‘Fascist Violence and Revolutionary Violence’ by Charles Rappoport from the Liberator. Vol. 7 No. 8. August, 1924.

‘Fascist Violence and Revolutionary Violence’ by Charles Rappoport from the Liberator. Vol. 7 No. 8. August, 1924.

MENTION of the problem of violence brings spontaneously to mind the name of George Sorel, author of “Reflections on Violence.” Since 1899-1901, the period of my collaboration in the “Socialist Review,” until his death in 1922, I continued friendly relations with the celebrated theoretician of revolutionary syndicalism. George Sorel knew that I did not agree with his fundamental conceptions. This did not prevent our having cordial relations. On the contrary, George Sorel thought somewhat like Proudhon, his first teacher, who left indelible traces upon his mind. When Proudhon learned that there were “Proudhonians,” he cried; “They must be imbeciles!” Sorel was simplicity itself, of good faith and always ready, like Proudhon himself, to demolish today what his thought, always searching for truth, had constructed yesterday.

George Sorel.

Sorel knew Marx, but during all his long philosophic career he never ceased to apply the metaphysical method of Proudhon, which was based on “principles” instead of contenting itself, like Marx’s, with the scientific analysis of facts. Also, Sorel adopted the “principle” of violence in itself. A Marxist never speaks of democracy in itself, of liberty in itself, or simply of liberty, of war in general or of violence in itself. Everything depends upon the circumstances. Everything must be considered as functioning in time and space, or to use a current expression, everything is “according to–.” Violence is bad when it serves the reactionary cause or helps to perpetuate a regime of violence and of the exploitation of man by man. Violence is wholesome and necessary when it serves to relieve the social body of a gangrenous member which threatens it with death. Violence is beneficial when it suppresses by a sudden act a chronic state of violence. In one word, violence “in itself” is neither revolutionary nor reactionary. It is revolutionary when it serves a revolutionary cause, and becomes reactionary and counter-revolutionary when employed against a regime of emancipation and a class whose historic mission it is, to leap to a new stage of society.

Of all this George Sorel never took account. He glorified violence in itself as a “principle” of vital energy. He pushed his metaphysics of violence so far as even to exalt the violence of the master-class against the workers, as being a good school for the militant proletariat which was prevented thereby from falling into softness. George Sorel cordially detested the word-mongers of the humanitarians and reformers. He threatened to “pull them off of their high horse.”

In this exaltation of violence in itself, Sorel, like Proudhon before him in his paradoxical book on “War and Peace,” met in thought such glorifiers of war as Joseph de Maistre or the Pan-German Bernhardi. This explains why his “Reflections on Violence” had great popularity in Italy, and why many an Italian admirer of Sorel finds himself today in the camp of the Fascisti.

Charles Rappoport, 1933.

The metaphysics of violence is not only reactionary, but absurd. Violence does not create, it destroys. If it is a question of the destruction of an obstacle to social progress, violence resembles the beneficent operation of a surgeon. This is not the case with nationalist capitalism, which sees in war-like violence the supreme means of saving its privileges. It is in revolution that capitalism sees the enemy to be destroyed. We condemn Fascism, not as violence in itself, but as violence put to the service of privilege and of a society founded upon violence and unable to live without it.

The working class is the producing class; it hates destruction and admits the necessity of only one destruction; the destruction of the capitalist regime which can exist today only by murder and misery. The triumphant social revolution will put an end forever to violence. Production will replace destruction, and the producing class will replace the destroying class.

The Liberator was published monthly from 1918, first established by Max Eastman and his sister Crystal Eastman continuing The Masses, was shut down by the US Government during World War One. Like The Masses, The Liberator contained some of the best radical journalism of its, or any, day. It combined political coverage with the arts, culture, and a commitment to revolutionary politics. Increasingly, The Liberator oriented to the Communist movement and by late 1922 was a de facto publication of the Party. In 1924, The Liberator merged with Labor Herald and Soviet Russia Pictorial into Workers Monthly. An essential magazine of the US left.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/culture/pubs/liberator/1924/08/v7n08-w76-aug-1924-liberator-hr.pdf

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