Author Archive: Mohandas Gandhi

Gandhi was a prolific writer, his Collected Works now numbering 98 volumes. We have chosen, therefore, to post only those Gandhian texts relating to neglected aspects of his work. For example, his Constructive Programme (see below), was one of his chief concerns in the last ten years of his life, and yet has been misunderstood or ignored. His correspondence with Bart de Ligt is also relatively unknown (see also below), yet relates to controversies over whether or not satyagraha was a viable strategy against Nazi domination, a controversy far from being resolved.

The Meaning of Truth

by Mohandas K. Gandhi

School of Andries Cornelis Lens, “Truth Protecting Us with Her Shield”, c. 1750; courtesy

Editor’s Preface: “Truth”, “lies”, “alternate facts”, “post-truth politics”, etc., are terms very much in the air these days. Gandhi had much to say about Truth; the selection below is only a small sample focused on the root concepts behind his use of the term, and by application the root of his theory of nonviolence. This is the first of a series of articles we will be posting over the next few months on truth and truth in politics. Other statements on Satyagraha and Truth can be found on our Quotes and Sources page, via the link at the top of the page. JG

(I) The word Satya (Truth) is derived from Sat, which means ‘being’. Nothing is or exists in reality except Truth. That is why Sat or Truth is perhaps the most important name of God. In fact it is more correct to say that Truth is God, than to say that God is Truth. But as we cannot do without a ruler or a general, such names of God as ‘King of Kings’ or ‘The Almighty’ are and will remain generally current. On deeper thinking, however, it will be realised, that Truth (Sat or Satya) is the only correct and fully significant name for God.

And where there is Truth, there also is true knowledge. Where there is no Truth, there can be no true knowledge. That is why the word Chit or knowledge is associated with the name of God. And where there is true knowledge, there is always bliss (Ananda). There sorrow has no place. And even as Truth is eternal, so is the bliss derived from it. Hence we know God as Sat-Chit-Ananda, one who combines in Himself Truth, knowledge and bliss. (1)

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Non-violence and the Indian Crisis

by Mohandas K. Gandhi

Gandhi poster commemorating his 1915 return to Indian from South Africa, courtesy

Editor’s Preface: This is the last in our series of articles from the IISG/War Resisters’ International archive; it was first published in the May 3, 1946 issue of Peace News. We have selected this particular article because of Gandhi’s criticism of destruction of property, a tactic used by the Vietnam War protest movement, as with the burning of draft files. The discussion was later revisited by Occupy, and especially Occupy Oakland. Please also consult the notes at the end. JG

“I plead now for non-violence and yet more non-violence.” M. K. Gandhi

Hatred is in the air and impatient lovers of India will gladly take advantage of it, if they can, through violence, to further the cause of independence. That is wrong at any time and everywhere, but it is more wrong in a country where fighters for freedom have declared to the world that their policy is truth and non-violence.

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The Practice of Satyagraha

by M. K. Gandhi

Poster image courtesy

Editor’s Preface: Gandhi did not expound his philosophy of satyagraha in any organized way; there are scattered discussions, remarks and definitions throughout his work. Although there have been anthologies of some of these writings, such as Schocken Books’s, M. K. Gandhi Non-Violent Resistance (New York, 1961), the three extracts below from journals that Gandhi edited have not been anthologized. Please consult the note on the text at the end for an explanation of our editing procedure and acknowledgments. JG

[Extract One] The principles of satyagraha, as I know it today, constitute a gradual evolution. Satyagraha differs from Passive Resistance as the North Pole from the South. The latter has been conceived as a weapon of the weak and does not exclude the use of physical force or violence for the purpose of gaining one’s end, whereas satyagraha has been conceived as a weapon of the strongest and excludes the use of violence in any shape or form.

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‘Does Economic Progress Clash with Real Progress?’

by M.K. Gandhi

Poster art courtesy

Editor’s Preface: This is the text of a speech, which Gandhi delivered in 1916. It is increasingly being cited as a key statement of his economic philosophy, most recently by Anthony J. Parel in his influential study, Gandhi’s Philosophy and the Quest for Harmony (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 81). It continues our series of making available important documents by Gandhi that we see increasingly cited in the literature. Please click on Gandhi’s byline above for easy access to our other postings, and please also see the Endnotes, and the note on the text, for acknowledgments and further information. JG

‘Does economic progress clash with real progress?’ When I accepted Mr. Kapildeva Malaviya’s invitation to speak to you upon the subject of this evening, I was painfully conscious of my limitations. (1) You are an economic society. You have chosen distinguished specialists for the subjects included in your syllabus for this year and the next. I seem to be the only speaker ill fitted for the task set before him.

Frankly and truly, I know very little of economics, as you naturally understand them. Only the other day, sitting at an evening meal, a civilian friend deluged me with a series of questions on my crankisms. As he proceeded in his cross-examination, I being a willing victim, he found no difficulty in discovering my gross ignorance of the matter. I appeared to him to be handling with a cocksureness worthy only of a man who knows not that he knows not. To his horror and even indignation, I suppose, he found that I had not even read books on economics by such well-known authorities as Mill, Marshall, Adam Smith and a host of such other authors. (1) In despair, he ended by advising me to read these works before experimenting in matters economic at the expense of the public. He little knew that I was a sinner past redemption. My experiments continue at the expense of trusting friends. For, there come to us moments in life when about some things we need no proof from without. A little voice within us tells us, ‘You are on the right track, move neither to your left nor right, but keep to the straight and narrow way.’ With such help we march forward slowly indeed, but surely and steadily. That is my position.

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Message to India

by Mohandas Gandhi

Pencil drawing of Gandhi, 1931, by Kanu Desai; courtesy Golden Vista Press

Editor’s Preface: This article, another in our WRI project, is from The War Resister: Quarterly News Sheet of the War Resisters’ International, issue XXVII, Winter 1930-1931. Pre-World War II, European pacifists were slow to come under the influence of Gandhi. They had disavowed violence in all its forms, but were not always sure that Gandhian satyagraha was an equal commitment. WRI consistently supported Indian independence and self-rule, and about this aspect of Gandhism there was no ambivalence. Please also see the archive reference information and acknowledgments at the end. JG

Here in Gujarat well tried and popular public servants have been arrested one after another, and yet the people have been perfectly nonviolent. They have refused to give way to panic, and have celebrated the arrests, by offering civil disobedience in ever-increasing numbers. This is just as it should be.
If the struggle so auspiciously begun is continued in the same spirit of nonviolence to the end, not only shall we see Purna Swaraj [complete independence] in our country before long, but we shall also have given the world an object lesson worthy of India and her glorious past.

Swaraj [self-rule] won without sacrifice cannot last long. I would therefore like our people to get ready to make the highest sacrifice they are capable of. In true sacrifice all the suffering is on one side; one is required to master the art of getting killed without killing, of gaining life by losing it. May India live up to this mantra . . .

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On Education

by Mohandas K. Gandhi

Gandhi teaching his followers; courtesy

Editor’s Preface: Gandhi highly valued education as an essential part of his nonviolence program, and insisted it be included in the daily life of the various ashrams that he founded. (1) If regular classes were held for children, adults were also asked to learn spinning, weaving, cloth making, and a host of other skills. It was not until 1909, however, that Gandhi began to systematize his thoughts, in the essay that follows. It is, in fact, Chapter 18 of one of his most important and influential works, Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, presented as a series of questions and answers between the fictitious, if sometimes obtuse “Reader”, and answers by a knowing “Editor”, both of whom, needless to say are Gandhi. Hind Swaraj was written in a flurry of work between 13 and 22 November 1909 while Gandhi was on board the Kilnonan Castle sailing back from England to South Africa. Although he continued to write about education in Young India, Indian Opinion, and other of the periodicals he edited, the text that follows is recognized as his first attempt to outline the basics of a curriculum consisting of language, Indian civilization, and ethics. Please consult the notes at the end for further bibliographical information. JG

Reader: In the whole of our discussion, you have not demonstrated the necessity for education; we always complain of its absence among us. We notice a movement for compulsory education in our country. The Maharaja Gaekwar has introduced it in his territories. (2) Every eye is directed towards them. We bless the Maharaja for it. Is all this effort then of no use?

Editor: If we consider our civilization to be the highest, I have regretfully to say that much of the effort you have described is of no use. The motive of the Maharaja and other great leaders who have been working in this direction is perfectly pure. They, therefore, undoubtedly deserve great praise. But we cannot conceal from ourselves the result that is likely to flow from their effort. What is the meaning of education? It simply means knowledge of letters. It is merely an instrument, and an instrument may be well used or abused. The same instrument that may be used to cure a patient may be used to take his life, and so may knowledge of letters. We daily observe that many men abuse it and very few make good use of it; and if this is a correct statement, we have proved that more harm has been done by it than good. (3)

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“There is no such thing as Gandhism.”

by M. K. Gandhi

Editor’s Preface: In our continuing series on original texts, we are posting here Gandhi’s little known rejection of “Gandhism”. The editorial notes at the end give textual and other details. JG

Poster art courtesy Elevate to Great;

There is no such thing as Gandhism, and I do not want to leave any sect after me. I do not claim to have originated any new principle or doctrine. I have simply tried in my own way to apply the eternal truths to our daily life and problems. There is therefore no question of my leaving any code behind like the code of Manu [an ancient Hindu Lawgiver]. There cannot be any comparison between that lawgiver and me. The opinions I have formed and the conclusions I have arrived at are not by any means final. I may change them tomorrow if I find better ones.

I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and nonviolence are as old as the hills. All I have done is to try experiments in both, on as vast a scale and as best as I could. In doing so I have sometimes erred and learnt by my errors. Life and its problems have thus become to me a series of experiments in the practice of truth and nonviolence. By instinct I have been truthful, but not necessarily nonviolent. As a Jain Muni [Jain holy man] once rightly said, I was not so much a votary of Ahimsa as I was of Truth, and that I put the latter in the first place and the former in the second. For, as he phrased it, I was capable of sacrificing nonviolence for the sake of truth. In fact, it was in the course of my pursuit of Truth that I discovered Nonviolence. Our scriptures have declared that there is no Dharma [law] higher than truth. But nonviolence they say is the highest duty. The word Dharma, in my opinion, has a different connotation as used in the two aphorisms.

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Constructive Programme: Its Meaning and Place

by M. K. Gandhi

Editor’s Preface: We are presenting here the full text of Gandhi’s Constructive Programme: Its Meaning and Place, published on March 11, 1941 (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House). Although for decades he had been airing these views, this last version consolidated his ideas into something of a manifesto that, he hoped, would shape the campaigns and purpose of his later years. Gandhi conceived of satyagraha as having two branches, the Constructive Programme and nonviolent Civil Disobedience, and after decades of civil resistance campaigns had increasingly turned his attention to social action, local community development, self-improvement schemes, education and the like, which he attempts to codify here. Although this pamphlet was written and published near the end of his life, Gandhi had already articulated these views, as early as his South African campaigns, and before his return to India in 1918. The Constructive Programme also had a profound influence on the post-Gandhian, Indian nonviolent movement, now referred to, somewhat misleadingly, as the Sarvodaya Movement, although it was many movements interpreting Gandhi in diverse ways. See also the textual note at the end of the article, for further bibliographical information. JG


Cover of first printing; courtesy

The constructive programme may otherwise and more fittingly be called construction of Poorna Swaraj or Complete Independence by truthful and nonviolent means. (1) Efforts for the construction of Independence so called through violent and, therefore, necessarily untruthful means we know only too painfully. Look at the daily destruction of property, life, and truth in the present war.

Complete Independence through truth and nonviolence means the independence of every unit, be it the humblest of the nation, without distinction of race, colour or creed. This independence is never exclusive. It is, therefore, wholly compatible with interdependence within or without. Practice will always fall short of theory even as the drawn line falls short of the theoretical line of Euclid. Therefore, complete Independence will be complete only to the extent of our approach in practice to truth and nonviolence.

Let the reader mentally plan out the whole of the constructive programme, and he will agree with me that, if it could be successfully worked out, the end of it would be the Independence we want. Has not the Colonial Secretary Leo Amery said that any agreement between the major parties will be respected? We need not question his sincerity, for, if such unity is honestly, i.e., nonviolently, attained, it will in itself contain the power to compel acceptance of the agreed demand.

On the other hand there is no such thing as an imaginary or even perfect definition of Independence through violence. For it presupposes only ascendancy of that party of the nation which makes the most effective use of violence. In it perfect equality, economic or otherwise, is inconceivable.

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Gandhi On Economics

by M. K. Gandhi

Editor’s Preface: Several of our articles, most recently “Mahila Shanti Sena”, have made reference to Gandhi’s economic theory. The following compilation of quotes will give a flavor of his thinking. Please consult the note at the end for links regarding this aspect of Gandhi’s thought. JG

Economics & Ethics

Book cover courtesy

I must confess that I do not draw a sharp or any distinction between economics and ethics. Economics that hurt the moral wellbeing of an individual or a nation are immoral and, therefore, sinful. Thus the economics that permit one country to prey upon another are immoral. (Young India, 13-10-1921, p. 325)

The economics that disregard moral and sentimental considerations are like wax works that, being life-like, still lack the life of the living flesh. At every crucial moment new-fangled economic laws have broken down in practice. And nations or individuals who accept them as guiding maxims must perish. (Young India, 27-10-1921, p. 344)

That economics is untrue which ignores or disregards moral values. The extension of the law of non-violence in the domain of economics means nothing less than the introduction of moral values as a factor to be considered in regulating international commerce. (Young India, 26-10-1924, p. 421)

Ideal Economy

According to me the economic constitution of India and, for that matter, the world should be such that no one should suffer from want of food and clothing. In other words, everybody should be able to get sufficient work to be able to make ends meet . . . And this ideal can universally be realized only if the means of production of the elementary necessaries of life remain in the control of the masses. These should be freely available to all as God’s air and water are or ought to be; they should not be made vehicle of traffic for the exploitation of others. This monopolization by any country, nation or group of persons would be unjust. The neglect of this simple principle is the cause of destitution that we witness today not only in this unhappy land but other parts of the world too. (Young India, 15-11-1928, p. 381)

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The Mahatma Gandhi / Bart de Ligt Public Correspondence On Peace and War

In the years immediately following World War I, Western pacifists were seeing with alarming clarity the possibility of another war, and speaking out with increasing urgency against militarism. Having suffered through the trauma of appalling destruction, pacifist writing in the 1920s and 1930s has the aura of a survival myth. The advent of Gandhian satyagraha presented pacifists with a possible strategy for averting tragedy, as an antidote to war, and moved Bart de Ligt to write publicly and openly to Gandhi, to enlist him in the pacifist cause. Gandhi’s nonviolence was never a fixed principle; was ever evolving. The Salt March of March 1930, which some see as pivotal to the development of Gandhian nonviolent resistance, had not yet taken place when these letters were published. On the one hand, there are pacifists determined to staunch the advent of another daimonic war, and on the other hand there is Gandhi in a death struggle with the British for Indian independence, his nonviolence, by his own admission, imperfect. De Ligt’s call for Gandhi to reject war, to commit satyagraha to the ending of war was a prophetic call. [JG]

Letter One: Bart de Ligt to Gandhi; May, 1928.

Most venerated Gandhi:

Without doubt, there is no man who attracts the attention of the modern world as you do. And you are certainly worthy of this admiration because you have been able in a wise, heroic way to awaken everywhere confidence in that moral force which slumbers in each individual. To oppose the severe oppression of so-called Christian civilization, and the violence of proud and pretentious Westerners, you have awakened in the East immense spiritual forces, making it seem that Christ reigns over your “pagan” world rather than in our official Christian churches. You have not only proclaimed the gospel of non-resistance — or spiritual warfare — but you have yourself practiced it and have paid with your own person.

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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