La Gauche Prolétarienne 1972

Communism and Violence

By Tiennot Grumbach

Source: En Cherchant l’Unité de la Politique at la Vie. In Les Temps Modernes, No. 307, February 1972;
Translated: for by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2009.

Violence doesn’t guarantee the course of the revolution, nor is the absence of violence a criterion for judging the reformist or pacifist character of an action. The seizure of power in Czechoslovakia in 1947 was carried out through a violent process, yet without the spilling of blood. But the people weren’t the true actors in the story. The Cuban revolution was born in the cradle of the attack on the Moncada barracks and in the Sierra Maestra, but this doesn’t prevent the “Comandante” from having ambiguous positions concerning the current struggles in Latin America. The violent actions of the merchants of Livorno, and that of the farmers in the Southwest against the importing of wine from Algeria, are not necessarily the bearers of the development of revolutionary consciousness in these strata of the people. From Clausewitz to Mao we know that war is the continuation of politics by other means, and it is true that since 1968 we have entered a period of “cold civil war” in many imperialist countries. As Marx predicted, we can see that society is every day more profoundly divided into two great camps, that of the bourgeoisie and that of the proletariat. In fact, it a matter of two political camps, and not of camps defined simply by economic and social criteria. The proletarian functions aren’t solely borne by the working class. The civil war that will grow from this will be modified by it. We must define the policies of these two great camps and even define them by taking as our basis the practice of struggle. Violence, like war, can only be the continuation of a clear policy. The Red Army doesn’t make war for war’s sake, but with the goal of carrying out propaganda among the masses. But what propaganda, what line, in what relationship with the masses? Violent actions must be legitimate in the eyes of the people. The violence of the masses themselves, in their struggles, is always legitimate. It is the expression of the radicality of the contradictions in place; it testifies to a level of collective consciousness, to a determination to resist oppression; it is the school of the revolution, of the struggle for power. The role of militants in this type of mass action is that of supporting them every time they are part of the schema of attacking the state, the power structure, the bosses. But there is also “special” violence, exercised by groups to support and make clear the objectives of their line of political intervention. Since May 1968 we only know of a few examples of the exercise of truly popular forms of special violence. We can cite the attack on the mine owners in Lens and that on the town hall of Meulan to attack the traffic in jobs at Flins. And in both cases, what was exemplary was that the revolutionaries found themselves in a position of ideological counter-attack. The aggression of the enemies of the people was clear. Everyone could see who was who, who defended what, why the violence was legitimate. It is not a matter of denying the relative autonomy of the military leadership in the political process, nor the pedagogical character of the use of violence, but rather of insisting on the fact that is not violence that is the criterion of radicality, but the conscious policy that is attached to it.

Violent actions are only the end point of our policy as a part of our tactical resistance on the one hand, and our capacity to achieve victory on the strategic level on the other. In the current stage, we must support the democratic violence of the masses and only exercise special violence when it is effectively supported by a large fraction of the people for whom it is carried out, when its meaning is directly comprehensible and , consequently, it reinforces the capacities of the movement. We must add that violence is not necessarily “open;” it can be quite acute in a relation of forces favorable to the popular movement. It is thus that in Italy there are pirate radio programs that popularize the mass struggles and support the actions of popular violence through a particular form of special violence. In the same order of ideas, the hunger strikes of imprisoned comrades, the occupation of apartments, actions against the holders of a multiple mandates, etc, are forms of violence that are not always carried out with open force.

Clausewitz and Mao showed just how politically superior strategic defense was to the offensive. It is thus that in forcing the enemy to attack and affirming the resistance’s determination to win, we can obtain results that the offensive would not have directly allowed, We can then pass to the counter-offensive by relying on a solid rear. It is politically decisive to isolate enemies as protagonists of the use of illegitimate violence and to affirm ourselves as the agents of resistance to oppression (“Free our comrades,” “CRS/SS,” “Power is in the Streets.”)

In every case the exercise of violence should only be carried out by revolutionaries within the framework of their own logic. We never place ourselves on the enemy force’s terrain, for if we do we are defeated in advance. The violent relationship of force that we give expression to must demonstrate the superiority of our ideology over that of the enemy. Recently in Mantes we have, alongside the people of Val-Fourré, carried out a struggle over housing. In the first case, one of our evicted comrades planted a tent in front of the biggest shopping center of the region. The repressive apparatus didn’t know how to use its violence against us. It thought that we wouldn’t be able to resist the cold. The tent remained planted twenty-eight days, and every night, in rotation, comrades from the region slept alongside our pals. Christmas was approaching. It became increasingly difficult to run us off by force because of the propaganda we had carried out. We were beginning to spoil the Christmas of the bourgeois conscience. We were across from the church and ready to annex the ox and the gray donkey in order to mock the hypocrisy of the Christian midnight. They surrendered. They granted the refused lodging. Ideological violence had served the same function as that of our arms, for we have never fallen into the popularization of pacifism.

A few weeks later, following the occupation of an apartment, twenty people were arrested and taken to the general commissariat. There, too, a certain form of violence was employed, which consolidated the unity of those present at the commissariat. Once their papers were checked, they refused to leave the commissariat and occupied it along with their children in order to demand the granting of housing. There, too, before this form of primitive ideological violence, the “forces of order” lost the initiative. These forms shouldn’t be considered as exclusive. Nevertheless, they remind us what is essential in the exercising of violence by revolutionaries. We don’t like to make war; it is the enemy who forces us to do it. We know that he leaves us no other alternative, and this is why we prepare for it, why we make it, but when we make it, it must clearly be for the “cause. “