“Acts of sabotage are very important. It is necessary to distinguish clearly between sabotage, a revolutionary and highly effective method of warfare, and terrorism, a measure that is generally ineffective and indiscriminate in its results, since it often makes victims of innocent people and destroys a large number of lives that would be valuable to the revolution.” — Che Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare
The ongoing dialectical struggle in the world today is that of capitalism and socialism, as observed in class antagonisms between the bourgeoisie/petty bourgeoisie and the proletariat. This is the revolutionary process by which society qualitatively transforms from capitalism to socialism: from rule by the few in the capitalist class to rule by the masses of workers. These two opposing forces within material conditions are in constant conflict as they move in opposite directions. A revolutionary act is any act which moves conditions toward socialism. A reactionary act is any act which advances the material interests of capitalism.
Herbert Marcuse wrote:
“In terms of historical function, there is a difference between revolutionary and reactionary violence, between violence practiced by the oppressed and by the oppressors. In terms of ethics, both forms of violence are inhuman and evil– but since when is history made in accordance with ethical standards?”
When the people are starving, and need bread, they will rebel and kill their oppressors, whether this is right or wrong. Morality does not determine history; history is made by evolving material conditions, and by the systems that control them. When the oppressor has exploited the oppressed to the point where their conditions are no longer bearable, violence becomes unavoidable.
All violence is evil. It ought to be avoided as much as possible. However, the oppressor (European imperialist capitalism) enjoys the material gains of violence against Africans and the majority of humanity. White power’s ongoing colonization of the working class of the world has made violence the only means of getting free from this oppression. In the historical process, the bourgeoisie never willingly gives up its material advantage, and this makes armed struggle inevitable.
Mao Tse-tung wrote: “Revolutions and revolutionary wars are inevitable in class society, and without them it is impossible to accomplish any leap in social development and to overthrow the reactionary ruling classes and therefore impossible for the people to win political power.” While all violence is evil, societies inevitably make a choice about which type of violence they support: violence by the colonizing exploiter, or violent acts by the people as they rise up to stop the colonizer’s violence.
So-called terrorist attacks by ISIS and ISIL, and such attacks by individuals in the U.S. settler colony, are not revolutionary acts of violence. Huey P. Newton said, “The only time an action is revolutionary is when the people relate to it in a revolutionary way.” Acts of violence against “innocent people” (in Che Guevara’s words) do not move material conditions in the direction of socialism, because the masses do not relate to them in a socialist way– that is, a way that shows a movement toward freedom from oppression. A supposedly isolated act of terrorist violence, like the attack in San Bernardino which killed fourteen innocent people, is a reactionary act of violence. Such terrorist attacks actually empower the existing system of oppression, moving against the revolutionary force in this ongoing struggle for power.
Huey P. Newton said, “Any action which does not mobilize the community toward the goal is not a revolutionary action.” An individual (or a couple) picking up a gun and going out to shoot a lot people is not revolutionary because only the masses can create revolution. The people must relate to an act in a revolutionary way, one which mobilizes them to pick up the gun together and move together against the oppressor. Otherwise, it’s simply an act of violence, and all violence is evil. Anyone can pick up a gun and begin shooting people– the police do this every day to colonized Africans. Huey P. Newton also said, “The gun itself is not necessarily revolutionary because the fascists carry guns, in fact they have more guns.”
So it’s important to distinguish between revolutionary violence and reactionary violence. After the shooting in San Bernardino, dozens of police showed up on the scene, including SWAT vehicles. This act of violence became a commercial for capitalist rule to be shown on CNN and all other white-controlled networks. Watching these images, the people may begin to believe that the forces against the revolution– the same genocidal forces which murder African people in the U.S.– are keeping them safe. The people will relate to the acts of terror in a reactionary way because they will turn to the existing system of power for their security, and this will consolidate and increase the force against the movement of socialist resistance.
If we objectively look at history, what we find is that the SWAT team, which originated in the Los Angeles Police Department, was first used to put down the rebellion by the Black Panther Party. So the SWAT team, which apparently makes some people feel safe, was– in reality– formed to kill Black people. Generally speaking, the police are enforcers of colonial rule by the white supremacist system of capitalist power, used to carry out genocide against colonized Africans in the so-called ghettos and everywhere else in the United States. The subjective goal of the revolutionary ought to be to educate the masses about this objective reality, so they can relate to police terror in a way that consolidates and increases the force against capitalism.
A revolutionary act is one like Jonathan Jackson committed in Marin County, California on August 7, 1970, when he moved against the oppressor in order to free his brother, George Jackson, and all the “Soledad Brothers.” Jonathan Jackson, along with three Black Panther inmates, took a judge hostage in the Marin County courthouse. Jackson and the judge were killed in the ensuing shootout, but this act against the oppressor had a specific target and a clear objective. Jonathan Jackson’s heroic act was one that his people could relate to in a revolutionary way.
Terrorist acts are hideous forms of violence without specific targets or clear objectives. Following these attacks, the people look to the bourgeois government, led by President Obama, to step up its attacks on oppressed nations around the globe. Drone attacks and bombings of civilians and hospitals appear to be justified, because they supposedly keep the “American people” safe from the “terrorists,” and this justification for more evil violence (just as hideous as the attacks by mass shooters) enhances the material advantage of the already oppressive European capitalist empire.
Mao Tse-tung famously said: “We are advocates of the abolition of war, we do not want war; but war can only be abolished through war, and in order to get rid of the gun it is necessary to take up the gun.” This may sound too much like George W. Bush’s logic for bringing peace to the Middle East– through war. But capitalism (and its leaders) must lie to the people at all times in order to keep expanding its power. Unlike Bush’s lie, Mao Tse-tung was making a scientific observation: if someone is coming at you with a gun, of course you will do whatever is necessary in order to stop them. The oppressed are simply trying to stop the oppressor, and the oppressor himself has made violence the only avenue with which to stop him.
Mao Tse-tung also said: “War, this monster of mutual slaughter among men, will be finally eliminated by the progress of human society, and in the not too distant future too. But there is only one way to eliminate it and that is to oppose war with war, to oppose counterrevolutionary war with revolutionary war, to oppose national counter-revolutionary war with national revolutionary war, and to oppose counter-revolutionary class war with revolutionary class war…. When human society advances to the point where classes and states are eliminated, there will be no more wars, counter-revolutionary or revolutionary, unjust or just; that will be the era of perpetual peace for mankind. Our study of the laws of revolutionary war springs from the desire to eliminate all wars. Herein, lies the distinction between us Communists and all the exploiting classes.”
The goal of the revolutionary, in the struggle with capitalism, is to form a “human society” in which “there will be no wars.” The goal of the capitalist is to exploit the majority of humanity for the material enjoyment of the few. While all violence is evil, the aims of revolutionary violence and the aims of reactionary violence are not the same. The reactionary commits violence in order to perpetuate oppression for the benefit of the few; the revolutionary commits violence in order to end oppression for the benefit of all.
The difference between “reactionary” and “counter-revolutionary”– to my understanding– is that “reactionary” refers to any act, attitude, ideology or thought that moves in the opposite direction of the revolution. So any person can commit a reactionary act, even a revolutionary. All of us have internal contradictions. Revolutionary movements have contradictions. So there are reactionary aspects to all individuals and groups, regardless of political views. The goal of the revolution is to eliminate as many of these reactionary elements as possible, moving against all forms of systemic oppression: racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, capitalism, all in a colonial context of national liberation (which, in turn, is in an internationalist context of global communism).
If someone or something is “counter-revolutionary” then it is actively moving to destroy the revolution. The American military is counter-revolutionary. Police departments are counter-revolutionary. The institutions and structures of European imperialist capitalism are counter-revolutionary, for they all move to destroy the force of revolutionary resistance: and, ultimately, they must be destroyed or the people will be destroyed. Such violence cannot be avoided, if the people are to be protected from the destructive force of European imperialist capitalism. Conversely, European imperialist capitalism cannot avoid committing violence against the revolution, because it is only through this aggression that it protects its own material interests. This is why there is the U.S. military. This is why there are police departments. The function of the military and the police in history is to further the material interests of capitalist domination in any “necessary” way. Morality is not the question. The protection of material interests is the only question, in terms of history.
Therefore, the revolution is against counter-revolutionary forces. The revolution is not against people– it’s against the system. The ruling class will move to protect the system. The ruling class of the white supremacist capitalist system has shown over and over how ruthlessly it will move to protect and expand its power. The masses cannot get free by attempting to appeal to the conscience or morality of the rulers, for (when it comes to their material interests) they have no conscience.
Assata Shakur said: “Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.”
If the people who are oppressing knew or cared that it was wrong for them to oppress, they would stop doing it, or wouldn’t have started this oppression in the first place. This is why violence becomes necessary– it’s why “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” White power has committed genocide, has enslaved, lynched, bombed, and beaten, in order to grab this power; it will not let go of power without a fight, without an equal force of violence (if not the same despicable means) moving in the opposite direction.
Assata Shakur also said: “Too many people in the U.S. support death and destruction without being aware of it. They indirectly support the killing of our people without ever having to look at the corpses.”
The fact is, we support violence every day (especially white people), by the choices we make about the material benefits we enjoy. European colonizers live on land which the current system of power stole for us through genocidal violence. If we don’t support this “death and destruction,” why aren’t white people getting off the land of Native nations against whom we committed (and still commit) this violence? Every day the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie choose to support violence when we live off the stolen labor and resources of Africans who work in conditions of near-slavery for our material advantage. Every day white people choose to support violence when we do not pay reparations to colonized Africans in the United States who built up this empire on which we live.
So where is the revolution against these ongoing acts of violence committed by European imperialist capitalism for the benefit of white people? The revolution is not the Islamic group responsible for the attack on a hotel in Mali which killed 27 people. The revolution is not to be found in hundreds of rapes committed against Nigerian girls by the group Boko Haram, any more than it is found in the mass shootings in Oregon, Colorado, or California. These reactionary acts of violence are the effects of European capitalist imperialism. They are not part of the movement of revolutionary resistance against capitalism in the struggle for socialist transformation.
In order for there to be revolutionary acts– or a revolution– the masses must be organized under a revolutionary ideology against the system, just as white power is organized under capitalism against the masses. Only the masses create revolution. But the majority of white people in the U.S. settler colony subjectively do not want to end systemic oppression–because we benefit from it. We say we are for peace, for nonviolence. In reality, white people support a status quo which kills “without ever having to look at the corpses.” European colonizers support violence against colonized peoples (here and abroad) by the existing system of power because it has become a way of life– it brings our material comfort, and allows us to sleep guilt-free in our warm beds, deep in our dreams of “American exceptionalism.”
Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) said:
“Is it not violent for a child to go to bed hungry in the richest country in the world? I think that is violent. But that type of violence is so institutionalized that it becomes a part of our way of life. Not only do we accept poverty, we even find it normal. And that again is because the oppressor makes his violence a part of the functioning society. But the violence of the oppressed becomes disruptive. It is disruptive to the ruling circles of a given society. And because it is disruptive it is therefore very easy to recognize, and therefore it becomes the target of all those who in fact do not want to change the society. What we want to do for our people, the oppressed, is to begin to legitimize violence in their minds.”
While all violence is evil, a revolutionary ideology begins to “legitimize violence” in our minds because we begin to see that it’s the only way the oppressed will get free. If we begin to organize under this ideology of revolutionary change, then the masses can become an actual threat to the existing system of power, because the rulers will know that we will move against them. Then the ruling class must respect the force of the masses, and this force is what prevents violence against the oppressed. The capitalist ruling class will not respect ideas, or individuals, because these lack power. What is respected is the organization of the masses under an ideology which systematically changes the balance of power and wealth. As long as white power controls material conditions, the current imbalance in these material conditions will continue. So the people must organize against the oppressor if we wish to end systemic inequality and injustice, which is only brought about through a qualitative change in conditions: that is, a change from capitalism to socialism.
If we truly oppose violence– and all forms of systemic oppression– we must move to end this violence, even if it means committing revolutionary violence. In order to do this, the masses must be unified under a revolutionary ideology, and the masses must become an actual threat to the existing system. So this is a fight for control of resources, a struggle against European imperialist capitalism for wealth and power, and not a fight for ideas. It’s a fight for material things that will benefit the children and all the people, free from capitalist oppression.