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

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.

Read the rest of this article »

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.

Read the rest of this article »

Gandhian Nonviolence and Passive Resistance

by Geoffrey Ostergaard

“Gandhi’s Salt March”; color woodblock print, 1931 by Kanu Desai; courtesy Golden Vista Press

Editor’s Preface: This previously unpublished essay is the text of a speech delivered by Geoffrey Ostergaard (1926-1990) 25 October, 1974 to the Muirhead Society, University of Birmingham (UK), and is another in our ongoing series of rediscoveries of important historical interpretations of Gandhian nonviolence. Ostergaard was one of Gandhi’s most intelligent critics, and we have posted other articles by him. Please see the notes at the end for further information about this text, biographical information about Ostergaard, links, etc. JG

Discussions of nonviolence tend, not unnaturally, to focus on the issue of the supposed merits, efficacy and justification of nonviolence when contrasted with violence. In this paper, however, I propose to pursue a different tack and I shall have little to say directly about the main issue. My object is to explicate the Gandhian concept of nonviolence and I think that this can best be done, not by contrasting nonviolence with violence but by distinguishing two kinds of nonviolence. My thesis, in short, is that nonviolence presents to the world two faces which are often confused with each other but which need to be distinguished if we are to appraise correctly Gandhi’s contribution to the subject.

Read the rest of this article »

The Practical Application of Nonviolence

by Reginald Reynolds

Editor’s Preface: Reginald Reynolds (1905-1958) was a British journalist and general secretary of the London based No More War Movement (1933-37). He was a friend and supporter of Gandhi, and a staunch critic of British imperialism in India, which he articulated in his controversial The White Sahibs in India [1937], and also in Why India [1942]. During WWII he was a conscientious objector, and served in a mobile hospital unit. Reynolds was a great admirer of the American Quaker preacher, John Woolman, whose works he edited for a new English edition, and whom he cites below. See the notes at the end for archival references, and further information. This is the unpublished text of a speech delivered by Reynolds at the seventh triennial WRI conference, Braunschweig, Germany, in July of 1951. JG

Reginald Reynolds c. 1930; courtesy

“There is no way to peace, peace is the way.” These words, which were first brought to my attention in a letter received recently, and which I have since seen in an article, have been ringing in my mind ever since I arrived at this conference, and frankly what I am going to say to you now is merely the possibly confused reflections which have been going on in my mind since I read these words.

To me they express, in the most terse and epigrammatic manner, a philosophy, which I have been evolving myself over a period of years. “There is no way to peace, peace is the way”, and I believe that pacifism, as I understand the word, is an attempt to realize, in terms of life, the meaning of that simple epigram.

We are asked continually by non-pacifists, whether we hope, by our methods and by our movement, to prevent war. I don’t know what answer you give – I always say “of course we hope, but we do not expect.” And we do not base our belief in nonviolence on any calculation regarding the possibility of stopping war by a method of war resistance.

Read the rest of this article »

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.

Read the rest of this article »

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.

Read the rest of this article »

Satyagraha and Interpersonal Conflict Resolution

by Thomas Weber

Cartoon poster courtesy

Satyagraha, as used in interpersonal conflicts, often depends on the degree to which its values have been internalised rather than on a conscious adoption of tactics. Gandhi claimed that “there is no royal road” to achieve this. It will only be possible “through living the creed in your life which must be a living sermon”. This “presupposes great study, tremendous perseverance, and thorough cleansing of one’s self of all impurities”, which in turn requires working through “a wide and varied experience of interior conflict”. These interior conflicts, for example the questioning of one’s own motives and prejudices, the sincere attempt to see if in fact the other’s position is nearer the truth, and if need be admitting one’s errors, are in some measure alternatives to wider conflicts.

The critics of nonviolence often attack the pacifist approach or justify not trying nonviolent solutions by posing the hypothetical case in which the satyagrahi is either himself attacked, or is witness to an attack upon another. It is unlikely that such an eventuality will occur in the lifetime of average individuals;  most human conflicts take place in quite different circumstances. Lanza del Vasto, therefore, warns against using such “extreme, exceptional, and overpowering” imaginary circumstances for formulating general rules or drawing conclusions from them concerning legitimacy of action. The striving for nonviolence, instead of planning for such possible eventualities, accepts that if they did occur they would be still taken care of somehow (just as if they had been planned for), while during the rest of one’s life, other, almost daily conflicts could be solved in more cooperative ways.

Read the rest of this article »

Mandela and Gandhi

by John Scales Avery

Design for a mural in Brixton, South London; design by mORGANICo-cOM

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (1918-2013) and Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) were two of history’s greatest leaders in the struggle against governmental oppression. They are also remembered as great ethical teachers. Their lives had many similarities; but there were also differences.


Both Mandela and Gandhi were born into politically influential families. Gandhi’s father and grandfather were dewans (prime ministers) in Porbandar, a district of the Indian state of Gujarat. Mandela’s great-grandfather was the ruler of the Thembu peoples in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. When Mandela’s father died, his mother brought the young boy to the palace of the Thembu people’s regent, Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, who became the boy’s guardian. He treated Mandela as a son and gave him an outstanding education.

Both Mandela and Gandhi studied law. Both were astute political tacticians, and both struggled against governmental injustice in South Africa. Both were completely fearless. Both had iron wills and amazing stubbornness. Both spent long periods in prison as a consequence of their opposition to injustice and both are remembered for their strong belief in truth and fairness, and for their efforts to achieve unity and harmony among conflicting factions. Both treated their political opponents with kindness and politeness.

Read the rest of this article »

How to Learn Nonviolent Resistance as
Martin Luther King, Jr. Did

by Mary Elizabeth King

How does one learn nonviolent resistance? The same way that Martin Luther King Jr. did—by study, reading and interrogating seasoned tutors. King would eventually become the person most responsible for advancing and popularizing Gandhi’s ideas in the United States, by persuading black Americans to adapt the strategies used against British imperialism in India to their own struggles. Yet he was not the first to bring this knowledge from the subcontinent.

Martin Luther King, Jr. beside a picture of Gandhi; photograph © Bob Fitch

By the 1930s and 1940s, via ocean voyages and propeller airplanes, a constant flow of prominent black leaders was traveling to India. College presidents, professors, pastors and journalists journeyed to India to meet Gandhi and study how to forge mass struggle with nonviolent means. Returning to the United States, they wrote articles, preached, lectured and passed key documents from hand to hand for study by other black leaders. Historian Sudarshan Kapur has shown that the ideas of Gandhi were moving vigorously from India to the United States at that time, and the African American news media reported on the Indian independence struggle. Leaders in the black community talked about a “black Gandhi” for the United States. One woman called it “raising up a prophet,” which Kapur used as the title of his book.

While a student at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, King was intrigued by reading Thoreau and Gandhi, yet had not actually studied Gandhi in depth. A friend, J. Pius Barbour, remembered the young seminarian arguing on behalf of Gandhian methods with a reckoning based on arithmetic—that any minority would be outnumbered if it turned to a policy of violence—rather than on principle.

Read the rest of this article »

Conscience of Satyagraha

by William J. Jackson

Reading Gandhi’s Autobiography I get the impression that he was a very scrupulous person. Few public figures today seem to have such a self-scrutinizing philosophy as he did. People strategize, calculate, do what’s convenient and politically expedient; they often don’t seem to care very much about the fairness of tactics, the feelings of the opponent, or to consider a need for self-purification. (Perhaps that’s why noble-sounding politicians and other leaders so often crash and burn in episodes of disgrace and scandal.)

In Gandhi’s viewpoint criticizing others, without examining one’s own conscience, is hypocritical, and makes one unworthy of winning a noble goal. Fortunately, Gandhi had a playful personality and a great sense of humor, so even while making serious demands on himself; he did not become unbearably self-righteous—which can be an occupational hazard for men with an acute sense of scruples. He was not just a picky eater and a tiresome stickler for details, but a soulful explorer, a restless seeker for answers and methods who kept things in perspective by poking fun at himself.

Gandhi believed that to have access to truth, (satya, a concept with ancient roots in India, associated with that which endures) possessions and passions are often obstacles. In Indian culture the background and ethos of yoga, with practices of self-control, for many centuries has been influential. Even an ancient Sanskrit classic on statecraft and military tactics will advise kings to practice self-control: “Whatever sovereign is of perverted disposition and ungoverned senses, must quickly perish. The whole of this science has to do with a victory over the powers of perception and action.” (Kautilya, Arthasastra)

Read the rest of this article »

“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