A Discussion of Revolutionary Terror

This post is a copy of something I originally posted to fedi, in conversation with @CornishRepublicanArmy and @scottishwobbly. This is the result of two comments of mine glued together, and it represents well my thought on the topic. Nevertheless, this is still one side of an argument, the whole of which can be seen here. Ok, here it is!

Comment 1

I should probably preface this with a couple of things. Firstly, in this thread when I say liberal I mean philosophically, rather than any political party bearing the name. Second, though I don’t talk about it much because it’s not the focus of my argument, I want to say that I’m not trying to minimise the constant violence that the current system produces, only emphasise that it is most often an institutionalised, familiar violence that is in tune with the current direction of mass media and society. This becomes important later.

Anywho, onto the main thing!——Gorgeous thread my darling, and I know you’re at work rn so zero pressure to answer, but I want to ask how you measure the difference between good terror and bad terror, and about the founding contradictions such terror would create. You know my takes of course, politics, society and life itself is inherently predicated upon layers and layers of force, the earth is an altar upon which all living beings are perpetually slaughtered yada yada yada, I’m not one to be squeamish about the presence of force and violence in the abstract.

But I have, as usual, institutional and philosophical qualms: There are fundamental problems with instituting a society/change/anything based on completely contradicting the norms one is trying to create. In this case I mean creating a society based around a minimum of force and violence based on revolutionary terror, but I will explain with a real-world example.

Take colonialist Australia for instance. Settler Australia’s underlying fundamental assumption is “we are the legitimate people of this place.” It’s what underlies the entirety of our society from property rights to court authority to decent people being able to sleep at night. Yet the actual history of the founding of Australia is one of genocide, theft, christianisation, mass incarceration and racial theory. Just… the worst shit.

Now, as limited as this is, Australian society *has* gotten better―though it’d be hard to get worse, we were the blueprint for Apartheid and the *progressive position* at the time was that our job was to “smooth the dying pillow” of an inferior race. I’m not kidding―in that no one is trying to genocide the natives and there is much more support for self-determination etc etc you get it. White Australia on the other hand continues to exist and by virtue of still possessing the land, imposing violence and law on indigenous communities, treating them as marked and as a political football and so on, continues the colonial legacy albeit in a more limited way.

So there’s a couple of big problems for the liberal project here:

a) If indigenous people were sovereign (there are limitations too in even applying the sovereignty concept but fuck it i wanna be able to finish this before the heat death of the universe), then our founding myth is a lie

b) If indigenous people want to keep their culture and their ways, even in the face of the benefits of liberal society, then the universality of the liberal project (and everything based upon it) is threatened.

This is an existential threat to Australia, and so it has been hidden or suppressed in various ways. In fact the entire history of settler-indigenous relations can basically be seen as a continuing dialectic of what to do about the “”””aboriginal problem.”””” Meanwhile, White Australia is chugging along pretty well for itself, and white people are not leaving. This is both practical and theoretical- regardless of the horrors committed by my people, this is my home too, there’s nowhere else we will or even could go en-masse.

The reason I’ve waffled on about this is my point is that this is a founding contradiction at the very core of Australia that will not and *can not* go away. If this conflict is ever fully resolved, it’ll either be because of centuries of complex reconciliation, or the extinction of one of our peoples.

So now we turn to revolutionary terror, and my issue is that using terror creates the same long-term philosophical and institutional issues. Of course this is a radical simplification of the possible outcomes, but let’s say that you can lose or you can win (the revolution/terror that is).

Option one is that you lose, your movement is largely publicly discredited and people turn away from terror as a moral possibility in the face of the wanton destruction that benefited no one.

Option two is that you win and try to establish your society.

Ignoring the possibilities of mass resistance, immediate derailment and opportunism, the damage is nevertheless already done. This is because you have now demonstrated that mass violent action and murder are effective political strategies, and you have made this murder the cradle of your civilisation, and people will not forget it. This sort of thing will haunt your society for as long as it exists because it’s existence is based on a fundamental rejection of it’s own principles.

And this is just the philosophical stuff. You’ll still have the practical-institutional shit to deal with:

If you do this you *will* have a revolutionary body schooled in violence and willing to impose it, a society who must be ok with that on some level for you to have even gotten this far. You *will* have institutional structures which are to a scary extent built for and around liquidation of the enemy.

You *will* have a hugely fractured, broken society because of damaged social and political trust due to the radical change in direction of society and the bloody means used to gain it.

You *will* have the usual problems of an uphill social and probably violent battle against a solid like… 10-30% of the population, which is bad for interpersonal trust, civic engagement, democratic institutions and norms based on trust and reciprocity. This is to say nothing of the rest of society who are just sort of going along with the status quo.

In other words, in the early days there will be the ideologically pure, and there will be everyone else, and that’s always a fucking scary situation.

Comment 2

(in response to the fact that my conception was far too centralised for what Lucy was actually proposing)

Whether I’m right or not about what I’m about to say, this option is *significantly* less shit than openly state-sponsored genocide. Who knew? :p

I still feel this sets dangerous precedents i guess we could call it vigilante justice or mob justice or something. I also feel like it can easily slip into classicides (something like the red terror in Catelonia, if my memory serves me correctly), and that a centralised organisation could easily steer something like that in line with their interests. Manufacturing consent etc etc.

If people are riled up enough to just openly kill people (even if it’s not the way I thought), people are still gonna be susceptible to this shite.

Moreover if it *is* that targeted and precise then there’s gotta be planning involved there, and with the sort of organisation required for that there’s still huge danger there imo.

One thought on “A Discussion of Revolutionary Terror”

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