Less Violent Action

This past year I started participating in so-called ‘nonviolent direct action’ (NVDA), specifically against the ongoing climate catastrophe. But while I think those type of actions are good and worthwhile and we should keep mobilizing people for them, I also started to have some doubts about how nonviolent activists think and talk about their tactics. I’ve become increasingly convinced that nonviolence is actually a misnomer.

There are many different types of nonviolent direct action. I myself participated in marches, strikes, blockades, occupations and civil disobedience. All of these are usually called nonviolent. But this nonviolence is always vague, fuzzy and flexible. I used to think that this was helpful, to give a movement some leeway and options, but nowadays I think the opposite. It serves as a constraint and hindrance to a movement and a boon to the elites' interests.

It’s unclear where the line should be drawn between violence and nonviolence. Are public disruptions violent? Is economic disruption (through strikes for instance) violent? The capitalists would certainly think so, since it’s hurting their profits and power. Is civil disobedience violent? Defending oneself from (police) violence? Is disabling property violence?1 How about destroying something that would otherwise hurt a lot more people? Depending on how impacted you are or what your own interests are, the answer will shift significantly - so much so as to make the distinction of nonviolence useless. Something the ruling classes and the media uses to great effect to discredit certain groups and demands.

A better term for these type of actions would be something like ‘less violent action’, in an ironic analogy with ‘less lethal weaponry’ (which is still meant to inflict immense pain, can wound, cripple and still kills regularly). Something like this would make participants aware of the broader realities of violence in all its forms and nuances in society (both physical as systemic). It also serve as a reminder that that stage of the movement is in someway transitory: it implies a plan beyond this stage, a possibility of escalation and makes people in this stage more open to public support and solidarity with people going into the next, explicitly violent stage. It gives credence and force to what would otherwise be a toothless campaign at the mercy of the ruling classes' sympathy. This way a less-violent movement can serve as an educational stage for some and a comfort zone for many supporters.

  1. Such as the Tyre Extinguishers actions where the tyres of SUV’s get deflated but not destroyed, causing only a hindrance and temporary inaction. ↩︎