Pacifism, is a word and action which for some is the pinnacle of humanity. The action of non-violence in the face of oppression, it is said, is something for which all persons in movements should strive.
Violent revolutions never work out well, and it is only through the peaceful and non-violent way that change can be made. This idea is not new, it has always been around etched in the Christian Bible with the verse of turn the other cheek.
It is a ‘fact’ so deeply engrained that we even have saints of this quasi religion, people in the mould of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, the Dalai Lama and even Mandela (when the urge suits them).
We are taught about the peaceful salt marches which the Indians took in order to gain independence; the hunger strikes of the Irish republicans brought about the Good Friday Agreement; the self-immolation in South Vietnam coupled with the peaceful protests in the American streets ended the Vietnam war; and that Martin Luther King Jr and company, being attacked by dogs and not retaliating, won American Blacks civil rights and liberties denied for 100 years since emancipation.
Who can argue against such luminaries, bar the Dalai Lama and Gandhi? Who can argue with such successes, especially when we are reliably informed, and the records do back up this claim, that most violent revolutions end in bloody counter-revolution? Why would anyone push for a revolution when the facts show us that it is violent and bloody and only ends when one class is in total and complete control over another?
It is understandable that people shirk away from talk of violent revolution and hail the peaceful protest, pacifist actions and non-violent means which seemingly bring forth massive change. After all, wouldn’t we rather have a DDR rather than a Ukraine?
Unfortunately, facts and the historical record show pacifism and non-violent actions serve no purpose other than to disable and disarm the movement wielding it, which is inevitably the weaker party seeking redress in the power balance. This is not to say that non-violent actions in and of themselves are bad, but they must be attached to a militant movement which is willing and able to go to arms in order to press their demands.
India was not liberated because of Gandhi’s peaceful protests. From George Orwell (my Communist comrades please bear with me as I mention this traitor of the workers) to Mountbatten, to other members of the Indian Office, stated (as have others such as the members of the then British Indian Army) that Gandhi’s marches, if anything, weakened the chances of India getting independence.
Who they did fear — and why they buckled and granted independence — were the violent gangs who were engaging in sabotage, communist and socialist militias engaging in guerrilla warfare or the very violent Hindu-right which sought to align with Imperial Japan during the war. Gandhi and his movement channelling energy away from the more militant movements bought the British more time in India.
It was not the hippies, draft dodgers and veterans in the American capital protesting or even the Buddhist clergy in Vietnam with its peaceful protests which ended American military involvement in South East Asia. No, it was the brave men and women Viet Minh and NVLA along with a few American grunts fragging their officers which led to a total withdrawal of American troops. To say anything otherwise, to give this noble victory to those who may have meant well but ultimately did nothing is an insult to the men and women who made immeasurable sacrifices to liberate that nation.
I don’t need to go into detail about the fact that it wasn’t the BDS movement which ended the racist apartheid regime in South Africa. Rather it was the fact that their border was then, in the 80s, entirely hostile, that the Cubans and Angolans had beaten them in Namibia and that the armed wing of the ANC and other underground movements were openly taking on the regime. True, BDS was welcome, but to think that they buckled solely because of that (remember they funded and opened their nuclear project during those times of economic isolation) and not because they were fast being faced with the options of relinquishing power or losing their head, is fanciful and an outright distortion of actual events on the ground.
The Irish republicans who were on hunger strike, often to the point of martyrdom, did not and could not by themselves bring in the Good Friday Agreement, it was the ever so real threat of the IRA (however compromised and infiltrated) which could and did bomb and shoot loyalists and even mainland brits on a regular basis.
Even the movements which seem on the outside to be purely peaceful we have come to find (or always knew) that there was more backing them up. The DDR and Poland for example, both of which had been abandoned by the USSR, had to weigh the real possibilities of NATO involvement if they put down the rebellions. We see (in this case as in so many others) it is easy to be a pacifist when you have all the guns in the world backing you up. This is something which the pacifists never mentions when they bring up (and they almost always do) the fall of the iron curtain (Czechoslovakia, Poland, DDR, etc) the fact that all of these people on the street were backed up by the collective might of NATO and the then newly crowned sole global hegemon of America.
The same goes for revolutions which we have been told were ‘naturally’ violent such as that in Ukraine. The Ukraine (Euro-Maidan) was a coup, a colour revolution, which — when it could not topple the Government through peaceful protest — immediately turned to violence, resulting in the fleeing of the then president and the instillation of a fascist Government.
Again, this is not me saying that non-violent protest has nothing to offer. It has many things to offer, primarily showing that the State will not respond to even the most polite and milk-toast request for change. It can serve as a tool for organising and canvassing, it can serve as a tool to get one’s point across in a grand and theatrical fashion. But they must always be linked to a militant movement — a movement which can say “See, it doesn’t work, let’s something else.” A movement which is willing to use force up to and including violence if necessary and when opportune.
It would be lovely if we lived in a world where those in power listened to reason and willingly gave up power. It would even be acceptable if power gave up after the first stern request. Unfortunately it does not. Power has never given up an inch without a fight, and that is a fact which will not change.
Why, logically speaking, should the powerful — in a system designed by them and to their suiting — give up power or share power with the weak and those who the powerful oppress?
Have I forgotten the part in history when the Haitian slaves asked for freedom and the French peacefully left? Did I miss the part in history class when the Tsar ended the war and abdicated because ‘hey, the people want bread, peace and land’? Have I misplaced the part of Roman history when the Gracchi brothers were not murdered, and the commons remained in the access of the common man for cultivation as they the plebeian class demanded?
Thinkers and movers such as Garvey, Cabral and Rodney knew as much, and while they did not preach violence, they understood that if push comes to shove it needs to be done. It sounds cold and mean, but it is true, and even then it is not me saying that non-violent means are useless, only that if they are to be useful they must be understood as teaching moments guided by a group, a vanguard if you will, which can aide in finding a new direction for the revolt.
Don’t be tricked by those who would have you believe otherwise, nothing has ever come from non-violent movements by themselves (MLK had the militant Malcom X and the even more militant BPP behind him), don’t direct your energies towards ‘the pacifist’ even as we decry violence.