Right to exercise, Right to strike – Exercise strike, Exercise violence

May 19, 2011

Critique of Violence by Walter Benjamin

In ‘Critique of Violence’, Benjamin mainly addressed the relation between law and justice and how dependent they are on the subject of violence and later throughout his essay he even argued that it is impossible to separate violence from law, for violence itself is always subjected to occur latently. He slowly dismissed the possible forms of non-violent resolution to occur and rationalized his reason by saying that the sphere of non-violent means itself opens up in the realm of the conflicts between people mostly relating to goods and that they are easily bound by law through the idea of treaties and legal contracts. More specifically in this essay, Benjamin raised the question on how in the social and political realms could violence be justified in itself as pure independent means or whether it could be related to just or unjust ends.  In his version of violence, he claimed that all violence is either law-making or law-preserving and that the law is what constitutes it.  By law-making he probably was referring to the idea of violence that makes the law itself, and then only the law in its context could be established.  In preserving the law, perhaps we could assume that he was relating it directly to the preservation of the system of legal ends, as he stated;

‘…violence when not in the hands of the law, threatens it not by the ends that it may pursue but by its mere existence outside the law.’   (Pg 281)

Then there is the notion of coercive violence, conducted by the public in general and partially; – the workers strike and their right to it. Considered as a nonaction, it is arguable that a strike cannot be described as violence. However, in Benjamin’s essay, the workers strike, specifically the organized labor is seen almost as the only legal subject (which is not the state) that is entitled to exercise violence.  Nevertheless, the state doesn’t only justify this, as they rather view the strike admitted to the labor as an escape from a violence that is indirectly exercised by the employer instead. The ‘nonaction’ strike is actually an omission of actions. It constitutes in the view of labor itself as the right to use the force in attaining certain ends. (Pg 282) This is where the concept of revolutionary general strike comes in, and later be argued that this strike could be treated as political or proletarian; both somehow are due to act against the power of the state.

 ‘In this, labor will always appeal to its right to strike, and the state will call this appeal an abuse, since the right to strike was not “so intended,” and take emergency measures. For the state retains the right to declare that a simultaneous use of strike in all industries is illegal, since the specific reasons for strike admitted by legislation cannot be prevalent in every workshop. In this difference of interpretation is expressed the objective contradiction in the legal situation, whereby the state acknowledges a violence whose ends, as natural ends, it sometimes regards with indifference, but in a crisis (the revolutionary general strike) confronts inimically.’ (Pg 282)

 So is the right to strike considered as violence? The state claims that whenever it is active in its conduct to somehow threaten to bring down the legal system then it may as well be called as violence. Perhaps at this point, we may say that exercise of violence’ takes place and this somehow could be argued to be associated with what Benjamin has regarded in his essay as “pure means”, where the strike itself is used as a part of class struggle.

Nurulain Mohd Noor

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