The issue of non-violence is tricky, but proposals of violent revolution aren’t exactly clear cut either: in a way MLK was a better guide to non-violent tactics than Gandhi who was confused on many issues and whose efforts belie the real actions that brought Indian independence. Gandhi was basically a ‘westerner’ who adopted Indian costume change for political purposes and he made a complete botch of his non-violent tactics by using (not surprising in the Indian context) the Gita as a core text, one that explicitly preaches violence. The sermon of Krishna to Arjun was to fight. Gandhi was influenced by the unique Jains whose non-violence was perhaps his source of inspiration. A revolutionary socialist confronted with Gandhi’s nonviolence might just laugh in your face.Gandhi unwittingly unveils the religious grounds for violence, but, to be sure, in the context of the system of caste and Arjun in the warrior caste.
Maybe try your luck with Jesus? There again…?
MLK is the only one who really got somewhere here but his situation was different: the issue of race. He made the tactics work, a unique achievement. But civil rights struggles fight to make society live up to its own ideals, but just there constitution suffers its contradiction: equality and slavery in a hodgepodge. The moment you move to change a total system all hell breaks loose. Maybe non-violent tactics could work, though. But all the struggles for freedom and democracy used violent methods, e.g. the american revolution. And most of all the american Civil War. But over time the issue of violence has become worse and worse: after the first world war, about the time Gandhi emerges, disillusion was suddenly so great that the idea of non-violence began to emerge, and Gandhi picked it up. The machine gun began to emerge already in the Civil War, but by the time of the first world war the issue of violence had obviously changed, and then, beside the rise of terrorism, the realm of atomic weapons emerge to further horror.
But as the Civil War makes obvious, we can’t abandon our fellow man to slavery just to satisfy the moral luxury of saintly non-violence. After millennia of slavery a now or never point had arrived and the issue threatened the whole project of the modern world. But the american system was at the same step as the ancient greeks: go ahead and found democracy, even if slavery will persist. But in modern times that kind of thinking fell apart.
As we proceed to the issue of socialism we arrive at indeterminate zones of ethical undecidability. Any close look at the situation shows at once that not only will elites not budge, they will, as in Operation Condor in South America, as will the CIA, round up socialists, torture them to death, and murder all of them. Non-violence won’t work against capitalists, for one. But violence is a point of no return. In any case, the american Civil War is a grim warning to sentimental pacifists.
The point is that those who propose non-violence have yet to found their reasoning in a way that is conclusive.
The continued Sanders movement deserves our support but we will continue at the same time to use a more classic definition which (perhaps) includes options of violence. The legacy of democratic and socialist social change is not one of Gandhian non-violence which passed into the MLK civil rights movement: the latter is a classic case where such tactics actually worked. But taking on global capitalism is another matter. The attempt to sanitize the term socialism won’t work but can lead to a useful movement of social democracy. If they use the term socialism, then noone controls the term. But the Sanders people have only themselves to blame if they are taken as revolutionary socialists who might adopt violent means, as did the american rebs at the dawn of democracy. Sanders has always been a puzzle here, but maybe answer is right in front of us: He talked with double entendre deliberately. In any case the revolutionary wing can’t be given sermons on method by reformists, but debate is great…
The dawn of democracy has always involved violent conflict: the English Civil War killed proportionately as many people as the First World War. Let’s hope the a future socialism is not so
I have been rehashing the Bernie Sanders/socialism issue for five years on two blogs, and at this point am sick of it. Radicals are in danger of losing the use of the term ‘socialism’. But then again, maybe not. We can simply do to the Berniacs what they did to socialists: if they use the term socialism then we assume that violent revolutionary options are within semantic range and that their fancy foot work on reformism is possibly a bluff. Use of the term ‘jacobin’ is also an ongoing muddle. The term was said to originally refer, at the magazine, to the Black Jacobins of Haiti, fascinating. But as is the term refers to the folks who lopped off the heads of the berniacs in the French Rev’s, and I guess that includes Bhaskar and Megan Day, ‘a far far better thing’ I do than…
All this said I have always gearshifted into support of the reformists and take their use of the term socialism as cunning and ultimately a revolutionary indication. It is hard to see how revolutionary options can be realized, but in reality the same seems true of reformism. FDR did not use the term socialism. So if Sanders is to the right of FDR then jargon has become dysfunctional.
We should be ready with many options and the current crisis in the US shows we don’t foment revolutions: they seem to foment themselves.
A revolutionary left should have been ready at this point, including even with a reformist platform. The american system is probably beyond reform, and we seem to be gearing up in a dress rehearsal for an endgame. But does the left have any platform at this point?