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Response to Perz's "Exclusive Non-Violent Action"


by Daniel Peyser

The most recent issue of The Abolitionist-Online published an essay by Jeff Perz arguing that exclusive nonviolent tactics are the only way that the real animal rights movement we are building will be effective. In the essay, Perz states that nonviolent direct action is the only ethical way to respond to the oppression of animals, that any sort of violent tactics are inherently unethical and ineffective, and that various historical examples support this hypothesis. An article of mine also appeared in this same edition of the Abolitionist-Online, in which I argued--unaware of Perz's essay--that exclusive nonviolence has been and will remain a dead-end for an animal rights movement, and will ultimately amount to tactical suicide. However, I would like to respond more directly to Perz's essay. In this response to Perz, I argue that his essay, its premise, contents, and conclusion, are wholly incorrect. I will argue, furthermore, that the position Perz takes in his essay is both objectively speciesist and racist, and inconsistent with an abolitionist position on the Animal Question.

Perz's essay suffers from a range of rather simple logical flaws, unhelpful normative judgments, and confusion between the micro and macro. To prove his points, Perz rests his assertions on bizarre assumptions. When he is not doing this, his essay largely takes the form of a debate Perz himself frames between George Lakey, Ward Churchill, and Gandhi. Rather than making his own points, frequently Perz merely pits one opponent against another. This is especially the case with Lakey vs. Churchill. Unfortunately, in the end Perz's essay also objectively sides with speciesism and anti-Semitism. In fact, Perz never even proves what he sets out to--that based on the same oft-cited historical examples of where violence was used or might have been, nonviolence was or could have been more effective.

From the outset of his piece, Perz reiterates Gandhi's notion that there is a "third way" between being totally passive on one hand, or on the other hand, using violence. "Gandhi knew that there is always an effective third way between passively doing nothing and acting violently. That third way is truth-force, or active non-violent resistance." Problematic for Perz is the fact that none arguing in favor keeping violence a tactical option ever stated anything to the contrary.

Perz then lays out the groundwork for his argument on this faulty foundation, stating, "I strongly maintain that our actions must be strictly and exclusively non-violent if they are to be ethical and effective." Perz has now stated, however tacitly, that nonviolence is inherently unethical.

Perz writes, "In disagreeing, they [those who accept violence as a possible tactic] sometimes point to historical examples of human social justice movements and argue that violent resistance was both ethical and effective in these movements. So, they argue, in order to avoid being speciesist, animal rights activists must also accept the use of violent resistance. In answering this objection, I will take issue with both the historical analyses and ethical assumptions of those who object to the exclusive use of non-violent action." Of course, Perz never takes issue with any of the historical examples commonly used to prove the efficacy of violent resistance or what is generally understood as "armed struggle." As a result, we shall see, Perz never really "answers" the objection of the speciesism inherent to the exclusive nonviolent position, and in fact finds himself in the trenches with those initially accused of speciesism.

Before continuing, it is worth noting Perz's definition of violence, which allows for "psychological violence" in the form of property destruction. Perz defines "psychological violence" as feeling "extreme loss, anger and fear." Perz ignores the obvious contradiction, which is that even through exclusively nonviolent action, the oppressor will undoubtedly feel "anger and fear," and possibly "extreme loss," and as a result, exclusively nonviolent action is actually, by Perz's own definition, violent.

The only real historical example Perz addresses in any depth at all is the Nazi Holocaust. Curiously, he addresses almost no examples of where tactical violence was used. Quoting mostly Lakey, Churchill, and Gandhi, Perz makes a variety of contradictory assertions. First, he asserts that the Jews practiced nonviolent resistance. Then, he argues that they should have practiced nonviolent resistance, and gives some examples of what shape such a resistance might have taken. Then he returns to his first assertion--that the Jews practiced nonviolent resistance, and--as Lakey says--should be honored for it. All of this, however, relies on notions about what an oppressed group "should have done" at the height of their oppression, a position which is not only cruel and arrogant, but objectively anti-Semitic in that it effectively blames the victim for their victimization.

To begin his bizarre study of the historical example of the Nazi Holocaust, Perz cites Gandhi, who was quoted as saying, "Hitler killed [six]1 million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher's knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs. -- It would have aroused the world and the people of Germany. -- As it is they succumbed anyway in their millions." Perz writes that while he initially "felt shock and disgust" at this statement, that he later realized he had simply misunderstood what Gandhi really meant: the Jews should have resisted differently. Of course, as those readers capable of even the most basic level of reading comprehension will duly note, this is the same thing the initial quote from Gandhi suggested. Perhaps Perz hopes that more words will simply make the initial quote less ugly.

The whole notion of suggesting that the Jews might have resisted differently--and more "ethically," whatever that means--if they had engaged in more active nonviolent resistance, is audacious and outrageously anti-Semitic. It is a liberal racism which assumes the Jews were either too naive, too stupid or too morally deficient to engage in different forms of resistance than those actually practiced, including in some cases violent resistance that Perz neglects to mention. This is akin to wagging a finger at a rape victim for not resisting their attacker differently, or worse, more "ethically." To quote Perz quoting Gandhi, "if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary sacrifice, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant. -- I am convinced that if someone with courage and vision can arise among them to lead them into non-violent action, the winter of their despair can in the twinkling of an eye be turned into the summer of hope." Perz then quotes Gandhi lamenting the fact that the Jews were simply incapable of "loving their enemy."

Continuing his laboriously twisted employment of the Nazi Holocaust as historical example, Perz admits that he doesn't really know that much about the Nazi Holocaust itself, or the history leading up to it. After oddly quoting Lakey responding to--and grossly misinterpreting--Ward Churchill, rather than Perz simply responding to Churchill himself, Perz begins, "The Nazis used gradual socio-psychological manipulation when carrying out genocide. I have not studied this, but my understanding is..." In other words, Perz does has not studied something, but the hunch his superficial grasp of the matter suggests to him is that social psychology sufficiently explains the predicament of the Jews on the eve of the Nazi Holocaust. Aside from this all being rather preposterous, it is generally considered unhelpful when trying to prove a point to state that you have not studied the example upon which you are relying predominately.

Perz goes on to make more unsupported assertions to aid his tenuous conclusion: "Without having read Gandhi's letter to the leading Berlin Rabbi that Lakey refers to, I would hypothesize that Gandhi would have, if fully informed, advocated mass Jewish non-cooperation and civil disobedience against the Nazis at every stage." In other words, Perz is telling us, "I haven't read this, but I think that maybe Gandhi--

if he was fully informed--might have advocated..." This would be akin to me saying "I haven't read Churchill's Pacifism as Pathology that Lakey refers to, but I would hypothesize that Churchill would, if informed about such and such a matter, have this to say about it."

As mentioned, one of the biggest of many problems with Perz's analysis is that he ignores the active violent resistance of the Jews, something he implies, in the introduction of his essay, that he will address. He might have, for example, mentioned the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. He might have mentioned the overthrow of concentration camp Sobibor with the aid and leadership of imprisoned Red Army soldiers, where it was decided that simply escaping from the camp would leave it fully functional. They realized they needed to smash the apparatus of the camp and kill the Nazi officers and camp guards.

In one of several sweeping self-contradictions in his essay, Perz, writing of how the Jews should have resisted if they had been brave/smart enough, states that "Perhaps this would have involved the vast majority of Jewish people confronting soldiers, one at a time, and asking them to leave." Perz continues at length, "Perhaps it would have involved unrelenting and frequent attempts to dismantle military posts without harming the soldiers. When met with arrest, assault and murder, Gandhi may have advised that every Jew accept this fate whilst simultaneously continuing their action until they were 1

absolutely physically forced by Nazi-inflicted violence to stop. There would be no cooperation whatsoever. In masses, they would have refused to wear the Stars and carry the permits. They would have assembled in large groups and conducted large demonstrations, contrary to German law at the time. Again, they would have embraced the horrible Nazi responses to this, but openly, loudly and resolutely. In masses, they would have attempted to dismantle the ghetto fences as they were being built without acting violently towards anyone and despite being the victims of horrible violence themselves. As the truth became known, and as Gandhi suggests, perhaps they would have marched in masses, asking either to be killed, imprisoned or freed of the repression they were enduring--all before the general German public and at the earliest possible stage. All of this might sound bizarre, but, as Lakey points out, many Jews did employ non-violent action against the Nazis, and this should be honoured." In other words, the Jews should have resisted nonviolently. Or rather, they did, and should be honored. Unfortunately, Perz does not tell us which of these two mutually exclusive assertions is correct: either the Jews should have resisted nonviolently and didn't, or they did and should be honored.

Rather than cite his own historical examples of nonviolent resistance, Perz, in a fashion lacking his normal intellectual rigor, continues to quote Lakey. Unfortunately for Perz, Lakey's examples don't really work, in that they tend to actually prove the opposite of what Lakey (and Perz) are trying to suggest. "Lakey analyses many historical examples of non-violent action to further prove this point. He argues that governments, including military dictatorships, are unable to stop effectively run non-violent movements with violence. For example, Lakey points out that the late Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic was deposed by a non-violent movement, despite having overwhelming military power in 2000." Even this example, like the example of the Nazi Holocaust, is severely mangled. The stage was set for Milosevic's being deposed by the escalation of armed separatist groups and a devastating NATO bombing campaign that took the lives of untold numbers of civilians. Lakey goes on to cite the overthrow of Marcos in 1986 without mentioning the vital role of the Communist Party and their tactical violent armed wing, the NPA, in fomenting hatred of the Marcos government, as well as helping to destabilize it. Lakey cites Poland's "revolution," not mentioning it was backed by the CIA; the Hungarian revolution which was not only violent, but began as a pro-Communist reform movement that was co-opted by nationalists and fascists; the fall of East Germany which was due to a combination of massive external pressure and the inevitable failure of state capitalism due to its own internal contradictions-- not "people power"; and an array of other examples which were not exclusively nonviolent. Most represented a mixture of tactics, something Lakey (and Perz) tell us won't work--even though it does. Regardless, Churchill, Vlasak, myself, and others generally do not argue that tactical nonviolence does not have its place, but that as an exclusive form of resistance it is dangerously ineffective and potentially deadly. Nonviolent resistance is not pointless or never useful. I could, for instance, compile a list of examples in which violent resistance was highly effective. In doing so, I would not be suggesting that nonviolent resistance is inherently ineffective, or inherently or tactically unproductive. Perz--or perhaps I should say Lakey--however, does exactly this in its opposite: provide a list where exclusive nonviolent action was supposedly (but not really) effective, ignoring a plethora of examples of where violent action was effective, and argue that based on this, exclusive nonviolent tactical action is necessary.

Perz continues to quote Lakey rather than enter the fray himself: "A number of liberation movements that used armed struggle in the Third World have now given up those means and switched to others. The Zapatistas of Chiapas [Mexico] are perhaps the best known example of this phenomenon." This is wholly incorrect, and obviously so. At no point have the EZLN laid down their arms. They have merely recognized that now is not tactically the time to use them--after having used them to great effect earlier (something Lakey conveniently neglects to mention). If Lakey is wrong about such an obvious point, among others, how are we to rely on the rest of what he says? Or for that matter, how are we to rely on the rest of what Perz, who barely says anything of his own, favoring instead quote after quote from Lakey?

Using the example of German-occupied Denmark, Perz goes on to state that nonviolent and violent tactics cannot be used together. He states--again, quoting Lakey--that the violent tactics will undermine the nonviolent actions by bringing down further repression. This ignores the fact that levels of repression are generally gauges of effectiveness of social movements, and blames the victim by placing responsibility for aggression by the oppressor on the oppressed themselves.

In reaching his predetermined conclusion that exclusive nonviolence is the way to go, Perz makes a number of troublesome normative judgments. Perz: "I agree with Gandhi's view that, in circumstances of personal self-defence where there genuinely is no other option, it is ethically acceptable to use violence." Who decides where there is "genuinely" no other option--or what the options are at all, for that matter? Here Perz is effectively saying that any oppressed peoples, historical or contemporary, who use violence when there might be another option (again, who decides?) are doing so unethically. And so, Perz has not only blamed the victim, as demonstrated above, but has now passed moral judgment on their tactics of resistance based on a series of normative judgments about what factors add up to constitute an "ethically acceptable" use of violence.

In addition to having made objectively anti-Semitic and racist remarks and judgments in his essay, in applying his assertions to the developing animal rights movement, Perz makes some inherently speciesist comments as well, stating confusingly that, "Since it [violent action] ignores the third way of active non-violent resistance, the use of violent tactics is always seriously unethical." In other words, one of the "three ways" is invalid from the outset and "seriously unethical" because of the existence of another (the "third way"). Here Perz is worried about the "rights" of the oppressor. "[Killing a vivisectionist] is unethical because it ignores the inherent value and fundamental rights of the sentient being who is being treated as an object." Ignoring the ethical confusion here (the vivisectionist is not being treated as an object or instrument, but as a subject--the enemy), if we're to follow Gandhi's lead, we should not only be not harming the vivisectionists, but praying for them. After going on to engage in a typical new welfarist smokescreen of confusing the micro and the macro in an ethical example related to prisons, Perz contradicts himself again: "If a vivisectionist is murdered, she or he will no longer harm however many animals. But then the vivisectionist will be replaced by another and no lives will be saved." Now consider: "Not including aquatic animals and bees,2 the lives of 1135 non-human animals are saved when just one 20 year old goes vegan in Australia. 3Including aquatic animals but not bees, the lives of 4022 non-human animals are saved when one person is vegan from birth in Britain.4 If an activist helps five people move towards veganism per week, which is entirely possible,5 that adds up to multiple hundreds of thousands of non-human animals saved in just one year. Over ten years, it becomes multiple millions of lives saved. Compare that with what violent animal rights activism could achieve." While I am unsure of what "violent animal rights activism" even means in this case, I am quite sure that for every person who becomes vegan, hundreds more are born every moment that will eat meat and consume animal other products. This is part of the reason animal exploitation is still on the increase. At the moment, you are not saving animals when you go vegan; you are simply practicing what you preach. For veganism to be an effective tool to stop animal suffering in and of itself, it will need to spread faster than non-veganism. Right now, we are making minor quantitative changes that are not really saving animals. At some point, we hope these quantitative changes will translate to a qualitative change. Perz, of course, confuses this as demonstrated, and in doing so contradicts himself. The contradiction is particularly ironic in that our hypothetical vivisectionist will only be replaced by one more hypothetical vivisectionist. The new hypothetical single vegan is offset a very real approximate 210 new non-vegan humans joining us on our planet every minute. Perz makes a variety of strange speculations about the future, and then closes his essay by reasserting that exclusive nonviolence is the only way to go. "Exclusive non-violent animal rights activism is ethical, realistic and absolutely necessary to create the world we are seeking." Unfortunately, none of what Perz wrote has proven even an iota of this to be true. As I wrote in "Beyond Pacifism," exclusive nonviolent action is inherently speciesist. Nothing of what Perz has written disproves this thesis. All that Perz has accomplished is to make a variety of arrogant assertions and astounding contortions of logic about what historically oppressed groups should have done differently, in some cases taking objectively racist and anti-Semitic postures on the matter resistance and tactical violence/nonviolence.

Before I end this, let's be clear about what I'm saying: I don't think that Jeff Perz is a speciesist, and I don't necessarily think he is an anti-Semite. In an objective sense, this is uninteresting to me, as the effect of what Perz writes does not really change depending on intent. I do, however, believe I have demonstrated his positions and statements in his recent essay amount to objective alignment with both speciesism and certain forms of liberal racism--the kind that says "I know what's best for an oppressed group who aren't smart enough to figure out what's good for them." Furthermore, I do not believe that tactical nonviolence is never useful or beneficial. I believe that in the vast majority of the work we are doing in building a new and genuine animal rights movement will only be effective if it is carried out in a totally nonviolent fashion. However, I refuse as a matter of basic reason and logic to remove any tactic from our arsenal. "By any means necessary" does not mean "necessarily by violent means." However, we are determined to do what it takes.

Perz ignores a massive number of historical examples of tactical violence being effective and/or necessary, ranging from John Brown or the Civil War in the U.S., to ghetto and camp uprisings in German-occupied Europe, to the resistance of the Palestinians and other oppressed groups today. Unfortunately, Perz also effectively labels these resistance struggles, historical and contemporary, as "unethical" based on a series of questionable normative judgments. Moreover, Perz fails to prove that exclusive nonviolence is the most effective tactic as shown by history, or that--consequently--it will be the most effective tactic if used in an exclusive fashion by the emerging animal rights movement. Perz also fails to address a core question related to the use of nonviolent resistance: it only works when there is a power structure open to moral persuasion. Capitalism is not such a structure and it never will be. As long as we are serious about the fight for animal liberation, we can talk about its effectiveness, when the time will come to use it, and its ramifications, but we cannot exclusively forbid the use of tactical violence.


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