Original title: Il rifiuto delle armi, ‘ProvocAzione’ no.10, January 1988, p.10
The ‘refusal’ of arms is an implicit in antimilitarism. But this concept is taken for granted and is hardly ever gone into in any depth.
Being precise objects, weapons are certainly the fundamental instruments that not only the army as an organisation (which would not make sense if it were unarmed), but also the military mentality (which has derived a series of authoritarian deformations from the use of weapons) is based on.
This is so. Armies have always been armed, and have created a particular form of hierarchical organisation with a fixed, rigid level of command precisely because the use of weapons is—or at least is believed to be—rigid and must obey precise rules. The same goes for the mentality. The ‘armed’ individual feels different, more aggressive, and (apparently) more easily overcomes the frustrations that everyone has in them, so ends up becoming overbearing and cowardly at the same time.
But militarism cannot, even in its own opinion, make an ‘optimal’ use of weapons. It must insert their possible use within the political and social context of an unstable equilibrium, both nationally and internationally. At the present time a purely ‘militaristic’ use of arms would be inconceivable. That leads those who carry weapons, as well as their bosses and the arms producers, to developing an ideology of defence with which to cover not only their use but also their production and perfectionment in the negative sense.
When antimilitarists limit themselves to simple declarations of principle, weapons remain something symbolic, i.e. they remain the abstract symbols of destruction and death. On the contrary, if antimilitarism were to go forward concretely and open up the road to liberation in the material sense, then it would not be able to limit itself to a symbolic refusal of arms, but would have to go into the problem more deeply.
In fact weapons, being objects, are considered differently according to the point of view they are being looked at from. That goes for anything, and weapons are no exception. This is not a relativist conception, it is a simple materialist principle. Arms as inert objects do not exist. What do exist are arms in action, i.e. that are used (or waiting to be used) in a given perspective. That is so for all things if we think about it. We tend to imagine things cut off from their historical and material context, as though they were something abstract. But if that were so they would become meaningless, reduced to the impotence we would like to reduce them to in the case of weapons. In fact things are always ‘things in action’. Behind the thing there is always the individual, the individual who acts, plans, uses means to attain ends.
There is no such thing as an abstract weapon (taken as an isolated object), therefore. What do exist are weapons that the army uses in its projects for action. These are given a specific investiture as instruments for the ‘defence of the homeland’, ‘maintaining order’, ‘the destruction of the infidels’, ‘the conquest of territory’, etc. The soldier is therefore in possession of a vast outfit of ideologies or value models, which he acts out when he uses weapons. When he shoots he feels, according to the circumstances, defender of the homeland, builder of the social order, destroyer of the infidels, engineer of social territory, etc. The more his role corresponds to that of the crude executioner, the more he is at the mercy of the fabricators of ideology and capitalist rule, the more the weapons he bears become blind instruments of oppression and death. Even if he were to lay them down they would still be objects within a general framework that qualifies them as instruments of death.
Now, if the project is different, if the aim of the action is different, the significance of the weapon changes. As a means, it can never be absolved of its limitations as an object with which it is possible to procure damage and destruction with a certain ease (which is what distinguishes the object ‘weapon’ from other objects many of which can also become such when necessary). We are not trying to say that the end—liberation, the revolution, anarchy or whatever other liberatory, egalitarian dream—justifies the means, but it can transform weapons into different ‘objects in action’. And this different object in action also comes to be a part of the antimilitarist struggle, even although to all effects it remains a weapon.
In a project of liberation, behind the weapon lies the desire to free ourselves from our rulers and make them pay for the damage they are responsible for. There is class hatred, that of the exploited against the exploiters, there is the concrete material difference of those who continually suffer offence to their dignity and want to wipe out those responsible.
That is all radically different to any ideological chatter about order and defence of the homeland.