Pacifism as Pathology: Notes on an American Pseudopraxis
is the title of an essay
by Ward Churchill. First published in 1986
His primary argument is that pacifism is incompatible with revolutionary goals and is, in fact, self destructive in terms of being ineffectual at best and a reinforcement of the status quo at worst.
Churchill believes that pacifism casts social conflict as a morality play, with the violent state being evil and the pacifist revolutionaries being good. The "good" cannot use the tools of the "evil" to achieve its goals, and therefore the use of violence is prohibited. The pacifists' superior morality will (it is believed) win in the end.
Pacifist revolutionaries believe that the state will eventually dissolve in the face of the superior social structure that pacifists will create. This ignores the fact that states exist to aggrandize and maintain power, and will not allow themselves to simply be "replaced" with something new and better. In Churchill's words, "Absurdity clearly abounds when suggesting that the state will refrain from using all necessary physical force to protect against undesired forms of change and threats to its safety". (p. 44)
Churchill uses the Holocaust as an example of the futility of non-violent resistance. He does not claim that an armed uprising would necessarily have prevented the Holocaust, but he does say "Rebellion could only have saved either the life they were going to lose anyway, or the lives of others. Inertia it was that led millions of Jews into the ghettos that the SS had created for them." (p.36)
This is, of course, an example of the "it's better to go down fighting" ethos.
Ghandi's civil disobedience movement and the non-violent successes of the American civil rights movement are placed in context by Churchill. The British Empire had just suffered the massive violence of World War II, which made it extremely difficult to hold on to its colonies. It is unlikely (especially given the history of resistance to British rule) that Britain would have given India its independence solely based on Ghandi's passive resisters. The non-violent civil rights movement in the U.S. was accompanied by the threat of armed uprising by militant blacks, the rioting in urban ghettos, and the beginnings of the war against South Vietnam.
In Churchill's opinion, modern, North American pacifism is essentially the luxury of armchair revolutionaries (my words) who are not forced to face the repressive instruments of the state and society on a daily basis.
He does acknowledge the very real risks run by Ghandi's followers, and adherents to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s philosophy and, as such also sees pacifism by white people as being essentially racist and paternalistic. Especially in the case of non-violent "solidarity" with armed revolutionary movements in other countries.
Churchill has his points, and is persuasive about pacifist revolution being doomed to failure. However, he seems to ignore the fact that armed revolution is nearly equally doomed to failure as the state can easily outgun and outsoldier (until we convert all the working class soldiers to the good side) any upstart violent revolution.
The great debate continues.