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Against Bourgeois Pacifism
by Wade Rawluk, Bronx Greens
The pacifism of the bourgeois pacifist is the illusion behind which the violence of the bourgeoisie stands. Yet the bourgeois pacifist cannot see this violence. The conscious action of the libertarian socialist is the force which smashes this illusion and allows the people to overcome the violence which the state and capital generate through their very existence. The bourgeois pacifist believes that all conflict can be ended through moral force and forms of nonviolent activism that do not go beyond the bounds set by capitalist norms.
When the bourgeois pacifist opposes the state one of three strategies is usually chosen. In the first strategy the bourgeois pacifist accepts the bourgeois state and only wishes to make it obey his moral norms. Such a quest is quixotic since it does not understand that the capitalist state uses violence to promote the interests of the ruling class. The second strategy involves the attempt to abolish the capitalist state without arming the working class. No matter how successful such nonviolent tactics may be at first, if people are not ready to defend themselves by force of arms the armed power of the capitalist class will defeat them before or after a postcapitalist order is established. The third strategy involves establishing communities whose social relations are noncapitalist without challenging the existence of the state. No matter how attractive the new order is, the state will ultimately have power over these unarmed communities and as a result these utopian communities will not be able to displace the power of the capitalist state.
But what if the bourgeois pacifists win power by becoming part of the capitalist state structure? In such a case the use of the bourgeois electoral system is not one in which the running of candidates enables one to build worker, community and armed forces councils as an alternative libertarian socialist government. One begins to use the capitalist state structures as a means to eliminate imperialist war. Such reformism is a crossing of class lines for any libertarian socialist since it involves an acceptance of the capitalist state as a morally good end in itself, not just a means. The abolishment of the state ceases to be a practical end and the internal logic of capital begins to unconsciously guide the hands of such revisionist "Greens."
The bourgeois pacifist believes that all conflict can be ended through moral force and forms of nonviolent activism that do not go beyond the bounds set by capitalist norms.
Often there will be some pacifists who seek to abolish imperialist war by abolishing imperialist armies, without abolishing the imperialist state. When all the armies are abolished an international "police force" would keep violence from erupting again. But who, may we ask, is to be this police force? NATO intervenes in the Balkans in the name of peace. NATO wishes to expand its mission as a peacekeeping and anti-terrorist force beyond its borders. Is NATO this peace police? Is this use of NATO the means by which the turncoats in the Green Party wish to promote nonviolence internationally? If capitalism is the source of violence how can we end the violence when we are supporting the institutions of violence that the capitalists use to enforce their rule? The idea of an international force, consisting of imperialist troops to prevent war is as absurd as an imperialist war to end all wars. Such an international force does not eliminate the armed power of the capitalist state or eliminate all conflict. It does increase the power of the state to the nth degree.
The problem with bourgeois pacifism is that it confuses the suppression of social contradictions with the creation of conditions in which social contradictions can be expressed in a nonviolent way. We can see the differences in the approaches bourgeois pacifism and revolutionary libertarian socialism take to the questions of the interpretation of the second amendment to the US constitution on the domestic level and the question of imperialist war on the international level. The second amendment says "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Bourgeois statist ideology interprets the term "people" to mean the bourgeois state, while those who hold high the black banner of Bakunin-Kropotkin interpret the term "people" to be the working masses. When bourgeois pacifism tries to achieve its goals through practical activity, rather than through the changing of consciousness, it is inevitable that some organization which exists as a state, even if it calls itself by a different name, will be the entity that controls the means of defense. Since social contradictions cannot be suppressed, the response that nobody will have any means of defense is clearly seen to be an illusion based on a utopian dream. To keep "anyone" from having weapons one needs a state armed against the community it supposedly represents to keep people from possessing weapons. When the utopian dream is made concrete in the realm of practical activity, the dream quickly turns into a statist nightmare.
When one seeks to suppress social contradictions, especially those between different factions of the working class, one will seek to establish oneself in a "neutral" position above the combatants. When one seeks to eliminate the conditions which cause social contradictions to take a violent form one realizes that one is in one of the opposing camps in the class war. When one realizes that the opposed forces are the exploited class, whose victory ends the exploitation that exists as the cause of capital's need to rule through violence, and the exploiter class, which benefits from violence, one will be ethically compelled to support the exploited class and establish a society based on liberty and communism. In a free communist society contradictions are not based on the exploitation of one social group by another and thus the economic incentive for contradictions taking a violent form are greatly diminished.
The pacifist might think that allowing the masses rather than the state to create the militia would lead to unlimited violence. In reality, the opposite is the case. If one tries through practical activity to suppress contradictions on a domestic level by using the state, one might have the illusion that the state is a neutral force that mediates disputes between the people and when necessary uses this "militia," i.e. police or national guard, to suppress such disputes. In reality, the state can never be neutral. The bourgeois state uses its power of suppression as an instrument of the class whose exploitation causes the conditions for social conflict to become violent. Hence the "militia," by being in the hands of the bourgeois state encourages greater violence than a militia controlled by the workers.
The same is true on the international level. The imperialist forces of NATO see themselves to be the neutral power that exists above smaller warring powers. In reality, imperialism is not a neutral peacekeeper. Imperialism seeks to extend its dominion. Ultimately, it will take some side in the conflict it wishes to "mediate." Imperialism may oppose one of the warring parties by siding with the other or it could fight against both. Ultimately, imperialism will seek to dominate everyone and those who seem to be the beneficiaries of its actions will be as dominated as those whom imperialism openly opposes. Pacifism becomes the ideological rationale imperialism uses to justify its aggression. Yet pacifism, if it is to use practical activity to achieve its goals, must use violence to suppress social contradictions. It is shown in practice that simply trying to change people's consciousness does not bring about an end to war because the world, being a material world, can only be changed when practical activity is changed. It is not the changing of consciousness that by itself changes practical activity but it is the changing of practical activity that is reflected in the changing of the consciousness of those who are involved in such practical activity.
Pacifism becomes the ideological rationale imperialism uses to justify its aggression.
If pacifism is to be successful it must engage in the practical activity which can suppress social contradictions. Of course by doing so one simply gets oneself more deeply involved in these contradictions. The logical end of pacifism is, in the realm of practical activity on the domestic level, to arm and use the police against the people. On the international level NATO is armed and used against the peoples of the world when their governments do not support the imperialists. Of course one could hope that by teaching people how to meditate they would all eventually become enlightened and cease to engage in violence, regardless of the production relations that exist in the real society that people live in. In reality, this never works because one cannot use a change in consciousness to eliminate social contradictions. It is false to say that the key is to work hard and convince enough people to change their violent behavior through the changing of their consciousness. The question is a qualitative question of choosing between focusing on methods that change human social relations or focusing on methods of consciousness transformation that cannot change human social relations.
The problem with those who try to achieve pacifist goals through the changing of consciousness is that they base their whole program on the ideology of bourgeois individualism. The problem, as some might conceive it, is that people as individuals engage in violent action. Therefore, the solution is to change the activity of the individuals by changing their consciousness. But people do not exist as atomic individuals. They exist as social individuals and their activities toward one another are based on their activity as part of larger social groups whose unity is based on the material activity that they are commonly engaged in. Hence, to eliminate the causes of social violence one cannot simply change individuals. One must change social relations if the violence that arises from such negative social relations is to be stopped.
...to eliminate the causes of social violence one cannot simply change individuals. One must change social relations...
It is only when one tries to suppress contradictions through the means of practical activity that the results of the attempted suppression can be universal and complete. Yet the attempt to change the practical activity of man as a means of suppressing contradictions only produces the opposite of pacifist aims. One would have to establish a force that would suppress social contradictions. This inevitably involves the use of violence. Police violence is the domestic result and imperialist war is the international result of such practical activity. When one tries to suppress contradictions through changing consciousness the attempted suppression will fail. The first reason for this is the fact that the attempted change in consciousness only affects individuals psychologically and does not change social relations. The second reason is that relatively few individuals ever are willing to change themselves by transforming their consciousness. The attempt to change consciousness as a means of suppressing social contradictions can only succeed in having a few individuals personally live according to pacifist norms.
If the goal of suppressing social contradictions through the individual transformation of consciousness cannot be universally achieved then the goal cannot be said to have been successfully achieved. A society with only half its population at war is still a society at war. It is not surprising that, frustrated with the tactic of changing consciousness as a means of achieving the suppression of social contradiction, the bloody tactic of changing the practical activity of man is chosen instead. But this causes the attempt to achieve such a suppression of contradiction to become its opposite because such an attempt necessitates the use of force.
The libertarian socialist does not pretend to abolish all forms of conflict for all time. The idea of ending all forms of conflict is an example of the most dangerous form of utopianism, which is dangerous precisely because such an idea becomes its opposite by being put into practice. This is a hard but necessary truth to learn. The libertarian socialist is not so naive as to believe the dangerous utopian myth of a world without contradiction. Such a myth is an example of the worst form of metaphysical thinking. But the libertarian socialist knows that with the abolishment of the state and capital the underlying reasons driving imperialism's historically unusual propensity to go to war will be done away with. With the economic compulsion behind capitalist war gone it will be easier for communities in a libertarian socialist world to resolve their contradictions and conflicts without having those conflicts become war.
Peace on the basis of the cosmopolitan concept of a united world without regard to the question of class is an idea which when it is adopted by the peace movement tends to harm the cause of the proletariat. In what is such cosmopolitan unity to be found? Usually it is in the idea of humanity as a species being or in some religious idea. Such a mystified idea is nothing but a mask for bourgeois interests. Which ideology shall cosmopolitan humanity unite around? It is quite likely that the battle to determine what quack ideology man is supposed to unify around to prevent war will in fact initiate further wars.
Thus it is not a cosmopolitan attempt to base social unity on the ideal of a humanity that transcends classes but the revolutionary attempt to abolish class divided society which unifies people.
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