As I am supposed to be the spirit behind the much discussed and equally well abused resolution of the Working Committee of the Indian National Congress on independence, it has become necessary for me to explain my position. For I am not unknown to you. I have in America perhaps the largest number of friends in the West – not even excepting Great Britain. British friends knowing me personally are more discerning than the American. In America I suffer from the well-known malady called hero worship.
The good Dr. Holmes, until recently of the Unity Church of New York, without knowing me personally became my advertising agent. Some of the nice things he said about me I never knew myself. So I receive often embarrassing letters from America expecting me to perform miracles. Dr. Holmes was followed much later by the late Bishop Fisher who knew me personally in India. He very nearly dragged me to America but fate had ordained otherwise and I could not visit your vast and great country with its wonderful people.
Moreover, you have given me a teacher in Thoreau, who furnished me through his essay on the “Duty of Civil Disobedience” scientific confirmation of what I was doing in South Africa. Great Britain gave me Ruskin, whose Unto This Last transformed me overnight from a lawyer and city-dweller into a rustic living away from Durban on a farm, three miles from the nearest railway station and Russia gave me in Tolstoy a teacher who furnished a reasoned basis for my nonviolence. He blessed my movement in South Africa when it was still in its infancy and of whose wonderful possibilities I had yet to learn. It was he who had prophesied in his letter to me that I was leading a movement which was destined to bring a message of hope to the downtrodden people of the earth.
So you will see that I have not approached the present task in any spirit of enmity to Great Britain and the West. After having imbibed and assimilated the message of Unto This Last, I could not be guilty of approving of Fascism or Nazism, whose cult is suppression of the individual and his liberty.
I invite you to read my formula of withdrawal or, as it has been popularly called, “Quit India,” with this background. You may not read into it more than the context warrants. I claim to be a votary of truth from my childhood. It was the most natural thing to me. My prayerful search gave me the revealing maxim “Truth is God” instead of the usual one “God is Truth.” That maxim enables me to see God face to face as it were. I feel Him pervade every fibre of my being. With this Truth as witness between you and me, I assert that I would not have asked my country to invite Great Britain to withdraw her rule over India, irrespective of any demand to the contrary, if I had not seen at once that for the sake of Great Britain and the Allied cause it was necessary for Britain boldly to perform the duty of freeing India from bondage. Without this essential act of tardy justice, Britain could not justify her position before the unmurmuring world conscience, which is there nevertheless.
Singapore, Malaya and Burma taught me that the disaster must not be repeated in India. I make bold to say that it cannot be averted unless Britain trusts the people of India to use their liberty in favour of the Allied cause. By that supreme act of justice Britain would have taken away all cause for the seething discontent of India. She will turn the growing ill-will into active goodwill. I submit that it is worth all the battleships and airships that your wonder-working engineers and financial resources can produce.
I know that interested propaganda has filled your ears and eyes with distorted versions of the Congress position. I have been painted as a hypocrite and enemy of Britain under disguise. My demonstrable spirit of accommodation has been described as my inconsistency, proving me to be an utterly unreliable man. I am not going to burden this letter with proof in support of my assertions. If the credit I have enjoyed in America will not stand me in good stead, nothing I may argue in self-defence will carry conviction against the formidable but false propaganda that has poisoned American ears.
You have made common cause with Great Britain. You cannot therefore disown responsibility for anything that her representatives do in India. You will do a grievous wrong to the Allied cause if you do not sift the truth from the chaff whilst there is yet time. Just think of it. Is there anything wrong in the Congress demanding unconditional recognition of India’s independence? It is being said, “But this is not the time.” We say, “This is the psychological moment for that recognition.” For then and then only can there be irresistible opposition to Japanese aggression. It is of immense value to the Allied cause if it is also of equal value to India. The Congress has anticipated and provided for every possible difficulty in the way of recognition. I want you to look upon the immediate recognition of India’s independence as a war measure of first class magnitude.
Bhoomidanam (“land gift”) was a movement led by Acharya Vinoba Bhave, an Indian sage and Gandhian disciple who walked hundreds of miles through India for 13 years with the mission of convincing landlords to renounce some of their holdings, for the social uplift of the poor and downtrodden and in order to promote village self-sufficiency. Chief amongst his many accomplishments was the founding of the Brahma Vidya Mandir, an ashram where women practiced agriculture, prayer, and nonviolence in order to achieve self-sufficiency.
Like Gandhiji, he sought peace, freedom, and self-determination for the Indian people from the tyranny of the British Empire through the method of ahimsa (non-violence). Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. met with him in 1959 during his trip to “the Land of Gandhi,” where he engaged in a deep study of the tradition of nonviolence in Indian philosophy and its practical application in the freedom struggle of his people here in the United States.
I painted this portrait because last year, we undertook a celebration of the 150th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi in the United States in an effort to raise national and world consciousness about Gandhiji, a singular personality whose example of perpetual truth-seeking, humility of conduct, depth of intellect and perception, compassionate action and eloquence of tongue and thought, brought together the starving multitudes of India, who were left destitute by more than three hundred years of British exploitation. Gandhiji taught us that education was not simply the assimilation of books and theorems but cultivation of the human personality, the sum total of a man’s actions which together constitute his character.
It behooves us to celebrate such a world historical personality in the twenty-first century as a new beast slouches towards India, the American Empire, which has arguably caused even more ruinous consequences to Indian industry, agriculture and folkways albeit in a much shorter span of time. Education has deviated from the Gandhian ideal as Indian labor is forced to work for Western powers for a mere pittance, while corporations greedily devour India’s intellectual and physical products, sucking out the very lifeblood of the Indian man and woman.
Central to this terrible saga is the aggressive advance of the Indian elite and petty bourgeoisie in America, which enjoys the fruits of exploited Indian labor along with the white bourgeoisie and indeed, the bourgeoisie of every race. Together they even suppress the working poor here, particularly the black poor, who are exploited in ways quite similar to the poor and downtrodden in India, denied education, housing, and basic civil rights. All the while these personalities claim to be “experts” on India and South Asia. It was for these rights that Dr. King and Vinoba Bhave were fighting.
America, which is presently facing a grave crisis of governance and an even graver crisis of violence, must return to Dr. King’s prognostication that the choice today is not between nonviolence and violence but in fact, between nonviolence or non-existence. As superpowers like Russia and China, along with the fast-failing behemoth of Europe, contend for power with the capsizing American Empire, the masses are once again left floundering and bewildered.
In his report about his trip to the Land of Gandhi, Dr. King observes that “the bourgeoise—white, black or brown—behaves about the same the world over.” He implores the American people to partake of the gifts of Mother India “in a spirit of international brotherhood, not national selfishness.” Herein lies the significance of Dr. King’s two-day meeting with Sri Vinoba Bhave during his trip to Ajmer, pictured below: the desire to join the Satyagraha of African-Americans who had recently desegregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama with the Satyagraha of the Indians, who had newly won independence after having successfully ejected the British from Indian soil.
Bhave was a disciple of Gandhiji who continued to transmit Gandhiji’s message of peace after the physical form of the Mahatma was assassinated. Vinoba ji is said to have been admired by Gandhi, particularly for his strict and sincere observance of brahmacharya or the law of celibacy, which was a key component of the Satyagraha program.
Rev. King visited with Vinoba Bhave for two days on March 2 and 3, 1959. During their meeting, Vinoba referred to King as the American Gandhi; he himself was known amongst followers as the “Second Gandhi.” Sadly in the recent years, the city of Ajmer, where King visited with Vinoba ji has been neo-colonized by the Americans. Thus, whereas Dr. King’s pilgrimage to the city and visit with Vinobaji was an effort to fight Western imperialism through the method of ahimsa, President Barack Obama’s visit in 2010 was its very antithesis–history as a consequence became farce and nonviolence has degenerated into mere rhetoric in the hands of the neoliberal class, who have coopted the language of nonviolence for the perpetuation of war, poverty, and injustice rather than their ultimate eradication.
Obama and his ilk might be best served to remember Dr. King’s advice, to quote an article of his about Gandhiji in an issue of Bhoodan magazine, “Gandhi’s method of nonviolence and the Christian ethics of love is the best weapon available to Negroes for this struggle for freedom and human dignity…His spirit is a continual reminder that it is possible to resist evil and yet not resort to violence.”
Or the pride that thrills thro’ my heart’s despair
And the hope that comforts the anguish of prayer?
And the far sad glorious vision I see
Of the torn red banners of victory?
when the terror and the tumult of hate shall cease
And life be refashioned on anvils of peace,
And your love shall offer memorial thanks
To the comrades who fought on the dauntless ranks,
And you honour the deeds of the dauntless ones,
Remember the blood of my martyred sons!
—Sarojini Naidu, “The Gift of India”
India is formerly colonized country which has been attacked since its birth in 1947 by commercial superpowers. For the U.S to claim a “trade deficit” with India or any oppressed country is hypocrisy given that it is the Americans who have systematically destroyed the economy and the possibility of peace in the region in order to secure their extravagant and corrupt lifestyle. W.E.B Du Bois was right when he said inThe World and Africathat all of the exploitation of the world is apparent in the face of a young, seemingly innocent white socialite whose household is furnished and powered almost entirely by the labor of Africa, Asia, Latin America, and African-America.
It is the mounting panic about how whites will continue to sustain this lifestyle in the twenty-first century that is driving the present political drama about impeachment. To do so, they realize that they must scramble anew for the resources of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Once more, the white race seeks to use the darker races as means of neocolonial production but this is proving highly unlikely as from Syria to North Korea to China to Palestine, people are clamoring for peace, truth, and freedom from the violence of the West.
Diplomatic meetings between world leaders (including corrupt native leaders like Narendra Modi who collude with capital) obscure the grim truth of American-led and Europe-backed wars on Asian and African soil. These are wars aimed at destroying the civilization and industries of these continents so as to keep them utterly dependent on Western markets and Western civilization. Then, capital arrives with friendly trade deals, treaties, and humanitarian aid, claiming to offer an antidote to the very evil it personifies and strives to cultivate in the hearts of humankind.
Americans sought in-roads into India, a socialist republic, after its hard won Independence from the British in 1947 because they saw themselves to be next in line after the British Empire, to which white American culture continues to aspire. As a deep alliance flourished between Indians, Latinos, Africans and African-Americans as a result of the Pan-African, socialist, non-violent, and non-aligned alliance against Western imperialism, white Americans, backed by the international bourgeoisie of all colors, united against the freedom of the darker races. NATO, an alliance of Western countries, was specifically aimed at countering the Communism of the East and South. The so-called War on Terror which is the longest war fought by the American Empire is merely the new face of these unresolved tensions. The American people are now suffering because Western capital has exported the jobs to oppressed nations in order to save on labor costs. And yet, Trump blames China and other countries for the trade deficit instead of accepting responsibility for capital’s failure to meet the needs and interests of world humanity.
Amidst all the hoopla about terror overseas, conveniently labeled “radical Islam,” little is said about the the violence wrought by white Christianity, which entirely distorted the love ethic of Jesus. America is nation that continues to terrorize its own black citizens and it was mass opposition to white terror which propelled Dr. King’s movement. In the background of the Negro spiritual “Were You There?”–one of Gandhi’s favorite hymns most memorably sung by the great Marian Anderson–looms the shadow of the Jim Crow South. As Coretta Scott King notes in her autobiography, white Southerners burned down her family’s home and her father’s business when she was growing. When we consider the aftermath of the cases of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, and others, we see that murder of black men, women, children in the United States is sanctioned by the state. This sordid racial reality continues to remain obscured by 9/11 jingoism, which located terror in the so-called “Middle East.” In this relentless milieu of false patriotism cut with bouts of liberal guilt, it’s worth remember that such xenophobic sentiments, based on corrupt economic and political motives, led to the persecution of hundreds of courageous people in the U.S during the McCarthyite era, including Paul Robeson and W.E.B Du Bois, descendants of African slaves held captive by this so-called American democracy.
In the past twenty years, the U.S. has waged wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Palestine, Korea, Syria and Pakistan—Asian countries which were formerly colonized by European powers. In the 1970s, America seduced Maoist China against India and Vietnam while claiming to be their saviors after the horrific invasions of Vietnam, Afghanistan, Japan, and Korea. Now it seeks to use India to “box in” (per Kissinger and Nixon) the threats posed by India, China and Russia to the Western economy.
An attempt was also made by Americans to invade India under Indira Gandhi’s tenure during the liberation of East Pakistan, an effort heroically supported by Mrs. Gandhi, to the great consternation of President Richard Nixon. It is still unclear as to what role the U.S government played in the assassinations of Indian leaders like Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi, as well as Black American leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers, Huey Newton, and Malcolm X, though a great deal of evidence has emerged about the state’s machinations in the assassination and overthrow of colored leaders throughout the world.
The lies and schemes of American politicians have fueled mounting national paranoia about Russian collusion in U.S elections which has led to the Democratic party’s impeachment of Donald Trump, though the corporate Democrats are equally if not more guilty, for they co-opt the language of social justice and freedom fighters in order to further their own corrupt agenda in the bourgeois public sphere. The Democratic Party simply wants to escalate tensions with Russia and as socialistic as some of the candidates seem, none of them contend with the fundamental problems of Western civilization, which is riven by the inescapable dilemma of the color line. This has rightly caused the masses of Americans to reject the Democratic Party’s veneer of liberalism, which is merely a new iteration of the white man’s burden.
The West relished in the destruction of the Soviet Union, which was their ultimate aim during the Cold War seeing it as a victory for Western civilization and capital. India was one of the most important allies of the Soviet Union and American foreign policy sought to sever this bond in the 1990s and 2000s by infiltrating it’s economy, military, and leadership. The economic liberalization of India, which Americans falsely deem a triumph, led to an increase in trade with U.S during the 1990s. However, it rolled back many of the crucial socialist programs designed by Gandhi, Nehru, and other founding fathers and mothers and replaced them with neocolonial NGO and non-profits which used predatory lending techniques and white authority to forcefully secure native cooperation.
In the renascence of Cold War sentiments we see today through the paradigm of a white “Atlantic”, which is the organizing political principle of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) we once again witness efforts to divide India, China, and Russia, in a similar pattern of previous attempts at Balkanization under Kissinger and Nixon. When the crisis in Ukraine is discussed in the U.S by figures like Joe Biden and Donald Trump, little is said about the fact that Ukraine represents a flashpoint in the international struggle between the capitalist and communist mode of production. NATO waged horrific wars against former Yugoslavia in the 1990s in an effort to reclaim Eastern Europe for Western capital. It has continually aggressed upon Russia—and not the other way around, as the powers that be claim.
Lastly, consider the Western worry about “intellectual property” amidst the panic over trade deficits with countries like China and India. These ruthless American and European business tactics have nothing to do with the integrity of thought; rather, they are thinly veiled gestures once more aimed at the racial subordination, for they seek to keep oppressed people thinking and feeling as though they are worthless and without history, alienating them from their work and well-being. It is yet another way for the West to claim dominance over knowledge production and claim hegemony over science, art, and civilization. Like the British, Americans will claim to have invented everything, though the West in truth has not created much in the past four hundred years of destruction, having derived the majority of its inventions, products, and innovations from the uncompensated yet highly skilled labor of Africa and Asia.
Dr. King explains to Randall, of the National Council of Churches, the motivations underlying his plan (subsequently abandoned) to visit the Soviet Union.￼
Dr. Darrell Randall
National Council of Churches
297 Fourth Avenue
New York, New York
Dear Dr. Randall:
Thanks for your very kind letter of recent date concerning my interest in going to Russia incident to my visit to India. First, I must apologize for being somewhat tardy in my reply. Unfortunately, your letter was misplaced during my secretary’s daily trips between the office and my residence where I am convalescing. Althought we have not been able to find the letter yet, I think I am sufficiently familiar with the contents to venture a reply.2
As I remember, you mentioned that Dr. Nelson of the American Baptist Convention had expressed great interest in this trip, and also the possibility of providing some funds to meet the budget. Naturally, I was very happy to know this. My reasons for desiring to go to the Soviet Union may be stated as follows:
Manifold international policies emerge from a limited number of important world centers. Events taking place in the United States, Russia, and India affect the life of every person on this earth. Increasingly, religious leaders, scientists, scholars, and statesmen have come to see that firsthand investigation in these important centers is an integral part of their ability to exercise their leadership responsibilities.
In the coming period when travel to the Soviet Union is more usual, I believe the American people will expect committed leaders to get information by serious personal inquiry rather than to rely upon secondary sources. The people will tend to respect conclusions which are based on observations and direct examination. According to my ability, I wish to be able to interpret to our people the deeper and more obscure currents of thought which dominate other peoples as well as the assumptionson which their social institutions are constructed. To do this it is necessary that personal contact be established so that both the good and the destructive elements and trends can be illustrated, analyzed and understood.
Among some of the more specific lines of inquiry I wish to pursue are those which would illuminate the reasons for the continued existence of religious conviction among millions of Soviet citizens, all of whom have been subjected to varying degrees of oppression and discouragement by powerful agencies of propaganda and anti-religious education. This tenacity to spiritual commitment is worthy of careful study for these precise methods to the control of man’s relationship to God may be unique in human experience.
As a Baptist I am especially interested to be in contact with the large number of practicing Baptists within the Soviet Union.
As a Negro I have special concern with the influence that Soviet theory and practice have had upon the millions of colored peoples who populate the less industrially developed areas of the world. As a believer in non-violence as revealed in the teachings of Jesus Christ, I am anxious to examine the reactions of the people in a society which for so many years has sought to deny the basic spiritual and moral doctrine of Christianity.
As one who attempts to adhere to a non-violent philosophy I am anxious to experience the reaction of Soviet officials and people to those of us who hold to the view that peace and justice are possible to the degree that the world uncompromisingly embraces the Judeo-Christian ideals.3
I have made some contact on the possible budget for a trip to Soviet Russia from India. The cost per day per person for visiting the Soviet Union is thirty-five dollars ($35.00). This includes hotel, train travel within the Soviet Union, plane travel where necessary, board and lodging, interpreter, automobile, and chauffer. In other words, in-tourist, arrangements for all this and the cost is thirty-five dollars ($35.00) per day per person. Mrs. King will be accompanying me on this trip and possibly a personal secretary. On the assumption that three persons were in the Soviet Union for ten days, the cost for this would be three hundred and fifty dollars ($350.00) each, or one thousand fifty dollars ($1,050.00).
In addition to the plane fare America-India return, going back by way of the Soviet Union would be three hundred eleven dollars per person, or nine hundred thirty-three dollars ($933.00) for the three of us. This would mean a total budget of approximately two thousand dollars.
I certainly hope that something can be worked out. I realize that this is asking a great deal, and if it is not possible, I can thoroughly understand. I am deeply grateful to you and the National Council of Churches for your prompt consideration of this matter. I am also grateful to Dr. Nelson of the American Baptist Convention. And I would appreciate your expressing my gratitude to him. I will look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
Very sincerely yours,
Martin Luther King, Jr.
1.In a 23 March 1959 letter to Reuben E. Nelson, secretary general of the American Baptist Convention, King explained his reasons for canceling the trip to the Soviet Union, which he initially scheduled as an extended stopover on his return from India. King acknowledged that the time was not right for the visit and expressed the fear that the trip “would have taken on too many political connotations” (see also “King Studies Russia Trip,”Montgomery Advertiser,6 December 1958). Darrell D. Randall (1916-), born in Union, Nebraska, received a B.A. (1939) from Nebraska Wesleyan University and an M.A. (1942) from the University of Nebraska. Randall received a second M.A. (1946) from Columbia University and a Ph.D. (1956) from the University of Chicago. An expert on economic development in Asia and Africa, Randall served as associate executive director of the Department of International Affairs for the National Council of Churches (1958-1961).
3.In a December draft of a letter to A. J. Muste, A. Philip Randolph, Norman Thomas of the Socialist Party, and James Hicks of theNew York Amsterdam News,King further elaborated on his reasons for desiring to go to Russia: “The fact that the great need today is that men everywhere should realize that non-violence is the philosophical assumption from which peace and justice can spring, led me to the conclusion that perhaps it was my duty to visit Russia and to express there my basic beliefs.”
MLKP, MBU, Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers, 1954-1968, Boston University, Boston, Mass
Impure means result in an impure end. Hence, prince and the peasant will not be equaled by cutting off the prince’s head, nor can the process of cutting off equalize the employer and the employed. One cannot reach truth by untruthfulness. Truthful conduct alone can reach truth.
The artist of this untitled piece, K.H. Ara, was a satyagrahi who was imprisoned for his participation in the famous Salt Satyagraha. The production of salt, a dietary staple, was heavily taxed by the British colonial administration. Satyagrahis marched for nearly a month on foot to the sea. More than 80, 000 were arrested. Not a single weapon was in their hands. Martin Luther King Jr. would preach about Gandhi’s strategy and leadership of the Salt March upon his return to the United States from his trip to the Land Of Gandhi in a sermon entitled “Palm Sunday Sermon on Mohandas K. Gandhi remarking
And you have read of the Salt March, which was a very significant thing in the Indian struggle. And this demonstrates how Gandhi used this method of nonviolence and how he would mobilize his people and galvanize the whole of the nation to bring about victory. In India, the British people had come to the point where they were charging the Indian people a tax on all of the salt, and they would not allow them even to make their own salt from all of the salt seas around the country. They couldn’t touch it; it was against the law. And Gandhi got all of the people of India to see the injustice of this. And he decided one day that they would march from Ahmadabad down to a place called Dandi.
We had the privilege of spending a day or so at Ahmadabad at that Sabarmati ashram, and we stood there at the point where Gandhi started his long walk of two hundred and eighteen miles. And he started there walking with eighty people. And gradually the number grew to a million, and it grew to millions and millions. And finally, they kept walking and walking until they reached the little village of Dandi. And there, Gandhi went on and reached down in the river, or in the sea rather, and brought up a little salt in his hand to demonstrate and dramatize the fact that they were breaking this law in protest against the injustices they had faced all over the years with these salt laws.
Gandhi’s method of protest, it should be remembered, was a scientific method based on sociology, psychology, law, economics, as well as theology. It draws on all these methods of knowing the truth in order to heal the human personality, which he recognized had become inured to the notion that it is human nature to be violent. Like Socrates, who averred that humanity tended towards justice rather than injustice, love rather than hatred, Gandhi too maintained that in the end, any Republic founded on the “interest of the stronger” would not last, for the arc of the moral universe, as Dr. King also said, bends towards justice. Such is the genius of Gandhiji’s science of Ahimsa, which, he insisted, was the science of love. Love strives to rise above nature, to transform nature in its image. Gandhi, it should be noted, took love as a force in the universe, as an animating primum mobile capable of effecting measurable change in the order of universe. In the Salt Satyagraha, we see a concrete social example of human action anchored in the philosophy of Ahimsa; the Indian people transmute the quotient of their moral discipline and physical suffering into energy that is in turn dedicated to the production of a necessity seized by the imperialist. satyagraha is rooted in renunciation and self-sacrifice, which is a philosophical idea integral to the practice of Hinduism. This forceful collective renunciation powered the movement for swaraj because in impelling the masses to forego attachment to their physical reality even unto death, Gandhi emphasized that they would be redeemed in the love of their children for whom they struggled.
The soul-force is infinitely greater than the physical form and the revolutionary, in particular, must learn this truth if he or she is striving to overcome the fear of death, which is really a fear of love because if we love from the soul force we will know that we never truly die. We we will return again and again, like the universe sucking into itself until at last we are at the center of that which is changeless, formless, that which is beyond space, time, and causality, the perfect stillness which the Christians call the peace which passeth understanding and the Hindus call Brahman, which represents the totality of the soul force.
As an energetic force, love represents more than willpower for Gandhi as Schoepenhauer had claimed; rather, love is an acknowledgement of the ephemerality of the physical form itself; it can work as a physical principle because it cuts across time. It is the understanding that desire produces suffering and that we are responsible for our misery because we are too attached to our material life at the grave expense of our spiritual life. Consequently, we are bound to the rigors of mortality, bogged down by the petty crimes and frustrations of everyday life which keep us further distracted from the truth: that all is maya and that in truth, we are energetic forms that are merely taking new shape and new intervals navigating the great force field that is the universe. We depend on light for life but where does it come from and does it come from us, if the kingdom of God is inside us? The search for “scientific truth” has taken modern Western man outward; and yet as our sages and leaders have told us, to seek truth, we must indeed go inward–the inward journey, in the words of the great Howard Thurman. In the form of Hinduism Vivekananda emphasized, when one escapes rebirth, one returns to complete unity with the universal soul or the Atman. In truth, he argues, we are all perfect; it is just that we have become inured to ignorance as a result of our attachment to illusions of reality. To truly achieve the freedom of the soul, both Gandhi and Vivekananda suggest, one must overcome these illusions and confront the truth of one’s soul force. The soul force is ancient as it is new. It represents the embedded unity of past, present, and future because it is time itself. Time would not exist without the soul in this epistemology for it is the karma of the soul which impels causality in time-space.
The Salt Satyagraha reveals that Ahimsa is more than a concept: it is an actual perception capable of being shared by a large mass of people and uniting them in common purpose and action, in karma and dharma. It represents a new epistemology that compels man to overcome the brute in him by recognizing the grand illusions and painful distortions of reality that hold us in bondage to suffering.
Fundamental to the Gandhian epistemology is a rejection of the rigid empiricism characteristic of Western science. Rather, it embraces the central message of peace underlying all of the world’s religions and sees them as temporally dialogical to Science. We might remember here that even Western science began in African and Asian religious and scientific texts, which acknowledged, as it is revealed in the Vedas, the unity in the plurality of forms. The distinction that has arisen between Religion and Science in the West is dispelled in the thought of Vivekananda and Gandhi, revealed as something of a false dichotomy, for the real question is the relation of humanity to nature and this question takes us to both science and religion; this theoretical legacy is indebted to with the teachings of the Vedanta as well as the sacred texts of other religions.However, this idea of non-injury as the highest ideal of civilization is reiterated most impactfully in the modern epoch in the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and his greatest disciple Swami Vivekananda, both of whom Gandhiji admired greatly. Again, we are entering a new epistemology here because historically in the West Science has been emptied of moral purpose and Religion has unfortunately been declared, even by great social scientists like Marx, as a deviation from scientific truth. Like Vivekananda, who insisted upon the unity of all of the world’s religions, Gandhi recognizes “a perfect unity in the plurality of designs.” Thus he did not see a contradiction between Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and other faiths and science. It is for this reason that he defends his theory of Ahimsa as scientific; as he maintained
Nevertheless, I do feel, as the poor villagers felt about Mysore, that there is orderliness in the universe, there is an unalterable law governing everything and every being that exists or lives. It is not a blind law, for no blind law can govern the conduct of living being and thanks to the marvelous researches of Sir J. C. Bose it can now be proved that even matter is life
Reprinted from THE JOURNAL OF RELIGIOUS THOUGHT Autumn-Winter Issue, 1957-1958
CHANGE in the social order today is proceeding often violently and is frequently being resisted just as violently. Our own country is caught in a strange conjunction of Christian and democratic principles, fanatical resistence even to the belated application of these principles, and grave uncertainty as to how best the victims, the victimizers, and the innocent can escape both moral embarrassment and physical pain.
Somehow, happily, men appear less reluctant than formerly to hear testimony to faith in non-violence, a testimony borne so urgently in the past by Jesus of Nazareth, Gautama Buddha, Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas K. Gandhi. Gandhi is nearest to us in time, the problems he faced were extraordinarily akin to ours, and his experiments with non-violence in the presence of these problems were so unique in method and so revolutionary in result that we are constrained to ask what guidance he has for us. Moreover, he fell under the influence of those who went before, and in him their spirit flowered.
I have chosen to discuss the principles of Gandhi’s non-violent non cooperation. Those who wish to understand the practice of non-violence must understand both the principles and the methods of the Gandhian way. There is, however, a limit to what may be included in one paper.
Gandhi was a practical man, but a man whose practice was rooted in verities from which he was unshakable. Thus when he sought a name for his struggle he chose Satyagraha, which means literally firmness in truth, but translated from the vernacular into English means Truth-Force and is called also Soul-Force. All of these terms are completely applicable to Gandhi’s movement, for” the movement was equally the product of this firmness in truth and a demonstration of the power of truth and of the spirit.
What, in Gandhi’s view, was truth? In the answer to this question lies the first step to an understanding of Gandhi and Satyagraha, for Satyagraha is a method of pursuing truth.
“What then is Truth?” asks Gandhi, and he answers: “A difficult question, but I have solved it for myself by saying that it is what the Voice within tellsyouV Still again he says, “What a pure heart feels at a particular time is Truth.” We would say obedience to one’s conscience.
In Tallahassee, Florida, a few months ago I explained this Gandhian version of truth to some of the members of the Inter-Civic Council of that city and one member of the Council raised the very natural question as to whether this did not make truth a variable, dependent upon an individual’s interpretation, and thus not an absolute, fixed eternally in the heavens. Gandhi anticipated this question and answered it in this wise: “Well, seeing that the human mind works through innumerable media and that the evolution of the human mind is not the same for all, it follows that what may be truth for one may be untruth for another, and hence those who have made experiments have come to the conclusion that there are certain conditions to be observed in making those experiments. . . . Everyone should, therefore, realize his limitations before he speaks of his inner Voice.” For Gandhi, the experiment leading to the right to speak of one’s following truth must include the vow of truth, of purity, of non-violence, of poverty, and of non-possession.
What I wish here to emphasize is that Gandhi’s entire theory of non violent non-cooperation had at its center the principle of truth or obedience to one’s conscience, a consuming conviction burnished by the fire of a pure life. The true Satyagrahi (that is, one who fellows truth, Satyagraha, or the non-violent way) cannot be the tool of self-interest or the victim of prejudice or a moment’s emotion. He must be deeply convicted after long and humble self-searching. “One discovers Truth,” said Gandhi, “by patient endeavor and silent prayer. I can only assure friends that I spare no pains to grope my way to the right, and that humble but constant endeavour and silent prayer are my two trusty companions along the weary but beautiful path that all seekers must tread.”
If there is any doubt as to the hold of truth upon Gandhi, one need only recall that he identified God with truth. “I have come to the conclusion,” he said, “that for myself God is Truth.” Then, he added that he had gone a step further and was prepared to say that truth is God.
Having heard this from him, that truth is one’s own and deepest inner voice and that this is God, it is at first unsettling to hear him say also: “The very insistence on Truth has taught me to appreciate the beauty of compromise. . . . But Truth is hard as adamant and tender as a blossom. The golden rule of conduct, therefore, is mutual toleration, seeing that we will never all think alike and we shall see Truth in fragment and from dif ferent angles of vision. Conscience is not the same thing for all. Whilst ividual conduct, imposition of that con duct upon all will be an insufferable interference with everybody’s freedom of conscience.” None, thought Gandhi, can realize truth perfectly “so long as we are imprisoned in this mortal frame,” but men do have the obligation to experiment in their search and they have the right to err. He said “compromise,” but he did not mean compromise on fundamentals.
Here then is a central principle upon which Gandhi built his program— truth or conscience, the voice of God itself, but a principle which never prevented him from, indeed, which led him to endless, tireless effort to reach agreement with those who differed with him.
The second great principle of Gandhi’s program was non-violence. “And,” says he, “when you want to find Truth as God, the only inevitable means is Love, i.e., non-violence, and since I believe that ultimately means and ends are convertible terms, I should not hesitate to say that God is Love.”
In this, two very important ideas are apparent: the first, that non violence is equated with love; and second, that truth and love are the twin pillars upon which Gandhi’s great revolutionary program rests.
Let us now take a further look at the nature of non-violence as Gandhi saw it. Repeatedly, Gandhi made it clear that non-violence is not to be confined to physical action but that it involves also words and even thoughts: “One had better not speak it,” he said, “if one cannot do so in a gentle way, meaning that there is no truth in a man who cannot control his tongue.” This does not suggest, he makes clear, that one should be deterred from telling a truth which may for the moment appear harsh or unpopular for fear of wounding susceptibilities.^The intention never to do violence must be controlling.
For Gandhi, in the second place, non-violence is non-violence of the strong and not of the weak. At the beginning of his mission, he was offended by South African interpretations that this method was devised for the weak, and toward the close of his life he was hurt beyond words that his own people had never learned the lesson that non-violence was of the strong and not of the weak. What virtue is there in a man being non-violent when he possesses no weapons? “Non-violence,” he says, “presupposes the ability to strike. It is a conscious, deliberate restraint put upon one’s desire for ven geance.” He rejected the use of the term “passive resistence” because of its being interpreted as a weapon of the weak. Moreover, he said, “Non cooperation is not a passive state, it is an intensely active state.”
Again non-violence makes a distinction between evil and the evil doer, and a Satyagrahi must never forget the distinction. He must not habour ill- will or bitterness against the latter (that is the evil doer). He may not even employ needlessly offensive language against the evil doer however un relieved his evil might be. No attack upon character should be made and no word should be spoken that will do lasting injury, lead to later regret, and make reconciliation impossible, remembering that the purpose is always to convince and correct, to reconcile and not to coerce. “. . . It is an article of faith with every Satyagrahi that there is no one so fallen.in this world but can be converted by love.” Gandhi was glad to contrast his attitude toward the colonial policy of the British Empire and his determination that not even the hair of one Britisher should be harmed.
Said he, “I hate the system of government that the British people have set up in India. I hate the ruthless exploitation of India. . . . But I do not hate the domineering Englishmen. … I seek to reform them in all the loving ways that are open to me. My non-cooperation has its roots not in hatred, but in love. My personal religion pre-emptorily forbids me to hate anybody.”
We are led immediately to an idea so fundamental that to fail to under stand it is to fail completely to grasp the spirit and method of Gandhi. I repeat these words from Gandhi: “For it is an article of faith with every Satyagrahi that there is no one so fallen in this world but can be converted by love.” Without this faith there can be no non-violence in the Gandhian sense. Read Gandhi’s My Experiments with Truth. Follow him day by day along the torturous path of bringing an empire to bay or making “untouch ables” “Children of God,” and you will see not only the persistence in him of his faith in human beings but its near miraculous power.
“If I am a follower of ahimsa (non-violence),” says Gandhi, “I must love my enemy. I must apply the same rules to the wrong-doer who is my enemy or a stranger to me as I would to my wrong-doing father or son.” This is hard but it is the price which Gandhian non-violence exacts. “Having flung aside the sword,” he says, “there is nothing except the cup of love which I can offer to those who oppose me. It is by offering that cup that I expect to draw them close to me. I live in the hope that if not in this birth, in some other birth I shall be able to hug all humanity in friendly embrace.”
The Exaltation of the Means
I come now to a third principle of Satyagraha, the relation of means to ends. Milovan Djilas, the Yugoslav writer, whose recent book, The New Class, has created such a sensation, states that “nothing so well reveals the reality and greatness of ends as the methods used to attain them.” There is still, however, a subtle and dangerous fascination in the doctrine that “the end justifies the means,” and no doubt many a well-intentioned person has fallen under its allurements. Gandhi wrestled strenuously with this problem for his was the need of fashioning means for the attainment of certain over riding ends and he was forced to make his choice in the light of a principle or court moral chaos. He defined his position unmistakably. He wrote that men often say, “Means are after all means.” He said, “Means are after all everything. As the means so the end. There is no wall of separation between means and end. . . . Realization of the goal is in exact proportion to that of the means. This is a proposition that admits of no exception.” He went on to compare the seed to the means and the end to the tree, and to quote the maxim, “As is the God, so is the Votary.” He says one would scarcely speak of worshipping God by means of Satan. “We reap exactly what we sow.”
It was suggested to Gandhi that the English had attained certain ends by brute force and that it was possible for the Indians to do likewise. To which Gandhi answered that surely Indians did not want that—the very kind of subjugation from which they were then struggling to be freed.
Or, as he said to me on the eve of India’s freedom, “We could have killed the British and perhaps have had our freedom but it would not have been this way.” By “this way” he meant that of the British leaving peace fully without the outward sign of animosity and the prospect of the two nations living not only in peace but in friendship. Twenty-five years earlier he had said, “Let there be no manner of doubt that Swaraj (freedom) estab lished by non-violent means will be different in kind from the Swaraj that can be established by armed rebellion. . . . Violent means will give violent Swaraj. That would be a menace to the world and to India herself.” For him, it was not the immediate but the enduring result which mattered.
The application of Gandhi’s philosophy of means and ends can be seen clearly in what he held to be the relationship of non-violence] to truth. Truth is the end. Non-violence is the means. To take care of the means, to keep them pure, is to reach the end sooner or later. Ultimate victory is assured.
Gandhi’s program of non-violent resistance or non-cooperation is often associated solely with his efforts to free India from British rule or from any one or more of the oppressive aspects of that rule. It was more than this. It involved intra-Indian conflicts and included numerous constructive movements within Indian life which in Gandhi’s view were essential to the winning of the freedom sought more directly by forms of non-violent resistence.
Untouchability was a curse in Indian life which Gandhi could not abide, and against this institution he fought relentlessly and against great odds. “My idea of village Swaraj,” he said, “is that it is a complete repub lic. . . . There will be no castes such as we have today with their graded untouchability. Non-violence with its technique of Satyagraha and non cooperation will be the sanction of the village community.” He said further, “I have put untouchability in the forefront because I observe a certain remissness about it. . . . We can never reach Swaraj with the poison of un touchability corroding the Hindu part of the national body. Swaraj is a meaningless term if we desire to keep a fifth of India under perpetual sub jection and deliberately deny them the fruits of national culture. . . . In human ourselves, we may not plead before the Throne for deliverance from the inhumanity of others.”
Gandhi did not simply speak and write against untouchability. He threw the full force of Satyagraha and his very life against it. In 1924 and 1925 Satyagraha was undertaken in Vykom in the Province of Travancore, South India. Its purpose was to obtain permission for “untouchables” to use certain roads about the temple in Vykom. Gandhi was not present in Travancore, but from a distance he sent advice and encouragement. The importance he attached to this episode is seen in the following statement which he made in Young India, the paper he was editing at that time: “The Vykom Satyagrahis are fighting a battle of no less consequence than that of Swaraj. They are fighting against an age-long wrong and prejudice. It is supported by orthodoxy, superstition, custom and authority. Theirs is only one among the many battles that must be fought in the holy war against irreligion masquerading as religion, ignorance appearing in the guise of learning.”
In September, 1932, Gandhi was in jail after his threat of a civil dis obedience campaign against the passage of certain oppressive ordinances by the British. From newspapers he had learned that the new constitution for India proposed by the British was to grant separate electorates for the “untouchables,” that is, that these members of the so-called “Depressed Classes” would have both a vote as Hindus and a vote as “Untouchables.”
Previously the British had made a somewhat similar provision for both Moslems and Hindus. To Gandhi this would be unbearable. He could not suffer these people to be separated from other Hindus in this statutory manner. As he wrote to Prime Minister MacDonald, it was a matter of pure religion, for it would arrest “the marvellous growth of the work of Hindu reformers who have dedicated themselves to their suppressed brethren in every walk of life.” The decision of the Government, therefore, he must resist with his life, in a fast unto death. This fast, he said, “is aimed at a statutory separate electorate, in any shape or form, for the Depressed Classes. Immediately that threat is removed once for all, my fast will end.” Since the British had stated that any different and mutually satisfactory agreement reached by the Hindus and “Untouchables” would be satisfac tory to them, this fast, according to Gandhi, was “to sting Hindu conscience into right religious action.” Such an agreement was reached and on the sixth day the fast was ended. During the period of the fast “a spirit of reform, penance, and self purification swept the land.” Hundreds of temples were opened to “untouchables,” thousands of the orthodox who had never received food from “Untouchables,” did so: villages, towns, and cities, or ganizations of many kinds, resolved to stop discrimination against these people. The fast has rightly been called the “Epic Fast,” and it was directed by Gandhi at his own people.
Another acute internal problem which haunted Gandhi was that of the unhappy Hindu-Moslem relations. The causes were both ancient and new and very deep. But Gandhi knew that tragedy for India was the price of continued failure to solve the problem. The freedom of India, he felt, depended upon Hindu-Moslem friendship. In 1919 he was given an oppor tunity to take a step toward reconciliation. The Moslems of India were deeply distressed that the Armistice of November 11, 1918, following the defeat of the Central powers, provided not only for the overthrow of the Turkish Sultan as temporal sovereign but as the Caliph or religious head of Islam, in spite of the promises made by Lloyd George, British Prime Minister, that the suzerainty of their religious head would be respected. This was a source of deep distress to the Moslems of India who organized a powerful opposition movement called Khilafat. Gandhi sympathized with the Moslems of India and persuaded the Congress, which was the organiza tion for the mobilization of Indian opposition to foreign rule and oppres sion, to engage in a movement of non-cooperation on behalf of the Moslem position. This non-cooperation provided for a boycott of British exports, British schools, British courts, British jobs, and British honors. Unhappily for Indian Moslems, Kemal Pasha (Ataturk), the powerful leader of the new Turkey, deposed the Caliph and left the Moslems in India without a cause. But Gandhi had attempted one more contribution toward the strengthening of Hindu-Moslem relations and toward the freedom of the Indian people.
Gandhi was deeply opposed to the use of alcoholIf beverages and to all the other evils growing out of the use of intoxicants there was the inability of those who were in their grip to contribute moral effort to Satyagraha. He urged especially that women take up agitation against the sale of liquors, and women who had lived the most sheltered lives were to be found in picket lines outside stores dispensing intoxicants. Moreover, they were enjoined to lay hold of the hearts of those given to drink by the provision of recreational facilities and other acts of loving service.
Dear to the heart of Mr. Gandhi was his movement called Swadeshi and Khadi. These too, he felt, were indispensable to the attainment of freedom. Swadeshi is the use of all home-made things, in so far as such use is necessary for the protection of home industry—more especially those in dustries without which India would become pauperized. Gandhi was so fervent about the importance of Swadeshi that he addressed huge meetings and asked those present to take off such garments as were foreign made and place them in a pile. He would then set fire to the pile. Inherent in the move ment is the sacrifice of a love for fineries and gladness in the wearing of coarse but beautifully hand-woven fabrics of India.
Khadi is this homespun cloth. Not only did Gandhi declare against the use of foreign-made cloth and for the wearing of homespun garments; he demanded that Indians make the garments themselves. Let every one be come his own spinner, he urged. Spinning he put in the center of the Satyagraha program, “no haphazard programme of spinning, but scientific understanding of every detail, including the mechanics and the mathema tics of it, study of cotton and its varieties, and so on.” “That,” he said, “is the mass constructive programme I want you to do, and that is the basis of the training for the non-violence of the brave.” In this program, Gandhi led, for he spun his cotton and he reduced his needs for clothing practically to a loin cloth.
Satyagraha had, therefore, what Gandhi called its constructive side. In this side he included many other programs but it is well illustrated by his determined efforts to heal the divisions of caste among the Hindus, to unite Hindus and Moslems, to break Indians away from intoxicants, and to unite the nation in the rejection of foreign fineries and in the making of their own necessary apparel.
I come now to the principle of renunciation, the final principle of Gandhi’s movement of non-violent non-cooperation which I shall discuss. Gandhi’s recurrent theme was “I must reduce myself to zero.” From the beginning of his program he almost achieved this in matters material. In England he knew how to play the English gentleman. All this was changed, however, by his bitter experiences in South Africa and his dogged determination to do what he could about them. To his son he wrote: “Remember please that henceforth our lot is poverty. . . . The uses of poverty are far sweeter than those of riches.,, At his Tolstoy farm, which was a kind of “co-operative commonwealth” for civil resisters, the members ground their own wheat, labored at construction work, and excluded every item of food above that necessary to health. Walking to the city, a distance of 21 miles, on any private errand was the rule, and Gandhi on one day walked fifty miles.
This was the beginning of nearly fifty years of austerity. It included the barest of clothing and food, the minimum of physical comforts of every sort; it included, at the age of 61, a walk to the sea of twenty-four days to break the law against the making of salt. Gandhi spent years in prison. At the age of thirty-seven, in marriage, he took the vow of sexual abstinence which vow he kept to the end of his life. His fasts were numerous. He died a martyr.
Why this renunciation and self-suffering on the part of Gandhi? He reminds us that sacrifice means to make sacred. He knew and he told those who would be leaders of the people that they must become one with the people. Said he of the people, “We must first come in living touch with them by working for them and in their midst. We must share their sorrows, understand their difficulties and anticipate their wants. With the pariahs we must be pariahs and see how we feel to clean the closets of the upper classes and have the remains of their table thrown at us. . . . Then and not till then shall we truly represent the masses and they will, as surely as I am writing this, respond, respond to every call.”
Or again he says, “The Satyagrahi s course is plain. He must stand unmoved in the midst of all cross currents. He may not be impatient with blind orthodoxy, nor be irritated over unbelief of the suppressed people. He must know that his suffering will melt the stoniest fanatic. . . . He must know that relief will come when there is least hope for it. For such is the way of the cruelly-kind Deity who insists upon testing His devotee through a fiery furnace and delights in humbling him to the dust.”
Leading India to freedom was a monumental achievement of Gandhi. But if freedom had never been attained, leading the Indian people by his own example to sacrifice themselves in the struggle for freedom would have been an achievement equally as monumental. Thousands upon thous ands of them entered the prisons and some died there, including Kasturbai, his wife. They were beaten; they were killed. Following his example they entered upon the simple life, even the formerly well-to-do. They spun and wore khadi; they foreswore intoxicants; they embraced the lowliest, lived among them, died among them. They reduced themselves, in their sights, to zeros. This was renunciation, the fifth great principle of non-violent non cooperation.
These are principles upon which the great Gandhian experiment was based: truth, non-violence, the exaltation of the means, constructive service, and renunciation. The experiment was determinative in the winning of India’s freedom. It altered the lives of countless Indians. But the experi ment is not completed. There is still oppression in the world, humiliation, and other offense. Well might we join in the wish of the President of India, Rajendra Prasad, recently uttered: “May some individual or nation arise and carry forward the effort launched by him till the experiment is com pleted, the work finished and the objective achieved.”
Nirmai Kumar Bose, Selectionsfrom Gandhi (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1948) M. K. Gandhi, The Story of My Experiment With Truth (Washington, D. C., Public Affairs
M. K. Gandhi, Satyagraha (Ahmedabad, Navajivan Publishing House, 1951)
M. K. Gandhi, Non-Violence in Peace and War (Ahmedabad, Navajivan Publishing House,
Gopinath Dhawan, The Political Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi (Ahmedabad, Navajivan
Publishing House, 1946)
Pyarelal, Mahatma Gandhi, The Last Phase (Ahmedabad, Navajivan Publishing House, 1956) D. G. Tendulkai, Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. 8 Vols. (Bombay, V. K. Jhaveri and
D. G. Tendulkai Publishers, 1951-1954)
Louis Fischer, The Life of Mahatma Gandhi (New York, Harper and Brothers, 1950)
In his spiritual message to the world, notable because it is one of the rare extant speeches Mohandas K. Gandhi gave in English, the satygrahi remarked that
There is an indefinable mysterious power that pervades everything, I feel it though I do not see it. It is this unseen power which makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. It transcends the senses.
God is indescribable and ominpresent for Gandhi, capable of being sensed without manifesting physically. Love is perhaps the most important illustration of this truth: one cannot see love, one cannot grasp it in one’s hands; it lodges itself in the deep recesses of memory and time to be reawakened in each epoch by resurgent forces that seek to preserve it. We can thus see, equally, what is not loved for where there is no love, there is loss and war, war with self and war with the greater family of humankind. To the Western empiricists who demanded proof that Indians were deserving of their freedom, all the while beating, jailing, and exploiting them, Gandhi effectively replied: I cannot show you, but I can assure you that I feel a deep love for my downtrodden countrymen and for you, because you have not yet been discovered by God’s love.
Part of Gandhi’s turn to nonviolence towards all human beings and living entities was profoundly influenced by the belief that all matter is life, a scientific discovery confirmed by Indian biophysicist, Jagdish Chandra Bose, who presented his experiment on the sensate faculties of plants at the Royal Society in 1901. Bose, who Gandhi references in this speech, would invent the crescograph to detect whether or not plants were able to feel and respond to external stimuli like members of the animal kingdom by sensing microscopic movements. This proved that a flower was capable of feeling pain, like a man. Humans, in Gandhi’s eyes, had a much higher purpose: to overcome the need to inflict pain and suffering on other beings. The putative progress of Western science had outrun its moral progress in prescribing the very opposite, Gandhi understood, like Martin Luther King Jr.,
Finally, Gandhi’s critique of Western science recalls W.E.B Du Bois’s critique of scientific positivism, the philosophy of science advanced by the Comteian school, which held that the human world could be studied like its physical counterpart, a perspective which could not fathom the infinitude of human decisive and creative power. Consciousness of the world and the struggle for life creates conditions for improbabilities that deviate from the expected trajectories and outcomes. These improbabilities are what we call history, which is nothing more than the words and deeds of humankind. Gandhi also said, like Marx, that struggle is the mother of history. History, Gandhi argued
is really a record of every interruption of the even working of the force of love or of the soul. Two brothers quarrel; one of them repents and reawakens the love that was lying dormant in him; the two again begin to live in peace; nobody takes note of this. But if the two brothers, through the intervention of solicitors or some other reason, take up arms or go to law-which is another form of the exhibition of brute force-their doings would be immediately noticed in the Press, they would be the talk of their neighbours and would probably go down to history. And what is true of families and communities is true of nations. There is no reason to believe that there is one law for families and another for nations. History, then, is a record of an interruption of the course of nature. Soul force, being natural, is not noted in history.
The soul force transcends history. It is the energetic residue that persists in the world after every physical incarnation of life, taking new form and life at every new interval. History interrupts the soul’s unfolding unto the cosmos because it creates divisions reinforced over time. Thus, Gandhi argues, we can see that what is true of family quarrels is also true of national conflict for it is the contending desires and wills of large units of people that then lives on in human memory. Consider, for example, the history plays of Shakespeare, the story of Abraham’s family, the fraternal conflict between Cain and Abel. Nowhere is this more true than America, where an unnatural color line persistently fragments the human family and suppresses the human soul-force.
Faith transcends reason because it returns us to this cosmic journey of the soul force to be free of earthly suffering. The belief in something higher than oneself, has been central to the development of human civilization for millennia because it forces consideration of the larger aims and ideals of civilization itself–of how human beings ought to live with one another. Thus, the greatest practitioners of all of the world’s religions have evolved a culture of peace, which overcomes our understanding, that is, our reason. And yet, faith without reason can degenerate into fanaticism. This faith in the power of the human mind and heart in its “upward reach for God,” to recall Dr. King, pervades Du Bois’s critique of Western science as it does Gandhi’s in his spiritual message to the world, which declares that all matter is life, and so, infinite in its relational and regenerative capacities.
Du Bois asserted that human behavior and society were not merely governed by fixed natural laws as claimed by Comte and others; rather, there was something fundamentally incalculable, and thus unknowable, about humanity and to accept a positivist dialectic would negate the truth of human reality, which is the mirroring of past and future against the present, each side existing simultaneously The infinitude and incalculability of human possibility grows in direct proportion to one’s faith in God which is why faith is the salvation of the oppressed, the Disinherited, to recall Howard Thurman. Faith confers to the disinherited the belief in their humanity in the face of dehumanization. Under such circumstances, faith deepens one’s own capacity to evolve to greater ends. It creates power, through self-love and communal affection, in the face of powerlessness, giving significance, substance, and continuity to one’s life. The love of the people for their civilizations, which were destroyed by imperialism, fired the freedom movements of the twentieth century, which sought to sever Europe and white America’s chokehold on the development of oppressed races and nations.
It is not historically insignificant that the last thing Du Bois entrusts his literary executor Herbert Aptheker with a book of poems called Prayers For Dark People before taking leave to Ghana. Du Bois, like Thurman and King, recognized the capacity of oppressed humanity to reach super-humanity through love, friendship, and material cooperation. The human will in both epistemologies is a decisive force. Thus, history and philosophy–the force of the human will to wrest destiny from a bitter Earth–could not be studied objectively in a natural vacuum, as the positivist averred. Rather, history was a contention of contesting wills struggling for the realization of self and people. This epistemology was indispensable to Du Bois because for too long, the black working-class was studied as an adjunct of American history rather than a shaping and determining force in the history of human relations on this continent.
II. THE PENALTY OF DECEPTION
To arrive at the truth one must face the truth about oneself. James Baldwin said in No Name in the Street that Western civilization is caught in the lie of its pretended humanism. Until whites reckoned with the psychological consequences of their investment in color prejudice, they would remain fundamentally severed from their own humanity. They cannot love their black childhood playmate, their initial care-providers, their very own children and siblings. And they cannot stop lying to themselves about who they are and how they arrived upon their identity, which is a founded upon a series of lies and distortions about black peoples all over the world.
Deception can only culminate in an eternity of guilt. The guilt of deception is overwhelming, robbing relationships of their sincerity and productivity. Howard Thurman writes that deception has particularly dangerous consequences for the development of humanity and the progress of civilization. As a consequence, Life becomes a meaningless series of events manipulated into a narrative that suits the liar’s interests, canceling out all moral distinctions and discipline. The internal lie of the liar persists such that he or she is inhibited from arriving at a sober distillation of the truth. As he observes in Jesus and the Disinherited
The penalty of deception is to become a deception, with all sense of moral discrimination vitiated. A man who lies habitually becomes a lie, and it is increasingly impossible for him to know when he is lying and when he is not. In other words, the moral mercury of life is reduced to zero. Shakespeare has immortalized this aspect of character in his drama of Macbeth.
To face yourself, you must first know love. Thurman refers here to William Shakespeare’s play about the Scottish king, Macbeth, because though driven by purpose and a great sense of his destiny, Macbeth is ultimately defeated by his political ambition because he sought the love of power rather than the power of Love. If you cannot love others, you cannot love yourself and this has tragic consequences– psychological and physical–for Macbeth. He is consumed with guilt and paranoia, indeed paralyzed from ruling, his initial aspiration. The original sin of Duncan’s murder begets new sins and crimes Macbeth and his wife must undertake in order to stabilize their power over the realm, which ultimately results in their descent into madness and death.
Time is long. And the words and deeds of humans persist so long as there is suffering. Faith is the sigh of the oppressed, the Disinherited. Faith itself cannot be proved by extraneous evidence Gandhi deduced in his message of peace to humanity. As such, the safest course, was the moral government of the world. A moral science of America reveals a deeply divided country with a profoundly fragmented psychic and social life. In a nation plagued by a profound spiritual emptiness, we must once again pose the question: what does a truly moral government of the world, a kingdom of heaven on earth, look like and what has it to do with the pursuit of love and faith in our common humanity?