By Charles M. Young
The Anti-American Manifesto
(Seven Stories Press)
by Ted Rall
Columnist, cartoonist and author Ted Rall by ThisCantBeHappening
Lots of books collect all the low-hanging fruit in the abundant orchard of corporate state crime and arrange it into a more or less digestible feast, and then they all conclude with a ringing exhortation to elect more Democrats to Congress, or build a third party, or challenge the legality of war through the courts, or write well-reasoned letters of protest to The New York Times, or impeach whoever is president, or go to more demonstrations, or drip more snark on the ruling class.
The reader sits alone at night with the question, "Is that all there is?"
Ted Rall seeks to answer that question in The Anti-American Manifesto. At the beginning of chapter one ("Kill the Zombie Empire"), he quotes the U.S Criminal Code that advocating the overthrow of the government by violence is unlawful, and then he advocates the overthrow of the government by violence.
"Will you do whatever it takes, including take up arms?" he asks.
Which makes Ted Rall different from almost everyone else in public life who wants the corporate state to refrain from war crimes and destroying nature. He thinks violence is viable and the only real option on the table when the other choice is doom.
I admire Rall. He is prolific writer of good sentences. He is a prolific drawer of bitterly ironic cartoons. He is a serious reporter. He is honest about his own failings and wandering ideology. And he has dusted off the r-word at exactly the right moment in American history. He wants a revolution. And I agree with him. A revolution is exactly what the United States needs. The amount of cultural/economic/political change needed to save the world in the brief time we have left is unimaginable without a revolution. You can argue that the ruling class is evil, you can argue that the ruling class is incompetent, you can argue that the ruling class is both. But it has never been more clear that the ruling class is impervious to reform through established channels and the rest of us can look forward to incalculable suffering unless we get rid of it.
"Revolution doesn't happen within the system," Rall says. "Revolution is the act of destroying the system."
Yup. But I wish Rall had been more thorough in his actual discussion of violence and non-violence. The question is not either/or. There is a huge smorgasbord of activities between the two poles that inflict varying degrees of pain on the system. In my reading of Rall and other advocates of revolutionary violence (like Ward Churchill), their basic argument comes down to: Non-violence doesn't work and violence does work. I would argue that nothing works most of the time, that non-violence has eeked out the occasional partial victory, and violence usually backfires and makes things worse.
Part of the problem with discussing violence is that the word has a negative connotation and a foggy definition. It can mean anything from physical harm to vehemently angry speech. The corporate state habitually accuses anyone it doesn't like of violence (witness Joe Biden calling Julian Assange a "terrorist"), just because the word is ugly and makes no distinction between harm to humans and harm to property. The corporate state likes keeping that distinction vague.
Lets be less vague and look at bombs. For the left, is there any argument that big explosions have the desired effect on public opinon? Probably the best known bombing by the left in my almost 60 years on the planet was the destruction of Sterling Hall at the University of Wisconsin on August 24, 1970. Four young men who called themselves the New Years Gang set off a truck bomb filled with fertilizer and fuel oil at 3:42 am with the idea that nobody would be around at that hour to get hurt (unlike Timothy McVeigh). They managed to destroy the physics department, killed a post-grad researcher in low temperature physics named Robert Fassnacht, and mostly missed their intended target, which was the Army Math Research Center.
During the spring of 1970, the anti-war movement had tremendous momentum. Most of the colleges in United States shut down in protest when Nixon invaded Cambodia. There were massive demonstrations around the country and some rioting and burning of buildings. The government had massacred American students at Kent State on May 4 and Jackson State on May 14. The moral zeitgeist was all leftward. "Bring the war home," went the chant.