From “The Left Under the Counterrevolution,” which appears in Counterrevolution and Revolt by Herbert Marcuse (Boston: Beacon, 1972), 52-3.
This society strives to impose the principle of nonviolence on the opposition while daily perfecting its own ‘legitimate’ violence, thereby protecting the status quo. Thus the radical opposition faces the problem of the ‘economy of violence’: its own counterviolence is bound to cost dearly, in lives and liberties. What is the political value of sacrifices under these circumstances?
Martyrs have rarely helped a political cause, and ‘revolutionary suicide’ remains suicide. And yet, it would be self-righteous indifference to say that the revolutionary ought to live rather than die for the revolution—an insult to the Communards of all times. Where the Establishment proclaims its professional killers as heroes, and its rebelling victims as criminals, it is hard to save the idea of heroism for the other side. The desperate act, doomed to failure, may for a brief moment tear the veil of justice and expose the faces of brutal suppression; it may arouse the conscience of the neutrals; it may reveal hidden cruelties and lies. Only [ze] who commits the desperate act can judge whether the price [ze] is bound to pay is too high—too high in terms of [zir] own cause as a common cause. Any generalization would be ambivalent, nay, profoundly unjust: it would condemn the victims of the system to the prolonged agony of waiting, to prolonged suffering. But then, the desperate act may have the same result—perhaps a worse result […].”
Distinction must be made between violence and revolutionary force. In the counterrevolutionary situation of today, violence is the weapon of the Establishment; it operates everywhere, in the institutions and organizations, in work and fun, on the streets and highways, and in the air. In contrast, the revolutionary force which is destined to terminate this violence does not exist today. Revolutionary force would be the action of masses or classes capable of subverting the established system in order to build a socialist society. Examples would be the unlimited general strike, the occupation and taking over of factories, government buildings, centers of communication and transportation, in coordinated action.”
Tags: Communards, counterviolence, general strike, Herbert Marcuse, Huey P. Newton, Jonathan Jackson, nonviolence, occupation, pacifism, Paris Commune, revolutionary force, revolutionary suicide, unlimited general strike, Vietnam, violence