Property damage, right and wrong

IssueOctober - November 2023
Feature by Dave Dellinger , PN staff

Introducing ‘Declaration of War’ in his 1970 book Revolutionary Nonviolence, Dave Dellinger commented that two years in a maximum security prison during the Second World War had changed his mind about violence against property (while leaving him still firmly opposed to violence against people).

Dellinger wrote: ‘In a society which exalts property rights above human rights, it is sometimes necessary to damage or destroy property, both because property has no intrinsic value except insofar as it contributes to human welfare, and also in order to challenge people to discover a new sense of priorities.’ Some property, like draft cards and concentration camps, does not deserve to exist.

On the other hand, Dellinger was also aware (in 1970) of how a focus on property damage could lead the movement into dangerous directions: ‘Already the anti-imperialist movement tends to attract some who are driven by despair, impatience, or boredom to focus on destruction and to neglect the building of enduring human relationships and institutions.

‘Physical assaults on the primacy of property are more apt to accomplish the legitimate purpose of exalting the rights of people if they are an adjunct of revolutionary nonviolence than if they are accompanied by contempt for those persons who, as brainwashed tools of the dominant society, happen to be one’s “enemies” of the moment.

‘The current trend in some circles toward “pig-baiting”, Movement factionalism, and self-coronation of one’s little group as the revolutionary vanguard do not furnish a good context in which to experiment with blowing up, burning down, or trashing property.’

Topics: Dave Dellinger