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Peace as Violence and Violence as Peace

Writing by Jamie McDonald. Artwork by Yury Aleksanyan.


In response to an existential threat to the body, how do we proceed?


This is the age of violence. Climate collapse, virulent transphobia, imperialist wars, extreme poverty, and so on: all the hallmarks of this period are existential threats to the body. How then, do we respond? Is violence on our own side acceptable?


Let’s now consider the violence we face. In May of 2022, British woman Alice Litman ended her own life. This week a coroner ruled that a three-year delay in receiving gender recognition healthcare did in fact contribute to her suicide. The simple fact of it is that this trans woman’s death is the responsibility of the deliberate and systematic underfunding of both the National Health Service and its trans healthcare branch, borne of a state-media disdain for free healthcare as a (trans-inclusive) right. In many ways, Litman’s death is more heartbreaking than the twist of a knife, because in her case there’s no single individual responsible. Instead, the culmination of a culture of indifference and individual negligence has resulted in what can only be described as an unnecessary and tragic death. The operation of healthcare under free-market capitalism will never favour the marginalised - especially individuals like Alice, with somewhat more ‘costly’ needs in comparison to others.


Undoubtedly, these exclusionary tactics are a form of violence, being both state-managed and socially observed. What is murder, if not the bloody implementation of the sentiment ‘I do not wish you to exist any longer’? Is it any wonder that trans people, their allies, and activists who align themselves against other forms of state violence, might begin to consider violent actions of their own? The traditional call for anti-violence on the left is often misinterpreted, after all. Anti-violence doesn’t necessarily endorse individually executed violence, rather it implies that we should actively work for an end to violence at large. But for the latter to succeed, we may require the help of the former.


We are used to being branded violent thugs when we protest. Yet to focus on ‘real’ violence is to ignore structural violence, and the fact that one produces the other. Within mainstream politics there is no real analysis of where this violence comes from, by whom, or how it is sparked, and therefore no real attempt to prevent it happening again. Yet we know that in reality the only way to restrain violence is to tackle its underlying cause, We must ask what sparked the violence to begin with. Žižek recounts an instance during the Second World War, in which a German officer visited Picasso’s studio and remarked in shock at the “modernist chaos” of his work, asking “did you do this?” – Picasso’s reply: “no, you did this”. (1) In other words, the grotesque art is a response sparked by the actions of the German officer and his Nazi countrymen.


Our ‘violent’ protests are a response to the conditions under which we live. If trans people correctly interpret institutional transphobia as an attempt to eradicate their bodies, then they should be responding violently. We must work to redefine ‘violent acts’ to include – and often centre on – forms of structural and political violence. This includes the sacrifices required for the smooth running of capitalism itself and the institutions within it, be it the patriarchy, imperialism, and so on. Considering violence like this, violent protest in the face of such violent structure seems a much more proportional response. In fact, refusing to punish such a violent structure (in the name of anti-violence) should be considered complicit with the status quo.


The end goal is to demolish the institutional incentive towards structural violence. The drive for profit, land, power, over that for life, must be eliminated. In its place, new institutions of care, driven by social responsibility towards life should be created, such that the incentive is to improve the world and the circumstances of those living in it. To do this we will need to undertake some violent acts of our own. The destruction of a system is itself a form of destruction. Our task in the coming years is then to consider what forms of violence we believe acceptable to undertake, knowing that they are vital not only to saving our lives and the lives of others, but also to prevent the extermination of our cause.


The beginning of this conversation must revolve around a program of civil disobedience, recognising that if the system is inherently violent then it is necessary to take protective action. Laws will have to be broken, and we will have to replace them as a movement with a strict moral code. Strike action will need to begin to break punitive anti-union law. We will need to begin providing our own trans healthcare by recruiting sympathetic doctors and healthcare professionals. We will need to shut down oil infrastructure and other industries harmful to the planet. Of course, whilst these might sound like drastic measures, they are by no means unnecessary - even if only to preserve life and prevent the alternative.


We cautiously joke about violence because we are unsure how to proceed. We find ourselves hoping Jeff Bezos fails to return from space in his vanity capsule. We chant ‘eat the rich’, or, ‘abolish the police’ without really acknowledging what these slogans mean . If ‘eat the rich’ is a joke, then we should ask ourselves why we’re allowing a layer of ironic detachment to come between us and our goals. This blase attitude belies the uneasiness we feel when really confronting dangerous institutions. If it isn’t a joke, we have to steel ourselves to the reality that neither the police nor the military are going to come to our aid and remove the wealthy - nor their enforcers - from their positions of power. This is a task that instead falls to us.


As much as we can, we must orient our violence against structures and their superstructures , in the meantime recognising the inherent innocence of those trapped within these structures. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the violence innate to the everyday. It is too late to evangelise on social media about ‘Gandhian non-violence’: certainly not when an early death from war, poverty, bigotry, or environmental collapse, is becoming a reality for evermore increasing numbers of people.


Instead, through recognising where violence really lies – in the supposed normality of the structures of everyday life – our ‘violent’ actions intended to destroy these violent structures are themselves a method for producing a true and lasting peace.


(1) Slavoj Žižek’s Violence, 2008: 8.

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