Gandhi, Non-Violence and the Liberation of the Proletariat from Imperialism
Comrade End Imperialism
Comrade Serve The People
Norman Finkelstein is a person whom we have a lot of respect for. Finkelstein has courageously and consistently combined impeccable scholarship with committed pro-Palestine activism. We have previously been pleased to see him support the right of armed resistance against Israel and state the benefits the military defeat of Israel would bring. However, we were surprised to learn that he has recently turned toward Gandhian solutions to the Palestinian national question. Finkelstein writes:
“A massive mobilization of Palestinians building on the non-cooperation tactics of the first intifada (commercial and tax strikes, popular committees) could again make the Israeli occupation ungovernable. Is it so far-fetched to imagine an “army” of Palestinian satyagrahis converging on the Wall, their sole “weapons” a pick in one hand and a copy of the ICJ opinion in the other? The ICJ stated that the Wall was illegal and must be dismantled. The Palestinians would only be doing what the world should already have done a long time ago. Who could fault them for enforcing the law? No doubt Israel would fire on Palestinians and many would be killed. But if their supporters in North America and Europe publicized the ICJ opinion, and if Palestinians found the inner wherewithal to persevere nonviolently, it seems probable that far, far fewer than 5,000 Palestinians would be killed before Israel were forced to desist. No one writing abroad from the comfort and safety of his study can in good conscience urge such a strategy that entails so much death. But Gandhi’s point nonetheless stands: if Palestinians have repeatedly shown a willingness to pay the ultimate price, doesn’t it make sense for them to pursue a strategy that has a better likelihood of success at a smaller human price?” (1)
We do not prescribe one single model for carrying out national liberation against imperialism. We believe that virtually any and all tactics which advance that glorious task are permissible. Non-violent protest is a valid tactic to apply to the mobilization of the masses for national liberation and it has, in fact, been widely practiced in Palestine. However, Leading Light Communists are certain that any national liberation movement which does not pursue armed struggle is bound to end in failure. Armed struggle is a prerequisite for national liberation and it is the responsibility of communists in the exploited nations to vouchsafe military means against the foreign occupation of their country and not to disarm until that end is achieved. We will reiterate this point later on. For now, this article proposes to examine the theory of Gandhiism as practised by M.K. Gandhi himself.
To a great many Indians, the single most significant aspect of Gandhi’s life is that he successfully mobilized millions of people for the de jure overthrow of British rule in their country. For Westerners influenced by the saintly reputation created for Gandhi by ruling class propaganda, Gandhi represents a citizen of a colony who led his people to freedom without the bloodshed usually associated with national liberation struggles. Gandhi’s example is routinely used by the latter to condemn armed national liberation struggles around the world, with the mistaken assumption that it is always possible to expel foreign occupiers by non-violent means. As such, Gandhiism is the favourite philosophy of conservative opponents of actual national liberation struggles and those who support the status quo of violent imperialist domination of the Third World.
Undeniably, Gandhi had a mass following and played a major role in the glorious struggle for India’s independence (inevitable though the withdrawal of the British Empire from a crumbling economic base in India was). However, the means employed by Gandhi to achieve India’s putative “independence” led to the establishment of a decadent political system there which maintained its dependent relationship to imperialist capitalism. To the extent that Gandhi’s leadership of the Indian national liberation movement consolidated the power of a haute-bourgeoisie allied to feudal and imperialist class interests, Gandhiism can be described as a philosophy of counter-revolution. In what ways did Gandhi help maintain imperialism?
Several years ago, the unveiling of a statue to Gandhi in Azania (southernmost Africa) resulted in an outcry of protest from people who knew that he was a racist lackey of the white settlers. During World War II, Gandhi had the gall to write to Hitler as a “friend.” He published an article advising the British to submit completely to Hitler and Mussolini, should the latter invade “great” Britain. He also called upon the Jews to commit suicide en masse by hurling themselves off cliffs when the Nazis came.
The tale that Gandhi defended the oppressed against their oppressors is a colossal lie that continues to set the left back. The story is much told of how Gandhi, while living as a lawyer in Azania under British occupation, was thrown off a train for sitting in a carriage reserved for whites. (Throughout the era of apartheid, and even today, he would have been considered “coloured” – above the Africans but below the whites under that political system.) That experience supposedly led him to fight for the oppressed. The truth is that he actively cultivated an alliance of the Indian population with the whites – AGAINST the Africans.
When Gandhi formed the Natal Indian Congress on August 22, 1894, his declared primary objective was: “To promote concord and harmony among the Indians and Europeans in the [South African] Colony.” His newspaper Indian Opinion launched on June 4 1904 with the words: “The object of Indian Opinion was to bring the European and the Indian subjects of the King Edward closer together.” Gandhi considered native Africans or Kaffirs to be racially inferior to both “colored” Indians and whites. On September 26, 1896, he protested white settler rule in Azania in the following chauvinist terms:
“Ours is one continued struggle against degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the European, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir, whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with, and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness.”
In 1904 Gandhi indignantly complained that superior Indians were being treated the same as the undeserving, lazy and unruly “natives”:
“It is one thing to register natives who would not work, and whom it is very difficult to find out if they absent themselves, but it is another thing – and most insulting- to expect decent, hard-working, and respectable Indians, whose only fault is that they work too much, to have themselves registered and carry with them registration badges.”
On September 9, 1905, Gandhi wrote an editorial in Indian Opinion saying:
“Now let us turn our attention to another and entirely unrepresented community – the Indian. He is in striking contrast with the native. While the native has been of little benefit to the State, it owes its prosperity largely to the Indians. While native loafers abound on every side, that species of humanity is almost unknown among Indians here.”
Gandhi here defended the apartheid system that the European settlers in southernmost Africa had devised as a means of consolidating their economic and political power over the African people who, far from being “lazy”, were the virtual slaves of the European bourgeoisie and their bourgeois “working class” and middle class hangers-on.
Gandhi’s strategy of creating a kind of loyal opposition to strict apartheid (specifically, those aspects which impinged upon the liberties of the “colored” petty-bourgeoisie, and even then very selectively) is in striking contrast to the struggle put up against that disgusting system by Indians later allied to the African National Congress. Many southern African “coloreds”, particularly of the working class, strove to create a nation free of white supremacy wherein all non-whites would enjoy equal citizenship. By contrast, Gandhi was a white supremacist defender of settler slavery and mass murder in Azania who advocated the legal ownership of firearms by “coloured” Indians there, but not for black Africans, and boasted of his successful campaign to prevent “kaffirs” from using public transport. Gandhi celebrated the massive European theft of African land and – in a theme reminiscent of every single massive land grab in modern history – argued that the superiority of the white race could be seen by its great land wealth and productivity in comparison to native fruitlessness (conveniently forgetting that whites had brutally robbed the natives of most of their land). Gandhi considered racial segregation properly in-keeping with his unfailing faith in the caste system of his native India. The following statement made by Gandhi in Indian Opinion of September 24, 1903 puts paid to any notions that Gandhi was not a loyal supporter of white racist rule in Azania:
“We believe as much in the purity of race as we think they [the European settlers] do, only we believe that they would best serve these interests, which are as dear to us as to them, by advocating the purity of all races, and not one alone. We believe also that the white race of South Africa should be the predominating race.”
In the sense that loyalism is a political ideology justifying fealty to a colonialist power, Gandhi was a pro-British loyalist. Like Irish “nationalist” MP John Redmond in the same period, Gandhi abhorred violence when it was in the cause of his own country’s independence, but he actively promoted it when he campaigned for his countrymen to join the hated British Army to fight for the interests of British finance capital in World War I. In Ireland, revolutionary national martyr Pádraig Pearse is today chastised by “liberals” and historical revisionists for having argued for a “blood sacrifice” in the cause of Irish nationhood. Yet it is conveniently forgotten that Irish Republicanism’s political opponents in 1916, the so-called “moderates” in the Irish Nationalist Party, demanded a far more massive and costly blood sacrifice when they campaigned for Irishmen to go off to die in their thousands for the British Empire. Similarly, Gandhi is today thought of as an apostle of non-violence, but he was quite happy to act as a recruiting sergeant for one of the deadliest and mightiest killing machines in the world in 1915, when he toured the country seeking “20 recruits from every village.” Hypocrisy? No. Merely the product of one politician’s enduring loyalty to capitalist interests. As Gandhi said:
“I discovered the British Empire had certain ideals with which I have fallen in love.”
But the core ideal of the British Empire in Gandhi’s day and our own is popular submission to murderous militarism in the service of the super-exploitation of the downtrodden working masses. Who can love such “ideals” but an enemy of humanity?
Gandhi as Counter-Revolutionary in India
Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, alike in many respects to that espoused by Russian aristocrat Leo Tolstoy, was intended to guarantee the struggle for national independence in India would not disturb the rule of large propertied interests (the landlords and the big bourgeoisie). As such, to a great and increasing extent, India would be independent in name only, since these same class interests are bound to economic relations that subject Indian national democracy and development to the parasitic requirements of imperialist capital. They were thus in mortal fear of decisive revolutionary mass struggle. Any time the national movement seemed to be heading in a direction whereby it would run outside their control, the right-wing leadership of the Indian National Congress – representing the landlords and the big bourgeoisie – turned to Gandhi. Gandhi had successfully cultivated a reputation amongst the rural Indian masses for advancing traditional Indian values above regional and upper-class sectional interests and was, from that point of view, the perfect figurehead for the reactionary bourgeoisie to place at its head. From the time of the Hartal campaign against fierce and arbitrary British repression in 1919, to the massive wave of proletarian strikes that swept India in 1921-1922 and right up to the Bombay Naval Mutiny of 1946, Gandhi advocated reform, caution and outright capitulation to “great” Britain (whose Royal Air Force had bombed rebellious parts of the country in 1928) whenever the national movement looked set to achieve its goal. As Comrade Rajani Palme Dutt wrote in 1940:
“This Jonah of revolution, this general of unbroken disasters, was the mascot of the bourgeoisie in each wave of the developing Indian struggle. So appeared once again the characteristic feature of modern Indian politics, the unwritten article of every successive Indian constitution – the indispensability of Gandhi (actually, the expression of the precarious balance of class forces). All the hopes of the bourgeoisie (the hostile might say, the hopes of imperialism) were fixed on Gandhi as the man to ride the waves, to unleash just enough of the mass movement in order to drive a successful bargain, and at the same time to save India from revolution.” (2)
Gandhi’s big bourgeois backers worked hand-in-glove with him to ensure the stability of a bourgeois-landlord social compact because they feared that revolution in the countryside would unleash social forces that would threaten their capitalist interests. As Lord Hailey (then Sir Malcolm Hailey), argued in the Indian Legislative Assembly in 1924:
“Anything like a real revolution in India would have most disastrous effects on that very class that is now represented in the Legislative Assembly and Provincial Councils; for among the ignorant masses of India, a political revolution would become a social revolution in a very short space of time.”
Imperialists like Hailey had nothing to fear on this score from “Mahatma” Gandhi, however. Gandhi expressly reassured his landlord backers, the bloodsuckers of India’s rural poor, in the following terms:
“I shall be no party to dispossessing the propertied classes of their private property without just cause. My objective is to reach your hearts and convert you so that you may hold all your private property in trust for your tenants and use it primarily for their welfare… The Ramarajya of my dream ensures the right alike of prince and pauper. You may be sure that I shall throw the whole weight of my influence in preventing a class war… supposing there is an attempt unjustly to deprive you of your property. You will find me fighting on your side… Our socialism or communism should be based on non-violence, and on the harmonious cooperation of labour and capital, the landlord and tenant.” (Gandhi, interview to deputation of United Provinces Zemindars, July, 1934, Mahratta, August 12, 1934).
Gandhi was a convinced supporter of the rights of property, that is, the right to exploit and oppress the working class. He wrote (and note the racist implications of his placing different skin color in the same category of “natural” disablement as different degrees of intelligence):
“My social theory is that, although we are born equal, that is to say, that we have a right to equal opportunities, nevertheless, we have not all the same abilities. By the nature of things, it is impossible that we should all be all of an equal stature, that we should all have the same colour of skin, the same degree of intelligence; and consequently is natural that some of us should be more fitted than others to acquire material gain. Those who are capable wish to acquire more, and they bend their abilities to this end. If they use their abilities in the best spirit, they will be working to the benefit of the people. These people will be ‘trustees’ and nothing more. I should allow a man of intelligence to gain more, and I should not hinder him from making use of his abilities.” (Gandhi, interview to Charles Petrasch, Le Monde, February 20, 1932).
The above statement is typical of Gandhi’s vile elitism. Arguably, it might be acceptable under a “more ideal” capitalism. But in reality, as capitalism becomes a fetter on production, the vast majority of the wealth in the world goes not to people who “earned” it through their allegedly superior endowments but rather to people who simply inherited it through circumstances of birth. That is true of the First World (where the wealth of the entire population is largely the fruit of colonialism and imperialism set up by prior generations), and it is certainly true of India, where the tiny elite inherits its status from its parents (even formally, through the caste system!). How many intelligent Indians never get the opportunity to learn to read? How many elites are by no means intelligent?
Gandhi was a dedicated anti-communist and totally opposed to the struggle of the proletariat for emancipation from wage-slavery, from his days in southern Africa when he advocated the setting up of an armed volunteer corps amongst Indians for the repression of African workers right to the end of his life. Thus, in the familiar language of every reactionary in all countries, Gandhi expressed his fear of “red ruin.”
“It has been suggested to me by a Congressman wielding great influence that as soon as I declared civil disobedience I would find a staggering response this time. The whole labour world and the kisans in many parts of India will, he assures me, declare a simultaneous strike. I told him that if that happened I would be most embarrassed and all my plans would be upset… I hope I am not expected knowingly to undertake a fight that must end in anarchy and red ruin.”
Violence in India Since Gandhi
Gandhi’s “non-violent” method of liberating India proved to be anything but. The country split into three pieces, at least two of which are constantly at war. Tens of millions of people were forced to migrate because of their religious background. Instead of uniting the people around class interests, Gandhi was responsible for advocating the traditional feudal Indian caste system which would leave India’s millions of Muslims as second-class citizens in a Hindu-dominated polity. He therefore bears major responsibility for the violence surrounding partition. Leaving this issue aside, however, what has Gandhi’s “non-violent” and bourgeois elitist approach to national liberation given India’s people in comparison to what communist violence achieved in China?
As mentioned above, Gandhi was staunchly loyal to India’s landlords and the system of capitalist serfage which was in place during his lifetime. Gandhi professed a totally primitivist and anarchist belief in the superiority of small-scale farming in India. Despite the fact that he pragmatically took the side of India’s (re)burgeoning industrial bourgeoisie in the last years of British rule, Gandhi expressed such “spiritual” nonsense as the following to his followers in 1909:
“It is not the British people who are ruling India, but it is modern civilisation, through its railways, telegraphs, telephone, and almost every other invention has been claimed to be a triumph of civilisation… Medical science is the concentrated essence of black magic… Hospitals are the instruments that the Devil has been using for his own purpose, in order to keep his hold on his kingdom… If there were no hospitals for venereal diseases or even for consumptives, we would have less consumption, and less sexual vice amongst us. India’s salvation consists in unlearning what she has learnt during the past fifty years or so. The railways, telegraphs, hospitals, lawyers, doctors and such like all have to go.”
This contempt for modern “civilization” is misplaced. Gandhi may have confused colonial-capitalism with modern industry – forgetting Great Britain’s ruination of India’s own in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – which enables the production of an economic surplus capable of being shared equally by the masses for their own benefit. Gandhi, who was educated at Oxford and was a recipient of big-bourgeois funding, of whom one astute Indian observer remarked that it was costing India millions to keep him in poverty, rejected free social healthcare for the working masses.
Gandhi’s high-faluting asceticism is not just words. It has a real-life impact. In 1949, when the People’s Republic of China was declared and two years after India was declared a sovereign state, both countries were at comparable levels of development, with China being generally poorer than India. Yet the subsequent historical record of both countries demonstrates that socialism brings wealth, health and culture to the masses, thereby saving millions of lives, whilst capitalism (particularly the private ownership of land) brings, disease and starvation leading to millions of unnecessary deaths. The following data is derived from UNICEF reports, 1984, 1986 and 1987 and was published by MIM several years ago.
Population in 1949
China: 540 million
India: 510 million
Population in 1979
China: 800 million
India: 672 million
Under age 5 child mortality rate, 1945
(Figures per 1000)
Infant mortality under 1, 1945
(Figures per 1000)
Infant mortality rate under 1, 1985
(Figures per 1000)
Life expectancy at birth, 1949
Life expectancy at birth, 1985
Daily per capita calorie supply as percentage of daily requirements, 1983
These figures demonstrate that perhaps one hundred million lives were saved in China thanks to communism. We prefer the violent suppression of a portion of recalcitrant exploiters and oppressors – unwilling to peacefully retire their property and privilege – to the misery, hopelessness and mass death occasioned by “non-violent” capitulation to capitalism and imperialism. Gandhi’s bourgeois morality of “non-violence” has translated in practical terms since Indian independence was declared to a massive pile of millions of people starved to death or left to die of preventable diseases, because his politics of bourgeois rapprochement with imperialism left the social structures intact which cause these terrible things to occur. It has ultimately led to thousands of farmers committing suicide in rural India in the past few years and to widespread illiteracy, hopelessness and pig repression and the strengthening of imperialism on a world scale.
The Leading Light Communist Position on Revolutionary Violence
It is not for nothing that the bourgeoisie trumpets M. K. Gandhi and M. L. King: their turn-the-other-cheek politics plays right into the hands of the oppressor. The bourgeoisie wants “non-violence” only from the oppressed. As US boxer Muhammad Ali is reported to have suggested, the oppressor only calls for peace when he has already taken possession of everything by force. If the United States were really serious about “non-violence,” would it invest so much in armaments? Would it occupy Korea? Would it facilitate the overthrow of elected leaders in Honduras? Would it finance its proxy armies in the Democratic Republic of Congo? Would it rampage around the Muslim world like a mad dog killing, torturing and maiming men, women and children?
The United States, the UK, and the Zionist entity demand that the oppressed disarm themselves. That demand should immediately set off howls of laughter from the world’s oppressed, and for that matter from any right-thinking person. How can disarmament possibly be on the agenda when the oppressors, armed to the teeth, are going to keep their arms?
In a world dominated by western monopoly capitalism, war and violent international conflict are inevitable. To condemn any particular armed intervention by imperialism is to miss the point that the entire capitalist system today rests on militarism and the armed repression of the Third World masses by imperialism. Leading Light Communists detest any social system that imposes war as a necessity of life on humanity. We are advocates of the abolition of war. As Mao said:
“War, this monster of mutual slaughter among men, will be finally eliminated by the progress of human society, and in the not too distant future too. But there is only one way to eliminate it and that is to oppose war with war, to oppose counterrevolutionary war with revolutionary war, to oppose national counter-revolutionary war with national revolutionary war, and to oppose counter-revolutionary class war with revolutionary class war… When human society advances to the point where classes and states are eliminated, there will be no more wars, counter-revolutionary or revolutionary, unjust or just; that will be the era of perpetual peace for mankind. Our study of the laws of revolutionary war springs from the desire to eliminate all wars. Herein, lies the distinction between us Communists and all the exploiting classes.”
With sorrow, we have seen what happens, from Chile to Nepal and from India to Palestine, when the people lay down their arms in the face of imperialism. Imperialism takes its chance and falls to feeding on its hapless victims. Therefore we say to Palestinians and to all other exploited Third World nations:
“The seizure of power by armed force, the settlement of the issue by war, is the central task and the highest form of revolution. This Marxist-Leninist principle of revolution holds well universally, for China and for all other countries.”
Long Live Indian Liberation!
Long Live Palestinian Liberation!
Long Live the Victory of People’s War!
(1) Norman G. Finkelstein, ‘Resolving the Israel-Palestine Conflict: What we can learn from Gandhi’, http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/resolvi….rn-from-gandhi/
(2) R. Palme Dutt, India Today (London, Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1940), 323.
Naresh Majhi, ‘Gandhi and African Blacks’, http://www.trinicenter.com/oops/gandhi2.html
Richard Grenier, ‘The Gandhi Nobody Knows’, Commentary March, 1983, 59-72
Sudarshan Kapur, Raising up a Prophet: The African-American Encounter with Gandhi (Boston, Beacon Press, 1992)
Fazlul Huq, Gandhi: Saint or Sinner? (Bangalore, Dalit Sahitya Akademy, 1992)
Kamran Shahid, Gandhi and the Partition of India (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Rajani Palme Dutt, ‘Gandhi and the Nationalist Movement: A Marxist View’ in Martin Deming Lewis, ed., Gandhi: Maker of Modern India (Boston, D.C. Heath and Co., 1965)
Rajani Palme Dutt, India Today (London, Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1940)