Peter Gelderloos

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Peter Gelderloos (born 1982) is an anarchist and author from Virginia (United States).

Quotes[edit]

  • Capitalists and their predecessors—slaveowners, moneylenders, merchant-investors—owe their very existence to the State. In early times, concentration of political and spiritual power precedes economic stratification in society.
    • Worshiping Power: An Anarchist View of Early State Formation (2017), p. 7


"How Nonviolence Protects the State" (2007) [1][edit]

  • We believe that tactics should be chosen to fit the particular situation, not drawn from a preconceived moral code.
    • Introduction
  • An anarchist is not someone who favors chaos but someone who favors the total liberation of the world through the abolition of capitalism, government, and all other forms of oppressive authority, to be replaced by any number of other social arrangements, proven or utopian.
    • Introduction
  • If a movement is not a threat, it cannot change a system based on centralized coercion and violence, and if that movement does not realize and exercise the power that makes it a threat, it cannot destroy such a system.
    • Nonviolence is Ineffective
  • In the world today, governments and corporations hold a near-total monopoly on power, a major aspect of which is violence. Unless we change the power relationships (and, preferably, destroy the infrastructure and culture of centralized power to make impossible the subjugation of the many to the few), those who currently benefit from the ubiquitous structural violence, who control the militaries, banks, bureaucracies, and corporations, will continue to call the shots. The elite cannot be persuaded by appeals to their conscience. Individuals who do change their minds and find a better morality will be fired, impeached, replaced, recalled, assassinated.
    • Nonviolence is Ineffective
  • Time and again, people struggling not for some token reform but for complete liberation — the reclamation of control over our own lives and the power to negotiate our own relationships with the people and world around us — will find that nonviolence does not work, that we face a self-perpetuating power structure that is immune to appeals to conscience and strong enough to plow over the disobedient and uncooperative.
    • Nonviolence is Ineffective
  • Nonviolence is an inherently privileged position in the modern context. Besides the fact that the typical pacifist is quite clearly white and middle class, pacifism as an ideology comes from a privileged context. It ignores that violence is already here; that violence is an unavoidable, structurally integral part of the current social hierarchy; and that it is people of color who are most affected by that violence. Pacifism assumes that white people who grew up in the suburbs with all their basic needs met can counsel oppressed people, many of whom are people of color, to suffer patiently under an inconceivably greater violence, until such time as the Great White Father is swayed by the movement’s demands or the pacifists achieve that legendary “critical mass.”
    • Nonviolence is Racist
  • Nonviolence refuses to recognize that it can only work for privileged people, who have a status protected by violence, as the perpetrators and beneficiaries of a violent hierarchy.
    • Nonviolence is Racist
  • The people most affected by a system of oppression should be at the forefront of the struggle against that particular oppression.
    • Nonviolence is Racist
  • The imperative of nonviolence overrides the basic respect of trusting people to liberate themselves.
    • Nonviolence is Racist
  • White pacifists (and even bourgeois black pacifists) are afraid of the total abolition of the white supremacist, capitalist system. They preach nonviolence to the people at the bottom of the racial and economic hierarchy precisely because nonviolence is ineffective, and any revolution launched ‘by those people,’ provided it remains nonviolent, will be unable to fully unseat white people and rich people from their privileged positions. Even strains of nonviolence that seek to abolish the state aim to do so by transforming it (and converting the people in power); thus, nonviolence requires that activists attempt to influence the power structure, which requires that they approach it, which means that privileged people, who have better access to power, will retain control of any movement as the gatekeepers and intermediaries who allow the masses to ‘speak truth to power.’
    • Nonviolence is Racist
  • Violence and criminality are nearly interchangeable concepts, and a chief purpose of both concepts is to establish blame.
    • Nonviolence is Racist
  • A stock argument common among pacifists is that revolutionaries should not use violence because the state will then use this to “justify” violent repression. Well, to whom is this violent repression justified, and why aren’t those who claim to be against violence trying to un-justify it? Why do nonviolent activists seek to change society’s morality in how it views oppression or war, but accept the morality of repression as natural and untouchable?
    • Nonviolence is Racist
  • By preaching nonviolence, and abandoning to state repression those who do not listen obediently, white activists who think they are concerned about racism are actually enacting a paternalistic relationship and fulfilling the useful role of pacifying the oppressed.
    • Nonviolence is Racist
  • Nonviolence in the hands of white people has been and continues to be a colonial enterprise. White elites instruct the natives in how to run their economies and governments, while white dissidents instruct the natives in how to run their resistance.
    • Nonviolence is Racist
  • Most white people have enough privilege and latitude that we may mistake these generously long, velvet-padded chains for freedom, so we comfortably agitate within the parameters of democratic society (the borders of which are composed of violently enforced racial, economic, sexual, and governmental structures). Some of us are further mistaken in assuming that all people face these same circumstances, and expect people of color to exercise privileges they don’t actually have.
    • Nonviolence is Racist
  • When we understand that privileged people derive material benefits from the exploitation of oppressed people, and that this means we benefit from the violence used to keep them down, we cannot sincerely condemn them for violently rebelling against the structural violence that privileges us.
    • Nonviolence is Racist
  • The contradiction in ostensibly revolutionary pacifism is that revolution is never safe, but to the vast majority of its practitioners and advocates, pacifism is about staying safe, not getting hurt, not alienating anyone, not giving anyone a bitter pill to swallow.
    • Nonviolence is Racist
  • At first, nonviolence seems like a clear moral position that has little to do with race. This view is based on the simplistic assumption that violence is first and foremost something that we choose. But which people in this world have the privilege to choose violence, and which people live in violent circumstances whether they want to or not? Generally, nonviolence is a privileged practice, one that comes out of the experiences of white people, and it does not always make sense for people without white privilege or for white people attempting to destroy the system of privilege and oppression.
    • Nonviolence is Racist
  • A long standing component of racism has been the assumption that Europeans, or European settlers on other continents, have known what is best for people they considered “less civilized.” People fighting against racism must unmistakably end this tradition and recognize that the imperative for each community to be able to determine its own form of resistance based on its own experiences leaves any priority given to pacifism in the dust.
    • Nonviolence is Racist
  • Put quite plainly, nonviolence ensures a state monopoly on violence. States survive by assuming the role of the sole legitimate purveyor of violent force within their territory. Any struggle against oppression necessitates a conflict with the state.
    • Nonviolence is Statist
  • How the state can count on knee-jerk pacifist condemnation of violence and how pacifists effectively do the state’s dirty work by failing to use their cultural influence to make militant resistance to tyranny “respectable.” Instead, pacifists claim that militancy alienates people, and do nothing to attempt to counteract this phenomenon.
    • Nonviolence is Statist
  • A conquered population is schooled in nonviolence through its relationship with a power structure that has claimed a monopoly on the right to use violence. It is the acceptance, by the disempowered, of the statist belief that the masses must be stripped of their natural abilities for direct action, including the propensities for self-defense and the use of force, or they will descend into chaos, into a cycle of violence, into hurting and oppressing one another. Thus is government safety, and slavery freedom. Only a people trained to accept being ruled by a violent power structure can really question someone’s right and need to forcefully defend herself against oppression.
    • Nonviolence is Statist
  • In practice, pacifist morality demonstrates that it is more acceptable for radicals to rely on the violence of the government for protection than to defend themselves.
    • Nonviolence is Statist
  • If pacifists are unable to defend their own gains, what will they do when they don’t have the organized violence of the police?
    • Nonviolence is Statist
  • Permitting nonviolent protest improves the image of the state. Whether they mean to or not, nonviolent dissidents play the role of a loyal opposition in a performance that dramatizes dissent and creates the illusion that democratic government is not elitist or authoritarian. Pacifists paint the state as benign by giving authority the chance to tolerate a criticism that does not actually threaten its continued operation.
    • Nonviolence is Statist
  • Free speech does not empower us, and it does not equal freedom. Free speech is a privilege that can be — and is — taken away by the government when it serves their interests.
    • Nonviolence is Statist
  • The state is not a passive thing. If it wants to repress a movement or organization, it does not wait for an excuse, it manufactures one.
    • Nonviolence is Statist
  • Pacifism goes hand in hand with efforts to centralize and control the movement. The concept is inherently authoritarian and incompatible with anarchism because it denies people the right to self-determination in directing their own struggles. The pacifist reliance on centralization and control (with a leadership that can take “vigorous efforts” to “prevent destructive behavior”) preserves the state within the movement, and preserves hierarchical structures to assist state negotiations (and state repression).
    • Nonviolence is Statist
  • The tendencies of pacifism toward negotiation and centralization facilitate efforts by the state to manipulate and co-opt rebellious social movements; they also make it easier for the state to repress a movement, if it decides there is a need to do so.
    • Nonviolence is Statist
  • Modern governments, which have long studied methods of social control, no longer view peace as the default social condition, interrupted only by outside agitators. Now they understand that the natural condition of the world (the world they have created, I should editorialize) is conflict: rebellion to their rule is inevitable and continuous. Statecraft has become the art of managing conflict, permanently. As long as rebels continue to carry olive branches and a naive view of the struggle, the state knows that it is safe.
    • Nonviolence is Statist
  • It seems that the only form of violence [pacifists] consistently oppose is rebellion against the state.
    • Nonviolence is Statist
  • Instead of raising a fist, pacifists raise their index and middle fingers to form a V. That V stands for victory and is the symbol of patriots exulting in the peace that follows a triumphant war. In the final analysis, the peace that pacifists defend is that of the vanquishing army, the unopposed state that has conquered all resistance and monopolized violence to such an extent that violence need no longer be visible.
    • Nonviolence is Statist
  • Nonviolence assumes that instead of defending ourselves against violence, we can suffer violence patiently until enough of society can be mobilized to oppose it peacefully (or that we can expect to “transform” any aggression that threatens us individually). Most proponents of nonviolence will present it as not merely a narrow political practice but a philosophy that deserves to penetrate the very social fabric and root out violence in all its manifestations.
    • Nonviolence is Patriarchal
  • Pacifism simply does not resonate in people’s everyday realities, unless those people live in some extravagant bubble of tranquility from which all forms of civilization’s pandemic reactive violence have been pushed out by the systemic and less visible violence of police and military forces.
    • Nonviolence is Patriarchal
  • People must build a culture that allows everyone to self-identify in terms of gender and that supports us as we build healthy relationships and heal from generations of violence and trauma.
    • Nonviolence is Patriarchal
  • Because patriarchy clearly prescribes a one-sided male violence, women would be disrupting this power dynamic, not reinforcing it, by relearning their propensity for violence. To reiterate, women reclaiming the ability and right to use force would not by itself end patriarchy, but it is a necessary condition for gender liberation, as well as a useful form of empowerment and protection in the short term.
    • Nonviolence is Patriarchal
  • Advocates of nonviolence who make a limited exception for self defense because they recognize how wrong it is to say that oppressed people cannot or should not protect themselves have no viable strategies for dealing with systemic violence. Is it self-defense to fight off an abusive husband, but not to blow up a dioxin-emitting factory that is making your breast milk toxic? What about a more concerted campaign to destroy the corporation that owns the factory and is responsible for releasing the pollutants? Is it self-defense to kill the general who sends out the soldiers who rape women in a war zone? Or must pacifists remain on the defensive, only fighting individual attacks and submitting themselves to the inevitability of such attacks until nonviolent tactics somehow convert the general or close down the factory, at some uncertain point in the future?
    • Nonviolence is Patriarchal
  • Oppressive social hierarchies exist and replicate themselves in the behavior of all subjects and must be overcome internally as well as externally.
    • Nonviolence is Patriarchal
  • The pacifist avoidance of self-criticism is functional, not just typical. When your strategy’s victory comes from “captur[ing] and maintain[ing] the moral high ground,” it is necessary to portray yourself as moral and your enemy as immoral.
    • Nonviolence is Patriarchal
  • For revolutionary activists, however, victory comes from building power and out-strategizing the state. Such a path requires constant assessment and self-criticism.
    • Nonviolence is Patriarchal
  • Patriarchy cannot be destroyed overnight, but it can be gradually overcome by groups that work to destroy it. Activists must recognize patriarchy as a primary enemy and open spaces within revolutionary movements for women, queer people, and transgender people to be creative forces in directing, assessing, and reformulating the struggle (while also supporting men’s efforts to understand and counter our own socialization). An honest evaluation shows that no matter our intentions, more work remains to be done to free control of the movement from the hands of men and to find healthy, restorative ways to deal with abusive patterns in relationships, social or romantic, among members of the movement.
    • Nonviolence is Patriarchal
  • Arguing against nonviolence and in favor of a diversity of tactics should not at all imply a satisfaction with the strategies or cultures of past militant groups. But taking these criticisms seriously should not prevent us from pointing out the hypocrisy of feminists who gladly decry sexist behavior by militants but cover it up when it is committed by pacifists.
    • Nonviolence is Patriarchal

"The Failure of Nonviolence" (2013) [2][edit]

  • We can never know whether our analysis and our methods are wrong, except sometimes with hindsight. Our movements are stronger when they employ diverse methods and analyses and these different positions criticize one another.
    • Introduction: Nonviolence has lost the debate
  • Violence” is whatever the person speaking at the moment decides to describe as violent. Usually, this means things they do not like. As a result, the use of the category “violence” tends towards hypocrisy. If it is done to me, it is violent. If it is done by me or for my benefit, it is justified, acceptable, or even invisible.
    • Chapter 1. Violence Doesn't Exist
  • We are all forced to participate in a society that is held together by structural violence, and rewarded for our participation with various privileges, though these privileges are spread unevenly across society. Given that those who use some form of visible, antisocial violence are often the least likely to enjoy the privileges of structural violence, there is no feasible way to determine who is violent and who is not.
    • Chapter 1. Violence Doesn't Exist
  • “Violence” was a euphemism for a threat to the ruling order and its illusion of social peace, with which the class struggle, the brutality of patriarchy, and the murderousness of colonialism are hidden. The newspapers did not talk about violence when cops killed strikers, when landlords evicted families, or when poor people died of hunger. They talked about violence when workers went on strike, when tenants stopped paying rent, when street vendors refused to surrender their wares to the cops.
    • Chapter 1. Violence Doesn't Exist
  • Freedom as a concept sides with those who are struggling for theirs, whereas nonviolence as a concept sides with the enforcers of normality and the rulers of the status quo.
    • Chapter 1. Violence Doesn't Exist
  • The goal of our criticism should be solidarity, not homogeneity.
    • Chapter 1. Violence Doesn't Exist
  • Government violence is not the result of violent revolutions, but the product of government itself. Any movement that leaves the State intact will fail in ending the oppressions we are fighting against. A nonviolent movement that replaces one government with another—and this is the greatest victory a nonviolent movement has ever achieved in the history of the world—ends up betraying itself, allowing Power to change its masks without addressing the fundamental problems of society. Nonviolence as an analytical tool has no means of understanding this kind of defeat—the kind that looks like victory.
    • Chapter 2. Recuperation is How We Lose
  • Governments are by their nature aggressive and dominating. No society is safe if its neighbor is a state.
    • Chapter 2. Recuperation is How We Lose
  • Democracy requires social peace, the illusion that, in a society based on exploitation and domination, everyone can get along and nobody's fundamental well-being is under threat.
    • Chapter 2. Recuperation is How We Lose
  • In order to show people that we are serious, that we are committed, that we are fighting for our lives, it is better to express unambiguously that we are the enemies of the established order, that we negate their laws, their offers of dialogue, and their false social peace, it is better to attack (and to come dressed for the occasion) than to dress up as clowns, tote about giant puppets, playing up a theatrical conflict with the police, locking down and expecting them to treat us humanely, or wait for the cameras to give our witty protest signs a close-up. This is not to say that we must be ever grim and serious, nor that our only activity is to smash. Just as we need the full range of tactics, we will express a thousand emotions in our rebellion, from street festivals to funeral marches to riots. But it is our negation of the present system that gives everything else its meaning. Only because we do not frame this as a popularity contest, but as a revolution, as a struggle to destroy the present system and create something wholly new, do all the festive and creative aspects of our struggle break out of the usual cycles of loyal dissent and counterculture that are co-opted from the beginning.
    • Chapter 3. The Revolutions of Today
  • Democracy is merely another way to organize exploitation, oppression, and social control. Democratic governments have coexisted with slavery, colonialism, warfare, the most patriarchal societies with some of the most unequal concentrations of wealth, the destruction of the environment, starvation, extreme poverty, the pathologization or murder of trans people, labor exploitation, job and housing precarity, homelessness, exclusion from healthcare, genocide, and any other bad thing we can think of.
    • Chapter 4. The Color Revolutions
  • Capitalism is based on the endless accumulation of wealth, extracted from the environment and from our labor, and government is based on the accumulation of power and control directly stolen from all the rest of us. A marriage between these two systems, which has defined the social reality for at least five hundred years, means everyone gets fucked.
    • Chapter 4. The Color Revolutions
  • Governments can be democratic or not, more or less corrupt, but they will still pursue the same basic goals, and they will still be controlled by an elite. Government by its very nature concentrates power and excludes people from making decisions over their own lives.
    • Chapter 4. The Color Revolutions
  • The truth is, revolution is anti-democratic. Revolutions in their beginnings are always opposed by the majority, which is nothing but a virtual herd controlled by the media. A minority of one knows its own interests better than the rest of society, and the rest of society can only be convinced of a truth if people start putting it into action rather than waiting for validation from the majority. The struggle for a world free of domination is the insistence that we are the only ones who can define and meet our needs, and that our needs are more important than the ever-manipulated bylaws, due process, and sacred pieces of paper that democracy holds so dear. The principle of direct action is fundamentally at odds with following the rules and getting permission.
    • Chapter 4. The Color Revolutions

External links[edit]

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