Suicidal Passivity

As an example of passivity combined with non-violent resistance on a large scale, consider something Gandhi–whose name is nearly synonymous with passive resistance–wrote in 1940:

I do not want Britain to be defeated, nor do I want her to be victorious in a trial of brute strength, whether expressed through the muscle or the brain. Your muscular bravery is an established fact. Need you demonstrate that your brain is also as unrivaled in destructive power as your muscle? I hope you do not wish to enter into such an undignified competition with the Nazis. I venture to present you with a nobler and a braver way, worthy of the bravest soldier. I want you to fight Nazism without arms, or, if I am to retain the military terminology, with non-violent arms. 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. Let them take possession of your beautiful island, with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these, but neither your souls, nor your minds. If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourself, man, woman and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them.

This process or method, which I have called non-violent non-co-operation, is not without considerable success in its use in India. Your representatives in India may deny my claim. If they do, I shall feel sorry for them. {Open letter, “To Every Briton”, New Delhi (2 July 1940); published in Harijan (6 July 1940).}

He was perhaps not aware of the full extent of Nazi brutality in 1940—brutality which made the British in India look innocent by comparison. If that was the case, then Gandhi’s foolishness might be excused. But to behave as he suggested was to commit suicide with little hope of a gospel of “non-violent non-co-operation” even surviving. Only in a place like India, where the British were unwilling to be as brutal as the Nazis, could such a technique have had any hope of working.

Leave a reply to join the discussion. Thank you!