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Violent Repression is a Fact:

What Should We Do?

by John Spritzler

April 9, 2018



Violent repression is a fact. By violent repression in this article I am not referring to the routine brutal violence of the police against people just trying to mind their own business and survive. What I have in mind instead is this. When some powerful individuals find themselves the specific target of activists and fear what might happen to them if the activists succeed, such powerful individuals often behave like cornered rats--they lash out violently and viciously against the activists to make them stop whatever they're doing. This is what I have in mind by violent repression. And this is the problem I want to address here.

Drive-by Shootings by Corrupt Union Officials

To clarify what I'm talking about, here's an example of violent repression that I learned of from one of the people it was aimed at. It happened in the 1990s in Kansas. There were Boeing Aircraft plants in Kansas and Washington State, and the local union leaders in both places were corrupt; the union didn't do the most basic things a union should do to stand up for the workers. My friend worked at the Kansas plant where he had organized a caucus of several hundred workers to fight the corrupt union leaders. There was a similar caucus in Washington. One day the caucuses organized a job action simultaneously at both plants to demonstrate their anger at the union officials and their solidarity and large numbers: they created an immensely loud ruckus inside the plants that was so loud it prevented any communication and any work from getting done.

A few days later the union officials in Kansas carried out drive-by shootings with live ammunition, firing into the homes of the caucus leaders through their windows. Luckily nobody was killed, but they easily might have been.

The union officials gave the caucus leaders an ultimatum: dissolve the caucus, or else the violence would escalate.

The caucus leaders met and decided to dissolve the caucus. They'd have been crazy to do otherwise. Having a local union act the way it should would of course be very nice, but it's nowhere near an important enough goal to give one's life for.

Witness Deaths and Home Vandalization to Stop a DNC Lawsuit

Fast forward to the present. The lawyer, Jared Beck, and his wife Elizabeth, had led the fight to mount a serious lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee accusing it of having committed fraud during the 2016 primary elections to prevent votes for Bernie Sanders from being counted. Evidence strongly suggests that some of the guilty individuals in the DNC were so frightened of the lawsuit that they responded like cornered rats. Here is what Jared Beck wrote on his Facebook wall April 6, 2018:

"Yesterday, Elizabeth and I returned home from a 10-day trip to South Korea to find the front of our home vandalized. While I have no idea if this is connected in any way to the lawsuit or our political views, our general sense of insecurity in this country has taken a dramatic turn for the worse over the past few weeks. Please remember that in addition to the witness deaths and threats to the legal team that we've experienced in the course of the lawsuit, we live one county south of where the Parkland school massacre took place, and our office is about 10 miles from the FIU bridge collapse. For all of these reasons, America just doesn't feel like a very safe place for us these days. At this point, I feel like I would be doing a huge disservice to my family (especially my kids) by making myself a target more so than I already am....From this point forward, I will be devoting my energies to finishing the DNC Reply Brief (due to be filed in less than two weeks) and then putting issues of the DNC's fraud and the problems of the American political system out of my mind for a while. I will then turn my focus full-time to the concerns of my other clients and the welfare of my family." [full FB post online here]

The Becks would have been crazy to decide that their (and their children's) lives are worth risking just to win a lawsuit against the DNC, a lawsuit that could possibly lead to some individuals going to prison but would surely leave the ruling plutocracy in power.

What Can We Learn from This?

Home vandalization and witness deaths to stop a lawsuit against the DNC, and drive-by shootings to protect some corrupt local union officials, are different illustrations of the same thing: vicious violent repression is a fact of life. But what is the moral of this story?

The moral of the story is NOT that we cannot remove the oppressive rulers from power. But there is a moral to the story about how we go about it.

To help us discuss this problem, I will introduce two words to refer to two very different kinds of struggles: vertical versus horizontal.* The two struggles discussed above (against the corrupt union officials and against the DNC) are examples of vertical struggles. A vertical struggle is one in which a relatively small number of people aim to accomplish a very modest goal (modest compared, that is, to a goal one would risk one's life to win) that is nonetheless so dangerous to particular powerful individuals that these individuals react like cornered rats with vicious violence.

A horizontal struggle is one in which a) the goal is explicitly one that is so huge and wonderful that lots and lots of people do believe it is worth risking one's life to win it and b) the people the struggle threatens are the entire ruling class rather than any specific individuals.

I have written here about how it is possible to make an egalitarian revolution with a horizontal struggle. The initial horizontal tactic that this horizontal strategy suggests is what I describe here, and the fact that it is a relatively safe thing to do is what I discuss here. This article you are presently reading is as serious as a heart attack, and so I am assuming that you, dear reader, are serious enough to actually read the short articles I have linked to above. Otherwise, you won't really understand this article.

When the explicit aim of the struggle is huge and wonderful enough, very large numbers of people--in the millions--risk their lives to win it. This clearly happened in Vietnam where tens of millions of peasants risked their lives (and about two million lost them) to win the goal of being free from colonial domination. It happened in Spain in 1936-9 when millions of Spanish people rose up against the military might of the fascist General Franco to win an egalitarian revolution--a society with no rich and no poor based on mutual aid and genuine democracy.

This is why we need to think BIG and act horizontally. This means building a movement that reaches out to literally hundreds of millions of people in the United States (and billions in the world) with the BIG huge wonderful vision and goal of removing the rich from power to have real, not fake, democracy with no rich and no poor--egalitarian revolution. This is what most people already would LOVE, and when they are persuaded that they are in the vast majority in wanting this goal and that there is a serious movement aiming to win it, THEN they--hundreds of millions of people--will make enormous sacrifices and devote enormous energy to win it.

But if we stick to vertical struggles, we will end up demoralizing ourselves and all who see what happens when a relatively few brave souls confront a cornered rat to win a goal no sane person would risk their life to win.

Winning is better than losing. Let's aim to win by aiming to win BIG.


* My late very good friend, Dave Stratman, is the person from whom I learned about the distinction between vertical and horizontal sturggles. Dave Stratman has many articles on the website.

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