Independent Media Center, Israel

Property Destruction is not Violence
author: Peter Kropotkin

Property destruction is not violence, it is property destruction.

One can argue whether it should be considered ethical, but it is in fact ethically imperative that we differentiate between the destruction of inanimate objects and living beings.

Equating property with human life lifts up property beyond its rightful place to be considered sacrosanct and at the same time debases human life.

Further, the equation of violence and property destruction is a well worn ideological tool of the media. The unmarked (linguistically speaking) meaning of violence will always mean direct harm to a living body. When the media writes a headline: "Violent protests shook St. Louis" the first thing that we think is: "how many people were hurt by the violence, did anyone die, are they hospitalized, etc." By this means you can call protestors violent even if they merely caused property destruction.

And Gandhi said property destruction is a form of nonviolence if it occurs in pursuit of justice and carefully avoids injury to any sentient being.

Also during the Indian resistance to the notorious British an activist asked Gandhi if blowing up a goods (freight) train is an act of violence. Gandhi said blowing up a passenger train is an act of violence.

And as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:

"I am aware that there are many who wince at a distinction between property and persons - who hold both sacrosanct. My views are not so rigid. A life is sacred. Property is intended to serve life, and no matter how much we surround it with rights and respect, it has no personal being. ... The focus on property in the 1967 riots is not accidental. It has a message; it is saying something. If hostility to whites were ever going to dominate a Negro's attitude and reach murderous proportions, surely it would be during a riot. But this rare opportunity for bloodletting was sublimated into arson, or turned into a kind of stormy carnival of free-mechandise distribution.... [P]roperty represents the white power structure, which they were attacking and trying to destroy. ... [Arson], too, was a demonstration and a warning. It was directed against symbols of exploitation, and it was designed to express the depth of anger in the community. What does this restraint in the summer riots mean for our future strategy? If one can find a core of nonviolence toward persons even during the riots when emotions are exploding, it means that nonviolence should not be written off[.] ... It is paradoxical but fair to say that Negro terrorism is incited less on ghetto street corners than in the halls of Congress. ... The dispossessed of this nation - the poor, both white and Negro - live in a cruelly unjust society. They must organize a revolution against that injustice, not against the lives of the persons who are their fellow citizens, but against the structures through which the society is refusing to take means which have been called for, and which are at hand, to lift the load of poverty. The only real revolutionary, people say, is a man who has nothing to lose."

- Martin Luther King Jr., The Trumphet of Conscience

Chapter 4: Nonviolence and Social Change

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