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Can violence be justified?

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Issue 1722

what do socialists say?

Can violence be justified?

THE COVERAGE of the Middle East highlights the totally one-sided and biased way the mainstream media, including liberal papers like the Guardian, treat the question of violence.

When two Israelis were killed in the bombing of a marketplace in West Jerusalem last week the TV and papers showed horrific pictures of the scene and photographs of those killed.

On the same day Israeli soldiers killed two Palestinians. Yet there were no pictures showing the bloody scene or photographs of the victims. Israeli lives are more precious than Palestinian lives, is the message that is being pushed at us. We are told of “violent clashes”, “running battles”, and “teenagers killed in crossfire”.

There is never explanation about who is killing who, unless it suits the pro-Israeli line of most of Britain’s press.

After last week’s market bomb nearly every daily paper carried a story about the threat of “Islamic terrorists”. There was not one story about the “Israeli terrorists” gunning down Palestinians.

Western governments and their media are totally hypocritical over the question of violence. Some of the most horrific violence never even gets called “violence” at all, let alone the perpetrators labelled as “terrorists”.

When NATO dropped thousands of bombs which ripped apart hospitals, schools and factories during the Balkan War last year, we were told this was “collateral damage”, not that ordinary civilians had their bodies ripped apart.

Every day 19,000 children die as a direct consequence of the debt owed by Third World countries to the governments and bankers of the West. The press talks of these deaths as if the children had died through natural causes.

Yet Western governments and institutions like the IMF and World Bank have murdered these children, just as surely as if they held a gun to their heads. Some of those who hate the hypocrisy of the Western leaders and press argue, however, that it is wrong for those on the receiving end to use violence to fight back.

They imply that this would be to sink to the same depths as Israel or the NATO bombers. Surely it would be better to fight back using non-violent means? Firstly, the violence of the oppressors is not the same as those resisting oppression.

Take the example of Israel. Israel, thanks to US aid, is a nuclear power. It has used tanks, helicopters, rockets and other heavy artillery to try to crush the Palestinians, who are armed only with stones and rocks.

The Palestinian David is fighting the mighty Goliath Israel. This is not the most important point, however. What would it mean to tell the Palestinians to give up their uprising and stop their resistance?

Effectively it would mean telling them to be crushed by Israel. It would mean telling the Palestinians to accept their oppression, to accept being forced into exile or to live as second class citizens.

That is why socialists are not pacifists. We support the struggles and resistance of the oppressed. We do not join in when the ruling class and the press condemn the violence. On the contrary, socialists side with the Palestinians in their resistance against Israel in the same way we stand on the side of the slaves rebelling against slavery, or with Nelson Mandela fighting apartheid.

It is not that socialists glorify violence. We are fighting for a world which is free from violence. But we recognise that sometimes the oppressor can only be forced to give up their power by the threat or use of violence.

Some have pointed to the revolution in Serbia as an example of how non-violent protest can change society. The mass street demonstrations did topple Milosevic. There was little bloodshed, but only because those leading the uprising were prepared to use violence.

They had won sections of the armed forces over by arguing that there would be bloody conflict if troops stood in the way of getting rid of Milosevic. No ruling class has voluntarily given up its power without violence or the threat of violence being used against it.

The question, then, is what kind of violence and struggle? Socialists are not in favour of individual and random acts of violence against the ruling class. Such acts cannot rid the world of oppression and exploitation.

It is only through organised, disciplined and collective action that we can get rid of the root cause of violence in society-the capitalist system itself.

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