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Do we need violence to change the world?

This article is over 9 years, 7 months old
The recent massacre in Syria shows the horrendous violence that states are prepared to use against people who resist them. But is the answer to use violence against them?
Issue 2306

The recent massacre in Syria shows the horrendous violence that states are prepared to use against people who resist them. But is the answer to use violence against them?

World rulers who denounce “violence” are hypocrites. They throw people into bloody wars around the world, and keep order in the streets with an armed police force.

Their whole system breeds violence. They use racism and sexism to oppress people and force millions of people to die because they can’t afford the basics of life.

The American writer Mark Twain defended the French Revolution. He asked, “What is the horror of swift death by the axe compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty and heartbreak?”

Anyone who resists this system is absolutely right to do so.

Some people say that anyone who uses violence is just as bad as the states they are fighting against.

But the violence of powerful states and that of those who challenge them is different. Look at Palestine. Young people who throw rocks at Israeli tanks can’t be compared to occupying soldiers who bulldoze people to death in their homes.

People who defended themselves against British soldiers in Derry, Northern Ireland, during the 1970s weren’t “just as bad” as the imperialist British state whose troops fired on unarmed protesters.

Socialists stand for a world without violence, but to get there we need to overthrow capitalism. And because our rulers won’t give up their power without a fight, we can’t be pacifists.

Mass movements against the system don’t usually begin violently. They become violent when the state attacks.


People often turn to violence precisely because peaceful methods fail.

People have a right to resist—by any means necessary. The state shouldn’t have a monopoly on weapons and force. We support people who arm themselves to resist oppression and fight for liberation.

Non-violent movements can win important changes. But ruling out violence puts us at the mercy of ruthless states.

Violence isn’t always necessary and it certainly doesn’t guarantee victory. These are tactical questions that depend on the balance of class forces.

Sometimes violence is a desperate last resort. Terrorist groups use violence—even though militarily they can’t beat states. Some strategies based on violence can limit the scope of a revolt by becoming too reliant on a fighting elite.

The important question is the strength of movements themselves.

So during the Russian Revolution of 1917 there was more violence in places where the revolt was weaker. This was because the old ruling class was better able to fight back.

Where the revolution was better organised there was less violence.

During the revolution in Egypt last year, ordinary people entered into pitched battles with security forces. But the decisive factor in forcing out dictator Hosni Mubarak was the strength and size of the movement—and the workers who were on strike.

Convincing soldiers to join the revolution will be easier if that revolution involves millions of people.

We should be prepared to use violent to get rid of this bloody system. But the stronger the revolt, the less violence there will be.

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