little bit about violence
leftist-oriented violence is a fashionable thing these days. this is good, insofar as leftist-oriented politics are also coming into their own particular fashion, but regarding violence we need to be more specific, if not more careful, in our definitions, applications, and probably most importantly, our expectations.
a couple of examples that most of you will be familiar with. this week on two podcasts, armed leftists were brought up — the first instance on chapo trap house, and the second on hell of a way to die (also a hell of a great podcast). it’s not very surprising to hear ArmyStrang talk about this — he is, after all, the original good troop of twitter; it makes sense, and furthermore, he’s sensible about it, it makes sense because of his own context.
it’s slightly more surprising to hear the chapo boys talk about it, primarily because we’ve all seen pictures of them, and i’ve yet to see any gun that goes well with a pastel polo.
in both instances, the conversation was concerned with the lack of armed (and trained) leftists, and the obvious utility of such a thing in the first place. the usual invocation of black panthers and other militant liberation groups that supported the non-violent civil rights movement made an appearance (this, and akinyele umoja’s book ‘we will shoot back’ was also mentioned this week on another great podcast, ‘by any means necessary’). it’s hard to disagree with the assessment that some militant tactics, or at the very least the overt threat of militant tactics, were necessary in order to fully leverage the imperative of civil rights activism.
my concern isn’t with the utility of armed struggle, but rather the discourse of armed struggle, which i get is a very twitter hair to split. but here’s the thing — how we talk about guns and armed struggle and leftist violence actually matters. liberals who wrap themselves in the flag and try to out sing conservatives during the star-spangled banner are rightfully dunked on every day online by good and true left accounts — the same should be done for those over-eager dsa-recruits that slip a little too easily into hoo-rah saber-rattling.
it’s how you say what you’re sayin that matters. i will absolutely never begrudge anyone the pleasure of delivering a swift and true jaw-breaker to the smooth cheeks of a dapper aryan, but let’s not do it in the name of america, or patriotism. that kind of jingo belongs to the flag fuckers, and has no place on the left.
similarly, when we talk about armed struggle, my hope is that we can locate it more firmly in the language of liberation, as opposed to the gung-ho of hollywood. it’s tempting to assign glamour to all of this, we’re americans after all. on the other hand, we’ve seen what an over-reliance, or more frankly, the fetishization of guns and gun culture has done to the right. we will not be immune just because our politics are better.
be careful with the damn guns, is what i’m sayin. hold them in contempt and use them precisely and swiftly to get to that socialist utopia where we can melt the horrible things down.
this may or may not be factual: a few months ago, i saw a documentary on the zapatistas. there was a scene where the zapatistas were marching into town for a meeting, and they all had their guns, but tied to the guns were white flags. there was some kind of narration that explained that while they were a militant liberation movement, the entire idea was that once they achieved that liberation, they could go on with their lives, discarding the guns and getting the hell on with it. this is the proper leftist attitude towards violence. there is no glory in it, it’s a road that you cross on the way to freedom, if all other roads are blocked. plowshares into swords, then back into plowshares.
finally, i tried to keep this short because we’re online all day and who has time to slog through a long ass thing. however, i’d be pleased as all get out if we’d start thinkin a little bit more about the ways that we fall into these kind of discursive traps, taking on the linguistic structures of the right, thinkin we’re coopting something when we’re really just adopting it. there’s a better language for all of this in the future, but we’ve got to start crafting it now, and with intention.
a couple caveats:
punching a nazi is not violence, although probably shooting one is.
property damage is never violence, obviously.