Actual vs Potential Violence

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Actual vs Potential Violence

Post by Remus Bleys on Mon Mar 10, 2014 10:49 am

In Force, Violence, and Dictatorship in the Class struggle an interesting concept is brought up, and it has to do with the nature of violence. Violence is typically seen by many (and unfortunately many on the left) as a material contact between two different forces, on acting on the other, causing physical damage or other such deformity. However, we must remember that violence is a force, and is found in nature itself (oddly enough, few would call drowning in a flash flood, destruction caused by tornadoes, or death by a forest fire violence of nature against something), one only has to know that some animals must kill other animals to survive. But, as a physics tell us, all force (even violence) appears in two different forms: potential and kinetic (actual); the potential being force in relation to its position with other objects, and actual being force that appears to us in movement. Thus, potential violence is violence that does not necessarily cause any physical distortion yet we know that if in its actual form (which is violence that does cause physical distortion) it will cause physical distortion. It is the difference between being shot and knowing someone has the ability, and very well might, shoot you.

Violence itself is immensely important to the class struggle, but before getting into that, I want to first establish what exactly the state is. Basic Marxism teaches us that the state is the tool used by the ruling class for the purpose of suppressing class struggle. It's other functions, suppressing the other classes, the government of each of these classes, and the administration of the things of the ruling class necessarily all follow from this need to suppress class struggle itself. Doing these functions is not what makes a state a state, the state does these functions because it is a state (a social relationship). It is no surprise to us, that many ideologies have rather distorted view of the state - the "minarchists" viewing the state as a tool which should only be the administration of the ruling state, the anarchists who view the state as simply a use of organized violence, the fascists and liberals who view the state as something which can truly reconcile class differences, the ultralefts who correctly realize the state only exists when the interests of the general and the particular are opposed to one another but incorrectly view states as something the proletariat has no use for.

The state is in a sense, a form of organized violence, insofar as it is organized violence for the suppression of class struggle. The bourgeois state has shown itself to have two separate and distinct forms, the totalitarian state (what many people annoyingly and stupidly refer to as fascism) and the liberal (democratic) state. To understanding these two separate state forms, it is wholly necessary to understand the difference between actual and potential violence.

The early bourgeois states were necessarily authoritarian (the Jacobin terror being a prime example, another could be found in the Stalinist wave of the so called Red Terror) in that class struggle between the pre capitalist and the capitalist classes had come to its ultimate culmination and that the bourgeoisie needed to cast aside all of the previous classes until they became those without reserves, those who have nothing to sell but their labor, but in addition to this, we saw the proletariat, who refused to debase themselves and sell their labor (instead they had the desire for communism, but alas this what not attainable); and yes, authoritarian states (unlike the democracies) had time and time again suppressed the other parts of the bourgeoisie, the petty-bourgeoisie and the bureaucracy. The proletariat was dealt with in much the same fashion as the previous classes, they were brutally and violently suppressed until they had learned to fear the state and its police. This suppression itself was actual violence being directed on the proletariat in order to subdue it, in order for the proletariat to know that the state machinery of the state will harm it, and when the proletariat realized this, it had, for the large part, been subdued. And so, even though the state is causing no actual violence against the proletariat, the violence of the state has not gone down one single iota.    

This potential violence of the state allowed instead for the notion of plurality and of democracy. From this, the proletariat could organize itself legally, it could legally protest, it could form trade unions, it could even run for parliament. The liberal state does not have to worry about this working against the bourgeois state, because capital still had domination. The vast majority was tamed by actual violence, and the liberal state had then infected the proletariat with demagoguery of the nation, of the citizen, of rights, of democracy. The liberal state, with its form of potential violence, enforces its power in such a way infinitely more affective than the authoritarians, for now the workers, in their great fear of the state, have been domesticated to love the state, to know that the state is so powerful that it will destroy them and even then they love it (much like the Puritans and God). The workers themselves will side against the proletariat.

Do not take this as a suggestion to support liberalism over the authoritarian bourgeois states - as history has shown, one leads to the other. Neither take this as a condemnation of totalitarianism (the Proletarian State may in fact be infinitely more terroristic than the Bourgeois states) nor take it as a call for useless violence (the proletarian state may potentially be able to muster enough force to have a bloodless revolution - yet this is still violent, just in a potential form).

The Proletarian State is a state as its existence is to end class struggle once and for all. It will do this through any means necessary. Yet, after this, we will enter socialism, where the human body is still recovering socially and economically (as well as ideologically) from the domination of capital. This will necessitate some form of vouchers (and hence a government of people - what Lenin called "a state that is not a state").

After this becomes unnecessary, all that will be left is the administration of things. However, communism will not make men angels, there still may be conflicts. Lenin stated this would be dealt with by the "armed people themselves." Communism thus doesn't do away with violence, as the "armed people" themselves are a threat (potential) and may carry out this action (actual) in what is necessary in order to deal with things such as murder or rape.

Since Communism still contains within it violence, but violence now not directed for classes but for the sake of broader humanity, it cannot be looked at as an "extension of democracy," but as "The Despotism of Human Interests."

Last edited by Remus Bleys on Tue Jun 17, 2014 11:08 pm; edited 1 time in total
Remus Bleys

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Re: Actual vs Potential Violence

Post by slumgullion on Sun Mar 30, 2014 6:57 pm

this is some notes i wrote up on this post, idk how coherent they are. some are repetitive and just me trying to reword the same thing a diff way, so sorry for that

tl;dr = given the psychological tendency to experience potential violence as if it were actual, i'm not certain the difference between potential and actual violence is very great, and i don't think the violence of the bourgeois state is any more potential than it is actual, despite the rhetoric of modern bourgeois democracy

this post may be completely off base and not build at all on what you're trying to get at, remus, so i apologize if that is the case. the question of violence is an interest of mine since i study trauma psychology (both among individuals and populations), and believe most traumatic violence is political in that it reinforces social and economic norms both by traumatizing individuals and by maintaining a fear of potential violence for all of us. state/police/military violence as well as interfamilial/domestic/sexual violence and public violence like racial hate crimes all function to maintain oppressive structures: capitalist relations of production, the family unit, and white supremacy. one of the primary effects of traumatic violence on communities AS WELL as individuals is not just the (perfectly rational) FEAR of violence re-occurring, but the actual subjective EXPERIENCE of the violence re-occuring, even if (externally, objectively) no violence is present. so when we talk about political violence, traumatic violence, i don't think the distinction between actual and potential harm is that important. for people who have been exposed to these kinds of terroristic violence once (whether personally or not), they re-experience it whether it re-occurs or not, and the re-experience can be just as psychologically damaging.
Here's judith herman, a (non-marxist) trauma psychologist, emph. mine: "Combat and rape, the public and private forms of organized social violence, are primarily experiences of adolescent and early adult life... The period of greatest psychological vulnerability is also in reality the period of greatest traumatic exposure, for both young men and young women. Rape and combat might thus be considered complementary social rites of initiation into the coercive violence at the foundation of adult society. They are the paradigmatic forms of trauma for women and men.”

 As marxists we recognise that coercive violence is at the heart of wage labor, even ignoring outright violence of the state, violence in primitve accumulation, etc ("capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt" never gets old)- because of course starvation and poverty are forms of coercive violence that force workers into wage slavery.

So ignoring that nonsense I got into on chat about what violence "is" on an essential level (I don't like explanations for anything that rest on ideas about individual "will" which intrudes on the will and freedom of other individuals (neither 'will' nor 'freedom' being especially well defined), toot toot arriving at liberalism station).

"the state is the tool used by the ruling class for the purpose of suppressing class struggle...The state is in a sense, a form of organized violence, insofar as it is organized violence for the suppression of class struggle. "

I agree with both of these statements, and with Engels, in Origin, that the state is a product of class conflict: "a product of society at a certain stage of development; it is the admission that this society has become entangled in an insoluble contradiction with itself, that it has split into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to dispel... a power, seemingly standing above society, that would alleviate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of 'order'; and this power, arisen out of society but placing itself above it, and alienating itself more and more from it, is the state."

I don't think the distinction between 'totalitarian' and 'bourgeois democratic' states is quite as clear as you suggest, though, particularly because 'totalitarianism' is a mess of a term. i can only assume when people use it that they mean a state lacking a constitution that protects the 'rights' we're used to seeing when describing 'liberal' societies- rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, due process, etc, all those holiest of holies they teach you to revere in "politics" classes as a young impressionable nationalist. as we've seen over and over, as soon as these rights are practiced by workers explicitly acting in their class interest, they dissapear from view and the mask of liberal democracy falls away.
I wouldn't normally bring up a text if other people haven't read it, but hannah arendt's "on violence" goes into some of the things you're addressing here, particularly actual versus potential violence. one of the best lines in this thing is this: "Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent". since class society can't exist without exploitation, which i consider violence, i don't think this statement is true, but it is interesting

some more possibly repetitive thoughts:

I don't think the distinction between a 'totalitarian' state (by which I assume you mean a state lacking a liberal constitution with all those mainstays- rule of law, freedom of speech and assembly, due process, etc.; I think it's a 'fluff' term that has, like you noted, come to encompass any and all "bad" forms of government) and a bourgeois democracy (one that has all that) is as clear when it comes to violence as proponents of bourgeois democracy would have us believe. Like you said, "one leads to another", but I don't think the 'transition' is from one kind of state to another that is categorically different.

I can't think of a single bourgeois democracy that doesn't have A) a police force or equivalent that inflicts actual violence on working people on a daily basis B) political prisoners C) a complicit populace that uses social violence to reinforce capitalist relations of production and the oppressive structures associated with it (racial violence and sexual assault reinforce white supremacy and the family unit, etc; to be fair this is kind of beyond the question of 'state violence'). And of course as we've seen time and again, as soon as workers begin to act in their class interest, the kid gloves come off. The state relies on an ILLUSION of potential violence- the violence is always actual when class conflict is on the table (as you noted the state is a tool with which to suppress class struggle). In the end the distinction between potential and actual violence isn't that important, as any movement on behalf of the working class is met with actual violence.

Most importantly, wage labor in itself can only exist with the aid of coercive violence- starvation and poverty are violence; (if anyone wants to argue me on that point I guess we have to go back to the "what is violence" argument).

On the violence of the proletarian state and violence in a post-state world: The bourgeois liberal state has an "ideological monopoly" (if I may call it that) on violence; the violence of the state and the coercive violence which capitalism requires is never questioned, while revolutionary violence and self-defense on the part of the proletariat is condemned.

I don't think anyone here is a pacifist or thinks we can only aspire to bloodless revolution, but 'Pacifism as Pathology' by Ward Churchill is an excellent read.

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