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How Nonviolence Protects the State

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  827 ratings  ·  73 reviews

Since the civil rights era, the doctrine of nonviolence has enjoyed near-universal acceptance by the US Left. Today protest is often shaped by cooperation with state authorities-even organizers of rallies against police brutality apply for police permits, and anti-imperialists usually stop short of supporting self-defense and armed resistance. How Nonviolence Protects the

Paperback, 198 pages
Published July 1st 2018 by Detritus Books (first published 2007)
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Jan 02, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: pacifists willing to reconsider their assumptions, or those who wish to argue with such people
Shelves: owned-and-read
I don't think I have ever read anything that persuaded me to change my mind about something so radically. While I wasn't an absolute pacifist going into this book, I was pretty committed to nonviolence, and had been for many, many years. Because of this well-argued book, I am now convinced that the doctrine of nonviolence is misinformed, racist, patriarchal, authoritarian and ineffective. Privileged activists like myself who are not prepared to participate in strategic violent resistance directl ...more
Evelyn Woagh
I think this book is important, and has given me many words and helped me find explanations for thoughts and ideologies in my mind which were previously abstract. Unfortunately, there are several things wrong with it. Firstly, I find it odd an anarchist is focused on criticising patriarchy rather than hierarchy. The root of patriarchy is hierarchy. An imperialist with a different set of genitals is still an imperialist. So it is with capitalists and all others with similar conditions of power, w ...more
Apr 27, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to AJ by: South End Press
This book helped confirm my nagging feeling that nonviolent activism doesn't really help further any type of real revolutionary agenda. The author does a great job explaining why this is so and what alternatives exist to counter ineffective pacifism.
I have a lot of conflicting thoughts about this book. On the one hand I feel like I learned a lot from it, and gained some worldview-evolving information; but on the other, the author said a few really ignorant things. I skipped the chapter on patriarchy, (correctly) assuming it would be full of references to sexual violence and atrocity propaganda. While glancing through this chapter after finishing the book, I came across the cringe-inducing phrase "women and transgender people" (as if these a ...more
Jan 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting and compelling critique of pacifism as an ideological imperative. Gelderloos shows that those who demand a strict adherence to a principle of non-violence in social movements are speaking from a privileged, authoritarian, self-serving, and delusional position. He argues that non-violence is ineffective, racist, patriarchal, and tactically limiting. Not only that, but it is not truly "non-violent" as it perpetuates a system of coercive force to maintain the capitalist status quo.

Kat Dixon
Peter Gelderloos claims to advocate a variety of tactics with which to achieve social revolution and transformation, each “chosen to fit the particular situation [and:] not drawn from a preconceived moral code” (3). Often he accomplishes this through the defense or justification of militancy at the expense of nonviolent resolution. Though his tract is indeed contrived from an interesting standpoint, he relies too heavily on the novelty of his position to persuade readers rather than supporting h ...more
Ganglion Bard-barbarian
Only one charming example, out of many, of Gelderloos' astounding scholastic prowess; he lists a personal e-mail exchange with a JMU professor as his only academic citation in regards to his account of Gandhi and the history of Indian national liberation struggle.

A blatant and unreadable plagiarism of Churchill's highly recommended Pacism as Pathology. Boycott Peter Gelderloos.
Rei Avocado
i.....did not enjoy this book. in terms of style the author is incredibly repetitive and it annoys me. okay we get it. liberals are bad and ignorant. you are such a good activist because you dont shy away from violence. we get it. something about the authors tone angered me and i couldnt explain it until i realized he was an anarchist. suddenly it made a lot of sense.

as a marxist, i found the authors arguments childish. like at one point i had to ask myself if the author was just pro violence fo
Aug 24, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
i have a LOT of thoughts about this book. these will not be articulated well at all. i am a high school student and definitely can’t talk about these things (especially while typing in the Goodreads mobile app) as eloquently as i’d like to.

this was an eye opening, occasionally shocking, and frustrating read. i read it for SAL’s book bingo, and ultimately it DID challenge my worldview, but not really in the way i would have liked.

the sections about nonviolence being a privileged, white-dominate
Aug 21, 2010 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: pacifists
A high rating off as hypocritical, seeing as I've just given Thoreau's Civil Disobedience four stars, but I'd still give the book four, maybe five stars.

Thoreau suggested and embodied his anti-government revolt with boycott, i.e., he did not pay taxes, he never got married, nor did he consume alcohol and/or tobacco. While he, in fact, employed a variety of nonviolent tactics, he did not separate protest into violence and nonviolence. It is certainly true that (admittedly a generalization) nonvio
Ernesto Aguilar
Revolutionary movements have toiled for generations around a variety of issues. And since the 1999 World Trade Organization demonstrations in Seattle, Washington, where activists using a range of tactics succeeded in thwarting WTO meetings, debates over approach have been central to the dialogue.

In his book, Gelderloos makes a fearless though at points flawed argument against not simply pacifism, but the philosophy of nonviolence in the context of social change. Many are likely to find such a po
Oct 16, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone; Political Activists; Thinkers
Recommended to Tyler by: Goodreads Reviews
Okay, I couldn't pass up a catchy title -- so what? This provocative, trenchantly written book holds that peaceful protests, absent any aggressive insinuations, amount to wasted effort. I never before thought about nonviolence except as a given, and now I see it in a much more sober light. Such is the persuasiveness of this book.

The argumentation deployed by the author approaches the idea of nonviolence from every possible angle, then deconstructs it point by point: Pacifism, we find, channels
May 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
i would highly recommend reading this!

like a lot of [white or passing poc] activists i know, i was raised to view "nonviolence" as the only morally acceptable way forward. i had a sort of naive faith that somehow, enough symbolic acts of non-violent civil disobedience could convince oppressive institutions to change for the better.

back then, i would have been very reluctant to hear what Gelderloos had to say. but he raises the important question: which tactics are effective for causing true, las
Mar 28, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A polemic written by a guy who says he's writing this book because he didn't get enough time to speak uninterrupted at a panel... so you know, your average white male anarchist. Anyway, it was on my reading list for years and I came across it at a bookstore and figured I'd give it a go.

The book didn't totally blow my mind because it's not like I was a committed pacifist who needed to have my mind changed - while I don't know if I necessarily would be down to commit violent acts, I respect diver
Convincing argument that pacifism is a pathology of the left (As an incisive goodreads participant pointed out and perhaps you are likely aware of also: that there is another book with that title "pacifism as pathology" by ward churchill). That book is extensively sourced and is listed as recommended read in Gelderloos' book. Brave ideas irregardless of who wants to claim the patent. I don't necessarily agree with everything here but it puts forward an impressive argument for the right to self-d ...more
Nataliia Lunio
Dec 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I recommend this book to anyone who finds it important to fight any kind of oppression. The main idea is that we need to stop categorizing activist actions by violence/non-violence because we 1) live in the world built on violence and 2) we cannot even agree on what violence is: why is eating meat okay and crashing windows is not?
Amy David
Jul 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book challenged all the things I thought I knew about organizing. This is a great counterpoint to Alinsky and others, and should be required reading for everyone who thinks activists should not punch Nazis.
Oct 06, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow, I have all of the mixed feelings about this book.

I think it's an interesting premise, and some parts of this book are fascinating and well-argued. (Why Nonviolence is Racist, in particular.) The most convincing part is that all movements require a variety of tactics in order to succeed, and more radical violent groups often enable the success of more mainstream ideologies by forcing the state to deal with them. That's totally fair, and seems inarguably correct.

However, I think Gelderloos of
Rui Coelho
Aug 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have been aware of this book (and its impact on anarchism) for a long time, but I was afraid this was going to be just a mindless celebration of violence. I was far from the truth. After some great experiences with Gerlderloos ("The Anarchist Solution to Global Warming" and "Organisation vs Insurrection", which basically solves one of the main contemporary anarchist debates), I tackled this book.
How Nonviolence Protects the State is not a book against nonviolent activism. What it aggressively
Jan 31, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well laid out, a little biased but provides a practical and historical account as to the failings of nonviolence which casts light on what Frantz Fanon might have meant in calling nonviolence an aspect of bourgeois colonialism.
Jun 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An engaging and relatively short look at the problems of using strictly non-violence in activism. While the text felt more dense than I think is useful for books about revolutionary praxis, I did gain excellent insight into the ways in which we protest oppressive structures.
Lawrence Wiggins
great. every activist needs to read this.
Feb 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Essential reality check
Meredith Avila
Aug 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
Was going to be a two star review but I think his vitriol ran out in the last two chapters, the first of which was titled "nonviolence is delusional" so by the time I got to the end I was pleasantly surprised at the good information and coherent points about alternatives in a revolutionary minded society and the failures of the philosophy of pacifism at all costs as opposed to using a variety of tactics to create revolutionary change. The final two chapters could stand alone. The rest of the boo ...more
Sarah Darrow
This book was extremely frustrating for me. It was like reading a social media rant from someone I mostly agreed with, but was unable to comment.
Gelderloos had some great points, but fluctuating definitions, occasional self-invalidation, and lack of counter research (save for anecdotal evidence or historical references without context) were his achilles heel. His supporting evidence was strong, but he left huge gaps in his answer to arguments FOR pacifism, which left me feeling like he doesn't
Daniel Morgan
Jul 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-history
Honestly, this book is very convincing. Throughout the book, Gelderloos references historical examples of violent and nonviolent activism, to demonstrate how the latter is ineffective. He also analyzes a diversity of tactics to promote revolutionary activity and social change. One of his key conceptual frames is that he does not see the division as nonviolence vs. violence, but rather as nonviolence vs. a diversity of tactics (some of which may be violent). This allows him to highlight the role ...more
Jul 12, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author makes a lot of good arguments; I find that I agree with all of them. He also makes a lot of points that I never hear discussed (which is kind of the point of the book). Great points, writing was OK.

The tone of the book is very argumentative. It's essentially a manifesto of a position, so this isn't surprising, but it was a little exhausting so I found myself reading a chapter at a time. One chapter also read like the author just go a new thesaurus and was really trying to spice up hi
Adaleigh D
Jul 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An easy to read treatise about nonviolence and its ineffectiveness within a revolution from repression. As a previously-identifying pacifist, this was a must read to get me to understand how my penchant for nonviolence is really me executing my privilege so I can abdicate my responsibility and complacency with the state and its atrocities. Lesser-privileged communities do not get the same space for criticizing the state and the state's violence. They are the ones currently on the front lines in ...more
Matthew Gault
An interesting text - very useful in that it highlights that a broad conceptualisation of "violence" is helpful for understanding the political world.

That being said, despite his appeal to use a "wide variety of tactics" the author seems most keen about "armed struggle".

It is a book that shouldn't be ignored, but definitely should be debated and critiqued.
Kate Seader
Feb 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Breaks apart Pacifism in a way I never see. Easy to understand and well cited criticisms. Not a fetishization of violence, but the understanding that when violence is being done against people they have the right to defend themselves.
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“At first glance, a militant conception of revolution seems more impractical than a nonviolent conception, but this is because it is realistic. People need to understand that capitalism, the state, white supremacy, imperialism, and patriarchy all constitute a war against the people of this planet. And revolution is an intensification of that war. We cannot liberate ourselves and create the worlds we want to live in if we think of fundamental social change as shining a light in the darkness, winning hearts and minds, speaking truth to power, bearing witness, capturing people’s attention, or any other passive parade. Millions of people die every year on this planet for no better reason than a lack of clean drinking water. Because the governments and corporations that have usurped control of the commons have not found a way to profit from those people’s lives, they let them die. Millions of people die every year because a few corporations and their allied governments do not want to allow the production of generic AIDS drugs and other medicine. Do you think the institutions and the elite individuals who hold the power of life or death over millions give a fuck about our protests? They have declared war on us, and we need to take it back to them. Not because we are angry (though we should be), not to get revenge, and not because we are acting impulsively, but because we have weighed the possibility of freedom against the certainty of shame from living under whatever form of domination we are faced with in our particular corner of the globe; because we realize that some people are already fighting, often alone, for their liberation, and that they have a right to and we should support them; and because we understand that the overlapping prisons that entomb our world have by now been so cleverly constructed that the only way to free ourselves is to fight and destroy these prisons and defeat the jailers by whatever means necessary.” 3 likes
“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.” 2 likes
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