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Gandhian nonviolence and its critics


Thomas Weber, TFF Associate

July 12, 2007

First published in Gandhi Marg 2006, vol.28, no.3, pp.269-283.

Gandhi and the Gandhian vision of nonviolence have had many critics. Some criticised the very idea of civil disobedience and nonviolent struggle, especially in a democracy – after all what if everyone did it, where would it leave us? Chaos would reign and society as we know it would collapse. We have the rule of law to make sure that there is fairness in society and we have democracy so that we can change the way our society works without taking to the streets and without potentially forcing the views of a vocal minority onto a silent majority.

Almost any text on civil disobedience will give numerous convincing counter-arguments: acceptance of the penalty means that the system is upheld, individual conscience (not preference) takes precedence over unjust laws, democracy generally means only a choice between two parties, both of which may have the same position on the issue being protested against, government do not always uphold their part of the social contract, etc.

Others have gone so far as to diminish the value of nonviolence by praising the cleansing effect of violence when the oppressed rise up against their oppressors. (1) However, this will generally only lead to a greater quantum of violence and suffering. And further, as peace activist and writer Barbara Deming has remarked, with a genuine understanding of Gandhian nonviolence whenever the likes of Frantz Fanon use the word “violence” in this context, one could read “nonviolence” and the meaning would remain the same.(2)

Criticisms of Gandhi’s approach even come from nonviolence practitioners and sometimes, although generally implicitly, from Gandhians themselves. Some of the Mahatma’s followers in India thought that after independence, because the country was democratic, there was no longer any cause to resort to satyagraha, Gandhi’s method of nonviolence. In fact the post-Gandhi Gandhian movement split over this issue in the 1970s.(3)

Further, some leading practitioners of nonviolence, such as Gene Sharp, criticise Gandhi’s principled version as being less than productive, other-worldly and confusing. They argue for a far more pragmatic use of nonviolence, one that does not aim at very hard to come by conversion or is seen as a search for Truth with a capital “T”, but aims for victory over an opponent, albeit without physical violence. Other criticisms include those that claim Gandhi only employed nonviolence because his forces were weak and he did not have other more productive weapons. He did what he could with what was available.

Or in a more accusing tone, Marxists often argue that Gandhi was a reactionary who prevented real revolution, that could have made a difference to the downtrodden, from taking place. His limiting of violence prevented justice, it ensured that structures of violence stayed in place. Further, some feminists take strong issue with Gandhi’s belief that principled self-suffering would bring about a conversion on the part of an opponent. They point out that women have suffering throughout history without the hearts of oppressive patriarchs being melted. The patriarchal system merely seems to be quietly thankful for not being challenged. Still others have claimed that Gandhi could do what he did because the British were fair, but that his tactics would have seen him killed in minutes if he had tried to do what he did in India in, say, Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union.


Criticisms from within the Gandhian camp

When Gandhi was no longer on the scene, it was left to others to refine his vision of satyagraha in a newly unfolding political reality. Even his closest followers were split on the issue of the legitimate place for nonviolence in a democracy. For example Gandhi’s spiritual heir, Vinoba Bhave, later famous for his Bhoodan land gift movement, laid down what he saw as the four principles of satyagraha ten years after Gandhi’s death. They were that satyagraha is positive not negative, it should proceed from gentle to gentler to gentlest, there should be happiness on the mere hearing of the word “satyagraha”, and, finally, that there should be no insistence on the part of the satyagrahi, insistence should come from truth itself.(4)

Here he was being completely consistent with Gandhi’s view of ideal satyagraha. Like his mentor, Vinoba placed high importance on “swaraj”, or “self-rule”, a concept both of them defined in terms that encompassed far more than the mere political. Vinoba remarked that the term meant ruling the self, and that was impossible if one was under some other person’s command: “It is one mark of swaraj not to allow any outside power in the world to exercise control over oneself. And the second mark of swaraj is not to exercise power over any other. These two things together make swaraj – no submission and no exploitation.”(5)

For the maintenance of consistency, this meant that satyagraha had to remain non-coercive and had to respect the sovereignty of the opponent by relying solely on conversion. In order to achieve this, satyagraha had to be spiritualized by conforming to the precepts laid down by Vinoba. In his time, Gandhi had to practice the “science of satyagraha” in an atmosphere of foreign domination, while in an atmosphere of democracy Vinoba was under much less pressure to compromise on the ideals.(6) Vinoba was also apparently of the belief that until the Gandhian movement had gained the strength and public acceptance to launch effective “pure” satyagraha campaigns it should refrain from employing satyagraha.(7)

There was also another factor according to Vinoba. He explained that with the progress of science and the creation of nuclear weapons, humanity faced ultimate destruction. In order to neutralize this force of violence and to arouse the world’s conscience, Gandhi’s nonviolence had to take on “more subtle and finer forms.” Satyagraha could no longer afford to “create agitation or tension in the minds of the opponent,” it had to avoid a “collision of minds and seek harmony in thought.”(8) Until change was brought about through understanding and acceptance, rather than through imposition, “the seeds of violence, imperialism and world wars would not be rooted out.”(9)

Satyagraha had to progress as the political situation progressed (from imperialist domination to “democracy” in India) and as science progressed. Consequently, Vinoba declared that Jesus’ concept of “resist not evil” and Gandhi’s “nonviolent resistance” were no longer adequate and what now had to take their place was “nonviolent assistance” in right thinking.(10) Without this all that could be achieved was legislative reform, and that could never lead to total revolution. Vinoba was determined not to end up where the Mahatma had found himself at several points in his life. Unlike his mentor, he would never have to admit to the mistake of placing civil disobedience before the slower, surer path to more lasting and real reform through constructive work. In other words, for Vinoba at times Gandhi did not live up to his own ideals. But then, most people are not as spiritual as the saintly Vinoba and this raises the question of how practical his totally non-coercive method is.

Of course not all in the Gandhian movement followed Vinoba’s approach to satyagraha. Before coming to national and world prominence with the inauguration of the Bhoodan movement, Vinoba had spent much of his life as a semi-recluse in the quest of spiritual fulfillment and the study of sacred texts. By way of contrast, Jayaprakash Narayan had spent most of his life as a major actor on the political stage. In the 1920s, JP undertook seven years of higher education in the United States where he studied Marx and completed a highly praised M.A. dissertation analyzing societal changes from a Marxist perspective. On his return to India he worked closely with Nehru and became a spokesman for the socialist members of the Indian National Congress. During the war years JP was imprisoned, escaped and spent a year “underground” as a progressively more notorious (and in popular circles, celebrated) revolutionary.

Following independence, JP became one of the founders of the Socialist Party and severe critic of the ruling Congress Party. Soon, however, he began to have doubts about the efficacy of power politics. Increasingly he looked to Gandhi’s praxis as a way of bringing about the social revolution he had so long struggled to achieve. He took part in Vinoba’s Bhoodan movement, retired from party politics and, in 1954, took a vow of “jivandan” (“life-gift”) – a pledge to devote the remainder of his life to Sarvodaya and Bhoodan work. For many years he remained in Vinoba’s shadow and his speeches reflected Vinoba’s world-view. However, eventually their paths were to diverge and JP went back to a more interventionist political satyagraha, like the one Gandhi had undertaken against the British but without the otherworldly underpinnings. Unlike Vinoba, he embraced the position of Gandhi the politician over Gandhi the saint.


Criticisms by Gene Sharp and the Pragmatists

Of course not everyone believes that democracy works in a way that should exclude nonviolent activism, and probably most do not. For many, conscience plays a large part in their very existence and a narrow view of democracy cannot overcome this, and for many others the answers to the world’s ills are not found in organised power politics that centre around political parties. They have to come from grass-roots activism – and this often calls for nonviolent protest. However, this does not mean that they necessarily agree with Gandhi’s ideas of satyagraha.

Gene Sharp, the main contemporary theorist of pragmatic nonviolence, claims that Gandhi’s approach to nonviolence is unrealistic and can be confusing.(11) Those who take this line point out, quite rightly, that while Gandhi may have chosen nonviolence for moral reasons most who have employed it against repressive opponents have done so for far more prosaic ones. They did so simply because military or physical force was not a viable option for them and that nonviolence was the only perceived form of struggle available to them. Generally they did not do it to make peace, to convert opponents or to self-suffer. They did it to win.

Sharp was worried about Gandhi’s eccentricities and religious symbolism and language which “more often confuses than clarifies.”(12) He saw that for Westerners generally, and Americans in particular, this may cause a problem in adequately evaluating the Mahatma’s political significance. He tried to make Gandhi palatable by a process of “secularisation.” At first he “secularised” Gandhi and his message so that both could be taken seriously. Eventually, because ultimately Sharp’s life work became one of promoting his own brand of nonviolence not Gandhi or Gandhi’s satyagraha, Sharp more or less abandoned the Mahatma. For him the most important task became one of discovering a nonviolent alternative to war, one that is realistic and pragmatic – and in the end, for him too, in this task Gandhi seems to have become a liability rather than an asset.

When he was specifically asked to address the links between Gandhi and nonviolence, Sharp noted that the Mahatma “tried to convince people who did not believe in ahimsa [nonviolence] on ethical grounds to adopt nonviolent methods as a practical expedient, a technique that works.”(13) In his foreword to a later edition of War Without Violence, Krishnalal Shridharani’s 1939 classic study of Gandhi’s satyagraha, Sharp makes it clear that he is much less interested in the extreme religious pacifist and moral arguments approach to nonviolence, which emphasises conversion (that is, arguably, Gandhi’s approach), preferring instead a “technique approach.”(14) In a more recent interview Sharp, in the words of the reviewer, sees nonviolent action as “a strategy for imperfect people in an imperfect world.”(15) Sharp notes that many people understand that nonviolent action has the best chance of achieving their objectives and that nonviolence is not there to resolve the conflict or eliminate the conflict but as a way of conducting conflict. This, of course, does not mean that Sharp now believes it to be wrong to be a “moral pacifist,” merely that one must operate in a context that “enables the rest of the population to adopt nonviolent means without that commitment.”(16)

Sharp’s best known work is his three volume magnum opus, The Politics of Nonviolent Action. Here he writes at length about the notion of power, historical examples of nonviolent struggle, catalogues 198 different methods of nonviolent action, and examines the dynamics of nonviolent action, including action against violent and repressive opponents. He states that nonviolent action “consists of acts of protest and persuasion, noncooperation and nonviolent intervention designed to undermine the sources of power of the opponent in order to bring about change.”All the Gandhian references aside, this is a work without the “feel” of Gandhi as presented by those that can be called exponents of “ideological,” “principled,” “conscientious,” or “positive” nonviolence. For Sharp, the key feature is power rather than ethical principle: “nonviolent action is a technique by which people who reject passivity and submission, and who see struggle as essential, can wage their conflict without violence. Nonviolent action is not an attempt to avoid or ignore conflict. It is one response to the problem, of how to act effectively in politics, especially how to wield power effectively.”(17) He often refers to nonviolence as an “alternative weapons system”(18) and even describes it as a “means of combat, as is war. It involves the matching of forces and the waging of ‘battles’, it requires wise strategy and tactics, employs numerous ‘weapons’ and demands of it’s ‘soldiers’ courage, discipline, and sacrifice.”(19) The central dynamic is one of “political jiu-jitsu” rather than the “moral jiu-jitsu” of Gandhi and the first analyst of his satyagraha, Richard Gregg.(20)

This, to Gandhi and those who see nonviolence in a Gandhian vein, is “negative” or “pragmatic” nonviolence where nonviolent action is used because it is believed to be the most effective method available in the circumstances. Conflict is viewed as a relationship between antagonists with incompatible interests, and the goal is to defeat the opponent.(21) The stream which adheres more closely to Gandhian values, relies on a religious or ethical objection to violence. It is concerned with reestablishing communication and, through self-suffering if necessary, attempts to convince the opponent of the error of their ways, of converting rather than coercing them. Or, according to nonviolent activist and scholar Robert Burrowes, those with a principled approach “choose [nonviolent action] for ethical reasons and believe in the unity of means and ends. They view the opponent as a partner in the struggle to satisfy the needs of all; if anyone suffers, it is the practitioner of nonviolence. More fundamentally, this practitioner may view nonviolence as a way of life.”(22)

Sharp notes that this may be fine “if it occurs,” but the simple assertion that nonviolence must be adopted as an ethical principle “ignores the social reality in which we must operate.” As long as violent sanctions are accepted, violence cannot be removed from political societies by “witnessing against it or denouncing it on moral grounds” (this is what he seems to have reduced Gandhian principled nonviolence to). He states that, first, nonviolence must reach the position where it is seen as an alternative form of sanction, and “once that major changeover has been completed,” or at least “well under way,” then people can “consider and deal with the finer ethical problems which arise in the application of nonviolent sanctions.”(23) In short, be realistic, start with what is most easily achievable. Later he was able to say of his early Gandhian principled pacifist period that “I changed a lot of ideas; sometimes I reversed them. I found that people didn’t need to believe right to engage in nonviolent struggle,” and of himself he could observe that “ I (now) don’t agree with myself then.”(24)

However, for the Mahatma the process was about the achievement of self-realization, nothing less. For Gandhi the fundamental principle was that of the unity of existence (or in the more immediate, the unity of humanity). People are related to each other in a way that is transcendental in nature and conflict should be seen as a gift providing a rich opportunity, potentially to the benefit of all, to realize a higher self. A desired outcome of conflict, in this line of argument, is nothing short of the creation of a new social structure and a “higher level of self-purification in both actors.”(25)

According to Gandhian practice, conflict stems from unmet needs and in order for needs to be met they must first be understood, and this requires true self-awareness. For Gandhi the discovery of Self was the primary task of life. In short, conducting conflict in what can be termed a Gandhian, as opposed to a Sharpian, context may not only be instrumentally valuable but may be intrinsically important in an existential sense. In Gandhi’s vision, satyagraha was not only a useful technique for the resolution of conflicts, and the satyagrahi was far more than a mere practitioner of a certain skill. The satyagrahi was the embodiment of an ideal and the satyagrahi lifestyle was the lifestyle worth living. Sharp does not emphasise the potential positively transformative effect of nonviolent action (for example in terms of empowerment, openness, participation, gaining of skills) on either the activists themselves or on others, more or less limiting its use to a tool for achieving extrinsic goals.(26)

When writing about the meaning of “success” in nonviolent action Sharp takes a far more “objective” view than would many other nonviolent activists. The important questions for him are: were the opponent’s objectives frustrated, what factors in the social or political situation allowed the opponent to be defeated? or whether the stated goals of the nonviolent group were achieved because of the struggle.(27) The subjective, and we could say existential, payoffs that are so important to Gandhi are not considered. While Sharp is concerned with social and political freedom, Gandhi’s focus is on a search for Truth.(28) And, according to Hayes, this means that in “a theoretical-practical sense, Gandhi’s ideals can be seen to be directly aimed at addressing many of the existential effects of being dominated, and of being a dominator,” and “what nonviolent actors might be or become as a result of their struggle.”(29)

Nevertheless, a friend of Sharp has pointed out that this debate must be seen in context. Ralph Summy notes that Sharp is trying to promote nonviolence in a highly acquisitive capitalist society and adds that Gandhi would be the first to proclaim that “a satyagraha that discounted the views and passions rife in its society and proceeded blindly on its own purist path was tantamount to pursuing merely personal redemption and not societal change.”(30) In short, the reasons for a Gandhian or more pragmatic approach to nonviolence, and hence the way that it is conducted, need to be determined by each individual practitioner of nonviolence.


Marxist and Feminist Critiques

Those who are fervent proponents of nonviolence often see it as the cure for all the world’s ills while its detractors say that it is futile in bringing about real change which is about exercising real power and that it can do nothing about structural relations which are the fundamental problem.(31) Some go so far as to see nonviolence generally, not just the Gandhian version, as reactionary.(32)

Members of an oppressed group could be excused for being suspicious of do-gooders telling them to be nonviolent. In Marxist terminology, it could be akin to the dictum that religion is the opiate of the masses keeping them in their place, stopping them from challenging the status quo. In other words, for these critics, nonviolence is reactionary. In the Indian context, they would argue that Gandhi with his pious nonviolence prevented a revolution which could have reordered society, that with his preaching of satyagraha he ensured that the powerful remained in their positions of power. The capitalists bankrolled him and he, in effect, rewarded them and they took over as another repressive class when the British left. Gandhi, in short, was a lackey of the bourgeoisie. Gandhi’s dream of one big family in India and his philosophy of satyagraha, the argument goes, suited his backers, the Indian capitalists down to the ground. They wanted to win concessions and ultimately independence but did not want to see spontaneous revolutionary mobilisation by the masses. And Gandhi was great at ensuring that things did not get out of hand for the capitalists.(33) The perceived sins of the founder are visited on the technique of satyagraha.

George Orwell takes this line of argument even further. He claims that the British imperialists themselves saw Gandhi as their right-hand man. He made it easier for them to rule because he used his influence to make sure that no action was taken which would make a real difference. The British always treated Gandhi well in prison because they did not want him to die and perhaps be replaced by someone who believed less in “soul force” and more in bombs. They may have hated him for what he did – raising the masses, but now they needed him for what he was doing – keeping those masses in control.(34)

Those who believe in class struggle at times compare nonviolent movements with violent ones, suggesting that the latter are about “defending life” and the former about “sacrificing life” and when they talk about defense they talk about it as a synonym for armed uprising. They characterise nonviolence as a method of social change based on suffering implying that nonviolence is a desire for suffering where the nonviolent activists are only offered “an opportunity to be beaten, arrested, or tortured”. (35)

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The reluctance to finish off an opponent when they are down is characterised as naive, self-defeating, or worse. This line of argument goes that a rejection of violence, especially in self-defence, is to accept the morality of fascism, that the weak must accept the rule of the strong or the most ruthless in their methods of controlling others. This is because these critics see Gandhi as a politician operating within the confines of a narrow vision of power politics. Gandhi’s larger spiritual vision is irrelevant or incomprehensible to this form of analysis. In the end it depends on whether the object is seen as winning (but Gene Sharp argues that nonviolence is the best way of achieving even this), or changing the situation itself.

Feminist critiques cover similar ground. Nonviolence looks a lot like passivity, and women have been expected to be passive in the face of violence. Nonviolence talks about accepting suffering rather than inflicting it on others and this looks very much like what women have been doing throughout the ages. (36) They point out that while Gandhi asks for self-suffering to melt the heart of the opponent, in the case of women it has merely left them in a second-class position. In this argument it is noted that power is not given away it has to be taken. Some radical feminists have suggested that even women’s only peace campaigns, such as the one at Greenham Common in England in the early 1980s, are too easily co-opted. They claim that the public face of these campaigns shows women as sacrificing martyrs – just what they have always been expected to be. They claim that nuclear weapons and militarism are after all symptoms of a male supremacist culture and ask why the women peace demonstrators are putting so much energy into attacking the symptoms that they can see instead of the fundamental cause – something which is perhaps too dangerous to confront, and that is the man next door.

This argument is extended further, stating that there is something inherently problematic with the very theory of power on which Gandhi and other nonviolent theorists (such as Gene Sharp) found their activism. The claim is that the withdrawal of consent is not as easy as is implied by these theorists because in our society power is patriarchal and it excludes women. (37) As women have never consented to the status quo, they have no consent to withdraw. While a more adequate theory of power may be needed, the one used by nonviolent activists still seems to be adequate for most less subtle forms of oppression. (38)

Others of course argue that women’s liberation and world peace are complexly linked. Some state quite plainly that women must move from a negative analysis of women’s oppression to a more positive future-building perspective and this means whole-hearted engagement in peace work. Some go even further, arguing that the rising consciousness of  women is critically important in trying to conceptualise an understanding of the causes of peacelessness. They claim that women’s own actions and reflections can provide an understanding of violence and a way of bringing about social transformation with a vision of a different future – and this gives women a particular role in working for a peaceful future – in other words peace and non violent activism are clearly feminist issues. (39)


Other Criticisms

The influential American social activist Saul Alinsky believed that nonviolence is fine if no other avenue is available, noting that “If Gandhi had had the weapons and the people to use them, this means would not have been so unreservedly rejected as the world would like to think”. (40) He goes on to claim that Gandhi’s campaigns “were a striking example of the selection of means”, adding that perhaps Gandhi’s passive resistance (note the use of language) was
simply the only intelligent, realistic, expedient program which Gandhi had at his disposal; and that the “morality” which surrounded this policy of passive resistance was to a large degree a rationale to cloak a pragmatic program with a desire and essential moral power. ... If he had had guns he might well have used them in an armed revolution against the British which would have been in keeping with the traditions of revolutions for freedom through force. (41)

Further, not only was “passive resistance” possible but it was also “the most effective means that could have been selected for the end of ridding India of British control”. Because Gandhi could not “expect violent action from this large torpid mass, Gandhi organised the inertia”. (42) Alinsky also tells us that the important question is not whether the end justifies the means but always has been “Does this particular end justify this particular means?” In other words, nonviolence does not work against violent opponents, Gandhi would have used violence if it was available to him because it works better, nonviolence is a second best weapon of the weak when no better weapons are available, and the ends and means debate is irrelevant in the abstract – each case must be looked at individually and regardless of what passive non-doers (as Alinsky seems to categorise Gandhi) may say, if violence helps you to win then it is justified.

The ends Gandhi sought were far more ambitious than the ones Alinsky credits him with. Gandhi’s interest was not as narrow as merely ridding India of British control, of potentially exchanging white exploiters for indigenous ones. His aim was to bring about a peaceful and just society, a new India and a new Indian. Gandhi’s time-frame was simply longer than Alinsky’s. And of course there is nothing passive about satyagraha. The Gandhian answer to the ends/means debate (how in advance can one know if these envisaged ends in the long-run will be seen as having justified these particular means?) is best formulated by Aldous Huxley when he noted that “Good ends ... can only be achieved by the employment of appropriate means”, and that “The end cannot justify the means, for the simple reason that the means employed determine the nature of the ends produced.” (43)

There is of course one other obvious criticism of Gandhi and nonviolence that was hinted at by Alinsky. The argument is spelled out well by Orwell. He that notes that “It is difficult to see how Gandhi’s methods could be applied in a country where opponents of the regime disappear in the middle of the night and are never heard of again. Without a free press and the right of assembly, it is impossible not merely to appeal to outside opinion, but to bring a mass movement into being, or even to make your intentions known to your adversary.” (44) Recent important literature demonstrates that the issue is far more complex than this and that indeed nonviolence has often been very successful against even the most brutal of opponents. (45) Of course it will not always be successful, but then again neither will any alternative. The most recent literature investigates the circumstances that seem to increase or decrease the likelihood of success for nonviolent action at a political level.

It is not only Orwell and those of the Left who have raised these types of questions. Some other popular writers have also had doubts or worse about nonviolence. Interestingly some of these arguments seem to echo the Marxist ones yet come from conservative capitalists. They also blame Gandhi for preventing change in the relationship between feudal lords and peasants, between the rich and the poor in India. In their analysis, Gandhi stifled growth and a modern outlook with his quaint village-centred vision of social organisation, leaving India backward. They see Gandhi and his nonviolence as socially reactionary rather than politically reactionary. In this vein, fiction and travel writer, the Trinidad Indian V.S.Naipaul sees India as a wounded civilisation, trapped in an uncritical and dysfunctional glorification of the past, noting that “The past must be seen to be dead; or the past will kill.” (46)

Looking at the recent revival of the more destructive elements of Hindu nationalism his thesis may bear closer examination, but his assessment of the complicity of Gandhi and Gandhism in this is grossly overplayed. While Gandhi did preach simplicity (and in the thirty years since Naipaul wrote, the adage that we must “live simply so that others may simply live” has – in theory if not yet in practice – taken on the character of a truism) he never glorified enforced poverty. As we move into a new century, Naipaul’s faith in development and the technological fix seems more quaint than the attitudes (he brackets with Gandhism) that he dismisses as primitivist. Of course saving labour is  not what Gandhi was striving for at all – but it seems that much of the masses are and therefore he was cast as an idealist trying to keep people in ignorance in some form of idealised cultural museum. Whatever one thinks about the validity of Gandhi’s vision of a good society, the arguments surrounding this issue do not invalidate satyagraha, Gandhi’s mode of activism.



My aim here, obviously, was not to show that satyagraha is unworkable or reactionary. It is neither. I have attempted to show from were some of the major criticisms of satyagraha have come, criticisms that in many cases need to be taken seriously if the, as Gandhi called it, “science of satyagraha” is to develop. Committed advocates of any position or course of action must have thought through the arguments of opponents, or anticipated genuine questions of those who have not yet made up their minds, in order to convincingly be able to articulate their own position. Satyagraha is one of the Mahatma’s great gifts to the future and it deserves to be articulated effectively, and this in turn means seriously considering valuable criticisms and being able to answer less valuable ones.



First published in Gandhi Marg 2006, vol.28, no.3, pp.269-283.

1. See Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971, and especially Jean Paul Sartre’s forward to the book.

2. Barbara Deming, Revolution and Equilibrium, New York: Grossman, 1971, pp.194-221, especially pp.197 and 219.

3. See Thomas Weber, “The Lesson from the Disciples: Is There a Contradiction in Gandhi’s Philosophy of Action?” Modern Asian Studies (1994), vol.28, no.1, pp.195-214.

4. Quoted in Vishwanath Tandon, “Vinoba and Satyagraha” Gandhi Marg 1980, vol.2, no.7, pp.385-394 at p.387.

5. Vinoba Bhave, Democratic Values, Varanasi: Sarva Seva Sangh, 1962, pp.13-14.

6. Vinoba remarked that “It is ... mistaken to imagine that the negative Satyagraha of pre-independence days will find much scope ... in a popular democratic set-up.” Quoted in Vishwanath Tandon (ed.), Selections from Vinoba, Varanasi: Sarva Seva Sangh, 1981, p.279); and that “in a democracy Satyagraha can never take the form of the exercise of pressure” but must rely on “the change of heart.” Quoted in Tandon (ed.), Selections from Vinoba, p.280. For Vinoba’s views on satyagraha in a democracy see generally Bhave, Democratic Values, pp.152-59.

7. See Tandon (ed.), Selections from Vinoba, p.392.

8. Tandon (ed.), Selections from Vinoba, p.281.

9. Harijan, 7 July 1951.

10. Kanti Shah (ed.), Vinoba on Gandhi, Varanasi: Sarva Seva Sangh, 1985, p.52.

11. See Thomas Weber, “Nonviolence is Who?: Gene Sharp and Gandhi” Peace and Change, 2003, vol.28, no.2, pp.240-260.

12. Gene Sharp, Gandhi as a Political Strategist, Boston: Porter Sargent, 1979, p.2.

13. Reported in Peace Research Abstract Journal, 1999, vol.36, no.2, p.157.

14. Reprinted in Sharp, Gandhi as a Political Strategist, pp.315-318, as “Shridharani’s Contribution to the Study of Gandhi’s Technique”.

15. New Internationalist interview with Gene Sharp by Noreen Shanahan, November 1997, available at

16. Gene Sharp, “People ‘don’t need to believe right’”, National Catholic Reporter, September 7, 1984, vol. 20, p.11.

17. Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, p.64.

18. Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, pp.112-114, 452-453.

19. Gene Sharp, Civilian-Based Defense: A Post-Military Weapons System, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990, p.37.

20. See  Richard B.Gregg, The Power of Nonviolence, Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1934.

21. Robert J.Burrowes, The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense, New York: State University of New York Press, 1996, p.99.

22. Burrowes, The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense, p.99.

23. Gene Sharp, Social Power and Political Freedom, Boston: Porter Sargent, 1980, pp.395-396.

24. Sharp, “‘People ‘don’t need to believe right’”, p.11.

25. Johan Galtung, The Way is the Goal: Gandhi Today, Ahmedabad: Gujarat Vidyapith Peace Research Centre, 1992, pp.62, 88..

26. Brian Martin and Wendy Varney, Nonviolence Speaks: Communicating Against Repression, Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2003.

27. Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, p.766. However it should be added that Sharp does include as a conceivable criterion of success possible “additional subtle and indirect effects.” See Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, p.765.

28. In the introduction to his autobiography, Gandhi wrote: “What I want to achieve, – what I have been striving and pining to achieve these thirty years, – is self-realization, to see God face to face, to attain Moksha [salvation]. I live and move and have my being in pursuit of this goal. All that I do by way of speaking and writing, and all my ventures in the political field, are directed to this same end.” M.K.Gandhi, An Autobiography: Or the Story of My Experiments with Truth, Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1927, p.xiv.

29. See Mark D.Hayes, “Domination and Peace Research,” unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Griffith University, 1995; Part Two, chapter two, “Domination and Nonviolence,” available at

30. Ralph Summy, personal communication, 29 March 2001.

31. Kurt Schock, Unarmed Insurrections: People Power Movements in Nondemocracies, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005, p.xv.

32. For the counter argument see Chapter 15, “A Reactionary?”, in B.R.Nanda, Gandhi and His Critics, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1985.

33. For these arguments see Alec Kahn, Gandhi and the Myth of Non-Violent Action, Sydney: A Socialist Worker pocket pamphlet, 1996.

34. George Orwell, “Letter to the Reverend Iorwerth Jones”, in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, volume 2: My Country Right or Left, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970, pp.109-112, at p.111.

35. See for example Howard Ryan, A Critique of Nonviolent Politics, formerly posted on the Internet, but now removed.

36. See for example Lynne Jones, “Perceptions of ‘Peace Women’ at Greenham Common 1981-85: A participant’s View”, in Sharon MacDonald, Pat Holden and Shirley Ardener (eds.), Images of Women in Peace and War: Cross-Cultural and Historical Perspectives, MacMillan: Basingstoke, 1987, pp.179-204, especially pp.201-203; and Lynne M.Woehrle, “Feminist Debates about Nonviolence”, in V.K.Kool (ed.), Nonviolence: Social and Psychological Issues, Lanham: University Press of America, 1993, pp.207-220, especially pp.208-211, 215-216.

37. Kate McGuinness, “Gene Sharp’s Theory of Power: A Feminist Critique of Consent”, Journal of Peace Research (1993), vol.30, no.1, pp.101-115.

38. See Brian Martin, “Gene Sharp’s Theory of Power”, Journal of Peace Research (1989), vol.26, no.2, pp213-222.

39. See especially the papers in Pam McAllister, Reweaving the Web of Life: Feminism and Nonviolence, Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1982.

40. Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals: A Primer for Realistic Radicals, New York: Vintage, 1972, p.39.

41. Alinsky, Rules for Radicals, p.37.

42. Alinsky, Rules for Radicals, p.42.

43. Aldous Huxley,  Ends and Means: An Inquiry into the Nature of Ideals and into the Methods Employed for Their Realization, Edinburgh: Readers’ Union and Chatto and Windus, 1938, p.9. See also Huxley’s arguments at pp.138-139.

44. George Orwell, “Reflections on Gandhi”, in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, volume 4: In Front of Your Nose, pp.523-531, at p.529.

45. See for example, Ralph Summy, “Nonviolence and the Case of the Extremely Ruthless Opponent”, Pacifica Review (1994), vol.6, no.1, pp.1-29; Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall, A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2000; and Schock, Nonviolent Insurrections.

46. V.S.Naipaul, India: A Wounded Civilisation, London: Andre Deutsch, 1977, p.174.


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