The true spirit of Satyagraha

- By R.R. Diwakar

The total renunciation of violence to life and property as a means for solving conflicts between nations has become more urgent than ever before. The discovery of atomic power and the testing and use of nuclear weapons have proved to be a threat to human civilization itself. So the necessity to find an alternative to war and violence is as great as finding a way for saving humanity from self-destruction.

Can satyagraha, as evolved, preached and practised by Gandhi, or any modification thereof, help humanity in this crisis? He often declared that satyagraha is a sovereign remedy against all evils, of course including the major evil of war. As early as 1914 he wrote: "Satyagraha is a force which, if it becomes universal, would revolutionize social ideas and do away with despotism and the ever-growing militarism under which the nations of the West are groaning and are being almost crushed to death, and which fairly promises to overwhelm even the nations of the East."

Satyagraha was evolved by Gandhi as an effective substitute for violent and destructive ways of fighting evil in the form of injustice, oppression and all kinds of exploitation. He used this method for resolving conflicts of interests and outlook, whether between individuals or groups. He used the satyagraha technique in all spheres of life.

We cannot, however, say that Gandhi had occasion to try his satyagraha technique in all kinds of conceivable situations in human affairs. For instance, what is relevant in the present context is the significance and applicability of satyagraha as an alternative to war and violence in international affairs. There were wars even during Gandhi's lifetime and we know what attitudes he adopted on various occasions and the appeals he made to the warring nations. But there was no occasion when he could have directly acted either to prevent war or to stop it by his methods.

It should, however, be remembered that the author of satyagraha lived and worked in the faith that it had infinite possibilities, that it was a sovereign remedy against all evils and that satyagraha alone would save humanity and lead it to an age of peace, harmony and happiness.

Satyagraha is basically a way of life in which truth and nonviolence, the realization of truth through non-violence and loving action, is the ideal. Everything else, thought or acted, has to be subservient to that ideal.

Love and nonviolence in the broadest sense have been the most cohesive and cementing forces of human society and of human relations since the beginning of man's life on earth. The progress of human society from the tribal to the international level would not otherwise have been a possibility. From violence to non-violence, from fear to fearlessness, from hatred to love, from the gross to the subtle has been the progress of civilization and culture.

While, thus, the trend of evolution is towards truth and nonviolence, towards construction and achievement, while the inner aspiration of man is towards the good and the true, the beautiful and the everlasting, untruth, evil, violence, hatred and destruction are still acting as anti-evolutionary forces. The progressive realization of the true nature and power as well as the increasing and effective use of goodness and truth, of love and nonviolence, is and can be the highest and the only goal of self-conscious humanity. The measure of success man attains in this venture is the measure of real progress in his evolution towards an ideal humanity, living in peace and joy and fulfillment.

Seen in this perspective, Gandhi may be said to have placed himself in the hands of the human evolutionary urge itself. He is the spearhead and symbol of future humanity. For him, the evolutionary urge meant predominantly the quest of the truth of life in terms of the needs of human progress, and its realization through the means of love and through action prompted by nonviolence.

It is true that insistence on clinging to truth firmly, and defence as well as establishment of truth through nonviolent behaviour and through love and self-suffering, are not entirely new. They are as old as humanity and as ancient as the first emergence of saints. But Gandhi developed the technique not merely as a weapon to be used by individuals and almost entirely in the religious field but as a method which can be used by organized groups universally and in all fields and conflicts. It is this that has opened new vistas and inspired in mankind a fresh hope that this may be helpful not only as an equivalent of war but also for eliminating war ultimately.

True, Gandhi acted in a certain environment and led his people to success under given circumstances. He was faced directly with specific problems, the liberation of his own country being one of the most important of them. He solved many problems and that of liberation during his own lifetime. He organized and disciplined vast masses on nonviolent lines, though there were some occasional lapses on the part of his followers.

But it should be remembered that invasion of one country by another, international war, the replacement of war as an instrument for solving international conflicts, the solution of such conflicts by peaceful methods only, these were not the problems that he had to face directly as a satyagrahi. He has no doubt written a lot about all these situations, but they are in the nature of obiter dicta. The remedies which he has suggested indicate only the direction. Though he had no occasion to act and demonstrate his principles in the circumstances indicated above, he firmly believed that a nonviolent way was bound to be available for the solution of every problem in human relationship and that it was also bound to be successful. That he held this belief firmly and from the beginning is evident from his statements on many occasions.

The fact of the matter is that satyagraha is not a mechanical formula or a mathematical theory. It is a living, dynamic principle and philosophy of life which is yet to unfold itself and evolve fully. It may be said to be "the law of being" of coming humanity. It has yet to replace fully and effectively the operation of physical force and coercion in social evolution and social dynamics. Love, nonviolence, is the law of our species, no doubt; but it has yet to establish itself firmly and fully. Nevertheless it is progressively advancing. It is struggling, with reason as its helpmate, to control the irrational urges for possession and power of present-day humanity.

It is, of course, doubtful if organized political States as such will ever entertain a plan of action based on the principles of satyagraha because every State is founded on physical force as its basic and final sanction. That has been the theory of State since the beginning of all politics. In its dealings with its own subjects or with its neighbours a State may occasionally use methods which are in their externals somewhat similar to those of a satyagrahi, such as persuasion, negotiation, compromise and so on. But there the similarity ends.

Nonviolent methods are used by States as being expedient or less costly but never as a principle of action or as the final sanction. Self-suffering, for instance, has no place at all in a State's policy. A State guides its steps mainly along the line of immediate as well as ultimate self interest. So to expect at present even the smallest State to think in terms of the principles of satyagraha is to live in an imaginary world. It is equally futile to expect even the most powerful State, which keeps swearing by peace, to cease to add to its striking power. "Keeping the powder dry" is the only policy that all States follow. A State which would train and discipline its citizens in the science and art of satyagraha is yet to be born. Even India, which won its freedom by predominantly nonviolent means, has not been able, as a State, to do anything either in the way of unilateral disarmament or in the way of organizing a "non-violent army".

But we need not despair at the fact that States, constituted as they are today, can never think in terms of satyagraha. Certainly such States as are not out for war, such as are peace-minded and in dead earnest to see that the ways of peace and friendliness are ultimately substituted for those of war and violence, can help create circumstances which would promote the methods of satyagraha by the people. They can certainly add to the common efforts of mankind to bring about an atmosphere of peace. They can do this both in the political and in the diplomatic field.

The first and most important step that a State could take to lessen the prevailing tension and the chances of war - I mean a major war - is to refrain from joining the power-groups, or power-blocs as they are called. This is a kind of "non-cooperation with evil". Of course, the question could be asked whether these nations which stand outside the blocs have themselves abjured violence and war as a means of solving international conflicts, and whether they have disbanded their armies and established the rule of nonviolence in their own areas. The obvious answer is that they have done nothing of the kind. And yet it cannot be gainsaid that they have helped by non-alignment in creating an atmosphere for peace, be it in ever so humble a way.

Following this first step could come complete non-cooperation, boycott and education of public opinion within the borders of the war-mongering States by a sufficiently well-organized group of non-bloc countries. They may use their collective influence to insist that there should be complete disarmament, that there should be no war henceforward and that means and methods other than violence and war should be brought into use, both for preventing international conflicts and for solving them.

When the organization of such States becomes powerful enough, their combined moral pressure on isolated power-blocs which are always on the brink of war is likely to be effective. Of course, the sanction behind such moral power of the non-aligned States would be the peaceful weapons of complete non-cooperation, economic and other nonviolent boycotts and so on. All this, if fully effective, would lead ultimately to total disarmament and to a world government. Then the only central authority wielding physical power would be the World Government. The States would then have only municipal, judicial and administrative powers and would have no military sanctions either for defensive or offensive purposes. Attempts such as the League of Nations, the United Nations Organization and disarmament conferences are all leading us in that direction.

While this would no doubt be a great achievement, the world would still continue to be ruled by violent and coercive sanctions rather than by love and nonviolence, and there would still persist the need to preach and practise satyagraha as conceived by Gandhi, until such time as the rule of truth, friendliness and mutual cooperation is established throughout humanity.

Since wars begin in the minds and hearts of men and since the substitute for war also has to take root and grow there only, educating the people along those lines is essential as the very first step. This has been rendered easier now, since the evil not only of atomic war but even of atomic tests has come home to the people.

Today it is a well-known fact that the world is war-weary, that while the governments concerned are preparing for war, the people not only do not want war but definitely want peace. But at the same time they are afraid of aggression, of being conquered by "others", by foreigners; they are afraid of losing their freedom. Obviously slavery is a continuous violence against the very soul of a people. It is natural that a people should prefer using violence to losing their freedom. It is therefore that they allow their governments to prepare for war while they themselves are hankering for peace. They realize that at best, war is a counsel of despair and at worst an invitation to death and destruction. But they have no effective alternative to offer to their governments. If we know how to organize nonviolent and peaceful forces in our own country and in the world, there is every hope that the organization of violent forces would break down. Nobody wants violence nor its triumph. There are no advocates for war as such. Even the worst war-mongers would say that war is but a necessary evil. They would avoid it if they could but they cannot, being caught up in a vicious circle.

When such is the situation, it is the moral duty of every individual and every citizen to line himself up on the side of "no-war" and see that he supports by some intelligent action the organization of nonviolent forces. Only sentimental revulsion from war would not be very helpful. Mere lip-sympathy or intellectual appreciation of peace efforts is no longer enough.

It should, however, be very clearly understood that there cannot be nonviolent action only by a single nation or its people. It has to be an international mass movement on the basis of "Peace workers of the world unite". Otherwise there is danger of subjugation by armed neighbours, which is worse than violence in defence of one's freedom.

The basic need of various peace-movements today, by whatever name they might be called, is of an organized and dedicated army of workers in all countries, of the type of the satyagrahis who enrolled themselves under Gandhi's leadership in India. The next step can be taken only when there is such an army to take that first step. The quality of the army is of very great importance more than its number.

The time for action would come when there shall be an army of men and women who are willing to act; then the technique of international action may be found along the lines of satyagraha. This would include passive as well as aggressive resistance to all those agencies which today directly or indirectly promote war and violence in the various States. Of course, such resistance should start only after all other types of persuasion have failed.

Such resistance may take any form, from simple non-cooperation to aggressive picketing even at the risk of being shot. This may include non-payment of taxes, boycott, social boycott of people who are ordering or directly manufacturing weapons of destruction, and so on. All these would depend upon the circumstances and the skill and tact of the local leaders.

But under all circumstances, nonviolence has to be strictly adhered to and the distinction between the evil and the evil-doer has to be scrupulously borne in mind. There should be the utmost readiness to suffer cheerfully the highest punishment and death, in the buoyant faith that truth - in this case the cause of nonviolence - will triumph. This is a nonviolent war against war and all the courage to face the worst has to be readily in evidence. That is the true spirit of satyagraha, the weapon of the brave against all evil.