One of our Favorite Definitions of Nonviolence

“Nonviolence is a direction, not a separating line. It has no boundaries.”
Thich Nhat Hahn


How Did Gandhi Win?

by Mark Engler and Paul Engler

The Salt March; artist unknown; courtesy

History remembers Mohandas Gandhi’s Salt March as one of the great episodes of resistance in the past century, and as a campaign, which struck a decisive blow against British imperialism. In the early morning of March 12, 1930, Gandhi and a trained cadre of 78 followers from his ashram began a march of more than 200 miles to the sea. Three and a half weeks later, on April 5, surrounded by a crowd of thousands, Gandhi waded into the edge of the ocean, approached an area on the mud flats where evaporating water left a thick layer of sediment, and scooped up a handful of salt.

Gandhi’s act defied a law of the British Raj mandating that Indians buy salt from the government and prohibiting them from collecting their own. His disobedience set off a mass campaign of non-compliance that swept the country, leading to as many as 100,000 arrests. In a famous quote published in the Manchester Guardian, revered poet Rabindranath Tagore described the campaign’s transformative impact: “Those who live in England, far away from the East, have now got to realize that Europe has completely lost her former prestige in Asia.” For the absentee rulers in London, it was “a great moral defeat.”

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Declaration of Sentiments

by the Non-Resistance Society

Editor’s Preface: In conjunction with the Tolstoy article (just below) and his theory of non-resistance, we are posting today the statement of purpose of the Non-Resistance Society founded in Boston in September 1838 at a special peace convention organized by the abolitionist social reformer, William Lloyd Garrison; the Declaration was indeed primarily written by Garrison. It was agreed upon at the Boston convention and published on September 20, 1838. The society further rejected social distinctions based on race, nationality or gender, refused obedience to “human governments”, and opposed individual acts of self-defense. The declaration is one of the earliest statements of philosophical anarchism, pacifism, and non-resistance in the USA. Please see the Editor’s Note at the end for further information and links. JG

William Lloyd Garrison cigar box cartoon; courtesy

Assembled in Convention, from various sections of the American Union, for the promotion of peace on earth and good will among men, we, the undersigned, regard it as due to ourselves, to the cause which we love, to the country in which we live, and to the world, to publish a Declaration, expressive of the principles we cherish, the purposes we aim to accomplish, and the measures we shall adopt to carry forward the work of peaceful and universal reformation.

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An Unpublished Tolstoy Translation

by Vladimir Tchertkoff

Tolstoy, 1905; photographer unknown; courtesy IISG/WRI

Editor’s Preface: The document that follows, Thoughts on Life, Death, Love, Non-Resistance, Religion, Revolution, Socialism, Communism, etc. is an unpublished English translation of selections from Tolstoy’s diaries between the years 1907-1908. The selection was made by Vladimir Tchertkoff (1854-1936), Tolstoy’s literary agent and the editor-in-chief of his collected works. The date of the selection is not mentioned, although the typescript bears a date of 1934 (see heading below). The translator is also unnamed. There is however an accompanying note by Tchertkoff, “How to translate Tolstoy”, addressed to his secretary Alexander Sirnis, who, together with Charles James Hogarth, was responsible for the translation of The Diaries of Leo Tolstoy: Youth 1847 to 1852, New York: Dutton, 1917.  It is likely that Sirnis was responsible for this translation, and if so, it can be dated to between 1908 and 1918 (the death of Sirnis). This same note also mentions a Mrs. Mayo as providing corrections. Isabella Fyvie Mayo was an author who knew both Tolstoy and Gandhi, and had collaborated previously with Sirnis on several translations. If she was indeed responsible for the editing of the translation, the typescript must date to no later than 1914, the year of her death. In “How to translate Tolstoy” Tchertkoff insists that the translation be as literal as possible and must preserve the style and flavor of Tolstoy’s literary style and vocabulary. The phrasing is often quaint and differs radically from later translations of Tolstoy’s diaries, such as R.F. Christian’s Tolstoy’s Diaries, London: The Athlone Press, 1985.  It is not clear whether Tchertkoff intended Thoughts as a “manifesto” for the flourishing Tolstoyan movement, of which he was a leader, or as an appendix to The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1894), in which Tolstoy argued that Christians had not sufficiently recognized that love for everyone also required that evil not be resisted by violence, particularly in the form of war or state sanctioned coercion. The insistence on the notion that God is love and the overriding importance of non-resistance are certainly two key elements of these Thoughts. Although Tchertkoff edited two volumes of Tolstoy’s diaries, The Diaries of Leo Tolstoy: Youth, 1847 to 1852, New York: Dutton, 1917; translated by C.J. Hogarth and A. Sirnis, and The Journal of Leo Tolstoy: First Volume, 1895 to 1899, New York: Knopf, 1917; translated by Rose Strunsky, the document that follows has never been published. It forms part of a larger collection of Tchertkoff and Tolstoy material that was donated in the early 1970s to the War Resisters’ International by the daughter of Ludvig Perno, a Tolstoy scholar and translator, and is part of the WRI archive at the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Further notes on the text and photographs are at the end of the transcript. A pdf scan of the original may be accessed by clicking on this link. Another pdf scan of the Perno acquisition letter can be accessed at this link. Gertjan Cobelens

Thoughts on Life, Death, Love, Non-Resistance, Religion,
Revolution, Socialism, Communism, etc.

  Unpublished Diaries and Notebooks of Leo Tolstoy;
supplied by V. G. Tchertkoff, Box 1234, Moscow, USSR;
no rights reserved.
Copy of this was sent to Russia, 12-11-34.

Tolstoy in the woods at Yasnaya Polyana; photo by Vladimir Tchertkoff; courtesy IISG/WRI

Tolstoy’s Diaries and Notebooks

[No date. GC] How strange it must be to feel oneself alone in the world, separated from everything else. No matter how far he may have strayed from the path, a man would not be able to live if he did not feel his spiritual bond with the world, with God. If he loses the consciousness of this bond, he is unable to live and kills himself. This explains almost all the cases of suicide.

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Active Nonviolence in Palestine and Israel

by David Hartsough

Cover art courtesy Cambridge University Press;

When people think of Palestine and Israel, they often picture Palestinians as suicide bombers and terrorists while the Israeli military are seen as bombing whole neighborhoods in Palestine. The violence and counter-violence and endless war has created a hopelessness about any peaceful future for the Holy Land.

However, during a month-long stay in Palestine and Israel recently, I found something else. I found something very positive and hopeful and perhaps the key to a peaceful resolution of this tragic conflict — and a possible path toward a peaceful future for both peoples.

I found that violence is not the whole story. Endless checkpoints, 26-foot high walls, and the great fear and mistrust between many Israelis and Palestinians are grimly persistent features of life there. But there is also an alternative to this cycle of destruction being forged on both sides. There is a larger story beyond the script of retaliatory violence – a story of a growing nonviolent movement that both Palestinians and Israelis are building.  It is this larger story that I would like to share.

Active Nonviolence is alive and well in Palestine and Israel! The interfaith delegation I co-led to this region witnessed, first hand, many Palestinians who are engaged in active nonviolent resistance to the occupation of their lands in the West Bank. Weekly nonviolent demonstrations have been held in many villages, including Bil’in, Nil’in, Al Ma’sara, Walaja, as well as in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, some for more than five years. Israelis (including Combatants for Peace and Anarchists Against the Wall), and Internationals, (including Christian Peacemaker Teams, Ecumenical Accompaniment Program and Michigan Peace Teams) actively participate in these weekly actions. There is a deeply inspiring commitment by Palestinians throughout the region to keep struggling nonviolently even when Israeli soldiers shoot powerful tear-gas canisters and grenades, rubber-coated steel bullets, concussion bombs and even live ammunition at the unarmed villagers.

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A Lifetime of Nonviolent Activism: The Street Spirit Interview with David Hartsough, Part 1

by Terry Messman

Covert art courtesy

Street Spirit: Looking back at a lifetime of nonviolent activism, can you remember the first person who helped set your life on this path?

David Hartsough: Gandhi. My parents gave me Gandhi’s book, All Men Are Brothers, on my 14th or 15th birthday. And Martin Luther King who I met when I was 15.

Spirit: Why was Gandhi’s All Men Are Brothers such an inspiration?

Hartsough: Because he said that nonviolence is the most powerful force in the world, and he believed that, and he practiced it. His entire life was made up of his experiments with nonviolence, his experiments with truth. He took nonviolence from being kind of a moral, theological, philosophical idea, and showed it could be a means of struggle to liberate a country. That was a great model for me that nonviolence is not just morally superior to killing people, but was a more effective way of liberating people. Also, his belief that all people are children of God. We are all one. We’re not black versus white, Americans versus Russians, good guys versus bad guys. We’re all brothers and sisters. I took that seriously and that’s what I believe.

Spirit: What was your first involvement in a social-change movement as a young activist?

Hartsough: When I was 14, there was a Nike missile site near where I lived in Philadelphia. This was when people were hiding under their desks in school or going into air raid shelters to try to be safe when we had a nuclear war — which is absolutely ridiculous. So I organized other young people to have a vigil at this Nike missile site over Thanksgiving. We fasted and we walked around with our picket signs in front of the place, and that’s where my FBI record started.

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A Lifetime of Nonviolent Activism: The Street Spirit Interview with David Hartsough, Part 2

by Terry Messman

Logo courtesy of

 “Governments have the power to throw us in jail and shoot at us and intimidate us,
but they don’t have the power to kill our spirits.” David Hartsough

Spirit: David, when were you hired as staff organizer for the American Friends Service Committee in San Francisco?

Hartsough: I was hired in 1973 to be part of the Simple Living Program. My wife Jan and I shared the staff position. Then I began the American Friends Service Committee [AFSC] Nonviolent Movement Building Program in 1982.

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War Resisters’ International: Founding Statements of Purpose

by War Resisters’ International

Editor’s preface: The following article comprises the WRI’s founding statement of purpose (1922), with important revisions in 1935 and 1937. This posting also inaugurates our most ambitious project thus far. In conjunction with WRI, London, we have started to undertake the research of the enormous WRI archive held in Amsterdam by the International Institute of Social History (IISG). The archive occupies 63.3 meters of IISG shelf space, with spill over material in approximately 40 other archives at IISG, and with material at the Peace Palace in The Hague. The purpose of our project will not be, of course, to post anything or everything, but rather to make a selection of material that bears on the influence of nonviolence on the early 20th century peace movements, and vice versa, especially the period c. 1910-1950, that is, from the years leading up to WWI, to the aftermath of WWII. Wherever possible, we shall also be providing our own pdf scans of the original material, in order to make the material more accessible to scholars. The pdf links will be noted at the ends of sections, or the ends of articles. Acknowledgments are at the end. JG

WRI broken rifle logo; courtesy

Statement One (1921): War Resisters International. What it Is and What it Advocates

In many countries there are organisations of men and women who are pledged to refuse all war service. They are affiliated to an International Secretariat,  Paco [Esperanto for peace. Ed], Bilthoven, Holland. The basis of the international movement is simple but uncompromising. Members of the affiliated bodies are required to agree to this affirmation: “War is a crime against Humanity. I have therefore decided to support no kind of war, and to strive to remove all causes of war.”

War is a crime against Humanity.

Holding these views War Resisters welcome the proposal of a General Strike whenever war is threatened. They urge that the Trade Unions should agree to declare a strike as soon as their Governments order mobilisation of troops, and that the strike should be continued until the order has been withdrawn and other steps taken to settle the dispute.

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Nonviolence in Education

by Jean-Marie Muller

Photo, Jean-Marie Muller; courtesy

On 10 November 1998, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed the period 2001–2010 “the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World” (Resolution 53/25). The General Assembly considered that “a culture of peace and nonviolence promotes respect for the life and dignity of every human being without prejudice or discrimination of any kind.” It furthermore recognised the role of education “in constructing a culture of peace and nonviolence, in particular the teaching of the practice of peace and nonviolence to children, which will promote the purposes and principles embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.” The General Assembly went on to invite member states to “take the necessary steps to ensure that the practice of peace and nonviolence is taught at all levels in their respective societies, including in educational institutions.” There may well be good reason to celebrate the fact that the representatives of the member states assembled in New York voted for such a resolution, but nonviolence is still alien to the culture we have inherited. The core concepts around which our thought is organised and structured leave little room for the idea of nonviolence; violence, on the other hand, is inherent in our thinking and behaviour. Nonviolence is unexplored territory. Our minds have such trouble grasping the concept of nonviolence that we are often inclined to deny its relevance. So a great deal of educational work remains to be done to prevent the United Nations resolution from going unheeded, and to ensure that the “culture of peace and nonviolence” to which it refers really does change the mindset of teachers and children.

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Book Review: The Catonsville Nine: A Story of Faith and Resistance in the Vietnam Era by Shawn Francis Peters

by Joseph Geraci

Dust wrapper art courtesy Oxford University Press

The Catonsville Nine protest has often been described as one of the most significant pacifist protests of the Vietnam War era, or, in the words of the actor Martin Sheehan, “arguably the single most powerful antiwar act in American history.” But was it nonviolent, and why should it matter to ask?

All of the Nine were catholic clergymen or laity and took their inspiration, as they said, from the Sermon on the Mount, Vatican Council II, and the recent encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio (“On the Development of Peoples”). They were grounded in the Christian pacifism of Tolstoy and Dorothy Day, and influenced by the social message and call to action of Liberation Theology.

As Shawn Francis Peters writes in his arresting history, The Catonsville Nine (Oxford University Press, 2012), “They framed their protest as a call to rouse their church from its slumber regarding peace and social justice issues.” And as one of the Nine, Tom Melville declared, “Our church has failed to act officially, and we feel that as individuals we’re going to have to speak out in the name of Catholicism and Christianity.” The protest action was rich in symbols; it resembled a ritual. As they set fire to the nearly 400 draft files with their own homemade napalm, they spoke of the flame as “more than a mechanism for destroying the draft files. It was an enduring Christian symbol that evoked Pentecost.” Daniel Berrigan prayed that the flame would “light up the dark places of the heart, where courage and risk were awaiting a signal, a dawn.”

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Mahatma Gandhi’s Constructive Program: Building a New India

by Allwyn Tellis 

Editor’s Preface: This article is Chapter One of Allwyn Tellis’s unpublished PhD thesis on Gandhi’s constructive program. The notes at the end of the article give details about the text, biographical information, a link to the complete thesis, and acknowledgments. JG

Gandhi poster courtesy, A Future without War;

In a three-part series of articles beginning in September 2006, The New York Times documented the severe water supply crisis that India has been facing for several decades, and that threatens only to get worse as the population increases, the available resources shrink, and the powers that be remain hopelessly ill-equipped and often callously indifferent. The opening article calls attention to the Indian government’s  “astonishing inability to deliver the most basic services to its citizens at a time when India asserts itself as a global power.” (1) This doomsday scenario can be extrapolated onto other basic services such as food supply, air quality, sanitation, health, education, and shelter. As India emerges as a promising “tiger” in the twenty-first century global economy, the majority of her population still leads a subhuman existence forever poised on the brink of epidemics, famines, and genocidal conflicts.

It seems that Mahatma Gandhi’s dire warning that a modernizing India could hope, at best, to be a “second or fifth edition of Europe and America” is becoming increasingly apparent. While India boasts the trappings of a twenty-first century economy and proclaims itself the largest democracy in the world, never before have so many millions of Indians been marginalized and alienated from the official frameworks of the state, political economy, and civil society. The indictments and reprimands that Gandhi hurled at the British Empire can be aimed with greater vehemence at the postcolonial Republic of India. Yet, every year, Gandhi Day is celebrated with a national holiday consisting of prayer meetings, ritual spinning bees, public sanitation drives, and the garlanding of statues of the Mahatma (great soul) or Bapu (father).

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“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi