On Pacifism and the Anti-Cop Protests

End police brutality! Abolish the police!

Amidst the 2020 anti-cop, BLM protests in the US (that now have spread to the UK), some have denounced the violence used, which is said to include looting. They say that the looting and burning of homes and businesses need to be denounced, and that violence is unacceptable in protests. Several claims are at stake here, but ultimately the outrage of these pacifists is liberal, misplaced, and even perhaps deceptive.

First of all, these pacifists often seem to have selectively spoken up, not against the crimes of the cops or even the state, but only when someone besides the state causes harm.

Large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.

Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1985, the US government bombed Philadelphia to destroy the black liberation group MOVE.[1] In fact, the first plane attack on US soil wasn’t Pearl Harbor but the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, where the US government dropped bombs, including chemical gas shells, in order to kill striking coal miners.[2]

If the pacifists are so concerned about small businesses, where have they been, as for decades Target and Walmart have been destroying small businesses and making it impossible for them to survive? Many more livelihoods have been lost from Walmart forcing its way to monopoly status, than in the recent protests.

The most right-wing “pacifists” – the conservatives, who have just now switched from nationalist warmongering to pacifism so they can claim they support black lives – have been generalizing all protesters as “rioters”, i.e. violent protesters. This is clearly not true as protesters have been seen marching peacefully, when they were assaulted by police using cars, tear gas (a chemical weapon), rubber bullets, et cetera.

Rubber bullets

Accusations of chemical weapons were used to justify the invasion of Iraq and Syria. Those accusations were false. Now that the US government is openly using chemical weapons against its own people, by its own logic it is due to be invaded.

US cops have been training with Israeli and Egyptian cops (US allies). In Israel the cops enforce the genocide of Palestine, and in Egypt the military dictatorship has been violently repressing protesters for democracy. US tactics are now mirroring Israeli tactics. Thus, when faced with the threat of real change, the US government has revealed its true face – the face of fascism.

The conservatives, who just a month ago were protesting a pandemic lockdown, now welcome the curfew and the abuses wrought by cops during these protests. Cops in DC were seen attacking peaceful protesters thirty minutes before curfew had even begun. One black couple was seized from their car when they were trying to get home after curfew in a city, and the cops proceeded to beat them.

Amidst all this, are businesses really the pacifists’ concern? Are they so obsessed with the holy mandate of private property? “One cannot worship both God and money,” said Jesus, but this is exactly what capitalism demands.

Looting is a natural response to the unnatural and inhuman society of commodity abundance. It instantly undermines the commodity as such, and it also exposes what the commodity ultimately implies: the army, the police, and the other specialized detachments of the state’s monopoly of armed violence. What is a policeman? He is the active servant of the commodity, the man in complete submission to the commodity, whose job it is to ensure that a given product of human labor remains a commodity, with the magical property of having to be paid for, instead of becoming a mere refrigator or rifle — a passive, inanimate object, subject to anyone who comes along to make use of it. In rejecting the humiliation of being subject to police, black poeple are at the same time rejecting the humiliation of being subject to commodities.

Guy Debord [3]

Of course small businesses should not have been destroyed, nor homes, and the looting of stores just to resell them (for private profit) is wrong. But the Target where the looting is said to have begun, was denying things to the protesters, so it should be no problem at all that it was looted.

What is the obsession with private property? How is it that the difference between “peace” and “violence” is when someone goes to the checkout counter and pays? If a person actually owned and was using these items, sure that would be wrong. Target, however, is not a person; it is a megacorporation, that has certainly been responsible for the destruction of many small businesses. The force of the market in that regard is not considered violence, altho it robs a person of their livelihood. Somehow, capital’s control over labor is not violent to pacifists. Of course, in themselves, the force of the market and the control over labor are not directly violent; but the tools required to enforce them are very violent – namely, the police. As Debord said, the police are the servants of the commodity.

In fact, the fear over private property has even been exploited by cops working as agitators. In Seattle they have been seen destroying windows on a store. [15] It is alleged that the AutoZone fire in Minneapolis, which spread to a low-income housing development under construction, was started by an undercover cop; and it is certain that the protesters present were trying to stop that arsonist.

The close relationship between politics and economics is neither neutral nor coincidental. Large governments evolve through history in order to protect large accumulations of property and wealth.

Michael Parenti [4]

But when a “pacifist” says that taking an item from Target without paying – looting Target – is violent, while they continue to support capital and cops and the state, what they are really showing is that they support the current state-of-things, or the political State. The cops receive a pass from violence because they are agents of the State, and in their view, since the State is justified and private property is justified (to some degree justified by each other), the State’s violence is of less concern than the individual’s, or it is of no concern at all.

The state calls its own violence law, but that of the individual crime.

Max Stirner [5]

Terrorism is defined as attacking civilians to achieve political goals. Now the US government will claim, for example, that the Communist Party of India-Maoist is terrorist, simply because it has been defending tribal lands from corporations and fighting back the assault of the police. But when the US government or Indian government massacres civilians, both in their own country and abroad, it is no longer terrorism. The word for that is state terrorism, but it never gets used, except occasionally against states that oppose US imperialist interests.

Some of the pacifists have been quoting Martin Luther King Jr., who condemned the riots along with a disclaimer.

But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.

Martin Luther King Jr.[6]

But the Reverend King’s perspective was the moderate one, that pushed for reform under the US Constitution. It only worked because politicians saw the threat of violence if they refused to reform.

Tell him that he and all of the other moderate Negroes who are getting somewhere need to always remember that it was us extremists who made it possible.

Malcolm X on Martin Luther King, Jr.[7]

A significant portion of the violence condemned by pacifists has been against police stations and large corporations. The seizing of four cop stations in Minneapolis, for example. This is real rebellion against oppression in the United States. It will not be peaceful; it cannot afford to be peaceful when the oppressors refuse to be.

Corporate feudalism [is] the only robbery worthy of being called “crime,” for it is committed against the people as a whole. Whether the ways [we describe] to rip-off shit are legal or illegal is irrelevant. The dictionary of law is written by the bosses of order. Our moral dictionary says no heisting from each other. To steal from a brother or sister is evil. To not steal from the institutions that are the pillars of the Pig Empire is equally immoral.

Abbie Hoffman, Steal This Book [8]

Saying that oppressed people should not resort to violence against their oppressors, is equivalent to “hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing,” as Malcolm X said.[6] Moreover, saying that violence damages their reputation, or that black people should not arm themselves in response to cop brutality, is victim blaming and misplaced anger.

You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.

Malcolm X [9]

You don’t get freedom peacefully. Freedom is never safeguarded peacefully. Anyone who is depriving you of freedom is not deserving of a peaceful approach by those who are being deprived of their freedom.

Malcolm X [10]

India especially has a great pacifist narrative due to the exaggeration of Gandhi and the whitewashing of the general Indian revolutionary movement. Gandhi was in fact no hero; he even supported the British Empire at first, even while millions of Indians starved under it. He supported South African apartheid and was extremely racist against black people specifically. He supported the British Empire in the Boer War, the repression of the Zulu Uprising, World War I, and World War II. He made his nieces sleep with him while he was naked so he could practice his own celibacy. Both personally and politically, Gandhi was the opposite of the saint he is said to be.

The rich man will be left in possession of his wealth of which he will use what he reasonably requires for his personal needs and will act as a trustee for the remainder to be used for the good of the society.

Mahatma Gandhi, quoted by Arundhati Roy[13]

Rajmohan Gandhi, writing in defense of Gandhi, says:

Was Gandhi in favour of imperialism?
For some time yes, and openly so. This is no “discovery”. In fact, as Gandhi put it himself in his autobiography, the British Empire was one of his two passions at the start of the 20th century.

Rajmohan Gandhi[14]

But was his nonviolent approach effective? To some degree, yes, but like Martin Luther King’s protests, it might have gotten nowhere without the violent uprisings against the British. To name one real hero, Bhagat Singh, an anarcho-communist executed for taking revenge on a cop, is still held in good esteem. (The fascist RSS has tried to rewrite Bhagat Singh as a pure nationalist who would have supported Modi.)

Michael Neumann argues,

Historians might argue about [the] causes [of independence], but I doubt any of them would attribute it primarily to Gandhi’s campaign. The British began contemplating–admittedly with varying degrees of sincerity–some measure of autonomy for India before Gandhi did anything, as early as 1917. A.J.P.Taylor says that after World War I, the British were beginning to find India a liability, because India was once again producing its own cotton, and buying cheap textiles from Japan. Later, India’s strategic importance, while valued by many, became questioned by some, who saw the oil of the Middle East and the Suez canal as far more important. By the end of the Second World War, Britain’s will to hold onto its empire had pretty well crumbled, for reasons having little or nothing to do with nonviolence.

But this is the least important of the reasons why Gandhi cannot be said to have won independence for India. It was not his saintliness or the disruption he caused that impressed the British. What impressed them was that the country seemed (and was) about to erupt into a slaughter. The colonial authorities could see no way to stop it. What they could see was the increasingly violent antagonism between Muslims and Hindus, both of whom detected, in the distance, the emergence of a power vacuum they rushed to fill. This violence included the “Great Calcutta Killing” of August 1946, when at least 4000 people died in three days. Another factor was the terrorism–and this need not be a term of condemnation–quite regularly employed against the British. It was not enough to do much harm, but more than enough to warn them that India was becoming more trouble than it was worth. All things considered, the well-founded fear of generalized violence had far more effect on British resolve than Gandhi ever did. He may have been a brilliant and creative political thinker, but he was not a victor.

Michael Neumann, Nonviolence, Its Histories and Its Myths

He also debunks the efficacy of nonviolence under Martin Luther King Jr. and in South Africa. [16]

“Nonviolence” has become a central theme of capitalist propaganda that whitewashes revolutionary liberation movements as pacifists. The US government will be quick to minimize the riots and Malcolm X, and depending on liberals/conservatives, they will either portray the Black Panthers as small extremist terrorists, or as friendly civil rights protesters. They will also try to cover up the black liberation movement’s heavy ties to communism. Angela Davis, Huey Newton, Fred Hampton, and the other Black Panthers were communists; Malcolm X, Kwame Ture, and Martin Luther King Jr. considered themselves anti-capitalists. Kwame Nkrumah, the first leader of independent Ghana, the first independent state in sub-Saharan Africa – he was a communist allied with the USSR and Mao Zedong’s People’s Republic of China; but a Western-backed coup in 1966 overthrew his government. To admit the communist nature of the black liberation movement is not “commies exploiting black people”; it is stating the reality that communism is a proletarian movement and black people are mostly proletarian, as capitalism has been intertwined with racism and slavery from the start.

[Angela Davis] claims that it was only because of her ties to the Communist Party that the “holy triumvirate” of Richard Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover, and then-California Governor Ronald Reagan attempted so adamantly to imprison her.

Even now, she maintains her Communist beliefs, arguing that “prison as a form of punishment is directly connected to capitalism.”

“Sometimes we think we can speak about racism separately from capitalism,” she said. “But because of the impulses to build capital through slavery and colonialism, people all over the world suffer from the burden of capitalism today.”

She repeated this sentiment during the Q&A section.

In response to an audience member’s request that Davis speak directly to the economics majors in the room, the activist responded that they should read Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital.”

Daily Princetonian, 2018 [17]

We got to face some facts. That the masses are poor, that the masses belong to what you call the lower class, and when I talk about the masses, I’m talking about the white masses, I’m talking about the black masses, and the brown masses, and the yellow masses, too. We’ve got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don’t fight capitalism with no black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism.

Fred Hampton, Black Panther [11]

In the United States, for over a hundred years, the ruling interests tirelessly propagated anticommunism among the populace, until it became more like a religious orthodoxy than a political analysis. During the Cold War, the anticommunist ideological framework could transform any data about existing communist societies into hostile evidence. If the Soviets refused to negotiate a point, they were intransigent and belligerent; if they appeared willing to make concessions, this was but a skillful ploy to put us off our guard. By opposing arms limitations, they would have demonstrated their aggressive intent; but when in fact they supported most armament treaties, it was because they were mendacious and manipulative. If the churches in the USSR were empty, this demonstrated that religion was suppressed; but if the churches were full, this meant the people were rejecting the regime’s atheistic ideology. If the workers went on strike (as happened on infrequent occasions), this was evidence of their alienation from the collectivist system; if they didn’t go on strike, this was because they were intimidated and lacked freedom. A scarcity of consumer goods demonstrated the failure of the economic system; an improvement in consumer supplies meant only that the leaders were attempting to placate a restive population and so maintain a firmer hold over them. If communists in the United States played an important role struggling for the rights of workers, the poor, African-Americans, women, and others, this was only their guileful way of gathering support among disfranchised groups and gaining power for themselves. How one gained power by fighting for the rights of powerless groups was never explained. What we are dealing with is a nonfalsifiable orthodoxy, so assiduously marketed by the ruling interests that it affected people across the entire political spectrum.

Michael Parenti, Left Anti-Communism [12]

Arundhati Roy gave an interview about the Communist Party of India – Maoist, a guerilla group fighting for tribal lands in India. To some degree, her words apply to oppressed people in the US as well.

[I have] been writing about non-violence and non-violence movements for 10 years now. But what I saw when I went into the forests was this – that non-violent resistance has actually not worked[…]. It has worked in some parts of the movement. But inside the forests it’s a different story because non-violence, and particularly, Gandhian non-violence in some ways needs an audience. It’s a theater that needs an audience. But inside the forests there is no audience. When a thousand police come and surround the forest village in the middle of the night, what are they to do? How are the hungry to go on a hunger strike? How are the people with no money to boycott taxes or foreign goods or do consumer boycotts? They have nothing.

I do see the violence inside the forest as a ‘counter-violence’. As a ‘violence of resistance’. I do feel terrible about the fact that there is this increasing cycle of violence[…]. It’s a terrible thing to do to any society. I don’t think that there is any romance in it. However, I’m not against romance. I do feel it’s incredible that these poor people are standing up against this mighty state that is sending thousands and thousands of para-military. I mean, what they are doing in those forests against those people with AK-47s and grenades?

Q: If you don’t raise your voice against their violence and simply say it morally acceptable, as a morally legitimate counter to the state, then are you not actually failing as member of a civil society?

No, I’m not. Because I think it suits the status quo to have everybody saying… this is terrible and all. So just let’s just keep on without taking it into account the terrible structural violence that actually is creating a ‘genocidal situation’ in those tribal areas. If you look at the levels of malnutrition, if you look at the levels of absolute desperation there; any responsible person has to say that the violence will stop when you stop pushing those people. When you have a whole community of tribals; which by the way, is a population larger than the population of most countries, is actually on the brink of survival, fighting against its own annihilation. I can’t equate their reactions, their resistance to the violence of the state. I think it’s immoral to equate the two.

[… Has this violent movement worked?]

There is a whole bandwidth of people’s movements from the non-violent ones outside the forests to the armed struggle inside the forests which have actually held off this corporate assault, which I have to say has not happened anywhere else in the world.

Arundhati Roy [13]

The point is that while pacifists argue that countering state violence will only bring down the state’s boot harder onto your throat, in reality the boot will come down either way. The boot came down first: black people in the US have been under assault for ages; indigenous Adivasi tribes of India saw their land sold off to corporations and saw police burn, rape, and destroy their villages. But how are you supposed to be peaceful in the first place, when you are the ones under assault without ever having provoked the people who are assaulting you?

Should slaves in the US have peacefully marched for freedom? Oh wait, they couldn’t. What happens when they are trying to move on the Underground Railroad to freedom? If they arm themselves and defend themselves against slavers, is it unjustified? Why should one condemn John Brown, the violent abolitionist? What did he do wrong? Violence against the oppressors is perfectly justified.

And what happens when you protest peacefully? Martin Luther King Jr., for one, was assassinated by the US government.[18] Gandhi and South Africa may have won, but not without a strong violent movement behind them and convenient conditions.

Hasn’t the black liberation movement tried nonviolence? Time and time again.

We asked 10 years ago. We was asking with the Panthers, we was asking with the Civil Rights Movement. Now, those people that were asking are now all dead and in jail. So now, what do you think we’re gonna do? …And we shouldn’t be angry and my raps that I’m rapping to my community shouldn’t be filled with rage? They shouldn’t be filled with the same atrocities that they gave to me? In the media, they don’t talk about it.

Tupac [19]

It is not even as if black people want the conditions inflicted upon them to be reversed and put upon the former oppressors. Recently a black woman protesting in a video said something along the lines of, “We don’t want white people to be enslaved, we don’t want it to be reversed. All we want is justice.”

At worst, the “pacifist” belief that denounces violence directly against the state, yet ignores the state’s own violence. At best, it blames the oppressed for the violence inflicted against them, saying that the oppressed should not have reacted violently to the initial violence against them. But if the oppressed had not reacted that way,

Pacifism is liberal. It is victim blaming and an excuse for the violence of the oppressors. It ignores the reality that the undemocratic state – the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie – has the interests of the rich at heart, and will use any means it wants to enforce its system. An illegitimate system that originated in slavery, genocides, and oppression of the proletariat, and still today serves the same purposes as the brutal regime of the modern US empire: The empire that still uses slavery, the empire that still commits genocides, the empire whose puppet/vassal states (“allies”) are engaged in all kinds of oppression – the empire that goes country to country looting, raping, and pillaging to fulfill the holy mandate of the god Money.

That empire has committed plenty of violence. It will continue to use violence to enforce its law. The rebellions and eventual revolution against it should not be expected to refrain.

When our turn comes we will make no excuses for the terror. -Karl Marx


  1. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2016/jul/29/police-bombing-move-compound-philadelphia-1985-video
  2. https://www.history.com/news/americas-largest-labor-uprising-the-battle-of-blair-mountain
  3. https://www.azquotes.com/quote/703496 Guy Debord, Ivan Chtcheglov, Asger Jorn, Raoul Vaneigem, Mustapha Khayati (2014). “Situationism: A Compendium”, p.33, Bread and Circuses Publishing
  4. https://www.azquotes.com/author/19123-Michael_Parenti
  5. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/max_stirner_185406
  6. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/3244549-but-it-is-not-enough-for-me-to-stand-before
  7. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/malcolm-x
  8. http://semantikon.com/StealThisBookbyAbbieHoffman.pdf Free PDF of the book
  9. https://www.azquotes.com/author/9322-Malcolm_X
  10. https://www.instagram.com/p/CBdZUqJgvNK/ from @redfishstream on ig, from @Yoh31 on Twitter
  11. https://www.azquotes.com/quote/1351248
  12. https://espressostalinist.com/2013/03/11/left-anticommunism-the-unkindest-cut/ Michael Parenti’s essay on Left Anticommunism, including Noam Chomsky
  13. https://bennorton.com/arundhati-roy-the-naxalites-gandhi-and-non-violence/
  14. https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/why-attacks-on-gandhi-are-good/
  15. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LzivXrVcsk4
  16. https://www.counterpunch.org/2003/02/08/nonviolence-its-histories-and-myths/
  17. https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/12/angela-davis
  18. The FBI has been exposed as having plans to kill him. There has been extensive documentation of the conspiracy. TIME reporter Bill Sartor, who was investigating it and compiling facts, was also killed by poison, according to John Ferrell, a key witness of the Martin Luther King assassination. In the 1990s, a US judge includded in his ruling that it was most likely that the US government was responsible for the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.
  19. https://www.iheart.com/content/2018-02-09-6-of-tupacs-most-woke-interviews/

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