Why did Gandhi Fail ?
As a young man growing up in England I was enormously influenced by Gandhi and the whole idea of satyagraha and ahimsa, especially as interpreted, for instance, by writers such as Richard B. Gregg. Even after thirty years I can still recapture the sense of excitement, the sense that a great new idea had come into the world, an idea of enormous importance for mankind. Coming to adolescence in the aftermath of the first World War, I was conscious of the break-up of an old order, of the end of an old era. The whole world of national states and empires, which had seemed so secure and permanent in 1914, was revealed as incapable of providing a decent order and habitations for the human race. War seemed like an absolutely intolerable betrayal of the spirit of man, and the State which demanded it, a monster only to be appeased by endless human sacrifice. On the other hand there seemed to be no alternative in the face of the very real conflicts of the world but a passive withdrawal, equally unacceptable to the spirit concerned with justice and the right ordering of society. In this dilemma the message of Gandhi came like a great light, indicating that it was possible to reconcile peace and justice, to reject war and at the same time participate in a great historical process for human betterment. The idea of nonviolent struggle which refused to break the community of mankind, refused to exclude even the enemy from this community, and which rested on a view of human nature and of the social process much deeper than the crude arguments of the advocates of violence, was like a revelation. “Great was it in that dawn to be alive, and to be young was very heaven! “That dawn” for Wordsworth was the French Revolution, and a false dawn it turned out to be, a dawn not of liberation but of terrible violence and tyranny. Wordsworth’s disillusion drove him to retreat into a barren conservatism in later life, and one can hope not to repeat this. No doubt all dawns are false, or rather, each dawn leads only to another day; the great tides of human history submerge the momentary waves of excitement and exaltation. Nevertheless it is hard to avoid a sense of disappointment at the grey day that followed the Gandhian dawn. The second World War was nothing unexpected: it was implicit in the very system of national power. The independence of India likewise was not unexpected, for we had all looked forward to it for years. Some of us hoped indeed that India, because of Gandhi, would be a new kind of nation, rejecting the whole system of threats and counter-threats which had brought the world to disaster. What has happened since 1947 however has been profoundly disturbing for those of us who held these high hopes.
For what has happened? India has become a nation like any other, and even, truth compels me to say with pain, less mature in its foreign relations, less peaceful, less realistic, than many others. In its internal policies there is one outstanding achievement, the maintenance of internal freedom and democracy in the face of enormous problems and difficulties. I happened to witness the military parade in New Delhi on 26 January 1964 on my way to the Pugwash Conference in Udaipur. I felt as if I was back in the Europe of 1914, and hardly knew whether to laugh or weep. It was as if Gandhi had never lived or had lived in vain. I confess I never expected to live to see girls in saris doing the goose-step! It is very hard for Indians now to see how they look to the world outside, for they are naturally preoccupied with their enormous internal problems. It is very easy, however, for India’s actions to be interpreted as those of a weak and petulant bully, not hesitating to use the old-fashioned threat against a weak enemy, as in Goa, answering provocation with provocation in the case of a strong enemy, such as China, and refusing to make a desperately needed adjustment in the case of Kashmir. I am not saying that this image of India is either true or just, merely that it is a possible interpretation of India’s actions. What is abundantly clear is that India’s international posture is an enormous handicap in achieving economic development, a handicap so great that it may prevent development altogether, and may have in it the seeds of a human catastrophe on an almost unimaginable scale. The problem of development in a country like India, burdened with a tradition and a religion which for many centuries has produced a heroic adjustment to poverty rather than to a sober and organized attempt to get out of poverty, is so difficult in itself that it requires every ounce of human effort, of talent for organization, and of economic resources to break out of the trap. Every man, every rupee wasted in military effort is a millstone round India’s neck, and may condemn billions of her unborn to poverty and misery. Economic development is like a man trying to jump out of a ten-foot hole; it is no use his jumping nine feet eleven inches, for he will just fall back. At a certain crucial stage a little more effort may make the whole difference between ultimate success and failure. What are we to say, therefore, to a man who tries to jump out of this hole with a cannon deliberately strapped on his back - yet is not this precisely descriptive of India today!
The plain and ugly truth is that in the game of international politics India is going to be a militarily weak nation for many decades to come. In the modern world especially, with the United Nations and the increasing recognition of the illegitimacy of war, it is quite possible for a weak nation to survive and prosper, and indeed eventually become a “strong” one for whatever that may be worth, which is not much. When it is weak, however, it must behave like a weak nation, and not pretend that it is a strong one. Both India and Indonesia - the latter much more so - seem to be under the illusion that because they are big nations they must, therefore, simply because of their large populations, be powerful. Nothing could be farther from the truth; their very size is a major source of their weakness, for in the modern world small nations have a much better chance of managing their internal affairs well and getting on the road to development than large nations. It is a fatal mistake, however, for a weak nation to behave as if it were a strong one, which seems to me precisely what India is doing.
Quite apart from Gandhian moral standards, then, and even judged by the low morality of international power politics, India is behaving badly and gets a low mark. The child born with such high hopes has turned out not only to be no better than the average, but actually worse. There are, of course, many extenuating circumstances. Colonial rule is a dreadful thing, which corrupts both ruler and ruled, and the ex-colonial countries all suffer from a well-recognised disease of society which might be called the “post-colonial trauma”, and from which it may take several generations to recover - indeed, I sometimes think the trouble with England even today is that it never really recovered from the Norman conquest, for it too exhibits many of the marks of a post-colonial society! It takes time to learn mature international behaviour, and the nations - including my own - are all busy teaching each other how to be immature and childish, and learning this lesson all too readily. Still, the nagging question remains: India, because a new light shone into the world there, should have been different―or perhaps one should have expected Gandhi to suffer the fate of the Buddha! A prophet, as the Christian Bible says, is not without honour save in his own country!
Failure of Gandhian Values in India
For those concerned with the theory of nonviolence the failure of Gandhism in India to produce a successful development process after the “revolutionary” change raises severe problems. Nonviolence remains a powerful instrument of revolutionary change―we see now, indeed, in the movement of Martin Luther King in the United States. It perhaps has a greater effect on those against whom it is used than on those who use it. In a very real sense Gandhi liberated Britain more than he liberated India; when I go back to Britain I am astonished at how much richer and happier a country it seems to be than the “Imperial” England, of my childhood. In spite of the damage and sufferings of the wars, and though Gandhi can hardly be given all the credit for this, the plain economic fact is that in the twentieth century empire became a burden to the imperial power, not a source of wealth or even power. It is hard, however, to cast aside even burdens willingly, as the case of Portugal (the poorest country in Europe, with the largest empire) indicates. Nonviolence indeed is only effective when it is aligned with truth
- ahimsa and satyagraha must go hand in hand. When truth is rejected, and when an illusory view of the world clouds the judgement, as it seems to me is true of India today, of course nonviolence will be rejected. The critical problem then, comes down to how we learn to test the reality of our images of social and political systems, for the greatest enemy of nonviolence is the lack of “reality testing”. Even violence can be interpreted as a crude and costly method of testing our images of the world―as, for instance, Japan and Germany discovered by violent defeat that their images of the world had been wrong.
Thus, the failure of Gandhism is not a failure of ahimsa, but a failure of satyagraha. The modern world is so complex that the truth about it cannot be perceived by common sense or by mystical insight, important as these things are. We must have the more delicate and quantitative sampling and processing of information provided by the methods of the social sciences if we are really to test the truth of our images of social and political systems. The next logical step, therefore, for the Gandhian movement would seem to be in the direction of the social sciences, in peace research, and in the testing of all our images of society by the more refined means for discovering truth which are now available to us. I am not suggesting, of course, that the social sciences produce “absolute” truth, or indeed that much valid perception is not achieved through common sense and insight. What I do suggest, however, is that the problem of truth is so difficult that we cannot afford to neglect any means of improving the path towards it, and that without this, nonviolence will inevitably be frustrated.
Everywhere I went in India in my brief and inadequate visits I beard one thing: “There is no alternative”. It was precisely the greatness of Gandhi that he always insisted there was an alternative. Morality always implies that there are alternatives to choose, for morality is choice. To deny alternatives is to deny morality itself. To perceive alternatives requires imagination, hard thinking, and costly and painstaking study. If the Gandhian movement in India can recapture this great vision of the alternative, India may yet be saved from the disaster towards which she seems to be heading.