Some groups and projects try to put together an aims and principles list to explain what campaign news and philosophy they’ll focus on and I think this can positively influence what actions people take and think are justified. Some examples I know of include:
You also have people using slogans like ‘by any means necessary’ going all the way back to Malcolm X & Franz Fanon in the 60s, which I guess is an attempt to say we’ll go as far as we’re pushed, so be careful what state terror tactics you use on us.
My aims are reflected in the CrimethInc exercise in what an anarchist program might look like. And I’ve already written about my ethics broadly, but I’ll try to be more specific here, in experimenting with drawing up a list of principles that I think would be useful to the calculation of what tactics I think are useful and justifiable in the UK today which is in my view a non-revolutionary period, which to me just means a time when social tensions are not at their height:
1) Never act with reckless indifference to human and non-human animal life.
2) Never physically hurt people for the purpose of achieving political goals as it runs counter to our philosophy on the left that material conditions create the person and so we should make every peaceful effort to rehabilitate people.
Some tricky to explain examples that are justified, but only just outside this principle are:
(A) Community self-defense and self-defense by proxy, where you might desire to fight fascists in the street in order to block them from marching through immigrant communities or where you might desire to push your way through huntsmen in order to save a fox from getting mauled to death by dogs.
(B) Survivor-led vigilantism, where to the extent that some current institutions fail to rehabilitate people and the process of seeking justice through the institutions available can sometimes cause more trauma than its worth, then personal violence in order to resolve feelings of helplessness in the face of evil acts can sometimes be reasonably viewed as justified to regain feelings of agency.
3) Never take actions on the basis of anti-science beliefs or with the intent to propagate anti-science beliefs e.g. disproven conspiracy theories.
4) Take care to respect the difference between property which is personally and privately owned.
So, it could be seen as ethical to choose material targets of evil actors in order to cause economic damage and make a statement, so long as in the case of personal property, the item has no intrinsic sentimental value and can be replaced because the person is wealthy and that the item was paid for through the exploitation of others labor. Or is private property, meaning the means of production which should be owned collectively anyway.
The action would be an outlet for legitimate anger against that which causes us suffering and a means of developing people’s thinking and creating a wider base of people joined in sympathy for those ideals.
For example, if taking the risk to slash slaughterhouse trucks’ tyres in the dead of night both draws attention to animal suffering and also helps you to develop stronger bonds with a group of people and learn from other liberation struggles, then the action is both productive and leads to personal growth.
5) Never take actions in the hopes of helping in part instigate a revolutionary war sooner than it’s reasonable to believe you would have the capability to win. Similarly don’t use rhetoric about how tensions in society have escalated to the state of civil war or a third world war. For example, even if the revolutionary left got really good at assassinating captains of industry and getting away with it, there would be reasonable fears around the psychology of people who would take such an act against people who they could have grown up and been socially conditioned to be themselves, which would inexorably lead to a more authoritarian society and worse foundations on which to work towards a better society.
I do think we can hypothesize the unrealistic case of 99% of society desiring a referendum on a shift from parliamentary representative system to a federated spokes council system and the MP’s dragging their feet, the same way both parties gerrymander the boundaries to make it easier to win despite it being the one issue most everyone agrees is bad, and people needing to storm the halls of power to force a vote to happen.
More likely though, an opportunity for revolution might arise from such a confluence of events as climate refugees and worker gains forcing the state and corporations into trying to crack down on freedoms in order to preserve their power and enough people resisting that move, who are then able take power and usher in radical policy change, with either the army deciding to stand down or splitting into factions.
Most can sympathize with quick revolutions against dictatorships where the result is a freer society, like the Kurdish uprising in Northern Syria which took power from a regime who had rolled tanks on demonstrators and outlawed teaching of their native language.
But, even there, there are key foundations you need to work from, like the probability you won’t just give an excuse for the oppressor committing even worse horrors as was the case with the Rohingya militants who ambushed a police checkpoint, resulting in army & citizen campaign to burn down many villages, plus murder and rape those that couldn’t get away.
As well as a responsibility to put down arms after winning political freedoms and a majority are in favor of diplomacy through electoral politics, like in Northern Ireland today.
Under representative democracies, the sentiment of most is that, even if it could be argued that a war of terror (not a revolutionary war) against the ruling class was the easiest route to produce a better society, that it would still be ethically wrong to be the person who takes another’s life just because it’s the easiest way. Since regardless of manufactured consent or anything else you still could have worked to build a coalition to overcome those obstacles.
And I agree, it would be an act of self-harm to treat life with such disregard when we could have been that same deluded person shrouded in the justificatory trappings of society which normalizes that behavior. I don’t think the way we win today is by treating a cold bureaucratic system with equally cold disregard, by justifying our resort to threat and violence because we have fewer resources, and a belief in the importance of our message. Time on earth is a foundational value worth fighting for, and everybody deserves some amount of breathing room to make mistakes and learn from them.