Friday, August 15, 2008

Non-violence, Hugo Chavez and Gene Sharp

I just linked to this Airforce Amazons post in relation to South Ossetia, but am linking to it again for the issue it discusses in the later part of the post: non-violence. I had missed Kellie's comments on Gene Sharp at TNC when I mentioned him in this post. My basic view is: that non-violence when taken as an absolute law is dangerous, but when used as a strategic tool can be positive, and is certainly better than many alternatives.

Kellie's mention also makes me take action on something that's been bugging me since I posted it: my characterisation of the Venezuela Analysis crowd as "Marxist Leninists". I took this from Stephen Zunes, who said:
One reason [that leftists spend their bile on gentle Gene Sharp] is that some critics of Sharp subscribe to the same realpolitik myth that sees local struggles and mass movements as simply manifestations of great power politics, just as the right once tried to portray the popular leftist uprisings in Central America and elsewhere simply as creations of the Soviet Union. Another factor is that many of the originators of the conspiracy theories regarding Gene Sharp and the Albert Einstein Institution are Marxist-Leninists who have traditionally downplayed the power of nonviolence and insisted that meaningful political change can only come about through manipulation by powerful external actors or privileged elites.
Much as I hate Marxist Leninists, I think this characterisation is unfair to Marxist Leninists. The Venezuela Analysis crowd use some Marxist Leninist terminology to justify (a) insane anti-American conspiracy theories (theories which they share with the very un-Leninist anarchos at Indymedia who shout "COINTELPRO" every time an anarchist does something self-destructive (i.e. often)) and (b) the vulgar or bogus anti-imperialism that divides the world into bad imperialists and good "anti-imperialist" caudillos like Chavez. Nothing to do with Leninism, and even less to do with Marxism.


Exile said...

Useless information time...

Caudillo in Spanish just means a war leader, in the sense of someone who commands a war band, however large or small it might be. Historically, the caudillos rallied their men in time of war and united under a banner to form an army.

I suppose that Hugo Chavez Frias is a caudillo in both the Spanish and English senses, as he is a military man.

More useless information...

A junta just means a meeting in Spanish, usually of a committee! The first time I got an invitation to go to one the poor secretary couldn't understand why I found it so hard to stop chuckling.

The Contentious Centrist said...

That's exactly the sort of information I find very useful... Thanks, Exile.

parke burgess said...

As an advocate of nonviolence I feel compelled to respond to your sentence, "non-violence when taken as an absolute law is dangerous, but when used as a strategic tool can be positive, and is certainly better than many alternatives."

I agree with this sentence, but with the following clarifications:

(1) an "absolute law" must hold true exactly 100% of the time, not a smidge less.

(2) no one can say with perfect certainty that nonviolence is always (100% of the time) the very best alternative.

(3) BUT, as best I can figure out, nonviolence is better than violence ALMOST all the time, say, in 99.9999% of cases. I have yet to hear an actual or plausible scenario in which it is clear to me that violence would be better than nonviolence.

Having said that, I know this is a radical view that few endorse. If you want to hear the whole argument for why I hold it, read my book, Our Tragic Flaw.

Bobfrombrockley said...

Re Parke B: I agre whole-heartedly with 1 and 2. However, I think the figure is somewhat lower than you suggest. I am sure you address this limit case in your book, but for me WW2, with the absolute necessity of removing the Nazi regime through any means, is the clear demonstration of the need for violence.

Roberto M. said...

In response to Exile:

To use a Marxist maxim, "always historizise". Caudillos are strong leaders who have historically held on to power in Latin America by the force of will power and a charismatic personality. They are always authoritarian, and are often brutal dictators. I am from a country with a long history dominated by Caudillos, even today. So, spare me, Caudillos are not just military leaders. Hugo Chavez is indeed just the latest incarnation of that figure, and will not be the last. But I can tell you that a good portion of Latin Americans are SICK AND TIRED of these people. I am in favor of democracy, not in favor of a Caudillo that fits somebody else's ideological orthodoxy.