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The Left’s Gun Fetish


When I was going through my hate campaign from the NRA, there was a weird set of internet anarchists also hoping I would lose my job. Calling myself and others who were defending me “statist leftists,” they thought guns were central to their hope of fomenting their fantasy revolution and that leftists who supported gun control were delusional defenders of state oppression. As a symbol of that state oppression through opposing uncontrolled gun ownership, I was part of the oppressive machine that needed to be overthrown.

I recalled this oddity reading this Truthout essay by Arun Gupta where he tries to distance himself from the gun fetish of a certain sector of lefty.

Before you equate radical with bomb-thrower, realize Americans, with few exceptions, support state violence. Yet some support gun rights and some oppose it. Many leftists are in the former camp. To confirm this, I asked a couple thousand Facebook “friends” if they opposed gun control and their reasons why. The responses came pouring in:

“Is a state monopoly on arms in the best interests of the working class?”

“Gun laws, much like drug laws, are used to oppress the poor and people of color.”

“We can’t have a revolution without them.”

“Governments already have too much of a monopoly on violence and we will one day have to bring this one down.”

“I’ll be damned a cop can have a gun but I can’t.”

“Gun control laws … are another step down the incline to a full-fledged police state.”

“[I support] the right to bear arms – because I’m horrified that racist whites are heavily armed in areas of the country that oppose democratic rights.”

Judging from these comments, many leftists agree with the right that the biggest threat to society is not mentally ill shooters like Adam Lanza. It’s the state. The implication is that the solution to a society with too many guns is more guns. That’s why leftists tend to shrug off gun control. They see it as impinging on their freedom, or at least as something that doesn’t affect them.

We’ve all known these people, wearing their Che shirts, talking a big game about revolution and the need for violence, even though they’ve probably never held a gun themselves. There’s a romanticization of violence among many on the far left, a line that starts with Lenin, goes to Castro and Che, the PLO and Mao, and then back to the United States through Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and the American Indian Movement.

Although a lot of these leftists would claim (perhaps rightfully) a commitment to gender equality, there’s a strongly masculine ideology behind the leftist using violence to overthrow a state. Che’s sexiness and Malcolm’s rhetoric reinforce highly masculine cultures of the left, a gendered division of revolutionary labor that most certainly flowed through the movements themselves at the time.

The left’s embrace of violence today is largely held by its anarchist side, which unfortunately makes up a large percentage of younger activist leftists. Here, the individual has the right to engage in violent behavior outside of a chain of authority and can not be concerned about the consequences. We’ve this in real time, both in the WTO protests in Seattle and Occupy protests in New York and Oakland.

The moral case for using violence in complex and contingent upon the situation. We can all think of cases where violent resistance was not only justified and necessary. There is some history of success against a colonial power whose real interests and will to fight to death in a place far from the home country may be limited. Within the United States however, it’s a total disaster. We might make an argument that the Black Panthers were justified in embracing violent self-defense. Urban African-Americans in the 1960s were completely ignored by the state, received almost no social services, and most importantly suffered from massive and sustained police violence. The same goes for Native Americans in the cities; AIM began in Minneapolis as a reaction to police brutality.

But the reality was that threatening violence was a complete disaster. It not only led to the state suppression of these movements. It led to a tremendous amount of violence and death from intra-movement conflicts. Resisting violence “by any means necessary” might have meant the white state, but Malcolm also came out of a movement more than happy to use any means necessary to eliminate dissenters in its own ranks, including Malcolm himself. The Weather Underground was a complete failure. In Germany, the Baader-Meinhof gang were sociopaths who did nothing good for society.

Ultimately, the problem with violent tactics within the United States today is fairly simple (outside of the rather obvious point that while the US might be messed up in very real ways, it’s hardly bad enough to convince any more than an extreme fringe to use violence). You will lose. Leftists might point to Castro in 1958 as an example of a romantic violent revolution overthrowing a corrupt state, but the US in 2013 is a very different place than Batista’s Cuba. Surveillance technologies are far superior to any time in the past. So are ways of co-opting a population. Who is really going to commit to revolution if they can afford cable television? Even if you managed to gain enough weapons and not have your movement infiltrated before you managed to do something, the federal government has something called air power. You don’t.

There’s simply no good strategic argument for using violence. Who knows what the future holds. But supporting gun control in 2013 is not going to stop your fantasy revolution from coming true. Largely because if you use your gun against the state, you are going to die very quickly or be put in a deep dark hole for the rest of your life. If we really believe in emancipating people from the shackles of oppression, one really good way to do that is to help keep them alive. Another is to help make them not scared of being shot.

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  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    Totally agree…and it’s kind of sad that this needs to be said.

  • Anarchists are idiots.

    • Anarchists are the best friends capitalists ever had.

      Have said this before and will say it again.

      • Why, because it gives the state an excuse to use violence on any protestors?

        • Because it takes what could be real organized protest movements and turns them into something that will never amount to anything, just as anarchism has never amounted to any real change in all of history.

          • James E. Powell

            Wait a minute. What about President Theodore Roosevelt?

            • Warren Terra

              I think when Erik says anarchism has never achieved real change, the notion that he means real change of a sort desired by the anarchists can safely be assumed to be implied. Unless you think the elevation of TR was an anarchist goal.

          • DocAmazing

            As I’ve pointed out before: I’ve worked with Communists, I’ve worked with anarchists, and I’ve worked with liberals. You can’t get liberals to do shitwork, no matter how hard you try. Anarchists and Communists will put in a hard day’s work organizing for stuff they consider liberal and accomodationist; liberals have to be cajoled to do even a few hours’ worth of basic stuff.

            I keep finding that, in political organizing, bourgeois liberals are bourgeois first and liberal a distant second.

            • Bill Murray

              and that’s why the “left” doesn’t accomplish much of anything. The largest group doesn’t really care to accomplish much

            • Rarely Posts

              I had this experience when I was working on bourgeois liberal movements designed to help workers. Many (though not all) liberals were unwilling to do shitwork.

              In contrast, liberals were more willing to do shitwork when working as part of political campaigns for liberal Democrats, when working on reproductive rights campaigns, when working on LGBT rights campaigns, etc. I’m not 100% sure what the differences are, but I think that the first movement tends to draw people who are only motivated by their intellectual passion, and the latter generally attracted people motivated by personal, concrete passions and desires.

            • Rhino

              Yes, socialism simply takes up too many evenings…

              … Wish I could attribute that, but I just can’t remember the source.

      • ChristianPinko

        Hear, hear.

      • wengler

        And it will continue to be wrong, but don’t let that get in the way of a saying you like.

        • spencer

          Why’s it wrong?

    • DrDick

      And every bit as delusional as libertarians, with whom they share a large number of demonstrably false assumptions.

      • LeeEsq

        Managing the complex sewage, transport, health, education and other systems necessary for modern society makes as much on anarchist lines as it does on free market lines. None at all. Most people really like living in some version of modernity, very few want to return to a less advanced and complicated lifestyle. Modernity requires a lot of sophisticated systems and these can’t really be run on anarchist lines.

        • An anarchist is someone who’s never driven though a busy intersection where the traffic lights have gone out.

          • DocAmazing

            A tiny bit of reading might do you a world of good.
            There are anarchists of all stripes. Ever participated in a pick-up basketball game? Totally anarchist. Churches? In the US, anyway, they’re all about voluntary association and adhering to agreed-upon rules by choice. You get to leave them if they don’t suit you.

            You might wanna pick up a li’l Kropotkin or Diderot or a history of the IWW.

            • You might want to stop assuming things about people you’re not in a position to know.

              You may also want to stop assuming that if someone things something you believe is stupid that they must not have been exposed to the same arguments you have, that it’s possible they actually think what you believe is correct is daft and juvenile.

              • Rhino

                Dana, you’ve made it pretty obvious that you definition of ‘anarchist’ has very little to do with the vast and pretty varied world of anarchist thought and philosophy.

                Anarchist doesn’t mean ‘chaotic neutral’. Anyone who thinks it does really needs to do some reading, as the good doctor advises.

                • I’ve read enough to know that people like Castoriadis and a few others had some interesting observations, but as anything other than a critical perspective it’s useless.

                  But I also know people who profess to be anarchists and who take action are almost all nihilistic assholes or dumber than a doorknob. Wearing a bandana and throwing rocks isn’t effective, and sitting around all day long in a general assembly giving everyone a chance to pontificate is masturbatory.

                  I’ve walked picket lines, and I’ve been attacked on picket lines. The worst instigators and the biggest cowards were the fucking anarchists. Juvenile assholes, every one of them.

                • DocAmazing

                  I see. Another n=3 opinion.

                • djillionsmix

                  “isn’t effective”

                  Nothing is effective.

            • Karen

              All of those things fall apart when the members lose interest and no one is worse off. If the engineers running the power plant decide they would prefer to be poets, there will be a lot of unpleasant consequences.

              • Murc

                This statement makes no sense to me. Are you saying we should force people to work at jobs they want to quit if we deem their labor too valuable to do without?

                That said, voluntary association only works up to a point. I believe I should be allowed to freely leave the United States if I no longer wish to be associated with it, but I think that being able to make that decision while remaining within its borders is silly and unworkable.

                • Karen

                  No one should be forced to do a critical job, so my analogy isn’t perfect. I was trying to make the point that DocAmazing’s examples were of voluntary associations with no serious harm if they collapse. Those kinds of things exist because many other structures are much less accommodating. It would have been better had I used the example that the engineers could be fired if they decided to stop being engineers during work hours. Someone, therefore, has to have the authority to compel them to either work or leave.

              • Snarki, child of Loki

                Well, then it’s just a good thing that most engineers would rather gnaw off their own limbs rather than read poetry, let alone WRITE it.

                Now, if you offer them a job building giant killer robots…

                • Karen

                  Those are the engineers I know. There is a very good reason “technical writer” is a real career.

                • spencer

                  Because it’s useful?

            • I will only say that my very deep reading of the IWW very much influences my disdain for anarchism.

            • jkay

              DocAmazing wrote:

              Ever participated in a pick-up basketball game? Totally anarchist. Churches? In the US, anyway, they’re all about voluntary association and adhering to agreed-upon rules by choice. You get to leave them if they don’t suit you.

              Oh, yeah? Who knew Churches with LEADERSHIP like priests, bisnops, and even a TOP CHEESE sometiems with a cool hat was ANARCHIST?

              I’ve seen this sort of argument before, and isn’t it just a desperate try at imagining a flock of nonexistent anarchist societies that can’t actually exist at any size?

              Yeah, you’re right about the pickup bball, but that works because it’s small-scale.

              • LeeEsq

                Not all religious organizations are structure with the same hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. Jewish religious organizations are much more loose-goosey than a lot of Christian ones. There are Rabbis, Cantors, and some formal bodies but in reality every synagogue is independent of other synagogues despite some formal ties. The same goes for Islam. I believe the fringes of Protestantism are also very loosely organized.

                • Gepap

                  When did anarchy become synonymous with “lose” organization?

            • LeeEsq

              Liberals, bourgeoisie or otherwise, have done a lot in this nations history to fight for our cause. We just have different means of accomplishing it since we prefer to do it through the political structures of government.

          • wengler

            Jesus, is this a thread of anti-anarchism sloganeering?

          • djw

            An anarchist is someone who’s never driven though a busy intersection where the traffic lights have gone out.

            This is actually a poor example to prove your point, as spontaneous order often emerges. Google Hans Monderman. Or read Fragment 16 of James Scott’s Two Cheers for Anarchism.

        • DrDick

          In fairness, we actually have examples of well functioning societies based on anarchist principals (there are none for the libertarians). Unfortunately, they are all very small (less than 30 adults) mobile foraging societies. It is pretty clear from the ethnographic literature that it simply does not effectively scale up. Mostly because you cannot respond rapidly and effectively enough to crises.

          • wengler

            In many cases those crises are authoritarian assholes coming in and wiping them out like Catalonia in 1938.

            It’s true that anarchism is a horrible model to run a military on. When left alone however, this type of self-management can turn into very cool and interesting things like Mondragon.

            • LeeEsq

              Can you use another example than Mondragon? Can you point me to an anarchist run subway system, hospital, or electric system?

              • Rhino

                Why would he need to? Is an enormously successful huge worker cooperative, surviving and even thriving in the face of enormous hostile capitalist competition not enough?

                • Mondragon is interesting. Mondragon also does a tremendous amount of work for leftists interested in alternatives to capitalism. That’s fine on one level. On another level, we really need more examples of this. Otherwise it is just an interesting exception.

                  So yes, he does need more examples.

                • LeeEsq

                  Because the civilization that most people want to live in requires more than worker’s cooperatives. There are serious infrastructure needs. We need schools, hospitals, clinics, research facilities, roads, rails, bridges, tunnels, airports, seaports, and a host of other activies. Cooperatives are good alternatives to capitalism on a retail level but we need more than that.

                  States of all sorts have proven capable of providing the complex infrastructure necessary for society. Cooperatives have demonstrated that they could provide alternatives on the retail and leisure side of things. They haven’t shown that they could provide infrastructure. You need a state for infrastructure.

                • Rhino

                  None of which makes anarchists and anarchist thought useless, destructive, or the best friend of capitalism.

                  As for being an interesting exception, so was democracy, for quite some time. Or social welfare programs. Or labour unionism.

                • jb

                  The big issue with anarchism is not so much wokers co-ops, many of which can and do work, it’s how you expect a society of any kind to survive when no government exists.

                  Historically, states where there is no government tend to degenerate into warlordism.

                  Mondragon does face hostile capitalist competition, but if there was no government, I’m willing to bet it wouldn’t last long

              • Heron

                Hmm. Well, in the US rural electrification and “phonification” were mostly carried out through co-ops. In the US west of the Mississippi, most local farm-supply/gardening shops have also been co-ops; at least, until the rise of Home Depot and its ilk.

                Regarding Electrification, I know the Gov played a role in setting those up (basically, private business didn’t think it’d be profitable to electrify, which is why it didn’t start happening til the 30[iirc]), but they were run locally by co-op members until “privatization” took them from the people who paid for them and gave them to business men in the post-war era.

                Here’s the thing though; at this level of government, anarchism and democracy are indistinguishable. Anarchism is people doing for themselves; well, so is democracy. “The Government” and “The People” are synonymous, and the more granular your analytical “cut-out” gets, the more obvious that becomes.

            • Gepap

              Well, that is the point, isn’t it? If you can’t run a military on it, then anarchist systems are not viable to rule large plots of land. They can exist nestled within some organized system, but can’t stand on their own.

              • Rhino

                The way privateers (and pirates) operated in the great age of sail had much in common with some forms of anarchism: policy decided by community, and authority delegated to individuals by the group, which could rescind that authority at will.

                Not necessarily the best military system, but it does show that it’s possible.

                Personally though, I agree. I don’t think it is possible, let alone desirable, to live without a state.

                • Gepap

                  Piracy of any sort always thrives where organized militaries are weak or disengaged, and it goes away when significant military means can be brought to bear.

                  Colonial powers issued letters of marque because it allowed them to bring private capital into their overall military policy. I don’t think it can be viewed as significantly different from say the need for less developed states to use tax farming and private tax collectors. Once these states had the capability to effectively carry out these functions fully by themselves (by being able to hire government tax collectors backed by a sufficient police force or afford a Navy big enough to patrol all your colonial holdings) these practices went away.

                • Rhino

                  I was referring to the internal operations of the ships, not their employment by state actors. Pirates and privateers often operated on consensus or democracy based systems in which crews had more say in operations than officers…

                • DrDick

                  It is worth noting that privateers were government licensed pirates.

            • DrDick

              Mondragon is not anarchist, it is democratic socialist (syndicalist). Policy is set by the collective through majoritarian elections and then authority to implement those policies is delegated to managers who have the right to unilaterally make decisions about day to day operations. Anarchism is grounded in notions of individual autonomy (no one can tell anyone else what to do) and consensus decision making.

          • Lurker

            Yeah, and even in those societies, you have a massive amount of violence if you compare it with any part of US.

            While the anthropological field worker is unlikely to see actual homicides taking place in a society of some 20-30 people during his stay of a few years, the interviews of people show that most individuals have relatives or partners who were killed. This is something you don’t really encounter in any organised society in peace time.

    • Random

      If we’re talking about the formal sense of the word, Anarchists are Hegelians. Which is idiotic.

      • DocAmazing

        Oh, Jesus, we’re back to the “Marx for Dummies” bit again.

        No, anarchists are not Hegelians. Marxists are.

        • Random

          Both are.

          Though I think here we are discussing lower-case ‘a’ “anarchists” as in “young people with too much time on their hands”

          • wengler

            Nah, Loomis is a strange rant about how leftists hate gun control laws, which is neither broadly true or relevant.

            Mainly, it’s just another thread going over the same territory that’s been furrowed before.

        • DrDick

          No, Marxists are not Hegelians. Marx borrowed the idea of the dialectic from Hegel, but radically transformed it. Hegel’s dialectic is essentially metaphysical, while Marx’s is entirely material (referring to the need to resolve “contradictions”, i.e., material and logical conflicts, in society).

  • We’ve this in real time, both in the WTO protests in Seattle and Occupy protests in New York and Oakland.

    What violence in NY are you talking about? And did the violence in Oakland take place before or after Scott Olsen got shot in the eye?

    • There wasn’t any violence in NYC. Just a lot of talking. And talking. And talking.

      Process fetishization is what happened in NYC. Vandalism for the sake of arousal is what happened in Oakland.

      • Which is my point. So why did the author claim there was violence in NYC?

      • DocAmazing

        Oakland cops acting like Oakland cops is what happened in Oakland.

        • Oakland idiot anarchists acting like Oakland idiot anarchists also happened in Oakland

          • DocAmazing

            Yes, but only one of those groups was armed. Also, only one of those groups enjoys functional impunity.

            • If the only kind of arms that exist are guns, then yes, that statement is true.

              • DocAmazing

                Well, one side had pistols, shotguns, beanbag guns, flash-bang grenades, pepper spray, helmets, body armor, and various vehicles.

                The other side had…cans and bottles, I suppose.

                Unless we want to get poetic about being “armed with ideology” or something…

                • Nobody was ever hurt with a rock or a bottle.

                  Also, you’ve gone to “only one side was armed” to saying “well, one side had more lethal arms, so that means only one side was armed…or something.”

                • djillionsmix

                  “Sure one side had guided missiles, but the other side could have ripped its arms off and thrown them at the missiles, ergo, fuck hippies”

                • “Inaccurate statement”
                  “Refutation of inaccurate statement”
                  “Failed rebuttal of inaccurate statement by introducing strawman”

                  Shocking that fans of anarchism could employ such bad thinking…

                • DocAmazing

                  “No one was ever hurt with a rock or a bottle.”

                  Even by your standards, that’s sad.

                • jb

                  Look, I agree that the actions of the Oakland Police Department were way out of line. (Which is not terribly surprising if you know the history of the Oakland Police).

                  That doesn’t make vandalizing stores or throwing rocks at people OK.

      • wembley

        This is so true and so sad.

        • If you attend a few lefty meetings–and I’m not assuming you haven’t, just saying “you” in the general sense–one of the first things you figure out, provided you’ve got some critical thinking skills and a modicum of self-awareness, is that the main enemies of radical action are consensus, the open tent and process.

          General assemblies are where action goes to die.

          • Rhino

            So an enemy of public participation in decision making as well?

            Fascinating. What else do you have in common with dictators throughout history?

            • Malaclypse

              Yes, because “consensus” is the only form of decision-making other than dictatorship.

            • spencer

              That seems like an overly-broad reading of Dana’s comment.

              • You win for understatement of the day

              • Rhino

                Strikes me as an extremely accurate reading of his philosophy. The constant disdain for consensus, assembly, and direct democracy are pretty blatant.

      • Rhino

        Shorter Dana Houle:

        People have no business discussing the politics and policies of their political protest, and throwing rocks at paramilitary thugs in armour who just shot your friend in the eye is totally unacceptable!

        • Fosco

          Efficacy matters. People have no business discussing politics and policies to the exclusion of any action or result. What happened in Occupy was endless discussion of politics and policies without ever turning that discussion into meaningful action. Similarly, throwing rocks at paramilitary thugs in armor is unacceptable because it is stupid, useless action that is often counter-productive.

          • DocAmazing

            Much better that we should participate in the party political process and elect leaders who will be responsive to corporate interests that had no hand in electing them. That’s efficacious.

            • Rhino

              I agree completely. Of course that would require a political system that is actually interested in citizen input, responsive to citizen demands, and uncorrupted by corporate interests…

              I realize I’m pretty much just sniping, at this point, but seriously it seems doubtful to me that Americans can reasonably expect to effect any progressive change by worki g inside the system. The solution certainly isn’t anarchism of the cliche bomb throwing variety, but I do think it might well include anarchism of the cooperative and communitarian grassroots variety.

            • Fosco

              It is, to the extent that corporate interests and my own interests overlap. And there is significant overlap: we both want good roads, good education, enforced contracts, things like that. Obviously the corporations and I have different definitions of “good” and different priorities, but that’s where politics come in. Sometimes my interests win out in those fights, sometimes they lose. It seems they lose more often than not, but my feeling still is I’m much more likely to see results that suit me (even if only some, or only slightly) by working with the system than I am by, say, endlessly discussing why I don’t like something or by throwing rocks at that system’s enforcement arm. Clearly it’s not ideal, but it’s something. Is that wrong? I mean that honestly: by what process am I most likely to see my interests advanced? Working together with entities far more powerful than myself (and allying myself with others who share my interests in order to form our own relatively powerful organizations) to find mutual accommodation seems like the best process I’ve seen, so far, but I’m open to alternatives if they can prove efficacious.

        • If people couldn’t read what you’re mischaracterizing you might be able to convince them with your claims. But since it’s so easy for people to see you’re obviously lying about what I wrote, I should thank you for confirming the anarchist idiocy I’ve been criticizing.

          • Rhino

            I find it amusing that you think I’m an anarchist.

            • Sometimes hard to distinguish anarchism from witless, preening leftier-than-thou contrarianism.

              I apologize to anarchists for my apparently inaccurate assumption.

        • UserGoogol

          Two wrongs don’t make a right.

  • You underestimate the power and persuasiveness of Supreme Leader Dr. Jill Stein at your own peril.

    Now off to the reeducation camp. We’re making hemp pot-holders today while talkin”bout overthrowing the dominant paradigm.

    • I actually think Jill Stein is less of a problem than is Naomi Klein.

      • Rhino

        If you think either one is a ‘problem’ it’s fairly likely the real problem is you.

        • DocAmazing

          If you’re a fan of capital, then both are problems.

          • Warren Terra

            I think it’s a pretty far push to claim that either inconveniences Capital in the slightest. Certainly neither has ever been involved in a political movement that has greatly inconvenienced Capital; the case you’d have to make is pedagogical, that their advocacy builds support that might later be effective in it own right, and that moves the Overton Window today. But no Titan Of Industry thinks even for a moment about what Stein or Klein might do next.

            • DocAmazing

              Much of our vocabulary for responding to the austerity movement comes from The Shock Doctrine; clothing manufacturers spent a fair amount of money and effort responding to No Logo.

              Klein is a “problem” if you think that agitating against disaster capitalism is a problem.

              • Warren Terra

                Who’s the “we” in “our”? My arguments about Austerity from from Krugman, mostly, and he doesn’t obviously seem to be cribbing from Klein. I’ve never found Klein to be very effective in doing more than preaching to the converted – and similarly for the people who cite her extensively.

                • djillionsmix

                  “I’ve never found Klein to be very effective in doing more than preaching to the converted”

                  Nothing is effective at doing anything more than preaching to the converted.


                  – there aren’t any
                  – whatever you’ve convinced yourself is, isn’t.

              • So the state isn’t bothered by Klein.

                Defending anarchism uty not mentioning the state kind of points to the vacuity of what people call “anarchism.” It’s as bad as supposed “leftists” who never get around to any kind of structural analysis because they’re too busy talking about the personality and character of people in power.

                • DocAmazing

                  Oh, I think the state notices Klein: the current administration, for example, is dancing furiously to come up with justifications for its defenses of disaster capitalism, responding to exactly the sorts of questions Klein made popular.

                  Previously, they’d have simply used straight Milton Friedman arguments.

            • wengler

              I think the Wal-Mart Black Friday strike had more than a few of them interested in what those ideas can produce.

        • Riiiiiiiight

      • wengler

        Naomi Klein is history’s greatest monster after Noam Chomsky.

  • Anonymous

    It’s useless to wait-for a breakthrough, for the revolution, the nuclear apocalypse or a social movement. To go on waiting is madness. The catastrophe is not coming, it is here. We are already situated within the collapse of a civilization. It is within this reality that we must choose sides

    • Scott P.

      Leftist apocalypticism is as tiring as right-wing apocalypticism.

    • Anonymous

      Similarly, leftist apathy is as pernicious as as right-wing American exceptionalism… Apologies, it must truly be tiring to have to consider the actual modes of violence that frame revolution so eschatologically.

      • Djur

        “actual modes of violence that frame revolution so eschatologically”

        As us kids say, LOL.

        • That’s funnier than the stuff in the Sokal hoax

      • Random

        Apologies, it must truly be tiring to have to consider the actual modes of violence that frame revolution so eschatologically.

        Shouldn’t you be making that cappuccino I ordered instead of hanging out on the Internet?

        • Rhino

          Whilst I disagree with what he says, deriding it as nonsensical is a bit unfair.

          There is little question in my mind that western society is nowhere near violent revolution, but to say that we never will be is just a stupid as calling for it right now.

          • Random

            So long as dude/ette is promoting violence, I’m not obligated to either take him seriously or refrain from insulting him personally.

            Also, his mother is fat.

            • djillionsmix

              Thanks for the update on the sorts of obligations that hateful conservatives feel (answer unsuprisingly continues to be: not any)

              But in the future you might try remembering that “you have to do work in exchange for wages” isn’t an insult to people who aren’t shitheads.

              • djw

                But in the future you might try remembering that “you have to do work in exchange for wages” isn’t an insult to people who aren’t shitheads.

                This. The line in question is simply begging to be mocked, and offers a multitude of avenues to do so. In choosing which of those options to pursue, it seems wise to avoid all the variations of the “ha ha you’re a plebe” option.

                • Malaclypse

                  Sympathy for the proletariat is so bourgeois. Or something.

                • djw

                  This kind of line reminds me of the time I the misfortune to be around a few film critics who spoke derisively and mockingly about a particular kind of obsessive SIFF (Seattle International Film Festival) passholder, who went to 4-5 films a day during the (3+ week) festival. These assholes get paid to watch films and write about them, but mocked people who love movies so much they spend their limited vacation time to do just a little bit of what they get to do for a living.

                  I think I have the same sensitivity to this sort of thing as an academic. People who think in philosophical terms (however ludicrously) even though it’s not there job to do so are not worthy of mockery, and the suggestion is a reactionary and ugly form of classism and privilege that needs to be called out as such much more often than it is. (The content of ludicrous philosophizing is fair game, of course).

        • Rhino

          Whilst I disagree with what he says, deriding it as nonsensical is a bit unfair.

          There is little question in my mind that western society is nowhere near violent revolution, but to say that we never will be is just a stupid as calling for it right now.l

          • Random

            To go on waiting is madness. The catastrophe is not coming, it is here.

            Also he has poor hygiene and probably spends too much time hanging around playgrounds for someone who does not have children.

            • DocAmazing

              What’s permanent unemployment at this month?

        • djillionsmix

          Thanks for the reminder that you’re a rightwing piece of shit who hates anybody who has to work for a living.

          Your enthusiasm for annihilating social security makes a lot more sense in this context.

  • c u n d gulag

    The problem ain’t the government, per se.

    It’s the people who feel that they own that government – and have the receipts to prove it.

  • jon

    It is precisely the same fixation on personal agency, as well as the deep internalization of the cowboy mythos: the lone patriot facing down evil and oppression. Too bad it’s a pipe dream.

    Your friendly government has more people, more weapons, and more training and experience in deploying violence than you likely do. Take up the gun, and you’re playing their game on their field. You are doing your despotic oppressor a favor by embracing violence.

    The real revolutionaries were Gandhi and Martin Luther King. They largely deprived the government of legitimate deployment of violence. Every act of violence of violence against protesters strengthened the protesters and weakened the government. Being unskilled in nonvioent conflict resolution, the oppressors were at a strategic disadvantage at every turn, facing only poor choices. The objective is to win the war; the outcome of the skirmish is irrelevant. Unjust killing creates martyrs, and martyrs swell the ranks.

    Waving guns around was the Black Panther’s gift to the police, and allowed them to declare open season. The larger public doesn’t like to be scared and threatened, and the Panthers behavior was easy to cast in the most frightening and alienating terms possible.

    And besides, if the glorious day of revolution ever comes, we will be able to pick up the long iron the way revolutionaries always have – by going and taking it from the government. Masses can easily overrun police stations and national guard barracks and do a bit of one-stop shopping. From there, heavier armament will be within grasp – particularly if many soldiers embrace some class solidarity.

    We should all be concerned about the continuing erosion of rights and civil liberties, and of the government’s escalating, omnivorous desire to keep track of everything that everyone does. This is a problem for everyone, including all those clean-nosed apolitical types. We should not be overawed by technology, nor should we be ignorant. Ultimately, there is no government that can long withstand the dedicated, impassioned withdrawal of its legitimacy by the engaged public.

    • JoyfulA

      I edited an academic book about revolution a year or two ago. The author studied IIRC eight revolutions from various aspects, and the bottom-line conclusion was that revolutionaries won when they won the backing of the police and/or armed forces; otherwise, they lost.

      • cpinva

        historically, revolutions are successful, when at least a large plurality of the population supports it, otherwise they aren’t. this goes to the police/armed forces, who then must decide if they’re willing to kill their family and neighbors, in support of the current “power that be”. the american revolution wasn’t successful, because the local police and armed forces (british) joined their cause, it was successful because, at some point, a pretty fair swath of free, white males decided to support it, with help from the french. same for the french revolution.

        revolutions can be squashed, if the gov’t is willing to kill anyone getting in their way, and keep the popular support from reaching that “tipping” point.

  • Ben Franklin

    Who is really going to commit to revolution if they can afford cable television? Even if you managed to gain enough weapons and not have your movement infiltrated before you managed to do something, the federal government has something called air power. You don’t.

    This is your rationale for capitulating to a government which should fear it’s population, rather than the reverse?

    Enjoy your stay at the all-inclusive resort called Gulag. You may survive it and then, victory!

    • Random

      What Gulag? Where?

      • Ben Franklin


        • Random

          You said I had a binary choice between participating in armed revolution against the government and being herded into the Gulag.

          I’m just wondering where this Gulag thing is so I can see it for myself.

          • Didn’t you hear? Montana. Some guy saw it from an airplane, once. It was on the Internet!

            • Sonny: Is there any special country you wanna go to?
              Sal: Wyoming.
              Sonny: Sal, Wyoming’s not a country.

          • Ben Franklin


            • Ben Franklin


              • Ben Franklin


                Yup. Pretty much covers it. Try thinking outside your ‘Muddle’.

                The oxy is pretty thin, in here. Get some fresh air.

                • Rhino

                  The oxy appears to be fairly plentiful where you are. If you grind it up and snort it, the rush is better.

    • cpinva

      “This is your rationale for capitulating to a government which should fear it’s population, rather than the reverse?”

      jesus, back to high school civics! let me gently break the news to you: in the US, we are the government, and we can change it anytime there’s an election. it’s what’s known as “term limits”, built right into the founding document. if “we” fear our government, the simple solution is to elect good people to operate it, not go off on some juvenile, egotistical “anarchist” binge of violence.

      this is why extremists of all stripes tend to have a short shelf life in the US, most people see them for what they are, not constructive. and who is it that gets to decide it’s time to destroy the gov’t, because it’s become “tyrannical”? some bozo with his AR-15, so paranoid he shoots at anything that moves? yeah, no thanks.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        While I agree with the OP that leftist dreams of armed revolution are nuts, at least at the present moment, this just ain’t the case cpinva. First term limits aren’t built into the founding document…though they were added for a single office, the presidency, in the middle of the last century.

        Secondly, for most of our history, large groups of people have been prevented from voting, including (at various times) people with too little property, women, native Americans, enslaved African Americans, free African Americans, young adults under 21, or (today, still, in many states) felons.

        And, at various times, “extremists” operating outside the electoral system have had pretty profound impacts on American history, from John Brown to Martin Luther King, Jr.

        • LeeEsq

          Cpinva does have a good point. In a democracy, asking the government to be afraid of the people is asking the people to be afraid of themselves. At least thats how its supposed to be. Anarchists and libertarians always imagine the state or government as being independent of the people even in democracies. Even in non-ideal democracies like the United States before the Civil Rights movement or even today, there is enough of a connection between people and government that this type of thinking looks really dumb to most people.

          • LeeEsq

            I’d also like to add that when people begin to disassociate themselves from the state/government, the result is more often than not a fatalistic apathy towards civic life than an outpouring of voluntary associationism.

        • spencer

          I’m pretty sure he meant that elections themselves are supposed to act as term limits.

  • Jeffrey Beaumont

    <blockquoteThere’s simply no good strategic argument for using violence.

    Yes but… and I ask this to you Erik as a labor historian. Was not organized labor far more effective before the decision was made to meet capital in the board room instead of on the picket line? Wasn’t nearly all of the major victories of organized labor won with violence, the threat of violence, or at least making the other side react violently? I think there may be something to this. Given your own justified and oft-repeated idea that we are entering a new gilded age, how long until Pinkerton gets back into the business of shooting labor malcontents? Might not they ought to shoot back?

    • Jeffrey Beaumont

      I guess what I am saying is that there are other potential targets for leftist violence than the state.

      • Commit violence against capital and you’ll see how it’s fused with the state.

    • Davis X. Machina

      The violence doesn’t scale. A few score miners against a few score Baldwin-Felts operatives, is one thing. Those you sometimes win.

      Bigger than that, the record is ambivalent.

      • Rhino

        An excellent point. Violence against the state is not binary. It ranges from anti-police-brutality graffiti through to massive armed revolution with military weapons. Some of the points in that range are much more effective than others. So the question is which, and how do you know in advance?

        Incidentally, when MLK marched, those marches were violence, in the sense that they showed the implicit threat of just how many people were fed up. The subtext was roughly: ‘today we are peaceful. Deny us, and eventually we all join up with the black panthers…’

    • LeeEsq

      I’d argue that Organized Labor was at hits most effective, in the United States, between the passing of the Wagner Labor Relations Act and serious decline that started in the late 1960s and 1970s. When Organized Labor was at its most militant, during the late 19th and early 20th century, it scared businessmen but had little in the way of concrete victories. The first real victories for Organized Labor occurred during the early 20th century, I’m mainly thinking of Triangle Shirtwaist Factor, and that involved working with the established parties through the established political methods. More success was passed after the Wagner Act created formal channels and processes for labor unions to act.

      The other thing is that the most effective labor unions in the developed world are probably in Germany and in Germany labor has a seat on the board. If thats not meeting management in the boardroom than I don’t know what is.

      • DrDick

        Have to agree with that. While labor, and working people generally, need to be ready to meet violence with violence when necessary, as a proactive strategy it alienates many potential allies and is ultimately self defeating, as the state and capital always have more resources at their disposal.

        • Rhino

          Violence is best deployed as the elephant in the room: threatening everyone with pregnant possibility, and thereby encouraging peaceful solution.

          Political power comes out of the barrel of a gun, but it is POINTING the gun, not firing it, that enacts the changes.

      • DocAmazing

        To get to the point of the passage of the Wagner Act required that capitalists and politicians be sufficiently respectful/scared of labor to take their concerns seriously. Bullets and dynamite are what got things to that point, in large part.

        • Nope. Sit-down strikes mostly happened AFTER the passage of the NLRA. And the bombings and such had mostly happened long before the 1930’s.

          • Rhino

            Nonsense. Are you under the impression none of us have actually read any history?

            Accommodation to the working classes happened only after the elite realized just how precariously they were perched.

            • Are you under the impression none of us have actually read any history?

              No, just some, and that some who read it didn’t understand it.

            • cpinva

              “Accommodation to the working classes happened only after the elite realized just how precariously they were perched.”

              and that had little, if anything, to do with violence. it had to do with the federal gov’t coming down on the side of labor, and labor unions. those unions then had the legal ability to cut off the sources of revenue to management. once that occurred, and only then, was management willing to sit down and negotiate in good faith.

              • Rhino

                And why did the government come down on the side of labour? Fear that homegrown anarchists would be able, in the then current state of misery, to foment radical revolution a la Europe.

                The existence of bomb throwers and the fear they would become more powerful led the state to accommodate the working classes, and thereby reduce the likelihood of violence and revolution.

                • Absolutely incorrect.

                  Anarchists were completely irrelevant in the 1930s, when the Democratic Party decided to create an avenue for organized labor’s growth.

          • DocAmazing

            Happened before…and helped bring NRLA into being.
            Happened after…benefitted from its having happened.

            • Rhino

              Why are either of us engaging this guy? He believes that democratic consensus is an enemy of progress, and obviously hasn’t ever understood the difference between the bomb throwing bearded cliche of literature, and the reality of the peaceful co-op member.

              He’s an authoritarian leftist, essentially Lenin and Stalin’s philosophical cupbearer, and the biggest single danger the western left have to face.

        • “Bullets and dynamite are what got things to that point, in large part.”

          Those things happened in smallish doses, but it really didn’t lead to anything that created the success of the later labor movement.

          • wengler

            The Era of Dynamite was an attempt of upheaval by probably the most defeated workforce since serfdom and slavery. Industrial capitalism was not new anymore, and there was nothing left to restrain it. All the old institutions had been bought off or destroyed.

            Of course, those capitalists ended up going to war against each other because it was never going to be enough to share control of the world. And it was only after that, when the capitalists were sufficiently weakened over their many failures, that workers finally were able to win some battles.

      • Yes.

        Organized labor was successful when the state decided it was a good thing for organized labor to be successful.

        This is sad but basically true.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          But the state decided this in a moment of great fear (as Ira Katznelson notes at the start of his most recent book). And that fear included a fear of social violence.

          I certainly don’t think that fear was created by a (nascent) American revolutionary left. It was rather created by the collapse of the world economy and the rise of anti-democratic revolutionary regimes around the world.

          But one cannot entirely divorce the state’s decision that it was a good thing for organized labor to be successful from the state’s fear of violent revolution.

          In contrast, we shouldn’t be surprised that when the state has convinced itself that TINA, it doesn’t believe any concessions are necessary.

          Having said all that, romantic revolutionary leftists hording small arms is, for better or for worse, not going to create a ’30s-style state of fear, let alone a social revolution.

          • The real fear of the Roosevelt administration in the 30s was fascism, far more than communism. If there was to be a revolution in the United States during that decade, it would have been right-wing.

            • Scott Lemieux

              Right, a point Katznelson also makes very clear.

              • Incontinentia Buttocks

                I don’t deny that. I’m just saying that a perceived threat of political violence was, in fact, an important part of what led the state to accommodate organized labor in the 1939s.

  • LeeEsq

    I’m not a strict pacifist, at the very least I think that its morally unreasonable to expect people to respond to getting the shit kicked out of them by a drunk or a thug by just standing there. At the same time, I think that individuals, states, and non-government organizations should really try to avoid violence if possible. Violence does not usually lead to stable solutions, more often than not it doesn’t lead to any solution. Its more of a “in case of emergency, break glass” sort of solution. Something thats a last resort. There should be no pleasure derived from hurting or killing other humans even if they are despicable.

    • Random


    • DocAmazing

      You might want to print that on cards and distribute them to corrections and law enforcement personnel.

    • wengler

      As a country, we have allocated many tens of billions of dollars annually to do(or at least appear to do) many of the very nice things you state above.

      And hundreds of billions to turn anyone that dismays our country’s leadership into ash.

  • LeeEsq

    Another thing, was Malcolm X really that much of leftist or radical? His overall rhetoric was much more angry than MLK’s but at the same time his vision wasn’t as radical or far-reaching. There is a good argument that for all his militarism and anger that Malcolm X falls towards the side of African-American conservatism, the sort of African-American self-sufficiency advocated by Booker T. Washington and company. It was MLK that sought to radical change American society on race and other issues.

    • wengler

      Broadly, MLK believed in racial integration and X didn’t, but Malcolm X’s stance was softening before he was killed, so who knows where he would’ve ended up. I think black nationalism would still be considered more radical than civil rights though.

      • LeeEsq

        Not necessarily so. A Black Nationalist movement might seem more radical but you have to get down to what its actual viewpoints on the specifics are. If they just want an independent African-American society without really changing much of how things are done than it could be less radical than a civil rights movement in support of broader socio-economic change.

      • Gepap

        “Radical” in the sense of creating new boundaries perhaps, but there is nothing inherent to nationalism that would challenge the position of capital or religious orthodoxy.

  • Corey

    “Gun laws, much like drug laws, are used to oppress the poor and people of color.”

    Is there seriously any argument to be made against this statement?

    • LeeEsq

      Yes. Many people of color live in urban areas and like other urbanites tend to seriously favor strong gun-control legislation because they believe it will be safer that way. If people of color favor gun control laws overall than you really can’t argue that gun control legislation is against their interest unless you want to deny them agency.

      • jb

        The problem with that reasoning is that many urbanites and people of color also favor the “War on Drugs” because they see the damage that drug abuse does to their communities. I agree with them that drug abuse is harmful, but I do not think the current “War on Drugs” is much of a solution. I suppose that if one were opposed to gun control-Which I’m not-one could make a similar argument.

        • LeeEsq

          Ultimately, I think that in a democracy citizens have to be allowed to make bad, not optimal, or counter-productive policy choices. A democracy isn’t an automatic guarantee that the best solution to a problem will be picked.

          • jb

            I absolutely agree. I’m not saying my preferred policies should be forcibly imposed or anything like that. I merely meant to say that the fact that people suffering from a social ill support a certain policy to solve that ill, does not mean that the policy will actually work.

            And I actually support quite strict gun control laws, including background checks and a ban on automatic weapons. I would also support something like the Canadian long gun registry or the Australian buyback program if I thought there was any chance it would actually happen.

      • Sure you can they call it “false consciousness.” It is a staple among Marxist revolutionaries.

        • LeeEsq

          Thats just Marxists finding an excuse for their lack of persuasive powers.

    • Random

      Is there seriously any argument to be made against this statement?

      One of the best things you can do to keep an impoverished, crime-ridden neighborhood impoverished and crime-ridden is to flood it with cheap guns.

      • DocAmazing

        Then the cops can roll in and pick people up for possession of firearms that they wouldn’t look twice at in a suburban gun show.

        • Random

          I’m not inventing the fact that this country has a gun problem and I’m not inventing the fact that it very disproportionately victimizes minorities.

          Another 3 people were shot near here a few days ago, one of them died. Friend of mine and his family including his mother were held for nearly an hour with guns literally pushed up against their heads in January (since then they sold their store and are moving). I heard the shot that ended a boy’s life back in September or October from my front porch.

          Can’t blame the cops for any of that. I can blame the people that push guns in this neighborhood though.

          • jb

            Again, I agree with you that gun violence is a serious problem, and that stricter gun laws are needed.

            But note that what you said about flooding a neighborhood with cheap guns could just as easily be said about flooding it with cheap drugs.

            • And all of those stories you need on the news about innocent bystanders being killed by a stray joint!!

              • jb

                And all of those stories you need on the news about innocent bystanders being killed by a stray joint!!

                Again, I agree that the “War on Drugs” is stupid and that marijuana should be legalized.

                But not all drugs are like marijuana.

                The spread of drug abuse, particularly the spread of crack cocaine, has had numerous bad effects in poorer neighborhoods. It is a major factor in fueling crime. And yes, drug addiction has caused deaths.

                Drugs aren’t as bad as guns, true, but the idea that they are harmless and never have any bad social effects is an absurd fantasy.I encourage you to actually visit some drug treatment clinics, as I have, and talk to the people there. Maybe then you wouldn’t be so flippant.

                This is not to say that the current drug laws are a good solution. In fact, my preferred policy would be a legalization of marijuana and certain ‘soft’ drugs, and treatment programs for harder drugs, as opposed to just locking people up for using them.

        • wengler

          This is why the NRA loves the ‘enforce the gun laws’ rhetoric. The subtext is always ‘put black and brown kids in prison and throw away the key’.

        • jb

          The thing is, that’s not really a serious argument against gun laws, because almost any law can be applied in a discriminatory manner, and many laws have been applied in such a manner. This is true of even simple traffic laws.

          • DocAmazing

            It is an argument against less-than-carefully-written gun laws. Pat of the problem is that many gun laws were written by people who know next to nothing about firearms, so arms manufacturers can get around them easily; part of the problem is that some gun laws are written much like drug laws, so that they lend themselves readily to hassling poor and minority communities (see Ronald Reagan and the Black Panthers).

    • Djur

      Gun control measures applied at the source (controlling sales) are not a tool of oppression, no.

      As for individual gun control (controlling possession), yes, it can and has been used to oppress the poor and minorities, just like pretty much any criminal law. You can’t be addicted to guns, though, and the economic role of guns is different from that of drugs. You have to demonstrate that gun control programs resemble the War on Drugs in focus and effect before you can equate the two.

    • So are you suggesting people of color, who overwhelmingly support strict gun laws, are suffering from false consciousness?

    • I’ll try for a twofer:
      a) Some drug laws and some gun laws do, in fact, oppress the poor and people of color. I feel those laws should be changed. (In practice, selective enforcement is the only way these laws can function at all.)

      b) Others do not. We feel those should stay.

  • Matt T. in New Orleans

    I’ve run into this mindset before, most recently just before the latest gun-control debate stirred up year or two back. What struck me most – apart from the pipe dream that owning a few rifles and a couple pistols not only kept the federal government in check but also kept it trembling in fear of the masses – was the total and complete lack of concern for collateral damage, be it government workers who aren’t actively involved in taking freedom away from the whi…, er right Americans (sorry), but also for the poor shlubs who’re just trying to get through one day at a time and don’t masturbate furiously to the whole Red Dawn fantasy yet happen to get caught in the imaginary battle’s crossfire. It’s not enough apparently to cheer the deaths of DMV workers (the exact jackboot thugs that Agenda 21 will sic on us when the government really cracks down on Freedom) but one must not give a shit about some guy who happened to be in the wrong place when the Proper People finally revolt.

    It’s sort of like those who cheer for extreme right-wing government (which I heard a lot from self-described leftists in the Bush years) so America will learn its lesson finally – cause that always works so well – and don’t give a tinker’s damn about anyone not powerful enough or willing to fight that fight. The whole “omelet/broken eggs” mindset, and I confess, I can no longer take ’em seriously.

  • Sly

    Largely because if you use your gun against the state, you are going to die very quickly or be put in a deep dark hole for the rest of your life.

    And if you use your gun against a powerful private interests with no public accountability, which is the logical outcome of anarchism, how is it any different?

    This is the point that anarchism misses; it leads to the same promulgation of private tyrannies that conservative libertarians tend to whitewash, ignore, or even champion. Instead of having a local thug with a badge enforcing the dictates of the monied elite, with limited opportunities for due process, you’ve got a local thug without a badge enforcing the dictates of the monied elite with no one looking over his shoulder. A cop who kills an unarmed protester gets a visit from IA and a months-long investigation. A “security contractor,” accountable to no legal authority, who does the same thing gets a promotion and a raise.

    • A cop who kills an unarmed protester gets a visit from IA and a months-long investigation, and his job back more often than not. A “security contractor,” accountable to no legal authority, who does the same thing gets a promotion and a raise.


    • DocAmazing

      You really haven’t read much from anarchists, have you?

    • wengler

      In an anarchist society, it’s not so much that these are people that make the law and these are the people that enforce the law, and everyone else are victims. Its more along the lines of we are responsible for both making and enforcing the rules of conduct that are broadly agreed upon.

      You can certainly call that stupid or naive, but it in no way resembles the sort of American libertarian scenario you outlined.

      • LeeEsq

        So basically, its kind of like Athenian democracy but without the sexism, slavery, and private property. I think that history demonstrates that there were tremendous problems with Athenian democracy and people who challenged its broadly agreed upon “rules of conduct” got hit down hard. They were either sent into exile, ostracized, or given the death penalty like Socrates. You might see anarchism as the ultimate freedom but it could also be communities enforcing some very oppressive social norms.

        When you are dealing with very large numbers of heteorgeneous people, you aren’t going to get agreed upon codes of conduct that easily. There is going to be a lot of disagreement on whats acceptable or not. Thats why Dr. Dick and others point to the problems of scale and note that anarchism works best in small, homogenous communities rather than large, heterogeneous ones.

        Incidentally, Classical Athens was horrible with infrastructure for the most part. They had the Acropolis and some other impressive monuments but the streets and other buildings were in a lack of repair.

  • Mark

    Anarchism is an ideology, not a tactic. Violence is a tactic. People who smash storefront windows to stick it to international capitalism may or not be anarchists, but whatever they are, the smashing doesn’t make them one or the other.

    I consider myself an anarchist, tending toward the Kropotkinite “anarcho-communist” variety. It’s been a long time since I considered armed resistance to law enforcement or the military a plausible or desirable option. I think that influencing the government to do fewer horrible things and more good things is a much more viable strategy — for people more concerned with actually improving the world than with showing how awesome they are.

    I don’t own a gun. I don’t even own a pocketknife. Sometimes I think I’d like to have a shotgun in the house, but not to defend myself against the cops, or even against criminals. If I had a gun it would be to defend myself against assault from armed right-wing wackos in case they decide that the Jewish Democrat needs killing. This is also an unlikely scenario, and my girlfriend is against it, so I think I’ll keep giving the money to charities and Democrats instead.

    • There needs to be a name, or maybe a support group, for “anarcho-communists who gives money to Democrats”, because I’m sort of in that category myself and feel kind of idiotic about both aspects of it, as well as their mutual contradiction.

      • Mark

        I don’t think it’s contradictory. An anarcho-communist has certain ideas about what causes people to suffer, but is politically engaged because he or she wants there to be less suffering. I’d like to live in a decentralized society based on sharing and mutual aid, but I believe we’re obligated to take actions that have an impact in the actual present world. There are many, many changes that can be made within the existing structure of government and society which can make a huge difference to millions of people. Why would an anarcho-communist reject the opportunity to help bring about those changes?

        • Yes, any moral and engaged anarcho-communist should be taking small steps towards the better world they envision. But if those steps involve supporting a major political party and helping solidify its access to state power, and in the process strengthening the role of the state in society — well, there is a bit of contradiction there, don’t you think?

          If I really wanted to bring about the collapse of the state and the onset of anarchism, I’d support Republicans as the party most likely to discredit the legitimacy of the state and its government. A well-functioning state that served the needs of the people is not likely to make itself disappear, nor would anyone want it to.

          • DocAmazing

            A well-functioning state that served the needs of the people

            Since we’re not going to see that coming from either major political party, the possibility remains alive.

          • mds

            If I really wanted to bring about the collapse of the state and the onset of anarchism, I’d support Republicans as the party most likely to discredit the legitimacy of the state and its government.

            As someone else who has libertarian socialist sympathies, I suggest that your unwillingness to go with this plan is because you have noticed that “heightening the contradictions” doesn’t usually work. In part because it comes back to the notion of violence (There’d be a lot more shooting that way), and in part because it’s at least as plausible that the dramatic implosion of our current system of government would lead to The Handmaid’s Tale meets Triumph of the Will. If I were certain that the increased misery would lead to a better world, perhaps I could suppress my compassion sufficiently. But increased misery on the off chance that the eventual replacement would be great? Eh.

      • That strikes me as being less contradictory than the anarchists I know who are also proud non-voters. The bright side is that no matter how much I agree or disagree with their politics, it’s hard to be offended, since their sum contribution to the political process is self-righteous Facebook posts.

  • somethingblue

    The moral case for using violence [is] complex and contingent upon the situation. We can all think of cases where violent resistance was not only justified [but] necessary.

    “We all”?

    Believe it or not, there are reasonable people who have not held this view.

    • Rhino

      There are people who have held this view. They were not reasonable.

      There are things which require violent and terminal response, to say otherwise is to reveal that you have never paid enough attention to the actions of evil people.

      I will allow that these occasions are much rarer than most people think.

      • somethingblue

        There are things which require violent and terminal response

        “Terminal response”? Srsly?

        Say what you will about non-violence, dude, at least it’s an ethos.

        • Rhino

          Say what you want about the Second World War, but if nobody bothered to fight the Germans life would be a lot worse today.

          Sorry to go all fucking Godwin, but the only thing stupider than a war hawk is a pacifist.

          • Digger

            But if no one would of fought, for, the Germans, things would be a lot better.

            • Rhino

              And if I had a sparkle pony to ride to work each day, my carbon footprint would be ever so much smaller.

              • Digger

                Pacifism could of been the solution to Nazi Germany. My answer wasn’t any more fantastical than your “everyone except the Germans are commited to the ideals of pacifism” hypothetical. Every country was willing to use violence in WWII, and a lot of it was massively unsuccessful at stopping Germany.

                • Rhino

                  Are you shitting me? The main reason the Second World War dragged on so long, killed so many people, and nearly destroyed democracy entirely was the reluctance of the allied countries to engage nazism earlier.

                • Digger

                  The British and French empires and the Soviet Union were not pacifist enterprises. All three of them were engaged in massive campaigns of violence in the 30s. I don’t think the argument that they were distracted by engaging in the wrong kind of violence is an argument against pasificsm.

          • wengler

            Considering that pacifism is the least cowardly position imaginable(it puts you into immense harm with no recourse), it’s hard to understand what you are talking about.

            War is sustained by those who are willing to fight the war and those who aren’t willing to not fight it. Pacifism is an implicit challenge to any authority fighting a war.

            • Which makes it pretty much exactly as effective as a missile defense shield.

            • Rhino

              I didn’t say pacifism is cowardly. I said it was stupid.

              Your position is that nobody should have gone to war with nazi germany? Really?

              Ah Godwin, nice to see you again so soon.

          • It depends.

            A little pacifism might have gone a long way in 1914.

            Munich 1938 is not the only lesson to be learned from history.

            WWII got started because nobody wanted a war. WWI started because everybody wanted a war.

            • Rhino

              Agreed on all points, Monsieur Kong, but really I think it supports my statement: pacifism is not the answer, because sometimes violence is necessary.

              • Malaclypse

                Which violence was helpful in 1914? Please be specific and use examples. Bonus credit if you can support the idea that the death of the pacifist Jean Jaurès helped in any war.

                • Malaclypse

                  Err, in any way. Damn auto-correct.

                • Rhino

                  I agree with the good major in regards to ww1. Sorry, should have been clearer.

                  To be fair, I think most instances of war are indefensible, I simply take issue with the idea that pacifism is always a credible path.

            • Gepap

              Adolf Hitler most certainly wanted war. The whole “Munich” argument is premised on thinking that either Hitler’s hold on power in 1938 was tenuous and his domestic opponents could have moved against him had Hitler pushed for war in early 1938 (I don’t know if I buy this) or that the Allies would have been in a more advantageous military position in early 1938 than they were in late 1939 (more credible, but that means that war would have occurred).

    • Really? So the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto wasn’t justified? Or anti-colonial rebellions in Vietnam or Algeria?

      • Malaclypse

        Much violence is justified. Far less violence is helpful.

        • Usually this is true. But not always.

          • Malaclypse

            Perhaps. I’m not willing to fight with you over the point ;-)

  • Not to mention that Cuba circa 1958 was hardly a military superpower.

    The US military of 2013 is several orders of magnitude more lethal than what Batista had at his disposal.

  • shah8

    Duuuuudes, if *I* were to go all totin’ guns and shit, I wouldn’t be keeping them around for the revolution or defense from the government, but as defense from pogroms.

    I don’t have the inflated sense of self to get guns and think they’d work any more than momentarily, but violent right wing groups tolerated by the local authorities would be what those bullets are for.

  • Mike Schilling

    Leftists might point to Castro in 1958 as an example of a romantic violent revolution overthrowing a corrupt state

    And replacing it with it brutal dictatorship. Hell of a good argument.

    • Rhino

      Anybody who thinks Castro was a step downwards from Batista is too stupid to operate a computer, and you appear to be doing so, so the only logical conclusion is that you’re trolling.

      • Anyone who thinks Castro could only be a great improvement or a horrible downgrade from Bautista may want to be a bit more imaginative.

        • Rhino

          Imagination? How about analysis? The vast majority of Cubans love Castro to pieces… I wonder why?

          • And Germans loved Hitler

            [You invoked Godwin; live by Godwin, get shown to be silly by Godwin]

            But in the spirit of bipartisanship, Russians also love Stalin.

            • Mike Schilling

              Don’t you know that nationalism is evil and destructive unless it supports one of my guys? Then it proves he’s super cool.

              • “Dictators who use nationalism to secure their hold on power are the heroes of leftist, cosmopolitan politics!”

            • Rhino

              Yeah, tell me Dana, do Germans still love hitler?

              Didn’t think so.

              Is himmler still the hero of the German people?

              Didn’t think so.

              Castro and Che? Wow, still heroes, because they improved the lives a d prospects of the vast majority of Cubans over the horrifying Batista regime. But that’s okay, facts and knowledge have formed no part of your arguments yet, so why would we expect that to change?

          • Digger

            You have to remember that only Americans can judge their own, and others, leaders accurately.

            • Mike Schilling

              Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are puppets of the capitalists.

        • John Revolta

          Hmm, I must’ve missed where he said “great improvement” and “horrible downgrade”…………………

          • Maybe it was the failure to get that not saying doesn’t mean not implying.

      • LeeEsq

        Castro was an improvement over Batista on material issues like healthcare or education. On things like civil liberties and political rights, he is worse than Batista but a lot better than other Communist leaders. Roughly, Castro is to Communists what Salazar was to Fascists, he represents the lighter end of the spectrum.

        • I don’t think Batista was better than Castro on civil liberties and political rights. They were probably about the same.

          • LeeEsq

            I should have been more clear. Castro is worse than Batista simply because he was in power longer and had more opportunity to be worse. Thats the only reason Castro was worse than Batista on civil liberties and political rights.

            • Weren’t there rather more executions, to say nothing of foreign military adventures?

              Batista wasn’t a good leader. Had Cuba’s pre-Castro trajectory continued, though, judging by the examples of other Latin American societies at its level of development Cubans would have had a rather nicer time of it.

      • Batista wasn’t willing to destroy Cuba in a nuclear war, at least.

        • mds

          Unlike the Kennedy administration?

          • As I understand it, Castro was willing to see Cuba destroyed in a nuclear exchange if it meant the destruction of imperialism, to the point that he favoured a nuclear first strike and was upset with Khrushchev when the worried Soviet leader placed launch authority for nuclear missiles in question under exclusive Soviet control.

            The United States and the Soviet Union were run by people who were far warier than Castro and his cohort of the costs of nuclear war, and more respectful of human life including Cuban life. Neither superpower wanted Cuba destroyed, admittedly out of concern for the security of their own homelands. Castro was willing to risk everything.

  • tt

    Erik, I’m curious how this fits in with the post you made here, which I argued against in the comments at the time using some of the same arguments you’re making now.

    You say now that threatening violence has a failed record in US history. But in that earlier post, you wrote:

    As I’ve stated before, capitalists and governments only reform when pressured from the left. Fix the problems of the Gilded Age so the anarchists quit shooting our presidents in the stomach and our industrialists in the face is a useful way to think about the Progressive Era.

    This doesn’t sound like a failed record. So, have you changed your mind, or is there something I’m missing? Was leftist violence useful in the late 19th century but stopped being useful by WW2?

    • Different time periods, different state capacity to respond to that violence. In the Progressive Era, the state simply lacked the capability to crack down on dissent in a substantive way. Part of Progressivism was to try and tinker around with some of the problems leading to that dissent (but not giving control to actual working people). Part of Progressivism was also developing the state capacity to truly crush that dissent, which the state was able to do with remarkable effectiveness by 1919.

  • agentX

    because I’m horrified that racist whites are heavily armed in areas of the country that oppose democratic rights. ”

    All the other quoted statements are wacko territory except for this one.
    There are a LOT of crazy racist white folk out there, a majority of which are ARMED and potentially dangerous. If they were not white, we would call them enemy soldiers or Al-QAEDA/TERRORIST sympathizers. But because they’re white, we call them ‘off’ or ‘gun nuts’. They are a threat that we should ‘stamp out’ with ‘extreme prejudice’ or whatever buzzwords the ‘gun nuts’ like to use to describe what they plan to do to the REST of US.

    Does that mean arming minorities to fight racist whites should those racist whites rise up like the Confederacy or Taliban in Afghanistan? Mmm, sounds a bit extreme. I don’t think we’re at that stage yet. I think encouraging racists whites to live in compounds like those in Idaho is a better tactic. Makes ’em easier to hit from the skies, too.

    What pro-gun liberal people who want revolution seem to forget about is that whomever wins, makes the rules. See Libya, see Syria. Are you SURE these ‘anti-government’ folk will have YOUR best interest at heart? Will they share the same values you do? Or will they not? And what happens when they do not? Will you rise up in arms against the ‘Christian Taliban’ as they did against the government? And if so, do you have the guts to do what it takes to win? More importantly, do you have the guts to stop fighting?– see, that’s the hard part, knowing when to put the guns/WMDs/drones down. It took us years to do that after the American Revolution. Libya is going thru something similar.

  • HP

    I’m just amused by the fact that there are people who imagine themselves the leaders of an armed rebellion who blanch at the idea of purchasing weapons on the black market.

    I mean, you’re already considering treason; why should you let gun laws get in your way?

    • THIS.

      Jesus fucking Christ, I’ll never understand why people seem to think they’ll get cooperation from the government they’re trying to overthrow.

  • John Revolta

    There’s one thing I’m pretty sure of…………..if you don’t want the government to come knocking on your door someday, you probably ought not to be preaching violent revolution on the Intertoobz…..

  • wengler

    The left’s embrace of violence today is largely held by its anarchist side, which unfortunately makes up a large percentage of younger activist leftists. Here, the individual has the right to engage in violent behavior outside of a chain of authority and can not be concerned about the consequences. We’ve this in real time, both in the WTO protests in Seattle and Occupy protests in New York and Oakland.

    In the worst ‘violence’ perpetrated by these leftists, some plate glass windows were broken and newspaper stands vandalized. In contrast the police broke up hundreds of peaceful protests with violence dressed up as paramilitaries. They also trampled on the first amendment by arresting or threatening to arrest any journalist that attempted to document their actions on scene.

    Contrast the leftist ‘violence’ with the rightwing violence and it’s laughable. Two shotgunned to death in a Unitarian church. One dead in another church in the terroristic slaying of an abortion provider. A bomb that failed to go off at a MLK day parade. The white supremacist killings of judges and random minorities in the streets of Chicago and Tulsa. The massacre of Sikh adherents by another white supremacist. And it goes and on and on.

    We can mourn that plate glass window another day. It’s open season for the rightwing against the ‘other’ in this country and boy do they like hunting.

    • Smashing plate glass windows is a great way to intimidate people. That’s what happened in Toronto, with the Black Bloc in 2010: attacks against public spaces, attacks threatened against people documenting the activities, pointless stuff.

      The only thing the Black Bloc attacks did was legitimate a police crackdown on protesters, which, I suppose, was the point of the politique du pire-inspired Black Bloc in the first place.

      • jb


  • scott

    Was this a post in search of a problem? I wasn’t previously aware of the scary threat posed by lefty anarchists, but Erik has opened my eyes to the Hackysack Menace. Seriously, do these guys ransack every inch of the interwebs and their own experiences for the last bit of material they can use to combat anyone one degree to the left of them? Sometimes it seems to me that only Fox News and Red State types devote more emotional energy to this than they do.

    • I completely refute the notion that these so-called anarchists are one degree to the left of me on anything, unless we count vague notions of a stateless society that will never happen to the left.

      • scott

        I completely refute the notion that they’re worth worrying about, so I’ll leave that to you, although it seems to be an odd use of your time. Understandably, you seem to have taken it personally when some of these wackos dumped on you after your Newtown posts, but I just can’t too excited about “internet anarchists…..wearing their Che shirts.”

        • DocAmazing

          An anarchist is a Che shirt is probably not an anarchist. Much like a socialist in a BMW is probably not a socialist.

          • mds

            An anarchist is a Che shirt is probably not an anarchist.

            Given that the whole “belonging to the vanguard” thing pretty strongly suggests that Che himself wasn’t some sort of mutualist or Luxemburgist archetype, I would agree with this part of the assessment.

            Much like a socialist in a BMW is probably not a socialist.

            This one, however, gets a little too close to the “Why does Al Gore fly on airplanes?” line of reasoning for my comfort. Though I take the point that BMWs are sufficiently ostentatious, as opposed to a more affordable sedan, I’m still reminded of the interviewer who couldn’t help observing that China Miéville owns Apple products. (No, I don’t own a BMW.)

  • Steve

    Ah yes, American air superiority negates all resistance. Just ask the Viet Cong, Or the Taliban. And this, of course, is counting on the idea that 18-22 year old Americans will be entirely willing to blow up their families and neighbors- slightly different (in perception at least) than blowing up some faceless brown people overseas.

    • Ask MOVE about this question.

    • Gepap

      Wait, the Viet Cong won militarily? Let me check that… actually, no they didn’t. Has the Taliban won militarily? Let me check…NOPE. And what makes you think that young Americans would be asked to shoot their own families? We do have an example in American history of a massive armed revolt against the Federal Government – its called the Civil War. We all know that is was those valiant Southern rebels who won their ability to continue chattel slavery, right?

      There is nothing worse than making lazy historical analogies. The ability of any open armed revolt to succeed is, like most military actions, completely case dependent. You might be able to formulate some big rules of thumb, but your comparison breaks the few one can make. Any analysis that compares colonial or quasi-colonial actions with violence against the cosmopolitan center of the empire is generally invalid.

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  • This might have been brought up–I try to at least scan the comments, but it’s a pretty long thread–but this has bothered me intensely ever since the anarchists on my feed got really into gun rights. Police power isn’t just the ability to enforce laws; it’s also the ability to choose not to enforce laws, or enforce laws selectively. Ergo, widespread ownership of firearms increases police power, since police are already disinclined to bother with crimes committed by certain people against certain people.

    Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws, unsurprisingly, seem to work a lot better for men than for women, and better for whites than blacks. It’s probably the best example we have of the relationship between vigilantism and police power: we stretch self-defense to absurd lengths, essentially allowing people to shoot people in altercations they initiated, and the state decides whether or not it’s worth investigating according to vague and subjective criteria.

    Vigilantism and police states go together like peanut butter and chocolate.

  • Andrae


    Regarding your airpower comment, any government forced to resort to using airpower against its own citizens has been forced to concede it no longer commands uncontested legitimacy. In other words, the outcome with or without the use of airpower is now in doubt; which, given the obstacles faced by any prospective rebellion, is at least half the war.

    That being said, I don’t disagree with your post (except for the airpower bit); however, I think it is weakened by not anticipating the obvious rejoinder: “Well, when things do get that bad it will be too late to wish we had guns.” There is a total disconnect between the wannabe-liberty-tree-waterer’s fixation on civilian gun control and the mechanics of civil or paramilitary insurrection.

    Put simply, no number of 2nd amendment handguns is sufficient to arm a civil insurrection. Moreover the effectiveness of a civilian AR15 compared to an M16+body-armour, is not appreciably better than that of a hunting rifle or shotgun in the same comparison.

    Per every successful armed insurrection, until some portion of the police or armed services switch sides the rebels will always be restricted to irregular (ie. ‘terrorist’) warfare. Consequently the ‘defence against the government’ argument is invalid when applied to regulations on the possession of handguns and assault-rifles as these weapons are neither necessary to commence an armed insurrection, nor sufficient to end it.

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