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I’m currently reading Dover Press’s printing of an old collection of Gandhi’s newspapers articles. It’s titled “Non-violent Resistance (Satyagraha)”, and you can find it here.

Anyway, rather than treat this as a book review, I thought I’d periodically share my notes on what I’m learning from the book.

I began reading the book largely because of the Occupy Wall Street Protests. I wanted to learn for myself, from a respected practitioner, what non-violent protests are truly supposed to be about. Granted that, until I finish the book, the contents of these notes are not to be taken as any kind of prescription for modern times. I am merely going to set down ideas that strike me as being particularly insightful or essential. It will be equal parts for my own personal clarification and memory and to share with all of you out there. So I begin.

0. Satyagraha means “grasping the truth.” Taking this as symbolic for all of Gandhi’s teachings on non-violence, it means the focus is not on attacking or disrupting the unjust directly but on holding on to what is true. It is something positive, rather than negative.

1. Gandhi does not advocate non-violence in all situations. In what I have read so far, he insists that using violence for political gains is ineffective and unjust. He explicitly writes that using violence for self-defense in emergency situations (he describes an assassination attempt) is perfectly acceptable. I have not read his opinion on war; my assumption is that he is against it.

2. Gandhi makes a distinction between non-violent protest and passive-resistance. He believes that passive-resistance refers to concession; to being non-violent because any attempt at violence would be defeated. He considers this to be participating in the violence by fearing it. He conceives of non-violent protest as something active – something planned and executed to gain something; not as a means of avoiding the offending party’s violence.

3. Everywhere is the word discipline. Discipline, discipline, discipline. He writes that actions of non-violent resistance that are not grounded in strict discipline and disorganization are mere criminal acts. He believes that non-payment of taxes is, theoretically, an acceptable and helpful tool in resisting an unjust government, but at one point he dissuades people from using it, because he does not feel that the people of India are sufficiently trained in the discipline of non-violence to not join it too easily.  He rather urges political leaders to spend more time planning and training their people than to rush into actions with severe consequences.

4. Non-violence must be total and completely thorough to be effective. Violence is not just physical violence, but also hateful speech, implicit participation in power structures that support violence or injustice, and any kind of punitive behavior. On the latter: he points out that staging boycotts against one party (e.g., the British Empire) is punitive rather than productive and therefore has no part in non-violent protest. Simply to reject is harmful. One must take up residence in what is true and helpful for one’s self. The protest, the resistance, is the rejection of any attempt to deny them that.

5. The most obviously “non-violent” part of non-violent resistance has to do with police action. Gandhi insists that non-violent protesters must not resist or complain about police action, arrest or imprisonment. It is a much bolder statement to willingly and cordially go to prison as the result of not-participating in unjust circumstances than it is to complain about the police. This could mean accepting injury and death as a consequence.

6. Gandhi says a non-violent protester must be willing to sacrifice his or her life for the cause.

7. Over and over gain, Gandhi writes that government is not anything bad in itself; it is only bad when it acts unjustly. To me, this portrays government more than ever as a machine that must be made to serve its people – not as a fundamental bugbear or source of strife. Part of keeping the machine running well is making sure that the people could live without it – at least for a short while – if they needed it. It would be good to think of it as an essential convenience in human life – a simple machine like a hammer, a wheel, a rope. Though you could live without one if, somehow, it became too much of a problem for you – it would probably be very stressful to do so for a long time.

That’ll be it for now. More to come.


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