Satyagraha

Gandhi for Today’s World: The Yes! Magazine Interview with Vandana Shiva

by David Barsamian

Seed Satyagraha poster courtesy navdanya.org

Interviewer’s Preface: Vandana Shiva is an internationally renowned voice for sustainable development and social justice. She spoke in New Delhi with David Barsamian, founder of Alternative Radio, during his December 2008 trip to India and Pakistan. Some say terrorism makes Gandhi irrelevant. Vandana Shiva, farmer, seed saver, and global justice activist, says we need him more than ever. Gandhi’s three pillars of freedom are now the keys to our survival. Here then are her thoughts on why Gandhi’s philosophy is still relevant—even in a world where terrorism is on the rise. Please consult the Editor’s Note at the end for biographical information about Vandana Shiva and David Barsamian. DB

David Barsamian: In the wake of the attacks on Mumbai in late November 2008, there was a piece in the (London) Sunday Express, “The Irony Gandhism Presents in Today’s Terror-Infested India.” The writer said, “It is time the government became doubly stern about its steps to combat terrorism. India may be the land of Mahatma Gandhi, but today’s situation warrants crude and cunning ways to counter extremism. That alone can ensure peace, harmony, and joy in the country.” Would you share your thoughts on this?

Vandana Shiva: Unfortunately, “crude” means of dealing with violence and terror just breed more violence and terror. As we saw after 9/11, the war on terror has created more terrorists. I think anyone who says that Gandhi is irrelevant in today’s world doesn’t understand either terrorism, its roots, or Gandhi. Suicide bombers don’t get created out of the blue; they are created as a result of decisions, systems, and processes. It’s very much like weeds in a field. One way to control weeds is by spraying Round-Up pesticides, but then you get Round-Up-resistant weeds, which are even stronger than the original weeds. That’s what is happening with terrorism.

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Protecting the Earth with Vandana Shiva

by John Dear 

Photo of Vandana Shiva’s Navdanya organic farm courtesy avery.wellesley.edu

As I follow the regular, dire reports on global warming, I recall my visit two years ago (2007) into the foothills of the Himalayas near the border of China and Nepal, north of Dehradun in India. There I met Dr. Vandana Shiva, a leading anti-globalization and environmental activist, a brilliant, engaging scientist and Gandhian activist.

She has taken up a formidable challenge, a nonviolent civil resistance campaign to resist globalization and protect farmers, not to mention the earth itself. Her strategy is to harvest every endangered seed and indigenous plant, restore the soil to its original richness, and save the seeds from corporate patent theft by creating “seed banks.” She is a modern-day Noah, gathering for the future the plants of the world.

I toured Navdanya Farm, her farming commune and laboratory for biodiversity conservation and farmers’ rights, then moved on to see Bija Vidyapeeth (Earth University), a college she founded to teach sustainable living and global alternatives. There one learns new ways to cook, garden, compost, farm, organize politically, and practice yoga.

The fields of Navdanya Farm teem with every imaginable crop and spice. Over 600 species of plants grow there, along with 250 types of rice. White egrets pace gracefully among the fields. Here agricultural scientists have also embraced Gandhian nonviolent resistance methods to protect the earth.

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The Story of Salt

by Mohinder Singh

Map of Gandhi’s salt march courtesy indiansaltmarch.weebly.com

Editor’s Preface: Gandhi’s Salt March was one of his most significant nonviolent civil resistance campaigns, yet without knowing some of the historical significance of salt his symbolic gesture of gathering a handful cannot be understood. For further reflections on Gandhi and salt see also the article ”Salty Gandhi” by William J. Jackson posted here. The note at the end has further information and acknowledgments. JG

The German scholar M.J. Schleiden in his book Das Salz (Leipzig, 1875) contended that there was a direct correlation between salt taxes and despots. Athens did not tax salt, but China and Mexico were salt-taxing tyrannies. Using the salt-taxation yardstick, British rule in India was patently despotic.

Salt taxation originated in China. The earliest known written text on salt regulation is the Chinese Guanzi: On Weighing and Balancing Economic Factors (c. 300 B.C.). It argued that people cannot do without salt, and in their desperation would be willing to pay a high price; it states ‘Coastal states dependent upon the resources of the ocean should cautiously and reasonably establish a tax on salt.’ In due course, this proposal became the adopted policy of the Chinese emperors and the first known instance of a state-controlled monopoly of a vital commodity. The revenues from salt taxation were used to build not only armies but also defensive structures such as the Great Wall. At one time over half of the state’s revenue was derived from salt. Any popular manifestation of resentment against it was handled with an iron fist.

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The Practice of Satyagraha

by M. K. Gandhi

Poster image courtesy mkgandhi-sarvodaya.blogspot.nl

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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Satyagraha as a Mirror

by Richard B. Gregg

Dustwrapper art, 1960 James Clarke & Co edition, courtesy abebooks.com

Editor’s Preface: Richard Gregg (1885-1974) is often credited with being the first American theorist of nonviolent civil resistance (satyagraha).  While a student at Harvard in the early 1920s he attended a guest lecture about Gandhi and Gandhi’s nonviolence theories. Upon graduating in 1925 he set sail for India, and lived for several years in various Gandhian ashrams. In 1934 he published the work he is best known for, The Power of Non-violence. The book was to have a great influence on Martin Luther King, Jr. and other of the civil rights leaders, and has remained an essential text in the study of nonviolence, and the influence of nonviolence on American politics. Gregg’s Wikipedia page deserves expanding, but has, nonetheless, some useful links. The Quaker website quakersintheworld.org also has a brief biography. This article is dated c. 1963. Please see the note at the end for acknowledgments, and further textual details.  JG

On the faculty of the University of Wisconsin there is a psychiatrist, Dr. Carl R. Rogers, who has spent years giving counsel to those who are in personal emotional or mental trouble and cannot seem to solve their problems unaided. As a result of his professional experience he has come to believe that nobody will change his habits of thinking, feeling or acting until something happens to change his own picture or concept of himself. Other things being equal, for example, a student will give up preparing to become a journalist and begin to study for the law only when he can see himself as a practicing lawyer. A thief will abandon that way of life only if he can see himself as happier in a different way of life and know how he can attain it. For most people, the matter of self-regard is of primary importance.

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Satyagraha: The Art of Defying Oppression without Becoming Oppressors

by Devi Prasad

Gandhian civil resistance poster; courtesy peacetopia.com

To begin with I shall discuss some of the commonly used terms in connection with nonviolent action against oppression, and which are often mistakenly understood to be the same as the Satyagraha practiced and advocated by Gandhi.  This is to try to point out the differences between the concepts these terms represent and how they are not quite the same as the concept of Satyagraha.  These terms are passive resistance, non-cooperation, direct action, civil disobedience and non-resistance. My aim is not to minimise, even to the slightest degree, the merits, uses and strength of these methods, but to point out that in contrast to any of them Satyagraha is a complete philosophy, as well as the technique of fundamental social change.  Whereas the philosophy of Satyagraha implies a holistic approach to both long term as well as immediate issues facing humankind, the practice of the above-mentioned concepts is, by definition, limited to particular situations without being necessarily related to other social or political problems.

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Book Review: Mary Elizabeth King, Gandhian Nonviolent Struggle and Untouchability in South India

by Sean Chabot

Dust jacket courtesy Oxford University Press; global.oup.com

In her preface to the 1965 edition of Conquest of Violence (see References at the end), Joan Bondurant makes a strong case for distinguishing nonviolent action as duragraha or Gandhian satyagraha. She argues that duragraha involves pressuring opponents based on a de facto prejudgment that they are wrong, through passive resistance, and through symbolic violence. In a later essay (posted previously here), she adds that it is a form of stubborn or willful resistance seeking to demonstrate that opponents are necessarily wrong; that resisters are inherently righteous; and that the purpose of nonviolent action is to gain predetermined objectives by winning battles with opponents. In contrast to satyagraha (i.e., firmness in seeking truth through the power of love), duragraha aims at gaining tangible concessions from power-holders in the short-term rather than transforming social relationships and creating in the long run alternative ways of life benefiting everyone,  especially the most oppressed. Bondurant emphasizes these distinctions, because she feels that most of the so-called Gandhian struggles during the 1960s are actually examples of duragraha, not satyagraha. In her eyes, this misunderstanding severely limits the political, ethical, and transformative potential of these struggles.

In the 1960s, Gene Sharp—the undisputed pioneer of nonviolent action and civil resistance studies—responded very differently to Gandhi’s legacy. Unlike Bondurant, Sharp invokes Gandhi to define nonviolent action as “a technique used to control, combat and destroy the opponent’s power by nonviolent means of wielding power”, without carefully conceptualizing satyagraha or considering how it diverges from duragraha (Sharp 1973: 4). By erasing these differences, and by focusing on conventional power politics instead of situational ethics, his The Politics of Nonviolent Action articulates a generic and simplistic understanding of nonviolent action that applies to many cases of unarmed resistance throughout history and across the world. In the process, he normalizes duragraha as a pragmatic and strategic form of nonviolence, thereby hollowing out Gandhi’s concept of satyagraha while continuing to use Gandhi’s name to popularize his own approach. Since the 1970s, Sharp has quickly become the most influential figure in the field, serving as mentor to fellow civil resistance authors like George Lakey, Peter Ackerman, Jack Duvall, Michael Randle, Howard Clark, April Carter, and of course Mary King.

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Gandhi’s Vision of Nonviolence, Holding Firm to Truth: The Street Spirit Interview with Jim Douglass, Part 4

by Terry Messman

Anti Iraq War protest, Washington, D.C., Sept. 15, 2007, courtesy Wikipedia.org

We chose to be in the sights of the weapons of our own troops. For a few days, we were just as vulnerable as the Iraqi people. Explosions were occurring all over the city from missile attacks by our fleet in the Gulf.” Jim Douglass

Street Spirit: Gandhi referred to campaigns of nonviolent resistance as “satyagraha” — holding firmly to truth. What are the essential steps in building satyagraha campaigns, both in Gandhi’s era and in our time?

Jim Douglass: The most basic thing is the commitment of the people who seek to engage in such a campaign. There would have never been satyagraha campaigns in Gandhi’s life if he hadn’t created communities out of which they could be waged. The ashrams in South Africa and later in India were the bases of his work. And even though the number of people living in community and taking vows of nonviolence was small, those people were totally freed to work together and to respond to the specific evils they focused on. As Gandhi always taught, you can’t take on everything in the world, so you focus by identifying a social evil, as for example we did in the Trident campaign.

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Acts of Resistance and Works of Mercy: The Street Spirit Interview with Jim Douglass, Part 3

by Terry Messman

The White Train transported nuclear weapons to military bases across the nation; photo by Chris Guenzler, courtesy thestreetspirit.org

Street Spirit: The White Train campaign mobilized people in hundreds of far-flung communities to stand in nonviolent resistance along the tracks where nuclear weapons were transported. How did the White Train campaign get started?

Jim Douglass: Well, the White Train campaign began as the Tracks campaign at a time when we didn’t yet know there was a White Train. Shelley and I had been looking at a house for years next to the Trident base as a location that was analogous to the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, which was itself a piece of land 3.8 acres in size alongside the Trident base that we had bought as a community.

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Satyagraha Versus Duragraha: The Limits of Symbolic Violence

by Joan V. Bondurant

Jacket art courtesy Princeton University Press

Every leader who seeks to win a battle without violence and who presumes to precipitate a war against conventional attitudes and arrangements, however prejudiced they may be, would do well to probe the subtleties distinguishing satyagraha from other forms of action also claiming to be nonviolent. There are essential elements in Gandhian satyagraha which do not readily meet the eye. The readiness with which Gandhi’s name is invoked and the self-satisfaction with which leaders of movements throughout the world make reference to Gandhian methods are not always backed by an understanding of either the subtleties or the basic principles of satyagraha. It is important to pose a question and to state a challenge to those who believe that they know how a Gandhian movement is to be conducted. For nonviolence alone is weak, non-cooperation in itself could lead to defeat, and civil disobedience without creative action may end in alienation. How, then, does satyagraha differ from other approaches? This question can be explored by contrasting satyagraha with concepts of passive resistance defined by the Indian word duragraha.

Duragraha means prejudgment. Perhaps better than any other single word, it connotes the attributes of passive resistance. Duragraha may be said to be stubborn resistance in a cause, or willfulness. The distinctions between duragraha and satyagraha, when these words are used to designate concepts of direct social action, are to be found in each of the major facets of such action. (1) Let us examine: (a) the character of the objective for which the action is undertaken; (b) the process through which the objective is expected to be secured, and (c) the styles which characterize the respective approaches. Satyagraha and duragraha are compared below in each of these three aspects by considering their relative treatment of first, pressure and persuasion, and second, guilt and responsibility. Finally, we shall have a look at the meaning and limitations of symbolic violence.

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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