Pacificism as Pathology

pacifism as pathology

(more of my research for A Rebel Comes of Age)

Pacifism as Pathology: Reflections on the Role of Armed Struggle in North America

By Ward Churchill (2007 AK Press)

Book Review

Pacifism as Pathology is a collection of essays centered around Ward Churchill’s original 1985 essay “Pacifism as Pathology: Notes on an American Pseudopraxis.” The premise of the essay is that the militant nonviolent stance assumed by the US progressive movement is based on irrational psychological reasons rather than strategic reasons or moral principle.

Viewpoints from a Range of Activists

The 2007 edition contains a preface by Derrick Jensen, who lays out compelling reasons for the necessity of “violence” in bringing about genuine political change in his 2006 book Endgame. Jensen’s argument, as in Endgame, is primarily ecological. Humankind is being systematically killed off by the capitalist class, via their poisoning of the air, water and food chain, as well as their heedless imposition of catastrophic climate change. Jensen poses the very reasonable question: are we willing to retaliate violently to save our own lives and those of our children and grandchildren?

The next essay is Ed Mead’s preface to the 1998 edition of Pacifism as Pathology, immediately following an 18 year prison term as a result of armed actions (bombings of state and federal buildings in Washington State) conducted by the George Jackson Brigade. Based on his experiences, he arrives at the following conclusions: 1)  pacifism as a strategy of achieving social, political and economic change can only lead to dead end liberalism – the most vicious and violent ruling class in history won’t give up privilege without a physical fight; 2) because 99.9% of practitioners of political violence will eventually confront death or imprisonment, it’s imperative that political violence be carried out in a manner calculated to win; and 3) although the George Jackson Brigade applied the tool of revolutionary violence when its use wasn’t appropriate, he feels pride that they erred on the side of making revolution instead of the alternative.

The book also contains an afterwards by Canadian Activist Mike Ryan describing his frustration after 20 years of nonviolent resistance as part of the Canadian peace movement – and his conclusion that violent resistance must be allowed as a tactic for genuine political change to occur.

Churchill’s Infamous Assault Rifle Workshop

Churchill explains, in his 1998 introduction, that Pacificism as Pathology was originally written in 1985 as part of a four year debate over a workshop “Demystification of the Assault Rifle” that he gave at a 1981 Radical Therapy conference. He was invited to give the workshop owing to an admission by many activists that their fear of weapons was chiefly responsible for their rejection of violence as a political strategy. The reaction of some conference participants was to pass a resolution banning similar workshops in the future, as well as the presence of firearms (except those of the police or military) at any Radical Therapy conference. Churchill was invited to write an article on his views for the magazine Issues in Radical Therapy, which was subsequently Xeroxed and distributed widely throughout North America. While Churchill acknowledges the right of all activists to personally reject violent strategies and tactics, he challenges the right of nonviolent proponents to condemn activists willing to embrace property destruction and/or armed self-defense among a diversity of strategies. As he points out, activists willing to engage in violent resistance wouldn’t dream of trying to force their views on nonviolent activists.

Armed Jewish Uprisings Under Nazi Occupation

For me, the most valuable part of the book is the first section about Bruno Bettelheim and Jewish armed uprisings, in the Warsaw and Bialystok ghettos and in numerous concentration camps during the second world war. This is an aspect of World War II history I was totally unaware if, as the work of Bettelheim and other scholars documenting armed Jewish resistance are carefully sanitized from the history textbooks served up to US high school and college students.

Bettelheim, who contrasts the Jews who resisted violently with the majority of Jews, who followed the Nazis passively to the camps and even to the gas chambers, makes a strong case for his belief that the persecution of the Jews was aggravated by the pervasive lack of fight back. He blames their failure to resist on strong psychological denial – a pathological need to cling to an illusion of “business as normal” – that ultimately overwhelmed their basic survival needs. The logical position would have been to accept the cold reality that their own lives were doomed and to use their deaths to save the life of other Jews by making the extermination more difficult. He points out that Jews had easy access to guns in 1930s and 1940s Germany, and there was no reason why every Jew that was arrested couldn’t take one or two SS officers with them.

Churchill describes how all the revolts inflicted significant damage on the Nazi machine. The revolt at Auschwitz killed 70 SS officers and destroyed the crematorium. Armed rebellions at Sorbibor and Reblinka were even more effective, and Sorbibor had to be closed following the uprising. There were also lesser insurrections at Kruszyna, Krychaw and Kopernik.

Militant Nonviolence: Racist, Deluded and Irrational

Churchill devotes the rest of the book to correcting historical distortions regarding Gandhi’s and Martin Luther Kings nonviolent resistance movements (which have been totally whitewashed by the ruling elite); a brief historical overview of the ineffectiveness of nonviolence in contrast to campaigns incorporating violent resistance; an analysis of the inherent racism implicit in the dogmatic nonviolence promoted by white upper middle class activists; and an outline of the irrational psychological motivations underlying militant nonviolence.

According to Churchill, the main reason white upper middle class activists reject violent resistance relates to intense ambivalence whether they really want to dismantle capitalism and give up their position of privilege.

Pacifism as Pathology can be downloaded free from Prison Legal News

Ward Churchill is a Native American author and American Indian Movement (AIM) activist. He was a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado Boulder from 1990 to 2007. His best known book is the 1990 Cointelpro Papers.

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Rebel cover

In A Rebel Comes of Age, seventeen-year-old Angela Jones and four other homeless teenagers occupy a vacant commercial building owned by Bank of America. The adventure turns deadly serious when the bank obtains a court order evicting them. Ange faces the most serious crisis of her life when the other residents decide to use firearms against the police SWAT team.

$3.99 ebook available (in all formats) from Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/361351

The Role of Youth in Making Revolution

soweto

(Sharing more of my research for my new novel A Rebel Comes of Age)

Much has been made of the role of youth in sparking the “Arab Spring” revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa. The willingness of Arab citizens to rebel against some of the world’s most oppressive regimes is a new and significant phenomenon. It highlights the distinction between political and psychological oppression. Psychological repression is a state of wholesale resignation, when a population believes any resistance will be totally crushed.

The Role of Youth in Sparking Revolution

Youth are nearly always the engine behind any movement to throw off psychological oppression. Older people have an overwhelming drive for “business as usual.” Austrian-born child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim credits this drive for the failure of European Jews to resist the Nazi campaign to enslave and exterminate them. Teenagers, in contrast, possess an illusion an illusion of immortality. They often find it difficult to grasp the finality of death.

Lessons from History: Soweto and the Intifada

Both the 1976 Soweto uprising in South Africa and the first Palestinian Intifada (1987) were initiated by teenagers. Both South Africa and Palestine were riding the crest of a baby boom and faced high youth unemployment. In addition, both the South African townships and occupied Palestine faced a general breakdown in parental authority. In both settings, parents traveled long distances (to Johannesburg or Israel). A whole generation of children, were left on their own to raise themselves. The link between the breakdown of parental authority and youth rebellion is a major theme of my first novel The Battle for Tomorrow.

The Anti-Apartheid Movement

The 1976 Soweto uprising is widely credited as the start of mass popular resistance to apartheid. The students who started it came from a generation that essentially raised themselves. Strict pass laws implemented in the 1950s forced many black residents to give up to their homes in South African cities and move to black-only townships or Bantustans, where there was no work. The only work open to black men was in remote work camps at the gold and diamond mines. While Sowetan women worked as domestics and nannies for white families in Johannesburg and only returned to their own children on weekends.

In 1976 Soweto teenagers had a lot in common with homeless teens, third world street children and “young carers” (children who care for parents with physical or mental disabilities or drug and alcohol problems). Forced to look after themselves from an early age, it’s typical for these teenagers to exhibit  precocious maturity.

Conditions that Politicized the Bantu Schools

The event the triggered the 1976 uprising was a decree requiring that all Bantu schools teach their subjects in Afrikaans (the language of the original Dutch settlers of South Africa), rather than English. Owing to atrocious conditions in the Bantu schools, students were already highly politicized. While education in white schools was free, black parents were charged 51 rand a year (a half month’s salary) The Bantu schools were also incredibly overcrowded, with sixty or more students per class and teachers who often had no education qualifications.

The prelude to the June 16 uprising was a classroom boycott in early June of seventh and eight graders at Orlando West Primary School. Students from seven other Soweto schools immediately joined in. On Sunday June 13th, 400 students met in Orlando (hard to imagine without cellphones Facebook  or Twitter) to call for a mass boycott and demonstration for June 16th. They also made a pact not to inform their parents, who they believed would try to stop them.

On June 16, fifteen to twenty thousand students age 10-20 in school uniform met at Orlando West Secondary school to march to the stadium. When the students refused to disperse, the police opened fire, killing several. The others went wild, throwing rocks and bottles at the police and setting fire to all symbols of apartheid – government buildings, liquor stores, beer halls and trucks, buses and cars belonging to white businesses.

Where Deadly Police Force Fails

The next morning rioting spread to other townships, as well as to Pretoria, Durban and Capetown with “colored” (mixed race) and Indian students also joining the rebellion. The police were totally unable to quell the rioters, even with force, owing to the students’ greater numbers and their total disregard for their own safety. It would take sixteen months for peace to be restored in the townships.

(To be continued, with a discussion of the role of teenagers in the Palestinian  Intifada.)

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Rebel cover

In A Rebel Comes of Age, seventeen-year-old Angela Jones and four other homeless teenagers occupy a vacant commercial building owned by Bank of America. The adventure turns deadly serious when the bank obtains a court order evicting them. Ange faces the most serious crisis of her life when the other residents decide to use firearms against the police SWAT team.

$3.99 ebook available (in all formats) from Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/361351