Still another group of Gandhi's critics says: Maybe non-violent action does work - but it's just too slow. People are suffering injustice, slavery, starvation, murder. How can you ask them to be patient and work non-violently?
Somehow people have developed the myth that non-violent action is slow, while violence is quick. But I don't believe you can find evidence for this in history.
Now, I'm not going to try to prove my point by comparing cases of violent and non-violent struggles. There are so many variables that comparisons from one situation to another really don't mean anything.
But we can still rid ourselves of the idea that violence is necessarily quick. If we look at the Chinese Revolution, for instance, we find that Mao Tse -Tung and his Communist forces were engaged in combat over a period of 22 years. Vietnam was embattled for an even longer period: 35 years. These are not swift victories.
We can also dispel the notion that non-violent action has to be slow. The non-violent overthrow of Marcos in the Philippines - measured from the assassination of Benigno Aquino-took only three years.
Where does the idea come from, then, that violence is quick and nonviolence is slow? Well, violence feels quicker, because time passes rapidly when you're dodging bullets. Non-violent action, on the other hand, requires more patience because the action is less thrilling.
Theodore Roszak once commented on the impatience of some of these critics. He said, "People try nonviolence for a week, and when it 'doesn't work,' they go back to violence, which hasn't worked for centuries."
Now, what does Roszak mean, that violence "hasn't worked for centuries"? Is he ignoring the success of so many violent revolutions? I think Roszak means that violence, even when it succeeds, has major negative side-effects-side-effects that non-violent action mostly avoids.
First of all, a violent struggle will tend to bring about much more destruction of life, property, and environment.
Of course, there can be destruction in nonviolent struggles, too. Just because you're nonviolent doesn't mean your opponent will be. As I said before, Gandhi's campaigns in India saw hundreds of Indians killed by the British. Still, this doesn't compare with the tens or hundreds of thousands, or even millions, killed in some violent revolutions.
The difference, by the way, doesn't arise because nonviolent struggles are aimed at "nice" enemies. After all, the British aren't so much nicer than the French, who killed 800,000 Algerians-that's one out of every thirteen-during Algeria's war of independence.
No, the difference arises because, in a violent struggle, the violence of each side goads the other to greater violence. Also, each side uses the violence of the other side to justify its own violence. A nonviolent struggle, on the other hand, doesn't so much encourage the violence of the opponent.
Other negative side-effects of violence come into view once the struggle comes to an end. For instance, violence generally leaves the two sides as long-standing enemies.
Maybe the most amazing thing about Gandhi's nonviolent revolution is, not that the British left, but that they left as friends, and that Britain and India became partners in the British Commonwealth.
Gandhi noted also that violent revolutions almost always end in repressive dictatorships. Once the rebel troops gain control, they naturally keep acting as they're used to-in other words, they start running the country like a military camp. And of course, there are lots of bitter enemies within the country who still need to be put down and kept down. Gandhi hoped that a non-violent revolution, led by civilians, would avoid all this.
Now, India today is not a paradise. It is afflicted by widespread injustice, civil violence, and authoritarian trends. Still, it is one of the few Third World countries where democracy in any form has survived continuously. There has never been a military coup in India.
When you look at the side-effects of violent struggle, you really have to ask yourself, just who is being practical here, and who is not.
Now, maybe you think from all I've said that I believe nonviolent action would work anywhere, if people just gave it a try. Actually, I don't. I believe there are cases in which nonviolent action wouldn't stand a chance, and where any attempt at it is futile. In some of these cases, violence might succeed - in its own fashion.
On the other hand, the cases in which nonviolent action wouldn't work are often just the cases in which violence as well would prove pointless or worse.
The belief that violence will work wherever nonviolent action wouldn't is a very puzzling myth. The opposite case is likely more common: Where violent efforts would be easily contained or instantly crushed, nonviolent action may be the only realistic choice.
Then there are other cases, I believe, in which violence would work, but so would nonviolent action - with much less harm.
If exponents of armed struggle were less concerned with proving their manliness and more concerned with the welfare of the people they claim to stand up for, they might discover that nonviolent forms of struggle, everything considered, work better.