The situation for the Rohingya in Burma is becoming more serious by the day. Some Rohingya have foolishly (or, perhaps, been incited to) taken to armed struggle with the expected results from a far superior military and with tragic consequences for those uninvolved and unprepared.
According to Al Jazeera, hundreds of Rohingya families are facing a second night hiding in rice fields without shelter, after the army on Sunday forcibly removed them from a village in a crackdown following attacks on border security forces. Border guards went to Kyee Kan Pyin village on Sunday and ordered about 2,000 villagers to abandon it, giving them just enough time to collect basic household items. Residents have accused security forces of killing non-combatants and burning homes. The area around Maungdaw Township, near the border with Bangladesh, is under military lockdown and journalists and aid workers have not been allowed to go inside.
It can be said from a study of history that any non-violent movement that takes on a well-entrenched dictatorship must be prepared for a long struggle, with setbacks and numerous casualties. After all, only one side is committed to non-violence. Nor is there any guarantee of success, even in the long run. However, the other option entails even larger casualties and has even poorer prospects of success. Violence is not all that effective in a revolution. People have long thought that power grows out of the barrel of a gun and it's taken a number of historical events to prove that is not true. When non-violence fails, the method is condemned. But when violence fails, strategy or tactics are blamed—not violence as a method. And partial success is seen as total failure. Non-violent means will increase our chances of the military refusing to obey orders. But if you go over to violence, the soldiers will not mutiny. They will be loyal to their officers.
Some people say we can't expect the revolution to adhere to its original principles after the indiscriminate violence and the spilled blood. Not only should we expect it, we should demand it. An armed response from the revolutionaries will not succeed, as the regime is invariably stronger on the military front. As soon as you choose to fight with violence you're choosing to fight against opponents in possession of the best weapons. The state's police and army are better trained in using those weapons. And they control the infrastructure that allows them to deploy them. To fight dictators with violence is to cede to them the choice of battleground and tactics. Using violence against experts in it is the quickest way to have a movement crushed. That is why governments frequently infiltrate opposition groups with agents provocateurs—to sidetrack the movement into violent acts so that the police and security agencies can deal with.
Non-violence is an aspect of resistance that the normal forces of coercion are ill-prepared for. When the ruling class chooses to use their superior force against non-violent activists, they sometimes find that it does not bring about the desired results. First, all sanctions must be carried out by the ruler's agents (police or military personnel) who may or may not obey or may reluctantly make a show of obeying to commit brutal acts against people who are clearly presenting no physical threat. It could have the effect of winning over their hearts and minds. Even if a non-violent campaign is unable to change our adversary's way of thinking, it can still wield power and influence the course of events who may decide it is too costly to continue the fight or forced to make concessions because its power-base has been dissolved.
The worse the regime represses people and suppresses protests, the more steadfast ought the opposition be in its commitment to non-violence and the more the people resists, the more we will realize our own power and discover the means of re-shaping our destiny. Socialists are not pacifists on principle but purely as a practical tactic. Non-violence, like any other goal, must be nurtured by a hope in a better tomorrow. We must move forward and never let our hope for peace and justice die.