‘Reflections on Gewalt’ by Étienne Balibar

Paper as published in Historical MAterialism in January 2009.

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The paradox of Marxism’s relationship to violence is that, although Marxism has made a decisive contribution to understanding ‘the role of violence in history’ – more precisely, to understanding the link between forms of domination and exploitation (primarily capitalism) and the structural modalities of social violence, and the necessity of class struggles and revolutionary processes – and has thereby contributed to defining the conditions and stakes of modern politics, it has nonetheless been fundamentally incapable of thinking (and thus confronting) the tragic connection that associates politics with violence from the inside, in a unity of opposites that is itself supremely ‘violent’. This connection has come to light in different periods in, for example, the work of historians and theorists like Thucydides, Machiavelli or Max Weber, in a way that it has not in Marxism. There are several reasons for this . . .

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