As a response to United States news media depicting protestors as violent anarchists, Georgetown University professor of peace and justice Randall Amster wrote an op-ed for the New York Times titled “Anarchism and Nonviolence: Time for a ‘Complementarity of Tactics’” to elucidate anarchism and explain its nonviolent tendencies. While anarchism has risen in popularity among activists, Amster argues that many attempts at defining anarchy either wrongly frame the political ideal as violent or entirely lack coherent understanding of anarchy. To complicate Amster’s understanding of violence, he describes the state as inherently violent and individuals as naturally peaceful, with souls. Amster calls upon anarchists to embrace nonviolence in their personal definitions of anarchism by looking to philosophers of and advocates for nonviolent anarchism like Goldman, Chernus and Gandhi. Assuming that the state is inherently violent, anarchy, or a rejection of the state, provides a logical, nonviolent alternative to the extant political system.
After beginning his piece with a portrayal of how institutions like the media and police force negatively discuss protestors as violent, Amster moves on to his next logical point that, in fact, anarchism is nonviolent in nature. When confronted with the question regarding violent, destructive anarchism, he points out that conservatives and liberals objectively kill more people than anarchists annually, and that corporate executives have blood on their hands as cogs of the capitalistic machine. Rather than the state supposedly having intervened to save citizens from violent anarchy, Amster proposes that the state monopolized and institutionalized the violence.
Next, Amster uses an anecdote from his workshops in anarchism and nonviolence to show the similarities and overlaps of the two philosophical doctrines, namely “self-governance, rejection of domination, respect and mutual aid, antiwar and anti-oppression practices, solidarity, a radical egalitarianism, and the politics of ‘prefiguring’ the future society.” He notes that for his workshop participants the mere idea of imagining nonviolent responses to such a violent world poses mental strain. Questions regarding nonviolence and anarchism, for the author, integrate “ethics, tactics and visions for the future” and aid the development of social movements (and, in turn, protests at the forefront of social movements).
Amster uses definition throughout his piece, discussing self-definition as a fundament to anarchism, since anarchism focuses on empowering the individual so long as that empowerment doesn’t infringe on another person’s autonomy and liberty. Amster provides several working definitions of both “anarchism” and “nonviolence,” appealing to his credibility and knowledge regarding the topic and illuminating clearly what he means by what he writes. He coins a phrase, “complementarity of tactics,” that becomes central to his argument, stating that the relation of tactics in social movements to one another becomes as significant as the diversity of the tactics for which many critics call, if not more so than.
Finally, Amster turns to notable theorizers and iconic nonviolence advocates and performers, such as Gandhi, to highlight via quotation yet more “synergies” between anarchism and nonviolence. These carefully chosen quotes lead up to his call to action, where he asks anarchists to openly identify with and embrace nonviolent practices and ideology so as to break down the incorrect assumptions about anarchism’s violence. This call to action includes a call to resist the state in a truly revolutionary way, rather than a pseudo-progressive method of revolution linked with violence that thus contributes to regression of both society and the individual through employment of the oppressive political structure. Amster presents anarchism as a possible alternative to current state violence and the totalizing effect of western democracy on the voice of the individual minority.