Do communists favour violence?

Communists are often depicted by the ruling class as violent individuals who will settle at nothing until society is made to drown in its own blood. It came as no surprise to us, therefore, when Denmark’s largest digital media outlet, BTinterviewing a leading comrade of our Danish section on their historic decision to found a Revolutionary Communist Party – spent the interview trying to get the comrade to admit that they stand for violence.

Let us answer the question firmly and squarely here: do communists stand for ‘violent revolution’? No, we fight for the most peaceful transition towards socialism possible.

It is hard to suppress our scorn, however, when, in this period, in this capitalist world, the system’s defenders silently pass over a million daily horrors and crimes, only to shriek with terror at the future, imaginary ‘violence’ of a communist revolution.

Across the globe, capitalism is spilling oceans of blood. 114 million people have been displaced by war and violence resulting from imperialist interventions and poverty, from Gaza to Ukraine to Sudan, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, etc. etc. Since October, the whole western media and political establishment sanctified Israel’s collective punishment of the people of Gaza as ‘legitimate self-defence’ – ‘self-defence’ in which 35,000 people are confirmed to have been killed, 70 percent being women and children.

And yet, the same media outlets profess to be horrified when we say, as communists, that while we desire a peaceful transformation of society, the working class has the right to defend itself and its gains.

There is a logic to the capitalists’ hypocrisy. The ruling class can always justify the violence of the oppressor and exploiter in defence of their wealth and privileges, which are sacrosanct. But the fires of hell are not hot enough for anyone who dares to challenge their rule.

As anger builds in the depths of society, even in the so-called democratic countries, the ruling class are showing what violent lengths they are prepared to go to defend their interests. Consider the 2018 gilet jaunes movement (‘yellow vests’), when the French masses rose up against the ‘democratic’ Macron government in response to a fuel price hike, which catalysed widespread discontent against the system.

“Violence on the streets will not be tolerated,” President Macron solemnly declared to the nation, before sending in armed gendarmes, deploying explosive rounds for the purposes of ‘crowd control’ that saw 17 people lose eyes and three individuals forced to undergo hand or foot amputations. One woman (not involved in the protests) was killed on her balcony after being shot in the face with a tear gas grenade.

More recently, violence has been used to break up peaceful encampments from Columbia University in the United States, to Amsterdam University in the Netherlands. These are far from isolated examples – Amnesty International calculated that in 2022, 54 percent of governments had used violence against peaceful protests, in violation even of their own laws.

But when the movement of the masses threatens the very core of their vital interests, there are no limits to the violence the capitalist class will unleash. After the 1973 US-backed coup against Allende’s democratically-elected socialist government in Chile, 10,000 workers, socialists, communists and other activists were slaughtered by the Pinochet regime. Legal niceties were no protection for the Chilean people.

When their authority is really threatened, as in revolutions, we see exactly what violence our ruling class is capable of. Their thirst for revenge rises in proportion as revolutionary movements – even the most peaceful – threaten their rule. If the masses are unprepared to fight back, with arms in hand if necessary, they are defenceless. In Chile, Allende’s unwillingness to arm the masses let Pinochet take power without a fight, leading to a bloodbath.

Sudanese revolution Image Osama Elfaki Wikimedia CommonsBetween 2019 and 2023, Sudan was rocked by a completely peaceful revolution that brought down the hated al-Bashir military dictatorship / Image: Osama Elfaki, Wikimedia Commons

We can also take the more recent example of Sudan. Between 2019 and 2023, the country was rocked by a completely peaceful revolution that brought down the hated al-Bashir military dictatorship. In Khartoum and across the country, there were mass occupations, general strikes, and the formation of mass Resistance Committees. The leadership of the revolution – principally the Sudanese Professionals Association – not only committed itself to peaceful means, but tied all the hopes of the revolutionary masses to the goodwill of the old rulers, with whom they negotiated in good faith without taking any measures to arm the masses in self-defence.

But when the revolutionary momentum ebbed, the old rulers discarded the negotiations and went on the offensive. Gangs of tribal militias organised as the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) descended on Khartoum, murdering, sniping and raping with impunity. This counter-revolution was only a bloody prelude to a new civil war that has displaced 8 million people, including half the population of Khartoum, as Burhan and Hemedti – two gangsters, backed by different regional and imperialist powers – fight over the loot like vultures fighting over a carcass.

Should the masses have allowed themselves to be led like lambs to the slaughter? Communists answer, no! We absolutely stand for the right of the masses to defend themselves! We are not pacifists and hold no illusions about the tender intentions of the ruling class.

The tragic lesson of Sudan is clear: the only way this barbaric bloodshed could have been prevented would have been if the leadership of the revolution had taken the decisive step of organising an insurrectionary general strike to paralyse the country, while appealing to the revolutionary soldiers to come over to the side of the revolution.

In such a manner, the bloodthirsty thugs of the old regime could easily have been disarmed and the leaders arrested. Instead, the vacillations of the leadership led to a bloody defeat for the revolution and as a consequence, a further descent of Sudan into barbarism.

Peaceful revolutions are possible, yes, but only if the overwhelming force of the organised workers and poor convinces the old ruling class that resistance is futile.

The ruling class will tell us that revolutions are violent, and anyone who advocates revolution therefore advocates violence. But history tells a very different story. Overwhelmingly, revolutions in the modern era have tended to start out relatively peacefully. It is precisely to end the oppression and violence of the status quo that the oppressed resort to revolution.

It is when the counter-revolution takes the offensive that we see gruesome violence. The Russian Revolution of October 1917, for instance, was so peaceful in Petrograd that more people died in filming a dramatisation of the storming of the Winter Palace 10 years later than actually died in the event itself. It took the imperialist intervention of 21 foreign armies to plunge the country into a horrific civil war.

Or take the German Revolution of 1918, a relatively peaceful affair that brought an end to the Great Slaughter of the First World War. But after the workers failed to seize power, the ruling class sent Freikorp death squads across Germany to hunt and kill communists and radical workers. Finally, when a new crisis hit in 1929, the ruling class preferred to cede power to Hitler than face new revolutionary explosions, preparing the way for the slaughter of millions in the Holocaust and the Second World War.

The ruling class would prefer to burn the old world to the ground than see a new world emerge, freed from the slavery and degradation of their rule.

The crisis of capitalism will force the masses to enter the revolutionary road. The most peaceful outcome will only be guaranteed if they do so decisively, under firm revolutionary leadership, and with overwhelming force on their side. Under these conditions, such is the overwhelming strength of the working class today, that it is not ruled out that, in many places, the ruling class will see the uselessness of resisting, and would be deprived of the means to do so even if they wished.

In contrast, to the extent that the workers’ leaders are indecisive, or embrace pacifist illusions, the old ruling class will see their chance to create bloody chaos and claw their way back. Ironically, pacifist illusions rather than revolutionary realism are what lead to the bloodiest catastrophes.

Paris commune Image public domainWherever the counter-revolution of the ruling class is victorious, they seek to drown revolutions in blood / Image: public domain

The annals of history show what the revenge of the ruling class can look like. From the crucifixion of 6,000 slaves along the Appian Way in 71 BCE following Spartacus’ rising against Rome, to the semaine sanglante (‘bloody week’) in which 30,000 Parisian workers were slaughtered after the crushing of the Paris Commune in May 1871 – wherever the counter-revolution of the ruling class is victorious, they seek to drown revolutions in blood.

The reason is simple: they must teach the exploited masses a lesson they will not soon forget. As Richard II allegedly told the vanquished English peasants who rose up in 1381: “Rustics you were and rustics you are still. You will remain in bondage, not as before, but incomparably harsher.”

By claiming that communists are violent, the ruling class attempts to turn the tables, to make us the accused. On the contrary, we stand here as the accusers of capitalism.

They stand in the dock on charges of the most bestial crimes. Unable to offer anything in defence or mitigation for their actions, they point their finger in horror at the judge and jury: “how can you accuse me? I should be the accuser. You monsters would convict me of violent crimes only to commit worse violence against me in carrying out your sentence!”

This is just an attempt to throw dust in the eyes of the workers. Our revenge will not take the form of pointless spilt blood. Our revenge will be the expropriation of the capitalist class, and the creation of a new, future society fit for human beings, in place of the ruins they threaten to create in the present.