Skip to content

EDITORIAL: You’ll Scare the Middle-Class!

THE RESISTANCE HAS begun, and it looks pretty damn scary. Large crowds dressed in black shouting at cops, torching cars, shutting down fascist rallies, blocking streets, breaking windows. As in the massive Black Lives Matters protests, the actions of protesters can seem jarring, aggressive, ‘violent,’ even terrifying.

Some people are arguing they’ve gotten out of control, the tactics of Antifa, Black Bloc, and many other groups who are a topic of discussion for Liberal commentators and social justice advocates. They’re concerned, worried that civil, non-violent protest has given way to anger and destruction. They worry that the resistance will look scary, aggressive, that it will inspire fear, terror, and the potential of violent reprisal from those in power.

They especially worry that the we might alienate the middle-class.

Do You Even Resist, Bro?

We in Western Capitalist “Democracies” have an idea that there’s a certain balance of power between the people and the government. It goes like this:

The government exists because we need it. Laws keep us safe, police prevent crimes, courts sort out the innocent from the guilty, and the entire system functions well because we have the power to vote for those who control it. If the police ever get out of control, laws can be used to stop them, and if at any point the system stops working, we can select new people to run the government.

This has never been the case, but you might not have noticed until recently. Black and First Nations people in the United States know this better than anyone. Even the election of the first Black president couldn’t stop police murders of unarmed people, and the government repression of the water protectors at Standing Rock occurred under Obama.

When the poor attempt to resist the government, they are brutally punished. But so-called ‘middle class’ people don’t usually experience this direct violence when they resist. Why? The easiest answer to this is that the majority of the middle-class is white. This is true, and police are indisputably racist. This isn’t the full story though, since many poor people are also white.

People who make enough money to consider themselves ‘middle-class’ have more investment in the system of government than those who are poor, regardless of their race. A white suburban office manager and a Black suburban office manager both drive to work, pay mortgages on their homes, send their children to nice schools, and worry over things like retirement plans and their general security. While the Black woman in this example might also have to worry her male child might get shot by the police on his way home from a friend’s (a concern the white women need not fear for her own child), their economic lives are generally similar.

Even if both are liberal and hate Trump, neither will be willing to disrupt the entire system in order to show their displeasure. Instead, waving signs, calling senators, donating to election campaigns, and other ‘non-violent’ means of protest are the most they might be willing to risk. A night in jail because of a protest would be difficult to explain to their co-workers, a black eye from a police baton would raise eyebrows at the local Starbucks.

For the poor of any color, but especially for those who are not white, such considerations are generally irrelevant. There’s no mortgage to keep up, no 401k to worry about if the stock market collapses. The poor have no investment in the system, and thus have very little to lose.

The poor also know that the police aren’t there to protect them. Ask a homeless person what they think of the cops, and you’ll get a radically different answer from a home owner in a ‘nice’ neighborhood. Ask jobless Blacks on a street corner in a city if they think the cops are there to protect them, and they’ll give you a very different answer from the woman who doesn’t like them hanging out in front of her metaphysical store.

Non-Violence Is For The Middle-Classes

BECAUSE white and ‘middle-class’ people have more investment in the current system and different experiences with the police, many resistance movements adopted the tactic of non-violence in order to gain their alliance.

Non-violence as adopted by Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. did not mean non-confrontational protest. Rather, it involved confronting the police with the bodies of protesters and forcing them to make a choice: beat or kill unarmed, passively-resisting people, or allow them to break the law. It forced police to look like the aggressors they already were, stealing from them the defense that they were only responding to violence with violence.

This tactic works well if you are attempting to gain the alliance of middle-class people whose investment in the system prevents them from seeing the violence which sustains it. In India, this meant changing the opinions of UK citizens regarding the occupation; in the civil rights movement, this meant getting white liberals to side with the Black victims of police violence.

In both cases, the assumption was that the middle-classes did not realise the system they were a part of was racist and brutal. Watching elderly Black women beaten by cops or impoverished Indian grandmothers gunned down by British soldiers would shock them into coming to this truth. Seeing this, they would stop supporting the police and government policies, perhaps even joining in the protests. Once they did so, the powerful would be forced to comply, because the middle classes are the primary consumers of Democracy and Capitalism.

Non-violence is a strategy that coddles the concerns of the middle-classes, especially their fears. They fear disruption of their security, loss of their wealth, and the potential of personal harm. Non-violent marches now are designed specifically with their concerns in mind, assuring them that they have nothing to fear from resisting oppression.

Insisting that any resistance must bring the middle-class along with it makes little sense, anyway — they are not a revolutionary class. If anything, Trump is precisely what one gets when we coddle middle-class fears: fear of immigrants, Blacks, Muslims, economic insecurity, terrorism… anything that might disrupt their security and peace.

Reclaiming An Aesthetic of Fear

baltimore-police-riot-gear

Dressed to Impress

THE TACTIC OF NON-VIOLENCE also has the unfortunate effect of strengthening the core justification for state violence: that only the state is capable of legitimate use of violence. So, even in a fully-permitted, completely ‘peaceful’ protest, police brutality against a lone protester can still seem justified. The protester must have done something wrong to merit pepper spray or a violent arrest.

Police function under an aura of legitimacy because they are the enforcers of the laws by which we measure whether something is legal or illegal. This aura only exists insofar as we believe laws are unquestionably good — that is, as long as we think laws should be obeyed.

That aura of legitimacy has been fading rapidly in the last decade. Unless you live under a rock, you can’t have escaped all the reports of brutal killings of unarmed Blacks, Natives, and others at the hands of cops. If there were only a few stories, we could dismiss these as isolated incidents, ‘bad cops’ acting outside their legitimate mandate. But the stories keep increasing, the courts continue to absolve the cops of their crimes (or even refuse to prosecute them in the first place), and it’s now impossible to ignore what minority, poor, and radical victims of police violence have always known:

The police exist to maintain the current order, and their brutality is actually part of their mandate. The more the order starts to collapse, the more violent the police will need to act in order to keep ‘the peace.’

To do so, they’ve needed to cultivate an aesthetic of fear. If you’ve been to a protest in any Western Capitalist nation lately, you’ve seen the results of this: armored and heavily-armed police resembling Roman Centurions or Robocops, standing in military formation, ready to stop any potential violence to bank windows or luxury cars.

Traipsing around like stormtroopers, murdering people in the name of the law, driving around in military-grade vehicles, wielding microwaves that can fry your skin and sound-cannons that can deafen you for life definitely makes the police something to be afraid of. But there aren’t actually enough police to control us all if we ever engage in active resistance against them.

Fortunately, they have our middle-class commitment to non-violence to protect them. We have worried so long over the questions of ‘legitimate violence’ that we’ve failed to notice that the police no longer rely on it. Instead, they rely on our non-violence and our fear of their violence to keep us in line.

Alan Moore wrote in V for Vendetta, “People should not be afraid of their government; government should be afraid of their people.” The truth is, they already are, otherwise they wouldn’t be militarizing the police. Perhaps, then, it’s time to reclaim our own aesthetic of fear.

This is what Antifa and Black Bloc groups have already been doing. By engaging in active, aggressive resistance against police, they are breaking the spell of police invulnerability. Likewise, in each action they win, they are proving to the rest of us that more resistance is possible.

Such actions might never convince the liberal middle classes to join any resistance against the government. Thing is, though, there are many more of us than there are of them.

The government we are fighting knows it cannot win by violence alone. It also knows that they lost the aura of legitimacy long ago. They will not be able to govern us by fear as long as we show we can fight back. They cannot convince us we are powerless when we seize our power back from them.  So all that is left to them will be the support of the insecure middle-classes.

It makes no sense for us to try to win them over. What good are allies too worried about what their neighbors might think if they risked arrest to change the world?


Rhyd Wildermuth

img_0967Rhyd’s the co-founder and managing editor of Gods&Radicals. He also writes at Paganarch, Fur/Sweat/Flesh, and posts a near-daily “Friendly Anarchist Thought of the Day” on Facebook.

His entire life is 100% crowdfunded by readers like you. Find out how to help him here.


11 Comments »

  1. In general if a government wants to make people afraid, it doesn’t have to be strong enough to attack everybody. Instead it makes examples of individuals and groups. Plus also it makes alliances with powerful groups around shared fears of scapegoat groups. This allows the examples to double as victory porn for its allies.

    The middle class is a group that is objectively small but subjectively large. A lot of working class people think they are middle class. So making alliance with the middle class lets government gain a lot of its victims as supporters. This IMO is what is really behind courting the middle class. It used to be how you got mass acceptance.

    What I feel may be different in the last half decade or so is that a lot of people have noticed how much they are being exploited. Are they ready to stop seeing themselves as middle class? I think perhaps yes. And the nonviolence question is already being answered differently.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Various Fascist, and non-Fascist, movements like to appeal to the Middle Class (or Petit Bourgeois, if you prefer) . They prey upon the Middle Class fear of losing their money/property/rights and also tempt them with becoming upper class. All they have to do is go after the working class, the missing class, the really poor.

    If the Middle Class does this, then they set themselves up as a militia (sometimes literally as in the Brownshirts) and police the revolutionaries for the Fascists. What they never realize until it’s too late is that they weaken themselves in the process and then get stomped on in turn.

    If you are interested, there is a rather good primer on the fundamentals of Fascism, or Ur-Fascism. It is readily available on line by searching Ur-Fascism and Umberto Eco. Yeah, the author who grew up during Mussolini’s Fascist takeover of Italy.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I agree with you, we should not shrink away from using violence when needed, but we should also not uncritically give ourselves over to it.

    My concerns over violence have never involved pleasing the middle class, I worry for those who use the violence. They say that if all you have is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail. I’d say that the longer you use the hammer, the less the hammer is a tool for you, and the more you are a tool for the hammer. A life of violence dehumanizes just as effectively as a life lived under the threat of violence. I speak from experience on this matter.

    So no, I’m not against the use of violence, I am against the uncritical use of violence. The advocacy of violence as a universal solution to the problems we face. I do not mean to say that you advocate this Rhyd, but I do see this point of view being advocated.

    It is perhaps premature to wonder about the day after the revolution, when new lives and new ways of doing things have to be forged. But if no one does it, and all he have left is hammer people, I don’t see a throne being toppled, I only see whose ass is in the throne changing.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Revolutionary violence has worked so well in the past. It brought us Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, etc. Who are these new revolutionaries smashing up the Starbucks and some bystanders cars? BLM folks? More likely angry middle class white kids who will eventually go to grad school. Are workers still the revolutionary class? I’m a UAW member and I can tell you most of my union comrades are not going to put on a mask and smash out someone’s windshield. Random violence is a sign of despair. It’s not a revolutionary strategy. This was an irresponsible article.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Revolutionary violence is what brought you American independence, Haitian independence, Mexican independence, even Indian independence (Gandhi’s non violence was only one pressure on the British; they faced violent riots, violent civilian resistance, and an armed military resistance in addition to non violent tactics). You can’t ignore the large role of violent revolution in the overthrow of colonialism.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I do not agree that nonviolence is pandering to the middle class. Violence is a failure of communication, and it can only be evaluated in terms of that failure: communication breakdown between groups that don’t share the same values and where there is a power dynamic difference. From a religious perspective, violence also leads to the restless dead and to blood crimes prosecuted by the Erinyes. One of the reasons, from a polytheistic religious perspective, that America and Europe are having so many problems is the ancestral miasmic taint from colonialism that most people won’t look in the eye. One can view this in the light of the Erinyes working in the long-count to take that which is due to them and the dead whom they represent. More violence just adds to this bank of taint. The only way to stop it is to give restitution to the descendants of the people who were wronged — and yes, the American political system is miasmic due to its historical relationship with slavery and Native genocide. The only way forward into a future we all want to live in is a rupture with the cycle of violence and abuse.

    I have personal experience with abuse. My dad is the adult son of an alcoholic, and he was emotionally abusive to us girls and my mom due to the violence in which he grew up. That doesn’t mean I have the right to perpetuate violence myself, and it doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize why people in desperate situations feel like violence is the only option to be heard. (My mother has actually called me too empathic for not letting her get service workers fired for not being cheery and polite enough.) There are real reasons for pacifism and activist nonviolence that are not respectability politics.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I will not deny that violence has, at times, been used to achieve laudable goals. That having been said, for every laudable result of violence there is another example where the violence got out of control and spiraled into true chaos, or where a charismatic leader seized control of the frenzy to establish a dictatorship of their own. Violence is a weapon that lacks a hilt; it cannot be safely wielded. As such, we should only turn to violence when the potential for disaster is outweighed by the certainty of what will come if violence is not used.

    This is an incredibly high standard, and I think that it is safe to assume that we have not yet reached that level. It is still possible at this moment that non-violent consistent protests can turn the tide. It is my humble opinion that the best policy at the moment is containment of the alt-right/Trumpian element in our society, preparation and organization for the next electoral cycle, and a commitment to undo the harm that they have done when they are soundly defeated.

    I’m going to carry this further; I strongly support the idea of a egalitarian, communal society that is preferably clear of the overwhelmingly destructive industry of modern society. It is my opinion, however, that a society of this type can never be imposed on the people without the result being Stalinist Russia or Maoist China. It is our task to convince the people that there is a better way, a more human way.

    They must be shown that Capitalism is not the natural path, it is instead an amoral (perhaps immoral) aberration that cannot be allowed to persist if we are ever to be at peace with one another and the world we all share. It is possible that we as a species will never come to this conclusion, that capitalism will win out because we are too selfish to see the truth even when it is directly before our eyes. If that is the case then we will have to suffer the consequences.

    We cannot, however, force people to our way of thinking (even if we could muster the strength and I doubt that we could), because when you deny someone a thing by force they will want it all the more. Violence cannot be the method by which we defeat the present circumstance or bring about an end to capitalism. Persuasion is the only solution that will stand the test of time.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “Violence cannot be the method by which we defeat the present circumstance or bring about an end to capitalism. Persuasion is the only solution that will stand the test of time.”

      I’m wondering how you’d apply that in a system that does not run itself according to the will of the majority – what’s the specific mechanism of change you’re envisioning?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I started writing a reply to your question, and after writing more than two pages about the mechanisms of change that I envisioned I realized my answer wasn’t really the proper for a comment. To answer your question, briefly, I suggest a system of change that requires patience, endurance, and a willingness to work toward a future that none of us now living might live to see to fruition.

        You asked how my suggestion would work in a system where the will of the majority did not govern the society, the answer is that it would not. In such a circumstance the very first step that would need to be taken would be creating a democratic environment. I know that the argument could be made that the United States and other Western powers are not at the present moment controlled by the majority. In those cases, however, there are a number of the levers of power that can be manipulated by the people and these are more than sufficient for our purposes.

        In order to, create lasting change, the first step is to create a general agreement about what is the proper shape of society. This can best be accomplished through education, after all that is the very mechanism that the capitalists have used to turn the people against socialism in the first place. We field teachers, who subtly work to help students maintain an open mind and resist the capitalist propaganda to which they are exposed. We work to get socialists, perhaps clandestine socialists, on to the committees that write the standards at the state level. Most importantly, we work to get socialists, again perhaps clandestine socialists, elected to school boards. If we influence the systems of education, we can influence the future.

        In addition, we work to apply pressure at key points of the system, undermining the ability corporations and capitalists to control the levers of power. This isn’t as straight forward as it may seem, we don’t start with Bernie Sanders style demands for change though we certainly support those calls for change. Instead, we write amicus briefs and try to sway the courts to limit the influence of corporate money, to strike down gerrymandering as an impediment to democracy, etc. The number of pressure points is large, we would need to pick our battles but over time we could make a significant difference.

        To summarize, we make small changes, sometimes one person at a time, until these small changes reach a critical mass and the conditions for substantial and lasting change can be achieved. It is not personally satisfying to work toward changes that we ourselves may never see, but I believe it to be the only viable path open to us given the present conditions.

        Like

  7. I feel like it’s less a question of imposing our views on the people by force than it is one of basic self-defense. Like, as a polytheist and Stoic, I believe that it’s absolutely ethical to defend someone with physical force who’s being randomly punched on the sidewalk. Is capitalism less violent than that, though? It’s not just police violence (although that’s part of it) – people who are denied sufficient nutrition, housing, or healthcare are physically and psychologically harmed just as concretely as someone who gets punched (and in terms of absolute damage, each of those is quite a bit worse than a punch). However, the same people who wield power within the system and who profit from that ongoing, ambient violence – the business owner class – are the ones who own the communications networks and write education policy. So of course they don’t want it to filter through into common sense that capitalism is not nonviolent, that it can’t be, and that it never has been.

    But at the end of the day, that violence is still there, even though it’s hidden. Trying to change the economic and political structures that are committing violence, every day, against your economic class and the large majority of the world is self-defense under any truly impartial moral standard – even if you pursue that change by force. And frankly, all the data we have tells us that pacifist protest by itself does not change anything; sometimes the powers that be negotiate with pacifist leaders to establish reforms, but that has never happened when the establishment hasn’t felt threatened by a movement that wasn’t pacifist and wasn’t inclined to compromise. To put it differently – if you want reforms within the system, you better hope that the full-on revolutionaries whose methods you reject are getting strong.

    There is no level of clear communication that could negate that. Neither the constant, pervasive, intense violence of the system nor the sporadic, generally isolated, and comparatively mild violence of self-defense come from people misunderstanding each other. They come from the way that under this system, the people who have the power get their power and wealth by exploiting everyone else and backing it up with force. It’s a question of collective material interests; it can’t be dialogued away. In other words, none of us here are the ones who are trying to impose their views and interests on everyone else through violence; that’s what capitalism does every day, sometimes through the government that serves it and sometimes not.

    Like

    • The problem that I perceive with your argument is that at some point you will transcend what can be called self-defense and begin to practice the very oppression that you were resisting in the first place. The majority of the population does not believe that they are being oppressed, regardless of whether we can demonstrate the truth of their oppression in an objective fashion, they do not believe it to be true. They will rally to the capitalist’s cause when called, because in their heart of hearts they believe in the promise of capitalism.

      Those who would use violence to change the system will then be in the position of either suppressing the will of the majority, the very crime that we accuse the capitalist of having committed or of letting their cause be dealt a lasting setback. Based on history, which do you imagine that they will choose?

      I can easily imagine someone saying: “Wait! I don’t want that level of revolution. I just want enough violence to threaten the system and force them into changing.” Violence, is not that easily contained or controlled, once you’ve unleashed it you have little choice but to ride the storm and see where it goes. A further point, once you begin practicing violence the oppressor has a much easier time justifying the use of violence against you.

      As a side note, we keep talking about the police; it should be understood that if socialists press hard enough it will not be the police that respond but the military. The military of most Western powers is firmly in the hands of the capitalists and that is a power that cannot be withstood through force. Rather than engage, in fights that cannot be won it is better to look for alternative solutions that are more productive.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: