5. The Question of Violence

Against Domestication 5.

The Question of Violence

The movement which developed among the lycée students was an assertion of the communist revolution in its human dimension. The students took up the question of violence (though perhaps not in its full scope) in their refusal of the army, refusal of military service and refusal of the universal right to kill. By contrast, the groupscules of the left and extreme left, but not the anarchists, preach about the necessity of learning to kill because they think they can make death "rebound" on capital. But none of them (and this is particularly true of the most extreme elements) ever take into account the fact that they are suggesting the necessity of destroying human beings in order to accomplish this revolution. How can you celebrate a revolution with a rifle butt ? To accept the army for one reason, whatever it may be, is to strengthen the oppressive structure at every level. Any kind of argument on this subject serves only to reinstate the despotism of repressive consciousness, according to which people must repress the desire to not kill because killing will be required of them at some stage in the future. (And indeed some people are known to actually rejoice in this prospect). Repressive consciousness forces me to be inhuman under the pretext that on a day decreed by some theoretical destiny, I will at last metamorphosize into a human being.

[The various left and extreme left currents] try to ensure that there is no convergence between the "bourgeois" desire to see military service abolished and the libertarian pacifism which underlies conscientious objection, something that is always more or less latent among the young. (T. Pfistner, Le Monde, 27 Mar '73)

Violence is a fact of life in present day society; the question now is how that violence can be destroyed. Revolution unleashes violence, but it has to be under our control and direction; it cannot be allowed to operate blindly, and it certainly cannot be glorified and widened in its field of action. Statements like this may sound reasonable enough, but they aren't particularly helpful unless we go on to consider more precisely the actual nature of violence, which is determined in the first instance by its object : thus violence directed against the capitalist system should be praised and encouraged, but not violence against people. But the capitalist system is represented by people, and it is these people who will often be overtaken by violence. This is where the question of the limitation of violence becomes relevant; if it is not raised, we are still living according to the prescriptions of capital. Granted that capital's despotism is maintained through generalized violence against people, it is also a fact that it can only achieve this domination over people by first putting them in opposition to one another and then allotting them different roles. When conflicts occur, each side then represents the other as non-human (which is how the Americans saw the Vietnamese). If human beings are to be destroyed, they must first be despoiled of their humanity. And so if, during the revolutionary struggle people choose to proceed according to this view, are they not simply imitating the methods used by the capitalists, and thus furthering the destruction of human beings ?

So we might ask what the leftists are playing at when they theorize about the destruction of the dominant class (rather than what supports it), or of the cops ("the only good cop is a dead one") ? One can make the equation CRS=SS [15] on the level of a slogan, because that accurately represents the reality of the two roles, but it does not justify the destruction of the people involved -- for two reasons. Firstly, it effectively rules out the possibility of undermining the police force. When the police feel they are reduced to the status of sub-humans, they themselves go into a kind of revolt against the young people in order to affirm a humanity which is denied to them, and in so doing they are therefore not simply playing the part of killing/ repression machines. Secondly, every riot cop and every other kind of cop is still a person. Each one is a person with a definite role like everyone else. It is dangerous to delegate all inhumanity to one part of the social whole, and all humanity to another. There is no question here of preaching non-violence, [16] but rather of defining precisely what violence must be exercised and to what purpose. In this connection, the following points should make the position clearer : firstly, all stereotypes and functions must be revealed for what they are -- roles imposed on us by capital; secondly, we must reject the theory which postulates that all those individuals who defend capital should simply be destroyed; thirdly, we cannot make exceptions on the ground that certain people are not free, that it is "the system" which produces both cops and revolutionaries alike. If this were correct, the logical conclusion would be either a position of non-violence, or a situation where human beings become reduced to automatons which would then justify every kind of violence against them. If right from the outset certain people are denied all possibility of humanity, how can they subsequently be expected to emerge as real human beings ? So it is as human beings that they must be confronted. Now though the majority of people think in terms of the radical solution provided by class society -- i.e., repress your opponents -- even in this form the revolution would assert itself according to its true nature, namely that it is human. When the conflict comes, as it inevitably will, there should be no attempt to reduce the various individuals who defend capital to the level of "bestial" or mechanical adversaries; they have to be put in the context of their humanity, for humanity is what they too know they are a part of and are potentially able to find again. In this sense the conflict takes on intellectual and spiritual dimensions. The representations which justify an individual person's defence of capital must be revealed and demystified; people in this situation must become aware of contradiction, and doubts should arise in their minds.

Terrorism also has to be viewed in this perspective. It is not sufficient just to denounce it as abhorrent. Those who accept terrorism have capitulated before the power of capital. Terrorism is concerned with more than just the destruction of some people : it is also an appeal to death in order to raise up a hypothetical revolt. That aspect should be fairly noted, without condemnation or approval, but it must be rejected as a plan of action. Terrorism implies that the "wall" (the proletariat and its representation) is an impassable and indestructible barrier. Terrorism has admitted defeat, and all the recent examples of it are sufficient proof of this.

We must recognize that the crushing domination of capital affects everyone without exception. Particular groupings cannot be designated as "the elect", exempt from and unmarked by capital's despotism. The revolutionary struggle is a human struggle, and it must recognize in every person the possibility of humanity. Amid the conflict with the racketeers in their groupscules, the "capitalists" and the police in all their forms, each individual must be violent with him/herself in order to reject, as outside themselves the domestication of capital and all its comfortable self-validating "explanations".


[15] The CRS are the para-military riot police. In May 1979 a new variation on the old slogan appeared when the trotskyists of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionaire (LCR) joined forces with the stalinists and the CRS in the violent repression directed against the "autonomes" during the demonstrations in Paris by the steel workers from Longwy and Denain : LCR=CRS, or LCRS. [translator's note]

[16] Non-violence is itself just an insidious hypocritical form of violence, a sign of certain people's inability to stand up for themselves as human beings.