Violence and non-violence

From: ‘Rivoluzione, violenza, anti-autoritarismo’, La dimensione anarchica, Catania 1974, pp. 276-281.

The question of the difference between ‘violence’ and ‘nonviolence’ is usually posed wrongly because of the class interests and emotive reactions it triggers off.
State violence and the terrorism of the bosses knows no limits or moral obstacle. Revolutionaries, and anarchists in particular, are quite justified in responding to this violence with revolutionary violence.
Complications arise when we examine the positions of those who support nonviolence. In appearance only do they choose peaceful methods, which when seen in isolation are not violent, i.e. do not physically attack the adversary. When seen within the general framework of the struggle, their interventions (apart from those of organisations who use nonviolence as an alibi to leave things as they are) turn out to be just as violent as those carried out by the supporters of ‘violence’.
A march of ‘pacifist’ demonstrators is itself a violent event which upsets the order of exploitation. It is a demonstration of strength, a show of force. It does not differ from the ‘violent’ demonstration, at least in the choice of objective. From the strategic and revolutionary point of view, the idea of a violent demonstration capable of winning and holding a military victory is unthinkable today. In so saying, we do not mean that we should refuse revolutionary violence. We only mean we must be clear so as to avoid sanctifying the machine gun on the one hand or becoming the policeman of the situation on the other.
A purely verbal distinction between violence and nonviolence is a false one. A well-fed bourgeois can easily ‘theorise’ the most unchained violence against the boss class but only with difficulty will he put it into effect in conditions requiring total dedication to the revolutionary task. Most often his violence is purely verbal. In practice he prefers things to remain as they are because, among other things, that allows him to continue to exercise his fiery rhetoric.
Another equally well-fed bourgeois might feel himself transported to an exaltation of nonviolence, but still as something theoretical, something condemning the negative ‘instincts’ of struggle and violence and sanctifying the positive ‘instincts’ of peace and brotherhood. Only with difficulty however will this bourgeois put his nonviolent ‘principles’ into practice in a total daily involvement in the social struggle. He will prefer the comfort of the situation as it is, where he can carry on with his reflections on peace and brotherhood.
Before speaking of violence and nonviolence a distinction should be made as to whether the question is being applied to a real situation, or whether it is simply an abstract theory and there is no intention of actually applying it. Only in the case of the former is it possible to discuss the strategic and military conditions that render nonviolent methods less effective and more easily overcome by power. But this discussion is one which comes afterwards, it is a question of method and never an abstract one.
We are not interested in philosophical discussions on violence that lead to theories of the hereditary biological violence of the species, etc., which stink of theology. What is important is to approach the struggle in its reality. The rest is a question of choice of means and the best way to put them into effect.
If we are personally convinced that nonviolent methods are unsuitable in the social struggle today, not for this are we against the comrades who see their own dimension of struggle in nonviolent methods. What is important is that the struggle be engaged in seriously, that it not be limited to speaking of ‘nonviolent struggle’ as an alibi so that the police will leave us alone.
Abstract discussions on violence (nearly always fiery and bloody) and just as abstract discussions on nonviolence (nearly always idiotic and paradisiacal) are equally disgusting. We can only respond effectively to the historic crime of exploitation, terrorism, and institutionalised violence with struggle, using any means we choose. The violence (or nonviolence) of words and speeches will change nothing.