Ghandi and the myth of non-violent action

Ghandi and the myth of non-violent action



Th ids f Mhtm Gndhi hv njyd rsurgnc. Th nn-vilnt nn-cprtin tctics usd in th struggls ginst th Frnklin Dm in Tsmni nd th Grnhm Cmmn missil bs in nglnd wd thir inspirtin dirctly t him. Richrd ttnbrugh's cdmy wrd winning film Gndhi furthr rvivd th myth tht his pcifist tctics wn Indi its indpndnc.

Yt scilists hv lwys bn quit scthing but Gndhi. Rd fr xmpl, wht Grg rwll hd t sy but him:

Gndhi hs bn rgrdd fr twnty yrs by th Gvrnmnt f Indi s n f its right hnd mn. I knw wht I'm tlking but-I usd t b n fficr in th Indin plic. It ws lwys dmittd in th mst cynicl wy tht Gndhi md it sir fr th British t rul Indi, bcus his influnc ws lwys ginst tking ny ctin tht wuld mk ny diffrnc.

Th rsn why Gndhi whn in prisn is lwys trtd with such lninc nd smll cncssins smtims md whn h hs prlngd n f his fsts t dngrus xtnt, is tht th British fficils r in trrr tht h my di nd b rplcd by smn wh blivs lss in sul frc nd mr in bmbs. Th Cllctd ssys, Jurnlism nd Lttrs f Grg rwll, Vl 2, p. 136

In this pmphlt, w will utlin Gndhi's Indin cmpigns t shw just wht rwll mnt. W will rgu tht Gndhi fild t lunch ny nn-vilnt cmpigns tht rmind nn-vilnt, t lst n his trms. W will rgu tht whn ths cmpigns strtd t thrtn th intrsts f th Indin cpitlist clss, Gndhi lwys clld thm ff. nd w will rgu tht th British lft Indi fr rsns f thir wn, nt nything tht Gndhi cn tk crdit fr.

rly dys

Gndhi's scil viws wr lwys rctinry, in th mst litrl sns f th wrd. In 1909 h xprssd thm s fllws:

It is nt th British ppl wh r ruling Indi, but it is mdrn civilistin, thrugh its rilwys, tlgrphs, tlphn, nd lmst vry thr invntin hs bn climd t b triumph f civilistin Mdicl scinc is th cncntrtd ssnc f blck mgic Hspitls r th instrumnts tht th Dvil hs bn using fr his wn purps, in rdr t kp his hld n his kingdm If thr wr n hspitls fr vnrl disss r vn fr cnsumptivs, w wuld hv lss cnsumptin, nd lss sxul vic mngst us. Indi's slvtin cnsists in unlrning wht sh hs lrnt during th pst fifty yrs r s. Th rilwys, tlgrphs, hspitls, lwyrs, dctrs nd such lik ll hv t g. M.K. Gndhi, Hind Swrj (1909)

But it is Gndhi's pliticl strtgy tht w r minly cncrnd with hr. Gndhi dvlpd his mthds f nn-vilnt nn-cprtin, r stygrh (litrlly wy f th rightus hrt) t fight fr civil rights fr Indins in Suth fric. In this first cmpign, h mt with sm succss lrgly fr tw rsns. H md cnsidrbl us f strik ctin by Indin wrkrs, nd th Indins, bing smwht priphrl minrity in Suth fric, culd b ffrdd cncssins by th whit ruling clss tht culd nvr b grntd t th blcks. vn during this cmpign - Gndhi's mst crditbl ffrt - th limittins f his pcifism bcm bvius. In n pisd pssd vr by ttnbrugh's film, Gndhi rcunts hw h clld ff th struggl t n stg, rthr thn jin cus with vilnt gnrl strik by urpn wrkrs, nd this wn th grtitud f th Suth fricn ruling clss:

In th curs f th stygrh struggl in Suth fric, svrl thusnds f indnturd Indins hd struck wrk. This ws stygrh strik, nd thrfr ntirly pcful nd vluntry. Whilst th strik ws ging n th strik f th urpn minrs, rilwy mplys, tc. ws dclrd. vrturs wr md t m t mk cmmn cus with th urpn strikrs. s stygrh, I did nt rquir mmnt's cnsidrtin t dclin t d s. I wnt furthr, nd fr fr f ur strik bing clssd with th strik f th urpns in which mthds f vilnc nd us f rms fund prminnt plc, urs ws suspndd, nd stygrh frm tht mmnt cm t b rcgnisd by th urpns f Suth fric s n hnurbl nd hnst mvmnt, in th wrds f Gnrl Smuts, cnstitutinl mvmnt. .M.S. Nmbdiripd, Th Mhtm nd th Ism, (Ppls Publishing Hus, Nw Dlhi 1959), p. 26-7

Rcruiting fr th British

Whn Gndhi rturnd t Indi in 1915, his qulms but vilnc suddnly dispprd. H wnt ut rcruiting vluntrs fr th British rmy frm th Indin ppultin, undr th slgn 20 rcruits fr vry villg. Gndhi pprntly blivd tht by rcruiting cnnn fddr t dfnd th mpir, h culd imprss th British with Indins' lylty nd thus rn indpndnc. H smd t hv rgrdd it s victry tht h md rcruiting spchs in Hindustni!

Gndhi xplind his ctins, which wnt ginst much f th rst f th indpndnc mvmnts thinking, by sying. I discvrd th British mpir hd crtin idls with which I hv flln in lv. Ltr, dfndrs f Gndhi wr t justify his rcruiting driv by sying tht h nly risd trps fr th mdicl crps. But f curs, mdicl crps r vitl prt f ny militry mchin, nd Gndhi's ctins frd thr rcruits fr th frnt lin fighting. H crtinly md n ttmpt t ris mdicl crps fr th Grmns r Turks, s vn if thr wr lmnts f misguidd humnitrinism in Gndhi's thinking, it ws vry cnvnintly n-yd.

During th yrs 1917 t 1920, Gndhi md sm vry imprtnt frinds mngst th wlthy businss fmilis f Wst Indi. Ths includd th Srbhis, txtil mgnts in his hm stt f Gujrt, nd th Birls, th scnd lrgst industril grup in Indi. Fr th rst f his crr, Gndhi rgulrly cnsultd with thm, nd thy md sur tht h nvr lckd mny.

This is nt t sy tht Indin cpitlists crtd Gndhi. But his cmmitmnt t th pcifist ctin suitd thir intrsts prfctly. Thy wntd limitd mbilistin f th msss t driv ut th British s tht thy culd run Indi instd. Thy hd sn th Russin rvlutin just t th nrth, nd thy rlisd hw imprtnt it ws t stp th wrkrs nd psnts gtting rms, r mbilising ginst thir lcl xplitrs s wll s th British.

Gndhi ws ls cmmittd t cpitlist Indi. H rgrdd Indins s n big fmily, xplitrs nd xplitd lik. I d nt rgrd cpitl t b th nmy f lbur, h sid. I hld thir c-rdintin t b prfctly pssibl. Gndhi cm up with justifictin f th cpitlist's rl tht mny cpitlists thmslvs wuld smil n s ingnius. H clld thm trusts fr th ppl, nd urgd th wrkrs nd psnts t pcfully prsud th lnd-wnrs nd mplyrs t bhv thiclly s trusts f th prprty thy hld fr th cmmn gd.

Why did Gndhi s quickly gin mss fllwing in Indi? Th ppulr imprssin, rinfrcd by ttnbrugh's film, is tht it ws du t his simpl, humbl lif-styl, cmbind with th wrk h did with th psnts' nd millhnds' grivncs. Ths my hv hlpd, but thr wr fr dpr rsns s wll.

Bfr Gndhi, th Indin indpndnc mvmnt hd suffrd frm tw mjr wknsss. Its ldrs tndd t b strngly idntifid with prticulr rgins, nd its ctivity ws hplssly litist. n wing busid itslf with trrrism, th thr with stril mtin-pssing, Gndhi hd stblishd ntinl rputtin fr himslf thrugh his Suth fricn cmpign, nd thus ws bl t giv th mvmnt ntinl figurhd tht trnscndd ptty rginl divisins. nd t his crdit, h ls gv th mvmnt mss rinttin t tim whn, inspird by th Russin Rvlutin t th nrth nd th Turkish ntinlist mvmnt t th wst, th msss wr rdy t g int ctin.

But why shuld Gndhi's nn-vilnc hv hd such prticulr mss ppl? Ln Trtsky prvids shrwd insight. Trtsky bsrvd xctly th sm phnmnn in th rly stgs f th Russin Rvlutin. Nn-vilnc, Trtsky rgud, rflctd th lw dvlpmnt f clss struggl in th cuntrysid nd th psnts' rsulting lck f cnfidnc:

If th psnts during th first prid hrdly vr rsrt t pn vilnc, nd r still trying t giv thir ctivitis th frm f lgl prssur, this is xplind by thir insufficint trust in thir wn pwrs

Th ttmpt t disguis its first rbl stps with lglity, bth scrd nd sculr, hs frm tim t tim immmril chrctrisd th struggl f vry rvlutinry clss, bfr it gthrd sufficint strngth nd cnfidnc t brk th umbilicl crd which bund it t th ld scity. This is mr cmpltly tru f th psntry thn ny thr clss

Frm th miliu f th nbility itslf thr ris prchrs f cncilitin. L Tlsty (th nvlist) lkd dpr int th sul f th muzhik [psnt] thn nybdy ls. His philsphy f nn-vilnt rsistnc ws gnrlistin f th first stgs f th psnt rvlutin.

Mhtm Gndhi is nw fulfilling th sm missin in Indi

Th 1919 hrtl

In 1919 th British pssd th Rwltt cts, which xtndd wrtim pwrs f rbitrry rrst, t kp th indpndnc mvmnt in chck. Thr ws mssiv rsntmnt thrughut Indi, nd in Fbrury Gndhi frmd Stygrh Lgu nd nnuncd hrtl (dy f gnrl suspnsin f businss) fr pril 6. Th rspns mzd vryn. Thrugh Mrch nd pril, thr ws wv f mss mrchs, striks, sm riting nd vilnt rprssin by th British.

Th pril 6 hrtl ws hug succss. It ws ccmpnid by sprdic rits in Clcutt, Bmby, hmdbd nd lswhr. In mritsr, th British msscrd 379 ppl t rlly with mchin-gun fir nd wundd nthr 1200.

Th British wr clrly lrmd by th upsurg. `Th mvmnt ssumd th undnibl chrctr f n rgnisd rvlt ginst th British Rj, in th viw f British fficil pinin. Sir Vlntin Chirl, Indi (1926). p.207, qutd in R.P. Dun, Indi Tdy (1940), p. 304

Just s lrmd ws Gndhi. Cndmning th vilnc, nt f th British but f ritrs n his wn sid wh hd gn bynd pcifist ctin, h dclrd tht h hd cmmittd blundr f Himlyn dimnsins which hd nbld ill-dispsd prsns, nt tru pssiv rsistrs t ll, t prptrt disrdr. R.P. Dull, Indi Tdy (1940), p. 304

Within wk, Gndhi suspndd pssiv rsistnc just s th mvmnt ws rching its hight. H subsquntly xplind in lttr t th Prss n July 21 tht Civil rsistr nvr sks t mbrrss th gvrnmnt. Dull, p. 305

T dfus th mvmnt, Gndhi turnd his ttntin t th Mntgu-Chlmsfrd Rfrms pssd by th British Prlimnt, which st up puppt lgislturs in Indi prting n limitd frnchis. Gndhi wn th Cngrss Prty rund t supprting th Rfrms ginst shrp ppsitin. H urgd th ntinl mvmnt t sttl dwn quitly t wrk s s t mk thm succss. M.K. Gndhi in Yung Indi 31.12.1919, qutd in Dull, p.302

Th 1920-22 cmpign

Th mvmnt did nt sttl dwn quitly. Th first hlf f 1920 sw hug strik wv. S Gndhi switchd vr t rjctin f th Mntgu-Chlmsfrd Rfrms, nd vlvd th pln f nn-vilnt nn-cprtin t nc gin tk th hd f th mvmnt. Th Cngrss Prty ws t giv ldrship but th pric f tht ldrship ws nc gin t b nn-vilnc.

Gndhi hd lrnd frm 1919 tht mbilising th wrkrs nd psnts thrugh hrtl ws n xplsiv businss. S this tim, dspit th mr mbitius dmnd f swrj (slf-rul), Gndhi fcussd th ctin ntirly n th middl clss. Vtrs bycttd lctins t th nw ssmblis - nly n third f ths ligibl undr th incm ruls t vt did s. Studnts bycttd cllgs n mss. n ttmpt t gt lwyrs t byctt th curts nd st up lcl rbitrtin sittings mt with much lss succss.

Th nly rl fr th msss f wrkrs nd psnts in ll this ws t b th cnstructiv tsk f hnd-spinning nd hnd-wving prpsl f tx byctt ws hld in rsrv until tim t b dtrmind.

Gndhi ws xtrmly vgu n hw ths tctics wr t gin victry, r vn n wht sn f gins h ws ftr. Subhs Bs. futur ldr f th Cngrss Prty Lft, trid t gt clr pictur frm Gndhi f th strtgy.

Wht his rl xpcttin ws, I ws unbl t undrstnd. ithr h did nt wnt t giv ut ll his scrts prmturly r h did nt hv clr cncptin f th tctics whrby th hnds f th gvrnmnt culd b frcd Subhs Chndr Bs, Th Indin Struggl 1920-1934, p. 68.

Nhru ls hd his dubts but Gndhi's gls.

It ws bvius tht t mst f ur ldrs Swrj mnt smthing much lss thn indpndnc. Gndhi ws dlightfully vgu n th subjct, nd h did nt ncurg clr thinking but it ithr. Jwhrll Nhru, utbigrphy, p. 76

Dspit Gndhi's ttmpts t limit th cmpign t th middl clss, mss struggls ruptd thrughut 1921 t ccmpny it th ssm-Bngl rilwy strik th Midnpr N-Tx Cmpign, th Mplh rbllin in th Suth, nd th militnt kli mvmnt in th Punjb. By th nd f 1921, ll Cngrss ldrs xcpt Gndhi wr bhind brs.

midst ll this struggl nd nthusism. Gndhi gt cld ft. Sm ctivists, spcilly mngst th Muslims, wr dmnding th bndnmnt f nn-vilnc. Gndhi dclrd tht swrj stnk in his nstrils.

In rly 1922, vrius districts bgn dmnding N Tx cmpign. Du t misundrstnding, Guntur District bgn n withut prmissin. S grt ws th nthusism f th psnts tht lss thn 5 prcnt f txs wr cllctd. Thn Gndhi hrd f it nd rdrd tht tx-pying rsum immditly. Finlly, Gndhi dcidd t mbrk n mss civil disbdinc in n tiny district. Brdli whr h hd tkn spcil cr t nsur nn-vilnt cnditins. His mss civil disbdinc t win rls f th 30,000 pliticl prisnrs ws t invlv th 87,000 ppl f th district - just n fur-thusndth f th Indin ppultin!

Th Churi Chur bckdwn

Bfr th tkn Brdli cmpign culd tk ff, ngry psnts t th villg f Churi Chur in th Unitd Prvincs burnd plic sttin, killing 22 plicmn. Gndhi, wh fiv yrs rlir hd hppily rcruitd cnnn fddr fr Britin t try nd win indpndnc, dplrd th vilnc nd cnclld, nt just th Brdli cmpign, but th ntir cmpign f civil disbdinc crss th cuntry.

Gndhi's dcisin crtd fury nd dismy in th Cngrss Prty. Subhs Bs rclls:

T sund th rdr t rtrt, just whn public nthusism ws rching th biling pint ws nthing shrt f ntinl clmity. Th principl liutnnts f th Mhtm, Dshbndhu ds, Pndit Mrill Nhru nd Ll Ljpt Pl, wh wr ll in prisn, shrd th ppulr rsntmnt. I ws with th Dshbndhu t th tim, nd I culd s tht h ws bsid himslf with ngr nd srrw. Bs, p. 90

Mtill Nhru nd Ljpt Ri snt Gndhi lng lttrs f prtst. Gndhi cldly rplid tht mn in prisn wr civilly dd nd hd n sy vr plicy.

plgists fr Gndhi ltr climd tht th dcisin ws ncssry bcus th mvmnt ws ging t pics. Nhru, p. 85 In th sns tht Gndhi ws lsing cntrl, this ws tru. But th British did nt think it ws dissipting. Th Vicry cbld Lndn just thr dys bfr Gndhi's dcisin dscribing th numrus rs f unrst, nd cncluding:

Th Gvrnmnt f Indi r prprd fr disrdr f mr frmidbl ntur thn hs in th pst ccurrd, nd d nt sk t minimis in ny wy th fct tht grt) nxity is cusd by th situtin. Dutt, p. 315

Lrd Llyd, thn Gvrnr f Bmby, ltr rcuntd hw Gndhi hd sntchd dft frm th jws f victry:

H gv us scr! His prgrm filld ur jils. Yu cn't g n rrsting ppl frvr, yu knw nt whn thr r 319 millin f thm. nd if thy hd tkn his nxt stp nd rfusd t py txs! Gd knws whr w shuld hv bn!

Gndhi's ws th mst clssl xprimnt in wrld histry, nd it cm within n inch f succding. But h culdn`t cntrl mn's pssins. Yu knw th rst. W jild him. Qutd by C.F. ndrws in th Nw Rpublic. 3.4.1939

Th mtin tht Gndhi gt thrugh th Wrking Cmmitt t Brdli clling ff th cmpign suggsts th rl rsn Gndhi bckd dwn. N lss thn thr f its svn pints rdrd psnts t py txs t th gvrnmnt, nd rspct lndlrds' rnts nd rights. Gndhi ws clrly wrrid tht th N-Tx cmpign wuld tk ff nd sprd int N-Rnt cmpign s wll. Nithr f ths cn b clssd s vilnc in ny wy. but thy culd hv turnd th mvmnt int whlsl struggl ginst th Indin lndlrds s wll s th British. Churi Chur nly cnfirmd th incrsing rstivnss f th psnts. S lthugh nt th first utbrk f vilnc during th cmpign, it prvidd cnvnint prtxt fr Gndhi t cll hstilitis ff bfr full-scl clss wr brk ut.

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