Non-violence Relative Economics And A New Social Order: Nonviolence: Doctrine or Technique?

Published: 08.06.2015
Updated: 02.07.2015

*Originally printed in Gandhi Marg, Vol. XI, 1967.

In the book, Civilian Defence: An Introduction, published recently by the Gandhi Peace Foundation, Adam Roberts states, "All of the authors of chapters in this book consider that nonviolent action should be judged not in terms of a doctrine which one may accept or reject, but as a technique, the potentialities of which in particular situations demand the most rigorous and careful study."

If, as in the case of the above authors, an enquiry into the fundamental principles of nonviolent resistance was intended to convert others to a particular course of action, it would surely be advisable to proceed entirely from the point of view of those to whom the statement is addressed and either abandon the doctrine altogether as a traditional encumbrance or, if it is thought to be useful for the purpose of training leaders, to foster it in private and, in the first instance, to offer the technique regardless of its historic development. If indignant adherents to the doctrine should denounce this method as "cheap salesmanship", such an accusation would merely speak for the chances of success of the procedure.

It should be the task of science, even at the risk of shocking public opinion and making "creative misunderstandings" more difficult to reveal the doctrinal background of such a technique, i.e. to explain the ideas of the leaders of nonviolent resistance campaigns who in deference to the outside world, pretended to be mere technicians of nonviolent action or who, at best, called themselves 'practical idea lists' with the accent on 'practical'.

Even a cursory glance at the spread of nonviolent techniques during the last five decades reveals the importance of doctrine and idealist impulses and shows that nonviolent action is inseparable from its chief protagonist, Gandhi, even though at the present time in Europe such a separation maybe advisable for propaganda purposes.

When Gandhi's ideas began to circulate in Europe and America, their acceptance was confined to pacifists and was not limited to mere strategy but embraced his whole doctrine, which was regarded as the gospel of a Far-Eastern Messiah[1] for the doomed Occident. In 1922 Romain Rolland, in the first popular biography of Gandhi, explained his analysis of the European situation. His arguments are typical of the way in which Gandhi's "message to the world" was taken in between the two wars. They will therefore be quoted extensively.

"A gale of violence sweeps the world. The storm which destroyed the harvest of our civilization did not come unexpectedly. Centuries or ruthless national pride, egged on by an idolatrous ideology of revolution and spread by the blind aping of the democracies... inevitably led to these confused battles, in which the resources of the Occident are swept away. One nation strangles another in the name of identical principles which hide identical interests and identical murderous instincts. They all - nations, fascists, communists, peoples and oppressed classes - claim the right to violence which they regard as the supreme right, but try to deny it to others. Only half a century ago violence suppressed justice. Today it is much worse: violence is justice. It has destroyed justice. There is no sanctuary, no hope in this world which collapses...

Insipid pacifists bleat feebly and one senses their lack of determination. They speak of a faith which they are not sure they posses. Who shall convince them of that faith? And how, in a world which denies it? In the only way any faith can be proved, by deeds.

That is the message to the world, as Gandhi calls it, the message of India: 'we must sacrifice ourselves'.

'Our struggle', says Gandhi, 'aims at friendship with the whole World... Nonviolence has appeared among men and will remain with them. It is the herald of world peace...'

"The politicians of violence (revolutionary and reactionary) scorn that faith. I adhere to it. I see it mocked and presecuted in Europe. In my own country we are only a handful. Are we even a handful? But even if I alone had the faith, what does it matter? It is characteristic of that faith that it does not deny the hostility in the world but sees it and yet believes. That is still better! For the faith is conflict. And our nonviolence is the hardest conflict. The way of peace is not the way of weakness. What has no strength, has no value: either the good or bad. Far rather all the bad than the good without strength or savour. The whining pacifism is fatal to peace; it is cowardice and lack of faith. Those who cannot believe or who are afraid should withdraw! The way of peace is self-sacrifice."[2]

Although Romain Rolland in his biography of Gandhi described the Khilafat campaign of non-cooperation and civil disobedience in 1920 and 1921, Gandhi was not regarded as the creator of a new technique of fighting which could replace armed conflict, but immediately as a harbinger of world peace, the prophet of nonviolence. The new 'faith' was felt to be a shot in the arm for the European pacifism, which was expected to make a special effort to serve peace by self-sacrificing action and to become the so-called'active pacifism'. The last consequence should be the willingness to refuse military service for reasons of conscience.[3] This interpretation was not affected by the publication of Gandhi's leading articles in Young India.[4]

During the period between the two world wars any conception of nonviolence remained largely bound to the ideal. Discussion ranged around the essence of violence and nonviolence. People believed in nonviolence as in the law of human kind, as others, through a popular interpretation of Darwin's theories, believed in violence as a fundamental necessity in the fight for survival. Apart from a few exceptions, it seems that pacifist opposition to the popular conception of Darwin, as held by the fascists, prevented the acceptance of the militant component in Gandhi's teaching.

The most important exceptions are Richard B. Gregg[5] and Krishanlal Shridharani[6] who in their close proximity to Gandhi had learnt to understand the power of nonviolent action and its militant character. Unlike 'active pacifists' whose arch-enemy was war as such and whose method was appeasement, they learnt from Gandhi to demand preparations for nonviolent resistance on the part of the state as an alternative to military preparations against external threats and internal anti-democratic revolution. Gandhi said, "Nonviolence does not mean meek submission to the will of the evil-doer, but it means the putting of one's whole soul against the will of the tyrant."[7] But even Gregg and Shridharani confined their demands to general indications. They did not discuss actual details and made no attempts of their own to organize nonviolent resistance.

Although European and American adherents to nonviolence realised that Gandhi was not only a prophet but also a legally trained leader of the masses, well versed in party organisation, they were prepared to listen only to the prophetic message. For all that Alfred Kobler stated in the introduction to Gewalt and Gewaltlosigkeit, Handbuch desaktiven Pazifismus ("Violence and Nonviolence: A Guide to Active Pacifism") that through Gandhi's action the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount had been translated from a "reverie to a living faith", there was not one among the believers in nonviolence willing to transfer the relevant techniques to Europe or America.

The unarmed resistance against the Kapp-Putsch in 1920 and the passive resistance against the French and Belgian occupation of the Ruhr in 1923 were influenced by trade union experience with strikes and there is no evidence of any knowledge of Gandhi's teaching or experience. The reason for this may lie in the fact that in spite of news-paper reports about the Khilafat campaign in 1920-21, a deeper insight into Gandhi's ideas did not begin until 1923.

But even in the resistance to fascism, nonviolence based on fundamental principles played no part. Gandhi's appeal to the Jews, Czechs and Poles[8] to offer nonviolent resistance had no effect because Gandhi did not really understand the difference between British colonial rule and a totalitarian dictatorship.[9] Even Gandhi, faced with fascism, became a doctrinaire. He merely affirmed his faith in the power of nonviolence, but in contrast to his attitude in South Africa and India, made no further proposals for action. In his correspondence with Europeans who knew German national-socialism by experience, he discussed the image of mankind which corresponds to a belief in nonviolence, but not the immediate practical actions which spring from such a belief. "What concerns me in the letter of my Dutch friend is not so much his characterization of Nazism as his belief that nonviolent action may have no effect on Hitler or the Germans whom he has turned into so many robots. Nonviolent action, if it is adequate, must influence Hitler and easily the duped Germans. No man can be turned into a permanent machine. Immediately the dead weight of authority is lifted from his head, he begins to function normally.[10]

Judging by post-war experiences with former Nazis, Gandhi may not have been altogether wrong in his judgment of people under totalitarian rule, but in making these anthropological pronouncements, unusual enough in the midst of war propaganda, he neglected to study and analyse the essential character of Nazi rule. The weak points at which nonviolent action might have been applied with some hope of success could only have been recognized on the basis of such a study.

Articles which Gandhi wrote in October 1938 to recommend nonviolent resistance to the Czechs are still important documents, if only because they provide evidence that Gandhi did not believe in permanent success for the policy of appeasement, but, in contrast to his European pacifist disciples, only in a policy of strength and independent national defence. He explained clearly that by national defence he meant nonviolent defence, though he did not define the term in detail. "Czechoslovakia has a lesson for me and all of us in India. The Czechs could not have done anything else when they found themselves deserted by their two powerful allies. And yet I have the hardihood to say that, if they had known the use of nonviolence as a weapon for the defence of national honour, they would have faced the whole might of Germany with that of Italy thrown in. They would have spared England and France the hum Hjation of suing fbrapeacewhich wasno peace"[11]

While up to the Second World War Gandhi was accepted only by pacifists, who in any event already rejected military violence on principle and for whom he served as a confirmation rather than a practical guide, that situation significantly changed after the end of the war. The most important dates in this connection are 15 August 1947, the day India achieved independence, and 6 August 1945, the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

India separated from Great Britain by mutual agreement. It began its life as an independent country without an economic crisis and as an astonishingly viable free democracy. India and the world at large regarded this fact as a triumph for Gandhi's nonviolent methods in the struggle for liberation. Since nothing is more successful than success, even non-Indian pragmatists, who would hardly have been interested in Gandhi's doctrine as such, now began to ask themselves whether these methods might not be used in their own countries and for their political ends.

The first non-pacifist politician to resort to Gandhi's method was Kwame Nkrumah. His Convention Peoples Party achieved independence for Ghana in a nonviolent struggle which lasted from the autumn of 1949 to 6 March 1957. Nkrumah called his method "Positive action" and demanded that while the campaign was in progress "Gandhi's principle of absolute nonviolence should be observed".[12] "At first I could not imagine", he writes in his autobiography, "how Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolent resistance could have any prospect of success. It appeared to me to be an extremely feeble method, lacking any hope of success. The solution of the colonial problem as I saw it then was to be found in armed rebellion. But, I asked myself, how is it possible to carry out a successful revolution without arms and without ammunition? Having studied for months Gandhi's technique and closely observed its success, I came to the conclusion that perhaps it could offer a solution to the colonial problem provided that a strong political organization was behind it."[13]

In 1952 a nonviolent resistance campaign organized by the African National Congress drew the attention of the world to the policy of apartheid practiced by the government of South Africa. Leo Kuper, sociologist at the University of Natal and chairman of the Liberal party, describes the astonishment occasioned by the use of Gandhi's methods by non-Indians in South Africa. "Passive resistance is usually regarded as compatible with Indian philosophy, an expression of Indian asceticism and quietism. Among South African whites, at any rate, it is thought to be in the nature of the Indian that he should resist passively. The 1946 campaign, almost entirely Indian, did not disturb settled convictions. When the African National Congress and the South Africans, Indian Congress united in sponsoring the 1952 campaign and Africans, Indians and Coloureds responded, there was confusion. A non-white united front challenged the stereotyped patterns of South African thought based on assumptions of mutual antagonism and fundamental differences among Africans, Indians and Coloureds."[14]

The Nobel Peace Prize of 1960 was awarded to Albert John Luthuli, the leader of this nonviolent resistance campaign. When he received the prize in Oslo, he interpreted it as an appreciation of the fact that this method of resistance had been adhered to under the most difficult circumstances. "Through all this cruel treatment in the name of law and order, our people, with a few exceptions, have remained non-violent. If today this Peace Award is given to South Africa through a black man, it is not because we in South Africa have won our fight for peace and brotherhood. Far from it. Perhaps we stand farther from victory than any other people in Africa. But nothing which we have suffered at the hands of the government has turned us from our chosen path of disciplined resistance."[15]

Adherents to the doctrine of nonviolence also managed after the Second World War to transfer the Indian technique to conflicts within their own countries and to lead resistance campaigns.

Since the bus boycott of Montgomery, Alabama in 1956-57, Gandhi's methods have found a place in the nonviolent actions of American Negroes in their struggle for equality. This is largely due to the Gandhi follower and prominent Negro leader, Martin Luther King. He also knew how to employ the doctrine as an aid in his fight. He strengthened the morale of the Negroes when he explained to them, "To become instruments of a great idea is a privilege that history gives only occasionally.... It may even be possible for the Negro, through adherence to nonviolence, so to challenge the nations of the world, that they will seriously seek an alternative to war and destruction. In a day when sputniks and explorers dash through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, nobody can win a war. Today the choice is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or non-existence. The Negro may be God's appeal to this age - an age drifting rapidly to its doom. The eternal appeal takes the form of a warning: 'All who take the sword will perish by the sword.'[16]

Since King not only asked the Negroes not to ride in a bus but also based his boycott campaign on the doctrine of nonviolence, he gave expression to the great anti-military longing in a world which found itself in the grip of the strategy of the nuclear deterrent. This was largely the reason why this nonviolent campaign, which compared with other events in the world was an infinitesimal incident, was supported by an incredible amount of publicity as well as financial contributions not only from every State in the United States but from many other parts of the world.

A similar situation arose in 1963 when in the nonviolent battle of Birmingham, Alabama, Martin Luther King sent the Negroes out of the church and into the street to face police dogs and water hoses, and Bayard Rustin, secretary of the War Resisters' League and one of the best American experts in Gandhi's resistance methods, organized the "March on Washington".

The importance of 6th August, 1945, for the further development of the doctrine and technique of nonviolence, was indicated by Martin Luther King's interpretation of the role played by nonviolence in the American race conflict, a purely internal conflict unconnected with the military strategy of the United States. The unimaginable enormity of the destruction caused by nuclear weapons compelled traditional pacifism to abandon its notoriously ineffective proclamations and to take action. British pacifists led the way.

In 1949 the British Section of the W.R.I. (Peace Pledge Union) set up a Nonviolence Commission. Under the chairmanship of Roy Walker, author of a biography of Gandhi and an account of the Norwegian nonviolent resistance against Quisling,[17] the Commission, in addition to discussing traditional questions of 'doctrine', investigated "the aims & methods of a nonviolent foreign policy for Britain, with some indication of suitable individual or small group demonstrations practicable in present circumstances".[18] These beginnings led via 'Operation Gandhi' and the 'Direct Action Committee' through endless discussions and through British prisons to the Committee of 100.[19] In 1961, Betrand Russel and Rev. Michael Scott, by their appeal 'Act or Perish', moved thousands to undertake civil disobedience.[20] With mass sitdowns in the traffic centres of London and attempts at nonviolent invasions of rocket bases the Committee of 100 went beyond the Easter Marches of CND, however important those had been from a propaganda point of view, into the field of nonviolent mass struggle, which compelled public attention and, under favourable circumstances, could force a government not to go too far in its duel on the brink of the nuclear abyss.[21]

After the Second World War pacifism not only found its way to action, it also found its way to new questions about theory and to a new understanding of itself. The weekly newspaper Peace News, originally the organ of the Peace Pledge Union and, therefore, to be regarded as orthodox, served as a pioneer. Among the members of the rejuvenated editorial staff of this international paper published in London, the sociologist Gene Sharp, the economist April Carter and the historican Adam Roberts, in particular, devoted their articles on the theme of nonviolence no longer to the belief in nonviolence but to the 'technique of nonviolent action'. The fact that Sharp had studied Max Weber's differentiation between the ethics of conviction and of responsibility, and recognized in nonviolent action a course which did justice to both, contributed significantly to this change of attitude.[22]

In her pamphlet on "Direct Action", which ran to several editions, April Carter, who joined the Direct Action Committee in 1958 at the age of 19 and became its organizational leader, explained her modern, decidedly pragmatic understanding of nonviolence.[23] Its pragmatic character was heightened by the fact that she, for the first time, attempted a synthesis between the thought and experiences of Gandhi and his non-Indian disciples on the one hand and the theories and experiences of resistance action by the trade union movement on the other.

But it was Gene Sharp who achieved the actual revolution. So far as his experience and conception were concerned, he still had his roots in the Christian pacifism of the Quakers, as some phases of his life show. In 1953 he was sentenced to two years imprisonment for civil disobedience against conscription; released after nine months, among other jobs, he acted as secretary to the leading American pacifist. A.J. Muste, until in 1955 he accepted the post of deputy editor of Peace News. He consistently progressed in his thinking from his thesis, "Nonviolence-A Sociological Study",[24] at the Ohio State University, his studies of Gandhi and nonviolence in New York and at the University of Oslo[25] to a point where he no longer asked merely how wars could be avoided but pointed out, in a critique of traditional pacifism, that there occur cases in which struggle would have to be conducted. His criticisms were directed against the pet idea of pacifists that all conflicts could be solved[26] by knowledge of the causes, by increased understanding of the opponent, by negotiations and compromise and that final pacification could best be achieved through world government.[27] He regarded Gandhi not so much as the prophet of world peace but as the creator of a new form of moral and democratic power politics.[28] Sharp did not engage in 'peace research'[29] but 'conflict research'; he sought an 'alternative to war'. He named, as the main task of pacifists, the development of nonviolent forms of action which could be used even against totalitarian regimes.[30]

On the basis of this new investigation, Gandhi's teaching on nonviolence was seen afresh in the context of his nonviolent campaign and no longer dissociated from them as a peace philosophy for a world inhabited by vegetarians. The popular conception of Darwinism had been discredited with the military defeat of the fascists regimes, and pacifists like Sharp were not able to devote themselves to the conflict of ideas as a typical form of existence. They could venture to see conflict not only as a destructive element but also as productive of creative forces. Martin Luther King shocked his colleagues, eight Christian and Jewish theologians, who had appealed to him in the spirit of pacifist tradition to practice moderation and patience, with his reply from the prison of Birmingham, Alabama "Nonviolent direct action aims at creating a crisis and such a dreadful state of permanent tension that the population of a city which has continuously refused to negotiate is forced to face facts. The whole point of such action is to dramatise the situation in such a way that it can no longer be ignored. As I have said, it is part of the aim of nonviolent resistance to create tension. That may sound shocking to you. But I admit that I am not afraid of the word tension. I have always been opposed to tension produced by violence and have said so in my sermons. But there is a kind of constructive, nonviolent tension which is essential if anything is to grow. As Socrates thought it necessary to produce mental tension in order that man should break his slavish dependence on myths and half-truths and rise to the realm of creative analysis and objective values, so we must recognize the necessity of creating tension in human society through nonviolent action and thus help men to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and race hatred to the bright heights of brotherhood and mutual understanding."[31]

To sum up this attempt to evaluate the latest stage in the discussion on the doctrine of nonviolence and its forms of action, war or conflict is no longer condemned in principle, but nonviolent action postulated as the only form of'waging war' compatible with human dignity. The claim or the hope that this method will eventually become universally applicable is unmistakable, but the present demand is no longer for a belief in the doctrine but for research into the techniques of the struggle.


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Title: Non-violence Relative Economics And A New Social Order
Publisher: Jain Vishwa Bharati University, Ladnun, India
Editors: Prof. B.R. Dugar, Dr. Samani Satya Prajna, Dr. Samani Ritu Prajna
Edition: First Edition, 2008

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