I have to agree with Tim Selwyn in his criticism of Phil Twyford’s peace about Moriori pacifism.
Twyford writes on Red Alert:
Moriori elders told us the story of chief Nunuku who made the covenant of peace, renouncing warfare and cannibalism. Hand to hand fighting with a wooden staff was allowed but only until first blood. When Taranaki iwi Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama Taranaki invaded the island in 1835, the islands’ men assembled to discuss how to respond. Young men argued they should fight to repel the invaders or risk extermination, but the elders were adamant that breaking the covenant would mean a loss of their mana as a people, that it was a sacred covenant with God that could not be broken.
Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama proceeded to kill and eat some 300 Moriori in a ritual slaughter. They took their lands and enslaved the survivors. From a population of around 2000 at the turn of the 19th century, first disease, then the invasion and enslavement saw the Moriori go into a steep decine. By 1862 only 101 remained.
So, the Moriori developed a policy of non-violence as an adaptive measure to cope with resource scarcity, which developed into a “sacred covenant” that proved tragically maladaptive when mainland invaders arrived who didn’t share the Moriori belief in non-violence. How this is supposed to be an advertisement for the benefits of pacifism escapes me.
I mean, I’m the first guy to oppose imperialist wars and I agree that violence should always be an option of last resort, but there’s nothing noble about lying down while your people get slaughtered to within an inch of extinction.
The Left needs to get over its romantic attachment to pacifism and gain a proper understanding of power. You will not beat your oppressor through logical argument and human understanding. There’s no retrospective victory on points because you kept your mana intact while being slaughtered by your enemies.
The one example of pacifism actually working is Gandhi, whose religious objection to violence led to the end of the British Empire in India through passive resistance. But as Orwell powerfully argued, this is a tactic that works only if you’re facing a liberal democracy that’s willing to be shamed into giving in.
It is difficult to see how Gandhi’s methods could be applied in a country where opponents of the regime disappear in the middle of the night and are never heard of again. Without a free press and the right of assembly, it is impossible not merely to appeal to outside opinion, but to bring a mass movement into being, or even to make your intentions known to your adversary. Is there a Gandhi in Russia at this moment? And if there is, what is he accomplishing?
If the Japanese had succeeded in occupying India in World War II the Mahatma might not be remembered so fondly. He freely admitted his tactics would have cost the lives of millions for no gain, and that his only answer was to offer up even more lives for the Japanese to slaughter.
Selwyn is right. A strict adherence to non-violence is exactly what an oppressive force needs from its opponents in order to take power and to stay in power. Labour should be careful to avoid confusing the honourable socialist tradition of anti-imperialism with the slave ideology of pacifism.