The Theory of passive resistance or non-violent campaigning

The American author Henry David Thoreau was the pioneer of the modern theory behind this practice with his 1849 essay Civil Disobedience (available at Wikisource), originally titled "Resistance to Civil Government".

The main idea behind the essay was that of self-reliance, and how one is in morally good standing as long as they "get off another man's back"; so you don't have to physically fight the government, but you must not support it or have it support you (if you are against it). This essay has influenced many later practitioners of civil disobedience and non-violent or passive resistance. 

Passive Resistance has served as a major tactic of nationalist movements in former colonies in Africa and Asia prior to their gaining independence. Most notably Mahatma Gandhi developed civil disobedience as an anti-colonialist tool. Gandhi said " Civil disobedience is the inherent right of a citizen to be civil, implies discipline, thought, care, attention ". 

In seeking an active form of passive resistance, one may choose to deliberately break certain laws, for example forming a peaceful blockade. Protesters practice this non-violent form of civil disorder with the expectation that they will be arrested, or even attacked/beaten by the authorities. Protesters often undergo training in advance on how to react to arrest or to attack, so that they will do so in a manner that quietly or limply resists without threatening the authorities. For example, Mahatma Gandhi outlined the following rules:

  • A civil resister (or satyagrahi) will harbour no anger.
  • He will suffer the anger of the opponent.
  • In so doing he will put up with assaults from the opponent, never retaliate; but he will not submit, out of fear of punishment or the like, to any order given in anger.
  • When any person in authority seeks to arrest a civil resister, he will voluntarily submit to the arrest, and he will not resist the attachment or removal of his own property, if any, when it is sought to be confiscated by authorities.
  • If a civil resister has any property in his possession as a trustee, he will refuse to surrender it, even though in defending it he might lose his life. He will, however, never retaliate.
  • Retaliation includes swearing and cursing.
  • Therefore a civil resister will never insult his opponent, and therefore also not take part in many of the newly coined cries which are contrary to the spirit of ahimsa.
  • A civil resister will not salute the Union Jack, nor will he insult it or officials, English or Indian.
  • In the course of the struggle if anyone insults an official or commits an assault upon him, a civil resister will protect such official or officials from the insult or attack even at the risk of his life.

Gandhi distinguished between his idea of satyagraha and the passive resistance of the west.

Satyagraha is the philosophy of nonviolent resistance most famously employed by Mohandas Gandhi in forcing an end to the British Raj and also against apartheid in South Africa. 

Satya is Sanskrit for Truth, and Agraha is used to describe an effort, endeavor. The term itself may be construed to mean any effort to discover, discern, obtain or apply Truth . The word is rooted in Sanskrit, Hindi and Gujarati.

Gandhi's principals of Truth and Non-Violence:

Thruth:

Gandhi dedicated his life to the wider purpose of discovering truth, or Satya . He tried to achieve this by learning from his own mistakes and conducting experiments on himself. He named his autobiographyThe Story of My Experiments with Truth . Gandhi found that uncovering the truth was not always popular as many people were resistant to change, preferring instead to maintain the existing status quo because of either inertia, self-interest or misguided beliefs. However he also discovered that once the truth was on the march nothing could stop it. All it took was time to achieve traction and gain momentum. As Gandhi said:

"The Truth is far more powerful than any weapon of mass destruction".

Gandhi said that the most important battle to fight was in overcoming his own demons, fears and insecurities. He thought it was all too easy to blame people, governing powers or enemies for his personal actions and well-being. He noted the solution to problems could normally be found just by looking in the mirror. One of the greatest contributions of Mahatma Gandhi was in the realm of ontology and its association with truth. For Gandhi, "to be" did not mean to exist within the realm of time, as it has in the past with the Greek philosophers. But rather, "to exist" meant to exist within the realm of truth, or to use the term Gandhi did, satya . Gandhi summarized his beliefs first when he said "God is Truth," but as typical of Gandhi, he evolved, later to correct himself and state that "Truth is God." The first statement seemed insufficient to Gandhi, as the mistake could be made that Gandhi was using Truth as a description of God, rather than the summative definition of the entire essence of God. Satya (Truth) in Gandhi's philosophy IS God. It shares all the characteristics of the Hindu concept of God, or Brahman. It lives within us, that little voice that tells us what to do, but also guides the universe.

Nonviolence

The concept of nonviolence (ahimsa) and nonresistance has a long history in Indian religious thought and has had many revivals in Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Christian contexts. Gandhi explains his philosophy and way of life in his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth . He was quoted as saying:

"When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall -- think of it, ALWAYS."

"What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?"

"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind".

"There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no causes that I am prepared to kill for".

In applying these principles, Gandhi did not balk from taking them to their most logical extremes. In 1940, when invasion of the British Isles by Nazi Germany looked imminent, Gandhi offered the following advice to the British people (Non-Violence in Peace and War):

"I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions.... If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourselves, man, woman, and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them".

Even in 1946, by which time Gandhi had learned of The Holocaust, he said to biographer Louis Fisher: [pg17]

"The Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher's knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs."

However, Gandhi was aware that this level of nonviolence required incredible faith and courage, which he realized everyone did not possess. He therefore advised that everyone need not keep to nonviolence, especially if it was used as a cover for cowardice.

Basic Concepts of Satyagraha: Gandhian Nonviolence: from the APT Nonviolence Trainer's Manual.

I. "Sat" --- which implies openness, honesty, and fairness: Truth.

1.     Each person's opinions and beliefs represent part of the truth.

2.     In order to see more of the truth we must share our truths cooperatively.

3.     This implies a desire to communicate and a determination to do so, which in turn requires developing and refining relevant skills of communication.

4.     Commitment to seeing as much of the truth as possible means that we can not afford to categorize ourselves or others.

II. "Ahimsa" --- refusal to inflict injury on others.

1.     Ahimsa is dictated by our commitment to communication and to sharing of our pieces of the truth. Violence shuts off channels of communication.

2.     The concept of ahimsa appears in most major religions, which suggests that while it may not be practiced by most people, it is respected as an ideal.

3.     Ahimsa is an expression of our concern that our own and other's humanity be manifested and respected.

4.     We must learn to genuinely love our opponents in order to practice ahimsa.

III. "Tapasya" --- willingness for self-sacrifice.

1.     A satyagrahi (one who practices satyagraha) must be willing to shoulder any sacrifice which is occasioned by the struggle which they have initiated, rather than pushing such sacrifice or suffering onto their opponent, lest the opponent become alienated and access to their portion of the truth become lost.

2.     The satyagrahi must always provide a face-saving "way out" for the opponents. The goal is to discover a wider vista of truth and justice, not to achieve victory over the opponent.

Source: dfong.com

Last updated : 26-Nov-2013

This article was produced by South African History Online on 26-Nov-2013

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