Probing with Bayonets

Black Lives Matter protesters gather in Lownsdale Square, Portland, Ore., July 30, 2020. (Luther Abel/National Review)

Earlier this week, footage emerged of a Black Lives Matter mob in Portland beating a man unconscious after dragging him out of his truck. The incident began at around 10:30 p.m. on Sunday when the gentleman in question was attacked while still in his car. Panicked, he sped off as the mob gave chase before crashing into a tree and a nearby building, bringing the vehicle to an ignominious halt. The driver was then quickly pulled out of his truck and onto the ground whereupon he was savagely beaten as he pleaded with his captors to no avail. Eventually, one of these common criminals ended this collective paroxysm of violence by kicking his helpless victim in the back of the head, knocking him unconscious as his skull crashed against the pavement. There is also a sobbing woman in the background of the footage, visibly distressed at what is unfolding before her eyes and calling for an end to the violence, but she is restrained by the Black Lives Matter criminals as they rifle through their victim’s truck, looking for anything of material value. 

This episode put me in mind of an old quotation from Lenin that he used to describe the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary strategy. 

You probe with bayonets: if you find mush, you push. If you find steel, you withdraw.

This has been the tactic of every revolutionary movement in modern history. Armed with the sharp end of their weapons (both physical and philosophical), they search for the soft underbelly of the existing order, the place at once most vulnerable and least likely to offer concerted resistance. When this point is discovered, Lenin instructs his followers to attack it with all their might. 

The more interesting part of the quotation, however, is the second sentence: “If you find steel, you withdraw.” This line testifies to Lenin’s tactical genius as a violent revolutionary. He knew then in the early years of the last century what every historian worth their salt knows today: The decisive factor determining the success or failure of any revolution is not the zeal or the firepower of the rebels, it’s the willpower and self-confidence of the establishment they are attempting to overthrow. When regimes fall, it is inevitably because the elites presiding over its continued existence lose faith in what they’re defending or have not the intestinal fortitude to defend with all the manic fervor and devotion of the mob. Revolutions succeed largely by sapping the ancient regime of their morale, their self-image, and their stomach for the fight. 

This is essentially what happened during the War of Independence. If the British Empire had mobilized all of her blood and treasure to defeat the Patriot cause, they certainly could have won the war quite easily. But by the time Lord Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, the loyalist cause had atrophied in the eyes of many Englishmen both in financial and ideological terms. Most of the greatest luminaries in the British House of Commons during that day, such as Edmund Burke, were hugely sympathetic towards both the grievances and the ideals of the rebels from the beginning. The Vietnam War is a similar story, except the roles were reversed as far as the United States was concerned. 

The most reliable indicator for the success of any revolution is whether or not one can hear this question being asked among those in power: “Are we sure we’re on the right side of this?” Once these words begin to make their way around the corridors of power, the writing is on the wall for the powers that be. 

However, when those powers are animated by unwavering moral clarity and fierce devotion to that which is under attack, they rarely succumb to insurgents. The Confederacy could never find a way to tell the story of the war in such a way that would enervate the morale of Union troops and make Lincoln’s men wonder if Jeff Davis hadn’t been right after all. During the Civil War, the men of the South probed with their bayonets and met steel. The deck was stacked in that conflict as far as each soldier’s confidence in the justice of their cause was concerned. Southern politicians could talk all they liked about “state’s rights” and their “peculiar institution,” they would never convince the boy in blue whose eyes had seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, coming over the hill to kill them. 

Black Lives Matter, it seems, have probed and found mush in the area of race relations. This is hardly surprising. If there is one issue on which Americans are likely to doubt the justice of their nation’s cause, it is the issue of race. It is hard for a country only 60-odd years removed from the civil-rights movement to have great confidence in the established order when that order is criticized for racial injustice. But the fact that this doubt manifests itself in a reluctance to stand four-square behind the rule of law is what cynical criminals such as those mentioned above prey upon. They firmly believe that this reluctance will allow them to get away with beating the living daylights out of a human being in the middle of an American city and then rummaging through his car to steal things . . . on camera. 

Being a conservative is always the more difficult position to take in conflicts of this nature, because being a conservative means loving something that actually exists, and therefore loving something imperfect. The love of progressives is reserved for a hypothetical and perfect society that does not (and will never) exist, and so they are never faced with the task of loving anyone or anything in spite of their imperfections. Their only task here in the real world is to tear everything down to hasten the age to come. They will, therefore, keep probing and probing, looking for the chink in America’s armor, and turning her imperfections against her, so that lawless criminals have the moral cover they require to destroy everything that stands in the way of utopia. If conservatives will not stand up to the mob and insist upon the rule of American law within American borders, then every aspect of this country that falls short of progressive paradise will be destroyed in successive rounds of violence and civil strife. It’s time to meet the bayonets with steel.