How Nonviolence Protects the State: by Peter Gelderloos, 280 pgs.

Jul 16, 2007

There is a story I remember hearing about the Deacons for Defense in which they protect a group of children carrying picket signs and protesting the poor condition of their school. As the fire department begins setting up their hoses, the Deacons, armed with shotguns, warn that if the water flowed that day then those firemen were going to bleed that night. In the end, those firemen went home and the kids stayed dry. Peter Gelderloos cites many similar examples of when force must be met with force and how it can work for positive change.

Gelderloos shows how history has been rewritten to favor the view of the pacifist. In this alternate history, Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t hire Black Panther Party members as bodyguards and the active armed resistance of the Vietnamese people had nothing to do with the ending of that conflict. A light is shone on the racism, sexism, and classism that is inherent to many nonviolent movements. It is very easy to preach nonviolence to oppressed peoples and return to the relative comfort of your suburban home. As MLK is quoted, “I wonder at men who dare to feel that they have some paternalistic right to set the timetable for another man’s liberation.”

Gelderloos exposes many of the delusions of nonviolence and points a finger at its proponents. Does anyone really believe that the Indians could have fought off a genocidal “manifest destiny” with petitions and sit-ins or that Africans could have ended slavery with hunger strikes and peace rallies? As the author states, “Nonviolence refuses to recognize that it can only work for privileged people, who have a status protected by violence,” In other words, you have to be a member of the ruling class for your nonviolent protest to be heard.

Gelderloos does not advocate violence; he simply believes that violence as a tactic should stay on the table and be open for debate. The police are not afraid to use violence against nonviolent protesters. Would cops be so nonchalant with the use of clubs, mace, and rubber bullets if they knew their force would be met with the same force in kind? If they ever stock this book at the local Barnes & Noble, make sure you steal yourself a copy. Or better yet, buy it directly from the publisher. –Chris Devlin (South End Press, 7 Brookline Street #1, Cambridge, MA 02139-4146)

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