, a contemporary criticism of capitalist violence cannot be limited to class and human relations, but must consider the survival of humankind. Capitalist inhumanity has an anti-existential character. Hence, contemporary humanism cannot only have a libertarian, but, above all, must have an existential nature. As a destructive totalitarian order, capitalism has given a new quality to the development of society: the possibility of man’s concrete freedom no longer appears in relation to slavery, but in relation to the ever more realistic possibility of global annihilation. The fight for man’s freedom has become the fight for the survival of humankind.
Capitalism brought humankind to the edge of the abyss and thus abolished the space for political games intended to buy time for capitalism. The increasingly ruthless destruction of life compels man to make his best efforts to prevent global destruction. That man is the victim of capitalism can also be seen from the fact that capitalism forces him to use, in his struggle for survival, the means which are alien to his humanity, as well as to the vision of a humane society. The increasingly dramatic destruction of the world means that revolutionary violence is becoming less and less an ethical issue and more and more an existential issue of primary importance.
On the last historical battlefield there remain only two mortal combatants: capitalism and humankind. Capitalism has long been waging an all-out war of annihilation against humanity. It is about time to start a total war against capitalism, which involves the use of all forms of struggle that can contribute to its final destruction.
Translated from Serbian by Vesna Todorović
English translation supervisor, Mick Collins
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