Gandhi and Peace Research

By Thomas Weber

The central importance of Gandhi to nonviolent activism is widely acknowledged. There are also other significant peace-related bodies of knowledge that have gained such popularity in the West in the relatively recent past that they have changed the directions of thought and have been important in encouraging social movements - yet they have not been analysed in terms of antecedents, especially Gandhian ones. This article analyses the Mahatma's contribution to the intellectual development of  Johan Galtung and argues that those who want to make an informed study of deep ecology, peace research or Buddhist economics, and particularly those who are interested in the philosophy of  Galtung should go back to Gandhi for a fuller picture.

Johan Galtung and Peace Research

 After the mass slaughter of World War II and fear of nuclear Armageddon in the late 1950s, the budding discipline of peace research concentrated on the elimination of international armed conflict. Researchers, led by those in the USA, attempted to understand war in terms of  perceptions that international actors were pursuing incompatible goals and that tried to find ways to prevent misconceptions (Pardesi, 1982: 4). Peace was interpreted as an absence of war and the discipline of peace research left other social problems to different disciplines,

In some religious traditions, 'peace' is understood in the affirmative as wholeness, rather than negatively as the absence of war.  Thus, threats to peace may come not from those who stir up conflict, but from those who acquiesce in the existing state of affairs (Macquarrie, 1973: 30). If peace is so construed, wholeness and fulfilment must be opened up for all, and all must have a share in power, which is an essential ingredient in a fully human existence (Macquarrie, 1973: 33, 38).

This line of thinking is echoed in the peace research of Johan Galtung, which outlined a broader notion of peace than the negative definitions previously favoured by the American school: 

Peace research should liberate itself from a materialistic bias dealing with bodies, dead or alive, healthy or unhealthy - in other words with mortality and morbidity only, and not with the mental and spiritual dimensions of violence and human growth and development (Galtung, 1985: 156).

Primarily as a response to the work of Galtung (1969, 1971b), the central concern of peace research for many researchers moved from direct violence and its elimination or reduction (negative peace) to the broader agenda of structural violence and its elimination (positive peace). This increasingly popular school of peace research (see for example Barash, 1991: 7-11) places great emphasis on the elimination of exploitation and oppression.

'Structural violence' is unintended structure-generated (rather than actor-generated) harm done to human beings. It is an indirect form of violence built into social, political and economic structures that gives rise to unequal power and consequently unequal life chances. It includes exploitation, alienation,  marginalization, poverty, deprivation, misery etc. and exists when basic needs for security, freedom, welfare and identity are not being met (see Galtung, 1969). In its horizontal version, violent structures keep apart people who want to be together, and keep together people who want to be apart (Galtung, 1996: 67). 'Violence can be defined as the cause of the difference between the potential and the actual, between what could have been and what is' (Galtung, 1969: 169). In other words, and to put it into terms that Naess would approve of, this conception of violence is based 'on a distinction between the potential and actual level of self-realization of human beings, particularly on the "avoidable causes of a differential between the two"' (Galtung, 1975: 24). 

Extreme structural violence can lead to death by denying even the most basic needs such as food and shelterˇ So negative peace can be insufficient to protect human life.  Positive peace encompasses an absence of structural as well as direct violence. It means not only ending wars, but also freedom from want, the attainment of justice, the protection of human rights and an absence of exploitation (Galtung, 1985: 145).

Even earlier, Galtung (1959) had been edging towards this distinction, yet it was not made explicit until his 1969 paper. This article was written on the roof of the Gandhian Institute of Studies at Rajghat in Varanasi. In explaining its origins, Galtung points to his desire to link the theories of peace, conflict and development; the emerging distinction between actor-oriented and structure-oriented social cosmologies, and 'the exposure to Gandhian thinking' (Galtung, 1975: 22).

Development for the poor is frequently championed in order to prevent violence, whereas for Galtung inequalities 'were in and by themselves violence ... unnecessary evils in their own right' (Galtung, 1975: 23-24). For him, Gandhi was the only author or politician who 'clearly fought against both the sudden, deliberate direct violence engaged in by actors, and the continuous, not necessarily intended, violence built into the social structures' (Galtung, 1975: 24)ˇ  While some used structural violence to prevent direct violence (in the law and order tradition), some used direct violence to abolish structural violence (in the revolutionary tradition), and still others condoned one or the other while attempting to alleviate the plight of the victims (in the Christian caritas tradition), Gandhi 'was equally opposed to all three'. But in fact 'Gandhi's general pattern of action is more tailor-made for structural conflict' (Galtung, 1982: 225).

This work set the future agenda for a peace research concerned with more than international relations. For those who have followed Galtung's intellectual career, the influence of Gandhi is evident.4 In a sense, Gandhi was Galtung's entree into the world of peace research. He has acknowledged that as a seventeen-year-old he 'cried bitterly' when he heard the news of the Mahatma's assassination (Galtung, 1992: v). One of his first jobs was as an assistant to Naess, a collaboration which eventually resulted in a book on Gandhi's political ethics (Galtung & Naess, 1955). Much of Galtung's contribution to that book was written in prison where he was serving time as a conscientious objector against military service.

The project with Naess, Galtung commented later, 'was also the way I got started on peace research' (Galtung, 1992: vii). Since that time, his writings have contained many references to the Mahatma.5 In describing important sources of inspiration, Galtung has noted that Gandhi is 'the major one ... and increasingly Buddhism in general' (Galtung, 1990b: 280).

Gandhi's wide conception of nonviolence included not treating another with less dignity than was warranted by a shared humanity.  Dehumanization is violence, as Gandhi made clear when he spoke of exploitation in economic terms. He pointed out that someone who claims as his or her own 'more than the minimum that is really necessary for him is guilty of theft' (Gandhi, 1955: 58).

I venture to suggest that it is the fundamental law of nature, without exception, that Nature produces enough for our wants from day to day, and if only everybody took enough for himself and nothing more, there would be no pauperism in this world ....(Gandhi, 1933: 384)

Gandhi was willing to push this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion. If our aid programs are not sufficient to reduce our theft then our neighbours must be invited 'to come and to share our resources, and live as we have been trying to do. If there is not enough to go around, we must all tighten our belts, but yet not exclude anyone who is really in want' (Harijan, 13 April 1940).

During his 1969 reading of Gandhi, Galtung defined him as a 'structuralist' in the sense that he saw:

conflict in the deeper sense as something that was built into social structures, not into the persons ... Colonialism was a structure and caste was a structure; both of them filled with persons performing their duties according to their roles or statuses ... The evil was in the structure, not in the person who carried out his obligations ... Exploitation is violence, but it is quite clear that Gandhi sees it as a structural relation more than as the intended evil inflicted upon innocent victims by evil men'. (Galtung, 1971a: 124, 133-134)

Unfortunately, the incisive fifty-page paper on Gandhi entitled 'Gandhi and Conflictology' (Galtung, 1971 a), which grew out of this and a later visit to India, was not published at the time. Not until twenty years later did a reworked version appear in print (Galtung, 1992). Much of Galtung's central writings on peace research can be linked to Gandhi through this source.

Source: Journal of Peace Research; Vol-36, Number-3, May 1999