Ted Rall, a journalist who I’ve read over the years and generally liked, has a new book out called The Anti-American Manifesto, in which he argues that violent revolution is the only way out of our current mess. As David Swanson explains:
According to Rall, “no meaningful political change has ever taken place without violence or the credible threat of violence.” And, “without violence, the powerful will never stop exploiting the weak.” From these statements, scattered throughout the manifesto, one would have no idea that anyone else believed there was a third choice beyond violence or doing nothing. There is no indication here of the role of nonviolence in evicting the British from India or overthrowing the ruler of El Salvador in 1944, or even in ending Jim Crow in the United States and Apartheid in South Africa, in the popular removal of the ruler of the Philippines in 1986, in the largely nonviolent Iranian Revolution of 1979, in the dismantling of the Soviet Union in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany, in the resistance to a stolen election in the Ukraine in 2004-2005, and in hundreds of other examples from around the world.
Now, Rall could try to argue that many such movements have violent as well as nonviolent components. He could claim that nonviolent activism can constitute a threat of violence. That is, even though the actors themselves may prove their willingness to die rather than use violence, the understanding of those in power as well as of activists like Rall who think only in terms of violence could be that violence is being threatened. But Rall attempts no such arguments, so we don’t really know what he would say.
Apparently, Rall also believes that it was the black bloc activists who broke a few windows in Seattle in 1999 that should be credited with slowing corporate globalization, not the tens of thousands of peaceful protesters who won allies inside the meetings and effectively shut down the city. I honestly have never heard anyone make that argument.
It’s really unfortunate that Rall has such a twisted view of social change. While he may point out many of the problems we face in this country, it sounds like Rall comes up woefully short on solutions. How he sees “a hundred thousand angry New Yorkers armed with bricks (or guns)” challenging the most militarily powerful state the world has ever known and addressing our many crises is truly beyond me.
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Before you take Swanson at face value, I would urge you to actually read my book. He has his take. You might have a different one…one that actually takes into account the totality of my argument, as expressed over 288 pages as opposed to one opinion.
Thanks for writing Ted. I won’t take Swanson’s review at face value. I’d actually like to pick up a review copy and read the whole thing.
A quick question for you. Have you read much about the history of nonviolent action and the many victories nonviolent movements have had, particularly over the last several decades, against brutal dictatorial regimes around the world? If not I could recommend some books and articles on the subject that I imagine you’d find interesting and would challenge your belief that the powerful will only yield to violence.
For starters, here is a link (http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/IS3301_pp007-044_Stephan_Chenoweth.pdf) to one recent study in the journal International Security that looked at 323 resistance campaigns over the last century, and the authors found that “major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns.”