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Why do some anarchists downplay or deny contemporary anarchist violence when arguing with liberals?

+2 votes
On numerous occasions I have watched anarchists make the claim that contemporary anarchists haven't physically attacked, severely injured, and killed people. That smashing windows and property destruction is the extent of anarchist violence. Then bring up all of the social work anarchists are involved with that isn't violent. This is usually in the context of liberals trying to claim that anarchism is a violent ideology (or something to that extent). This just isn't true though. Aside from the various underground groups, there's all sorts of examples: mace-pies, antifa stuff (and the asshole from BANA), suspected sexual predators or snitches, Bash Back!, etc. So why lie about it?

To some extent, anarchism as a personal ethic is violent because it puts the responsibility on the individual to defend themselves in a violent world. Maybe with the help of others but not with the help of the State, not with the help of private security, etc. Anarchists can't hide behind a 'civil' party that can front a non-violent ideology while relying on the violence of 'non-partisan' institutions. So, maybe there's a better way to counter such attacks by liberals and pacifists?
asked Feb 11, 2012 by anonymous

3 Answers

+2 votes
This is a pretty good question.  Or maybe it's not a good question, just a good argument.

I think it's not too hard to understand why some people would downplay anarchist violence - they don't support it or participate in it, and they believe that it's important to focus on what will 'play' well in the press.  Possibly, some of them genuinely don't notice a tremendous amount of anarchist violence going on and/or they tend to re-narrate it as something else (ie "apolitical").  

I like what you say about anarchism being violent since it puts the responsibility on people to defend themselves (and each other!) in a violent world.  I think that's a good way to put it. I would add though that at least in my understanding anarchism proposes to get rid of a lot of forms of systematic violence whereas people of other political persuasions are content to leave these intact.

That said, the examples you mention are mostly not that big of a deal.  I mean, you included a pie-ing! It seems to me that unfortunately US anarchists Don't do that much political violence. We do more than e.g. David Graeber says we do, but we do a heck of a lot less than anarchists in the 1890s did...
answered Feb 12, 2012 by asker (7,900 points)
edited Feb 12, 2012 by asker
I agree with these motives when it comes to people like Graeber or other, more public figures... but I also see this get a pass in forums. The examples I excluded were mostly because I didn't think I could cite them well... FAI, CCCF, and other 'cells' ...anarchists elsewhere and their fire throwing, etc. Not that any of it amounts to some of the more well known historical examples of assassination attempts, Russian rev., Spanish civil war, etc. But I think it all still falls back on the ethical implications I mentioned in the question. Eliminating forms of systemic violence is a large part of the positive projects, so I omitted what I thought was obvious. Either way, the violence of that self-defense is consequential more than it is normative.

btw - posted the question anon because I was feeling shy, sorry
0 votes
If the question comes i tend to defend cases of self defense and violent response to highly violent attackers such as fascist skinheads. Now i do think that such things are nothing compared to what the governments of liberals, right wingers and state socialists do.

But i also tend to bring in a point which might not be of too much liking to the "insurrectionist" and "nihilist" anarchist sectors which is that anarchism also has within itself a radical pacifist nonviolent section called anarcho-pacifism. I have to confess that when i face an insurrectionist sector i mention some features of anarcho-pacifism positively and when i face an anarcho-pacifist or similar argument or person i might choose to establish that i have been (although a little clumsily) in black blocs and that the 1919 anarchist bombing of Wall Street was interesting (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wall_Street_bombing)

To non anarchists my tendency is to show both "extremes" as they exist within anarchism and then suggest that anarchism is as diverse on the violence issue as all the statist ideologies. In parts of it even less violent or less hypocritical since it contains strong tendencies towards anti-militarism, anti-police, anti-fascism which are the worst forms of violence possible by humans. Also anyway it is the case that a "democratic liberal" government is the one who commited the worst case of violence in the history of humankind which was of course the Atomic Bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and also in the case of the US anarchists, they can very well point out how their democratic goverment has been the worst imperialistic bully in the world since the 1950s going as far as supporting actively genocidal fascist dictatorships such as Pinochet, Suharto, etc.
answered Jan 1, 2013 by iconoclast (3,250 points)
edited Jan 1, 2013 by iconoclast
+3 votes
One reason anarchists deny violence to liberals is because they deny violence to themselves.
In the original question, as well as both responses, anarchist violence is presented within our conversation as self-defense. To frame violence as self-defense justifies our position based on permission granted to us by the state.

There is a dynamic often supported by anarchists that involves a victim and a violent perpetrator, and it can be seen in many different levels of relationships. From members of romantic relationships to an anarchist vs. the state; one side is violent, and the other is defending themselves. One issue with this is the linear concept of power is relies upon. The result of this linear understanding of power is that anarchists have bad violence (violence with too much power) and good violence (innocents protecting themselves). When one type of violence is classified as self-defense, it is legitimized, literally. The implication of this is that we are using the same legal code that allows violence if and only if it is a moral and social imperative to explain to ourselves why we engage in it.

In the current context violence is described as such because it damages a person or an infrastructure in a way that makes it less socially or economically viable, which is why self-defense is not seen as violent, because it serves the exact opposite function; to protect social and economic viability from an unstable or outside force. In that line of thinking anarchists should not defend themselves, but should instead accept violence as an intense and uncomfortable power that needs neither to be defended nor legitimized.
answered Jan 28, 2013 by shark.heart (1,510 points)
Good answer, and always a weird dichotomy for me. If you practice a philosophy of action, and that action is to destroy the health or property of another, how do you even call yourself an anarchist? You're clearly a nihilist.  And Calling it  "propaganda of the deed" doesn't mean it's not terrorism.
I love this answer and I hate the above comment on this answer.