Revolutionary violence is a concept that brings to mind images of death, terror, and chaos. Across the political spectrum in contemporary America, reformism is lauded as the better and more reasonable alternative to revolutionary action against the system. The typical reformist question is why take the drastic step of overthrowing the current order when we could just pursue incremental change? Sure, the system may not be perfect but it has given us comfortable lives, so why even consider revolutionary action as a necessary or desirable step? The problem with this typical liberal argument for the democratic capitalist system is that it allows for a much more insidious form of violence than the revolutionary ideals that it condemns.
Because the idea of revolutionary action against the system is outside of mainstream thought, it is easy to demonize it as a horrific form of violence. But the genius of the capitalist system is that the violence it is fueled by is invisible to those of us in privileged positions. We are free to live our lives in blissful ignorance of the exploitative nature of global economics. While civilians are murdered by American drone strikes and third world nations are plundered for their resources by parasitic multinational corporations, well-behaved reformists in the first world are free to feel good about their efforts to enact gradual change. While we debate politics, we don’t have to think about children working in conditions of slave labor to create the clothes that we are wearing. It is catastrophically problematic to condemn revolutionary ideals because of their violent nature while continuing to exist in a system that relies on an inherent violence that is no less real for being hidden.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, the entire world is affected by the violence of capitalism. The alliance of first world states, banks, and corporations has a clear stranglehold on the global economy. Because of the system that has supposedly done so much good for the world, a large amount the global population lacks basic amenities and lives on less than two dollars a day. The predatory nature of capitalist economics leaves the third world with an ever increasing debt while first world corporations drain them of their resources. As evidenced by recent American military efforts in the Middle-East, the neoliberal global empire is not opposed to utilizing military violence when economic violence fails to get the job done. Giving capitalism the credit for technological and social advances (itself a dubious claim) while ignoring the horrors of its effects is an act more violent than anything called for by advocates of Marxism or anarchism.
What lies before us is not a choice between violence and non-violence but a choice between violence of the system or violence against the system. By violence against the system, I am not referring solely to physical violence but to any actions that do not allow the system to continue functioning. While I do believe that calls for absolute non-violence mean very little when coming from positions of privilege I am not excluding non-violent options from revolutionary ideals. I have used violent fictitious characters such as V and Bane as revolutionary icons because I believe they represent a call to action that can threaten our complacency and inspire us to truly say no to an unjust system.
The reformist’s simultaneous call to stand against the injustice of the system and plea to leave the system intact amounts to little more than ethical masturbation. A truly honest look at the world requires considering all kinds of violence, not just what threatens our comfortable lives. Gradual reform is not a tenable option to those wishing to stand against the injustice of the capitalist empire. This system cannot be repaired. Whether we are pacifists or revolutionaries or both, those who long for a new world must be prepared to create it here and now.
-Thomas Millary,Contributing Writer