Violence, Force and Power Ruthless Criticism
MSZ (March 1985)

Violence, Force and Power


Order and violence belong together in our society. This is not only testified to by the “voice of the people,” which is greatly committed to violence as a means for keeping order – from the beating which “never hurt anybody” to the armed forces as “the school of the nation” and prisons – “Off with his head!” The law, which often does not at all satisfy its many voluntary advocates’ moral will to annihilation, involves a sanction for every right it grants. The execution of these sanctions, which means damage to, or temporary destruction of, an individual, is the acknowledged way of “resocializing” him. And there are even plenty of prison-type measures in every variant of progressive education.

This identification of order and violence is usually justified by reference to the many violations committed every day. Crime is always good for exhaustively accounting for the existence of the state: robbery and murder supposedly make it apparent what would become of us if there were no punitive authority. This idea of chaos between all people which can only be kept under control by police power is supplemented, thanks to political science, by the mirror image construction of a “human nature” based on killing other people as a way of pursuing happiness. There is no need to discover a “crime” gene to prove it; a world full of tabooed private violence is “evidence” enough.

The only thing which the facts of crime statistics really prove, to start with, is that the idea of violence required to keep order is not at all realized in day-to-day life. The state order does not prevent what it prohibits; on the contrary, its threats of punishment and extensive means for administering justice show that it expects to be faced with social customs which do not correspond at all to the imposed order. The state itself adds its own violence against those who break the law to the violations of its order. Its actions do not take back the violation, or heal any damage that has been done either. Instead, with its own violence the state power underlines the validity of the distinction between the rule and the exception made in law, which continues to exist untouched in spite of all violations.

In order to achieve this purpose, state power does not make itself in any way dependent on the extent of the violations of the law to be punished. Completely free of any considerations of expediency in prosecuting specific statutory offenses, and especially free of any serious danger to “domestic order”, it organizes its police power so as to be able to deal with a whole civil war. This is what its sovereignty consists in: it does not merely want to be stronger than its citizens, it wants to be superior to every recalcitrant will from the start and by way of principle – to be the “supreme power” without any competition.

On the strength of this irresistibility when it comes to the use of force, the state dictates to its society the difference between what is the rule and what is the exception, between “allowed” and “prohibited”. Its sovereign power is not a subsequently created means for protecting an order which exists de facto, but is the “word of authority” which “intervenes” in all areas of life, imposing on them an idealistic order which remains valid even when most subjects are busy trying to get around it without being caught. State power makes itself the principle of all social conditions -- of all of them; for sovereignty is not indivisible merely in terms of itself as a concept.

Thus, the identification of order and violence is absolutely correct. Sovereign violence relates everything its citizens do – even before it happens – to itself and subjects it to its own measures. In this way it installs itself in every kind of social interaction. Love and expression of one’s opinion, work and driving, sickness and relaxation – thanks to the care of the state everything is made a matter of duty and right – i.e., a matter of violence which is settled by the supreme power long beforehand. When it acknowledges the validity of a claim, it makes it its business to enforce it against all opposing interests; in this way, the state provides claims with a kind of power which is free of any limits of chance if the state does not make them its own. Conversely, interests do not have a chance if the state does not make them its own business by turning them into legal titles. One is only allowed to espouse them and go against opposing interests by lodging a request with the state power, thereby acknowledging as a matter of course its supreme competence to decide.

The sovereign power of the modern state does not leave anything free from subsumption under a law: everything is treated as a case for the supreme power to intervene – regardless of what kinds of things and interests are involved at any particular time and whether the people concerned would have ever thought of using violence – especially such a fundamental and absolute kind of violence – as a means for pursuing their interests, and whether this violent treatment makes sense to them or not. This is what the unmistakable step forward with respect to the “law of the jungle” consists in -- a state of society invented by political science in which violence which makes itself law only comes into action from case to case, must measure itself against the violence of an opposing interest and is therefore limited in its effects, in terms of both time and space….

There certainly existed and exist violent states of society which make it harder to survive for some people than the modern state power does, with its practice of regarding its citizens’ entire social intercourse from the start as a chain of disputes which can only be decided by force, and reserving itself the right to decide. But this encouraging possibility of drawing a comparison with less comfortable conditions does not by any means make it true that such an arrangement of people’s affairs is a boon to them. And it gives even less cause to fabricate that view of human nature according to which people’s innate tendency to be violent demands violence as the principle and method of keeping order. Nature has no chance from the very start when there is sovereign power which has always attended to all social relations even before an individual gets into the awkward position of entering into any. The fact that these relations cannot be had without the violence of the state as the omnipresent third party does not so much disprove that savages have been civilized in this manner, but rather reveals quite a bit about the type of relations which the state power imposes on its people as automatically as if the people were already engaged in them of their own accord. For the order which the sovereign power establishes consists of nothing but sovereignly settled questions of dispute, conflicts of interest which are not solved but made permanent. No other conflicts of interest exist between civilized citizens than those which the sovereign power of order relates to itself, thereby nailing the people down to them – so that people always need nothing less than a total power as an “arbiter” over them everywhere.


The principle which the state establishes and which makes the civilizatory equation of interests and conflicts of interest such a matter of course, beyond all natural collisions and disputes, thereby necessitating so unquestionably a power to watch over them so that they can continue to exist, is property: the exclusion, by sovereign power, of all other people’s will and interest from goods which thereby acquire the character of being private.

Everyone is somehow aware that property primarily means exclusion. A modern person immediately thinks of the articles of daily use which belong to him and which no one else is allowed to use without asking him for permission. It is immediately clear to him that the expedient use of most of his personal belongings does not even allow for use by others at the same time. But it is not this kind of exclusiveness of expedient use which “property” is based on. On the contrary, “property” means that sovereignly granted legal rights to some object or other fundamentally take precedence over any merely material interest in it and any use of it in accordance with one’s needs. “Property” radically and flatly negates all “natural” use.

“Property” is thus the accomplishment of power pure and simple: it is the realized ideal of every law of the jungle, whether real or imaginary. It excludes everyone from the objects of their interest – and not in an arbitrary manner or only from case to case, but in such a way that this exclusion from what is necessary is the predetermined premise for every interest. It defines the economic situation of most modern citizens even before they become an active member of society. For property does not only exclude a modern person from his means of subsistence, it excludes him from all material means and conditions for producing them although they exist in abundance – and this is what constitutes a person being an economic subject. There is no lack of factories, machinery, raw materials, etc.; but they are withheld from him: this is the accomplishment of the omnipresent sovereign power.

The exclusive right of disposal which certain private persons have, i.e. the order side of the violent relationship called property, is not based on arbitrariness in the modern state. From this point of view as well – after all, property constitutes “obligations”! - economic conditions are established which confront a property owner and set him his tasks. His right of disposal does not only cover food and household goods, it covers the material preconditions for all production in the country; it is solely for this reason that his property is an economic principle at all and the state power which grants it to him so fundamental.

In this way, at the same time, an order of social labor is established which in every respect draws a clear distinction between material use and the exclusive possession of all material means of labor. The expedient use of production equipment is the business of those who are excluded from disposing of it; the preconditions and results are at the disposal of those who do not have to go to the trouble of using their means productively.

The creation of conflicting economic classes of society by property is thus the first, fundamental content of the force exercised by the modern supreme power. The force by which it relates all its citizens’ vital interests to itself and makes them binding or cancels them – the property order – is intended, on the one hand, to be made into a privately used means of doing business and means of subsistence. On the other hand, it establishes a whole world of duties and obligations.


Thus, the bourgeois state power creates a society in which hardly any other interests actually come to bear – between the classes or within the classes – than those which damage others when they are realized, i.e. each need immediately involves conflict and violence. The sovereign power, by monopolizing the authority to decide, does not clear up any of these conflicts but instead makes them permanent; none of the restrictions, duties and disputes which are part of everyday life in class society could exist without an omnipresent legal power. The sovereign power forces the false public weal of coexistence of conflicting interests to come about; at the same time supplying its citizens with the elementary ideological titles for it: the rule of property in production is called “division of labor” and “meritocracy”; the necessity of submitting to power and making sacrifices is called “balance of interests” and “virtue”; the political power which does not allow anyone to question it in its domain is called “free society” in the name of the people who must put up with the conditions of living it sets and who define their interests accordingly; the holders of power like to call themselves servants (“secretaries”), advocates and “senior staff” of their citizens; and the whole ensemble of violently upheld conflicts of interests is simply known by the lie that it is “we, the people”.

In this way, violence in practice becomes the material-economic, the legal and the moral condition of existence in all public and private bourgeois circumstances.

It does not become a means of existence, however – except for one class. The legal power can at best be used as a weapon for damaging one’s peers, when it comes to its private use by a normal propertyless subject – and usually provides no other profit than a moral one. However, it is terribly popular as such. Justified violence happens to be the “way of solving disputes” which the sovereign rulers dictate to their modern subjects; and so it is used – in all considerations of material advantage and regardless of them.

In doing so, people pay much more heed to the principle than to the letter of the law. For the latter does not leave any doubt as to the fact that the power of order does not organize people’s happiness, but their usefulness. By contrast, the principle that legal rights allow – and even demand – violence appears to be pleasantly interpretable – very much in conflict with the real law. In any case, such private interpretation of the law is responsible both for people occasionally turning into permanent suers and for practically everyone becoming a rabid private attorney of the public order. And the everyday transition to committing crimes, in particular, can only be made by people who believe they have a legal right to a little property and a little conjugal bliss which has been unjustly neglected by the state. After all, the people who rob, cheat and poison each other in the civilized world of the bourgeois state are not leftover children of nature, but the most successful character masks of duty and penal law.


The administrators of this fine order, however, unabashedly use its results as evidence of how important the incontestability of their power is for the success of their community. They provide their machinery against criminals and suspicious characters with the most modern equipment and an uncontrollably clear conscience, so that when people are shot by the police “unnecessarily,” there are demands for improved training in shooting and hand-to-hand combat.

The same “argument” is brought to bear to determine whether criticism, protest, opposition, etc. are permissible opinion or political criminality. It is permissible to present clearly constructive suggestions on how to improve politics, when they are asked for. It is also permissible to participate in the parliamentary competition of the parties and put up for vote alternatives of how and by whom the state power should be wielded better and more effectively. If someone is not satisfied with this, no matter what his particular reasons are, he is immediately confronted, in practice and in theory, by the question of principle as to what his basic attitude is in respect to the state’s monopoly on force. A sit-down strike, a protest demonstration, a painted wall or a broken windowpane are all attributed, as required, to the intention to violently eliminate the sovereign monopoly on force; the police “put it to the test” with clubs and water guns. Respect of the interests of the community as a whole, which are a lie, must be restored - logically enough, by the only method which fits: intimidation or punishment. The ideological department corresponds to the police department: when “resistance” crops up even as a cliche, the existence of democracy is rhetorically jeopardized and the only matter then discussed, if any, is whether the interest for which resistance has supposedly been announced has not therefore become utterly out of the question. This debate is regularly conducted and ended using the two or three variations of an argument which suits the highest civil servants so magnificently: “Violence is not an argument!”

This highly argumentative anti-criticism in the name of the basis of all bourgeois politics, the public power and its sovereignty which is above all criticism, hits people in the democratic community who in any case take to heart the “question of force” posed by their rulers.

A social democratic protest, when it is suspected of violence, becomes intimidated in practice and offensively submissive in theory. The “peace movement” has clearly shown how to make the transition from political concern to political-methodical self-justification, and even proceeded to make this transition backwards as well: from the incessant assurance of their non-violence as the method of their protest to the clarification that their opposition to war was really never meant to be anything but a professed idealism of the non-violence which the state power demands of its citizens anyway. Thus, the “resistance fighters” have turned into psychopaths of peaceableness – unless that’s what they were to start out with …

The unrestrained claim to sovereignty of the state power also involves, on the other hand, a few people who answer the state’s “question” of force offensively. They are not mistaken when it comes to the fact that the bourgeois state always treats everything it considers to question its sovereignty, not as a contribution to the discussion, but as a problem for the police to solve. This discovery leads anarchists, with their ideas of a better justice, to become just as methodical as their sovereign opponent, so that they in turn try “intimidating” and “punishing” in quotation marks, i.e. by initiating criminal counteractions from the underground.

Critics of the sovereign power which is inseparable from class society – no matter how many reforms might be carried out – do not try to answer the crucial question “what is your attitude to force?” if they take themselves seriously. Theoretically speaking, this “question” does not raise any new problem. Practically speaking, a critic does not have this “problem” under his control. Or rather, if he does, it is thereby taken care of.