The Uses of Violence 57

I am not in general fond of violence, but very seldom get het up about political violence against things. As a young man I contributed my small bit to rather a lot of violence done to Torness nuclear power station in the early stages of its construction. But I really do not approve of hurting policemen, or of hijacking peaceful demonstrations and spoiling their effect for those who worked hard in organising them.

If those attacking shops yesterday want to attack a bank headquarters in the City, organising it themselves, using surprise to minimise opposition and violence, doing what damage they can until it reaches the stage where someone might get hurt, then qucikly getting out, good luck to them. But there is no point at all to attacking bank retail branches, and the influential have not frequented the Ritz for half a century. They much prefer the Wolseley just across St James, but the rioters seem to have walked right past it and not given it much attention. They need a social adviser.

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57 thoughts on “The Uses of Violence

  • mike cobley

    Some pro-trasher comments on Facebook are trying to justify their righteous anger – well, that may well be what they're feeling but wouldn't it be possible to use wit, humour or satire to achieve similar ends? You might think you`re making some right-on statement in smashing and wrecking a branch of RBS or whatever, but in reality you've made life difficult for the ordinary people who work there while reinforcing the usual Daily Fail thug-journalism stereotypes. And not really upset the target bank/institution in the least – in fact, you may well have made them look like a victim, thus negating previous justified criticism of their macro-economic activities. Result, eh?

    • Herbie

      Do we know that it wasn't police infiltrators and agent provocateurs who encouraged this violence?

      That is their prime function in such demonstrations, after all.

  • Leo

    I agree that the vandalism and violence yesterday was wrong and counter-productive.

    On the flip side, it shows they hypocrisy of our leaders (both present and former) when they come out and condemn the use of violence, especially politically motivated violence, while our country is involved in three wars. Apparently it's not violence if it's performed by soldiers and military hardware, in another country, on a different type of people.

  • Vronsky

    If you expect to attract public support for the use of violence then indeed targets need to be chosen carefully. Those in power, whether in politics or banking, will only worry when their own skins and wallets are threatened. We already know from Iraq and Afghanistan (and Libya, soon) that breaking windows and stacking dead civilians in the street is not really a problem – those who instructed the slaughter are safe from it. While they remain safe the slaughter will continue.

    Whenever civil violence, aka terrorism, is particularly politically unconstructive one might be wise to question its authorship. There is strong circumstantial evidence that police and security services routinely infiltrate groups and demonstrations in order to fulminate violence and discredit that group or demo. Google ‘police provocateur’ and you’ll get plenty of stories. Here’s one, where the police later admitted their presence among the demonstrators but denied violent intent. Look at the video and judge for yourself.

    • Clark

      In case anyone's wondering, O'Cobblers was pointing out Craig's typos.

      Craig, there's another – an unwanted "not" in your second from last sentence. If you turn on "Check my spelling as I type" in your browser, it'll put a little squiggly red line under spelling mistakes. But it'll probably insist on US English!

      • mike cobley

        Ah, right – sorry, just an ingrained response to possible malicious riffs on ma surname. Jeez, how we are scarred by school!

  • E Stratton

    Since when did vandalism get redefined as violence? Terrorism Act 2000? I'm sick of the spin: vandalism is not violence. Who cares if McD's window gets shattered? It seems disproportionate to worry about a retail branch of LloydsTSB getting paintbombed or its windows smashed, when the cuts will have a *lethal* effect on many people in Britain. Comparatively, whither vandalism? A sense of proportion helps us prioritise.

    • Duncan_McFarlan

      I agree it's not violence, it's vandalism – still stupid and counter-productive and playing right into the hands of the government, the tabloid press and the establishment.

  • lwtc247

    "but the rioters seem not to have walked right past it and not given it much attention. They need a social adviser." Doesn't that tell you they already have a social advisor.

  • Guest

    I am against any violence of any kind. Demonstrations in the long run do nothing, the only way to change is getting people to mark their X for change. I have always found it the height of hypocrisy that so many people vote for a government and once it is in power they start to demonstrate against it. It doesn`t matter, Con,Lab, Lib Dem, they are all the same, "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.".

    We desperately need a change. do as I do, when there is no other choice then those three on the ballot paper, mark a NO, NO,NO, in all three boxes, if enough people do that we will get change.

    • Clark

      I hope you'll vote to change the voting system to AV in the referendum on May 5th. It's not the best change possible to the electoral system, but it will make it easier for independent and small party candidates to get elected. There's already a chink in the armour of the big parties; one Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas of Brighton Pavilion.

      • Guest

        They can fool all of the people some of the time, they can fool Clark all of the time!. The AV they are putting forward is a TOTAL joke as are the Green Party. Look at their record around the world when they gain power, they side with the right at the end of the day.

        • Duncan_McFarlan

          The Green Party aren't the same in every country. Caroline Lucas is pretty much a Green socialist as are the Scottish Green Party in coalition with the SNP in the Scottish parliament.

      • ingo

        Far from accepting this prechewed choice for the worst possible system, grudgingly made for you as an afterthought to a Lib dem electoral agenda, please spoil you ballot paper with the message 'where is our PR choice?'

        Guest, electoral fraud is institutionalised in some places, postal vote fraud has not been stamped out and voter intimidation happens on a regular basis, I vouch for that.
        As for Brighton Pavillion, I thank keith Taylor for his persistance and consistent building up of the vote, for over a decade, the real success behind Caroline Lucas win of that seat.
        This seat was achieved under the FPTP system and if the LibDems would have held out a few more days in coalition talks and made a proper case for their policies many more Greens would have got elected in future.

        Spoiled ballot papers get counted and if there are many more spoiled votes than votes for this would make big news.

    • Clark

      (1) Incremental change is how evolution works – don't knock it!
      (2) If you want evidence that AV is better for the people than FPTP, just look at who opposes it, and the scaremongering that is being directed at it.
      (3) I've a choice between a AV, that eliminates vote-splitting and gives independents a much better chance, and FPTP, where vote splitting is used to entrench power and hugely disadvantage independents, and you think I should spoil THIS ballot? Per-lease.

      • ingo

        If you want evidence of AV being pants, just look at the reservations of Australian voters, or those of the Fidjian Government, now desperate to change their election system.
        Alternative see what New Zealands voters thoughtfully rejected as insufficient and not worth a try, they also had a 'proper' choice like so many other UK constituents.
        I find this clammering for the worst possible and pre chewed option, by people who should really know better, uncomfortable to say the least.
        Coming nearer to May, the crescendo of shrill voices will increase no doubt and my shoes will be raised a little higher.

        • evgueni

          are you saying that the Aussies/Fidjians wish they could go back to FPTP? It would be irrational for us to reject a slightly better scheme than FPTP in favour of no change this time, on the basis that AV is far from "perfect" and better schemes are conceivable (but aren't on offer).

        • Clark

          Ingo, the Australian system is different, in that voters are forced by law to rank ALL parties, even the ones that they are utterly opposed to! I'm not surprised that Aussies are pissed off with that. Just think; under the Australian system, you and me would be forced to rank the BNP! If you give me some links for the Fijian and New Zealand situations, I'll have a look. There is also another aspect to AV, which is that the voters need to learn to use the system effectively. This will require a big publicity effort.

          I also see the similarity of AV with STV as a big advantage. STV is the good one, but in a referendum of FPTP vs STV, I think that many voters, alienated by years of FPTP, would fail to support STV because it would look like a huge change. On the other hand, going from AV to STV is just a case of bigger constituencies and multiple elected candidates; filling in the ballot paper is identical. AV is the best stepping-stone to STV, and I think you should reconsider.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    Frantz Fanon wrote in the “Wretched of the earth” in his chapter “Concerning Violence” the following words:-
    “National liberation, national renaissance, the restoration of nationhood to the people, commonwealth: whatever may be the headings used or the new formulas introduced, decolonization is always a violent phenomenon.”
    May I suggest that violence can be understood on two levels.
    The acts of individual violence directed at one human to the next without any professed or overt political intent – a man beating his wife; a parent beating and abusing a child; a yob at the Saturday match kicking shit out of the fan of the opposing club – and so on.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    Political actions leading to violence then can be placed in a separate category, because it is this type of violence that has given rise to the greatest human tragedies and loss of life – the two world wars; the bombings in Vietnam and Cambodia and of Afghanistan, Iraq and now Libya to mention a few examples that spring readily to mind.
    The unprovoked violence unleashed by the Western world on some sectors of humanity claims a place of righteousness masking itself behind reasons of humanitarian concerns, necessary pre-emptive actions, justifiable actions sanctioned under the auspices of the United Nations and so on. In essence an assumed and professed “civilized” use of extreme force and violence that tries to distinguish itself from the violence used by the lesser breeds.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    The petitions for peace coming from states such as the US or UK, in large measure ring hollow when measured against the barbarism of their state conduct in vast and repeated acts of violence unleashed on the world. The crusade of such violence does continue.
    Craig – isn’t that really how it ( violence at the political level) operates in the world as we can see it being used by Western forces?

  • Courtenay Barnett


    ""Naturally the common people don't want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along… Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of their leaders. That is easy. All you have to tell them is that they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

    Hermann Goering, President of the Reichstag, Nazi Party, and Luftwaffe Commander in Chief

    • mike cobley

      Understand the argument, but in fact that is far less true than it used to be. Chomsky makes the point – the kind of dissent and protest that was seen in the US and the UK ahead of the invasion of Iraq would have been unthinkable back in the 1950s or 60s. We have made some progress, awareness is heightened, information flows faster through many more avenues – yet it is not enough. Our democratic institutions have been found wanting – it is no longer enough to simply have the kind of democracy where we stick a cross on a ballot, then for the next 5 years the elected government gets to rule with impunity; we need the People's Veto, the right to have enacted legislation suspended pending amendment and reform, and we need the power of recall so that we can bring MPs to account and kick them out.

    • Clark

      Interesting link, Alfred, how did you find it? It has scored 103 "dislikes", and 24 "likes". There are masses of abusive comments, many from the English Defence League. It's all rather sad. While people rise up across the Middle East and North Africa, demanding democracy, these people, living within the sham democracy of the UK, equate "democracy" with wars of aggression. At the end of the clip, a young man speaks calmly and intelligently about why he opposes military action against Libya. He does not denounce democracy. I wonder how many of the abusers on the comments actually listened to him.

      • CanSpeccy

        Since your not calling me a liar today, I found it doing what I waste too much time doing, looking around the Web. If you mean where did I find it, the answer is I don't recall. I haven't read any of the comments, though I am not surprised if some people didn't like it.

        You say, "While people rise up across the Middle East and North Africa, demanding democracy …"

        This is a questionable assumption. According to African economist, Dambisa Moyo, it's a better standard of living that people in Africa want, not democracy. What's more, Moyo argues that without economic development giving rise to a stable middle class able to maintain the institutions of democracy, democratic reform in the developing world is meaningless. She argues that undemocratic China is probably the model that the developing world will or should follow:

        I agree with you comment on the sham democracy in the UK, which inclines me to believe that developing nations will tend to ignore the democratic model. When Britain was the greatest power on earth, parliamentary democracy looked the way to go. Now that China is demonstrating how to pull hundreds of millions out of poverty at breakneck speed, their form of government will be seen as the model to follow.

        • Clark

          Alfred, I'm sorry if I've called you a liar. My intention was only to point out comments of yours that I considered deceptive. I actually rather like most of your contributions. But this is an old argument, and I consider your contributions since the rebuild of this site to be far superior to those old "out on an untenable limb" arguments you used to be so apparently fond of. Indeed, I've been clicking the "thumbs up" by your posts quite a bit, though your "maybe they rape easily" got a "thumbs down" from me.

          Yes, it is sad that the Western model is so keen on discrediting itself, and becoming so corrupt. I'm a strong believer in TRUE democracy, because I have a strong faith in human nature, so long as it is given the right circumstances.

          • CanSpeccy

            "I'm sorry"

            It's handsome of you to say so.

            If my posts sometimes seem abrasive it is, I maintain, because I state facts that few Liberals or Left wingers seem able to assimilate — and its true I do that with every intent to rile and enrage. But, it is quite sincere, nevertheless!

            One would like to think that democracy could be made to work, but it is not clear that it ever has, except possibly where the electorate was small and the franchise limited.

            A problem with mass democracy is that it is all too easy for the political class to control the voters, rather than the other way around, because voters include not only the educated, the thoughtful and the experienced, but also the uneducated, the unthoughtful and the inexperienced, whose votes are quite sufficient to guarantee an election victory.

            An effective democracy would, therefore, require at the minimum, a sharp constriction of the franchise. In part, this could be achieved by raising the voting age, thereby eliminated the least experienced, without infringing their rights, since on attaining voting age the influence of their vote would be enhanced. If then one prevented the purchase of the allegiance of politicians through election campaign funding and after-office payoffs, we would certainly be in better shape.

            But we need to compel the politicians to deal with the issues that really determine national independence, survival and prosperity, which means raising the political intelligence of the population enormously, for the politicians will always do whatever they have to do to get the votes, which today means avoiding consideration of all long-term questions, whether economic, social or environmental.

            But the system we have now is no more than a deeply corrupting mechanism of oligarchic control. The damage that results includes the total disillusionment of the thoughtful and the socially responsible.

            If you've got 30 minutes, I recommend this talk by Dambisa Moyo:

            Or better still her book, "How the West was Lost." It provides some ideas of the basis on which one might plot a recovery.

          • evgueni

            CanSpeccy: "One would like to think that democracy could be made to work, but it is not clear that it ever has, except possibly where the electorate was small and the franchise limited. "

            I would like to falsify this hypothesis with the example of a properly functioning democracy – Switzerland. Would you care to comment?

            Actually, by "democracy" do you in fact mean specifically "representative democracy", the kind of shamocracy (*) that is prevalent in the West? Its origins are in the successful attempts by landed aristos to wrestle power away from the monarchy whilst giving none of it away to the people. In the process they created the helpful myth that popular sovereignty is achieved through "representation". But democracy is not done evolving yet. The contradictions between the myth and the reality are too great.

            Victor Hugo said that "Switzerland will have the last word in history", perhaps in recognition of the fact that the Swiss democracy by then had arrived at an inherently stable configuration in which popular sovereignty becomes an irreversible reality rather than just a mythical concept. What do you think?

            * attrib. Tiberius Leodis blog

  • Courtenay Barnett

    @ CanSpeccy it is not an either or choice. Let’s be sensible.
    1. How ironic when we consider where the weapons come from –as with Rumsfeld having played a central role in selling mustard gas to Saddam – and similarly to every willing buyer of arms ( regime type being irrelevant in these business dealings) around the world ( recall the BAE bribery case concerning Saudi Arabia).
    2. You seem to be assuming that because some Islamic fundamentalists are marching on the streets of London and have a straight line belief – Allah – Sharia = justice – that somehow all other options are political options are removed by reason of the implications of their protests. You seem to be implying that somehow the failure to challenge Ghadaffi will spur the rise of these types?

    • CanSpeccy

      What are you blathering on about? I just posted a link to a report on a nice peaceful demonstration against democracy. WTF has that got to d with selling mustard gas to Saddam?

    • YugoStiglitz

      Where is your evidence that Rumsfeld, or any one in the U.S., "played a central role in selling mustard gas to Saddam"? Is this a conspiracy theory of that idiot, and your hero, Louis Farrakhan?

      • Duncan_McFarlan

        The Reagan admin may not have supplied mustard gas, but they and the Bush administration and Thatcher and Major governments supplied plenty of money, dual use equipment (including e.g pumps produced by the British firm Weir Group and used to deliver mustard gas) to Saddam during his Anfal campaign of genocide against the Kurds – and for two years after Halabja – right up until Saddam's invasion of Kuwait.

        See e.g "The Iran Iraq war 1980-1988' by Efraim Karsh.

        These articles on congressman Henry Gonzalez's release of what the CIA had told members of congress (the Bush admin not denying any of it, but instead condemning him for releasing classified information)

        Also this congressional report on dual use and chemical weapons exports from the US to Iraq before the 1990-91 war

        And this US National Security Archive page on the Reagan administration's backing for Saddam while he was gassing the Kurds – and Rumsfeld's role as 'special envoy' to the middle east (including Saddam)

        So really Courtenay is mostly right on this – they provided him with money and dual use equipment useable to create and deliver mustard gas and political support while he was gassing the Iranians and Iraqi Kurds all through the Iran- Iraq war and for two years after it. That may not technically be providing the finished product, but in moral terms it's the same.

        • YugoStiglitz

          No, Courtenay is mostly wrong.

          For one thing, there's no evidence that the intent was to sell the equipment to produce mustard gas.

          Also, I don't think Iraq required the import of equipment to produce something as simple as mustard gas.

          In any event, the evidence that you present is nothing that I haven't read before – although I don't have time to look at it now – is there any evidence that the so-called "dual use equipped" supplied by the U.S. was used to make mustard gas?

          • Duncan_McFarlan

            Oh well that's all fine then. "You can't prove nothing copper" is your line of defence – and the fact that we can prove the Reagan and Bush administrations armed and funded Saddam and provided him with dual use equipment while he was gassing civilians – and for two years even after Halabja – that doesn't count.

            Selling equipment that can be used to make chemical weapons to a dictator who you know is, at that time, killing people with chemical weapons is also apparently fine in your book.

          • YugoStiglitz

            Duncan, where is the proof? Please point it out.

            Are you smart enough to understand that it doesn't take much to produce mustard gas? It's World War I technology.

            "You can't prove nothing copper" is a perfectly sufficient line of defense.

            Apparently evidence doesn't matter to someone like you. You believe that the assertion that Rumsfeld supplied mustard gas is backed up by some sales of equipment.

            If the U.S. had simply sold him a beaker, you'd have the same dumb argument.

          • ingo

            Herr Stiglitz, even if there is no consolidating proof of western companies collaborating with saddam in your history re write, Halabja has happened and it happened at the same time that western companies were solidly behind saddam and his Iran war effort, nothing that can be denied.

            Even on the off chance that they were not guilty, why were contracts and military support worth 650 million dollars granted within 48 hrs. of this massaker and why was the condemnation sounding like damp squid? Western association guilt is undeniable and I really don't know why you are even trying.
            Don't like mondays?

  • Courtenay Barnett

    3. Surely not – again the irony here – Ghadaffi the secularist who educates his people, and gives far better rights and justice to the women in Libya than say is the situation in Saudi Arabia – and has spent significant sums on Libyan development from the date he overthrew King Idris onwards – is suddenly the world’s greatest bogeyman. Now, the bombing ( later invading forces) seem to have aligned with Al-Quedia elements in Libya to do what? Well to bring the whole process of Libyan development back full circle of course – Allah – Sharia = justice. Some liberation.
    However to be perfectly serious – the dynamics are a lot more complex than what your reference to the London Islamic march implies.

    • CanSpeccy

      If you want to talk about violence, why not get real and talk about torture by our Al Qaeda allies in Benghazi, or racist lynch mobs going after black libyans in both Benghazi and Tripoli, or NATO bombing hospitals in Libya, as they did in Serbia.

  • Michael.K

    Personally I'm not a fan of vandalism, but clearly a handful of people regard attacks on symbols as a valid form of political protest. But as the press will use this vandalism to divert attention from the massively more important 500,000 people on a march through London, one has to wonder about the level of political sophistication or understanding exhibited by the 'anarchist vandals.' The vandalism is clearly counter-productive and a gift to reactionary forces.

  • Duncan_McFarlan

    The people smashing up shops just want to get on TV in my opinion. They usually succeed and by doing so the fools do a huge service to the establishment and the government by distracting attention from the majority of peaceful demonstrators and the aims they were marching for. They're limelight cases hurting their own (and the majority's) cause, not serious protesters at all. I have to wonder if they're paid agents provocateurs or just not very bright? They're also giving the worst elements of the police -t the ones who just joined so they could hit people with clubs without getting arrested for it – exactly what they want – and excuse to beat people up.

    • Vronsky

      "if they're paid agents provocateurs or just not very bright? "

      Both, in my experience. There's a lot of adrenalin around at a demo and it doesn't take much to push a few of the normally cautious to throw a stone or rush a cordon. The provocateurs I'm sure depend on this emotional leveraging effect. About a thousand years ago I demonstrated outside a rugby stadium against a visit by the Springboks during the period of apartheid. It was a very douce, middle-class protest – you know the rugby mob. But there was one character, leather jacket, motorcycle boots, ponytail (i.e. not one of us) who was trying to encourage us to rush the police. He just got quizzical looks. These bastards are around, and that's why violence should either never be used, or used only with calm planning and carefully evaluated targets. It should never be a response to some immediate provocation of the moment, difficult though that discipline might be.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    @ Duncan McFarlan – Have you ever thought that sometimes it is in the governement's interest to have yobbo plants palced on demonstrations for the very same reasons that you so lucidly expressed?

    • Duncan_McFarlan

      Hi Courtenay – yes – that's why i said i wondered if they were paid agents provocateurs or just not very bright (though i can see why you'd miss that as my post was too long and rambling). Either's possible. There were stories of the thugs in black with iron bars coming out of the police stations during the G8 in Genoa.

  • dreoilin

    Craig, did you know that this post is linked in the Masthead beside "Invite Craig to Speak" …

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