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Pacifying Resistance

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The genesis of Endgame, the book, was really because I did some talks around the possibility of fighting back, and the response by the audience was really predictable. If it was an audience made up of sort of mainstream environmentalists and peace and social justice activists, often, they would put up what I've taken to calling a Gandhi shield, which is, they would say the names Martin Luther King, Dalai Lama, and Gandhi again and again as fast as they can to keep all evil thoughts at bay. And if it was grassroots environmentalists, they would do the same thing but then they would come up to me afterwards and they would say, [whispering] "Thank you so much for bringing this up." Especially in North America, the pacifists and non-violent advocates have had a very defining role, and even a censoring role, in determining what other people's participation can be in a whole range of social struggles, and that the way that they've affected social struggles has made it very much easier for the state to control those social struggles, that non-violence plays a function of recuperating social struggles, of taking out their teeth and making them harmless, so that they can just exist in this cesspool of democratic plurality. I wonder, what happens to that kind of energy or idealism or faith that something is about to change, when it's certainly not going to change at all? What are the false hopes that keep us tied to the system, what are the false hopes that bind us to unlivable situations and blind us to real possibilities? Does anybody really think that Weyerhauser's going to stop deforesting because we ask nicely? Does anybody think that Monsanto will stop Monsantoing because we ask nicely? I was talking to this person in the state several years ago and they said, "If we can just get a Democrat in the White House, things are going to be OK." We've got a couple of myths on the left that I would really encourage us to get over. The first is that social change happens by moral suasion -- it doesn't. It happens by force. The problem with persuasion as a strategy is that it only works on people who can actually be convinced and who can be relied upon to act from their position after their minds have been changed. And the problem is that we're not dealing with individuals who can be convinced or persuaded -- we're dealing mostly with large, abstract, social organizations and corporations which are basically sociopaths made out of huge numbers of people. You can't argue with psychopaths, you can't argue with fascists, and you can't argue with those who are benefiting from an economic system. You have to stop them through some form of force, and that force can be violent or nonviolent. Could you have stopped Ted Bundy by peaceful means? The Left, to a large extent subconsciously, has as its primary role to make resistance harmless. States have recognized that resistance will never disappear, that struggles will never disappear, and in the past they tried suppressing struggles the first time that they showed their heads, that there was any sign of them, and that proved ineffective. So nowadays that way that states rule is by accepting the inevitability of conflict and resistance, and just trying to manage it permanently. "Keep the march going, there's nothing happening here! There's nothing happening, just one more line of police, so please keep the march going!" Social movements in North America are locked into this pacifist doctrine that is imposed by the middle class reformists who want to control the movement and dictate how it conducts itself. Advocates of nonviolence, they frequently say that nonviolence works, and the principal examples that they use of that are Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King in the US. The problem with that is, this constitutes a really great historical whitewashing, that in fact the resistance in India was incredibly diverse, and Gandhi was a very important figure within that resistance, but the resistance was by no means pacifist in its entirety. Gandhi gets used as a way to shut down conversation. Especially in the West, Gandhi is used as a way to quell any ideas of either direct action or what's perceived as violence or, sort of, latino resistance that goes beyond what is seen as a pacifist or a peaceful means of resistance. For years I really bought into the whole Gandhian myth that is really sort of forced down the throat of activists in the United States, and the people who disabused me of that myth were when I first actually met some people from India. The people I talked to certainly didn't deify him, and many of them despised him. And they felt he was a collaborator and he was somebody whom the British could work with. Gandhi's very well known in the West, but when you go to India, there's a freedom fighter and revolutionary leader called Bhagat Singh, who is in India probably almost as well known as Gandhi as a part of the independence movement and a leader in the independence movement. But in the West, most people probably have never heard his name. And the reason why that is is that he used direct action tactics. There were generals of the British army that were killed; there was a bomb thrown in a British assembly to basically attract the attention of the public; there were weapons that people were getting off of railway cars. With Gandhi and the Indian National Congress, where you had the moderates and the extremists, the moderates were -- legal, constitutional reform was their only method, and they were criticized for a middle class clique, for being too slow, for being too legalistic, and for being basically ineffective. The extremists, on the other hand, were being accused of being too aggressive, of being too fast and reckless and irresponsible. Gandhi basically got negotiating power from the fact that there were other elements in the struggle which were even more threatening to British dominance. So the British specifically chose to dialogue with Gandhi because he was, perhaps for them, the least threatening of the important elements of resistance. Gandhi came in as being the middleman. His theory of nonviolent, passive resistance seemed to be a bridge between the extremists and the moderates. The British were bled white after WWII, and didn't have the morale left anymore for a big fight, and they helped choose somebody that they could work with. They knew a revolution was coming and the wanted to blunt it as much as they could. India went from being a colony to a neocolony. The British were still able to maintain their interests, less directly, with Indians being in positions of management. My problem isn't with somebody doing nonviolent actions, it never has been. I mean, I say all the time that we need it all. My problem is that so many pacifists, especially in the United States, end up not supporting more radical or militant work. The problem when this debate comes up is that you can't just assume that people that are resisting and are using a means of resistance haven't thought about what they're doing. And that's what I think often is the problem. When people decide to take certain actions and when people decide that hey, you know, our marches aren't enough, or they're doing this or doing that, there's this assumption by a lot of people that want to toe the Gandhi line that, "Oh, they're just not thinking about it." What most states will choose to do in similar circumstances is to find the elements of the resistance that are most easy to control and most easy to co-opt, to negotiate with them, and then to hand over power to them in order to continue the system that had already existed. So again, you have the state doing the same thing it did with Gandhi and Martin Luther King it does with, for example, the environmental movement. So it invites the responsible leaders of the environmental movement into inquiries, government commissions, debates; it recognizes them -- they're the legitimate leaders -- because again, it doesn't want the movement to begin to adopt more militant resistance tactics. "The powerful do not ever give up without a struggle." Those are the famous words of Frederick Douglass when he said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has, and it never will."

Video Details

Duration: 9 minutes and 28 seconds
Country: Canada
Language: English
Producer: subMedia.TV
Director: Franklin López
Views: 220
Posted by: stimulator on Aug 1, 2010
Some of the most celebrated social struggle victories of the 20th century are attributed to the great pacifists of our time, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. This constitutes a historical whitewash, as these "victories" were achieved when the state weighed its options and chose the lesser of two evils: the pacifists. In this segment Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, Aric Mcbay, Harjap Grewal, Gord Hill and Peter Gelderlus deconstruct the Gandhi myth and show us why militant action plays an important in movements of resistance.

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