Tag Archives: Martin Luther King

What Would a Gandhian Business Model Look Like?

The Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture 2013 was given by Rt Hon Vince Cable MP. photo courtesy of Prem Prakash & Twisha Chandra

The Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture 2013 was given by
Rt Hon Vince Cable MP
photo courtesy of Prem Prakash & Twisha Chandra

The Rt Hon Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills delivered the Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture in October 2013. The title of his lecture was What Would a Gandhian Business Model Look Like? You can read the full speech by clicking here.

You can read a review by Robert Fisher and analysis by Antony Copley below.

What Would a Gandhian Business Model Look Like?
By Robert Fisher

At the recent Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture, The Rt Hon Vince Cable MP spoke of Mahatma Gandhi as one of the three great 20th century political activists who along with Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King brought to the consciousness of humanity some of the injustices that human kind has heaped upon his fellow man/woman.

At the same time reminding us of three 20th Century tyrants who had brought humanity to the depths of evil and despair, Hitler, Stalin and Mao Zedong who collectively killed millions in their attempts to control the destinies of many with their ill conceived ideological objectives.

And of the legacies of these six individuals, exemplified by the election of Barack Obama as the president of the United States of America, the emergence of India and China as two of the great economic powers in the world and of the recent joint American and Russian intervention in Syria in bringing about the destruction of its chemical weapons.

The legacies of Hitler, Stalin and Mao Zedong are not forgotten, there are still many within global society who would kill with impunity anyone questioning their authority or ideological beliefs.

Whilst Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela have undoubtedly helped to reduce the incidents of institutional racism and colonialism, sexism, ageism, classism etc. still exist and as was stated by Dr Cable, nonviolent direct action by all, wherever these incidents occur, will eventually bring these prejudices and injustices to an end.

It is noted that Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Gandhi were all individuals who fought against their political systems at the time to achieve their moral objectives.

The world of commerce and industry, based on mutual self interest has steadily moved on, perhaps providing some insight as to the way in which finding ways of working together can be more important than seeking to impose one ideological view over another. Politicians around the world will be aware of the impact the Internet has had on the political landscape.

Dr Cable spoke of globalisation, of economics and of ethics and of cultural and subsequent ethical conflicts between those who are the wealth creators in society and some who retain it to create even more money and of the differences between great wealth and deep poverty, inequalities and injustices in society.

Within the bandwidth of ethics that allows for freedom of thought and deed, I believe different and deeper truths and cultural values will emerge as nations converge and collective society moves forward in what I imagine Gandhi’s definition of Sarvodaya to be.

Globalisation, in this digital age, brings with it the hopes and aspirations of many and the potential for all cultures and nation states to collaborate in trying to address the many challenges that face humanity and earth’s subsystems, and the many opportunities in so doing.

Just under 40 years ago the combined intellectual capacity of only a few motivated individuals addressed the challenge of taking humanity to the moon and back.

It is entirely plausible that the combined intellectual capacity of humanity, connected, motivated and focused on addressing the many challenges we undoubtedly will face as we all move forward in eliminating extremes of poverty and injustice in society and the degradation of the natural world will be achieved. Gandhi and those like him have shown the many what only a few can achieve.

True economics, articulated by Vince Cable as social justice, equality and the good of all is not only aspirational it is logical and demonstrable through the concept of mutual self interest.

Whatever our views of capitalism are, laissez-faire or some other form of capitalism, we are part of global economic community and what we do in one part of the world has an impact in another. Dr Cable in his Ministerial capacity in relation to business, innovation and skills will I’m sure be aware of the need of a fine balance between government (regulation, innovation), and economic (stimulation and equilibrium).

Dr Cable spoke of the liberalisation of the Indian economy and of the dismantling of state control of its planning processes and what would have been Gandhi’s opposition in the protection of rural industries. I can see both sides to this argument, in the semi rural community within which I live I am aware of a balance that needs to kept in the development of any economy, local, national or international and of the need to support those whose aspirations are to the husbandry of natural / rural environments (you cannot eat software), and there is much more to true economics than generating GDP through irresponsible planning processes and ill thought through economic stimuli. I believe aesthetics and analysis both to be part of this liberalisation and planning process, soul with pragmatism.

The balance between materialism / consumerism / waste in a world of finite resources and the subsequent impact on global ecology I feel sure concerns the majority of people in society today and as set out in Vince Cable’s view of true economics it will be the innovators, scientists, engineers, businesses, social entrepreneurs who will address these challenges, but perhaps equally as important the spiritual / moral dimension to be included in this equation will determine the society in which we all will eventually live.

Dr Cable then commented on the benefits of the “green revolution” and of the efficiencies gained in multiple cropping, fertilizers etc.

Those cultures who have tilled the land responsibly for centuries will already be aware of nature’s natural and sustainable cycles, the green revolution will be nothing new to them. However irrigation and mobile telephony, in ways as yet to be imagined, will transform their lives forever.

Jevon’s paradox however puts forward the view that efficiencies gained through technological progress in accessing resources, tend to increase the rate of consumption and if this is the case I believe humanity must define and find ways of living within a sustainable global budget.

Vince Cable then went on to elaborate on the meaning of Swadeshi, as self-reliant village communities, independent from their neighbours for vital wants.

All modern communities of which I am aware are reliant on some of their vital resources from others. Within my own village community I can see many benefits in the reduction of waste by providing within its borders a balanced local economy and employment for its residents, whatever their aspirations are. In all transactions going forward there should be benefits, financial, social or environmental, but no transaction should be at the expense of the other, the metrics and algorithm developed to measure impact, an important factor in creating a sustainable and equitable society, wherever it exists.

Community cohesion and social mobility, mentioned by Dr Cable, should mean something different to the emergence of ghettoes in the city of London for highly paid bankers, or traveling miles to get to work because a person in his or her chosen occupation cannot afford to live close to their employment. These are complexities any economic system will have to deal with, but not, I feel, insurmountable.

Personally I can see some merits in Gandhi’s Swadeshi that should be nurtured, valued and protected, however this should be in a local / national /international / mutual self-interest context.

We have seen both positive and negative impacts of outsourcing our industrial and other capabilities since the 1970s to places such as the far-east and the impact of this short term bottom line thinking has had on the manufacturing skills base of the United Kingdom. There are now not enough engineers to rebuild our own critical infrastructures.

There is a comfort in the idea of British critical infrastructure being held in trust on behalf of its population by a British institution, built and managed by British engineers and if the money needed to build it comes from abroad I feel sure, within the concept of mutual self interest, this can be achieved.

Protectionism is not a viable option in modern day society, whichever industry people are in, but perhaps as is the current focus of Dr Cable’s attention in the development of government economic policy it will include joined up thinking in areas such as education, infrastructure, employment and planning.

Dr Cable then went on to state that he saw little merit in British Swadeshi, and in terms of international trade I would agree that the sum of the whole, in an international context, is much greater than its individual parts. However I imagine in line with government policy, localism, the decentralization /devolution of government and the organic development of clusters of various activities at a local level will inevitably provide the international community with significantly more parts to the whole, which perhaps will propel all nations, including the United Kingdom, who adopt the same model, into an age of socioeconomic and environmental equilibrium.

Finally Dr Cable went on to state that he wanted to see businesses in the United Kingdom that were socially responsible to customers, supply chains, workers and to the exchequer, by self regulation, by naming and shaming. I would add, naming and shaming, if it is to be effective in the world of classic capitalism, transparency and accountability must be part of this Process.

It was a good lecture and a shared vision for the future.

Where is the Gandhian Business Model?
by Antony Copley

No Gandhian could disagree with Vince Cable’s interpretation of Gandhi’s approach to economics as far as his lecture went. He stopped short of Gandhi’s late visionary hopes for the Indian economy, one that was to be taken forward by the left Gandhians, J P Narayan and Vinobe Bhave. No doubt, however, it would be naïve to expect a Secretary of State for Business to move beyond the conventional paradigms of the market economy and the overriding importance of economic growth.

Cable led us through a perfectly plausible account of the way Gandhi had to work within the constraints of a colonial economy, rejecting laissez-faire, the imperial policy which of course advantaged British exports, and a nationalist demand for protectionism, the wish of Indian business interests to play a significant role in shaping Congress policy. This would shelter emergent indigenous capitalist growth, a protectionism most strikingly expressed in the doctrine of swadeshi, the clarion cry of the nationalist movement in its outraged rejection of the partition of Bengal in 1905. I’m not sure if Gandhi ever actually endorsed swadeshi, his concern being to protect artisan industry against both foreign and Indian factory production. I think Cable’s may be special pleading in speculating that Gandhi would have gone along with a globalisation that saw Indian handloom products being sold as luxury items abroad. It would be interesting to read his exposition of this in a jointly authored book with Gandhian L C Jain. But one can agree that Gandhi would have rejected the economic nationalism of the Hindutva movement and the BJP, despite their claims that he was one of their own.

And of course he is surely right to argue that Gandhi engaged in this debate not so much as an economist, for he was no expert in this field, but as a moralist. His concerns were ethical. Cable overlooks the profound influence of John Ruskin’s ideas on Gandhi, above all on the sacred nature of work. Here was one reason for Gandhi’s championing of khadi, his high evaluation of the skills of artisan workers through his constructive programme. The relevant concept here is sarvodaya. It was a policy that did indeed look to the self-sufficiency of the village community. This was nothing to do with the highly regressive programme of autarchy pursued by the Axis powers and such latterday totalitarian states as North Korea. Cable, at the end, advocates forms of decentralisation and here he is seemingly on Gandhi’s wavelength. But something much more far reaching than local autonomy is encompassed in Gandhi’s vision.

Maybe this late Gandhian outlook was never coherently expressed, with his life so tragically cut short. The left Gandhians teased out the quasi-socialist implications of Gandhi’s vision of a new social structure which would radiate outwards from the village, inspired by an oceanic, quasi-mystical sense. So Bhave took up a national crusade of land redistribution, the bhoodan movement, though this was to be on a voluntary basis, appealing to landlords to hand over land to the poor. Narayan of course moved into left-wing politics and was a critical figure in challenging Mrs Gandhi’s increasingly autocratic rule that led to the Emergency regime of 1975-77. Sadly, Bhave and Narayan stood on different sides in that crisis. This possibly reflected the ambiguities in Gandhi’s own outlook.

Arguably Gandhi’s late vision represented a new paradigm on how the economy was to based. All along he had opposed the liberal capitalist insistence on growth above all. His was an economic vision of reaching out to abject levels of poverty but seeking no more than the meeting of basic human needs, a view that rejected a merely materialist approach and was inherently ascetic. This was the way of life in his ashrams. Really and truly here lay Gandhi’s new business model and Cable was way off target. Are Gandhi’s panchayats [small elected body governing a village] indeed so irrelevant?

When the banking crisis struck in 2010 many believed this exposed the inherently flawed nature of capitalism and the opportunity to move from its endlessly preached mantra of growth to an entirely new paradigm of a sustainable economy. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, wrote eloquently of the need to respect our environment and not to exploit and abuse its resources. Of course all this was to tap into a long lament on such abuse from Rachel Carson to James Lovelock and many others. All this has taken on a horrible urgency with the recognition of the threat from climate change. A recent article in the New Statesman by Naomi Klein, ‘Science says: Revolt!’ (25-31 October 2013) describes how leading scientists reinforce this search for a new paradigm, the way government see the revolutionary implications of this new paradigm and are trying to suppress the scientists, and the need for direct action. In this context the ideas of Gandhi, far from seeming utopian, have an all too urgent relevance.

The way the Gandhian ashram and panchayat have been brought up to date and prove that they are not pie in the sky is demonstrated in an astonishing experiment in Gandhian-style communitarian living in Andalucia. In 1979 one Sanchez Gordillo was the first elected mayor of the pueblo of Marinaleda, today with but 2,700 citizens. In 1980 he led a hunger strike ‘against hunger’. In 1991 the 1,200 hectare El Humoso farm was taken over by the Marinaleda co-operative. It chose to develop an agriculture which maximised the use of labour and provide much needed employment. It was a rejection of a wheat based economy that used little labour and pursued mere economic efficiency. Profits of the co-operative are used to create ever newer employment. It is an anti-capitalist example which is catching on. Neighbouring Somante has set up its own co-operative on government owned land. Admittedly the Andalucian Workers Union were initially evicted in March 2012 but returned the next day and never left. Here, argues Dan Hancox, is just the kind of new economy that the indignados are seeking. (See his essay ‘Since the Financial Crisis, the Spanish Economy has been on its Knees. But one Village Stood and Fought’, The Observer 20/10/13 and his book The Village Against the World, Verso). Gandhi is certainly one source for Sanchez Gordillo’s visionary new economy. (Others are Jesus Christ, Marx, Lenin, and Che Guevara.) Gandhi’s attitude to labour, the need for both full employment and a shared labour within the community, is brilliantly realised in these two pueblos. It is of course equally a fulfilment of the ideals of Spanish anarchism.

Quite obviously Vince Cable could not have advocated such a radical new paradigm. He has no option but to stick with the mantra of growth. But here is in fact where a truly Gandhian business model lies.

Antony Copley is an honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Kent and a Trustee of The Gandhi Foundation
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.

Liberating Choices

Sheikh Amadou Bamba wall-painting, Senegal

How can we distinguish between fatal and liberating choices? That was the question posed by Sheikh Aly N’Daw, head of the International Sufi School. He was speaking at his book launch in Westminster, hosted by Ian Stewart MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Friends of Islam group. Aly N’Daw is from the Mouride school of Sufism founded by the Senegalese saint Amadou Bamba (1850-1927) who emphasised service to others as the path to God. Sheikh Aly encourages his students to study the lives of great men and women who have bridged the gap between politics and spirituality, and have demonstrated how peace within leads to peace in the world.

Sheikh Aly asked us to consider the choice that Martin Luther King made when he decided not to opt for a comfortable lifestyle in Chicago, but to take his ministry to the Deep South and confront the spectre of racial discrimination. On the surface, it appears that Dr. King made a fatal choice, because his ministry ended with his assassination. However, in reality he made a liberating choice, because he could have suffered spiritual death by taking the easy option of remaining in Chicago, but instead his self-sacrifice contributed to the political and social liberation of millions of African-Americans.

Next we were asked to consider Muhammad Yunus, pioneer of micro-credit and founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. A professor of economics, he became disillusioned with academic life and went to live with a group of peasants. Many people would consider this a fatal choice, at least professionally, but for Muhammad Yunus it was liberating because it showed him how small sums of money loaned on trust could yield massive results if targetted at the right people, particularly women. By 2008 the Grameen Bank had loaned US$7.8 billion to the poor.

Ian Stewart MP talked about his own difficult choice, to vote for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He explained that his motivation had been to help the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs, but now that hundreds of thousands of people had died as a result of the war, he could not be sure if he had been right. He described the whirl of conventional political life and how politicians, caught in the maelstrom, are on auto-pilot, without time or space to connect with the spiritual dimension of life. As he is not standing in the forthcoming general election, he expressed the hope that he would now have time to learn more about what Sufism describes as the ‘spiritual heart’.

The first two books in Sheikh Aly N’Daw’s series are ‘The Initiatory Way To Peace’ and ‘Liberation Therapy’. If you would like to buy any copies, please email: contact_uk@international-sufi-school.org

Martin Luther King on Gandhi

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

Excerpt of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Radio Address to India – All India Radio – March, 1959

Leaders in and out of government, organizations, particularly the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi and the Quaker Center, and many homes and families have done their utmost to make our short stay both pleasant and instructive. We have learned a lot. We are not rash enough to presume that we know India, vast subcontinent with all of its people, problems, contrasts and achievements; however, since we have been asked about our impressions, we venture one or two generalizations. First we think that the spirit of Gandhi is much stronger today than some people believe. That is not only the direct and indirect influence of his comrades and associates, but also the organized efforts that are being made to preserve the Mahatma’s letters and other writings, the pictures, monuments, the work of the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi and the movement led by the sainted Vinoba Bhave. These are but a few examples of the way Gandhiji will be permanently enshrined in the hearts of the people of India. Moreover, many governmental officials who do not follow Gandhi literally apply his spirit to domestic and international problems.

Secondly, I wish to make a plea to the people and government of India. The issue of world peace is so critical, that I feel compelled to offer a suggestion that came to me during the course of our conversations with Vinoba Bhave. The peace-loving peoples of the world have not yet succeeded in persuading my own country, America, and Soviet Russia to eliminate fear and disarm themselves. Unfortunately, as yet America and the Soviet Union have not shown the faith and moral courage to do this. Vinobaji has said that India, or any other nation that has the faith and moral courage, could disarm itself tomorrow, even unilaterally. It may be that, just as India had to take the lead and show the world that national independence could be achieved non-violently, so India may have to take the lead and call for universal disarmament. And if no other nation will join her immediately, India may declare itself for disarmament unilaterally. Such an act of courage would be a great demonstration of the spirit of the Mahatma, and would be the greatest stimulus to the rest of the world to do likewise. Moreover, any nation that would take such a brave step would automatically draw to itself the support of the multitudes of the earth, so that any would-be aggressor would be discouraged from risking the wrath of mankind.

May I also say that, since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of non-violent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity. In a real sense, Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation. Many years ago, when Abraham Lincoln was shot – and incidentally, he was shot for the same reason that Mahatma Gandhi was shot for; namely, for committing the crime of wanting to heal the wounds of a divided nation. And when he was shot, Secretary Stanton stood by the dead body of the great leader and said these words: “now, he belongs to the ages.” And in a real sense, we can say the same thing about Mahatma Gandhi, and even in stronger terms: “now, he belongs to the ages.” And if this age is to survive, it must follow the way of love and non-violence that he so nobly illustrated in his life.

Mahatma Gandhi may well be God’s appeal to this generation, a generation drifting again to its doom. And this eternal appeal is in the form of a warning: they that live by the sword shall perish by the sword. We must come to see in the world today that what he taught, and his method throughout, reveals to us that there is an alternative to violence, and that if we fail to follow this we will perish in our individual and in our collective lives. For in a day when Sputniks and explorers dash through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war. Today we no longer have a choice between violence and non-violence; it is either non-violence, or non-existence.

Gandhi Inspires Obama

8th September 2009
Wakefield High School, Arlington, Virginia

President Obama went to Wakefield High School in Arlington to give a national speech welcoming students back to school. He called for students to take responsibility and to learn from their failures so that they succeed in the end.

A student asked President Obama:

Hi. I’m Lilly. And if you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?

President Obama replied:

Dinner with anyone dead or alive? Well, you know, dead or alive, that’s a pretty big list. (laughter) You know, I think that it might be Gandhi, who is a real hero of mine. Now, it would probably be a really small meal because — (laughter) — he didn’t eat a lot. But he’s somebody who I find a lot of inspiration in. He inspired Dr. King, so if it hadn’t been for the non-violent movement in India, you might not have seen the same non-violent movement for civil rights here in the United States. He inspired César Chávez, and what was interesting was that he ended up doing so much and changing the world just by the power of his ethics, by his ability to change how people saw each other and saw themselves — and help people who thought they had no power realize that they had power, and then help people who had a lot of power realize that if all they’re doing is oppressing people, then that’s not a really good exercise of power.

So I’m always interested in people who are able to bring about change, not through violence, not through money, but through the force of their personality and their ethical and moral stances. And that’s somebody that I’d love to sit down and talk to.

Source: The White House Press Office

US Congress Recognizes Gandhi

The US House of Representatives has passed an historic Resolution recognizing Mahatma Gandhi’s influence on Martin Luther King Jr. and commemorating the 50th anniversary of the American civil rights leader’s visit to India in 1959.

Passed on Tuesday 10th February 2009 with a 406-0 vote (26 abstentions), the Resolution recalls how Dr. King’s study of Gandhian philosophy helped shape the Civil Rights Movement. The full text of the Resolution states:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. changed America forever in a few short years through his teaching of nonviolence and passive resistance to combat segregation, discrimination, and racial injustice.

In 1950, during the pursuit of a Bachelor of Divinity degree at Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, Pennsylvania, Dr. King first became aware of the success of nonviolent political action employed by India’s Mahatma Gandhi in political campaigns against racial inequality in South Africa, and later against British colonial rule in India.

Dr. King began an extensive study of Gandhi’s life and ideas, and became inspired to use Gandhi’s theory of nonviolent civil disobedience to achieve social change in America.

In 1955 and 1956, Dr. King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott to protest the arrest of Rosa Parks and the segregation of the bus system of Montgomery, Alabama, during which time Dr. King was arrested and his home bombed.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott was the first large-scale, nonviolent civil rights demonstration of contemporary times in the United States.

Following the success of nonviolent protest in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Dr. King desired to travel to India to deepen his knowledge of Gandhi’s teachings on nonviolent principles.

Dr. King, his wife Coretta Scott King, and Lawrence Reddick, then chairman of the history department at Alabama State College, arrived in Bombay, India, on February 10, 1959 and stayed until March 10, 1959.

Dr. King was warmly welcomed by members of Indian society throughout his visit, and met with Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, land reform leader Vinoba Bhave, and other influential Indian leaders to discuss issues of poverty, economic policy, and race relations.

While in India, Dr. King spoke about race and equality at crowded universities and at public meetings.

Followers of Gandhi’s philosophy, known as satyagrahis, welcomed Dr. King and praised him for his nonviolent efforts during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which they saw as a landmark success of principles of nonviolence outside of India.

The satyagrahis and Dr. King discussed Gandhi’s philosophy, known as satyagraha, which promotes nonviolence and civil disobedience as the most useful methods for obtaining political and social goals.

The satyagrahis reaffirmed and deepened Dr. King’s commitment to nonviolence, and revealed to him the power that nonviolent resistance holds in political and social battles.

The trip to India impacted Dr. King in a profound way, and inspired him to use nonviolence as an instrument of social change to end segregation and racial discrimination in America throughout the rest of his work during the Civil Rights Movement.

Dr. King rose to be the preeminent civil rights advocate of his time, leading the Civil Rights Movement in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s and earning world-wide recognition as an eloquent and articulate spokesperson for equality.

Dr. King became a champion of nonviolence, and in 1964, at the age of 35, he became the youngest man to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his efforts.

Through his leadership in nonviolent protest, Dr. King was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Between 1957 and 1968, Dr. King traveled more than 6,000,000 miles, spoke more than 2,500 times, and wrote five books and numerous articles supporting efforts around the country to end injustice and bring about social change and desegregation through civil disobedience.

The work of Dr. King created a basis of understanding and respect, and helped communities and the United States as a whole to act peacefully, cooperatively, and courageously to restore tolerance, justice, and equality between people. Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives encourages all Americans to–

(1) pause and remember the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s visit to India

(2) commemorate Dr. King’s legacy of nonviolence, a principle that (a) Dr. King encountered during his study of India’s Mahatma Gandhi (b) further inspired him during his first trip to India; and (c) he successfully used in the struggle for civil rights and voting rights

(3) commemorate the impact that Dr. King’s trip to India and his study of the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi had in shaping the Civil Rights Movement and creating the political climate necessary to pass legislation to expand civil rights and voting rights for all Americans; and

(4) rededicate themselves to Dr. King’s belief that “nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time” and to his goal of a free and just United States.

Martin Luther King Jnr: The Civil Rights Movement and Gandhian Philosophy – by Michael Lewin

Gandhi’s long-standing commitment to, and promotion of passive resistance eventually paved the way for full Indian independence in 1948. The long and arduous struggle that he had engaged with, for over fifty years, finally culminated in the end of British imperialistic rule that had gripped Indian life for centuries. At this historical point Gandhi’s political and spiritual standing in the international community reached an all time high; totally unprecedented in the era of modern politics. His life, his struggle, his achievements were powerfully unique – inspiring and enriching so many others, not only in his own country but throughout the wider world. His legacy – based on deeply nourishing, spiritual values – came to inspire and influence a young, black student who was studying at a theological college in America and helped to support and guide a black population in their quest for greater equality.

“His message was so profound and electrifying that I left the meeting and bought a half-dozen books on Gandhi’s life and works.” – Martin Luther King in his formative student years

Only a few weeks after Gandhi was assassinated at a prayer meeting in the grounds of Birla House, New Delhi, Martin Luther King Jnr was being ordained at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. King had graduated from Morehouse College the year before, and was set on furthering his studies and pursuing the life of a minister like his father and grandfather before him. Whilst at Crozer Theological Seminary, King was exposed to the teachings of Gandhi. They made an immediate and marked impact on him influencing deeply, his work in the Civil Rights Movement.

On a Montgomery bus, in 1955, a black woman by the name of Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger. The driver of the bus, which operated under segregated laws, brought the vehicle to a stop. The police were called and Rosa Parks was arrested. This one, simple act of protest, carried out by one, single woman later grew into a campaign – the Montgomery Bus Boycott which prepared the ground for Martin Luther King Jnr to become a civil rights leader. All over the southern states at this time, segregation was a way of life that effectively created social, political and economic disadvantage for black people, and although there had been an history of protests before, this was the start of something qualitatively and quantitatively different. The campaign received widespread attention and eventually the Supreme Court declared that segregation on Montgomery buses was unconstitutional and therefore had to end. A decisive victory had been secured by King and his followers but this was not just a legal victory but a moral victory as well that involved an entire black community in enforcing the boycott.

The nonviolent approach of King’s activism, which was proving to be highly successful and sincerely regarded, was directly based on his study and understanding of Gandhi’s experience in South Africa and India. King was bringing a deep awareness of Gandhi’s spiritually pragmatic doctrine to the Southern States of America and beyond. Because of King’s interest in, and promotion of Gandhian ideals he was invited by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to visit India in 1959. The trip went well, with King later stating that it made a profound and lasting effect upon him. On his return to America he recommenced his efforts in the civil rights struggle with renewed determination and vigour.

King worked tirelessly for the cause of justice over the years but increasingly became disenchanted with the criticism levelled at him, especially from predominantly white religious leaders who thought his actions were too radical and unsettling. Arrested for his participation in the Birmingham campaign (1963) King wrote his famous ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’. This was an attempt to rebuke all the conservative clergymen who criticised his stand. He wrote:

“When you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in a airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society… when you are humiliated day in day out by nagging signs reading ‘white’ and ‘coloured’, when your first name becomes ‘nigger’, your middle name becomes ‘boy’ (however old you are) and your last name becomes ‘John’ and your wife and mother are never given the respected title ‘Mrs’ . . . then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”

The campaign for civil rights, under King’s leadership, did continue, had to continue. In 1963 King led the March on Washington and delivered his rousing speech: “I have a dream . . .” A year later he visited Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize – the youngest ever recipient of the award. In the Selma Protest of 1965, along with over seven hundred other marchers, King was arrested. Being a Nobel Prize winner this news made headlines around the world and brought to the attention of a mass audience what was really happening in America. Segregation was now fully under the spotlight as never before and despite the bombing of his home, the physical attacks on his life, the jail sentences and the death threats, King, with committed persistence and tenacity, carried on his work to pursue greater equality for the black community.

In Memphis, on 3 April 1968, on the eve of a planned march, King made one of his most stirring speeches:

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountain top. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life – longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And so I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

The very next day King was shot dead.

The Forging of the Civil Rights Movement: The Gandhian Influence

“I firmly believe that the Gandhian philosophy of nonviolent resistance is the only logical and moral approach to the solution of the race problems in the United States.” – Martin Luther King

Through his engagement with the civil rights movement King remained faithful to Gandhian ideals. He believed, from a Christian perspective, that justice would eventually prevail for the black community if people were prepared to stand up and unite in the noble cause of nonviolent resistance. His fundamental belief in this moral stance was unshakeable and informed all his work, but there were others, even among blacks, who questioned this approach.

Malcolm X, the Black Power leader, vehemently opposed King for adopting a conciliatory position with the white leadership of America. He believed that black people should stand up and fight for their rights in whatever way it was felt to be necessary – and this included meeting violence with violence. King’s spiritual values dictated the opposite – that you can only meet violence with nonviolence. King had realised, along with Gandhi, the spiritual truth expressed in many of the world’s religions that hate can only ever really be overcome and eliminated by the practice of love, and by no other means. But despite their differences, King did have a deep respect and regard for Malcolm X. He realised that the Black Power Movement, similar to the Civil Rights Movement, was only trying to challenge a system that for too long, had effectively created and recreated inequality and injustice for black people. Both Movements, at their core, wanted to advance the well being of black people and leave behind the repressive, growth denying forces of an unfair society. King clearly recognised this, his only criticism was on the methodological approach for dealing with this inequality and injustice. In his student days King thought differently:

“Prior to reading Gandhi,” he said, “I had about concluded that the ethics of Jesus were only effective in individual relationships. The ‘turn the other cheek’ philosophy and the ‘love your enemies’ philosophy were only valid, I felt, when individuals were in conflict with other individuals; when racial groups and nations were in conflict a more realistic approach seemed necessary. But after reading Gandhi, I saw how utterly mistaken I was.”

This was a decisive growth point for King, one which was to remain with him for the rest of his days. At the heart of Gandhi’s teachings, which King fully adopted, lay the sacrosanct notion that all life is sacred, a gift of God, and therefore had to be respected and protected at all costs – even that of the opposing ‘enemy’. King realised that it was only through adopting Gandhi’s policy of Satyagraha (truth force) that lasting, positive change could be implemented and so this was his journey, one of showing respect and dignity for ALL and it cost him dearly – the loss of his own life.


Even in today’s world there are still gross inequalities with unacceptable levels of poverty that plague our sense of decency and fair play. It’s a position that has been allowed to continue for too long. The challenge for us all, individually and collectively is to reach out and give of our best so that others may be allowed to flourish in a world that was created for all – every last one of us. This invitation to bring out the very best in others, and ourselves – to grow beyond the restrictive and limiting mindset that perpetuates a ‘them and us’ mentality – is an invitation to participate fully in the spiritual gift of life and who amongst us wants to withdraw from that gift, wants to ignore the sacrifice of lives given for others?

Gandhi in the Mirror of Foreign Scholars – edited by J S Mathur

Gandhi in the Mirror of Foreign Scholars
Edited by J S Mathur
National Gandhi Museum and Gyan Publishing House 2007
ISBN 81-212-0961-7 HB pp383 Rs 720

This substantial volume contains 49 essays, written over a period of 35 years, which first appeared in either The Journal of Gandhian Studies (the older ones) or Gandhi Prasang, a journal in Hindi and English, both edited by Prof. J S Mathur. The authors come from Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Britain, United States, Australia, Sri Lanka, Trinidad, Germany, Guyana, Hungary, Ghana, Japan, and Finland and so the collection is an international one. Some of the authors are well known to readers of Gandhi literature such as Johan Galtung, Gene Sharp, E. F. Schumacher, Stanley Wolpert. The book contains several essays by the Nobel Prize winning economists Jan Tinbergen and Gunnar Myrdal.

The essays seem to cover two main issues: economics and development on the one hand, and peace, satyagraha and nonviolence on the other; a smaller number deal with more philosophical and multifaith issues. Gandhi is identified as an egalitarian but opinions differ on whether a core concept of his, namely trusteeship, can deliver this.

Myrdal praises his ‘integrated’ approach to economics, ie bringing in sanitation and health, nutrition, education, land ownership and so on. One of the essays I liked most is by William Stuart Nelson, a name I did not recognise. His essay is one of the most attractive expositions of Gandhian nonviolence I have come across. He was an African-American academic who visited India a number of times and was with Gandhi on
his tour of Noakhali in Bengal during the communal disturbances of 1947. He later gave strong support to Martin Luther King.

It is almost inevitable in a collection of essays that the quality will vary, and some disappoint with errors, but overall it presents a rich source of material by mainly non-Indian writers with expositions of many of Gandhi’s most important ideas.

George Paxton


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