The Spirit of Nonviolence

“There is another element in our struggle that then makes our resistance and nonviolence truly meaningful. That element is reconciliation. Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community. The tactics of nonviolence without the spirit of nonviolence may become a new kind of violence.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.


Gandhi’s Impact On The USA Peace Movement

by Charles C. Walker

Logo of UK-FOR; courtesy of

Gandhi’s influence on the peace movement  in the United States was felt as early as the 1920s. An effective exponent of Gandhi’s ideas was John Haynes Holmes, a prominent Unitarian minister and reformer, and an outspoken pacifist in World War I. He first set forth his discovery of Gandhi in a 1922 sermon titled “World Significance of Mahatma Gandhi” which was widely circulated. In another sermon the same year, “Who is the Greatest Man in the World Today?” this designation of Gandhi amazed many listeners, most of whom had never heard the name before. Gandhi’s autobiography was first published in America in the magazine Unity, which Holmes edited.

There were landmark books: by Romain Rolland in 1924, and three by C.F. Andrews published in 1930 and 1931. The Power of Nonviolence by Richard B. Gregg first appeared in 1934, and two revised editions were subsequently published. Probably no other book on nonviolence has been so widely read by U.S. pacifists, or so widely used as the basis for a study program.

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The Basic Principles of Satyagraha

by Ravindra Varma

Satyagraha logo courtesy

The first half of the 20th century witnessed a series of spectacular and thrilling nonviolent struggles led by Gandhi.  These struggles demonstrated the power of nonviolent action. Gandhi overcame scepticism and ridicule, and established the efficacy, viability and superiority of nonviolent methods of action. He made people aware of the power that lay latent within them. He applied and experimented with nonviolence on an unprecedented scale involving millions of people, inspiring them to embark on militant and revolutionary actions for a host of issues.

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Gandhi’s Constructive Program: A New Society in the Shell of the Old

Earth Charter logo courtesy

by Joanne Sheehan

Gandhi called for complete independence by truthful and nonviolent means. He counseled that social change requires building the new society in the shell of the old, which he termed the constructive program. The nonviolence movement in the West has not emphasized this goal for the most part. In the United States, we mostly focus on political action, in particular on protest and civil disobedience. We do little organizing around what Gandhi thought was one of the most powerful political actions: non-cooperation with power, “not against men but against measures.” As Robert Burrowes explains in The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense: A Gandhian Approach (Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 1995), “Nonviolence for Gandhi was more than just a technique of struggle or a strategy for resisting military aggression. It was intimately related to the wider struggle for social justice, economic self-reliance, and ecological harmony as well as the quest for self-realization.”

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They Refused to Let Justice Be Crucified

by Terry Messman

Dust wrapper courtesy Un. of Kentucky Press

During their hard-fought struggle to overcome nearly impossible odds and win voting rights for African American citizens who had been disenfranchised for 100 years, civil rights activists marched down the long and treacherous road that led from the brutal battlefield of Selma, Alabama, through a seemingly endless gauntlet of beatings, bombings, bloodshed, gunshots, martyrdom, and a tri-state assassination conspiracy.

Even though their nonviolent efforts to win the right to vote were met with some of the most shocking violence of the civil rights era, the Freedom Movement stood its ground and claimed perhaps its most significant and far-reaching victory for human rights — the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

As a young man, Bernard LaFayette was chosen to become the key organizer of this dangerous and bloody struggle, and he offers a fascinating insider’s look into the Selma campaign in interviews and in his recent book, In Peace and Freedom, My Journey in Selma. The lessons in community organizing, in this highly insightful case study, are deeply valuable and relevant to today’s human rights activists.

Find The Cost Of Freedom

In opening up this chapter of the Freedom Movement to reveal its lessons, it is important to approach it, not as some academic case study in nonviolence, but with the clear-eyed realization of the terrible price that was paid in bloodshed and the loss of life. LaFayette has given us something far more profound than just another case study of nonviolence. He has also opened our eyes to the heartbreaking sacrifices made by decent and compassionate people such as Jimmie Lee Jackson, Viola Liuzzo and Rev. James Reeb, who selflessly gave their very lives in their commitment to fighting for the most basic of human rights.

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Gandhi and Ecological Marxists: The Silent Valley Movement

by A. S. Sasikala

Silent Valley rainforest; photographer unknown; courtesy

Environmental concerns were not much considered at the time of Gandhi, but his ideas on village decentralisation and national unity such as Swaraj, Swadeshi, Sarvodya, and especially the Constructive Programme makes him an advocate of environmentalism. He is generally considered to have had deep ecological views and his ideas have been widely used by different streams of environmentalism such as Green parties and the deep ecology movement founded by Arne Naess. The eminent environmental thinker Ramachandra Guha identified three distinct strands in Indian environmentalism, crusading Gandhians, ecological Marxists, and appropriate technologists, these last being advocates of small-scale, environmentally sound technology, most often known as “intermediate technology”. Guha observed that, unlike the third, the first two rely heavily on Gandhi, but Indian ecological Marxists also used Gandhian strategies and tactics. The Silent Valley Movement in Kerala, south India, is a case in point of just how ecological Marxists were willing to use Gandhian techniques in order to fight against environmental injustice. The role of the Marxist KSSP, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (translated as Kerala Science Literature Movement, and also referred to as Kerala People’s Science Movement, PSM) illustrates their various strategies. Methodologies adopted throughout the movement were inspired by Gandhian methods, as previously used by other environmental movements like Chipko [see Mark Shepard’s article here].

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Environmental Thoughts of Gandhi for a Green Future

by A. S. Sasikala

Poster courtesy; artist unknown

We live in a world in which science, technology and development play important roles in changing human destiny. However, the overexploitation of natural resources for the purpose of development leads to serious environmental hazards. In fact, the idea of development is itself controversial, as in the name of development we are unethically plundering natural resources. It is rather common to encounter high dam controversies, water disputes, protests against deforestation, and against pollution. Eminent Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva argues that development is actually a continuation of colonialism. Borrowing from Gustavo Esteva she argues that, “development is a permanent war waged by its promoters and suffered by its victims.” (1)

It is true that a science that does not respect nature’s needs, and a development that does not respect people’s needs threatens human survival. The green thoughts of Gandhi give us a new vision to harmonise nature with the needs of people.

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Remembering Vincent Harding: An Enduring Veteran of Hope

by Ken Butigan

Vincent Harding, c. 2013; photographer unknown.

Historian by profession and relentless nonviolent advocate by calling, Vincent Gordon Harding died on Monday, May 19, at the age of 83. The author of a series of books on the civil rights movement — which he called the Southern Freedom movement — he not only wrote history, but also played an active part in the struggle to make and remake it.

Harding worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Mennonite House in Atlanta, an interracial voluntary service. As part of the Albany, Ga., movement, he was arrested for leading a demonstration at the city hall in 1962. He became a strategist for the movement, and drafted Martin Luther King’s historic 1967 anti-war speech “Beyond Vietnam,” which King delivered at Riverside Church in New York City one year to the day before his assassination.

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Creative Nonviolence

by Pace e Bene

Peace flag by and courtesy of

Editor’s Preface: This continues our series of purpose statements by our nonviolent movement groups. We have already posted those by the Metta Center for Nonviolence, and the Gandhi Information Center in Berlin. Our own purpose is to build an archive of record on the history and culture of nonviolence. Please consult the Editor’s Note at the end for further information and links. JG

Transforming Power

Creative Nonviolence transforms our lives and our world by unleashing our capacity for connection, compassion, and cooperation. It can help us discover: nonviolent options in the face of the conflicts and challenges we deal with every day; tools for nurturing peaceful relationships and tapping healing power in our lives, and ways to mend the broken circles in our communities and in our larger world.

Through this organized love creative nonviolence can:

  • Break the cycle of violence
  • Free ourselves and others from destructive fear
  • Struggle actively for change
  • Create a more even playing field
  • Celebrate differences while affirming the interdependence of all beings
  • Discover constructive and sustainable ways of life

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Book Review: My Life is My Message by Narayan Desai.

by Orient BlackSwan

Cover art courtesy

Editor’s Preface: Narayan Desai (b. 1924) was the son of Gandhi’s personal secretary and closest advisor, Mahadev Desai. Raised and educated at Gandhi’s ashrams, Sabarmati and Sevagram, he has remained committed to the Gandhian movement and to Gandhian principles his entire life. After marrying he joined Vinoba Bhave’s community and later became a leading figure in the Shanti Sena, Peace Army. He founded Peace Brigades International, and was also chairman of War Resisters International. This four-volume biography of Gandhi, written in Gujarati, has long been considered a staple of Gandhian research and this first English translation is a welcome addition to the literature. The text that follows is the publisher’s description of My Life is My Message (tr. Tridip Suhrud), 4 vols., Gandhi Studies (New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2009). Please consult the Editor’s Note at the end of the article for further information. JG

Most biographies of Mahatma Gandhi tell the story of a great political leader who led India to freedom. But for Gandhi, his politics was a part of his spiritual quest. Swaraj means self-rule and not merely political autonomy; Gandhi’s struggles were meant to aid the quest for individual self-perfection. Everything he did—the Dandi salt march or his fasts for self-purification—was part of this struggle for self-realisation.

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Arne Naess and Gandhi

by Thomas Weber

Arne Naess c. 2005; courtesy

The important philosopher of deep ecology and Gandhian philosophy, Arne Naess, died in January 2009. (1) Not one Australian newspaper or media outlet referred to this event. The news did not even make it into the obituary columns of such global weeklies as Time magazine (although, as usual, many sporting and film personalities did). Naess’s life was a significant one, and his philosophy still is. While environmentalists may know something about Naess’s thought, they tend to know little of its Gandhian antecedents. Those interested in Gandhian philosophy generally tend not to know of Naess’s contribution, but should. In short, Arne Naess should be remembered and his work examined.

A Personal Background

During 1996, as a Gandhi researcher and teacher of peace studies, I spent a few weeks as a visiting fellow at the Oslo Peace Research Institute. While in the city, I had decided to look up Arne Naess. I knew that in Norway he was an icon and that probably he had more environmentalists beating a path to his door than he needed. I, however, wanted to visit him because he had written one of the best (but least known) analyses of Gandhian nonviolence available in English – Gandhi and Group Conflict: An Exploration of Satyagraha. (2)

As a Gandhi scholar, I knew the Gandhi literature reasonably well and was often amazed to see learned articles on Gandhian philosophy that overlooked his book completely. Of course, this is the result of coming from a small out of the way country and having your landmark tome published by the Norwegian University Press. When I called on him, he was polite but seemed a little world-weary until I told him that I wanted to talk about the Mahatma because of his major contribution to Gandhi scholarship.

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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