History

Statement of Purpose

That Gandhi’s satyagraha campaigns, in South Africa and India, took place within a context of conflict is not always easy to remember from this distance in time. We have fixed in our mind the image of the Mahatma sitting serenely or striding confidently. Harder to imagine is the violence of British oppression, the police beatings, the deaths of his followers, and Gandhi’s long stints in prison. The struggle for Indian self-rule, what Gandhi would call swaraj, was beset by a host of competing forces and factions vying for influence and power. The Marxist leader Virendrenath Chattopadhyaya, to take one example among many, called for violent revolution and urged the rejection of revolutionary satyagraha. Gandhi’s nonviolence campaigns might be seen as an unresolved dialectic between violence and nonviolence, that is, a dialectic between the competing forces that compel or oppose power. This section of our website hopes to record and engage these discussions.

The Lonely Scholar Who Became a Nonviolent Warrior:
Gene Sharp (1928-2018)

by George Lakey

Portrait of Gene Sharp courtesy goodnewsmagazine.se

Once again I rang the bell at the brick row house in East Boston where Gene Sharp lived. When he opened the door I said proudly, “Today I drove here instead of taking the T.”

“You drove?” he said in mock horror. “Man, are you trying to get yourself killed? Haven’t you heard about Boston drivers? They show no mercy, especially toward Philadelphians!”

That was the Gene Sharp I knew, always loving to find a joke in the moment. So, I was sad to hear the news that he passed away on Sunday at the age of 90. (January 21, 1918-January 28, 2018)

When I had him speak at Swarthmore College he put on his distinguished scholar persona, adding the English accent he’d learned while studying at Oxford. When one of my students asked a particularly penetrating question, Gene, at the time associated with Harvard, peered over his glasses and said, “Hmm, it appears to be true: Swarthmore students really are brighter than Harvard students.”

Even though he charmed my students, he also relished the role of contrarian. Not easy, if your life mission is to bring into the mainstream an area of study previously on the intellectual margin.

I was 21 years old when I met him. I was studying sociology at the University of Oslo. One of my teachers there who knew of my interest in the peace movement said that I might like to meet someone at the university who was researching Norwegian nonviolent resistance to the German Nazi occupation in World War II.

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The Mahatma, Il Duce and the Crucifix: Gandhi’s Brief Encounter with Mussolini and Its Consequences

by Peter Gonsalves

Gandhi in Fascist Rome, 1931; courtesy alamy.com

After the second Round Table Conference (RTC) in London, (1) Mahatma Gandhi had to embark at the Port of Brindisi in Southern Italy en route to India. He decided to spend a few days in Switzerland as a guest of Romain Rolland, and then stop in Rome on Saturday, December 12, 1931, in order to meet Pope Pius XI. The note in his diary of December 12, states:

Arrived in Rome at 8.30 in the morning. Received letter to the effect that the Pope could not receive me. Three of us stayed with General Moris, the others in a hotel. Went to see the Vatican [Museums] in the afternoon. At 6 o’clock Mussolini. (2)

Barely a year earlier, Gandhi had shot to international fame due to the extensive American press coverage of his Salt Satyagraha. (3) He was on the cover of Time Magazine on two occasions within a span of ten months: first on March 31, 1930 and again as ‘Time’s Man of the Year’ on January 5, 1931. (4) His fame preceded him even in Europe. Whether at Villeneuve, Milan, Rome or Brindisi, people flocked to see ‘St. Gandhi’ in his strange attire. (5)

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The Legacy of Ham Sok-hon: The Korean Gandhi

by Kim Sung-soo

Portrait of Ham Sok-hon courtesy en.wikipedia.org

Ham Sok-hon (1901-1989) was known as the “Gandhi of Korea.” He sought to affirm the identity of Koreans at a time when Korea had fallen prey to Japanese imperialism. Ham believed that discovering one’s identity, especially as a colonized nation, was extremely important as it also determined one’s destiny. Without knowing who you are, it is very difficult to know what to do.

Ham was a civil rights activist when his country was ruled by dictatorial regimes (in both the North and South). Yet, as a maverick thinker, he tried his best to merge diverse religions and ideologies. Although he passed away nearly three decades ago, his legacy still inspires a considerable number of civil rights activists and liberal thinkers in Korea today.

Ham was born in North Korea and died in South Korea. He grew up on a small island in the Yellow Sea at the beginning of the 20th century. His father was a gentle and quiet herbal doctor, while his uncle was a man of action with vigorous Christian faith and a strong sense of patriotism as Korea began to lose her sovereignty to Japan. From an early age, Ham was influenced a great deal by his uncle in terms of merging Christian faith and a spirit of national independence under Japanese oppression.

The March 1 Independence Movement of 1919 was the turning point in Ham’s life, which changed him from a shy boy of eighteen to a courageous young man. From that point on he became very aware of his identity, as well as the identity of his country as a colonized nation. Later, in the 1930s as a history teacher, he began to write what would be Korean history from the oppressed people’s perspective. Because of his view on Korean history, he was imprisoned and suffered greatly at the hands of the Japanese colonial regime. His books, starting with the controversial Korean History in 1948, and the later Queen of Suffering: A Spiritual History of Korea (Seoul, Korea: Friends World Committee for Consultation, 1985) are still recognized as among the most notable books in Korea.

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Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear War

by M. K. Gandhi

Peace Quilt designed by 9th grader Vidhi Jain, Apeejay School, Pitampura, India; courtesy peacequilt.wordpress.com

Editor’s Preface: We have posted a series of statements by Gandhi that very much address situations and conflicts we currently face, as with his statements on Truth. The “nuclear menace” is much in the news again. These extracts are then being posted in August, the anniversary month of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Please consult the notes at the end for notes, and sources. JG

Has not the atom bomb proved the futility of all violence? (1)

There have been cataclysmic changes in the world. Do I still adhere to my faith in truth and non-violence? Has not the atom bomb exploded that faith? Not only has it not done so, but it has clearly demonstrated to me that truth and non-violence constitute the mightiest force in the world. Before it the atom bomb is of no effect. The two opposing forces are wholly different in kind, the one moral and spiritual, the other physical and material. The one is infinitely superior to the other which by its very nature has an end.

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The Suffragettes and the Effectiveness of Property Destruction

by George Lakey 

Cover of program for the 1913 National American Women's Suffrage Association march; courtesy Wikipedia.com

Suffragette is a 2015 British film directed by Sarah Gavron. It tells a gripping story drawn from the direct action wing of Britain’s woman suffrage movement. Because it spotlights one tactic — property destruction — the film raises the question of effectiveness. Leader Emmeline Pankhurst’s (1858–1928) argument for escalating with arson and explosions was to hasten their win. Did it?

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The Origins of Satyagraha in South Africa

by Henry S. L. Polak

Gandhi in front of his Johannesburg law office, 1905, with Henry Polak (left), Sonia Schlesin; others unidentified.

Editor’s Preface: This 1949 article by Polak is often cited as a primary source of information about Gandhi’s South African years and the events surrounding Gandhi’s coining of the term, “Satyagraha”. Henry S. L. Polak edited Indian Opinion, which he co-founded with Gandhi and is credited with giving Gandhi a copy of Ruskin’s Unto This Last, which Gandhi cites as one of his most important influences. For further biographical and textual information please see the notes at the end. JG

Mahatma Gandhi’s technique of Satyagraha, or, as it was first known, Passive Resistance, had its origins in South Africa. It was in 1906, twelve years after Gandhi’s arrival there, that the flame of Satyagraha began to glow. Until then, the Indian grievances had been dealt with in the usual orthodox ways of petitions, memoranda, addresses, questions in Parliament, public speeches, and so on. But the time had now arrived when, all these having proved fruitless, new and radical methods had to be devised, their consequences considered, and redress thereby determined upon, at whatever cost to those suffering under social, economic, and political disabilities that must no longer be tolerated.

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Nonviolent Founding Myths of the United States

by Benjamin Naimark-Rowse

The Stamp Act repeal depicted as a 1765 funeral procession; courtesy commons.wikimedia.org

On the Fourth of July, cities and towns from coast-to-coast across the United States host fireworks, concerts, and parades to celebrate our independence from Britain. Those celebrations will invariably highlight the colonial soldiers who overcame the British. But the lessons we learn of a democracy forged in the crucible of revolutionary war tends to ignore how a decade of nonviolent resistance before the shot-heard-round-the-world (1) shaped the founding of the United States, strengthened our sense of political identity, and laid the foundation of our democracy.

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The Bihpur, Bihar Satyagraha Campaign

by Rajendra Prasad

Dustwrapper art courtesy Ocean Books; oceanbooks.in

Editor’s Preface: The historical accounts of the Indian nonviolent independence movement generally focus on Mahatma Gandhi’s campaigns, whereas the Satyagraha Movement was widespread across India, with more than one leader. Rajendra Prasad (1884-1963) was one such. The account that follows draws a vivid picture of the courage and sacrifice of the campaign that Prasad led in 1930 in his home state of Bihar. His leadership qualities and commitment to nonviolence were well recognized; when India gained independence from Great Britain in 1947 he was chosen its first president. Please see our explanatory endnotes, note on the text, and editor’s note at the end of the article. JG

An outstanding example of the faith and firmness with which people acted on Mahatma Gandhi’s words was provided, in 1930, at Bihpur in Bhagalpur. (1) Bihpur is on the banks of the Ganges and is exposed to floods. The river always changes its course, as happens in all places near the Ganges. As a consequence, the boundaries marking off one man’s field from another’s are washed away, and when the floods subside, very often conflicts arise among rival claimants of land. […]

When I was touring that region in 1929, I found evidence of great enthusiasm among the people. I was convinced that when Satyagraha was started, its inhabitants would enthusiastically participate in it. I carried this impression because of an incident which occurred there. In the course of my tour, I had fixed up a meeting to be held at a particular place about two o’clock in the afternoon. I had been to another village at some distance from the place where the meeting was to be held, and had hoped to return in time for it. While I was on my way back, heavy rain came down suddenly, a strong wind began to blow, and I was delayed for two or three hours. When I arrived, soaked to the skin, I found a very big crowd which, I was told, had been awaiting my arrival in the rain for some hours. The rain itself was still falling. I stood up in the crowd in the rain and talked to them. It was this incident which impressed itself on my mind that the people of that region had courage as well as determination.

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Purna Swaraj: The Declaration of the Independence of India

by Mohandas K. Gandhi

1929 proposed flag of India, with Gandhian spinning wheel; courtesy en.wikipedia.org

Editor’s Preface: The Indian National Congress formally approved “The Declaration of the Independence of India” on December 19, 1929, and it is important to understand it in its historical context. (1) Purna swaraj can be translated as “complete, sovereign independence,” that is, Indian independence from Great Britain and the ending of colonial rule. Various models had been proposed for Indian sovereignty prior to 1930, including several versions of power sharing. However, a sequence of events by the British government, violating or curtailing Indian civil rights, resounded as a betrayal to Gandhi. The “Declaration” marks a turning point in Gandhi’s thinking about Britain, and the nature of India’s future relationship with British rule. (2) There has been some disagreement as to its authorship, but Gandhi can be said to have solved the matter in February 1937 when he wrote,“ I was its author. I wanted the people not merely to repeat the mantra of independence but to educate the people as to its why and wherefore.” (3) Purna Swaraj was to be read throughout the country on January 26, 1930, and that date is still celebrated as India Independence Day. Please also see our explanatory notes at the end. JG

Purna Swaraj

We believe that it is the inalienable right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom and to enjoy the fruits of their toil and have the necessities of life, so that they may have full opportunities of growth. We believe also that if any government deprives a people of these rights and oppresses them the people have a further right to alter it or to abolish it. The British Government in India has not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom but has based itself on the exploitation of the masses, and has ruined India economically, politically, culturally, and spiritually. We believe, therefore, that India must sever the British connection and attain Purna Swaraj, or complete independence.

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Campaign Nonviolence’s Call to Mobilize the Nation

by John Dear

Banner illustration courtesy paceebene.org

While the media and the nation sit transfixed over the Trump scandals and attacks on democracy, those of us who work for justice and peace know that we have to keep working, resisting, and mobilizing people across the country if we are going to have the social, economic and political transformation we need for our survival.

In other words, we’ve only just begun. Instead of giving up, giving in, or throwing in the towel, instead of sitting glued to the tube, we’re going forward. The campaign for a new culture of nonviolence is on!

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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