On my twenty-second birthday I wrote an essay entitled On Anarcho-Pacifism. It was about my situational stance on pacifism, that is, my view that it depends what circumstances you are in as to whether or not violence is justified and the best course of action – two different things. Though it’s an essay with a lot of fluff, there is some good that I recommend to the reader.
I recently read Orwell’s essay on Pacifism and particularly considering the time he was living in I largely agree with him. Here is a segment of his essay:
Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, ‘he that is not with me is against me’. The idea that you can somehow remain aloof from and superior to the struggle, while living on food which British sailors have to risk their lives to bring you, is a bourgeois illusion bred of money and security. Mr Savage remarks that ‘according to this type of reasoning, a German or Japanese pacifist would be “objectively pro-British”.’ But of course he would be! That is why pacifist activities are not permitted in those countries (in both of them the penalty is, or can be, beheading) while both the Germans and the Japanese do all they can to encourage the spread of pacifism in British and American territories.
Here is another:
I am not interested in pacifism as a ‘moral phenomenon’. If Mr Savage and others imagine that one can somehow ‘overcome’ the German army by lying on one’s back, let them go on imagining it, but let them also wonder occasionally whether this is not an illusion due to security, too much money and a simple ignorance of the way in which things actually happen. As an ex-Indian civil servant, it always makes me shout with laughter to hear, for instance, Gandhi named as an example of the success of non-violence. As long as twenty years ago it was cynically admitted in Anglo-Indian circles that Gandhi was very useful to the British government. So he will be to the Japanese if they get there. Despotic governments can stand ‘moral force’ till the cows come home; what they fear is physical force.
What he understands implicitly is an understanding of consequentialist ethics and what he understands explicitly is the nature of our consequential (or causal) world. If you think you’re “morally superior” because you didn’t perform violence on someone but more people suffer because of it then congratulations Batman, you just let the Joker kill again – how’s that one rule working out for you?
Orwell was a man who wrote during war-time, when Britain was against one of the most morally horrendous forces in human history. His critique of Pacifism in such a context is entirely sound in my estimation. However, Pacifism becomes the more sensible and moral position when in relation to contemporary concerns of the Anarchist. Practically, in the modern age, Capitalism cannot be destroyed through violent means. And morally to resist it in such a way will only bring about more suffering, to the revolutionaries, those who love them, to the civil servants or innocent civilians who are harmed directly or indirectly through the violence and the suffering that will occur through people supporting reactionary ideas and demagogues because they were turned away from any Progressive or Anti-Capitalist message through the senseless violence of the would-be “revolutionaries.”
The ethical superiority in Anarchism has always existed within the “Do it Yourself” mentality of free cooperation and Mutual Aid. Let people live the lives they choose. Let them work together to build a better world if they are so inclined, and if not, then they at-least passively participate in the world they are against. And that is not to say then that the State or Capitalism cannot be unjust – it is – only that in our participation and silent consent of it we are moral hypocrites that do not fight against what we feel is morally wrong – and that is our choice to cope with on our own terms.
Much of the problem is the isolation and sense of fatalism and futility. People feel disconnected from the possibility of being able to work to bring about real change and solutions to our problems. Also they passively accept the life style and standards of value of our Bourgeois system. They think of themselves and how others think of themselves; always focusing on superficial aspects and never on the reality of their experience and being, and the fact that they are not how they are seen or treated but who they choose to be. This moral liberation of the self is what is needed for Anarchism and it is what Anarchism can provide that is needed by humanity.
Active non-violent resistance to the bourgeois mentality and life style, both in its individual and social forms can be resisted. Individually and mentally it can be done in (certain) individuals, but socially it requires enough people to work together to create Anarchist alternatives to Capitalism. These exist in certain areas of the globe. If you are interested in where they are and if you can do anything to aid them then I would recommend researching them as you would then know more about them than I currently do.
Though we are pre-determined creatures, the choice is ours. Tactics of warfare is messy because it becomes questions of external factors in the world. But the tactics of compassion and giving, of Mutual Aid and interdependency, are those that depend upon the knowledge that we crave both freedom and a sense of value. Anarchism, through its emphasis on individual freedom, but also through its destruction of Capitalism and focusing instead on Worker’s Co-ops where the workers share in the responsibilities and the rewards emphasizes individual responsibility for his share in his community and world. Instead of being a drone in a Capitalist factory, he can be a worker who feels like a meaningful and integral part of his job and his society because he is one. Not merely someone who pays taxes and goes to work five days a week, and then wastes his time praying to God on Sunday to stop the evils of the world. We are morally responsible for our actions and lack of action.
It is up to us to do what we can to make this world a place of limited suffering. It starts on an individual level, with simply how we treat people in our daily lives, but the most courageous and bold souls will be compelled to put these moral impulses into the local or even global community in which we all inhabit.