The history of violence is the history of humanity, and to understand violence is to understand humanity. Violence is peculiar in that it is both a product of societal interrelations and yet something more than that. Something instinctive, almost primal. Indeed, violence is ever-present in the natural world. Things are created and destroyed through one form of violence or another. But what is violence, at its core? How do we differentiate one form of violence from another? When is violence morally justified, if ever? In our current liberal democratic consensus on violence, these are questions often ignored, as it is deemed unnecessary to answer them. However, such an attitude is both undialectical and unscientific. The modern bourgeois understanding of violence is rife with misconceptions and flawed reasoning that must be corrected.
The first thing we must do is recognize that violence manifests itself in two ways. That is, directly and indirectly. Direct violence, of course, being the use of one thing to destroy another thing, whether the thing being destroyed or the thing doing the destruction be natural or artificial. Indirect violence is a bit more complicated. For example, in nature we may have an animal stealing another’s food, causing the animal to which the food belongs to starve. This is an act of indirect violence because though the first animal did not directly attempt to harm the second animal, the actions of the second animal did, in fact, result in harm coming to the first animal. A sociopolitical example from the modern world would be the fact that, every day, hundreds of millions of people are denied access to basic necessities such as food, water, shelter, and medicine because it is not profitable to do so. As such, those who have the means to provide these things but refuse to are waging an indirect war on those people. Another example would be the use of proxy forces by one country to wage war on another country. The United States has practiced this throughout its history, and continues to do so today in places like Syria, Venezuela, and Ukraine.
Indirect violence occurs much more often than direct violence, but because it is indirect, it is often invisible. This causes many to refuse to acknowledge indirect violence because they cannot see it, or because it does not fit their narrow definition of violence. It is important to remember this, and do everything we can to discern one form of violence from another. It must also be remembered that violence does not only exist in a purely physical form. Violence is very much psychological, and purely psychological violence is much more common than we are keen to perceive. Speech, for example, can have a tremendous psychological impact, and can distort or change the actions of another, potentially resulting in harm. Therefore, psychological violence is an indirect form of violence.
With this knowledge in mind, we can proceed without simplistic notions of nonviolence. As we have demonstrated, for one to remain completely nonviolent would require them to do almost nothing at all! Rather, we must say that certain forms of violence are more justified than others, and that the justification for certain types of violence depends on the unique circumstances of each situation. Can violence be used to combat violence? To say otherwise would be foolish. It can be simply summed up in Newton’s third law of motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Can this not be applied to different forms of violence? Violence, be it direct or indirect, is both an action and a reaction.
Some individuals, of the liberal democratic tendency, will take this information and deduce that indirect violence must always be countered with indirect violence, and likewise direct violence with direct violence, but such an attitude is dangerous. There have been times in the past, and there will be times in the future, when direct violence must be combated with indirect violence, and indirect violence with direct violence. It is crucial that we examine the unique aspects of each situation and develop a plan of action that will result with the greatest potential for victory and the lowest amount of risks, though more often than not, this task will be more difficult than simple. But our struggle is not a simple one. On the contrary, it is one of the most arduous struggles undertaken in history.
But what is the moral justification for violence? In defense, of course. Violence in defense of life is not only justified, but necessary, and indirect threats to life must be remembered and combated just as diligently as direct threats. For example, the threat of fascism involves both direct and indirect threats, and must be combated directly and indirectly. It cannot be only one instead of the other, for neglecting one form of struggle while embracing another would prevent any real progress from being made. There will be times where direct violence will be more effective than indirect, and vice versa, but as stated above, the correct path will be determined by the circumstances which present themselves.
Above all, comrades, take heart, and do not dismay! Though we live in a time of reaction and do-nothing liberalism, a fighting force of conscious people is building. We must cease our bickering over violence or nonviolence. Indeed, such an argument does not even exist, and only shows how some of us still succumb to bourgeois ideology. Embrace the tasks before us, and study the direct and indirect ways that the triple threat of fascism, capitalism, and imperialism can be combated. Study the lessons of the past, both victories and failures, while simultaneously making observations of your current conditions and working with other comrades to develop solutions. Exert both mind and body; become both a soldier and a philosopher. It is only through cooperation and determination that the battles of today and tomorrow will be won.