The Master’s Tools: Prefigurative Politics and the Abolition of Violence

Mathijs van de Sande


In the course of the past decade, radical political theory has seen an increased
interest in ‘prefiguration’. Stemming from anarchist and feminist
traditions, this idea prescribes a high measure of consistency between the
means and ends of revolutionary practice. But what is the place of violence
in a prefigurative politics? Does it imply nonviolence as a moral or strategic
principle? Or should its practitioners at least be prepared to engage
in self-defence? After reconstructing various positions on this matter, this
paper seeks to offer an alternative perspective. Rather than to see violence
as a means or instrument that one willingly employs in a revolutionary
situation, it should instead be understood as a social given: something that
is often already implied in such a context. The question, then, is not
whether or how prefiguration and violence are compatible, but rather how
violence could be dealt with in a prefigurative way.