An Old-New Concept Of Political Violence

People often wonder how the urban terrorist movements of the late twentieth century were intended to work. How exactly was the blowing up of innocents in pubs or railways stations meant to overthrow a regime, much less “smash the system”, whatever that adolescent phrase was supposed to mean?

This kind of terrorism did, however, have a venerable theory behind it: the “outrages”, as they were then called, were intended to provoke the government into brutally repressive measures that would alienate a progressively greater section of the population, thus recruiting ever more individuals to the cause, leading to more terrorism, more state counter-terror and so forth, until a tormented people rose up en masse and made away with the regime. “The worse it is,” said Lenin, “the better for us”.

The weakness of this theory was its reliance on a metaphysical view of oppression, namely that people could be oppressed without knowing it, and that when the government started burning villages and jailing people without due process, well, then they jolly well would know it. This was called the regime “showing its true face”, which suggests that it had hitherto refrained from burning villages and jailing everybody merely in order to fool them. Apparently this true face was not manifested in actual action until the terrorists made it so, which is a highly peculiar take on the words “true” and “nature”.

Moreover, if the bulk of the population feels that the state’s previous “false face” was not in fact so bad, or if the government is wise enough to address grievances at the same time as hunting the terrorists, then the recruitment caused by the new level of repression is likely to be inadequate. If the people go from feeling oppressed to feeling more oppressed, and the regime is also a mad dog, then the revolution will indeed snowball – but this is still just as likely to end in a futile bloodbath as in victory.

Another reason for blowing up pubs and so forth was to put the general population into a state of terror, whence the name, and this state of terror was supposed to lead to the government undergoing a crisis of legitimacy. In reality it was, and always will be, more likely to lead to the government being given dictatorial powers. Any “message” the terrorists imagine themselves to be sending is drowned by the offence to natural justice they themselves are committing. In particular, the government, which has enormous propaganda resources at its disposal, can use the atrocity to prevent any discussion of, or even any interest in, the grievances of the perpetrators.

There is thus a case to be made for burying this old Russian anarchist doctrine and reconsidering a more ancient idea called Tyrannicide, whereby revolutionaries should kill only those individuals who are personally responsible for great evils – and not, repeat not, their wives, children, bodyguards, chauffeurs and subordinates, much less mere bystanders. Not even people who were in uniform and thereby part of “the System” in the thinking of Andreas Baader; a higher standard of personal culpability is suggested. Edgar Wallace’s novel Four Just Men was of the same mind, featuring lethal retribution against high officials. Under such a doctrine, officers of the state performing their normal functions would be left in peace, but for example a policeman who personally tortured suspects or raped villagers would be executed.

The government would naturally apply the “terrorist” label to such Tyrannicide, since that is what it always does. Indeed, in our brave new world where hanging yourself in protest at torture is considered “an act of asymmetric warfare”, the terrorist label is well on the way to covering all forms of political protest and opposition. Such a mislabelling might, however, cause the rhetorical abuse of the “terrorism” concept to erode even more quickly, provided only that people could see that there was no reason for fear on the part of anyone not personally involved in torturing prisoners, raping villagers and so forth.

When Henry Kissinger returned to Germany as a sergeant with the occupying army, runs the anecdote, he was assigned to de-Nazify a locality. Rather than conduct painstaking investigations, he simply advertised in the newspapers for people “with previous experience” to constitute a new security force, and arrested all the applicants. A tyrannicidal movement might make good use of the same technique: insert fake advertisements recruiting state torturers, and kill everyone who comes to interview.

Posted on December 20, 2011 at 14:56 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!, Some Modest Proposals

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