Understanding Political Violence

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Understanding Political Violence

Under…political violence pb 18/1/06 12:11 pm Page 1 Series editor: Mike Maguire A Criminological Analysis Vincenz

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Under…political violence pb


12:11 pm

Page 1

Series editor: Mike Maguire


Vincenzo Ruggiero discusses and critiques the contribution of criminological theory to understanding political violence. He draws on stimulating case studies to illustrate the theory, including interviews with former members of the Red Army Faction in Germany and the Brigate Rosse in Italy. The concluding chapter examines the recent development of a criminology of war and calls for a general ceasefire and the criminalisation of war, the most extreme form of institutional violence. This is essential reading for students and researchers in criminology, political studies, sociology, and war and conflict studies. Vincenzo Ruggiero is Professor of Sociology at Middlesex University in London and the University of Pisa in Italy. He is also co-editor of Forum on Crime and Society, a journal published by the United Nations. His numerous previous books include Crime in Literature (2003), Crime and Markets (2000), Movements in the City (2001), Organised and Corporate Crime in Europe (1996) and Eurodrugs (1995).

Understanding political violence

Understanding Political Violence introduces political violence in the context of sociological and criminological debates. The author distinguishes between political violence from below, for example collective violence, insurgency, armed struggle and terrorism; and political violence from above, which includes indiscriminate repression, institutional and state violence, torture and war.

Understanding political violence A Criminological Analysis

Cover illustration: Linda Combi Cover design: Barker/Hilsdon


ISBN 0-335-21751-6


9 780335 217519

Vincenzo Ruggiero

Understanding political violence A Criminological Analysis

CRIME AND JUSTICE Series editor: Mike Maguire Cardiff University

Crime and Justice is a series of short introductory texts on central topics in criminology. The books in this series are written for students by internationally renowned authors. Each book tackles a key area within criminology, providing a concise and up-to-date overview of the principal concepts, theories, methods and findings relating to the area. Taken as a whole, the Crime and Justice series will cover all the core components of an undergraduate criminology course. Published titles Understanding drugs, alcohol and crime Trevor Bennett and Katy Holloway

Understanding social control Martin Innes Understanding violent crime Stephen Jones

Understanding youth and crime 2nd edition Sheila Brown

Understanding risk in criminal justice Hazel Kemshall

Understanding crime data Clive Coleman and Jenny Moynihan

Understanding psychology and crime James McGuire

Understanding white collar crime Hazel Croall

Understanding community penalties Peter Raynor and Maurice Vanstone

Understanding victims and restorative justice James Dignan Understanding justice 2nd edition Barbara A. Hudson Understanding crime prevention Gordon Hughes

Understanding criminology 2nd edition Sandra Walklate Understanding public attitudes to criminal justice Julian V. Roberts and Mike Hough

Understanding political violence A Criminological Analysis

Vincenzo Ruggiero

Open University Press

Open University Press McGraw-Hill Education McGraw-Hill House Shoppenhangers Road Maidenhead Berkshire SL6 2QL email: [email protected] world wide web: www.openup.co.uk and Two Penn Plaza, New York, NY 10121-2289, USA

First published 2006 Copyright © Vincenzo Ruggiero 2006 All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purposes of criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher or a licence from the Copyright Licensing Agency Limited. Details of such licences (for reprographic reproduction) may be obtained from the Copyright Licensing Agency Ltd of 90 Tottenham Court Road, London, W1T 4LP. A catalogue record of this book is available from the British Library ISBN 0 335 21751 6 (pb)

0 335 21752 4 (hb)

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data CIP data has been applied for Typeset by RefineCatch Ltd, Bungay, Suffolk Printed in the UK by Bell & Bain, Glasgow


Series editor’s foreword






State savagery and sedition Bellum omnium We are what governments make us Legal suffering and utility The science of man Violence and the multitude Further reading

8 10 13 14 18 22 25


Philanthropic murderers and regicides Atavistic and evolutive crime Responding to political violence Socialism and crime Revolutions and rebellions Women and political violence The Commune of Paris Regicides Further reading

27 29 31 33 35 38 40 42 46


Morbid effervescence Regulations and violence The malady of infinite aspiration Suicide and homicide Collective effervescence Socialism, communism and morbid effervescence Durkheim and Mauss

47 49 50 51 52 55 57


Understanding political violence Social change in Parsons and Merton Legitimate and illegitimate force Further reading

59 67 68


Politicians, gangsters and violent militancy Don’t burn Washington Franchising political violence Crowds, movements and ideologies Agitators and revolutions Further reading

69 72 74 78 82 86


Pre-political violence and organized hostility Postponing democracy Value systems and conflicting groups The politicality of crime The new criminology Conflict and terrorism Organized hostility Further reading

87 89 90 92 95 99 103 106


Revolutionary suicide Dialogical dynamics Significant symbols Joint action Relational dynamics Deviance as collective action By any means necessary Search and destroy Further reading

107 109 110 112 114 117 120 122 124


The blind primacy of action Adornites Repressive tolerance Hitler’s children versus imperialism? The American Auschwitz Horizontals and verticals Ends and means Further reading

125 126 127 128 132 135 138 142


Attacking the heart of the state Accidental and planned killings Forging the enemy From armed struggle to armed propaganda The ‘new’ Brigate Rosse Further reading

143 146 149 152 156 159



10 Cloning the enemy From political violence to terrorism Epiphanies The end of armed propaganda Animus belli Cloning the enemy Metonymies and asymmetries War as terrorism Self-liberating politics Further reading

160 163 164 165 167 169 169 171 174 176

11 Criminology as ceasefire War and identities Solidarity and innateness Legitimacy and the carnival of war A new criminology of war Criminalizing war Further reading

177 178 180 183 184 187 194





Series editor’s foreword

This book by Vincenzo Ruggiero is the fifteenth in the Crime and Justice series published by Open University Press/McGraw Hill. The series is well established as a key resource in universities teaching criminology or criminal justice, especially in the UK but increasingly also overseas. The aim from the outset has been to give undergraduates and graduates both a solid grounding in the relevant area and a taste to explore it further. Although aimed primarily at students new to the field, and written as far as possible in plain language, the books are not oversimplified. On the contrary, the authors set out to ‘stretch’ readers and to encourage them to approach criminological knowledge and theory in a critical and questioning frame of mind. Conventional criminology texts and courses have until recently paid relatively little attention to the issues discussed in this unusual and challenging book, but events over the past few years have made it increasingly obvious that understanding political violence – be it by governments, organized groups or individuals – should be an essential component of any study of violent behaviour. Vincenzo Ruggiero discusses and critiques the particular contribution of criminological theory to the understanding of this topic, highlighting its shortcomings as well as its potential explanatory strength. The book is ambitious and wide-ranging, drawing on the history of criminological thought from the eighteenth century to the present day, and it combines theoretical discussion with supporting case studies drawn from round the world. It also links European debates with current analyses of ‘international terrorism’ mainly produced across the Atlantic. In doing so, it tackles key questions about the relevance or otherwise of theories about individual or ‘common’ violence to explanations of collective or political violence. The book is structured largely chronologically, beginning with a substantial exposition of the ‘classical’ theories and definitions of political violence developed by Beccaria and Bentham, and of the major


Understanding political violence contributions of writers such as Hobbes, Rousseau and Hume to the later development of criminological thought. The following chapters discuss the relevance to political violence of the very different kinds of explanation emerging from the Positivist school, the concept of anomie, social disorganization theory, strain theorists, social learning theory, the labeling perspective, control theory, conflict theory, rational choice theory, and so on. As he points out, some of these theories were developed with little or no reference to political violence, and their explanatory power in this area is limited, while others have strong potential for understanding contemporary events. In arguing for a more integrative approach, Ruggiero concludes both that criminology has an important theoretical contribution to make to wider debates about political violence, and that criminology is impoverished if it fails to pay attention to the insights emerging from other academic disciplines. Other books previously published in the Crime and Justice series – all of whose titles begin with the word ‘Understanding’ – have covered criminological theory (Sandra Walklate), penal theory (Barbara Hudson), crime data and statistics (Clive Coleman and Jenny Moynihan), crime prevention (Gordon Hughes), violent crime (Stephen Jones), community penalties (Peter Raynor and Maurice Vanstone), white collar crime (Hazel Croall), risk and crime (Hazel Kemshall), youth and crime (Sheila Brown), social control (Martin Innes), psychology and crime (James McGuire), victims and restorative justice (James Dignan), drugs and crime (Trevor Bennett and Katy Holloway) and public opinion about crime (Julian Roberts and Mike Hough). Three are already in second editions and other second editions are planned. Other new books in the pipeline include texts on prisons, policing, sentencing, criminological research methods, race and crime, and ‘cybercrime’. All are topics which are either already widely taught or are growing in prominence in university degree courses on crime and criminal justice, and each book should make an ideal foundation text for a relevant module. As an aid to understanding, clear summaries are provided at regular intervals, and a glossary of key terms and concepts is a feature of every book. In addition, to help students expand their knowledge, recommendations for further reading are given at the end of each chapter. Mike Maguire December 2005.

chapter one


Aeschylus’ favourite theme is that violence will beget violence until superhuman reconciliation is achieved. In his variant of the myth, Prometheus is the first rebel, who gives fire, technology and hope to the oppressed, and in a single blow of violence attempts to create peace on earth for ever. Prometheus, the ‘foresighted’ or the ‘provident’, is charged with giving completion to humans by separating humankind from the immortals. He develops an acute rivalry with Zeus, but his ‘providence’ proves insufficient to avoid defeat, and he is punished. Suspended in bonds on the highest point of the Caucasus, an eagle tears away his immortal liver during the daytime, and the organ grows again during the night. The punishment is intended to last for eternity (Camus 1951; Kerényi 1951; Shelley 1974). No other myth could enclose in a similar, tragic nutshell the notion of political violence. This notion contains the distinction between authorized and unauthorized force; the former as violence of the authority, the latter as an expression of defiance against the authority. Authorized force amounts to law-making violence, and may be foundational, when it establishes new systems and designates a new authority. But it may also amount to law-conserving violence, when it protects the stability of systems and reinforces authority (Derrida 1992; Benjamin 1996). I call both these types of violence institutional violence (or violence from above). I use the term anti-institutional violence (or violence from below) to designate unauthorized force addressed against the authority. Political violence belongs not only to ancient, but also to modern tragedy, especially when interpreted as a tension between the need for radical change and its human cost (Eagleton 2003). However, institutional and anti-institutional violence (violence from above and from below) are intimately connected, and this connection is also tragic (Williams 1966). This book discusses this tragic connection through the conceptual tools offered by criminology, including those tools that the criminological community may have abandoned due to embarrassment, shame or fear, at


Understanding political violence times taking a subtle pleasure in seeing them rust. The chapters in this book trace and highlight the ideas of political violence interspersed in the history of criminological thought. At times, these ideas are concealed behind other theoretical and practical concerns, but in some cases they are explicit and direct, and once we unearth them, the rust comes off, revealing tools still endowed with scintillating analytical capacity. It is extraordinary that even detailed studies of the relationship between violence and ‘the rise of modern society’, which describe trends of homicide and dynamics of urbanization, or discuss civilizing processes and social change, manage to omit political violence from such dynamics and processes (Eisner 2003). Noting this omission, some criminologists advocate the inclusion in their analytical domain of collective protest and forms of political challenge, including violent kinds of contestation. Protesters may at times utilize illegitimate means, and even challenge the overall legitimacy of social systems: in brief ‘protest is capable of being both threatening and criminal’ (Soothill, Peelo and Taylor 2002: 144). As a consequence, attempts have been made to apply criminological theories of ‘common’ violence to the analysis of political violence. It is assumed, for example, that both types of violence possess a goal-directed character. ‘It is simply false to assume that non-political violence is not directed to the achievement of goals: extracting something of value from someone or achieving justice by punishing wrongdoing’ (Rosenfeld 2002: 3). At least in the eyes of the offender, it is also argued, violence is provoked by the victim, be that violence common or political, and is aimed at punishing perceived wrongdoing, or at deterring or reforming alleged evil-doers. In this sense, political violence is no more goal- or justice-oriented than, say, gang violence: it is a form of self-help. ‘To borrow an old gag from Thomas Szasz, from a scientific standpoint, the difference between terrorism and common violence is the difference between holy water and water’ (ibid.: 4). This book, by contrast, argues that ‘holy water’ is indeed different from ‘water’, an argument supported by the long history of thought spanning classicism, positivism, functionalism, symbolic interactionism, and so on; namely, the major interpretative schools which form the patrimony of criminological thinking. Within this patrimony, a large body of work is found which associates political crime with offences committed by state representatives and their partners occupying powerful social positions (Carrabine et al., 2002). Important contributions, in this respect, cover atrocities committed by institutional actors and the different forms of conscious, unconscious, interpretive, personal, cultural or official, denial accompanying such atrocities (Cohen 2001). The term political crime, therefore, mainly relates to state crime, political and administrative corruption, and a variety of crimes of the elite. Often, however, the term excludes crimes committed by contentious political groups who choose to use violent means with a view to bringing social change. In the following chapters the framework provided by criminological thinking is constantly referred to when analysing both institutional and



anti-institutional violence, and as the different epochs and their violent conflicts appear within the book, the definitions and the theoretical controversies characteristic of those epochs are discussed. In Chapter 2, for example, I trace the definitions of political violence provided by classical criminology, particularly those we find in the writings of Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham. After outlining the philosophical background of their work, I discuss the notions of social contract inspiring the two authors respectively. The focus of Beccaria is on State savagery and sedition, namely on institutional violence and how this may be replicated by oppressed people in the form of violent anti-institutional outbursts. Excessive authorized violence, in his view, provokes unauthorized responses in kind. His prescience with respect to future violent events is testified by the explosion of the French Revolution only a few years after the publication of his seminal work. Jeremy Bentham, as we shall see, while in general invoking rational punishments, renounces rationalism when faced with ‘fanaticism’ and what he terms ‘crimes against the state’. Chapter 3 deals with Philanthropic murderers and regicides, but also with anarchists, and a whole range of rebels and revolutionaries that the Positive School, during the turbulent years of its existence, felt compelled to study. Cesare Lombroso and Enrico Ferri try to understand not only the violent events occurring across Europe in 1848, but also the violence of the Commune of Paris, the spread of Russian nihilism, the ascending socialist movement, as well as the emergence of individual murderers who kill because they cannot bear the ‘triumph of the rich while so many people are poor’. Political violence is not ‘atavistic’, but ‘evolutive’, the positivists suggest, because it tends to ‘hasten the future’ of socio-political systems. We shall see, however, in the distinction they draw between rebellion and revolution, how the pathological aspects positivist criminologists identify in the former and the evolutionary elements they perceive in the latter lead them to regard as ‘atavistic’ also some forms of political violent outburst. In Chapter 4 (Morbid effervescence), the concepts of political violence advanced by functionalist analysis are discussed. Durkheim’s classical study of suicide is replete with tools and arguments that can be extended to the analysis of collective violent behaviour. Political violence, for example, can be the result of moral rules losing their regulatory strength, particularly when political and economic change affect the patterns of individual and group expectations. The chapter, then, identifies where early functionalism locates the boundary between ‘division of labour’ and ‘differentiation’, and how Durkheim sees in the former a vital force and in the latter a form of disintegrating morbidity. His analysis of socialism and communism, as we shall see, reiterates the existence of such a boundary separating a ‘reasonable proposal’ for change from an ‘abnormal’ programme of ‘social destruction’. Marcel Mauss’ assessment of Bolshevism, a consistent development of Durkheim’s critique of communism, is included in this chapter, which closes with the voices of Talcott Parsons and Robert Merton, and


Understanding political violence their respective views on ‘cultural evolution’ and the form of deviant adaptation termed ‘rebellion’. ‘Boom towns’ may experience movements of population beyond what the Chicago school of sociology describes as the ‘natural point of saturation’. City growth, in brief, is accompanied by a dual process of disorganization and reorganization, so that individuals constantly try to adapt to changing conditions. However, when cities grow too rapidly disorganization prevails: they become ‘purgatories of lost souls’, filled with ‘creative and rebellious spirits’. Within these purgatories some political clubs gain prominence for the important role they play during election time. In the work of the Chicago sociologists presented in Chapter 5, political violence coincides with institutional violence. This chapter focuses on Politicians, gangsters and violent militancy and tells how violence is, in a sense, ‘contracted out’ to organized criminal groups for the benefit of institutional actors. Organized crime and official politics are, here, described as allies who rely on the mutuality of their services. This chapter also includes analyses of violence from below, expressed through industrial action by movements in response to the ‘violence unleashed by the capitalist state’. A discussion follows of ‘reform’ and ‘revolutionary’ movements and of Blumer’s suggestions around the mechanisms through which movements grow and become organized. In Chapter 6 (Pre-political violence and organized hostility), I group the debates engaging conflict theorists within criminology. When the discipline adopts this theory, concepts such as ‘competing groups’ and ‘contrasting value systems’ are elaborated and are given a central role in the explanation of crime. After highlighting Simmel’s argument that conflict is among the most vivid forms of human interaction, I discuss the concept of ‘the politicality of crime’. Here, I underline how conflict theorists in criminology tend to interpret conventional crime as a form of pre-political conduct, the result of contrasting interests between the elite and the underprivileged. When faced with anti-institutional violence, I also suggest, these theorists are inclined to see such violence as a disorganized response to harsh law enforcement: riots, in this way, are seen mainly as ‘police riots’. Looking at the arguments put forward by the ‘new criminology’, I find confirmation that observers inspired by conflict theory are at ease when analysing endemic violence caused by structural inequality, but uncomfortable when faced with political actors rationally choosing to use violence as a form of collective expression. A discussion of how ‘new conflict theorists’ analyse terrorism, and some observations on collective action and organized hostility conclude this chapter. The difficulties one encounters when attempting to define ‘terrorism’ are temporarily put aside: this author asks for some more time and pages before proposing his own definition. Among individuals and groups there are relational dynamics which favour the establishment of restraint and encourage cooperative interaction. Such dynamics prevail in highly cohesive societies, where persons have in themselves ‘the universal response of the community toward’ their



action. Chapter 7 (Revolutionary suicide) examines the thought of Mead and its translation into sociology and criminology – in brief, the contribution of symbolic interactionism to the analysis of deviance and crime. After noting that relational dynamics may produce harmony or conflict, political violence is examined as action which influences, and is influenced by, the responses it receives. A form of ‘joint action’, political violence from below cannot be broken down into the separate acts comprising it, namely the violence from above that it elicits and to which it responds. The chapter notes the theoretical debt of labelling theorists to symbolic interactionism, and examines how these theorists approach the subject matter. Mechanisms of self-labelling, rather than labelling, are highlighted whereby actors do not supinely accept the institutional ‘violent’ label imposed on them, but describe themselves as violent antagonists who interact with violent institutions and who, through unauthorized violence, pursue social change. A brief case study, centred on the Black Panther Party, tries to assess the validity of this framework of analysis. The following two chapters also include case studies, respectively focused on the Red Army Faction (RAF) and the Brigate Rosse (BR). Chapter 8 describes the development of German radical movements leading to the emergence of armed forms of political contestation. The role of critical theory in this development is examined, along with the notion of ‘repressive tolerance’ elaborated by Marcuse and adopted by the movement. The ‘wild dream’ of the RAF, on the one hand, is regarded as unsuitable for a developed democracy like Germany, but, on the other hand, is explained with the traditional authoritarianism prevailing in the country. Some analysts would also suggest that the violence of the RAF expresses a sense of guilt on the part of the new generation for the lack of violent resistance against Nazism by the older one. The title of this chapter, ‘The blind primacy of action’, however, alludes to how unlawful political action is perceived by some members of the organization. To some members of the RAF, attacking property or persons is not ‘revolutionary’ for the effects it generates, but for the ‘criminality’ it contains, for its being against the law. While briefly telling the tragic story of the RAF, the chapter uses a number of analytical tools drawn from the different criminological schools examined in the previous chapters. A similar format characterizes Chapter 9, which describes the inception, development, apparent defeat and recent re-emergence of the Brigate Rosse. The title of this chapter, ‘Attacking the heart of the state’, is also one of the slogans used by the organization throughout the decades of its existence. There is an ideological trajectory leading the BR from action in the industrial world, in which they initially operate, to action against representatives of the official political scene, that they attempt to influence. The killings and kidnappings that accompany the history of the organisation, as I will suggest, reflect its analysis of the economic situation and its reading of international events such as the Pinochet coup in Chile. In this chapter I argue that the BR ‘evolve’ through a number of stages,


Understanding political violence characterized by the use of different forms and types of unauthorized violence. This evolution is interpreted as the outcome of the growing violence used by official institutions in their fight against the organization. Criminological categories are used, here, to substantiate this interpretation. A final look at the ‘new’ Brigate Rosse, whose last killing was carried out in 2002 and whose members have been tried in 2005, concludes this chapter.1 The book then moves on to deal with contemporary international events. Chapter 10 is titled ‘Cloning the enemy’, and is devoted to the analysis of the two extreme forms of political violence, namely war and terrorism. As mentioned above, definitions of ‘terrorism’ are always controversial, and at this stage in the book this author can no longer postpone the task: he is finally forced to propose one. The concept of ‘pure’ violence provides, in this respect, invaluable help: we have pure violence when organized forces, overtly or covertly, inflict mass violence on civilians. Terrorism, therefore, is defined as pure, random violence, incorporating a notion of collective liability. The targets of terrorism, in other words, are not precisely identifiable actors whose conduct is regarded as wrongful, but general populations, which are hit because of their nationality, ethnicity, religious or political creed.2 This definition brings to mind not only international terrorism but also, and perhaps even more immediately, the characteristics of contemporary wars. The chapter, therefore, discusses the features terrorism shares with contemporary wars, and how, in a feud-like fashion, the two feed each other. Contemporary international terrorists, in this perspective, appear as ‘clones’ of those who wage war against them, namely of those who utilize ‘pure’, random violence against non-combatants. At this point, a short passage leads this book to its logical conclusion. The realization that anti-institutional violence may evolve into terrorism, namely into something similar to that against which one is fighting, has led many members and ex-members of armed organizations through a process of severe self-criticism and to the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire. The conviction has been reached that anti-institutional violence is not the ‘final’ violence after all, and that it does not possess the strength to suppress itself and all other forms of future violence (Ricoeur 1999). Prometheus’ dream that a single stroke of violence may bring peace for ever remains a dream. But this also applies to institutional violence, which is normally a ‘premise’ to future violence rather than its ‘final’ form, and which fosters rather than suppresses itself and the violence of others. The concluding chapter, therefore, calls for a general ceasefire and the criminalization of war, the most extreme form of institutional violence. Chapter 10 Criminology as ceasefire 1

Chapter 8 and Chapter 9 are based on interviews conducted with ex-members of the RAF and the BR. Fifteen interviews were carried out in Germany and 26 in Italy. 2 Some scholars specializing in the study of ‘terrorism’ may disagree with this definition, because it only includes random, not focused violence. I would like to explain, however, that this definition is the result of long discussions with those probably described by such scholars as ‘ex-terrorists’, a description vehemently rejected by my informants.



does not simply deal with ‘war crimes’, but more directly with ‘war as crime’. The chapter discusses the recent development of a criminology of war, traces a number of pacifist arguments within criminology itself, and uses them to declare that the notion of ‘war as value’ has enjoyed unmerited longevity. Drawing on Durkheim’s work, war is depicted as ‘cancer’; Becker’s moral entrepreneurs become, in my argument, pacifist entrepreneurs; war is then described as a crime of the powerful; criminalization of war as consistent with criminological abolitionism; and finally, criminology is portrayed as a potential purveyor of Kantian ‘perpetual peace’. Brecht’s adage ‘pity the land that needs heroes’ could be stretched to cover social groups and classes, who may, rather, see in anti-heroism a viable route towards social change. It is time to see heroes as the perpetrators of what Voltaire (1759) depicts as ‘ignoble carnage and heroic butchery’, to demote them to the rank of arsonists, slaughterers and rapists, and appreciate anti-heroes as perturbers, as disturbers who cast doubt on values that are taken for granted (Brombert 1999). This book, while trying to understand political violence, is meant to deliver a praise for anti-heroes.

chapter two

State savagery and sedition

Bellum omnium We are what governments make us Legal suffering and utility The science of man Violence and the multitude Further reading

A set of writings produced throughout the eighteenth century constitutes the theoretical body of what is known as classical criminology. These writings are inspired by a view of human beings as rational individuals who possess the free will to pursue pleasure and minimize pain. Less concerned with the causes of crime, classical criminology aims to provide ways in which such rationality can be administered and harnessed for the collective good. Hence the harsh criticism of arbitrary authority by Cesare Beccaria (1738–94), whose task is the reduction of the harm caused by crime and punishment respectively. State institutions, as rational entities, should not be led by revenge, but by rehabilitative purposes. The destruction of bodies, through torture or indeed imprisonment, is deemed irrational, as it destroys potential human resources that can be used productively. For this reason, it is suggested that classical criminologists anticipate many of the most important reforms in criminal law that have been introduced since that time (Hagan 1987). While advocating state rationality, clear, precisely written and predictable responses to crime are also recommended, so that individuals making choices can relate to the law in an equally rational way. Punishment is, therefore, to fit the crime, and must be certain and swift. It is not the brutality of punishment, but its certainty, that favours crime prevention. Inspired by the Enlightenment, classical criminology is involved in the debate around the ‘social contract’, and therefore draws its categories of analysis from philosophers such as Hobbes, Voltaire, Locke and Rousseau. It is, however, from Hume that it derives an interest in the

State savagery and sedition


development of a ‘science of man’ on the basis of principles similar to those found in the natural sciences. The work of Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), for example, is highly influenced by Hume, and while addressing the defects of the legal system and thought, it is also aimed at reforming the existing practices by means of a new ‘science of law’. After describing the philosophical backdrop which inspires the ideas and proposals of classical criminologists, this chapter focuses on the notions of political violence held by Beccaria and Bentham. Institutional violence is the central concern of Beccaria, who warns that ‘state savagery’ can be replicated by those against whom it is directed. The excesses of the French Revolution will prove him right. His views on ‘sedition’, however, reveal a degree of ambivalence in his thought. Bentham, who advocates a ‘scientific’ use of the law, renounces ‘science’, measure, and rationality when faced with what he terms ‘crimes against the state’.

Some frescos in Santa Maria Novella, in Florence, show how the cruel executions of the sacrilegious were carried out, and how it took a fair number of guards to prevent the indignant bystanders from taking into their own hands the task legally belonging to the executioners. In his L’Abesse de Castro, Stendhal (1942) claims that, on such occasions, everyone believed themselves to be a close friend of the Virgin Mary, and he seems more horrified by this than by the executions themselves. Stendhal fails to mention that, at times, bystanders were more violently indignant against the executioners than the executed. When the Enlightenment fights against the stake, it implicitly fights enemies such as tyranny, obscurantism, irrational fears and superstition. After centuries of dark violence, reason tries to make sense of that violence, of those societies which, in the words of Le Goff (1977: 55) ‘seemed to oscillate between delight and horror for the bloodsheds they provoked’. To enlightened thinking, medieval violence is rooted in the fetters of the mind imposed by arcane powers, the phantasms of transcendental guilt and morbid unreason; it has a religious nature, and is the effect of the confusion between spiritual and secular authority. It is imbued with superstition, which embraces the people as well as the rulers, those in command, their laws, and those who fear them. Violence is also epitomized by the Inquisition, with its sacrificial stake that, for centuries, burns the heretics, the witches and a large variety of infidels, sinners, impious and deviants, all unable or unwilling to submit to the spiritual or terrestrial power of the Church. Classical criminology, inspired by the Enlightenment, seems to embrace a notion of political violence as state violence, as institutionalized physical affliction aimed at creating consensus. But this consensus-producing strategy is seen as lacking that which it purports to attain, namely a ‘consensual’ connotation. The concepts of crime and punishment elaborated by the criminology of the Enlightenment are affected by this persuasion, that


Understanding political violence is to say, by the belief that both crime and punishment reflect the lack of a ‘contractual’ framework within which offenders and enforcers may negotiate the nature and quantity of harm they are ‘allowed’, respectively, to cause. Reducing the harm caused by crime and punishment is the apparent task of enlightened criminologists, and the pursuit of this task is constantly underlain by the debate around the idea of the ‘social contract’. Our analytical problems start when such an idea is re-discussed and dissected in the light of the contributions made by reformers such as Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham, whose formulations are the result of an enlightened climate, rather than a specific notion of social contract. Although classical criminology is said to be indebted to Hume, Rousseau, Voltaire, Locke, and before them to Hobbes, the question remains which aspects of these philosophers’ thought can claim maternity for the ideas developed by Beccaria and Bentham? More specifically, how is their thought utilized by classical criminology in its analysis of political violence? The philosophers just mentioned are at times rival thinkers who contradict one another and themselves, they make universal or locally and historically situated claims, offering criminology a wide variety of interpretative tools, along with a differentiated range of political sensibilities. It is necessary to identify some of them.

Bellum omnium The separation of law from morality, which is among the tasks of the Enlightenment, is not a smooth process leading to the final secularization of the law, but a conflict between opposed conceptions of natural law – theological or moralistic – and formalistic law, a conflict characterizing enlightened as well as later philosophical thoughts. It is the conflict between Cicero’s adage that lex est sanctio iusta, iubens honesta et prohibens contraria, and the observation of Hobbes, who by contrast states that the law is not derived from the right it encourages and the wrong it dissuades: it is ‘authority’ that makes the law. According to this formalistic thesis, therefore, what is right or wrong is not inscribed in nature, or in the collective wisdom, let alone in the jurisprudence, but is the effect of decisions taken by an artificial body, the state (Ferrajoli 1989). Thomas Hobbes (1987 [1651]: 183) starts his analysis of the ‘contract’ and for our purpose, of violence, with the assertion that nature has made humans equal, in the faculties of body and mind, and although there are individuals manifestly stronger in body or of quicker mind than others, he continues: yet when all is reckoned together, the difference between man and man is not so considerable . . . As for the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination, or

State savagery and sedition


by the confederacy with others, that are in the same danger with himself. (Hobbes 1987[1651]: 183) This is an initial allusion to violence, both individual and collective, and Hobbes suggests that all humans have equal opportunities to effectively and successfully utilize force, particularly when doing so in coalition with others. Hobbes’ indirect definition of political violence is complemented by an appreciation of the faculties of the mind, that he also finds equally distributed amongst humans. For prudence is but experience; which equall time, equally bestows on all men, in those things they equally apply themselves unto . . . For such is the nature of men, that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent, or more learned; yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves: for they see their own wit at hand, and other men’s at a distance. (ibid.: 184) This natural equality is said to raise equality of hope in the attainment of ends, hence the growth of desire for things that all would like to enjoy. But these things being scarce, competition and animosity develop, whereby ‘the way to their end (which is principally their own conservation, and sometimes their delectation only), endeavour to destroy, or subdue one another’ (ibid.: 184). Violence is a crucial resource available to humans in the state of nature, a state where three ‘principal causes of quarrel’ are found: competition, diffidence, and glory, respectively motivating ‘men for gain, for safety, and for reputation’. The first use violence to make themselves masters of other men’s persons, wives, children and cattell; the second, to defend them; the third, for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other sign of undervalue, either direct in their persons, or by reflexion in their kindred, their friends, their nation, their profession, or their name. (ibid.: 185) Living without a common authority, an artificial power ‘to keep them all in awe’, humans are in a constant condition of war, ‘and such a war is of every man against every man’. This original violence characterizing human interactions in the absence of an artificial power, although dysfunctional, is not immoral or unjust, because the very notions of justice and injustice, of right and wrong, can hardly take shape where there is no common power. This is because notions of right and wrong ‘relate to men in society, not in solitude’ (ibid.: 188). Violence is reduced when humans abandon their right to use it, transferring such a right to another person. And when this is achieved, humans will be obliged not to hinder those to whom such right is granted, because ‘such


Understanding political violence hinderance is injustice, and injury, as being sine jure; the right being before renounced, or transferred’ (ibid.: 191). Rebellion against sovereignty is tantamount to rebellion against reason. By contrast, nothing done by the sovereign is injurious, because all is done with consent, by virtue of an ‘antecedent covenant’. How could classical criminology, inspired by the Enlightenment, espouse similar notions of unlimited power? Hobbes posits that sovereign power should be as great as one can possibly imagine to make it; and though it is to be feared that such unlimited power may produce evil consequences, ‘yet the consequences of the want of it, which is perpetual war of every man against his neighbour, are much worse’ (ibid.: 260). Although guided by an idea of social contract, classical criminology embraces this idea as a mere intellectual device, more generally endorsing the notion that ‘the content and shape of modern law is founded not upon God’s will, but on the will and desires of man as he grapples with the problems of the human condition’ (Morrison 1995: 71). However, as will become clear later, classical criminology oscillates between acceptance and rejection of Hobbesian thought. In particular, the aspects of Hobbes’ thought that find good reception amongst early criminologists revolve around the concepts of ‘revenge’ and ‘pardon’. Revenge, that is retribution of evil with evil, does not entail a consideration of the outcomes to follow, but only of the harm produced in the past. Retribution, in brief, is not concerned with making evil people better, whereas pardon may be the best way of rehabilitating them. Hobbes admonishes that ‘we are forbidden to inflict punishment with any other design, than for correction of the offender, or direction of others’. Revenge is like triumph, glorying in the hurting of another, tending to no end (for the end is always somewhat to come), and glorying to no end is vain-glory, and contrary to reason; and to hurt without reason tends to the introduction of war . . . and is commonly stiled by the name of cruelty. (Hobbes 1987: 210) Beccaria will deal with this cruelty most effectively, as we shall see. He will not, however, embrace Hobbes’ analysis of violence as a whole. According to Hobbes’ formulation, at the origin of state violence is the violence of all against all. Yet, there is in Hobbes another form of institutional violence which transcends that unleashed by humans against one another or perpetrated by the state as a legitimate response to it. It is international conflict in the form of aggression, it is war, a variant of political violence that only rarely will return in criminological analysis. In all times kings and persons of sovereign authority, because of their independency are in continuous jealousies, and in the state and posture of gladiators; having their weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another; that is their forts, garrisons and guns upon the

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frontiers of their kingdoms; and continual spyes upon their neighbours; which is a posture of war. (ibid.: 188)

We are what governments make us While for Hobbes the ills caused by the state are negligible when compared with those engendered by the state of nature, for Rousseau (1964[1762]) all our evils are not the result of our own deeds, and could be avoided if we lived according to nature. Vice does not belong to humans, but to illgoverned humans. Here, it would appear, is a principle better equipped to inspire enlightened early criminology. In Rousseau’s social contract the vague notion of government is slowly replaced by that of institutions, an ensemble of agencies and their underlying philosophies capable of making humans evil. A people is always what its government makes it, and we will have fighters, citizens, thugs and so on, according to the nature of the institutions holding political authority. By ‘contrat social’ Rousseau means a repertory of principles which provide legitimacy to governments, a range of political rights making institutional establishments acceptable; in brief, a specific mandate given by those governed to those in government. Political authority resides in the people. It is inalienable, and people cannot yield this authority to anybody, be that a monarch or a representative. ‘The individual who gives up his sovereignty renounces his quality of man. A people renouncing the exercise of sovereignty through a pact of subjugation annuls itself through that pact’ (Rousseau 1964[1762]: 135). Such a ‘pact’ leads to a situation where there are no longer people and their sovereign or their leaders, but one master and many slaves. Rousseau links political rights to legislative acts as the expression of the general will and argues that, when persons replace this general will with their own, legitimate authority vanishes to be replaced by arbitrary power. Government and state administration are to be subordinate to the general will, and citizens may shift their allegiance by conferring that mandate to others, whenever they wish to do so. However, governments, that are endowed with force, constantly try to escape legislative authority and to replace the will of people with their own. When governments manage to do so the social pact is shattered, political rights destroyed, and all common citizens, by rightfully regaining their natural freedom, are required, but not obliged, to obey. This form of direct democracy is termed by Rousseau a ‘republic’, and all legitimate governments are deemed by him to be republican. Monarchs, on the other hand, never consider their role to be mere officers of the people, they will always endeavour to take sovereignty away from those they rule and exercise it to their own benefit. Monarchies ‘want’ to be absolute.


Understanding political violence It should be noted that this concept of the state substantially differs from the liberalist notion that the state itself is not expected to interfere with citizens and their initiatives. For Rousseau, in contrast, the strength of the state contributes to the freedom of its citizens. However, such strength is not to be confused with the limitless power accorded to the state by Hobbes, seen by Rousseau as a novel Grotius, who divides human kind into ‘so many herds of cattle, each with its ruler, who keeps guard over them for the purpose of devouring them’ (Rousseau 1973[1762]: 167). As shepherds possess a superior nature to that of their sheep, so the shepherds of humans, that is their governments, are assumed to be superior to those they govern. Incidentally, this is also the thought of Caligula, who claimed that kings are gods and people are beasts. Caligula, Grotius and Hobbes are likened in Rousseau’s analysis, whose discussion of the ‘right of the strongest’ leads to an alternative view of the social contract. Even the most powerful elite, he remarks, could not guarantee stability, unless its power is translated into right and obedience into duty. Strength is a physical attribute, he warns, and there is no evident morality resulting from its exercise. To yield to strength is not an act of will, but one of necessity, at most it is an act of prudence. How can this turn into a duty? ‘Let us then admit that force does not create right, and that we are obliged to obey only legitimate powers’ (ibid.: 168). Adopting this concept of ‘force’, Cesare Beccaria builds his argument for the reduction of political violence from above, though, as we shall see, the argument derives from his simultaneous concern for the potential development of political violence from below.

Legal suffering and utility When Hobbes talks about the contract as the abandonment of freedom by individuals, fear and interest are deemed the crucial motives of such abandonment. In this view, therefore, violence from below decreases when violence from above increases. In Rousseau, as in Beccaria, it is the reduction of violence from above which will determine a parallel reduction of violence from below. Bearing in mind these composite, at times contradictory, sources of inspiration, it is nevertheless appropriate to claim that classical criminology inherits the Enlightenment’s reforming spirit that emerges in Europe and joins the growing humanist movement spreading during the eighteenth century (Beirne and Messerschmidt 1995). The study group which gathers, during the winter of 1761–62, in the house of Pietro Verri is an enthusiastic participant in this movement. The ‘Accademia dei Pugni’ (the last word being ambiguously translated into English as both ‘fist’ and ‘punch’) includes among its members Verri’s younger brother Alessandro, Giovan Battista Biffi, Luigi Lambertenghi and Cesare Beccaria, all intent in serious

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studies, in an informal setting which will also produce the scintillating periodical ‘Il Caffé’. In this intellectual coterie it is mainly Rousseau’s work which is read and discussed, and it was from Contrat Social that On Crimes and Punishments derives its inspiration (Beccaria 1965[1765]). In a letter written by Verri to one member of the Accademia, Beccaria is said to have shown Rousseau’s book to all of his associates, and Verri himself says that he ‘was enchanted, because for the first time I have come across the very principles upon which the relations amongst humans should be based’ (ibid.: 16). Those principles are deemed necessary to shake Europe from its lethargy. In the cover image of the third edition of On Crimes and Punishments, we see Justice turning away in horror from a man holding a sword and three heads he has just cut off, while looking benignly at the tools of socially useful hard labour. That man is regarded as a thug, a personification of a brutal state whose legality rests not upon the general will, but the passions of a few. If we open our history books we shall see that the laws, for all that they are or should be contracts amongst free men, have rarely been anything but the tools of the passions of a few men or the offspring of a fleeting and haphazard necessity. (Beccaria 1995: 7) Institutional violence is epitomized by the cruelty of punishment, the ‘misdirected force’ which provides an entrenched and legitimized example of cold-blooded atrocity. Beccaria is surprised that such violence goes unexposed and unchallenged: And yet, the groans of the weak, sacrificed to cruel indifference and to wealthy idleness, the barbarous torture that have been elaborated with prodigal and useless severity, to punish crimes unproven or illusory, the horrors of the prison, compounded by that cruellest tormentor of the wretched, uncertainty, ought to have shaken into action that rank of magistrates who guide the opinions and minds of men. (ibid.: 8) Beccaria, however, accepts the notion of a founding pact whereby independent and isolated humans come together in society because they are ‘wearied by living in an unending state of war and by a freedom rendered useless by the uncertainty of retaining it’. Adopting a Hobbesian premise, he argues that individuals give up part of their freedom in order ‘to enjoy what remains in security and calm’. And if it is true that the sum of these portions of freedom sacrificed to the good of all makes the sovereignty of a nation, and that the sovereign is the legitimate repository and administrator of these freedoms, yet ‘it is insufficient to create this repository’. It is necessary to protect it from the private usurpations of each individual, who is always seeking to extract from the repository not only his own due but also the


Understanding political violence portions which are owing to others. What were wanted were sufficiently tangible motives to prevent the despotic spirit of every man from re-submerging society’s laws into the ancient chaos. These tangible motives are the punishments enacted against law-breakers. (ibid.: 9) The distance from Hobbes is evident here. According to Beccaria, there are consequences following from the social pact, the first being that only the law can establish punishments for crimes, and that this authority resides only with the legislator, who represents the whole of society united by the social contract. The second consequence is that, ‘whilst every individual is bound to society, society is likewise bound to every individual member of it by a pact which, by its very nature, places obligations on both parties’. The third consequence is that, even if it could be shown that the extreme severity of some punishments, even if not directly contrary to the public good and the aim of discouraging crimes, is merely useless, even then, it will be contrary not only to those beneficent virtues which arise from an enlightened reason which prefers to govern happy men than a herd of slaves among whom timorous cruelty is rife, but also the contrary to justice and to the very nature of the social contract. (ibid.: 13) Institutional violence is equated to judicial malpractice, which results from the good or bad logic of the judge, if not from ‘the state of his digestion’. Injustice depends on the turbulence of emotions, on the weakness of the aggrieved party, on the judge’s relations with the plaintiff and on a variety of societal or institutional pressures. In this way, we see the fate of citizens changing many times as they progress through the courts, falling victims to fallacious reasoning or the momentary turmoil of the mood of the judge, ‘who takes for the legitimate interpretation of the law the haphazard upshot of this series of confused impulses which affect his mind’ (ibid.: 15). Beccaria terms this the ‘erring instability of interpretations’, echoing Hume’s argument that will be discussed later. He is focused on the ‘inappropriate distribution of punishments’, which gives rise to the paradox whereby ‘punishments punish the crimes they have caused’. Moreover, ‘if an equal punishment is laid down for two crimes which damage society unequally, men will not have a stronger deterrent against committing the greater crime if they find it more advantageous to do so’ (ibid.: 21). The true measure of crime is seen as the degree of harm caused to society. Let us see how Beccaria, through his notion of ‘true measurement’, in a crucial passage, shifts his concerns from institutional violence to political violence from below. There are, in his view, crimes that directly destroy society or its representatives, and crimes which undermine the personal security of a citizen. The former are deemed ‘the greatest crimes’, because

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they are the most damaging; these crimes are called lese-majesté or sedition. All crimes, including those of a private nature, offend society at large, but not all crimes aim at its immediate destruction. Crimes of sedition are caused by tyrants usurping people’s opinions, failing to be illuminated by the light of truth, following the fire of emotions, and ignoring the danger of their tyranny. Political violence from below, therefore, the greatest of crimes, prompts Beccaria’s questioning of the usefulness and necessity of the use of excessive institutional violence. But what shall be the punishments appropriate for these crimes? Is death a really useful and necessary punishment for the security and good order of society? Are torture and corporal punishment just and do they serve the purpose for which the laws were set up? (ibid.: 30) In advocating consistent and proportionate punishments, Beccaria associates violence from above with a political body which is swayed by passions and harbours a useless cruelty ‘that is the instrument of rage, of fanaticism or of weak tyrants’. Torture is one such instrument, a cruelty accepted by most nations, whether to compel offenders to confess a crime, to exploit the contradictions in their confession, to uncover their accomplices, or to carry out some mysterious and incomprehensible, metaphysical purging of their infamy. ‘Another absurd ground for torture is the purging of infamy, that is, when a man who has been attained by the law has to confirm his own testimony by the dislocation of his bones’ (ibid.: 40). The death penalty is an act of war on the part of society against some citizens, whose existence it is deemed necessary or useful to destroy. But there are only two grounds on which the death of citizens might be held to be necessary. First, when it is evident that even if deprived of their freedom, they retain such connections and such power as to endanger the security of the nation, when, that is, their ‘existence may threaten a dangerous revolution in the established form of government’. The killing of citizens becomes necessary, therefore, ‘when the nation stands to gain or lose its freedom, or in periods of anarchy, when disorder replaces the laws’ (ibid.: 66–7). Political institutional violence, in brief, is necessary when responding to political revolutionary violence. Beccaria, on this point, could not be more explicit. On the other hand, it is exactly the possibility that political revolutionary violence may erupt that prompts a cautious reduction in institutional violence. Here, his argument deserves an extended quote: A thief or murderer who has nothing to weigh against breaking the law except the gallows or the wheel reasons pretty much along the following lines . . . What are these laws which I have to obey, which leave such a gulf between me and the rich man? He denies me the penny I beg of him, brushing me off with the demand that I should


Understanding political violence work, something he knows nothing about. Who made these laws? Rich and powerful men, who have never condescended to visit the filthy hovels of the poor, who have never broken mouldy bread among the innocent cries of starving children and a wife’s tears. Let us break these ties, which are pernicious to most people and only useful to a few and idle tyrants; let us attack injustice at its source. I shall return to my natural state of independence; for a while I shall live free and happy on the fruits of my courage and industry; perhaps the day for suffering and repentance will come, but it will be brief, and I shall have one day of pain for many years of freedom and pleasure. King of a small band of men, I shall put to rights the iniquities of fortune, and I shall see these tyrants blanch and cower at one whom they considered, with insulting ostentation, lower than their horses and dogs. (ibid.: 69) In brief, institutional violence may give people an example of savagery, pushing them to gather in ‘small bands’ in order to redress the ‘iniquities of fortune’ and make ‘tyrants cower’. Beccaria seems unaware that he is anticipating here the political violence that will erupt in France about two decades after the publication of his unheeded plea for reform. A classic indictment of institutional violence, his celebrated book hides serious preoccupations around the collective responses such violence may elicit. His desire to shape the laws less on the passions of the few (or on fortuitous and passing necessities) than on a cold examination of human nature, reveals his fear that humans are far from ‘cold’ calculating beings, a fear strenuously fought through the belief in a new ‘science of man’.

The science of man Beccaria is aware of the power ‘of severe punishments to add to the desperation of the populace and encourage them to indulge in violence’. The general interests of society, in his view, are better served if restraints are imposed on the institutional delivery of pain, a rational approach to punishment which is said to be complemented by Jeremy Bentham’s notion of a ‘calculus’ for a better realization of those interests (Morrison 1995: 74). Rational calculus, in its turn, is linked with the doctrine of free will and the emerging determinism that help David Hume, before Beccaria and Bentham, in his attempt to develop a ‘science of man’ on the basis of principles similar to those found in the natural sciences (Beirne and Messerschmidt 1995). It is of interest to examine the ambiguous relationship of early criminology with such a science. By claiming that religion can provide no ‘privileged account of man’, Hume (1978[1739]) advocates the need for a science of human nature, based upon experience and in line with the fact-based natural science of

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Newton and the philosophical empiricism of Locke (Porter 2003). Humans become objects of scientific enquiry when anthropocentric prejudices and the dictates of faith are temporarily suspended. A Treatise on Human Nature opens by addressing the capacity of humans to achieve knowledge about themselves and the surrounding world, a capacity which is regarded as helplessly limited, based as it is on pure impressions and discontinuous observations. Identity itself is seen as contingent and blurred, a flux of sensations devoid of unity and direction. When Hume looks into himself, he claims that he stumbles into one or another particular perception, of warmth or cold, light or shade, love or hate, pain or pleasure. All he can observe is ‘perceptions’, which succeed each other with unimaginable rapidity, in constant movement. His empiricism prompts him to confute that the frequent association between A and B gives enough reason to expect that A and B will also be associated in the future. There is no rational conviction: if we think that fire warms us up and water refreshes us, it is because we are too lazy to think otherwise (Russell 1962). So tenuous is our sense of persons and things that we are in constant need of some artificial, intellectual or institutional buttresses to grant continuity to our mental and social life. ‘Cementing things together to create an artificial sense of identity, association and affiliation, so as to counter the tendency to breakdown’ (Porter 2003: 333): this is Hume’s nightmare. But this nightmare is not only Hume’s. It appears paradoxical that such ontological uncertainty might inspire early criminologists such as Beccaria and Bentham, both engaged in painstaking measurements of crimes and corresponding punishments, in the drafting of ideal menus of pain, the design of perfect custodial planimetries, and the scientific classification of human conduct. But it is exactly this scientific endeavour that helps enlightened criminology to supersede scepticism, and create the artificial tools necessary to counter what Hume sees as a ‘tendency to breakdown’. The reduction of suffering and the restraint of institutional violence are the devices Beccaria proposes to this effect, as a way of deterring the explosions of anti-institutional violence which, nevertheless, will soon occur. Bentham, in his turn, in response to uncertainty and nightmarish scepticism, attempts to rescind the link between violence from above and violence from below through theoretical and architectonic artifices. The legacy of Hume in the work of Bentham (1967[1776]), who addresses the defects of the existing legal system and of current legal thought, may be detected in the efforts of the latter to reform existing practices by means of a ‘science of law’. In his view, a given society is ‘political’ when acts of obedience within it predominate over acts of disobedience. Thus, The authority of a society’s government ceases to be effective when there is, on the part of a sufficient number of persons within the society, more than a certain degree of conscious, open and forcible


Understanding political violence disobedience of a type that has been recognised in the society as treason. (Harrison 1967: xxviii) Political violence from below, in this perspective, is a form of treason which defies the principle of utility, in that it does not pursue ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number’. Nature has placed human beings under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for these masters alone ‘to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do’ (Bentham 1967: 125). Also those in government have to bow to these masters, and are required to increase the pleasure and happiness of those they govern. The governed, however, should only obey ‘so long as the probable mischiefs of obedience are less than probable mischiefs of resistance: why, in a word, taking the whole body together, it is their duty to obey, just so long as it is their interest, and no longer’ (Bentham 1967: 55). Individuals and groups, therefore, may use the principle of utility to establish when the juncture of resistance has arisen, and make their complaints publicly known, associate among themselves, concert their plans, and practice everything short of actual revolt. Bentham is not advocating radical change or fundamental social reorganization, but reform as a way of removing legal obstacles to progress, he is ‘not discussing utopias, but is considering what may reasonably be expected of government in a reasonable society’ (Harrison 1967: xxxix). Bentham’s analysis of political violence can be elicited from his discussion of the consequences of mischievous acts. Consequences are termed ‘original’, when they fall on the specific victim of an act, and ‘derivative’, when they affect a wider sector of society. Mischievous acts of the second type cause both pain and danger, because they may spread and harm society at large. Derivative consequences produce a sort of ‘pain of apprehension’, Bentham argues, and may reinforce the ‘tendency of a motive to produce acts of the like kind’. Strength and constancy are the characteristics of some particularly dangerous acts, among which are those motivated by vengeance and religion. Political violence, in Bentham, is one such dangerous act, even, or particularly, when supported by religious convictions. ‘A pernicious act, therefore, when committed through the motive of religion, is more mischievous than when committed through the motive of ill-will’ (Bentham 1967: 280). Religion and politics as motives for action are grouped together under the term fanaticism, described by Bentham as the state of mind of those who are willing ‘to assassinate with their own hands, or with the sword of justice, those whom [they] call heretics, that is people who think, or perhaps only speak, differently upon a subject which neither party understands’. These individuals will always be inclined to take up arms, because fanaticism never sleeps, it is never glutted; it is never stopped by philanthropy; for it makes a merit of trampling on philanthropy; it is never stopped by conscience;

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for it has pressed conscience into its service. Avarice, lust, and vengeance, have piety, benevolence, honour; fanaticism has nothing to oppose it. (ibid.: 280) In his division of offences, Bentham becomes even clearer as to the way political violence should be classified. There are private, semi-public, selfregarding and public offences. The first are ‘offences that are detrimental, in the first instance, to assignable persons other than the offender’. We have an example of the second when there are persons to whom the act in question may be detrimental, but such persons cannot be individually identified. Offences are therefore semi-public when they victimize a neighbourhood or a limited community. Self-regarding offences are those which are, in the first instance, detrimental to the offenders themselves. Finally, public offences are offences threatening ‘an unassignable indefinite multitude’, ‘the whole number of individuals of which the community is composed, although no particular individual should appear more likely to be a sufferer by them than another’ (ibid.: 314–15). These are also termed ‘offences against the state’. Bentham manages to expunge state violence from his discussion, so that political violence comes to be exclusively associated with violence against the state. While Beccaria attempts to persuade governments to reduce the degree, or at least the visibility, of their own violence, Bentham suggests that that violence should be hidden, and at the same time that conventional offenders should be made more visible. Hence his idea of the panopticon. Much has been written about ‘panopticism’, which reverses the principle of the dungeon, while distilling its functions. Where the dungeon encloses, deprives of light and hides, the panoptic mechanism encloses while displaying those detained in full light. A supervisor, placed in a central tower, can control all prison cells arranged in an annular fashion around it. From the tower, one can observe the captives in their cells, which ‘are like so many cages, so many small theatres, in which each actor is alone, perfectly institutionalised and constantly visible’. Visibility is constant and each individual is securely confined to a cell from which he is seen from the front by the supervisor; but the side walls prevent him from coming into contact with his companions. He is seen, but he does not see; he is the object of information, never a subject in communication. (Foucault 1979: 200) Constant visibility and communicative deprivation seem designed to prevent the danger of plots or any other collective endeavour. Metaphorically, the panopticon reduces the crowd, its multiple exchanges and the individualities merging together, to a collection of separated individualities. If Bentham, when submitting his architectonic project, does not have political violent actors in mind, he unwittingly draws the ideal institutional response to them, namely a disciplinary mechanism abolishing communication and


Understanding political violence turning collective subjects into ‘a multiplicity that can be numbered and supervised’. Institutional violence, in turn, is no longer visible, as it is hidden behind the ‘sequestered and observed solitude’ of those in custody. It is not necessary to use force to constrain the convicts, nor violence to reform them, violence is turned into a field of visibility; and convicts inscribe in themselves the power relations becoming the instrument of their own subjection. By this very fact the external power may throw off its physical weight; it tends to the non-corporal; and, the more it approaches this limit, the more constant, profound and permanent are its effects: it is a perpetual victory that avoids any physical confrontation. (ibid.: 203) Institutional violence, in brief, is translated into self-discipline, becoming self-inflicted, prompted by the certainty of being constantly seen while being unable to see. Largely unheeded, the suggestions of Beccaria and Bentham testify to their prescience with respect to future violent events when, as the former repeatedly warns, institutional violence will give an ‘example of savagery’ all too ready to be replicated by the people. Their working life coincides with, or is close to, the period witnessing the American Revolution, the French Revolution and the first phases of the Industrial Revolution, and their enlightened minds target the traditional violent manners of securing consent. Unable to see how social change would bring new problems, and how these could not be solved within old institutional and legal frameworks, governments become the target of the very violence that they refuse to temper. Incapable of renouncing the ‘spectacle of suffering’ (Spierenburg 1984) they are soon to witness such spectacle in the capacity of victims.

Violence and the multitude We have to return to where we started, that is to Hobbes, if we are to understand the dynamics of the ‘dissolution of governments’, the breach of ‘pacts and commonwealths’ and the rebellion of ‘subjects against princes’. In De Cive Hobbes (1972[1653]) identifies the internal causes tending to the dissolution of authority, comparing systems to natural bodies in motion. Some systems of government, he says, possess a particular structural frailty, as if predisposed to self-erosion and ultimately to collapse. When citizens sense such frailty, they gather sufficient strength to accelerate their decline by augmenting the inherent downwards motion of those systems. In such cases, external agents produce action and ‘subjects begin to raise tumults’, particularly when inspired by ‘doctrines and passions contrary to peace, wherewith the minds of men are fitted and disposed’. Already thus disposed, they are led to assemble and ‘take up arms and to

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quit their allegiance’. What crucially predisposes people to sedition, however, is the belief ‘that the knowledge of good and evil belongs to each single man’ (ibid.: 242). This is exactly what Robespierre and Saint-Just believe, and in igniting sedition they implicitly claim that by natural design ‘every man lives by equal right, and has not by any mutual pacts submitted to the command of others’. On the contrary, Hobbes reiterates that ‘what the legislator commands must be held for good, and what he forbids for evil’, and that ‘it belongs to kings to discern between good and evil’. At the same time, as if predicting the French Revolution, he warns against those ‘wicked sayings, that he only is a king who does righteously, and that kings must not be obeyed unless they command us just things’. When citizens ‘assume to themselves the knowledge of good and evil’, they express the desire to be equal to kings, ‘which cannot be for the safety of the commonwealth’. This is exactly the desire expressed by French revolutionaries, who disregard the most ancient of God’s commands: ‘Thou shalt not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil’, and who fall into the most ancient of all diabolical temptations: ‘Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil’ (ibid.: 243–4). Robespierre feels that ‘virtue’ makes all humans capable of discerning good from evil, and that no authority can expect to be obeyed when commands are felt to be contrary to one’s conscience. He and his associates appear to follow what Hobbes terms the ‘third seditious doctrine’, according to which ‘tyrannicide is lawful’, a seditious doctrine also attributed by Hobbes to Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, Plutarch, ‘and the rest of the maintainers of Greek and Roman anarchies’. This doctrine is alleged to render every king, whether good or ill, ‘exposed to be condemned by the judgement, and slain by the hand of every murderous villain’ (ibid.: 246). In a speech made in 1794, Robespierre (1955), in contrast, argues that only the enemies of equality and freedom will be the victims of virtue, namely of the ‘people’s political machine’ which is an antidote to the corruption of the ‘political body’. Hobbes would describe such speeches as sermons signifying just nothing, yet sounding most divine to unlearned people, and would substantiate his attack through a distinction between people and multitude. People, Hobbes claims, have one will, and they rule all governments. Even in monarchies, people are in command, because they rule by the will of a monarch. The multitude does not exist, unless it finds expression in some representative authority. It is impossible, therefore, for the multitude to rebel, because it would rebel against itself (Hobbes 1972). There are, of course, other conceptualizations of the multitude, and this is not surprising for an epoch obsessed by looming tumult and sedition. Spinoza’s view, for example, is that, if animated by ‘terrible furore’, multitudes nevertheless reflect the violence of those in government, who are similarly destructive, albeit the destruction they wreak comes in the form of ‘prodigality, luxury and pomp’. The violence of the multitude is


Understanding political violence put in perspective when addressed to ‘abominable aristocrat bullies’ (Spinoza 1952). Excluded from the exercise of regulated political contention, how could the multitude respect the rules of such contention (Bodei 1991)? In Hobbes’ perspective, however, French revolutionaries fight against themselves, and while blaming their government for their poverty, they fail to consider their own sloth and luxury. Their mobilization is led by the ‘hope of overcoming’, yet another crucial seditious inclination. ‘If there be no hope, or it appear not sufficient, there will be no sedition; every man will dissemble their thoughts, and rather content himself with the present burthen than hazard a heavier weight’ (Hobbes 1972: 253). Revolutions express such ‘hope of overcoming’, but their necessary requisites are ‘numbers, instruments, mutual trust, and commanders’. Revolutions without great numbers are not seditious, but desperate acts. By ‘instruments’ Hobbes means instruments of war, I mean all manner of arms, munitions, and other necessary provision: without which number can do nothing. Nor arms neither, without mutual trust. Nor all these, without union under some commander, whom of their own accord they are content to obey. (ibid.: 253) Similarly, Bentham (1954 [1791]) criticizes the Declaration of Human Rights approved by the revolutionary government, because it is the fruit of an insurrection, and therefore its objective must be that of justifying that insurrection. In this way, he accuses, the new government justifies all insurrections to come, thus spreading the seed of anarchy. By destroying the present sovereignty, the revolutionary government undermines that of the future, including its own. Political violence takes the shape feared by Hobbes, though in the initial phase of the French Revolution, some members of the National Assembly seem persuaded by Beccaria’s reformist argument. In 1791, speakers in the Assembly express the sentiment that an armed multitude cannot kill an individual, for example an aristocrat: what principle of justice could justify the delivery of death? ‘Victors who sentence their enemies, held as prisoners, to death are called barbarians’ (Firpo 1965: 185). Initially, Robespierre is the most heated advocate of reform, and regards the death penalty as cowardly murder, a solemn crime committed not by individuals, but by entire nations. He also regards laws as the product of tyrants, as chains that oppress the human species. When laws are written with blood, he argues, they produce anger and vengeance: ‘when they display cruelty and corpses shattered by torture, they destroy in the heart of citizens all notion of just and unjust’ (Robespierre 1955: 35). The Assembly will ignore this plea and establish the rule that capital executions be made by decapitation. The fears of Beccaria come true: institutional savagery inspires its enemies. The mythological apologue told by Hobbes is, in this respect, very apt:

State savagery and sedition


For folly and eloquence concur in the subversion of government, in the same manner (as the fable has it) as the daughters of Pelias, king of Thessaly, conspired with Medea against their father . . . going to restore the decrepit old man to his youth again, by the counsel of Medea they cut him into pieces, and set him in the fire to boil; in vain expecting when he would live again. So the common people, through their folly, like the daughters of Pelias, desiring to renew the ancient government, being drawn away by the eloquence of ambitious men, as it were by the witchcraft of Medea; divided into faction they consume it rather by those flames, than they reform it. (Hobbes 1972: 256) Robespierre (1955: 32), after the initial infatuation with Beccaria, appears to be inspired by a similar belief that Pelias should be cut into pieces and consumed by flames. He argues that ‘if the strength of the people’s government, in times of peace, is virtue, in revolutionary times it is terror’. This is because the revolutionary government is the despotism of freedom against tyranny. To punish the oppressors of humanity: this is clemency. To forgive them would be barbarism. Violence will make oppressors respect justice. And when the National Assembly convenes to decide about the fate of Louis XVI, Saint-Just (1957) finds the defendant guilty of conspiring against freedom. His demand for supreme justice, as he claims, derives if not from the people, than from nature. On 21 January 1793 Louis XVI is executed in the Place de la Révolution. Early criminologists advocate reform while focusing on institutional violence, and their failure to be heeded will convince eighteenth-century revolutionaries that ‘only violence can abolish violence from the human community’ (ibid.: 23). Violence from above and violence from below are linked in the analysis of Beccaria and Bentham, in ways which may be ambivalent and openly contradictory at times. The former fights the ‘savagery’ of the death penalty, but does not hesitate to invoke such penalty against the ‘greatest crimes’, namely violent political acts from below, or sedition. The latter advocates rational punishments, but renounces rationality when faced with ‘fanaticism’ and ‘crimes against the state’. They are both the result of the intellectual ambivalence of the Enlightenment. This ambivalence is destined, as we shall see, to also characterize future criminological schools of thought (Akers 1997). The following chapter will describe how criminological positivism, faced with events as destructive as those faced by classicism, finds its own original manner of explaining political violence.

Further reading Discussions of classical criminology hinge mainly on the issue of punishment and its philosophies. Duff and Garland (1994) offer a comprehensive assessment of the


Understanding political violence notions of retribution, rehabilitation and reintegration, while also sketching the development of these notions from classical to contemporary thought. A broader treatment of state violence and revolutions is found the work of Bayly (2004), who locates political violence, from above and from below, in the general history of the modern world.

chapter three

Philanthropic murderers and regicides

Atavistic and evolutive crime Responding to political violence Socialism and crime Revolutions and rebellions Women and political violence The Commune of Paris Regicides Further reading

While classical criminology is engaged in elaborating a ‘science of man’, early positivist criminology pursues the ambitious task of creating a ‘science of the delinquent man’. Positivists see crime as determined less by free will than by inner individual characteristics and their analysis, consequently, focuses on the biological and psychological make-up of known criminals. The collection of ‘facts’ is the main task of positivist criminology, which proposes a precise classification of criminal types and corresponding crime policies. Deeply influenced by Darwinism and its concept of human evolution, Cesare Lombroso (1835–1909) claims that criminals represent a form of degeneracy which manifests itself in a number of physical and psychological traits belonging to earlier stages of human evolution. He describes criminals as ‘atavistic’, a throwback to previous forms of human life. More precisely, he distinguishes between: ‘born criminals’, who possess atavistic characteristics; ‘insane criminals’, led to crime by mental diseases; ‘occasional criminals’, who are not predisposed, but propelled, to crime by circumstances and opportunities; and ‘criminals of passion’, whose delinquency is due to feelings of love or anger. It is wrong, however, to identify positivist criminology exclusively with the study of the individual and its innate criminal characteristics. In the work of Enrico


Understanding political violence Ferri (1856–1929), for example, crime is the result of multiple causes, including cultural, anthropological and social factors. His book Criminal Sociology is a discussion of these factors and of the ways in which society should establish defences from crime and prevent criminogenetic environments from developing. In the work of Raffaele Garofalo (1852–1934), moreover, we find definitions which could easily be endorsed by contemporary, even critical, criminologists: what he describes as ‘police crimes’ refer to conducts which are not criminal in themselves, but are criminalized through institutional reactions. This chapter focuses on some neglected aspects of the positivist criminological production, namely on its understanding of political violence from below. The distinction between revolutions and rebellions is discussed, as is Ferri’s argument that institutional, violent repression may exacerbate ‘class resentment’. The chapter also includes the observations of positivist criminologists around the issues of women and political violence, violence and socialism, anarchism and nihilism. As we shall see, far from identifying the ultimate causes of political violence exclusively in individual pathological characteristics, Ferri and Lombroso attribute a central role to the ‘pathological nature’ of the class divisions characterizing the society in which they live.

If Beccaria and Bentham elaborate their definitions of political violence amid the events preceding and accompanying the French Revolution, positivist criminologists elaborate theirs during the course of equally eventful decades. They are faced with the rebellions of 1848, the Commune of Paris in 1871, the spreading of the socialist and anarchist movements throughout the century and, finally, the proliferation of nihilists, regicides and politicized brigands. The rebellions of 1848, often regarded as ‘wars of progress’, are said to look forward to the revolution of 1917, not backward to the religious riots of peasant jacqueries of the past. They are understood as ‘class conflicts reflecting the self-assertion of the new industrial proletariat and of the vanguards of radical intellectuals’ (Bayly 2004: 156). When Enrico Ferri (1967: 85) coins the term ‘evolutionary criminality’ he seems to bear such conflicts in mind. He applies the term to organized political violence, whereas he designates individual, interpersonal violence with the term ‘bio-social criminality’. Ferri also makes a terminological distinction between anti-human and anti-social criminality, the former being atavistic, the latter situational. Political violence, in his view, is a form of social criminality: it concerns only the conditions of collective existence, and does not ‘compromise the conditions of individual existence (like for instance, murder, assault, rape and robbery)’. I will return to these definitions in more detail later. Ferri’s analysis sets off with the focal concept of imitation, a concept that we also find in the studies conducted by Tarde (1912[1890]). The latter associates the idea of imitation to the development of morality and

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collective conscience, and suggests that these extend progressively from the individual to the family, to the clan, then to the tribe, and finally to the nation. Ideas, therefore, are said to propagate through chains of individual and group interactions, to be subsequently transmitted by tradition and hereditary imitation. Ferri believes, instead, that collective conscience is formed simultaneously in the individuals composing a group and in the wider society faced with specific conditions of social existence. ‘It is not an idea born in the brain of an individual and then propagating itself like the waves of a pond when a stone is thrown into it’ (Ferri 1967: 86). ‘The conditions of the environment’ are crucial, here, and they inform Ferri’s analysis of all social behaviour, including, of course, crime. He remarks, for example, that those ‘predisposed’ to crime, in favourable social conditions, may die without ever having violated the penal code. By changing the environment, therefore, an influence can be exercised on the great mass of political offenders, who are also described as ‘delinquents by occasion’, rather than habitual criminals or born-criminals (ibid.: 99). Let us follow his argument.

Atavistic and evolutive crime There is a law of criminal saturation led by the same principles informing that of chemical saturation. As a given volume of water, at a definite temperature, will dissolve a fixed quantity of chemical substance, so in a given social environment, with definite individuals and physical conditions, a fixed number of offences, no more and no less, can be committed. Ferri warns, however, that there may be transitory periods and exceptional contingencies in which ‘criminal supersaturation’ is experienced, and cites Ireland and Russia as illustrative examples, but also America during electoral periods and France, ‘in the period preceding and following the coup d’état of 1851’ (ibid.: 212). Ferri is referring here to the events of 1848 and the following years. In France, violent rebellion spreads after ‘a relatively small demonstration got out of hand and troops fired at the demonstrators, killing fifty or so’ (Harvey 2003: 3). In a matter of days, spontaneous violence turns into a ‘call for revolution’, heeded by workers, students, disaffected bourgeois and small property owners. Many in the National Guard join them, ‘and much of the army soon lost the will to fight’. The king’s residence is looted, and ‘common people, even street urchins, took turns sitting on the throne before it was dragged through the streets to be burned at the Bastille’ (ibid.: 4). Marx (1963[1852]) divides this period of violent conflict into three phases. The first is a revolutionary prologue, when all the components that have prepared and determined the revolution, namely the republican bourgeoisie, the small democratic entrepreneurs and the socialist working class, all find a place in the provisional government. The second phase witnesses


Understanding political violence the clash between the Parisian proletariat and the newly-elected Constituent Assembly, which is seen as an enemy of socialism. The third phase begins with the election of Louis Bonaparte, leading eventually to his coup d’état for the re-establishment of an authoritarian empire. It is interesting to note how Comte (1953) comments on these events. He sees the ideal of the Constituent Assembly, namely the combination of monarchy and parliament, as an aberration, something only peculiar to England, where parliament is the institution through which the aristocracy rules. In his view, the prime reason for all revolutions taking place in France necessarily consists of a direct conflict between popular might and royal power, and he is delighted when the coup d’état neutralizes the aristocracy, although through a ‘temporal dictatorship’. Political violence, in this context, is perceived as being legitimate, because it aims at the abolition of royalty and the establishment of a republic. Marx, instead, sees the destruction of the traditional monarchy and the overthrow of the aristocracy as mere preparatory events leading to the fight against social privileges in general. ‘Economic inequality is the object of attack after inequality of orders or estates has been erased’ (Aron 1965: 249). He sees in the events of 1848 a premonitory sign that future revolutions will no longer be political, but social. While Tocqueville (1959) regards riots, insurrections and revolutions as catastrophic, for their being unfavourable to the preservation of liberty, Marx (1963, 1964) sees the proletarian uprisings of the nineteenth century as a useful accumulation of collective memory and skills. All uprisings, he notes, are self-critical and self-reflective, as they constantly question their own logic; they return to what seems to be accomplished and re-start all over again; they laugh at their own previous revolutionary attempts; and at times they retreat, fearful of the immensity of their own aims. The 1848 events, while shaping his scientific view of socialist revolutions, allow Marx to stress the point that uprisings are not to be assessed solely against their immediate effects, but it is rather their contribution to the general revolutionary process that must be weighed. In his view, there are moments in history when the desperate fight of the masses, even when engaged in prospectless struggles, is necessary as an educative exercise for successive struggles (Marx 1964). As we shall see later, his emphasis on ‘social’ rather than ‘political’ revolutions receives specific attention from positivist criminology, which translates Marx’s observation into its own evolutionary language. Ferri (1967: 333) finds it undeniable that, at each historical epoch, the interests of the dominant class prevail, and deems it indisputable that ‘civilisation evolves in the direction of gradually effacing and attenuating the most clear-cut inequalities between the dominant and the subject classes’. He lists the victorious struggles to abolish civil inequality (between masters and slaves), then religious inequality (between orthodox and heretics), and finally political inequality (the struggles of the third estate, or the bourgeoisie, against the aristocracy and the clergy). He adds that ‘now there is the struggle to abolish economic inequality (proletariat and

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bourgeoisie)’, and after devoting himself to the study of Marxian theories, he reaches the belief that ‘scientific socialism is the logical and inevitable conclusion of sociology, which otherwise must remain sterile and impotent’ (ibid.: 334). This belief leads him to the distinction mentioned above between two categories of crime, which profoundly differ in character, motives and consequences. The first includes ‘the common criminality such as is shown in the muscular and atavistic form’; the second is ‘the politico-social criminality which tends (in a more or less illusory way) to hasten the future phases of politico-social life’. Common criminality is found mainly among born, habitual, or insane criminals, while politico-social criminality, also termed evolutive criminality, is for the most part found among ‘pseudo-criminals or normal men’, or those who are led by passion for ‘politico-social heterodoxy’ (ibid.: 335). Societal defence from criminal activity, in Ferri’s view, ought to vary according to the type of offence and the motives of offenders. Some criminals follow ‘selfish and anti-social interests’, while others are inspired by ‘altruistic and social interests’. And if it is part of our universal interests to defend ourselves from atavistic criminality, ‘in evolutive criminality the interest is restricted to the minority of the dominant classes’. Atavistic criminality attacks the inherent conditions of human existence, evolutive crime the politico-social order, which is always historically transitory. To this distinction between atavistic or anti-human and evolutive or (strictly) anti-social criminality there is the corresponding distinction between defence of society and defence of class which may degenerate into class tyranny. (ibid.: 337) Ferri concludes that Marxist doctrine, revolving around interest and privilege of the dominant class, explains the excesses in state repression of political and social crimes.

Responding to political violence Returning to the issue of societal defence, the measures to be taken against offenders, in Ferri’s analysis, must take into account their personality, their living condition, the surrounding social environment, the law violated and the motives for violating it. Repression and ‘exceptional penalties’ are unlikely to suppress or even control ‘collective delicts’. Historical precedents provide us, in this respect, with crucial evidence: severe penalties and even massacres may renew and multiply insurgencies. For example, under the pontificate of Sixtus V, the savage severity against rebels and brigands, along with the large-scale executions, did not stop the re-emergence of violent gangs. The Venetian ambassador to Rome under Clement VII wrote:


Understanding political violence The severity of justice is such that the executioner has difficulty in attending to it. Capital punishment is inflicted on the bandits and their accomplices; and yet their number is so great that no day passes without the sight of the heads of those executed being brought in or their corpses exposed on the bridge of Saint-Ange, four, six, twenty, or even thirty at one time placed in a row side by side. It is estimated that there have been more than one thousand executions from the pontificate of Sixtus V (1590) to the present year (1595). (Ferri 1967: 235) Severe repression causes an increase in brigandage, but also in anarchic political action, as penalties are stimulants for political or religious ‘fanatics’, ‘who greedily seek martyrdom and the notoriety which it brings’. Extreme repression, moreover, cannot replace the ordinary process of the justice system, because it is inspired by the jus belli, the right of war that leads to the extermination of the guilty and often also of the innocent. Respect for the law spreads among the people less because of police and jails than because of the example given by persons in high places and by the authorities themselves, when they are first to put into practice respect for individual and social rights [. . .], thus avoiding the scandals of impunity for the big thieves and the most iniquitous severity for the little ones. (ibid.: 264) This argument echoes Beccaria’s warning that state savagery is likely to provoke popular responses in kind. In support of his thesis, however, Ferri quotes Spencer (1885), noting the fundamental identity or intimate analogy between the defensive reaction against a foreign aggressor (military defence) and against a domestic aggressor (legal or judicial defence). He explains that, in primitive societies, judicial tools resemble those utilized for military defence, and that a return to such tools displays an atavistic character. This character is shown when, in times of social upheaval, ‘the dominant class resorts to the creation of extraordinary military tribunals to judge and condemn not so much the actual criminal material act (homicide or arson) as mental crimes of political heterodoxy’. In conclusion, declaring war on political crime is an atavistic form of societal reaction, and intensfies that which it attempts to control. Political crime, Ferri (1967: 314) suggests, may be prevented by economic measures that ‘make less miserable the life of the most numerous social classes’, and better than the penal code would be political and parliamentary reforms making ‘the legal representation really more representative of the country’.

Philanthropic murderers and regicides


Socialism and crime In Socialismo e criminalità, Ferri (1883) mainly deals with the utopian thought according to which, with a socialist revolution, crime, like all other forms of social pathology, will decline and disappear, and with it all the unproductive and costly bourgeois institutions such as the police, courts, prisons and judges. In this work, however, he also takes issue with the widespread belief that the socialist idea, especially when embraced by the ‘uneducated classes’, may act as a catalyst for delinquency. It is true, he remarks, that nothing is more dangerous than a grand idea in a small brain, and it is understandable that the poor conditions of industrial workers and ‘rural plebs’ may make such idea even grander. Hunger or inadequate food, he explains, provoke vertigo, and from the stomach hunger extends to affect other nervous centres, causing intellectual disorder and transitory manias, at times resulting in hallucinations and criminal impulses. On the other hand, what can we expect from those brains ‘anemic to ideas’, from people condemned to physiological destitution, who communicate by using little more than three hundred words, while Shakespeare and Dante use about fifteen thousand, and an ordinary person three or four thousand? People are neither as good nor as bad as their principles. There are ‘gentlemen and brigands among materialists as well as among spiritualists, among atheists and believers, republicans and monarchists, conservatives and radicals’. This demonstrates that crime is not determined by the philosophical ideas one professes, but rather by one’s ‘moral constitution’, which is forged by the surrounding environment and ‘transmitted by heredity’ (ibid.: 12). Human beings may adopt honest or dishonest moral conducts, but there is an intermediate moral zone inhabited by a class of individuals who are neither solidly honest nor dishonest. This class of individuals straddles vice and virtue, and leans towards one or the other due to internal or external pressures orienting their acts. Those who can only hold on to an already atrophied ‘moral sense’ will find it extremely easy to cross the border and engage in criminal activity. Hence, the ferment of socialist ideas in ‘narrow brains’ does not in itself trigger criminal activity, but it does in those who are receptive to all internal motives (political ideas) and external pretexts (wars or famines) and turn these into criminal opportunities. In brief, it is mendacious that crimes derive from ideas, the real causes of crime being ‘those abnormal social conditions’ in which many people live. Rebellion emerges from such abnormal conditions, it springs from sentiments growing strong and rapid till the necessary energy is reached for them to spill into violent action. Among the examples offered by Ferri, in this respect, are the ‘rural crimes’ in Ireland and the attacks of the nihilists in Russia. But also: The political crimes committed in Italy before the national liberation. In this country, political conspiracies, once passed, may be regarded


Understanding political violence by any resulting government as acts of heroism, while they are deemed criminal by the government targeted. These acts were not determined by political ideas, but by the patriotic sentiments of the Italians. This is proved by the fact that conspiracies involved republicans and monarchists alike, and only those devoid of patriotic sentiments abstained. (ibid.: 14) As for institutional responses to socialist movements, Ferri reiterates his argument that violent repression, carried out through more or less exceptional legislation, is counterproductive and exacerbates ‘class resentment’. ‘Socialist ideas are to be combated with other ideas, after acknowledging the part of truth that they contain, as any idea does’ (ibid.: 16). There are, however, some socialists who are mainly ‘men of action’, with a low degree of education, made bitterly exasperated by poverty, psychologically unbalanced, capable of turning any idea into a justification for common criminality. Ferri describes this as a minority who translate their antisocial constitution into socialist or nihilist rebellion. For example: I read in a newspaper that an Irish stonecutter has been sentenced to death because he has murdered Lord Cavendish and Mr Burke, a minister of Ireland. From the picture of this assassin, probably hydrocephalous, with enormous jaws, who laughed in court while listening to the charges because of his innate moral insensitivity, I drew the conclusion that that man is a true delinquent using the ideals of agrarian and political reform in order to vent his instincts. These instincts would have led him to other criminal acts, irrespective of his political faith. (ibid.: 51) On the other hand, there are ‘Socialists of action’ who remain honest, also because their moral sensitivity warns them that crime is an obstacle to the triumph of their ideas: crime instigates suspicion, apprehension and aversion among most individuals and classes. Scientific socialists, among whom Ferri includes ‘the admirable Karl Marx’, are said to concur with this view, because they are also convinced that the socialist idea can become reality thanks to a spontaneous, therefore slow, evolutionary process, rather than through violent revolutions. Even when victorious, political violence leaves social, cultural and moral development behind, and only successive evolutionary processes will render society as a whole appreciative of the alleged benefits caused by that violence. Revolutions fail because they are not tuned in with the natural evolution of human beings and societies. This, it would appear, is one of the interpretations given by positivist criminology of the Marxian argument that ‘social’, rather than ‘political’, revolutions are more likely to be successful. The Gramscian notion of hegemony may help clarify this explanation, namely that societies change when the institutional, ideological and material ‘citadels’ of a certain system are slowly appropriated by new groups and classes. Echoes of the

Philanthropic murderers and regicides


analysis of more contemporary authors such as Aron (1965: 244) are also found in this formulation, namely that revolutions may have a relatively bloodless character, ‘since as a rule the regime falls when no one any longer wants to fight for it’. The governing classes, in other words, may from time to time ‘fall into a contempt so general that it paralyses the very people who have most reason to defend themselves’.

Revolutions and rebellions Although almost forgotten, Ferri’s analysis contains some surprising contemporary elements, as do similar interpretations proposed by other positivists, who analyse political crime in polemical response to colleagues raising doubts about the very existence of such crime. Lombroso and Laschi (1890: 6) note that political violence is a social phenomenon one finds in all eras and under all forms of government, and only despotism from above and from below have taken this phenomenon away from the scientific arena, making it a weapon governments and rebels use against each other. The importance of political violence can be elicited from the corresponding violence with which is has always been tackled: in ancient Athens suspicion of anti-government activity led to death, in Sparta inimical activity to the republic was met with sacrifice to the infernal gods, while in republican Rome the enemies of the people were beheaded. Even the free municipalities of Venice and Florence responded to alleged political conspiracy with the most brutal severity, while ‘in contemporary democratic states in North-America death is inflicted on those who offend the Constitution or conspire against its principles’. In Il delitto politico e le rivoluzioni, Lombroso and Laschi question the appropriateness of applying the ‘delinquent’ label to political offenders, whom they see as ‘juridically’ but not ‘socially and morally’ condemnable. What proportion of criminal types are found among political offenders is impossible to establish. How to distinguish between the true revolutionaries and those who foment rebellion for the satisfaction of their egoistic instincts? In Italy, in the Milan museum of the Risorgimento, we studied the physiognomy of 521 of our martyrs, and we found 454 normal, 64 anomalous, and only 3 individuals with degenerative characteristics. This is 0.57% – a proportion which is four times less that the proportion of criminals among the general population, which is estimated at 2%. (ibid.: 250) Physiognomic arguments aside, Lombroso and Laschi concur with Ferri, whose analysis of revolutions as evolutionary processes they reiterate in the following terms. There is an immense distance between revolution and rebellion, as there is between evolution and cataclysm, natural growth and


Understanding political violence metastasis. Optimistically, they then argue that the causes making political crime a permanent feauture in history are slowly subsiding, for example, the oppression of nationalities, and of religious or philosophical dissent. Therefore, while revolutions are likely to become rare, rebellions are still destined to occur. Something ‘morbid’ remains, in the form of soap bubbles, iridescent but empty, which glitter and disappear at the faintest contact. Among these are communists and anarchists, who are or declare themselves to be the complete negation of the State, who repudiate the duties of citizens and want to destroy, in one go, those bonds that make contemporary societies relatively happy. (ibid.: 9) Like Ferri, Lombroso and Laschi claim that organic and human progress takes place slowly and that beings and societies are conservative by instinct. Abrupt or violent change is not physiological, and though at times it may be the only option available to oppressed minorities, in general it is detrimental. Political violence is a crime, and a useless one too, because it generates ‘misoneism’, a hatred for the new which is solidly embedded in human nature, and which inevitably justifies the introduction of harsh legislations. Revolutions should be distinguished from sedition and riots. The former are slow processes, which are well prepared, necessary, and at times accelerated by the leadership of some ‘neurotic genius’ or precipitated by historic incidents. Riots, instead, are the result of a precipitous, artificial incubation of ‘embryos’, conducted at too high a temperature, which are consequently led to certain death. Revolution is the historical expression of evolution: given a specific system that no longer responds to the social and political expectations of those composing it, the system is changed with minimum cost and maximum success. Riots may be a necessary component of a revolutionary process, but they quickly evaporate: they are like the crack in the egg signalling the presence of the chick. One of the characteristics of revolutions is, therefore, that they are successful (ibid.: 32). Revolutions are not the work of criminals, but of ‘men of passion or of genius’. It is rare that they are acted by ‘retrograde’ people, and are always occasioned by serious causes and high ideals. The French Revolution set off with a campaign against the corn trade monopoly, but the insurgents addressed their anger against the Bastille, rather than against the bakers. Rebellions cease with the death of their leaders, while revolutions are accelerated by such deaths. Revolutionary leaders (like Christ) feel the necessity of change that will be felt later by a multitude of others, and while they may lose some battles, in the end they are bound to triumph. In Italy and Hungary, respectively in 1848 and 1849, the leaders of organized political violence were annihilated, but eventually their efforts led to the conquest of independence. Rebellions are similar to ‘convulsion rather than

Philanthropic murderers and regicides


motion’, and are more frequent in hot countries ‘where high atmospheric pressure provokes anoxia, while revolutions are more frequent in moderately cold countries’ (ibid.: 34). In brief, revolutions are physiological, while rebellions are pathological; the former, therefore, never possess a criminal character, because the public sanctions them and, at times, actively supports them. In examining the social, political and economic factors leading to political violence, Lombroso and Laschi call upon Aristotle, according to whom inequality is the cause of the struggle between classes, a struggle which, in their view, ‘is part of the law of nature’. Abuses of power are also regarded as causes of violent popular reaction, and most regimes are said to commit such abuses, as ‘governments are always prone to degenerate, exaggerating the principles upon which they are based’ (ibid.: 152). Finally, the authors warn that every class that acts complacently, resting on the laurels of its own power and governing by sheer inertia, will be overthrown by other classes, pushed by servitude and demoralization to accumulate energies and develop them until they gain supremacy. There are, however, some qualifications in respect of the type of revolutionary dynamic prevailing in any specific context. Following Machiavelli’s suggestions, positivist criminologists argue that in the natural rivalry between social groups, when the ‘low classes’ achieve victory without suppressing the ‘high classes’ against which they have fought, the new social order will be stable and the results attained useful. On the contrary, as Machiavelli’s history of Florence shows, when the victorious class oppresses the defeated one, freedom becomes the major victim. In contexts where social classes and the power emanating from them find an equilibrium, freedom is maintained and revolutions become extremely rare, as in the case of Sparta, whose lasting democracy, according to Aristotle, is due to a balanced power distribution between the ‘high classes’, represented in the Senate, and the ‘low classes’, represented in the Ephoros. In its turn, Venice owed its longevity, apart from economic prosperity, to its relatively rigid principles of justice favouring the classes excluded from political power and to its tolerance for everyone, including the heretics. Whether followed by a balanced distribution of power or not, rebellions and revolutions, however, explode due to specific dynamics of imitation and to contextual historical traditions. Following Machiavelli again, positivists argue that each revolution leaves a political ‘toothing’, a creative hold, for a future revolution to take place. For example, the Commune of Paris found a hold in the Revolution of 1789, which in its turn found a ‘groove’ in the previous peasant’s revolts. ‘In Paris the barricades have almost become a decennial habit, as have military revolutions in Spain, and the killing of tsars in Russia’ (ibid.: 180). Economic causes are, of course, crucial. Revolutions are the result of excessive polarization of wealth, as proven by the French bourgeoisie who, being excluded from the economic decision-making organism represented


Understanding political violence by the National Assembly, established an alliance with the people to defeat the Crown and the aristocracy. But then the bourgeoisie dissociated itself from the plebs, who continued by itself the revolution and brought it to the excesses of terror, aiming then at its old ally through the imposition of progressive taxation, under the name of forced loans, accompanied by looting and spoliation. (ibid.: 194) Russian nihilism, similarly, originates from the conflict between rural property and commercial capital, at a time when advantages were granted to traders and small entrepreneurs, and limitations imposed on the economic power of the aristocracy. It goes without saying, however, that economic factors are extremely important for the political destiny of a country. One can say that the problem, in this respect, remains the same as when Aristotle posed it, namely that governments are threatened by revolution when some are very rich and some very poor, and that even in democratic or republican governments when the poor grow beyond measure, the ruling political class will suffer a revolution. (ibid.: 198) Strong believers in evolution, positivist criminologists support their argument with Darwinian theories, which accept differences between individuals, but emphasize the struggle for existence resulting from these differences. In extreme forms of political violence, they identify a struggle for life in which the weakest classes engage against the strongest, at the cost of their own life.

Women and political violence Positivist criminologists, who write widely about ‘criminal women’ in general, do not overlook the specific category of women involved in political violence (Lombroso 1976; Lombroso and Ferrero 1893). Women are said to be hot participants in the French Revolution as far as participating was fashionable, and especially during the tumults and riots. But, in the face of revolutionary ideas, they are alleged to show heated opposition, especially in the provinces, where women are described as openly anti-revolutionary, an obstacle to radical change. Historians such as Michelet (1978: 75) make similar remarks: women are ardent counter-revolutionary predicators; at home, sincere, genuinely passionate, they cry, suffer, their words are the ‘snap of a broken heart . . . an immense force, invincible’. While the revolution hits, Michelet adds, women hit back, with ‘tears, sighs, sobs, and shrieks more penetrating than knives’.

Philanthropic murderers and regicides


There are, however, exceptions. In Russia, for example, three out of ten revolutionaries are women, and are employed in factories with the purpose of converting men to the great cause. In the trial for the murder of Tsar Alexander II, two of the six defendants are female and one of them, Perowskaja, has been the major organizer of the attack. Lombroso and Laschi (1890: 227) attribute the relative importance of women in the nihilist movement less to specific ethnic and social influences than to the mystico-religious traits that the movement possesses. These traits, fed by ‘the horrors of famines, floods and blazes’, are turned into political beliefs. The mystical component of nihilism is well manifested when women refer to the revolution as their husband, as women saints and nuns would refer to Christ. Moreover, ‘the passion for martyrdom, which grows more out of feelings than reason, blossoms with more strength in women than in men’. That in St Petersburg there were so many female nihilists is also due to the fact that in this city there was a very high percentage of unmarried women, therefore ‘they are taken away from the arena which is more apt for the development of their faculties’. Once removed from their ‘natural realm’, women turn to political activity. In Russia, moreover, many women go to university: It is these women, students, or men-women, who, when not directly taking part in the most severe conspiracies, hunt the rich in order to fatten the finances of the revolutionary League, who set the prisoners free, bribing the guards, and get jobs everywhere, as waitresses or nurses, with the purpose of doing political propaganda as only they can do; to the point that Bakunin calls them his most precious treasure. (ibid.: 228) However, as positivist criminologists reiterate, these are only exceptions. It is in rebellions, rather than in revolutions, that women are numerous and push men with their own example; and this is due to their innate hereticism, which exposes them to a higher degree to ‘imitative epidemics’, dragging them into all excesses. In epidemics of madness women distinguish themselves for their extravagance and exaltation: and this derives from their more instinctive and excitable nature, in good and bad. In Italy, the memory has not faded yet of those women who, in the sad days of the Palermo riots of 1866, cut the carabinieri to pieces and ate their flesh. Similarly in Naples, during the rebellion of 1799, they ate the flesh of the republicans. Again, in 1789 women were only active in rebellions, particularly the most ferocious ones. The French Revolution was prepared by thinkers and encyclopaedists, but during the riots women were on the front line. Female fishmongers dragged men along, joined the troops and the mutinees, massacring and forming women’s republican clubs. (ibid.: 228–9)


Understanding political violence In the days of solemn executions, the front positions around the guillotine were reserved for these ‘furies’, who came forward to witness agony as close as they possibly could. They covered the screams of the victims with their explosions of laughter and the noise of their dance. Indeed, when the good housewives take to the street and push their husbands to rebel, revolution is certain, as they surpass men in cruelty. In Zola’s Germinal, men prepare the strike and women follow suit, but distinguish themselves for their obscene ferocity: they tear off the penises of their dead enemies and wave them as flags (Zola 1967). The prevailing of women in sedition and rebellions as opposed to their absence in revolutions demonstrates, in the positivist argument, the evolutionary nature of the latter and the degenerative and regressive character of the former. Women ‘especially in previous ages, being far inferior to men, were unable to favour evolutionary movements, those signalling the peak of human progress’ (Lombroso and Laschi 1890: 231). In sum, although there are exceptions, women’s impulsivity makes them more suitable for riots, and in this they do not differ from children, who are imitative, boisterous and impressionable.

The Commune of Paris Perhaps because unsuccessful, the Commune of Paris is regarded by positivist criminologists as one of the most ‘unlawful’ rebellions in history. As we have seen in the previous chapter, Hobbes, similarly, stresses that revolutions without ‘great numbers’ amount to desperate acts. Looking at 50 photographs of Communards, Lombroso and Laschi find that ‘eleven show some anomaly, six are complete criminal types and five are of the mad type’. Echoing other commentators, they find the events of 1871 inexplicable, at least in social terms. While Marx (1968) sees the Communards as perfectly aware of their mission, Lombroso and Laschi claim that 47 per cent of the revolutionary army is composed of mere criminals. Among these, many have been freed from military detention and are defectors or common delinquents, others are repeat offenders; and among the women a quarter are prostitutes. Positivist analyisis finds, here, an ideal opportunity to reiterate the distinction between revolution and rebellion: the Commune of Paris, in their view, belongs to the second category, and the insurgents express atavistic, rather than evolutive, forms of criminality. The members of the Commune, in fact, are divided into a majority of Blanquists, who also predominate in the Central Committee of the National Guard, and a minority of members of the International Association of Workers, mainly followers of the Proudhon socialist school. Reversing criminological views, Marx finds it difficult to explain why the Communards are not ‘criminal enough’; why, for example, do they show a sacred respect for the Bank of France, in the face of which they stop

Philanthropic murderers and regicides


reverently? In his own view, sparing the banks during an uprising is a mistake, because banks are worth more than ten thousand prisoners. Similarly, Louise Michel (1898: 11), a leading participant in the Commune, when writing about the ‘terrible days when freedom touched us with its wing’, recalls the greatness and courage of the revolutionaries, but also the excessive scruples and hesitation resulting from their profound honesty. In future struggles, she intimates, similar generous scruples will have to be left behind, because ‘at each popular defeat, the crowd bleeds like a beast in the slaughterhouse’. General Thiers, who leads the army against the insurgents, echoes positivist physiognomic arguments, when he describes the faces of the Communards as the faces of degenerate men and women, born out of a degenerate democracy, afflicting the gaze of honest people. On the contrary, Marx claims that the Communards, who so torment the spirit of the bourgeoisie, have understood that it is time for them to take into their own hands the running of public affairs. Under their provisional government, he remarks, the rot of the second empire has disappeared. Paris is no longer the gathering place of large English landowners, slave traders, weird businessmen from America, or former owners of Russian servants. No more corpses in the morgue, no more robberies at night; theft has almost disappeared. The streets of Paris are now safer than they have ever been before. The cocottes have gone, following in the footpath of their pimps. They have been replaced by true women, noble and devoted, thinking, fighting, radiant with the enthusiasm required by these historical moments. While incubating a new society, Paris is almost forgetful of the cannibals who are at its doors. Criminal are not the Communards, but the agents who repress them, the agents of a civilization whose barbarism and vindictiveness are intimately illegal, a civilization whose only problem is to make the stacked corpses disappear after the battle is over. Heroes in the eyes of socialist thinkers, those who fight on the barricades are in Lombroso’s (1876: 258) analysis individuals in need of suffering for something grand, a need produced by ‘an excess of passionate concentration in one single idea’. As if hypnotized, political offenders, particularly anarchists, in his view, are monomaniacs who display the typical ‘sublime imprudence of nihilists and Christian martyrs’. They turn rebellious because oversensitive. They suffer from hysteria, which frequently manifests itself through excessive altruism coupled with excessive egotism, proving that ‘this is only a variant of moral insanity’ (ibid.: 259). Members of the Positivist School also argue that political violence, particularly rebellion, is caused by extreme egotism, hysterically combined with dreams of equality. Such dreams appear as the ultimate justification for the mediocre pursuit of individual aims. Anarchists, Lombroso (1894) claims, are neophiles, and while embracing all new ideas, they merely attempt to mask their lack of intellectual independence; they call for collective regeneration because they fear their own individuality. Finally, he stresses, his theory of ‘criminal atavism’ finds validation when crime is


Understanding political violence associated with moral insanity and epilepsy. ‘With a defective cerebral nutrition, and a failing nervous system induced by epilepsy, morbidity couples with monstrosity’ (Lombroso 1876: 237). Anarchists, thus, suffer from ‘cranium sclerosis’, brain haemorrhage, or pigmentosis of the nervous cells, with the inevitable ‘fusion of the frontal lobes’. It is also in the writings of political offenders, not only in their physical features, that Lombroso detects their criminal tendency. He mentions threatening anarchist papers such as L’Explosion, produced in Geneva, Il Malfattore (The Thug) published in Milan and Il Pugnale (The Knife) in Como. In these papers one reads that thieves have a right to steal because they are victims of social injustice, and that government buildings, military barracks, banks and churches should be burned down. ‘Let us take possession of the mansions and palaces and throw out of the window the fat bourgeois and their whores’ (Lombroso and Laschi 1890: 253). Anarchist Pini boasts of his thefts, claiming that his are anti-bourgeois acts, legitimate expropriation on the part of those who have been expropriated. His is a form of ‘moral madness’ that he shares with the leaders of the Commune, like for example Vallés, who is possessed by a destructive instinct, and is devoid of any organizational capacity, sensitivity and remorse. While reconstructing his genealogy, Lombroso discovers that Vallés’ father was immoral and his mother mean and cruel. Vallés was never kissed as a child; from his parents he only received beatings which were so well distributed during the day that ‘the neighbours took them as the periodical chime of a clock’. His mother, however, was happy when she could slap him outside the regular time (ibid.: 261). Rather than begging, Vallés writes but earns his living by threatening rich people, whom he tells to give him money to buy bread, or else he will strangle them. His friend Ducasse is alleged to have said that he would feel unworthy of the narrow definition of revolutionary ‘if one day he could not break the neck of an aristocrat with his own hands’; and after mimicking the ‘severing of a head he would lick his sword’ (ibid.: 256). His colleague, Carrier, proclaims that he will turn France into a cemetery if the country is not regenerated in the way he plans. Like some Dostoevskyan characters (Ruggiero 2003a), revolutionaries are described as unable to postpone gratification, as individuals compelled to give immediate vent to their desires, and as neurotics who are liable to periodical epileptic crises.

Regicides If among the anarchists and the members of Commune one may still find ‘ordinary criminals by passion’, among individualistic political offenders such as regicides, moral madness is the norm. Case studies conducted by positivist criminologists include Felice Orsini, who attempted to murder Napoleon III, and Niederwald, who attacked the Emperor of Germany.

Philanthropic murderers and regicides


To the judge sentencing him to death, the latter retorts: ‘If I had one thousand heads I would put them all on the scaffold for the sacred cause of anarchy.’ Many of these political offenders are said to turn their innate criminality into revolutionary activity: the revolution, while satisfying their impulsive instincts, offers an image of generosity and a moral alibi for the crimes they commit. Individualistic political offenders (Lombroso 1894, 1902; Lombroso and Laschi 1890) are characterized by congenital criminality and impulsive instincts, which converge in a form of epilepsy associated with vanity, religiosity, megalomania and intermittent geniality. These traits also belong to religious and political innovators, like for example Mohammed, who undoubtably owed his first vision or revelation to an epileptic fit, and availed himself of his condition to claim that he was inspired by Allah. Mysticism is the central characteristic of regicides, who embrace a dogma or a political idea, are convinced that theirs is a mission, and impress their followers with acts which may cause their own death. Regicides are happy to die. They are neurotic but, at the same time, they possess geniality: ‘we do not have to be surprised if we find a mixture of the two in individuals such as Napoleon, Peter the Great, Caesar, Cromwell, Mohammed, and in most revolutionary leaders in South America’ (Lombroso 1902: 370). They have a strong belief in the usefulness of their acts, which makes them courageous even when facing torture, and excludes repentance. But this does not make them equal to criminals, whose indeferrence for life and lack of remorse are due to lack of moral sense. (ibid.: 353) These revolutionaries will try to cement alliances and recruit disciples by inducing them into some violent crime. Homicide creates solidarity and mutual commitment among accomplices, and this solidarity is unlikely to collapse, even when threatened by torture. The nihilists of St Petersburg, for example, despite the indescribable pain suffered in prison, not only refuse to name their accomplices, but also refrain from pronouncing words of hatred: they are serene because they feel that the seed they have sowed will yield fruits. Psychosis and neurosis are frequent, in geniuses as well as in revolutionaries. Lombroso tells the story of R., a nihilist whose life he studies, an intelligent and rich woman who, at the age of ten, finds it painful to observe the enormous differences between the wealthy and the destitute. She refuses to eat sophisticated food or to wear silk dresses in order not to ‘wrong the poor’. As soon as she hears about nihilism, she plunges herself into it, and at 12 she accepts a job in a factory in order to carry out political propaganda. At 14 she is exiled in Switzerland, where she studies mathematics, and after returning to Russia at 18 with other revolutionaries, she leads the rebellions there. When realizing that the rural population has little sympathy for revolutionary ideas, she moves to the countryside,


Understanding political violence to befriend and convert the rural workers. Lombroso (1894) describes another case in which a man becomes an anarchist after seeing a young apprentice’s arm broken by his employer, and also tells how Italian anarchist Caserio is seen crying when discussing the poverty of workers in Lombardy. The case study of Luigi Lucheni, the murderer of the Austrian Empress in Geneva, epitomizes positivist criminological analysis of regicide. Lucheni is an illegitimate son of a servant and her master, who is a ‘deranged drunkard’ (Lombroso 1902). He suffers from epilepsy, and when his associates accuse him of lacking sufficient political zeal, he proves the strength of his convictions by single-handedly murdering the Empress. In a newspaper published in Naples, he says that he is not mad nor, as some criminologists are publicly claiming, is he a born criminal. Poverty is not what led to his act either. He did it because if everyone did the same, bourgeois society would soon disappear. He knows that an isolated murder will not lead to much, but it can at least set an example. Moreover: ‘I killed her because she did not work, and if you don’t work you should not eat, and I did not want to work for her’. In Lombroso’s comments, this could be mobilized as ‘a reason to kill several million people’ (ibid.: 219). As with primitive individuals, Lombroso continues, people like Lucheni take pride in committing crimes, and this primitiveness shows the criminal nature of anarchy. Lucheni, moreover, shows the typical symptoms of epilepsy and degenerative madness. But he also displays a double personality, because first he is a devoted monarchist, and proves it by joining the royal army, and then suddenly he embraces anarchy. Indirect suicide is the true aim of his career. Lucheni thought he would be sentenced to death, and when he realised that in the region in which he was tried, the death penalty had been abolished, he was extremely upset. He wrote to the president of the Republic asking to be sentenced. (ibid.: 223) Individuals like Lucheni are, in the words of Lombroso, philanthropic murderers, who kill because they love the human species too much. The case of regicide Gaetano Bresci offers yet another example of this type of murderer. At the age of 16, Bresci hears for the first time a speech by an anarchist in Prato, near Florence. What he hears has an enormous impact on his psyche, also because ‘he is going through puberty’. He turns strangely violent, and keeps saying that he cannot witness the ‘triumph of the rich, while so many people are poor’. Lombroso notes no mental disorder in Bresci, and in his personality he sees the predominance of ‘ordinary characteristics’. He is a ‘delinquent by occasion’, which is an intermediate category between the criminal, the passionate and the average man. His intelligence, however, is poor, in that he believes that ‘the assassination of a head of state will change government policies’ (ibid.: 245).

Philanthropic murderers and regicides


Regicides are not the only ‘revolutionary criminals’, and in the analysis of Lombroso many princes and dictators are also given that label. Peter the Great was a parricide, Napoleon was guilty of adultery and murder, Cola di Rienzo and Masaniello became, after seizing power, ferocious and ruthless. Criminality and moral madness take shape together with the achievement of power, which may become limitless, despotic. Absolute power makes the despots’ latent perversity explode . . . He who possesses unlimited power on the flesh and the blood of his fellow beings, the power to subjugate others, will be incapable of resisting the desire to be evil. Tyranny is the habit that becomes a disease. (ibid.: 287) In sum, positivist criminology does not limit its analysis to political violence from below, but extends its interest to the ‘criminality and moral madness’ of despots and tyrants. Lombroso’s colleague Pietro Ellero (1879), for example, focuses on ‘bourgeois tyranny’, warning that deprived, violated people will turn the violence they suffer at the hand of the ruling class against them, if reform is not achieved. Moreover, as history shows, the effects of excessive responses to political violence from below may lead to the ruin of governments. Positivists argue that when the municipality of Florence persecuted its political dissent, the town lost its best citizens; when Russia got rid of the nihilists, the best intellects went with them; in Spain, the burning of opponents uprooted all vestigial geniality and turned the country into an intellectual desert. Economic reform, in their view, would be a better solution than the killing of anarchists. Resolution of the secular antagonism between capital and labour is becoming urgent . . . Capitalist enterprises must open up to the right aspirations of the workers and must elevate them to the role of participants in the profits produced, thus also benefiting the system as a whole. (Lombroso 1902: 469) Faced with political violence from below and from above, positivist criminologists identify the ultimate causes of that violence not only in individual pathological characteristics, but also in the pathological nature of the ‘secular antagonism’ characterizing the society in which they live. When functionalists free themselves of the cumbersome, and embarrassing, tradition which studies crime through physical measurements and attributes deviant definitions on the basis of medical diagnoses, they also shift their interest from the putative causes of individual law breaking to the social mechanism causing it. Despite this radical shift, however, the ‘secular antagonism’ identified by the positivists remains a characteristic of the society that functionalists themselves are called to examine. In the next chapter we will see how their analysis of antagonism and political violence unfolds.


Understanding political violence

Further reading All criminological textbooks include at least a chapter on positivist criminology. Among these, see the section titled ‘The Search for the Criminal Man’, in Lilly, Cullen and Ball (1989). To place positivism in a more general context, it is useful to consult books specifically devoted to the history of social theories. One such book (Noble 2000) addresses the related issue of social change, discussing evolutionary theories, the law of progress in August Comte, the survival of the fittest in Herbert Spencer, along with new developments brought by neo-evolutionists.

chapter four

Morbid effervescence

Regulation and violence The malady of infinite aspiration Suicide and homicide Collective effervescence Socialism, communism and morbid effervescence Durkheim and Mauss Social change in Parsons and Merton Legitimate and illegitimate force Further reading

With functionalism, criminology experiences a drastic shift towards the study of the social conditions causing criminal behaviour. Crime and deviance are now regarded as the outcomes of the collapse of solidarity and the development of a normative void. In the celebrated analysis of Emile Durkheim (1858–1917), however, a certain level of crime is said to perform a healthy function in society, as it reinforces feelings of unity and consensus among law-abiding people. More precisely, Durkheim posits that both the absence and a surplus of crime are pathological in any given society (Morrison 1995). The main problem of modern societies, in the functionalist perspective, is its transitional character, which manifests itself through a slow erosion of moral authority. This leads to the decline of shared value systems and the emergence of unfettered individualism. There is a specific social malaise spreading in the economic sphere that Durkheim associates with incessant development and sudden change. These, in his view, make moral regulation difficult. The variable regulation is also used by the author in his classical study of suicide, and this chapter assesses the extent to which his analysis of self-inflicted violence can also help our understanding of political violence. Durkheim addresses this type of violence when discussing socialism and communism, but also when studying religion, nationalism and war. Functionalism also provides important tools


Understanding political violence for the analysis of punishment, which in Durkheim’s view is led by ‘passion’ rather than ‘reason’, and which mainly serves the purpose of reinforcing the collective, sacred, moral order, rather than changing the offenders’ behaviour. Durkheim’s legacy finds expression in Marcel Mauss’ work on socialism and violent social change. In different versions, functionalist analysis returns in the contributions of Talcott Parsons and Robert Merton. While in the former many critics see a total neglect of any notion of conflict and social change, in the latter some categories can be identified which are crucial for the analysis of political violence. In his reformulation of Durkheim’s theory of anomie, Merton assumes that this is not a contingent condition prevailing in transitional periods, but rather a constant feature of developed societies, which put pressure on individuals to reach certain goals without providing them with the appropriate means to achieve them. The disjuncture between culturally accepted goals, such as money and success, and institutionally acceptable means engenders strain, which is resolved through a number of deviant adaptations. Among the ‘deviant adaptations’ listed in Merton’s typology, the one termed ‘rebellion’ is particularly useful for the analysis of political violence.

What characteristics allow us to recognize and distinguish moral facts? In posing this question, Durkheim (1974) tries to discover the intrinsic difference between moral rules and other types of rules, and in order to proceed, he chooses to put various rules to the test of violation. Agents violating rules generally incur unpleasant consequences. These may be mere mechanic effects of the act of violation. For example, ‘If I violate a rule of hygiene that orders me to stay away from infection, the result of this act will automatically be disease’ (ibid.: 42). In this case, it is the act itself which sets consequences in motion, thus making the outcome of action predictable. On the contrary, violating the rule that forbids us to kill does not produce automatic consequences or responses: killing is not mechanically associated with blame or punishment. The link between the act and its consequence is imposed by an external artifice, making that link ‘synthetic’, a link that one can call ‘sanction’. It is not the intrinsic nature of my action that produces the sanction which follows, but the fact that the act violates the rule that forbids it. In fact, one and the same act, identically performed with the same material consequences, is blamed or not blamed according to whether or not there is a rule forbidding it. (ibid.: 43) Durkheim accompanies this ante litteram labelling statement with the example commonly utilized by Howard Becker and a large number of his followers: homicide, which is condemned in time of peace, is freed from blame in time of war. This chapter sets off from the notion that moral rules possess an

Morbid effervescence 49 ‘obligatory character’, namely that we refrain from performing certain acts simply because those rules forbid them. Against this background, Durkheim’s contribution to the analysis of political violence, specifically associated with the socialist movement, and his views on institutional violence, epitomized by the devastation of World War I, will be treated as a coherent whole; although, as we shall see, attempts to precisely locate his position on the political spectrum will remain inconclusive. The contribution of Marcel Mauss will also be examined, as his analysis of violent social change and socialism helps clarify Durkheim’s views on the same issues. The final part of the chapter deals with Parsons and Merton, and the role political violence, in their respective analysis, plays (or fails to play) in bringing social change or in strengthening social order.

Regulation and violence The problem of modern society is, for Durkheim (1993), the slow erosion of moral authority, and his task is to describe this crisis and offer a set of solutions for the creation of authoritative moral guidelines. Effective principles giving ethical authority to social norms and practices are necessary, without which discipline will be merely an external regulation. For example, obedience to religious practices produces self-restraint and altruistic action produces ‘personal asceticism’ as necessary bases of social life as a whole. Religious beliefs and practices are to be interpreted as the collective representations of society, and their unintended consequence is to create a social bond and renew social commitment: the training of the faithful in sacrifice and asceticism creates important norms of altruism (Wach 1944). The problem of modern society, therefore, stems from its transitional character: the old gods are dead, and the new ones are yet to be born. Against the utilitarian tradition, Durkheim rejects the idea of society as the result of a social contract: society is organic, and contracts between individuals are ineffective, unless they are based on deeply held values and beliefs, and sanctified by custom and rituals (Turner 1996). Human beings possess two opposite natures, their species can be described as homo duplex. They are simultaneously violent and sociable, and stability requires the subordination of the former to the latter; whatever the personal and collective cost, individuals must be regulated in the interests of social order. When solidarity declines, due to the withering away of a shared system of beliefs and morals, human beings are exposed to their own unregulated desires and ambitions. As a consequence, egoism, ambition and unlimited aspirations are encouraged, spreading social malaise.


Understanding political violence

The malady of infinite aspiration Durkheim points to the emergence of such malaise in the economic sphere. The economy, he argues, experiences a constant pathological state, because development and incessant change, in this specific area of collective life, appear to evade the moderating action of moral regulation. A chronic climate of competition prevails whereby individuals find themselves freed from any restraints guiding and selecting their aspirations (Durkheim 1951). Similarly, the variable regulation is central in Durkheim’s analysis of suicide, which signals a pathological mental state ‘accompanied by weariness, disillusionment, disturbance, agitation and discontent, anger and an irritated disgust with life’ (Lukes 1967: 139). Suicide rates, however, may vary both directly and inversely with the degree of integration of the social group to which an individual belongs. A distinctive type of suicide – for example, egoistic suicide – signals low levels of integration or, we might say, lack of identification with collective life and social pursuits. High levels of integration, however, may result in a different type of suicide, marking an excessive ‘state of altruism’, ‘exemplified in the human sacrifices of primitive peoples, and the brave but deadly acts of modern soldiers’ (Hagan 1987: 149). Excessive regulation, in its turn, may lead to fatalistic forms of suicide, characterized by the desire to escape repressive, predictable and conformist social systems. Finally, low levels of regulation may trigger anomic suicide, a product of personal inadequacy in facing sudden economic change. In deregulated economies, for instance, fluctuations may cause an increase in suicide rates, both in times of depression and in those of expansion. In other words, increases in suicide cannot be due simply to material poverty, ‘because those who have always been poor in fact usually show low rates of suicide’. The rates rise to an equivalent degree when there is a marked period of economic boom. ‘Hence the causative factor is not the material circumstances themselves, but the instability which they introduce into social life’ (Giddens 1978: 45). Extending this analysis to collective behaviour, the provisional conclusion can be drawn that, under certain circumstances, what Durkheim describes as ‘moral rules’ may lose their regulatory strength, particularly when political or economic change affect the patterns of individual and group expectations and put the previous division of labour in a new, deregulated, condition. Needs and desires have become freed from moral constraints, so that they have lost any fixed point of reference. In previous times, a traditional moral order adjusted expectations to income. Its influence was felt by workers and masters, the poor and the rich . . . the share of each class was assigned by God . . . This traditional moral order has eroded with the growth of the modern division of labour, while the new forms of moral control of economic life have still to become well

Morbid effervescence 51 established. The consequence is that desires become unmoderated. The quest to make more and more money is unlimited and therefore unrealisable; however successful an individual is in accumulating wealth he may still feel unfulfilled. (Giddens 1978: 46–8)

Suicide and homicide Self-inflicted violence, therefore, may be determined by a meaningless as well as by a meaningful life: self-destruction, in specific communities, carries an honourable aura due to its altruistic character, as it indicates a strong form of binding with the values of those communities. In preindustrial societies, for example, honorific self-destruction is characteristically prevalent, as a result of excessive subordination of the individual to the group, while the reverse is prevalent in industrial societies (Downes and Rock 1988). Here, an initial question one might be led to pose is whether the categories Durkheim uses in classifying suicide, as self-inflicted violence, can also help analyse violence inflicted on others, in the form of political violence and war. Durkheim includes soldiers among those showing high suicide rates, due to their extreme subordination to imperative rules and their excessive integration in a national moral order. Echoes of this argument, however, are found in his examination of homicide, when he links the rise of this type of crime with the growth of those collective sentiments whose interest reside in the group, the family, or the state. The feelings that lie at the base of the cult of such entities may be in themselves conducive to murder. When the family, the group, the state, or for that matter a political idea, appear to be the supreme good, their importance transcends the sympathy and compassion due to the individual. ‘When it is a matter of defending a father or of avenging a God, can the life of a man count in the scale? It counts indeed very little when offset against objects of such value and weight’ (Durkheim 1996: 115). This is why, Durkheim concludes, the sentiment of family honour, the sentiment of caste, religious faith, attachment to the state, and in general political beliefs, may often in themselves carry the seeds of homicide. This is a crucial, very promising, point that can be applied to the analysis of political violence, both in its institutional form (political violence from above) and in the form of social contention (political violence from below). Like some forms of suicide, for example, political violence may be the result of excessive integration, of a strong type of binding to a set of moral values. Far from being a remaining vestige of brutishness or a survival of instincts of an animal nature, ‘it is the product of a well-defined moral culture’. Animals themselves are not as a rule violent by nature, but only when


Understanding political violence the conditions of their life make it necessary. Why should it be otherwise with man? He has remained for long ages harsh to his fellow creatures. Not because he was close to the animal: it was the nature of the social life he led that so shaped him. The practice of pursuing moral aims that were foreign to human interests made him relatively insensitive to human suffering. All these sentiments just discussed can in fact only be satisfied by imposing suffering on the individual. The gods we worship live only on the privations and sacrifices to which mortals subject themselves . . . We can imagine that such training over generations is likely to leave in the consciousness a disposition to cause suffering. Moreover, all these sentiments are, too, very vivid passions, since they will tolerate no opposition and brook no question . . . These stimulants are the very collective sentiments that bind us to objects which are alien to humanity and the individual, that is, which bind us to groups . . . All the causes that reinforce these kinds of sentiment must increase the rate of murder. (ibid.: 116) Durkheim is not explicit in including state violence among the outcome of such strong collective feelings. In a way that somewhat contradicts his previous argument, he attributes to the state a role of moral guarantor of a society: it is only the state, he argues, that has sufficient authority and collective power to create and protect individual rights. As an organ of moral discipline, the state seems unable to produce a political tyranny, and Durkheim does not appear to appreciate that moral authority itself is the result of a social contest over morality. In general terms, his account of the state as a moral agency is criticized because it incorporates the optimistic belief that state terror is not a significant problem (Turner 1996). However, when dealing with the issue of war, Durkheim shows how nuanced his thoughts on the state are: states engaged in war reduce societies, even the most cultivated, to a moral condition that recalls that of the lower societies. Individuals are obscured, they cease to count; ‘it is the mass which becomes the supreme social factor; a rigid authoritarian discipline is imposed on all volitions’. War, which epitomizes an excessive attachment to one’s nation state, to one’s group or culture, casts ‘into the background all feelings of sympathy for the individual’ (Durkheim 1996: 117). In the final chapter of this book we shall attempt to use some aspects of Durkheim’s analysis to build a more general argument against war. But now let us examine his contribution on political violence from another angle.

Collective effervescence The metaphor of living organisms is used by Durkheim (1960a) when he discusses the difference between division of labour and differentiation. The

Morbid effervescence 53 former, he stresses, triggers innovation and evolution, while the latter may cause disintegration. Durkheim highlights the importance of social interdependence, and therefore solidarity, and his concept of organic solidarity allows the interpretation of both stability and change. The interdependence of individuals, within a widely accepted division of labour, generates strong social ties in the form of shared values and self-control. Such selfcontrol may collapse when the existing division of labour turns into differentiation. Durkheim warns that the two terms are not to be confused. The former brings vital forces together, whereas the latter causes disintegration – in the same way as microbes and cancer. ‘Cancer and tuberculosis increase the diversity of organic tissues without bringing forth a new specialisation of biological functions’ (Durkheim 1960a: 353). In a sense, the concept of anomie, comprehensively adopted by the sociology of deviance, replicates the biological metaphor quoted above, in that it describes an exceptional situation hampering the normal functioning of society. In Durkheim, however, the polarization between a condition of stability and one of anomie is only apparent because groups of individuals may challenge a specific form of stability without throwing the collectivity into a normless condition. The division of labour in society may be altered with a view to increasing consensus, a suggestion implying Durkheim’s belief in subjectivities bringing change. The division of labour produces solidarity, he stresses, only if it is ‘spontaneous’ and not forced. By spontaneity we must understand not simply the absence of express violence, but also of everything that can even indirectly shackle the free unfolding of the social force that individuals carry in themselves. (ibid.: 377) It is possible to detect in this ‘social force’ a form of collective action for change in complex societies. Social change, in this perspective, takes place when there is an absolute equality in engaging in conflict. No restraint is legitimate on the free occurring of this conflict: ‘What really constitutes constraint is the making of conflict itself impossible and refusing to admit the right of combat’ (ibid.: 378; my emphasis). Durkheim’s ‘right of combat’ is a precise pointer that complex societies are subject to change through collective action (Ruggiero 2001). But to what extent can collective action adopt violent practices in the pursuit of social change? If we follow Durkheim’s logic, we may link criminality, including political violence, to contingent social morality, connecting it to the social structure, rather than to universal moral codes and prohibitions. Durkheim stresses the idea of the ‘normality of crime’, and predicts an increase in deviant behaviour as a result of growing social differentiation and individualism. Moreover, he suggests that limited levels of criminality are functional to social conservation, as they reinforce collective feelings and solidarity among law-abiding individuals. Through the public display of crimes and criminals, societies attempt to identify their own collective


Understanding political violence notions of morality and legality (Erickson 1966). In other words, crime may contribute to social development, as it may delineate future moral values: some political offenders of today may manage to become official authorities of tomorrow (Melossi 1990). Finally, when Durkheim asserts that crime is normal and that a crime-free society is a contradiction in terms, he naturalizes crime, abandons the conception of pathology, stresses human diversity, and perhaps hints at the erosion of a neat distinction between deviant and conventional conducts (Matza 1969). Our problem, however, is to establish where, given the ‘normality’ of crime, and within his notion of social change, Durkheim places the boundary between the ‘right of combat’ and political violence. For our purpose, the concepts of ‘collective effervescence’ and that of ‘creative periods’ are crucial. All communities, according to Durkheim (1970), may experience ‘magical moments’, whereby individuals transcend themselves and prefigure a higher collective order. Collective effervescence leads individuals to integration into a superior unit, as the experience of action results in moments of communion: ‘emotional effusions of selflessness are engendered automatically whenever people are put into closer and more active relations with one another’ (Peterson 2001: 57). By acting above and beyond themselves, in concrete social practices, individuals achieve a form of solidarity typifying what Durkheim terms ‘creative periods’. While new values are elaborated and egotistical interests are provisionally set aside, these periods, evanescent though they may be, remain in the memory of the collectivity as periods of ‘supreme integration’. Not all creative periods, in Durkheim’s analysis, achieve this type of integration. The French Revolution, for example, despite its immensely creative effervescence of ideas, was unable to bring about deep social change or to create new institutions: ‘If only this state of affairs led to any really profound changes!’ What appeared as new features of a revolutionary society, in fact, proved to be superficial alterations, ‘for great changes need time and reflection and call for sustained effort’ (Durkheim 1996: 94). Similarly, the Russian state is criticized for not being a product of society, but of agents external to it. With respect to the socialist movement, as we shall see, Durkheim is also uncertain whether its effervescence may generate supreme integration. After identifying some of the symptoms of the political and cultural crisis experienced by Europe, a programme of social reform, alternative to socialism, is drawn. Economic and social tensions are not regarded by Durkheim as permanent features of class systems, but as evidence of a problematic transition towards a new industrial division of labour and social order. To complete the transition, he advocates, first, the regulation of industrial bargaining. This, he says, is urgent because, given the current climate of demoralization and anomie, old forms of moral authority are no longer capable of assigning satisfactory roles to groups and individuals. Second, the processes of innovation must be accelerated, along with the

Morbid effervescence 55 increasing differentiation of the division of labour, because ‘the ideal of human fraternity can be realized only in proportion to the progress of the division of labour’. But if the division of labour produces solidarity, it is not only because it makes each individual an exchangist, as the economists say; it is because it creates among men an entire system of rights and duties which link them together in a durable way. (Durkheim 1960a: 406) While socialists theorize class conflict as the engine producing radical evolution and social change, Durkheim sees the clashes between labour and capital as transitional phenomena, destined to fade with increased organic solidarity and regulation. Socialism, therefore, is itself a transitional set of doctrines, produced by a transitional social phase; it is not a solution prefiguring future social systems. In brief, whether through violence or not, the radical change invoked by socialism does not appear to be part of Durkheim’s notion of the right of combat.

Socialism, communism and morbid effervescence Against revolutionary syndicalism, Durkheim argues that industrial development does not lead to the necessary destruction of existing societies, but is part of their normal development. Why should our societies necessarily be unable to achieve a relative harmony with the economic system? Rather, moral and legal institutions are required to develop in parallel with the economic system so that such harmony can be achieved. The notion that workers are exclusively producers is labelled as idealistic, similar to the concept of homo oeconomicus cherished by classical economists. Durkheim stresses that workers produce while participating in the intellectual and moral life of the society of which they are a part. Finally, he associates violent social change with the destruction of society and the advent of barbarism: in his view, destroying society is tantamount to destroying civilization (Lukes 1985). In a distinction between socialism and communism, Durkheim sees the former as a response to the chaotic state of economic life, and its political programme as a reasonable proposal to establish some form of control over, or management of, such chaos. Socialism is, therefore, interpreted as a body of economic doctrines. On the contrary, communism is deemed a form of utopianism, expressing the dreams of specific individuals rather than a programme of social change. Communism is a set of dreams in which generous spirits like, say, Plato, More and Campanella may take delight, and these dreams may attract some people because of their nobility and dignity, but they provide no answer to the real needs of society: they exist in the imagination and remain practically unproductive.


Understanding political violence Communism is prompted by moral and timeless reasons; socialism by considerations of an economic sort. For the former, private property must be abolished because it is the source of all immorality; for the latter, the vast industrial and commercial enterprises cannot be left to themselves, as they affect too profoundly the entire economic life of society. (Durkheim 1958: 75) Communism and socialism have only one similarity: they both oppose radical and intransigent individualism, ‘but this is no reason to confuse them, for they are no less opposed to each other’ (ibid.: 76). Although socialist theories are ‘a cry of grief, sometimes of anger, uttered by humans who feel most keenly our collective malaise’, in Durkheim’s view, the notion of class struggle should be expunged from such theories. Socialism responds to the need for economic regulation, which will come about through social evolution, assisted by a benevolent state and a variety of other moral agents (Gane 1992). This process should be disengaged from the problems experienced by the proletariat, because the social malaise afflicts all classes. Socialism should also disentangle itself from communism and anarchism, particularly from their anti-state posture, the state itself being a fundamental moral agent that must be involved in the progression towards socialism. Some forms of socialism and communism, however, resemble pathological, abnormal phenomena. Durkheim likens them to physiological or anatomical disorder, the former leading to abnormal rates of crime and suicide, and to crises of ‘morbid effervescence’, the latter producing outright monstrosity. This notwithstanding, he senses that societies carry within themselves ‘the sources of warmth’ and the genuine forces of change, and that ‘it is among the working classes in particular that these forces are in the course of formation’ (Durkheim 1975: 187). And while describing revolutionary socialists as agents of a ‘destructive, morbid effervescence’, he simultaneously reaches the conclusion that ‘our salvation lies in socialism discarding its out-of-date slogans or in the formation of a new socialism which goes back to the French tradition’ (Durkheim 1958: 92). When discussing the more or less ‘brusque ways’ of ‘socialising economic forces’ (Durkheim 1970), he links social change to moral transformation: We now understand that such a revolution cannot be achieved without profound moral transformations. To socialise economic life means, in fact, to subordinate prevailing individual and egoistic ends to truly social ends. It is about introducing a higher morality. This is why we can say that socialism intends to introduce more justice in social relations. (Durkheim 1993: 58) In a way that echoes positivist analysis of revolution and rebellion, Durkheim remarks that social change cannot be carried out through a

Morbid effervescence 57 programme of ‘social destruction’. How can one destroy society? ‘Man is man because he lives in a society’. The destructive revolution which is announced would be worse than total war. Every time a society has disappeared, a civilization has also disappeared. Such catastrophes are not rare in the past, but the intelligence of men must have as a mission to avoid and embroil these blind forces . . . I understand that when some talk about destroying this society they also imply that they want to rebuild it. This is childish. Collective life cannot be rebuilt like this. Once a social organisation is destroyed, it takes centuries before building another one. Meanwhile, there will be a new Middle Ages. It is not the sunshine of a new society which will rise, bright with light over the debris of the ancient one, but we will enter a period of darkness. (Durkheim 1970: 290)

Durkheim and Mauss After studying the division of labour as a ‘normal phenomenon’, Durkheim devotes his attention to its pathological forms. ‘Though normally the division of labour produces social solidarity, it sometimes happens that it has different, and even contrary results’ (Durkheim 1960a: 353). The conflict between capital and labour is a striking example of such pathological results: when industrial functions become more specialized, ‘the conflict becomes more lively, instead of solidarity increasing’. In the middle ages, the worker everywhere lived at the side of his master, pursuing his tasks in the same shop, in the same establishment. Both were part of the same corporation and led the same existence. They were on an almost equal footing; whoever had served his apprenticeship could, at least in many of the occupations, set himself up independently if he had the means. Hence, conflicts were wholly unusual. (ibid.: 354) In the fifteenth century things begin to change: the occupational setting is no longer a common organization or establishment, but an exclusive possession of the master, who also centralizes all decisions regarding work and production. ‘Once this separation was effected, quarrels became numerous’. Workers rebel to secure higher wages or some other change in the conditions of labour. Finally, it is in the seventeenth century that Durkheim locates the ‘third phase of the history of the working classes: the birth of large-scale industry’. Workers become regimented, and ‘at the same time that specialisation becomes greater, revolts become more frequent, and the warfare becomes more violent’ (ibid.: 355). Violent revolts are seen as the


Understanding political violence result of a lack of spontaneous social consensus, when collective sentiments become impotent in ‘holding together the centrifugal tendencies that the division of labour is said to engender, for these tendencies increase as labour is more divided, and, at the same time, collective sentiments are weakened’ (ibid.: 361). With functions growing increasingly more specialized, ‘morbid phenomena’ occur, conflicts unfold and contracts between the parties are always of short duration: ‘a contract is only a truce, and very precarious; it suspends hostilities only for a time. Of course, as precise as this regulation may be, it will always leave place for many disturbances’ (ibid.: 365). Durkheim includes the French Revolution among these growing disturbances and ‘morbid phenomena’, particularly the primitive egalitarianism inspiring sections of the insurgents (Gane 1992: 154). His judgement derives from the view that the Revolution proved inadequate in resolving the crucial question, namely the regulation of labour division and the development of acceptable state functions in guiding the economy. This failure was to be followed by the appearance of modern socialism, which again misconceived the fundamental problem, this time elaborating only vague conceptions of state regulation while asserting ‘dangerous conceptions of social levelling (primitive communism) with an aggravation of the class struggle into more violent forms’ (Gane 1992: 155). A period of general crises ensued, one characterized by an array of abnormal phenomena, including anomic and forced divisions of labour, increase in deviancy, acute political ‘morbid effervescence’, deep political malaise: ‘a society composed of an infinite number of unorganised individuals that a hypertrophied State is forced to oppress and contain, constitutes a veritable sociological monstrosity’ (Durkheim 1960b: 28). This ‘sociological monstrosity’, in Durkheim’s view, may justify energetic efforts to bring social change, but this cannot be brought into existence by any single revolutionary stroke. No such witchcraft exists. Revolutionary upheavals tend to destroy more than they create: social evolution is achieved in a ‘succession of slow, almost imperceptible modifications’ (Durkheim 1970: 368). Here, again, one finds echoes of positivist, organic conceptualizations of social change. Political violence amounts to ‘morbid disturbance’ and, while able to uproot institutions, is unable to put something in their place because ‘the work of centuries cannot be remade in a few years’ (Gane 1992: 158). Mauss’s sociological assessment of Bolshevism is a consistent development of Durkheim’s critique of revolutionary communism from a position of ‘evolutionary organic socialism’. Fundamentally, he argues, the Bolsheviks remained trapped within a primitive revolutionary, individualist conception of communism, an ascetic communism imposed by a minority from above, through a mixture of decree and violence. If the Soviets seemed an approximation of Durkheim’s corporations, Mauss (1992) notes that they increasingly became incorporated into the state. Initially, the Bolsheviks were confronted by ‘civil and foreign wars’ and

Morbid effervescence 59 managed to turn a horde of demobilized soldiers into an army. They got rid of the ‘state gangs’ which, under the pretext of upholding the law, were devastating and disuniting the country. Later, they became the representatives of order and national unity. The whole revolution, however, was conducted in a state of war, in conditions of ‘real collective madness’, of ‘siege psychosis’, while society was decomposing. Entire populations, baffled and maddened, discover spies and traitors everywhere; they oscillate from irrational hope to limitless depression, massacring and allowing themselves to be slaughtered in succession, and demonstrating heroism, one day, cowardice the next. Even the herd instinct declines. When famine, fear, massacres and raids are added to this, then friendships and families themselves disappear. Thus, supreme horror, cannibalism re-emerged during the Russian famine. (ibid.: 236) The Soviets were able to take advantage of, and perpetuate, the moral isolation of a whole nation, they caged it up, ‘without news, without a press, without freedom of assembly’; they made the Russian masses believe they were still at war with rampant reaction and foreign capitalism. For all these reasons, the Bolshevik experiment, in the analysis of Mauss, did not derive from healthy collective effervescence, nor did it develop autonomously, in a nation morally conscious of itself. The Bolshevik experiment was not a ‘transitional crisis’, rapidly overcome by the development of a well-functioning organism. It was a ruinous crisis, the madness of a great people, besieged, cut off from their essential relations with the world, ‘feeling neither within nor without the sympathy that carries societies through their crises and makes them emerge from them with glory’. Bolshevism is seen as only one phase of the Russian Revolution, a dark but perhaps necessary one, as Jacobinism was to the French Revolution. However, it was only partly the result of its authors’ actions. In other words, Bolshevism was not the product of a clear will, ‘of the action of a strong nation ripe for socialism’. And socialism is obviously ‘impossible if it is not willed’; it is not durable if the will to control economic life does not constantly inspire the nation. Therefore, the Bolshevik experiment lacked one feature: a collective will. ‘Russia did not will it’, hence its failure (ibid.: 238).

Social change in Parsons and Merton Social change, in early functionalism, is subtly linked with the notions of ‘normalcy and pathology’; which, it is assumed, can be established empirically by reference to the generality of social phenomena: ‘divergence from the average would indicate degrees of pathology’ (Downes and Rock


Understanding political violence 1988: 94–5). Political violence, in this perspective, is a form of pathology, as it diverges from the general, average behaviour of individuals and groups acting for change. The analysis conducted so far, however, would suggest that (at least in Durkheim and Mauss) not all forms of political violence are pathological, but only those which do not enjoy the support of the collective will or are disengaged from a generalized social effervescence. The paradox is that, if such will and effervescence make political violence legitimate, they simultaneously make it redundant, because social change pursued by large majorities may encounter so little resistance that peaceful means may prove sufficient. The accusation levelled at functionalism of ignoring conflict, and failing to explain social change, appears, however, to be unfounded. The body of work examined so far would suggest that functionalists do discuss conflict and social change, but believe that both may take place without a systematic or strategic resort to violence. Change may result from collective sentiments roused by great social disturbances, which stimulate ideas and concentrate activity towards a single end. This, at least temporarily, causes a stronger integration of society. In brief, in early functionalism, social change is ultimately a component of integration and socialization. It is instead to the epigones of functionalism that the accusation legitimately might be levelled. Think of Parsons’ (1951) concerns with ‘patterns of value-orientation in the social system’, how these patterns are institutionalized, and how individuals and groups may conform with, or deviate from, them. In a sarcastic ‘translation into English’ of Parsons’ abstruse style, these concerns are laid down in the following manner: Translated and unloaded of assumptions, as any definition should be, this reads: Sociologists of any sort would like to study what people want and cherish. We would also like to find out why there is variety of such values and why they change. When we do find a more or less unitary set of values, we would like to find out why some people do and other do not conform to them. (End of translation) (Wright Mills 1970: 44) Parsons’ analysis is said to relieve sociologists from any concern with power, but also with economic and political institutions. Wright Mills goes further, arguing that the whole of Parsons’ work deals with what has traditionally been called institutional legitimation rather than institutions themselves. As a result, the status quo becomes enveloped into a moral or symbolic sphere, whereby those in authority attempt to justify their position by linking it to the necessary consequence of a sacred order established by the current legal precepts. This order may not be challenged by collective action, let alone by political violence. Acts undermining authority, be they peaceful or violent, become somewhat sacrilegious, being addressed against ‘gods’ such as ‘the majority, the will of the people, the aristocracy of talent or wealth, the divine right of kings, or the allegedly extraordinary endowment of the ruler himself’. Sociology, in this way,

Morbid effervescence 61 becomes the science of conservation, a set of concepts designed for the support and perpetuation of an elite. It provides ‘symbols of justification’, referred to by various thinkers with terms such as: principle of sovereignty (Locke), general will (Rousseau), collective representations (Durkheim), ruling myth (Sorel), dominant idea (Marx), political formula (Mosca), great superstition (Pareto), ideology (Mannheim). According to Wright Mills, these are master symbols which occupy a central place in social analysis, and their relevance lies in their capacity to justify the arrangement of power and the positions within this arrangement of the powerful. Unfortunately, Parsons fails to identify similar, if antithetic, symbols inspiring oppositional, insurgent movements engaged in ‘debunking ruling authorities’. Parsons’ analytical framework excludes the possibility that an idea of conflict might be formulated. Structural antagonisms, large-scale revolts and revolutions cannot be imagined. What can be imagined is an endless series of functional adjustments among the different groups and subsystems of society. Parsons ‘makes no mention of struggle, competition or extinction’, he simply ‘views evolutionary social change as, in essence, a change in cultural values’ (Noble 2000: 60–1). His emphasis on cultural evolution implies a notion of change as something essentially exogenous, whereby conflict amounts to a form of disturbance introduced into the system by outside forces. The system itself is assumed to be intrinsically stable, while the dominant normative order is alleged to harmonize interests in a natural fashion. There is a magical disappearance of conflict in this type of functionalism, in which social change, and indeed history, are removed from the general ‘grand’ theory. In this theory no space is left for ‘terrorised masses, excited mobs, crowds and movements’, with which history is so filled; in fact, ‘any systematic ideas of how history itself occurs, of its mechanisms and processes, are unavailable to grand theory’ (Wright Mills 1970: 52). Although certain functionalists are said, explicitly and openly, to attempt to solve problems in the analysis of social change by deliberately borrowing from Marxism, Parsons’ views of conflict and disorder are somewhat ‘non-existent’, because conflict and disorder, in his analysis, are not part of the necessary order of things; ‘they are more nearly akin to the fortuitous illness of the body than to the aging body’s certain infirmity and inevitable death’. Parsons operates with the assumption that there is nothing necessarily in a social system that will bring it to an end, seriously disrupt it, continuously subject it to strain, or even radically change its structure from time to time. In other words, Parsons has conceived of a social system that is immortal. (Gouldner 1971: 353) It is controversial whether Merton (1968) too sees social systems as immortal, although the inclusion of notions of conflict in his analytical


Understanding political violence framework would suggest a notable distance from Parsons’ over-integrated view of society and an over-socialized conception of social actors. Merton’s distinction between manifest and latent functions of social phenomena may be a promising starting point for an analysis of political violence. There are heterodox forms of political practice that societies tend to condemn. Moral evaluations are based largely on the manifest consequences of practices, and Merton (1968: 125) argues that ‘we should be prepared to find that analysis in terms of latent functions at times runs counter to prevailing moral evaluations’. Among such heterodox practices, Merton includes the ‘political machine’ or the ‘political racket’, which in large sectors of the population are judged as unequivocally ‘bad’ and ‘undesirable’. The grounds of such moral judgement differ according to time and place, but are invariably centred on the discomfort generated by violations of moral codes. Political patronage, for example, violates the code according to which personnel should be hired on the basis of impersonal qualifications rather than on grounds of party loyalty. Bossism makes a travesty of the rule that votes should be based on a thorough evaluation of candidates and guided by political beliefs. Bribery offends the smooth neutrality of administrative agencies and markets, and of course violates the law and the mores. Ideally, a number of reformative devices or perhaps a plethora of radical changes in the political structure would eliminate the ‘evil’ of the political machine. But in Merton’s view, because such devices and changes are often not introduced, the political machines persist: they ‘have had the phoenix-like quality of arising strong and unspoiled from their ashes, [they have] exhibited a notable vitality in many areas of American political life’ (ibid.: 125). Let us for a moment replace the concept of the political machine with that of political violence, and borrow Merton’s argumentative tools to identify some possible latent functions performed by the latter. Unorthodox political practices may perform positive functions, when these are not adequately fulfilled by official agencies and social structures. In these cases, such practices may satisfy basic latent functions. The key structural function of the boss is to organise, centralise and maintain in good working condition the scattered fragments of power which are at present dispersed through our political organisation. By this centralised organisation of political power, the boss and his apparatus can satisfy the needs of diverse subgroups in the larger community which are not adequately satisfied by legally devised and culturally approved social structures. (ibid.: 126) A political organization using violent means, of course, is a not a boss operating in a political machine, but it may perform some latent functions which are not adequately satisfied by legally devised and culturally approved social structures. Political violence expresses, in illegitimate ways, a strong, legitimate need for political participation, particularly

Morbid effervescence 63 when, through direct action, individuals take democratic principles of personal involvement in the public sphere to their extreme consequences. A response to representative politics, violence may attract some subgroups whose distinctive needs are left unsatisfied, and who find delegation of their needs to others unsatisfactory. According to Merton, the structural context makes it difficult, if not impossible, for morally approved means and structures to fulfil essential social functions, thus leaving space for a variety of heterodox adaptations. These manifest themselves as forms of social disorder, but may well lead to conformity and therefore to the strengthening of social order. Some violent political groups, for example, may pursue legitimate objectives by means of illegitimate practices. This occurs when institutional structures and representative entities fail to harness collective energies, and to act towards the fulfilment of the needs of those they represent. Public structures and entities limiting their action to their own reproduction and to the management of their own bureaucratic apparatus are examples of this. Political activity, though at times performed through violent means, may signal the necessity for such structures and entities to heed the views of those they neglect. In this way, political violence may constitute a form of socialization for those adopting it, in that that violence may eventually subside and evolve into bargaining skills and a capacity to negotiate access to the public sphere and thus to resources. Drawing on Merton’s categories, therefore, the latent functions and consequences of political violence may provide basic support for, rather than disruption of, social order. The question whether the dysfunctions caused by political violence outweigh its latent functions, of course, remains to be considered. But as Merton would put it, we are here arguing that moral judgements based entirely on an appraisal of manifest functions of conducts are unrealistic, and that ‘social reforms or social engineering which ignore latent functions do so on pain of suffering acute disappointments and boomerang effects’ (ibid.: 126). There is, however, another latent function that political violence may perform, namely the reinforcement of feelings of unity, and conformity, among those opposing it. In this respect, the distinction made by Merton between functional and causal explanations of social phenomena should be borne in mind. The function of a social act must be clearly distinguished from the intention or purpose inspiring it. The intentions individuals may have in undertaking a given form of social conduct are likely to be discrepant from the function which that conduct fulfils in society: ‘people go to church to worship God, but the function of their activity is to enhance social unity’ (Giddens 1978: 39). Similarly, when addressing the issue of crime, functionalist analysis would stress its latent functions and highlight how, if immoral and unhealthy on the surface, illegal conduct may strengthen social order. This is not to say that ‘the victim of muggers should be grateful that he has played his part in reactivating social solidarity’ (Downes and Rock 1988: 108), nor that the victim of a violent political


Understanding political violence attack should be glad for contributing to the reinvigoration of political unity. It is only to stress that latent functions provide a more complete framework for the analysis of social conduct, despite the fact that, as Gouldner (1971) notes, functionalism as a whole, including Merton’s functionalism, may amount to no more than sociological utilitarianism, in which it is quite proper for a minority to suffer for the social cohesion of the majority. In his discussion of social structure and anomie, Merton returns to the topic with new analytical tools, this time in a more direct manner. He sets off noting a marked tendency in psychological and sociological theory to attribute responsibility for ‘faulty’ individual and collective conducts to failures of social control over human imperious, biological drives. The type of relations between individuals and society implied by this doctrine is questioned for its mechanic character. On the one hand, biological impulses are deemed prominent, seeking unfettered, full expression. On the other hand, the social system is regarded as an apparatus essentially devoted to the management of impulses, to the processing of tensions, and aimed at people’s ‘renunciation of instinctual gratifications’. Non conformity with the demands of a social structure is thus assumed to be anchored in original nature. It is the biologically rooted impulses which from time to time break through social control. And by implication, conformity is the result of an utilitarian calculus or of unreasoned conditioning. (Merton 1968: 185) After reminding us that, with the advancement of social science, this set of conceptions has undergone basic modification, Merton argues that it is no longer as obvious that human beings are engaged in an unceasing war between biological impulse and social restraint. ‘The image of man as an untamed bundle of impulses begins to look more like a caricature than a portrait.’ Deviance from prescribed patterns of conduct is best understood in a sociological perspective, for ‘whatever the role of biological impulses, there still remains the further question of why it is that the frequency of deviant behaviour varies within different social structures and how it happens that the deviations have different shapes and patterns in different social structures’. There are processes therefore through which social structures themselves ‘generate the circumstances in which infringement of social codes constitutes a “normal” (that is to say, an expectable) response’ (ibid.: 185). Extending Merton’s analysis, we might consider that some social structures exert a particular pressure upon certain groups to engage in nonconforming political conduct, including violent conduct. If we can locate groups peculiarly subject to such pressures, we should expect to find fairly high rates of deviant behaviour in those groups, not because the human beings comprising them are compounded of

Morbid effervescence 65 distinctive biological tendencies but because they are responding normally to the social situation in which they find themselves. Our perspective is sociological. (ibid.: 186) As is well known, the analysis of Merton proceeds, at this stage, with the identification of two central elements among the several composing social structures. The first element is found in those ‘culturally defined goals, purposes and interests’ held out as legitimate objectives for all members of a society. The goals may be roughly ordered in some hierarchy of value, and involve various degrees of sentiment and significance, but they are inscribed in a prevailing, general ‘frame of aspirational reference’. Prevailing goals are typically those ‘worth striving for’. The second element of the cultural structure defines, regulates and controls the acceptable ways in which these goals can be achieved. If it is true, as Merton states, that unorthodox practices for the achievement of cultural goals are limited by institutionalized norms. It is also true that every social group couples its objectives with specific regulations, rooted in its own history or political repertoire of action. We shall see later how, in this respect, the contribution of the sociology of social movements can complement Merton’s argument, which proceeds with a discussion of status, success, defeat and competition. Societies exclusively concerned with the outcome of competition will witness an attempt, on the part of those who perennially suffer defeat, to change the procedures for the achievement of goals. Groups may conform to officially accepted procedures when their ‘sacrifices’ are compensated by some sort of reward. If adherence to official obligations only generates defeat and frustration, aberrant behaviour may ensue. ‘It is, indeed, my central hypothesis that aberrant behaviour may be regarded sociologically as a symptom of dissociation between culturally prescribed limitations and socially structured avenues for realising these aspirations’ (ibid.: 188). Merton is concerned with societies in which there is an exceptionally strong emphasis upon specific goals without a corresponding emphasis upon institutional procedures, namely societies in which institutional procedures become so vitiated by the stress on status and success that the behaviour of many individuals is restrained only by considerations of technical expediency. In this context, the sole significant question becomes: Which of the available procedures is most efficient in netting the culturally approved value? The technically most effective procedure, whether culturally legitimate or not, becomes typically preferred to institutionally prescribed conduct. As this process of attenuation continues, the society becomes unstable and there develops what Durkheim called ‘anomie’ (or normlessness). (ibid.: 189) As an illustrative example of such societies, Merton uses competitive


Understanding political violence athletics, when the aim of victory overshadows the ethical fashion in which athletes are expected to achieve it, so that success becomes tantamount to ‘winning the game’ rather than ‘winning under the rules of the game’. In this way, a premium is implicitly set upon the use of illegitimate but technically efficient means for the achievement of victory. In his celebrated typology of modes of adaptation, Merton describes how individuals and groups respond to the discrepancies found in such societies. Faced with failure, reactions can vary between conformity (when both the cultural goals and the institutional means are accepted), innovation (when the former are accepted and the latter rejected), ritualism (when the former are rejected while the latter accepted), retreatism (when both goals and means are rejected), and finally rebellion (when the prevailing values and institutional means are both rejected and replaced with new ones). The last type of deviant adaptation is suitable for an analytical effort vis-à-vis political violence, particularly when the author highlights that, through rebellion, groups seek to give rise to a totally modified social system. Rebellion presupposes alienation from dominant values, but also from officially prescribed procedures to pursue alternative ones. Official values and procedures are regarded as purely arbitrary, legitimate only to those who gain some form of advantage from them. Rebellion, however, must be distinguished from a superficially similar but essentially different type of adaptation, that is ressentiment. The latter is described as a complex sentiment formed by three interlocking elements. First, diffuse feelings of hate, envy and hostility; second, a sense of being powerless to express these feelings actively against the person or social stratum evoking them; and third, a continual re-experiencing of this impotent hostility. The essential point distinguishing ressentiment from rebellion is that the former does not involve a genuine change in values. (ibid.: 210) In another illustrative metaphor provided by Merton, ressentiment reminds one of the fox in the fable who does not dislike sweet grape, but says that that particular grape is not sweet. The fox does not operate a proper transvaluation, for example, by renouncing the dominant taste for sweet grape. Rebellion, on the contrary, implies that frustrating experiences lead to full denunciation of previously prized values. ‘In ressentiment, one condemns what one secretly craves; in rebellion, one condemns the craving itself’ (ibid.: 210). Rebellion, therefore, becomes an adaptive response when the existing system is experienced as an arbitrary barrier to the satisfaction of legitimate needs, and when officially defined legitimacy, which claims universality, is deemed instead to serve specific group interests. For rebellion to take place, however, the official myth must be turned into a new myth, one capable of mobilizing participants and inspiring strategies. If official doctrines deflect hostility from the social structure, by blaming those who fail for their failure, a new ‘charter for action’ will

Morbid effervescence 67 locate in that very social structure the source of all frustrations and failures: what is experienced as unfair is no longer regarded as being in the nature of things. A contest for gaining a ‘monopoly of the imagination’ starts in which the two parties engaged seek to define reality in such terms as to incite the frustrated towards or away from rebellion.

Legitimate and illegitimate force There are substantial differences, as I have attempted to show, between early functionalism and its later epigones. A notion of institutional violence can be derived from Durkheim’s suggestion that religion, nationalism and forceful political beliefs may beget violence and homicide. The more one loves the state, the less one loves the humans. True, Durkheim also stresses that force is the inseparable companion of law, because it is from force that law has emerged. Originally, he argues, law was nothing other than force limiting itself in its own interest. In the physical world of archaic societies, when two forces clashed, the conflict would only end when the weaker was destroyed. ‘But it did not take long for people to realise that it was often more economical not to push for the complete annihilation of the adversary’ (Durkheim 1993: 85). In modern societies, instead, force is only the auxiliary, the servant of the law. It can happen, however, that force, instead of allowing itself to be ruled by law, overthrows that very law and creates a new one. This is what happens in a coup d’état or revolution; and this use of force cannot be systematically condemned in the name of an abstract principle. The law is not something sacred in itself; it is a means to an end. It is only of value if it fulfils its function well, that is, if it assures the life of society. What if it does otherwise? Then it would be quite natural for force to intervene and resume for a moment the place it once had. Primum Vivere. (ibid.: 85–6) In this formulation, violence from above and from below are not related in any mutually enhancing dynamic, but are simply the result of their respective desire to implement the principle ‘primum vivere’. Durkheim is particularly harsh against state violence when this presents itself in the form of war. Here, he mobilizes a distinction between two forms of political loyalty, patriotism and world patriotism. The evolution of modern societies, he argues, has produced a wider horizon for human consciousness, as human beings become increasingly aware of their involvement in humanity on a global basis. The new consciousness becomes more universal, therefore transcending mere patriotism: humanity is then imagined in its entirety as a globally organized society (Turner 1996). As for Merton, his typology of deviant adaptations may still find


Understanding political violence adequate application when political violence is analysed, particularly when alternative goals and procedures for their achievement are focused upon. However, his telling metaphor of competitive athletics, where ‘winning’ comes to be prioritized over ‘winning by the rules’, leaves some aspects unexplored. I am thinking of how violent rebellion may mimic a violent exercise of power, and how the two can feed on one another in a relational dynamic. In such cases, both ‘winning’ and ‘winning by the rules’ are no longer the main purpose of the contestants, as violence in itself becomes a sheer signal that a contest is taking place and that the parties are willing to participate. Inflationary violence is seldom allied with lasting victory. I shall return to this in the following chapters. However, it is worth noting, for now, that Durkheim is well aware of how an excess of violence may lead to defeat rather than victory. He identifies the Germany of World War I with the quintessence of ‘a system of ideas made of war and will to power’ (Toscano 1995). All states presenting themselves as the ‘highest terrestrial incarnation of divine power’ display a ‘morbid hypertrophy of the will, a kind of will-mania’. When power is unbounded, however, it is also transitory, because unnatural. No state can govern eternally against the wishes of its subjects and force them by purely external coercion to submit to its will (Durkheim 1915a, 1915b). According to a universal law, there are forces which, when violated, react against those who offend them. A state cannot survive when humanity is arrayed against it. In Parsons, little space is given to the possibility that social change may occur, let alone that it might occur through the use of violence. Parsons, in this way, excludes conflict and violence from the relevant variables that may explain not only the challenges against social order, but also its survival. Ultimately, he fails to develop an understanding of how, through conflict and violence, power itself can be preserved. Scholars gathered around the Chicago School of sociology, who form the central interest of the next chapter, provide some vivid examples of such understanding.

Further reading Giddens (1978) and Turner (1990, 1996) offer a profound assessment of functionalism in sociology. For an analysis of Durkheim’s work in relation to punishment, see Garland (1990). Gouldner (1971) has given us the most acute critique of Parsons’ work. Finally, for the most recent study conducted by Merton in the areas of sociological semantics and the sociology of science, see Merton and Barber (2004).

chapter five

Politicians, gangsters and violent militancy

Don’t burn Washington Franchising political violence Crowds, movements and ideologies Agitators and revolutions Further reading

During the 1920s and 1930s, Chicago experiences unprecedented growth: waves of migrants from Europe and workers abandoning the rural south mingle in a city which promises hope, but to many offers the reality of harsh conditions. As newcomers gather around relatives and acquaintances from the same ethnic background, urban clusters are formed while cultural heritage and identities are strongly maintained as a form of selfpreservation and protection. Criminologists witness social changes leading to the creation of ‘slum areas’, marginalization and widespread problematic conduct (Lilly, Cullen and Ball 1989), and they find coherence and sustained development in research conducted in the urban environment. The writings of the University of Chicago sociologists, Robert Park and Ernest Burgess, provide the background for this research, which is focused on the development of cities. Later, Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay lead criminological research into full flourish (Hagan, 1987), producing ecological area studies and collections of life histories. A great emphasis is placed on ‘social disorganization’, characteristically found in particular areas of rapidly developing cities. Social disorganization theory asserts that rapid, unplanned urban growth hampers the processes that normally regulate criminal behaviour. In-depth fieldwork is generated in a number of ‘delinquent areas’, including the work by Frederic Thrasher on boys’ gangs and that of W.I. Thomas on ‘unadjusted girls’, showing that change in the urban setting destroys social control. When contrasting the concerns of the


Understanding political violence early members of the Chicago School of sociology with those of their predecessors, one may be tempted to discard the former as trivial, and suggest that trivialization is the price paid by criminology when, after a predominantly European phase, the discipline migrates to the US. Classicism dissects state violence and sedition, positivism studies revolutionary movements, whereas functionalism anatomizes world wars. In Chicago, instead, researchers limit their interest to neighbourhoods and local communities. Is it the migration of groups of Europeans to the US, along with the migration of criminology, that determines this seemingly astounding shift? This chapter discusses the work of the Chicago School of sociology and, on the contrary, traces a particularly original underlying analysis of political violence that commonly goes unacknowledged to this School.

Chicago sociologists are celebrated for their important contributions to the understanding of urban life. Their approach to the study of urban social structure revolves around the concept of human ecology, defined as the ‘study of the spatial and temporal relations of human beings as affected by the selective, distributive, and accommodative forces of the environment’ (McKenzie 1967: 63–4). These spatial relationships are the product of competition and selection, and undergo a process of continuous change, as new factors enter to modify competition or to facilitate mobility. ‘Human animals’ have not only the power of locomotion, which enables them to gather nutriment from a wider environment, they also possess the ability to contrive and adapt the environment to their needs. In the urban environment, the pursuit of such needs may entail the clustering of migrant populations in specific areas, and at times determine a type of development that exceeds the natural culmination (or saturation) point, turning growth into a crisis situation. ‘So-called “boom towns” are towns that have experienced herd movements of population beyond the natural point of culmination’ (ibid.: 71). In brief, city growth is accompanied by a dual process of disorganization and reorganization, allowing individuals to adapt to changing conditions and to establish common rules and shared life styles. When cities grow too rapidly, however, disorganization prevails, assuming proportions that can be regarded as pathological. Empirical observation leads Chicago sociologists to think of the city as formed by concentric rings or zones containing a variety of ‘natural areas’, that is areas not consciously planned, characterized by divergent values and social conducts. Cities are said to expand radially, from their central business district, and to comprise areas in transition where slums and ‘bad lands’ are found, ‘with their submerged regions of poverty, degradation, and disease, and their underworlds of crime and vice’ (Burgess 1967: 55). These areas are purgatories of lost souls, where creative and rebellious spirits may also resort, but where one normally finds overflowing immigrant colonies: the Ghetto, Little Sicily, Greektown, Chinatown. Zones of deterioration, these urban enclaves are nevertheless mobile, as inhabitants

Politicians, gangsters and violent militancy


try to escape and settle in better organized areas. Mobility, in its turn, may prove demoralizing and confusing for mores, and may weaken primary social control. For, where mobility is the greatest, and where in consequence primary controls break down completely, as in the zone of deterioration in the modern city, there develop areas of demoralisation, of promiscuity, and vice. (ibid.: 59) The study of these zones of deterioration, as is well known, allows Chicago sociologists to develop and clarify the concept of social disorganization and to unravel the ideological aspects surrounding it. Whether describing the life of the hobo (Anderson 1923), the social dynamics of the ghetto (Wirth 1926), the motives and conducts of youth gangs (Thrasher 1927), or the exploits of adult gangsters (Landesco 1973 [1929]), a form of cultural relativism makes these sociologists conclude that all are the product of their specific environment, in the same way in which the good citizen is a product of his environment (Haller 1973). Ideologies, elusive though they may be, play a significant role in the conduct of social groups and individuals. They provide landmarks which help evaluate situations and identify expectations. Ideologies enable individuals to locate themselves in specific groups and become aware of social problems; they also furnish them with collective goals and practices to achieve them. The ‘disorganized’ communities studied by the Chicago sociologists prove, in fact, to be very well organized, in that they possess their specific ethos, shared values, objectives and preferences. Therefore, not all deviations from norms are to be regarded as prima facie evidence of social disorganisation. It is possible to have a wide range of individual differentiation and deviation from norms in a society without approaching a state of social disorganisation. Not all conduct we call crime is to be interpreted as social disorganisation. (Wirth 1965: 45–6) The zones of deterioration, in other words, are characterized by a perfect internal organization, and their ‘disorganization’ should be referred to their failure to establish meaningful relations with the external world. They show that there is conflict between sets of norms rather than showing an absence of them. This conflict, which may be rare in stable, compact and homogenous societies, is rife in societies in rapid change either through migration, technological innovation, or through invasive industrial development. Disorganization results from the coexistence within a society of two or more independent systems of norms, each claiming the allegiance of a segment of that society. This condition may be the consequence of new norms suddenly being injected into a social group, or ‘the product of a mode of life which does not permit a universal consensus or single set of norms to develop’ (ibid.: 47–8).


Understanding political violence Cultural conflicts are conflicts of meaning, and involve contrasting value and interests; such conflicts escalate when systems fail to assert charismatic, traditional or rational authority. Zones in transition, or in a state of deterioration, express their own sets of values and norms, and should be studied as micro-societies (like, for instance, churches, families, classes or political parties) all holding their own values as sacred and inviolable. These values, in each specific social group, are taken for granted and regarded as ultimate imperatives, they are ‘neither discussed nor debated: often they are not even explicitly stated’ (ibid.: 52). In each group, we find symbols and verbal utterances which vaguely and ambiguously refer to the norms they presuppose. The sociologists of Chicago apply these principles to their study of deviance and crime, including violent crime. Similar principles emerge in their joint analysis of ‘politics’ and ‘violence’, particularly when they describe the relationships that adult criminals maintain with the police, politicians and other institutional actors.

Don’t burn Washington A body of journalistic and ‘grey’ sociological work complements the ethnographic descriptions of the sociologists of Chicago, providing a background for their analysis of politics and violence. Think of the work of Asbury (2002 [1927]), who shows how gangsters flourish under the protection and manipulation of crooked politicians, because they are invaluable allies at election time. The history of the political club gathering at Tammany Hall in New York is, in this respect, exemplary. The club is quick and astute in appreciating the practical value of the gangsters, and finds it advisable to share meeting places with them, in order to assess and plan the best way to employ their peculiar talents. District political leaders, who share not only a physical environment but also a cultural background with their constituencies, drink and socialize in the same speakeasies in which gang affiliations are established, and at times they forge partnerships with entrepreneurs who operate saloons and dance houses. ‘Gambling houses and places of prostitution’ are included among the places in which such partnerships are devised. The underworld thus became an important factor in politics, and under the manipulation of the worthy statesmen the gangs of the Bowery and Five Points participated in the great series of riots which began with the spring election disturbances of 1834 and continued, with frequent outbreaks, for half a score of years. In this period occurred the Flour and Five Points riots, and the most important of the Abolition troubles. (ibid.: 34)

Politicians, gangsters and violent militancy


Political violence takes the form of aggression against slavery abolitionist campaigners. In 1833 the homes of many prominent abolitionists are bombarded with stones and bricks, but these episodes are temporarily obscured by the excitement brewing around the local polls, for it is the first time that a mayor is being elected by direct vote. After the victory of the Tammany club, however, the feelings against the abolitionists, now partly enjoying institutional sanction, flare into open violence. Mobs attack the Bowery Theatre, where a meeting is taking place, and when the police drive the rioters from the playhouse, they roar down to Rose Street, then a residential street, and there they launch an assault against the home of Lewis Tappan, a prominent abolitionist. Doors and windows are smashed with stones. Swarming into the building, they wreck the interior and throw the furniture into the street, where it is arranged in huge piles and oil poured over it. While tearing down the pictures adorning the walls, one gangster comes across a portrait of George Washington, and one of his associates tries to snatch it from his arms. But the discoverer hugs it to his breast and shouts dramatically: ‘It’s Washington! For God’s sake don’t burn Washington’. A line was formed, and the painting of the first President was passed tenderly down the stairs and into the street, where a group of huge bullies bore it aloft to a neighbouring house. There it was installed upon the verandah and carefully guarded until the end of the riot. (ibid.: 36) Gamblers are the most powerful among the leaders of such violent movements, and their prosperity is due, among other things, to the political protection they are granted. Their support of politicians is expressed in the form of generous sums of money and intimidation of political adversaries, while their institutional connections keep even the Temperance movement and its fulminations at bay. In 1910, the New York police do try to disrupt the activities of a number of gangs, but they only target those operating with such boldness that public sentiment makes even the politicians unwilling to protect them. Violence and politics, therefore, are meshed with illicit entrepreneurship, which provides institutional actors with ‘militant’ activists chosen among gangsters and street fighters. Despite efforts to isolate the history of organized crime by locating it in a ‘foreign compartment’, the alliance between the political apparatus and criminal enterprise shows how gangs and criminal syndicates are part of ‘the master narrative of American history’ (Woodiwiss 2001: 104). In the early years of the twentieth century, moreover, employers respond to industrial action with physical intimidation, strike breakers and professional criminals. It is against this background that the work of the Chicago sociologists unfolds. Political violence from above and from below confer an accelerating push on one another, and while employers resort to gangsters to deal with disputes and trade unions, workers’ organizations end up adopting their own version of violent militancy.


Understanding political violence Once invited into the mainstream of the US economy many gangsters decided to stay around and take what they could, mainly from vulnerable small business activity, union pension and welfare funds. (ibid.: 106)

Franchising political violence In the studies conducted by the Chicago sociologists, political violence coincides with institutional violence, in the sense that violent operations are ‘contracted out’ to organized criminal groups for the benefit of institutional actors. Let us look at some examples of this peculiar arrangement, that could be described as ‘political violence franchising’. In 1924, the Illinois Association for Criminal Justice sponsors an ambitiously wide-ranging study of crime and the effectiveness of institutional control. Supported by a variety of political and civic leaders, the study aims to understand the reasons behind what appears to be a phenomenal and generalized breakdown of law and order. The wars between bootlegging gangs have reached an unacceptable level of ferocity, and rivalry has resulted in public shootings, a daily spectacle displaying the degree of impunity enjoyed by gangsters. Inability or unwillingness to intervene on the part of law enforcers signals an even deeper malaise. While robberies, burglaries and kidnappings are on the increase, the crime wave is compounded by police corruption, political manipulation of judges, intimidation of jurors and the profound ineptitude of criminal justice professionals. The report published in 1927 deals with the causes of juvenile delinquency and examines the social factors affecting the urban environment as a whole (Haller 1973). A long section written by John Landesco describes in analytical detail the structure, cultural background and the operations of organized crime in Chicago. Like his colleagues in the Department of Sociology of Chicago University, some of whom are also involved in the study, ‘instead of looking at the breakdown of criminal justice for the explanation of urban crime’, he observes ‘the social organisation and disorganisation of urban life to explain the distribution and social relations of criminal behaviour’ (ibid.: ix). He finds that, within the immigrant community, gangsters have longstanding relations with other community leaders in athletic clubs, business, the church and politics. Outside, successful gangsters also develop ties of mutual interest with the police, politicians and customers for the goods and services they supply. Such ties, generally hidden from public view, often become manifest at weddings, funerals, political banquets and other occasions that bring the community together. In a fascinating chapter on the funerals of gangsters, Landesco (1973 [1929]) remarks that, while in life one may conceal personal ties, in death one cannot avoid disclosing them.

Politicians, gangsters and violent militancy


The wealth accumulated by organized crime during the 1920s cements strong partnerships with a variety of businessmen, law enforcers and politicians, with whom formal relationships are established which transcend the differences in values and cultural background of partners. The collapse of law and order, in brief, not only characterizes marginalized communities, but also permeates the very core of economic and political life. While gangsters become politicians, politicians find in gangsters new allies who can mobilize voters, and amidst immunity for all, local governments become complicit in, when not promoters of, criminal activity. Landesco describes the manipulation of elections by ‘machine politicians’ with underworld assistance, although he warns that election frauds do not reveal the entire measure of the reciprocity informing politics and crime. The story of the Ragen Athletic Association illustrates the extent of this reciprocity. The Association recruits members from the youth of the stockyards district, whose age range is 18 years to over 30. In the days before machinegun politics, the knuckles of the club members were so renowned that, in the words of one of them, ‘When we dropped into a polling place everyone else dropped out.’ The club was credited with settling the political fate of many candidates for the city council and the state legislature. The motto of the club was said to be ‘Hit me and you hit two thousand.’ (ibid.: 170) Most members are sons of Irish labourers who have become averse to following in their fathers’ occupational footsteps, and are tired of competing with the waves of immigrants pouring into the area for ‘seasonal, heavy and odoriferous’ jobs. During the race riots, the Association becomes the paladin of the white race fighting the spread of the coloured race. ‘While the memorable coroner’s jury was investigating the casualties of the race riots there was evidence that most of the whites doing the rioting were members of political clubs’ (ibid.: 171). Their closeness to the institutions is reflected by their keenness to practice institutional violence par excellance: five hundred members of the Ragen Association join the UN armed forces during the war. Ragen members provide ‘strong arm work’ in the elections in other districts as well as in the stockyards area: kidnappings and attacks on political opponents are frequent. At political meetings and banquets the politics– crime nexus is visually inescapable, with the City Hall attaché drinking next to racketeers and police officers, all perhaps discussing the ways of helping each other when in trouble. At one such banquet, the owner of an ice cream factory, an undertaker and a saloon-keeper sit together, while at the central table in the hall political bosses and ‘strong arm men’ discuss electoral strategies. There is a sprinkling of policemen as guests, and a table occupied entirely by veterans of the war. ‘Patriotism, with flags, fife and drum, with oratory and song, is the sweeping motif of the feast’ (ibid.: 177).


Understanding political violence It is interesting to note that patriotism is the leitmotif of other, similar alliances between politics and organized crime. The Italian fascist regime, for example, encourages the cooperation of Italian–American gangsters, who are highly valued for their social standing in their neighbourhoods and their ties with political representatives. ‘Professional criminals were very useful when it came to terrorising or eliminating anti-fascists’ (Block 1991: 139). Their near monopoly in the use of force is augmented when supported by institutional investiture. At the banquet described by Landesco, violence marks the faces of guests and speakers alike. When an influential man gives a speech, people notice a one-sided smile that comes from a mouth disfigured by fights and anger. The man so addresses the guests: I’m glad to be back here with you where I was raised . . . back here where a man is a man . . . There may be some newcomers here and I might as well tell you that I am forty-seven years old and I have made many a speech around here. Fourteen years ago I ran for the legislature and was elected. I later went to Washington with a Congressman from this district, who was the best two-handed ‘trigger’ that ever lived around here. I don’t care what the newspapers say about me or Joe Saltis or Johnnie Oberta, we never have done any harm to anybody around the stockyards. You probably know us from the newspapers. I have been picked up, many’s the time, for ‘funny’ larceny and concealed ‘ideas’. (Great applause.) I even served three years in Uncle Sam’s boarding house. (Overwhelming applause.) And I want to tell you that even there the men are ninety per cent good. (Landesco 1973: 177) Violence intertwines with illegitimate commerce and political campaigning. When, in April 1924, Al Capone offers his service for the control of elections, the political contest is openly a contest in contraband. Smugglers who compete with Capone align themselves on the side of Democrats, while the latter supports the Republicans. Trouble starts when Election Commissioner Czarnecki scratches over three thousand names of Republican voters from the register list. He discharges large numbers of clerks, watchers and judges, and appoints his supporters in their places. The Capone gang is thus provoked into action and, after a display of terror, the Republican candidate is elected. The night preceding the election, gunmen invade the office of William Pflaum, the Democratic candidate, beat him up and devastate the place. Automobiles filled with gangsters parade the streets, hitting and kidnapping election workers. Polling stations are ‘raided by armed thugs and ballots taken at the point of gun from the hands of voters waiting to drop them into the box’ (ibid.: 179). Workers and voters are kidnapped, brought to Chicago and held prisoners until the polls close. John Landesco concludes that the alliance of official politics and organized crime rests on the mutuality of their services. Organized criminals

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depend upon political protection for their criminal and illicit activities, and, therefore, have a vital business interest in the success of certain candidates whom they believe will be favourably disposed to them. Politicians, in their turn, ‘even the most upright, have a lively sense of the active part played in politics and elections by underworld characters’ (ibid.: 183). It should be added that such alliances result in increased degrees of violence, as both organized criminals and politicians gain a clear appreciation of the instrumental value of violent means in pursuing their respective profits. Institutional political violence, as we have seen so far, can reap the fruits of conventional criminal violence. The sociologists of Chicago focus on this specific type of political violence, and while critiquing the concept of social disorganization, describe how perfectly ‘integrated’ violent behaviour can be, particularly when it is given a central role in conventional politics. In a list of the techniques utilized by political-criminal partnerships one finds, first, raids on polling places by armed individuals who steal the ballot boxes before the count begins. Second, the intimidation of election officials during the counting of the ballots, while fraudulent ballots are being added. And then, ‘armed sluggers intimidating legal voters into leaving the polls without voting’, kidnapping of election workers, calling the police away while the ballot boxes are replaced, and finally murder: ‘the deliberate assassination of party workers and political candidates of opposing factions where it is evident that such candidates are certain of election’ (ibid.: 187–8). Similar techniques are described in the work of Whyte (1941), who suggests that, rather than curbing criminal violence, politicians opt for its transformation into politically-motivated violence. In Cornerville, for example, only one politician, Andy Cotillo, tries to deliver a direct challenge to the racketeers, but he does not repeat his challenge twice. He learns that the social position of the racketeer must be taken into account, because in many respects it is very similar to his. The politician and the racketeer grow up in similar environments, have influence over the same sorts of groups, are expected to perform some of the same functions, and have many interests in common. (ibid.: 205) Between them, cooperative relations, of varying degrees of intimacy, are bound to develop. Carrie Ravello sums it up in this way: ‘Let’s not kid ourselves, Bill; when we want to win, we go to the racketeers – all of us.’ After mentioning three of the most prominent and respected politicians in the state, she concludes: ‘They do it as well as the rest of them – we all do it’ (ibid.: 205). In Cornerville political clubs are started by politicians and built around them, but such clubs would be devoid of voting strength without the membership of corner boys. The capacity of these boys to deter adversaries through violence is crucial for the success of political bosses. Political


Understanding political violence careers, in other words, overlap with criminal careers, both leading to the necessary connections for the advancement of individual and group interests. Corner boys who do not appreciate the immense value of their resource, namely violence, are condemned to social immobility, and looked down upon by others as romantic or naive.

Crowds, movements and ideologies The production of the Chicago sociologists is as wide as it is thoughtprovoking, a legacy one can hardly neglect when addressing youth deviance and conventional crime, but also elite criminality and political corruption. Although never using the phrase ‘political violence’, these sociologists examine the violence embedded in institutional politics, thus conveying the notion that violent political means characterize the conduct of the elite: political violence can only come from, and benefit, the ruling classes. At the time when their work is produced, however, political violence from below is also widespread, and its radically contentious nature does not lend itself to institutional assimilation, nor to incorporation within machine politics and political bossism. The history of the labour movement in the United States is riddled with examples of independent, anti-institutional violent action, and with heated discussions about the role such action plays in the process of emancipation and social change. Why this type of violence escapes the attention of such prolific researchers remains to be explained. During the first two decades of the twentieth century, along with the creation of ‘natural areas’ in North American cities, workers’ organizations are also set up and repertoires of action are shaped. Sabotage is included in this repertoire, a tactical device whose value ‘will be determined by the workers who may use it’ (Foner and Sheldon 1964: 164). Leaders of the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W. or Wobblies) speak casually about ‘the use of the wooden shoe’, and the organization adorns its propaganda material with pictures of a hunched black cat showing its claws. The cat claws are a vivid metaphor of the collective violence accompanying most industrial strikes, and though violence is not officially favoured, it is deemed legitimate ‘if necessary to accomplish the social revolution’. How can one expect the class struggle to be free of violence? Labour movement leaders argue that the ruling classes will always use force to defeat the workers’ struggle: the problem is ‘how to best meet the violence unleashed by the capitalist class’. One faction calls for passive resistance and instructs affiliates to avoid meeting force with force. This passivity would expose the inner workings and purposes of the ‘capitalist mind’, and prove that it is ‘the capitalists and their henchmen who are guilty of violence’. Another faction, however, stresses that violence from above has to be met with violence on the part of the working class. A

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leading figure of the Wobblies, when giving his testimony before the US Commission on Industrial Relations, declares: I don’t mean to say that we advocate violence; but we won’t tell our members to allow themselves to be shot down and beaten up like cattle. Violence as a general rule is forced on us. (ibid.: 165) Trade union newspapers host debates about the legitimacy of workingclass violence, for industrial disputes are no picnic, and one cannot confront the powerful corporations with bare knuckles. It is true that the gun cannot substitute for industrial organization, but such hardware is deemed handy to have around at times (Adamic 1931). The debate is destined to continue well after the I.W.W. begin their political decline, and throughout the 1920s and 1930s it is rekindled by the economic crisis, which increases poverty and violent institutional responses to workers’ demands and action. Traditionally, Chicago is a central gathering place for anarchists, and incidentally is also the place where the first secret meeting of the I.W.W. takes place (Haywood 1966). In the early 1920s, the bulk of the Wobblies’ membership and the main centres of their activities are still in the areas surrounding Chicago, a startling circumstance if one considers the lack of attention this movement receives from the Chicago sociologists. I would suggest a tentative explanation for this: the Chicago sociologists are engaged in promoting citizen participation and self-help as keystone ideas in the war against poverty (Janowitz 1967), they are therefore determined to overturn conventional interpretations of deviant behaviour and notions of social disorganization attached to marginalized areas. For this reason, perhaps, the only form of violence they feel compelled to examine is institutionally-inspired violence or violence that, ultimately, benefits and perpetuates the official political apparatus. Political violence from below, in a sense, hampers their denunciation of the elite and its violence. Exposing the violence of the powerful, and simultaneously that of the powerless, would weaken their argumentative strength, and the violent label attached to disenfranchised groups would upset the whole philosophy of their research efforts. In a subtle analytical shift, however, some Chicago sociologists, rather than focusing on anti-institutional violence, draw attention onto the conduct of groups engaged in collective action for social change. By moving the focus to social movements, the dynamics of their development and strategies, they manage to avoid the stigmatization of resistance, including violent resistance. Engines of change, primarily in relation to values systems, social movements are included within the analysis of collective behaviour, namely behaviour producing observable actions. Concerned with change, social movements are seen as an aspect of such behaviour, therefore they are granted an integral role in the normal functioning of society and in the process of transformation (Della Porta and Diani 1999).


Understanding political violence When Park (1967 [1925]) analyses the decisive factors instigating the movements of crowds, he draws a parallel with the fluctuations of markets; both, he says, are psychological in nature. The crowd participating in movements reflects a condition of instability one finds in markets, a condition one can well define as ‘crisis’. Commercial exchanges, like crowds, cohabit a space which is always critical, that is to say a space where ‘the tensions are such that a slight cause may precipitate an enormous effect’. A current euphemism, ‘the psychological moment’, defines such a critical condition. Psychological moments may arise in any social situation, but occur more frequently in a society that has acquired a high state of mobility. ‘They occur more frequently in a society where education is general, where railways, telegraph, and the printing press have become an indispensable part of the social economy’ (ibid.: 20). Park finds the study of crises and crowds fascinating because, in so far as they are due to psychological causes, they can be controlled and manipulated. Labour organizations, for example, learn very quickly how to develop definite techniques for the instigation, but also for the control of crowds. Labour agitators and political leaders are equated to stock-exchange speculators, for their respective ability to control and manipulate the public. Crowds, in their turn, are said to furnish a body of materials from which a detailed study of collective behaviour can be carried out. This behaviour, however, is to be distinguished from action performed by organized groups. In Park’s interpretation, it would appear, violence denotes the behaviour of crowds, not of organized groups. So, political violence seems to be associated mainly with spontaneous explosions of revolt or deflagrating urban mobs. In this way, some observations made by Simmel (1903, 1909) are reiterated: cities are characterized by varying degrees of instability and danger; they are places of sudden ‘extreme phenomena’, spawned by an excessively rationalized and calculating environment (Ruggiero 2001). In this respect, however, Park’s analysis is as ambivalent as it is nuanced. The city, particularly the great city, in which more than elsewhere human relations are likely to be impersonal and rational, is a laboratory for the investigation of collective behaviour. It is a place where a climate of unstable equilibrium constantly prevails. The result is that the vast casual and mobile aggregations which constitute our urban populations are in a state of perpetual agitation, swept by every new wind of doctrine, subject to constant alarms, and in consequence the community is in a chronic condition of crisis. (Park 1925: 22) Strikes and revolutionary movements are endemic in the urban environment, they are part and parcel of the urban ‘psychology of crisis’. Parliamentary systems (as well as electoral systems) are machineries devised for the regularization of such movements and the control of crises.

Politicians, gangsters and violent militancy


To what extent are mob violence, strikes, and radical political movements the results of the same general conditions that provoke financial panics, real estate booms, and mass movements in the population generally? To what extent are the existing unstable equilibrium and social ferment due to the extent and speed of economic changes as reflected in the stock exchange? (ibid.: 22) Political violence, here, is the result of economic development, in the same way that conventional crime is the effect of the decline of primary social control and the withering away of local attachment brought about by industrial development. The weakening of the restraints and inhibitions exerted by primary institutions (the family, the church and the school), and the influence of the urban environment itself, are largely responsible for the increasing occurrence of ‘extreme phenomena’ in great cities. After observing that social control, formerly based on mores, is increasingly replaced by control based on positive law, Park stresses that ferments and conflicts, though challenging the official legal precepts, may be beneficial for social evolution. ‘It is a characteristic of the United States that great political changes should be effected experimentally under the pressure of agitation or upon the initiative of small but militant minorities’ (ibid.: 28). It is the curiosity about these militant minorities that leads Park and some of his colleagues towards the study of social movements, and indirectly of political violence from below. In Park’s analysis, political groups are characterized by personal loyalty and mutual protection among members. The internal relations displayed by these groups, he remarks, resemble feudal-type relations, based as they are around tribal virtues such as fidelity and devotion. Members constitute a ‘we’ group, while non-members are ‘merely the outer world’, not quite as human as the ‘we’ group. In a way echoing the conditions of primitive societies, the political group preaches comradeship and peace in the ‘we’ group and hostility and war towards the outer world. ‘The exigencies of war with outsiders are what make peace inside, lest internal discord should weaken the we-group for war’ (ibid.: 38). Whether applied to conventional political machines or to violent political movements, this analysis reveals the existence of ‘moral regions’ where divergent moral codes prevail, and where violent plans for the conquest or annihilation of rival ‘regions’ may be hatched. In order to achieve their goals, political machines need operative tools, including violent ones. Social movements, instead, need a body of doctrines, beliefs and myths in order to identify the premises and ends of their action. Both, however, are required to express a form of self-recognition that can be turned into recognition by others. Divergent groups pursue recognition while formulating ideologies, which do not always directly and fully reveal their objectives. Ideologies, in fact, may be used to conceal


Understanding political violence the limited interests of those propagating them and serve as an offensive weapon against those who do not share them. Conversely, the ideology constitutes a body of defensive arguments to sanctify the group’s programme, aspirations, and the means for achieving them. It is used as an instrument to justify the group’s purpose both to the members and outsiders. Since it is not merely a statement of ends but an instrument for achieving these ends, the ideology must function to gain and hold adherents; hence it must not merely articulate policies but also guide the tactics and practical operations. (Wirth 1965: 55–6) According to this analysis, political violence is a form of ideology, which, as Wirth puts it, sanctifies the group’s aspirations and the means for achieving them. As ideology, political violence furnishes direction but also inspiration and hope, while maintaining discipline and morale within the group. When successful, it induces active identification, but very often it only turns into pure propaganda. In becoming propaganda, it presents itself as internally consistent, and strives to obscure its contradictions and weak spots. In brief, political violence as propaganda is forced to express simplified and debased ideologies. We shall see examples of this later.

Agitators and revolutions It is interesting to note how the study of the city and deviant conduct leads the Chicago sociologists, initially, to the analysis of political violence as an expression of conventional contest among dominant groups; then, to the observation of violent crowds, and finally, to the identification of moral regions, social conflict and the notion of social change. Criminology meets the sociology of social movements. It is this extraordinary mixture of sociologies, this miraculous analytical brew, that can prove fruitful for an understanding of political violence. If political violence from above resorts to the strong arm of conventional criminal groups, political violence from below takes shape within collective action and through the establishment and growth of social movements. The analysis of Blumer (1951), in this respect, rescues the sociology of Chicago from an impasse to which Wirth has led it. For, if it may be true that political violence only enjoys unstable and spurious support and expresses a debased ideology, it is also true that violent political groups may claim affiliation with movements and discourses that express universal ideas and aspirations. According to Blumer, social movements can be viewed as collective enterprises to establish a new order of life. They have their inception in a condition of unrest, and gain recognition and power due to generalized

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dissatisfaction and desire for change. At the beginning a movement is amorphous and poorly organized; its action is primitive, elementary and spontaneous. However, As a social movement develops, it takes on the character of a society. It acquires organisation and form, a body of customs and traditions, established leadership and enduring division of labour, social rules and social values – in short, a culture, a social organisation and a new scheme of life. (ibid.: 60) According to an initial distinction, there are general, specific and expressive social movements. The labour movement, the women’s movement and the peace movement are given by Blumer as examples of the first category. They pursue change in values and cultural shifts in the way in which people conceive of themselves, their rights and privileges. These movements aim to establish new feelings around what participants believe they are entitled to. Desires and hopes are forged thanks to the identification of new sets of values influencing how people look upon their own lives. Literature and leadership play a crucial role in this process. Literature spreads a message or view and makes suggestions, awakening hopes and arousing dissatisfactions. Leaders are pace-makers and are likely to be, initially, ‘voices in the wilderness’, ‘pioneers without any solid following, and frequently not very clear about their own goals. However, their example helps develop sensitivities’ (ibid.: 61). Specific social movements include both reform and revolutionary movements. They have well-defined objectives, and while attempting to pursue them, they develop a precise organization and structure. A recognized leadership and a definite membership characterized by a ‘weconsciousness’ will shape a tradition, along with ‘a guiding set of values, a philosophy, sets of rules, and a general body of expectations’ (ibid.: 63). Allegiances and loyalties are formed within an evolutionary process which sees, at the beginning, a social movement as a loosely organized entity characterized by impulsive behaviour. At this stage, restlessness and collective excitement prevail. As the career of a social movement unfolds, social unrest is followed by popular excitement, and this finally by institutionalization. We can presume that, in the formulation proposed by Blumer, violent social movements belong to the initial stages of their development and career. Political violence, in this sense, becomes a mark of political immaturity. Conversely, we may suggest that ‘institutionalization’ should be the objective of those tackling the effects of violent social movements. Failure to do so may result in yet more serious political violence. Looking in more detail at this process, Blumer describes the mechanisms and means through which a movement is able to grow and become organized. These mechanisms are grouped under five headings: agitation, development of esprit de corps, development of morale, the formation of


Understanding political violence an ideology, and the development of operating tactics. Agitation aims to mobilize participants, recruit members and propagate feelings of dissatisfaction and restlessness. These may be achieved in a situation marked by ‘abuse, unfair discrimination, and injustice, but a situation wherein people take this mode of life for granted and do not raise questions about it’. Agitators may be excitable and aggressive individuals, and their behaviour may infect others with dramatic gestures and spectacular imagery. These types of agitators are likely to be most successful in situations where people are already ‘disturbed and unsettled’, and therefore ‘already disposed to excitability’ (ibid.: 65–6). According to this formulation, such agitators and situations are indispensable for political violence to emerge. Movements have the task of organizing the feelings of participants into a homogenous esprit de corps. This will give a sense of collective belonging to members who will perceive theirs as a common undertaking. Sharing experiences of political action will then lead participants to feel close to one another and to see themselves as forming a select group. Personal competition is thus allegedly forsaken and cooperation established. Esprit de corps is developed in a number of manners. First, there is a need to set up an informal fellowship association in which participants learn a specific ceremonial behaviour. For example, rituals must be appropriated that foster feelings of common identity and sympathy. Moreover, paraphernalia consisting of sentimental symbols, slogans, songs, poems, hymns, expressive gestures and uniforms will have the role of reinforcing a sense of collective belonging and enhancing mutual feelings. Finally, it is important to develop an ‘in-group-out-group relation’, which allows participants to identify other groups as enemies. In such a situation each group regards itself as the upholder of virtue and develops among its members feelings of altruism, loyalty, and fidelity. The out-group is regarded as unscrupulous and vicious, and is felt to be attacking the values the in-group holds dear. (ibid.: 68) Violent political movements would have to develop such relations of enmity to a remarkable degree if they are to physically attack members of an out-group. In order to do so, they might have to promote a strong, persistent, fixed, loyalty that is yielded by the development of particularly robust morale. Based on a set of convictions, morale confers on participants a sense of rectitude accompanied by the belief that the attainment of the objectives will usher in ‘something approaching a millennial state’. Evil will be eradicated: there is a sense of inevitability about this. ‘Since the movement is felt to be a necessary agent for the regeneration of the world, it is regarded as being in line with the higher moral values of the universe, and in this sense as divinely favoured’ (ibid.: 70). This is particularly true for violent political groups, who may have to rationalize, for example, their decision to kill those they regard as enemies. They will do so

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through claiming loyalty to higher moral values, or through regarding their violence as a means for the abolition of all future violence. The belief that a social movement is charged with a sacred mission will be perceived by participants as legitimating the use of violence. The tenacity of members, in this way, will not subside when reversals and setbacks are experienced: temporary defeat will hardly be disheartening if the sacredness of the mission keeps alimenting faith in the inevitability of the final success. The development of morale, in brief, coincides with the development of a sectarian attitude and a religious faith: ‘leaders become essentially deified and endowed with miraculous power’ (ibid.: 71). Sacred figures, leaders will instil in members the sense of being part of a select group or a chosen people, and while fostering myths around the inhumanity of opponents, they will depict a glorious and millennial society that members are destined to realize. There is a distinct awareness, in this analysis, of some of the relational dynamics which will be examined in chapters to come. Blumer notes that, because revolutionary movements challenge the existing mores and propose a new scheme of moral values, they may be the target of vigorous attack on the part of the dominant institutions. Failure to institutionalize such movements may result in their expulsion from the official political arena, which blocks their action simply by forbidding it. Revolutionary movements are thus driven underground. This trajectory, however, can also be followed by reform movements, particularly when their ideas and practices are felt as challenging too seriously some powerful group or vested interest. ‘This tends to change a reform movement into a revolutionary movement; its objectives broaden to include the reorganisation of the institutions that are now blocking its progress’ (ibid.: 75). Political violence, therefore, may be among the outcomes of the expulsion of movements from the official political arena. A similar development can be observed in expressive movements, who do not necessarily prioritize a radical change of the institutions or the establishment of a new social order. These types of movements mainly aim at persuading people to adopt certain practices which, in their view, only eventually, in a vaguely identified future, may produce social change. Blumer designates as expressive both religious and fashion movements, and we could extend such designation to violent political groups who prioritize the effects of their action on potential recruits rather than on the system attacked. Some violent groups, for example, may be sceptical about the capability of their violence to produce social change, but may still resort to violence as a way of transmitting a ‘patrimony of conducts’ to newer generations, who presumably will include it in their repertoire of future action. Political violence, in this case, is motivated by the urgency to include violent practices in that repertoire before they are removed from the collective memory of movements. The following description of Blumer applies to religious movements as well as to violent political movements:


Understanding political violence It is a situation wherein people are upset and disturbed, but wherein they cannot act; in other words, a situation of frustration. The inability to release their tension in the direction of some actual change in the social order leaves as the alternative mere expressive behaviour. Psychologically, it is a situation like that of the dancing crowd. Among the most prominent features, one is a feeling of intense intimacy and esprit de corps. Another is a heightened feeling of exaltation and ecstasy which leads individuals to experience personal expansion and to have a sense of being possessed by some transcendental spirit. Individuals feel inspired and are likely to engage in prophetic utterances. (ibid.: 77) In this description, violent political groups are patterned along the lines of sects, which are experienced by members as communities of saved souls, and which dispose to aggressive proselytizing of outsiders and annihilation of enemies. We will now return to the opening pages of this chapter. The migration of criminology to the USA, accompanied by the simultaneous migration of millions of people to the new world, does not result in the lowering of the analytical ambition of the discipline. The sociologists of the Chicago school study limited communities and discover political violence in the process. They encounter a type of institutional violence characterizing official politics, a form of violence that groups of politician ‘contract out’ to professional criminal groups acting as their strong arm. Too concerned about how to ameliorate the conditions of marginalized communities, they hesitate to focus on the way in which such communities may, in their turn, resort to organized political violence to change their condition. They prefer to focus on social movements instead, and in so doing they leave us a repertoire of analytical tools of great potential for the understanding of political violence from below. A recurrent notion in their argument is that communities, groups and movements, while interacting with society at large, are guided by their specific sets of values which may be in conflict with those held by others. Conflict, as a an explanatory category of political violence, forms the main concern of the next chapter.

Further reading For a history of urban growth in the USA, see Palen (1981), and for the perception of Chicago as a ‘jungle’ it is worth reading Sinclair (1905). An industrial history of the city has been written by D’Eramo (2002), who describes the growth of the food industry along with that of the building industry. Rothman (1980) discusses how the promises of the American system do not extend to all social classes, especially those inhabiting ‘the ghetto or the slum’.

chapter six

Pre-political violence and organized hostility

Postponing democracy Value systems and conflicting groups The politicality of crime The new criminology Conflict and terrorism Organized hostility Further reading

Conflict theorists in criminology posit that the causes, definitions and treatment of crime can only be understood if related to the uneven distribution of power and resources within society. Conflict theory derives its thrust from Marxist thought, and inherits from it concepts such as class struggle and ideology, while adopting a notion of crime as behaviour inherent in the capitalist arrangement of production, society and the state. Criminologists adhering to this set of ideas include Willem Bonger (1969), known as the major scholar attempting to found a traditional Marxist criminology, who interprets crime as the result of the socially unfavourable environment created by capitalist development. Divisions between those holding the means of production and those possessing only their labour force are singled out as the source of permanent conflict. Definitions of crime are shaped against this background of inequality, whereby those endowed with more power will tend to criminalize acts committed by the powerless and define their own conduct as legitimate. Sellin (1938) emphasizes ‘culture conflicts’, that is the differences between social groups, their aspirations and behavioural models, leading to acts officially defined as crime. The conduct norms of one group clash with those of another, while the power held by the respective groups, for example, the legislative and judicial powers, will determine which of the conflicting conduct norms


Understanding political violence will be criminalized. In the contribution of Vold (1958), the emphasis is placed upon legislative majorities, who control institutional agencies such as the police and the judiciary, and are therefore capable of formulating policies that decide who is to be treated as a criminal and how. Turk (1969) is concerned with how a criminal status is assigned to individuals or groups, and how this status may be independent of their actual behaviour, but result from their relationship with the authorities assigning it. The tradition established by conflict theorists continues throughout the 1960s and 1970s, with the work of Chambliss (1969) on the relativity of criminal definitions and of Chambliss and Seidman (1971), who also identify conflicting sets of norms in society and remark that the probability of a given group having its particular normative system embodied in law is not distributed equally. Neo-Marxist criminology, during and after the 1970s, replicates this analysis, extending it to the examination of state crimes and the crimes of the powerful (Taylor, Walton and Young 1973; Pearce 1975). This chapter discusses the main notions guiding conflict theory in sociology and their reception in criminology, focusing on the work, among others, of Richard Quinney and Ralf Dahrendorf. How this work is critiqued by the ‘new’ criminologists of the 1970s is also discussed in this chapter, which concludes with an examination of some definitions of terrorism and ‘hostility’. Noting a lacuna in the conflict theory tradition within criminology, this chapter complements a criminological analysis of political violence with some categories borrowed from Smelser’s theory of collective behaviour.

Social interactions may be characterized by harmony and cooperation as well as animosity and aversion. Subjects orient their action according to the potential or actual responses they elicit from those with whom they interact. As Weber (1947, 1968) remarks, in this respect, social action is social in so far as it takes account of the behaviour of others and is thereby oriented in its course. Thus, mutual expectations and requirements provide a frame for social action. A conflictual conduct, in its turn, is an intentional action oriented towards the pursuit of one’s aims against the expectations or requirements of another party. Looking at the potential strength of the concepts elaborated by conflict theorists, one is led to assume that political violence, when addressed by such theorists, could not receive a more effective and sensitive treatment. We shall see, on the contrary, the uncertainties and ambiguities of such treatment when conflict theory enters the criminological domain. According to Rex (1981), when there is a normative disagreement over ends or means regarded as legitimate, there are several possibilities. In most cases, a clarification of the respective sets of values and norms may lead to mutual understanding. In this way, while making the respective values and norms clear to one another, the parties involved accept the other’s identity and the right of that identity to coexist with theirs. In other cases, awareness

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by one party that the universal arguments made by another are, in fact, contrived attempts to prevail may develop into yet more radical definitions of the disagreement and, therefore, of conflict. Ultimate values may be mobilized, and a feeling may spread that the prevailing values and norms are not legitimate, in that they do not elicit spontaneous adhesion, but only mechanical obedience. In extreme cases, however, the parties are embedded in totally different cultures to the point that communication or contact are impossible, therefore nothing but open conflict is likely to ensue. Conflict may take the form of passive resistance, whereby one party implicitly denies any normative basis to the demands of the other. Withdrawal from the relationship may be another strategy, although, while withdrawing, one party may prepare to reconstruct the social relationship altogether. This may entail a process of bargaining with a view to gradually altering the balance of power between the parties, ‘but in the more radical cases other kinds of power, including violence, may be deployed in order to bring about such a change’ (ibid.: 18). Faced with radical opposition, the dominant parties are likely to enact sanctions against those who do not recognize their authority as legitimate, and the result may be total confrontation aimed at mutual annihilation, or just physical violence aimed at deterring the other from adopting conflictual conduct.

Postponing democracy Contemporary societies, however, have other possibilities, for example, they can transform the political enemy into a mere adversary, and turn unconditional antagonism into agonistic competition (Zizek 2004). Modern democracies, therefore, possess the capacity of turning any general threat to power into an occasion for discursive interaction, and consequently of responding to those who refuse such interaction through mechanisms of exclusion or excommunication. Political violence from below is one of the subjects of these mechanisms. Those who want to be accepted in the field of politics must accept the terms of this discursive agonism and subscribe to the symbolic pact regulating it. There are rules governing competition, and failure to respect them triggers the opposite capacity, namely that of turning all dissent or discursive disagreement into unacceptable antagonism. According to a related definition of democratic sovereignty, the leading groups in a system are those who have ‘the right to suspend rights’ or to suspend the law (Schmitt 1934). They also have the right to define what political violence is. Facing conflict, democracies tend to ‘suspend themselves’ and to postpone the implementation of their own principles to future periods devoid of conflict (Derrida 2003a). But these periods may never come about, because the translation of antagonism into agonism, of


Understanding political violence enemy into adversary, is never complete – there will always be groups or individuals who do not recognize the rules of political negotiation and competition and aspire to create new ones. What this means is that the key political struggle is not so much the agonistic competition within the field of the admissible, of political subjects who acknowledge each other as legitimate adversaries, but rather the struggle for the delimitation of this field, for the definition of the line which will separate the legitimate adversary from the illegitimate enemy. ˇ izˇ ek 2004: 115) (Z Refusal on the part of the dominant groups to move the line separating legitimate adversaries from illegitimate enemies will result into political exclusion. In short, once a set of rules regulating competition for power is established, the necessity arises to exclude those who disrespect such rules, namely those who regard them as totally inadequate for them to successfully participate in such competition. Violent political action, therefore, is normally adopted by groups who disrespect official rules governing competition, because they feel that such action is the only means available to them to perform a genuine competitive participation. On the other hand, violent responses to their action may confer authenticity on their endeavour. ‘When the enemy resists and engages us in a violent conflict, this means that we have effectively touched its raw nerve’ (ibid.: 118). Even when a ‘raw nerve’ is touched, however, violent conflict may not continue indefinitely, but end when one of the contenders finds the harm suffered too heavy to endure, and so decides to accept submission. If the aim of violence is to achieve submission, then killing may be instrumental in achieving such an aim: the parties may therefore end violent conflict by resorting to ultimate forms of violence. Political violence, by contrast, may also end up establishing some sort of compromise, whereby the parties involved modify their goals and their expectations, and accept new agreed norms after deciding that there is less to be gained by continuing the struggle.

Value systems and conflicting groups When criminologists adopt a conflict theory framework of analysis, they focus on concepts such as ‘competing groups’ and ‘contrasting value systems’. In their view, individuals orient their conduct to specific groups, and groups, in their turn, possess specific norms and values which distinguish appropriate from inappropriate conducts (Sellin 1938). Conflict theorists in criminology reject absolute conceptions of crime and focus on how different norms and values may lead to dissent and disagreement and, as a consequence, to the construction of criminal definitions. Diversity of

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values, it is stressed, implies that society should abandon the search for persistent consensus and stability, and accept that any of its elements is subject to coercion or change (Dahrendorf 1959). According to a ‘coercion model’ of society, dissent always prevails and, through dissent, every social component may contribute to change. In other words, as society is based on the coercion of some of its members by others, resistance and conflict, while not necessarily causing disruption, may produce change. Conflict can promote cooperation, establish group boundaries and unite social factions (Quinney 1970). Furthermore, it may lead to new organizations and values which are, in the long run, beneficial to all social components: conflict, at certain times, may be a cohesive force. Here, Simmel’s (1971 [1909]: 70) contribution should be born in mind, particularly his argument that conflict is one of most vivid interactions which ‘cannot possibly be carried out by one individual alone’. Even apparent social disintegration caused by conflict, in his view, may help resolve divergent dualisms and lead to some form of unity. Just as the universe needs ‘love and hate’, that is, attractive and repulsive forces, in order to have any form at all, so society, too, in order to attain a determinate shape, needs some quantitative ratio of harmony and disharmony, of association and competition, of favourable and unfavourable tendencies. (ibid.: 72) Unlike monades, individuals constantly interact in ‘sociation’. Even the ‘dissociating factors’ inherent in conflict are designed to lead to a synthesis. The social sciences, remarks Simmel, focus on two related subject matters: the individual unit and the unity of individuals (society), while a third subject matter is logically excluded. In this conception, conflict itself – irrespective of its contribution to these immediate social units – found no place for study. It was a phenomenon of its own, and its subsumption under the concept of unity would have been arbitrary as well as useless, since conflict meant the negation of unity. (ibid.: 71) Simmel uses a pictorial metaphor to distinguish static from conflictual societies. The society of Saints which Dante Alighieri sees in the Rose of Paradise is a centripetal depiction of pure unification, but it is unreal as it lacks a life process, and shows no sign of possible change or development. On the contrary, the holy assembly of the Church Fathers in Raphael’s Disputa shows a considerable differentiation of moods and thoughts, from which vitality flows. In brief, conflict is neither the effect of self-interest nor the result of calculating monades; rather, it is the very essence of a collectivity. In city life conflict, like antipathy, performs a protective function: The extent and combination of antipathy, the rhythm of its appearance


Understanding political violence and disappearance, the forms in which it is satisfied, all these, along with the more literally unifying elements, produce the metropolitan form of life in its irresolvable totality; and what at first glance appears in it as dissociation, actually is one of its elementary forms of association. (ibid.: 76) In extending this view, conflict theory in criminology assumes that coherence and uniformity in any social unit can only be assured by coercion and constraint. Power, in other words, is perceived as the basic characteristic of social organization, and power and conflict as inextricably linked: competing groups will always fight to determine their respective conduct. As a consequent assumption, social action is purposive and meaningful, as individuals and groups involved in such competition tend to engage in voluntary behaviour, which is the outcome of subjective choice. This humanistic conception of social action contrasts with strictly deterministic and functionalist views, which limit the possibility for groups to break from the established social order and to consider the formation of new ones (Berger 1963).

The politicality of crime Conflict theorists in criminology mainly address conventional crime and only indirectly do they deal with political violence. Let us see how. The behaviour that becomes labelled as criminal is viewed as incorporating a political element: such behaviour is seen less as the outcome of inadequate socialization or personality problems than of conscientious choice. Crime becomes the only appropriate means for expressing certain thoughts and feelings – and the only possibility for bringing about social changes. This is because ‘the traditional channels of the political process may be inappropriate or may be insensitive for the grievances’ of sections of the population. As conduct challenges the interests of the powerful, it is remarked, criminal definitions are applied, and consequently crime is viewed as ‘political behaviour’, while the criminal is in fact a member of a ‘minority group’ devoid of sufficient public support to control state power. Law enforcement efforts and judicial activity, in turn, are likely to be increased when the interests of the powerful are relentlessly threatened. Crime is thus becoming more political in two senses. First, the actions of many criminally defined persons are actually political behaviours. And, second, the actions taken in the labelling of behaviour as criminal are political actions. The criminal law is being used by those in power to maintain their control over others. Whenever criminal law is formulated, enforced, and administered, political acts are taking

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place. Hence, we may view much of the contemporary criminal environment in terms of its politicality. (Quinney 1971: 180) In light of this argument, we are led to conclude that conventional criminal violence is also a form of political violence. But let us follow Quinney’s analysis a bit further. Shifting quickly from conventional crime to political resistance, the author provides a list of Sedition Acts, including the Internal Security Act of 1950 and the Communist Control Act of 1954, through to the laws to suppress protests against the Vietnam War. He then argues that American history is constantly characterized by an attempt to apply the criminal label to the conduct of oppositions. In addition to the use of new laws that are explicitly political, he mentions a host of existing laws that increasingly are applied for political reasons. Civil rights demonstrators, for example, ‘have been arrested on such charges as disorderly conduct, breach of peace, trespassing, parading without a permit, and loitering’ (ibid.: 182). While discussing anti-racist riots in the black urban areas, the author then stresses that, contrary to the common stereotype, much of the violence in those situations is provoked by the authorities charged with controlling the participants: police intimidation and brutality are the main characteristics of those riots. Political violence, in this perspective, is mainly equated to institutional violence, thus excluding the possibility that rational agents might choose violence as an expression of political dissent. We shall see how this line of analysis will leave a crucial imprint in successive radical contributions. Anti-racist demonstrations are said to actually turn into ‘police riots’, as officers engage in violent acts in the name of crowd control (Mouledoux 1967). The events that occur during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago see the police unlawfully arrest 668 demonstrators, while groups of officers literally go on the rampage, hitting bystanders indiscriminately. Unrestrained police violence is addressed to persons who are not, nor have any intention of, breaking the law, including peaceful onlookers and large numbers of residents who are simply passing through, or happen to live in the areas where the demonstration is taking place. Middle-class fear of losing what they have acquired is singled out as the background support for institutional political violence, whereby any demonstration, no matter how peaceful, is interpreted as a clear and present danger. The same happens in a number of cases of civil disobedience, when people are accused of conspiring to oppose the draft by illegal means. Increased use of police power has been justified as necessary to combat violence. But the paradox is that the violence that the police attempt to control is inspired in many instances by the police themselves . . . The state does not regard its own actions as violence, or if such actions are considered, they are defined at best as legitimate violence. So it is that looting of property during race riots is defined as violence by the state, but killing of looters is legitimate. And those who would peaceably


Understanding political violence demonstrate against injustices of various kinds are subject to similar displays of police rioting and violence. (Quinney 1970: 315) As groups of disenchanted citizens no longer take for granted the sacredness of government and wisdom of the law, all politically relevant action is said to be liable to criminalization. ‘Looking about them, many persons have found that some of our institutions, even in the age of affluence, do not provide the opportunity for living decent lives. Why support that which makes a sham out of human existence?’ (Quinney 1971: 186). In this analysis, ‘violence from below’ is part of a mere label imposed on political protest by the authorities, who define as violent all attempts to create new forms of community, new family patterns, new artistic forms, and new individual and collective identities. While these attempts are deemed peaceful by definition, the violence of the law is focused upon, because the law represents and embodies the ethos of old institutions, now questioned by growing sections of the population. The only form of violence used by political oppositions appears to be the ‘violence’ inherent in civil disobedience, institutionally perceived and defined as violent opposition. Moreover, the confrontation between old laws and new collective demands and lifestyles will produce more violent responses on the part of the authorities, while an increasing portion of crime in American society will be a reflection of this political confrontation. Political violence, again, is institutional violence, while oppositional violence is a mere product of criminalization processes. In further specifications of how conventional crime is constructed, Quinney (1970: 17) argues that, in a situation of conflict, some groups are able to control the behaviour of persons in other groups. ‘It follows that the greater the conflict in interests between the segments of a society, the greater the probability that the power segments will formulate criminal definitions.’ On the other hand, the probability that individuals will develop action patterns that have a high potential of being defined as criminal depends on their opportunities, learning experiences, interpersonal associations, identifications and self-conceptions. Throughout their experiences, people create conceptions of themselves as social beings, and behave according to the anticipated consequences of their actions. The underprivileged may adapt to their plight by turning to crime, a means of survival in a system where survival is not assured by other, collective means. In subsequent writings, however, Quinney (1977) makes an important distinction, thus abandoning the argument of ‘the politicality’ of all crimes and the notion of political violence as ‘police riots’. Crimes of the underprivileged are also described as ‘crimes of accommodation’ (provoked by the conditions of capitalism), as opposed to ‘crimes of domination’ (white collar and organized crime) and ‘crimes of resistance’ (political violence from below), which involve collective struggle against the state. This is an important pointer, only partially heeded by other criminologists.

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The new criminology When self-defined, neo-Marxist, or new criminology intervenes in this debate, crime is attributed not to a ‘political’ but a ‘pre-political’ nature. Conflict theorists such as Quinney are accused of ignoring the general class divisions against which conflict itself takes place, and their analysis is dismissed for failing to place crime within the context of ‘class struggle for the control of the means of production’. Conflict theorists, therefore, are not criticized for devoting insufficient attention to radical political actors and ‘crimes of resistance’, but for ignoring grand, foundational, analytical frameworks. An important argument made by Quinney is that the criminal law is not applied directly by powerful actors, but that enforcement and administration of the law are delegated to authorized legal agents who represent their interests. The occupational organization and the ideology of these legal agents are given a crucial role in the way in which criminal definitions are applied, so that the perception of what crime is and how it should be fought ‘is influenced by such [occupational] community and organisational factors’ (Quinney 1970: 18–19). The new criminologists are unhappy with this formulation, perhaps because once the notion is established that law enforcers are ‘the agents of the bourgeoisie’, studies concerned with their specific organization and occupational culture are regarded as unnecessary diversions from that notion. Detailed analyses are redundant: they may lead revolutionaries astray. In attempting to elaborate a full-blown theory of deviance, a theory derived from Marxism, the new criminologists ask who makes the rules, who defines crime and why? In the replies they offer, they try ‘to locate the defining agencies, not only in some general market structure, but quite specifically in their relationship to the overweening structure of material production and the division of labour’ (Taylor et al. 1973: 220). The new criminologists reiterate that individuals and groups are not totally ‘determined’ by social dynamics and constraints, but are able to react to criminal labels and produce subjective antagonistic behaviour. Acts of deviance, in fact, are ‘acts of men in the process of actively making, rather than passively taking, the external world’. Much deviance, therefore, is in itself a political act, and, in this sense, ‘deviance is a property of the act rather than a spurious label applied to the amoral or the careless by agencies of political and social control’ (ibid.: 221). If deviance is in itself a political act, it is capitalism, however, which spreads a form of egoism favourable to the commission of crime, due to the demoralizing and destructive consequences of its domination. While identifying these ‘demoralizing and destructive consequences’, the new criminologists offer their ‘appreciative accounts’ of deviants, whom they see as ‘actors exercising degrees of choice and possessing a dignity of their own’ (ibid.: 234). Even the apparently most demoralized individuals, caught in


Understanding political violence the most hopeless of circumstances, could exercise choice and build for themselves a life-project of a sort. The political nature of the deviant choice can even be observed in some acts of violence and in some sex crimes; all, according to the new criminologists, signalling that crime is human action, a ‘reaction to positions held in an antagonistic social structure’, but also ‘action taken to resolve those antagonisms’. In their view, the main task is to understand the relationship between criminal action, its dynamics and human liberation. Conflict theorists are said to limit their interest to conflict within a market situation over the distribution of resources (as in Weber), rather than addressing conflict ‘deriving from struggle to abolish the divisions imposed by the arrangements of material production’ (as in Marx). They are described as the outcome of unsuccessful, previous interpretative paradigms emphasizing ‘consensus’, such as structural-functionalism. While ‘events in the real world have thrown the assumptions of “consensus” into doubt’ (ibid.: 237), the conflict perspective in the US is seen as a response to suggestions that even dissent may be dangerous. And amid the practices adopted by McCarthyism to reinforce this point, liberal-minded sociologists are said to resort to the defence of democracy by highlighting how conflict can contribute to the stability of social systems (Coser 1956). Without openly endorsing a theory of social disruption as social change, these sociologists stress that conflict may reinforce norms and bring them to life; that it may provide a safety valve defusing seriously dangerous outbursts. For this reason, conflict theorists are deemed too moderate: they are said to be attracted to conflict theory only because consensus paradigms fail to describe the present situation. Hence, they are described as tame intellectuals, embarrassed by their lack of good answers when confronted by students who wonder why criminological studies are so unreal. They are ‘accused’ of including gender and ethnicity (rather than just class) among the potential sources of conflict. In brief, they are criticized for failing to direct criminological attention to the questions of social structure, structures of power, domination and authority, and ‘the ability of men to confront these structures in acts of crime, deviance and dissent’ (ibid.: 268). In the light of such formulations, one may think that there are no better candidates for an incisive analysis of political violence. And yet, this topic remains an extraordinary omission in the range of deviant acts and crimes whose contribution to human liberation is examined by the new criminologists. Therefore, while deviant hedonistic activity, vandalism (‘kicking back at a rejecting society’), forms of individual industrial sabotage (‘working at one’s pace’) (ibid.: 271) and even ‘some sex crimes’ are all included among the subjective choices to challenge ‘the social structure and the structure of power’, organized collective violence is surprisingly excluded. The suspicion arises that such omission is due to the very organized nature of collective violence, which expresses too high a degree of subjectivity even for new criminologists to handle. In other words, when faced with

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socially vulnerable actors it is always possible for criminologists to attribute a degree of subjectivity to those actors and offer an interpretation of their conduct as a form of sympathy, whether or not those adopting such conduct explicitly request or welcome such sympathy. This is part of the propensity of some criminologists to study marginalized communities with a missionary zeal and a honeyed paternalism that derive from traditional philanthropy (Ruggiero 2000, 2003c). Such criminologists need their objects of study more than they need them, and in the face of strong expressions of subjectivity, as the one claimed, for example, by armed political groups, attributions of subjectivity from without become totally inappropriate. Ultimately, the only forms of political violence with which the new criminologists seem analytically ‘comfortable’ are those embryonic forms of social dissent, or even those ‘unconscious’ elements of contention that one could read in conventional criminal acts. In this case, at least, criminologists can fulfil their mandate by unveiling the ‘conscious’ meaning behind such acts, while their role tends to wither away when consciously organized conducts prove that, at times, actors have nothing to learn from those interpreting them. What follows is an explicative example. There is at times a sense of pity and empathy for what is deemed prepolitical violence, like that allegedly expressed by riots and collective, unstructured outbursts. ‘In 1980 and 1981 popular frustrations at the indifference of the media and officialdom, and the continuing harassment by the police, gave rise to the riots that occurred in Bristol, Brixton and Moss Side’ (Taylor 1981: xii). The sympathy that emerges from the description of these events seems inspired by the fact that such riots are not inscribed in any rational political project, so that the criminologist, as an external observer, can elaborate on their hidden rationality. Riots, on the other hand, may also be triggered by contingent situations like, for example, particularly harsh law enforcement or overwhelming deprivation. Riots occurring in Britain in the early 1980s are seen as the response to police harassment and police racism, while looting taking place during the riots is interpreted as a result of a consumerist culture generating individualism. The riots were primarily significant for the way in which they expressed the desperation of the marginal populations in British class society, in a highly patterned and collective fashion. The anger of black youth was directed at symbols of white racism or police racism. . . . The market forces have been active enough, throughout the post-war period, in ensuring the advance of possessive individualism throughout society, and it has surely been this advance (rather than the advance of social welfare, for example) which has disrupted and dislocated the communities in inner-city urban areas. (Taylor 1981: xiii) Crimes of violence, on the other hand, are said to occur primarily ‘within


Understanding political violence the rough working class’ and to victimize members of the same class, ‘usually those who are imprisoned in impersonal, cheap and architecturally oppressive housing developments’. But this violence is the spontaneous response of a generation of youth which feels rejected, youths who ‘no longer nurture any serious expectation of being allowed to escape from the mean and repressive neighbourhoods of their parents’. Working-class adults, after years of respectable conformity and productive labour, may still believe in the possibility of some eventual reward, but the general population of working-class youth, in its embrace of nihilistic and interpersonal violence and other illegitimate, anti-social activity, is clearly acting out its disbelief. (ibid.: 20–21) The much-criticized analysis of Quinney’s argument is therefore reiterated. Political violence is ingrained in racist police activity, whereas violence from below is either the result of that activity or the mere outcome of labelling processes. This analysis, moreover, addresses the symptoms of an underlying social conflict, rather than violent conflict itself. To describe this choice in their own terms, the new criminologists stop their theoretical elaboration at what the very Marxist doctrine inspiring them regards as the first stage of class formation. According to Marx, a ‘class-in-itself’ is produced by economic conditions, but this becomes a ‘class-for-itself’ in the course of political struggle. The first is characterized by relative unconsciousness, while the latter is engaged in a process of consciousness acquisition. The distinction can also be rendered as the former possessing a false and the latter a true consciousness. The new criminologists seem engaged in proving that behind a false consciousness a true one is hidden, and that their analytical efforts are instrumental for the crucial passage from one to the other to occur. Consequently, while street crime can be seen as a form of resistance, explicit forms of resistance, including violent ones, seem unworthy of criminological attention. There is, here, a propensity to focus on the victims of power who are never expected or encouraged to ‘cast off their helplessness’ by asserting themselves as sovereign ˇ izˇ ek subjects: they are supported in so far as they remain victims (Z 2000: 60). The new criminologists, in short, are at ease when analysing endemic violence caused by structural inequality, institutional racism or criminalization processes, namely a type of violence that they would like to marshal in a political project. They become uneasy when actors, through their organized violence, delineate their own political project. In more recent contributions by new, critical or radical criminologists, the emphasis remains on criminalizing processes defining opposition as violent, rather than violence as a choice made by the opposition (Scraton 1987; Hillyard 1993; Schmid and Morgan 2003; Green and Ward 2004). Described as the criminology of late modernity, the new (but also critical and radical) criminology imputes the causes of crime to the social system

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and the conflictual interests characterizing it (Cohen 1988; Walton and Young 1998). Initially, it focuses on social conflicts causing criminal behaviour, rather than on that behaviour in isolation. As a consequence, echoing aspects of labelling theory, institutional agencies are anatomized and their role in manufacturing criminal careers scrutinized. Campaigns are launched for their reform or abolition, while consensus-building mechanisms are deconstructed, as are the devices amplifying deviance and generating moral panic. On occasions, the crimes of the powerful are also focused upon, and the abuses unveiled are said to intensify and perpetuate class structure and power. Movements for social change are also joined, as for example the prisoners’ movement and the movement for psychiatric reform. Successive developments, however, lead new, critical and radical criminologists to focus mainly on mechanisms of marginalization and criminalization, and their role, therefore, becomes increasingly confined to the exposure of such mechanisms, while the identification of possibilities for change are slowly abandoned. Particularly when engaged in denouncing state crime and corporate deviance, they end up polarizing their analysis to a point that powerful actors and dynamics of power are unwittingly presented as unassailable, their criminality ineluctable, and their strength invincible. Soon, little space is left for the development of a paradigm of social change, let alone for the analysis of political violence. Even if one looks at the current state of critical criminology (Young 2002), one has to conclude that the only successful way to reintroduce any notion of social change and violent contestation may ‘dangerously’ drive criminologists and sociologists of deviance totally out of their own disciplinary realm. Alternatively, if one seeks specific contributions to the debate on political violence, one has to return to the so much criticized ‘conflict theorists’, particularly to their analysis and definitions of terrorism.1

Conflict and terrorism Aware of the existing monopoly in the definition of behaviour, students of terrorism agree that manifestations of political dissent, extreme though they may be, should be seen against social and institutional processes, tentatively exemplified by Ferracuti (1982: 130) in the following words: Cynically, but perhaps truly, terrorism could be defined as ‘what the other person does’. What we, or the state, do is ‘anti- or counterterrorism’, but obviously the positions can be reversed by shifting sides, or simply by the flow of history. 1 I would like to clarify that the definitions of terrorism grouped in this section are those proposed by the authors discussed. For a definition of terrorism attempted by this author, readers are kindly asked to bear with me for a few more pages.


Understanding political violence It has also been noted that violent attempts to overthrow governments have been more common than national elections, and that ‘political violence has sometimes led to the creation of new and more satisfying political communities’ (Gurr 1970: 3). Therefore, a thematic content analysis of definitions found in the international literature may lead to the conclusion that terrorism can only become a criminological or sociological object of study when filtered through the discourses of politics and the media. For some, in this sense, the very concept of terrorism is hollow and unworthy of specialist analytical effort (Kuhn 2002). Conversely, if it is posited that all definitions of crime are the result of political and media action, it may well be important to study the circumstances and the modalities in which, when terrorism is thus defined, that action takes place. While bearing a relativistic premise in mind, some authors identify a terrorist act as any action carried out during the course of political struggle, aimed at influencing, conquering, or defending the state power, implying the use of extreme violence against innocent, non-combatant persons (Pontara 1979). It should be noted that this definition includes both terrorism ‘from below’ and terrorism ‘from above’, namely acts of terror carried out by a state against its internal or external enemies. Other authors, instead, regard this definition as charged with excessive subjectivity extending into partisanship: the distinction between terror from below and terror from above is deemed ‘more verbal than real’. ‘To nearly everyone, terrorism connotes violence against, not by or on behalf of, governments and other establishments’ (Turk 1982a: 120). Laqueur (1977) observes that consensus on a definition of terrorism is most difficult to be achieved, as the word is used more as an ideological weapon than as an analytical tool. At best, the author argues, terrorism serves the purpose of alluding to some mode or intensity of politically consequential violence other than spontaneous uprisings or rioting. This argument obscures the fact that some groups engaged in politically, thoroughly planned, consequential violence may contest the perception by others of their action as terrorism. In spite, or perhaps because, of this prevailing definitional relativism, however, some authors advocate the necessity ‘to find a more specific, less subjective, and non-partisan way of defining the object of inquiry’ (Turk 1982a: 120). In this, they appear to echo institutional agencies, which in the face of the evasiveness of the concept, strive to design viable definitions for mere operational purposes. For example, while in the US no federal crime called ‘terrorism’ exists, the FBI defines it as ‘the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social goals’ (Smith 1994: 6). Whatever the intensity of terrorist acts, those performing such acts assume that their violence is politically consequential, in that it aims to destroy, replace or modify the dominant structure of authority, namely the way in which power and resources are allocated. The belief that a mixture

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of persuasion, deception and violence is employed to promote acceptance of the dominant structure of authority leads terrorists to utilize similar tools to try and destroy or change it. Their search for legitimacy mirrors that of the institutions, which rely on trust, opportunism, as well as apathy on the part of the public to reproduce themselves and their acceptance. A degree of eclecticism is found in authors identified as conflict theorists who have studied terrorism. For example, terrorism is associated with the breakdown of traditional systems and with efforts to create modern ones. Changes resulting from internal dynamics and external pressures – especially modernization in all forms – are said to destroy mechanisms regulating social interaction and to intensify social conflict. ‘Modernisation tends to weaken established accommodations inhibiting inter-groups violence and to promote consciousness and resentment of unequal life chances’ (Turk 1982a: 127). Similarly, frustration due to discrepancies between expectations and reality is also given a central causal role. Finally, a ‘blockade hypothesis’ is put forward, according to which terrorists feel that the only instruments left to them (and to the groups they purport to represent) to overcome institutional obstacles to their social and political development are of a violent nature (Bonanate 1979). Explanations of terrorism, and of political violence in general, reflect differing notions around the nature of social order. When societies are seen as the constant formation of organic links among individuals and groups, and when solidarity and cooperation among them is emphasized, violence is described as an aberration. Consensus and peaceful ways of resolving disputes are viewed as the backbone of interactions, while change is said to occur by slow evolution. We have seen that conflict theorists, on the contrary, see societies as composed of antagonistic needs and claims, and interactions as perpetually frictional and exploitative, so that violence is associated with one among the other tools that can be utilized to achieve individual and group goals. Oppositional, illegitimate violence, in this view, unveils the true character of societies and their elites, whose perpetuation is based on hidden, legitimate forms of violence. How conflict evolves into behaviour commonly described as terrorism, and how it prompts definitions such as those listed above, remains to be examined. In this respect, students of the phenomenon are advised to avoid seeking discrete ‘causes’ of terrorism but to concentrate on ‘causation’, namely on processes and relationships shaping conflict and violence into acts definable as terrorism. ‘Differences in the propensity to adopt terrorism are associated with variation in the dynamics of such relationships’ (Turk 1982a: 123). A causal sequence in political violence is suggested in which: first, discontent develops; second, it becomes politicized; third, it translates into violent action. ‘Discontent arising from the perception of relative deprivation is the basic, instigating condition for participants in collective violence’ (Gurr 1970: 13). Variations in political violence in general, and terrorism in particular are


Understanding political violence also associated with the respective prevalence of functional and interactive relationships in a given society. The former set of relationships allude to interdependency and organic solidarity among groups, while the latter refers to direct contact among them, in a way describing the degree of social mobility in a given context. It is controversial whether terrorism is higher where functional interdependency and social mobility are both high, as interdependency and proximity may make injustice more visible and thus exacerbate conflict, or whether terrorism is higher where they are both low, as fragmentation and isolation among groups may increase hostility. In a more general formulation, however, conflict theorists posit that official institutions do not represent the values and interests of society at large, but of limited groups with sufficient power to control their operations and practices. Norms of conduct are not mirrored in the law, which only reflects the norms of the dominant culture (Sellin 1938). Political violence and terrorism, in this perspective, could be read as manifestations, if extreme, of two sets of conduct norms violently clashing. The members of armed groups are self-appointed representatives of social sectors, or countries, whose interests diverge from those of the dominant sectors and countries. To summarize, the belief that people are fundamentally group-involved beings leads conflict theorists to describe social life as permanent confrontation. Individuals are said to produce associations on the basis of common interests and to pursue them through collective action. These associations or groups are said to engage in a permanent struggle to maintain, or to improve, the place they occupy in the interaction with other groups. Conflict is, therefore, regarded as one of the principal and essential processes in the continuous and ongoing functioning of society. The conflict between groups seeking their own interests is particularly visible in legislative politics, where definitions of acceptable and unacceptable conducts are forged. Thus the whole process of lawmaking, lawbreaking, and law enforcement directly reflects deep-seated and fundamental conflicts between group interests and the more general struggles among groups for control of the police power of the state. To that extent, criminal behaviour is the behaviour of minority power groups, in that these groups do not have sufficient power to promote and defend their interests and purposes in the legislative process. (Vold et al. 1998: 235–7) Similarly, conflict theorists posit that the definition of political activity as criminal results from the challenge to authority through dissent, disobedience or violence, a challenge which is deemed intolerable by the establishment (Turk 1982b). It is inherently difficult to specify the meaning of political criminal acts, but ‘it is generally in the interest of authorities to leave themselves as much discretion as possible in dealing with intolerable political opposition’

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(ibid.: 62). Terrorists may pay with the extreme outcome of such discretion, namely execution, and this may be indicative of their serious intention (or chance) of bringing radical transformation to the structure of power. Their activity, however, may not be an immanent form of that transformation, the targets they hit being, usually, replaceable icons of that structure of power, which remains intact. They perform what Turk (1982b) terms ‘the propaganda of the deed’, that is to say those acts that may be committed as more or less reasoned tactical moves which justify the occasional destruction of property or lives. Their ‘propaganda’ is a revolutionary spark aimed at starting the fire of widespread opposition. ‘This type of opposition is calculated, organised and may lead to either a full-blown revolution or annihilation. In the first instance, the former criminals become the rulers of the new order’ (ibid.: 107). It is exactly on the capacity of the former terrorists to become the rulers of the new order that armed groups harbour contrasting feelings. Some may observe that the new order must also be a moral order if it is not to turn into a new type of tyranny. In sum, even when revolutionary violence is the only remaining alternative (Roebuck and Weeber 1978), there is a danger that it will intensify the very inhumanity which it seeks to overcome.

Organized hostility Conflict theory, in sum, does allow criminologists to offer an original contribution to the analysis of political violence. However, as can be seen in the overview provided so far, most criminological efforts pertain to specific, ultimate forms of political violence, namely to acts controversially termed terrorism. Such forms may or may not be linked with collective political contention, of which they may be the most visible, if extreme, expression. Political action, on the other hand, requires mobilization, knowledge of leadership formation and organizational dynamics, along with the development of an internal normative and, finally, the emergence of a ‘we-feeling’. In the previous chapter we have seen how some Chicago sociologists acquire an understanding of political violence when they manage to formulate concepts and theories of social movement. Similarly, here, in order to understand the links between political action and violence, aspects highlighted by collective behaviour theories may be of invaluable help to criminologists. Political violence, as a form of extreme hostility, raises the vexing problems continuously encountered in the study of aggression, namely the problem of explaining its intensity and that of examining its organization. A further problem is related to the effects social control and institutional responses may produce in terms of diminishing that intensity and disrupting organization.


Understanding political violence Hostility ranges all the way from mild irritation to violent, illegal attack. The degree of intensity depends on the degree of strain, on how effectively leaders can mobilise an aggrieved group, and on the effectiveness of counteracting social control . . . At one extreme is an uncoordinated brawl; at the other a highly organised, even conspiratorial attack. (Smelser 1963: 225) Like hostility, political violence can be framed in a general set of concepts like the one utilized by Smelser: conduciveness, strain, generalized beliefs, precipitating factors, mobilization for action and social controls. Conduciveness is not only associated with inequality, injustice and, in general, social strain, but also with the presence of channels for the expression of grievances, and the possibility for communication among the aggrieved. These channels of expression and communication are better functioning when political violence is linked with large-scale social movements. Although the intensity of the violence may not depend on the effectiveness of such channels, these determine a substantial difference between the types of hostile outbursts we are likely to witness. ‘The primary differences among terms such as riot, revolt, rebellion, insurrection and revolution – all of which involve hostile outbursts – stem from the scope of their associated social movement’ (ibid.: 227). Strain may stem from established cleavages which amount to social differentiation, and inevitably produce identity and at times resentment. Religious, but also ethnic, national, tribal and regional divisions are examples of such cleavages, which include divisions based on unequal allocation of wealth, prestige and power. ‘Slave insurrections, labourcapitalism riots, feudal revolts, riots of prison inmates, etc., are disturbances which flow from such cleavages.’ Besides these established cleavages, hostility can emerge from new cleavages created by social movements ‘which divide society into opposing camps’, each of which defines the other as responsible for a variety of evils. Smelser implies that, while established cleavages are always conducive to hostility, due to their possessing longterm, well-functioning channels of expression and communication, new cleavages ‘created’ by divisive social movements develop such channels only because agencies responsible for maintaining social order are unable, being weak, archaic or ineffective, to prevent the growth of hostility (ibid.: 229). I would argue that such channels, given the current growth of global communication networks, are increasingly available to all new and old movements, and that preventing some of these movements from accessing them could intensify rather than defuse hostility. Political violence, therefore, can be both the result of established cleavages and strain, and the outcome of entirely new conducive factors linked with access or otherwise to channels of expression and communication. In other words, the growth of political violence may be due to agencies blocking expression for certain groups, but also to its opposite, namely increased opportunities for expression granted to all.

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Some institutionalized strains give rise to chronic conflict, like conflict caused by ethnic, political, class and religious divisions. Labour conflict is the result of one such type of institutionalized strain, and may become an endemic feature of social life, it may even lead to violent outbursts, but not necessarily to social change. This type of conflict is usually provoked by deprivation – real or threatened, absolute or relative – but again, this conflict, which may be cyclical, intermittent, or constant, need not actually challenge the core logic of the system against which it is directed. Valueconflicts are, on the contrary, less manageable, as they are based on shared beliefs which may prefigure a completely new social system. While echoes of Marx’s notion of class-for-itself resonate in this formulation, Smelser extends his typology of conflicts beyond class struggle: Among the most important value-conflicts which act as strains inciting to violence are those created by value-oriented movements – internal revolutions, nationalistic outbursts, charismatic religious movements, etc. Such movements establish battle-lines between important groupings. (ibid.: 247) The spread of beliefs is crucial for the development of value-conflicts, and communication preparing people for action may be expressed through an informal exchange of views or through organized propaganda and agitation. Again, what is important here is not so much the power of the images and beliefs exchanged, as the effectiveness of the established communication machinery utilized. This machinery will contribute to the actual mobilization and organization of conflictual outbursts, particularly when an efficacious and recognized leadership is provided. Contrary to Smelser’s analysis, however, political violence may be caused less by highly motivated and daring leaders, than by fractions of well-organized social movements who take leadership of already aggrieved and hostile social groups. The outbursts of these groups, in this case, are not instigated by such movements, but are part and parcel of their routine hostility. Political violence is, therefore, an attempt to give hostile outbursts an organizational structure and a rational, calculable trend, so that uncoordinated hostility is slowly turned into military action (highly specialized and integrated), towards a predictable end. The degree of preexisting structure is, of course, paramount in this process, though new forms of coordinated violence may emerge because of the poor results achieved by such a structure. In this sense, rather than on a precise organizational structure, its communication channels and its leadership, political violence may thrive on a memory, an inherited repertoire of action and beliefs which then turn into new, completely unpredictable, organizational structures. To what extent the ‘weakness on the part of the agencies of social control’ (ibid. 256) determines the successful expansion of such new structures is hard to tell. Rather, the importance of ‘derived phases’ of political violence might be stressed, as previous organized hostility may


Understanding political violence leave sufficient political imagery and shared values for structured hostility to be perpetuated, though in completely different social conditions. Conflict theory does offer a variety of insights that can help in the analysis of political violence. As I have suggested, however, when criminologists adopt a conflict paradigm, they tend to either highlight the ‘politicality’ inherent in conventional crime or stress a notion of violence as pre-political violent conduct. An overview of the contributions by conflict theorists to the analysis of terrorism leads to the appreciation that such analysis is to be complemented by notions of collective action and political contention. In Smelser’s analysis one finds some tools for a more detailed understanding of social and political conflict, with categories which, if rarely frequented by criminologists, are all too familiar to sociologists of social movements. One also finds intuitions around the way in which the development of violent political action is the result of interactions and relational dynamics with institutional agencies. The following chapter focuses on such dynamics.

Further reading A classical argument for the foundation of a Marxist criminology is in Bonger (1969). For the problem of culture conflict as a source of crime, see Sellin (1938); while for a broader analysis of inequality and power leading to crime, see Vold (1958). Apart from the work of Turk already quoted, for an understanding of conflict theory in criminology, it is important to consult the books by Hall (1952), Chambliss (1969) and Chambliss and Seidman (1971).

chapter seven

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Dialogical dynamics Significant symbols Joint action Relational dynamics Deviance as collective action By any means necessary Search and destroy Further reading

It is assumed that state intervention is triggered by crime and is meant to punish wrongdoers or rehabilitate them. Labelling theorists would turn this assumption upside down, claiming that state intervention is part of the crime problem, if not its major causative factor. Concerned with criminalization processes, these theorists study the way in which certain specific persons and conducts are designated as criminal. The criminal justice system itself is held responsible for manufacturing criminal careers. Underlying these tenets is the belief that definitions of crime change in time and space, and that deviant behaviour is devoid of any inherent, universal characteristic: crime is defined by the social and institutional reaction it elicits. Conducts may be harmful, but only some harmful conducts are designated as criminal, namely those targeted by institutional intervention. An early application of labelling theory is found in Franklin Tannenbaum’s (1938) study of juveniles and the way in which, through the ‘dramatisation of evil’, some of them are singled out and separated from others. Once labelled as problematic, and subjected to specialized treatment, these juveniles think of themselves as problematic and start behaving accordingly. Among the authors discussed below are Edwin Lemert, who distinguishes between primary and secondary deviation, and Howard Becker, who proposes the notion of deviance as collective action. Labelling processes imply the use of stereotypes and ‘theories’ by specific professionals,


Understanding political violence such as the police, probation and court officials. Aaron Cicourel (1968), following an ethnomethodological perspective, studies how the ‘theories’ of delinquency held by these officials influence the labelling process. Official decision-makers are said to develop views about what types of adolescents are likely to become deviant. This ‘typification’ allows officials to identify the ‘typical’ delinquents and categorize them for further action. Labelling theory and ethnomethodology are indebted to symbolic interactionism, which is concerned with how individuals develop an understanding of one another, establish a communicative relationship and adopt a specific role in that relationship. This chapter traces the origin and developments of the interactionist tradition, from George Herbert Mead to Herbert Blumer, through to Edwin Lemert and Howard Becker. In the last section, some of the analytical categories derived from this tradition are used for a brief case study focusing on the experience of the Black Panther Party.

Through gestures and words, persons assume the attitude of their interlocutors, as well as calling out that attitude in them. In the interactionist tradition, human communication implies taking on the role of the other person while influencing and being influenced by him or her. It is through taking on the role of the other that individuals are able to come back to themselves and so direct their own process of communication. According to Mead (1934), cooperative activity would be unthinkable without this process, which operates as a form of self-criticism, and so intimately and extensively affects individual conduct that through it we integrate ourselves and our actions in organized social life. The organization of the self-conscious community is dependent upon individuals taking the attitude of the other individuals. The development of this process is dependent upon getting the attitude of the group as distinct from that of a separate individual – getting what I have termed a generalized other. (Mead 1934: 256) Mead illustrates the notion of the ‘generalized other’ through the example of ‘the ball game’, in which the attitudes of a set of individuals aim to provide a collective response to another set of individuals who occupy a variety of roles. The players involved have to relate their action to the actions of their own team as a whole and, simultaneously, to the expected moves of the opposition. Successful moves, of course, are dependent on skills, but as long as one is ‘able to take the roles of those involved in the activity’, one is also likely to create the conditions for success. Until we can respond to ourselves as the community responds to us, we do not genuinely belong to that community. In order for us to belong, therefore, the community ‘organized other’ must be present in ourselves. There is a certain sort of organised response to our acts which

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represents the way in which people react toward us in certain situations. Such responses are in our nature because we act as members of the community toward others, and what I am emphasising now is that the organisation of these responses makes the community possible. (ibid.: 265–6)

Dialogical dynamics The interactionist heritage is composite, consisting first of all of several forms of pragmatism. A core argument of this heritage is that the meaning of a concept lies in the manner in which it could conceivably modify purposive action (Murphy 2002). If we pursue social change, for example, theories are to be used when they serve our purposes, and discarded when they utterly fail us. The political pragmatism of Mead, by contrast, is less critical of the status quo, and more aligned with a liberal-minded version of his contemporary society. ‘This often translates into a conservative cultural romanticism which turns the modern self and its interactional experiences into a moral hero’ (ibid.: 6). Mead, however, turns pragmatism on its head: for him the ‘self’ is not a mental process, the result of introspection, but a social object which lies in the field of experience. It is structured by the principle of sociality, namely by taking the attitude of the other in a social situation. Rejecting introspection because it is not scientific, he argued for a view of self and society which joins these two terms in a reciprocal process of interaction. His key term was the act, which replaces James’s concept of stream of experience. (Denzin 1992: 5) In Mead’s work one finds a coalescence of what could be termed dialogical approaches to the human sciences, particularly with his emphasis on issues surrounding the idea of inter-subjectivity. Well-received by phenomenologists for advocating subjective accounts of the nature of social reality, Mead’s practical inter-subjectivity has a particular significance in that it designates a structure of communicative relations between subjects. This structure transcends ‘the opposition between the individualistic bias in the theory of action and a structural theory that does not recognise subjects or human agency’ (Joas 1985: 13). Against ‘theories of imitation’, which focus on learning dynamics of patterned behaviour within limited groups, Mead posits the necessity of cooperation between groups and individuals. The central character of social organization of conduct is not that one individual does what others do, but that one’s conduct stimulates others to perform a certain act, and that this act, again, becomes a stimulus to a certain reaction, and so on in ceaseless interaction (Mead 1934, 2002). The very beginning of human communication, according to Mead, is not the


Understanding political violence result of imitation, but is led by the need for cooperation, whereby the act of the one answers to, and calls out, the act of the other. In this ‘theory of social stimulation and response’: Human action is oriented in accordance with behavioural expectations; since the same capacity is, in principle, at the disposal of one’s partner in an interaction, a shared, and binding, pattern of reciprocal behavioural expectations is the precondition of collective activity. (Joas 1985: 116) While accepting that collectivities are also informed by hostility and aggression, Mead believes that dialogical dynamics prevail, establishing restraint, mutual monitoring mechanisms and, ultimately, cooperative interaction. If we unconditionally adopt this perspective, we are encouraged to conclude that political violence can only be described as an aberration. But let us follow his argument in more detail.

Significant symbols What Mead terms as ‘mind’ is the capacity of any given individual to act as the whole community of which they are a part. This amounts to a specific organization of social responses that are called out by means of significant symbols. ‘A person who has in himself the universal response of the community toward that which he does, has in that sense the mind of the community’ (Mead 1934: 268). The use of symbols is then of the highest importance, because they serve as gestures to elicit the response of the other. Symbols, in turn, are not bare words, but acts that call out responses while responding to the acts performed by the other. Only by taking the attitude of the other, however, can we aspire to organize our symbolic responses in a fashion that is universal. In other words, what is essential according to Mead is the development of a whole mechanism producing social relationships which bring and keep a community together. Communities experience a high degree of cohesiveness when the ‘I’ and the ‘me’ fuse together: this is when a peculiar sense of collective exaltation arises, as for example in religious and patriotic movements, in which ‘the reaction one calls out in others is the response one is making himself’. Teamwork is also informed by such a fusion of the ‘I’ and the ‘me’, in the sense that the very attitude aroused in other members of the team stimulates one to do the same thing. How does this formulation relate to Durkheim’s ‘collective effervescence’ discussed in a previous chapter? At first sight, it would appear that, in Mead, ‘exaltation’ leads to collaborative rather than hostile behaviour, whereas in Durkheim the similar concept of collective effervescence refers to conflict aimed at social change. If we apply Mead’s analytical suggestions to violent political actors, we might argue that such actors are unable

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to fuse the ‘I’ and the ‘me’ in relation to the dominant normative order that they fight, but that they relate to a completely different ‘me’, namely a different social order they intend to establish. In other words, violent political action may generate, and be inspired by, a specific collective exaltation characterizing oppositional groups. Unclear though Mead may be on this point, his is a crucial hint that, whether we adopt a collaborative or a conflictual attitude, our conduct is always determined by what other persons are doing: ‘one has to be aware of the positions of all the others; one must know what the others are going to do’. Also violent political actors, for example, have to be ‘constantly awake to the way in which other people are responding’, in order to perform their own part. Mead specifies, in this respect, that social acts call out instinctive or impulsive responses or gestures, and that this dynamic is not confined ‘to mutual reactions of individuals whose conduct accepts, conserves, and serves the others’. This process includes ‘the enemies as well’. In terms of conduct, the tiger is as much an inhabitant of the jungle as the buffalo or the deer. In the jungle, instincts or impulses of hostility, together with the gestures that generate its violent escalation, play a most important role. In society, likewise, as in evolution within the life-process, ‘the hunter and the hunted, the eater and the eaten, are as closely interwoven as are the mother and the child or the individuals of the two sexes’ (ibid.: 358). I would like to stress a twofold conceptualization in this argument. First, violent political action may be deemed the result of individuals and groups adhering to alternative communicative processes whereby the conduct they elicit, and are inspired by, seeks consistence within specific oppositional groups, rather than within the dominant social order. Second, violent political action influences and is influenced by the responses it receives by groups and agencies defending the status quo. This could be a very promising pointer for the analysis of political violence, although reading Mead one is forced to conclude that any conduct designated as criminal appears to be unworthy of such analytical efforts. In his view, criminals do not participate in the process of ‘taking the role of the others on themselves’, they do not exemplify in their action the values and responses which their community would endorse; in fact, they do not interact with the community in which they operate, they only depredate it. The criminal as such is the individual who lives in a very small group, and then makes depredations upon the larger community of which he is not a member. He is taking the property that belongs to others, but he himself does not belong to the community that recognises and preserves the rights of property. (ibid.: 265) It is uncertain whether, following Mead’s logic, we have to deliver a similar judgement when faced with ‘political criminals’ rather than mere ‘criminals’. The former too, according to that logic, might be regarded as members of ‘very small groups’ who attack the interests and values of a larger


Understanding political violence community to which they do not belong. Some responses to this dilemma may come from authors developing Mead’s thought and translating it into sociological concepts.

Joint action Blumer (1998 [1969]) moulds Mead into a sociologist. Offering a view of society that derives from Mead’s picture of the social act, he describes the interactions that extend from dyads to complex institutions. ‘His self is an interpretive process, and his society is one built on the play of power, interest, group, position, collective action, and social protest’ (Denzin 1992: 5). In Blumer’s view, symbolic interactionism rests in the last analysis on three simple premises. ‘The first premise is that human beings act towards things on the basis of the meanings that the things have for them’ (Blumer 1998: 2). Such things include all that which human beings note in their environment, for example, other human beings, categories thereof like friends or enemies, institutions, guiding ideals, and the activities of others, such as their commands or requests. The second premise is that the meaning of such things is derived from the social interaction that human beings have with their fellows. The third premise is that these meanings are handled in, and modified through, an interpretative process used by individuals in dealing with the things they encounter. Blumer bestows on Mead the honour of being his theoretical inspirer. His critique of all factorial theories, which understand the individual as a mere outcome of external and internal forces, echoes Mead’s critique of ‘imitation theories’. Blumer opposes against such theories a conception based around ‘the collective, problem-solving activity of human individuals having a socially constituted self’ (Joas 1985: 6). The meanings that things have for human beings are central, and to ignore this amounts to falsifying the human behaviour under study. ‘To bypass the meaning in favour of factors alleged to produce the behaviour is a grievous neglect of the role of meaning in the formation of behaviour’ (Blumer 1998: 3). Symbolic interactionists distance themselves from what they see as the two predominant ways of accounting for the origin of meaning. The first is the traditional position of realism in philosophy, according to which meaning is intrinsic to things, being a natural part of their objective make-up. ‘Thus, a chair is clearly a chair in itself.’ The second traditional view regards ‘meaning’ as a physical accretion brought to the thing by the person for whom the thing has meaning. ‘This physical accretion is treated as being an expression of constituent elements of the people’s psyche, mind, or psychological organisation.’ Among such constituent elements one has to include sensations, feelings, ideas, memories, motives and attitudes. Against these two traditions of thought, symbolic interactionism ‘sees meaning as arising in the process of interaction between people’.

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The meaning of a thing for a person grows out of the ways in which other persons act toward the person with regard to the thing. Their actions operate to define the thing for the person. Thus, symbolic interactionism sees meanings as social products, as creations that are formed in and through the defining activities of people as they interact. (Blumer 1998: 4–5) Actors use meanings through a process of interpretation, a process characterized by two distinct steps. First, they become aware of the things (or the others) toward which they are acting: in this sense, actors initially interact with themselves. Interpretation, however, is not to be regarded as a mere automatic application of established meanings, but as ‘a formative process in which meanings are used and revised as instruments for the guidance and formation of action’. Before leading to action (namely to the second step in the process of interpretation) meanings, therefore, ‘play their part in action through a process of self-interaction’ (ibid.: 5). The ‘typical sociological scheme’ ascribes behaviour to factors such as status position, cultural prescriptions, norms, values, sanctions, role demands and social system requirements. The ‘typical psychological scheme’, in its turn, emphasizes factors such as motives, attitudes, hidden complexes, elements of psychological organization and psychological processes. Symbolic interactionsim, instead, accounts for behaviour while focusing specifically on social interaction. Interaction is not merely a means or ‘a setting for the expression or release of human conduct’, but a process ‘that forms human conduct’ itself. In interacting with one another, human beings have to take account of each other’s action. Thus, the activities of others enter as positive factors in the formation of their own conduct; in the face of the actions of others one may abandon an intention or purpose, revise it, check or suspend it, intensify it, or replace it. The actions of others enter to set what one plans to do, may oppose or prevent such plans, may require a revision of such plans. (ibid.: 8) There is enough here to attempt an analysis of political violence, particularly when we consider that political actors in general are bound to make plans that fit the responses of their antagonists and, at the same time, that they elicit new responses against which to act. This becomes clearer when Blumer, after declaring his debt to George Herbert Mead, reminds us of the distinction his predecessor makes between ‘the conversation of gestures’ and ‘the use of significant symbols’. Blumer translates these two concepts, respectively, into non-symbolic interaction and symbolic interaction. The former, he remarks, takes place when actors respond directly to the action of others without interpreting it. The latter type of interaction involves interpretation of the action. While non-symbolic interaction is most readily apparent in reflex responses to gestures and acts performed by others,


Understanding political violence symbolic interaction transcends instinctual responses, as individuals and groups seek to understand each other’s intentional conduct. Political action, we may add, is a characteristic mode of interaction which occurs at the symbolic level, where the parties involved engage in a mostly reflective contest aimed at reading, anticipating, eliciting and neutralizing each other’s responses. But is violent political action one such characteristic mode of interaction? Political violence involves an interpretation of its effects on the part of those performing it, as well as an assessment of the possible responses on the part of those targeted. Violent political actors have to take into account their own objectives, the available means for their achievement and, at the same time, the potential actions of those whom they attack, along with the image they present of themselves and that of the individuals they hit. Their conduct, therefore, is formed and guided through ‘a process of indication and interpretation’ (ibid.:16). Violent political action from below, for example, is typically ‘joint action’, in that it cannot be broken down into the separate acts comprising it, namely the violence from above that it elicits. In this sense, violence from above is also joint action. This type of action is among the ‘root images’ of symbolic interactionism and is likened to such things as marriage, trading transactions, war, or church service, all to be handled without separating their discrete components. ‘It is evident that the domain of the social scientist is constituted precisely by the study of joint action and of the collectivities that engage in joint action’ (ibid.: 17). Blumer provides a crucial extension of this interpretative framework when he remarks that there are, on the one hand, recurrent patterns of joint action, where those engaged have in advance a firm understanding of how to act and how other people will act. In such situations, those involved share common and pre-established meanings of what is expected in the action of the participants, and accordingly each participant is able to guide their own behaviour by such meanings. We normally talk about ‘culture’ or ‘social order’ when referring to notions of pre-established joint action. ‘But new situations constantly arise within the scope of social life that are problematic and for which existing rules are inadequate.’ When confronted by radically unsatisfactory conditions, ‘people may be led to develop new forms of joint action that are markedly different from those in which they have previously engaged’ (ibid.: 20). Joint actions, in other words, have predictable careers making them regular, stable and repetitive, but such careers may encounter obstructions ‘that have no pre-established pathways, and that have to be constructed along new lines’ (ibid.: 72).

Relational dynamics Violent political action, in this perspective, is joint action that encounters obstructions and finds no pre-established pathway: it is action whose

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trajectory, to put it in Blumer’s words, ‘has to be constructed along new lines’. These new lines will be drawn within a relational dynamic fostered by the parties involved. This is the central analytical hypothesis we can derive from symbolic interactionism. This school of thought may fail to provide a lucid and integrated account of its own theories. It is true: its tenets ‘have not been clearly laid down’, and ‘its contours and boundaries are imprecisely drawn’ (Rock 1978: 18). And yet, it is precisely its lack of lucidity and contours, its vagueness, that makes symbolic interactionism a viable instrument for the interpretation of political violence. In it, one can find a set of analytical tools which sit comfortably with a variety of approaches and philosophies. Let us see some examples. As I have stressed above, the relational dynamic that interactionists identify is of central importance. Such a dynamic may lead to the conclusion that political violence from below is prevalent in contexts where control efforts eschew negotiation or accommodation, and are themselves characterized by violence. In this sense, political violence is not to be understood solely as violence against the establishment, but also as one of the effects of violence perpetrated by the establishment. In other words, ‘violence from below’ and ‘violence from above’ interact and engage in a process of mutual promotion. According to Lemert (1964), all forms of deviance, including violence, are shaped by the reaction they elicit, a reaction which generates defence or attack strategies in the recipients. Such strategies are termed secondary deviation, and modify the behaviour of ‘primary’ deviants who adapt to the responses they receive. This process is riddled with institutional ceremonies and embedded in formal or informal rhetoric, offering deviants a range of roles and identities they are expected to adopt. Becoming deviant is itself described dialectically as series of phases which supersede one another, each phase reworking the significance of what has gone before. In turn, each phase is held to be causally important in its own right. It is not enough to describe the initial condition of rule-breaking, it is also necessary to appreciate the evolving character of the deviant career as it emerges in time. (Downes and Rock 1988: 183) Events, in their turn, do not just happen, but rather occur in a series of steps, ‘which we social scientists are inclined to call “processes”, but which could just as well be called “stories”. A well-structured story can satisfy us as an explanation of an event’ (Becker 1998: 31). The following short ‘stories’ show how interaction between political actors leads to ‘secondary deviation’ and how, when violence is involved, this may lead to yet higher degrees of violence. According to Smelser (1963: 235), the Red Scare after World War I and McCarthyism in the US, reached such ‘dizzy heights’ in part because of governmental participation in scapegoating. In both cases, the government


Understanding political violence had recently passed legislation aimed at anarchists, Bolshevists, or communists, ‘thus giving a kind of endorsement of hostility toward such groups’. In such situations, the possibility of expressing protest by means other than hostility becomes very limited. Peaceful means may just not be available, and politicized individuals and groups may feel that they will be permanently unavailable. The political violence expressed in the early 1960s is seen as the consequence of an erosion of civil rights and the limitation of political space. Aggrieved people, Smelser argues, are always likely to be driven into hostile outbursts, but under the new conditions they are ‘invited’ to display hostility: ‘hostile outbursts appear as a result of the gradual or sudden closing of important and legitimate channels of protest’ (ibid.: 236). The interaction between dissatisfaction (strain) and closing off avenues of protest (what he terms structural conduciveness) produces a situation which easily gives way to violence. There are, in other words, precipitating factors that may generate specific fears and generalized beliefs, and these may turn strain and protest into radical antagonism and violent action. In its turn, ‘a precipitating factor may confirm or justify existing generalised fears or hatreds’ (ibid.: 249). Along with the sudden closing off of opportunities for peaceful protest, one such factor may be a sudden, sharp increase in relative deprivation. Smelser reviews a number of cases in which peaceful means of protest are blocked: in the prison setting as well as in labourers’ attempts to reach their objectives through strikes and demonstrations. Moreover, as he stresses, one hostile outburst may be a precipitating factor for further outbursts, and ‘a hostile outburst in one locale may trigger its spread to another’ (ibid.: 251). What is important to note in this analysis is the role played by institutional agencies in the development of political violence from below. The level of institutional violence in response to protest, and the manner in which it is deployed, affect the degree of hostility. Blumer (1990) reiterates this point, in an original fashion, when studying processes of social change such as the one generated by industrialization. This process is commonly regarded as ushering in a period of stress, disorganization and disorder. Industrialization, he says, is automatically associated with discontent, unrest, conflict between workers and employers, ‘the development of radical doctrines, the rise of protest movements, and intense political struggles’ (ibid.: 103). Blumer contests this automatic association as much as he rejects grand explanatory theories: in his view industrialization only provides the background for possible disorders, and when the stage is set it is something else, namely the interactions between groups and between these and the authorities that produces radicalism, rebelliousness, protest and revolutionary movements. In the last analysis, as I have been arguing, the behaviour of agencies of social control in the face of a hostile outburst may encourage or discourage political violence from below. However, were it only a matter of force, it is probable that most expressions of hostility could be put down easily, ‘because of the superior power and organisation of the police, military, and

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other official bodies employed in the control of violence’. When such superiority is fully displayed and, as a consequence, political violence from below fails to achieve its ends, aggrieved groups may just turn or return to other methods. ‘After the Luddite riots in England, for instance, the workers reverted to other methods of securing a redress of grievances, to trade union action, to petitions to Parliament, to attempt to secure peace and parliamentary reform’ (Smelser 1963: 239). Yet this principle of the superiority of organized wielders of force in society does not always hold true in practice. During revolutionary periods, for example, ‘the disorganisation of troop discipline and the indoctrination of military forces with revolutionary principles lead to passivity, fraternisation, and even cooperation with revolutionary crowds’ (ibid.: 265). In brief, vacillation on the part of institutional agencies in deciding to utilize force may discourage the spread of disorder, but may also generate an escalation in violent outbursts, either on the part of the specific violent groups targeted or among aggrieved groups in general. It is interesting to see how some of these notions are incorporated into the sociology of deviance.

Deviance as collective action Becker (1963) clearly acknowledges his theoretical debt to symbolic interactionism. He argues, for example, that while sociologists agree that what they study is ‘society’, he prefers to think of what he studies as ‘collective action’. Becker quotes Mead and Blumer in order to reiterate that actors ‘do what they do with an eye on what others have done, are doing and may do in the future’. They try to fit their own line of action into the actions of others, and adjust their own developing actions to what they see and expect others to do. ‘The result of all this adjusting can be called a collective action.’ The term ‘adjustment’, as used by Becker, is not meant to convey an image of peaceful social life, or to depict a situation in which people succumb to social constraints. The adjusting may consist of deciding that since the police will probably look here, I’ll put the bomb there, as well as of deciding that since the police are going to look, I guess I won’t make any bombs at all or even think about it any more. (Becker 1963: 182) Moral entrepreneurs and legislators, but also political lobbies and economic organizations such as enterprises, along with parties and trade unions, contribute to establishing the conditions under which those who represent the state interact with those alleged to have violated its laws. Deviance, like other types of human activity, should therefore be viewed as collective in nature. Becker’s interactionism, in its simplest formulation,


Understanding political violence consists in advocating ‘that we look at all the people involved in any episode of alleged deviance’. In this way, he insists, we discover that deviant activities ‘require the overt or tacit cooperation of many people and groups to occur as they do’ (ibid.: 183). The theoretical problem underlying his argument is presented in the following manner. On the one hand, we can draw a typology of particular acts performed by individuals and groups, while, on the other hand, we may list particular categories of deviance as defined by official institutions. The two are unlikely to coincide, and though they may at times overlap, they should remain empirically distinct. In the first case, we describe how certain people cooperate in producing a specific act, whereas in the second we enunciate how other people collectively respond to that act. Such response is part of ‘the drama of morality’ which allows the latter set of people to denounce that act as deviant and, formally or informally, to deal with it as such. Interactionist theorists treat the two systems as distinct, ‘noting whatever overlap and interaction occurs between them but not assuming their occurrence’. They also study the drama of moral rhetoric and action through which imputations of deviance are constructed, accepted, or rejected (Gusfield 1963). The chief effect of interactionist theory has been to focus attention on that drama as an object of study, and especially to focus on some relatively unstudied participants in it – those sufficiently powerful to make their imputations of deviance stick: police, courts, physicians, school officials, and parents. (Becker 1963: 186) While claiming the heritage of interactionism, the group of scholars known as labelling theorists, of which Becker is a leading member, abandon the idea that conducts are inherently criminal or deviant. Behaviour can be injurious, but what makes it criminal is societal reaction and the label conferred on it by state agencies. Even killing is not ‘naturally deviant’, because some types of killing are categorized as homicide and others are not. If the behaviour is essentially the same, that is taking another’s life, what distinguishes the different types of killing is the manner in which reactions to that behaviour are socially and institutionally organized (Pfhol 1985). Much labelling theory, however, due to its emphasis on the ability of institutional agencies to unilaterally impose criminal definitions, would appear not entirely suitable for an analysis of political violence. At most, its tenets seem to apply in cases in which state reaction leads to imputations of violence against forms of protest which are not intentionally violent. Think of peaceful demonstrations where participants are either falsely charged and arrested, or forced to resort to some improvised form of self-defence. In such cases, participants charged with violent offences would normally claim their innocence and return the imputation to law enforcers, denouncing their abusive and brutal practices. Imputations of unlawfulness, in

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these cases, are mutually exchanged between the parties, with both referring to a common understanding of what lawful conduct, in the specific context of a political demonstration, should be. When authorities reaffirm the moral meaning of everyday life (Douglas 1970) they also reaffirm their power to construct violent labels and apply them ad hoc when necessary. In so doing they use, or abuse, an optimum degree of force, whether physical or ideological, for the ‘drama of morality’ to take place. In other cases, however, political actors choose to use violent means as instruments that, in their view, will bring social change. They believe that violent protest is most effective, that it is part of a strategic plan leading to the alteration of power relationships, and that it is, in itself, a signal that such alteration is already under way. In these cases, political groups use a strategy that I would term ‘self-labelling’, in that they may overstate the degree and effectiveness of their violence as a form of political selfpromotion. Theirs is not an essentialist notion of violence, but its opposite, namely a vindication of their criminalized violent acts as acts encapsulating a thirst for justice in a system based on unjust, institutionally legitimate, violent acts. Here, the mutual imputations are not around lawfulness, as violent groups rationally choose to defy the law and reject the notion of its universality. Political violence from below, in sum, is aware of labelling processes, and violent political actors boast, rather than repudiate, imputations of deviance: such imputations, or self-imputations, are in fact mobilized by actors to affirm their difference, and to highlight their efforts to redefine what deviance is. As for the degree of institutional force used in such circumstances, this may go well beyond the optimum degree required for the ‘drama of morality’ to take place, and may have the effect of persuading political groups that yet higher levels of violence are required on their part if they intend to disrupt that drama. Labelling theorists warn that we cannot ‘understand political protest by examining the personalities of protestors, thereby implying that the institutions they protest against play no part in the development of their acts of dissidence’ (Becker 1963: 198). By extension, we cannot understand violent protest by implying that the institutions play no part in defining protest as violent, and in increasing or decreasing the actual violence deployed by protest. Institutional pressures work effectively in making individuals and groups accept the mirror image that is being presented to them. Erving Goffman (1961) gives us a vivid description of how these pressures work in the context of a mental hospital, with the patients finally ‘selling out’ to the psychiatric interpretation of their existence and condition (Berger 1963). Similarly, groups of people may be ‘broken’ and made to accept a new definition of themselves. This happens in basic training for draftees in the army, and at military academies. It also happens in the indoctrination and formation programmes of cadres for totalitarian organizations, and ultimately in interactions between conflicting groups. The political opponents are seen as endowed with a repertoire of potential roles, each one properly


Understanding political violence equipped with a certain identity. ‘The person’s biography now appears to us as an uninterrupted sequence of stage performances, played to different audiences, sometimes involving drastic changes of costume, always demanding that the actor be what he is playing’ (ibid.: 123). Political groups have similar dramaturgical problems (Goffman 1959), and violent political groups have the additional problem of presenting their acts before potential adherents as well as their enemies. These problems are simultaneously created and resolved by institutional responses, which may offer political groups a range of definitions of themselves. By incessantly restricting that range, institutional agencies may persuade such groups to ‘sell out’ and adapt, ideologically and practically, to the role they are given. In the conclusion to this chapter it is worth giving an example, presented in the form of a case study, that may clarify this process.

By any means necessary In a speech on ‘Black Revolution’ made in 1964, Malcolm X describes the explosive situation that the world is in, accompanying the description with the following story: Sometimes, when a person’s house is on fire and someone comes in yelling fire, instead of the person who is awakened by the yell being thankful, he makes the mistake of charging the one who awakened him with having set the fire. I hope that this little conversation tonight about the black revolution won’t cause many of you to accuse us of igniting it when you find it at your doorstep. (Malcolm X 1965: 5) In his view, the ingredients are all there for the racial explosion taking place in America to blossom into a worldwide explosion: America is a racial powder keg that can ignite a worldwide powder keg. ‘The dark masses of Africa and Asia and Latin America’ are responding with bitterness, animosity, hostility, unrest and impatience to the racial intolerance that they themselves have experienced ‘at the hands of the white West’ (ibid.: 6). He calls for the formation of a militant, uncompromising, black nationalist party, a minority vanguard, a small component in the powder keg, but a little ‘fuse that can ignite the entire powder keg’. The years to come will be hot, he predicts: years of violence and bloodshed. But the blood will not flow only on one side. If there is to be bleeding, it will be reciprocal. Black people have ceased to turn the other cheek, they have ceased to be nonviolent: where the police use water cannons and tear gas, they are pelted with a hail of stones, rocks and bricks, and around the country young people are starting to throw Molotov cocktails. ‘It was stones yesterday, Molotov cocktails today; it will be hand grenades tomorrow and whatever else is available the next day’ (ibid.: 7).

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There is a constant awareness, in this speech, of interactionist dynamics, with violence escalating as the result of opposing intolerance and violence. Americans have been taught to admire George Washington and his followers for having achieved independence, but heroes and patriots did use violence as a means to gain freedom. ‘I have studied your books well’, says Malcolm X, revolutions are not staged by begging or turning the other cheek, they are based upon bloodshed. Revolutions overturn systems, and there is no system on this earth which has proven itself more corrupt, more criminal than this system, that in 1964 still colonizes and enslaves 22 million Afro-Americans. (ibid.: 8–9) As we have seen, Mead (1934) grants to the tiger, the buffalo and the deer equal legitimacy to inhabit the jungle, where hostility generates violent escalation interweaving the hunter and the hunted, the eater and the eaten. Meanings, as Blumer suggests, are formed through the defining activity of people as they interact. Police brutality, according to Malcolm X (1970), is the problem and this brutality is a factor in the formation of violent conducts against it. Algerian people also lived in a police state, and those conditions forced them ‘to resort eventually to the terrorist-type tactics that were necessary to get the monkey off their backs; those same conditions prevail today in America in every Negro community’ (Malcolm X 1965: 16). Violent action from below is, therefore, joint action that cannot be separated from the violence instigating it. In a clear reply to an interviewer asking him why he rejects the concept of non-violence, Malcolm X argues that when non-violence will be taught to the Ku Klux Klan or the White Citizens Council, or those other elements that are inflicting extreme brutality against blacks, then he will accept it. ‘If we were dealing with a non-violent enemy, then we would be non-violent too’ (ibid.: 28). While Fanon (1968) sees armed struggle as the highest point of anticolonial struggle, Malcolm X attempts to introduce it into the heart of the black community, and to accusations that he is a ‘hate teacher’ he retorts that America, rather, teaches black people to hate themselves. Uncle Sam is a master hate teacher: he teaches ‘to hate our skin, to hate our hair, to hate our features, hate our blood, hate what we are’ (Malcolm X 1970: 181). The fight against such a master hate teacher, he concludes, must be carried out ‘by any means necessary’. This slogan accompanies the formation, in 1966, of the Black Panther Party, an organization which intends to provide a militant response to racist brutality while building a common political programme identified as ‘revolutionary intercommunalism’ (Newton 1996). The building of ‘survival’, or community service initiatives, is part of this programme, aimed at enabling people to meet their daily needs while organizing their communities politically. A survival programme focused on the issue of police brutality consists in the organization by the Party of patrols to respond to


Understanding political violence arrests of citizens, which are regularly broadcast over the police officers’ shortwave radio. Several Party members equipped with a shortwave radio in a car intercepted the calls, rushed to the scene of the arrest and, armed with a law book, informed the persons being arrested of their constitutional rights. Party members also carried loaded weapons, publicly displayed but not pointed toward anyone, and dressed in leather jackets and berets. (ibid.: 31) This initial interaction between Panther patrols and the police results in the arrest of several members of the Party, giving the impression that the Party itself is primarily an armed, insurrectionary organization. The Panthers, in fact, are acting within the law, which in California, where the patrols are organized, grants every citizen the right to carry arms for self-defence. The law, however, does not envisage anyone but white people to enjoy that right, and the police reaction to the initiative shows that ‘arbitrary violence often comes not from roving outlaws, but from those charged with the enforcement of the law’. The Black Panther Party, thus, makes of the police ‘the symbol of uniformed and armed lawlessness’ (Erikson and Newton 1973: 46). The assassination of Martin Luther King in April 1968, claiming the life of a man of peace, is not only the ultimate affirmation of violent racism, but also an incitement to violent anti-racism. On the night of King’s murder, the Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver, in a radio broadcast, declares a requiem for non-violence, and warns that the death of King signals the beginning of a bloody chapter that may remain unwritten, ‘because there may be no scribe left to capture on paper the holocaust to come’ (Cleaver 1969: 75). A few nights later, several Panthers go onto the streets to attempt to shoot some white policemen in retaliation (Varon 2004: 318).

Search and destroy Civil rights groups focused on racism and the Vietnam war, such as the Student Non-Violent Coordination Committee, who believe that ‘meaningful and lasting change would come without revolutionary bloodshed’, are shocked. They had grown up within the safety and protection of the black middle class, the black bourgeoisie – and while they could use some daring language and point to threatening events, it all was played out on the secure carpet of a college dormitory, a student union ballroom or campus parking lot. (Cleaver 1978: 89)

Revolutionary suicide 123 A thrill goes through the non-violent movement, while the Panthers go off ‘the ghetto pavement’, prepared for ‘the sound of gunfire’. The only way to deal with violence, in the words of Eldridge Cleaver, is ‘to pack some ourselves’: in his ghetto nobody ever ‘chocked at the sight or sound of a gun’ (ibid.: 90). The Party becomes eager to ‘arm the ghetto’, to insure the personal protection of black people, and to instruct members in the use of sophisticated weapons. In this specific circumstance, Smelser (1963) would analyse political violence from below as the consequence of an erosion of civil rights and the limitation of political space. Under the new conditions, aggrieved people are ‘invited’ to display hostility, as they experience the gradual or sudden closing of legitimate channels of protest. Moreover, as we have already argued, one hostile outburst may be a precipitating factor for further outbursts. The Black Panther Party issues manuals for the use of semi-automatic arms; shooting galleries are established, and office closets are crammed with ready-to-use firearms. ‘The show-and-tell of carrying armour was very important’ (Cleaver 1978: 94). The liberation of black communities, it is felt, will be spearheaded at the point of the gun, and black urban guerrillas will lead the process aimed at the organization of a proper revolutionary army. The guerrillas advocate the abolition of violence, but this can only be abolished through violence, ‘in order to get rid of the gun, it is necessary to pick up the gun’ (ibid.: 97). The Party becomes the ‘organized force’ against the ‘organized guns’ of the police. It sees itself as the troops of the black community, as Kamikaze if need be, in times of need. Escalating hostility leads to a key event in December 1969. At 4.55a.m., the police raid an apartment in Chicago occupied by nine members of the Black Panther Party, including its chairman Fred Hampton. Heavy gunfire is heard, eighty rounds or more, lasting over a period of ten minutes. ‘When it stopped, two young men, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, were dead. Four other occupants of the premises were seriously injured’ (Wilkins and Clark 1973). The officials responsible for planning the police operation and the officers executing it are said to have acted with ‘wanton disregard of human life and the legal rights of American citizens’. The wildly excessive use of gunfire seems more suited to a wartime military raid than the service of a search warrant. There is no shoot-out: the police do all of the shooting and most of it blindly. Official violence displays its most destructive capacity, anticipating, neutralizing, but also eliciting violent response. But that violence does not limit itself to taking life, it does so in the name of the people and as an agent of society. We have seen how, in the analysis of positivist criminology, respect for the law spreads because of the example given by persons ‘in high places’ and authorities themselves, ‘who put into practice respect for individual and collective rights’ (Ferri 1967: 264). Official violence teaches those who resist that there is no alternative, ‘that those who seek change must use violence’ (Wilkins and Clark 1973: x). In this contingent situation, as Blumer (1998) would put it, action from below finds no pre-established pathway, and has to be constructed along new


Understanding political violence lines. The killings in Chicago, regarded as execution without trial, reduce the range of options available to the Panthers, to the point that violent responses on their part appear no less than self-inflicted violence. The Kamikaze metaphor proves prophetic. In a rationalization of this shift, Newton (1973: 4–5) distinguishes between reactionary and revolutionary suicide. The former is described as the reaction of persons who take their own life in response to social conditions that overwhelm them and condemn them to helplessness. There are many suicides among young black men, who have been ‘deprived of human dignity, crushed by oppressive forces, and denied their right to live as proud and free human beings’. At the heart of the concept of revolutionary suicide, conversely, there is the belief that ‘it is better to oppose the forces that would drive me to self-murder that to endure them’. Revolutionary suicide is, therefore, the price of self-respect, and does not imply a death wish. It entails its opposite. ‘We have such desire to live with hope and human dignity that existence without them is impossible.’ One has to ‘move against’ the official forces inflicting death, even at the risk of death. In this sense, the first lesson revolutionaries have to learn is that they are doomed. ‘When scholars call our actions suicidal, they should be logically consistent and describe all historical revolutionary movements in the same way’ (ibid.: 6). Lombroso’s remark that some regicides seek ‘indirect suicide’ comes to mind, but also the ‘brave but deadly acts of soldiers’ that Durkheim (1951) associates with an ‘excessive state of altruism’. Revolutionary suicide reminds us of self-destruction generated by a meaningful life, indicating a strong form of binding with the values of one’s community, what early functionalism treats as excessive subordination of the individual to the group. This form of suicide, however, may take the intermediate form of a ‘private’ clash with institutional violence, prefiguring the moment in which the revolutionary sees life and death ‘as one piece’. In the following chapter we shall see how, through an escalation of hostile outbursts and through a violent dialogical dynamic established with the institutions, another armed organization ends up following in a similar footpath.

Further reading For an early version of labelling theory, see Tannenbaum (1938), while a classical study of how ‘theories’ held by professionals contribute to labelling processes is Cicourel (1968). For a detailed study of the role of societal reaction in designating crime and deviance, see Erikson (1966). Finally, a critique of labelling theory can be found in most criminology text books, and a persuasive one is in Sumner (1990).

chapter eight

The blind primacy of action

Adornites Repressive tolerance Hitler’s children versus imperialism? The American Auschwitz Horizontals and verticals Ends and means Further reading

This chapter focuses on organized political violence in West Germany, specifically on the Red Army Faction (RAF), an organization founded in 1970 that only in the late 1990s delivered a communiqué announcing the end of its military operations. Along with the case study, some observations are presented which draw on the criminological theories discussed in previous chapters.

In June 1967, during a demonstration against the visit to West Berlin by the Shah of Iran, a young protester is shot and killed by the police. Some protesters begin to consider that the only way to answer violence is with violence. The elite, after all, belongs to the generation of Auschwitz, and there is no arguing with such a generation (Varon 2004). Anti-institutional violence is performed as self-defence against violent institutional assaults aimed at dissent. The declining faith in the effectiveness of peaceful protest, therefore, derives from the constant interaction between protesters and law enforcers, with the repertoire of action of the former and the tactics of the latter affecting one another. Radical violence, in this interpretation, is not the result of personal or collective deviance, but one possible outcome among the possibilities resulting from organizational choice and constraints (Tarrow 1995).


Understanding political violence

Adornites In the late 1960s, West German university students become as turbulent as their counterparts in most European countries and North America. Demonstrations and occupations of buildings multiply, while student committees demand self-organization of studies and plan alternative courses. In West Germany, young followers of critical theory require that their masters stop promoting theory for theory’s sake and turn critique into political action. Founding members and disciples of the Frankfurt School are depicted as ‘critical in theory and conformist in practice’, as professors or would-be professors devoid of a proper function in the brewing revolutionary process. A revolutionary career does not lead to banquets and honorary titles, research and professional wages. It leads to misery, disgrace, ingratitude, prison and into the unknown, illuminated by only an almost superhuman belief. (Leslie 1999: 119) In April 1968, Andreas Baader, Thorwald Proll, Horst Söhnlein and Gudrun Ensslin start their revolutionary career by setting fire to two department stores in Frankfurt, with the intent of igniting, at the same time, public consciousness around the issue of the Vietnam war. After a few months, they receive a three-year custodial sentence, thus setting off, as the revolutionary students intimate, a career of misery, ingratitude and prison leading them to ‘the unknown’. It would be wrong, however, to consider the choice of such a career as a deliberate programme of self-destruction, or a conscious turning into a nihilist cul-de-sac. The activists responsible for the arson attack pursue a joint programme of social change and individual change, and their direct action is an implicit form of criticism against traditional liberation strategies, which pursue the former while neglecting the latter. This programme implies a shift from protest, which signals something the activists reject, to resistance, which ensures that what they reject no longer occurs. When commenting on the burning of the department stores, Ulrike Meinhof says that the revolutionary act does not lie in the destruction of commodities brought about by the arson attack, ‘but in the criminality of the act, its breaking of the law’ (Varon 2004: 41). According to this ontology of the act, violence is a means not only to challenge state authority, but also to build new revolutionary subjects who defy their own internalized legalistic constraints. In other words, violence is an act of extreme transgression, a form of practical self-creation forging new subjects who aim to formulate a different kind of legality. Violent protest is victorious by the mere fact of existing. In addition, the use of violence functions as a gradual process of ‘training’, as it prepares activists, technically and psychologically, for the final, foundational, revolutionary outburst.

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In a keynote speech at Frankfurt university, in September 1967, the necessity is advocated of using academic institutions as schools for urban guerrillas, and when a group of students, with this educational programme in mind, head for the Institute for Social Research, they find Theodor Adorno who, after refusing them access, calls the police: 76 students are arrested (Leslie 1999). The contrast between theoretical work and the ontology of the act could not be harsher. In a statement commenting on contemporaneous events, Adorno remarks that his theoretical model of thought cannot be realized with Molotov cocktails. After being ridiculed for the sterility of his theories, and for his inability to ‘dialectically’ interact with female students exposing their breasts, he decides that his ‘Introduction to Dialectical Thought’ lecture series had better be cancelled. While ‘Adornites’ are somewhat marginalized by the student movement, Marcuse reminds his fellow founder of the Institute for Social Research that the theoretical work they conducted in the 1930s and the work that is necessary to conduct in the present situation are altogether different. It is not incidental that the students’ protest stems from the development of their theories, he argues, adding: You know that we are united in the rejection of any unmediated politicisation of theory. But our (old) theory has an internal political content, an internal political dynamic that today, more than ever before, compels us to concrete political positions. (Adorno and Marcuse 1999: 129)

Repressive tolerance In contemporary advanced societies, Marcuse (1969) sees ideological mechanisms at work persuading people to tolerate that which is radically evil. Tolerance is no longer associated with the acceptance of the other and their opinions, he points out, but engrained in the immobility of those who accept the status quo. The institutionalization of inequality, for example, requires that tolerance be granted to the oppressive social mechanisms generating such inequality. In response, he advocates active intolerance toward views and acts that serve to perpetuate injustice. Once the necessity for social change is recognized, powerless and oppressed groups must also be recognized as the legitimate bearers of the right to resistance. If such a right is expressed through overtly anti-institutional action, this does not nullify its legitimacy, as social change may, at times, necessitate that institutions be fought. Stopping short of calling for violent forms of resistance, he laments that non-violence is normally preached to, and imposed on, the powerless, and that ‘violence against violence’ should not be renounced a priori, on ethical or psychological grounds (Varon 2004). Repressive tolerance, typically, characterizes contemporary democracy,


Understanding political violence whose antinomies serve the purpose of protecting it from qualitative change. The parliamentary democratic process itself epitomizes this variety of tolerance, against which anti-parliamentary opposition becomes the only possible contestation. Civil disobedience and direct action may follow unpredictable patterns, but one has to come to terms with, and defend, them against opponents, ‘simply because the defence and maintenance of the status quo and its cost in human life is much more terrible’ (Adorno and Marcuse 1999: 130). Large sections of social movements in West Germany endorse these views, depicting democracy itself as a gigantic violent engine affecting all aspects of social and institutional life. Intolerance towards this violent engine is meant to unveil its mechanisms and nature, helping those who practise it to liberate themselves from the norms of non-violent conduct imposed on them. Intolerance can take the shape of a ‘great refusal’, enacted by the outcasts, the exploited, and all those who are prevented from enjoying the well-being that democracy promises to all (Marcuse 1964). It is easy to single out, amongst these outcasts, the excluded inhabiting the Third World, and more specifically, the guerrilla groups operating there, whose ‘great refusal’ is soon to be reproduced in the West. Rebellious societies in Latin America, for example, prove that small groups of guerrillas can mobilize entire populations and that mass movements can be instigated by limited organizations perfecting the skills required for military attacks (Debray 1967). Similarly, the RAF is constituted of a small group of armed activists, then joined in combat by the West Berlin anarchists of the June 2 Movement, by the Socialist Patients Collective, a group of psychiatric patients who also form their own armed cells and, in 1973, by the semi-underground Red Cells. Rural guerrilla tactics, as practised in Latin America, are converted into urban armed struggle, bringing the propaganda of the deed to the cities, where the success of the Vietnamese resistance generates a giddy feeling of invincibility. The leap into armed struggle, in West Germany, is epitomized by the military action, in which Ulrike Meinhof plays a significant part, leading to the liberation of Andreas Baader. Intolerant action against repressive tolerance gives rise to organized violence, and in the US, Europe and South America, although the causes setting off the process are very different, in Marcuse’s words, ‘the driving motivation aims for the same goal. And this goal is now a protest against capitalism, which cuts to the roots of its existence, against its henchmen in the Third World, its culture, its morality’ (Adorno and Marcuse 1999: 133).

Hitler’s children versus imperialism? The RAF puts revolutionary anti-imperialism not only at the centre of its theoretical analysis, but also at the hub of its practice. An ex-member of

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the organization recalls that the TV images showing Patrice Lumumba being tortured, and the corpses heaped in the concentration camps, together determined his political choice.1 The economic exploitation of developing countries, which generates consensus and complicity among those who, in the West, enjoy the deriving prosperity, is shielded by the political ideology inherent in ‘democracy’. The RAF sees in ‘democracy’ a camouflaged political creed whose main purpose is to perpetuate such exploitation. This is why, its members believe, the West’s most terrifying nightmare is the emergence of political ideas which challenge ‘democracy’ and its economic dogmas. Insurgencies in developing countries, on the other hand, are signs that such political and economic dogmas are being defied, and that international capitalism is facing a phase of deep structural crisis. If Vietnam is victorious, well, it is necessary, as Che Guevara intimates, to create two, three, or numerous Vietnams. This is the contribution that revolutionaries in the Western world can make, namely to bring anti-imperialist radicalism to their own doorstep. As a model for armed struggle, German organizations adopt the strategy spelled out by Brazil’s Carlos Marighella in his ‘Mini-manual of the Urban Guerrilla’, which recommends assaults on military, police and corporate targets as a way to undermine confidence in the state’s authority (Marighella 1969; Williams 1989). According to an obvious objection, these ‘wild dreams’ are unsuitable for developed democratic systems, particularly among educated, middleclass young people; at most, they can be conceived by the disenfranchised of the world. The RAF regards such an objection as marked by a high dose of ‘vulgar materialism’, that same vulgar materialism usually imputed by the elite to those challenging them. The radical choice, they retort, is an existential one, and the origins of such choice, along with the ideas sustaining it, are not immediately legible in material terms, because ideas travel, develop and take the shape of a political programme. It is true that political violence may be most easily identifiable as terrorism when used by weak and desperate minorities surrounded by a peaceful society (Wilkinson 1987). However, according to the RAF, contemporary society is enveloped in a fog of war, although the terror campaigns launched by Western powers are presented as a global fight for democracy (IG Rote Fabrik 1998). Democratic regimes assume that their ends justify their means, whereby they unleash a spiral of terror and counter-terror against those who challenge them. Attributing responsibility for that terror to revolutionaries is, therefore, a blatant form of imperialist propaganda. The emergence of political violence in Germany is often explained by the traditional authoritarianism prevailing in the country, most obviously associated with the legacy of the Nazi rule. Violent contestation, more generally, is said to characterize the former Axis powers (Germany, Italy and Japan), where historical contingencies have hampered the development 1

Interview conducted in Berlin.


Understanding political violence of liberal-democratic institutions (Aust 1987). German history, therefore, with its resistance to democratic values, is allegedly bound to observe recurring cycles of destructive violence (Becker 1977). Even when attacking the US, West German social movements are said, in fact, to condemn their own ruling classes, while Nazism remains a strong reference for them to frame their rebellion. The violence used by the RAF is also regarded as a form of ex post vindication, by which the new generation punishes the older one for its failure to fight against the old regime (Moroni 1999). In this way, it is argued, violence is meant to liberate society from guilt, and those exerting it from the psychological and political burdens of the past. In a contribution offered by Elias (1989) this analysis receives a slight amendment. Violence, it is argued, ‘historically’ characterizes the ruling classes of Germany, where an alliance with the military aristocracy and the adoption of its authoritarian traits are indispensable for the bourgeoisie to acquire national unity and international status. This ‘aristocratic’ bourgeoisie provided the backbone to the Nazi regime (Sohn-Rethel 1973) and left its visible traces in contemporary Germany. In attacking the elite, however, the RAF not only expresses the need to fight authoritarianism, but also attempts to represent the demands of young German people in respect of their future. If, as it happens today, for a considerable sector of the young generation opportunities to reach a meaningful type of life are blocked, then society experiences a difficult situation, and an explosive potential may develop which finds expression in movements harshly opposed to the official political institutions. (Elias 1989: 236) In other words, it is the combination of traditional authoritarianism and contemporary social and political needs which, according to Elias, explains the development of violent opposition. Cycles of destructive violence are not due to a generalized resistance to democratic values, but to unattended needs, which are vividly felt in contexts where the inhumanity of the past makes groups and individuals more sensitive to injustice. Hence, among social movements, a prevailing ‘ethos of commitment against oppression, exploitation, war, and a favourable attitude towards humane social relationships’. Political violence thrives on these unheeded demands of the younger generation, which provides a recruitment pool for ‘radical movements and urban guerrillas’ (ibid.: 137). Sensitivity to injustice makes preemptive action possible, thereby when elements are detected in the system which appear to herald the return of violent regimes, violence from below takes the form of preventative action. As the German state reacts by introducing particularly harsh legislations, which also target non-violent opponents, the notion that the return to old regimes is underway receives increasing corroboration. In connection with this ‘wave of hatred’, all opponents are described as terrorists, while ‘the violent means of the state

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are increasingly used against left-wing groups that, following their political beliefs, condemn terrorism in a most decisive way’ (ibid.: 486). At the end, those who combat the state because they see in it a reincarnation of old regimes, may well feel satisfied, as finally they have managed to unmask the state inner authoritarian nature disguised behind an appearance of democratic tolerance. While the discontent of the younger generation in Germany may be attributed to the legitimation crisis experienced by the country’s economic and institutional model (Scheerer 1988; Steinert 1988), political violence is triggered by the inadequacy of that model in finding responses to the emerging needs. ‘Injustice frames’, moreover, are easily enhanced when interactions with state agencies show that violent responses are all that such needs can elicit (Della Porta 1995). Classical criminology would suggest that the Germany of the 1970s is unable to identify a contractual framework within which offenders and enforcers may negotiate the nature and quantity of the harm they are expected to cause. Authorities, as Beccaria would posit, do not attempt to reduce the harm caused by crime and punishment respectively, thus proving inadequate. The German state applies the retribution of evil with evil, and does not consider the outcomes to follow, but only the harm produced in the past. Choosing a Hobbesian model of social contract, the state apparatus endorses the notion that violence from below decreases when violence from above increases. Through an inappropriate distribution of punishment, that Beccaria would condemn without hesitation, the paradox is put in motion whereby punishments punish the crimes they have caused. Ex-members of the RAF confirm this, for example, when they note that the sentences received for squatting in an abandoned building were so harsh that activists were encouraged to take more radical forms of contestation (Dellwo et al., 1998). However, classical criminology would describe the RAF as a perpetrator of the ‘greatest crime’, that is ‘lese-majesté’ or sedition, although it would specify that such a crime is usually caused by tyranny. This notwithstanding, as we have seen, Beccaria would suggest that, due to its ‘politicality’, anti-institutional violence is to be met with the harshest of penalties. Positivists would be relatively more benevolent, terming the criminality of the RAF as ‘evolutionary’, for its passion for ‘politico-social heterodoxy’ and for it being inspired by altruistic interests. They would also warn that severe penalties and even massacres aimed at violent protesters may renew and multiply insurgencies, because penalties are a stimulant for ‘political or religious fanatics’, who greedily seek martyrdom (Ferri 1883). Finally, perhaps, they would see this specific form of insurgency as doomed, because it is eccentric to the smooth evolutionary processes leading to change.


Understanding political violence

The American Auschwitz German radical movements see continuity rather than rupture between the Nazi regime and the newly established democracy, not only for the authoritarian philosophy inspiring the latter, but also for the very personnel occupying the state apparatus and operating in the economic domain. Officials and entrepreneurs appear to move smoothly from the old regime to the new, and judges, military officers and, at times, party representatives make no secret of their linkages with Nazism. In this respect, similarities can be detected with the situation in Greece, where the revolutionary organization ‘17 November’ attacks politicians, and the US personnel supporting them, for their direct involvement in the previous military junta (Kassimeris 2001). In Germany, however, hostility against domestic officials immediately signals international concerns, whereby, for example, the rejection of the ruling class is accompanied by the depiction of Vietnam as the Auschwitz of America. To oppose the war, therefore, amounts to exposing the horrors perpetrated by the previous generation that survives unscathed in the present political contingence (Baumann 1979; Dellwo et al. 1998; IG Rote Fabrik 1998). After the tabloids of the Springer group, true purveyors of violence, create a particularly hostile climate against the student movement, an avid reader of one such tabloid attacks leader Rudi Dutschke. In response, groups of activists firebomb Springer’s trucks, as if the bullet fired at Dutschke had aimed at the whole movement. Meanwhile, the RAF, after building sufficient infrastructural strength, begins a series of bombing attacks, and in the May Offensive of 1972 state officials and US military personnel are targeted. Several members are arrested and convicted, thus determining a crucial change in the RAF strategy which is destined to accompany its trajectory until the tragic epilogue. Imprisoned members start putting pressure on their free associates and most military operations of the RAF begin to be geared to the rescue of their own militants in custody. After a period of training in Yemen, groups of members decide to act (Boock 2002). In the reconstruction proposed by Karl Heinz Roth (1979), the RAF initially makes a point of linking its urban guerrilla activity with the needs emerging from the general social conflict. Only later does the organization realize that lawful political activity and unlawful militancy are hard to connect together. Hence, their claim that violence, in fact, is meant to ‘awaken the revolutionary consciousness of the masses’: the bombs launched against the system are, therefore, also directed against the ‘torpor’ of the masses. After state repression hits blindly at all manifestations of dissent, assuming that all those participating in the movement are potential recruits of armed organizations, ‘even the anarchos, the provos and the politrockers get rid of their glass beads, throw away their hashish pipes, and devote themselves to the construction of the revolutionary party’

The blind primacy of action


(ibid.: 84). In this climate, the liberation of Baader from prison becomes part and parcel of a general social struggle, while political violent action becomes action intended merely to rescue itself. The focus of the organization shifts to the criminal justice system – in particular to the systematic abuse inmates suffer in prison. A number of hunger strikes take place, and the inmates’ protest against prison treatment culminates in the death, in November 1974, of RAF member Holger Meins. A new explosion of anger follows, including the killing of a West Berlin judge, and the kidnapping of the Christian Democratic official Peter Lorenz, which ends with the exchange of Lorenz for ten imprisoned guerrillas. In April 1975, the RAF attacks the German embassy in Stockholm, killing two diplomatic staff and leaving two of its members dead. In the recollection of one of the participants in the attack, at that stage general political strategies are never discussed and the international or national situations never analysed: the new recruits of the organization just replace those arrested, and immediately plan how to get them out of prison.2 Later the same year, a commando formed by members of RAF, June 2 and the Revolutionary Cells, in collaboration with Palestinian militants, attacks the headquarters of OPEC in Vienna: a number of hostages are taken and flown to Algiers and then to Tripoli (Horchem 1985). The commando is led by Carlos the Jackal, the nom de guerre for Ilich Ramirez Sanchez. The hostages are released, and the guerrillas disperse in the Middle East when a $5 million ransom, destined for the Palestinian cause, is paid (Martin 2003). The conflict further escalates in May 1976 with the death by hanging of Ulrike Meinhof in her cell in Stammheim prison. In retaliation, the RAF kills the federal prosecutor Siegfried Buback and the chairman of Dresdner Bank, Jüngen Ponto. In April 1977, some of the founding members of the organization are given life sentences, and thereafter the most tragic military action ever conceived by the RAF unfolds. In September, the president of the Federation of German Industry, Hanns Martin Schleyer, is kidnapped and the release of ten imprisoned members of the organization is demanded. Schleyer is the embodiment of what the German movement sees as an undeniable continuity between the past and the present, because he is an ex-member of the Nazi Party operating with the SS in Czechoslovakia. With such a living symbol in their hands, and after the refusal of the authorities to negotiate, members of the RAF, in collaboration with a Palestinian commando, hijack a Lufthansa Boeing 737 departing from Majorca for Frankfurt. The hijackers took 91 hostages and demanded the release of the German prisoners, as well as of two Palestinians held in Turkey. After travelling to Italy, Dubai, and Bahrain, the plane went to Aden, Yemen, where on October 16 the hijackers shot and killed the plane’s 2

Interview conducted in Hamburg.


Understanding political violence pilot, dumping his body on the tarmac. It then travelled to Mogadishu, Somalia. Schmidt chose to end the standoff by force six weeks after the kidnapping of Schleyer. On the evening of October 17–18 a special security force raided the plane in Mogadishu, killing three hijackers and wounding the fourth, with no loss of life to their captives . . . The evening after the raid, Baader and Raspe died of gunshot wounds in their Stammheim cells, Ensslin died by hanging, and a fourth RAF inmate, Irmgard Möller was nearly killed by a stab wound to her chest . . . On October 19, Schleyer’s kidnappers claimed that they had killed their hostage. (Varon 2004: 196–8) In a classification proposed by Wilkinson (1987), there are nationalist terrorists, ideological terrorists, religious fanatics, single issue fanatics and state-sponsored terrorists. The RAF seems to span at least two categories in this classification, straddling ideological and nationalist concerns, in brief, coalescing a general political creed with issues around national liberation. The latter concerns, associated with anti-imperialism and more specifically with the Palestinian liberation struggle, find ideological support in the view that political activists in the West must ally with the marginalized masses of the world, and that liberation struggles abroad and anti-imperialism at home are part of the same revolutionary agenda. In the analysis of the RAF, the German dominant apparatus is to be targeted for its complicity with the US and for the indirect exploitation of the Third World for which the country is responsible, a form of political and economic aggression perpetuated without having to share responsibility for the military aggression proper effected by the US. The RAF, unlike other armed groups, shows how thoughts as well as acts may transcend the domestic context, and turn even local issues into international questions. The RAF’s support for the Palestinian cause is a congruent expression of its anti-imperialism, especially after the German movements, who have long supported Israel as a form of moral obligation to the Jews, shift sides as a consequence of additional occupation of Palestinian territories resulting from the Six-Day War in 1967. When addressing the criminal justice system, the RAF seems to endorse the enlightened argument that institutional violence, as Beccaria would put it, gives oppositional movements an example of savagery. On the other hand, the RAF might be seen as an organization linked with movements at the initial stage of their development and career, and its later violence a mark of political immaturity. The institutionalization of the demands and actors that a violent social movement seeks to represent should be the objective of those tackling such a social movement. Failure to do so results in yet more serious political violence. As Blumer (1951) argues, the belief that a political organization is charged with a sacred mission will be perceived by participants as legitimating the use of violence. This belief will be more tenacious if institutional agents behave in a way that confirms the

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political propaganda depicting them as inhumane. Sacred figures, leaders will instil in members the sense of being part of a select group or a chosen people, and a feeling may spread that the prevailing values and norms are not legitimate.

Horizontals and verticals It is controversial whether the RAF intended to convey a symbolic message aimed at spreading violent means of contestation. As we have seen, its members assume that illegal acts possess a meaning in their own right, irrespective of their potential for imitation. However, when violent contestation does spread in Germany, this seems less the result of growing numbers of followers adopting the RAF political philosophy than the outcome of the organization becoming an emblem of victimization by the state. Moreover, the RAF is explicit in rejecting traditional models of mobilization and political affiliation: its members do not obsessively pursue the aim of mobilizing the ‘working class’. The emphasis on the subjective aspect of political action leads them to grant revolutionary status to all those choosing to fight, irrespective of class origin: social condition does not necessarily dictate one’s political role. Consequently, after suggesting that peaceful means no longer bring radical change, they show disinterest in direct recruitment of new members in their own organization and advocate, rather, the formation of independent groups similar to theirs, each aiming at the same political objectives. Insurrection, in their view, is not centrally organized by a powerful, highly structured, political party, but unfolds through a number of militant groups horizontally laid in the revolutionary spectrum. The RAF produces limited amounts of ideological material, showing a marked antipathy for theoretical issues; through the primacy of action, members aim to build the revolution, not to anticipate a socio-political model: what happens after victory is not their concern (Moroni 1999). They do not seek followers, as they themselves follow those in the Third World who are developing a revolutionary identity. They hold little faith that the working classes in their country will ‘develop a revolutionary class consciousness sufficient for them to identify with the oppressed of the world’ (Martin 2003: 137). This affects the type of organizational structure they adopt. The RAF appears to reject vertical organizational models, typified not only by traditional labour parties and unions, but also by other armed organizations operating in Europe (Brigate Rosse, ETA and IRA). Such vertical organizations resemble economic enterprises and bureaucracies, and their concept of mobilization is linked with the professional efficiency that their leaders promote. The growth of the organization, in this case, coincides with the greater strength of its leadership and the overall anonymous strength of its membership. As partners of an economic-type


Understanding political violence consortium, the membership provides an indirect resource, whose role is less to influence decisions than to strengthen the leadership’s capacity to implement them. ‘Vertical’ organizations require a delegated participation which gives the leadership a symbolic support and strengthens their bargaining power, both public and private. Transparency and democracy will come in the future, but only if they are renounced in the present. Another world may be possible, but only as a future reward for current deprivation. By contrast, I would suggest that the RAF espouses a ‘horizontal’ model of organization, whereby the group draws strength from the participatory intensity of its members and from the militant networks activated by its ‘exemplary conduct’. In such an organizational structure, the very existence of the group depends on the decisions, values and lifestyles adopted by those who participate. Non-delegated actions shape and consolidate choices, values and lifestyles. Liberation is simultaneous with action: to change the world and to change life are coexisting aims. In documenting the history of German armed groups, Becker (1977) depicts members initially as innocuous radicals gathered around the university of Berlin, where initiatives such as demonstrations, propaganda and varying forms of public dissent are organized. This tolerable repertoire of action is modified thanks to the development of a militant core which rapidly gains hegemony within students’ circles and among activists. The core expands to include members whose revolutionary purity is said to be questionable, because tarnished by antisocial behaviour and lack of clear political conviction. Members, allegedly, are motivated by the thrill they experience while performing illegal acts and, in some cases, by the loose attitudes towards sex prevailing among their peers. Some founding members of the RAF, in brief, are described as criminals rather than revolutionaries (White 2003). Criminological analysis echoes this judgement, for example, when the material or ideological causes of offending are discarded and the criminal choice is associated mainly with the thrill it produces (Katz 1988). Nineteenth-century criminologists offer a variant of this argument, for example, describing some socialists as ‘men of action’, psychologically unbalanced, capable of turning any idea into a justification for common criminality (Ferri 1884). Non-violent socialists, instead, are honest and their moral sensitivity warns them that crime is an obstacle to the triumph of their ideas. Lombroso (1894), who sees political offenders as juridically delinquent but not as socially and morally condemnable, also distinguishes between ordinary and pathological revolutionaries, the latter being characterized by loose mores. Rather than motivated by the ‘thrill’ of unlawful conduct or generated by ‘psychological unbalance’, I would argue political action in Germany is to be understood within a framework in which attempts are made to establish new human relationships. Within the libertarian logic of most armed groups in Germany, selfdevelopment and social change are simultaneous, therefore ‘antisocial behaviour’ and ‘loose sex’ are part of the same process of liberation. The

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thrust towards the establishment of different human relationships is exemplified perhaps by the number of women involved in the RAF and their presence in leadership positions within the organization. Scholars who find it inexplicable that women may join violent political groups tend to resort to the classic argument that women are typically followers, and that they become rebels for love’s sake (Griset and Mahan 2003). A similar argument is used, however unconsciously, by male members of other armed organizations, particularly those closer to Marxist orthodoxy. In the example provided by an ex-leader of the Brigate Rosse: We did try to get in touch with other armed groups operating in Europe, and the German RAF was the obvious candidate for a preliminary meeting. We established to meet three of its members at the central station in Milan, and agreed that, in order to make us recognisable to one another, we would hold a copy of a particular Italian newspaper in our hands. At the station we couldn’t spot anyone and, after hanging around for about half an hour we decided to go. Later, we were told that the RAF members had been disappointed by us not turning up, and soon we realised that the three were women. At the station, while trying to spot the three, we had only looked at men.3 We have seen the opinion of Lombroso and Laschi (1890) on the subject matter. They hold the view that women are particularly sensitive to the mystical components of the revolution, to which they refer as their husband, as women saints and nuns would refer to Christ. Early positivists also suggest that the passion for martyrdom, which grows more out of feelings than reason, blossoms with more strength in women than in men. However, women who join armed groups, as former female members of the RAF suggest, tend to see their choice as ‘an ulterior step after the radical choice of joining the feminist movement, or as a way of bringing in those groups a feminist analysis and sensibility’ (König et al. 1998: 94). The RAF is, in this sense, unique among other armed organizations: it directly addresses issues around sexism, both in its internal, clandestine documents and in the pages of official publications (Ebbinghaus 1978). Critical of the traditional work ethic and the institutional organizations and parties promoting it, the RAF is also sceptical about the liberating function of technology and industrial development. Armed struggle encompasses a whole range of distinctive ideas and practices, placing those who wage it in a totally new value system. No longer respectful of a party political line, activists rely on their own subjectivity: they act directly, in their own name (Wieviorka 1993). As revolutionary subjects they believe that refusing to participate in the crime of the system implies freeing oneself from the constraints of the law (Steiner 1987). The following episode, told by an ex-member of the RAF, may be illustrative of the difference between the RAF and other European armed groups: 3

Interview conducted in Milan.


Understanding political violence We all met in Frankfurt in 1979, at a conference on state repression and prison systems. There were some activists from Italy who could be described as ‘abolitionists’, in the sense that they fought the prison system as a whole, and did not limit their critique to the way in which political prisoners were treated. Their slogan was: ‘We call communist a society without jails’. We immediately linked with them, because we shared the idea that the function of the prison system was not there just to annihilate political opponents, but also, and mainly, to regulate the labour market, to deter the unprivileged and to impose the rules and values of the dominant classes. A representative of the IRA showed discomfort; he laughed first, and then became furious. ‘How are you going to deal with criminals in your future society?’ he asked. He added that prisons are very important as a response to antisocial behaviour, and that the IRA had already started dealing with such behaviour. During the conference, some women started talking about state and male repression, and then addressed the issue of abortion. Again, the IRA man started to laugh and claimed that the debate was irrelevant to them. In Ireland, he said, if they only mentioned abortion they would immediately loose the majority of their supporters. In his view, seizing power was the first thing, changing society and mores would come later.4

Ends and means When anti-terrorist measures deepen the prevailing view among political activists that West Germany is returning to a fascist regime, social movements are compelled to direct their concerns towards civil and political rights, prison institutions and the criminal justice system as a whole (Croissant 1979). Consequently, as attention is diverted from other issues, activists are drawn into the emotionally charged terrain of custody, and campaigns against sensorial deprivation, isolation and torture, as well as the physical elimination of opponents, gather momentum. The warning of Andreas Baader, during his period in custody back in 1972, that he and his associates would be killed as soon as solidarity outside the prison withers, becomes a resounding reminder to activists and prompts immediate mobilization (Silvi 1977). As for the RAF, after criticizing the labour metaphysics that considers ‘the working class’ as the only agent of radical change, the organization is faced with the daunting task of connecting politically the prison conditions of its members with the general fight against imperialism (Varon 2004). How would its battle against prison conditions help the peoples of the Third World? 4

Interview conducted in Hamburg.

The blind primacy of action


In the direct, exclusive confrontation with the state, the RAF implicitly embraces a strategy that is bound to reawaken support. The inhuman treatment of political prisoners and the overall barbarism of the state become the hallmark of intense campaigning. By drawing the sympathy of persons indignant at the conditions of their imprisonment, a group gains the means by which to re-enter the political arena and recruit new militants. From this standpoint, the German experience is exemplary: once the prisons could be portrayed, quite rightly, as places in which ‘clean torture’ was practised, prisoner-support committees could be set up and developed to serve as relay-stations for public opinion, as well as nurseries for future activists. (Wieviorka 1993: 60) The final defeat of the RAF may be due to this development, namely to the degeneration of their action into a private war against the state security apparatus. This war is waged by new members of the organization in support of their older imprisoned associates, in a constant turnover whereby new recruits attempt to free those in prison and, once imprisoned themselves, rely on yet new recruits to be freed. This war for self-reproduction avails itself of the general indignation against ruthless prison conditions in Germany and abroad, where German companies are attacked by fellow armed groups as a form of solidarity (Anonymous 1978). The killing of Schleyer, however, rekindles a debate on the means and the ends of revolutionary organizations, bringing to the fore more profound aspects of the RAF’s defeat. In some circumstances, it is remarked, the murder of the agents of repression may truly change the system, and help to topple the power structures of which they are a part. Most often, in contrast, political murder does not upset the normal functioning of a system. Rather, it strengthens its repressive potential without activating the political consciousness of potential opponents. While the individuals murdered do represent the system, ‘they are reproducible, exchangeable, and the reservoir for their recruitment is inexhaustible’ (Varon 2004: 238). In this respect, Roth (1979: 90) argues that the ‘highly moral’ slogan adopted by the RAF ‘victory or death’ can no longer be heeded, in that death does not signal the freedom to come, nor does it contain an element of hope for those to whom it is addressed. Moreover, the violence of the RAF comes to be equated with that of the state. ‘The members of the RAF should have clearly understood, from their analysis of the guerrilla in Latin America, that people recognise, long before we may think, in anti-institutional violence the violence of a future despotic system.’ Criminological analysis, in its turn, highlights the latent function of political violence, pinpointing the reinforcement of feelings of political unity and conformity among those opposing it (Merton 1968). The function of a social act, it is argued, must be clearly distinguished from the intention or purpose inspiring it. Rebellion as a deviant adaptation is the result of


Understanding political violence frustration and alienation from dominant values. It may occur in societies which place exceptionally strong emphasis upon specific goals without a corresponding emphasis upon the institutional procedures to achieve them. Procedures, then, become vitiated by the goals and appear arbitrary, immoral. Rebellion, as a response to such immorality, intends to signal that officially defined legitimacy, which claims universality, serves instead specific group interests. The RAF violates the rules of revolutionary pragmatism, ignoring, as Merton would indicate, the latent function of its activity. Its members do not influence the political agenda of the Left, but succeed in changing the political order of Germany in two ways: ‘they [are] responsible for the massive internal security apparatus that dominates Germany today, and they [manage] to keep the extreme left from being effective on the political spectrum’ (White 2003: 178). Militants may retort that the activation of repressive measures needs much less than political violence, and that any other form of contestation may act as a pretext for such measures to be invoked. But a closer analysis reveals aspects that transcend repression and latent functions. Revolutionary organizations may breed in themselves tendencies which make them similar to the enemy they are fighting (Cook 1982). Among these: the barbaric inhumanity of a mode of behaviour that is regressive and even confuses regression with revolution; the blind primacy of action; the formalism which is indifferent to the content and shape of that against which one revolts. (Adorno and Marcuse 1999: 131–2) Adorno describes these as elements of a specific syndrome. Ends become indifferent to means, and movements end up assimilating the features of what they claim to oppose. Armed action is particularly conducive to this, as organizations feel compelled to engage in a military race with the enemy, whereby the means soon become paramount while the ends originally motivating action are neglected. We have seen in a previous chapter that conflict theorists in criminology offer a flawed contribution on the subject matter, focused as they are on institutional violence, on the one hand, and on the pre-political meaning they attribute to conventional crime, on the other. The analysis of means and ends renders conflict theory all the more questionable if we observe that, as revolutionary organizations take on some of the features of what they oppose, the resulting confrontation may not even deserve the denomination of ‘conflict’. Two similar entities fighting for mutual annihilation, both absorbed in devising the most lethal means possible, may just lose touch with the sets of values originally inspiring them, thus removing from the context the very essence causing the conflict in the first place. This may be the result of a slow process of ‘inversion’, that is the negation by revolutionary movements of the principles inspiring their very inception (Wieviorka 1993). In the perspective of symbolic interactionism this is not surprising.

The blind primacy of action


Following the argument of Blumer (1998), political violence involves an interpretation on the part of those performing it of the effects produced. It also entails an assessment of the possible responses on the part of those targeted. In this sense, as we have argued before, terrorism is not to be understood solely as violence against the establishment, but also as one of the effects of violence perpetrated by the establishment. In other words, ‘terrorism from below’ and ‘terrorism from above’ interact and engage in a process of mutual promotion. Violent political actors, therefore, are formed and guided through ‘a process of indication and interpretation’, but also, inevitably, by one of imitation. Violent political action from below is then typically ‘joint action’, in that it cannot be broken down into the separate acts comprising it, namely the violence from above that it elicits. But the violence elicited from above becomes part of the patrimony, in technical, military terms as well as in ethical terms, of those provoking it. Within the criminological debate, this dynamic is explained as follows. Violent socialization progresses from fear, anger and hatred. The analysis of this developmental process, which is applied to individuals, may also be fruitful when applied to groups. Four stages are identified, the first of which, termed ‘brutalization’, refers to the experience of individuals as witnesses of violent acts suffered by others with whom they identify. Think, in this respect, of the killing by the police of young peace demonstrators or the brutal treatment of prisoners in Germany. The second stage is termed ‘defiance’, and is characterized by the resolve of actors to put an end to the violence they have witnessed. With the third stage, ‘dominance engagement’, individuals and groups exert their violent responses as a form of deterring the violence by which they are victimized. Finally, ‘virulency’ allows actors to acquire a violent reputation, which puts them on a par with those who have used violence against them (Athens 1997, 1992; O’Donnell 2003). At the stage termed ‘virulency’, moreover, violent notoriety confers on actors a feeling of invincibility and allows them to attract peers and emulators. Political activists may not progress through all of these stages because they may well start their violent campaigns without being personally under threat. ‘Brutalization’, for example, may consist of the suffering of people in a more general social and political sense. This stage and the following, in sum, may be overridden by ideology and political collective identity. Violent political groups, however, in their determination to act, may be encouraged by institutional responses to become increasingly competitive, virulent, apparently invincible and therefore similar to those they fight. Only in this way, because more and more predictable, can they be defeated. Let us see whether these observations retain their validity in the case study presented in next chapter.


Understanding political violence

Further reading A general, provocative analysis of violence is found in Keane (2004), who takes issue with the common sense view that ‘human nature’ is violent. For a short introduction to the study of political violence and terrorism, see Townshend (2002). A wide-ranging collection of readings is found in Kegley (1990), while for a more focused one, see Whittaker (2001).

chapter nine

Attacking the heart of the state

Accidental and planned killings Forging the enemy From armed struggle to armed propaganda The ‘new’ Brigate Rosse Further reading

When criminological thinking seems incapable of explaining the dynamics and motives of political violence, a slight disciplinary shift can provide more appropriate tools for the task. We have seen how some Chicago sociologists, after describing institutional violence, realize that other explanatory variables are necessary when violent action against institutions is addressed. In a subtle change of analytical posture, they draw attention onto collective action. The discussion of value systems, social change, observable action and social movements rescues the sociology of deviance from an impasse, and the resulting mixture proves extremely fruitful. This chapter assesses the extent to which a similar analytical mixture is suitable for the analysis of the Brigate Rosse (BR), a leading organization, in terms of longevity and degree of political violence deployed, among other armed groups operating in Italy since the early 1970s. As we shall see, some categories derived from the sociology of deviance will need to be supplemented with notions derived from the sociology of social movements. As a result, while some criminological tenets will be clarified and their validity strengthened, others will find profound alterations and, at times, outright refutation.

Contrary to the common assumption that members of armed groups operating in the 1970s are formed mainly by middle-class students, the origin of the Brigate Rosse (BP) is to be found in a number of study groups set up in Milan factories such as Pirelli, Alfa Romeo and Siemens. These


Understanding political violence groups include blue-and white-collar employees, and in the late 1960s gain legendary status for their capacity to remain independent from the official trade unions, to the point of calling strikes without, or against, their institutional representatives (Moretti 1994). One of the founders of such groups claims that in those factories he learned ‘about class struggle, the mechanisms of capitalism, discipline, the accumulation of capital, and about revolutionary strategies: this is where I come from. And I am not unique in this: the BR come mainly from the industrial factory world’ (ibid.: 7). Soon the study groups become known as ‘autonomous assemblies’, setting the agenda of trade union meetings, picking discussion topics, choosing speakers and raising issues, in brief, instructing reps around negotiation strategies with employers. The debate is, therefore, not monopolized by officially appointed trade union professionals, but open to everyone: a form of participatory democracy that quickly spreads to university as well as secondary school students (Balestrini and Moroni 1988). At Pirelli the study group evolves into a CUB (Comitato Unitario di Base), while at Alfa Romeo the grass-root network of militants gives shape to the Assemblea Autonoma: both will later provide members to the BR. Members of these autonomous groups also meet socially and, at times, share their day-to-day life, therefore engaging in political discussions well beyond the factory walls. Some set up communes, a way of establishing mutual economic support, but also of providing a physical point of reference to other activists, and a cocooned environment in big, inhospitable Milan. The communes establish links with squatters and their formal or informal organizations. This network of factory groups and outside activists constitutes the foundations of the Collettivo Politico Metropolitano, which also attracts university students, teachers and unemployed youths.1 The Collettivo becomes an iconic worker-student committee soon to be replicated elsewhere in Italy, where ‘knowledge and work’ are regarded as complementary arenas of contention (Curcio 1993). The first discussions around the use of violent means are triggered by episodes in which the state is seen as manifestly inclined to use violence to curb political dissent (Balzerani 1998). The bomb that explodes in Piazza Fontana in Milan, in 1969, is one such episode, for which responsibility is attributed to deviant groups within the secret services and their partners operating in neo-fascist organizations. ‘All we knew, then, was that the state was trying to violently attack everything we were creating’ (Guagliardo 2002: 8). Anti-institutional violence is perceived as a means to resist and keep on the offensive. There is no sophisticated theory of armed struggle, or of urban guerrilla, nor does the debate seek to identify the most suitable organizational model for such an endeavour; however, the necessity for the creation of such an organization is considered. Violent conflict, 1

Interview conducted in Milan.

Attacking the heart of the state


moreover, is seen as a historical feature of class struggle in Italy (Morucci 2004). Even at Pirelli industrial action became ineffective. As a multinational, the company would divert parts of the production to Spain, so that the effects of the action of the Milan workers were neutralised. In terms of traditional industrial conflict we were thrown out of the game. Armed struggle became the only tool to keep up an effective strength. Something, someone who was not just our antagonist in the factory, put us in a corner. It was not only with the employer, the bosses, or with institutions such as the political parties and the trade unions that we had to clash; there was more, there was the state. (Moretti 1994: 20) The first cell of the BR is formed at the Pirelli complex in Milan, where the restructuring process is more advanced and where the working class is more politicized than elsewhere. However, Siemens soon follows suit, and the factory is said to produce telephones and ‘brigatisti’ (members of the Brigate Rosse) in equal measure. At one point during the early 1970s, the BR in this factory boasts around one hundred members. These do not operate undercover, and hold the belief that their radicalism reflects a widespread need for militancy emerging in all sectors of society. In every factory, members of the BR carry out what they term counterinformation, describing and analysing the productive processes and the control measures in place; identifying authoritarian supervisors, right-wing foremen and unscrupulous external consultants. Those who are deemed the instigators and the technical masterminds of the industrial restructuring process are also singled out, along with those who show an inimical attitude towards trade unionists. Some become targets, or at least their property does. For a long time, in effect, the BR limit their action to burning cars, as a way of naming and shaming their owners as class enemies and of communicating their own presence to fellow factory employees. These initial small-scale attacks allow them to take root among politicized workers. In 1975, during the same night, the cars of over ten foremen employed by a variety of firms across Milan are burned: this is named the ‘night of fire’, and is intended to signal the strength and diffusion of the organization, a night which is also destined to remain in the political imagery of future activists and groups of the far Left. Kidnappings follow, mainly of company managers, who are photographed against the backdrop of a red flag, and then released. The pictures, published in the press and shown on TV, also report the accompanying slogan: ‘Hit one in order to educate one hundred’. It is claimed that, after such demonstrative actions, the atmosphere in factories is one of increased freedom. We did not think we were making capitalism collapse, we were only expressing all the potential of the movement, through armed acts. We


Understanding political violence were making the movement visible, we were showing its strong subjectivity. We felt we were involved in a long-term process, and we were only sowing the seed. We made no predictions as to what would happen next. (ibid.: 37) Violence, therefore, is not intended to prefigure or lead to insurrection. The BR regard themselves as one active nucleus within a revolutionary process, and revolution, in their view, will take its own course, irrespective of their will to lead it. Violence is meant to express the maximum concentration of political action, it is the outcome of the strength of the movement, its powerful needs and aspirations. On the other hand, violence is a response to state violence, and the latter is interpreted as a signal of a possible rightwing coup d’état. Violence from below, therefore, holds the character of resistance, and something in its rhetoric locates it within the anti-fascist tradition that at the time is still very lively in Italy.2 Although likening themselves to urban guerrilla groups such as the Tupamaros, the first guns used by the BR belong to old partisans who fought fascism towards the end of World War II (only later do the BR acquire arms and ammunitions either by forging purchasing licences or by holding up arms retailers). One sensational kidnapping they carry out may provide stronger support to this point. Having decided to ‘get out of the factory’ and become an acknowledged political force, they decide to attack what they identify as ‘the heart of the state’. In Genoa, the trial of the GAP (Gruppi di Azione Partigiana) is taking place, a group whose name and strategy are inspired by old antifascist armed fighters, and who also believe that a new fascist coup is imminent in the country. Mario Sossi is the prosecuting judge, and his supervisor is judge Francesco Coco. Mr Sossi is kidnapped on 18 April 1974, as part of what is seen as a strategic attack against the state, which, it is believed, is poised to group the reactionary forces of the country in an effort to wash away all dissent. The release of those under trial is the ransom demanded and officially accepted, but after Sossi is freed the defendants remain in prison. As we shall see, a few years later Francesco Coco will be murdered.

Accidental and planned killings The national executive committee of the BR is formed in 1975, and in June of the same year two neo-fascists are shot dead in the office of their party in Padua. Although the killing is not planned, but the result of an unforeseen exchange of fire, the fact that a cell of the BR attacks that party office indicates the political forces against which, at least initially, they fight. 2

Interview conducted in Turin.

Attacking the heart of the state


After being infiltrated by an improbable priest with credentials as a guerrilla in Latin America, nicknamed ‘father machine gun’, two of the founding members of the BR are arrested, but are freed a few months later by an armed commando of their associates. This spectacularly successful escape boosts their morale and popularity. In a political document (Risoluzione Strategica) issued in 1975, the BR argue for the necessity to build an armed party, with a view to intensifying the attack against the Italian state, which is depicted as an appendix of the Imperialist State of the Multinationals. The parties of the Left are also dealt with in the analysis as components of this appendix. During the same period, however, the PCI (Partito Comunista Italiano) wins a relative majority in all major cities (Rome, Milan, Turin, Genoa, Venice, Naples, Bari, etc.) and an absolute majority in traditional ‘red’ cities (Bologna, Parma, Florence, Perugia, Pisa, etc.). But the growth of the moderate Left is not deemed to contradict what the BR sees as a need for revolutionary change. The elections, according to the BR, have shown the political will to defeat the Democrazia Cristiana (DC), a will which is in itself revolutionary in nature. The DC is portrayed as the hub of the Italian political system, and with the collapse of that hub, the whole equilibrium is regarded as likely to go with it, opening up space for radical clashes and unprecedented conflict (Spazzali 1996). As a consequence, the BR begin to target leading figures of the DC, considering their violent attacks as a mere extension of the popular will to get rid of that party.3 The repercussions of the Pinochet coup in Chile are dramatically felt in Italy, where the parliamentary Left reaches the conviction that electoral victory would not guarantee stability, let alone democracy. Its consequent strategy hinges on the necessity to form a political alliance with the most amenable sectors of the Catholic world and, therefore, with the most open sectors of the DC. The phrase ‘compromesso storico’ is coined, marking the historical encounter and partnership between the traditionally rival worlds of Socialists and Catholics in the country. While the extreme Left accuses the Communist Party of being scared by its own success, and unwilling to respond to the needs so clearly expressed by the electorate, the BR see the coup in Chile as evidence that peaceful ways of gaining power are precluded. The BR’s first planned murder follows, the victim being judge Francesco Coco, who has not kept his promise to bail a number of political prisoners in exchange for the release of fellow judge Sossi. The victim is seen as the symbol of a subservient judiciary, by now totally dependent on strategies devised by the political apparatus, poised to annihilate any opposition. This killing also marks a shift in the strategy of the BR, who embark on what increasingly resembles a private war against the state, while civil society, including social movements of the Left, slowly become pure spectators of a conflict they are unable of sustain (Guagliardo 2002). ‘Ever 3

Interview conducted in Rome.


Understanding political violence since, the only evaluation of our political line was undertaken in relation to our own capacity to practice it, with a view to reproducing ourselves rather than establishing a dialogue with society’ (Moretti 1994: 98). It is also at this stage that the BR’s ‘private’ war with the state reveals a destructive relational dynamic, leading the organization to become increasingly inward-looking, and to devote its energy almost exclusively to the growth of its military strength. Examples of such a relational dynamic become apparent when the emergency legislation introduced echoes the harsh aspects one finds in situations of generalized civil war, thus granting the BR the status of the war enemies that they are pursuing. The institutional responses, in other words, determine the development of a new type of political violence, one completely disconnected from the social objectives allegedly inspiring it. Other spectacular kidnappings follow, like that of ship owner Costa in Genoa, a kidnapping devoid of precise political connotation and aimed only at acquiring the sums of money necessary for the mere survival of the organization. The kidnapping of judge D’Urso, instead, is meant to respond to the establishment of high security prisons for political activists, for which legislators receive the support of the judiciary (Balestrini 1987). In the analysis of the BR, high security prisons signal the will of the state to tackle social conflict with acts of war, and those acts deserve responses of the same nature. When in Milan a member of the BR, Walter Alasia, is shot dead by police lying in wait, and when it becomes clear that no attempt to arrest him has been made (he is finished off with a point blank shot), one of the police involved in the ambush confirms: ‘This is a war’ (Moretti 1994: 87). Similarly, in Genoa, members of the BR are shot dead while asleep, in a flat identified by the police, who make no effort to capture them but choose instead a shoot-to-kill strategy. As a consequence, the BR do not feel that they are violent, but that they are fighting a violent state. In February 1978 the second, ambitiously comprehensive, political document is circulated by the BR. This is the ‘risoluzione strategica’ that leads to the Moro kidnapping. The main points of the resolution are, again, that the Italian state is complicit with the imperialist state controlled by multinational companies, and that the Christian Democrats are the representatives in the country of the interests of such companies. The necessity to hit the enemies in all possible manners is reiterated, especially those who appear more prone to establish some form of dialogue with the institutional Left. The kidnapping of Moro marks the highest level reached by the BR in their attack against the state, but also the beginning of what appears to be their decline. Aldo Moro is questioned in what is termed a ‘proletarian trial’, and his revelations, though shedding light on a number of episodes of state corruption, are not deemed relevant. Even his confession regarding the involvement of the CIA in Italy and its role in preventing, through illegal means, the growth of the Communist Party, is not given serious consideration. The BR only pursue legitimacy and acknowledgement as a political force, and by demanding the release of a

Attacking the heart of the state


number of political prisoners aim at strengthening their position in the national political scene. When it becomes clear that all political parties are not prepared to negotiate, they think that only by killing the hostage will they make a strong claim that the armed struggle has not ended.4

Forging the enemy We can stop here for a while. Later, I shall discuss the second phase of armed struggle in Italy, conducted by what are known in the country as the ‘new’ Brigate Rosse. The selection of material outlined so far lends itself ideally to a joint analytical exercise, involving criminological theory and social movement theory. Let us begin with Lombroso (1876), whose ideas of violent political activists as monomaniacs, characterized by a combination of egocentrism with excessive altruism, may well be discarded, as may his notion that political offenders are propelled by an irresistible need to suffer for something grand, and display the typical sublime imprudence of martyrs. Curiously, however, Lombroso’s idea that, at times, political offenders may be led to activism by the pursuit of individual aims deserves some attention. Some students of social movements remark that, in a generalized situation of social unrest, there may be incentives drawing individuals to activism. These incentives are encapsulated in political identities which bring some degree of status, at least within the very community of activists and political opponents (Friedman and McAdam 1992; Crossley 2002). In the autobiographies of some members of the BR, similarly, one often finds subtle incentives and traces of competition for status, whereby to lead a clandestine cell or to be invited to be part of the national committee is an important turning point in the career of militants and leaders (Bianconi 2003). In other words, what Lombroso sees as material gain, analysts of social movements interpret as symbolic status gains. Anomie theorists in criminology may interpret the behaviour of armed groups as the effect of a lack of social integration and regulation, namely of cohesion, collective beliefs and mutually-binding constraints allowing smooth interactions. However, the groups that the BR claim to represent are highly integrated and regulated, as they are part of the industrial working class, whose behaviour draws on highly regulated action guided by the trade unions and the political culture of the Left. Members of the BR are themselves integrated in the industrial system, and in that system they find a legacy of conflictual action and a set of rules guiding it (Moroni 1999). Their lack of solidarity with the dominant social groups is counterbalanced by a high degree of solidarity proffered to the dominated groups, thus describing a situation of anomie with respect to the former and one of strong normativeness with respect to the latter. Therefore, while we may 4

Interview conducted in Rome.


Understanding political violence focus on anomie and disintegration, we may also argue that: ‘Bonds of solidarity and tight integration are, in fact, crucial preconditions for struggle’ (Crossley 2002: 101). In brief, political violence may be the result of excessive degrees of solidarity rather than its opposite. Adopting the concept of social disorganization, it might be suggested that political violence is a possible solution to the dilemmas of exclusion and impotence. However, it should be noted that a similar solution is embedded in a process of empowerment that needs to be analysed. Within this process, we can single out ‘boundary creation’ as paramount. All social relations occur within boundaries between those involved, and while at the individual level, these boundaries fall somewhere between you and me, at the collective level they fall between us and them (Tilly 2002). Boundary creation between us and them is crucial for the formation of identities, and in the case of social movements it also involves the recognition of existing inequalities as unjust. In this respect, think of Merton’s (1968) analysis mentioned in a previous chapter: while official doctrines blame those who fail for their failures, conflictual political identity leads to the appreciation of failures as unfair, as no longer part of the nature of things. Returning to the concept of disorganization, this concept may explain ‘oppositional behaviour’, not ‘oppositional identity’. The latter involves: ‘identifying with an unjustly subordinated group, recognising the injustice in that group’s position, opposing that injustice, and recognising a group identity of interest in ending that injustice’ (Mansbridge and Morris 2001: 240). This implies a high degree of organization and purposefulness, rather than aimless social disorganization. While it is useful to explain dysfunctional processes and behaviours, it is also important to describe how some processes are functional to the promotion of shared consciousness, to the identification of collective interests and the building of organizational capacity to act on those interests. Political violence, as in the case presented above, is one of the outcomes of such functional processes. The BR intend to promote awareness that breaking the state monopoly in the use of violence is possible, they believe that their attacks clearly indicate where collective interests lie, and display what they think is an exemplary organizational capacity to act on those interests.5 As functionalist criminologists would argue, they are proved wrong because they lose, because they are statistically deviant and their defeat illustrates that the social development they are pursuing does not tally with the healthy evolution engrained in the division of labour, but with pathological elements characteristic of morbid effervescence. In the perspective of learning theories, violent behaviour is transmitted in enclaves of peers and through mimetic processes triggered by role models. For example: ‘Terrorists experience their most important learning opportunities within the group they belong to. These experiences, in turn, shape the cost–benefit calculus of individual terrorists’ (Ross 2003: 73). 5

Interview conducted in Turin.

Attacking the heart of the state


Learning opportunities, however, are accompanied by ‘claim making’ about social justice and the perception of viable ways of pursuing it. Such claims become political when groups and organizations holding means of coercion are addressed. ‘Contention occurs everywhere, but contentious politics involves governments, at least as third parties’ (Tilly 2002: 12). If claim making may be part of a learning process, specific episodes that occupy the collective memory of violent political actors accelerate such process. As Becker (1998) has argued, events do not just happen, but rather occur in a series of steps, which we call processes, but which we could just as well call ‘stories’. Episodes as ‘stories’ create personal and collective identities, they generate explanations (true or false) of political tensions and realities. See the crucial importance, for the BR, of ‘stories’ around the anti-fascist struggle; see also the ‘night of fire’ story mentioned above, and consider how all these stories not only punctuate learning processes, but also act as accumulators of real or imagined strength. Strain theorists would posit that political violence is one of the possible deviant adaptations to an unsatisfactory situation. The impossibility of achieving goals through legitimate means, in this type of adaptation termed ‘rebellion’, is turned into the imagining of alternative goals and the promotion of alternative, including violent, means to achieve them. However, rebellion, which implies what Merton (1968) terms a ‘genuine transvaluation’ (namely a full denunciation of officially prized values), also includes a sense of frustration, a degree of resentment and ultimately the perception of one’s impotence due to lack of resources. Although questioning the official monopoly of imagination, rebellion as described in strain theory remains anchored to a deprived social condition hampering the constitution of alternative reservoirs of imagination. Such a reservoir, on the contrary, can be regarded as an important resource without which movements could not produce action (Ruggiero 2001). Resource mobilization theorists, for example, suggest that availability of resources, rather than absence of them, makes groups capable of undertaking concrete action (McCarthy and Zald 1977, 1981; Jenkins 1981). Resources include material and non-material items, such as finances, infrastructures, authority, moral commitment, political memory, organizations, networks, trust, skills, and so on (Oberschall 1973: 28). In brief, while strain theorists tend to see social action as the result of a deficit, organized social action can also be interpreted as the outcome of a surplus. Political violence may be prevalent in contexts where control efforts eschew negotiation or accommodation, and are themselves characterized by violence (Tilly 2003). In this sense, the activity of the BR could be understood as violence against the establishment, on the one hand, and as one of the effects of violence perpetrated by the establishment, on the other. Della Porta (1995: xv) has described how the interaction between protestors and the police can split movements into groups who see protest as an integral part of their rights and groups who see protest as quintessentially violent. In Italy, ‘the forms of protest then radicalised, state repression


Understanding political violence increased, and the escalation on both sides often lasted for several years, before the vicious circle of violence-repression-violence-repression was interrupted’. This interaction can also be described in the following terms.

From armed struggle to armed propaganda The BR are initially engaged in what I would term armed struggle. The type of political violence they deploy is an extension of extremely harsh social conflict, and mirrors forms of counter-power being established by traditionally powerless groups. The use of violence, in this initial phase, is not dissonant with the objectives and practices of social movements, who do make recourse to violence as one among other means for the defence of material gains and the protection of conquered political space. Millenarian ideologies are kept at bay by ‘concrete utopias’, namely the precise acquisition and enjoyment of social and political goals. The very phrase armed struggle hints at a rupture point in a continuum where the pre-existing social conflicts are boosted and brought to a superior level. Targets, be they property or persons, are immediately recognizable symbols, as they are related to specific arenas in which counter-power is being exercised. In a second phase, while ‘concrete utopias’ are relentlessly dismantled and political space narrowed, the acts of political violence performed by the BR take a relatively independent trajectory. Institutional responses accompanying this process include targeted violence against the opposition as well as ‘terrorism from above’, namely random violence against citizens (Casson 1994). Conflict is channelled into the pursuit of a limited range of objectives whose achievement, under normal circumstances, would not require the use of high degrees of violence. In other words, perfectly legitimate goals slowly come to be pursued through illegitimate means. Armed struggle becomes armed trade unionism, while the growth of the BR, their recruitment among activists, as well as their accumulation of armed power, begin to appear independent of the social issues they address. Institutional responses, again, contribute to the evolution of the former type of political violence into armed propaganda. The BR become completely disconnected from the social objectives allegedly inspiring them, as they devote most of their energies to the accumulation of military, clandestine strength. Violent acts, in this way, begin simply to allude to the possibility of questioning the state monopoly in the use of force, and to claim the necessity of breaking away from legally-accepted forms of struggle. Military episodes, in most cases, are no longer decodable as moments of wider social conflicts, but as products of a military group seeking selfpromotion. Social dynamics, as points of reference for political action, slowly become redundant, and the BR simply pursue their own reproduction in terms of new members and stronger structures. In most armed events, targets are chosen not on the basis of their significance to precise

Attacking the heart of the state


contested issues, but for their symbolic capacity to illustrate the military power of the organization: it is, indeed, armed propaganda, conveying recruitment messages to uncertain activists (Ruggiero 2003b). This shift, it has to be noted, is produced by a severe limitation of roles and identities offered by the institutions in the relational dynamic established with the BR. In this respect, think of Goffman’s (1959, 1961) analysis of how institutional pressures work in making groups accept the mirror-image presented to them, so that cohorts of people can ‘sell out’ to those who interpret their existence and characteristics. Groups may be ‘broken’ and made to accept new definitions of themselves, and this easily occurs when the range of definitions offered is increasingly limited. But again, such limitation, in the case study examined here, runs parallel with numerous episodes of ‘terrorism from above’ (Della Porta 1997). This relational perspective helps us ‘appreciate the interdependency (both conceptual and substantive) of oppositional and state political crime’ (Ross 2003: 9). If this relational dynamic seems to be successful in explaining the evolution of an organization such as the BR, conflict theory, which also contains relational elements, proves too general for the task. It is true that institutions do not represent the values and interests of society at large, and that norms of conduct may only reflect the norms of the dominant culture (Sellin 1937; Vold et al. 1998). But to state that political violence is a manifestation of two sets of norms violently clashing does not account for the fact that in most contexts, where also the norms of conduct only reflect the norms of the dominant culture, there is a negligible degree of contentious politics and political violence. The analysis of the specific context in which political violence occurs is crucial if the generalizations of conflict theory are to be avoided. Repertoires of action, for example, belong to specific contentious traditions, to specific territories and nationalities and only at times can they become ‘modular’, namely migrate from group to group or country to country (Tarrow 1998). The BR are influenced by the repertoires of action displayed by anti-fascist fighters and Latin American guerrillas, and while challenging the norms of the dominant culture, they also refer to those repertoires as a source of inspiration for their action. In their view, those ‘modular’ strategies inform their strategies too. Some of the techniques of neutralization identified by Sykes and Matza (1957) may well describe the ideological process whereby the BR come to terms with the effects of their acts. The denial of the victim is operated through the perception of the victim as wrongdoer, the condemnation of the condemners through the association of the enemy with the ‘imperialist state of the multinationals’, and finally the appeal to higher loyalties through the appropriation of the ideals and practices of industrial workers and anti-fascist partisans. Techniques of neutralization, however, seem to belong to an ex-post repertoire of motivations mobilized by offenders in order to fill the moral void they presumably experience (Cohen 2001). They are, in sum, a defensive device which may temper moral disorientation. Political violence, instead, combines defensive and offensive strategies,


Understanding political violence a combination without which action could hardly be triggered. Such strategies may include ways of overcoming a presumed moral disorientation, but must provide, at the same time, strong, unequivocal orientation for individuals and groups to act. This combination of strategies coalesce in the form of collective identity, which transcends pure role or group identity, in that it refers to shared self-definitions and common efforts towards the production of social change. ‘The value domain as the locational context for identities places a greater emphasis on culture than on social structure, and on the moral context of identities’ (Gecas 2000: 94). Collective identity, in other words, offers orientation in a moral space and gives rise to a sense of self-esteem and self-efficacy; it also prompts ‘what is worth doing and what is not’, leading individuals to appreciate their capacity to change the surrounding environment (Taylor 1989: 27). See, in this respect, the BR claim that each attack they carry out in a factory produces a positive change in that factory. Anti-institutional violence entails high degrees of subjectivity, so that some features of social life are no longer seen as part of misfortune, but of injustice (Snow et al. 1986). Along with techniques of neutralization, therefore, political violence needs to elaborate an interpretative ‘frame alignment’ with the activists it intends to mobilize. ‘Collective action thus becomes possible at the point at which mobilising messages are integrated with some cultural component to which they are addressed’ (Della Porta and Diani 1999: 74). It should be noted that the ascendant phase of the BR is characterized by their efforts to produce such a ‘frame alignment’ with traditional forms of struggle, and their decline by the awareness that such alignment can never be achieved. The new generation of activists finds it difficult to identify with the fighters of the past. Against the backdrop of control theories, the violence of the BR could be examined as the result of a lack of attachment, commitment, involvement and belief (Hirschi 1969). We have seen, on the contrary, that the BR, like most armed organizations, possess all of these in exceeding measure, rather then lacking them. In turn, adopting ‘propensity event theory’ may prove problematic, as the violence of the organization does not reveal a deficit in self-control and an inclination to impulsivity (Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990), but rather an extremely developed ability to postpone gratification (the perfect social system to come) and an equally patient capacity to plan actions. Finally, we may consider the attempts to formulate integrative explanations of crime which are built on contemporary criminological theories, including control theory, deterrence theory, routine activity theory and rational choice theory (Wikström 1998). Such attempts also rely on the assumption that the causes of offending behaviour are associated with the perceived social costs of breaking the law, for example, low risks of punishment, which characterize some criminogenic settings. But to explain the violence performed by the BR through the particularly criminogenic environment in which they operate would amount to saying that factories and universities are criminogenic environments. To attribute

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the causes of that violence to low risks of punishment would also be unrealistic, given the extreme harshness with which political offenders of the Left are punished. A useful conceptualization may be that violence is the result of environmental conditions or ‘risk relationships’ between groups. The BR, in this perspective, use ‘dispute-related violence’ because the perceived wrongdoing of employers and politicians generates their wish to punish them. According to this formulation, for violence to erupt the co-presence of three elements is necessary: individuals prone to aggressive behaviour, a provocation, and support from third parties (Clarke and Felson 1993). It is not easy to assess whether the members of the BR are individually prone to violence before choosing to wage an armed struggle against those they perceive as wrongdoers. Certainly, the collective memory around the antifascist warfare and the legendary image of armed partisans play a crucial role in their adoption of violent means. As I have reported earlier, even the guns used by the BR are, at least initially, the same that some old partisans had never disposed of, but hidden, to be used in case an authoritarian regime returns. Such a legacy, made of cultural and political resources, is part of a repertoire of contention available to political groups in Italy. This repertoire contains a set of forms for action and identity derived from shared understandings and meanings; these are cultural creations that take shape in social and political conflict. ‘In that sense, then, a repertoire of actions resembles not individual consciousness but a language; although individuals and groups know and deploy the actions in a repertoire, the actions connect sets of individuals and groups’ (Tilly 1995: 30). Contentious politics is not born in organisers’ heads but is culturally inscribed and socially communicated. The learned conventions of contention are part of a society’s public culture. Social movements are repositories of knowledge of particular routines in a society’s history, which help them to overcome the deficits in resources and communication typically found among the poor and disorganised. (Tarrow 1998: 20) As for the second element favouring the eruption of violence and provocation, this is continuously provided to the BR in the form of brutal repression, killings of demonstrators, and fascist bombings (Bianconi 2003). Finally, support from third parties is sought, and partially obtained, among militant groups and individuals within the overall oppositional movement. To participate in this movement, throughout the 1970s, is not to live in a criminogenic behavioural setting, but rather in a setting where oppositional consciousness is rife. Oppositional consciousness, in its turn, is usually fuelled by anger over injustice and prompted by personal indignities and harms suffered (Mansbridge and Morris 2001). The BR rely on this anger, and attempt to channel it into violent action.


Understanding political violence

The ‘new’ Brigate Rosse The Moro kidnapping, as we have seen, marks the decline of the old BR in general social and political terms. I have described this decline as the reduction of the activity of the organization to pure armed propaganda intended to convey recruitment messages to uncertain activists. While political violence loses, in this phase, all connections with other forms of contention allegedly inspiring it, its symbolic strength remains, however, unaltered. True, the pool of potential recruits shrinks, but simultaneously, the image of power and invincibility conveyed by the organization proves effective, if for fewer, certainly for more determined and devoted new members.6 In other words, the BR becomes a military machine, and those joining them embrace the machine itself rather than its capacity to bring social change. Organizational fetishism replaces the political programme. As Park (1925) puts is, political leaders become, in this context, like stockexchange speculators, because they attempt to control and manipulate investors (activists), while managing to make even the possible collapse (arrest or death) acceptable to them. In this way, the development of tribal, rather than political, virtues is pursued. We are, with the new BR, beyond propaganda, because the organization no longer ‘sells’ precise political objectives and precise means for achieving them. It ‘sells’ itself, while promoting a simplified and debased ideology (Wirth 1965) in the mere form of a lifestyle. Blumer (1951) would term this form of violent action as merely expressive, in that it does not prioritize radical social change, but only aims at persuading people to adopt violent practices. On the other hand, those adopting such practices may do so with the sole intention of symbolically transmitting them to newer generations, who are expected to include them among their future repertoire of action. As Smelser (1963) suggests, in this way political violence thrives on a derivative memory, on inherited means of action, on previous organized hostility, and the former imagery is perpetuated in completely different social conditions. While the old BR is virtually dismantled, throughout the late 1980s and 1990s new activists re-found the organization, despite the fact that the former members of the group have, by now, emphatically declared the end of their political experience. In May 1999 a government consultant on labour legislation, Massimo D’Antona, is murdered, and some of the exmembers of the BR threaten that, if the police are unable to catch the culprits, they will. D’Antona is regarded as the mind behind attempts to deregulate the labour market in Italy, to abolish permanent work contacts, introduce flexibility in the workforce, and limit the negotiation power of the unions. The murder takes place when the Italian government, for the 6 According to an ex-member I interviewed in Rome, the Moro kidnapping did not mark the decline of the BR, but the beginning of its highest symbolic success among potential recruits. ‘There was a waiting list of those who wanted to join the organization.’

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first time after World War II, engages its military force in a non-defensive war. This engagement, which opposes an important principle codified in the Italian constitution, is interpreted by the new BR as a signal that Italy is now organically involved in ‘the programme of imperialist war’ to be waged across the globe. In a dense document (more than 23,000 words), in which responsibility for the killing of D’Antona is claimed, an analysis of this programme is presented, and the killing itself appears as a mere pretext for the organization to circulate its views on war and imperialism. In March 2002 another government consultant, Marco Biagi, is assassinated. Again, in the document claiming responsibility, the new BR offer a long essay on labour markets, war, imperialism and the necessity to forge an international revolutionary alliance (Benedetti 2002). While describing the international dynamics leading to the formation of a ‘world war bourgeoisie’, the document advocates the destruction of the state as a simultaneous process to the construction of the ‘armed party’. It is through attacking the political power of the bourgeoisie that the revolutionary vanguards build their relationship with the working class and their overall power. The Brigate Rosse are not the Party, they are a revolutionary force operating like an army which, by attacking the state, contributes to the formation of the Party. (Brigate Rosse 2002: 201) It is difficult to say whether early positivists such as Ferri (1967: 335) would term this violent conduct as ‘evolutive criminality’, namely a type of criminality which tends (in a more or less illusory way) ‘to hasten the future phases of politico-social life’. It is also hard to establish whether Lombroso (1894) would call the new BR rebellious or revolutionary, and their violent conduct as endemic due to the ‘secular antagonism’ characterizing society, or simply as pathological, for their morbid attempt to influence the natural evolution of the system. Surely, unlike Lombroso’s anarchists, the new BR are not ‘neophiles’, in the sense that they do not seem to embrace all new ideas. Rather, they appear to be ‘neophobes’, in their attempt to bring back a climate in which violent contention was widespread, and in their effort to reproduce past conflicts, at least through the vocabulary they adopt in describing them. The new BR look backwards, to their armed predecessors, and revive violent means of action as if fearing that such means may be deleted once and for all from the repertoire of contention of the social class they purport to represent. They are not ‘philantropic’, but rather ‘nostalgic’ murderers. Arrested in 2003 and tried in 2005, the new BR members appear, more than their old counterparts, to be ‘possessed by some transcendental spirit’ and engaged in ‘prophetic utterances’ (Blumer 1951: 77). Acting as a ‘sect of saved souls’, they start their political campaign exactly where their predecessors, aware of their failure, have stopped. Rather then assessing the general political climate surrounding them, they believe that their own action will create a favourable climate allowing the organization to grow.


Understanding political violence A repentant member of the organization, in court, reveals that the human targets they choose are not those symbolically more powerful for their propaganda efforts, but simply those more vulnerable, because devoid of body guards. Ironically, it is through the accessibility of its victims, rather than their symbolic value, that the organization performs its aggressive proselytizing. Unsuccessful in recruiting, the new BR are also inept in promoting loyalty and morale: some members dissociate themselves from the organization immediately after arrest, while others name their associates involved in violent attacks. Their ‘sense of rectitude’ is short-lived, thus revealing their profoundly ‘derivative’ character: they derive the reasons for their action from previous events. From those events they only chose the most spectacular elements and manifestations, namely violent action, while neglecting the social, cultural and political discourses which accompanied them. Violence is performed in a most desperate manner, in an equally desperate attempt to retain such type of action among the viable modalities that future groups of aggrieved citizens will choose to adopt. As I have argued, the old BR attempt to activate previously existing solidarities sustained by ties and social networks, and rely on these solidarities to mobilize collective action in the form of armed opposition. At least initially, the type of political violence they perform tries to marshal existing resources and, at the same time, to enhance them through the promotion of common understandings between those who practice it and those who are addressed as possible recruits. Their failure is due to their inability, or to the objective impossibility, to align an understanding of political violence as proposed by anti-fascist struggle and developing country guerrillas with that of new activists involved in contentious politics. The members of the new BR, in their turn, try to build on a failed alignment attempt and, instead of marshalling pre-existing resources, they try to act as if they were those resources themselves. Repertoires of action, as already stressed, belong to specific contexts and only rarely can they migrate from a context to another. The armed forms of action performed by anti-fascist partisans, anti-colonial armies, and Latin American guerrillas prove to lack modularity, namely the quality to be replicated by other groups in other social situations. This has been shown in the examples of the Black Panther Party and the RAF in the previous chapters, and the old BR in the present one. The new BR show how disastrous it can turn out to be to build action on a failed modularity. Responsibility for this, however, may also be imputed to the groups forging such repertoires of action, as they may limit themselves to transmitting to subsequent contentious groups the more visible, sensational, therefore violent, expressions of their contention, rather than the rationale of the liberating élan of their action. In this chapter, while constructively using some criminological concepts for the analysis of political violence, I have been forced to slightly amend some, and even turn others upside down. Concepts which, in my argument, have proved unsuitable for such analysis are those hinging on variables such as deprivation, want, deficiency, deficit. Perhaps these variables enjoy

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an undeserved longevity among criminologists because they appear to be perfect tools for the examination of conventional crime. Criminology is particularly comfortable when studying marginalized communities and powerless individuals, who are perceived as needy of its missionary zeal and philanthropic support. In a previous chapter, when discussing conflict theory, I have mentioned that this comfortable attitude describes a ‘sociology of misery’ that is willing to focus on the underprivileged as long as they confirm the redemptive role of those studying them and as far as they remain underprivileged. Political violence, be it institutional or anti-institutional, takes redemption in its own hands, thus making philanthropic efforts redundant. Political violence may be the result of the availability of resources, of preceding patterns of oppositional politics, of the accumulation of skills, passion, collective memory and organizational expertise. It may also be the result of a misunderstanding of all of these. In the next chapter some of these variables, along with some criminological concepts, will be put to the test again.

Further reading For a general analysis of political violence, see Wardlaw (1982) and for a more radical perspective, Falk (1988). State terror is discussed in Perdue (1989) and George (1991).

chapter ten

Cloning the enemy

From political violence to terrorism Epiphanies The end of armed propaganda Animus belli Cloning the enemy Metonymies and asymmetries War as terrorism Self-liberating politics Further reading

Political violence inflicts harm while sending signals. The BR and the RAF, as we have seen, attempt to show that targets are vulnerable, that social conflict may, if necessary, evolve into violent conflict, and that organizations capable of sustaining such conflict can be set up. In a phase of their political existence the BR, for example, continue their operations only to signal their mere existence and, therefore, their capability of striking again. The RAF, in turn, at least in its initial attacks, intends to signal that the destruction of things, and violent action in general, are revolutionary values in themselves, because they challenge official legality. Typically, however, political violence addresses two opposed audiences: the individuals and groups supporting the targets, and the potential recruits or allies. Violent political groups, in this way, may seek recognition, demand redress, claim autonomy or fight for transfers of power (Tilly 2004). In this chapter the analysis moves on to address more recent events, which are mainly international in nature and thus potentially more destructive. Terrorism and war, as the extreme forms of political violence, are jointly focused upon for the shift in scale they both entail, and for the distinctive elements they share with other varieties of violence.

Cloning the enemy


As a process, scale shifts are shaped by a number of variables. They can consist in the generalization of contentious tactics or techniques, in the spread of particular organizational forms, or in the diffusion of solidarity to a cause. Each one of these variables may lead to imitation or spin-off action, may generalize practices, and reinforce beliefs (Tarrow and McAdam 2004). ‘Upward scale shift is a change in the number and level of coordinated contentious actions leading to broader contention involving a wider range of actors and bridging their claims and identities’ (McAdam et al. 2001: 331). Upward shift in contentious action may, simultaneously, lead to official authorities adopting violent, unlawful strategies, or inflicting particularly harsh, exemplary punishments. Governments tend to exert spectacular public retaliation in order to send out signals similar to those sent by violent political groups. Their targets, in this case, are not only the groups challenging them, but also the social sectors who hesitate in their support for the institutions which are being challenged. In response, violent groups will often respond with yet higher levels of threats and the deployment of more spectacular violence (Tilly 2004). This dynamic becomes clear if political violence from below is regarded as a form of ‘social control’ which attracts aggressive practices of institutional control, namely practices that blend elements of warfare with those of criminal justice (Black 2004). The use of force, in general, aims at the control of others, including enemies, but when exercised from below, it also manifests itself as self-help, as an attempt to handle grievances with aggressive means. Although at times political violence may appear to be an unpredictable outburst or unexplainable explosion, it possesses a ‘geometrical’ precision. ‘It is unpredictable only if we seek its origin in the characteristics of individuals.’ Violence occurs when the social geometry of a conflict – the conflict structure – is violent. Every form of violence has its own structure, whether a beating structure, duelling structure, lynching structure, feuding structure, genocide structure – or terrorist structure. Structures kill and maim, not individuals or collectivities. (ibid.: 15) In this sense, if the context in which political violence is performed is itself violent, an escalating process allows the parties involved to devise increasingly ‘pure’ violent practices. I am now finally clarifying, more or less tentatively, the definition of terrorism I would like to adopt. ‘Pure’ political violence is defined by the targets attacked: political violence becomes ‘pure’ when organized forces, overtly or covertly, inflict mass violence on civilians. Political violence, in such cases, becomes random and organizations using it adopt a concept of collective liability applied to the groups against which they fight. Targets are not precise actors whose conduct is deemed wrongful, but general populations defined by nationality, ethnicity, religious or political creed. This type of violence contains elements of what is known as hate crime, namely the recognition


Understanding political violence that victims are perceived as representatives of specific communities, and that they are not attacked in their capacity as individuals, but as individuals belonging to a real or imagined alien group (Witte 1996). Hatred may also be based on identities, lifestyles, cultural values and tastes, and constitutes a reservoir of bitter memories that can trigger violent antagonism (Kelly and Maghan 1998). Variants of hate crime include what are described as state-sponsored violent offences, in which perpetrators act, directly or otherwise, on behalf of official state agencies. In doing so, they appear to provide an illegal extension to institutionally engrained feelings and a parallel power of social control addressed to despised communities. The interaction between state-sponsored hate crime and political violence from below often creates what Black (2004) terms ‘pure terrorism’. This type of terrorism is war-like, more so than other types of collective or individual random violence, and may be interminable, unless it is successful. I will adopt a definition of terrorism and counter-terrorism as ‘pure’ political violence.1 Terrorism and counter-terrorism may exhibit feud-like elements of vengeance, each side answering random violence with random violence. For this development to take place, however, a considerable cultural and relational distance, along with a severe form of inequality, must be in place between the aggrieved and the targets they choose to attack. Drastic, total polarization is essential for this to occur. On the contrary, we could argue that terrorism does not occur, or is less destructive, where the adversaries are closer in social space. In these cases, violent political actors will preferably target precise government officials, representatives of economic power, or typically the armies serving what they perceive as their internal enemy, never civilians. Anticolonial violence primarily involved guerrilla warfare and other government-oriented aggression. Terrorism occurred only where large members of enemy civilians lived in the colonial society . . . Colonial Algeria for example, had an ideal physical and social geometry for terrorism. More than one million French and other Europeans lived in urban and rural Algeria. (ibid.: 24) The variable social space, however, seems insufficient to explain ‘pure’ political violence, also because what that variable seeks to explain is presented as a unitary, distinct form of action. Pure political violence, on the contrary, could be seen as an unbounded strategy, as a variety of contentious aggressive acts performed by a variety of collective actors. According to Tilly (2004: 5), for example, if terrorism is described as ‘asymmetrical deployment of threats and violence against enemies’, many individuals and groups engage in terror, ‘using means that fall outside the forms of political 1

This definition, as already mentioned, was agreed with my informants, who would describe as ‘terrorist’ less their own action than the state responses against it.

Cloning the enemy


struggle routinely operating within some current regime’. Terror, however, can be alternated with conventional political activity or with periods of political inaction. Although there are groups and networks specializing in pure political violence, these tend to remain unstable and ephemeral, unless they overlap with strong social movements, or with ‘governmentemployed and government-backed specialists in coercion’, such as armies, police, militias and paramilitaries. Users of terror from below usually see their action as a supplement to other conflicts in which they, or those they purport to represent, are engaged. Political claim making, in other words, provides the backdrop to political violence, including pre-political violence, which is therefore intermittent, alternating with wider political activity. The most durable form of terror, in this respect, is the terror produced by organized specialists in coercion, namely by state agents. Pure political violence from below, ‘despite the publicity it has received recently, accounts for a highly variable but usually very small share of all the terror that occurs in the contemporary world’ (ibid.: 6). Let us attempt a criminological analysis of how ‘specialists in coercion’, namely state actors, manage to turn non-specialist, violent political actors into their specular peers.

From political violence to terrorism Recent attacks by political-religious armed groups prompt questions as to how new similar violent, indiscriminate events are. ‘What is staggeringly novel in the events of the 11th September?’ (Hall 2002: 9). Answers to this question vary. On the one hand, some social aspects underlying such explosions of violence are not deemed unfamiliar, in particular the growing polarization of wealth and resources, along with the punitive attitude towards those questioning the distribution of both. Recent episodes of international terrorism are, therefore, regarded as the ‘unveiling of some of the huge consequences of long-running processes that were always – already in place’ (ibid.). On the other hand, such episodes are interpreted as the effect of the demise of secular ideologies, which is said to have left ‘a void increasingly occupied by politicised religious discourses’ (Mouffe 2002: 16). It is argued that when politics ceases to perform its role as mediator of conflicts, and opposition is denied opportunities for purposeful expression, conflicts may take on other forms, including extremely violent forms. A relational analysis may help identify what is new in the recent attacks and, at the same time, suggest that, far from being the outcome of the demise of politics, they are a relatively novel product of political developments themselves. But let us recall some background concepts informing a relational analysis.


Understanding political violence

Epiphanies Interpretive (and symbolic) interactionists do not draw general theories of society, because they believe that society is an abstract entity invented by sociologists seeking a subject matter (Blumer 1951; 1990). Similarly, relational analysis understands society as a web of connected events and conducts lived in concrete situations. Interconnections between individuals and groups cohabiting in a given society make situations and shared contexts constantly change, whereby conducts and beliefs are precisely situated though always subject to evolution. The parties involved write invisible texts which create the guidelines for reciprocal action. In this way, groups and individuals develop their own accounts and motives for explaining their actions to one another, and consequently, their biographies echo the biographies of those with whom they are related in action. Violence observes similar relational dynamics, and incorporates the stories and biographies, at the same time, of those using and suffering it. Specific historical moments shape the rationale, the form and intensity of violent episodes, reflecting how previous relational experience is structured and lived by the individuals and groups involved. A relational order, in other words, is shaped by negotiated, situated, temporal and biographical processes that assign meaning to acts and counteracts (Goffman 1959; Garfinkel 1967; Denzin 1992). In non-problematic situations such processes establish manageable routines and rituals, and experiences follow their trajectories without traumatic moments. In problematic situations, on the contrary, ruptures may occur and radical redefinitions of the context may follow, while those interacting will tend, at the same time, to redefine themselves. ‘Epiphanic experiences rupture routines and lives and provoke radical redefinitions of the self’ (Denzin 1992: 26). In moments of epiphany, therefore, ‘scale shifts’ are generated which affect individual choice as well as collective strategies. These turning-point experiences draw new guidelines for action while shaping new potential counteractions. Pure political violence is the result of one such epiphany, and should be understood through the processes leading to radical redefinition of context and self. Pure political violence, in such redefined contexts, signals the failure of systems to create generalized beliefs. This failure also suggests an inability to generate aggregate conducts that are not ‘crisis conducts’ (Melucci 1978). Crisis conducts, in their turn, incorporate the appreciation of violence as the only determinant of social change, or even, as the magical means for the overcoming of the social crisis reflecting them. It should be added that closed political systems, be they national or international, are often characterized by disorganization and collapsing solidarity mechanisms, so that violence may come to be perceived as an instrument for restoring a form of elementary equilibrium. So, while conflict, in any political system, may amount to some sort of healthy lymph contributing to social

Cloning the enemy


change, unfettered violent conflict is the symptom that crisis prevails over conflict. Terrorism, defined above as ‘pure’ political violence, signals a reaction to ‘crisis situations’ and marks total enmity to the closed systems identified as responsible for those situations. Closed systems, in their turn, will increasingly close further in response to those trying to open them. Let us translate this into a Weberian argument. Political authority, like patriarchal power, derives from the ability to respond to recurrent and routinized necessities of everyday life. Authority may rest on specific gifts and charismatic qualities, but also on the rational expectations of those who are submitted to it, as well as on some form of sacredness acquired through tradition. When tradition prevails, authority shifts towards irrationalism, imposing judgements and rules on the basis of ‘personal’ not ‘functional’ role divisions. Similarly, closed political systems possess a degree of irrationalism that makes them arbitrary rather than predictable. In this sense, they are no longer bureaucracies whose predictability and rationality transcend the individuals and groups operating in them (Weber 1978). The authority of closed political systems vanishes as soon as those holding it are no longer recognized as deserving it. In other words, political systems are not permanent, but can lose their legitimacy when the authority relationships on which they are based are vehemently questioned; or, as Bourdieu (1998) puts it, as soon as the acts of subdual and acknowledgement are turned into acts of cognitive struggle. Of course, this struggle will then be countered by authorized agents in the international political community, who will impose definitions and characteristic traits to the behaviour they face. But their judgement will contribute to the shaping of that behaviour (Quinney 1970), in a process culminating in those involved exchanging labels while imitating one another’s vehement judgements. If label theory in criminology posits that those defined as criminal, in this way, begin to conceive of themselves as criminal (Lemert 1964), the dynamic described so far would suggest that both the ‘definers’ and the ‘defined’ adjust to the definitions imposed upon them, and end up playing, together, the role of the criminal. Terrorism, in this perspective, is the result of a learning trajectory that it shares with counter-terrorism. It is now time to return to the examination of specific events.

The end of armed propaganda Political criminality and terrorism possess contradictory facets: they are forms of unorthodox crime or forms of unorthodox politics; they may be the manifestation of domestic conflict or international warfare; they may be described ‘as a tool of communication and as a lifestyle, as a deliberate programme for reform and as a pathological campaign of hate and destruction’ (Kittrie 2000: 18). Among the common elements believed to characterize different forms of terrorism, however, are the urge to embrace


Understanding political violence a cause, a leader, or an ideology, and the commitment to engage in violence, which requires operational flexibility, in contrast to the rigidity of the political or religious creed. Flexibility on the one hand, and rigidity on the other, are said to lead terrorists to the conviction that they are experiencing a war situation, and that they are therefore legitimized to kill and prepared to be killed. As self-appointed soldiers, they can engage in murder, because the war declared by and against them puts life and death in a different light. The terrorist is therefore like a soldier outside of time and space, living in a reality of war that exists only in his or her fantasy. This is widely reflected in terrorists’ writings and in their posture, when captured, of claiming ‘prisoner of war’ status. (Ferracuti 1982: 136) Acts of terrorism are assumed to involve a high degree of calculation, a careful weighing of means and ends, and to be inspired by both expressive and instrumental goals. The former goals aim at strengthening resolve and group cohesion, and at conveying an image of determination and potency. In this sense, the exercise of violence is meant to have an effect on both those performing it and the individuals or groups targeted, as well as on ‘spectators’. Terrorism, indeed, involves an element of spectacular propaganda making it attractive to potential recruits and menacing to chosen enemies. Terrorism as we have seen it recently at international level, however, can be seen as the result of a radical, ultimate shift within the relational dynamic described above. When the accumulation of military force, though significant, appears to be insufficient to match that possessed by the institutions, armed propaganda becomes unrealistic. Political activists and social groups in general cannot be offered competitive structures and practices leading to a different social order. Defeat is most likely and social and political gains are replaced with gains in other, less palpable, spheres. The choice of targets can no longer be justified by the specific social goal pursued, but is given a transcendental justification that Camus (1965) terms historical. According to Camus, there are some political conflicts emphasizing history, and others emphasizing humanity. The emphasis on history destroys all limits to human action, because history itself becomes the supreme judge of the morality of that action. Revolutions inspired by a sense of historical inevitability inherit the ‘right to punish’ that they take away from the defeated, and after dressing it with a religious mantle, put punishment at the centre of the universe. This entails a transition to ‘brotherly murder’ (Aronson 2004), as every killing is carried out in the name of universal humanity, ‘so it is bound to regard its opponents as other than human, and to end up consecrating the difference in blood’ (Rée 2005: 20). Revolutions, in this way, adopt a doctrine of culpability for the humans and one of innocence for history (Ruggiero 2003a). The sense of historical inevitability goes hand in hand with the process whereby

Cloning the enemy


violence becomes randomized, limitless: history will vindicate the legitimacy of that pure violence. It has to be noted that the official agencies and nations interacting with this type of political violence mobilize the same sort of historical inevitability, as they too claim that only the future will vindicate the legitimacy of their limitless aggression and randomized violence.

Animus belli The phenomenon of terrorism, in the official rhetoric, becomes increasingly merged with other forms of dissent and protest. The assumption takes shape that legal, political action may move to illegal action and escalate into random violence, while a range of political groups are included in the list of ‘potentially politically subversive groups’ (Smith 1994). An important step in this process is the treatment of armed group members by the judicial system. Between 1980 and 1998, for example, the US government periodically tried accused domestic and international terrorists through the use of traditional criminal courts. Political violence was associated with ‘common criminality’, and ‘explicitly politicising the trials of terrorists was generally avoided, although federal prosecutors occasionally “experimented” with this line of reasoning’ (Smith et al. 2002). Trials, however, were increasingly ‘politicized’ when courts were dealing with international armed groups, whose members were punished more severely than members of domestic groups. If the political element was apparently ignored at the stage of conviction, it became crucial at the stage of sentencing (Turk 1994). The institution of military tribunals for foreign armed groups, recently, has irretrievably shaped the official response to political violence originating from abroad. The definition of terrorism advocated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation prevailed, leaving the power to designate defendants as terrorists to political officials. Meanwhile, the emphasis on national security encouraged a more severe response than that incurred by ordinary offenders. Suggestions that strong links exist between international terrorism and conventional transnational crime, and that, for example, drug traffickers and distributors support terrorists, make increasingly severe responses all the more justifiable. Moreover, the use of military tribunals undercuts the adage that it is better to let one guilty person go free than to have an innocent person incarcerated. ‘The military tribunals introduce a more lax regime that might be more likely to incarcerate an innocent person. But, the argument runs, the risk is justified’ (Donohue 2002: 341). These tribunals are designed to increase convictions, therefore their very existence assumes that individuals are guilty until proven innocent. Parallel with the assumption of guilt is a shift in the identification of causes, whereby the terrorist-enemy is depicted as an individual devoid of


Understanding political violence free choice and subjectivity. The focus on religious motivation rather than broad political motivation, for example, encourages the return of theories attributing to armed group members diminished mental capacity. Think how, more popularly, brainwashing has been singled out as characterizing groups as diverse as militia networks, Christian Identity enclaves, and the Symbionese Liberation Army, with explanations and theories deriving, to a great extent, from studies of Korean War prisoners. Attempts are made to legally ‘de-programme’ converts, or ‘free’ them from their religious creed, a euphemism for kidnapping, intensive psychological pressure and torture. After becoming out of favour by the late 1980s, ‘several important academic students of the religious movements in the 1990s began to reexamine the brainwashing theory, and argued that there were, indeed, some elements of truth in it’ (Kaplan 2002: 7). Brainwashing is also assumed to be at the origin of suicide terrorism, regarded as something unprecedented and characterizing contemporary fanaticism and political violence. On the contrary, it could be argued that most terrorism is and has been suicidal, from the tyrannicides in ancient Greece to the regicides in the Middle Ages, through to the anarchists of the twentieth century: ‘The kings and queens, the ministers and generals were well guarded, most of the assailants did not even try to escape’ (Laqueur 2002: 3). In this respect, we have seen earlier how Durkheim’s analysis of suicide can provide some tools for the examination of political violence, and more specifically, we have discussed Lombroso’s term ‘indirect suicide’ and the Black Panthers’ definitions of ‘revolutionary suicide’. Diminished mental capacity, however, does not hamper, but rather accelerate, the development of what is described as an animus belli against terrorists, namely the will to wage war against an enemy whose response may determine a shift from fantasy war to real war. Only when acknowledged as war contenders, in effect, can armed groups intensify terror, thus increasingly randomizing their violent action. Particularly when political-religious violence is depicted as mere religious fanaticism, terror and anti-terror produce reciprocal escalation forcing each other into symmetrical forms of totalism. Both contenders, in brief, embrace a rigidly dualistic division of humanity into categories such as saved/damned, godly/ demonic, civilized/barbarian, and so on. Totalism begets totalism, and interactions between anti-terror and totalistic movements may take themselves a totalistic form (Anthony et al. 2002). ‘Lastly, fantasy war, as real war, is carried out by executing projects of destruction’, and in a chain reaction, violence ‘must be self-sustained through an escalation of terror that does not permit the participants to abstain from action or even to lower the level of conflict’ (Ferracuti 1982: 138).

Cloning the enemy


Cloning the enemy We can now return to the question about the novelty of recent violent attacks. Observers may argue that unequal distribution of wealth, which has increased over the last decades, makes international political violence the outcome of both old and new conditions, and that the particularly devastating forms of attack mirror the unprecedented intensification of inequality. While it is true that 20 per cent of the world population consumes 86 per cent of available goods and that 20 per cent of the world’s poorest only consumes 1.3 per cent of available commodities and services, poverty or relative deprivation are not sufficient to explain the explosion of international political violence (Zolo 2002). ‘There is no terrorism in the fifty countries listed as the poorest and least developed by the United Nations’ (Laqueur 2002: 3). Taking inequality as a permanent given or even assuming its constant exacerbation, we can argue that only some forms of political violence evolve in ‘pure’ political violence or terrorism (Queloz 2002). This evolution is fostered by interactions of armed groups with institutions and the relational dynamics forcing some such groups to take on a limited set of roles and identities. Terrorism is part of this relational dynamic. Armed groups engaged in random violence are located in the inescapable position of waging a war when their fantasy war is acknowledged as real; that is, when they take on the bellicose features of those waging a real war on them. In this sense, only when modelled, shaped, or even cloned from those interacting with them can terrorists become terrorists (Ruggiero 2003b). It is this interactive process that allows the establishment of a double normative standard, an old device found in the United Nations chart as well as in the Westphalia pact, whereby there always is a bellum justus, and there always are civilized nations defending themselves from barbarians. Let us examine in further detail this interactive process.

Metonymies and asymmetries Officially, it is stated that conventional warfare has a well-defined beginning and conclusion, such as the surrender of one side, so that former enemies may resume normal relations when war ends. Contemporary war seems interminable, like the terrorism it fosters. We have seen how new this is, and have also argued that the feature of many terrorist attacks has always been their suicidal nature. The newness, I have suggested, resides in the cloning of terrorism, namely in making it similar to the power it seeks to fight. ‘Cloning’, indeed, implies making terrorism increasingly suicidal, thereby contributing to its own elimination in partnership with the state powers fighting it. Incidentally, this seems to be the dream of many


Understanding political violence ‘reformers’, namely that of making violent offenders and their victims increasingly similar, to the point that they coincide. Terrorism and the war against it, however, are linked in a variety of other ways, most notably in the fact that they share the same international communication space. The leaders of international terrorism and the leaders of the war against it become metonymies reflecting one another (Borradori 2003; Derrida 2003a), both sending images over the airwaves, dissimulating and deflecting more and more quickly the truth. The war against terror, on the other hand, unmasks the shallowness of the concept of tolerance: as soon as the others refuse to recognize their inferiority (thus the other’s tolerance), war is the response: that tolerance was a fake (Derrida 2003b). The notion of ‘cloning’, however, does not eliminate the asymmetry between the two parties. Habermas (2003: 28) finds it obscene that the contenders respectively possess a ‘concentrated destructive power of the electronically controlled clusters of elegant and versatile missiles in the air’ and ‘the archaic ferocity of the swarms of bearded warriors outfitted with Kalashnikovs on the ground’. And this feeling of obscenity is better understood when one recalls the ‘bloodthirsty colonial history that Afghanistan suffered, its arbitrary geographic dismemberment, and its continued instrumentalisation at the hands of the European power play’. The asymmetry between terror and counter-terror also pertains to their respective impact. It may be difficult to assess the real danger posed by the networks of violent actors we associate, for the time being, with the name al-Qaeda, and this difficulty, or uncertainty, may add to the power of their threat. However, their action bears the traits of an ‘impotent revolt directed against an enemy that cannot be defeated in any pragmatic sense’ (ibid.: 34). The effect that action can have is to shock and alarm governments and populations. True, because Western complex societies are highly susceptible to disruption and accidents, attacks may produce considerably destructive consequences. ‘Pure’ political violence from below, however, combines a capacity to exploit vulnerability with a total lack of realistic goals. A singular, unprecedented event, ‘September 11’ is a metonymy, an allusion to what may follow. This feeling of being faced with a unique event is less spontaneous than it appears: ‘it is to a large extent conditioned, constituted, if not actually constructed, through the media by means of a prodigious techno-socio-political machine’ (Derrida 2003b: 86). To mark an event with a date, another metonymy, indicates that that event occurs for the first or the last time, and will remain unforgettable. But it is almost impossible to distinguish between the act and the system informing about it: all previous and contemporaneous wars are not perceived as unprecedented or unforgettable catastrophes. Its uniqueness, therefore, resides in the future that the event itself anticipates, a future marked by even worse mayhem than has ever taken place. Terrorism is the manifestation of communicative pathology: political violence from below and from above start as expressions of distorted communication, they spiral into uncontrolled reciprocal mistrust, and when

Cloning the enemy


the breakdown of communication is complete, they turn into reciprocal, randomized homicide. This is a typical type of communication prevailing between asymmetric parties; in this case, between an alliance of countries and an elusive network, though the asymmetry is hidden by the elevation of the other to the status of war enemy. Asymmetry makes efforts to deconstruct the very notion of terrorism impossible, a notion which is made all the more self-evident by the brutality with which it is dealt with. Violent political groups are thus sanctified and martyrdom is encouraged. This is described as an auto-immune disorder that threatens the life of contemporary societies and the legal systems that underwrite them. Contemporary global terrorism is a symptom of an auto-immune crisis. This crisis started when Western democracies armed and trained their future enemies in a suicidal manner. The contemporary reaction to terrorism is, therefore, akin to slow suicide, whereby societies attempting to protect themselves, in fact, destroy the defensive mechanism which is supposed to thwart external aggression. ‘Repression – whether it be through the police, the military, or the economy – ends up producing, and regenerating the very thing it seeks to disarm’ (Derrida 2003b: 99). The hijackers, in turn, are doubly suicidal; they incorporate two suicides in one: their own and the suicide of those who welcomed, armed and trained them.

War as terrorism It should be clear at this point that ‘terrorism’ is a specific method of struggle, not simply a specific form of political violence from below. It can, and has been, employed by an infinite variety of actors in the international system, including governments, political factions, criminal gangs, religious and civic movements. ‘It is by no means the monopoly or exclusive weapon of any particular ideology, political philosophy or religion.’ The terrorist is one who tries to terrify people into doing what he or she wants. For the politically motivated terrorist the object is generally to create a climate of fear among a wider target group than the immediate victims of the violence. Campaigns of terror violence can be used to publicise the terrorists’ cause. (Wilkinson 1987: xi) We have seen that there is close homology between terrorism and counterterrorism. After terming the type of violence ‘factional terrorism’ Wilkinson (ibid.: x) remarks that, given the scale of institutional terror, the pervasiveness of crimes against humanity, and the mass destruction brought about by modern tyrannies and democracies alike, there should be no doubt that state terrorism ‘is a far more severe and intractable problem for humanity than the containment and reduction of factional terror’. State terrorism is,


Understanding political violence however, as symbolic as ‘factional’ terror attempts to be. Both, even when horribly destructive, aim to symbolically empower potential supporters, to create an illusion of invincible strength, and though achieving limited strategic purpose, to expose the vulnerability of those attacked (Juergensmeyer 2000). War is the ultimate form of state terror, and resembles terrorism in that, as we increasingly witness, it ignores international legislation, and is waged randomly (Derrida 2003a; Ferrajoli 2005). Like terrorism, contemporary war claims to be responding in self-defence to prior or potential attacks by enemies. State representatives and terrorist leaders may claim that the random violence they use is a last resort, and that they are defending themselves by counter-attacking. Both can define the other party as ‘more terrorist’, because both can claim that the other party has deprived them of every other means of interaction or negotiation; both can describe themselves as the victims of prior aggressions, rather than as the aggressors. An understanding of the links between terrorism and war is therefore crucial if a more complete picture of political violence is to be drawn. After studying a variety of forms of political violence and terrorism practised by ‘sub-state groups’, the conclusion may be reached that ‘states, not sub-state groups’ have killed by far the larger numbers of innocent people. Moreover, ‘despite what governments say, many of those targeted by sub-state groups are reasonably regarded by them as legitimate targets, and hence not innocents, especially when the targets are government officials’. According to this logic, ‘much of the political violence as practised by sub-state groups and individuals cannot properly be regarded as terrorism’. Accordingly, if we want to have an accurate picture of terrorism throughout history, and in our present circumstances, we must continually remind ourselves that the most significant terrorist problem is that of state terrorism or state-sponsored terrorism. (Sterba 2003: 11) There is an obvious asymmetry between pure political violence from above and from below, and such asymmetry also characterizes state terrorism and war as its supreme expression. The clash between two states endowed with comparable military strength may observe agreed conventional rules which are beneficial to both. These rules may provide a rational backdrop to the contenders, who will find helpful the establishment of predictable uses of certain weapons and their impact, along with the precise ways in which prisoners of war will be treated (French 2003). In asymmetrical wars, on the contrary, unconventional means are likely to be used by both parties involved: by the stronger as a way of expressing its unchallengeable superiority, and by the weaker as a way of redressing its manifest inferiority. Whichever party starts resorting to unconventional means, these will be used by the other party in response, in an exchange whereby each claims to be drawn to such means by the enemy. In this

Cloning the enemy


respect, as all those involved end up adopting similar illegal means, asymmetrical wars become totally illegal, and present themselves as ‘pure’ political violence from above. This type of pure violence shows that the states using it ‘do not rise to the minimal moral level of applying to themselves the standards they apply to others’ (Chomsky 2003: 70). It also demonstrates that, while terrorism is feared as an intolerable ‘return to barbarism’, its perception differs rather noticeably in the light of sharply differing experiences, and these differences ‘will be ignored at their peril by those whom history has accustomed to immunity while they perpetrate terrible crimes’ (ibid.: 84). Moreover, asymmetrical war, like war on terrorism, is a revolt of the rich and ‘no revolution has succeeded on the basis of pure greed’ (Hirst 2001: 99). Asymmetrical war against terrorism is an illegitimate alternative to proper investigation and prosecution, a contemptuous statement of failure addressed to the rule of law. It is a rational choice aiming at pure collateral damage rather than the destruction of the enemy. It is like, say, the destruction of Sicily motivated by the fight against organized crime. Responses based on the rule of law and international cooperation are more effective in the long run and may also open the way to a more just and stable world order (Archibugi and Young 2003). Instead, by choosing asymmetrical war, states accept to share the language of those they attempt to fight. They send messages to the opposition in order to dissuade it from adopting certain conducts. They practise a manipulative form of coercion: the people targeted are used as a means to deliver that message to someone else (Wellman 1979). War and terrorism are both forms of degenerate violence, because they both involve ‘the deliberate and systematic extension of war against an organised enemy to war against a largely unarmed civilian population’ (Shaw 2003: 5). Therefore, if state violence is a form of ‘democide’, namely the intentional killing of unarmed people by government (Rummel 1997; Day and Vandiver 2000), war, in treating civilian groups as enemies to be destroyed, is a form of genocide, that is an extension of degenerate war. Historically, genocide has occurred mostly in the context of war, and in practice it is intertwined with other forms of war. Therefore the best way of making sense of genocide is to see it as a distinctive form of war. (Shaw 2003: 5) Contemporary wars are becoming forms of paramilitary policing, nonClausewitzian conflicts which do not involve the exclusive use of regular armed forces and do not entail a distinctive, bilaterally accepted state of war. For this reason, they are more likely to take place outside agreed rules and are bound to destroy the very principles in the name of which they are waged (Hirst 2001). These wars are allegedly declared for ‘survival’, but as Socrates would put it, survival counts for nothing if humanity is betrayed in the process. They signal the failure of democracies to allow politics, in the classical sense of the term, ‘free play’. They mark, simultaneously, a


Understanding political violence return to pre-political forms of conflict and the end of political possibility (Alexander 2004). The parties involved pursue powerful religious legitimation which is post-political, holy, righteousness, and is forcibly and arbitrarily derived from their respective tradition. Drawing from sacred narratives of judgement, each tradition has produced ethical prophecies that legitimate violent means for holy ends, prophecies that culminate in apocalyptic visions of the pathway to paradise. (ibid.: 93) Holy wars, wars declared in the name of god, attempt to avenge a sacrilege by imposing a destructive ban upon the sinners. Through this type of war, the victors prove the superiority of their creed, therefore of their divinity, and hence their right to impose political and economic authority on the unfaithful (Weber 1978). Contemporary holy wars engage conflicting theological doctrines that are trying to subjugate one another, and while they appear to be so distant, such doctrines are, in fact, very similar in their will to impose total subjugation. In this sense, while appearing as the result of failed communication, they prove to be the highest possible form of communication, in that those involved utilize a similar religious vocabulary. Clones of one another, they do manage to interact, though in abnormally asymmetrical ways.

Self-liberating politics A critique of war as terrorism would be incomplete without a parallel critique of political violence in general. The choice to follow this dual route has led many political activists involved in armed struggle in the past to rethink their own experience and identify alternative forms of political contention to be adopted in the present and the future. The discussion also involves a wide range of groups and organizations who see non-violent action as a systematic exercise for the critique of the dominant norms and as ‘the most suitable action for the de-structuring of power relations’ (Cacciari 2004: 67). Non-violent political activity, it is argued, is in itself ‘transgressive’, in that it distances itself from war, but also from all the other coercive aspects characterizing international politics and the world economy. It is no longer possible to answer fire with fire: ‘our barricades are the international networks of activists, and our munitions are our words, which allow us to accumulate a type of power completely different from the one against which we fight’ (ibid.). Contentious politics, in this sense, becomes a constant critique of the ‘forms’ through which power is created and perpetuated. Violence is the most important of such forms. Fighting power, therefore, includes a self-liberating process from the necessity to use violence against violence.

Cloning the enemy


In politics, violence has never been a taboo: Machiavelli, Hegel and Marx see it as a powerful component of history, like ‘force’ is an integral part of physical phenomena. Violence has long been incorporated into the analysis of social change, becoming a mere ‘instrument’ to be utilized for the acceleration of historical processes. Even war, according to theorists of traditional social movements, may provide such an acceleration, contributing to the breach of the status quo, and as a consequence, to the enhancement of revolutionary processes. This view does not consider that ‘war has now been subsumed in the economic process’, and that contemporary wars strengthen economic domination while bringing devastation: ‘it would be unthinkable to put war at the service of a class that sees itself historically destined to change the world’. That world, if not completely destroyed, may be too similar to the one in which we live now (Revelli 2004: 58). The realization that their violence was not only shaped in predictable patterns by the violence exercised against them, but was also becoming in many ways similar to the violence they criticized, led activists to question the very logic inspiring violent means of action (Dellwo et al. 1998; Guagliardo 2002; Morucci 2004). Ex-members of armed organizations remark that ‘revolutionaries cannot resemble their enemy: they cannot do what the power they want to replace does’. ‘We cannot use today the means that we would not use tomorrow.’ ‘To kidnap class enemies, and while they are in our custody, to kill them, makes a travesty of our fight against the prison system.’2 The power to kill cannot be exercised while waiting for a future time when power will stop killing. This selfcritique contains some crucial elements that can inspire a parallel, radical critique of war. Both war and terrorism mobilize values, they strengthen bonds, generate ‘absolute situations’. Intense emotional experiences, they bring collective feelings together, shaping identities opposed to those attributed to the enemy. There are parallels or structural homologies between the experience underlying the constitution of values and the experience of violence – whether suffered or perpetrated. The experience of violence is the ‘perverted twin’ of the experience of value commitment. (Joas 2003: 19) War is said to possess an educational element and to tear down barriers to learning. The learning mechanism at work in war, it is argued, allows groups and nations to adhere to new values and through them achieve stability. Forcing people out of their natural inertia, war is alleged to make them learn even against their will, and to change then profoundly (Hondrich 1992). But this ‘unplanned syllabus’ can easily apply to terrorism as well, which is also a persuasive ‘teacher’ for collectivities who are forced to learn even against their will. A critical analysis of terrorism, that has been 2

Interviews conducted in Rome and Milan.


Understanding political violence attempted in the previous chapters, would therefore be unfinished without a call for the abolition of war: ‘terrorism produces war against it, and crusades produce jihads in turn . . . terrorism is a dramatic gesture’ and war against it is ‘a dramatic misunderstanding’ (Alexander 2004: 104). The final chapter deals with this gory misunderstanding, calling for its criminalization.

Further reading It would be impossible to list all the books published after 11 September 2001. Limiting the choice to some recent critical contributions, I would suggest Nassar (2005), for convincingly connecting globalization and terrorism, and Chatterjee (2004), for the description of war as a profitable occupation. For a stimulating collection on the issue of suicide missions, see Gambetta (2005).

chapter eleven

Criminology as ceasefire

War and identities Solidarity and innateness Legitimacy and the carnival of war A new criminology of war Criminalizing war Further reading

The argument for the criminalization of war presented below uses a number of concepts derived from sociology and criminology. As we shall see, some of the notions discussed in the previous chapters will prove invaluable.

In a novel by Stefan Zweig war is a chess game which turns into a vulgar business that engages passionate, noble individuals who regularly lose against coarse, inhuman beings endowed with purely mechanic abilities. Similarly, Ernst Jünger identifies in the bloody mud of World War I the end of heroic wars and the inception of mechanic, industrial, productive armed conflicts, when human work is finally subsumed in violence: war is an industry. While the former develops a type of radical pacifism, and after fleeing Germany with a sense of tragic defeat, commits suicide, the latter elaborates, along with a critique of modern wars, a notion of war as value: the reason why we fight is irrelevant, what is important is that we do (Zweig 1943; Jünger 1985). Zweig and Jünger exemplify the two extreme reactions to war, namely total rejection through self-obliteration, on the one hand, and acceptance through ideological revaluation, on the other. The concluding chapter of this book attempts to shun defeatism and impotence, while arguing that the notion of ‘war as value’ has enjoyed unmerited longevity, and that a sociological-criminological analysis of war may lead today to its unconditional


Understanding political violence criminalization. Before presenting the criminalization argument, however, a brief analysis of how mainstream criminology has failed to address war and of the recent development of a new criminology of war is provided.

War and identities Conventional criminologists have long shied away from the study of war, as they have from legitimate behaviour. Little curiosity, in this respect, has also provoked the evidence that legitimate behaviour may be extremely harmful to people and property, that institutional and cultural processes determine what is to be regarded as legitimate, and finally that legitimate power is always accompanied by illegitimate opportunities for its constant reinforcement. However, the study of white-collar crime has partly changed this; for example, by revealing how official occupational roles are intertwined with criminal opportunities and how illegal techniques are transmitted along with rationalizations making crime ‘during the course of one’s occupation’ a widespread phenomenon (Sutherland 1983). Students of state crime have shown that legitimate authority is far from being the embodiment of the law, and that legality and illegality are constantly manoeuvred in the practical exercise of authority (Heyman 1999). In previous chapters we have seen how Durkheim (1996) views war as a factor reducing societies to the lowest moral conditions while imposing a rigid authoritarian discipline on volition. We have also mentioned that, long before him, Hobbes (1987) analyses war as violence perpetrated by ‘persons of sovereign authority’, who assume the posture of gladiators, and have their eyes fixed, and their weapons pointed, at one another. Labelling theory, in its turn, has questioned ontological definitions of crime (Becker 1963), and even disputed the ‘deviant’ nature of killing: taking another’s life is not always categorized as homicide (Pfohl 1985). Again, the reference to war is obvious here. But despite these unequivocal pointers, war has miraculously escaped attention, and when faced with the millions of ‘legitimate’ killings perpetrated, for example, during the wars of the twentieth century, most conventional criminologists refuse to consider that many of those killings were in fact illegitimate, let alone considering that the very legitimacy of those wars might be challenged. There is a burdensome legacy favouring such refusal, one that is found in the traditional notion that war is a great foundational event, replete with positive values, capable of marking the difference between barbarianism and civilization. War is assumed to establish ‘just’ hierarchies and allocate deserved ranks: a necessary evil, it is a regenerative event nonetheless, shaping the world and triggering transformation (Curi 2002). Moreover, war appears to belong to the divine sphere, as it generates social and

Criminology as ceasefire


institutional forms through a sort of theomachy, a sacred fight which brings destruction while creating something new. In brief, war is the expression of supreme forms of interaction, and a crucial factor for the constitution of identities. Similar notions are somehow absorbed by functionalist criminology through the espousal of concerns around solidarity, consensus and integration. The perceived loosening of social bonds under the conditions of urban and industrial life has favoured the appreciation of war as a crucial artifice for the production of collective identities, solidarity and supreme integration. The liberating and concomitantly disorganising influence of liberal society in its impact on traditional social orders in the West, it is held, is responsible for the rise of intense nationalism and the attendant appeals of war. (Bramson and Goethals 1964: 297) As Durkheim suggests, when individual minds are not isolated but enter into close relation with, and work upon, each other, a new kind of psychic life takes shape, a synthesis of superior energy and intensity. This synthesis, which allows for personal interests to be temporarily set aside, can express itself in the form of uncontrollable force, an overflow of strength and sentiments as the inevitable effects of collective ferment. This force can translate into ‘stupid destructive violence’ or into ‘heroic folly’, but its main function is to generate moments of higher forms of life, and its intensity and exclusiveness ‘monopolizes all minds to the more or less complete exclusion of egoism and the commonplace’. A society is not a mere organized body of vital functions and cannot be constituted without creating ideals: ‘this body has a soul which is the composition of collective ideals’. Ideals, in turn, are not abstractions, cold intellectual concepts lacking purposeful power. They are essentially dynamic, for behind them ‘are the powerful forces of the collective’. ‘They are collective forces – that is, natural but at the same time moral forces, comparable to the other forces of the universe’ (Durkheim 1974: 91–3). It is controversial whether Durkheim would include war among the forms of ‘morbid effervescence’ examined in a previous chapter. Durkheim’s followers, rather, would see war as a supreme act of collective force, which brings the ideal close to the real, but more importantly, leaves in the collective memory a powerful legacy of solidarity, organized unity and integration. Why should criminology engage in the study of solidarity, unity and integration? A criminology concerned, on the contrary, with egoism, disorder and disorganization may find it inappropriate to include war among its objects of study, as the central question it poses is why some people commit crime, not why most do not.


Understanding political violence

Solidarity and innateness The Trojan war, a decisive literary event for the construction of Western collective memory, appears to be devoid of a precise motive, as there is no proportion between the kidnapping of Helen and the consequences of the war. This lack of motivation reflects a widespread conviction according to which war is essentially an irrational phenomenon, the result of a deplorable misunderstanding, an incident caused by mistake or chance. Only a malign mastermind from the Olympus may induce humans, through deception, to engage in a war lasting a decade for the honour of a woman. (Curi 2002: 10) The notion that war is intimately irrational establishes itself in relatively recent times, particularly after the two World Wars, and as an effect of the nuclear threat. This irrationality shares many components with the innate violence possessed by Nietzsche’s (1956) ‘blonde beast’, the wild animal lying inside the human race, the magnificent, wandering beast avid of prey and victory. Its rapacity is bound to manifest itself every now and then, and cannot be suppressed by civilization, let alone by the state. In much Greek philosophy war is the original principle of the state itself, as it marks the passage from the primitive ‘state of the pigs’ to the advanced state of luxury. A constant element of humankind, the instinct of pugnacity is not a survival from brutal ancestry, and cannot be eradicated. In fact, its operation is far from being wholly injurious; on the contrary, it is one of the essential factors in the evolution of higher forms of social organization (McDougall 1915). In a letter addressed to Albert Einstein, who poses the question whether it is possible to free humankind from the menace of war, Sigmund Freud (1959) starts off by examining, as he is required, the relationship between ‘might’ and ‘right’. He replaces the term ‘might’ with the more telling word ‘violence’, and remarks that, though in right and violence many may see an obvious antinomy, a proper enquiry would prove that the former evolved from the latter. Original violence is, in his view, the force of a community expressed in its law. Conflicts between humans have always been resolved by the recourse to violence, and brute force is the deciding factor of property ownership and the establishment of the prevailing will. Freud notes, however, that physical force is replaced increasingly by the use of various mechanic adjuncts, whereby the victors prove to be those whose weapon is more effective or handled more skilfully. With the coming of weapons, superior brains begin to oust brute force, but the object of the conflict remains the same: one party has to be constrained, by injury or impairment, to retract a claim or a refusal. This objective is fully achieved when the opponent is definitively put out of action – in other words, is killed. This procedure, Freud continues, has two advantages: first, enemies cannot

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renew hostilities, and, second, their fate deters others from following their example. Moreover, the slaughter of a foe gratifies an instinctive human craving. War, in brief, is the result of an active instinct for hatred and destruction, an instinct cohabiting the humans together with its opposite, namely ‘eros’, which aims at conserving and unifying. Love and hate are akin to those eternal polarities, attraction and repulsion, which fall within the field of study of the physical sciences, and Freud concludes that both instincts are indispensable: all the phenomena of life derive from their activity; whether they work in concert or in opposition, each is blended with a certain dosage of its opposite. Classical sociology deals with the issue of ‘war as an expression of innateness’ by adopting an optimistic, evolutionist perspective. The example of August Comte (1953) is, in this respect, significant. Military societies and industrial societies are said to represent two fundamentally different types of social organization. The predominance of the second type is destined to diminish warfare, which is essentially connected with the predominance of the first. The argument is put forward that there is a fundamental antithesis between military civilization and the civilization of labour, between the spirit of conquest and the spirit of industry. In an ideal evolution, first, industry is seen as being in the service of war, then war is regarded as being in the service of industry and, finally, in the ultimate form of society, peace is deemed the inevitable outcome of industry (Aron 1958). True, Comte proves wrong in his prediction that last century would be free from war, but it is controversial whether he is equally wrong in foreseeing that the only kind of conceivable, future war is that which aims to directly establish the material ‘preponderance of more advanced over less advanced populations’. Comte resolutely condemns such potential wars, because they are likely to cause the mutual oppression of nations and to ‘precipitate various countries upon one another’. It remains ambiguous, however, whether Comte regards these potential wars as part of a tendency within industrial societies, or whether he is convinced that the very process of industrialization will impede their occurrence. In his belief that war has no space in the evolution of ‘labour civilisation’, however, one could detect an implicit critique of views holding the biological, innate character of war itself. Political scientists such as Gaetano Mosca (1939) regard attempts to introduce Darwin’s doctrine of evolution of the species into the social sciences as based upon a fundamental confusion. These attempts are said to identify the struggle for existence, which is characteristic of the lower animals, with the struggle for pre-eminence, which is characteristically human, and a constant phenomenon that arises in all human societies. Conversely, mainstream criminologists, who may even have rejected innateness in respect of crime, have failed to extend such rejection to the notion that war is an innate need of humans. Traditional criminological analysis, at most, has considered crime caused by war situations. Bonger (1936), for example, argues that war drives up to the top all the factors which may lead to crime:


Understanding political violence family life is ripped apart, children are neglected, destitution spreads, while scarcity of goods generates theft and begets illicit markets. Crime is also caused by the general demoralization, and violent behaviour increases as a mimetic outcome of the spectacle of ‘killing, maiming and terrible destruction’. Crime statistics swell despite the fact that a large part of the male population, in the age range of the most represented offenders’ group, is sometimes in military service, and thereby outside the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts. The dark figure of crime, in its turn, is assumed to go up, due to the weakening of institutional agencies such as the police and the judiciary. War is, therefore, crimonogenic for those who do not fight, but, as Bonger (1936: 105) suggests, it also pushes the very individuals who fight to commit a variety of offences, though ‘the figures of the crimes committed in the field will probably never be published’. This perspective overturns functionalist analysis: war is described less as an event encouraging supreme integration and solidarity than as a normless condition conducive to egoism and to the dangerous weakening of social bonds. A further critique of war as crime (rather than simply as criminogenic) does not come from criminology, but from anthropology. More specifically, it is scholars like Margaret Mead (1940: 403) and colleagues from her entourage, who take issue with the innateness or atavistic thesis put forward by Freud. War is an invention, and traditional or advanced societies, mild or violent peoples, assertive or shy communities will go to war if that invention is part of their cultural repertoire: ‘just like those peoples who have the custom of duelling will have duels and peoples who have the pattern of vendetta will indulge in vendetta’. That invention is seen by Mead as fit for certain types of personality, and consistent with the needs of autocrats, the expansionist desires of crowded countries, and ‘the desire for plunder and rape and loot which is engendered by a dull and frustrating life’. There is no place for heroism in her analysis of war, nor is there any appreciation of how victory or conquest may forge national identities. Her plea for the supersedure of the invention of war leads her to draw a parallel with other barbaric inventions which were eventually superseded. The judicial procedures that preceded the jury system, for example, were once as firmly entrenched as warfare, or so they appeared to be. Ordeal and trial by combat, so alien to our juridical sensibility today, were once the only methods to ascertain truth. The conclusion seems obvious: in order to get rid of war ‘we need a new social invention’ replacing it, because a form of behaviour becomes out of date only when something else takes its place, and: ‘in order to invent forms of behaviour which will make war obsolete, it is a first requirement to believe that an invention is possible’ (ibid.: 405). Margaret Mead’s argument appears to have followers among some radical penal reformers of the abolitionist school, who remark similarly that imprisonment may well be equated to an obsolete invention and that new inventions are needed to deal with the problematic situations that we call crime (Mathiesen 1974; Christie 1981).

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Legitimacy and the carnival of war The contribution of the Chicago sociologists on the subject matter is ambivalent, and it remains obscure why their particular sensitivity with respect to social exclusion, and their active intervention in communities and ghettos, is not translated into a similar degree of sensitivity vis-à-vis international matters. Park (1941) likens war to its ancestors, namely the judicial procedure known as trial by combat or the duel, though he is unsure whether to regard it as a social institution or as a biological necessity. The latter hypothesis seems to be validated if one considers that war has always been one of the available ways of making claims and settling disputes. War must, therefore, be an innate human enterprise, if it still constitutes a form of litigation by which states make their claims valid. Park notes, however, that limits need to be imposed on such an innate behaviour, and finds a response to this need in the technical limits drawn by international agencies trying to make war more consistent with ‘the requirements of humanity’, and develop an understanding of the consequences of unrestricted warfare. On the other hand, he argues that all attempts to regulate wars and govern military conducts may simply result in legitimizing both and conferring a respectable institutional character on them. Legitimacy, moreover, belongs to authorities and institutions whose actions and their effects are predictable, whereas ‘we do not know what to expect of war any more’ (ibid.: 562). In a final attempt to identify the nature of war and its function, Park reiterates the adage that war is politics in its original form, through which the belligerent states or parties seek to extend the territorial limits of their sovereignty and to establish their own political and economic order. The victorious party will, of course, impose its own racial or national interest, and will attempt to build up an ideology that rationalizes the acceptance of its superiority and of the social order imposed upon the vanquished. Park’s (1952, 1960) critical remarks express a sense of impotence and inevitability in the face of processes leading advanced social and economic orders to impose themselves on other systems. He is faced with the Comteian dilemma of whether the potential wars waged by more mature systems, though condemnable, are perhaps destined to loom as perennial threats during the course of human evolution. Since unequal development is a permanent feature of the history of the international community, and given that aggression by more developed nations is always a possibility, does this mean that war is indeed an immutable trait of human behaviour? War, in this way, becomes a price to be paid for global development and its alleged corollary of generalized social advancement. It is true that war possesses an aura of sacredness and its rejection, apart from signalling ‘lack of virility’, appears as a form of atheism (Caillois 2002). But the argument developed earlier indicates that rejecting war also amounts to refusing the evolutionary mechanisms of human societies at large. It is the sacredness of development and the sacredeness of advanced


Understanding political violence societies and states that give war its sense of a civilizing mission. Establishing an advanced social order in traditional societies, albeit through war, is an inescapable burden of developed societies, who have a duty to drag lowachieving societies along their path. War, in this perspective, is not only the most intense manifestation of a collective endeavour binding a national community and strengthening its identity, it is also a way of bringing the international community together and establishing cultural and material uniformity in it. In this way ‘permanent massacre becomes an element of universal harmony’ (ibid.: 74). War is also equated to an immense party, a massive celebration in which social roles are challenged and transgression encouraged. A return to chaos, war is an allegory of child delivery, equally bloody and painful, but a natural manifestation of fecundity. War is also a regenerative rite, like a carnival where conventions are defied and, through temporary collective deviance, the official order is then restored and celebrated. Recent contributions in criminology do consider these aspects of collective behaviour, when for instance the examination is offered of ‘the world of excess, obscenity and degradation’ as ‘the only true site for the expression of one’s true feeling for life’. The expression of the second life of the people is performed and brought to life through carnival, which becomes for rational society understood as no more or less than the carnival of crime. (Presdee 2000: 9) But this type of analysis, while unveiling some mechanisms that trigger moral panics and advocating tolerance towards transgression, stops short of examining the supreme form of collective celebration of ‘the second life’. Also ‘war as carnival’, in fact, allows for moral imperatives to be overturned. War allows people to kill and steal; in war it becomes ‘obligatory to behave in a dissolute and criminal way’. Wars are ‘prolonged orgies creating a climate favourable to excesses, where rules are temporarily suspended: rape, obscenity, and atrocity become the norm’ (Callois 2002: 134). War as carnival, in other words, is not a defiance of conventions causing moral panics, but the most extreme manifestation of conventional power relations. As such, war is highly criminogenic, and it is on this aspect that the recent development of a new criminology of war is centred.

A new criminology of war War offers a variety of empirical and theoretical areas to criminological analysis, not least because of the disproportionate character and magnifying effect that it confers on human conflict, social interaction and state responses. Violence, predation, social control and state action, despite

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attempts to publicly sanitize their manifestations, are engaged in one, central obsessive task, namely killing. This task is one with its opposite, that is surviving, which signifies triumph over death while inflicting it on others. Conducts lose all sense of proportion because fear is kept at bay by the satisfaction of causing fear in the enemy, while even the terror associated with death is tempered by the joy of not being dead oneself. The extremity of war situations induces the adoption of the lowest forms of survival and includes killing among them (Canetti 1960). Killing, in its turn, grants the sensation of immortality, as it allows one to survive, and ‘enthusiasm for survival is a destructive social power’ (Sofsky 2003: 12). Calls for students of crime to be attentive to the conditions shaping the relationship between war and crime are prompted by the ‘incidence and ferocity of wars and ethnic conflicts which show no sign of abating’ (Jamieson 1998: 480). A criminology of war, therefore, will focus on mass, devastating victimization, violations of human rights and other forms of state crime; moreover, ‘states of emergency usher in massive increases in social regulation, punishment and ideological control, new techniques of surveillance and, with that, a corresponding derogation of civil rights’ (ibid.: 480). ‘Crimes in war’ and ‘war crimes’ are central areas of investigation, and while the former are exemplified by conventional predatory offences, interpersonal violence and illicit market operations, the latter tend to be included under the rubric of state crime (Hagan 2003). Examples of ‘crimes in war’ are provided by Nikolic-Ristanovic (1998: 466), who describes how in the former Yugoslavia, as in other wars, people who had never been involved in crime before turned to predatory or violent acts ‘under the influence of dire necessity and the breaking down of inhibitions’. War zones, she adds, became business areas for organized criminal groups, who provided goods such as smuggled fuel, illicit drugs and weapons. Examples falling in both areas of ‘crimes in war’ and ‘war crimes’ focus on arbitrary arrests and violent and property crimes committed by police and paramilitary forces. Both forces, in the former Yugoslavia, recruited ‘obsessed soccer fans, criminals and alcoholics, and one in five volunteers had committed serious offences, some going to battle directly after serving their time’ (ibid.: 465). Social disorganization is invoked to explain the dramatic, pervasive increase in criminal activity, especially in situations of civil war, when it is hard to distinguish between the police, the army and criminals: all of these become components of social control agencies, and crime is encouraged as one of the forms of war. While scarcity may account for the growth of grey or hidden economies, the inflationary effect of violence, in war situations in general, may be mobilized to explain an increase in interpersonal violent conducts. Once made legitimate, it is argued, violence may also come to be viewed as the only effective tool for the protection of one’s well-being, the achievement of one’s goals, or the solution of personal differences (Conklin 1992). Based


Understanding political violence on learning theories of crime, such explanations posit the magnifying effect of institutionalized violence upon social interactions, leading to the devaluation of human life, both during and immediately after war periods. Belonging to the same family of explanations are contributions highlighting the transgressive nature of crimes committed by marginalized youth, whose violent behaviour is said to assume similar aetiologies and characteristics as violence at war and terrorism (Young 1999). It is on the related analysis of the metaphor of war that this new branch of criminology has expressed its major strength. The metaphor of war is attributed a central place in hegemonic thought, invading the public discourse in many internal and international affairs. Law and order do not escape this, as responses to crime take on the strong emotions triggered by war, whereby ‘the metaphor creates pressure for unity, solidarity, mobilisation of people and resources for the common good (against the foe)’ (Steinert 2003: 268). The line between warfare and police work becomes blurred, while policing as conflict regulation is supplanted by an escalation of hostilities, against internal as well as external enemies. The war on crime, for example, brings one in thirty-seven of the American adult population under some form of correctional supervision (Currie 1996, 1998), a number which, if gathered together, ‘would make a city of five million adults, and easily be the second largest in the United States’ (Young 1999: 146). The metaphor of war is applied to crime as ‘group conflict’, generating mass arrests, aggressive surveillance, curfews, summary punishments and mass deportation. All of this is, of course, commonplace to war. After all, war is conducted between groups and not individuals. And ‘offence’ is about belonging, belonging to the ‘enemy’ group. Furthermore, it is young men who constitute the main combatants in war. (Feeley and Simon 1994: 194) As for war crimes, techniques of neutralization are invoked as explanatory devices whereby atrocities committed are psychologically removed. The celebrated analysis of Sykes and Matza (1957) is applied to torture and other war excesses, so that the worst political atrocities, like mundane and trivial delinquency, are viewed as relying on similar vocabularies which mitigate responsibility when behaviour is questioned. Denying responsibility for the injury caused, denying that an injury has indeed been caused, denying the human worth of the victim, or appealing to higher loyalties, for example, all constitute recognizable devices to evade conventional judgement. The result is a potent combination: in part ideological, in part defensive neutralisation. This may escalate into a hermetic self-righteousness. People facing total moral condemnation for carrying out atrocities manage to maintain a self-image of being good (idealistic, sacrificing, noble, brave) or else just ‘ordinary people’. (Cohen 2001: 64)

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However, it is recognized that conventional law breakers may use these techniques as ex-post justifications for their behaviour that they themselves, at heart, cannot inscribe in an alternative repertoire of values and conducts. In other words, neutralization vocabularies may work to protect from selfblame and blame from others when perpetrators possess a form of allegiance, if weak and contorted, to the official norms that they nevertheless breach. In war, on the contrary, it is not necessary to mobilize techniques of neutralization, the violence deployed being not only legitimate, but associated with virtuous, patriotic qualities and, ultimately, with a supreme form of citizenship. Participating in a war grants the definitive seal of national, ethnic or political identification. ‘ “I was just following orders” may be offered as an excuse (denial of responsibility) or as an affirmation of higher allegiance to values such as patriotism and obedience to legitimate authority’ (ibid.: 59). Techniques of neutralization, on the contrary, are required when individuals refuse to participate in wars, namely when they find alternative sets of values and conducts which justify their objection to following orders. War is the supreme expression of conventionality, and soldiers do not have to excuse themselves for anything, unless they refuse to kill. In short, the new criminology of war, so defined in this brief overview, has dealt mainly with war as criminogenic and with war crimes, in my view providing the background for a logical extension of its own arguments, namely for a definitive criminalization of war itself.

Criminalizing war In this final session, a brief thematic manifesto for a pacifist criminology is presented. It is suggested that some key criminological concepts, though at times radically overturned, may work as indictments of war and as notional ceasefire. War as cancer We have seen that functionalism, as commonly applied by conventional criminology, may lead to the acceptance or even the glorification of war as the most intense expression of solidarity, collective identity and integration. Alleged to offer individuals the opportunity to set their particularistic interests aside, war is regarded as an exemplar event that will find space in the collective memory, providing citizens with a sense of unity and strong feelings of shared achievement or suffering. Collective memory, in brief, may become an important propellant for war, granting peoples excessively cemented identities in the form of nationalism. National psychologies activate remote meanings and cultures, and under certain circumstances, as Jung (1974) suggests, the collectivity is persuaded that such meanings and cultures are under threat, and must be defended or restored. Collective


Understanding political violence psychologies and memories are more primordial than individual ones, and Jung fears that their impact may be ungovernable. Against these excessive forms of memory, a proper degree of ‘oblivion’ may temper the desire to engage in wars. Moreover, an alternative use of the functionalist tradition would emphasize that some forms of collective action are the very negation of solidarity, and like ‘cancer and tuberculosis’ they cause damage beyond the functional threshold. We have discussed in an earlier chapter that some forms of antisocial behaviour are functionally incompatible, and instead of bringing vital forces together, they cause disintegration – like microbes and, indeed, cancer (Durkheim 1960a). Criminology as ceasefire would simultaneously dilute excessive forms of memory through ‘oblivion’ and pursue this alternative use of the functionalist tradition. Pacifist entrepreneurs Helpful support for the criminalization of war may come from labelling theory, not only for its questioning the ontological difference between killing and killing at war, but also for its focus on moral entrepreneurs contributing to the inclusion of certain conducts within the realm of the criminal justice process. Crime and deviance are the result of enterprise, and even though a conduct is objectively harmful, the harm needs to be discovered and pointed out (Becker 1963). People must be made to feel that something ought to be done about it. Someone must call the public’s attention on these matters, supply the push necessary to get things done, and direct such energies as are aroused in the proper direction to get a rule created. (ibid.: 162) Becker argues that new types of offenders have to be identified and noted as ‘different’ or stigmatized for their non-conformity, so that the rule may be applied to particular people or a class of outsiders. His analysis refers to dance musicians and marijuana smokers, whom he rightly sees as victims of labelling processes. His notion of moral entrepreneurs, however, may well be utilized by pacifist criminologists to identify the harmful conduct of those supporting and waging war, and in a similar fashion to stigmatize them as ‘outsiders’. War as unacceptable deviance and the ‘outsiders’ who personify that deviance, as Becker would put it, will be the target of an ‘abstract conception’, and indeed the product ‘of a process of interaction between people’; but in our case, those applying the stigma will serve general, human, collective interests, while those receiving it will be singled out and shamed for being at the service of their own limited interests. Labelling as civilization Pacifist entrepreneurship is inscribed in ‘processes of civilisation’ (Elias 1978), which have allowed for the criminalization of other, previously

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accepted, conducts; for example, domestic violence, child abuse and environmental crime. It may be true that civilization and barbarism are peculiarly interlinked, and that the latter is not an occasional setback or a temporary lapse within an otherwise smooth development leading to the control of primitive instincts and cruelty. It may also be true that civilization creates the conditions for its own collapse. ‘Modern science was bound to invent the nuclear bomb. State bureaucracy was bound to be transformed into the practice of genocide as a public service’ (Sofsky 2003: 64). Finally, it may be argued that the Holocaust is a genuine product of the development of bureaucratic rationality in the modern world (Bauman 1989, Agamben 1999), and that the very idea of civilization serves to justify all forms of violent excess. However, even if violence and cruelty are deemed invariable aspects of human history, societies have always attempted to restrain them. The use of the symbolic function of the law, when applied for example against domestic violence or the crimes of the powerful, is not to be associated with optimistic views of civilizing processes, whereby such crimes are alleged to progressively disappear. The law is applied when prohibitions are identified as the result of conflicting interests in society, as the establishment of collective, prevailing priorities and ultimately, as examples of sensibilities gaining partial hegemony in specific social settings. In this respect, parts of Freud’s analysis may be of help. Conflicting social interests, in Freud, are translated into inner psychological conflicts engaging the desire to annihilate and that to conserve. In his view, however, cultural change is accompanied by striking psychic changes, whereby norms and regulations may produce a ‘progressive rejection of instinctive ends and a scaling down of instinctive reactions’. Criminology as ceasefire might introduce cultural change so that conducts ‘which delighted our forefathers’ will become ‘unbearable to us’. The exposure of other, previously unnoticed, harmful acts proved instrumental in triggering this sort of cultural change, and war may well be included among such acts: Now war runs most emphatically counter to the psychic disposition imposed on us by the growth of culture; we are therefore bound to resent war, to find it utterly intolerable. With pacifists like us it is not merely an intellectual and affective repulsion, but a constitutional intolerance, an idiosyncrasy in its most drastic form. And it would seem that the aesthetic ignominies of warfare play almost as large a part in this repugnance of war’s atrocities. (Freud 1959: 134) War as crime of the powerful State crime and corporate crime are central areas of concern for criminology, especially since the pioneering work of Sutherland (1983) challenged the assumption that crime is the exclusive reserve of individuals and


Understanding political violence groups characterized by economic disadvantage and social marginalization. His is an example of how cultural change may fruitfully lead to the identification of new areas of social injustice. Learning processes in place among people endowed with power and resources may lead to criminal conduct, and in some cases to forms of recidivism akin to those of professional, career criminals. The crimes of the powerful are said to occur in contexts in which the growth of corporate actors causes a structural change in society whereby ‘natural persons’ play an increasingly insignificant role. In such contexts interactions become largely asymmetric, in that corporate actors are in the position to control the conditions in which their relationships with natural actors take place. The former hold more information regarding the nature of their relationship and the way in which this can be altered (Coleman 1982). War can be equated to state and corporate crime for the similar asymmetric position that decision-making groups occupy vis-à-vis natural persons, who become victims even when they are unaware of having been victimized, and even when victimization is disguised under heroism and patriotism. Invisibility of the victim, commonly listed among the characteristics of corporate crime, can be extended to the victims of war, their invisibility being the result of our lack of imagination and empathy. Criminology as ceasefire will see in wretched, hollow-eyed soldiers not only the denial of militarism, but also young men who, while ‘doing their unpleasant, ennobling duty’ (Sontag 2003: 34), are being victimized by state and corporate actors. Moreover, the criminalization of war may be likened to the criminalization of police malpractice and abuse, contemporary wars being increasingly akin to improper, illegitimate international policing (Dal Lago 2003). Finally, criminalization may be invoked because war is also a specific form of crime against women. Throughout the twentieth century wars have increasingly targeted civil populations. In some cases, armies have avoided fighting one another, going straight for the cities and their inhabitants, ‘raping, destroying the achievements of the daily civilising work of women’ (Stevanovic 1997). In countries at war medical conditions which had virtually disappeared return, particularly affecting women who have been raped: they epitomize ‘war against women’. This leads us to appreciate yet another distinctive feature of contemporary wars. War as asymmetric conflict Conflict theory in criminology has been discussed in a previous chapter and its shortcomings in the analysis of political violence have already been highlighted. Here, we might add that conflict theory offers an analytical legitimation of war, in that groups, in this case nations, can be seen as engaged in permanent confrontation in search of power and resources. Conflict, including war, therefore may be deemed an essential component

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of the continuous functioning of the world system (Turk 1982b; Vold et al. 1998). In this perspective, no possibility is given to groups and nations to establish limits to their action, as the pursuit of one’s interest appears to form an essential part of one’s socialization. However, while some conflicts may describe situations in which resources are contested and group or national interests pursued with a view to fair distribution, recent wars occur in conditions whose enormous asymmetry renders such contestation and pursuit unrealistic. I am thinking of largely asymmetric wars, discussed in the last chapter, in which one country or coalition can attack another on its own territory while the country attacked cannot respond in kind. Asymmetric wars inevitably result in massacre. ‘While the weaker side does not even get within fighting distance, the stronger side can hold the enemy at bay and shoot them down at will, like game’ (Sofsky 2003: 81). In such conditions, war is a deadly sport, made possible by the gigantic inequality between the parties involved. In the typology proposed by Tilly (2003: 104), this type of war is not a ‘deadly contest’ where two groups inflict mutual harm in order to reduce the other’s capacity to inflict harm. It is rather a ‘campaign of annihilation’, in which one contestant wields overwhelming force against the other. Contemporary wars have taken on these features, and their outcomes include ‘collective survival, on one side, and recognition as the sole party with the right to territorial control, on the other’. Criminology as ceasefire would focus on this inequality. Victimology, rather than conflict theory, may help in this respect, particularly in its attempts to unveil the dark figure of crime suffered by weaker actors and its efforts to empower those victimized. The criminalization of war, in this sense, echoes Aron’s (1958) argument for peace. His pacifist sociology identifies two conditions for ceasefire. First, the diminution of the gulf between the privileged minority and the mass of humanity which remains sunk in poverty. Second, the constitution of nations ready to accept each other within an international community (the lowering of barriers between nations, demilitarization and the transfer of some state powers to a supranational organization). The first condition can be found within the criminological tradition, for example, in the efforts made by Chicago sociologists to empower and regenerate destitute communities. An internationalization of such efforts would be a crucial component of pacifist criminology. Criminology as perpetual peace In his philosophical manifesto for peace, Emmanuel Kant (1991: 94) stresses that perpetual ‘peace means an end to all hostilities . . . a conclusion that nullifies all existing reasons for a future war, even if they are not yet known to the contracting parties’. No independently existing state may be acquired by another and made into a commodity, and armies should gradually be abolished, because they constantly threaten other states with


Understanding political violence war by the very fact that they are always prepared for it. Armies are not only ‘themselves the cause of wars of aggression’, they also, by hiring people to kill or to be killed, use ‘them as mere machines and instruments in the hands of someone else (the state), which cannot easily be reconciled with the rights of man in one’s own person’. Kant sees war as commodification of countries and persons, and perpetual peace as collective rights for the former and individual, human rights for the latter. Criminology as ceasefire may find inspiration from this view, and expand its concerns with rights to include peace as a supreme, ultimate human right. War as a policy for adjudicating national differences, on the other hand, is utterly discredited, because if logically pursued it leaves nothing to be adjudicated, not even the enemy nations themselves (Park 1941). Finally, a war of punishment (bellum punitivum) between states is inconceivable, since it is difficult to establish who should punish whom, while war as extermination ‘would allow perpetual peace only on the vast graveyard of the human race’ (Kant 1991: 96). Kant’s perpetual peace resonates with the notion of the unfinished in criminology, namely the pursuit of alternative ways of dealing with crime which are ‘not yet fully existing’ (Mathiesen 1974). As Kant (1991: 174) warns, it is not a question of whether perpetual peace is really possible or not, ‘we must simply act as if it could really come about and turn our efforts towards realising it’. Similarly, prison reform, for example, may become possible if efforts towards ‘unfinished’ alternatives are made and continuously pursued, as if the final abolition of prison could really come about. Abolitionism against war Dealing with aggression is among the crucial issues engaging criminology, and while conventional scholars may favour violent, institutional responses to violent behaviour, abolitionists have long attempted to provide alternative responses. Criminology as ceasefire would reject the notion of ‘just wars’ as abolitionists reject the idea of ‘just deserts’; it would refuse the logic of killing the killers, imprisoning them or harming them in other ways. One could help conflicting parties to meet, create an arena where they can tell their stories, expose their grievances, and then slowly, maybe after many, many attempts, come to some sort of common understanding of what happened and what might be done to alleviate the situation. (Christie 2004: 96) Recent wars (Kosovo, Iraq) were waged before ‘mediation leading towards peacemaking’ had been given a chance; and peace observers, inspectors, international mediation and arbitration agencies were impeded,

Criminology as ceasefire


silenced and hampered in all possible ways: ‘they were withdrawn so that the bombing might commence’ (ibid.: 96). International tribunals, in their turn, are an extension of successful bombings, as they are established by the winners, who refrain from passing judgement on their own atrocities and unprovoked aggression. Negotiation and conversation may provide a better protection than bombs. Just as abolitionism tries to civilize our responses to crime, criminology as ceasefire will attempt to ‘civilize’ war, applying restorative and reparative philosophies rather than retribution. Aggressors may be impeded long before their act of aggression is implemented, and prior to the use of violent responses, which usually turns threat into fully-blown attack. By focusing on relational dynamics, peace keeping will defuse potential aggressors through negotiation and, in extreme cases, with quarantine and sanctuary. ‘We should reintroduce sanctuaries in our societies’, places of refuge, endowed with the right of immunity, under international control, where aggressors are granted asylum until they are willing to open negotiations (Bianchi 1994: 343).

Criminology as war prevention Sociological attempts have been made to indicate processes leading to a world in which war is effectively ruled out. The study of organizations, for example, would suggest that the more employees view their employers as father figures, the more likely they are to justify the profits the latter make. ‘Abstractly stated, we might say that the more low-ranking members of an organisation identify with those higher in rank, the more likely they are to view the goals of the organisation as legitimate’ (Etzioni 1968: 405). If we apply this proposition to the army, we would expect that the more soldiers view their officers as father figures, the more likely they are to view the war effort as a just one. Encouraging soldiers to expose the malpractice or the gratuitous violence of officers amounts, in criminology, to supporting whistleblowers who expose corrupt senior staff in organizations. Criminologists indicating ways of curbing interpersonal violence would agree that strong social bonds reduce violations of the peace, and that violence is negatively associated with integration (Barak 2003). Ideal nonviolent societies would show a high degree of socialization to a common set of values, social control mechanisms to reinforce bonds, and mechanisms to arbitrate differences among actors. These notions are normally invoked when the limitation of conflict among groups is discussed. Criminology as ceasefire would extend the application of these notions to the world system. Strong social bonds, on the other hand, are more likely to be established if a fair reallocation of assets is consistently pursued. Law and order is maintained in the long run only if the distribution of wealth among the politically conscious and organised citizens roughly approximates the distribution of the power among them. As the


Understanding political violence poorer nations become more active, maintaining law and order in the world will increasingly require reallocation the global assets. (Etzioni 1962: 411) On the contrary, by tolerating that survival becomes impossible in so many areas of the world, developed countries devalue the life of millions of individuals, ‘bringing up a generation of young people who have already sacrificed their life, long before they make their body the instrument for the death of others’ (Curi 2002: 46). Criminology regards the reallocation of wealth as a primary precondition for crime prevention, a view which criminology as ceasefire would have to extend to the international level. Some criminologists may avoid looking at war perhaps because, as authorized violent behaviour, war is seen as part of the necessary running of state interests, akin to bureaucratic rationalism and law enforcement. This book has discussed authorized and unauthorized political violence through some of the conceptual tools elaborated within the criminological community, at times calling for analytical support from the formulations offered by theories of collective action. Classicism, positivism, functionalism, labelling, and so on, namely the currents of thoughts that chronologically feature in criminology texts, have been probed for the contribution they provide to an understanding of ‘political violence from below and from above’, ‘institutional and anti-institutional violence’, ‘terrorism and counter-terrorism’. If these definitions may have caused some terminological chaos, it is to be hoped that the logic of the argument developed in these pages has proved less chaotic. After noting that ex-members of armed political organizations, aware that their violent action was becoming dangerously too similar to the violence against which they were fighting, called for a ceasefire, the book has argued for a ceasefire to be also imposed on authorized violence. In ‘The Disasters of War’, his great series of etchings, Goya documents with realism the atrocities and the machine-like efficiency of armed conflict (Hughes 2003). Future great artists such as Goya should not be given the opportunity to produce such wonderful etchings.

Further reading For a comprehensive introduction to the study or war and genocide, which suggests that slaughter is deeply rooted in the political, social and ideological relations of the modern world, see Shaw (2003). Within the area of peace studies, see the most recent contribution by Galtung (2005).


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17 November organization, 132 abolitionism, 192–3 see also slavery abuses of power, 37 Accademia dei Pugni, 14 active intolerance, 127 Adamic, L., 79 Adornites, 127 Adorno, T., 127, 128, 140 Agamben, G., 189 agitation in social movements, 85 see also protest; rebellion; revolution; riots; student protest agonistic competition, 89–90 Akers, R.L., 25 Alexander, J.C., 174, 176 Alga Romeo, study groups, 144 altruism, and religious practices, 49 anarchists, 41 Ancient Greece, death penalty, 35 Anderson, N., 71 anomie, 48, 53, 65–6, 149 Anthony, D., 168 anti-heroes, 7 anti-human criminality, 28, 31 anti-institutional violence, 1, 125 in ancient world, 35 and terrorism, 6 see also agitation; protest; rebellion;

revolution; riots; student protest; violence, from below anti-social criminality, 28, 31 Archibugi, D., 173 armed propoganda, 152, 156 armed struggle, 152 armed trade unionism, 152 Aron, R., 30, 35, 181, 191 Aronson, R., 166 Asbury, H., 72–3 aspiration, and lack of moral regulation, 50–1 Assemblea Autonoma, 144 asymmetrical war, against terrorism, 172–3 atavistic crime, 27, 31, 41–2 Athens, L., 141 Aust, S., 130 authority justification and preservation, 60–1 and war, 10 autonomous assemblies, 144 Baader, Andreas, 126, 128, 133 Balestrini, N., 144, 148 Ball, R.A., 69 Balzerani, B., 144 Barak, G., 193 Bauman, Z., 189 Baumann, M., 132 Bayly, C.A., 28 Beccaria, C., 15–18, 3, 8, 9


Understanding political violence Becker, H., 115, 117, 119, 136, 151, 178 Becker, J., 130 Beirne, P., 14, 18 Benedetti, A., 157 Benjamin, W., 1 Bentham, J., 3, 9, 19, 20–1, 24 Berger, P.L., 92, 119 Beyle, Marie-Henri (Stendhal), 9 Bianchi, H., 193 Bianconi, G., 149, 155 biological impulses, 64 bio-social criminality, 28 Black, D., 161, 162 Black Panther Party, 121–2, 123 Black Revolution, speech by Malcolm X, 120 Block, A., 76 Blumer, H., 82–6, 112–14, 116, 123, 134, 141, 156, 157, 164 Bodei, R., 24 Bolshevism, 58–9 bombings Piazzo Fontana, Milan, 144 RAF activity, 132 Bonante, L., 101 Bonger, W.A., 87, 181, 182 Boock, P.-J., 132 boom towns, 4, 70 Borradori, G., 170 bossism, 62 Bourdieu, P., 165 brainwashing, 168 Bramson, L., 179 breaking-in of groups, 153 military personnel, 119 bribery, 62 Brigate Rosse, 137, 143–58 Brombert, V., 7 brutalization, 141 Burgess, E.W., 70–1 Cacciari, P., 174 Caillois, R., 183, 184 Camus, A., 1, 166 Canetti, E., 185 capitalism, RAF view, 129 Capone, Al, 76 Carlos the Jackal, 133

Carrabine, E., 2 cars, burning by BR members, 145 Casson, F., 152 ceremony see ritual Chambliss, W., 88 Chicago, urbanization and criminality, 69–72, 74–7 Chicago School of Sociology, 70–2, 74, 78, 79, 143, 183 Chile, coup by General Pinochet, 147 Chomsky, N., 173 Christie, N., 182, 192 Cicourel, A., 108 city growth, 4 and criminality, 69–70 urban environment crisis, 80 civilization, and violence, 188–9 Clark, R., 123 Clarke, R.V., 155 class, true consciousness, 98 class struggle, and crime, 95 classical criminology, 8–25, 131, 178 Cleaver, E., 122–3 cloning, of terrorism, 169 closed systems, 164–5 Coco, Francesco, 146, 147 coercion model, of society, 91 Cohen, S., 2, 99, 153, 186–7 Coleman, J.S., 190 collective action and change in society, 53 and deviance, 117–20 social movements, 82–6 collective conscience, 29 collective effervescence, 54 compared to exaltation, 110–11 collective identity, 154 Collettivo Politico Metropolitano, 144 Communards, 40 communes, factory groups in Milan, 144 communication, breakdown leading to terrorism, 170–1 communism, Durkheim’s view, 55–6 competition, in society and deviance, 65 competitive athletics, Merton’s metaphor, 65–6, 68 compromise, in political violence, 90 Comte, A., 30, 181

Index 211 conflict forms, 89 Freud’s view of violence, 180 not considered in functionalism, 61, 68 promoting cooperation, 91 and stability, 96 and violent conflict, 164–5 conflict theory, 87–106 applied to Brigate Rosse, 153 applied to war, 190–1 and means and ends, 140 conflictual societies, 91 conformity, 66 Conklin, J., 185 Constituent Assembly, 30 conventional crime, 94 Cook, S., 140 Cornerville, political corruption, 77–8 corporate crime, similarity with war, 190 Coser, L.A., 96 coup d’états see rebellions; revolution; revolutions creative periods, 54 crime Chicago, 69–72 corporate, 190 function in society, 47, 53–4, 63–4 measure of, 16 politicality, 92–4 in war, 185 crimes of sedition, 17, 23 distinction from revolution, 36 criminal saturation, 29 criminal status, 88 criminality of Brigate Rosse, 154–5 evolutionary, 28 and radical groups in Germany, 136 criminals in Commune of Paris, 40 participating in political unrest, 35 physiognomy, 35, 41 criminology as ceasefire, 190, 191, 192, 193 Marxist, 87 new, 95–9 of war, 184–7

see also classical criminology; positivist criminology crisis conducts, 164 Croissant, K., 138 Crossley, N., 149, 150 crowds movement, 80 police violence, 93 Cullen, F.T., 69 cultural change and adaptation to goals, 66 and pacifism, 189 cultural evolution, 61 cultural goals, 65 culture conflicts, 87–8 Curcio, R., 144 Curi, U., 178, 180, 194 Currie, E., 186 Dahrendorf, R., 91 Dal Lago, A., 190 Day, E.L., 173 death penalty ancient Greece, 35 Beccaria’s view, 17 French Revolution, 24, 25 under Sixtus V, 32 Debray, R., 128 defiance, in violent socialization, 141 delinquency by occasion, 44 socialism as an inspiration for, 33 Della Porta, D., 79, 131, 151, 153 Dellwo, K.-H., 131, 132, 175 democratic sovereignty, 89 Democrazia Cristiana, 147 Denzin, N, K., 109, 112, 164 D’Eramo, M. Derrida, J., 1, 89, 170, 171, 172 despotic power, 45 developing countries, 129 deviance description, 115 and disorganized communities, 71 and interactionism, 118 secondary deviation, 115–16 sociological perspective, 64–5, 67–8 theory of, 95–6 dialogical dynamics, 109–10 Diani, M., 79


Understanding political violence disorganization, in city growth, 70 division of labour, 53, 54–5, 57–8 dominance engagement, 141 Donohue, L.K., 167 Douglas, J.D., 119 Downes, D., 51, 59, 63, 115 Durkheim, E., 48, 49, 50–1, 52–8, 67, 68, 124, 178, 179, 188, 3, 47–8 Eagleton, T., 1 Ebbinghaus, A., 137 economic factors, in revolutions, 37–8 economic instability, and suicide, 50 economic reform, to resolve inequalities, 45 economic sanctions, instead of war, 32 Eisner, M., 2 elections, corruption using gangsters, 75–8 Elias, N., 130, 188 Ellero, P., 45 Enlightenment, and view of violence, 9 environment and criminal behaviour, 29 crisis, cause of political violence, 155 epilepsy, in political offenders, 43, 44 equality, of humans in relation to violence, 10–11 Erickson, K., 54 Erikson, E.H., 122 esprit de corps, in social movements, 84 Etzioni, A., 193, 194 evolution cultural, 61 of society, 34, 35–6 evolutionary criminality, 28 see also politico-social criminality exaltation, compared to collective effervescence, 110–11 expressive social movements, 85 false consciousness, of class, 98 fanaticism, 20–1 Fanon, F., 121 fascist regime, Italy, association with gangsters, 76 Feeley, M., 186 Felson, M., 155 feminism, and violent political groups, 137

Ferracuti, F., 99, 166, 168 Ferrajoli, L., 172 Ferrero, G., 38 Ferri, E., 28, 29, 30–2, 33–4, 131, 136 Firpo, L., 24 Foner, P., 78 Foucault, M., 21–2 frame alignment, in mobilization of activists, 154 France see French Revolution; rebellions franchising, of political violence, 74–8 Frankfurt meeting of radical groups, 138 protest burning of department stores, 126 freedom, Beccaria’s view, 15–16 French, S.E., 172 French Revolution, 54 discussed by Durkheim, 58 women in, 39–40 Freud, S., 180, 189 Friedman, D., 149 functionalism, 47–68, 150 view of war, 178, 179 gamblers, political protection, 73 Gane, M., 56, 58 gangsters, 72–4, 74–8 Garfinkel, H., 164 Garofalo, R., 28 Gecas, V., 154 general social movements, 83 general will, 13 ‘generalized other’, 108 genocide, 173 Germany authoritarian tradition, 129–30 development of radical groups, 136 First World War, 68 meeting of radical groups, 138 see also RAF; West Germany Giddens, A., 50–1, 63 global society, 67 Goethals, G., 179 Goffman, E., 119, 120, 153 Gottfredson, M., 154 Gouldner, A.W., 61, 64 governments and rebellion, 22–3

Index 213 response to opposition and loss of intellectuals, 45 and revolution, 23–4, 25 Rousseau’s view, 13 stability, 37 see also state Green, P., 98 Griset, P.L., 137 Guagliardo, V., 144, 147, 175 guilt, assumption of, 167 Gurr, T.R., 100, 101 Gusfield, J., 118 Habermas, J., 170 Hagan, J., 8, 50, 69, 185 Hall, J., 163 Hall, S., 163 Haller, M.H., 71, 74 Harrison, W., 19–20 Harvey, D., 29 hate, human instinct contributing to war, 181 hate crime, 161–2 Haywood, W.D., 79 hegemony, and social revolution, 34 heroes, 7 in rebellions, 41 heterodox practices, 62, 63 Heyman, J., 178 hijacks, by RAF, 133–4 Hillyard, P., 98 Hirschi, T., 154 Hirst, P., 173 history, sense of in terrorism, 166–7 Hobbes, T., 10–12, 12–13, 22–3, 24–5, 178, 23, 24 holy wars, 174 homicide, Durkheim’s analysis, 51–2 Hondrich, K.O., 175 Horchem, H.-J., 133 horizontal organizations, 136 hostage taking, RAF, 133 hostility, 103–6, 116–17 Hughes, R., 194 human ecology, 70 Hume, D., 8–9, 18 ideological terrorism, of RAF, 134 ideology of political violence, 82

sacred mission for social movements, 85 in social disorganization, 71 IG Rote Fabrik, 129, 1323 Il delitto politico e le rivoluzioni, 35–6 Illinois Association for Criminal Justice, 74 imitation, and morality, 29 immigrant communities, operation of gangsters, 74 in-group-out-group relationship, 84 indoctrination, 119 industrial disputes employers’ use of criminal fraternity, 73 use of sabotage, 78 industrial revolution, 57–8 industrial societies, relationship with war, 181 Industrial Workers of the World, 78, 79 industrialization, 116 inequality struggles, 30–1, 37 and terrorism, 169 innateness, of war instinct, 181, 182 innocence, proof of, 167 innovation, 66 Inquisition, 9 instability, in urban environment, 81 Institute for Social Research, Frankfurt, 127 institutional legitimation, 60–1 response to Black Panther Party, 123 institutional violence Beccaria’s view, 15, 16 collaboration with criminal violence, 72–4, 74–8 definition, 1 response to revolutionary violence, 17–18 and war, 6 see also state crime; state savagery; state terrorism; violence, from above institutionalization of non-conformists, 119–20, 153 of social movements, 83 insurrection see crimes of sedition; rebellion; revolution


Understanding political violence intellectuals, loss through response of governments, 45 interactionism, 108–14 and deviance, 118 and racial protest, 121 international terrorism, 163 and transnational crime, 167 IRA, view of prisons, 138 Italy Brigate Rosse, 137, 143–58 rebellion, 39 IWW, 78, 79 Jamieson, R., 185 Janowitz, M., 79 Jenkins, J.C., 151 Joas, H., 109, 110, 112, 175 joint action, in political violence, 114 Juergensmeyer, M., 172 Jung, C., 187 Jünger, E., 177 Kant, E., 191, 192 Kaplan, J., 168 Kassimeris, G., 132 Katz, J., 136 Kelly, R., 162 Kerényi, C., 1 kidnapping by Brigate Rosse, 145, 146, 148 by RAF, 133–4, 139 killing ‘legitimate’, 178 in war, 185 King, Martin Luther, assassination, 122 Kittrie, N., 165 König, L., 137 Kuhn, A., 100 labelling theory, 107–8, 118, 165, 178 and criminalization of war, 188 self-labelling of protesters, 119 labour conflicts, 105 Landesco, J., 71, 74–7 Laqueur, W., 100, 168, 169 Laschi, R., 35–8, 39, 42, 43, 137 Latin America, rebellion, 128 law and authority, 10 respect for, 32

Le Goff, J., 9 learning, from war, 175 learning theory, and violent political action, 150–1 ‘legitimate’ killing, 178 Lemert, E.M., 115, 165 lepalse-majesté see crimes of sedition Leslie, E., 126 Lilly, J.R., 69 Lombroso, C., 27, 35–8, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43–5, 136, 137, 149, 157 Lorenz, Peter, 133 Lucheni, Luigi, 44 Lukes, S., 50, 55 Maghan, J., 162 Mahan, S., 137 Malcolm X, 120, 121 Mansbridge, J., 150, 155 Marcuse, H., 127, 128, 140 Marighella, C., 129 Martin, G., 135 Marx, K., 29–30, 40, 41 Marxist criminology, 87 Mathiesen, T., 182, 192 Matza, D., 54, 153, 186 Mauss, M., 58–9 McAdam, D., 149, 161 McCarthy, J., 151 McCarthyism, 115–16 McDougall, W., 180 McKenzie, R.D., 70 Mead, G.H., 108–9, 110–12, 121, 182 Mead, M., 182 meaning, in philosophy, 112–13 Meinhof, Ulrike, 126, 128, 133 Melossi, D., 54 Melucci, A., 164 Merton, R.K., 61–7, 139, 150, 151 Messerschmidt, J., 14, 18 metaphor of war, applied to crime, 186 Michel, L., 41 Michelet, J., 38 micro-societies, 72 middle ages, employment, 57 migrants, clustering of populations, 70 Milan, factory study groups, 143–4 military societies, 181 mischievous acts, as described by Bentham, 20

Index 215 mobility, and zones of deterioration, 71 modern society, functionalist view, 47, 49 monarchies, 13 see also sovereignty moral behaviour, 33 moral rules, 48–9 morale, in social movements, 84–5 ‘morbid phenomena’ of Durkheim, 58 Moretti, M., 144, 145, 148 Morgan, D., 989 Moro, Aldo, proletarian trial, 148 Moroni, P., 130, 135, 144, 149 Morris, A., 150, 155 Morrison, W., 12, 18, 47 Morucci, V., 145, 175 Mosca, G., 181 Mouffe, C., 163 Mouledoux, J.C., 93 murder, political, 139 Murphy, A.E., 109 mythological view of political violence, 1 revolution, 25 Naples, rebellion, 39 nationalist terrorism, of RAF, 134 Nazi regime, 130, 132 neutralization techniques, use by political groups, 153 ‘new’ Brigate Rosse, 156–8 see also Brigate Rosse new criminology, 95–9 New York, Tammany Hall club, 72 Newton, H.P., 121, 122, 124 Nietzsche, F., 180 nihilism, 38, 39, 43 Nikolic-Ristanovic, V., 185 Noble, T., 61 non-symbolic interaction, 113–14 non-violent political activity, 174 normative disagreements, 88–9 normative systems, and criminality, 88 Oberschall, A., 151 occupations, change in organization, 57–8 O’Donnell, I., 141 On Crimes and Punishments, 15 OPEC, Vienna, terrorist attack, 133

organized collective violence, 96–7, 103–6 organized crime, 72–4, 74–8 pacifism, 188 Palermo riots, 39 Palestine, liberation struggle, 134 panopticon, 21–2 pardon, 12 Park, R.E., 80–1, 156, 183, 192 Parsons, T., 60–1, 68 passive resistance, 78 patriotism, 67 peace, perpetual, 191–2 peaceful protest blocking, 116 confrontation with law enforcement, 118–19 loss of faith in, 125 Pearce, F., 88 Peelo, M., 2 Pelias, 25 Peterson, A., 54 Pfohl, S.H., 118, 178 philanthropic murderers, 44 physiognomy, of criminals, 35, 41 Pinochet, General Augusto, coup in Chile, 147 Pirelli, 144, 145 polarization, in terrorism, 162 police brutality, 121, 123 police violence, 93–4 political atrocities see war crimes political crime definition, 2 Mead’s view, 111–12 political exclusion, 90 political groups, violent activity, 63 political murder, 139, 147, 156 choice by new Brigate Rosse, 158 political opposition, criminalization of, 93 political patronage, 62 political systems, 165 politicians, association with gangsters, 74–8 politico-social criminality, 31 see also evolutionary criminality Pontara, G., 100 Porter, R., 19


Understanding political violence Positive School, 3 positivist criminology, 27–45 view of West German unrest, 131 power abuse of, 37 and conflict, 92 distribution and wealth, 194 Presdee, M., 184 primum vivere principle, 67 principle of utility, 20 prisons conditions in West Germany, 138 high security in Italy, 148 view of IRA, 138 private offences, 21 Prometheus myth, and political violence, 1 propensity event theory, 154 protest blocking of peaceful channels, 116 and violence, 2 see also agitation; peaceful protest; rebellion; revolution; riots; student protest psychological movements, 80 public offences, 21 punishment Durkheim’s view, 48 and rebellions, 31–2 and social contract, 16 pure political violence, 161, 162–3 in redefined contexts, 164 Queloz, N., 169 Quinney, R., 91, 92–3, 93–4, 95, 165 race riots Britain, 97–8 and Ragen Athletic Association, 75 racial protest, 120 RAF (Red Army Faction), 128–31, 132–40 Ragen Athletic Association, gangsters, 75 reactionary suicide, 124 rebellion and atavistic crime, 41–2 causes according to Ferri, 33–4 as deviance, 139–40 Lombroso’s view, 41

Merton’s view, 66–7 and revolution, 35–7 in strain theory, 151 see also agitation; anti-institutional violence; protest; revolution; riots; student protest; violence, from below rebellions 1848, 3, 28, 29–30 Commune of Paris, 40–2 and women, 39 Red Army Faction, 128–31, 132–40 Rée, J., 166 reform movements, 85 regicides, 42–5 regulation, and violence, 49 relational analysis, 164 relational dynamics, 4, 115 in Brigate Ross, 148 religion and altruism, 49 and violence, 20 and war, 174 repression, of rebellion, 32 repressive tolerance, 127–8 republics, 13 resource mobilization theory, 151 ressentiment, 66 retreatism, 66 Revelli, M., 175 revenge, Hobbes’ view, 12 revolution and destruction of society, 57 disorganisation of authority, 117 and evolution of society, 34, 35–6 and government, 23–4, 25 and institutional violence response, 17–18 overthrow of law, 67 proliferation of groups alongside RAF, 135 and rebellion, 35–7 see also agitation; anti-institutional violence; protest; rebellion; riots; student protest; violence, from below revolutionary movements, 85 revolutionary organizations, 140 revolutionary suicide, 124

Index 217 revolutions 19th century, 3 building on previous ones, 37 in France see French Revolution in Russia see Bolshevism; Russian Revolution Rex, J., 88 Ricoeur, P., 6 riots Britain, 1980s, 97–8 distinction from revolution, 36 see also agitation; anti-institutional violence; protest; rebellion; revolution; riots; student protest; violence, from below Risoluzione Strategica, 147, 148 ritual, 66 in social movements, 84 Robespierre, M., 23, 24, 25 Rock, P., 51, 59, 63, 115 Roebuck, J., 103 Rome, death penalty, 35 Rosenfeld, R., 2 Ross, J.I., 150, 153 Roth, K.H., 132, 139 Rousseau, J.-J., 13–14 Ruggiero, V., 42, 53, 80, 97, 151, 153, 166, 169 rules, 49 Rummel, R.J., 173 Russell, B., 19 Russian nihilism, 38, 39, 43 Russian Revolution, 59 role of women, 39 sabotage, 78 Saint-Just, L.A., 25 Sanchez, Illich Ramirez, 133 Santa Maria Novella frescos, 9 scale shifts, 161, 164 Scheerer, S., 131 Schleyer, Hanns Martin, kidnap by RAF, 133–4, 139 Schmid, E., 98 Schmitt, K., 89 ‘science of law’, 19–20 science of man, 18–19 Scraton, P., 98 secondary deviation, 115–16 secular antagonism, 45

sedition see crimes of sedition Seidman, R., 88 self, interaction with society, 109 self-regarding offences, 21 Sellin, T., 87, 90, 153 semi-public offences, 21 Shah of Iran, visit to West Berlin, 125 Shaw, M., 173 Sheldon, P., 78 Shelley, P.B., 1 shoot-to-kill strategy, towards Brigate Rosse, 148 Siemens, BR membership, 145 significant symbols, 110–11 Silvi, R., 138 Simmel, G., 80, 91 Simon, J., 186 Sixtus V pontificate, punishment of rebellion, 31–2 slavery, abolition riots, 73 slums, 70 see also zones of deterioration Smelser, N.J., 104, 115–16, 117, 123, 156 Smith, B.L., 100, 167 Snow, A.D., 154 social action, 88 humanistic view, 92 social bonds, preventing violence, 193 social change, 79 in cities, 69–70 in functionalism, 59–60, 68 and moral transformation, 56 social class, 95 social contract, 10–11 and punishment, 16 rejected by Durkheim, 49 of Rousseau, 13 social disorganization in developing cities, 69–70, 71 and violent political groups, 15 social evolution Durkheim’s view, 58 see also society, evolution social interaction, in symbolic interactionism, 113 social movements, 82–6 and conduciveness, 104 and hostility, 105–6


Understanding political violence institutionalization of demands, 134 in West Germany, 130 social reform, alternative to socialism, 54–5 social revolutions, 30, 34–5 socialism Durkheim’s view, 55, 56 inspiration for delinquency, 33 institutional response to activities, 34 Socialismo e criminaltà, 33 socialization, violent, 141 societal defence, 31 society cleavages, 104 coercion model, 91 evolution, 34, 183–4 see also social evolution sociological scheme, 113 Sofsky, W., 185, 189, 191 Sohn-Rethel, A., 130 solidarity, and division of labour, 53 Sontag, S., 190 Soothill, K., 2 Sossi, Mario, kidnapping, 146 sovereignty democratic, 89 and right to violence, 12 Rousseau’s view, 13 Sparta, 35, 37 Spazzali, S., 147 specific contexts, for political violence, 153 specific social movements, 83 Spencer, H., 32 Spierenburg, P., 22 Spinoza, B., 24 stability, of governments, 37 state as moral agency, 52 and strength, 14 see also governments state crime, 162 similarity with war, 190 state savagery, 11–26, 32 state terrorism, 171–2 static societies, 91 status, of political activists, 149 Steiner, A., 131, 137 Steinert, H., 186 Stendhal, 9

Sterba, J.P., 172 Stevanovic, I., 190 strain, from social differentiation, 104 strain theory, 151 strikes see industrial disputes Student Non-Violent Coordination Committee, 122 student protest, 126 suicide aim of anarchists, 44 Durkheim’s analysis, 51 and economic instability, 50 reactionary and revolutionary, 124 of Western democracies, 171 suicide terrorism, 168 Sutherland, E., 178, 189 Sykes, G., 153, 186 symbolic interactionism, 112–14 and terrorism, 140–1 Tammany Hall club, New York, 72 Tannenbaum, F., 107 Tarde, G., 28 Tarrow, S., 125, 153, 155, 161 Taylor, C., 2, 154 Taylor, I., 88, 95, 97–8 teamwork, 110 terrorism, 99–103 asymmetrical war against, 172–3 definition, 6, 162 as interaction, 169 international, 163, 167 IRA view of prisons, 138 perceived as war, 165–6 and RAF activity, 129, 132, 133 result of communication breakdown, 170–1 sense of history, 166–7 and symbolic interactionism, 140–1 and totalism, 168 uniqueness of act, 170 third world, 129 Thrasher, F.M., 71 Tilly, C., 150, 151, 155, 160, 162–3, 191 Tocqueville, A., 30 tolerance, of oppressive social mechanisms, 127

Index 219 torture Baccaria’s view, 17 see also war crimes Toscano, M.A., 68 totalism, and terrorism, 168 trade unionism, armed, 152 treason, 19–20 Treatise on Human Nature, A, 19 trials, politicization, 167 Trojan war, 180 true consciousness, of class, 98 Turk, A.T., 88, 100, 101, 102, 103, 167, 191 Turner, B.S., 49, 52, 67 tyranny, 45 underworld, 72–4, 74–8 upward scale shifts, 161 urban environment crises, 80, 81 see also city growth urbanization see city growth value conflicts, 105 Vandiver, M., 173 Varon, J., 122, 125, 126, 127, 134, 138, 139 Verri, Pietro, 14–15 vertical organizations, 135–6 Vietnam, view in Germany, 129, 132 violence from above, 14, 25, 79 see also institutional violence; state crime; state savagery; state terrorism from below, 14, 17, 20, 25, 78, 116–17, 119, 121, 161 see also agitation; protest; rebellion; revolution; riots; student protest component of history, 175 as liberation of society from guilt, 130 political and criminal, 2 in political organizations, 62–3 as a resource, 11 structures, 161 violent political action, 111, 114–15, 141, 145–6 violent political groups, 82–6, 120 Brigate Rosse, 145–6

developing similarity to opposed groups, 141 institutionalization of demands, 134 membership by women, 137 Red Army Faction, 128–31, 132–40 violent socialization, 141 virulency, 141 Vold, G.B., 88, 102, 153, 191 Voltaire, 7 vulgar materialism, 129 Wach, J., 49 Walton, P., 88, 99 war, 6–7 atavistic response, 32 classical criminological view, 178 effect on crime, 182 criminalization, 177–8, 187–94 criminology of, 184–7 as cultural invention, 182 Durkheim’s view, 52, 67, 68, 178, 179 functionalist view, 178, 179, 187–8 historically positive view, 178–9 Hobbes’ view, 12–13, 178 learning from, 175 and religion, 174 as state terror, 172 on terrorism, 168, 170, 172–3 war crimes, 185 and neutralization techniques, 186 Ward, T., 98 wealth distribution and power, 193–4 redistribution and crime prevention, 194 and revolution, 37–8 weapons, effect on war, 180–1 Weber, M., 88, 165, 174 Weeber, S.C., 103 Wellman, C., 173 West Germany classical criminological view, 131 intolerance of elite democracy, 128 student unrest, 126–7 White, J.R., 136, 140 white collar crime, 178 Whittaker, D. Whyte, W.F., 77 Wieviorka, M., 137, 139, 140


Understanding political violence Wikström, P.-O., 154 Wilkins, R., 123 Wilkinson, P., 129, 134, 171 will of the people, 13 Williams, J.W., 129 Williams, R., 1 Wirth, L., 71, 82, 156 Witte, R., 162 Wobblies, 78, 79 women involvement in violent political groups, 137 nihilists, 43–4 and revolution, 38–40 victims in war, 190

Woodiwiss, M., 73–4 work ethic, RAF view, 137 Wright Mills, C., 60, 61 Young, I.M., 173, 186 Young, J., 88, 99 Zald, M., 151 Zizek, S., 89, 90, 98 Zola, E., 40 Zolo, D., 169 zones of deterioration, 70–2 see also slums Zweig, S., 177

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Series editor: Mike Maguire


Vincenzo Ruggiero discusses and critiques the contribution of criminological theory to understanding political violence. He draws on stimulating case studies to illustrate the theory, including interviews with former members of the Red Army Faction in Germany and the Brigate Rosse in Italy. The concluding chapter examines the recent development of a criminology of war and calls for a general ceasefire and the criminalisation of war, the most extreme form of institutional violence. This is essential reading for students and researchers in criminology, political studies, sociology, and war and conflict studies. Vincenzo Ruggiero is Professor of Sociology at Middlesex University in London and the University of Pisa in Italy. He is also co-editor of Forum on Crime and Society, a journal published by the United Nations. His numerous previous books include Crime in Literature (2003), Crime and Markets (2000), Movements in the City (2001), Organised and Corporate Crime in Europe (1996) and Eurodrugs (1995).

Understanding political violence

Understanding Political Violence introduces political violence in the context of sociological and criminological debates. The author distinguishes between political violence from below, for example collective violence, insurgency, armed struggle and terrorism; and political violence from above, which includes indiscriminate repression, institutional and state violence, torture and war.

Understanding political violence A Criminological Analysis

Cover illustration: Linda Combi Cover design: Barker/Hilsdon


ISBN 0-335-21751-6


9 780335 217519

Vincenzo Ruggiero