On Violence: Reactionary vs. Revolutionary

Street fighting in Paris, 1968

A statement of Revolutionary Initiative.

[Note: A Norwegian translation of this article by Serve The People is available here.]

Regardless of what people want, political violence is a factor in social and class struggle. Despite the fear mongering of the monopoly corporate media, almost all political violence is not carried out by black clad demonstrators, but by the state against the people. It is heaped upon proletarians on a daily basis, most especially the racialized, lower strata of the proletariat in the imperialist countries, and even more so upon the people of the colonial and neo-colonial nations living under the boot of imperialism. It should be no surprise then that the people forcefully defend their rights and sometimes engage in open fighting. Violence is a reality. The question is what form must revolutionary violence take?

Military-Strategic Line in the Imperialist Centres vs. Semicolonial Peripheries

In the imperialist countries there is a lively debate around the correct military strategic line for waging revolution, although the forces involved are still quite limited. This movement to reconceptualize revolutionary strategy for the International Communist Movement in the imperialist countries is a crucial development for the future of the world proletarian revolution. Revolutionaries must breaks with the parliamentarism, legalism, and economism of the revisionist “Communist” parties as well as dogmatism and the ultraleft conceptualizations of the urban guerrilla struggles of 1970s in the imperialist countries such as Italy, West Germany, United States, and others.

As Revolutionary Initiative states in its “Theses on the Party Building Movement in Canada” (Spring 2008), decisive forms of struggle will be necessary for creation of a new socialist society. Further, we recognize that while many revisionist parties may pay lip service to making revolution, in practice their work has never been able to go beyond the mire of legalism and electoralism. The revolutionary proletariat will never attain state power until it has a real vanguard that organizes it outside the parameters of imperialist funded institutions and bourgeois legality.

In an imperialist country like Canada, the decisive phase of our struggle will be an armed insurrection, but such an event must be preceded by a protracted period of the accumulation of revolutionary forces under the leadership of a revolutionary communist vanguard. In this period of accumulation, the principle form of struggle will be political and ideological in character. Along the way, there will be open fights between the bourgeois state and the proletariat that will create the ideological climate receptive to accepting armed struggle as a means of resistance and revolution, but this is a protracted process. This phase of struggle only passes over into open armed struggle when the bourgeoisie has already de facto plunged the proletariat into civil war.

The building of the movement towards armed insurrection can be contrasted with PPW as first elaborated by Mao Zedong and as applied to the semicolonial, semifeudal world. There are many qualities that these two strategies for revolution share. However, in semi-colonial, semi-feudal countries armed tactical offensives are conducted from the very beginning to the very end of the People’s War.

New Peoples' Army soldiers celebrate 40th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of the Philippines

The class basis of PPW is the revolutionary worker-peasant alliance led by the Communist Party. In general terms this strategy entails the accumulation of revolutionary forces by armed means amongst the peasantry on the basis of a program of agrarian reform, destroying the feudal landlord classes and with them the basis for imperialist exploitation in the countryside. In conjunction with the protracted armed struggle in the countryside, PPW entails the organization of the proletarian and petty-bourgeois forces in the urban centres under the revolutionary united front on an anti-imperialist basis for genuine national liberation and New Democracy, a first step towards socialism. Today, the People’s Wars in the Philippines, India, and Nepal stand out as shining examples of the general applicability of PPW as a strategy for the “Third World”.

Despite the differences between the military strategies in the imperialist centres versus the periphery, what these strategies have in common is the relationship of violence to the broad masses of people. Just as PPW involves ever-growing sections of the people in the application of revolutionary violence, in the imperialist countries revolutionary violence will not advance the movement until that violence is based on the widespread support and active participation of the people. A correct strategy for proletarian revolution will have to first prepare the masses for militant confrontation and then find ways to arm the masses in their struggles as their economic and political struggles against monopoly capitalism intensify.

Oppose Reactionary, Nihilist & Adventurist Violence

Revolutionary violence must be contrasted against reactionary, nihilist, and adventurist forms of violence. Objectively, all these forms of violence, though somewhat different in content, are counterrevolutionary by virtue of their consequences.

Reactionary violence are those forms of violence – often promoted by imperialism or sections of the bourgeoisie – that pit certain sections of the proletarian and petty-bourgeoisie against other sections. In the imperialist countries, these forms of violence have mostly been fascist and white-supremacist in character. In the semicolonial, semifeudal countries, communalism, religious sectarianism and political Islam have achieved the same results, dividing up the exploited masses, reasserting bourgeois leadership under new banners, and ultimately diverting struggles away from national liberation and socialism.

Nihilistic violence are those acts of violence that are desperate acts of hopelessness by individuals or small groups that have no strategic plan for revolution. Muslims have become an easy target for the “War on Terror” because political Islam has no social-economic program for liberation outside of the imperialist system, no alternative to the semifeudal, semicolonial society that subordinates their countries to the imperialists. Many Muslims have fallen into the trap set out by the imperialists in taking up reactionary and nihilistic violence as a means of “resistance” when what is required is genuine People’s War.

The effect of seeing this stream of counterrevolutionary violence – coupled with the either silence around, or distortion of the acts of revolutionary violence being conducted around the world – is to blunt the consciousness of the people into accepting that only “peaceful means” can lead to “change”. Never are the masses made aware of the successful and widely popular acts of revolutionary violence being conducted by the People’s Wars in the Philippines, Nepal or India.

Finally, adventurist violence – which shares aspects in common with nihilistic violence – are those forms of violence that the masses are not ready to accept and is carried out without the broad support of the people. The alleged bombing by anarchists of a Royal Bank branch in Ottawa on May 18, 2010 is precisely such a case of adventurist violence. The fact that many in Ottawa believe that the bombing was actually conducted by cops demonstrates the awareness among many that these sorts of acts (regardless of it was carried out by the cops or not) ultimately benefits the repressive apparatuses of the state. Revolutionary mass movements and class consciousness are not so easily ignited by such foolish and terroristic actions completely detached from an overall revolutionary strategy.

To conclude, the principle difference between reactionary violence and revolutionary violence is that the former stems from a place of utter despair and lack of confidence in the people, while the latter places the people at the centre of the struggle for revolutionary change. A terrorist is a cynic who individualistically translates his/her despair into actions that the masses repudiate and the bourgeoisie seizes upon to justify elevating state terror. The revolutionary, on the other hand, integrates himself/herself in the revolutionary classes, learns from them, and develops a revolutionary class consciousness among them to advance the revolutionary struggle to a higher phase.

The Current Situation and Our Immediate Tasks

Imperialism is in a state of crisis that it can only manage through the intensified exploitation of the international proletariat, the continued plunder of natural resources and the raiding of public assets to inflate the profits of the monopoly capitalists, and the expansion of the state’s repressive apparatus to protect itself and monopoly capital from the wrath of the people.

“Neoliberal” monopoly capitalism is reshaping the imperialist countries to the strategic advantage of the proletarian revolution. However, revolution will not happen on its own – it must be organized and carried out consciously. Revolutionaries must work publicly and clandestinely to elevate the struggles of the people by building a powerful mass movement, defending the democratic rights of the people, and launching a decisive struggle for socialism. We must involve ever wider sections of the working class in political and economic struggles by organizing the broad majority, isolating the reactionary minority, and winning over all possible allies of the working class.

Simultaneously, we must build a genuine Communist Party, united by a revolutionary ideology and capable of leading the mass movement towards waging revolution. Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is the starting point for creating a new revolutionary theory and practice that can guide the people forward to final victory over imperialism.

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