Insurrection vs. Pacifism: A False Dillema

There is a general traditional strategic split among anarchists between insurrectionary anarchism and pacifist anarchism. Insurrection is generally associated with either individual or public violent revolution, although if one wants to be specific it is etymologically linked closely with the concept of an "insurgent", and an "insurgency" could be seen as a spontaneous defensive response to an initial invasion by a political and/or military power (like the "insurgency" in Iraq, for example). On the other hand, pacifist anarchists completely reject any degree or kind of violence, likely viewing it as inconsistent and hypocritical, and this is more than just a strategic question for absolutist pacifists because they reject self-defense as a matter of principle.

However, it would be decieving to assume that these are the only two possible options. Reasonable arguments could be given against both of them and they could be constrasted from an explicitly "libertarian anarchism" that makes a clear distinction between defense and arbitrary violence. On one hand, pacifism can be criticized on the grounds that it doesn't make any room for defense and it consequentially leaves one in a submissive position relative to power; rulers aren't likely to just voluntarily give up their power, especially when there isn't even a moderate threat of resistance. On the other hand, the traditional violent revolution can be critisized on the grounds that it threatens to undermine the end that it is a means towards and often just leads to a vangaurd state; arbitrary violence contradicts the principles that one is "fighting for" to begin with and is not likely to lead to the goal of a free society.

For a hasty insurrectionist, violence is the first resort, while for a libertarian anarchist, violence is more of a last resort of defense in comparison (there is a difference between defending yourself in the face of a police state and simply taking people out arbitrarily), and the kind of measures supported by some insurrectionists definitely crosses well over the line of defense and into the realm of assassination and rioting. From a libertarian perspective, it is hard to see how simply storming city hall and shooting the place up like it's Duke Nukem is reasonable or consistent. Aside from the possible horrors that may be endorsed by an insurrectionist as a means, the main problem that an insurrectionist faces is the question of how to avoid the phenomenon of the revoltionists becoming the new power center. Instead of "the new society in the shell of the old", there are valid concerns about "the new power center in the shell of the old". While insurrectionary anarchism is contrasted from marxist vangaurd statism on a certain level, there still may be a context in which such a distinction essentially breaks down.

The conundrum of the pacifist is sort of the opposite one: namely, that when it does come down to a question of defending oneself in the face of aggression, pacifism constrains the individual to the point of powerlessness. There are certain situations in which peaceful resistance will simply be crushed with violence, and in this sense pacifism is simply suicidal as a strategy. While the argument that anarchism could only work if everyone in the world agreed or if everyone was perfectly peaceful is not valid, it may be valid as an argument against pacifism in the sense that pacifism offers no real means to counter violence when it comes down to the nitty gritty of situations in which people use violence; that is, it could be viewed as giving carte blanch power to those who do use violence precisely because organized resistance to it is prohibited to everyone else (by their own code even).

With that being said, this should not be construed to imply that violence is necessarily the only way to counter power - I think that is too pessemistic and Hobbesian of a view. There are numerous non-violent ways to counter power that can potentially have an effect, particularly if one is focusing on the long-term. At a meta level, the most basic of these ways to combat power is a matter of philosophy and ideas, by not allowing the ideological constructs of power to hold weight for you and to spread the demystification of such ideological constructs. On another level, another way to combat power is through a myriad of forms of civil disobedience, which can potentially be effective if the proper precautions are taken. There *is* a certain extent that there's a sense in which power is dependant on compliance or asequiesance, and power can be sterilized sometimes through sheer lack of consensus and compliance. And to put the matter in positive terms, one can combat power through association to foster competition with power and more of a degree of self-reliance that lessens one's unchosen dependancies on power.

However, one shouldn't take too idealistic of a view of the matter either. Power does not dissapear overnight and in some sense anarchism is inherently a long-term project. The traditional notion of revolution can be critisized for precisely this reason, I.E. that it naively expects a singular violent uprising to dissolve power. It doesn't really work that way. On the other hand, the notion of a purely peaceful process seems naive when one considers the likelyhood (or lack thereof) of those in power to cooperating with those who wish to dismantle their power. When it actually does come down to one being explicitly threatened with violence, it seems like violent resistance is essentially the only way to counter it, and a pacifist is simply a sitting duck in such situations for the obvious reasons already mentioned. This is why a "3rd way" makes more sense than either pacifism or insurrectionism.

The matter could be thought of in terms of an anarchist contextualization of Neitzsche's dichotomy between "master morality" and "slave morality". One could say that the masses tend to embrace and follow a "slave morality" that restrains them from engaging in self-assertion while those in power tend to embrace and follow a "master morality" that gives them free reign of self-assertion (although there is a sense in which this does not absolutely hold - there are people in power who genuinely believe in a "slave morality" but are working within an institution of "master morality", and not all of "the masses" believe in a strict "slave morality"), and the combined effect of this is that "slave morality" actually has the function of enabling the master class in that it tends to render the masses powerless by virtue of their own moral dogma.

But I would say then that the purpose should not be to expand "master morality" to everyone but to overcome and transcend both "slave morality" and "master morality". By analogy, pacifism is "slave morality" and insurrectionism is "slave morality" manifested as "master morality". In the context of the state, something like state-socialism could be seen as "slave morality manifested as master morality". The problem isn't restricted to "slave morality" but to the dualistic paradigm itself. "Master morality" as it is actually generally manifested in politics is an outwardly-oriented form of self-assertion in the sense of dominating the lives of others, which is not the same thing as a more inward form of self-assertion in the sense of genuine self-improvement or concern with one's long-range interest. So I would say that both "slave morality" and "master morality" suffer from the same fundamental problem; they are both, in some sense, not "properly egoistic".