Armed Criticism

The weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism by weapons, material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses.

And so we have armed criticism. In choosing this name, I hope to invoke two things:

1) That a revolutionary movement must come to terms with the realities of striving for fundamental change. This means no movement can harbor any illusions about the critical importance of a capacity for self-defense. I don’t say this to spur on acts of isolated insurrection, which travels through that most brutal domain of physical violence en route to alienating – or even harming – innocent people. I hold no love for violence. But other people do… and they tend to be the people with the most arms. With the most training. With the legal flexibility to murder. I hold no love for guns either. But as it turns out, letting the enemy hoard all of them isn’t a good idea. A people must be armed, or that people will be crushed. And arming oneself is not a violent act, nor is it a declaration of a future act of violence. It is a response. A response to the acts of violence which have been carried out – by the police in Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago; by the military in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan; even by political officials in Detroit and Flint. (Political officials whose security rests on the implied backing of force by arms.) It is a statement which proclaims, in the face of the beast itself, that our lives are worth protecting. Violence is inevitable, because class society is maintained through violence. It was self-defense when the Panthers armed themselves, and it’s self-defense now. If a movement is to have any hope of actually changing things, it must be protected.

2) That our criticism must be “armed” with revolutionary theory. Armed with the insights produced by the struggles against capitalism, imperialism, and neo-colonialism. Against national oppression, white supremacy, and racism. Against gender oppression, cisheteropatriarchy, and (cis)sexism. Our criticism must have teeth, both on the street and on parchment. Without a revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement. We must learn from all revolutionary struggles: historically, internationally, and most of all, in our particular context. And that is the purpose of this page. To learn, to educate, to learn more.

The weapon of criticism and the criticism of weapons – these are the sword and shield of class war. The people on the other side of that war are fighting and will continue to fight wherever there is a tenant to be evicted, a worker to be subjected, a homeless person to be left out in the cold as winter approaches. A black teenager to be monitored or shot. A woman to be harassed and assaulted. Queer youth to be kicked out of their homes and told to figure it out for themselves. Wherever there is someone to degrade and humiliate, there is someone willing to – itching to – do that degrading. To do that humiliation. Most of these acts of coercion can not simply be chalked up to a “bad person” doing a “bad thing”- though both of these things may be true, this narrative alone serves to individualize instances of oppression and take away from the social whole. People are encouraged to act in certain ways by larger systems and ideologies. If this weren’t the case, humanity would really be in trouble. We would have to explain why we allow vacant houses to outnumber the homeless population five times over. Of course, we still have to answer this question, but when you look at what capitalism is and what capitalism does, we have our answer. We know there are masses of people who are dislocated and disenfranchised as a result of the socioeconomic structure and ideology that fill in the details of our capitalist society. I’ve heard people describe capitalism as people second and profit first. I don’t think that’s accurate… to me it’s clear that most people are not even secondary.

It’s a cold, ugly, brutal world. And yet, there’s hope. There’s hope precisely because we are not all simply irredeemable jerks who are innately selfish and uncaring, but are complex beings of change living in complex conditions – which can be changed. We can transform society and we can transform ourselves. And if this world of ours is going to be saved from the clutches of annihilation, we must.


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