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How Nonviolence Protects the State
reviewed by William P. Meyers

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title: How Nonviolence Protects the State
author: Peter Gelderloos
publisher: Signalfire Press (now republished by South End Press)
year of publication: 2005
reviewed date: June 28, 2008
format: paperback, 182 pages, 5" x 8"
How Nonviolence Protects the State at Amazon.com

The subjects of violence and nonviolence are typically studied only by those who desire radical changes in society and government. The pacifism of Gandhi has greatly influenced American radicals, but there is a another current that was better known in the 1950s and 1960s. Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, American Indian Movement (AIM) and some Marxist and anarchist groups did not buy into the ideology of non-violence. With the decline of the radical left, and even of the progressive left in the United States since roughly 1975, for the most part the idea of revolution has been considered a pipedream. Violent political action has been disdained as unproductive and dangerous. Nevertheless, the discussion of violence and nonviolence continues. Peter Gelderloos makes a welcome addition to the discussion in How Nonviolence Protects the State. As with my own pamphlet Nonviolence and Its Violent Consequences and Ward Churchill's Pacifism as Pathology, it does not so much argue for violence as point out the hidden agendas that are usually packaged with the ideology of nonviolence.

Gelderloos begins by reviewing the successes of nonviolent activist movements. He points out that what nonviolence advocates call their successes consisted of complex movements in which many tactics were used. To claim the successful movement for independence in India or the civil rights movement in the U.S. were solely due to the actions of nonviolence activists. The book goes further, showing that many of the victories were only on the surface, leaving the real problems in place. He also criticises the illusion of peaceful democracy: "Democratic government is simply a coalition of the privileged, and will not represent non-privileged interests. Real power is still centralized in the hands of a small elite..." While there may be occasional exceptions, any fact based analysis would have to agree that this is the rule.

An entire chapter is devoted to the idea that nonviolence is racist. I actually think that nonviolence is a race-neutral ideology that can be used in a racist manner, just like as various forms of political violence can be for or against racism. But given the nonviolence ideologues claims that any deviation from their ideology is authoritatian and therefore racist, I think Gelderloos was right to argue the other side of this topic.

An important chapter is titled "Nonviolence is Statist." Nonviolence proponents argue that since the state itself is violent, to oppose the state one must be nonviolent. Violent political action is assumed to lead to either a more violent version of the current state, or a new state again based on the violent ideology of the victorious revolutionaries. The fact that this may be true in specific cases does not mean it is true in general. The chapter starts, "Put quite plainly, nonviolence assures a state monopoly on violence." The book quotes from an FBI memo to prove its point, which would be funny if the topic were not so serious.

But the best chapter is titled "Nonviolence is Delusional."

If you are serious about social change, you ought to know what your options are. You also ought to know how various political factions, especially ones that you are allied with, will try to manipulate you. You should add How Nonviolence Protects the State to your short list for reading.